December 1919 - August 1922

Witness to War

National Library of Ireland

Ireland at war, through the lens of WD Hogan

The Hogan Wilson collection of photographs at the National Library of Ireland illustrates a violent and turbulent period in Irish history. 

The images were mainly taken by WD Hogan, a commercial photographer based in Henry Street, Dublin, between 1920 and 1935. They were collected by the Rev. Denis Wilson, a Chaplain to the National Army.

Ireland was under British rule for centuries, but at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, it seemed that Home Rule (Irish self-government) might become a reality.

Then, in 1914, World War I broke out. Many Irish nationalists believed that Home Rule was lost, and an insurrection was planned. The Easter Rising of 1916 was a military failure, but when its leaders were executed popular support for the nationalist movement began to grow. In the general election of 1918, most of Ireland outside of Ulster returned separatist candidates. They set up a Dáil (Parliament) in Dublin, declaring Irish independence.

Hogan captured many key events in the years that followed.

“The Nation of Ireland having proclaimed her national independence, calls, through her elected representatives in Parliament assembled in the Irish Capital on January 21, 1919, upon every free nation to support the Irish Republic...”

Message to the Free Nations of the World, 1919

Michael Collins

Michael Collins and Éamon De Valera both fought in the Easter Rising, and played central roles in Irish history. 

Éamon De Valera 

War, 1919-1921

The Irish War of Independence, or Anglo-Irish War, was fought between 1919 and 1921. 

Irish nationalists, the IRA (Irish Republican Army) used guerrilla tactics against the British forces. 

To combat the IRA attacks, the Royal Irish Constabulary was supplemented in early 1920 with an additional force known as the “Black and Tans” because of their uniform of  dark green RIC jackets and khaki military trousers. Many were ex British servicemen. 

The struggle continued into the summer of 1921, with reprisals on both sides and ongoing suffering for civilians.

December 1919: Attempted assassination of Lord French
1920: Black and Tan with a Lewis machine gun

“Now days are dragon-ridden, the nightmare / Rides upon sleep”

 “Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen”, WB Yeats

February 1920: A Royal Irish Constabulary Barracks destroyed by the IRA
September 1920: An American Relief Commission visits Balbriggan, to view the aftermath of Black and Tan reprisals
December 1920: the destruction of parts of Cork
February 1921: A woman stands outsdie her home, destroyed in a Black and Tan reprisal

May 1921:

The attack on the Custom House on the 25 May 1921 by the Dublin Brigade of the IRA. was lead by Oscar Traynor.

It was intended as a grand gesture, an attack on a building that symbolised British authority. The majority of actions on behalf of the IRA had been attacks of a guerrilla nature on RIC stations and the military.


Truce & Treaty, June 1921 - December 1921

After a number of contacts, a truce was signed on 11 July 1921. The two sides entered into talks in London, which led to treaty negotiations beginning in October.  

The Irish negotiating team included three cabinet Ministers, Michael Collins, Arthur Griffith, and Robert Barton. President de Valera remained in Dublin. The manner in which the negotiations were carried out and resulting treaty caused huge divisions amongst the nationalists. The main objections to the Treaty signed by the delegation were the oath of allegiance, the fact that Ireland remained part of the British Empire, and the loss of counties in Ulster. 

Collins and others argued that the Treaty was a stepping-stone towards freedom and that the Irish people did not want to continue the war.  The Anti-Treaty side argued it did not achieve the objective of an Irish Republic for which many had died. After extensive debates, the Anglo-Irish Treaty was passed by a slim majority in Dáil Eireann in January 1922. The Anti-Treaty faction, led by de Valera, withdrew from government.

“The British Government are deeply anxious that, so far as they can assure it, the King's appeal for reconciliation in Ireland shall not have not been made in vain. Rather than allow yet another opportunity of settlement in Ireland to be cast aside, they felt it incumbent upon them to make a final appeal...”

Letter from British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, to Eamon de Valera, 24 June 1921

July 1921: General Macready, Commander-in-Chief of the British Forces, entering the Mansion House peace talks. 
July 1921: Peace delegates arriving in Dublin from London

“When you have sweated, toiled, had mad dreams, hopeless nightmares, you find yourself in London's streets, cold and dank in the night air. Think - what have I got for Ireland? Something which she has wanted these past 700 years. Will anyone be satisfied with the bargain? Will anyone? I tell you this -early this morning I signed my own death warrant. I though at the time how odd, how ridiculous -a bullet might just as well have done the job 5 years ago.” 

Letter from Michael Collins to John O'Kane 

The Treaty debates ran from 14 December 1921 to 7 January 1922. The group shown arriving here includes Mary MacSwiney, whose brother had died on hunger strike in 1920.
7 January 1922: Michael Collins in the Gresham Hotel on the night the Treaty was ratified.

Civil War, 1922-1923

A Provisional Government was formed on 14 January 1922, and British forces began their withdrawal.  

In the general election that followed in June, a majority of Pro-Treaty candidates were elected to the Dáil. 

Although both sides were reluctant to fight, a brutal civil war began in June 1922. The government forces (often known as “Free State” troops, although the Irish Free State did not officially come into existence until the following December) imprisoned and executed former comrades, while Michael Collins was killed in an ambush by anti-Treaty Republicans in August. The two sides battled to hold different parts of Ireland, but the government forces gradually gained control and by May of 1923 the war was over. 

The victory came at a bitter cost to the country, which remained divided over Civil War loyalties for many decades. 

Pro-Treaty politicians outside the Mansion House
February 1922: National troops marching to take over Athlone Barracks from the British forces
July 1922: Dublin hotel guests who had been caught up in Civil War fighting
August 1922: Free State troops on board ship, heading to Cork
August 1922: Anti-Treaty prisoners being marched to Cork Gaol
August 1922: Funeral of Michael Collins
Young boy with sword epitomises these troubled years
Credits: Story

Curator of original exhibition at National Photographic Archive — Sara Smyth, Assistant Keeper, National Library of Ireland

Credits: All media
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