By spring 1922, the crises in Northern Ireland and the Free State had moved beyond anyone's control.
Northern Ireland premier James Craig and Free State leader Michael Collins met twice in early 1922 to try to agree a way forward between them.
In fact by then, neither man could control the events unfolding on the island.
5.30pm, Saturday 11 February 1922. Clones, Co Monaghan.
Matt FitzPatrick drove hard down the street from the Workhouse towards the Railway Station.
He could see the train, steam up, about to move off in the direction of Enniskillen.
He'd have to hurry.
On the platform, even as the train was ready to depart, some passengers lingered at the open doors, ready to jump on.
Matt FitzPatrick drove harder.
Matt FitzPatrick wasn't trying to catch the train.
He was trying to catch passengers on the train.
In particular, he wanted to catch up with the 19 Ulster Special Constables who had chosen Clones Station, of all places, to change trains on their way to Enniskillen.
In the geography of the new border, the constables were on the wrong side of the line. They were the ones lingering on the platform. Half a dozen of them were armed, at least some carrying rifles. Some were relaxed enough to head for the station buffet.
If they knew they were inside the new Free State, this was some serious coat-trailing. Clones was the local IRA divisional headquarters. If they didn't know, or care, what fools were they?
Matt FitzPatrick was the battalion commandant of the local IRA unit.
As he ran on to the platform, three other officers followed. His fellow officers carried Thompson sub-machine guns. FitzPatrick's weapon was a Mauser machine pistol, nicknamed 'Peter The Painter', the favoured sidearm of IRA Officers.
By now, the policemen at the train, backs to the station and unaware of the IRA men swarming on to the platform, had almost all taken their seats, but the doors of the carriages had not been closed.
In that second before the doors closed, FitzPatrick reached the train. He pointed his gun at the policemen in the carriage. Witnesses heard him say 'hands up!, Surrender!'.
The constables had been caught cold, but they never hesitated.
In what seemed like a few seconds later, Matt FitzPatrick lay dead on the track between two carriages. Inside the bullet-riddled train, four constables lay dead, eight more wounded. The surviving unarmed constables, having no way to defend themselves, surrendered.
Several civilians lay wounded on the platform.
In its chaotic and bloody opportunism, it was part of the reality along the new border.
The Irish Cauldron: Three IRAs, two armies, four police forces, four governments
Between the two new jurisdictions, in the first months of 1922 there were:
Three governments - or four: Irish Provisional Government, Northern Ireland government, British government. Four, if you included the Dáil government.
At least seven armed groups, not including outright criminal gangs:
In the Free State: Pro-Treaty IRA (The nascent National Army), Anti-Treaty IRA, Neutral IRA, Civic Guard (Armed until August 1922), RIC, British Army.
In Northern Ireland: IRA, RIC, Special Constables, British Army.
Across and through this cauldron, the border ran like a scar, still only on paper, except where police in Northern Ireland had already trenched the roads.
The constables captured at Clones Station were not the first people abducted by the IRA in early 1922. A few days earlier, over 40 loyalists were kidnapped inside Northern Ireland and taken across the border by the IRA.
That mass abduction had in turn been in retaliation for the arrest of five IRA officers, travelling with the Monaghan football team in Derry. They protested that they were only there to play in a tournament - until searches revealed they were carrying plans to raid the city jail, to rescue three men sentenced to death.
Craig's invasion plan
The Clones 'Affray' so alarmed the British government that it paused the withdrawal of troops from Ireland.
The abductions enraged the Northern Ireland Premier, James Craig. He asked the Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill - now the cabinet minister responsible for relations with Ireland - for permission to raise and arm a flying column of 5,000 special constables.
He billed it as a rescue, it would in fact have been a sectarian invasion.
Churchill could see how such a folly would have been the spark for a conflagration across the island. He refused Craig, but then straight away warned President Arthur Griffith the only alternative might be a fortified frontier.
This was the context in which there were two attempts by the British government, in January and March, to forge agreements, or pacts, between Michael Collins and James Craig. The pacts would attempt to codify the chaos, to agree a set of targets and reforms by which relations between north and south would be settled.
