In the December edition of the Irish Political Review, historian Manus O’Riordan has written a brilliant analysis about Gerry Adams and Fine Gael with regards to Adams’ joke abou the smashing of the Irish Independent by Collins’ IRA in 1919.

The article is reproduced here, courtesy of the Irish Political Review and with the permission of Manus O’Riordan.


Does the November 10th denunciation by Irish Independent political correspondent Fionnán Sheehan of Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams – for his “it’s the way he tells ’em” account of the IRA smashing of the Irish Independent printing machinery in December 1919 – also imply that Sheehan is nonetheless a “sneaking regarder” of that smashing Indo action? What other sense can be made of the following elements in Sheehan’s line of reasoning:

“The IRA’s failed attack on the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Lord French, took place at Ashtown in west Dublin, where Martin Savage was killed and Dan Breen wounded. After the incident, the Irish Independent published an editorial condemning those who took part in the attack. Action was taken as a warning to the proprietors of all newspapers ‘that such unpatriotic comment at the height of the fight for freedom would not be tolerated’. A group of 30 IRA men raided the offices and smashed the print works with ‘sledge hammers and crow bars and heavy wrenches’ – aided by members who worked in the pressroom who knew what equipment to break to cause the most damage. During the raid, the editor was reputedly held at gunpoint by an unmasked Bill Judge while Paddy Kelly covered the rest of the staff… Gerry Adams has twisted this incident from the War of Independence into a veiled threat about holding a newspaper editor at gunpoint as he attacked this newspaper group over the coverage of Mairia Cahill’s IRA sex abuse allegations. Adams justified his claim by attributing the action to Michael Collins –  even though Peadar Clancy and Michael Lynch are more often associated with the organisation of the printing press raid – as he joked to guests at his lavish $500-a-plate fundraiser in New York that he was ‘not advocating that’. But he dropped the gag a day later when he wrote: ‘And when the Irish Independent condemned his actions as ‘murder most foul’ what did Michael Collins do? He dispatched his men to the office of the Independent and held the editor at gun point as they dismantled the entire printing machinery and destroyed it.’ … Collins was a wanted man by the British authorities and experts have pointed to the naivety of linking him to the incident. ‘There’s no way Michael Collins would have compromised the intelligence operation by being there in person’, said Gerry O’Connell, Honorary Secretary of the Collins 22 Society… On a wider level, what’s even more insidious is Adams’s attempts to draw parallels between Collins’s IRA and the action of the Provos during the Troubles. Adams attempts to rewrite history by ignoring the mandate of the overwhelming vote for the then Sinn Fein in the 1918 general election. (My emphasis; making the 1919 smashing of the Indo printing machinery all right, then, with Sheehan? – MO’R). Rewriting history, he attempts to portray the Provos as the direct descendents of the IRA of the War of Independence.”

But perhaps it is as much a mistake to look for logic in Sheehan’s historical essay as it is to look for integrity in his reporting of Adams’s blog. Adams did not naively assume Collins’s personal presence on the Indo raid, and perhaps it would have been grammatically clearer if he had inserted the word “they” before “held”. It is, however, the Collins 22 Society itself that is being naïve in the extreme in not “linking him to the incident”. Michael T Foy has related the following in respect of the personally hand-picked assassination Squad run by the IRA Director of Intelligence, Michael Collins:

“Although the Squad was still finding its feet, Collins wanted to strike a spectacular blow… Among the plans Collins considered was assassinating (Lord) French on the review stand at College Green during an Armistice Day march-past on 11 November 1919… (But Minister for Defence) Cathal Brugha had vetoed the operation because it endangered civilian bystanders… Finally on the morning of 19 December 1919, after a tip-off … that French’s train would return just after midday from his Roscommon estate, fourteen men (from an augmented Collins Squad – MO’R) armed with revolvers and grenades cycled out to Ashtown railway station close to Phoenix Park.” (Michael Collins’s Intelligence War, 2006, pp 31-32).

