Whilst Nationalist Ireland is bending over backwards to accommodate the great Imperial blood sacrifice of the Battle of the Somme in its historical memory there is no spirit of reciprocity in the DUP toward the Irish democracy. For the DUP the Irish democracy – which had to be established by a war of independence when the state that declared the Great War was fighting a world “war for small nations” failed its first test after winning that war by ignoring the result of the General Election of 1918 – should never have existed.
Ronald McNeill (Lord Cushendun) wrote in Ulster’s Stand for Union:
“The disloyal conduct of Nationalist Ireland during the war, and the treason and terrorism organised by Sinn Fein after the war, had widened the already broad gulf between North and South. The determination never to submit to an all-Ireland Parliament was more firmly fixed than ever.” (p.281)
Is Ulster Unionism’s attitude to the Irish State any different than it was nearly a century ago?
To the DUP the Irish who fought for democracy and independence, after the ballot was suppressed, were “terrorists” pure and simple. And they remain so a century later. Nationalist gestures to the Imperial loyalties of the Ulster Protestant are largely wasted if it is believed there will be any reciprocity of feeling from people with such fundamentalist impulses.
Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council was established in April 2015. It covers most of the northern coast and replaced Ballymoney Borough Council, Coleraine Borough Council, Limavady Borough Council and Moyle District Council. The first elections to the new authority held on 22 May 2014 left the nationalists of the Antrim Glens, who had previously had a majority in Moyle, in a small minority, with only 13 of 40 councillors. Almost immediately there were threats to fly the Union flag over council buildings in areas where it had not been flown e.g. the old Moyle Council buildings in Ballycastle. Supremacism is die hard.
The behaviour of the DUP since the people of the Glens of Antrim fell into their hands has shown what life would be like under Unionist majority rule for the Catholic community. In June the DUP sent its men during the dead of night to demolish a small monument to 1916 in Carnlough. The monument did not have planning permission – routinely granted to loyalist monuments – because it would never have been given for “a shrine to terrorists” by the DUP. Many more monuments, symbols and edifices to loyalism, many of the purely terrorist variety, remain unmolested by the Law. Now a large community centre, desperately needed by the people of Glenariffe, has been blocked by the DUP:
“Council funding for a new £1m state-of-the-art community centre in Co Antrim has been pulled indefinitely because of a row over the names of two IRA men on the gates into the planned site. The proposed new sports and community centre in Glenariff is due to be built within the grounds of Oisin Glenariff GAA club. But opposition has been brought by the DUP members of Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council.
“Gates near the site bear the names Charlie McAllister and Pat McVeigh while the ground is named McAllister-McVeigh Memorial Park in their honour. The two IRA members were killed in 1922 – some seven months before the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty.
“Planning permission was granted in March 2014 for the centre to cater both the social and sporting needs of the community. The Friends of Glenariff had been working on plans for the shared community space for the past six years and applied to the council for £180,000 funding, which was approved at a council meeting last week, in spite of objections from the DUP. The future of the project is now in jeopardy after DUP members decided to call-in the council’s decision.
“A council spokesman said: ‘Following the Council decision on 24th May 2016 to adopt a capital grants fund process and consequently part fund the Glenariff Community Facility, the DUP has invoked call-in, which now necessitates legal opinion in relation to the decision made by Council. Until the call-in process is complete the decision of Council is ‘frozen’
“The DUP has said the building of the centre in Glenariff would ‘re-traumatise’ people affected by the Troubles.
“Coleraine councillor Trevor Clarke said there were also ‘procedural issues’ as well as ‘very serious concerns’ the project was being fast-tracked ahead of others. ‘We will continue to have difficulty in supporting a facility which is connected or named after any terrorist or terrorist related organisation,’ he added.” (Irish News 3.6.16)
One historical point about the Irish News report: Charlie McAllister and Pat McVeigh were killed in May 1922 – seven months after rather than “before the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty”.
The journalist probably thought that after the signing of the Treaty in December 1921 that was that. But he did not realise that for Michael Collins that was only the start of things. For Collins the Treaty was a holding operation to gain the bulk of the territory on the island so that the remaining bit could then be taken, by hook or by crook.
