Murder of Tomás Mac Curtain | Anti Sinn Féin Society | March 1920 | Irish War of Independence


Welcome to the Irish Revolution! Last month we covered a multitude of raids
on RIC barracks by the IRA, as well as a controversy in the United States over President Eamon
de Valera’s plans for Ireland to mimic Cuba in its relationship with the British Empire. This month we’re going to look at a mysterious
anti-IRA organisation, as well as an Ulster Unionist Council meeting that decided to throw
unionists in Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan off the bus and exclude those counties from a
new Northern Irish entity. IRA & RIC attacks There were several attacks on the RIC this
month, in Thurles, co. Tipperary, Cork and in Kilkenny. One shooting in particular would
set the tone for the conflict – the Lord Mayor of Cork, Tomás MacCurtain was murdered
by masked RIC men in his home. This was on the same day as an attack on RIC officers
in the city. There had been some chatter in London about
forming a secret state group that would target the IRA in a way that the supposedly law abiding
police were not able to. Henry Wilson, the effective head of the British army, and at
times a critic of British policy in Ireland at this time, indicated that Lloyd George,
the Prime Minister, was relaxed with an unofficial murder squad operating in this manner.1 The attack on MacCurtain was initially blamed
by the government on dissident Republican elements, a claim which is actually not that
outlandish as MacCurtain had expressed disapproval with taking random potshots at the police
and had rubbed up against the more hardline elements in the Cork IRA. Indeed, the RIC
Inspector, Oswald Swanzy, was aware of this split and one could argue that taking out
MacCurtain, who he may well have seen as the lesser of two evils, was an illogical act.
That said however, the crown forces did not always act in a very logical way, especially
in these early days of the conflict. That’s not me saying that by the way, I’m robbing
that from Charles Townshend as usual. The police didn’t even investigate the murder,
which tells us a lot about who carried it out. The coroners inquest brought in a verdict
of murder against Inspector Swanzy, unnamed RIC men, but also the Prime Minister, the
Inspector General of the RIC, the chief secretary and the viceroy.2 Following the MacCurtain attack there were
a number of night time assassinations by similar death squads in Tipperary, Cork and Limerick. These death squads have for a long time lurked
in the shadows of Irish historical memory and there are few records of their existence,
perhaps deliberately so. At the time the Daily Mail reported on a theory that the new anti-Sinn
Féin squad had been modelled on the Ku Klux Klan of the United States. In July a schoolteacher
was attacked by a group calling itself the ‘Anti-Sinn Féin organisation’ and a group
of IRA men in Roscommon were later threatened by a group calling themselves the ‘All-Ireland
Anti-Sinn Féin Society’. After that there was a series of warnings issued up and down
the country. The Cork IRA believed that this organisation
was a group of loyalists and local businessmen, which led to some attacks against people who
were, more likely than not, innocent. Townshend argues that the members of this clandestine
organisation were most likely new police recruits going the extra mile for their cause, and
that seems to be the historical consensus. However I am by no means an expert on this
so if you do happen to know anything about these guys I’d appreciate if you made a
comment about it there, cheers.3 A 6 county Northern Ireland I want to devote a little bit of time today
to a cohort of people who, by their own admission presumably, got screwed in this period. They
were the Unionists of the three Ulster counties who would remain in what the British called
‘Southern Ireland’ with the Government of Ireland Act. We saw in the January episode
the relative strength of Southern Unionism in the lower 26 counties of Ireland, and we
often think of the Unionist movement to be a northern 6 county affair. But there was
in the three Ulster counties of Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal significant Protestant minorities
who had been every bit as radicalised as their cousins in the 6 counties. They took part
in the drills and the protests for the preservation of the union, and were just as involved in
the Ulster Volunteer force, the paramilitary army set up to resist the implementation of
Home Rule before the first world war. There was a vote in the Ulster Unionist Council
in June 1916 about the proposed partition of Ireland into 6 northern counties and 26
southern counties. While the delegates of Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal issued a strong
protest of this fait accompli, calling it a desertion of the principles that underlay
the 1912 Ulster covenant, they ultimately agreed to allow negotiations to continue,
citing the war effort. Edward Carson, leader of Irish Unionists at the time, called this
QUOTE ‘the greatest piece of lasting evidence of their devoted, unselfish loyalty to the
