Peaceful Self-Determination

Apologists for the infamies perpetrated by "the Black and Tans," under the instructions of British Ministers, have striven hard to represent these as "reprisals" for provocations more infamous still. The men they warred upon were a "murder gang" who began by the wholesale assassination of defenceless police men and soldiers, and the amiable guardians of the peace whom Sir Hamar Greenwood picked out from the offscourings of a demobilised army only came to the rescue of society by "taking the assassins by the throat." It would not be easy for impudence to invent a grosser reversal of the true sequence of events. "The murder gang" was a nation engaged in putting bloodlessly in practice the right of "self-determination for the small nations," by the promulgation of which England had won the war, and it was the British statesmen who had just rewarded with their liberty the revolted subjects of Austria for throwing off their allegiance, who started a war of brute force against their Irish subjects for following the example.

There were two distinct phases in the warfare which ended in the surrender of Mr. Lloyd George and Sir Hamar Greenwood; and in both it was England which was the aggressor. In the first phase (1917-'18) they were dealing with a nation peacefully exercising the right of self-determination; in the second (1918-'21) with an Irish Republican Army whom they had deliberately goaded and forced into action. From the time when the General Election had invested Sinn Féin with unchallenged authority as the spokesmen of their nation, they proceeded, as was their indisputable right under the new law of nations, to supersede English rule by inducing the local governing bodies to renounce any connection with Dublin Castle and by organizing a volunteer police force and Arbitration Courts to enforce a law and order and a system of public justice of their own, leaving the garrisons and Royal Irish Constabulary of England in isolated impotence within their barrack walls. It was a scheme of "peaceful penetration" of singular daring, and by reason of its very bloodlessness was succeeding with a celerity which drove the choleric soldiers and bureaucrats of Dublin Castle to distraction. The insufferable offence was that the Royal Irish Constabulary was mysteriously melting away under their eyes by voluntary resignation.

The shrewdest blow aimed at English rule by the Sinn Féin leaders was the disorganization of that redoubtable force. The Constabulary were the nerve-track by which Dublin Castle transmitted its orders to and received its information from the remotest parishes in the country; the network of espionage that penetrated every household; the army which had its detachment ready in every village to lay its heavy hand on the first stirrings of disaffection. It was assuredly the break-up of these village garrisons that eventually deprived the central government of its eyes and ears and hands, and the regular army forces which replaced them, irresistible though they were against armed opposition in the field, could but stagger about blindly in dealing with the hidden local forces respecting which the Constabulary could once have put them in possession of the most accurate particulars of place and persons. But it is a perversion of the truth to pretend that it was by violence and assassination the Royal Irish Constabulary was broken up. What dismayed the Castle authorities most was that, on the contrary, the process was throughout the years 1917 and 1918 a bloodless one, working within the body like some obscure epidemic; it sprang largely from the fact that the enthusiasm with which the rest of their countrymen were inflamed was infecting the younger and more generous-hearted of the Force, and no doubt, also, from the sharp pressure of local opinion upon their relatives in the country, and of those relatives themselves for whom it became an intolerable disgrace that men of their blood should stand in the way of the universal National uprising. It will be found that, long before the cruel individual assassinations that subsequently nearly decimated the Royal Irish Constabulary, some 2,500 of its best men had voluntarily resigned their connection with a service that had become hateful, and it was the dread that thousands more were on the point of imitating their example that drove the advisers of Sir Hamar Greenwood to endeavour to stop the dégringolade by flooding the Irish Force with the infamous "Black and Tans," and thereby involved the Constabulary in the hell of barbarities and reprisals through which the rest of their countrymen were forced to pass. History will establish it as one of the fundamental truths of those awful times that it was not the assassinations which brought the Black and Tans, but the Black and Tans who gave the signal for the assassinations, and that, of course, even the Black and Tans were less culpable than their paymasters.

