Picture this: it’s Friday night. Finally! You and your friends get to go out after a long week of exams, papers and group projects. You make your way to Brick Street early, and decide to be adventurous since the bar is relatively empty and order an Irish car bomb. But wait! Before you quickly down the delicious combination of beer, cream and whiskey, think for a minute — where does the name “Irish car bomb” come from?
Okay, I realize it is unlikely you would put the drink down, take out your smartphone and look it up. The history behind the name, though, is extremely pertinent. It is derived from two things: the Irish ingredients — Guinness stout, Bailey’s Irish Cream and Jameson Irish Whiskey — and the car bombings the Irish Republican Army (IRA) attacked Northern Ireland with during the last half of the 20th century. I bring this up not as an etymology lesson, but because Britain has just raised its terrorist threat level from moderate to substantial. So much of our pop culture has been infiltrated by historical and current events, it is important that we understand not only what something is, but also why it is what it is.
Since the 17th century, there has been ethno-religious tension in Northern Ireland, which is now a part of the United Kingdom, not the Republic of Ireland. When British Protestants immigrated into Ulster, Northern Ireland, they took over some land of the Irish Catholic natives. Two bloody wars ensued, and when Protestants felt Catholics were encroaching too much on Protestant territory, they would launch attacks on the Catholics and vice versa. Violence between the two groups obviously intensified after the 1920 Government Act separated Southern Ireland and Northern Ireland into two entities, but under the United Kingdom’s umbrella. Catholics in Southern Ireland pushed for independence and gained it in 1922.
While Northern Ireland was and is predominantly Protestant and the Republic of Ireland is mostly Catholic, pockets of the opposite religion can be found in both regions. In Northern Ireland, this has led to an extremely segregated way of life, down to the schools attended and the neighborhoods lived in. It has even been said 90 percent of children could go through primary and secondary schools without ever having a conversation with someone of the opposite religion. The divisive nature largely contributes to the prospering of dissident groups such as the IRA, a mainly Catholic group looking to break away from Britain and unite with the Republic of Ireland and the Ulster Volunteer Force, a British loyalist group with Protestant members.
Violence between nationalists, such as the IRA and its splinter groups, and the loyalists peaked in the 1970s, a time period known as The Troubles. The British then, trying to reconcile, imposed short-term direct rule on the Northern Irish, hoping they would eventually reach a nationalist-loyalist agreement. No such agreement was reached, and violence continued until 2007, when Britain implemented a devolved Protestant-Catholic shared government. Since then, the IRA’s splinter groups have still been somewhat active. The Real IRA, which also operates under the name Óglaigh na hÉireann (meaning soldiers of Ireland), are most infamous for car bombing in the town of Omagh in 1998. The attack left 29 civilians dead and 220 injured, making it the single deadliest attack of The Troubles. The Real IRA has recently been working with members of the Continuity IRA (a military branch of a Republican political party in Ireland called Sinn Fein) to increase threats. The combined efforts of these nationalistic terrorist groups are behind roughly 30 attacks that have occurred since the start of 2010, and the Guardian newspaper quoted Real IRA members earlier in September saying they had future plans to attack England.
The violence in Ireland and Northern Ireland has certainly waned since the joint government formed in 2007. However, there are still ethno-religious groups fighting for Irish unification, and the religious segregation of communities and schools in Northern Ireland allows these groups to thrive.
The Irish car bomb will most likely not leave bar menus anytime soon, but let us hope they will soon be gone from Ireland and the United Kingdom.