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Northern Reports 1922

Memorandum by Kevin O’Shiel to William T. Cosgrave (Dublin)

DUBLIN, 25 September 1922

To The President.
 re the NORTH EASTERN POSITION.

1. In order that you may be fully informed on this important matter I have done a rough Memo. of what I know about the work of the late Chairman1 in this connection. 
Much of it will probably be familiar to you, but there may be parts here and there which will be helpful to you.

2. I had a good deal to do with North Eastern Affairs during the late administration. My work in this connection fell mainly under the following headings:-

(1)Acting as M.O.C’s2 proxy on the Sinn Féin Advisory Committee for Ulster, and acting as a member, but mainly as his agent on his own Provisional Government Advisory Committee in Ulster. 
(2)The drafting for him of letters, documents, statements, newspaper articles, etc. 
 (3)Furnishing him with Memoranda on the subject from time to time.

3. The Advisory Committees.
These were, and still are (although they have become nearly obsolete of late) two distinct Advisory Committees on Ulster Affairs, viz., the Sinn Féin Advisory Committee and the Provisional Government Advisory Committee.

(1) The Sinn Féin Advisory Committee. 
This body was created after the Meeting of the Ard Fheis about February last by certain disgruntled Northern Sinn Féiners (chief of whom was Eamonn Donnelly3) for the supposed purpose of guarding against Partition, but in reality to molest and obstruct us in every conceivable way. The Meeting that formed this Body took place on the night of the day that the Ard Fheis was postponed. It was held in the Mansion House and none were admitted save the Northern delegates to the Ard Fheis, and the members of the Standing Committee. De Valera was present but neither A.G.4 nor M.O’C. In the absence of these latter de Valera had the field to himself and succeeded in turning in his favour a considerable section of those who were hostile to him. De Valera appealed to this Assembly in the most barefaced and dishonest manner imaginable. He denounced Partition in every mood and tense and of course gained enormously with such an audience. He talked ad nauseam about fighting Partition and the Belfast Government to the death and drew rousing applause from the throats of many enthusiasts who, since the trouble in the North, have trekked as far South as they possibly could.

Before concluding[1,] this Assembly established what it called a Sinn Féin Committee on Northern Affairs. This Committee was to consist of a couple of delegates from every Comhairle Ceanntair area in the Six Counties together with two members from the Standing Committee selected so as to represent the Treaty and the Anti-Treaty sides.

The inaugural Meeting of this Advisory Committee was fixed for a date a few weeks subsequent in Belfast.

At the next Meeting of the Officer Board (which, as you will recollect, took the place of the Standing Committee after the Collins – de Valera Ard Fheis Agreement) the matter of this Committee came up for discussion. I was present representing M.O’C, and de Valera was in the chair.

The question of the status and authority of this Committee arose and after a great deal of argument and considerable difficulty I got a Resolution passed decreeing that the Committee would be a purely subordinate Body to the Officer Board and directed and controlled in every way by that Board. It was to be nothing more than a mere Advisory Committee on North Eastern Affairs, with no power whatever to carry into effect any Resolution it may pass without first submitting same to the Officer Board and receiving its express sanction.

I was present at its first Meeting in Belfast, and at subsequent Meetings in Belfast and Derry. My work was mainly that of defending the policy of the Government which was frequently attacked by the incorruptibles, and obstructing the malicious proposals of de Valera and the hare-brained proposals of Eamonn Donnelly.

Time and time again these two, along with that warlike old veteran, Mr. Archibald Savage, did their very best to get proposals passed committing the whole Six Counties to a hopeless guerrilla warfare with Craig’s Government.

By pointing out to the ladies and gentlemen of the Committee that it was primarily a matter for themselves as to whether they adopted warfare or peace, and that in the event of warfare they and not people like myself, Mr. de Valera and Mr. Savage, who enjoyed existence in the comparative security of Dublin, would suffer, I succeeded in weakening their ardour for war, and at length they compromised on a Resolution adopting passive resistance proposed by a lady member at a Meeting held shortly after the murder of some women in Belfast by the Orangemen.

This Committee had a sufficiently large Die-hard majority and influence to elect Mr. Micheal Carolan – a well known Die-hard, now in our keeping – as its Secretary. He was to be salaried at the rate of £500 a year, and this figure was accepted and endorsed by the Officer Board.

The headquarters of this Advisory Committee was to be Dundalk, although I strongly opposed this and suggested Belfast.

