This who’s who in Northern Ireland contains brief biographies of significant political leaders and individuals. It has been written and compiled by Alpha History authors:
Johnny Adair | Gerry Adams | Bertie Ahern | Tony Blair | James Chichester-Clark | Bill Clinton | Gerry Conlon | Austin Currie | Bernadette Devlin | Brian Faulkner | Cathal Goulding | Emma Groves | John Hume | Sean MacStiofain | John Major | Peter Mandelson | Eamonn McCann | Martin McGuinness | Michael McKevitt | Lord Louis Mountbatten | Mo Mowlam | Lenny Murphy | Terence O’Neill | Ian Paisley | Marian and Dolours Price | Albert Reynolds | Bobby Sands | Bobby Storey | Margaret Thatcher | David Trimble | Gordon Wilson
Johnny Adair (1963- ) was a prominent Loyalist and UDA commander. Adair was born in Lower Oldpark in Belfast, an interface area prone to much street violence. His family was Protestant but had no political affiliations. Adair dropped out of school and worked for a time in a local sawmill, before falling in with local ‘skinhead’ gangs. He eventually became involved in glue-sniffing and violence, as well as punk bands. Several in Adair’s gang were ‘kneecapped’ by the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) for violent attacks on Protestant civilians; Adair escaped this punishment and ended up joining the UDA himself. During the mid 1980s Adair channeled his anti-Catholic tribalism and his predilection for violence into UDA operations. His hand-picked team, C Company, targeted prominent Nationalists and those with suspected links to the IRA, as well as random attacks on Catholic civilians. High profile in comparison to other paramilitary chiefs, Adair was an obvious target for both retaliation and arrest. The IRA tried assassinating him twice, including the Shankill Road fish shop bombing in 1993. Adair was arrested the following year and later sentenced to 16 years in HM Prison Maze for terrorism offences. He was released in 1999 but was expelled from the UDA in 2002. He now lives in northern England.
Gerry Adams (1948- ) is the president of Sinn Fein (1983 to present) and probably the best known Irish republican leader during the Troubles. Adams was born into a staunch Republican family; his grandfather was a veteran of the Irish War of Independence. Adams lived in West Belfast and attended a Catholic primary school on Falls Road. As a teenager he joined Sinn Fein and, in 1967, the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA). Adams was active in Sinn Fein and worked closely with IRA leaders, both in domestic politics and in negotiations with the British government. Adams’ affiliations have led to many claims, particularly from Unionists, that he is a member and possibly a significant leader of the IRA; he was interned three times in the 1970s on suspicion of this. Adams vehemently denies any formal membership of the IRA, however. In the 1980s Adams emerged as a significant Republican leader. He was twice elected to the British parliament as the member for West Belfast (1983, 1987) however in line with Sinn Fein policy Adams refused to take his seat. Adams became so prominent that in 1988 Margaret Thatcher banned all British media from broadcasting his voice. That same year Adams began peace negotiations with SDLP leader John Hume; these talks were seen as a vital step in the peace process, eventually leading to an IRA ceasefire in 1994 and the signing of the Belfast Agreement. Adams encouraged Sinn Fein to lift its abstentionism, which allowed he and other party members to sit in both the British parliament and the Northern Ireland assembly. Adams is generally considered one of the architects of peace in Northern Ireland, though he is viewed with derision by many Unionists and radical Republicans.
Bertie Ahern (1951- ) was the Taoiseach (prime minister) of the Republic of Ireland from June 1997 until May 2008 and an important contributor to the Anglo-Irish peace process. Born into a Catholic family in Dublin, Ahern studied commerce and worked as an accounts clerk. He became involved in politics as a teenager, joining the conservative Fianna Fail party and working on election campaigns. Ahern was elected to the Oirechtas (Republic or Ireland parliament) in 1977; his slow but steady rise through the party saw him become party whip, a cabinet minister and, in 1994, the leader of Fianna Fail and Taoiseach of the Republic. In the mid-1990s Ahern formed a productive relationship, and in time a friendship, with British prime minister Tony Blair. He worked diligently to reconcile Northern Ireland’s warring political factions and encourage positive cross-border relations. Ahern was also instrumental in the removal of inflammatory articles from the Irish constitution, which claimed Northern Ireland as the republic’s territory.
