Conflict in Ireland


The people of Northern Ireland disagree about the future of Ireland. One side wants to remain part of the UK. They are called Unionists. Hardline Unionists are also known as Loyalists. Most of the Unionists are also Protestants.
The other side want Northern Ireland to join the South and become part of the Irish Republic. They are called Nationalists. Hardline Nationalists are also known as Republicans. They are mostly Catholics.
The two communities in Northern Ireland are represented by a large number of different organisations. Here is a list of the main organisations for the Nationalist and Unionist communities:

SDLP - Social Democratic and Labour Party

Founded in 1970, the SDLP is supported almost entirely by Catholics. It wants Irish unity but is fiercely opposed to the violence of the IRA. The SDLP is the main voice of peaceful Nationalism in Northern Ireland.
Sinn FĂ©in:
This political party backs the tradition of revolutionary violence and the work of the IRA. It is supported by Catholics in working - class areas.
IRA - Irish Republican Army:
Originally established in 1919, this organisation has used force to oppose the British presence in Ireland. IRA members have killed large numbers of British soldiers and Northern Ireland police officers. IRA bombs have also killed civilians in both Northern Ireland and mainland Britain. The IRA is illegal in both the UK and the Republic of Ireland.
UUP - Ulster Unionist Party:
The Ulster Unionist Party was established in the late 19thcentury to defend the interests of northern Protestants. The UUP ruled Northern Ireland between 1920 and 1971.
DUP - The Democratic Unionist Party:
The second most powerful Unionist party was founded in 1971 by Ian Paisley. It has taken a tough and uncompromising view and has called for the destruction of the IRA.
The Orange Order:
In 1795 the Orange Order was established to help to protect Protestants. Today it is the largest Protestant organisation in northern Ireland. It is named after 17th- century Protestant king, William of Orange. It organises regular marches to celebrate the traditions of the Protestant community.
UDA/UVF - The Ulster Defence Association/The Ulster Volunteer Force:
These two groups are the main loyalist paramilitary groups. They were established in the early 1970s to fight the IRA. They are both illegal. Both groups have been responsible for the murder of innocent Catholics.
English conquest and colonisation 1500 - 1790

Rebellions and plantations: 1500 - 1690

Tudor expeditions

1541 Henry VIII changed his title from "Lord" to "King of Ireland" and told the Irish chieftains that they must all obey his orders. His children, Edward VI and Elizabeth I, began introducing Protestant bishops, bibles and prayer books. In Elizabeth’s reign, the provinces of Ulster and Munster rose in rebellion. 1595 Hugh O’Neill, The Earl of Tyrone, led the people of Ulster in a war against English rule. But the English forces got the upper hand and O’Neill and his Spanish allies were defeated at the Battle of Kinsale in 1601.

The Protestant plantations

The English rulers decided that military force alone was not enough to gain control in Ireland. Land was still the main source of power. So the English decided to "plant" colonies of loyal Protestants and give land to them.
Some of the settlers were supporters of the Church of England, known as Anglicans. Others were Scottish Protestants, sometimes known as Presbyterians or Dissenters.

Catholic Rebellion

In 1641 Catholics took part in a great rebellion against the new settlers. Large numbers of Protestants were killed and the rebellion continued until the arrival of the English leader, Oliver Cromwell, in 1649. Cromwell slaughtered the Catholic inhabitants of two towns, Drogheda and Wexford. Afterwards he confiscated the lands of the Catholic rebels and handed it out to his followers.

The Ulster Plantation: a turning point

Unlike earlier invaders, these new settlers and their descendants kept apart from the Gaelic people. They retained their Protestant religion and their English language.
After the Plantation there were two separate hostile "communities" in Ulster: the descendants of the Protestant British settlers and the native Irish Catholics. From the beginning, their differences were not just about religion but also about political and economic power. As Protestant settlers increased their hold on land and power, so the Gaelic Catholics lost it.

The Protestant takeover 1690 - 1770

When Catholic James II became king in 1685, the Protestants began to fear that their land - and their power - would be given back to the Catholics. Even when James was overthrown by Protestants in 1688, their position was not safe. James II planned to use Ireland as a base to invade England to regain his throne.

The Battle of the Boyne: a turning point

On 12 July 1690 the new Protestant king, William of Orange, followed James to Ireland and defeated him at the Battle of the Boyne. Ulster Protestants still celebrate the Battle of the Boyne today with an "Orange march" and William of Orange remains one of their heroes.
The Penal Laws
Between 1697 and 1727 the Irish Parliament passed special laws known as the Penal Laws. These remained in force until the end of 18thcentury. Because of the Penal Laws the Dissenters were prevented from holding public offices or sitting on town councils unless they agreed to worship in an Anglican church.
Throughout the 18thcentury the Anglican ruling class controlled everything that mattered in Ireland.

