Physical force Irish republicanism

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Physical-force Irish republicanism is the recurring appearance of a non-parliamentary violent insurrection in Ireland between 1798 and the present day.[1] It is often described as a rival to parliamentary nationalism which for most of the period drew more support from Irish nationalists.

The most prominent physical force rebellions and campaigns were:


The 1916 Easter Rising was launched by the IRB, the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army. It had a dramatic impact in achieving Irish independence: Arthur Griffith continued his "doctrinaire commitment" to terror bombings as IRB policy.[3] Though support for the insurgents was small, the execution of fifteen people by firing squad, the imprisonment or internment of hundreds more, and the imposition of martial law caused a profound shift in public opinion towards the republican cause in Ireland.[4] It allowed the surviving rising leader Éamon de Valera to win a majority for the anti-occupation Sinn Féin party in the 1918 general election, which became the defining moment of the physical force doctrine.[5]

While the "Official" republican movement wanted to move away from traditional physical force republicanism and towards Marxist political activism,[6] the "Provisionals", reacting to the outbreak of communal violence in Northern Ireland known as the Troubles, wanted to first defend the Catholic population of the North from attack and then launch an armed offensive against British rule there. The PIRA proceeded to do this from 1969 until 1997 (see Provisional IRA campaign 1969–1997), when it called a ceasefire. The PIRA is responsible for roughly 1,800 deaths in the "Troubles". Its political wing, Sinn Féin entered negotiations towards a political settlement in Northern Ireland.

In 2005, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams called on the Provisional IRA to move from physical force activity to exclusively democratic means.[7] Three months later the IRA Army Council announced an end to the IRA's armed campaign, stating that it would work to achieve its aims using "purely political and democratic programmes through exclusively peaceful means" and that IRA "Volunteers must not engage in any other activities whatsoever."[8]


During the Troubles, Sinn Féin presented republican political violence as a "force of nature" caused by British rule in Ireland, which would continue until the reunification of Ireland.[9][10] This idea is encapsulated by Patrick Pearse's axiom, "Ireland unfree shall never be at peace".[11]


  1. ^ a b c The Provisional IRA by Eamonn Mallie and Patrick Bishop (ISBN 0-552-13337-X), p. 20
  2. ^ Northern Ireland (Hot Spots in Global Politics series) by Jonathan Tonge (ISBN 978-0745631417), page 39
  3. ^ Charles Townshend, The Republic: The Fight For Irish Independence, p. 53.
  4. ^ Marie Coleman, The Republican Revolution, 1916-1923, Routledge, 2013, chapter 2 "The Easter Rising", pp. 26–28. ISBN 140827910X
  5. ^ Charles Townshend, The Republic: The Fight for Irish Independence (London 2014), p. 55.
  6. ^ Mallie and Bishop, pp. 52–54
  7. ^ "Adams calls on IRA to end armed struggle". The Times
  8. ^ "Full text: IRA statement". The Guardian. 28 July 2005. Archived from the original on 23 September 2021. Retrieved 17 March 2007.
  9. ^ O'Doherty, Malachi (1998). "8: The Trouble with Guns". The Trouble with Guns: Republican Strategy and the Provisional IRA. Belfast: Blackstaff Press. ISBN 0-85640-605-8. Archived from the original on 22 July 2019. Retrieved 17 December 2019.
  10. ^ Grant, P. (2001). Rhetoric and Violence in Northern Ireland, 1968–98: Hardened to Death. Springer. p. 20. ISBN 978-0-230-59695-5.
  11. ^ Breen-Smyth, Marie (2016). The Ashgate Research Companion to Political Violence. Routledge. p. 171. ISBN 978-1-317-04210-5.