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Ireland’s British Rebels

Members of the Ulster Volunteer Force, an early 20th century British terrorist organisation in Ireland, jointly parade with soldiers of the British Army in Omagh, Ireland, c.1914
Members of the Ulster Volunteer Force, an early 20th century British terrorist organisation in Ireland, jointly parade with soldiers of the British Army in Omagh, Ireland, c.1914

Once again it takes an Irish journalist working in a foreign newspaper to write what the Irish press would never dare write (because they don’t want their readers to stray outside their strict ideological view of history, falsifications and half-truths to the fore). Melanie McDonagh in the London Independent with a rare, rare glimmer of historical accuracy when it comes to Ireland’s troubled British history while discussing Martin McGuinness, the Sinn Féin Joint First Minister in the north of Ireland. She asks in the article:

“…why the militant republicanism he represents was necessary; why the constitutional options for dealing with the Irish problem took so long; why Sinn Fein trumped the Irish parliamentary party in the first place; why – in short – we got where we are now.

For the answer to that, we need to go back exactly 100 years. Well, a bit more possibly, but a century would do nicely. Because that’s when the last chance for resolving the Irish question peaceably and in a unitary fashion was stymied. It’s when the Third Home Rule bill granting self-government, excluding defence, to Ireland was passed, but leaving out Ulster, first temporarily and then permanently.

It was the last time for resolving the Irish Question by peaceful means and it was vitiated by a terrifying combination of violence and the threat of violence, not from Republicans, but from Ulster Unionists bent on ensuring that Home Rule would not apply to Ulster, or at least to the “plantation counties” – what turned into the six counties of Northern Ireland. Two previous Home Rule bills from Gladstone had already been seen off, the second by being blocked by the House of Lords.

And just when it seemed that Home Rule might finally happen, after the House of Lords lost its power of veto, British politicians gave way to the revolutionary methods adopted by Ulster Unionists – chief of which was the formation of a paramilitary army intended to resist the writ of parliament, equipped with guns and ammunitions run from Germany. In their resistance they were backed to the hilt by the British Tory party as represented by Bonar Law, a Presbyterian minister’s son. It must be said, though, that most of the British players in these events, including Churchill and Lloyd George, were influenced, like him, by an instinctive antipathy to Roman Catholicism. And without that recourse to physical force; to violence (which Britons invariably associate with Irish republicanism), the state of Northern Ireland would never have come into being. At least not the way it was constituted.

In response to the formation of the Ulster Volunteers and their successful shipments of guns and ammunition from Germany, the government decided to undertake a show of military force. But it ran into the flat refusal of British Army officers based in the Curragh to move against the Unionists, with whom they very much identified. The response of ministers was to capitulate. (The Army’s reaction was very different when Irish nationalists began their own gunrunning in response, on a much smaller scale: soldiers sent to deal with it fired on a crowed of Dublin civilians, killing four people.)

The lessons of all this were not lost on Irish nationalists. The inevitable result of the success of Ulster Unionist tactics, and the capitulation of British ministers to the threat of force, was that the position of the constitutional nationalist leader, John Redmond, was terminally undermined. His Irish Parliamentary Party, which had held the balance of power in Westminster, was discredited even before the 1916 Easter Rising.”

Nominally British troops of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) move into Dublin to support the British Occupation Forces during the latter stages of the Easter Rising of 1916. The presence of the despised UVF added to anger in the capital following the actions of the British forces during the week of fighting
Nominally British troops of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) move into Dublin to support the British Occupation Forces during the latter stages of the Easter Rising of 1916. The presence of the despised UVF added to anger in the capital following the actions of the British forces during the week of fighting

6 comments on “Ireland’s British Rebels

  1. Bonar Law and Churchill were no fans of the Unionists apathy towards the catholic church only in an Irish context since the author forgets the most senior british catholic the duke of norfolk participated in one anti-home rule gathering in Blenheim palace so the article also forgets how the Roman Catholic Church opposed Irish Nationalism and Republicanism plus the participation of Non-Irish protestants like Arthur Griffith, Erskine Childers who did not have the standard Gaelo-Catholic Background that most separatists came from etc. The author is confusing Nationality with religion and therefore negates some good information shown here..

    • Fair enough criticism, Mark, but it’s hard to deny the antipathy towards Roman Catholicism as a faith in early 20th century Britain, sectarianism really, despite the presence of many RC Anglo-British in the higher echelons of British society. It was certainly a motivator, though only one of many.

  2. Andrew Boyd presented the same type of information in Republicanism and Loyalty in Ireland (2001). Nice to see the info finally going mainstream!!!

  3. Interesting but I disagree with two propositions:
    a) that Home Rule would have settled the “Irish Question”, though I agree it would have averted uprising and guerilla war for awhile. History has shown that there will never be peace until imperialism is kicked out of Ireland.
    b) That it was mainly anti-Catholicism that motivated the pandering to Unionists.

    For some reason that I find difficult to understand, a great many people cannot believe that the such as the monopoly capitalist and aristocratic capitalists, responsible for imperialism and colonialism, ACT ESSENTIALLY IN THEIR OWN CLASS INTERESTS. They are prepared to disregard ethnicity, class and religion when it suits them.

    Essentially WASP and anti-Jewish ruling classes of two imperial powers, Britain and the USA, supported the setting up of a planted Zionist colony in Palestine. They did so in their own interests, yet nowadays so many people have to find Jewish banking and media interests as being behind the continued support of those powers for Israel, instead of seeing the simple truth.

    Despite their anti-Catholicism, the British ruling class disestablished the Anglican Church in Ireland — because it recognised that the Catholic Church could much better control the Irish than could be done otherwise (something which sadly the Republican movement has failed to recognise). The partition of Ireland came about because a section of the British imperialists believed, probably correctly, that a united Ireland would become a truly independent one and that would not be in the interests of the British ruling class for a number of reasons — ideological, economic, strategic location …. That section continues to dominate British policy as it has done for centuries. They cannot be convinced otherwise (and not only because they are probably right in their belief) but must be overthrown and expelled.

    • All good points, Diarmuid. I’m certainly of the view that an armed revolution was inevitable. What all these Negationist historians and writers studiously ignore is the actual outcome of Irish democracy in 1918 and 1921 (not to mention the local elections of 1920): overwhelming pro-independence votes in all three cases. And the response of the British was an adamant refusal to accept those democratic demands. We don’t need to theorise about Home Rule. We know what really happened and what the British response would have been.

      In any case rural unrest, the aftermath of the Land War, was still rumbling away in the Midlands and West right up to 1916 and beyond. The War of Independence merely gave a macro expression to an already existing micro phenomenon.

  4. sorry, meant to say “such as the aristocratic and monopoly capitalist CLASSES”

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