Chapter 13. – THE TRUTH ABOUT THE TRUCE
THE TRUTH ABOUT THE TRUCE
” SEVEN months before England granted the truce of July, 1921, she wanted very much to withdraw the Black and Tans from Ireland and end the murderous war which she had begun to realise could never be won. A truce would have been obtained after the burning of Cork by the forces of the Crown in December, 1920 had our leaders acted with discretion. There is every reason to believe that the British Government were minded to respond favourably to the endeavours of His Grace, Archbishop Clune, who attempted to mediate ; but the English attitude hardened through the too precipitate action of certain of our public men and public bodies.”
Collins thus began an exposition of the events leading up to the ending of hostilities. So far as I am aware, England’s desire for this earlier truce is not generally known.
” Unhappily,” he continued, ” several of our most important men gave evidence of an over keen desire for peace while tentative proposals were being made and considered. So it was that, although terms of truce had been virtually agreed upon, the English statesmen abruptly terminated the negotiations when they discovered what they took to be signs of weakness in our councils. They conditioned the truce, then, on surrender of our arms; and the struggle went on.
” British aggression continued ; our defence continued. It was now war to the death in very truth !
” Of course, in these seven months preceding the truce, there were many instances of unofficial ‘ feelers ‘ put out by men on both sides much visiting back and forth by well meaning but unauthorised persons. Friends of Ireland from America frequently tried to intervene on our behalf, but those of us actually in the fight played no part in these conversations. We had no time for talk !
” The attitude of those of us who eventually took part in the Treaty negotiations was the same in 1920 in Ireland as it was in 1921 in London. It is no good to have confusion of thought about this. We were fighting as Irishmen had always fought for freedom ! We were fighting for freedom from English occupation, English interference, English domination ! But there was no thought in our minds as to what especial label might be attached to the freedom if only we could win it. In other days we had struggled to win Repeal of the Union, Home Rule, or some other form of devolution. But it was not these labels that mattered ; our fight was essentially a struggle to win for ourselves as large a measure of freedom as possible. And so we were fighting not for a republic but freedom ! We felt and those of us who believe in the Treaty still feel that freedom for Ireland is of vastly greater consequence than the form of government under which we shall enjoy our freedom.
” When charges of treason are directed at us now it is as well that our aspirations of 1920 be kept in mind. I said at a meeting of Dail Eireann that the Treaty gives us freedom not the ultimate freedom which all nations hope for and struggle for but freedom to achieve it. AND I WAS AND I AM NOW FULLY ALIVE TO THE IMPLICATIONS OF THAT STATEMENT !
” Returning to the fight as it was being waged at the beginning of 1921 the most important phase of it was our gradual realisation of England’s desire to call a truce. This was the more important because it had never been possible for us to be militarily strong, nor to do more by force alone than to make England uncomfortable. Now, at last, we discovered that we had grown strong enough to make England too uncomfortable. More than this we discovered that while England expatiates on the futility of force (by others) it is the only argument she listens to. Above all, the valiant efforts of Irishmen under the Terror their deaths these finally awoke the sleeping spirit of Ireland.
” That spirit was once more flaming and with cause. For the people saw in England’s desire to end the reign of terror the true worth of the young men who had gone to their deaths that peace might come to their country. There had been on rare occasions regrettable acts on the part of individual Irish soldiers, but such acts had been so few as to be negligible, and when they did occur they were the outcome of terrible and incessant provocation, and were foreign to the whole nature of the Irish resistance. The normal conduct of our soldiers proved them to be chivalrous, courageous, and enduring and with an unsurpassable devotion to the ideal of freedom. Let me cite an instance.
” In June, 1921, a party of four Volunteers of the East Clare Brigade, engaged in cutting wires on the railway at Meelick, were surprised by a party of 30 English soldiers with two machine guns. Fire was opened by the enemy at close range. The commander of our little force was atop a telegraph pole and had time to shout a warning an instant before the firing began. His men jumped to cover while he dropped off the pole behind a low bank beside the railway. Two of the four managed to make good their escape, but the other two Lieut. M. Gleeson and Commandant C. McCarthy were killed.