There was another motive, baser still, for hastening to kill the process of peaceful self-determination before it was completed. In 1918 the General Election was pending. Sinn Féin was busy with its arrangements for a trial of strength on whose upshot it would depend whether or not Sinn Féin could speak as the authorized fiduciary of the nation. The old Hibernian Party was still no less busy, and was little less sanguine of its chances. The Hibernian successes in West Cork, Waterford and Armagh—the last that visited their banners—had filled them with the most extravagant hopes. One need not assume that Mr. Dillon, who still retained some portion of the influence which had made him the principal adviser of the Castle before the Easter Week rebellion, had anything to say to the measures now taken by the official wirepullers. But the Hibernians still held 74 seats, and anything might happen at the polls. Accordingly, the Sinn Féin Director of Electioneering was snapped up, some of his principal assistants in the provinces were arrested and their confidential documents confiscated, and the most dreaded of the Sinn Féin candidates and organizers were kidnapped and shut up in Internment Camps. The General Election might still be saved, if the Sinn Féin election arrangements could be sufficiently dislocated and the electors properly overawed. It all turned out, as anybody except the Tapers and Tadpoles of politics might have known. It did not alter the fate of the Hibernians at the General Election, but it did help to cripple the pacificators in their way of working out self-determination and it made the war spirits of the I.R.A. the masters of the situation.

The revolution by which the Royal Irish Constabulary was silently falling to pieces and their places taken by a Volunteer police, under whose protection new Courts of Justice were administering impartial fair play to Unionist and Nationalist alike, and the local government of the country carried on with astonishing efficiency and with absolute incorruptibility, was in reality only the legitimate application of those principles of self-determination which England and her Allies had consecrated in the Treaty of Versailles, and it was. the knowledge that the Government of the country was slipping away from them, without armed rebellion, by the mere organized enforcement of the people's will, that impelled the bureaucrats of Dublin Castle, since the crimeless will of the people was proving too strong for them, to make the people's will itself the worst of crimes and let loose the dogs of war to put it down with bloody tooth and claw.

In May 1918 Lord Wimborne was succeeded by Lord French as Viceroy and Sir Edward Duke by Mr. Shortt as Chief Secretary. It was not until January in the following year that the first shot was fired in what came to be known as the "murder campaign" against the R.I.C, when two constables escorting a waggon of gelignite were killed near Tipperary. The only pretext for first launching the new policy of blood and iron was one which is now known to be, at the best, a mare's nest, and at the worst a wicked invention—viz., the fresh "German Plot" of 1918 which Field Marshal French proclaimed to England he had discovered, and on the strength of which the terrors of Martial Law were intensified and Mr. De Valera and Mr. Griffith deported to England from their seats at the Mansion House Conference against Conscription. The late Lord Lieutenant (Lord Wimborne) had never heard of "the Plot"; Sir Bryan Mahon, the Commander-in-Chief, we know on the authority of Colonel Repington's book told the new Viceroy (Lord French) he flatly disbelieved the story; when, after two years' refusal to produce the evidence on which it was based, the documents at last saw the light, they turned out to be a "crambe repetita" of negotiations which had taken place before the Rising of 1916 with some sham "German Irish Society" in Berlin. Under cover of this bogus alarm, without a shadow of evidence to connect Messrs. De Valera and Griffith with these antiquated treasons, they were deported to England without any form of trial, with many hundreds of the more responsible Sinn Féin leaders as well; newspapers were suppressed, public meetings broken up, and an endless series of prosecutions, followed by savage sentences, were instituted upon charges none of which involved bloodshed or armed hostilities of any kind—charges of wearing green uniforms, drilling, singing "The Soldier's Song," being found in possession of photographs of the Rebel leaders, taking part in the Arbitration Courts, either as Arbitrators, solicitors or clients and the like. The campaign was originally undertaken while Field-Marshal French's military operations for the enforcement of Conscription were complete, and in the fatuous hope that the removal of Messrs. De Valera and Griffith would break the back of the opposition. It was directed not against crime in any ordinary acceptation of the term, but against an intangible and omnipresent expression of the National will, which, however awkward for English military calculations, was directly authorized by President Wilson's charter of democratic liberty which enabled England to win the war. Cruel deeds of violence will never be entirely missing from ebullitions of the most fervid passions of men in resistance to unscrupulous oppression; but in general it was the very peacefulness of the revolution which was silently superseding English Government in all its functions, dissolving its police, transforming its Courts of Justice, baffling its Conscription Act and rallying the allegiance of the people with one consent to a new National Government—this was the phenomenon which roused the ire of the Courts-martial, and prompted the blunder-headed soldier at the Viceregal Lodge to strike harder and harder as he found his wild sabre-strokes against the will of a nation were in vain. The point to be retained is that it was many months after Sinn Féin had been deprived of its leaders and harried by a thousand persecutions of mere opinion and sentiment now confessed by England to be irrepressible, before the civic side of Sinn Féin was overborne, and the Irish Republican Army gradually allowed themselves to be goaded into a war of guerillas.

