1. Eight hundred years ago, Eire became England’s first colony. It was later said that Ireland was the first phase of the British Empire – a phrase coined by John Dee referring to Ireland. It is worth noting that foreign settlements were common; about 600 A.D., a lot of Irish had already settled on the English, Welsh and Scottish coasts. Therefore, when Anglo-Saxons established farms on the Irish land (Xth-XIst c., no one reacted: hadn’t the Romans, Danes, Vikings already invaded the British Isles ? However, in the XVIth c., the English settlements in Ireland belonged to the best and richest adventurers (like Sir Walter Raleigh, to quote but one). One of the reasons why it took so long to achieve peace in Ulster is that there has never been a war over a particular cause of conflict, but a long-lasting dispossession.
4. In the late XVIIIth c., the “Orange Society” ensures the control of Ulster by Protestants loyal to Britain. The reason for this was that the Industrial Revolution was just beginning; capitalization concentrated on the rich north-eastern areas of Eire, changing Belfast into an industrial, British, protestant capital, where catholics were admitted as mere proletarians. The “No Home Rule” slogan, the Act of Union (1800) reinforced the notion that the Irish would never decide for themselves, by themselves. In addition to this, trained soldiers soon joined the Napoleonic threat against the United Kingdom. Napoleon’s failure was one more defeat for Irish hope (http://www3.sympatico.ca/dis.general/irish.htm).
5. The potato-blight and famine was another disaster with long-term consequences (1845-1850). In five years, 12.5 % of the population died. This entailed a huge emigration move to the U.S.A., England, or France. In general indifference, the country has lost a quarter of its population. Hence a resentment, a feeling that nothing is to be expected from the rest of the world; this feeling re-appeared around 1980 when several Irish prisoners (Bobby Sands) died after their hunger strikes.
6. In 1912 at 10, Downing St., the Prime Minister is a Celt, Lloyd George, a Welshman, who feels he understands the Irish and can find a way out. Unlike him, Protestant ultra-conservatives are determined to rule out solutions. His plan will never be carried out. And in 1916 (the Easter Rising), the civil war starts in Dublin. For Protestants and Catholics alike, agreeing is a disaster; discussing, coming to agreements is risky for the former; for the latter, the only way to defeat Britain is to hit her when she is weakened (as was the case in the middle of WW 1).This led to the Anglo-Irish Treaty (1921), i.e. the worst option, containing all the germs of endless conflicts: Ireland is partitioned.
7. As from 1969, the army took control because of the growing unrest in Ulster; this reinforced the colonial feeling among Catholics; the methods are reminiscent of what was done by the British troops in Kenya, India, Malaysia, Burma (internment, civilian targets …). Terror, violence, retaliation discouraged most of the Northern Ireland’s elites. In addition the rebels got growing support from foreign powers, like Libya, but also the U.S.A.. Dublin expresses sympathy but is limited to a neutral observer’s part. The negotiations have become impossible, as Britain lays down as a basis for discussion its supposed rights to the land. It seems that so long as UK remains in Ulster there will be no way out; the only -- recent – glimmer of hope lies in the prospect of a unified federal Europe based on equal-right regions.
Cf. “Divided loyalties: in Belfast, conflict runs deep as the color of your hair, set of your eyes.” (by Ashley Merryman; ).