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The "Troubles" of Northern Ireland

Okay, in preparation for my trip to Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland, I have been reading up and watching programs to brush up on their history. I just finished watching Bloody Sunday, and was very shocked. I have questions that I hope I can get some answers on. I'm afraid to ask people in Northern Ireland for fear of making someone mad. I truly am just wanting to learn, not trying to criticize...

  1. Why doesn't/didn't Britain just let the Northern Irish be independent? I just couldn't understand that a "civilized" society was treating its people like that!

  2. Since Bloody Sunday wasn't captured on video (like everything seems to be today), who's to say that the soldiers weren't telling the truth? Is the movie biased or has the investigations proved a lot of the story shown in the movie? Have soldiers involved in the incident changed their story since that time?

  3. Is most of Northern Ireland for or against independence?

  4. How active is the IRA today?

I feel like a history teacher asking these questions! But I felt almost more confused after watching that movie then I was before!!! I'm hoping I can get the opinion also from Irish/British people...

Posted by
5669 posts

I don't pretend to be a student of Irish History, but with Irish cousins I've learned something things. I don't know that we can really answer your questions well enough on the Helpline. I would recommend finding a book on the history of Ireland. I can reach out to some of my authors to see if you they have a recommendation. PM me if you would like me to do this.

One thing you do need to understand is that the division into Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland happened at the close of the Irish Wars of Independence in 1918. The majority of the population in the north voted to rejoin Great Britain, but the borders included sizable Catholic population and there were many who never accepted the treaty so they were still fighting 80 years on. Bloody Sunday was part of a civil war. BTW the roots of all of this goes way back to Henry VIII and older.

The IRA has a political and a military "wing". The political arm, Sinn Fein is still around and getting elected. Part of the negotiation of the end of the troubles was the disarmament of the IRA and Sinn Fein was pressured to make that happen.

I hope that there is someone who knows this better as I'm sure I've gotten some of the bits wrong. It's not a simple narrative.

Pam

Posted by
932 posts

I actually just finished reading The Rebels of Ireland, and before that, I had read Princes of Ireland by Edward Rutherford. The books were over 800 pages each! So I do have a pretty good grasp of how Ireland got to the early 1900's. But beyond that, that's where I'm having trouble. I guess because like I said, Europe is civilized now, so I can't figure out why it can't be worked out without killing! Then again, the violence has subsided...

Posted by
21855 posts

Pamela, that is reasonably accurate given the limited space we have to work with. It was primarily a religious conflict wrapped in some nationalism and nobody every wins a religious conflict. The IRA is inactive today and it pretty safe if you are worried about bombs.

Posted by
932 posts

(I'm not at all worried about bombs.)

Posted by
2280 posts

It is not a question of the British letting the Northern Irish be independent. The question is whether Northern Ireland remains a part of the United Kingdom or is reunited with the rest of Ireland. A majority of the people in Northern Ireland (most of whom are Protestant descendents of the Scotts who moved to Northern Ireland in the 1700s -- not positive about the time frame -- as part of Britain's efforts to subjugate Ireland) want to remain part of the United Kingdom rather than join the predominantly Catholic Ireland. A minority of the population in Northern Ireland (predominantly Catholic) want to be part of Ireland. It's not an easy call. I can see both sides, although at this point, I think you just have to accept the majority in Northern Ireland's desire to remain part of the UK.

Posted by
993 posts

Well said Carroll. In Ulster the Plantation started in around 1600. As far as most the Protestants in the North are concerned they are British Subjects. Amy, also remember that the Irish were treated pretty badly when they immigrated to this country. And as far as a civilized society treating people "like that" we also kept slaves. For what ever reason the only thing some people have is the belief that they are better than someone else. "No Irish Need Apply". They, the Irish, were considered a different species even. Consider now that over 20% of the population of the US is of Irish decent. I don't think you'll find many people willing to tell you how active is the IRA today. A hardheaded bunch are the Irish. Bless us all.

Posted by
3580 posts

The only question in your list that I would ask a person of Northern Irish citizenship, especially someone I didn't know well, is the first one. Keep the conversation confidential, i.e. not loud and in a public way. Better yet, go to the library and read up on the subject. I was on a small, private tour of a dozen people in Ireland in 1985. In the three weeks we were with him, our guide/driver talked a lot about the situation (this was during the time of "the troubles"). Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants sometimes have a different view of their countries. There was a vote; the northern counties wanted to stay with Britain, and the other counties wanted independence. The Republic of Ireland (southern counties) was formed and Northern Ireland remained part of the UK. Anyone who knows more or different, please chime in. It's a lot more complex than I'm making it. Religion played a part. Nationalism played a part (sense of being occupied by the English). If you really want to understand more about Ireland, hit the library.

