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Home Uncategorized Frank Gallagher and Land Agitation

Frank Gallagher and Land Agitation

A response to Getting Them Out, Southern Loyalists in the War of Independence (drb, Issue 9 Spring 2009)


It is to his credit that in Getting Them Out, despite his numerous reservations, Tom Wall concedes that Coolacrease :

add[s] to the total sum of knowledge about the tragic event [the Pearson executions in 1921]. Also valuable is the inclusion of copies of original documents… not all of which are supportive of the author’s case.1


Wall concludes, in agreement with the Coolacrease authors, “the immediate cause” of the two brothers’ execution was “when an IRA party was fired upon”. He also agrees:

The case against land being a direct cause of the incident is persuasiveIt seems clear that the Pearsons were executed for reasons that had no direct bearing on land ownership.


That seems clear, the book succeeded in its purpose, to explore and to detail weaknesses in the research and presentation of the RTE Hidden History documentary. The programme alleged that the brothers were shot for two reasons: because they were Protestants and because they owned more land than their mainly Catholic neighbours who wanted to get their hands on it. The book successfully refutes this theory on both counts and Wall agrees that it does.

However, instead of questioning the RTE Hidden History programme that provoked the Coolacrease authors into writing their more objective account, Wall questions the case he concedes to the Coolacrease authors:

to deny that land played any part in events there, or more widely, runs counter to much historical evidence. This issue is worthy of some detailed reflection.


The reflection follows. Tom Wall suggests that the Aubane Historical Society publications, Coolacrease, and Troubled History, a 10th Anniversary Critique of Peter Hart’s The IRA and its Enemies, are for the purpose of “defend[ing] the received history of the national struggle against revisionism.” That would imply an exercise in comparing revisionist histories with a canonical and unalterable version of historical events. In many ways, the problem is actually the other way around. Coolacrease critics of the RTE documentary made better use of historical method, principally by producing and evaluating evidence that was misreported and/or ignored by the television programme. Professional historians, who supported the assertion of republican sectarianism, were shown not to have consulted original documentation.2 They were the ones who made assumptions.

Tom Wall, it seems, shares the assumption that anti-Protestant sectarianism was a persistent nationalist undercurrent in the War of Independence. Protestants emerge as victims from his survey of events in much the same way they did from the account Peter Hart offered in his The IRA and its Enemies.

Wall cited an important participant’s account of the War of Independence in his drb critique of the Coolacrease book. In The Four Glorious Years published in 1953, Frank Gallagher discussed sectarianism as an instrument of British policy and also the issue of land agitation.3 Wall’s use of Gallagher suggests that Protestant owned land in particular was targeted. I would like to comment on the way Wall uses Gallagher to convey this impression. Tom Wall cites Gallagher as stating in his book (but without telling us where4):

Farm hungry men do not believe in gentle methods … When the farmer objected his crops were sometimes burned, his family set upon … Those who led the taking over of estates did not hesitate to shoot owners who stood in their way.5


The above does not appear as a self-contained passage in Gallagher’s book. On page seventy one, Gallagher wrote (Wall’s unreferenced citation underlined):

The land hunger at that time was terrible. Britain had never been speedy with land division, and had suspended it altogether during the war. Also it was a time of force: the world had just come through the most terrible war in history, and Ireland was at war, too, and land-hungry men do not believe in gentle methods. So farm after farm, ranch after ranch, was taken over. Soon it was not only huge farms or the vast grazing grounds that were occupied. The uneconomic holders helped themselves to the nearest land whose-ever it was. When the farmer objected his crops were sometimes burned, his family set upon.


Aside from noting that Gallagher referred to “land” not “farm” hungry men, he made no reference here to “shoot[ing] owners”. Wall’s suggestion that Protestants in particular were targeted is weakened when we consult the omitted sentences, between “methods” and “When”, above.

An impression of cherry-picking, while ignoring ideologically unpalatable items, is formed if we turn over 125 pages to pages 200-1 of The Four Glorious Years. Irish workers are described as taking note in 1920 of the refusal of British dockers and railway workers to “arm the Poles against the Russians” or to transport the munitions Poland had bought from British firms. In turn:

The Irish workers… would not transport the arms by which their people were being murdered nor permit movements of armed British soldiers.6


Arrests, dismissals and fatalities followed, but the refusal to move troops or munitions of war held firm. While we will return to these observations, Gallagher returns at the foot of page 201 to the land seizures discussion and to a possible “collapse into mob law”. Gallagher wrote (the first sentence an orphan from Wall’s original citation, above, and underlined):

Those who led this taking over of estates did not hesitate to shoot owners who stood in their path. Captain Shawe Taylor was shot in March of 1920. Other owners received death threats. Then the Dáil Cabinet acted swiftly.


Here is the shooting owners reference, but why was this grazier shot? Gallagher does not say, he merely gives it as an example of something that needed to be ended. According to a contemporary Irish Times report, Frank Shawe-Taylor had recently

refused the request of a deputation of his tenants who asked for a portion of his lands. He is stated to have declared that, if he had to give up his land he would prefer to give it to the military, apparently meaning discharged [British] soldiers.