” As they ran across a field McCarthy fell wounded, and Gleeson went on without noticing it. But on reaching a place of safety and finding his comrade missing, he immediately started to retrace his steps. Presently he saw him lying in the open field across which an English machine-gun and about a dozen rifles were pouring a hail of lead at about 100 yards range. At the same time Gleeson saw a party of five English soldiers scurrying around the field to cut off their retreat. It must have been as evident to Gleeson as it was to my informants, who were looking on, that no power on earth could save McCarthy, but it was equally evident that Gleeson preferred going back and dying with his comrade to leaving him. Racing down the field, straight into the fusillade of bullets, he knelt beside McCarthy and lifted him on to his back with his right hand busily firing his revolver at the pursuing soldiers, as he carried his comrade up the field. Another moment and Gleeson fell, badly wounded while McCarthy collapsed a few yards further on
” When the British troops came upon Gleeson they found him still unconquered. With his last breath he fired his last cartridge at them. That was the performance of an Irish boy of 20 years of age WHO HAD NEVER BEFORE BEEN IN ACTION ! According to the British officer in charge a Lieut. Gordon of the Royal Scots who had been through the world war Gleeson was the bravest man he had ever seen ! His men, however, apparently did not share his opinion. They frightfully mutilated the body as also that of McCarthy.
” In the same brigade area, at about the same time, ten of our soldiers, exhausted after a forced march, were attacked by a strong patrol of Constabulary. Eight of our ten lads had never before been in action, and were unnerved by fatigue and the suddenness of the attack. How they were saved by the bravery and resourcefulness of their officers is worth telling
” They had started to cross an open field when the Constabulary, numbering twenty -two, suddenly swept up behind them in lorries and opened fire. It was a roasting hot day and our men were completely played out. The Constabulary were, of course, quite fresh. Our men dashed to shelter under orders of their commander, who himself stood his ground to cover their retreat. Almost immediately one of the others came running back to his commander, and insisted on remaining with him. He was Brigade Police Officer Thomas Healy. As these two men slowly retreated firing at their pursuers, and delaying them Healy at last sank to the ground in a state of collapse. He had not been wounded. His death was due to heart failure. He was a native of Tralee and had been a member of the R.I.C., from which he had resigned a year earlier.
” Meantime the others were becoming so exhausted they could hardly stand, their commander, having now to cover the retreat alone, being obliged to order, coax, threaten, and appeal to them to keep moving. Here then, was one man righting twenty-two men, with eight of his own command useless as combatants. He was a good shot, however, and managed to bring down more than one of the enemy at 500 yards range. The pursuit lasted half an hour all of it up hill but in the end the Constabulary withdrew. After almost superhuman efforts, the commander had succeeded in saving all of his men except Healy.
” These were typical deeds. And as they became known among the people there was no stemming the tide of rising national spirit victory was at hand ! But there was another unifying cause and one I choose to state merely in general terms. During the reign of terror 274 Irishmen were assassinated in their homes or while in custody.
” Torture of Irish prisoners in a vain attempt to force them into a betrayal of their comrades had occurred in thousands of cases. Brutal assaults upon suspected men had been almost the invariable rule in raids by Black and Tans on Irish homes. There is proof in plenty to substantiate these statements, but I prefer you obtain it elsewhere.”
Accordingly I sought this proof in other quarters and quickly found there was indeed plentiful sworn evidence of the truth of what Collins had said. Of many that I have seen and read the following sworn statements are typical :
THE SWORN STATEMENT OF MARY MAGEE, OF CORROGS, NEWRY, co. DOWN.
” I, Mary Ellen Magee, of Corrogs, Newry, co. Down, do hereby solemnly declare that the statements made herein are the truth, so help me God.
” On Wednesday, June 8, at or about the hour of 8 o’clock in the evening, I heard voices (which I afterwards found to be those of Special Constabulary)
speaking to my brother, Stephen Magill, at the door of our house. They were asking him was his brother in the house. Before he could reply, my brother, Owen Magill, walked out to the side of Stephen. They were only a few feet from the door when I heard the order, ‘ Hands up ‘ and the next thing I heard was a volley of shots. I ran to the door and saw my brother Stephen falling, and my brother Owen ran to me and said to me ‘ I’m done.’ I took my brother Owen round to the back of the house and helped to
bandage his wound, which was in his right side. He was quite conscious and did not appear to be seriously wounded. My brother Stephen was shot through the heart and died in a few minutes. His wound appeared to be caused by an explosive bullet as the gash in his breast was almost two inches in diameter.
