Irish Terrorism – A Problem of British Design

Individual Essay


Lieutenant Colonel John J. O’Connell Jr.
Colonel David E. Thompson. AR
Project Advisor

US Army War College
Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania 17013
15 March 1986

The disastrous conditions of Northern Ireland seem to get worse as the years go by, and yet all of this trouble occurs in a land that exudes serenity, beauty and a carefree people. How can a country whose land and people possess these characteristics and who place such tremendous emphasis on loyalty to tradition and the maintenance of the status quo be involved in the brutal struggle that has plagued British-Irish relations for hundreds of years? To answer this question, one must first understand the history of the Emerald Isle and the Anglo-Irish relationship throughout the last 800 years. Subsequently, we need to look at terrorism from the aspects of cause and effect, followed by an assessment of what role the United Kingdom played in nourishing or even prompting the establishment of conditions that were conducive to rebellious action. Lastly, it will be made clear that all of the signs of “trouble ahead” were there for the British to see. They just chose to ignore them.

During the 12th Century, the Normans entered Ireland , and from that time forward. Irish history would be intertwined with that of England. Although the Irish people always disliked their dominance by England. it was not until 1595 that Hugh O’Neill, the Earl of Tyrone. led the first uprising against the Crown. Unfortunately, like many uprisings to follow, it was not very well planned and was easily defeated by the British. This defeat resulted in the confiscation of land in Ulster and the encouragement of Protestant colonization. This colonization led to a migration of lowland Scots to Ulster. The situation remained static until the 17th Century when the Catholics of Ireland came out on the losing end on two successive occasions. In 1641, the Catholics owned 59% of the land. However, in 1649, Oliver Cromwell’s invasion, campaigns and subsequent victory at Drogheda had devastating effects on the Catholics. One-third of all Irish Catholics, of whatever origin, died during the war while the remainder were reduced to landless starving peasants. When the Catholic James II. assumed the English throne, all of Ireland hoped for a reversal of the grievances that had been suffered. Initially, all went well. Catholics gained public office and military positions. and expected to see rectification of the land distribution situation. However. in 1690. William of Orange led a revolution and defeated James II at the Battle of Boyne, a battle that would serve as the symbol of Catholic defeat and Protestant ascendancy for centuries to come. The resulting treaty of Limerick in 1691 pushed Catholics to the very bottom of the social ladder. The anti-Catholic Penal Laws were established which attempted to destroy the Catholic Church structure by abolishing the Church Hierarchy and religious orders and deprived all Catholics of civil liberties, educational opportunity, appointment to public office, the right to openly worship in their religion, and made it virtually impossible to own. buy, lease or inherit land. The Penal Laws and Period would forever rank high in Irish Nationalist memory and oratory. These laws would not be repealed until the late 1700s. This period saw Catholic land ownership go from 59% in 1641, to 14% in 1703. to 7% in 1750.

For more than 100 years, the Catholics of Ireland lived under the restrictions of the Penal Laws. But, in 1798. a series of uprisings started that would encompass almost 70 years of Irish history. Led by the Protestant poet Wolfe Tone, the 1798 rising was an attempt to unite Catholics and Protestants on behalf of Irish separatism. It proved to be a feeble rebellion and was put down with minimal British effort. Tone was captured and executed making him one of the first of many Irish martyrs. However, he left behind a dream that would inspire future nationalists and would haunt England for years to come, the dream of a revolution that would unite Catholics and Protestants in an effort to establish a separate republic. In 1800, the British government moved to incorporate Ireland into the United Kingdom as had been done with Scotland and Wales. Irish Catholics were promised emancipation and thus supported the movement. Their support was sufficient to insure passage in the Irish Parliament and as of that moment, the Irish Parliament ceased to exist and Ireland’s only representation was in Westminster. In 1803. Robert Emmet led an uprising against England but it was once again easily put down and he was executed.

