Churchill & Ireland

Churchill & Ireland


Welcome to the Irish Revolution! Winston
Churchill: I really hope I struck a balance with
this video and haven’t gone too much either way. Did he hate the Irish? I’m
almost certain he didn’t. Did he understand Ireland? not very well in my
opinion Did he make mistakes, sometimes horrific
mistakes? definitely, and that is what I’ll explore with this video. He was
responsible for the Black and Tans and the Auxiliaries but it’s important to
consider his motives. He was blinkered, absolutely. Frankly at
times he was stupid. I know there’ll be some watching this who will automatically
disagree no matter what I say. There will be some who think I’m being a West Brit [Irish insult for somebody insufficiently patriotic] because I’m not heaving with passionate angry intensity against Churchill at all times. There’ll
be others who think I’m some modern-day Republican terrorist out to besmirch
Britain’s greatest leader. I ask you to keep an open mind for the duration of
this video as I etch out Churchill and his often complicated relationship
with this island. So, let’s start with his youth. Churchill spent a lot of time in
Ireland as a young man. From 1877 to 1880 Churchill’s father, Lord Randolph
Churchill, was an aide to his grandfather John Churchill, the 7th Duke of Marlborough who was appointed the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland by British prime minister
Disraeli The two-year-old Winston took up
residence with his parents in Phoenix Park. Randolph Churchill, who would become
famous in later years for his hardline stance on the Irish question, seemed to
adopt some progressive ideas for the time, believing that there was an
imbalance in funding between Catholic and Protestant education for example. And voted with Irish MPs in a 1878 motion to establish a Catholic Irish University. I
won’t go into the other details of Winston’s early life here, this is not
intended as a biographical video but more an overview of how he related to
Ireland, and I do think it’s important to bear in mind his early
childhood on the island. So I’m gonna fast-forward a little bit here, I’m
gonna describe a lot of different terms that you may or may not be familiar with, if
you’re not that familiar with Irish histories chances are you aren’t, that’s
why in the description I’m putting together a glossary of terms
describing what a home ruler is, what a unionist is a Sinn Féiner and what the b-specials were, what the Black and Tans are and you know check that there,
I’ve got plenty of descriptions down there. Okay.
Despite inheriting his father’s anti home rule position in his early life by
February 1906 Churchill had become a supporter of home rule. In 1904 he had
already crossed the floor moving from the Conservative Party to the Liberal
Party, traditionally the party of Irish Home Rule (willingly or unwillingly so – it’s complicated)
Churchill supported a scheme put forward in 1907 by Augustine Birrell, future
Irish secretary in Dublin Castle, the bill promised a measure of devolution
far short of Home Rule but Churchill was seriously disappointed when it failed to
pass and lamented the lack of direction in the UK government’s Irish policy. In
1912, at the height of the hysteria around the proposals for Irish Home Rule
(have a look at the video I made, the very first video I made – Easter Rising origins)
with the Curragh mutiny and the threat of civil war a real possibility, Churchill had
made plans to speak in favour of Home Rule in Belfast. His own personal safety
was at risk as his father Randolph Churchill had famously declared in a
previous age that he would ‘play the orange card’ in
opposition to the Home Rule bill being pushed in 1885 by Charles Stewart
Parnell. Winston was seen as making a great betrayal of the orange unionist
cause and betraying his own father. His speech, intended as much to be directed
at relcatrinant Ulster Unionists as to influence English public opinion
concluded with the following quote Notice that the speech invokes his own
father’s unionism and his own famous speech to Ulster Protestants.
‘Ulster will fight and Ulster will be right’ Churchill was trying to persuade but
in the end it was a hopeless cause Ulster Unionists would never come on
board for home rule. He had to move around Belfast like a hunted man as crowds of
furious unionists threatened him. Now, time for another time jump. I’m gonna go to
the war of independence period in Ireland. Churchill as Secretary of State
for war and later of the colonies played a very direct role in the war of
independence. It was he who brought in the infamous Black and Tans and later
the Auxiliaries, they were intended as substitutes for the exhausted and
demoralized native Irish police who were being shot at and who were resigning in
huge numbers due to the IRA or the Irish Volunteers depending on the period of
time we’re talking about. They were former British soldiers and in the words
of Churchill biographer Roy Jenkins Now that is one
of the more polite ways of putting it I’ve seen them described by many as
scum and I don’t use the word lightly Scum is what I’ve heard since childhood,
described by all manner of people. Yeah they don’t have a good reputation in
Ireland! listen to some of the some of the tunes that have come out over the
years about the Black and Tans. Anyway that’s not really historical that’s just
me having a bit of craic with you. Most rural police stations had been
abandoned due to an IRA campaign and the countryside was unsafe to patrol in
except in large armed groups. The Black and Tans and the Auxiliaries would
go on to be ferocious enemies of the IRA and I was they, not necessarily the British
Army, who fought the war of independence in Ireland. Perhaps what has stuck in the
Irish mind regarding Churchill and why I originally wanted to call this ‘did
Churchill hate Ireland’, you know, for the whole clickbait value, was his repeated
defense of the reprisal burnings and killings that so characterized British
policy in Ireland during the War of Independence, especially the latter part.
Here’s a quote that neatly summarizes his position: In May 1920, as the rate of killings were on the increase (in many
ways a reaction to the widespread deployment of the Black and Tans)
Churchill argued for a special tribunal to try murders saying ‘it is
monstrous that we have 200 murders and no-one hanged’ also in May 1920
Churchill argued for the creation of a special emergency gendarmerie, the
Auxiliaries, and a few months later they were in the process of being recruited.
The auxiliaries were a better class of soldier on average than the Black and
Tans and were mightier adversaries of the IRA.
I’ll explore their role in the war in a later episode. Just as a
side note, Churchill wanted to use air power in Ireland but nothing much
