Posts Tagged ‘ Free State ’

Crippled Irish Political System Requires Total Revamp

eire“Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner,”

-James Bovard, Lost Rights: The Destruction of American Liberty.

It has been stated and stressed many times over the course of the past few years, in various ways and with various examples to illustrate the point: Ireland’s political system is a frustrating failure. Our politicians are almost universally reviled as people who will say anything to get elected, promptly forgetting about such promises when the votes are tallied and their place in government has been cemented for another few years. If the people are accused of apathy then it’s hard to blame them. At this stage the whole process is a farce, a joke, to the point where much of the electorate feels alienated and simply doesn’t bother joining in anymore. Why, they ask, when elections feel like a sham – merely replacing the people sitting in Dáil Éireann rather than the policies they enact. How many thought they were getting away from cronyism and the political policies saddling the majority with the mistakes of the minority when Fine Gael was last elected to government? And how many simply sighed when they finally realised it was really Fianna Fáil in a different guise sitting in Leinster House spinning the same tired old yarn? Continue reading

Remembering Michael Collins

August 22nd 1922, Béal na mBláth, County Cork. The escort carrying the Free State army Commander-in-Chief came under fire from Irregular troops. Instead of moving on or transferring their Chief to the armoured car they were ordered to stop and return fire. Michael Collins, who had fought alongside Padraig Pearse inside the GPO, who masterminded a successful intelligence war against Dublin Castle during the War of Independence, and who joined Arthur Griffith in negotiating the first ever treaty of peace between Ireland and England, was shot dead while exchanging rifle fire, killed by his fellow Irishmen before his time, before he could fulfil his vision for free Ireland.

We could certainly do with him today. In a time when Ireland has been humiliated financially and in many other ways, a charismatic figure like Collins, with his unearthly work ethic, financial acumen and a great love for his country to the point of self-sacrifice, would be of boundless help to us. Gone are the days when one’s life was put at risk for Ireland, now claiming expenses and trips abroad seem to be top of the list. Where one time Irish people risked imprisonment and death to participate in a once illegal Dáil Éireann, today they make excuses concerning why they cannot attend, and often find more ‘important’ things to be doing.

Collins was a man far ahead of his time, and certainly underappreciated by many of those who surrounded the Corkman. Confident to an extreme from a young age, he started work with Royal Mail, before moving to London in 1910 where he worked as a messenger for a company of stockbrokers. It was also in London the young Collins joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). Collins’ financial abilities didn’t go unnoticed and he was soon put to work as financial advisor to Count Plunkett, father to one of the Rising’s organisers, Joseph Plunkett. And it was his shoulders, several years down the line, on which the burden of organisation of the National Loan fell, after he had been made finance minister in 1919. Despite the responsibility of running the war, maintaining his intelligence units and looking after his people and their families, all the time cheerfully evading the British who scoured the city and country looking for him, not one person gave money and didn’t receive a receipt. Collins had a sharp eye for detail and a dislike of wasting energy, a moment not spent doing something constructive was a moment ill spent in his book.

And unlike many politicians today it sometimes seems, Collins understood the need for both the support of the nation and its people, and the importance of allowing the populace to make the most important decisions. Without the monetary support of Irish people at home and abroad, the loan would never have come into existence and the IRA would have been armed with hurleys and a prayer. And for the flying columns whose job it was to strike the enemy quickly and melt back into the countryside, the support of the locals was of far more importance than anything else – locals who fed and sheltered them from the British army and a certain death. Following the ratification of the Treaty in the Dáil, Collins was adamant that the people must be the ones to decide on its acceptance or dismissal, and would follow them either way. They accepted it, as did he, though many didn’t, and thus began the Civil War as the Dáil and the IRA split in two, and the rest, as they say, is history.

There is plenty more that could be said about Collins, his activities and his personality. I could talk and write for hours about his victories, his plans, his friendships and enemies and his dreams for Ireland. But many pages in many books have already been devoted to those topics. So all I will say is this – Michael Collins, you are sorely missed.

A Lost History Pieced Together

Records destroyed in a fire at the Four Courts nearly a century ago, and believed to be lost to the world have been reconstructed, the result of almost four decades of work by historians at Trinity College Dublin. The documents, from the medieval Chancery of Ireland have been made available to the public through a web project – CIRCLE: a Calendar of Irish Chancery Letters c. 1244-1509. A paper database of all references to known Chancery letters was established early on and using substitute sources from around the world, in combination with a keystone, the 1828 Latin Calender published by the record commissioners and containing a guide to the contents of original chancery rolls. The Chancery in Ireland was established soon after the Anglo-Norman invasion in 1169 and issued letters in the King’s name, bearing the seal of Ireland. Copies of these letters were transcribed onto parchment known as chancery rolls and stored away. However in 1922, a blaze whose cause is still unknown destroyed the records, which were thought to be lost forever.

