Provos, Loyalists and Brits (BBC 90’s documentary series)


Provos, Loyalists and BritsA trilogy of Documentary Series on Northern Ireland Conflict – Provos, Loyalists and Brits. BBC documentary series looking at the history of the IRA and Sinn Fein over the past 30 years, an intimate account of the lives of loyalist paramilitaries and the role of the British armed forces in Northern Ireland, made by journalist Peter Taylor. (View infos on his 3 books which forms the basis of the doc here)

Provos: Born Again. Documentary looking at the changes and rise in the Provisional IRA in Northern Ireland from 1969 on. Considers the events of civil unrest in the late 1960s, the ideology and actions of the leaders of the IRA then, which underwent a significant change after the attacks by loyalists and B Specials on Catholics and Nationalists and their homes. Looks at the background of the deployment of British troops, and how they were first welcomed, but later viewed as the enemy. Includes interviews with many older IRA members who talk about their motivations and aims, and the escalation into shooting and bombings, especially after the events of Bloody Sunday. (23/09/1997)

Full infos found on at Provos, Loyalists and Brits + at

Watch the full documentary now
(YouTube playlist contains all three episodes in 52 clips, 8,6 hours)

Full film roll

(Rest of the films can be found on youtube via 26and6equals1 )

Provos: Second Front. Looks into what was discussed at secret meetings between the British authorities and Provisional IRA during the 1970s, and how Britian may have countenanced withdrawal from Northern Ireland. Examines the emergence of Sinn Fein as a political force and the bombing campaigns both in the Province and the British mainland. Also examines the prison protests in the Maze prison, and the hunger strikes, and the effects of the deaths of Bobby Sands and other hunger strikers. (30/09/1997)

Provos: Secret War. Concentrates on the 1980s and the relaunch of a campaign by the IRA after the death of the hunger strikers. Looks at the increase in heavy weaponry purchased and the funding and supply lines and the IRA\’s keeness to get hold of surface-to-air missiles to shoot down army helicopters. It also goes into the emergence of IRA informants and ”supergrasses” and the effect they had on operations. (07/10/1997)

Provos: Endgame. The final episode focuses on how the military stalemate of the late 80s created a context whereby the Sinn Fein leadership could persuade the IRA Army Council that the final phase of the struggle had to be political. It also shows how the stalemate paved the way for a remarkable series of secret negotiations between the Government and the IRA which made possible the cessation of 1994. The programme also describes how, despite the end of the ceasefire and the subsequent Canary Wharf and Manchester bombings, backstage efforts for peace continued, resulting in a renewed IRA ceasefire and the current all-party talks. (14/10/1997)

Loyalists: No Surrender. Documentary series presented by Peter Taylor, about the origins and evolution of the loyalist paramilitary movement in Northern Ireland. (21/02/1999)

Loyalists: Returning the Serve. In the late 1970s the conflict in Northern Ireland reached new levels of brutality. Among those caught up in the violence was UVF member Billy Giles, who retaliated against IRA acts by murdering a Catholic workmate. (28/02/1999)

Loyalists: War and Peace. Former Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) prisoners Gerry Spence and Bobby Philpott claim that Loyalist violence in the early nineties made the IRA realise they could not win. Peter Taylor reveals the true face of the Loyalist paramilitaries and assesses the prospects for peace in the face of continuing sectarian tensions. (07/03/1999)

Brits: The Secret War. This programme focuses on the period 1969-1975. As the IRA launched its terror campaign in the early 1970s, Britain realised that intelligence gathering would be the key to countering their threat. Included in this part are revelations about the covert operations carried out by the army, including the story of how the security services discovered that the IRA had bugged the army\’s Northern Ireland headquarters and how they captured key IRA figures involved with the bugging. (17/05/2000)

Brits: Shoot to Kill. Examination of a series of incidents from the mid-seventies where security forces reacted with speed and aggression. Members of Special Branch, MI6 and the army talk about the dangers of life in the war against the IRA. In their attempts to fight fire with fire did the agents of the crown sometimes go beyond the limits acceptable in a democratic state? (24/05/2000)

Brits: Holding the Line. Third and final part of the series investigating British undercover operations in Northern Ireland. Reveals how pressure from British intelligence services helped to bring the IRA to the negotiating table. Also looks at the prospect for a lasting peace. (31/05/2000)

(Postscript – Gerry Adams is now a TD in the Irish Dáil, the government of the Republic of Ireland and expects to see a united Ireland in his lifetime)

18 Responses to Provos, Loyalists and Brits (BBC 90’s documentary series)

  1. fuspey says:

    In Northern Ireland the most common euphemism for the conflict is not “The Problems” but “The Troubles”. Another thing: in 1886 it is true that in the whole island it was a case of a “Catholic majority, poor and working class, and a rich Protestant minority”, but today this is not the situation in Northern Ireland: within the Northern Ireland borders there is a Protestant majority, and I am mostly in agreement with what David Barriado says here above: Northern Ireland is a vestige of the British Empire. Moreover, the fact that there is a Protestant majority -which is to say, loyal to the British State- is the result of its initial design, and as such its “religious-social ghettos’ are a near inevitable product of this design.

