Walls in Derry - Giuseppe Milo - cc

The Troubles in Northern Ireland

Walls in Derry - Giuseppe Milo - cc

A dark period of 30 years is called “Troubles“, a dark period which marked Northern Ireland for the rest of its history. It began in 1969 and ended in 1998, and was a time of great tension between the North Irish and the English, who were constantly clashing through terrible attacks and other acts of violence that caused the deaths of more than 3 480 people.

History of the Troubles in Northern Ireland

Context of the Disorders

It all began on December 21, 1921, when Ireland ratified a Treaty with England, formalizing the creation of a Free State of Ireland.

This State, essentially composed of the South of Ireland, was cut off from Northern Ireland, then still considered as a Dominion under the United Kingdom’s rule.

Very quickly, tensions rise throughout Ireland, demanding that the North of Ireland be also freed from British domination. Nevertheless, the geopolitical situation remains as it is today, creating a latent conflict that only explodes at the end of the 1960s.

Beginning of the Troubles

The beginning of the Troubles in Northern Ireland itself began in the late 1960s, when a handful of Catholics decided to demonstrate against the anti-Catholic discrimination then in force in Northern Ireland. They opted for the pacifist route, holding marches and sit-ins in protest.

It was in August 1968 that events degenerated when a march was violently repressed by the Royal Ulster Force or RUC, a British army composed of more than 90% Protestants. In spite of the pacifist status of their gathering, the Northern Irish Catholics were then violated and beaten when they had neither weapons nor the intention to harm.

In the autumn of 1968, Catholics redoubled their efforts, still demonstrating peacefully in the name of the elimination of social discrimination against them. But the Orangist Order and the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) continued their repression by attacking the demonstrators ever more violently.

In the face of this attitude, tensions grew, and 1969 was the year of the first attacks in Northern Ireland. The UVF is at the origin of these first attacks, and thus intends to terrorize Catholics and put an end to their demands.

Alas, these attacks did not stop the Catholics, who multiplied their attempts at peaceful gatherings. On 12 August 1969, a new demonstration was literally crushed by the RUC in Londonderry. Eight people were killed and hundreds injured, all on the Catholic side. Faced with this deeply murderous event, the Catholic neighbourhoods rose up, and it was on 16 August 1969 in Belfast that the Protestants responded by burning more than 160 Catholic houses, murdering 8 Northern Irish, and injuring 300 people.

Bloody Sunday unleashes violence between Catholics and Protestants

Le Bloody Sunday

Bloody Sunday

On January 30, 1972, the tragically famous Bloody Sunday event took place when the British army opened fire on a peaceful Catholic demonstration. With a death toll of 14 dead and around 100 wounded, this tragedy awakened international opinion, as well as the IRA, an Irish paramilitary army, which was then dormant.

It was then a scandal: the situation became tense and the escalation towards violence continued.

In response, the IRA retaliated with a “Bloody Friday”: 22 bombs exploded in Belfast, causing the death of 16 Protestants.

Very quickly, some Catholic Republicans (IRA…etc.) are caught by the English, who lock them up without trial in the Prison de Maze, a penitentiary where inmates are raped, and crammed into cells called H-Blocks. Among the inmates, some members will organize hygiene strikes: the latter then refuse to dress the prisoners’ uniforms, and live naked, wrapped in a simple blanket, living in filthy cells, invaded by their own excrement.

The Hunger Strikes of the 80s

Unfortunately, the pressure of international opinion, coupled with the actions of the Republicans seemed insufficient to pacify the situation. This is why, from 1980 onwards, new attempts were made to make the world aware of the Northern Irish cause. For example, hunger strikes were organised in prisons by the IRA.

Unfortunately, all of them fail, including that of Bobby Sands, an IRA activist, who decides to go on hunger strike and complete his fast. Becoming a true symbol of the cause, he died on May 5, 1981 as a result of his strike, without Margaret Thatcher reacting. The scandal becomes international, and the pressure of the countries does not however succeed in defusing the situation.

Towards the establishment of a lasting Peace Process…

It was in the 1990s that Northern Ireland and England reached an agreement to pacify the situation. On 10 August 1998, they signed the Good Friday Agreement, a text setting up a genuine peace process, forcing the paramilitary militias to gradually lay down their weapons. This was the official end of what was modestly called “the Troubles“…

The Trouble Balance Sheet

In 30 years, the Troubles were terribly destructive. We count it this way:

  • more than 3,480 dead (civilians and military personnel consisting of men, women and children)
  • 47,500 injured
  • 19,600 prisoners imprisoned without trial
  • 37,000 shootings
  • 16,200 attacks

So much more to discover...

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