Prelude to War
Causes of the War
The Acts of Union 1800 united the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, abolishing the Irish Parliament and giving Ireland representation at Westminster. From early on, many Irish nationalists opposed the union and what was seen as the exploitation of the country.
Opposition took various forms: constitutional (the Repeal Association; the Home Rule League), social (disestablishment of the Church of Ireland; the Land League) and revolutionary (Rebellion of 1848; Fenian Rising). Constitutional nationalism enjoyed its greatest success in the 1880s and 1890s when the Irish Parliamentary Party under Charles Stewart Parnell succeeded in having two Home Rule bills introduced by the Liberal government of William Ewart Gladstone, though both failed. The First Home Rule Bill of 1886 was defeated in the House of Commons, while the Second Home Rule Bill of 1893 was passed by the Commons but rejected by the House of Lords. After the fall of Parnell, younger and more radical nationalists became disillusioned with parliamentary politics and turned toward more extreme forms of separatism. The Gaelic Athletic Association, the Gaelic League and the cultural revival under W. B. Yeats and Lady Augusta Gregory, together with the new political thinking of Arthur Griffith expressed in his newspaper Sinn Féin and the organisations the National Council and the Sinn Féin League led to the identification of Irish people with the concept of a Gaelic nation and culture, completely independent of Britain. This was sometimes referred to by the generic term Sinn Féin.
The Third Home Rule Bill was introduced by British Prime Minister H. H. Asquith in 1912. The Irish Unionists, led by Sir Edward Carson, opposed home rule in the light of what they saw as an impending Roman Catholic-dominated Dublin government. They formed the Ulster Volunteer Force on 13 January 1913.
The Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) saw an opportunity to create an armed organisation to advance its own ends, and on 25 November 1913 the Irish Volunteers, whose stated object was "to secure and to maintain the rights and liberties common to all the people of Ireland", was formed. Its leader was Eoin MacNeill, who was not an IRB member. A Provisional Committee was formed that included people with a wide range of political views, and the Volunteers' ranks were open to "all able-bodied Irishmen without distinction of creed, politics or social group." Another militant group, the Irish Citizen Army, was formed by trade unionists as a result of the Dublin Lockout of that year. However, the increasing militarisation of Irish politics was overshadowed soon after by the outbreak of a larger conflict—the First World War and Ireland′s involvement in the conflict. Though large numbers of Irishmen had willingly joined Irish regiments and divisions of the New British Army at the outbreak of war in 1914, the likelihood of enforced conscription created a backlash - particularly as the Government of Ireland Act 1914 (as previously recommended in March by the Irish Convention) was controversially linked with a "dual policy" enactment of the Military Service Bill The linking of conscription and Home Rule outraged the Irish nationalist parties at Westminster, (including the IPP, AFIL and others) who walked out in protest and returned to Ireland to organise opposition.
Preparations in Ireland
The Supreme Council of the IRB met on 5 September 1914, a month after the British government had declared war on Germany. At this meeting, they decided to stage a rising before the war ended and to accept whatever help Germany might offer. Responsibility for the planning of the rising was given to Tom Clarke and Seán MacDermott. The Irish Volunteers, the smaller of the two forces resulting from the September 1914 split over support for the British war effort, set up a "headquarters staff" that included Patrick Pearse as Director of Military Organisation, Joseph Plunkett as Director of Military Operations and Thomas MacDonagh as Director of Training. Éamonn Ceannt was later added as Director of Communications. In May 1915, Clarke and MacDermott established a Military Committee within the IRB, consisting of Pearse, Plunkett and Ceannt, to draw up plans for a rising. This dual rôle allowed the Committee, to which Clarke and MacDermott added themselves shortly afterward, to promote their own policies and personnel independently of both the Volunteer Executive and the IRB Executive—in particular Volunteer Chief of Staff Eoin MacNeill, who was opposed to a rising unless popular support was secured by the introduction of conscription or an attempt to suppress the Volunteers or its leaders, and IRB President Denis McCullough, who held similar views. IRB members held officer rank in the Volunteers throughout the country and would take their orders from the Military Committee, not from MacNeill. James Connolly, head of the Irish Citizen Army (ICA), a group of armed socialist trade union men and women, was unaware of the IRB′s plans, and threatened to start a rebellion on his own if other parties failed to act. If they had gone it alone, the IRB and the Volunteers would possibly have come to their aid; however, the IRB leaders met with Connolly in January 1916 and convinced him to join forces with them. They agreed to act together the following Easter and made Connolly the sixth member of the Military Committee. Thomas MacDonagh would later become the seventh and final member.
Securing German Aid
Roger Casement, acting on behalf of Clan na Gael, traveled to Germany in 1914 to negotiate assistance for an Irish revolution and to attempt to recruit an "Irish Regiment" from amongst Irish prisoners of war; the later cause was abandoned after a short time after it became evident it was a waste of time and money as all Irish soldiers fighting for the British were volunteers. Casement was joined by Joseph Plunkett in April 1915, and this effort became tied in with the IRB's plan for Irish revolt.
