Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Anglo-Irish Civil War (1916–1921)

Anglo-Irish Civil War (1916–1921)

PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Irish nationalists vs. Great


DECLARATION: No formal declaration

MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: Irish independence from
Great Britain

OUTCOME: The Irish Free State was established
incorporating all but six Irish counties in the Protestant
north, laying the ground for continued civil unrest.

Britain, 100,000; Ireland, 3,000

CASUALTIES: Britain, 1,585; Irish Republican Army, 500;
Easter Uprising, Britain, 529 killed and wounded;
Ireland, 62 killed (Irish wounded unknown)

TREATIES: Anglo-Irish Treaty, December 6, 1921

The history of English involvement in Ireland dates back
to 1171 when Henry II (1133–89) invaded the island and
proclaimed himself overlord of the region. Yet organized
resistance did not arise until the Protestant movement of
the 1690s. By 1798 an Irish Protestant revolt led to the
formation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
on January 1, 1801. During the mid-19th century the
Irish encountered a devastating famine, resulting in more
than 1 million deaths and an equally large number of emigrants,
most of whom fled to America. The crisis fueled
anti-British sentiment in Ireland and increased the internal
hostilities between the Protestants and the Catholics.
An independence movement known as Fenianism
emerged from the Irish plight, which threatened English
hegemony through terrorist actions and subsequently
forced Parliament to consider Irish autonomy.
Charles Stewart Parnell (1846–91) led the fight in Parliament
for the compromise policy known as Home Rule
(which promised Irish autonomy in internal affairs only)
in the late 1800s. Parliament finally passed a Home Rule
bill in 1912. However, radical opposition and the outbreak
of WORLD WAR I postponed implementation. In response
to what the Irish felt was deliberate hedging on the Home
Rule policy by the British Parliament, a group known as
the Irish Republican Brotherhood (which in time would
become the Irish Republican Army [IRA]), led by Sir Roger
Casement (1864–1916), James Connolly (1870–1916),
Patrick Pearse (1870–1916), and others, organized a rebellion
to begin on Easter, April 24, 1916. On returning from
a weapons procurement trip to Germany, Casement was
captured and imprisoned, which scuttled plans for a
national revolt. However, nearly 2,000 die-hards under
Connolly and Pearse went ahead with the Dublin uprising
scheduled for Easter Sunday. Within a week 20,000 British
troops were in Ireland, and the rebellion had been crushed.
In the wake of the EASTER UPRISING, fifteen Irish
Republican leaders were summarily executed, 2,000 rebels
were just as summarily imprisoned, and the British began
a campaign of persecution against the relatively tiny Sinn
Féin, an Irish political society seeking independence from
Britain, which the English assumed—incorrectly—had
been the organization that planned the rebellion. Thousands
of patriots rushed to the ranks of Sinn Féin, making
it the most powerful nationalist organization in Ireland.
Following the executions of Pearse on May 3 and Connolly
on May 12, a surviving Irish Republican Brotherhood
leader, Eamon de Valera (1882–1975), came to
prominence and demanded a republican government.
The British made an attempt in 1917 to generate a
consensus in Ireland by setting up the Irish National Convention,
but then—with typical imperial heavyhandedness—
destroyed whatever gains they had made by
announcing a plan, never to be fulfilled, to draft Irishmen
for the war in Europe. The Irish responded at the ballot
box and in the streets.
Sinn Féin won 73 of the seats in the British Parliament
assigned to Ireland, then, to a man, the elected refused to
go to London. Instead, they set up an independent provisional
government with its own assembly, the Dáil Éireann,
elected by Irish members of the British Parliament. They
also established an Irish court system and organized the
Irish Republican Army (IRA) to resist British administration
and secure official recognition for the republic. The
British promptly arrested 36 of the Irish parliamentary delegates,
but the remaining 37 ratified the Irish Republic proclaimed
during the Easter Uprising.
Led by Michael Collins (1890–1922), the IRA was
soon engaged in widespread ambushes and attacks on local
barracks. The British retaliated with ruthless reprisals.
Most of the Irish police force resigned. The British replaced
it with a group of English recruits, known from the color
of their temporary uniforms as the “Black and Tans.” Violence
seemed hardly avoidable. The IRA and the Irish Volunteers
launched into two and a half years of guerrilla
warfare, which the Irish called “the Troubles,” a counter-
terrorist insurgency against the Royal Irish Constabulary
of the Black and Tans.
As Ireland descended into something very much
resembling civil war, the British bit by bit alienated Irish
public opinion. They were soon forced—partly by Irish-
American pressure, partly by Ireland’s public support for
the IRA, partly by such isolated heroic acts as the 1920
hunger strike of the Lord Mayor of Cork—to pass the
Government of Ireland Act of 1920. With this act Britain
continued its bungling by partitioning the island into two
administrative regions, each with limited autonomy,
which pleased none of various factions and laid the
groundwork for future sectarian violence.
Outraged by the way the north had been divided to
create a Protestant majority, the IRA stepped up its guerrilla
war against the British. Britain retaliated by imposing
martial law and setting loose the Black and Tans. The violence
peaked on Bloody Sunday, November 21, 1920. In
the morning the IRA assassinated in Dublin 11 men it suspected
of being British intelligence agents. The Black and
Tans struck back that afternoon, opening fire on a crowd
watching a football match in a Dublin park. When the
smoke cleared, 12 lay dead, 60 others wounded. Across
Ireland hostility toward the British boiled over, and, as the
terror continued, liberal British prime minister David
Lloyd George (1863–1945) decided it was time to revisit
the “Irish Question.” A truce was declared in July 1921
that led to an Anglo-Irish Treaty on December 6, 1921,
granting the 26 counties of southern Ireland dominion
within the commonwealth. However, the partition
between these and the six Protestant counties in the north
remained, pleasing neither Protestant Ulster nor Catholic
Dublin. Nevertheless, Dublin accepted the partition and
became capital of the Irish Free State.
The 1921 proposal that established the Free State
ended the Anglo-Irish guerrilla war for the time being, but
it wreaked havoc on Ireland’s sense of identity. Free Staters
accepted dominion as a step toward true independence;
radical republicans considered it an insult. Then IRA mastermind
Michael Collins signed Lloyd George’s treaty and
helped set up the new provisional government. Collins, a
larger than life figure who would inspire the likes of Mao
Zedong (Tse-tung) and Yitzhak Shamir (b. 1915), had just
signed his own death warrant. Immediately after the treaty
was put into effect, IRA diehards, vowing never to accept a
separate Northern Ireland, ambushed and killed their former
leader in his native County Cork on August 22, 1922.
The IRA, born from the ashes of the Easter Uprising,
would fight on—so said its members—until the whole
island was both free and united.

Further reading: J. Bowyer Bell, The Secret Army: The
IRA, 1916–1979 (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1979,
reprinted 1983); León Broin, Revolutionary Underground:
The Story of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, 1858–1924
(Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1976); Tim Pat Coogan, The
Easter Uprising (London: Cassell, 2001); Dorothy Macardle,
The Irish Republic: A Documented Chronicle of the
Anglo-Irish Conflict and the Partitioning of Ireland, with a
Detailed Account of the Period 1916–1923 (London: V. Gallancz,
1937, reissued 1965); Conor Cruise O’Brien, ed.,
The Shaping of Modern Ireland (Toronto: University of
Toronto Press, 1960, reprinted, 1970).

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