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'Conflicted' characters? - The Black and Tans

category national | history and heritage | opinion/analysis author Thursday July 13, 2006 01:36author by Nick Folley - None Report this post to the editors

(Originally written in response to this article - ed)

I am one of the legion of the amused who watched as (mainly British) critics lashed "The Wind That Shakes the Barley" before they'd even seen it - a fact which in itself speaks volumes for their motives. I have seen it, and in terms of historical accuracy it seems pretty close to what I've read in IRA veterans accounts and heard from their mouths. True, in real life there were some decent individuals - there always are. There was a Black and Tan who allowed an IRA captive to nip in and see his dying brother when the Tan's officer's back was turned. Yet there were also ones like those who slit Kathleen Clarke's sister's hand from fingers to wrist with a razor. I think critics of Loach would do well for their own sakes not to make too much noise about the depiction of the Tans.

Loach is actually letting the British establishment off the hook more lightly than many of his critics realise in putting most of the onus on the Tans. The torture scene (nail pulling) is most probably based on the torture of Tom Hales, which was in fact carried out by the Essex regiment - a regular part of the professional British army. Likewise, Sean Moylan commented that in his area of North Cork, it was the British army who carried out most of the atrocities.

Mossie Hartnett's brother (West Limerick) recalled seeing a British tommie use a local peasant quite casually for target practice, firing at a distance at some farm labourer far off, shooting him dead for no reason whatsoever. The tommy then strolled over to view his handiwork and returend muttering "clean through the forehead at 220 paces - not bad shooting" (see Mossie Hartnett, 'Victory and Woe' UCD Press, 2002. p.166).

No doubt these are not isolated incidents. Peter Hart quoted (in 'The IRA and its Enemies') from Michael O'Suilleabhain's 'Where Mountainy Men Have Sown' to back his claim that the Tans weren't so bad, that they were tough, professional soliders, physically very fit and so on. Yet, true to form, he cut the quote short at a point where it conflicts with the image he's trying to create. For O'Suilleabhain went on to add that the Tans would shoot a man for standing still, and they would shoot him for running away, without reason, that was the order of the day and no one doubted it, not even citizens with no Republican sympathies.

Perhaps it's time to compile a database of all such recorded acts in those troubled times. Loach cannot portray every such act in a 2 hr film, so he can only try and give an overall flavour. This he achieves quiet sucessfully, and his depiction of the Tans is accurate: the abiding impression they left is of terror and bruatlity, even if there were one or two 'conflicted' characters.

Loach, does in fact try and explain the Tans' behaviour, such as with the officer's mournful comment on 'what do you expect? They've been in the trenches' and the locals' comments on the Tans being recruited for £1 a day (though I think it was less than that). Loach is in essence saying they, too, are victims of a kind, brutalised by the needs of the Imperial system, by the 'Old Boys' club that uses them like pawns to get riches and power (note one of the characters comments on Winston Churchill in passing). My feeling is that he wishes to show the British Imperial system as a failed social entity: the best it could offer its 'war heroes' (the men who would go on to become Tans) after their years' of sacrifice in the trenches, was not to come home to settle down with a home and family - to the rewards and fruits of their patriotic effort; but to grim unemployment. The best livelihood it could offer them was one shooting and harrassing the citziens of West Cork and other areas.

Furthermore, regarding portraylas of 'goodies' and 'baddies' in movies, I think we all know who the 'goodies' are supposed to be in 'Saving Private Ryan' - no flood of outrage from the establishment then about one-sided characterisation, or about the lack of 'conflicted' Nazis, though there must also have been some decent sods in both the Wermacht and even the SS. I don't remember any critic sneering about a crusading Spielberg 'free to roam with his camera' along the lines of the unflattering comments made by Ruth Dudley Edwards about Loach. There may have been a few conflicted Nazis, but the overall impression they left was of terror and brutality. Likewise, the Tans left much the same impression here. The great difficulty the British establishment (of whom Loach's critics seem a mouthpiece) has with Loach is that they cannot handle being the 'baddies'. They have spent so long telling themsleves that the only real baddies in history were Nazis, they are unable to confront the darker aspects of their own history.

Over this side of the Pond there is much talk these days about 'honouring our shared traditions' as evidenced by the recent Somme Commemorations. No such attitude seems to be reciprocal in the UK. You would have to search long and hard before giving up, to find any monuments or even a plaque to any of the IRA leaders such as Tom Barry or Dan Breen, anywhere in England, Scotland or Wales. Yet these men were British citizens, too, until 1922, albeit unwilling ones.

