Irish Republican Army

From Academic Kids

There are several paramilitary groups which claim or have claimed the title Irish Republican Army (IRA) and advocate a unitary Irish state with no constitutional ties to the United Kingdom. All claim descent from the original Irish Republican Army, the army of the Irish Republic declared by Dáil Éireann in 1919. Most Irish people dispute the claims of more recently created organizations that insist that they are the only legitimate descendants of the original IRA, often referred to as the "Old IRA".

  • The Provisional IRA (PIRA), founded in 1969 and best known for paramilitary campaigns during the 1970s-1990s; the term 'IRA' is almost always now used to denote this particular group
  • The Official IRA, the remainder of the IRA after the Provisional IRA seceded in 1969, now apparently inactive in the military sense.
  • The 'Real' IRA, a 1990s breakaway from the PIRA
  • The Continuity IRA, another 1990s breakaway from the PIRA

The acronym IRA first appeared during the battle of Lime Ridge (June 2, 1866). The Fenians were then organised in "IRA regiments".

The playwright Brendan Behan once said that the first issue on any IRA agenda was "the split". For the IRA, that has constantly been the case. From the Old IRA, the paramilitary army of the Irish Republic came a minority who formed the Anti-Treaty IRA, which became the Official IRA, from which broke away the Provisional IRA. It then had its own breakaways, namely the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA, each claiming to be successor of the Army of the Irish Republic. Most Irish people, however, disagree with their claims, and these groups do not enjoy the level of support the Provisionals have.


The Old IRA

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) has its roots in Ireland's struggle for independence from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in the early twentieth century. It is important to differentiate between what is termed the 'Old IRA' and the 'Official IRA' from the Provisional IRA (PIRA), a splinter-group which formed in the late 1960s in the wake of institutionalized anti-Catholic discrimination, riots and murders (mainly in Belfast and Derry).

The Irish Republican Army first emerged as the army of the Irish Republic that had been declared at the Easter Rising of 1916 and affirmed by the First Dáil in January 1919. It was an amalgamation of the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizens Army which were formed before World War I and which had played a part in the Easter Rising.

The Irish Defence Forces, the Official and Provisional IRA and the 'Continuity' and 'Real IRA' all lay claim to the title Óglaigh na hÉireann (in the Irish language, Irish Volunteers.) Michael Collins took an active role in reorganizing the IRA. Its formation and its subsequent development were inextricably intertwined and interrelated with the subsequent political history of the Irish Free State (which became the Republic of Ireland in 1937) and Northern Ireland and any consideration of the IRA therefore needs to be set firmly in context.

The Government of Ireland Act 1914, more generally known as the Third Home Rule Act, was an Act of Parliament passed by the British House of Commons in May 1914 which sought to give Ireland national self-government within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Though it received the Royal Assent in September 1914 its implementation was postponed until after the First World War (at that stage expected to last only a matter of months). However the outbreak of the Easter Rising in 1916 and the unexpected electoral success of Sinn Féin in the 1918 general election made any enactment of the Act redundant. It was never implemented but was eventually replaced by the Government of Ireland Act 1920, which was to give Home Rule to six counties in the northeast (Northern Ireland) and to twenty-six counties in the north-west and south (the so-called "Southern Ireland").

For a minority of nationalists, the home rule conceded was judged to be too little, too late. In the Easter Rising of 1916, these nationalists staged a rebellion against British rule in Dublin and in some other isolated areas. Weapons had been supplied by Germany, under the auspices of a leading human rights campaigner, Sir Roger Casement. However the plot had been discovered and the weapons were lost when the ship carrying them, the Aud, was scuttled rather than allow the arms to fall into British hands.

The rebellion was largely centered on Dublin. The leaders seized the Dublin General Post Office (GPO), raising a green flag bearing the legend 'Irish Republic', and proclaiming independence for Ireland, though ironically some republicans in the GPO talked of making Prince Joachim of Prussia the King of Ireland if Germany won the First World War. Although many Irish people believe that the Rising and its leaders had public support, in reality there were calls for the execution of the ringleaders coming from the major Irish nationalist daily newspaper, the 'Irish Independent' and local authorities. Dubliners not only cooperated with the British troops sent to quell the uprising, but undermined the Republicans as well. Many people spat and threw stones at them as they were marched towards the transport ships that would take them to the Welsh internment camps.

However, public opinion gradually shifted, initially over the summary executions of 16 senior leaders--some of whom, such as James Connolly, were too ill to stand--and people thought complicit in the rebellion. As one observer described, "the drawn out process of executing the leaders of the rising... it was like watching blood seep from behind a closed door." Opinion shifted even more in favor of the Republicans in 1917-18 with the Conscription Crisis, when Britain tried to impose conscription on Ireland to bolster its flagging war effort.

