Irish Republican Army (IRA)

Irish Republican Army

Irish Republican Army (IRA), nationalist organization devoted to the integration of Ireland as a complete and independent unit. Organized by Michael Collins from remnants of rebel units dispersed after the Easter Rebellion in 1916 (see Ireland), it was composed of the more militant members of the Irish Volunteers, and it became the military wing of the Sinn Féin party. With the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922, the IRA became the stronghold of intransigent opposition to Ireland's dominion status and to the separation of Northern Ireland. During the troubled early years of the Free State, the IRA was responsible for numerous bombings, raids, and street battles on both sides of the Irish border.

Popular and effective at first, its fortunes turned after Eamon De Valera, a former IRA supporter, took over the Free State government in 1932. Weakened by internal dissensions, by a loss of popular support because of its violence and pro-German agitation during World War II, by the attainment of republican objectives in 1949, and by government measures against its illegal activities, the IRA declined swiftly. Eventually outlawed by both Irish governments, it became a secret organization. It perpetrated bombing attacks in Belfast, London, and at the Ulster border during the 1950s, particularly in 1956–57, but then became quiescent until the late 1960s.

In 1969 the IRA split into two groups, the majority, or "officials," advocating a united socialist Ireland but disavowing terrorist activities, and the "provisionals," claiming terrorism as a necessary catalyst for unification. The "provisionals" then began a systematic terrorist campaign in Northern Ireland. In 1972 the "provisionals" extended their terrorism to England, where it culminated in the bombing (1974) of a Birmingham pub that killed 19 persons. In response the British parliament passed the Prevention of Terrorism Act, outlawing the IRA in Britain. The IRA assassinated (1979) Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma, and unsuccessfully tried to assassinate Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in Brighton, England.

In 1994 hopes for peace were raised when the IRA declared a cease-fire. Its legal political arm (Sinn Féin) began participating in talks with Britain in 1995, but the party was barred from the mid-1996 negotiations because of renewed terrorist bombings by the IRA. Following the IRA's announcement of a new cease-fire in July, 1997, Sinn Féin was allowed to participate in talks that convened in September of that year and resulted in an accord (Apr., 1998) that provided for a new Northern Ireland Assembly comprised of Protestants and Catholics, and greater cooperation between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. Full implementation of the accord snagged for several months on the issue of IRA disarmament, but representatives of Sinn Féin participated in the new Northern Irish government established in Dec., 1999.

Britain suspended the new government in 2000 and again in 2001 over the IRA's refusal to agree to disarm, but in Oct., 2001, the IRA began disarming, albeit in secret. A number of incidents in 2002 that indicated the IRA had not abandoned paramilitary activity again led to the suspension of home rule. More recently, the IRA has been accused of involvement in organized criminal activities, such as bank robbery, extortion, smuggling, and counterfeiting. In July, 2005, the IRA announced it was ending its armed campaign, and an independent report (Sept., 2005) that stated the IRA had decommissioned its weapons was greeted with praise and hope by the British and Irish governments (and with disbelief by hard-line Protestant unionists). In July, 2006, the British and Irish governments indicated that they believed the IRA also had ceased all centrally organized criminal activities, and subsequent independent reports indicated that the IRA had taken steps to end its paramilitary operations.

See M. Dillon, The Dirty War (1990); P. Taylor, Behind the Mask (1998); E. Moloney, A Secret History of the IRA (2002).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2013, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Ireland: Historical Echoes, Contemporary Politics
Richard B. Finnegan; Edward T. McCarron.
Westview Press, 2000
Librarian’s tip: Includes discussion of the IRA in multiple chapters
The Irish Experience: A Concise History
Thomas E. Hachey; Joseph M. Hernon Jr.; Lawrence J. McCaffrey.
M. E. Sharpe, 1996 (Revised edition)
Librarian’s tip: Part III "From Free State to Republic, 1922-1988"
Political Violence in Northern Ireland: Conflict and Conflict Resolution
Alan O'Day.
Praeger Publishers, 1997
Fighting for Ireland? The Military Strategy of the Irish Republican Movement
M. L.R. Smith.
Routledge, 1997
Librarian’s tip: Includes discussion of the IRA in multiple chapters
IRA Man: Talking with the Rebels
Douglass McFerran.
Praeger, 1997
Defending Ireland: The Irish State and Its Enemies since 1922
Eunan O'Halpin.
Oxford University, 1999
Librarian’s tip: Includes discussion of the IRA in multiple chapters
Biting at the Grave: The Irish Hunger Strikes and the Politics of Despair
Padraig O'Malley.
Beacon Press, 1990
Librarian’s tip: Includes discussion of the IRA in multiple chapters
Native vs. Settler: Ethnic Conflict in Israel/Palestine, Northern Ireland, and South Africa
Thomas G. Mitchell.
Greenwood Press, 2000
Librarian’s tip: Includes discussion of the IRA in multiple chapters
Emerald Trials: Northern Ireland's Struggle for Peace. (World in Review)
Konnikova, Maria.
Harvard International Review, Vol. 24, No. 2, Summer 2002
The Origins & Development of Irish Republicanism: Peter Neville Surveys the Growth of Republicanism in Ireland Up to the Present Day. (the Unpredictable Past)
Neville, Peter.
History Review, September 2001
Northern Ireland: A Promising or Partisan Peace?
Dunn, Seamus.
Journal of International Affairs, Vol. 52, No. 2, Spring 1999
Provisional Irish Republicans: An Oral and Interpretive History
Robert W. White.
Greenwood Press, 1993
Ernie O'Malley: Ira Intellectual
Richard A. English.
Oxford University, 1999
The I.R.A. and Its Enemies: Violence and Community in Cork, 1916-1923
Peter M. Hart.
Clarendon Press, 1999
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