How Did Northern Ireland Split From Ireland?

Northern Ireland History Explained

Northern Ireland History is a set of claims, counter claims and is without doubt one of the most misunderstood pieces of current Modern History.  Northern Ireland split from Ireland in 1921. The beauty of doing a history of Northern Ireland is that it is all very recent  Northern Ireland as a country was formed in 1921 so less than one hundred years old.  Most people will be more familiar with "The Troubles", which is very well documented and has been written about by thousands of people.

I have however found that in general it has either not been read properly or people choose to interpret it a certain way to support the values they wish to claim as being true.  In this more detailed section about Northern Ireland History, I am going to explain and detail the actual facts.  They have all been documented in many sources and recorded in many places as I have found when doing my research.  I spent a lot of time online, in libraries and watching countless documentaries and finally decided that I would put this information up on a website so as those interested could actually read the full history of Northern Ireland.  I am not an Historian, just a member of the Northern Ireland public trying to make sense out of what happens in the country in which I live.

Let's begin the history by looking at the events leading up to the formation of Northern Ireland.  If you haven't already read the history of Ireland, then I would suggest doing that first, as it really will help you understand how Northern Ireland came into being.  You can do that by clicking here.

Northern Ireland Splitting From Ireland
Northern Ireland is shown in Red

Brief Background to Northern Ireland History

As a very quick refresh during the 17th century English and Scottish Protestants colonised land that was owned by the Catholic Old English and Irish natives.  This was known as the Plantation.  Then around the late 18th Century, political division took place between the nationalists who wanted self-government for Ireland and unionists who wished Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom.  (Remember in 1801 that Ireland had been absorbed into what was known as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland)

In 1886 and in 1893 two Home Rule Bills had been defeated and Home Rule did not return as an issue until 1910.  The principle reason for this was that in the British General election in 1910, the Liberal Party relied on the support of John Redmond's Irish Party to maintain his government by securing a majority in the House of Commons.  

Then it became obvious that there was a difference in the thinking between nationalists who believed that Ireland should be a discrete national identity and unionists, particularly those in Ulster, who were violently opposed to any form of Home Rule.

In Ulster the Irish Party was led by Joe Devlin, a working class man who was born in West Belfast.  The Irish Unionist Party which was led by Sir Edward Carson, who was born in Dublin, educated at Trinity College and was a member of the Church of Ireland.   Carson worked closely with a Presbyterian man called James Craig to oppose any attempt at Home Rule.  They were both members of the Orange Order. 

Unionists were opposed to Home Rule as they saw it as a threat to their sense of being British and that was of vital importance to them.  They were also wary of the interference of the Catholic Church and especially about the role of the priest within the church.  Presbyterians saw the role of the Catholic priest as a block from the right of ordinary people to be able to speak directly to God and learn his teachings.  For unionists at that time it was the unit of the British Isles, and not Ireland, that constituted their political nation.  Clearly the divide in thinking was not only vast, but they were in direct opposition to each other.  In truth that has not changed even today.

In 1911, Ulster Unionists formed themselves into an army known as the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and had an approximate membership of just over 100,000.  The scene was now set for any attempt at imposing Home Rule to be fought against by the Ulster Unionists and the UVF. 

First World War In Ireland

However the First World War arrived and interrupted the domestic politics of the British Isles at this important time.  Also in the same year of 1916 the Easter Rising, and more importantly the reaction to the execution of some of its leaders, had changed the mood of the nationalist people.  That along with the belief that the Home Rule Act, which had been postponed during the war, would not now be implemented meant that in 1918, the Irish Party was swept away by Sinn Fein, who now adopted the policy of an Irish Republic.  The Irish Republic had adopted a policy of neutrality during the war.  For the Unionists this reaction to the war confirmed their worst fears about national disloyalty which was in complete contrast to their loyalty, with particular regard to the slaughter of the 36th (Ulster Division) at the Battle of the Somme.  Many Irish men did in fact fight in the Great War which was against the policy of the Irish government and this is a fact regularly forgotten.
The British Government tried to settle the Irish problem by producing a fourth Home Rule Bill.  They set up a committee under a man called Walter Long to produce a new scheme of self-government for Ireland.  Long quickly discovered that Unionists would only accept Home Rule if the country were partitioned, and in particular the six counties of Ulster would remain within the UK.  These had been identified as Antrim, Armagh, Derry, Down Fermanagh and Tyrone.

Although the province of Ulster contained nine counties, the Unionists were more interested in having just the six mentioned above.  Captain Charles Craig explained the reasons for that was that if there were nine counties with 64 MPs, then the unionist majority would be a small one, perhaps only 3 or 4.  However if it were six counties then it would be a more substantial majority of around ten.  The difference was that the other three counties of Ulster, Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan had around 260,000 nationalists and only 70,000 unionists.

Northern Ireland Splits With Ireland

In 1918 with Sinn Fein winning 73 seats compared with only 7 for the Irish Party, Sinn Fein refused to take their seats in London and instead went to Dublin and issued a Declaration of Independence and an Irish Republic in 1919.  With Sinn Fein absent in Dublin and the voice of the Irish Party negligible, the provisions of the Government of Ireland Bill were essentially left to the Unionists and it became law on the 23rd December 1920.  This created two new jurisdictions with their own parliaments.
  • Northern Ireland: Consisting of Antrim, Armagh, Down, Londonderry, Fermanagh and Tyrone.
  • Southern Ireland: Consisting of the remaining 26 counties
The Northern Ireland Parliament would consist of two chambers, a 52 member House of Commons, elected through a voting system known as proportional representation and a Senate of 26 members, 24 who would be elected through the House of Commons and two other seats, the Lord Mayors of Belfast and Londonderry.  The Act also stated that the Parliament of the United Kingdom would have supreme authority over all matters.  The King would be represented by a Lord Lieutenant who had executive powers and Northern Ireland would also be represented in the United Kingdom government by 13 elected MPS.  The Northern Ireland Parliament would have general powers for good governance but they would not have fiscal powers as London retained the rights to raise taxes.