On December 11, 1920, an IRA ambush near Cork City caused more casualties among the Auxiliaries, less than two weeks after the IRA killed 17 of 18 Auxiliaries caught in an ambush in Kilmichael. That evening, Auxiliaries and Black and Tans poured into town, looting, wrecking, boozing and burning a large part of the city center. The British-appointed Chief Secretary of Ireland, Sir Hamar Greenwood, proclaimed in the House of Commons that Cork had been burnt by its own citizens.
MORE ON THE 80TH ANNIVERSARY OF MICHAEL COLLINS' DEATH
By Kieron Punch
Special to The Wild Geese Today
The British government used extrajudicial killings as a tool against the IRA during the War of Independence. The strategem fueled the savagery from both sides, inspiring the King to ask "... where will it lead Ireland and us all?"
How much did the British government know about the violence wreaked on the Irish people in its name during the War of Independence? A great deal, according to British government files.
In fact, these documents make clear that these leaders of the government, including Prime Minister Lloyd George, not only nodded at the violence but encouraged it as a tool to help crush the IRA.
Although many of the burnings, beatings, and shooting were spontaneous outbursts caused by indiscipline, drunkeness, or the desire to avenge the death of a comrade, evidence from official sources shows that the British government was aware of the outrages, despite denials that they were perpetrated by "Agents of the Crown."
The authorities became accomplices by encouraging such behavior, and even authorized "official reprisals." The refusal of the Government to rein in the Royal Irish Constabulary during the latter part of 1920 and the first half of 1921 gives the distinct impression that the Tans and Auxies had a mandate for violence from their inception.
|"The more you shoot, the better I will like you, and I assure you that no Policeman will get into trouble for shooting any man."
--Colonel Gerard Ferguson Smyth, Divisional Commissioner, Royal Irish Constabulary, June 19, 1920
The following references provide evidence of British government complicity in the violent actions of the police in Ireland through much of 1920 to the truce in July 1921.
|"Tudor made it very clear that the Police and the Black and Tans and the 100 Intelligence officers are all carrying out reprisal murders." -- Entry in the diary of Sir Henry Wilson, Sept. 23, 1920|
In the wake of a series of reprisals which occurred in mid-May 1921, the King's Private Secretary, Lord Stamfordham, wrote to Sir Hamar Greenwood, Chief Secretary for Ireland, "The King does ask himself and he asks you, if this policy of reprisals is to be continued, and, if so, to where will it lead Ireland and us all? It seems to His Majesty that in punishing the guilty we are inflicting punishment no less severe upon the innocent."
Edward Wood, later Lord Irwin (Viceroy of India), and later still Lord Halifax (Foreign Secretary) announced to the House: "When the first charges of reprisals were made, I refused to believe them, and it was in that attitude of mind that I voted for the Restoration of Order in Ireland Bill: but I do not hesitate to say that the cumulative effect of what has happened has made that intellectual attitude impossible to maintain. It is quite idle to deny, making whatever allowances we like, there have been happenings by a section of the Crown's officers of which every Englishman must be ashamed."
WGT's UK correspondent Kieron Punch is a Coventry-based writer and researcher, and previously authored WGT's series on The Forgotten 10.