Northern Ireland

May 1963

Where did it happen?

Northern Ireland is situated in the northeast of the island of Ireland, and shares a border with the Republic of Ireland to the south and west.

Why did it happen?

For many centuries there has been conflict in Ireland. In 1921 Northern Ireland was created by the signing of the treaty between the British and Sinn Fein and the Irish Republican Army. This caused a great deal of tension between Catholics who wanted a united Ireland and Protestant Unionists who wanted to keep Northern Ireland British.

Catholics felt they faced unfairness with limited job opportunities, poor education and inadequate housing in the face of controlling Protestant Unionists. They also felt their political voice was stifled as the political boundaries had been redrawn in favour of the Protestant population.

Background

The recent “Troubles” in Northern Ireland really began when the British granted independence to 26 of the 32 Irish counties in the 1920s and partitioned the island, dividing the Irish people and imposing a British identity on the North.

Irish Catholics felt they were being discriminated against and this led to a divided community in Northern Ireland. In 1969 a civil rights movement called for fairer treatment by the governing power. Britain responded by banning all civil rights marches which made the Catholic population even more angry. In 1969 there were violent confrontations in Londonderry, had set up barricades declaring it to be “Free Derry”. Responding to months of violent clashes between Catholics and Protestants, Britain sent in troops to act as peacekeepers between the communities and to impose law and order.

Initially troops were welcomed by both communities but their peacekeeping role meant they were often on opposing sides of difficult conflicts. As the years progressed they became as hated by both sides.

In an effort to take control of the escalating violence the British government announced internment which was the right to hold suspects without trial.

Bloody Sunday

On January 30th 1972 10,000 Catholic people took to the streets to protest against internment as they did not think it was fair that people could be held without a trial. Marches had previously been banned and tensions were high on both sides as troops confronted marchers to try to make them disband. As the situation deteriorated, troops opened fire on Catholic protestors and 14 marchers were killed.

Britain closed down the Northern Ireland Parliament and imposed direct rule from London. This was obviously unpopular with the Irish Catholics who felt more and more as though they were powerless to protest within the law.

Bloody Friday

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) took up the fight and in an act of deadly terrorism they detonated at least 22 bombs in Belfast city centre on 21st July 1972. The result was devastating with 11 people being killed and 130 seriously injured. This was known as “Bloody Friday”. The attack involved car bombs and mines to deadly effect.

Hartshead Moor bombing

On February 4th 1974, a specially commissioned coach carrying service personnel and their families was blown up on the M62. The explosion took place near Hartshead Service Station between Huddersfield and Bradford.

The explosion killed 11 people outright and wounded over 50 others, one of whom died 4 days later.. When the Service Station was remodelled in 2009 a new memorial was made to replace a plaque inside the building. The explosion and murders were thought to be the work of the IRA.

Later that year the Guilford pub bombings took place on 5th October which killed 5 people. A month later, on 21st November, Birmingham was targeted with 2 pub bombings which killed 21 people. Swift action from the police led to arrests of “The Guilford Four” and “The Birmingham Six” whose convictions were subsequently quashed due to evidence being totally discredited. The IRA have never admitted responsibility for these attacks.

Protests within the Maze prison about the way prisoners were treated took hold. IRA inmates wished to be treated as political prisoners. They began dirty protests and then a group of prisoners began a hunger strike. One of the hunger strikers, Bobby Sands was elected to the UK parliament while he was in prison. He was one of 10 prisoners who died from starvation in the prison.

Further bomb and terror attacks continued right through to the 1990s. These included the murder of the Queen’s cousin, Lord Mountbatten and the ambush and killing of 18 British soldiers at Warrenpoint, both on 27th August 1979. On 20th July 1982 two explosions took place on parks in London. The first was a nail bomb, which was detonated as the Household Cavalry made their way through Hyde Park on their way to the changing of the guards. As well as killing 2 soldiers and injuring 23 others, 7 horses were also killed. Shortly afterwards a bomb was detonated under a bandstand where the Royal Green Jackets were playing to onlookers. 6 soldiers were killed and 24 people were injured.

In 1983 a bomb outside Harrods, in London killed 6 Christmas shoppers. The following year an attempt was made to assassinate the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher when the Grand Hotel, Brighton was bombed during the Conservative Party Conference.  Although the Prime Minister narrowly escaped injury 5 people were killed and many others were injured.

London’s Docklands area was targeted in 1992 with 3 people killed in the bombing of the Baltic Exchange, an attack which cost hundreds of millions of pounds. A year later Warrington was the scene of further devastation when 2 bombs exploded on a busy Saturday afternoon. A 3 year old boy, Jonathan Ball was killed outright and 12 year old Tim Parry died from his injuries.

A ceasefire was called as peace talks took place but again in 1996 attacks took place, first on London and then on Manchester’s Arndale Centre. Although 212 people were injured there were no fatalities.