By RAUL GARCIA, ESTEBAN MANTICA and VALERIA ZUÑIGA
This research studies the paramilitary groups mentioned in Frank McCourt’s book “Angela’s Ashes”. It draws mainly upon second hand sources and historic documentation, including books and songs, to explain the rise and fall of the three main paramilitary groups: the Red Branch Knights, the Fenian Men, and the Irish Republican Army. Most prior research focuses on the common purpose of these groups - a free Ireland.
Red Branch Knights
The Red Branch Knights was a nationalist group of warriors that first appeared around the first century and existed through the beginning of the middle ages. They were one of three houses loyal to king Conchobarr Mac Nessa. Conchobarr Mac Nessa was not the king of Ireland, but rather of Ulster, a province of Ireland. Ulster during the middle Ages was a province that occupied most of Ireland, but in modern day has shrunk to almost a decimal of what it was. The Red Branch Knight’s were created during the war between Ulster and Connaught with the purpose of protecting the providence and obeying the king. This paramilitary group is so archaic their actual story has been distorted by the exaggerate tales of storytellers. As with the majority of prehistoric paramilitaries the mythology has mixed in with the actual historic data. It is known that they were an elite military group, yet the people of Ireland have chosen the mythology as most of the actual historic data. Archeological and historical evidence proves that they actually existed; yet the Irish take the fictitious tales as proof of their existence and grandeur. The Irish now remember the Red Branch Knights for their mythology rather than for whom they actually were.
Origin of the Name
The origin of the name “Red Branch Knights” shows key characteristics of this paramilitary group. The name demonstrates that they were violent, but at the same time intellectual. The more unique part of their name is the Red Branch. The Red Branch Knights were loyal to King Conchobarr Mac Nessa and were mostly preoccupied with violent, war related tasks. As a way of creating pride and nationalism they had a room named “Croeb Derg” were they kept the severed heads and other trophies of battle. Hence it was because of the bright red blood if their victims in the “Croeb Derg” that they were labelled the “bright red branch”. This room shows that although the Red Branch Knights were sanguinary and lacking emotion, but at the same time intellectual. This trophy room was not created without purpose or for simply barbaric ego; it was intended to increase army morale and was actually a war tactic.
The Real Red Branch Knights
The Red Branch Knights flourished as the elite military society in the third century next to the "fianna or fena of erin". It is a common misconception that the Red Branch Knights were barbarians that only relied on brawl, but in reality they were an intellectual paramilitary that triumphed through intellect. The Red Branch Knights are documented as the elite and an elitist society requires intelligence, not just brute strenght. A major proof of their interest in intellectual prowess was their high-end education. Members of the Red Branch Knights were elected at a young age usually at seven years old like the hero Cucullain. They were trained both physically and mentally and were tested on both areas. For the physical test, they had to hurl spears against a shield and break them to show and strength and run for miles to show stamina. For the mental test, they had to show a decent amount of knowledge of poetry and literature. The Red Branch Knights knew that education was key for battle since tactics won wars hence they had a high educational expectancy for soldiers and an even higher one for commanders. Another display of the Red Branch Knights use of intellect in the battle field was their primary war tactic of creating Duns and forts as defense against invaders.
The picture above shows the complex dunes created by the Red Branch Knights and are proof of their intelligence. Most barbaric warriors such as the Hungarians were reliant on open field warfare were tactics were kept on minimum and the victor was the one with more soldiers and more strength. The dunes were created to counter this type of battles by making the field a primary advantage rather than just fight relying on numbers and strengths to win. This duns and forts besides been proof of the Red Branch Knights intellect is also proof that they existed and are not only the fabrication of story-tellers. In modern day these decrepit forts and duns have insignia's of this Paramilitary organization. The Red Branch Knights were elite not only for their strength, but also for their intelligence.
The Red Branch Knights in mythology
In mythology the Red Branch Knights instead of being described as an elite and intellectual military society they are instead described as a legendary group of quest takers like King Arthur and his twelve Knights of the Round Table. In mythology they are praised for their feats of courage and for their ability to take on any challenge. For example one of the most popular mythological retellings of this group is the recent Children’s book “The Heroes of Red Branch Knight’s”. In this book all members of the Red Branch Knights are shown as honorable and courageous warriors. Furthermore their heroes carry these attributes and in addition have unnatural strength. The characters and stories in this book are all directly based from the mythology of the Red Branch Knights. In mythology the characters carry out benevolent character and beyond human skills similar to that of the heroes of Greek mythology. Although most of these characters did actually exist they were obviously not as special as depicted in the book and where only human. How the Red Branch Knights differed in mythology and reality can be primarily seen in the heroes and warriors.
