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IRA Dublin Brigade 1917 -1921

JohnD66

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Article here on IRA Dublin Brigade during the War of Independence.

The Dublin Brigade IRA 1917-1921 | The Irish Story

Around 2,000 or so men served in the Brigade, but a much smaller number, about 200 were on full time active service. There were only enough weapons to arm less than 25% of the total.

The demographics of the Brigade are interesting.

Though about a third of Dublin city’s 320,000 inhabitants lived in the slums and made a meagre and erratic living from unskilled labour, they were under-represented in the IRA. A study of 507 Dublin Volunteers found that 46% of them were skilled workers while only 23% were unskilled, with shop and clerical workers making up most of the remainder.[26]

Apart from the greater tendency to the very poor to serve in the British Army (much more regular payers than the IRA), this can probably explained by the fact that Volunteers had to pay a subscription of 3d a week to the organisation to pay for weapons and other costs. Dublin’s lumpen proletariat by and large did not have this much disposable income.

It may not be a coincidence that the fulltime Volunteers of the IRA in Dublin, in the Squad, the Intelligence Department, the Active Service Unit (ASU) and the Republican Police (together only about 200 men), were paid at the rate of a skilled worker, at about £4 per week. This was more than twice the average labourers’ wage which was 16-18s for a 48 hour week. [27]

A little higher up in the IRA, those who attained the rank of officer were generally of the lower rungs of the middle class. A study of 86 Dublin IRA officers found the largest single class were shop or clerical workers.[28] Frank Henderson for instance, commander of the Second Battalion was a clerk. Joseph O’Connor of the Third (nicknamed ‘Holy Joe’) worked as a civil servant in Dublin Corporation, Frank Thornton the Intelligence Officer worked for the New Ireland insurance firm[29].

For this reason, part of the IRA psychological make up was a feeling that they represented the ‘common people’ of Ireland. Not the ‘Imperialist’ or ‘Castle Catholic’ upper class, nor the ‘rabble’ that joined the British Army.
The Dublin Brigade also came relatively late to the fight.

It was not until late December 1920 that IRA GHQ really committed the Dublin Brigade, as opposed to the Squad and Intelligence Department, to the fight. What the young men in the companies were expected to do, especially from late 1920 on, was to meet weekly for ‘parades’, where they would collect arms from a ‘dump’ and to ‘patrol’ their company areas. If and when they encountered British forces they were to attack them and make a quick getaway.
And embarked on a steep learning curve.

The ‘patrol actions’ accounted for most IRA operations in Dublin. In the beginning, in early 1921 these were amateurish in the extreme. Todd Andrews recalled that in January 1921 his 4th Battalion Company had its first taste of action at Kenilworth Square; ‘We heard a lorry approaching from Terenure. We pulled our ‘dogs’ (we each had 45 Webley [revolvers]). It [the lorry] was packed with soldiers. They were all singing a popular song of the time ‘I’m forever blowing bubbles,’ We immediately opened fire, with Kane shouting, ‘we’ll give you f_ing bubbles’. The soldiers returned fire and the lorry accelerated just as [our men] threw their bombs at it’. Two soldiers were wounded.[36]

The IRA company ambushes evolved into something considerably more deadly in the coming months however. In March 1921 for instance, three British soldiers were killed and five wounded in a grenade attack on Wexford Street – a stretch leading from city centre to Portobello Barracks known as the ‘Dardanelles’ such was the frequency of ambushes on it.[37] The IRA in Dublin like all guerrillas, went through ‘combat evolution’, in other words, those who were reckless or careless were killed or captured. Those who remained learnt competence.
 


Boy M5

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Fascinating thank you.
 

Boy M5

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I kind of knew from reading about Lemass that the officers were lower mid class & some how guessed that the most marginal were less likely to be involved & the tradition of course of joining BA.
However, to see the empirical evidence is appreciated.

The artisan class always seemingly are always involved in national liberation & democratic movements - France, USA, United Irishmen.

I presume situation in country was much the same.

Taking West Cork on which a lot of literature (& some poor publications, including in the media) Collins, the Hales farmers' sons.
 

JohnD66

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I kind of knew from reading about Lemass that the officers were lower mid class & some how guessed that the most marginal were less likely to be involved & the tradition of course of joining BA.
However, to see the empirical evidence is appreciated.

The artisan class always seemingly are always involved in national liberation & democratic movements - France, USA, United Irishmen.