By making it a purely subordinate Body to the Officer Board we completely destroyed the effectiveness of this Committee and within three months of its establishment it had practically died of inertia, although no definite action was taken to wind it up or rescind the Resolution ordering the payment of the £500 per year to Mr. Carolan.6

(2) The Provisional Government Advisory Committee on the North East. 
This Committee was established by M.O’C. for the purpose of enabling him to obtain advice on North Eastern affairs from those who were friendly disposed to the Free State in the North.

It was formed by simply writing to some 30 or 40 prominent Northerners who had been identified with, or at least sympathetic to the National Movement, asking them to attend a general Meeting in Dublin.

This Meeting took place in the Council Hall here under the Chairmanship of M.O’C., A.G. and yourself (I think) also being present. I think two or three of the five Bishops invited were also there.

Before we departed a Committee was elected from this general Body with representatives from every County in the North Eastern Area and it was decided that the first Meeting of this Committee would take place in Belfast.

The first Meeting was held in Belfast on the 15th May last.

Sub-Committees.

Having considered such matters as the Collins-Craig Pact No. II,7 Craig’s Advisory Committees in connection with the said Pact, the Boundary Commission, etc. etc., it was agreed that two Secretaries should be appointed to act as Joint Secretaries of the Committee.

On this matter I quote from my report of the proceedings to M.O’C. as it may enable you to understand more clearly why it was considered necessary to appoint two Secretaries:

‘There was considerable discussion about these Secretaries and the whereabouts of the G.H.Q. of the Committee. In order to understand this better it is well that I should remind you that there is a big “Home” question in Ulster as well as an “external” one. This is the eternal pull between the Country and the City, between the nine Counties (as it once was) the Six Counties (as it now is) and Belfast. This jealousy, this ruralism v urbanism is very old; not exactly as old as Ulster, but certainly as old as the City of Belfast. It applies not only to Nationalist Organization, but also to Unionist where, if possible, an even stronger antagonism prevails.

The Ulster countryman, on any point that is neither political nor religious, will unite willingly against the alleged dominance of Belfast. I do not know, but you may probably have a similar condition of affairs in the South, e.g. Cork City v The Munster Counties. But to return.

The Belfast men wanted a single office to be situated in Belfast and all subordinated to one General Secretary in Belfast. The ‘Ruralista’ did not object to Belfast having an Office and a Secretary, but they also wanted an Office in the country. When your idea of Joint Secretaries was mooted the ‘Ruralista’ immediately jumped at it. After one of those long urbanrural Ulster wrangles to which I am accustomed it was finally agreed that:

(1) Two Joint Secretaries should be appointed at £300 per annum each.

(2) Two Offices, one in Belfast and the other in Clones.

One Secretary to look after Belfast in Belfast, and to be purely concerned with Belfast affairs. The other Secretary to be stationed in Clones, and to be purely concerned with rural Ulster affairs.

(Frank Crummey8 will do the Belfast Secretariat, and the privilege of obtaining the Rural Secretary was imposed on me.)

They were very keen for O’Driscoll to take the second Secretariat, but he did not want to do so. I am at a loss to know who to appoint. A number of them were keen on a Six-County man. However, O’Driscoll has promised to help me in the matter.

Although the Ruralists were against it [,] it was insisted upon by Belfast that the Belfast Office should be the principal Office, and should get a copy of the records of the other Office.

The Belfast Secretary would be the man to summon the whole Committee.

The Ruralists succeeded in getting a very wide measure of autonomy on this matter for themselves. For instance, it was agreed that their Secretary would send direct to Dublin all reports for propaganda purposes that might reach their office, furnishing, later on, a record for the Belfast Office, which was to be considered always the Head Office.

(I am personally of opinion that this is a very satisfactory arrangement for both sides. To begin with, it recognises the existence of Facts. There are two points of view on the ‘Ulster Question’, viz., the rural view-point and the Belfast City view-point. The Ruralists say that they have the key of solution for, without them[,] Belfast could not exist and therefore the Belfast Parliament could not exist. The Belfast fellows say that they have suffered most, and that the question, being really a Belfast question, will be solved by Belfast.

According to this arrangement provision is made whereby two machines are erected for getting the best from the two different angles of view.

It is also a wise provision to have Belfast recognised as the Headquarters for it is bound to happen that a time will come when some Headquarters will have to act for the whole.)

(10) Local Committee.

It was agreed that the Rural Section on its part, and the Belfast Section of the Committee on its part should make provision to collect all the information possible and send it down to Dublin.

