The Context and Development of Irish Literature:
History, Poetry, Landscape

Chapter Four:  From Home Rule to Civil War:  Ireland in the Early 20th Century, page 6

The British were now convinced that a Home Rule settlement must be worked out, and they recommenced negotiations. But the radical separatists took no part in these negotiations, nor did the Ulster Protestants, and these now were the dominant forces in Irish politics. Two key leaders now emerged among the Catholics: Eamon de Valera, who was the only surviving leader of the Easter 1916 Rebellion (because he was born in the U.S., the British bowed to American influence and did not execute him), and Michael Collins, who had also taken part in the insurrection. By the time an armistice ending WWI was declared in late 1918, the Separatists, led by de Valera and Collins, were the clear leaders of nationalist Ireland. They met in early 1919 and formed a provisional government and re-affirmed the 1916 declaration of independence. But the established Anglo-Irish government was still officially in control, still working for a parliamentary solution to the Home Rule question. By 1920 the Irish rebels and the occupying British army were in full-blown war. 

Under Collins’s leadership, the Irish Volunteers--now the Irish Republican Army--fought a brilliant campaign of guerilla warfare against the British, attacking by surprise in small units, wearing no uniforms so they could not be recognized, and enjoying full support of the Irish populace. This was, in effect, the British Viet Nam. The British responded by raising more troops in England and exporting them to Ireland. These troops--basically ex-soldiers and thugs from the English prisons, slums, and countryside--were without regular uniforms, and so they wore khaki pants and shirts with black police belts and caps, thus earning the nickname "the Black and Tans." These "soldiers" soon became known for their brutal campaigns and reprisals against the Irish citizenry, and to this day they are reviled as the last example of inhuman British occupation in Ireland. While the IRA ensured that regular government could not go on in Ireland, the Black and Tans ensured that the continued warfare would devastate the countryside. By 1921 it was clear that a military solution was impossible, and so the British and Irish resumed negotiations.


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