Republicanism and the national independence struggle, 1916-21

by Philip Ferguson; this is thesis chapter 7

 

In this chapter I pick up the course of the national liberation movement where we left off in chapter four, on the eve of the Easter Rising.  Given the interconnectedness of the republican, labour and women’s movements, this chapter also provides a continuation of the chronology of chapters five and six.  In this chapter, I will trace the development of the independence struggle from 1916 until the Treaty at the end of December 1921.  During this period, the Irish Parliamentary Party, the dominant force in Irish politics – especially in nationalist Ireland – disintegrated, to be replaced by a reconstructed, republican Sinn Fein.  Labour which, as we have seen, was in the strongest position of any pro-independence group outside the IPP, was bypassed.  The reasons for both these developments will be explored and I will identify key points in the contestation over the nature of the independence movement – would it be revolutionary or moderate, would it stand for fundamental social change or simply for political independence? – and how these tended to be resolved in favour of the less radical leaders and policies.

The elections of December 1918 showed that, on the political level, mass sentiment had swung away from Home Rule and towards complete political independence.  For the first time since the United Irish rebellion, the majority clearly signified that it was no longer prepared to acquiesce in British rule.  The development of armed struggle, following the setting up of Dail Eireann in 1919, provided a powerful military challenge to British rule.  I will show that through 1920 and 1921, the combination of political support for Sinn Fein and the military challenge provided by the IRA made direct British rule no longer tenable.  But, while Britain was forced to the negotiating table, in a situation in which revolutionary possibilities had emerged, the outcome of the negotiations was a counter-revolution, as we shall see in section five.

 

The Rising

On Easter Monday 1916 a majority of the Dublin Irish Volunteers and virtually the whole of the Irish Citizen Army raised the banner of insurrection in the capital.  They took over the General Post Office, St Stephen’s Green and established a string of other posts in the city.  A proclamation was published, announcing the formation of an independent Irish Republic, claiming control for the people over the resources of the country and declaring equal rights for all men and women in Ireland.

Originally, the IRB republican leaders in the Irish Volunteers had used their control of much of the IV apparatus to call for manoeuvres at Easter.  The Volunteer manoeuvres would be turned into a rebellion.  But, as we saw in chapter six, MacNeill, who was opposed to an insurrection, called off the manoeuvres by placing an advert in the press.  The rebels had little choice but to go ahead anyway, or face being rounded up and losing any chance of rebellion during World War 1.  They immediately sent couriers to areas outside Dublin, but MacNeill’s countermanding orders effectively prevented the extension of the Rising.  Volunteers rallied in several places, such as Galway under Liam Mellows and at Ashbourne (County Meath) under Thomas Ashe, but the bulk of the Volunteers outside Dublin did not mobilise.  This allowed the British to concentrate their superior forces on the capital.  Even here, MacNeill’s actions had a confusing effect, leaving the rebels with fewer forces than expected.  The defensive line which they had planned to throw around the heart of the city was left with substantial gaps; they also lacked sufficient forces to take over buildings needed to protect some of their key positions.  The Stephen’s Green garrison, for instance, was left open to British fire from the Shelbourne Hotel.

In the end around 2-2500 republican militants took part in the Dublin insurrection, holding out against the British forces for five days.  It was the first real rebellion centred on the capital,[1] and reflected the changes in Irish society which were lessening the importance of rural Ireland and the peasantry as the bases for social/national revolt.  The emergence of the Dublin working class, and a dissatisfied and educated Catholic middle class (whose more radical elements were in sympathy with the workers), were providing the new centres of challenge to the established order.  While the middle class provided much of the leadership, the working class gave the rebellion its driving force.  As George Russell noted at the time, it was the working class which supplied the “passionate element” in the Rising because it had the deepest grievances.  “The cultural element, poets, Gaels etc never stir more than one percent of a country.  It is only when an immense justice stirs the workers that they unite their grievances with all other grievances.”[2]  The Irish Independent saw the Citizen Army and Larkinism as the “backbone of the insurrection”.[3]

The defeat of the Rising led to the execution of Tom Clarke, Padraic Pearse, James Connolly and the other four signatories of the Easter Proclamation.[4]  In addition, nine other rebel figures were executed, the last being Sir Roger Casement who was hung in Pentonville Prison in London in August.[5]  According to Lee, there were disagreements about the surrender.  Shocked by the deaths of three civilians caught in army fire under his gaze and determined to prevent such further loss of life, Pearse made the decision.  Originally a fighting retreat had been planned.[6]

Yet the defeat of this Rising, unlike previous rebellions, was not definitive.  The Rising had, in the most immediate sense, shown the world that the cause of Irish independence was not dead.  Margaret Skinnider, a Citizen Army member, wrote, “Every shot we fired was a declaration to the world that Ireland was demanding her independence.”  There was, she said, an intensity and determination “to make the Irish Republic, no matter how short-lived, a reality of which history would have to take account.”[7]  Skinnider’s comments are especially important because they were written within a year of the Rising, before the republicans had reorganised on a mass scale and begun to make electoral breakthroughs.  They are not therefore the product of the historical hindsight which can lead to a teleological aspect in memoirs written decades after the event.

While taking into account the above reservation about later memoirs it is nevertheless worth looking at how several other rebels saw the Rising, especially in light of Markievicz’s view in which it appeared as another glorious failure, albeit ensuring that the tradition and spirit of rebellion would be kept alive to inspire the following generation.  It certainly seems difficult to interpret her letter to her sister Eva in any other way.[8]  Frank Robbins, an ITGWU militant and ICA sergeant, writing many years later when he held far from revolutionary views, nevertheless saw the Rising as “regenerating the soul of Ireland”, bringing the Irish case before the world, deferring Britain from introducing conscription and thereby saving many Irish lives.[9]  Kathleen Clarke, who was forbidden to take part in the Rising in order that she could take charge of the IRB’s resources and reorganise the movement in the event of the Rising’s failure, has written of her attitude after the rebellion and the execution of her husband,  “. . . other risings left only despair, and efforts towards freedom left to the next generation.  I would make every effort to keep the ball rolling. . . ”[10]  Tom Clarke, in his cell shortly before his execution, told her that in his view Ireland after the Easter Rising “will never lie down again.”  He saw the insurrection not as simply another glorious defeat but as the opening blow in a protracted new struggle which would not be brought to a halt until Ireland had achieved freedom.[11]

On the sixth anniversary of the rebellion, the nationalist paper Young Ireland would write:

never were they (the Irish people – P.F.), apparently, so content to hug their chains, and fawn on the hands of the oppressors.  Ireland as far as the outside world was concerned was dead.  The leaders of the Irish people had joined hands with their country’s enemies, and proclaimed to all that it might concern, that England’s difficulty gave Ireland an opportunity of proving her loyalty and devotion to the country which held her in subjection. . .  The last glimmer of national life seemed to have departed from our land, when the guns of the Irish Volunteers and the Citizen Army proclaimed to the world that Ireland had arisen from the dead.[12]

Yet at the time the rebels themselves appear to have been met with an atmosphere of indifference and hostility among the Dublin population.  This is certainly the dominant view in the historiography, including accounts written by republicans at the time and afterwards.  Leading republican P.S. O’Hegarty wrote in 1924, for example, “If Ireland as a whole could have got hold of Tom Clarke and his comrades during that week it would have torn them to pieces.”[13]  The Rising was certainly condemned by the bourgeois nationalist establishment.  The Irish Independent called upon Irish youth to “atone for the crime” of rebellion by flocking into the British Army and “show(ing) the world that Ireland is still sound.”[14]  Provincial nationalist papers were also condemnatory, contradictorily seeing it as “socialistic”[15], even “communistic”[16] and, at the same time, made in Germany.[17]  Roscommon Herald editor Jasper Tully decried the Proclamation as being “drafted on Suffragette lines, and gives votes equally to men and women, and it also has a lot of other ‘crank’ notions.”[18]  Perhaps anticipating today’s revisionists by six decades, the Connacht Tribune detected three groups of Irish people: impractical separatists, deluded Germanophiles and realistic home rulers.”[19]

The change in public opinion

But beneath the surface of official Ireland, and perhaps undetected until the following year, it appears that there may already have been a sympathy for the rebels.  A.M. Bonaparte-Wise, Junior Secretary to the Board of commissioners of National education, wrote on May 28, 1916 to his brother, “there is a very menacing tone among the lower classes who openly praise the Sinn Feiners for their courage and bravery, and there is a lot of abuse of the soldiers. . .”  In his view, “The sympathies of the ordinary Irish are with Sinn Fein.  They want independence. . .”  He thought their only criticism of the rebellion was based on seeing it as foolhardy because it had no chance of success.[20]

From Ireland, Dillon wrote to Redmond in London warning that executions of the rebels could alienate public opinion.[21]  Although Redmond accepted that the British would probably execute the key figures he went to see Asquith who agreed that, apart from the “ring-leaders”, those taking part in the insurrection would be treated leniently.[22]  In the end, however, sixteen republicans were executed.  Along with the mass arrests and house-searchings, the executions helped transform public opinion.  The executions were seen as contrasting with Britain’s treatment of other enemies, such as the Boers.  Moreover Britain had put down the rebellion without a great deal of effort and “held Ireland in the hollow of its hand”[23]; instead of being magnanimous, even to the extent of passing long sentences on the leaders, it chose not only to execute the signatories, but second-tier leaders and even Padraic Pearse’s younger brother Willie who occupied no important position at all.[24]  There were no open trials and those charging the rebels also passed judgement and sentence and carried it out.  The lesson for nationalist Ireland appeared to be not simply that the 1916 leaders were engaged in sedition, but that they were “members of a subject race, the mere property of a court-martial.”[25]  This was no doubt reinforced when the British hastily buried the executed leaders in quicklime prison graves rather than return the corpses to their families.  The way in which the executions were greeted with applause at Westminster further alienated Irish public opinion.  Writing three years later, Sylvia Pankhurst expressed the view that the executions meant that the 1916 leaders “were sanctified for the mass of the Dublin people, and above all James Connolly and his writings gained a wide and far-reaching influence.”[26]  One of those deeply influenced by the executions was George Bernard Shaw, who wrote, “I used all my influence and literary power to discredit the Sinn Fein ideal; but I remain an Irishman, and am bound to contradict any implication that I can regard as a traitor any Irishman taken in a fight for Irish independence, which was a fair fight in everything except the original odds my countrymen had to face.”[27]  Major Sir Francis Vane, a British officer involved in suppressing the rebellion, was so deeply affected by the rebels that he began writing for Pankhurst’s revolutionary paper, the Workers’ Dreadnought  in one article claiming that some of his fellow officers “clearly encouraged indiscriminate shooting.”[28]

Nevertheless, British policy after the executions was probably more important than the executions themselves.  By May 12, for instance, over 3000 people had been arrested, there had been 1,877 internments without trial, and 144 prison sentences imposed.[29]  The repression also served to demoralise Redmond further.  Every concession he and the IPP were prepared to make – on Home Rule, on supporting Britain during the war and encouraging enlistment – the British government happily took, but in turn showed little concern and even less respect for Redmond and his party.

In fact the different treatment accorded Unionist and Nationalist during the course of the war before the Rising also made clear that most of Ireland was regarded as a subject people.  Unionist politicians who had been threatening to take up arms against the British government, and who had reached the point of large-scale arming, receiving their weapons from Germany, had been taken into the British government at the start of the war.  The UVF maintained its identity and officers within the British Army, while the tens of thousands of members of the Redmondite National Volunteers who served did so under British officers without any recognition at all of their nationality or their claims to Home Rule.

As further negotiations took place on Home Rule in the months following the Rising, the duplicity of the British government was revealed again.  Carson was encouraged to agree to “surrender” Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal (predominantly nationalist counties, anyway) to Home Rule in exchange for which Redmond agreed that Tyrone and Fermanagh should be excluded, even though both of these counties had nationalist majorities.  Lloyd George kept Redmond and Carson apart, implying to the nationalist leader that partition would be unworkable and therefore temporary, while ensuring the unionist leader that it would be permanent.  Carson was even given a written assurance that the six counties would never be merged into the rest of Ireland.[30]  Then, on July 22, 1916 Redmond was informed that partition would be permanent.  The last slap in Redmond’s face came with the trial of Roger Casement.  The prosecutor was F.E. Smith who had been instrumental in organising opposition, including armed opposition and the threat of civil war, against the Crown during the pre-war Home Rule crisis.  In the wake of the trial, as a result of which Casement was hanged in Pentonville Prison in August, sections of Casement’s diaries were released by the British creating the impression that he was a compulsively promiscuous homosexual.

