History and political violence


Sir, – Fr Séamus Murphy (“War of Independence seen as Catholic war on Protestants”, Rite & Reason, January 15th) is, of course, quite correct in arguing that the War of Independence comprised elements of “civil conflicts . . . fought between Irish people” – namely, Protestants and unionists versus Catholics and nationalist, and Sinn Féin and the IRA vs Home Rulers, “Castle Catholics” and the RIC.

He exaggerates, however, the importance of the Soloheadbeg ambush in kick-starting these conflicts.

The spark that ignited the conflicts was the threat of rebellion by Carson and the Ulster unionists against Home Rule in 1912.

The New Departure negotiated by Parnell, Davitt and Devoy in 1878 had effectively removed “the gun” from Irish politics for the 35 years before the Ulster Volunteers landed their arms at Larne. The formation and arming of the Ulster Volunteers led to the formation and arming of the copycat Irish Volunteers, which in turn led to the 1916 Rising and the War of Independence.

Soloheadbeg was certainly an important milestone in Ireland’s descent into the violence of the War of Independence and the later Civil War, but by January 1919 the genie was already out of the bottle.

In the immortal words of Eoin MacNeill, “the North began”. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 18.

Sir, – Fr Séamus Murphy’s article is a quixotic summary of the origin and outcomes of Irish Independence. He begins by painting Pádraig Pearse as a saboteur who tripped up an Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) on the cusp of success. He goes on to bewail nationalists’ “lack of realism”.

Surely it was Home Rulers who were dreaming. Pearse and his successors grasped what the IPP never could: that Irish freedom would not be won in Westminster.

The chaos of Brexit demonstrates that any nation attempting to leave a larger union must overcome international and domestic opposition that quite likes the status quo.

Certainly The Irish Times, then openly unionist, would have decried it, dispatching an Edwardian version of Fintan O’Toole to the barricades with shrill daily editorials. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 4.