Invasion fears – hopes? – latest

Mountbatten, the Narrow Water massacre, 30 years of Thatcher, even the WW2 anniversary, it’s a great time for stoking up the memories. In August 1969, was the Irish army on the brink of invading up the Buncrana road as a new RTE documentary seems to allege? As a student back home in Derry, I remember the tingles coursing down my spine when I watched the mild mannered Jack Lynch delivering his “ we shall not stand by” speech on August 13 1969, as the petrol bombs and CS gas canisters flew only a few hundred yards but also a world away in the Bogside. I wondered if we should get the old folk out as they quietly delivered tea to the exhausted police back from the wretched front line. In and around Rossville St many were thinking the same. Clearly Lynch had to say something and perhaps his speech emphasised to the reluctant British the inevitability of intervention – theirs, that is. Even then and certainly not since, I did not believe that the Irish government would do anything so foolish as to invade. For them it would have been worse than their Suez crisis. Lynch realised his practical impotence and said as much to an RTE staffer in a quote I can’t find just after his broadcast. Leaving aside the mere matter of the British government’s reaction, an incursion would probably have meant direct confrontation between the Irish army, the RUC and the B men, judging from the scale of the final flare -up in the hours before the army deployment. At best, however much the border was reluctantly recognised, the fundamental breach of international law would have meant a humiliating Irish withdrawal which would have badly damaged whatever moral authority they had for years. Invading sovereign terriitory however disputed remains a grave fundamental act even though on the ground at the time, the international repercussions were hardly on people’s minds. Hysterics on the republican side may have relished the idea of forcing the crisis –to them it seemed like a momentt for realising their dreams – and certainly they did their best as we know from reports of the Irish army training Bogsiders and the Arms Trials. But Lynch was never among them and although slow to move, his view as always decisive.. See his speech only a couple of weeks later. So as Michael Winner would say, calm down dear!

I want to make it clear, however, once more, that we have no intention of using force to realise this desire. I said as recently as 28th August that it was and has been the Government’s policy to seek the re-unification of the country by peaceful means.

  • Glensman

    I don’t think the issue was an ‘invasion’ with the hope of military success… I think the idea was to take and hold the Bogside for long enough to prompt the UN to intervene and get the British to start taking Catholic grievances seriously.

    Lets face it the Defence Forces were/are nothing to brag about (and for good reason, Ireland doesn’t need an army) but with the overwhelming support of the community and by arming that community, they could have been expecting to hold out for a good while…

  • AP

    Would it have matter had the Irish Army invaded??….they were inefficient, overweight and undertrained and were only fit for the Congo and other hotspots….standing around, whilst earning US dollars from that corrupt body, the United Nations to help prop up the Irish economy.

  • RepublicanStones

    I doubt it would have been a serious option.

    ‘Lets face it the Defence Forces were/are nothing to brag about’

    not when compared to the british (in hardware at least), but then the british army is nothing when compared to the yanks.

    ‘??….they were inefficient, overweight and undertrained and were only fit for the Congo and other hotspots’

    Inefficient, well maybe when compared to the resoruces an logistical capability of larger nations. Overweight? Im sure you have statistics for this. And we’ve all read the rueful condition of certain british troops recently.

    ‘standing around’

    I suppose your saying Jaddotville was a walk in the park to the bogside!!!!

  • Rory Carr

    Your thesis, AP, is slightly discredited by the information that Ireland was one of the very few members of the United nations who were not in default with their subvention to that body while both the UK and, more particularly, the USA were constantly in arrears.

    The service that Irish troops were able to give to the United Nations was underscored by their perceived neutrality and by the history of their country as one of the first post-WWI nations to throw off the shackles of imperialism, albeit to a less than perfect conclusion.

  • An invasion was never on the cards. They were sent to the border to establish field hospitals for nationalist refugees fleeing the Orange state.

  • Dewi

    That first link doesn’t work for me Brian.

  • Dewi

    The end of Lynch’s speech:

    “May I conclude by referring to the words of Lord Craigavon, the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, when he said:

    “In this island, we cannot live always separated from one another. We are too small to be apart or for the Border to be there for all time”.”

    Well, I hadn’t seen that before. What did Craigavon mean?