came from this. In 1920 the British Cabinet were unanimous in their
opposition to the IRA campaign and seemed to believe that the Home Rule
bill (which would become known to the Irish Republican movement as the second
Dáil election) and Churchill was no different in an article in The
Illustrated Sunday Herald in June 1920 he wrote It brings up an interesting
point actually as while Ireland was a thorn in the side of the British Empire
at this time, Churchill and the British government were arguably dealing with
bigger fish in some ways. To look at just numbers, according to Paul Bew, Ireland
was costing the Empire 20 million pounds a year while Mesopotamia cost 56.5 million in 1920-21 alone. 7,000 Empire soldiers 800 of whom were
British died at the same time as the conflict with Ireland. It’s important to
remember that while for the Irish this time period is huge and enormous and
significant, for the British it’s just another thing happening in their huge
Empire, not even necessarily the most important crisis then gripping the Empire.
The British point of view is well summed up by the historian Charles Townshend: Because Townshend is too much of a pro and a
gentleman and a great historian to say it, I will.
The British government had no idea what they were doing in Ireland in 1920 and
by all accounts it often seemed like they were groping in the dark, always
reacting and rarely formulating anything Britain was waging a dirty war in
Ireland. Reprisals were occasionally sanctioned by the state but unofficially
it was going on a lot and Churchill in his position as Minister for War wasn’t
exactly condemning them. For example, the 21st of September the Black and Tans
sacked the North Dublin town of Balbriggan. It’s one of the great reprisals
of the war of independence and it became international news. Much of the town
was burnt down, many of the men perpetrating the atrocity, the reprisal
were visibly drunk. Two prisoners were executed. Henry Wilson, the head of the
army and no peacenick I should add, wrote in his diary that ‘Winston
Churchill saw very little harm in this, but it horrifies me.’ Terence MacSwiney,
the Lord Mayor of Cork went on hunger strike in 1920 in a campaign that drew
international attention. MacSwiney was no hardman Republican but a gentle
spirited artistic soul and he became the perfect Irish Republican martyr, another
one in a long line of them. Churchill mocked the strategy of hunger
striking saying it took more courage to fight in a trench than to go on a hunger
strike. Addressing a crowd in Dundee in October 1920 he said: According to Paul Bew, the mocking tone of his speech did little to impress British public opinion or the visiting American journalists.
Terence MacSwiney died four days after the speech, unleashing a whirlwind of
public sympathy. Churchill believed in 1920 at any rate
that the British would just have to arrest a few key Republicans, turn them
and then break up the entire ‘murder club’ as he called them in a letter
to his wife. Many of the ministers, including Churchill of course, seem to
believe or wanted to believe that the hostility to British rule was not
widespread and was limited to a small group of ‘terrorists’. I don’t know if they
really honestly believed this or just said this in public and believe
something else in private. But if they really believe this,
then it is a great indication of their total lack of understanding of facts on
the ground how incredibly, stupifying ignorant they were. I mean, all they had
to do was visit Ireland, specifically Cork or one of the hotter places in
Ireland, but to believe what they appeared to believe is, it’s just mind boggingly
stupid. This nonsensical position which, to be fair to Churchill was typical of
the British political class was revealed to be absurd with the killings in Dublin
on 24th November 1920, the first Bloody Sunday when Michael Collins ordered an
IRA operation to wipe out a network of spies in Dublin. (The Cairo Gang) Later in the day a group
of auxiliaries opened fire and shot at a defenseless crowd in Croke Park in
Dublin during a Gaelic football match Whatever hope the government may have
had in restoring the Status Quo in Ireland, this may well have been the final straw
for the Irish. A week later an IRA commander in Cork, Tom Barry, launched an
audacious ambush at Kilmichael (Cork) killing 18 Auxiliaries. While these numbers
could have been easily absorbed by the might of the British Empire, they did
make a mockery of the claim that the British were not in a war or that it was
just a few malcontents causing the problem. Tthe violence continued into 1921.
A truce between the two sides was originally mooted on the 12th of May
1921 with Churchill part of the cabinet minority in favour interestingly. The
war was going better for the British in some ways and he believed that a truce
was no longer a sign of weakness. In fact it was a sign that Churchill was
prepared to compromise and was not even among the most hardline in the British
Cabinet despite his fierce reputation, at least in Ireland. The truce came a little
later and Churchill became in the words of Bew a dove on the Irish question even
entertaining Michael Collins at his house in October. Why the apparent change of mind? Roy Jenkins asserts a certain
responsibility to Churchill’s wife who wrote him a letter in February 1921
asking him to put himself in the place of the Irish. I don’t know if that
explains anything but it is strange how quickly the British establishment seemed
to change their mind How in May 1921 they were determined to
‘hunt down the murder gang’ and by July looked to have a lasting
reconciliation with the Irish people. I always find it odd, charming even, that
during the treaty negotiations that a kind of camaraderie or at least a mutual
respect seemed to have developed between Churchill and Michael Collins and how in
so many ways they seemed so alike. Shortly before Collins died he sent a
message to Churchill ‘tell Winston we could never have done anything without
him’ So, to conclude – I won’t go into details about Churchill later life
and engagement with Ireland except to say that he put pressure on Collins to
unlodge the anti-treaty Republicans from the four courts in
Dublin and threatened to use the artillery himself to do so, so you could
argue that he hastened the start of the Irish Civil War. And I won’t get into the
whole thing about Churchill during the Second World War. For whatever reason
and there were obviously many to think of, Churchill didn’t invade Ireland despite
criticising the Irish government for its neutrality stance but that falls outside
the purview of this channel, which exists for now at least, to document the Irish
revolutionary period. Plus this damned video has to end at some point. Thanks so
much for watching! see you soon.

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