This day 100 years ago: The Mansion House meeting that ended the War of Independence

Cheering crowds greeted news of possible truce between British and Irish

Arthur Griffith arriving at the Mansion House in Dublin on July 11th, 1921 after the truce is declared. Photograph: The National Museum of Ireland

Arthur Griffith arriving at the Mansion House in Dublin on July 11th, 1921 after the truce is declared. Photograph: The National Museum of Ireland

 

On the evening of July 8th, 1921, General Nevil Macready, the general commanding British forces in Ireland, drew up to the Mansion House in an open-top car.

There was a huge crowd, from early morning, and many were waving Irish tricolours.

Macready did not know what to expect. He had only received a summons at 1.30pm that day to meet three representatives of southern Unionists who told him that it was time to talk.

Just a few days previously, his appearance in an open-top car through the streets of Dublin would more than likely have led to an ambush, but that day was different.

In his autobiography, Annals of an Active Life, Macready remembered: “The crowd began to shout and cheer, one excited and unwashed old dame seized my hand and kissed it, others commending me to their favourite saints.

“It was a vivid picture of the unstable excitability of a populace who, with tears running down their cheeks, could cheer the echo a man who a few hours before, and indeed afterwards, they would have rejoiced to hear had met his death at the hands of the gunmen.”

Macready was escorted into the Mansion House by the lord mayor of Dublin Larry O’Neill. There to meet him was Eamon de Valera, Arthur Griffith and representatives of southern Unionism led by Lord Midleton.

They were there to discuss something which had scarcely seemed possible two months – a truce between Great Britain and Ireland.

There had been peace feelers going back to the previous December which foundered on a demand for the IRA to decommission their weapons.

The British vaccilated in the spring of 1921 between an all-out surge to crush the IRA and making peace with the IRA.

In late May 1921 Andy Cope, the assistant under-secretary for Ireland and Lloyd George’s eyes and ears in the country, met with Patrick Moylett, Sinn Féin’s intermediary with the British government in the toilets of the Shelbourne Hotel.

Cope is alleged to have made a startling admission to Moylett: “We are willing to acknowledge we are defeated. There is nothing else to do but to draft 400,000 men and exterminate the whole population of the country and we are not willing to do that.” He told Moylett he was there to make peace.

The person who did more than anything to make the truce happen was the South African prime minister Jan Smuts.

He had once been a commander of the Boers who fought the British, but had become an advocate for independent countries within the British Empire.

He urged the British prime minister David Lloyd George to offer Ireland dominion status (self-rule) within the British Empire.

The terms of the truce were hammered out on the night of July 8th and on the following morning to come into operation on midday July 11th, 1921.

The IRA agreed to stop all attacks on Crown forces and property, the British agreed to halt offensive actions against Republicans and to withdraw to barracks.

After two and a half years and more than 2,000 dead the Irish War of Independence was ov er.