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    re. “Invading sovereign terriitory however disputed remains a grave fundamental act ”

    Well that statment might hold if Jack had been considering invading Surrey – but considering that Callaghan and Churchill wanted to give Norn Iron away, Thatcher wanted to give part of it away and the Tory admission that they had no strategic interest in Norn Iron as reflected in the GFA leaving the constitutional future in the hands of the Irish – it hardly holds in relation to Norn Iron.

    The Unionist state, the army and the Dailies Telegraph and Mail might have been upset but most British and Irish punters and politicians would have probably have seen the invasion as an opportunity to go for an early Sunningdale/GFA type solution once they heard/bothered to take an interest in the the history of the appalling sectarian backwater that had been allowed to develop on the British watch.

  • Here’s a little bit more, Dewi:

    Many years ago the late Lord Craigavon said to Mr. G. C. Duggan, C.B., O.B.E., LL.B.:—

    “Duggan, you know that in this island we cannot live always separated from one another. We are too small to be apart or for the Border to be there for all time. The change will not be in my time, but it will come.”

    Geography and current circumstances are inexorably bringing about the changes which the late Lord Craigavon foresaw in 1937. Frank Aiken, 14 November 1951

    “A United Ireland”
    Author Duggan, G. C
    Description Dublin : Irish Times, 1954.
    24 p. ; 18 cm.
    Notes
    “A series of nine articles reprinted from the Irish Times, December, 1954”

  • Wilde Rover

    FutureTaoiseach,

    “An invasion was never on the cards. They were sent to the border to establish field hospitals for nationalist refugees fleeing the Orange state.”

    My understanding was that “incursions” were to occur in Derry and Newry to facilitate the orderly evacuation of refugees across the border, but that these incursions were only meant to be in place for a few days at the most.

  • Coll Ciotach

    Hardly an invasion but a reclaination of national territory from the invader. However it is obvious that no matter how well trained the Irish Army was and is it simply had not the strength to repel a British attack, should it have came to that which is also debateable, both in the occupied territory and elsewhere on the island. The only hope would have been to precipitate UN intervention of some sort and internationalise the issue beyond the constituent parts of the Celtic Isles

  • The last History Ireland magazine had a long feature on this. They thought about going in alright, and would have done fine against the B-Specials. The Irish Army was better equipped and disciplined than the B-men. They also had artillery and bazookas with which to combat RUC vehicles, as well as their own armoured cars. However once they had come up against the British Army then it would have been a different story. And the Dublin government was conscious that even if they went into Derry or Newry they could not protect nationalists in Belfast or elsewhere, who would have faced an even more savage onslaught in the light of a southern incursion.

  • Laughing (Tory) Unionist

    Oh Gawd, look who’s back: makea-da-stuffa-uppa-Sammy! And whadya know? ee’s makin’ stuff up. You’ve got to give him this, if nothing else, at least he’s a consistent loon. That said, I wish a.) what he said about Thatch wanting to give ‘a bit’ of Norn Iron ‘away’ was true & that b.) ould plastic himself had been standing on it when she chucked it at the Free State.

  • Dewi

    Thnaks Nevin – fascinating.

  • Glensman

    Grimes has it, no matter what happened they couldn’t have gone in because in Belfast and other parts of Antrim there would have been massacres…

  • Laughing (Tory) Unionist

    Yeah, that’s right Glensman, what the last 40 years showed beyond peradventure was that dem evil hun hoors were always just on the brink of slaughterin’ kefflicks. You know, what with thjeir control of state institutions, evil English henchmen, vast private armies, and secret intel supplied by the Giant Lizards. But for some weird reason didn’t. Nothing else happened (and certainly no one small criminal faction murdered thousands – that’s just silly facts, far better to stick with your highly realistically counterfactualising).

  • Drumlins Rock

    Whilst the troubles were a terrible period, when you look back over the history of the last century it is amazing that an all out civil war between Unionists and Nationalists never occured, by that i mean a Bosnia/Spanish/Rawanda type war, it was probably only prevented by WW1 and this is probably one of several times when it mite have occured during the troubles.

  • Driftwood

    At that time there was not only a British army garrison, but RAF bases at Ballykelly, Aldergrove and Bishopscourt. The UK government would have been compelled to act on an attack on its sovereign territory.

    That said, the Craigavon admission is hard to refute. I think even Paisley said something similar in recent years. But that’s a long way off when we have all thrown off the shackles of religion (especially the vile sects of Christianity) that ferment hatred.

