23/6/1919 Nation building and war in Ireland

Irish nationalists continue with their struggle to secure the freedom of their country. The Dáil, Ireland’s self-declared sovereign parliament, is working to create the administrative apparatus of an independent state. To fund its operations it has recently announced a bond issue, with bonds purchasable both within and outside the country. Early indications are that the bond issue will be a great success, with large numbers of people in both Ireland and the United State seeking to buy them. The Dáil is also working to create a parallel court system that will bypass the British controlled system of justice operating in the country.

Irish nationalists are working to internationalise the conflict. De Valera, Sinn Féin leader and president of the Dáil government, has travelled to the United States to court opinion there. Ireland’s cause has already excited much American interest, particularly among those of Irish descent. The US Senate has passed a resolution calling for Irish representatives to be heard at the Paris Conference; Britain’s objections have unfortunately prevented the raising of the Irish question there.

Within Ireland the military campaign for Irish freedom is escalating, as are British attempts to repress it. The country is becoming increasingly militarised and acts of violence are becoming more routine. Earlier this month policemen in Dublin were shot (but not fatally) when dispersing a crowd that had gathered to attend a banned memorial concert for James Connolly. Today meanwhile in Thurles, Michael Hunt of the Royal Irish Constabulary is shot and killed in broad daylight in a street thronged with people returning from a race meeting. A district inspector, he is the most senior policeman to have lost his life in the conflict thus far.

images:

Sinn Féin Court, by Sean Keating (Niall Murray, Twitter)

Michael Hunt (Century Ireland: Policeman murdered on crowded Thurles street)

Men of the South, by Sean Keating (millstreet.ie: the Men of the South)

9/6/1919 De Valera courts American opinion, but Lloyd George blocks consideration of the Irish question in Paris

In Ireland Sinn Féin politicians elected in December’s general election have chosen not to attend the House of Commons in London; instead they have assembled in Dublin, declaring themselves to be Dáil Éireann, the sovereign parliament of the Irish nation. Making Irish independence a reality is proving however proving difficult. Members of the Irish Republican Army are attempting to wage a guerrilla war against British forces in Ireland, but IRA actions are showing no great sign of forcing the British to evacuate the country. Dáil Éireann meanwhile has so far failed to make itself the actual centre of political power in Ireland, with real authority still lying with the British administration centred in Dublin Castle.

Sinn Féin leaders are attempting to internationalise their struggle, hoping that other nations will pressurise the British to yield to Ireland’s claims. At its first meeting, the Dáil issued a Message to the Free Nations of the World, asking them to support Irish freedom. The Dáil has sent a delegation to Paris, but the conference has declined to hear it.

Irish nationalists have had more success in the United States, where Irish Americans are sympathetic to Ireland’s cause. De Valera, the leader of Sinn Féin, has crossed the Atlantic and is having some success drumming up interest in the Irish question. The Senate recently passed a resolution calling for the Paris Conference to hear the Irish delegation. Leading Irish Americans have travelled to Paris, to lobby Wilson to have the conference hear the Irish delegation. Political concerns oblige Wilson to meet the Irish Americans, but he is non-committal. Lloyd George is too important to risk antagonising over the Irish issue.

Nevertheless, Wilson today sounds Lloyd George on whether the Paris Conference might discuss the Irish question, but the British prime minister is clear that this is something that he could not countenance; any attempt by the conference to discuss Ireland would lead to a political crisis in London, with the likelihood that Lloyd George’s government would fall. This would cause great upset to the conference’s progress, which is now at an advanced stage. Wilson makes clear to Lloyd George that he has no intention of pressing the issue.

image source:

Éamon De Valera after being made an honorary chief of the Chippewa nation (in October 1919) (History Hub: Eamon De Valera – The Chief) (The linked-to page includes an interesting newspaper report of De Valera’s visit to the Chippewa, including excerpts from De Valera’s speech, in which he draws parallels between the experiences of the Irish and the Native Americans)

13/5/1919 Knocklong: an IRA man rescued

Knocklong Railyway Station
The British authorities in Ireland have been keen to apprehend those responsible for the Soloheadbeg ambush in January, which saw two policemen killed by members of the Irish Republican Army. Substantial rewards have been offered for the capture of the rebels, who as a result have spent the last few months on the run, staying with Republican sympathisers and seldom spending more than one night in the same place.

After attending a dance near Clonoulty, Seán Hogan, one of the ambushers, was captured yesterday by members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (the RIC). His comrades resolved to free him. Today at Knocklong station they strike, boarding a train in which Hogan is being guarded by four RIC men while on his way to Cork. In the fracas that follows, Hogan is freed, but two of the RIC men are killed. Dan Breen and Sean Treacy, both veterans of the Soloheadbeg ambush, are injured, but they will survive to fight again.

image sources:

Knocklong Railway Station (Burns Library, Boston College, on Flickr)

Seán Hogan (Wikipedia)

27/4/1919 The revolution that wasn’t: the Limerick Soviet comes to an end

After an outbreak of serious unrest, the British authorities declared the Irish city of Limerick to be a special military zone, placing a cordon around it and preventing people from entering or leaving without permission. In response the city’s trade unions declared a general strike and took over the town’s administration, organising the distribution of food and issuing their own money. The strike coordination committee becomes known as the Limerick Soviet, leading some to wonder whether the revolutionary wave that has spread from Russia to Hungary and Bavaria has now arrived in Ireland.

