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The Curragh Incident

The centenary of the Curragh Incident (or Curragh Mutiny as it sometimes known) took place a couple of months ago. I had been expecting to see a fair amount of comment on what was a fairly dramatic event but so far not a dicky bird. That is not to say that there hasn’t been any comment, just that I haven’t seen it. Assuming there hasn’t been any, perhaps, belatedly, it is about time I got the ball rolling.

Since 1910 the British Government had been attempting to grant devolution, or Home Rule as it was then known, to Ireland. Ulster and the Conservative Party (or Unionists as they were then known) objected. Some 500,000 of Ulster’s British population signed a covenant stating that they would resist it. When this failed to impress the government the Ulstermen established their own army, the Ulster Volunteer Force – not to be confused with more modern creations bearing the same name – and even set up a provisional government, just in case.

The government, at first thought the Ulstermen were bluffing. But by early 1914 they had realised they weren’t and that they were going to have to call in the military. Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty sailed a cruiser into Belfast Lough. At the same time orders were issued to the British garrison at the Curragh in Southern Ireland at which point the officers resigned their commissions, or to put it another way, walked out. This, incidentally, was something they were perfectly entitled to do.

The government backed down while denying that they had done any such thing. The officers returned to their posts but the Secretary of State for War did not. One assumes that this meant the end of government plans to “coerce” Ulster but seeing as the First World War broke out at the precise moment things were coming to a head, we shall never know.

The Times 14 March 1914, p9

The Times 14 March 1914, p9

My guess is that the mutineers were right. Indeed I suspect that had their successors taken a similar stance in 1969 we would have saved ourselves a whole lot of trouble. But that’s another story.

17 comments to The Curragh Incident

  • Mr Ed

    Surely the King would have put down any mutiny, like Juan Carlos in Spain in 1981, fearful of the scope for revolution if the Army got out of hand, the men outnumbering the officers, and the bulk of the Army being loyal to the government. The House of Lords had been neutered by the Parliament Act 1911.

    I have never trusted the British Army, from handing over Cossacks to Stalin, to an Iraqi hotel receptionist dying, to an NCO molesting recruits’ bottoms’ with broomsticks*, it seems that it cannot be relied upon to be decent. It has been a big barrel of apples though.

    * An incident that led to a court-martial at some point in the 1990s, IIRC, after publicity about some Deepcut Barracks suicides.

  • Sam Duncan

    “so far not a dicky bird”

    Too close to home right now, I expect, with the Scottish Thing going on. I don’t have any links, but I’m told polling suggests that 97% of Scottish servicemen would want to remain in the British Army in the event of a “yes” vote. Which could lead to some similarly sticky situations, for both sides.

    I can even imagine the scenario in which history repeats itself. The result is “yes”, but Orkney and Shetland vote “no” by a large margin. Over the course of the negotiation period, there’s a rising movement in the islands to reject the new state, and as the formal declaration approaches the army is sent in to ensure an “orderly transfer of power”. Sympathising with the islanders as fellow British subjects, and not wishing to serve in the new “Scottish Defence Force” themselves, they refuse. Bingo, Curragh Mutiny II. It’s not so far-fetched.

    So, best keep what happened last time quiet in case it gives anyone Ideas.

  • Mr Ed

    Perhaps the UK will insist on ‘Treaty Ports‘ as in the Irish Free State after 1922.

    I can’t the Blairmacht staging a mutiny over Scottish independence, they went on a baseless war without a whimper in Iraq, those on Scottish territory at midnight on independence day would simply be inherited by the Kingdom of Scotland unless the Act establishing Scotland provided otherwise, after all, it is wholly within the legal power of the UK Parliament to grant independence to Scotland, whatever the Nationalists might say or do.

    It would be startling the RAF fighters at Leuchars RAF base in Scotland would scramble at 23.30 hours, do a sonic boom over Edinburgh at 23.50 and head for international airspace post-haste, exiting pursued by a Bear, before landing in an RAF base in Lincolnshire, leaving the ground staff to fight their way home or scrambling onto Chinooks for a take-off to leave the promised land before midnight.

    Then a Russian sailor in Leith spots a St Andrew’s saltire, decides that he is in Russia, and Mr Putin lends a hand, realising that the locals drinking habits and tower blocks are strangely comforting.

  • they went on a baseless war without a whimper in Iraq

    For the typical squaddie, shooting at Abdul and Fatima is not at all the same as shooting at Billy and Heather.

  • Edward Spalton

    My father (born 1907) knew a chap who was involved with supplying guns to Ireland. He was the younger son of a farming family and had a job in Gamage’s sports department. He noticed they were selling a great many rifles. One day it might be to an army officer with connections to the court. The next day it might by to somebody with connections in a Southern Ireland.

    Having a modest amount of money, he saw an opportunity and bought up a job lot of clapped out Italian army rifles from their first Abyssinian war. “Anything that would go bang” was saleable. As luck would have it, the cargo was in a German port when war was declared. So he lost the lot and was destitute. His wife left him and he enlisted out of desperation. He told Dad that he had nothing but Crown property in his pack, when he joined up.

