The Civil War - the lost years

We often hear those who are supposed to know refer to the years between the 1916 Rising and the Civil War as the lost years.

The reason given is that instead of what was known as our troubles those involved should have used their heads more and sought help from other countries, especially the U.S.A., to use their influence to gain us the freedom many so longed for and for which so many good men had died. Even De Valera felt it after years that this would have been right course. But then it is easy to talk after the event. The pressure was kept on, and for some it appeared that there was only the one way out, and that was to follow on with the ideas of the men of 1916 and force the British to eventually come to a peace agreement.

Parnell had been near the mark at one stage, although his idea would have been more in the lines of Home Rule. When the Dail was formed and Sinn Fein constituted itself as Dail Eireann it pledged itself to the Irish people that it would put into operation a policy of passive resistance. Eamonn De Valera became the head of the Dail with Arthur Griffith as his deputy and Michael Collins as military organiser should there be more British attempts to smash Sinn Fein.

This was actually what happened and resulted in the Anglo-Irish war of early 1919 to 1921, or to give it the name by which it became known ‘The troubles’. Bad as things had been this war was responsible for making the relationship between the British and the Irish even more strained. Fought on a guerrilla fashion it resulted in ambushes, raids of police barracks, assassinations and the attacks on convoys of lorries carrying soldiers and other things.

More and more British troops, including the ‘Black and Tans’ and auxiliaries were poured into Ireland and were taken on by the Volunteers. Eventually what should have been done in the beginning came to pass. Following increased protest from the American and British public a truce was arranged in July of 1921 and after much going and coming what turned out to be a compromise treaty was signed. In the treaty the British conceded dominion status to the twenty six counties. This meant that the negotiators had really brought back the freedom to seek freedom. The Union between Great Britain and Ireland which had been established in 1800 had finally been dissolved.

There had been improvements but the one thing that all true Irishmen and women craved was still to be achieved, complete freedom. In the end of those years Larken had built up trade unionism, Cusack had set the GAA on the road, McNeill and Hyde had moved on the position of the Gaelic League, Legislation had improved housing and the old age pension had come into being.

Yes many things had happened for the good during those years, yet the Irish nation was like a dog on the end of the long lead. Its people had freedom to move where they liked as long as they stayed within the length of the lead, but when they tried to go a little further the lead tightened and the freedom came to an end. Somehow a remark of Gladstone’s seemed to cover the whole situation when he said “Men ought not to suffer disenchantment since ideals in politics are never realised”. This surly applied to Ireland since none of her dreams had been fully realised. She was not the Gaelic speaking nation that Hyde had dreamed about, not the republic of the I.R.B., or the workers republic of Connolly or the dozens of other things that those who had given their lives had dreamed about.
Even though it did not function as it was hoped it would, that meeting of the Dail was like the first faltering steps of a child as it commences to walk on its own. It was the first sign of Irishmen beginning to show that they could legislate for themselves.

It was the first light at the end of the tunnel and although it dimmed when Irishman fought Irishman and when what was still worse, Irishmen signed death warrants for fellow Irishmen, it still beckoned on. Perhaps the price paid in eventually reaching that light was dear and was paid in the great men on both sides who lost their lives.

Although all the dreams had, to a certain extent, been frustrated, the dreamers had left their mark. To the present day we have dreamers, but with the signing of that treaty the light began to burn and the dreaming gave way to stark reality and to political realities. Yet somehow at the back of our minds will be the memory of not only the lost years but of the men who were lost with them.

By Willie White
Courtesy of the Nationalist