Black and Tans

Black and Tans featured in Ken Loach's film
Black and Tans featured in Ken Loach's film

“Black and Tans” is the name for a British army in the 1920s. Sadly famous for its acts of great violence, this militia aimed to repress the Irish independence movements engaged in armed small groups such as the IRA. Seeing themselves as a veritable army of occupation, the Black and Tans did not hesitate to murder, rape, and pillage the Irish population until the signing of the Treaty of London on December 21, 1921.

History of the Black and Tans

A militia to solve “the Irish problem”

A Black and Tans in Dublin - National Library of Ireland on The Commons - cc

A Black and Tans in Dublin – National Library of Ireland on The Commons

Black and Tans (Black and Fawns in French) owe their name to a hunting dog from Limerick, a fine bloodhound that never misses its prey. A sort of symbol of their effectiveness in combat, always ending in victory.

This army was formed shortly after the First World War, when London was struggling to solve “the Irish problem”. At that time, the Irish were campaigning for the independence of Ireland and demanding the withdrawal of the British from their island.

Of course, England does not look favourably on its nationalist claims, and therefore decides to create an army composed of career soldiers, ready to act in case of overflows…

Very quickly, the Black and Tans became a large army, numbering more than 16,000 men. When the British government felt in trouble following the War of Independence (1919-1921), it decided to send the Black and Tans to Ireland to lend a hand to the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC), and thus crush the Irish independence revolts under their boot.

Acts of rare violence

The Black and Tans - Public Domain

The Black and Tans – Public Domain

Numerous testimonials then tell of punchy interventions of terrible violence. The Black and Tans behaved like a real army of occupation, and murdered, beat, tortured, raped, set fire to, and pillaged the Irish population through impressive acts of savagery. They act without distinction or any form of trial, raping men, women and children, regardless of their hypothetical lack of involvement in republican nationalist movements.

They also took advantage of the opportunity to ransack Irish houses, set them on fire, machine-gun them or destroy them with heavy artillery, plunging the survivors into total misery.

Their actions are so shocking that international opinion is quick to make itself heard, heavily condemning their actions, as well as the actions of England.

When the Treaty of London of December 21, 1921, put an end to the British occupation of the Irish Free State, the Black and Tans were finally dissolved. There were, however, many problems of reintegration into British society: some of them then fell into crime, while others committed suicide a few years later.

Nevertheless, the Black and Tans still represent a painful memory in Irish collective history. It was the deadliest army ever known in 20th century Ireland .

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