The Irish Working Class and the War of Independence


  • Conor Kostick


In the coming centenary commemorations of the Easter Rising of 1916 there will be a great deal of enthusiasm for the efforts of that generation to escape the British Empire. Yet nearly all the public attention and memorial events will be directed to discussion of the role of the senior figures of the national movement. One of the most neglected groups in the social memory of these years was the working class. Yet it was working class action above all that stymied British authority in Ireland. In the revolutionary period of 1918 to 1923, Irish workers made an enormous contribution to the fact that Britain lost its ability to govern the country. More, they created moments in which an alternative to partition emerged, moments where it seemed like Ireland might follow Russia in becoming a republic governed by soviets.

The argument that Ireland was too rural to have been able to experience a social revolution at this time - too dominated by the church and the outlook of a conservative peasantry - is refuted by a close look at the evidence. Near constant class warfare existed on the land in these years. In the east, where most of the land was held by large farmers and worked by a rural proletariat, there were the most  extraordinary scenes and battles involving the derailing of trains, as rural workers fought for higher standards of living. There were also scenes reminiscent of the Great War, in which red armies of rural workers battled white armies of the

FFF (Farmers Freedom Force). In the west, where great tracts of land were still owned by absentee landlords, the struggle took the form of small farmers breaking up the large estates or in some cases appropriating them collectively and working them as soviets