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The 20th century


(11) Enniskillen war memorial Enniskillen war memorial, commemorating those who died during two world wars - 14k

The doves were added in 1991, in memory of 11 people who were killed at the memorial by an IRA bomb on Remembrance Sunday, 8th November, 1987.

In 1910, John Redmond and the other Irish Nationalist MPs once more held the balance of power in the House of Commons. The price of their support for the government was a third Home Rule bill, which this time could not be blocked by the House of Lords. A southern Unionist, Sir Edward Carson, was selected to lead Unionists, and well over 400,000 people in Ulster signed a Covenant expressing their determination to use "all means which may be found necessary" to defeat Home Rule. When the unionist Ulster Volunteer Force smuggled rifles into Larne in 1914, and the nationalist Irish Volunteers smuggled a smaller shipment of rifles into a harbour near Dublin, Ulster seemed to be poised on the brink of civil war. Then, in August 1914, the Great War broke out, and the Home Rule issue was overshadowed by events elsewhere in Europe. The Home Rule bill was given Royal assent, but its operation was suspended until after the end of the war, when it was to be amended to make special provision for Ulster.

About 200,000 men from Ireland served with the armed forces during the war, especially in the 10th (Irish) Division, the 36th (Ulster) Division and the 16th (Irish) Division. These divisions all lost part of their original identities after heavy casualties in battles early in the war, particularly the 10th Division which fought at Suvla Bay in 1915. Men from the 36th Division showed extraordinary bravery on the 1st July 1916, when they attacked the German lines at the start of the Battle of the Somme. Next day they were forced to fall back, having lost 5,500 officers and men (killed, wounded or missing) in two days. The 16th Division also suffered severe losses in three major battles, including the 3rd Ypres (Passchendaele) in 1917. By the end of the First World War, at least 27,000 soldiers from Ireland had died.   
When I saw the men emerge through the smoke and form up as if on parade, I could hardly believe my eyes. Then I saw them attack, beginning the slow walk over 'No Man's Land' ...
- W. B. Spender,
July 1916

After the war, a fourth Home Rule bill, the Government of Ireland Act (1920), proposed two Parliaments: one for Northern Ireland (consisting of counties Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry and Tyrone) and one for Southern Ireland. The southern Parliament never functioned, but King George V opened the Parliament of Northern Ireland in June 1921. Towards the end of 1920, with violence on the increase, a Special Constabulary (including full-time A Specials and part-time B Specials) had already been set up to assist the RIC in Ulster. In April 1922, RIC men and many Specials applied to join the new police force for Northern Ireland called the Royal Ulster Constabulary. As a result of riots and the IRA campaign, 557 people were killed in the north between July 1920 and July 1922.

In Easter 1916, Republicans had led a rising in Dublin which cost 450 lives and resulted in the execution of 15 of their leaders. The Irish Volunteers (soon to be renamed the Irish Republican Army) started a violent campaign for independence in 1919, and the government responded in 1920 by recruiting British ex-servicemen (Auxiliaries and "Black and Tans") to join the RIC in the south. After negotiations in London, a Treaty was agreed in 1921 setting up a Free State in the south, with roughly the same degree of independence as Canada. Many IRA members opposed the terms of the Treaty, and this led to a civil war in the Free State between June 1922 and May 1923. The border between the Free State and Northern Ireland was not finally confirmed until 1925, when the governments agreed not to implement the changes proposed by the Boundary Commission.

During the 1920s and 1930s, Northern Ireland was particularly hard hit by the general post-war industrial depression. The financial arrangements in the 1920 Act became almost unworkable as tax revenues dropped, leaving the government with inadequate resources to tackle serious housing and health problems. After a post-war boom, the shipbuilding industry suffered a worldwide slump in demand, and the linen industry found great difficulty competing against cheaper fabrics. Between 1932 and 1937, there was also an increase in political tension, with a Fianna Fáil government in the south changing the constitution of the Free State (now renamed Éire) to claim the territory of Northern Ireland. In the north, there were a number of hard line speeches from Unionists, and serious riots in Belfast during the summer of 1935.   
We do not dispute that the political goal of the Catholics of the North is a United Ireland; but the great majority of them favour working for that end by constitutional means, ...
- Irish News,
August 1935

During the Second World War from 1939 to 1945, Éire was the only Dominion to stay neutral, even though the British War Cabinet had offered in 1940 to make a statement in favour of a united Ireland in exchange for an end to southern neutrality. Recruitment was considerably lower than during the First World War, with an estimated 38,000 people from Northern Ireland and about 43,000 from Éire joining the British armed forces during the war. Because of southern neutrality, Northern Ireland played an important part in the war, providing bases for ships and aircraft to guard the Atlantic convoys against attacks from German U-boats. Belfast shipyards were the target of German bombs in April and May 1941, but many bombs landed in Belfast's crowded back streets, killing over 1000 people and destroying thousands of homes. When the United States entered the war, thousands of American soldiers were stationed in Northern Ireland, reaching a total of 120,000 before the Normandy landings.

There had been some IRA violence at the start of the war, and again in the late 1950s. Lack of popular support, and the introduction of internment on both sides of the border, successfully brought this violence to an end. In the post war years, the linen and shipbuilding industries continued to decline. However, new financial agreements with the UK Treasury meant that money was now available in Northern Ireland to improve housing, roads, schools and the health service in line with the rest of the United Kingdom. Society in Northern Ireland remained deeply divided, and in the late 1960s, the civil rights movement began to organise marches to highlight nationalist concerns about jobs, housing and local electoral boundaries. By the end of 1968, the prime minister, Terence O'Neill, had announced a package of reforms in response to these concerns, and made a passionate plea for calm, warning that "Ulster stands at the crossroads".   
What kind of Ulster do you want? A happy and respected province, in good standing with the rest of the United Kingdom? Or a place continually torn apart by riots and demonstrations ...?
- Terence O'Neill,
December 1968

By August 1969, mainly peaceful protest marches had given way to serious street violence, and soldiers were deployed to assist the police. By 1971, the newly formed Provisional IRA was carrying out frequent gun and bomb attacks on the security forces. The internment of IRA suspects failed to stop these attacks, and by the end of 1971 two loyalist groups, the Ulster Volunteer Force (revived in 1966) and the Ulster Defence Association (formed in 1971) had started to attack nationalist civilians in response to IRA attacks. A recent study has found that about 3,600 people have been killed during the "Troubles" between 1969 and 1998, and about 40,000 people injured. Republican terrorist groups were responsible for 2,001 killings, loyalist terrorist groups for 983, and the security forces (army and police) for 382. Since the collapse of the regional government at Stormont in 1972, there have been a number of attempts to find a new political settlement in Northern Ireland. Following ceasefires by the main terrorist groups in 1994 and 1997, an agreement was approved by a referendum in 1998, but serious differences remained between the political parties on the need to decommission illegally-held weapons.

See also:
The Great War (1914-1918)

The Belfast Agreement

(10) The 19th century
The 19th century
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