  • DerTer

    1) Like Brian, I knew in my gut at the time that there was no chance of an invasion – not even as far as Derry or Newry. As Glensman notes, it was screamingly obvious that getting to Belfast, never mind occupying a couple of border towns, would have been impossible without serious casualties on all sides. Yet Henry McDonald in the Observer today quotes Des O’Malley (then Lynch’s Parliamentary Secretary) as saying that hardliners in the Cabinet such as Kevin Boland and Neil Blaney “pushed for an armed invasion…they wanted overt military activity”.
    2) The quote from Craigavon that Lynch used in his speech (usefully expanded upon by Nevin) is of a piece with the point I was making on the ‘Prayer for Ted Kennedy’ thread: that until the consolidation of separateness represented by the ’37 Constitution, neutrality and the declaration of a Republic, many unionists had little difficulty in identifying with Ireland as an entity.

  • RepublicanStones

    The ST has a an interesting article about Op Armageddon. One fear of any cross-border movement, was the boys up in Donegal could easily have been cut off if the brits decided to move from Belleek to B’shannon.

    Drift was wondering if you’ve read Hitchen’s ‘God is not Great’?

  • John45

    Driftwood -“…vile sects of Christianity/(religions) …”
    Responsible for all the hatreds in N Ireland and the world?
    If it were so, then I would drop religion also.
    If religion is used to teach hatred, it is not religion, and woe betide the “teacher”.
    That said, so religion has caused all the problems in (N) Ireland?
    I used to hear many English people saying this in the mid- 60s. I thought it was a convenient get-out.
    Don’t bother answering, as this subject has been mashed to death.

  • Erasmus

    An enormous amount of BS has been written on this subject. *If* there were large scale massacres of Catholics and *if* it was clear that he British Army was not going to intervene the Irish government may reluctantly have sent in the army for a limited holding operation with a view to escorting the maximum number of refugees safely across the border. In this role they would have been onside with UN regulations.

  • David

    The idea that the Irish Army was going to invade NI to bring about “UN intervention” is utterly delusional. The UK was and still is a veto holder on the UN Security Council.

  • Erasmus

    An interesting Times article:
    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/ireland/article6814997.ece
    Incidentally a unit of the Irish Army, massively outgunned and outnumbered, acquited itself quite well during the Katanga crisis:
    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Siege-Jadotville-Irish-Forgotten-Battle/dp/0954870719

  • Driftwood

    The Jadotville episode looks like a toytown Zulu Dawn. Audie Murphy guff. I don’t think it will be on the curriculum at West Point or Sandhurst. Not exactly Normandy, or even Helmand.
    RS I haven’t read Chris Hitchens’ book because he is no Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett or Carl Sagan. He’s a journalist, quite good, but not Fisk or Chomsky.
    ‘John45’ has told me not to comment on his sky pixie assertion, so I wont.

  • RepublicanStones

    Drift bit disappointed with your disparaging remarks in regards of peacekeepers who were under fire for days, and i mentioned Jadotville in response to a poster who said they were merely ‘standing around’ in the Congo. But your toytown remark has encapsulated perfectly the ‘we’re bigger and better’ attitude which the British routinely emote towards the smaller Island to the west. Indeed it was such attitudes which sparked the whole bunfight 100s of years ago. BTW Chomsky isn’t a journalist.

    Just wondering, are you going to attend his lecture at the Queens festival?

  • Driftwood

    RS
    Yes, i’ll be going to the Chomsky lecture, as I did Fisk a few years ago. I know Chomsky isn’t a journalist, but I put him and Fisk in the same (educated) basket of History. I’m a Chomsky fan.
    I doubt the ‘Brits’, as you would call them, have any reason to eulogise the wee bunfight in the Congo in comparison to Normandy or Anzio or…..
    Simple fact is the Irish Guards (1st ashore at both those beachheads)have a more illustrious history at fighting tyranny than the Southern ‘defence forces’. It might come as a surprise to you that many British Army Officers have a more detailed understanding of Irish history than most West Belfast spides.
    It’s a pity the OU don’t do a beginners guide for the subject for culchies and Buckfast afficiandos alike. Cost: £1 and a free glass of Buckie(Fine traditonal Irish drink).

  • RepublicanStones

    ‘I doubt the ‘Brits’, as you would call them, have any reason to eulogise the wee bunfight in the Congo in comparison to Normandy or Anzio or…..’