Why is it so difficult for Britain to commemorate 'our shared history' as we are constantly exhorted to do here? Our past is a part of Britain's past but those like Loach's critics are unable to square up to this uncomfortable fact. Loach, in the Wind That Shakes the Barley, seems to be saying that until Britain is able to face its ghosts, it'll be a poorer place, especially in moral and social terms.

Related Link: http://www.indymedia.ie/article/77165
author by Harrypublication date Fri Jul 14, 2006 11:55author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Nick Folly's point above is a good one. If we are expected to commemorate those fighting Britain’s wars in Britain's uniform (including in Ireland), why are the Brits not asked to commemorate those who fought to free Ireland from the imperial grasp – after all, they were, as Folly points out, ‘officially’ British citizens.

Did we not play a role in establishing democracy and ending empire – or do the Brits (and west-Brits) have a problem with the concept?

author by a yankpublication date Mon Jul 17, 2006 09:48author address author phone Report this post to the editors

The auxillary force to the RIC was composed of men who had been officers during the war. They were the ones who were paid a pound a day. They were also the ones ambushed at Kilmichael, which is sort of re-enacted in the film. As Tom Barry said in his book the Auxies had been rampaging throughout the area since August 1920 and had established a reputation as invincible fighters who couldn't be beaten. The whole purpose of the ambush was to prove that they could be beaten, and that they were not invincible. He succeeded completely. The first two Auxies killed were in Dublin on Bloody Sunday 1920, a week before the Kilmichael ambush. The ones in Cork were based in Macroom Castle.
What are generally referred to as the Black and Tans were British recruits for the RIC (ex-servicemen, convicts, etc) who were sent to replace the original RIC who had been shot or resigned, and also to expand the force. They were paid less than a pound a day, but the exact amount escapes me. They got their name from the odd mixture of surplus uniforms they wore at first. The auxillary force officially had a different uniform, but I believe they also had some uniform shortages when first formed. They along with the British army units became known as Black and Tans or Tans for short, because they all engaged in acts of brutality against the Irish civilians and Republicans alike.

author by Aine Griffinpublication date Mon Jul 17, 2006 16:49author email aineneebarry at hotmail dot comauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors

Let there be no doubt about the terror caused by the Black and Tans and Auxillaries who were little more than disaffected soldiers who had failed to recover from the atrocites of the trenches in WW1and inflicted their Post Traumatic Stress Disorders uncontrolled and unabated on innocent irish Civilians and Prisioners of War.

True first hand accounts of the treachery of the Back and Tans and the impact of their barbaic acts are to be found in the Dublin's ,Rebel Cork's ,Limerick's, and Kerry's Fighting Stories published in the 1940's by the Kerryman.Stories written by the Freedom Fighters themselves,Ernie o Malley,Joe Reynolds, Sean MacGarry, Piaras Beaslai,John McCann, John Brennan, Thomas Ashe ,Con Casey,Tom Barry, Patrick Lynch and many more.Most people remember Bloody Sunday but our first Bloody Sunday was in Croak Park when the Auxillaries Opened fire on crowds supporting Dublin and Tipperary footy killing 14 spectators and wounding 60.
They tortured our people and executed our Prisioners of War including the 18 year old Kevin Barry.

Their legacy has been felt for generations and is deeply imbedded in the Irish Psychie

author by Frankpublication date Mon Jul 17, 2006 23:35author address author phone Report this post to the editors

While I enjoyed the film, it was unfortunate that the director didn't try to better understand the situation faced by tans in Ireland at the time or the reason for their introduction. Loach conveniently forgets that Collins' merry band of brothers were busily killing Irish policemen for well over a year before the tans arrived, causing mass resignations and replacements couldn't be found in Ireland due to the dirty boycotting campaign practised by the Shinners on their fellow Irishmen in the ranks of the RIC. New research that will soon be published suggests that drink, poor training and supervision, regular barracks attacks and frequent ambushes all serve to explain the behaviour of the tans. According to this analysis, the tans were essentially ordinary men who responded to the tense situation in which they found themselves. Perhaps the brutal conditions of trench warfare, as mentioned by the officer in the film, could also be added. There are undoubtedly examples of good behaviour by the tans but it would not serve republican propaganda well to mention this fact. Also, it should be pointed out that hair clipping of women was not practised solely by the British. IRA men also carried out this dreadful act on Irishwomen found 'guilty' of collaborating with the enemy. It's interesting to note that the British soldiers who assaulted railway personnel at the start of the film are later referred to as tans. Finally, no distinction was drawn in the film between the Auxies and the tans that both feature in various episodes. For the record, both Tom Barry and Ernest Blythe stated that the Auxies (ex-officers) were far worse than the tans (ex-soldiers).

