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Useful Notes: The Irish Revolution
aka: Irish Revolution

In 1912, the Westminster Parliament in London passed the Home Rule Bill for Ireland, meaning that Ireland would have its own parliament and could make its own political decisions, to a certain extent of course. Unionists, usually Protestants and many descendants of those who had invaded the country under Cromwell, who desired continued rule of the country from Westminster, strongly opposed Home Rule as they were loyal to Britain and saw the bill as a threat that could lead to a nationalist and Catholic-dominated country. However, the Bill ended up being suspended from being put into action by the start of WW1 anyway.

The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) was formed by Unionist leaders Edward Carson and James Craig with the goal of defending British dominance in Ireland by the use of force if necessary. Within a year it was estimated the UVF had a force of over 100,000 men, half of whom were armed with rifles. The pro-independence Irish National Volunteers formed in response, also arming themselves.

As Ireland was heading fast towards civil war, the First World War helped lead Ireland more towards independence from Britain. Unionists answered Britain’s call for the fight against Germany and the UVF merged into the 36th Ulster division of the British Army (the original UVF were largely killed fighting in the trenches-a revived loyalist terrorist organization named this formed in Northern Ireland later during The Troubles.)

As Britain concentrated all its efforts in the fight against Germany in WWI, Irish Nationalists saw a window of opportunity and by 1915 the Irish Republican Brotherhood, Irish Volunteers and Irish Citizen Army started to plan a rebellion.

On Easter Sunday of 1916 the Easter Rising (as it came to be known) began with Patrick Pearse reading the Proclamation of the Irish Republic out in Dublin.

The 1916 Rising lasted only a week, with the British Army successfully regaining control of Dublin after destroying much of the city. The 14 leaders of the uprising were captured, given quick show trials by military tribunals and shot for high treason, an event that helped shaped Irish political opinions for years to follow.

The only surviving leader of the Rising was Sinn Fein Party leader Eamon de Valera–whom the British did not want to shoot since he was a US citizen and angering the US could have jeopardized the chances the United States would come into World War I on the side of the Allies. De Valera went on to become president of the Irish Republic. Support for Sein Fein dramatically increased due to the deaths of the Easter Rising leaders who fought for Irish independence.

De Valera and other captured Irish rebels were released in 1918 after an amnesty. Immediately they began to campaign against conscription into the British Army (which had just been introduced to Ireland) and for the fall general election. Due to wide-spread popular support stemming from outrage at conscription (a measure Unionists also opposed) and mass internment of Irish people suspected of aiding the rebellion, Sinn Fein won in a landslide, winning 73 seats out of 105. With this mandate, on 21 January 1919 the Sinn Fein delegates formed their own parliament, the Dail Eireann (Irish Chamber), which elected a government including Eamonn de Valera as President of the Irish Republic and reiterated their independence proclamation.

Fighting began the same day with a shootout between IRA members and police. The Irish Republican Army had been formed in 1918 under Michael Collins, which the Dail Eireann had no control over (the IRA did not swear loyalty to them until August 1920), and the Dail was banned in August of 1919, with its entire cabinet being arrested save Collins (in fact only 27 of the 73 candidates elected were out of prison to attend when the Dail first assembled). The IRA went on to fight British forces by guerrilla methods, with great success. Collins pioneered urban guerrilla tactics which later movements used from Israel to China. In 1920, British WW1 veterans were sent in as auxiliary troops and police reservists. Becoming known as "Black and Tans" due to the color of their uniforms, they were notorious for brutality, and were disliked for it even by many British officers. Irish hatred for British forces on their soil was fueled even more when an 18-year old member of the IRA, Kevin Barry, was sentenced to death and hanged on Felony Murder charges, though he had not actually killed anyone. This served only to harden resistance, and the underground Irish government gained control of most rural areas, even setting up its own "Republican courts" that handled both civil and criminal cases. Although these were not empowered to pass death sentences on prisoners, IRA military tribunals that convicted people of collaborating with British forces could and did, along with with its mainly extrajudicial killings, especially of police officers, informants or intelligence agents. For its part, the British administration put to death 24 IRA members (including Kevin Berry) convicted of various offenses, and Munster was under martial law. As Irish coroner's juries repeatedly found that British forces had committed crimes against civilians, inquests were transferred to the military courts of inquiry, which whitewashed atrocities. Such abuses merely served to increase support for the Republicans.

In June 1921, Britain called a truce, and peace talks began. British and Irish representatives in London met to discuss a treaty. After much wrangling in which full independence was rejected from Britain's side, a compromise was agreed-Ireland would become a self-governing dominion like Canada or Australia, called the Irish Free State, with a British Governor-General and requiring oaths of loyalty by all government officials (later to become a major issue). However, the 6 Protestant-majority counties in the north were allowed to opt out if they wished and remain part of Britain, which they immediately did. Previously the Government of Ireland Act 1920 had been passed to divide Ireland into two territories, Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland. In 1921 the first Parliament of Northern Ireland was opened at Stormont, along with the Southern one in Dublin. Northern Ireland was thus also born. This has often been referred to, somewhat inaccurately, as "Ulster" particularly by Unionists, though the historic province contained 9 counties, but 3 Catholic-majority ones (Donegal, Monaghan and Cavan) became part of the Irish Free State.

