We have been covering the design and development of a multi-faction treatment of the Northern Ireland Conflict called The Troubles: Shadow War in Northern Ireland 1964-1998 for nearly 2 years now as we have hosted a few different items from designer Hugh O’Donnell on the blog including a 3-part series of introductory posts explain the game and its historical background. We have also hosted several Event Card Spoilers showing some of the many cards continued in the game. The game is an asymmetric treatment where multiple factions work toward victory in a simulation of events, both historical and political, that promulgated this 30 years struggle.

Here are links to those three posts:

Part 1 – Uncomfortable questions about a game on this subject

Part 2 – Look at the map and the process behind it’s creation and genesis of events

Part 3 – Design progress to date and what “victory” looks like?

The designer has worked hard to make this a learning experience where players will attempt to understand the motivations behind the various actors in the drama and how they each go about reaching their stated goals. While this is a game, it is more than that and should be viewed as a teaching tool that will help us all better understand the why’s and wherefore’s involved. In this new series of posts, Hugh will go into each of the playable factions and their role in the struggle.


The Irish Republican Army (IRA)

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) formation predates the actual start of The Troubles, as it was originally raised in 1917 from members of the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army, and was later reinforced by Irishmen (formerly having served in the British Army during World War I) who returned to Ireland to fight against Britain in the Irish War of Independence. But it was its Provisional identity, created in 1969, that made it one of the most infamous paramilitary groups known internationally.

The IRA’s primary objective was to remove British Rule in Northern Ireland, and thus it was intent on targeting British Forces and anyone who assisted them operationally or ideologically: thus the RUC would suffer many casualties. It also targeted Loyalist paramilitaries who attacked Nationalist communities, and latterly for their suspected collusion with the Northern Irish and British Security Forces. It also engaged in striking at economic targets in order to create general terror and fear – as did the Loyalist Paramiltaries, which most notably targeted several utilities installations in the mid-1960’s in reaction to the O’Neill’s Unionist Government policies.

The IRA are aided by sympathetic individuals and organisations in the U.S., as well as the Libyan Government, whose leader Muammar Gaddafi sought revenge on the British Government for helping the Reagan Administration bomb Tripoli in 1986.

Not until 1981 would the IRA realise that an armed campaign was not achieving their aims, and that the strategy of ‘Armalite and Ballot Box’ was needed: elections had to be contested by Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA, who had until then deemed both Westminster and Stormont illegitimate and therefore abstained from fielding parliamentary candidates.

The Loyalists (LOY)

The Loyalists were pledged to the Unionist principle of being recognised as being British citizens first, and not Irish. Unlike their fellow UNI Faction, the LOY are committed to maintaining British sovereignty through armed struggle, targeting its direct enemies – including the IRA and NAT Factions – but are willing to destroy their own Unionist Government who is suspected of facilitating Home Rule through appeasement and Power-Sharing.

There were more intra-factions within the umbrella term of the Loyalist Paramilitaries – more so than the IRA. They were long-suspected of colluding with the RUC and British Forces in the killing of suspected IRA members and those associated with the Republican cause.

The Loyalist Paramilitaries were the last to come to the table for peace negotiations in the mid-1990’s, but come they did. Thankfully.

“For God and Ulster” is a slogan synonymous with Protestant and unionist opposition to the demands of Irish nationalists and republicans. It was the motto of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), formed at the height of unionist opposition to Home Rule in 1912–1914. This paramilitary force was partly subsumed within the British Army as the 36th (Ulster) Division, who were decimated on the first day of the Battle of the Somme in July 1916. “For God and Ulster” implies divine favor, a special relationship between God and Ulster Protestants, and a loyalty to Britain sealed in blood on the battlefields of Europe. Loyalist paramilitaries re-appropriated the motto and the title UVF in the 1960’s, but for the past forty years, the person most associated with this set of themes is Ian Paisley, firebrand fundamentalist, militant anti-Catholic, and political leader of remarkable longevity and clarity of purpose.

If you missed the first two entries in this series that focused on the Unionists and The Nationalists, you can catch up here:

Part I – The Unionists

Part II – The Nationalist Parties

Thanks for this great insight into the Paramilitary Factions and their motivations and role in the greater conflict. Hugh will be working on similar style articles on the other factions in the game over the next few weeks in a run up to the Kickstarter campaign launch soon but more on that later.