Irish War of Independence

Irish War of Independence

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Irish War of Independence, Interwar Period

caption= The No.2 3rd Tipperary Brigade Flying Column during the war
date=January 21, 1919 - July 11, 1921 (though violence continued until July 1922)
casus=Irish Independence
result= Anglo-Irish Treaty; end of British rule in 26 of Ireland's 32 counties
combatant1=Flagicon|Ireland Irish Republican Army
combatant2=flagicon|UK United Kingdom government forces
commander1=Michael Collins
Richard Mulcahy
Cathal Brugha
Important local IRA leaders
commander2=Henry Hugh Tudor
strength1= Irish Republican Army Paper strength over 100,000 (Only 15,000 mobilized at the start of the war)
strength2= British Army c.20,000,
Royal Irish Constabulary 9,700,
Black and Tans 7,000,
Auxiliary Division 1,400, Ulster Special Constabulary 4,000, also some loyalist paramilitaries
casualties1= c.550 IRA, [(Hopkinson, Irish War of Independence p 201-202)]
casualties2= 410 RIC, 261 British Army, 43 USC [Hopkinson, Irish War of Independence p 201-202) Hopkinson lists 363 RIC killed in Southern Ireland 1919-21, Robert Lynch, the Northern IRA and the Early Years of Partition, gives a figure of 38 RIC and 43 USC personnel killed in Northern Ireland 1920-22 p.227 and p.67. The RIC casualty figure includes 4 Dublin Metropolitan Policemen and 2 Harbour Police]
casualties3=c.750 Civilians [Hopkinson lists 200 killed in southern Ireland 1919-21,Richard English, Armed Struggle, a History of the IRA, gives a total of 557 killed in Northern Ireland in 1920-1922 page 39-40]
name=Creation of independent Irish state
battles=Easter Rising (1916) - War of Independence (1919-21) - Civil War (1922-23)
The Irish War of Independence (or Tan War, or Anglo-Irish War, [The war is often referred to as the "Irish War of Independence" in Ireland and as the "Anglo-Irish War" in Britain, the "Tan War" by anti-Treaty republicans and was known contemporaneously as "the Troubles," not to be confused with the later conflict in Northern Ireland, which is also referred to as the "the Troubles."] Irish: "Cogadh na Saoirse") from January 1919 to July 1921 was a guerrilla war mounted against the British government in Ireland by the Irish Republican Army (IRA).

The IRA that fought in this conflict under the First Dáil, the Irish parliament created in 1919 by a majority of Irish Members of Parliament (MPs) is often referred to as the "Old IRA" to distinguish it from later organizations that used the same name.


The Home Rule Crisis

Since the 1880s, Irish nationalists in the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) had been demanding Home Rule, or self-government, from Britain. Fringe organisations, such as Arthur Griffith's Sinn Féin instead argued for some form of Irish independence, but they were in a small minority at this time.

The demand for Home Rule was eventually granted by the British Government in 1912, immediately prompting a prolonged crisis within the United Kingdom as Ulster Unionists formed an armed organisation -- the Ulster Volunteers -- to resist this measure of devolution. In turn, taking their cue from the Unionists, Nationalists formed their own military organisation, the Irish Volunteers. The British Parliament passed the Third Home Rule Act with an amending Bill for the partition of Ireland introduced by Ulster Unionists, but the Act's enactment was postponed by the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914. The majority of Nationalists followed their IPP leaders and John Redmond's call to support Britain and the Allied war effort, the intention being to ensure the enactment of Home Rule after the war. But a significant minority of the Irish Volunteers opposed the war. The Volunteer movement split, a majority leaving to form the National Volunteers under John Redmond. The remaining Irish Volunteers, under Eoin MacNeill, held that they would maintain their organisation until Home Rule had been granted. Within this Volunteer movement, another faction, led by the separatist Irish Republican Brotherhood, began to prepare for a revolt against British rule.

The Easter Rising

The plan for revolt was realised in the Easter Rising of 1916, in which the Volunteers, now explicitly declaring a republic, launched an insurrection whose aim was to end British rule and to found an Irish Republic. The rising was almost exclusively confined to Dublin and was put down within a week, but the British response — executing the leaders of the insurrection and arresting thousands of nationalist activists — galvanised support for the separatist Sinn Féin — the party which the republicans first adopted and then took over. By now support for the British war effort was on the wane, and Irish public opinion was shocked and outraged by some of the actions committed by British troops — particularly the murder of Francis Sheehy-Skeffington and the imposition of wartime martial law.

Secondly, the British, in the face of the crisis caused by the German Spring Offensive in April 1918, attempted to introduce conscription into Ireland. This further alienated the Irish electorate and produced mass demonstrations during the Conscription Crisis of 1918. By the time of the November 1918 election, alienation from British rule was widespread.

To Irish Republicans, the Irish War of Independence had begun with the Proclamation of the Irish Republic during the Easter Rising of 1916. [According to Republican Sinn Féin, "The executions of the 1916 leaders quickly swung public support behind the ideals and objectives of those who had participated in and led the Rising "ending British rule and the establishment of a free and independent Irish Republic." [ Sinn Féin 100 years of unbroken continuity 1905-2005] ] Republicans argued that the conflict of 1919-21 (and indeed the subsequent Irish Civil War) was the defence of this Republic against attempts to destroy it.

The First Dáil

More directly, the war had its origins in the formation of an independent Irish parliament, the Dáil Éireann, by unilateral declaration of the majority Sinn Féin MPs elected in Irish constituencies in the 1918 general elections in Ireland. In the general election Irish voters showed their disapproval of British policy by giving Sinn Féin 70% (73 seats out of 105) of Irish seats. Sinn Féin promised not to sit in the UK Parliament at Westminster, but rather to set up an Irish Parliament. This parliament, known as the First Dáil, and its ministry, called the Aireacht, declared Irish independence by reaffirming the 1916 declaration. The Irish Volunteers were reconstituted as the 'Irish Republican Army' or IRA. The IRA was perceived by some members of Dáil Éireann to have a mandate to wage war on the Dublin Castle British administration.


Initial hostilities

While it was not clear in the beginning of 1919 that the Dáil ever intended to gain independence by military means, and war was not threatened in Sinn Féin's 1918 manifesto, an incident on 19 January 1919 sparked off the armed conflict. Several IRA members acting independently at Soloheadbeg, in County Tipperary, led by Sean Treacy and Dan Breen, attacked and shot two Royal Irish Constabulary officers who were escorting explosives.

