Bonfires in nationalist Derry on July 11 as truce is declared ending the War of Independence

One hundred years ago at 12 noon on July 11 a ceasefire between the IRA and British forces took effect ending the two-and-a-half year War of Independence.

Wednesday, 14th July 2021, 1:09 pm
President of the First Dáil Éamon de Valera agreed the ceasefire in order to enter into negotiations with British Prime Minister David Lloyd-George about a withdrawal from Ireland.
President of the First Dáil Éamon de Valera agreed the ceasefire in order to enter into negotiations with British Prime Minister David Lloyd-George about a withdrawal from Ireland.

The ‘Journal’ looks back on how Derry reacted.

A hundred years ago this week there were celebrations and bonfires in nationalist areas as the War of Independence ended.

Following a peace conference in the Mansion House, President Éamon de Valera announced a truce. After two-and-half-years of war the IRA were to dump arms to facilitate talks aimed at securing a British withdrawal.

On Monday, July 11, 1921, the Derry Journal carried a statement from President de Valera on our front page.

“During the period of the Truce each individual, soldier and citizen, must regard himself as a custodian of the Nation’s honour.

"Your discipline must prove in the most convincing manner that this is the struggle of an organised nation. In the negotiations now initiated your representatives will do the utmost to secure a just and peaceful termination of this struggle. But history, particularly our own history, and the character of the issue to be decided are a warning against undue confidence.

“An unbending determination to endure all that may still be necessary and fortitude such as you have shown in all your recent sufferings - these alone will lead you to the peace you desire.

"Should force be resumed against our nation you must be ready on your part, once more, to resist. Thus alone will you secure the final abandonment of force and the acceptance of justice and reason as the arbiter,” the statement ran.

The paper carried an order by the IRA Chief of Staff Richard Mulcahy. It read: “In view of the conversations now being entered into by our Government with the Government of Great Britain and in pursuance of a mutual understanding to suspend hostilities during these conversations, active operations by our troops will be suspended as from noon, Monday, July 11.”

Despite Britain’s insistence on the partition of Ireland - the Government of Ireland Act 1920 had already taken effect in May 1921 - news of the ceasefire was celebrated by Derry’s nationalist population.

The ‘Journal’ reported how signs of the truce were already being shown on the Sunday prior to its commencement.

Curfew regulations were not being enforced as strictly as before and in many streets people were out until 11pm.

It seems the relaxation of the strict security measures had lifted the public mood.

On Wednesday, July 13, the ‘Journal’ reported: “For the present there is a welcome relief from the restrictions, and it is only to be hoped that occasion for their enforcement will never occur again. In accordance with the terms of the Truce the police on duty now cease to carry revolvers, and it is understood the Special Constabulary have also been disarmed. At noon today all the police returned to barracks and handed in their revolvers.

“The barbed wire obstruction at Castle Gate has not yet been removed, but it is stated that representations have been made to the military authorities to have it cleared away. On Monday night the declaration of a truce was celebrated in the Nationalist quarters of the city with much jubilation.

"The suspension of curfew was hailed with such delight that many people remained out until after midnight and around bonfires which blazed in some thoroughfares popular National airs were lustily sung. During the night rowdies broke into a shop at the corner of Eden Place and carried away some of its contents.”

In the six months to the truce the IRA had been as active as it could have been in the heavily fortified garrison town Derry was in those days. A number of Flying Columns had been raised in the city.

One was led by IRA commander Peadar O’Donnell and had staged the Meenbanad and Crolly train ambushes in the Rosses in January of that year.

Another was led by Charles McGuinness. It had also been busy harassing British forces throughout the Donegal divisional area.

The fighting men were phlegmatic in their reaction to Mulcahy’s command, according to Michael Sheerin, O/C of No. 1 Section of the IRA on Derry’s west bank during the War of Independence, who was also a member of the McGuinness-commanded unit.

He later recalled the column was in the Bluestacks preparing to ambush the Dorsetshire Regiment when news of the ceasefire arrived.

“While we were deciding what to do, a messenger in Volunteer uniform delivered a message stating a Truce had been arranged and ordering all units to cease operations. I learned later the date was July 12, 1921. The bearer of the message was Jim Timoney (R.I.P) late O.C., Irish Speaking Battalion.

"I reported to the Brigade O.C. He disbanded the Column and I have seen less than five of it and the Derry City Unit since [this was in the 1950s]. The event was celebrated in the fashion of the time. Martin and Ginger went into Killybegs and were promptly picked up by the Tans. The services of the liaison officers had to be sought to effect their release.”

This paper was supportive of the ceasefire. In a leader on July 13, it opined: “Considering the magical change in the Irish situation wrought by the Dublin Conference last Friday, it must be evident to all right-thinking people in the country that upon them individually and collectively devolves the patriotic duty of doing all they can to support and strengthen the pacific conditions favourable to the great work in which the national peace-makers are about to engage.”