On July 17th, 1915, Casement and Plunkett managed to secure a meeting with Wilhelm II, the German Kaiser. Although during the war German was effectively a military dictatorship, Wilhelm was under the impression that he was simply refraining from using his royal power. After this meeting he became supportive of the Irish cause, and began to advocate for Casement's plan to German General Paul von Hindenburg. Hindenburg was initially skeptical of the plan, but come 1916 he believed that the military advantage was worth the risk. He organized the 1st German Expeditionary Force, under General Max Hermann Bauer, and began planning a naval push towards Ireland. Casement and Plunkett returned to Ireland shortly thereafter, alerting the IRB leadership that the revolt was ready to go ahead as planned. The IRB managed to secure German arms carried aboard several freighters that landed in County Kerry after the British failed to decipher the German communications with the Irish rebels, and began to distribute them amongst the Volunteers.
The War Begins
Battle of the Channel
(See Battle of the Channel)
The German Navy, under Admiral von Tirpitz, was ordered to stage a diversionary attack to draw British Naval forces from Ireland, and to secure the landing of the 1st German Expeditionary force. It began its attempt to do son on March 12th, 1916.
The Battle of the Channel proved to be a major British defeat. The British Navy was unable to force the Germans from the Channel quickly, and shipping between Britain and France was disrupted for a month. The Germans, using U-boats to harass ships attempting to strike the main fleet, managed to inflict more casualties then they took. The 1st Expeditionary succeeded in landing at Limerick on April 24th, and the British navy was drawn away from Ireland for beginning of the revolution.
Irish Revolt and the Battle of Dublin
(See Battle of Dublin)
The Battle of Dublin was initiated by Padraig Pearse on April 5th, 1916 in the attempt to buy the other Irish forces time to set up their main defensive line. Although initially quite successful, the Irish were eventually forced to retreat from the city and begin a largely unorganized flight to Irish-held territory.
Outside Dublin, Irish volunteers resisted at Cork, taking the city. Similar revolts were attempted at Coalisland, where the Irish rebels were pushed from the town by volunteers from Ulster, Ashborne, where the Irish forces joined the general retreat from Dublin before the main British force arrived, and Enniscorthy, where the Irish held out during the retreat from Dublin only to withdraw to Cork after the British finally turned their attention to them. In Galway, the British retreated in from the Irish, with police units disbanding or fleeing beyond the Shannon.
War at the Shannon
The Irish forces, having been pushed in the month of April back from Leinster and Ulster, established their main defensive line as planned by Casement at the Shannon. The 1st German Expeditionary Force arrived on April 24th, and bolster this line significantly. The Germans began training the Irish on how to use their artillery and machine guns. The Shannon line becomes increasingly fortified.
Although the IRA had been forced to retreat to the Shannon line, the countryside outside Ultster and Dublin was sympathetic to the rebels, especially after rumors of mistreatment of Irish Catholics in Ulster and at the hands of British forces. This forced the British to either stay in towns with railroads to allow them to resupply, or when on sorties confiscate food from rural farms. This weakened the British forces, making it harder for them to set up their own defensive lines and force a stalemate situation similar to the one that presided in Europe.
The British, initially unaware that the rising had German support, attempted to resecure Cork. They met up with German troops who had secured Galtymore mountain as part of their defensive line. The Result was a major defeat of British troops. The British, now unsure of their enemy's strength and needing time to obtain more men and artillery, entered a period of inactivity. During this time, the Irish forces were reorganized into the Irish Republican Army, and a program attempting to train them to become a modern military force was initiated. Until the later stages of the war, this program would have little success.
In March 1917, the British forces, having been bolstered by numerous reinforcements, regaining Naval support, and having established secure supply lines, once again went on the offensive, first breaking up the Irish forces in Connacht then annihilating the 1st German expeditionary force in the 2nd Battle of Kilbeheny.
The Irish Republican Army, although defeated in the field, was far from crushed. Attacks on British forces continued throughout the war. Passive-aggressive tactics had been used in British occupied areas throughout the war, including organized harassment of British troops and pro-British Irish policemen and attempts at sabotage. This necessitated continuing British military presence on the island.
Come 1918, the British desperately needed forces to combat the German advance of Operation Michael. In addition to this, in most of Ireland public opinion had turned against them, after the decisive victory against the rebels at the Shannon and after numerous reprisals and indiscriminant bombardments by the British forces. The British government decided that Ireland was not worth holding with the costs that guerrilla warfare was incurring, as rogue IRA forces began swelling in number with Irish civilians that the British had alienated. It was decided that removing British forces from these areas was necessary. The Treaty of Dublin was thus negotiated, creating the 1st Irish Republic.
Within the IRA itself, the treaty prompted division among their ranks. While many supported the treaty (and these individuals would go on to assume positions of power in the Irish government) there was a considerable faction that refused to accept that Ulster and Dublin were still outside Irish control. This faction would become known as the 2nd Irish Republican Army.