The Anglo Irish peace and the Republicans

Although the ceasefire of July 1921 effectively brought to an end the phase of the hostilities known as the Anglo-Irish War, few knew it at the time. Both the British and the IRA used it as a breathing space to re-arm, gather intelligence and limber up for the next round.

During the London peace negotiations in the autumn and winter of 1921 the British Prime Minister, Lloyd George, continually pressured the Irish negotiators with threats of renewed violence on a scale hitherto unseen. Lloyd George wanted a swift resolution to the peace talks and did not

The Irish plenipotentiaries who negotiated with the British in the winter of 1921. From left to right: Arthur Griffith, Edmund J Duggan, Erskine Chiiders, Michael Collins, Gavan Duffy, Robert Barton and John Chartres. © Hu I ton-Getty Library really seem to care how Ireland was governed as long as it retained the monarchy and remained within the Empire, supporting British strategic interests in the Atlantic.

Collins and Griffith had to gamble that Lloyd George was bluffing about renewing hostilities. At best the IRA had achieved a military stalemate and Collins admitted that he 'recognized our inability to beat the British out of Ireland'. If the British were bluffing then so were the Irish.

Lloyd George gave Collins no opportunity to refer the document back to Dublin for approval. The choice was simple: was it to be war or peace? Lloyd George, ever the consummate politician, had called Collins' bluff and Collins had no choice but to fold. Consequently, outclassed and outmanoeuvred, the Irish delegates signed

The Irish plenipotentiaries who negotiated with the British in the winter of 1921. From left to right: Arthur Griffith, Edmund J Duggan, Erskine Chiiders, Michael Collins, Gavan Duffy, Robert Barton and John Chartres. © Hu I ton-Getty Library

The Anglo Irish Treaty 1921

the Anglo-Irish Treaty at 2.10am on 6 December 1921, Prophetically Collins even quipped that he was signing his own death warrant.

In essence the Treaty confirmed the partition of Ireland enshrined in the 1920 Government of Ireland Act and its provisions applied almost exclusively to the 26 counties of what is now the Irish Republic. As far as Northern Unionists were concerned the 1920 Act was the final settlement to the issue of Home Rule and, much to de Valera's chagrin, they refused to take part in the negotiations despite Lloyd George's efforts.

The Treaty also ensured that the new Irish Free State or Saorstat Eireann retained the king as head of state. F.rskine Childers, the Anglo-Irish secretary to the Irish negotiators and ardent Republican, was horrified that 'Irish Ministers would be the King's Ministers' and worse still for Republicans the Saorstat would be a Dominion within the British Empire and Commonwealth. Famously Collins said that it might not be 'the ultimate freedom that all nations aspire and develop, but the freedom to achieve freedom'.

Republicans objected to the oath of allegiance contained in the Treaty. Ironically both Collins and de Valera had

DeValera's instructions to Irish Treaty negotiation delegates were quite clear: they were authorized to negotiate and conclude a treaty without having to refer to the Dail.

been involved in drafting the oath and as oaths of allegiance go it was fairly innocuous. It required 'allegiance to the constitution of the Irish Free State' and to be 'faithful to HM King George V' whereas Britons swore 'by Almighty God that i will be faithful and bear true allegiance to ! IM King George V' alone. Loyalty was primarily to the constitution of the Saorstat and Collins had even gained the approval of the 1RB before accepting it.

Ultimately the Treaty was a compromise and Collins and its supporters knew it. De Valera was furious when he heard that it had been signed without his consent. Both the Irish historians and commentators liyle Dwyer and P.S. O'Hegarty have claimed that de Valera's objections had much more to do with wounded pride than his Republican beliefs. According to Irish historian Ronan Fanning, his objections were more about its being someone else's compromise rather than his own.

The Treaty also left the British in control of three naval bases within the Free State.

