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Ex-servicemen and the Southern Irish Loyalists Relief Association, 1922–32

Maynooth University

Dr Brian Hughes is a NUI Fellow in the Humanities at An Foras Feasa, Maynooth University. He previously lectured at the University of Exeter and has held postdoctoral positions at Trinity College Dublin and Maynooth University. His most recent book, Defying the IRA? Intimidation, coercion, and communities during the Irish Revolution (Liverpool, 2016) explores the grassroots relationship between the Irish Republican Army and its local communities during guerrilla conflict. Brian is currently working on a new research project on loyalist emigration from southern Ireland after the foundation of the Irish Free State.

The Southern Irish Loyalists Relief Association (SILRA) was founded in July 1922 to fundraise and lobby on behalf of southern Irish loyalists who had suffered loss as a result of revolutionary violence in Ireland. Among those under the organisation’s remit were Irishmen who had served in the British armed forced during the Great War. Irish ex-servicemen were assisted by the organisation and also featured prominently in SILRA’s publicity literature. One pamphlet, for instance, insisted that ‘None have suffered more than the thousands of brave men who volunteered to serve and save the Empire in her hour of greatest peril, for they and their families have been marked down for acts of cruel revenge.’

SILRA offered financial relief to ‘refugees’ who had left for Britain or the newly founded state in Northern Ireland as well as those who remained in the Irish Free State. The treatment of ex-servicemen in Ireland after 1919 – and the extent to which they were the subject of violence, intimidation, and discrimination – is of growing academic interest. SILRA, on the other hand, has been relatively neglected. By examining their relationship with a lobby group like SILRA, this paper will offer some insights into the status and identity of Irish ex-servicemen after southern independence. It will focus particularly on the aid provided by SILRA, the ways in which it portrayed Irish ex-servicemen in public and to government, and the testimonies provided by the men seeking relief. SILRA tended to view ex-servicemen as a homogenous grouping of loyalists but the extent to which they might be considered ‘loyalist’ at all requires further exploration."