    Drift i doubt the yanks would have any call to eulogise the Falklands but you allow your boys the honour to do that !

    ‘Simple fact is the Irish Guards (1st ashore at both those beachheads)have a more illustrious history at fighting tyranny than the Southern ‘defence forces’.’

    Simple fact is Drift the condescending tone of toytown references and use of inverted commas demonstrates perfectly the attitude the bigger island has shown to the smaller island for too many a year. And having a more illustrious history is a bit of a laughable statement when you think how long it took for a certain country to gain the right to have her own history. Furthermore, the toytown reference is laid bare when one thinks what her majesties finest would have suffered have the Reds and the Teds not been the major factors in the paricular war you like to flag up. You see Drift the toytown army isn’t just applicable to the IDF. And drift it might come as a surprise to you to know that alot of people living in lands of conflict are glad to have a country free from the stain of colonialism come to their aid.
    And BTW Drift, that last sentence was pretty childish and pathetic esp considering Buckfast is an english drink. You seem particularly bitter tonight Drift…I hope you cheer up, you’re one of the unionist posters i consider most reasonable.

    BTW I’ll be at Chomsky’s talk myself.

  • Driftwood

    RS
    Get real about who drinks the stuff from Buckfast Abbey! Not bitter, but are iou not forgetting the Spitfire (and Hurricane) pilots that saved all of us from National Socialism (though I’m sure that term must resonate..).
    IDF. Well I’m not over enamoured about the Israeli over reaction to Hamas pathetic attacks, but I thought the IDF were even more powerful than our own forces, given unlimited US support.
    The real dilemma lies with the USA as I’m sure Chomsky will point out (as did Robert Fisk).
    The Labour government is making History an option rather than a mainstream subject at schools. BIG mistake which the Conservatives have pledged to overturn.

  • RepublicanStones

    ‘Get real about who drinks the stuff from Buckfast Abbey!’

    http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/Doc/1066/0011297.pdf

    Losts of people, Drift, lots.

    ‘Not bitter, but are iou not forgetting the Spitfire (and Hurricane) pilots that saved all of us from National Socialism (though I’m sure that term must resonate..).’

    Right so it was the RAF who defeated the Nazis war machine, not the yanks or soviets? The only resonating Drift is your toytown remark right back into your face !

    ‘IDF. Well I’m not over enamoured about the Israeli over reaction to Hamas pathetic attacks, but I thought the IDF were even more powerful than our own forces, given unlimited US support.’

    Drift really….have you sunk to the pretence of ignorance now?

  • John45

    Regarding the Defence Forces of the Republic, I like to think of it like the Costa Rican army – or lack of one – only to be considered as an ultimate defence if attacked. There are far too many gung hu armies/”generals” in the world.
    I would hate to think of “my” army as one committing massacres of innocent civilians etc..
    However, the problem is – when an army is put to the test, it will do these things.
    No need to reprise the ruthless efficiency of the Free State Army circa 1921-23.

  • jonno99

    The Dublin govt could not stand idly by in 1969 as nationalist communities came under attack from the RUC/B specials/loyalist gangs. Jack Lynch never intended to retake national territory by armed force. The plan, if there ever was one, involved supporting nationalist enclaves in Derry and South Armagh. This would have been to help evacuate those nationalist communities under attack close to the border. There was never any chance Lynch would sanction any military move on Belfast. If anything he wanted the British army to intervene and protect the nationalists under attack.

    Crossing the Irish border may well have internationalised the conflict, paved the way for
    UN peacekeepng forces and accelerated a Sunningdale/GFA agreement far earlier. Or it could have provoked all out civil war and lead to a whole host of unintended consequences. Who knows? It’s just counterfactual history.

