The Irish War of Independence

The Irish War of Independence,

1919-1921


The Irish War of Independence was a political and military rebellion against British rule in Ireland which lasted from 21st January 1919 to 11th July 1921. The war was waged by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and their supporters against the Crown forces of the British government, which included the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC), the Dublin Metropolitan Police and units of the British army. The aim of the republicans was to overthrow the British government in Ireland and establish an independent Irish Republic. Inspired by the failed Easter Rising of 1916, the Irish Volunteers, who would later to become known as the Irish Republican Army, began to regroup and reorganise.

GHQ Staff July 1921 by Leo Whelan

The republican parliament Dáil Eireann sat for the first time on 21st January 1919. On the same day an ambush by Tipperary No. 3 Brigade in Soloheadbeg resulted in the deaths of two RIC constables, and this is usually cited as the opening engagement of the war. Throughout 1919 the IRA engaged in infrequent arms raids and a campaign of intimidation directed against the Royal Irish Constabulary. As well as being seen to represent the British administration in Ireland, the RIC possessed large stocks of arms which made them prime targets to have their barracks raided and weapons taken. As a result a major feature of the war at this time was attacks on isolated rural barracks. These attacks were coupled with a boycott of the police by many civilians. The combination of attacks, threats, and social exclusion encouraged many members of the RIC to resign. This contributed to the closure of these barracks and forced the RIC to retreat to larger towns and concede control of the countryside to the IRA. Mass resignations from the police resulted in ex-British Army soldiers and officers being recruited to bolster the RIC ranks and to take the fight to the IRA in 1920. These groups were known as the ‘Black and Tans’ and the ‘Auxiliaries.’ With their introduction, the war witnessed an escalation in 1920 and 1921 and it was this period that saw some of the heaviest fighting.


The conflict that developed was a guerrilla war in which lightly armed and mobile IRA units frequently ambushed Crown forces in the countryside. West Cork’s, Cork No. 3 Brigade, engaged in some of the most famous engagements of the conflict. The guerrilla tactics of the IRA frustrated the Crown forces who carried out reprisals on towns and cities to deter the civilian population from assisting the IRA. These actions damaged Britain’s standing in international opinion and greatly contributed to the decision of Lloyd George’s government to negotiate terms with the republican government after the IRA and Crown forces had fought each other to a stalemate.  To facilitate that negotiation a truce came into effect on the 11th July, 1921.