Terrorists Or Dreamers
In Sackville Street the curfew drove the restless out of sight
The Black and Tans marched up and down the moon shone cold and bright
The shot was like a whip crack, took the first man of his feet
He died on bloodied cobblestones, while his comrades combed the streets
They called up the reinforcements, dragged the people from their beds
They were screaming, “get the bastard” but t’was fear was in their heads
They found him in a cellar he was only seventeen
But he was fighting for his country; he was dying for the green
The sergeant took him by the head and beat him to the ground
And into this young man’s body he emptied every round
“Come and take a look,” he cried as he marched his troops away
They came in stony silence such a price to have to pay
Some knelt and prayed beside him, but t’was too late anyhow
They said he was a rebel then, but he’s a hero now
In sixty-six this country sang the praises of the dead
We didn’t call them rebels then, we used patriot instead
On every household TV screen we saw how hard they fought
How they spilled their lifeblood, how freedom had been bought
And garden gates were opened up to silent motorcades
The cannons boomed, the flags unfurled, and solemn wreaths were laid
And prayers for those departed were called for loud and clear
For those who had been outlawed, ah but that was another year
The veterans lined up stiff and proud, their white hair in the wind
Their pride pinned to their gabardines and their thoughts upon their friends
Bitter wounds burst open and the scars of history
Were flung into our faces in stark reality
Just up the road from Sackville Street, but things are different now
They said he was a rebel then but he’s a hero now
Along the falls the soldiers push with glances left and right
Kids of the English working class, soldiers overnight
Tossed into a melting pot of bitterness and strife
Never understanding and fearing for their life
Outside the Smithwicks Brewery a bomb takes two away
The bomber’s work is over he’s finished for the day
The terrorist or the dreamer the savage or the brave?
It depends whose vote you’re trying to catch
Whose face you’re trying to save
There’s tea and cake in Downing Street and whispers in the hall
There are moves to cure Rhodesia our backs are to the wall
There’s panic down in Leinster House where words are seldom scarce
Send someone to Glasnevin quick to remember Patrick Pearse
Once more his crucifixion, it all seems strange somehow
They said he was a rebel then but he’s a hero now
Dunne and Sullivan - martyrs of the Irish republic
"We took our part in supporting the aspirations of our fellow-countrymen in the same way as we took our part in supporting the nations of the world who fought for the rights of small nationalities. ... The same principles for which we shed our blood on the battle-field of Europe led us to commit the act we are charged with." - Óglach Reginald Dunne
On Thursday 22nd June 1922, Reginald Dunne, the second in command of the London brigade of the IRA, and Joseph O’Sullivan, a long-term IRA volunteer, carried out the assassination of Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson. This event was by means an isolated one but was pivotal to the extraordinarily complex political and military machinations of the frenzied period of 1921-2, which saw the national liberation struggle morph into a civil war leading to the establishment of the Free State and the division of the 32 counties of Ireland into two countries.
Amongst the many atrocities, police, without provocation, shot three unarmed Catholic youths. The subsequent British government cover up outraged Collins, who now secretly developed a strategy for aiding the northern Catholics and destabilising Unionism, whilst being supposedly neutral and friendly to the British government. Underground agents and arms were directed north in vast amounts.
Wilson was the man in charge of resisting this shadowy offensive. He had been enthusiastically associated with every violent verbal and physical attack on nationalists over the previous period and was now even critical of the Treaty as bending over backwards. Born in County Longford, he had been Chief of the British Imperial Staff and was now Unionist M.P. for North Down. He had accepted appointment as official security advisor to the Northern Government on the organisation and control of the Special Constabulary. He had also become an influential and vocal critic of the Treaty and of conditions in Ireland.
His name had been on the IRA’s active death list since June 1921, although the truce had caused action to be put on hold. His death can only be understood against the backcloth of the terrible reprisals that were now the lot of the Catholics in the north. Eamon de Valera was to say, in his characteristically ambiguous manner, of the murder, "life has been made hell for the Nationalist minority in Belfast … I do not approve but I must not pretend to misunderstand". Collins is known to have been very angry at the northern pogroms and vowed, "We’ll kill a member of that bunch." He certainly publicly held Wilson as personally mainly responsible for the atrocities against Catholics. It did not help that Wilson was also prone to making highly offensive personal remarks about Collins.