Strauss has noted the way the First World War brought together the Tories and Liberals.  The suspension of Home Rule and the pledge that Ulster would never be forced to leave the United Kingdom, along with the two parties’ common interests in ensuring British victory in the war, freed the Liberals from their former dependency on the IPP.  The Unionists were brought into government.[31]  Comerford has also noted how the experience of the war “hardened” the British government and “made them into a team”.[32]  (Moreover, at the end of the war, while the desire to hang the kaiser quickly evaporated the desire to hang onto Ireland remained.[33])

The great loser in this process was the IPP. Members and supporters became increasingly critical.   In August the Mayo News suggested the IPP “would have been much better employed in the last month cutting turf at home than promenading in the House of Commons.”[34]  Returning to Dublin in August following her release, Margaret Skinnider also detected a change in public opinion:  “The city was under martial law, but it seemed to me the military authorities were the really nervous persons[35].  Amongst the growth of pro-rebel sympathy she relates a strike by high school students who had been told not to wear republican colours or to wear combinations of clothing which featured green, white and orange.  Children in one school walked out and marched around other schools calling on them to join in.  The windows of “scab” schools were smashed.  The strike ended in a skirmish in Mountjoy Square with police, the school students hurling paving-stones.  The right to wear badges and flags was won.[36]  At least some of the British administration were noting the changes too: “By mid-summer Sir John Maxwell, the GOC of the British forces, was greatly disturbed by the change in people’s attitudes.”[37]  (The northern mid-summer would be around July.)  By September 1916 Dillon was writing of his own party, which had dominated Irish politics for over three decades, “enthusiasm and trust in Redmond and the party is dead so far as the mass of the people is concerned.”[38]  This was not something Dillon said lightly, or in isolation.  He had actually travelled around Ireland taking political soundings.  Yeats the same month noted the changed atmosphere in the country, writing that with the Rising,

All changed, changed utterly:

A terrible beauty is born.[39]

Anna Parnell, always a more militant champion of Ireland’s rights than her late brother, summed up the feelings of many, noting “Thirty-three years of Home Rule propaganda have resulted in a voluntary and deliberate surrender all along the line, to the whole of England’s claims and pretensions regarding Ireland, and in a virtual repudiation of Ireland’s claim as a right.”[40]  While some historians have noted the apparently cavalier way in which the British government destroyed the IPP, as if its demise was caused by British policy, this seems to rather let the IPP itself off the hook.  It had tied its fate to British benevolence, staking everything on the British leaders keeping their word; in fact, given that the IPP had renounced any form of militant struggle for independence, they had little left to rely upon other than the trustworthiness of the British government.  When the British leaders pursued their own interests, the IPP was left high and dry.  The British government’s actions were giving credence to the republcans’ claim that the IPP’s attendance at Westminster was futile, Dillon complained in the House of Commons on December 4.[41] The following day, Devlin complained of british hypocrisy over the question of small nationalities:

The pioneers, the apostles, the standardbearers of the cause of small nationalities will not allow us, even in our own purely internal affairs, to conduct our own business and to voice our own aspirations in our own country because that does not suit some small remnant of reaction and ascendancy either in Ireland or England.[42]

And, expressing the growth of frustration among IPP MPs and their supporters, he declared “I do not often come to this House because I do not believe it is worth coming to.”[43]  But the responsibility for the problems of the IPP lay with the party and its leaders.  The IPP made its own decisions, followed its own course, and chose its own allies in Britain rather than demanding independence and relying on the Irish people themselves to achieve this.

The way in which Irish constitutional nationalist politics was proven powerless opened the way for a resurgence of republicanism.  A republican activist of the time, Maire Comerford, has noted “There never had been any constitutional method of asserting the public will, except in the House of Commons where the Irish were outnumbered by more than six to one. . .”[44]  As the above quotes from the Mayo News, Dillon and Devlin show, this point was now sinking in to circles far wider than the republican hard-core.   The view of the 1916 rebels – that insurrection was the only option possible “if the complete destruction of the Irish nation was to be averted”[45] – began to take on a heroic and legitimate aspect.  Long-time IPPer Colonel Maurice Moore, touring the country around Christmas 1916 and early 1917 wrote a series of letters to Dillon, noting the change in public opinion and saying that the IPP would not survive the next election.[46]

The fading prospect of Home Rule also led to changes in the attitude of the Catholic hierarchy.  O’Dwyer, the Catholic bishop of Limerick who had a record of being pro-British and anti-republican now declared, “The very government against which they (the 1916 rebels – PF) rose, and which killed them so mercilessly, has proclaimed its own condemnation.  What is that ghost of Home Rule which they keep safe in lavender on the Statute Book but a confession of the wrong of England’s rule in Ireland?  Sinn Fein is, in my judgement, the true principle, an alliance with English politicians is like the alliance of the lamb with the wolf.”[47]  (It should be noted here that in referring to Sinn Fein as “the true principle” he most likely means the concept of “ourselves alone” or self-reliance, rather than the specific political party of that name.)  In 1917 Protestant and Catholic bishops, for different reasons, signed a protest against partition.  Walsh, the Catholic archbishop of Dublin, also signed a letter on May 8 condemning partition as “that miserable policy”.[48]

The growing dissatisfaction with British rule and disaffection with the IPP involved a wide class spectrum.  The war had brought a series of economic discontents and these combined with the effects of the Rising, British policy on Home Rule and the incapacity of the IPP to win anything from Britain.  The nationalist bourgeoisie, which had backed Britain during the war, had expected to do well out of the conflict.  To their surprise and disappointment, however, they did not receive the expected war contracts.  Britain was interested in nationalist Ireland primarily as a source of manpower for its army.  The British government gave instructions that no contracts were to be given in the “Southern area” of Ireland.[49]  Even British Army huts built in Ireland itself were constructed under contracts with English firms, with Irish businesses not even asked to tender.[50]  According to O’Connor, “Unionist and British employer determination to freeze nationalist Ireland out of lucrative war contracts kept the south de-industrialised”,[51] although this is perhaps overstating the effects of the denial of war contracts.  Irish capitalists also suffered by having their buying and selling prices fixed by their English competitors and through being excluded from all administrative positions in the apparatus of British rule (and contract organising) in Ireland.

Greaves has summed up the relationship between Britain and Ireland at this time as being one where “British imperialism wished to retain Ireland as an exclusive market for her manufactures while drawing on her food, manpower and accumulated capital.”[52]  At the same time he has shown the different interests in the rural economy at this time.  The west was significant for stock-breeding, but alongside the large runs were many small subsistence holdings.  This would have opened the way for both intense social conflict between rich and poor and for nationalism, since the power of the landowners derived from, and was protected by, Britain.  Indeed, the landowners were part of the Anglo-Irish aristocratic elite, separated from the small holders and landless in every way.  In the east, stock-raising was more significant, with an important degree of wage labour.  In the south, dairying was crucial and involved both family and wage labour.  In these cases, too, class conflict and national conflict inevitably meshed.  Yet while workers, the nationalist bourgeoisie, small farmers and the landless all had grievances, none gave a lead to the struggle for national independence.

The nationalist bourgeoisie had nailed its colours to the IPP whose rather servile attitude to Britain reflected that bourgeoisie’s own desire to reform political relations but not challenge British rule in any way which could lead to social disorder and provide openings for radicalising workers and the rural poor.  The political impasse and demoralisation of the IPP left the nationalist bourgeoisie without a party of its own.  Given the fact that the republicans themselves lacked a party, and that Sinn Fein was simply a shell, the party ideally placed to provide leadership to the disaffected elements of Irish society was Labour.

The reorganisation of the opposition forces

Labour had been the main opposition to the IPP on the electoral level before the war.  The involvement of the ICA in the Rising and the central position occupied by Connolly in the republican leadership provided Connolly’s heirs at the helm of the labour movement with the opportunity to take the lead in the struggle for independence and become the dominant political force in the country.  Moreover, the organised working class was the first group to recover from the repression in the aftermath of the Rising.  The ITUC met in Sligo in August.  But instead of challenging the repression, making itself the organising centre of opposition to Britain and the focus for all social discontent, whether of national, class or gender issues – the role Connolly had sought for militant labour – the gathering effectively rejected such a strategy.  It refused to either support or condemn the Rising, simply remembering all those who had died since organised labour last met – ie both those who had fought for Britain and those who had fought against it.  As Greaves notes, this conference “in effect reversed the NEC decision of 1914 which condemned the war as imperialist.”[53]

The discrediting of the IPP and the failure of Labour to provide a lead allowed other forces to step into the breach.  The IRB had begun reorganising in the internment camp at Frongoch in Wales.  Kathleen Clarke took on the reorganisation initiative in Ireland itself. Although some  IRBers did not get involved in the clandestine society again – de Valera, Desmond FitzGerald, Ernest Blythe, Sean T. Kelly and Cathal Brugha being some of the most prominent, by mid-1917 there were about 350 IRB circles with around 3000 members, with each circle also forming the core of an Irish Volunteer company.[54]  Republicanism, which had not had a political party of its own before, also began organising openly politically.  In February 1917 Count Plunkett, father of the 1916 leader Joseph Plunkett, captured south Roscommon on an abstentionist ticket in a by-election.  An important element in Plunkett’s success in Roscommon, where social conflict was increasingly intense, was the way in which Fr Michael Flanagan, later a leader of the reconstructed Sinn Fein, introduced the land question.  He had a reputation as a champion of small farmers and his raising of the theme of “the land for the people” provided compelling material reasons for voting for Plunkett.  Just after the election, land war flared up with hundreds of small farmers invading estates at Arigna and elsewhere in the region, land being divided and dug up.  The landlords turned to the police to back them up.  It became clear that radical land agitation had the potential to both break the remaining strength of the IPP and harness the economic interests of the rural deprived to the cause of national political independence.  By and large, however, social agitation was avoided by the resurgent republicans.

During 1917 the building of the political wing of the movement for national independence saw a series of disputes and compromises leading up to the October 1917 ard fheis (national conference) of the reconstituted Sinn Fein.  Laffan has noted three phases in this reconstituting process dating back to the defeat of the Rising.  Between May-December 1916 the movement was presided over by men too insignificant to have been arrested and the wives of Easter leaders.  This period saw a major change in the attitude of  the mass of the people – away from the IPP and acquiescence in British rule – but the republicans themselves were dormant (or in prison).  From January-June 1917, prisoners released from Frongoch and Reading assumed the leadership and there was a dramatic growth, but major internal divisions.  From June-October 1917 the last (and most important) prisoners were released and assumed the leadership, most especially de Valera and Thomas Ashe, the latter being an Easter Week commandant in Meath.[55]

Laffan possibly errs somewhat in relation to the dormancy of the republicans in the first phase:  gender blindness seems to lead him to ignore the crucial role of Kathleen Clarke in the major reorganisation of the IRB and thus the Irish Volunteers too and of Cumann na mBan in more general oppositional work (see the next chapter of this thesis).  Nevertheless these three periods are useful for looking at the emergence of republicanism as a mass force.  In July 1917 an RIC police inspector reported 166 local SF clubs with a membership of about 11,000 members.  Taking into account that police information was not necessarily reliable – as shown by their unpreparedness for the Rising – and that the inspector may have exaggerated the figures even half this number would appear to indicate significant growth since the party had been virtually extinct on the eve of the Rising.  Unfortunately, the banning of republican and other radical publications means that there are no accounts of the growth of the party in the months immediately following the Rising.  However by the end of 1917, the party was estimated to have 336 clubs and 21,000 members[56] and by the October 1917 convention the party had accepted affiliation from 1200 clubs with a membership possibly as high as 250,000.[57]

While the movement increased numerically, the political programme and ideology was being contested.  The election of Plunkett in a by-election in Roscommon in February 1917, an event which had made him briefly the figurehead of the movement, was a victory for the more radical republican elements.  Despite his respectable background, Plunkett was associated with the radicalism of the Easter Week leaders and with support for an independent Irish republic and abstention from Westminster as a principle.

Griffith, the founder of the original SF party, was a dual monarchist and regarded abstentionism in a more tactical light.  Plunkett and his supporters had begun organising their own movement, the Liberty Clubs, nationally.  At the same time an important split had taken place in the IPP, leading to the formation of the Irish Nation League which was pledged to oppose any partition of Ireland.  Through early and mid-1917, Plunkett’s forces, Griffith’s Sinn Fein and the INL discussed, manoeuvred and – certainly in the case of the first two groups – competed and clashed.  In the end the advantages appeared with Griffith.  The fact that the British had labelled the Easter Rising “The Sinn Fein Rebellion” – largely as a put-down, given SF’s moribund state at the time – gave Griffith and his party the edge.  As Laffan notes, SF had “a well-known name, a tradition, as well as an efficient central office, two paid full-time organisers and two influential newspapers, Nationality and the Irishman.”[58]

In April 1917 Plunkett’s group organised a major national convention.  A wide range of people, including “timid men”,[59] were invited, contributing to a watering down of republican radicalism.  At the same time, Comerford believed, “the British Government moved with unerring instinct to benefit from a temporary confusion and help towards the most conservative possible sequence”, releasing MacNeill.[60]  Comerford held that “Whether planned or unplanned there can be no doubt that the ‘unharnessed and uncontrolled’ era came to an end when conservatives gained control of the political revolution.”[61]  However, this is probably overstating the case since the release of the last of the 1916 prisoners also meant that more leftist elements, such as Markievicz, were now also free.

The republicans also made further electoral advances, for instance de Valera winning East Clare in July.  Another major event in September both showed and added to the change in public opinion since the Rising.  In September republican prisoners in Mountjoy, led by Thomas Ashe, president of the Supreme Council of the IRB, went on hunger-strike and were force-fed.  Ashe died on September 25 as a result of injuries during force-feeding.  The coroner’s jury, which included Unionists, condemned the practice as “inhuman and dangerous”.[62]  The public reacted with an outpouring of sympathy and support.  Thirty to forty thousand people followed the coffin from the centre of Dublin to Glasnevin Cemetery, while tens of thousands more lined the route.  Behind the coffin were 150 priests, 9000 Irish Volunteers, a small group of ICA members led by a uniformed and armed Markievicz, and an 8000-strong Transport Workers Union contingent.  The hearse itself was surrounded by armed, uniformed IVs.  Earlier, Ashe’s body had lain in state in City Hall, guarded by uniformed IVs, British troops having been withdrawn.  At the cemetery, three volleys were fired over the grave and Michael Collins declared, “Nothing additional remains to be said.  That volley which we have just heard is the only speech which it is proper to make over the grave of a dead Fenian.”[63]  Film of the volleys being fired was developed in cars going back into the city centre and were on public view the same evening.

