Cyril Holland

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Cyril Holland
Biography
Born: 5 June 1885
Died: 24 April 1923
Nationality: Irish (1921-1923)

British (1895-1916)

Spouse: Alexandrine (1921)

Mary-Ann (m. 1922)

Issue: Cyril Holland II (b. 1923)
Alma mater: Neuenheim College
Occupation: Soldier, General, Revolutionary
Political party: Cumann na nGaedheal

Cyril Holland, (born Cyril Wilde, 5 June 1885 – 24 April 1923), was an Anglo-Irish revolutionary and soldier who was a notable figure in the early-20th century struggle for Irish independence. Prior to his role in the Irish Civil War he had served under the British Army in World War I, leading to suspicion at the time that he may have been a British spy. He was the eldest son of famed poet and novelist Oscar Wilde.


Early life[edit | edit source]

Cyril Holland’s childhood was a relatively happy one. However, after his father, Oscar Wilde's very public trials, conviction in 1895, and imprisonment for gross indecency, their mother Constance chose to take the family out of the spotlight.

She took the surname Holland for both the boys and herself in order to protect them from public scrutiny. She moved with the boys to Switzerland and enrolled them at Neuenheim College, an English-speaking boarding school in Heidelberg, Germany. Oscar Wilde died in 1900; neither of his sons saw him again after he went to prison. When he was released, he went to France and did not attempt to see Cyril or his family again.

From 1899 to 1903 Cyril attended Radley College, a private school then in Berkshire. After leaving school, he became a gentleman cadet at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich.

Holland was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant, Royal Field Artillery, on 20 December 1905. He was promoted to lieutenant on 20 December 1908 and served in the United Kingdom for nearly three years. He was posted to India, where he served from September 1911 until 1914 with No. 9 Ammunition Column, RFA at Secunderabad. He was promoted to captain on 30 October 1914.

First World War[edit | edit source]

When the First World War broke out, Captain Cyril Holland was posted to British forces on the Continent. He took part in the battle for Neuve-Chapelle, notably in the Second Battle of Artois and in the Battle of Festubert. Holland was then sent to Ireland where he was sent to train and recruit less experienced soldiers.

Holland was called to arms during the Easter Rising and was tasked with helping suppress the rebels. Holland played a quiet role during the uprising, as he was sympathetic to their cause as his father had been Irish. Afterwards he requested an honourable discharge from the British Army due to the guilt he faced. His request was denied but after he made it clear he would no longer fight, was dishonourably discharged and sent to live in Denmark.

Denmark and Return to Ireland[edit | edit source]

Whilst exiled in Denmark, Holland became associated with the Irish Republican movement and regularly wrote columns for various newspapers, trying to grow it’s appeal in Ireland. In 1918, Holland met his future wife, Alexandrine whilst strolling in a park. The pair got married but Alexandrine died just two months later from kidney-related problems. Upon Irish independence in 1921, Holland returned to Dublin and began to affiliate himself with Michael Collins and the future National Army.

Irish Civil War and Assassination[edit | edit source]

Owing to his previous military experience, Holland was created a National Army General by Michael Collins in June 1922 but his previous links to the British Army meant that many other Pro-Treaty officials distrusted him. Upon the assassination of Henry Wilson and the assault on Four Courts, civil war broke out with Eoin O'Duffy calling for Collins to remove Holland from his position due to his Anglo routes.

Before any actions were taken to remove Holland, he successfully led the Free State forces at the Battle of Kilmarnock. The Republicans battle plan had not failed due to a lack of armaments, nor in the first instance an unwillingness to fight. However there was in the high command a real inability to accept that the war against the Provisional Government was different from that with the British, although this was not helped by their suspicions that Holland was secretly a British agent. With his victory, Holland had prevented himself being removed from his position.

In July, Holland met and wed his second wife Mary-Ann, with his only son, Cyril Jr. being born in April 1923.

August and September 1922 saw widespread attacks on Free State forces in the territories that they had occupied in the July–August offensive, inflicting heavy casualties on them. Michael Collins was killed in an ambush by anti-treaty Republicans at Béal na Bláth, near his home in County Cork, in August 1922. Collins' death increased the bitterness of the Free State leadership towards the Republicans and probably contributed to the subsequent descent of the conflict into a cycle of atrocities and reprisals. Holland has never previously gotten on well with the new leader of the Free State Army, W. T. Cosgrove and so saw his duties reduced and home searched for any links Cosgrove thought he might have had with Britain.

By late 1922 and early 1923, the anti-treaty guerrilla campaign had been reduced largely to acts of sabotage and destruction of public infrastructure such as roads and railways. It was also in this period that the Anti-Treaty IRA began burning the homes of Free State Senators and of many of the Anglo-Irish landed class. Holland’s house was targeted, however neither he or Mary-Ann were present when it was burnt.

March and April 1923 saw the progressive dismemberment of the Republican forces continue with the capture and sometimes killing of guerrilla columns. On 24th April, Cyril Holland was too killed in an ambush by anti-treaty Republicans, the day after his son was born. One month later the civil war ended.