As with most military ranks and orders of the Middle Ages heroes of the Red Branch Knight have been glorified and immortalized through fable, statues and poems. The Chief heroes were Conall Kernach, Laegaire the Victorious, Keltar of the Battles, Fergus mac Roy, and the poet Bricriu "of the venom tongue". All these heroes are remembered for their feats of courage and their achievements in battle as soldier, commander or even writer. However, although these warriors are glorified and seen as pristine the most adored of these is Cuchulain. Cuchulain was an actual commander of Irish Red Branch Knight armies, but in mythology is described as a demigod capable of impossible feats such as killing an immense ferocious hound and defeating an army singlehandedly. Like Cuchulain, most of the members of the Red Branch Knights did exist, but there stories have been turned into fable. Cuchulain is the protagonist of “Heroes of the Red Branch Knights” and clearly all the feats accomplished by him are obviously impossible. However, Cuchulain did exist and he was an accomplished general, but the patriots of Ireland don’t remember him for that. In the novel Angela’s Ashes, young Frank McCourt is taught in school about the story and accomplishments of Cuchulain. Frank McCourt becomes interested in the mighty Cuchulain and his story. Fascinated, he starts telling everyone he knows about Cuchulain and the story they taught him. He feels angered when someone else tells the story and as if it was his own glorious story to tell. Frank actually feels pride for Cuchulain. The emotions of Frank McCourt reflect the prideful gleam of the Irish citizen towards the members of their archaic paramilitary group the Red Branch Knights. They were exaggeratedly proud of their heroes, like Frank’s father who described Cuchulain as “a greater hero than Hercules or Achilles that the Greeks were always bragging about” (pg.8). The Red Branch Knights were a real paramilitary group that the people of Ireland have the right to feel patriotic about and claim their pride. However, the people feel pride for the clearly fictional description of the heroes and their impossible achievements rather than for the advanced society and their true accomplishments for the providence of Ulster.
Red Branch Knights in Modern Day
A loyalist paramilitary group of Ireland surged in 1992 with the purpose of deteriorating the Republic of Ireland. Through the use of media they threatened anyone who gave political or economic aid to the republic of Ireland. As a way of substantiating their threats they used incendiary devices and bombs. Hence, they dumbed themselves with the "Red Branch Knights" because of their violent and bloody resolve that relied on pyro related weaponry. Although this group was created during "the troubles" they did not take any part in the war between IRA and the UVF and were ultimately unconcerned with their ideals. In the novel Angela's Ashes, young Frank McCourt is obligated by his father to recite the three main Paramilitary groups of Ireland: the Red Branch Knights, the Finnian men and IRA. This happened in the 1940's and the modern day Red Branch Knights were not formed until 1992, which means that the novel never makes reference to the modern day revolutionary group, but rather to the elven one of the middle ages.
The Red Branch Knights were a successful paramilitary group that had many accomplishments and ultimately fulfilled their purpose. Their tasks were achieved through intelligence and strength proving to be an excelled paramilitary group of that time. However, the feats discussed in the mythology are much more impressive. Certainly it is more impressive to defeat an army singlehandedly like Cuchulain than to fight and win wars with superior war tactics. Hence, the Red Branch Knights have been remembered for their mythology instead of for who they actually were because it is easier for fiction to be more impressive than what actually happened. The Irish in their excessive patriotism have deliberately decided to be naïve and choose to believe the mythological tale because they want to believe that Ireland is the best country. They have actual achievements from The Red Branch Knights, but because of their greed in Patriotism they choose to idolize them for the fiction. The Red Branch Knights were one of the greatest paramilitary groups of Ireland and unlike the other Paramilitary groups such as the Fenians and the IRA their cause to protect the empire was not a cause of controversy hence everyone saw them with prestige and approved of them. In modern day Ireland all military and political groups adore the Red Branch Knights and view them as glorious.
