Irish Republican Army (IRA)

IRA members patrolling the streets of Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1972.
IRA members patrolling the streets of Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1972.

5. Overview

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) can trace its origins to the 19th Century Fenian Brotherhood of America, which tried and failed to establish an Irish Republic in North America in the post-Civil War years. Though their plans failure and they dissolve a decade later, the Fenian Brotherhood of America had gained international attention and they lived on in their sister movement in Ireland, the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). After the unsuccessful 1916 Easter Rising, the IRB rallied various other paramilitary Irish organizations, including the Irish Volunteers, the Irish Citizen Army and the Hibernian Rifles, all under one flag by using an abbreviation that the Fenian Brotherhood of American had popularized earlier, the IRA. The IRA's history has three distinct periods, namely those dominated by the Original IRA (1917-22), the Anti-Treaty IRA (1922-69), and then the splinter period of the IRA (1969-present day).

4. Organizational History and Notable Members

The Original IRA was reorganized in the year following the failed 1916 Easter Rising. It was then officially established in 1919 to be the army of the newly proclaimed Irish Republic by the elected assembly of the Dáil Éireann that the Sinn Féin party had formed. The Original IRA then was the main fighting force during the Irish War of Independence (1919-21), using guerrilla tactics against the United Kingdom who had occupied Ireland to attempt to quell the rebellion and keep all of Ireland under its rule. The Original IRA was led by Cathal Brugha, Richard Mulcahy and Eoin O'Duffy as the chiefs of staff. After the Irish War for Independence end in 1921 with the Anglo-Irish Treaty, a split started to occur within the IRA.The IRA split into though who supported the treaty and those who opposed it. By 1922 Ireland was engulfed in a civil war, with the Anti-Treaty IRA wanting to created a fully independent Ireland, not the Irish Free State that was accepted in the Anglo-Irish Treaty. The Anti-Treaty IRA lost the civil war, but remained until 1969 with the goal of creating a complete Irish Republic. The Anti-Treaty IRA had many chiefs of staff but some of the longer tendered ones were Moss Twomey, Tony Morgan and Cathal Goulding. By the late 1960s fractures in the Anti-Treaty IRA grew and they splinted into multiple groups referring to themselves in part as the IRA. The Official IRA (OIRA) and the Provisional IRA (PIRA) decided to wage a guerrilla war to get Northern Ireland, which is under British rule, to become part of Ireland. This was the right after the start of the thirty year period known as The Troubles (1968-98). The OIRA declared a ceasefire early in the Troubles in 1972, but the PIRA was active throughout until 2005. Cathal Golding was the chief of staff for the OIRA up until the ceasefire they declared. The PIRA's longest tenured chief of staffs were Seán Mac Stíofáin, Martin McGuinness, Kevin McKenna and Thomas Murphy. Currently the Continuity IRA (CIRA) and the Real IRA are splinter groups that formed in the middle of the 1990s that continue their campaign against the British. These two groups are much smaller, with the CIRA carrying out small scale attacks and the Real IRA focused on vigilante justice.

3. Campaigns and Victories

The Original IRA won its main campaign over the British in the Irish War for Independence. Using effective guerrilla tactics they evaded and disrupted the British forces until the British government came to the conclusion that having the military occupy Ireland would cost too much in both human blood and financial resources. The Anti treaty IRA was most active in the during and after World War Two. The IRA launched the Northern Campaign (1942-44) on Northern Ireland but was utterly defeated by the Northern Irish and the Irish Free State. The Anti-treaty IRA took years to regroup from the Northern Campaign and launched their last big series of attacks during the Border Campaign (1956-62). The Border Campaign again result in the IRA being defeated and having many of their members arrested and put in jail. The most known campaign by the IRA was the Provisional Irish Republic Campaign (1969-97) undertaken by the OIRA and the PIRA, which was during the period in Ireland commonly known as The Troubles. This eventually resulted in a military ceasefire between the IRA, Northern Ireland and Britain after decades of bloodshed. Currently, the CIRA and Real IRA carry out the Dissident Irish Republican campaign on a small scale since the ceasefire.

2. Challenges and Controversies

During the bloody Irish War for Independence, there were many controversial acts that took place. There was November 21st, 1920, known now as Bloody Sunday, in which the IRA went to assassinate the British 'Cairo Gang' and later in the afternoon in retaliation the Royal Irish Constabulary bombarded a Gaelic football match with artillery. The Original IRA also destroyed many Irish country houses of those working with the British, including The Custom House. During World War Two, the Anti-Treaty IRA tried a number of times to garner support from Nazi Germany, but were all of there plans were either discovered early on in planning and were failures. During the Troubles, the PIRA and the OIRA carried out terrible terrorist attacks, kidnappings and bombings over decades in Northern Ireland, Ireland and Britain that not only harmed police but also injured and killed many civilians.

1. Cultural Depictions and Legacy

The IRA has been depicted in mass media and popular culture as as placing a major emphasis on loyalty and condemning the betrayal of its members. Often times members who betrayed the IRA have been shown to have become disillusioned with their brutal methods. Members of the IRA have been portrayed as anywhere from being a noble, revolutionary fighting to free his people to a groups of brutal criminal and killers, depending on the viewpoint that is being told. The IRA's legacy is one of freedom fighting and brutal terror. The victims and the families of their attacks, as well as long retired IRA members still life with what has happened. Despite the worst of the IRA's attacks being long over, the central issue of why the IRA fought, to create a fully free unified Ireland has still not be resolved.


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