IRA Ceasefire: Centuries of struggle and religious strife: Northern Ireland conflict has roots in events more than 300 years ago

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The Independent Online
THE SECTARIAN tensions of Ireland began in the early 17th century during the reign of James I, when settlement by English and Scottish Protestants reached a peak.

Ulster - the nine counties in the north-east - was the main area of colonisation from Scottish Presbyterians.

Seventy years later, the struggle between England's deposed Catholic monarch, James II, and the Protestant William of Orange, brought in by the Whigs to succeed him, was played out in Ireland. In 1690, William and the Protestants defeated the Jacobite forces at the Battle of the Boyne.

This and other defeats began a long period in which to be a Catholic in Ireland was automatically to be the underdog.

In the north, the Protestants prospered and multiplied, gradually achieving majority and supremacy over the indigenous Catholics.

In 1801, the Act of Union made Ireland part of the new United Kingdom and throughout the 19th century there were growing demands for Irish independence; an organised Home Rule movement emerged.

The issue dominated British politics from 1886, although two Home Rule Bills were defeated. When a third was introduced in 1912, the Ulster Volunteers agreed a Covenant of Resistance; calling for a separate government in Belfast, achieved, if necessary, by armed struggle.

The First World War deferred the issue, but only until the Dublin Easter Rising of 1916. The shooting of republican leaders by the British provided Irish nationalism with the patriotic emotional charge which has sustained it ever since.

When the Irish Republican Army waged guerrilla war against the British administration, it responded with brutal suppression by the Black and Tans.

Home Rule was eventually conceded. The unyielding Protestants of the north were accommodated in the final settlement and Ireland split into two: 26 counties in the south and six in the mainly Protestant north. In 1922 the 26 counties became the Irish Free State, now the Republic of Ireland; the six counties became Northern Ireland, staying within the United Kingdom.

Supported by the Protestant majority, the Unionists retained permanent control of the Belfast parliament for 50 years. The Catholics were excluded from power and discriminated against in employment and civil rights.

The civil rights movement of the late 1960s in Belfast sought to end the Catholic community's grievances by non-violent means.

But after the Stormont government banned some demonstrations there were clashes with the police and some marches were attacked by Protestants.

In 1969, British troops were sent in after several nights of serious nationalist rioting and were initially greeted as saviours by a Catholic population being burnt out of their homes by extreme Protestants. But by then the more militant Provisional IRA was replacing the Officials, which many Catholics felt had failed to protect them in 1968-69. The Provisionals and their supporters were determined that Catholics would never be left defenceless. They armed themselves and 25 years of violence followed.

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