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
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
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 Gladstones
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