Our purpose in this article is a brief sketch of the background to "The Troubles" in Ireland. Readers are advised by the writer to fill in the details from sources such as the Chronology of Ireland website. Part of our aim is to fill in the background to the religious situation.
The Irish Republican Army (IRA) is an organisation operating in Northern Ireland, the territory still under British rule and subject to the Parliament at Westminister. Known for its bombing campaign in England as well as Ireland, the IRA now aims to unite Ireland by bringing Northern Ireland under the Dublin government. Originally it had the aim of making Ireland a republic when the whole island was under British rule. Historically, it was a separate organisation from Sinn Fein, but the extent of links between the two is a matter of continuing argument.
The IRA is also reputed to have international terrorist connections including to Colombia's FARC. The activities of FARC, including supplying drugs to the USA, have concerned both Democrat and Republican administrations in the USA.
We thank God for the place of Ireland in early Christian history. Christianity came to Ireland largely (but not entirely) through Patrick in the 5th century. The Irish Church resisted being ruled by Rome, and the Celtic Church sent missionaries to evangelize the Scots in Scotland.The Synod of Whitby (in 664) marked the begining of the Roman church's dominance over the Celtic in England.
The conflict has its roots in a series of immigrations from England and Scotland, bringing nearly a thousand years of almost constant fighting and conquest. From the 12th century, England under the Normans brought Ireland under English rule, and established systems of law and government based on English (Norman French) models. This was also the period when the (Irish) Celtic Church gradually became Roman Catholic in both organisation and allegiance to the Pope. The use of the Irish (Celtic) language was banned in 1366.
Under the Tudors and Stewarts there was further settlement of Ireland by both English and Scots. England was colonising the world, and Ireland was further colonised at the same time. The native population had an economy based upon cattle farming, and a man's wealth was in cattle and dairy products rather than money. In the course of this, the native Irish were displaced from their small-holdings, and made subject to their new landlords.
Religion was another source of conflict. The incomers were Protestant, while the natives were Roman Catholic. To them, Protestantism became associated with the seizure of the land and the harsh treatment the Irish received. Outwardly, the Reformation came to Ireland which was a part of the realms of Henry VIII and Elizabeth. But inwardly, it appears that Ireland was relatively untouched by the Reformation, which took the form of an extension of Henry VIII's political break from Rome rather than a popular acceptance of Protestant Christianity. In the town of Pale, for example, in 1585 both priests and people deserted the Protestant forms of worship. Chronology of Ireland (16th cent) includes more details of the extent of the Reformation in Ireland.
Note The English Reformation was spiritually the progression of the teaching of the Bible which was begun by John Wycliffe and the Lollards. There was a popular movement which embraced the Protestant teaching of salvation by faith, and the Bible as the word of God. But for Henry VIII it began with the political relationship with Rome and the Pope, which was the other face of the Reformation.
The early 17th century was relatively peaceful. The reign of James I saw a continuation of the exodus of Irish leaders to the Continent, and the vacuum was filled by settlers from Englland and Scotland. The English saw the large areas of open land as ripe for enclosure and creating large country estates to reward noteworthy families, both English and Scottish. Amongst the Scots of east Ulster, there was a Protestant revival known as the "sixmilewater revival" which began in 1625.
By about 1640, fighting had broken out and there were massacres of Protestants (notably 4,000 in 1641) and of Catholics. In 1701, rewards were offered for the discovery of Roman Catholic clergymen in Ireland who were banned at that time.
The whole of the past 800 years have seen various attempts to fight against the English. In one incident, about 100 of the English and Scottish settlers were herded on to a bridge which was then cut down. Those who tried to swim away were either shot or pushed under the water until they all perished.
Another famous event was the Great Famine of 1845 - 48 when the potato harvest was affected by blight. Landlords would not diminish the rents nor give other food supplies. Free soup kitchens were opened in 1847. By the end of 1849 over a million Irish people died, mainly from disease. There had been a lesser famines, such as that of 1816 followed by a typhus epedemic which lasted until 1819.
The Rebellion of 1798 is recorded in detail on the Local Ireland web site.
