Northern Whig and Belfast Newsletter on #Soloheadbeg and the First Dáil: #Dail100

Given that the two centenaries were being commemorated over the past week or so, I’ve reproduced text from two contemporary articles commentating on them from a unionist perspective. One is from the Northern Whig, the other from the Belfast Newsletter. Both are worth a read for the startling use of language about martyrs at Soloheadbeg and for the Newsletter’s belittling of the use of the Irish language and the nature of propaganda in 1919.

The first account was published in the Northern Whig on 23rd January 1919 with the headlines, LAWLESSNESS IN IRELAND, SINN FEIN AND BELFAST GAOL and THE TIPPERARY MURDERS. In light of the recent debate over how to commemorate the various centenaries, the Northern Whig articles opening sentence provides an interesting angle on two points, Firstly, the two fatalities at Soloheadbeg are described as “…martyrs to the British cause in Ireland” (quoting a Morning Post article itself entitled ‘The Irish Martyrs’), using language which more typically gets associated with Irish republicanism. This may point towards one avenue worth exploring during the ongoing centenaries – the extent to which language has shifted (or not) over the intervening period of time.

A second point that jumps out from the same article is the extent to which Soloheadbeg was seen in an ongoing continuum of conflict between Irish republicanism and the British authorities in Ireland. Rather than some form of departure into a War of Independence*, instead the Northern Whig states that “We do not know what the total death-toll since the beginning of the war may be, but it is tragically heavy. [my emphasis]”. The reasoning behind the Northern Whig stating that there had been a ‘beginning of the war’ isn’t further explained in the article, but it offers an interesting counterpoint to invoking Soloheadbeg and the first meeting of the First Dáil as the chronological starting point of the War of Independence. Did unionism have a perception that war had already begun?

*I get irrationally irritated by the use of the term ‘Tan War‘.

Northern Whig, 23rd January 1919

The ‘Morning Post’ in a leader under the heading ‘The Irish Martyrs’ says: The two constables who have been murdered near Tipperary are among the many martyrs to the British cause in Ireland. We do not know what the total death-toll since the beginning of the war may be, but it is tragically heavy. Irish policemen and English soldiers have been shot in the open street or in the dark from behind hedges. And in most cases the murderers have got away without punishment In some cases of which we have heard no action could be taken because there was no hope of justice. The whole countryside was in a conspiracy to defeat the law. Not only so, but the police themselves, and the military also do their duty in the knowledge that they are not only liable to be murdered by the rebels but to be deserted by the authorities. They have the additional bitterness of hearing the mocking laughter of our enemies.

A few weeks ago the prisoners took possession of one of the wings of Belfast Prison and wholly wrecked it. The Government treated with them, and put them in the other wing with all the honours of war. They have now wrecked the other wing. Such as been the state of Ireland under Mr. Shortt. We hope it will be better under Mr. Ian Macpherson, and we are glad to see that he has had the courage to impose martial-law on Tipperary, and to put the Belfast prisoners in irons. These two actions suggest manhood. But Mr. Macpherson will fail unless he is supported by the Imperial Government, and it will fail unless it gives up the policy of conciliating our enemies at the expense of our friends. There is only one way that is successful in Ireland. It is the way of strength and justice and no concessions to the law-breaker.

The second (longer) article was published in the Belfast Newsletter on 22nd January 1919 under the title “OURSELVES ALONE” IN FACT, Inaugural Proceedings, DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE. While obviously downplaying the significance of the inaugural meeting of the First Dáil and entirely condescending in tone, there is at least a refreshingly professional concern with details of terminology (indeed the article was a lead into a much longer piece detailing what was discussed etc). At times the language is almost wistful, noting that the one thousand tickets to attend the inaugural meeting were “...orange-coloured, but printed in Gaelic characters…” (see image at the bottom of this screen). There is particular derision for the aspirational use of the Irish language in phrases that could have easily featured in the same papers news coverage of the last few years claiming that “…not more than fifteen or so of the members of the “Constituent Assembly” at present at liberty could keep pace with a discussion in Gaelic” and equating the use of the Irish language to a step back in time of nineteen centuries akin to the abolition of ‘modern civilisation’.

There is a certain longevity to its criticism’s of Sinn Féin, both in its stereotypes and the way that it is delivered. Citing a letter written by a Catholic cleric and published in a ‘nationalist’ paper, it identifies the categories ‘Sinn Féiners’ fall in to: (1) Spies and agents of Dublin Castle; (2) Those who have got money from America, some of which have become, suddenly rich; (3) Vain wind-bags; most impudent liars and slanderers. Who go starring it and gasconading through the country; (4) Young fools, who imagine that if they are able to make the goose-step they are able to fight an army corps; (5) Popularity hunters; (6) Those who have some spleen towards, or some hatchet to grind with the Irish Party, or some of its members; (7) The milk-and-water, who are afraid, and follow the crowd; plus an un-numbered eighth group described as “a section of the labourers who are told, and believe, that if they vote for Sinn Feiners they shall get a slice of their neighbours’ property.”

Given that this is referring to those members of Sinn Féin at the time of the inaugural meeting of the First Dáil the persistence of the same broad caricatures in contemporary coverage of Sinn Féin and other non-establishment political movements is surely notable. Similarly, the delivery method here is a good example of an information policy (i.e. propaganda) device, whereby a story is second-handed (in this case, re-published from a ‘nationalist’ paper) and authored by someone that it is believed the target audience will be more receptive to, in this instance a Catholic priest. What sits behind all of this, though, is an understanding of how such propaganda needs to be delivered. This involves managing relationships and developing spokespeople to act as the source of the appropriately phrased language and information dismissing and placing a negative interpretation on the motivations of all those involved in the First Dáil. It also means ensuring that this is sufficiently masked that it stands up to some level of scrutiny. Thus, rather than the Belfast Newsletter, a Dublin Castle source, a figure in the colonial administration or a unionist offering this categorisation of those involved in the First Dáil, instead it sources it to a Catholic priest in a nationalist paper.

Here is that Belfast Newsletter article. As it runs into almost a full page on the inaugural meeting of the First Dáil, I have only reproduced the introductory sections to give the flavour.

Belfast Newsletter, 22nd January 1919

Dublin did not take itself too seriously yesterday, despite the fact that the centre of Sinn Fein gravity, if one may be permitted to use the expression, had shifted from a wing of Belfast Prison to the Round Room of the Mansion House in the Southern city. The Sinn Fein members of Parliament and other leaders who have been placed out of harm’s way by a thoughtful Government have had their little fling, and are, apparently, none the worse for it. Yesterday was dedicated to the holding of a remarkable demonstration by that members of the party who are yet at liberty, and who, having been elected members of the House of Commons in the Imperial Parliament, prefer to establish a little House of Commons of their own. Sinn Fein has done Dublin but little good in the pat, as witness the Sackville Street of today; but Dublin, nevertheless, has taken Sinn Fein to its bosom, and has returned members of the Republican party for all but one of its borough constituencies. Having succeeded in turning the tables on the official Nationalist party, and completely reversing their respective positions numerically. Sinn Fein, with a total representation of 73 members, of whom 37 were not available for active operations at the moment – being either in jail or exiled in America —proceeded to take stock of the situation, and without any undue delay the thirty-odd members who were free to do so set about paving the way for the holding of “Dail Eireann” or “Irish Parliament,” or “Irish Republican Congress,” or “Constituent Assembly.” The Mansion House wan placed at their disposal by the Lord Mayor of Dublin—who it will be remembered assisted in bringing about an armistice recently between the prison authorities and the refractory Sinn Feiners in Belfast Jail – and they decided to hold the first meeting of the Dail yesterday afternoon in the Round Room at half-past three o’clock.

THE REAL AND THE BOGUS GOVERNMENTS.

As a move calculated to embarrass the British authorities just now, when the Peace Conference is holding its opening sitting, the Dail Eireann was assured of wholehearted sympathy and support from Sinn Fein Dublin right from the start. The city may have had its fill of the Republican party at the time of the Easter Rebellion of 1916 but the public memory is proverbially short, and the sufferings of that period have drifted into the background, and indeed, have been thrust out of light by this present excitement. The spirit of adventure was abroad in the city yesterday, and the populace was quite ready to drink a drop of the Sinn Fein potion once again. It was felt there was a chance that the authorities might deem it incumbent upon themselves to intervene, and from, the moment it was learned that a conference of the Irish Executive had been held in Dublin Castle on Saturday afternoon curiosity was rife as to the attitude of the real Irish Government towards the bogus “Irish Parliament” all sorts of rumours were in circulation but it was generally believed that no drastic step would be taken at the present juncture, so long as the proceedings are not of a turbulent character. This impression was strengthened by the announcement yesterday morning that the Order in Council prohibiting the holding of meetings, assemblies, or processions unless duly authorised in writing, which had been suspended during the elections, was finally revoked, and, as events proved, it was quite correct.

On Monday the finishing touches were put to the arrangements for the Dail. It was announced that the members would style themselves not “M.P.’s,” but “F.D.E.’s —that being the official contraction for “Feisiri Dail Eireann.” It was also notified that the inaugural meeting would be open to the public and one thousand tickets, orange-coloured, but printed in Gaelic characters, were issued in the course of Monday morning to the crowd of callers at the Harcourt Street Headquarters. Each of the ‘F.D.E.’s’ was supplied with a generous quantity of blue tickets for distribution among his personal relatives and friends, who were expected to occupy a large part of the available accommodation.

SOME CANDID CRITICISMS

It may be of interest to note what the constituents of this “Constituent Assembly ” are, and what they represent — that is, in the light of their friends the Nationalists, as set forth by a “well-known P.P.” (of Killenaule) in a letter to a Nationalist organ recently. ” Who are the Sinn Feiners” he asks. And answers his question by stating: “They consist of different bodies.” He goes on to expose the nature of these bodies, section by section, in the following order:—

(1) Spies and agents of Dublin Castle.

(2) Those who have got money from America, some of which have become, suddenly rich.

(3) Vain wind-bags; most impudent liars and slanderers. Who go starring it and gasconading through the country,

(4) Young fools, who imagine that if they are able to make the goose-step they are able to fight an army corps,

(5) Popularity hunters.

(6) Those who have some spleen towards, or some hatchet to grind with the Irish Party, or some of its members.

(7) The milk-and-water, who are afraid, and follow the crowd.

As an afterthought he adds “a section of the labourers who are told, and believe, that if they vote for Sinn Feiners they shall get a slice of their neighbours’ property.” And he remarks in a sudden outburst of candour—” Sinn Fein is damnable tomfoolery.” Betide this the statement by a Roman Catholic Canon of Bessbrook, also written in the thick of the election campaign, that Sinn Fein is “unholy ” sounds quite mild.

THE OFFICIAL LANGUAGE.

About thirty ” F.D.E.’s” expected to be present at the opening meeting of the Dail Eireann, and in order that the waiting world might be kept fully apprised of their doings special co-respondents from French, American, Dutch, Belgian, Spanish, South African, Australian, and Canadian newspapers, as well as a host of journalists and Press photographers from all parts of the United Kingdom assembled in the city in the course of the week end , and, having taken up strategic positions, awaited developments. One little matter troubled them—the decision of the Sinn Fein representatives, unanimously arrived at in the course of one of the preliminary meetings, “that no version of the business dealt with by the Parliament should be supplied to the newspapers except in the Irish language.” The visitors’ own experience led them to think that “the Irish language” is very much the same as that which is ordinarily in use across the Channel, and the study of the mentality of the poetic authors of this resolution leaves them limp. They point out that the Sinn Fein members, or rather the “F.D.E.’s” in their avowed policy of separation from the British Empire, are endeavouring to negotiate the longest of long jumps forward, whilst at the same moment in their official mode of expression they are back-stepping nineteen centuries. The Gaelic language may be all very well in its proper place, say the correspondents—they are mostly unable to express a considered opinion in the matter but life is too short for any daily newspaper to print it in any considerable; quantity and live. If the Sinn Fein leaders must needs ape the Gaul, why not go the whole hog, and abolish modern civilisation altogether? Rumour has it, however, that people other than the newspaper co-respondents are exercised in their; minds over the matter— that not more than fifteen or so of the members of the “Constituent Assembly” at present at liberty could keep pace with a discussion in Gaelic. This notwithstanding, it was decided that the proceedings at yesterday’s meeting should be conducted in the Gaelic language entirely, only translations of important documents which had already been read in Gaelic being given in the English tongue—and byway of being altogether impartial, the French tongue too. Those members who were not proficient in the ancient language were restricted to formally seconding or supporting the propositions laid before the meeting.

ed144_count_plunkett_ticket_to_dail_sdl

One of the ‘one thousand tickets, orange-coloured, but printed in Gaelic characters’ to attend the inaugural meeting of the first Dáil.

