The Irish Republican Army (IRA) is a name used by various paramilitary organisations in Ireland throughout the 20th and the 21st centuries. Organisations going by this name have been dedicated to irredentism through Irish republicanism, the belief that all of Ireland should be an independent republic free from British rule.
In the century that followed, the original IRA was reorganised, changed and split on multiple occasions, to such a degree that many subsequent paramilitary organisations have been known by that title – most notably the Provisional Irish Republican Army which was a key participant during the Troubles. The contemporary IRA organisations each claim the sole right to use that name, as they each insist they are the only legitimate descendants of the original IRA.
Overview of the IRAs
The playwright and former IRA member Brendan Behan once said that the first issue on any Irish organisation's agenda was "the split". For the IRA, that has often been the case. The first split came after the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1921, with supporters of the Treaty forming the nucleus of the National Army of the newly created Irish Free State, while the anti-treaty forces continued to use the name Irish Republican Army. After the end of the Irish Civil War (1922–23), the IRA was around in one form or another for forty years, when it split into the Official IRA and the Provisional IRA in 1969. The latter then had its own breakaways, namely the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA, each claiming to be the true successor of the Army of the Irish Republic.
The Irish Republican Army (1919–1922), known as the "Old IRA", in later years, was recognized by the First Dáil as the legitimate army of the Irish Republic in April 1921 due to the fact that it had fought in the Irish War of Independence. On ratification of the Anglo-Irish Treaty by the Dáil, it split into pro-Treaty forces, the National Army, also known as the Government forces or the Regulars, and anti-Treaty forces, the Republicans, Irregulars or Executive forces, after the Treaty. These two forces went on to fight the Irish Civil War.
The Irish Republican Army (1922–1969), the anti-treaty IRA which fought and lost the civil war and thereafter refused to recognize either the Irish Free State or Northern Ireland, deeming both of them to be the creations of British imperialism. It existed in one form or another for over 40 years before it split in 1969.
The Official IRA (OIRA), the remainder of the IRA after the 1969 split from the Provisionals; was primarily Marxist in its political orientation. It is now inactive in a military sense, while its political wing, Official Sinn Féin, became the Workers' Party of Ireland.
The Provisional IRA (PIRA) broke from the OIRA in 1969 due to abstentionism and differing views on how to deal with the increasing violence in Northern Ireland. Although it opposed the OIRA's Marxism, it came to develop a left-wing orientation and it also increased its political activity.
In April 2011, former members of the Provisional IRA announced a resumption of hostilities, and that "they had now taken on the mantle of the mainstream IRA." They further claimed "We continue to do so under the name of the Irish Republican Army. We are the IRA." and insisted that they "were entirely separate from the Real IRA, Óglaigh na hÉireann (ONH), and the Continuity IRA." They claimed responsibility for the April assassination of PSNI constable Ronan Kerr as well as responsibility for other attacks that had previously been claimed by the Real IRA and ONH.
The New IRA, which was formed as a merger between the Real IRA and other republican groups in 2012. (see Real IRA)
Genealogy of the IRA and its splits
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That part of the original IRA organised within Northern Ireland not included within the Free State (see below).
That part of the IRA, organised within the twenty-six counties that became the Free State, which rejected the compromise of the 1921 treaty with Britain and under Liam Lynch fought the Irish Civil War against the Free State's National Army (led by Michael Collins), with the support of the anti-treaty faction of Sinn Féin, led by Éamon de Valera.
Some years after losing the Civil War a faction led by de Valera resigned from Sinn Féin and established the Fianna Fáil party in 1926, which is currently the second-largest party in Ireland. (In December 2007, Fianna Fáil was officially registered as a political party in Northern Ireland.)
By the 1960s, after the failed border campaign, Sinn Féin moved towards a Marxistclass struggle outlook. With the outbreak of the Troubles, Sinn Féin, or as it came to be called after the formation of the Provisional IRA and Provisional Sinn Féin, Official IRA / Official Sinn Féin found itself sidelined because of its decision not to engage the British state militarily. Over time the Official IRA faded away, while Official Sinn Féin moved to a purely Marxist position, renaming itself first Sinn Féin the Workers Party, and then in 1982 the Workers' Party of Ireland.
O'Ruairc, Padraig Og, Blood on the Banner: The Republican Struggle in Clare 1913–1923 (Cork 2009)
Ryan, Meda, Tom Barry: IRA Freedom Fighter (Cork 2005)
Townshend, Charles, 'The Irish Republican Army and the Development of Guerrilla Warfare 1916–21', English Historical Review 94 (1971), pp. 318–345.
W?, With the IRA in the Fight For Freedom (London 1968)
Nolan, Cillian, The IRA True History 1922-1969 (Kerry 1985)
Index of articles associated with the same name
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