In September 1921, during the Truce that preceded the Treaty, Collins made it clear to a large gathering of IRA volunteers in Armagh that the 6 Counties were a “still born child with no name” that he was going to abort (IN 5.9.21). The Northern Catholics who had seen the Devlinites’ promises come to nought but Partition and worse, the perverse construct of Orange Terror known as ‘Northern Ireland,’ started going over to Collins in large number.
The following passage from ‘Catastrophe’ by the present writer explains the political situation:
“Michael Collins sold the Treaty to Northern Nationalists as a means of undoing the 1920 Act which had cut them off from the rest of the Nation: The Free State was to be the base of operations against the Unionist regime; the new Dublin government, which was on intimate terms with Whitehall, would influence British policy towards the Ulster Unionists; and then, finally the Boundary Commission, which, Collins had secured in the Treaty, would whittle away ‘Northern Ireland’ by awarding predominantly Nationalist areas to the Free State, making the rest of it unviable.
“That was the Collins plan for the deliverance of the North.
“The first thing Collins did upon signing the Treaty was to assume the leadership of the Northern Catholics. The signing of the Pact with James Craig was the opening move in this. Collins had no intention of making peace in Ulster through this Pact in January 1922. It was part of his campaign of subversion of ‘Northern Ireland.’… This unilateral decision more than anything else showed Northern Catholics that he was taking them in hand and going to decide their future in a personal capacity.
“Collins then moved to take direct control of the Northern IRA. The IRA, while maintaining a central command structure in its GHQ staff, had remained a fragmented and local-orientated force based on geographical divisions. Collins got Eoin O’Duffy to establish a new Northern Command through an ‘Ulster Council’ making the IRA in the North the united instrument of his policy. This composed the 6 O/Cs of the 6 most Northerly Divisions of the Army. The ‘Ulster Council’ was headed by Collins himself and it was conducted under the auspices of the IRB – indicating that its work would be conspiracy, even though open government had by this time been attained. One of the first things it did was to begin paying the salaries of all Northern IRA officers, securing their personal loyalty to Collins…
“The IRA in the North had seen itself as part of the all-Ireland struggle coming from the 1918 Election result. But it had had to operate in a more hostile environment than other areas of the country due to the Unionist presence and the Hibernian influence in its own community. It also suffered from a lack of weapons. From mid-1920 it became, by necessity, engaged in defensive work, particularly in Belfast. Because of these considerations Robert Lynch claims that ‘the creation of IRA Divisions in Ulster in the Spring of 1921… signalled the birth of the Northern IRA itself.’…” (pp.147-8)
The Northern IRA was a blank slate for Collins. It became his instrument of manoeuvre with regard to the Treaty – which was unpopular at best among Republicans. There had been a great increase in IRA membership and training in the North during the Truce with the British, and Collins decided to use his new men in a spring offensive by providing them with the necessary weaponry and support from the South.
The Antrim Brigade was the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Northern Division. It was really a North Antrim Brigade since Belfast was the 1st Brigade and the greater part of territory – about 50 miles – between Belfast and the Glens was held by Unionism. It was composed of 4 battalions organised in Ballycastle, Ballymena, Cushendall and Dunloy.
The Glens were an area quite suited to guerrilla activity but many things were against the development of a Republican military force. It was an area entirely cut off from the rest of the Nation by the great buffer of Protestant Ulster lying to the south and west. It was difficult to supply it with arms and materials for warfare. And most of the population was Hibernian. Ballycastle had a Sinn Fein councillor by the name of Louis Walsh but that was about it.
The IRA in North Antrim had been formed in early 1919. Its O/C was the Belfast man Tom Glennon, who remained in charge until Tom Fitzpatrick took over in 1921. During 1920 it engaged in arms raids, gun-running, seizures of the mail, the cutting of telegraph wires, raids and burnings of coastguard and railway stations. During 1921 it extended its operations to attacks on RIC stations in Rasharkin and Loughgiel and attempted the formation of flying columns on the Tom Barry model. The strength of the Antrim Brigade was 111 men at the start of the Truce in June 1921. By August it had increased to 260 volunteers. It retained these numbers until it met disaster in 1922.
This was an impressive development considering the circumstances and showed that North Antrim could not be cut off from the life of the Nation, despite its geographical isolation.