I presume situation in country was much the same.

Taking West Cork on which a lot of literature (& some poor publications, including in the media) Collins, the Hales farmers' sons.
As far as I'm aware, the research on this varies. Like (Hart (yes I know) found in Cork that farmers' sons were underrepresented in the IRA, and there was a small farmer and artisan base. But Fergus Campbell in County Galway found almost all of the Volunteers in 1916 and IRA subsequently were from the small farmer and labourer class. While in Belfast, to my knowledge the IRA was much more proletarian, at least in its rank and file, though officers like Joe McCelvey and Roger MCCorley came from the same cultural nationalist lower middle class milieu as their equivalents in Dublin.

So basically, I'd say yes the bed rock of the 1920s IRA in all of Ireland was the 'upper' or skilled working class and the lower middle class with both the very poor and very rich underrepresented, but there are many local exceptions.
 

Truth.ie

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200 active fighters in a city of 320'000 people under occupation is dismal.
Historians and FFers will tell you they had massive popular support, much like Shinners will tell you the Provos had massive popular support......but as in all revolutions this is rarely the case. It's always a small core of committed fighters that bring about real change.
 

Seanie Lemass

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200 active fighters in a city of 320'000 people under occupation is dismal.
Historians and FFers will tell you they had massive popular support, much like Shinners will tell you the Provos had massive popular support......but as in all revolutions this is rarely the case. It's always a small core of committed fighters that bring about real change.

You are correct in that it was relatively small number of people, but like your six in 70s and 80s there was huge network and passive support. Dublin had general strikes in support of the Army and mass civil resistance. Dublin IRA were mounting 3/4 operations a day by 1921. That is as many as 18 out of other 32 in 4 years! Altogether.
 

JohnD66

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200 active fighters in a city of 320'000 people under occupation is dismal.
Historians and FFers will tell you they had massive popular support, much like Shinners will tell you the Provos had massive popular support......but as in all revolutions this is rarely the case. It's always a small core of committed fighters that bring about real change.
200 is the fulltime men in the Squad, Intelligence, ASU and Republican police. There would have been more 'active' part time men in the companies, who got more and more involved in guerrilla warfare during the first half of 1921.

There were around 2,000 on the books on the Dublin Brigade at any one time, but around 1,000 were interned over 1919-21 in Dublin alone and 54 Dublin Volunteers killed. Still a small minority of course but aren't all clandestine guerrilla armies like that?

The question of civilian support or otherwise is very interesting but it's kind of another question I think.
 

Seanie Lemass

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200 is the fulltime men in the Squad, Intelligence, ASU and Republican police. There would have been more 'active' part time men in the companies, who got more and more involved in guerrilla warfare during the first half of 1921.

There were around 2,000 on the books on the Dublin Brigade at any one time, but around 1,000 were interned over 1919-21 in Dublin alone and 54 Dublin Volunteers killed. Still a small minority of course but aren't all clandestine guerrilla armies like that?

Almost all Volunteers killed were DB, Tipp and Cork. 75% at least.
 

JohnD66

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Almost all Volunteers killed were DB, Tipp and Cork. 75% at least.
I'd have to check (we have a lot more figures now), but that's probably true. (Though in Dublin a lot more IRA were killed in the Civil War than in WoI and it Cork it's the opposite).
 

ON THE ONE ROAD

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is there any noticeable split on demographics with the civil war?


Left wing thinking in republicanism in possibly the last 50 years has argued for republicanism to rely on only one class. The only incorruptible class and all that. If the presumption is wrong might be worth looking at.
 

JohnD66

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is there any noticeable split on demographics with the civil war?


Left wing thinking in republicanism in possibly the last 50 years has argued for republicanism to rely on only one class. The only incorruptible class and all that. If the presumption is wrong might be worth looking at.
So far as I'm aware, the only noticeable split on class lines in the Civil War, in Dublin at least, is that the anti-Treaty IRA became more dominated by the skilled working class, whereas the National Army was by and large filled with the poorest urban classes. But this was recruitment after the outbreak of Civil War.

That is not to say that there weren't other axes of class confrontation in the Civil War, but as far as I can see the split in the IRA had no significant class basis. Again, not in Dublin anyway.
 
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mossyman

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I know this thread is about the Dublin IRA, but has anyone read Peter Hart's history of the Cork IRA entitled "The IRA and its Enemies: Violence and Community in Cork, 1916-1923"?