Ashe’s death and funeral had seen the flouting of British regulations in full view of the authorities.  In effect, the republicans had not only shown their growing strength, but also the weakness of British rule.  In particular, it was evident that British rule did not enjoy the support of the mass of the population and that it was therefore possible for a determined opposition to flout it openly.  This, in turn, made that rule look even weaker and less legitimate in the eyes of the population.  The changing situation was evident to a number of British newspapers, among them the Daily Mail.  It claimed (possibly more in hope than in fact) that Sinn Fein’s momentum had become stalled but with Ashe’s death “Sinn Fein today is pretty nearly another name for the vast bulk of the youth of Erin.”[64]

In October the 2000-strong Sinn Fein ard fheis finally fused the Griffith, Plunkett and INL forces, with the IRB playing its behind the scenes, string-pulling role.  Writing as a left-wing republican with perhaps fifty years hindsight, Comerford would come to see this convention as representing a counter-revolution within the republican movement, whereby Collins, Griffith and de Valera constituted a “Triumvirate of men with limited objectives which cornered the ‘republican’ leadership.”[65]  At this historic gathering, a deal was done by which de Valera became President and Griffith vice-president of the new, mass party.  MacNeill was welcomed into the party, although his role in Easter Week was quite clear.  Dillon, for instance, in a tribute to him in the House of Commons on May 11, 1916 had declared, “If it had not been for the action of Mr John MacNeill, you would be fighting still, and the Rebellion would have been twice as formidable. . .  He broke the back of the Rebellion on the very eve of it, and he kept back a large body of men from joining.”[66]

The ard fheis also saw two struggles.  One was for organizational control, with both Darrell Figgis (for the old Griffithite SF) and Michael Collins (for the IRB) drawing up lists of recommended candidates for the executive.  The other was over the politics of the party, with radical republicanism being defended by Kathleen Clarke, Markievicz, Cathal Brugha and Fr Flanagan.[67]  However the radicals fought around the issue of MacNeill[68] rather than broad policy issues.  No social programme was drawn up and while Markievicz made a passionate appeal for Irish workers to leave English trade unions and join Irish ones, neither she nor SF made it clear what such trade unions should fight for in the social, economic and political realm apart from supporting independence.[69]  In fact, the party was, as Greaves notes, everything and nothing – a mass movement of all classes without a clear social programme.  While the bourgeoisie certainly had no direct part in the leadership of the organisation, it is also true that “workers and small farmers whose interests demanded an assault on the entire colonial system found no place in the new organisation.”[70]

Foster, who is deeply hostile to Irish republicanism, is nevertheless probably right in summing up this stage of development:

The new Sinn Fein swallowed up nascent movements like the Irish Nation League and represented advanced nationalism in many spheres, including the women’s movement.  Its own amorphous profile, and Griffith’s chameleon political nature, were perfectly adapted to the alteration of circumstances brought about by government policy, by the army’s record in Ireland, by the psychological results of large-scale internment, and perhaps most of all by the renewed threat of conscription.[71]

The reconstruction of Sinn Fein was matched by the rebuilding of the Irish Volunteers as the armed wing of the independence forces.  The fact that most members had not taken part in the Rising meant, despite the widespread arrests following its defeat, that many Volunteers were still at-large and in possession of weaponry.  Kathleen Clarke, a republican activist and widow of executed 1916 leader Tom Clarke, took on the task of reorganising the IRB and the IRB circles themselves formed the basis of revitalised Volunteer local companies.  As republicans were released from prison, they resumed their active roles in the Irish Volunteers although a number of prominent figures – among them Brugha and De Valera – decided not to rejoin the IRB.  This was partly because of the role of IRB leaders such as Hobson during 1916 and partly because they felt that such a secret society no longer served any useful purpose.

While leaders such as Griffith and MacNeill wanted to proceed on purely political lines, the Volunteers saw renewed armed struggle with Britain as inevitable and began preparing for it.  A letter from the executive to local Volunteer companies, dated May 22, 1917 gives an idea of the thinking in the leadership of the military section at the time.  The executive recorded that its chief duty was to put the Volunteers “in a position to complete by force of arms the work begun by the men of Easter Week”, made clear that local units were to take orders only from the executive and that membership of Sinn Fein should be geared to the propagation of Volunteer principles.[72]  Clearly the military wing saw itself as having the right – and necessity – of controlling the political wing.

At the Irish Volunteers secret convention in 1917, held at the same time as Sinn Fein’s, MacNeill and Hobson were refused admittance.  Hobson virtually retired from public life following this rebuff.  De Valera was elected president of the Irish Volunteers and Cathal Brugha, a veteran of 1916 and vice-president of SF, became the IV’s chief of staff.  Michael Collins became Director of Organization.  Nowlan has noted that until the armed struggle began, the Irish volunteers were “more like a civilian society than a military body”[73] in its structure, holding conventions attended by delegates from all its local units.  These delegates made policy and elected the central executive which, in turn, elected the Army Council.

In the early part of 1918, the IPP appeared to improve its position, holding three seats in by-elections.  Kee, however, has noted that these “could hardly be said to provide a particularly representative cross-section of the country as a whole.”[74]  One of them was in Redmond’s own seat in Waterford, following his death in March 1918 as “a sad and bitterly disappointed man, confronted with the ruin of all his patient hopes”,[75] as Lloyd George double-crossed him over the permanence of partition.  The other two were in the north-east – South Armagh and East Tyrone – where the IPP’s “party organization had for obvious defensive reasons long been more vigorous than in other parts of Ireland” and where Sinn Fein “had to build an organization from scratch”.[76]  In both cases the Unionists also appear to have voted for the IPP.[77]

However continuing uncertainties over Home Rule, particularly the exclusion of Ulster, which had served to undermine the IPP, were now added to by the threat of conscription.  The passage of conscription into law, while Home Rule was suspended, was perhaps the last straw for Irish public opinion.  As Bowden puts it, “The attempt to enlist Irishmen to fight in a war ostensibly for the freedom of small nations proved too harsh an irony.”[78]  The IPP had little choice but to withdraw from Westminster, a move which could only reinforce in the popular mind the idea that the Sinn Fein policy of abstaining from the British parliament was the only sensible and honourable course.  Although the IPP had participated in the Irish Convention established by the British, and boycotted by republicans and the labour movement, this Convention also failed to satisfy anyone; again the republicans benefited.  From this point the initiative, once and for all, had passed to the republicans.  The IPP now had to involve itself in bodies set up by the republicans and their labour allies, such as the Mansion House Committee which organised the campaign against conscription.  The fact that the Catholic bishops gave their backing to this campaign further strengthened the republicans, although many republican activists deplored the Mansion House Conference organisers going to Maynooth to gain their backing.  Such activists saw this as a sign of Catholic exclusivism and therefore out of step with republican principles.[79]  Hundreds of thousands of Irish people took the anti-conscription pledge: “Denying the right of the British Government to enforce compulsory service in this country, we pledge ourselves solemnly to one another to resist conscription by the most effective means at our disposal.”[80]

Crucial to the success of the anti-conscription campaign was the involvement of organised labour.   The trade union movement held a special conference in Dublin, attended by 1500 delegates, which reaffirmed Ireland’s right to self-determination and called for a general strike on April 23, 1918.  Outside the Unionist areas of Ulster, the strike was overwhelmingly successful.  As Roddy Connolly, actively attempting to implement his father’s strategy in the post-1916 situation, noted, it was the sentiment of the population at large which made this and subsequent general strikes so successful.[81]

Faced with mass opposition, the British resorted to intensifying repression.   Clauses of the Defence of the Realm Act relating to aliens were extended to people of Irish birth and new more hard-line personnel were placed in control of the administration of Ireland – Lord French as Viceroy, Sir James Campbell as Lord Chancellor, Edward Shorrt as chief-secretary and General Shaw as military commander.   According to Greaves, “It was becoming hard to find an Irishman in the central administration.”[82]  In May dozens of Sinn Fein leaders were arrested on trumped up charges of plotting with Germany, allegations so ludicrous that the previous Lord-Lieutenant, Wimbourne, expressed disbelief.[83]  Many of the Sinn Fein leaders decided to allow themselves to be arrested, since it would be politically useful to do so.  Michael Collins and several other leaders decided to evade arrest; it is thus probably true to say Collins’ “key position in the later stages of the movement really derived from this time.”[84]

Lord French announced in May that he would accept 50,000 Irish volunteers in lieu of conscription – in fact, the government knew it could not impose conscription on Ireland without facing a massive revolt throughout non-Unionist Ireland.  Such a revolt would have created far more problems for Britain than could possibly be gained by the implementation of conscription.  Although the IPP had withdrawn from Westminster and participated in the Mansion House conference, prominent figures associated with the IPP, such as Serjeant Sullivan continued to encourage Irish men to join the British Army.  Among the many recruiting meetings addressed by Sullivan was one in Dundalk on October 5, 1918 in which he declared that “Patriotism consisted not in doing what would earn the applause of the ignorant and unthinking but in giving the best service to Ireland.”  He thought “The war might be won without Ireland, but that would be the most dreadful thing that could happen to Ireland” and preferred “there were 100,000 conscripts with the colours at the end of the war than that Ireland should be out of it.”[85]  Shortly afterwards he told the Strabane Urban Council that Irish men who volunteered for the British Army were “those who went at the call of this country and had sanctified the cause by their blood.”[86]  IPP MPs Arthur Lynch and Stephen Gwynn, meanwhile, in British Army uniform addressed recruitment meetings and assisted in any way they could the campaign of voluntary recruitment.  How out of touch such political figures were can be seen in the huge falling away of recruitment numbers. In any case, of the 50,000 proposed to be raised by enlistment between June and October 15, the British ended up with only 9,794.[87]  While the Catholic hierarchy had come out in full opposition to conscription and generally no longer encouraged enlistment,[88] the Protestant hierarchy did its best.  The Dublin Archbishop told the city’s Diocesan synod that until the war was ended, “happily and victoriously, by God’s blessing, let us not betray our dead by talking instead of acting.”[89]

In July Cumann na mBan, Sinn Fein, the Irish Volunteers and the Gaelic League were declared “dangerous organisations” to which people belonged at their own risk and concerts, sports matches and other entertainments were widely prohibited by military order.[90]  Sinn Fein attempted to defy the ban in August with a series of public meetings.  Further arrests and threats of conscription followed.  Recruits flocked into Sinn Fein and, increasingly, the Irish Volunteers which now reached around 100,000 members.[91]  Germany’s surrender in November meant that the issue of conscription was not in the end forced, but the struggle over the threat of it had clearly shifted the balance of Irish popular opinion behind the republicans.  Moreover, the end of the war, far from taking the wind out of their sails, provided them with fresh inspiration, SF leader Fr Flanagan telling the October 1918 ard fheis that “New nations were appearing over the horizon every day, and there were no people in Europe whose joy was more genuine than the people of Ireland, whether those nations were. . . liberated from the yoke of one set of belligerents or. . . from the other side.  They made no distinction.”[92]

The 1918 elections

Repression in Ireland in the period leading up to the 1918 elections was intense.  Most of the Sinn Fein candidates were in prison or on the run and many more party activists and organisers were in jail.  Supportive papers were suppressed, and the whole republican political movement was subject to constant harassment, censorship and bannings.  British Labour MP Arthur Henderson was not exaggerating when, addressing  a regional Labour Party conference in Newcastle, England on October 19, he described Ireland as “now a virtually occupied country.”[93]  A quarter of Sinn Fein’s election manifesto was obliterated by the censor.  In such circumstances, its electoral triumph over the IPP is all the more remarkable.  At the same time, the decision of Labour not to stand, a stance taken to ensure that the vote for independence was not split, provided an important boost for the republicans.[94]  Sinn Fein essentially stood on two points: abstention from Westminster and Ireland’s right to independence.  Its election manifesto vigorously denounced the IPP and its policy of participation at Westminster and reliance on British political good-will:

The enforced exodus of millions of our people, the decay of our industrial life, the ever increasing financial plunder of our country, the whittling down of the demands for the ‘Repeal of the Union’ . . .  to Home Rule on the Statute Book, and finally the contemplated mutilation of our country, are some of the ghastly results of a policy that leads to national ruin.[95]

Other parts of their attack on the IPP were deleted by the censor, including reference to “Those who have endeavoured to harness the people of Ireland to England’s war chariot (and thereby). . . forfeited the right to speak for the Irish people.”  In the IPP’s hands, “The Green Flag turned red” with the blood of Irishmen.  In turn, “Ireland must repudiate the men who, in a supreme crisis for the nation, attempted to sell her birthright for the vague promises of English ministers, and who showed their incompetence by failing to have even those promises fulfilled.”[96]  Another central feature of the SF campaign was to urge electors to vote for their candidates in order to help get them out of prison.

Before the election it was clear that no amount of British repression of the republicans could compensate for the disintegration of the IPP.  MacNeill was not exaggerating when he told a public meeting in Inishowen in November 1918 that the IPP “had practically ceased to exist”.[97] Major J.R. Pretyman Newman MP told a meeting of southern Unionists in Cork that he expected SF to win 40-50 seats off the IPP as the average Irish voter as “tired of the old gang, which has dominated him for forty years, and meant to make an end of corruption and patronage.”[98]  All-for-Ireland leader William O’Brien saw Sinn Fein as having “captured the best elements of Nationalist opinion for three substantial reasons which no railing of the politicians can rebut.  Sinn Fein has saved the country from the three plagues of partition, conscription and corruption, and, be the fault whose it may, there was no other force left which could have saved her from any of the three. . .  Sinn Fein alone possesses the material forces and the high purposes which can unhorse the Board of Erin tyranny on the electoral field.”[99]  Timothy Healy, resigning his seat at Westminster, mentioned the plight of 100 republican prisoners with influenza in Belfast Jail, commenting, “I regret to believe that the remnant of what is called the Irish Parliamentary Party is in effective connivance with Mr Short in his attitude to the prisoners.”[100]  Thirty of the IPP’s MPs had resigned over the course of the year and its fund-raising elicited only the most meagre response.[101]

Perhaps the sharpest indication of the complete loss of confidence of the dominant sections of bourgeois nationalist Ireland in the IPP was the shift of the Catholic hierarchy.    As Henry has noted, the Church had always been on the side of law and order and “had a  strong bias towards constituted authority, as was to be expected from a branch of the most conservative institution in the world.  It excommunicated the Fenians, it opposed the Land League, it condemned the Rising.  It is hardly too much to say that Ireland would have been ungovernable but for the influence of the Church.”[102]  Right-wing Catholic bodies, particularly the Board of Erin, had substantial control over the IPP apparatus and mechanisms of patronage in the constituencies – all with the full support of the hierarchy.  Yet much of the hierarchy had swung away from the IPP during 1917 and 1918.  On  July 11, 1917, the day of polling in the East Clare by-election the bishops of both Killaloe and Limerick made statements supporting Sinn Fein, whose candidate Eamon de Valera had already given the Catholic hierarchy an assurance that there would not be another Rising and who, Greaves comments, kept MacNeill “constantly around him as an object lesson.”[103]  (De Valera, standing on the programme of the Easter Proclamation, easily won the seat from the IPP, taking 5,010 votes to their 2,035.[104])  In October 1918 the Bishop of Limerick sent a supportive letter to the SF ard fheis.  Expressing what were undoubtedly widespread views in nationalist Ireland, he wrote that concessions were only wrung out of hostile British parliaments “at the point of a bayonet, under the stress of social revolution, or when it suited the party purposes of British politicians.”  He remarked that Parliamentarism had been made unviable by Carsonism which had received “condonation, approval and reward by the Government” and declared his support for the policy of Sinn Fein.[105]  Dr Fogarty, the Bishop of Killaloe, rigorously defended the Belfast republican prisoners and described Belfast Jail as “that compound of tyranny”.[106]  The Church clearly recognised that the bourgeois nationalist policy of the previous four decades was no longer tenable, especially in the face of British intransigence and double-dealing, and the pattern of social, economic and political relations which guaranteed the position of the Church was under threat.  The best way of guaranteeing its position was to join the separatist trend and attempt to guide it in a moderate direction.