The Irish Times reported Shawe-Taylor as “a unionist in politics, who did not share the advanced views of his brother”, Captain John Shawe-Taylor. The latter “was responsible for bringing about the land conference in 1903”. This prepared the way for the steady but often slow and frustrating transition towards peasant proprietorship under that year’s Wyndham Land Act. The Anglo-Irish landed elite was departing with a long drawn out whimper. There is no suggestion that Frank Shawe-Taylor’s religion played a role in his demise. His attitude toward his tenants’ wishes may have.

According to Gallagher, land agitation was out of control. Republican Courts that were illegal in British law were set to work on the problem, moving off, forcibly, squatters who refused to obey its orders and sending others to “ ‘an unknown destination’, a synonym for a Republican jail”. Of this activity, Hugh Martin of the London Daily News said: “even the unionists are astonished and pleased by it”. One such wrote to the Irish Times:

The Sinn Fein courts are steadily extending their jurisdiction and disposing justice even handed between man and man, Catholic and Protestant, farmer and shopkeeper, grazier and cattle driver, landlord and tenant.


There seems little here that supports the contention of sectarianism, quite the opposite. These activities regulated a social revolution on the land catalogued in Fergus Campbell’s Land and Revolution .7

Dáil Éireann set up the National Land Bank in December 1919. Its directors included Robert Barton, Erskine Childers and Lionel Smith Gordon, all Protestants. It was involved in enabling the landless to buy out large estates. For example, in 1920 it advanced £9,000 to a cooperative to buy out Lower Wood Farm, Westmeath, and £16,000 for a farm in Annerville and Gurteenward in Offaly. The Land Bank solicitor claimed that its influence was directed against violence. But violence was part of the agitation. Sometimes individuals engaged in land agitation masqueraded as republicans. Sinn Fein arbitration courts that enabled parties in dispute to agree terms were followed, where necessary, by Dáil courts that made orders enforced by the IRA. The Republican Court system was part of a system of dual or contested power that emerged during the war. Gallagher detailed energetic and increasingly desperate British attempts to suppress them.8

If such tensions were dealt with swiftly then, the later interregnum between Treaty split in January and Civil War in June 1922 is acknowledged to have been simply a period of lawlessness. Robert Kee reported:

In the three weeks from 29 March to 19 April, 323 post offices were robbed in the South of Ireland; and forty consignments of goods were seized from the Dublin and South-Eastern Railway between 23 March and 22 April, though in only thirty of the cases was the seizure even stated to be ‘by order IRA’.

Much of this activity, “the epidemic of raids on banks, trains, post offices, and private dwellings”, seems to have had a free enterprise character. In possessing relatively larger holdings, Protestants were statistically more likely to suffer privations of their property. Some threats came from unusual sources. For example, a Miss Julia Garvey and a Mr HO de Bromhead received a purported demand from the IRA for £25 and £50 respectively. The fraudulent author, it turned out, was “connected with some of the oldest and most respectable business families in [Waterford] city”. Garvey and de Bromhead asked for clemency for “the boy”, who, after IRA capture, was deported after a “quick trial and sentence”.9 At a December 2008 Church of Ireland one-day seminar on the Protestant experience of the War of Independence and Civil War, UCC historian, John Borgonovo, mentioned a Freemans’ Journal report of 19 May 1922 entitled: A strange Cork case, alleged raid by Protestants on a Protestant farmer. The demand for [Stg]300.00 from the farmer was accompanied by the fraudulent claim that it was on behalf of the IRA. A subsequent 30 May report concluded the episode, “In the name of the IRA, Protestant convicted of raiding co-religionist… advantage taken of prevailing disorder.”10

Writing, as he was, from the vantage point of the 1950s the anti-Treaty Gallagher wrote disapprovingly of a “class struggle” on the land. Reports in 1922 in the pages of the Irish Independent, that supported the emerging army of the Free State, noted the IRA’s actions with approval. The Irish Independent of May 11, 1922, commented:

It is gratifying to observe that, whatever be their differences on other matters, both sections of the IRA are at one in taking measures to end the cattle driving and the seizures of property which have become such frequent occurrences in many part of the country. Threats against individual members of the Protestant minority have not only provided our enemies with material to support their allegations of intolerance against the minority, but have caused peaceable citizens to fall in terror from their homes.


The March 4 and April 1, 1922, editions of The Southern Star reported an attempt by a claimed evictee named Regan to take over the farm of a Harry Kingston. The March edition reported rumours of an anticipated IRA intervention, while in April the paper reported an IRA order that claimants were not permitted to “take the law into their own hands” and must submit to the authority of Republican Courts. An Independent report on the Republican Supreme Court on May 13, 1922 was headlined Land hunger East and West. An editorial that day stated: “The officers of the IRA are losing little time in concerting measures to meet the disorders that have arisen from the unjustifiable activities of men inspired by a greed for land.”

