When did the War of Independence start?

Published in Issue 4 (July/August 2018), Letters, Volume 26

A chara,—Tony Canavan (HI 26.2, March/April 2018, Bite-sized History) poses a question that will become even more relevant over the next year or so—where and when did the War of Independence start? The claim that the armed action by Donegal Volunteers in freeing two republicans on 4 January 1918 signalled the start of the war is not unreasonable. Certainly it has as much authenticity as the widely accepted convention that the war started with the action by the Third Tipperary Brigade on 21 January 1919 in Soloheadbeg. Then again, maybe a case could be made that the killing of Inspector John Mills in Beresford Place in June 1917 (the first Crown fatality since the Easter Rising) was the real start date. But because none of these actions were sanctioned by the Volunteer executive (and certainly not by Dáil Éireann), maybe we should look at the first such sanctioned action, i.e. the shooting of DMP Detective Sergeant Patrick Smyth on 30 July 1919, as the correct starting date. Of course, the question is easily resolved if we accept that the War of Independence really started hundreds of years ago and that what happened in 1916 and subsequent years was that the ongoing war was simply entering new phases. I suggest that this would be a more correct historical interpretation.—Is mise,

SEÁN RYAN
Dublin 5

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