Tony Blair (1953- ) was a Labour Party leader, prime minister of Great Britain from May 1997 to June 2007 and contributor to the Northern Ireland peace process. The son of a lawyer, academic and aspiring conservative politician, Tony Blair was educated in Adelaide (Australia), Durham and Edinburgh before completing a law degree at Oxford. Then a self-declared socialist, Blair joined the Labour Party in 1975. Eight years later he was elected to the Westminster parliament. Blair ascended quickly through the party hierarchy, earning front bench appointments and a shadow ministry and appearing regularly in the media. When Labour leader John Smith died in 1994 Blair was elected to replace him, aged 41. Under Blair’s youthful and vigorous leadership the party rebranded itself as New Labour, sweeping it to victory over the unpopular Conservative Party in 1997. Now prime minister, Blair vowed to build upon the work of his predecessor, John Major, and escalate the Northern Ireland peace process. He immediately sought engagement with Sinn Fein, becoming the first British prime minister to meet with a Sinn Fein leader (October 1997). He forged a strong working relationship with Bertie Ahern, allowing tripartite negotiations between British, Irish and Northern Ireland leaders. These negotiations culminated in the Good Friday Agreement of April 1998, which Blair summarised by declaring that “the hand of history is on our shoulders”.
James Chichester-Clark (1923-2002) was an Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) politician and prime minister of Northern Ireland during the first two years of the Troubles. Chichester-Clark was born in Londonderry, the son of a prominent Protestant politician, and was later educated in English public schools. He served briefly in World War II and in 1960 was elected to the Northern Ireland parliament. In May 1969 Chichester-Clark became the fifth prime minister of Northern Ireland, following the resignation of Terence O’Neill and a subsequent UUP leadership ballot. Chichester-Clark was soon confronted by civil unrest in Northern Ireland’s cities, as well as opposition within the parliament and indeed from elements of his own party. He failed to produce working solutions to the growing unrest, which led to the increased involvement of the British government, particularly the Home Secretary, James Callaghan. In March 1971 Chichester-Clark requested the deployment of a regiment of British troops to respond to Republican paramilitary attacks; he also lobbied for the Northern Ireland government to have operational control of these troops. The British refused and in March 1971 Chichester-Clark was forced to resign. He was immediately replaced as UUP leader and prime minister by Brian Faulkner.
Bill Clinton (1946- ) was president of the United States from 1993 to 2001 and a significant contributor to the peace process in Northern Ireland. Clinton was born in Arkansas, the son of a single mother, and later studied at Georgetown, Oxford and Yale. Clinton entered politics as a campaign worker for Democratic candidates. In 1978 he was elected governor of Arkansas, aged just 32, a position he held for 12 years. Clinton became the 42nd president of the United States after defeating the incumbent president, George Bush Senior, in the 1992 election. Unlike previous presidents, who saw Northern Ireland as a domestic issue for the British government, Clinton took an active role in facilitating the peace process there. He became the first serving US president to visit Northern Ireland, making three visits in total during his presidency. During his first visit in November 1995 Clinton spoke before a large crowd in Belfast, calling for a renewed peace effort and dubbing terrorists “yesterday’s men”. Clinton also granted a US visa to Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams and later met Adams himself, a move that infuriated Unionists and also angered the British government. Clinton also supported Senator George Mitchell during the negotiation of the Good Friday Agreement and participated in these talks by telephone.
Gerard Conlon (1955- ) was a young man from Northern Ireland wrongfully convicted for bombing pubs in England. Conlon was born into a Catholic family in Belfast. As a teenager Conlon was involved in drug use and petty crime but was not associated with any political or paramilitary group. In 1974 Conlon and a friend, Paul Hill, travelled to London seeking work. In October 1974 the Provisional IRA bombed two pubs in Guildford, Surrey, killing five people. Conlon, Hill and two others – later dubbed the Guildford Four – were arrested on suspicion of carrying out these bombings. Another seven people, including Conlon’s father Giuseppe and other relatives, were arrested and charged with supporting terrorism. After several days of police intimidation, beatings and threats, Conlon and Hill signed written confessions. They were convicted of murder and other charges in 1975 and spent almost 15 years in British prisons. They were released in 1989 after a retrial found that police investigators had doctored evidence, concealed an alibi and obtained confessions under duress. Conlon’s story was later depicted in the 1993 film In The Name of The Father.
