The purpose of this webpage is to educate the public on the sectarian conflict occurring within Northern Ireland. Although some historians point to the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 as the endpoint of the sectarian conflict, many others would argue that the conflict has never been resolved. Through close examination of The Troubles in Northern Ireland and the peace walls that were erected as a direct response to this violence, this webpage aims to present a clear and encompassing history of the conflict to its viewers.
Peace Walls: The Beginning and No-So-Near End
For many, the political and religious problems that have affected Ireland for centuries, and still do today, were birthed in 1690 at the Battle of the Boyne, when William of Orange defeated King James II. Whether we measure from 1690, or from the 1641 Siege of Drogheda, the 1801 Act of Union, the 1847-1852 Great Hunger, or the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty, Catholics and Protestants remain deeply divided within Northern Ireland. One result of this division, and of the conflicts between these communities, was the erection of peace walls during the Troubles of the 1970s-1990s. The peace walls are a series of barriers constructed of stone, steel, or concrete that can be over 6 meters tall. These walls are located in Northern Ireland and serve to separate the two dominant populations of the land into segregated living spaces.
The tensions within Northern Ireland came to something of a conclusion following the signing of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. The agreement established a new, reformed, and autonomous parliament in Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Assembly was the successor to almost thirty years of direct rule over Northern Ireland by London, and to the Protestant-led Stormont Assembly which preceded direct rule. Although this agreement was meant to ease tensions between Catholics and Protestants, the number of peace walls dividing the parties has actually increased since 1998. These walls have been a subject of great controversy. One may think that such a physical response to a philosophical divide would prove useless, but many would argue the opposite. Members of both parties, Catholics and Protestants alike, remain deeply divided on the topic of the peace walls.
Bloody Sunday (1972)
The “Troubles” in Northern Ireland, has a long and complex history, dating back before the “Bloody Sunday” or “Bogside Massacre” incident. The research paper will break down the event by the Irish Nationalist perspective, British Nationalist perspective, public history perception, Irish social memory, and public access to documents or records. The facts of the event are concrete, however, the details of the event are bias depending on varying political views. The affair is recorded and passed down to future generations, through popular culture and the media. The tragedy of the event, as well as lives lost, will go down in historical infamy.
The Irish Troubles were generally perceived as a Catholic vs. Protestant, religious based conflict. However, the British colonial legacy in Ireland is much more complex than clashing religious beliefs. Bloody Sunday was a peacefully planned protest that was doomed for failure from the beginning. The event was a micro example of the socio-economic impact of the British occupancy. “This event was a watershed in the history of The Troubles, the 30-year campaign of violence and murder carried out by Loyalist and Republican terrorists over competing claims to the territory that constitute the six counties of Northern Ireland.” (Conoway Brian)
Bloody Sunday occurred on January 30, 1972. The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) planned a peaceful protest. The anti-internment marches took place in the city of Derry. In response, the Unionist community, led by Ian Paisley, mobilized to hold a counter march. The British government sensed that a dangerous confrontation was likely to occur and drafted its elite paratrooper regiment to deal with the unfolding scenario. Although the Unionist counter march was called off, the anti-internment march went ahead. The protestors began in Creggan estate and the route would take them through the Bogside, to Derry city center. (Conoway Brian)
When the march reached Free Derry Corner in the Bogside area of Derry city, a Catholic neighborhood, it took a turn for the worst. Within a few minutes, 13 people were shot dead by the British paratroopers and another protestor would later die from his injuries. Many more demonstrators were injured but did not die from their wounds. This event provoked a negative reaction across Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, and the international community. The details from the event are littered in controversy and government conspiracy. (Conoway Brian)
Before the protest, tensions were already high from previous IRA and British soldier skirmishes. “For this particular day, however, the two IRA movements stated that they would refrain from hostile activity.” (Maurice Punch). The British government was still leery about the protestors because of past violent protests. The British officials were on guard because of constant IRA nail bombings and guerrilla warfare tactics in Northern Ireland. Though IRA members stated that the protest would be peaceful, the British did not want to take any chances.