Wilson was shot on the doorstep of his London home on the afternoon of 22 June. Both Dunne and O’Sullivan had revolvers. Wilson was returning to his home in Easton Place, having just unveiled a war memorial at Liverpool St station. He had paid his taxi driver, and was feeling for his keys, when the two men came up behind him, pulled out revolvers and shot him down. Wilson’s arm was wounded by the first two bullets, it was rumoured that he then half drew his sword before being shot down in a hail of a further seven bullets as a consequence, an ironic suggestion, since it was meant to mythologise his death as being in action – precisely what his assassins would have claimed for themselves. Whatever the actuality, Wilson was shot in the left forearm, twice in the right arm, twice in the left shoulder, in both armpits, and twice in the right leg. Both armpit wounds had fatally pieced Wilson's lungs.
Reggie Dunne was a Commanding Officer in the London Brigade of the IRA and had attended St Ignatius College in Tottenham in north London and at the time of the assasination he was at St. Mary’s College teacher training college, which supplied Catholic men to serve as teachers in Catholic schools throughout the country.
Joe O'Sullivan was a long-term activist, born and lived in London all his life, he was a clerk in the Ministry of Labour in Whitehall. His mother, Mary O’Sullivan (nee Murphy), had died in November 1920 at the age of 60 (she had 13 children, two of whom died as small children).
Dunne and Sullivan being arrested
Joe O’Sullivan’s brother, Patrick, was in County Cork during 1920-22 as an active IRA Volunteer. Patrick O’Sullivan and another brother Alyosius were gassed during the First World War. Patrick was only saved by an Australian priest after he had been tagged as beyond hope by the army medics. Apparently, he said that the English left him to die because he was Irish. This may be possible, if it was after the Easter Rising, as there was a certain amount of anti-Irish sentiment about, but it may simply have been that the medics were overwhelmed by the weight of casualties. After the war he went to live in Cork, where he got married. During 1920/21 his house was attacked by the Black and Tans and his wife was badly assaulted. She was heavily pregnant at the time and lost the baby and was never able to have children after that.
Joe O’Sullivan was certainly a stalwart of the struggle; though he was critical of anti-Treaty activities he remained friendly and helpful to all active service units of the IRA, being particularly anxious to maintain unity amongst nationalist forces. It seems that his loyalty to Collins and his anxiety to demonstrate a need for unity were key factors in his involvement in the assassination.
Like Dunne, Joe O'Sullivan was also an ex-World War veteran and had lost a leg at Ypres. This made it difficult for him to flee the scene once Wilson was killed. He must have surely always known that this would be so and he had thus carried out the act, expecting execution for the cause of Irish unity. Dunne was equally heroic; he could have run from the chasing crowd and escaped but decided to stay with O'Sullivan. The mood was especially ugly and led to a fracas during the course of which a policeman was shot.
The killing shocked the British public. A newspaper had the headline "Hang the butchers of Wilson". The Times – then virtually the mouthpiece of the British Government wrote: "Field-Marshall Sir Henry Wilson, the famous and gallant soldier, was murdered yesterday upon the threshold of his London home. The murderers were Irishmen. Their deed must rank among the foulest in the foul category of Irish political crimes ... In horror it has not been approached since Lord Frederick Cavendish and Mr. Burke fell victim of Fenian hatred more than a generation ago. Like the Phoenix Park murders, it will arouse deep and lasting indignation. A crime like this rouses the righteous wrath of a nation." [Times 23.6.22]
It seems that the assassination was intended to help heal the breach between nationalists who were for and against the Treaty. But it is still, even now, not absolutely certain who gave the order for the assassination of Wilson nor when it was given. Reginald Dunne had been a friend of Michael Collins in the London Irish Republican Brotherhood organisation, many years before. Dunne and Collins are known to have had a meeting in Dublin the month before the assassination. Reggie Dunne was known to have been friendly with the occupiers of the Four Courts, the heart of the legal establishment in Dublin, who were anti-Treaty republicans. It is possible that Dunne was acting in tandem with both the Four Courts occupiers and with Collins by planning an act that would provoke a reaction from the British that would in turn unite both factions of the IRA, resulting in a resumption of the war to achieve a 32 county republic.
