Written by Edward Hughes

The Irish Independence resistance movement was one of the bloodiest, fragmented and complicated efforts in modern history. The complex conflict incorporated the multifaceted issues of religion, ruling class, sovereignty and nationalism into an intense and violent resistance. ‘The Troubles’, as it now referred to, lasted for around thirty years from 1968-1998 (IWM 2021).The conflict was centred on the movement for Northern Ireland to be unified with Ireland. The Catholic communities sought a reunification of Ireland, whilst Protestant communities in Northern Ireland wished to remain as part of the United Kingdom (Campbell eta.all 2008, p.180). These opposing views led to a political, social and armed struggle that was one of the most ‘lethal episodes of post-war Europe’ (Bosi & Fazio 2017, p.11). Over 3580 people were killed during the lengthy war, of which over half were civilians (Bosi & Fazio 2017, p.14). No man or women was safe, with even members of the Royal Family being targeted and assassinated (Campbell eta.all 2008, p.182).

This essay will explore the Pro-Irish unification resistance movements, analysing their complex and diverse nature. This paper will expose how these movements gained traction and evaluate their impact on the independence effort. This conflict is a perfect case study, as it will enable me to expose how resistance is a multi-faceted construct and has many different forms and representations. Resistance, power and struggle are three terms that directly connect with one another, and this relationship will be heavily displayed in this case study. The paper will include a clear succinct summary of three different research methods utilized to conduct this case study. Following this the paper will explore the different forms of resistance that took place during the Troubles. The case study will divide the different forms of struggle and dive deep into the political, social and armed resistance movements of the Troubles. Scholars, theorists and historian’s ideas and theories will be interweaved into the case study to add credibility and reliability to my investigation. Ultimately, this paper will conclude with a final summary of the power and nature of these different forms of resistance during the Troubles.

Three different research methods will be undertaken in this investigation. A visual ethnography will be one of these different devices used in the paper. A visual ethnography utilizes, ‘photography, motion pictures, hypermedia and the web’ (Given 2008, p.1). The aim of this type of research is as a means of ‘capturing expression perceptions and social realities of people’ (Fitzgerald & Lowe 2020, p.4). In particular, documentary films will be used in this paper to expose the pro-Irish independence resistance movement. This is a form of ‘video ethnography’ (Fitzgerald & Lowe 2020, p.1). Documentaries are useful for research as they ‘allow for the capture, documentation and preservation of data, whilst maintain authenticity and subjectivity’ (Knoblauch eta.all 2008, p.4). By exploring different documentaries that cover pro-Irish independence, my paper will be able to have a depth of research and integrity. The documentaries referenced show the different forms of resistance during the Troubles.

Secondly, ‘auto photography’ will be utilized in the case study to add credibility and primary resources to the investigation. Auto photography is a research method allows researchers to ‘see the world through the participant’s eyes’ (Glaw & Inder & Kable 2017, p.2). Photographs are useful for research as they add ‘depth and detail that cannot be conveyed through words’ (Glaw & Inder & Kable 2017, p.4). Archival photographs, posters, propaganda and historical images will be used to show the resistance events of the time (Holm 2014, p.10). ‘Engaging with history’ is an important aspect of any form of research (Pickering 2008, p.2). By analysing historical photos and images that show the different forms of pro-Irish resistance, my paper will again add depth and credibility. An auto photography is arguably one of the best research methods due to its emotional impact on the audience. Pink confirms this idea in her paper, ‘Analysing Visual Experience’. She questions, ‘given that visual images play such a central role in everyday practice and communication, why don’t researchers use them more often?’ (Pink 2008, p.6). Ultimately, I will be showcasing different historical pictures that capture the essence and spirit of the pro-Irish independence movement.

The final research method used in this paper will be a traditional discourse analysis. Discourse analysis refers to ‘a number of approaches to analysing written and spoken language such as; words and sentences’ (Salkind 2010, p. 3). The discourse analysis will include journal articles, newspaper articles, books and other academic sources. Discourse analysis is the predominant research method for cultural studies as there is a lot of scholars, and theorists whose works and ideas can be seen in peer reviewed books and articles (Jorgensen & Phillips 2002). By studying and exploring the information in these articles, we are able to ‘enhance the marrying of cultural studies and the methodology of critical discourse (Barker & Galasinki 2001, p.20). Language is important to analyse as it creates representations of reality that contribute to constructing reality (Jorgensen & Phillips 2002, p.9).

