A "Sort of War" in Ireland, October 1920


A "Sort of War" in Ireland




OCTOBER, 1920.

WE, the undersigned, are members of a Mission sent to Ireland by the Women's International League to investigate and report upon conditions in that country.

We went to Ireland with the simple desire to find out things for ourselves and come back to tell our people what we [learned].

The Women's International League is the British Section of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, a world-wide organization having its Headquarters in Geneva.

We feel, therefore, a special international responsibility to inform ourselves as to how the nations within the British Empire are being treated by our Government, and although [page 2] we [endeavored] to discover the truth in all cases, we do not pretend to have gone to Ireland with minds bare of principles.

We are women organized for constructive peace and, as such, we hold that freedom is the first condition of peace. We are against violence in all forms; we should welcome the disarming of all men; we regard killing and maiming, and terrorism, by whomsoever it is [practiced], as barbarous and politically vicious.

Different members of our Mission went to different parts of Ireland in order to cover the ground as quickly as possible. The towns and villages visited were: -- Belfast, Derry, Lisburn, Dublin, Balbriggan, Limerick, Lahinch, Ennistymon, Tuam, Galway, Cork, Mallow.

Ulster. -- The situation in North-East Ulster was, as we were aware it must be, widely different from that prevailing over the whole of the rest of the country. Here the members of the deputation came upon evidences of towns which had been partially burnt and of districts from which a portion of the inhabitants had been driven out of their houses. They saw troops patrolling the streets with drawn bayonets and machine-guns, and sand-bag huts surrounded with barbed wire at the corners of the streets. They found the curfew system prevalent. They discussed the origin of these phenomena with Unionists, Nationalists, Sinn Feiners, Trade Unionists, Town [Councilors], [Cooperators], and women of both the working and the middle classes. The unanimous opinion appeared to be that in this area, where of old religious feeling has been acute, the Protestants predominate in four counties only; that of late years there has been an increase of the Nationalist and Sinn Fein feeling in this area, and that this came first into evidence at the Spring Election by means of the system of proportional representation. The Catholic, Labour, Socialist, and Sinn Fein minority group in the Belfast City Council was increased to 25, the Unionist majority being diminished from 52 to 35. In Derry, for the first time, the Nationalist Party had a majority and a Catholic mayor was elected. Bitter feeling was thus raised. The troubles in the South no doubt stimulated both parties. On July 21, after inflammatory speeches, 4,000 workers were expelled from the shipyards by the Unionist workers amid scenes of brutality and violence. The expelled workers were either Roman Catholics or of Labour, Socialist, Nationalist, and Sinn Fein sympathies, whether Roman Catholic or Protestant. All these were indiscriminately [labeled] as disloyal. The movement spread to the linen mills and now 24,000 men, women, and children are being maintained by relief organizations [page 3] in Belfast. Religious riots are no uncommon event in Belfast, but these have had a deliberate political signification which is new. The destruction and looting of houses and shops by Unionists in the Roman Catholic quarters has gone on intermittently since July 21. Many Unionist families have also been expelled from Roman Catholic districts which have become congested by refugees. Since July 21 the intermingling of Protestant and Roman Catholic families, which took place during the war in certain districts has ceased, and those who are not Unionist are compelled to live in a "ghetto" as strict as that in any Central or Eastern European cities. The police are armed and the soldiers help in police work. The minority regard this only as an extra menace and not as a protection, feeling that the soldiers are in the Unionist interest. After the murder of two policemen the houses of Sinn Feiners were attacked and burnt and two Sinn Fein men deliberately shot. It is commonly known that a number of Unionist men in the shipyards carry arms, yet at night the soldiers go to the Roman Catholics to search for arms, and scenes of violence and terrorism occur during the search. We were struck by the frank confession that the business interests of the majority in Belfast and the surrounding areas must be protected, and the calmness with which the Protestants in all areas of Ireland, even in those parts of Ulster where a Protestant majority cannot be secured, are thrown over in order to make the Belfast majority secure. It was felt that this was not in the interest of a separate race or a separate religion, but that it was the business interests that were being conserved and political differences perpetuated. The members of the deputation visited Belfast, Lisburn, and Londonderry and saw the results of the riots in the devastated areas and ruined homes. In conversation with representative citizens we found that (1) the extremists were obdurate, (2) a large number of moderates were anxious for peace though doubtful how to secure it, (3) the whole of the minority party who are being persecuted dread the young soldiery and regard the armed police as their enemies, (4) the volunteers of both sides appear to be under the control of their leaders.

