The Galway Peace Resolution of 1920
By Johnny Burke
One hundred years ago at the close of 1920, tensions were high across Ireland. November was a bloody month, with British Crown Forces intensifying their campaign of terror. The murder of Eileen Quinn from Kiltartan near Gort, a pregnant mother of four children, followed by the abduction and murder of Fr. Michael Griffin in Galway shocked the world. This was followed by `Bloody Sunday’ in which twenty individuals identified as British agents by Michael Collins and his comrades were targeted and fifteen killed. In revenge for these deaths, Auxiliaries and Black and Tans killed at least fourteen and injured dozens in and around Croke Park that afternoon. At the same time, two high-ranking IRA officers, Dick McKee and Peadar Clancy, as well as Clareman Conor Clune were being tortured by Auxiliaries in Dublin Castle. They had been picked up the night before having been betrayed by an informer. Their bodies were found the next day battered, bayoneted and shot to death. It was a big blow to the IRA, but morale was boosted a week later when at Kilmichael, Co. Cork, the 3rd West Cork Brigade ambushed an Auxiliary convoy, killing seventeen. On 29 November, possibly the most gruesome act of the conflict occurred with the abductions and brutal murders of the Loughnane brothers of Shanaglish near Gort by the Auxiliary Division of the RIC.
Under these circumstances, a number of peace initiatives emerged. The Archbishop of Tuam Thomas Gilmartin had been calling for a `Truce of God’ since July and had reiterated this on a number of occasions afterwards. Rumours of talks between representatives of the British Government and Dáil Éireann abounded in early December and a Sinn Féin TD Roger Sweetman called for talks between both sides. Archbishop Patrick Clune of Perth in Australia was rumoured to be in peace talks with the British Government. He had been a supporter of the Great War and therefore trusted by British Prime Minister David Lloyd-George and was the uncle of Conor Clune mentioned above. It was in this climate that during a meeting of Galway County Council on 3 December a resolution was put forward by Councillor James Haverty of Springlawn Mountbellew, advocating a peace settlement. Haverty was a 1916 veteran and an egg merchant and farmer by profession. He was also the Officer in Command of the Mountbellew Brigade IRA and a Dáil Court Judge.
Only six members were present at the meeting, mainly due to imprisonment and the fear of being targeted by Crown Forces. This is a shortened version of the resolution as printed in the Tuam Herald on 11 December:
That we, the members of the Galway County Council, assembled on the 3rd December 1920, view with sorrow and grief the shootings, burnings, reprisals and counter-reprisals which are taking place all over England and Ireland by armed forces of the British Empire on the one hand and armed forces of the Irish Republic on the other … We, therefore, as adherents of Dáil Éireann, request that body to appoint three delegates for the purpose of negotiating a truce. We further request that the British Government appoint three more delegates, who will have the power to arrange a truce and preliminary terms of peace …. That we consider the initiative lies with the British Government … That copies of these proposals be sent to all County Councils in Ireland, to Dáil Éireann, to the Prime Minister of England, to the Irish bishops, Catholic and Protestant; to the British Labour deputation and to the Press.
As only six Councillors attended the meeting and a quorum of eight was necessary, the resolution was not binding. Alice Cashel, Vice-Chairperson of the Council was in London when she was shown a headline in the Daily Mail `Galway Council sues for peace’. This incredible scenario caused consternation in Republican circles. Michael Collins condemned it and the British saw it as a sign that the Irish side was weakening. When Cashel returned, she chaired the next meeting and established that the resolution was null and void. Meanwhile, on 5 December Fr. Michael O’Flanagan, a leading Sinn Féin member wrote to Lloyd-George requesting a meeting to discuss peace, a move which was unauthorised by Sinn Féin. The timeline is important here. Archbishop Clune had met with Lloyd-George in late November in which discussions regarding a truce were described as positive. Clune then travelled to Dublin to meet Arthur Griffith who was in jail. However, when Clune went back to London, he realised that Lloyd-George had had a change of heart and now wanted the IRA to lay down its arms before any truce could be entertained. This was tantamount to a declaration of war. It later emerged that the initiatives Fr. O’Flanagan and Haverty had been a major factor in influencing Lloyd-George’s u-turn, as he saw these overtures as a sign of weakness and thus the conflict continued.
In his defence, printed in the Connacht Tribune of 18 December, Haverty states that when drafting the resolution, he had borne in mind proposals already put forward by Archbishop Gilmartin, Cardinal Logue (Archbishop of Armagh) and Roger Sweetman TD all of which had ignored Dáil Éireann. Haverty argued: ‘there is not the slightest suggestion in the resolution about lowering our claim [to an Irish Republic]’. Haverty clearly states at this point in time that the resolution was passed by those present. In later years, Haverty admitted that the resolution could not have been passed because the required quorum of eight Councillors was not achieved. He became synonymous with the Galway resolution which was termed the ‘Haverty Resolution’ by many. He continued in his roles as Dáil judge and IRA O/C until the Truce in July 1921, but resigned from the County Council in August. He was also the victim of a smear campaign which accused him of being a British spy. He took the anti-Treaty position in the Civil War but did not take part. Haverty resolutely defended his actions in many letters to the newspapers in subsequent years, as well as giving his opinion on other topics. He wrote a memoir in the early 1940s which currently resides in the NUI Galway Archives.
1. Bureau of Military History Witness Statement 366, Alice Cashel
2. BMH WS 400, Richard Walsh
3. BMH WS 1330, John D Costello
4. Connacht Tribune
5. Tuam Herald
6. James Haverty Memoir, NUI Galway Archives
Note: This article originally appeared in our Winter 2020 Newsletter.