This is the first chapter from Ben’s upcoming book Gunshots & Goalposts. Pre-order it today.
PITCH BATTLE I – Belfast Celtic 0-1 Linfield (match abandoned), 12 September 1912
Belfast’s football journalists had given no hint of what was to come. They had little reason to expect anything other than an exciting game between Belfast’s great rivals: the Irish News reported that a ‘great match’ was due to take place in ‘genial weather’. Half an hour before the 3.30pm kick-off 20,000 fans were already in the ground, most of them blissfully unaware of what was about to unfold. The Linfield partisans took their traditional place at the Donegall Road end, the Celtic fans theirs in the home end by the Falls Road at the ground known as “Paradise”.
The shipyard of Harland and Wolff was by some measure the largest employer in the city of Belfast during the early part of the twentieth century, infamous for having built the ship which met a fateful end one April night. But it was two things that occurred five months after the RMS Titanic had sunk in the North Atlantic Ocean that ensured 1912 would be a memorable year in the history of the municipality.
A certain amount of sectarian badinage – the flying of flags, the singing of songs – was seen to be the price of doing business. Indeed one newspaper primly observed that the language at such derbies ‘would have shamed the denizens of Dante’s Inferno. What we know is that for the decade or so preceding the match, finding out which team a man supported was a fairly accurate barometer of his politics.
It was not by the Donegall Road, nor by the Falls Road at the Willowbank End but within the “neutral” zone within the ground that the trouble began. Even then, it was not until forty-five minutes had been played and the half-time break had commenced that fistfights broke out. The score stood at a goal to nil in Linfield’s favour.
When the Royal Irish Constabulary made attempts to intervene, the situation escalated. Fans began throwing stones at both the police and each other. In the ensuing melee a shot rang out. The entire crowd turned to face where the gunfire had come from, spilling onto the pitch. A second shot was fired as stewards carried a man away from the scene, while angry Linfield fans tried to get to the section of the Celtic fans waving a Sinn Fein flag.
Paradise was lost
Each group of fans believed they were under attack from the other. Ten thousand Celtic fans versus eight thousand Linfield fans engaged in pitched tribal panic.
The referee remained oblivious to the precise nature of events occurring outside the confines of his dressing room as he sipped his half-time tea with the linesmen. That was until a rock smashed through the window. Being from the mainland – Stockport, to be precise – he was bemused to discover that both sets of players wanted to continue with the match as soon as the fighting had subsided.
He was not used to such incidents. They were. The match did not continue; further gunfire was heard, then rocks and other improvised ammunition from the shipyards consisting of nuts, bolt and rivets known as ‘Belfast confetti’ were exchanged. Celtic Park was in the process of being built and there was a plentiful supply of construction materials around which could be repurposed as missiles.
The Irish Times reported that during the break a ‘party of Celtic supporters in the unreserved area; carrying the club colours – a green and white striped flag – marched through the crowd in the direction of the Linfield supporters, who carried aloft a Union Jack.’ The nationalist newspaper lamented ‘the large numbers of revolvers now in the possession of more or less irresponsible youth of both parties in Belfast is one of the most appalling facts…it is laden with the most dangerous possibilities.’ Eventually the Linfield fans were pushed out of the ground by the RIC onto the Donegall Road where they proceeded to wreck trams and assault bystanders, with reports of brawls in the loyalist enclave in west Belfast now known as The Village.
Edward Carson was the leader of the Unionists and a figure who more than likely facilitated the whipping up of certain elements of the crowd in order to prove that he could make the place ungovernable in the event that Home Rule came to pass. He knew that the stakes had been raised for. Most importantly for his cause, so did everyone else.
Believe we dare not boast,
Believe we dare not fear:
We stand to pay the cost
In all that men hold dear.
What answer from the North?
One Law, One Land, One Throne!
If England drives us forth
We shall not fall alone.