king, constitution and empire.’ UNQUOTE.4 The unionists of the three counties excluded
from Northern Ireland would rightfully feel betrayed and let down, but from a strategic
point of view it made perfect sense for northern unionists to abandon them – had they not
done so, the new Northern Ireland entity would have been much closer to 50/50 between catholics
and protestants and thus more difficult for unionists to dominate so absolutely, as they
would go on to do so through a mix of outright sectarianism, gerrymandering, and discrimination. In April (next month, excuse me skipping ahead
like this) unionists from the 3 counties would publish a pamphlet called ‘Ulster and Home
Rule: No Partition’5 In it they argued for the creation of a 9 county Northern Irish
entity, and they made sound arguments as to the economic advantages of doing this. However
the overarching concern for these unionists was a betrayal of the 1912 covenant. They
felt abandoned. A leading unionist referred to it as peace with dishonour. At a meeting of the Ulster Unionist Council
in March 1920 unionists from Cavan and Monaghan put forward a resolution stating that a 9
county Northern Ireland was the only acceptable result, but this resolution was defeated.
In April the Monaghan unionists resigned from the council and on the 12th July Orange Order
parade J.C.W. Madden, a leading southern Unionist, denounced Edward Carson and argued for southern
unionists to throw their lot in with a southern parliament, should it be established. They
knew now which way the wind was blowing and would later assimilate well into the new Free
State order following the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Black & Tans General Nevil Macready was sent to take command
of British forces in Ireland this month, although he wouldn’t formally take over until April.
This month also saw the introduction of the hated black & tans, so called because of their
makeshift uniforms. Mostly English recruits, they would go on to be known for their cruelty
and ferocity, and it would be fair to say that the Black & Tans and their conduct in
Ireland was the final nail in the coffin for any lingering support in Ireland that there
may have been for the British connection. Biographies I’m only doing the one biography today.
I did Tomas MacCurtain back in the January episode. This month we’re going to take
a look at General Nevil Macready. I talked about him a lot in the British policy in Ireland
video, so check that out if you’re interested. Nevil Macready (1862-1946) was a senior military
commander and the last British general in Ireland. Macready had Irish roots but was
known for his general distaste of the Irish, a not unusual disposition of the British establishment
at the time. In his early military career he spent time in the colonies and fought in
the Boer War. He was promoted to major-general in 1910 and later became adjutant-general
of the British Expeditionary Force in the 1st World War. After the war he became the
London police commissioner. He was sent to Ireland in 1920 and was actually quite skeptical
of there being a military solution to the Irish problem and he was privately convinced
that a negotiated settlement was the only plausible solution. He was then one of the
doves in the cabinet who argued for a negotiated settlement in Ireland and would later be influential
in convincing the government to negotiate with Sinn Féin. That’s it folks! Thanks for watching! Oh, and if you think of it, throw me a few
bob! There’s a link to the buy me a coffee tipjar in the description. Much appreciated.

6 thoughts on “Murder of Tomás Mac Curtain | Anti Sinn Féin Society | March 1920 | Irish War of Independence

  1. Hello, I am Micahistory 2 and I have just found out about your channel and watched all your videos. You have a very interesting channel and I like this month by month series of a war I don't know much about. Maybe you would like Micahistory 2 since I also make history videos as well. What do you say?

  2. It's ironic that there was a least some sympathy for the Irish within the British Hierarchy when it came to bad political & military policy in the country & that Ulster Unionists were willing to sacrifice supporters that they considered to be of little importance in order to achieve their goals which paved the way for future complications…*COUGH* The Troubles!

    Since this is your March video…“Lá Fhéile Pádraig sona duit! ☘️☘️☘️

  3. I suggest in a future episode a quick snippet biography on George Plant. A Protestant IRA man in Tipperary, who joined the cause after a RIC beating of him and his brother Jimmy. Sided with the Anti-Treatyites and helped capture the Grey Ghost armoured car in Moyglass
    http://www.slieveardagh.com/history/the-grey-ghost
    He remained in the IRA. Executed in 1942 in dubious circumstances by De Valera, becoming the last prisoner in Ireland to face a firing squad.

  4. The abandonment of Southern Ireland was probably the greatest betrayal in British history.

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