Ouroboros Eating Its Tail: The Irish Party against Sinn Féin in a New Ireland, 1917

Memories of Mountjoy

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‘The prisoner’

Seán Milroy, governor of Mountoy Prison, was surprised at the sight of the latest inmate – a stout, elderly man – brought before him in his office. “Something very bad was wrong with him evidently,” Milroy noted. “He was extremely restless, moving his arms about in a jerky, spasmodic fashion, and rolling his eyes in an awful way.”

The prisoner’s name, when Milroy asked the warden in attendance, was John Redmond, who had been proving to be a bother, pacing up and down his cell while shouting slogans like: “Poor little Belgium! Charters of liberty! The Allies! The Empire. The Huns!”

As if to demonstrate, Redmond grew even more agitated in front of Milroy, yelling out: “Disgruntled cranks! Factionists! German gold!” and words to that effect.

This behaviour worsened as the warden tried calming him, and Milroy rang the bell on his desk for assistance. It was then that the ‘governor’ woke up from his daydream, his role-reversing fantasy of himself in the position of authority, with his political opponents humbled before him, and not, as he really was, a prisoner in Mountjoy.[1]

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Seán Milroy

At least Milroy – a “well-known Sinn Feiner”, according to a contemporary newspaper report – could take solace in that he was nearing the end of his three-month sentence, from June to September 1915, for “having used language likely to discourage recruiting for His Majesty’s Army” in a public speech. He did not record his time behind bars, spent in the company of like-minded prisoners such as Seán Mac Diarmada and Liam Mellows, until two years later, in 1917, by which time the country was in a very different state, indeed.[2]

Nationalist Ireland had turned on itself, like Ouroboros with its tail in its mouth, one end consuming the other. It was now no longer necessary to imagine the degradation of Redmond, on whose shoulders the hopes of Irish self-rule had once rested. The mere sight of him as he left Trinity College, Dublin, in mid-1917, incited boos from the small crowd outside the front gate.

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Ouroboros

The jeers grew louder, as the hecklers followed Redmond up Westmoreland Street, prompting some civic-minded passers-by to form a protective ring around the beleaguered politician. Even so, it was only after he hurried inside the first building to hand for refuge that the danger could be said to have passed.

“I am quite sure that if any of the mob had offered physical violence to Redmond,” remembered one witness, “I would have joined in.” To sixteen-year-old Todd Andrews and many others in Sinn Féin, Redmond was “the epitome of politicians in general, and all politicians were regarded as low, dirty and treacherous.”[3]

Divine Law

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T.P. O’Connor

It was not for want of trying on Redmond’s part. On the 7th March 1917, he and rest of the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) tried to break the impasse over Home Rule, its long-cherished project, when T.P. O’Connor, as Member of Parliament (MP) for Liverpool Scotland, introduced a motion in the House of Commons, calling on that august assembly “without further delay to confer upon Ireland the free institutions long promised.”[4]

David Lloyd George declined. Or rather, the Prime Minister declared that Home Rule was there for the parts of Ireland which wanted it. But, in regards to the remainder, those who were Irishmen in name while being, as he put it, “as alien in blood, in religious faith, in traditions, in outlook from the rest of Ireland as the inhabitants of Fife and Aberdeen” – no, Home Rule was not something he would force on them.

These ‘alien’ exceptions were the Unionists, who had shifted from opposing Home Rule in its entirety to demanding that various counties be given the option of remaining outside the jurisdiction of any new Dublin parliament, answerable only to the one at Westminster, just as before. As these Unionists were concentrated largely in Ulster, such allowances would amount in practice to the exclusion of those six counties in the north-east corner of the island.

Perfect from the Ulster Unionists’ point of view but political suicide for Redmond should this Partition happen on his watch. Unfortunately for the Irish Party, such passions were beyond the ability of Englishmen to relate to.

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Ulster Unionist postcard

“We often cut up counties in England without engaging in civil war,” Harold Spender, a pro-Home Rule journalist, wrote to Redmond on the 29th March 1917. “There is no divine law against moving a county landmark.”[5]

Divine law or not, that even a sympathetic individual like Spender could be so obtuse did not bode well for the IPP’s chances of rallying enough support to halt Partition. Yet all its MPs could do was try their best.

(Not) Answering the Irish Question

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David Lloyd George

When T.P. O’Connor dined with Lloyd George on the 22nd January 1917, his lobbying made little headway. To O’Connor’s dismay, the Prime Minister appeared to have spared Home Rule little thought beforehand, being content with Partition as the only credible solution. He was more interested in the possibility of conscription for Ireland in order to solve the need for manpower on the Western Front, a policy which O’Connor was keen to stress as a debacle in the making.

While Lloyd George continuously reassured O’Connor, over the course of their meal together, of his desire to remain on tight terms with his Irish allies, his actions were to fall short of his words, especially if they risked offending the Ulster Unionist presence in Parliament.[6]

Not that Redmond could afford to give up. “I hope you will read this as it is from a friend,” wrote his brother, William, to the Prime Minister, on the 4th March 1917, three days before their showdown in Westminster. The MP for East Clare began with an attempt to rekindle warm memories: “When you entered the House I was then an old member. We fought many battles on the same side.”

As the letter went on, a slight edge of pleading crept in:

I do not want anything from you but this – to settle the Irish question – you are strong enough. Give the Ulster men proportional and full representation and they cannot complain.

William Redmond ended with a stark warning: “If there is no settlement there will be nothing but disaster all round for all.”[7]

“There is nothing I would like better to be the instrument for settling the Irish question,” Lloyd George wrote back two days later, on the 6th March. After all, as he pointed out: “I was elected to the House purely as a Home Rule candidate…and I have voted steadily for Home Rule ever since.”

154Which was true enough. But he clearly did not feel the same urgency as William Redmond, nor thought the matter as simple to solve as the other man seemed to: “But you know just as well as I do what the difficulty is in settling the Irish question, and if any man can show me a way out of that I should indeed be happy.”[8]

In other words: my hands are tied, so too bad.

Miracles and the Lack of

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William Redmond

Appropriately enough, after his efforts in private had been exhausted, it was William Redmond who publicly made the case before Parliament for immediate and unconditional Home Rule. He looked every bit his fifty-five years, much of which had been spent in the service of his country.

“Major Redmond’s hair is white now, and he has lost much of his boyish air,” wrote one observer. “The war has deeply lined his face, and his eyes are more deeply set than in his political swashbuckling days.”[9]

Dressed in khaki, as befitting his rank of major in the British Army, he had stood to second T.P. O’Connor’s motion on the 7th March. To Stephen Gwynn, the MP for Galway City, “that debate will always be remembered by those who heard it for one speech” and that was William Redmond’s.[10]

At a length of half an hour, his piece was a relatively short one by the standards of the chamber. In place of the quantity of words, however, William Redmond made up for in quality. Dark and bitter mistakes had been made in the past, and not all on one side, he conceded, but there was no point in brooding on the past.

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Edward Carson

Instead, he appealed directly to Edward Carson to meet with his Nationalist opposites – for the sake of the future and for the Irishmen who were, even now, fighting and dying together in the same trenches – so they could come to some arrangement on the basis of self-government for their shared island.

If safeguards were what the Ulster Unionists wanted, then Redmond promised to go to any lengths necessary to reassure them, even if that included – he suggested tantalisingly – the acceptance of a Prime Minister from Ulster to head the first Irish Government.[11]

While there were other speeches that day, William Redmond’s was the one that counted as far as many were concerned. O’Connor could hear the heavy breathing of his fellow MPs seated around him, while others who watched from the gallery – so he was told afterwards – were so overcome with emotion that they wept and sobbed unabashedly.[12]

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Stephen Gwynn

Gwynn was similarly awed. “It was a speech, in short, that made one believe in impossibilities,” as he put it, “but in Parliament no miracles happen.”[13]

When it was clear to the chamber that Lloyd George was no closer than before in supporting an all-Ireland settlement, with Ulster included, John Redmond rose to deliver the piece de resistance of the day. The Prime Minister, he declared, had brought Ireland face to face with revolution. From now on, the country would have to be governed with an unsheathed sword and, as such, it was pointless to continue the debate.

And, with that, reported the Irish Times:

The Nationalists cheered to the echo as their leader left his seat and stalked majestically down the gangway, and along the floor of the House. They followed him, shouting and jeering as they went, while members looked on with serious faces.[14]

If nothing else, the Irish Party still knew how to make an exit. Not that it made any real difference.

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Joe Devlin

When O’Connor and Joe Devlin, the MP for West Belfast, met Lloyd George later in the month, on the 28th March, time had done nothing to change the Prime Minister’s mind. “LG says that the Orangemen still insist on the 6 counties and was hopeless of getting them to move from that position,” O’Connor reported to John Redmond. “We told him he ought to deny them; he says he could not.”[15]

Despite the uphill struggle they faced, O’Connor still kept the faith. “If [Lloyd George] persists in his whole 6-county proposal,” he told Redmond on the 1st April 1917, “he will fail ignominiously for we can tear such a proposal to tatters in the House of Commons.”[16]

Perhaps, but Ireland was no longer waiting to give its representatives that chance.

‘A More Reasonable Outlook’

William Redmond’s celebrated performance in Parliament turned out to be his swansong. “We deeply regret to learn that Major William H.K. Redmond, MP, of the Royal Irish Regiment,” reported the Irish Times on the 11th June 1917, three months later, “was killed in action on the 7th inst. in the brilliant and successful attack on the Ridge of Messines.”[17]

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Aftermath of the Battle of Messines

The uniform William Redmond had worn while in the House of Commons had been no pose. Nor was his plea for reconciliation between Nationalist and Unionist Ireland anything less than sincere. That Irish soldiers from the two traditions could fight together in the same trenches was proof enough, to him, that a better, happier future was possible together.

True, differences remained – William Redmond was not so naïve as to think otherwise. “The soldier in France who was a home ruler at home probably remains so,” he admitted, writing publicly in May 1917. “The Ulster soldier who disapproved of home rule probably does so still”:

But the meeting of men of diverse opinions in the field has undoubtedly created an atmosphere of friendliness which must make it easier to adjust differences and which should induce a more reasonable outlook upon things at home.[18]

When William Redmond returned to his regiment in France, in time for the push towards a German strongpoint near Messines, his main fear was that he would be held back from the Front on account of his age.

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British soldiers in the trenches

“He felt absolutely miserable at the prospect of being kept behind,” remembered an army chaplain for the Royal Irish Fusiliers. “He had used every influence with General [William Bernard] Hickie to get over the top with the men”:

He spoke in the most feeling manner of what awaited the poor fellows, and longed to share their sufferings and their fate.

In that regard, he was to have his wish. When permission was given for him to join the firing-line, he informed a fellow Irish officer “with real delight and boyishness in his voice”, to the other man’s wonder: “I have never seen anyone so pleased as he was.”[19]

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William Redmond’s grave in Locre, Belgium

‘Tired Out’

For his older brother, it was a particularly wounding blow. “The loss of him meant to John Redmond a loss of personal efficiency,” wrote Gwynn. “Sorrow gave a strong grip to depression on a brooding mind which had always a proneness to melancholy.” For William had been more than a sibling to John, but a counsellor too, and perhaps the sole one:

He had who temperamentally shared his own point of view. Willie Redmond was the only man who could break through his brother’s constitutional reserve and could force him into discussion. In the months that were to come such a man was badly needed.[20]

John Redmond’s melancholia-prone mind had already been brooding for quite some time. “Redmond is very depressed,” wrote T.P. O’Connor to John Dillon, on the 18th May 1916. “He seems to be tired out and sick of the whole position and has again and again referred to the possibility of his retiring from politics.”[21]

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William Redmond (left), John Redmond (right) and the latter’s son, William (right)

Dillon, for his part, did not bother so much with sympathy. “It is touch and go whether we can save the movement and keep the Party in existence,” the MP for East Mayo admitted to O’Connor on the 19th August 1916. “A great deal depends on the extent to which the Chairman realises the position and on what his intentions as to the future are.” That “on these points I am to a large extent in the dark” did not bode well for saving their life’s work.[22]

A month later, on the 26th September 1916, Dillon was even more frank to O’Connor: “Enthusiasm and trust in Redmond and the Party is dead [underlined in original text] so far as the mass of the people is concerned.”

A speech Redmond made in Waterford, in October 1916, promising a tougher line in the future, gave the Constitutional cause fresh drive, as even the habitually glum Dillon agreed. To him, the speech was “all that could be desired, and it will do an incalculable amount of good. It has already had an immense effect on the country.”

There would no further negotiations with the British Government, Redmond had declared, only a demand for the release of those interned since the Easter Rising, a call for General Maxwell – his work long done in suppressing sedition – to be withdrawn from the country, and a firm resistance to any possibility of conscription in Ireland.

