This is the second part of a five part series on the Irish Republican Army. This part deals with the IRA from the foundation of the Fianna Fáil party to 1956, before the IRA revival. If anybody is looking for sources, further information or a more detailed account of anything summarized in the OP feel free to ask. I will present the essay as free from sentimentality as I can, indeed this particular part of the history of the IRA will leave the reader questioning how the organization ever had a legitimate or organized approach, and how it ever recovered. It is important to bear in mind how these men saw themselves, and it is important to disregard future events in the history of the IRA; if you do not do this, you will never understand them.
Part One - http://www.historum.com/european-his...ry-defeat.html Threads on this topic:
1916-1926 Origin, Victory and Defeat
1926-1956 Bombing Campaign, IRA in the North, the IRA and the Nazis
1956-1979 the Provisional IRA, Hunger Striking, British Campaign, Torture, Arms, Sectarian Murder
1979-1986 Ten Brave Men, Bombs in Britain and counter insurgency, The INLA
1986-1993 The Will for Peace, Gerry Adams
It is worth noting, as Irish historian Tim Pat Coogan says, that to understand the IRA, all parts of it, is to understand the Irish. Understanding either group is unexpectedly difficult. I hope these threads offer some insight into the Irish mind, the Warlike nature if the Irish people, and the IRA.
Now, without further ado: 1926-1956 Bombing Campaign, IRA in the North, the IRA and the Nazis
We left the IRA an organization which, following successive splits, was a shadow of its former self. Sinn Féin/ IRA had lost support to Cumann na nGaedheal & The Free Staters and then been further divided into constitutional anti-treaty (Fianna Fáil), and extremist anti-treaty (Sinn Féin / IRA). The IRA which had once been the voice of the Irish people was reduced to being an extremist, left wing group of radicals. Despite it being a disruption of public order, and to be harsh, a relic of the Revolution, the IRA had several points in it's favour. It had in the 20's a membership of around 15,000 , maybe higher, which was three times more than it was able to field during the War of Independence. Its former unity with Fianna Fáil, and the relative harmony of the split compared to the Civil War split, left Fianna Fáil sympathetic to the IRA, and essentially driving for the same goals albeit in a different manner. This does sympathy or empathy does not appear to have been reciprocated as far as the IRA were concerned towards Fianna Fáil, at least not in their official documents, largely due to the fact that the Oath of Allegiance to the British crown was still in place, and that the IRA leadership were intense zealots who were inclined to view any compromise, which we all know to be necessary in politics, as betrayal. There was a General election in 1927, a year after the establishment of Fianna Fáil party. Fianna Fáil managed to win 44 seats, Cumann na nGaedheal won 46. It was a mark of the dissatisfaction of the Irish people with the way the Irish State fought so hard for was functioning. It became clear that these would be the two major parties in the future of the Irish State, as Sinn Féin, the voice of the IRA faded out.
Also In 1927 a man called Kevin O' Higgins was shot dead by the IRA on his way home from Mass. This man had been particularly harsh on the IRA during the Civil War, but his genius and intellect had been a huge asset to Ireland thereafter. He had been a chief architect of legislation in association with Britain which would allow Eamon De Valera to remove the hated Oath to the King, the primary reason for the Civil War. As is typical with the assassination of such high profile figures the IRA did not sanction the action, rather two (three by some accounts) young members looking to make a name for themselves carried it through on their own council. No one was ever charged in connection with the incident. It was another one of the IRA's actions throughout these years which make you wonder who were the enemies of these men? The answer of course must be, unpalatable as it is for an Irish man, or Free Stater like myself, that the Irish 26 county Free State was just as much an enemy of the IRA as the British were. Maybe even more so. That being said, I will address for a moment something I should have addressed previously; that is that the IRA was not an illegal organization in the Free State. It's stature, as the implement whereby partial freedom had been secured, despite it's failing to recognize its own success, denied successive governments, the right, in their own opinions at any rate to make the IRA illegal. As such it could openly train and recruit, and educate young men in it's philosophies. It is quite a paradox when one considers the fact that the IRA considered itself to be at war with the Free State. Fianna Fáil were elected to government in 1932, on the back of an election campaign promising to free IRA prisoners and to abolish the Oath, amongst other vote winning promises. So now the IRA had friends in government. Things might have been looking up.