The May 8, 1922, Independent noted under the editorial headline, Security of life and property, “we do not know whether sectarian motives are responsible for all these acts; and the root cause of some appears to be agrarian”. The IRA’s prevention of cattle driving led Labour leader Thomas Johnson to accuse the IRA of stifling the efforts of the poor and dispossessed. The Independent published a response by T Killeen, Adjutant of the 1st Western Division, who suggested that planned and equitable land redistribution was preferable to individual opportunism and starvation of animals.11 Campbell’s conclusion that, “Sinn Fein did support the radical agrarian policy of land redistribution, though it was opposed to unregulated and violent land seizures”, appears well founded. Campbell suggests that Sinn Fein supported “the claims of the rural poor to additional grazing land… Numerous small farmers and landless men in the West of Ireland gained the land that they required”. His analysis of the social composition of Sinn Fein in Galway suggests that it was essentially a poor people’s party, and that this was broadly in line with the social composition of those involved in land agitation.12

Of 290 landlords owning estates larger than 10,000 acres in 1891, 94% were Protestant.13 While these very large holdings were diminished by the 1903 Land Act and subsequent measures, it was still the case that where larger holdings were encountered they tended to be in Protestant hands. Most were unionists. However, the extent to which attempts to equalise land ownership from below were the result of class rather than sectarian tensions is the missing subtext. Protestants may have been attacked, but not because of their religion. Searching for sectarianism in the South may obscure the class struggle elements parallel to the War of Independence, indications of which were plentiful and, where evident, were likely to act against the interests of the better off of whatever religion. To an extent the fixation with finding Protestant victims erects a conceptual barrier between republican and socialist radicalism during the War of Independence. Perhaps that is the intent.

An answer to the Irish Independent’s question, is this agrarian or sectarian, depended on the socio-economic vantage point of the observer. This matter is complicated in the South by the later drift toward conservatism as a result of the pro-Treaty victory in the 1922-23 Irish Civil War. The assertion by the pro-Treaty leader Kevin O’Higgins that “we were the most conservative minded revolutionaries that ever put through a successful revolution” is cited to support the view that it was a conservative enterprise from beginning to end.14 But the remark was self-serving, in justification of the victory of the conservative social forces that won out during and after the Irish Civil War. Campbell observed:

O’Higgins represented only one wing of the revolutionary movement. There were radical impulses and although many of them were defeated, they demonstrate that the revolution was neither innately or inevitably conservative.15


The leadership and rank and file of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (ITGWU) were fully integrated into the independence struggle. The growth of republican radicalism was also the growth of trade union membership. ITGWU branches grew from 50 in 1918 to 525 in 1920. Membership was 25,000 in 1917, 67,827 in 1918 and peaked at 125,000 in 1920. Protests against British militarism in Limerick in April 1919 turned into the short-lived Limerick Soviet, in which the local trades council took over control and provision of goods and services. Unionists portrayed industrial radicalism as a republican-communist conspiracy. It was itemised in Red Terror and Green from the Irish Unionist Alliance. In 1922 the one time High Sheriff of Co Cork described “a mob that seized his sawmill… march[ing] under a red flag”. That same year in Limerick a unionist family saw the factories of its “well known butter firm… seized by communists (i.e. employees) who, it is said, tried to manage them on Soviet principles”.16 Had the employees been landless rather than industrial labourers, would they have been identified by Wall and others as seeking in a sectarian manner to rectify ancient wrongs?

In March 1920, the ITGWU leader, William O’Brien, was arrested and deported. According to Andrew Bonar Law, Leader of the House of Commons, this was:

on suspicion of being implicated in a murderous conspiracy that has resulted in the deaths of so many loyal servants of the Crown in Ireland.


O’Brien went on hunger strike in a widely publicised protest. On May 4, 1920, the incoming British forces commander, General Sir Nevil Macready, asked for a “chat” with Thomas Foran, then President of the ITGWU, on the recommendation of “friends connected to the [British] Labour Party”. This might help to “get a grip of the conditions in the country”. Foran replied on May 7 that the secretary of the Irish Labour Party and Trades Union Congress, “is the person best qualified” to report on Ireland’s labour movement. However:

He is at present in your hands – kidnapped on 3rd March by your predecessor, and deported. I and all my colleagues are equally guilty of the ‘offence’ for which he is imprisoned.


Foran concluded that the General should “let go of your grip on the citizens of this country”. O’Brien was released five days later. On his return he was active organising Dublin dockers refusing to unload British armaments. A first ship’s cargo was loaded on to a train by the British military. The train porters went on strike and the munitions went no further. The previously noted six month strike was financed by a fund that raised £120,000, paying a flat rate of £3.00 per week to the strikers.17

The landless were organised into trade unions on a mass scale during and after 1919. There is no evidence that Wall’s predecessors in the trade union movement who engaged in labour and trade union participation in the War of Independence, made any observations that sectarianism was a feature of the effort in which they were engaged.18 Similarly, the landless labourers who joined the Land and Labour League and the ITGWU were concerned simply “to change their condition from labourers to farmers”.19 If the effort was sectarian, would not records and reminiscences exist to prove it so?

Tom Wall uses Gallagher to support the idea of a generalised anti-Protestantism saying: “more often than not, as Gallagher admitted, Protestant-owned land was the target, with ancestral grievances justifying occupations”. But on page 73 of The Four Glorious Years we read:

Although most of the landowners who had come [to Dublin to seek redress] were pro-British, they did not go to Dublin Castle. They went to the Headquarters of Sinn Fein, to wherever they knew there was somebody connected with the Dáil.


Gallagher also noted:

many a unionist who had swallowed the endless press stories of murderers, gunmen, bolsheviki, went wondering away. The details of their cases had been carefully noted, and they were promised protection.