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John Redmond delivering a speech

After months of political deadlock, with their elected representatives appearing no more than hostages to fate, this bold new stance, in Dillon’s opinion, “took the country by surprise, and produced a great wave of reaction in favour of his leadership and of the Party. If that attitude is resolutely adhered to the country will come all right.”[23]

Dead Cat Bounce

If, if, if…

The great wave of reaction had receded by the start of 1917, leaving the Party as stranded as a beached whale. A by-election drubbing in North Roscommon in February – the first of the wins to Sinn Féin that year – was enough to plunge Redmond into a crisis of faith.

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Cartoon upon the IPP defeat in North Roscommon, from the ‘Roscommon Herald’, 10th February 1917

In a letter intended for the Party followers, Redmond acknowledged the fork on the road to which they had come. If North Roscommon was an abnormality, “a freak election, due to…momentary passion” over how the winner, Count Plunkett, had had a son executed after the Rising, then that was all well and good. But, on the other hand, should the result represent “a change of principle of policy on the part of a considerable mass of the Irish people,” then the entire future of the Constitutional cause, the raison d’être of the Irish Parliamentary Party, had just been questioned…and found wanting.

If so, then Redmond was prepared to give way graciously: “Let the Irish people replace us, by all means, by other and, I hope, better men if they so choose.”[24]

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Another mocking cartoon from the ‘Roscommon Herald’, 10th February 1917

Thankfully for his colleagues, whose careers were hanging in the balance, Redmond was persuaded against publishing the letter. But not even a close confidant like William Redmond was immune to defeatism, as he privately urged his brother that they and all their MPs step down to make room for younger men.

Having recovered from his earlier bout of weakness, John Redmond held firm but, shortly afterwards, there was the second by-election rout of the year, this time for South Longford in May 1917. It had been a hard-fought contest, and a razor-thin difference in votes at the end, but a loss was a loss, and one sorely felt.

It was, in Gwynn’s view, “a notice of dismissal to the Parliamentary Party” on the part of the Irish people. This was not merely hindsight speaking, for shortly after South Longford, a second suggestion was made that the Party MPs resign their seats en masse and allow the country to decide on the choice before it: the constitutional way or…the other way.

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Cartoon depiction of John Redmond, ‘Roscommon Herald’, 21st May 1917

Again, Redmond was adamantly against such a step down, as Gwynn described: “He said that it would be a lack of courage: that one or two defeats should not turn us from our course.”[25]

That is, if their course could still be taken. No outlet had argued harder for the IPP candidate than the Longford Leader. In the wake of bitter rejection, however, the newspaper could predict only one end for its political patrons:

It cannot be doubted that in a few years Ireland will have recovered from the present fitful fever, and see the error of its present course, but in the meantime the Irish National Party and programme will be probably a thing of the past, and the people will have only the empty husks of Sinn Féin left.[26]

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John Dillon

That such a probability had come about at all was a source of shocked wonder to the Longford Leader, but it did not pretend to see any other. Neither did the IPP itself, not even at its top. “[John Redmond] does not seem to me to realise the situation any more than he did in the winter of 1915-1916,” Dillon wrote cuttingly to T.P O’Connor in November 1917. Come a general election, he predicted, and then “there will be nothing left in Ireland except Republican separatists and Ulster loyalists,” with the IPP confined to history.[27]

He got that right.

Return to Ireland

For some, the day that the IPP was a thing of the past could not come soon enough. When John Redmond warned Westminster that revolution was a-stir in Ireland, he had not been indulging in hyperbole, the proof of which was on full display in Dublin on the Monday morning of the 18th June 1917.

“It was apparent to most citizens when they came within the heart of the city for their day’s business that there was something unusual astir,” wrote the Irish Times, adding sniffily: “The main streets were occupied by people who were not usually abroad at 10 a.m.”

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Crowds watching in Wesmoreland Row as the prisoners march through Dublin

Marching from Westmoreland Station and up Great Brunswick Street came a procession of young men and women, who made their Sinn Féin sympathies clear with the tricoloured flags they waved, the songs they sung, and the group of men in their midst: the one hundred and twenty or so rebel POWs taken during the Easter Rising, newly released from English captivity by a general amnesty.

Onwards over O’Connell Bridge, they crossed into Sackville (now O’Connell) Street, the place in which it had all began, and where the sight of the still-ruined General Post Office and other bullet-scarred buildings was enough to inspire a fresh burst of enthusiasm in the crowd. A squad of policemen shadowed the parade, carefully keeping their distance, but no incident occurred as the freed men continued on to Gardiner’s Row, inside Fleming’s Hotel for breakfast and a long-anticipated rest.

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Seán O’Mahony

As they ate, one of their number, Seán O’Mahony, stepped out to address the adoring young acolytes waiting on the street. This, he told them, was far from the end of what had begun on the Easter Week of 1916, over a year ago but still fresh in Irish memories. He affirmed they were still fighting for the same tricoloured flag under which they had done so already in the Rising, for they believed in actions, not words, and would soon resume the great work that had already begun.

After their rest, the released men resumed their march to the offices in Exchequer Street of the National Aid Association, set up to help alleviate their financial needs, and then to the Mansion House, followed all the way by the multitudes. Such was the press of bodies and the heat that one of the former prisoners fainted.

The day’s display complete, the men went their separate ways, at least for now. Some hurried to catch the evening trains back to their homes in the country, while others continued to be the centres of attention as the celebrations continued in Dublin. “Whenever a released Sinn Feiner, or anyone remotely suspected of being one, was observed, cheers were often raised,” reported the Irish Times.

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Group photograph of some of the released prisoners

With their close-cropped hair and conservatively-trimmed beards, it was hard to tell who was who among the freed men. Eoin MacNeill was known to be present, as was W.T. Cosgrave, along with Count Plunkett and Joe McGuinness, the two MPs elected earlier that year on behalf of Sinn Féin for North Roscommon and South Longford respectively.

Worthy names, all, but the most notable one was Éamon de Valera, he who had been in command at Boland’s Mill and now continued to be so over his comrades, as demonstrated earlier that day at Kingstown [now Dun Laoghaire] Pier, when they had first lined up on the boat-deck before crossing the gangway in formation, two by two, on de Valera’s order.

His authority continued to be felt throughout the day. “There appeared to be an arrangement amongst the prisoners not to express their opinions publicly in regard to their treatment in prison,” noted the Irish Times. When asked about that, the men merely said that any official statement was to come from de Valera.[28]

Choices and Omens

It was a name that would soon be on everyone’s lips, for the parliamentary seat of East Clare now lay open with William Redmond’s death, and Sinn Féin was determined to capitalise on its previous two electoral wins by adding a third. The lesson of South Longford was that Joe McGuinness had succeeded, not despite his penal status, but because of it, for Easter Week conferred nobility on a man like nothing else in the eyes of the Irish public.

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Sinn Féin poster for Longford, 1917, depicting Joe McGuinness as a prisoner

The choice of another prisoner to contest East Clare was thus essential. Arthur Griffith had been making the case to the Central Election Committee for Eoin MacNeill, Chief of Staff of the Irish Volunteers. But, in that, the President of Sinn Féin stood alone. MacNeill’s fateful attempt to cancel the Rising before it could begin, with his countermanding order on Easter Sunday, was too well remembered.[29]

“I want you to see to it that our people know of his treachery to us,” Tom Clarke had instructed his wife, Kathleen, during their final time together in Kilmainhaim Jail while awaiting his execution. “He must never be allowed back into the National life of the country.”[30]

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The countermanding order on Easter Sunday, 1916, as issued by Eoin MacNeill

Not all shared this unforgiving view, but none of the Election Committee besides Griffith were about to risk such a controversial choice. De Valera seemed a far safer bet, being already regarded as the leader of the Irish POWs while they were held in Lewes Prison. But, as he and the others had not yet been released, it was unknown if he would accept the nomination if offered. The decision was thus deferred to a later date, and the Sinn Féin activists already sent to East Clare would just have to work without a name in the meantime.[31]

Not that this presented too much of a problem for Dan MacCarthy, the mastermind behind the previous electoral win. If South Longford had been a battlefield in more than the political sense, with riots, stone-throwing and beatings throughout the campaign, then the next constituency was a pleasant surprise to MacCarthy: “I found the people generally more sympathetic than in Longford and I felt that this was a good omen for our cause.”

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Éamon de Valera

The speech he gave at Berefield Church, after the priest introduced him from the altar to the congregation, allowed him to gauge the public mood, which appeared to be a positive one. As for the identity of the man on whose behalf MacCarthy was in Clare: “Various rumours went round as far as we were concerned. One time we heard it was Peadar Clancy [another 1916 participant], and the next Eoin MacNeill, and finally it transpired to be de Valera.”[32]

Roads to Take or Not to Take

The decision was not an easy one to make, not least because de Valera had been wrestling with it himself even as he took his first step back on Irish soil. Politics was a field utterly new to him, and one he regarded with some trepidation. When news had reached the Lewes inmates in April 1917 that one of their number, Joe McGuinness, was being nominated to run in the South Longford contest, de Valera was among those against any such forays in the electoral sphere.

Instead, the “safest course for us and in the long run the wisest is to continue as soldiers,” he wrote to a friend on the outside. “The Irish Volunteers…must be kept a permanent force at the country’s back…and we must allow nothing to make us forget it.”[33]

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Irish Volunteers

Victory in South Longford made de Valera and many of the others in Lewes revaluate their standoffishness where non-military methods were concerned. After all, the main issue for de Valera, as he explained in a letter to a friend, was not that politics was wrong, but that it was a gamble. “I for one would have to be almost certain of success before I would risk such a stake,” he wrote [underlined in original text].[34]

Success seemed much more likely now, with two by-election wins under Sinn Féin’s belt, but de Valera was still weighing the options by the time of the general release. Patrick McCartan, a long-time Republican activist, found him in a pensive mood on board the ship taking the former prisoners to Dublin.

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Patrick McCartan

“Mr de Valera had already been selected to contest County Clare in the Republican interest. He said he knew nothing about politics and did not like them,” McCartan wrote later. “He believed he could do the best work for Ireland by confining his attention to the organisation of the Irish Volunteers.” Having canvassed in South Longford, McCartan had a more contemporary view of the public mood in Ireland and counselled de Valera to wait and see it for himself before committing.[35]

The enthusiastic reception in Dublin was evidently enough for de Valera, and he decided without further ado to stand for East Clare. There were still finishing touches to be done: as de Valera was not actually a member of the party he was to represent, a session of the O’Rahilly Cumann was quickly convened in Pembroke, Dublin, to wave him in.[36]

Even with that settled, another problem reared its head: the MacNeill one. While some wanted him kept away from East Clare, if not drummed out of the movement altogether, de Valera made it clear that the other man’s presence on the campaign was a condition of his own running. In the teeth of opposition, de Valera had his way, and not for the last time, in what was to be an extraordinary career.[37]

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Countess Markievicz

Still, resentments simmered. De Valera and MacNeill were seated together on the train to Ennis, along with a number of other Sinn Féin activists, when Countess Markievicz entered. Sighting MacNeill, she gave him a piece of her mind, prompting the harried man to take his leave for another carriage. He was brought back by de Valera, who was having none of such unseemly displays.

“There must be no recriminations,” he told the others sternly. That brought a measure of calm to the journey, if not quite peace, for the MacNeill controversy, and what it meant for Sinn Féin as a whole, would linger on for the better part of the year.[38]

Kathleen Clarke’s War

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Kathleen Clarke

For Kathleen Clarke, these gestures of solidary towards a man she considered the worst sort of blackguard was one more reason to be troubled by the direction the revolutionary movement, for which her husband had laid down his life, was taking. “When I heard that de Valera had insisted on MacNeill accompanying him to Clare, it confirmed my fears” about what she considered “the demoralising influence of elections.”[39]

Participating in the British parliamentary system was a contentious practice in Ireland. First Charles Parnell, followed by John Redmond, had made it the centre-piece of their drive for Irish self-rule, but true-blue Republicans like Kathleen and Tom Clarke regarded playing the enemy’s game with suspicion, even hostility.

“I would rather lose an election than resort to tricks to win it,” Tom Clarke had told Seán Mac Diarmada nine years earlier, in 1908. After acting as campaign organiser for Sinn Féin’s unsuccessful foray in the North Leitrim by-election, Mac Diarmada had returned to Dublin to merrily recount the cut and thrust of the contest to his friend.

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Tom Clarke

Tom had listened to him in sombre silence before bringing the other man back down to earth. “Our cause is too sacred to be sullied with electioneering tricks,” he had scolded. A chastened Mac Diarmada promised to never again besmirch their cause like so.[40]

Eleven years later, and Sinn Féin was trying again, except with far grander ambitions than a single seat, and packing the clout to succeed this time, much to Kathleen Clarke’s dismay. To her, the only way forward was with the gun. All else was a distraction in her mind, but it appeared that now, with efforts now diverted into electioneering, “we might say goodbye to any more fighting.”[41]

And that simply would not do.

