BBC documentary claims British Artillery fired first shots of Irish Civil War
Memoir throws new light on near century old debate
A newly discovered military memoir has claimed that British Army artillery crews were commandeered by Michael Collins at the start of the Irish Civil War.
The claim contradicts official accounts that Collins turned down an offer of soldiers and artillery from the British to end the three month occupation of the Four Courts by anti-treaty forces.
The claims have been broadcast by the BBC in Britain in a radio programme featuring the memoir of Lance Bombardier Percy Creek of the Royal Field Artillery.
His book was discovered by Open University academic William Sheehan and broadcast by BBC Radio 4’s Document series.
The Irish Times reports that Creek claims in the book how his unit of howitzer artillery was sent to Fermanagh, but later told to march by night to Dublin and ‘told not to speak to anyone and to keep as quiet as possible.’
The Irish National Army had failed up to then to disperse the anti-treaty forces occupying the Four Courts under the command of Rory O’Connor.
The Irish Army’s shrapnel blasts proved ineffective which is why, Creek claims, his unit was given the orders to fire two heavy rounds.
He recalled: “We then saw the shell rip into a wall of one of the courts. Then, all became quiet and I think the officers and dignitaries were all very tense.
“We only fired two rounds and quickly limbered up and went back to the rest of the battery. The situation in Dublin was very tricky.”
The broadcast recalled how Creek’s sergeant and commanding officer were worried beforehand because of the presence of Irish soldiers in the Royal Field Artillery unit.
He wrote: “The Irish are temperamental people.”
Creek does claim however that the building had been occupied by Black and Tans, rather than anti-Treaty forces.
He said: “A few days later we went to some docks and the whole battery was shipped back to Fishguard.”
The paper also reports that in response to rumours at the time, the National Army vehemently denied that British soldiers had been involved in the Four Courts bombardment, issuing a detailed statement to The Irish Times.
It says that in his records, Gen Nevil Macready recorded that Michael Collins had refused offers of British help, save artillery which the National Army did not have.
Historian William Sheehan told The Irish Times that the Creek memoir is significant. He said: “It shows that the agenda was being driven by the British cabinet in London.
“Ministers there, including Winston Churchill, were concerned that anti-Treaty forces in Munster and elsewhere would mobilise to surround the National Army troops encircling the Four Courts.
“If that happened, Ireland would then have fallen back into anarchy, forcing the British to impose order once again,”
The Nottingham-based academic added: “Collins was not a victim, but there is evidence that he was certainly not in control of what was going on around him. He’s choiceless. He is essentially doing what the British wanted.”
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