In justification of his substitution of ‘Protestant-owned’ for Gallagher’s form of words, Wall suggested (in subsequent correspondence) “I think, [it] not unreasonable to interpret [pro-British] as implying loyalist/Protestant”.20

The problem is that there were different kinds of pro-Britishness among people who were equally Protestant, and some who were Protestant and pro-Irish (to reverse the terminology). In Jasper Ungeod Thomas’s highly instructive biography of his grandfather, Jasper Wolfe of Skibbereen , the author discusses Harry Wolfe, a “home rule loyalist” who was also a Protestant, in contrast to two “strong unionists, totally unprepared to compromise with those whom they saw as dangerous rebels”.21 These latter were Matt Sweetman and William Connell, who were shot by the IRA. Wall suggested that religion was a factor. However, the memoir of another Protestant home ruler in Skibbereen, Willy Kingston, recounts his participation in illegal Sinn Fein arbitration courts and also that Connell ignored a warning to leave. It did not occur to Kingston to suggest that sectarianism was a factor in the shootings. He did write that,

“under duress by the police [Sweetman and Connell] were forced to give evidence”, leading to the conviction and imprisonment of IRA arms fund collectors.22

Tom Wall mentions “one report” of two farmers being shot dead for refusing to attend a republican court, but no page number is given for the source, RB McDowell’s Crisis and Decline’. The brief reference was encountered on page 95, in a study that begins:

Receding imperialism usually leaves behind those who have for generations staunchly upheld its authority and flourished under its aegis – Germans in Bohemia, Swedes in Finland, Loyalists or Tories in the American colonies, Greeks in Asia Minor, Muslims in the Balkans, Amongst those abandoned adherents of a lost cause were the unionists of the south and west of Ireland.


McDowell’s source for the demise of the two nameless Protestant farmers is a British military Court of Enquiry in lieu of abolished civilian inquests. McDowell’s discussion is of a proud remnant. The integrity of their contribution to the loyalist cause is undermined in contemporary commentary that depicts defenceless victims of allegedly nationalist prejudice.23

Wall’s assertion that Black & Tan reprisals made Protestants, “vulnerable to reprisals by the IRA”, is sourceless.24 The American Commission on Conditions in Ireland: Interim Report stated in 1921 that Catholics “were guilty of no reprisals of any sort upon their Protestant neighbours” as a result of ongoing anti-Catholic violence in the North. This part of the report, by Protestant members of the Commission, included the testimony of Wesleyan ministers who “entirely ridiculed the idea that the southern unionists were in any danger from the southern population”. Protestant unionists, who owned “many of the most prosperous businesses in Limerick… were much more fearful of what the Crown forces would do than of what the Sinn Fein forces would do”, according to a Limerick Protestant clergyman.25

Wall refers to the distinction between Protestant and loyalist to be so fine as to be “invisible to many”. It was visible to Lionel Curtis, a substantial British figure who investigated conditions before reporting on the state of Ireland in 1921. He wrote:

to conceive the struggle as religious in character is in any case misleading. Protestants in the South do not complain of persecution on sectarian grounds. If Protestant farmers are murdered, it is not by reason of their religion, but rather because they are under suspicion as loyalists. The distinction is a fine, but a real one.26


Curtis was not, as Wall reports, “an eccentric British civil servant”. This is an eccentric description of the founder in 1919 of the Royal Institute for International Affairs, known today as Chatham House. Curtis first proposed the idea of the British Commonwealth of Nations in 1916. He contributed a wide ranging article, Ireland, to the June 1921 edition of Round Table, the journal of those seeking to modernise the British Empire. He represented “the most advanced wing of British imperialism” and was Lloyd George’s personal adviser and Secretary during the Treaty negotiations in 1921.27

The Protestant-loyalist distinction was also visible to the previously mentioned Jasper Wolfe, who was Crown Solicitor for Cork and a cousin of Willy Kingston. Wolfe represented the British government at the inquest into the RIC assassination of Cork Lord Mayor Tomas Mac Curtain. As a result Wolfe was an IRA target.28 Yet, Wolfe emphasised, not a sectarian one, either then or later in April 1922.29 Wolfe went on to defend IRA accused (Protestants included) in the law courts of the Free State and was elected Independent TD for West Cork from 1927-33. The IRA officer who had attempted to assassinate him on more that one occasion became his best friend.30 As the same Cornelius Connolly, OC IRA 4th Skibbereen Battalion, put it, “We laid in wait for Jasper Wolfe… he is still alive”.31

Was Wolfe also “eccentric”? If so, there was quite a lot about. During the height of the conflict, Dorothy Stopford worked as a Protestant doctor in Kilbrittain, West Cork. She was appointed “medical officer to a Cork Brigade of the IRA”. She lectured on first aid to Cumann na mBan (the IRA’s Women’s auxiliary) and “was closely caught up in the activities of the Cork Brigade of the IRA and its Flying Column”. Stopford’s sister in Dublin, Mrs AK Wordsworth, put up senior IRA and Dail figures on the run, and allowed the IRA Army Council to meet in her house. Her War of Independence Witness Statement states that she is the “Niece of the late Mrs [Alice] Stopford Green, the historian”. The latter carried republican dispatches for Eamon deValera and others, and set up contact with influential figures in Britain. The British Viceroy, Lord French’s sister, Albina Broderick, was also a republican.32

