From the Darlington & Stockton Times of April 2, 1921

“AN alarming series of haystack fires occurred in the north on Saturday night,” reported the D&S Times 100 years ago this week as an amazing episode of terrorism came to Teesside and Tyneside. “They all occurred simultaneously and are suspected to be the work of Sinn Fein.”

A century ago, Great Britain had tumbled out of the First World War and into a guerrilla war with the Irish who wanted independence. Most of the violence, with more than 1,000 killed, was on the island of Ireland but there was also a battle to win influence and change on the mainland.

In 1920, the Irish Self-Determination League was formed with 25 branches in Durham and Northumberland made up of people of Irish descent. Its inaugural event was a march through Durham on August 8, 1920, which was attended by thousands.

The ISDL was supposed to be above politics, but it covertly recruited both men and guns for the IRA.

It was probably through contacts made through the ISDL that the first acts of violence came about on the night of March 26, 1921, when a score or more of haystacks from Jarrow and Consett in the north to Teesside in the south were petrol bombed.

“Thousands of tons of hay and corn were destroyed,” said the D&S. “With the high wind and shortage of water, the firemen were compelled largely to devote themselves to saving adjoining property.”

That night, there were stacks torched in Billingham, Newham, Acklam, South Bank, Normanby, Eston, Linthorpe and Grove Hill.

The D&S called it “premediated incendiarism”.

“While the Stockton brigade were busy in their area,” it said, “both the Middlesbrough and Thornaby brigades were engaged on the Yorkshire side of the river.”

Hundreds of pounds of damage was caused, but no one was hurt.

On Tyneside, said the D&S, seven men in their 20s were arrested. Five of them were called Patrick and all had Irish surnames. No one on Teesside was apprehended.

A second night of more severe violence took place, on May 21, 1921, when industry including waterworks at Stockton was firebombed on Teesside.

However, on July 9, 1921, a truce was agreed between the British government and the IRA. This led to the partition of Ireland and the creation of the Irish Free State at the end of the year, although it was not the end of the Troubles.