The assassination did indeed lead to a fierce response from the British Government. That very day, Lloyd George sent an urgent letter to Collins mainly concerned with the occupation of the Four Courts. This was but one example of a fading of Free State authority as outright Republicanism seemed possibly to be in the ascendant; albeit this was a hugely significant example (imagine the Old Bailey being occupied by revolutionary forces whilst law and order collapses everywhere!).
The Prime Minister also said that evidence had been found on Reginald Dunne connecting the IRA with the assassination and hinting at too free a permit to function being allowed by the Free State government. But it did not state the nature of the evidence found. This seems to have been fairly minimal, being in the nature of a private letter from a jailed republican to one of the assassins, giving details of IRA operational procedures and hinting at Collins’ involvement. (A reference to the leading role of the "The Big Fellow", Collins’ usual nickname!)
This particularly placed Collins in a difficult position. His northern policy was a secret even from most of the members of his government. The Free State government formally expressed shock and condemnation of the assassination but also went for delay and avoidance. It really seemed for several days that war would break out between Britain and Ireland. The British coalition government – largely led by Liberals - came under great strain over the assassination. The Tories were baying for blood and blamed Lloyd George’s policy of seeking compromise with the likes of Collins for Wilson’s death. It seemed likely that the UK government would fall. Oddly, it was Collins who acted to save it! He had by now calculated that it was necessary for the Free State government to demonstrate internationally its control over the security situation in the south to prevent the British from intervening in the south. From having seemed to be ambivalent about the Four Courts occupation he now saw it as a liability and launched an assault on the Republican forces. Whether Ireland would be a 32 county republic, or a 26 county entity, or revert to colonial status, all now seemed to be hanging in the balance. It was a decisive moment and prompted Collins biographer to acidly note that "in his death Wilson wielded more widespread influence than at any other time in his political career"
It was inevitable that Dunne and O’Sullivan would hang. They were sentenced at the Old Bailey on 18th July. Dunne sought to read a statement into the record but the judge would not allow it to be read, claiming it to be no defence but a political manifesto justifying the men’s right to use violence as a political weapon. Amongst much else, Dunne wanted to tell the open court: "We took our part in supporting the aspirations of our fellow-countrymen in the same way as we took our part in supporting the nations of the world who fought for the rights of small nationalities. ... The same principles for which we shed our blood on the battle-field of Europe led us to commit the act we are charged with."
But it was well understood that the two London IRA men had labelled Wilson as they "man behind the Orange Terror" and would "go to the scaffold justified by the verdict of our own consciences". The much-used phrase about one man’s terrorist being another’s freedom fighter seems apposite. They, and probably Collins, viewed themselves as secret agents in a legitimate army operating in enemy territory, carrying out an act of secret but authorised state policy against an enemy of the people. In subsequent official Irish history, this is exactly how they are viewed by the bulk of the Irish people.
Neither man was to speak of the precise motivation for the act at any point before their execution. Only very many years later would evidence emerge that the two suffered repeated beatings from prison staff before their execution, so severe and so perverse that they would today be considered to constitute torture. It seems virtually certain now that a young girl courier took a written order from Collins to London a week before the assassination. She spoke of this on her death very many decades later but, of course, had never read the letter - so we cannot be certain of its contents. Her only regret was for the two martyrs who died on the scaffold. (Though scholars continue to debate the role of Collins.)
Collins is known to have been looking "very pleased" at hearing of the shooting of Wilson, on the subsequent evidence of one of his generals. He even tried to arrange a rescue attempt for the two assassins. This was something that had been accomplished before but the agent who investigated the possibility on this occasion reported it to be impossible. The Free State government made an official plea for mercy for the two men the day before execution but the Home Secretary rejected this out of hand. Dunne and Sullivan were hanged at Wandsworth Jail on the 16th August. Colleagues of Collins remarked that at this time he seemed listless and dejected and he answered one very close friend’s query as to how he was with the reply: "Rotten". Perhaps the execution – certainly the assault on the Four Courts - was a kind of last straw for outright Republicans. Collins was himself now assassinated in an ambush near Cork, only days later on the 22nd. He is widely credited with expecting the retaliation and is now revered as a national hero and the founder of the modern Irish army.
Certainly, the extended family of Sullivan, through a Bantry cousin, wrote to him in his last days in a spirited way: “I am proud of the honour of being a cousin of yours, it is with pride that I can hold up my head and say that I had a cousin who died for Ireland. It was a good day for Ireland the day yourself and your hero of a companion went out and layed the second Cromwell dead at your feet. You need not be afraid to meet your God.”
