This Northern Ireland glossary contains definitions of terms and concepts relating to the history of Northern Ireland and the Troubles. Words from L to Z. It has been written and compiled by Alpha History authors. If you would like to suggest a term for inclusion in this glossary, please contact us.
Londonderry is a city and county of Northern Ireland. Londonderry, known to locals as Derry, is Northern Ireland’s second largest city. The majority of its residents are Catholic. County Londonderry (or County Derry) is located in Northern Ireland’s north-west.
‘Long War’ was a strategy developed and adopted by the Provisional IRA in 1976. IRA leaders acknowledged that the struggle to expel the British from Northern Ireland would take many years and require a long campaign of guerrilla warfare and anti-British terrorism. These attacks would be planned and carried out by small cells of IRA volunteers acting autonomously, rather than through a command structure.
Loyalist (or Ulster Loyalist)
Loyalist describes an individual or group determined to maintain Northern Ireland’s ties with Great Britain. The term Loyalist is sometimes used synonymously with Unionist, though Loyalists are more strident and focus on cultural links with Britain.
Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF)
The LVF was a Loyalist paramilitary group, formed in 1996 following a split in the UVF. It was led initially by Billy Wright. Despite being small in number LVF members were responsible for several killings, mostly Catholic civilians chosen at random.
The ‘Mainland Campaign‘ was a Provisional IRA strategy that involved terrorist attacks on military, political and economic targets in England. This campaign was initiated in 1972 and 1973, in the wake of the Bloody Sunday shootings. Some prominent attacks during the Mainland Campaign included the M62 coach bombing (1974), the Guildford and Birmingham pub bombings (1975), the Hyde Park bombing (1982) and the Brighton Hotel bombing (1984).
Maze (or The Maze, Long Kesh)
Her Majesty’s Prison Maze is a correctional and detention facility just outside Belfast. The Maze housed political and paramilitary prisoners during the Troubles. It was the location for several significant protests, such as Bobby Sands’ hunger strike.
Miami Showband massacre
The Miami Showband massacre was the killing of three Dublin musicians in County Down in July 1975. The perpetrators were Loyalist paramilitaries: members of the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster Defence Regiment. Three men were later convicted and jailed for the murders, though others escaped justice.
Military Reaction Force (or MRF)
The Military Reaction Force was a specialist unit of the British Army. The MRF was active in Northern Ireland between 1971 and 1973. Its members operated undercover, sometimes as double agents in Republican and Loyalist paramilitary groups. The MRF also carried out several assassinations and was condemned by many as a state-sponsored ‘death squad’.
The Mitchell Principles were a set of rules or guidelines for participants in Northern Ireland peace talks. They were named for US Senator George Mitchell and expressed in a January 1996 report on weapons decommissioning. Among the Mitchell Principles were a commitment to peaceful negotiation, a renunciation of violence and a commitment to lay down and decommission all weapons.
Nationalist describes an individual or group desiring national independence. In the case of Ireland, Nationalists support the abolition of Partition and the reunification of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland through peaceful means. The term is often used interchangeably with Republican, though there are subtle differences.
New Irish Republican Army (or New IRA)
The New IRA was formed in mid-2012 after the Real IRA merged with other radical groups. It has become the most active dissident Republican group of the last five years, carrying out numerous attacks on police and government targets in Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland Assembly
The Northern Ireland Assembly is the legislature and governing body of Northern Ireland. There were three attempts to form a Northern Ireland Assembly during the Troubles, only the third one providing successful. The first Northern Ireland Assembly was elected in June 1973 and tasked with forming a power-sharing executive. This Assembly collapsed in May 1974 as a result of the Ulster Workers’ Council (UWC) strike. The second Assembly was formed in 1982 but dissolved in 1986, following protests and boycotts over the Anglo-Irish Agreement. The current Northern Ireland Assembly was formed in July 1998 during the peace process.
Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (or NICRA)
The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association was formed in 1967. Its main objective was the advancement of political and economic equality in Northern Ireland, with opportunities and progress for all, regardless of religion. NICRA opposed discrimination against Catholics in employment and housing allocation. It also demanded an end to electoral gerrymandering. While NICRA contained some liberal Protestants and Unionists, it was dominated by Catholic and Nationalist interests.
