On 12 January 1939, the Army Council sent an ultimatum, signed by Patrick Fleming, to British Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax. The communiqué duly informed the British government of “The Government of the Irish Republic’s” intention to go to “war”. Excerpt from the ultimatum:
I have the honour to inform you that the Government of the Irish Republic, having as its first duty towards its people the establishment and maintenance of peace and order here, demand the withdrawal of all British armed forces stationed in Ireland. The occupation of our territory by troops of another nation and the persistent subvention here of activities directly against the expressed national will and in the interests of a foreign power, prevent the expansion and development of our institution in consonance with our social needs and purposes, and must cease.
The Government of the Irish Republic believe that a period of four days is sufficient notice for your Government to signify its intentions in the matter of the military evacuation and for the issue of your Declaration of Abdication in respect of our country. Our Government reserves the right of appropriate action without further notice if upon the expiration of this period of grace, these conditions remain unfulfilled.
Óglaigh na h-Éireann (Irish Republican Army).
General Headquarters, Dublin, January 12th, 1939, to His Excellency the Rt. Hon. Viscount Halifax, C.G.B.
On Sunday, 15 January, with no reply from the British Government, a proclamation was posted in public places throughout Ireland announcing the IRA’s declaration of war on Britain. This proclamation was written by Joseph McGarrity, leader of Clan na Gael in the United States, and was signed by six members of the Army Council: Stephen Hayes, Patrick Fleming, Peadar O’Flaherty, George Oliver Plunkett, Larry Grogan and Seán Russell. The seventh Army Council member, Máirtín Ó Cadhain, refused to sign as he believed the IRA was not ready to begin the campaign.
This proclamation also called upon Irishmen both at home and “in Exile” to give their utmost support to compel the withdrawal of the British from the island of Ireland so that a free Irish Republic could be established. As the campaign began in Britain the same proclamation appeared posted around Irish communities in British cities. The proclamation referenced back to the 17 December 1938 statement by the group naming itself the “Executive Council of Dáil Éireann, Government of the Republic” and read:
“On the twenty-third day of April in the year 1916 in the City of Dublin, seven men, who were representative in spirit and outlook and purpose of the Irish Nation that had never yielded to nor accepted the British conquest, set their humble and almost unknown names to the foregoing document that has passed into history, making the names of the seven signatories immortal. These signatures were sealed with the blood of the immortal seven, and of many others who followed them into one of the most gallant fights in the history of the world; and the Irish Nation rose from shame to honour, from humiliation to pride, from slavery to freedom….”
“Unfortunately, because men were foolish enough to treat with an armed enemy within their gates, the English won the peace. Weakness and treachery caused a resumption of the war and the old English tactics of ‘divide and conquer’ were exploited to the fullest extent. Partition was introduced, the country divided into two parts with two separate Parliaments subject to and controlled by the British Government. The armed forces of England still occupy six of our counties in the North and reserve the right ‘in time of war or strained relations’ to reoccupy the ports which they have just evacuated in the southern part of Ireland. Ireland is still tied, as she has been for centuries past, to take part in England’s wars. In the Six Counties, a large number of Republican soldiers are held prisoners by England. Further weakness on the part of some of our people, broken faith and make-believe, have postponed the enthronement of the living Republic, but the proclamation of Easter Week and the declaration of independence stand and must stand for ever. No man, no matter how far he has fallen away from his national faith, has dared to repudiate them. They constitute the rallying centre for the unbought manhood of Ireland in the fight that must be made to make them effective and to redeem the nation’s self-respect that was abandoned by a section of our people in 1923.”
“The time has come to make that fight. There is no need to redeclare the Republic of Ireland, now or in the future. There is no need to reaffirm the declaration of Irish independence. But the hour has come for the supreme effort to make both effective. So in the name of the unconquered dead and the faithful living, we pledge ourselves to that task. We call upon England to withdraw her armed forces, her civilian officials and institutions, and representatives of all kinds from every part of Ireland as an essential preliminary to arrangements for peace and friendship between the two countries; and we call upon the people of all Ireland, at home and in exile, to assist us in the effort we, are about to make, in God’s name, to compel that evacuation and to enthrone the Republic of Ireland.”
Significantly, there was an IRA bomb incident in or around a major British city almost every other day in the first nine months of 1939. During the campaign there were 300 explosions, 10 deaths and 96 injuries.
Photo: The aftermath of an IRA bike bomb in Coventry on 25 August 1939
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