Austin Currie (1939- ) was a Catholic civil rights campaigner and politician. He was born in County Tyrone and graduated from Queen’s University Belfast with a degree in history and politics. In 1964 Currie was elected to the Northern Ireland parliament, as the Nationalist Party’s candidate for East Tyrone. Four years later he participated in a protest against discriminatory housing policies, by squatting in a house in Caldeon, Tyrone; the house had been allocated to a single Protestant woman, ahead of Catholic families higher on the waiting list. Currie became a prominent figure in the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) and a founding member of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP). In the mid-1970s he returned to the Northern Ireland parliament as an SDLP candidate and served as Minister for Housing. Currie later sought election to the British parliament but was twice defeated by Unionist candidates. Frustrated with sectarianism in the North, Currie moved to the Republic of Ireland in 1989 and was elected to the Oireachtas (Irish parliament). In 1990 he contested the presidency of the Republic, finishing third.
Bernadette Devlin (1947- ) is an Irish socialist politician and activist, best known for being a driving force in the civil rights movement. Born to a middle-class Catholic family in County Tyrone, Devlin studied at Queen’s University Belfast but was expelled after becoming involved in left-wing student political groups. In 1969 Devlin, then aged just 21, won a by-election for the Northern Ireland seat of Mid-Ulster, defeating the Unionist candidate by 4,200 votes. In 1969 Devlin championed the rights of Catholics in Bogside; she was briefly convicted of inciting civil unrest and briefly imprisoned. Devlin was in Bogside and witnessed some of the events Bloody Sunday but was denied the opportunity to speak about this in parliament. She was banned from the parliament for six months for slapping the Home Secretary, Reginald Maudling, who had claimed the firing on Bloody Sunday was an act of self defence. She later gave vocal support to striking Republican inmates in HM Prison Maze. In January 1981 Devlin and her husband, Michael McAliskey, survived an assassination attempt after being shot numerous times by Ulster Freedom Fighters.
Jeffrey Donaldson (1962- ) is a Unionist politician who participated in the 1998 peace talks before walking out. Born in a coastal village in County Down, Donaldson joined the UUP, the Ulster Defence Regiment and the Orange Order as a teenager, his views reinforced by the death of two family members in Provisional IRA attacks. Donaldson was elected to the Northern Ireland parliament in 1985 by the mid-1990s was a prominent figure in the UUP. In 1997 he was elected to the British parliament, where he continues to sit today. Donaldson represented the UUP during the Good Friday Agreement talks but walked out of negotiations before they had been finalised, unhappy that the agreement did not require the deactivation of the IRA. This caused a split in the UUP and a rift between Donaldson and UUP leader David Trimble, who supported the Good Friday Agreement. In 2004 Donaldson resigned from the UUP and joined Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
Brian Faulkner (1921-1977) was the last prime minister of Northern Ireland, serving briefly from the resignation of Chichester-Clark in March 1971 to the imposition of Direct Rule 12 months later. Faulkner was born in County Down, the son of a successful Belfast businessman. The family was Presbyterian and Faulkner, unlike previous prime ministers, was educated in Ireland rather than in English public schools. He joined the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) after World War II and was elected to the Northern Ireland parliament in 1949. Faulkner was Minister for Home Affairs in the early 1960s, a position that gave him some experience dealing with Republican and paramilitary groups. On becoming prime minister Faulkner gave a non-Unionist politician, David Bleakley, a position in his cabinet, a conciliatory move aimed at calming the situation. But Faulkner’s gesture when largely unnoticed and the civil unrest worsened over the summer of 1971. Faulkner introduced internment in August but this proved disastrous, provoking an increase in violence. The Bloody Sunday shootings of January 1972 marked the beginning of the end of Faulkner’s government, which was removed by imposition of Direct Rule three months later.
