Chapter 9. – OUTWITTING THE BLACK AND TANS
OUTWITTING THE BLACK AND TANS
” The English Secret Service in Ireland for centuries had broken every movement ever attempted by Irishmen to make Ireland an independent nation. The espionage staff of the British forces of control in Ireland, operating from their headquarters in Dublin Castle, was a body to which England had every right to point with pride. It was a costly organisation to maintain, but it was maintained regardless of cost the annual total in pre-war times having been approximately 250,000. This was the expenditure when there was little or no talk of an Irish revolutionary movement. Following the outbreak of the world war, even before the Easter Week rising, the cost of administrating the spy system has been reckoned to have totalled a million pounds a year.
” From 1916 on, countless millions were spent. Secret Service money was to be had almost for the raising of an eyebrow. I always find satisfaction in the thought that much of this reckless buying of information brought cold comfort to Dublin Castle when it was discovered that the information was nothing more than the figment of a patriotic Irishman’s imagination. But with the coming of the Black and Tans in 1919, this hitherto safe and profitable form of romancing was quickly robbed of its appeal the Black and Tans evidencing their dislike of being victimised by the torture and often the murder of their victimisers.
” The coming of the Black and Tans was England’s immediate and direct answer to our establishing our own Intelligence Staff, of which I had been appointed chief.”
Aware as I was of Collins’ disinclination to cite instances of cruelty on the part of the English forces, this reference to torture and murder, with which he had begun his story on this occasion, led me to anticipate that he was about to depart from his former policy of silence in this respect. But it was not to be. He refrained from citing any specific instances of Black” and Tan cruelty. He made it sufficiently plain to me that it was his wish that this phase of the story be not told, to impel me, now that he is gone, to say only that I have seen photographic evidence of hideous brutality of which the Black and Tans were guilty not to mention trustworthy eyewitness testimony of outrages committed by the army whose prime reason for being was to strike terror to Ireland.
” Before we could turn our attention to the Black and Tans,” Collins continued, ” we had to create our own organisation and first use it to clean English spies out of the Irish Republican Army. This alone was no easy task, but before it was finished there were left within the Irish Republican Army only men who were wholeheartedly prepared to give their lives for Ireland.
” Opposition of no mean character met our determined drive against weathercock politicians, irresponsibles and others of similar ilk, whose presence in the Irish Republican Army, while perhaps not dangerous, was distinctly detrimental to its morale. At all stages during the process of cleaning up our own forces we had constantly to fight the unreasoning antagonism of Cathal Brugha. Poor Brugha ! As Cosgrave truly said, he was a great fighter ‘ but not worth a damn for anything else ! ‘ I was never antagonistic to Brugha he was fortunately not important enough to make it necessary for me to notice his hostility. However, to be just to De Valera, it is a fact that more than once he prevented Brugha’s tremendous disapproval of me and my methods from leading his Minister of Defence to attempt any deed of rashness.
” Finally this part of the job was finished. Every man had been tested tested thoroughly. First I did it myself and thus satisfied myself regarding the trustworthiness of my chief aids. Then, gradually, the finding of the true measure of each new man became automatic and in turn the cleaning out of the ranks of the Irish Republican Army of undesirables became easier and faster. Now the time had come to turn our attention to the most important part of our job the smashing of the English Secret Service. My final goal was not to be reached merely by beating it out of existence I wanted to replace it with a better, and an Irish Secret Service. The way to do this was obvious, and it fell naturally into two main parts making it unhealthy for Irishmen to betray their fellows, and making it deadly for Englishmen to exploit them. It took several months to accomplish the first job actually the most important part and hardly more than a month to disrupt the morale of the English Secret Service, to a point at which its efficiency ceased to be the proud thing that it always had been
” To Englishmen who knew the meaning of the appellation, the Political Section of the ‘ G ‘ Division of the Secret Service meant everything that was finest and most admirable in the whole range of the British Empire’s detective organisations. To gain admission into the ‘ G ‘ Division was the dream of all Secret Service operatives. For the most part the personnel of this undeniably brave outfit commanded my admiration. But, as I shall have occasion to point out more than once before I finish this tale, their bravery frequently outdistanced their judgement. My own experience leads me to hold that it is wiser for those who have the selecting of men for positions in which bravery and judgement are equal requirements to choose clever cowards rather than stupid heroes.
” Within a short time after we had convinced the Irish traitors that it was best that they sever their connection with Dublin Castle, our own operatives identified six of the highest placed and most efficient English spies. It was my policy to acquaint this sextet with the fact that we knew
them and had them under constant surveillance. In order to remove any doubt from their minds, I saw to it that they were furnished with typewritten reports of their own activities during the preceding twenty-four hours several days in succession. The terror with which they hoped to reduce Irishmen to the stage of abject surrender now began to creep into their own ranks. Gradually, English operatives, who had been working night and day against us, began to see the practical wisdom of shifting their allegiance and joining our forces to save their own skins ! Thus gradually we built up a counter spy system, operating within Dublin Castle itself.
” From this point onward, I had reliable advance information of virtually all impending events contemplated by the British. It was testing the reliability of this advance information that was largely responsible for the reputation I began to acquire as a daredevil. For instance, one day it was told me that the Black and Tans had discovered the house at which I was in the habit of lunching every other Thursday. My information was that the Black and Tans were planning to watch the house the following Thursday, and to have a large force ready to raid it one minute after noon the hour when I always entered it. I was not too sure of the reliability of this information, and it was absolutely necessary for me to make sure. Therefore, exactly at noon on the Thursday I rode my bicycle down the street and stopped in front of the watched house. I entered it through the basement, carrying my bicycle with me. Within one minute the Black and Tans came rushing from all directions and burst into the house. Thus I discovered that the information had been accurate and my informant trustworthy !
