The Right To Shoot

This handbill title “The Right To Shoot,” was published by The Peace with Ireland Council, based in Westminster, England. This was a group of British Citizens seeking to end the ongoing conflict in Ireland during the Irish War of Independence. This handbill highlights a series of atrocities committed by British forces in Ireland during November 1920. The quote at the top of the handbill reads, “No one is in danger in Ireland who obeys the law.” This quote was purposely sarcastic, as the three instances outlined in the handbill were all cases in which law abiding citizens were harmed.

The first atrocity highlighted was discussed in the House of Commons on 15 November 1920. British soldiers in Dublin ordered a group of men to halt. Upon hearing the order, the men fled. The soldiers immediately fired upon them. By firing into the crowded street they killed one 8 year old girl, and wounded a 5 year old girl. Some of the men were captured and found to be unarmed, while the remaining men escaped. T.P. O’Connor enquired in the House of Commons as to whether it was a common practice for soldiers to fire on unarmed men. Sir Hamar Greenwood, the Chief Secretary of Ireland, informed him that if men who are ordered to halt do not obey, then they will be fired upon. O’Connor also requested to know why the Military Court of Inquiry into the matter was not made public, to which Greenwood replied that the Court was held in private for the safety of the witnesses. While the handbill does not outright state so, the implied idea is that the Court of Inquiry was held in private to protect the soldiers involved and cover up any negligent activity.

The second atrocity highlighted occurred in Galway, and was discussed on 4 November 1920. Joseph Devlin asked if the Chief Secretary had been made aware that Mrs. Ellen Quinn was shot by a group of soldiers driving by in a lorry. Devlin inquired as to whether it was common practice for soldiers to drive through the country discharging their weapons and threatening the lives of the Irish public. He also enquired as to whether the responsible men would be brought to justice for the murder. Sir Hamar Greenwood replied that the men were likely firing into the neighborhood in anticipation of an ambush. In a later discussion on the 18 November 1920, Greenwood stated that soldiers had taken to firing into corner hedgerows as these locations had become common hiding places for ambushers. Later on 25 November 1920, Greenwood stated that a military Court of Inquiry had been held into the matter and that the cause of Mrs. Quinn’s death was ruled as misadventure. This again seems to be another case of the Court of Inquiry being held in private to protect those who had committed the crime. Mrs. Quinn’s death did not result from any misadventure on her part, but instead from the reckless actions of soldiers.

The final atrocity highlighted occurred on 21 November 1920 in Dublin. This date has become known as Bloody Sunday, as the IRA carried out the assassination of British Intelligence officers throughout the city early in the morning. The British forces replied to the assassinations by firing on the crowd watching the football match at Croke Park that afternoon. Fourteen people were killed, including one of the players. The official statement provided by the British government is that the approaching soldiers were fired upon from the corners of the field and only began firing on the crowd in response. Witness statements later proved that this was inaccurate. No one was charged for any of the deaths that occurred in Croke Park, and this again illustrates that the British Military were allowed to operate without consequence in Ireland during the War of Independence.

The purpose of this handbill was to raise awareness to the atrocities committed in Ireland, with hopes that a move could be made towards peaceful resolution to the conflict. The intended audience of the pamphlet is one facet that makes it interesting. While it would be easy to assume that this pamphlet was designed for the Irish public, it was actually designed for the British public. It was printed to raise awareness among the populace as to the true nature of the Irish conflict. British public opinion ultimately played a role in the British government seeking to negotiate a peace treaty to end the War of Independence. While mainstream news outlets certainly played a role in bringing the events of the conflict into the public arena, handbills like this one also played an equally vital role in swaying public opinion of the conflict.