The fight for Irish Independence

The Fenian tradition

In 1858 two secret organisations were set up to plan for a revolution in Ireland: they were called the Fenian Brotherhood and the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). A Fenian rebellion in 1867 was easily suppressed by the British forces. After 1867 the Fenians realised there was little support for armed uprisings and instead began to help poor farmers in their fight against harsh landlords.

The Rise of Sinn FĂ©in

In 1905 a new political party was set up, called Sinn FĂ©in (meaning "Ourselves Alone"). It was led by Arthur Griffith. He wanted Ireland to become independent but he did not plan to achieve this by force. Instead he suggested that the Irish MPs should simply "opt out" of the British parliament and set up their own government in Dublin.

The rise of the parliamentary Nationalists 1820 - 1914

Daniel O’Connell wins support

O’Connell was responsible for important developments:
With thousands of Irish voters supporting him, O’Connell was able to force the British government to change the law banning Catholic MPs in 1829. O’Connell’s supporters could now go on to build up a party of Irish Nationalist MPs in the British House of Commons. This was important if they were to change the Act of Union which had abolished the old Irish Parliament in 1800.

Parnell and the campaign for Home Rule

1885 Charles Stewart Parnell built up an Irish Nationalist Party. Nationalist MPs were now a big enough group to make the two British parties, the Liberals and the Conservatives, take notice of their demands.
In 1886, the leaders of the Liberal Party agreed to help Parnell and the Nationalists in their attempt to set up an Irish Parliament. They brought a "Home Rule for Ireland" Bill before the House of Commons. This was defeated twice - in 1886 and again in 1893.

John Redmond comes close to victory

Parnell’s campaign for an Irish parliament was carried on after 1900 by a new leader, John Redmond. In 1912 the Liberals brought a third Home Rule bill before the House of Commons. This time the bill was passed. 1914 Irish people were set to have their own parliament again in Dublin.

The rise of Unionist opposition 1790 - 1914

The Ulster Unionist Party

Protestants now decided the time had come to put a stop to all ideas of an independent Irish parliament. So they set up their own political party to fight to keep Britain and Ireland united. This was the "Ulster Unionist Party".
Ulster Protestants also set up their own private army, the Ulster Volunteers.

The Irish Revolution 1914 - 1921

By 1914 there were serious problems in Ireland:
    The parliamentary Nationalists had been promised Home Rule by autumn 1914 but the Unionists were determined to stop Ulster being ruled by an all Ireland parliament. Both sides had strong support: the Nationalist Party among Ireland’s Catholic voters, the Unionists among the Protestants of Ulster. Both sides had private armies. The Unionists had recruited 100 000 Ulster Volunteers in 1912 to fight against Home Rule. In 1913 the Nationalist Party, with the help of a group of Fenians, formed a rival army to fight for Home Rule. They were called the Irish Volunteers.

The Easter Rising

In 1916 a small group of Fenians organised a rebellion in Dublin on Easter Monday. Their leader was Patrick Pearse. They took over the General Post Office and proclaimed Ireland an independent Republic. After a week of violence Pearse surrendered. The British army, under General Maxwell, executed fifteen of the leaders without a proper trial.

The Triumph of Sinn FĂ©in 1918

Throughout Britain and Ireland a general election was held. Irish voters had a choice of three different futures for Ireland:
    Home Rule, but as part of the British Empire (Redmond and the Nationalist Party). British rule for Ireland (Unionists). Complete independence (Sinn FĂ©in and the Revolutionary Nationalists).
The overall winners were Sinn Féin. The new Sinn Féin MPs refused to go to London. Instead they declared Ireland an independent Republic and set up their own parliament, the Dáil, in Dublin. They also set up a government, police and law courts.
The Irish Volunteers were reorganised and renamed "The Irish Republican Army" (IRA), under the leadership of Michael Collins.

The war of Irish Independence 1919 - 1921

In 1920 the IRA fought against British forces in Ireland.
The British government decided that the only solution was to divide Ireland into two parts:

The North

In 1920 the six most Protestant counties of Ulster were given their own parliament and their own government. This new government of Northern Ireland became known as Stormont. The new state was to stay part of the UK.

The South

The 26 counties of southern Ireland became known as the Irish Free State. This was an independent country but initially it remained part of the British Commonwealth.