She made an exception for South Longford in May 1917 – Joe McGuinness was an Easter Rising alumni, after all – and after rallying some of the other women bereaved by the Rising, such as Áine Ceannt and Margaret Pearse, Clarke threw herself into this new battle. And a battle it could be in a literal sense. While driving back into Longford town after a rally, her car and those of the others in the group were met with a hail of missiles from IPP partisans.

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The Count and Countess Plunkett, seated in a car during the South Longford election of 1917

Being at the head of the convoy, along with the Count and Countess Plunkett, Clarke’s vehicle bore the brunt of the deluge. The Countess suffered a bloody nose from a thrown bottle, while Clarke just about escaped worse, thanks to the hard hat she was wearing, when a rock struck her head. “The only injury done was to my feelings,” she recalled. “I was mad enough to want to throw stones back at them.”

This was not an isolated incident. The lane the Sinn Féiners had to take to the hotel that served as their headquarters was dubbed ‘the Dardanelles’ because, as Clarke put it, “every time we passed it stones and bottles came flying out at us.”[42]

Laying the Cards on the Table

Despite the success at South Longford, Clarke remained dissatisfied, one of the many reasons being her antipathy towards those who were reaping most of the gains, however undeservedly. “After the Rising the press, alluding to it, called it a Sinn Féin Rising. This was not correct; the organisation then called Sinn Féin was not a revolutionary one, and it had been very nearly defunct.”[43]

Such misnaming conveyed instant benefits to some: “The fact that the Rising was now being called a Sinn Féin rising gave Arthur Griffith his chance, one he was quick to seize.” This despite how “the Sinn Féin which grew out of the Rising was a totally different one from that which had been in existence before the Rising.”[44]

Traveler Digital CameraIf Griffith was suspect, then MacNeill was contemptible. Assuming de Valera had simply not been informed of his responsibility for the countermand, Clarke decided to enlighten him with an invitation to her house in Dundrum, Dublin, for both him and MacNeill, on the 28th July 1917. When they arrived, Clarke was ready with her case for the prosecution:

I told him of the instructions I had received from Tom in Kilmainhaim Jail, that MacNeill must not be permitted to come back into the National life of the country again, for if he was he would in a crisis again act treacherously. I had promised to carry out these instructions if I could.

The sole reason she was hesitating to do just that, she explained, was because of his arrest following the Rising, which bestowed on him a credibility she could not touch. Having said that, she continued:

Circumstances might still tie my hands, and I might not be able to carry out my promise to my husband, but the story of his treachery would not die with me, that I would write it and leave it as documentary proof against him.

And, with that, the interview mercifully drew to an end, Clarke having laid down the gauntlet to MacNeill. De Valera had listened attentively throughout while keeping – the consummate politician already – his thoughts to himself.[45]

Sacred Principle?

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Eoin MacNeill

Clarke would have been even less thrilled if she knew how close her béte noire had become with the rising star of Sinn Féin. Since their release from Lewes Prison, the two men had been conversing a good deal, and MacNeilll was pleased to learn that the other’s worldview was broadly in line with his own. For the likes of Clarke, it was the Republic or nothing, while MacNeill had only scorn for those “obsessed with the notion that some sort of sacred principle underlay the Republican ideal.”[46]

MacNeill took a more libertarian view. For him, “real freedom consisted in the power to do your own things in your own way and not in any paper definition or a constitutional formula.”[47]

He was careful not to appear too broad-minded, however. When asked for his opinion on which independence policy to pursue, he was as happy as anyone to declare in favour of a Republic, though more out of pragmatism than any deep-seated commitment, as he put it:

It was a matter of comparative indifference for the time what form this independence ought to take so far as I knew there was no practical prospect of setting up an Irish monarchy, and the alternative was an Irish Republic.

In private discussions with de Valera, shortly before the pair set off for East Clare, MacNeill came to believe that the other man “was no more than I was myself, a doctrinaire republican.” Nonetheless, de Valera could appreciate the emotional value of a bold approach, and “urged on me…that the demand for an Irish Republic would present a stronger appeal to the electorate and the public than anything else less definite.”[48]

And so, on that agreed basis, “we fought the Clare Election as Republicans without any qualifications” and won by a steep majority.[49]

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Éamon de Valera (in uniform), speaking before Ennis Courthouse during the East Clare election, 1917

Winning the Argument

That by-election, and the subsequent one for Kilkenny City a month later, in August 1917, put MacNeill in the front-line for the struggle for Ireland’s soul. He was assisted in this by Dan MacCarthy, the Sinn Féin Director of Elections, who, having honed his craft in South Longford and East Clare, knew how to run a tight ship. “His method was very thorough and efficient,” MacNeill noted approvingly:

All of us who were understood to be engaged in the work were supplied, each one, with his own programme for the day, handed to him that morning or the evening before. He was told who was to accompany him, to what places he was to go, and what particular person he was to interview.

Under MacCarthy’s direction, MacNeill was dispatched to court “the hard chaws, old unionists and stiff supporters of the Parliamentary Party”, perhaps because, as a former college professor, he would present a reassuringly respectable emissary, as well as one who could handle himself in a debate. When a local worthy in Kilkenny posed to him if it was honourable for one who had already sworn an oath of allegiance to the British monarch to support an Irish Republic, MacNeill asked if he had MPs or army officers in mind.

Both, was the reply.

Thinking quickly on his feet, MacNeill took each point in turn. With regard to the first, he drew on the case of the 1689 rebellion, when James II had been overthrown in favour of the current line of succession, so what worth was an oath there? As for the second, he simply, but effectively, pointed to the example of George Washington.

“I had the best of the argument but,” MacNeill conceded, “I do not think I got the vote.”[50]

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W.T. Cosgrave addressing a crowd in Kilkenny, 1917

Not that it mattered too much, as Sinn Féin won the seat by another landslide. That made four straight defeats for the once-almighty IPP. Flushed with success and warmed by the camaraderie of the campaign-trail, Sinn Féin enjoyed its halcyon days, which were to make for some bittersweet memories when MacNeill looked back on them.

“The spirit of good order and good humour that animated the whole body of adherents of Sinn Féin at that time,” he wrote, “offers a strange contrast to what was experienced after 1921.”[51]

Conflict…

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Arthur Griffith

Schism almost came early. If Clarke and MacNeill each represented the principled and the pragmatic wings in Sinn Féin, then it was a tenuous balance, one which threatened to tip over from disagreements behind closed doors to an open split. This had almost occurred earlier in the year, in April 1917, at the Mansion House, Dublin, during the ‘Plunkett Convention’, when Griffith and Count George Plunkett shared the stage – to almost ruinous effect.

The latter, who had had one son executed after the Rising and with another two in prison, “was impatient of temperate men or means.” If Plunkett blew hot, then Griffith, in contrast:

Sat there like a sphinx, square and solid, like a man of granite, lacking charm – physically or mentality. Griffith had a mind of ice that could freeze Irish histrionic champagne solid. He was the one cold fact in a sea of fantasy.

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Count Plunkett

Which earned him few friends, particularly among the Irish Volunteers, many of whom “disliked and scorned him.” Proof of such feelings soon manifested on the platform in the form of Plunkett’s undisguised anger at the other man, and only a disruption in the audience – when Volunteers on standby manhandled journalists scribbling away in their notebooks, thinking them to be police detectives – gave enough of a break in the proceedings for a truce between Griffith and Plunkett for the rest of the event.[52]

But it seemed only a matter of time before another confrontation and maybe not one that could be so easily dispelled. If the ideal of the Republic was what held the movement together, it could also, conversely, tear it asunder, and Griffith was reluctant to move in too dramatic a direction, lest the ‘middle ground’ of Irish opinion be alienated just when Sinn Féin was poised to win it over.[53]

With that in mind, Sinn Féin activists in the East Clare election were warned to avoid mentioning the Republic to prospective voters…that is, until their candidate publicly declared for such a goal. The listeners roared their approval at de Valera’s words to the extent that “it was a considerable time before he could resume his speech,” recalled one witness, who was aware of what certain others in the party really thought:

The Sinn Féin members of the election committee were very annoyed, but they were not prepared to come to grips with de Valera, and, if his action was commented upon at a committee which followed the public were not aware of any disagreement.[54]

Another insider present in East Clare, the trade unionist William O’Brien, noted how:

In the course of the election campaign, there was a very sharp division between the speakers. De Valera proclaimed his objective to be the Republic, stating that personally that was the only objective he could stand for. Griffith, Milroy and others took the point of view of the old Sinn Féin organisation.[55]

And yet, despite such differences, de Valera and Griffith seemed to get along on a personal level, far better, in any case, than the latter did with the likes of Count Plunkett or Kathleen Clarke. De Valera, Griffith confided to friends during the course of the Clare election, was to be the future leader of Sinn Féin. As well as being younger, Griffith said in another talk, de Valera was a soldier – no small virtue in the current times – and had, in his opinion, all the makings of a statesman.[56]

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The best of friends? Arthur (left) and Éamon de Valera (right)

Which gave some hope for an amiable resolution that would allow Sinn Féin to move forward – that is, if nothing too disastrous struck in the meantime.

That something almost occurred over Kilkenny, with MacNeill as the trigger, when a by-election was announced upon the death of its MP, Pat O’Brien, in July 1917. Despite the lingering controversy over his countermanding order, MacNeill enjoyed a measure of support in Sinn Féin’s grassroots, such as in the Kilkenny Club which wrote to the Dublin headquarters in favour of nominating him to run.

When the Central Executive replied that it would prefer W.T. Cosgrave, whose CV as a Rising combatant and former prisoner made him a more comfortable choice, “we received an indignant reply that they were not to be dictated to by Dublin and they were sending a deputation to Mr MacNeill asking him to stand.”

…And Resolution

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Tommy Dillon

So remembered Tommy Dillon. As son-in-law to Count Plunkett, Dillon was able to sit in on Executive meetings and so understood the strength of feeling to be found there. While he had nothing personal against MacNeill, certainly not to the extent that Clarke did, he was aware of how “the leaders of the anti-MacNeill group were…influential and the possibility of factions arising could not be ignored” should the question be pushed too far.

It was with this danger in mind that Dillon hurriedly cycled to Jury’s Hotel in Dublin, shortly after the last testy message from Kilkenny, to head off the threatened deputation. Upon reaching the hotel, he was told that the Kilkenny visitors had already left and so he rode on to where he guessed they had gone: the house in Rathfarnham where MacNeill was residing:

When I arrived at the house, a taxi stood in the front grounds.  I asked for [MacNeill] and was told that he was engaged. James [MacNeill’s brother], however, brought him out to me and when I told him the object of my visit he said that the Kilkenny deputation was with him, that he understood the situation and that he was about to refuse their invitation.

MacNeill made no mention in his memoirs of this deputation or of Dillon’s last minute intervention. It is possible to suspect, if one were to be cynical, that MacNeill may not have been ‘about to refuse’ like he said, which Dillon did him the favour of believing. Sinn Féin was able to proceed smoothly in Kilkenny, with Cosgrave on its ticket, to score another unambiguous win.[57]

264But it could not be ‘touch and go’ for the movement indefinitely, and the upcoming Sinn Féin Árd Fheis, set for October 1917 at the Mansion House, Dublin, seemed the best opportunity to finally bury the hatchet over who ordered what for Easter Week. Which was what some dreaded. A few days beforehand, Countess Markievicz visited Kathleen Clarke’s house in Dundrum to ask her to oppose MacNeill should he be nominated for the new Executive.

Having been ‘advised’ – as she put it – by some against such an act, Clarke declined, while warning the Countess that if she was to lead the anti-MacNeill charge herself, she would do so alone. Never one to be deterred by the odds, Markievicz waited for the Árd Fheis to open and then “stood up and attacked [MacNeill] on the question of the secret countermanding orders.”

To Clarke’s dismay:

Her attack got such a bitterly hostile reception that despite my decision not to support her, I got up and did so. It seemed to me that the meeting was so hostile to her for attacking MacNeill that if there had been rotten eggs or anything else handy they would have been flung at her.[58]

The moderates had their way, and MacNeill was duly voted to the Executive. Sinn Féin had come a long way since its conception in 1905, to the extent that one of the delegates, Áine Ceannt – widow of the 1916 martyr – wondered out loud if the proceedings should be classed as the first Árd Fehis of a totally new organisation. All the same, it was decided to stick with it being the sixth such event for a continuous Sinn Féin – why bring in unnecessary complications, after all?[59]

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The Mansion House, Dublin, the venue for the Sinn Féin Árd Fheis of October 1917

Unconvention

For things were complicated enough as they were. The Sinn Féin delegate for South Mayo, Patrick Moylett, had attended a secret meeting of the Irish Volunteers on the evening before the Árd Fheis. Handed to him was a list of names who were to have his vote when proposed for election to the Sinn Féin Executive.