author by Nick - Nonepublication date Sat Jul 22, 2006 03:06author address author phone Report this post to the editors

In the early days (eg, 1917, 1918) attacks on the RIC mainly consisted of a hiding or a few punches when the Volunteers went to capture weapons, and even later, when armed, the Volunteers rarely shot RIC. The shooting of RIC began mainly in 1919, with Soloheadbeg being the first obvious incident. The Irish Volunteers (and later when they became the IRA) have come in for a lot of flak for attacking the RIC, on the grounds that the RIC were 'fellow Irishmen'. By this stage, the IRA had entered in a definite war phase with the British Establishment and all its agents, be they English or Irish by birth. The RIC was no ordinary police force. First of all it was well armed (apart from the DMP), unlike its counterpart in England, and not at all afraid to shoot back with lethal effect when attacked. This fact of being armed in itself says a lot about the real role of the RIC as a political police force, married to the need to keep a populace subjugated. The RIC were the 'muscle' for many of the evictions during the land wars etc., of the 19th century, and had few compunctions about turning their 'fellow Irishmen' out on the roadside for the benefit of greedy landlords. By 1915 things had settled down a bit and their role was far more domestic (licences, fines all the run-of-the-mill stuff). 1916 changed all that, and once again their British masters wheeled them out as a political tool to supress nascent independence movement. The RIC were to the forefront of arrests of Volunteers etc., and these arrests (right up into the war of independence) would largely have been impossible to effect without the assiatance of the RIC. Many IRA Volunteers described them as 'the eyes and ears' of the British Administration, and it was clear that if the indepenence movement was to succeed, the RIC would have to go. Whether or not there were individual 'conflicted characters' in the RIC, the organisation as a whole would have been the kiss of death to any independence movement. As noted above this was initally achieved through boycotts (nothing intrinsically 'dirty' about a boycott in itself - the goals are the important issue) and later thorugh physical attacks and shootings for those RIC unconvinced by other methods. The IRA achieved a fair degree of success here in that they largely achieved their aim of eliminating or rendering useless, the RIC. Being 'fellow Irishmen' did not seem to bother some RIC when arresting Volunteers or shooting at them. Those that were bothered by it, or questioned their role, resigned, and did so in large numbers. These are the real patriots among the RIC. It often strikes me as odd how people can describe the RIC as Irishmen doing their 'patriotic duty'. Patriotic to whom? Arresting Volunteers, occasionally shooting them, supressing independence movements, assisting in supressing gaelic games, hanging around hurling pitches taking down the names of all attendees - this hardly seems patriotic Irish behaviour. Patriotic to the English establishment perhaps. Recently I was watching 'Charlotte Gray' a movie about a woman in Occupied France who helps some Jewish kids hide from the Nazis. The local Vichy officials harass her and her friends to help the Nazis track them down. Without the local knowledge and help of these Vichy officials - who are clearly not intended to be the goodies in the film - the Nazis would have found their task much more difficult. The Vichy official, in one of the most succintly ironic moments of the movie, explains to the heroine how he can 'think of no more patriotic duty than collaboration'. I suppose someday French historians trying to make a name for themselves will explain with facts and figures how the Vichy collaborators were the real patriots while the French Resistance were a bunch of cowardly murdering thugs.

author by Everymanpublication date Sun Jul 23, 2006 16:54author address author phone Report this post to the editors

by Harry Fri Jul 14, 2006 10:55
........ If we are expected to commemorate those fighting Britain’s wars in Britain's uniform (including in Ireland), why are the Brits not asked to commemorate those who fought to free Ireland from the imperial grasp – after all, they were, as Folly points out, ‘officially’ British citizens. Did we not play a role in establishing democracy and ending empire – or do the Brits (and west-Brits) have a problem with the concept?"

