The War of Independence 1919 – 1921

At their first sitting in Dáil Éireann in Dublin, 21st January 1919, Sinn Féin:

  • decided that Ireland was to be independent
  • adopted a Democratic Programme
  • sent delegates to the Peace Talks at Versailles
  • decided that the Irish Republic Brotherhood volunteer force would become the Irish Republican Army (IRA)

On the same day:

  • volunteers attacked a police station in Corkand and stole their weapons
  • a group of Tipperary Volunteers ambushed the barracks of the Royal Irish Constabulary and killed two men

The War of Independence had begun.

Irish actions during the war

Michael Collins, the Irish Nationalist leader, had a spy network which meant that he knew what the British were up to in the towns anyway.

His 'Squad' of assassins eliminated anyone that Collins considered a threat.

In May 1921, the IRA attacked and burned the Customs House in Dublin. Attacking in 'Flying Columns' they ambushed the British and then disappeared into the countryside before the British could react.

British Response

The British sent in 'The Black and Tans' (a force of temporary special constables recruited to assist the Royal Irish Constabulary) in an attempt to put pressure on the IRA.

They burnt down and decimated Cork City, Limerick and Balbriggan.

In response to the killing of British intelligence agents in 1920, the 'Tans' killed 12 people and wounded 60 when they opened fire on a crowd watching a Gaelic Football match in Croke Park, an event that became known as 'Bloody Sunday'.

Later a group called 'The Auxiliaries', made up of army officers strengthened them.

In Britain, public opinion was critical of the Government over the conduct of their forces. On 11th July 1921 a truce between the Government and Sinn Féin came into effect to allow ceasefire talks to take place.

Consequences of the Independence Wars

  • Roughly 3500 arrested and imprisoned, many of whom were innocent.
  • A ceasefire was agreed and it came into effect on 11 July, 1921.
  • The British public were horrified by the behaviour of their forces in Ireland and they put pressure on the government to back down and end the conflict.
  • Talks to find a solution began in Downing Street in October 1921 which resulted in the first settlement between Britain and Ireland - the Anglo-Irish Agreement.