Northern Ireland Parliament
The Northern Ireland Parliament was the legislature and governing body of Northern Ireland between the implementation of Home Rule in 1920 and the imposition of Direct Rule in March 1972. The Parliament was dissolved under Direct Rule and formally abolished in July 1973. It was replaced by the Northern Ireland Assembly (see above).
Official Irish Republican Army (or OIRA)
The Official IRA was a faction of the Irish Republican Army, formed after its 1969 split with the Provisional IRA. The Official IRA was the more moderate of the two factions. It engaged in some violence during the Troubles but generally pushed for a socialist republic through political involvement, pressure and negotiation. The Official IRA was the IRA wing most closely aligned with Sinn Fein.
Óglaigh na hÉireann
Óglaigh na hÉireann is an Irish phrase meaning ‘soldiers of Ireland’. It was first used by the Irish Volunteers in 1913. Several iterations of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) have also used the name Óglaigh na hÉireann, including the Provisional IRA, the Continuity IRA and the Real IRA.
Oireachtas (or Oireachtas Eireann)
The Oireachtas Eireann is the parliament of the Republic of Ireland. It is comprised of the Dáil Éireann or Dáil (lower house) and the Seanad Éireann or Seanad (upper house).
The Omagh bombing was the deadliest terrorist attack on civilians during the Troubles. It was carried out by the Real IRA on August 15th 1998. A large car bomb was detonated in a shopping district in Omagh, County Tyrone. The blast killed 29 people, including several children.
Operation Banner was the operational name used by the British military for its intervention in Northern Ireland between 1969 to 2007.
Operational Demetrius was a two day series of raids carried out by British forces in Northern Ireland in early August 1971. A total of 342 suspected republican paramilitary personnel were arrested, interrogated and interned during Operation Demetrius.
Operation Motorman was a large scale British military operation in Northern Ireland between July and August 1972. Its aim was to regain control of Republican-held areas in Northern Ireland cities, particularly Belfast and Derry.
Orange Order (or Orange Lodge, Orangemen)
The Orange Order is a Protestant men’s organisation, based in Belfast but with thousands of members across Ulster. It bears some similarities to the Freemasons. Most members of the Orange Order hold staunch Unionist political values. Some of the Order’s more prominent members include Ian Paisley and Jeffrey Donaldson. Until 1998 the Orangemen marched through Catholic areas of Portadown every July, an event that inflamed tensions there.
Paramilitary describes a civilian group that employs military training, weaponry and tactics, without the official backing of the state and usually for a political purpose. The Irish Republican Army (IRA), the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and several other organisations are regarded as paramilitary groups.
Partition (or Partition of Ireland, Irish Partition)
The Partition of Ireland refers to the 1920 division of Ireland into two separate sections: the Irish Free State (later the Republic of Ireland) and Northern Ireland. Many consider the Partition a starting point for the Troubles. Nationalists and Republicans wish to abolish Partition and reunify Ireland as a single, independent nation.
Peace lines are high walls separating Nationalist-Catholic and Unionist-Protestant residential areas in cities like Belfast and Derry. At the height of the Troubles there were more than 40 of these barriers in residential interface areas, some more than a mile (1.6 kilometres) in length.
Police Service of Northern Ireland (or PSNI)
The Police Service of Northern Ireland is a civilian police force that replaced the Royal Ulster Constabulary in 2001. To limit sectarianism, PSNI officers are roughly half Protestant and half Catholic.
Power-sharing, or consociationalism, is a system of government where executive power is shared between two or more parties. In Northern Ireland it refers to joint government by Protestant Unionists and Catholic Nationalists. A power-sharing government was outlined in the Sunningdale Agreement (1973) but never fully implemented. A power-sharing government, involving First Ministers of equal standing, was formed in the wake of the Good Friday Agreement.
