Call To Arms:
The Ulster Rebellion, 1966-72
By Chris Oakley
based on the series "It (Almost)Happened Here" by the same author
Eamon de Valera, prime minister of Ireland since the modern Irish Free State was founded in 1922, drafts a new constitution that replaces the original 1922 constitution and formally cuts Ireland’s ties to the British Commonwealth.1 The new constitution is ratified in a national referendum on July 1st and officially becomes law six months later; the departure of Ireland from the Commonwealth leads Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler to believe it might be possible to one day make Ireland an ally of Germany.
The National Guard, an Irish fascist organization colloquially known as "the Blueshirts",2 begins a bombing campaign in Britain in protest of Britain’s declaration of war against Nazi Germany and in hopes of sparking a revolution that will put pro-German governments in power in both Great Britain and Ireland. National Guard leader Eoin O’Duffy, an ardent Hitler supporter, attempts to enlist the aid of British Union of Fascists party chairman Oswald Mosley in his fight to bring about an Anglo-Irish fascist empire; however, O’Duffy and his supporters are forced to go underground when Mosley, his wife Diana, and hundreds of other BUF members are arrested by Scotland Yard in early 1940 after Yard detectives uncover evidence of O’Duffy’s secret negotiations with the BUF. Mosley and his wife will eventually be hanged for treason.
In one of his biggest strategic mistakes of the Second World War, Adolf Hitler orders the German army to invade Ireland with the goal of securing it as a base for a future invasion of Great Britain. Shortly after the German invasion commences, Eamon de Valera and British prime minister Winston S. Churchill sign an accord under which British ground, air, and naval forces will aid the Irish in fight to drive the Germans out of southern Ireland; one of that accord’s key provisions guarantees negotiations will take place between Great Britain and Ireland once the war is over to resolve the question of reunifying the six counties of Ulster(a.k.a. Northern Ireland) with the twenty-six counties of the Republic of Ireland.3 The invasion of southern Ireland will later provoke the United States to enter the Second World War on the Allied side; the Nazis’ attack on Ireland, a neutral country and one to which many Americans trace their ancestry, will destroy Hitler’s slim remaining hopes for keeping the US neutral while he finishes off Great Britain. Hitler’s blunder in invading Ireland will be dramatically underscored in January of 1941 when war breaks out between Germany and the Soviet Union, trapping the Third Reich in the very situation it had been trying at all costs to avoid: a two-front war.
After two years’ hard fighting between Allied and German forces in Ireland, the Wehrmacht withdraws the last of its troops from Irish soil. New Irish prime minister John Costello, who succeeded Eamon de Valera after de Valera was killed in a Nazi air raid on Dublin the previous year, meets with Winston Churchill to reaffirm that Great Britain and Ireland will hold negotiations over the future of Ulster once the Second World War is over.
The Second World War comes to an end. Winston Churchill is voted out as British prime minister and a new Labour government with Clement Attlee as prime minister is sworn into office. Two of Attlee’s first foreign policy decisions as PM are to finalize a timetable for the start of Anglo-Irish negotiations regarding the future of northern Ireland and to ask for recommendations from the Foreign Office as to who should represent Great Britain at those negotiations.
Great Britain and Ireland begin talks over the future of the six counties of Ulster. Almost immediately Belfast’s most hard-line conservative newspaper prints an editorial calling on Britain to pull out of those negotiations, asserting that a British withdrawal from Northern Ireland would have "disastrous" consequences for the Protestant community; in response the Ulster capital’s largest left- wing newspaper publishes its own editorial urging Clement Attlee to continue honoring Churchill’s wartime commitment to the negotiations concerning Northern Ireland.
Discarding the last traces of its former neutrality in international affairs, Ireland becomes a charter member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).4
Great Britain and Ireland sign the Irish Reunification Pact, a treaty formally restoring Ulster’s six counties to the jurisdiction of the Republic of Ireland after generations of British rule.5 The Pact is applauded by some people in Great Britain as a welcome shift away from her colonialist past and condemned by others as a sign that British power is weakening; some of the pact’s British critics openly express fears that Great Britain’s withdrawal from Northern Ireland may touch off anti-British rebellions elsewhere in the world. The Pact is also a major source of controversy within some sections of the Northern Irish population; the entire Northern Ireland delegation to the British Parliament walks out of the House of Commons in protest.