The Bold Fenian Men
“The Bold Fenian Men” were Irish revolutionary members of the Fenian movement. The main objective of this movement was to fight for the independence of Ireland from the United Kingdom. Stablished in Ireland at first, under the name of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, it was tracked and taken down by the British officials. It was then when the brotherhood moved to America under the name of the Fenian Men after the Irish warriors Fianna. The main operatives of this organization took place in the United States of America since it had already won a war against the same oppressors and was far enough to operate freely. The main revolution was going to be led through the rallying of Irish American politicians. The intentions of this paramilitary group were clear and pure, they wanted to be free, but as failure seemed imminent, they were forced to act in manners not as pure or clear, such as the invasion of Canada and the detonation of bombs. The Fenians, also referred to as the Brotherhood, not only fought for independence, but also provided the necessary resources to those who engaged in this same fight. Above all, the Fenians were known for their boldness, courage, lack of fear, and patriotism. As it is represented in the book “Angela’s Ashes” by Frank McCourt, these people were willing to die for Ireland, just as Frank’s dad commanded his children to promise this at certain points in the story.
Origin of the Name
The Fenian Brotherhood was named after the second century warriors known as Fianna. These warriors were known for their courage in battle and the deep value they placed on the protection of their lands. The word Fian or Fianna itself comes from Féine, which means “Wilderness” or “Wild People”. The adoption of this name instead of Irish Republican Brotherhood, just like it was called on the main land, was done specifically to keep the operations out of the spotlight. But still, even the Brotherhood in Ireland became known as the Fenians, recognized widely by the British and Irish all the same.
Birth of the Fenian Men
It is believed that one of the main factors that sparked the revolution against Britain was the Great Famine that Ireland suffered in 1845. The Great Famine basically consisted in a series of bad potato crops in 1845, 1846, and 1847. The rate in which the crops were failing was unprecedented in history and thus overwhelming for the farmers, by 1846, 50% of the crops had been lost. This left thousands of farmers without jobs and even more families without food on the table.
The one problem was the British government had the initial decision of not to support the Irish, hiding behind the premise that the Irish had already survived potato famines in the past and that they already knew how to overcome such situations. However, the government soon realized that this famine was so great in magnitude it was almost impossible to overcome. In an attempt to solve the problem, Sir Robert Peel, from the British government, decided that it would be a good idea to import corn into Ireland to balance the economy and bring food to the people. The one problem with this solution was that Ireland was not used to this type of crop, with no facilities to process the corn there were not many uses for it other than to eat. But this too presented another problem, as it needed to be ground down in order to be edible, people who did not have this knowledge or capability became seriously ill when eating the raw corn. But what enraged the Irish the most is that only about 100,000 euros worth of corn was imported, while by 1846 about 3,500,000 euros worth of potatoes had been lost. The government had not provided enough help to the Irish, and the Irish were in agony.
By 1850, Ireland had lost 25% of its population, a rough two million people. Half of these amount had perished from starvation and disease, meanwhile the other million had emigrated to the United States of America in a pursuit of an improved standard of living. These numbers were frightening, and a great part, if not all of the Irish, believed that the British government had not even done the least effort to help the Irish. This in turn led to the now world famous patriotism that exists in the heart of every Irish. These people realized that the only way to help their country was to do it themselves. It was at this time when the revolution against the British regime was sparked.
The first revolutionary movement that officially revolted against the government occurred in 1848 and was known as Young Ireland. Even if their attacks proved to be unsuccessful, two of its members, James Stephens and John O’Mahony, had a plan to further expand the revolution. After having to flee to Paris for their crimes against the government, both of them later traveled to Ireland and America to intensify the revolution. In 1853 O’Mahony moved to America in the hopes of gaining support, against the British government, from all of the Irish families that had migrated during the great famine. Three years later Stephens returned to Ireland and in 1958 he stablished the secret organization known as the Irish Republican Brotherhood, a group aiming for a free Republic of Ireland. At the same time, an American counterpart known as the Fenian Brotherhood was stablished in New York. The objective was to lead an attack on the British from all fronts, and all required measures were to be taken, violence was not even questioned, it would be used.
After its birth, the Fenian Brotherhood faced three main obstacles: disorganization, lack of support from the Roman Catholic Church, and British spies. The biggest problem the Brotherhood faced was the difficulty to organize itself, and the major factor contributing to this was the geographic separation that exists between the United States and Ireland. Communication between the two countries was very difficult and extremely difficult at the time. In addition, the belief of how the brotherhood should operate was different in both James Stephens and John O’Mahony. Stephens wanted to raise awareness about the Fenians as a method of gaining support, even creating a newspaper to talk about them; meanwhile O’Mahony believed that the best way to act was as a secret society in order to attract as little attention from the government as possible.