Sinn Féin, commonly known as the IRA's political arm, was widely credited with orchestrating the Easter Rising, although the group was advocating less-than-full independence at the time. The party's then-leader, Arthur Griffith, was campaigning for a dual monarchy with Britain, a return to the status quo of the 'Constitution of 1782', forged in Grattan's Parliament. The Republican survivors, under Eamon de Valera, infiltrated and took over Sinn Féin, leading to a crisis of goals in 1917.

In a compromise agreed to at its Ard Fhéis (party conference) Sinn Féin agreed to initially campaign for a republic. Having established one, it would let the electorate decide on whether to have a monarchy or republic; however, if they chose a monarchy, no member of the British Saxe-Coburg-Gotha/Windsor Royal Family was to be eligible for the Irish throne.

From 1916 to 1918, the two dominant nationalist movements, Sinn Féin and the Irish Parliamentary Party fought a tough series of battles in by-elections. Neither won a decisive victory; however, the Conscription Crisis tipped the balance in favor of Sinn Féin. The party went on to win a clear majority of seats in the 1918 general election and most were uncontested.

Sinn Féin MPs elected in 1918 fulfilled their election promise not to take their seats in Westminster but instead set up an independent 'Assembly of Ireland', or 'Dáil Éireann', in Gaelic. On January 21st, 1919, this new, unofficial parliament assembled in the Mansion House in Dublin. As its first acts, the Dáil elected a prime minister (Priomh Aire), Cathal Brugha, and a inaugurated a ministry called the Aireacht).

The first shots in the Irish War of Independence were fired in Soloheadbeg, Tipperary on the 21st of January 1919 by Seán Treacy and Dan Breen, acting on their own initiative. Two RIC constables (James McDonnell and Patrick O'Connell) were killed while the South Tipperary IRA volunteer unit were seizing a quantity of gelignite. Technically, the men involved were considered to be in a serious breach of IRA discipline and were liable to be court-martialed, but it was considered more politically expedient to hold them up as examples of a rejuvenated militarism. The conflict soon escalated into guerrilla warfare by what were then known as the Flying Columns in remote areas. Attacks on remote Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) barracks continued throughout 1919 and 1920, forcing the police to consolidate defensively in the larger towns, effectively placing large areas of the countryside in the hands of the Republicans.

In response, the British sent hundreds of World War I veterans to assist the RIC. The veterans at first wore a combination of black police uniforms and tan army uniforms (because of shortages), which, according to one etymology, inspired the nickname 'Black and Tans'. The brutality of the 'Black and Tans' is now legendary, although the most excessive repression attributed to the Crown's forces was often that of the Auxiliary Division of the Constabulary.

The IRA was also involved in the destruction of many stately homes in Munster. These belonged to prominent Loyalists who were aiding the Crown forces, and were burnt to discourage the British policy of destroying the homes of Republicans, suspected and actual. As the mansions were worth a lot more than the cottages of the ordinary people, the British policy was discontinued. Both Dáil Éireann (the Irish Parliament) and Sinn Féin were proscribed by the British government.Template:Ref

David Lloyd George, the British Prime Minister at the time, found himself under increasing pressure (both international and from within Britain) to try to salvage something from the situation. Éamon de Valera refused to attend talks, realizing that compromise was inevitable, but that movements in that direction would hurt his image. An unexpected olive branch came from King George V, who, supported by South African statesman General Jan SmutsTemplate:Ref, managed to get the British government to accept a radical re-draft of his proposed speech to the Northern Ireland parliament, meeting in Belfast City Hall in June 1921. The King had often protested about the methods employed by Crown forces to Lloyd George.

The speech, which called for reconciliation on all sides, changed the mood and enabled the British and Irish Republican governments to agree a truce. Negotiations on an Anglo-Irish Treaty took place in late 1921 in London. The Irish delegation was led by Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins, as de Valera--now 'President of the Republic'--insisted that as head of state he could not attend, as King George was not leading the British delegation.

Under the Government of Ireland Act 1920, Ireland was partitioned, creating Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland. Under the terms of the Anglo-Irish agreement of 6 December 1921, which ended the war (1919-1921), Northern Ireland was given the option of withdrawing from the new state, the Irish Free State, and remaining part of the United Kingdom. The Northern Ireland parliament chose to do so. A Boundary Commission was then set up to review the border.

Irish leaders expected that it would so reduce Northern Ireland's size, by transferring nationalist areas to the Irish Free State, as to make it economically unviable. Contrary to myth, partition was not the key breaking point between pro and anti-Treaty campaigners; both sides expected the Boundary Commission to 'deliver' Northern Ireland.

The actual split was over symbolic issues: could the Government of the Irish Republic be superseded by another act of the UK Parliament? Could Irish politicians take the Oath of Allegiance called for in the Anglo-Irish Treaty? Anti-treaty republicans under de Valera answered both questions in the negative. They withdrew from the Dáil Éireann, which had narrowly approved the Treaty.