Breen later recalled: "... we took the action deliberately, having thought over the matter and talked it over between us. Treacy had stated to me that the only way of starting a war was to kill someone, and we wanted to start a war, so we intended to kill some of the police whom we looked upon as the foremost and most important branch of the enemy forces.... The only regret that we had following the ambush was that there were only two policemen in it, instead of the six we had expected...." [History Ireland, May 2007, p.56.]

This is widely regarded as the beginning of the War of Independence, and the men acted on their own initiative to try to start a war. Martial law was declared in South Tipperary three days later. On the same day as the shootings at Soloheadbeg, the First Dáil convened in the Mansion House in Dublin where it ratified the 1916 proclamation, issued a new Declaration of Independence, demanded the evacuation of the British military garrison, and called on the "free nations of the world" to recognise Ireland's independence.

The war was not formally declared by the Dáil until well into the conflict, however. On April 10 1919 the Dáil was told: "As regards the Republican prisoners, we must always remember that this country is at war with England and so we must in a sense regard them as necessary casualties in the great fight." [ [ Dáil Éireann - Volume 1 - 10 April, 1919] ] In January 1921, two years after the war had started, the Dáil debated "whether it was feasible to accept formally a state of war that was being thrust on them, or not", and decided not to declare war. [ [ Dáil Éireann - Volume 1 - 25 January, 1921] ] Then on March 11, Dáil Éireann President Éamon de Valera formally 'accepted' the existence of a 'state of war with England'. [ [ Dáil Éireann - Volume 1 - 11 March, 1921] ] The delay allowed a balancing of the military and political realities.

Violence spreads

Volunteers began to attack British government property, carried out raids for arms and funds and targeted and killed prominent members of the British administration. The first was Resident Magistrate John C. Milling, who was shot dead in Westport, County Mayo, for having sent Volunteers to prison for unlawful assembly and drilling. [Hopkinson, Irish War of Independence, pg. 26] They mimicked the successful tactics of the Boers, fast violent raids without uniform. Although some republican leaders, notably Éamon de Valera, favoured classic conventional warfare in order to legitimise the new republic in the eyes of the world, the more practically experienced Michael Collins and the broader IRA leadership opposed these tactics as they had led to the military débacle of 1916. Others, notably Arthur Griffith, preferred a campaign of civil disobedience rather than armed struggle [M.E. Collins, Ireland 1868-1966, pg. 254] The violence used was at first deeply unpopular with the Irish people and it took the heavy-handed British response to popularise it among much of the population.

During the early part of the conflict, roughly from 1919 to the summer of 1920, there was a relatively limited amount of violence. Much of the nationalist campaign involved popular mobilisation and the creation of a republican "state within a state" in opposition to British rule. British journalist Robert Lynn wrote in the "Daily News" in July 1920 that, "So far as the mass of people are concerned, the policy of the day is not active but a passive policy. Their policy is not so much to attack the Government as to ignore it and to build up a new government by its side". [Hopkinson, Irish War of Independence, pg.42]

The IRA's main target throughout the conflict was the mainly Catholic Irish police force, the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC), which were the British government's eyes and ears in Ireland. Its members and barracks (especially the more isolated ones) were vulnerable, and they were a source of much-needed arms. The RIC numbered 9,700 men stationed in 1,500 barracks throughout Ireland. [The RIC's strength in late 1919 was down to 9,300 but extensive recruitment saw it reach a height of over 14,000 by June 1921, Hopkinson, "Irish War of Independence", pg. 49]

A policy of ostracism of RIC men was announced by the Dáil on 10 April 1919. [Hopkinson, War of Independence, pg.26] This proved successful in demoralising the force as the war went on, as people turned their faces from a force increasingly compromised by association with government repression. The rate of resignation went up, and recruitment in Ireland dropped off dramatically. Often the RIC were reduced to buying food at gunpoint as shops and other businesses refused to deal with them. Some RIC men cooperated with the IRA through fear or sympathy, supplying the organisation with valuable information. By contrast with the effectiveness of the widespread public boycott of the police, the military actions carried out by the IRA against the RIC at this time were relatively limited. In 1919, 11 RIC men and 4 Dublin Metropolitan Police were killed and another 20 RIC wounded. [Hopkinson, Irish War of Independence pg 201-2]

Other aspects of mass participation in the conflict included strikes by organised workers in opposition to the British presence in Ireland. In Limerick in April 1919, a general strike was called by the Limerick Trades and Labour Council, as a protest against the declaration of a "Special Military Area" under the Defence of the Realm Act which covered most of Limerick city and a part of the county. Special permits, to be issued by the RIC, would now be required to enter the city. The Trades Council's special Strike Committee controlled the city for four days in an episode that was nicknamed the Limerick Soviet. [The Irish Times" referred to this committee as a Limerick Soviet [] ]

Similarly, in May 1920, Dublin dockers refused to handle any war matériel, and were soon joined by the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, who banned railway drivers from carrying British forces. Train drivers were brought over from England after drivers refused to carry British troops. The strike badly hampered British troop movements until December 1920 when it was called off. The British government managed to bring the situation to an end when they threatened to withhold grants from the railway companies, which would have meant that workers would no longer have been paid. [Hokinson, Irish War of Independence pg. 43]

Violent attacks by the IRA also steadily increased, however. By the spring of 1920, they were attacking isolated RIC stations in rural areas, causing them to be abandoned as the police retreated to the larger towns.