Governor of Northern Ireland6 John de Vere Loder, Second Baron of Wakehurst, signs an executive order officially turning over political and administrative control of Ulster’s six counties to the Irish government in Dublin effective immediately in compliance with the terms of the 1954 Irish Reunification Pact. March 22nd, the date when the executive order officially takes effect, will subsequently be deemed by historians as the date of Ireland’s reunification. Under the articles of the Pact and de Vere Loder’s executive order, British troops begin evacuating Ulster in early April; their presence in the region will be gradually phased out over a five-year span, with UN peacekeepers being sent to replace the British forces and assist the Irish regular army in maintaining the peace until Dublin can assume full responsibility for the security of the six counties that formerly made up Northern Ireland.
One of Ulster’s most prominent Protestant clergymen, Reverend Ian Paisley, issues a statement condemning the pact as a betrayal of the Irish Protestant community and pledging to overturn it by whatever means prove necessary; backing up his words with action, Paisley leads a group of about 300 supporters in a protest march through downtown Belfast. This relatively modest turnout is the first in a series of anti-Pact rallies organized by Paisley that will eventually grow to become weekly events and draw crowds of as many as 40,000.
In accordance with the Irish Reunification Pact, the British Army withdraws the last of its troops from Ulster. Their departure marks the end of an era in British history.
Supporters of Reverend Paisley begin holding monthly mass rallies in Belfast and Derry calling for the Irish Reunification Pact to be revoked. Paisley’s opponents respond by organizing a series of counter-demonstrations in support of the Pact.
The Ulster regional general secretary for the Communist Party of Ireland (CPI) gives a speech in Derry calling on all party members in northern Ireland to defend the Reunification Pact "with your words if you wish, with your deeds if you can, and with your very lives if you must."
Irish Catholics hold a mass rally in Armagh in support of the Irish Reunification Pact. A surprisingly large number of Irish Protestants, critical of Reverend Paisley’s inflammatory words and acts, also take part in the demonstration.
In an editorial marking the 20th anniversary of the end of the Nazi occupation of southern Ireland, the Cork Examiner newspaper expresses concern that Reverend Paisley’s anti-Reunification Pact agitation may lead to civil unrest.
A televised debate between Reunification Pact supporters and opponents turns into an exchange of insults and then a fistfight when the lead spokesman for the pro-Pact side of the debate calls one of the anti-Pact debaters a "dirty Nazi" in a fit of pique. Police have to be called to restore order, and at least one of the debaters is subsequently convicted of assault and battery.
In a press conference at 10 Downing Street, British prime minister Harold Macmillan states that he is prepared to use "stern measures" to stop anti-Pact groups from toppling the Irish government in Dublin. Although he gives no specifics on just what those "stern measures" might be, many people are convinced that they include the option of sending British troops back to Ulster; in fact, Irish foreign minister Frank Aiken has on the very day of Macmillan’s press conference been in contact with the British Ministry of Defence in London to inquire about obtaining British assistance for the Irish armed forces and UN peacekeepers in northern Ireland in stamping out any possible insurrection by anti-Pact extremists.
A Sunday sermon by Reverend Paisley is interrupted mid-service when a grenade is thrown into his church; two parishioners are killed and five injured in the blast but Paisley himself is able to escape unhurt. He blames the attack on pro-Reunification Pact groups, denouncing them as "terrorists" in his statements to the press the day after the attack.
At his largest anti-Pact rally yet, Reverend Paisley denounces the pro-Pact side as "Communist thugs", comparing them to the Khrushchev regime in the Soviet Union whose actions precipitated the Cuban Missile Crisis.
In one of his last and greatest speeches, former British prime minister Winston Churchill addresses a Rememberance Day7 rally in Tipperary and urges Irishmen of every religious and political stripe to resist what he calls "the predatory element that would seek to deprive Ireland of her hard-won precious unity". At a Rememberance Day banquet at the Irish embassy in Washington, Vice-President of the United States Lyndon B. Johnson tells the Irish ambassador to the US the White House will keep supporting the Dublin government in its efforts to preserve the 1954 Irish Reunification Pact.