The Rural Section propose to establish small local Committees throughout their sphere of operations for this purpose and also for the purpose of carrying out all the injunctions of the Committee. The Rural Section’s Committee would also set about collecting information for the Boundary Commission.

Another of its activities would be to endeavour to ascertain the Protestant Anti-Partitionists in the various districts.’

Finance of the Committee.

The Committee passed a Resolution requesting the Government for a Grant of £1,000 to cover their expenses for three months, the idea being that they would return whatever monies they did not want.

This is a rough detail of their estimate:

(1) Belfast Office … … … … £250.

(2) Clones Office … … … … 75.

(3) Members’ travelling expenses … … … 100.

(4) Organization, setting up of Local Committees … 500.

Present Position of this Committee.

Owing to the intensive campaign carried on by the Northern Government this Committee never got very far with its work.

Shortly after this Meeting hundreds of Northern Sinn Féiners[,] whether of the Free State or Irregular variety, were arrested wholesale by the Specials and interned in the Northern Prisons and on board the ‘Argenta’ Prison Ship (now moored off Larne Harbour). This Committee was greatly reduced and broken up by these arrests. Mr. Frank Crummey, the Belfast Secretary was arrested and is, I understand, at present on the ‘Argenta’. The fact that he was a member of two or three Committees under the North Eastern Government by virtue of the Craig-Collins Pact No. II did not save him.

Mr. Cahir Healy of Enniskillen, a prominent member of the Committee and an enthusiastic Free Stater was also arrested, as well as many others.

Hence the work of the Committee has practically ceased, and it is moribund at the moment.

The Rural Secretary.

After much searching I discovered a suitable person for the position of Rural Secretary, viz., Mr. Sean Carty of Belleek. He was formerly Secretary to the North Fermanagh Comhairle Ceanntair of Sinn Féin and is one of the very best and most conscientious workers in the movement I have come across. He alone, and with practically no assistance from either Dublin or Fermanagh, organized that most difficult constituency for Sinn Féin. He established 17 Clubs in that small half Orange, half Hibernian constituency, which was indeed an achievement. He was thereupon appointed Sinn Féin Organizer for the whole County Fermanagh. He was Battalion Commandant of the Belleek Volunteers and was one of the principal persons concerned in the capture of Belleek Barracks in the Autumn of 1921. It was solely owing to his strenuous efforts that almost the entire West Fermanagh establishment of the I.R.A. threw in their lot with the Free State, although they were cajoled and threatened and finally harassed by Pilkington and Bradshaw and Seamus Devins of Sligo to make them turn with them.

I suggested Carty’s name to the late Commander-in-Chief and one of his last directions to me was to go ahead and get Carty to establish the Clones Office. I was also to go to the Treasury and endeavour to get from them a portion at least of the monies asked for by the Committee.

Matters however, became so upset by the recent great tragedy of the late Chairman’s death that I had not time to do any of this work.

Roughly that is how the position now stands with respect to these Committees.

At the time I told Carty that the late Chairman had endorsed his appointment as Secretary to the Clones Office, and he is now in Dublin waiting to see how things develop.

I do not know whether you will decide to continue this Committee or not, but in any event I would strongly recommend Carty to you for some position of trust in either the Committee or any North Eastern Department that you may decide to establish. He is thoroughly conscientious, efficient and conversant with all the facts in the extremely complicated Northern situation, and above everything else takes a tolerant view on the Partition standpoint and even on the Orangemen.

The Acting Belfast Secretary.

There is just one other matter I should mention to you before I depart from the subject.

On the arrest of Frank Crummey, the Belfast Secretary, his place was immediately taken by Mr. McLarnon. McLarnon, like Crummey, is a National Teacher, and, like Crummey, is subsisting on the salary paid him as a Teacher by our Education Ministry (I daresay he will now be paid by the Northern Ministry).

McLarnon’s work hitherto was that of collecting information and sending it up to us. He and Crummey are both prominent Belfast Volunteers and engaged, I think, largely on the intelligence side.

McLarnon is working, I understand, under great risks. He wants no remuneration himself, but wants access to some small fund out of which to pay actual working expenses. His typist, a very sound girl, I believe, has been receiving up to this a mere pittance of a salary. The late Chairman was aware of these facts, and had undertaken to supplement her salary.

I just mention these matters to inform you fully as to how matters stand now in connection with the late Chairman’s activities in the North. It may be that you may make other arrangements in this connection, but it is well, at any rate, that you should have all the facts fully before you.

