The Irish people are now marking the centenary of the disastrous civil war which flowed from the disunity following the treaty negotiations in London. The seeds of that disaster had long been sown. The long period of the truce (11th July to 11th October 1921) allowed the conservative anti-Republican forces within Irish society three full months to soften the resolve of those whom they had openly despised during the long period of turmoil and fighting. Almost the entire media were pro-treaty, a large majority of the hierarchy and clergy wanted an end to the violence and killing which was spreading across the country, bankers and businessmen wanted a return to normality and the large majority of the population who did not take part in the war were anxious to reduce the power and influence recently accumulated by the Republicans. The British though exhausted after the Great War were adept at their old policy of ‘divide and conquer’ and had their agents well placed within the Republican movement.
‘A King, Lords and Commons Man’
Selecting the men to negotiate with the British proved acrimonious, De Valera chose not to go and it took his own casting vote in the Cabinet to get this accepted. Arthur Griffith was chosen to lead the delegation. This would prove a fatal flaw as he was not a Republican and as he said himself ‘I’m a King, Lords and Commons man’. The British would successfully exploit this weakness before the negotiations ended. Michael Collins was appointed second in command of the delegation against his own wishes. He saw himself as a soldier rather than a politician and he suspected the intentions of the British with regard to himself. The other members of the delegation were Charles Gavin Duffy (1882-1951) who had defended Roger Casement at his trial for High Treason and was chosen for his legal expertise, Eamonn Duggan (1878-1936) who was born in Richill, Co. Armagh and had fought during Easter Week 1916 and Robert Barton (1881-1975) who was born into an Anglo-Irish landlord family in Co. Wicklow. He was a double first cousin of Erskine Childers one of the secretaries and became an officer in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers at the outbreak of WWI. Stationed in Dublin during Easter Week his two younger brothers were killed while serving in the British Army during the war.
Friends of the Unionists
The six negotiators on the British side included some of the ablest men to sit at a cabinet table, Lloyd George, Chamberlain, Birkenhead and Churchill, Worthington-Evans and Greenwood. As attorney general F. E. Smith (Birkenhead) had secured the conviction of Sir Roger Casement and was a chief supporter and friend of Sir Edward Carson the Unionist leader. Churchill whose father had shown virulent support for the Ulster unionists was secretary of war (1919-1921) and head of the Colonial Office (1921-22) and used his influence to support the same cause.
Large crowds gathered at 10 Downing Street as the conference began on the morning of Tuesday, 11th October 1921. Lloyd George led the Irish delegation to their places at the table before introducing them to his colleagues avoiding the need for handshakes. Whatever the British side thought of Michael Collins it was Arthur Griffith with his lifelong love of Ireland who commanded the respect of both sides.
TO BE CONTINUED.