” When the Specials left, we took my brother Owen into the house and he undressed himself and went to bed. At about 10 p.m. the Specials returned and enquired for my brother Owen, who was wounded. They told him they were going to take him to hospital and they told me the same. My father was in the room with my brother at the time ; the Specials kicked him out of the room and abused him badly. My father is aged 78. Then my brother walked out of the house with the Specials, and as far as I know, walked over two hundred yards to the military lorry which was in waiting. They did not allow my brother to put on his coat, but took him away in his shirt and
trousers. As far as can be ascertained, my brother was dead when he arrived at the hospital.
” The Specials returned on June 10, and raided our house. They knocked down a stack of hay, and threw clothes and other things on the yard. On Sunday, June 12, they again returned. Neither my father nor myself were in the house at the time. They broke open the door and tossed everything over the house, pitching beds, clothes, and everything here, there, and everywhere They again returned on June 18.
” On the occasion of their visit on June 8 they followed me through the fields, and threatened to shoot me if I did not tell them where my wounded brother was, he having hid himself under the bed when he heard they were coming the second time. This is a true statement of all the main facts of the case.
(Signed) ” MARY ELLEN MAGEE.
” June 20th, ’21.”
THE SWORN STATEMENT OF LAWRENCE McGiVERN,
OF DRUMREIGH, CO. DOWN.
” I, Laurence McGivern, of Drumreigh, Rostrevor, co. Down, was employed as a servant with Patrick J. MacAnuff, of Shinn, Ardaragh, Newry. On the
morning of June 5, the house was raided by military between the hours of 3 and 4 a.m. They ordered me out of bed and asked me questions I knew nothing about. They then asked, Did I know who I was speaking to. I said no. They then said they were Royal Irish Constabulary, and made me repeat these words after them. One of them hit me and knocked me down. I got up and two of them ordered me out. I refused, as I said I was barefooted, but they made me go, and took me across the lawn and ordered me not to look behind at the crowd of military behind me. They then gathered around me, made me put my hands by my sides, and hit me with their fists.
They knocked me down and kicked me in the back and sides, and used the ends of their rifles on my head and face. An officer came out of the house, and asked (by the way) what had happened. The reply was that I fell on my face. He lifted me, knowing well what had happened ; but he took me into the house and helped my master to put me to bed. I was then unconscious for some time and am now at home unfit for work and under the doctor’s care. I am twenty years of age.
(Signed) ” LAURENCE McGIVERN.”
(This raid had a tragic sequel a few days later when a party of British forces again raided the house in search of Patrick MacAnuff. His sister, Theresa MacAnuff, who was on a visit from Broadford, England, rushed to a window when she heard the soldiers breaking their way through the house, and called for help. She was ordered by the raiders to desist. She continued to call, and was thereupon shot dead.)
LETTER WRITTEN BY PATRICK TRAYNOR,
106, BOTANIC ROAD, GLASNEVIN, DUBLIN.
” Rath Internment Camp, Curragh,
” Co. Kildare.
” 10th June, ’21.
” The following account of my treatment with a view to extracting information by British Intelligence Officers whilst I was a prisoner in Dublin Castle, should be published.
” From March 30 to April 20 I was a prisoner in the Castle, and in all was interrogated by British Intelligence Officers on 33 occasions.
” During each interrogation with a view to extracting information, I was treated by these Intelligence Officers with the utmost cruelty. My fingers were bent back until they nearly tipped the back of my hands. My arms were twisted, a red-hot poker was held to my eyes, and threats to destroy my sight were made. I was kicked and threatened with shooting. On several occasions I was taken to a dark passage, under the canteen, which leads to the cells, and badly beaten. The doctors here can testify to my condition on arrival.
” On one occasion an officer asked me if I would care to see a priest, and upon my saying ‘ Yes,’ a ‘ priest ‘ was sent to see me. This ‘ priest, I afterwards discovered, was a member of the Intelligence Staff in Dublin Castle and an ordinary civilian.
