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Civil War in 1914


Drogheda445

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On the eve of the First World War, the threat of civil war loomed in Ireland as Nationalists and Unionists has armed themselves and had established militant groups (the Irish Volunteers and the Ulster Volunteers respectively) in pursuit of their aims. The Ulster Covenant had already established the Unionist commitment to oppose Home Rule by any means necessary, which included force, and despite what nationalists continued to believe, Unionists were willing to use violence if it had to in order to prevent Home Rule.

It is generally agreed that the First World War had put a stop to the violence for a time as both nationalism and unionism were called upon to support the British war effort. A potential war was averted, ironically, by another larger war. By the end of the War, the rise of republicanism had swept away the support for Home Rule that had existed before the war and the question of devolution rather that outright independence became irrelevant.

What I am interested in is what might have happened had a civil war unfolded in Ireland (presuming that the war on mainland Europe had not taken place or had happened at a later date). I'm inclined to believe that Unionists might have succeeded in the war given the militarily superior Ulster Volunteers in comparison to the Irish Volunteers and the possible refusal of the British Army to engage after the Curragh incident. Of course, the Nationalists may have succeeded as well (although probably only with the support of the British Army), or the war might have had no decisive outcome and may have ended up back where it had started, or "status quo ante bellum". In the aftermath of such a war, the country might well have been partitioned or the very notion of home rule might have been dropped completely (even if the Nationalists had won), or it would have eventually been implemented (but probably being unable to govern properly in Ulster).

In any case, the war would have left the country devastated, and would probably have only enhanced the dire economic condition that Ireland was in at the time. Thousands would likely have been killed as a result and violence would likely have returned at a later date, as the war would probably have solved little politically.

We were lucky to have been spared of such a conflict (although the one which followed in Europe was undoubtedly far more tragic and damaging), but had it taken place, what do you feel would have been the outcome?
 

shiel

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You have missed the point. If the first world war had not happened the imperial parliament would have had to implement the act of parliament, which was passed and signed into law by the monarch, giving self rule to the island of Ireland.

That would have been the rulers of a world wide empire, with a security force capable of enforcing that rule, implementing their decisions.
 

parentheses

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And to add to the speculation maybe the Ulster crisis was one of the causative factors of why the first world war itself broke out.

Lloyd George and Churchill both held the opinion that the Ulster crisis had helped cause the first world war

To quote Lloyd George

Let us remember that this dispute(Ulster) was one of the causes responsible for the great World conflict of 1914
 

shiel

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And to add to the speculation maybe the Ulster crisis was one of the causative factors of why the first world war itself broke out.

Lloyd George and Churchill both held the opinion that the Ulster crisis had helped cause the first world war

To quote Lloyd George
You need to explain that a bit more.
 

Catalpast

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And to add to the speculation maybe the Ulster crisis was one of the causative factors of why the first world war itself broke out.

Lloyd George and Churchill both held the opinion that the Ulster crisis had helped cause the first world war

To quote Lloyd George
Why - because the Kaiser perceived Britain to have Civil War pending in its back yard?

A Civil War in the North was a distinct possibility in the late Summer of 1914

It would probably have resulted in mass violence followed by Partition along Ethnic fault lines with a much reduced area under Unionist control

I think a Big If is what would have happened in Dublin where over 20% of the population were Protestants

Things could have got sticky down here if there had been Pogroms in the North with the Catholics basically getting it in the neck...
 

parentheses

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You need to explain that a bit more.
The German perception was that Britian was politically paralysed by the Ulster crisis and would not become involved in a European war. The British failed to clearly warn off the Germans from invading Belgium. This misunderstanding probably would not have arisen had not the British government been preoccupied by the Ulster crisis
 

Catalpast

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The German perception was that Britian was politically paralysed by the Ulster crisis and would not become involved in a European war. The British failed to clearly warn off the Germans from invading Belgium. This misunderstanding probably would not have arisen had not the British government been preoccupied by the Ulster crisis
That maybe that maybe...

But even if the North had blown up the British would not have stood idly by and allowed Germany a free hand in the West
 

scolairebocht

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Also the question arises is were the Germans stoking the flames in Ulster deliberately? Don't forget they supplied guns to both sides and I remember reading an account by a later senior Civil servant in Ireland who said that German Intelligence were crawling all over Ulster in those years.
 

JohnD66

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The weird thing about the 1914 crisis is that for all the marching and parading and even importing arms, neither of the rival Volunteer groups really considered fighting each other.

