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A Treatise of Schemes and Tropes.png This a Useful Notes page. A Treatise of Schemes and Tropes.png

"The Troubles in Northern Ireland". What a bloody stupid phrase. What do they think two thousand people have died from? Stress?



The Israeli leaders on the Golan Heights
won't accept their minorities must have rights.
So the whole U.N. tries to stop the fight
and a thousand plans are mentioned.
But they're dying in Derry and no one cares.
They rot in Kilmainham[1] and 'the problem's theirs.'
So how many deaths and how much despair
does it take to get attention?
Oh, but Ireland is different.
Ireland is different.
Ireland is different.
God knows why, but it's different somehow.
Ireland is different... they say.

Ireland is Different, Brian Leo 1992

The period, lasting roughly between the late 1960s and 1998, of Northern Irish terrorism in both the Six Counties and the mainland United Kingdom. During this period, Unionists, who are mostly Protestants (Church of Ireland, Presbyterian and Methodist), and Nationalists, who are mostly Roman Catholics, fought each other over which country Northern Ireland should belong to — Unionists favoring Northern Ireland's, uh, union with Great Britain, and Nationalists wanting to belong to a united, independent Ireland.[2]

It's a reasonably popular setting for media and a good place to source Western Terrorists from, even today. The fact that the British security services also got up to some dodgy dealings (such as some collusion with loyalist paramilitaries, internment, murders, bombings, framing of innocent victims, black propaganda, political assassinations, a shoot-to-kill policy, raiding of private homes, the repressive Diplock Court system, tear gas, surveillance, torture, forced deportation, and kidnappings) adds to the potential drama. Expect knee-capping and bad Irish accents.

If an organization is listed as simply 'the IRA' in anything set after the 70's, then it is referring to the Provisional Irish Republic Army, or 'the Provos' as they are often called (the IRA 'proper', though not actually the oldest group with that name). There are several splinter groups and fictional ones are often invented for movies.

While pretty violent, as conflicts go, it was fairly low-level, with a total body count of 3,526... but remember, this is in a country with a population today of only 1,600,000. The vast majority of the British Army ended up doing tours in Northern Ireland, and this has created its own body of literature (see below).

Not to be confused with the even more violent all-Ireland fighting of 1919-1923 also called The Troubles (or sometimes the War of Independence), seen in such films as Michael Collins, The Wind That Shakes the Barley and Ryan's Daughter — a fairly popular setting in its own right. It was this conflict that resulted in the creation of the Irish Free State which eventually became the modern Republic of Ireland.

Due to the large numbers of Irish immigrants and their descendants in the US (about ten times more than the entire population of the island of Ireland), the American media often see the Troubles through a slightly green-tinted filter. This extended beyond the media — up until about 2001 a key source of PIRA funding actually came from groups within the United States. This funding beginning to dry up post-September 11 — when for perhaps obvious reasons funding groups which engaged in terrorist activities became particularly frowned upon — is regarded as one of the contributory factors towards the disbanding of the PIRA. A lighter note, (from the U.S.'s prospective) thanks to American activists, Ex-British Army Captain, Fred Holroyd, (MI 6) revealed to a C-Span audience details of Britain’s “dirty tricks” in Northern Ireland.

As such, while seldom being explicit, the image of the romantic and noble Irish Freedom Fighter struggling against the stuffy (and occasionally baby-eating) British Establishment does pervade some films; of course, while the British establishment engaged in a lot of activities they shouldn't be proud of during this time, the conflict was hardly as black-and-white as some are tempted to depict it as being, though it might be a real life case of Black and Gray Morality[3]. Although there was clear evidence of collusion between Loyalist paramilitaries and individual members of the British police forces and armies, and more dubious allegations of complicity on a more organised scale. Often, a heroic character specifically identified as being involved will decry the violent excesses of his comrades, or will leave them in disgust after they 'go too far' (expect this to involve kids dying, an unfortunately too-common result of tactics used by both sides). Villainous groups of terrorists are generally mentioned as belonging to some fictional "Ultra-violent splinter group". Sadly, there really are splinter groups (such as the "Real IRA") determined to continue the violence.