I will be able to look at articles not only from modern times, but also from the historical period of the Troubles. This particular conflict has been written about by a plethora of academics and I will utilize this to research and dive deep into the issue. Ultimately, discourse analysis will be yet another useful research method that will allow me to explore the many varying pro-Irish resistance movements.

The bloody thirty year ‘Troubles’ originally began as a form of social resistance. The basis of the resistance rested on many different social aspects; such as class, religion and civil rights (O’Hagan 2018). This conflict shows how a deep social hatred and divide can lead to violence and chaos. The eventual armed struggle originated on the back of predominantly social issues. In 1968 the Catholics held civil rights protests and demonstrations to seek ‘an end to discrimination, exclusion and oppression’ at the hands of the British loyalist Protestants in control over Northern Ireland (Bosi & Fazio 2017, p.36). Anti-Catholic discrimination was rife in jobs, housing and in politics (O’Hagan 2018). Another main goal of the social movement was to reform voting rights, as the CRM adopted the slogan, ‘one man, one vote’ (Dochartaigh 2017, p.41).

The protestors, as seen in figure 1 were fighting for voting rights. At the time, to vote one had to be a homeowner, most of which were middle-upper class Protestants, who gained this status as a result of the discrimination against the Catholics (O’Hagan 2018). This social resistance movement soon gained traction and a wave of catholic mass protests begun in Northern Ireland. However, the fight for social change soon turned violent, as the British banned protests, deployed troops on the ground and intervened politically (Dochartaigh 2017, p.36). The social movement had now morphed into hatred and total war.

The clash came to a head in January 1972, on a day now known as “Bloody Sunday” (Brown & McCord 2019). On Bloody Sunday an incredible thirteen unarmed catholic civil rights protestors were shot dead by British troops (O’Hagan 2018). All out chaos ensued and this day was known as the catalyst for the future armed struggle of the ‘Troubles’ (Brown & McCord 2019). These events show how resistance has many forms, however social issues are almost always the catalyst for a protest movement. What began as a civil rights and freedom peaceful protest, transformed into a thirty year brutal all-out war. 

Religion and ethnicity were two main catalysts for the troubles and the social cultural divide between the two and is still evident today (Jones 1960). The religious hatred is similar to that of the long Middle Eastern conflicts between Jews and Arabs. This religious hatred is simply unfathomable to the unreligious community. ‘Educational, matrimonial, residential and personal segregations, have ‘received the most attention in Northern Ireland, both during and post, ‘The Troubles’ (Campbell & Cairns & Mallet 2004, p.6). ‘Virtually all’ elementary and secondary schools are segregated. At the height of the troubles in 1989, only 10 schools in the whole of the Northern Irish state were not segregated, that’s a staggering 5% share (Campbell & Cairns & Mallet 2004, p.180).

This educational segregation goes hand in hand with residential segregation (Jones 1960, p.98). We can see evidence of this in Ross Kemps Documentary- Extreme World Northern Ireland, see figure 2 (Ross Kemp 2018). The documentary follows Kemp visiting ‘peace walls’, these walls which now number around forty, were established by the British during the Troubles to ‘segregate the two social communities’ (Ross Kemp 2018). Evidence of this can be seen in this statistic. In 1972, an incredible 99% of Protestants, lived in segregation, whilst 75% of Catholics also chose not to mix outside their social groups (Dochartaigh 2017). Segregation is still rife now, and has been described as a ‘benign apartheid’ (Campbell & Cairns & Mallet 2004, p.180). Kemps documentary also furthers the stance of the social hatred amongst the two groups.

In the 2014 documentary, he meets both a Catholic and Protestant taxi-driver, and begins discussing the Troubles and the hatred amongst the two (Ross Kemp 2018). Kemp asks both men, ‘Would you knock of work and grab a beer together’? To which both men instantly shut him down, replying with- ‘Damn near not, wouldn’t do it, wouldn’t even contemplate it, there is no trust their’ (Ross Kemp 2018). There is a clear frostiness between the two, whilst interacting with each other and is in fact very shocking to see. This example showcases the lingering social issues that led to the events of the Troubles. The original Catholic civil rights resistance movement, moulded into an all-out independence armed struggle that lasted for thirty years. The Troubles is a clear example of the power of social movements, and the immense complexity and stubbornness of both social parties involved.

