The Curragh Incident

In March 1914, writes Robert Blake, it seemed that Ulster might have to he coerced into accepting the Irish Home Rule Bill. A crisis was provoked when a number of British Army officers resolved to he dismissed rather than obey the Government's orders.

The Curragh Incident, which occurred on March 20th, 1914, is unique in modern British history. It is the only occasion since the seventeenth century in which the British tradition of military neutrality in political matters has been broken. Admittedly the episode has been subject to much interested misrepresentation. It has again and again been described as a “mutiny,” which it certainly was not.

It has furnished ammunition for the attacks delivered by Professor Laski and others who maintained that in the last resort the Right would always use force rather than accept radical legislation, even though legally enacted by a parliamentary majority.

These allegations are ill-founded, but no one could deny that the Curragh Incident and its repercussions came very near to disrupting the British constitution —nearer, perhaps, than any other one event in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It is, therefore, particularly important to ascertain what really happened, why it happened, and what were its consequences.

From 1912 to 1914 the British political scene was almost exclusively dominated by the Irish question. The Parliament Act of 1911 had made it possible for a majority in the House of Commons to be certain of eventually enacting any measure that it saw fit to pass.

The most that the Upper House could do was to impose a delay of two years. The third Irish Home Rule Bill, introduced by Asquith early in 1912, was fought at every stage of its laborious passage through the two houses. The Conservative Party might in the last resort have been willing to accept a Home Rule Bill, provided that it confined the rule of the Dublin legislature to the indubitably Catholic counties of the south, and excluded the Protestant north.

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