Approximately 5 years later, Ireland saw the rise of a figure that would have a vast impact on Irish history. Daniel O’Connell(1775-1847), an affluent landowner and the first Irish Catholic allowed legal education, organized Catholic masses for emancipation. His efforts reached fruition in 1829 at which time Catholics became eligible to hold any public office except: Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Lord Chancellor of England and the Monarchy. This success resulted in Daniel O’Connell being named “The Liberator.” Once emancipation had been achieved, O’Connell demanded repeal of other laws that were detrimental to the welfare of the Irish. He organized outdoor demonstrations which attracted hundreds of thousands, were held at historic sites and at which he combined political oratory with religious ceremony. Unfortunately, he lost considerable prestige at his last rally scheduled for Clontarf because the British government successfully prohibited him from conducting the rally. Many supporters wanted him to call for a revolt but he never did due to his abhorrence of violence and bloodshed.

In the 1840s, Ireland was hit by the Great Potato Famine. During the decade the population dropped from 8 million to approximately 6.5 million. Thousands died, others had stunted growth while the fortunate were able to emigrate to another country. However, the memory of this disaster became isolated on the fact that nationalists charged that food ships continued to leave the Irish ports for England while the people of Ireland starved. This became just one more bitter memory.

Up to this point in Irish history, all uprisings were primarily political affairs. In 1858, a new breed of rebel arose. A new, secret organization called the Irish Republican Brotherhood (Fenians) surfaced and espoused a doctrine of separatism through the use of physical force. Their goal was to establish an Irish Republic that would be secured by an insurrection when England was involved in a foreign conflict. Their first attempt at an uprising took place in 1867 and, like its predecessors, achieved little support or success. It did, however, produce a corps of imprisoned martyrs who would be cited by later nationalists to incite people to continue the rebellion against British dominance.

During the years prior to the 1900s, the British government made numerous concessions in education and the professional fields. The Catholic school system was once again subsidized and reforms were enacted that placed Catholics in control of most county and municipal agencies: professions and civil service offices. The Gladstone Act of 1870 started the road to land reform by providing protection to tenants and by providing low interest government loans to purchase land. The results would come slowly but by 1916, Ireland would once again be a country of small landowning farmers. Two hundred years after the takeaway, the land would have returned to the Catholic Gaels.

Despite the satisfaction over the land and religious concessions, the nationalists, question still remained. Their demand for Home Rule encompassed an independent Irish Parliament and an element of autonomy within the British Empire. This effort received massive Catholic support and equally massive Protestant opposition since the Protestants feared that Home Rule meant Rome Rule. The movement was also resisted by the English Tories who saw Home Rule for Ireland as the beginning of the end of the Empire. They felt that if England couldn’t hold neighbor Ireland under its wing, how could it possibly hold India? During this period, Ireland saw the emergence of Charles Stewart Parnell, the son of an Anglo-Irish aristocrat and an American mother. He was very English in dress, speech, temperament and religion and a superb parliamentarian. He united the Irish Parliamentary Party and committed it to obstructing the British Parliament until concessions were granted. He formed an alliance with Michael David of the Militant Land League thereby putting himself in a position to bargain, or react with violence if concessions were not granted. As a result of his actions, numerous concessions were granted and Gladstone endorsed Home Rule.. Parnell fell from sight because of a marital scandal involving the English wife of one of his supporters. He died in 1891 and his party never again enjoyed equal effectiveness.

In 1893, the Gaelic League emerged with the charter of “de-Anglicizing Ireland” by reviving the Irish language. The Abbey Theatre was opened to create and preserve Irish drama. Concurrently, the Gaelic Athletic League was established to perpetuate traditional Gaelic sports. Out of this period came several literary giants – Yeats and Joyce to name just two.

