The Irish War of Independence and Its Legacy

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The Irish War of Independence and its Legacy

The Irish War of Independence is by no means a cut and dry issue. The legacy of this War, which began in 1919 and ended 1921 and its consequences are not confined to this specific time period. It resulted in an immediate Civil War between Irish pro-Treaty and anti-Treaty forces, which lasted for one violent and bloody year post independence. It’s legacy can also be seen in Northern Ireland today which has seen acts of extreme terrorism by loyalist and republican forces still in conflict over the partition of the island. In this paper I will be discussing the War of Independence itself and the key events and actors involved that lead eventually to the formation of the Irish Free State that exists today. I will also discuss the differing views and strategies on how best to defeat the British Empire. On the one hand Eamon De Valera wanted open warfare and rebellion as he believed this to be the only way to be viewed as legitimate by the international community. On the other Michael Collins preferred to engage in guerrilla warfare, intelligence gathering and clandestine operations mimicking the Boers in South Africa. He felt that open warfare and rebellion would be consistently futile in the face of a vastly superior and powerful military force. The Irish War of Independence cannot be discussed without first analyzing the preceding events and in particular the Easter week of 1916 which some people consider the real start of the Irish War of Independence. Immediately prior to this week Irish Nationalists signed anPoblacht na hEireann (Provisional Government of Ireland) a one-page document declaring Ireland as a sovereign nation. A group of armed volunteers overtook by force strategic locations around Dublin City and engaged in a week-long battle against British forces in which roughly 400 people on both sides lost their lives.

The Easter Rising, as it comes to be known is significant for a number of reasons. The most significant reason being that the subsequent executions of the Irish Revolutionary leaders galvanized the Irish Public in anti-British sentiment. The execution of James Connolly (signatory of anPhoblacht na hEireann) who was badly wounded from the Rebellion was executed while sitting down. These executions gave prominence to a Rebellion, which in fact did not have popular support amongst the Irish public.

The rest of the participants who survived were imprisoned throughout Ireland and Britain. Two of these individuals would go on to become prominent figures in the Irish War of Independence. The first Eamon de Valera who is perhaps the most controversial figure in Irish history would become leader of the first Irish Government after the Rebellion. He would also become President of Ireland during World War II. The second person was Michael Collins who became Director of Intelligence of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) during the war years. He would go on to learn from the mistakes of the 1916 Rising and previous rebellions and begin for the first time a campaign of clandestine warfare and intelligence gathering against the British Empire.

The years between 1916 and 1919 were mired by further bouts of violence and increasing anti-British sentiment. The implementation of martial law and the arrests of hundreds of Irish nationalists further alienated British rule. In 1918 Britain attempted to introduce conscription in Ireland in response to the ‘German Spring Offensive’. The Irish public highlighted their grievances by voting in Sinn Fein, a nationalist and anti-British political party. Sinn Fein however refused to take their seats in Westminster and formed Dail Eireann (Irish Government) and in 1919 reinstated the 1916 declaration of independence and proclaimed an existing state of war between Britain and Ireland.

Eamon deValera would become president of the new Irish Government and put international recognition of the Irish Free State as his number one...
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