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The Great Betrayal Of Ireland’s Counter-Revolution

Back in 2014 I wrote about the “Great Betrayal”, the abandonment of an all-Ireland republic, an all-Ireland revolution, and an all-Ireland community through the actions of the Provisionals, the minority Collins-Griffith faction of Sinn Féin and the Irish Republican Army, following the signing of the “Treaty between Great Britain and Ireland” in December of 1921. In violation of their oaths as members of the government, parliament and defence forces of the 32 County Republic, in contradiction of its constitution, in contempt of three plebiscite-elections supporting the revolutionary state, the breakaway Pro-Treaty grouping gradually turned on their comrades and friends in pursuit of a policy of appeasement with the rump United Kingdom. A policy which inevitably led to the abandonment of men and women in the north-east of Ireland, in the 6 Counties, who had fought to gain the same freedoms that their fellow citizens would eventually enjoy in the 26 Counties. Despite the partial history that some would espouse, the liberation of the greater part of this island and its population was secured on the streets of Belfast and Derry as much as it was on the streets of Dublin and Cork. The years 1919 to 1921 represent not a Southern Irish War of Independence but simply an Irish War of Independence.

The journalist, Jennifer Hough, touches upon this domestic al-Nakbah in a recent opinion piece for the Irish Examiner, giving voice to a view largely rendered silent by the ideological, quasi-unionist consensus of the Irish press. Pondering on the supposed apathy that exists across the country when it comes to the demand for national reunification, Hough comes upon a memorial in Belfast to one of the seminal events of the anti-Irish pogroms of 1969, the razing of the city’s Bombay Street district:

“I’m ashamed to admit, it was the first time I’d heard of the event in 1969, which saw loyalists burn Catholics out of their homes.

Eight people died during the burning of Bombay St, 750 were injured and more than 2,000 Catholics were left homeless. Standing in that tiny memorial garden, surrounded by the names of civilians killed in their communities, it’s not difficult to understand why people reacted like they did. And indeed walking around West Belfast in general, it is very easy to understand why the IRA flourished — the people felt they had no other support or protection.

It was always easy for us in our largely middle-class trouble-free 26 counties to tut tut at what went on during the Troubles, but if the British army had set up in Galway, Cork, Athlone; if people were burnt out of their homes, do we not think the population in those areas would have responded in a similar fashion? I will freely admit that it felt good to stand with the people of West Belfast on Easter Sunday — and to honour their dead.

That doesn’t mean condoning the bloodshed, but acknowledging it, and the reasons why it happened, not least because a civilian population stood up to discrimination they faced and were met with the might of the British Empire.

It’s likely that calling Bobby Sands a terrorist is not something that would sit easy with most Irish people. If we don’t call Sands a terrorist, then can we call the rest of the people, who fought in what they considered a war, one?

Speaking to ordinary Irish people in Belfast over the weekend, what came across strongly was the feeling of being abandoned by the Republic, not just in the worst of times — but all of the time. They are a proudly Irish people… They look South to us…

One man put it bluntly: “I live in an occupied land.” At first I dismissed what he said as an old-school Republican stance. But as the weekend wore on, the statement niggled at me…

Apart from Sinn Féin, (I am not a member) Irish political parties do not entertain the notion of a united Ireland.

Is it because we’ve so blatantly abandoned our Irish population in the North that we cannot bear to face up to it?

…the Republic, through our apathy, and lack of real understanding about the horrors that Irish people in the North faced, are a stumbling block.

As we wave our tricolours proudly in honour of 1916, that feels very wrong.”

For more on the background of what can be justifiably called our own Nakba in 1921-23, and what could have been if the pro-treaty Provisionals had not abandoned the revolution, see my article on the Battle of Pettigo and Belleek in June and May of 1922, when a united Irish defence forces faced the British occupation forces for the last time.

8 comments on “The Great Betrayal Of Ireland’s Counter-Revolution

  1. Derek Ó H

    I don’t think Collins can be identified as counter-revolutionary. I don’t know enough about Griffith but, as they were both dead in 1922 they cannot be responsible for what came after. As for the treaty, Collins et al were in an impossible situation.
    You could argue there is a terrible damage in the Irish psychie as a result of largely abandoning (or being bullied into rejecting) core elements of the Irish nation/culture/identity at different points: paganism, the language, the Six Counties, the revolution, Christianity. I’m not sure it’s that simple but it’s an interesting area.


  2. jennifer hough’s comments are very honest. It is surprising to see a reporter finally admit “we’ve so blatantly abandoned our Irish population in the North”.

    Faced with the Orange State Northern republicans/nationalists/catholics had no way out of despair other than allegiance to, and hope in, the Republic.

    A further aspect of their tragedy is they did/do not realise they and their pledges were/are unwanted by successive Dublin governments.

    For the latest slap in the face to Ulster’s nationalists/republicans see the President ‘s decision to pull out of a centenary celebration dinner organized by Belfast City hall on the vague pretext that “if the DUP’s not going, then I’m not”.

    Note this is the first time in its history that nationalists/republicans/catholics are tending to lead in numbers in Belfast city council. What will it take for the Dublin establishment to stretch out a hand of friendship and solidariety to them.?


    • It would be weird for the unionists to commemorate that, because they were on the opposite side in both the rising and the war of independence. They didn’t gain anything from all those hostilities.


  3. Kevin Broaders

    ‘Apart from Sinn Féin, (I am not a member) Irish political parties do not entertain the notion of a united Ireland.’ – not an entirely accurate Statement. For example, the People Before Profit Alliance is a cross-border political movement. Socialists understand that Irish unification can only sustainably come about when the Capitalists are dis-empowered by the working classes North and South.


    • Similarly, the Green Party operates on an all-island basis. Re the article, I usually have a lot of time for ASF’s writing, but here he’s veering somewhat close to Republican SF territory. Lloyd George may indeed have been bluffing in threatening a return to war, but the Treaty terms were a vast improvement on even the Government of Ireland Act, and the consequent Dáil approval overrode the mandate of 1918, unless you take the Tom Maguire approach that such a vote converted the Dáil into “an illegal parliament”.


      • Derek Ó H

        A chara, I’m not sure what evidence there is to suggest the British wouldn’t have engaged in all-out war. Connolly thought the materialistic Imperialists would never destroy property. They blitzed the inner-City in 1916. They could have visited immediate and terrible war on Dublin, and elsewhere.


  4. I mentioned the president in my comment above. can I ask and even encourage readers, posters and supporters to write a letter to president higgins over his decision not to attend a civic dinner organised by belfast city Council to commemorate 1916? And maybe pass word along to friends, relatives, the diaspora and so on, asking them to do the same?


  5. if it is OK to stand in commemoration of the men and women of 1916, is it wrong to do the same for those who fought in the Troubles?
    Maybe that’s because the IRA was and still is an illegal organisation in the south as well?


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