Most lessons of violence and discrimination towards minority groups focus on either Blacks or Jews, often leaving religious wars to 14th century Europe. However, the Troubles in Northern Ireland reflect one of the most modern examples of religious and ethnic intolerance. The “Troubles” can be classified as an ethnic, religious, and political conflict in Northern Ireland that began its peak with 1960’s civil rights marches and formally ended with the 1998 Belfast Agreement, although violence and intolerance persists today.
The Troubles primarily centers on the conflict between Northern Ireland’s Protestant and Catholic communities. Both communities define the Troubles differently. For example a Protestant might view the conflict as an attempt to ensure that Northern Ireland remains a part of the United Kingdom. On the other hand, a Catholic may interpret the Troubles as either a struggle to unite Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland or a movement to bring equality to Catholics. Despite the different interpretations, what remains is a conflict centered on sectarian religious differences with pervasive political and social consequences for the people of Northern Ireland.
From 1921 to the early 1960s, Protestant leaders dominated Northern Ireland’s political and social climate. The protestant political and social control led to resentment and anger from the Catholic minority. In the 1960s catholic resentment coupled with economic problem such as unemployment lead to mass protest by the Catholic community. In murals, we see the depiction of Catholic protestors marching for freedom and equality in Derry. In October 1968 television cameras recorded the beating of catholic protesters by Northern Ireland police. The civil rights protests and violence that ensued represent the start of the modern conflict in Northern Ireland. In 1969 British Army forces were called in to Northern Ireland to ensure stability and safety in the country.
In the three decades that followed, Violence and urban terrorism continued along with the formation of paramilitary groups. The guerilla type warfare involved two main groups: the Irish Republican Army and the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF). The IRA's primary goal was to bring to an end British control over Northern Ireland and to “unite all of Ireland”. The UVF attempted to maintain British political and national dominance of Northern Ireland. Thousands of individuals, both bystanders and participants were killed during the fighting between the different parties. The Troubles affected the lives of everyday individuals and bystanders as they went on with their daily routines. Civilians were often subjected to military check points, bomb searches, and urban military combat through out the durations of the conflict. Often the people of Northern Ireland were forced to come to terms with outside military intervention and constant warfare.
Attempts to create a lasting peace process in Northern Ireland were often met with criticism and disbelief from the media and public alike. After years of titering between violence and peace, the Belfast Agreement was signed in 1998 to ensure equality in Northern Ireland. Aspects of the agreement included the formation of catholic/protestant institutions, dual partnership for both communities, and a power sharing government. This was a significant milestone in the Troubles as it marked what appeared to be a committment to proctetion and peace for the people in Northern Ireland.
The Troubles signify an additional illustration of how intolerance and prejudice lead to civil war and divisions among people. The Northern Ireland conflict or “Troubles” demonstrates a prime example of a religious and ethnic conflict and the power of bigotry can affect an entire nation, dividing people. It is important for Americans, and all others, to recognize and analyze different types of discrimination. While examining the documents think critically on how differences in religion and discrimination can escalate into a military conflict. How does the Northern Ireland example parallel discrimination in the United States? How do the Troubles parallel to previous religious and political conflicts in history?
Created by: Anna Love and Kiah M. Lewis
**We are teacher education candidates at the University of Texas at Austin completing our Student as Historian assignment in order to meet our course requirements for Secondary Advanced Social Studies Methods**