Say Nothing is a work of fiction, but the events upon which it is based are, sadly, very real. Northern Ireland erupted into violence in the 1960s, as nationalists – primarily Catholic – and unionists – primarily Protestant – waged war over the constitutional status of the six counties. The violence would continue for three decades and claim over 3,600 lives.
I have been studying this conflict as I write. I am by no means an expert, but I’ve been informed by experts; devouring every book I can get my hands on. My love for history and my desire to keep the novel as historically accurate as possible means I have been doing very thorough research. As this page grows, it will provide historical context to the novel, and the major events, issues, and figures of The Troubles.
The ‘beginning’ – October 1968
Historians disagree on exactly when The Troubles began, but one school of thought points to County Tyrone, in October 1968. Catholic grievances had been building for quite some time, and this was the first incident in which Catholics took to the streets in (at that time, peaceful) protest. To say that Catholics faced discrimination in Northern Ireland is hardly controversial. As esteemed historians have pointed out, Catholic political power was hindered by gerrymandering – the practice of altering district boundaries to favour one party or class – and by keeping Catholic home ownership at a minimum at a time when only home owners could vote. Catholic schools were underfunded and performed poorly, and Catholic unemployment was rife. Penal laws against Catholics which were put into place in the seventeenth century were in some cases only overturned in the 1920s.
The Battle of the Bogside – 12-14 August, 1969
Other historians argue that The Troubles began in the Bogside area of Derry in August, 1969. The Apprentice Boys, a Protestant fraternal organisation, set off on their annual march through Derry on 12 August, 1969. Catholic Nationalists clashed with marchers and with the Royal Ulster Constabulary (the RUC). Rioting continued for several days, sparking similar incidents across Northern Ireland. The British Army were called in to restore order, which some historians cite as the moment The Troubles began.
This is also where Say Nothing begins. Moira Heaney and her family live in the Bogside. Her father, Mick, is a vehement nationalist and campaigner for civil rights. Moira, up until this point, has never been interested in taking sides, but the Battle of the Bogside is the spark which ignites a nationalist flame in her, too.
Just watching the first minute of this documentary gives a feel for the terror that gripped the Bogside in August 1969.
The Irish Republican Army, a paramilitary group seeking a united Ireland free from British rule. In November 1969, this split into two wings: the Provisional IRA (or ‘Provos’) and the Official IRA. Aside from some classist differences, the most significant difference between the two factions was that the Provisional IRA advocated for more violent means than the Official IRA.
The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association, formed in 1967.
The Ulster Volunteer Force, an exclusively Protestant paramilitary group. Formed in 1966, it was a violent Unionist group.
The Royal Ulster Constabulary was formed following Ireland’s partition. As the police force of the state and therefore answerable to the Unionist government, the RUC was thought by many Catholic Nationalists to be their enemy.