The Troubles

Today, much of the world will, in one form or another, celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. The wearing of green, drinking of Irish beverages and the occasional dying of a river (try Chicago’s) mark some of the traditions associated with the holiday. Historically, it is a Catholic holiday celebrating the introduction of the religion to the Ireland by St. Patrick– but these days it also has a large secular following. However, it is the holiday’s roots in Catholicism that play a major role in what residents of Ireland refer to as “The Troubles.”


The Republic of Ireland & Northern Ireland

As most of you know, Ireland is an island just west of the British Isle
(comprised of England, Scotland, and Wales). The island itself is split
into two territories: the large southern portion, called the Republic
of Ireland, and the smaller northern portion, called Northern Ireland.
The Republic of Ireland is majority Catholic and is controlled by its
own sovereign government, while Northern Ireland is majority Protestant
and is controlled by Great Britain… and therein lays the rub. Many
citizens of the Republic of Ireland consider themselves nationalists,
which is to say that they are in favor of unification of the two parts
of Ireland into one cohesive Irish-ruled entity. Many citizens of
Northern Island, who call themselves unionists, wish to strengthen ties
with Britain rather than sever them.

Throughout the history of the region this has been a source of constant
dispute, and from 1969 – 1998 it nearly erupted into a civil war. The
Catholic nationalists of the Republic formed the Provisional Irish
Republic Army (IRA) with the intent of ending British rule of Northern
Ireland. Meanwhile, the Protestant unionists formed the Ulster
Volunteer Force (UVF) to retaliate against the actions of the IRA. Both
were considered to be paramilitary forces that were not necessarily
endorsed by the governments of the Republic of Ireland or Great
Britain, but recent evidence has suggested otherwise.

A Provisional IRA mural in Belfast

Either way, by the time the Belfast Agreement
(which established a shaky truce between the Republic and Northern
Ireland) was signed in 1998, both sides had committed atrocities
against civilians and paramilitary squads alike. Under the agreement,
they pledged to use only peaceful methods of resolving differences,
which included disarmament of the IRA and UVF paramilitary squads.


An Ulster Volunteer Force mural also in Belfast

Recently, the political party “Sinn Féin” has gained considerable
support for its policies, the main one being support for a United
Ireland (no British rule), while at the same time, a splinter
paramilitary group that calls itself the “Real Irish Republican Army”
has waged attacks against the protestant population of Ireland.

So, when celebrating St. Patrick’s Day this year, keep in mind the
turbulent history of Ireland, the Catholic holiday you are celebrating,
and the implications of religious and governmental intolerance that
continues even in this day and age. Perhaps, on St. Patty’s, when
everyone is “Irish for a day”, the troubles can be forgotten… even it
if is just for one day.

Cameron for My Wonderful World.

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