Having studied the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, I find it hard to believe that the divisions and bitterness which were so deeply ingrained at the time are not more visible in Ireland today. Despite this, I have a particular interest in the effect the Treaty had on families and between friends. Most families in Ireland have a story to tell about disputes over the Treaty; siblings who never spoke to each other or friends who fought on opposite sides. The Hales family is one such example.
The Hales from Ballinadee near Bandon in Cork, is a tragic example of the divisions etched between family members as a result of the Treaty. All five brothers – Tom, Seán, Bob, William and Dónal – were involved in the struggle during the War of Independence and were initially united in their anti-Treaty views. However, Seán Hales, a TD, was persuaded by Michael Collins to vote in favour of the Treaty in January 1922. His brother Tom, tortured in 1920 by British forces in an effort to determine the whereabouts of Collins, was in command of the flying column which later killed Collins, his ‘much admired friend’.
Seán, on the other hand, was shot by Owen Donnelly on 7 December 1922. It was his death that sparked the horrific revenge of the pro-Treaty forces: four IRA prisoners – one from each province – were selected to be shot as a bloody reprisal for the murder of a TD. One of these men was Dick Barrett who had served in the same IRA brigade as Seán Hales. They were reported to have been childhood friends. These men were not made of steel; they must have battled with themselves over their actions but clearly, their devotion to the cause won out over their loyalty to their friends.
Looking back, it is difficult to believe that Irish people today are not more outspoken about the Treaty and the Civil War. It was signed ninety years ago but perhaps it is also because so much was not talked about; divisions in the family were often seen as a source of shame and so were hushed up. I believe that older generations have been more willing to accept the partition of Ireland because of the peace it offered. After the referendum following the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, it has generally been accepted that the partition of the island is the best solution for both sides.
I think that the age of the electorate will have a great impact on the future of partition andNorthern Ireland. Men and women born after the Troubles will not have the same horrific memories associated with the North and may therefore be more likely to hold more republican views. Political parties such as Sinn Féin are successfully attracting younger voters because of their anti-establishment views and policies on labour issues which generally appeal to a younger electorate which does not feel bound to vote for the same parties their parents would have supported. Of course, the other side of that coin is that young people may not have the same nationalistic aspirations as other generations and may be more willing to let sleeping dogs lie, content with the peace we have in Ireland today.
In conclusion, the Anglo-Irish Treaty has been a cornerstone of political and social life for much ofIreland’s recent history. It created the political divisions we know today; little has changed there other than the subject of the argument! However, the relevance of the Treaty has since waned and I find myself having difficulty coming to terms with the suffering it brought. Furthermore, we seem to have gone from being passionate nationalists to passive taxpayers over the course of a few decades. The Anglo-Irish Treaty has gone from forming the basis of Irish political life to being a sad reminder of past conflicts.
About the author
Sorcha O’Boyle is a student at Loreto Secondary School in Kilkenny city and is currently studying history at Leaving Certificate level.