British soldiers marching out of a barracks, May 17, 1922. Public Domain /

By Tom Dare

A SERIES OF FASCINATING photos from the early 1920s of the struggle for independence in Ireland have remerged this week, on the anniversary of the first ever Bloody Sunday.

Images show British soldiers marching through the streets of Dublin as the fight for independence raged on, while others show groups of people protesting British rule in the country, with some men going on hunger strikes.

Armed Royal Irish Constabulary outside a shop in Patrick Street, Cork getting the news from the street vendor, circa 1921. Public Domain /


Further pictures see a crowd gathering outside of Mansion House in Dublin just a day before a truce was signed, while another shows the friends and family of the victims of Bloody Sunday on November 21, 1920 gathering outside of a hospital in the capital.

The Irish war of Independence had been ongoing for nearly two years when the events of Bloody Sunday took place.

Initially using tactics of guerrilla warfare, Irish republicans through the IRA (Irish Republican Army) had hoped to establish their own government alongside the British one, ignoring it to the point that it was eventually phased out.

Protest outside Mountjoy Prison during the Irish War of Independence. Placards read Mother of God, open the prison gates; Release our Fathers and Brothers; and Mother of Mercy, pray for prisoners, July 23, 1921. Public Domain /


This proved impossible, though, with the British often responding to small, isolated attacks on their own soldiers with heavy-handed tactics. After an IRA attack left one British soldier dead in a small town in Cork in September 1919, the British responded by burning and looting several of the town’s major businesses.

This approach slowly turned public opinion against the British. They responded by increasing military presence in the country, but the unprofessional and often yobbish behaviour of those who arrived across Ireland only further damaged the reputation of the British.

Tensions escalated even further still in the fall of 1920, with both the Lord Mayor of Cork and two IRA prisoners dying of hunger strike while in British custody in October. Then in November one of the figureheads of the independence movement, Michael Collins, concocted a plan to wipe out British intelligence agencies in the capital.

Three huge casks of tobacco being guarded by soldiers, May 17, 1921. Public Domain /


On the morning of November 21, an IRA gang visited several addresses suspected of housing undercover British operatives, and began to shoot them dead. They killed fourteen in total, among which were nine British Army officers.

The British response was swift and brutal, and came later the same day. Later that day, members of the Royal Irish Constabulary and the Auxiliary Division opened fire on the crowd of a Gaelic football match at Croke Park in Dublin. Eleven were killed and at least sixty wounded, four of whom went on to die from their wounds.

Tank pulling three ton Military truck from the banks of the Liffey, May 17, 1921. Public Domain /


The event helped galvanise Irish public opinion in favour of the independence movement and against the British, with the day known today as ‘Bloody Sunday’. Speaking at an event at Croke Park to mark the 95th anniversary of the tragedy in 2015, the director general of the Gaelic Athletic Association, Páraic Duffy, said:

“The tragic loss of 14 lives on that fateful day, when almost 15,000 turned up to enjoy a football game between Dublin and Tipperary, was a harrowing moment for the association.

“While we have thankfully left those dark days behind us, it is only fitting that we honour the memory of those who were killed.”

A crowd gathered outside the Mansion House in Dublin, one day before a truce was signed in the War of Independence, July 8, 1921. Public Domain /