These were lofty ambitions. In the end, neither side was capable of sticking to undertakings. Neither man could rise above his own entrenched position, and events had already moved beyond their ability to control them.
At crucial moments, the British government, the paymaster, armourer, underwriter and ultimate guarantor of the Northern Ireland State, would relegate itself to hand-wringing spectator status.
James Craig had no interest in building an inclusive Northern Ireland, to set out a plan that would persuade Catholics that they had a place at the table, that in fact this new entity of Northern Ireland should be given a chance to succeed.
His vision was of a Northern Ireland as a rock, upon which unionists would sit, rigid and unyielding. Anyone not of the unionist persuasion who found themselves inside the new entity, would always be an outsider. He did not see policing as an essential binder of society. That policing role would be effectively farmed out to the Ulster Special Constabulary, essentially the Ulster Volunteer Force in a new guise.
The two faces of Michael Collins
Collins' position was so ambiguous it is not clear how he would ever deliver his side of the pact. He negotiated face-to-face with James Craig the prime minister of Northern Ireland, yet even as he spoke, he saw no medium- or long-term future for that entity.
He shared the general nationalist disdain for the unionist position, never seeing it as a legitimate aspiration. He preferred to refer to Northern Ireland as 'the northeast area' of the island.
As he saw it, there would be a united Ireland, once the unionists realised it was in their best interests.
Above all, he wanted to avoid an irrevocable split with his former comrades over the Treaty, and if he could use 'the northeast area' to do that, he would.
He wanted the IRA as a body to get behind his vision of the Treaty as the beginning of a process of unification, and not an end in itself.
To that objective, behind all the formal talk about pacts and understandings in meetings with Churchill and Craig, he was plotting to foster armed revolt by the IRA in the six counties.
To what extent he wanted the IRA to actually succeed, it will never be known, but if success could not be guaranteed, the appearance of a struggle would suffice.
His aim was to use a common objective - destabilising Northern Ireland - to unite the estranged wings of the IRA. If a split could not be avoided, then he wanted the Northern IRA to support the Treaty, or at least be neutral on the issue.
He would have been aware of the vulnerability of Catholics in Northern Ireland to immediate reprisals for any IRA attack. Also the existence of plans for an IRA offensive, in contrast to all the fine-sounding words, meant unionist hardliners in Northern Ireland had a case; was the new state NOT surrounded by enemies?.
By January Collins had set up the Ulster Council Command, to coordinate IRA strategy inside Northern Ireland. He put Frank Aiken, Commander of the 4th Northern Division, in charge of the new body.
A new unit was to be set up in Belfast, the 60-strong 'Belfast City Guard'.
Weapons and ammunition would be sent north.
An IRA offensive was planned for May.
Where would the weapons and ammunition for this offensive come from?.
The British government was by now supplying the embryonic Free State Army with the sinews of war -everything from rifles and machine guns, to armoured cars and trucks.
Collins' initial idea was to simply divert the new supplies north - until it was realised the serial numbers on weapons captured would reveal the plot straight away. Filing off the numbers would not only be time-consuming, but would be as good as an admission as to the origin of the weapons.
So, a bargain was agreed, a Faustian one, between Michael Collins and the anti-Treaty IRA.
The Northern IRA would be supplied with weapons and ammunition by anti-Treaty IRA units in Cork. In return, the anti-Treaty units in the 26-county area would receive consignments of weapons sent by the British to the Provisional Government for use by its new army.
It is in this context that the pacts between Craig and Collins have to be viewed.
How serious was either man during those talks, how much of it was role-playing to satisfy the British that progress was being made?.
Belfast's Policing Crisis
If Michael Collins was guilty of duplicity in his dealings with Craig and Churchill, then his outrage at what was happening in Belfast might explain it.
Civilian casualties in the city dwarfed anything anywhere on the island during the War of Independence. Between February and April, 127 Catholics were killed and 300 injured.
The British government's own figures showed that between 6 December 1921 and 31 May 1922, there were 73 Protestants and 147 Catholics killed in Belfast alone.
There may have been as many as 2,500 people wounded in fighting in the city between 1920 and the middle of 1922.
Catholics felt themselves defenceless against a combination of mob violence and a police force with no interest in defending them.
Protestants felt themselves threatened by a republican 'enemy within'.
Policing in Belfast in early 1922 was in its own unique crisis. The RIC was finished as a credible police force, headed for disbandment across the island, with 2,000 constables allowed to remain on duty in Belfast, but with plummeting morale and cohesion.
The successor force, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, would not be formed until June.
For now, the Ulster Special Constables were the real police. In many ways they were the Ulster Volunteer Force in different uniforms, their formation one of the concessions extracted by James Craig from UK Prime Minister David Lloyd George in 1920.
The RIC in Belfast was a mixed force, with Catholic as well as Protestant members, so much so that certain police stations in the city were derisively referred to by Loyalists as 'Fenian Barracks'.
Fears by Special Constables and Protestant RIC men that Catholic officers were 'unreliable' were not just paranoia; it was known that some Catholic RIC men tipped off the IRA in Belfast about upcoming raids and arrests. Some officers reported to Michael Collins.
The USC was by definition a Protestant force, seen as such by both communities in Belfast. As the date of disbandment of the RIC neared, the Specials strained at the bit; in some stations, Catholic RIC officers were mocked to their faces by Specials, who openly anticipated the days when they would have free rein in Catholic areas.
Unlike the RIC, the British Army in Northern Ireland was there to stay.
The Norfolk Regiment was based in Belfast. The soldiers' even-handedness in patrolling the divided streets since 1920 had made them deeply suspect in Loyalist eyes.
Any hope that their presence on the streets of Belfast might bring calm and order for both communities was dashed when Northern Ireland Home Affairs Minister Dawson Bates ordered the Norfolks off the streets in early March.
Catholics used to seeing military patrols at the end of their streets, saw them replaced overnight by rifle-carrying Specials.
The Pacts-Written In Sand?
The first Craig-Collins Pact was made on 21 January 1922, at a meeting with Winston Churchill at the Colonial Office in London.
Michael Collins agreed that the Belfast Boycott, instigated by Dáil Eireann in 1920 against goods and bank services from the city, would be lifted. In return, Craig agreed that Catholic shipyard workers, expelled from their jobs in the riots of July 1920, would be re-instated.
The two men even agreed to replace the Boundary Commission with a direct bilateral agreement that would be ratified at an all-island conference, to settle the issue of where the Border would lie.
Within days, the details of the Pact were shown to have been written on sand.
Craig hurried to reassure the Ulster Unionist Council that he had no intention of ceding any territory to the Free State.
He later claimed - and cited official figures in support - that unemployment levels were already too high in the shipyards to allow for a return of the expelled Catholic workers.
Collins' commitment to ending the Belfast Boycott was rendered meaningless by the straight refusal of the IRA in Northern Ireland to contemplate such a move.
If February had seen the first pact's pious hopes swept aside, the events of March convinced Churchill that a second pact was unavoidable.
On 23 March, two Special Constables, Thomas Cunningham and William Cairnside, were shot dead by the IRA while on patrol in Great Victoria Street, Belfast.
A few hours later, at about 1.30 in the morning of the 24th, armed men in police uniform broke into the Kinnaird Terrace home of Owen McMahon, a successful Catholic Publican.
With a sledgehammer stolen from a nearby building site, they broke down the front door. At gunpoint, they gathered all the males in the house into the living room: Owen McMahon, his sons Thomas, Frank, Bernard, John, Michael and Patrick, and their lodger Edward McKinney.
Owen McMahon's wife Eliza, daughter Lily, and niece Mary were ordered into the drawing room upstairs.
The men were told to say their prayers.
Owen McMahon knew what was coming. He demanded to know why they had been singled out for slaughter.
Came the answer: 'You are a respected Papist, a Papist prominent as such, and looked upon as a leader of Papists in the city'.
Then the killers opened fire. Close range, a dozen bullets.
Seconds later, Frank, Patrick, Thomas and Edward McKinney lay dead. Owen McMahon would die in hospital later that night. Bernard would die ten days later.
John and the youngest Michael, survived, by a miracle.