Sinn Fein Ireland. -- In the whole of the rest of Ireland the conditions resemble each other and are different from those in Belfast, in that the Sinn Fein Government has the enthusiastic support of the enormous majority of the population. To a degree never before witnessed by any of us, it is possible to say that Dáil Éireann governs with the consent of the people. Although members of the Government are proscribed, their [page 4] Courts pronounced illegal, and their revenue forfeit, one can truly say that without them Ireland would be given over to sheer anarchy.

Members of our Mission spoke personally with many of the surviving relatives of men murdered by the forces of the Crown or with men whose assassination had been attempted and failed. English papers for the most part do not record these, while they record and amplify all on the other side.

Religion. -- Some of the members of our Mission made inquiries into the position of the Protestant minority; and for this purpose visited Roman Catholics and Protestants of different denominations, both laymen and Church officials.

Realizing that five or six days, however well filled, are not sufficient in which to study a question of this nature, we feel bound to record the fact that in the districts we visited (the South and West of Ireland) we found an almost entire absence of ill-feeling between members of the different denominations; that such members worked harmoniously together on public bodies, [cooperative] societies, [etc.]; that they united in raising funds for the victimized families of Belfast, and gave no signs of the commercial rivalry or boycott that we had been warned to expect.

These facts seem to point to the conclusion that the bitterness found in Ulster (which we should describe as political rather than religious) is, and has been, inflamed from outside sources, the withdrawal of which would be the first step towards the growth of a harmony and [cooperation] such as we found further South.

It should be mentioned, too, that the destruction of the property and other outrages committed by the Black and Tans fall indiscriminately upon Protestant and Catholics, in both town and country districts.

The Government campaign against Sinn Fein is carried out in the following ways: --

(1) Terrorism;

(2) Destruction of Irish agriculture and manufacture and trade;

(3) Propaganda.

Terrorism. -- We found in the East, West, and South, that the so-called "reprisals" against the civilian population were sometimes organized by the soldiers (who are English and the majority very young indeed), sometimes by the Royal Irish Constabulary (who are mostly Irish), and sometimes by the new armed forces attached to the constabulary (who [page 5] are mostly English ex-Service men, many of them ex-officers) known as the Black and Tans. It was not infrequent that where one of these bodies had organized a bombing and incendiary party, another had tried to protect the people and their houses. Sometimes evidence was clear that the military or police were drunk; sometimes equally clear that they were sober. Sometimes there was method in the destruction, only known sympathizers with Sinn Fein being attacked; sometimes the destruction was perfectly indiscriminate; sometimes, as in the murder of Mr. Lynch in Dublin, it seemed likely that the man was killed in mistake for another. It was perfectly clear that many of the raids were authorized and were not due to the men getting out of hand. Military lorries, incendiary bombs, petrol, and ammunition are not at the free disposal of the private soldier at his own caprice. Terrorism has been increased by the prohibition of inquests and the holding only of courts martial by English soldiers.

In addition to innumerable outrages by Government forces which have left "devastated areas" resembling those of Belgium in all the places we visited, the regular raids by police and military are conducted in such a way as to strike terror as widely as possible. After curfew, when the streets are in pitch darkness and no civilian may be abroad without a permit, the military lorries, [armored] cars, and even tanks, rattle through the streets carrying armed search parties. They batter at doors, and if the inhabitant takes so much time as is needed to slip on shoes and a coat, the front door is smashed in and the house filled with armed men. They lock the women and children away, or turn them out in the street, frequently with no covering but their night dresses, and search with the utmost brutality, tearing up mattresses, breaking open locks, and bombing safes; frequently we had evidence of very serious thefts and of the wanton destruction of pictures and ornaments in houses where nothing incriminating could be found.

Reference must be made, as regards the country districts in particular, to the constant raiding of whisky shops, and the carrying away of large quantities of strong drink by the Black and Tans, also the frequent looting of [jewelry], clothing, money, food, [etc].

The infliction of personal injuries forms an important part of the campaign of terrorism, men being taken into lonely places and there stripped and beaten in many cases, and even wounded in the lower limbs by rifle fire.

The presence of secret agents, spies, agents provocateurs, was a frequent subject of conversation and added greatly to the prevailing state of nervous tension. We heard many [page 6] stories of the placing of incriminating evidence (such as arms, ammunition, or seditious papers) in a raided house by some secret agent of the Government, who came as "guide" or as secret service man.

War. -- Our Government has stated that their policy towards Ireland is one of "war." We want, first, to draw attention to the fact that the Irish people draw a distinction between "war" and "murder;" and that whereas (they assert) 62 civilians have, in nine months of this year been "murdered" by the Forces of the Crown, the number of Irish who have fallen "in war" would run into hundreds. In the Government estimate, on the other hand, all members of the Forces of the Crown who have been killed, whether by assassination (like Mr. Bell in Dublin) or in "war," are added to the account of "murders" carried out by the "murder gang." We do not justify either "war" or "murder," but we wish to make this point clear.