Nobody is asking Harry or any other whinging moaners to commemorate those Irishmen who volunteered to fight in WW1 and WW11. WW1 and WW11 were not merely Britain's wars and the numbers of Irishmen involved (significantly more than that ever attracted to the IRA) were fighting for principles which those of Harry's narrow mindset will never understand. In so far as the Irish state commemorates those Irishmen, it does so on the basis that it now cherishes all the children of the nation equally (and that includes West Brits - see the Sinn Fein policy of equality and parity of esteem). Clearly it is a case of the Irish (minus Harry and people of his ilk) commemorating their own. The Brits, to use Harry's loaded term, can commemorate whom they want as is their sovereign right. It is our sovereign right as a free and independent nation to commemmorate our own. The days when ignorant and bitter republicans dictate what is considered patriotism are thankfully gone. If Harry can not live with Ireland's new pluralist traditions, perhaps he should emigate to Mr. Mugabe's Zimbabwe where I am sure his Brit bashing tendencies will enjoy greater appreciation..

author by Sharon - Individualpublication date Sun Jul 23, 2006 17:02author address author phone Report this post to the editors

" It is our sovereign right as a free and independent nation to commemmorate our own."

Are there only 26 counties in this 'Nation' you speak of ?

Sharon .

Related Link: http://1169andcounting.blogspot.com
author by Dazed 7 confusedpublication date Sun Jul 23, 2006 22:24author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Frank, I weep briny tears for the poor Tans, separated from their parents at a tender age and thrown bewildered into a land of half-savages. For you, I will also rip out all my reason and dance upon the grave of facts. Oh, and forget where I read all your guff before, in British propaganda tracts, then and now. Who is carrying out the "research" you talk of? The Home Office?

I won't talk of my sympathy for the British soldiers in Malaya who were photographed with the trophies of their beheading of children. This was part of Britain's psywar campaign - "hearts and minds" and all that - to terrorise the population. But it wasn't policy - no, just the gut reaction of terrified soldiers.

Lies, lies, lies.

author by Solas Nuapublication date Mon Jul 24, 2006 02:22author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Free" , "Independent" ?
by Sharon - Individual Sun Jul 23, 2006 16:02
" It is our sovereign right as a free and independent nation to commemmorate our own."

Are there only 26 counties in this 'Nation' you speak of ?

No, Sharon, I'm speaking of the 32 county Nation with its 1million Protestant citizens and its 4 million Catholic citizens, many of whom can claim to have had relatives in British uniform during WW1 and WW11. Time for you Sharon to leave behind the shackles of your own narrow mind and liberate yourself!

author by Sharon - Individualpublication date Mon Jul 24, 2006 09:20author address author phone Report this post to the editors

'Solas Nua/Everyman' -

You have described this island as a ".....32 county Nation .....(which is)......... free and independent.... " .
I would suggest your best move now is to pick a third 'sign-in' name and proceed as if you have not made a fool of yourself . And have a fourth 'sign-in' name ready . You will probably need it sooner than you think .

Sharon .

Related Link: http://1169andcounting.blogspot.com
author by Nick - Nonepublication date Tue Jul 25, 2006 02:01author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Everyman / Solas Nua writes: "Nobody is asking Harry or any other whinging moaners to commemorate those Irishmen who volunteered to fight in WW1 and WW11. WW1 and WW11 were not merely Britain's wars and the numbers of Irishmen involved (significantly more than that ever attracted to the IRA) were fighting for principles which those of Harry's narrow mindset will never understand"

Erm, what principles were they fighting for, exactly? And if 'those of narrow mindset will never understand' what's the point of going online to try and 'convert / correct' them? Sounds overly fatalistic to me.

author by trevor rankin - nonepublication date Thu Dec 11, 2008 04:07author email spadge1964 at yahoo dot comauthor address author phone 0876903309Report this post to the editors

Yes its true that the black and tans were a terrifying mob.My grandmother told me she was often kicked and abused by them as a 16yr old going to work in the early hours in clonmel co. tipperary.Strange thing is that her 2 brothers were fighting in the trenches in belgium at the same time.Both were killed and never saw home again.Suppose we should be glad of the peace we have today.

author by Historian (not)publication date Thu Dec 11, 2008 21:23author address author phone Report this post to the editors

World War 1 was long over in March 1920 by the time the Tans arrived in Ireland!