They were able to recount the killers' last words to Owen McMahon, and also to describe their appearance.
John McMahon said there were five gunmen, one in civilian clothes, four in RIC uniforms, but he claimed that from their appearance, he could recognise them as Specials.
Nationalist and Unionist newspapers alike condemned the murders. Out of respect to Owen McMahon, hundreds of Protestants joined the tens of thousands attending the funerals.
Members of the RIC were so appalled at the McMahon murders, that 12 Constables gave direct affidavits to the Dublin authorities about the activities of what was claimed to be a police murder gang made up of RIC and Specials based in the Brown Square Barracks on the Shankill Road.
Leading the gang, it was alleged, were RIC County Inspector Richard Harrison (from Kilkenny) and District Inspector John Nixon (from Cavan).
Few photographs of the time are as haunting as that of Owen McMahon, his sons and Edward McKinney laid out in the morgue.
Churchill is said to have wept when he saw it.
Whether he did or not, he was shocked enough to summon both Craig and Collins to another meeting, to agree another pact.
Craig was at first unwilling to attend, pointing out that the Special Constables taken prisoner at Clones Station were still in captivity.
Churchill reminded Craig of whose money was being spent on security in Northern Ireland.
'Peace is Today Declared'
On paper, the agreement reached on 31 March looked like a genuine attempt to address the crisis in Northern Ireland, especially Belfast.
It was much more formal than the first pact, and signed on the Irish side by Arthur Griffith, Eamon Duggan and Kevin O'Higgins, as well as by Collins.
For Northern Ireland, alongside James Craig, the signatories were Lord Londonderry, and Edward Mervyn Archdale. On the British side, Winston Churchill, Hamar Greenwood, and Laming Worthington-Evans
It attempted to do what the Treaty negotiations had not, in its direct involvement of the Northern Ireland government.
The Nationalist MP, Joseph Devlin, was a key influence on the terms of the second pact. He was listening to Catholic businessmen in Belfast, anxious for an accommodation with the Northern Ireland government.
Among the provisions:
* Catholics were to be recruited into the Special Constabularies in Belfast.
* In interface, mixed-religion areas, constabulary patrols would also be mixed-religion.
* A register of all police weapons was to be established; off-duty constables were to hand over their weapons to officers.
* Officers were to wear identifying numbers on their uniforms.
* Non-jury courts were to be established for serious offences.
* A Conciliation Committee would be set up to inquire into sectarian attacks and claims of intimidation.
* The IRA would cease operations in the Six Counties area.
* Those expelled from homes and/or jobs would be allowed to return
* The UK government would provide a relief grant to make unemployment payments.
The impressive-looking set of commitments by both sides led to genuine if short-lived optimism on both sides of the Border.
One newspaper was moved to start its coverage of the agreement with the headline, quoting the opening line of the Pact: 'Peace is today declared'.
Within days, there were more killings on the streets of Belfast. The IRA continued to plan for its summer offensive.
The Conciliation Committee was never more than an advisory body, with no powers to make any realistic inquiries.
The commitments on police reform perished first.
The idea of Catholics joining the Special Constabularies was absurd. Even senior British civil servants knew that no Catholic would ever be allowed by his own community to join a body so indelibly watermarked as a Protestant force.
Senior Constables believed that no serving officer would tolerate serving alongside Catholics, on the grounds that a mixed force would undermine the security of Northern Ireland.
Senior Police officers in Northern Ireland predicted that no Catholic policeman would be able to go into a Protestant area without fear of being murdered.
The proposal to issue police officers with identifying numbers was abandoned on the grounds that it would leave officers open to identification and reprisals.
The only part of the whole plan that survived contact with reality was the unemployment fund. It ended up oversubscribed, with nearly £700,000 distributed.
That small success could be put down to the fact that it was not controlled by anyone in Northern Ireland, it had nothing to do with security, and it involved giving out someone else's free money.
Even if Michael Collins did not intend to follow through on the pacts with Craig, the appearance of trying to do so allowed the Provisional Government in Dublin to portray itself as the representative of nationalists in Northern Ireland.
