Conflict can lead to people leaving their homes due to fear and intimidation or from being forced out through violence. This can be described as the displacement of people. Violence based on religion and political beliefs has contributed to the displacement of people throughout the last century in Northern Ireland, as well as in the Irish Free State during partition and its aftermath.

The 1920s

Partition left southern unionists under a nationalist- dominated Irish Free State, while the inverse was true for northern nationalists, who now fell within the boundaries of a unionist-dominated Northern Ireland. In 1926, Catholics accounted for around a third of the population in Northern Ireland, while Protestants made up around 7 percent of the population in the Irish Free State. Both minority groups reported facing direct and indirect intimidation, which contributed to a significant number of people leaving their homes for elsewhere, either across the border, or even further afield. For instance, the Protestant population of the south had fallen by 33 percent between 1911 and 1926; however, academics dispute the extent to which this was caused by sectarianism.

Cartoon depiction of a Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) officer and his family exiled from their homes, published in Punch, 10 May 1922. The RIC were officially disbanded on 1 June 1922 and were replaced by the Royal Ulster Constabulary in Northern Ireland and the Civil Guard (renamed An Garda Síochána a year later) in the Irish Free State.

‘Burnt Out’

Displacement due to sectarian violence occurred at certain points between the 1920s and 1950s, but it intensified in the late 1960s with the onset of the ‘Troubles.’ Between 12 and 15 August 1969, at least 3,500 families were forced to leave their homes. It is estimated that up to 60,000 people were displaced between 1969 and 1973 in Belfast alone. Many houses were burnt, and displaced people had to seek refuge somewhere else in Northern Ireland or further afield. Refugee camps were set up in the Republic of Ireland, where many Catholic displaced persons went, while many Protestants went to cities in Great Britain.