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Searc's Web Guide to 20th Century Ireland - Piaras Béaslaí (1881-1965)

Piaras Béaslaí was born and educated in Liverpool where he became a journalist and editor of the Catholic Times. In 1904 he moved to Dublin and joined the Gaelic League and in 1911 he founded The Society of Gaelic Writers and the newspaper An Fáinne to promote the Irish language. In 1914 Béaslaí joined the Irish Volunteers and in 1915 he published his first play Fear na Milliún Púnt. It was Béaslaí's speech to the National Congress of the Gaelic League in 1915 which inspired Padraig Pearse's oration at the graveside of Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa in the same year.
During the 1916 Easter Rising Béaslaí was Vice-Commandant of the 1st Dublin Battalion of the IRA which occupied North King Street. After the Rising Béaslaí was sentenced to ten years penal servitude but he escaped, was recaptured and imprisoned in Strangeways Prison, Manchester. Béaslaí also escaped from that prison and went back to Ireland where he became IRA Director of Publicity. In the General Election of 1918 Béaslaí was elected to the First Dáil as Sinn Féin Deputy for East Kerry. In 1920 he published a volume of short stories Bealtaine 1916 agus Dánta Eile. Béaslaí supported the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty and toured America giving lectures in support of the Treaty in 1922.
During the Civil War Béaslaí was a Major-General in the Free State Army and Head of Press Censorship. He resigned from the Dáil and the Free State Army in 1923 and 1924 respectively. Béaslaí published several more novels and plays, including Astronár (1928); An Danar (1929) and a collection of Irish poetry and plays, dating from 1600-1850, entitled Éigse nua-Ghaedhilge (1934).
This extract is from Béaslaí's Michael Collins & the Making of the New Ireland (1926). ©


Piaras Béaslaí
Piaras Béaslaí (1881-1965)


It must not be imagined that, from the moment a truce was agreed to between the two forces, all was peace in Ireland up to the attack on the Four Courts at the end of June [1922]. On the contrary, all through the months of May and June, conflicts were occurring in various parts of the country between what were called the 'Dáil' and 'Executive' forces, due to the inevitable clashing of rival control locally.
In the West a number of armed encounters took place. Officers and men loyal to GHQ were 'arrested' by Irregulars* in various districts, and the situation was further complicated by the intervention of armed forces in land disputes and local contentions. In fact the anarchy which had set in was growing to alarming proportions. Guns were plentiful, and there was no established authority in the country.
Men of criminal bent took advantage of the situation for their own ends and armed raids and robberies were a daily occurrence. In the general demoralisation that had set in, men who, in normal times, would never dream of crime, went out with guns and robbed without scruple. The unfortunate victim was often uncertain whether the raid was an Irregular 'official' act or just an ordinary crime.
The seizing of motor cars was an every day occurrence, and an example of the Irregulars in raiding banks and seizing money was readily followed by criminals. In the South the employees of some creameries seized them from the proprietors and established what they called 'Soviet Rule'.
The Irregulars carried out a number of raids in Dublin, and all over the country, in enforcement of the boycott on Belfast goods. Trains were held up and goods from the North seized, and stores on the North and South Walls in Dublin were also raided. The difficulties of the Provisional Government were further increased by disturbances on the Ulster Border, culminating, early in June, in the shelling of Belleek and the invasion of Pettigo by the English troops. The failure of the Provisional Government to assert its authority had already aroused the suspicions of the English Government.
The 'Pact' between Collins and De Valera, and the negotiations for a unified Irish Republican Army, still further increased the tension, and the intervention of the English Army in Ulster against the Free State brought about a very grave situation indeed. It was quite clear that the Irish Government, now strengthened by a mandate from the Irish people, must either assert itself as a Government, or by its abdication, afford the English an excuse for re-invading the country, and thus acquiesce in the defeat of all hopes of Irish freedom.
On June 18th the Irregular forces held a convention in the Four Courts. The proceedings were secret, but it was ascertained that the question of 'starting a fresh war with England' was discussed. The matter occupied the attention of the Irregular Executive during the next few days, and Collins was satisfied, from information received by Army Intelligence, that a definite plan of action for an attack on the English forces was being prepared.
The new Dáil was due to meet on July 1st; it seemed likely that the blow would be struck before that date. A document subsequently captured gave details of this scheme. It consisted of a resolution and a 'Report of the Executive Sub-Committee'. The resolution ran: 'That this Executive Council of the IRA hereby decide, as in our opinion the only means of maintaining the Republic is by giving the English seventy-two hours notice to evacuate the country, in view of this fact we hereby decide that the GHQ of the Army Council be directed to carry out the suggestions contained in the Sub-Committee's Report.'
The 'Report' outlined a plan of campaign of which the following were striking points: 'The destruction of all barracks occupied by our troops, the attacking present port positions held by the English troops. The striking at English forces should be made, whenever possible, in 'areas where no pro-Treaty troops occupy, so that they maybe brought into collision with English troops.'
On June 24th, the results of the General Election were made known, showing, as I have said, in spite of the 'agreed election', a Dáil in which Collins had a working majority, and the opponents of the Treaty only secured 36 out of 125 seats.
Previous to this the Government were hampered by their smaller majority in the Dáil, and the absence of a clear mandate from the country on the Treaty issue; but the result of the General Election placed them in a strong position to assert their authority. This position was secured at the very moment when their continued existence and power to fulfil the people's mandate were in imminent danger, if steps were not immediately taken to secure their authority. The Four Courts Executive had appointed Loe Henderson 'Director of Belfast Boycott', and in that capacity he proceeded to levy fines on Dublin traders for stocking Belfast goods. On June 26th, two days after the new Dáil had been elected, Henderson, with a body of armed men, raided Ferguson's motor garage, on Lower Baggot Street, and seized motor cars to the value of £9,000. A body of troops from Beggar's Bush, under Frank Thornton, at this time a Colonel Commandant, were dispatched to the place. The Irregulars surrendered, and Henderson was arrested and sent to Mountjoy. That night the Irregulars retaliated by kidnapping General J. J. O'Connell, Commander-in-Chief of the Regular troops, when he was walking home to barracks, unarmed and unattended, and bringing him a captive to the Four Courts, where they announced their intention of holding him as a hostage for Henderson. This was the chain of events that led to the decision to attack the Four Courts.
* Béaslaí refers to the IRA as the Irregulars and the Free State Army as the Regulars. © Searc's Web Guide 1997-2008

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