James Craig was equally unwilling or unable to match the words in the pacts with action. To protect himself from accusations from his own people that even talking to Collins represented a dangerous willingness to compromise, he sold the paper agreements as a win for Northern Ireland's government.
He claimed that:
The very fact of Collins' engagement with him was de facto recognition of the Northern Ireland state.
The first pact in January had actually aimed to set aside the Treaty's provision for a Boundary Commission, which had outraged Unionists after the signing.
If the provisions in the Treaty for the Boundary Commission could be set aside in direct talks between Dublin and Belfast, could not others also be set aside?.
The British would later conclude that Michael Collins did not deliver on his side of the March pact because he was too preoccupied with protecting the Provisional Government's authority in the 26 counties.
In the one month of March 1922, Michael Collins saw that authority teeter on the brink of collapse.
There were the first armed standoffs in Limerick between the new National Army and the anti-Treaty IRA, at a time when the government knew the Army was simply not ready to prevail in any conflict.
Even as Craig and Collins met, the IRA was holding a Convention to elect an Executive to run itself, in defiance of the Dáil and government, thereby raising the nightmare prospect of a coup and military dictatorship.
Within weeks of the second pact, the Northern Ireland government was arming itself with new legislation. The Special Powers Act revived the War of Independence-era Restoration of Order in Ireland Act.
It transferred to the Northern Ireland Government executive powers that had been the Army's under the old legislation.
Internment was introduced in May.
The IRA 'Northern Offensive'
Preparations for the IRA offensive went ahead.
A date of 22 May was set for what was dramatically and foolishly referred to as an 'uprising'. Arms were sent across the Border, IRA officers from the southern side went north.
But the Northern IRA units were too weak to make any use of new weapons. Many of these units had been the despair of IRA GHQ during the War of Independence, and nothing had changed in the interim.
Even the start date of 22 May could not be agreed on. Targets were already being attacked across the North by 2 May.
In Donegal, the hopes that a common objective would reunite the pro- and anti-Treaty IRA evaporated when both sides turned on each other, instead of moving across the Border. In a precursor to the looming civil war, Anti-Treaty IRA units in Donegal engaged in firefights with the new National Army.
The Belfast IRA attacked Musgrave Street Barracks on 17 May, penetrated the building and had reached the armoury before police reinforcements forced them to retreat. The Antrim IRA unsuccessfully attacked police barracks on 19 May. Tyrone IRA officers were arrested in police raids on 22 May.
The confusion and contradictions over mobilisation recalled Easter 1916. Frank Aiken commanded the 4th Northern Division from Dundalk, which was expected to join in the 'uprising', yet at the last moment he stayed his hand, on the grounds that key units in his area were not ready to go on the offensive.
It has been speculated that Aiken got his stand-down orders directly from National Army HQ in Dublin.
In late May and June, the Border villages of Belleek and Pettigo saw the heaviest fighting between Republicans and the British Army since Easter 1916.
A mixed force of IRA and National Army clashed with the Special Constabulary, driving them back from Pettigo across the Border to Belleek. Churchill sent in hundreds of regular British troops supported by artillery. After a week of fighting the Republicans retreated, after losing seven men killed.
Collins was angry at the involvement of National Army troops; there was a new policy from Dublin, that there were to be no further incursions across the Border, whether by Army units or by the IRA.
Within weeks, men who had fought side by side at Belleek/Pettigo would be turning their guns on each other, in the Civil War.
Mr Collins Wants An Answer
Michael Collins kept up a steady drumbeat of briefings to Winston Churchill about the toll of death and injury among Catholics in Belfast, way higher than the toll among Protestants.
Collins made the point that the Pacts had done nothing to lower the casualties inflicted on the nationalist community by the Special Constables. Why was there no pressure on Belfast from London, the ultimate Paymaster for security in Northern Ireland?.
The British considered declaring martial law in Belfast, which would have returned the initiative to the Army, and therefore to the British government. They pressed James Craig to hold an inquiry into the violence. The British also wanted to know why the Craig/Collins pacts had failed to halt the violence.
Craig's Cabinet was opposed to an inquiry, especially the hardline Home Affairs Minister, Dawson Bates.