“Ulster 1912”, Rudyard Kipling
Many newspapers who would not usually have made great bedfellows, including the Daily Express, the Irish News, the Irish Weekly and the Ulster Examiner, blamed Carson for the violence. The suggestion was made that he had stoked up the situation for political ends, and the Irish News editorialised that ‘Sir Edward Carson and the gospel of hatred so zealously expounded in the Belfast Unionist Clubs have so far affected the minds of their dupes that even the area of sport is not considered sacred from mob violence.’ Another paper with nationalist sentiments posited that ‘with the memory of Sir Edward Carson’s incitements…the Unionist clubmen planned, organised and carried into effect last Saturday’s indefensible “scene” at the Celtic Football Grounds.’
The same writer went on to suggest that Carson welcomed the disorder, which ‘no doubt, brought pride to the statesman.’ Philip Gibbs of The Graphic, a London-based magazine, described Carson as ‘Ulster’s Dictator’ adding, ‘He has put a spell on them. They have a kind of worship for him as a demi-god, a superman, master of their fate, a champion of their rights.’ The Daily Mail, on the other hand, was full of praise for the unionists in the Linfield crowd, happily declaring that ‘the rioters on Saturday did succeed where the great leaders failed.’
Sixty casualties of the afternoon’s events were admitted to the Mater and Royal Victoria hospitals in the hours that followed. Five of them were suffering from gunshot wounds and one sixteen year old’s skull had been fractured. The unionist Belfast News Letter blamed Celtic fans for what had occurred, seeing provocation in the flourishing of a green and white flag. Linfield fans had reciprocated with an Orange Order bannerette and a Union flag, though the conservative Sport paper pointed the finger at ‘officialism’, suggesting the police were bound by red tape and would or could not act with the force required. Another source saw Linfield fans as the culprits, ‘carrying a purple and Orange coloured flag, and singing party songs, and cursing the pope.’
The Gaelic Athlete opined that the phrase ‘Red rag to a bull’ could now be changed to ‘Green flag to a Soccerite’, seeing not sectarianism but the entire sport as being at fault. The reality is that the whole thing had very little to do with football, and a lot more to do with the communities of the Pound Loney (the present day Falls Road area) and the Sandy Row, home to some of Belfast’s most hardline unionists and the Orange Hall where Linfield held their general meetings. This simmering inter-neighbourhood feud had existed for at least half a century, before either club had even been established. They did, however, draw the bulk of their support from these adjacent districts, even when Linfield had moved nearly a mile away to Windsor Park. The Times “Special Correspondent” wrote that ‘the sensation that Belfast had been waiting for so long occurred yesterday in totally unexpected fashion’, exclaiming that ‘in no city has the hooligan no better opportunities and better accommodation than in Belfast.’
The anonymous reporter foresaw further disturbances on the horizon in the city, writing, ‘It is certain, however, that the Roman Catholic mob will now be boasting of a glorious revenge for its discomfiture on Queen’s Island Belfast shipyard last July. Therefore it is scarcely possible to doubt that the Protestant mob will not be satisfied until it has in turn carried out successful measures of reprisal.’ The government had seen fit to send troops into the shipyards the Monday after the abandoned fixture at Celtic Park in order to quell any trouble that might arise, stationing the King’s Own Scottish Border Regiment and members of Royal Army Medical Corps around the premises.
In the event, no physical violence occurred at the Harland and Wolff yard but at Workman, Clark & Company a young Catholic was severely beaten by masked men. The situation was such that many Catholics did not go back to work after lunch that day, having been “chalked” in the morning by a hand casually placed on their back. Often this was done by someone they trusted, with the intention of marking them out for attack when they were alone or in smaller groups later in the day. Philip Gibbs of The Graphic was becoming fearful about the fate of nationalists and Catholics in the city:
Already there is a reign of terror in the Catholic quarters of Belfast. Hardly a day passes but some man or lad is brought home battered or bloodied to his wife or mother, For many weeks now hundreds of sturdy men have abandoned work or wages because they are afraid of coming back in the same condition. And before them lies the constant terror of a day when the Protestant majority will get out of hand and when the sound of their drums will be a warning of death to the Catholic minority.