Dorothy Stopford became a significant figure in Irish society. She introduced BCG vaccination to the Irish Free State, prior to its UK adoption, and wrote the internationally recognised Tuberculosis in Children. That she has not been accorded a status in Irish society that her achievements commend possibly has less to do with being a Protestant in a predominantly Catholic society and more to do with being a woman in one that is patriarchal. Peter Hart described Stopford as “a pipe smoking woman wearing riding breeches and an eyeglass” who “caused a minor sensation”. He observed that “neither her politics (republican) nor her religion (Church of Ireland) prevented her from getting along with her neighbours”. His hooray-Henrietta description indicates a reluctance to integrate unwelcome Protestants into a pre-conceived narrative. They are acceptable as caricatures or, as in Wall’s depiction of Curtis, as unreliable eccentrics.33

The distinction between Protestant and loyalist may have been evident to readers of the daily Freeman’s Journal on July 2, 1922. In the centre of page 5 we read: “Farmer’s two sons shot dead in Offaly and homestead burned down”. To the left there is a prominent report, “Mr R.C. Barton set free”. The first reported the Pearson killings, the second the release from an English Prison of the previously mentioned, Robert Barton TD, who (despite his initials) was a Protestant. He was Sinn Fein agriculture minister prior to imprisonment and cousin of the Dail Director of Publicity, the equally Protestant Erskine Childers. Both men took the anti-Treaty side in the subsequent Irish Civil War, in which Childers was executed for possessing a revolver he had originally received from Michael Collins.34

Protestant opinion in southern Ireland was more diverse than supporters of Hart’s thesis accept. It was to a very large extent opposed to northern unionist sectarianism. Why not to nationalist sectarianism? Perhaps because there was not much in evidence. Ignoring a distinction perfectly visible at the time is modern ignorance –one of the a-historical “common sense” assumptions dealt with in Troubled History. It is therefore not reasonable to alter an author’s intended meaning. It not acceptable to nonchalantly swap the terms pro-British and Protestant as it distorts the historical record.

If republicans or Catholics generally were grabbing Protestant property, why did a republican parliament they elected oppose them and why did Protestants in general appear to support this Parliament’s actions in this regard? The charge against Wall’s view, however, is not so much that it is an offence against logic, but that it offends against the evidence.

In the South, nationalist Ireland went out of its way to protect Protestant relative socio-economic advantage. Catholic Church leaders condemned the slightest hint of “the Ulster virus” in reverse, whereas Protestant church leader in the north acted as apologists for sectarian attacks on Catholics there.35 The slightest intimation of sectarianism also led the Free State authorities to ignore other possibly more relevant factors.

The “Planters of Luggacurran”, Co Laois, are a case in point. They obtained tenancies from Lord Lansdowne in the 1880s through an Orange Order network, solely because they were both Protestant and unionist, after Lansdowne had evicted previous striking tenants. Let us momentarily transfer from an agricultural to an industrial context. It might be considered absurd if striking workers were accused of sectarianism, were they to oppose strike-breaking replacements chosen for their politico-religious beliefs. This is the legacy Lansdowne imposed on Luggacurran, where many of the evicted tenants maintained their campaign for restitution. When the issue flared up in April 1922 the former tenants or their representatives evicted the planters. The original tenants found their claims taking second place to Free State concerns over “the protection of minorities in the new state”. Perhaps significantly, the temporarily evicted planters’ case was publicised by the “Conservative and Unionist Movement” with a London address. They made reference to, amongst other planters, the “recently ejected” William Stanley, and “armed raiders… believed to consist of local Republicans and members of the Transport and General Workers Union”. The Manchester Guardian reported that the events should be put,

in their right perspective…. There is little or no republicanism behind this evicting movement. Nearly all the men engaged in it are colliers, at present unemployed… The colliers in Queens County are the descendants of men who suffered the evictions of the eighties.


The colliers had a socialist consciousness, to which was “superadd[ed] an inherited grievance against Protestant landlords”. The issue was finally resolved with the original tenants being offered alternative land. The planters and their successors were secured in their homesteads. It seems reasonable to conclude in this case that sectarianism was imposed by Lord Lansdowne in the dying days of the landed gentry and facilitated by the colonial administration. The response of its victims was not sectarian, unless Tom Wall may care to argue otherwise.36

It was from Luggacurran that Alan Stanley’s father, the same William Stanley, was expelled by the IRA for forming a civilian alliance with British forces. William’s alleged associations with the Auxiliaries caused, amongst other things, those opposing the planters to oppose his relatives most.37 After his expulsion Stanley stayed with the Pearsons, who also had planter relatives in Laois. Both families had relatives or contacts in the north of Ireland. Wall wondered, “if the Ulster Volunteer Force was active in South Offaly at the time some trace of it would surely have emerged by now”. Perhaps Alan Stanley’s description of “sons of Luggacurran planters” including his father, William, forming an armed loyalist group, William’s expulsion from Luggacurran by the IRA and subsequent transfer to the Pearsons, will do as a “trace”.38

