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Bombs & Borders: Celtic Fringe Nationalism's Embrace of Extreme Sectarian Violence and Mass Civil Unrest, 1960-1980

Research presentation

The Centre for Modern British Studies

On an April afternoon in 1966, uniformed men could be seen marching down the streets of Dublin in a parade coordinated by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) to commemorate the fallen heroes of the 1916 Easter Rising. For Irish republicans, the method of honouring their predecessors took the form of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the most notorious nationalists in the Northern Hemisphere. Banners waving and flags flying, representatives from burgeoning paramilitary outfits in Wales, Scotland, Brittany, Flanders, Cornwall, and Quebec, joined Irish republicans to fill Dublin’s streets in perhaps the most diverse display of
violent separatists to take place in Cold War Europe. The event sought to demonstrate, unequivocally, to the British public that radical republicanism was not a thing of the past. It was, instead, a show of force, a warning that campaigns for independence had returned to Britain.

This paper explores how the Irish and Welsh violent nationalists—organised in radical groups such as the Irish Republican Army, the Free Wales Army, and Mudiad Amddiffyn Cymru—employed protest campaigns and violent acts alike to advertise and actualise their independence agendas between 1960 and 1980. Reconstructing both their crime scenes and a series of peaceful protests like that executed in Dublin through the words and records of both radical nationalists and government officials across this period, this paper demonstrates the multi-faceted nationalist campaigns being conducted across Britain in the post-war era. It also considers how decolonisation, globalisation, mass immigration, and the spectre of the May 1968 protests in continental Europe were phenomena incorporated into the rhetoric and tactics of these groups. Through close readings of the archives and personal effects of separatists, the nationalist violence of the 1960s and 1970s are shown to be something unique to Britain in this period, and something that literally altered the very nature of life in Britain for two decades.