Sadly, the years that followed Bloody Sunday (1973 to 1993) were filled wit instability and civil unrest. Like the majority of conflicts, hindsight makes one look back and think that the devastation was unnecessary. The multiple Irish nationalist parties and British Unionist parties fought for political support. The opposing sides and cultures seemed doomed to never come to a political agreement. The years of instability eventually led way to political progress and reform.
“Not every Nationalist or Unionist in Northern Ireland took part in the events of Bloody Sunday. Not every Nationalist or Unionist was a witness to it either. Many people, both Nationalist and Loyalist, re-member that day as a watershed moment even though they were not there in person. Whether they saw the events on television or mediated through others byword of mouth, they remembered Bloody Sunday as participants in a community of memory.” (Conoway Brian) Though the events have different perspectives and understandings, the event itself is an important part of both the Irish and British collective history. The event itself is a clash of two radically different ideologies and motivations, but are cemented together through collective identity.
In conclusion, the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland, has a long and complex history, dating back before the “Bloody Sunday” or “Bogside Massacre” incident. The facts of the event are concrete, however, the details of the event are bias depending on varying political views. The event led to the “Good Friday Agreement”. Though tensions are still high between the two factions, there is less military violence. The affair is recorded and passed down to future generations, through popular culture and the media. The tragedy of the event, as well as lives lost, will go down in historical infamy.
Peace Lines in Peace Times?
110 Peace Lines were built in Northern Ireland after the Troubles broke out, today 108 still stand nearly 20 years after the Good Friday Agreement was signed. The Peace Lines occupy a strange place; a monument to past violence, but still functioning as intended despite the Good Friday Agreement. So why haven’t they all come down?
The closest relative to the Peace Lines is the Berlin Wall. What makes the two different is the situations they were built during. The Berlin Wall was built to separate a country occupied by multiple nations, whereas the Peace Lines were built to separate neighborhoods along religious/political lines that preceded the Troubles.
The Peace Lines stand as a living legacy, a physical reminder of what happened in the past. To go along with them, murals have been painted around the Peace Lines. These murals depict the struggles of both sides of the Troubles, as well as conflicts around the world. However, because of the violent and political nature of the murals, people and politicians have been attempting to remove or replace them. Which raises questions of how should public displays of violent events should be presented, if at all and whether removing murals would be tantamount to removing history.
But the Northern Irish government, isn’t looking to remove all traces of the Troubles. The economy of Northern Ireland has made money off of visitor wanting to learn about the Troubles, giving pause to the idea that the Peace Lines should be taken down. While tourist might learn something from the tour, should the symbols of division remain because they make money? Has the legacy of the Good Friday Agreement matched the ideals that allowed it to be signed 20 years ago, or is there still work to be done?
Cunningham, Niall and Ian, Gregory, ‘Hard to miss, easy to blame? Peacelines, interfaces and political deaths in Belfast during the Troubles’, Political Geography 40 (2014): 64–78.
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Lord Widgery and Samuel Dash. 1972. “Bloody Sunday”. International Journal of Politics. Vol. 10: No. 1. pp: 46-58.
Brian Conway. 2003. Active Remembering, Selective Forgetting, and Collective Identity: The Case of Bloody Sunday. An International Journal of Theory and Research. Vol. 3: No. 4. pp: 305-322.
Maurice Punch. 2012. State Violence, Collusion and the Troubles. London: Pluto Press. Pp: 1-28.
Graham Dawson. 2005. Trauma, Place and the Politics of Memory: Bloody Sunday, Derry, 1972-2004. History Workshop Journal. Vol. 1 No. 59. pp: 151-178.
Marie-Therese Fay, Mike Morrissey, and Marie Smyth. 1999. Northern Ireland’s Troubles. London: Pluto Press. pp: 51-72.
“History – The Good Friday Agreement.” BBC, BBC, www.bbc.co.uk/history/events/good_friday_agreement