    In Northern Ireland there is a practice that can also be perceived in Israel/Palestine, according to which each group within that society (whether Jews or Arabs in Israel/Palestine or Catholics/Protestants in Northern Ireland) is portrayed as decent and peace-loving, but tragically mired in the violence unleashed by a few people on both sides.

    The most important effect of this practice is to hide the character and the role of the State in each situation and present “the violence” as if it were a sort of virus and not a product of the State. But it also produces songs such as Sunday Bloody Sunday.

    An example: the UK government declared, before the Good Friday Agreement was signed, that it had no ‘selfish strategic’ interest in Northern Ireland. However, in recent years the British government has built, in Belfast, a new military intelligence headquarters – for the whole of the United Kingdom. Its wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya and the demonisation of Muslims that has accompanied these wars has also raised social tensions in Northern Ireland, through the process of legitimating the extreme violence of the British State against its official enemies. It should be no surprise, then, that the most ‘loyal’ citizens in Northern Ireland should interpret this behaviour of the State as an excuse and a justification for taking out their frustrations (which are real and serious) on the sector of the population that identifies itself as Irish.

  2. fuspey says:

    The Irish Left and the Northern Question

    There was a time when the more radical sections of the Irish Left were passionately concerned about Northern Ireland/the North/the Six Counties (delete according to preference). Elsewhere, the main lines of division among left-wingers ran between communists and social democrats, Stalinists and Trotskyists, anarchists and Maoists. All of these tendencies could be found on the Irish left-wing scene, but they often seemed less important than concerns about the North and the issues it required people to take a stand on. Partition, ‘armed struggle’ and the H-Blocks campaign provoked bitter controversies that cut across the more exotic divisions on the Left. The Stalinists of the British and Irish Communist Organisation threw their polemical weight behind a version of militant loyalism, while the equally Stalinist Communist Party of Ireland (Marxist-Leninist) praised the IRA. Trotskyists were just as diverse in their attitudes, with People’s Democracy and the Socialist Workers’ Movement urging ‘critical support’ for the Provos and the Militant Tendency staunch in its opposition to the IRA campaign.

  3. brits in catalonia…

    […]Provos, Loyalists and Brits (BBC 90′s documentary series) « Its A Funny Old World[…]…

  4. fuspey says:

    ‎Dan Breen – My Fight for Irish Freedom

    Fine doc from TG4 about the life of this man who fired the first shot of the war of independence down in South Tip

    The story of the man who fired the first shot in the War of Independence, leader of the 3rd Tipperary Brigade. In 1919 a group of young men barely out of their teens, poorly armed, with no money and little training, renewed the fight, begun in 1916, to drive the British out of Ireland. Dan Breen was to become the best known of them. At first they were condemed on all sides. They became outlaws with ‘an army at their heels and a thousand pounds on dans head’. A burning belief in their cause sustained them through many a dark and bitter day and slowly support came from the people.Dan Breen became one of the most infamous and controversial IRA leaders of his generation. With the Civil War over, Breen went to prohibition America, and ran a speakeasy. He returned to Ireland to become a politician, and was the first Republican to enter the Free State parliament. For more than thirty years he represented Tipperary, becoming its most popular and longest serving legislator.

    His autobiography is here

    More info on him at

  5. fuspey says:

    One of the most horific chapters to the troubles in the north was the group of murderers of catholics known as the shankill butchers. here is a bbc northern ireland doc about them:

    The Shankill Butchers – Loyalists or Serial Killers?

    With 19 murders between them, the Shankill Butchers were the most prolific gang of serial killers in UK history. During the dark days of the Troubles their savagery stood apart, paralysing both communities in Northern Ireland with fear. With unique access to the evidence, and exclusive interviews, Stephen Nolan goes back to the patch where he was brought up to ask how the Shankill Butchers got away with murder for so long.

  6. fuspey says:

    British State Collusion… Pat Finucane wasn’t the only one!

    Yesterday David Cameron admitted that there was ‘shocking levels of (British state) collusion’ in the Pat Finucane murder, but how much more collusion has there been that still has to be uncovered?


  7. fuspey says:

    panorama 1976 bandit country crossmaglenn

  8. fuspey says:

    BBC Panorama – Shoot to kill, lethal force

    BBC Panorama’s John Ware investigates a Shoot to Kill policy by Security forces in Northern Ireland against Paramilitaries and asks the question; does it really win the peace? – 1990

  9. fuspey says:

    In Free Derry: The IRA Drug War, VICE News investigates how, 16 years after the Good Friday peace agreement and on the eve of the first major loyalist parade through the city in four years, dissident republican activity in Derry is increasing, thanks to the merger of the Real IRA with anti-drug vigilantes.

