An Army of Tribes

BookAn Army of Tribes

An Army of Tribes

British Army Cohesion, Deviancy and Murder in Northern Ireland


February 20th, 2018



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This is the first such study of Operation Banner, the British Army’s campaign in Northern Ireland. Drawing upon extensive interviews with former soldiers, primary archival sources including unpublished diaries and unit log-books, this book closely examines soldiers’ behaviour at the small infantry-unit level (Battalion downwards), including the leadership, cohesion and training that sustained, restrained and occasionally misdirected soldiers during the most violent period of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. It contends that there are aspects of wider scholarly literatures – including from sociology, anthropology, criminology, and psychology - that can throw new light on our understanding of the British Army in Northern Ireland. It also offers fresh insights and analysis of incidents involving the British Army during the early years of Operation Banner, including the 1972 ‘Pitchfork murders’ of Michael Naan and Andrew Murray in County Fermanagh, and that of Warrenpoint hotel owner Edmund Woolsey in South Armagh. The central argument of this book is that British Army small infantry units enjoyed considerable autonomy during the early years of Operation Banner and could behave in a vengeful, highly aggressive or benign and conciliatory way as their local commanders saw fit. The strain of civil-military relations at a senior level was replicated operationally as soldiers came to resent the limitations of waging war in the UK. The unwillingness of the Army’s senior leadership to thoroughly investigate and punish serious transgressions of standard operating procedures in Northern Ireland created uncertainty among soldiers over expected behaviour and desired outcomes. Overly aggressive groups of soldiers could also be mistaken for high-functioning units – with negative consequences for the Army’s overall strategy in Northern Ireland.


'An excellent, engaging and provocative study that addresses a crucial period during 'the Troubles' and examines patterns of behaviour within the British army as well as wider issues within Northern Ireland during this time.'
Dr David Murphy, Maynooth University

'Based on rich and original research, this is a well-researched and sophisticated study on the British Army in Northern Ireland.'
Professor Richard English, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Internationalisation and Engagement, Queen's University Belfast

'An Army of Tribes is a rigorous work of painstaking scholarship that places the security dimension of the Northern Irish Troubles in much greater tactical and operational context than ever before.'
Aaron Edwards, War on the Rocks

'As a critical examination of the role of the 'green army', the ordinary uniformed soldiers in Northern Ireland, this is a work that will be hard to surpass.'
Tom Griffin, Spinwatch

About The Author

Edward Burke is Assistant Professor in International Relations at the University of Nottingham.