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The Troubles, a term used to describe a period of conflict in Northern Ireland, spanned from the late 1960s to 1998. This conflict was characterised by violent confrontations between different communities and a struggle for political and national identity. It is one of the most tumultuous and complex episodes in modern European history.

Until perhaps today.....  as Migrants flood Ireland, I wonder if the British will pale into insignificance in comparison? 

It led me to research and try and put together an essay to discover the deep rooted nationalistic love the Irish people have for their country. 

After all, Ireland has a long history of being betrayed and let down by migration. Forced, when they were faced with the loss of their homes and trekked to places like America, Australia, Canada and elsewhere. 

While it is fair to remind ourselves of the African American slaves who lamented " No one knows the troubles I've seen " it is also fair to say that the Irish have seen their fair of troubles. 

The roots of the Troubles lie deep in Ireland's history, particularly in the partition of Ireland in 1921. The island was divided into two entities: Northern Ireland, which remained part of the United Kingdom, and the Republic of Ireland, which gained independence. Northern Ireland had a Protestant majority that largely identified as British and wanted to remain part of the UK, while the Catholic minority identified as Irish and sought reunification with the Republic of Ireland.

At its most basic level, the Troubles can be thought of as a struggle for identity. There are a number of important differences between these two communities that still exist today – the most important one being that the 'loyalists', or pro-British community, were largely of the Protestant faith while the 'republicans' or pro-Irish community were mostly Catholic.

But how did these two communities end up in the one area in the first place, since they were so different? 

The early 17th century marked a significant chapter in Irish history with the arrival of British settlers under the rule of King James I. This event, known as the Plantation of Ulster, was a large-scale settlement that profoundly impacted the social, political, and cultural landscape of Ireland.

The Plantation of Ulster followed the Nine Years' War (1594–1603), a conflict between Gaelic Irish chieftains and the English crown. The war culminated in the defeat of the Irish lords, and this left vast tracts of land in Ulster under the control of the English crown.

800px Battle of Killala 1798 585x385 1

King James I, who ascended the English throne in 1603, saw an opportunity to consolidate English power in Ireland and suppress further rebellion by implementing a plantation policy. This involved confiscating land from the native Irish and redistributing it to loyal British subjects.

 The differing languages, traditions and histories of the two groups widened the gulf between them even further and caused resentment on both sides.

By the 19th century, Ireland was fully integrated into the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, following the Act of Union in 1801. This union was deeply unpopular among many Irish people, particularly Catholics, who faced significant discrimination and economic disadvantages.

Which brought about the Irish Question: what to do with Ireland? 

  1. One of the central elements of the Irish Question was the demand for Home Rule, which sought to grant Ireland its own parliament and a degree of self-governance while remaining part of the United Kingdom. The Home Rule movement gained momentum in the late 19th century, led by figures like Charles Stewart Parnell and the Irish Parliamentary Party.

  2. Another critical aspect was the issue of land ownership. The majority of Irish land was owned by Anglo-Irish landlords, often absentee, while the native Irish population lived as tenant farmers under oppressive conditions. Land reforms, including the Land Acts, aimed to address these grievances by facilitating tenant ownership.

  3. The Irish Question was also about national identity. The Protestant Ascendancy, representing the minority but politically powerful Anglican population, contrasted sharply with the Catholic majority. This religious divide further complicated efforts for a unified national movement.

  4. Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, various groups resorted to rebellion and violence in pursuit of Irish independence. The Young Irelanders' rebellion in 1848, the Fenian Rising in 1867, and the Easter Rising in 1916 were significant uprisings that underscored the depth of Irish discontent.

The British Parliament introduced several Home Rule Bills to address the Irish Question. The First Home Rule Bill in 1886 and the Second in 1893 both failed to pass. The Third Home Rule Bill in 1912 eventually passed but was suspended due to the outbreak of World War I.