Collapse of the British administration

In early April, 400 abandoned RIC barracks were burned to the ground to prevent them being used again, along with almost one hundred income tax offices. This had two effects. Firstly the RIC withdrew from much of the countryside, leaving it in the hands of IRA. [M.E. Collins, Ireland 1868-1966, p.258] In June-July 1920, summer assizes failed all across the south and west of Ireland. Trials by jury could not be held because jurors would not attend. The Chief Secretary for Ireland, Hamar Greenwood, informed the Coalition Cabinet that "the administrative machinery of the courts has been brought to a standstill".citequote|date=January 2008 The collapse of the court system demoralized the RIC. Many police resigned and retired over the summer. The Irish Republican Police (IRP) was founded between April and June 1920 under the authority of Dáil Éireann and the IRA Chief of Staff Cathal Brugha to replace the RIC and to enforce the ruling of the Dáil Courts, set up under the Irish Republic. By 1920, the IRP had a presence in 21 of Ireland’s 32 counties. [M.E Collins, Ireland, pg.252] The Dáil Courts were generally socially conservative, despite their revolutionary origins, and refused to re-distribute the lands of wealthy landowners to poor farmers. [Hopkinson, Irish War of Independence, pg.44]

Secondly, the Inland Revenue ceased to operate in most of Ireland. People were instead encouraged to subscribe to Collins' "National Loan", set up to raise funds for the young government and its army. By the end of the year the loan had reached £358,000. It eventually reached £380,000. An even larger amount, totalling over $5 million, was raised in the United States by Irish Americans and sent to Ireland to finance the Republic. [Hopkinson, Irish War of Independence, pg. 43] Rates were still paid to local councils, but nine out of eleven of these were controlled by Sinn Féin, who naturally refused to pass them on to the British government. [Ibid. pg. 44] Thus, by mid 1920, the Irish Republic was a reality in the lives of many people, enforcing its own law, maintaining its own armed forces and collecting its own taxes. The British Liberal journal, "The Nation" wrote in August 1920 that "the central fact of the present situation in Ireland is that the Irish Republic exists". [ Hopkinson, Irish War of Independence, pg 42]

The British forces, in trying to re-assert their control over the country, often resorted to arbitrary reprisals against republican activists and the civilian population. An unofficial government policy of reprisals began in September 1919 in Fermoy, County Cork, when 200 British soldiers looted and burned the main businesses of the town, after one of their number had been killed in an arms raid by the local IRA. [ [ September 1919 ] ]
President of the Irish Republic Arthur Griffith estimated that in the first 18 months of the conflict, Crown forces carried out 38,720 raids on private homes, arrested 4,982 suspects, committed 1,604 armed assaults, sacked and shot up 102 towns and killed 77 unarmed republicans or other civilians. Fact|date=January 2008

In March 1920, Tomás Mac Curtain, the Sinn Féin Lord Mayor of Cork, was shot dead, in front of his wife at his home, by men with blackened faces who were later seen returning to the local police barracks. The jury at the inquest into his death returned a verdict of wilful murder against David Lloyd George (the British Prime Minister) and District Inspector Swanzy, among others. Swanzy was later tracked down and killed in Lisburn, in County Antrim. This pattern of killings and reprisals escalated in the second half of 1920 and in 1921. [Collins, Ireland, pg. 262]

IRA organization and operations

Michael Collins was the main driving force behind the independence movement. Nominally the Minister of Finance in the republic's government, and IRA Director of Intelligence, he was actively involved in providing funds and arms to the IRA units that needed them, and in the selection of officers. Collins' natural intelligence, organisational capability and sheer drive galvanised many who came in contact with him. He established what proved an effective network of spies among sympathetic members of the Dublin Metropolitan Police's (DMP) "G division" and other important branches of the British administration. The G division men were detested by the IRA as often they were used to identify volunteers who would have been unknown to British soldiers or the later Black and Tans. Collins set up the "Squad", a group of men whose sole duty was to seek out and kill "G-men", members of the DMP's relatively small political division active in subverting the republican movement, and other British spies and agents. Collins' Squad began killing RIC intelligence officers from 1919 onwards. Many G-men were offered a chance to resign or leave Ireland by the IRA, and some took these options.

The Chief of Staff of the IRA was Richard Mulcahy, who was responsible for organising and directing IRA units around the country. In theory, both Collins and Mulcahy were responsible to Cathal Brugha, the Dáil's Minister of Defence. However, in practice, Brugha had only a supervisory role, recommending or objecting to specific actions. A great deal also depended on IRA leaders in local areas (such as Liam Lynch, Tom Barry, Sean Moylan, Sean MacEoin and Ernie O'Malley) who organised guerrilla activity, largely on their own initiative. For most of the conflict, IRA activity was concentrated in Munster and Dublin, with only isolated active IRA units elsewhere, such as in north County Longford and western County Mayo.

While the paper membership of the IRA, carried over from the Irish Volunteers, was over 100,000 men, Michael Collins estimated that only 15,000 men actively served in the IRA during the course of the war, with about 3,000 on active service at any time. There were also support organisations Cumann na mBan (the IRA women's group) and Fianna Éireann (youth movement), who carried weapons and intelligence for IRA men and secured food and lodgings for them.

The IRA benefited from the widespread help given to them by the general Irish population, who generally refused to pass information to the RIC and the British military and who often provided "safe houses" and provisions to IRA units "on the run". Much of the IRA's popularity arose from the excessive reaction of the Crown forces to IRA activity.

When Éamon de Valera returned from the United States, he demanded in the Dáil that the IRA desist from the ambushes and assassinations that were allowing the British to successfully portray it as a terrorist group, and to take on the British forces with conventional military methods. This unrealistic proposal was immediately dismissed, but illustrated how many in the Sinn Féin leadership were out of touch with the nature of the conflict.

Martial law

The British responded to the escalating violence in Ireland with increasing use of force. Reluctant to deploy the regular British Army into the country in greater numbers, they set up two paramilitary police units to aid the RIC. The "Black and Tans" were set up to bolster the flagging RIC. 7,000 strong, they were mainly ex-British soldiers demobilised after World War I. First deployed to Ireland in March 1920, most came from English and Scottish cities. While officially they were part of the RIC, in reality they were a paramilitary force. After their deployment in March 1920, they rapidly gained a reputation for drunkenness and ill discipline that did more harm to the British government's moral authority in Ireland than any other group. In response to IRA actions, in the summer of 1920, the "Tans" burned and sacked numerous small towns throughout Ireland, including Balbriggan, Trim, Templemore and others.

