East Ulster and the Irish revolution, 1920-22

  • Christopher Magill

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis examines the impact of the Irish revolution on the communities of east Ulster between the years 1920 and 1922. It focuses on the mainly Protestant counties of Antrim and Down where loyalist violence was more intense and frequent than that of republicans. The aim is to explore the nature of loyalist violence and its relationship with the wider conflict in Ireland. Historians have focused their efforts on republican and state violence. By utilising hitherto unused sources, this thesis sheds light on the factors that shaped loyalist violence. It explores the importance of how events in southern Ireland influenced conflict in the north-east. Other factors are considered, such as the role of crowd psychology and territoriality. Loyalist rioters believed they acted on behalf of the unionist community, but the attitudes of ordinary unionists to violence were wide-ranging. This thesis explores these attitudes alongside the dynamics of popular unionist politics. It discovers that the unionist community harboured a diverse range of views on violence, the Unionist party leadership, nationalists and the British government. Many unionists took an active part in the revolution, most clearly by enrolling in the Ulster Special Constabulary. Questions are asked of this force, such as who joined and why. It is argued that ordinary people enrolled and in terms of occupational background the B Specials largely reflected east Ulster society. The assumption that the u.s.c. was recruited from more extreme unionists is challenged and structural explanations are offered for acts of unauthorised violence from special constables. The place of the nationalist community within the context of revolution and unionist militancy receives detailed attention. Nationalists were deeply divided between Sinn Fein and constitutionalists. This thesis offers insight on how this division manifested itself in east Ulster and how nationalists reacted to the revolution.
Date of AwardJul 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorFearghal McGarry (Supervisor)

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