  10. fuspey says:

    After a few years it seems that all the Provo section of this documentary series which was posted by same user on facebook has been blocked, whereas all sections of Loyalist and Brits are still viewable… not sure why, it states;

    “This video contains content from BBC Worldwide, who has blocked it on copyright grounds. ”

    Full listing here

    Same on this documentary channel, provos blocked

    But, all the full series can still be viewed on dailymotion, thanks to uploads from singaporegeek, at

  11. fuspey says:

    In attempts to get a balanced perspective of the origins of the conflict, so that conflict can be fully ended and peace restored, here is a British made documentary from 12 years into “the troubles”…

    The Troubles 1: Partition (Thames Television, 1981)

    This (ads and all) is the first of an impressive documentary series from the early 1980s about the ‘troubles’ in Northern Ireland. Given its date, its position and attitudes are probably by now a part of the history it recounts. It takes the story up to 1923.

  12. fuspey says:

    To get a sense of the dynamics around the difficulty of partition, Ken Loach’s film gives a great and tragic overview of the goings on in the early 1920’s, a winner of the film award Palm D’Or..

    The Wind That Shakes the Barley film

    In 1920, rural Ireland is the permanent battlefield of republican rebels against the British troops and their well-paid, local collaborator militia, a recipe for mutual cruelty. Medical graduate Damien O’Donovan always gave priority to his socialist ideals and simply helping people in need. Just when he’s leaving Ireland to work in a highly reputed London hospital, witnessing gross abuse of commoners changes his mind. he returns and joins the local IRA brigade, commanded by his brother Teddy, and adopts the merciless logic of civil war, while Teddy mellows by experiencing first-hand endless suffering. When IRA leaders negotiate an autonomous Free State under the British crown, Teddy defends the pragmatic best possible deal at this stage. Damien however joins the large seceding faction which holds nothing less then a socialist republic will do. The result is another civil war, bloodily opposing former Irish comrades in arms, even the brothers.

  13. fuspey says:

    Another good balanced overview, again from BBC, this time produced in 2011:

    The Story of Ireland is a five part groundbreaking new BBC series presented by Irishman Fergal Keane about the history of Ireland cultural, social, and economic, and its role on the international stage.

    Ireland is living through a significant period in its cycle of history since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, the island has been at peace. This is unprecedented in the history of modern Ireland and so seems like a perfect time to reflect on the Irish as a people now, as a modern European nation, and how we got to this place.

    In part 5 it covers the birth of the modern Irish republic and the troubles in the north..

    Earlier blog post about this series here:

    BBC homepage on the series:

  14. fuspey says:

    Covering “the treaty”, the deal between the British govt and the Irish peoples political representatives, but who were seen as illegal IRA terrorists / freedom fighters in the 1920’s, that gave Ireland its “free state” (which later became a Republic in 1948) and partitioned the island into 2… we have an Irish state TV programme from 1991 about this deal that led to the subsequent division and civil war in the south.. Starring Brendan Gleeson as Michael Collins

    The Treaty

  15. fuspey says:

    More on Collins:

    – Michael Collins – Ireland’s Greatest (Documentary)

    A key leader in Irish History and a great Documentary about his life. Part of Ireland’s Greatest Documentary series by RTE.

    – The Treaty 1921,
    from TG4 (irish speaking TV channel in Ireland)

    The film is about the Anglo-Irish Treaty that Michael Collins bargained for with the British government in 1921. It is factually accurate, and it shows how negotiations actually worked.

  16. fuspey says:

    Before Collins time, going back to the rising of 1916, we have to understand the different sides of thought that took up arms for freedom, one side the nationalist, catholic religious dreamers… on the other working class, solidarity based, anti sectarian revolutionaries… James Connolly, here are 2 documentaries about his life, a full life…

    James Connolly: Ireland’s Greatest (RTE Documentary)

    James Connolly Documentary, TG4 (Irish speaking channel, english subtitles)

    TG4 Documentary based on James Connolly and his role in the Easter Rising of 1916

    Portraits 1916 – James Connolly
    This is a very moving interview with Nora Connolly O’Brien, daughter of James Connolly, one of the Rebellion leaders, executed in 1916. First broadcast: 30.10.1965

    Earlier blog post about Connolly:

    PS, notice the poster is called “Protestant Irish Republican”… For many they see it as catholics vs protestants… it is not. The original republicans were protestant, the flag signifies the indigenous, irish catholic on one side, the later arrived, new irish, protestant on the other, white, the peace between them… all together in a true republic, fully split from all connections with the british state and crown, ie the king or queen. The flag came from france, building on the revolutionary republican tradition that grew there…

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