There are several paramilitary groups which claim or have claimed the title Irish Republican Army (IRA), and advocate a unitary Irish state with no ties to the United Kingdom. All claim descent from the original 'Irish Republican Army', the 'army' of the Irish Republic declared by Dáil Éireann in 1919. Most Irish people dispute the claims of more recently created organizations that insist that they are the only legitimate descendants of the original IRA, often referred to as the "Old IRA".

see also Fenians

The Old IRA

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) has its roots in Ireland's struggle for independence from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in the early twentieth century. It is important to differentiate what is termed the 'Old IRA' or the 'Official IRA' from the Provisional IRA (PIRA), a splinter-group which formed in the late 1960s in the wake of the anti-Catholic pogroms, riots and murders (mainly in Belfast and Derry). The Old IRA very nearly disappeared in the process.

Although the history of the Irish Republican Army goes back a very long way, back far before the Easter Uprising of 1916 to Wolfe Tone, and the rebellions of the 1790s, its modern history can be traced to a declaration issued during the 1916 rising declaring that the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizens Army would be merged into one organisation. While the Volunteers and the Citizens Army continued in existence after this date, they effectively became one organisation and eventually the remnants of the Citizens Army merged with the Volunteers (all the modern organisations which have arisen from this grouping still use the Irish form of the name for their organisation, for example the Irish Defence Forces, the Official and Provisional IRA and the 'Continuity' and 'Real IRA' all lay claim to the title Óglaigh na hÉireann which means Irish Volunteers. Michael Collins took an active role in reorganising the IRA. Its formation and its subsequent development were inextricably intertwined and interrelated with the subsequent political history of Ireland and Northern Ireland and any consideration of the IRA therefore needs to be set firmly in context.

By 1916, the demands of World War I had sapped the British military machine, and the Irish Republican Brotherhood and the Irish Volunteers (or, in Irish, Óglaigh na hÉireann), the two main rebel movements of the time, the Irish Volunteer and the Irish Citizens Army, had resolved on a rebellion to force the British from the Irish shores. Weapons were to be supplied by Germany, under the auspices of a leading human rights campaigner, Sir Roger Casement.

In the upshot, the plot was discovered and the weapons were lost when the ship carrying them scuppered rather than be captured. The rebellion, however, proceeded.

The seizure of the Dublin post office, the raising of the a green flag with the words 'Irish Republic' written across it, along with a green, white and orange tricolour (which was actually supposed to be the flag of 'E Company', not of the republic, though it later came to be identified with the republic!) above it, and the reading of the proclamation of independence were to presage a bloody war. Though republican history often claimed that the Rising and its leaders had public support, in reality there were widespread calls for the execution of the ringleaders, coming from the major Irish nationalist daily newspaper, the 'Irish Independent' and local authorities. Dubliners not only cooperated with the English troops sent to quell the uprising, but undermined the Republicans as well.

However public opinion shifted gradually, initially over the executions without due process of 16 senior leaders--some of whom, such as James Connolly, were too ill to stand--and people thought complicit in the rebellion. As one observer described the drawn out process of executing the leaders of the rising, it was like watching blood seep from behind a closed door. Opinion shifted even more in favor of the Republicans in 1917-18 with the Conscription Crisis, when Britain tried to impose conscription on Ireland to boost its World War I war effort.

Sinn Féin was widely credited with orchestrating the rebellion, a particular irony as the party at that stage under leader Arthur Griffith was actually campaigning for a dual monarchy with Britain, returning Ireland to the relationship it had with Britain under the so-called 'Constitution of 1782' in Grattan's Parliament. The republican survivors, under Eamon de Valera, infiltrated and took over Sinn Féin.

In 1917, the party almost split over the division between monarchists (under former leader Arthur Griffith) and republicans (under Eamon de Valera). In a compromise agreed at its Árd Fheis (party conference) the party agreed to initially campaign for a republic. Having established one, it would let the electorate decide on whether to have a monarchy or republic; however if they chose a monarchy, no member of the British Saxe-Coburg-Gotha/Windsor Royal Family was to be eligible to become Irish monarch.

From 1916 to 1918, the two dominant nationalist movements, Sínn Féin and the Irish Parliamentary Party fought a tough series of battles in by-elections. Neither won a decisive victory. However the Conscription Crisis tipped the balance in favour of Sinn Féin. The party went on to win a clear majority of seats in the 1918 general election, though most were uncontested. Recent studies (based on analyses of seats contested, local elections and by-elections) suggest that Sinn Féin had the support of between 45% and 50% of the electorate in 1918.

Sinn Féin MPs elected in 1918 chose not to take their seats in Westminster but instead set up an independent 'Assembly of Ireland', translated from the Irish 'Dáil Éireann'. On the day in January 1919 this new unofficial parliament assembled in the Mansion House in Dublin (where it elected a prime minister (called Priomh Áire) and held initially by Cathal Brugha) and a ministry called the Áireacht) the first shots in the Irish War of Independence were fired.

The newly renamed Irish Republican Army (IRA), under the leadership of Arthur Griffith and Eamon de Valera, which had been formed from the remains of the Irish Volunteers, shot dead two British policemen in Tipperary. This quickly escalated into guerrilla warfare by what were then known as the Flying Columns in remote areas. Attacks on particularly remote Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) barracks continued throughout 1919 and 1920, forcing the police to consolidate in the larger towns for safety's sake, and effectively placing large areas of the countryside in the hands of the Republicans.