Now that the liberals in England had endorsed Home Rule and the usually hostile House of Lords had granted the reforms of 1911, it appeared that it was only a matter of time before Ireland secured her own parliament. The Ulster Protestants became increasingly uneasy about this turn of events and started conducting massive anti-Home Rule demonstrations of an emotional and religious nature. They feared that Home Rule would sever the British link which they considered vital to their industrial prosperity and they feared for their own status in a Catholic State. They solicited thousands of signatures for a Covenant of opposition to the Home Rule Bill and loyalty to the British link. Out of fear of retaliation from the Catholics, the Protestants formed an armed defense force called the Ulster Volunteers. The Catholics in the south responded with the Irish Volunteers and the lines of opposition were locked into place. When World War I broke out, the crisis was postponed. However, the groundwork for future conflict was laid when the parliament passed the Home Rule Bill in 1914 to become effective after the war and after concessions were make to Ulster.

John Redmond, head of the Irish Parliamentary Party, pledged Irish support of England during the war based on recent concessions by England. Thousands of Irish volunteered to serve but disillusionment soon set in. The stories of discrimination against Irish Catholics were rampant. The Ulster Volunteers were encouraged to join the British Army and were eventually given a regiment of their own, the 36th, with their own distinctive badge. The National Volunteers were placed piecemeal in the British units and were prohibited from wearing the shamrock. Irish Catholics were not eligible for the officer corps and stories of them being used as cannon fodder were widespread. None of the exploits of the Irish were recognized despite the fact that approximately 49,000 Irish soldiers died. In the midst of this debate, the Irish Parliamentary Party split as a result of dissension over support of England’s war effort with the National Volunteers following Redmond and the Irish Volunteers following Eoin Mac Neill. A year later, the 10.000 Irish Volunteers joined forces with the Citizens’ Army.

In 1916, the Irish Republican Brotherhood infiltrated Mac Neill’s Irish Volunteers and provoked the 1916 revolution, or Easter Rising, as it is more commonly known. The key figures were: Patrick Pearce, a Gaelic poet and educator; and James Connolly, a Socialist labor leader and Citizen Army organizer. Both realized that there were overwhelming odds against their success but they justified the uprising as a “blood sacrifice” that would attest to Ireland’s enslavement, binding the present generation to the heroic past and inspiring others to resist. Although scheduled for Easter Sunday. the revolution started late due to Mac Neill’s opposition to the use of the Irish Volunteers. On Easter Monday, the rebels occupied central Dublin and Pearce read his now famous proclamation while 2500 copies, signed by the seven leaders, were distributed. The rest of the country failed to rise in support of the revolution and thus doomed it to failure. The Irish populace was initially apathetic or even hostile toward the rebels because the war was still going on and they were enjoying full employment, unprecedented prosperity and were receiving unusually high prices for their agricultural products. In addition, they had been promised Home Rule, central Dublin was in flames and their routine had been disturbed. The rebels resisted the British forces for one week before surrendering. For the leaders. surrender meant death. When the end finally came, their were 450 dead, 2612 wounded and $10 million in damages. The British then reacted with a vengeance. They declared martial law and executed 15 members of the uprising including all of the leaders. Thousands were arrested and in the end, 120 were court-martialed resulting in 90 death sentences, although only 15 were carried out while 1800 were deported to British internment camps. All of this started to turn public opinion in support of the separatists. The dead became heroes and martyrs and the overall sincerity and Gaelic Catholic credentials of the group forged a link with the masses and with the past.