Given the shift of bourgeois forces, Foster is probably correct in part when he claims that Sinn Fein increasingly came to take over rather than replace the forms, practices and ethos of the IPP.[107]  However, it took some time for the national bourgeoisie to recapture control of nationalist politics – this process was not fully realised until after the Treaty.  At this stage, Sinn Fein contained a sizeable section of militants, including a layer of people who considered themselves revolutionary socialists (such as Markievicz) or who were sympathetic to such views (like Mellows).  These were not people who in any way could have been accommodated by the “forms, practices and ethos” of the corrupt and conservative old IPP.  The other side of the coin from the stance of bourgeoisie and its allies, such as the Catholic Church, is that “The people were coming to see in National Independence the escape from land-hunger, exploitation and war.”[108]  During 1918, for instance, there had been a series of rural disputes.  In the wake of threatened food shortages in early 1918 cattle had been driven off private land which had then been ploughed up to grow food.  Such activities had been frowned upon by many SF and IV leaders, but local republican activists were often involved.[109]  In general, however, SF engaged and represented neither the national bourgeoisie nor the proletariat.  Its accession most reflects, in class terms, the replacement of “the conservative middle-class leadership of Irish politics” by “the rise of a far more radical lower middle class. . .”[110]

While the IPP was being consigned to the dustbin of history, the outlook for the old ascendancy order in the south was also depressing.  The Irish Times wailed:

Today the official Nationalists have almost disappeared, and Sinn Fein, with its policy of sedition and Bolshevism, is dominant and triumphant.  It is idle in such circumstances to talk about settlement by consent.  The best that the most persistent optimist can hope for is that it must be against nature for all the people to stay mad all the time.[111]

For some southern Unionists the writing on the wall had to be faced.  Lord Midleton, the leader of southern Unionism, and eight other prominent southern Unionists signed a letter against partition.  In the end, they were prepared to accept the inevitable separation of Ireland and Britain rather than see the country partitioned.[112]

Sinn Fein’s triumph over the IPP was complete. The republicans took seventy-three seats, the Unionists 26 and the IPP 6.  The IPP lost all its seats in Leinster and Connaught, held only one in Munster (the Redmond family seat in Waterford) and three in Ulster where Cardinal Logue had arranged a division of nationalist seats between SF and the IPP in order to prevent contests where a Unionist might benefit and win.  The final voting figures were Sinn Fein 474,963; the IPP 226,657; the Unionists 283,104; Independents 28,214.  Yet these figures do not tell the full story.  In 25 seats, with 450,000 voters, Sinn Fein candidates were elected unopposed, the IPP having disintegrated to the extent of not even being to drum up a candidate.  Taking into account the votes won by Sinn Fein in contested nationalist seats, it seems reasonable to assume that SF would have won a similar percentage of votes had there been contests in these other seats.  Thus SF could have gained another 312,000 votes, bringing its total vote to 786,000, compared to a total of around 680,000 for other parties (the sum of these parties votes in the contested seats and what they might have achieved in the uncontested seats).[113]  In Dublin the Sinn Fein victory was overwhelming, among the victors being the imprisoned Markievicz who defeated the veteran IPP MP William Field in the mainly working class St Patrick’s constituency, taking 7,835 votes to his 3,752.[114]  In East Mayo, de Valera defeated IPP leader John Dillon who had held the seat for over thirty years.

The total electorate had itself expanded drastically – from 698,098 on the old register to 1,931,588, with 800,000 of the new voters being women[115] and most of the rest being young men.  Thus about two-thirds of the voters were casting ballots for the first time.  Although it is not possible to get a statistical breakdown, it seems likely that Sinn Fein did particularly well among women and young people.  For instance, of St Patrick’s, the Irish Times noted, “Women voted early and the general impression was that their votes were cast for the Sinn Fein candidate.”[116]  In any case, its sweeping success meant that, as Greaves puts it, the “British Government was now devoid of moral authority in Ireland.”[117]  De Valera’s claim, in August 1917, that republicans would make British rule in Ireland impossible,[118] was being realised.  Of course, the representatives of the existing order saw things differently:  “Sinn Fein will never see its republic.  It can only hope to make the Irish people forget the failure of its promises by plunging them into the barren and ruinous excitements of bankruptcy and Bolshevism,” the Irish Times sourly editorialised. It called for the government to enforce the king’s law, deal promptly with sabotage and sedition and declaring, as if the election had not taken place, that the government’s hand “will be strengthened enormously if good Irishmen of all parties will unite to assure it of their support and confidence.” [119]  At the same time, the paper was probably accurate when it claimed, “Sinn Fein’s chief object is to convince the people that the Executive is afraid of it, and, in any case, is a stupid Executive.  If it can establish that conviction, it will become doubly dangerous”, before displaying its usual condescending attitude to ordinary Irish people and continuing, “and will be enabled to lead unthinking men into the most disastrous courses.” The paper noted SF was well-organised, appeared to have plenty of money and “commands for the moment a very large measure of popular support”  and was a “formidable movement”.  Yet it was convinced that “Sinn Fein is a passing phase”.  The Government would have to show “firm resolution to enforce the law” and  could not afford “to neglect its primary duty to the Irish people” but, at the same time, would be wise “in giving Sinn Fein every opportunity to kill itself. . .”  Sinn Fein, the paper said, was aware of its weakness and “knows that it must be active and violent in order to survive at all. . .”[120]  (The little complication that the people did not want the British government and its enforcement of “the law” was regarded by the Irish Times as a sign of temporary mass insanity.[121])  The Executive of the Irish Unionist Alliance, meanwhile, responded to the election results by, on January 1, 1919,[122] adopting Home Rule as a way of avoiding partition and/or the revolutionary implications of a mass struggle for independence if Home Rule was not granted.  in Britain, Lord Birkenhead, the Lord Chancellor, meanwhile declared, “We shall use force and yet more force.”[123]

The overwhelming nature of the Sinn Fein victory has not prevented some curious things being written in recent years about the political views of the Irish masses at the time.  According to John O’Beirne Ranelagh, who specialises in the field of the IRB, “For the vast majority of Unionists and nationalists alike, a connection with Britain was fundamentally accepted.  After 1916, most nationalists wanted an extensive form of Home Rule: the demand for a sovereign republic was the province of the extremists in the IRB.”[124]  If this was so, it certainly seems odd that the party of extensive home rule should be totally routed electorally – in fact, destroyed altogether – by the party of the sovereign republic!

The moderate revolutionaries

Having won a landslide in Ireland, Sinn Fein announced the establishment of an Irish Parliament, Dail Eireann, and invited all elected Irish MPs to attend.   Both the IPP and Unionist MPs declined.  Dail Eireann went ahead, holding its opening session on January 21, 1919.  The new Dail’s TDs were overwhelmingly young, Catholic and lower middle-class.[125]  They included 31 professionals (of which 7 were teachers and 9 journalists), 18 were involved in commerce (of which ten were shop-keepers and one was involved in manufacturing), five full-time officials of nationalist organisations, two local government employees and two solicitor’s clerks.[126]  While the capitalists had become “a class without a party”, the working class was also missing.[127]

Of the politics of the TDs, Dail secretary of the time Maire Comerford has noted, “Nobody survived the Rising to take part in Dail Eireann who had had any important part in creating the literature of the insurrection, or who understood its motives in depth.  The men and the parliament. . . were filling a gap.  They can hardly be said to have had any more previous commitment to revolution, or training for it, than any one could have had from the mosquito press, and the pamphlets of the time.  Countess Markievicz was the exception.”[128]

None of this prevented these most moderate and unlikely of revolutionaries striking fear into the Irish establishment.  A few days before the Dail met, the Irish Times  reported that “Bolshevists” in London were planning a general strike as a prelude to revolution.  The paper stated that Sinn Fein TD J.J. Walsh had made pro-Soviet comments at a recent meeting in Dublin and  then went on to claim,  “In Russia Bolshevism has won its victories by the foulest bloodshed and torture that ever polluted the pages of history.  It denies God and admits no virtue in women.  It has abolished religion; even to the rites of Christian burial.”  Sinn Fein, it declared, must make clear its position on Bolshevism, especially for its women supporters.[129]  One amusing example of how the old establishment clearly found the rise of Sinn Fein unsettling, especially in comparison with the conduct of the IPP, is the attitude of the Irish Times following the cancellation of two leading race-meetings in March, 1919 – the Irish National Hunt Club’s Punchestown races and the Ward Union Hunt’s Easter Monday meeting at Fairyhouse:   “Hitherto, with hardly an exception, Irishmen of all parties have agreed to keep politics out of sport.  In the worst crises of our national history extreme Nationalist and crusted Tory have ridden neck to neck in the hunting field. . . although the next day the Tory might be dining with the Lord Lieutenant and the Nationalist might be going to jail. . .  That cheerful and honourable convention. . . has gone – killed by Sinn Fein, which. . . is succeeding only in making Irish life miserable for everybody.”[130]  Clearly, it was going to take the old Irish establishment a little time to get the full measure of Sinn Fein.

When the Dail opened, in the Mansion House in Dublin on January 21, 1919 the Irish Times described it as “futile and unreal”, displaying “absurd or pathetic features”. The Dail, it argued was “a solemn act of defiance of the British Empire by a body of young men who have not the slightest notion of that Empire’s power and not a particle of experience in the conduct of public affairs.  These men are today the elected representatives of three-fourths of the Irish people and the more quickly Ireland becomes convinced of the folly which elected them the sooner sanity will return.” But, along with the dismissive comments, there was an awareness that this was no comic opera performance by republicans.  In particular, the paper saw “two sets of republicans”, an “idealist” element who engaged in “theatrical protests” and another which “proposes to apply the principles of Lenin and Trotsky to Irish affairs.”  This latter element “is working for the disintegration of society and for the confiscation of all property, public and private.”  This latter element, motivated by “Black passions and private lusts”, was using the idealists to weaken the British regime – or, as the paper chose to call it, “constituted authority” – and once this achieved, it would push the idealists aside. Further colourful descriptions – “Immature idealism” and “grim Bolshevism”, “political lunacy”, “crime and outrage” – illuminate the editorial.[131]  The British Cabinet, however, adopted a more realistic outlook, dispatching Lord Haldane on a secret mission promising a “generous amount of Home Rule” and release of republican prisoners if the Irish renounced “violent courses”.[132]

The opening of the Dail was attended by little more than a third of the Sinn Fein TDs, the rest being in prison or on the run. The public gallery was packed and a huge crowd gathered outside; in addition 69 journalists, many from abroad, attended.[133]  For a young Dail secretary, Maire Comerford, “Never was the past so near, or the present so brave, or the future so full of hope.”[134]  The session itself lasted only about two hours, adopting the Declaration of Independence, the Message to the Free Nations of the World (an international appeal for support) and the Democratic Programme.  The latter was a general statement of socio-economic intent, drawn up by labour leader Thomas Johnson and drawing heavily on Pearse’s The Sovereign People in declaring the subordination of private property to public rights and welfare.  Yet several key passages of Johnson’s original draft were removed, including the declaration that “The Republic will aim at the elimination of the class in society which lives upon the wealth produced by the workers of the nation but gives no useful social service in return, and in the process of accomplishment will bring freedom to all who have hitherto been caught in the toils of economic servitude.”[135]  Dublin Castle forbade the press from publishing the documents adopted by the Dail and the speeches of their proposers and seconders; however secret presses churned them out and they “sold like hot cakes from under counters everywhere.”[136]

In April the Dail established a Cabinet, with de Valera – recently sprung from Lincoln Jail – as Priomh Aire (although the term translates more closely as prime minister, de Valera was referred to generally in English as the president).  Markievicz was named Minister of Labour.  How little her socialistic ideas, and the interests of the section of Irish society supported in the Democratic Programme, would be taken account of in practice was shown several days later.  She and Alexander McCabe put forward a resolution pledging the Dail to “a fair and full redistribution of the vacant lands and ranches of Ireland among the uneconomic holders and landless men” and to rejecting private purchases since the Rising of any non-residential land in the Congested Districts or land essential for carrying out future Dail schemes.  This stance, said the resolution, should also be taken as a warning to those who had recently annexed large tracts of land “against the will and interests of the people”.[137]  The motion was effectively buried, being withdrawn after discussion and a committee being set up to consider land policy.  At the same time, the Irish Times was describing the policy of Sinn Fein as “something very like pure Bolshevism.”[138]

At the same time, republican courts operated on the basis of British law as it existed up to January 21, 1919, with the only exception being law which was, in the words of the Dail, “motivated by religious or political animosity.”[139]  Yet a number of TDs remained concerned about the social radicalism which the war was helping stimulate and provide openings for.  Austin Stack, for instance, complained about people in Cork, Kerry and Clare who were “out to create a state of anarchy which ought to be put a stop to.”[140]   Thus, although republican leader Cathal Brugha, chairing the opening session of the Dail, declared, no doubt honestly, certainly in his own case, “We have now done with England”,[141] many of the republican leaders had certainly not done with the social and economic system England had fashioned in Ireland.  For instance, MacNeill declaring that the verdict of the election had shown the Irish people regarded British rule as “a military occupation. . .  exercised  by a secret society at Dublin Castle” was nevertheless prepared to declare it was possible to use aspects of the administrative system.  To the extent that they were used for maintenance of such things as “public order and public morality”, the services of the police could be used.[142]  This was an interesting statement indeed from a leading republican, since the maintenance of “public order and public morality” at the time meant the suppression of republicanism, the labour movement and labour organising, the women’s movement, the harassment of prostitutes and the maintenance of a generally repressive and puritanical, not to say fundamentally hypocritical, moral code.

