Why would anyone commemorate the Black and Tans?

The Irish government’s ill-fated plans to commemorate the RIC are part of a broader war on history.

Ella Whelan

Ella Whelan

Topics Politics UK World

‘Come out Ye Black and Tans’, the rebel song by the Irish band the Wolfe Tones, hit the top of the British and Irish iTunes charts last week. Renewed interest in the Tones followed the Irish government’s announcement of (since-cancelled) plans to commemorate the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) with a state ceremony. A hundred years ago, in January 1920, the infamous ‘Black and Tan’ uniformed English soldiers were recruited into the RIC’s ranks as reinforcements during the Irish War of Independence. The Black and Tans were later joined by other English ‘Auxiliaries’ to strengthen the violent campaign against Irish independence fighters.

The Irish government has been rightly lambasted for its attempt to commemorate the RIC. The RIC, protecting British imperialism in Ireland, was on the wrong side of the war. And Black and Tans, in particular, are still widely despised in Ireland for murdering, raping and terrorising Irish civilians and for hunting down Irish rebels.

The Black and Tans made up only part of the RIC contingent, and some members of the RIC may have had little to do with the British state’s campaign against Irish freedom fighters. But the planned celebration of the RIC and the DMP seems to have made no such caveats.

Ireland’s Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, said he was ‘disappointed’ that there had been planned boycotts of the event. He compared it to the commemoration of soldiers who died in the First World War. It would only be ‘right and proper’ to do the same for ‘police officers who were killed’, he said.

This is not the first time the question of commemorations has descended into farce in Ireland. The planned RIC party was part of the government’s ‘Decade of Centenaries’, which aims to ‘ensure that this complex period in our history, including the struggle for independence, the Civil War, the foundation of the state and Partition, is remembered appropriately, proportionately, respectfully and with sensitivity’.

Plans for the commemoration of the 1916 Easter Rising were widely mocked. They included a video, sanctioned by the Irish government, that was part tourist board, part Riverdance. It also featured footage of the Queen of England, Ian Paisley and David Cameron, and made no mention of the actual events of the Easter Rising, which led to Ireland’s independence. After much outcry, a second video was produced – this time with added pictures of the Irish Proclamation of Independence, but nothing of the actual participants in the Rising, people like Padraig Pearse or James Connolly. Professor of Irish history Diarmaid Ferriter aptly described it as ‘embarrassing unhistorical shit’.

Fine Gael’s culture minister Josepha Madigan announced plans for the commemorations of 1920 two weeks ago in Cork, the city burned and pillaged by the Auxiliaries in December 1920. She told RTÉ: ‘We’re remembering all of this with the legitimacy of all traditions and we have to value mutual respect and historical authenticity… There are different narratives, different memories and different sides.’

The government’s Decade of Centenaries programme also promises to lump sanitised commemorations of Ireland’s fight for independence with the Gallipoli landings, the Somme and the battles for workers’ rights. This desire to commemorate everything equally has made the act of commemoration totally meaningless.

In fact, the row over who and what to commemorate in Irish history tells us far more about Ireland’s current political elite than it does about the past. The prospect of celebrating the anniversary of 1916 and championing the Fenian rebels mortified the Irish elite, who are keen to move away from what they view as the ‘petty nationalism’ of the past.

The unwillingness properly to celebrate national independence – and instead declaring both sides to have equal value – is what led to the ill-fated attempt to commemorate Irish coppers. Even if you ignore the Black and Tans, the RIC does not have a happy history. It was initially set up in the early 1800s. RIC men were used as muscle during the Tithe War of the 1830s, protecting English landowners during the famine. They were rewarded by Queen Victoria for quelling the 1867 Fenian Rising. And that’s all before their bloody role in defending British interests in the struggles of the early 20th century.

The DMP was no better – their ‘G-men’ (detective division) spied for the British crown in Dublin Castle. In the famous Dublin Lockout of 1913, when Jim Larkin sought to unionise workers, the DMP backed the bosses and battered the workers – killing two people. As historian Donal Fallon points out on his podcast, Three Castles Burning, it was ‘their job to infiltrate radical nationalist organisations… When the Easter Rising collapsed, it was the G-men who were crucially important in identifying their leaders for execution.’

Putting on a state-sanctioned celebration of the armed wing of British imperialism in Ireland is not celebrating ‘the legitimacy of all traditions’ – it is pretending history didn’t happen. In our grievance-obsessed culture, in which we are never done hearing about past wrongs and the need for reparations, it is curious that the bloody and unresolved history of British rule in Ireland is often wilfully ignored.

The Wolfe Tones have vowed to sing ‘loud and proud’ outside the commemoration, should Fine Gael be stupid enough to reschedule the event. The iTunes charts aren’t exactly a scientific means of judging political sentiment, but anyone arguing that support for Irish independence is merely an expression of a petty nationalism of the past would be wise to think again.

Ella Whelan is a spiked columnist and the author of What Women Want: Fun, Freedom and an End to Feminism.

Picture by: Getty.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.


