Book review: Havoc: The Auxiliaries in Ireland’s War of Independence, by Paul O’Brien

THE Auxiliary Division of the Royal Irish Constabulary (ADRIC) was established on July 23, 1920. They were the inspiration of the British Secretary for War, Winston Churchill.

Book review: Havoc: The Auxiliaries in Ireland’s War of Independence, by Paul O’Brien

They were considered a superior class of Black and Tans. All of the ADRIC were former officers who had served in the Allied forces during the First World War. They were paid £1 a day, twice the pay of the ordinary Black and Tans.

The Auxies — as they were commonly called — were formed to bring the fight to the rebels. Each was given the rank of Temporary Cadet, which was abbreviated to T/C. Some bragged this stood for “tough c**ts.”

“The ADRIC had a four-fold mission that consisted of conducting special operations, irregular and guerrilla warfare, counter-insurgency, and counterterrorist operations against the Irish Republican Army,” according to the author Paul O’Brien. They were established as a highly mobile force with Crossley Tenders and Lancia armoured cars.

Although the author states the average age was just 20, it was actually more like 30, as the average recruit was born around 1892. Their total number was 2,263, and they were engaged in the conflict for less than a year.

The first four companies formed in August 1920 were deployed to Dublin, Cork, Kilkenny, and Galway. From very early on they were involved in some of the conflict’s more notorious engagements, such as the burning of Balbriggan in September 1920.

They treated the entire population as hostile, which turned practically all of the civilian population against them, especially in the more active Republican areas. The Auxies went on to perpetrate many of the greatest outrages, including the Croke Park atrocity on Bloody Sunday, the killings of Peadar Clancy and Dick McKee in custody in Dublin Castle, and the orgy of arson that began in Cork on the night of December 11, 1920.

“The burning of Cork was, without doubt, one of the worst orgies of violence and destruction witnessed on the island,” the author insists. It was in reprisal for the killing of a cadet and the wounding of 11 others at Dillon’s Cross hours earlier. The author ranks the arson as “the most notorious reprisal” of the conflict.

Cork City Hall was burned, along with the adjoining Carnegie Library “with its hundreds of priceless volumes.” In addition, over 40 business premises, and 300 residential properties were torched and destroyed.

“It never bothered me how many houses were burned,” wrote the future Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery, who was stationed with the British Army in Cork at the time. “I regarded all civilians as ‘Shinners’ and I never had any dealings with them.”

Of course, it was not all one-way traffic when it came to the activities of the Auxiliaries. They were also on the receiving end, especially during the Kilmichael ambush on November 28, 1920.

The author makes a few minor mistakes that had nothing to do with the Auxiliaries, but those are an irritating distraction in a serious history. Tomás MacCurtain did not succeed Terence MacSwiney as Lord Mayor of Cork; he preceded him. Cathal Brugha is mistakenly described as “IRA Chief of Staff.”

These mistakes are more than compensated by his fascinating details about what happened to some of the individual cadets in later life. From their perspective, the conflict probably seemed minor in comparison with what they witnessed during the Great War. Maybe this explains their mistake in turning what was supposed to be a police action into a virtual war.

The Collins Press, €19.99

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