Rioting throughout Belfast and Derry became regular, and culminated in 1969 with the Battle of the Bogside. The confrontation resulted from peaceful marching by Bogside residents that was disrupted by police officers and citizens loyal to the Union. Rioting grew for three days until the British Army was dispatched to renew peace and disperse the crowds that had quickly grown in response. However, the riot was incendiary throughout Northern Ireland, and it quickly grew apparent that the government was losing its ability to restore peace. Hundreds of people were killed and thousands lost their homes to widespread fire and vandalism
. Riots around Northern Ireland were begun in support of Bogside residents.
However, in several cases they escalated into anti-police demonstrations. In many instances, the pro-Union or pro-Catholic sentiment was superseded by random violence against authority. Specific violent acts were captured and memorialized by both sides as symbols of oppression. The Royal Ulster Constabulary drove tanks into otherwise quiet neighborhoods, at one point killing a ten-year-old boy as he slept in his apartment. On the other hand, Unionist sympathizers criticized NICRA members for continuing to demonstrate amid a climate of violence.
The political response by the British and Northern Irish governments took the form of the "Downing Street Declaration." It was designed to appease all sides. It showed reform-minded support for civil rights activists by decrying discrimination. This included examinations of policies and the re-allocation of housing across districts. It also restated the directive of the United Kingdom that Northern Ireland would remain in British hands. However, its primary significance was the reassertion of British hegemony on the Irish island. The British Army continued to assert its will in Northern Ireland, and grew increasingly aggressive as violent unrest became commonplace. British Army officers interrogated suspected reunification demonstrators and imposed curfews in Catholic neighborhoods. As stated, their sole interest was the return of lawfulness. However, they were misinterpreted by both sides as sympathizing with the opposition and perpetuating the conflict.
During this time, the IRA was criticized for not coming to the aid of Catholic citizens in Northern Ireland. The uprisings during the summer of 1969 saw eight people murdered and more than 1,500 families lose their homes due to destruction and protest
. The IRA had long been established as a paramilitary arm with the intention of defending the interest of Catholic people throughout the island. However, IRA leadership was mindful of failed acts of violence in the past and false imprisonment under the Special Forces Act. In the wake of the perception of inactivity and paralysis by IRA leaders, the Provisional IRA was formed with purpose of achieving IRA aims with militant means. Irish government officials, who had previously denounced the illegal actions of the IRA, were conspicuously quiet on the development of the Provisional IRA. Additionally, the Irish prime minister spoke out against the violence to the north, and even proposed intervention in defense of Catholic citizens if the riots persisted. Triage centers were set up along the border with Northern Ireland, led by IRA officials. These had the purpose of offering medical aid to people injured during violence. However, they had the added effect of lending active support to reunification interests and drawing the battle lines further throughout the United Kingdom.
Each of these trends continued into the early 1970s, with increasingly fatal results. The replacement of the prime minister in 1971 and the renewal of violence led to the reintroduction of home inspections and internment without grounds -- the hallmarks of the Special Forces Act. As before, these had incendiary results throughout the North, leading to the rapid growth of Provisional IRA members and the growing perspective that government officials were targeting Catholic nationalists exclusively. Confrontations continued throughout the year, directly leading to the deaths of more than 200 people. Under the direction of British government officials, the British Army grew more aggressive, drawing the anger of all Irish citizens.
The seminal battle during the Troubles was "Bloody Sunday," during which 14 people were killed following the dispatch of the Parachute Regiment in response to rioting at another demonstration in Derry. The primary results of "Bloody Sunday" were the growing tide of enlisters in the Provisional IRA and the formation of the Ulster Vanguard -- an organization representing violent and non-violent Unionist interests that united much of Northern Ireland in the form of mass demonstrations and meetings. A massive influx of British Army troops flooded Northern Ireland, as the British government grew inexorably closer to direct rule and the disposal of the Northern Irish government.
More than 400 people were killed during 1972 in rioting and demonstrations
. The most devastating act was "Bloody Friday," during which more than 20 bombs were simultaneously detonated by the Provisional IRA throughout Unionist Belfast neighborhoods and killing nine people. As a result, the Northern Irish Stormont government was dissolved and a British Secretary of State was appointed by the British prime minister, with the purpose of removing control from the Northern Ireland government.