Brett Keane

15th February 2020 at 10:57 pm

My research points to Eire being in a process of becoming Independent as a Commonweath Member then, with a set Date for it. About 1923 IIRC.
This was being derailed by Sinn Fein murders and Criminal Thuggery.
Returned Soldiers were hired to help the Constabulary. After ten months of being murdered and/or hurt, some of them really got stuck in including acts of extra-legality/illegallity. It was the British Public who called a halt after a few months when Newspapers made this public.
Usually, it is not a good idea to use hard-bitten and well-trained and experienced soldiers as Police. Who are really Peace Officers.
But, it is worth noting that the Pretend-Patriots never wanted Peace, and have continually proven this since. Extortion and criminality were their main game, cloaked with Green. But Powell kept his word, when arms were surrendered, to everyone’s surprise. Brett Keane

Willie Penwright

20th January 2020 at 10:50 am

To measure the demand for Irish independence by the yardstick of support of the Republican Army alone might give a false picture of the overwhelming demand of the Irish to run their own country. From the beginning of the 20th century, the aspiration for independence spread throughout the consciousness of the people, as can be seen by the mushrooming of organisations promoting the Irish language (Conradh na Gaeilge), hurling and Gaelic footaball (GAA), Irish dancing and singing with feisheanna ceoil (music festivals and competitions) and the independent demand of the new labour movement. The uprising was not an isolated incident carried out by poets and dreamers, as it is sometimes portrayed, but by the combined nationalist movement of the Irish Volunteers, merging with labour’s Citizens Army in a heroic, and admittedly futile, attempt to defeat the then supreme British Empire. The admiration for those who made that sacrifice and the outrage that its suppression caused among the people is the spring of the independent Ireland today. Some may wish it wasn’t so but that won’t wash it away.

Jack Enright

18th January 2020 at 1:01 am

The father of a friend of mine served with the British Army in Ireland from 1919 until their independence. My friend told me that his father said that both officers and men in the regular Army in Ireland loathed and despised the Black & Tans just as much as any Irishman did.

Bobby Haggan

17th January 2020 at 4:29 pm

You can argue what ever way you like but the lunatics of both sides would have been happy to turn northern ireland into another Syria as both sides fought for freedom . I totally accept that were times when the army behaved badly but there achiecment in stopping the above far out weighs this for all but an unfortunate few.
One things that we have definitely proved over the last 100years is that the worst fears of both sides were totally justified.
Bobby haggan

Paul MacDonnell

17th January 2020 at 9:24 am

On the question of the mandate for IRA violence here are the respective shares of the popular vote amongst the main Irish parties in the 1918 election:

Sinn Fein won 46.9%
Irish Unionists 25.3%
Irish Parliamentary Party 21.7%

This gave the Unionists + Parliamentary Party 0.1% majority of the popular vote.

Even if you assume that everyone who voted Sinn Fein wanted the country to leave the UK (and remember not everyone who votes for the SNP wants Scotland to leave the UK) this still does not give them a majority.

When it comes to the mandate to launch a guerrilla war it can be safely assumed that most people in Ireland did not want this.

Ergo the IRA never had any electoral mandate to do what they did.

The IRA’s purpose in Irish history is, therefore, to impart a sense of romantic action to believers in an emerging ethno-nationalist project that always found it easier to half close their eyes to the criminal demimonde of murder and imagine, instead, that mythical old-Gaelic fighters had been reborn to fight for Ireland. Its legacy is the retailing of fortune-cookie politically-correct ‘facts’ about Irish ‘freedom fighters’ that people are willing to believe in as a sort of moral homeopathy.

The next time you get someone to write on this subject you should find someone with a better knowledge of Irish history.

Jim Lawrie

17th January 2020 at 11:03 am

The 1971 Scottish Soldier murders are an example of IRA determination to make violence the only option.


17th January 2020 at 1:42 pm


As Alfie Gallagher has put it:

“…general elections in Ireland before 1918 were not real contests. The strong-arm tactics of the Irish Parliamentary Party and their heavies in the Ancient Order of Hibernians made it very difficult for rival nationalist parties to develop. Those who complain about Sinn Féin’s victories in uncontested constituencies in 1918 neglect to mention that there were far more uncontested constituencies in previous general elections. In the 1910 general election for example, 63 of the 101 Irish constituencies were not contested. There were 25 uncontested constituencies in 1918 and most of them were in areas where Sinn Féin was already dominant. Had these constituencies been contested, a clear majority of the electorate in Ireland would almost certainly have voted for the party. Thus, the percentage of votes cast for Sinn Féin in the 1918 general election grossly underestimated the party’s real support at that time. Most importantly, roughly 75 percent of Irish adults had the right to vote in 1918, as opposed to 26 percent in the previous general election in 1910. For all its flaws then, the 1918 general election was far more democratic than the preceding ones.”


17th January 2020 at 1:57 pm

Also, it’s the UVF of 1912 who should be blamed for, as Helen Waddell put it in a letter in 1916, bringing the gun back into an Ireland won over to constitutionalism. And what were they arming up against? A devolved Parliament in Dublin which would have been as tied to the U.K. still as the North of Ireland is today and offered no genuine threat to the north. Was it worth destroying the cohesion in Ireland of Catholic and Protestant by turning the north into a sectarian hellhole? And what for, simply to oppose a very mild form of devolution still within the control of Westminster?

