With the onset of the Sinn Féin declaration of Irish Independence in Jan. of 1919, the I.R.A. began the guerrilla campaign known as ‘The Irish War of Independence’, which in 1919 mainly consisted of attacks on the Royal Irish Constabulary (R.I.C.). By Jan. 1920 the British government began recruiting men to help boost the ranks of the R.I.C. There was no shortage of recruits, many of them World War I veterans, who came back to unemployment and whose primary skill was fighting in war. For most the sole attraction was neither political nor national pride, it was simply for the money (10 shillings a day).
When the first recruits arrived in Ireland in March 1920, there were not enough R.I.C. uniforms to go around so they began wearing a mixture of uniforms –– some military, some R.I.C. This gave the appearance of being in khaki (trousers), and dark green or and Tans”, (in Irish na Dúchrónaigh, from the name of a famous pack of foxhounds from Limerick, the Scarteen Black and Tans, whose coloring was and are similar).
The Black and Tans were not subject to strict discipline in their early months and as a result actions by the I.R.A. were often repaid with arbitrary reprisals against the civilian population.
A quote from the commander of the unit Black and Tans (note body under pistol) in 1920 states:
If a police barracks is burned or if the barracks already occupied is not suitable, then the best house in the locality is to be commandeered, the occupants thrown into the gutter. Let them die there––the more the merrier.
Should the order (“Hands Up”) not be immediately obeyed, shoot and shoot with effect. If persons approaching (a patrol) carry their hands in their pockets, or are in any way suspicious-looking, shoot them down. You may make mistakes occasionally and innocent persons may be shot, but that cannot be helped, and you are bound to get the right parties some time. The more you shoot, the better I will like you, and I assure you no policeman will get into trouble for shooting any man.
In the summer of 1920, the Back and Tans burned and sacked many small towns and villages. In November 1920, they “besieged” Tralee in revenge for the I.R.A. abduction and killing of two local R.I.C. men. They closed all businesses in town and let no food into town for a week. They also shot and killed three civilians in retribution.
Beginning in 1921, in response to these and the many other atrocities committed by the Black and Tans, the British government began reigning in their autonomy with an increased emphasis on discipline, which resulted in less acts of random violence being committed by them against civilians.
Feelings in Ireland today still run high regarding the actions of the Black and Tans. “Black and Tan” and “Tan” remains a derogatory term for British in Ireland. One of the most famous Irish Republican songs is the anthem by Dominic Behan: “Come out Ye Black and Tans”, and is still performed today by many Irish musicians, and groups.