The first real opportunity to test public opinion came in the elections of 1918. Eamon De Valera, the most prominent survivor of the Easter Rising. organized the Sinn Fein slate(separatists) on the premise of boycotting the British parliament and meeting as an Irish Dail. De Valera’s actions resulted in an overwhelming victory everywhere but in Ulster. Subsequently. they convened as an Irish parliament, ignored Westminster, legislated in the Irish language, established a judiciary and floated a public loan. The end result was that any writ of the King failed to affect large sections of Ireland. In 1919. the country erupted into urban and guerrilla warfare which lead Lloyd George to agree to negotiate. The Irish delegation reluctantly accepted a treaty in 1921 that recognized an Irish Free State with Commonwealth membership and economic ties to England and whose officials would take an oath to the King. The Irish Free State would lack the 6 counties of Ulster, 4 of which were predominantly Protestant. To date, these were the greatest concessions in a Home Rule measure. At the same time, the Northern Ireland Parliament opened, thereby marking the formal division of Ireland. The Ulster Protestants had secured their own power and intended to keep it by whatever means possible. William Craig, the militant Ulster Unionist and former Cabinet member summed up the Unionist feelings when he stated “We are determined to preserve our British traditions and way of life. God help those who get in our way, for we mean business.”1 The battle lines had been drawn and the Belfast ghettos were forever doomed to be bloody battlefields. The treaty also Drought about a Civil War that lasted until 1923. Although the pro-treaty forces won, the feud left permanent scars and great financial burdens. The major point of contention came in 1924-25 when the Treaty Boundary Commission failed to publish a report of realignment and this disappointed the people of the Irish Free State who had hoped that the areas of Northern Ireland that were predominantly Catholic and Nationalist, i.e. Derry City, County Tyrone, County Fermanagh, South Down, and South Armagh, would be transferred to the Irish Free State. When it was discovered that no changes would be made, the Irish Free State recognized the border “as is” in December 1925.

Having reviewed the history of Ireland up to the Easter Rising, we now need to assess whether or not the United Kingdom should have been able to see what the years after the Easter Rising would bring. As a starting point, we must first look at terrorism. What are its purposes? What are its characteristics? What prompts its use as opposed to some other means of bringing about change? The appropriate starting point seems to be a definition of terrorism. Terrorism is the systematic or indiscriminate use of violence, or the threat of it, as leverage to influence behavior. To truly understand this definition, it must be dissected into its component parts. Systematic means that the acts are planned and methodical, not just random action. Indiscriminate refers to the fact that although the act is planned, the end result is governed by no rules. Injuries may come to the perpetrators of the despised behavior or to the innocent nearby, it doesn’t matter. Whether those affected are armed or not is inconsequential to the terrorist. Lastly, the act must influence behavior. This is the most crucial and most difficult part for the terrorist because he never knows, for sure, how the “system” will react to an act of terrorism. Initially there are always two responses: horror and fear, quite often much worse among the uneducated masses. However. what happens after these initial responses will dictate the success or failure of the endeavor. If public opinion is influenced and presses for some modification in the “system’s” modus operandi, then the terrorist has achieved public support and his limits of action are boundless. Besides those particular aspects described above, there are certain characteristics which separate the terrorist act from any other crime. These include the emotional impact of the act, the fact that any symbolism must be easily identified or recognized, publicity will be sought, in most cases a new ideology of a “better way” will be expounded upon, and the terrorist group will attempt to sustain momentum through support from other groups and continuing demands to keep their cause in the proverbial “limelight.” Basically, terrorism is a way for the lower class to pass a message directly to the ruling hierarchy. Not all terrorism is as methodical as that described above. Some is merely based on craziness while other cases constitute the first step toward a revolution. In any event, the central theme of almost all terrorist action, other than that done out of craziness, is the existence of or the perception of the existence of social injustice. This belief will fester in the hearts and minds of those who perceive themselves the victims and will eventually lead to action.

