A History of Northern Ireland, 1920-1996

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A History of Northern Ireland, 1920-1996. By Thomas Hennessey. (NewYork: St. Martin's Press. 1997. Pp. xv, 347. $45.00.)

Reading Thomas Hennessey's account of Northern Ireland's tortured history leads one to conclude that the "Troubles" began not in 1969, as is commonly supposed, but in 1920, when the state was brought into being. A Research Fellow at Queen's University in Belfast, Hennessey provides a painstakingly thorough and dispassionate chronicle of the successive crises that have plagued Northern Ireland.

Hennessey begins his story in 1912 with the British Parliament poised to approve Home Ride for Ireland and Protestant militants organizing a huge army to block its implementation in Ulster. Eight years later, the six most solidly Protestant counties of Ulster were split off from the rest of Ireland by the English prime minister, David Lloyd-George. For the first two years of its existence, Northern Ireland was under siege from Irish Republican Army (IRA) guerrillas who were determined to bring down the new state.

At the end of the decade, the Depression struck and Northern Ireland's ship building and linen industries were devastated. Hennessey notes that by the late 1930's, unemployment was 30% overall and higher still among Catholics. World War II brought an end to the Depression but left Ulster subject to raids by Nazi bombers. Worse yet, Ulster Unionists were deathly afraid that Winston Churchill would promise to reunify Ireland in an effort to persuade Eamon DeValera to join the Allied war effort.

After World War II, Northern Ireland's economy remained sluggish, and sectarian violence continued without a respite. In 1963 things at last seemed to be changing for the better: the new Unionist prime minister, Captain Terence O'Neill, wanted to reach out to Catholics and was determined to eliminate at least some of the discriminatory practices that they had endured for years. …