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A Rebel in the County Cork, 1915-1923 (case study of an insurgency)

Ford: A Rebel in the County Cork
[Here are the opening paragraphs of my 'long essay' about the rebellion that created the Irish Free State and ultimately the Irish Republic. I have suppressed the footnotes. The complete essay can be downloaded as a PDF file from Lulu.com or in the Kindle format for Amazon's e-book reader or the Apple iPhone. Blue skies! -- Dan Ford]

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’.

An IRA wedding

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 the Kindle format for Amazon's e-book reader.