Now lets take a look at the types of events that occurred that would “feed” the inclination to rebel. Throughout the history of Ireland. the Irish have always been a people who cherished, in fact nourished, their history. In some aspects, one could say that they often live in the past. And what does the past present to them? It tells them that a country that is 95% Catholic has been dominated by Protestant bigots for over 800 years and it tells them that all that has occurred has been part of a “master plan.” The Protestant Plantation serves as the best example of the deliberateness of this discrimination. The thousands of Scottish and British Protestants brought in were provided land that had been seized from the Catholics in exchange for the promise to maintain forces that would keep down the rebels. Since Ireland is primarily an agricultural nation, those who control the land, control the country. A country that was almost totally Catholic was forced by decree of law to establish a Protestant Church. The establishment of the Orange Order, an organization very outspoken about its anti-Catholic stance, solidified the practice of discrimination against those opposed to British Rule – primarily Catholics. Through their efforts, anti-unionists were excluded from such activities as land owning/leasing, appointments to local councils, industrial jobs, and winter hire on the road crews, long a way for the farmers to supplement their income during the winter. All of this was an attempt to force the Catholics to emigrate, thereby decreasing the overwhelming population ratio difference. To some degree, it worked, but even this eventually backfired because many Irish emigrated to the United States and they merely set up a resource base to support the anti-unionist movement in Ireland.

History tells the Irish that the famine that cost 1.000.000 Irish lives was an event that had been foreseen by a English committee in the late 1830s. Committee members warned England that a calamity was coming because of the recklessness of landlords who crowded more and more people on less and less land, because of the steady growth of the population and the recurring propensity of the potato crop to disease. England did nothing, either at the time or during the famine itself. In fact, rumor had it that food was still being shipped from Ireland while the population starved.

Worse, though, than the discrimination and repression was the British military’s history of extreme savagery. In the 1798 uprising, floggings, mutilations, torture and death were used to suppress the rebels. In the series of one or two day uprisings that took place over the next 40 years, almost without exception, and often without trial, the leaders were executed. Undoubtedly, though, the greatest effort by the British to show how they enjoyed their executioner role was after the Easter Rising in 1916. Of the 3500 arrested, 190 were sentenced to death but only 15 executions were carried out. The problem is the manner in which they were carried out. The executions were done publicly, with great fanfare, and over a period of ten days. Patrick Pearce, one of the two primary leaders of the rising, was shot 17 times in his execution. The last to be executed, 9 days later, was James Connolly. At the time of his execution, he was still suffering from wounds received in the uprising and was in much pain. In spite of this, he was publicly shot while sitting in a wheelchair. This entire episode reversed the opinions of the population and causea the transformation of men who had been mocked and pelted with filth, into national heroes and martyrs. The British had managed to take the victory of putting down the uprising, for which they initially had popular support, and converted it into a distaste for English rule and a reason to further the nationalist movement.

This was merely one more log thrown on the Home Rule fire. Home Rule was the desire of all Irish. Only those who stood to lose by Home Rule were opposed to it and this group was almost exclusively the Unionists, Industrialists and Protestants of the northern counties. Their feelings are summed up in a poem by Rudyard Kipling in which he states:

We know the war prepared
On every peaceful home.
We know the hells declared
For such as serve not Rome.
The terror, threats and dread
In market, hearth and field
We know, when all is said.
We perish if we yield.2

When the semblance of Home Rule finally did come, and the partition of Ireland occurred, the British allowed the Protestants of Northern Ireland to rearrange voting boundaries so that the Catholics were not represented in a manner proportional to their population. Londonderry is the best example. There, 7900 Protestants elected 12 councillors while 10,000 Catholics elected only 8. This was all part of the Unionist plan to reward their faithful supporters who insured that Northern Ireland remained under the Crown. Since the local government had been given law making authority, they were now free to discriminate on a grand scale, and did. While under the watchful eye of Dublin Castle, discrimination was limited to private employment and the issuing of leases. However, now it extended to employment, housing, representation in local government, and any other area that could be affected. The goal was to leave the Catholics poor and powerless. At the same time, they continued to “whip-up” religious bigotry because loss of support by the working class Protestants would cause the downfall of the Industrialists and Landowners.