Cathal Goulding (1923-98) was IRA chief of staff during the 1960s and later the leader of the Official IRA. Born to a Catholic-Nationalist family in Dublin, Goulding was involved in IRA-linked groups from childhood. During World War II he was arrested for attempting to steal ammunition and was imprisoned and interned until 1944. Goulding was arrested for another arms raid in 1953, this time in England, where he spent eight years in prison. On returning to Ireland he became the IRA’s quartermaster general (1959) and chief of staff (1962). Goulding was a student of left wing politics and Marxist revolutions, such as the Russian Revolution; he favoured a socialist interpretation of the situation in Northern Ireland, believing the Catholic and Protestant working classes should unite and struggle against the British. Under Goulding’s leadership the IRA focused on political activism rather than military action, a shift that alienated many and led to the formation of the Provisional IRA in late 1969. Goulding remained as leader of the Official IRA until 1972 then focused his attentions on the Workers’ Party, a socialist political party.
Emma Groves (1920-2007) campaigned against the use of rubber bullets after being blinded by one in 1971. A Belfast-born Catholic with Nationalist sympathies, Groves was the mother of 11 children. In November 1971 a British patrol was carrying out a house-to-house search near Groves’ home in Andersonstown, Belfast. Groves, who was playing Nationalist songs loudly on her stereo, looked out her window; a British soldier outside her home fired a rubber bullet that struck Groves in the face. She was given immediate medical care but lost both eyes. In 1973 the British Army awarded Groves 35,000 pounds compensation. She immediately began a three decade-long campaign against the prolific use of rubber and plastic bullets (approximately 125,000 of these projectiles were fired during the Troubles, causing 17 deaths and scores of serious injuries). In 1984 Groves co-founded a group called United Campaign Against Plastic Bullets, which lobbied the British government as well as picketing the manufacturers of anti-riot weapons. Groves also campaigned to bring soldiers and RUC officers to justice for lethal and irresponsible use of rubber bullets. She died in 2007, aged 86.
John Hume (1937- ) was a Nationalist politician and a founding member of the Social Democratic Labour Party (SDLP). Hume was born in Derry and for a while prepared to enter the Catholic priesthood, until opting instead to become a teacher. In the late 1960s he became active in the civil rights movement. Rather than spent time in protests, Hume worked to improve conditions for Catholics, particularly in his home county: he fronted a citizen’s action committee, helped found a credit union and lobbied for the commissioning of a university in Derry. In 1969 Hume was elected to the Northern Ireland parliament after standing as an independent Nationalist; the following year Hume and several other MPs combined to form the SDLP. In 1979 he became the leader of the SDLP. Hume is widely credited with masterminding the Northern Ireland peace process during the 1980s. He undertook a series of secret meetings with Gerry Adams in 1988, encouraging Sinn Fein to convince the IRA to give up violence in favour of a political solution. Hume was involved in most of the significant peace or power-sharing agreements and in 1998 he was awarded the Nobel Prize, an honour he shared with Unionist politician David Trimble.
Sean MacStiofain (1928-2001) was an IRA commander who became a founding member and the first chief of staff of the Provisional IRA. MacStiofain had an unusual background for an Irish Republican: he was born in London as John Stephenson, his father an Englishman and his mother a Protestant from Belfast. Stephenson served in the Royal Air Force during World War II, after which he became involved in Irish nationalist groups. He joined the IRA in 1949 and helped assemble an IRA chapter in England. In 1953 MacStiofain was arrested after stealing rifles from a cadet school armoury in Essex; he was later sentenced to eight years in prison. On release he moved to Dublin, adopted the name Sean MacStiofain (the Gaelic form of his birth name) and ascended the ranks of the IRA, becoming its director of intelligence. In December 1969 MacStiofain and four others formed a Provisional Army Council, which became the nucleus of the Provisional IRA. He became the splinter group’s first chief of staff and oversaw its rearming and the escalation of the military campaign in Northern Ireland. MacStiofain remained in charge until late 1972, when a controversial television interview led to his arrest, imprisonment and removal from the leadership. He was released the following year but was no longer prominent in the Provisional IRA.
John Major (1943- ) was British prime minister from November 1990 to May 1997. Born on the southern fringe of London, Major had an uneventful childhood but developed a strong interest in politics, particularly the Conservative Party. He worked in banking during the 1960s while participating in London council politics. Major entered parliament in 1979, the same election that swept Margaret Thatcher to power. When Thatcher resigned in November 1990, Major was elected as Conservative Party leader and prime minister. By early 1993 Major’s government was holding secret talks with Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA – while telling the parliament that dealing with them would “turn my stomach”. Major threatened to abort these talks when the IRA bombed Loyalists meeting at a fish shop in October 1993. The end result was the Downing Street Declaration (December 1993) and an IRA ceasefire the following year. Major’s willingness to negotiate with Republicans and paramilitary groups laid the groundwork for a peace agreement, later finalised by Tony Blair in 1998.