That disaffected southern loyalists would link, either aspirationally or organisationally, with the northern variant should not be regarded as surprising. At that time the Orange Order was an all Ireland institution. Orange ideology and its supportive network was the basis whereby Luggacurran was populated with loyalists. Southern and northern (Ulster) unionism split publicly in 1919. The southern Unionist leader Lord Middleton agreed in November 1917, “on behalf of Unionists of the South and East”, to the formation of an all Ireland Home Rule parliament, “with fair representation for the minority and other safeguards”. Consequently, the Irish Unionist Alliance was reconstituted in January 1919 without Middleton and co-thinkers. They set up instead the Irish Unionist Anti-Partition League. Southern unionists regarded partition as a betrayal, not least since Ulster Unionists broke their 1912 Solemn League and Covenant “to resist Home Rule in any part of the province of Ulster”, by surrendering three of its nine counties. Southern unionists were subsequently also disaffected by the indiscriminate reprisal policy of British forces in 1920-21 that sometimes decimated their own businesses. The more extreme pro-Ulster variant was consequently marginalised within southern unionism.39

Certainly the minutiae of the subject have been under-researched, perhaps a reason why Hart’s assertion that the IRA lashed out in blind revenge was accepted on first publication. A British divisional history of the conflict, captured British intelligence documents cited by Meda Ryan in 2003 and testimony cited in O’Broin, all point to Loyalist activism in West Cork. Borgonovo’s detailed examination of IRA executions in Cork city, published in 2007, demonstrated the extensive and largely accurate nature of IRA intelligence with regard to loyalist activism. IRA intelligence was enhanced because the wife of the IRA’s chief of intelligence, a spy in her own right, worked in the office of General Strickland, the British commanding officer in Cork.40 The Coolacrease evidence points to similar conclusions.

In the North, Britishness was, more or less, sectarian, ‘under the lash of arid censure’. In the South the republican influence was opposed to sectarianism and, in any case, nationalists are not generally as obsessed about religion in politics to the extent that unionists can be. Nationalists are hyper sensitive to the accusation, however, causing if anything overreaction in relation to assumed sectarian failings. The sectarian arithmetic that gave birth to the Northern state overwhelmed society there at every level. But unionism itself was not uniform across the island. And in the South it was on the losing side. However:

like American loyalists in the early 1780s, and European settlers in colonial Africa in the 1950s and 1960s, [unionism] lost out, and there are many sad and some tragic stories. Yet, when the dust settled, and despite depleted numbers, a substantial proportion of the agricultural, business wealth and professional employment post-independence remained in Protestant hands.41


Quite possibly, sectarianism is the Irish socialism of fools. If we are to seek it out “from the summer of 1920 onwards”, as Hart advised, we should shift our attention north from June to July of that year. In that month thousands of Catholics and “rotten Protestants” (socialists) were expelled from Belfast shipyards, engineering firms and other employments by unionist mobs. It has been estimated that up to 10,000 lost their jobs in this short period, that was accompanied by destruction of Catholic owned homes and businesses on a significant scale. It was claimed that the shipyard expulsions included over 1,500 Catholic ex British Army servicemen. The pogrom (as the Protestant American Commissioners had no difficulty in describing it) was initiated on July 12, 1920, by unionist leader, Edward Carson, and retrospectively endorsed by his deputy, Northern Ireland’s first Prime Minister, James Craig. The expulsions served the interests of large manufacturers who encouraged sectarian division and used it to discourage a socialist consciousness whose first principle is one of equality. Northern Protestant church leaders who encouraged a Protestant-British identity endorsed these series of attacks.42

There were long-term historical consequences both north and south. In the North, Catholics were forced into penury and inter-generational unemployment lasting to 1968 and beyond. Southern Protestants, on the other hand, became what Kurt Bowen in his sympathetic but objective 1983 study termed a “privileged minority” within a state with definably catholic and sectarian characteristics.43 By and large sectarianism was a mechanism for managing and conditioning society’s lower orders. By and large, also, however, southern society was capable of self-reform and secular political progress, whereas northern society was not. The southern state developed a consensual civil society; the northern state was incapable of doing so (and arguably still is).

Publications, such as the Coolacrease book, help to produce an objective evaluation of Irish society in the period leading to the formation of the Irish state and to partition. There may be more than one story to be told about the War of Independence period and its aftermath, but unless the version proffered is firmly based on the sources it may remain simply a good story, but not history, which is a better story.


1. The non-supportive documents are not indicated.

2. They included Professor Richard English, Dr Terence Dooley and Dr William Murphy. A credited historical researcher, PhD student Philip McConway, disassociated himself from the programme. He claimed it distorted his interview and ignored his research, Tullamore historian slams ‘superficial sensationalism’ of Coolacrease documentaryTullamore Tribune, Oct 24, 2007; RTE in the firing line over IRA execution filmSunday Times, Nov 4, 2007.

3. Gallagher’s ‘The Four Glorious Years’ was published originally in 1953 under a pseudonym, ‘David Hogan’ (Irish Press, reprinted, 1954), latterly in 2005 (Blackwater). The 2005 Edition under Gallagher’s name is an exact replica of the 1953 original, with an additional foreword by then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and some information on the Author.

4. Of Wall’s 43 endnotes, 16 have page numbers attached to sources, 21 do not where they should, while this is not relevant in the remaining six.

5. There is an in-text reference to Gallagher’s book giving an incorrect publication date, ‘1957’, without indicating a page number. I enquired of the DRB where I might find the shooting owners reference. Wall emailed the DRB, copied to me, that if I read ‘on’ I might find it.