Ireland divided

Orangemen rule the North

Although Protestant Unionists were in the majority, there were still thousands of Catholic Nationalists living there. Many refused to accept the split. Between July 1920 and July 1922 there was fierce fighting in Belfast and 453 people were killed.
Northern Ireland had been given its own parliament. Since the Protestants were in the majority, they had control of the Stormont Parliament and the government.
Catholics found it difficult to get good jobs and decent council houses. They also felt they were treated unfairly by the police. The Northern Ireland government introduced new laws and a new part - time police force as a defence against the IRA.

Partition: the effects in the North

Hopes of peaceful change 1950 - 1968

Between 1956 and 1962 the IRA started a new campaign of violence in the North. It failed mainly. Many IRA leaders were imprisoned.

The North explodes 1968 - 1972

In 1967 a group of young Catholics got together and set up a Civil Rights Association. From October 1968, they organised a series of protest marches. These marches ended in violence and bloodshed between Catholics and Protestants. Civil Rights marchers were opposed by followers of the Protestant preacher, Ian Paisley.
By August 1969 fighting between Catholics and Protestant police was out of control. The British government stepped in and sent British troops to restore order.

Return of the IRA and UVF

In 1956 - 1962 the IRA were back and now controlled the Catholic streets of these cities. This time there was a new group of young IRA men calling themselves "The Provisional" IRA. The Provisionals had broken away from the old "Official" IRA in 1969 - 1970.
On the other side of the barricades were the Protestant paramilitaries, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and the Ulster Defence Association (UDA). They were determined to fight to keep Ulster British.

Bloody Sunday and Direct rule 1972

In 1970 a group of Catholic Nationalists set up the Social Democratic Labour Party (SDLP) to campaign for peaceful change. The SDLP became the largest Nationalist party but they were not able to stop the violence.
On 30thJanuary 1972 thirteen unarmed people were shot dead by the British army during a Civil Rights march in Londonderry. This day is called "Bloody Sunday".
So the British government suspended the Northern Ireland government and parliament and began to rule the province direct from Britain.

Britain and Ireland since 1972

Power - sharing

In 1974 the British tried to set up a new system of government in which power would be shared between Protestants and Catholics (Sunningdale Agreement). This system failed because the Protestants opposed it.

Changes in the police and security forces

When British troops were first sent to Ulster in 1969 they were given complete control of all peace - keeping operations and the Royal Ulster Constabulary. In 1977 they handed back control to the RUC.

The Nationalist reaction since 1972

The Parliamentary Nationalists

The SDLP, led by John Hume, are the modern Parliamentary Nationalists. Like O’Connell in the 19thcentury, they want to solve Ireland’s problems by peaceful negotiation.

The Revolutionary Nationalists - The IRA

The IRA is the main modern example of Revolutionary Nationalism. Since the early 1970s it has planted bombs in Northern Ireland and in mainland Britain which have killed and injured ordinary civilians, including children. At times the IRA has changed tactics and has put more emphasis on attacking the police, the army and leading British figures. Lord Mountbatten, the Queen’s uncle, was murdered in 1979. In 1984 a bomb planted in a Brighton hotel nearly killed the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, and other government members.

Sinn FĂ©in

In the 1980s some of the younger IRA men, led by Gerry Adams, brought forward a new idea. Using the old name Sinn FĂ©in, they decided to built up a new political party for Revolutionary Nationalists in Ireland.
In the election of 1983 Adams was elected as British MP for West Belfast.
The Sinn FĂ©in attempt to become the voice of the Nationalist community ultimately failed. Adams himself lost his seat as MP to an SDLP politician in 1992.
With widespread criticism of IRA activities, Gerry Adams began to explore a new policy. He decided to encourage IRA/Sinn FĂ©in to end the armed struggle and use peaceful methods. In 1988 Adams began talks with John Hume, the SDLP leader. Adams persuaded the IRA to declare a cease - fire in 1994 and again in 1997. Ten years after the start of the Hume - Adams talks both men supported the 1998 Good Friday Agreement which set up a power - sharing assembly in Northern Ireland.

The Unionist reaction since 1972

In 1971, a new party called the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) was set up, led by Ian Paisley. Paisley was well known for his fiercely anti - Catholic, anti - Nationalist and anti - British government views.

Some extreme Unionists set up Protestant private armies: the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) and the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF). These organisations specialised in "sectarian" murders: the killing of innocent Catholics in retaliation for IRA attacks on Protestant policemen and part - time soldiers.

