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CONFLICTS IN IRELAND

THE IRISH WAR OF INDEPENDENCE 1919- 1922

Background

At the 1917 Sinn Fein Ard Fheis (Party Conference), all the parties that opposed British rule in Ireland agreed on a common policy, to work for the establishment of an Irish Republic. Arthur Griffith stood down and De Valera was elected President of both Sinn Fein and later of The Irish Volunteers. Sinn Fein's opposition to compulsory conscription to The Great War greatly enhanced its popularity with the people. Compulsorary military conscription was, in fact, never introduced on the island of Ireland - South or North. Sinn Fein promised that its elected members would not sit in the British Parliament, but would form their own Dail (government) in Dublin in the forthcoming General Election in November 1918, after 'The First World War" had ended. They wanted international recognition for The Irish Republic at the imminent Paris Peace Convention. They also vowed to undermine British rule in Ireland. In the 1918 General Election, Sinn Fein won seventy-three seats and the Unionists twenty-six, while the Home Rulers won only six.

The new Dail Eireann (Irish Parliament) assembled for the first time on the 21st of January 1919 in Dublin's Mansion House. As many of the elected Members were in prison at the time, only twenty-seven were able to attend. It was planned that Sinn Fein should take over the running of the country such as the local government bodies and leave the British administration to wither away. This plan of passive resistance worked in many areas outside East Ulster. However, the conflict soon escalated into violence, following the 1919 Soloheadbeg Ambush in County Tipperary.

Volunteers attacked many rural RIC (Royal Irish Constabulary) police barracks throughout 1919 and 1920. The police withdrew into the larger towns for their own safety, leaving large areas of the country in control of the Republicans.

The British responded by banning Dail Eireann and Sinn Fein. They then increased the numbers of the Army and Police in Ireland. Michael Collins became Minister for Finance and Director of Intelligence for the Volunteers. Collins formed a group called "The Squad" to kill informers and Dublin Castle detectives (who were known as "G-men"), which hampered the British attempts to obtain intelligence information on Volunteer activities.

Additional Police were recruited by the British Government in England. Many were ex-soldiers, who were nicknamed 'The Black and Tans' due to their army-green and khaki uniforms. The Volunteers, or IRA (Irish Republican Army), in local areas responded to The Tans with guerrilla warfare ambushes, such as the Kilmichael Ambush, near Macroom, County Cork, led by Tom Barry. As they rarely wore uniforms, The IRA could disappear into the local population without trace. The 'Tans responded by burning houses and creameries; people were shot and towns such as Balbriggan, Tuam and Cork City were broken up in retaliation. Twelve people were killed and sixty injured on Bloody Sunday (21 November 1920) at a Gaelic Football match at Croke Park by The Black and Tans in retaliation for Collins' directive to kill eleven special detectives. The deaths of Kevin Barry and Lord Mayor of Cork, Terence MacSwiney aroused deep emotion in the winter of 1920. MacSwiney was imprisoned in London for membership of the IRA. He died on hunger strike in Brixton Prison as he had wanted to be treated as a political prisoner. Barry was hung a week later for his part in an ambush in Dublin. These episodes placed great pressure on the British Prime Minister, Lloyd George, to obtain peace in Ireland.

The Government of Ireland Act 1920 was passed, which divided the county into two parts, Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland, each having Home Rule. This was accepted in Northern Ireland and the new Parliament of Northern Ireland was opened in June 1921. The Act was rejected in The South. On the 11th of July 1921, a truce was agreed with the British.

In October 1921, an Irish delegation, including Collins and Griffith, went to London to negotiate a settlement. The Treaty was signed on the 6th December 1921. Its terms still kept Ireland as part of the British Empire, with Dominion status. This included an oath of allegiance to the English monarch as Head of State, and the retention of three British naval bases in Ireland.

On the 14th. of December 1920, The Dail met to discuss the terms of The Treaty. Its members were divided as to the merits of The Treaty. De Valera was angry that The Treaty was signed without prior consultation. Others rejected it as it did not give Ireland full independence as a republic, the principle for which the signatories of the 1916 Declaration had died. The pro-Treaty side argued that the terms obtained were the best that could be obtained from the British at that time, and believed it could be used as a stepping stone to full independence. The Dail debate continued for some weeks.

On 7 January 1922, the Dail voted on The Treaty. It was accepted by a majority of sixty-four to fifty-seven. De Valera resigned his position as President of the Dail and was replaced by Griffith.

The division in the Dail was reflected in the country which led to the outbreak in 1922 of The Civil War. The general election in May 1922 produced fifty-eight Pro-Treaty, thirty-five anti-treaty and thirty-five other T.D.s ( Dail Deputies or Members of The Irish Parliament).

THE TIPPERARY CONNECTION

By the summer of 1917, the Irish Republican Brotherhood in County Tipperary had proceeded with renewed enthusiasm in recruitment, drilling and taking part in parades. Local IRB man, Sean Treacy was a central force in these developments. Seamus Robinson, a Belfast IRB man, also arrived in Tipperary in 1917. The visit of De Valera to Tipperary Town in August 1917 generated great interest and enthusiasm. The conscription issue of 1918 made the work of recruiting men into The IRB much easier, uniting as it did the many nationalistic groups. The 4th Battalion area included most of the parishes around Tipperary town. By October 1918, six battalions made up the Third Tipperary Brigade. At a meeting in Tipperary town in the same month, Robinson was appointed Brigade O.C.(Officer-Commanding), Sean Treacy was made Vice Officer-Commanding, and Dan Breen became the Brigade Quarter-Master. In the 1918 General Election, Sinn Fein candidates were overwhelmingly returned in County Tipperary.

The Soloheadbeg Ambush in County Tipperary was one of the most important episodes of The War of Independence. It was here that the first shots of that conflict were fired on the 21st. January 1919. Coincidentally, this was the same date as the first meeting of Dail Eireann in Dublin.

Soloheadbeg is a townland, some two miles outside Tipperary Town. Gelignite was being carried to the local quarry by two council workers, Godfrey and Flynn, guarded by two armed RIC Constables, McDonnell and O'Connell.

Volunteers led by Treacy and Breen lay in wait for the convoy; hiding in a small, disused quarry along their route. When the convoy drew close, the Volunteers emerged and challenged them, shooting dead both Constables who had attempted to ready their rifles. The rebels then rapidly withdrew, taking the gelignite. Treacy, Breen and Hogan went on the run. As a result of this action, South Tipperary was placed under martial law and declared a Special Military Area under The Defence of the Realm Act.

Text May 2001 Noreen Higgins

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