An indignant Moylett replied:

…that if I were to act on his instruction I would be defranchising [sic] the people who sent me and not doing my duty to them. I objected to the fact that in a democratic institution I should be told how I was to vote.[60]

Sinn Féin and the Irish Volunteers were two groups normally in lockstep but, even so, not without moments of disjunction. When the time came the next day for the Executive election at the Árd Fheis, a number of delegates interrupted to announce how they had been canvassed beforehand with such lists, their disapproval of this chicanery made publicly clear.

“I wish to associate myself strongly with what has just been said by the previous speakers,” de Valera said, simultaneously supportive while keen to avoid fingers being pointed at a time of supposed unity. “Those who are responsible had probably the very best motives in view, but when we are beginning – as we are – a new Ireland, it will not be necessary to resort to such methods in future.”

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Éamon de Valera

“The sense of the convention is strongly condemnatory of any attempt to run tickets,” added Griffith as president. “If that system were allowed to go on, it would destroy the movement in a few years.”[61]

With that said, the election went ahead, resulting in the appointment of the twenty-four members of the new Executive, along with  a change of presidency in the form of de Valera, by unanimous consent when the two other contenders, Griffith and Count Plunkett, as per a prior agreement between them, had the good grace – and political nous – to step back.

In doing so, “a split between the extremists and the moderate section was narrowly averted,” wrote the police report for October. Which was one more worry for the Inspector-General, Joseph Bryce, to give to his employers in Dublin Castle:

The state of political unrest…continued without abatement during the Month, and a marked advance in organization was made by the seditious Sinn Fein movement.

If the Sinn Féin of old under Griffith had been of the moderate persuasion, then now “the majority of Sinn Fein leaders owe their present prominence to active participation in the late rising” with the same zealotry carried over. De Valera was a case in point: from being an obscure teacher, he was now instructing an audience in Co. Clare, with the air of a general marshalling his troops, to ready themselves for an opportune moment to strike again.

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Irish Volunteers

Other speeches from Sinn Féin figures were of a similar calibre and, in light of such blatant calls to sedition, Bryce warned:

It is obvious that several are prepared to plunge the country into another rebellion should a favourable opportunity occur, and that the whole movement must be regarded as a serious menace to the state.

And yet, at the same time, “the majority of the adherents of Sinn Fein are believed to be averse to physical force.” For all the talk of war and rebellion repeated, “it will be noticed that drilling activity [of the Irish Volunteers] is so far confined to the S.W. area.”[62]

Alpha to Omega, Omega to Alpha

This ambiguity over violence was reflected in the Árd Fheis when Father O’Meehan, as one of the delegates, proposed an amendment to the Sinn Féin constitution: that the words “means available”, in regards to obtaining Irish freedom, were to be followed by “deemed legitimate and effective.”

By ‘legitimate’ I mean not according to British rule in Ireland, but according to well-established etheral [?] and Christian principles. Our enemies would, for instance, be glad to say that assassination comes under this, and it is in order to prevent them saying that that I move this addendum.

In case such talk smacked too much of Redmondite ways, “I did not use the word ‘Constitutional’ because that has a bad flavour,” the priest added, earning himself a round of applause.

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Sinn Féin postcard

The proposed change was ultimately withdrawn. Opposing it had been Cathal Brugha, one of the more militant Republicans in the hall. Nothing in their constitution as it stood would lend itself to the interpretation that so concerned Father O’Meehan, Brugha insisted. In any case, the point was moot, as “we do not intend to meet English rule by assassination,” he said firmly.[63]

As for a second Rising, that possibility, when raised, was met with laughter.[64]

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Éamon de Valera (left) with Cathal Brugha (right), 1922

If constitutional flavours left a sour taste, and with the other end of the spectrum still too strong to stomach, how then was Sinn Féin to proceed? Father Gaynor hoped to answer this when he next rose to speak. “I have come here as a delegate with the sympathy of the men from Clare to move that we do not set up a political organisation,” he said, “and we have come here in the hope that we will find something better to do.”

Instead of following in the footsteps of the Irish Parliamentary Party with another political machine, Gaynor urged, the convention must establish nothing less than a ruling body with a mandate for the whole country. In doing so:

We should make the position straight by showing that we do not want a Sinn Féin party versus the Irish Party, but a Provisional Government versus Dublin Castle and the British Government.

Which was rather putting the cart before the horse, as many of the other attendees in the hall pointed out. For all the lofty proclamations of nationhood and the Republic, there still remained the gritty task of earning the right to speak for Ireland.

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Sinn Féin postcard

“This organisation is a national organisation in the broadest sense of the term but, all the same, it cannot be regarded as a constituent assembly,” de Valera pointed out. “Surely we have got beyond the stage where politics should be regarded as roguery and politicians as rogues.”

Others would have disagreed. But, while the likes of young Todd Andrews, as he watched John Redmond being hounded in the streets, may have dismissed politicians as a low and dirty breed, Sinn Féin was nonetheless nearing the point where, in beating the system, you become the system.[65]

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Sinn Féin postcard

References

[1] Milroy, Seán. Memories of Mountjoy (Dublin: Maunsel & Co. Ltd., 1917), pp. 88-9

[2] Irish Times, 23/05/1915, 26/06/1915

[3] Andrews, C.S. Dublin Made Me (Dublin: The Lilliput Press, 2001), pp. 104-6

[4] Gwynn, Stephen. John Redmond’s Last Years (London: Edward Arnold, 1919), p. 249

[5] Meleady, Dermot (ed.) John Redmond: Selected Letters and Memoranda, 1880-1918 (Newbridge, Co. Kildare: Merrion Press, 2018), p. 272

[6] Ibid, pp. 270-1

[7] Ibid, p. 271

[8] Ibid, pp. 271-2

[9] Denman, Terence. A Lonely Grave: The Life and Death of William Redmond (Blackrock, Co. Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1995), p. 112

[10] Gwynn, p. 249

[11] Irish Times, 08/03/1917

[12] Denman, p. 111

[13] Gwynn, p. 255

[14] Irish Times, 08/03/1917

[15] Meleady, pp. 272-3

[16] Ibid, p. 273

[17] Ibid, 11/07/1917

[18] Denman, p. 114

[19] Ibid, p. 118

[20] Gwynn, p. 266

[21] Meleady, p. 240

[22] Ibid, p. 267

[23] Ibid, p. 268

[24] Meleady, pp. 275-6

[25] Gwynn, pp. 259-60

[26] Longford Leader, 12/05/1917

[27] Lyons, F.S.L. John Dillon: A Biography (Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd., 1968), pp. 425-6

[28] Irish Times, 19/06/1917

[29] O’Brien, William (BMH / WS 1766), p. 134

[30] Clarke, Kathleen (edited by Litton, Helen) Revolutionary Woman (Dublin: The O’Brien Press, 2008), p. 137

[31] O’Brien, p. 134

[32] MacCarthy, Dan (BMH / WS 722), p. 16

[33] McCullagh, David. De Valera, Volume 1: Rise, 1882-1932 (Dublin: Gill Books, 2017), p. 112

[34] Ibid, p. 113

[35] McCartan, Patrick. With De Valera in America (Dublin: Fitzpatrick Ltd., 1932), p. 9

[36] Nugent, Laurence (BMH / WS 907), p. 106

[37] Dore, Eamon T. (BHM / WS 392), p. 10

[38] Nugent, p. 106

[39] Clarke, p. 188

[40] Ibid, p. 55

[41] Ibid, p. 188

[42] Ibid, pp. 186-7

[43] Ibid, p. 178

[44] Ibid, p. 193

[45] Ibid, pp. 190-1

[46] MacNeill, Eoin (ed. by Hughes, Brian) Eoin MacNeill: Memoir of a Revolutionary Scholar (2016: Irish Manuscripts Commission, Dublin), p. 90

[47] Ibid, p. 97

[48] Ibid, p. 90

[49] Ibid, p. 91

[50] Ibid, pp. 91-2

[51] Ibid, p. 91

[52] Good, Joe. Enchanted by Dreams: The Journal of a Revolutionary (Dingle, Co. Kerry: Brandon Books Publishers, 1996), pp. 107-8

[53] O’Brien, pp. 99-100

[54] Nugent, p. 107

[55] O’Brien, pp. 135-6

[56] De Róiste, Liam (BMH / WS 1698), Part II, p. 171 ; MacCarthy, p. 20

[57] Dillon, Tommy, ‘Birth of the new Sinn Féin and the Ard Fheis 1917’, Capuchin Annual 1967, pp. 396-7

[58] Clarke, pp. 193-4

[59] Ceannt, Áine (BMH / WS 264), p. 54

[60] Moylett, Patrick (BMH / WS 767), pp. 13-4

[61] Report of the proceedings of the Sinn Fein Convention held in the Round Room Mansion House, Dublin on Thursday and Friday 25th and 26th October 1917, Arthur Warren Samuels Collection, Trinity College Library, Dublin, https://digitalcollections.tcd.ie/home/index.php?DRIS_ID=SamuelsBox1_027 (Accessed 14/08/2019), pp. 29-30

[62] Police reports from Dublin Castle records, National Library of Ireland, POS 8544

[63] Report of the proceedings of the Sinn Fein Convention, pp. 18-9

[64] O’Hegarty, P.S. A History of Ireland Under the Union (London: Methuen and Co. Ltd., 1952), p. 719

[65] Report of the proceedings of the Sinn Fein Convention, pp. 22-3

Bibliography

Books

Andrews, C.S. Dublin Made Me (Dublin: The Lilliput Press, 2001)

Clarke, Kathleen (edited by Litton, Helen) Revolutionary Woman (Dublin: The O’Brien Press, 2008)

Denman, Terence. A Lonely Grave: The Life and Death of William Redmond (Blackrock, Co. Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1995)

Good, Joe. Enchanted by Dreams: The Journal of a Revolutionary (Dingle, Co. Kerry: Brandon Books Publishers, 1996)

Gwynn, Stephen. John Redmond’s Last Years (London: Edward Arnold, 1919)

Lyons, F.S.L. John Dillon: A Biography (Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd., 1968)

MacNeill, Eoin (ed. by Hughes, Brian) Eoin MacNeill: Memoir of a Revolutionary Scholar (2016: Irish Manuscripts Commission, Dublin)

McCartan, Patrick. With De Valera in America (Dublin: Fitzpatrick Limited, 1932)

McCullagh, David. De Valera, Volume 1: Rise, 1882-1932 (Dublin: Gill Books, 2017)

Meleady, Dermot (ed.) John Redmond: Selected Letters and Memoranda, 1880-1918 (Newbridge, Co. Kildare: Merrion Press, 2018)

Milroy, Seán. Memories of Mountjoy (Dublin: Maunsel & Co. Ltd., 1917)

O’Hegarty, P.S. A History of Ireland Under the Union (London: Methuen and Co. Ltd., 1952)

Newspapers

Irish Times

Longford Leader

Bureau of Military History Statements

Ceannt, Áine, WS 264

De Róiste, Liam, WS 1698

Dore, Eamon T., WS 392

MacCarthy, Dan, WS 722

Moylett, Patrick, WS 767

Nugent, Laurence, WS 907

O’Brien, William, WS 1766

Article

Dillon, Tommy, ‘Birth of the new Sinn Féin and the Ard Fheis 1917’, Capuchin Annual 1967

Trinity College Dublin Collection

Report of the proceedings of the Sinn Fein Convention held in the Round Room Mansion House, Dublin on Thursday and Friday 25th and 26th October 1917, Arthur Warren Samuels Collection, https://digitalcollections.tcd.ie/home/index.php?DRIS_ID=SamuelsBox1_027 (Accessed 14/08/2019)

National Library of Ireland Collection

Police Report from Dublin Castle Records

The Fog of Certainty: Liam Lynch and the Start of the Civil War, 1922 (Part III)

A continuation of: The Chains of Trust: Liam Lynch and the Slide into Civil War, 1922 (Part II)

‘This Pure-Souled Patriot’

On the 8th July 1922, the Free State newspaper – the title of which left no ambiguity as to its allegiance – published a scathing account of Liam Lynch, Chief of Staff of the enemy forces, and his actions while leaving Dublin the month before. Under the provocative headline, THE HONOUR OF THE IRREGULARS – RELEASE OF MR. LIAM LYNCH, the article told how:

Mr Liam Lynch, on the outbreak of hostilities, did not join his command in the Four Courts. He was arrested by the National troops and taken to Wellington [now Griffith] Barracks. He was released on giving his word of honour that he disapproved of the policy of the Irregulars.