Celtic’s Paradise ground had taken on an even greater significance in the life of both clubs when Winston Churchill had spoken at a pro-Home Rule rally there earlier that year. Its use had been secured by Joseph Devlin, the Nationalist MP for West Belfast, after unionists had effectively blocked Churchill from speaking at the Ulster Hall by securing its hire the previous evening, pledging that they would refuse to leave. A week before his speech The Times had reported that
Celtic Park is, of course, situated close to a Protestant district, but unless there is provocation everything should pass off peacefully without any collision between the parties. A very large force of police will be on duty around the park and a small force of military may also be employed.
Extraordinarily it was Churchill’s own father, Sir Randolph, who had stoked the unionist fire some twenty five years earlier when the First Home Rule Bill was before parliament, declaring that ‘Ulster will fight, and Ulster will be right’ and that ‘Home Rule is Rome Rule.’ He had fulminated: ‘Mr Gladstone asks for time before he plunges the knife into the heart of the British Empire…But now may be the time to show whether all those ceremonies and forms which are practised in your Orange Lodges are really living symbols or idle and meaningless shibboleths.’
The younger Churchill’s appearance provided another excuse – as if one were needed – to air dirty sectarian laundry in a footballing venue. It also produced a headache for the Irish Football League who, in the days after the game, produced a document stating that ‘under no circumstances will any banners, flags, or other emblems of any kind be permitted inside our respective grounds at football matches…’, adding that if a revolver was fired at a game again it would be abandoned. In a similar vein, the Irish Football Association held an emergency meeting on the 18th September, announcing it was determined that the match should be replayed at a neutral ground and drawing up a “Manifesto to the Football Public”.
Strength in numbers
On September 28th 1912, 237,368 men signed Ulster’s Solemn League and Covenant, while 234,046 women signed a corresponding declaration pledging “uncompromising opposition” to the Home Rule Bill before parliament. Their objection was to the Bill’s provision for a limited form of self government for the entire island of Ireland. The majority-Protestant Ulster was anxious that Home Rule would really be Rome Rule; a religious tyranny of the twenty-six majority-Catholic counties, and by early the following year the Ulster Unionist Council had decided that their loosely convened volunteer militia should become the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF).
It had been decided that all but one of the matches scheduled for that day would be postponed, with the exception of the Distillery v Celtic fixture. The rationale was that this would draw nationalist crowds away from trouble elsewhere, acting as a distraction. Indeed, the match was played in front of a capacity crowd at Distillery’s Grosvenor Park in the Falls and, in the absence of a serious rivalry between the clubs, there were only a few skirmishes with no serious disorder occurring during Celtic’s 2-0 win. It was only after the game that a huge police presence was required to keep Celtic fans away from the Protestant Roden Street area.
Though the Ulster matchday had passed without serious incident, the penchant of Protestant preachers for verbosity continued unabated. The New York Times reported that the Revd William McLean had denounced Home Rule as ‘a war against Protestantism and an attempt to establish Roman Catholic ascendancy in Ireland and to begin the disintegration of the British Empire by setting up a second parliament in Dublin.’
A month later Celtic and Linfield would face up to one another again to fulfil their abandoned fixture. Distillery’s Grosvenor Park was chosen as a neutral venue and this time the match passed without any significant crowd trouble. Relatively speaking, anyway: revolvers were still discharged into the sky. This was less remarkable than it might seem, as it was becoming commonplace for the sound of “revolver music” to be heard at football matches in Ulster, the echo of shots being fired had been heard at Linfield’s match against Cliftonville and Ireland’s fixture against England in Belfast. The sectarian divide in Irish football was crystallising rapidly; Glentoran’s fans had arranged themselves into ‘a living Union Jack’ at their Oval ground, just as Celtic Park was increasingly being used for Home Rule rallies and drills by the National Irish Volunteers, a nationalist rival to the UVF.
