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Northern Irish History

Northern Irish History


Northern Ireland has a proud history that dates back thousands of years. Their first involvement with England was in 1177 when England wished to expand to the country. They were fought back for awhile by Ulster troops, but later were outnumbered and matched by John de Courcy and the English. He then led his army down to the Republic as well for more territory. The English stayed till the 14th century then decided to only control an area around Dublin, because they figured the Irish were to savage and didn’t wish to control any land outside the city.

In the 16th century first King Henry VIII and then Elizabeth I took an interest in Ireland and decided to try and control more of it. The Ulster’s put up a big battle and won a victory over the English at the Yellow Ford in 1598, but was later defeated in a different battle. After these battles England had a idea, which was called ‘Plantation of Ulster’, which was the systematic colonization of Donegal, Tyrone, Derry, Armagh, Cavan and Fermanagh by settlers from England. Later that year, Oliver Cromwell arrived with fresh troops and took over the rest of Northern and Southern Ireland, which at this time was one country. In 1690, Protestant King William of Orange’s troops defeated the Catholic army of King James at the Battle of the Boyne to confirm his claim to the English throne and with that was Ireland as well.

In the 17th century there were more immigrants brought to Ulster from England, but most of the settles sent over were Scottish Presbyterians, but by the end of the century the Ulster’s didn’t have much of a say anymore in their country.

At the turn of the 19th century there was a growing home rule campaign on and Ulster Unionist Leader, Sir Edward Carson, set up the original Ulster Volunteer Force in against Dublin’s domination of the Protestant majority ‘six counties’ in the north of Ireland. He is thought as the founder of Northern Ireland. In 1916 while World War I is being fought in mainland Europe, the Easter Rising happens, which pro-home rule rebels seize a post office in Dublin, but are eventually captured or killed by British soldiers. While this is happening Carson’s UVF force had become a division of the British Army and is fighting at the Battle of the Somme. After World War I and what happened at the Easter Rising, Britain grants partial home rule to Ireland, while the country is split in two and the Northern Ireland Parliament opens its doors in 1921. During World War II, Ireland remains neutral, while the North is a key alley in the battle against Nazi Germany. After the war and Britain at its weakest in hundreds of years, Ireland becomes a full republic and Northern Ireland is cemented into the British frame work.

After these decisions the Official IRA and later the Provisional IRA (the ‘Provos’) which broke away from the Official IRA are formed and operating bomb blasts and gun battles against the British army who are now based in Northern Ireland. These attacks are happening along the border and into Northern Ireland. In 1971, Sinn Fein President, Gerry Adams is detained and held for the next four years. This causes a surge in violence. The following year is arguably the turning point and when both sides new they had to start talking, was when ‘Bloody Sunday’ happened. Thirteen Catholic protesters die after being shot in Londonderry during a banned civil rights march. I couple of weeks after this event Gerry Adams; as well Republican leaders are flown to London for talks. Unfortunately, nothing develops from these talks and further violence erupts, as a gang of loyalists, known as the Shankill Butchers, abducts and murders a Catholic person as he walk from in west Belfast. In 1985, an Anglo-Irish Agreement was signed by Mrs. Thatcher and the Irish Taoiseach, Garret FitzGerald, trying to set up a number of cross-country initiates to curb the violence. Unfortunately, it’s opposed by many Ulster unionists and thousands of people turn out to hear Reverend Ian Paisley’s famous ‘No Surrender’ speech against the agreement. Throughout the 1980s bomb attacks become a regular occurrence throughout England.

In the 1990s, things changed as Bill Clinton becomes the President of the United States and he visits Northern Ireland in 1994 and shakes hands with Gerry Adams. Many people see this as a changing point and maybe an end to violence. In 1997, IRA declares another ceasefire and UUP leader David Trimble meets Tony Blair in Downing Street. In August that same year Gerry Adams and Mo Mowlam (Northern Ireland Secretary) meet at Stormont for the first time since the ceasefire. Sinn Fein confirms that they are committed to the peace process. In probably the biggest moment in Northern Ireland politics was in October that same year, when for the first time in 25 years unionists, loyalists, nationalists and republicans sit together to seek a solution to Ulster’s problems. Tony Blair shakes hands with Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams. He becomes the first Prime Minister for 70 years to meet a Sinn Fein delegate. In December, Gerry Adams and a Sinn Fein delegation meet Tony Blair at Number 10 Downing Street and he is the first Irish Republican leader to visit Downing Street since Michael Collins visited Lloyd George in 1921. This should have been enough to bring a full peace to Northern Ireland, but unfortunately, violence breaks out again and in Maze Prison, which is a high-security prison, one of Ulster’s most feared loyal paramilitaries is shot dead. This leads to revenge attacks within the prison and loyalist prisoners from Maze prison withdraw their support of the agreement. Mo Mowlam goes to visit the prisoners on a face-to-face visit to get them to support the agreement and they decide to do so.