Liam Mellows photographed at the grave of Wolfe Tone in 1922. One of deVafera's strongest supporters, he predicted an early war against Britain, believing her to be the "only enemy" of Ireland. (Corbis)

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Liam Mellows photographed at the grave of Wolfe Tone in 1922. One of deVafera's strongest supporters, he predicted an early war against Britain, believing her to be the "only enemy" of Ireland. (Corbis)

Liam Mellows

The IRA Divided: January 1922

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Childers thought that this was 'the most humiliating condition that can be inflicted on any nation claiming to be free'. It also left British troops in Dublin as insurance until the new state had been established.

The Däil began debating the Treaty on 14 December and finally voted by a narrow margin of 64 to 57 in favour of it. In many respects the Däil was probably not the best place for the debate as virtually all its

Kidd Creek Mine

Comdt Paddy Daly, the man who "...didn't take the kid gloves to Co Kerry..Inspects the Dublin Guards. (Image courtesy of the National Library of Ireland)

members were dedicated Republicans. That is no doubt why the debates were so bitter; personal rivalries soon bubbled to the surface and many opponents to the Treaty felt that Cathal Brugha's vitriolic attacks on Collins cost them key votes. Similar exchanges also ensued between Childers and Griffith,

De Valera claimed that if he 'wanted to know what the Irish people wanted I only had to examine my heart', ably demonstrating what Charles Townshend described as a Robespierrist tendency to tell people what they were thinking rather than ask them. He also claimed that regardless of the debate the Pail had the authority to dissolve neither itself nor the Republic, which was what would effectively happen if the Treaty were accepted.

Opponents saw it as a betrayal of everything they had fought for since 1916 and Liam Mellows was adamant that the delegates 'had no power to sign away the rights of Ireland and the Irish Republic'. In the minds of many, Irish independence and the Irish Republic had become one and the same thing and they could not conceive of one without the other.

The problem faced by Republicans was that not all their countrymen felt as passionately about 'the Republic' as they did. Sinn Fein's landslide victory in the 1918 General Election had been as much about

Comdt Paddy Daly, the man who "...didn't take the kid gloves to Co Kerry..Inspects the Dublin Guards. (Image courtesy of the National Library of Ireland)

protests against the introduction of conscription and the lack of a credible Nationalist alternative after the collapse of the 1PP as it was an endorsement of the Irish revolution.

It is important to remember that Sinn Fein in 1918 was not the same unitary party as its modern equivalent but an umbrella organization for a whole host of constitutional Nationalist as well as 'physical force' Republicans, Its main unifying factor had been the process of undoing the 1801 Act of Union, so, whilst these differences had been relatively contained during the Anglo-Irish War, within days of the Treaty's signature the threads that bound it together began to unravel.

By Christmas 1921 24 Southern county councils had passed resolutions in support of the Treaty. Nevertheless, between the Dail vote and the General Flection in June 1922 opponents of the Treaty attempted to prevent any sort of plebiscite on the issue being held. Rory O'Connor even implied that the IRA should stage a coup d'etat and impose its own authority if the politicians failed to defend the Republic. None of this did anything to reassure the British Government of the stability of the fledgling Saorstat.

Nor did it reassure the Unionists in Northern Ireland. Many Northern Protestants saw Northern Catholics as the enemy within and according to Peter Hart sectarian violence forced at least 8,000 people from their homes in Belfast alone. Meanwhile the IRA's campaign continued in what some Republicans called the 'occupied six counties' of Ulster. There was sectarian violence in the South hut not to the same degree as in the North.

In response to the anti-Catholic pogroms taking place in the North Sinn Fein and the IRA had Instigated a boycott of Northern businesses known as the 'Belfast Boycott'. Sir Edward Carson had once commented that 'Ulster might be wooed by sympathetic understanding - she can never be coerced.' The boycott and attacks on Southern Protestants did nothing to reassure Northern Loyalists and simply reinforced their fears of becoming subsumed in a Catholic Irish state.

