A summary of Ireland during the 20th century

Masked men representing the UVF and The IRA in conflict, a British soldier and a map of Ireland with Northern Ireland highlighted.

Ireland in 1900

Ireland was part of the British Empire, the Union Flag (the national flag of the United Kingdom) flew over all public buildings and Queen Victoria was Head of State. The Chief Secretary (a senior member of the Government) was responsible for the day-to-day running of the country. A Viceroy represented the crown.

Nationalists and Unionists

Some Irish people wanted to separate from the United Kingdom. They were known as Nationalists and were mainly Catholic. They believed that Ireland should:

  • have its own Parliament
  • elect its own leaders
  • make its own laws

Not all Nationalists were so keen to cut ties with Britain. Constitutional Nationalists wanted a separate Parliament, but would accept a British monarch as Head of State and allow Britain to look after Ireland’s defence. They supported a political party named The Home Rule League (or Home Rule Party). However, some believed this independence could only be done by force and violence. They formed a group known as the Irish Republican Brotherhood or I.R.B. Membership of this group was secret.

Other Irish people believed that they should remain with the United Kingdom. They were known as Unionists and they:

  • were mostly Protestant
  • mainly lived in the North-East of Ireland

As loyal subjects of the crown, they feared becoming a minority in an independent Ireland. They also feared the collapse of their shipbuilding and linen industries that relied upon access to the markets of Great Britain and the Empire.

Home Rule

In the 1870s, many British politicians believed that Ireland was ready for a greater say in its own affairs. British Prime Ministers, such as William Gladstone, came to support ‘Home Rule’, and the government attempted to pass laws to give Ireland a bigger say in its own day-to-day politics.