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The Irish Republican Army
The troubles currently plaguing the Island known as Ireland are by no means new. They lay
deeply rooted in it’s long and complicated history. Currently, the conflict is seen as the republicans and
their belief that Ireland should be united and independant clashing with the people who live in what is
known as Northern Ireland who are loyal to British rule. This is most definatly not the only issue, as many
other factors such as religion and econonmic problems impact the feelings among all of the people in
Ireland. This conflict has lead to many terrorist activities on both sides of the issue, and constant and at
times seemingly unending violence and bloodshed. The people who chose to take sides in the struggle,
either politically or militarily, feel very strongly about the unification of the Island.
There have been many attempts at peace, though most have been largely unsuccessful.
Diplomatic solutions have tried and failed time after time, and some people feel that diplomatic solutions
can not be found. Cease-fires and treaties do not seem to last long, and the motivation behind them is
often quite militaristic in nature. The military action seems to be constant. Only recently have people
started to actually believe that peace in attanable in our time, with the recent ceasefire and subsequent
peace talks. It looks like the story may be coming to an end, but the events that have occured should not be
The story of Ireland’s modern conflict goes back as far as the Anglo-Norman invasion. Although
all of the history that can be shown to have a serious and presentable effect on the conflict began with the
reign of England’s King Henry VIII beginning the period known in Irish history as the Cromwellian
The Cromwellian Period
Ireland in 1541, as it is today, was a largely Roman Catholic country. The people were fiercly
Catholic and it had been that way for many years. The English had been on Ireland both as peaceful
settelers, and as conquers since the 12th Century. This was a period of peace between Ireland and England
despite the sweeping changes that was occuring in England. The majority of the people in England had
taken Protestantism as their religion, and Catholocism seemed as though it was going to die out (Dana,
1997). The King at the time was King Henry VIII. He was seen as arrogant, and even power hungry. In
the year of 1541, he declared himself head of the English church, and then King of Ireland. Many land
owners and Cheiftans were not happy with calling Henry their King, but lacked the power to resist, and
payed him patronage. It was not until King Henry declared himself head of the Irish Church that the
Catholic Irishmen began to revolt against the King (Irish World,1997).
When King Henry passed the throne to Queen Elizabeth I, the need in England to take a firmer
grip on Ireland was obvious. This began what is known as plantation. This involved the English sending
Protestant Scottish and English settelers over to try and establish a presence that was both Protestant, and
loyal to the royalty of England (Somemothersson, 1997). They were given privilaged lives, and walked
right into the life that Irish people had built for themselves over thousands of years. This is where the
hatred of Catholics for Protestans began, but it by no means ends there (Dana, 1997).
Plantations continued quite successfully, and Protestantism had begun to take root. This caused
uprisings to begin all over Ireland against the rule of the English. They were largely un-organized, and
not large enough to seriously threaten the higher powers. These small uprisings eventually led to an army
led by Hugh O’Neill consisting of the rebellious Irish, and a Spanish force. The battle of Kinsale was a
major turning point in Irish history, and many say that if the Rebellion had succeded, things would be
quite different today (Irish World, 1997). The Irish/Spanish force was routed and forced to retreat to
Ulster. The leaders of the rebellion, and ninety of Ireland’s most powerful and influental families fled their
land in Ireland for continental Europe, fearing the prosecution of the English. This mass exodus is known
as the Flight of the Earls (Irish World, 1997).
The lack of powerful and land-owners in Ireland left them vulnerable to conquest. When Oliver
Cromwell landed on Ireland some 40 years later with his zealously Protestant troops at Dublin on August
15, 1649 he began his conquest almost immediatly. After the siege of Drogheda, he and his forces went on
to move through Ireland, seeing victory after victory. He gave his soldiers the conquered land as reward
for their service, further advancing the Protestant presence(Somemothersson, 1997). The uprising that
had occured in Ulster caused the throne to keep pouring English and Scottish settelers into Ireland in
order to try to strengthen their hold. When the conquests were completed, Cromwell’s opponents were
stripped of their land. By the year 1665, only 20 percent of Ireland remained in Irish hands
In 1688, King James II tried to undo some of the injustices that had occured to the Irish people.
