I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized Unintended Consequences

Unintended Consequences

Brian M Walker
The essay below is a shortened and slightly edited version of a paper entitled “Cork, Lisburn and Belfast in 1920: connections, controversy and conflict”, which was delivered electronically for the West Cork History Festival on August 8th this year. One hundred years ago, on Sunday August 22nd, 1920 the war came to Lisburn. Members of the Cork IRA shot dead District Inspector Oswald Swanzy outside Christ Church cathedral. Extensive riots and destruction ensued, first in Lisburn and then in Belfast, with thirty-one fatalities. Afterwards, Col Fred Crawford visited Lisburn and recorded in his diary: “It reminded me of a French town after it had been bombarded by the Germans as I saw in France in 1916.” Swanzy’s death was part of a fatal cycle of violence which linked with the earlier killings in Cork of Lord Mayor Tomás Mac Curtain and Lt Col Gerald Smyth. These events show clearly the effect of unintended consequences and how “violence begets violence”. They also reveal how this war involved Irish fighting and killing other Irish. At the same time some brave people were willing to criticise violence from their own side. By March 1920 Cork had experienced early stages of the War of Independence with a growing numbers of actions and attacks on police barracks by Irish Volunteers, now known as the IRA, with their links to Sinn Féin. On March 20th, 1920, however, Tomás Mac Curtain, lord mayor and also commandant of the Cork No 1 IRA brigade, was murdered at his home by some men with blackened faces. A few days later a coroner’s inquest delivered a verdict of “wilful murder” against a number of persons, including prime minister Lloyd George, as well as District Inspector Oswald Swanzy, who was in charge of the RIC in the area where the murder occurred. Vague allegations and hearsay comments have been made about Swanzy’s role. Historian Peter Hart commented: “the case against him personally (as opposed to the police in general) was, at best, unproven”. Nonetheless, he was the senior police officer in the area and republicans blamed him. Why did members of the RIC kill MacCurtain? Daniel Cohalan, the Catholic bishop of Cork, had no doubt about the reason. In a pastoral letter issued in December 1920 he looked back at events in Cork over the previous nine months, beginning with Mac Curtain’s murder. He pointed out that earlier that night RIC constable…



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