This Northern Ireland glossary contains definitions of terms and concepts relating to the history of Northern Ireland and the Troubles. Words and terms from A to K. It has been written and compiled by Alpha History authors. If you would like to suggest an inclusion for this glossary, please contact us.
32 County Sovereignty Movement (or 32CSM)
The 32 County Sovereignty Movement was a radical Republican group, formed in 1997 to oppose the Good Friday Agreement. The 32CSM demanded an end to partition, the full reunification of Ireland and the withdrawal of British sovereignty. It was aligned with the Real IRA and is now considered a terrorist organisation.
Abstentionism is the act of refusing to vote or accept an elected position. Abstention was a policy employed at various times by Sinn Fein. Nationalist members contested and won seats in the Republic of Ireland and British parliaments but would refuse to take up these seats, leaving them empty.
Act of Union
The Act of Union is an 1801 British law that joined England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland as the United Kingdom.
Anglo-Irish Agreement (or Hillsborough Accord)
The Anglo-Irish Agreement was signed by the governments of Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland in Hillsborough in November 1985. The agreement gave Dublin a consultative role in the government of Northern Ireland, however, it affirmed the status of Northern Ireland would not change unless a majority of its citizens agreed to it.
Apprentice Boys of Derry
The Apprentice Boys are a Loyalist group in Londonderry. Membership of the group is restricted to male Protestants. The Apprentice Boys commemorate the 1688 Catholic siege of Derry with an annual march through the city. Their marches were often interpreted as provocative to local Catholics.
Armagh is one of the six counties of Northern Ireland. It lies to the south-west of Belfast and the Craigavon-Portadown region is its largest urban area. Southern Armagh was a stronghold of the Provisional IRA during the Troubles.
Armalite and the Ballot Box
The ‘Armalite and the Ballot Box’ was a strategy employed by Sinn Fein and the IRA in the 1980s. As the name suggests, it combined participation and candidacy in elections with paramilitary attacks on British, Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and Loyalist targets.
The ‘B Specials’ were reservist members of the Ulster Special Constabulary, called upon to assist the RUC in times of emergency. Members of the B-Specials were predominately Protestant and Unionist. They were seen by Nationalists as provocative, thuggish and biased. The B Specials were dissolved in 1970, on the recommendation of the Hunt Report.
Belfast is the administrative capital and largest city in Northern Ireland.
Belfast Agreement (see Good Friday Agreement)
The ‘Birmingham Six’ refers to six men who were wrongfully convicted of bombing pubs in Birmingham, England in 1974. All six were Catholics born in Northern Ireland. The Birmingham Six spent 16 years in prison before being released on appeal in 1991. They were later awarded large amounts in compensation.
The ‘Blanket Protests’ refer to a five-year-long campaign (1976-81) by Republican prisoners held in HM Prison Maze. The prisoners were protesting the British government’s withdrawal of Special Category Status for Northern Ireland prisoners. The Blanket Protests were so named because participants refused to wear prison uniforms, instead wrapping themselves in sheets and blankets.
Bloody Friday refers to a day of violence on July 21st 1972 when the Provisional IRA detonated a series of bombs across Belfast. The blasts killed nine people and injured almost 140 others.
Bloody Sunday 1920
The first Bloody Sunday refers to a wave of violence in Dublin on November 21st 1920. This violence began with a number of IRA assassinations and culminated with the shooting of civilians at a football match at Croke Park.
Bloody Sunday 1972 (or the Bogside Massacre)
Bloody Sunday refers to the January 30th 1972 shooting of 27 unarmed protesters by British soldiers in Derry. Of those shot, 14 died from their injuries. Half of the dead were teenagers. The question of responsibility and liability for the Bloody Sunday shootings was hotly debated during the Troubles. After a number of inquiries, in 2010 the British government apologised for its actions on Bloody Sunday.
Bogside or ‘the Bogside’ is a suburban area in Derry, across the River Foyle from the city centre. The residents of Bogside are predominately working class, Catholic and Republican. Bogside was the location of considerable violence in August 1969.
