Some history of conflict in Ireland:

The present situation is completely defined by past events and would be too difficult to explain without talking about the past.

Who, specifically, make up the two parties of conflict?

In a nut-shell it's English on one side and Irish on the other.
English being loyalists, Irish being Irish now since the Republic of Ireland is not part of Great Britain anymore. Before independence it was basically loyalists vs. separatists.

Many people mistakenly call it Catholics vs. Protestants. That's not really what it is and that's not what it was. Most of the Irish were Catholic and a majority of the English were protestant.
This did have something to do with it but it was not the main distinction.

About how long has this been going on?

It has been going on for 100's of years.
England started fighting with the Irish way back around 1200.

English created "The Pale" a big circle around Dublin controlled by the English (14th or 15th century).
Essentially a walled in area where the English took control.
So at this point small parts of Ireland were under English control.
They kept fighting to gain more and more control.
At the time there were a few "Kings" in Ireland (O'Neill and others).
Each controlled different areas of Ireland.
They worked together to some extent to fight against the English.
Spanish Armada even came over to Ireland to help the Irish leaders fight the English.

"The Flight of the Earls" was when the Irish leaders finally gave up and left the country for mainland Europe. Many went to Spain. These Earls were not really Earls but were Irish leaders. This was near the end of 16th century.

Then King James was king around 1600 or so.
English Lords wanted to take over the church lands in England (and everywhere I guess).
The Catholic church resisted.
King James (of England) was actually a Catholic and therefore resisted also.
So King James was deposed and William of Orange (a protestant) came from the Netherlands to be King. Most of the Irish sided with King James and fought against William of Orange and his forces.
This is probably the strongest link between the conflict and religion that you can find.
Basically English lords wanted to take control of all of the land and the church resisted.

At the Battle of the Boyne (the river Boyne is in Ireland) King James was defeated by William of Orange.
Battle of Limerick right after that (James had left but the Irish regrouped under Padraic Sarsfield vs. William's forces). The Irish forces were defeated.
So William took over Ireland (early 17th century).

A little while after William of Orange came Oliver Cromwell (around 1640).
Oliver Cromwell certainly was an interesting character. Most thought he was a monster. He tortured anyone else who disagreed with him including but not limited to the Irish.
He brought the English army to Ireland because of widespread opposition to English/Cromwell rule.

Are there certain regions that are majorly inclusive of a particular party, like the north and south during the civil war?

Today Ireland is divided into 2 countries. Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Ireland has (for a long time) been divided into 4 parts or regions
Ulster, Munster, Leinster and Connaught.
Ulster is most of the Northern part of Ireland. It includes 9 counties.
Northern Ireland is all of the counties of Ulster except 3.
The three counties in Ulster that are not part of the country of Northern Ireland and are part of the Republic of Ireland are Monaghan, Cavan, and Donegal.
The 6 counties that make up Northern Ireland are
Armagh, Antrim, Derry, Down, Fermanagh, and Tyrone.
All of the counties within the other 3 regions are in the Republic of Ireland.

Here's a useful map for reference:

The country was divided into Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in 1921.
The fact that it was divided was a good thing and a bad thing. The Republic of Ireland became independent from England again, but Northern Ireland remained part of Great Britain.
Many Irish who had fought for independence for many years were now happy that they were independent. However many Irish even in the Republic of Ireland were upset that the country was divided. Many people are still upset about this and would really like to see all of Ireland independent from England and one country.

However the people who live in Northern Ireland at this point are English. Most of them are content to be English. In fact many of them or their ancestors came over from England. Many of the families who live there (or their ancestors) originally lived in England but were given land in Ireland if they would go live there. So they really are English not just from Northern Ireland.

Some key events:

1916 Easter Sunday uprising-
A few Irish Patriots took over the General Post Office in Dublin and declared Ireland an independent country. They were tried and hanged.
1916 or so - The I.R.A. (Irish Republican Army) was formed. This was an army of Irish people fighting for independence from England.
1918-1921 England sent soldiers (called Black and Tans) to Ireland to suppress the IRA.
1921 an agreement was signed which made Ireland an independent country and kept Northern Ireland
as part of England. Eamonn DeValera was the acting president of Ireland even though they weren't really a separate country yet. He sent Michael Collins to England to negotiate a peace agreement. Michael Collins signed the agreement. However DeValera did not support the treaty because it divided up the country. This ended up starting a civil war.

©2002 -