In April 1919 Sinn Fein held an extraordinary ard fheis, to review the current stage of the struggle for independence.  Father Flanagan told the gathering that the movement’s first task (winning the people) had been achieved and they had now to concentrate on driving out the enemy forces.[143]  This seems to suggest that the party was not quite so in the dark about the military struggle as the Dail, or as the Dail might have pretended.  Indeed, one of the party’s most prominent TDs, Laurence Ginnell, had told an audience in Mullingar on St Patrick’s Day, the month before, “you will be justified in expecting developments pretty soon – and pretty strong developments – and you will be asked to take your part in certain activities which will gradually result in taking the government of this country out of the hands of the foreigner.”  He also told the meeting that the Volunteers were the backbone of the movement.[144]

The extraordinary ard fheis is interesting for a number of other discussions and decisions taken.  For instance, it decided to separate the Dail Cabinet from the leadership of Sinn Fein, the party’s Standing Committee.  It was decided that, apart from the President and minister of Home Affairs (de Valera and Griffith, who were also president and vice-president of SF), no members of the Cabinet should be members of the Standing Committee of the party.  They would still be able to attend Standing Committee meetings and speak, but not vote.  The ard fheis also considered the “Ulster question”, with Ernest Blythe and others suggesting that more attention needed to be paid to winning support there and attempting to assure Unionists they would not be persecuted in an independent Ireland.  Griffith, who held two Ulster seats, said that British rule was destroying Ulster, the province having lost a third of its population in the past half-century.  Forbes Patterson attacked both the Hibernians and Orangemen, arguing that Sinn Fein had to talk to Ulster Protestant workers through organised labour, approaching them through Liberty Hall rather than 6 Harcourt Street (the SF head office).  Rev Father McSparron, from Ulster, felt that the “Transport Union was doing a great job to smash up the capitalistic opposition to nationality” and that “Protestant Sinn Feiners might come together and consider ways and means to come at their co-religionists.”  Jenny Wyse Power stressed the importance of work among women.  The ard fheis also decided there should be qualifying examinations for local body employees, this being necessary both to improve the standards of local government and to put an end to the widespread bribery and jobbery associated with IPP control of local government machinery in the past.[145]  What is clear from this is that fundamentally democratic and secular sentiments guided the party and its membership.

The armed struggle

On the same day that Dail Eireann had held its first session, a group of Irish Volunteers in Tipperary had killed two policemen during a raid by the republicans for dynamite.  The armed struggle had begun.  While this attack was not publicly supported by the Dail, and a number of TDs expressed disagreements with it and future armed actions, the armed conflict soon escalated.  This was inevitable given that much of the country was under martial law and the British quite clearly had no intention of respecting the electoral verdict of 1918.  The Government claimed that it could not even grant Home Rule (ie a 26-county home rule) until “conditions improve”, a view concurred with by the Irish Times.  When the bishops in early 1919 complained about martial law, the paper replied, “We think also that the bishops who complain of military law might have pointed out that it is quite powerless to afflict any peaceable and well-behaved subject of the King.”  The bishops’ pastorals contained “too much about Ireland’s grievances, real or imaginary”, while lacking enough “about Ireland’s duty to the Government.”[146]  When Irish republicans responded to martial law and the refusal of the British to recognise the Dail by engaging in armed actions, the paper could declare blithely that any country which tolerated such a criminal element as would attack policemen was not fit for self-government.[147]  Of course, if the Irish had not have engaged in any of the activity which the Irish Times, and the class behind it, regarded as madness (voting for Sinn Fein and tolerating attacks on policemen), it could have concluded that people did not want independence.

At first attacks on the police were “motivated primarily by the Volunteer determination to secure arms”[148] since, unlike the 1916 rebels they had no ready sources of weaponry from abroad.  Often these raids garnered only the odd weapon from individual policemen, on other occasions, much bigger raids were organised; at Collinstown Aerodrome in March 1919, republicans succeeded in making off with a large haul of rifles and ammunition, noted the Irish Times which declared the Government (ie the British administration) “must save the country, and, in saving the country, it will save from themselves the young men who, in their hot visions, have lost for the moment all the instincts of sober patriotism.”[149]  At the end of May, 1919, the paper was claiming that Sinn Fein “has plunged the country into lawlessness and disorder.”[150]  While many of the early armed actions were in rural areas, such as raids on small barracks or on landowners – in both cases to procure arms – by early June the paper reported glumly, “Now lawlessness has progressed so far that wearers of the King’s uniform are targets for sedition in a main thoroughfare of the Irish capital.”[151]  The particular incident followed a banning of a concert organised by Connolly supporters in the Mansion House.  A crowd had gathered and, according to the Irish Times report, four or five young men drew revolvers and wounded a sergeant and three constables.  Further outrage occurred later that month, following the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.  Outside Trinity College, a bastion of Unionism, a large crowd snatched the Union Jacks off those wearing them and set the flags on fire.  “‘The Soldiers Song’ and ‘The Red Flag’ were also sung, these songs evidently being considered a fitting termination to the ceremony of burning the Union Jacks.”[152]  Once again, Bolshevism and Irish republicanism were marching hand in hand!

As 1919 wore on armed attacks on the police were accompanied by a campaign to politically isolate and socially ostracise them.[153]  In the republican view the RIC was, as de Valera put it, “no ordinary civil force, as police are in other countries,” but “a military body, armed with rifle and bayonet and revolver. . .”  The history of the RIC was “a continuity of brutal treason against their own people.”[154] By July, armed actions reached a level which led the Irish Times to declare, “Hardly a day passes in which our columns do not report some murderous attack on single constables or small patrols.”[155]  At the same time, the Dail republicans moved to bring the Volunteers under its control.  Apart from the fact that some Dail members were concerned about the armed struggle, it was also felt important to show the world that the IVs  were  a proper army serving a legitimate government.  Some of the more radical republicans, such as Brugha, were also wary of the IRB element which occupied a powerful position in the Volunteers.  On August 20, 1919 it was agreed that an oath of allegiance would be taken to the Irish Republic by Dail deputies and Irish Volunteers, although the level of repression and surveillance made it impossible to hold a full Volunteer convention to change its constitution along such lines.  While the IVs were effectively the army of the Republic,[156] thus becoming the Irish Republican Army, their name in Irish stayed the same and it seems that “military policy, in 1919-20, was left very much to the leaders of the Volunteers.”[157]  It was not until March 1921 that the Dail took formal responsibility for IRA actions.[158]

The IRB also underwent change.  Historically the organisation had regarded the president of its Supreme Council as the president of the Irish Republic (which had never existed in practice before the establishment of the Dail in 1919).  After the Dail was set up the IRB constitution was amended to allow its members to take the oath of allegiance to the actual Republic established by the Dail and the IRB president ceased being regarded by the organisation as president of the Republic.  IRB leaders such as Collins and Richard Mulcahy (chief of staff of the IRA) occupied powerful positions within the overall movement, especially in the IRA’s General headquarters.[159]  When de Valera, president of the republic, went to the USA in 1920 Collins, as Minister of Finance and Director of Intelligence for the IRA (as well as being president of the IRB Supreme Council) occupied “an ascendancy over the whole revolutionary movement.”[160]

As the fighting escalated, IRA attacks were soon met with fierce reprisals.  In September 1919 an IRA detachment attacked 18 soldiers of the Shropshire Light Infantry as they were going to church in Fermoy, County Cork.  One of the British soldiers was killed, three were badly wounded and all lost their rifles.  A jury subsequently found that the killing was not premeditated, but that the raiders had come purely to capture weapons.  Following the verdict, British soldiers wrecked fifty shops in the town, the shop of the jury foreman being “completely destroyed”, and “Many houses (were) wrecked and looted.”[161]  At a meeting in the town, the soldiers commander, Colonel Dobbs, defended the rioters and placed the blame for their actions at the foot of the jury, asking, “Do you think that the soldiers are going to sit down and take no notice of it?  You seem to think you can do what you like and that the soldiers should make no reprisals. . .  I cannot see, myself, how you can expect men whose comrade has been murdered not to get excited and try to get a bit of their own back. . .  As long as these outrages go on you must not be surprised if the troops sometimes get out of hand.”[162]  What is interesting about this is that it involves regular, professional troops, taking place well before the arrival of the notorious Black and Tans and Auxiliaries.

The British decided they would no longer tolerate the Dail and banned it on September 12.  Raids took place on Sinn Fein and other republican activists throughout the country and the republican political party was banned.  “The pretensions of this so-called ‘Parliament’ were of the most impudent kind, but its public actions were ridiculous rather than formidable,” editorialised the Irish Times the following day.  At the end of 1919 and beginning of 1920 IRA activity had reached the stage of guerrilla warfare, although “(n)either the Dail nor Volunteer Headquarters had given a general direction to this end.  In fact these bodies still shared the public dislike of activities which caused casualties on either side.”[163]  The Government catalogue of “outrages” of a political character committed between May 1, 1916 and September 30, 1919 numbered 1293 – 110 in Ulster, 182 in Connaught, 377 in Leinster and 624 in Munster.  It included 16 murders, with none of the alleged perpetrators having been “brought to justice”.  Four hundred and seventy-eight of the “outrages” were to gain possession of arms, ammunition and explosives.  In the view of the Irish Times, the figures “prove(d) beyond any doubt that the campaign of murder and assault has been specially against the wearers of the king’s uniform.”[164]  The British had also been very active during this time – 43 newspapers were suppressed in Ireland between 1916 and October 1919, 70 meetings prohibited in the previous year, 134 orders issued under DORA and 50 other proclamations made under other Acts.[165]  Even the Freeman’s Journal, which had been staunchly pro-IPP, was suppressed on December 15 and the pro-republican Lord Mayor arrested.   At the same time it was clear that the tide in the country was running more strongly than ever with the republicans.  The Catholic Church, always mindful of keeping in with the people in order to continue to dominate them, reflected this.  For instance, the Bishop of Killaloe, Dr Fogarty, referring to a judge as “a hireling of British tyranny”, congratulated Clare for having “the manliness to stand up against tyranny, and to flourish the flag of Irish independence in the face of Castle hacks, whether on the bench or off it.”[166]  The Mayor of Sligo, meanwhile, resigned as a justice of the peace, pointing out that times had changed and he with them, there now being a legitimate Irish state authority, Dail Eireann, with which people should co-operate.[167]  The Cork Guardians, reviewing allegations of irregularities in the carrying out of contracts now opted for an inquiry by a Dail court.[168]

As armed struggle and social ostracism directed against them developed, the police force began to crumble. The Irish Times felt that by the end of 1919 the government was being beaten in “its battle with the “present orgy of unpunished violence”.[169]  Foster has noted that in 1920 resignations from the RIC “began to reach a critical level”[170], while Bowden goes even further, commenting that by 1920 “The RIC was virtually helpless and useless.”[171]  In June 1920, police in Listowel mutinied, in August it was officially admitted that 556 members of the RIC had resigned in the previous two months and that it was virtually impossible to get recruits.[172]  This forced the British to use the army to a greater extent, thereby arousing more opposition and hostility amongst the Irish people.  By January 1920, Churchill was informing the House of Commons that there were 43,000 British troops in Ireland.  The war was becoming increasingly bitter and the British policy increasingly based on coercion and terror.  This was stimulated when the British introduced the soon-to-be notorious Black and Tans (March 1920) and the Auxiliaries (July 1920).  From late 1920 “draconian powers of search and arrest, occasional berserk sackings of villages and towns, and an unrelieved demonstration of hard-line colonial attitudes on the part of the military” can be seen.[173]  Among these actions by Crown forces was the burning of the centre of Cork on December 11, 1920, with the main shopping street and 300 houses being fired.[174]  The inability of the government to rule, coupled with the mass support enjoyed by the opposition (as shown in the 1918 general election and the 1920 local body elections), notes Bowden, made the administration “doubly illegitimate”.[175]  This public feeling was added to by a number of imaginative and daring republican actions, ranging from specific attacks to prison escapes.  For instance, on the afternoon of Saturday, March 29, 1919, 20 Sinn Feiners escaped from Mountjoy Jail, causing the Irish Times to worry that such escapes raised the prestige and romance of the republicans in the public eye, making the government appear ridiculous and turning imprisonment into a farce.[176]  Nevertheless the paper felt that “When murder stalks unpunished in our city thoroughfares, when no rural cottage is safe after nightfall, when the country, through fear or folly, refuses to be its own protector, when political leaders observe a sardonic silence and the people’s Church is, as it seems asleep” the government had no choice but to “arm itself with every power that the law confers for the prevention and punishment of crime.”[177]  Summarising the state of the nation at the end of the year, the paper stated, “Half the country is in a state of sedition.  Murder stalks the land” and that common crime was on the rise due to the breakdown of accepted standards of behaviour.”[178]

