Cork Independent, 14 April 2022
Journeys to a Free State: A Civil War Looms
By mid-April 1922, tensions between the pro and anti-Treaty sides intensified further. Words such as “civil war” began to creep into speeches of the anti-Treaty side. The first acts of disobedience of Irish Free State law also occurred. This was the beginning of the Irish Civil War. On 14 April 1922, about 200 anti-Treaty IRA militants, with Rory O’Connor as their spokesman, occupied the Four Courts in Dublin.
From 1919 to 1921, Dublin based Rory O’Connor was Director of Engineering of the IRA. On 26 March 1922, Rory was one of the anti-Treaty officers of the IRA that hosted a convention in Dublin, in which they rejected the Treaty and renounced the power of Dáil Éireann. However, they were willing to discuss an approach forward.
The convention met again on 9 April. This time they set up a new army constitution and put the army under a newly elected executive of sixteen, that would select an army council and headquarters staff. Rory was one of the sixteen and within five days of the new constitution, the Four Courts were seized. They also took other smaller buildings in Dublin deemed as being connected with the former British administration, such as the Ballast Office and the Freemason’s Hall. The main aim was to incite British troops, who had not departed the county yet, into confronting them. There was a hope that the war with Britain would restart and galvanise the pro and anti-treaty sides together with a common purpose.
As described by the Cork Examiner, small crowds of curious onlookers initially gathered over the weekend of 15 and 16 April in the neighbourhood and beguiled their time inspecting the sandbag defences and timber barricades in the windows and at the entrances of the Four Courts. In several of the windows overlooking the quays loopholes had been made by smashing the glass, and the apertures were partly filled by stacks of books. A stand-off began, which was not resolved until the shelling of the building by Irish Free State Troops began on 28 June. Two days later a large explosion destroyed the building, leading to the surrender of the garrison.
On Sunday 16 April, in a speech delivered by Cork TD Mary MacSwiney at the Mountain Chapel (Ballinhassig) she declared that the people of Ireland could not go into the British Empire and to do so would be a disgrace to every man who ever died for Ireland. The audience was composed of the congregation that attended the 10.30am Mass. Leaflets were distributed at the church gate, recalling the events of 1916, and declaring that “the Republic lived on and was in 1918 constitutionally established by the free vote of the Irish people, and was maintained by the IRA in spite of all the forces England could put in the field”. The pamphlet continued: “Easter Week is with us again. We now celebrate the sixth anniversary of the proclamation of the Republic, but to-day you are asked to disestablish the Republic; to take, an oath of allegiance to England’s King and to come into the British Empire”. Finally, the pamphlet asked: “Will you do it?” and concluded with the admonition: “Remember 1916”.
Miss MacSwiney, who had a cordial reception, said that in December 1921, two weeks before, the Treaty was signed, she spoke in the village of Ballinhassig. She noted then what she believed that not one single Irishman would accept compromise, and that Ireland’s honour was safe in the hands of the delegates who went to London. She then believed in them. She felt that they went to London to try to find a way to peace with honour, but not to give away the Republic of Ireland that the men of Easter Week died to establish. She deemed that those men gave away the Republic and that they had told the people that they got the last ounce that England would give, and that the alternative was “immediate and terrible war”. Mary advocated that Britain was fighting a war in Egypt and in India, and that they had no money to follow through on the war element.
Referencing Irish patriots of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Mary commented on what they stood for; “If we allow Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith and the rest of the men who were trying to turn down the Republic to establish a government in this country they would have to imprison, and perhaps to torture and to kill the men and women who stood where Tone and Mitchell and Davis and the men of 1916 stood, for these would not go into the British Empire with their heads or their hands up. They were going to remain citizens of the Irish Republic, and they would not allow that to be turned down except over their dead bodies”.
Mary wished to advise Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith to say to British Prime Minister Lloyd George: “We will not have civil war in our country. We believe that your Treaty is good, and we might have worked it, but it is not worth civil war, and we won’t risk that. That was what honourable men would say, for there could be no peace which included a Governor-General in this country and an oath of allegiance to an English king.
Mary appealed to the people to stand true to the Republic for which so many great men had died. They had only to stand true for a little while longer, and they would win. Concluding she noted: “As sure as England tried to impose on them a Governor-General or an oath of allegiance the Irish would stand against it. Where England had interests they would destroy them. They would fight her in England, fight her in Ireland, and fight her all the world over until she came to terms with the Irish Republic”.
1146a. Mary MacSwiney TD, 1921 (Source: Houses of the Oireachtas Archive).