Although what is stated above primarily refers to Catholics and Protestants, it is a mistake to say that this is strictly a religious problem. England prefers that outlook because that makes it a “local fight” which she can ignore, something that she has done for many years. It was England’s inability to handle the Ulster problem that causea partition in the first place. However, now the problem may be beyond fixing unless the north and south decide to fix it themselves. The events of the past 800 years have left a bitterness that makes one side totally incapable of seeing the good intentions of the other side. The Protestants have adopted a “not an inch” mentality in their dealings with the south. They consider Home Rule synonymous with Rome Rule and fear that unification would force them to live under the no divorce, no contraception, no blasphemy rules of the Catholic Church. They also fear the loss of their present economic superiority because the breaking of ties with the United Kingdom would cut off aid and would allow the peasants from the south to compete for the industrial jobs in the north, and the large Catholic families to compete for housing. However, their greatest fear is that if the country was unified, the tables may turn and the Catholics may repay the Protestants for the injustices of the past. The Catholics also have their views on this matter but they do not counter those of the Protestants, as one might expect. Instead, they tend to support the premise that retribution is at least an option. They believe that they were deliberately discriminated against and that achievement of their aims is not possible under the present form of unsympathetic government. They feel that the Protestants stand in the way of realizing the Irish Dream – total island-wide independence. More than anything else, though, the Catholics believe that the Protestants are British, not Irish, and that just makes them part of a heritage that they despise. This is precisely why the nature of the conflict is forever a point of debate. From the Protestant point of view, it is a Catholic-Protestant problem while the Catholics see it as an Irish-English problem.

Although the earlier description of terrorism and what prompts its use is more involved, it is safe to say that when people perceive the existence of injustice and bring it to the attention of the authorities, they expect something to be done. England failed to acknowledge that a problem really existed for too many years. Their view of Ireland was purely from the aspect of ownership. The Crown never really got to know the Irish people or their interests. England was the aristocracy and Ireland’s problems were working class problems that the wealthy had no interest in involving themselves in. If the problems got too close, the wealthy just moved away. Their wealth enabled them to do that. However, England never considered the fact that the poor were trapped by their own poverty. They only had two choices, react or give in. This made them prime candidates for gut reaction when they saw what little they did have begin to disappear. Hundreds of years of discrimination and repression are not quickly erased in a country that is so enmeshed in its past. Years of oppression had taught Ireland’s Catholics that there was no protection in the law because the law rested in the hands of the enemy and that the only way to achieve the desired results was to act in a subversive manner because otherwise, no one would take notice.

From the Easter Rising forward, England was given sufficient signals to see what the future would bring and continued to make decisions that, at a glance, seem to indicate that they were oblivious to the fact that a problem existed. The ability of the Crown to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory during the execution of the Easter Uprising leaders snowed that they were not even smart enough to take advantage of their first opportunity to have the populace on their side. The fact that the Protestants of Northern Ireland openly celebrate the victory of William of Orange over James II at the Battle of Boyne causes confrontations and riots every year but the British did nothing to stop it. The United Kingdom continually fed the fires of religious separatism through the differences in school funding and the allocation of opportunities for employment. This mutual antagonism led to both sects in Northern Ireland “reacting” as minorities: the Catholics in Northern Ireland and the Protestants in all of Ireland. This feeling nurtured an atmosphere of mistrust that prevails today and is best described by the following cycle of action:

– The Catholics alleged political and economic discrimination, which led to rioting;

– Counter riots break out among the Protestants;

– The government moved in to reassert its control;

– Protestant action ceased;

– The Catholics said that this proved the partisan outlook of the authorities and set up free zones;

– The government came under sharp attack from the Protestants for permitting this defiance;

– The Catholics reasserted their allegations of discrimination and more rioting occurred;

– The authorities moved against it;

– The Catholics said that no parallel action was being taken against the Protestants who were stockpiling weapons;

– The Protestants replied that they could not trust the government to defend them and they must rely on their own resources;

– The government brought in measures to control both sides;

– The Catholics alleged that they were being applied one-sidedly;

– Both sides lost faith in the legal authority and further rioting broke out in each camp.3

When the credibility of a governing authority has eroaed to the stage described above, it should be clear that huge problems lie ahead. England had gotten themselves into the unenviable situation where violence was frustrating any political solutions while concurrently, the lack of political solutions was causing the violence. All of this had to be clear to England because she was right in the middle of it. But what occurred to remedy the situation?

