seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Dáil Éireann Declares War with Great Britain

first-dailThe President of the Dáil Éireann, Éamon de Valera, secures on March 11th, 1921, the chamber’s support for a formal declaration of war with Great Britain.

In January 1921, at his first Dáil meeting after his return to a country gripped by the War of Independence, de Valera introduces a motion calling on the Irish Republican Army (IRA) to desist from ambushes and other tactics that are allowing the British to successfully portray it as a terrorist group, and to take on the British forces with conventional military methods. This they strongly oppose, and de Valera relents, issuing a statement expressing support for the IRA, and claims it is fully under the control of the Dáil. He then, along with Cathal Brugha and Austin Stack, bring pressure to bear on Michael Collins to undertake a journey to the United States himself, on the pretext that only he can take up where de Valera had left off. Collins successfully resists this move and stays in Ireland.

The British government’s proposal of a Truce and negotiations over Ireland’s future is a result of both domestic and international factors. The British have been unable to defeat the Irish struggle for independence and there is a danger that the longer it continues the more radicalised it is becoming. In March 1921 Southern Unionist leader Lord Midleton also points to the strengthening of the independence movement, telling David Lloyd George and Hamar Greenwood that the resistance is now three times stronger than in July 1920. The following month Greenwood himself is talking of pacification taking years rather than months. British government policy in Ireland is also creating problems for it both internationally (especially in the United States) and in Britain itself. At the same time Britain is facing growing independence struggles in Egypt and India. It also faces an increasingly difficult financial situation. British foreign trade suffers a substantial collapse in 1921 as its exports fall by 48 percent over a twelve month period, its imports drop by 44 percent, and unemployment rapidly increases. The Economist describes 1921 as one of the worst years of depression since the industrial revolution began.

There is a substantial debate in the British Cabinet about whether or not to proceed along these lines. An example of this is the May 12, 1921 Cabinet meeting. Greenwood appears to have revised his view about how long pacification will take. He is opposed to the Truce proposal at this stage, feeling that the republicans are being worn down. Health Minister Christopher Addison disagrees and favours a truce. Winston Churchill, who has been in favour of the substantial escalation of coercion, now supports a truce partly because things are getting “very unpleasant as regards the interests of this country all over the world; we are getting an odious reputation; poisoning our relations with the United States.” Herbert Fisher, who is a historian and head of the Board of Education as well as a politician, also worries, “the present situation is degrading to the moral life of the whole country; a truce would mean a clear moral and political gain” and that if the IRA accepts the truce it will be hard for them to start up again, it will also “create a big rift in Sinn Féin ranks, the moderate Sinn Féin would have to come out into the open.” This meeting rejects the idea of a truce. In June, however, a memorandum from Nevil Macready states that beating the republicans will require coercion being carried out to the maximum and if this is done the cabinet will have to stand by 100 executions a week. Such a policy is a political impossibility. In this situation, Lloyd George proposes an Anglo-Irish conference and negotiations.

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Occupation of the Four Courts in Dublin

occupation-of-four-courtsAbout 200 Anti-Treaty Irish Republican Army militants led by Rory O’Connor occupy the Four Courts in the centre of Dublin on April 14, 1922 in defiance of the Provisional Government. They intend to provoke the British troops, who are still in the country, to attack them, which they believe will restart the war with Britain and re-unite the Irish Republican Army against their common enemy. They also occupy other smaller buildings regarded as being associated with the former British administration, such as the Ballast Office and the Freemasons’ Hall in Molesworth Street, but the Four Courts remains the focus of interest. On June 15, O’Connor sends out men to collect the rifles that belong to the mutineers of the Civic Guards.

Winston Churchill and the Cabinet of the United Kingdom apply pressure on the Provisional Government to dislodge the rebels in Four Courts, considering their presence there as a violation of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Michael Collins, President of the Provisional Government Cabinet, tries desperately to persuade O’Connor and his men to leave the building over the next three months. At the Third IRA Convention, the executive is split over whether the Irish Government should demand that all British troops leave within 72 hours. The motion is defeated, but the IRA splits into two factions opposed to the government, one conciliatory, led by Liam Lynch, Sean Moylan, and Liam Deasy, and the other less moderate, led by Tom Barry and Joe McKelvey.

During the month of June 1922, the Provisional Government engages in intense negotiations with the British Cabinet, seeking to diffuse the threat of imminent civil war. However, the conservative British Cabinet refuses to cooperate.

On June 22, 1922, arch-Unionist Sir Henry Wilson is assassinated by two IRA men, both former British soldiers, Reginald Dunne and Joseph O’Sullivan. It is considered by some that this is done on the orders of Michael Collins, who has been a close friend of Dunne in the London Irish Republican Brotherhood. David Lloyd George writes an angry letter to Collins which includes the line “…still less can Mr. Rory O’Connor be permitted to remain his followers and his arsenal in open rebellion in the heart of Dublin… organizing and sending out from this centre enterprises of murder not only in the area of your Government…”

On June 28, 1922, after the Four Courts garrison has kidnapped J.J. “Ginger” O’Connell, a general in the new Free State Army, Collins begins shelling the Four Courts with borrowed British artillery. O’Connor and 130 men surrender on July 3 and are arrested and imprisoned at Mountjoy Prison. This incident sparks the Irish Civil War as fighting breaks out around the country between pro and anti-treaty factions.


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The Curragh Incident

curragh-incidentThe Curragh Incident occurs in the Curragh, County Kildare, on March 20, 1914. The Curragh Camp is the main base for the British Army in Ireland, which at the time forms part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Ireland was about to receive a measure of devolved government, which included Ulster.

In early 1912, the Liberal British government of H. H. Asquith introduces the Third Home Rule Bill for Ireland, which proposes the creation of an autonomous Irish Parliament in Dublin. Unionists have objected to being under the jurisdiction of the proposed Dublin Parliament. Ulster Unionists found the Ulster Volunteers (UVF) paramilitary group in 1912, aided by a number of senior retired British officers, to fight against the British government and/or against a future Irish Home Rule government proposed by the Bill.

In September 1913, with Irish Home Rule due to become law in 1914, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS) Sir John French expresses his concerns to the government and to the King that the British Army, if ordered to act against the UVF, might split. The British Cabinet contemplates some kind of military action against the Ulster Volunteers who threaten to rebel against Home Rule. Many officers, especially those with Irish Protestant connections, of whom the most prominent is Hubert Gough, threaten to resign rather than obey, privately encouraged from London by senior officers including Major-General Henry Hughes Wilson.

Although the Cabinet issues a document claiming that the issue has been a misunderstanding, the Secretary of State for War J.E.B. Seely and French are forced to resign after amending it to promise that the British Army will not be used against the Ulster loyalists.

The event contributes both to unionist confidence and to the growing Irish separatist movement, convincing Irish nationalists that they can not expect support from the British army in Ireland. In turn, this increases renewed nationalist support for paramilitary forces. The Home Rule Bill is passed but postponed, and the growing fear of civil war in Ireland leads on to the British government considering some form of partition of Ireland instead, which eventually takes place.

The event is also notable in being one of the few incidents since the English Civil Wars in which elements of the British military openly intervene, as it turns out successfully, in politics.