While everyone is cooped up in preparation for Hurricane Irene – that nasty lady who is holding the Northeast hostage at the moment – I thought I’d type up a basic timeline of Northern Ireland. When we jump back into our content posts we’ll be just about to begin the thick of things. I thought a little overall context might be helpful.
400s: Patrick lands on Ireland, a Britton slave. He returns years later and his efforts to Christianize the pagan island gives him the identity of patron saint of Ireland.
1607: James I establishes the Ulster Plantation, creating an influx of Protestant Scotsman into the northern counties of Ireland and gives Britain a stronghold of supporters on the island.
1690: The Battle of the Boyne cements the defeat of Catholic political power and gives Protestants a rallying point for generations to follow.
1919-1921: Anglo-Irish War/War of Independence; The treaty made between the Irish and the English leads to the creation of the Irish Free State, eventually the Republic of Ireland, and the country of Northern Ireland.
1921: King George V opens the first Northern Irish parliament in Belfast.
1922: Northern Ireland experiences widespread sectarian violence resulting in the death of over two hundred people.
1925: “The Border,” becomes definitive and the two parts of the island become definitively separate.
1931: The Republic of Ireland declares the IRA an illegal body.
1963: Terrance O’Neill is declared Unionist Prime Minister of Ireland. He presides over the beginning of the period known as “The Troubles” and resigns in disgrace in 1969.
1964: Divis Street Riots; A time of intense rioting in Catholic West Belfast when they are forced to remove an Irish tricolor flag from a building. The Riots essentially set the pattern for the conflict.
1966: Two inebriated Protestant men attempt to bomb a Catholic-owned liquor store and kill an elderly Protestant woman in the process. The event is generally regarded as the beginning of The Troubles.
1967: The Northern Irish Civil Rights Association is forms and demands civil rights for Catholics.
1972: Bloody Sunday riots in Londonderry/Derry. Police and members of the British military use violent force against a group of unarmed civil rights marches. The events unfold on national television and are broadcast around the world. The marginalization of the Catholic community is brought front and center. The event still undergoes review and is currently a “hot topic” within Northern Irish government.
1974: Brian Faulkner leads a new power sharing government. Opposed by the loyalist community, the government ultimately collapses and Direct Rule from Britain is put in place. Many republicans feel betrayed by the government’s inability to stand up to loyalist paramilitaries.
1972 – 1980: Violence between IRA and Protestant paramilitary groups (UVA, UVF, UDA) continues to escalate. The country lives under a state of siege. Curfews are enforced and few areas of the country are considered “safe”.
1980: Republican prisoners demand to be treated as political prisoners rather than as criminals and institute blanket protests and hunger strikes. The most famous striker, Bobby Sands, serves as a hero for the Republican movement.
1980-1996: Violence continues to escalate. The British government attempts to create peace with the IRA, but continually fails as the IRA takes its violent outbursts to the mainland of the UK. The United States becomes increasingly involved in the conflict, both politically and socially.
1996: The Orange Order organizes a stand-off in the Drumcree section of Portadown with regards to a parade route down the Catholic Garavaghy Road. This event, where prominent government officials such as David Trimble participates as Orangemen, infuriates Catholics. The British government is informed if they prohibit the parade, violence the likes of which had never been seen before in Northern Ireland would commence. Under pressure from Unionist sympathizers in Parliament, the march is allowed to proceed. The incensed nationalist community began widespread violence. The “Drumcree Incident” is still lauded as an example of the betrayal of the British government against her people among nationalists and as an example of British/Unionist cooperation among loyalists.
1998: After many years of negotiations, the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) is signed, signifying the first peace agreement made in Northern Ireland where both communities were involved. The Northern Irish Parliament is reinstated for the first time since 1974. The Troubles are declared over, but underlying tensions continue to shape the country.
2002: The stress of power sharing proves too much for the new government and the Northern Irish Parliament collapses, reinstituting Direct Rule.
July 2005: The IRA declares an official end to its armed campaign for a united Ireland. Decommissioning of their weapons begins and is formally finished by year’s end. The “Real IRA”, an offshoot of the IRA, declares their war is not over and refuses to surrender weapons. Over the next few years similar situations would take place among Protestant paramilitaries.
September 2005: Sustained rioting by loyalist paramilitaries and the Orange Order occur when the Parades Commission changes a parade route. This is viewed as endemic of the spirit against cooperation by the paramilitaries.
2007: The Northern Irish Parliament is reinstated with Reverend Ian Paisley (loyalist) serving as First Minister and Martin McGuinness (republican) as Deputy First Minister.
2010: The last legislative pieces of the GFA are addressed when the Parades Commission and policing structure are handed over from Britain to Northern Ireland. In 1998, this was seen as too politically violate for Northern Ireland to handle by itself. After weeks of intense negotiations in which many persons in Northern Ireland held their breath for another collapse of their government, negotiations proved successful.