The figures for the membership of the IRA for the 1930's seem to be in the order of at least 30,000, maybe more.
The early 1930's brought a new organization into being. In the same way British oppression had brought the IRA into being, so had IRA oppression brought the "Army Comrades Association" into being. Republicans had begun adhering to the idea, on the back of their new found success, that free speech should be denied traitors. "Traitors" in this instance meaning anybody who had a connection with, or supported Cumann na nGaedheal. The Army Comrades Association drew it's membership from men who had fought on the Free State side in the Civil War. I feel it would be tedious to go into detail of the depths to which the IRA sunk at this time, making sure CnG meetings were disrupted, speakers were not heard, etc. The ACA provided bodyguards against the IRA and basically set out for conflict with the IRA wherever it could. For example when the IRA attacked the delivery trucks of a British company, over the hostility provoked by the Anglo Irish economic war, the ACA provided the delivery trucks with an armed guard. In 1933 a new group was formed of the ACA, calling themselves the "National Guard". They owed their existence more to the conflict with the IRA than any external European factor, nonetheless they adopted many fascist customs, calling themselves "Blueshirts" & giving a Fascist salute to their leader Eoin O' Duffy. O' Duffy planned a march on Dublin but De Valera, remembering the march on Rome banned it, and asked the Army to ambush it should O' Duffy press ahead with his idea. He decided not to. De Valera wasn't happy still, and he outlawed the blueshirts. In response to this the Blueshirts merged with CnG to form Fine Gael, essentially the same party. The Blueshirts left Ireland to fight on the Fascist side of the Spanish Civil War, and that is where their part in Irish history ends. A final note on their legacy - The Right Wing -ism of the Blueshirts had a lasting effect on the IRA. It drove them further left. At a time when the IRA & Sinn Féin could have done very well by observing that a less left wing policy outlook would do them the world of good, they were in fact nearly driven to communism by these events. In my opinion, were it not for the fervent Catholicism of the IRA & the Irish, the IRA would have become a Communist group.
The Free State ceased to be in 1937 when De Valera published his new constitution for Ireland. Although it does not call itself a republic, it was indeed a republic, if only for the 26 counties. The Focus of the IRA now switched to Northern Ireland, where it has been fixed ever since.
The IRA continued to remain aloof from developments nationally. Their belief that violence was the best way the Irish Republic could be achieved was being called further into question day after day as the Free State evolved into the Irish Republic. Officially the IRA were still as hostile to it as ever but in reality they had begun to accept Britain must be the target of a renewed campaign, and finally, to bring some force to bear on their enemies, rather than their brothers. After a power struggle within the IRA, a man called Seán Russell rose to prominence. He had long desired to re-awaken republicanism with an assault on England. He conceived a Bombing Campaign on English soil, in order to disrupt English public life and to draw attention to the situation in Northern Ireland. He hoped it could be carried out without the loss of life. A far better Commander, Tom Barry of West Cork, famous for his exploits in the war of independence, favoured a 1916 style seizure of a NI town, to be held for as long as possible, and then to withdraw behind the boarder. Because The Stormont parliament was so weak, and weakening daily, Tom Barry hoped to collapse the NI government and thus help to unify Ireland. It was a good plan, but at the IRA meeting the Bombing campaign was favoured. The IRA delivered an ultimatum to Britain, Germany, Italy & just about everybody else they thought would listen. It made wildly exaggerated claims about the ability of the IRA to make war on England, such as attacks by plane, and was ignored. In 1939 the IRA proceeded with the bombing campaign, and of course, civilian life was lost through mistiming and incompetence. The IRA in England quickly lost their ability to plant bombs (London not being ideal for weapons stashes for highly explosive equipment) and the British hunted down several IRA members and hanged them. In Conclusion the Bombing campaign was a complete disaster, and was entirely finished by 1940. Russell departed to America, and left a man called Stephen Hayes in charge.
