My father liked to boast that
the Irish Republican Army (IRA) invented guerrilla warfare. This was of course
a bit of an overstatement. Still, it is indeed the case that, as Andrew Selth
argues, the IRA campaign of 1918-1921 ‘marked the difference between
traditional and modern guerrilla warfare’, to the extent that it became ‘an
inspiration and guide to other peoples wishing to change their governments or
end colonial rule’.This seems
to have been especially true in Asia, where Korean songs were set to Irish
tunes, Irish memoirs were translated into Burmese, and India’s New Violence Party
studied the tactics used in Ireland, where ‘some 3,000 insurgents were able to
keep a security force of 50,000 at bay for three bitter years’. Indeed,
as Ian Beckett concludes, the IRA was ‘a
true forerunner of modern revolutionary groups in terms of its politically
inspired campaign against the British … though most theorists in the inter-war
years failed to recognize it as such’.
In its campaign, the IRA used
many of the same tools as 21st century insurgents like Osama bin Laden, from
assassination to propaganda aimed at the enemy’s population. The outcome,
though derided as ‘half the loaf’ by diehards like my father, seemed to prove
that it was ‘practical for a relatively small party of fighting revolutionaries
to embark on a war against a professional army and that such a war has a fair
chance of success’.
Ireland of course was colonized long before India,
Burma, or Korea. ‘For over seven centuries’, writes the British journalist John
Kee, ‘the history of the people who lived in Ireland had been a folk-trauma
comparable in human experience perhaps only to that of the Jews’. It
was a history marred by frequent rebellions, usually and foolishly in the
form of stand-up fights against the British Army, including most recently the
1916 ‘Easter Rising’ in Dublin—an ill-starred example of Che Gueverra’s notion
that ‘a small group of dedicated revolutionaries would provide the
foco (focus) for revolution’.
Patrick Forde (standing) at the wedding of his cousin John
Forde, after the Treaty was signed in 1921. The men wear IRA uniforms; the
bride and bridesmaid, that of the
Cumann na mBan women’s auxiliary.
(The 3,000-word essay is available as a a PDF file from
Lulu.com or in
Kindle format for Amazon's e-book reader.