Between the 28th of June and July 5th, a week of street fighting raged throughout the Irish capital. Furious at the acceptance of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, recently ratified by Dáil Éireann, around 200 anti-Treaty IRA members occupied the Four Courts in Dublin on the 14th of April, led by Rory O’Connor. Thousands of British troops remained in the city, awaiting evacuation under the terms of the Treaty. O’Connor and his Irregular (as they were also known) followers wished to reignite the conflict with the British thereby reuniting both factions of the IRA (which had split over the Treaty), going on to fight for a 32 county Republic.

However, those who occupied the Four Courts had miscalculated. If those leaders at the helm were to transform the Free State into a true and self-governing state, then it was they who had to shoulder the responsibility of putting down the rebellion. The death of Sir Henry Wilson in London at the hands of two IRA men on the 22nd of June brought British pressure to bear on the provisional Irish government to take action against the garrison in the Four Courts. Four days later, Free State General J.J. O’Connell was kidnapped by the anti-Treaty troops at the Four Courts and it was decided to move against the agitators. An offer of weapons support by Winston Churchill was accepted by Michael Collins and two 18 pounder field guns were placed across the Liffey from the Four Courts. After one final ultimatum, the bombardment began on the 28th. Between Free State troops attacks and the incessant shelling, the Irregulars began losing men to injury, death and arrest. Early on the 30th, Ernie O’Malley had taken command of the Four Courts following Paddy O’Brien’s shrapnel injury. Word filtered through from Oscar Traynor, the anti-Treaty IRA commander in Dublin, that he couldn’t reach their position to assist, and ordered the garrison there to surrender. At 3.30pm, O’Malley officially surrendered to Brigadier General Paddy Daly of the Free State Dublin Guard.

By this stage, the Four Courts was ablaze. Several hours prior to the surrender, between 11am and 3pm, the Irish Public Records Office, located in the western block of the Four Courts, was destroyed. The office, which had been in use by the Irregulars as an ammunitions store was part of a huge explosion and a thousand years of Irish history was turned to ash, scattered by the wind across the Dublin skyline. Accusations have flown around regarding the cause of the explosion and the subsequent destruction. In fortifying the Four Courts before the bombardment began, the anti-Treaty forces mined the complex. It has been alleged by some that the Public Records Office was also deliberately booby-trapped, causing the explosion. Seán Lemass, future Taoiseach, among other anti-Treaty supporters, vehemently denied this. The insurgents maintained it was Free State shelling which ultimately destroyed the priceless archive.

Following the clearing of O’Connell Street, victory in Dublin meant that the Free State army could move out around the country, and crushed resistance by anti-Treaty forces. Major towns were taken and even the use of guerrilla warfare, so effective when presided over by Michael Collins, could not save the Republican side. By early 1923, the anti-Treaty IRA’s capability to launch offensive operations was seriously damaged. Republican Liam Deasy called on his compatriots to lay down their arms and when Liam Lynch, the IRA leader, was killed in action and replaced by the more realist Frank Aiken, the 30th of April saw a ceasefire and the ending of Civil War.

The effects of the Irish Civil War have resonated through the decades in Ireland and not just in terms of our records and history. The death of Michael Collins not only cost Ireland an invaluable and promising leader, but it also ensured hostilities between both sides sharpened, and bitterly. With all of the damage caused by the Civil War, the fledgling state ended 1923 with a budget deficit of £4 million. Being unable to pay their share of Imperial debt as per the Treaty led to an adverse effect on the Boundary Commission of 1924, which left the border unchanged, instead of reducing its size as promised, weakening the North and making a union with the South inevitable. And a bitterness has resided in Ireland since the early 1920s. Families and localities during the Civil War were often divided by their loyalties to the Free State or the Irregulars, and those decisions were carried for decades. Up until last year, the two biggest parties in the country were Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, direct descendants of the two warring forces during the Civil War. Politicians during the following four or five decades were more often than not veterans of the conflict. And when their children entered the political arena, a second and third generation of bitterness continued to permeate the Irish political landscape. While in the North, no one can deny the impact of the IRA up there, who could claim ancestry to the breakaway anti-Treaty IRA of the 1920s and who dedicated themselves to ridding Northern Ireland of British rule in 1948.

Political fighting, deep and bitter, has been a hallmark of Ireland since we won our independence all those decades ago. And the years that have passed by since then have seen little change. Had the country seen a unified stance on the Treaty, in recognition of the bigger picture, things might be very different today. Some lessons, it seems, are never learned.