The Irish War for Independence
It was early in 1914 that the Carsonite Volunteers, along with the help of British sympathizers in high places, ran a big cargo of arms ashore at Larne. Immediately the British Government prohibited the importation of arms into Ireland, lest the Nationalists should secure weapons too. The Irish Volunteers thus organized an illegal shipment of arms to Howth from the Continent for a rising had been planned for that Easter Sunday. But on Easter Monday, shortly after noon, the Irish Republic was proclaimed in Dublin, and the insurgent Tricolour suddenly broke upon startled eyes flying from the flagstaff above the General Post Office in the very heart of the Irish capital.
The Easter Monday Rising, however, had no such military prospects of success. There was always, of course, the chance that a German success on the Western Front would break through England’s defenses and so allow substantial help to be sent before the Rising was crushed, but this proved a vain hope. On the morning of Easter Monday, April 24th 1916, the Dublin battalions paraded, bearing full arms and one days rations. Shortly after noon, the General Post Office, the Four Courts, three of the railway terminal, along with other important points circling the center of Dublin were rushed and occupied. The Proclamation of the Irish Republic was proudly published on large placards.
At four minutes past noon on 24 April 1916 – Easter Monday – the proclamation reproduced below was read from the steps of the General Post Office (G.P.O.) on Dublin’s O’Connell Street by Patrick Pearse.
The Irish Declaration of Independence
Poblacht na hEireann
The Provisional Government of the Irish Republic
“To the People of Ireland …”
Irishmen and Irishwomen:
In the name of God and of the dead generations from which she receives the old tradition of nationhood, Ireland, through us, summons her children to her flag, and strikes for her freedom.
Having organized and trained her manhood through her secret revolutionary organization, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and through her open military organizations, the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army, having patiently perfected her discipline, having resolutely waited for the right moment to reveal itself, she now seizes that moment, and, supported by her exiled children in America and by gallant allies in Europe, but relying in the first on her own strength, she strikes in full confidence of victory.
We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible. The long usurpation of that right by a foreign people and government has not extinguished the right, nor can it ever be extinguished except by the destruction of the Irish people. In every generation the Irish people have asserted their right to national freedom and sovereignty; six times during the past three hundred years they have asserted it in arms. Standing on that fundamental right and again asserting it in arms in the face of the world, we hereby proclaim the Irish Republic as a Sovereign Independent State. And we pledge our lives and the lives of our comrades-in-arms to the cause of its freedom, of its welfare, and of its exaltation among the nations.
The Irish Republic is entitled to, and hereby claims, the allegiance of every Irishman and Irish woman. The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities of all its
citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally, and oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government, which have divided a minority in the past.
Until our arms have brought the opportune moment for the establishment of a permanent National Government, representative of the whole people of Ireland and elected by the suffrages of all her men and women, the Provision Government, hereby constituted, will administer the civil and military affairs of the Republic in trust for the people.
We place the cause of the Irish Republic under the protection of the Most High God, Whose blessing we invoke upon our arms, and we pray that no one who serves that cause will dishonour it by cowardice, inhumanity, or rapine. In this supreme hour the Irish nation must, by its valour and discipline and by the readiness of its children to sacrifice themselves for the common good, prove itself worthy of the august destiny to which it is called.
Signed on behalf of the Provisional Government
Thomas J Clarke
P H Pearse
First Day of the Rising
On the first day of the Rising there was little fighting . The British were wholly unprepared since they had believed that the Volunteers had abandoned the project, the British authorities were taken by surprise and could not immediately muster sufficient forces to attack the insurgents before they had “dug themselves in”. It was on Tuesday that a British force of some 4500 men attacked the rebel strongholds and secured the Castle. A cordon was then drawn around the north of the city, some of the rebel outposts being attacked and broken with rifle or artillery.
Meanwhile, large reinforcements were being hurried into Ireland. On the Thursday the encircling forces pressed closer and penetrated to the central scene of operations. Liberty Hall had been shattered by gunfire from the river, and now shells ignited great buildings in O’Connell Street. The lines of communication between the insurgent strongholds were broken, and the British Forces, concentrated on reducing Headquarters, the General Post Office, over which the Republican flag still flew.