Ardy Fardy

18th January 2020 at 10:08 pm

My brother was in the SAS during the early ’60s and several of his mates had died in Ireland. His view was the country was a mess and a civil war, Britain should have withdrawn and sold them arms.
He was disgusted when the SAS killed 3 IRA in Gibraltar? and were charged over it. He thought Britain had already lost and were just hoping for an end to it.
This is just a comment I know almost nothing about the Irish issue apart from the bombing.

John Abioye

20th January 2020 at 4:29 pm

I am not doubting your good faith I don’t believe any British soldiers died in Ireland in the early 60s. I think the troops came in in 1969, I could be wrong.

Paul Carlin

16th January 2020 at 9:05 pm

Shallow, simplistic and glaringly one-sided. I knew a RUC Superintendent in the 90s (R Catholic, straight as an arrow and a copper to his toecaps) whose father had been RIC before having to leave the South for the safer North. His loyalty was to the Law, nothing else.

Francis Lonergan

17th January 2020 at 9:25 am

“The law” as you call it had no legitimacy, the English had no mandate to legislate for Ireland. So the RIC and their murderous cohorts were simply the SS of the illegitimate English tyranny.

John Abioye

17th January 2020 at 11:36 am

See Act of Union 1801 passed by the Irish Parliament – this is the basis of the legitimacy of the United Kingdom of Britain and Ireland and what you call English tyranny.

Jim Lawrie

17th January 2020 at 12:15 pm

Straight to Godwin’s prediction. The SS were answerable to no-one. To compare The RIC to them is typical of the hysterical and historically illiterate approach of many of the Irish Republican left.

The RIC were the law, regardless of whose authority they acted under. Neither your narrow, technical dismissal of their authority not their violent anti-Catholic bias justify indiscriminate murder of them, unless your aim is societal breakdown as an opportunity for the political and criminal thugs from either side, as we have seen in N Ireland.
That violence continued after Independence against The Police Force of The Free State, sweeping from under you the moral high ground you would so ostentatiously occupy and showing us the dishonesty of your arguments and what you really support. The continuation of the mindset that says violence against The Police in Ireland is good has facilitated the drug trade, armed by Colombians and fighting for control of the free trade route to the UK and Europe. Ironically, the biggest threat to them now is an independent United Kingdom. Do you support Brexit or Remain?

As is pointed out on here, The IRA in the 1920’s had no ballot box mandate. They wanted violence and were prepared to shoot anyone who opposed violence. They were not part of Sinn Fein.

Francis Lonergan

17th January 2020 at 1:03 pm

John, I said no guff about Grattan. Grattan’s parliament had no legitimacy and no mandate from the Irish people to legislate for them. It was an English puppet parliament run by the landed gentry for the landed gentry, English plated gentry that is.

John Abioye

17th January 2020 at 2:44 pm

Francis – Is your contention that before the Norman conquest Ireland was some form of democratic socialist Utopia?

Of course Grattan’s parliament was run by the gentry for the gentry! Do you think the Westminster parliament was any different in 1800? It was the wealthy Irish that were the oppressors of the ‘Irish people’, just as the English wealthy were the oppressors of the English people. 200 years ago the same applied to all peoples, everywhere.

The fact is that by the early 20th century the Irish people enjoyed exactly the same democratic rights as the rest of the people in the UK – Home Rule was on the statute books for god’s sake. You keep obsessing about mandates and legitimacy – 1 million people voted in the 1918 election. There was no need take up the bomb and the bullet – imagine Ireland today if they hadn’t.

Francis Lonergan

17th January 2020 at 4:18 pm

John, I didn’t intimate any Utopia idea. However, there was a different form of law that lasted into the 17th century. I am no scholar of the Brehon Law but some have suggested it was superior to the English common law, it was not allowed to develop and change, like Scottish law, this indicates a total and real conquest.

as for taking to armed force, surely any people retain the right to defend and establish their freedom by force, are you going to lecture the US on their revolution? The War of Independence was also a part of defending the First Dáil, democratically elected.

John Abioye

17th January 2020 at 4:35 pm

Francis – I don’t understand the point you are making about the form that the law took. I had understood that your problem was with the legitimacy of the law makers.

Of course all peoples have the right under natural law to self determination and to defend themselves from oppression. Natural and customary law on use of force provides that it must be both necessary – ie all other options have failed – and proportionate.

The point here is that the 1916 rebels, the IRA, and the provisional IRA come nowhere close to passing the test. By your logic in a unified Ireland the UVF would be quite justified in bombing Dublin and shooting Irish civil servants in its quest for an independent Ulster…I just can’t agree that..

Enjoy your weekend

Dominic Straiton

16th January 2020 at 8:08 pm

Why would they? Could it be that history is never simple and in the end the victors get to right the history books.

Chauncey Gardiner

16th January 2020 at 7:34 pm

Greetings, everyone.

Your comments are illuminating and thoughtful. Impressive.

I wish I could say the same for the author’s essay.

This author is not very thoughtful. I almost did not bother to read the essay upon having discerned the authorship. You need to do better, Spiked!


16th January 2020 at 3:46 pm

A good article, but lacking in context.