 

Seumas Robinson, a Belfast link to Solohead Beg

The Irish Times has an interesting article about the IRA O/C at the Solohead Beg ambush, Seumas Robinson, who was regarded as a Belfast man, even though he spent a lot of his life in Scotland. He recounts that James Connolly called him ‘towney’ which Robinson says was Connolly recognising both of their connections to Belfast (Robinson was from Benares Street in Clonard).

Robinson’s own, lengthy, account of his activities in the IRB, during the Easter Rising, a detailed account of Solohead Beg and much more can be read here: http://www.bureauofmilitaryhistory.ie/reels/bmh/BMH.WS1721.pdf#page=140

The later controversies involving Robinson, Dan Breen and others, mainly over the 1919 Solohead Beg raid, can be read about here: http://www.theirishstory.com/2014/12/08/a-bitter-brotherhood-the-war-of-words-of-seumas-robinson/#.XEGnMbrp2Ec

More Belfast IRA maps…

Following on from the previous map I posted of IRA suspects in the 1930s, I’ve a few more that I intend posting over the next few weeks.

Just for starters, here are two maps with the names and address of those from Belfast interned in Frongoch after the 1916 Easter Rising and those interned on the Argenta prison ship in the early 1920s. The former list is from various sources while the latter is taken from Denise Kleinricherts book on the Argenta.

A quick note: As the Irish Volunteers used the Willowbank Huts in 1916 for drilling and as a headquarters, anyone without a suitable address is placed there. As the IRA in Belfast used St Mary’s Hall as its public office in 1921-22, I have placed anyone listed for Belfast by Kleinrichert but who doesn’t have a more detailed address.

The map is below (with some comments underneath)…

Firstly – the slightly more scattered distribution of those interned in Frongoch is interesting as it seems to reflect a slightly broader geographic spread across Belfast than that for the Argenta. This may reflect the presence of cultural nationalists and a higher preponderance of more middle class and educated volunteers in 1916 (certainly that’s my initial thinking). As the addresses for Argenta internees clearly reflect the revised post-1922 landscape of Belfast, the more compact distributions may simply mirror the impact of sectarian violence and the flight of republicans into the safety of areas with higher proportions of Catholic residents. I’ll look at this a bit more with future maps.

In the next week or two I’m going to add a page on Mapping the Belfast IRA. This will include an overall map and individual maps for:

  • full list of volunteers who mobilised in 1916
  • Frongoch internees (1916)
  • 1st Belfast Brigade, 3rd Northern Division (listing all recorded Brigade members for 1921-22)
  • Argenta internees (1922-24)
  • Boundary Commission internees (1925-26)
  • 1930s suspect list
  • 1938 internment and Al Rawdah internees list (1938-40)
  • 1956-61 prisoners in Crumlin Road

If I get time I may also add a list of sentenced prisoners in Crumlin Road (1938-45).

You can read more on the background to all of these in the  new Belfast Battalion book.

The #1918Election in Belfast

Today 100 years ago the 1918 General Election took place. In Ireland the election was contested by Sinn Féin as the basis on which all elected members would be eligible to sit in a ‘Dáil Éireann’ formed to, effectively, legitimise the declaration of an Irish republic in 1916 through the creation of an elected, representative assembly. The changes in the law prior to the election removed most of the restrictive property qualifications for men over 21, with men who had turned 19 during the war also permitted a vote. Women were allowed to vote but only if over 30 years of age and based on a property qualification.

For the purposes of the election Belfast was divided into nine constituencies many only used for the 1918 election which used the first past the post system. Ultimately, Unionist candidates won five of the seats, with three going to Labour Unionists and the last going to the leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, Joe Devlin. The IPP soon folded after the election, surviving as the Devlin-led Nationalist Party.

Sinn Féin had fielded candidates in all nine constituencies, including four that were in prison at the time of the election. One of these was Eamonn de Valera, who stood in Belfast Falls against Devlin, where he became the only Sinn Féin candidate to save the £150 deposit. Another notable Sinn Féin candidate was Winifred Carney, who was the only female candidate that stood in any of the Belfast constituencies (she stood in Belfast Victoria).

Other notable candidates included Edward Carson (in Belfast Duncairn). Queen’s was also a constituency on its own (only graduates could vote). The winner there was Unionist William Whitla (of Whitla Hall fame). His only opponent was Sinn Féin’s John Dolan.

The candidates in the nine Belfast constituencies, and the results, are  included below along with the details of the proposers and seconders of the Sinn Féin candidates.

Cromac
LINDSAY, WILLIAM ARTHUR, of Tyrone House, Malone Road, Belfast, managing director (Unionist)
FREELAND, JAMES. 18, Woodvale Street, Belfast, trade union official (Labour)
SAVAGE, ARCHIBALD, 2, Sussex Place, Belfast, grocer (Sinn Féin). Proposed by Joseph McParland, 39 and 40, Joy Street; seconded by Margaret Magill, 37 Hamilton Street.
Result: Lindsay 11,459 (76.58%); Freeland 2,508 (16.76%), Savage 997 (6.66%).

Duncairn
CARSON, EDWARD HENRY, 5, Eaton Place, London, Knight, King’s Counsel and Privy Councillor (Unionist)
DAVEY, WILLIAM H., 48, Bawnmore Road, Belfast, Major (Nationalist)
McNABB, HENRY RUSSELL, 147, Donegall Street, Belfast, at present in Birmingham Prison medical doctor (Sinn Féin). Proposed by Peter Joseph Ward, 16, Kilronan Street; Felix McAuley, Mountcollyer Street.
Result: Carson 11,637 (81.05%); Davey 2,449 (17.06%); McNabb 271 (1.89%)

Falls
DEVLIN, JOSEPH. 3, College Square North, Belfast, secretary (Nationalist).
De VALERA, EAMONN, Greystones, County Wicklow, at present in Lincoln Prison, Professor of Mathematics (Sinn Féin). Proposed by Daniel Joseph McDevitt, 455, Falls Road; Denis Maguire, 30, Springfield Road.
Result: Devlin 8,488 (72.3%); de Valera 3,245 (27.7%)

Ormeau
MOLES, THOMAS, 5, Chichester Terrace, Antrim Road, Belfast, journalist (Unionist)
STEWART, WILLIAM JOHN, Breda Park, Belfast, builder (Independent Unionist).
DOBBYN, JAMES JOSEPH, 21, Clonard Gardens, at present in Lincoln Prison, commercial traveller (Sinn Féin). Proposed by Thomas McAlinden, 26, St. Jude’s Avenue; James Phillips, 66, Castlereagh Street.
Result: Moles 7,460 (59.06%); Stewart 4,833 (38.26%); Dobbyn 338 (2.68%)

