The Troubles: Ulster (1960s-90s)


Figure 1.--Troughout the Troubles young people including primary-age children have been involved. This little Catholic boy in Belfst is an icomic image. He has secured a gas mask to protect against tear gas. He has a molotov cocktail which he is preparing to throw at the Royal Ulster Constsabulary during the Battle of the Bogside (August 1969) at the onset of The Troubles. Source: IKON.

Since World War II most violent conflicts have occurred in the Third World. An exception to this was the conflict between Catholics and Protestants. The conflict has been described as the last religious war in Europe. It also has the halmarks of the tribal conflicts of Africa. The conflict is rooted in the centuries old effort of England to control Ireland. A vicious independence struggle and civil war occurred in Ireland after World War, resulting in the creation of the Irish Free State which eventually became the Irish Republic. The majority Protestant province of Ulster or Northern Ireland remained part of the United Kingsom. The Ulster Government treated Cathlolics as second-class citizens. A civil rights movement began in the 1960s, but unlike the American Civil Rights movement, the conflict in Ireland led by the Orish Republican Army turned violent, resulting in three decades of killings and reprisals. The British attempted to prevent the violence, but soon became seen as favoring the Protestants by most Catholics. The Irish seemed to have turned the corner on this and a peace process seems to have ended the violence, although there is still considerable ill will between the two communities.

Ireland and England

The conflict is rooted in the centuries old effort of England to control Ireland. The conflict assumed religious overtones after the Protestan Revolution in England with the Irish peasantry stradfastly clining to the Catholic Church. Supression of the Irish and Catholic Church varied in entensity over time. Cromwell ruthlessly supressed Irish attempts at independence. James II did not have the caution of his father. He attempt to restablish the Catholic Church in England. Without a Catholic heir, however, most English were willing to await the natural course of events. The birth of a Catholic heir radically upset the situation. English piers invite William of Orange, a Protestant prince from the Netherlands married to James' protestant daughter Mary. The result was the Glorious Revolution. William quickly deposes James who is forced to flee. James makes his last stand in Ireland with Catholic loyalists. This was the last real Irish resistance to English rule occurred with the defeat of James II at the Battle of the Boyne (1692). The Protestants who fought under William against James became known as Orangemen. The Boyne was the last major Irish effort at independence until the Easter Rebellion (1916). The English through a series of anti-Catholic law disenfrangized the Irish and sized the land, making the Irish poverty-striken land-less tenants in their own country. Most Irish subsisted on small plots where tey grew potatos. The English were firmly in control of England in the 19th century. The horrendous English response to the Potato Famine (1845-50), however, probably meant that Ireland could not continue to be part of Britain. Largely constitutional efforts aimed at gaining Home Rule were persued in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

World War I

Ireland at the time of World War I was part of the United Kingdom. At the time that the crisis developed in the Balkans, the Goverment was considering the Irish question. Parlialment was considering the Third Home Rule Bill. The Government decided to postpone consideration until after the War. Most believe that the war would be a short one. Ireland at the time was divided between Nationalists and Unionists. When Britain declared war (August 1914), both Nationalists and Unionists that the best course was to lyally support Britain. The common logic was that by fighting with Britain, they would be best situated to gain support for their position after the War. The Irish were recruited and eventually drafted for military service just like the English as British subjects. Thousands of Irishmen enlisted and many were mobilized in the British Army's 10th and 16th divisions. Members of the Nationalist Irish Volunteer Force (IVF) joined the war alongside the British. There were dissenters. A relatively small splinter group objected to any cooperation woth the British. Tho stress their loyalty, the majority of the IVF renamed themselves the National Volunteer Force (NVF). This left the splinter group in control of the IVF. Members of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) also joined the British war effort. They were mobilized separately from NVF. The UVF men and other Unionists were organized as the 36th Ulster Division. This division was heavily engaged on the Somme (July 1916). The Somme was one of the most costly engagements fought by the British Army. Losses were dreadful. Out of the 10,000 men of the 36th Ulster there were 5,000 casualties. The sacrifice of the 26th Ulster demonstated the loyalty of the Irish unionists. This affected British attitudes to home rule. An estimated 250,000 Irish men from north and south served in World War I. They came together during the Messines offensive (1917). As many as 50,000 Irish died during the war. The Easter Rebellion was staged in Dublin (1916). Irish Nationalists like most Europeans had thought the War would quickly be over, at which time the question of home rule coldbe taken up again. When the War continued throughout 1915 and into 1916, it ws clear that the War could continue for some time. The Irish Republican Brotherhood and the splinter IVF decided to tak a bold action against against British rule in Ireland. They planned to take advantage of the fact that the British Army as in France with only a small force in Ireland. The Easter Rising was mastermined by Patrick Pearse, Thomas MacDonagh, and Joseph Plunkett. Roger Casement was to obtain German weapons. The British intercepted the weapons, but the Rising occurred as planned on Easter Monday (April 24, 1916). Although unsuccessful it was the first action that would eventually lead to Irish independence after the War. Italy