Belfast Celtic had been formed out of a cricket team named Sentinel whose members lived around the Falls Road. Its footballing offshoot modelled itself on the nascent Celtic team that was ruffling Scottish footballing feathers in Glasgow and the club was established in meetings at the home of James Henry, 88 Falls Road and the Beehive Public House at 193 Falls Road in August 1891. The streets around the Falls were said to be ‘alive with excited fans’, and within a few years supporters were filling trains leaving Great Victoria Street to travel to away games. The largest concentration of Catholics in Belfast’s rapidly growing population was in the Pound Loney district at the foot of Falls Road, so it seemed only natural that this should have formed the home for Belfast’s foremost nationalist association football team of the next sixty years.
Milltown, Millvale and Clondara had been junior teams (meaning the level of football they played rather than their ages) in the Falls Road area. Amalgamating these sides would mean a more competitive outfit that could take on Belfast’s established teams and with the help of a sizable sum of money from their Scottish namesake, a new club was born. As Belfast Celtic took their first few steps, the Second Home Rule Bill was working its way through parliament. The leader of the Orange Order was a Dr Rutledge Jane, who promised his fellow Orangemen that he would ‘die’ should the Bill pass, calling it a ‘bastard combination’ of Irish and English government, continuing:
Brethren and Friends: We are face to face with a stupendous crisis. If we had lost a thousand Boynes, and surrendered at as many Derry with halters round our necks, more disastrous or humiliating terms could be dictated by the conquerors than are contained in the Home Rule Bill. We have not, however, lost a single Boyne, not have we surrendered, and therefore we do not mean to accept any humiliating and disastrous terms.
That the Bill had got a second reading in the Houses of Parliament was seen as a small victory for Nationalism, even though the Lords’ were sure to kill it on arrival in the other place. The celebrations by nationalists of this symbolic win served, of course, to rile Unionists and fighting broke out between groups from the Falls and Shankill districts. Barrels of tar were set alight, as well as widespread burning and looting. Later in the year, the Lords duly voted the Bill down 419-41.
A place to call home
Belfast Celtic’s first home was on a field at Broadway off the Falls Road and it was this pitch which witnessed their admittance to the Alliance Junior League. By 1894 they had won the prestigious Robinson and Cleaver Junior Shield, going on to retain it for the next two seasons. Even in its infancy the club’s reputation preceded it: the 1895 final against Glentoran Seconds was the scene of brawls and stone-throwing. When the final whistle was blown, a pitch invasion ensued during which Glens players and staff were attacked resulting in some requiring hospitalisation for their injuries. Though they had become known as a club associated with Irish nationalist politics, Celtic were making waves on the pitch too: despite still being a ‘junior’ side they won the ‘senior’ County Antrim Shield in 1895, beating Distillery in the final. Contemporaneous reports tell of how the ‘Falls Road turned out to a man’ to witness it, as Celtic ran out 3-1 victors. Their victory in the final of the Robinson and Cleaver Senior Trophy in 1896 (against none other than Linfield Swifts, the second team of the Windsor Park outfit) meant they had a strong case for entering the Irish League, which they did the following season.
Celtic’s first season was not as successful as had been anticipated: the field at their Broadway ground was not up to scratch so all of their ‘home’ games were hosted by their opponents. Their first match as a ‘senior’ team was against Cliftonville at their Solitude ground, where they fell to a 3-1 loss. On their way to finishing bottom of the Irish Football League in their inaugural season there was a visit to the Oval to play Glentoran, during which rioting broke out between fans. It was a day which also witnessed fighting between the Linfield and Cliftonville faithful.
The first time Celtic played Linfield as a senior side they managed a creditable 1-1 draw, but their second game was marred by the pitch invasions and crowd trouble that were to become a frequent sight on Belfast’s footballing landscape.
What must have been particularly galling for an Irish nationalist football team propping up the table was the fact that the North Staffordshire Regiment – a military side! – had finished second from bottom. Celtic’s only victory that season had been by two goals to one versus Distillery. Another match against their neighbours in the County Antrim Shield was abandoned when Celtic fans pulled down the goals during a pitch incursion.