Peter Mandelson (1953- ) is a British Labour politician who served as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland shortly after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. Mandelson’s father was a Jewish newspaper publisher, his maternal grandfather a former Labour MP and cabinet minister. In the 1970s Mandelson studied humanities at Oxford, where he became involved in left-wing political groups. He worked for a time in local government and as a television producer, before rejoining the Labour Party in 1985. Mandelson became the party’s best-known ‘spin doctor’, taking control of and invigorating Labor’s publicity and campaigns. In 1992 he was elected to parliament and when Tony Blair became prime minister in 1997, Mandelson was ushered into cabinet. In October 1999 Blair named Mandelson as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, replacing the effective but divisive Mo Mowlam. Mandelson reimposed Direct Rule in February 2000 after the IRA failed to meet decommissioning deadlines – however he managed to continue Northern Ireland’s transition to a new assembly, power-sharing government and reformed police service. On the cusp of finalising a new deal, Mandelson was caught up in a domestic scandal and forced to resign from the government.
Eamonn McCann (1943- ) is an Irish socialist and writer who was politically active during the Troubles and has since written extensively about them. McCann was born into a working class Catholic family in the Bogside area of Derry. In the early 1960s he studied at Queen’s University Belfast while participating in left-wing political and workers’ groups. Unlike many other Nationalists, McCann was a staunch atheist who rejected sectarianism and called for major reforms to alleviate class differences in Northern Ireland. He became active in the civil rights movement and was a member of both the Derry Housing Action Committee (DHAC) and the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA). McCann was also present in his native Derry during the Battle of the Bogside (August 1969) and the shootings on Bloody Sunday (January 1972). He later became a prominent journalist and radio and television commentator, a role he continues today. McCann has penned several significant texts about the Troubles and Bloody Sunday. His best known book is War and an Irish Town (1973), a personal account of growing up in a Catholic ghetto in Protestant-dominated Northern Ireland.
Martin McGuinness (1950-2017) was a Sinn Fein politician, former IRA member and significant if somewhat controversial Irish Republican leader. Born and raised by a Catholic family in Derry, McGuinness joined the Official IRA in 1969 but transferred to the Provisional IRA after the two split in 1969. Despite his youth, McGuinness soon became an important IRA commander in Derry. He was imprisoned briefly in the mid-1970s for his involvement in the IRA but later moved into Sinn Fein politics, though many claim McGuinness remained secretly active in the IRA. He was elected to the British parliament in 1997 and the following year served as Sinn Fein’s lead negotiator during the Good Friday meetings. In 1999 McGuinness was appointed Minister for Education in the Northern Ireland executive; this shocked Unionists, who had difficulty coming to terms with the education of their children being the responsibility of a former Nationalist paramilitary commander. McGuinness served as Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland from 2007 until his retirement in January 2017. He died in March 2017.
Michael McKevitt (1949- ) is a former IRA quartermaster general and a founding member of the Real IRA. McKevitt was born in the Republic, close to the Northern Ireland border, and joined the Provisional IRA shortly after the outbreak of the Troubles. McKevitt was reportedly involved in several IRA actions against the British Army during the early 1970s. In 1975 he was ‘kneecapped’ during an internecine feud with the Official IRA. ‘Mickey’ McKevitt became a popular and trusted Provisional IRA leader, dubbed “another Michael Collins” by one volunteer. He married Bernadette Sands, sister of hunger striker Bobby Sands and an active IRA member in her own right. At some point in the 1980s McKevitt became the Provisional IRA’s quartermaster general, responsible for the collection, storage and deployment of its weapons and munitions. McKevitt, a radical Republican, was opposed to Sinn Fein’s participation in the peace process and the 1997 ceasefire. He formed the breakaway Real IRA, planning the Omagh bombing and an abortive attempt to assassinate British prime minister Tony Blair. McKevitt was later arrested and in 2003 was sentenced to 20 years’ prison for his role in the Omagh bombing.