The Free State was formally founded in October 1922, when a mutually agreed constitution was adopted. By 1932, Republicans had stormed ahead in Free State elections and increased disconnection with Britain ensued. By 1936 a new constitution was adopted in what would briefly be called Eire. In 1949, the Republic of Ireland was established and accepted by the UK.
Over four decades after the executions, it was Patrick O’Sullivan who first applied to have the remains of the men removed from Wandsworth the prison cemetery in 1966. - Irish martyrs - Graham Stevenson
The Free State Army were called the Irish National Army during the period in question.
''Over four decades after the executions, it was Patrick O’Sullivan who first applied to have the remains of the men removed from Wandsworth the prison cemetery in 1966. But it was not until 1968 that the National Graves Association, an independent body devoted to honouring the memory of all those who died in the pursuit of the Irish national identity, negotiated the transference of the remains to Dean’s Grange cemetery in Dublin.''
Commandant-General Tom Maguire
Tom Maguire, Tomás Mag Uidhir, 28 March 1892 – 5 July 1993, was an Irish Republican Army volunteer who held the rank of commandant-general in the Western Command and who led the South Mayo flying column.
At the 1921 election to Dáil Éireann, Maguire was returned as a Teachta Dála (TD) for Mayo South–Roscommon South as a Sinn Féin candidate. He opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty, and was re-elected at the 1922 general election. At the 1923 general election, Maguire succeeded in securing the second of five seats in the Mayo South constituency. Maguire was captured by the National Army while in bed and was told that he would be executed, but his life was spared. While in prison his brother, Sean Maguire, aged 17, was executed by the government.
In December 1938, Maguire was one of a group of seven people, who had been elected to the Second Dáil in 1921, who met with the IRA Army Council. At this meeting, the seven signed over what they contended was the authority of the Government of Dáil Éireann to the Army Council. Henceforth, the IRA Army Council perceived itself to be the legitimate government of the Irish Republic and, on this basis, the IRA justified their subsequent armed struggles.
As the last surviving member of the All-Ireland Government of Dáil Éireann, Maguire signed a statement which was issued posthumously in 1996. In it, he conferred legitimacy on the Army Council of the Continuity IRA, who it was revealed, provided a firing party at Maguire's funeral in 1993.
Witness Statement concerning Tom Maguire
''Tom Maguire, O/C, 2nd Western Division, attended a conference, called by General Headquarters Staff of the principal divisional officers in Ireland, held in Dublin. I remember speaking to him a few days before the meeting and he told me it was coming off and that be was travelling to Dublin the next day. He told me he would let me know what took place at it when he returned. He did let me know, because I was in the military barracks in Ballinrobe at the time and, to my amazement, he came out with a statement made to him by both Collins and O'Duffy, that they were only playing a game of bluff, that they did not intend to accept the Treaty at all, that their purpose in pretending to accept it was to get all the arms they could from the British, get the British troops out of the country, and when this had taken place, we would resume the fight. In other words, they would attack the British. I remember my feelings on hearing this statement which the unfortunate man, Maguire, swallowed "hook, line and sinker". I know the effect it had on me. I did not know whether to laugh or cry. I was inclined to laugh at the foolishness of the man to be taken in by this, and at the same time, I pitied and sympathised with him for being so simple and honest. I asked him why not resume the fight now. The Provisional Government were getting arms from the British. At this time they must have got at least 30,000 rifles. I said to Maguire: "Why not fight the British now and destroy them and take to the hills again? Where was the necessity to wait for the British troops to leave the country? Did he or anybody else like him believe for a moment that if the British did leave the country, that they could be kept out with .303 ammunition? In other words, rifle ammunition. Could he not see that if the British wanted to land troops again, they could land them anywhere on the Irish coast under cover of their fleet, and that we had not one piece of artillery that was capable of damaging the smallest warship of the British fleet?'' Maguire got rather 'huffed' and, as I did not want to press the argument any further, I left the room.'' - Witness statement concrningTom Maguire - BMH.WS0400.pdf
Kieran Glennon tells the story of the four Republicans executed in Donegal in 1923, by among others, his grandfather
Four Republicans, who subsequently became known as the “Drumboe Martyrs”, were executed by a Free State firing squad in Donegal in March 1923. None of the four was from that county – all had come there as part of a joint campaign against the north involving both the Provisional Government and their anti-Treaty opponents.
