What Is the Catholic and Protestant Conflict in Ireland?

As Christians, it is important that we educate ourselves on the past. This brutal piece of history demonstrates the need for unity and love for one another. The Protestant loyalists persecuted and discriminated against the Catholic nationalists for decades.

Contributing Writer
Apr 26, 2022
What Is the Catholic and Protestant Conflict in Ireland?

The Catholic and Protestant conflict in Ireland is known as “the Troubles.” The Troubles occurred from 1968 to 1998. During the Troubles, great conflict, violence, and riots infiltrated Ireland.

The Troubles were precipitated by years upon years of friction between Catholics and Protestants. The effects of the Troubles are still seen today, with strife still being felt between Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants in the modern day.

The Start of the Troubles in Ireland

Long before the Troubles erupted in the late 1960s, there was friction between the Catholics and the Protestants. The Irish people were known to be Catholics, whereas the British were known to be Protestant.

The Catholics of Ireland wanted to be free from British rule; therefore, they fought for their freedom in 1921, in which Ireland reigned victorious over Great Britain. After the Irish had succeeded, Ireland was separated into two countries — the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland.

The Irish Free State was majorly Catholic, and Northern Ireland was majorly Protestant with a small number of Catholics. In other words, the Irish Free State was completely free, yet Northern Ireland was still under British rule and dictatorship.

Catholic cities within Northern Ireland, such as Belfast, started noticing and reporting the biased treatment being enforced by the British Protestant government (Ibid.).

Over the course of time, more friction erupted between the Catholics and the Protestants, who were given their own unique names for their beliefs. 

The Catholics were known as the “nationalists,” whereas the Protestants were known as the “loyalists.” It was common knowledge that the nationalists were against the loyalists and vice versa. The loyalists were known to treat the nationalists very harshly and brutally.

Stressful Times in Ireland

During the 1960s, many Catholic nationalists looked to the 1960 Civil Rights Movement of America as inspiration.

The Catholic nationalists were holding bitterness against the Protestant-led government because one of the largest employers was the shipyard in Belfast, which had 95% of its employees as Protestant loyalists (Ibid.).

The Catholic nationalists felt they were being cheated and discriminated against because of who they were not only in their careers but also in housing and daily life.

Due to the discrimination in their daily life, many young Catholic nationalists chose to take a stand and make a difference, just as African Americans did during the Civil Rights Movement in America.

These young Catholic nationalists planned marches and protests to bring awareness to the discrimination being imposed upon Catholic nationalists.

There was a protest march planned on October 5, 1968, on Duke Street in Derry; however, the Northern Ireland Protestant government banned the Catholic nationalists from doing this march.

Despite this march being banned by the Northern Ireland Protestant government, the Catholic nationalists chose to go on with their protest and march. Those gathered had signs that read, “Smash sectarianism!” (Ibid.).

The Northern Ireland Protestant government issued the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) to attend the march, in which the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) hit, beat, and hurt those who were marching in the protest.

Bloody footage has been caught of this terrible event in history. The Catholic nationalists were only peaceful in their protests, but the Protestant loyalists were far from kind back to them.

Many more peaceful protests were completed by the Catholic nationalists, including the March on Selma in 1969.

During this march, the Catholic nationalists were peaceful yet again; however, a group of loyalists pushed down rocks to fall upon the Catholic nationalist protesters (Ibid.).

There were about 300 loyalists at the Burntollet Bridge who beat, bruised and injured the protesters during this march.

The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) was on standby, but they did not lift a finger to help the Catholic nationalist protesters. The Battle of Bogside was another major turning point in the time of the Troubles.

During the Battle of Bogside, groups of loyalists were helped and assisted by the Ulster Special Constabulary (B-Specials), who destroyed Catholic homes and burned about 1,500 homes (Ibid.).

After this tragic event, the prime minister of Northern Ireland requested help from the British government. Catholic nationalists continued to march and protest even though they kept being put down and brutally treated.

In 1972, Catholic nationalists started a march to protest the British internment policy, yet the Northern Ireland government and military shut the march down.

Despite the military personnel shutting the protesters down, they continued to protest, which resulted in firing bullets, 13 protesters were killed, and 17 were brutally wounded (Ibid.).

This event came to be known as “Bloody Sunday.” Despite this bloody event in Ireland’s history, the Troubles continued on. Throughout the late 1960s to the late 90s, many more gruesome attacks were made on Catholic nationalist protesters.

Car bombings, attacks on civilians, and deaths in protests marked the country of Ireland through sectarian attacks aimed at Catholic nationalists.

The ending of the Catholic and Protestant conflict in Ireland ended in 1998 with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement between both sides of the conflict in order to end the decades of bloody violence (Ibid.).

Peace in Christ

As Christians, it is important that we educate ourselves on the past. This brutal piece of history demonstrates to us the need for unity and love for one another. The Protestant loyalists persecuted and discriminated against the Catholic nationalists for decades.

The Bible tells us we need to have unity among ourselves (Ephesians 4:3-6). We should not bite, snap, and destroy one another. Instead, we should settle disagreements correctly and peacefully.

The Catholic nationalists consistently marched in peaceful protests, yet the Protestant loyalists chose to use hate, anger, and weapons against them. This was a horrible event that occurred in history that still affects Ireland today.

Even though the Catholic and Protestant conflict ended 24-years-ago, it does not mean it is easily forgotten. There is still friction between Northern Ireland and the rest of Ireland.

We cannot be dogmatic in the sense of declaring Ireland will one day be joined together again; however, we do have the promise of unity between believers.

In our everyday lives, we need to stand up for those who are being discriminated against. Since we live in a sinful world, many people discriminate against others out of hate.

Proverbs 31:8-9 tells us, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

It is up to us whether or not we will obey. God wants us to help others and speak up for them. Just as the nationalists stood up for themselves, we, too, should stand up for the cause of others. We need to never be on the side of hurting, harming, and discriminating against others.

A life lived in service to God has no place for anger, bitterness, or discrimination. The Catholic and Protestant conflict was a major event in history, which we must know, understand, and teach others.

When discrimination is in the picture, there will only be the shedding of innocent blood and a lifetime of regret.

For further reading:

What Was the Protestant Reformation?

What Is Catholicism?

What Can We Learn from the Life of St. Patrick?

What Is the Celtic Cross? Its Origin and Meaning

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Piero Facci

Vivian Bricker loves Jesus, studying the Word of God, and helping others in their walk with Christ. She has earned a Bachelor of Arts and Master's degree in Christian Ministry with a deep academic emphasis in theology. Her favorite things to do are spending time with her family and friends, reading, and spending time outside. When she is not writing, she is embarking on other adventures.


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