Louis Mountbatten (1900-1979) was a British military officer, statesman and minor royal. Mountbatten was the great-grandchild of Queen Victoria and the son of a German prince. As a young boy he was earmarked for a naval career: he completed training at the Naval College at Osbourne and served on Royal Navy ships during World War I. He remained in the navy for more than 30 years, serving as a destroyer captain and later the commander of British forces in south-east Asia. After the war Mountbatten became the first governor-general of the newly independent India. He later returned to England, where he filled other vice-regal posts and became a mentor to the young Prince Charles. In August 1979 Mountbatten became the highest profile victim of the Troubles, when IRA agents detonated 50 pounds of explosives hidden on his fishing boat. Mountbatten’s murder prompted outrage but also drew world attention to the situation in Northern Ireland. His assassin was arrested and convicted and served 18 years in prison, before being released after the Good Friday Agreement.
Mo Mowlam (1949-2005) was a British Labour politician and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland during the Good Friday peace negotiations. Born Marjorie Mowlam in Watford, she joined the Labour Party while studying at Durham University. Mowlam studied and lectured in the United States in the 1970s before returning to England and entering parliament in 1987. She backed Tony Blair’s rise to the Labour leadership in 1994; when Blair became prime minister three years later he gave Mowlam the difficult but crucial Northern Ireland portfolio. Mowlam worked tirelessly to bring Sinn Fein and radical Unionists into the peace talks. Her 1998 meeting with Loyalist paramilitary members in Maze Prison was controversial but helped calm violence that threatened the peace discussions. Mowlam oversaw the completion of the Good Friday Agreement but the following year was replaced as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, possibly because of her outspokenness and unpopularity with Unionists. She retired from politics in 2001 and died from brain cancer in August 2005.
Lenny Murphy (1952-82) was leader of notorious Loyalist death squad the Shankill Butchers. Born in the Loyalist stronghold of Shankill Road, Belfast, Murphy was the youngest son of a dockworker. As a child he was frequently in trouble for violence and petty crime. Murphy dropped out of high school at 16, joined the Ulster Volunteer Force and participated in rioting and street violence in 1969. The Troubles allowed Murphy to indulge his interests: robbery, violence and a compulsive hatred of Catholics and Nationalists. Arrested in 1972 for involvement in the murder of a Catholic man, he was acquitted after another witness was poisoned, probably by Murphy. In 1975 Murphy assembled a vigilante group, recruiting like-minded UVF members. The Shankill Butchers carried out their first killings in October 1975, murdering four Catholics while robbing a liquor store. Over the next seven years the group killed at least 23 people; almost all were Catholic civilians without no connection to the IRA. Murphy was imprisoned between March 1976 and July 1982 but immediately returned to political and criminal killings. In November 1982 a Provisional IRA team ambushed and killed Murphy in Belfast. According to some reports Murphy’s location was provided by the UVF, which was no longer able to control or moderate his violent streak. Murphy was given a large funeral and commemorated as a UVF soldier.
Terence O’Neill (1914-1990) was a Unionist politician and the second-last prime minister of Northern Ireland. O’Neill was born in London, the son of an Irish politician who was killed in World War I five months later. The young O’Neill was educated in English public schools like Winchester and Eton, spending summer holidays at the family home in Antrim. He was later commissioned in the British army and served in World War II. He moved permanently to Ireland after the war and in 1946 was elected to the Northern Ireland parliament, serving there for almost 25 years. O’Neill became prime minister in 1963. He introduced economic reforms to stimulate industrial growth and employment, and also attempted to narrow the divide between Protestants and Catholics. These reforms met with staunch opposition from Ian Paisley’s radical Unionists, as well from many within the UUP, O’Neill’s own party. When the civil rights movement erupted in the late 1960s O’Neill granted many of their demands, including changes to the allocation of housing. But these concessions angered staunch Unionists and failed to satisfy many Republicans. O’Neill was almost voted out of his own seat in February 1969. He resigned from the prime ministership in April, after Loyalist saboteurs bombed Belfast’s water supply, and was replaced by James Chichester-Clark.
