‘We have murder by the throat’

Published in Editorial, Issue 6 (November/December 2020), Volume 28


So claimed British Prime Minister David Lloyd George in a speech at London’s Guildhall on 9 November 1920 in response to the IRA’s escalating guerrilla war. Already, in September, the demoralised and depleted RIC had been augmented by Auxiliary Cadets in an effort to counter IRA flying columns and ‘fight fire with fire’. And in the following month, in a foreshadowing of the partition made explicit by the enactment of the Government of Ireland Bill on 23 December (pp 38–41), a Special Constabulary recruited largely from the Ulster Volunteer Force was established for the six north-eastern counties of Ulster, adding further fuel to the flames of that region’s escalating sectarian violence (p. 12). In addition, the British reorganised their intelligence system under the leadership of Brig.-Gen. Ormonde Winter, appointed the previous May (pp 34–6).

There seemed good grounds for Lloyd George’s boast, but within weeks Winter’s intelligence network was delivered a severe blow by a series of surgical strikes by the IRA on the morning of 21 November (p. 70), and a week later an entire Auxiliary column was wiped out at Kilmichael (pp 30–3). Increasingly the British response was one of indiscriminate reprisals, like the shooting of innocent civilians at Croke Park on 21 November (p. 37) or the burning of Cork on 11 December (p. 49), confirming a pattern already established by the sack of Balbriggan on 20 September. According to a statement issued by President Michael D. Higgins marking its centenary, that the sack of Balbriggan

‘… was an act of collective punishment, a reprisal, a term that would become the mark of a policy aimed at subjugation, installation of fear in a public that had in its midst those who sought independence. … If we are to be serious about ethical remembrance and the creation of diverse, complex, shared memory at peace with the past in the interest of a present or a future understanding, it is important to recognize these facts. It constitutes a prerequisite for any meaningful healing.’

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