Ever since the outbreak of the conflict in the North, journalists like Kevin Myers, Ruth Dudley Edwards and Eoghan Harris (who was a member of the Official IRA when it’s political wing, The Workers Party, held seats in the Dail) have attempted to rewrite Irish history to portray the IRA of the 1920’s in the same light as the Provisional IRA. While there is certainly truth in this, some felt the need to invent stories to prove how dastardly the ‘old’ IRA were. Take this example from Liam O’Ruiric’s book ‘Truce – Murder, Myth and the Last Days of the Irish War of Independence’,

“For decades, nationalist Ireland has told glorious stories of IRA flying columns beating the dastardly Black and Tans. In fact there were few flying columns and an awful lot of … murders … In [July] 1921, with the Truce just hours away, an RIC man named Alfred Needham, aged 20, clearly thought that finally he could marry his sweetheart. But a clerk in Ennis tipped off the IRA that the groom’s profession was ‘Constable’. So a beaming Alfred and his teenage bride emerged from the registry office and two gunmen shot him dead. Yet … this July our political classes will once again unite around the fiction that ‘the War of Independence’ was honourable and necessary and largely worthwhile.

This is how newspaper columnist Kevin Myers described one of the last killings of the Irish War of Independence in an article in the Irish Independent marking the ninetieth anniversary of the Anglo-Irish Truce, which ended the war on 11 July 1921. Myers dismissed the IRA military campaign of 1919–21, which eventually led to the creation of an independent state in southern Ireland, as part of a ‘cycle of psychiatric futility’. Furthermore, he claimed that the ‘murder’ of Alfred Needham exposed as a fiction the concept of the War of Independence as a necessary and legitimate war.

Ironically, Myers’ account of Needham’s killing is almost entirely fictional. There was no wedding ceremony, no teenage bride and no clerk who tipped off the IRA. Needham, a Black and Tan from London, was shot standing at the door of a stable with two other armed members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) –not while leaving a registry office with his new bride. The tale about Needham being killed immediately after getting married appears to have been invented for melodramatic effect in a propaganda story. Yet different versions of this story continue to resurface every few years masquerading as factual history.”

Finally, the discussion around this issue ignores the heinous crimes the RIC committed in the North of Ireland during the same period. For more reading on this, check out the Treason Felony blog (praised by historians such as Brian Hanley).



16th January 2020 at 3:57 pm

Furthermore, this revisionist attitude had a damaging effect on the Irish psyche. As Ed Moloney (whose book ‘A Secret History of the IRA’ is essential reading) wrote:

“.in the wake of Bloody Sunday when the fever that had gripped the North threatened to contaminate the South, the Irish establishment – political, academic, journalistic – began to rewrite, revise and in the process revile crucial aspects of the origins of the State, most notably the character of those who had done the fighting that led to the Truce and Treaty.

After all, the methods and tactics used by the Provisional IRA…were in essence no different from those used by the founders of the Southern State. It was not intellectually possible to denounce one while exalting the other. So both had to be condemned.

And so revisionism was born, with one of its principal characteristics an eagerness to re-sculpt the founders of the Southern state in the image of the terrifying and diabolical Provos who now threatened the peace, prosperity and safety of the comfortable classes of Dublin and allied places elsewhere south of the Border…I lived and worked as a journalist through the worst years of Irish revisionism when the charge that struck most fear in the hearts of reporters was the potentially career-ending accusation that you were ‘a fellow traveler’, or ‘a sneaking regarder’, i.e. that you were in the same camp as the Provos.

It didn’t take much to earn the charge. Such an imputation could be made simply by questioning the guilt of the Birmingham Six or the Guildford Four. That is why it was British reporters and politicians who led the fight to establish their innocence, not Irish.

It was Ireland’s McCarthyite period, a shameful time which, by suppressing full and honest examination of what was happening in Ireland, warped understanding of the violence and why it happened, and in turn delayed – I suspect by many years – a resolution of the conflict.

And, just as McCarthyism imposed an ugly conformity on potential victims, so Irish revisionism forced many – journalists and historians – to keep their heads down.

The work of a new generation of Irish historians…thus represents a refreshing, overdue and honest break with that mendacious past. It is to be welcomed with open arms.”

Chauncey Gardiner

16th January 2020 at 7:31 pm

Very nice essay. I appreciate your writing.

John Abioye

16th January 2020 at 3:58 pm

“..Myers’ account of Needham’s killing is almost entirely fictional.”

..right up to the point where has was murdered by the IRA!


16th January 2020 at 4:48 pm

Well at least he got the name right.

nick hunt

16th January 2020 at 1:48 pm

“In our grievance-obsessed culture… we are never done hearing about past wrongs and the need for reparations”. This phrase is clearly very critical, so why does the article contain so many grievances about British imperialism and the RIC? Doesn’t combatting grievance culture require telling positive history?

William Bell

16th January 2020 at 1:24 pm

The Irish government”s hasty climbdown on an RIC commemoration is clear evidence to us of a unionist persuasion in Northern Ireland as to how we would be treated if the island was to be united again under Dublin rule. The RUC, a force born out of partition, stood between us and brutal civil war or over 30 years in the North and it is clear that they would be held in the same contempt as the the former RIC force is in the Republic of Ireland. No chance of a shared history approach from the nationalist people of Ireland for us unionists.

