Since 1969 Northern Ireland has been in the grip of violent events that have resulted in military rule for that unhappy province in all but a formal legal sense. Americans are confronted by various obstacles in comprehending what has transpired in Northern Ireland over the last six years. The mass media have acted as a distorting filter through which news of varying adequacy has been channeled to the United States. Americans in general also have a tendency to see Ireland as a strange amalgam of historical mythology and Irish Tourist Board caprice. Finally, Americans, as a people with a tradition strongly conditioned by Anglo-Saxon modes of thought, share that same lamentable miscalculation about Ireland that has been almost endemic among the English and those who share their cultural presumptions. For these reasons, in addition to the importance of the subject itself, it is appropriate to review the implications of recent Northern Ireland events.
Those familiar with Irish history cannot help but be aware of its violence. The clan system itself produced generations of internecine warfare in a warrior-oriented clan society. Accounts of revenge and ferocious deeds loom with immense significance throughout the recently edited ten-volume History of Ireland issued by Gill and Macmillan. 1 The modern political and agrarian history of Ireland contained certain features that made for the repeated appearance of guerrilla activity and terror tactics. The indigenous and largely disaffected Irish people ruled by England until 1921 never really had a standing military establishment of their own through which to enforce their political views. The lack of a professional military element among the Irish Catholics who composed the overwhelming majority of the population constantly left the way open for the innovation of irregular military groups and insurrectionary elements. Further, the odds against the Irish as minority dissenters within the orbit of English imperial institutions were always so very great that direct military challenge to British overlordship was usually clearly impractical. This fact made guerrilla activity and terror tactics a strategic necessity in the long conflict with England.
The very tradition of implacable opposition to English rule bred a nationalist atmosphere in which terrorist schemes were more likely to occur. Each episode of such activity was glorified ex post facto in a nationalist tradition that was immensely popular and represented powerful cultural forces of oral and musical folk tradition. The nineteenth century produced the Fenian Brotherhood in the 1860s, and this group was responsible for the bombing of Clerkenwell prison in England that resulted in twelve dead, one hundred