Moreover, things could only get worse.  In February 1920, republican leader Robert Barton was rescued on his way to Mountjoy Prison.  The armed men who held up his British Army guards were confident enough to make no efforts at disguise, while “(p)eople on tramcars enjoyed the spectacle at their leisure”, noted the Irish Times, which estimated that “The moral results of this incident will be far-reaching and deplorable” and complained of “the mischievous effect on public opinion of a struggle in which all the romance and most of the successes are to the credit of the lawless side.”[179]

In early 1920 the Catholic hierarchy issued a public statement, declaring “The legitimate demand of Ireland. . . to choose her own government has not only been denied her, but every organ for the expression of her national life has been ruthlessly suppressed and her people subjected to an iron oppression as cruel and unjust as it is ill-advised and out of date.”[180]  When at the end of March 1920, Dublin Castle announced there had been 1089 “outrages” since the Dail was set up, SF listed 6721 “outrages” by Crown forces during the same period.[181]  Increasingly the British found they were losing the propaganda war.  They were also clearly losing political control for, despite the imposition of martial law, imprisonment of its leaders and activists and the forcing of others underground, along with the intense harassment of its election workers, SF won control of eleven of the twelve borough councils and the bulk of the urban district councils and county councils in the local body elections of January 1920. use Mitchell figures.  These local bodies, including five of the island’s six biggest cities – Dublin, Cork, Derry, Limerick and Waterford – transferred their allegiance to the Dail[182] and began treating it as the legitimate parliament of Ireland.  At the same time the Dail began expanding its sphere of operations, trying to take on the role of the usual western parliament and government.  It thus extended its power not through a revolutionary strategy aimed at a direct challenge to imperialism – mass demonstrations, strikes, guerrilla attacks, building into a general strike and armed insurrection – but through gradual encroachment onto the terrain of the old administrative apparatus.  The Dail was an institution of “dual power” in only the most limited sense – essentially it was modelled on the lines of a typical western bourgeois parliament and challenged Westminster’s political rule in Ireland within this framework.  As Greaves has noted, it was more concerned with winning the backing of the United States, to act as a lever against Britain, than in promoting social struggle.  In June 1920 the Dail voted the immense sum of $1.5 million to de Valera’s lobbying work in the United States.[183]

At this point it might be useful to make some comments about the US connection.  The United States had been a crucial source of republican support and finance, ever since the days of the Fenians who had wings based in both Ireland and the US.  Clann na Gael and the IRB had continued this tradition and, after the 1916 rebellion many Irish republicans went to the US as political refugees (eg Liam Mellows) and/or to do speaking tours (eg Nora Connolly, Hanna Sheehy Skeffington, Mellows).  Larkin was also in the United States throughout this period, although part of his stay was spent in prison due to his political and industrial organising activities.  Given President Wilson’s much-proclaimed support for self-determination of nations in the wake of World War 1,[184] the republicans had an important weapon with which to try to press for recognition from the US government, especially after Sinn Fein’s electoral victory in December 1918.

As part of the attempt to build support in the US and gain official support for Irish independence, de Valera went there in June 1919 and stayed until December 1920.  Subsequent opponents of de Valera, such as Padraig O’Keefe, would subsequently suggest that he went there to get away from trouble; Coogan notes, “Leaders of countries in revolutionary ferment are frequently driven into exile.  But where is one to look for examples of Presidents voluntarily departing, and staying away, before and during most of the action?”  He notes that 1916 showed de Valera was not a coward, but his long stay in the US is put down to “ego and insecurity”, the insecurity being that “(t)here is a vein in Irish life which does not regard recognition as having been achieved until one is accepted in America”.[185]

Yet the stay in the US was valuable in raising funds through selling republican bonds (which were to be redeemable from the Irish government after the achievement of independence) and rallying mass support in general there for Irish independence.  De Valera addressed huge meetings, such as 70,000 at Fenway Park, Boston, on June 29, 1919, 50,000 in Chicago on July 12 and nearly 30,000 in Los Angeles on November 23.[186]  But de Valera’s stay in the US also saw important backtracking on the republican goal of complete Irish freedom from Britain.  On February 6, 1920 he gave an interview to the Westminster Gazette in which he put forward a view which sharply diverged from the republican position.  Here he held up, as possible models for the British-Irish relationship, the Monroe Doctrine and the US-Cuba Treaty of 1901.  In the latter Treaty, which de Valera quoted, it was stipulated that the Cuban government would never enter into any military arrangement which would permit the use of its soil by any foreign power, ie apart from the US itself.  De Valera declared that if Britain proclaimed a Monroe Doctrine in relation to Ireland, “The people of Ireland so far from objecting would co-operate with their whole soul.”[187]

The Westminster Gazette had a news-sharing agreement with the New York Globe and, much to de Valera’s shock and chagrin, the Globe printed the story as a page one item before it appeared in the Gazette.  As a result de Valera came under strong attack from John Devoy, Joseph McGarrity and other leading Irish-American republican figures.  Patrick MacCartan, who edited McGarrity’s US paper the Irish Press and was also TD for Offaly in Dail Eireann, thought the interview was “clearly an intimation that the President of the Republic was prepared to accept much less than complete sovereignty for Ireland. . .   And the choice of the Westminster Gazette seemed appropriate to inform Lloyd George that Ireland’s President was willing to degrade her claim to the level of a domestic issue of England.”[188]  Shortly afterwards MacCartan returned to Ireland, to give de Valera’s explanation to the Irish cabinet.  He records that Markievicz, Cathal Brugha and Count Plunkett showed “marked hostility toward the proposal” but Griffith and Collins “shut down the discussion and led in the acceptance of de Valera’s explanation.”[189]  In her autobiography, Kathleen Clarke expresses the view that the interview “was the first sign of weakness the British had seen since the Rising, and they seized upon it; here was a man ready for compromise.”[190]

Among the measures taken by the British in early 1920 was the suspension of trial by jury, a measure “concerned solely by the people’s refusal to discourage lawlessness and outrage.  The restoration of this normal duty and privilege of citizenship lies entirely in their own hands.”[191] In February 1920 a curfew from midnight to 5am was imposed in Dublin to meet the growing number of republican attacks.[192] The Restoration of Order in Ireland Act, meanwhile, empowered military authorities to carry out searches and seizures, arrest anyone swearing allegiance to the Dail, and also provided for the suppression of coroner’s inquests and gave secret court martials the power to impose the death penalty..  Yet much worse was to come.  The regime resorted not only to the sort of wide-scale terror mentioned above by Foster, but also selective assassination of republican leaders. After British forces in the middle of the night of mid-March 1920 broke into a house and murdered the republican Lord Mayor of Cork, Thomas MacCurtain, who was also the IRA leader in the city, the inquest jury returned a verdict of “wilful murder” against Lloyd George, the Viceroy, the Chief Secretary and three RIC inspectors as well as members of the force.[193]  MacCurtain’s place was taken by Terence McSwiney, who was then arrested in August and promptly went on hunger strike in Brixton Prison, dying in October.  McSwiney’s death, as with those of other republican leaders, provided more evidence of the need to remove British rule and led to huge public processions.  In 1920 Crown forces killed 203 unarmed persons,[194] while a visiting British Labour Commission also described “wanton destruction of economic Ireland.”[195]  Creameries, mills and factories were systematically destroyed.[196]  The IRA responded with sabotage in Britain itself, on November 27, 1920, for instance, setting alight timberyards and warehouses at Liverpool Docks, causing  p2,500,000 worth of damage.[197]

In the north-east, nationalists also found themselves under attack by Carsonite and other Unionist forces.  In mid-July 1920 armed mobs attacked Catholic areas in Derry and Belfast, setting fire to homes and businesses.  Nineteen people lost their lives before the Belfast IRA were eventually able to beat off the attackers.  Unionists next turned to workplaces, driving out Catholics and radical Protestants.  In three months, 50 Catholics were dead, scores were wounded and a million pounds worth of damage had been done.[198]  In opposition to the pogrom, the Dail organised a boycott of Belfast business, although this was opposed by Markievicz and some other republicans as its only likely effect was to drive an additional wedge between Belfast and the rest of the country.

In contrast to the “failure of the control apparatus”[199] of the British regime in Ireland was the effectiveness of Michael Collins’ IRA intelligence and assassination units which not only proved successful in killing policemen, British intelligence officers, spies and informers, but infiltrated the police apparatus and Dublin Castle itself.[200]  On Sunday, November 21, 1920 simultaneous attacks on British intelligence officers saw 11 of them being shot dead.[201]  Collins himself was able to get into the detective headquarters of the Dublin police late one night thanks to a sympathetic detective, Ned Broy, and go through the secret files in the record room.[202]  Collins was also kept informed of the plans of the Auxiliaries by Billy Beaumont, an ex-British Army man who played polo with them.[203]  British responses to the IRA’s actions became more and more brutal.  For instance, after the assassination of the British intelligence officers, the Auxiliaries drove to Croke Park where a sports match was in progress and fired into the crowd, killing 14 and wounding around 60 people.[204]  “The time came during the lifetime of the first Dail,” Maire Comerford would write many years later, “when we seemed to be holding all the cards and England nothing except the power to go on killing.”[205]

It was not only Collins’ intelligence and hit squads which were effective.  Barracks across the country were being attacked with increasing frequency, those in Limerick, Clare, Cork and Tipperary counties being especially hard hit.  The typical pattern is described by Hayes-McCoy: “a close and carefully planned attack, a stubborn resistance, and – more often than not – the destruction of the post.”[206]  In fact, hundreds of smaller barracks had to be abandoned as early as the first few months of 1920 and, at Easter of that year, over 300 of these were destroyed by the IRA.[207]  This meant, as was officially admitted, “the handing over of tracts of country to the enemy”.[208]  IRA organisation became increasingly well-adapted to guerrilla warfare.  In rural areas it was based on fighting columns (often mobile “flying columns”) backed up by support companies and Cumann na mBan.  The fighters “appeared in the open to strike at their foes only when they chose to do so, and then vanished again among the people.”[209]  Ambushes became more and more common, possibly the most famous being at Crossbarry in March 1921 where a 104-strong flying column led by Tom Barry carried out a successful attack on British troops in lorries and then broke through an encircling force three times its own size.[210]

In May 1921 the British commander, General Macready, sent a memorandum to the British government stressing the psychological exhaustion of his soldiers and insisting that the war be ended by October.[211]  While the IRA could not beat the British militarily, and the republicans were aware of this, they could certainly keep the British from winning and gradually sap their will to continue occupying Ireland.  Foster claims that while in Dublin, the republicans were hard-pressed, since this was the centre of British rule and, in such a large built-up area, the British could concentrate maximum force and surveillance, the story was different in the rural areas.  Here, many of the barracks were destroyed by the IRA and, in unknown terrain amongst a hostile population, the British were hard-pressed.  Foster notes, for instance, that in West Cork and north Tipperary the IRA were doing particularly well.[212]  In contrast, Hayes-McCoy claims that ambushes were not only particularly successful in Dublin, with its close-packed narrow streets and alleyways, but that since such ambushes required only pistols, revolvers and hand grenades, the Dublin IRA were able to send many of their rifles to their rural comrades[213] while “(i)t was something new in Irish history that movements of British forces were contested in the Dublin streets.”[214]  It is difficult to get a clear picture from republicans themselves, since those who opposed the Treaty tended to emphasise the strength and fighting capacity of the IRA, while those in favour of the Treaty tended to emphasise the weakness of the IRA in being able to continue the armed struggle.  In any case, it was clear that with a hostile population, a guerrilla opponent which, whatever its exact strength, showed no signs of beating beaten, a demoralised police force and psychologically exhausted army, few informers and growing public opposition in both Britain itself and the United States – such opposition making it impossible for the government to commit the kind of forces and carry out the sort of repressive measures which might have succeeded in beating the Irish independence movement into the ground – the British government found itself in a war it could not win.[215]

The intensification of this war – and no doubt, the growth of labour militancy (see next chapter) – had an important effect in making the more far-sighted elements of the British bourgeoisie and the Protestant elite in the south realise that the old political order could be sustained no longer and that some form of negotiation and settlement, involving compromise on their part, was necessary.  As already noted, the Irish Unionist Alliance (which was based outside Ulster) had adopted Home Rule almost straight after the 1918 elections, mainly through fearing that the country could be partitioned, which would have left them a small minority, politically isolated in the Home Rule 26-county area.  A Unionist Anti-Partition League was even established[216] and the Irish Times warned that partition would be “the most ruinous and least hopeful of all forms of ‘settlement’ that have been, or can be, suggested”[217], although initially it felt that the British government could no more negotiate with republicans than with Lenin and Trotsky.[218]  When the British government proposed a new Home Rule bill at the end of 1919, involving a patch-work Unionist state in the north-east which would bisect Fermanagh, and two legislatures linked by a Joint Council of 20 representatives of the two proposed Irish states, the paper argued “the fantastic homogeneity which the Government proposes for the Ulster Unionists would be an excrescence on the map of Ireland.”  Since Ireland did not want it, it could only be imposed without consent.[219]  In early 1920, the Unionist Anti-Partition League passed a resolution that “no measure which involves a partition of Ireland will provide a solution of the Irish problem.”[220]

Yet partition was crucial to Britain being able to salvage its dominant position in Ireland.  This has been noted by, amongst others, two historians at opposite ends of the political spectrum, Greaves and Foster.  Noting the move toward partition on the part of the British, Greaves comments, “It was no longer a matter of crushing Republican resistance in order to impose partition.  Partition must be imposed in order to outflank that resistance and bring about an imperial peace.  Henceforward, therefore, the application of the Government of Ireland Act to six counties was expedited, while Dail Eireann was alternatively wooed and threatened, as the terror increased and weaknesses were probed for.  The aim was to deprive the Republic of part of its territory and, having thus weakened it, bring it to terms.”[221]  Foster notes that “the pressures of liberal opinion abroad, and military demoralization in Ireland, were not the only influences making for peace in 1921.  A vital point was that a treaty could now be made with nationalist Ireland, because Unionist Ireland, or at least Ulster Unionist Ireland, had been separately catered for.  The Treaty of 1921 did not enable Partition to take place, as sometimes assumed; Partition cleared the way for the Treaty.”[222]

The British were well aware of the less than revolutionary nature of sections of the republican leadership and so, once defeating the movement was no longer possible, it was a question of finding those leaders with whom business could be done and ensuring that conditions at the time would be as favourable as possible for Britain.  The  establishment of partition appears to have been central to this.  By declaring two separate elections, for two separate parliaments in Belfast and Dublin, the British were able to trap the republicans.  The Unionists would certainly operate the parliament in the north; the republicans would be stuck with the other 26 counties.  Sinn Fein chose to participate in these elections; it won all the seats in the 26-county area without opposition – Labour again standing aside so the “national will” could be made manifest – and six seats in the north, where the IPP also won six and the Unionists 40.  unionism celebrated its victory with a new pogrom, the special constabulary invading the nationalist Falls Road in West Belfast, killing 17 people and forcing 150 Catholic families from their homes.[223]  The northern parliament was opened by King George in June; “the six counties were lost without a blow”[224] despite all the republican rhetoric over the past six to seven years directed at the IPP for being prepared to negotiate Home Rule on a partitionist basis.  A Truce was declared on July 11 and the repression eased, although in Belfast the unionist pogrom recommenced on August 22 and continued for six months.

