Ireland 1920 ; Black and Tans on the rampage, the Irish republican Lord Mayor of Cork, Thomas MacCurtain shot dead by RIC members who were out of uniform at the time (for that purpose) ; notices, thousands of them, were stapled-up throughout the country, warning that ‘…for every member of the Crown Forces shot, two Sinn Féiners would also be shot.. ‘.

The then President of the Irish Republic (all 32 Counties), Eamon de Valera, was in America ; he had been there since June 1919, campaigning for support to get the British out of Ireland, politically and militarily and, at a meeting in Washington on the 16th November 1920 – 102 years ago on this date – he announced the formation of the ‘American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic’ (AARIR), nicknamed ‘the Growl’ due to how the acronym ‘aarir’ sounded when it was spoken.

This new Irish republican organisation was headquartered in Chicago and, within a year, was said to consist of about 150 branches/councils throughout America and a claimed membership of about 800,000 activists.

This was not new political territory for Irish republicanism, as there were other support groups in existence, in Ireland, America and elsewhere. For instance, there were two main Irish support groups in America – ‘Clan na Gael’ (founded in June 1867 by Jerome J. Collins) and the ‘Friends of Irish Freedom’ (FOIF) organisation, founded in March 1916 by different Irish groups collectively known as the ‘Irish Race Convention’.

Members of the ‘Clan’ were militant, and openly supported the physical force element in the struggle for Irish freedom – they supported the Irish Republican Brotherhood and recognised the Brotherhood “as the Government of the Irish Republic virtually established.” They had no second-thoughts about the use of force in removing the British presence from Ireland, whereas the ‘Friends of Irish Freedom’ group (although guided by the ‘Clan’) stated that its aim was “to encourage and assist any movement that will tend to bring about the National Independence of Ireland”. Both groups, while perhaps not seeing eye-to-eye on every issue, played their parts well.

The Irish-American support group, the ‘Friends Of Irish Freedom’, was ‘gently-prodding’ the candidates in the November 1920 US presidential election not to forget the Irish situation ; the candidates were gently, but firmly, reminded that the Irish vote could be of assistance to them in their bid to be elected.

But others in the Irish camp did not agree that ‘gentle-prodding’ was the way to go ; de Valera had support in the Clan na Gael organisation (and some support in the ‘Friends Of Irish Freedom’ organisation as well) for his opinion that, using the huge Irish vote as leverage, both US presidential candidates could and should be convinced to take a stronger line re the ‘Irish (ie British) Problem’ – if they wanted the Irish vote then both candidates would have to have it included in their manifesto’s that the Irish situation would be a priority for them (ie a ‘Brits Out’ policy). However, some members of the Clan na Gael were more, and/or also, supportive of the FOIF ‘gentle-prodding’ route. Confusion reigned, and circumstances, grudges and in-fighting were by now joining the fray.

And that wasn’t the first time that grudges and personality issues took from the objective – a few years previously (ie around 1916) the Clan na Gael group (as powerful then as it was in 1920) had brought pressure to bear on US President Wilson to demand from the British that they get out of Ireland. Wilson was not overtly concerned about the Irish situation, but was damned if he was going to support any proposals/requests /demands from a man he disliked ; US Democrat (and Irish Fenian) Judge Daniel Cohalan!

It was Cohalan (pictured) and the Clan organisation that financed the opposition to US President Wilson’s ‘League of Nations’ proposal – indeed, of the estimated $900,000 dollar ‘war fund’ that the Clan had, only $115,000 dollars was spent in Ireland ; the other $785,000 dollars was spent in attacking the ‘League of Nations’, or ‘Britains League’, as Judge Daniel Cohalan and John Devoy called it. The ‘Big Guns’ of the day – Henry Cabot Lodge and William Borah, for instance – addressed huge rallies against Wilson’s /’Britains League’, and those rallies were organised and financed by Clan na Geal.

At the National Convention of the US Republican Party, the delegates were being canvassed by Judge Daniel Cohalan and his people when Eamon de Valera arrived with his team to canvass the same crowd – Judge Cohalan had previously requested that de Valera and his team stay away, and a verbal row between both camps ensued, in full view of those they were trying to canvass!

By June 1920, however, both the US Republican and Democratic candidates had accepted the ‘gentle prodding’ approach towards the situation in Ireland, as recommended by John Devoy, Judge Cohalan and others in the ‘Friends Of Irish Freedom’. The other resolution (ie ‘put-it-in-writing-or loose-the-Irish-vote’), which was supported by Eamon de Valera, Harry Boland and Clan na Gael, was rejected by both US camps.

However, the dispute between the Clan and the FOIF had been closely monitored by the Irish Republican Brotherhood leadership in Ireland and they were not at all pleased with either group.