In July 1920, another quasi-military police body, the Auxiliaries, consisting of 2,215 former British army officers, arrived in Ireland. The Auxiliary Division had a reputation just as bad as the Tans for their mistreatment of the civilian population but tended to be more effective and more willing to take on the IRA. The policy of reprisals, which involved public denunciation or denial and private approval, was famously satirised by Lord Hugh Cecil when he said: "It seems to be agreed that there is no such thing as reprisals, but they are having a good effect." [Richard Bennett, "The Black and Tans", E Hulton and Co Ltd, London, 1959, p107, ISBN 1566198208]

On August 9, 1920, the British Parliament passed the Restoration of Order in Ireland Act, which suspended all coroners' courts, because of the large number of warrants served on members of the Crown forces. They were replaced with "military courts of enquiry". In addition, the powers of military court martials were extended to cover the whole population and were empowered to use the death penalty and internment without trial. Finally, government payments to local governments in Sinn Féin hands were suspended. This act has been interpreted by historians as a choice by Prime Minister David Lloyd George to put down the rebellion in Ireland rather than negotiate with the Republican leadership. [Michael Hopkinson, "The Irish War of Independence", p.65, Hopkinson has characterised the Act as a "halfway house to martial law"] As a result, violence escalated steadily from that summer, and sharply after November 1920 until July 1921.

It was in this period that a large-scale mutiny broke out among the Irish Connaught Rangers, stationed in India. Two were killed whilst trying to storm an armoury and one was later executed.

November 1920-July 1921

On November 21, 1920, Collins' Squad killed 14 and wounded 5 people consisting of British Army officers, police officers and civilians. These included members of the so-called "Cairo Gang" and a Courts-martial officer at different places around Dublin. In response, Auxiliaries drove in trucks into Croke Park (Dublin's GAA football and hurling ground) during a football match, shooting into the crowd. Fourteen unarmed people were killed including one of the players, Michael Hogan from Tipperary GAA and a further 65 people were wounded. Later that day two republican prisoners, and an unassociated friend who had been arrested with them, were supposedly "shot while trying to escape" (in fact executed) in Dublin Castle. This day became known as Bloody Sunday. Today a stand in Croke Park is named the Hogan Stand, after the player who was killed in the attack.

On November 28 1920, only a week after Bloody Sunday in Dublin, the west Cork unit of the IRA, under Tom Barry, ambushed a patrol of Auxiliaries at Kilmichael in County Cork, killing all but one of the 18-man patrol. This action marked a significant escalation of the conflict, with counties Cork, Kerry, Limerick, and Tipperary—all in the province of Munster—being put under martial law on December 10. Shortly afterwards, in January 1921, "official reprisals" were sanctioned by the British and they began with the burning of seven houses in Midleton in Cork.

The Lord Mayor of Cork, Terence MacSwiney, died on hunger strike in Brixton Prison in London in November, while two other IRA prisoners, Joe Murphy and Michael Fitzgerald, died in Cork Jail. The centre of Cork was burnt out by Crown forces, who then prevented firefighters from tackling the blaze, on December 11 1920 in reprisal for an IRA ambush in the city.

During the following eight months until the Truce of July 1921, there was a spiralling of the death toll in the conflict, with 1,000 people including the RIC police, British military, IRA volunteers and civilians, being killed in the months between January and July 1921 alone. [Peter Hart (above) has described this as ethnic cleansing of Protestants from Munster. Ryan (also above) quotes Lionel Curtis, political advisor to Lloyd George, writing in early 1921 "Protestants in the south do not complain of persecution on sectarian grounds. If Protestant farmers are murdered, it is not by reason of their religion, but rather because they are under suspicion as Loyalist. The distinction is fine, but a real one." Nevertheless, between 1911 and 1926, the territory of the Free State lost 34 percent of its (small) Protestant population to migration.] This represents about 70% of the total casualties for the entire three-year conflict. In addition, 4,500 IRA personnel (or suspected sympathisers) were interned in this time. [(M.E. Collins, "Ireland" p 265)] In the middle of this violence, the Dáil formally declared war on Britain in March 1921.

On February 1, the first execution under martial law of an IRA man took place. Cornelius Murphy of Millstreet, Cork was shot in Cork city. On February 28, six more were executed, again in Cork. In all, 14 IRA volunteers were officially executed in the course of the war.

On March 19 1921, Tom Barry's 100-strong West Cork IRA unit fought a large-scale action against 1,200 British troops - the Crossbarry Ambush. Barry's men narrowly avoided being trapped by converging British columns and inflicted between ten and thirty killed on the British side. Just two days later, on March 21, the Kerry IRA attacked a train at the Headford junction near Killarney. An estimated twenty British soldiers were killed, as well as two IRA men and three civilians. Most of the actions in the war were on a smaller scale than this, but the IRA did have other significant victories in ambushes, for example at Millstreet in Cork and at Scramogue in Roscommon, also in March 1921 and at Tourmakeady and Carowkennedy in Mayo in May and June. Equally common, however, were failed ambushes, the worst of which, for example at Upton and Clonmult in Cork in February 1921, saw five and twelve IRA men killed respectively and more captured. The IRA in Mayo suffered a comparable reverse at Kilmeena. Fears of informers after such failed ambushes often led to a spate of IRA shootings of informers, real and imagined.

The biggest single loss for the IRA, however, came in Dublin. On May 25 1921, several hundred IRA men from the Dublin Brigade occupied and burned the Custom House (the centre of local government in Ireland) in Dublin city centre. Symbolically, this was intended to show that British rule in Ireland was untenable. However, from a military point of view, it was a fiasco in which five IRA men were killed and over eighty were captured. This showed the IRA was not well enough equipped or trained to take on British forces in a conventional manner. However, it did not, as is sometimes claimed, cripple the IRA in Dublin. The Dublin Brigade carried out 107 attacks in the city in May and 93 in June, showing a falloff in activity, but not a dramatic one. However, by July 1921, most IRA units were chronically short of both weapons and ammunition. Also, for all their effectiveness at guerrilla warfare, they had, as Richard Mulcahy recalled, "as yet not been able to drive the enemy [the British] out of anything but a fairly good sized police barracks". [Dorhty McArdle, "The Irish Republic", pg. 568]

Still, many military historians have concluded that the IRA fought a largely successful and lethal guerrilla war, which forced the British government to conclude that the IRA could not be defeated militarily. [According to historian Michael Hopkinson, the guerrilla warfare, "was often courageous and effective" (Hopkinson, "Irish War of Independence", p202). Another historian, David Fitzpatrick notes that, "The guerrilla fighters... were vastly outnumbered by the forces of the Crown... the success of the Irish Volunteers in surviving so long is therefore noteworthy" (Bartlett, Military History of Ireland, p 406)] The failure of the British efforts to put down the guerrillas was illustrated by the events of "Black Whitsun" on May 13-15 1921. A general election for the parliament of Southern Ireland was held on May 13. Sinn Féin won 124 of the new parliament's 128 seats unopposed, but its elected members refused to take their seats. Under the terms of the Government of Ireland Act, the Southern Parliament was dissolved, and Southern Ireland was to be ruled as a crown colony. Over the next two days (May 14-15), the IRA killed fifteen policemen. These events marked the complete failure of the British Coalition Government's Irish policy -- both the failure to enforce a settlement without negotiating with Sinn Féin and a failure to defeat the IRA.

