Archive for Irish Civil War

The End of the Irish Civil War

Posted in History with tags , , on May 24, 2023 by telescoper
An injured Anti-Treaty soldier is supported by a fellow fighter in the Battle for Dublin that started the Irish Civil War; over 500 Anti-Treaty fighters were taken as prisoners after the battle died down in the city.

Just a very quick post to mark the fact that it was on this day a century ago, May 24th 1923, that the terrible Irish Civil War came to an end. The conflict had been stuttering to a close for some time, but the final act was a communique issued by Éamon de Valera, the political leader of the Anti-Treaty forces, which said

Soldiers of the Republic. The Republic can no longer be successfully defended by your arms. Further sacrifice on your part would now be in vain and the continuance of the struggle in arms unwise in the national interest and prejudicial to the future of our cause. Military victory must be allowed to rest for the moment with those who have destroyed the Republic. Other means must be sought to safeguard the nation’s right.

Éamon de Valera, May 24th 1923

The Irish Free State created by the Anglo-Irish Treaty lasted until 1937, when a new constitution, largely written by de Valera, was adopted. Ireland (minus the Six Counties retained by the United Kingdom in the Treaty) became a full republic in 1949.

The Passage of Time

Posted in Biographical, Education, History with tags , , on December 12, 2022 by telescoper

We have arrived at last at the final week of teaching for this term. The way the timetable has worked out, my last lecture before the break will be on Wednesday afternoon. Later that evening we have our staff Christmas party. I did one lecture this morning, by the end of which I had completed the syllabus for my Mechanics & Special Relativity Module. I have two more sessions with that class, tomorrow and Wednesday, which I will devote to some worked examples and revision for the examination which is on January 14th.

I’m sure the students are tired too, but at least they have the advantage of youth which probably endows them with more energy than I can summon at this point!

Two events over the weekend added to the general sense of exhaustion and made me feel even older. One was that a very dear friend whom I first met, when he was 19 and I was 29, just had his 50th birthday. I remember very well celebrating his 20th. For some reason I felt more comfortable when our ages began with the same digit, if only for a few months. Now he’s 50 and I’m 59…

The other thing that happened was that last night I watched the first episode of a three-part documentary series The Irish Civil War. I thought it was excellent and will definitely watch the other two programmes. The Irish Civil War, which was raging 100 years ago, was as brutal as it was tragic and the episode made uncomfortable viewing, not least because even a century later many of the scars are still painful.

The thought suddenly struck me watching the programme that I was born in 1963, just 40 years or so after the end of the Civil War and 20 years closer in time to that event than to today. Time passes.

Anyway, enough of that. I don’t have time to mope about feeling old. I’ve got some examples to work out for tomorrow’s lecture, including a problem on time dilation…

The Death of Michael Collins

Posted in History with tags , , , , on August 22, 2022 by telescoper
Michael Collins in full dress uniform, pictured a few days before his death.

Today marks the centenary of the death of Michael Collins during the Irish Civil War. The event was marked by a ceremony yesterday at Béal na Bláth, where Collins was shot in the head and killed by a sniper on 22nd August 1922. He was 31 years old.

The Civil War had erupted over the the Anglo-Irish Treaty with the pro-Treaty National Army (of which Collins was Commander-in-Chief) fighting against anti-Treaty forces. Opponents of the Treaty felt that the Irish Free State it created fell far short of the Republic they had fought for during the War of Independence. In particular the Treaty required an Oath of Allegiance to the British Crown, which many Republicans found totally unacceptable.

On 22nd August, with Free State forces gaining the upper hand, Collins was travelling through County Cork with a convoy including an armoured car, when it was ambushed by soldiers of the anti-Treaty IRA. Instead of trying to escape, the convoy stopped and a gunfight developed during which Collins was shot dead. He was the only fatality. There was no official inquiry into the events at Béal na Bláth and nobody knows for sure who fired the fatal shot. The death of Michael Collins, following the death a few days earlier of Arthur Griffith, was a big setback for the leadership of the Free State and the already bitter Civil War descended into cycle of atrocities and reprisals. The fighting was to grind on until May 1923.

A Grim Centenary

Posted in History with tags , , , on June 28, 2022 by telescoper

Today marks the centenary of the “official” outbreak of the Irish Civil War. Full-scale conflict had been threatening to erupt since the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in December 1921 as many people who had fought so hard for independence were profoundly unhappy that the treaty had not delivered the Republic that was their wish. For example, members of the Dáil Éireann of the “Irish Free State” formed in 1921 still had to swear allegiance to the British Monarchy. Ireland did not formally become a Republic until 1949.