He was very Catholic, and the English people felt that he was sympathetic to the Irish Catholics. They
ousted him from the throne, and he fled to Ireland. He was replaced by the very Protestant King William
of Orange, who led 35,000 men into Ireland to stop James II. William’s forces met with James’ group of
23,000 Irish and French men and was defeated in the battle of The Boyne. The English continued on, and
destroyed any resistance they came on, causing 4000 Irish fatalities (Irish World, 1997).
It is estimated that 120,000 Irish people fled to Europe before 1730. This actually helped to keep
Catholocism alive, and to spread Irish ideals around Europe. This also helped to turn favor away from
England. They were well recieved in France, Spain, Portugal, and Italy (Irish World, 1997).
Shortly after the newest conquest, harsh new laws were set up by the English in Ireland.
Catholics were no longer allowed to partake in parliment, hold public office, hold positions in the legal
profession, and join the army. They were not even allowed to own a horse that was worth more than 5
pounds. Irish Catholics owned only 5% of their own land by 1778. Their education system and church was
forced underground for fear of prosecution(Dana, 1997). Not all Protestants agreed with this, some of
them were more loyal to their land, and not to the religion. They got ideals from the French and American
revolutionary wars, and wanted to be able to govern themselves(Dana, 1997).
The Struggle For Home Rule
The American Revolutionary War began in 1781. This outright defiance of England inspired
Irish people to do the same. Irish people who had fled to France kept in contact with their old countrymen,
and the ideals behind the French Revolution also affected Irish feeling. Shortly after the English began to
move troops out of Ireland to fight the Americans, The Society Of United Irishmen was formed and swept
across the country with the goal of establishing a system that was similar to that of America or
France(Somemothersson, 1997). This was seen as a Catholic idea, and Protestants soon felt threatened by
it, and formed their own groups. The Orange Order was formed to counter the Catholic groups, violence
seemed inevitable. The Catholics then formed a more violent organization called the Catholic
Rebellion happened in 1798, but was quickly wiped out. This left thousands of Irishmen dead,
very bad blood, and a lingering problem. The leader of the rebellion, Theobald Wolf Tone, was captured
by the English, and is said to have taken his own life inside his English cell(Somemothersson, 1997).
The most recent uprising scared the English because they now too saw the possibility that Irish
Catholics and Irish Protestants may unite against them. Their new plan of attack was to place Ireland
under direct English rule. The Union act of 1801 took away the already limited power of the Irish
parliment that had only been granted in 1782. They now were forced to share a unified parliment with the
The 1800’s saw many of the harsh laws that had been meant to keep Catholics down be
destroyed, mostly because they were too hard to enforce. This led to a Catholic man, Daniel O’Connell,
recieving a law scholorship. O’Connell did not agree with the use of force to free Ireland, and strove to
give everyone equal rights(Dana, 1997). This was happening at the same time as a wave of violent
sentiment came over Ireland, and another armed uprising was staged in 1848. The leaders of this
uprising, William Smith O’Brien, and Charles Gavin Duffy were sent to Austraulia as prisoners(Irish
The great potato famine which began in 1845 had a profound impact on the whole island. It was
felt by all people, but tended to affect the poorer Catholic farmers more. The reason this lead to so much
famine and death is that the farmers did not have the space on their own farms to farm food for
themselves, and had to eat potatoes because of the small amount of space it takes to grow them(Dana,
1997). So the blight that hit the whole island caused countless thousands of deaths. Many poeple simply
died, but a lot (75%) managed to emigrate to America. This would prove to be very important to Irish
Republicans later on when they would call on the resources of Irishmen living in North
The massive amounts of Irish people that moved across the Ocean to America formed the Fenian
Brotherhood. They wanted to form a free Democratic Ireland. Some of the people who went back to
Ireland started the Irish Republican Brotherhood. The Fenians recruted many men to fight with them, and
led another uprising against the British in 1867. The uprising failed, but the two Brotherhoods did not
disappear, they simply continued on in secrecy(Dana, 1997).
The Next movement to hit Ireland was that of home rule. There had been a big push for the
revival of Celtic and Gaelic culture towards the end of the 19th Century, and nationalism was at a high
point. The Home Rule party was established under Charles Stewart Parnell in 1870. By the 1880’s, the
Home Rule party had a large amount of the influence and power in parliment. In 1886, the party
introduced a bill for home rule. The bill was not successful, mostly due to Ulster Unionists putting
pressure on their own parliment not to let it pass(Dana, 1997).