Besides losing on the home front, England was seeing some of the most influential figures of the world speaking out against an Ireland under English control. Both Nehru and Ghandi spoke out on Ireland’s behalf and President Wilson, in his 10 April 1917 letter to Lansing wrote: “The only circumstance which seems now to stand in the way of absolutely cordial co-operation with Great Britain is the failure, so far, to find a satisfactory method of self-government for Ireland.”4

In spite of all of these signs and rhetoric in support of the “Irish Cause”, England once again demonstrated its ignorance of the Irish psychology by committing the monumental blunder of attempting to institute a military draft in Ireland involving all able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 50. This mistake provided the opportunity for the north and south to join together in their opposition. Public opinion considered this as an act of war against the Irish nation and the battle lines were established when Dr. O’Dwyer, the Bishop of Limerick. stated: “It is very probable that these poor Connacht lads know nothing of the meaning of the war. Their blood is not stirred by memories of Kossovo, and they have no burning desire to die for Servia. They would much prefer to be allowed to till their own potato gardens in peace in Connemara …… Their crime is that they are not ready to die for England? Why should they? What have they or their fathers ever got from England that they should ever have died for her? …… It is England’s war, not Ireland’s.”5 It is extremely difficult to understand how England could not “get the message” concerning the Irish distaste for anything English. Hearing the questions asked clearly tells the story in pointed, concise terms. But did the English learn anything – absolutely not. When they formed the Blacks and Tans to patrol in Ireland in 1920, they used the dredges of British society as the nucleus. Some of them were shell-shocked from World War I while approximately 300 others were ex-convicts. Their introduction began an 18 month reign of terror that was characterized by patrols roaring through towns at high speed while shooting indiscriminately, houses were broken into and ransacked without warning, suspects were left in jail for weeks without trials and massive retaliation after any confrontation became the norm. Once again, the English would make a bad situation worse when they hanged Kevin Barry, an 18 year old lad, on November 1 1920 for involvement in an ambush that killed several policemen, despite the fact that it was never proven that he fired any shots or even took part in the confrontation. Ireland’s reply took the form of thousands of people joining the Irish Republican Army. The actions of the Blacks and Tans had gotten so bad that on February 21, 1921, General Frank Crozier, Commander of the British Auxiliaries, resigned in protest against what he termed “the reign of chaos, murder, arson, robbery and drunkenness”6 instigated by the Blacks and Tans. He went on the say that the burning of Cork was “one of the most disgraceful affairs in the history of the British Army.”7 General Gough, the former leader of the Curragh “mutiny” also commented: “Law and Order have given way to a bloody and brutal anarchy, in which the armed agents of the Crown violate every law in aimless, vindictive and insolent savagery. England has departed further from her own standards, and further from the standards of any nation in the world, not excepting the Turk and the Zulu, than has ever been known in history before.”8
These statements were given further credibility when the Archbishop of Canterbury, while condemning IRA violence. stated that he likewise deplored the lawlessness of the Crown forces. This time the British had not only solidified the Irish resolve to resist British rule but had likewise turned the opinion of the western world solidly against them. Political figures, journalists and military men from such places as India, Australia, South Africa and the United States spoke out against the transgressions of the Crown. Even from within, the British journalists were appalled and made haste to make the English people aware of the atrocities committed by the Crown forces in Ireland. G. K. Chesterton of the London Times wrote: “The whole world thinks that England has gone mad.”9 The British Liberal and Labor parties charged Lloyd George with evasiveness and dishonesty in defending his Irish policy. Finally. some action would be taken to reverse the situation but it would be too late and too short lived.

