On this day: February 13, 1898 - Frank Aiken, revolutionary and politician is born in Camlough, Co Armagh

Neutrality is not like a simple mathematical formula which has only to be announced and demonstrated in order to be believed and respected. It has in fact always been one of the difficult problems …. Instead of earning the respect and goodwill of both belligerents it is regarded by both with hatred and contempt.’ –Frank Aiken

Frank Aiken was politically and militarily active from a young age, joining the Irish Volunteers at sixteen, and within a few years becoming Chairman of the Armagh Comhairle Ceanntair of Sinn Féin and elected on to the Armagh County Council. During the War of Independence, he commanded the Fourth Northern Division of the IRA. The split over the Anglo-Irish Treaty left Aiken ultimately aligned with the Anti-Treaty side in spite of personal efforts to prevent division and civil war. He succeeded Liam Lynch as Chief of Staff of the IRA in March 1923 and issued the cease fire and dump arms orders on 24 May 1923 that effectively ended the Civil War.

January 30, 1922, in their first official act, the National Army marches through Dublin to accept the transfer of the Beggar’s Bush Barracks from the British.

With the beginning of the War of Independence, the Irish Volunteers were renamed the Irish Republican Army (IRA), forming the corps of the Republican forces against the British. With the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1921 bringing the war to an end, and creating the Ireland Free State in the south, they were again renamed, becoming the nucleus of the National Army.

(National Museum of Ireland)

As the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising approaches, the history wars in Ireland still rage

Behind the battle lines: British police mount a roadblock to support a search in Dublin during the civil unrest of 1920-21.  Photo: Tal/Epic/Mary Evans

Will poking around in the embers of Irish history rekindle old flames?

by David Reynolds

The creeping barrage of First World War centenaries moves inexorably on. Gallipoli 2015 is now behind us. In 2016 the French will turn their sights on Verdun while the British target the Somme. In both cases the commemorations will tell us as much about the present as the past, exposing divergent national attitudes on either side of the Channel towards European reconciliation and integration. But the most present-centred anniversaries in 2016 will take place in Ireland. Here, history remains particularly raw.

The Easter Rising of 1916 has become the foundational myth of the modern Irish state. The revolt itself was a quixotic act, involving no more than 1,500 people, and the whole thing was crushed within a week at the cost of 450 lives, more than half of them civilians. But the crass brutality of the British military afterwards, including several thousand arrests and 16 executions, helped turn the “rainbow chasers” into national martyrs. The ruined General Post Office on Sackville Street in Dublin, the rebels’ short-lived headquarters, became the iconic symbol of the rising.

For Irish nationalists Easter 1916 signalled the rebirth of the nation – a stepping stone to Sinn Fein’s landslide victory in the 1918 election, the war of independence against Britain from 1919 to 1921 and the creation of the Irish Free State. The Easter Rising seemed all the more attractive as a dramatic symbol because the larger story of national liberation was complex and messy. The independence achieved was incomplete, since Ireland was denied both sovereignty and unity. Under the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 1921 Eire remained part of the British Commonwealth, owing ultimate allegiance to the Crown, while the six largely Protestant counties of the north-east stayed within the United Kingdom as the statelet of Northern Ireland.