The Troubles in Northern Ireland - in the early 70s an explosion of political violence occurred in Northern Ireland, peaking in 1972, when nearly 500 people, just over half of them civilians, lost their lives
Known as The Troubles, the conflict pitted Nothern Ireland's republican nationalists — a largely Catholic faction seeking to break free from British rule and instead unite with the Republic of Ireland — against the predominantly Protestant unionists/loyalists who sought to keep Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom.
While this battle's true roots stretch all the way back to territorial fighting in the early 17th century, most historians agree that the proximate cause of The Troubles was either the October 1968 civil rights march in Derry — at which police beat more than 100 protesters of largely Catholic/republican sympathies — or the Battle of the Bogside the following August. This battle, also in Derry, erupted after a pro-Protestant/unionist parade on August 12 upset the local Catholic/nationalist majority, causing widespread rioting and violence throughout the city for days. On August 14, British troops descended upon Northern Ireland and the groundwork for three decades of violence had been laid.
The period between 1969 and 1972 was the worst period of violence throughout the Troubles, with riots, assassinations, arson, and bombings. This was due to the hardening of attitudes on both sides, the emergence of the newly energised Irish Republican Army, and the growing strength of Loyalist paramilitary groups like the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and Ulster Defence Association (UDA).
There were also more incidents of killings by the police and troops… and perhaps most important of all, the mistaken belief by the Stormont government that the civil unrest was merely a law and order problem that could be solved by greater security measures.
1970 saw rioting all over Derry and Belfast, with atrocities committed on all sides.
On 9 August, 1971 exceptional powers were granted to the police and Army, allowing them to arrest and detain suspects without trial. The Army rounded-up and interned 342 men. All except one were Catholic. No UVF or UDA men were interned until nearly two years later, even though they killed over 100 people between them.
The introduction of internment led to widespread rioting by Nationalists, leading to 13 people being shot. Rent and rate strikes followed and more people were killed as the protests continued. The British sent in more troops but the violence continued.
Then came perhaps the most infamous episode in the whole history of the Troubles, Bloody Sunday.
On 30 January 1972 a civil rights march in Derry was blocked by an army barricade. This led to a stand-off between protesters and troops. Some protesters started throwing stones and then to everyone’s astonishment, soldiers opened fire killing 13 people. A fourteenth victim died later in hospital.
An inquiry found that the victims had been unarmed. The killings sparked outrage among the Nationalist community. More rioting broke out and the fury spread south to Dublin where protesters marched on the British Embassy and burnt it down. A new wave of recruits flocked to the IRA.
It was a major embarrassment to the British government, which finally lost patience with attempts to quell the violence using internment and heavy handed policing. The Stormont government was dissolved on 24 March 1972 and the British government imposed direct rule from London.
The violence, the bombings and killings continued unabated. The Unionists wanted their parliament back so they could govern themselves, and the Nationalists wanted the British out of Ireland without any conditions.