In Cavan for instance, the Ulster and Irish Volunteers used the same halls for drills on different days and there doesn't seem to have been any problems. The radical IRB element at the core of the Irish Volunteers insisted that they were not out against the Ulster Volunteers, but rather that they admired their methods of facing down the British and were standing up for 'their own rights of citizenship'. In Newry during the Easter Rising the National Volunteers (at that point the bulk of the 1914 Vols) and the Ulster Volunteers took turns guarding the railway station to make sure the 'Sinn Feiners' couldn't attack it.

I could be wrong about this but I'm pretty sure the confrontation that was on the cards, if any was between British state forces and whichever of the Volunteer movements they decided to face down. The UVF to enforce Home Rule or the IV to disarm them. In either case (and I admit this is pure speculation) my opinion is that in 1914, there would have been some skirmishes but that the will to really fight the British Army did not exist on either side. Yet. Remember that despite the strong IRB influence, John Redmond exercised a strong degree of control over the Volunteers in 1914, and fighting the British was not something he wanted to do.

That said, people at the time speculated that in the event of an army operation to suppress the UVF, Catholics especially in Belfast would have borne the brunt of reprisals. Which seems likely given what happened later.
 

Hitch 22

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The weird thing about the 1914 crisis is that for all the marching and parading and even importing arms, neither of the rival Volunteer groups really considered fighting each other.

In Cavan for instance, the Ulster and Irish Volunteers used the same halls for drills on different days and there doesn't seem to have been any problems. The radical IRB element at the core of the Irish Volunteers insisted that they were not out against the Ulster Volunteers, but rather that they admired their methods of facing down the British and were standing up for 'their own rights of citizenship'. In Newry during the Easter Rising the National Volunteers (at that point the bulk of the 1914 Vols) and the Ulster Volunteers took turns guarding the railway station to make sure the 'Sinn Feiners' couldn't attack it.

I could be wrong about this but I'm pretty sure the confrontation that was on the cards, if any was between British state forces and whichever of the Volunteer movements they decided to face down. The UVF to enforce Home Rule or the IV to disarm them. In either case (and I admit this is pure speculation) my opinion is that in 1914, there would have been some skirmishes but that the will to really fight the British Army did not exist on either side. Yet. Remember that despite the strong IRB influence, John Redmond exercised a strong degree of control over the Volunteers in 1914, and fighting the British was not something he wanted to do.

That said, people at the time speculated that in the event of an army operation to suppress the UVF, Catholics especially in Belfast would have borne the brunt of reprisals. Which seems likely given what happened later.
World War I led to the suspension of Home Rule even though it had passed the final stages and could have been enacted.

Had it been enacted there is no doubt the Unionists would have fought to remain in the Union and would have been supported by the Conservatives.

It might even have led to another civil war in Britain with Liberals against the Conservatives who were militantly opposed to Home Rule while the UK was suffering from industrial unrest.

Once the killing started the grudging admiration between the UVF and the IV would have been gone and it would have been kill or be killed.
It is not unusual when wars start particularly civil wars for people who were good friends to turn into bitter enemies overnight.

It was just as likely that an outbreak of war in Ireland in 1914 might have been the trigger for World War I as the assassination of the Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo.
 
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parentheses

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That maybe that maybe...

But even if the North had blown up the British would not have stood idly by and allowed Germany a free hand in the West
Well ,both Lloyd George and Churchill expressed the opinion that the Ulster crisis was one of the causes of the world war, and they were two of the most brilliant of all British politicians. No doubt the British would have warned off the Germans in very stark terms from invading Belgium were it not for Ulster. Had the Germans not invaded Belgium then Britain would not have declared war
 

Dame_Enda

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It has been suggested that this was the main reason Britain entered WW1.

Constitutionally, the king was not obliged to appoint a PM from the largest party. I think given George V's opposition to Home Rule at the time, that it is not impossible that he might have sacked Asquith and appointed Bonar Law or a general to lead the govt had an attempt been made to impose All-Ireland Home Rule.

Ironically, this ensured longterm that most of Ireland would be lost to the British Empire.

There is no way the Nationalist side could have won such a civil war at that time. The Unionists had 5 million of rounds of ammunition from Germany, and 30,000 rifles. The Irish Volunteers had 10,000 rifles and maybe 1000 rounds of ammunition.

