General Michael Collins inspects a soldier, 1922
To wage their bitter war with the powerful British Empire from 1919 to 1921, Irish nationalists turned to novel tactics both military and political. Unable to confront Britain’s overwhelming military power directly, the Irish Republican Army mounted a strategy of assassinations, hit-and-run raids, and—a new concept—urban guerrilla warfare to fight their opponents to a standstill. Other Irish leaders developed a novel idea of their own: the counter-state, a collection of self-governing institutions that robbed the British of their claim as Ireland’s legitimate government.
George Mason University history professor Kevin Matthews discusses how this war set the standard for other independence struggles in the 20th century. He traces its development and examines how the Irish gained their freedom, but at a price: the partition of their country, leaving six northeastern counties under British rule, a legacy that is still a source of conflict to this day.
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