    Dad said that he was with this man in the bar of the Midland Hotel in Derby during the Thirties when an Irishman recognised him and told him he was a dead man if he ever set foot in Ireland – a disappointed customer, no doubt. He went on to establish a considerable business of civil engineers.

    Of course, I can’t verify anything but our family has a strong tradition of passing accounts from one generation to the next

  • Rich Rostrom

    Irishmen generally objected to being ruled from London by the British majority in the UK of GB&I.

    Ulstermen generally objected to being ruled from Dublin by the Catholic majority in Ireland instead of by the British majority in the UK.

    Catholics in the north generally objected to being ruled from Belfast by the Protestant majority in Ulster instead by the Catholic majority in Ireland.

    Who gets to draw the line where?

  • Paul Marks

    There has never, at any time, been a “united independent Ireland”. The various Kingdoms of Ireland were never (at any time) ruled by an independent regime in Dublin.

    Also the “Scots” (as in “Scots Irish”) are actually an Irish tribe – people have been crossing the short distance between Ulster and Scotland for THOUSANDS of years.

    As for the so called “mutiny” – to be ordered to murder ordinary people (to force them to live under a new government based in Dublin) is outrageous and unacceptable.

    To murder the million or so people who supported the Ulster Covenant (in order create a new “United Ireland”) would have been Waco – times a thousand. Accept that the Ulstermen (and Ulster women – for the women would have fought also) would have defended themselves a lot more professionally than the unfortunate people at Waco did.

    No one dislikes Douglas Haig, as an infantry commander, more than I do – I think he was totally useless (defences of Haig, whose basic misunderstanding led to the deaths of more British soldiers than any other commander in history, throw me into a total rage).

    However, I am entirely on his side concerning the plans to slaughter the population of Ulster (and slaughtering a million or so people would have been the only way to make them accept a “United Ireland” ruled by Dublin).

    Haig (and the others) were correct – the rifles of soldiers should not be directed to slaughter the population of Ulster (to murder more than a million people – just to please the “Liberals”), if anything these rifles should be used in the DEFENCE of the people of Ulster.

    As for the question of religion – to cover it fully would require a book (does anyone want to read a book length comment by me on the religious situation in the area a the time?).

    So I will just say it is a lot more complicated than a lot of people think.

    For example it was some Irish Protestants who reinvented the Irish language (and largely created modern Irish nationalism), and some Irish Catholics were Unionists.

    As I said – complicated, a lot more complicated than people think.

  • Paul Marks

    By the way – I think Patrick is correct.

    There was no need for military intervention in Ulster in the late 1960s.

    The IRA (sorry the “Civil Rights movement”) was not a sincere Roman Catholic organisation – it was (and is) a Marxist front (a bunch of watermelons – green on the outside and red on the inside). Indeed in the 1960s the Roman Catholic Church was under massive internal attack (not attack from evil Ulster Protestants) – by the forerunners of Liberation Theology (under the cover of Vatican Two).

    Getting rid of organisations such as the “B Specials” did not just allow the IRA to attack Protestants it also allowed the IRA to attack Catholics – to gain an Iron Grip on the “Catholic Community” (just as Black Panthers and other Marxist groups were able to gain an iron grip on black communities in American cities in the 1960s – burning out BLACK owned business enterprises of any one who would not pay them).

  • It is difficult to work out where Haig stood on the Curragh Incident. His main concern was the unity of the army in the face of the threat from Germany.

  • A Cowardly Citizen

    Surely the letter by Chas Mercier on dealing with “suffragist criminals” on the same page is worthy of comment. He deplores that it would be illegal to let them starve to death, and proposes to declare them all “outlaws” instead.

    Also Mr Ramsay Mac Donald has a letter condemning referendum on Ulster as “an instrument of reaction”.

  • staghounds

    My experience with national level journalism is that about half the stories I know anything about contain an open, obvious factual error.

    Even those from a century ago- the General’s name was GOUGH.

    The Gell-Mann effect goes on forever…

  • @staghounds Huh? His name was Gough and that is how they spelt it.

  • Rudolph Hucker

    Re the British garrison at the Curragh – that sounds like the British Army in North America during the US War of Independence. There are several accounts of British officers “loosing” or ignoring orders from England for hostile action against the locals.

  • Edward Spalton


    And, of course, some of the most fiercely fought battles of the American revolutionary war were fought between Americans who were loyal to the Crown and the rebels. These were very brutal affairs, accompanied by beastly atrocities. The Battle of King’s Mountain sticks in my mind. I believe that there were no more than half a dozen regular British officers present on the loyalist side. The whole business was far more of a civil war than the received account suggests.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Um, Paul — I for one would welcome a new Blogapotamus or six on the subject.

  • Edward Spalton

    Julie near Chicago,
    There is quite a full Wikipedia report on the Battle of King’s Mountain.
    Many things about the American revolution were different from the received account.
    The Boston Tea Party was organised by smugglers whose trade was ruined because the new tax on tea was TOO LOW! It put them out of business.

    George Washington and friends did not approve of this episode.