The CPI holds May Day rallies in every major city in Ireland to reaffirm its pro-Reunification Pact stance. One of these rallies takes place just a few miles from Reverend Ian Paisley’s church in Belfast; its keynote speaker tells his listeners to "say no to fascist hatemongers like Paisley!". Paisley is incensed at this remark, and in his sermon the following Sunday rails against the CPI as "a viper’s nest of latter-day Eoin O’Duffys".8
En route home to Atlanta following his historic "I Have A Dream" speech in Washington, American civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King pens a letter to Irish Protestant and Catholic clergy urging them to put aside any quarrels they may have over the 1954 Reunification Pact and use their influence to help improve the economic, spiritual, and intellectual welfare of Ireland’s less fortunate citizens. Disputing Reverend Paisley’s assertions that the Pact is a threat to Irish Protestants, Dr. King says in his letter: "Poverty and ignorance, not the Reunification Pact, are the true enemies of the Irish people."
Two Irish Army soldiers in Enniskillen are seriously injured when a confrontation between pro-Pact and anti-Pact marchers escalates into a full-scale riot. British defense minister John Profumo, not yet engulfed in the call girl scandal that will eventually force him to resign his post, meets with then-Prime Minister Sir Alexander Douglas-Home to debrief him on contingency plans for the re-deployment of British troops to Ulster.
In fact, the Enniskillen riot is of sufficiently grave concern to prompt the UN General Assembly to convene an emergency session at which a resolution is proposed to extend the deployment of the UN Observer & Peacekeeping Mission to Ulster (UNOBMISUL) for another eighteen months. Reverend Paisley blasts the resolution, and the UN presence in northern Ireland in general, as "the tyrannical intrusion of foreigners in the internal affairs of the people of Ireland".
Plans for a summit in London between British, Irish, and U.S. diplomatic, spiritual, and political leaders to address Irish Protestant concerns about the Reunification Pact are disrupted first by the Profumo scandal and then by the assassination of President Kennedy. During this period, a party calling itself the Free Ulster Alliance begins advocating Ulster’s secession from Ireland and the establishment of an independent "Ulster Republic" under a socialist government; both pro-Pact and anti- Pact groups criticize this idea as being hopelessly unrealistic.
The Free Ulster Alliance holds its first major outdoor rally, marching through both Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods in Belfast to promote the party’s agenda of creating a separate nation of Ulster.
On the heels of the FUA’s Belfast march two days earlier the Dáil Éirann, Ireland’s national parliament, passes a resolution reasserting the "indivisible unity" of the Republic of Ireland.
In its annual editorial marking the anniversary of the end of the German occupation of southern Ireland, the Irish Times newspaper in Dublin ominously suggests the lingering tensions in northern Ireland over the 1954 Reunification Pact with Great Britain might be the catalyst for a new civil war engulfing Ireland as a whole if those tensions are not resolved soon.
In one his first major statements about Ireland as President of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson tells reporters at a White House press conference: "This administration is and will continue to be committed to defending the ideal of a free, unified, and democratic Ireland...As long as I’m President, the United States will continue to work with the Republic of Ireland and with our British allies in their efforts to safeguard Ireland’s hard-won unity against the extremist elements that would seek to disrupt it."
A delegation of CPI officials visits Moscow to secure increased Soviet financial aid for the CPI’s pro-Reunification Pact media and political campaign. That same day back in Dublin, the CPI’s general secretary gives a speech blasting the FUA as "reactionary puppets of the enemies of the working class in Ireland"; the FUA retaliates by denouncing the CPI as "a gang of revisionist idiots out of touch with the genuine modern democratic and revolutionary spirit of socialism."
In a tacit rebuke to Reverend Ian Paisley’s anti-Pact agitation the Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the Church of England and one of the most influential Protestant clergymen in the Western world, joins moderate Irish Protestant leaders and the Catholic Archbishop of Belfast for a pro-Pact rally in downtown Belfast.
The FUA prints a twelve-page manifesto outlining its agenda for making Ulster an independent socialist nation.
Irish prime minister Sean Lemass delivers a speech before the Dáil Éirann condemning the FUA as "the most hideous catastrophe to befall the people of Ireland since Hitler’s invasion". Just hours after this rousing address, however, scandal erupts when a BBC-TV investigative report discloses evidence that a key member of Lemass’ cabinet may in fact be a secret FUA sympathizer.
In an RTE9 interview, Prime Minister Lemass vehemently disputes the previous day’s BBC-TV report, insisting that his cabinet is unanimous in their support of the 1954 Reunification Pact.
