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  • Custom House Raid 1921

    The Custom House Raid of May 1921 by the Dublin Brigade was an unusual operation in the War of Independence, marking one of the few instances of a large scale operation by IRA standards. Casualties and prisoners lost were relatively high.

    Several questions arise;

    Was the operation a tactical/strategic failure?

    Was it initiated at the insistence of Dev in order to provide "legitimacy" in his eyes by engaging in a conventional military operation?

    Was the destruction of the many millions of files that was later to prove such an obstacle to the new state deliberate? Why else was the building chosen, seeing as it wasnt a major military/police installation, unlike Dublin castle or similar buildings.
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    With 50,000 men getting killed a week, who's going to miss a pigeon?

    Guns don't kill people, bullets kill people.

  • #2
    1. It was a tactical failure due to the amount of POW's and therefore active service men taken off the street

    2. Yes

    3. It would appear that it was less defended than military or police installations, dev wanted to get the policital angle across i.e. legitmacy without it been a mass suicide that an attack on the castle or a barracks would have been

    Thats my 2 cents anyway
    Last edited by Big Al; 12 November 2003, 12:15.
    You're even dumber than I tell people

    You might have been infected but you never were a bore

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    • #3
      On the face of it, it seems a pointless exercise unless to prove that the IRA wasn't just a guerilla army or that they weren't on the verge of defeat. If so it worked and could be classed as a tactical failure but a strategic success.

      Why would the IRA destroy records that the leadership surely knew would be needed in a future Republic?

      I doubt if De Valera could have convinced Collins to sacrifice a lot of men for little return. I'd imagine Brugha would have been all for it though.
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      Originally posted by hedgehog
      My favourite moment was when the
      Originally posted by hedgehog
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      • #4
        Oh, that's a tester of my long forgotten historical expertise......
        Definitely a debatable issue though.

        Would have to check my files but as far as I remember it was ordered by Dev (hardly as simple as he alone ordered the IRA to do it - there would have been other hands in the proposal as well, maybe Brugha). The Custom's House was chosen as it housed all the records the brits needed to administer the country and also symbolised British authority.

        Definite tactical failure - bad blow for the Dublin Bde as a lot of active guys and their (rather scarce) weapons were captured. 70-80 guys were captured, which was a lot considering the Dublin Bde was waging a very effective campaign of small unit actions - ambushing convoys, killing and wounding a couple of brits here and there (Iraqi style if you will). Not one of these actions would have had more than about a section involved. 6 punters got it as well if memory serves. Also, as Che put it, a guerrilla should never commit to an action unless he is sure he will be able to make good the ammo used up. The Custom's House action resulted in the biggest losses for the Bde since 1916.

        Strategically it's success is debatable - what effect did it have on the political situation, showing Ireland to be ungovernable etc etc... It's also hard to say exactly what long term effects it might have had on the Dublin Bde's effectiveness as the Truce was called about 3 weeks later.

        My company draws lineage from the main unit involved, the 2 Bn. C Coy 20 Bn was formed from 42 Bn LDF, which in turn was drawn from the area originally assigned to 2 Bn (I think some former 2 Bn men were recruited, not sure though). This link is depicted in the C Coy flash, which features a burning Custom's House.

        Mind you, there's other that will tell you that the flash symbolises the legendary burning of chalets in Butlins. But that's another story.....
        Last edited by FMolloy; 12 November 2003, 10:58.
        "The dolphins were monkeys that didn't like the land, walked back to the water, went back from the sand."

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        • #5
          So your lot are responsible for the fact that nobody in Ireland has an ancestor before the famine.:D

          The action at the Custom House may have encouraged the Brits to believe the IRA was stronger than it was and led it to call for a truce. Thus a strategic success. long shot, but........
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          Say NO to violence against Women

          Originally posted by hedgehog
          My favourite moment was when the
          Originally posted by hedgehog
          red headed old dear got a smack on her ginger head

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          • #6
            Custom House Raid 1921

            It was a monumental fiasco, no doubt. Tactical suicide and a lesson in ego building!
            You will remember that Dev spent the war in the USA "fund raising"!
            When he returned, he ordered the Customs house raid.
            Totally jealous of Collin's success and popularity, he wanted to hit the headlines with a massive operation ordered by him. He could then have said that he came back and organised a succesful military operation that destroyed British administration in Ireland! His commanding won the war!
            He sacrificied many good men in so doing!

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            • #7
              How much authority did De Valera exercise over the army? Did he have the power to make a unilateral decision on a military operation? Surely such a shift in policy would have been a cabinet decision.
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              Say NO to violence against Women

              Originally posted by hedgehog
              My favourite moment was when the
              Originally posted by hedgehog
              red headed old dear got a smack on her ginger head

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              • #8
                Hello Groundhog,
                DeValera was the President of the Republic. Collins was loyal. Collins resisted the Customs house operation tooth and nail, but finally accepted the order from his "chief".
                He later resisted the shafting when he was sent to negotiate the terms of the treaty but obeyed his orders. We all know what happened and why then!

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                • #9
                  Hi Heritage,

                  Caught your letters in the Times and the Examiner the other day. Well said.

                  I was just thinking of later events, albeit under greatly changed circumstances, during the Civil War when the Republican High Command were debating whether to call a truce or not. One inconclusive meeting was held in the Nire area near Ballymacarbry, Co. Waterford. De Valera had to wait outside the cottage in which the meeting took place becuse his rank in the army was of private, although he was a senior republican political figure. He was eventually admitted to the meeting.

                  You will be delighted to know that the cottage was demolished about ten years ago instead of being declared a national monument. They had a bed in which De Valera was supposed to have slept though a local man who claimed to have been a sentry at the cottage at the time said Dev couldn't sleep and walked the floor all night. That man's Lee Enfield is on display in Kickham Bks museum.

                  The National Army raided the area and captured some of the Republican leadership. One such raid a week later resulted in the death of Liam Lynch.

                  And I've digressed enough. Dev was apparently as handless militarily as he was politically astute. Why do so many politicians think that a Field Marshal's Baton resides in their briefcases?
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                  Say NO to violence against Women

                  Originally posted by hedgehog
                  My favourite moment was when the
                  Originally posted by hedgehog
                  red headed old dear got a smack on her ginger head

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                  • #10
                    I think it was a total failure. The key to the ira at the time was survival. A large scale operation like that could if go wrong cost a lot of men and bullets which were not very common at the time. If it had happened in any other county you would find that a batallion would of being wiped out leaving a large area for the tans and auxils a large area to roam without confrontation. If its not broke dont fix it!

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                    • #11
                      Some would say the Customs House was as important to "British rule" (however that is defined) as Dublin Castle and hence the attack on a much softer target.
                      Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. Margaret Mead

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