A tremendous bribe of doubled and in some categories trebled pay staunched the flow of resignations in the Royal Irish Constabulary and stimulated the zeal of those who remained to earn promotion by the least reputable services against their countrymen. Nevertheless, although the Sinn Féin leaders were now driven more fixedly than ever to the conclusion that in striking at the R.I.C. they were striking at the brain and life-centre of English rule, the first months of the guerilla war were still free from the stain of individual assassinations, arsons and barbarities in which both sides were before long vieing. Considerable bodies of policemen and military who were captured in ambushes and in attacks upon police barracks were treated with soldierly courtesy, and their wives and children rescued from positions of danger. The members of the Dublin Metropolitan Police had no sooner refused to go about armed than they were left free from molestation throughout all the subsequent wars. It was not until an officer in high command made a round of the country Constabulary stations, and harangued the younger men in terms which had their first practical repercussion in the Thurles district of Tipperary, where constables maddened with drink dragged local Sinn Féiners from their beds and murdered them and set fire to their homes, that the Thurles police "reprisals" following the two murders near Tipperary began to be avenged by "counter-reprisals" no less savage on the other side. The mass of the rank and file, however, continued to be Irishmen of too humane and Godfearing a character to be trusted as the executioners of atrocities like these upon men of their own blood and creed. The ferocity on both sides only reached a pitch never witnessed in Ireland before when Sir Hamar Greenwood hit upon the expedient of importing "the Black and Tans" to take the places of the resigning R.I.C. and to infect with their own villainy the most evil elements left behind in the Irish Force.

These unemployables of the demobilised army were in general desperadoes of the vilest type, ready for any deed of blood which their free license from Dublin Castle might present to them, and so true to their depraved origin that, not content with their wages of a guinea a day, they were not above snatching the purse of the wife of General Strickland, the Military Governor of Cork, in the principal street of that City. Whenever the detailed record of their operations comes to be drawn up, it will constitute a more ignoble chapter of murder, devastation, robbery and cruelty—mostly against defenceless elders, women and children—than all the black generations of Carews, Cromwells and Carhamptons had been able to contribute in the course of seven centuries to England's annals in Ireland.

To pile up evidence of the atrocities brought home to the military forces of the Crown would be to harrow the feelings of the humane to an insufferable degree and perhaps to do the English nation in general the injustice of imputing to them complicity in horrors which shall however long live to the shame of their responsible Ministers. It must suffice to give one sample out of thousands upon an authority that cannot be impeached. It is taken from the considered judgment of Judge Bodkin, who had been for fourteen years the respected Co. Court Judge of Clare, and whose fearless judicial calm, in face of armed force and baser official threats, forms one of the brightest records of that dire time:

"It was proved before me, on sworn evidence in open Court, that on the night of September 22nd, the town of Lahinch was attacked by a large body of armed forces of the Government. Rifle shots were fired apparently at random in the streets and a very large number of houses and shops were broken into, set on fire, and their contents looted or destroyed. The inhabitants, most of them in their night clothes, men, women and children, invalids, old people over eighty, and children in arms, were compelled, at a moment's notice and at peril of their lives, to fly through back doors and windows to the sandhills in the neighbourhood of the town where they remained during the night, returning in the morning to find their homes completely destroyed. In the course of this attack a man, named Joseph Sammon, was shot dead. There were in all before me 38 claims for the criminal injuries committed on that occasion, and after full consideration of the claims I awarded a total sum of over £65,000.

"On the same night the town of Ennistymon was similarly invaded by the armed forces of the Government, shots were fired in the streets, the town hall and a large number of houses and shops were broken into, set on fire, and, with their contents, destroyed. As in Lahinch, the inhabitants were compelled to fly for their lives. A young married man, named Connole, was seized in the street, by a party of men under command of an officer. His wife, who was with him, pleaded on her knees with the officer for the life of her husband, but he was taken away a short distance, shot, and his charred remains were found next morning in his own house, which had been burnt. Another young man, named Linnane, was shot dead in the streets while attempting to extinguish the flames. For the criminal injuries committed in the progress of this attack there were 13 claims, and I awarded upwards of £39,000 compensation.