That was not the only promise he gave that day, according to the article: “Later he was again arrested at Castlecomer [Co. Kilkenny], and again released on giving a similar understanding.” And yet, almost immediately afterwards, Lynch resumed his post as Chief of Staff of the anti-Treaty Irish Republican Army (IRA), complete with a declaration of war against the Free State.

“Is further comment on this pure-souled patriot necessary?” the newspaper concluded with a metaphorical curl of the lip.[1]

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Article on Liam Lynch being the top middle-column

Lynch did not take this affront lying down. Writing to the Cork Examiner four days later, he began by taking exception to being referred to as ‘Mr’ without the dignity of his military rank. As for repudiating the behaviour of his anti-Treaty compatriots, Lynch insisted that nothing could have been further from the truth.

Not only had he defended the actions of the Four Courts garrison, he wrote, he had told his captors in Wellington Barracks that he reserved the right to take whatever action he thought proper. That would be even if it meant defying the Provisional Government, the madness of which “would become even more evident when hundreds of more lives would be lost.”

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Wellington Barracks, where Liam Lynch was held on the 28th June 1922 before leaving Dublin

Any supposed assurances given in Castlecomer were likewise fiction. Lynch blamed Eoin O’Duffy, his opposing counterpart as Chief of Staff of the National Army, for the spreading of these “contemptible inaccuracies”:

It would not be necessary to reply to this low propaganda were it not intended to hit the Republican Army command and undermine the confidence of the rank and file…It is horrifying and deplorable to find such despicable slander coming from those who betrayed not only their pledged word, but also the natural trust reposed in them.[2]

What exactly had been said in Wellington Barracks would remain a controversy. Liam Deasy would provide his own version of events, beginning with how he and Lynch were awoken in the Clarence Hotel by the pounding of the Free State artillery against the nearby Four Courts on the early morning of the 28th June 1922.

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The Clarence Hotel, Dublin, next to the Liffey River

A Meeting…

Lynch quickly called a meeting in the Clarence with what colleagues of his were at hand, which included Éamon de Valera and Cathal Brugha. Given how he had been at loggerheads with the men in the Four Courts such as Liam Mellows and Rory O’Connor until the night before – when the two anti-Treaty factions agreed to bury the hatchet – it was necessary to affirm, after a brief discussion, that they would support their besieged IRA comrades.[3]

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Liam Mellows

That this was discussed at all would indicate it had been no certainty. Those inside the Four Courts had also expressed their doubts. While discussing the best courses of action in the event of an increasingly plausible attack, Mellows had admitted that he did not know what their reappointed Chief of Staff would do. He believed Lynch would indeed fight but not necessarily in time to aid them.[4]

Todd Andrews was less convinced. As he hurried to Sackville (now O’Connell) Street to join the rest of the Dublin Brigade – unaware of the reconciliation on the evening prior to the attack – he thought it unlikely that Lynch would bestir himself to relieve the Four Courts, considering how he and his adherents “had been virtually expelled from the IRA Executive” following the acrimonious convention on the 18th June.[5]

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Liam Lynch

But, according to Liam Deasy who knew Lynch well, this help was never in doubt. “I have always felt that his promise to support the Four Courts garrison if they were attacked remained a sacred trust,” he wrote later. “He was to the very end an idealist with the highest principles as his guide.”[6]

This did not mean, however, that Lynch would stay in Dublin to help. Even assuming he could make it past the siege lines of soldiers, barricades and artillery surrounding the Four Courts, he had no desire to be boxed in. Nor did it occur to him to contact the other anti-Treaty units in the city. Instead, he instructed each IRA man present to retire to their own command areas in the country and wage their share of the fighting from there.

It was a strategy in keeping with his instincts as a seasoned guerrilla: if in doubt, retreat and regroup. Besides, his powerbase had always been the First Southern Division and until he returned to it in Munster he would be unable to take the lead in the fight – and there was nowhere else he intended to be.

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National Army soldiers behind their barricades during the attack on the Four Courts

…An Interview…

After a hasty breakfast, Lynch and Deasy set out with four others – Seán Moylan, Moss Twomey, Con Moylan and Seán Culhane – in two jaunting cars for Kingsbridge (now Heuston) Station. Passing by Parliament Street, they were spotted by Emmet Dalton, a Major-General in the National Army, from where he was directing the artillery against the Four Courts. Dalton instructed Liam Tobin, one of Michael Collins’ famous ‘Squad’, to overtake the vehicles and bring their passengers to Wellington Barracks.

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The top of Parliament Street, where Lynch and his party were spotted

Deasy had known Tobin from his many visits to Dublin during their mutual fight against the British. Reuniting with a brother-in-arms, now garbed in the uniform of the enemy, was an unpleasant reminder to Deasy of how much things had changed:

In later years I have often wondered on that meeting on the quays with a friend whom the fortunes of war had placed in a most invidious position. Being the soldier that he was he had no option but to do his duty as he saw it although I am sure his heart was not in it.

Meanwhile, there were those who were wondering as to where Lynch’s and Deasy’s own hearts were. Inside the Barracks, Lynch was removed from his companions and returned a few minutes later. Before he could say a word to Lynch, Deasy was taken in turn to a room where O’Duffy was waiting. The enemy Chief of Staff gestured for his ‘guest’ to take a seat.

What followed was one of the briefest interviews in Deasy’s life, recreated in his memoirs as such:

O’Duffy: This war is too bad, Liam.

Deasy: Yes, indeed it is.

O’Duffy: Where were you going when Liam Tobin met you?

Deasy: To get a train at Kingsbridge for Mallow [Co. Cork].

O’Duffy (standing up): Ah, you had better be on your way.

O’Duffy offered his hand. The two men shook and, with that, the six Anti-Treatyites were allowed to catch their train out of Dublin.[7]

…And a Meal

Lynch and the others reached the end of the train line at Newbridge, after which they commandeered a Buick motor – or stole, to be more prosaic, a common hazard of being a car owner during that period. Despite their caution in avoiding the main road in favour of a more circuitous route, they were held up yet again while driving into Castlecomer.

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National Army soldiers on board an armoured car

The officer in charge of the National Army patrol politely asked them where they were going. No mention was made of the war that had started less than a day ago. When the officer invited them to a meal at his barracks, Lynch demurred until Deasy reminded him that they had not had a bite since their rushed breakfast at the Clarence Hotel.

At the barracks, the visitors ate with their Free State hosts, both sides reminiscing freely with each other, speaking with nothing but regret at the current sorry situation. By midnight, the six Anti-Treatyites were in the process of leaving when one of the soldiers pulled out a sheet of ruled foolscap and asked for their autographs as a memento. Carried away by the feelings of goodwill, they agreed without hesitation. After a round of hearty handshakes, Lynch and his cohorts departed into the night and continued their journey westwards.

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Liam Deasy

A few days later, Deasy was startled to read an official pronouncement from the Provisional Government, stating that he and Lynch had assured O’Duffy of their neutrality, with no intention of partaking in the fray. Their signatures – the same ones they had given at Castlecomer Barracks – were used as ‘proof’ of this agreement.

For Deasy, “this kind of vile misrepresentation” was made all the more painful by having been inflicted by fellow countrymen. The sickly realities of civil war, in which nothing was off-limits and the closest comrades made the bitterest foes, had yet to sink in.[8]

‘I Think Ye’re All Mad’

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Florence O’Donoghue

Despite having sat on the IRA Executive, Florence O’Donongue would abstain from the conflict. But he stayed on close terms with Lynch, and when it came to writing a biography of his former commander and old friend, he was determined to set the record straight. O’Donoghue was certain that such aspersions about Lynch’s conduct were no more than “bad examples of the regrettable propaganda material of the time.”

Still, no one disputed the fact that Lynch had been taken under duress to Wellington Barracks and then quickly released. The denial that Lynch would ever dissemble to escape a bind relied on the premise that O’Duffy would be negligent enough to turn loose a top-ranking adversary with no strings attached.

In trying to make sense of this peculiar turn of events, O’Donoghue ventured a guess that O’Duffy may have judged it prudent not to keep his unwilling guests detained, “believing that the confidence or goodwill thereby shown might have the effect of limiting the spread of civil war to the south.”

Deasy added nothing in his memoirs about what, if anything, Lynch had told him about his time in Wellington Barracks. It was left to O’Donoghue to try and fill in the blanks: apparently, Lynch had told Seán Moylan (who presumably passed this on to O’Donoghue) when they reached Kingsbridge Station that O’Duffy had merely asked him what he thought of the situation.

Lynch had replied: “I think ye’re all mad.”

The claim that he had broken his word may have been the result less of malicious slander and more a misunderstanding, with O’Duffy thinking erroneously that Lynch had been referring to the Four Courts garrison as the reckless ones.[9]

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Emmet Dalton

Emmet Dalton certainly thought O’Duffy had believed Lynch had assured him on his neutrality. Dalton was with Michael Collins and Richard Mulcahy when O’Duffy “made it quite clear that Lynch had given an undertaking that he would not take up arms or take any active part against the Government forces.”[10]

Lynch had always been the man with whom the Pro-Treatyites could negotiate. Mulcahy had suggested enlisting his help during the Limerick stand-off in February/March earlier that year. O’Duffy had sat with him at the Mansion House in May to arrange a truce and the chance of further talks. In view of these precedents, the idea of Lynch continuing to exert a moderating influence was not an unbelievable one.[11]

Lynch’s subsequent declaration of war against the Provisional Government showed that any good will on O’Duffy’s part had been embarrassingly misplaced. Lynch might have deplored the ‘despicable slander’ but the other man’s sense of betrayal may equally have been genuine.

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Eoin O’Duffy

Instructions

Two days after leaving Dublin, Lynch made his intentions known in an open letter to IRA forces, published the following day in the Cork Examiner. The newspaper had been taken over by the local Anti-Treatyites for their own ends, prompting the editor to inform his readers that anything appearing under such headings as ‘Republican Army – Official Bulletin’ was not under his control and had nothing to do with him.[12]

Lynch began with a notice that he was setting the record straight:

Owing to statements in some newspapers and general false rumours among the Army, I deem it necessary that all ranks should know at once the position of the Army Council.

He referred to how the IRA Executive had “recently differed in the matter of policy which was brought about by the final proposals of Minister for Defence [Mulcahy] for Army unification,” the first and only time he would publicly comment on the quarrel between him and the likes of Mellows and O’Connor that had briefly seen a split-within-a-split.

While he had stood down as Chief of Staff, the attack on the Four Courts had driven him into resuming his duties. A different leader may have couched his words to be more appealing to the general population, and not just as an address to his soldiers, but Lynch had never been overly concerned with matters outside of military ones.

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Anti-Treaty poster

Lynch expressed optimism that the trouble would soon be resolved in a way satisfactory to him and his fellow Anti-Treatyites:

By this evening we hope to have made rapid progress towards complete control of the West and Southern Ireland for the Republic. Latest reports from Dublin show that the Dublin Brigade have control of the situation, and reinforcements and supplies have been despatched to their assistance.

Lynch may have been misinformed. He might have been trying to brazen out a beleaguered situation. As it would turn out, Dublin was very far from being under control – complete or otherwise – as would be the West or South. Of course, military commanders tend not to admit to news detrimental to morale but, as would become apparent, Lynch was fully capable of believing even the most far-fetched prognosis as long as it chimed with his wants and desires.

Lynch ended on a note that would prove more hopeful than authoritative: “I appeal to all men to maintain the same discipline as in recent hostilities, and not interfere with civilian population except absolute military necessity requires it.”[13]

Peace and War

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Peadar O’Donnell

Lynch had made it clear who was in charge of the IRA. Not all of his subordinates were so sure. As he waited in the Four Courts, listening to the enemy guns pounding away, Peadar O’Donnell had hoped that the rest of the country would “rear up and smash the chain around us.” It did not. Things would have been different, O’Donnell was sure, “if the Army had been organised and properly led.”

It had not been. O’Donnell laid the blame for these failings on Lynch. While a good person, he did not, in O’Donnell’s view, possess a “revolutionary mind” and lacked the mental agility to “descend from the high ground of the Republic to the level of politics.” This obtuseness was shown in how, while making his way south from Dublin, “his only message to us was that he was not thinking of war, but of peace.”[14]

Lynch had been negotiating only a month before with Mulcahy for the possibility of a reunited Army. This had come to a crashing halt at the IRA Convention on the 18th June when a large chunk of attendees had walked out rather than accept such a compromise. But the possibility of a peaceful solution had been so tantalising close that it is perhaps unsurprising that Lynch would still hold out for bridges to be not yet burnt.

However admirable, this hesitant attitude of Lynch’s left his subordinates with no clear sense of direction. Confusion and helplessness would be the common threads in the stories of those Anti-Treatyites caught in the wake of the war’s outbreak.