Finbarr Bruggy

16th January 2020 at 2:55 pm

The RUC did not prevent a civil war. The RUC and the B Specials were quite adept at clubbing Civil Rights marchers in 1968. It was the British Army, stuck between a rock and a hard place, that prevented a civil war despite being guilty of atrocities like Bloody Sunday. The problem with Unionism is that that you are finished. A gerrymandered statelet was created by a gerrymandering community with the sole purpose of maintaining Protestant supremacy, and you got away with it right up to the 70s. For example, Derry – two-thirds Catholic – elected a Unionist City Council because the seats were carved up. Anyway, we in the Catholic south had our own version of religious madness, but that has long gone. You cannot use that as an excuse any longer, but why would we celebrate the RIC, the DMP or our home-grown Ku Klux Klan Lite, the Orange Order?

Gerard Barry

16th January 2020 at 3:02 pm

“Anyway, we in the Catholic south had our own version of religious madness, but that has long gone.”

I always think it’s ironic how we Irish attack our own Catholicism with glee nowadays despite the fact that anti-Catholicism was one of the main tools the English used when oppressing us. Why the self-hatred?

William Bell

16th January 2020 at 11:10 pm

Thanks Finbarr you have just made my point with your rant that there will be no place for a shared history on this island between different traditions should a unified Ireland come about.

Paul MacDonnell

16th January 2020 at 10:54 am

The paradox of the Irish nationalist cause is that it is they who choose to partition the Island. One is reminded of the story of Solomon and the two women who claimed to be the mothers of the baby. The one who agreed to chop it in half showed herself not be the mother.

By agreeing to refer to the 26 counties as ‘Ireland’ when it clearly isn’t that but only part of that has distorted thinking about this subject. Northern Ireland is as much Ireland as the Republic. To that extent the ontology of Sinn Fein is correct. The country is the 32 counties. But if you really accept that then sustaining the Ken Loach IRA good-British bad’-narrative requires that you wilfully disregard the fact that your side never won a mandate for guerilla war.

I think that Varadkar would like to see a United Ireland. And recognising the RIC is a necessary step on this road. Most people in Ireland do not agree with the violent nationalist narrative – including many Catholics North and South.

All of the stories of British mistakes and of military crimes (and these did happen) on the part of the British may prove that Britain did not deserve to retain Ireland in the UK. But this does not prove that the 26 counties were right to leave the UK. By what measure was the Free State of 1923, which was to, for example, introduce mass censorship of books, more ‘free’ than the Ireland of 1920?

The IRA of 1920 were right if and only if the RIC was the gestapo. Looking for knowledge of Irish history in someplace other than the pub is a prerequisite to getting a real understanding.

John Abioye

16th January 2020 at 2:05 pm

Good post. Worth adding that its just not correct to imagine that pre 1921 Ireland was a British colony. Ireland was an integral part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, returning 105 MPs to Westminster – it was the British and Irish Empire that once ruled a quarter of the globe – the much maligned empire builders were Irish just as much as they were English, Scottish and Welsh.

Talk of imperialism needs to be viewed in this context but it’s an inconvenient truth.

Paul MacDonnell

17th January 2020 at 8:54 am

This is absolutely true. If you stop 100 people in Central Dublin and ask them “What was the political entity that the Free State left in 1921?” Most of them will say “The British Empire”. Hence we have comments on this thread about ‘Colonial Power’. If you tell them that the Free State was part of the UK they are generally surprised. The assumption is that “Ireland” was “made free” by the actions of the IRA is the result of the propagation of ignorance about Irish history within the educational system.

The author of this article simply switched on the auto-pilot and out came the words….

Francis Lonergan

17th January 2020 at 9:44 am

A nonsense argument, it was a colony up until 1801 when membership of the UK was imposed on it, and don’t give me any guff about the unrepresentative Grattan’s parliament. There are too many, like yourself that want to whitewash England’s tyranny in Ireland. It had no mandate to rule in Ireland, end of.

Paul MacDonnell

17th January 2020 at 11:54 am

1. Membership of the UK was not an imposition. It was a promotion. Following the 1798 Rebellion the British decided that Ireland needed equal status in the UK. The big mistake was that it took so long after this to repeal the anti-Catholic penal laws.

2. You misunderstand my argument. Leaving the UK was a completely cogent idea. But it should not have been left in the hands of violent insurgents with no mandate to determine this.

Ireland elected MPs to Westminster and Home Rule was likely by 1918. This could have been a stepping stone to leaving the UK.

I’m making a case on the part of the views of the majority of the whole country.

Paul MacDonnell

17th January 2020 at 12:14 pm

Francis, you may ‘feel’ you ‘know’ these things about the evils of Britain to be true.

And your ‘There are too many, like yourself that want to whitewash England’s tyranny in Ireland.’ has the familiar sense of threat that is encoded in so many Irish people who are not good at engaging with discussion about their own history.

But acting in 1918 on the basis of what happened in the 16th or even the mid 19th century won’t do. The issue isn’t whether the Britain / England made errors, committed atrocities etc.. or whatever. The issue is was it justified to start shooting policemen when in 1918 there was not only a fully democratic system in place but a system that was well suited to put Ireland on a path to Home Rule and then, eventually, if most people wished it, leaving the UK.

The fact that so many Irish people feel entitled to be angry about things that happened hundreds of years ago suggests a lack of maturity. The IRA waged a campaign into the 1980s on no moral foundation.

When called upon the justify, if one can, the IRA’s campaign in 1918-1921 one needs to do better than offering performative resentment as a way of shorting-circuiting the need to have the argument, where facts are offered and discussed.

