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Tracing The Century Old History…

Like India, Independence and Partition had come at the same time in Northern Ireland. British-occupied Ireland was separated from Britain first, and then became a separate part of Britain. Northern Ireland was formed on May 3, 1921 with the formal partition of the Island of Ireland. In fact, the Government of Ireland Act came into effect on that day and partitioned the island into two entities following the Irish War of Independence. In the first week of May, Northern Ireland reportedly started year-long Centenary Celebrations of its emergence as a separate part.

Much like the day when Northern Ireland was founded 100 years ago, there was no huge celebration or grand ceremonies this year. Very few people, who were alive to witness the birthdate of Northern Ireland, were aware of the fact that it was a particularly significant day. The Irish Nationalists, who were predominantly Catholics, wanted an end to the British Rule. On the other hand, the Conservatives were mainly Protestants, who wanted to stay in Britain. Hence, a dispute was always there on the island. The Nationalists had been campaigning for a Home Rule for decades. Finally, Britain had decided to divide the nation, and set up a three-member panel to draw Ireland’s new border.

The Irish Free State was formed with 26 counties on the Island in 1922. Ireland was born 15 years later. Northern Ireland, consisting of six counties in the north-east, became part of Britain, alongside England, Scotland and Wales, while the Republic of Ireland, which covers five-sixths of the island, emerged as an Independent Nation. As a whole, Ireland is the second-largest island of the British Isles, the third-largest in Europe, and the 20th-largest on the planet Earth. This Partition has cast a shadow over the history of both, and also over the history of Greater Britain. Northern Ireland was in turmoil until the 1990s. It may be noted that the Irish Republican Army (of Northern Ireland) had assassinated Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India, on August 27, 1979.

Meanwhile, Queen Elizabeth II said that Northern Ireland’s centenary was a reminder of its “complex history”, and also provided “an opportunity to reflect on our togetherness and our diversity”. In a statement, she stressed: “It is clear that reconciliation, equality and mutual understanding cannot be taken for granted, and will require sustained fortitude and commitment.” The Queen added: “Across generations, the people of Northern Ireland are choosing to build an inclusive, prosperous, and hopeful society, strengthened by the gains of the peace process. May this be our guiding thread in the coming years.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson described the centenary as a “very significant” anniversary, stressing the importance of reflecting on the “complex history” of the past 100 years. “People from all parts of Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom and across the globe, will approach this anniversary in different ways, with differing perspectives,” he said in a separate statement.

Since its creation in 1921, Northern Ireland has been troubled by a rift between those, who want the province to remain part of the UK, and others, who wish to see Ireland reunified, with Northern Ireland becoming a part of the Republic of Ireland. That split triggered decades of sectarian violence between mostly Catholic Nationalists, pushing for a United Ireland, and pro-UK Protestant Unionists, or Loyalists. The 1998 Good Friday peace agreement ended the fighting. However, more than 3,600 people were killed in the conflict, popularly known as The Troubles, which also involved the British Armed Forces.

The 1998 Peace Pact halted violence, leading to formalised power-sharing arrangements between the Unionists and the Nationalists. Unfortunately, the two sides often fail to agree on how to govern. Hence, there have been sporadic outbreaks of violence on the island.

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