Examining the local, the everyday, and the ‘minor’ acts of revolutionary violence in Ireland brings a more common experience to the fore. It is not necessarily the common experience, but one closest to that felt by most on the island. It also brings into question the dominance of the spectacular and the seedy among studies of the Irish Revolution and suggests that the culmination of many small threats or harmful acts, repeated over a period of time, more suitably defines the period of conflict between 1917 and 1922. Similarly important are the small, repeated acts of loyalty, defiance, or betrayal. It is here that the substantial and fluid middle-ground between total collaboration and total resistance can be found, where one can see the ‘neutrality’ and ‘hedging’ so common in irregular conflict.1 On the grander scale, the enemy in the Irish struggle for independence was the British government in Ireland and its armed forces. On a smaller scale – the scale with which this study is most concerned – the enemy lived nearby, had a face, and had a name. It may have worn a uniform, but often it did not. Control could not be achieved without the minor acts of everyday terror that have been described throughout the preceding chapters; they were, to a great extent, a necessary corollary of this kind of war. In that context, it is the local and the perpetual which counts; the daily interaction between neighbours, friends, and enemies.
Examining low-level, recurring acts of terror raises important questions about the way we should view loyalty and defiance during the Irish Revolution. Immediately it is clear how unsuitable any attempt to place the general public into one of two neat camps – nationalist/separatist or loyalist/unionist – will remain. Further, it raises questions about any comfortable assumptions we may make about the nature of public support for the republican or British campaign. That the IRA relied on the support of the general population in its guerrilla campaign, whether that support was active or passive, is clearly true in many ways, but in many others it becomes an oversimplification, missing many of the complexities and nuances inherent in individual and communal behaviour. These are not complexities unique to the Irish Revolution and focusing on the intricacies of community conflict allows the Irish case to be placed in a broader theoretical (or, indeed, comparative) framework of irregular conflict, as seen in the work of Tim Wilson and Gemma Clark.2
Defiance is a key theme that runs throughout this study and is a behaviour strongly linked to human nature. A traditional nationalist reading of the independence struggle insists that it was only a small minority of pro-British loyalists who actively defied the IRA. This minority were given a range of labels, all of which emphasised their difference, their separateness to the rest of the community. It was they who threatened the IRA’s campaign and who were, consequently, punished while the vast majority of sympathetic locals supported the aims of the separatists. If they did not take up arms, smuggle them, or store them, or gather and ferry intelligence, they at least provided a mandate, food, and shelter where required, and did not get in the way. In this narrative, punishment of the minority was invariably necessary and justified and nowhere is this more obvious that in contemporary and modern debates on the fate of ‘spies and informers’, discussed in Chapter 4. Drawing attention to cases where there is evidence to suggest the victim had done what the IRA said they had done, of which there are plenty, does not fully dispel awkward questions about the way individuals were treated.
Informing is the act of defiance that has drawn the bulk of the attention of historians and commentators whose primary concern has been to ascertain the guilt of the IRA’s victims, often with the conflicting aims of celebration or denigration in mind. Aside from the many problems faced when attempting to assign motivation or guilt – not least contradictory, self-serving, or incomplete evidence – civilian ‘spies’ only accounted for 8 per cent of the total casualties between January 1919 and December 1921 and 65 per cent of the civilians killed by the IRA.3 Peter Hart and Jane Leonard, among others, have argued that IRA suspicion about the ‘anti-Irish’ tendencies and motivations of certain minority groups of civilians – ‘loyalists’, Orangemen, Freemasons, ex-servicemen, and Protestants, as well as tramps, tinkers, and sexual deviants – motivated much of the disproportionate violence inflicted against them.4 Though the extent to which religion or social status acted as a single motivator for republican violence has been rightly questioned, neither should it be discounted entirely. As the discussions of loyalism in Arva, County Cavan in Chapter 3 and IRA labelling and targeting of civilian suspects in Chapter 6 have shown, religion, class, and status were not irrelevancies in community life. Manifestations of loyalty to the Crown, be they religious, political, family, or otherwise, were known, recognised, and articulated during the independence struggle. They influenced defiant behaviour among civilians but equally motivated undue or exaggerated suspicion from local Volunteers and their supporters. Even if a ‘minority’ status was invoked only as a cover for more base personal emotions – rivalry, jealousy, greed, or desire for revenge – or as propaganda, it is part of the experience and remains inextricable from the broader narrative.