Posted by
2349 posts

The book "My Dream of You" by Nuala O'Faolain might interest you. I don't remember much about the Troubles, but she did have a good bit about the prejudice of the English against the Irish that still exists today.

Posted by
932 posts

Thanks everyone. Karen, that book is available at our library, and it sounds fascinating! I'm going to check it out tomorrow! I guess I got so much info in the 1600+ pages of the books about Ireland, but it ended in the early 1900's, so I'm left needing more info about the more current situation! I hope I can find a book about it that was as intriguing as the Dublin Saga. I'm not good with reading history, but the way Rutherford weaved a story into the history made it more palatable...

Posted by
668 posts

Amy: As someone pointed out, to answer your first question, Northern Irish people do not want to be independent, the majority want close ties to UK. A minority want to unite with Eire (Southern Ireland).

The question of religion cannot be avoided, but in some ways it is overstated. The south was and still is, nominally at least, Catholic. The North was settled by Scots protestants at the behest of the English in an attempt to dominate the whole of Ireland. The reason I say that religion is overstated is the fact that economics has played a much greater part in the problem. Eire was a poor country and their citizens migrated to the north to gain the benefits that the UK provided. This caused considerable friction. It is no coincidence that the troubles have dissipated in recent years at the same time as Eire has become the prosperous party while the north has lost much of its industry, mainly shipbuilding. This has put the two countries on an even footing economically and there is now little reason for one to be envious of the other. The IRA has professed to have destroyed their weapons and the Ulster Defence Force (the North's equivalent) claims to have put their arms out of reach. Politically the two sides still are poles apart, but seem at present to be willing to talk about their differences rather than fight about them. There are still splinter groups who cause problems from time to time - a killing near Londonderry last year and a bomb at a police post, I think early this year, but generally, things have quietened down considerably.

Hope this helps. I am originally from Scotland, have friends in the North and have visited both North and South, includinng Belfast in 1970 at the height of the most recent "troubles".

Posted by
4684 posts

(4) Which IRA? The Provisional IRA which are what most people mean when they say "IRA" have been on ceasefire since the Good Friday Agreement. There are a couple of small ultra groups called the Real IRA and Continuity IRA who are still killing people, but at the moment their attacks are usually limited to killing the odd soldier, police officer, or random Protestant, and they aren't a big threat to tourists.

Posted by
101 posts

I lived and worked there during the troubles, then during one of the first ceasesfire..then during the troubles again when the ceasefires failed. I was with the military so yup, it was dangerous for me, nothing like having to check your vehicle wheel wells for bombs etc in the pouring rain.
It has calmed down quite a bit from what I understand, still know people there and they have reduced the amount of troops stationed in the province.
Belfast is a great city and there is fantastic scenery, you probably stand as much chance of being involved in some kind of terrorist activity as you would in your home town.
Relax and enjoy, but then again, if it wasnt for the support of alot of Americans maybe the troubles would have ended a lot faster, where do you think alot of the money came from for the IRA to buy their weapons, I have seen a plated passed around in U.S pubs collecting for the so called "brave boyos"

Pete

Posted by
932 posts

I'm learning so much! I guess I got the impression from the movie that the North wanted independence from the UK because they were all screaming "Brits go home!" But I guess they were just referring to the soldiers... Again, I'm not asking these questions because I'm scared of going to Belfast. We are planning a day there during our trip. If I was scared, I would totally avoid it. I believe if it's my time to go, it's my time to go. (Within reason. I'm not traveling to Iraq anytime soon... ;) Thanks for all the info...

Posted by
11443 posts

Amy...it's a movie....and there is such a thing as poetic license. Movies do not have to be factual. Movies tell stories. And if the facts have to be bent to tell a better story, they are.

If you want to learn about real history, there are numerous books and documentaries about Ireland--both North and South.

Posted by
1357 posts

There's been a long history of the Irish (mostly the Irish Catholics) being mistreated by the British, and since Northern Ireland remained a part of the UK, this continued on longer up there than in the Republic. There's parts of Northern Ireland where Catholic citizens didn't even get the right to vote until the 1960's.

And then to add insult to injury, there's the orange marches every year, which tip off at least some violence. It had decreased in the last few years, but was violent again this year. But imagine, the citizens of your country which had subjugated your own culture for hundreds of years having an annual parade celebrating the day they took over your country.

I hate the violence that has happened as a result of the clashes up there. But I understand the anger behind it. Unfortunately, a lot of the anger seemed to become part of the culture.

