Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Republicanism at the turn of the 50's (Saoirse article)

"A Fragile Structure"



IN CHAPTER 8 of his book Northern Ireland: The Orange State, Michael Farrell deals with the period 1945-51 and its concluding paragraphs summarise the situation.

It makes interesting reading: "The (Stormont) government were intent on taking a tough line. In May 1951 they used the Special Powers Act to intern a number of Republicans during a (British) royal visit to the North.

"And at the end of 1950 they had established a Reserve or Commando force of 100-150 men inside the RUC. The Commandos were to be a highly-trained, self-contained mobile force which could be used either against the IRA or as a riot squad. In fact it was this squad who were used in most of the Tricolour riots.

"Despite all the criticism of the Stormont government by Labour backbenchers, the Labour government agreed to the RUC Commandos being trained by the British Army at Ballykinlar barracks in Co Down and supplied with automatic weapons and equipment by the War Office.

"The Anti-Partition League had tried working in the Stormont and Westminster parliaments without success; they had launched an international publicity campaign with the same result; they had turned to street demonstrations in the North only to be batoned off the streets.

"It was inevitable that the thoughts of some sections of the nationalist population should turn again to physical force.

"As early as June 1949 Malachy Conlon (Stormont MP for South Armagh) had hinted at force at a rally in Armagh when he talked of a ‘final move to end partition . . . in which every man or woman, boy or girl, would be called upon, not just to attend meetings and wave flags but to make sacrifices (and) stand the strain which so many generations have stood before,’ and touring America with Conlon, Tom Barry had advocated that the South (sic) should declare war on the North (sic).

"Early in 1950 Capt. Peadar Cowan, an ex-Clann na Poblachta TD in the South (sic), had talked of raising an army to invade the North. Most of this was just talk, certainly the parliamentarians of the APL had no intention of fighting anybody, but it was symptomatic of the frustration of Northern and Southern Nationalists.

"Meanwhile the IRA had been slowly re-organising itself and had decided on another campaign in the North. In May 1951 they established a military council to draw up plans for it and in June they launched a successful attack on Ebrington (British) military barracks in Derry . . .

"Once again Unionist intransigence was driving a section of the Nationalist population towards war."

But for the Irish Republican Army, it was indeed an "Agonising Reconstruction", as Bowyer Bell entitled his Chapter XII. The full heading read "The IRA Endures: The Agonising Reconstruction, 1945-51."

On page 251-252, he graphically recaptures the atmosphere of the time. A re-reading of those pages is recommended today.


Some veterans of the 1920s recalled that the effort to reorganise in the mid-twenties was even more difficult than in 1945-51. It would appear that the higher the revolutionary wave rose – as in 1918-1921 – the lower came the trough which inevitable followed the lack of success.

Certainly the post-Parnell split period of the 1890s and 1900s was more difficult still for the IRB nucleus which was striving to re-invigorate the historic Fenian movement that had survived several generations.

Bell sums up: "To create a revolutionary base, a secret army, a band of brothers, no matter how deep have run the currents of nationalism and no matter how long has been the tradition of service, patience is more a virtue than daring, persistence than sparkle.

"The patient years, the long plodding routine, the scars of past failures add the steel and ruthless dedication to a movement centred on a faith that the future will not deny what the past already has.

"In 1951 the IRA was still a fragile structure, often maintained by inertia rather than action, totally incapable of the grand plan or the big coup, but each month a bit stronger, a bit harder, a bit more like the weapon Magan wanted."

Note: Tony Magan was Chief of Staff of the IRA from 1948 to 1957. Bell describes him as a "hard man, tightly disciplined, and utterly painstaking." Later he says that "the Dublin people in particular felt that the Army needed a steel core and that Magan could supply it." Meanwhile the July issue of An tÉireannach Aontaithe/The United Irishman noted the passing of an historical figure George Gavan Duffy, who was the last of the Irish representatives to sign the Treaty of Surrender in 1921.

Born in 1882, he was son of Charles Gavan Duffy, the Young Ireland leader who was a native of Monaghan town. As a lawyer he arranged for the legal defence of Roger Casement in 1916.

He represented South Dublin in the First (All-Ireland) Dáil and helped considerably to set up the Sinn Féin Courts under its jurisdiction. Earlier he assisted in drafting the Declaration of Independence.

The Republican Organ states that "he, more than any of the five" signatories to the "Articles of Agreement for a Treaty" made it clear that his signature had only been given "under the dire threat of immediate and terrible war." He asserted that but for this threat he would never have signed, it says.

It went on: "It is to be regretted that with all his legal talent, he did not point out that a signature obtained by means of a threat, a consent forced under duress, could not be considered binding.

"Whatever we may think of his subsequent action, we owe him a great debt for his frank admission, for his statement shows clearly that there was no agreement, there was no treaty, there was only a Surrender".

