-- Peace moves, December 1920 --

Fr. Michael's efforts to establish some kind of moves towards a peace settlement in December of 1920 caused uproar among his peers, who were swift to denounce him. However, a look at wider events and some newly discovered papers give us an idea of what was going through Fr. Michael's mind when he initiated his series of letters to Lloyd George.

Vera McDonnell, a Sinn Féin stenographer who worked as a typist for Fr. Michael, was witness to the raid on his rooms in Roscommon presbytery on Friday October 22nd 1920, which prompted him to place his papers in Lough Glynn Convent for safe-keeping.

The door of the Curates' house was opened by Fr. Carney, the other curate, and the Auxiliaries proceeded to search Fr. O'Flanagan's rooms. They pulled the place asunder and read all his letters. Fr. O'Flanagan was interested in the derivation of Irish place names and, for that reason, he used to buy old Ordnance survey maps at auctions. He had shortly before bought some belonging to the County Surveyor who had died and pieces of these had been cut out apparently by the Surveyor for his own purpose. The Auxiliaries came to the conclusion that Fr. O'Flanagan had cut them out for the I.R.A. for the purpose of attacks on the Crown forces. They told me if they got Fr. O'Flanagan they would give him the same fate as they had given to Fr. Griffin. They also told me to leave the town at once, and that my being a woman would not save me from being put up against a wall and shot. During all this time Fr. Carney remained in his own rooms and was not molested.

Vera McDonnell, B.M.H. W.S. - 1,050

Auxiliaries, ready for action, Ireland 1920.
Auxiliaries, ready for action, Ireland 1920.

Raid on Father O'Flanagan's house.

A raid by two Auxiliary officers accompanied by two R.I.C. Sergants was carried out on the home of Father O'Flanagan. The two R.I.C. sergants were sent to ensure that the Auxilaries would not take away any private porperty. Father O'Flanagan's typist was put under arrest by the Auxilaries and ordered to leave the town in so many hours, and her typewriter seized. During the search the two Auxilaries found a £5 note in a jug on a shelf, which they collected. The two sergants there and then objected, but their objection was overruled by the Auxilary officers.

As they were about to leave they saw a suitcase. They could not open it, so they got a knife and ripped it open. The case contained vestments belonging to the priest. The sergants again objected to the cutting of the suitcase, but without effect. They suggested that the case should be taken to the barracks and held there when it could be opened in the presence of Father O'Flanagan. On opening the case they cut the vestments to pieces.

When Father O'Flanagan returned to his home that night and saw the depredation that had been done, and missed the £5 note from the jug, he became very annoyed. He came up to the Co. Inspector to complain about the matter, but got no satisfaction from him. Later he saw the colonel in charge of the military, but got less satisfaction there. He told them that he would go further with the matter and have an enquiry opened. The Auxilaries, on hearing this, made arrangements to have Father O'Flanagan taken away and probably shot. This came to my knowledge and I rushed down to Father O'Flanagan immediately and asked him to leave his house as soon as possible and that if he stayed in the town not to stay in any house the second night, but to leave town at the earliest opportunity. He took my advice and went to the College in Sligo.

During his time there he prepared a file of everything that had transpired during the raid on his house. He got this away to America and Dr. McDonnell told me that the contents of the file were posted on the doorway of the British Consul's office in America and other public places. As a matter of fact it got so much publicity in this manner that the British Consul communicated with the Home Consul to know if it was true. He communicated with the British Government, who knew nothing about it. They, the British Government, communicated with Dublin Castle and, as the latter knew nothing about it, they sent a convoy of twelve lorry loads of British military down to the Co. Inspector's office in Roscommon, bringing down the dispatch that came from the British Consul in America and asking for a report on the matter. I can't remember what Co. Inspector's reply was, but he sealed it next morning and sent it to the officer in charge of the convoy to have it taken back to Dublin Castle.

That night, with the aid of my skeleton key, I gained access to the Co. Inspector's office and got hold of the file of correspondence dealing with the raid. I copied the complete contents of this file. From this time I knew that an inquiry was about to take place, but as I did not know what the two R.I.C. sergants were prepared to say, I invited them to a local public house for a drink and when they were sufficiently refreshed I discreetly introduced the matter of the raid. I asked them how they were going to act and they said they were looking forward to the day when they could swear to the truth of the Auxiliaries taking the £5 note and cutting up the vestments. I left the original file back in the Co. Inspector's office and handed the file of copied documents to Doctor McDonnell who, in turn, passed the file on to Michael Collins and the latter got the file sent to America where the copied documents were again used as propaganda and posted on the British Consul's doorway together with the original poster about the raid.

John Duffy, member of R.I.C. Athlone, and Kiltoon, Co. Roscommon 1916 - 1921.