Direct rule had the intention of offering a short-term resolution. Among its proposals was implementation of Republic of Ireland interests in decisions regarding the future of Northern Ireland. This represented the potential realization of the fears of pro-Union activists and threatened to further rouse the violent activity of the Ulster vanguard. Surprisingly, this proposal led to the Sunningdale Agreement, which instituted a power-sharing executive body in charge of Northern Ireland's government. This happened in spite of rampant opposition to the sharing of power in the form of the executive body. Perhaps the greatest strength of the Sunningdale Agreement is that it served to divide the pro-Union side, many of whom sought the terminus of bloodshed that had terrorized the North and invited the aggressive British Army across the water.
Elections were held as a transition from the power-sharing executive, putting the fate of Northern Ireland in the hands of the people once again. However, pro-Union sympathizers were almost unanimously elected to the government, undermining all authority and advancements made by the Sunningdale Agreement. When the British government restated its support of the power-sharing framework, violence erupted throughout the countryside. The Ulster Workers' Council initiated a multilateral strike, shutting down much of the infrastructure. Bombs were detonated in Dublin, killing more than 30 civilians and establishing a new low in the saga of the Troubles. Northern Ireland was crippled in the wake of the Sunningdale Agreement and the British government appeared disinterested in supporting Home Rule. Instead, direct rule was reinstituted and lasted into the 1980s. It was ended with the Anglo-Irish Agreement which avowed that Northern Ireland stay independent and ensured a governmental voice to Catholic reunification sympathizers. However, the Agreement also handed Ireland a role in the government of Northern Ireland. Though neither side was fully placated, the Agreement laid the foundation for the peaceful coexistence of the two sides that persists to this day.
The violent legacy of the Troubles has been most profound on the young people of Belfast, many of whom have suffered displacement, loss of family members and post-traumatic stress
. The youth of Northern Ireland were born into the conflict of their parents and ancestors. This conflict affected every person born in Northern Ireland in the thirty years. For those not directly affected by violence and loss, the residual damage associated with long-term exposure to aggression, intimidation, unemployment and poverty has restricted emotional and psychological growth. The quality of life in Northern Ireland suffered dramatically during the Troubles, such that the standards for happiness and success have been severely diminished. To this day, alcoholism, suicide and depression are ongoing trends affecting the way of life in Northern Ireland. The hope for the people following the restoration of peace is the equal restoration of normalcy in the context of everyday life. This can only happen with open-mindedness of the people and a decisive break from the tragic history of Northern Ireland.
1. Paul Bew and Gordon Gillespie, Northern Ireland: A Chronology of the Troubles: 1968-1999 (Landham, MD: Scarecrow Press. 1999), 14.
3. Ibid., 56.
4. Fay, Marie-Therese, Michael Morrissey and Marie Smyth, Northern Ireland's Troubles: The Human Costs (Sterling, VA: Pluto Press, 1999), 112.
5. Ed Cairns, et al., "Intergroup Contact, Forgiveness and Experience of the Troubles in Northern Ireland" Journal of Social Issues 62, no. 1 (2006): 103.
6. Ibid., 105.
7. Orla T. Muldoon, Children of the Troubles: The Impact of Political Violence in Northern Ireland" Journal of Social Issues 60, no.3 (2004): 456.
8. Paul Bew and Gordon Gillespie, Northern Ireland: A Chronology of the Troubles: 1968-1999 (Landham, MD: Scarecrow Press. 1999), 54.
9. D. O'Reilly, "Mental Health in Northern Ireland: Have the Troubles Made it Worse?" Journal of Epidemiological Community Health no 57. (2003): 489.
Bew, Paul, and Gordon Gillespie. Northern Ireland: A Chronology of the Troubles:
1968-1999. Landham, MD: Scarecrow Press. 1999.
Cairns, Ed, et al. "Intergroup Contact, Forgiveness and Experience of the Troubles in Northern Ireland." Journal of…