6. Ken Loach’s film, The Wind that Shakes the Barley (2006), set during the War of Independence, depicts a scene in which a train guard and driver refuse to transport British troops. RB McDowell (Crisis and Decline, 1997: 199-0) experienced the phenomenon as a child in Donegal, occasioning his mother to make him get out and walk. The Loach film, based on extensive historical research, was criticised heavily by Roy Foster and others, who cited supportively and alternatively the work of Peter Hart. See Murphy, Meehan, Troubled History, a 10th anniversary critique of Peter hart’s The IRA and its Enemies, 2008: 6, note 7. See also the response to Foster by Brian Murphy, The Wind That Shakes the Barley: reflections on writing Irish history in the period of the Easter Rising and the Irish War of Independence, in Ruan O’Donnell, (ed), The Impact of the 1916 Rising among the nations, IAP, 2008.

7. Another murder in county Galway, well-known gentleman shot dead, shocking crime on a lonely roadIT, Mar 4, 1920. Gallagher, op cit: 200-2. Campbell also reports that Shawe-Taylor was shot due to an ‘agrarian dispute’, Land, op cit, 2005: 18, note 55.

8. Land hunger in the West, the Sinn Féin attitude, “a vexed question” (from our special correspondent)IT, May 5, 1920; Land agitation in the midlands, formation of co-operative coloniesIT, April 24, 1920. See, A threatening letter, that begins, ‘Remember Sinn Fein. Now Forde, make up you mind to give up your land…’ IT, May 1, 1920. The wife of Mr Patrick Forde, the recipient, owned six acres in dispute. See Gallagher, op cit, 1953: 68, 70-82, chapters 13, 14, Courts of the NationWithdrawn My Lord.

9. The Green Flag, Volume III, 1972:163; Intensive raiding, two more banks sufferII, May 11, 1922; Threatening letters, a sensational exposureII, May 8, 1922; see also, A mean forgeryII, May 6, 1922. The well-expressed though lengthy letters were published in full in the Munster ExpressThreatening letters to Waterford residents, May 6, 1922, which also detailed the IRA’s capture of the well connected youth. Kee’s point also made by Michael Hopkinson in his, Green Against Green, The Irish Civil War, 2004.

10. I am indebted to John Borgonovo for this point.

11. Cattle driving in Clare, military aggression charge, II, May 3 1922.

12. Campbell, Land, op cit, 2005: 257, 291, 301. Campbell observed that Hart’s assertion that the IRA drew its membership from every sector of Irish society, ‘seems overly capacious: there were certainly no landlords or substantial businessmen involved in the volunteers’, ibid: 263.

13. Ibid: 288, note 15.

14. In JJ Lee, Ireland, 1919-1985: Politics and Society, CUP, 1989: 105.

15. Campbell, Land, 2005: 227. See also analysis of the gradual encroachment of increasingly right wing forces, John M Regan, The Irish Counter Revolution 1921-1936, treatyite politics and settlement in independent Ireland, Gill & Macmillan, 2000. Hart suggested that an ethnic dynamic was solely at work, Definition: defining the Irish Revolution, in Joost Augusteijn (ed), The Irish Revolution, 1919-1923 2002: 17-18.

16. Francis Devine, Organising the Union, a centenary of SIPTU, 1909-2009, SIPTU, 2009: 11, 18. RB McDowell, Crisis and Decline, Lilliput, 1997: 100.

17. The Story of the Limerick Soviet, by D.R. O’Connor Lysaght (2nd ed), 1981: 2; William O’Brien 1881-1968, by Thomas Morrissey, 2007: 188, 189; Statement by Mr Bonar Law, internment of Mr O’BrienIT, Mar 27, 1920. see also, typically, More creameries taken over, red flag hoistedCork Examiner, May 16, 1922. See also Gallagher discussion, op cit 1953: 200-1.

18. Wall is a former Assistant General Secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

19. Land agitation in the midlands, formation of co-operative coloniesIT, April 24, 1920.

20. Wall, Getting them out, op cit; email from Wall to DRB, copied to author, Apr 9, 2009.

21. Jasper Ungeod Thomas, Jasper Wolfe of Skibbereen, Collins Press, 2008: 115. Wall’s page reference to Ungoed–Thomas in note 31 is not correct. It should be 115-6.

22. Tom Wall, Getting them out, op cit. Willy Kingston, From Victorian boyhood to the Troubles, Skibbereen and District Historical Society, Vol. 1, No. 1, 2005: 30-2.

23. RB McDowell, Crisis and Decline, Lilliput, 1997: VII. It is unfortunate that this robust study by a representative of the southern unionist viewpoint, published a year before The IRA and its Enemies, is out of print.

24. Is it too much to ask: who, where, when?

25. The American Commission on Conditions in Ireland: Interim ReportThe Religious Issue, March 8, 1921: 115.

26. Curtis, Ireland, Round Table, June 1921: 496-97. He also upset Peter Hart’s calculation that Tom Barry invented the story of the Auxiliary false surrender at the November 1920 Kilmichael ambush in 1948, by referring to it in this article, see Meehan, Murphy, Troubled History, op cit, 2008: 36.

27. Curtis, Ireland, op cit; Pat Walsh, Introduction to Walsh, ed, Ireland (1921) by Lionel Curtis, Belfast Magazine 20, 2002: 21, 23.