A compromise was reached.
SG Tallents was the Private Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant in Ireland. On 19 June 1922 he was commissioned to assess progress - if any - in implementing the terms of the March Pact.
The British chose their man carefully.
Stephen George Tallents had form.
Commissioned as an officer in the Irish Guards in the Great War, he was invalided out after being severely wounded in 1915. He went on to hold senior roles in the British wartime administration.
He was then appointed British Commissioner for the Baltic Provinces of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. He was involved in drawing up the treaty that established all three as new states. He then resolved disputes over the new border between Estonia and Latvia.
He knew a few things about treaties, contested borders and new states forged in war.
He reported in July, two days behind schedule.
He only had a few weeks to draw up the report, and he never spoke to anyone in the Dublin government.
Nevertheless, his conclusions were definite.
His informal covering letter contained some of his starkest findings.
In that letter, but not in the official report, he recommended disbanding the Special Constables and sacking the Northern Ireland Home Affairs Minister, Dawson Bates.
He believed the March Pact failed because in its preoccupation with issues like policing in Belfast, it did not address the root causes of the crisis.
His report blamed the failure to halt the IRA campaign in Northern Ireland as the main factor in the failure of the March Pact. That failure he ascribed to the Southern government's preoccupation with consolidating its own position.
To that failure, he added the unresolved question of where the final Border would be drawn, and the refusal of the Catholic community in Belfast to recognise the Northern government.
Mr Tallents was silent on an obvious question: How much of that refusal by nationalists in Belfast to recognise the Northern Ireland government was because that community had no faith whatsoever in the government's ability or inclination to perform that most basic of duties of any government: the impartial protection of life and liberty?
Relics of a Bygone Era
As Tallants worked on his conclusions before delivering the report, he would have known that the Craig-Collins Pacts already belonged to a bygone era.
The British had placed great faith in them, on paper they looked like offering a chance for the leaders in each part of the island to sort out a new reality, without British involvement.
But Collins had played for time in his dealings with James Craig. He paid lip service to the notion of a separate Northern Ireland, at the same time sanctioning and supporting IRA attacks on it, in a bid to hold off and perhaps prevent the day that the Treaty split in the IRA would erupt into open warfare.
The chances of that had been ebbing away for months, the anti-Treaty IRA declaring itself an independent entity and the sole defender of the original republican cause. Any notion that there might be a Northern sequel to the War of Independence cut no ice with the new hardline leadership of men like Rory O'Connor and Liam Lynch.
Two weeks had barely elapsed after the March Pact, when that new Republican leadership made its bold and ultimately foolish statement of intent by occupying the Four Courts in Dublin, to provide a focus for the coalescing anti-Treaty IRA.
When, in the early hours of 28 June 1922, Michael Collins ordered the opening bombardment of the Four Courts, it not only marked the beginning of the Civil War, it marked the end of his government's engagement with Northern Ireland.
Deprived of support from south of the Border, pinned down by the new policy of internment without trial by the Northern government, the IRA 'offensive' petered out. Fear of internment drove Northern IRA members south, many to join the new National Army as it mobilised to confront the anti-Treaty IRA.
Look forward 18 months, to early 1924. The horror and tragedy of the Civil War was over, Griffith and Collins were dead.
James Craig's government was moving to embed unionist dominance over nationalists in Northern Ireland.
1 February was the opening day of a conference called by the British government in London to try to agree membership of the Boundary Commission that was supposed to finally decide the location of the Border.
The new Colonial Secretary, JH Thomas, faced Northern Ireland Premier James Craig and the President of the Irish Executive Council, WT Cosgrave, across the table.
Should there not be, he suggested, an attempt to try the London Pact (March 1922) again, as a mechanism for agreeing the future relationship of the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland?
Both men looked at him quizzically. He had no answer when asked how he saw that idea working out.
It didn't matter. Thomas had proposed disinterring a corpse, and both Irish leaders knew it.
Craig dismissed his March 1922 Pact with Michael Collins with these words: "It is now wholly inappropriate...it would be impossible to make it the basis of any new agreement".
TO BE CONTINUED.