The Irish Civil War

Irish Soldiers in the Civil War - Public Domain
Irish Soldiers in the Civil War - Public Domain

The Civil War of 1922-1924 was a deeply murderous war, which followed the Irish War of Independence. It was provoked by the signing of the Treaty of London, a text granting the creation of a Free State of Ireland, in exchange for the annexation of the north for the benefit of the British (which later became Northern Ireland) . Explanations…

History of the Civil War

The Treaty Scandal: Two Eireann Dàil entities confront each other…

When the Treaty of London was ratified on 6 December 1921, it provided :

  • the partitioning of Ireland (North and South)
  • the creation of a Free State of Ireland with dominion status
  • the formalization of an oath of allegiance to the British Crown by the members of Dáil Éireann

When the members of the Dàil Eireann learned of the signing of such a text, two movements arose within the Dàil Eireann: that of the Pro-Treaties, favourable to the text, and that of the Anti-Treaties, firmly opposed to this agreement. The Pro-Treaties sided with Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith, the main signatories of the text.

The Anti-Treaty movement sided with Eamon de Valera, then unofficial President of the Republic of Ireland, who finally decided to resign from this post when the Dàil decided to ratify the text on 7 January 1922.

Arthur Griffith, who was in favour of the Treaty, then decided to set up a provisional government to organise the creation of the Irish Free State. He organizes elections, largely won by the Pro-Treaty. For the opponents of the text, this provisional government is above all a puppet government, which will reduce to ashes any possibility of creating a true Republic, not shared with the British. Eamon de Valera then decides to act by armed struggle, in order to overthrow the provisional government of Arthur Griffith…

The outbreak of violence…

To do so, De Valera tried to gather an army by trying to take control of the IRA, then under the command of Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins. It is at this point that the IRA is going to tear itself apart around the Treaty, and split into two entities:

  • the Anti-Treaty Forces remain within the IRA,
  • while the others join the INA, the Irish National Army, led by Michael Collins.

In April 1922, De Valera ordered 200 of his men to occupy the Four Courts in Dublin, in order to stir up the conflict with the Pro-Treaty, and at the same time to restart the war with the British. De Valera’s gamble seems to be bearing fruit, and very quickly the British government of Lloyd George threatens the provisional government to act, if they do not manage to control the situation themselves. Michael Collins thus received weapons from England, and had to resolve to bomb the Four Courts on 28 June 1922 with English cannons in order to preserve the creation of the Free State.

The Civil War was officially declared, and all of Dublin was plagued by Pro-Treaty versus Anti-Treaty clashes. However, the Anti-Treaties were defeated in less than 7 days, due to the military superiority of Michael Collins’ men.

The Civil War breaks out

The Four Courts in the midst of the Irish Civil War - Public Domain

The Four Courts in the midst of the Irish Civil War – Public Domain

Throughout Ireland, a series of clashes broke out, resulting in many deaths. Initially, the Republican Anti-Treaty movement succeeded in occupying the large towns of the South West, but did not always succeed in confronting the Pro-Treaty in direct confrontations.

The fault lies mainly in their lack of military equipment, unlike the armies of Michael Collins, which are directly equipped by the government of London…

In order to recover the cities taken by the Anti-Treaty, the INA tried in August 1922, to retake all the large Irish cities. The operation was successful and the Free State regained control of most of the territory thanks to its artillery, which was always larger and more modern than that of the Republican Anti-Treaty Forces.

Their army also seems to be more competent, and recruits above all career soldiers, whereas the Anti-Treaty Forces are above all made up of young inexperienced recruits who are more difficult to supervise.

Meanwhile, Arthur Griffith died of a stroke on August 12, 1922, and Michael Collins also followed him on August 22, following a violent ambush. These losses were tragic for the Pro-Treaty movement, and soon William T. Cosgrave and Richard Mulcahy took their place in the struggle.

As the weeks went by, the Republicans opposed to the Treaty seemed very weakened, and now only act through particularly localized guerrilla actions. Some ambushers were finally taken prisoner and executed in November 1922 by the Free State.

In response, the Republican Anti-Treaty Party carries out numerous attacks and assassinations of members of the provisional government. The escalation seems to continue, and the INA Pro-Treaty Party is retaliating with summary executions.

From the first months of 1923, the Republicans opposed to the Treaty seemed no longer able to cope with the INA’s retaliation, and were also subject to strong hostility towards the population, who had long wished to see lasting peace in Ireland. Because of the numerous failures of the IRA, and the pressure of public opinion, Eamon de Valera ordered a cease-fire on 30 April 1923, and finally laid down his arms on 24 May 1924.

The Irish Civil War in Review

Irish Soldiers in the Civil War - Public Domain

Irish Soldiers in the Civil War – Public Domain

It is estimated that more than 4,000 Irish died in the Irish Civil War. In addition, more than 12,000 IRA Republican members were incarcerated in prisons across the country until 1924.

As for the cost of the war, it deeply indebted the Free State as well as England. This indebtedness had the consequence of rethinking the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

England claimed more land in exchange for relief from the debts of the Free State for the cost of World War I and the Civil War.

So much more to discover...