The Treaty of Independence divided Irish Nationalists, including members of the IRA, with one half (led by Eamonn de Valera) viewing it as a betrayal, leaving part of Ireland in British hands, with Catholics persecuted by loyalist violence. Michael Collins, on the other hand, led the Treaty delegation and viewed it merely as a stepping stone for an independent, united Ireland (he also smuggled arms to Northern Ireland so the people there could defend themselves). He became the commander-in-chief of the Irish Free State Army, formed of IRA troops who supported him. A tragic, bloody civil war broke out, with former comrades fighting on both sides against each other. During an ambush in his native County Cork, Michael Collins was killed by anti-Treaty forces (intentionally or not, it is unclear). Early the next year, the anti-Treaty forces surrendered, although the IRA remained. After WW2, in 1949 the Republic of Ireland was declared, fully independent from the British Commonwealth. Northern Ireland remained a source of The Troubles, with cross-border involvement, until 1998.

The Irish Revolution in fiction:

  • Boardwalk Empire: Season 2 has Nucky dealing with the IRA, trading American firearms for Irish whisky. However John McGarrigle (the IRA leader Nucky conducts business with) is a Composite Character of sorts, bearing a strong physical resemblance to Eamonn de Valera but being pro-treaty like Michael Collins and getting assassinated as a result.
  • Michael Collins: Mostly involving historical figures, including the title character.
  • The Wind That Shakes the Barley
  • An episode of Young Indiana Jones featured Indy getting caught in the Easter Rising en route to join the Belgian army and fight in World War One.
  • Downton Abbey: Branson has relatives who died in the Easter Rising. An Irish nationalist and socialist, he wholeheartedly and full-throatedly supports the revolution, much to the discomfort of some of the other servants and the Crawleys (particularly after he marries Sybil). After Series 2 (in 1919) he departs for Ireland to take up a career in journalism, but he (and a pregnant Sybil) is forced to flee back to Downton in Series 3 (in 1920) after one of his revolutionary activities goes horribly awry.


The Irish Revolution contains tropes such as:

  • Cool Guns: The IRA were some of the very earliest users of the Thompson submachine gun.
    • They were also well known for using the Mauser (the original .43 caliber Model 1871). After the Easter Rising, British authorities were able to identify many of the shooters by the bruises on their shoulders.
  • Combat Pragmatist: The IRA mimicked the tactics of the Boers to great effect. Justified in that conventional warfare had turned out to be a disaster.
  • Epic Fail: Early in the war the Divisional Police Commissioner for Munster, Gerald Smyth, gave a speech in Listowel to an assembled group of RIC officers intended both to stiffen morale and reassure the police they would not face penalty if they shot someone who turned out to be innocent. Thirteen RIC officers resigned outright after the speech and several of them actually defected to the IRA.
  • Evil Brit: The Black and Tans and the Auxiliaries were well known to have caused many atrocities (see Police Brutality), though they weren't all from the British mainland. Some were actually recruited within Ireland itself.
    • Ironically, the many nastier elements of both sides probably qualified (at least by political technicality) even if those on the Republican side did not want to be considered "Brits" and Ireland was not part of the geographic island of Great Britain.
  • Heel-Face Turn: Both the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) saw several defections to the IRA. Eamon Broy and David Neligan (both of DMP) in particular were incredibly valuable Reverse Moles.
  • La Résistance: The IRA.
  • Improbable Age: Many of the Irish leaders were remarkably young, at least by the standards of the time. Michael Collins famously was only 31 when he died and many of his peers were not much older.
  • Police Brutality: The Black and Tans and the Auxiliaries were almost universally despised for their thuggery even by the RIC officers they were supposedly reinforcing, along with many in Britain who would not automatically have sympathised with the IRA. King George V himself told the wife of the Chief Secretary that he hated the idea of the Black and Tans.
    • This was also enforced by the Republican government in the areas it was able to take over, and continued up into the Irish Civil War. Though to be fair, the IRA guerrillas could be pretty brutal themselves.
  • Spotlight-Stealing Squad: The Irish Citizen Army numbered less than 300 people and during the Easter Rising they were outnumbered more than three to one by the non-socialist Irish Volunteers, yet to read some Irish writers like Seán O'Casey (a committed socialist himself) they did most of the fighting. In particular Popular History has it that most Dubliners in the fighting were in the Citizen Army ranks while the Volunteers represented rural Ireland, but in reality the Volunteers doing the actual shooting were mostly from Dublin.
  • Token Good Teammate: Arguably, the Republican rebels were briefly this to the Central Powers.
  • World War One: Overlapped with the early parts of it, and had a major influence on how it turned out. Both sides got huge amounts of experienced, hardened men and well-worn materials from the same side of the trenches. The result when they returned to a turbulent Ireland was ugly.

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alternative title(s): Irish Revolution
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