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'Honesty, Hustle and Zeal': Séumas Robinson, IRA leader

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  • 'Honesty, Hustle and Zeal': Séumas Robinson, IRA leader

    Three articles on Séumas Robinson, the Belfast-born O/C of the Third (South) Tipperary IRA Brigade during the War of Irish Independence (1919-1921) and the Civil War (1922-1923).

    Never Lukewarm: Séumas Robinson’s War of Independence


    An overview of Robinson's background and involvement in the War of Independence.

    What was most notable about Robinson was his intense, uncompromising views, especially towards the people around him - he despised Michael Collins as a trickster and chickenhawk, yet he stayed loyal towards one of his friends, Eamon O'Dwyer (who had brought him to Tipperary in the first place), even as O'Dwyer was undermining his authority within the Brigade.

    Similarly, he held a complicated relationship with the better-known Dan Breen, with whom he had participated in the 1919 Soloheadbeg ambush. Breen claimed that Robinson was only follow his lead during the ambush, and went as far as to say that Robinson had only been made O/C in the first place to be a figurehead or 'stooge.'

    Robinson, for his part, thought little of Breen and later accused him of lying in his memoirs about the extent of the fighting he had done during the WoI.

    Despite his poor people skills, Robinson was one of the more humane leaders in the WoI, as he tried to have his men wait until they were outside a house with civilians in before opening fire if caught. He also vetoed a proposal to burn down several houses of local Unionists in retaliation for reprisals by British forces, not want to stoop to the enemy's level.

    Demagogue: Séumas Robinson and the Lead-up to the Civil War, 1921-2

    The focus here shifts to Robinson during the Truce, immediately after the War of Independence, and the events leading up to the tragedy of the Civil War.

    Robinson set him up as one of the hardline Anti-Treatyites. His speech during the Dáil debates, January 1922, castigated the IRA GHQ, and specifically Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith as traitors. His call for the IRA to play a role in the debate was strong stuff even to Éamon de Valera, who argued against such a thing.

    This was perhaps unsurprising, as he had already shown an insubordinate attitude towards authority, such as attempting an arms deal in Germany without first telling his IRA superiors, and displacing the official Sinn Fein candidate in the 1922 elections for East Tipperary-Waterford.

    He associated a lot with several notable left-wing figures on the scene, namely Liam Mellows, Roddy Connolly (son of James) and Frank Robbins, a leading trade unionist. They seemed to regard Robinson as one of them, but it is uncertain as to what extent, if at all, he shared their left-wing or 'Social Republican' views.

    When the Civil War broke out with the attack on the Four Courts - which Robinson narrowly avoided - he argued for a more aggressive strategy to Liam Lynch, particularly for the Anti-Treatyite forces to march on Dublin and decide the War then and there. The more cautious Lynch, who Robinson had never gotten along with, refused.

    It remains an open question as to whether Robinson's proposal would have worked and changed the result of the Civil War, although, of course, hindsight is 100%.

    A Bitter Brotherhood: The War of Words of Séumas Robinson


    A sequel of sorts to the previous two articles.

    A look at the literary feud Séumas Robinson conducted, many years after the revolutionary period, with his former subordinate, Dan Breen.

    Robinson claimed that Breen had used his famous memoir to exaggerate, if not outright lie, about his deeds during the War of Independence.

    Breen, Robinson argued, had lied about:

    1) His status within the 3rd Tipperary Brigade.
    2) The wounds he had received.
    3) His presence at a couple of IRA attacks on RIC barracks.

    In the first two points, it would seem that Robinson was merely overly picky. On the third, however, it would seem he had a legitimate axe to grind.

    Despite the vigour with which Robinson argued his case, through his Bureau of Military History Statement and various letters of his to newspapers and historians, he never went the extra mile and wrote his own memoirs to match Breen's.

    Nor did he take his feud public in any meaningful way (perhaps intentionally - after all, both he and Breen were Fianna Fail stalwarts). Because of this, his complaints have never moved beyond the level of a curiosity for historians.

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