Ireland was for most of its history a small, rather insignificant island at the edge of Europe, which for most of history meant the outer edge of the known world — la divisa dal mondo ultima Irlanda (Beckett, 1981: 14). It had no great natural resources, no political power, an underdeveloped economy, and was sufficiently unattractive that the Romans, who named it Hibernia or ‘wintry place’, did not try to conquer it. Ireland’s underdevelopment in comparison with its wealthy neighbours has been a feature through most of its existence. Not long ago one prominent Irish historian described Ireland as a ‘small retarded country’ (Lee, 1989: 635). The causes of its backwardness are not clear, but it was not because it was isolated from the outside world. Ireland was the subject of migration, invasion and assimilation of various groups throughout its history. Groups from Ireland even invaded and controlled parts of Scotland and Wales. More recently Ireland’s significant emigration meant that it had an impact on other countries and others on it.
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