Francis Lonergan

17th January 2020 at 1:38 pm

God you write some revisionist bullshit there Paul, to describe imposing a Union on Ireland as a promotion is telling, as if it is the gift of England to promote anyone or any nation. The Act of Union was a reaction to the 1798 rebellion, where Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter united against English rule. It was this solidarity that frightened England who then imposed Union and co-opted the Protestants and Dissenters into their cause fostering the Orange Card by pressurising the Anglican Orange Order to accept Dissenters and sow the seeds of division to break up the United Irishmen.

Paul MacDonnell

16th January 2020 at 10:36 am

This article lacks nuance and historical context. The morality of the ‘Irish Freedom Fighters’ (and for what it’s worth my mother’s uncle was in the IRA in the early 1920s) has to be judged against the society they were trying to change. Here are some facts:

1. Though Sinn Fein won a majority in the 1918 elections the main mood in the country was in favour of Home Rule.

2. There had been no 32-Country referendum on Ireland leaving the UK.

3. Ireland was a democracy and the RIC were the recognised national police force.

4. The violence was initiated by the IRA who had no mandate of any kind for this kind of action.

5. A substantial number of targets of the IRA were just regular Irish folk.

So the position of the IRA in the early 1920s was comparable to a hypothetical situation in which the SNP, having won a majority of seats in Scotland, set up a military wing and started assassinating policemen and civil servants.

And of course since Ireland was a democracy what ‘freedom’ are we talking about? Freedom from what?

That said the argument for Ireland leaving the UK was cogent and the state made a number of egregious errors in their response to the IRA. But it is not clear that most people on the island supported the idea.

So you have a force , the IRA, who simply start killing servants of the state to get their way without any mandate. The state’s insertion of the Black and Tans into the equation, is of course, an error. But it is a reaction to an unjustified guerrilla campaign by the IRA.

It would have been better to go for Home Rule and then later, if most people wished (following a referendum) leave the UK sometime after that.

The real divide in Ireland was between the domestic Protestant ascendancy and a largely Catholic middle and working class. And, absolutely, there were inequalities to be resolved. But there is not reason to think these would not have been resolved under Home Rule.

Analysing Irish history in terms of the policy errors of the British at best leaves out context and at worst denies agency to the Irish themselves.

One could take another view of the ‘Irish Freedom fighters’. The people who launched this campaign were, by and large, ethno-nationalists whose world view regarded Protestants as ‘invaders’ and traitors to their cause. In other words they didn’t want reconciliation and a re-balancing of the role of Catholics in society to a fairer position. They wanted a pure Gaelic-nationalist state. Their real counterparts in Europe were people like Gavrilo Princip or the the violent German nationalist groups of the early 20th Century.

And indeed the IRA supported Hitler during World War II (just saying!)

The article is telling because it bakes into its premise a set of assumptions about Irish history which assume that the British were ‘bad’ and that the Irish nationalists were ‘good’. What gives the lie to it is that it simply, unconsciously, writes the protestant / unionist tradition, and indeed the large number of Catholics who did not want their future to be decided by violent insurgents, out of the script.

By turning Ireland into an ethnic battle ground they destroyed the potential for a genuine 32-county patriotic idea to bring people together.

This is why today disparagement of Ulster Protestants and initiatives like Varadkars to recognise the RIC is what passes for polite conversation in Dublin and legitimate journalistic comment in London.

Spiked is a great publication but the narrative that Varadkar got this wrong because the the Black and Tans is simply unthinking political-correctness. For the most part Britain has been trying, not always successfully, to do the right thing in Ireland since the beginning of the 19th Century.

Of course one can deploy large-scale inductive reasons that range from ‘what about … (insert British crime here) to counter this. But for the most part Britain was trying to do the right thing.

The unquestioning ‘triumph’ of the violent nationalist narrative is a cover for shouting down those who have a different point of view and different experiences.

Claire D

16th January 2020 at 3:03 pm

Two very interesting and balanced posts there, thank you Paul.

Michael Lynch

16th January 2020 at 10:20 am

Great article. It’s caused a right furore over here. It’d be like carving Michael Collins and De Valera’s names on the Cenotaph. It’s just woke nonsense from Varadkar and it’s bound to do him damage in the upcoming election. It’s not been 100 years since Irish independence and yet he and his ilk want to sell the nation off to Europe. Britain should rightly celebrate it’s escape from the Federal project because Ireland is merely bound for statehood from now on.