Defiance also came in a wide range of acts independent of informing: denouncing the IRA, refusal to pay a levy, refusal to pay rates to a republican collector, failure to obey a boycott, attending British institutions, and so forth. Importantly, these acts of non-cooperation were not always related to, or compatible with, either anti-republican or pro-British sentiment. Throughout the Revolution, the general public were forced to make decisions about how they would behave. One of the simpler decisions was whether or not to take an active part in the conflict. As is often the case in irregular war, the majority chose not to participate in armed activity or intelligence gathering. There were also more complicated, and often contradictory, decisions and dilemmas.5 An individual might decide to obey the Belfast boycott but not pay a levy to the IRA arms fund, or vice versa. Neither decision was necessarily related to political preferences. Responses to individual dilemmas were made based on self-interest or self-preservation, or both. Self-interest can be found in withholding poor rates from a republican collector, in adhering to a boycott, or in attending a British court. Self-preservation is evident when IRA sanctions convinced an individual to behave in a particular way or change their behaviour because they were afraid of the consequences. To have an effect, a sanction could be applied (or threatened) directly against the perceived deviant. It could also be carried out (or threatened) on a neighbour who had perpetrated a similar act; whole communities were threatened with sanction by warning notices or proclamations. Self-interest and survival instinct convinced the bulk of the population to avoid trouble, but also to take previously unavailable opportunities for personal gain.
This kind of behaviour is prominent in Stathis Kalyvas’s The logic of violence in civil war, in Michael Fellman’s study of the American Civil War in Missouri, or in James Scott’s work on everyday peasant resistance, Weapons of the weak.6 Fellman’s work is particularly relevant here as it shows how a narrative of violence can be recreated using the accounts written by civilians, whether in the form of letters, diaries, memoirs, or compensation claims.7 Examples of what Kalyvas referred to as ‘fence-sitting’, or ‘passive neutrality’, and what Fellman termed ‘survival lies’ can see seen throughout this book. In contested areas, uncertainty and rumour make it difficult for individuals to align with one ‘political actor’ as they fear that their behaviour can be punished by either side, leading to a preference for neutrality. In American Civil War Missouri, ‘Loyalty was not the safest and most common presentation of self during this guerrilla war; prevarication was.’ Avoiding frankness or directness became part of a survival strategy.8 Without a focus on the local and the everyday, this behaviour – and an important aspect of the civilian experience of war – remains hidden. Grand narratives of oppression or liberation have little time for indifference, indecision, or cynicism but nevertheless those emotions remain.
There is plenty of evidence in the Irish case of conversion, of wavering, or of apathy. As Kalyvas has made clear, ‘Popular loyalty, disloyalty, and support cannot be assumed as exogenous and fixed’.9 Any understanding of loyalty must also take account of those who were loyal or defiant in a different sense of the term. Those who, as Anne Dolan has put it, ‘doggedly adhered to their side, refused to take a side, or won or lost small wars against local tyrannies’. It must recognise the ‘indifferent and the unaffected’.10 It must identify those caught up in a conflict from which they would have preferred to remain aloof, but on whom violence or intimidation had its impact. Kalyvas describes how cooperation with a political actor in a time of conflict can result from ‘varying combinations of persuasion and coercion’ and the ‘coexistence of sympathy and sanctions reflects the mix of persuasion and coercion that political actors typically settle upon once they achieve an acceptable level of control’.11 He points out that many accounts of how people collaborate with armed actors are consistent with James Scott’s analysis of peasant resistance and ‘point to qualified, cautious and ambivalent collaboration along the two poles of sympathy and fear’.12 Although this study has been restricted to one political actor, the IRA, and excludes the rival actor, the Crown forces, it can be seen throughout that many acts of compliance or defiance were carried out in the interests of the two key motivators that Kalyvas identified: ‘Economic considerations and survival’.13 Scott’s argument that any assumptions about behaviour where civilian interaction is defined by either pole of compliance miss the ‘ massive middle ground, in which conformity is often a self-conscious strategy and resistance is a carefully hedged affair that avoids all-or-nothing confrontations’, is particularly relevant.14 Acts of support for or defiance of the IRA (of all kinds) were not simply motivated by political preference but by a wide range of shifting circumstances and attitudes. In his comparative work on Ulster and Upper Silesia, Tim Wilson referred to the ‘analysis gap’ where ‘between the influence of high-level politics (from above) and personal hatred (from below) lies a wide range of local motivations and behaviours that rarely receive sustained academic attention’.15
Conceptualising support based on attitude, preference, or allegiance is challenging, and the gap between preference and behaviour or action can only widen in times of conflict. Revealed or ‘observed’ behaviour is a similarly problematic means by which to define loyalty. Kalyvas deliberately made ‘no assumptions about the underlying preferences of the vast majority of the population and only minimal assumptions about behavioural support, in which complex, ambiguous and shifting behaviour is assumed, along with strong commitment by a small minority’.16 Using compensation claims to observe the nature and form of revolutionary violence makes clear the difficulties in finding absolutes of loyalty or disloyalty in the actions and inactions of individuals. The IGC, for instance, demanded that its applicants had suffered monetary loss on account of their allegiance to the Crown and applicants often found it difficult to prove satisfactorily that they had been loyal or engaged in loyal behaviour for purely patriotic reasons. Sometimes the committee rejected a case as it was established that the applicant had invented injuries or losses. More often (only one claim in Arva, County Cavan, for example, was considered ‘Not Genuine’),17 claims were exaggerated, embellished, or it was questioned whether the evidence of loyalty offered by the applicant matched the definition of loyalty required by the terms of reference. Applicants for redress effectively labelled themselves as victims of some wrong or other. In the case of IGC applicants, they were simultaneously labelling themselves as loyalists but with the ultimate aim of securing a monetary grant. Michael Fellman has written about how the process of seeking redress could be part of a belief that the world would right itself, and that justice would eventually be done.18 It could also be a chance decision, taken because the opportunity was there. For these reasons alone, one must question the nature of loyalty as expressed in compensation claim files.