The Border Poll was a Northern Ireland sovereignty referendum, organised by the British government and held in March 1973. The referendum was boycotted by most Nationalists, following a campaign by Sinn Fein and the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP). Almost 58.7 per cent of the electorate voted, with 98.9 per cent indicating that they wanted to remain part of Great Britain.
Brighton hotel bombing
The Brighton hotel bombing was an October 1984 assassination attempt on British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, carried out by the Provisional Irish Republican Army. Bombs were planted in a Brighton hotel where the Conservative Party was holding a conference. Thatcher was unharmed but five people, including a British Member of Parliament, were killed.
‘Britishness’ is a term used by Loyalists to describe British aspects of their identity and culture, such as language, traditions and symbols.
The Cameron Report was a written report on the causes of civil unrest and violence in Northern Ireland between October 1968 and March 1969. The report was compiled by Scottish judge Lord Cameron and handed down in September 1969. Among his findings, Cameron concluded that the Northern Ireland civil rights movement was a “stalking horse” for more radical political groups.
Catholicism is the oldest and largest form of Christianity in the world and the official religion of the Republic of Ireland. In Northern Ireland, Catholics make up approximately 40 per cent of the population and tend to have Nationalist or Republican political views.
A checkpoint is a road block manned by armed personnel, to monitor or prevent access to a particular area. Most checkpoints in Northern Ireland were operated by the British Army or RUC, however, the IRA and Loyalist paramilitaries would sometimes set up their own checkpoints.
civil rights movement
The civil rights movement emerged in Northern Ireland in the 1960s. Its objective was to end political and economic discrimination against Catholics. It was inspired by and partly modelled on the African-American civil rights movement in the United States.
Combined Loyalist Military Command (or CLMC)
The Combined Loyalist Military Command was an umbrella group representing several Loyalist paramilitary groups, including the Ulster Volunteer Force, the Ulster Defence Association and the Red Hand Commando. It was established in 1991. The CLMC announced the October 1994 ceasefire and often expressed the views of its various groups.
The Compton Report was a 1971 report into allegations of violence against security forces during the period of internment. It followed an investigation into five groups of allegations, in addition to allegations brought by 20 individuals. The report found that internees had not suffered physical brutality, however, they had been subject to exhausting compulsory exercise, hooding, wrist and ankle bonds and sleep deprivation.
A consociational government or political system is based on power-sharing structures and principles. In consociationalism, executive power is shared between two or more groups. This encourages partnership and stability while helping to avoid sectarian conflict. The Northern Ireland government formed by the Good Friday Agreement was consociational, having two First Ministers.
Continuity Irish Republican Army (or Continuity IRA, CIRA)
The Continuity IRA was a radical Republican paramilitary group, formed from a split in the Provisional IRA in the mid-1980s. The Continuity IRA was notably active following the Provisional IRA’s 1994 ceasefire when it continued a campaign of paramilitary violence. The group murdered a Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) officer in 2009.
Criminalisation, along with normalisation and ‘Ulsterisation’, was the British Labour government’s policy approach to Northern Ireland during the mid-1970s. Criminalisation involved withdrawing Special Category Status (SCS) for paramilitary prisoners and repainting the Troubles as a domestic law and order problem.
A curfew is an order forbidding civilians from leaving their homes during certain hours, usually at night.
Dail Eireann (or Dail)
The Dail Eireann is the lower house of the Oireachtas, or Republic of Ireland parliament. It was also the name of the assembly formed by Irish Republicans as an alternative government in 1919.
Decomissioning is the process of withdrawing weapons or other military equipment from service. These weapons are either surrendered, dismantled or destroyed. Decomissioning was an important step in the peace process.
Democratic Unionist Party (or DUP).
The Democratic Unionist Party is the largest Unionist party in Northern Ireland. It was formed in 1971 from the Protestant Union Party. The DUP was led by Ian Paisley for almost 37 years.
Derry is a local name for Londonderry, the second largest city in Northern Ireland.