No power - sharing

Since 1972, Unionists have opposed all moves to involve Nationalists in the government of Ulster. In 1974 they wrecked the "Power - sharing" system by means of a general strike of all Protestant workers.
Cease - fire and beyond
In 1993 there was an agreement between Adams and Hume. The two men informed Dublin that there was a possibility of the IRA ceasing its violence. On 31 August the IRA announced that there would be a cease - fire. Shortly afterwards the loyalist paramilitaries also declared a cease - fire.
The British government wanted the IRA began to hand over weapon. The IRA refused. In February 1996 the IRA ended the cease - fire, and killed two people in London. In 1997 Tony Blair became British Prime Minister, and his new Labour government tried to get peace talks going. The IRA declared a new cease - fire in July 1997, and Sinn FĂ©in was allowed to join the peace talks. Negotiations continued throughout late 1997 and early 1998. On 10 April 1998, Good Friday, a peace deal was agreed. Under the Good Friday Agreement a new power - sharing assembly was given day - to - day control over Northern Ireland.

Causes of the conflict

The divide between Catholics and Protestants goes back a long way to the 16thand 17thcenturies. It was then that British rulers first brought the Protestant church and Protestant settlers to Ireland.
The overwhelming majority of Northern Protestants are also Unionists. Nearly all Nationalists in northern Ireland are also Catholics.
By itself the religious difference cannot explain the conflict in Ireland. The divisions in the north of Ireland are caused by the two communities having a different sense of identity.

Some religious differences between Catholics and Protestants


The leader of the Catholic Church is the Pope. He represents Christ on Earth.
Services often contain elaborate ritual. Priests have special powers.
Priests must not marry. Monks and nuns do not marry.
Special veneration is given to the Virgin Mary and other saints.
The Pope is wrong when he claims to represent Christ. His leadership is rejected.
Services are simpler. Ministers do not have supernatural powers.
Ministers can marry. Marriage is better than a monastic way of life.
Little attention is given to saints. The Bible is given special veneration.
    Power politics


Nationalists want a united Ireland. There are two traditions of Irish Nationalism. The parliamentary Nationalists, like the SDLP, think the only way to get a united Ireland is by peaceful negotiation. The traditional revolutionary republican, like the IRA, fight against British rule using the bomb and bullet.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Gerry Adams of Sinn FĂ©in and John Hume of the SDLP met to work out a common approach. Adams agreed to work towards a peaceful approach to politics. He persuaded the IRA to change, and in 1994 and 1997 the IRA declared cease - fires. The 1997 cease - fire was followed by peace talks which were attended by both Sinn FĂ©in and the SDLP. Both Nationalist parties agreed to support the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.


Unionists are determined to stop North and South becoming united. Some, like the politicians of the Ulster Unionist Party and the Democratic Unionist Party, use parliamentary politics to protect the Union with Britain. Others, including members of the UDA and the UVF, have used violence against Catholics in an attempt to defeat the IRA. The Protestant paramilitaries have carried out campaigns of sectarian murder, during which innocent Catholics have been killed as a warning to the IRA. Occasionally the line between the Parliamentary Unionists and the use of paramilitary force becomes blurred.

The land question

In the 17thcentury the government started taking land from the native Irish (who were Catholics) and giving it to Scottish and English settlers (who were loyal Protestants).
After the rebellions in 1641 and 1690 more land was confiscated from Catholic landowners and settled in the same way. Finally in 1704 the Irish Parliament (which was controlled by Protestant landowners) passed a law forbidding Catholics to buy any more land. By 1703 over 80% of the land was owned by Protestants.
The Great Famine
Among the most difficult phases for the Irish were periods of starvation, e.g. "The Great Hunger" 1845 to 1849, where the potato crop was destroyed by a disease. During the Great Hunger about one third of Ireland’s population starved or emigrated to the USA, Canada and Britain.
    Social life

Separate schools

Today the two communities are not only divided by religion and politics, they also go to separate schools.
The idea of separate schools has a long history. In 1700 after their victory at the Battle of the Boyne, Protestants passed a series of "Penal Laws" against Catholics. One of these banned Catholic teachers.
For over 100 years the only legal schools were those run by the Protestant churches. Catholics ran illegal "hedge" schools for their children.
Separate housing
In the cities of Belfast and Derry, most Catholics and Protestants live in separate areas. In Derry this goes back to the time of the Protestant Plantations in the early 17thcentury. Separate areas in Belfast grew up in the early 19thcentury when the growing shipbuilding and linen industries attracted many Catholic workers.
Books of my special topic Northern Ireland
The twelfth day of July (Kevin and Sadie)

