origin of ‘no-go area’: the Troubles in Northern Ireland

The British noun no-go area designates:
– literally: a district in a town that is barricaded off, usually by a paramilitary organisation, within which the police, army, etc., can only enter by force;
– by extension: an area that is barred to certain individuals, groups, etc.;
– figuratively: a domain of activity that is not allowed to a particular person, group, etc.

In its literal meaning, no-go area originated in the context of social divisions during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, i.e. during the period of conflict in Northern Ireland from the late 1960s until the ‘Good Friday’ Agreement of 10th April 1998.




Predating no-go area, No Go Land was the proper name given by British soldiers to a Catholic ghetto in Belfast—as explained by Ken Smith in Not so much a soldier, more a policeman, published in The Journal (Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland, England) of Monday 1st September 1969—Ken Smith was reporting from Belfast on the 230 soldiers from north-eastern England who were making up the 3rd Battalion, The Light Infantry:

Along Bombay Street were the Catholic barricades. Behind them were crouched frightened Irish Catholics. In their hands they clutched petrol bombs. Beside them were empty beer cases full of these bombs.
                                                                 No Go Land
Only a few yards further on was “No Go Land,” the army slang for the Falls Road ghetto.

On Saturday 11th October 1969, the Belfast Telegraph (Belfast, County Antrim, Northern Ireland) quoted the British Labour statesman James Callaghan (1912-2005), then Home Secretary:

On the question of law and order, Mr. Callaghan said he was not willing to see anarchy in Northern Ireland. “There is no need for this. Conditions do not exist that warrant it. The police would be going back into the Bogside and the Falls.
On the Falls there was an area now called “No Go Land”. He said “No Go Land has got to become Will Go Land.”

Note: cf. also ‘no man’s land’ and three different types of death






The two earliest occurrences that I have found of the common noun no-go area date from Thursday 26th February 1970:

II.1.1: In the Belfast Telegraph (Belfast, County Antrim, Northern Ireland), which gave an account of the evidence that Belfast’s Acting Commissioner of Police, County Inspector Samuel Bradley, gave to the Scarman Tribunal, set up in 1969 to inquire into acts of violence and disturbance in Northern Ireland; Samuel Bradley described:

a general pattern, which was that, in an area where there was trouble, certain people moved in and tried to “stir it up,” and turn the people against the police, so creating ano goarea for the police.

II.1.2: In The Journal (Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland, England):

Praise for soldier

An Army major who was responsible for restoring joint police and army patrols into “no goareas in Northern Ireland has been commended by the General Officer Commanding in Northern Ireland, General Sir Ian Freeland.
Major James Lindsay, aged 43, commanding the Royal Military Police Detachment, received a certificate of commendation yesterday.




Soon, no-go area came to be used as a generic term for any area that is barred to certain individuals, groups, etc.

For example, The Guardian (Manchester, Lancashire, England) of Monday 29th May 1972 reported:

The Duke of Norfolk has decreed the Royal Enclosure at Ascot ano-goarea for the mini-skirted or hot-panted lass.

Another transferred use of no-go area appeared in Streets ahead of their time, by John Burns, published in the Belfast Telegraph (Belfast, County Antrim, Northern Ireland) of Friday 21st April 1972:

We seem to be finding it difficult to adjust to Belfast’s latest (and first official) no go area: no go as far as traffic is concerned anyway.
The handful of city centre streets which have been closed to traffic since the start of this week look pretty much the same as ever. Except, of course, there aren’t any cars or lorries around.
The streets smell different, fresher and they sound a lot easier on the ear.
All of which strikes one as very pleasant indeed, even if the traffic ban is an emergency measure, rushed through by courtesy of the Special Powers Act, to curb the bomb brigade.
Long before the terror campaign there were many earnest advocates of the downtown pedestrian precinct.
Now we have it and we don’t seem at all sure what to do with it.
The roadways are deserted. Pedestrians still faithfully toe the pavement line and glance over their shoulders before crossing the road—necessary precautions in the pre-ban days.
Traders, too, haven’t quite caught on to the possibilities.




The earliest figurative use of no-go area that I have found is from Where the grass is greener for seam bowlers, by John Arlott, published in The Guardian (Manchester, Lancashire, England) of Monday 3rd July 1972:

British and European footballers will soon negotiate freely for contracts within one another’s countries. Only the erection in unnatural barriers can make Britain a no-go area of employment in industry or in games.

The second-earliest figurative use of no-go area that I have found is from Stumbling into Europe, published in The Guardian (Manchester, Lancashire, England) of Friday 14th July 1972:

Somewhat more than two million words have been spoken during Parliament’s debates on the European legislation, by the Solicitor-General’s reckoning. The Commons committee stage alone had occupied 22 days, or 173 hours, before last night’s final vote. Whether so many words and so much debating have changed anyone’s mind is questionable. The principle of entry was approved in October by a large majority—much larger than had been expected. Last night the House of Commons was being asked to give legislative effect to the decision of principle. […]
Parliament’s sovereignty was a persistent theme in yesterday’s debate. The Opposition fears a severe loss of authority—creation of a largeno goarea for British democracy, in Mr Shore1’s words. Sir Geoffrey Howe2, for the Government, no less resolutely argued that acceptance of Community law within the treaties was consistent with Parliament’s sovereignty.

1 Peter David Shore (1924-2001) was a British Labour politician opposed to the United Kingdom’s entry into the European Economic Community.
2 Richard Edward Geoffrey Howe (1926-2015) was a British Conservative politician.

Note: cf. also origin of the word ‘Brexit’

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.