Another major obstacle faced by the Fenians was the disapproval they had from the Roman Catholic Church. At the time, 80.9% of the Irish population pertained to the Catholic Church, and as it is widely known and reflected in books such as “Angela’s Ashes”, the followers were devoted followers, so naturally, they would listen and obey to what the church told them. As the Fenians tried to exert any influence under the population, the local priests would soon undermine this through numerable sermons against the Brotherhood.
And lastly, the third major factor affecting the Brotherhood was the infiltration of British spies into the Brotherhood. It was on various occasions on which the government knew the Brotherhood’s plans before they even started working on them. An example of this happened in 1866, were an uprising was prevented because the government knew about it. Later that year in September, the newspaper started by Stephens, “The Irish People”, was shut down and Stephens himself was arrested. It is believed that this was able to happen because of information given to the government by a spy. Stephens later escaped and fled to America. By this time, the Fenians and anything related to it was being persecuted and prosecuted. If a person was even suspected of having any ties to the Brotherhood, he or she was arrested. Army units suspected of sympathizing with the Fenians were relocated, and any financial support granted to the Fenians was seized. The government was finally fearing the people, and not the other way around.
When choosing the name for the new Brotherhood in America, O’Mahony also defined the belief system on which it would operate, this he named Fenianism. In his explanation, O’Mahony stated that Fenianism was based on two main principles and beliefs. The first one being that Ireland had the “natural right” to be fully independent. And the second one was the belief that the only way to “earn” this right was through an armed revolution (Ryan, 318). After all, they were the modern Fianna, the “wild people”.
As previously stated, Fenianism revolved around the belief that an armed revolution was necessary in order to gain independence. The Fenians remained loyal to this belief, and the first armed encounter occurred in 1867 when Fenian icon Thomas Kelly led an attack on Chester Castle in an attempt to acquire weapons and ammunitions. This attack was unsuccessful, and Kelly and another one of the Brotherhood members were arrested. As Kelly was being moved to Manchester to be trialed, the Fenians carried out an operative to rescue him and the other member. But during the operative a bullet hit a police man as the Fenians fled. Three of the Fenians were later arrested, trialed and hanged for their actions. Since the Irish population view this as too hard a punishment, the hanged Fenians became known as the Manchester Martyrs.
The violent operations also included terror attacks including various detonation of bombs in different locations. The most famous one of these was the Clerkenwell Prison explosion. In 1867, another influential Fenian, Richard O’Sulivan was arrested after another police officer was killed. O’Sulivan was taken to Clerkenwell prison, and the idea was to rescue him. The rescue was going to be done by placing a bomb on one of the walls of the prison in order to open up a hole through which he could escape. But the plan did not go as it was expected, an adjacent poor neighborhood was also affected. The explosion resulted in twelve civilian casualties and more than fifty injured spectators.
On the other hand, the Fenians continued acting in America. Staying true to their hate towards Britain and their belief for the necessity of armed encounter, the Fenians decided to attack Canada, which at the time was appealing due to its name, British North America. A series of raids were performed during 1866 and a number of battles occurred. Although the Fenians won most of them, the overall attack was unsuccessful as the Fenians eventually ran out of ammunition and the British surrounded them. The overall Irish nationalism is captured in this verse from a popular song the soldiers chanted:
"We are the Fenian Brotherhood, skilled in the arts of war,
And we're going to fight for Ireland, the land we adore,
Many battles we have won, along with the boys in blue,
And we'll go and capture Canada, for we've nothing else to do."
Fall of the Fenian Brotherhood
After the 1870s, the Fenian Brotherhood began its decline. As more and more obstacles were set on their path and more attention was placed on them, they had to quiet down for a few decades. The Irish Republican Army continued to exist in Ireland, and new revolutionary groups such as Clan na Gael began to surface and replace the Fenians. The Fenians in America decided that even if Ireland was still not independent, it was on its way to become it. Even if the main objective was not accomplished, at least they had sparked the fire of the revolution in process, and this was enough. By the early 1900s the Fenian Brotherhood in America had completely dissipated, leaving the Irish Republican Brotherhood to operate with other groups such as the rising IRA.