The establishment of The United Kingdom in 1800 marked another stage of Irish history. It was opposed by Orange Lodges (Protestant) as well as by Catholics. One form of protest was the Catholic Emancipation movement. In 1814, the "Apprentice Boys of Derry" (a Protestant society regularly in the news these days) was founded. The "Irish Republican Brotherhood" was founded in 1858, followed in 1859 by the "Fenian Brotherhood" which was the most active agent of armed revolt. In 1908 the "Sinn Fein League" (later Sinn Fein) becomes prominent.
During the last half of the 19th century and into the 20th, the response of the English government to continued unrest was "Home Rule for Ireland". (The first Home Rule Bill was introduced in 1886, the second by Gladstone in 1893. Winston Churchill supported a third in 1912.) This was a half independence, in which Ireland would still be nominally a part of the United Kingdom, and subject to (then) Queen Victoria, but would have its own government. The Irish MPs in Westminster sought to have Ulster excluded from any Home Rule, because Ulster was the stronghold of Protestantism, especially Scottish Presbyterianism. The Ulster Unionist Party (of which David Trimble is the present Leader) was founded in 1905 to oppose Home Rule. In 1913, the Ulster Volunteer Force was founded.
The Irish Republican Army was the name taken in 1919 by the Irish Volunteers, a splinter group of the Irish National Volunteers formed in 1913. They had led the Easter Rising of 1916, and continued to attack the English Throughout the 20th century, the IRA would be banned and made legal again every few years.
The Irish Free State was formed in 1922, with Dublin as its capital, officially an independent member of the British Commonwealth. A Protestant enclave was also formed, known as Northern Ireland, consisting of 6 of the counties of the region of Ulster. This remains a part of the United Kingdom of Britain and Northern Ireland, governed from Westminster. The Civil War which claimed 927 lives ended in 1923. In 1937, there was a further step towards independence when the Free State became known as Eire or Ireland. Finally, in December 1948, the Republic of Ireland Act provided for Ireland to be granted full independence. This took place on 18th April 1949, when the Republic of Ireland left the Commonwealth.
The difference in birth rates means that the Protestants of Northern Ireland will be in a minority to the Catholics at some time this century. When that filters through to electoral majorities it will add to the tension in the province. And a further source of tension for some years has been the mainly Catholic housing estates on some parts of the routes tradditionally used by Protestant societies for their commemorative marches.
The Protestants in Northern Ireland are fiercely Protestant, and also active in politics in a way that is not found in the rest of Britain. For example, Rev. Ian Paisley is not only a minister of a church, but also a Member of Parliament. While some of his rhetoric may be hard, he sees the danger to the Protestant community and faith of allowing Northern Ireland to become a part of a Roman Catholic Republic of Ireland.
The present phase of conflict can be dated from 1969. The British army was sent to Northern Ireland as a peace-keeping force to assist the police after August's "Battle of the Bogside" in (London)Derry. Violent clashes and many bomb explosions, some in England, marked the following 30 years.
Perhaps because the conflict has led to much prayer for Northern Ireland, there has been a turning to God and the known percentage of Christians is higher than in the rest of the United Kingdom. People also speak of their faith. For example, when Jim Wilson's daughter was killed in an IRA bombing in 1987, his remarks to the press contained a clear Christian testimony. This was edited out of news broadcasts later in the day, but he has since had other opportunities to witness to the Lord Jesus Christ.
During the past 30 years, the tactics of the IRA have very much involved car bombs, planted in streets, markets and near public houses. Most have been in Northern Ireland, but a significant number have been in England, with much publicity. Since the Good Friday Agreement, and the current "cease fire", such bombings have been discontinued by the official IRA though splinter-groups have planted bombs. But activities such as knee-capping and punishment beatings have continued.
In recent years, Protestant paramilitary groups, such as the Ulster Volunteer Force, have also been involved in similar terrorist activities to the IRA, and are a part of the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.
The IRA is widely suspected of having international links with other terrorist groups. Recntly, this has included Colombia's FARC. Three known IRA members with considerable arms experience were detained last year in Colombia. Recent FARC activities, especially a bombing, have been characteristic of the methods of the IRA, and it has been said that IRA members visited Colombia to train FARC in these techniques, perhaps being paid with proceeds from drug smuggling. This is of concern to the government of the USA, which would like to see FARC brought to justice and stability in Colombia.