Left to right: Generals Tom Ennis. Eorn O'Duffy and Emmet Dalton take the salute as National Army troops take control of Portobello Barracks, Dublin in February 1922.© Hulton-Getty Library

In January and March 1922 the Unionist leader, Sir James Craig, and Collins made what became known as the 'Craig-Collins Agreements', which sought to end the boycott in the South and sectarian violence in the North. Both pacts failed to achieve their goals and Unionist obfuscation of the boundary commission established under the Treaty ensured that many issues surrounding the border were unresolved until the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Northern Unionists had not wanted devolution in 1914 or 1920 but if Britain was imposing a local parliament on them then Loyalists were determined that it would make reunification with the South impossible. Some even saw Dominion status for 'Ulster' as the answer and in December 1922, at the height of the Southern civil war, Northern Ireland formally voted to reject membership of the Saorstat, as the Anglo-Irish Treaty offered them the opportunity to do.

For the IRA the truce was a mixed blessing. Both Collins and Mulcahy knew how weak the IRA's military capability really was although many of its activists had convinced themselves that they had achieved victory not

Left to right: Generals Tom Ennis. Eorn O'Duffy and Emmet Dalton take the salute as National Army troops take control of Portobello Barracks, Dublin in February 1922.© Hulton-Getty Library

Royal Irish Constabulary Ranks

stalemate. IliA ranks swelled with what veteran guerrillas sneeringly called 'truciliers' who did not share their dedication to the Republic they had fought and suffered for. On the whole this hardcore of the IRA opposed the treaty and some, like Tom Barry, saw renewal of hostilities as the only way to save Republican unity.

Shortly before de Valera resigned as President of the Dail in,January 1922, to be replaced by Arthur Griffith, GHQ had reassured him that the IRA would support the Government; but in reality it was as divided as Sinn Fein. Collins and Mulcahy supported the Treaty along with Eoin O'Duffy (Deputy Chief of Staff), J.J. O'Connell (Assistant Chief of Staff), Diarmuid O'Hegarty (Director of Organization), Emmet Dalton (Director

A motorized anti-Treat)' IRA group patrols Sligo Town to prevent a pro-Treaty rally on Sunday 16 April 1922. During the war both sides made extensive use of motor vehicles to transport troops. (Image courtesy of Donal MacCarron)

of Training) and Piaras Real sa i (Director of Publicity).

Fortunately for the Saorstat those staff officers who declared against the Treaty -Rory O'Connor (Director of Engineering), Liam Mellows (Director of Purchases), Sean Russell (Director of Munitions) and Seamus O'Donovan (Director of Chemicals) - did not head the operations and training branches of the IRA. This lack of expertise would become apparent as the civil war progressed.

Seân MacF.ntee, a Belfast-born anti-Treaty Republican politician, warned the Dâil that, 'We are now upon the brink of civil war in Ireland. Let there be no mistake about that.' Even opponents of the Treaty like Sean Hegarty came to believe that civil war simply gave the British an excuse for 'coming back in'. Michael Hayes TD was convinced that Collins' and Mulcahy's influence in the IRA was crucial and many men went pro-Treaty simply because it was 'good enough for Mick'.

A motorized anti-Treat)' IRA group patrols Sligo Town to prevent a pro-Treaty rally on Sunday 16 April 1922. During the war both sides made extensive use of motor vehicles to transport troops. (Image courtesy of Donal MacCarron)

Images For Sean Maceoin 1922Images For Tom Ennis 1922
8 May 1922: pro- and anti-Treat/ IRA officers meet at the Mansion House, Dublin to attempt to avert civil war Left to right: General Sean MacEoin, Sean Moylan. General Eoln O'Duffy, Liam Lynch, Gearoid O'Sullivan and Liam Mellows. © George Morrison

Now pro- atul anti-Treaty IRA faced each other in an uneasy peace. The Provisional Government's solution to the rift in the IRA was to create a new National Army. On 16 January 1922 it made its first public appearance, when men of what would become the Dublin Guards paraded in Dublin Castle and Collins received the keys from the Lord Lieutenant, formally ending 800 years of 'British' rule.