Down by the Glenside
'Twas down by the glenside, I met an old woman,
A-plucking young nettles, she ne’er saw me coming,
I listened a while to the song she was humming,
Glory O, Glory O, to the bold Fenian men.
'Tis fifty long years since I saw the moon beaming,
On strong manly forms, on eyes with hope gleaming,
I see them again, sure, in all my sad dreaming
Glory O, Glory O, to the bold Fenian men.
When I was a young girl, their marching and drilling,
Awoke in the glenside sounds awesome and thrilling,
They loved dear old Ireland, to die they were willing,
Glory O, Glory O, to the bold Fenian men.
Some died by the glenside, some died near a stranger,
And wise men have told us their cause was a failure,
But they fought for old Ireland and never feared danger,
Glory O, Glory O, to the bold Fenian men.
I passed on my way, God be praised that I met her,
Be life long or short, sure I'll never forget her,
We may have brave men, but we'll never have better,
Glory O, Glory O, to the bold Fenian men.”
"Down by the Glenside" is a song composed by Peadar Kearney an Irish revolutionary member of the Irish Republican Army. The purpose of this song is to make a call to arms to Irishmen accustomed to political Nationalism. They make a reference to the Irishmen of past generations to remind the people of the glory and awe that it was to be a bold Fenian men. In "Down by the Glenside" the composer mentions what he heard an old woman who is "down by the Glenside" say about the Fenian men. In this song the woman see's the Fenians with much appraisal seeing them as heroes and as the ideal men. She describes these men as "on strongly manly forms, on eyes with hope gleaming". This description surely makes these men seem as the ideal men. The sentence clearly conveys a message to the Irish Citizens that to be a “bold Fenian men" is truly a prestigious occupation. Furthermore the old woman continues describing them with awe as in the third verse "their marching and drilling Awoke in the glenside sounds awesome and thrilling". Besides referring to them with grandeur she makes a constant reference to their iconic heroics. Amongst the characteristics that make them heroic are their love for Ireland, their willingness to die for it and their courage. The very title "Down by the Glenside" is a reference to how the Bold Fenian Men died in Battle. As the inscriptions on the grave of O'Donovan Rossa states "some died on the glenside, some died near a stranger" which shows that the very title of the song makes reference to their heroic death in battle. In this song the composer uses an anaphora always ending each paragraph with the sentence "Glory O, Glory O, to the bold Fenian men" furthermore emphasizing that they were great heroes. Throughout the whole song the reader can see how this poem was used as an advertisement tactic. Like war advertisements today, the soldiers are portrayed as heroic and as the ideal men making the citizens want to be like them. Although this song was initially used as a call to arms in the 1950's today it is more commonly used as a memoir to the Fenian men and is commonly used in festivities.
The Irish Republican Army
The term Irish Republican Army (IRA) is used to refer to several distinct organizations. The original or Official IRA, was created in 1919 with the purpose of promoting self-government in Ireland. The Provisional IRA, which has a high military profile, was created in 1969 as a response to the inactivity of the former one. Two factions within the PIRA broke away in the 1990s due to dissent in its policies. The first one, the Continuity IRA was created in 1994 in order to seize British control from Northern Ireland. The Real IRA was formed in 1997 for similar reasons. While the IRA had popular support in the past due to its role in the Irish War for Independence, its splinter organizations have been accused of terrorism.
History of the Original IRA
The IRA was formed by members of the Irish Volunteers, a paramilitary group that rose in Dublin in 1914 to promote sovereignty in Ireland, which at that time was under the rule of the United Kingdom. The group originated when the British parliament passed the Government of Ireland Act in 1914, providing some power of self-government to the Irish, but then postponed its implementation until the end of World War I. A large portion of Irish citizens refused to accept this delay. After Eoin MacNeill published the paper "The North Began", urging Irish nationalists to unite and demand for home rule, the Irish Volunteers was founded. Its members reached 160,000 by 1914.
Soon later, the Irish Republican Brotherhood Military Council infiltrated this force so that they could use it during wartime. On April 24th, 1916, a group of distinct rebel groups seeking an Independent Irish Republic, united and organized the Easter Rebellion. The coalition was made up of 1,300 Irish Volunteers led by led by Irish activist Patrick Pearse, and 200 members of the Irish Citizen Army. They seized strategic locations in Dublin and proclaimed the Irish Republic independent of the United Kingdom. Nonetheless, the British were superior in artillery and numbers, so they suppressed the uprising only 3 days later.