Pottinger
DIXON, HERBERT, Wilmont, Dunmurry, Belfast, Army Captain (Unionist).
BENNETT, JAMES HENRY, 1, Victoria Villas, Charlemont Road, CJontarf, Dublin, trade union official (Labour).
CAMPBELL, BERNARD, 41, Albert Street, solicitor (Sinn Féin). Proposed by Patrick Casey, 4, Thompson Street; John Bavins, 4; Thompson Street.
PORTER, SAMUEL CLARKE, 31, Stranmillis Road, Belfast (Belfast Labour).
Result: Dixon 8,574 (70.63%); Porter 2,513 (20.7%); Bennett 659 (5.43%); Campbell 393 (3.24%)

St. Anne’s
BURN, THOMAS HENRY, 18, Ratcliff Street, Belfast, lithographic printer (Labour Unionist).
ALEXANDER, WILLIAM HUGH, Craigatten, 213, Cavehill Road, motor and cycle merchant and factor (Independent Unionist)
BARNES, DERMOT, 253, Falls Road, draper (Sinn Féin). Proposed by Arthur A. McManus, 196, Falls Road; Michael Doyle, 348, Falls Road.
Result: Burn 9,155 (74.8%); Alexander 1,752 (14.3%); Barnes 1,341 (11%)

Shankill
McGUFFIN, SAMUEL, 107 Shankill Road, Belfast, foreman hackle-maker (retired) and tradesman (Labour Unionist).
KYLE, SAMUEL, 42, Bray Street, Belfast, trade union official (Labour).
CAROLAN, MICHAEL, 80, Chief Street, Belfast, schoolmaster (Sinn Féin). Proposed by Charles Bradley, 20, Herbert Street; Thomas H. Gallagher, 34, Chief Street.
Result: McGuffin 11,840 (73.8%); Kyle 3,674 (22.9%); Carolan 534 (3.3%)

Victoria
DONALD, THOMPSON, 8, Fortwilliam View, Skegoniel Avenue, shipwright (Labour Unionist).
WAUGH, ROBERT, 42, Deramore Avenue, Belfast, delegate of Carpenters’ and Joiners’ Society (Labour).
CARNEY, WINIFRED, 2, Carlisle Circus, clerk (Sinn Féin). Proposed by John Quinn, 77, North Thomas Street; Andrew Leonard, 22, Garmoyle Street.
Result: Donald 9,309 (69.9%); Waugh 3,469 (26.05%); Carney 539 (4.05%)

Woodvale
LYNN, ROBERT JOHN, 4, Clonsilla, Antrim Road, Belfast, editor “Northern Whig” (Unionist).
HASKIN, ROBERT, 5, Cairns Street, Belfast, at present in Usk Prison, labourer (Sinn Féin). Proposed by James Harbinson, 143, Divis Street; John Donnelly, 139, Divis Street.
Result: Lynn 12,232 (90.75%); Haskin 1,247 (9.25%)

Queen’s University of Belfast
WHITLA, WILLIAM, Knight, M.D. (Unionist).
DOLAN, JOHN B., M.A. (Sinn Féin). Proposer, James Bernard Moore, M.B.: seconder, Peter McGinn, B.A. Assentors—Daniel Mageean. B.A.; Daniel Lafferty, B.A.; Daniel Lister, M.B. ; Henry Macauley, M.B.: John H. Savage, M.B.; Seamus O’Searcaigh, M.A.; Edward J. Crossin, B.A.; James P. Clenaghan, CA.; and Charles McNally, B.A.
Result: Whitla 1,487 (92.65%); Dolan 118 (7.35%).

THE IRA IN BALLYMACARRETT 1920-1922 (by Sean Ó Coinn)

The most dangerous place in Belfast, writes Sean Ó Coinn, describing Ballymacarrett in 1920-1922 in his book Defending the Ground published earlier this year. Here Sean gives a flavour of his account of the IRA in Ballymacarrett during that period (the book is available to buy at various places in Belfast).

 

The Most Dangerous Place in Belfast

Amid the closely- knit terrace streets of Ballymacarrett, B Company of the 2nd Battalion, the 1st Belfast Brigade was raised in 1920 and its volunteers fought at times a desperate action of defence to ensure its survival, while having to carry out its own offensive actions. The 2nd Battalion was created in the early months of 1920, under the command of Tom Fitzpatrick with a Company in Ballymacarrett, Carrick Hill and the Low Market.

The first O/C of B Company was Manus O Boyle, who along with his 2 I/C and later O/C John [Sean] Cunningham, succeeded in forming a Company of 120, mostly made up of men who were unemployed and armed with small arms and grenades.

Manus O’ Boyle recorded the following account:

“I know that the heaviest fighting took place in the Ballymacarrett area, where there were about 7,000 Catholics. On the outskirts of that area were about 40,000 Orange men and women St. Matthews church, Convent and Schools were the continuous target of the Orange hordes.

In the early days, it was chiefly a stone-throwing competition, until the Volunteers got organised. I was detailed then by the Brigade to organise a Company of Volunteers for the defence of Ballymacarrett. I succeeded in forming a Company of about 120 men. These were all unemployed. Then the fighting proper commenced as we were now armed with small arms and grenades. It was a continuous street fight in Ballymacarrett.

Our opponents were heavily armed and had the assistance of the Police and Military. This continued all through 1920 and up to the Truce. The nuns were magnificent, Mother Teresa, Sister Eithne, Sister Peter Paul and Sister Bridget are four that I remember particularly…. Mother Teresa could always present us with hundreds of rounds of .45 ammunition that she received from……  [Inspector Mc Connell], a Catholic RIC officer.”

Tom Fitzpatrick recorded one of the earliest actions taken by the 2nd Battalion against Crown Forces :

Some time about February or March 1920, after the military had taken over a place in the Low Market, where they kept a lot of vehicles, we threw a few bombs into it. That was a Battalion job and it was done very quietly.

There was no sanction from the Brigade for it. At that time, the Brigade were averse to activities in Belfast for fear of reprisals on the Catholic population.

Across the island of Ireland during the period of 1920 and 1921, the guerrilla war being waged by the IRA had spearheaded a political drive to settle the conflict. Negotiations were underway between the Republican Leadership and the British government and on Friday July 9th 1921, an order was dispatched to all IRA divisional areas:

“In view of the conversation now being entered into by our government with the government of Great Britain, and in the pursuance of mutual conversations, active operations by our troops will be suspended as from noon on Monday 11th JulyRisteard Ua Maolchatha [Richard Mulcahy], Chief of Staff.