Politics and resistance are again two concepts that intertwine with one another. ‘Resistance is not possible without an outside network of power relations’ (Toplisek 2018, p.124). In the Troubles example, this power structure is the oppressive government (Toplisek 2018, p.125). Like many other movements before and after it, the Catholic pro-Irish independence movement’s aim was centred on politics and changing the ruling powers methods of control (Finn 2016). However, unlike many other resistance movements, this particular example had a very strong political faction. Sinn Fein formed in 1905 as a result of the Irish independence struggle of the early 20th century (Nogacz 2019, p.2). The party still exists today and played a major role during the Troubles (Leahy 2018). The parties aim has always been to ‘seek a federal all-Ireland republic’, and this blended well into the social civil rights movement at the beginning of the troubles (Leahy 2018, p.295).

In fact the name Sinn Fein is Gaelic in origin and directly translates to ‘ourselves alone’ (Finn 2016). This shows the true aim of the political organisation, to create a unified Ireland. Figure 3, a political propaganda leaflet of the 1970’s shows the party’s political outline of a united Irish state. Sinn Fein had little influence over Northern Irish politics at the beginning of the troubles, as the minority party had to fight against the oppressive rules and laws set out by the British ruling power (Finn 2016). However, this all changed as the fight for Northern Irish independence turned violent and bloody. After many citizens witnessed the chaos and death caused by the conflict, they began to turn to politics to further their resistance movement. Sinn Fein took advantage of this and acted as ‘a connecting point for these people, as it allowed a political alternative to violence’ (Nogacz 2019, p.5). By using the social and cultural movement, the parties propelled into the arena of Northern Irish politics and gained an enormous following. However, there has been much speculation around the party’s activities and alliances during the Troubles. 

Sinn Fein was widely considered the ‘political wing of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA)’ (Frampton 2016, p.6). The Irish Republican Army and Sinn Fein played ‘different but convergent roles in the war of national liberation during the troubles’ (Leahy 2018). The IRA waged a ‘guerrilla armed campaign of violence and terror’ (Nogacz 2019, p.24). Whilst Sinn Fein produced a ‘propaganda war and acted as the public and political voice of the resistance movement’ (Nogacz 2019, p.25). Many political opponents took this angle and questioned the legibility of the party and the acts of terror and gruesome violence with their aligned partners, the IRA (Finn 2016). ‘The IRA and Sinn Fein are not separate, rather they are indivisible’ (Frampton 2016, p.2). This quote shows the relationship between the armed social struggle and the political representation of the movement. Evidence of the blurred lines between the two different entities can be seen in the example of Gerry Adams, see figure 4. Adams was the president of Sinn Fein from 1983-2018, and oversaw the chaotic events of the Troubles as the chief architect of the political movement for Irish unification (Nogacz 2019).

Nevertheless, Adams was charged and sentenced to jail, as he was found to be an IRA member (Leahy 2018). However, this verdict was overturned and Adams only saw seven months inside (Finn 2016). Many academics and scholars still believe that Adams was a part of the accused terrorist organization the IRA and believe he acted as head of both the political and armed section of the social resistance movement (Finn 2016). As a result of the violence and the Troubles ending, Sinn Fein were given more electoral influence and political status (Leahy 2018). In fact, as of May 22 2021, polls suggest that Sinn Fein is the most popular political party in both Northern Ireland and Ireland (BBC 2021). Sinn Fein are evidence that social movements can gain political traction and have a credible representation in politics. The events of the Troubles show how social movements can become political and display that the aims of social resistance are always centred on politics and abolishing the oppressive power of the ruling class. Resistance movements have multiple dimensions and politics is one of the most important.

Finally, the most notorious aspect of the Irish independence resistance movement was violence and conflict. The violent wing of the Irish independence resistance movement of the Troubles was named the PIRA- the Provisional Irish Republican Army (Drake 2007). This was a splinter group of the original IRA, as the OIRA, was in fact against the idea of political violence and a war (Drake 2007). To simplify, in further discussion when referring to the IRA- one must assume the discourse is solely focusing on the PIRA. The IRA were a violent armed para-military resistance movement that’s sole aim was to ‘force British withdrawal from Ireland to establish a Democratic Socialist Irish republic’ (Jackson 2005, p.96). The group’s main followers were the Catholics of Northern Ireland, whom had begun the social movement at the beginning of the troubles (IWM 2021).

