a myth of perpetual republican violence

Just to make a point that seems lost on some people.

One thing that tends to get overlooked by many people commemorating the declaration of an Irish Republic in 1916 is the extent to which the subsequent violence was a significant departure. Apart from a number of low key incidents in 1848 and 1867 and a couple of sporadic bombing campaigns in the decades after 1867, there hadn’t been a widespread violent insurgency since 1798. Even the violence of 1867 was widely understood as a response to the famine, as seen in the lives of leading Fenians like William Harbinson who had personal experience of the famine.

The violence associated with the subsequent insurgency campaign, partition and civil war ended in 1923 with all most those imprisoned on both sides of the border released under general amnesties by the end of 1924. In the subsequent decades the IRA organisation continued to exist but, violent clashes with the governments in the south and north were extraordinarily rare. When and where sustained violence did occur it tended to be for limited periods such as 1939-44 and 1956-62. In reality, for much of the IRA’s existence post-1924 it more typically pursued (and fragmented) over a series of political projects rather than insurgency campaigns. Even after 1969, the IRA was involved in a series of campaigns bracketed by ceasefires (in 1972, 1974, 1975, 1994 and 1997) and linked to, and reacting against, political initiatives.

The idea that there ongoing violence maintains some sort of legitimacy in perpetuating resistance to British control in Ireland is a myth that isn’t supported by the history of the IRA itself (for anyone that doesn’t believe me – I’ll leave open the long preview of Belfast Battalion, detailing the history of the Belfast IRA from the 1920s to 1960s).

That’s a highly simplified view of a more complex picture but in the aftermath of the death of Lyra McKee it will hopefully cause some people to reflect.

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