‘Prod’ is derogatory slang for a Protestant. It is generally used by Catholics in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
A Protestant is a Christian who belongs to one of several churches, such as the Presbyterian Church or the Church of Ireland. Protestantism formed after a split in the Catholic church in the 1500s. In 1971 Protestants constituted almost 53 per cent of the population of Northern Ireland. Most Protestants in Northern Ireland are Unionist or Loyalist.
The Protestant Ascendancy was a period in the late 1600s and 1700s when English and Irish Protestants controlled Ireland and Irish law. During this period Irish Catholics were deprived of political, civil and economic rights by the Penal Laws.
Protestant Union Party (or PUP)
The Protestant Union Party was a political party formed in 1966 and active during the early years of the Troubles. Led by Ian Paisley, PUP had strong ties to Protestant churches. It was more staunchly Loyalist and socially conservative than the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP). PUP was re-formed as the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in 1971.
Provisional Irish Republican Army (or Provisional IRA, PIRA, ‘Provos’)
The Provisional IRA was a paramilitary group, formed in 1969 after a split with the Official IRA. The Provisional IRA was the more radical of the two groups. Its objective was to drive the British out of Northern Ireland by making it impossible to govern effectively. The Provisional IRA was more inclined to use violence and was responsible for much of the terrorism during the Troubles.
Provos (see Provisional IRA)
Proxy bombing was a terrorist tactic occasionally used by the Provisional IRA. It involved forcing individuals, usually suspected collaborators, to drive primed car bombs at British or Loyalist targets.
Real Irish Republican Army (or Real IRA, RIRA)
The Real IRA was a radical paramilitary group, formed after a 1997 split in the Provisional IRA. The Real IRA was responsible for the 1998 Omagh bombing, the Massereene barracks killings and other terrorist attacks. It still exists and occasionally carries out killings or acts of terrorism.
Red Hand Commando (or RHC)
The Red Hand Commando was a small Loyalist paramilitary force, formed in 1972 and closely associated with the Ulster Volunteer Force. The RHC has committed dozens of murders since its formation in 1972. Among its victims were several Protestants, killed either by accident or because they associated too closely with Catholics. The RHC was named for the Red Hand of Ulster, a traditional symbol of the region.
Red Hand Defenders (or RHD)
The Red Hand Defenders were a Loyalist paramilitary group, formed in 1998 by volunteers opposed to the Good Friday Agreement. The RHD carried out several violent attacks in the late 1990s and early 2000s, most notably the murder of human rights lawyer Rosemary Nelson.
Republican describes an individual or group seeking the removal of British sovereignty from Northern Ireland. The majority of Republicans believe the Six Counties of Northern Ireland should be reunified with the Republic of Ireland. A few believe in the creation of a separate Republic of Northern Ireland. The term Republican and Nationalist are often used interchangeably, though there are subtle differences.
Republican Action Against Drugs (RAAD)
RAAD was an Irish Republican group that engaged in punishment attacks against suspected drug dealers. It operated mainly in Derry. In 2012 RAAD merged with the Real IRA to form the New IRA.
Republican Sinn Fein
Republican Sinn Fein is a political party formed in 1986, following a split in Sinn Fein. Its founding members objected to Sinn Fein’s plan to end abstentionism and take up seats in the Irish Dáil Éireann. Republican Sinn Fein has alleged links with the Continuity IRA.
Republic of Ireland (or the Irish Republic)
The Republic of Ireland is the independent nation of Ireland. It gained independence as the Irish Free State in 1922, renamed itself Ireland in 1937 and became a republic in 1949. Ireland is governed by the Oireachtas Eireann (parliament) and taoiseach (prime minister). Its capital city is Dublin.
Royal Irish Constabulary (or RIC)
The Royal Irish Constabulary was the state police force in Ireland from the early 19th century until the partition of Ireland in 1922. RIC officers were involved in significant incidents in Irish history, such as the first Bloody Sunday (1920) and the Irish War of Independence.
Royal Ulster Constabulary (or RUC)
The Royal Ulster Constabulary was the state police force of Northern Ireland during the Troubles. The RUC was formed in 1922 after the Partition of Ireland. During the Troubles, the RUC was often accused of discrimination against Catholics and clandestine links with Loyalist paramilitary groups. More than 300 RUC officers were killed between 1968 and 1999. The RUC was replaced by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) in 2001.