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Free State armoured car during the Dublin street fighting

Dan Gleeson was at home on leave in Co. Tipperary when he heard about the Four Courts. He hurried to Roscrea Barracks in time to find his company evacuating with orders to head to Nenagh, where fighting had broken out, and reinforce their allies there. By the time they reached Nenagh, its garrison was already in the process of withdrawing. With no further idea of what to do, the O/C of Gleeson’s unit simply gave up and took no further part in the war.[15]

Tomás Ó Maoileóin had witnessed with distaste how the Free Staters had moved to take key positions in Limerick. An agreement between Lynch and Mulcahy in March 1922 had prevented the escalation into violence, but the underlying tensions remained simmering. A prominent guerrilla against the British, Ó Maoileóin looked down his nose at the fondness of his pro-Treaty contemporaries for their smart green uniforms, Sam Browne belts and other professional trappings. To Ó Maoileóin, these were the vanities of a mercenary army, not one worthy of the nation.

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National Army soldiers

He was in Cashel, Co. Tipperary, for a meeting of the Second Southern Division when the news from Dublin reached his ears. He wanted to call for an immediate response, certain that that victory was at hand if they acted swiftly. Imprisoned soon afterwards, Ó Maoileóin would brood on those missed opportunities for a long while to come.[16]

Dublin on Its Own

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Séumas Robinson

Séumas Robinson had first-hand experience of hitting the brick wall that was Liam Lynch. Not that the O/C of South Tipperary Brigade could claim to be particularly open-minded himself. A hardliner on the IRA Executive, Robinson had sided with those who barred Lynch and his coterie from the Four Courts immediately after the June Convention for refusing to renew the war with Britain (Lynch was not one to bear a grudge, as he would later promote Robinson to leadership of the Second Southern Division).

The inability of many on the anti-Treaty side to tolerate a different point of view struck again when Robinson criticised the foolishness of having them all holed up in the Four Courts like so many eggs in a basket. After a heated row with Rory O’Connor and Liam Mellows, Robinson stormed out the day before the shelling began, narrowly avoiding being trapped inside with the others (which illustrated his point, but he had no time for a ‘told you so’).

His command being in Tipperary, Robinson had little choice but to leave Dublin as soon as he could. He chanced upon Lynch on the train going out and was delighted to learn of the decision made in the Clarence Hotel to pick up the fight against the Free Staters.

That was to be one of the few points on which he and Lynch would agree. The two had never been particularly close even before the Convention fiasco, and Robinson was dismayed at the other man’s strategy of having each IRA unit remain rooted to its home patch, reacting only to whatever came their way. Robinson desperately wanted Lynch to muster their forces and advance on Dublin to stamp out the Free State for good, but Lynch would not budge from his chosen course of action.

Not wanting yet another split, Robinson instead offered his resignation. Lynch would not accept that either. The two were at a standstill. Robinson tried the sympathy card, telling how it had felt in the Easter Rising six years ago, left stranded in Dublin by the rest of the country. Still, Lynch remained unbending, fearing – Robinson thought – that the city would be too difficult to enter.

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National Army soldiers behind a truck

Robinson tried a compromise – a novelty within the Anti-Treatyites. He would send a hundred of his Tipperary men to Dublin to prove it could be reached. Robinson had not the slightest doubt in that regard and counted on Lynch being persuaded to switch to the more proactive approach that Robinson wanted.

Yielding a little, Lynch agreed for the aforementioned number to go. Robinson reciprocated by withdrawing his resignation. A hundred men were duly dispatched but Lynch was not to change direction as Robinson had hoped. No further support was issued and the Tipperary reinforcements eventually withdrew, leaving their Dublin colleagues to fend for themselves.

Years later, Robinson was still bitter. “For the second time in six years Dublin was let down at a critical moment by the rest of the country,” he lamented.[17]

Robert Brennan

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Robert Brennan, in the uniform of the Irish Volunteers

Meanwhile, Lynch was seething over a complaint of his own. As the anti-Treaty leadership regrouped in Clonmel, Co. Tipperary, Lynch griped to Robert Brennan: “I gave no promise of any kind. They wanted me to but I refused. How can they tell such lies?”

Brennan was surprised at how personally Lynch was taking it. Still, whatever resentment Lynch had with the Provisional Government, he did not hold it against its soldiers. To the contrary, he insisted the prisoners the IRA had taken be served the same food as them, while granting them the freedom of the barracks and even refusing to have them questioned for information. The idea that they would report on their colleagues offended him as much as the suggestion he had broken his word.

“They wouldn’t do it anyway,” he said, closing the topic.

“All very magnificent,” said an unimpressed Moss Twomey in a dry aside to Brennan, “but it’s not war. We’re losing because the fellows are not fighting. We’re firing at their legs.”

Brennan did not have much to contribute in that regards. While he had begun as a military man, commanding the Wexford Volunteers during the Easter Rising, afterwards he served in a more administrative capacity, first as the Sinn Féin Press Bureau and then Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs on behalf of the Dáil Éireann. As part of his role in the latter, he had been in Berlin to promote the cause of Irish independence until news of the Treaty caused him to resign in protest.

As with Lynch and Robinson, Brennan had fled Dublin upon hearing the pounding of the artillery. He found Lynch in Clonmel Barracks, putting the finishing touches to a map through which a line of flags from Limerick to Waterford had been inserted. South of the line were areas held by the Anti-Treatyites, while the north and east lay in Free State hands.

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Éamon de Valera

Also with him were Éamon de Valera and Erskine Childers. De Valera read enough in the map to be convinced on what must be done. He took Brennan and Childers to another room and told them that now was the time to make peace while they still had territory with which to negotiate.

As de Valera went through the list of possible peace terms he had been mentally compiling, Brennan could see from Childers’ expression that he thought little of such offers. Brennan was in silent agreement, thinking that the horse had already left the stable. The Pro-Treatyites were in the ascendant and would hardly bother with anything short of unconditional surrender.

None of them considered it worthwhile to ask the Chief of Staff what he thought. That de Valera had waited until out of Lynch’s presence was telling enough. With nothing else to do, Brennan and Childers strolled through the barracks, where they witnessed the predatory behaviour from many of the anti-Treaty troops there.

Men drove in on lorries with boxes labelled ‘shirts’, having been ordered to commandeer some. When opened, the boxes were found to contain women’s blouses. While disappointed, the soldiers were not overly concerned with returning them, since the shopkeepers, as one man sneered, “are all Free Staters anyway.”clonmel-boers-inside1

Jumping at Shadows

After being told that there was no space for them in the barracks, Brennan and Childers retired for the night to a hotel in town, only to be awoken from their beds by the commotion of the military men making ready to depart. A report had come that the Pro-Treatyites stationed in nearby Thurles were on the move and threatening to surround Clonmel. As in Dublin, Lynch chose to wait for a more opportune time than risk a confrontation not of his choosing.

Cramped in the back of a lorry, shivering against the chill morning air, Brennan and Childers endured the ride. With them was Twomey, singing Sean O Duibhir an Gleanna, its melancholic refrain of ‘We were worsted in the game’ doing nothing for Brennan’s spirits.

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Maurice “Moss” Twomey

After decamping in Fermoy, Co. Cork, they learnt over breakfast that there had been no danger after all. As it turned out, Lynch had previously dispatched a company of men to capture Thurles, only for them to be caught and overwhelmed in an ambush. News of the defeat came accompanied with the panicked warning that the victorious Free Staters were now advancing in turn. Once the confusion had been cleared up, Lynch was able to quietly send another force to reoccupy Clonmel.

For all the mishaps, crime and banality, Brennan could not help but be impressed by the man at the centre of it all:

[Lynch] was a strange young man to be at the head of a rebel army…He was handsome, in a boyish, innocent way. His large blue eyes and open countenance indicated his transparent honesty. His looks, bearing and presence might have belonged to a single-minded devoted priest.

He had come to be the chief warrior in the most turbulent section of the country through his fearlessness and daring and his ability to command respect…without any training or experience, he had discovered in himself wonderful military qualities. But his heart was not in this fight of brothers.[18]

Lynch dispatched Brennan to Cork to make the necessary propaganda additions to the Cork Examiner (he was later to be the IRA Director of Publicity). As the majority of newspapers were for the Treaty and the Provisional Government, the strong-armed Examiner was one of the few media outlets that Lynch could utilise.

cork20examiner20banner“We are doing our utmost to get [the Cork] Examiner up along the East and if possible to Dublin,” Lynch wrote to Ernie O’Malley on the 13th July, the latter having been assigned to reorganise the IRA remnants in the capital. He advised O’Malley that “even one copy which will be sent daily should be copied for use in Dublin.”[19]

The Power of Belief

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Mary MacSwiney

While in Cork, Brennan stayed in the house of Mary MacSwiney. A diehard republican, she lambasted her guest when he faltered in confidence by suggesting that Cork might possibly fall. Brennan refrained from pointing out to her that Waterford had already been taken, with their side in no position to respond. The Anti-Treatyite defence across Ireland was looking as flimsy as the flags Lynch had stuck on his map.

Cork was still untouched by the conflict, giving the city the deceptive feel of an oasis of peace amongst the mayhem elsewhere in the country. But Brennan had seen on the faces of the people in Fermoy, Mallow and other towns a sullen resentment. The IRA was no more than another occupying army as far as they were concerned. Brennan guessed that de Valera had noticed it too, hence his urgency for some sort of settlement before things could spiral further out of control.[20]

But there was no point trying to tell that to the likes of Lynch or MacSwiney. An unshakeable self-belief to the point of delusion had crept into the anti-Treaty leadership, with doubters and dissenters helpless to intervene.

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Ruins of the Four Courts after the surrender of its garrison on the 30th June 1922

The Depths of Conviction

Perhaps Lynch did not notice the same hostility that Brennan saw. Maybe he simply did not care. He had not before about what the masses thought.

He had been infuriated by those fair-weather patriots who had made themselves heard only when the Truce had taken effect. “I don’t give a damn about those people when it comes to praise or notoriety, and they are making the hell of a mistake if they think I forget their actions during the war,” he wrote resentfully to his brother Tom. “I remember at one time in the best areas where it was next to impossible to find a bed to lie on.”[21]

(He may have gone further in his sentiments – or not. In July 1922, he was quoted as telling a Free State officer during a parley in Limerick that: “The people are simply a flock of sheep, to be driven any way you choose.” However, as the source for this line was O’Duffy, who had shown himself to be not above spreading pernicious stories, this has to be taken with a pinch of salt.[22])

Only with the military did Lynch seem content. Perhaps, thought O’Donoghue, “because there he had tested the sincerity of men’s faith and the depths of their convictions. He had not found them wanting.”[23]

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Group photograph of Liam Lynch (bottom row, fourth from the left) with members of the First Southern Division

Worldly Wisdom

Another friend, Todd Andrews, came to a similar conclusion. He would serve as Lynch’s adjutant, allowing him to study his Chief of Staff up close. As Andrews saw it, Lynch had dedicated his life to the IRA and the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), and those two organisations had in turn defined him. “It was within the confines of these organisations, their objectives, their methods, their traditions, their personalities that Liam Lynch’s character developed,” Andrews wrote, and this was perhaps to Lynch’s detriment:

The formative influence exerted by the IRA and IRB was capable of creating very strong characters but these bodies were not capable of supplying the worldly wisdom so necessary to leadership in either politics or in war.[24]

Andrews thought of Lynch as not only without guile but being too innocent to see it in others. Of course, Lynch would not have succeeded as a guerrilla leader during the War of Independence had he been a complete babe in the woods. It might be truer to say that complacency, rather than naivety, was his chief flaw.

A Munster man to the core, Lynch was content to bide his time and manage his forces on home territory. Perhaps he had not intended to abandon Dublin and the Anti-Treatyites  still fighting there but that was what he had done all the same. Instead, he preferred to regroup in the parts of the country where he was most comfortable, showing little signs of haste or urgency as he stuck his pins on the map before a silent, sceptical audience.

Before, Lynch had rebuffed Ernie O’Malley’s attempts to reorganise the IRA positions in Dublin on more defensible lines. The ongoing talks would resolve the tensions, he assured the other man. Precautions in case of failure were unnecessary because failure was not going to happen.[25]

Events had cruelly exposed the pitfalls of such myopic thinking, yet Lynch had learnt nothing and, as the war progressed and the situation tightened like a noose, he would be even less inclined to do so.