In County Galway Liam Mellows led a large body of insurgents on Galway city where a gunboat in Galway Bay dispersed them by shellfire. At Athenry, the insurgent camp was surrounded and dispersed when the hopelessness of resistance became clear.
On Friday, a terrific bombardment had set the center of Dublin city wholly ablaze. Churches, banks, and business places along with other buildings were aflame and collapsing.
The death toll among the non-combatants was appalling. Commandant Daly had destroyed the Linen Hall Barracks but was now surrounded at the Four Courts.
- Countess Markievicz, after being driven out of trenches in Stephens Green, was defending the College of Surgeons. Commandant McDonagh was surrounded in Jacobs factory.
- Commandant de Valera, whose men had so tenaciously resisted the advance from the south, was now holding Bolands Mills, while Commandant Ceannt held part of the South Dublin Union.
- On Saturday at 2pm Pearse surrendered to Sir John Maxwell unconditionally.
And so the Rising ended, the outstanding forces laying down arms on the Sunday.
Sackville Street (O’Connell Street)
Sackville Street (O’Connell Street)
Sackville Street (O’Connell Street)
GPO on Sackville Street (O’Connell Street)
All the signatories of the Republican declaration were executed by the British Government for their efforts in trying to secure a free Ireland!
The seven signatories of the Irish Proclamation (from left):
Padraig Pearse, James Connolly, Thomas Clarke, Thomas MacDonagh, Sean MacDermott, Joseph Plunkett and Eamonn Ceannt
Some death sentences were commuted to sentences of imprisonment for life, happily for Ireland, allowing among others, Commandant de Valera to escape death. After a year the prisoners were released for the purpose of English propaganda in America.
When one year later, in 1918, England decreed the conscription of Ireland’s manhood to save her from the great German advance, it was around deValera that the nation rallied. His coolness and wisdom saved Ireland from a bloody defeat, and secured a moral victory.
In December, at the General Election, all Nationalist Ireland declared its allegiance to the Republican ideal, and the Sinn Fein policy of abstention from Westminster was adopted.
In January, the Republican representatives assembled in Dublin and founded Dail Eireann, the Irish Constituent Assembly, Once again proclaiming the Republic . A message was sent to the nations of the world requesting the recognition of the free Irish Sate, and a national government was erected.
The Final Conflict (The War for Independence)
No sooner had the new Government begun to flourish, established its Courts, appointed Consuls, started a stock-taking of the country’s undeveloped natural resources, and put a hundred constructive schemes to work, than Britain stepped in, with her army of Soldiers and Constabulary, to counter the work, harassing and imprisoning the workers. This move of England’s called forth a secretly built-up Irish Republican Army which, early in 1920, began a guerilla warfare, and quickly succeeded in clearing vast districts of the Constabulary who were ever England’s right arm in Ireland.
Lloyd George met this not only by pouring into Ireland regiments of soldiers equipped with tanks, armored cars and all the other horrifying paraphernalia that had been found useful in the European War, but also by organizing and turning loose upon Ireland an irregular force of Britons, to become among the most vicious and bloodthirsty known to history – the force which quickly became notorious to the world under the title of the Black and Tans. Yet, this well planned campaign for the quick wasting of Ireland, and breaking of Irelands spirit did not come off on schedule.
Those atrocities which had been meant to frighten and subdue, instead only stimulated the outraged nation to more vigor; and by the time the fight was expected to end it was found to the contrary, to be only well begun. Probably more than by anything else, the world was awakened to the truth of this horrible situation in Ireland through the extraordinary heroism of of a man named Terence MacSwiney.
MacSwiney, a man who in protest against the foreign tyranny which had seized and jailed him as a criminal for the guilt of working for his country, refused to eat in the British dungeon. After three months of slow and painful starving to death, with the wondering world literally by his bedside watching his death agonies. MacSwiney at length went to join the joyful company of those other martyrs of the past, who had died that Ireland might live.