During the Truce large training camps were established for both the Belfast and Antrim Brigades outside Ballycastle by Eoin O’Duffy, who Collins put in charge from St. Mary’s Hall in the centre of Belfast. An engineering department was set up and an ammunition factory created. The expanded army was reorganised, trained and armed by Collins for offensive operations. When the Unionists attempted assaults on these camps they were deterred by solid preparations.
Collins imagined that having signed a Treaty with Britain he was going to be allowed to wage a war against what Britain was constructing in the North through the Unionists. Lloyd George seems to have led him to believe this in encouraging Collins to sign the Treaty.
It was wishful thinking, of course. The moment the Treaty was signed the Unionists, in the process of organising their security apparatus started attacking the IRA HQs and training facilities Collins had established and then Pogroms were launched against the Belfast Catholics.
After the signing of the Treaty the loyalty of the bulk of the Northern IRA was secured by a visit from Richard Mulcahy in which the Antrim commanders were assured they would be fully backed, armed, and resourced from Dublin and assisted in the destruction of the entity being constructed in the North.
The centrepiece of the plan was a Northern Rising backed by an ‘invasion’ of the 6 Counties by the IRA Divisions loyal to Collins, in alliance with experienced Anti-Treaty fighters who Collins had lured up to the Border to bolster his offensive. An initial “Stand to” was ordered for St. Patrick’s Day before mobilisation was put off by a new Collins pact with Craig. The Northern rising was rescheduled for mid-May 1922.
On 12/14 May hundreds of rifles sent by Collins arrived in the Glens in an oil tanker driven by an ex-British soldier, Charlie Connolly, who bluffed his way into getting the British military to assist him when his transporter broke down. Volunteers were mobilised to distribute them and prepare for the Rising.
The Northern Rising went ahead on 19 May. It involved widespread IRA activity across Belfast and the rest of Ulster. In North Antrim the main railway line was sabotaged at Dunloy, Ballycastle Barracks was attacked, Ballymena Railway station was fired, Masserene Castle was destroyed in Antrim, Cushendun and Martinstown barracks were attacked, an assault was made on Randalstown, the Unionist (Lord Cushendun) John MacNeill’s house was gutted, and bridges were demolished across the county.
“Having drawn many of the most active Republican fighters to the North Collins, presumably under increasing British pressure, decided to subvert the Northern offensive himself, resulting in it going off at half-cock.
“The 2nd Northern Division went into action in the Six Counties but found the two Pro-Treaty Border Divisions mysteriously failing to act in support of it. Collins held back the Pro-Treaty IRA in Longford and Monaghan, presumably in preparation for his impending war on the opponents of the Treaty in the South… The 3rd Northern Division began its offensive in Down only to find itself confronted with large amounts of Specials coming from Newry, who were supposed to have been engaged by Frank Aiken’s men. O’Duffy was contacted to order the 4th Northern Division into action but it failed to take the field. The 4th Northern Division under Frank Aiken which had assembled in large numbers throughout Armagh and South Down called off its offensive and began, instead, settling accounts with local Unionists. The IRA in Belfast, Down and North Antrim were isolated and mopped up by the Specials.
“Although Frank Aiken had been ordered to stand down his men and to cancel the offensive Collins neglected to inform the 2nd and 3rd Northern Divisions which covered the bulk of the Six Counties outside of Armagh and Fermanagh.” (Catastrophe, pp. 165-6)
In any objective assessment of the conflict in North Antrim the terrorism that took place was done so entirely by the Ulster Unionists against the ordinary folk of the Glens. The IRA conducted the open and honourable warfare as part of the Irish democracy, assisted by those in Dublin who signed the Treaty. A look at the events of June 1922 in North Antrim, after Collins had subverted his own policy, reveals this.
On 23 June three lorry loads of police rolled into Cushendall. The day before Collins had had Sir Henry Wilson, former Chief of the Imperial General Staff, and then organiser of the new Ulster security apparatus, assassinated in London. The Specials were determined on reprisal and any Catholic would do.
