Nationalist Politics

Statue of Daniel O’Connell, an Irish nationalist, outside of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

The goal of the Irish nationalist in Northern Ireland was to split from Great Britain; contrary to the Irish protestants who wanted to remain loyal to the British. Nationalists advocated for self-government. They wanted to express freely the culture of the land, including language and literature. In order to publicly express their concerns, many of them joined the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association. This association was a platform for nationalists to be able to advocate for equality between Catholics and Protestants. For nationalists, it was difficult for them to act on their goals because of the oppression that they faced from the Irish protestants, and Great Britain.

Video: How a community is affected during the protests. 

A common misconception of the troubles was that it originally began as a religious war. Although there certainly were many conflicts of Catholics versus Protestants, it was less about the religion and more about the growing anxieties between the two groups that led to the sometimes brutal outcomes. It was especially difficult for the Irish people because they were generally split among two groups: the Catholic Irish and the nationalist Irish. Both groups are for having Northern Ireland split from British control and joined into the rest of Ireland, however their methods for going about it are what set them apart. The Irish nationalists were those who associated with, or were directly a part of, the Irish Republican Army took influence from people such as Wolfe Tone, and were of the mindset that Ireland needed to be taken back by force and that because Britain used force against them, they would only understand the use of force as a way of negotiation. The Catholic Irish were a group who, although not necessarily opposed to forceful actions, were completely appalled at the results of actions taken by the IRA, namely the unintentional slaughter of hundreds of innocents over the course of a single year. Because of this, Irish Catholics tended to stay away from violence. They instead focused on a non-sectarian message in the hopes of uniting the whole of Northern Ireland against the British occupation in a peaceful, civil manner.

It would not be unusual for one to look back at the Troubles and wonder why a country is so divided despite most of the province having the same goal: unification. There are many reasons explaining this difference, such as the deep rooted anxieties between Catholics and Protestants. This relationship became increasingly more agitated with each bloody conflict and the once unified IRA became split as more unnecessary violence occurred, including the deaths of uninvolved civilians. Much of this inclination towards violence can be attributed to the nationalist speeches and writings of Wolfe Tone and Daniel O’Connell who advocate heavily for a separation of Ireland from Britain using any means necessary.

This is a poster advertising a benefit for the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association. The benefit was located in New York City.

Video: A Protestant describing how she lived her life in a majority Catholic town.

Protestants discrimination against the Catholics created many fears, and anxiety within the Catholic community. In part, these anxieties led to the formation of The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association, commonly known as NICRA, which was founded in early 1967. One of NICRA’s goals was to increase equality between the Catholics and Protestants. Leaders, of this association, would travel and speak to different groups in order to publicize how Catholics were being oppressed by the Protestants. One historian argued that the origin of the Troubles started with the struggle for civil rights in Northern Ireland. This association was Influenced by the civil rights movements that were occurring globally during this time. For example, the civil rights movement that was occuring during the same time period in the United States.  NICRA organized marches and protests to advocate for the rights and issues of nationalists during this time. Some of the issues that NICRA advocated for are equal schooling, housing, and employment opportunities. One well-known march that took place during the troubles is Bloody Sunday is a march that was led by NICRA which was protesting against internment. This march is well-known because it ended in an eruption of violence by British soldiers who shot 28 unarmed civilians. After the march ended, nationalists and NICRA was blamed for the violence that occurred during the march.

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