Belfast… and a Brief History of The Troubles

As I begin to write today’s post, I actually lack the factual knowledge to finish it. Oh well. Should be a good research endeavor.

I’m in Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, which is the second country on this island. I’ve actually never been to the United Kingdom before (nor did I realize before a few weeks ago that Northern Ireland was part of the UK) so everything is pretty new. Here’s a picture of Belfast taken by not me:

area where I'm staying

I don’t have a linkup between my camera and my computer; I was borrowing Shaun and Mary’s. I’m working on purchasing something, but for now all photos are courtesy of google images. Anyway, I can see that large yellow H&W structure from where I’m staying. In fact, it’s right out my window as I type. It’s a Harland & Wollff shipyard crane… the type that built the titanic. Did I mention that the titanic is kind of a big deal in Belfast?

Okay, I have to stop stalling and get researching. There was a reason history was one of my least favorite subjects in high school, and it was the historical research. That, and my lack of passion for the subject. Anyway, the weird thing about Irish history is that one of my favorite sources, the BBC, can’t really be trusted to be impartial. In fact, almost no one can be trusted to be impartial. I’ll try not to get lost in the historiography even so.

Disclaimer: I am not a reliable source. I am doing my best, but some of this might be wrong. The broad strokes are right. Enjoy the wall of text.

So there’s a lot of history that led up to the Troubles, but I’m going to start us out in the 1890s. The entirety of Ireland was under British rule at that time, and Belfast especially was doing great. With its shipbuilding and tobacco ties, the city was thriving. The rest of Ireland was not so happy, and wanted to split off from English parliamentary rule, but with Belfast doing so well, the more protestant North was fine to keep things as they were. By the 1910s, the north and the south were preparing to war against each other. Then World War One happened and everyone had other things to worry about. By 1921, however, the Catholic republicans had caused enough trouble that Ireland was divided into Northern Ireland and an independent Irish state that in 1948 would become the Republic of Ireland.

The two countries had different religious identities. Northern Ireland was largely protestant (and still a part of the UK) and set up a parliament like that of the UK. What would become the Republic of Ireland (at the time just called Ireland) was largely Catholic. The problem is, there were Catholics in Northern Ireland, accounting for about 1/3 of the populace. The Catholics were not allowed to participate in government, and they were shut out from some jobs and public housing. As so often happens throughout human history, some people picked on another group of people because they could and because there was mutual dislike. So it goes.

The sixties weren’t just a time for American protestors. The Catholics in Northern Ireland, too, began to protest for equal rights. Sadly, the protests met with little success and became violent. By 1969 the British sent in troops to attempt to keep the peace, and the Irish Republican Army (IRA) adopted violent techniques of rebellion. Such as bombing. There were bombings from the 1970s to the 1990s perpetrated by the IRA in Northern Ireland. (The IRA was formed in 1917, and actually they won Irish independence for most of the Ireland. However, IRA members dissatisfied with the new deal and British control of Northern Ireland reformed the IRA in 1922. They were pleased with neither the British nor the members of the old IRA who had capitulated to losing Northern Ireland. But I digress.) There was also a ton of violence perpetrated by loyalist paramilitary groups (mainly the Ulster Defense Association (UDA) and Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)). Generally things were violent. In 1971, the British began using internment as a technique to snuff the rebellion. If you were accused of IRA involvement, you could be imprisoned without trial. In some cases it backfired, because if an innocent person was interned, it could cause their sympathies to shift to the IRA.

One of the most notorious episodes of violence occurred in 1972, on “Bloody Sunday.” British police opened fire on Irish protestors, killing 14 people. By 1988, the British government was so desperate that they introduced the Broadcast Ban. The BBC could not give voice to so-called terrorist groups… which included paramilitary groups on both sides. The real target, however, was Sinn Fein (pronounced shin fain), the political part of the IRA. The rule was that ‘terrorists’ could not directly appear on television.

Eventually, the situation began to improve. By 1994, the IRA, UDA, and UVF agreed to a ceasefire. Finally, in 1998, both parties signed the Good Friday Agreement, or the Belfast agreement. The agreement legitimized both national identities in Northern Ireland, promised political representation to both groups, and made it so if a majority of Northern Irish people want to join the Republic of Ireland, the UK must make it so. That didn’t mean all the conflict ended. In fact, there will be a march in Belfast next Sunday, supposedly to protest internment. I’m leaving on Saturday, and I can’t say I’m sorry I’m missing it.

The death toll during the troubles rose to over 3,600. 50,000 more were injured.

Sinn Fein and the IRA are still active today.

Belfast is beautiful. I’ve not been here long, but what I’ve seen of the city is great.

I don’t know.

Sources:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/troubles

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irish_Republican_Army

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ulster_loyalism#Paramilitary_and_vigilante_groups

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