Though the Civil War ended in 1923, remnants of the IRA remained active. Though eventually Southern Ireland gained independence, Northern Ireland remained under British control, a fact which aggravated many nationalists. Over the decades nationalists remained quietly restless, until a shift in government and economics in the 1960s brought things to a head. A new, less conservative Prime Minister raised the hopes of the nationalist Catholic minority in Northern Ireland, and in turn concerned unionist Protestant majority.
After a period of violence, the British government stepped in in 1968 and sent troops to control the riots. Instead, the presence of British troops caused more Irish citizens to turn against British rule and join the IRA. In 1969 The Provisional IRA formed off of the IRA. The PIRA and the IRA’s intentions were similar, both advocating for independence and Catholic rights, but the PIRA was ready and willing to use violence to further their cause.
Tensions came to a boiling point in 1972. First in January 14 civilians were killed by British soldiers at a march. This event came to be known as “Bloody Sunday,” and sparked a surge in anti-British sentiments and a rise in IRA and PIRA membership. Shortly after, in March, Britain imposed direct rule upon Northern Ireland. (Bloody Sunday was also the inspiration for the rather famous song “Sunday Bloody Sunday” released by the Irish rock band U2 in 1983).
Violence only increased over the years, forcing the death toll higher and higher. Bombings became common, both in civilian areas such as pubs and high-profile places. One bomb even killed Queen Victoria’s cousin. The rising violence was accompanied by an eager push for peace as well, and earnest efforts were made to find a way to calm the Troubles.
The first attempt at peace came in the form of the Sunningdale Agreement, which was meant to create a government balanced between Irish and British claims. The Agreement wasn’t entirely supported, but still passed, only to prove fairly useless in action. In under a year the new government failed and direct rule was reinstated, and Northern Ireland would remain under British control for the next 25 years.
Over the years many other attempts at peace failed, and tensions only rose between unionist and nationalist forces and Britain and the Republic of Ireland. Many PIRA members became prisoners of the British government and proceeded to go on hunger strikes. Ten of them died, making them martyrs and further promoting sympathy for their cause.
In 1984 a bomb was set off at a Conservative Party conference, one of whose attendees was Margaret Thatcher, the Prime Minister of England at the time. The year after her narrow escape she signed the Anglo-Irish agreement with the Republic of Ireland’s Prime Minister. The Anglo-Irish agreement did its best to satisfy both sides of the conflict. It allowed the Republic of Ireland to have a voice in Northern Ireland’s government and affairs, but also assured that Northern Ireland would remain a separate state so long as the majority of its citizens willed it to be so. The compromise alienated both unionists, who didn’t want the Republic of Ireland to have a say in the North’s government, and nationalists, who wanted both halves of Ireland united again. Despite controversy over the agreement, it started the important process towards peace.
Finally, in 1998, the Good Friday agreement officially ended the Troubles. This agreement ended direct rule and returned Northern Ireland to a government elected by its own citizens. Though the agreement did not magically put an end to absolutely all of the violence and ill will between the various political factions of North Ireland, it did put an end to the larger part of the struggles. The IRA continues to be a force even to this day, and tensions can still run high, but Ireland is well on its way to healing the deep wounds left by the death and destruction of those thirty years.