The Clan recognised the Supreme Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood as the Government of the (all-Ireland) Irish Republic so, when – within weeks of the Clan/FOIF dispute – an order came from the leadership of the Irish Republican Brotherhood in Ireland directing the Clan “to stand down”, it obeyed – but under protest. Without the support of the Irish Republican Brotherhood in Ireland, both the Clan and the FOIF were severely weakened and could not now claim to be linked to the Republican Movement in Ireland.

And so it was that, on the 16th November in 1920 – 102 years ago on this date – Eamon de Valera (and other leadership figures in Ireland) set-up a new organisation – the ‘American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic’ (the ‘GROWL’) – and, with the backing and promotion of the IRB leadership and the support in America of figures such as Joseph McGarrity, the ‘AARIR’ was successful, and raised thousands of dollars for the then Republican Movement in Ireland.

Eamon de Valera was back in Ireland by December that year (ie 1920), but had left his mark in America ; the publicity generated by the fall-out between the Clan na Gael and the Friends Of Irish Freedom organisations, and the establishment of the new ‘AARIR’ group had put the Irish situation back on ‘Page One’ – it was a hot topic again.

The British were, of course, watching every move – they realised that the millions of Irish people in America, with their sympathy, support and money for an armed campaign in Ireland, plus steady support amongst the Irish population in England itself for an armed campaign, was perhaps more than they could successfully counter in the short-term ; they were losing the propaganda war. A willingness to hold truce talks with the Irish rebels was signalled, which led to the ‘Treaty Of Surrender’ in December 1921.

But, thirteen months after it was formed (ie November 1920 – December 1921), the ‘American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic’ was thrown into disarray because of that ‘Treaty’ – splits and divisions loomed -‘divide and conquer’ was brought into play by those who were opposed to the republican objective.

The ‘Treaty of Surrender’ was, at first, supported by one of the main Irish-American leaders in the US, Joseph McGarrity, who claimed that it confirmed that “Irelands sovereign independence is acknowledged by the British Cabinet and their action is approved by Britain’s King. This much is certain …”, and he verbally attacked those in America who doubted that it was a legitmate conclusion to the centuries of occupation because of, among other reasons, the clause demanding an ‘Oath of Allegiance’ to the British Crown which was contained in it.

Those who raised the issue of the oath were, said McGarrity – “doubters (who) were guilty of a despicable attempt to make it appear that the citizens of the Republic (sic) of Ireland are to give allegiance to (Britains) King George..” and he dismissed the oath ( “the supposed oath”, as he called it) as “a very clever juggling with words” on the part of the British – he suggested that it was simply a face-saving exercise by Westminster “to give as little hurt to the British Ministers and to the King’s pride as possible.”

McGarrity was, at this stage, ‘in for a penny, in for a pound’ ; some of his comrades in America were doubtful about the ‘benefits’ of that Treaty, while others had already rejected it and still others were in support of it ; amongst the questions raised about it was one concerning the name of the new (‘officially’ British-free) State, but Joseph McGarrity was going ‘hell for leather’ to ‘sell’ it to his fellow Irish-American comrades, as he apparently believed himself that it was the answer to the question of the British presence in Ireland.

But when it was brought to his attention that, among others, Cathal Brugha, Austin Stack and Eamon de Valera had stated that it (the Treaty) was “…in violent conflict with the wishes of the Irish people..”, he re-evaluated his position to it thus ‘repairing’ his standing with the Anti-Treaty forces and again threw his political weight behind de Valera.

McGarrity continued to support de Valera even when dev left the Republican Movement and formed Fianna Fail in 1926, and he also supported the Fianna Fail organisation when they entered Leinster House in 1927 (a move which even the remnants of the ‘Clan na Gael’ organisation in America could not stomach, thus prompting THEM to disown the Fianna Fail group!) .

But even Joseph McGarrity had his limits ; Fianna Fail had by now strayed so far from the republican path that he began to ‘go cool’ in his relationship with them – this happened in the early 1930’s, when IRA people were being not only jailed by Fianna Fail but executed by them, too. Also in the mid-1930’s, McGarrity became the ‘main man’ behind the new ‘Irish Hospitals Sweepstakes’ organisation, a fantastic money-spinner in its day. But that’s another story…!

The 1921 ‘Treaty of Surrender’ caused a split in the Republican Movement in Ireland and, of course, the ‘American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic’, which was by then, as stated, just 13 months on the go, followed suit – and split ; it found itself in a weakened position and unable to provide proper assistance to the Irish republican cause during the 1922-1923 Free State/British counter revolution against the Republic and, by the time de Valera left the Republican Movement in 1926, the ‘AARIR’ existed, to all intent and purpose, in name only.

