The War of Independence

While Sinn Féin was taking the road of politics, a twenty-seven-year-old Easter Rebellion veteran named Michael Collins was exploring an alternate path. Working with the IRB and the Irish Volunteers, he began organizing a paramilitary force that could put guns behind Sinn Féin's claims of independence. This force became known as the Irish Republican Army — the IRA.

The War of Independence was also known as the Anglo-Irish War. It lasted for two years (1919–21), during which the Irish resistance fighters waged guerilla warfare against the British soldiers and police.

IRA Versus the Black and Tans

Most Irish people deplored the IRA killings. Collins knew that simply assassinating a few individuals would never drive the English out, but he probably calculated that his systematic terrorism would provoke the English into an overly aggressive response. And that's exactly what happened.

The British shipped thousands of soldiers to Ireland and created a new police force called the Black and Tans to help keep the peace. The Black and Tans were composed primarily of former British soldiers who had neither the police training nor the familiarity with Ireland that the sensitive situation demanded. These men found Ireland very stressful — the people who murdered their fellow officers were indistinguishable from the people they were supposed to protect. So they responded with a campaign of reprisals that matched the IRA's in brutality, beating or killing hundreds of innocent civilians in an attempt to intimidate the IRA. The IRA responded with more bullets.

This period of guerilla strikes and police reprisals is known as the Anglo-Irish War. Both sides lost hundreds of men. The IRA made little military headway, but the war's impact on the opinions of the Irish people was devastating to the British. The peacekeeping strategy backfired — the brutal and often indiscriminate reprisals of the Black and Tans convinced people that Sinn Féin was right after all and that Great Britain was a repressive occupier that would only relinquish Ireland if forced out.

Michael Collins (1890–1922) played several extraordinary roles for the Nationalists: spymaster, guerrilla leader, minister of Finance, diplomat, and, finally, tragic martyr. His exploits were legendary. Liam Neeson portrayed his life in the unabashedly patriotic movie Michael Collins (1996).

  1. Home
  2. Irish History
  3. The Road to Independence
  4. The War of Independence
Visit other About.com sites: