The strength of the IRA 1963-1969

diy01

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It's been awhile since I read J. Bowyer Bell's book 'The Secret Army: The IRA 1916-1979' which covers the period in question.

What sort of state was the IRA in when violence erupted in the North in August 1969? Was it mostly filled with diehard veterans from the 30s, 40s and 50s like Joe Cahill, Seán Keenan, Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and John Joe McGirl etc? Had its numbers increased as a result of the clashes in 1968 and January of 69 (Burntollet)?

I seem to recall reading somewhere that the IRA had a total of about 50 active volunteers in all of Belfast in '69. Could comparisons be drawn between the Continuity IRA of today and the Irish Republican Army in 1968 or 69? Speaking strictly in terms of numerical strength and influence (or irrelevance) here...
 


Sam Lord

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IRA numerical strength increased substantially throughout the '60s according to various sources. Richard English puts the number of volunteers in 1966 at 1,000 compared to some 600 in 1962. Substantial growth was apparently achieved in Belfast.

By 1972, according to Ed Maloney volunteer numbers had risen to between 1,500 and 2,000. This was probably the high point. After that numbers dramatically decreased or were deliberately decreased. Maloney wrote in 1980 that:

"A joint RUC/British Army assessment last winter put the IRA's strength throughout the North of Ireland at around the 300 mark with perhaps as many as 3,000 active sympathisers providing safe houses , transport etc ."
 

Lao-Tse

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I wonder how the Official/Provo split would have affected the IRA at the
end of this period?
 

PetevonPete

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expect much to be answered in this new book, is meant to cover OIRA from 56 onwards

The Lost Revolution: The Story of the Official IRA and the Workers' Party (Paperback)
by Brian Hanley (Author), Scott Millar (Author)

Is up on amazon now but not out to autumn
 
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Garibaldy

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Joe Cahill was not in the IRA for most of this period.

The IRA at the time was growing, but it was also changing, taking on a more political focus, though training with weapons etc did continue. People were being directed primarily towards joining Sinn Féin and getting involved in social and economic agitations, such as the Housing Action Committees, the fish-ins etc. We can overestimate the growth though. An internal report a few years before 1969 said that in many places the movement didn't exist.
 

inchicore_republican

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The IRA at that time were few in number, had very few guns and had mostly given up the idea of armed actions. In 1969 when Nationalists areas were under attack from Loyalists groups like the UVF, RUC and B Specials Nationalists spat at the IRA and painted IRA I Ran Away on walls because they had no protection.
 

Catalpa

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It's been awhile since I read J. Bowyer Bell's book 'The Secret Army: The IRA 1916-1979' which covers the period in question.

What sort of state was the IRA in when violence erupted in the North in August 1969? Was it mostly filled with diehard veterans from the 30s, 40s and 50s like Joe Cahill, Seán Keenan, Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and John Joe McGirl etc? Had its numbers increased as a result of the clashes in 1968 and January of 69 (Burntollet)?

I seem to recall reading somewhere that the IRA had a total of about 50 active volunteers in all of Belfast in '69. Could comparisons be drawn between the Continuity IRA of today and the Irish Republican Army in 1968 or 69? Speaking strictly in terms of numerical strength and influence (or irrelevance) here...
Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and John Joe McGirl were in the Midlands not the North.

The IRA had a few hundred members in the 60s but never did much.

I think it was a lack of weapons rather than potential numbers that hindered them + as now (2009) a template upon which to base a campaign with any realistic base of popular support.

But things changed then & they might well do again...
 

b.a. baracus

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Numbers isn't the issue, nor weapons. You will always get them if the time is right. The questions are aims, allies, strategy, tactics and ideology.
Absolutely. It was not a question of a lack of arms or personnel. Following the border campaign and through the 1960's the IRA moved far to the left and adopted a whole new philosophy under a heavily Dublin based leadership. This change meant their chosen method of advancing their objectives moved further away from armed struggle. Hence the later split.
 
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Garibaldy

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The IRA at that time were few in number, had very few guns and had mostly given up the idea of armed actions. In 1969 when Nationalists areas were under attack from Loyalists groups like the UVF, RUC and B Specials Nationalists spat at the IRA and painted IRA I Ran Away on walls because they had no protection.
Brian Hanley in the latest issue of History Ireland argues that the I Ran Away thing was never photographed, and is most likely apochryphal.
 
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cactusflower

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Absolutely. It was not a question of a lack of arms or personnel. Following the border campaign and through the 1960's the IRA moved far to the left and adopted a whole new philosophy under a heavily Dublin based leadership. This change meant their chosen method of advancing their objectives moved further away from armed struggle. Hence the later split.
Why did it mean a split ? And in what sense was Dublin left ?

By all means send me to a book or website, if you don't want to answer my basic questions.
 

Nem

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By all means send me to a book
I'd say you would find the following very useful: Richard English, Armed Struggle: The History of the IRA (London, 2005)



Other books by him also touch on it.
 

b.a. baracus

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Why did it mean a split ? And in what sense was Dublin left ?

By all means send me to a book or website, if you don't want to answer my basic questions.
Cathal Goulding was Dublin based, was leader of the IRA at the time in question and was moving the IRA in a Marxist/Maoist direction.
That did not mean all Dublin IRA members were in favour of this strategy or that all Dublin members remained with the "Officials". I was not trying to say Dublin was left behind following the split, merely that its leadership at the time was Dublin based.

A split was not inevitable and in fact the IRA had proceeded along this path for a number of years. A split became likely when the situation in the north changed following the rise of the Civil Rights movement and the reaction of the police and Unionist Government to this movement. As the situation worsened it became obvious that some of the IRA were not happy with the left wing analysis and wished to return to more traditional style Irish republicanism.

My opinions are in no way controversial and may be found in any history of the IRA including the ones mentioned.
 

Nem

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lapsedmethodist

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Brian Hanley in the latest issue of History Ireland argues that the I Ran Away thing was never photographed, and is most likely apochryphal.
It existed because I saw it. I also saw the famous " Is there life before death ? " one.
 


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