Ian Paisley (1926-2014) was a Unionist political leader and Protestant minister, known for his outspokenness, fiery rhetoric and extreme conservatism. Paisley was born in Armagh, not far from the border with Ireland, the son of a Baptist preacher and former Ulster Volunteer. In the 1940s he studied theology in Wales before returning to Belfast. In 1951 Paisley formed the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster, a fundamentalist congregation that broke away from the mainstream Irish Presbyterian Church. In 1971 he became the founding leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, a position he would retain for 37 years. A tireless activist for ultra-conservative causes, in 1977 Paisley launched a campaign called Save Ulster from Sodomy, which attempted to block the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Northern Ireland. In 1979 he was elected as Northern Ireland’s representative in the European Parliament. By the 1980s, Paisley had become the face of unmovable Unionism in Northern Ireland. He supported and campaigned for Unionist political candidates, appearing regularly in the media and making belligerent, even inflammatory remarks about Republicans, Sinn Fein, the IRA and Republic of Ireland politicians. Under Paisley’s leadership the DUP withdrew from several peace agreements, including the Good Friday Agreement, refusing to negotiate with Sinn Fein. However when Paisley was elected First Minister of Northern Ireland in 2007, he shared power with Sinn Fein leader Martin McGuinness and the two formed an effective if uncomfortable working relationship. Paisley retired from most of his political and religious offices in 2008 and died six years later.
Dolours Price (1951-2013) and Marian Price (1954- ) were prominent Irish Republicans associated with both the Provisional IRA and Real IRA. The sisters were born in Belfast into a staunch Republican family. Their father, Albert Price, was a member of the IRA while one of the Prices’ aunts had her hands blown off preparing hand grenades for a Republican operation. In the early 1970s both became involved in Republican women’s groups, then the Provisional IRA. In March 1973 the Price sisters and other IRA members detonated car bombs at four locations in London, including the Old Bailey and a British Army recruiting centre. They were arrested while returning to Ireland; both were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. While behind bars the Prices went on a hunger strike, demanding repatriation to Northern Ireland, but they survived after being force fed by prison guards. The Prices were released on humanitarian grounds in 1980 and 1981 and returned to private life. Marian Price reappeared after the Good Friday Agreement, strongly condemning it as a “fraudulent” peace. Now aligned with the Real IRA, she was arrested and imprisoned again in 2011 in connection with the Massereene Barracks shootings. Dolours Price died at her home in 2013, aged 62.
Albert Reynolds (1932-2014) was the Republic of Ireland Taoiseach from February 1992 to December 1994. Born in County Roscommon in north-central Ireland, Reynolds worked for a time in the public service before investing in entertainment facilities and becoming a successful businessman. He was elected to the Dail Eireann in 1977 and became a government minister two years later. Easy going and popular with other politicians, Reynolds was elected Taoiseach in 1992 after the retirement of Charles Haughey. Though in office less than three years, Reynolds worked hard to achieve peace in Northern Ireland. He forged a friendly and productive working relationship with British leader John Major; in December 1993 the two signed the Downing Street Agreement, a commitment to self determination, reconciliation and the peace process. Reynolds also negotiated with Northern Ireland’s Republican groups, helping to facilitate the IRA’s 1994 ceasefire. He was later nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his contribution to the Northern Ireland peace process. Reynolds died in August 2014.
Bobby Sands (1954-1981) was a Provisional IRA member best known for the hunger strike that claimed his life. Sands’ family were Catholics but lived in an almost exclusively Protestant area of Belfast. After during regular discrimination and harassment at school and in the workplace, Sands joined the Provisional IRA after his 16th birthday but was arrested and imprisoned shortly after. After his release in 1976 Sands participated in Provisional IRA attacks on Protestant targets and RUC units. The following year he was arrested and again sentenced to prison, this time for 14 years. Sands continued his activism inside HM Prison Maze, writing propaganda and poetry for Republican newspapers, as well as leading and participating in prison protests. On March 1st 1981 Sands started a hunger strike, demanding improvements to the conditions of Irish Republican prisoners. Later that month he also nominated for the vacant British parliamentary seat of Fermanagh and South Tyrone. Sands’ supporters outside the prison campaigned on his behalf and he won the seat by almost 1,500 votes, though he would not live to enter the parliament. Sands died on May 5th 1981 after 66 days without food. His death received significant publicity around the world.