By the time of the truce, however, many Republican leaders, including Michael Collins, were convinced that if the war went on for much longer, there was a chance that the IRA campaign as it was then organised could be brought to a standstill. Because of this, plans were drawn up to "bring the war to England". The IRA did take the campaign to the streets of Glasgow. [ [ Battle of Rottenrow] ] It was decided that key economic targets, such as the Liverpool docks, would be bombed. Nineteen warehouses there had been burned to the ground by the IRA the previous November. The units charged with these missions would more easily evade capture because England was not under, and British public opinion was unlikely to accept, martial law. These plans were abandoned because of the truce.

The north-east

killings between Catholics, who were largely Nationalist, and Protestants, who were mostly Unionist.

ummer 1920

While IRA attacks were less common in the north-east than elsewhere, the unionist community saw itself as being besieged by armed Catholic nationalists who seemed to have taken over the rest of Ireland. As a result, they retaliated against the northern Catholic community as a whole. Such action was largely condoned by the unionist leadership and abetted by state forces. James Craig, for instance, wrote in 1920, "The Loyalist rank and file have determined to take action... they now feel the situation is so desperate that unless the Government will take immediate action, it may be advisable for them to see what steps can be taken towards a system of 'organised' reprisals against the rebels". [(Hopkinson, "Irish War of Independence", p. 158)]

The first cycle of attacks and reprisals broke out in the summer of 1920. On July 17 1920, a British Colonel Gerald Smyth was assassinated by the IRA in the County Club in Cork city in response to a speech, allegedly encouraging indiscriminate reprisals, that was made to police officers of Listowel who had refused orders to move into the more urban areas. [ Constable Jeremiah Mee, leader of the mutiny among the police officers, suggested in a publication of the Sinn Féin newspaper "Irish Bulletin", that Smyth had said that the officers should shoot IRA suspects on sight. In reality, Order No. 5, which Smyth had already said to colleagues that he was going to read out to the officers, said that IRA suspects should be shot as a last resort if the IRA men didn't surrender when challenged. This episode, along with the mutiny, has come down to be known as the Listowel mutiny] . Smyth came from Banbridge, County Down in the north-east and his killing provoked retaliation there against Catholics in Banbridge and Dromore. On July 21 1920, partly in response to the killing of Smyth and partly because of competition over jobs due to the high unemployment rate, loyalists marched on the Harland and Wolff shipyards in Belfast and forced over 7,000 Catholic and left-wing Protestant workers from their jobs. Sectarian rioting broke out in response in Belfast and Derry, resulting in about 40 deaths and many Catholics and Protestants being expelled from their homes. On August 22 1920, RIC Detective Swanzy was shot dead by Cork IRA men while leaving church in Lisburn, County Antrim. Swanzy had been blamed by an inquest jury for the killing of Cork Mayor Thomas MacCurtain. In revenge, local Loyalists burned Catholic residential areas of Lisburn - destroying over 300 homes. While several people were later prosecuted for the burnings, no attempt seems to have been made to halt the attacks at the time. Michael Collins, acting on a suggestion by Sean MacEntee, organised a boycott of Belfast goods in response to the attacks on the Catholic community. The Dail approved a partial boycott on August 6 and a more complete one was implemented by the end of 1920.

Spring 1921

After a lull in violence in the north over the new year, killings there intensified again in the spring of 1921. The northern IRA units came under pressure from the leadership in Dublin to step up attacks in line with the rest of the country. Predictably, this unleashed loyalist reprisals against Catholics. For example, in April 1921, the IRA in Belfast shot dead two Auxiliaries in Donegal Place in Belfast city centre. The same night, two Catholics were killed on the Falls Road. On July 10 1921 the IRA ambushed British forces in Raglan street in Belfast. In the following week, sixteen Catholics were killed and 216 Catholic homes burned in reprisal. Killings on the loyalist side were largely carried by the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), allegedly with the aid of the RIC police and especially the auxiliary police force, the Ulster Special Constabulary or "B-Specials". The Special Constabulary (set up in September 1920), was largely recruited from Ulster Volunteer Force and Orange Lodges and, in the words of historian Michael Hopkinson, "amounted to an officially approved UVF". [Hopkinson, "Irish War of Independence", p. 158] In May James Craig came to Dublin to meet the British Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Lord Fitzalan, and was smuggled by the IRA through Dublin to meet Eamon de Valera. The two leaders discussed the possibility of a truce in Ulster and an amnesty for prisoners. Craig proposed a compromise settlement based on the Government of Ireland Act, with limited independence for the South and autonomy for the North within a Home Rule context. However, the talks came to nothing and violence in the north continued. [Hopkinson, "Irish War of Independence", page 162]

The propaganda war, Summer 1921

Another feature of the war was the use of propaganda by both sides. The British tried to portray the IRA as anti-Protestant in order to encourage loyalism in Irish Protestants and win sympathy for their harsh tactics in Britain. For example, in their communiqués they would always mention the religion of spies or collaborators the IRA had killed if the victim was Protestant, but not if they were Catholic (which was more often), trying to give the impression, in Ireland and abroad, that the IRA were slaughtering Protestants. They encouraged newspaper editors, often forcefully, to do the same.Fact|date=April 2008 In the summer of 1921, a series of articles appeared in a London magazine, entitled "Ireland under the New Terror, Living Under Martial Law". While purporting to be an impartial account of the situation in Ireland, it portrayed the IRA in a very unfavourable light when compared with the Crown forces. In reality the author, Ernest Dowdall, was an Auxiliary and the series was one of many articles planted by the Dublin Castle Propaganda Department (established in August 1920) to influence public opinion in a Britain increasingly dismayed at the behaviour of its security forces in Ireland.

