Black and Tans, Ireland’s colonial history, Britain’s war crimes

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Varadkar and Flanagan bow to Irish backlash over plan to commemorate British war crimes in Ireland

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Ireland’s prime minister, Leo Varadkar (pictured above, at right), and law and order minister, Charlie Flanagan, both from the Fine Gael political party, have been shamed into dropping a contentious commemoration of the Black and Tans and the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC). Blaming the Irish people – who pay his salary – for being immature, Varadkar has refused to stop digging himself deeper into a hole. Varadkar, who has never faced the electorate as prime minister*, and Flanagan planned to commemorate the RIC and the Black and Tans at a ceremony in Dublin Castle, former HQ of the British colonial forces in Ireland, on January 17, 2019.

*Update, 23/01/2020: A general election has been called in Ireland, to take place on 08/02/2020. Come back to Readathriller.com for news and updates.

Update, 14/05/2020: At time of writing, over 3 months after the election, Fine Gael is still in power, with Leo Varadkar still Prime Minister. No party won a majority and the vote went: 1. Sinn Fein 25%; 2. Fianna Fail 22%; 3. Fine Gael 21%. The parties have been unable to form a Government.

The Wolfe Tones top the music charts

After an unprecedented backlash by most of Ireland (excluding westbrit* media such as The Irish Times, and RTE, the state-owned and state-controlled TV and radio broadcaster), Varadkar has been forced to ‘postpone’ the commemoration and the Wolfe Tones have reached number one in both the Ireland and Britain iTunes charts, with their rousing, anti-British song, ‘Come Out Ye Black and Tans’.

*Westbrit is a derogatory term used in Ireland to denote media, public figures or institutions that maintain colonial-era attitudes, wistfully wishing that the Republic of Ireland was still ‘West Britain’.

Black and Tans and Irish War of Independence FAQ

What was the Irish War of Independence?

Ireland was under the complete control of Britain since the Norman invasion in 1169. That was around a century after the Battle of Hastings, 1066, when the French Normans took over Britain. Britain ruled the entire island of Ireland until the end of the Irish War of Independence, 1919-21, when Ireland was partitioned.

What started the Irish War of Independence?

There was an unsuccessful rebellion in Ireland in 1916, called the Easter Rising because it started on Easter Monday, April 24, 1916, while Britain was still fighting World War 1 (1914-18). British military and police forces quelled the Rising, levelling much of Dublin with heavy artillery, and the rebellion organisers were then executed. Though much of the population didn’t actively support the Rising, they were horrified by Britain’s brutal response. Irish anger continued to build, and the Irish War of Independence began in 1919. This time around, instead of taking on the far superior British forces militarily, Irish leader Michael Collins and the Irish Republican Army (IRA) organised a highly effective guerilla campaign.

Who were the Black and Tans?

The Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) police force was losing territory to the Irish guerillas, so Winston Churchill formed the RIC Auxiliaries with British veterans of World War 1, to support the RIC. Their uniforms were part RIC black, part British Army khaki, so that’s why the Irish called them the Black and Tans. The Black and Tans were well-armed, well-paid and above the law. They basically went around Ireland terrorising the civilian population, committing numerous war crimes and atrocities. That’s why they are hated in Ireland to this day.

What atrocities did the Black and Tans commit in Ireland?

Oh, lots. From randomly shooting people on the street, to torturing and burning IRA suspects alive, to burning down entire cities, such as Cork, the British forces committed multiple war crimes. On Bloody Sunday, 21 November, 1920, Black and Tans shot dead 13 civilians at a sports event in Dublin, in retaliation for the IRA’s assassination of British secret agents earlier that day.

When did the Irish border come into being?

When British public opinion, and even the British King, turned against the Black and Tan brutality in Ireland, peace negotiations with the Irish rebels in 1921 led to the partition of Ireland in May of that year. The north-eastern part of Ireland, 6 counties of Ulster, was home to British loyalists, and that stayed British, in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, where it remains to this day. The remaining 26 counties of Ireland became the Irish Free State, now known as the Republic of Ireland. Some of the Irish fighters didn’t agree with partition, so there followed a brief but very bloody Irish Civil War, which again included levelling much of Dublin. The partitionists won, Michael Collins was killed during hostilities, and the bad blood poisons Irish politics to this day.

Who is Leo Varadkar and what is Fine Gael?

Leo Varadkar is current (January 2020) prime minister (known locally as ‘taoiseach’ meaning ‘chief’) of Ireland and leader of Fine Gael. Fine Gael is Ireland’s largest political party, and is centre-right conservative. Fine Gael is considered the ‘pro-treaty’ Irish Civil War party (see above), while Fianna Fail is considered the ‘anti-treaty’ Irish Civil War party. At time of writing (January 2020), Fine Gael are supported in Government by Fianna Fail, which means that there is no effective opposition in Irish politics.

Why are Fine Gael known as the Blueshirts?

Fine Gael members are known colloquially as ‘Blueshirts’ as their predecessors formed a group that travelled to Spain in the 1930s to fight for fascist dictator Franco in the Spanish Civil War. Fine Gael is currently part of the centre-right European People’s Party group in the European Parliament, which also counts Hungary’s Fidesz party as a member.


Learn more

This Wikipedia article is a good introduction to the Black and Tans and their war crimes in Ireland: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_and_Tans

Read about the Irish War of Independence: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irish_War_of_Independence

Read about the European People’s Party: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_People’s_Party_group


Image credit

A group of “Black and Tans” and Auxiliaries in Dublin, April 1921 By National Library of Ireland on The Commons – Relief, No restrictions, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24252409

By The White House from Washington, DC – President Trump Meets with the Taoiseach of Ireland, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7950657

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