Secondly, we wish to say that the war waged by the English Authorities is waged largely on women and children, and (in so far as the West and South are concerned) generally on unarmed men.

Thirdly, that war to the extent to which it is waged by Sinn Fein against England is waged on the system of government alone; and that the will to be friends with the English people still exists to an overwhelming degree, in spite of the apparent (to them) indifference of the English concerning the fate of the Irish people.

Destruction of Irish Trade and Industry. -- We have to record that we found a conviction among the Irish people that it is the purpose of the British Government to ruin Irish trade and industry in order to drive the young men to emigrate. The destruction of Creameries which are entirely unpolitical, of factories (such as Balbriggan Hosiery Factory), and of haystacks by the score, will inevitably lead to the unemployment of large numbers of people. It was pointed out that Queenstown [Harbor] has been closed to east-bound traffic, but is open for west-bound traffic, and Lord French's indiscreet speech (when he said that the present trouble was due to the presence in their own country of 200,000 young men who would "normally" have emigrated) was quoted everywhere as showing the real object of the Government in what seemed otherwise a purely motiveless mischief.

When a business concern or farmer makes a claim for compensation for destruction by the Forces of the British [page 7] Government, the sum awarded is laid (by the "Malicious Injuries Act") upon the Irish people for payment, and the Irish have in addition to pay heavy increases in insurance.

About the time of our departure, Ireland was greatly concerned at the threat to hold up altogether the railway and postal service in reprisal for the refusal of [railway men] to carry English soldiers and ammunition and for raiding of the mails by Sinn Fein.

Propaganda. -- We found the Irish people indignant at the use of the press and public platforms for the suppression and distortion of news and for the fomenting of hate towards the Irish people. We were shown copies of a printed sheet called the "Weekly Summary" supplied by the Government to the Black and Tans, and filled with incitements to bad feeling; this sheet persistently identified the whole Sinn Fein movement with what it called the "murder gang." Attention has been drawn to this abominable sheet by people of decent feeling, and later numbers have been more circumspect. No. 3 contained the following passage: --

"They (the Black and Tans) will go on with their job -- the job of making Ireland once again safe for the law-abiding, and an appropriate hell for those whose trade is agitation and whose method is murder."

We had repeated evidence of the attempt by the British Government to fasten upon Sinn Feiners the responsibility for outrages of which the Government Forces were guilty and Mr. Lloyd George's speeches were frequently cited as gross instances of distortion of fact when he suggested that the Government Forces were only defending themselves from attack and entirely ignored the sacking and looting, the "murder and arson" (to use Judge Bodkin's words) of which there were scores of examples in all the towns and villages visited by us.

Conclusions and Recommendations. -- Based on all the facts that we collected, the devastated areas we ourselves saw, the conversations we had with Sinn Feiners, Dominion Home-Rulers, Unionists, business men, mothers and widows of murdered men, workers of both sexes, we formed certain conclusions which we offer: --

(1) Ireland at the General Election, 1918, by constitutional election chose her own Government. A majority of over 70 [percent] was cast for Sinn Fein, and by the overwhelming consent of the people the Irish Parliament (Dáil Éireann) meeting in Ireland rules over the Irish people. [page 8]

(2) As a necessary consequence, the British Government, attempting to rule against the will of 70 [percent] of the people, can do so only by force complicated by fraud. Spies and informers are an essential part of the Government where the mass of the people are hostile. There is no [cooperation] between governors and governed, and the army of occupation (whether military proper or armed police) is demoralized by perpetual and agonizing fear and the constant use of debasing methods of espionage and lawless intimidation and revenge.

(3) This state of affairs can lead only to the economic ruin of Ireland and great economic injury to Great Britain; to a still more disastrous moral injury to Great Britain and to her reputation in all the world.

(4) We therefore advocate the immediate liberation of Irish political prisoners and the offering of a truce during which all armed forces shall be withdrawn and the keeping of order be placed in the hands of the Irish local elected bodies, thus creating conditions under which the Irish people may determine their own form of government.


Persons desiring to help the work of the Women's International League for Peace in Ireland and elsewhere should send donations to the Hon. Treasurer, Lady Courtney of Penwith, 14 Bedford Row, W.C.1; or to Mrs. Norbury, Hon. Treas. Manchester Branch W.I.L., 1 Princess Street, Manchester.