Black and Tans
The Black and Tans (Irish: Dúchrónaigh) were a force of Temporary Constables recruited to assist the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) during the Irish War of Independence. The force was the brainchild of Winston Churchill, then British Secretary of State for War, and was recruited in Great Britain in late 1919 (although it contained Irish members also). Thousands, many of them British World War I veterans, answered the British government's call for recruits. Their role was to help the RIC maintain control and fight the Irish Republican Army (IRA), the army of the Irish Republic. The nickname "Black and Tans" arose from the colour of the improvised khaki uniforms they initially wore. The Black and Tans became infamous for their attacks on civilians and civilian property.
The Black and Tans are often confused with the Auxiliary Division, a counter-insurgency unit of the RIC made up of former British officers. However, sometimes the term "Black and Tans" is used to cover both of these groups.
The late 19th and early 20th centuries in Ireland were dominated by Irish nationalists' pursuit of Home Rule from the United Kingdom. The issue of Home Rule was shelved with the outbreak of World War I, and in 1916 Irish republicans staged the Easter Rising against British rule in an attempt to establish a republic. Growing support amongst the Irish populace for the radical Sinn Féin political party saw it win 73 out of 105 seats in the Irish general election, 1918. In January, 1919, Sinn Féin established themselves as the First Dáil, which then declared an independent Irish Republic. They also declared the Irish Republican Army (IRA) the official army of the state, which in the same month began the Irish War of Independence. This focused primarily on attacks on the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and the British Army in Ireland.
In January 1920, the British government started advertising in British cities for men willing to "face a rough and dangerous task", helping to boost the ranks of the RIC in policing an increasingly anti-British Ireland. There was no shortage of recruits, many of them unemployed First World War army veterans, and by November 1921 about 9,500 men had joined. This sudden influx of men led to a shortage of RIC uniforms, and the new recruits were issued with khaki army uniforms (usually only trousers) and dark green RIC or blue British police surplus tunics, caps and belts. These uniforms differentiated them from the Army and the Regular RIC, and gave rise to the force's nickname: Christopher O'Sullivan wrote in the Limerick Echo on 25 March 1920 that, meeting a group of recruits on a train at Limerick Junction, the attire of one reminded him of the Scarteen Hunt, whose "Black and Tans" nickname derived from the colouration of its Kerry Beagles. Ennis comedian Mike Nono elaborated the joke in Limerick's Theatre Royal, and the nickname soon took hold, persisting even after the men received full RIC uniforms.
The new recruits received three months' hurried training, and were rapidly posted to RIC barracks, mostly in Dublin, Munster and eastern Connacht. The first men arrived on 25 March 1920. The British government also raised another unit, the Auxiliary Division of the constabulary, known as the Auxiliaries or Auxies, consisting of ex-army officers. The Black and Tans aided the Auxiliaries in the British government's attempts to break both the IRA and the Dáil.
Conduct in Ireland
The behaviour of the Black and Tans or 'auxies' as they were also synonymously known in Ireland at the time has been recorded in first hand accounts. The quasi-military nature of both placed them both in tandem in the eyes of the civilians and the IRA. A statement by Timothy O'Connell of Dunmanway given at the time describes his arrest and treatment by the 'Tans' or 'Auxies". The Statement is headed: Interrogation and Treatment of republican suspects by the British Auxiliary Forces, 'Black and Tans', January 1921.
- I happened to be in bed in a friend’s house when someone downstairs shouted ‘Tans”. I hopped out of bed and had a look through the upstairs windows…I could see two lorries stopped by the road about a hundred yards away...
