Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

The Irish War of Independence and the IRA, 1916-1921

Rounding-up forces were sniped at Gortaclone and Ballylickey, enemy garrisons were fired on at Bantry, Skibbereen, Drimoleague, Clonakilty, Bandon, Innishannon and Kilbrittain. During the final four weeks, Bandon was entered eight times by armed parties of the IRA, the Innishannon Post was fired at on four occasions and Kilbrittain Barracks sniped at five times. British soldiers were wounded at Ballylickey, a Black and Tan sergeant and an enemy agent in Bandon. Yet another Essex soldier was shot dead within sight of his Bandon barracks and one more Black and Tan was killed in Skibbereen. There was no slowing down of IRA activities in West Cork until the announcements in the daily Press made it clear that the end was at hand.

Certainly in Cork, Tipperary and probably Dublin the British knew that they had little chance of defeating the IRA in the near future if at all.

What was clear, though, was that the IRA would never be able to defeat the British militarily. Yet in reality the British could not wipe out the IRA unless they waged an all-out war, which was highly implausible with worldwide public opinion against it. Peace feelers were sent out, and both sides slowly turned to the negotiating table. An important intermediary was General Smuts, the former Boer leader in South Africa. Eventually a truce was agreed, which began at noon on July 11th 1921. But it would not be the end to the violence.


The War of Independence, which lasted for two and a half years, resulted in 1,300 deaths, over a thousand of whom were Irish. Compared to the world war that preceded it, or to the second world war that would follow, it is a tiny dot. Yet its significance in Ireland is huge. Never before had Irish soldiers managed to force Britain to the negotiating table. Of course there were mitigating circumstances. Britain was weary after the Great War. Mainly American pressure prevented it unleashing its tanks and planes on the country. But the IRA had succeeded in holding the British soldiers and policemen in Ireland to a military stalemate. When one considers that the Crown forces numbered about 60,000 troops and 15,000 Auxiliaries and Black and Tans in addition to the regular R.I.C., this is an impressive achievement. The mere prescence of flying columns marauding around the countryside inspired the local population, who grew more and more angry with the often indiscriminate Crown violence aimed at them.

The war would result in the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which would give Ireland (excluding the six northern counties) its most independence for hundreds of years. For many this would be enough, but for some of the IRA men who had fought for an Irish republic, it was not. Agreeing to something less than a republic was tantamount to betrayal. The treaty would lead to a civil war.


· My Fight For Irish Freedom
by Dan Breen (Tralee, 1924)

· Guerilla Days In Ireland
by Tom Barry (Cork, 1949)

· Towards Ireland Free: The West Cork Brigade In The War Of Independence, 1917-1921
by Liam Deasy (Cork, 1973)

· From Public Defiance to Guerilla Warfare: The Radicalisation of the Irish Republican Army- a comparative analysis, 1916-1921
by Joost Augusteijn (Amsterdam, 1994)

· The Cause of Ireland: From the United Irishmen to Partition
by Liz Curtis (Belfast, 1994)

· British Intelligence in Ireland, 1920-21: The Final Reports
edited by Peter Hart (Cork, 2002)

· Michael Collins
by Tim Pat Coogan (Dublin, 1991)

BBC History Site

Memoirs of Irish Volunteer Andrew O’Donoghue Website

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