Successful royal visit avoids all mention of the Black and Tans

Posted By: March 07, 2020

Patrick Murphy. Irish News. Belfast. Saturday,  March 7,  2020 
As the fairy dust from this week’s royal tour remains glistening on the Irish landscape (yes, I’m making this up) apparently Anglo-Irish relations are at an all-time high.

I’m not sure what that means, but it appears to be the thing to say after we have been visited by representatives of a medieval system of monarchy, which believes that the head of state should be born into the position rather than democratically elected.

Of course, British royalty has been coming here since Henry II first invaded Ireland in 1171.[However, 1169  is the date traditionally given for England’s first land-grab in Ireland—when Anglo-Norman mercenaries invaded before the arrival of Henry II. They conquered a large part of eastern Ireland]. But as we bask in the warm afterglow of this latest jaunt, perhaps it is time for Ireland and Britain to put the past to rest.

The royals laid a wreath for Ireland’s dead in the Garden of Remembrance, so maybe we should re-visit Leo Varadkar’s suggestion to commemorate those who fought on the British side during Ireland’s War for Independence.

Unfortunately, Leo’s knowledge of history appears sketchy: his commemoration would apply only to the RIC (which evicted over 250,000 starving tenants and their families between 1845 and 1854) and the Dublin Metropolitan Police (which beat striking workers off the streets in 1914). He does not appear to appreciate that the RIC controlled two other forces: the Auxiliaries and the Black and Tans.

The Auxiliaries were a 2000-strong, paramilitary, intelligence branch of the RIC, created by Winston Churchill. They were mainly former British Army officers (a sort of thinking man’s Black and Tans).

They specialized in torture (including Kevin Barry and Ernie O’Malley) and murder (Bloody Sunday at Croke Park and Peadar Clancy and Dick McKee in custody). So Leo’s proposed ceremony could involve members of the Irish Army from McKee Barracks, commemorating those who murdered the man after whom their barracks is named.

(Some Auxiliaries were Irish, including Gerard Tynan O’Mahony who later became manager of the Irish Times. His aunt was novelist and poet, Kathleen Tynan, an associate of WB Yeats and his youngest son became the comedian, Dave Allen.)

Yeats referred to the Black and Tans in his poem, Reprisals, as “Half-drunk or whole-mad soldiery”. Over 8,000 were recruited by posters stating, “If you are an ex-serviceman you can join the RIC.” Most were unskilled or semi-skilled and an estimated 20 percent were Irish. (When they raided my grandfather’s shop in 1921, for example, they were led by a man from a neighboring village.)

British General, Frank Crozier, (who guarded Kevin Barry before his execution) said the Auxiliaries and the Tans had been “used to murder, rob, loot and burn up the innocent because they could not catch the few guilty.” He left the army in protest at their actions.

Then there was the Ulster Special Constabulary, established in 1920 by James Craig, a junior British minister and later the north’s prime minister. The USC was formed with UVF help because many unionists did not trust the largely Catholic RIC. As the ‘B’ Specials, the force continued as the paramilitary wing of the Unionist Party until the civil rights campaign led to its disbandment in 1970.

The royal visit went well (“Don’t mention the Black and Tans”) even though Leo’s proposed commemoration had earlier received a hostile reaction from nationalists, including Sinn Féin. Of course, for several years, SF lord mayors have laid Remembrance Day wreaths in Belfast to commemorate the British army, which executed the 1916 leaders and fought alongside the RIC, the Auxiliaries and the Tans.

The soldiers and police who inflicted atrocities on the Irish people believed it was right to kill for the British Empire. Thus they deserve to be commemorated—but in England, by the British government.

Indeed, what better way to reciprocate a visit here by a future head of Britain’s armed forces than for some Irish political leaders to attend a commemoration for the British and pro-British heroes who fought and died in Ireland. Irish politicians who believe in laying wreaths could instead travel to England to honor the fallen over there, rather than here—and that, as they say, would bring Anglo-Irish relations to an even higher level.END.