At long last the world was stirred and the terrible truth about Britain’s rape of Ireland began to be realized – and began to call forth muttered foreign protest. In the spring of 1921 there was galloped through the English Parliament a “Home Rule Bill” for Ireland – whose object was by giving the eastern part of Ulster, the Orange corner, a Parliament of its own, to detach it from the rest of Ireland, thus dividing the nation on sectarian lines, and by the Orangemen’s aid strengthening the foreign grip on the whole country. In deference to his Kings pious wish, the Prime Minister invited Sinn Fein to a parley, as Ireland had proved unconquerable by any other means.
President De Valera for the Irish Republic accepted the invitation. To De Valera in this parley, an offer was made to give Ireland what George called “Dominion status” – supposedly that amount of freedom under the British Crown which is the lot of Canada and Australia – but less the control by Britain of the Irish harbors, seas, skies and some other perquisites – which offer was promptly and unanimously rejected by An Dail Eireann.
Then, after resorting to threat of a renewed war upon Ireland far more fierce than had ever gone before, the English Prime Minister invited Ireland to send delegates to a peace conference, on the understanding that the idea of separating Ireland from the British Crown should not be considered. De Valera, for An Dail Eireann, refused such condition. Lloyd George finally called for a conference free of conditions to be held in London on October 11th 1921. President De Valera accepted the invitation.
An Irish delegation headed by Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins met representatives of the British Cabinet in London, and after six weeks conference, the Irish delegates, compelled by threat of renewed ruthless warfare on their prostate land, signed a compromise treaty on December 6th. The British Parliament almost unanimously ratified the treaty for Britain.
But in Ireland De Valera fought for a change in the treaty terms – and a change in the form of oath. He would “externally associate” Ireland with the British Empire and would have elected Irish representatives swear to “recognize” the English king as the head of the association of British nations with which Ireland now joined.
An important group of the Irish workers and fighters held out for the Irish Republic, which had been consecrated by the blood of Pearse, Connolly, Clarke and their gallant companions, and by a thousand martyrs since.
After long and hot debate, the Dail Eireann, on January 7th 1922, ratified the treaty by a narrow majority. And so, seemingly an end was put to one phase of Irelands struggle. But the end was not yet.
After The Treaty
The treaty was signed on behalf of Ireland by Arthur Griffith, Michael Collins, Robert Barton, Eamon Duggan and George Gavan Duffy. The first three were Ministers of the Irish Executive Council. The delegates returned to find the Dail already split – those members who were in favor of the Treaty on one side and those opposed on the other. President de Valera heading the opposition, opposed the Treaty because:
- (1) the Partition clause
- (2) the inclusion of an oath of allegiance to the King of England.
- (3) the appointment of a Governor General to represent the British King in Dublin
- (4) the retention by the British of certain Irish ports which were to be used by the British naval fleet as naval bases.
The proponents of the Treaty held it would be madness to reject it because, while Ireland was too exhausted to continue the fight now, it gave Ireland an immensely greater measure of independence than had ever been offered in any Home Rule bill, involving complete control of Local Government, education, customs and excise, police force and a limited army. Arthur Griffith believed that the Boundary clause in the Treaty would end partition. The vote, taken on January 7th 1922, revealed 64 of the deputies in favor of the Treaty and 57 against. The pro-Treaty party, under Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins, became known henceforth as the Free State party, the anti-Treaty party as the Republicans.
A provisional government was formed with Arthur Griffith as President, Michael Collins of Finance, William Cosgrave as Minister for Local Government, George Gavan Duffy as Minister for Foreign Affairs, Kevin O’Higgins as Minister for Economic Affairs and Richard Mulcahy as Minister for Defense.
On January 14th the 64 pro-Treaty members met to form a Provisional Government and officially approve the Treaty. Evacuation of British troops from the twenty-six counties was begun at once, also disbanding of the disreputable Irish Constabulary and evacuation of the hated Auxiliaries and bloody-handed Black and Tans.
An Irish police force, the Civic Guard was formed. During the first six months of 1922 the country gradually drifted into Civil War. Republican troops had occupied the Four Courts and other public buildings in Dublin in April and were entrenched there. On June 1926 came what amounted to an ultimatum from Winston Churchill, speaking for the British Government, demanding that the Provisional Government should immediately dislodge the Irish Republican Army from these positions.