The British, still suffering from the fallout of World War I, were only able to send over small groups of first world war veterans to assist the police. The veterans reportedly wore a combination of black police uniforms and tan army uniforms, which, according to one version of the origins of the name, led to the nickname of the 'Black and Tans'. The brutality of the 'Black and Tans' is now legendary, and tales of their indiscipline and indiscriminate butchery of the local population are common.

The IRA too was accused of excessive violence; in particular against protestants in the Munster area. Both the Dáil Éireann (the Irish Parliament) and Sinn Féin were also proscribed by the British government.

David Lloyd George, the British Prime Minister at the time, found himself under increasing political pressure to try to salvage something from the situation. Eamon de Valera refused to attend since he realised that compromise was inevitable. The ultimate key to a breakthrough came from King George V, who, supported by international statesman General Jan Smuts, got the British government to accept a radical redraft of his proposed speech to the Northern Ireland parliament, meeting in Belfast City Hall in June 1921.

The speech, which called for reconciliation on all sides, changed the mood and enabled the British and Irish Republican governments to agree a truce. Negotiations on an Anglo-Irish Treaty took place in late 1921 in London. The Irish delegation was led by Arthur Griffith, after de Valera, newly upgraded to a full 'President of the Republic' by the Dáil on his request in August 1921, then insisted that as head of state he could not attend as King George was not leading the British delegation.

Under the Government of Ireland Act 1920, two Irish states had been created, Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland. Under the terms of the Anglo-Irish agreement of 6 December 1921, which ended the war (1919-1921), Northern Ireland was given the option of withdrawing from the new Irish state created, the Irish Free State and remaining part of the United Kingdom. The Northern Ireland parliament chose to do so. A Boundary Commission was then set up to review the boundary between both states.

Irish leaders expected that it would so reduce Northern Ireland's size as to make it economically unviable. Contrary to myth, partition was not the key breaking point between pro and anti-Treaty campaigners; all sides expected the Boundary Commission to 'deliver' Northern Ireland.

The actual split was over symbols: could the Irish Republic be dissolved? Could Irish politicians take the Oath of Allegiance called for in the Anglo-Irish Treaty? Anti-treaty republicans under de Valera answered both questions in the negative. They withdrew from Dáil Éireann, which had narrowly approved the Treaty.

Many of the leading members of the Old IRA, the army of the Republic, joined the new national army of the Irish Free State. Many others went back to civilian life. A small minority, continuing to claim the title 'IRA' waged a bloody civil war against the new Irish Free State civil administration under W.T. Cosgrave.

The Irish Civil War broke out.

(..the Irish Civil War war)

IRA in the northern six counties mainly pro-treaty.

During the war, Michael Collins was shot in an ambush in Cork

.. need to research the next bit - to be continued

Please integrate with the above text.

Later IRAs

Here in more detail is a representation of a genealogical tree of Irish nationalist movements:

  • Old IRA / Sinn Féin - fought in the War of Independence 1920-1921
    • That part of Old IRA/Sinn Fein organised within Northern Ireland not included within the Free State (see below).
    • The initial Free State government who accepted the compromise of the 1921 treaty which established the Irish Free State. Eventually became the modern-day Fine Gael Party of the Republic of Ireland
    • That part of Sinn Féin / IRA organised within the twenty six counties that became the Free State rejected the compromise of the 1921 treaty with Britain and under Eamon de Valera fought the Irish Civil War against the Free State 'National Army'.
      • Fianna Fáil - some years after losing the Civil War a faction of Sinn Féin led by de Valera returned to the democratic fold as the Fianna Fáil Party which remains one of the two largest parties in the Republic.
      • The remainder of Sinn Féin / IRA together with that part of Old IRA/Sinn Fein organised within Northern Ireland carried on low level sporadic paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland. Over the decades it become more leftist.
        • By the 1960s, having waged a disastrous 'border campaign of violence', Sinn Féin moved from a republican war vision to a marxist class war. With the outbreak of The Troubles Sinn Féin, or as it came to be called, Official IRA / Official Sinn Féin found itself sidelined. Over time the Official IRA faded away, the political side discarded its nationalism and became in succession Sinn Féin the Workers Party, the Workers Party, and finally the Democratic Left the most leftist of the parties in the Republic with seats in the Dáil Éireann (though also operating in Northern Ireland). Ultimately the party merged into the Labour Party.
        • The more traditionalist republican members split off into the Provisional IRA / Provisional Sinn Féin, which operated mostly in Northern Ireland, waging a guerrilla war against the unionists and British, though they also killed members of the Irish army and the Garda Siochana (the Irish police force). A further split occurred in 1986, when the Southern Leadership of Provisional Sinn Féin (as the political wing of the Provisional IRA tended at the time to be called), under Ruairi Ó Brádaigh was deposed and replaced by a new Northern leadership under Gerry Adams. The deposed elements, who took a hardline republican stance, and opposed Provisional Sinn Féin's decision to abandon abstentionism and enter Dáil Éireann, set up a rival party and military wing, called Republican Sinn Féin and Continuity IRA.
          • Members who did not accept the peace process split off to form groups such as the Real IRA.
          • Provisional IRA / Provisional Sinn Féin (now more generally referred to simply as Sinn Féin and the IRA, moved to a more less militarist and more politically-led position, which ultimately produced the Hume-Adams report and the peace process.

The playwright Brendan Behan once said that the first issue on any Irish agenda was a split. In the IRA's case, that has constantly been the case. From the Old IRA, the paramilitary army of the Irish Republic came a minority who formed the Anti-Treaty IRA, which became the Official IRA, from which broke away the Provisional IRA. It then had its own breakaways, namely the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA, each claiming to be successor of the Army of the Irish Republic. Most Irish people, however, disagree with their claims.