In the aftermath of World War One Ireland was divided into northern and southern regions whom governed themselves. However, the southern portion wished to become a completely independent entity from the United Kingdom. The result was the Irish War of Independence which would eventually end in the northern and southern half of Ireland gaining the right to govern themselves separately in 1921, but the leaders and government officials had to swear allegiance to the crown.
Nearly thirty years later in 1949 the southern Irish were made a free republic by the Ireland Act of 1949, but Northern Ireland was held onto by Britain. Following these events, are what can be interpreted as the unofficial start of The Troubles. In Northern Ireland, the Protestant loyalist, known as Unionist, had become a majority over the Catholics nationalists. This resulted in a hostile environment throughout World War Two. The Unionist government, otherwise known as the Stormont government also discriminated against the Catholics.
An example is when Basil Brooke, who would become prime minister for nine years, discouraged loyalists from employing Roman Catholics, describing them as a threat to loyalist power. By the 1960’s the tensions between the Catholic nationalists and Protestant unionists had inflated vastly, and with unionist controlling much of the government the nationalists began to protest. Though initially peaceful the protests quickly turned violent. Soon enough the government asked for British help and so in August of 1969 the British army arrived unknowing that it wouldn’t leave until 2007 or have any sort of peace until 1998.
From the start of The Irish Troubles in 1968 to the official end in 1998, the Provisional Irish Republican Army or IRA recklessly and unjustly destroyed and traumatized thousands of civilian lives in attempts to unite all of Ireland through attacks on the British military, public, and political personnel. However without help from the British, the IRA would not be able to grow and thrive as it did. The British’s brutal attacks on civilians provoked these nationalist groups.
Thanks to the British brutality and recklessness in the Bloody Sunday Massacre and other attacks, the IRA and other nationalist groups were able to grow and inflict more harm. Over a period of over thirty years, the events of The Troubles destroyed thousands of innocent lives in reckless, radical and unjust attacks that divide Ireland even to this day. October fifth, 1968 in Londonderry, the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association marched in protest of the Special Powers Act, which eliminated the right to a trial and gave law enforcement free reign when it came to searches of private property.
However, Bill Craig, Northern Ireland Minister for Home Affairs declared the march to be illegal, but the marchers continued ignoring Craig’s declaration. When they encountered the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) the demonstrators were ordered to disperse, but they refused causing the RUC to attack them, brutally beating peaceful protesters. News and images were broadcasted around the world, and The Troubles began. Operation Demetrius occurred when the British government wanted to get control of the protesters.
The British government had tried to remain uninvolved in the protests, but the situation was reflecting poorly on Britain. So on the ninth of August in 1971 Operation Demetrius began. The strategy also known as internment was to arrest protesters and convict them without a trial. The problem with this plan was that it denied the Irish the right to a trial, which was a right given to all British citizens. In total 1,981 people were arrested, and of those 1,874 were Catholic, while just over a hundred were protestant.
This operation and the torture and beatings that occurred, exposed the British as oppressors, not the peace keepers which they claimed to be. These actions would lead to one of the most important days in Irish history, Bloody Sunday. January thirtieth, 1972, in Derry or Londonderry Ireland approximately twelve thousand people gathered at three in the afternoon to march in protest of the internment. The protesters had been informed by the Stormont government that the protest was illegal, however the nationalists choose to march anyway.
The protesters were unarmed and had no intentions of any violent actions. In fact leaders had met several times in the proceeding weeks to ensure that peace would be maintained no matter what obstacles they encountered. When the protesters started the march, their numbers, as previously stated were twelve thousand, however as they marched people began to join them. When the protesters reached Bogside, a mostly Catholic neighborhood their numbers had increased to twenty thousand, but there would be no more joining their ranks.
At 3:30 pm they encountered police who began to assault them with tear gas and non-lethal weapons such as rubber bullets and high powered hoses. That wasn’t all that was waiting for the protesters that Sunday. The First Battalion, Parachute Regiment was there using high powered rifles and armored vehicles which they used to kill fourteen people and maiming fifteen others. An official report published in June fifteenth, 2010 known as The Bloody Sunday Inquiry, or Saville Inquiry, composed by Lord Mark Saville confirmed what witnesses stated.
The people who were killed on January thirtieth, 1972 presented no threat to the First Regiment’s claims. The protesters in 1972 didn’t need confirmation, because they had witnessed the event, the police brutality and the fear. A loyalists group known as the Ulster Volunteer Force would become responsible for one of the deadliest attack in The Troubles when they detonated a bomb at McGurk’s Bar on December fourth 1971 in Belfast killing seventeen people in the blast, the most killed in a bombing until Omagh in 1998.
The bar was located in a Catholic area, and it was rumored that IRA members had been at the bar, it was also rumored that the Irish police helped the attackers escape, but neither of these rumors were ever confirmed. The deaths caused by the Ulster Volunteer Force as well as other loyalist groups, including the First Parachute Regiment on Bloody Sunday motivated hundreds of volunteers to join the Provisional Irish Republican Army and other nationalist groups in an effort to terrorize loyalists and British political figures.
These loyalist attacks led to increasing support to the nationalist in opposition to the British oppressors. The Bloody Sunday attack would be the start of the most violent year of The Troubles with a death rate sitting at four hundred and eighty, and led into the five most violent years. The Bloody Sunday massacre best defines the start to the IRA’s violent escalation. February twenty-second, 1972, just twenty-three days after Bloody Sunday which was also known as The Bogside Massacre, the IRA successfully coordinated a car bombing on the First Parachute Brigade in Aldershot England in an act of vengeance.
The car bomb which was presumed to be composed of gelignite, a cheap explosive that was moldable, and incapable to explode without a detonator was able to cause significant damage to the building. The bomb detonated killing seven people and injuring thirteen. The attack only killed one military officer, Captain Gerry Weston. He had been a member of the British military, as a Catholic Chaplin who had recently returned from service in Ulster. Weston was not in fact a part of the massacre, but instead he had developed a reputation for making peace.
Though successful in destroying property and British lives, the Aldershot bombing harmed service members who were trying to coordinate peace not abuse nationalists. The bombing could in fact be considered a failure, because it showed the attack being just as brutal and unjust as the massacre which it was supposed to avenge. The attack did next to no human damage to the Brigade, and killed six innocent bystanders. The IRA would continue their policy of terror with an attack in Hyde Park and Regents Park in London taking the lives of eleven men and seven horses and maiming dozens more.
The death of the horses in this incident created outrage among the British people toward the IRA. Then on the seventeenth of December in 1983 just eight days before Christmas, Harrods Department store received an encrypted message warning of a bombing. Within the hour five people would be dead, with one to follow in the coming days. The victims included three police officers and three civilians as well as three more officers seriously inured by the blast, and fourteen civilians hurt by glass shrapnel, and fires.