The Irish Republican Army (IRA): A Troubled History

Mural of The Troubles, Belfast, United Kingdom. (Getty Images)

The history of the IRA, or Irish Republican Army, is long and complicated, filled with religious tensions, political uprisings, and lots of mayhem. So who exactly are the IRA, what do they believe, and what do they want? It's a bit of a tricky answer because there have not been one but several IRAs throughout Ireland's history, but the Irish Republican Armies have all wanted, in some form or another, the political and religious independence of the island of Ireland from any foreign nation, namely Great Britain.

To understand why this is important, we have to go all the way back to the 1160s, with the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland. Before this, the Irish isle was not ruled by any singular government, existing as a collection of various smaller kingdoms under the vague authority of the High King. When the Normans invaded, however, they claimed the whole island and brought it under English control. As one might imagine, the Irish didn't like this much, and there has been bloody conflict pretty much ever since. The native Irish people even nearly won back control of the island in the 1500s, but King Henry VIII pushed back hard and declared himself both King of England and Ireland.