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Ireland the Struggle for Home

Therefore, the Great War exacerbated problems in Ireland rather than create cause for peace and a united front. Not all Irish nationalists deigned to fight with the National Volunteers for Great Britain. Those who opposed helping the British used World War One as the opportunity for distraction and the formation of the Irish Volunteers, which became the militaristic force behind the Easter Rising. The Irish Volunteers were also aided strategically by the Germans as well as Irish-Americans in support of full independence (cited in slide 24 in #3). A uniquely Irish Catholic spirit of martyrdom motivated the nationalistic fervor that gripped Ireland and prompted years of guerilla warfare with the Protestant British.

At the same time, Great Britain played its cards wrong in its relationship with Ireland. When the war ended, the Home Rule movement was not picked up where it was left before the war began. The Ireland issue was neglected, its people alienated from Great Britain at the end of World War One (Slide 8 in group 4). With Home Rule no longer an option, Sinn Fein was formed to create a counter-state to Great Britain. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) provided the military backbone for the new nationalist movement, using guerilla warfare and terrorist tactics such as threats to families, intimidation and assassination. The IRA blocked roads and destroyed bridges. Labor unions participated in the fight as dock workers refused to unload military supplies, and railway workers refuse to drive trains containing soldiers or military supplies too.

The British response to the insurgency was “ambivalent” and poorly executed (Slide 53 in group 4). On the one hand, the British attempted to treat the insurgency as a police or domestic matter.

On the other hand, the IRA was clearly fighting against Great Britain as a nation and thus the skirmish was a military matter. Military intelligence enabled the British to infiltrate IRA leadership but without much success. The “drives” to weed out insurgency leaders in Ireland proved only moderately successful as the British assumed that if law and order could be regained that somehow the Irish moderates would assume power. An aversion to use excessive force also prevented an organized backlash against the IRA, as the British sought to maintain “constitutionalism” (Slide 55 in Group 4).

A shortage of manpower also plagued the British response. The British army was spread dangerously thin at the end of World War One, as the Empire expanded into regions throughout the Middle East. Germany was partially occupied, and other military commitments included Russia, the Caucasus, and Persia. With a paucity of troops and resource, and no clear policy towards Ireland, the British opted against arming the small numbers of Protestants in Southern Ireland who might have aided in the struggle for Great Britain. Likewise, the Ulsters became as hard-lined as the IRA. For the Ulsters, the goal of the war was the obliteration of Home Rule whereas Great Britain might have been content to compromise.

The ongoing bloodshed since the 1921 treaty was a result of the lack of clear commitment on the part of the British to resolve the struggle for Irish independence: struggle that began around the turn of the century. Issues related to ethnicity, religion, and access to economic and political resources prompted the independence movement. The movement was fomented by nationalistic and anti-colonial trends around the world. World War One offered an opportune.

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