The Troubles in Ireland: A Historical Overview

The history of Ireland is marked by centuries of political and religious tension, but perhaps no period is as tumultuous or as deeply etched in the collective memory as The Troubles. Below is my attempt to write a comprehensive account of the historical background and progression of the Troubles in Ireland.

Origins and Background

The roots of the Troubles can be traced back to the 12th century when the Normans invaded Ireland. Over the subsequent centuries, English and later British rule solidified, leading to a series of repressive measures against the majority Catholic population, especially after the Protestant Reformation. By the 20th century, demands for Irish independence grew louder, culminating in the 1916 Easter Rising and the subsequent War of Independence.

In 1921, the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed, leading to the partition of Ireland. The south became the Irish Free State (later the Republic of Ireland), while the six counties in the north remained part of the United Kingdom, becoming Northern Ireland. This partition sowed the seeds for the Troubles. The majority Protestant Unionists in the north wanted to remain part of the UK, while the majority Catholic Nationalists sought unification with the south.

The Onset of the Troubles

The late 1960s saw civil rights marches in Northern Ireland, primarily by Catholics demanding equal rights. These peaceful protests were often met with violence from Protestant loyalists and heavy-handed tactics from the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). The situation escalated in 1969 when British troops were deployed to restore order.

Over the next few years, various paramilitary groups emerged. The Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) sought to end British rule in Northern Ireland and unify Ireland through armed struggle. On the other side, loyalist paramilitary groups like the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and Ulster Defence Association (UDA) were determined to maintain the Union with Britain.

The Height of Conflict

The 1970s and 1980s were marked by bombings, assassinations, and sectarian killings. Bloody Sunday in 1972, where British soldiers killed 14 unarmed Catholic civilians during a civil rights march in Derry, was a significant turning point. The event galvanized support for the IRA and intensified the conflict.

Both sides committed atrocities. The IRA's bombing campaigns in Northern Ireland and mainland Britain claimed many lives, while loyalist paramilitaries targeted Catholics in sectarian attacks.

Efforts at Resolution

Throughout the Troubles, there were attempts at finding a political solution. The Sunningdale Agreement in 1973 and the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985 were significant milestones, but both faced staunch Unionist opposition.

The 1990s saw a shift. Secret talks between Sinn Féin (the political wing of the IRA) and British officials, combined with changing global geopolitics and war-weariness among the population, paved the way for peace. The IRA declared a ceasefire in 1994, which, despite some interruptions, eventually held.

The Good Friday Agreement

In 1998, after multi-party talks, the Good Friday Agreement (or Belfast Agreement) was signed. It established a devolved power-sharing government in Northern Ireland, recognized the principle of consent (meaning Northern Ireland would remain part of the UK until a majority voted otherwise), and led to the decommissioning of weapons by paramilitary groups.

The agreement, while not without its challenges, marked the official end of the Troubles. While sporadic violence and deep-seated sectarian tensions remain, the scale and intensity of the conflict have significantly diminished.


The Troubles in Ireland were a complex and tragic period, rooted in centuries of historical, religious, and political tensions. The journey to peace was fraught with challenges, but the resilience and determination of the people, combined with diplomatic efforts, have paved the way for a more hopeful future. As we reflect on this history, it serves as a poignant reminder of the costs of division and the enduring value of reconciliation.

See more on: - Belfast Articles - Derry Articles - Dublin Articles - Galway Articles - History Articles

© Startpage Ireland 2004 - 2024