Ruins of the Fr. O'Flanagan Sinn Féin Hall in Cliffoney after it was burned in October 1920.
Ruins of the Fr. O'Flanagan Sinn Féin Hall in Cliffoney after it was burned in October 1920.

The country was at boiling point during the autumn of 1920; on Monday October 25th Terence MacSwiney, Lord Nayor of Cork died after a 74 day hunger-strike and at Moneygold near Ahamlish cemetry an I.R.A ambush killed four of the nine men on patrol from Cliffoney R.I.C. Barracks. Reprisals came swiftly to Cliffoney with a series of savage raids by the Auxiliaries who visited several nights of terror upon the people of north Sligo. The R.I.C. County Inspector reported: "The houses of some leading suspects were burned as well as the Father O'Flanagan Sinn Féin Hall at Cliffoney."

Andrew Conway's brother was a constable who resigned. The house was burned at five o'clock in the morning, and the ex-policeman escaped in his night-shirt. A good deal of the crops has been burned in both places. The Father O'Flanagan Hall is in ruins; the Ballintrillick Creamery is burned, and portion of the Grange Temperance Hall, including the library is also burned.

Weekly Telegraph, November 6th, 1920.

Peace essay, December 1920

De Valera is a sane moderate reasonable man. I believe that on the basis of Irish Freedom and English security, De Valera and Lloyd Goerge could arrange a treaty of peace that would be ratified by the overwhelming majority of the people of both Ireland and England.

The (great mass of the) Irish people have no absolute enmity towards England. Their enmity is consequent upon the present oppression. As soon as the oppression ceases, the enmity will cease. It is all moonshine to say that that the memory of past oppressions has got anything to do with it.

The Irish farmer deserves nothing better than a good market for his cattle, his sheep and his pigs. He is willing and able to give good value and he wants freedom to bargain so that he may be able to insist on a good price. He wants to be free to build and run his creameries and put his butter on the English (market or any other) market, in such condition, so that it can hold its own against the best produced in Denmark or anywhere else. If the creameries are destroyed by the servants of the crown, and the Irish farmer has to do without his money, it is poor consolation to him that the Englishman has to do without his butter.

The Irish shopkeeper wants to be free to buy English goods and free to bargain so that he may get them at a reasonable price. Ireland is buying anything up to £150,000,000 worth of English goods every year. If the English merchants are fools enough to allow their servants to continue (buying) burning Irish shops, numbers of Irish shopkeepers will be driven into bankruptcy. The English merchant will lose (his money, and he will) the money that is owing to him, and he will lose his market in the future.

The one predominant impulse in the hearts of all the people of Ireland is the desire for peace — peace within Ireland itself and peace between Ireland and England . War is bad enough and Civil War is the worst form of war. (But the war that we have in Ireland is of a new type) What must be the unspeakable horror of the new type of civil war we have in Ireland, untempered and unrestrained as it is, by any of the conventions of a civilised society.

Even the old vocabulary of slaughter is not enough to express the taking of human life. A man is no longer spoken of, as having been killed or murdered or assassinated. No: he is "done in." The man who fires the fatal shot will turn on his heel and say to his "I've got him" just the term used when one shoots a rabbit.

Much of the killing is so mysterious that it is (difficult to guess even the motive) impossible to arrive at any safe conclusion as to the (perpetrators or the motive) behind the killing, although as a rule, there is little difficulty in deciding the party.

The people of Roscommon hear one day that Jack Conroy has been killed in his home a few miles outside the town. A few days afterwards they hear that Paddy McCormack has been shot in a Dublin hotel. It is (clear) probable enough that one of these men was killed by people who believed that (their action they were helping) they were acting in the interests of the British Empire. It is also probable that the other man was killed by people who believed that they were acting in the interests of Ireland. In any country (enjoying) under a civilised government, machinery would be available for the thorough investigation of these deaths. But in Ireland this machinery has all been scrapped. Not merely is trial by jury gone but the Coroner s inquest is also gone. In the case of poor Conroy, I think even the farce of a military enquiry was dispensed with. The two young men who called to notify the deaths to the military in Roscommon ran the risk of losing their own lives in the barrack yard. This is an example of how government against the consent of the governed is working out in detail in Ireland.

The situation is at present largely controlled by desperate men, men who are naturally desperate or by men who, by the pressure of circumstances have been rendered desperate. On the one side are the forces of England, the RIC, used as the instrument of oppression of their own people. While the people submitted tamely to oppression, the path of the RIC ran smooth. As soon as the people began to assert their their natural right to conduct their own affairs, pressure from Dublin Castle made active the latent oppressive power of the RIC. By this oppression, some of the ardent young men of Ireland were made desperate. They began to hit back. Some of the police were killed. Other policemen (RIC) became conscience stricken and resigned. At first it was easy enough for a policeman to resign. However, it was desperately difficult for a middle aged man who had spent many long years in the force to resign particularly if he had a wife and children dependent on him.

