War of Independence ‘not worth it’?

Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Issue 3 (May/Jun 2008), Letters, Letters, Revolutionary Period 1912-23, Volume 16


—Your Jan./Feb. 2008 issue proves that controversy still haunts the Irish revolutionary period. Brian Hanley (‘Fear and loathing at Coolacrease’) rightly cautions against emotive approaches to the past, yet he steps into another ahistorical snare: believing that our present republic is a more or less inevitable consequence of the events of that period, rather than the outcome of ‘the play of accident that determines the day-to-day course of events’, as A. J. P. Taylor put it.
Dr Hanley maintains that ‘without some form of armed confrontation political independence would not have occurred’; that ‘the limited measure of self-government offered under Home Rule’ was as much as we would have achieved without such confrontation. But as some veterans of the revolution admitted, the differences between Home Rule and Free State status were so small that they rendered the struggle ‘not worth it’, in Emmet Dalton’s words; and if a Free State government could successfully lobby for greater independence at the imperial conferences of 1926 and 1930, so could have Home Rule Ireland—not all Home Rulers were as Anglophile as Redmond. Achieving full independence had far more to do with the Statute of Westminster than with the absence of British garrisons, and was in no way conditional on armed confrontation.
As for Philip O’Connor’s not unrelated point about Germany’s ‘positive and friendly’ attitude toward Ireland: any country that would arm both sides in an imminent civil war is far from either positive or friendly, and one that invaded neutral countries, murdered 5,000 Belgian civilians and enslaved 700,000 more, and behaved with similar savagery in Russian Poland is one whose friendship decent people would find hard to stomach. Wilhelmine Germany was the ‘gallant’ ally of no one.

—Yours etc.,
Co. Dublin


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