The ‘AARIR’ (the ‘GROWL’) was an organisation established by Eamon de Valera and others to assist the Irish republican cause but it was to be allowed to drift and die by dev and his crew because that was the fate they hoped would befall Irish republicanism – that it would drift and die.

Yet, 102 years after the establishment of the ‘AARIR’ and 96 years after it faded, Irish republicanism still exists. And its objective is the same – a full British military and political withdrawal from Ireland, and the establishment of a true 32-County federal democratic socialist republic.

And regardless of how this State, and others, growl (!) and/or object to it – SFP/RSF is here for the long haul!


From ‘The United Irishman’ newspaper, April 1955.

In his oration, Domhnall O Cathain said –

“Wolfe Tone has told us that there is but one cure for all our evils – break the connection with England – and 800 years of history has proved that there is but one means of achieving that object.

Then there are others who say beware of oath-bound societies and calmly, unemotionally, I can tell you that there is no oath attached to any branch of the Republican Movement. Men (sic) of unswerving loyalty, capable of the greatest sacrifices, whose only reward is the threat of punishment, imprisonment or even death ; such men (sic) don’t need an oath.

The pages of Irish history are full of noble deeds and heroic sacrifices, but they are also puncuated by slander. There were always those who hastened to throw cold water on anything that looked likely to revive the spirit of freedom but, nevertheless, the struggle has gone on and will be carried on until the last British soldier is driven out of Ireland…”



In 1920, in Ireland, the IRA were both attacking British and pro-British forces and defending themselves from attacks by those armed forces.

In November that year the British combatants in the RIC Barracks in Scariff, in County Clare, were attacked by the IRA in their base and, despite searching the area, the RIC and their colleagues in the Auxiliaries were unable to find them.

So they put a plan together to hunt down the ‘dissidents’ and, on Tuesday, the 16th November (1920) – 102 years ago on this date – they put their plan into action ; those British forces (the Auxies) took command of a ‘Board of Works’ steamship called ‘The Shannon’, in Killaloe and, with dozens of its armed members on board, hidden below deck, they sailed the vessel into Williamstown Harbour, East Clare, and docked it there.

Locals were more or less expecting this, as the harbour was due to be dredged and the arrival of such a ship was perceived to be the start of that job, but what they weren’t expecting was for dozens of armed British agents to move quickly from the ship and take up offensive positions around the nearby Williamstown House , on the shores of Lough Derg, near Whitegate, paying particular attention to the caretakers lodge.

Some of the Auxies entered the lodge and ‘arrested’ the caretaker, Michael Egan, and found three other men on the premises – Michael ‘Brud’ MacMahon, Alfie Rogers and Martin Gildea. Those three men were officers of the Fourth Battalion of the East Clare Brigade, IRA, and had been on the run since the last attack on Scariff RIC Barracks, but Michael Egan was not an IRA man.

The four prisoners were treated roughly, put on board the steamship and taken to the town of Killaloe, were they were tortured by the Auxies, before being marched, at about midnight, in the direction of Killaloe Bridge, which had to be crossed to gain access to the local RIC Barracks.

The Auxies claimed that they fired ten shots on the bridge and the four men (with their hands tied behind their backs) were shot dead ; the Auxies claimed that Martin Gildea died from one bullet in the head, as did the caretaker, Michael Egan. Alfie Rogers was killed by two bullets to his abdomen and one bullet to his head, and Brud MacMahon died from one bullet to the abdomen. Four bullets had apparently ‘missed their targets’ because, according to the Auxies, the four men had made a break for it on the bridge and were ‘shot dead while trying to escape from custody’, but only after they had failed to halt when called upon to do so.

An ‘inquest’ was held into the shooting but no medical report was produced, but a report from a local newspaper was – ‘It is remarked as a peculiar circumstance that the prisoners should have been brought there at that hour, as it is stated they had been brought to the Lakeside Hotel, occupied by the police, early that evening.

At the bridge, which is about 200 yards long, the road is straight and narrow, and underneath flows the Shannon at a depth which would mean instantaneous death to a man plunging off the bridge. The spot would not, therefore, be considered a favourable place to attempt an escape.

The natives heard 15 or 20 rifle shots that night, followed by moans and a pathetic cry for the priest. No priest was, however, summoned, although the Presbytery is only about 100 yards from the scene of the tragedy…’

The British repeated their claim that the four men were shot while trying to escape, but the coroner’s inquest returned a verdict of wilful murder against the British forces stationed at Killaloe, and the local clergy spoke up about having been denied admission to the barracks where the bodies were laid out.

