- Defying the IRA? Intimidation, Coercion, and Communities during the Irish Revolution by Brian Hughes
In 1979 Charles Townshend effectively demolished claims that during the Irish War of Independence (1919-21) the IRA enjoyed "a close, not to say a symbiotic, relationship with the Irish people," citing contemporary evidence from IRA leaders themselves as to the unreliability of the civilian community. Brian Hughes further explores this dynamic by exploring the nuanced relationship between guerrillas and non-combatants in his extensive study of the theme of defiance of the IRA during that conflict. Drawing upon appropriate methodological and comparative studies, most notably Stathis Kalyvas's The Logic of Violence in Civil War, Hughes examines in detail the nature of such defiance, as well as its extent and impact.
The first two chapters deal largely with servants of the state, examining the extent to which the general public participated, willingly or otherwise, in the republican-decreed boycotts of the Royal Irish Constabulary and the payment of rates to local government. Considering these developments at the micro-level of the communities in which they played out reveals the layers of complexity involved. Apart from the hardship suffered by police families who often could not purchase necessities or access essential services, refusing to serve them could have adverse effects for local business and trades people. Conversely, not to be seen to participate in the boycott, as in the case of some Protestant and loyalistowned businesses, could result in a counter-boycott by the majority nationalist community. This experience is echoed in many cases in archives of the Irish Grants Committee, upon which Hughes draws extensively, albeit with appropriate caution. Not surprisingly, the failure to pay rates to either the British-controlled Local Government Board or the Dáil Éireann local government department was often motivated by self-interest as many waited to see who would emerge as the victor and not pay up if there was no need or coercion to do so.
The strongest chapters are three and four which deal with the civilian experience of the conflict. They are largely devoted to examining how the IRA responded to acts of defiance and how different categories of defiance were interpreted relative to the punishments meted out. Lethal violence was reserved largely for what were seen as the most unforgiveable acts of defiance – spying and informing. At a lesser level, economic retribution was often exacted in the [End Page 1431] form of burning goods for failure to comply with the Belfast boycott, seizure of goods in lieu of payments to the IRA's arms fund levy, and imposed billeting of IRA men on the run. A general theme running through the book is the effort to ascertain the effectiveness of the IRA's efforts to impose its will. The boycott of the RIC and rates payments, and demands for contributions to arms levies, were not unqualified successes. Similarly, although the civilians in these communities suffered intimidation and violence, sometimes with fatal consequences, their resilience emerges: "Nevertheless, many of the victims of revolutionary persecution proved themselves to be remarkably resolute and either hung on in the face of violence and intimidation or left and came back as soon as they felt they could" (129).
The extent to which Protestants were targeted deliberately for purely sectarian reasons by the IRA is one of the most hotly debated issues in the current historiography of Ireland's nationalist revolution for independence, often associated with the significant decline between 1911 and 1926 of almost onethird in the Protestant population of the twenty-six counties that became the Irish Free State. Hughes's examination of this thorny issue shows the naive simplicity involved in assuming such a causal relationship between the two phenomena. Many Protestants, by their own admission, kept their heads down as best they could, suggesting that they were not targeted simply for who or what they were. Those who did come to the attention of the IRA often did so for their actions not for their religion, although those...