how a Celtic clan’s perception of justice vis-a-vis another clanrnchanged in time of war. In peacetime, the commonly heldrnprinciples of the blood feud prevented the burning of a rivalrnclan’s houses, especially with the inhabitants still inside. However,rnin time of open warfare, house-burning was a frequentrnmeans of settling scores. Alasdair MacColla, the champion ofrnthe Clan Donald during the Royalist-Covenanter war in Scotlandrnin the 1640’s, was known by the rival Clan Campbell asrnfear thollaidh nan tigheanâ€”the destroyer of houses. His Royalistrncampaigns against the hated Campbells of Argyll in 1644-45rnexhibited a fierceness unknown under the restrictions of therncommon blood feud. To use the words of Confederate CeneralrnNathan Bedford Forrest, it was “war to the knife, and thernknife to the hilt.” MacColla’s men boasted that they had donerntheir work so well that no chimney stood within a 20-mile radiusrnof the Campbell capital of Inveraray.rnThe historic localism of Celtic Ireland, Scotland, andrnWales impeded the development of the sort of public jushcernthat characterizes the modern state. Despite occasionalrnimpulses toward political nationalismâ€”Brian Boru (Ireland),rnWallace and Bruce (Scotland), and Owen Glendowerrn(Wales)â€”the Celts were unable (and ultimately, unwilling) tornsurrender local prerogatives to the cause of nation-building.rnRather, they proceeded along lines similar to federalism. Eventually,rnhowever, the unified English state, starting under thernTudors, brought all three Celtic “nations” into a forced union,rnand by the present century Scotland and Wales had long lostrntheir independence. Only Ireland posed a problem to Britishrnconsolidation. Resistance was led first by the Irish RepublicanrnBrotherhood and then by the Irish Republican Army (IRA), thernlatter forged by the indefatigable Michael Collins. Both organizationsrnunderstood the cardinal rule of public justice, Britishrnstyle: the conqueror kills and then oudaws any attempts at revenge.rnThe IRA’s campaign to rid Ireland of British rule had its immediaternantecedent in the failed Easter Rising of 1916, inrnwhich the modern martyrs to the cause of Irish freedom wererncreated. By 1919-20, Collins (spared execution in 1916 becausernof his relative obscurity) had forged the IRA into arnformidable weapon with which he waged a relentless guerrillarnwar against overwhelming odds. His first order of business wasrnto put together an intelligence network in Dublin to gather informationrnon British police agents who were terrorizing IrishrnRepublicans. Once Collins learned of their habits and movements,rnhe had his “Squad” carry out reprisals. The assassinationrncampaign of 1919 deprived British intelligence of its eyesrnand ears, thus leading the London government to initiate a fullscalernmilitary campaign all over the island in 1920.rnThe 1920-21 “Black and Tan” war saw the IRA match thernBritish military tit for tat at terrorism. Collins had organized thernIRA into Flying Columns, whose goals were to stage ambushesrnand raids, eliminate spies, harass loyalists, and cause generalrnmayhem in the areas largely under British control. Withoutrndoubt, the most successful of the IRA Flying Columns was thatrnof West Cork, under command of the legendary Tom Barry.rnBarry, ever short of guns and ammunition and never havingrnmore than 310 riflemen, fought some 12,500 British troops to arnstandstill by the time a cease-fire was agreed to in mid-1921.rnHis success hinged largely on his ability to administer privaternjustice within his jurisdiction. When the British adopted a policyrnin early 1921 of burning the houses of suspected IRA sympathizers,rnBarry repaid them double for their efforts. When thernBlack and Tans and the hated Auxiliaries began executing captivesrnsuspected of supporting the IRA, Barry resorted to kidnappingrnand killing British officials, both military and civilian. Hisrndetermination to match and exceed the Brits at their own gamernsoon put a stop to depredations against the Irish civilian populationrnand forced London to consider peace negotiations. Inrnhis memoirs, Guerrilla Days in Ireland, Barry wrote:rnThis policy had prevented British authority from fijnctioningrnin Ireland, laid its administration in ruins, drivenrnout or under cover the British minions, necessitated arnlarge and cosdy army of occupation, humiliated Britishrnmilitary power, caused the name of Britain to stink in thernnostrils of all decent peoples, and inflicted sufficient casualtiesrnon their soldiers.rnThe IRA was forced to exert private justice against the Britishrnoccupation forces for two simple reasons: first, London did notrnrecognize the legitimacy of the Irish Republican governmentrnunder Eamon de Valera; and second, de Valera’s “government”rndid not sanction the guerrilla campaigns carried out byrnCollins, Barry, and their cohorts. Even if the British had recognizedrnthe de Valera government, it is unlikely that the IRArnwould have submitted to their president’s desire to fight a conventionalrnwar, devoid of assassinations, kidnappings, arson, andrnthe terror campaign against citizens loyal to the British. To thernIrish, the idea and practice of private justice was simply too ingrainedrnin their historical and literary traditions to be abandonedrnfor the niceties of formal military conflict. Unfortunately,rnhabits formed in the Black and Tan war and reinforced byrncenturies of tradition continued in the subsequent Irish civilrnwar between the Free State army under Michael Collins andrnthe Republican forces loyal to de Valera. The brutality of bothrnsides marked a clear break with the Irish practice of generosityrntoward an enemy of one’s own blood, as illustrated by the Fenianrnduel between Fionn and Ferdiadh, and it took the ultimaterntiagedyâ€”the cold-blooded murder of Collins in 1922â€”to endrnthis fit of madness.rnToday’s IRA prefers to play by the same rules. It is ruthless tornboth its avowed enemies and to those fellow Irishmen who arernseen as impediments to its ultimate objectives. For their part,rnthe British have made it clear since the “Troubles” flared uprnagain in 1969 that they have no intention of abandoning thernProtestant majority in Ulster to the vagaries of Irish Republicanrnpolitics. Thus, any attempts at peace are likely to be frustratedrnby the IRA’s reluctance to abandon the only policy that hasrnbrought it any success in the past: armed resistance. As onernwho has tiaveled in Ulster, I can attest that the resultant carnagernis not a pretty sight. Though I am encouraged by the recentrnpeaceful movements toward greater independence in Scotlandrnand Wales through separate parliaments, I doubt that such a solutionrncould be applied to Ulster, The current standoff seemsrninexplicable to most Americans, who are used to solving theirrnpolitical differences with the ballot and not the bullet. Indeed,rnthe Ulster tioubles are a throwback to an earlier day, though notrnthat far distant, when men relied on what Donald Davidsonrncalled “their own stiong arm.” But Ulster could be a harbingerrnof things to come. As Western civilization crumbles around us,rnone can only wonder when that day will come again and howrnmodern Americans will handle the messy business of administeringrntheir own justice.
January 1975April 21, 2022By The Archive