Thursday, January 12, 2006


Thursday Thoughts: Churchill and Ireland

Unite Ireland! Winston Churchill has been discussed on United Irelander the last couple of days and my feelings towards the man have been made known. With that being said, I decided to read up on the guy a bit more and I found this great resource - The Churchill Centre - which does an excellent job of highlighting the man's life. If you are have an interest in history or even just Churchill you might find it a good read.

Of course my main interest is Churchill's relationship with Ireland and I thought it would be a good idea to highlight some of the more interesting points. Interestingly, I find myself agreeing with some of the sentiments expressed by the man although I disagree with alot of them too.

Churchill on the Irish question in the House of Commons:

"It is a curious reflection to inquire why Ireland should bulk so largely in our lives. How is it that the great English parties are shaken to their foundations, and even shattered, almost every generation, by contact with Irish affairs? When did Ireland derive its power to drive Mr. Pitt from office, to drag down Mr. Gladstone in the summit of his career and to draw us who sit here almost to the verge of civil war, from which we were only rescued by the outbreak of the Great War? Whence does this mysterious power of Ireland come? It is a small, poor, sparsely populated island, lapped about by British sea power, accessible on every side, without iron or coal. How is it that she sways our councils, shakes our parties, and infects us with great bitterness, convulses our passions, and deranges our action? How is it she has forced generation after generation to stop the whole traffic of the British Empire in order to debate her domestic Affairs? "Ireland is not a daughter State. She is a parent nation. The Irish are an ancient race. 'We are too,' said their plenipotentiaries, 'a far-flung nation.' They are intermingled with the whole life of the Empire, and have interest in every part of the Empire wherever the English language is spoken, especially in these new countries with whom we have to look forward to the greatest friendship and countenance, and where the Irish canker has been at work. How often have we suffered in all these generations from this continued hostility? If we can free ourselves from it, if we can to some extent reconcile the spirit of the Irish nation to the British Empire in the same way as Scotland and Wales have been reconciled, then indeed we shall have secured advantages which may well repay the trouble and uncertainties of the present time."

Sorry 'bout that Will but we're defiant so and so's!

Churchill on the Home Rule question:

"I admit that perfectly genuine apprehensions of the majority of the people of North-East Ulster constitute the most serious obstacle to a thoroughly satisfactory settlement ... but whatever Ulster's rights may be, she cannot stand in the way of the whole of the rest of Ireland."

Sadly as we all know, Ulster DID stand in the way of the rest of the island.

Churchill on the Black and Tans, 1920:

"I do think that something more than perfunctory lip-service is required in condemning the cold-blooded repeated murders of policemen and soldiers by people in plain clothes coming up with a smile on their faces and then shooting them through their jacket." He refused to stop the policy of reprisals until Sinn Fein would "quit murdering and start arguing."

This was a disgraceful move on Churchill's part. He advocated inflicting the evil of the Black and Tans on Irish civilians.

Churchill's view on Ireland two years later, 1922:

"C.P. Scott reported in his diary that Harold Laski had found Churchill, who had begun negotiating the eventual Irish Treaty, full of threats against Irish extremists, arguing that Britain had utterly broken rebellion in the 16th century, so "why not now with our vastly greater power?" "Yes," replied Laski, "but the condition of Ireland today is the fruit of our policy then."

Mr Laski was right and we are fortunate that Mr Churchill had cooler heads around him.

Churchill's wife Clemetine on the Irish situation, 1922:

"Clementine pressed moderation upon her husband: "Do my darling use your influence now for some sort of moderation or at any rate justice in Ireland. Put yourself in the place of the Irish. If you were ever leader you would not be cowed by severity and certainly not by reprisals which fall like the rain from Heaven upon the Just and upon the Unjust. It always makes me unhappy and disappointed when I see you inclined to take for granted that the rough, iron-fisted 'Hunnish' way will prevail.""

It seems his wife was very wise.