Most people were in favor of home rule, but some felt that it could only be attained by military
force. This caused a major resurgance in the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and gave it much more
influence. Another organization that started around the same time was a political party known as Sinn
Fein (Gaelic for “ourselves alone”) under Arthur Griffith in 1905(Somemothersson, 1997). This was one
of the organizations that the IRB used it’s influence to infiltrate. The IRB was convinced that the only way
that Ireland could free itself from English domination was if they were forced to through the use of
violence. Soon, John Redmond, the new leader of the home rule party, had assembled 180,000 men. This
actually intimidated the British, and in 1912, the third home rule bill was passed. The new bill was short
lived though. It was suspended in 1914 when England joined the Great War. They promised Ireland that
if they helped England defeat the Germans, home rule would happen immediatly afterwards. The leaders
of the Irish Republican Brotherhood did not believe these promises, and instead felt that violence was the
way to go about getting their independance(Dana, 1997).
The Modern Conflict
The uprising that the leaders of the IRB planned was indeed carried out on Easter of 1916 in
Dublin. The IRB actually recieved weapons from the Germans for this conflict. They imported loads of
weapons, ammunition, and even men to help fight the British. Many people at the top of the IRB felt that
a rebellion would be suicide, and that it would end in an Irish rout. The rebellion was actually called off,
but news did not reach in time the men who walked into the Dublin Post Office, and read their written
proclamation of a Republic(Dana, 1997). The British had many troops on stand by ready to go into
Europe, and the Irish idea that the war would cause Britain to be weak backfired. The British forces soon
crushed the rebellion. The leaders of the uprising were captured and executed, and 1500 rebels were killed
in six days(Somemothersson, 1997).
The British felt that they had dealt with a lingering problem with one swift blow by executing the
leaders of the rebellion. They had in fact done quite the opposite. Although the British had in actual fact
executed only the core leaders of the rebellion, many thought that virtually all of the captured leaders were
killed. This caused a major backlash against Britain, and some of the people that had been neutral before
the rebellion suddenly showed interest in a free Ireland(Dana, 1997). Soon, the IRB leaders who had been
jailed were released as a good will gesture to the United States who had been unhappy with the handling
of the situation by the British. These men used Sinn Fein as a cover to gain political might and influence.
Many IRB men got elected to parliment, and refused to take part. Public opinion was shifting drastically
towards republicanism. The British then did two things that led to an overwhelming support of
republicanism. First, they decided to begin conscription in Ireland. This outraged virtually everyone in
Ireland, and turned more people against Britain. The second was to outlaw Sinn Fein for dealing with
Germany. This caused many Irish people to feel that Britain was dictating to them who they could vote
for, and furthur enraged the public. The next general election showed the outcome. Of the 105 seats that
can be won in Ireland, Sinn Fein ran in every single won, and won 73(Somemothersson,1997).
The men who had been elected, and were not in jail, did not take their places in parliment.
Instead, they started their own parliment, and called it Dail Eireann. This was also the first day that
members of the Royal Irish Constabulary were killed by Irish Volunteers. Members of the new Irish
government went to the United States to try to raise funds, and to try to persuade the US to recognize the
republic. The Dail Eireann was outlawed by Britain shortly therafter, and the Anglo-Irish war began
Michael Collins was the major man at the new Irish parliment, even though Eamon de Valera
was the president. When de Valera went on a fund raising campaign in the US, Collins organized the
volunteers into a new organization known as The Irish Republican Army. The IRA began using guerilla
tactics and strategic bombings to wage war against the British. In response, the British escalated their
efforts by bringing in roughly 50,000 soldiers to fight against the IRA. The British were still determined
to win the war against Ireland(Somemothersson,1997 ).
The fighting continued until 1921. The fighting had gotten so brutal and inhumane that neither
side felt that they could sustain such a war. The leaders of the IRA and the British government agreed to a
peace treaty that would see the formation of an Irish Free State. The treaty did not, however, give the
whole island over to the Dail Eireann. It called for the British to keep two thirds of the province of Ulster,
in the Northern part of Ireland(Dana, 1997). Collins felt satisfied that he had attained an Irish Free State
that allowed them to form their own parliment. This was not the way everyone took it though. Other
members, like Eamon de Valera felt that the treaty was simply not good enough, and that Ireland should
be united as one(Dana, 1997).