The political divisions within the republican movement, which had been kept below the surface during the previous several years of intense struggle for national independence, began emerging.  During the August sessions of the Dail, for instance, while Sean Etchingham could talk about his efforts to set up fishing co-ops, Art O’Connor could relate how he had halted the “mad onrush of revolution”.[225]  in October formal negotiations over a treaty of settlement between the republicans and the British government opened.  Usually in the situation of a stalemated war, negotiations between two opposing governments could be expected to take place in a third country on neutral ground or, at least, in both the countries involved.  But, as in the case of the partition elections, the republicans had allowed the British to call the shots, and the negotiations were not only held in London but at 10 Downing Street itself.  While the negotiations proceeded, the British went ahead with their partitionist plans, for instance establishing separate judiciaries for northern and southern Ireland; on the other side, Liam Mellows and other IRA leaders prepared for a renewal of conflict.

Although an Irish team of five negotiators had been sent, led by Griffith and Collins, its meetings with its counterpart British team, led by Lloyd George and Chamberlain, were adjourned after two weeks; the rest of the meetings took place between the four leaders.  As Kee notes, “That as negotiators they were completely outclassed is undeniable.”[226]  The first to sign the Articles of Agreement, which were basically the same as the partitionist Home Rule agreed to by the old IPP, was Griffith.  He was followed by Collins and, shortly afterwards, the others.[227]  This was done without any reference back to Dublin.  In the Irish capital, the Agreement was announced in the morning papers of December 6.  A number of republican leaders, including Mellows, Brugha and Rory O’Connor, were meeting when Labour leader Tom Johnson arrived with the Scottish Marxist leader Willie Gallacher.  Gallacher told them that the plenipotentiaries were giving in and that they should be intercepted and arrested immediately upon their return.  Mellows and O’Connor were open to this idea, but Brugha, the most senior, opposed it.  When Gallacher warned, “If you don’t arrest them, it will not be long before they’re arresting you”, Brugha dismissed this, claiming, “Irishmen won’t arrest Irishmen.”  When Gallacher suggested that the republicans must also take the offensive around a clear social programme or their cause was lost – he even helpfully produced a copy of one for them – Brugha, who respected the support given to the Irish struggle by Gallacher’s movement, replied, “Gallacher, you’re always welcome in Ireland, but we don’t want any of your communism.”[228]  In the event, the Scottish Marxist proved to have a better understanding of the dynamics at work than the left-wing nationalists.  Brugha died in a hail of Free State gunfire in July 1922 and Mellows and O’Connor were executed without trial in Mountjoy Prison on December 8, almost exactly a year after their meeting with Gallacher.

When the Cabinet met, de Valera suggested the signatories be sacked from cabinet membership and the Agreement be repudiated, but Cosgrove successfully suggested no action be taken and that the five be allowed to put their case.  In Greaves’ view, the initiative was lost, never to be regained.  Concurring with him, I would add that from this point the republican anti-Treaty elements did nothing at all but retreat and give way even though they outnumbered the pro-Treaty forces.[229]  The course of this retreat and the reasons for it will be investigated in Section Five of this thesis.


[1] There had been some previous fighting in Dublin, for instance Robert Emmet’s ill-fated and largely aborted effort in 1803.  Emmet’s rising involved only a few hundred people, was really the last gasp of the United Irish movement, and was over virtually in hours.

[2] Letter from Russell to the London Times, cited from Marreco, The Rebel Countess, p215.

[3] Irish Independent, May 5, 1916.

[4] Joseph Plunkett, Sean MacDiarmada, Thomas MacDonagh and Eamon Ceannt.

[5] Those executed included a number of people who were not central figures.  Willie Pearse was executed purely for being the brother of Padraic, for instance.  John MacBride, who had not played a central role in the preparations, was chosen for the firing squad more because of his previous opposition to British rule, especially the part he played fighting Britain in South Africa during the Boer conflict.  Former Fianna boys, Con Colbert and Sean Heuston, although up and coming figures in the Volunteers were also hardly members of the central revolutionary leadership.  Casement himself had urged the calling off of the Rising, but his involvement in Irish nationalist activities were seen as especially traitorous as he had previously been a prominent figure in the British diplomatic corps.

[6] Lee, Modernisation, p156.  Again, the idea of a fighting retreat militates against the “blood sacrifice” notion of 1916 (see also chapter 6).

[7] Skinnider, Doing My Bit, pp137-8.

[8] At the same time it must be remembered that she had sat in her cell in Kilmainham, with the expectation of her own execution, while hearing the firing squads execute her closest comrade, Connolly, and the rest of the men she most admired and respected, such as Mallin, Clarke and Pearse.  In prison in England, she was treated as a common criminal, placed in a women’s prison with murderesses and the like, and isolated politically.  (In contrast, most of the men were held together and could organise language classes, political discussions and set up their own structures.)

[9] Robbins, Under the Starry Plough, p174.  Robbins supported the Treaty and the establishment of the Free State.  Pictures in his book, taken in later years, show him in the company of de Valera and other right-wing government leaders.

[10] Clarke, Revolutionary Woman, p115.

[11] Ibid, p95

[12] Young Ireland, April 1922.  Cited from Conlon, Cumann namBan, p21.

[13] P.S. O’Hegarty, The Victory of Sinn Fein, Dublin, 1924, p3.

[14] Irish Independent, May 6, 1916.

[15] Tipperary Star, May 6 and 13, 1916.  Cited from Lee, Ireland 1912-1985, p33.

[16] Cork Examiner, April 27, 28, 29, 1916.  Cited from ibid, p33.

[17] See O. Dudley Edwards, “Press Reaction”.

[18] Roscommon Herald, May 13, 1916.  Cited from Lee, Ireland 1912-1985, p33.

[19] Connacht Tribune, April 29, 1916.  Cited from ibid, p33.

[20] The letter is reprinted in the Irish Times, April 24, 1965.  Cited from ibid, p32.

[21] Gwynn, Life of John Redmond, p475.

[22] Ibid, p475-6.

[23] R.M. Henry, Evolution of Sinn Fein, p220.

[24] Information also came to light of a British officer murdering the pacifist Francis Sheehy Skeffington, who had been trying to organise civilians to prevent looting, of the killings of about a dozen male civilians in a house in King Street, and of mistreatment of prisoners.  For instance, prisoners were made to lie down outside the Rotunda Hospital all night and “a British officer amused himself by taking out some of the leaders.  He took out poor old Tom Clarke and, with the nurses looking out of the windows of the hospital, he stripped him to the buff and made all sorts of disparaging remarks about him.”  (Recollections of Joseph Sweeney and K. Griffith in T.E. O’Grady, Curious Journey; see Kathleen Clarke, Revolutionary Woman, p232, fn8.)

[25] Ibid, p221.

[26] Sylvia Pankhurst, “Labor and Sinn Fein”, Socialist Review (US), April 1920.  Cited from Young, “James Connolly”, p166.

[27] Shaw cited in Sylvia Pankhurst, The Home Front, London, Cresset Library, 1987, p325.  (First published 1932)

[28] See ibid, p327.

[29] C. Desmond Greaves, Liam Mellows and the Irish Revolution, London, Lawrence and Wishart, 1971, p102.

[30] Montgomery Hyde, Carson, London, 1953, p403.

[31] Strauss, Irish Nationalism, chapter 25 (“The Gordian Knot”), pp252-272.

[32] Comerford, The First Dail, p47 fn 6.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Mayo News cited in the Irish Independent, August 14, 1914.

[35] Skinnider, Doing My Bit, p200.

[36] Ibid, pp204-5.

[37] O Broin, Revolutionary Underground, p174.

[38] Lyons, John Dillon, p403.

[39] Yeats’ poem “Easter 1916” was written in September, but not published for several years.  Yeats spent part of that summer in Normandy with Maud Gonne MacBride.  See F.X. Martin (ed), Leaders and Men, plX-X.

[40] Anna Parnell, cited in Comerford, The First Dail, p20.

[41] See Hansard: Parliamentary Debates, House of Commons, Vol C, 1917, cols 379-382.

[42] Hansard: Parliamentary Debates, House of Commons, Vol C, 1917, col 549.

[43] Ibid.

[44] Comerford, The First Dail, p38.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Ibid, p41.  The letters are in the National Library of Ireland.

[47] O’Dwyer cited in Emmet Larkin, James Larkin, p192.

[48] Comerford, The First Dail, p101

[49] Greaves, Liam Mellows, p105.

[50] Ibid, p106.

[51] Emmet O’Connor, A Labour History of Ireland 1824-1960, Dublin, Gill and MacMillan, 1992, pp95-6.

[52] Greaves, Liam Mellows, p108.

[53] Ibid, p104.  The reasons for this, and the general role of the labour movement and working class, will be dealt with in the next chapter.

[54] O Broin, Revolutionary Underground, p178.

[55] Michael Laffan, “The Unification of Sinn Fein”, Irish Historical Studies, Vol XVll, 1971.

[56] PRO, CO 904/103, cited from ibid, p368.

[57] Ibid, p368.  David Fitzpatrick, however, cites from PRO, CO 904/108 a figure of 114,014 members for SF in January 1919.  It seems unlikely that half the membership was lost in those eighteen months, especially as Cumann na mBan, the Irish Volunteers and other such organisations were growing.

[58] Laffan, “The Unification of Sinn Fein”, p372.

[59] Comerford, The First Dail, p42.

[60] Ibid.

[61] Ibid, p45.

[62] Irish Independent, November 2, 1917.  Cited from Kee, The Green Flag, p607.

[63] See Kee, The Green Flag, p606-8.  He takes the famous Collins quote from the Irish Independent, October 1, 1917.

[64] Ibid, p609.  He gives no date for the Daily Mail.

[65] Comerford, The First Dail, p42.

[66] Hansard: Parliamentary Debates, House of Commons, Fifth series, Vol LXXXll, Col 943.

[67] Greaves, Liam Mellows, p139.

[68] See this thesis, chapter 9.

[69] Greaves, Liam Mellows, p139.

[70] Ibid, p141.

[71] Foster, Modern Ireland, p488.

[72] Letter appears in Irish Independent, November 26, 1917.  Cited from Kee, The Green Flag, p611-12.

[73] Kevin B. Nowlan, “Dail Eireann and the Army: unity and division”, in Desmond Williams (ed), The Irish Struggle, 1916-1922, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1966, p69.

[74] Kee, The Green Flag, p615.

[75] Ibid.

[76] Ibid, p616.

[77] Ibid, pp616-7.

[78] Tom Bowden, “The Irish Underground and the War of Independence”, Journal of Contemporary History”, Vol 8, no 2 (April 1973), p11.

[79] R.M. Henry, Evolution of Sinn Fein, p262.

[80] Ibid, p264.

[81] Thomas Darragh (Roddy Connolly), “Revolutionary Ireland and Communism”, report read on July 28, 1920 by Connolly at the Fifth Session of the Second Congress of the Communist International.  The report appeared in issue 12 of Communist International and is reprinted in Second Congress of the Communist International: minutes of the proceedings, vol 1, London, New Park, 1977, pp317-323.  (First published by the Publishing House of the Communist International, Moscow, 1921.)

[82] Greaves, Liam Mellows, p144.

[83] Henry, Evolution of Sinn Fein, pp267-8.

[84] F.S.L. Lyons, “Passing of the Irish Parliamentary Party”, p104.

[85] Irish Times, October 7, 1918.

[86] Irish Times, editorial, October 8, 1918.

[87] Irish Times, October 16, 1918

[88] Irish Times, October 14, 1918, claimed one of the reasons young men had not responded to recruiting was “the failure of spiritual guides to sound the trumpet call of duty.”

[89] Irish Times, October 15, 1918.  Also noting a coal shortage, he said naively that this could be alleviated by 50,000 Irishmen releasing 50,000 miners from the British Army.

[90] Henry, Evolution of Sinn Fein, p269.

[91] Greaves, Liam Mellows, p145.

[92] Irish Times, October 30, 1918.

[93] Irish Times, October 21, 1918.

[94] This decision is discussed in the following chapter.

[95] Election manifesto cited in Comerford, The First Dail, p15.

[96] Ibid, p16.

[97] Irish Times, November 25, 1918.

[98] Irish Times, October 10, 1918.

[99] William O’Brien pamphlet, The Fall of Parliamentarism, Dublin, 1918, cited from the Irish Times, October 16, 1918.

