1899 – 1902 - South Africa
Many Irish nationalists sympathised with the Boers, seeing them as a people oppressed by British imperialism, much like themselves. Irish miners already in the Transvaal at the start of the war formed the nucleus of two Irish commandos. The Second Irish Brigade was headed up by an Australian of Irish parents, Colonel Arthur Lynch. In addition, small groups of Irish volunteers went to South Africa to fight with the Boers — this despite the fact that there were many Irish troops fighting with the British army. In Britain, the "Pro-Boer" campaign expanded, with writers often idealizing the Boer society.
Two Irish commandos fought with the Boers during the Second Boer War (1899–1902)
Irish Transvaal Brigade
John MacBride, a friend of Arthur Griffith's, organised the Irish Transvaal Brigade. Most of the Brigade were Irish and Irish-American miners living in the Transvaal, who were willing to fight with the Boers against the British.
The brigade (also known as MacBride's Brigade) was operational from September 1899 to September 1900. In that time, the brigade fought in about 20 engagements, with 18 men killed and about 70 wounded from a compliment of no more than about 500 men at any one time. When it disbanded, most of the men crossed into Mozambique, which was a colony of neutral Portugal. Colonel John Blake, a former United States Army officer was the brigade's commander. When he was wounded, his second-in-command, Major John MacBride, took command.
At the Siege of Ladysmith, they serviced the famous Boer artillery piece, called Long Tom, and they fought at the Battle of Colenso. Having worked in the gold mines, they had a well deserved reputation as demolition experts and it was they who delayed the British advance on Pretoria by blowing up the bridges.
When some members of the Irish Transvaal Brigade disagreed with the leadership of the Brigade, they formed a second commando unit.
Causes of the War
Two political ideologies namely British imperialism and Afrikaner nationalism were to clash at the turn of the nineteenth century in South Africa. Britain sought the unification of whole of South Africa under the British flag. The existence of the two Boer republics namely the South African Republic (Transvaal) and the Orange Free State therefore was a stumbling block. The two republics on the other hand wanted to preserve their independence and to build their republics into regional forces. They were therefore not prepared to become part of a united South Africa under British authority.
Discovery of Gold
In 1886 a new phase in the contest between the two opposing ideologies was reached when gold was discovered on the Witwatersrand in the South African Republic. Thousands of prospectors and miners from all over the world were lured to the goldfields with one purpose in mind namely to seek their fortune. The inhabitants of the South African Republic saw the newcomers (Uitlanders) as a threat to their continuing independence. In 1890 the government of the South African Republic restricted the Uitlander franchise for presidential and Volksraad elections to naturalized citizens who had been in the country for fourteen years. To satisfy Uitlander interests a second Volksraad was created, to be elected by naturalized citizens of two years standing. Though relatively few Uitanders were genuinely concerned about the franchise question, this nevertheless became a central issue between the British government and the government of the South African republic.
The policies of the Kruger government regarding the granting of concessions (monopolies) raised mining costs considerably. This was especially relevant regarding concessions governing rail transport and the manufacture of dynamite. Eventually this was to become a deep source of grievance between the Chamber of Mines and the government. Many of the mining executives realised that to enable deep -level gold production to prosper a much closer relationship between the industry and state had to be established and that this was only likely if a change of government could be realised.
A new era in the relations between the governments in Britain and the South African Republic began when they appointed Joseph Chamberlain to the Colonial Office in 1895. He was an avowed imperialist who wanted to press ahead with federating South Africa under a British flag.