The truce was signed on Friday 9th July and was to take effect from noon on Monday, 11th July. But while the rest of Ireland celebrated, Belfast bled. There was a de-escalation of fighting throughout the 26 counties and the truce was held with effect, but in the northeast, the fighting continued and Belfast was to witness a particularly vicious summer of violence. The Unionists felt that they were being sacrificed on the high altar of political pragmatism and there was a lack of will on the part of the northern Unionist administration to pursue the opportunity for peace.

That weekend in Belfast, the truce was ushered in with “blood letting”. The “Specials” [A part-time uniformed police militia drawn from the Protestant population] backed by Loyalist gunmen, were determined to launch an onslaught on Nationalist districts. The IRA throughout Belfast was mobilized in order to defend their areas, as the Specials and UVF gunmen unleashed sniper fire and moved with armoured cars against the Nationalist areas. The Carrick Hill enclave in the north of the city was near to breaking point and was only one hour short of running out of ammunition when the British military commander in the city organized an implementation of the truce.

Sixteen people died of whom eleven were Catholic and 161 homes were destroyed. Fierce gun-battles, involving machine-gun and rifle fire, as well as handguns and mills bombs were reported along the streets interlinking the Falls and Shankill Roads. Heavy shooting was also reported in the Falls and Cullingtree Road, Millfield and Carrick Hill areas.

Four of the Catholic victims were ex-servicemen. Over the next few days as the Orange marching season reached its climax, shooting occurred around the Short Strand and North Queen Street districts. Two people died and thirty more were wounded on the 14th July, while on the following day as sniping continued in the North Queen Street/York Street area, two RIC policemen were shot and wounded in Little Georges Street. A Unionist politician, William Grant was also wounded by a sniper.

A week later, the IRA GHQ in Dublin sent Eoin O Duffy, the IRA commander in Ulster to Belfast to act as a Liaison Officer with the British military in the city. He set up his headquarters in St. Mary’s hall in the Smithfield area, but found Belfast not to be on the same level as other cities in the rest of the country. The British military seemed content to respect the truce in its initial stages, but the Specials who were acting as the armed wing of the northern administration, which had been officially constituted by the British King in June, continued to act against the Nationalist areas with the full endorsement of the Belfast Parliament.

Reference to the period is made in an IRA divisional report sent by Seamus Woods O/C of the 3rd Northern Division, which covered Belfast, to IRA GHQ on the 27th July 1922, when he states;

“Until the signing of the treaty in London, the perfecting of our organization, training and equipping had been pursued with great earnestness on the part of all officers and men. As both Numbers 2 and 3 Brigades were very much below strength in July’21, a large number of recruits were taken on in these areas”.

The increase in recruits was due largely to the truce and the fact that as Woods states in the same report: “the Catholic population believing for the moment that we had been victorious and that the Specials and UVF were beaten, practically all flocked to our standard, with the exception of the aristocratic minority”.

Throughout Ireland, the IRA used the truce for intensive training. It was important to maintain discipline, as grievances on both sides were still sore.

In the same report Seamus Woods made reference to the fact that the truce was not been adhered to and officers and men were being arrested.

He also stated that: “After the raid on their liaison office, St.Mary’s Hall, Belfast, in which the name of practically every officer in the Division was found, all the Divisional and many of the Brigade officers demanded an inquiry into the circumstances of the raid and were asking the Divisional Commandant to resign.” [Joe McKelvey]

The truce appeared to have little effect on the situation in Belfast. In August 1921, the local RIC Commissioner observed in a confidential report: “Poverty is still rife in the Nationalist Quarters where so many people are existing on charitable donations received from the Expelled Workers Fund, which continues to receive fairly large subscriptions from various sources, particularly White Cross of America”

Training camps were established within the Divisional area at Hannahstown [Belfast], Seaforde and Castlewellan in County Down and Glenariff and Torr Head, in County Antrim.

The IRA in Belfast reached its peak membership during the months of August and September 1921 [835] and would have preferred to now engage in a war against British Crown forces similar to its counterparts in the south, but unfortunately the IRA in the north-east of the country but more especially in Belfast, found itself having to act as defenders of the Nationalist areas against armed Loyalists engaged in sectarian pogroms and the Unionist controlled armed militia in the guise of Special Police. Only in areas such as South Armagh, Tyrone and Monaghan, was the IRA able to operate with a free hand against the Specials and British military.

The need to defend the Catholic community was vital to the Belfast IRA during the 1920-1922 periods, as they struggled not to lose their ideological role as the Army of the Irish Republic. They were also operating in a hostile environment flooded with British troops, Police and Loyalist Specials who targeted the Catholic community in ‘acts of reprisals’ which stretched from merely shooting into Catholic streets during curfew hours in order to prompt a reaction from the military to the inhabitants, to conducting actual murder.

Added to this was the poor social condition in the Catholic working-class districts which was caused in part by expulsions from employment and also the overcrowding due to relatives and friends being forced out of their homes in Protestant districts.

This was a much harsher environment than the fighting ground’ of Roscommon, Mayo, or West Cork. It was for these very reasons that the majority of the Belfast IRA would later remain loyal to the pro-treaty Government GHQ in Dublin, who ensured mainly through Michael Collins that they were financed and armed.

For the Officers of the 1st Belfast Brigade or the 3rd Northern Division overall, it was loyalty to a GHQ that logistically supported them, rather than to a treaty that isolated them from their ‘natural aspiration of a United Ireland’.

Michael Collins stands out as the only Republican leader in the south for whom partition and the plight of the northern nationalists remained a major concern. Yet, it’s ironic that his desperate efforts to assist the latter, led him to adopt a confusing blend of ‘non-recognition’, diplomacy and coercion toward the Unionist Government in the north-east.

Collins death in August 1922 during the civil war and the new policy of Cosgrave’s cabinet in recognising the Belfast Unionist Parliament, spelt the end of Republican resistance in the north as a real potential threat for the next 48 years and one that when it did come, would be launched from the very streets of Catholic Ballymacarrett that Loyalists tried so hard to eliminate from East Belfast during the period of 1920-1922. [It is also important to emphasize that Collins death preceded the atrocities and executions of Republican volunteers carried out during the civil war by Free State forces which were then under the command of Richard Mulcahy].

