Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby DrNightdub on Sun Jun 12, 2011 2:47 am

No, huge difference between Belfast and rural Antrim. In Belfast, there was enough of a base in the nationalist areas to allow for some offensive operations as well as defence of the localities against loyalist attacks. In Antrim, they were just overwhelmed by sheer force of numbers.

I'm going purely by BMH witness statements here, plus what's in the Mulcahy papers in UCD. My granda was Brigade Adjutant in Belfast before taking over as O/C Antrim - his successor in Antrim (March 1921) said the entire armament of the Brigade amounted to a couple of dozen rifles, after that it was just shotguns. Hence Antrim being even less active than Cavan.

Think of it as spectrum running from Cork / Tipp to Antrim, with Belfast nearer to the pointy end. At one end, a relatively small number of unionist sympathisers subjected to what the likes of Hart would term a sectarian campaign. At the other end of that spectrum, a large number of nationalists subjected to what - objectively - was a sectarian campaign. Going by JD's post, Cavan would've been nearer to the tipping point along the spectrum.
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby thepremier on Sun Jun 12, 2011 8:37 pm

DrNightdub wrote:No, huge difference between Belfast and rural Antrim. In Belfast, there was enough of a base in the nationalist areas to allow for some offensive operations as well as defence of the localities against loyalist attacks. In Antrim, they were just overwhelmed by sheer force of numbers.


Right, thanks for elaborating. I was just wondering whether Belfast might have been the focus of operations given how central it was to the war in the North, such as it was. Thanks for clearing that up.
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby Jd66 on Mon Jun 13, 2011 10:06 am

Nightdub, the thing about Cavan was that, first it was 80% + Catholic/nationalist, so by Ulster standards it was the opposite end of the scale from Antrim. But the UVF in the county had over 2,600 rifles in 1914. So there was the potential for really serious sectarian conflict.

The IRA may not have been up to much in terms of guerrilla warfare (you're right the drafting in of the Belfast column that was captured at Lapinduff was an effort to beef them up) but they did successfully intimidate the Ulster Volunteers (and also the Hibernians), there are lots and lots of references of them raiding their houses and seizing their weapons.The RIC were saying by the truce that 'Sinn Fein' was the unchallenged political force in the county.

When the B Specials were formed the IRA mounted night time raids to warn people off joining - in once case blowing off the leg of one man (a Protestant) with a shotgun. And there was the shooting dead of Protestant clergyman in June 1921. My point is that from the Ulster Volunteers perspective, there would have been more than enough provocation to retaliate against 'shinners' or Catholics, but in Cavan at least they made no such move. So does this show civilised restraint or an acceptance that they couldn't win a sectarian faction fight?

As for the RIC and British Army, they had the IRA and the Sinn Fein Courts etc under very considerable pressure in Cavan, several hundred were arrested and interned at Ballykinlar in Down, but generally they arrested rather than killed local republicans.

Again,the IRA in Cavan was not really up to attacking well armed RIC and British Army units but they could have shot dead dozens of Ulster Volunteers or B Specials or even random Protestants had they wanted to but they didn't. A bit of intimidation and show of force seems to have served their purposes equally well. It does strike me that the War of Independence in most of Ireland probably follows this pattern much more than the idea of what happened in very violent counties like Cork/Kerry/Tipperary.

Re Belfast, it's a sort of anomaly, the second most lethal place outside county Cork in 1920-1922 - almost 500 killed, most of them civilians in sectarian attacks.
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby DrNightdub on Mon Jun 13, 2011 6:55 pm

JD, was there much active recruitment into the Specials in Cavan - or Monaghan / Donegal for that matter? I don't mean isolated individuals or groups seeking to join, but attempts by the authorities to enlist recuits from outside the six counties? The available window of opportunity would seem to be quite small, from the initial formation of the Specials until the Govt of Ireland Act, only about 6-8 weeks. After that, prospective recruits from the border counties would know they were gonna be jettisoned into outer darkness either way and the best they could expect would be a form of Home Rule in Southern Ireland - not much to motivate enlistment there.