The club’s second season saw an improvement in fortunes; they were able to find a more suitable pitch at Shaun’s Park on the Whiterock Road, a site now know as MacRory Park and home to the Cardinal O’Donnell’s Gaelic Athletic Club. Having a place to call home helped the Hoops finish a respectable fourth out of six clubs competing in the 1897/98 season. By 1901 Belfast Celtic had become a limited company, acquiring a ten acre site on Donegall Road for the construction of a ground, financed by selling 3000 shares at £1 each. This new abode is said to have been given the nickname ‘Paradise’ when a Scottish journalist said that it was like moving from ‘a graveyard to paradise,’ and it bore at least one similarity with Linfield’s Windsor Park: both were situated close to the Bog Meadows, necessitating the additional cost of an adequate drainage system.
War stops play
When the Irish League was suspended at the end of the 1914/15 season, Celtic had just won their second title, consigning Glentoran to a second place finish as Linfield trailed in third out of eight teams.
Beyond the pitch, UVF gun-runners had procured 25,000 weapons and three million rounds of ammunition from Germany on the shores at Larne, prepared for a war with anyone who would impose the hated Home Rule upon the unionist people of Ulster. The Third Home Rule Bill had been passed by parliament in late May 1914 and although amendments that included provision for the partition of the island of Ireland had been pushed through by Edward Carson and the Irish Unionist Party, the mood amongst his followers was fractious. There would almost certainly have been a unionist uprising were it not for the fact that on August 4th Great Britain went to war with Germany, shelving the Irish question until the conclusion of the conflict. The Home Rule Act received royal assent on September 18th 1914 but its implementation was deferred, a turn of events the Liberal Prime Minister Herbert Asquith described it as the greatest ‘stroke of luck’ of his career.
As the world contorted itself into a warlike posture in 1914, the operations of Harland & Wolff shipyards accounted for an eighth of the world’s total shipbuilding output, employing 15,000 workers in Belfast and another 5,000 across its sites which now included the banks of the Clyde, Mersey and Thames.
The dreamy spires of Fermanagh and Tyrone
At the conclusion of the war both unionists and nationalists thought they would be rewarded for their loyalty to the cause and patience in holding off from pushing for their aims while the government was otherwise engaged. Winston Churchill wrote in 1918 that ‘as the mists of battle cleared, there arose from them the dreary spires of Fermanagh and Tyrone.’ For those not fluent in purple prose, Churchill’s gist was that as one war ended, another one loomed on the horizon.
Much of the Irish nationalist populace no longer wanted ‘Home Rule’ as it had been constituted before the war, hoping for a purer form of independence. There were now two distinct camps: those that wanted Home Rule under the British Crown, and a Sinn Fein element who wanted a total severance from Buckingham Palace. In the UK general election of 1918 the latter party won 73 of the 105 Irish seats represented at Westminster, to the 6 of the moderate Irish Parliamentary Party. Crucially, however, only 3 of these were in Ulster.
As they did not recognise British authority, Sinn Fein unilaterally established Dáil Éireann in Dublin on January 21st 1919, prompting the British government to declare both the Irish parliament and Sinn Fein illegal. That day the Irish War of Independence would begin in Soloheadbeg, Co. Tipperary.
PITCH BATTLE II – Belfast Celtic 1 – 0 Glentoran (match abandoned), March 8th 1919
This febrile atmosphere provided the setting for an Irish Cup semi-final match between Belfast Celtic and Glentoran on March 8th, to be played at Cliftonville’s Solitude ground. Trams had whisked the Glenmen from Ballymacarrett in east Belfast to the north of the city and the attendance was estimated at 18,000. Though Mickey Hamill and Fred Barrett were said to have stood out for Celtic, the match would not last a full ninety minutes; a second half pitch invasion meant the police had to intervene to confine fans to the cinder track on the perimeter just as many others decided to leave early, sensing further trouble.
