Armed Struggle: The History of the IRA

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Overview

The IRA has been a much richer, more complexly layered, and more protean organization than is frequently recognized. It is also more open to balanced examination now—at the end of its long war in the north of Ireland—than it was even a few years ago.
Richard English's brilliant book offers a detailed history of the IRA, providing invaluable historical depth to our understanding of the modern-day Provisionals, the more militant wing formed in 1969 dedicated to the removal of the British Government from Northern Ireland and the reunification of Ireland. English examines the dramatic events of the Easter Rising in 1916 and the bitter guerrilla war of 1919-21, the partitioning of Ireland in the 1920s, and the Irish Civil War of 1922-23. Here, too, are the IRA campaigns in Northern Ireland and Britain from the 1930s through the 1960s. He shows how the Provisionals were born out of the turbulence generated by the 1960s civil rights movement, and examines the escalating violence that introduced British troops to the streets of Northern Ireland. He also examines the split in the IRA that produced the Provisionals, the introduction of internment in 1971, and the tragedy of Bloody Sunday in 1972. He then discusses the struggle over political status, culminating in the Hunger Strikes of the early 1980s and describes the Provisionals' emergence as a more committed political force throughout that decade, a politicization that made possible the peace process that has developed over the last decade. English offers a dazzling synthesis of the motives, actions and consequences of the IRA. Neither romanticizing the IRA nor condemning them outright, this is a balanced, definitive treatment of one of the world's leading revolutionary movements.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Since the signing of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, the peace process in Northern Ireland has been in almost perpetual crisis. Unionists have demanded that the IRA destroy all its weapons as a precondition to power sharing. The IRA sees giving in to such a demand as tantamount to admitting defeat. The result has been a frustrating political stalemate. English's balanced and complex account of the IRA, more particularly the Provisional IRA, will help anyone understand the strong feelings and difficult issues behind today's headlines. English (Ernie O'Malley: IRA Intellectual) emphasizes that the IRA has "courageously shifted ground" by accepting the concept of consent (i.e., that the island of Ireland won't be unified without the consent of the people of Northern Ireland), rather than continuing to pursue the violent reunification of Ireland. Indeed, English stresses, the Good Friday Agreement has split the IRA just as the 1922 treaty partitioning Ireland did. The author, a professor of politics at Queen's University in Belfast, makes some controversial assertions, as when he claims that the IRA's post-1969 violence, ostensibly aimed at protecting Catholics, only led to increased anti-Catholic carnage. Even more controversially, English calls into question the whole point of the long IRA war. What English does brilliantly is to describe the IRA's own justifications for its war against Britain, with special attention to the socialism pervading much IRA belief. He has written a provocative and essential book for anyone trying to understand Northern Ireland's tempestuous recent history, providing even better insight into the IRA's ideology than Ed Moloney's recent A Secret History of the IRA. Illus., maps not seen by PW. (Aug.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
English (politics, Queen's Univ., Belfast; History of Ireland) clarifies early on that the IRA of which he writes is the Provisional IRA ("the Provos"), and though he looks at the civil war, he focuses on "the Troubles." Drawing on books, newspapers, TV broadcasts, and interviews, he reviews the IRA's activities and pronouncements over the decades, looking for its core beliefs. Philosophically, the IRA has drifted over time, as has its popular support. What drifts in this history is objectivity. Perhaps the IRA has aggravated, not shortened, the struggle for peace. Perhaps Ulster's Protestants have nonpolitical reasons for not wanting to join the Republic. And perhaps the IRA's strategy of causing the U.K. more pain than Ulster is worth has proved faulty. But you won't learn that here. Whether he intended to or not, English seems to justify the IRA's violence. In page after page, he chronicles the IRA' s bombings, killings, kidnappings, and attacks as tragic but necessary within the political context and Protestant response as just vengeful. Ultimately, what is most frustrating is that English doesn't explain precisely how peace has come to pass. He concedes that it was not brought about by the IRA's violence but insists that the Provos weren't the worst villains in the Troubles. Perhaps. This is not the history of the IRA but only the latest history-and a tendentious one at that. For larger collections.-Robert Moore, Bristol-Myers Squibb Medical Imaging, Billerica, MA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher

"This an essential book. At a stroke it replaces the many journalistic 'histories' of the IRA, too often flaccid and shoddy."--Roy Foster, The Times (London)

"A fluent, fascinating account of the origins, actions and ideologies of that caucus of shadows, the Provisional IRA."--Observer

"This vivid, reflective work will likely become the standard introduction to the subject. It also serves as a valuable corrective for anyone who thinks that the difficulties in Northern Ireland are amenable to quick-fix solutions."--Financial Times

"With fine detail and a flair for narrative, Richard English chronicles the rise of the IRA from the ashes of the Easter rising to the promise of peace today. Balanced and thoughtful, Armed Struggle offers new insight into Ireland's republican movement. And it reminds us, in the author's words, that 'the voices of the victims still deafen.'"--Terry Golway, author of The Irish in America

"About Richard English's Armed Struggle: History of the IRA there is a kind of passionate objectivity you'll rarely find on this subject. The author works mightily to present two sides of a story that keeps shifting. You might read the book wondering, perhaps, where his sympathies lie, but even if you sneak a look at the last chapter, where he lays out his credentials, you'll come away impressed with his balance and fairness. I am neither scholar nor historian, but this is the one book I recommend for anyone trying to understand the craziness and complexity of the Northern Ireland tragedy."--Frank McCourt, author of Angela's Ashes

"What impressed me most was the way Richard English managed to present such an historical and contradictory mess with such clarity and fairness. The book grabbed and held me like a very good novel."--Roddy Doyle, author of A Star Called Henry

"Here is the book we have been waiting for--the first full history of the I.R.A. and the best account by far of the twentieth century's longest war. Richard English has read everything--from secret documents to the Long Kesh library --and he has talked to the men who fought the war. He also brings a rare balance of empathy and judgement to a topic that desperately needs both. The result is a superb piece of writing: clear, insightful, and engrossing. If you want to know where the I.R.A. came from and how they think, this is the book to read."--Peter Hart, Chair of Irish Studies, Memorial University and the author of The IRA and It's Enemies

"English's balanced and complex account of the IRA, more particularly the Provisional IRA, will help anyone understand the strong feelings and difficult issues behind today's headlines.... The author, a professor of politics at Queen's University in Belfast, makes some controversial assertions, as when he claims that the IRA's post-1969 violence, ostensibly aimed at protecting Catholics, only lead to increased anti-Catholic carnage. Even more controversially, English calls into question the whole point of the long IRA war. What English does brilliantly is to describe the IRA's own justifications for its war against Britain, with special attention to the socialism pervading much of IRA belief. He has written a provocative and essential book for anyone trying to understand Northern Ireland's tempestuous recent history."--Publishers Weekly

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195177534
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 12/23/2004
  • Pages: 528
  • Sales rank: 549,289
  • Product dimensions: 9.00 (w) x 6.10 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard English is Professor of Politics at Queen's University, Belfast. His previous books include Ernie O'Malley: IRA Intellectual and Radicals and the Republic: Socialist Republicanism in the Irish Free State 1925-1937.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
List of Abbreviations
Maps
Glossary
Acknowledgments
Preface
Pt. 1 History 1916-63
1 The Irish Revolution 1916-23 3
2 New States 1923-63 42
Pt. 2 Protest and Rebellion 1963-76
3 The Birth of the Provisional IRA 1963-72 81
4 The Politics of Violence 1972-6 148
Pt. 3 Prisons and Politics 1976-88
5 The Prison War 1976-81 187
6 Politicization and the Cycle of Violence 1981-8 227
Pt. 4 Peace? 1988-2002
7 Talking and Killing 1988-94 263
8 Cessations of Violence 1994-2002 285
Conclusion 337
Notes and References 385
Bibliography 445
Index 473
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