As we know, the assassination attempt failed, Martin Savage was killed in action, and Dan Breen was wounded. Breen further related: “On the morning after the attack the Irish Independent published a leading article in which we were dubbed ‘assassins’. The article was liberally interspersed with such terms as ‘criminal folly’, ‘outrage’, ‘murder’. This was the very paper which depended on the support of the people who had voted for the establishment of the Irish Republic. It had not even the sense of decency to withhold the expression of its views until the inquest had been held and Martin Savage laid to rest. The other Dublin papers we did not mind. The Irish Times was openly a British organ; the Freeman’s Journal was beneath the contempt of any decent Irishman. But we could not allow an avowedly Irish paper to insult our dead comrade. I was confined to bed and had no direct part in subsequent events. I heard that some of the boys favoured the shooting of the editor of the Independent. Another course was eventually adopted. It was decided to suppress the paper… Twenty or thirty of our men, under the leadership of Peadar Clancy, entered the building and held up the staff with revolvers. They informed the editor that his machinery was to be dismantled; they smashed the linotypes with sledges and left the place in such condition that it was hoped no edition could appear for some time. But with the assistance of the other Dublin printing workshops the Independent was able to appear next day. However, we had taught them a salutary lesson; somehow, we were glad that nobody was thrown out of work, because many of the staff were members of the Irish Republican Army. Never afterwards (during the War of Independence, that is – MO’R) did the Independent or any other Dublin newspaper refer to members of the IRA as murderers or assassins. In later days the Independent was of much service in exposing British atrocities, even though it never supported our fighting policy. The proprietors got £16,000 compensation for the raid.” (My Fight for Irish Freedom, 1964 edition, pp 94-95).

An extreme partisan of Michael Collins like John A Pinkman was not, however, as liberal or as forgiving towards the Irish Independent as Dan Breen. Proud to be an officer in Collins’s newly-established Free State Army, and no less proud of his own role in ensuring the death-in-action of Cathal Brugha at the outset of the Civil War, Pinkman was also proud of having been part of a Collins Squad team seeking out a non-combattant de Valera for assassination, only weeks before Collins’s own death-in-action, and he further rejoiced at the Cosgrave Government’s war crime execution of Erskine Childers. In his 1960s memoirs, Pinkman recalled the Free State Army’s Civil War occupation of the Irish Independent premises: “On Thursday morning, 6 July 1922 … our small party of troops … was sent to occupy Independent House in Middle Abbey Street and protect it from being seized by anti-Treatyites. The staff of the Irish Independent clearly resented our presence and did everything they could to make our stay as uncomfortable as possible. They resented us not because we were soldiers or because they were sympathetic to the anti-Treatyites; they resented us simply because we were Irish troops. Today, most readers of the Irish Independent (‘Ireland’s most popular newspaper’ – Pinkman’s own interpolation) probably don’t realize how reactionary and pro-British that newspaper once was. Under the proprietorship of William Murphy it not only tried to break Larkin’s and Connolly’s Transport and General Workers’ Union in 1913, but in 1916 its editorials called for the execution of the leaders of the Rising!” (In the Legion of the Vanguard, 1998 edition, p 10).

This October 26th the Sunday Independent Pope-in-residence, John-Paul McCarthy, made the following ex cathedra pronouncement: “In his powerful memoir of the McCarthy-era in post-war America, Witness (1953), Whittaker Chambers insisted that communism could only be beaten via a process of implosion. ‘The final conflict will be between the Communists and the ex-Communists.’ This insight helps explain the crisis that is currently engulfing Gerry Adams. Mairia Cahill’s allegations – that is to say, allegations that emanate from the core of republicanism – have probably done more damage to Sinn Fein than all the recent external critiques combined. There is something peculiarly Irish about this sequence of affirmation and negation that ex-communists like Chambers analysed. Michael Laffan’s handsome new Royal Irish Academy book on WT Cosgrave suggests that in many ways our infant state owed its life to a group of men who tunnelled through the other side of their ancestral republicanism… Cosgrave notoriously instituted a policy that had been perfected by Trotsky, namely summary executions of prisoners. Our first cabinet was convinced that they were dealing with an enemy that was best understood as a cocktail of all the worst aspects of the post-Famine world… Cosgrave would become one of only a handful of Irish prime ministers who branded their names irrevocably on to the flesh of a big idea.”

