Rebel Schismatic: Liam Mellows on the Brink of Conflict, 1922 (Part VII)

Feb 2016
94
Dublin, Ireland
Article on Liam Mellows and the last few weeks before Civil War broke out (seventh in an eight-part series).

Rebel Schismatic: Liam Mellows on the Brink of Conflict, 1922 (Part VII)

Since its occupation in April 1922, the Four Courts in Dublin had served as the headquarters of the anti-Treaty IRA. In a mark of its importance, and a sign of the tensions pervading the country, the windows of the building complex had been reinforced with sandbags, behind which sentries with rifles and machine-guns watched over the city. It had been transformed, in the words of one of its garrison, into a "veritable fortress."


(The Four Courts, Dublin)

For all the show of strength, pressure was building up within as well as without. The IRA Executive was riven with factions. Liam Lynch, as Chief of Staff, was its nominal head, but his authority was increasingly challenged by Liam Mellows and Rory O'Connor, who saw the Corkman was insufficiently committed to the Republican cause. As a consequence, bemoaned Liam Deasy, an ally of Lynch's on the Executive, there were:

"…many unpleasant incidents reflecting badly on the elected Executive. Worse still it appeared as if a number of independent armies were being formed on the anti-Treaty side."
Even an old friend such as Robert Brennan urged Mellows to reconsider his course of action. But Mellows stood his ground.

"The Republic is being undermined," he replied. "What else could we have done?"

The solution, Mellows told Brennan, was to attack the British military still in Dublin before it could depart. By provoking the old enemy into resuming the war, he hoped to reunite the pro and anti-Treaty IRAs. When Brennan left the Four Courts, he was more depressed than ever at the insanity enfolding all around.


(IRA men, with rifles)

Things had changed a lot since he first met Mellows in 1911, when he found himself "looking into the blue eyes of Liam Mellowes [alternative spelling], full of good humour, enthusiasm, optimism and comradeship." Others were similarly charmed. "His whole personality seemed to radiate kindness," remembered Todd Andrews. "He was a dea-dhuine (decent man)."

Nonetheless, it appeared to many that the hard-line stance espoused by Mellows, where compromise was a dirty one and anyone who fell short of standards a liability, was leading them all into disaster. It was a sign of how topsy-turvy the world had become that a man whose efforts to free Ireland of foreign rule had been second to none was now, in all seriousness, suggesting the return of British soldiers for want of any other solution.

A glimmer of hope came in the IRA Convention of the 18th May 1922, when a proposal by Lynch to reunite the two IRAs into a single army was on the agenda. But Mellows, aided by O'Connor and Tom Barry, were to have very different ideas...