Jd66 wrote:So does this show civilised restraint or an acceptance that they couldn't win a sectarian faction fight?


Maybe acceptance of their lot might be closer - the Govt of Ireland Act created a fait accompli which pretty much removed the raison d'etre for the UVF outside N.Ireland. Plus there may have been a debilitating impact from being cast adrift by those to whom they looked politically - a mirror of what later affected the northern IRA after mid-1922.
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby Jd66 on Mon Jun 13, 2011 10:57 pm

DrNightdub wrote:Maybe acceptance of their lot might be closer - the Govt of Ireland Act created a fait accompli which pretty much removed the raison d'etre for the UVF outside N.Ireland. Plus there may have been a debilitating impact from being cast adrift by those to whom they looked politically - a mirror of what later affected the northern IRA after mid-1922.


Good point. Still their passivity is little strange.

Re the Specials, I don't really know as I don't have recruitment figures but the IRA BMH statements certainly make clear that it was something they were concerned about and that they madea concerted effort to intimidate people (interestingly both Catholic and Protestant) from joining. I'm not sure people thought the border was going to last in mid 1920 it was only after the Treaty was signed that it started to really harden into a reality I think.
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby DrNightdub on Tue Jun 14, 2011 9:17 pm

JD, your earlier comment about "civilised restraint" got me thinking about another factor that may explain the relative absence of sectarian violence in Cavan, certainly compared to Belfast - the possibility that in Cavan, unlike Belfast, the patterns and rituals of sectarian violence simply weren't as deeply engrained. Or more bluntly, the absence of "civilised restraint" in Belfast.

It's been a few years since I read Andrew Boyd's "Holy War in Belfast" as it's such a depressing litany, but he does point out that in every decade of the second half of the Nineteenth Century and also around the time of the second Home Rule Bill before WW1, there had been vicious sectarian riots in Belfast. So what erupted in 1920 could be viewed as another stop along a continuum and the killing of DI Swanzy simply stoked pre-existing embers. Once started, events took on an already-established course - history repeating itself. I'm not aware of Cavan having the same "tradition" (for want of a better word) of sectarianism.

I recently came across a striking example of this repetition in relation to St Matthew's in east Belfast which already had a history of being attacked long before 1920. Not alone were the patterns of violence almost pre-ordained, but the descriptions are almost identical.

The first was in 1920, when a nationalist arrested for rioting that August was tried the following November - the Irish News reported his cross-examination by his lawyer as follows:
Mr. Campbell: ‘Would you agree that this was one of the fiercest riots that ever disgraced the city?’
Witness: ‘I think so.’
Mr. Campbell: ‘You heard there were four houses burned that evening?’
Witness: ‘I know there were.’
Mr. Campbell: ‘The people simply had to defend themselves?’
Witness: ‘Yes.’
Questioned as to whether or not police and military assistance was available to the people to defend their homes, witness said it was not available until 6 o’clock, being heavily taxed elsewhere.

The second was at a coroner's hearing fifty years later, after the "Battle of St. Matthews" in 1970, when an RUC officer was reported in the Belfast Telegraph as stating that "He agreed the police had met the local Citizens Defence Committee to try to arrange protection for the church from the Army, but this was not possible because the troops were heavily committed elsewhere." Not quite verbatim, but not far off.

I think it's also fair to credit the IRA with trying to remain somewhat aloof from the more naked sectarian violence even in the immediate aftermath of Swanzy's killing, at least initially until they were forced into local area defence. And although there may be an element of "They would say that, wouldn't they", the pre-Truce veterans seem keen to draw a distinction between their higher-minded motives and those of the "Trucileers" who joined up later. The statistics would seem to back them up in that more people died in the five months after the Truce than the seven months before it.

Maybe the lack of an embedded history of sectarian violence meant the Cavan IRA were simply better able to exercise "civilised restraint"?
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby Jd66 on Wed Jun 15, 2011 11:45 am

Hi Nightdub,

Yes I think there's some truth in that alright, but it's a question of degree. There were sectarian riots in Cavan throughout the 19th century. In 1914, the Volunteers (Ulster and Irish) staged rival parades, armed where possible that made people very nervous. In 1918 there was fierce three-way rioting between the Volunteers on one side, and (strange as it may seem) the Hibernians and the Ulster Volunteers on the other, around the election and by-election, in which shots were fired.

