Background of the Troubles of Northern Ireland, 1968 to 1998

Image of Derry

The Troubles of Northern Ireland stemmed from a long and complicated history between Ireland and England. Ireland split in two in 1921, with the southern part of the country becoming the Republic of Ireland and the northern part remaining under British control. This split of the country angered nationalists in the north who became separated from their comrades in the south. The British government chose these six counties of Northern Ireland due to having a majority of the Protestant and unionist population as well as Ireland’s industrialization and wealth.[1] Nationalists wanted the British to leave Northern Ireland and unite with the Republic of Ireland while the unionists wanted Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom.[2]

The Beginning of the Troubles 

The Troubles, lasting from 1968 to 1998, began with a civil rights campaign in Derry on October 5, 1968. Derry had a long past with the Troubles. The nationalists, mostly Catholic, called this city Derry while the unionists, mostly Protestant, called it Londonderry.[3] The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers, the British police force stationed in Northern Ireland to maintain order, started an unprovoked attack against the marchers under the justification that the marchers could not participate in this gathering under British rule.[4] This attack became world news while also strengthening the civil rights movement.[5] On August 12, 1969, another disruption occurred in Derry with the Apprentice Boys parade commemorating the Siege of Derry in 1689. Nationalist dominated Derry did not appreciate this unionist act. Prepared for an altercation, the people of Derry began throwing rocks and wood at the unprepared RUC officers. Rioting continued for two days.[6] This event would later be known as the Battle of the Bogside. 


In 1971, the British government began internment, arresting people without a trial under the suspicion of being members of paramilitary groups.[7] In the end, internment failed because the British government used poor intelligence, and Irish Republican Army (IRA) membership increased.[8] All of this information combined set the scene for January 30, 1972 or what would later become known as Bloody Sunday.

[1] Feargal Cochrane, Northern Ireland: The Reluctant Peace (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013), 32.

[2] Cochrane, Northern Ireland: The Reluctant Peace, 4-5.

[3] Graham Dawson, “Trauma, Place and the Politics of Memory: Bloody Sunday, Derry, 1972-2004,” History Workshop Journal no. 59 (Spring 2005): 157.

[4] Cochrane, Northern Ireland: The Reluctant Peace, 33; 47.

[5] Ibid., 48.

[6] Ibid., 51.

[7] Ibid., 59.

[8] Ibid., 61.

Background of the Troubles of Northern Ireland, 1968 to 1998