The Birth of the Irish Free State, 1921-1923

By Joseph M. Curran | Go to book overview

Chapter 4

The Last Phase:
January-July 1921

President de Valera returned to Ireland with two major proposals. The first was that Collins should visit the United States to help restore Irish‐ American unity and obtain more financial aid. Second, his absence from Ireland would preclude a clean sweep of the revolutionary leadership by Britain. Although the Cabinet agreed to the idea, Collins protested strongly, convinced that Brugha and Stack were behind the proposal and that the war effort would suffer badly if he left his post. Eventually, he agreed to go to America, but by then peace negotiations appeared imminent and de Valera decided he could not be spared. However, the abortive plan probably caused the first serious misunderstanding between the two leaders. 1

The president also wanted to reduce the level of terrorism. Concern about the burden guerrilla warfare imposed on the people and its adverse effects on public opinion led him to suggest that the IRA should fight fewer and more conventional engagements. Both the Dail and the leaders of the army appreciated the realities of the military situation, however, and when they strongly opposed this proposal, de Valera withdrew it. 2 This defeat made the president all the more determined to refute British charges that the IRA was nothing more than a "murder gang." On March 30, 1921, with the Dail's authorization, he declared that the IRA was a national defense force, and the Republican government took full responsibility for its actions. At the same time, de Valera unequivocally endorsed the Volunteers' tactics, contending that ambushes were fully justified to repel the invaders' unjust attacks on the Irish people and their government. 3 In later statements he repeated his assertion that the Dail controlled the IRA, both to spike rumors of division and to refute allegations that the IRA ran the government. 4

While the president defended them, the Volunteers stepped up operations. The number of ambushes increased and road-cutting and destruction of loyalists' homes became common. In Dublin, 120 IRA members seized and burned the Customs House on May 25, destroying vital tax and local-government records. The action proved costly, for about seventy Volunteers were captured and six were killed, but the sacrifice was justified. By dramatically demonstrating the failure of British pacifi

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