To be continued: The Self-Deceit of Honour: Liam Lynch and the Civil War, 1922 (Part IV)

References

[1] Free State, 08/07/1922

[2] Cork Examiner, 12/07/1922

[3] Deasy, Liam, Brother Against Brother (Cork: Mercier Press, 1998), p. 48

[4] O’Malley, Ernie. The Singing Flame (Cork: Mercier Press, 2012), p. 124

[5] Andrews, C.S., Dublin Made Me (Dublin: The Lilliput Press, 2001), p. 247

[6] Deasy, p. 73

[7] Ibid, pp. 48-9 ; Younger, Calton. Ireland’s Civil War (Fontana/Collins, 1970), p. 336

[8] Deasy, pp. 49-51

[9] O’Donoghue, Florence. No Other Law: The Story of Liam Lynch and the Irish Republican Army, 1916-1923 (Dublin: Irish Press Ltd., 1954), p. 259

[10] Younger, p. 337

[11] Blythe, Ernest (BMH / WS 939), pp. 142-3 ; Irish Times, 05/05/1922

[12] Cork Examiner, 14/07/1922

[13] Ibid, 01/07/1922

[14] MacEoin, Uinseann. Survivors (Dublin: Argenta Publications, 1980), p. 25

[15] Ibid, p. 269

[16] Ibid, pp. 98-9

[17] Robinson, Séumas (BMH / WS 1721), pp. 78-80

[18] Brennan, Robert (BMH / WS 779), Part III, pp. 191-2, 194-7

[19] O’Malley, Ernie (edited by O’Malley, Cormac K.H. and Dolan, Anne, introduction by Lee, J.J.) ‘No Surrender Here!’ The Civil War Papers of Ernie O’Malley, 1922-1924 (Dublin: The Lilliput Press, 2007), p. 51

[20] Brennan, p. 197

[21] Liam Lynch Papers, National Library of Ireland, MS 36,251/24

[22] Irish Times, 24/07/1922

[23] O’Donoghue, p. 184

[24] Andrews, p. 268

[25] O’Malley, Ernie. The Singing Flame (Cork: Mercier Press, 2012), pp. 100-2

 

Bibliography

Books

Andrews, C.S. Dublin Made Me (Dublin: The Lilliput Press, 2001)

Deasy, Liam. Brother Against Brother (Cork: Mercier Press, 1998)

MacEoin, Uinseann. Survivors (Dublin: Argenta Publications, 1980)

O’Donoghue, Florence. No Other Law: The Story of Liam Lynch and the Irish Republican Army, 1916-1923 (Dublin: Irish Press Ltd., 1954)

O’Malley, Ernie (edited by O’Malley, Cormac K.H. and Dolan, Anne, introduction by Lee, J.J.) ‘No Surrender Here!’ The Civil War Papers of Ernie O’Malley, 1922-1924 (Dublin: The Lilliput Press, 2007)

O’Malley, Ernie. The Singing Flame (Cork: Mercier Press, 2012)

O’Malley, Ernie. The Singing Flame (Cork: Mercier Press, 2012)

Younger, Calton. Ireland’s Civil War (Fontana/Collins, 1970)

Bureau of Military History Statements

Blythe, Ernest, WS 939

Brennan, Robert, WS 779

Robinson, Séumas, WS 1721

Newspapers

Cork Examiner

Free State

National Library of Ireland Collection

Liam Lynch Papers

 

Betrayal: The Civil War in Co. Kilkenny, December 1922

Callan Barracks

Private Peter Swift of the National Army was taking a break in the canteen of Callan Barracks, Co. Kilkenny, on the 14th December 1922 when Captain Edward Somers entered in a jovial mood. Somers announced that there was a truce now on, which would make a nice change from the internecine conflict that had been disrupting the country for the past seven months. To celebrate, Somers left a pound on the counter and told the server to give every man in the garrison a drink.

Which was all very well but Swift still had guard duty to perform. He went outside, the time being 6:30 pm, and told the sentry by the bridge about the truce. As he was crossing the bridge, a man ran up to him with a revolver in hand and told him put his hands up. Meanwhile, more newcomers were rushing the canteen inside, taking the startled soldiers captive. After being deprived of any ammunition on them, the prisoners were marched to the guardroom in the barracks where they spent the night before being released in the morning.

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Free State soldiers with anti-Treaty prisoners

The Men on the Hills

It would transpire that no less than three National Army officers had facilitated the coup. Lieutenant Kerwick had been talking with Sergeant William O’Neill the evening before in the canteen in Callan Barracks where they were both based. As O’Neill later described in his report, when he asked which side was in the right, Kerwick, who had had a fair amount to drink, replied “the men on the hills.”

O’Neill did not need to ask who he meant by that. Despite the unsettling topic of conversation – tellingly, he felt the need to add in his report how he had told Kerwick he would never betray his comrades, as if to ensure his own name was clear – O’Neill had no idea at that point what Kerwick had planned.

The next day, O’Neill took over as Sergeant of the Guard at noon. Somers dropped by to ask him for loan of his revolver, saying that he was bound for nearby Kilkenny town. The captain drove away in a motorcar with Kerwick, the pair returning later that day at 6 pm. Somers pulled out a sheet of paper and said that a truce was now in effect, warning O’Neill not to fire any shots that would break the newly formed peace.

Half an hour later, Kerwick came to talk to the sentry on duty. When asked by the lieutenant to give up his rifle, the sentry refused. Not one to take ‘no’ for an answer, Kerwick pulled out his revolver and ordered the hapless sentry to comply. Upon witnessing this, O’Neill drew his own rifle but found he was missing its magazine. He later blamed Lieutenant Doyle, the third traitorous officer in the garrison, for surreptitiously removing it beforehand.

Meanwhile, Somers and his new friends were disarming the remaining garrison in the building. All the Free Staters were given the chance of joining their captors in the canteen – in others words, to switch sides – but, according to O’Neill, only one of them accepted. O’Neill told in his report how he had been offered money to defect but, as nobody else was made such an offer, it seems doubtful that this happened.

1922-1923

Wrong-Footed

Corporal T. Sullivan, a native of Tipperary, told a slightly different account to Swift’s and O’Neill’s. He was leaving the canteen at 6:45 (the times more-or-less corresponding in all three versions) when he came across Bill Quirke, a notable Anti-Treayite leader, with a revolver in each hand. Quirke shouted ‘hands up’ but Sullivan assumed he was playacting. Otherwise, why would Lieutenant Doyle be with Quirke? And hadn’t Captain Somers announced some sort of truce just now?

Sullivan walked back into the canteen, followed by Quirke and Doyle, who told the dozen men present to put their hands up. Finally realising that the situation was serious, Sullivan and the others obeyed. As they were walked to the guard room, they saw that the place was swarming with unfamiliar men, one of whom took the opportunity to rob Sullivan of his bootstraps at gunpoint while the prisoners waited in the guardroom.

Quirke then told Sullivan to get another man and load all the equipment in the barracks onto the vehicles outside. When Sullivan went out to do so, one of the Anti-Treatyites, Tom Sadlier, took the chance to ask his name, and then inquired if he was the brother of someone he knew from Tipperary. Showing how small a place Ireland could be, Sullivan confirmed that he was and said: “Is it here you are instead of being out helping us?” Sadlier responded by inviting Sullivan to come with them but he declined.

Sullivan helped to load the vehicles, of which he saw one big lorry and a bus stolen from the town of Callan. When done, they were taken back to the guard room, where the turncoat Doyle told them to give up their boots. Sadlier intervened, telling them to keep their footwear on and that he would not be leaving anyone barefooted. A chivalrous foe, he went so far as to retrieve the boots already taken and return them to their owners.

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After the raiders had departed with their plunder, Sullivan left the barracks for town with some of his comrades. He stayed at a convenient house for a couple of hours before returning to the barracks with two companions. On their way back, they were held up by three more Anti-Treatyites who searched them but were considerate enough to warn them to stay off the streets in case a fight broke out between them and any Free State reinforcements.

Sullivan stayed in the barracks for half an hour before leaving again, and was yet again held up by three men, one of whom had been in the party that had waylaid him before, and – in an awkward reunion – two of which he knew already, one from Tipperary. After denying he had any ammunition on him to take, Sullivan was allowed to go to town, where he spent the night with some friends.[1]

The Three Barracks

All three men eventually made their way to Kilkenny Barracks. That at least was still in the hands of the National Army but the same could not be said for the ones in Mullinavat and Thomastown. They too had been seized in surprise attacks with their garrisons disarmed and turned loose, making it a humiliating total of three outposts defeated within less than twenty-four hours, all without a shot needing to be fired.

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Denis Lacey

After Callan Barracks, the one at Thomastown had been the next to fall. Led by Denis Lacey, about eighty Anti-Treatyites, most in stolen uniforms from the National Army, drove through the night in Crossley Tenders and motorcars. They swiftly overwhelmed the surprised garrison upon arrival before searching door-to-door through Thomastown for any leftover Free Staters.

The only holdouts were the Civic Guards, the nascent police force of the new state, who had barricaded themselves in the courthouse. Undeterred, the Anti-Treatyites broke a window in the building and gave the occupants ten minutes to clear out before they would set it on fire.

The policemen capitulated at that, and all that was left for the victors to do was steal their bicycles and set the courthouse ablaze as promised. Within a few hours, there was nothing left of the building but its four smouldering walls.

The Anti-Treatyites had already left by then in the early hours of the morning, having blocked the roads out of town with felled trees, cut all telegraph wires and torn up the railway line between Thomastown and Kilkenny. Nobody could accuse them of not being thorough. They followed through to Mullinavat Barracks which fell just as effortlessly as the previous two.[2]

Responsible Officers

While reviewing the causes for the debacle, the top brass of the National Army quickly identified Captain Somers as their prime Judas. An intelligence report on the 16th December, two days afterwards, told of how the “procedure for betrayal was the same in all cases. He entered the three Garrisons, shaking hands with the Officer in Charge, having a party of Irregulars with him in full National Army uniform.”

Up to then, Somers had been regarded as a responsible officer.

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Richard Mulcahy

Another report on the same day, from General John T. Prout to his superior, Richard Mulcahy, gave some background information. Prior to the debacle, a column of Anti-Treatyites (or ‘Irregulars’, as the Free State authorities preferred in an attempt to deny their enemies any legitimacy) had been located at Ballingarry, Co. Tipperary.

After an engagement between them and the National Army (for which Prout gives no details), the former split into two columns, each heading in a different direction. In addition to Denis Lacey, the group responsible for the triple coups was led by a number of prominent Irregulars: Séumas Robinson, Tom Barry and Bill Quirk. With the exception of Barry, all were members in the Tipperary Irish Republican Army (IRA).

As for the turncoats: “No efforts will be spared in arresting and punishing the guilty officers,” Prout assured his commanding officer.

A meeting between President W.T. Cosgrave and Denis J. Gorey, the TD for Kilkenny, gave some further insight into the treachery. For one, there had already been a disturbing level of complacency, if not collusion, amongst the local Free State authorities. Edward Aylward, the O/C of the anti-Treaty Kilkenny IRA, was known to have been at home indulging in bird-shooting but no efforts had been made to arrest him. Instead, Captain Somers and Lieutenant Kerwick had been happily drinking with Aylward in the week before their perfidy was revealed.

A man who kept his ears to the ground, Gorey was able to provide further details on what had happened at Thomastown Barracks. It was Kerwick who had led the Irregulars there and had gone as far as to be the one to cry ‘hands up’ as the garrison paused for tea. As in Callan, the defeated men were given the choice of defecting as well. Only nine out of the eighty-five Free Staters accepted, the rest refusing to go anywhere with their captors except as prisoners, showing that however slack in discipline, they were not completely faithless.

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The Blame

Nonetheless, there had been much to be desired with the garrisons. According to Gorey, the local people in the county, particularly the clergy, had been passing information to the barracks, only to have it neglected, if not outright ignored. In one such case, the National Army was warned of the presence of seventy-five Irregulars in Kilmanagh, Co. Kilkenny, who could all have been rounded up had the Army acted promptly. By the time it finally did so, two days later, its soldiers arrived to find that the enemy had already moved on.

That the Free State garrisons in Co. Kilkenny were in the habit of squandering such tips was corroborated by an internal military report, written on the 11th December, three days before the humiliation of the triple coups. “The people gave information in the beginning,” the report said, “but no action was taken, with the result that the people got fed up and ceased to give information.”

Discipline in the Army outposts in general was terrible, conditions filthy and the officers in charge seemed to regard the whole business as none of theirs. Drink was also a problem, particularly on payday when the garrisons would be so inebriated and quarrelsome amongst themselves – so fumed the report – that the barracks could be taken with rotten eggs.

If the author of the report was exaggerating, then – as it turned out – it was not by much.

So bad were the Kilkenny soldiers that they were starting to have a detrimental effect while posted in other counties. Those in the Waterford Command were dismissed by their peers as unreliable, an example being a sergeant who deserted with two of the anti-Treaty prisoners in his charge. He was captured a fortnight later while operating with the same men he had been entrusted with guarding. The tendency of Kilkenny officers towards treachery was evidently not limited to within Kilkenny itself.

