How far was religion a cause of the troubles in Northern Ireland from the 1960s to the 1980s?

Essay 2007 13 Pages

Politics - International Politics - Region: Western Europe



1. Introduction

2. Definition of the terms ‘nationalist’, ‘republican’, ‘ unionist’ and ‘loyalist’

3. Historical context
3.1 Modern day view of historical importance

4. Social and economic situation

5. Search for possible explanations

6. Conclusion


Further Reading

1. Introduction

To many the term ‘Northern Ireland’ is a synonym for violence and hatred, reminding us of the bloody ‘Troubles’ that dominated the country for over 30 years and of the 3700 people[1] who lost their life during this time. The fact that the communities are divided by their confession suggests that the ‘Troubles’ were animated by religious frictions, and indeed, religion is generally put forward as a reason. However, on closer inspection, it appears that this stereo-typical view pushes other explanations into the background although these are essential to grasp the origins of the conflict as a whole. This essay will examine the historical, political, economic and religious aspects as well as the relation of the two communities and will attempt to demonstrate that a range of social and economic seemingly insuperable divisions between the two groups, combined with the deprivation of the country might have been a perfect ‘breeding ground’ for prejudice and fear of the other group, factors which were then expressed by severe violence during the ‘Troubles’.

2. Definition of the terms ‘nationalist’, ‘republican’, ‘unionist’ and ‘loyalist’

Before moving on to the main part, it has to be made clear that the terms ‘nationalists’ and ‘republicans’ used in this essay, refer to the catholic part of Northern Ireland’s population regarding themselves as ‘Irish’ and favouring a united Ireland; however in reality not all Catholics are ‘nationalists’ or ‘republicans’. The expressions ‘unionists’ and ‘loyalists’ indicate the Protestants in Northern Ireland who appreciate the bond with Britain and regard themselves as ‘British’, although this is again a generalisation.

3. Historical context

As for many decolonised countries, their island’s past is of great importance for the Irish, and by being familiar with the historical background it appears to be somewhat easier to understand the sentiments that both communities have about each other.

The Celts, warriors of the Iron Age from the north-east of Europe, reached Ireland around 500 BC.[2] The clans had controlled the island for around 1000 years when they began to Christianise during the fourth and fifth century, which was especially through the influence of Ireland’s first bishop Paladius (around 430) who had been sent by pope Coelestin I.[3] His missionary acts turned the Irish into some of the most religious people in the western world.

In 1171 King Henry of England invaded Ireland and brought large parts of the island under Anglo-Norman control.[4] It is worth mentioning, however, that one part of Ireland, the Ulster province, proved to be highly resistant to English attack throughout the following centuries, and seemingly determined not to let go of the land. Nevertheless, in the beginning of the seventeenth century, the English and more over the very religious Scottish Protestants were settled in 6 Ulster counties to bring the rebellious Catholics under control.[5] The ‘Plantation of Ulster’ and turning Ireland into one of its colonies was regarded as a major success for the English Crown.

Between 1641–1650 the Catholic Irish who had been deprived of their land rebelled against the English, but at the Battle of the Boyne on the 12th of July 1690 the Irish were finally defeated and almost all of Ireland fell into the hands of the English and the Protestant landownership in Ireland increased from 5 per cent to over 80 per cent.[6]

The following centuries were characterized by suppression for the Catholic Irish and although there were numerous attempts to regain power over the country in order to put an end to the inequalities, all of these efforts failed. It was not until the twentieth century, that the situation of the Catholics attracted international interest, mainly through media coverage of the ‘War of Independence’ fought between the IRA (Irish Republican Army) and the British. This finally led to talks between the fronts, discussing the demand of an independent Ireland.[7] However, the mainly protestant unionists who lived particularly in the south of the island, were opposed to this idea. When both parts of the country - meaning the mainly ‘unionist north’ and the ‘nationalist south’ - were offered Home Rule in 1920, the north accepted and the south declined.[8] As a result Ireland was divided into the Irish Free State (today Republic of Ireland), which consists of 26 counties, the remaining 6 counties becoming Northern Ireland.

On the 6th of December 1921 the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed which acknowledged the Irish Free State as autonomous but remaining part of the British Empire. The north of Ireland on the other hand became a political unit of the United Kingdom with a devolved government and with its own constitution and parliament.[9]


[1] Morrissey and Smyth, 2002:64.

[2] Wikipedia Encyclopaedia (1), 2006, 5 screens.

[3] Wikipedia Encyclopaedia (1), 2006, 5 screens.

[4] Schwarzaufweiß Reiseführer, 2006, 2 screens.

[5] Connolly, 1990: 15.

[6] Dixon, 2001:3.

[7] Tonge, 2002:14.

[8] Dixon, 2001:4.

[9] Connolly, 1990: 28-31.


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
469 KB
Catalog Number
Institution / College
King`s College London
1.0 / A / 1st mark
Northern Ireland Themes Issues British Politics



Title: How far was religion a cause of the troubles in Northern Ireland from the 1960s to the 1980s?