Related Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_and_Tans
author by Sean O'Cathasiaghpublication date Sun Dec 06, 2009 02:19author address author phone Report this post to the editors

The despotism of the Black and Tans in Galway needs no introduction, the facts are there. The night of murders in Galway city, the conflict at the dance hall which involved the notorious Major William Lorraine ''TIny'' King during the truce and the murder of the Loughnane brothers, the sack of Tuam stand out among many. Duff himself wrote in 'Sword for Hire' (his life as a paid mercenary) of his time in the Maam valley, and whitewashed himself and the tans as game lads. Duff wrote around fifteen books about his 'adventures' as a gun for hire, and Ireland gets a mention in most of them. He brags about nearly arresting Michael Collins with a colleague on the outskirts of Dublin. It woudl seem to himself a tleast that the Tans only fired when fired upon. There is no record in his books of wrongdoing. However he went on to form and be a leader of first the Palsetine Gendarmerie and then the Palestine police. I am working on a paper on events in Galway, for historical interest only. Perhaps he was among those who fired at my own Grandfather Martin O'Cathasaigh from Ballydoolough, after they tied him up to a tree, and for several hours, then a 16 years old boy, who was involved in the ambush of Tourmakeady, an erxcellent book of hich has been compose by Capt Donal Buckley (Irish Army retd)
This is what Duff got up to in Palestine, according to the Jerusalem Quarterly. At first I belived Duff may have been truthful about events, he was after all only 18.

“Going Beserk”: Duff and the Black and Tans at the Wailing Wall
Duff carried an Irish blackthorn baton or club (called a shillelagh) which he occasionally used to whack Palestinians over the head, leaving them unconscious. He carried a Colt 045 pistol on his hip and a Turkish styled whip. He generally bullied his way about, enforcing immediately and spontaneously his ideas of justice or at least whatever measure it would take to maintain order and get a job done. In combination with the standard issue Stetson, the image this man cuts is an Indiana Jones who had turned from virtue to vice. When there was an earthquake that left two “important” female tourists buried in a collapsed hotel in Jericho, he used his whip to coerce local Bedouins to dig them out. When one of the Bedouins attempted to leave before they found the bodies, Duff “hit him with a beautiful left uppercut to his bearded face and sank a right-cross to his heart.” The Bedouin collapsed. Duff ordered him to be wrapped in woven-wire and whipped; the other Bedouin kept digging.'' Obviously this throws a whole new light on things and makes Duff a very unreliable witness
to the events of 1920.

Inspector Duff seems to have played a dubious role at the outset of the Western Wall Incident of 1928. The Wailing Wall, or Western Wall of the Haram al-Sharif in Jerusalem, is sacred to both Muslims and Jews. In the 1920s, tensions mounted between Palestinian Muslims and Zionists over ownership, control, and access to the Wall. The Western Wall incident of September 1928 sparked rivalry and violence that spread across Palestine. By the end of the following year, the violence left 133 Jews and 116 Arabs dead.

Many of Duffs Black and Tans were sent to Jerusalem to make up the second Battn of the PAlestine Gendarmerie after being made redundant by the onset of the Republic. Apparently in their number was an ex doctor who had allegedly raped a patient, and several defrocked clergymen, an odd batch anyone would agree. How ironic that the Menachem Begin chose the codename Michael, in honour of Michael Collins, albeit probably with a wry sense of humour,but certainly in honour of General Collinc Incidentally Duff had been a trainee clergyman, before he went to Scotland YAad to enlist in the tans. (Not Auxiliary he was too young and not a Great War veteran) )

author by Commonsman - nonepublication date Tue Nov 13, 2012 13:59author email author address author phone Report this post to the editors

You speak of how it was vital to win both the first and second WWs for liberty. I contend the outcome of both wars were failures. First of all the freedom of little Catholic Belgium was regarded as almost paramount in WW 1, yet 'little Catholic Belgium' had a shocking record of brutality in the Belgian Congo and almost certainly deserved to have the tender mercies of the Kaiser visited on them. That war was supposed to 'be the war to end all wars' yet the mean spirited conditions placed on defeated Germany afterwards almost ensured the occurence of WW 2. As regards the latter War GB initally entered this conflict because Poland had been invaded by Germany. Were Poland free at wars end? Certainly not. Speaking to some Polish friends they assure me that bad and all as their German occupiers were, Britains friends the Russians were ten times biggar savages

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