In calling for an inquiry into the events in Cushendall that day Joe Devlin asked Churchill in the House of Commons on 27 July:
“Mr. DEVLIN asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether his attention has been called to the circumstances under which three young men, John Gore, James McAllister, and John Hill, were killed in Cushendall, County Antrim, on the night of Friday, 23rd June last, by members of the Ulster special police, who arrived in the village with British soldiers in motor lorries and Crossley cars; whether he is aware that the Northern Government has issued an official statement to the effect that these men were killed in an attempt to ambush a party of specials; that overwhelming testimony is forthcoming from eyewitnesses that there was no ambush or attempted ambush on the occasion; that the killing was deliberate and unprovoked; that on arrival in Cushendall the specials opened fire on the people who were standing in the streets, and when these scattered and fled to shelter, the specials entered houses where John Gore and John Hill were, and, after asking these men what religion they were, shot them on learning they were Catholics; and that the specials had arrested James McAllister when he was cycling along the country road to his home in Glenariffe, and brought him in a motor to Cushendall, where they shot him dead under revolting circumstances; and whether, in view of these facts, he will appoint an impartial commission to inquire into the matter, or, otherwise, send an independent representative to investigate the facts on the spot and report to the Imperial Government?”
The subsequent Inquiry into the cold-blooded massacre was quashed on the basis that it was the responsibility of the new ‘Northern Ireland’ government rather than an Imperial matter. So nothing ever came of it. The details of Barrington-Ward’s Inquiry were placed under the Official Secrets Act, barring it from view for 50 years. T.P. O’Connor was told that the British government had commissioned the report only because British troops had been involved. The Coalition made only a feeble effort to get Craig’s government to explain themselves. Barrington-Ward’s report was due to be made public in 1972 but was then delayed for a further 25 years until the Good Friday Agreement talks forced its release.
On 24 May, just outside Cushendall, at Glenariffe, local volunteers assembled a large ambush on the coast road the Specials had to negotiate beside the cliff face (Antrim’s Patriot Dead gives the date of the event as 24 June, but I think this is mistaken). Reconnaissance took place at the lower levels of the glen, known as the ‘sand fields’, not far from what is Glenarriffe’s hurling pitch, today. This flat area, with its hedgerows and ditches, offered the volunteers cover whilst also providing areas to retreat if necessary.
However, the Specials did not show all day and as darkness fell, the volunteers stood down leaving only Charlie McAllister and Pat McVeigh remaining in position while the other members of the unit retired for the night.
During the evening McAllister and McVeigh decided to leave the sand-fields and take up higher ground on the side of Carneill mountain in a rocky area known as the Slaughans. They may have been journeying to the other side of the rock face to join up with an ambush party further down the road preparing a mine on Ardclinis Bridge for the Specials. This was, for some reason, detonated before two lorry loads of Specials arrived and McVeigh and McAllister appear to have engaged the Specials from the rock face, perhaps to cover the retreat of their comrades. The two men had been joined by Pat Graham, another local volunteer.
The three volunteers were trapped on the rock face and engaged the enemy over a prolonged period until all their ammunition was spent. The Specials closed in and killed Pat McVeigh and Charlie McAllister, mutilating with bayonets as they had done with one of the victims of the Cushendall massacre a day earlier. Their bodies were left for locals to find and recover – which they did with great shock.
Pat Graham managed to escape over the top of the mountain under fire from the Specials and trekked across the Antrim plateau to Carnlough. A bullet is reputed to have fortunately struck his revolver. He later fled to America.
An attempt was made by another volunteer unit from Waterfoot, led by the O/C, Tom Fitzpatrick, to rescue the men. This help, however, arrived too late to save McAllister & McVeigh.
Pat McVeigh and Charlie McAllister are buried not far from where they fell in the small churchyard in Glenariffe. Glenariffe GAA club, The Oisíns, play their hurling matches at the McAllister & McVeigh Memorial Park, in Glenariffe, which was opened in 1947. It is here, through the gates, that the community centre was to be built.
The price that the DUP seems to be attempting to exact on the Nationalist people of the Glens seems to be one of having to erase their memories of the struggle they took part in to establish a national democracy in Ireland in order to receive Council money. Perhaps some of the money frittered away on reconciliation with fundamentalists could be given to the people who supported democracy in 1918-22 instead.
Whilst Dublin collaborates in Remembrance of Britain’s Great War it all washes over the Unionists. No Commemoration Here!
The people of the Glens were badly affected by what happened after Collins’ plans led to disaster in 1922. They were largely quelled for the best part of a century. But the DUP actions have shown that passivity is really no longer an option. The build up to the Centenary of these events will indeed be interesting if the DUP find that instead of destroying memory they contribute to a revival of it.
Published in The Irish Political Review, August 2016