The article below was published in Pinnable’s newsletter in . The exhibition Northern Ireland: Living with the Troubles ended on 7 January 2024.

Imperial War Museum

Northern Ireland: Living with the Troubles

The United Kingdom came into existence in 1801, after the British & Irish parliaments decided to unite the two kingdoms, which had been headed by the same monarch since Henry VIII, and to make London the seat of government. In the 1870s, Irish nationalists started to press for home rule, and after the 1916 Easter Rising, for independence. In 1922, after the Anglo-Irish War (1919–21), Ireland became a self-governing Dominion of the Commonwealth, but six north-eastern counties opted out and remained within the UK. In 1931 Ireland was granted full independence, and after the country became a republic in 1949, the British unfriended the Irish from the Commonwealth. Northern Ireland continued to be an issue: loyalists wanted to maintain the status quo, while republicans wanted Northern Ireland to leave the UK & join a united Ireland, and in the late 1960s, a low-intensity civil war euphemistically known as The Troubles started, in which more than 3,500 people were killed. In 1998, by which time the conflict had reached a stalemate and everybody had had enough of all the violence, a peace agreement was signed, yet many aspects of the Troubles remain unresolved to this day and are highly contested by those who experienced & participated in the conflict.

Fence dividing republican & loyalist areas of Belfast (1972)
Fence dividing republican & loyalist areas of Belfast (1972)

On until 7 January 2024, the exhibition Northern Ireland: Living with the Troubles at the Imperial War Museum in London unpacks this complex chapter of history through the multiple perspectives of people who lived through the period, from republican & loyalist paramilitaries to British soldiers, local police & ordinary civilians. While there are key events & defining moments that make up the history of the Troubles, there seems to be no single story that everyone involved agrees on. Rather than offer a narrative history of the conflict, this compact exhibition provides just a snapshot, introducing four themes to explore the events, communities and paramilitary factions that underpin this difficult & complex 30-year period: the Battle of St Matthew’s, a gun battle in Belfast between the IRA and loyalist groups on the night of 27–28 June 1970; the heightened violence of the 1970s & 1980s; the everyday experience of those affected by the Troubles; and the legacy of the conflict within Northern Ireland today. This exhibition at the IWM only scratches the surface, but it nevertheless allows visitors to better understand what happened, why it happened, and why the Troubles still cast a long shadow over many aspects of present-day life in Northern Ireland.

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It is often thought that the Troubles was a religious conflict, but this is not the case. It is true that most loyalists are Protestants and that most republicans are Catholics, but their conflict was about whether the Union Jack or the Irish tricolour should wave over Northern Ireland. The Protestants are the descendants of the British planters who colonized the northern counties during the Plantation of Ulster in the early 17th century in order to anglicize the province. They therefore typically have stronger ties to the British Crown than to the Republic of Ireland, which traditionally is a Catholic nation.


A four-part IWM video series examines the entire history of the Troubles, from the causes of the conflict to the long & difficult peace negotiations. The first episode takes an in-depth look at the origin of the conflict. The second episode explores the deadliest decade of the Troubles, while the third episode looks at what it was like to live through this conflict, and — just as the situation seemed impossible — how the two sides finally came together for negotiations. The final episode explains the timeline of events that led to the Good Friday Agreement, how the deal worked and why Northern Ireland’s peace remains fragile to this day.


Listed as one of the ten best books of 2019 by The New York Times, Patrick Radden Keefe’s book Say Nothing investigates the 1972 murder by the IRA of Jean McConville, a widowed mother of ten suspected of being a British informant. Keefe uses this murder to tell the history of the Troubles, transforming the tragic damage & waste of the era into a searing, utterly gripping saga.