Pretty much over now (the Provos have effectively ceased function), although there are still occasional bombings of British military targets and two soldiers and a policeman were killed in 2009, and tensions between Catholic and Protestant communities, largely unrelated to politics, still make themselves known from time to time (although the credit crisis led to both Catholics and Protestants joining riot against Roma and other Eastern Europeans. The legacy remains though — a recent proposal by a commission to pay the nearest relatives of all the dead £12,000 compensation led to anger). Also alot of IRA affiliated men are now involved in drug dealing gangs, due in part because smuggling guns in during the troubles is good training for drug smuggling.

See also: The Irish Question.

Works in this setting:

Anime and Manga

  • In Mobile Suit Gundam 00, the first sign that Celestial Being were having a palpable effect on the world was the ceasefire message sent out by the "Real IRA" group in Ireland. Considering the show is set in the 2300s, that's a seriously persistent splinter group.

Comic Books

  • The 1997 Nights into Dreams comic book featured the eponymous dream-whatever fighting Irish terrorists.
  • Belfast-born comic writer Garth Ennis has mined the setting for all its worth, starting from his earliest strip Troubled Souls. His views on Irish-Americans who supported the IRA can be seen in a Punisher story where one such man spots an evil disfigured terrorist (thanks to an "own goal" premature detonation) and gets the whole bar to raise a glass to the man's struggles... which directly leads to him being used as a hostage and human shield by said terrorist.
    • There was also an issue of his "regular Marvel continuity" Punisher ongoing that had the eponymous character go to northern Ireland and end up shooting an extremist from both sides in the kneecaps, yell at them and then leave a Kalashnikov automatic rifle before them. Unlike the usual recipients of his bullets he let them live... only for them to decide that they wanted to use that rifle against each other.
    • Both the IRA and the Ulster Unionists turn up as frequent enemies of Kev, Ennis' ex-British S.A.S character, who was demobbed after various activities during the Troubles that earned him a death sentence from both sides and who routinely send assassins out to kill him. Unfortunately for Kev, they have a tendency to surprise him just when it's most inconvenient for him (when he's sitting on the toilet, having sex or on A Date with Rosie Palms). Unfortunately for them, they're either spectacularly incompetent, outclassed by Kev despite these handicaps, or attack him at the same time as one of their bitter enemies, resulting in them just killing each other instead.
    • For that matter, Cassidy from Preacher (Comic Book) fought in the Irish War of Independence (the other 'The Troubles' alluded to further up the page), and has a number of not-too-kind words to say about the whole ordeal.


  • Slipping Between Worlds — set partly in Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles, and partly in the Discworld. It is believed the author is drawing on (slightly embellished) direct personal experience of havng served in Northern Ireland in the early 1980's. The author has said his reasons for writing this include breaking away from a mere pastiche of Terry Pratchett and seeking to find his own voice as an author. Reading about the bitter mutual antagonism between Dwarfs and Trolls on the Discworld made him link back to Northern Ireland and his experiences there, and to the realization that there are more similarities between N.I and the bizarre distorted-mirror Discworld than might be apparent at first glance. The Northern Ireland scenes are written with a certain black humour characteristic of British soldiers, but also with restraint and a certain sympathy for the people of N.I. The author stresses he was seeking to avoid giving gratuitous offence, expressing any bitterness, or trivialising of the issues. Among other highlights, an account of a memorial service for six dead British soldiers sticks in the mind. This is apparently part-based on reality.