The Catholic hierarchy was critical of the violence of both sides, but especially that of the IRA, continuing a long tradition of condemning militant republicanism. The Bishop of Kilmore, Dr. Finnegan, said: "Any war... to be just and lawful must be backed by a well grounded hope of success. What hope of success have you against the mighty forces of the British Empire? None... none whatever and if it unlawful as it is, every life taken in pursuance of it is murder." Thomas Gilmartin, the Archbishop of Tuam, issued a letter saying that IRA men who took part in ambushes "have broken the truce of God, they have incurred the guilt of murder." However in May 1921, Pope Benedict XV dismayed the British government when he issued a letter that encouraged the "English as well as Irish to calmly consider... some means of agreement", as they had been pushing for a condemnation of the rebellion. They declared that his comments "put HMG (His Majesty's Government) and the Irish murder gang on a footing of equality".

Desmond FitzGerald and Erskine Childers were active in producing the "Irish Bulletin", which detailed government atrocities Irish and British newspapers were unwilling or unable to cover. It was printed secretly and distributed throughout Ireland, and to international press agencies and American, European and sympathetic British politicians.

While the military war made most of Ireland ungovernable from early 1920, it did not actually remove British forces from any part. But the success of Sinn Féin's propaganda campaign did remove the option from the British administration to deepen the conflict. The British cabinet had not sought the war that had developed since 1919. By 1921 one of its members, Winston Churchill, reflected: "What was the alternative? It was to plunge one small corner of the empire into an iron repression, which could not be carried out without an admixture of murder and counter-murder.... Only national self-preservation could have excused such a policy, and no reasonable man could allege that self-preservation was involved." [W. Churchill, "The Aftermath" (Thornton 1929) p297.]

Truce, July 1921 - December 1921

The war of independence in Ireland ended with a truce on July 11, 1921. The conflict had reached a stalemate. Talks that had looked promising the previous year had petered out in December when David Lloyd George insisted that the IRA first surrender their arms. Fresh talks, after the Prime Minister had come under pressure from Herbert Henry Asquith and the Liberal opposition, the Labour Party and the Trades Union Congress, resumed in the spring and resulted in the Truce. From the point of view of the British government, it appeared as if the IRA's guerrilla campaign would continue indefinitely, with spiralling costs in British casualties and in money. More importantly, the British government was facing severe criticism at home and abroad for the actions of Crown forces in Ireland. On June 6, 1921, the British made their first conciliatory gesture, calling off the policy of house burnings as reprisals. On the other side, IRA leaders and in particular Michael Collins, felt that the IRA as it was then organised could not continue indefinitely. It had been hard pressed by the deployment of more regular British soldiers to Ireland and by the lack of arms and ammunition.

The initial breakthrough that led to the truce was credited to three people: King George V, General Jan Smuts of South Africa and British Prime Minister David Lloyd George. The King, who had made his unhappiness at the behaviour of the Black and Tans in Ireland well known to his government, was dissatisfied with the official speech prepared for him for the opening of the new Parliament of Northern Ireland, created as a result of the partition of Ireland. Smuts, a close friend of the King, suggested to him that the opportunity should be used to make an appeal for conciliation in Ireland. The King asked him to draft his ideas on paper. Smuts prepared this draft and gave copies to the King and to Lloyd George. Lloyd George then invited Smuts to attend a British cabinet meeting consultations on the "interesting" proposals Lloyd George had received, without either man informing the Cabinet that Smuts had been their author. Faced with the endorsement of them by Smuts, the King and the Prime Minister, ministers reluctantly agreed to the King's planned 'reconciliation in Ireland' speech.

The speech, when delivered in Belfast on June 22, had a massive impact. It called on "all Irishmen to pause, to stretch out the hand of forbearance and conciliation, to forgive and to forget, and to join in making for the land they love a new era of peace, contentment, and good will."

On June 24 1921, the British Coalition Government's Cabinet decided to propose talks with the leader of Sinn Féin. Coalition Liberals and Unionists agreed that an offer to negotiate would strengthen the Government's position if the revolutionaries refused. Austen Chamberlain, the new leader of the Unionist Party, said that "the King's Speech ought to be followed up as a last attempt at peace before we go to full martial law". Seizing the momentum, Lloyd George then issued an appeal for talks to Éamon de Valera in July 1921. The Irish responded by agreeing to talks. De Valera and Lloyd George ultimately agreed to a truce that was intended to end the fighting and lay the ground for detailed negotiations. Its terms were signed on July 9 and came into effect on July 11. Negotiations on a settlement, however, were delayed for some months as the British government insisted that the IRA first decommission its weapons, but this demand was eventually dropped. It was agreed that British troops would remain confined to their barracks.

Most IRA officers on the ground interpreted the Truce merely as a temporary respite and continued recruiting and training volunteers. Nor did attacks on the RIC or British Army cease altogether. Between December 1921 and February of the next year, there were 80 recorded attacks by the IRA on the soon to be disbanded RIC, leaving 12 dead. [Niall C. Harrington Kerry Landing, p. 8] On February 18 1922, Ernie O'Malley's IRA unit raided the RIC barracks at Clonmel, taking 40 policemen prisoner and seizing over 600 weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition. [Harrington p.10] In addition, some IRA units used the truce period as an opportunity to settle old scores. In April 1922, in the Dunmanway Massacre, an IRA party in Cork killed 10 local Protestants in retaliation for the shooting of one of their men. Those killed were allegedly named in captured British files as informers before the Truce signed the previous July. [Meda Ryan, Tom Barry, "IRA Freedom Fighter", p.157] Over 100 Protestant families fled the area after the killings.

The continuing militancy of many IRA leaders was one of the main factors in the outbreak of the Irish Civil War as they refused to accept the Anglo-Irish Treaty that Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith had negotiated with the British.

Treaty, December 1921 - March 1922

Ultimately, the peace talks led to the negotiation of the Anglo-Irish Treaty (1921), which was then ratified in triplicate: by Dáil Éireann in December 1921 (so giving it legal legitimacy under the governmental system of the Irish Republic), by the House of Commons of Southern Ireland in January 1922 (so giving it constitutional legitimacy according to British theory of who was the legal government in Ireland), and by both Houses of the British parliament.