Due to the enormously large crack-down on IRA activity (The IRA were made illegal in 1939, the Courts had the power to intern suspected IRA members without trial, the outbreak of world war two made the IRA a huge liability because they would side with anybody who fought England and the new Irish state wished to be neutral) - because of all this the IRA was collapsing and some Northern Ireland IRA members smelled a rat. They suspected a traitor at the top of the organization, namely, they suspected Stephen Hayes. They kidnapped him and held him in south east Leinster. We have two conflicting accounts for what happened - In Hayes' he was beaten, tortured and threatened into confessing to a long list of crimes against the IRA which he did not actually commit, while in the IRA's version Hayes voluntarily accepted he had been a traitor and offered to wright a confession. Successive historians have proved Hayes could not have committed some of the Crimes he admitted to, so his account is believed to be closer to the truth. He saved his life by taking a month to write a tediously long confession, and when opportunity presented itself he escaped. He handed himself over to Gardaí.
The IRA in the North had always been of a different character to the IRA in the south. For one thing, there was the visible, abrasive Unionism plain to see, for another society have been divided into an us and them situation between Catholics and Protestants. The IRA in the North was primarily about protecting Catholics, and it did not have a large body of protestants involved. It continually frustrated Northern leaders, the lack of protestantism within the IRA - it removed them from the memory of Tone and the united Irishmen, and it allowed their enemies to paint them as sectarian. Despite continued efforts to bridge the gap, and some extraordinary documents to show the lengths the IRA went to to reach out to the protestants there is not much evidence that it had any positive long term effect, although it did give rise to the "Shankhill" Regiment of the IRA who marched to the Grave of Tone (an IRA annual pilgrimage of times gone by). The IRA in the north can be said to have never achieved its aims, at least, not yet. After the incident with Hayes the IRA in the South was totally spent. It had no money, no weapons, its leaders were in prison and its rank and file were disillusioned and leaving the army in droves. If the leadership was going to come from anywhere, it had to come form the north.
Of all the insults thrown at the IRA, of all the reputation damage done to that army throughout its near 100 turbulent years nothing has caused so much damage or suspicion as the connection with the Nazis. Thankfully it does not stand up to scrutiny. The Nazis made contact with the IRA on the basis that they were letting off bombs in London, in other words, they must be of some use. They made no effort to learn IRA philosophy, aims or anything else. The Nazis sent spies to Dublin and asked Eoin O' Duffy if he could put them in contact with the IRA! The Nazis then attempted to dictate to the IRA what their policies should be - e.g. stop attacking the Irish state, focus attention on Northern Ireland. The IRA didn't like this attitude and simply said no to it. At a time when it was collapsing, it was unreasonable of the Nazis to make such demands on the IRA as they did. There was no Organization any more, it really was fading into nothingness. The Irish State's special forces did an admirable job in rounding up Nazi spies & IRA collaborators. Indeed without the ruthless attitude taken to destroy the IRA in the 26 counties it is very difficult to see how Ireland could have remained neutral during the Second World War.
*In the Mid 1930's the IRA split again into the IRA & The Republican congress. It's not worth the while of reading an account of it and it's legacy was insignificant, ntl if anybody wants details, please ask.
** Throughout the history of the IRA, even when they were a legal organization, the Free State made great efforts to convict them of anything they could. The Military Council was set up to convict IRA members of crimes and it got a few Blueshirts as well. The Army & Police Force Special Branches made a living off the IRA. Internment was particularly hated and the Free State often refused to recognize the IRA as political prisoners. The IRA have never accepted this infringement, and it led to hunger strikes, strip strikes & thirst strikes which sometimes resulted in the deaths of the strikers. Again, for further details, just ask.
I hope you have enjoyed. As always Questions and comments thoroughly welcomed. Expect thread three by St. Patrick's Day