The Troubles, civil war in Northern Ireland

The Troubles - Belfast 05/06/1981 (

Belfast 05/06/1981

Stiff Little Fingers - Inflammable Material (

This article belongs to the story Stiff Little Fingers releases a punk classic: Inflammable Material.

The Troubles

The Troubles is a name that has been in use ever since the 17th centrury, as a synonym for violent conflict, particularly on the British isles. Since 1969 it was used to identify the escalating violence in Northern Ireland.

The Troubles is a conflict, which is primarily rooted in nationalism and politics. Historic events, like the “Plantation of Ulster”, where the Scottish and English were pseudo legally assigned land in (Northern) Ireland, were used to lend greater force to the arguments.

Even though many believe the conflict was a religious one, it essentially was about the status of Northern Ireland. At one side of the spectrum were the loyalists to the throne of England (also known as the unionists, mainly protestants) who wanted Northern Ireland to stay within the United Kingdom, and the republicans and Irish nationalists (mainly catholics) on the other side who wanted Northern Ireland to be part of the Republic of Ireland.

The first big eruption of violence took place in August 1969, when the British sent the army to restore order, an act that signaled the start of The Troubles.

The Troubles - Bloody Sunday victims (

Bloody Sunday victims

Bloody Sunday

The violence continued and deepened after Bloody Sunday on January 30, 1972, in Derry, the second largest city in Northern Ireland. Derry (also known as Londonderry) had a long history of oppression and neglect of the catholic minority by the unionists, who had complete control over the city. To the republicans this embodied everything that could go wrong if unionists made laws and upheld rules. Following the August 1969 riots, it was the Derry counsel that begged the British army for help.

The oppression by the British occupier intensified over the course of the years. From August 9, 1971, and onwards anyone could be jailed without legal foundation. One day later the IRA (Irish Republican Army) killed the first British soldier, in Derry. In the following months the British killed several innocent citizens during fight with the IRA, in Derry. By the end of 1971, Derry basically was a city at war. Road blocks and barricades were everywhere.

When in January 1972 a general ban on parades and protests was implemented in Northern Ireland, in Derry a protest was organized demanding the release of illegally detained Irish nationalists. The British army unleashed terror on the protesters. The next protest was planned to take place on January 31, 1972. Amazingly, the authorities allowed it.

The protest quickly escalated into chaos, with the British army shooting at the unarmed protestors, using live ammunition. 26 people were shot, of which 14 died. That day went down in history as Bloody Sunday.

The events were often sung about. Just 2 days after Bloody Sunday, Paul McCartney recorded Give Ireland Back To The Irish and released it on February 25, 1972, as the Wings debut single. Six months later John Lennon released the song Sunday Bloody Sunday on his latest album. In 1983 U2 released their own version of Sunday Bloody Sunday, coming off the aptly titled War album. In 1996 Christy Moore released Minds Locked Shut, which summed up the names of the victims. many more songs exists, especially made by Irish artists.

The Troubles - Bloody Friday (

Bloody Friday


If at all possible, the situation escalated even further. The number of parties in the conflict increased ever more, IRA, Real IRA, INLA, UVF, UDA, RUC and of course the British army. The republicans waged a guerrilla war against the oppressors, who in turn ruthlessly retaliated. At times, the violence spread out to the Republic of Ireland (including Dublin), England and occasionally Europe.

Not long after Bloody Sunday three car bombs exploded in Dublin almost simultaneously, killing 23 people in an instant. Within a few days 3 more died of their injuries. On July 21, 1979, no less than 20 bombs went off in Belfast. Nine deaths and more than 130 injured on the day that is widely known as Bloody Friday. On July 31, 1975, five musicians of The Miami Showband were killed by loyalists. A year later 10 innocent protestants were killed in retribution.

The most prominent assault outside of Northern Ireland was the IRA attack in Brighton on October 12, 1984, when Thatcher’s conservative party organized a meeting at the Grand Brighton Hotel, killing 5 people. The intended target, Thatcher, left unscathed.

The civil war meant that the rest of the world got to know a lot of Northern Irish cities like Derry, Omagh, Enniskillen and Belfast. Images of the acts of violence were seen all over the world.

The Troubles - Funeral Bobby Sands 05/07/1981 (

Funeral Bobby Sands 05/07/1981

Hunger strikes

The war in Northern Ireland drove many prisoners crazy and rendered them feeling helpless. Their stories weren’t heard and most certainly didn’t lead to action. In 1981 a local IRA leader, Bobby Sands, started a hunger strike at the Maze prison near Belfast. After 66 days he was the first to die of the consequences of his refusal of food. More would follow. The Bobby Sands funeral was attended by over 100,000 people.

The Troubles - Good Friday Agreement (

Good Friday Agreement

Good Friday Agreement

In 1994 a “ceasefire” agreement was reached and peace negotiations commenced. The peace process yielded result. On April 10, 1998, Good Friday, the Belfast Agreement (better known as the Good Friday Agreement) was signed. Northern Ireland was granted the right of self, and the British army would leave. The agreement was ratified by a public referendum.

Unfortunately not everyone was happy with the agreement which led to the car bombing in Omagh on August 15, 1998. It was the heaviest attack since the start of The Troubles: 29 dead and approximately 220 injured. The attack was claimed by a radical faction of the former IRA, calling themselves the Real IRA. The Good Friday Agreement wasn’t tarnished and the Omagh bombing turned out to be the final eruption of violence of the conflict.

The Troubles cost more than 3,500 lives, 52% of which were civilians.

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