Author: Joan Lingard

Date: 1970

Penguin Books
The story takes place in Belfast. It is about the conflict between Catholic (Kevin and Brede) and Protestant (Tommy and Sadie) children. One day two Catholic children spread the words DOWN WITH KING BILLY across the gable wall of a Protestant house. To take revenge the Protestant children paint GOD BLESS KING BILLY on a wall. This fight goes on and in the night of the eleventh of July all Protestant children stand on their side of the street, which parts the Catholic from the Protestant area, and all Catholic children stand on the other side. They begin to throw stones at each other. But suddenly a Catholic girl is hurt badly. When they realise how stupid they have been, they stop and Sadie and Tommy run to her and help her. So the Protestant and Catholic children get to know each other and some of them become friends.
Across the barricades (Kevin and Sadie)

Author: Joan Lingard

Date: 1972

Penguin Books
The story takes place in Belfast. Sadie, a Protestant girl, falls in love with Kevin, a Catholic boy. Sadie’s mother doesn’t want her to meet a Catholic boy but Sadie doesn’t accept this. Also Kevin’s friends are against the friendship with a Protestant girl. Because it is not safe to meet on the street they meet each other very often at Mr. Blake’s house. Mr. Blake is a Protestant man, who helps the two children to keep their friendship. But because of this he is killed one day by a petrol bomb. Because of that and because Kevin is beaten up by some boys one day, Sadie is very afraid and doesn’t want to see Kevin again. Because Kevin’s life is not save anymore in Belfast and he has also lost his job he decides to leave Northern Ireland and to go to London. Sadie decides to go with him and start a new life in England.

Lies of silence

Author: Brian Moore

Date: 1990


Michael Dixon is a hotel - manager in Northern Ireland. He is married to Moira but has an affair with Andrea Baxter. He decides to tell Moira that he wants to leave her and wants to go to England. But at night some people of the IRA break into their house. Michael is forced to drive his car into the car park of his hotel. He is told that there is a bomb hidden in it. If he doesn’t do what they want, Moira will get killed, but if he does so hundreds of people will get killed in the hotel. So he drives the car into the car - park but then phones the police. The police come and all people get out of the hotel in time. Also Moira hasn’t been killed by the IRA.
After this Michael decides to go to England with Andrea. In England the police phone Michael and ask him to identify one of the boys, who could have been involved in the IRA - attacks. He agrees but the same evening when he gets home from work he is killed by three men .

In the name of the father

Gerry Conlon is a Catholic and lives in Northern Ireland. There he fights on the streets against the British army. But one day he decides to go to England. There he lives together with young people whose motto are drugs and love.
One day there is a bomb - attack on an English pub. The police blame Gerry and his friends of having placed the bomb. But they are innocent. At the police - station they beat him up and threaten him to kill his father until he admits that he has set the bomb. So he and his father and also his friends in England and some of his family - members are arrested. But after fifteen years there is a new trial. Gerry’s father has already died in jail. The case has been dismissed and all people, who they once have arrested are innocent. They have spent fifteen years in jail for something they haven’t done

Michael Collins

Director: Neil Jordan


This film is about the life of Michael Collins. Michael Collins fights together with his friend Harry against the British army and wants Ireland to become independent. Later he becomes the leader of the IRA and organises many brutal attacks and killings. Harry becomes President of the Irish Republic and wants to fight against the English Empire without weapons. One day Michael Collins goes to peace - talks to England. There he accepts Ireland to become an Irish Free State. But Harry wants a Republic Ireland and so Michael and Harry start to fight against each other in the Civil War. Michael Collins is killed at the age of 31.

Conflict in Ireland

From origins to peace agreement

Author: Tony McAleavy

Date: 1999
Collins Educational
This book is a non - fiction book which informs about the Conflict in Ireland. It starts with the Invaders and settlers 100BC - 1500AD and ends with the conflict of today. It also tells us something about the causes of the conflict.
READINGLIST / Spitzer Melanie
Conflict in Ireland
    Special Topic
Conflict in Ireland
From origins to peace agreement
Author: Tony McAleavy
Date of publication: 1999
Collins Educational
The twelfth day of July (Kevin and Sadie)
Author: Joan Lingard
Date of publication: 1970
Penguin Books
Across the barricades (Kevin and Sadie)
Author: Joan Lingard
Date of publication: 1972
Penguin Books
Lies of silence
Author: Brian Moore
Date of publication: 1990
Michael Collins
In the Name of the Father

2. Extra reading
The fat girl
Goggle eyes
The Wave
Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde
The Cement Garden

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