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Explaining Pathways to Armed Activism in the Provisional Irish Republican Army, 1969–1972

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 January 2016


In this article three pathways into armed activism are identified among those who joined the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) in Northern Ireland between 1969 and 1972. The accounts of former volunteers generally suggest that for those who were already involved in the Republican movement before 1969, a trajectory of mobilization emerged because of the long-standing counterhegemonic consciousness present in their homes, which in turn strongly influenced them as committed Republican militants. For those who joined after 1969 and had previously been involved in other political activities, mobilization was a result of a particular transformative event that triggered the belief that armed struggle was the only approach capable of bringing change in the new sociopolitical situation of the time. For the majority, that is, those who joined after 1969 at a very young age without any previous involvement in organized networks of activism, it began as a more abruptly acquired sense of obligation to defend their own community and retaliate against the Northern Ireland establishment, the Loyalists, and the British army. Overall, the accounts of former volunteers generally suggest that Republican volunteers were fighting first and foremost to reclaim dignity, build honor, and instill a sense of pride in themselves and their community through armed activism. In these terms, the choice of joining the PIRA was justified not as a mere reproduction of an ideological alignment to the traditional Republican aim of achieving Irish reunification but as part of a recognition struggle. At an analytic level, this article illustrates the utility of a multimechanisms interpretative framework. And it contributes to broadening the empirical basis by presenting and analyzing a series of 25 semistructured interviews with former PIRA volunteers.

Special Section: Cultures of Radicalization: Discourse and Practices of Political Violence and Terrorism
Copyright © Social Science History Association 2012

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