  • Ronin (when Seamus O'Rourke is killed and the briefcase lost by the Irish faction, it leads to an IRA ceasefire)
  • Bloody Sunday, an acclaimed TV film turned cinematic film and one of many works on the eponymous topic, the shooting of 13 people by British soldiers (the inquiry on which finished in June 2010, 38 years after the event). A demonstration on why it is not a good idea to do riot control using pissed off military types and live ammunition.
  • In the movie Blown Away, the bad guy (played by Tommy Lee Jones) was an IRA bomber who escaped prison and went to the US to get revenge on Boston bomb-disposal expert (Jeff Bridges).
    • It turns out that the hero had been the villains friend and protege (and was even dating the villains sister). The villain sought revenge because the hero had attempted to stop one of his bombs from going off resulting in the death of the sister/girlfriend, the imprisonment of the villain and the hero fleeing to America to start a new life.
  • The Crying Game. Come for The Troubles, stay for All There Is to Know About "The Crying Game". Or vice versa.
  • In the 90's version of The Jackal, the sniper played by Richard Gere is a straight version of the "Decry the violence" version mentioned at the top of the page.
  • The Devil's Own.
  • Ken Loach's film Hidden Agenda.
  • An Everlasting Piece is about a protestant and a catholic who team up to sell toupees to customers on both sides of the conflict and Hilarity Ensues. Seems to subvert this trope by favoring the unionists; supplying for the IRA is depicted as a despicable Moral Event Horizon while wigs to young British Soldiers who have lost their hair from stress is considered kindly.
  • Both the movie and comic of Sin City has a group of IRA terrorists that mention blowing up churches and pubs. Apparently, they now act as mercenaries for the mob in America. Bonus point: one of them is depicted with a Glasgow Grin.
  • In the Name of the Father, a dramatization of the Guildford Pub bombing in London by the IRA and the torture, threatening, and false imprisonment of Gerry Conlon, the young men and women he was staying with in London, and his father and a handful of family members who were falsely convicted of providing the explosives. The film opens with a riot in Belfast and Gerry accidentally fleeing through an IRA weapons stash, resulting in him nearly being kneecapped as punishment.
  • Hunger, starring Michael Fassbender, is about the the 1981 hunger strike of IRA inmates to obtain political prisoner status.


  • The Kevin and Sadie young adults novel series involving the forbidden love between a Protestant (Sadie) and a Catholic (Kevin), the first book of which was titled The Twelfth Day of July (the day of the annual Orange Marches, some of which usually end up in a riot even today, and did in the novel). The most famous is the second (of five) in the series "Across The Barricades".
  • Tom Clancy's Patriot Games draws his regular characters into the whole mess when Jack Ryan saves Prince Charles and his family from an IRA assassination attempt. Clancy also used the IRA in his novel Rainbow Six being hired by the villians to attack Rainbow and for some reason is convinced that the Provisionals are Marxists (they are not. Being a Tom Clancy book you probably have to have communism in there somewhere, of course).
    • To be fair, his fictional splinter group of the Provisionals, the "Ulster Liberation Army", were Marxists. Not the Provos themselves.
    • Clancy's confusion/inspiration is probably because back in the 1970s and early 80s the Soviet Union funneled supplies to assorted terrorist, guerrilla and resistance groups all over the world (note the thing that looks like an AK-47 on the flag of Hezbollah). As long as they were causing trouble for the US and/or its allies, the Soviets weren't picky about the ideology. Compare this to the US funding of Afghan extremists in the mid-80s.
    • A more likely source for Clancy's confusion/inspiration is mixing up the Official IRA with the Provisional IRA. The Old IRA, the organization that survived the civil war, gradually became a Marxist organization when its leadership changed. By 1968, it was mostly a political discussion group. A bunch of young hotheads took over a then on-going civil rights struggle in Northern Ireland with the name of the IRA, called themselves the Provisional IRA, splitting from the rest (the Official IRA, which became the Irish National Liberation Army, INLA, later). The rest is history. (Source: Tim Pat Coogan, The IRA)
    • Which just turns it into a case of Did Not Do the Research: PIRA got most of their funding and arms from American sympathizers and Qaddafi's Libya. While it is true that much of the aid from the latter was manufactured in the Soviet Union any major direct link between Moscow and the IRA was a Cold War fantasy (and one with long roots — the British attempted to portray Irish nationalists during the 1919-1921 violence as communists, a bewildering charge considering that in the words of one former rebel "[The IRA were] the most conservative-minded revolutionaries that ever put through a successful revolution".)
      • Did any of you actually read the book? As mentioned earlier, the fictional "Ulster Liberation Army" was what Clancy was portraying as Marxists (which, as acknowledged above, is not necessarily the same thing as the 'official' IRA, but does sound suspiciously like the Provos.) A connection with Libya as a supplier of weapons is most clearly made, not to the USSR (except indirectly). Did Not Do the Research indeed....
      • Not so on some various levels. For one, the IRA quote forgets a prior group and the considerable amount of Socialists in the original IRA never mind its later incarnations. In addition, there were some tentative ties between the Soviets and the IRA (which usually involved the Soviets using the IRA for all it was worth particularly regarding American, British, and Irish military deployments in exchange for occasionally getting sent a crate of substandard AK-47s or other such "aid").
      • There were also 'tentative ties' between the Irish government and the Nazis simply because they happened to both be anti-British, though this is a somwhat different matter as the Irish group were also spying on said Nazis and provided cucial information for the invasion of Normandy. Whatever about getting arms for the cause PIRA certainly didn't want to see a stalag in Belfast.
    • One of the reasons why the PIRA disarmed in the early 2000s was 9/11. US sponsorship dried up very quickly at that point.
  • Forms the subject of a George Gently mystery, set in 1964. An MI5 character warns that unless London does something about disgruntled Catholics in Stroke Country, it will result in a war. Oh, how right he was.
  • Jack Higgins (of The Eagle has Landed fame) loves to use The Troubles (and the preceding 50 years of hostility) as background and motivation for his antiheroes. He favours cynically disillusioned IRA gunmen, but doesn't limit himself.
  • Frank Herbert's The White Plague
  • Jonathan Coe's The Rotters' Club has occasional mentions of the IRA bombings going on in the Midlands at the time. Then the protagonist's sister and her boyfriend are caught in one. He dies, and she goes into Heroic BSOD for several years.
  • In the Name of the Father follows the story of a family who was wrongfully convicted of a bombing under the UK's new counter terrorism practices and kept in prison for fifteen years to prove how well it worked.
  • Bernard MacLaverty is a writer from Belfast, so this comes up in his work now and then...his 1983 novel Cal, in which the title character deals with some of the fallout of having driven the getaway car for one of his buddy's IRA actions a year earlier, was made into a film starring Helen Mirren and John Lynch.
  • Alan Judd's debut novel A Breed of Heroes sees the Troubles through the eyes of a naive young officer in the British Army, Charles Thoroughgood, on his first tour of duty with an elite unit which is never identified but which can be inferred to be the Parachute Regiment. The multiple absurdities, hypocrisies and bungles of the Army, politicians, terrorists, media and others pile up throughout, while the focus is always on the privations and everyday lives of the often-forgotten soldiers.
  • In Anna Korosteleva's The School in Carmarthen, one of the characters (a Fomorian), apparently invokes an N-Word Privileges by dismissing The Troubles, of which he's just read in a ten year old newspaper, because "there's always someone massacring someone in those parts". Implying that he himself could've been one of the either parties several thousands years ago. Quite an unusual attitude for a Harry Potter Affectionate Parody.
  • George Macdonald Fraser, in the third of his semi-autobiographical short story collections, The Sheikh and the Dustbin, adds a postscript concerning later meetings with his former commanding colonel, forty years on from their post-war soldiering in 1947-48. This extraordinary old man, a prisoner of the Japanese for most of WW 2, in his early eighties donned Army uniform and a flak jacket and went out onto the streets of Belfast with a patrol from the Gordon Highlanders, to get an idea of the difficulties presented to the young soldiers of his old regiment in a new age...