Devolution is a process where a supreme or sovereign government delegates or hands down power to a regional or local government. In the case of Northern Ireland, it refers to the British government’s formation and empowerment of the Northern Ireland Assembly in 1998 and 1999.
The D’Hondt System (also called the Jefferson System) is an electoral system for allocating seats or portfolios in a multi-party or power-sharing government. The Good Friday Agreement adopted D’Hondt for determining which Northern Ireland Assembly parties should hold ministerial portfolios.
Diplock courts were non-jury courts, established by the British government in August 1973 to hear cases against Republican and Loyalist paramilitaries. They were created after evidence that juries were voting along sectarian lines or being intimidated by paramilitary groups. The Diplock courts remained in use until 2007.
Direct Action Against Drugs (or DAAD)
Direct Action Against Drugs was a cover used by the Provisional IRA during its vigilante campaign against drug dealers. DAAD shot dead at least 10 suspected drug dealers between 1995 and 2001. A similar group called Republican Action Against Drugs operated in Derry in the late 2000s.
Direct Rule refers to a period where Northern Ireland’s right to self-government was withdrawn. It was legislated by the British parliament in March 1972. Under Direct Rule, both the Northern Ireland parliament and executive were abolished; policy was instead decreed by a Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Direct Rule was intended to be a temporary measure, imposed while political and civil unrest was stabilised – however it was not permanently ended until 2007.
The Dirty Protest was a campaign of non-compliance carried out by Irish Republicans in HM Prison Maze, beginning in 1978. Prisoners participating in the protest refused to leave their cells to wash, shower or use lavatories, leading to unsanitary conditions.
Divis Flats was a group of residential towers in west Belfast. The Flats were a hotspot for violence and paramilitary activity during the Troubles. The British Army established an observation point on the tallest of the Divis towers.
Easter Rising (or Easter Uprising, Easter Rebellion)
The Easter Rising was an armed insurrection against British rule, launched by Republicans in Dublin on April 24th 1916. The uprising was crushed by the British military and 16 Irish leaders were arrested and executed. While the Easter Rising failed, many consider it a pivotal event in the movement towards Irish independence.
Éire (also Éirinn or Erin)
Éire is the Irish word for Ireland. It is generally used in reference to the Republic of Ireland.
Falls Road curfew
The Falls Road curfew describes a British Army operation, carried out in Belfast’s Falls district in July 1970. The area was closed and residents were ordered to remain in their homes, while 3,000 British soldiers conducted house to house searches for paramilitary weapons. Four civilians were shot dead by the British Army during the curfew, while numerous civilians and soldiers were injured.
A Fenian was a member of the Fenian Brotherhood, a militant 19th century Irish Republican group. It has been used as a derogatory term for Irish Republicans, particularly those who employ violence or terrorism.
Fianna Fáil (Irish for ‘Republican Party’) is a major political party in the Republic of Ireland. It was founded in 1926 by Irish revolutionary Éamon de Valera following a split from Sinn Fein. It is a Republican party whose members mostly support the reunification of Ireland.
The First Minister is the head of government of Northern Ireland, a position created in 1998 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. There are two First Ministers who share equal power; they are nominated by the two largest parties in the Northern Ireland assembly. To date, all First Ministers have been either Unionist (UUP or DUP) or Republican (SDLP or Sinn Fein).
The flag protests were a string of Loyalist protests in Belfast, beginning in late 2012. They were formed in response to Belfast City Council’s decision to restrict the flying of the Union Jack over City Hall.
Gardai (or Garda, Garda Siochana)
The Gardai is the police force of the Republic of Ireland.
Gerrymandering is the practice of drawing electoral boundaries to favour a particular party or achieve a certain result. In Northern Ireland, gerrymandering was sometimes used to divide the voting power of Catholics. This ensured that Protestants were unfairly represented in the parliament at Stormont.
A Glenanne Gang was a group of Loyalist extremists responsible for murders and violence against Catholics and Nationalists during the 1970s. The Glenanne Gang is believed to be responsible for more than 80 murders, mostly in and around County Armagh. The group is believed to have contained members of the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster Defence Regiment, as well as rogue Royal Ulster Constabulary officers.
