Female IRA fighter, 1970s

A woman IRA volunteer on active service in West Belfast with an AR18 assault rifle.
A woman IRA volunteer on active service in West Belfast with an AR18 assault rifle.

The photo was taken by the Irish photographer Colman Doyle. The original caption: “A woman IRA volunteer on active service in West Belfast with an AR18 assault rifle”. The IRA regularly conducted “show of arms” displays, showing off their modern and numerous weapons.

The gun the girl is showing is ArmaLite AR-18. It was obtained by the IRA from the US in the early 1970s and became an emotive symbol of IRA armed campaign. The IRA fighters nicknamed this gun “the Widowmaker“. The AR-18 rifle was found to be very well suited to the IRA fighters’ purposes as its small size and folding stock meant that it was easy to conceal. Moreover, it was capable of rapid fire and fired a high velocity round which provided great “stopping power”. Originally the AR-18 was designed in 1963 in California, but it was never adopted as the standard service rifle of any nation. Nevertheless its production license was sold to companies in Japan and England. The Irish loved the ARs so much they even wrote songs about them.

In Ireland, there were females both in Republican groups such as the IRA, which are fighting against British forces in Northern Ireland, as well as in groups of Loyalists who are pro-state and support the continuation of British rule of the area. Usually the IRA women cadres performed certain non-military roles, in which they exploited traditional stereotypes of gender. They used to hide and carry weapons, as the British soldiers were loath to body search women because of the tremendous public revulsion it would create.

The Northern Irish conflict revolutionized the exploitation of women in visual imagery for propaganda purposes. Imagery of banging bin lids, transporting bombs in prams, or indeed preventing sons being arrests were subtle attempts to elude to the expectations of republican motherhood. The women became faceless very often wearing a mask and they used midi skirts thus revealing their femininity. Ultimately, the imagery propaganda made use of women as the victim. Specifically, imagery of police brutality on women becomes a key weapon. Many murals include female members of the community which suffered death in sectarian shootings or plastic bullets.

Join the discussion

  • How do we know she had not just turned the corner? If she hadn’t yet fired, could that explain the weapon position?

    • Its a propaganda photo, you fucking dimwit.
      The pira cowards never ventured out until nightfall…….in Loughgall

  • IRA stands for “I ran away”.

    When did they EVER have a full contact with Brit troops..their usual modus operandi was to shoot or ambush the Brits or Protestants and then hide among Catholic crowds including women and children. Any weapon that these cowards used would usually be spirited away by so-called sympathisers.

    • You do know the British army did the same thing right? (SAS ambushi and shoot to kill) And yes they had full on contact with the British army many of times you for example the battle of Springmartin you just need to do your history most I’m not supporting them but please don’t talk about stuff you don’t know about

    • Ran away? How about brought the British government to its knees forcing them to seek a ceasefire? British crimes here will never be fully revealed to the likes of you. My mother, as a child, had a gun put to her head while my grandmother was interrogated in her own home over the location of guns she knew nothing about. Still people wonder why the IRA stood up to Britain? They fought for freedom and rights. My father had no right to vote or to a job. Catholic families were removed from their homes to give single protestants a house. Learn your facts!

  • There were many women in the front line. Maire Drumm, Martina Anderson, Dr. Rose Dougdale, Mairead Farrell, Rita O’Hare, The Price Sisters, Raisin McAliskey, Eveyln Glenholmes… the list goes on. Basically for those of you who know nothing of the conflict in the 6 counties of Ireland under British rule, keep your mouth shut. your ignorance is stunning.

  • Vic Roby if u didn’t realise the term IRA was around decades before da northern conflict and we’re often in fire fights and battles with the out numbering and more equipped British army and we still fought till 1996. Even Tony Blair said that they never defeated the IRA not even the SAS could so ! Educate yourself before you talknow shit!

  • If the IRA were never defeated why did they surrender their weapons to the British army, while the British army carried on jogging ?

    When you say the SAS couldn’t defeat them you mean that the IRA were hiding as civilians most of the time so that it was unlawful to engage them, if the IRA had worn a uniform and declared war then they would all be dead.

  • I was in high school or maybe university when this image hit the US. I could think of nothing hotter than a patriotic Irish lass going full auto. I pray for her to be at peace and have a nation once again.
    Wish there was a way to get this image as a poster (or better yet, a signed print!). Something to show off to the grandchildren.
    Ira M.
    Fort Worth, Texas (under foreign enemy occupation since 1865)

  • I was born n Londonderry in 1960 and left
    In 1980, and I’ve seen it all, the IRA is and always be scum and cowards , if they didn’t have the support of America they wouldn’t
    have had the weapons they got.

  • Noel, the very fact that you call the city Londonderry instead of it’s proper and historic name of Derry says much of why you hold the attitude you do. And you’re correct, America did support the IRA. We’ve a history with British troops on our homeland. The IRA fought the battle they had to fight to engage an enemy with far greater armaments and equipment. Their actions fought for far greater equity of the Catholic minority that prior to their defense, had been at the cruel discrimination of the protestant ruling class, propped up by the British military. They brought great Britain to the negotiations table, leading to power sharing by the Republicans. The Nationalist population continues to grow and the loyalists continue to shrink. It’s only a matter of time before no one is calling that city “London-Derry” anymore.

  • Strangely, people call them cowardly for having evasive tactics and not facing an army with higher numbers and better financing (i.e. the government) head on. America won her independence this way and this is of course, the only effective means of fighting an indigenious occupying army. The Vietnamese did a great job fighting like this against the US, and of course we all know Afghanistan’s story.

    So – why the “coward” label for the IRA? I would think they would get more support, considering the “woke” movements of today against colonialism /etc. Isn’t the IRA the poster children for a woke / antifa-like resistance against “the man?” Who here is for being ruled by Britain? –Yes, I have a decidedly American point of view on the topic.

  • The so called I.R.A were cowards. Targeting innocent men, women and children in London, Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham by exploding bombs. Seem to remember when bombs were exploded in American cities, you called the perpetrators terrorists! But wouldn’t expect anything different from a country which readily finances, supplies and supports the murder of Palestinians who are fighting for their rights and homeland too, whilst regarding the Palestinians as terrorists.

  • The British had never left Ireland alone ever since the iron age England has constantly attacked Ireland such as Cromwell massacring loads of innocent Irish and remember those who think England was right and Ireland was wrong England did the same to the Afghans,Zulus,Aborigines and loads of other people during the time of their empire. Maybe the Irish had enough bad treatment from England and fought back. Also the black and tans used methods just as brutal such as bombs,arson,murder,violence. Both sides did horrible things that were not right. But I personally think the IRA had a good reason, after over 800 years of the british attacking them they had enough

  • When your own oppression becomes so great that you’d fight rather than endure it anymore, will you be a patriot or a terrorist and will your tactics be governed by a moral guide of a desperate struggle to be alive at the other end? Be careful what you label those who fight for freedom as you may bear that title yourself before you know it.

Rare Historical Photos

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