Rubber bullets are rubber or plastic-coated projectiles, fired from ordinary weapons or specialised riot guns. They are intended to stun or temporarily disable but not to kill. Rubber bullets were used by British security forces in Northern Ireland from August 1970. Though intended to be non-lethal, rubber or plastic bullets killed 17 people during the Troubles, many of them children. Activist Emma Groves, who was blinded by a rubber bullet, led a campaign for their decommissioning.
Scheduled offences were a category of offences involving violence, terrorism or paramilitary activity. These offences were linked with political tensions in Northern Ireland, rather than criminality. Until 1976, a conviction for scheduled offences entitled the prisoner to apply for Special Category Status (see below).
Sectarianism describes stark divisions within a population, usually caused by religious or political differences. In the context of Northern Ireland sectarianism refers to the divisions between Catholics and Protestants that underpinned the Troubles.
Self-determination is a democratic political principle. It argues that any political or constitutional change must be endorsed by a majority of the population.
The Shankill Butchers were a Loyalist assassination squad, active in Belfast between 1957 and 1982. The group was led by Lenny Murphy and was believed to contain members of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF). The Shankill Butchers are believed to have been responsible for at least 19 deaths.
Sinn Fein is an Irish Republican political party, formed in 1905 and active both in Northern Ireland and the Republic. Its name translates to ‘We Ourselves’ or ‘Ourselves Alone’. During the Troubles, Sinn Fein presented itself as a legitimate political party, though it maintained close ties with the Official IRA. During the 1970s and early 1980s, Sinn Fein practised abstentionism, refusing to participate in elections for the British and Northern Ireland parliaments. The party was reformed in 1986 under the leadership of Gerry Adams. It later participated in electoral politics, ceasefire talks and peace negotiations, culminating in the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. Sinn Fein currently holds seats in British, Irish and European Union assemblies, though it still abstains from sitting in the British House of Commons.
The Six Counties refers to the six Ulster counties that constitute Northern Ireland: Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry and Tyrone.
Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP)
The Social Democratic and Labour Party is a Nationalist political party. It was formed in Stormont in 1970 by breakaway members of other parties. The SDLP called for an end to British rule in Northern Ireland, though it rejected the use of violence to achieve this. The SDLP was the most popular Nationalist party in Northern Ireland until the rise of the reformed Sinn Fein in the early 1990s.
South Armagh Republican Action Force
The South Armagh Republican Action Force was a Provisional IRA splinter group based in County Armagh. The Republican Action Force carried out numerous attacks and killings in the mid-1970s, in breach of an IRA ceasefire.
Special Category Status (or SCS)
Special Category Status is a political status granted to prisoners convicted of scheduled offences, such as paramilitary violence or terrorism. SCS inmates were given similar status to prisoners-of-war and entitled to additional privileges, including exemptions from prison work and uniforms. SCS was granted by the British government in July 1972. It was revoked in March 1976, after which SCS inmates were treated as ordinary criminals. This gave rise to several protests, culminating in the 1981 hunger strike by Republican prisoners.
Special Powers Act
The Special Powers Act is the shortened name of the Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act. This legislation was passed by the Northern Ireland parliament in 1922. The act gave the Northern Ireland government sweeping powers to deal with paramilitary groups, suppress civil disorder and ban publications. Instead, it was generally used to target Nationalist groups and publications.
Squaddie is a colloquial term for a British soldier.
St Andrews Agreement
The St Andrews Agreement is an agreement signed by representatives of Britain, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland political parties in October 2006. This agreement finalised the structures and processes of power-sharing in Northern Ireland. It also marked the Democratic Unionist Party’s (DUP) willingness to participate in a power-sharing government.
Stormont is a suburb east of Belfast. It is the location of the Northern Ireland Assembly building and Stormont Castle, the meeting place of the Northern Ireland Executive.
The Sunningdale Agreement is a power-sharing agreement signed in December 1973. The Sunningdale Agreement attempted to restore the Northern Ireland government by creating a power-sharing executive and a bilateral council with Dublin. The agreement was opposed by Loyalists and failed in May 1974.