The IRA opted for ‘insurgent violence, surgical and strategically orientated attacks, terrorism tactics and guerrilla warfare’ (Asal eta.all 2013, p.404). The organization is widely known for being one of the most violent, and bloody terrorist groups, as many of their attacks resulted in civilian casualties. The IRA’s warfare tactics can be seen in the Green Book, which acts as a manual for IRA fighters (Asal eta.all 2013, p.421). Some of these guerrilla war tactics include, ‘bombing campaigns aimed at destroying the enemies financial interests’, and a war of attrition aimed at causing ‘as many casualties and deaths as possible’ as to create a demand from their people at home for English withdraw in Northern Ireland (Jackson 2005, p.95).

This confronting final line from the manual shows the brutality of the organization. However, it also shows the strength of the resistance movement, as for one to commit such crimes, one has to have a strong reasoning behind these violent acts. An example of the belief in the cause can be seen in the documentary, The IRA’S Secret History (see figure 5). A former IRA volunteer agrees that many ‘awful things happened, that in no way I condone’ (History Channel 2016). However incredibly, the man further states that he, ‘does understand them, and I know exactly why they happened’ (History Channel 2016). This staggering snippet from the documentary shows the extreme belief that the soldiers and fighters had in the resistance movement. This examples shows the power of resistance and the lengths in which people will go to in support of social change. 

As mentioned above, the violent nature of the IRA was something to behold. The organization specialised in ‘sporadic, targeted public attacks’ to further their political message (PBS 1998). Figure 6 shows one of the small factions of the IRA, not hiding but rather in public view for all to see (Jackson 2005). This tactic played into the narrative of terror and fear that the IRA wanted its competitors to feel (Jackson 2005). The armed wing of the independence movement, ‘developed a reputation for its capabilities and advancement in developing explosives, and use of mines, car bombs and IEDS’ (Discovery UCL UK 2015, p.2). These guerrilla tactics were used to attempt to force the ‘collapse of the Northern Ireland Government’ (Campbell, Cairns & Mallet 2004). For this reason many economic centres were targeted in attacks, such as London and Manchester (PBS 1998).

These economic hubs were selected to attempt to weaken the British economy, thus forcing their removal in Northern Ireland (Campbell, Cairns & Mallet 2004). The IRA were directly responsible for over 1700 deaths during the Troubles (Drake 2007). Of which roughly a third were civilians (Drake 2007). These horrifying casualty numbers paint a bleak picture of the IRA, although they do show the lengths in which people are prepared to resist against oppressive rule. The political violence also shows what can happen when social resistance movements are not acknowledged and continually oppressed. Whilst the violence of the Troubles is shocking, one is able to see why the pro-independence movement did take a brutal violent turn. This example again shows the complexity and multi-layered idea of resistance. Violence and resistance go hand in hand, and the violent IRA example is truly a product of its environment, sometimes actions do speak louder than words.

To Conclude, The Irish independence movement of ‘The Troubles’ was a complex, multi-facetted attempt to conquer the social and cultural issues facing the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland. The resistance movement had two main aims; social reform and political power. However, these two concepts became impossible to take with words, protest and peace and therefore a new violent, armed dimension of resistance was established. The social issues of religion, class, segregation and nationalism all played a part in the original civil rights movement, led by the oppressed Catholics in Northern Ireland. The resistance then gained political traction, when Sinn Fein, a recognized established political party jumped on board and rode the wave of the pro-independence movement. Finally, throughout the Troubles, the IRA used guerrilla war tactics, assassinations and bombings to attempt to scare the British into submission, thus creating a unified Ireland. The Troubles is a great case study to explore how resistance is multi-layered and can be represented through many different means and forms.


Asal, V, Gill, P, Rethermeyer, R, Horgan, J 2013, ‘Killing Range: Explaining Lethality Variance within a Terrorist Organization’, Journal of Conflict Resolution, vol.59, no.3, p.401-427.

Barker, C, Galasinki D 2001, Cultural Studies and Discourse Analysis- A Dialogue on Language and Identity, Sage Publications, USA.

Bosi, L, Fazio, G 2017, ‘Contextualizing the Troubles Investigating Deeply Divided Societies through Social Movements Research’, The Troubles in Northern Ireland and Theories of Social Movements, vol.1,no.1, p.11-32.

Brown, J, McCord, G 2019, ‘Northern Ireland’s Troubles began 50 years ago. Here’s why they were so violent’, The Washington Post, 22 August, viewed 8 June 2021, < https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/08/22/why-were-troubles-so-bloody-this-helps-explain/>

Campbell, A, Cairns, E, Mallett, J 2004, ‘Northern Ireland-, Journal of Aggression’, Maltreatment & Trauma, vol.9, no.2, p.175-184.