But when it came to actually cold-bloodedly killing each other in 1919-21, neither side in Cavan seems to really have had the heart for it. And the IRA, who had a bit moreheart for it, won very easily it terms of the balance of fear. I suppose there's a porcess through which people innure themselves to violence and Cavan only got through some of the early stages.

And I mean this wasn't true in other border counties, eg in Monaghan the Specials burned one Catholic village at Roslea and the IRA burned a Protestant one in Fermanagh in reprisal - the IRA there shot about 20 people as spies if I recall, quite a few of whom were protestants (see McGarry's bio of O'Duffy). In south Armagh in June 1922, there were dozens of sectarian killings on boths sides -Aiken at Altnaviegh killed six Protestants and burned their houses in a revenge attack. So I suppose what your looking at in Ulster is potential sectarian conflict everywhere that escalated to differing degrees in different areas. Even in Belfast, you're looking a high level of violence but not all out massacres and mass displacement. So even there there were limits.

Re the IRA in Belfast, yeah they definitely maintained that it was the 'post-pogrom' recuits who were sectarian, not the 'real' republicans. And probably there some truth in that. But I suppose the argument, in 1920 and later, was the sectarian conflict was the inevitable result of their actions.
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby DrNightdub on Wed Jun 15, 2011 8:16 pm

I think it was inevitable regardless of whether they acted or not - it pre-dated the War of Independence so at most, that just introduced a new catalyst. Even before the Swanzy killing, the shooting in Cork of Lt Col Bryce Smyth prompted a sectarian eruption after his funeral in Banbridge. Lisburn and eventually Belfast were also caught up in it - Pearse Lawlor's "The Burnings" goes into some detail on this. Bar the burning of tax offices at Easter 1920, the northern IRA hadn't done anything of real note at that stage yet the sectarianism was already endemic. Undoubtedly once they did start acting, it exacerbated the situation, which is a different argument - but the alternative would've been to sit on their hands and tacitly acknowledge that the mere threat of sectarian retaliation could shackle them.

Other evidence: although you could well argue that the sectarian genie was well and truly out of the bottle by that stage, in the early days after the Truce, one of the Belfast IRA's biggest problems seemed to be holding back the impulses of civilians on THEIR side towards sectarian violence. Naturally, they fingered the Hibernians for being responsible, but again they were contending with attitudes that were already engrained on BOTH sides.

Back to the border counties: I wonder to what extent did enforcing the "Belfast Boycott" put a brake on sectarian outbreaks that might otherwise have happened? After all, it'd be pretty difficult to claim the moral high ground and enforce the boycott in support of beleagured nationlists in the six counties if the same IRA were engaged in equally sectarian behaviour in their own areas.
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby Jd66 on Thu Jun 16, 2011 10:33 am

Yes and the Belfast IRA were also put under pressure by GHQ in Dublin, which didn't necesarily appreciate the special circumstances they were in.

Re the Belfast Boycott, I doubt it made much difference to the IRA's other actions to be honest. In the first place the IRA wasn't about killing and displacing Protestants per se. I think the pattern is the familiar one of escalation by retaliation. In Cavan the IRA put armed unionists under pressure by intimidation -there was no retaliation and things remained at that pitch. In Monaghan you see reprisals back and forward to some degree but the IRA, again probably in large part because of being on the 'right' side of the border, wins easily enough. I south Armagh you have the worst escalation of sectarian killings because neither side (until the summer of 1922 anyway) will give way and each killing is repaid with a reprisal.
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby Jd66 on Wed Jun 29, 2011 2:47 pm

This is a book review of William Sheehan's 'A hard local War' - an account of the War of Independence in Cork from the British Army perspective.

http://www.theirishstory.com/2011/06/29 ... local-war/

In my opinion a good piece of research but let down by 'revisionist' bias agaisnt the IRA.
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