Posted by
5669 posts

I've consulted with one of our history authors. She commented that "Irish history is notoriously biased, even in the academy...Historical fiction can be good for understanding one side or the other, but movies are generally not helpful if one wants to get at any kind of accurate history. My colleagues who work in Irish history thought the movie Michael Collins, for example, was replete with problems."

Here are two books that one of her former grad students uses in his classes.

Making Sense of the Troubles, by David McKittrick (puts the Troubles in historical context).

Ireland in the Twentieth Century: Divided Island, by David Harkness

Both are available on amazon.com

Pam

Posted by
31521 posts

Amy,

The history of Ireland is terribly complicated so it's not easy to answer your questions. My grandfathers originated from Belfast and London, so I'm a bit familiar with both sides of the issues.

Rick has described "The Troubles" basically as Nationalists that happen to be Catholic vs. Loyalists who happen to be Protestant. However, that's a bit of a "general" description and there were/are factions within each of those groups.

I took a short trip to Ireland last year, and of course lots of information was provided on the history. The best answer to your question #3 is that the (Protestant) majority in the six counties of the north wish to retain ties to the UK, while the (Catholic) minority still wish to join the Republic. The present agreement seems to be a compromise, which was the best (only) way to resolve the differences.

From what I saw, there is still a bit of underlying tension especially in Belfast. This will probably take a generation or more to reduce significantly. It probably wouldn't be "healthy" to be singing British songs in the Falls Road area, nor Republican songs in the Shankill Road area. I noticed the Police are still patrolling in armoured "Snatch" Land Rovers. The morning I left Belfast, there was a news item about a shooting in one of the "neighborhoods", but the people I spoke with suggested this could have been criminal activity, rather than "The Troubles".

Although it might not be "historically accurate", I enjoyed watching Michael Collins. There's a nice memorial now at Béal na mBláth, where he was assassinated. Another interesting movie was In The Name of the Father, which is based on a true story.

Hope you have a great time on your trip!

Posted by
668 posts

Maureen: I cannt disagree with you in theory, but in practice, how different is the NI situation from all the Europeans who came to North America about the same time as the Plantation of Ulster and the feelings of the Aboriginal people here v. that of the Republicans in Northern Ireland?

Posted by
4555 posts

Iain...I guess the difference is that people in the northern counties voted to remain part of the UK.

Posted by
977 posts

Amy. I would strongly suggest that you find the time when in Belfast to take a Black Taxi tour to the Falls Road and Shankhill neighbourhoods. Like you I had a deep interest in the political and history general of Ireland. We had the most wonderful driver. He gave us a very balanced inimate overview. I still have his name and mobile phone no if you would like to message me.
The thing that struck me as we drove through and stopped to walk through these areas, was, that your religious persusasion is defined by a post/zip code.

Posted by
11973 posts

Here's my best guess but it's only a somewhat educated opinion from an American so take it for what it is:

1 and 3. If a vote were held today to seperate Northern Ireland from Britain, the majority would probably vote to stay with Britain. There is also a vocal minority that are vehemently opposed to British rule.

  1. I'll leave Bloody Sunday to historians to hash out. It's not unusual in any conflict for both sides to feel their behavior is justified and the other is entirely wrong (even though an impartial observer can see excesses and abuses on both sides).

  2. There is still an active IRA. Their goals are the same but, for the most part, have held to the peace agreement brokered by Sen. Mitchell back in 1996 or 97.

Posted by
190 posts

Just a few observations from my trip to N. Ire a couple of years ago. I stayed with Irish friends (in their 20's) who have what is considered a "mixed" marriage; one is protestant, one is Catholic. We went to Derry (or Londonderry, depending on your political views)which is the location of Bloody Sunday. Because I was up on my "tourist sites", we visited a small museum in the area where Bloody Sunday occured. It was the first time my friends saw what the rest of the world has known since the events occured because they went to schools in N. Ire which have a British curriculum. It was a very moving, troubling, and sobering experience for them. They were very quiet the rest of the day and cried when we got home that night. They hadn't known what had really happened. And, who told you Bloody Sunday was not captured on film? I saw film of the event and lots of still photos at that little museum.

I relate all of that to say that you will not know the views or the depth of feeling of anyone you meet in N. Ire unless they tell you. Some towns are strongholds for one political view and other towns are strongholds for the other political view. It can still be dangerous to call yourself a protestant or a Catholic in the "wrong" place. They simply do not understand that in the US we, generally speaking, don't care what religion a person professes. Oh, and if you are not Catholic, you're considered to be protestant even if you have no religious preference.

I think you're wise not asking a N. Ire. stranger your questions, not because they might become "mad", but because it could cause intense pain. You don't know their role in the events or the stories they heard growing up or about the death of their uncle at age 8 when he was just playing in the street or that they grew up without a mother because she picked the wrong time to buy a loaf of bread. These events are not ancient history; they're current, and the people still live with the results of the Troubles.

