There are several groups which claim the title 'Irish Republican Army:'
The Irish Republican Army (IRA) has its roots in Ireland's struggle for independence from the United Kingdom in the early twentieth century. It is important to differentiate what is termed the 'Old IRA' or the 'Official IRA' from the Provisional IRA (PIRA), a splinter-group which formed in the late 1960's in the wake of the anti-Catholic pogroms and murders(mainly in Belfast), and which led to the virtual extinction of the original group. This article will discuss the older group.
Although the true history of the Irish Republican Army goes back a very long way, back far before the Easter Uprising of 1916 to Wolfe Tone, and the rebellions of the 1790s, in name it traces its ancestry to the organisation which was founded in the wake of the 1916 debacle by Michael Collins. His organisation of rebel units which were dispersed after the uprising was to soon make it the military wing of the Sinn Fein party. Its formation and its subsequent development were inextricably intertwined and interrelated with the subsequent political history of Ireland and Northern Ireland, and any consideration of the IRA therefore needs to be set firmly in context.
By 1916, the demands of World War I had sapped the British military machine, and the Irish Republican Brotherhood and the Irish Volunteer Force, the two main rebel movements of the time had resolved on a rebellion to force the British from the Irish shores. Weapons were to be supplied by Germany, under the auspices of a leading civil servant, Sir Roger Casement. In the upshot, the plot was discovered and the weapons were captured, however, the rebellion proceeded. The seizure of the Dublin post office, the raising of the tricolour above it, and the reading of the proclamation of independence were to presage a bloody war. Although many local people sided with the British, their minds soon changed after the execution of over 100 people thought complicit in the rebellion without due process.
Sinn Fein made good political capital out of the uprising and soon became the major political force in the campaign for Irish independence, largely at the expense of the Home Rule Party; moreover they seized the moment by actively orchestrating a campaign of resistance against conscription in Ireland.
The first shots in the Irish War of Independence were fired in January 1919. The newly renamed Irish Republican Army (IRA), under the leadership of Arthur Griffith and Eamon de Valera, which had been formed from the remains of the Irish Volunteers, shot dead two British policemen in Tipperary. This quickly escalated into guerilla warfare by what were then known as the Flying Columnsin remote areas. Attacks on (particularly remote) Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) barracks continued throughout 1919 and 1920, forcing the police to consolidate in the larger towns for safety's sake, and effectively placing large areas of the countryside in the hands of the Republicans.
The British, still suffering from the fallout of World War I, were able only to send over small groups of first world war veterans to assist the police and this combination of black police uniforms and tan army uniforms led to the nickname of the 'Black and Tans'. Both the Dail Eireann (the Irish Parliament) and Sinn Fein were also proscribed by the British government. The brutality of the 'Black and Tans' is now legendary, and their indiscipline and indiscriminate butchery of the (usually innocent) local population was rife.
Lloyd George, the British Prime Minister at the time found himself under increasing political pressure to try and salvage something from the situation. Eamon de Valera refused to attend since he realised that compromise was inevitable.
Eventually, under the terms of the Anglo-Irish agreement of December 6th 1921, which ended the war (1919-1921), six of the Irish counties in Ulster were not to be a part of the newly formed Irish state, but were deemed to be Northern Ireland, and a part of the British state. This provoked a major schism in the Irish nationalist movement. Some saw this partition as a pragmatic political necessity to attain a modus vivendi with Ireland's economically dominant and militarily ferocious near-neighbour, whilst to others, anything less than a wholly united Ireland was a treasonous fudge. A narrow vote in the Irish parliament did nothing to dispel the climate of antagonism and in early 1922, the Irish Civil War broke out.
(..the Irish Civil War war)
During the war, Michael Collins was shot in an ambush in Cork
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Here in more details is a representation of the tree of splitting in Irish nationalist movements:
- Old IRA / Sinn Fein - fought in the War of Independence 1920-1921
- The initial Free State government who accepted the compromise of the 1921 treaty which established the Irish Free State. Eventually became the modern-day Fine Gael Party of the Republic of Ireland
- Sinn Fein / IRA - the split that rejected the compromise of the 1921 treaty with Britain and under Eamon DeValera fought the Irish Civil War against the Free State forces.
- Fianna Fail - some years after losing the Civil War a faction of Sinn Fein led by DeValera returned to the democratic fold as the Fianna Fail Party which remains one of the two largest parties in the Republic.
- The remainder of Sinn Fein / IRA continued in a low profile way to wage sporadic terrorism in Northern Ireland. Over the decades it become more leftist.
- At the beginning of The Troubles the more leftist members split off into the Official IRA / Official Sinn Fein. Over time the Official IRA faded away, the political side discarded its nationalism and became in succession Sinn Fein the Workers Party, the Workers Party, and finally the Democratic Left the most leftist of the parties in the Republic with seats in the Dail (though also operationg in Northern Ireland). Ultimately the party merged into the Labour Party.
- The more nationalist members split off into the Provisional IRA / Provisional Sinn Fein, which operated mostly in Northern Ireland, waging a guerilla war against the loyalists and British.
- Members who did not accept the peace process split off to form groups such as the Real IRA.
- The majority of members who went along with the peace process remained in Provisional IRA / Provisional Sinn Fein