The Irish White Cross

Here’s an interesting angle to explore the impact of violence during the War of Independence. The Irish in America had responded to the war by founding and supporting the American Committee for Relief in Ireland. It raised funds to mitigate suffering arising from the war which is dispersed through the Irish White Cross which had been set up for that purpose in 1920. In 1922 the Irish White Cross published a report on its activities and expenditure.

The Irish White Cross Report includes accounts of the experiences of those it assisted and testimonies from recipients of the relief. The amount of relief paid is listed by location along with examples of specific relief works (famously including Amcomri Street in Belfast which takes its name from the American Committee for Relief in Ireland). Under the prevailing legislation which held local authorities and rate payers liable for victims, those who lost family members and property could pursue their local authority for compensation if they could demonstrate that the loss was incurred under specific circumstances. I’ve not seen that quantified anywhere (as yet), but it would likely mirror the distribution of relief by the Irish White Cross. Major incidents such as the burning of Cork in 1920 also gave rise to significant compensation and insurance claims. The Irish White Cross used its resources to support people in the short term (as well as in longer term projects) and so the relief figures likely reflect the day-to-day impact of violence. Combining this information and collating figures for the likes of local authority compensation claims would help map out and visualise local impacts of violence during 1919-1923.

The two areas which required the highest amount of relief from the Irish White Cross were County Antrim (including all of Belfast) and County Cork. Almost half of the total amount of relief paid went to Belfast, while Cork received around one quarter. A map showing the distribution by area is shown below along with the totals by county (by amount).

The Irish White Cross Report, with extracts from the American Committee for Relief in Ireland’s own reports, has just been reprinted alongside two other contemporary accounts from the war of independence, ‘Facts and Figures of the Belfast Pogroms 1920-1922‘ and ‘Who Burnt Cork City?‘. It is believed that ‘Who Burnt Cork City?’ was largely written by Alfred O’Rahilly, who was intended to be the author of ‘Facts and Figures of the Belfast Pogroms 1920-1922’ (you can read more on that here)..

I’l post some more on the Irish White Cross in the next while (as well as ‘Who Burnt Cork City?’). You can read more about The Irish White Cross Report and order it here.

Relief by county (rounded to nearest £ with modern equivalent in brackets). County Antrim £362,409.00 (£18.12m); County Cork £180,126.00 (£9m); County Dublin £54,990.00 (£2.8m); County Kerry £25,958.00 (£1.3m); County Down £13,303.00 (£665k); County Galway £12,410.00 (£620k); County Tipperary £11,096.00 (£555k); County Limerick £10,061.00 (£504k); County Clare £9,090.00 (£454k); County Mayo £9,048.00 (£452k); County Roscommon £7,223.00 (£361k); County Westmeath £5,336.00 (£267k); County Longford £4,859.00 (£243k); County Donegal £4,831.00 (£242k); County Cavan £4,645.00 (£232k); County Sligo £3,857.00 (£193k); County Waterford £3,519.00 (£176k); County Louth £3,423.00 (£171k); County Wexford £3,316.00 (£166k); County Leitrim £2,895.00 (£145k); County Kildare £2,685.00 (£134k); County Monaghan £2,656.00 (£133k); County Carlow £2,377.00 (£119k); County Armagh £2,205.00 (£110k); County Offaly £1,802.00 (£90k); County Meath £1,713.00 (£86k); County Laois £1,564.00 (£78k); County Wicklow £1,169.00 (£58k); County Tyrone £1,141.00 (£57k); County Derry £754.00 (£38k); County Kilkenny £728.00 (£36.4k); County Fermanagh £316.00 (£15.8k)



Belfast Pogrom article in the Irish Times

Interesting, if a little flawed, article in the Irish Times this morning: Belfast pogroms: ‘The street was a mass of brain matter and blood’ based on the latest release of pension files on (see here for more on that). Hopefully it is not a foretaste of how the 1920-1922 period in Belfast is going to get covered over the next few years.

The articles opening premise – that the scale of violence in Belfast between 1920 and 1922 will be a revelation to many people – is undoubtedly true. Depsite the fact that around 20-25% of all violent fatalities in the War of Independence occurred in the city yet there are maybe only 4-5 books and a very limited amount of scholarship on Belfast during that period to date.

But the framing of much of the article is at best loose, if not misleading. For a start, while operations by the IRA elsewhere could lead to intense reprisals against Catholics in Belfast it is clear from the pulses of violence in the city that political events and a unionist strategy to try and drive as many Catholics as possible from the city were mainly responsible (you can follow the timings in Kieran Glennon’s From Pogrom to Civil War, p260-265). The modern ‘tit-for-tat’ trope about the conflict here doesn’t really apply when the most violent months coincided with the events like the truce and treaty votes and the assumption of security policy by the unionist government in November 1921. The Irish Times isn’t alone in this regard – few writers make the connection between the tactics of the three constabularies added to the RIC during the War of Independence – the Auxiliary Division, the Special Reserve (the ‘Black and Tans’) and the Ulster Special Constabulary (who ‘Specials’). All three carried out counter-insurgency operations including reprisal attacks, yet only the attacks in north by the Ulster Special Constabulary are classed as ‘sectarian strife’. While the ‘Specials’ found willing helpers among the local population, any distinction between counter-insurgency operations by the Auxies and Black and Tans and those by the Ulster Special Constabulary like the McMahons massacre, Arnon Street and a myriad of killings and abduction is entirely artificial.

The Irish Times also seems to have a worrying lack of appreciation of the origin and nature of the content of the pension files held in the Military Archives. It is asserted that “The rolls list every volunteer in the IRA during the revolutionary period 1916-1923” when they in fact are a list of names gathered in the 1930s and are (by their own admissions) incomplete. The list of fatalities from 1920-1922 in the Belfast files is suggested to be the basis of ‘Facts and Figures of the Belfast Pogrom 1920-1922’ – a book produced in August 1922 (you can read more about that book here and here). Yet the list is clearly compiled from the book (and was prepared in the 1930s as part of the work of the Belfast Brigade committee for the pensions board).

Interestingly, though, the Irish Times doesn’t shy away from use of the term ‘pogrom’ to describe the events in Belfast. But is all of this a foretaste of how the centenary of various events will be covered in the next few years, or, is simply the start of a process of learning about it? Either way  it is obviously worth a read (you can do that here).

[And click here if you want to pick up a physical copy of the ‘Facts and Figures of the Belfast Pogrom 1920-1922’]