jan mozelewski

16th January 2020 at 9:42 am

This is nothing to do with actually commemorating the Black and Tans, or anybody else. It is all about the up-coming Irish general election. It has been engineered to bring the subject back into discussion and massage the Irish sense of grievance against all things British.
I have Irish blood and my maiden name is Irish as a result…hell, I evern LOOK Irish. They can be an extremely charming lot when Irish eyes are smiling, and the music is playing….but boy do they have this capacity (shared with the Scots) of nursing a grudge, taking it to their breast and keeping it warm. I saw it in the family.
All people have the capacity to muck rake and drag things up that suit them, But to the Irish it is nothing less than a national sport. This article is a classic example….lots of (selective) muck-raking and scab-picking, together of course with the need to pass on and re-affirm what happened almost a century ago to the younger generations. (Who will do further cherry-picking of their own without any real understanding, rather like one sees from the rabid SNP set.)
It happens on the Unionist side too of course. The Orange Order and their ridiculous marches….a massive pot of salt to keep the sore fresh for another year. It is tiresome.
Stuff happens. History is littered with it. Being ‘on the wrong side of the War’ doesn’t legitimise only speaking from the perspective of the winning side. It happens of course (the treatment of the IRA terrorists versus that meted out to ex-servicemen in the more recent troubles springs to mind) but it doesn’t mean it should be sanctified. Tell the whole story or leave it alone then.
It is hard to escape the view that Ireland indulges itself in victimhood. As if the nasty Brits are to blame for everything…while conveniently forgetting that a lot of Brits have suffered hardship.
They would do better to focus on the present, and the things that the Irish Gov could and should address for the benefit of the people. But naturally the Irish Gov don’t want that to happen, any more than the SNP want Scots to analyse their record in government when they could be more gainfully spending time thinking about the Highland Clearances.
Ireland….always looking back in anger.

Michael Lynch

16th January 2020 at 9:21 pm

I agree with a lot of what you’ve written and coming from an Irish background myself I have also experienced the Irish tendency for a good old blood feud. However, I have to absolutely disagree about us being a victim culture. We were occupied for 800 years and during that time were viciously oppressed. The famine for one, there many more before the infamous 1840s episode, where nearly one quarter of the entire population (2 million souls) perished. Another 2 million emigrated during the following 2 decades. We have never recovered and the population count has stayed relatively unchanged for 180 years. The desire to leave, in fact, seems to have been engraved into Irish psyche as a consequence of the dreadful event. In my opinion, it remains an unclaimed genocide as Landowners at the time used the potato failure as an excuse to clear their lands in order to persue modern farming methods like animal husbandry. This is not conspiracy as there is plenty of evidence to support the charge. When my ancestors left these shore they travelled far and wide and did every type of crappy job available and have never expected favoritism or claimed victim status to get on in their adoptive countries. They were, and still are, integrators in the main even though they faced incredible racism at times. They basically got on and ensured their children climbed that little bit higher with each successive generation. The story of the Kennedy family is the best example of this. No, victims we most definitely ain’t even though we haven’t quite forgotten what we had to endure.

jan mozelewski

17th January 2020 at 10:34 am

You sort of prove my point. The English were viciously oppressed when the Normans landed and proceeded to dis-possess and, in the case of the ‘harrying of the North’, commit genocide and wreak destruction that, one could argue, the North hasn’t recovered from to this day.
Following from that, looking at some aspects of my family history….mill towns/potteries/coal mines feature strongly….it is as complete a picture as one could get of oppression. One would think, listening to an Irish perspective, that the potato famine was taking place while all the English, every one, was living like a toff in a mansion and living on a diet of quails eggs, filet steak and pheasant.
i get tired of the ‘English’ being blamed for oppressing people when in fact most of them were oppressed themselves. The reality is, and always was, that the rich and the ruling class ….of both countries…do the oppressing.. And the rest is largely sitting back and letting the ordinary foot-soldiers take the flak.

Gerard Barry

17th January 2020 at 11:16 am

“We have never recovered and the population count has stayed relatively unchanged for 180 years.”

This isn’t true. The Irish population has increased by around 50% over the past 30 years. Mostly through immigration as opposed to the Irish growing in numbers but still.

“When my ancestors left these shore they travelled far and wide and did every type of crappy job available and have never expected favoritism or claimed victim status to get on in their adoptive countries.”

Again, I’m not sure this is true. Many of the Irish in America seem to have a tremendous chip on their shoulder about previous injustices, while ignoring their own racist past (e.g. the Draft Riots in New York). One of their favourites stories is that of the “No Irish Need Apply” signs, which they claim were everywhere in America once upon a time. Yet a historian from a university in Chicago did some research into the matter a few years ago and found that such signs were exceedingly rare. In fact, the opposite was true: the Irish, once they gained a foothold in a certain industry or type of job (e.g. the police, fire service, NYC apartment building doormen, etc.) tended to hire only their own and excluded others.

Having said all that, I’m not denying at all that the Irish (I’m Irish myself by the way) faced bigotry (especially in the UK – we all know that the Brits looked down on us, and probably still do). And of course nowadays any sufferings a group like the Irish encountered in the past are dismissed because, according to the retarded “logic” of identity politics, Irish immigrants were white and therefore privileged.

Ven Oods

16th January 2020 at 8:35 am

Government-led celebrations of anything are generally poorly-thought-out and wince-inducing.
If people want to commemorate something, they can do so themselves. At least they’re likelier to know why they’re doing it and thereby keep it relevant.

Steve Roberts

16th January 2020 at 8:19 am

Excellent piece from Whelan and absolutely necessary, also a very considered piece regards the different factions within the RIC which Andreas Roth above fails to have seen .
The present elites of most nations are certainly on a serious project to denounce and bastardise any notions or specificity and nuance asto what the nation state has been, can be and ought to be.
This of course is because they would prefer there to be supranational bodies they can all hide away from the grasp of the people, or if not to completely misrepresent what the people of a nation see within the nation state, it being their state after all, and that is what the elites do not want and will try all they can to stop, they want to be in charge of the political framework that the state represents.
The rewriting of history is part of their project, they want to dilute and if possible destroy any ideas of the people having agency, in the past, present or future, they have some way to go, and in writing this article Whelan helps to provide a bulwark to the lying revisionism from todays elites.