Discovery UCL UK 2015. ‘Tactical Innovation and the Provisional Irish Republican Army’, Discovery, 7 September, viewed 2 June 2021, https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1521069/3/Gill_Resub_Tactical%20Innovation%20and%20the%20Provisional%20Irish%20Republican%20Army(1).pdf

Dochartaigh, N 2017, ‘What Did the Civil Rights Movement Want?’- Changing Goals and Underlying Continuities in the Transition from Protest to Violence’, The Troubles in Northern Ireland and Theories of Social Movements, vol.1, no.1, p.34-54.

Drake, C 2007,’ The Provisional IRA: A case study’, Terrorism and Political Violence, vol.3, no.2, p.43-60.

Finn, D 2016, ‘The Adaptable Sinn Fein’, JACOBIN, April 14, viewed 5 June 2021, < https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/04/sinn-fein-ireland-republicanism-socialism-austerity-troubles>

Fitzgerald, A, Lowe, M 2020, ‘Acknowledging Documentary Filmmaking as not Only an Output but a Research Process: A Case for Quality Research Practice’, International Journal of Qualitative Methods, vol.19, no.2, 1-20.

Frampton, M 2016, the Long March: The Political Strategy of Sinn Fein, 1981-2007’, Springer, University of Cambridge, U.K. 

Given, M 2008, ‘Visual Ethnography’, The SAGE Encyclopaedia of Qualitative Research Methods, vol.1, no.1, p.1-50.

Glaw, X, Inder, K, Kable, A 2017, ‘Visual Methodologies in Qualities Research: Auto photography and Photo Elicitation Applied to Mental Health Research’, International Journal of Qualitative Methods’, vol.16, no.1, p.1-20.

History Channel 2016, ‘The IRA’s Secret History’, YouTube, 10 November, viewed 8 June 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ZEtm_u1GMY&t=1284s

Holm, G 2014, Photography as a Research Method, Oxford Handbook of Qualitative Research (1st Edition), Oxford, England.

IWM 2021, ‘What You Need To Know About The Troubles’, Imperial War Museum , 5 April, viewed 3 June 2021, https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/what-you-need-to-know-about-the-troubles

Jackson, B 2005, ‘Provisional Irish Republican Army’, Aptitude for Destruction, Volume 2: Case Studies of Organizational Learning in Five Terrorist Groups, vol.2, no.1, p.93-140.

Jones, E 1960,’ Problems of Partition and Segregation in Northern Ireland’, The Journal of Conflict Resolution’, vol.4, no.1, p.96-105.

Jorgensen, M, Phillips, L 2002, Discourse Analysis as Theory and Method, Sage Publications, London & New Delhi.

Knoblauch, H eta.all 2008, ‘Visual Analysis: New Developments in the Interpretative Analysis of Video and Photography, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, vol.9, no.3, p. 1-14.

Leahy, T 2018, ‘The Politics of Troubles Memoires in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, 1998-2018’, Innovation: The European Journal of Social Science, vol.32, no.3, p.293-314.

Nogacz, A 2019, ‘The IRA and Sinn Fein during the Troubles- Two Faces of the Same Organization’, University of British Columbia, Canada. 

O’Hagan, S 2018, ‘Northern Ireland’s lost moments: how the peaceful protests of ’68 escalated into years of bloody conflict’, The Guardian, 22 April, viewed 7 June 2021, < https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/apr/22/lost-moment-exhibition-northern-ireland-civil-rights-1968-troubles-what-if>

PBS 1998, ‘The IRA Campaign of Violence’, PBS, 8 August, viewed 7 June 2021, https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/ira/conflict/violence.html

Pickering, M 2008,’Engaging with History’, Research Methods for Cultural Studies, vol.1, no.1, p.q93-213.

Pink, S 2008, ‘Analysing Visual Experience’, Research Methods for Cultural Studies, vol.1, no.1, p124-149.

Ross Kemp Extreme World 2018, ‘Issues in Northern Ireland Compilation- Ross Kemp Extreme World, YouTube, 8 October, viewed 3 June 2021, < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6q179Ong4io>

Salkind, N 2010, ‘Discourse Analysis’, Encyclopaedia of Research Design, no.1, vo.1, p.1-10.

Toplisek, A 2018,’ Politics and Resistance as Power’, Liberal Democracy in Crisis, vol.1, no.1, p.125-161.

Featured image credit: Wikmedia Commons

Leave a Reply