28. See The late Lord Mayor of Cork, police evidence at the inquest, Crown solicitor and press reportsIT, Mar 30, 1920.

29. Ungoed Thomas, op cit: 143. See also p. 221, in which Wolfe reiterated the oft repeated southern Protestant view of the absence of bigotry.

30. See ibid, chapters 35-38.

31. Wolfe was, successively, Crown Solicitor for Cork 1916-22, Independent TD for Cork West, 1927-33, member of University College Cork’s first governing body, and first Cork man elected President of the Incorporated Law Society, 1940-41. Cornelius Connolly, BMH Witness Statement (WS) No. 602, October 30 1951. Wolfe was also ‘arrested on Monday… released on Tuesday’, in July 1922, by ‘Republican troops’ during a fire fight in Skibbereen at the start of the Irish Civil War. (The week in SkibbereenSkibbereen battleSouthern Star, 8 Jul 1922).

32. Mrs AK Wordsworth, BMH WS No. 1,242.

33. Margaret O Hogartaigh, Dr Dorothy Stopford and the elimination of childhood tuberculosis, in Joost Augusteijn, ed., Ireland in the 1930s, 1999: 67, 71; Leon O Broin, Protestant Nationalists in Revolutionary Ireland: the Stopford Connection, 1985: 169; Hart on Stopford, The IRA at War, 2003: 224, originally in The Protestant Experience of Revolution in Southern Ireland, in English, Walker, ed, Unionism in Modern Ireland 1997: 81.

34. Dorothy Macardle, The Irish Republic, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2nd rev ed, 1951: 810-3.

35. The Ulster virus, Protestant leaders reply to the HierarchyII, April 29, 1922.

36. Leigh-Anne Coffey, The Planters of Luggacurran, a protestant community, 1879-1927, Four Courts Press, 2006: 66. This instructive short study is circumspect in apportioning sectarianism to the parties in Luggacurran. Coffey refers to ‘religious difference’ being subordinate to ‘specific local grievances’, ibid: 44, but makes neutral reference to Hart in suggesting that sectarianism happened elsewhere. Protestant Families evicted and Seizure of land in IrelandManchester Guardian, May 2, 1922. Also see discussion in Coolacrease, op cit: 34-36, 107-108.

37. Coffey, Planters, op cit, 2006: 51-2. Alan Stanley is the author of, I met Murder on the Way, the story of the Pearsons of Coolacrease (Leinster Leader, 2005), on which book RTE’s Hidden History documentary was based.

38. Heaney, et al, Coolacrease, op cit, 2008: 26.

39. Lord Middleton’s statement on behalf of Unionists of the South and West, Nov 26, 1917 and Irish Unionist Alliance, ‘newly constituted Executive Committee’ statement, Jan 28, 1919, reproduced in Denis Finbarr O’Driscoll, The Impact of Military Conflict on the Protestant Community in West Cork, 1911-1926, MA thesis, UCD, 2006: 10, 11; David Fitzpatrick, Ireland since 1870, in RF Foster, (ed), op. cit., 1992: 205; JC Beckett, Carson – Unionist and rebel, in FX Martin, ED, Leaders and Men of the Easter Rising: Dublin 1916, Methuen, 1967: 89. Middleton went on to support ratification of the Treaty, ibid: 91. See American Commission Report, op cit, Religious Issue, on British destruction of Protestant owned businesses.

40. Hart on IRA ‘revenge’, Enemies, 1998: 314. Ryan, Tom Barry, IRA Freedom Fighter (Mercier, 2003). O’Broin, op cit. See my reference to an omission in Peter Hart’s edition of the British Army’s Record of the Rebellion in the Sixth Divisional Area, in History Ireland, Jul-Aug 2009. Borgonovo’s, Spies Informers and the Anti-Sinn Féin Society (IAP, 2007), details the activities of loyalists in Cork, General Strickland’s attempt to mobilise them and the IRA’s devastating response early in 1921. See also Borgonovo (ed), Florence and Josephine’s War of Independence, a destiny that Shapes our ends (IAP, 2006). These issues are also addressed in Troubled History.

41. Donagh MacDonagh, Dublin Made Mehttp://www.dublin.ie/forums/showthread. php?t=4591Physical force cannot solve problems of divided society, Martin Mansergh, IT, Oct 15, 2005.

42. William Brown, An Army with Banners, Beyond the Pale, 2003: 88; Paul Bew, Peter Gibbon, Henry Patterson, The state in Northern Ireland, 1921-72: political forces and social classes, Manchester University Press, 1979: 48-49; Michael Farrell, The Orange State, 2nd ed., Pluto, 1980: 28-31; State of BelfastII, May 3, 1922; Dorothy Macardle, The Irish Republic, 1937, 2nd revised ed, 1951: 384-7; American Commission, op cit, 1921: 111, 113.

43. Kurt Bowen, Protestants in a Catholic State: Ireland’s Privileged Minority, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1983. See also, Niall Meehan, Shorthand for Protestant: sectarian advertising in the Irish TimesHistory Ireland, Vol 17, No 5, Sept-Oct 2009.

Niall Meehan is Head of the Journalism and Media Faculty in Griffith College Dublin. He is researching attempts to re-frame the War of Independence as a pre-enactment of the Northern Ireland conflict post 1968.



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