Issue 4-2022 small

17 April 1997 Edition

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Remembering the past: The IRA and the Treaty

During the weeks following the approval of the Treaty by Dáil Eireann in January 1922, and the withdrawal of the republican deputies loyal to the Irish Republic, all branches of the Republican Movement rejected the Treaty.

One by one, Sinn Féin, Cumann an mBan, Cumann an nGael, Fianna Eireann and the IRA who had sworn allegiance to the Dáil in August 1920 at the height of the Tan War, withdrew their allegiance from the Dáil and overwhelmingly rejected the Treaty.

On 11 January 1922, four days after the Treaty had been approved by the Dáil, a number of senior IRA officers including Rory O'Connor, Liam Mellows, James O'Donovan and Sean Russell, in a letter to Richard Mulcahy, who had replaced Cathal Brugha as Minister for Defence, requested the holding of an IRA General Army Convention. It was proposed to lay the following resolutions before the convention:

That the army reaffirms its allegiance to the Irish Republic.
That it shall be maintained as the army of the Irish Republic, under an executive appointed by the convention.
That the army shall be under the supreme control of such executive, which shall draft a constitution for submission to a subsequent convention.
Mulcahy at first refused to call a convention, but when the IRA officers who had initiated the proposal formed themselves into an acting military council, he announced that an army convention would be held on 26 March. However, following local IRA conventions throughout the country, when it became clear that 80% of the Volunteers opposed the Treaty, Mulcahy and the pro-Treaty cabinet banned the convention.

At a press conference on 22 March, O'Connor, as chair of the Military Council, declared that the convention would be held the following Sunday, and he repudiated the power of the Dáil or Cabinet over the IRA.

Attended by 220 delegates representing 49 Brigades of the IRA, the army convention met at the Mansion House, Dublin, on 26 March. The meeting endorsed unanimously the resolution of 11 January, reaffirming allegiance to the Republic, repudiating the Dáil and placing their forces under the supreme control of an exeuctive to be appointed by the convention. A new constitution was drawn up and a temporary executive of 16, which included O'Connor, Mellows, Ernie O'Malley and Liam Lynch, was elected to draft it. The convention then adjourned until 9 April.

At the meeting of the adjourned convention numerous delegates urged that the IRA take action against the Free State regime and the British forces, and re-establish the Irish Republic. However, a proposal for immediate action was defeated by a few votes.

A new constitution for the IRA passed at the convention undertook ``to guard the honour and maintain the independence of the Irish Republic'' and that the IRA would ``place its services at the disposal of an established republican government which faithfully upholds the above objects''.

An executive of 16 was elected and from among its members an army council was appointed. Lynch was appointed Chief of Staff; F. O'Donoghue, Adjutant General; Mellows, Direct of Organisation; Joseph Griffin, Director Of Intelligence; O'Connor, Seamus O'Donovan and Sean Russell were Directors, as formerly, of Engineering, Chemicals and Munitions.

Immediately after the convention the IRA occupied strategic buildings in towns and cities where the Free State forces had seized barracks and other key positions.

On 13 April the IRA's Army Council decided that it was necessary, in order to strengthen their position and to maintain the cohesion of its forces, to set up military headquarters in Dublin. The Dublin Brigade was ordered to occupy the Four Courts. In the early hours of the following morning the men of the first and second battalions of the Brigade led by O'Connor quietly entered the Four Courts and established their headquarters there. Over the next two months senior IRA officers joined the original garrison of 180.

Elsewhere in Dublin, buildings at points of strategic importance for the defence of the Four Courts were occupied, including the Ballast Office and Lever Brothers' premises on Essex Quay. The Masonic Hall in Molesworth Street and the Kildare Street Club, centres of unionist influence, were also seized.

An uneasy atmosphere prevailed between the IRA and the Free State regime during the following weeks. However, a little over two months later the Free State's attempts to dislodge the IRA volunteers from their positions would mark the beginning of a bloody and bitter civil war.

Following the IRA convention, Volunteers led by Rory O'Connor occupied the Four Courts in Dublin on 14 April 1922, 75 years ago this week.

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