General Prout

But when a fish rots, it starts at its head. General Prout was very much aware of the deficiencies of the men under his command but, continued the report, he had done nothing about it. Instead, his behaviour only encouraged the worst elements.

Captain Timmons, the former O/C of Waterford Prison, was sent to Kilkenny on charges of carelessness, having allowed two of his prisoners to escape. Not only was no action taken against Timmons but he was promoted to the rank of assistant adjutant. No wonder, said the report, that the competent officers in Kilkenny were discouraged when they saw their bad apples rewarded.

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Dáil Deputy Gorey would have agreed with the report’s findings. According to the TD, some officers had been sent from Clonmel to Kilkenny for trial, only to be let off by Prout who merely told them to be more careful next time. At least there was one good Kilkenny officer in Gorey’s estimation but he was not popular with his peers, which limited what he could accomplish.

The relationships between senior officers were poor for the most part. Prout was well-liked but probably because he demanded so little from those around him, preferring to lie low and take things easy.

“There is general agreement,” Gorey concluded, “that Prout ought to be removed.” It was a blunt assessment, but there were others who were starting to wonder.

Peace Talks

If he did not already, General Mulcahy would soon have reason to blame Prout and his easy-going manner as much as the treachery of others for the military failings in Kilkenny.

On the 17th December, three days after the triple fiasco, a wireless message was sent from the Kilkenny Command to Portobello Barracks, Dublin. The Anti-Treatyites responsible had crossed the River Suir and were now in Rathcormack, Co Waterford. Their leaders were requesting a conference with the Officer Commanding (O/C) in Carrick-on-Suir Barracks, possibly to discuss a ceasefire of sorts. Such a thing was not unprecedented; Captain Kelly, the Free State O/C of Mooncoin, Co. Kilkenny, had recently agreed to a truce with the Republican enemy.

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National Army checkpoint

The reply came from Portobello Barracks on the same day, first to complain that the name of the original sender had not been stated, the patience of the National Army HQ with the slovenly ways of its Kilkenny division evidently wearing thin. Carrick Barracks were to be placed on heightened alert and the Anti-Treatyites in Rathcormack to be attacked. As for Captain Kelly, he was to be placed under arrest for his presumptuous brokering.

The next message came directly from Prout. First he sought to make amends for the earlier slipup by naming Captain Walpole as the sender of the original dispatch. Rathcormack was being scouted and any Irregulars found there would be engaged. The Carrick O/C would be told not to accept any further invitations: “Personal interferences with them will in future be regarded as treachery and punishable as such. Capt. Kelly being placed under arrest.”

Gratified by the change in attitude from Kilkenny, the next reply from Portobello was an encouraging one: “Hope you get the Rathcormack bunch. Tell Walpole to prepare case against Kelly. It would be well perhaps to let us have copy of evidence against him.” The National Army seemed at last willing to operate in a professional manner where Kilkenny was concerned.

No Compromise?

The following day, Prout reported some peace feelers that had been made in his own direction. Through a local contact in the Club House Hotel in Kilkenny, Prout had been contacted by Séumas Robinson, he of the Soloheadbeg ambush fame and one of the anti-Treaty leaders involved in the triple barracks coup.

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Club House Hotel, Kilkenny

Robinson, according to Prout in his message to his superiors, desired to meet with his Free State counterpart in order to discuss the possible surrender of his men’s weapons. Robinson had stated to Prout that he was “quite satisfied to let arms come in, in small numbers provided the men who hand them in will not be further molested by National Troops.”

Furthermore: “The interview is also to arrange the best way and to arrange about men who wish to join the National Army.” After the heavy fighting in the Civil War so far and the recent success of the Anti-Treatyites in Kilkenny, this volte-face is hard to credit. Prout, however, seemed willing to take it in good faith.

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Séumas Robinson

Robinson appeared confident that he could deliver his end of any bargain. He stressed that as the officer in charge of the Republicans in the area, the others such as Denis Lacey and Bill Quirke would have no choice but defer to him (a questionable claim, what with Robinson’s increasing isolation as a leader and the tendency of strong-minded subordinates like Lacey to go their own way).[3]

The day after, Prout forwarded to Mulcahy the details of another outreach he had received. An unnamed individual had called on the general that evening as an intermediary from the enemy, asking if Prout could get in touch with Major Tom Ennis – another officer in the National Army – and meet Robinson at any place they chose to discuss terms of settlement.[4]

Ennis had previously met Republican representatives earlier that year in October. While that attempt at a ceasefire had gone nowhere, Ennis was evidently a man the Anti-Treatyites liked and trusted.[5]

Prout proudly informed Mulcahy how he had told the intermediary that he had no authority to discuss such terms. He also related how he had been approached by another go-between before, likewise in the name of peace, but he would have none of it: “I told him that the laying down of arms and recognition of the People’s Government was the only means to a settlement, and that to this there was no compromise.”

Having fallen short of a complete agreement, Robinson’s intermediary pressed on, asking if he thought the anti-Treaty combatants would be allowed their freedom at least if they handed in their weapons. Feeling more generous, Prout answered that he thought they would.

Overall, Prout believed the meeting had gone well for both representatives:

It is the opinion of the persons who have just called that they were rather pleased with my attitude at the first discussion with the result that they wish to meet myself and Ennis. This person says that they are considering giving up arms in some way that will save their faces, by surrendering them a few days at a time, or leaving them where they could be picked up by us and let the fighting gradually die down.[6]

Prout’s visitor continued to press his luck and asked for a four-day truce for the Anti-Treatyites to discuss the matter. Even the lenient Prout thought this a step too far and told the other that this also was not in his power to discuss.

No Weakness

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Dan Breen

Four days later, on the 23rd December, Prout kept Mulcahy abreast of yet another personal peace-feeler, again through another an third party, this one sent by the famed Dan Breen. Prout’s report was markedly different in tone to his last, lacking the confidence of before and replaced instead by an almost cringing desire to please.

This third party had passed on another request to meet for peace terms. Prout had replied that he had no power to do such a thing. Changing his tack, the other man said that Breen would be willing to meet with anyone in authority, either here in Kilkenny or in Dublin if he was granted a free pass.

Prout was no more obliging there. He stressed to Mulcahy that he was making his report reluctantly lest his actions be seen as weakness on his part, which he assured was not the case. Prout had met with the enemy emissary purely for the sake of information and promised not to do so again if ordered. Prout’s competence may have been a growing matter of concern but he was at least perceptive enough to pick up on the growing apathy towards him and did his best, in his own clumsy, clueless way, to make amends.

Eamon Price

Prout’s willingness to improve only went so far, however. A fact-finding mission by Commandant-General Eamon Price to Kilkenny in January 1923 found the general distinctly cool. While not unfriendly, he did display a lack of cordiality that did not indicate an eagerness to cooperate (though Price generously put it down to Prout being Prout).

After inspecting the area, Price reported a state of “extreme lassitude” among the soldiers there. This he attributed to a number of factors:

  1. The undermining of morale by the peace efforts of Robinson and Breen. Clearly, Price did not consider them to have been sincere as Prout did. Price repeated Prout’s insistence that he had not met Breen in person but Price had his doubts there.
  2. The apparent inactivity by the Irregulars, which in turn led to…
  3. …inactivity by the National Army soldiers.
  4. The reaction to the shocking surrenders of the Callan-Thomastown-Mullinvat bases. While this had had the beneficial effect of making the men more determined to fight, it had also made then overcautious and – unsurprisingly – distrustful of their officers.
  5. The lack of initiative on the part of the Kilkenny HQ.

Price attributed Point E as the chief cause of the lethargy. The command staff in Kilkenny had become a dumping ground for cowardly, useless and otherwise “buckshee” officers. This was in no small part Prout’s fault, lacking as he did the strength and decisiveness to control his subordinates, but the optimistic Price was sure that the addition of a good adjutant would improve matters.

Richard Mulcahy

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W.T. Cosgrave

Mulcahy must have been mulling over these conclusions when he made his own report on the Kilkenny situation to his superior, President W.T. Cosgrave, two days later.

It did not have a happy start. Captain Kelly, whose arrest Mulcahy had ordered for brokering with the enemy, had turned his coat in full and defected, taking with him confidential reports that Mulcahy, as the general candidly admitted, had been “fool enough to supply him with.” The National Army had yet to solve the problem of its Kilkenny officers being spectacularly unreliable.

The southern-western corner of Kilkenny, from Callan to Waterford, remained the troubled zone. There were the occasional raids from neighbouring Tipperary by Irregular columns like the ones that had overwhelmed the three barracks in the month before, but the main threat, according to Mulcahy, were the local Anti-Treatyites. These ones stayed closer to home, spying for and working with the columns when they passed through from Tipperary.

Mulcahy suggested that eight to ten such individuals in the hotspot of Mooncoln should be arrested, along with four or five from four other parishes. This, the general reckoned, should be enough to pacify the area.

As for the pitiable performance of the National Army in Kilkenny, Mulcahy listed the reasons as to why:

  • The treachery of certain officers and the ineptitude of the loyal ones.
  • The insufficient number of troops in Kilkenny and the isolation of posts in Callan, Thomastown and Mullinavat which left them vulnerable, as had already been shown.
  • The man who was supposed to be in charge, General Prout, was too weak and guileless to handle “traitorous or semi-mutinous incompetents” in an area too large to handle without loyal or competent officers.

As for possible solutions:

  • For there to be more soldiers stationed in Kilkenny, “preferably outsiders.” Showing the close affinity between the Free State and the Church, the bishops and other clergy could be privately asked to organize a recruitment drive for the Army.
  • The Kilkenny officers to be transferred to other counties and replace them with – again – outsiders.
  • Prout also to be transferred out of Kilkenny but – with an eye to Army discipline – not reduced in rank or otherwise humiliated.
  • Until more men could be spared for Kilkenny, the weak posts at Thomastown, Mullinavat and Callan should be discontinued in favour of three or four columns, each consisting of twenty to twenty-five men.
  • The organising of an efficient intelligence system.

On the last point, Mulcahy could no longer contain himself:

The present methods are most saddening. Nothing that could be dignified with the name of a system can be said to exist. The local clergy and local leaders would in most cases be only too delighted to help, but they seem completely ignored, and are abandoning in despair the virtual forcing of information down Rip-Van-Winkle throats.

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Richard Mulcahy

Mulcahy elaborated on the proposed columns in his fourth point. These units would stay mobile by changing accommodation constantly, as the Irregular columns were already doing. This way, they could avoid being rushed, as had happened at Callan-Thomastown-Mullinvat, and gradually trap the local Anti-Treatyites.

In short, flexibility, initiative and good information gathering would win the day. Showing off his knowledge of history, Mulcahy summarised thusly: “Boer, rather than Flanders tactics are required in South West Kilkenny.”[7]

‘Boer’ against ‘Flanders’

The start of the year saw the National Army willing at long last to put an end to its ‘Rip Van Winkle’ performance. Breen noted the extra precautions taken by the Free Staters to prevent a repeat of the humiliations at Thomastown, Mullinavat and Callan. Guards were doubled in their barracks, patrols became more frequent and, overall, the soldiers grew more alert. Following Mulcahy’s advice to adopt ‘Boer’ tactics over ‘Flanders’ ones, the Army sent out large scouting parties to hunt down the guerrillas in the countryside.

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By January 1923, the National Army was able to take the fight to the enemy. A number of guerrilla dugouts were discovered in Tipperary, along with large quantities of arms and ammunitions, confidential reports and even a printing press. Several Anti-Treatyites were rounded up, one of whom, Dan Breen’s brother Martin, was shot dead while resisting.[8]

The Free State military had done its best in Kilkenny to prove the maxim that wars are lost by one side as much as won by the other. Its dismal performance in December 1922 was overwhelmingly the fault of abysmal leadership, from the weak and vacillating example set by General Prout to the treachery of officers willing to hand over their own men. Internal documents reveal the considerable frustration of senior Army staff as they faced an uncomfortable discovery: you can trust your enemies to attack but you do not necessarily know what your allies are planning.

 

References

[1] Richard Mulcahy Papers, University College Dublin Archives, P7/B/64

[2] Kilkenny People, 23/12/1922

[3] Hopkinson, Michael, Green Against Green: A History of the Irish Civil War (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1988), pp. 208-9

[4] Mulcahy Papers, P7/B/64

[5] Ernie O’Malley Papers, National Library of Ireland, MS 10,973/15/4

[6] Mulcahy Papers, P7/B/64

[7] Ibid

[8] Breen, Dan (BMH / WS 1763) pp. 133, 135

 

Bibliography

 Book

Hopkinson, Michael, Green Against Green: A History of the Irish Civil War (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1988)

Bureau of Military History Statement

Breen, Dan, WS 1763

Document Collections

Richard Mulcahy Papers, University College Dublin

Ernie O’Malley Papers, National Library of Ireland

Newspaper

Kilkenny People