Ireland and Northern Ireland

This topic guide will help you work with the topic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The guide is mainly intended for use in English class, but it may also be relevant for other school subjects such as History or Social Studies.

The guide is designed to give you a good overview of the history of the Irish island, focusing especially on the partition of Ireland the Troubles in Northern Ireland. You can also find specific suggestions for texts to use as reference points, as well as ideas for further thematic perspectives.

This topic guide was last updated on November 19, 2019.


In 1169 the Irish island was invaded by the Normans from England, who tried to take control. They met violent resistance from the local population, however, which meant that England in practice only retained control of small areas of the island until the 16th century. At that time King Henry VIII of England declared himself King of Ireland as well, which intensified the conflicts on the island. The conflicts were often between the local, Catholic population and English and Scottish immigrants, who were typically Protestants. This religious division would affect the conflicts in Ireland for centuries to come.

Ireland experienced a great famine between 1845 and 1851, which meant that an enormous number of Irishmen left the island, while those who remained had an increasingly strained relationship with Britain, which had not offered sufficient aid during the crisis. The following decades brought a number of violent clashes, which eventually reached a peak in the Easter Rising in 1916 and the Irish War of Independence from 1919-1921. During a ceasefire in 1921, a treaty was created which officially partitioned the island into two - Northern Ireland, which still belonged to Britain, and the Free State of Ireland, which was more independent. The conflict was far from over, as many Irish nationalists were unhappy with the treaty, which led to the Irish Civil War from 1922-1923. The nationalists lost the battle in the end, so the treaty was not changed.

The conflict between nationalists and unionists in Northern Ireland was still an issue, however, and it started to escalate again in the 1960s. Through the following decades Northern Ireland was plagued by an intense period of protests, violence and acts of terror from both sides, which became known as the Troubles. The Troubles were periodically interrupted by brief ceasefires, but it was very difficult to find a lasting solution to the conflict. It took until the 1990s before the violence really started to decline, which finally led to the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, which is officially regarded as the end of the Troubles.

Today the Irish island is still divided into Northern Ireland and the independent Republic of Ireland. The future of the island is uncertain, however, because the UK (and thereby Northern Ireland) is currently scheduled to leave the EU, while Ireland will remain a member state. Many fear that Brexit may lead to a more strongly guarded border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, which in the worst case scenario might reawaken some of the violent conflicts between the two areas. The Brexit deal Theresa May's government proposed on November 14, 2018, would have included a way to avoid such a hard border, but it was voted down in Parliament, so it remains unclear how the border issue will be resolved.

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Ireland and Northern Ireland

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