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 Drawing upon extensive interviews with former soldiers, primary archival sources including unpublished diaries and unit log-books, this book closely examines soldiers’ behaviour at the small infantry-unit level (Battalion downwards), including the leadership,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

'In addition to being high-quality academic history for the connoisseur, this [final] chapter is a beautiful piece of writing that evokes the intimacy and tragedy of the Northern Ireland conflict. It draws the book [...] together excellently.'
Thomas Tormey, 20th Century British History


‘In An Army of Tribes, Burke has produced a piece of work on the Northern Ireland conflict unlike any other. The range of face to face interviews with those actively engaged on both sides of the Troubles in Belfast and South Armagh during the height of the conflict provides real depth to the analysis, while simultaneously adding value to our understanding of small unit leadership and cohesion.’
Christian Tripodi, RUSI Journal

Author Information

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

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
List of Abbreviations13
1. The British Army Before 197155
2. The Political and Operational Environment in Northern Ireland, 1969–197285
3. The Scots Guards and Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Regiments in Northern Ireland, 1971–1972145
4. Murder: The Killing of Michael Naan and Andrew Murray249