Lloyd George.
Lloyd George.

(The government) Dublin Castle began to fill up the ranks with men who had been through the war. They were for the most part ,English men. They were of every variety of disposition and character. These were the Black and Tans. It is generally believed in Ireland that many of them had been liberated from jail on condition that they enrolled themselves in the Royal Irish Constabulary. These men and the old members of the RIC got on badly together from the start. Soon they threatened any RIC man with death if he resigned. Some of the policemen in Ireland have been killed by their brother policemen because they were about to resign. Thus the unfortunate policeman finds himself between two fires. If he remains in the force, he must act as guide and helper to the Black and Tans in their campaign of murder and outrage, against his own people. If he resigns and tries to hide or disguise himself, he may be taken for a spy or an Irish Volunteer on the run. If he walks openly he is bound to be assaulted and perhaps murdered by the Black and Tans.

But the most sinister development of all is the formation of the Auxiliary Force. This force consists of ex army officers. They are dressed on English military uniform. This is evidently done for the purpose of rousing the anger of the regular military in case one of them is attacked.

They are not subject to the local authorities either police or military. They take their orders direct from a General Tudor in Dublin Castle. They stay in hotels and pay what they like. They commandeer motor cars and fly here and there throughout the country, scourging, beating , terrorising, robbing, burning and murdering. So obnoxious did they make themselves in (Claremorris) one western town the military there disarmed them. In (Strokestown) another the military drove them out of the town at the point of the bayonet. I refrain from mentioning the names of the towns lest the influence of the General Tudor might be used to penalise the military commandeers concerned.

(At present the policy seems to be to drive) For many months past, the effect of the policy was to (drive) put an ever increasing number of the young men of the country "on the run." When a man is on the run he must hide. He must hide so as not to be recognised by police, military or Auxiliaries. If he is caught, he is in danger of being imprisoned, beaten or killed. He must avoid being recognised by children who have not enough sense to keep their mind to themselves and to the many odds and ends of people who, for one reason or another, are unable or unwilling to keep a secret. Rather than run the risk of involving a kind neighbour to house him, he sleeps out of doors. Hardship soon makes him desperate. He joins a party of men who already have got a few guns. They want one for him. There is no place to get it except from a party of police or military ambushed on the roadside.

The ambush takes place. A few guns are captured. An old score is wiped out. But immediately the whole country is subjected to a reign of terror. Men who had hitherto taken no part in the fight are killed or their homes burned. Others are terrorised and sent on the run. Another ambush is necessary to procure more guns. Therefore, the vicious circle runs its deadly round.

I appeal not merely to the moderate man but to all the sane men of the community on both sides and (on no side) those who have not yet joined either side to make an effort to rescue Ireland and England from this mad orgy.

There is no great difficulty in the way of peace between Ireland and England. Ireland wants freedom. England wants security. A free Denmark is not a danger to England. Neither is free Holland. A free Switzerland is no danger to France. Far less could a free Ireland be a danger to England. A free Ireland could not, even if it dared, be a menace to England. Switzerland, Holland and Denmark guarded their neutrality with jealous care during the war. A free Ireland would guard its neutrality with far more jealousy. For mad as it would have been for Switzerland, Holland or Denmark to join in the war against France and England, it would infinitely be more mad for Ireland. Switzerland, Holland and Denmark could at least get adequate help from Germany. Ireland could get no help. Ireland would be in a position similar to Portugal. Portugal could afford to join in the war on the English side. She could not afford to join on the German side. Still less could an independent Ireland. An independent Ireland, in any war between England and any other country must either remain neutral or join on the English side.

An independent Ireland would not merely keep neutral itself, but it would compel all of its citizens to remain neutral. But a Dublin Castle government from England will never be able to compel Irishmen to remain neutral. Rather will it always produce desperate men, who will be prepared to engage in the most violent and dangerous enterprises against England.

If England wishes to arrange a treaty of peace with Ireland, she must treat with Ireland's chosen spokesman Eamonn De Valera. He is the only man who can speak officially for Ireland. Just as Lloyd George is for the time being the only person who can speak for England, so de Valera is the one man who can speak for Ireland.

Let us in God's name (take) set aside the men whose deeds are desperate, before they have done any more harm. Men who, (will) for their own selfish ends, will burn thirty five creameries today and will try and lay the blame on the Sinn Féiners. They will burn English cotton factories tomorrow, if by doing so they can hope to enhance their own position. Men who murder the Lord Mayor of Cork or Father Griffin for political ends, will murder tomorrow in England – I do not care to mention any of the many names that occur to my mind. All that will be necessary for them is to pick out some one.

The First Dáil, January 1919.
The members of the First Dáil assembled at the Mansion House, January 1919.