A Hundred Years since the 1916-19 Irish Republic was Betrayed

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06/02/2022 by socialistfight

By Gerry Downing

The Centenary of the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 6, 1921, and the Treaty debates that ended on January 7, 1922

December 6, 1921: Members of the Irish delegation at the signing of the Irish Free State Treaty between Great Britain and Ireland in London, England. The delegation includes seated from left, Sinn Fein founder Arthur Griffith, E.J. Duggan, Irish Minister for Finance Michael Collins, and politician Robert Barton. Standing from left are author Robert Erskine Childers, lawyer George Gavan Duffy, and John Chartres. 

Northern Ireland was created by an Act in the British Westminster parliament in 1920. No one in Ireland was asked for their vote on that. The Treaty accepted that with a bogus promise of a boundary commission, that never operated democratically. So, the Treaty and the Civil War ensured the partition of Ireland and that was chiefly the responsibility of Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins.

The other signatories were Robert Barton, Eamonn Duggan and George Gavan Duffy. Erskine Childers, Fionán Lynch, Diarmuid O’Hegarty and John Smith Chartres were the other members of the delegation, Barton signed reluctantly and subsequently supported the anti-treaty republicans. Of the others Erskine Childers was the most strongly opposed during the treaty negotiations.

That Civil War crushed the Republic proclaimed in 1916 and established by the Second Dáil in 1919. The Treaty and Civil War and the spirit of freedom that that great uprising engendered and left us with the Ireland of the capitalist bastards, clerical fascists, the paedophile priests and the misogynist mother and baby murderous homes as exposed by the trojan war of Catherine Corless in exposing the children’s 796 mass graves in that septic tank in Tuam, Galway. And all other such mother and baby homes in both the south and north. That’s the real legacy of those two men.

Those years were characterised by the strong, revolutionary women who took part in the struggle. All six female TDs, Constance Markievicz, the first woman elected to the House of Commons in 1918 , Kathleen Clarke, Ada English, Mary MacSwiney, Kathleen O’Callaghan and Margaret Pearse (all elected with Markievicz in 1921), voted against the Treaty in the Second Dáil.

Gobnait Ní Bhruadair (Lucy Brodrick, like Markievicz from the Anglo Irish aristocracy) was also a strong opponent of the Treaty. She is buried in Sneem, Co Kerry.

Markievicz (‘mad bitch’ the Free Staters called her) was Minister for Labour from April 1919 to January 1922, the only woman to be a cabinet minister in Ireland for sixty years; Máire Geoghegan-Quinn was the next when she was appointed Minister for the Gaeltacht for Fianna Fáil in 1979.

Arthur Griffith’s Sinn Fein, founded in 1905, was anti-republican and a dual-monarchy body. They opposed the 1916 uprising, at which the Irish Republic was proclaimed, but it was popularly viewed as the Sinn Fein uprising. After 1916 Sinn Fein new members joined en masse; they rejected the Anglo-Irish dual monarchy and wanted the republic. Griffith opposed and this almost led to a split at the October 1917 Ard Fheis where Éamon de Valera deposed him as President of Sinn Fein

Forces on the ground took the initiative, beginning in the Soloheadbeg ambush which took place on January 21 1919. Here Seán Treacy, Dan Breen, Seán Hogan, Séumas Robinson, Tadhg Crowe, Patrick McCormack, Patrick O’Dwyer and Michael Ryan captured 160 lb of gelignite and killed two RIC officers. The conflict rapidly widening out to the whole country where members flooded into the IRA north and south of the new, unrecognised border.

As we outlined in SF 38 July/August 2021 the Truce was called by the British government on July 11, 1921 because the British Army faced outright defeat in the field and desperately needed a ‘political’ solution to save them. Not only did the humiliating defeat at Crossbarry on March 19, 1921 and other similar defeats nationwide force their hand but an increasing militant British working class, with growing sympathy for the IRA, had resulted in the ordinary British soldiers in Ireland being unwilling to fight.

The Triple Alliance of the Miners Federation of Great Britain, the National Union of Railwaymen and the National Transport Workers’ Federation offensive was very threatening. But it was sold out on Black Friday 15 April 1921, less than a month after Crossbarry, by the railway and transport leaders refusing to support the miners lest the country move toward revolution. The Free Staters sold out the Republic on 6 December 1921. Divide and conquer triumphed but it was a close run thing.

Once the IRA was demobilised after the Truce in July it became clear that the Sinn Féin leaders themselves were willing to compromise on Britain’s terms. They had no political desire for an outright victory over imperialism nor was the political alternative offered by Éamonn de Valera’s Document No 2 during the Treaty debates substantially different from that compromise.

Once Griffith had died of a heart attack on August 12 1922 and Collins fell in the Civil War engagement on August 22 1922, they had set the course by signing the Treaty. Michael Collins accepted British big guns to bombard the IRA holding out in the Four Courts and accepted direct military assistance from the British army to put down the IRA in Dublin before they finally departed.

Lying Propaganda

Griffith and Collins launched their assault on the IRA in Dublin. After a week of bitter conflict which lasted from June 28 to July 5, 1922, Dublin was secured by the Free Staters. Central leaders were captured and Cathal Brugha, Defence Minister in the 1919 Dáil, was shot in the Granville Hotel in O’Connell Street on July 5 and died on the 9th.