The treaty allowed Northern Ireland, which had been created by the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, to opt out of the Free State if it wished, which it duly did under the procedures laid down. As agreed, an Irish Boundary Commission was then created to decide on the precise location of the border of the Free State and Northern Ireland. The republican negotiators understood that the Commission would redraw the border according to local nationalist or unionist majorities. Since the 1920 local elections in Ireland had resulted in outright nationalist majorities in County Fermanagh, County Tyrone, the City of Derry and in many District Electoral Divisions of County Armagh and County Londonderry (all north and west of the "interim" border), this might well have left Northern Ireland unviable. However, the Commission chose to leave the border unchanged; as a trade-off, the money owed to Britain by the Free State under the Treaty was not demanded.

A new system of government was created for the new Irish Free State, though for the first year two governments co-existed; an "Aireacht" answerable to the Dáil and headed by President Griffith, and a Provisional Government nominally answerable to the House of Commons of Southern Ireland and appointed by the Lord Lieutenant. (The complexity of this was even shown in the manner by which Lord FitzAlan "appointed" Collins as head of the Provisional Government. In British theory, they met to allow Collins to "Kiss Hands". In republican theory, they met to allow Collins to take the surrender of Dublin Castle.)

Most of the Irish independence movement's leaders were willing to accept this compromise, at least for the time being, though many militant Republicans were not. A majority of the pre-Truce IRA who had fought in the War of Independence, led by Liam Lynch, refused to accept the Treaty and in March 1922 repudiated the authority of the Dáil and the new Free State government, which it accused of betraying the ideal of the Irish Republic. The anti-treaty IRA were supported by the former president of the Republic, Eamon de Valera, and ministers Cathal Brugha and Austin Stack.

Northern Ireland's bloody birth

July 1921-July 1922

While the fighting in the south was largely ended by the Truce on July 11, 1921, in the north killings continued and actually escalated until the summer of 1922. In Belfast, 16 people were killed in the two days after the truce alone. The violence in the city took place in bursts, as attacks on both Catholics and Protestants were rapidly followed by reprisals on the other community. In this way, 20 people died in street fighting and assassinations in north and west Belfast over August 29 to September 1 1921 and another 30 from November 21-25. Loyalists had by this time taken to firing and throwing bombs randomly into Catholic areas and the IRA responded by bombing trams which took Protestant workers to their places of employment. [Alan F Parkinson, Belfast's Unholy War, ISBN1-85182-792-7 hbk p316]

Moreover, despite the Dail's acceptance of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in January 1922, which confirmed the future existence of Northern Ireland, there were clashes between the IRA and British Crown forces along the new border from early 1922. In part, this reflected Michael Collins' view that the Treaty was a tactical move, or "stepping stone", rather than a final settlement. A number of IRA men were arrested in Derry when they travelled there as part of the Monaghan Gaelic football team. In retaliation, Michael Collins had forty-two loyalists taken hostage in Fermanagh and Tyrone. Right after this incident, a group of B-Specials were confronted by an IRA unit at Clones in Southern territory, who demanded that they surrender. The IRA unit's leader was shot dead and a gun battle broke out, in which four Special Constables were killed. The withdrawal of British troops from Ireland was temporarily suspended as a result of this event. Despite the setting up of a Border Commission to mediate between the two sides in late February, the IRA raided three British barracks along the border in March. All of these actions provoked retaliatory killings in Belfast. In the two days after the Fermanagh kidnappings, 30 people lost their lives in the city, including six Catholic children who were killed by a Loyalist bomb on Weaver street. In March, 60 died in Belfast, including six members of the Catholic McMahon family, who were targeted for assassination by members of the Special Constabulary in revenge for the IRA killing of two policemen. [Parkinson, "Unholy War", p237] In April, another 30 people died in the Northern capital, including another so called 'uniform attack', when five Catholics were killed by uniformed policemen. [Parkinson, "Unholy War", p316] .

Winston Churchill arranged a meeting between Collins and James Craig on January 21 1922 and the southern boycott of Belfast goods was lifted but then re-imposed after several weeks. The two leaders had several further meetings, but despite a joint declaration that "Peace is declared" on March 30, the violence continued. [Michael Hopkinson, Green Against Green, the Irish Civil War, page79-83]

Failed IRA offensive

From April to June 1922, Collins launched a clandestine guerrilla IRA offensive against Northern Ireland. By this time, the IRA was split over the Anglo-Irish Treaty, but both pro and anti-treaty units were involved in the operation. Arms sent by the British to arm the new Irish Army were in fact given to IRA units and their weapons were sent to the North. However, the offensive, launched with a series of IRA attacks in the North on May 17-19, ultimately proved a failure. On May 22, after the assassination of unionist politician William Twaddell, 350 IRA men were arrested in Belfast, crippling its organisation there. The largest single clash came in June, when British troops had to use artillery to dislodge an IRA unit from the village of Pettigo, killing seven, wounding six and taking four prisoners. This was the last major confrontation between the IRA and British forces in the period 1919-1922. [Hopkinson, "Green Against Green", page 83-87] The cycle of sectarian atrocities against civilians however continued into June 1922. May saw 75 people killed in Belfast and another 30 died there in June. Several thousand Catholics fled the violence and sought refuge in Glasgow and Dublin. [ Parkinson, "Unholy War", p. 316] On June 17, in revenge for the killing of two Catholics, Frank Aiken's IRA unit killed six Protestant civilians in Altnaveigh, south Armagh.

Michael Collins held the British general Henry Hughes Wilson responsible for the attacks on Catholics in the north and had him killed in June 1922, an event that inadvertently helped to trigger the Irish Civil War (Winston Churchill insisted after the killing that Collins take action against the Anti-Treaty IRA, whom he assumed to be responsible). The outbreak of the civil war in the South ended the violence in the North, as the war demoralised the IRA in the northeast and distracted the attention of the rest of the organisation from the question of partition. After Collins' death in August 1922, the new Irish Free State quietly ended his overt violent aggression towards Northern Ireland.