Independence Struggle (1919-22)

Although the Easter Rebellion (1916) was quikly put down by the British, the Rising had a profound impact on Irish public opinion. Undoubtedly the losses on the Western Front were another factor. By the end of the War, an increasing number of Irish people wanted to breal their ties with Britain. A vicious civil war occurred in Ireland after World War. Irish resistance was centered in the Irish Republican Army (IRA) which assasinated British officials, British landlords, and their Irish supporters. The British answered with the equally violent Black and Tans. The IRA was made into an effective group in large measure through the leadership of Michael Collins. Eventually the British offered the Irish all but the six counties of northern Ireland--Ulster.

Irish Free State

The Government of Ireland Act sets up two parliaments, one in Dublin and one in Belfast. This creates the Irish Free State, ruled by the Dublin parliament, but nominally still under the British crown. leaves Northern Ireland part of the UK. Violence escalates as Catholics oppose partition.

Civil War (1922-26)

Collins eventually accepted the British offer knowing it was the best he could get at the time. The result in the creation of the Irish Free State which eventually became the Irish Republic. There is considerable Catholic opposition to partition in both the Irish Free State and Ulster. An IRA faction opposing an end to the armed struggle without gaining Ulster assasinated Collins. The provisional Irish Government eventually supresses the IRA violence. More than 1,000 IRA supporters are arrested asnd inprisoned without trial.

Ulster and Partition

The majority Protestant province of Ulster or Northern Ireland remained part of the United Kingsom. The British insisted on boundary lines that insured a strong Protestant majority. The Ulster Government was partially self-governing and from the beginning treated Cathlolics as second-class citizens. The Protestants became known as Unionists, meaning they wanted to retain ties with Britain. The Catholics became known as Nationlists meaning they wanted union with the rest of Ireland. Ulster was an unstble creation. About 70 percent of Ulster were Protestants, but the 30 percent Catholic minority had no real loyalty to the state and wanted to join the Irish Free State. There was no movement after partition toward reconciliation (1920s). Unionist leader Edward Carson warned that alienating Catholics would make Northern Ireland inherently unstable (1921). This was exactly what the Protestant Unionist Government proceeded to do. And this same situation continued after the War. There were two different communities in Ireland, superficially divided by religion. The two communitiies lived in different residential areas, did not associate, and inter-marry. Although there was a religious division, religious doctrine was virtually irrelevant. Unionists were Protestants, but their major concern was continued association with Britain and political control. The Protestant unionists looked on the Catholic nationalists as not only disloyal, but determined to force Protestants into a united Ireland. There was also a economic component. Protestants who controlled the local government received preferential treatment in housing, employment and other areas. The Catholic tendency to have large families resulted in a more rapid Catholic population growth was thretening because it threatened to shift the populsation balance, over time turning the Catholic minority into a majority. The Catholics were nationalists. Not only did tey want a united Ireland, descrimination alienated them from Northern Ireland as a legitimate political entity, imposed by the Britisg Government. Irish Prime Minister Charles Haughey's iwn family fled Country Londonderry during the 1920s Troubles. He spoke for many Irish in both the Republic and Northern Ireland when he described Northern Ireland as "a failed political entity".