After the failed rebellion, the British government implemented repressive measures that drove the independence movement underground. The British executed 16 of the uprising’s leaders. The groups that participated in the rebellion reorganized in a convention led by Eamon De Valera, the president of Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein was the political party that won the Irish general elections of 1918. Later that year, the party seceded from the British Parliament and declared Irish independence. Commanders of the Volunteer Force took an oath to allegiance to the Dail government (the one set up by the Sinn Fein) and became known as the Irish Republican Army (IRA).
In January 1919, all units of the IRA launched a guerrilla campaign against the British police and military, marking the beginning of the Anglo-Irish war (1919-1921). Around 15,000 members of the IRA fought in this war. The Sinn Fein funded the actions of the paramilitary group and provided them with weapons. The IRA’s strategy was to attack specific targets that would provoke sanguine reactions from the British. In addition, war prisoners used passive resistance such as hunger strikes in order to gain public support. When the British responded with repressive actions such as deploying corps of paramilitary police, the IRA launched mass assassinations of British officials which also resulted in civilian casualties. In the first half of 1921, violence reached its peak. Around 1,000 people were killed in the fighting. Violence was at its greatest intensity in Dublin, south Munster and Belfast.
Treaty and Civil War
The fight was brought to an end in July 1921, when stalemate was acknowledged and truce negotiations began between the British and Irish Republican forces. The delegation of Ireland was led by Michael Collins, Minister for Finance, and Arthur Griffith, founder of Sinn Fein. The provisions of the treaty were for Ireland to become a dominion of the United Kingdom, for members of its parliament to swear loyalty to the British, for the British to maintain control over Irish ports and for the division of Ireland due to the fact that several cities in the North desired to become part of the United Kingdom. The treaty caused great controversy, but it was ratified in December 1921. In December, the Irish population had been divided into the Anti-Treaty, led by de Eamon de Valera, and the Pro-Treaty led by Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins. De Valera resigned his role as a president and withdrew from the government. A general election was conducted in June 1922 and Arthur Griffith won the presidency.
The IRA leadership was greatly divided regarding the Treaty. Of the 13 members of the General Headquarters, 9 opposed it. The majority of IRA members started organizing resistance movements against the treaty. Unit after unit of the IRA broke their allegiance with the government and pledged allegiance to the Irish Republic. The pro-Treaty members of the IRA who believed that it would be impossible to defeat the British, joined the Free State Army or Irish National Army.
Tensions between the Pro-Treaty and Anti-Treaty sides led to civil war. Atrocities were committed by both sides. Although they acknowledged that it would have been more democratic to respect the population’s vote for the Free State, the Anti-Treaty expressed that being the majority didn’t give them the right to choose erroneously for Ireland. In addition, they argued that people who voted for the Treaty were influenced by the threat of war. By April, 1923, around 12,000 republicans had been imprisoned. In May, the IRA called a cease fire. The casualties of the Irish civil war were greater than those of the Anglo-Irish war. Approximately 2,000 people died and tens of thousands were injured.
Elections were held in August 1923 and the pro-Treaties, or the Cumman na nGaedheal party won. During the period between the end of the Civil War and the start of World War II, members of the IRA kept insisting that the government was illegitimate and attempted to find ways to establish a republic. By 1930, the IRA had only 2,000 members. In the period between 1926 and 1936, the IRA killed a total of 4 members of the Irish police force, which cost them numerous supporters. A number of IRA members participated on the Republican side of the Spanish civil war.
When de Valera's Fianna Fáil party won the elections in 1932, membership of the IRA raised from 1,800 to over 10,000. This government legalized the organization and freed their prisoners. Nonetheless, the IRA accused them of dishonoring their promises of a self-governing Ireland. In 1936, the IRA conducted a murder, resultling in Eamon de Valera banning IRA. In the late 1930s almost nobody considered the Irish Republican Army the legitimate 'army of the Republic'. In 1938, the IRA sought assistance from Nazi Germany to launch a bombing campaign against England hoping that this would help them recover Northern Ireland. Their attempts didn't have a significant effect as they lacked funds and the Irish government imposed restrictive measures on them. All their strategies were discovered and frustrated by the Irish Government.
