It is to be expected that someone like Alex Maskey – carrier of the SFIRA bigotry virus – might refer in a Tweet to Northern Ireland as a “a putrid little state”, but a little more puzzling that a formerly respected commentator and SDLP veteran such as Brian Feeney would describe Northern Ireland as a “stinking political slum”.

“Are these descriptions fair?” I asked myself.

Treatment of Southern Republicans

When it came to defeating the dissident IRA in the 1920s Civil War and after, nobody did it better than the governing IRA in the shape of the newly-formed Irish Free State.

Using martial law and various emergency powers, it eventually interned 12,000 anti-treaty dissidents in ‘Tintowns’ and Hare Park, essentially the Curragh Military Camp.

Internees at Rath camp, The Curragh

Following a number of escapes through tunnels, dissident leaders were moved to the Glasshouse military prison and ruthless Irish Free State government policies ensued.

When the British were in charge of the Curragh Internment Camp, not a single detainee died.

This changed dramatically when Irish Free State forces took over – a total of 17 detainees died or were killed.

A number of prisoners were “shot while trying to escape” – Richard Monks and Tom Behan. Behan had been arrested at Rathbride with a number of others in possession of arms and ammunition.

It was alleged that Behan was actually executed by Free State forces when captured at Rathbride and not in the Glasshouse.

Regardless of that, the new Free State government executed seven of the other Rathbride detainees at the Glasshouse for the crime of possession of arms and they were buried in the prison yard.

The Free State government executed a total of 77 prisoners in its successful determination to stamp out dissident IRA activity.

By contrast, the British had executed 24 prisoners between 1920/21.

Those interned went on a number of hunger strikes leading to various deaths. Daniel Downey from Dundalk died on hunger strike in June and Joseph Whitty (19) died in September of 1923.

General neglect and poor medical care of internees were alleged against the Free State government when Frank O’Keefe, Matthew Ginnity and Dick Hume all died.

A mass hunger strike ensued but collapsed without concessions after the deaths of Denis Barry and Andy O’Sullivan in November. Joe Lacey died in December.

According to Todd Andrews, the result of ruthless policies, neglect, executions and even murder by the authorities was:

“the will to escape had gone, interest in the Irish language had disappeared and nobody spoke or tried to learn Gaelic. In the jails and camps the strike’s collapse had a demoralizing effect.”

By 1925, the dissident IRA had been totally defeated.

Owing to the prospect of political discrimination or worse, many of these IRA dissidents saw no future in the Irish Free State and emigrated ironically to England and to the United States of America where they were free to reorganise.

After the state changed its name to Ireland, and later to the Republic of Ireland in 1949, these embittered émigrés refused to call it by its name – they would only ever refer to it as “the Free State”, a name which continued to be used by the Provisional IRA and its supporters until very recently.

“The Emergency” (or, the Second World War)

During the Second World War, the IRA under Chief of Staff Sean Russell grandiosely gave Britain four days to withdraw from Ireland and then declared war on Britain having unashamedly decided to collaborate with Nazi Germany following the dictum, ‘England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity’.

Sean Russell Seumas O'Donovan
IRA Chief of Staff & Nazi Collaborator Sean Russell (left) and Seamus O’Donovan (bomb-maker)

The IRA agreed to mount an “S” Plan on behalf of Nazi Germany – a Sabotage bombing campaign.

In total, the IRA exploded 200 bombs in England, mostly to no effect.

However, a bombing in 1939 on a busy street in Coventry murdered 5 civilians and two IRA members were captured, convicted and sentenced to death for it.

Aftermath of the IRA’s Coventry bombing, 1939

Peter Barnes and James McCormack were hanged in Winson Green prison in Birmingham and buried in the prison yard.

Back in Ireland, the former IRA dissidents’ nominal leader from the 1920s, Eamon de Valera, had rebranded himself and his followers as ‘Fianna Fáil’ and were in government.

De Valera proscribed the IRA in 1936 and responded quickly to the Coventry bombing and an IRA theft of over a million rounds of ammunition from the Phoenix Park Magazine Fort in Dublin by introducing a raft of extreme emergency powers, including flogging, internment without trial and the death penalty for subversive activities.