” It was not quite so foolhardy as it sounds, because a perfect means of escape had been previously arranged a tunnel having been dug under the backyard into the cellar of an abutting house, through which I was able to run with my bicycle. Actually, I was on my way through the heart of Dublin a few moments later.
” But of course, in order to make this test, I had come under the scrutiny of, perhaps, two score of Black and Tans. In this connection let me refute the rumour that I resorted to disguises. I never did. I carried convincing papers, it is true, that established my identity as another man and more than once was held up and searched by Black and Tans. But disguise was unnecessary and foolish.
” The occasion which received, perhaps, greater publicity than any other when British soldiers surrounded the entire square in which is situated the Mansion House in Dublin, into which I had been seen to go has been distorted in every way imaginable. A secret meeting of the leaders of the Irish Republican Army had been arranged and was being held in an inner room of the Mansion House at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. The dozen of us present all believed we had managed to get into the building unobserved. In this we were mistaken.
” Joe O’Reilly, my closest confidant, walking with two girl friends in Grafton Street that afternoon happened to overhear a British soldier just ahead of him telling a comrade that there was going to be ‘ a big show ‘ at the Mansion House in an hour or so. Joe waited to hear no more, but left the girls abruptly and took it on the run for the Mansion House. He burst in on us like a cyclone and announced the impending raid. All the others rushed out a back way and made good their escape, but I had to remain behind to safeguard invaluable documents which we had been studying, and which we could not afford just then to destroy.
” Two minutes later, the soldiers in armoured cars and afoot came rushing from all directions and quickly formed a cordon that completely encircled the Mansion House. The Lord Mayor hurried in and demanded to know what I could hope to do to avoid capture. It was easy enough requiring only the sheets from two beds in an upper part of the Mansion House !
” With these sheets I made a rope which O’Reilly lowered down through the chimney from the roof of the Round Room and up which I climbed.
” When the British officers came swaggering in, the Lord Mayor met them and denounced their intrusion as unwarrantable. Meantime, Joe had got busy with a big germicide sprayer which he, inadvertently, most of the time pointed straight at the immaculate intruders. The Lord Mayor established Joe’s identity as a cleaner, dutifully attending to the business of fumigating the Mansion House.
” For four hours they searched the Mansion House and everything in it except the chimney in the Round Room. They were hardly to be blamed for overlooking that hiding place it must have seemed a waste of time, inasmuch as a blazing fire was burning in the fireplace !
” O’Reilly had lit that fire at my order. Before he had done so I had climbed the sheet rope halfway up the chimney. At this point I knew that there was a flue from a fireplace on the second floor. Climbing just above this flue I managed to get out of my clothes which I used to stuff up the chimney beneath me. The smoke did not reach me but passed out through the flue into the room to which O’Reilly had gone and opened the windows and created a draught.
” Although there was no smoke that amounted to anything my position was hardly comfortable, and as night came on it was a bit chilly for a man completely nude.
” Meantime, the British officers showed no intention of leaving the Mansion House until they had found me. But they were not counting on the resourcefulness of Joe O’Reilly. His cleaning operations finished, off he went on his bicycle to supper. He was allowed to pass through the cordon on the strength of the Lord Mayor’s word.
” Within an hour he returned and re-entered the Mansion House apparently to resume the fumigation of the Lord Mayor’s residence. Half an hour later, when it was quite dark, a British officer hurried down the steps of the front entrance of the Mansion House and made his way quickly past the British troops stationed three feet apart.
” It was the only occasion on which I ever wore a British uniform, and the only time I ever resorted to even partial disguise. Probably no British uniform ever covered as coal-black a body !
” Where and how O’Reilly procured that uniform, I never asked. It was enough that he had had the presence of mind to go and get it, put it on under his own clothes and get it to me. Realising that he might have disobeyed one of our cardinal rules under no circumstances to commit an act of violence except under especial orders I deemed it wisest not to question him.
” The cordon was maintained around the Square all night and only withdrawn when the hunters became finally convinced that their information had been false.
” Meantime, Irishmen who were anxious to sell information to Dublin Castle learned that whenever they did so it became known to us immediately. Gradually, they began to realise that the very Black and Tan to whom they sold the information was one of our own agents within the Castle. If they had doubts about it, we saw to it that these were dissipated our freeing them after their capture and after proving the truth to them, being quite sufficient to accomplish our purpose. From then on, they took the pains to acquaint others who were considering betraying us that in all probability they would offer their information to one of our men.
” Another of our more successful methods of dealing with Irish traitors was the raiding of mails. Most of the information offered to Dublin Castle was sent by post but always with the name and address of the sender stated for purposes of reward. We had an unofficial censor who returned all except the Government mails and the would- be informers’ letters. These latter we also returned to the senders, and generally a wholesome lecture was sufficient to persuade them that repetition of the offence was inadvisable.
” Almost fifty per cent, of the telegraphists in Ireland were either active members of the Irish Republican Army or employed as operatives in our Intelligence Department. From the telegraphists we got the code which was changed twice a day by Dublin Castle immensely simplifying the work of our censor in his handling of Government messages. According to admissions made freely by Dublin Castle at this time, not one telephone message was sent or received that was not tapped by the Irish Republican Army. This may be an exaggeration although I am inclined to think it is not. Our corps of telephone line men would certainly have resented any doubt as to the accuracy of this statement,”