Article on Liam Mellows and his role during the War of Independence as well as the Treaty split (fifth in series).
Rebel Operative: Liam Mellows Against Britain, Against the Treaty, 1920-2 (Part V)
As the IRA Director of Operations, Mellows' duties were concened with the purchase of weapons and their smuggling into Ireland, once courtesy of a furniture suite from America, loaded with guns. Notable achievements included the landing of guns from Germany in Waterford, in November 1922, and the use of Glasgow for similar shipments, via his IRB contacts.
Working with his colleagues in the IRA GHQ was not always an easy time. Finances were the ultimate responsibility of the Minister for Defence, Cathal Brugha, who ran a tight ship, fiscally speaking, and would – so Mellows bemoaned – "sit all night with his mouth like a rat trap over half a crown if it went wrong."
But his relationship with Michael Collins was particularly tense. According to a mutual friend:
When the Treaty was signed in December 1921, Mellows took the side of those opposing it. At the Dáil debates, he cut a striking figure, as one eyewitness recalled: "With fair hair brushed back, rugged countenance lit up by profound conviction and a rather discordant voice vibrating with the intensity of his beliefs."[Mellows] said he was interfering with his job as Director of Purchases by buying arms across the water and paying more for them than he was. He was buying them, he said, not to use them but to prevent him (Liam) from getting them.
His argument was that, as the Republic already existed, it could not subsequently be set aside, Treaty or no Treaty. It was a fact he urged his audience to accept. After all, "we are not afraid of the facts. The facts are that the Irish Republic exists. People are talking to-day of the will of the people when the people themselves have been stampeded."
Those advocating the Treaty were not doing so on account of its merits. Instead, they "are in favour of the Treaty because they fear what is to happen if it be rejected. That is not the will of the people – that is the fear of the people."
For some, Mellows' performance was the highlight of the debates. Nora Connolly, daughter of the Easter Rising martyr, thought the verbal display from her long-time friend so marvellous that surely no one would bring themselves to vote for the Treaty after that.
But, of course, they did. And one detail Mellows neglected to mention in the Dáil was that he had been in discussion with a number of like-minded IRA officers, such as Liam Lynch, Rory O'Connor and Ernie O'Malley, who were determined to resist the Treaty, by force of arms if necessary.