Irish independence owes an enduring debt to Scottish support

Scotland played an influential and underappreciated role in securing Irish independence

Éamon de Valera declared: “The financial contribution to the Irish struggle from among the Scottish communities was in excess of funds from any other country, including Ireland.” Photograph: Colman Doyle/Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland

Éamon de Valera declared: “The financial contribution to the Irish struggle from among the Scottish communities was in excess of funds from any other country, including Ireland.” Photograph: Colman Doyle/Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland

 

On March 11th, 1923, just weeks before the Civil War ended in Ireland, detectives carried out a series of dawn raids on the home of anti-Treaty supporters across Scotland.

Twenty eight were arrested in Glasgow, five in Lanarkshire, two in West Lothian and one each in Dundee and Dumbarton, according to a new book, A People’s History of Scotland.

Significantly, the information that led to the raids had come not from within the British authorities, but rather from the Free State as it battled to stop arms being smuggled to Ireland. However, the Republicans were not charged or jailed in Scotland. Instead, they were shipped to Ireland and interned by the Free State.

Scotland played an influential role in the War of Independence and the subsequent Civil War, argues A People’s History author Chris Bambery.

Later, Éamon de Valera declared: “The financial contribution to the Irish struggle from among the Scottish communities was in excess of funds from any other country, including Ireland.”

Revolvers and rifles

During the War of Independence, Scotland was a source of revolvers and rifles, along with gelignite and gunpowder stolen from the mines and quarries.

Glasgow’s munitions works was raided eight times. Guns were taken from a Royal Navy gunboat as it underwent a refit at the Finnieston dockyard, while the crew were held at gunpoint.

The IRA’s commander in Scotland, Séamus Reader – a great-uncle of “Fairground Attraction” singer, Eddy Reader – made up explosives at night in Glasgow University’s chemistry laboratory.

In 1920, the Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne, Daniel Mannix, a fierce critic of British policy then in Ireland, came to Scotland after he was intercepted en route to Ireland from New York.

Mannix was brought to Penzance and told – on the orders of David Lloyd George – that he could not go to Ireland, or visit British cities with substantial Irish populations.

Oddly, the restriction did not cover Scotland. Mannix came and addressed large, enthusiastic crowds in Edinburgh, Greenock, Dalmuir, Kilmarnock and elsewhere.

By now, however, the British authorities had woken up to the threat Mannix posed and he was banned from speaking to a giant rally in Glasgow.

Defiant, Mannix went to Whifflet, near Coatbridge – then, as now, the town with the single largest Irish influence in Scotland – where he condemned British policy before 50,000 people.

By 1921, almost every town in Scotland with a substantial Irish population – one that had suffered discrimination and would suffer more in the years to come – had IRA companies.

However, the actions were not limited to supplies. On May 4th, 1921, Frank Carty, an IRA commander from Sligo who had been arrested in Scotland, was taken by police van to court.

An IRA unit ambushed the convoy, but they could not force open the van’s doors to release Carty. Soon, they fled. One police inspector lay dead, a police sergeant badly wounded.

That night, there were more police raids. In one of them, police arrested Fr Patrick McRory from St Mary’s Church on Abercromby Street.

Charges dropped

Riots erupted in the Calton district of Glasgow. Within weeks, the charges against Fr McRory and 17 other men and women were dropped. They were welcomed back with a rally to Calton.

In the years after the ending of the Civil War, the role played by the Irish in Scotland during the years between 1916 and 1923 faded into history.

Partly, it was because they were among the poorest of the poor and few are ever interested in the stories of the poor, Chris Bambery told The Irish Times.

“However, they would have been only too well aware of the sectarianism that existed then. It did not do to talk then of Republicanism,” he said.

The years afterwards offered the Irish “a cold house” in Scotland, with the Church of Scotland demanding protection for Protestants from “a horde of Irish immigrants”.

In 1928, the heads of the Presbyterian Church in Scotland travelled to London to meet with the home secretary and Scottish secretary to demand that Irish immigration be stopped.

Any Irish living on the meagre benefits of the time should be sent back, they argued. In reply, the British ministers produced figures to refute the claims that the immigration floodgates had opened.

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