A round-up of suspected IRA members and sympathisers began until over 1,000 IRA suspects were interned.

Many were flogged.

When in January, 1940, Garda detective John Roche was murdered by the IRA in Cork city, a leading IRA man, Tomás Óg MacCurtain, was captured and sentenced to death for the murder, but his sentence was commuted.

During a police raid on a flat in Rathgar, Dublin, in August 1940, the first two detectives through the door – Richard Hyland and Patrick McKeown – were machine-gunned to death. Three IRA men escaped from the flat but two were immediately re-captured – Patrick McGrath and Thomas Harte.

Detectives McKeown and Hyland, murdered by the IRA

This time the government’s response was swift – McGrath and Harte were executed by firing squad two weeks after their capture.

Within a year, IRA man Richard Goss was executed after a Garda officer was shot and injured outside a house where Goss was staying in Longford.

Shortly afterwards, IRA man George Plant was executed for his part in the abduction, torture, murder and burial of one of his IRA comrades, Michael Devereux, who was suspected of being an informer.

In October of 1942, during a raid by detectives on a house in Donnycarney, Dublin, detective George Mordaunt was shot and killed. One IRA man, Maurice O’Neill, was captured and was executed by firing squad within three weeks of the detective’s murder.

The IRA was being beaten by the Garda’s Detective Unit.

In response to this relentless police activity, the IRA decided to murder a well-known detective of a unit nicknamed ‘the Broy Harriers’.

Detective Sergeant Denis O’Brien was shot dead outside his Ballyboden home in County Dublin in September of 1942 by three IRA men.

Nearly two years later, Charlie Kerins – then the Chief of Staff of the remnant of the IRA – was captured in Dublin and sentenced to death for Detective O’Brien’s murder. He was denied what the IRA regarded as a ‘soldier’s execution’ by firing squad.

Kerins was hanged in Mountjoy Prison, Dublin, by one of England’s executioners – Tom Pierrepoint – brought over specially for the job.

By 1945, the IRA had been defeated by the Garda Detective Unit and the Irish Free State government’s use of emergency powers, internment without trial, flogging and executions.

The Nazi sympathizer and braggadocio IRA Chief of Staff Sean Russel had died while aboard a Nazi U-boat one hundred miles off Galway shortly before he was to be landed in Ireland after three months of training in Nazi explosive ordinance.

Statue unveiled to Nazi Collaborator Russell in Dublin, 1951

A great many dissident republicans had effectively fled the Irish Free State [“no place for old dissidents”] prior to the abortive 1956-62 ‘Border Campaign’ and founded or joined pro-IRA groupings in America and elsewhere which were to fund and arm the Provisional IRA after 1969.

To a man, these embittered émigrés would only ever refer to the Republic of Ireland as “the Free State”, refusing to recognise it as a Republic (of only 26 of Ireland’s 32 counties) and refusing to recognise its parliament, the Dáil, and abstaining from it.

IRA GHQ Quartermaster Brian Keenan – no lover of the Irish Free State

As recently as the year 2000, Provisional IRA GHQ Quartermaster General, Libyan gun and SEMTEX runner Belfastman Brian Keenan, speaking at Milltown Cemetery in Belfast, referred to the government of the Irish Republic as “”those bastards in power in the Free State”.

The Provos have only recently completed a partial U-turn on devotion to the 26 county Republic of Ireland, but still none on the name and recognition of Northern Ireland.

In July 1957, in response to the IRA attack on Brookeborough RUC station (during which two IRA men were killed, Fergal O’Hanlon and Sean South), Eamon de Valera ordered the reintroduction of internment without trial once more at the Curragh Camp and 150 republicans were caged.

In its editorial on 13 July, 1957, a local newspaper for the area surrounding camp, the Leinster Leader, declared:

“Like most Irish people we dislike the Border, but we do not believe that the remarriage of the Six Counties and the Twenty-Six can be brought about by shooting at either party. Nor will the divorce pronounced by Lloyd George (in 1921) be annulled by high explosives.”