This disagreement resulted in the splitting of the new Irish Gvernment. It was a bloody war that
had those in favor of the treaty fighting against those opposed to the treaty. The war was actually more
costly in Irish lives than the war against Britain had been. It was brutal, and lasted two years. Eventually,
the forces of the Irish Free State, in favor of the treaty with Britain, outlasted their enemies, and the treaty
was forever. A Free Ireland was born(Dana, 1997).
Eamon de Valera was not happy with the current arrangment. Sinn Fein was an outlawed group
in the Irish Free State, so de Valera formed a new political party called Fianna Fail. He quickly played off
the anti-treaty public opinion, and was elected Prime Minister of the Irish Free State. In 1937, he put forth
a new Irish Constitution that declared Ireland to be a republic, totally independant of Britain’s parliment.
The constitution also gave more freedom to the people who wanted to embrace Gaelic culture by making
Gaelic the first official language of the Free State(Dana, 1997).
With the beginning of the second World War, there was much disagreement as to the stance that
Ireland should take. Most still felt deep hatred for England, and thought that they should side with the
Germans simply because they were opposing the British. This did not turn out to be what happened. Most
Irish figured the Nazi regime to be the much bigger of the two evils, and decided to remain neutral
In the time following the war, Ireland fell onto hard economic times. It was seeing rapid inflation
and, indirectly, in the defeat of Fianna Fail in the elections of February, 1948. Eamon de Valera was
replaced by John Aloysius Costello. On Easter of 1949, the terms of the Republic of Ireland bill were
approved by the Irish Parliment. It got the Republic completely out of the commonwealth for good, but re-
inforced the continuence of Northern Ireland as a part of Britain. The Republic was also admitted into the
United Nations on December 14, 1955(Liberation of Ireland, 1997).
There was plenty of public support for the union of Ireland as one country still, but the IRA was
not what it used to be. They began to raid and stockpile whatever arms they could in anticipation of their
border campaigns. In 1956, the IRA began their ferocious campaigns along the border of Northern
Ireland. Their aim was to push the border back, as to claim more of the island simply to deny the British.
The campaign was largely a failure. They had gained nothing and just ended up damaging their own
In 1963, Terence O’Neill became Prime Minister of Northern Ireland. He began the campaign for
social justice and the civil rights movement began. The IRA was at a low point after their border
campaigns, and most of the citizens were focusing on Civil Rights. The Northern Ireland Civil Rights
Association was formed in the mid-60’s, with hopes to attain some pretty simple goals. They wanted to
end discrimination against Catholics for voting rights, the creation of grievance procedures against
government officials, and the elimination of a government group called the B-specials, who were given
virtually complete freedom when trying to find members of terrorist groups(Liberation of Ireland, 1997).
A set of protest marches happened in 1968 and 1969 and both ended in bloodshed. In the first,
the RUC (Roytal Ulster Constabulary) broke up the protest with batons and water cannons. This helped to
recruit more people to protest, and cause more people to start their own groups and their own protests.
The second protest march was a 70 mile walk from Belfast to Londonderry. It had been successful until
just a short distance from the end of the march when extremeist Protestants attacked the marchers with
cobblestone and bricks. The RUC stood by and watched while the Catholic protesters were beaten until the
melee began to subside. They then moved in and arrested 80 people, and injured more protestors in the
process. The terror had just begun as Londonderry went into complete anarchy and chaos. There were
riots, and violence to no ends. The violence left 6 people dead, and 300 houses burnt to the ground.
Catholics defended themselves anyway that they could, but all kept wondering where the IRA, who is
supposed to be the protector of Catholics in times like these, was(Somemothersson, 1997).
The need for the protection of Catholics was the driving force that brought on a major IRA
resurgence. The leaders of the new IRA were split as to the strategy that they should take. Some wanted to
use violence to defend themselves and their fellow Catholics, and the other half wanted nothing to do with
the use of armed force. This split lead to the violent “Provisionals” and the political
The British Government took many counter-measures against the re-surging IRA. They inforced
early curfews and often forced their way into Catholic homes they suspected of containing arms. The
Provisionals then began their first ever offensive campaign by shooting a British soldier. They had a plan
to bomb and shoot the British out of Ireland. The British reaction to this was to institute internment. This
meant that the government could detain anyone they suspected of being a member of the IRA, and the
people of Ireland had virtually no rights against it(Somemothersson, 1997).