Absolutely fascinating insight into the motivations for joining the IRA at that time, the psychology and mentality of those who fought, where they came from and how their views hardened as the war dragged on. Highly recommend it.
 

Levellers

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I know this thread is about the Dublin IRA, but has anyone read Peter Hart's history of the Cork IRA entitled "The IRA and its Enemies: Violence and Community in Cork, 1916-1923"?

Absolutely fascinating insight into the motivations for joining the IRA at that time, the psychology and mentality of those who fought, where they came from and how their views hardened as the war dragged on. Highly recommend it.
Hart's book has so thoroughly been debunked as false that I'm surprised anyone gives it credibility. His so-called 'interviews' with two dead men tells you all you need to know.
 

mossyman

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Hart's book has so thoroughly been debunked as false that I'm surprised anyone gives it credibility. His so-called 'interviews' with two dead men tells you all you need to know.
I'm aware of the criticism and controversy and I know he is coming at it from a revisionist unionist perspective. I wouldn't consider myself in that camp at all. Whether he is right or wrong about Kilmichael, I found the book fascinating.

What do you consider to be the best book on the IRA at that time? Genuine question as I would like to read more about it.
 
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between the bridges

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So the good auld Ra had to pay people to be 'patriotic'? If only they'd know how much was to be made from diesel, fags, racketeering and drugs, they all could have been good Republicans...
 

Seanie Lemass

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is there any noticeable split on demographics with the civil war?


Left wing thinking in republicanism in possibly the last 50 years has argued for republicanism to rely on only one class. The only incorruptible class and all that. If the presumption is wrong might be worth looking at.


Just going on my family and their chums, IRA in Tan War was what might be described as "upper working class" and middle class; my grandmother had brother and brother in law in ASU who were both caught at Custom House and out on Bloody Sunday. They were office workers. Her da was clerk in Jacobs. Her grandfather had, however, been a Fenian and Invincible and had worked as stone mason with Joe Brady of Phoenix Park fame. So there was big family element. Impossible to attribute all things to class.
 

Roberto Jordan

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Just going on my family and their chums, IRA in Tan War was what might be described as "upper working class" and middle class; my grandmother had brother and brother in law in ASU who were both caught at Custom House and out on Bloody Sunday. They were office workers. Her da was clerk in Jacobs. Her grandfather had, however, been a Fenian and Invincible and had worked as stone mason with Joe Brady of Phoenix Park fame. So there was big family element. Impossible to attribute all things to class.
All suggestions are it was similar across the country.
My grandfathers family were small shopkeepers in rural west. he was only ~ 10 at the time but his older brothers were active throughout. the pension records and BoMH statements show limited numbers in his area and most seem to have been established tenant farmers, tradesmen or clerical staff. Much like other selective activities such as sport ( see core of GAA clubs for much of history) one must have some level of support or free time in order to become involved in teh first place I guess.

Complete aside but grandfather was too young as mentioned but did have longstanding notable status for his quick thhinking actions during a raid.....his brother and two others were sleeping in a house down the road during a spell of bad weather when gf's homestead was raided. They took my grandfather and frog marched him done to neighbors , warning him that he was to knock on neighbors door and ask to come......he proceeded to do so but loudly added " the soldiers are with me" ( all in irish...not that it made much difference as I believe there were RIC men there as well..) at which point the bos leapt from a back window and in the dark of 1921 rural ireland managed to get through the encircling troops and off up the mountains........
he sister trumped this later when having been knocked around ( she was only 16 ) by an auxie or tan she spotted the same lad riding by on a motorbike .....suffice to say she was good with a rock and he was seriously injured....at that point she was shipped out to Chicago for the duration.....(found her Ellis island records since)....I never heard this story only a few years back....but my memory of her is of a formidable woman....so I guess it was all in her character.....not one to drop teh hand on if one was an enemy combatant!
 

freewillie

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I'm aware of the criticism and controversy and I know he is coming at it from a revisionist unionist perspective. I wouldn't consider myself in that camp at all. Whether he is right or wrong about Kilmichael, I found the book fascinating.

What do you consider to be the best book on the IRA at that time? Genuine question as I would like to read more about it.
Have a good read of the Bureau of Military History statements which will be very informative as regards events on the ground. The Cork Fighting Story, Limerick Fighting Story series are always worth a read.
 


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