They were not wrong; Amhrán na bhFiann (The Soldier’s Song) was sung by the Celtic faithful as stones and wood were thrown at Glentoran players as they made to leave the pitch. Chairs which had been set out for injured war veterans to watch the match were instead used as battering rams as the RIC attempted to move the crowds onto the adjacent Cliftonville Road. The Belfast Telegraph’s ‘Ralph The Rover’ columnist described events as an ‘orgy of rampant lawlessness…by an element so devoid of sense and decency,’ stating that there was a section of fans who ‘just cannot bear to see Celtic beaten.’ But Celtic were beaten, albeit by fiat: the abandoned match was controversially awarded to Glentoran, who would lose in the final to Linfield.
A Belfast Telegraph editorial the following year was strident in its assertion of where the blame for this fresh outbreak of tumult at football grounds in Belfast. The author pointed the finger at the ‘Sinn Fein element, which has made itself conspicuous at Belfast football matches in the past year managed once again yesterday to disgrace the fair name of sport.’ St Patrick’s Day was the date of a head-to-head between east and west Belfast, squaring off at Solitude in the north of the city. The nationalist-leaning Irish News had chosen to pen an evocative editorial drawing on the memory of the republican patriots of 1798 when they wrote:
‘Ireland has seen many St Patrick’s Days within living memory when her hopes were high and the hearts of her children the world over were filled with the joyous confidence of an approaching and certain victory. Today we are back in ‘Ninety-Eight, – so far as those who hold this country by armed force can control the national clock: but not in 1798, or in 1598, or at any stated period since 1169, was Ireland’s determination to win back her freedom more resolute or truly unconquerable that it is at the present hour.’
Given that the game was taking place on a public holiday, a large crowd was gathered at Solitude. The match itself was hard fought, as both teams set out their stall to attack. Incredibly, the opposing goalkeepers Bertie and John Mehaffey were brothers; their efforts ensuring the score remained 0-0 at half-time. It stayed that way until the 80th minute when Celtic’s Fred Barrett tripped Joe Gowdy of Glentoran, causing the Celtic contingent in the stands to erupt, emitting what the Belfast Telegraph called a ‘wild angry roar’.
Celtic partisans came over the railings and onto the field of play, resulting in the referee ordering the teams off the pitch. The Celtic fans quickly turned on the Glentoran supporters with bricks, bottles, nuts and rivets flying between the two sets of supporters. Some fans were engaged in hand to hand combat on the pitch as a large Sinn Fein flag was hoisted at the end designated for the Celtic fans.
By the time RIC reinforcements arrived, a man among the Celtic supporters had produced a revolver. He fired a bullet into the Glentoran end before disappearing back into the crowd until the police located him. The Belfast Telegraph denounced Sinn Fein as the aggressors, stating that ‘the chief menace lay in a gang which had taken up position under the unreserved stand. For these the “Soldier’s Song”, “The Boys of Wexford”, “A Nation Once Again” and other airs of an undoubtedly provocative character were chorused loudly during the game while one man was especially prominent with a large Sinn Fein flag which he waved defiantly amid cheers from his fellows.’
The Mater and Royal Victoria hospitals were busy again, treating a number of people for bullet wounds after the battle had spilled onto the surrounding streets. The game was left unfinished and scoreless, neither team making the final; Celtic were thrown out for the behaviour of their fans, Glentoran disqualified for fielding an ineligible player in John McIlveen. Shelbourne, a Dublin team, had beaten Glenavon in the other semi-final and won the cup by default.
The suspected shooter, a George Goodman of Pound Loney, appeared in court charged with attempted murder, reportedly wearing an Irish Volunteers badge when he was captured. The charge was amended to firing a weapon ‘with intent to cause grievous harm’ as it was felt the attempted murder charge would be too hard to prove definitively, and Goodman was later found guilty and sentenced to eight years.
The impossible years
At the end of May 1920 Celtic had advised the IFA that they would not be returning to the league the following season, feeling that they had been unjustly punished with a severity that a unionist team would not have been. There was a pragmatic element to their decision, too: if they had played on during the next few years, it would likely have resulted in the deaths of both players and fans. The situation on the island of Ireland was deteriorating by the day and Edward Carson had told the British government: ‘if you are unable to protect us from the machinations of Sinn Fein and you will not take our help, then we will take the matter into our own hands.’