"On the same night the town of Miltown Malbay was similarly invaded by the armed forces of the Government. A large number of houses and shops were broken into, set on fire and destroyed, the inhabitants escaping with difficulty and danger. An old woman named Lynch proved that during the course of this raid, just before the burning of her house, her husband (an old man of 75), while standing beside her at her own doorway, was shot dead by a soldier in uniform, distant about ten yards. She made no claim for the murder of her husband. I awarded £414 for the destruction of her home and property. It is right to add that in this town some of the Military and Police endeavoured to extinguish the flames. There were before me in respect of the raid of Miltown Malbay 28 claims, and I awarded upwards of £45,000.

"A farmer named Daniel Egan applied to me for compensation for the alleged murder of his son. It was proved that a number of men arrested his son, and three other men, at his residence on the shores of Lough Derg, bound them with ropes and carried them away in a boat. The next the father heard of his son was a telegram from the police informing him that he had been shot on the bridge at Killaloe, and directing him to come to Killaloe for the corpse. On going to the police station he found his son's dead body in a coffin. There was a number of military and police present, but the only one he knew was District Inspector Gwynne. I allowed the case to stand for a week for the production of the District Inspector. The District Inspector did not appear, and I adjourned the case to next Sessions."

The reply of the Chief Secretary to Judge Bodkin's Report was to have him served in Court by the Co. Inspector of the Royal Irish Constabulary with the following notice:

"To His Honor Judge Bodkin. "Sir, I have been directed by the Commander of the Forces to prohibit Courts of Justice dealing with claims for compensation involving allegations against the Crown forces or police in this area." And the Judge's observation is: "On taking my place on the Bench I observed a large armed force in the Court, apparently for the purpose of enforcing the prohibition. I adjourned to next Sessions all cases in which it was alleged that the criminal injuries were committed by the armed forces of the Government."

But the guilt of the scurvy rogues now let loose upon Ireland was a small matter when measured with that of their Ministerial paymasters. What the Government sanctimoniously called "reprisals" were, as we have seen, their way of avenging themselves for the collapse of Conscription and the realization of Self-Determination without their leave. They deliberately resolved to treat this phenomenon of National self-liberation by the mere force of natural justice as the crime of a murder-gang and to stamp it out by unloosing the worst ruffians they could hire upon the country at free quarters and to turn a blind eye to their enormities or deny them altogether until their hellish work was done. It is not necessary to assume that Mr. Lloyd George and Sir Hamar Greenwood acquainted themselves fully with the character of the agents they were employing; their culpability was that they did not inquire for themselves until the experiment failed and their boasts that they "had Sinn Féin on the run" and "had the murder-gang by the throat" were turned to their ridicule as prophets as well as to their confusion in the eyes of a conscience-stricken England. One small piece of evidence would be in itself sufficient to stain Mr. Lloyd George with responsibility for the deeds of the Black and Tans. It was a newspaper photograph representing an inspection by the Prime Minister of a contingent of these worthies at a time when their ill-fame was at its worst and when Ireland was supposed to be cowering in terror under their bloody lash. The smirk of admiration on Mr. Lloyd George's face as he surveyed their ruffian ranks gives as damning testimony of his feelings as if he had shouted to them through a megaphone: "You are the boys for my money. Go in and win!"

Sir Hamar Greenwood's ignorance of a country where he had never trod until he came to crucify her might in some degree excuse his original employment of the Black and Tans: the most indulgent historian will look in vain for any palliation of the mendacity which he made his principal instrument of government, so long as it was possible to cover up their crimes. The Lord Mayor of Cork, Thomas MacCurtin, was visited at midnight by one of those black bands, summoned out of bed and foully murdered in the sight of his wife and children. Sir Hamar Greenwood blandly assured the House of Commons on the authority of the assassins that the Lord Mayor was murdered by his own Sinn Féin associates, and the fact that he was as consistent a hater of foul play in any shape as he was ever the first to risk his life for his principles was actually quoted in support of the atrocious suggestion that it was for his moderation the Lord Mayor was slaughtered by his own comrades. The citizens who had murdered their own beloved Lord Mayor gave him a public funeral which was a spectacle of universal mourning the most impressive that was ever beheld there and raised a subscription of £23,000 for his widow and children. Still Sir Hamar Greenwood never blenched.