The Free State troops opened fire on the Four Courts on June 26, the siege lasted two days and ended in the burning of the building. The fighting continued intermittently throughout the country until May 1923, when De Valera called on the remnant of the Republicans to cease fire – but, despite this, many small bodies of them perseveringly carried on a harassing guerrilla warfare.In August 1922, Arthur Griffith, President of the Dail, died suddenly. A few days later, Michael Collins, Commander-in-Chief of the Free State forces was killed in an ambush in Cork. During the succeeding months seventy-seven (77) Republican prisoners were executed. They included Rory O’Connor, Liam Mellows and Erskine Childers. The first meeting of the newly elected Dail was held under heavy guard in the autumn of 1922.
In September was begun the formulation of the Free State Constitution. William Cosgrave, who had been chosen as Vice President by Arthur Griffith, was President of this Dail. Cabinet members were Kevin O’Higgins, Richard Mulcahy, Ernest Blythe, Desmond Fitzgerald and Patrick Hogan.
The Republican party did not take their seats in this Dail as they refused to take the oath of allegiance – so from 1923 to 1927 the Government party functioned without opposition except from a small Labour group and a few pro-British Independents.
In 1924, in accordance with terms of the Treaty, a Boundary Commission was set up – for altering or confirming the provisional boundary between “Northern” Ireland and the Free State. The situation was aggravated by the continuing bitterness between the Government party and the Republicans and by the severe agricultural depression – which was a part of the prevailing world depression.
The second General Election was held in 1927, showing a decided gain for the Republicans. Fianna Fail (Republicans) still declined to sit because of the oath of allegiance and things seemed about to progress as before. But on Sunday July 10th 1927, Kevin O’Higgins, Vice President was assassinated. Faced with the alternative of seeing his party denied all power to register the amount of popular support accorded them, and being determined to embark on a constitutional movement, Mr. De Valera after publicly declaring that he attached no binding power to an oath that was forced on them, led his party into the Dail and went through the form of oath-taking on August 12th 1927. Early in 1932 Cosgrave government was defeated on a vote in the Dail and a General Election was called. De Valera took 72 of the 151 seats against Cosgrave’s 65, and assumed office forthwith. Heat once introduced a bill to remove the oath of allegiance and with the help of the Labor party carried it through the Dail.
From the time the Fianna Fail party took office, payment of the land annuities to Britain were withheld, leading to a bitter quarrel between the two countries and developing into an economic war. In 1938 the British government called a halt, and began negotiations for settlement of the dispute. Mr. De Valera refused to enter the negotiations unless the whole general field of relations between the two counties was brought into review. In the result, the British accepted the sum of ten million pounds in lieu of the annuities – a small fraction of their worth – and agreed to hand over the reserved ports of Cobh, Berehaven and Lough Swilly to the Irish government. The British refused however, to negotiate on the question of Ireland’s partition and that problem remained outstanding. In 1938 came one of the greatest achievements of the Irish government – the enactment of the new Constitution.
The Constitution asserts that Ireland is a sovereign and democratic state, and all powers derive under God from the people, who are the final arbiters of any and every question. The principles of social justice which are set forth in the Constitution are of the highest order. Shortly after de Valera came to power, it was the turn of Irelands representative to preside at the League of Nations. De Valera did so with distinction and pride. Later in 1938 he told the world through the medium of the League, that civilization was heading for disaster and destruction in another world war. He said that if and when that war came and was over, there would be another “Peace” conference – but why should not a real peace conference come first, so that the world might be saved pain, misery, disillusionment and destruction. His words were not listened to…
And I say to my people’s masters: Beware,
Beware of the thing that is coming, beware of the risen people,
Who shall take what ye would not give. Did ye think to conquer the people,
Or that Law is stronger than life and than men’s desire to be free?
We will try it out with you, ye that have harried and held,
Ye that have bullied and bribed, ……. tyrants, hypocrites, liars!
– From “The Rebel” by Patrick Pearse