- On Monday morning shortly afterwards, I was called out along with two other prisoners, the Barrett Brothers of Coppeen. Three lorries were lined up, each full of Auxies. We were ordered on board, one of us on each lorry and were told that if one shot was fired at the lorries all three of us would be shot immediately. The first stop was the military barracks at Bandon, which had been attacked the previous night. We were ordered off the lorries and kicked through the gate. Then the Auxies told the military that they had arrested us on the road, and gave it to be understood that we had taken part in the attack on the previous night...We were ordered to strip off our clothes and stand under the showers. Then the cold water taps were turned on and the water was almost freezing. We had to stand under the jets of cold water until we were almost lifeless, and the military didn’t "pull any punches" during the proceedings so that we emerged from the showers with more black eyes.
Temporary Constables were paid the relatively good wage of 10 shillings (½ a pound)Stirling, a day plus full board and lodging. With minimal police training, their main role was to increase the strength of police posts, where they functioned as sentries, guards, escorts for government agents, reinforcement to the regular police, and crowd control, and they mounted a determined counter-insurgency campaign. They and the Auxies became known as Tudor's Toughs after the police commander, Major-General Sir Henry Hugh Tudor. They were viewed by Republicans as an army of occupation because of these duties. They soon gained a reputation for brutality, as the RIC campaign against the IRA and Sinn Féin members was stepped up and police reprisals for IRA attacks were condoned by the government.
Alexander Will, from Forfar in Scotland, was the first Temporary Constable to die in the conflict. He was killed during an IRA attack on the RIC barracks in Rathmore, County Kerry, on 11 July 1920.
The Black and Tans were not subject to strict discipline in their early months in Ireland and as a result, their deaths at the hands of the IRA in 1920 were often repaid with arbitrary reprisals against the civilian population. In the summer of 1920, the Black and Tans burned and sacked many small towns and villages in Ireland, beginning with Tuam in County Galway in July 1920 and also including Trim, Balbriggan, Knockcroghery, Thurles and Templemore amongst many others. In November 1920, the Tans "besieged" Tralee in revenge for the IRA abduction and killing of two local RIC men. They closed all the businesses in the town and let no food in for a week. In addition they shot dead three local people. On 14 November, the Tans were suspected of abducting and murdering a Roman Catholic priest, Fr. Michael Griffin, in Galway, his body was found in a bog in Barna a week later. Finally, the Black and Tans sacked Cork city, on the night of 11 December 1920, destroying a large part of the city centre.
In January 1921, the British Labour Commission produced a report on the situation in Ireland which was highly critical of the government's security policy. It said the government, in forming the Black and Tans, had "liberated forces which it is not at present able to dominate". However, since 29 December 1920, the British government had sanctioned "official reprisals" in Ireland — usually meaning burning property of IRA men and their suspected sympathisers. Taken together with an increased emphasis on discipline in the RIC, this helped to curb the random atrocities the Black and Tans committed since March 1920 for the remainder of the war, if only because reprisals were now directed from above rather than being the result of a spontaneous desire for revenge.
However, many of the activities popularly attributed to the Black and Tans may have been committed by the Auxiliary Division; and some were committed by Irish RIC men. For instance, Tomás Mac Curtain, the Mayor of Cork, was assassinated in March 1920 by local RIC men and the shooting dead of 13 civilians at Croke Park on Bloody Sunday was also carried out by the RIC although a small detachment of Auxiliaries were also present. But most Republicans did not make a distinction, and "Black and Tans" was often used as a catch-all term for all police and army groups.
The actions of the Black and Tans alienated public opinion in both Ireland and Great Britain. Their violent tactics encouraged the Irish public to increase their covert support of the IRA, while the British public pressed for a move towards a peaceful resolution. Edward Wood MP, better known as the future Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax, rejected force and urged the British government to make an offer to the Irish "conceived on the most generous lines". Sir John Simon MP, another future Foreign Secretary, was also horrified at the tactics being used. Lionel Curtis, writing in the imperialist journal The Round Table, wrote: "If the British Commonwealth can only be preserved by such means, it would become a negation of the principle for which it has stood". The King, senior Anglican bishops, MPs from the Liberal and Labour parties, Oswald Mosley, Jan Smuts, the Trades Union Congress and parts of the press were increasingly critical of the actions of the Black and Tans. Mahatma Gandhi said of the British peace offer: "It is not fear of losing more lives that has compelled a reluctant offer from England but it is the shame of any further imposition of agony upon a people that loves liberty above everything else".