Added to this, the political divisions in northern nationalism ensured that the Catholic minority in the north was effectively precluded from any say in influencing its own fate at a critical juncture in the historic issue of partition.

Despite the IRA in Belfast being forced into a primary role of defence, it still conducted an offensive policy against Crown forces; on whole this would mainly have been Specials and RIC personnel. The increase in attacks was due to the establishment of ‘Active Service Units’ [ASU], while others were shot during gun-battles that engulfed Nationalist districts.  IRA snipers in areas such as Ballymacarrett/Short Strand also fired at trams carrying shipyard workers, while others were bombed as a retaliation for the huge expulsion of the Catholic workforce.

The whole mood of political uncertainty was the signal for a renewed wave of bloody violence at the end of August 1921, during which 21 people lost their lives over a three day period. The worst of the fighting was around the Catholic York Street district, which lay within the 2nd Battalion area. The Loyalist attacks was planned to wipe out the Nationalist streets around York Street and send a message to Britain that no settlement involving the IRA was possible in Ulster. However, Eoin O Duffy mobilised the IRA to defend the area, which broke the siege.

Seven Protestants were killed and the Manchester Guardian reported that the IRA “was retaliating in kind and quite as effectively as the Loyalist gunmen.”

To further infuriate the Unionists, Michael Collins made a visit to County Armagh and told a 10,000 strong gathering, which included a large force of the IRA, that the Dail would not desert them. [Unfortunately after his death in August 1922, the Dail not only deserted the Nationalists of the north, but it betrayed the Northern Divisions]

The IRA also had an extensive stock of Mills bombs [grenades] and a large stock of home made bombs, which were used against mobs attacking Catholic districts. One example of this was when a large Loyalist crowd firebombed the Sextons house close to St. Matthew’s Church on the 24th November 1921.  The densely packed mob assembled in the vicinity gloating over their deed, when a bomb was hurled over into their ranks from Seaforde Street killing two and injuring forty-five others. The Irish News described the scene of the injured ‘laying in heaps of twos and threes.

On the same date, 24th November, a shipyard tram travelling along Corporation Street at 5.45pm was attacked when the IRA threw a bomb from Little Patrick Street. The device, which was hurled through a window of the lower part of the tram, blew a section of the tram apart and killed two of the passengers on board. That particular day ended with a death toll of 14 killed, ten of which were Catholic. The following evening, Shipyard trams were again fired on at around 7.30pm in the York Street/ North Queen Street area.

Two days later, on the 26th November, amid nightly gun-battles around York Street, North Queen Street and the Short Strand, another tram was attacked in Royal Avenue killing two of its passengers. The Shankill Road bound Shipyard tram was attacked at 6pm as it passed by the Grand Central hotel in the city centre. The two IRA Volunteers involved in the attack were prominent members; one from the Dock area, the other from Carrick Hill. They escaped along Berry Street into Francis Street and safety. These attacks usually resulted in retaliation against innocent Catholics; vulnerable targets in a bid to take revenge.

A pattern had developed through the month of September into November 1921 with snipers concentrating their fire into and around Seaforde Street, while mobs attacked St Matthews church and the Cross and Passion convent close by in Bryson Street. Both the church and convent were vulnerable to the tightly bound Protestant Streets opposite. The IRA remained active across the district with its own snipers firing into the Protestant streets and at the Shipyard trams.

An extract from the 2nd Battalion operations report to O/C No.1 Belfast Brigade around this time summarises the situation: “During the month there were constant outbreaks by the hostile population in the Battalion area and obviously organised attempts were made by armed gangs of men to invade the Catholic districts. The hostile element was extremely well equipped and in the Ballymacarrett district appeared openly carrying full bandoliers and service rifles. A determined and long threatened invasion of Seaforde Street, Ballymacarrett was attempted.

On the 22n – [September], B Coy. Were obliged to take up firing positions for its defence. On Sunday 24th large numbers of armed men were observed at the Newtownards Road and Seaforde Street and the position was so threatening that a Mills bomb had to be thrown by one of our men. The grenade was very effective and two of the Orange mob were killed and 34 wounded.” 

The IRA defence of the Seaforde Street area infuriated the northern authorities to the point that on the 21st September 1921, prior to another weekend of attacks, one of the most extensive raids to be seen in Belfast by the Crown forces was carried out by the RIC and British military in the Short Strand. For nine hours, they engaged in searches for weapons. Houses and yards across the district were searched by the RIC as the military were posted on the streets. No weapons were unearthed, but the huge presence of Crown forces prevented access to the area for 24 hours by IRA ASUs to reinforce any defensive measure in place by the local company.

During the week period of the 19th-25th November 1921, 27 people died and 92 were wounded across Belfast.

December 1921 continued much in the same vein with snipers active on a daily basis. But it was the weekend of Friday 17th and Saturday 18th December around the Short Strand that saw the worst shooting in the city since York Street at the end of August when the IRA was mobilised .

There had been the usual sporadic shooting leading up to the Friday and on the Wednesday; a Police lorry was raked by machine-gun fire in Seaforde Street.  Then on the Friday evening the Seaforde Street area was attacked with unparalleled vigour by Loyalist gunmen and Specials. Barricades were now erected at the top of Seaforde Street and Young’s Row on the Newtownards Road entrance to the district.

The Irish News reported in its columns: “Driven to desperation by the intensity of the onslaught at so many points, the Catholics to maintain their lives and property were compelled to reply and a regular gun battle was in progress.”

In reality, it was the IRA replying with gunfire as the district was coming under attack from every end. B Company was now engaged in the worst period to date of shooting to occur since the outbreak of the conflict.

There was no truce or treaty in effect on the streets of Ballymacarrett as the ritual of the snipers bullets swept the tightly bound streets. The shooting began at 5am and continued throughout the morning. A member of the Loyalist Ulster Imperial Guard was shot by the IRA close to Young’s Row on the Newtownards Road. The UIG was an organization made up exclusively of Protestant WW1 veterans.

An elderly Protestant man was also caught in the shooting as he made his way home from his job as a Night Watchman. He was shot in early morning crossfire between B Company and Loyalists in the Seaforde Street/Newtownards Road area. British troops at Seaforde Street also opened fire during the shooting. The 71 year old man sadly died in hospital twelve days later on 1st January, 1922.

