Historical Term: Black and Tans

Black and Tans: Special additional recruits of the Royal Irish Constabulary, first introduced in 1920, whose popular name—that of a common breed of Irish hounds—was derived from their uniform of dark green, almost black, caps, and khaki tunics and trousers. Between March 1920 and January 1922 the Black and Tans were responsible for excessively severe reprisals against terrorist activity in suppressing Irish nationalist unrest and combating the Irish Republican Army. Their destruction of Balbriggan, near Dublin, and the killing of two Irishmen in September 1920, followed three months later by the firing of the library and county hall in Cork were acts of criminal irresponsibility which served to fuel republican resentment at British rule. The actions of the Black and Tans have been endlessly recounted and embroidered in poetry and song from Dublin to Boston; one legend has it that they were recruited from among protestant prisoners in Scottish gaols.”

Excerpted from: Cook, Chris. Dictionary of Historical Terms. New York: Gramercy, 1998.

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