The land mass that is known as Ireland is split into two parts. The North is aptly named Northern Ireland with the capital city Belfast. Northern Ireland is predominantly Protestant, being 2/3’s protestant and 1/3 catholic. It is made up of six counties, Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry and Tyrone. These counties are collectively known as Ulster. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. The Southern Region is known as the Republic of Ireland or the Irish Republic, its capital city is Dublin.
The Irish Republic broke away from the British Rule in 1949 and now it is a totally separate country. In contrast to The North the south is predominately Catholic. The Northern Ireland conflict is between two parties which divide the Irish people into two communities of different, conflicting beliefs and ideals. There are the Ulster Protestants, those who reside in Northern Ireland and believe that it should stay part of the United Kingdom. They are proud of their status in the UK and of their history as a separate country, for example their triumphs over the Catholic South.
The other party is the Republican/Nationalist party. Nationalists and Republicans are both Catholic groups who want a United Ireland, meaning that they believe that Northern Ireland should be under the rule of the Irish Republic government. The difference between the two parties is that Republicans believe that their aims of a United Ireland can be achieved through methods of violence and Nationalists believe that a United Ireland should only be attained by non-violent methods. Both groups are equally passionate about their aims for the future of Northern Ireland.
Between 1968 and the present day they have used a number of different violent, peaceful, persuasive, threatening, and contentious methods to achieve their specific aims. There were many different sub groups of the Republicans/Nationalists and the Loyalists. Some of the main ones were the Sinn Fein a Political Party who supports the militant campaigns to achieve a united Ireland. The Social Democratic ; Labour Party (SLDP) who are a predominantly catholic political party who believe in achieving a United Ireland through non-violent, peaceful, democratic tactics.
Then there is the IRA or Irish Republican Army. They have fought against the British since 1919. In December of 1969 they split into two groups; The Provisionals and Officials. The Officials moved away from violent methods. The Provisional IRA still believed violence was the correct way and subsequently played a major role in the Republican’s attempts to achieve a united Ireland. They became an infamous terrorist organisation who performed many acts of violence against the Unionists and the British Army.
There was the DUP, Democratic Unionist Party and the OUP, Official Unionist Party which were the two main Unionist parties. The Orange Order is the largest protestant organisation in Northern Ireland and was formed in 1975 with the aim of protecting the Protestants. They hold marches in honour of the victory by William of Orange over the Catholics. The UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force) and UFF (Ulster Freedom Fighters) are two illegal paramilitary organisations who support the aims of the Unionists. The Royal Ulster Constabulary was the police force of Northern Ireland and was under Army Control from 1969-1977.
Only 10% of the RUC was catholic. The Alliance Party was founded in 1970 and contains members both Unionist and Nationalist who want to bring the two communities together, peacefully. Throughout the troubles these groups tried many ways to achieve their separate aims. Unionists felt threatened by the Catholics of the south and feared that their country could once again come to be under the rule of the Republic. This led to discrimination of the Northern Irish Catholics and the aim to keep them from getting any power at all in Northern Ireland.
Catholics were discriminated against in employment situations, they were treated as second class citizens when it came to housing and the worst discrimination arose when it came to local government issues. The Protestants were afraid of Catholic rule so they did all they could to prevent it in Northern Ireland. The local governments, i. e. county and city councils had a lot of power as they were in charge of housing and employment. Ulster government made it so that Catholics had very little say when it came to elections and voting on government issues.
Only people who owned property were allowed to vote and as Catholics owned less property, due to discrimination as regards housing and employment, they had fewer votes. A businessman who owned several properties could cast up to six votes depending on the number of properties, whereas a household of six people only had the one. Another Protestant system to prevent catholic influence was gerrymandering. This is a way of legally rigging the votes by the way that each area is divided up. Each local area was divided into districts called wards.
The government made sure that the borders of these wards fell so that the majority in each ward was protestant. This meant that the result of the vote would be in favour of the Protestants. The siege mentality of the Unionists and the way that Republicans in the North saw themselves as second class citizens led to feelings of hatred and rivalry between Catholics and Protestants in the North. This encouraged many sectarian attacks. These were minor aggressive displays by ordinary people of the two communities. For example, ordinary Protestants attacking ordinary Catholics and vice-versa.
However, these attacks escalated and by 1969 fierce fighting broke out between Protestants and Catholics. On the 12th August 1969 there was a parade held by the Orangemen which started off as a peaceful parade. Soon, however, as they marched past the catholic area of Bogside there were sectarian clashes and rioting broke out. It took 1,000 of the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) to contain the crowds. Over two days the RUC tried to overcome the Catholic rioters whilst being pelted with stones and petrol bombs.
