Northern Ireland essay questions

This collection of Northern Ireland essay questions has been written and compiled by Alpha History authors, for use by teachers and students. They can also be used for short answer questions, homework activities and other research or revision tasks. If you would like to contribute a question to this page, please contact Alpha History.


1. Explain how the English established and consolidated their control over Ireland during the 1600s.

2. How did the Penal Laws and other English policies impact the lives of the Irish, particularly Catholic farmers?

3. What ideas inspired Wolfe Tone and the Irish rebels of 1798? Evaluate the success of their movement.

4. Why is the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s considered a turning point in relations between Ireland and England?

5. Research and outline Irish independence movements of the 19th and early 20th centuries, such as the Fenian Brotherhood and Irish Republican Brotherhood.

6. What is Home Rule? Explain how the question of Home Rule shaped Anglo-Irish relations between 1870 and 1914.

7. How did World War I affect Anglo-Irish relations and the Irish independence movement?

8. The 1916 Easter Rising collapsed after a few days and its leaders were executed or jailed. Why is it considered a pivotal event in Irish history?

9. Explain why the British government decided to partition Ireland in 1920.

10. Why did the Irish Republican Army and Sinn Fein split over the Anglo-Irish Treaty? What were the implications of this split?

From civil rights to riots

1. Explain why Unionists controlled government and policies in Northern Ireland between 1921 and 1968.

2. Referring to three specific actions or policies, discuss how Catholics were subjected to discrimination and segregation in Northern Ireland up to 1968.

3. Using evidence, explain the impact of discriminatory policies on Catholics in Northern Ireland. How were their standards of living different to those of Protestants?

4. Explain why housing allocations were a source of tension between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. In your discussion refer to three specific cases or events.

5. Discuss the events and conditions that led to the formation of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) in 1967.

6. Summarise NICRA’s constitution, ideas and methodology. What did this organisation want and how did it attempt to achieve its goals?

7. Unionists often claimed that NICRA was a “front” for Irish Republicanism. To what extent was this true?

8. Why was the July marching season so often a flashpoint for tension and conflict in Northern Ireland?

9. How did Unionist prime minister Terence O’Neill attempt to resolve the tension and conflict in Northern Ireland? Why did his actions and policies fail?

10. Explain the factors and events that led to the ‘Battle of the Bogside’ in Derry in August 1969.

British intervention

1. Outline the factors and events leading to the deployment of British soldiers in Northern Ireland in August 1969.

2. How did the various stakeholders in Northern Ireland – including Unionists, Catholic residents and civil rights campaigners – respond to the decision to deploy British troops there?

3. What was the Falls Road Curfew and how did it shape attitudes about the British military presence in Northern Ireland?

4. Describe the difficulties faced by British soldiers serving in Northern Ireland between 1969 and 1994.

5. How did Brian Faulkner attempt to curtail violence and end the Troubles during his 12 months as Northern Ireland prime minister?

6. Evaluate the policy of internment in Northern Ireland. What was internment meant to achieve? What were its outcomes and consequences?

7. What factors and conditions led to the shooting of 14 civilians in Derry on January 30th 1972?

8. How did the Bloody Sunday shootings, as well as the British government’s response, shape the Troubles after January 1972?

9. Did the British Army collude or secretly cooperate with Loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland? Present your findings using evidence.

10. To what extent can Operation Banner be considered a success? Did British soldiers restrict the cycle of violence – or did they contribute to it?

The Long War

1. Explain the conditions and factors that led to the formation of the Provisional IRA in late 1969.

2. Compare and contrast the Official IRA with its breakaway group the Provisional IRA. How was their ideology and methodology different?

3. What challenges did the leadership of the Provisional IRA face in the first two years of the organisation?

4. How did the Provisional IRA and other paramilitary groups recruit members, raise funds and acquire arms?

5. Describe the role of socialism and socialist ideas in Republican paramilitary groups.

6. Research and describe two Loyalist paramilitary groups. How were these groups organised, commanded and supplied?

7. What was the ‘Long War’? Explain how Provisional IRA strategy and tactics evolved during this phase of the conflict.

8. How did the Provisional IRA recruit and train its members? What qualities and behaviours were required by new volunteers?

9. Why did the Provisional IRA launch its ‘mainland campaign’? What were the outcomes and consequences of this campaign?

10. Explain why Provisional IRA’s ‘Armalite and Ballot Box’ strategy. Which people and factors led to this shift in tactics?

Towards peace in Northern Ireland

1. Research and discuss two different peace movements in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. How did each movement attempt to halt the conflict?

2. How did the Sunningdale Agreement and the Anglo-Irish Agreement attempt to address violence and political tension in Northern Ireland?

3. Several Republic of Ireland taoiseachs played important roles in attempts to broker peace in Northern Ireland. Why was their involvement considered essential?

4. Discuss events leading to the Provisional IRA’s August 1994 ceasefire. Why is this considered a turning point in the Northern Ireland peace process?

5. Describe the roles of Bill Clinton and George Mitchell in the Northern Ireland peace process. How significant was their involvement?

6. Explain how the Good Friday Agreement’s three strands attempted to restore peace and stability to Northern Ireland.

7. Weigh up the successes and shortcomings of the Good Friday Agreement. How effective was this agreement at producing a lasting peace?

8. Discuss the outcomes and consequences of the Real IRA’s bombing of Omagh in August 1998. Did Omagh threaten the peace process or strengthen it?

9. What problems and issues were resolved by the 2006 St Andrews Agreement? What shape did the Northern Ireland government take after this agreement?

10. What conditions and problems still pose a threat to peace in Northern Ireland today?

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