IRA Remnanent

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) led the struggle forIrish independence. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) fought a vicious guerilla war against the British (early 1920s). The campaign was led by Michael Collins who was later assinated when he negotiated a settlement with Britain. Eamon de Valera who opposed the settklement became president of the Irish Free State.After the formation of the Irish Free State, the radical element opposed to compromise led a terror campaign against the new Government. I was supressed by Collins, although he was eventually killed. The Northern Irish government passed the Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act (Northern Ireland) 1922. The Act granted sweeping powers to the government and police to maintain law and order. The Act continued to be used by Northern Irish authorities even after the violence of the 1920s ended. While effectively marginalized, the IRA was never entirely eliminated and remained ideologically committed to using violnce to overthrow both the Irish Republic and British rule in Northern Ireland.

World War II (1939-45)

There was considerable bitterness in the south about continued British control of Ulster--the primary reason for Collin's assasination. The IRA conducted a bombing campaign in London (Summer 1939) before the outbreak of War. The Irish government denied responsibility for IRA actions.The Irish Free Staste was neutral during World War II, although it was still technically a member of the British Empire at the time that war broke out. The Irish at the time was moving toward independemce. With the outbreak of war (September 1939), there was no desire to join with Britain to fight the NAZIs. There was great anti-British sentiment combined with the memories of losses during the last war. There was even some sentiment for the Germans, primarily an artifact of the anti-British feeling.The Chamberlain Government considered offering Ireland Ulster and unification if Ireland joined the Allies. Ulster protestants were outraged. President Eamon de Valera at any rate rejected the offer. Northern Ireland played an important role in World War II, especially the Battle of the Atlantic. Protestants volunteered in large number for the services. The Irish government ignored reports of German attrocities. The south remained strictly neural to the very end. De Valera sent condolences to the NAZI German government upon Hitler's death.

Post-War Period: Cultural Division and Descrimination

After the initial turmoil following partition (early 1920s) both northern Ireland and the Republic calmed down. There were only occasional sectarian incidents. There was an brief IRA campaign in Northern Ireland during the 1940s and a subsequent IRA campaign in the 1950s. Northern Ireland was relatively stable in the early 60s. That does not mean thsat the Catholics were satified with their situation. A growing and better educated Catholic population meant that they were increasingly aware of the discrinatory nature of the government of Northern Ireland. And Catholic leaders were increasingly vocal about teir opinions. The situastion was not unlike the situation in the American South during the 1950s without the added complication of race.

Civil Rights Movement (1960s)

A Catholic civil rights movement began in the 1960s with the goal of reforming the Ulster Government. This attracted increasing support within the Catholic minority, both within Ulster and in Irish communities abroad, especially the United States. Prime Miniser Terence O'Neill initially was sympsahetic and offered moderate reform. This was not a view shared by many Protestant leaders. Many Protestants saw the growing civil rights movement a clever initiative, part of a hidden agenda to unite with the Republic. The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) address several grievances. They wanted to end to the gerrymandering of electoral constituencies that produced unrepresentative local councils. They were especially upset with the constituencies in Derry City. All of the Catholics areas were put in a small number of electoral wards. They also objected to the rate-payer franchise in local government elections, which gave Protestants even greater voting power. Other objections included unfair allocation of jobs and housing. And they wanted the Special Powers Act (which permitted internment and other repressive measures) revoked. In the hands of Protestant local officvials it was invariably invoked against Catholics. NIRA organized marches, emulating the successful civil rights movement in the United States. They focuded on the non-violence preached by Dr. Masrtin Luther King. The civil rights campaign began in earnest (1967). The NICRA adopted the language, symbolism and methods of the American Civil Rights Movement. The 1967 marches came off without serious incdents. O'Neill was opposed by many unionists unwilling to compromise with the Castholics. William Craig and Ian Paisley spoke out strongly aganst O'Neill, accusing him of "selling-out". The peaceful civil rights marches when staged in 1968 were met with violence by Protestant (Unionist) police and civil authorities (1968). Protestants attacked the marchers with clubs. The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) was almost entirely composed of Protestants. Most government jobs went to Protesrants, but this was especially pronounced with the RUC. The RUC not only permitted the attacks, but demonstrators accussed them of actually supporting the violence. The Government banned a Civil Rights march in Derry (October 5). Instead they allowed an Apprentice Boys march take place. (The Apprentice boys closed the gates of Derry to James II advancing Catholic army (1668). Catholic civil rights marchers defined the ban. This time RUC did not idly stand by, they attacked the marchers. Three days of rioting ensued. owed. The NIRA organized a People's Democracy march between Belfast and Derry passing through both Catholic and Protestant areas (January 4, 1969). This proved to be the culmination of the Civil Rights movement. The marchers were repeatedly attacked by Protestants, includung off-duty RUC men. The worst incident was at Burntollet bridge. Here the non-violent marchers were ambushed by about 200 Protestant unionists. They were armed with iron bars, bricks, and bottles. The RUC did little or nothing to stop the attasckers. Soon barricades went up re erected in Catholic areas of Belfast and Derry to prevent RUC incursions. This in effect was the start of the interescine vilence known as The Troubles.