‘Taig’ is a derogatory term for an Irish Catholic. It is generally used by Protestants and Loyalists.
The taoiseach is the head of government of the Republic of Ireland, the broad equivalent of its prime minister.
The Troubles refers to sectarian tension and conflict in Northern Ireland, beginning in the late 1960s and ending in 1999.
Ulster is the traditional name for the nine northernmost counties of Ireland, six of which now constitute Northern Ireland. In recent times it is often used as a synonym for Northern Ireland, most commonly by Loyalists or Unionists.
Ulster Defence Association (or UDA)
The Ulster Defence Association is a Loyalist paramilitary group formed in 1971. The UDA is dedicated to maintaining the union with Great Britain and defending Protestants in Northern Ireland. During the Troubles, the UDA carried out scores of attacks on Republican and Catholic targets, both in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. When conducting or claiming responsibility for these attacks the UDA uses the name Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) to avoid political recriminations.
Ulster Defence Regiment (or UDR)
The Ulster Defence Regiment was a specialist regiment of the British army operating in Northern Ireland. It was formed in 1970 by recruiting Protestant and Catholic volunteers from the Six Counties. The UDR replaced the notorious ‘B Specials’. It was tasked with responding to sabotage, terrorism and paramilitary attacks, as well as providing occasional support to the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
Ulster Freedom Fighters (or UFF)
The Ulster Freedom Fighters are the paramilitary wing of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA).
Ulsterisation was a policy approach to Northern Ireland, outlined by the British Labour government in 1975. Ulsterisation involved withdrawing British soldiers and passing responsibility for security to the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR).
Ulster nationalism is a movement that seeks full independence for Northern Ireland, making it a separate nation from both Britain and the Republic of Ireland. Some factions and smaller parties backed Ulster nationalism as a compromise position but it never received much public support.
Ulster Special Constabulary (see B-Specials)
Ulster Unionist Party (or UUP)
The Ulster Unionist Party is the oldest Unionist political party in Northern Ireland, formed in 1905. The UUP was the dominant party in Northern Ireland, forming a government there between 1921 and 1972. It split in 1969 over prime minister Terence O’Neill’s reforms. It later lost ground to Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
Ulster Vanguard (or Vanguard Unionist Progressive Party, VUPP)
The Ulster Vanguard was a hardline Loyalist political party, formed by Unionist politician Bill Craig in February 1972. The Vanguard was known for its staunch Loyalism and its Nazi-like rallies, some attended by more than 50,000 Loyalists. The party splintered, lost support and dissolved in 1978.
Ulster Volunteer Force (or UVF)
The Ulster Volunteer Force is a Loyalist paramilitary group, formed in 1965. Like most Loyalist paramilitary groups it is dedicated to protecting and advancing Unionism, Unionists and Protestants. The UVF was active for more than 40 years and was responsible for almost 500 killings, the majority of the victims were Catholic civilians.
The Ulster Volunteers were a Loyalist militia group, formed in Northern Ireland in 1912 and active until 1922. The Volunteers were formed to resist a Dublin-based government under the auspices of Home Rule.
Ulster Workers’ Council (or UWC)
The Ulster Workers’ Council was a Loyalist labour union. It was established in 1974 to oppose the power-sharing government proposed in the Sunningdale Agreement. The UWC helped undermine the Sunningdale deal by organising crippling general strikes in May 1974.
Unification refers to the dissolution of Partition and the merging of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland into a single state. It is a common goal of Nationalist and Republican groups.
Unionist describes an individual or group that believes Northern Ireland should remain part of Great Britain. The term is often used synonymously with Loyalist, though Unionists are more moderate and favour political methods rather than protest or violence. The vast majority of Unionists are Protestant.
The Union Jack is the national flag of the United Kingdom. It contains the overlaid crosses of St George (England), St Andrew (Scotland) and St Patrick (Ireland). The Union Jack was adopted after the Acts of Union in 1800.
Vanguard Unionist Progressive Party (see Ulster Vanguard)