On the 18th November (1920), the families of the four men were sent telegrams informing them that their man was shot dead while trying to escape, and that lie was repeated in Westminster and, indeed, the British ‘Chief Secretary for Ireland’ told the ‘House of Commons’ that the crown forces were entitled to fire on people who were trying to escape and who refused to halt when challenged.

When, eventually, the families were ‘permitted’ to claim the bodies, they were transported to Scariff Church in four hearses.

Despite the enforced 7pm to 7am curfew, the locals were determined to hold their own inquiry and the coroner for East Clare, Patrick Culloo, at great risk to himself, made his way to the church and convened an inquest there. A doctor agreed to examine the bodies and he found that each had at least 17 bullet wounds, all fired from close range. An inquest jury returned a verdict of wilful murder by members of the crown forces.

Although treated with contempt by the British forces, over 50 priests gathered in Scariff Church, in East Clare, and held a requiem mass for the four men, following which the men were buried together in the church grounds, despite the best efforts of four lorry-loads of Black and Tans and Auxiliaries who had surrounded the church, the graveyard and the mourners, forcing people to pass through a cordon when leaving the church which, incidentally, was noisily searched by the crown forces while funeral proceedings were underway.

‘The dreadful news through Ireland has spread from shore to shore,

for such a deed no living man has ever heard before.

The deeds of Cromwell in his time I’m sure no worse could do,

than those Black and Tans who murdered those four youths at Killaloe.

Three of the four were on the run and searched for all around,

until with this brave Egan lad from Williamstown was found,

they asked him were the boys inside ; in honour he proved true,

because he would not tell the pass he was shot in Killaloe.

On the fourth day of November that day of sad renown,

they were sold and traced through Galway to that house in Williamstown.

They never got a fighting chance but were captured while asleep,

and the way that they ill-treated them would cause your blood to creep.

They bound them tight both hands and feet with twine they could not break,

and they brought them down to Killaloe by steamer on the lake.

Without clergy, judge or jury upon the bridge they shot them down,

and their blood flowed with the Shannon, convenient to the town.

With three days of perseverance, their bodies they let go,

at ten o’clock at night their funeral passed through Ogonnelloe.

They were kept in Scarriff chapel for two nights and a day,

now in that place of rest they lie, kind people for them pray.

If you were at their funeral it was an awful sight,

to see the local clergy and they all dressed up in white,

such a sight as these four martyrs in one grave was never seen,

for they died to save the flag they loved, the orange white and green.

Now that they are dead and gone I hope in peace they’ll rest,

like all their Irish brave comrades, forever among the blessed.

The day will come when all will know who sold the lives away,

of young McMahon, Rogers, and valiant Egan and Gildea.’


Roy Foster (pictured) in the British media.

By Barra Ó Séaghdha.

From ‘Magill’ Annual, 2002.

It was symbolically appropriate that when Professor Foster was writing his own ‘Modern Ireland 1600-1972’ his famine chapter should be titled ‘The Famine : Before and After’ – before, after, but not during.

If instead of brushing a cataclysm under the historical carpet, perhaps out of fear of inflaming popular prejudice, professional historians had gathered and made known in an accessible fashion the results of their research into the famine, there might not have been the same sudden – and temporary – surge in emotionalism as people contemplated and imagined the event for the first time.

Jonathan Freedland paraphrases Foster as suggesting that the 150th anniversary “prompted not a series of sober, factual analyses, but a 200-acre famine theme park on Knockfierna Hill in West Limerick, promising tourists the chance to ‘experience first hand’ the privations of mass hunger.”

Foster seems happier to denounce this little-known park than to address the far more serious and successful ‘Famine Museum’ at Strokestown House…



Jer O’Leary (pictured) has become bannermaker to the radical and labour movement. Brian Trench reports on the growing recognition of his art.

From ‘Magill’ magazine, May 1987.

Jer O’Leary has never felt obliged to turn any commission down on the basis that it was politically unacceptable ; “I don’t get asked by the wrong people. They know my stand.”

With last year’s exhibition of his work in the Project Arts Centre in Dublin and this year’s participation in international events, Jer’s street art has come inside. The Arts Council and the Cultural Relations Committee have helped him get to Huddersfield and New York.

At the last time of asking, the inner core of Aosdána, the artists’ assembly, did not want to take him into their membership as an artist. There are some grounds for believing that, on the next occasion, they may view the matter differently.

(END of ‘Forth His Banners Go’ ; NEXT – ‘Funds and Fine Gael’s Leader’, from 2003.)

Thanks for the visit, and for reading,

Sharon and the team.

About 11sixtynine

A mother of three (and a Granny!) and a political activist , living in Dublin , Ireland.
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