Good Friday Agreement (or Belfast Agreement)
The Good Friday Agreement is a peace agreement signed by Northern Ireland political parties and the governments of Great Britain and Ireland in April 1998. The agreement addresses a number of issues, including civil and cultural rights, the voluntary disarming of paramilitary groups, security measures and the release of prisoners.
The ‘Green Book’ is a colloquial name for the training manual given to IRA recruits in the 1970s. It contained information on the IRA, its history and mission, as well as instructions regarding military operations, secrecy and personal conduct for IRA volunteers.
The Guildford Four were four people wrongfully convicted of bombing two pubs in Guildford, England in 1974. Gerry Conlon was the most prominent member of the Guildford Four. Their convictions were quashed in 1989 after it was proved that police had tampered with or concealed important evidence.
Home Rule refers to self-government (though not independence) in Ireland. Home Rule was legislated by the British parliament in 1914 but was not implemented due to World War I. Another Home Rule Act was passed in 1920. This act led to the Irish War of Independence and the Partition of Ireland.
Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (or IICD)
The IICD was established by the British and Irish governments in August 1997. It was tasked with overseeing the decommissioning of weapons by paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland. The IICD was headed by Canada’s General John de Chastelain.
In the context of the Troubles, an integrationist rejects any form of Home Rule or self-government, believing Northern Ireland should be governed from London. An integrationist is therefore opposed to devolution. Some Unionists and Loyalists were integrationist.
An interface area is a suburban or residential area where Nationalist/Catholic populations live in close proximity to Unionist/Protestant populations. These areas were often flash points for provocation, clashes and violence. Many interface areas were separated by peace lines.
Internment is the practice of detaining suspected terrorists or paramilitary members without trial. It was initiated in Northern Ireland by the Unionist government in August 1971. Almost 2,000 people were interned before it was halted in late 1975.
Ireland (see Republic of Ireland)
The Irish Dimension is a term used by British governments from 1972. It acknowledged the historical and cultural ties that existed between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, without committing to reunification. The Sunningdale Agreement and Anglo-Irish Agreement both incorporated the Irish Dimension by giving Dublin an advisory role in the government of Northern Ireland.
Irish National Liberation Army (or INLA).
The Irish National Liberation Army or INLA was a Republican paramilitary organisation, formed in late 1974 with the aim of creating an independent and socialist Ireland. The group was responsible for the 1979 murder of Airey Neave, the Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and a close associate of Margaret Thatcher, and the 1997 assassination of prominent Loyalist Billy Wright.
Irish Free State
The Irish Free State was the name of self-governing Ireland between 1921 and 1937. During this period it was independent but remained a dominion of Great Britain. After 1937 Ireland began the transition to a republic.
Irish Republican Army (or IRA)
The Irish Republican Army or IRA is an umbrella term for Republican paramilitary groups. Several groups with different political agendas and methodologies have claimed ownership of this name. The first IRA was formed in the wake of the Easter 1916 Rising and contributed to the formation of the independent Republic of Ireland. Between 1922 and 1969 the IRA referred to a paramilitary group that sought to rid Ireland of all British control and influence. From 1969 the IRA fractured into several splinter groups, including the Official IRA, the Provisional IRA, the Continuity IRA and the Real IRA.
Irish Republican Brotherhood (or IRB)
The Irish Republican Brotherhood was a fraternal secret society, dedicated to working towards Irish independence from Britain. It was formed in 1858 and organised the Fenian Rising of 1867. Under younger leadership, the IRB also orchestrated the failed Easter Rising in 1916.
The Irish tricolour is the three coloured flag of the Republic of Ireland. It is also used by Republicans in Northern Ireland. Its three colours represent the Gaelic heritage of Ireland (green), peace (white) and Irish Protestantism (orange).
‘Kneecapping’ describes the intentional shooting, smashing or piercing of the kneecap. This causes permanent structural damage and disfigurement, leaving the victim lame or unable to walk. Kneecapping was occasionally used as a punishment by Irish paramilitary groups.