When the Irish Free State was finally declared in 1921, England only managed to isolate their problem to a smaller area. The six counties of Ulster that comprise British controlled Northern Ireland were merely a microcosm of all of the problems that existed before the division. Had England insured that those counties who wanted to become part of the Irish Free State were given that opportunity through an effort to rearrange the boundaries between the north and the south, much of the future strife would probably have been eliminated. Not only did the British not do that, they didn’t accomplish any boundary alterations despite their promise to do so. As a result, the overwhelmingly Protestant counties of Antrim, Down and Armagh, where most of the industry was, remained prosperous and suffered very little unemployment. Conversely, the predominantly Catholic counties of Londonderry, Tyrone and Fermanagh, which were primarily agriculturally oriented and underdeveloped, saw unemployment of between 12.5% and 23%. The western Catholics believed that the east was surviving at the expense of the west and therefore, the Protestants at the expense of the Catholics. What England refused to see was that they were breeding discontent by not spreading the industrial base throughout all of Northern Ireland. What little industrial work there was in the west was in the textile field which was primarily women’s work and tended to erode the traditional dominance of the male in the Irish family. The men were not about to accept this situation lying down. They showed that their masculinity was still potent through vandalism and their inclination to combat the authority that, they perceived, caused this situation in the first place. Once again, England had failed to “know its constituency” and see the problems that their insensitivity was causing.

There are numerous other examples that could be cited, but it suffices to say that the situation had deteriorated to the point that the separatism between the Catholics and Protestants had resulted in perceived notions taking on the certainty of facts. It encouraged the emergence of an accepted body of myths and ideas that each side believed was true about the other, no matter what the underlying facts.

It is my contention that the United Kingdom either contributed to, or allowed to develop, all of the tensions that produce a society which feels no outlet other than taking things into its own hands. The discrimination. violence and oppression against the Irish people left them no choice but to conclude that the injustices that they suffered were intentional and of English design. Any time that things seemed to be settling down, the British would demonstrate their ignorance of the Irish people and their values, and stir up more trouble. This habit not only allowed past problems to fester in the minds of all Irish. but instilled in them the belief that only through “action” would their grievances be heard. History had shown them just that and, like all other peoples, nothing breeds success like success.

In summary. the British have created their own disaster by failing to get “to know” the Irish people and in failing to see them as other than subjects of the Crown. Had they taken the time to accomplish these tasks, they would have learned that no other nationality in history has ever shown more tenacity in preserving its spirit of nationalism and its ancient faith and all of this, in the face of relentless assaults by superior numbers. This feeling was probably best summed up by Major Florence O’Donoghue when he wrote: the Crown forces were “housed in well-fortified and comfortable barracks, many of their officers were veterans of the European War, most of their troops had received adequate military training, and they were armed with modern weapons. They were superior in every aspect save one – morale. Whereas the British forces were usually mercenaries serving for pay, the I.R.A. was composed of youthful idealists facing danger and death for the sake of a cause in which they were willing to lay down their lives.”10 When taken as a composite package, the above sure sounds like the “definitional basis” for a terrorist movement to me. Evidently, it did to the I.R.A. also.

1. Dominick J. Coyle, Minorities in Revolt, p. 34.
2. Iain Hamilton, “The Irish Tangle”, Conflict Studies. 1970, unnumbered pages.
3. Harold Jackson, The Two Irelands. p. 12.
4. Alan J. Ward. Ireland and Anglo-American Relations 1899-1921. p. 258.
5. Giovanni Costigan, A History of Modern Ireland. p. 336.
6. Ibid. . p. 345
7. Ibid.
8. Ibid.
9. Ibid. . p. 346
10. Ibid. . p. 345


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2. Strauss, Eric. Irish Nationalism and British Democracy. New York: Columbia University Press.
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Source: Defense Technical Information Center

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