100 Years Ago This Week: The Truce
After two and a half years of guerrilla warfare, on July 11, 1921, a truce was declared between the Irish Republican Army and the combined military/police force of the British government. The Gaelic American reporting of the truce was ecstatic, but the animosity Editor John Devoy had towards Eamon De Valera was palatable immediately from the headline, “Situation Favorable to So-Called ‘Dominion Home Rule’ Engineered By De Valera Through His Sinister Action In America – A Game In Which The Cards Are Stacked Against Ireland – A Hard Ordeal Yet Before Her.” This divisive characterization was to be a foreshadowing of the split in the republican movement prompted by the Anglo-Irish Treaty in December 1921, which began the Irish Civil War.
The declaration of the truce was preceded by the bloodiest eight months of the conflict. Out of the 2,300 total number of deaths throughout the conflict, about 1,000 occurred between January and July 1921. Domestic and international pressure on the British government, combined with the low supplies and dwindling manpower of the IRA, led to both sides being willing to sit down for negotiation.
On July 14 De Valera met with the British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George for the beginning of peace talks. De Valera was insistent on Ireland being recognized as a republic, which Lloyd George said was out of the question. Infamously, Lloyd George, a Welsh language speaker, asked De Valera what the Irish word for “republic” was. De Valera was allegedly quiet for a moment, before admitting that both words used in Irish, “poblacht” and “saorstat” did not directly translate to “republic”. It was then that Lloyd George remarked that the Celts were historically not republicans, and said that an Irish “Free State” – the direct translation of “saorstat” was a more acceptable title.
These negotiations for a treaty were delayed by a few impasses, the most difficult being the British demands for and the Irish refusal to surrender their weapons, but after some time the British removed this requirement, and the Irish negotiating team, this time led by Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith, made their way to London in October 1921.
Today the Irish government marked the anniversary of the truce by having a National Day of Commemoration (Lá Cuimhneacháin Náisiúnta), honoring all Irish people who died in past wars or United Nations peacekeeping missions.