By 15 March, 1959, the Irish government was able to close the Curragh Internment camp because the IRA had been defeated.

Don’t shed any tears for the republicans who fled the Irish Free State and later the Republic of Ireland to make new lives abroad.

Mass Emigration from the Republic of Ireland

Their numbers were dwarfed by the hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens who fled the Republic of Ireland owing to decades of disastrous mismanagement of the economy by the new country’s new leaders.

In the 1940s, nearly 150,000 citizens of the Irish Free State emigrated to Britain to find work, including in the British armed forces fighting Nazism.

In the 1950s, 400,000 citizens fled the recently declared Republic – 15% of the total population of Ireland – to escape unemployment, poverty and lack of opportunities.

Apart from East Germany, Ireland was the only European country to suffer a decline in population in the 1950s.

Between the 1960s and the 1980s there was a turnaround in the Irish economy, which collapsed in the 1980s due to overspending and ‘oil shock’ – another 200,000 young Irish fled the country again for work and opportunities.

Fianna Fáil – the governing party which had consistently mismanaged the economy, whose individual ministers grew rich and promoted their privileged offspring through private schools, nepotism and parliamentary seats – expressed the loss of 750,000 lesser citizens over 40 years as something to be proud of:

“What we have now is a very literate emigrant, who thinks nothing of coming to the United States and going back to Ireland and maybe on to Germany and back to Ireland again . . . We shouldn’t be defeatist or pessimistic about it. We should be proud of it. After all, we can’t all live on a small island” – Foreign Minister Brian Lenihan, who became very wealthy through his tenure in parliament, promoting two of his sons into the same parliament on his coat tails.

Unexpectedly, the growing Catholic Nationalist middle class had been doing very well indeed in Northern Ireland in business, in the professions and in larger farms.

They sent their children to Catholic boarding schools, put some of their sons into the priesthood and appeared happy enough with Eddie McAteers’ docile Nationalist Party.

The only time this well-to-do class mobilised was in 1966 when a “car cavalcade” made its way to Stormont to protest about the siting of Northern Ireland’s second university in Coleraine as opposed to Derry/Londonderry.

Middle-class Nationalists protest at Stormont about Northern Ireland’s second university

This ultra conservative grouping never protested about poverty, housing or lack of opportunities and was virulently opposed to the machinations of Eamonn McCann and Bernadette Devlin as communist “reds under the bed”

Two former Free State internees did not flee to Britain or America, but returned to Northern Ireland and set in train an idea they had perfected while interned – an intensive pig farm.

The brothers, McGuckians of Cloughmills, found their hard work and entrepreneurial skills unimpeded and went on to found one of the wealthiest Catholic families in Northern Ireland, latterly represented by John B. McGuckian.

Offspring of the wealthier Nationalist elite in Northern Ireland

Early photographs taken at William Street and Rossville Street during the first rioting in Derry/Londonderry show wealthier members of the Nationalist Party linking arms to prevent youths approaching the police or soldiers.

Here were the leading Catholic business and professional people (including Eddie McAteer, John Hume, James “Sausage” Doherty who employed the young Martin McGuinness for a time, Michael Canavan), doctors, accountants, solicitors, teachers – trying to keep a lid on the festering Bogside residents.


Their efforts were ended when some bricks and stones were thrown at them and they retreated back to their wealthier addresses.

Soon after, the IRA turned its guns toward many of these leading Catholics as “collaborators”, particularly those who became Resident Magistrates or whose building companies serviced the police or British Army.

“Putrid little state”, Alex Maskey?

It was much more complicated than you implied, Alex.

Only a few years ago your cult comrades and yourself would only ever refer to the Free State as the “putrid little state”.

Now, stuffing your pockets with the Queen’s Westminster Sterling, you are doing very well indeed out of Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom, well enough to replace the wealthier class of Nationalist party Stormont members whom you so recently despised.

IRA and Sinn Féin members stuff their pockets with British Sterling

Plus ça change….