” Love to all,
” Yours affectionately,
SWORN STATEMENT OF EDWARD DORAN, BALLYMACGEOUGH, KlLKEEL, CO. DOWN.
“I am a farmer and live at Ballymacgeough, co. Down. I was arrested on May 10 and taken, with Thomas Fearon, James McDermott, Thomas Cunningham, and Edward Cunningham to Newry Military Barracks. We were all placed in the same cell there. About an hour after our arrival a police officer came in. I saw him strike Thomas Fearon. He took me to a guardroom where there were forty constables and placed me with my back to the wall. He took up two or three empty cartridges off the floor and said : ‘ See where your friends have gone.’ He then put his head out of the door of the guardroom and said, as if speaking to somebody in the yard : ‘ Don’t close that grave. We’ll put them all in one.’ He then turned to me and said : ‘ What are you in the I.R.A ? ‘ I said : ‘ I don’t recognise your right to ask me any question.’ He hit me with his open hand on the face. He repeated his question. I refused to answer. He then struck me with his clenched fist on the cheek, loaded his revolver and said he would give me three minutes to answer.
” At the end of about three minutes, he said, ‘ I’ll let you off if you will answer me one question. Who is your commandant ? ‘ I said nothing. He said, ‘ Are you going to answer that question ? ‘ I said ‘ No.’ He then rushed at me and commenced to beat me with his clenched fists about the face. He knocked me down once. He cut my face and gave me two black eyes. Whilst he was beating me, a Black and Tan officer came in, got beside me and struck me, knocking me down. The officer then took up his revolver and watch, and, looking at his watch, said, ‘ My lunch has got cold with you and I am going to finish you now if you don’t answer my question.’ As I still remained silent he asked me, ‘ Are you going to answer ? ‘ I said, ‘ No.’ He gave me a kick on the thigh. Then he stood back from me and fired a shot. The bullet passed close , to my head. The plaster fell off the wall behind me. He showed me a mark on the wall and said, ‘ Do you see how it missed you ? ‘ A sergeant then took me out to the yard, and as I was passing the officer on the way out he (the officer) gave me a kick on the thigh again.
(Signed) ” EDWARD DORAN.”
“Dated this 28th day of June, ’21.”
In the course of the interview Eoin MacNeill granted me he described his experiences with the Black and Tans. He said :
“It was at an early hour that the Black and Tans smashed into my house and arrested my eldest son then about 12 years of age and me. They took us in a lorry down into the village of Blackrock, where there were several other lorries standing. Apparently their occupants were raiding houses in the vicinity. Our captor stopped his car and ordered us down into the road. Then he pointed to a blank wall on which had been scrawled, ‘ Up the Republic,’ and, producing a bucket of whitewash and a brush, held them out to my son and ordered him to whitewash the wall.
” My boy looked up at me to see if I would allow him to do this, and I told him not to touch the brush or the bucket. ‘ Oh, you won’t let him do it, eh ? ‘ said the Black and Tan. I replied that I certainly would not. ‘ Very well, then,’ said he, ‘ you do it yourself.’ I refused. Setting down the bucket and brush, he produced a revolver and pointed it at me. He told me if I did not do as he
ordered within one minute he would fire. But when I did not move, he finally put his revolver back in his holster, and gruffly ordered us into another lorry.
” This was the only bad treatment accorded me at any time while I was a prisoner in the hands of the British. In the English jail where Griffith and I were fellow prisoners, every possible consideration was shown us.”
When I reported back to Collins that I had found ample testimony to support his general statement that the Black and Tans had been guilty of acts of extreme cruelty he made no comment. All he had to say in that connection, he explained, he had already said.
” Even after the truce had been declared,” Collins continued, ” I was not in favour of bringing these matters forward. A truce presupposes the possibility of a return to the conditions which existed before it was declared. I could see no good purpose served by doing anything to make worse the conditions that had been so barbarous. I am still inclined to doubt the wisdom of reopening a subject that cannot be done justice to unless one goes into details of indescribable infamy. However, the fact remains that exaggeration in this connection is impossible.”