Studia Hibernica

‘Looting and overtures and acts of indecency by Black and Tans’: the pursuit of justice for acts of sexual violence during Ireland’s War of Independence (1919-21)

Studia Hibernica (2021), 47, (1), 89–105.


In April 1921, while Waterford was under martial law, Brigid Fahy, a native of Dungarvan, and her maid Bridget O’Neill, became victims of a violent assault in their home during curfew hours. The alleged perpetrators were two ‘Black and Tans’ attached to the RIC barracks in the town. They subsequently returned to the residence and burned it as a reprisal for the formal complaint made by Fahy about their behaviour. This article explores how the police, the military and the state responded to Fahy’s public pursuit of justice. Drawing on the correspondence between Dublin Castle and senior military officers, as well as Fahy’s sworn statement, it highlights the tensions that existed between the civil and military authorities in Ireland during this period. Central to the narrative is chief secretary Sir Hamar Greenwood, who—despite his elevated position within the Irish administration—could not persuade General Strickland’s 6th Division to communicate any information on the case, leaving Greenwood in an almost untenable position when confronted with questions on the matter in the House of Commons. Fahy’s case not only highlights the breakdown in communications that existed between Dublin Castle and the military, but demonstrates the breakdown of trust between the citizens of Dungarvan and the RIC. It argues that crimes of this nature may have been under-reported, as women had no incentive to report the crimes of the RIC and every reason to refrain from doing so.

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