July 1920 saw mass expulsions of Catholic workers from the yards of Harland and Wolff as well as other smaller shipyards, a warning to them chalked on a wall near to both the Harland and Workman Clark yards. During an informal meeting 5,000 unionist workers were called on to refuse to work alongside Sinn Fein members among their colleagues and that afternoon they – gently at first, then more firmly – informed their workmates to leave and not come back.
There were ten hospitalisations of Catholics with cuts and broken bones, as some others swam in desperation across the Musgrave channel to safety. The focus had gone beyond suspected Sinn Fein workers: all Catholics became targets as the ejections spread beyond shipbuilders to smaller firms around Belfast. In the days that followed a Jewish tabernacle on Townsend Street was burned down, and an attempt to set St Matthews Catholic Church alight was made. The events of that Summer meant any chance of Celtic returning quickly had been extinguished. A correspondent in the Irish News reported that:
Celtic were due to play Cliftonville this afternoon, but that is not coming off. Is this to be construed as the beginning of the end for this incoming season? I was always opposed to the Celts going out of football but could not blame them on this occasion. So long as thousands of people are compulsorily out of work, so long will matters be unsettled and not much chance of a normal time on the field for Celtic.
It would have been nearly impossible for a team associated with nationalism and Catholicism to travel to east Belfast and when the delayed 1920/21 season started it was without Belfast Celtic.
The solution to the Irish question proposed by David Lloyd George’s Liberal government was the partition of the island of Ireland, with both units being granted limited self-government. The Prime Minister saw this as the only feasible short-term solution, wearily reflecting:
You had to ask the British to use force to put Ulster out of one combination in which she had been for generations into another combination which she professed to abhor and did abhor, whether for political or religious reasons. We could not do it. If we tried the instrument would have broken in our hands. Their case was “Let us remain with you”. Our case was “Out you go or we fight you”. We could not have done it. Mr Churchill and I warned our colleagues. Mr Gladstone and Mr Asquith discovered it..The first axiom is whatever happened we could not coerce Ulster.
Ulster had defeated him: six of its nine counties would form the new Northern Ireland statelet, despite there being sizeable patches within its borders that were majority Catholic, especially in Fermanagh, Tyrone, and parts of County Londonderry, south Armagh and, of course, west Belfast. It was a border that was never intended to be permanent but became locked in once civil strife erupted. The Government of Ireland Act set up an All-Ireland Council above the two parliaments, in the naive hope that it would be a forerunner to the unification of Ireland. Instead, the North rejected the boundaries and the Free State objected to how the parliaments would work. The aim had been to placate all sides; the outcome was that nobody was happy.
When Sinn Fein called a vote on the Anglo-Irish treaty in the Dail it passed with 64-57 in favour, to the dismay of its leader Eamon de Valera and his faction within the party who walked out in protest. Having been replaced by Arthur Griffith from the party’s pro-treaty faction as the head of the Dail, de Valera and his anti-treaty colleagues, and IRA members who believed likewise, refused to accept what they saw as a ‘treacherous’ treaty, seizing the Four Courts and other major buildings in Dublin. Those members of the IRA who did support the treaty were organised into Irish Army lead by Michael Collins, who ordered them to shell the Four Courts in June 1921, eventually succeeding in driving the IRA out of Dublin.
So began the Irish Civil War, lasting nearly a year. Though concentrated in Munster and Connaught, Ulster didn’t escape the frequent forays North and for one week 40 square miles in Fermanagh were held by anti-treaty forces. Many Protestants in Northern Ireland blamed local Catholics for the actions of IRA members, causing a rise in sectarian skirmishes
In the midst of this warfare, the Northern Irish parliament met for the first time. Cardinal Logue, the leader of Catholic church in Ireland, refused to attend its formal opening and would not recognise the new state, despite an appeal by King George V for the two sides ‘to stretch out the hand of forbearance and conciliation, to forgive and forget.’ That was never likely to happen: by 1922, 455 people had been killed in Belfast, about 2,500 were injured and another 20,000 had fled their homes.
Ireland had been torn apart.