Glossary – The Troubles

IMG_1527Source: The O’Brien Pocket History of The Troubles by Brian Feeney

Apprentice Boys of Derry– one of the Protestant ‘Loyal Orders’, it organizes annual demonstrations commemorating the vents surrounding the Siege of Derry in 1688 when apprentices closed the gates on the approach of King James II. With about 10,00 members, the Order’s major demonstration in Derry each August has often been the occasion of increased tension and violence.

Ard Fheis – the name Irish political parties give to their annual conference.

Armalite – an American rifle favored by the IRA.

Army Council – the seven-member ruling body of the IRA which determines its military strategy.

B Specials – established in 1920 to defend Northern Ireland against the IRA. An exclusively Protestant, part-time force abolished in 1969 and replaced by the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) in 1970.

Belfast confetti – rivets and other pieces of small, dense, heavy ironmongery thrown with terrible effect by shipyard workers in Belfast riots. Take a look, also, at this description, which states that the term long predates the IRA and their bombs and was first used in the 1890s in the context of Protestant shipyard workers attacking Catholics by pelting them with scrap metal and large iron rivets as missiles.

Dáil Éireann – the lower house of the Irish parliament.

Gerrymandering – the deliberate redrawing of electoral boundaries to control the outcome of elections. The term originates from 1812 when the Governor of Massachusetts, Eldbridge Gerry, drew the boundaries for a congressional district that looked like a salamander. His opponents called it a ‘Gerrymander’.

H-blocks – compounds in the Maze prison in Belfast, so named because of their shape. Each had approximately two hundred cells in fours wings.

Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) – an extreme republican paramilitary group established in 1974.

Long Kesh – the name of a WWII airfield, located sixteen kilometers south of Belfast, whose wartime huts were used to house republican internees in 1971. The name was later changed to HM Prison Maze when permanent facilities were built. Republicans never used the new name.

Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) – a dissident faction of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) formed in the late 1990s.

Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) – established in 1967 and modeled on the African-American civil rights movement’s tactics of passive resistance and non-violence.

Northern Ireland Office (NIO) – the department of the British government established in1972 to administer Northern Ireland under direct rule from Westminster, through a secretary of state who has a seat in the British Cabinet.

Orange Order – the largest of the ‘Loyal Orders’, it was founded in County Armagh in 1795 and expanded into an important politico-religious grouping opposed to Irish nationalism. Throughout its existence its traditions of marching, sometimes through the nationalist districts, has caused controversy. Its extensive program of marches culminates on July 12 to commemorate the victory of King William III at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

Peaceline – originally high fences made from corrugated metal, these were erected by the British Army in 1969 to provide a physical barrier between Catholic and Protestant districts. Most are now permanent brick, or concrete structures. There are currently 99 barriers of various shapes and sizes dividing nationalist and loyalist communities in Belfast. There are also several similar ‘peace walls’ and barriers in Derry. walls are highly unusual among such barriers around the world because most of those living closest to them continue to support their existence in successive opinion polls, mainly because of fear of attack from the community on the other side.

Plastic bullet – officially described as a plastic baton round (PBR), it is a controversial riot-control weapon used extensively from February 1973. A solid PVC cylinder, when fired its muzzle velocity is estimated to be in excess of 250kph. In 1998 a parliamentary answer revealed that plastic and rubber bullets killed sixteen people since 1970. A total of 124,829 plastic and rubber bullets were fired between 1970 and November 1998.

Proportional representation – a voting system designed to give seats to parties in proportion to the number of votes cast for each party rather than, as in the USA and Britain, the system of first the past, or ‘winner takes all’. Proportional representation ensures seats for minority parties and is widely used throughout Europe.

Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) – generally simply known as the IRA, it is the largest republican paramilitary group. Following a split from the Official IRA in 1969, its violent campaign proceeded for almost three decades.

PSNI – Police Service of Northern Ireland, the title of the new police service inaugurated in Northern Ireland on November 4, 2001 on the recommendation of the Patten report.

Rolling devolution – a scheme devised by British secretary of state Jim Prior in 1982 by which devolved powers would be ‘rolled out’ to local parties the more they cooperated with each other in sharing power. Nationalists boycotted the scheme.

Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) – the police force for Northern Ireland, established in 1921.

Rubber bullet – a riot-control weapon, it was replaced by plastic bullets in 1975. According to official figures, 55,688 rubber bullets were fired between 1970 and 1975.

‘Shoot-to-kill’ policy – a description coined by the SDLP (Social Democratic and Labour Party) security spokesman Michael Canavan to describe incidents when security forced in Northern Ireland shot dead suspected republicans at rode checks in disputed circumstances.

Six counties – the name by which nationalists, but especially republicans, refer to Northern Ireland, which is comprised of the six counties of Antrim, Down, Armagh, Tyrone, Fermanagh and Derry, which unionists call Londonderry.

Special Air Service (SAS) – a special forces unit of the British Army officially known as 22 SAS Regiment, it was formally deployed in Northern Ireland in 1976 and has been involved in several disputed killings.

Stormont – the building, completed in 1929, which housed the Northern Ireland parliament until it was prorogued in 1972. It became the seat of the assembly established after the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. The term ‘Stormont’ is also used to refer to the Unionist government of the period 1921-1972.

Taoiseach – literally meaning ‘chief’, it is the term for the Irish prime minister.

TD – a member of the Dáil, the Irish parliament (in full, Teachta Dála).

‘The Falls’ – an abbreviation for the Falls Road, but its meaning widened over the 20th century to include the many streets of the republican heartland of west Belfast, close to the city centre.

‘The Shankill’ – an abbreviation for the Shankill Road, but, like the Falls Road a few hundred meters away, a term which includes the streets of the loyalist heartland of west Belfast.

Ulster Defence Association (UDA) – the largest loyalist paramilitary organization, the UDA was established in Belfast in 1971 and finally proscribed in 1992.

Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) – a regiment of the British Army made up of full-time and part-time members recruited exclusively in Northern Ireland, it was raised in 1970, after the disbandment of the B Specials.

Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) – a loyalist paramilitary group claiming descent from Sir Edward Carson’s UVF of 1913, but established in modern times in 1966 by Shankill Road loyalists, when it carried out the first killings of the current Troubles. Banned in June 1966, it was legalized in April 1974 before again being declared illegal in October 1975.

Ulster Workers’ Council (UWC) – it emerged out of the Loyalist Association of Workers (LAW) to organize the loyalist strike, which brought down the power-sharing executive in May 1974.

United Ulster Unionist Council (UUUC) – an umbrella group of unionist parties, including the UUP, DUP and VUP, which were opposed to power-sharing. It existed from April 1974 until an unsuccessful DUP-inspired strike in 1977 when the UUP withdrew.


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