Similar problems occur when dealing with the testimony of IRA veterans, such as those given to the BMH, where the testimony often conforms to an idea that there were two very distinct groups operating among the civilian population: those who were for the IRA and those who were against.19 Defiance is equated with disloyalty, and minor acts of defiance, such as those discussed throughout this book, feature relatively rarely. The descriptions of revolutionary activity found in the statements rarely match the concerns, preoccupations, and actions contained in many of the available contemporary documents. The testimonies are, of course, subject to all the failings (as well as the possibilities) of any oral or written testimony, including failing memory, subjectivity, subsequently acquired knowledge, political bias, and appeals to posterity.20 This is not always necessarily the fault of those who gave testimony (the questioning of the interviewers, among other factors, played its own part) but is, in some respects at least, reflective of a clear preference in how they wished to remember the past or in how they wished it to be remembered. Both the IGC and BMH, however, can tell us much about revolutionary Ireland. If their value as a basis for establishing facts about what happened in a particular time or place can be questioned, their worth in establishing the attitudes and perceptions of the perpetrators and victims of violence and intimidation is far greater. Much can be gleaned from what is left out, as well as what is included.
Exclusive compliance with IRA demands was neither guaranteed nor always forthcoming. Sanctions were necessary and applied to punish offenders and warn others of the consequences of transgression. Kalyvas restricts his study of civil war violence to ‘coercive violence’, violence which ‘performs a communicative function with a clear deterrent dimension’.21 In the sense that it has been applied here, ‘coercive violence’ does not always mean lethal violence. Lethal violence was, as Chapter 4 makes clear, used with a deterrent dimension in mind but far less often than arson, damage to property, boycotting, raids, and threatening letters. Lethal violence has dominated histories of the Irish Revolution, but was not the only means by which cooperation could be secured. In Cavan, for example, three civilians had been shot by the IRA by December 1921 and revolutionary violence would claim nine lives in three years.22 By many measurements, including those of the Volunteer who complained that the ‘fair name of Cavan’ had been ‘besmirched’, the Cavan IRA was inactive.23 But Cavan was not unique in its restrained levels of violence; much of rest of the country was ‘quiet’ at different times, or remained consistently so, and extremes of violent behaviour are relatively rare and isolated. The volume of complaints regarding commandeered bicycles after the Truce is an illustration of just how timid the Irish conflict could be.24 Comparisons with other cases of irregular conflict in inter-war Europe further emphasise this point.25 This may have been of little comfort to the victims of violence in Ireland and, in many ways, the extent of violence and its effects are relative, but it offers a reminder of the small scales on which historians of Irish violence are working.
Coercion and coercive violence should not be underestimated in terms of their influence on public support. Political scientist and historian Charles Tilly insisted that ‘coercion works; those who apply substantial force to their fellows get compliance’.26 Stathis Kalyvas similarly argues that, once conflict begins, ‘individuals collaborate less with the political actors they prefer and more with the political actors they fear’. The ability to create fear was crucial when, as is the case in any conflict where the civil population are embroiled, most civilians will not take an active part and instead attempt to remain neutral until they can be sure which side will emerge the victor (even if that is not always possible). Allegiance and compliance are not entirely based on pre-war conditions but are largely endogenous to the course of the conflict.27 The IRA, therefore, needed to practise violence and intimidation to ensure popular support even among those who voted for Sinn Féin in local, national, and by-elections after 1917.
