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Title: British forces and Irish freedom: Anglo-Irish defence relations 1922-1931
Author(s): Linge, John
Issue Date: 1995
Publisher: University of Stirling
Abstract: Anglo-Free State relations between the wars still awaits a comprehensive study ... This is in par a reflection of the larger failure of British historians to work on Anglo-Irish history '" the Right has been ill at ease dealing with Britan's greatest failure, whilst the Left has found tropical climes more suited for the cultivation of its moral superiority. When R.F.Holland made this apposite comment, just over a decade ago, he may have been adding to the very problems he identified. Writing within the context of the 'Commonweath Alliance', he was joining a distinguished list of British and Irish historians who have sought to fiter inter-war Anglo-Free State relations through the mesh of Empire-Commonweath development. Beginning with A. Berredale Keith in the 1920s, this usage continued in either direct or indirect form (by way of particular institutions of Commonweath) from the 1930s to the 1970s through the works of W.K. Hancock, Nicholas Mansergh and D.W. Harkness, and was still finding favour with Brendan Sexton's study of the Irish Governor-Generalship system in the late 1980s.2 But herein a contradiction has developed: cumulative study of the unnatural origins and performance of the Free State as a Dominion has moved beyond questions of function to ask whether the Free State was in fact ever a Dominion at alL. 3 As such, there seems ever more need to step back from inter-Commonwealth study and refocus on the precise nature of the Free State's central relationship with Britan in this period. It is of course acknowledged that outwith the established zones of internal Irish and Empire-Imperial study there is no home or forum for one of the most enduring quandares of modern Europea history. Even if it is accepted that 'pure' Anglo-Irish history did not end in 1922, the weight of research based on the ten yeas prior, as against the ten yeas subsequent, suggests an easy acceptance, on both sides of the Irish Sea, and Atlantic, of the absolute value changes in that relationship. Studies covering the transition to independence, such as those of Joseph M. CUITan and Sheila Lawlot, have taen only tentative steps beyond 1922, and may indeed have epitomised an approach that subsequent Irish studies have done little to dispel; in the 1980s, major overviews by RF. Foster and J.J. Le have been notably reluctant to evaluate the quality of that new found freedom with continuing reference to Ireland's giant neighbour. Though Foster, and others, have noted that the main aim of the Free State in the 1920s was 'self-definition against Britan', the point is the extent to which Britan was wiling to allow the same. There has then been little impetus for direct Anglo-Free State inter-war study, and although the tide has begun to turn since the mid-1980's, notably through the achievements of Paul Canning, Deidre McMahon and, shortly before his death, Nicholas Mansergh6, it is probable that we are stil a long way short of being able to produce a comprehensive and coherent review of the period. Apar from the crucial Anglo/Irish-Anglo/Commonwealth dichotomy,there remains the political chasm dividing the Cosgrave years of the 1920s from those of de Valera's 1930s; indeed the overwhelming preoccupation with post-1931 confrontations has often, as in the case of McMahon's fine study, taen as its contrasting staing point the supposedly compliant 'pro-Treaty' years of 1922-31. It is hard to bridge this gulf when the little direct work on these earlier years, mostly concentrating on the two fundamenta issues of Boundar and financial settlement, has tended not to question this divide. Although Irish historians have turned an increasingly sympathetic eye on the internal politics and problems of these early yeas, the apathetic external image, in contrast to the later period, has been persistent. Nowhere has this negativity been more apparent than on the, also vita, topic of defence relations. For a subject that has been given more than adequate attention in terms of the 1921 Treaty negotiations and the Treaty Ports issue of the 1930s, the period in between has had little intensive coverage. In this regard the negative response of W.K.Hancock in 1937, stating that Cosgrave did not bother to question British defence imperatives, was stil being held some fifty yeas later by Paul Canning.7 Thus an enduring and importt image has emerged of defence relations re-enforcing the above divide, an image that has had to stand for the lack of new reseach. This does not mea that the image is necessarly an entirely false one, but it does mean that many of the supposed novelties of the de Valera yeas have been built on largely unknown foundations. The Treaty Ports issue is also vita to this thesis, but then so are other defence related matters which had an impact specific to the 1920s. In other words, the human and political context of how both countries, but the Irish government in paricular, coped with the immediate legacy of centuries of armed occupation, with the recent 1916-21 conflct, and with the smaller scale continuity of British occupation, was bound to cast old shadows over a new relationship. But how big were these shadows? It was on the basis of placing some detaled flesh on the skeleton of known (and unknown) policies and events that this thesis took shape. Frustrations and resentments could tae necessarily quieter forms than those which characterised the 1930s, and in the end be no less significant. If the first objective is then to make solid the continuity of defence affairs, it is appropriate to begin with a brief evaluation of the Treaty defence negotiations before tang a close look at British operations in the South in 1922 - the year when a reluctant Cosgrave was to inherit a situation where British forces were close to the development of civil war. Despite our growing knowledge of Britan's part in the progress of that war, there is stil a general perception that its forces became peripheral to events after the Truce of July 1921, and that its Army was, and had been, the only British Service involved in the struggle against armed republicanism.This is simply not the case, and it is to be wondered whether the proper absorption of Irish historians with the internal dynamics of the period, together with the authoritative quality of Charles Townshend's history of the 1919-21 British campaign, have not produced inhibitions to wider inquiry. 