Churchill and the Irish delegates at the Treaty talks:

"Churchill played a key role in negotiating an acceptable treaty with the Sinn Fein delegates, Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins. Griffith warned the English that although he would sign the treaty there would be great difficulty getting it approved in Ireland. As for Griffiths's colleague, Churchill later wrote, "Michael Collins rose looking as if he was going to shoot someone, preferably himself. In all my life, I have never seen so much passion and suffering in restraint."

No doubt Collins was in turmoil but he still shouldn't have signed the Treaty.

Churchill on a United Ireland, 1922:

"...I have a strong feeling that the top of the hill has been reached, and that we shall find the road easier in the future than in the past....there is nothing we should like better than to see North and South join hands in an all-Ireland assembly without prejudice to the existing rights of either....The prize is so great that other things should be subordinated to gaining it. The bulk of people are slow to take in what is happening, and prejudices die hard. Plain folk must have time to take things in and adjust their minds to what has happened. Even a month or two may produce enormous changes in public opinion."

Wow I'm shocked. That sounds like something I would say. Maybe the guy wasn't that bad after all. Hopefully North and South will join hands one day.

Churchill ignores Collins, 1922:

"Collins asked for the support of Churchill and the British Government in opposing the Local Government Bill for Northern Ireland. He argued that is would "oust the Catholic and Nationalist people of the Six Counties from their rightful share in local administration." His pleading was unsuccessful. The cause of peace received two serious blows in August with the loss of two signatories to the Irish Treaty. The first was Arthur Griffith, who Churchill described as "a man of good faith and good will." Eight days later Michael Collins was assassinated in County Cork. Churchill had just received this message from Collins through an intermediary: "Tell Winston we could never have done anything without him." He now feared his greatest problem would be in dealing with "a quasi-repentant De Valera. It may well be that he will take advantage of the present situation to try to get back from the position of a hunted rebel to that of a political negotiator."

History I think proved Collins right on that. The death of Griffith and Collins were truly massive blows to the Irish Free State. Interesting remarks from Collins above.

A humorous story concerning Ireland and Churchill:

"Clementine Churchill's amusement was told by Churchill's bodyguard, the late Eddie Murray. In the days when aircraft refueled in Shannon before flying the Atlantic, a Churchill flight alighted there and Eddie went to order some duty free Irish whisky for his Secret Service friends in the States. The Irishman at the counter said he'd box it up, and what name should he put on it? "Murray," Ed told him.When he arrived at the counter to pick up his box, the man handed it to him saying he hoped he would enjoy it‹"But can ye tell me, Mr. Murray, what's a man with a name like Murray doing working for an old bastard like Churchill?"As the flight resumed, Eddie related the incident to Churchill, who thought it uproariously funny and related it to his wife. About five minutes went by in silence; then suddenly Clemmie exclaimed, in her high pitched Scottish voice: "But he was wrong, Winston, he was quite wrong‹you DO know who your father was!""

A nice, funny story I must admit.

De Valera after the death of Churchill:

"LONDON, AUGUST 18TH: Columnist Alan Hamilton wrote that discreet British enquiries established that Eamon De Valera, President of Ireland, would not accept an invitation to Churchill's funeral. Instead he sent a low grade representative and made a statement describing Churchill as "a great Englishman, one of the greatest of his time," but adding, "We in Ireland had to regard Sir Winston over a long period as a dangerous adversary." De Valera did send a message of personal condolence to Lady Churchill."

De Valera proving again proving he was a class act. His opinions on the danger of Churchill reflect the widespread feeling of the Irish people about the man.

All in all, the site is worth a look if you want to read up on Churchill. It's often overlooked that this very well known figure from British history had a big role to play in Irish history as well.

While I still regard him as someone who has had his flaws airbrushed from history and his achievements overly praised by the British, perhaps it was a tad unfair of me to place him on a list of the worst ever Britons.


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