In the early 1950s, under the leadership of a militant called Tony Magan, the IRA developed an armed campaign with the aim of recovering of Northern Ireland. This campaign, called “Border campaign” was the first major military undertaking that this organization had planned in years. It involved attacks on British security installations, damage to infrastructure and raids. They managed to get support from the south, but the strategy failed. It ended in 1962 due to lack of activity and funding.
OIRA and PIRA
In the late 1960s, members of the IRA had dissenting opinions on how to conduct the recovery of Northern Ireland: in a radical or conservative manner. The IRA had been influenced by Marxist ideals which led to lack of military emphasis. Certain civil rights groups advocated for peaceful revolution since attacking each other wouldn’t generate progress. Protestant paramilitary groups emerged in an attempt to eliminate any possibility of reunification with the northern Catholics. By 1969, violence exploded in the North. The IRA declined to intervene. Divisions were generated within this group, as one part desired to avoid violence and instead promote a socialist campaign, the other sought to follow an armed campaign against the British. The groups split into the Official IRA and Provisional IRA.
The Official Irish Republican Army, led by Cathal Goulding, engaged in some military actions to defend the Catholics of Northern Ireland but called for a cease fire in 1972. The Provisionals, led by Sean Mac Stiofáin, who believed that radical actions are necessary for the unification of Ireland, engaged in a never-ending campaign of blood and terror.
In January 1972, when British troops fired at a Catholic rally killing fourteen unarmed civilians, public support for the organization soared. That day became known as Bloody Sunday. The IRA launched a series of bombing campaigns in Northern Ireland and Britain. Almost 4000 people died before a peace agreement was signed in the 1990s.
The “Good Friday” Agreement
The PIRA offered the government a ceasefire in 1997, which they accepted and proposed collaboration for drafting an agreement. The Agreement was reached in Friday, April 10th, 1998. This document allowed for the formation of a Northern Ireland Assembly, with a power-sharing executive, cross-border institutions with the Republics of Ireland and early release of paramilitary prisoners. In turn, the IRA is obliged to a decommissioning of weapons. The Provisional IRA had confrontations with the British government in 2000 and 2001 because it refused to disarm, but they ultimately did. The IRA officially terminated its campaigns for the unification of Ireland in 2005.
The Real IRA formed in autumn of 1997, when the Provisional IRA entered peace dialogues with the British and Irish governments. Certain radical members of the group decided to unite and attempt to derail the peace process. They have planted bombs in Omagh in 1998 and in London in 2000. Although most of its operations have been detained by security agencies, it is one of the most dangerous currently active terrorist groups. It has hundreds of members in Northern Ireland. In addition to bombings, they have been responsible of shootings against police officers, drug trafficking, extortion and kidnappings.
The Continuity IRA separated from the IRA in 1994. It’s considered to be a continuation of the Original IRA’s campaign and goals. They seek complete independence from British rule. They have around 50 members who are rumored to receive financial support from the United States. This group has conducted attacks including bombings and assassinations targeted at Protestants. Their worse attack was before they were formally united; it was the bombing of a Northern Ireland town that caused 11 deaths.
The Fenians were revolutionary fighters that fought for the independence of Ireland from the United Kingdom. The Irish Republican Army is a paramilitary group that at first was concerned with the independence movement, but was distorted into a terrorist organization. The Red Branch Knights are an archaic paramilitary group of Ulster who were created in war to defend the providence. The Red Branch Knights, the Fenians and the IRA carry several similarities and differences in their creation, ideologies and overall purpose. The Fenians and the IRA were created to battle British rule. The Red Branch Knights however, were created to protect the providence of Ulster. The Ideologies of the three groups were nearly identical on the best way to achieve their goals. The Fenians had the belief that the only way to achieve an independent Ireland was through armed encounters. The IRA although they never stated this belief their actions prove their agreement with it. Most of their actions were violent and have reached to such an extent that they are now considered terrorist for their excess use of force. The Red Branch Knights likewise used violence to defend the providence of Ulster. The purpose of the IRA was an extension of the goal of the Fenian men. The Fenian wanted an Ireland free from British rule and oppression and a few decades later the IRA was formed with the same desire. The Red Branch Knights had an entirely different purpose from these two paramilitary groups; to protect Ulster and obey the king. The Red Branch Knights prove to be the most different of these three paramilitary groups. These three paramilitary groups were a central part of Ireland and are strong remembered with pride.
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