The scale and scope of this study has led to some limitations in what could be adequately covered. The most obvious is in the decision to focus solely on IRA intimidation and coercion. This excludes the impact of Crown forces, in their various guises, on local communities and the conflict for loyalties and allegiances that played out with the separatists. Wilfred Ewart, a visitor to Ireland in 1921, noticed how ‘the unfortunate populace fell between two stools, if not three’.28 When Major Geoffrey Ibberson, badly wounded during an ambush in Tourmakeady, County Mayo, found great difficulty convincing an elderly couple to bring him to get assistance (it did not help that he was too weak to raise his revolver), he was sympathetic to the position in which he had placed the couple: ‘These old folk were in a difficult position. To help me was likely to be unpopular with Sinn Fein and for me to die on their hands would be equally unpopular with the Military.’29 As another observer of the conflict put it, ‘both parties in the struggle had great belief in the weapon of intimidation, and there was taking place one long competition in intimidation between the Crown Forces and the Republican Volunteers’.30 It is hard to blame civilians if they refused to commit, changed their minds, and looked out for themselves.
1 Kalyvas, The logic of violence in civil war, p. 104.
2 Wilson, Frontiers of violence; Tim Wilson, ‘Ghost provinces, mislaid minorities: the experience of southern Ireland and Prussian Poland compared, 1918–23’, Irish Studies in International Affairs, Vol. 13 (2002), pp. 61–86; Clark, Everyday violence.
3 O’Halpin, ‘Problematic killing’, pp. 328–9.
4 Hart, The I.R.A. and its enemies, pp. 308–15; Jane Leonard, ‘Getting them at last: The I.R.A. and ex-servicemen’, in Fitzpatrick, Revolution? See also, O’Halpin, ‘Problematic killing’, p. 322–3.
5 In the introduction to his study of the American Civil War in Missouri, Michael Fellman vividly lays out many of the questions faced by civilians in times of conflict: Fellman, Inside war, p. xv.
6 Kalyvas, The logic of violence in civil war; Fellman, Inside war; Scott, Weapons of the weak.
7 See Fellman, Inside war, pp. 309–13.
8 Kalyvas, The logic of violence in civil war, pp. 226–9; Fellman, Inside war, pp. 44–52.
9 Kalyvas, The logic of violence in civil war, p. 389.
10 Dolan, ‘Terror and revolutionary Ireland’, p. 33.
11 Kalyvas, The logic of violence in civil war, pp. 101–2. Scott, for example, described how a peasant farmer might become a member of the government party but still pay dues to the opposition party and tells of one farmer who supported the opposition party but dined with a local landowner, a supporter of the government, to ensure that he will retain his employment; a combination of ‘routine compliance and routine resistance’: Scott, Weapons of the weak, pp. 277–81.
12 Kalyvas, The logic of violence in civil war, pp. 101–2.
13 Kalyvas, The logic of violence in civil war, p. 104.
14 Scott, Weapons of the weak, p. 285, emphasis in original.
15 Wilson, Frontiers of violence, p. 161.
16 Kalyvas, The logic of violence in civil war, pp. 87, 92–104.
17 Maggie Masterson claim (TNA: CO 762/175/16).
18 Fellman, Inside war, p. 41.
19 For a major study that makes significant use of the BMH statements, highlighting some of the major interpretive issues, as well as the benefits, see Fearghal McGarry, The Rising. Ireland: Easter 1916 (Oxford, 2010).
20 Fearghal McGarry, ‘Violence and the Easter rising’, in Fitzpatrick, Terror in Ireland, pp. 43–4.
21 Kalyvas, The logic of violence in civil war, p. 26.
22 O’Halpin, ‘Problematic killing’, p. 328.
23 Typescript article on the death of Edward P. Boylan, Cavan IRA, 25 Jul. 1922 (NLI: MS 24,480).
24 Fintan Murphy Collection (MAI: BMH CD/227); Daniel Mulvihill Papers (UCDA: P64/5).
25 Wilson, Frontiers of violence; Wilson, ‘Ghost provinces, mislaid minorities’, pp. 61–86.
26 Quoted in Kalyvas, The logic of violence in civil war, p. 124.
27 Kalyvas, The logic of violence in civil war, pp. 114, 148–209.
28 Ewart, Wilfrid, A Journey in Ireland 1921 [Paul Bew and Patrick Maume (eds.)] (Dublin, 2008; 1st edn. London, 1922), p. 30.
29 Major Geoffrey Ibberson to J. R. W. Goulden, 2 Sep. 1955 (TCD: MS 7382a/6); ‘Account in some detail of the experiences of Geoffrey Ibberson, The Border Regiment on 3 May 1921, written at the request of Mr J. R. W. Goulden of Dublin in 1955’ (MS 7382a/9).
30 Nankivell and Loch, Ireland in travail, p. 146.