Internment was a major ally for the IRA’s public support. Internment was intended to stop IRA
violence by making it harder, but again the British shot themselves in the foot. This idea only caused more
people to volunteer for the IRA and public support to swing their way(Somemothersson, 1997).
The violence finally came to a head on January 30, 1972. A protest march by Catholics ended in
a bloodbath when British troops were called in at the first sign of rioting. They claim to have been shot at,
and then opened fire. Less than half an hour later, 13 people were dead. It was released later that none of
the 13 were found to have weapons. This day is remembered as Bloody Sunday, and will live forever in
infamy and Republic propoganda(Somemothersson, 1997). It achomplished nothing but to enrage
Catholics further, and to cause the IRA to step up operations. The IRA’s plan at this time (and to this day)
is to cause so much economic damage to Northern Ireland that Britain would no longer want it. The sad
part of this plan was that it often resulted in more civilian deaths than military deaths (Sylvester, 1979).
Fig. 5 Casualities during the 1970’s violence-(Sylvester, 1979)
1st Quarter 2nd Quarter 3rd Quarter 4th Quarter
Military 13 31 45 14
UDR 7 4 7 8
RUC 8 1 2 6
Civilian 57 70 140 66
Military 21 22 7 8
UDR 4 1 3 —
RUC 6 1 1 5 Civilian 41 52 38 28
Military 8 4 6 10
UDR 3 2 1 1
RUC 5 5 2 3
Civilian 44 41 29 51
Military 2 — 4 8
UDR — 1 2 3
RUC 2 2 2 5
Civilian 38 64 60 54
Military 5 1 4 4
UDR 3 4 1 7 RUC 6 9 3 5
Civilian 78 68 52 46
Peace talks were conducted by the leader of the opposition in Britain, and the leader of the IRA.
The talks went nowhere, and some felt as though the British never had any real intention of coming to an
agreement, and just wanted the bombings to stop. After the first set of talks broke down, Britain decided
on a bold move, and seized complete and direct rule of Northern Ireland by dissolving it’s
parliment(Somemothersson, 1997). They again wanted to talk peace. The IRA said it would talk, but first
wanted a guarantee that any IRA members who were captured would be treated as prisoners of war. This
condition was met, and the talks began again. This time, the IRA had demanded the complete
surrendering of Northern Ireland to the Republic, a completely unrealistic demand. The British never had
any intentions of giving in, and the talks lasted only two weeks(Frontline, 1997). Afterwards, the IRA
doubled their efforts, the first day of which saw 28 people die in what is called Bloody Friday. The IRA
then decided to move their bombing operations East to London(Somemothersson, 1997).
A short while after, the legal system of Britain was changed when dealing with terrorist trials so
that the burden of proof would be on the defence, and that the trial would be heard by a judge alone, with
no jury. Prisoners would no longer be considered prisoners of war, and would be simply treated as
common prisoners(Somemothersson, 1997). This went against a promise the British had given them, and
the prisoners were outraged. Upon hearing about the changes to the legal and judicial system, the
prisoners refused to deal with the guards. When told to wear the clothes of a regular prisoner instead of
the street clothes of a POW, they refused, and clothed themslves only in the blanket that belonged on their
bed. They soon refused to leave their cells to use the bathrooms (cells that had no toilets in them) and
eventually began to starve themselves(Frontline, 1997). The Hunger Strike is a long held Irish tradition,
and many men have been known to have died trying to prove a point. The hunger strikes began in October
of 1980(Somemothersson, 1997).
Just before the hunger strikes started, on August 27, 1979, members of the IRA assassinated the
Queen’s uncle, and completely destroyed a British Army convoy. This was the biggest single attack on
British soldiers, and the worst casualties since the war in 1921. The irony was that the regiment that was
attacked was the same one responsible for the deaths of Bloody Sunday(Frontline, 1997).
The hunger strike was the first thing that had finally gotten a small amount of attention from the
public and the British Government as a whole. The men in the prison still felt very strongly about their
status as regular prisoners. There was now six men on the hunger strike including a young man named
Bobby Sands. In November, after roughly a month of fasting, the leaders of the strike, Sands and Brendan
Hughes, called it off after being told that their demands woul
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