Bobby Storey (1956- ) was a prominent Republican and, for a time, the Provisional IRA’s intelligence chief. Storey was born in Belfast to a family with Nationalist sympathies. He left school at age 15 and joined the IRA shortly after the Bloody Sunday shootings of January 1972. Despite his youth Storey, an imposing figure at 193 centimetres tall, became notorious as a Republican enforcer. Rumoured to have been involved in numerous shootings and IRA operations during the early 1970s, Storey was frequently targeted by police and security forces. In April 1973 he was detained and interned without trial in HM Prison Maze for two years. From 1976 he was frequently in and out of prison, often charged and remanded for serious offences but rarely convicted. Storey organised the September 1983 escape of 38 IRA prisoners from the Maze; he was later given a seven year sentence for his involvement in the prison break. Storey was released in 1994, after which he became the Provisional IRA’s intelligence supremo, gathering information, arranging the acquisition of funds and weapons and organising operations. After the IRA ceasefire Storey became chairman of the Belfast branch of Sinn Fein.
Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013) was a Conservative politician and British prime minister for 11 years during the Troubles. Thatcher was born in northern England, the daughter of a shopkeeper. She attended Oxford University where she studied in chemistry and graduated with a science degree. Thatcher joined the Conservative party and was elected to the British parliament in 1959. Despite her gender, relative youth and political inexperience Thatcher rose quickly through party ranks, acquiring a reputation as a forceful and effective operator. She became leader of the opposition in 1975 and Britain’s first female prime minister in May 1979. Thatcher’s attitude to the turmoil in Northern Ireland was hard-nosed and immovable: she offered no concession to Irish Nationalists and refused to grant political status to Republican prisoners, describing them as “criminals and criminals only”. Thatcher’s public commentary during the 1981 Maze hunger strike was interpreted as strength by some but callous indifference by others. Irish Republicans came to despise her and in October 1984 the Provisional IRA made an attempt on her life by bombing a Conservative Party conference in Brighton; Thatcher herself was unharmed but five others were killed. Many observers believe that Thatcher’s leadership did nothing to alleviate and end the Troubles – and may have even worsened the situation in Northern Ireland.
David Trimble (1944- ) is a Unionist politician who was prominent in both the peace process and Northern Ireland’s post-1998 government. Trimble was born to middle-class Presbyterian parents in Bangor, just outside Belfast. An outstanding student, he graduated from Queen’s University with a law degree in 1968 but returned soon after as a lecturer. Trimble was involved with a radical Unionist group in the 1970s before joining the more moderate Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) in 1978. He was elected to the Northern Ireland parliament in 1990 and five years later became leader of the UUP. Trimble courted controversy in 1995 when he joined DUP leader Ian Paisley on an Orange Order march through Catholic areas of Portadown, leading to police action and some violence. But Trimble also showed a willingness to negotiate, meeting with the Irish Taoiseach in late 1995 and Sinn Fein delegates in 1997. He represented the UUP at the talks leading to the Good Friday Agreement. He was later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, in partnership with SDLP leader John Hume. In July 1998 Trimble was elected as Northern Ireland’s inaugural First Minister, a position he held for more than four years.
Gordon Wilson (1927-95) was a peace campaigner whose calls for forgiveness and reconciliation contributed to the peace process in the 1990s. Wilson, a practising Protestant, owned a drapery store in Enniskillen. In November 1987 Wilson and his 20-year-old daughter Marie were attending a Remembrance Day ceremony in Enniskillen when a Provisional IRA bomb exploded, burying them both in rubble. Wilson survived but his daughter died from her injuries. He later gave the media a heartbreaking account of his daughter’s last moments, while asking for no reprisals from Loyalists and declaring that he forgave the men responsible for her death. Wilson’s willingness to forgive became one of the most poignant moments of the Troubles and was dubbed the ‘Spirit of Enniskillen’. He campaigned for peace and reconciliation, meeting with both Provisional IRA and Loyalist leaders and urging them to consider ceasefires and negotiation rather than violence. Wilson also wrote a book about his daughter and served one term in the Republic of Ireland senate.
This page was written by Rebekah Poole, Jennifer Llewelyn and Brian Doone. To reference this page, use the following citation:
R. Poole et al, “Who’s who in Northern Ireland”, Alpha History, accessed [today’s date], http://alphahistory.com/northernireland/whos-who-in-northern-ireland/.