The Beginning of the Troubles

The Beginning of the Troubles

Context to the Troubles

Crowd At Mansion House Dublin 1919 - History GCSE RevisionUntil the early twentieth century, Ireland was part of the United Kingdom, though many people there wanted to be independent of the UK. Ireland was (and is) largely a Catholic country, whereas Britain was protestant. Catholics were treated as inferior by the British. Although the British government sometimes made attempts to try and defuse tensions in Ireland by offering different forms of home rule (self-government), they didn’t work. In January 1919, the Irish Republic was declared in Dublin. A war of independence followed, but in December 1921 the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed, making Ireland a free state within the British Empire (a status similar to countries such as Canada and Australia).

However, the north-east part of Ireland (that we today call Northern Ireland) remained part of Britain. Some (though not all) of its local population wanted to remain part of Britain. The main reason for this was that the majority of the people there were protestants, and felt a greater loyalty to Britain than to Ireland. In fact, because tensions between protestants and Catholics had been running so high for centuries, some people hated the idea of this new Ireland, while many Irish Catholics believed that Northern Ireland should be made to be part of Ireland.

1950s Onwards

Fast-forward to the 1950s, and not a great deal has changed in this situation. Ireland is still divided, with the Irish Republic (which separated from the British monarchy in 1948) still viewing the North as rightly its own, and the majority of population in the North wanting to stay part of Britain.

However, during the Sixties and Seventies this uneasy situation turned into violence, in a period known as the Troubles.

The Troubles

The Troubles - History GCSE RevisionThe civil rights marches organized by NICRA in 1968 that ended in violence are seen by many as the starting point of the Troubles. Once Terence O’Neill’s attempts to put reforms in place that would ease tensions in Northern Ireland had failed, to many Catholics it appeared that the system they were living under was one of discrimination and violence against their protests. At the same time, many Unionist politicians seemed to be keen to take a hard line against Catholics, and were happy to make public and provocative speeches to let their feelings be known. And, even more worryingly, paramilitary groups began to be formed. The UVF was set up in 1966, and the Nationalist Irish Republican Army (IRA), started to operate more openly in Northern Ireland.

In January 1969, another civil rights march was violently attacked by Unionists, with police refusing to protect the marchers. In fact, off-duty policemen were amongst those who attacked the marchers.