Andreas Roth

16th January 2020 at 7:00 am

I completely disagree with Ella Whelan on the R.I.C. My wife’s grandfather was an R.I.C. officer in Mayo and nearly murdered by local I.R.A. terrorists during the so-called War of Independence. Not on duty, not armed, not under cover, but at a dance. Simply because he was member of the police force. For a more balanced view of the R.I.C. I would suggest one read Kevin Myers’ research. He is one of the view non-woke Irish hacks – another one would be John Waters – of our time, kicked out of the Irish Times for his non-PC choice of terminology. He has always been accused of “revisionism”, in Irish terms reproached, e.g., for publicly highlighting the contribution of Irish soldiers to the British war effort 1914-1918. Now, with Eire firmly in the EU camp, such views are rather unwelcome. The Irish no longer pray at the altar of Catholicism but adulate the new European Kaiserin Angela Merkel. Funny lot, really, genuflecting to the Germans, who imposed the Troika on them just a few years back. Even funnier for me, being a Kraut myself: “Thanks, Eire, for finally helping us win the war.” – “Don’t mention it!”

Evan Coughlan

16th January 2020 at 9:36 am

Who cares if he had been? He was on the wrong side. He knew clearly what he was involved in, especially if he remained part of the force during the War of Independence. Only had himself to blame for allowing himself to remain a target by being a pawn of an foreign colonial power. Especially in the west of Ireland. Clearly loved the crown and deserved to be fought accordingly

Paul MacDonnell

16th January 2020 at 10:37 am

What was the ‘colony’ that Britain ‘the colonial power’ had in Ireland?

nick hunt

16th January 2020 at 1:56 pm

Do you see remainers as “pawns of a foreign imperial agent”? Also, is imperialism only created and practised by nations, or do nation-less ideologies such as communism and Islamism also create tyrannical empires?

Jim Lawrie

17th January 2020 at 1:55 pm

“He knew clearly what he was involved in …” That word clearly. So oft’ employed to dress as objective fact what is just bias opinion. I wish I knew clearly what was in the minds of those around me today far less your insight into the minds of those who died 100yrs ago.

Jim Lawrie

16th January 2020 at 10:16 am

They don’t just bow. They also scrimp, scrape and save to pay the new tithe imposed by Germany, thus helping to reduce German public and private debt, while increasing their own. And causing a new wave of emigration.

Ms Whelan fails to mention that during WWI Irish volunteers for the British Army outnumbered the 1916 rebels by 200 to 1. The left explain this away by telling us they were misguided and easy led.
No political faction in Ireland has ever given any consideration to the political aims of Connolly. He was a vainglorious, but charismatic, leader. He achieved nothing but having his name in a footnote of history. 1916 is nodded to in song and then the lyrics quickly move on. This article s no different, with its mention of 1916 and the oft repeated leftist propaganda claim that it “led to Ireland’s independence.” It dd not. It had scant support at the time, and even less afterwards. To challenge this is to be decried by the left who rewrite history in their own image. Always first to associate themselves with any “working class” or “progressive” action. The start of the process of claiming credit, and a desperate reflection of their lack of connection with working class people.

“A shower of blaggards” was how I heard one working class Dublin woman in her 80’s refer to the rebels. She was 24 years old in 1916.

Gerard Barry

16th January 2020 at 1:39 pm

“They don’t just bow. They also scrimp, scrape and save to pay the new tithe imposed by Germany, thus helping to reduce German public and private debt, while increasing their own. And causing a new wave of emigration.”

Lots of Irish people left Ireland during and after the financial crisis of 2008. That’s no longer the case. In fact, on the whole, there has been far more immigration into Ireland over the past 20 years than there has emigration. Although of course this could be said to be indirectly Germany’s fault, too, as it is the EU (i.e. Germany!) that forces freedom of movement down member states’ throats whether they like it or not (the top 5 countries of origin of immigrants in Ireland are all in Europe). We’re also committing ourselves to taking thousands of Syrian refugees (despite having a serious problem with homelessness and spiralling rents at the moment), probably not out of any real concern for the refugees themselves but more than likely to impress our German/European masters.

Jack Enright

18th January 2020 at 1:12 am

” . . . Connolly . . was a vainglorious, but charismatic, leader. He achieved nothing but having his name in a footnote of history. 1916 is nodded to in song and then the lyrics quickly move on. This article is no different, with its mention of 1916 and the oft repeated leftist propaganda claim that it “led to Ireland’s independence.” It did not. It had scant support at the time, and even less afterwards.”
Your post tallies with the actions of my grandfather and his friends. What prompted them to join the IRA was not the Easter Uprising (if you could call it that), but the unleashing of the Black & Tans and their reign of terror. He and his friends fought (and some died) against the Black & Tans from 1919 until Irish independence – and then they left the IRA, never to rejoin.
It’s also worth noting that, as well as the large numbers of Irishmen who volunteered for the British Army in the Great War, equally large numbers voluntarily enlisted in the British armed forces in WWII – including my father and his brother – and those who returned to Ireland after the War were treated as outcasts by the Irish government and many Irish civilians.

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