Just the facts: As pro-IRA chanting spreads across Ireland here are the hard numbers behind the IRA's insurrection

In the past week, the practice of chanting / singing pro-IRA slogans has spread across the island of Ireland.
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As such, the News Letter here presents numbers and charts which illustrate the scale of the bloodshed carried out by the IRA during the period loosely known as the Troubles.

It began with members of the Republic of Ireland’s women’s football team on October 12; at that time, they filmed themselves singing the Wolfe Tones’ ‘Celtic Symphony’, which culminates in the chant “ooh ahh up the ‘Ra!”

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The song is a favourite of the Feile an Phobail. The Wolfe Tones are often the closing act, and Celtic Symphony their closing number.

Overall death tally of victims of The Troubles, by perpetrator (taken from CAIN)Overall death tally of victims of The Troubles, by perpetrator (taken from CAIN)
Overall death tally of victims of The Troubles, by perpetrator (taken from CAIN)

Though the team apologised, many other people have mimicked their behaviour in the days since.

There are too many to list (as a Twitter search of the hashtag #upthera will show), but Conor McGregor, the world-renowned Irish UFC star, was among them.

He posted a video clip online at the weekend showing a newscaster asking whether an apology would be made over the IRA song.

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The clip then cuts to McGregor saying “I’d like to take this chance to apologise… to absolutely nobody!” before ‘Celtic Symphony’ kicks in, to the sight of him swaggering around a ring with flailing arms.

Image showing victims of Troubles by religion of the deceased (data from CAIN)Image showing victims of Troubles by religion of the deceased (data from CAIN)
Image showing victims of Troubles by religion of the deceased (data from CAIN)

Many of the people filmed singing / chanting “up the ‘Ra” in recent days are clearly in their teens or early 20s – too young to remember much of the Troubles first hand.

All of this has led to commentary about what some people see as the sanitaisation, or whitewashing, of past paramilitary campaigns.


There are two main sources of information on the exact death tolls of the Troubles: the book Lost Lives, which is like an encyclopaedia of every Troubles death written by multiple journalists, and the CAIN archive (Conflict Archive on the INternet) run by Ulster University, which relies on a compliation of deaths put together by author Malcolm Sutton.

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Both sources show that the IRA (meaning the Provisional IRA) was, by some distance, the most prolifically lethal organisation, outstripping all loyalist groups combined, and completely dwarfing anything done by the state.

Firstly, here are the figures on the IRA campaign from Lost Lives, which gives a total death toll of 3,636 from 1966 to 1999 from all sides.

It says that the IRA was behind 48.7% of all killings – 1,771 in total.

Of those 1,771 people killed outright by the IRA, the biggest single category of victim was civilians (636);

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This is followed by regular army, RAF, and Royal Navy (443);

Police and police reservists, including Gardai (284);

The UDR/RIR (182);

Fellow republicans (161);

Loyalist paramilitaries (28);

And prison wardens (23).

All told, Lost Lives says republicans were behind 58.8% of all deaths in the Troubles, loyalists 28.9%, and the state (overwhelmingly the regular army and SAS) 10.1% – with a remaining 2.2% of deaths caused by unknown killers.


CAIN meanwhile gives a total of 3,532 deaths from 1969 to 2001 from all sides.

CAIN also gives users the chance to cross-reference data, and so the tables in this article are based on its data.

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It lists the IRA’s death toll as being 1,705 – again, this is far higher than any rival organisation.

Breaking this down further, it says:

491 of these fatalities were civilian;

454 were British Army;

284 were police or ex-police;

228 were UDR / RIR, or ex-members;

22 were prison officers or ex-officers.

By comparison, state forces killed the following:

British Army: 299 people (124 of whom were paramilitaries, both republican and loyalist, and civilians 199 – most of the rests were ‘friendly fire’ incidents)

RUC: 55 people (29 of whom were civilian, 21 were paramilitary, and others were mainly ‘friendly fire’)

UDR/RIR: 8 people (five civilian, three paramilitary).


All these figures, from CAIN and Lost Lives, are significant underestimates, however.

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Many killings went unclaimed by the paramilitaries who carried them out.

Neither list contains killings carried out over the past 20 years of relative stability.

And, for the most part, the figures also omit people whose deaths did not occur soon after an attack but were hastened substantially by injuries received, or things like premature alcohol-fuelled fatalities and suicides resulting from trauma.

There is no database of such people, but coupled with those killed outright, plus those wounded in various attacks, the true number of overall casulaties would certainly be well into five figures.

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Throughout the Troubles, the IRA asserted that it had a right to carry out attacks because it was the legitimate government of Ireland.

For example, its Green Book manual (the movement’s official manifesto/guidebook) begins thusly: “Commitment to the Republican Movement is the firm belief that its struggle both military and political is morally justified, that war is morally justified and that the Army is the direct representative of the 1918 Dail Eireann Parliament, and that as such they are the legal and lawful government of the Irish Republic, which has the moral right to pass laws for, and to claim jurisdiction over the territory, air space, mineral resources, means of production, distribution and exchange and all of its people regardless of creed or loyalty.”

It describes the IRA’s “fivefold guerilla strategy” as follows:

1: A War of attrition against enemy personnel which is aimed at causing as many casualties and deaths as possible so as to create a demand from their people at home for their withdrawal.

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2. A bombing campaign aimed at making the enemy's financial interest in our country unprofitable while at the same time curbing long term financial investment in our country.

3. To make the Six Counties as at present and for the past several years ungovernable except by colonial military rule.

4. To sustain the war and gain support for its end by National and International propaganda and publicity campaigns.

5. By defending the war of liberation by punishing criminals, collaborators and informers.”

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Here’s a selection from an occasional feature which the News Letter runs on the human side of the Troubles, focussing on little-known Troubles victims.

Whilst a great many in the series have looked at loyalist attacks, the following concentrate on IRA ones: