While the Dáil – outlawed by Dublin Castle, the seat of the British Government in Ireland – worked to establish the apparatus of an Irish republic, the War of Independence was fought between the Irish Volunteers, or Irish Republican Army (I.R.A.), and the British State.
The ranks of the flagging Royal Irish Constabulary (R.I.C.) were bolstered in early 1920 with almost 10,000 ex-soldiers, the ‘Black and Tans’, followed by a special counter-insurgency force, the Auxiliary Division. They did little to calm tensions and were increasingly caught up in a dirty, tit-for-tat conflict with the I.R.A., characterised by guerrilla warfare, terror, reprisals and extra-judicial killings.
The increasing violence of the War of Independence in the south was matched by rising tensions in the north. Disturbances spread across Ulster in the summer of 1920 – from Derry to Banbridge, Dromore to Belfast – and Sir Edward Carson threatened to call out the Ulster Volunteers to protect northern protestants, who felt increasingly threatened. Northern nationalists were fearful of the rising tide of violence, and their future as a minority in the new state.