Incendiarism by North England IRA at Tyne Docks, South Shields

Event date(s)

28 February 1921


During the Anglo-Irish War, units of the Irish Republican Army operated in England, conducting propaganda, fund-raising, gun-running, and sabotage campaigns. In Tyneside and elsewhere, they worked closely with the Irish Self-Determination League, a constitutional organization dedicated to advocating for Irish independence. These efforts got underway on Tyneside in early 1920 and are well narrated by Gilbert Barrington in the testimony he submitted to Ireland’s Bureau of Military history. The sabotage campaign, mainly conducted through arson and wire-cutting, was nominally directed from Ireland by Rory O’Connor. It opened in November 1920 with the “Liverpool spectacular,” a series of fires along the Liverpool docks. Arrests slowed the campaign, but it regained momentum in February 1921. On February 28, brigade members met at the Labour Hall in Newcastle-on-Tyne and were equipped with a revolver, a bolt cutter, petrol and cotton waste before being sent out to burn bonded stores and oil stores on Newcastle quayside and the timber stores at Tyne Docks (South Shields). Brigade members were also involved in farm fires and other acts of arson, including the burning of the Gosforth aerodrome in April. Some 250 specific instances of damage from this campaign in England and Wales were ultimately itemized when the Irish Free State government and the British government negotiated the payment of damages after the end of the war. Although the campaign failed in its effort to terrorize the English people, it demonstrates that the Anglo-Irish War effectively crossed the Irish Sea.

Further reading

Witness Statement 773 by Gilbert Barrington (December 1952), Bureau of Military History, National Archives of Ireland, Dublin; Mo Moulton, Ireland and the Irish in Interwar England (Cambridge, 2014); Peter Hart, The IRA at War 1916-1923 (Oxford, 2005); Patrick Brennan, “The IRA in Jarrow 1920-23” (2009).