What were the Troubles in Northern Ireland?

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If you are going to Northern Ireland soon, you might be interested in knowing more about the Troubles and what they are.

The UK and the Republic of Ireland might be one of the safest countries in the world right now. However, things weren’t this calm at all times. 

Northern Ireland saw some of the most deadly years in the 20th century. There was an ethno nationalist war going on in the country which devastated the entire region. This war was also known as The Troubles.

This part of history is still very much present in Belfast and the rest of Northern Ireland. It shaped a lot of the city and made somewhat made Belfast what it is now. 

So, what are the Troubles, when did they start and when did they end? We shall answer all these questions right here!

The Beginning of the Troubles

Many people consider 1968 the year when the troubles began. However, an even deeper look in the history of Ireland shows that the seeds of the trouble were sowed back in the 17th century when protestant settlers from Scotland and England were given land in the Catholic dominant Ireland. These settlers were mainly given the lands in plantation of Ulster

This not only caused problems related to land and property but caused religious conflicts as well. There isn’t any clear date for when the troubles started however many believe 1968 as the starting year. 

At this time, political activism was on the rise in Europe. Especially after the events of May 68 in France.

Meanwhile, in Northern Ireland, Catholics activists started coming together in Northern Ireland. This is why we consider 1968 as the moment when the Troubles started.

The conflict kept on going for three decades until different peace agreements were signed to end the conflict. These were three of the bloodiest decades in Irish history.

Parties Involved

The conflict was mainly between the protestants unionist (loyalists) who wanted to stay within the United-Kingdom and the independentist catholic republicans (IRA)

But all in all, there were three parties involved in the conflict i.e. Irish Republican Army, State Security Forces of Ireland and Britain, and Ulster Loyalist. 

The Irish Republican and Ulster Loyalists had further sub-groups fighting for them as well.

Please note that The troubles were a political conflict and not a religious war. It is considered as an etno conflict as it involved two communities with different religions. But the conflict itself wasn’t over religion but over politics and independence from the United-Kingdom and the monarchy.


In total there were more than 3500 deaths. The death count for Ulster Loyalists was 162, for the Irish Republican it was 368 where as the state forces lost the most number of people i.e. 1160. 

In addition to the groups and state forces, around 1935 civilians also lost their lives. Out of all the people killed, the largest number was killed by the IRA. 

The number of killings done by the Loyalists was nearly half as that of IRA where as the British State forces were responsible for only 10% of the total deaths.

Most of the deaths were in Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland. As a matter of fact, more than 45,000 bombs detonated in Belfast alone over the 30 years of conflict.

If you are interested in learning more about Belfast, you can check out this post with the most interesting facts about Belfast.

Some important events during the Troubles

Bloody Sunday and Bloody Friday

If you ever heard the U2 song, Sunday Bloody Friday, you may already know that it was an important event during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. 

Bloody Sunday happened on the 30th of January 1972 in Derry. 26 unarmed civilians were shot by British soldiers. This horrible mass shooting became a particularly important and traumatic event for Northern Ireland. It is now known as Bloody Sunday.

Later on, on the 21st of July 1972, the IRA placed bombs in Belfast. Over 20 bombs exploded in the space of 80 minutes, killing 14 people altogether including civilians and injuring 130 others.

If there is one thing to know about the IRA is that they always gave a notice about 20 minutes before so people could be evacuated. This was the case for every bombing at the Europa hotel or even the Manchester bombings in 1996. In this case, according to the IRA, the warnings were ignored and this is why so many people were injured or killed. 

This is now known as Bloody Friday. It became one of the most significant events during the Troubles as it had loads of consequences.

Attack on Downing Street

In 1991, the IRA attacked British Prime Minister’s house on 10 Downing Street. Their main goal was to assassinate the then Prime Minister John Major. The Prime Minister walked out from the attack uninjured.  

It was a mortar attack and the shells were recollected from nearby areas after the attack. 

One mortar fell in the backyard of 10 Downing Street very near to where the prime minister and his war cabinet were holding a meeting. 

The highly resistant bomb-proof windows were instrumental in saving everyone in that room.

When Did The Troubles End?