By the following evening  B Company and those supporting non-members, were engaged in returning fire across the district until the attacks were repelled and faded out. Four people died two from each community and once again raids were carried out in the Short Strand by the military and RIC on the Sunday in a search for weapons. The year ended with the death of 109 people across Belfast. The new year, 1922, continued much as 1921 had ended, with daily shooting through out the Catholic districts of Belfast. February’s death toll reached 47, with up to 100 wounded. Worst was to come as the spring and summer months would boil to a bloody climax.

The killing of five-year-old John Devlin on February 16th in Seaforde Street when a Loyalist gunman fired a single shot through the barricade at the Newtownards Road entrance at children playing, caused anger in the district despite such shootings being a part of life in a city torn apart by civil war. The same day, Special Constable Mc Adam based at Mountpottinger barrack was shot and wounded in a B Company attack

The shooting of Specials was to increase as the IRA across the city stepped up its offensive actions and in particular began targeting Specials who would have been seen in the same manner in Belfast and the north, as the Black and Tans would have been in the south of the country. Two were shot and wounded on the 4th March, one of whom, Special Constable Henderson was shot by B Company in the Mountpottinger area.

The 12th of March began a week long series of sniping and bomb attacks in and around the Short Strand during which raids were carried out by the Military and Specials on the 15th in a search for weapons. Their presence did not prevent a murder gang penetrate into Thompson Street in the early hours to throw a bomb into the bedroom of a house killing a woman as she slept in bed. Later that morning, two Protestants were shot and wounded as they entered the Glavin stables at the corner of Thompson Street, while a third was shot and wounded in the Corporation Yard on the Short Strand.

That same weekend on the 19th of March, a B Company sniper shot dead a member of the Loyalist Ulster Protestant Association during a gun-battle around the Seaforde Street area of the district, while four days later on the 23rd of the month, an IRA ASU shot and killed two Specials at the corner of May Street.

This date-[23rd March] is synonymous with the brutal slaughter of the Nationalist Mc Mahon family in north Belfast by an in-famous RIC [Police] murder-gang led by District Inspector John Nixon operating from Brown Square barrack in the Peter Hill area. The following day 24th, another murder atrocity was attempted in Altcar Street within sight of Mountpottinger barrack. Three men, alleged to be Specials, entered a house and proceeded to shoot anyone they found there. Peter Murphy aged 61, was the first to be shot followed by Sarah Mc Shane aged 15, before they turned their guns on three years old Mary McCabe. As they ran from the house they fired at, and wounded Nellie Whelan. It was nothing short of a miracle that all those shot survived the ordeal. As with so many murders of that period, proof of identity or justice was not forthcoming.

A week later on the night of April 2nd 1922 similar style shootings were carried out in succession at three houses in the Carrick Hill district again by the Nixon led RIC gang resulting in a further atrocity during which five people died including a seven-year-old boy, Michael Walshe who was shot along with his young sister Brigid aged 2, while laying in bed having just witnessed their Father, Joseph a former soldier, been dragged from the bed and cudgelled to death. Michael’s sister survived as did his fourteen-year-old brother Frank who was beaten and shot in the small kitchen. Joseph Walsh’s baby son Robert aged 8 months died the following day. This was one of the worst atrocities of the period. The other victims who died that night were Joseph Mc Crory, aged 40 [15 Stanhope Street], Bernard Mc Kenna [26 Park Street] and William Spallin aged 70 [16 Arnon Street].

The Walshe family lived just two doors from the Spallins in Arnon Street. William Spallin had just buried his wife that day and his murder was witnessed by his twelve years old Grandchild who was found gazing in horror at the murdered man.

On the night of the Carrick Hill murders, Volunteer Sean Montgomery, an officer in D Company, 1st Battalion was in the area and later gave the following account: “Outside [the house], were the RIC, so I went out through the window to put our revolvers on the spouting of the roof. Then I heard a boy shouting that his daddy was shot. I came down the stairs and out we went. We were in an end house. When we got outside an officer of the Norfolk regiment had the driver of a Police Car against the wall, and three soldiers with rifles at the ready to fire. He said to the Special that if he did not tell him [who had killed the Catholics] he would give the order to fire. He [the Special] said he had nothing to do with it, but that DI Nixon was in charge and the Police had told the army they were going to raid. 

Within a week of the attempted Short Strand massacre in Altcar Street, once again in the Mountpottinger area, two Specials were shot and wounded by B Company, one of whom-Special Constable Hale died. In the west of the city on the 14th March, the IRA also shot and killed RIC Sergeant Christy Clarke on the Falls Road as it was strongly believed he was involved with an RIC murder gang which had operated from Springfield Road barrack in 1920. Clarke, a Catholic, is buried within a short distance of the Mc Mahon family in Belfast’s Milltown Cemetery. A year earlier in May 1921, another Catholic RIC member, District Inspector Ferris based at Springfield Road barrack was cut down in a volley of shots fired by three IRA volunteers as he left St. Pauls Presbytery on the Falls Road.

Ferris was one of several men Rodger Mc Corley of the IRA’s Brigade Staff had marked for execution because of their links to the Springfield barrack murder gang. Ferris survived the shooting, but was seriously wounded. Not so fortunate was Sergeant Glover who was implicated in the killing of Republicans Liam Gaynor and Eamon Trodden both of whom were murdered in their homes. Sergeant Glover was shot and killed on the 10th June 1921 as he patrolled in Cupar Street along with Constables Sullivan and Sharkey, both of whom were wounded.

Following the shooting carried out by volunteers of the 1st Battalions D. Company, Auxiliaries carried out indiscriminate shooting around the Falls Road area as they patrolled in trucks prior to curfew hours.

The months of April and May 1922 saw the ferocity of attacks upon the Nationalist areas reach a bloody climax. But while the IRA were stretched to the limit in defending the Short Strand and trying to fight off attacks across the Lagan in the north of the city, they were also called upon through out May into June to engage in a series of offensive actions which included a ‘Burning Campaign’ against Unionist owned business premises.

Supplies of rifles much needed by the Belfast IRA began to arrive from GHQ in Dublin during April, as the 3rd Northern Division found itself at the core of a rapidly changing policy being conducted by the Pro-treaty GHQ, which played out as part of the internal politics being conducted in a bid to avert a total split within the IRA and on which side Divisional loyalties would emerge, should, what appeared inevitable, happened.

The week of April 17th to the 23rd 1922 was one when shooting reached great intensity around the Short Strand and Oldpark districts. Antigua and Sanderson Street in the Catholic Marrowbone area of the Oldpark were burned as casualties mounted amid pitched gun-battles.