Lying propaganda over the death of Michael Collins at Béal na Bláth was used to justify the murder of all the main opponents of the Treaty who had vociferously condemned it during the nine-day debates that ended on 7 January 1922 with that 64 to 57 vote of acceptance. Collins was not lured into an ambush by de Valera. He had no influence then over the IRA in the field; only a compromise with IRA Chief of Staff Liam Lynch was viable, and he and the IRA in general were in no mood to give up.

Collins was not assassinated, he was not murdered, he fell in a Civil War engagement, shot by Dennis ‘Sonny’ O’Neill from Timoleague, in a lucky hit in almost the last shot of the engagement when Collins jumped up, thinking the ambush was over. O’Neill had no idea whom he had shot when he said, “I dropped a man”.

This lying propaganda served the agenda of the new top leaders after the deaths of Griffith and Collins. These were William T Cosgrave, Kevin O’Higgins, Ernest Blythe (he cut old-age pensions from 10 shillings to 9 shillings a week in the 1924) and Richard (Dick) Mulcahy, the new Commander-in-Chief of the National Army after Collins.

Dick Mulcahy did not become Taoiseach in the Inter-Party government of 1948 because Seán MacBride refused to serve under him because of the Civil War executions he ordered under WT Cosgrave.

Mulcahy executed four IRA fighters in Dublin on November 17 and three more on November 19. These executions of rank-and-file republicans were to pave the way for the execution of the political leaders. First Erskine Childers was executed by firing squad on November 24 for the possession of a pistol given him by Michael Collins. On November 30 Mulcahy executed three more IRA men. Liam Lynch responded by ordering the shooting of all attending the Dáil.

On December 7 Freestater Seán Hales from Bandon was shot dead and in response left republicans Liam Mellows, Joe McKelvie, Rory O’Connor, and Richard Barrett, who had been in prison since the fall of the Four Courts on 5 July, were executed the following morning. The Free State government carried out 81 official executions, the British had executed 24 IRA before the Truce.

British murders in the Tan War were far higher; research gives figures of dead at 491 IRA plus 900 civilians, mainly IRA supporters, and 936 British. In the Civil War Dick Mulcahy gives 540 dead for the Free State. Republicans lost some 2,000. The total, including civilian, was between 1,500 and 4,000.

March 1923 saw the terrible Kerry Atrocities; 23 Republican prisoners were killed in the field (and another five judicially executed) in just 4 weeks. With the shooting of Liam Lynch in Tipperary’s Knockmealdown mountains on April 10, 1923 the Civil War was over.

Sinn Fein Today

On December 6 2021 there was a candlelit vigil organised by Austen Harney of Trade Unionists in Britain for Irish Unity, outside Downing Street to mourn the signing of the Treaty. Speaker were Austin Harney , John McDonnell, Labour Party MP Hayes and Harlington, Angie Birtill, Secretary of Labour for Irish Unity, Francie Molloy, Sinn Fein MP for Mid Ulster, and Frank Glynn.

Most of what was said was unobjectionable and some of it was very good. But the last speaker, Frank Glynn, gave an extraordinary speech as head of the Sinn Fein front organisation the Terence MacSwiney Memorial Committee.

    He asserted that the five signatories of the Treaty had no choice as they were threatened with immediate and terrible war and he understood that. The real villain of the piece was Éamonn de Valera, a “cute hoor” who had organised it all with Lloyd George behind everyone’s back before the negotiations.

  De Valera met with Lloyd George four times beginning on July 14. The claim is that he knew the Irish plenipotentiaries would have to sign a treaty. He was elected President of the Republic by the Dáil on August 26, to give the negotiators status as representatives of the Republic.

If de Valera was primarily to blame for the Civil War and the signing of the Treaty was inevitable then Frank Glynn is right today, and a new Treaty would not be a bad thing, accepting a united Ireland back into the British Commonwealth of nations but as a republic without the Queen as head of state. Surely enough unionists would go with that to make it viable? And that certainly is Sinn Fein’s agenda; all those royal Queen/Prince Charles handshakes were aimed at just that.

Political lessons

The majority of those who really sought victory over British imperialism and fought on for it in the Civil War after the Treaty had no vision to what they would do politically if they won an outright victory over Britain. Physical force republicanism was anti-politics, but a political vision was needed to win. Left republicans like Liam Mellows and Joe McKelvie, became increasing sympathetic towards the revolutionary message of the tiny Communist Party of Ireland, led by James Connolly’s son Roddy and Sean McLaughlin.

The Free Staters picked these republicans, the most politically advanced and therefore dangerous prisoners, to execute to secure their relationship with the Empire. After the Truce there was no inspiring fight against British imperialism to rally the British working class against the same enemy. There was no ‘new and more powerful leadership’; the CPGB was too politically confused to provide that. The republican socialists were shot in the Civil War but the ranks of the Irish communists were small and the British CPGB gave them no lead as we see in Bill O’Brien piece on page 12. The CPGB said then that anti-imperialism was ultra-leftism. So there is still bad relationships between British Stalinist communists and the genuine Irish communists.

Now there are many anti-imperialist republican socialists in Ireland, the Irish Republican Socialist Party, Éirígí, (Rise Up), Anti Imperialist Action, Lasair Dhearg (Red Flame) and Saoradh (Liberation) who fight the fascists and state together in united fronts. ▲

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