Established in 1919 to halt British rule in Northern Ireland using armed forces, the Irish Republican Army, or IRA, fought for independence and a reunified republic—often in tandem with, but independent of, the Irish nationalist party, Sinn Fein.
In 1969, demanding British withdrawal from Northern Ireland but differing on tactics, the IRA split into two factions: officials and provisionals. Officials sought independence through peace, while the provisionals used violence to further its efforts, which resulted in an estimated 1,800 deaths, including more than 600 civilians. As the Provisional IRA and other paramilitary groups waged an increasingly violent campaign and the British Army retaliated, the period known as the "Troubles" roiled the region and beyond for nearly 30 years.
Below is a timeline of notable events.
Bloody Sunday Leads to New IRA Recruits; Lord Mountbatten Is Assassinated
Dec. 28, 1969: Aiming to protect the Catholic minority from discrimination from loyalist militants and the Protestant-Majority police force, the Provisional Army Council, officially splinters off from the IRA. The Provisional IRA soon becomes known as simply the IRA, while the other faction, known as the Original IRA, quickly diminishes in stature.
Jan. 30, 1972: Known as Bloody Sunday, 13 unarmed Catholic civil rights demonstrators are killed, with 15 wounded, by British paratroopers during a civil rights march in Derry in Northern Ireland. The British Army falsely called the victims gunmen and bombers—a report finalized in 2010 found none of the dead were threats. The shooting lead hundreds to join the IRA.
July 7, 1972: Unsuccessful secret peace talks take place between the IRA and British government in Chelsea’s Cheyne Walk, the first meeting of the two groups since 1921.
July 21, 1972: Twenty-plus IRA bombs explode in Belfast, leaving nine dead and 130 injured on what will come to be called Bloody Friday. The British retaliate 10 days later, with Operation Motorman, bringing in tanks to enter “no-go” areas controlled by the IRA in Derry and West Belfast.
Nov. 21, 1974: Targeting two pubs in Birmingham, England known to be popular among off-duty law enforcement, the IRA sets off bombs that kill 21 and injure 182. This marks the deadliest year of the long-running conflict, with nearly 500 casualties, more than half of them civilians.
Dec. 22, 1974: The IRA announces a Christmas-season ceasefire until Jan. 2, 1975 following secret talks with the British, The ceasefire is then extended on February 8, but the truce ends just a month later when the IRA says “we achieve more in wartime than in peacetime.”
Hunger Strikes Leave 10 Dead
March 1, 1981: Bobby Sands, an Irish-Catholic IRA member, starts what will become a 66-day hunger strike. During the strike, he is elected to a vacant seat in British Parliament, but dies May 5. Riots ensue in Belfast and 100,000 attend his funeral. Six more IRA members and three Irish National Liberation Army members also fast to death before the hunger strike ends in October, and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher agrees to some of the demands of the protesters, which includes the right to visits, receive mail and wear civilian clothing.
Nov. 15, 1985: With hopes of dampening Sinn Fein support, Thatcher and Irish Taoiseach (prime minister) Garret FitzGerald sign the Anglo-Irish Agreement, an accord stating both governments would formally consult on Northern Ireland, allowing for the possibility of a united nation.
May 8, 1987: Eight IRA members of the Tyrone Brigade are killed during a Special Air Services ambush of the IRA bombing of the Loughgall police station. A former IRA member later said the the shootings led the “floodgates” to open in terms of new IRA recruits.
Nov. 8, 1987: An IRA bombing intended to hit police security prior to a Remembrance Sunday war memorial service in Enniskillen kills 11—all civilians—and injures 63. Occurring near the second anniversary of the Anglo-Irish accord, it’s considered a public relations disaster for the IRA. In 1997, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams apologizes for the bombing. "I hope there will be no more Enniskillen's and I am deeply sorry about what happened in Enniskillen," he tells the BBC.
British Soldiers Beaten, Shot Dead at Funeral
March 6, 1988: Three unarmed IRA members are shot and killed by Special Air Services forces in Gibraltar. At the funeral service days later, two British soldiers accidentally drive into the procession and are dragged from their vehicle, beaten and shot dead. The scene was recorded by TV cameras.
March 20, 1993: Two boys, ages 3 and 12 are killed, and another 50-some people were injured, during an IRA bombing at a shopping area in Warrington, England where bombs were placed in trash cans. The attack drew global outrage and calls for peace.
Aug. 31, 1994: After months of secret talks, and 25 years of bombings and shootings, the IRA announces an historic ceasefire with “a complete cessation of military operations.”
Feb. 9, 1996: The IRA ends the ceasefire when it bombs the Dockland’s area of London, killing two and injuring more than 100 people and causing an estimated £150 million worth of damage.
The Good Friday Agreement
Sept. 15, 1997: For the first time since Ireland’s 1922 split, Britain meets with Sinn Fein to negotiate in formal peace talks.
April 10, 1998: The Good Friday Agreement, also known as the Belfast Agreement, is signed, with the referendum passing May 23 following a vote in both the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland. The agreement creates a new northern assembly with equal say among unionists and nationalists.
Aug. 15, 1998: An IRA splinter group called Real IRA, carries out the deadliest paramilitary attack in Northern Ireland during a car bombing in Omagh in Northern Ireland, leaving 29 dead and more than 200 wounded.
Oct. 16, 1998: In recognition of the Good Friday Agreement, John Hume, the Catholic leader of the moderate Social Democratic and Labour Party and Northern Ireland civil rights activist, and David Trimble, leader of Northern Ireland’s Protestant Ulster Unionist Party, re awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
July 28, 2005: The IRA formally announces an end to its 36-year armed campaign. "All IRA units have been ordered to dump arms,” the group says in a statement. “All volunteers have been instructed to assist the development of purely political and democratic programs through exclusively peaceful means. Volunteers must not engage in any other activities whatsoever."
The IRA and Sinn Fein, “Frontline,” PBS
The IRA from Conflict to Ceasefire, BBC
Provisional Irish Republican Army, Council on Foreign Relations
Bloody Sunday: What happened in Northern Ireland in 1972 and what is the Saville Inquiry?, Evening Standard