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In 1500, most of Ireland lay outside the ambit of English royal power. Only a small area around Dublin was directly administered by the crown. The rest of the island was run in more or less autonomous fashion by Anglo-Norman magnates or Gaelic chieftains. By 1600 there had been a huge extension of English royal power. First, the influence of the semi-independent magnates was broken; second, in the 1590s, crown forces successfully fought a war against the last of the old Gaelic strongholds in Ulster. The secular conquest of Ireland had been accomplished in the course of the century. But the religious reformation made little headway. The Anglo-Norman community remained stubbornly Catholic as did the Gaelic nation. Their loss of political influence did not result in the expropriation of their lands. Most property still remained in Catholic hands. England's failure to effect a revolution in church as well as in state meant that the conquest of Ireland was incomplete. The seventeenth century, with its wars of religion, was the consequence.
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Dr Colm Lennon teaches history at St Patrick's College, Maynooth, a constituent college of the National University of Ireland.
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