Later on when the Curfew was sternly enforced, and nobody in the streets except the Army of Occupation, the most valuable warehouses in the main thoroughfare of Cork, Patrick St., were set on fire with petroleum by five separate gangs of incendiaries, the houses burned to the ground with carefully organized efficiency, and hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of property destroyed or looted. At the same time, in another part of the city, the Town Hall was invaded by the petroleurs and given to the flames, and the Carnegie Free Library adjoining was added to the holocaust. Once more Sir Hamar Greenwood, with forehead of brass, arose in the House of Commons to declare that it was the Sinn Féiners themselves who had burned the fairest part of their city and razed to the ground the headquarters of their local government. In order to give some air of verisimilitude to his theory that the latter incident was an accidental one, he explained that the flames from the Sinn Féiners' operations in Patrick St. had extended to the Municipal Buildings before the area of conflagration could be limited. The truth was that the Town Hall and the Free Library were situate nearly a mile away from Patrick St., with a river and a dense network of untouched streets between them and the burnt area of Patrick St. from which the Chief Secretary represented they had caught fire. The lie, gross as a mountain, was good enough for the House of Commons and was never cleared up nor apologised for. The origin of the attempt to burn down Cork was indeed ordered to be investigated at a secret military inquiry by General Strickland, the Governor of the City. All demands for the publication of the text of the Strickland report, or even of its conclusions, were resisted by Sir Hamar Greenwood. To this hour an ignorant England accepts the legend that it was the miscreant Sinn Féiners themselves who murdered their Lord Mayor, burnt down their Town Hall, plundered and gave to the flames the wealthiest region of their city, and all because the Report of the Military Governor on these infamies was successfully suppressed, if it was not itself committed to the flames as well by England's highest ministers. What inference the Black and Tans themselves drew from their Chief Secretary's intrepidity in covering up their wildest falsifications as his own may be judged from the fact that the men well known to have been the incendiaries were no sooner removed from Cork, as the one concession made to General Strickland's expostulations than they in cold blood murdered Canon Magner, the parish priest of Dunmanway—perhaps the least politically-minded man of his race— and went within an ace of murdering a Resident Magistrate, Mr. Brady, R.M., who happened to be an inconvenient witness of the butchery. Two successive Mayors of Limerick—Mr. O'Callaghan and Mr. Clancy—were, like their colleague in Cork shot dead in their homes in presence of their horrified wives; once again, the cynic in the Irish Office adopted from the assassins their loathsome plea that the slaughter of the Mayors of Limerick was the work of their brother Sinn Féiners, and that it was because of their very nobleness of character their fellow-citizens had slain them. It was not even lying reduced to a fine art: it was lying naked, boisterous and unashamed.

These are not isolated instances of the Greenwood method of government; they are samples of a system widely practised and unblushingly persisted in. If he had been impeached for crimes against public liberty no less heinous than Warren Hastings was summoned to answer for, the verdict could scarcely have been otherwise than that his audacity in concealing and perverting the truth carried with it a deeper shame than the worst enormities of the poor hirelings, whom it must be bluntly stated, he stimulated by his incitements and sheltered by his unlimited lying. The first and the worst offence of the Black and Tans in the eyes of Mr. Lloyd George or of Sir Hamar Greenwood was that they failed. No pit of official ignorance in which these personages may take refuge is deep enough to bury the ugly fact out of sight.

Read "The Irish Revolution" at your leisure

The Irish Revolution

Read The Irish Revolution at your leisure and help support this free Irish library.

William O'Brien was a County Cork M.P. who participated in the negotiations for Home Rule in Ireland. In this account, first published in 1923, he provides an insight into the politics and politicians of the time - John Redmond, John Dillon, Arthur Griffith, Sir Edward Carson, Bonar Law, Lloyd George, Winston Churchill, etc. - and gives his analysis of the origins of the Easter Rising of 1916 and the subsequent Irish Civil War. From his own perspective, O'Brien was very much anti-Partition, and was evidently frustrated at the failure to give adequate reassurance to the Northern Unionists.

The ebook is available in .mobi (for Kindle), .epub (for iBooks, etc.), and .pdf formats, and a sample PDF can be downloaded. For more information on the book see details ».