Friday, 13 June 2014

Almost a Rebellion.

Almost a Rebellion – The Irish Army Mutiny of 1924. Maryann Gialanella Valiulis. Tower Books of Cork, 1985. (HB&SB rare)

This review was written on January 7th 2013

This book is a study of the Irish army mutiny of 1924. According to the author, the event led to the establishment of civilian authority over the military in post-revolutionary Ireland. It was Maryann’s first contact with our family. She had been a scholar in Chicago University and the subject of the Mutiny was proposed by the professor of history in her faculty. It is by far the most authoritative account of this largely neglected subject. It clearly outlines my father, Richard Mulcahy’s determination that the national army should emerge from Civil War as an apolitical body and the protector of our democratic and national institutions. Its publication was to lead to the family’s invitation to Maryann to undertake Dad’s biography in 1992, a much overdue task which was urged on him by his friends and historians without success before his death in 1971.

Collins’s death was to leave some of the very loyal members of his squad at a great loss. They were the members of his squad who were responsible for, among other things, his important intelligence work and the execution of a number of British spies during the War of Independence. They failed to be reconciled to Mulcahy’s leadership after Collins died and during the  period immediately after the Civil War ended they objected to his efforts to dismiss them when, as Minister for Defence,  he needed to reduce the army from more that 50,000 officers and men during the Civil War to about 15,000 after the War finished.  He was aware of the Collins squad’s important role in Dublin in a revolutionary army but he thought some of them as unsuitable for service in a peacetime force responsible for protecting the demarcated institution of the new State.  Even Collins before he died was critical of their new role in the national army and he was to support the transfer of some of them to Kerry during the Civil War.

Mulcahy inspecting National Army troops.
Mulcahy made it clear that the national army was to remain apolitical, committed to the nation’s democratic institutions and organised along the lines of armies loyal to democratic countries such as Britain and Germany. The mutiny organised by some of the members of Collins’s squad was a serious threat to the stability of the Free State Government and in my father’s view, they constituted a threat to the fragile State by reducing the prestige of the National Army and thus endangering or encouraging the anti-Civil War veterans to resume their military opposition to the government. The Civil War had finished in May 1923 but the anti-Treaty arms were never surrendered to the National Army nor to the state.

The National Army included several experienced members who had fought for Britain during the Great War and who subsequently joined the IRA after their return to Ireland after the armistice in 1918.  They contributed to the successful organisation of the National Army before and during the Civil War and to the capture of Dublin City from the irregulars at the end of June 1922. One was my father’s brother Paddy who had spent 3 years in the trenches as a sapper and who survived with much evidence of shrapnel (seen subsequently on X-ray) but no serious injury.  He joined the north Tipperary Brigade of the IRA on his return to Ireland and was eventually to become Chief of Staff in the 1950s, 30 years after my father occupied the post!

Those who were involved in the ‘’Mutiny’’ were supported by one minister of the Cabinet and a few of the Free State members of parliament. They resigned from parliament in protest. The cabinet was in a serious position in dealing with the mutineers and adopted the decision of sacking the mutineers but also sacking the senior officers of the army and obliging the Minister for Defence, Mulcahy, to resign. It was a drastic action by the Cabinet to dismiss the recalcitrant mutineers and also the senior members of the Army. When I asked my father why he resigned, he said ‘’It was with the Grace of God that I resigned’’. With the fragile state of the new government he implied that if the cabinet had taken any other line we might well have gone back to war with the anti-treaty IRA. His papers in the UCD Archives testify to the high opinion expressed by some of his admirers following his forced resignation.

Kevin O'Higgins
Maryann’s history records the setting up of an enquiry by the cabinet to report on the affair. It was a sop to both sides. The Collins ‘’mutineers’’ refused to attend to give witness nor did Kevin O’Higgins. He was Minister for Finance in the Cabinet and my father’s chief antagonist in the affair. The senior officers in the army were absolved from any blame and my father, subjected to some carping criticism by the chairman of the enquiry, was not subjected to any serious criticism. In his many difficulties as the minister responsible for reducing the size of the army of more than 50,000 officers and men to 15,000, at a time of severe recession and unemployment created largely by the Civil War, he was fortunate to have avoided too much trauma, apart from his loss of income. He continued to receive the support of his many supporters in the Cumann na nGaedheal Party who were responsible for having him restored to the cabinet at the next General Election in 1927

Following his resignation and the next three years before he was restored to the Cabinet, he occupied the back benches. He said to me about these years, in his usual picturesque, almost poetical way

I walked the four corners of Ireland without guard or gun and I never got as much as a slap on the face!

The  army enroute to take over Begger's Bush barracks.
Considering that he was the acknowledged architect of the defeat of the anti-Treaty IRA, his invulnerability may seem remarkable during these bitter and unstable early days of the State but it may have its basis in his reputation as head of the army from its first formation in March 1918. During these six years he was head of the Army for five years (except when Collins, as head of state was Commander-in-Chief for six weeks before his death) and he was Minister for Defence for 2.5 years, partly overlapping his military position.

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