(BRITAIN, IRELAND and INDIA – continued)

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Britain, the Irish War of Independence and Irish Civil War

Willingness to be ruled by others was eroding. And, because of its shortage of money, Britain could not afford to respond to risings against its rule everywhere. Britain was to continue controlling Egypt and was establishing control over Palestine and Iraq. But, feeling limited in what it could afford to do, Britain wanted to look as though it were able to maintain its empire. But they were unable to bluff the Irish. In Ireland, the organization of republican self-rule, Sinn Fein ("We Ourselves"), had gathered extensive support for militant agitation, and they pushed aside the Irish who were moderate and patient in their seeking independence. By the end of 1918, the British had many Irish activists in jail, and an Irish militia in Ireland began conducting guerrilla warfare against British military barracks and convoys. The British retaliated. A large portion of the Irish police resigned rather than serve the British, and the British compensated for this loss with a force of Britons called the Black and Tans, largely World War veterans, a move that has been described as the brainchild of the Secretary of State for War, Winston Churchill.

In 1919, money for the Irish cause came from Irish-Americans and from Irish in the British dominions, including Australia. An Irish Republican Army (IRA) was using terror in its guerrilla warfare against the British, and the Black and Tans resorted to counter terror. The Black and Tans burned villages and large parts of towns, and they resorted to torture in interrogation.

Irish indendence memorial

Irish War of Independence memorial in Dublin

In Britain, complaints were made against what was being done in Ireland, some complaints by conservatives and some by members of the Labour Party and by newspapers. The Times complained about Britain being exposed to the scorn of the world. A Labour party commission on Ireland urged withdrawal from Ireland and described things being done in the name of Britain "which must make her name stink in the nostrils of the whole world." A conservative member of Lloyd George's cabinet, Sir Henry Wilson, issued an opinion that would be heard decades later in the United States. He urged Britain to "go all out" in its efforts in Ireland or "get out." Among those calling for negotiations was the Times and other leading periodicals, members of the House of Lords, England's Catholics, the Labour Party and well-known authors, including George Bernard Shaw.

Negotiations from October to December 1921 produced the Anglo-Irish Treaty, ending what is called the Irish War of Independence. All but five of Ireland's counties were recognized as the "Irish Free State" with dominion status (independence but with the British monarch as nominal chief of state, as Australia is today). The five counties were in the north of Ireland and were to remain as a part of Great Britain. There the Protestants were a majority and adamantly in favor of remaining a part of Britain.

There were members of the Irish Republican Army who disliked the agreement with Britain. They wanted a free Ireland that was whole, an Ireland that included the five counties in Northern Ireland, and they wanted a republic – no attachment to the British crown. They split with their former comrades-in-arms and the new Irish government and continued their war against the British. By June they were responsible for numerous deaths, bombings, shootings and incendiary fires. On 28 June 1922 in Ireland's capital, Dublin, government forces attacked with artillery anti-treaty IRA forces who were occupying government buildings. The fighting lasted until July 5.

Ireland's brilliant and effective guerrilla leader during the war for independence, Michael Collins, was killed in August in an ambush by an anti-treaty IRA force. He had signed the agreement with the British and is reported to have said that he may have been signing "his actual death warrant."

The war consisted of numerous ambushes and brutalities on both sides. Government operations in the field were slowly but steadily breaking up the remaining Republican concentrations.

A general on the government side, Richard Mulcahy, had begun a policy of executing prisoners. The State's executions of anti-treaty prisoners, 34 of whom were shot in January 1923, also took its toll on the Republicans' morale. The IRA was losing its war against the government. In February the Republican leader Liam Deasy was captured by Free State forces, and he called on the republicans to end their campaign and reach an accommodation with the Free State.

On May 24, IRA fighters opposed to the treaty with Britain were told by their leader, Frank Aiken, to "dump arms" and return home, that "further sacrifice on your part would be in vain."

Thousands of Anti-Treaty IRA members (including Éamon de Valera on 15 August) were arrested by the Free State forces in the weeks and months after the end of the war after they had dumped their arms and returned home.

In August a general election was held in the Free State. The pro-treaty political party won about 40 percent of the vote and 63 seats in a new parliament. The Republicans won about 27 percent of the vote and 44 seats.

The Free State government had around 12,000 republicans in jail, and in October something like 8,000 of them went on a hunger strike. Shortly thereafter most of the women prisoners were realeased.


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