Live-Action TV

  • An episode of Life On Mars had apparent IRA bombings, although Sam Tyler was sure they weren't by the IRA because of his modern knowledge.
  • An IRA bomber (played by Brit Ricky Gervais) features in an episode of Alias.
  • Spooks has featured various ex-IRA terrorists during its run, including a splinter group similar to the 'Real IRA' in series 1's Cliff Hanger. Harry's back story is that he got into intelligence work when serving with the Army in Northern Ireland.
  • An episode or two of NCIS has someone who worked with the IRA leave and run guns in other places after "peace broke out." (For bonus Irish accuracy points, she travels under the name "Grace O'Malley")
  • As in the NCIS example above, Burn Notice's Fiona is a former IRA explosives specialist who's gone freelance in recent years.
  • Dr. Cal Lightman from Lie to Me worked with British intelligence in the province in 1986. He failed to recognise the facial expressions of a man who then killed six people in a pub.
    • We learn more about that in "Sweet Sixteen". Turns out the man (Jimmy Doyle) really was IRA, but because Cal identified him, the DoD (American Department of Defense) carried out a hit on him that failed and killed his wife and daughter instead. He blackmails Cal into finally bringing the case to light seven years later.
  • In the 2001 The Bill spin-off Miniseries, Beech Is Back, Dirty Cop Don Beech used a recognized IRA bomb threat codeword to lure police away from where he was executing a safety deposit box robbery.
  • An early episode of Law & Order focuses on the Troubles from the U.S perspective; there's plenty of sympathizers to the cause amongst the Irish-American community depicted. Prosecutor Ben Stone, an Irish American, is notably not one of them.
  • In Sons of Anarchy the club has longstanding ties to the IRA. It buys its illegal weapons from an IRA splinter group and Chibs is a former IRA member who was exiled to the US. In Season 3 they go to Belfast and end up in the middle of a conflict between two factions of the group. The faction the Sons usually deal with has turned more and more toward organized crime and the other, more conservative faction wants them purged.
  • Unsub Ian Doyle from Criminal Minds turns out to be involved with the IRA; he tries to kill everyone who put him in jail (and almost succeeds.)
  • A critically acclaimed play by BBC Northern Ireland about the troubles was called The Shadows on Our Skin and took its title and incidental music from Irish celtic-rock group The Horslips.
  • the IRA is pitted against the Taliban on the season 1 finale of Deadliest Warrior.
  • The final episode of the original Columbo series, "The Conspirators", centered on an IRA gun-runner played by Clive Revill.