A few days later, the British Army arrived to maintain order. This event is known as the Battle of the Bogside and it marks a pivotal point where the troubles in Ireland became more than just arguments and resentment between the parties and true hatred expressed through violence. The British Regular Army was sent as a peace-keeping force to protect civilians of Northern Ireland. The British Army had perfectly good intentions of peace-keeping and separating the two groups when they first entered Northern Ireland, but the outcome was extremely different.
At first the Army were welcomed by the citizens of Northern Ireland but soon they were seen as being Unionists rather than an impartial party and were as before a soldier might have gone to a catholic household and be welcomed in for a cup of tea, he was now shunned and spat at. The IRA, throughout the troubles, was fighting with militant tactics against the British and the Unionists in The North. They planned and carried out many terrorist actions against their enemies in hopes to get what they wanted, a United Ireland.
They believed, like many republicans, that attacking the British and intimidating them would make them feel threatened into giving Northern Ireland back to the Republic. They believed that violence would help them achieve their aims and their attacks got worse as the British and the Unionists refused to back down. There were many horrific attacks carried out by the IRA as I said but here are a few. The planting of a bomb in Harrods in December of 1983 aimed at Christmas Shoppers in London. Six people were killed, 3 of which were police, and 90 were injured. On July 20th 1982 two bombs were let off.
One was in Hyde Park, which killed two of the household cavalry who were performing ceremonial duties. The other detonated in Regents Park underneath a bandstand where a military band was performing to 120 spectators. Seven people were killed. In July 1972 The IRA planted and let off 20 bombs in Belfast city centre. 11 people were killed and 130 injured. This became known as Bloody Friday. In Birmingham possibly the most infamous IRA bombings occurred called the Birmingham Pub Bombings. The IRA let off two Bombs in two central pubs in Birmingham, The Mulberry Bush and the Tavern.
The bombs killed a total of 21 people and injured many others. However it was not only the IRA performing acts of violence. To counter act and fight off push the IRA back to The Republic of Ireland The Unionist groups were also committing acts of extreme violence. In 1969 a Catholic named Sammy Devenney was battered to death by the RUC in his own home. Perhaps most notably, in 1972 on Sunday 30th January a peaceful protest for civil rights began in Derry. Thousands of people were involved. British paratroopers arrived and for no apparent reason shot dead thirteen Roman Catholics.
Rioting soon broke out and this day came to be known as Bloody Sunday. There were people however, who favored non-violent methods in attempt to achieve what they wanted. For example the Alliance Party was involved in a number of peace talks and negotiations, as were the Sinn Fein and other political parties. They believed that negotiatory tactics were a better way to achieve their aims. In the Maze prison, the most secure prison of its time, built with a unique H-block for high security purposes, another tactic was being put into practice.
Republican prisoners began what was called ‘the dirty protest’ in 1978. They refused to wash and spread excrement all over the walls and floors of their prison cells in protest to achieve better rights to clothes for prisoners. Another protest that took place in the Maze prison was the Hunger Strike. Prisoners refused to eat until the British Government and Unionists gave them what they wanted, to wear their own clothes. The Hunger strike began on 1st March and finished on October 3rd after the deaths of 10 prisoners. By then the prisoners were allowed to wear their own clothes.
Perhaps the most famous of these protesters was Bobby Sands. He began his hunger strike on 1st of March and got himself a lot of publicity over it by running for an election, which he won. However after 66 days Bobby Sands died on May the 5th. His death caused rioting in Northern Ireland and in the Republic 100,000 attended his funeral. The next day, provisional IRA prisoner, Joe McDonnell started a hunger strike to take the place of Sands. After Bobby sands, the pioneer of the Hunger Strike another 9 prisoners including Joe McDonnell, died for their beliefs.
These protestors were using manipulative tactics. They were playing on peoples emotions to get themselves sympathy in the hope of people giving in and giving them what they wanted just to end their suffering. Even now, after the formation of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, incidents, mainly sectarian attacks, still arise. In 2001, some young Catholic girls who attended Holy Cross Primary School had to walk from Ardoyne through the protestant area of Glenbryn. They fell victim to sectarian attacks, and were intimidated by the Protestants of the area.
The school sits on the border between the Catholic and Protestant districts so it is the setting and cause of many disputes between the two communities. Between 1969 and today both communities have tried many different approaches to achieve their separate aims. However, these approaches have one thing in common. The passion of the two communities and their firm beliefs about what they want for Northern Ireland. It is this that is the underlying vein that flows through all the attempts by both communities, peaceful or otherwise, to achieve their goals.