8 In any event, as the Admiralty was to play a central par in later defence relations it seems right to introduce, for the first time, the Royal Navy's importt role in the events of 1922. The point here is to establish that the actions and perceptions of both Services were to have repercussions for later attitudes. After these chapters, the following two aim to look at the cumulative legacy of British involvement and how both countries adjusted to the many unresolved questions thrown up by the Treaty and the unplanned contingencies of 1922. Retaining the theme that neither country could escape the past, nor trust to the future, chapter six returns to the physical and political impact made by the continuing presence of British forces in and around the three Treaty Ports, and along and across the Border. The final two chapters explore how all these factors helped determine the conditions for, and consequences of, one of the most damaging episodes of the later 1920s - the complete failure of the joint coasta defence review scheduled for December 1926.In all, the cumulative emphasis on the politics of defence may ilustrate what it was to be a small aspiring country that had little choice but to accept Britan's version of what was an inevitably close relationship, and to endure what Britan claimed as the benign strategic necessity of continued occupation. As such, this study may also be taen as an example of the contentious subject of British inter-war Imperialism, and of the 'imperial mind'; a collective condition of unthinking superiority, often described if not so named. 9 Given the traditional tensions between the two countries, it follows that this study wil challenge the sometimes awkward acceptace that the Free State did enjoy full Dominion status and practice, excepting the matter of defence: defence is not an abstract or marginal issue; it lies at the core of any aspiring country's identity and perception of freedom. By the same token this challenge is extended to the alternative idea that, having been granted disguised republican discretions, the Free State was tied to Imperial demands in name only. 10 Looking at the 1920s, at a time when the Empire did not have constitutional definition, the question of status, as posed by defence relations, will,in final discussion, be traced back to where this thesis begins - at the nature of the Treaty itself. This is especially relevant if it can be shown, in a way that Ireland's disjointed and disputed Commonwealth participation history cannot, that there was a direct bond of dissent and 'external association' grievance linking the Cosgrave and de Valera yeas. While this is far from being a comprehensive review of the inter-war period, nor yet a complete review of the neglected Cosgrave years, it does go to the hea of Anglo- Free State relations and may help towards makng such a comprehensive study a feasible proposition. It is not suggested that the inter-Commonweath perspective can be dispensed with, only that we need first to find out far more about that unique and basic association. It has been a stimulating challenge to try to view this, where possible, through Irish eyes, but it is hoped that a balanced and empathic view of conflcting Imperial concerns has also been achieved; the one is so often reflected in the other. Finally, the conscious omissions in this study have to be declared. It is fully reaised that while there was a general cross-pary unity on Irish policy in Britan, the views of Sinn Fein, Fianna Fail and other republican bodies would offer a different slant to this largely inter-governmenta study. It may be significant that little organised republican comment on British defence measures has been found for this period, but the point has anyway been to discover just how far the Cosgrave governments did abandon their earlier roots. Even then it has been difficult to trace archive defence material specific to the 1929-31 period, a situation which can be explained parly in terms of the terminal events of the crucial 1924-28 period (detaled here), and partly in terms of the known lack of defence initiatives by the Labour and National governments of 1929-31. And yet, while these might be seen as self-evident omissions, that of the Ulster dimension certnly nees explanation, if not excuse. On one level the Free State could hardly ignore the position of the North, and it is hoped that some new and intriguing insights into cross-Border defence relations have been touched on. On another level, however, an emphatic point is that a re-emergent nation could have more than enough British related defence problems to contend with in the South, without continuous reference to a distinct Northern situation it could do little, directly, to affect. Contentious though the politics may have been, the Free State was an entity in itself. It is quite certan that Northern Ireland archives could shed further light on several aspects of this thesis, but that is for future study and consideration; in the interim enough challenges are contaned in this study of a much neglected period and topic.
Type: Thesis or Dissertation
Affiliation: School of Arts and Humanities
History and Politics

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