These are the people, the right-wing Nationalist forces, that initiated and won the counter-revolutionary civil war of 1921-23 and this is the conservative Irish Free State they replaced the liberal Irish Republic with. From an article by Fin Dwyer of the excellent Irish History Podcast:
“In the early 1920s Ireland was in a ruinous state. The war of independence, the civil war and an economic depression were taking their toll on society.
The governing party, Cumann na nGaedheal, were committed to bringing the country back onto an even keel. However this led to one of the darkest chapters in Ireland’s economic history when they attempted to cover up severe levels of starvation among substantial numbers of the population.
The government plan was simple and will resonate with many today – extreme austerity. A highly conservative party, they were committed to trickledown economics seeing large farmers as the engine of the economy. Therefore they tried to cut the richer farmers’ tax and costs while also reducing government expenditure – regardless of the social cost.
The harvest in 1923 and, in particular, 1924 was nothing short of disastrous. The weather, while not particularly cold, was unusually wet. Crop yields collapsed.
The worst affected areas were in the west of Ireland and particularly the Atlantic Islands [ASF: that is, of course, the predominantly Irish-speaking communities].
As early as the 20th of August 1924 the Meath Chronicle reported “a famine condition is imminent as bad as 1847”. Through the early autumn, local and national newspapers were littered with similar predictions of mass starvation.
By October, people in Connemara were reported to be surviving on seaweed and shell fish.
On New Year’s Eve 1924, a doctor was called to the home of Michael Kane who lived on Omey Island. Arriving at the house, the physician found “Kane was lying on the stone floor near a small turf fire. His emaciated face showed only too plainly the cause of his illness. The man was starving and too far-gone to benefit from medical attention. Two children, of three years and two years, respectively were lying by the fire trying to keep warm. They too were weak for want of nourishment.” Kane died two days later in Galway hospital…
He was not the only casualty. In January and February, newspapers in Clare and Galway reported the deaths of over 10 people, predominantly children, from starvation or starvation related disease. Harrowing accounts of desperate poverty filled newspaper columns.
English newspapers began to carry articles outlining the nature of events in Ireland. In the following months it was carried around the world; by April it was receiving prominent attention in the Soviet Daily Pravda. However it was The Manchester Guardian that carried the most detailed reports which claimed around 750,000 people were starving.
Speaking in the Dáil the Minister for Agriculture, Mr P.J. Hogan, ludicrously asserted “There is no abnormal distress in the West this year. I say that definitely and deliberately. There is always distress in the West, but the distress this year is not…particularly unique….There is never real famine in the West…”
Hogan was not the only one to ignore the suffering and starvation of the population. No one in the Dáil challenged the minister’s assertions – not even the leader of the opposition Labour Party, Thomas Johnson.
Indeed despite the fact that there were numerous cases of deaths and widespread reports of destitution, the topic of starvation or ‘distress’ did not dominate political debate in the following weeks. When the topic was discussed, the government was almost hostile.
Why cover up the crisis?
When faced with a choice of downplaying the starvation or risking their international reputation, the choice was simple for the politicians of Cumann na nGaedhael.
Individuals like P.J. Hogan lived in a world apart from those who were starving. He belonged to a different class…
Ultimately, Ireland was saved from a full blown famine in later 1925 and 1926 but not by government action. Instead a greatly improved harvest in the Autumn of 1925 saw the plight of most of those at risk improve slightly.”
On the perennially supine role of the Irish Labour Party at this period, the tail to the conservative dog, the magazine History Ireland has this to say:
“The Labour Party’s response to the crisis reflected the policy of the party at the time. Under [Thomas] Johnson’s leadership, the party had entered the Free State parliament and effectively accepted the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Johnson, a strict constitutionalist, wanted to help consolidate the new Free State. While critical of the government on many issues, the party did not question the constitutional status of the state for fear it would weaken its foundations.
In response to reports of famine in the west, government supporters claimed that the British press sought to denigrate the fledgling Free State. The Labour Party, true to form, completely backed the government in its response to the crisis. Johnson… took credit from the fact that his party had asked the government to look into the crisis. This was the line coming from the leader of a supposedly left-wing opposition that had little representation among those worst affected by the poverty. As on many other occasions, Johnson chose to provide the government with a crutch rather than try to win the working-class vote in a time of crisis.
The severe poverty in the west was at its worst in 1925 owing to the failure of the potato crop and the lack of turf. In the following years the winters were less severe but poverty continued to cause serious problems. From 1926 onwards, the major difficulty for inhabitants of the western seaboard was the inability to pay land annuities, which had to be collected by the Free State and paid to the British government every year.”
Everything that went wrong with independent Ireland, everything that is wrong with independent Ireland, began in 1921 when several misguided patriots signed an agreement in London that betrayed an entire revolution – and an entire generation of young men and women who so nearly won it.