Opposition to Home Rule was particularly strong in Ulster, where a significant Protestant population identified as British and feared domination by a Catholic-majority parliament in Dublin. This led to the formation of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) in 1913 and the signing of the Ulster Covenant, pledging resistance to Home Rule. 

The 1916 Easter Rising, a rebellion by Irish republicans against British rule, was a pivotal moment. Although it was quickly suppressed, the harsh British response galvanised support for independence. This event led to the rise of Sinn Féin, which won a landslide victory in the 1918 general election and subsequently declared an Irish Republic. Incidentally, Sinn Fein means  "We Ourselves" or "Ourselves Alone" in Irish, reflecting the party's roots in Irish nationalism and its longstanding commitment to Irish unity and independence.

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) was officially established in 1919, though its origins can be traced back to earlier Irish nationalist movements and organisations that sought independence from British rule. The IRA emerged out of the context of the Irish War of Independence (1919-1921) and was a successor to previous paramilitary groups like the Irish Volunteers.


The Irish Question moved towards resolution with the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, which established the Irish Free State as a dominion within the British Commonwealth. However, the treaty also partitioned Ireland, creating Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom, which led to a civil war in the south and long-term sectarian conflict in the north.

By the 1960's things were heating up again. 

The Battle of the Bogside in 1969 was a major riot in Derry that saw significant clashes between residents and the police, and the deployment of British troops to restore order. The immediate catalyst for the battle was the annual Apprentice Boys parade on August 12, 1969. The Apprentice Boys is a Protestant and unionist organisation that commemorates the 1689 Siege of Derry, a key event in Protestant history. The parade, which passed close to the Catholic Bogside area, was seen as provocative by many nationalists.However, the presence of the British Army often intensified the conflict, as many nationalists viewed them as an occupying force.

In 1974 the Ulster Volunteer Force set off 3 bombs in the Republic of Ireland; three in Dublin and one in Monaghan. The bombs killed 33 civilians wounded a further 300 – the highest number of casualties in a single incident during the Troubles. Allegedly, members of the British security forces gave a helping hand in planning the bombings.

Several groups played pivotal roles in the Troubles. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) was the most prominent nationalist paramilitary group, advocating for Irish unification through armed struggle. The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) were key loyalist paramilitary organizations, fighting to maintain Northern Ireland’s status as part of the UK.

Political entities also significantly influenced the conflict. Sinn Féin, associated with the IRA, sought to achieve its goals through both political and military means. On the other hand, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) were the main political representatives of the unionist community.

The violence of the Troubles resulted in the deaths of over 3,500 people, with thousands more injured. The conflict saw numerous bombings, assassinations, and riots. One of the most notorious incidents was Bloody Sunday in 1972, when British soldiers shot 26 unarmed civil rights protesters in Derry, killing 14. This event galvanised nationalist sentiment and increased support for the IRA.

The Troubles also had a profound psychological impact on the population, leading to widespread trauma and a deeply divided society. The heavy militarisation of Northern Ireland and the pervasive atmosphere of fear and suspicion further entrenched divisions.

The peace process was long and arduous, involving numerous attempts at negotiation and ceasefires. A significant breakthrough came with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement (Belfast Agreement) in 1998. This accord established a devolved government for Northern Ireland and created mechanisms for cooperation between Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, and the UK. It also set the stage for disarmament and the release of political prisoners.

The Good Friday Agreement was a landmark achievement, but it did not solve all underlying issues. While it significantly reduced violence and laid the foundation for political progress, sporadic violence and political tensions have persisted.

It goes far beyond the scope of this essay to do more than provide an overview. However, what is inescapable to the layman is this: 

Ireland is angry again. It is troubled again. The mass importation of migrants to the Irish homeland could be seen as a repeat of the invasion in the days of King James I. 

Will they be forced to flee as they did back in the potato famine days? Or will they simply face a mirror image of what they sought to escape? 

I cannot see it ending well. 

 My thanks to Paddy for helping me with this piece. 







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