3rd Year: Northern Ireland (1920 - 1985)

An Ian Paisley election poster.
Paisley was a prominent Unionist leader
from the 1960s on.
From Irish Election Literature
By this point you've studied how the Irish Free State/Republic of Ireland got on since the independence struggle. You know that different Taoisigh had to try to help put an end to the violence which started in Northern Ireland in the late 1960s, better known as the Troubles. Now, you'll look at Northern Ireland itself and why the Troubles began. In this section, you'll learn how the Plantations you studied in Second Year still had an effect centuries later.

After Ireland was partitioned, the government of Northern Ireland was dominated by the Ulster Unionist Party, which gerrymandered the constituencies so that many more unionist candidates would win in elections than nationalist candidates. They also discriminated against the Catholic population, as they considered Northern Ireland to be British and Protestant.

During World War II, while de Valera's Ireland remained neutral, Northern Ireland (as part of the UK) fought in the war. After the war, the Labour government in Britain began to create the welfare state, which improved housing, education and healthcare across the UK. In Northern Ireland, however, discrimination still happened.

By the 1960s, nationalist figures such as John Hume, Gerry Fitt and Bernadette Devlin organised civil rights marches to campaign for an end to discrimination. Before long, Northern Ireland Prime Minister Terence O'Neill agreed to grant some rights, but he was opposed by hardline unionists in his own party, and had to step down. By 1969, violence had broken out between Catholic/nationalist groups and Protestant/unionist groups. The Troubles had begun, but what could be done to stop them?

This section finished with 1985, nothing after that is on the course. If you're interested, you can read Northern Ireland since 1985.

This is the last part of the Political Developments in 20th Century Ireland part of the course.

Go back to Third Year

John Hume, a prominent nationalist leader
from the 1960s on.
From Tyrone Productions
  • Unionist Rule: Discrimination, the RUC, the B Specials, Gerrymandering, the Economy, World War II.
  • Civil Rights: John Hume, the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Movement, "One man, one vote", Terence O'Neill.
  • The Troubles: The SDLP, Sinn Féin and the Provisional IRA, Unionist groups, Internment without trial, Bloody Sunday, Sunningdale, Hunger Strikes, Anglo-Irish Agreement.

Click here for exam questions you can be asked about this topic. (Higher and Ordinary)

A nationalist mural in Northern Ireland. What is it commemorating?
A unionist mural in Northern Ireland. Who is it commemorating?

What were murals like these two used for? Do you think they were effective?

Watch out for bias, prejudice and propaganda. Because Northern Ireland is a topic which many people can disagree on, you must be especially careful if reading these links. I have linked to pages written by nationalist groups and to pages written by unionist groups. Both have their own view of the history of Northern Ireland. It is very important to remember that they are writing from their own points of view and from their own opinions. People who study history must try to read everything objectively (without bias).

Belfast Murals
The two murals I showed are just two of hundreds. This website is cataloguing all of them, whether they're nationalist, unionist, or commemorating something else entirely (such as the Titanic, which was built in Belfast).

BBC Panorama: Living With The Troubles
A BBC video report from 1970 about the beginning Troubles in Northern Ireland. The video menu on the right of the screen has many other interesting videos about the conflict, from the civil rights marches to the peace agreements.

Stormont House
The Northern Ireland government is called Stormont the same way the US government is called Washington. It's just where the government is. Learn about it here. 

A Short History of the SDLP
From the SDLP website. It's a party writing about it's own history, so read it as a historian would. It is written from their point of view.

Sinn Féin: History
Sinn Féin, which abandoned armed conflict in the 1990s and has turned to politics to achieve their aims, have their own account of their history and the situation in which the Troubles began. It is written from their point of view.

Democratic Unionist Party: History
The now-leading unionist party tells its history (the Ulster Unionist Party doesn't have a history page). It is written from their point of view.

John Hume: Ireland's Peacemaker
This page has a biography of John Hume. It also covers his life after 1985, when this course ends.

Background of the Troubles (video)
This video, which features Bernadette Devlin, is a newsreel video about the civil rights marches and the situation which led to the outbreak of the Troubles. Hosted on Wikipedia.

Irish Political Maps: Elections in Northern Ireland
See how the gerrymandered system kept the Ulster Unionist Party in power until Britain imposed direct rule.