The "Good Friday" peace process is once again under threat, after the discoveries during September and October 2002 of various espionage activities attributed to the IRA. The Protestant community holds Sinn Fein politically responsible for the IRA, and is bringing pressure upon the Labour government to exclude Sinn Fein representatives from Stormont, the devolved government of Northern Ireland. It remains to be seen what Tony Blair and John Reid will do.
This article was originally written in August 2002 and revised in October. The situation is changing so rapidly that any comment on the latest situation is likely to become outdated. The latest word is that the "power sharing" arrangement for Northern Ireland is collapsing rather than just being suspended and will have to be re-started from scratch.As of 18 October, The Northern Ireland Assembly has been suspended and Direct Rule from Westminster applied.
Stormont - The building, opened 16 November 1932, used for the Northern Ireland Assembly in Belfast ; used to refer to the assembly. (return to text)
Ireland - history section of An Irish web site
- The 1798 Rebellion
- Religion in Ireland (short summary) (return to text)
- A very useful site with summaries of major events. (return to text 1 )
* Chronology of Ireland 16th century (return to text 2 )
* Official Government website
* The Northern Ireland Assembly
* The Irish Times newspaper , and a special Focus on the Treaty of Nice
- a recent Newsletter from in which Tom McMahon details the differences between the Roman Catholic and the Biblical ways of salvation.
Paisley's web site ;
- " The Institute's purpose is to expound the Bible, expose the Papacy, and to promote, defend and maintain Bible Protestantism in Europe and further afield. It will assist all who are engaged in the struggle against the Papacy in both the religious and the secular worlds; provide courses suitable to all ages in the controver with Rome; and supply information on all aspects of the Papacy today.
- " It hopes to establish correspondents throughout the world so that it can give a global overview of the state of Protestantism. C.H. Spurgeon summed it up well in his article on Our Constant War With The Papacy. "
- Ian Paisley's Historical Issues from Ireland (return to text)
- This is the largest Unionist Party, and its leader is David Trimble who is also the leader of the Northern Ierland Assembly.
- (NOTE The Assembly may no longer be in existence by the time this article is published.)
- UUP History / Formation
* * Newspaper Reports on the Good Friday Ageement, the IRA - FARC link and perhaps earlier bombings.
The Daily Telegraph
of emergency as Colombia steps up war on terrorism
Author Jeremy McDermott
DATE: 13 Aug 2002
bombers 'were trained by IRA'
Author Jeremy McDermott
DATE: 12 Aug 2002
accused over Colombia bombings
DATE: 11 Aug 2002
killed as blasts greet Colombia's new leader
Author Jeremy McDermott
DATE: 08 Aug 2002
bombers 'were trained by IRA'
By Jeremy McDermott in Medellin
Story line IRA men say they were studying peace. (return to text)
is IRA bandit country
As the helicopter banks over the heavily-fortified Army base at Crossmaglen in the heart of South Armagh's bandit country, incoming troops are welcomed by a 60ft-long greeting picked out in white on a brick wall. "DON'T WORRY, BE HAPPY," it reads. "WELCOME TO XMG."
point' in Ulster elections
Government sources said elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly next year are likely to be shelved as the result of the suspension of power-sharing.
for Good Friday Agreement at new low (Filed: 17/10/2002)
Support for the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland has fallen to a new low according to a survey.
Ireland MI5 to vet security
A team of experts from MI5 has been ordered to Belfast to investigate security arrangements at the Northern Ireland Office following the exposure of an IRA spy ring that has left up to 2,000 prison service officers under threat.
holds key to EU growth
The European Union's ambitious plan to take in 10 more member countries is hanging on the verdict of voters from Ballinskellig to Dundalk, as Ireland prepares for its second referendum on the Nice Treaty on enlargement next weekend.
The BBC News service
There are some very useful links from the BBC News web pages listed below. This list was compiled on 13 October 2002, and there will be updates since then.
warning over NI assembly
The suspension of the Northern Ireland Executive must be used to resolve all outstanding difficulties, says the Irish prime minister.
BBC News Peace Process Timeline
Find out more about the latest moves in the Northern Ireland peace process
Full special report
Assembly in crisis
DUP ministers resign
Sinn Fein accused
Sinn Fein defiant
How the trust was lost
Time 'running out'
Q&A: On the brink
Peace process timeline