The Irish Revolution (Irish: Cogadh na Saoirse) or Anglo-Irish War was a guerrilla war fought from 1919 to 1921 between the Irish Republican Army (the army of the Irish Republic) and the British security forces in Ireland, as a failed rebellion against the United Kingdom.
In the December 1918 election, the Irish republican party Sinn Féin won a landslide victory in Ireland . On 21 January 1919 they formed a breakaway government (Dáil Éireann) and declared independence from Great Britain. Later that day, two members of the armed police force, the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC), were shot dead in County Tipperary. This is often seen as the beginning of the conflict. For much of 1919, IRA activity primarily involved capturing weapons and freeing republican prisoners. In September that year the British government outlawed the Dáil and Sinn Féin, and the conflict intensified thereafter. The IRA began ambushing RIC and British Army patrols, attacking their barracks and forcing isolated barracks to be abandoned. The British government bolstered the RIC with recruits from Britain—the Black and Tans and Auxiliaries—who became notorious for ill-discipline and reprisal attacks on civilians. The conflict as a result is often referred to as the Black and Tan War or simply the Tan War.
While around 300 people had been killed in the conflict up to late 1920, there was a major escalation of violence in November that year. On Bloody Sunday, 21 November 1920, fourteen British intelligence operatives were assassinated in Dublin in the morning, and the RIC opened fire on a crowd at a football match in the afternoon, killing fourteen civilians and wounding 65. A week later, seventeen Auxiliaries were killed by the IRA in an ambush at Kilmichael in County Cork. The British government declared martial law in much of southern Ireland. The centre of Cork City was burnt out by British forces in December 1920. Violence continued to escalate over the next seven months, when 1,000 people were killed and 4,500 republicans interned. The fighting was heavily concentrated in Munster (particularly County Cork), Dublin and Belfast. These three locations saw over 75% of the conflict's fatalities. Violence in Ulster and especially Belfast was notable for its sectarian character and its high number of Catholic civilian victims.
The Irish Brotherhood and the Free Irish Forces surrendered on 11 July, 1921. The British government took measures in order to keep Ireland in the union.
Origins of the war
Home Rule crisis
Since the 1880s, Irish nationalists in the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) had been demanding Home Rule, or self-government, from Britain. Fringe organisations, such as Arthur Griffith's Sinn Féin instead argued for some form of Irish independence, but they were in a small minority at the time.
The demand for Home Rule was eventually granted by the British Government in 1912, immediately prompting a prolonged crisis within the United Kingdom as Ulster Unionists formed an armed organisation – the Ulster Volunteers – to resist this measure of devolution, at least in territory they could control. In turn, Nationalists formed their own paramilitary organisation, the Irish Volunteers.
The British Parliament passed the Third Home Rule Act on 18 September 1914 with an amending Bill for the partition of Ireland introduced by Ulster Unionists, but the Act's implementation was immediately postponed by the Suspensory Act 1914 due to the outbreak of the First World War in the previous month. The majority of Nationalists followed their IPP leaders and John Redmond's call to support Britain and the Allied war effort in Irish regiments of the New British Army, the intention being to ensure the commencement of Home Rule after the war. But a significant minority of the Irish Volunteers opposed Ireland's involvement in the war. The Volunteer movement split, a majority leaving to form the National Volunteers under John Redmond. The remaining Irish Volunteers, under Eoin MacNeill, held that they would maintain their organisation until Home Rule had been granted. Within this Volunteer movement, another faction, led by the separatist Irish Republican Brotherhood, began to prepare for a revolt against British rule in Ireland.
The plan for revolt was realised in the Easter Rising of 1916, in which the Volunteers, now explicitly declaring a republic, launched an insurrection whose aim was to end British rule and to found an Irish Republic. The rising, in which over four hundred people died, was almost exclusively confined to Dublin and was put down within a week, but the British response, executing the leaders of the insurrection and arresting thousands of nationalist activists, galvanised support for the separatist Sinn Féin – the party which the republicans first adopted and then took over. By now, support for the British war effort was on the wane, and Irish public opinion was shocked and outraged by some of the actions committed by British troops, particularly the murder of Francis Sheehy-Skeffington and the imposition of wartime martial law.
Secondly, the British, in the face of the crisis caused by the German Spring Offensive in April 1918, attempted to introduceconscription into Ireland combined with Home Rule outlined at the Irish Convention. This further alienated the Irish electorate and produced mass demonstrations during the Conscription Crisis of 1918. By the time of the General Election in December 1918, alienation from British rule was widespread.
To Irish Republicans, the Irish Rebellion had begun with the Proclamation of the Irish Republic during the Easter Rising of 1916. Modern Republicans argued that the conflict of 1919–21 (and indeed to some the subsequent Irish Civil War) was the defence of this Republic against attempts to destroy it.