Articles on the North Eastern Situation.

I frequently drafted Memoranda, statements and letters to the Press on Northern matters for M.O’C., and also I frequently advised as to policy on this subject, but I must admit that he did not always take my advice!

About two months before his death he asked me to do for him a series of 12 Articles on the North Eastern situation for the American Press. It so chanced that I had collected a large quantity of material on the Ulster question with a view to preparing a book on the matter. I may say that two years ago I arranged to furnish the Talbot Press with such a work. I started the book a good time ago, but never had time to complete it. However, when M.O’C. asked me to do him the 12 Articles I decided to use the data I had collected for the book in the Articles. I was only able to supply him with the two first Articles (which are probably now amongst his papers) and a plan or scheme of the lines along which I was proceeding. Now, that he is gone I intend to continue with my Talbot Press commitment, and bring the matter out in book form as originally arranged.

Conclusion.

This then is roughly how the late Commander-in-Chief’s activities in connection with Northern matters stood at the time of his death, in so far as I am personally aware.

In a rough and ready Memo. of this nature it is obviously impossible to take up your time by going more into detail. What I have given you is the merest outline. There are many important items in connection with the late Commander-in-Chief’s Northern administration on which I have not touched at all, as for example the two Collins-Craig Pacts, particularly the last one, with its whole series of contingent commitments; the Boundary Commission; the Belleek-Pettigo and general frontier situation; the extraordinary alleged rumour at the end of April last that there was an agreement between the two sections (Regular and Irregular) of the Army to invade the Six Counties in force, about which I personally had no definite information beyond what I received from outside sources in the Six Counties, etc. etc.

I am sending you further a supplemental Memo. on some important aspects of the Northern situation, which I hope may be useful.

[signed] CAOÍMHGHÍN Ó SÍADAIL
 Assistant Legal Adviser

1Michael Collins.

2Miceál O Coileáin (Michael Collins).

3Former Director of Elections for Sinn Féin (1918 and 1921), anti-Treaty during civil war, Republican MP for Armagh (1925-29), Fianna Fáil TD for Laois-Offaly (1933-37), Republican MP for Belfast Falls, died 1944.

4Arthur Griffith.

5The ‘Collins-de Valera Pact’ of 20 May 1922 under which pro- and anti-Treaty candidates contested the June 1922 election in agreed proportions.

6Handwritten note: ‘which still remains in the books of the Standing Committee of Sinn Féin’.

7See DIFP vol I document No. 259.

8Former Intelligence Officer, 3rd Northern Division, IRA. END

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Seamus Woods1 to Richard Mulcahy (Dublin)

Dublin, 29 September 1922

As, I am inclined to believe, the attitude of the present Government towards its followers in the Six Counties, is not that of the late General Collins, I am writing this memo., with a view to ascertaining from you what exactly the position of my Division is now, and is likely to be in the future relative to G.H.Q., and I would also like to know through you what policy the Government has for its followers in the Divisional area.

When the Treaty was signed in December last we were given to understand by Gen. O’Duffy that although the Six Counties did not benefit as much as the rest of Ireland by it, it was the best that could possibly be got at the time, and it was the intention of the Dail members and the members of G.H.Q. Staff who supported it, to work and try to overcome the Treaty position with regard to Ulster.

During the three months following the signing of the Treaty I am satisfied that G.H.Q. did their best to assist the Army in the Six Counties, and when the split came in March I recommended to the Officers and men to stand with G.H.Q., as I considered that by so doing we were giving the people who supported the Treaty a better chance of overcoming the position in the North.

After the outbreak of hostilities between G.H.Q. and the Executive there was the danger that the position in Ulster would be more or less overlooked and allowed to drift, and in order to have a definition of our position and of the policy of the Government here, I asked for a meeting of the senior Officers of the Six County area G.H.Q. Staff.

Before that meeting was held I sent you a memo. dealing with the events in the Division from the time I took over Command and outlining the position generally at the end of July, as regards the morale and tactics of the enemy; the morale of our troops and the morale of the Catholic population; and their attitude towards the I.R.A.

On August 2nd. the meeting was held and the late Commander-in-Chief presided. At that meeting the situation in the Six Counties was discussed at great length, with a view to improving our organisation and training, and deciding on a policy to be adopted by our people in the North and which would have the sanction of the Government in Dublin. The late C-in-C. outlined the Policy we were to adopt – one of non-recognition of the Northern Government and passive resistance to its functioning. At the same time, from the Military point of view we were to avoid as far as possible coming into direct conflict with the armed forces of the Northern Government, and any action on our part would be purely protective. The late C-in-C. made it clear to us that the Government in Dublin intended to deal with the Ulster situation in a very definite way, and as far as this Division was concerned, every Officer present felt greatly encouraged to carry on the work when we had a definite policy to pursue and an assurance that the Government here would stand by us.

After the death of the late General Collins it was encouraging to us to see that the Government were determined to carry out his policy. I took it that this meant his Policy regarding Ulster also.

A new situation has now arisen. F. McArdle was up a fortnight ago with the President regarding the course of action to be adopted by our people in connection with the signing of a declaration of loyalty to H.M. the King and the Northern Govt. which that Government is imposing on certain people, and I expect through time will impose on every citizen in the Six County area. McArdle informed me that the President brought the matter before a meeting of the Cabinet and the decision was that the Government in Dublin had no objection to our people signing this. Owing to the position that has arisen in the rest of Ireland I take it the Government feel that they are not equal to the task of overcoming the Treaty position with regard to Ulster. If it is their intention to recognise the Northern Government, it is well that they should be acquainted with the present position in Ulster, and also have an idea of what the future of Ulster is likely to be as we visualise it.

There is grave internal trouble in the Northern Government. When their terror policy was broken up by our campaign of burning and destruction in Belfast, they turned to a policy of placation towards the Catholic population and when this proved fairly successful (we, of course, were at this time becoming inactive owing to the war in the rest of Ireland) they began to dispense with a number of their Specials. A desire for peace became popular amongst the better classes and the Northern Govt. took up the task of restoring order in good faith. There had been a number of high Officers in their Police Force who had been given unlimited powers during the Terror Campaign, notably D/I. Nixon, and all his Staff. Such people while they were in power would always be a menace to peace, and during the past few months have been pressing for promotion and reward for ‘distinguished service’ i.e. Murder. The Northern Government in their desire for peace have refused promotion or reward, and D/I. Nixon was asked to resign. He is at present organising the disbanded Specials and has threatened to lead them against the Northern Government on the same lines as the Irregulars in the South. He has also warned Col. Wickham, Inspector Gen. R.U.C. and the City Commissioner of Belfast that their lives are no longer safe. Last week Nixon and Co. attempted to shoot up the Catholic districts of Belfast in the hope that the I.R.A. would take the field and it would become evident to the Northern Government that there was a necessity to strengthen their forces rather than deplete them. I have issued special orders against retaliation until we see how the Official Forces of the Northern Government are going to deal with this trouble. In a particular area last week in Belfast the Official Specials returned the fire of some of Nixon’s Gang; this is a great change in Belfast.

Owing to the capture by us of all the files and military plans from H.Q., R.U.C., and the office of General Solly Flood, Craig’s Military Advisor, the Northern Govt. has been holding inquiries in all their Departments and the position at the moment is that every official is suspecting the other.

Recognition of the Northern Government, of course, will mean the breaking up of our Division. None of the Divisional, Brigade, or Battalion Officers could remain in the area except under war conditions, and that only for a short time, and even under guarantees from the Northern Government, if such will be arranged, these men would not be safe from unofficial murder-gangs. With the departure of these officers it would not be possible to maintain the I.R.A. Organisation, which is the only Irish Organisation in the Six Counties at the present time. The breaking up of this Organisation is the first step to making Partition permanent. If this must come, then there is very little hope of organising in Ulster on Gaelic lines for a long time.

The Government here has still a certain responsibility to its followers in the Six-County area and the following points will require their serious consideration:-

(a). The question of our prisoners who are not recognising the Northern Government as per late C-in-C’s instructions.

(b). The position of the people who assisted us during the war against England and who are now singled out for harsh treatment by the Northern Government.

(c). The position of our Officers and men who have lost their means of living because of their activities against England.

(d). The position of our Officers and men from Co. Antrim and Co. Down, who are mostly of the farming class, and who cannot return to their homes, and whose people are accordingly victimised.

(e). The question of people who have come away from their area for no reason whatever and on the plea of being refugees have been taken into Govt. positions in Dublin. This is encouraging emigration.

On these points is it essential for me to have a definite ruling from you and I would be glad if you would let me have this by Tuesday next, 3rd. prox. Everyone is anxious to know how and where they stand.

Beir Beanacht. 
Seamus Woods 
C/O. 3rd. Northern Division

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