[100] Irish Times, October 30, 1918.

[101] Irish Times, editorial, November 28, 1918.

[102] Henry, Evolution of Sinn Fein, pp272-3.

[103] Greaves, Liam Mellows, p136.

[104] Ibid.

[105] Irish Times, October 31, 1918.

[106] Ibid.

[107] Foster, Modern Ireland, p492.

[108] Greaves, Liam Mellows, p138.

[109] Kee, The Green Flag, p613-4.

[110] Bowden, “The Irish Underground”, p9.  The term “middle class” can be somewhat confusing, as it tends to have a different meaning to those of us living in class without an aristocracy.  In Ireland and Britain at this time the aristocracy was widely seen as the ruling class and the capitalists as the middle class; whereas in countries such as the USA, Australia, New Zealand and so on, without an hereditary aristocracy, the capitalists would be seen, by people who analysed society in class terms, as the ruling class.  Bowden, dealing with Ireland, presumably means by “middle class leadership”, the national bourgeoisie and its political expression, the IPP.

[111] Irish Times, editorial, December 7, 1918.

[112] Irish Times, December 7, 1918.

[113] See H. Nicholls’ letter to the editor, Irish Times, January 2, 1919.

[114] See Irish Times, December 30, 1918 for a summary of the results.

[115] These figures are cited from Kee (The Green Flag, p624) who takes them from the Irish Independent, December 5, 1918.

[116] Irish Times, December 16,1918.

[117] Greaves, Liam Mellows, p148.

[118] Ibid, p137.

[119] Irish Times, editorial, December 31, 1918.

[120] Irish Times, editorial, January 2, 1919.

[121] An editorial of January 4, 1919 declared, for instance, that the government must “bring the whole country back to rational ways of thought and action.”  On January 11 it editorialised that the Government should produce schemes for Irish reconstruction “as will bring every sane and responsible element in the country to its side.”  On April 19 it described the “Government’s duty” as being to “help the Irish people to recover their senses.”  By August 11, it was editorialising that “Sinn Fein is utterly incompatible with political sanity” and, four days later, that SF “has preached a gospel of vengeance and hate”.  on October 8, it editorialised, “the last election showed that there are many thousands of Irishmen who are not reasonable.”  This is only a tiny fraction of such comments made by the paper which, throughout the period from the elections to the Treaty, regularly described the Irish people as suffering from generalised madness and Anglophobia, themes recycled in present-day Irish historical revisionist works such as Foster’s Modern Ireland where virtually any anti-imperialist and/or Irish nationalist sentiment is described in terms such as “atavistic Anglophobia” (p493).

[122] The meeting of the IUA Executive is reported in the Irish Times, January 2, 1919.

[123] Birkenhead cited in G.A. Hayes-McCoy, “Conduct of the Anglo-Irish War”, p57.  Lord Birkenhead was F.E. Smith, a leading Carsonite who, along with other Unionists had been brought into the British Cabinet with the onset of World War 1.

[124] John O’Beirne Ranelagh, “Irish Republican Brotherhood”, p142.

[125] Foster, Modern Ireland, p495.

[126] Greaves, Liam Mellows, p167.

[127] Ibid.

[128] Comerford, The First Dail, p12.

[129] Irish Times, editorial, January 21, 1919.

[130] Irish Times, editorial, March 7, 1919.  Just as for Susan Barrantes “everybody” is a synonym for the polo-playing fraternity, for the Irish Times “everybody” appears to mean those attending elite race meetings.

[131] Irish Times, editorial, January 22, 1919.

[132] Greaves, Liam Mellows, p168, fn 2.

[133] Comerford, The First Dail, p52.

[134] Ibid, p51.  By the past being so near, she appears to mean the distant past, before Ireland was ruled by England.

[135] Cited in Greaves, Liam Mellows, pp169-70.  Piaras Beaslai, a TD at the time and subsequently a supporter of the 1921 Treaty, would in 1926 describe the Democratic programme as “communistic” and note, probably rightly, that members of the Dail voted for it in 1919 well aware that it would never be put into practice. (Ibid)

[136] Comerford, The First Dail, p53.

[137] Markievicz’s motion is cited in ibid, p59.

[138] Irish Times, editorial, April 19, 1919.

[139] Official Dail position, cited from Greaves, Liam Mellows, p192.

[140] Stack cited in Greaves, Liam Mellows, p191.

[141] Brugha’s famous opening remarks are cited in a number of works, among them Greaves, Liam Mellows, p170.

[142] MacNeill is quoted in an editorial in the Irish Times, January 29, 1919.

[143] A report of the SF extraordinary ard fheis appears in the Irish Times, April 9, 1919.

[144] Irish Times, March 19, 1919.

[145] Irish Times, April 9 and 10, 1919.

[146] Irish Times, editorial, March 3, 1919.

[147] Irish Times, editorial, April 4, 1919.  Speaking of the Unionist minority in Ireland, the editorial also declared, “A ‘settlement’ which would be unjust and unwelcome to any large section of Irishmen is morally impossible and would be no settlement at all.”  Yet, the Home Rule settlement, which would weaken the Empire and deny the King’s authority was what “even constitutional Nationalists” wanted, it moaned.  Clearly the desires of the majority of the Irish people (which were not for Home Rule, but for independence, as expressed in the 1918 elections), were worth a great deal less than the desire of a minority, the Unionist 25 percent of the population.

[148] Hayes-McCoy, “Conduct of the Anglo-Irish War”, p58.

[149] Irish Times, editorial, March 21, 1919.

[150] Irish Times, editorial, May 30, 1919.

[151] Irish Times, editorial, June 6, 1919.

[152] Irish Times, June 30, 1919.  The paper reported similar “Disgraceful Scenes in Dundalk!”

[153] The ostracisation policy was probably not supported by the more conservative section of the republican leadership.   When Ernest Blythe was arrested and found with a document in an envelope suggesting ways of making life difficult for the RIC, he was quick to say that he had never seen it and was merely passing on the envelope to someone in Dublin.  He added that “he was entirely opposed to the whole course of action suggested in it.  There was not a single proposal in it which he did not regard as highly objectionable.”  (Irish Times, October 18, 1919.)  It was republican policy not to recognise British courts, or to hurl defiance and abuse at them; the fact that Blythe took an entirely different approach makes it likely that the paper is reporting him accurately.

[154] De Valera speaking in the Dail in 1919, cited in Hayes-McCoy, “Conduct of the Anglo-Irish War”, p61.  As Hayes-McCoy notes, the RIC had put down the Fenian Rising, thereby gaining the official title “Royal”.

[155] Irish Times, editorial, July 11.  Just below the editorial the paper reports, “Outrage in County Clare”, where two policemen had been fired at on the night of the ninth.

[156] Since the Irish Republic was in a state of war with Britain, “Every Volunteer is entitled morally and legally, when in execution of his military duties, to use all legitimate methods of warfare against the soldiers and policemen of the English usurper, and to slay them if it is necessary to do so in order to overcome their resistance,” declared the IRA paper An tOglach (The Volunteer).  Cited in Hayes-McCoy, “Conduct of the Anglo-Irish War”, p57.

[157] Nowlan, “Dail Eirann and the Army”, p72.

[158] Ibid, p75.

[159] Ibid, p73.

[160] O Broin, Revolutionary Underground, p185.

[161] Irish Times, September 9, 1919.

[162] Irish Times, September 10, 1919.  In an editorial the following day, the paper welcomed Col Dobbs’ “plain speaking”. Ireland was “suffering from a want of ‘pluck’” so Dobbs’ “plain speech has blown like a fresh wind through all the pious evasions and sinister silences of our public life.”

[163] Hayes-McCoy, “Conduct of the Anglo-Irish War”, pp58-9.

[164] Irish Times, editorial, October 13.  The government’s figures for “outrages” are given in the editorial, although it is unclear how wide a net is covered by the term.  People were being arrested at this time for reciting poetry and singing republican ballads in public.  Sentencing a young republican, Patrick Ryan, in Tipperary town the judge, Gleeson, told the court the ballad Ryan had been singing was “of such a disgraceful and shocking character that he would not have it read in court” and that the person who had written it “should be shot, or hanged and quartered”.  In fact, so awful was such a person that even “The savage of the Fiji Islands wouldn’t do that kind of thing, not to talk of Christians and Catholics and Irishmen.”  The ballad was about the killing of RIC members at Soloheadbeg and Knocklong.  (Irish Times, September 4, 1919.)

[165] Irish Times, October 31, 1919.

[166] Irish Times, editorial, December 18, 1919.  Reflecting the other side of the equation, the fear that things might get out of hand (and out of any Church influence) was a letter from Cardinal Logue to the clergy, December 17, 1919, which was read out at masses in County Armagh on the following Sunday.  It warned young men to steer clear of secret societies.  (Irish Times, December 22, 1919)

[167] The Lord Mayor’s letter appears in the Irish Times, December 19, 1919.

[168] Irish Times, December 19, 1919.

[169] Irish Times, editorial, December 3, 1919.

[170] Foster, Modern Ireland, p497.

[171] Bowden, “The Irish Underground”, p6.

[172] Hayes-McCoy, “Conduct of the Anglo-Irish War”, p63.

[173] Foster, Modern Ireland, p498.

[174] CBS, The Irish Uprising 1916-1922, CBS Legacy Collection, New York, 1966, p132, 133.

[175] Bowden, “The Irish Underground”, p7.

[176] Irish Times, March 31, 1919.

[177] Irish Times, editorial, December 3, 1919.  Of course, “the law” allowed the government to arm itself with any power it chose.

[178] Irish Times, editorial, December 16, 1919.  The republican leader P.S. O’Hegarty also fretted about the breakdown of such standards during the war for independence, see his The Victory of Sinn Fein, Dublin, 1924.

[179] Irish Times, editorial, February 13, 1920.

[180] Comerford, The First Dail, p81.

[181] Erskine Childers in the Daily News, May 11, 1920.  Cited in Greaves, Liam Mellows, p186.

[182] Ibid.

[183] Ibid, p191.

[184] For instance, addressing the US Congress on February 11, 1918, Wilson declared, “National aspirations must be respected; peoples may now be dominated and governed only by their own consent.  ‘Self-determination’ is not a mere phrase. It is an important principle of action which statesmen will henceforth ignore at their peril.” (Cited from Tim Pat Coogan, De Valera: long fellow, long shadow, London, Hutchinson, 1993, p143.)

[185] For O’Keefe’s view and Coogan’s analysis see Coogan, De Valera, p147.

[186] See ibid, pp150-1 for information on a selection of these meetings during 1919.

[187] De Valera is quoted in detail on this issue in Coogan, De Valera, pp160-161.  De Valera would claim, in his defence, that he had simply wanted to start England talking (Ibid, p165).

[188] Patrick MacCartan, With de Valera in America, New York, Brentano, 1932, p151, cited from Coogan, De Valera, p165.

[189] MacCartan, With de Valera, p155, cited from Coogan, De Valera, p165.

[190] Kathleen Clarke, Revolutionary Woman, p188.  She and Tom Clarke had been living in the US at the time of the US-Cuba Treaty and were aware that it had taken away Cuba’s independence.  Her criticism of de Valera’s position in the Westminster Gazette interview was met stonily by four Dail clerks with whom she raised it. (Ibid, pp187-8).

[191] Irish Times, editorial, February 17, 1920.

[192] Irish Times, February 24, 1920.

[193] Comerford, The First Dail, pp81-2.

[194] CBS, The Irish Uprising, p121.

[195] The quote is from the Labour Commission and appears in ibid, p121.

[196] Ibid, p144.

[197] Greaves, Liam Mellows, p226.

[198] CBS, The Irish Uprising, p110.

[199] Bowden, “The Irish Underground”, p8.

[200] Ibid, p17.

[201] Those killed were part of a group known as “the Cairo gang”, special agents drawn from the colonial service, whose job it was to kill key republicans.  See Greaves, Liam Mellows, p222.

[202] O Broin, Revolutionary Underground, p187.

[203] Greaves, Liam Mellows, p226.

[204] Ibid, p188.

[205] Comerford, The First Dail, p16.

[206] Hayes-McCoy, “Conduct of the Anglo-Irish War”, p63.

[207] Ibid.

[208] Ibid. Hayes-McCoy is here quoting an official source, although he does not mention which.

[209] Ibid, p64.

[210] Ibid, p65.

[211] Foster, Modern Ireland, p502.

[212] Ibid.

[213] Hayes-McCoy, “Conduct of the Anglo-Irish War”, p65.

[214] Ibid, p66.

[215] We might note here that apart from the electoral support for Sinn Fein and widespread labour militancy, which had a sharply anti-imperialist character, people were still mobilising on the streets in large numbers when called out by the republicans.  When six republicans were hung in Mountjoy Prison on March 14, 1921, 40,000 people turned out for a protest outside the jail.

[216] Irish Times, January 25, 1919.

[217] Irish Times, editorial January 27, 1919.

[218] Irish Times, editorial, April 19, 1919.

[219] Irish Times, editorial, December 23, 1919.

[220] The resolution is quoted directly in Irish Times, editorial, January 9, 1920.

[221] Greaves, Liam Mellows, p233.

[222] Foster, Modern Ireland, pp502-3.

[223] Figures cited in Greaves, Liam Mellows, p246.

[224] Ibid, pp245-6.

[225] Ibid, p254, fn 3.

[226] Kee, The Green Flag, p724.

[227] The others were E.J. Duggan, Robert Barton and George Gavan Duffy.  Erskine Childers served as the delegation secretary and was the only one who totally opposed the negotiators signing the Treaty, although Barton changed his mind when he returned to Ireland.

[228] This meeting is dealt with in Greaves, Liam Mellows, p268-9.

[229] See chapter eleven for information on the size of the two factions.

Posted on August 29, 2011, in Constance Markievicz, Historiography and historical texts, James Connolly, Republicanism post-1900, Thesis chapters, War for Independence period. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Republicanism and the national independence struggle, 1916-21.

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