Posted by
668 posts

There may be some confusion here about "Bloody Sunday" There are two events with that name. I think the one Amy was referring to was in Dublin in 1922 when there were about 30 casualties on both sides during the war of independence. I doubt if there is any video of that event, though I could be wrong. The second was in 1972 in Londonderry when British soldiers shot at a demonstration killing about 20 demonstrators (Republican, therefore probably Catholic, sympathisers). An investigation cleared the soldiers, but many called it a whitewash.

Posted by
147 posts

Right or wrong, religion is waning in the north and south, maybe not as much in the north, but definitely dying out.

Religion was very important in the old world, the two churches ruled the day, and keep in mind that it was religion or the monastic colonies that were the teaching institutions. It's said that the Irish saved the world's knowledge during the dark ages.

That being said, I think religion is playing out, hence the agreements and reduction of violence. It does illustrate how religion can generate extreme violence, which is ironic. But the north and south are generally separated by genology and pride more than anything else.

I've always felt that to understand a culture one needs to study it from the beginning. A good and easy read is "In Search of Ancient Ireland". which takes the reader from the days the ancients, through the days of Brian Buru to when England tried to colonize the island. It dispells many myths about the Irish, and uses archeology to build real history.

It is inevitable that the island will be united one day. It will likely take one more generation.

FiLoLi - fight love life.

Posted by
425 posts

Get to Belfast and then have a drink in pubs (in no particular sequence) on the Falls Road, the Shankhill Road and in say, The Crown, near the Opera house, and ask your questions there. That will get you opinions from all ends of the spectrum. Having lived there myself, I can tell you that your questions will provoke huge reactions. But Belfast is a great place and well worth visiting. Don't forget to see all the sights!!

Roger

www.fermedecandeloup.fr

Posted by
932 posts

I'm referring to the one in Londonderry in 1972. The one that was portrayed in the movie, Bloody Sunday (I think from 2002.) If we take a black cab tour, I will probably feel comfortable asking questions. But my husband is more keen on the big bus tour. We only have one day in Belfast, but we'll be in Portstewart for 3 nights. Perhaps if we get comfortable with someone anywhere in Northern Ireland, I will carefully ask their opinions and maybe some of these questions. I have a lot of tact, so I should be able to carefully approach the subject... As far as movies taking "poetic license", I do realize that. But I watched all the "extras" on the DVD, and the actors and producers are all from Northern Ireland and were telling the story as fact. I can accept that the movie was biased, and that's sort of what I wanted to know. But if you're saying the movie dramatized the events, the people who were involved in the movie might disagree...

Posted by
668 posts

Sorry, Amy, I am not much into movies and did not know which event "Bloody Sunday" covered. As you had indicated you had researched Ireland to the early 1900s I wrongly assumed it was the earlier one. The last movie I saw was "Australia" and I think the previous one was "Titanic", so I am obviously an ignoramus as far as Hollywood is concerned!

We were in Port Stewart last year and it is a nice place. I had not been in Belfast for many years and was astounded at how pleasant a place it now is. Make sure you see Stormont (their parliament building) and the huge park it is in. It is a mile frrom the gate to the building on a straight as an arrow road. George Bush is reputed to have exclaimed, "Your white house is bigger than mine!" when he saw it. It had been covered in tar during the war so it would not be a target and only relatively recently restored to teh natural white limestone (I think) colour.

Posted by
932 posts

LOL, Iaian. No big deal about the movies. I'm on a movie kick lately and have been checking out any and every Irish or UK movie I can get my hands on so I can get excited about the scenery/sights (even the accents!).
Thanks for the info about N Ireland. I'm really excited about going there as I'd say many people skip it, so it's a bit more novel to visit there. We will definitely check out the sights that you mentioned. Only 14 days to go!

Posted by
1357 posts

If you're checking out movies, watch "Some Mother's Sons", good flick about the hunger strikes in the 80's and Bobby Sands.

Posted by
977 posts

Hi Ian. Off topic, but just out of curiosity, I would like your honest opinion of the movie 'Australia' Personally, I felt the story line was a bit 'cheesy'. However, the scope and breadth of the scenery was breathtaking. We tend to want to belt off to the other side of the world to see the sights and miss what is right under our nose

Posted by
668 posts

Hi Judy:

I enjoyed "Australia", but as you say, the plot was a bit on the unbelievable side. Scenery was indeed wonderful. I had only heard about the scenery and a brief review about the plot before I saw it. So, when I did see it I was surprised at how "recent" the time frame was! Almost within my lifetime! Now you know how old I am!