Subsequently, Gavan Duffy became Minister for Foreign Affairs under Arthur Griffith’s Presidency in January 1922, but resigned after the Supreme Court of the Republic was suppressed by Griffith’s administration.

His suggestion on September 27, 1922 that Republican prisoners should be treated as prisoners of war was defeated. He opposed the Free State policy of arrest and detention without trial.

He also criticised the draft Free State constitution in October of that year and attacked their execution of Erskine Childers in November while an appeal was pending in the 26-County High Court.

Also in November 1922 he protested at the first four executions of Republican prisoners which took place on the 17th.

"It was neither law nor justice to try a man for one thing and execute him for another", he said.

Gavan Duffy later followed a distinguished legal career in the 26-County courts and became President of the Dublin High Court in 1946. The Organ of Irish Republicanism noted that he had "established for himself the position of being probably the keenest legal mind in the Ireland of his day".

The death of George Gavan Duffy left only one of the "Treaty" signatories alive. That was Robert Barton who later repudiated it and returned to his allegiance to the All-Ireland Republic.

He was one of the 12-member Republican Council of State in October 1922 and later suffered imprisonment at the hands of the Free State he had helped to create and later sought to over throw.

Also noted in the July issue of the Republican newspaper was the Ard-Fheis of Clann na Poblachta in Dublin on June 30, at which Seán MacBride was reported to have said that "force was not necessary" for the ending of "Partition".


This contention was hotly contested in the Republican Organ, Sinn Féin Notes in the same issue deal with Wolfe Tone Week organised by Dublin Comhairle Ceantair and a meeting of Comhairle Chúige Laighean held in an Ard-Oifig.

An organising meeting took place in Droichead Nua, Co. Chill Dara. In Ard Mhaca, an Aeríocht was held in Cullyhanna by the local Cumann and a Céilí Mór in Newry Town Hall that night.

In Tyrone a new Cumann was formed in Aghyaran and a public meeting was held at which "needless to remark the RUC were very interested spectators".

In London the Roger Casement Cumann sponsored a demonstration and public meeting. The United Irishmen Cumann had arranged a public meeting for Trafalgar Square at the end of the month with Diarmuid Ó Cróinín from Cork as principal speaker.

The August issue features a report of the second annual Aeríocht at Camlough held by South Armagh Comhairle Ceantair. Buses from Dublin, Dundalk, Armagh, Portadown and Newry brought supporters while Cork, Belfast, Longford, Tipperary and Galway were also represented.

Six to seven thousand people attended and Dan Sheridan, Cathaoirleach of the Comhairle Ceantair presided at the opening. Pádraig Mac Lógáin, Uachtarán, Sinn Féin spoke, as did Gearóid Ó Broin, Baile Átha Cliath.

The Céilí in Newry Town Hall that Sunday evening was most successful, dancing prizes being presented by Tomás Ó Dúill, Dublin, Seán Fox, Portadown and Seán Ó Cearnaigh, Rúnaí, Sinn Féin.

Comhairle Chúige Uladh held after-Mass public meetings each Sunday in Armagh and Down, with local Cumainn supplying the speakers.

The Joe McKelvey Cumann was formed in Belfast during July. Its first public meeting was held three weeks later. It was then necessary to form a Comhairle Ceantair in Belfast which took place before the end of the month.

An interesting development took place in St Mary’s Hall, Belfast during July at a lecture by Tomás Óg Mac Curtáin, Corcaigh on Sinn Féin and the Ireland of Today.

It was sponsored by the Seán McCaughey Cumann and Séamus Steele (Cathaoirleach), presided with Liam Burke (Rúnaí) proposing the vote of thanks. About 200 people attended.

The report states: "Seven CID men were present during the lecture and although challenged for their authority to be present they were unable to produce any authority and refused to leave the hall.

"During the lecture they were segregated from the people and forced to remain sitting by themselves in one part of the hall". It was noted on the front page of the August issue of the Republican newspaper that a new "Republican" party, to embrace the 32 counties was about to be launched, according to rumours then circulating.

It was to be headed by ex-members of Clann na Poblachta Peadar Cowan, Noel Hartnett, Dr Browne, Dr McCartan and Dr Ffrench O’Carroll.

It would be "no more Republican than any of its predecessors", said the paper, adding that they had "repeatedly warned Republicans in the past against ‘Free State Republican Parties’." Of course, the rumoured party never emerged.

Much was made on the front page of the impending unveiling of the Seán Russell Memorial in Fairview Park, Dublin on Sunday, September 9. Contingents would assemble at Parnell Square and move off at 12 noon. It announced: "The Memorial, which is being erected by the Clan na Gael organisation in the United States and the Irish Republican Army, will be unveiled by Mr T McMonagle of Philadelphia. Mr P O’Mahoney, New York, will deliver the oration."

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