  • John45

    Driftwood – I only said the issue of religion and the NI conflict was a bit pointless pursuing. I am always interested in an open-minded debate on “pixies in the sky”.
    Be careful whom you read- with your praise of the IDF you are out of step with Chomsky (a linguistic theorist who dabbles in everything else)who opposes the Israeli position.
    I wish I had read some Christian apologists when I read all the “secularists” in my early years, who put me off religion for quite a while. Then I discovered they had closed minds, too (like Einstein, who refused to believe his own results because they conflicted with his belief that there was no beginning to the universe). I have for long lived in anti-Catholic societies,and was never able to answer credible questions because I never believed that the “other side” might have a point.
    Examples – The Catholic church allows bull-fighting. Fact: In the early Middle Ages bull fighting was condemned and outlawed by a pope, but the Spanish nobility told him where to put it.
    The Catholic church encouraged slavery and persecuted the indigenous pop in L. Americca. Fact: If you read up on Las Casas, the Jesuits “Reductions”, the church missions in east Africa, you will see that the truth is different.
    The pope allowed the Holocaust; Fact: Rabbi David Dalin’s book not only objects to this but highly praises Pope Pius XII.
    The church blesses weapons of war: Fact: When the Emperor came to Pius X to ask for a blessing on the Austrian war effort in 1914 the Pope threw a fit,utterly condemned him and the upcoming war and died from a heart attack that evening.
    I am not asking you to change your view on these things – just to give the opposition a fair hearing.

  • Greenflag

    ‘IWSMWDI The Unionist state, the army and the Dailies Telegraph and Mail might have been upset but most British and Irish punters and politicians would have probably have seen the invasion as an opportunity to go for an early Sunningdale/GFA type solution’

    That would have been one of several possibilities. As always the response of the UK government would have been the deciding factor . No matter how much many or some of the British Cabinet at the time might have wanted to withdraw from NI the miltary men and the ‘mandarins’ in the FO would not have allowed it . It would have required a huge effort on the part of NI nationalists together with full governmental support from the Republic in respect of both defence of nationalist areas within NI , to persuade HMG to allow the UN in . Rather than the latter the UK would probably have opted for a de facto ‘repartition ‘ at the time . And there would have been nothing (or not a whole lot ) that the Irish Republic or Northern Nationalists could have done to stop them either then or now.

    That ‘military’ situation is not very different today than it was in 1969 .

    As for an ‘invasion’ situation forcing an early Sunningdale/GFA type solution ?

    I seriously doubt it . Just look at how long it took to even get those ‘solutions’ even half way working . At best any invasion would have led to another ‘unfair’ repartition . At worst it would have led to a precipitate British withdrawal followed by a mini genocidal war followed by island wide economic and political chaos followed by a return of British military intervention followed by another partition probably slightly less unfair but by no means even’

    Northern Ireland is very lucky to be where it is now. It could have been a whole lot worse . But then nobody really wants to believe that now, do they ? Life isn’t fair and NI Unionists and Nationalsits are no more unique in their ‘morality’ than either Serbs or Croats or Rwandan Hutus and Tutsis. You would think that some might be grateful that they ‘avoided ‘ a mini genocide by virtue of their unique geographic location ? Not a bit of it ;(. Some indeed are looking forward to another round of fertilising the earth .

  • Carigeen

    The idea of an invasion was total fantasy, for obvious reasons.

    I was 18, in Donegal town when the army southern division come through on their way to set up field hospitals in Dunree, outside Buncrana.

    It looked reasonably well equipped at first until I noticed that five of the twenty trucks had broken down and were being towed.

    Soldiers went into every shop they passed and bought every loaf of bread that was available. Obviously they did not trust the quartermaster to provide the necessary food!

  • Dewi

    Strangely enough I reckon Harold Wilson would have welcomed Irish occupation of Derry, Newry etc – with open arms. On reflection a joint British-Irish intervention, coupled with immediate dissolution of Stormont, could have prevented more trouble.

  • Coll Ciotach

    Carigeen

    Taking to an army sergeant in Cork about this subject he informed me in no uncertain terms that the Southern Division would not have got further than Watergrasshill

  • Greenflag

    Dewi ,

    ‘On reflection a joint British-Irish intervention, coupled with immediate dissolution of Stormont, could have prevented more trouble. ‘

    And probably saved lives . However the ‘politics ‘ on both sides of the border would not have changed as a result and would instead have become even more embittered . Also ‘distrust’ between some Irish politicians and their British counterparts would have made such cooperation at the time fraught with difficulties and in particular for the Irish side . It would have resulted in eventually a de facto repartition with minorities on either side of the new line gapping it for ‘longer term ‘ safety .

    They did this anyway post 1969 which is why we see the greater segregation by areas throughout NI at present and the ‘carve up’ of political power between the main flag wavers for each tradition.

  • OC

    IIRC, RoI state papers released a few years ago state that the RoI gov’t called in the Army chiefs, and asked them about an armed incursion into NI, but where told that it was impossible to succeed.