Exhausted by the War of Independence and fearful of British threats should the Treaty fail, a majority of the general population in Ireland accepted its terms, but a sizeable minority were determined in their opposition. In April 1922 anti-Treaty forces seized and occupied the Four Courts in Dublin with the aim of paralyzing the administration of the Free State. On June 22nd 1922 Field Marshal Henry Wilson was assassinated outside his home in London, allegedly by members of the anti-Treaty IRA. British authorities ordered their troops to attack Dublin in response, but the attack didn’t go ahead.

At dawn on 28th June 1922, one hundred years ago today, pro-Treaty forces began bombarding the Four Courts in Dublin with two 18-pounder field guns, borrowed from the British Army, in an attempt to dislodge the anti-Treaty forces. In a week of fighting the Four Courts were destroyed along with many important documents, and an archive going back 1,000 years.

So began a terrible Civil War which lasted almost a year.

After The Treaty

Posted in Biographical, History, Television with tags , , , , , on January 9, 2022 by telescoper

On Friday I saw a bit of a programme on RTÉ One called Treaty Live which covered the events of January 7th 1922 in the form of a modern live news broadcast. It was on that date that the Dáil Éireann voted on whether to ratify the Anglo-Irish Treaty (usually called “The Treaty”) negotiated between the British Government (led by Prime Minister David Lloyd George) and representatives of the Irish Government (led by Arthur Griffith) and signed on 6th December 1921. The Treaty was intended to end the Irish War of Independence and bring about the removal of Crown forces from Ireland, but it fell short of establishing a fully independent Irish Republic, instead creating an Irish Free State with the status of a British dominion rather like New Zealand or Australia (i.e. with its own government but with the British Monarch as Head of State). It also led to the partition of Ireland with six of the nine counties in the province of Ulster remaining under British rule.

Three days of debate preceded the momentous vote in the Dáil which, incidentally, took place in a room in a building in University College Dublin that is now the National Concert Hall. Here is some footage of TDs leaving the building after the debate:

It’s strange to think of the number of times I’ve walked up those steps to attend a concert without realizing this historic event took place there.

Anyway, in the end the vote was to ratify The Treaty by 64 votes to 57. It seems popular opinion at the time was in favour of ratification, and what was surprising was not the fact that the vote was carried but that the margin was so narrow: had just four TDs voted the other way it would have failed.

Éamonn de Valera, then President of the Irish Republic, was the most prominent opponent of ratification. Michael Collins, who was a member of the delegation of plenipotentiaries who negotiated The Treaty, was prominently in favour. Many questions can be asked about the conduct of the negotiations, including why de Valera did not conduct the negotiations himself. During the negotiations Lloyd George insisted that the Irish plenipotentiaries sign the agreement on the spot otherwise there would be “war within three days”. The Irish delegation clearly assumed he wasn’t bluffing so signed it. De Valera was unhappy that they did not consult more widely (especially with him) but then if that’s what he wanted he shouldn’t have sent “plenipotentiaries” – that word means “delegates having the full power to sign agreements” – but participated directly. Valera resigned as President on 9th January 1922 and was replaced by Arthur Griffith.

The anti-Treaty side considered it to be a betrayal of the sacrifices made during the War of Independence; the pro-Treaty side thought it was a stepping-stone towards the goal of independence. As it turned out a fully-independent Irish Republic was eventually established in 1949, though the partition of Ireland is still in place.

In retrospect the narrowness of the Dáil was an indication of what was to come. In June 1922 The Irish Civil War erupted between the two factions that lasted almost a year. All wars are dreadful, but there’s something about a Civil War that is particularly dreadful: people who had fought on the same side against British rule would now fight each other.

And that brings me to the point of this rather rambling post. I moved to Ireland at the end of 2017. Like most people born and educated in England I knew very little of Irish history before coming here; topics such as the Irish Famine are simply not taught in British schools, though they certainly are in Irish schools. I missed being here through the centennial commemorations of the 1916 Easter Rising, for example, but have followed subsequent events in the “decade of centenaries” and done the best I can to read about Irish history to gain some knowledge.

What’s interesting about this is that the events of the Easter Rising and the War of Independence, although commemorated with appropriate solemnity, do form a righteous narrative relating to the heroic birth of a new nation. As we approach the centenary of the outbreak of Civil War the issues are much more complex. An Irish friend told me that when he was taught history at school, it basically stopped at the Civil War. People generally are much less willing to talk about it than the events preceding. The Civil War left deep wounds, some of which have still not healed. Perhaps the centenary will provide an opportunity to confront some of the very difficult issues arising from this period of this nation’s history.