The Civil War in Donegal had an almost-uniquely northern dimension.
Firstly, two of the key protagonists’ involvement in the War of Independence had been in the north. Originally from Kerry, Charlie Daly had been appointed as a full-time IRA organiser in October 1920, responsible for Tyrone and the rural part of Co. Derry. He went on to command the 2nd Northern Division in this area until early March 1922, when he was removed due to his opposition to the Treaty. By mid-1922, he was Vice-Commandant of the Republican forces in Donegal.
On the other side, the Free State officer Tom Glennon was originally from Belfast. The month after Daly’s appointment as a full-time organiser in Derry-Tyrone, he had been appointed to an identical role in Co. Antrim, later becoming Officer Commanding of the Antrim Brigade until he was captured; his area of responsibility thus directly bordered Daly’s to the east. In November 1921, following his escape from internment in the Curragh, he was appointed Adjutant to the IRA’s 1st Northern Division in Donegal.
Secondly, and more significantly, the overwhelming majority of Republican forces in Donegal were from outside the county and were there directly because of the situation in the north. In April 1922, as part of their efforts to maintain unity in the IRA in the face of the split over the Treaty, Michael Collins and Liam Lynch had agreed on a joint military strategy to attack the Northern Ireland government.
The Provisional Government swapped British-supplied rifles with anti-Treaty units in Munster, the southern weapons then being smuggled into the north for use by local units of the IRA in staging an uprising in May. For their part, the Republican Army Executive in the Four Courts agreed to send men from anti-Treaty units of the IRA in Cork and Kerry up to Donegal, under the leadership of Cork man Seán Lehane, in order to launch attacks across the border. By early July, Free State Chief of Staff Eoin O’Duffy estimated that 700 Munster Republicans were in Donegal 1; in addition, several hundred anti-Treaty members of Daly’s old division had fled west from Tyrone and Derry to avoid internment.'
The Irish Citizen Army, Na Fianna, Cumann na mBan and Óglaigh na hÉireann, the Irish Volunteers, delegated their authority to the Ruling Executive of the IRA in 1917. That Ruling Executive was formally recognized as the Ruling Executive of the Army of the Irish Republic, when it was Democratically endorsed by the majority of the people in 1918.
The Ruling Executive of the Irish Republican Brotherhood should have formally disbanded following the amalgamation, because as Cathal Brugha prophetically predicted, one had the potential to undermine the other, which is precisely what happened in the wake of the Anglo-Irish Teaty of 1921, which led to the bitter Civil War between the National Army and the Irish Republican Army.
The National Army subsequently dissolved in 1924, and re-branded as Óglaigh na hEireann, which is the entity now known as the Irish Defense Forces, or simply, the Irish Army.
IRA Green-Book Rules were altered following the formal recognition of the Irish Free State as a Republic, and volunteers were subsequently given instructions to disarm and surrender if they were apprehended by Irish Army soldiers, so the IRA have formally recognized the Irish Army as the legitimate army of the 26 Counties since the 1940’s.
In 1924 the Irish Republican Brotherhood also formally disbanded, following the defeat of the Republican Forces in the Irish Civil War and the establishment of a partitioned Ireland, which over the course of the following century, became the root cause of the deaths of thousands of Irish Citizens.
In 1938, the continuation of the Ruling Executive of the last elected All-Ireland Dáil, delegated their authority to the IRA Army Council, with the Republic to be held-in-trust, pending the day the British Government announced it intentions to withdraw from Ireland, and elections held to elect a new All-Ireland Government, to a new National Parliament.
The IRA, the Continuity Irish Republican Army and Óglaigh na hEireann can all trace their roots back to the 1938 Republican Government, and so too can Laochra Uladh, Saor Uladh, the Independent IRA, Saor Éire, the Provisional IRA, the Official IRA, the Irish National Liberation Army, the Irish Peoples Liberation Organisation, Cumann na mBan and Na Fianna
Irish National Army soldiers killed during the Civil War, should be commemorated alongside civilians and Republicans in a National Memorial Wall, but Crown Forces personnel should not be included as they were in the Wall of Shame.