Ulster Volunteer Force (1966)

Ulster Republicans formed the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) (May 1966). The UVF was an illegal loyalist paramilitary organisation. It was formed on the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising. Many in the Protestant community were concerned with the growing monentum of Caholic Civil Rights movement. Some Protestants believed that the IRA was reforming and constituted a growing threat. They released a statement declaring war on the IRA. The UVF targeted a Catholic-owned pub on the Shankill Road. Members began painting sectarian graffiti on houses in the neighborhood. The first major act of violemce was throwing a petrol bomb through the window. A 77-year-old Protestant widow was killed. A campaign of violence followed. A UVF gunman shot Catholic store owner John Patrick Scullion in west Belfast (June 11). Another UVF gunman in west Belfast killed Catholic barman Peter Ward and seriously injured three others (June 26). American readers should understand that at the time shootings were virtually undheard of in Britain and thus these attacks were shocking. More elaborate attacks followed in an effort to increase Protestant support for the UVF. The UVF bombed an electricity station in Castlereagh, casusing widespread blackouts in Northern Ireland (March 30, 1969). The UVF conducted five more bombs attacks at electricity stations and water pipelines (April 1969). The UVF attempted to blane these attacks on the IRA to help obtain new recruits.

The Troubles (1969-90s)

The conflict between Catholics and Protestants turned violent, espeially following the Peotestant (unionist) attack on Catholic Civil Rights marchers at Burntollet bridge (January 1969). Catholics set up barricaes in Belfast and Derry. The violent incidents generated support for the IRA. The first major incident was the Battle of the Bogside (August 1969). Attacks escalated both by the IRA and Protesant groups in some cases aided by the Ulster Constabulary. Catholics flocked to join the IRA which was began to be seen as a self-defence force. Led by the IRA the Catholic cause turned to violence. The result was three decades of killings and reprisals. The initial British effort was aimed at addressing the grevances of the Catholic minority. The increasing role of the ultra-nationalist and violent Provisional IRA tended to shift the terms of discussion. The Provisionals were not after moderate reforms, they wanted a change in the constitution and unification with the Republic. Violence ecalated rapidly (1970-72). The worst year was 1972 when nearly 500 people were killed. . The British repondng to increasing violence in Northern Ireland by suspending the Ulster Parliament and beginning direct rule from London (1972).

Peace Process (1985)

A major agreement was finally reached between Ireland and Britain (1985). The two sides agreed that there was no military sollution possible. Britain agreed to consult with Irish Republic officials. Irish officials accepted that unification would only come about with the approval of a majority in Ulster. Agreement between Unionists and Nationalists in Ulster has been slower in coming, but has gradually occurred. The Irish seemed to have turned the corner on this and a peace process seems to have ended the violence, although there is still considerable ill will between the two communities. A British reader in 2014 tells us, "Northern Ireland still has a feeling of unease when I was there a few years ago."







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Created: 5:32 AM 5/4/2006
Last updated: 9:34 PM 3/9/2014