Some indeed hope that the Limerick Soviet will pave the way for a general strike across Ireland and the seizure of power by the working classes. There is some support for a widening of the strike across Ireland within the labour movement. However the national leadership of the unions and of the Labour Party is more cautious, being more wedded to reformist rather than revolutionary strategies. They decline to back a national strike in support of Limerick.

In the face of this lack of support, the union leaders in Limerick today decide to call off their strike and instruct workers to return to work. Normality begins to return to the city. The army’s cordon remains in place, but the hope is that the British will respond to the Soviet’s demise by once more allowing free access to the city.

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Map of Limerick showing the cordon (The Limerick Soviet: The Story of the Limerick Soviet, by D. R. O’Connor Lysaght)

15/4/1919 The Limerick Soviet: dawn of an Irish socialist revolution?

Ireland is in an increasingly restive state. In Dublin through Dáil Éireann, the self-declared national parliament, Sinn Féin members are attempting create the trappings of an independent nation. Meanwhile a military campaign is building as members of the Irish Volunteers (now increasingly known as the Irish Republican Army) attempt to seize arms and carry out attacks on British forces. The political and military campaigns operate in tandem, with some of the leading Sinn Féin members also being involved in directing IRA operations.

Tensions are mounting in particular in Limerick. Here Robert Byrne, a local trade unionist and IRA organiser, has been arrested by the authorities. The IRA launch a daring attempt to free him but the mission goes awry: one of his would-be rescuers accidentally shoots and kills Byrne. The incident causes uproar, with many believing that Byrne has in fact been murdered by the police. The city sees an upsurge in demonstrations and protests against the authorities.

The British respond to the unrest by declaring martial law in Limerick, creating a cordon around it and blocking movement into or out of the city without permission. In response, the Limerick’s trade unionists declare a general strike. They also take over effective government of the city, issuing their own money and organising the distribution of food. The strike committee starts being referred to as the Limerick Soviet, a sign that perhaps Ireland too is about to follow Russia, Hungary and Bavaria down the road to socialist revolution.

images:

British soldiers and a tank at a checkpoint into Limerick (Limerick Soviet 2019, @LimerickSoviet on Twitter)

Limerick Soviet promissory note (Libcom – Forgotten revolution: Limerick soviet, 1919, by Liam Cahill)

2/4/1919 De Valera’s new government and Ireland’s first woman minister

Irish nationalists are attempting to secure the independence of their country. The military strand of this struggle is still relatively dormant, with the ambush at Soloheadbeg in January not being followed by a general escalation in violence. However disturbances are still occurring, with a recent example being the killing of magistrate John C. Milling in County Mayo; his judgements had imprisoned members of the Irish Volunteers.

The political strand of the independence struggle is currently centred on Dublin, where Dáil Éireann, the self-declared Irish parliament, is meeting. Following De Valera‘s escape and the release of other leading Sinn Féin members, the party is now in a position to revitalise the Dáil government. Yesterday the Dáil approved De Valera’s appointment as prime minister and today it approves his cabinet. Michael Collins, who led the operation to break him out of jail, becomes the Minister for Finance, charged with rustling up money to keep the fledgling state apparatus running. And Constance Markievicz is appointed Minister for Labour; she is already the first woman elected to Britain’s House of Commons and now she is the first woman to hold ministerial office in a modern democracy.

image source:

Éamon De Valera (Century Ireland: Introducing de Valera – The East Clare by-election and the rise of an Irish political leader)

6/3/1919 Sinn Féin prisoners released

In Ireland members of Sinn Féin elected to the British House of Commons have assembled in Dublin, proclaiming themselves to be Dáil Éireann, the parliament of a free Ireland. They have attempted to gain international support for their struggle for Irish freedom, with mixed success. The US House of Representatives has passed a resolution supporting Irish self-determination, but attempts to make Ireland’s case at the Paris Conference have unsurprisingly been blocked by Britain and its Allies.

For now the British response to Sinn Féin’s efforts are relatively restrained; the authorities perhaps hope that if they leave Dáil Éireann alone it will fade away into irrelevance. British policy can at times even be conciliatory. Sinn Féin leader Éamon de Valera recently escaped from jail in England, but perhaps the drama of that affair was unnecessary. Today the British release many of the Sinn Féin leaders they had arrested last year on foot of involvement in an imaginary German plot. Griffith, Markievicz and others are now on their way home. Whether their return will calm Ireland or further vitalise Sinn Féin’s struggle remains to be seen.