Ooh Ahh Up The, eh, ONH

Pardon my acronyms, but WTF is this?

A new militant republican organisation has emerged in Northern Ireland to threaten the peace process, the body monitoring the paramilitary ceasefires warned yesterday.

The International Monitoring Commission, which was set up to report on the status of the ceasefires, identified the organisation Oglaigh na hEireann (Army of Ireland) as active in killings, riots and targeting police officers for assassination. It is opposed to the peace strategy of Sinn Féin and the mainstream IRA.

I know the literal translation of Oglaigh na hEireann is ‘Army of Ireland’, but a more appropriate translation, one which takes sufficient account of historical and cultural considerations, is ‘IRA’.

The Guardian has learned that the movement is made up of former activists from the Provisional IRA’s defunct East Tyrone brigade, one of the most active and dedicated paramilitary forces during the Troubles.

So the question is: have these people publicly called themselves ‘Oglaigh na hEireann’ as a means of differentiating themselves from the organisation known in English as the IRA? To be sure, the words ‘Oglaigh na hEireann’ when used untranslated in English means more than just ‘IRA’, in pretty much the same way as ‘escargot’ doesn’t just mean ‘snail’.

IRA splinter groups have a branding problem. This may be down to the fact that they don’t see themselves as splinter groups at all, but as people remaining true to what they consider the objectives of republicanism. The starting point for them isn’t so much that the IRA has changed: but that the majority of its members has broken off in pursuit of a different path. But since there’s no practical point in calling yourself simply ‘the IRA’ when no-one else recognises you as such, you need to assert some sort of authenticity that establishes you in the mind of the public as the real IRA (not to be confused with The Real IRA). However, the very act of asserting your authenticity undermines it, just as the first thing someone thinks about a car dealer called Honest Tony is that he might not be entirely honest.

And yet, I find it hard to believe that a group of republicans decided to form a group referred to as ‘Oglaigh na hEireann’ in English. This raises the intriguing question of how, when speaking in Irish, they might distinguish between ‘Oglaigh na hEireann’ (that is, the organization known as such in English) and ‘Oglaigh na hEireann’ (the organization known in English as the IRA). Perhaps they would refer to it as ‘An IRA’.

Whilst not wishing to underestimate the stupidity of some republicans, I am more inclined to think that the name arises from operational necessity for the security forces (I also note in passing that such ‘splinter’ groups are likely to be heavily infiltrated), since it can perform a useful umbrella function, just as ‘Al-Qaeda’, in official communications, accounts for a wide range of groups with apparently similar aims.

The existence of such groups, whatever the immediate effects of their violent activities, has a useful purpose from a government perspective, in that it can serve to guide the general public towards acceptance of, or ignorance of, certain policies pursued by that government. So if a given government had plans to push through neo-liberal reforms, such as privatising
many of its large public corporations, including buses, railways and water
, it is easier to do so in a climate of fear and disorientation.

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2 Responses to “Ooh Ahh Up The, eh, ONH”


  1. 1 coc May 4, 2008 at 10:45 pm

    The literal translation of “Óglaigh na hÉireann” is actually “Volunteers of Ireland” and you are correct in speculating that the purpose of adopting the title is to attempt to seize the legacy of the Irish Volunteers (1913).

    As Gaeilge, the correct bastardisation would be “An tIRA”. I doubt their Army Council Mi5 loses much sleep over this though. Splitters!

  2. 2 Hugh Green May 5, 2008 at 9:40 pm

    Curses. You are right, of course, on on both counts.

    BTW, I find it hard to believe that there wasn’t someone among them to ensure that the acronym as reported officially by Da Brits would be a bit more convincing than ONH.


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