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The region that is now Northern Ireland was the bedrock of the Irish resistance against English programs of colonialism in the late 16th century. A rebellion in 1641 by Irish aristocrats against English rule resulted in a massacre of settlers in Ulster and an outbreak of war between England, Scotland and Ireland. English victories in that war and in the Williamite War in the late 17th century solidified Anglican rule in Ireland. In Northern Ireland, the iconic victories of the Siege of Derry (1689) and the Battle of the Boyne (1690) are still celebrated today by the pro-English Unionist community.
Following their victory in 1691, the Anglican ruling class passed a series of penal laws to materially disadvantage the Catholic community. In the context of open institutional discrimination, the 18th century saw secret, militant societies develop and commit violent, sectarian attacks. The oppression and violence meant that between 1717 and 1775, some 250,000 people from Ulster emigrated to the American colonies.
In 1801, the Act of Union merged the Kingdom of Ireland and the Kingdom of Great Britain. The whole island became part of the United Kingdom, ruled directly by the Parliament. In 1922, following the Anglo-Irish War, 26 counties of Ireland won freedom from the United Kingdom as the Irish Free State. The other six remained within the Union as Northern Ireland.
From 1922 until 1972 Northern Ireland enjoyed limited self-government within the United Kingdom, with its own parliament and prime minister. The Protestant and Catholic communities in Northern Ireland, however, each voted almost entirely along sectarian lines, meaning that the government of Northern Ireland (elected by "first past the post") was always controlled by the Ulster Unionist Party. Consequently, Catholics could not participate in the government, which at times openly encouraged discrimination in housing and employment.
Nationalist grievances at Unionist discrimination within the state eventually led to large civil rights protests in 1960s, which the government suppressed heavy-handedly, most notably on “Bloody Sunday.” It was during this period of civil unrest that the paramilitary Provisional IRA, which favored the creation of a united Ireland, began its campaign against what it considered the British occupation of the six counties. Other groups—legal and illegal on the Unionist side, illegal on the Nationalist side—began to participate in the violence, and the period known as the Troubles began. Owing to the civil unrest the British government suspended home rule in 1972 and imposed direct rule.
In 1998, following a Provisional IRA cease-fire, the Good Friday Agreement was reached and attempts began to be made to restore self-government to Northern Ireland on the basis of power sharing between the two communities. Violence has greatly decreased since the signing of the accord. In 2001, the police force in Northern Ireland, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, was replaced by the Police Service of Northern Ireland. On July 28, 2005, the Provisional IRA (PIRA) announced the end of its armed campaign and on Sept. 25, 2005 international weapons inspectors supervised the full disarmament of the PIRA.