Many of the leading members of the Old IRA, such as Michael Collins, joined the new national army of the Irish Free State, while others rejoined civilian life. A small minority, continuing to claim the name 'IRA', waged a bloody civil war against the new Irish Free State led by W.T. Cosgrave. This was to be the first of many divisions which would occur in the IRA over the remainder of the 20th century.

Later IRAs

Here in more detail is a representation of a genealogical tree of Irish nationalist movements:

  • Old IRA / Sinn Féin - fought in the War of Independence 1920-1921
    • That part of Old IRA/Sinn Fein organized within Northern Ireland not included within the Free State (see below).
    • The initial Free State government who accepted the compromise of the 1921 treaty which established the Irish Free State. Eventually became the modern-day Fine Gael Party currently the second-largest party in the Republic of Ireland.
    • That part of Sinn Féin / IRA organized within the twenty six counties that became the Free State rejected the compromise of the 1921 treaty with Britain and under Eamon de Valera fought the Irish Civil War against the Free State 'National Army'.
      • Fianna Fáil - some years after losing the Civil War a faction of Sinn Féin led by de Valera returned to the democratic fold as the Fianna Fáil Party which is currently the largest party in the Republic of Ireland.
      • The remainder of Sinn Féin / IRA together with that part of Old IRA/Sinn Fein organised within Northern Ireland carried on low level sporadic paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland. Over the decades, it became more leftist.
        • By the 1960s, the IRA having waged a disastrous violent border campaign, Sinn Féin moved towards a Marxist class struggle. With the outbreak of The Troubles Sinn Féin, or as it came to be called after the formation of the Provisional IRA and Provisional Sinn Féin, Official IRA / Official Sinn Féin found itself sidelined because of its inability/unwillingness to defend Catholic areas of the six counties from Orange mobs. Over time the Official IRA faded away, the political side discarded its nationalism and became in succession Sinn Féin the Workers Party, and the Workers Party.
          • After the Official IRA's 1972 ceasefire it and Official Sinn Féin suffered a split in 1974 leading to the formation of the extreme left wing Irish National Liberation Army and the Irish Republican Socialist Party, led by Séamus Costelloe (later assassinated by the Official IRA during a bloody feud). The INLA was known for a series of internal feuds and some of the more sectarian killings from the nationalist side.
          • In 1992 the Workers' Party suffered a split when a majority faction failed to secure changes. They left and formed the Democratic Left the most leftist of the parties in the Republic with seats in the Dáil Éireann (though also operating in Northern Ireland). Ultimately the Democratic Left merged into the Labour Party.
        • The more traditionalist republican members split off into the Provisional IRA / Provisional Sinn Féin, which operated mostly in Northern Ireland, using violence against Unionists and British people, institutions and economic targets. They also killed members of the Irish army and the Garda Síochána (the Irish police force). A further split occurred in 1986, when the southern Leadership of Provisional Sinn Féin (as the political wing of the Provisional IRA tended at the time to be called), under Ruairí Ó Brádaigh was deposed and replaced by a new northern leadership under Gerry Adams.
    • Provisional IRA / Provisional Sinn Féin (now more generally referred to simply as Sinn Féin and the IRA, moved to a less militarist and more politically-led position, which ultimately produced the Hume-Adams report and the peace process.
          • A number of soldiers, who were sympathetic to Irish republicanism, and who served in the British armed forces during the sixties, joined the IRA after their service ended with the British military. Mostly from army and marine units, they shared their experience and professionalism throughout the ranks of the IRA, increasing the fighting capacity and skill of the IRA units, with their past experience from the British military. On several occasions, British troops patrolling areas of Northern Ireland confronted former soldiers, who had served with their regiment or unit.

See also


  1. Template:Note ????
  2. Template:NoteJan Smuts was one of the best Boer commanders of the Second Boer War. In 1914 at the start of World War I the Boer "bitter enders" rose against the government in the Boer Revolt and allied themselves with their old supporter Germany. General Smuts played an important part in crushing the rebellion. The South African establishment, of which Smuts was a part, in contrast to the British establishment in 1916, was lenient to the leaders of the revolt, who were fined and spent two years in prison. After this revolt and lenient treatment the "bitter enders" contented themselves with working within the system. It was his experience of the Boer British rapprochement which he was able to bring to the attention of the British government as an alternative to Republican Army

eo:IRA (Irlando) fr:Armée républicaine irlandaise ga:IRA nl:IRA ja:IRA no:IRA pl:Irlandzka Armia Republikańska pt:Exército Republicano Irlandês sl:Irska republikanska armada fi:IRA sv:Irish Republican Army uk:Ірландська Республіканська Армія zh:爱尔兰共和军


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