About 7,000 Black and Tans served in Ireland in 1920–22. More than one-third of them died or left the service before they were disbanded along with the rest of the RIC in 1922, an extremely high wastage rate, and well over half received government pensions. A total of 404 members of the Royal Irish Constabulary died in the conflict and more than 600 were wounded but it is not clear how many of these were pre-war RIC men and how many were Black and Tans or Auxiliaries.
Those who returned to civilian life sometimes had problems re-integrating. At least two former Black and Tans were hanged for murder in Britain and another wanted for murder committed suicide before the police could arrest him.
Due to the ferocity of the Tans' behaviour in Ireland and the atrocities committed, feelings continue to run high regarding their actions. "Black and Tan" or "Tan" remains a pejorative term for the British in Ireland, and they are still despised by many in Ireland. The term can still stir bad reactions because of their remembered brutality. One of the most famous Irish Republican songs is Dominic Behan's "Come out Ye Black and Tans". The Irish War of Independence is sometimes referred to as the "Tan War" or "Black-and-Tan War." This term was preferred by those who fought on the anti-Treaty side in the Irish Civil War and is still used by Republicans today. The "Cogadh na Saoirse" medal, awarded since 1941 by the Irish government to IRA veterans of the War of Independence, bears a ribbon with two vertical stripes in black and tan.
- Focal.ie - Dictionary of Irish Terms
- Improving the law Enforcement-Intelligence Community Relationship. National Defense Intelligence College, Washington, DC. June 2007. p.120
- McCaffrey, Carmel. In Search of Ireland's Heroes. 2006.p 233
- Robert Gerwarth; John Horne, eds. (2013), War in Peace: Paramilitary Violence in Europe After the Great War, Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 202, "The Black and Tans were the ex-servicemen recruited as RIC constables throughout Britain in late 1919 and constituted a force of approximately 9,000 men before the war's end. However, 'Black and Tans' also came to refer to the Temporary Cadets of the Auxiliary Division of the RIC, a force of some 2,200 ex-officers, formed in July 1920, and in practice virtually independent of military and policy control. Both forces were made up of veterans from all services. ... Both Auxiliaries and Black and Tans had Irish members."
- In Search of Ireland's Heroes Carmel McCaffrey. Ivan R. Dee. p 231
- Spellissy, Séan (December 1998). The history of Limerick City. Celtic Bookshop. pp. 87–88. ISBN 978-0-9534683-0-0.
- Irish Historical Documents since 1800, edited by Alan O'Day. Gill and MacMillan. p.169
- Don't be too tragic about Ireland - The Guardian, October 12, 1921
- Ireland's War of Independence: The chilling story of the Black and Tans - The Independent, 21 April 2006
- RIC Record
- Lord Birkenhead, Halifax (Hamish Hamilton, 1965), p. 122.
- Lionel Curtis, The Round Table, Vol. XI, No. 43 (June 1921), p. 505.
- Lawrence James, The Rise and Fall of the British Empire (Abacus, 1998), p. 384.
- The Black and Tans - Bennet, Richard - 1959, Page 222
- 1919 - 1921 War of Independence
- BBC News Northern Ireland 1917-20 The Road to Partition posted March 18, 1999
- "The Black & Tans and Auxiliaries in Ireland, 1920-1921: Their Origins, Roles and Legacy", by John Ainsworth, 2001
- Account of the Burning of Abbeydorney, Co. Kerry
- British Security Policy in Ireland, 1920-1921 Ainsworth, John S. (2001) Australian Journal of Irish Studies, 1. pp. 176–190
- Black & Tans in Galway (first hand account and photos)
- Sean Broderick and the Black & Tans (first hand account and photos from Galway)
- Father Michael Griffin (first hand account and photos from Galway)