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26 March 1998 Edition

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Remembering the Past: The Curragh Mutiny

By Tomas O Raghallaigh

What the historians refer to as the so-called Curragh Mutiny was neither belittlingly `so-called' nor did it happen at the Curragh. It was a full blown mutiny of the British Army's senior generals at the very heart of military power at the War Office in London.

The truth about Bloody Sunday has still to be uncovered. The truth about the British Army's role during the Ulster Workers strike in 1974 is well known - it simply made itself `not available'. The power of the British Army to influence or sabotage the present peace process, by the use of its SAS `dirty tricks' brigade and its MI5 and MI6 intelligence services, should not be discounted.

There is no written British constitution. The Queen is Commander-in-Chief of the British Army. On the eve of the 21st century, the UK is still ruled by a semi-feudal system of government in which the unelected descendants of medieval war lords still exercise political, judicial and military power, as members of the House of Lords. The powers of the Queen, who is advised by her Privy Council - all of whom are sworn to secrecy - have never been delineated. Orders in council `made by and with the advice of her Privy Council' cannot be unconstitutional. Her primary function is the defence of the realm.

During the passage of the Home Rule Bill through the Houses of Parliament in the years 1912-1914 it became abundantly clear that the British Army's top ranking officers would be more than reluctant to face down their own `kith and kin' in the province of Ulster. Discussing this with his Prime Minister, Asquith, in 1913, the King asked: ``Will it be wise, will it be fair to the sovereign, as head of the army, to subject the discipline and indeed loyalty of his troops to such a strain?''

It was in March1914 that the `so-called' mutiny at the Curragh captured the headlines. Some officers were given the choice of resigning in the event that they might disagree with being sent to Ulster. All of those consulted said that they would prefer to resign. Whatever else may be said about this incident, it was undoubtedly the first time that officers of any army were asked if they would obey lawful orders.

In any event the so-called mutiny resulted in the commander of the Cavalry Brigade, General Gough, being immediately summoned to the War Office in London to `give an account of himself'. In the course of his `trial' he was joined by the commander-in-chief of the military base at Aldershot, General Haig.

Haig had come to London specifically to warn the War Office staff of the strong feelings of support amongst his own officers for the stand taken by Gough. Their resignations might be expected, he said, if Gough were punished. Sensing the fact that he had a fair wind and a flood tide behind him, Sir Henry Wilson, the Director of Military Operations at the War Office, enthusiastically supported General Haig when Haig stated that the only way to quieten unrest in the army was to issue a statement that the army would not be used `to coerce Ulster'. There was talk of wholesale resignations in the army, including Wilson himself, if that were not done.

As if they were `joining the club' the Commander-in-Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Lord French, together with the Secretary of State for War, Mr Selly, provided General Gough with a written guarantee that his troops at the Curragh would not be used to enforce a Home Rule Act on Ulster. Armed with this guarantee, Gough returned to the Curragh as a conquering hero.

We are told that upon learning of these events the government forced the resignations of Lord French and Mr Seely. The guarantee itself was never withdrawn.

One wonders if this whole affair was not pre-planned in order to achieve the desired outcome. In this context it is significant that in the 648 page work ``The British Constitution'' by J. Harvey and L Bather, we are told (P.234) that ``King George V made positive moves in 1914 to compromise on the question of home rule for Ireland.''

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