The violence in the north fizzled by late 1922, the last reported killing of the conflict in what was now Northern Ireland took place on October 5. [Parkinson, Unholy War, p.316]


The total number killed in the guerrilla war of 1919-21 between Republicans and Crown forces in what became the Irish Free State came to over 1,400. Of these, 363 were police personnel, 261 were from the regular British Army, about 550 were IRA volunteers (including 14 official executions), and about 200 were civilians. [(Hopkinson, Irish War of Independence p 201-202)] Some other sources give higher figures. [The Police Service of Northern Ireland, successor to the RIC via the RUC, lists the figures of RIC killed as 418, with 146 British soldiers killed. One in twenty of the RIC dead with one in twelve wounded. See figures available [ here] ]

On 21 November 1921 the British army held a memorial service for its dead, of all ranks, of which it counted 162 up to the 1921 Truce and 18 killed afterwards. [Dublin Historical Record 1998 Vol 51, p.17]

557 people died in political violence in what would become Northern Ireland between July 1920 and July 1922. This death toll is usually counted separately from the southern casualties, as many of these deaths took place after the July 11 truce that ended fighting in the rest of Ireland. Of these deaths, between 303 and 340 were Catholic civilians, 35 were IRA men, between 172 and 196 were Protestant civilians and 82 were Crown forces personnel (38 were RIC and 44 were Ulster Special Constables). The majority of the violence took place in Belfast: 452 people were killed there - 267 Catholics and 185 Protestants. [Richard English, "Armed Struggle, a History of the IRA", page 39-40. Robert Lynch, "the Northern IRA and the Early Years of Partition", p.227 and p.67]

Irish nationalists have argued that this northern violence represented a pogrom against their community as 58% of the victims were Catholics, even though Catholics were only around 35% of the population. Historian of the period Alan Parkinson has suggested that the term 'pogrom' is 'unhelpful and misleading in explaining the events of the period' as the violence was not state directed or one sided. ['despite disproportionate loss of life and serious injury among the Catholic community, there were also hundreds of Protestant dead and injured'. Also he argues that 'co-ordination of the murder campaign was not executed by the official administration for the area and many killings appeared to have been done in a random and reactive fashion'. Parkinson, Unholy War, p.314] .

Evacuation of British forces 1922

By October 1921 the British army in Ireland numbered 57,000 men, along with 14,200 RIC police and some 2,600 auxiliaries and Black and Tans. The long-planned evacuation from dozens of barracks in what the army called "Southern Ireland" started on 12 January 1922, following the ratification of the Treaty and took nearly a year, organised by General Macready. It was a huge logistical operation, but within the month Dublin Castle and Beggar's Bush barracks were transferred to the Provisional Government. The RIC last paraded on 4 April and was formally disbanded on 31 August. By the end of May the remaining forces were concentrated on Dublin, Cork and Kildare. Tensions that led to the Irish Civil War were evident by then and evacuation was suspended. By November about 6,600 soldiers remained in Dublin at 17 locations. Finally on 17 December 1922 the Royal Barracks (now the National Museum of Ireland) was transferred to General Richard Mulcahy and the garrison embarked at Dublin Port that evening. [Dublin Historical Record 1998, vol.51 pp.4-24.]

Independence and the Irish Civil War

While the violence in the North was still raging, the South of Ireland was pre-occupied with the split in the Dáil and in the IRA over the treaty. In April 1922, an executive of IRA officers repudiated the treaty and the authority of the Provisional Government which had been set up to administer it. These Republicans held that the Dáil did not have the right to dis-establish the Irish Republic. A hardline group of Anti-Treaty IRA men occupied several public buildings in Dublin in an effort to bring down the treaty and re-start the war with the British. There were a number of armed confrontations between pro and anti-treaty troops before matters came to a head in late June 1922. Desperate to get the new Irish Free State off the ground and under British pressure, Michael Collins attacked the anti-treaty militants in Dublin, causing fighting to break out around the country.

The subsequent Irish Civil War lasted until mid-1923 and cost the lives of many of the leaders of the independence movement, notably the head of the Provisional Government Michael Collins, ex minister Cathal Brugha, and anti-treaty Republicans Harry Boland, Rory O'Connor, Liam Mellows, Liam Lynch and many others: total casualties were several times those in the earlier fighting against the British. President Arthur Griffith also died.

Following the deaths of Griffith and Collins, W. T. Cosgrave became head of government. On 6 December 1922, following the coming into legal existence of the Irish Free State, W. T. Cosgrave became President of the Executive Council, the first internationally recognised head of an independent Irish government.

The war ended in mid-1923 in defeat for the anti-treaty side.

Later in his life, as President of Ireland, when asked what had been his biggest political mistake, Éamon de Valera said "not accepting the Treaty".Verify source|date=July 2007


A memorial called the Garden of Remembrance was erected in Dublin in 1966, on the fiftieth anniversary of the Easter Rising. The date of signing of the truce is commemorated by the National Day of Commemoration, when all those Irish men and women who fought in wars in specific armies (e.g., the Irish unit(s) fighting in the British Army in 1916 at the Battle of the Somme) are commemorated.

Films, Music and television

*1995 - "Zombie, by the Cranberries"
*1996 - "Michael Collins"
*2001 - "Rebel Heart"
*2006 - "The Wind That Shakes the Barley"



* Coogan, Tim Pat. "Michael Collins"
* Collins, M. E. "Ireland 1868-1966" (Educational Company, 1993)
* Lyons, F. S. L. "Ireland Since the Famine"
* MacCardle, Dorothy. "The Irish Republic" (Corgi paperback)
* Pakenham, Frank (Earl of Longford). "Peace By Ordeal: An Account from First-Hand Sources of the Negotiation and Signature of the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921" (1935) ISBN 978-0-283-97908-8
* Hopkinson, Michael. "The Irish War of Independence" (Gill & Macmillan, 2002)
* Hopkinson, Michael. "Green against Green, the Irish Civil War" (Gill & Macmillan, 2004)
* Hart, Peter. "The IRA at War 1916-1923" (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003). ISBN 0-19-925258-0
* Hart, Peter. "The IRA and Its Enemies: Violence and Community in Cork, 1916-1923" (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998). ISBN 0-19-820806-5
* Ryan, Meda. "Tom Barry: IRA Freedom Fighter" (Cork: Mercier Press, 2003). ISBN 1-85635-425-3
* English, Richard. "Armed Struggle, a History of the IRA" (MacMillan, 2003)
* Comerford, Richard. "Ireland: Inventing the Nation" (Hodder, 2003).

External links

* [ Chronology of Irish History 1919 - 1923]
* [ Cork's War of Independence]
* [ Eleven killed in an IRA gun ambush outside Dromkeen] February 3, 1921, on the Limerick Leader web site.

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