John-Paul’s McCarthyite invocation of Cosgrave as another stick with which to beat Gerry Adams backfires on the Sunday and Irish Independent hysterical wave of indignation at Adams retelling the story of what happened to the Independent printing machinery in December 1919. The problem for the Indo is that Cosgrave regarded any Government of which he was a member as a lawful authority entitled to do whatever it liked, irrespective of whether one of his Governments was waging war to defend the Irish Republic or another was waging a second war to destroy it. The issue of the smashing of the Indo printing machinery came up during a Dáil Éireann debate on 27 April 1922 concerning the smashing of the printing machinery of the Freeman’s Journal by IRA volunteers, following a vicious post-Treaty attack on de Valera in its issue of 5 January 1922, at a time when Dev still held office as President of the Dáil. The April Dáil debate took place in the interregnum limbo between Treaty and Civil War. The future Fianna Fáil Tánaiste Seán MacEntee objected to the Dáil paying a sum of £2,693 in compensation for the Freeman’s Journal smashing action, describing it as hypocritical. The hat worn by Michael Collins in this debate was that of Minister for Finance. He confined himself to justifying the technicalities of the Freeman’s Journal compensation, without making any reference at all to the Irish Independent action for which he had been responsible. He did not need to. It had been unequivocally justified by his confederates – WT Cosgrave, the Minister for Local Government, and Dick Mulcahy, the Treatyite Minister for Defence who had previously been IRA Chief-of-Staff during the War of Independence. The only TD to question the Indo action was the man who had been Minister for Defence during that War, the “diehard” Republican ant-Treatyite Cathal Brugha, as the following Dáil exchanges illustrate.

SEAN MOYLAN: I should like to know if the Irish Independent was compensated when the Irish Independent called Martin Savage a murderer and an assassin? Was Dáil Éireann the Government of the country in 1919?

MR. MULCAHY: As far as any action against the Independent is concerned, that was taken in order to save life purely and simply.


MR. MULCAHY: There were members of the Independent staff who, it was very seriously considered, would lose their lives if something was not done to relieve the excitement and to relieve the anger of certain members of the Volunteers in Dublin City, if some kind of outlet had not been opened to them. The outlet that brought the smallest loss to the country was allowed in that instance.

MR. W.T. COSGRAVE: And allowed by the responsible authority in this country, which is a very different thing to unauthorised reprisals on the part of individuals or collections of individuals. There is no similarity whatever between the two cases except to those who do not wish to see. In one case you had responsible officers and soldiers of the Republic operating under the orders of a responsible authority and operating in the interests of the country… We all remember the expression of the ex-President when he said the authority of the Dáil is sovereign in the country…

CATHAL BRUGHA: I am not going to speak at all in connection with this attack on the Freeman. But the Minister for Local Government has very dogmatically stated that the attack made a couple of years ago on the Independent was done by a responsible authority. Before I say anything further, I would like to have the opinion of the present Minister for Defence on that statement of the Minister for Local Government.

MR. MULCAHY: That attack was allowed by responsible authorities.

CATHAL BRUGHA: That attack was not allowed by any responsible authority in this country. I did not allow it. I did not know anything about it until it was done. I do not like to give the proper name to the men who destroyed that property or made that attack without consulting the person in authority.

MR. MULCAHY: There were many, many acts done in the country on the authority of responsible officers who could not go to the Minister of Defence for authority and the Minister of Defence was not the only responsible authority in the army during the war. Every battalion, brigade, divisional and G.H.Q. officer had a certain responsibility, and stood up to that responsibility and in the carrying out of these responsibilities in different places during the war they had to undertake actions for which the Government itself never accepted responsibility.

CATHAL BRUGHA: We now see the conception of authority by some of those who have allowed an usurping Government to be set up.

MR. MULCAHY: These were responsible officers acting under the general authority given to them…

MR. HARRY BOLAND: The same authority as is alleged to have dealt with the Independent also dealt with the Freeman’s Journal; that is the Executive of the Irish Republican Army.

MR. MULCAHY: That is not so.

It is pure hypocrisy on the part of Fine Gael to criticise Gerry Adams for recalling the smashing Indo action of December 1919, given that it was championed in the Dáil by two of that Party’s honoured icons, the second and third leaders of Fine Gael, Cosgrave and Mulcahy. Second and third? Well the first leader of Fine Gael was the Fascist Eoin O’Duffy.

–       Manus O’Riordan