  • The U2 song, "Sunday, Bloody Sunday". The most famous live performance of it is in Rattle And Hum when Bono denounces the Irish-Americans who ignorantly cheer the bloody partisan violence in Ireland
    • And The John Lennon song of the same name, written almost 10 years earlier.
  • Northern Irish punk band Stiff Little Fingers early songs were frequently about The Troubles, although they supported neither side and decried violence from all terrorist groups, the RUC and the British Army.
  • Richard Thompson's song "Guns are the Tongues" seems to be about a female provo cell leader seducing a young man into becoming a terrorist, though he's deliberately avoided confirming the hypothesis in interviews.
  • Paul McCartney and Wings' 1972 single "Give Ireland Back to the Irish". Despite being completely banned from UK radio, it reached the Top 20 on the charts there and went all the way to #1 in the Republic of Ireland (no surprise there) and Spain (after being bought by Basques).
  • The Roches' song "The Troubles" is about the group visiting Ireland, presumably while on tour, and includes a line about trying not to get in the way of the guns.
  • The Decemberists' "Shankill Butchers" is a particularly nightmarish song about the eponymous gang of UVF thugs who ended up just killing anyone they wanted (Catholic or Protestant).
  • The Cranberries' "Zombie" is half the troubles, and half just how much war sucks.
  • Elvis Costello's "Oliver's Army". The title refers to Oliver Cromwell, who formed the modern British Army and invaded Ireland in 1649. It also refers to the British Army occupation of Northern Ireland at the time the song was released in 1979.
  • "Sunrise" by The Divine Comedy is about the songwriter's experience of growing up in Northern Ireland during The Troubles.
  • See the Horslips YMMV page for possible allusions to the Troubles in the work of this noted and influential Irish celtic-rock band.
  • Public Image Ltd's "Careering" makes multiple allusions to the Troubles, some subtler than others.
  • Eric Bogle's "My Youngest Son Came Home Today". It is a song about the tragedy of the Troubles and we are never even told which side the son was on.
  • "Invisible Sun" by The Police.

Western Animation

  • The infamously badly-researched Captain Planet episode "If It's Doomsday, This Must Be Belfast". Dialogue example: "Fenian Prods". Look it up on Youtube. For obvious reasons anyone who grew up during the troubles finds it amazing.
  1. a British prison in pre-independence Ireland — now a museum — where those involved in the Easter Rising were shot; The Maze or Long Kesh was the post-partition jail used to house those convicted of terrorism or involved in the Troubles
  2. You might hear the former referred to as "Loyalists" or "Royalists" and the latter as "Republicans", but they are not strictly synonymous. In the broad sense "Loyalist" suggests the question "loyal to whom, exactly?" and "Royalist" merely indicates support for a monarchy--which the independent Ireland had during the Irish Free State. On the other hand, it is entirely consistent (albeit extremely rare) for someone to support Northern Ireland remaining in the UK but also support the UK becoming a republic; such a person would therefore be both Unionist and (after a fashion) Republican. And then there are the Ulster nationalists, who think Northern Ireland (or "Ulster" as they call it, rightly or not) should be a separate country from both Ireland and Great Britain...Yes, this is one of those conflicts.
  3. Although probably not with "black" or "gray" corresponding directly to a side