After a series of ceasefires and political struggle, the troubles came to an end in 1998. All parties involved signed the Good Friday Agreement which resulted in things calming down between Ireland and the UK.

What Was the Good Friday Agreement?

The Good Friday Agreement is also known as The Belfast Agreement. 

On 10th April 1998, the governments of Britain and Ireland signed a peace agreement. The agreement stated many points on how Northern Ireland would be governed moving forward. 

The main goal of the agreement was to clear the air between all parties involved and to create a government where the power would be shared between the unionists and nationalists

One of the biggest unionist’s parties, the Democratic Unionist party did not become part of the agreement. The party did not support it and walked out of the meeting based on the fact the weapons possessed by the Irish Republican were still not decommissioned. 

The factors that caused the troubles were also discussed in the agreement. It was decided that Northern Ireland would stay a part of the UK until a referendum is conducted for the said purpose. So this agreement blocked the way of United Ireland without the proper and majority consent of the people. 

The Republic of Ireland and the UK may both have been part of the European Union but there was still a level of hostility between the two nations however things are better than they were 20 years ago and the things are expected to get even better in the coming years.

As a matter of fact, the Queen Elizabeth II went to Ireland for the first time only in 2011. This shows the level of hostility there was up until then. The Queen travelled to every country in the world but yet had never visited her closest neighbour, Ireland. 

In May 2011, she has her first state visit to the Republic of Ireland. Although everybody was as excited as scared about it, it went very well. Queen Elisabeth II arrived in Dublin, dressed in green and saluted the people of Ireland in Irish

This is one of the most amazing historical facts about Ireland and Dublin. It also shows the common will for reconciliation. 

What’s the situation in Northern Ireland since the Good Friday agreement?

Northern Ireland has been a very stable country ever since. If you are planning to travel to Belfast or the rest of Northern Ireland now, you can be reassured, it’s completely safe.

As a matter of fact, it’s an amazing place and if you ever get a chance, you definitely should go to Northern Ireland!

Belfast became a technology hub and is also home to the Game of Thrones HBO studios! Many Game of Thrones filming locations are also spread around Northern Ireland

That said, peace in Northern Ireland is an on-going topic especially because of Brexit

As the UK is leaving the EU, it raises the question of the border in Northern Ireland. 

Great Britain being an island, there is nothing to worry about on this side. The only border that the UK shares with another country (that also happens to be in the European Union), is with Republic of Ireland. 

With Brexit, the UK shouldn’t be keeping a soft border as it currently is. However, it would be against the Good Friday agreement to have a hard border. 

Also, it is important to note that if the population in Northern Ireland was mainly Protestant in the past. The proportion with Catholics is now getting more balanced. 

In conclusion, nobody knows what it will be in Northern Ireland in a few years time. There are some discussions about the unification of the two Ireland too. The next few years will tell! Stay tuned!

How to learn more about the Troubles and Northern Ireland:

If you want to know more about the Troubles in Northern Ireland, here is a list of books that you’d like:

The Beginning of the End: The Crippling Disadvantage of a Happy Irish Childhood by Walter Ellis

Killing Rage by Eamon Collins and Mick McGovern

Blood-Dark Track: A Family History by Joseph O’Neill

Resurrection Man by Eoin McNamee

Lost Lives: The Stories of the Men, Women and Children Who Died as a Result of the Northern Ireland Troubles: The Stories of the Men, Women and Children Who Died Through the Northern Ireland Troubles by Chris Thornton, Seamus Kelters, Brian Feeney and David McKittrick

Armed Struggle: The History of the IRA by Richard English

Nor Meekly Serve My Time: H-block Struggle, 1976-81 by Brian Campbell

If you are travelling to Belfast soon and want to discover the history of the Troubles from someone a local, you may want to check these:

Walking tours:

– Belfast: Political Conflict 3-Hour Walking Tour – Info & booking here

– Belfast: History of The Troubles Walking Tour – Info & booking here

– Belfast: The Troubles Historic Walking Tour – Info & booking here

Black Cab tour:

– Belfast: Political Taxi Tour – Info & booking here

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28 interesting facts about Belfast

18 Incredible facts about Dublin

6 amazing facts about Ireland

Game of Thrones in Belfast