Meanwhile the British were handing over their bases across Southern Ireland to IRA units regardless of their sympathies. Consequently the Dublin-based Provisional Government did not control iarge areas of Ireland 'beyond the Pale' and low-level IRA violence continued in some areas, with over 52 RiC members being killed in the first half of 1922. Of more concern was the fact that some IRA units began publicly to reject the authority of GHQ and Griffith's Provisional Government in Dublin.

The split in the IRA was exacerbated when in March and April 1922 a series of anti-Treaty Army Conventions voted to establish a new Executive and Army Council headed by Liam Lynch as Chief of Staff. Beyond a desire to launch an IliA offensive against the North (which would in fact be launched in May), it seemed there were no unifying factors left.

On 13 April 1922, 180 men from the 1st and 2nd Battalions, Dublin No. 1 Brigade IRA under Commandant Patrick O'Brien occupied the Four Courts in Central Dublin accompanied by most of the members of the Republican Executive. The British saw the occupation as a breach of the Treaty and began planning to remove O'Brien's men even if such action ran the risk of reuniting the IRA.

Tabie I.June

1922 Irish General Election Results

Party

Sinn Féin

Labour Party

Farmers' Party

Independents

Total

Pro-Treaty

58

17

7

10

92

Anti-Treaty

36 1

36

| Total Number of Seats in the 3rd Dail/Parliament of Southern Ireland

128

Assassination Sir Henry Wilson
Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson. ex-Chief of the Imperial General Staff and Ulster Unionist MR It was his assassination in June 1922 that forced the Provisional Government to take action against the IRA in the Four Courts. © Hulton-Getty Library

The following month, In a vain attempt to paper over the cracks in the Republican movement and maintain unity, Collins and de Valera made a pact in the run-up to the 1922 General Election. They agreed that a panel of pro- and anti-Treaty Sinn Fein candidates would stand with the aim of creating a coalition government after the election. The British declared that the pact was a breach of the Treaty and demanded that the Irish should stop trying to avoid implementing it.

In the end Collins repudiated the pact two days before the 16 June election and the Provisional Government published its constitution on polling day. The result was an overwhelming vote in favour of the Treaty and by implication the new Saorstat constitution. Of the 26 counties 78 per ccnt voted to accept a flawed peace rather than see a continuation of the Troubles, with only 22 per cent of the vote going to anti-Treaty candidates. The majority of the Irish Diaspora (the Irish communities living outside Ireland) within the British Empire and more crucially the USA were also happy to accept the Treaty as an end to the war. The loss of Irish-America was a critical blow-to the Republican movement's ability to overturn the Treaty by force.

In March de Valera had warned that if the electorate ratified the Treaty then the IRA would 'have to wade through Irish blood' to achieve freedom. The election results therefore reinforced the pro-Treaty position.

The situation was made worse by the assassination of Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson MP by the London IRA on 22 June. Although there is no evidence linking Collins to the shooting it was widely believed by many IRA that he, not the Executive, had ordered the killing. The truth is that we will probably never know who ordered the attack as his killers, who had anti-Treaty sympathies, insisted at their trial that they had acted on their own initiative.

The British chose to blame the Executive for killing Wilson because as a Unionist MP and military advisor to the Northern Government many Republicans blamed him for the sectarian violence in Belfast. Nothing could have been further from the truth, however, for despite being an Irish Protestant Wilson was very critical of the Ulster Special Constabulary (USC) and felt that sectarian violence was counter-productive to the Unionist cause.

His death placed Griffith's Provisional Government under increased pressure to act if British intervention was to he avoided and it made the decision to clear the Four Courts. NA troops under Brigadier Paddy Daly cordoned off the courts, capturing Eeo Henderson on 27 June in Dublin. This provoked the Executive to order the kidnapping of J.J. 'Ginger' O'Connell as a reprisal.

The kidnapping backfired, as the Executive underestimated O'Connell's popularity with NA troops. Mulcahy had, however, already decided on 26 June to attack the courts and O'Connell's kidnapping simply provided a pretext. At 4am on 28 June 1922 the occupants of the courts were given an ultimatum to surrender. Thirty minutes later the civil war began.

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  • michelle
    What did the royal irish constabulary do?
    8 years ago

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