Irish opposition leader James Dillon calls for an investigation into the charges raised by the February 23rd BBC-TV report.
A state visit by British prime minister Sir Alec Douglas-Home to Dublin is briefly but memorably interrupted when, shortly after his arrival at Dublin Airport, his personal plane is besieged by a crowd of protestors accusing the BBC of trying to undermine the 1954 Reunification Pact.
The Dublin Examiner prints an editorial seconding James Dillon’s call for an independent inquiry into the allegations made by BBC- TV’s February 23rd investigative report.
Hard-line Protestants supporting Reverend Ian Paisley stage a protest rally outside FUA party headquarters denouncing the socialist faction’s official party newspaper, the People’s Defender, for its anti-Paisley editorials; in response, the FUA holds a counter-protest the next day accusing Paisley of what party general secretary Liam Delaney10 calls "fanatical hatred for the workingmen of Ireland".
A St. Patrick’s Day parade in Shannon turns into a protest of the FUA’s separatist agenda when two FUA loyalists unfurl a banner midway down the parade route; the banner, bearing the FUA slogan "Ulster Out Of Ireland & Ireland Out of Ulster", sparks a torrent of angry denunciations from the majority of parade spectators-- some of whom are CPI stalwarts gathered to show their support for the Reunification Pact.
An influential Irish-American lobbying group takes out full-page ads in the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Boston Globe, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times urging the Johnson Administration to back the Lemass government in Dublin against the groundswell of accusations that one of his cabinet members is a closet FUA backer.
The Irish defense ministry presents the Lemass government with a 56-page report detailing possible scenarios for the outbreak of civil war in the Ulster region of Ireland and estimates of total casaulties for both government and insurgent forces if such a war were to be fought. The report’s conclusions are terrifying to say the least: it suggests that if a civil war actually did start in northern Ireland, total combined casualties for both sides would exceed 80,000 in the first six weeks alone, with civilian losses approaching 150,000.
To Be Continued...
1The 1922 constitution was seen by many people in Ireland as being too closely linked with the controversial 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty, an agreement much of the Irish Catholic saw as a betrayal of their aspirations for independence.
2The National Guard were infamous for espousing a staunchly pro-Nazi political agenda before the German occupation of southern Ireland and actively collaborating with the Nazis during the occupation. Since 1940, both Ireland and Great Britain have had laws on the books making it a crime punishable by death to belong to any political organization that promotes fascist ideology or viewpoints.
3The formal name of Ireland after 1937.
4As mentioned in Part 10 of "It (Almost)Happened Here", John Costello went into the Cold War determined to ensure that the Soviets couldn’t do to Ireland in the future what the Nazis had done to it in the past. Besides heavily lobbying for Ireland’s admission into NATO, Prime Minister Costello also directed an extensive buildup of the postwar Irish army and Irish Air Corps.
5See Part 10 of "It (Almost)Happened Here" for additional details about the Reunification Pact.
6Prior to the signing of the 1954 Reunification Pact, the Governor of Northern Ireland was the British crown’s representative in Ulster and as such was in charge of British civil administrative affairs for the Ulster region; the post was abolished shortly after de Vere’s executive order was enacted.
7The annual Irish national holiday that commemorates the final liberation of Ireland in 1942 from Nazi occupation.
8Regardless of their religious or political affiliations, Irishmen were(and still are) in unanimous agreement that O’Duffy was the most heinous traitor in Ireland’s history; today, calling someone "an Eoin O’Duffy" has the same connotations in Ireland as labeling them "a Benedict Arnold" does in America.
9Radio-Telefis Eireann, the Irish government’s official radio and television broadcast network.
10Liam Michael Delaney(1897-1968) started his political career as a member of a mainstream leftist political organization in Belfast but resigned from it to form the Free Ulster Alliance when he became disenchanted with what he called "the unity-at-all-costs mob" that came to dominate conventional left-wing political thought in northern Ireland after World War II. The horrors of the Nazi occupation of southern Ireland during the war had convinced Delaney that Ulster’s only hope for survival in the future lay with keeping itself separate from both Britain and Ireland and remolding itself into an independent non-aligned socialist state along the lines of Tito’s Yugoslavia; it was this belief which moved him to establish the FUA in 1963.