Date of Award

Spring 1989

Document Type



Political Science & International Relations

First Advisor

Dennis Wiedmann

Second Advisor

Harry Smith

Third Advisor

Jeff Baker


Tell me why, oh why, Billy Reid had to die, But he died with a gun in his hand. Tell me why, oh why Billy Reid had to die, He died to free Ireland. Twas in the town of Belfast All in the month of May Three youthful Irish soldiers Set out upon their way A mission to accomplish Ireland's freedom, which we need, And the leader of that gallant band was Lieutenant Billy Reid. But the bullet caught our Billy, His life it took away, and there on a street in Belfast An Irish martyr lay.1 This song, by gilding violent death with a layer of sentimentality, typifies the Irish acquiescence to violence. The ugliness of the brutal death is obfuscated by the sentimentality of the martyr. In the name of Irish freedom no sacrifice is too much, no amount of death is too great. Instead, the myth of the Irish martyr, trying to end the scourge of British imperialism is carried on, generation after generation, through song and legend. But behind the mirth and song, a cancerous tumor grows, promising to wreak havoc throughout the land. A vicious cycle of terror has emerged in which violence feeds upon violence. Prejudice and malice among Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland has created a situation in which violence, division, and destruction are the norm. After nearly two decades of violence, the Irish have become a shattered people. By 1986, over 2700 men, women and children had become the fatal victims of sectarian violence. 2 Of these 2700 deaths 1845 were civilians. 3 In other words, almost seventy per cent of the casualties have been innocent bystanders, with little or no means of defense. From a population of 1.5 million the death toll in Northern Ireland would be the equivalent to the loss of 350,000 American lives. 4 By 1980 alone there had been at least 26,516 separate shooting incidents and 6309 explosions. 5 This violence has permeated all aspects of life. Thousands are suffering from psychological stress because of the fear and tension generated by murder, bombing, and intimidation. 6 Perhaps the division and violence in Northern Ireland is most apparent in Belfast, where old men in shops frisk patrons for incendiary devises and where army patrols fan the streets, suspicious of everyone. 7 The Irish people have fallen victim to the belief that violence will bring an end to their woes, that from behind the barrel of a gun, peace will emerge. Although peace by force may bring a temporary peace, in a land as divisive as Northern Ireland, the violence can only be quelled by a political process of cooperation. As long as the deep antagonisms between the Protestants and the Catholics remain, enduring peace will elude the Irish. Unfortunately, Northern Ireland's tarnished history has relied upon forceful methods to impose peace. The result has been that the cycle of violence continues unabated. Northern Ireland has become a deadly battlefield where soldiers, terrorists, and citizens continue the senseless fight with little hope to an end to the suffering. There seems to be no reason to doubt the words of Barry White, deputy editor of the Belfast Telegraph: "Northern Ireland's Protestant Unionists and Roman Catholic nationalists have never been further apart."