The following month as the IRA stepped up its attacks, the final intimidation of Catholic families from the Protestant area of York Road in the north of the city commenced on Thursday 18th May when any Catholic families still living in Mountcollyer Street were forced to leave their homes. The following day, Friday the 19th, the small Catholic enclave around Weaver Street on York Road found itself at the mercy of Protestant attackers who armed with revolvers forced 148 families from their homes. The little enclave had suffered in previous shooting and bomb attacks and now a final purge was being made to clear Catholics from the York Road area. Within the following few days’ nearly 1,000 penniless refugees reached Glasgow. The let up in intimidation did not end, as more families would be evicted in the first week of June, 436 families in total.

Several thousand people from across Belfast poured into Dublin and Glasgow, while many others absorbed in some way into the already congested Catholic districts.

The same day as the purge against the Catholics of York Road was underway; [May 19th] the IRA in a desperate act of retaliation entered Garretts Co-Operative in Little Patrick Street off Nelson Street in the Dock area and proceeded to line the workers up against a wall. Only one was a Catholic and he was singled out to be placed against another wall. This man must surely have thought he was about to be shot, but the guns were not turned on him but on his workers as a hail of bullets struck down the unfortunate men resulting in four dying.

Three days later the week beginning Monday 22nd May, will not be remembered or recorded in the annals of the conflict for the daily cross divide sniping around the Short Strand which saw two Protestants killed and two B Specials shot and wounded on the Albert Bridge, but more for an event that occurred earlier that morning that was sending shock waves through the Unionist hierarchy. William Twaddell, a member of the Northern Parliament and an outspoken Loyalist was shot dead in the city centre as reprisals by the IRA continued.

The killing of Twaddell prompted the Northern Parliament to introduce Internment without trial.

In Belfast, the death toll for May reached 75, [42 Catholics and 33 Protestants], while the following month, 25 people died, [18 Catholics and 7 Protestants]. Despite the campaign of shooting and intimidation by Loyalists taking its toll on the Nationalist areas, the IRA continued its attacks against the Specials across Belfast and the north.

On the same day, William Twaddell was shot; six Specials were wounded across Belfast in sniping, two of those on the Albert Bridge. Two days later, Wednesday, 24th on the Mountpottinger Road, a tram carrying Protestant workers was fired on and a Special wounded when a bomb was thrown at a patrol.

The following day Thursday 25th May, three young children were wounded in gun and bomb attacks in the Seaforde Street area and two Specials, Constables Murphy and Connor died one in the Market, the other in the Falls Road area. That same week, the Marrowbone, Ardoyne and Market districts were subjected to having their streets raked by machine-gun and rifle fire from Specials prior to the nigh time curfew. As was the familiar pattern the IRA returned fire when and where possible. The month of May ended with the deaths of two more Specials, one on the 29th of the month and another two days later on the 31st.

The introduction of Internment in the north, coupled with the poor economic and low moral situation in the Nationalist areas along with the outbreak of a civil war in the south of the country over the acceptance of the treaty terms with Britain, all combined to erode the IRA in Belfast as an effective fighting force.

By July 1922, B Company was depleted with a skeleton membership. Volunteers had moved south for integration into the Free State Army, while others had been arrested and interned. The final blow came with the death of Michael Collins in August 1922 and the resulting underhand politics from the new Free State government that resulted in a change of policy toward the north. This effectively spelt the end of the northern IRA.

Only the 4th Northern Division that operated in the South Armagh and County Louth areas remained as an effective fighting group and in a good state of strength.

Despite a new resurgence in the mid-thirties by the IRA in Belfast, it would be 48 years before they would once more be able to strike at the heart of the Unionist State. This time it would not be a short sharp campaign reliant on Dublin support, but an all out assault of guerrilla warfare that would spell the end of Unionist domination of the north. That assault would begin on the streets of the Short Strand during the night of the 27th June 1970, the very district that Loyalists had tried to erase from the geographical landscape of East Belfast during the 1920-1922 years of conflict and pogroms.                                                                               

                                                                                   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tom Barry’s British Army service records and #Armistice100

On 30th June 1915, Thomas Bernard Barry from Cork (but born in Kerry) joined the British Army at Athlone and enlisted in the Royal Field Artillery,  going on to serve with the 14th Battery in the Mesopotamian Expeditionary Force and Egypt. Barry is better known for his subsequent exploits as Tom Barry, a leading I.R.A. figure and I.R.A. Chief of Staff in the 1930s. Barry didn’t conceal his British Army training and his memoir, Guerrilla Days in Ireland, included details of his military service. His claims to insubordination, including at the time of the Easter Rising, are borne out by his own military service records (as Gunner Thomas Barry, Royal Field Artillery, Service Number 100399).

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Tom Barry’s service records including a list of offences (note ‘Irregular Conduct’ on 27th May 1916, during the Easter Rising).

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Record of Barry’s enlistment.

Military History Sheet

Details of Barry’s military service.

Barry is probably the most prominent of those who fought during the first world war and subsequently fought in the I.R.A., but there were many others including the likes of Emmet Dalton and Erskine Childers and even a Victoria Cross winner, Martin Doyle.

The complex relationship between the Irish and service in the British Army is a recurrent theme in Irish history. In the post-famine era, Irish republicans frequently either specifically joined for, or later utilised, British Army military training for their own purposes. Individuals like William Harbinson, famously (if somewhat obscurely) James Connolly and more recently the likes of the Catholic Ex-Servicemen’s Association in the 1970s have illustrated how Irishmen did what Connolly summarised as “…learn all he can and put his training to the best advantage…“. The contribution of British military training to the capacity of Irish republicans to counter the physical control of Ireland by Britain is one obvious outworking of this relationship.

However, the traditional imperial practice of harvesting soldiers from the impoverished communities under it’s control, both at home and abroad, is indelibly rooted in Irish communities (both Catholic and Protestant) for whom military service and the risk of death were often taken as the last refuge from starvation and utter poverty. In some contemporary politics, what was a crushingly brutal experience for many is once again pressed into service as some sort of parable of lost imperial greatness captured by an obsession with glorifying the brutal slaughter of millions by the European royal families to no apparent purpose between 1914 and 1918.

Given the extent to which poetry is seen as the voice of the first world war, here are a few lines from a poem by an independent Orangeman from Belfast, shipyard worker Thomas Carnduff, from his poem about his own experiences entitled ‘Ypres, September 1917 (A Memory)’:

Light breezes, scented with North Sea spray,
Breathe murmurs of remorse,
And leafless shell-scarred branches sway
Above each mangled corpse.