On April 10, 1998 at 5:36pm and after 17 hours of talking, George Mitchell announces live that he please to announce that the two political parties have reached an agreement. It had emerged later that Bill Clinton, had made several phone calls to encourage them to reach this agreement. Unfortunately, a splinter group of the IRA, the Real IRA set off a bomb that killed 29 people and left hundreds injured. It was the worst single incident in the Northern Ireland conflict. The agreement sticks and a huge number of people show their disapproval of such an event.

The agreement that was set out on April 10th was known as the Belfast Agreement. It included a devolved, inclusive government, prisoner release, troop reductions, targets for paramilitary decommissioning, provisions for polls on Irish reunification, civil rights measures and “parity of esteem" for the two communities in Northern Ireland. A referendum was later introduced, which led to a large number of the population in support of the agreement.
Today, there still might be some tense times in Belfast, but the majority of the people are glad the bad times are behind them and they can move forward. Both Sinn Fein and Ulster Unionists Party members are working together to for the future of the country.


History of the IRA (Irish Republican Army)

During the 1960s the civil rights movement of Northern Ireland began stirring in the city of Derry/Londonderry.  The Nationalists (mainly Catholics who supported a non-British Ireland) felt that they were being marginalized by a mostly Loyalist (loyal to Britain) government in Northern Ireland.  They organized a civil rights march for October 5, 1968.  On hearing this Loyalists announced they were holding an ‘annual parade’ on the same day.  When the Nationalist demonstration was underway the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) blocked the route of the march and baton-charged the crowd.  Subsequent news coverage sparked riots across the city.  Rioting between the Nationalists and Loyalists began to escalate over time to such an extent that the British paratroopers were put into the streets of Derry/Londonderry.  In 1972, during a civil rights protest, they fired live rounds into a crowd of Nationalists protesters killing 13 unarmed civilians, many of them minors.  This tragedy became known as Bloody Sunday (U2 song) and kick started a more enforced militant campaign by the Irish Republican Army (IRA).

The IRA split into the Official branch, who felt the Catholic/Nationalist cause should be fought by peaceful, political means, and the Provisional IRA (dubbed ‘provos’), who armed themselves and began the ‘Long War’, a campaign of violence aiming to eradicate British presence and rule in Northern Ireland.

In the meantime, vicious sectarian rioting has spread to Belfast too, resulting in the deaths of many civilians and about 1500 locals being forced from their homes.  As a result the IRA stepped up their military strategy and by 1972 the Provisional IRA had killed more than 100 British soldiers, wounded 500 more and carried out roughly 1300 explosions.

The Loyalist/Protestant paramilitaries responded to the mushrooming violence with a campaign of sectarian assassinations of Nationalists. The British government, seeing that the Northern Ireland administration was incapable of quelling the violence, introduced direct rule from London, but the violence continued anyway.

After a long period of political maneuvering spearheaded by Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein (the provisional IRA’s political wing), the Loyalist and Nationalist paramilitaries declared a ceasefire in 1994, and the peace process began in Northern Ireland. The Belfast Agreement passed in 1998 restored self-government to Northern Ireland on a power-sharing basis between all political parties.

Today, paramilitary violence is greatly reduced, but signs of clashes between paramilitary supporters are still evident in areas of Belfast and vivid, angry murals cloak many of the walls.  They have built a 10m high metal wall to separate the Protestant area from nearby Catholic falls Road area, where Sinn Fein’s headquarters is.  There have been little incidents, but generally since the agreement has come into place Belfast has been a peaceful city again.




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