Its interesting to speculate what Germany was playing at. Perhaps they hoped to tie down British forces suppressing unrest or fighting a civil war in Ireland/UK so that they wouldn't intervene on the Continent. But surely it would have made more sense then to arm the Nationalist side more? But then in 1914 they did sent the Aud-Norge submarine with 20,000 rifles which would have made a big difference in rebalancing the equation had it not had to be scuttled when the British intercepted it. Maybe they didn't expect the British army to collude with the Unionists and thought Britain would be distracted putting down Unionist opposition to Home Rule, and when they heard of the Curragh Mutiny decided to arm the Nationalists too.
 
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Liverpoolblue

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The British might have allowed the northern Unionists to take control by force of the nine Ulster counties but put the British Army between Ulster and the rest of Ireland to allow Home Rule in the south.


Lb
 

JohnD66

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World War I led to the suspension of Home Rule even though it had passed the final stages and could have been enacted.

Had it been enacted there is no doubt the Unionists would have fought to remain in the Union and would have been supported by the Conservatives.

It might even have led to another civil war in Britain with Liberals against the Conservatives who were militantly opposed to Home Rule while the UK was suffering from industrial unrest.

Once the killing started the grudging admiration between the UVF and the IV would have been gone and it would have been kill or be killed.
It is not unusual when wars start particularly civil wars for people who were good friends to turn into bitter enemies overnight.

It was just as likely that an outbreak of war in Ireland in 1914 might have been the trigger for World War I as the assassination of the Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo.
Home Rule did not actually dissolve the union, it was more like devolution. And it's not at all certain that the UVF would have fought British forces.

There was zero prospect of the Liberals and Conservatives in Britain resorting to arms against each other.

As I was trying to point out, the Irish Volunteers and UVF displayed no willingness to start killing each other in 1914. Even in early 1922 which was the closest we came to such a scenario there were still substantial restraints on nationalist versus unionist violence.

And the other thing about 1914 is that Home Rule even at that date would have meant partition, which Redmond was prepared to concede and which would have satisfied most Ulster unionists.
 

runwiththewind

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The British might have allowed the northern Unionists to take control by force of the nine Ulster counties but put the British Army between Ulster and the rest of Ireland to allow Home Rule in the south.


Lb
Or we could assume that they would have enforced home rule and fought against the unionist to ensure its enactment. Or they could have enacted home rule and stayed out of the ensuing civil war.
 

JohnD66

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It has been suggested that this was the main reason Britain entered WW1.

Constitutionally, the king was not obliged to appoint a PM from the largest party. I think given George V's opposition to Home Rule at the time, that it is not impossible that he might have sacked Asquith and appointed Bonar Law or a general to lead the govt had an attempt been made to impose All-Ireland Home Rule.

Ironically, this ensured longterm that most of Ireland would be lost to the British Empire.

There is no way the Nationalist side could have won such a civil war at that time. The Unionists had 5 million of rounds of ammunition from Germany, and 30,000 rifles. The Irish Volunteers had 10,000 rifles and maybe 1000 rounds of ammunition.

Its interesting to speculate what Germany was playing at. Perhaps they hoped to tie down British forces suppressing unrest or fighting a civil war in Ireland/UK so that they wouldn't intervene on the Continent. But surely it would have made more sense then to arm the Nationalist side more? But then in 1914 they did sent the Aud-Norge submarine with 20,000 rifles which would have made a big difference in rebalancing the equation had it not had to be scuttled when the British intercepted it. Maybe they didn't expect the British army to collude with the Unionists and thought Britain would be distracted putting down Unionist opposition to Home Rule, and when they heard of the Curragh Mutiny decided to arm the Nationalists too.
The Irish Volunteers had no more than 2,000 rifles, certainly nowhere near 10,000.

The Ulster Volunteers bought their rifles from private contacts in Germany, not the state. So the Germans were not arming the UVF per se. The German state's consignment of arms to the Irish Volunteers was in the very different circumstances of 1916.
 

runwiththewind

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Yeah right. And let the Germans exploit the situation here to set up a base to attack Britain? Not likely.
A base where and whose side were they going to take?
 

Dame_Enda

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A base where and whose side were they going to take?
Traditionally the Brits saw Ireland as the backdoor to Britain - a potential base for enemies. They would have feared we would side with Germany in the hope of getting the North back and full independence, in return for Germany having a base to use against Britain.
 

Liverpoolblue

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It was in British interests to have some sort of pro British state in Ireland. The British may have had good intentions in trying to introduce Home Rule but when it came down to it they were unlikely to allow an all Ireland state to be set up with the possibility of it being anti British or ambivalent to British interests. Such a state would have had to have supported Britain in WW1 & WW2.


Lb
 
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