The Irish Civil War
By Maddy Crone, Henry Randle and Sidd Padture



The Irish Civil war was fought from June 1922 to May 1923, as a direct result of the Anglo-Irish treaty that ended the Irish War for Independence (fought with Great Britain for two years prior). The truce that was made at the end of this war was a cause of great dispute among the Irish people, and led to eventual warfare. Although the civil war was relatively brief, it was bloody and continues to affect Irish politics even today(1).
In July 1921, a truce was made between the English government and the Irish Republican Army, or the IRA. The English had been ruling over Ireland, and the IRA was a volunteer guerilla army whose goal it was to establish a republic (2). The IRA had three main leaders: Eamon de Valera, the president of Sinn Fein (the parliamentary representatives of the movement); Arthur Griffith, the vice-president of Sinn Fein; and Michael Collins, the IRA’s most significant military leader. All three agreed that compromise with Britain was necessary, but they disagreed on the appropriate level of compromise (3). On December 6, 1921, Griffith and Collins headed a delegation that signed the Anglo-Irish Treaty in London, while de Valera remained in Ireland and declined to sign the treaty.
The Anglo-Irish Treaty had several points that caused dispute. First, it called for British withdrawal from southern Ireland, causing 26 southern counties to form the new Irish Free State, a dominion of Britain with some self-governing powers. Meanwhile, the Parliament of the 6 northern counties was to withdraw from the Irish Free State and remain part of the United Kingdom.(4)
Second, a boundary commission was established to determine the border between Northern and Southern Ireland. Sinn Fein members feared that this commission would give too much territory to the south, and that therefore the remainder of North Ireland would be forced to join the Irish Free State. Additionally, Britain kept naval forces in South Ireland and had the right to order for further equipment in times of war (World Book Online).(5)
The main cause of the dispute and later the civil war, however, was not any of the above reasons, but rather the oath of loyalty that all members of the Free State parliament were obliged to make to England. This oath, combined with the governor general (king’s representative) in Ireland, was a warning to the IRA that they had not achieved their goal of obtaining a republic (6).
For this reason, the majority of the IRA opposed the Anglo-Irish treaty. Nevertheless, it was accepted by a slim margin of Dail Eireann, the Sinn Fein parliament. An interim government was formed with Michael Collins as the chairman and Griffith’s support. De Valera, on the other hand, took political leadership of anti-treaty forces (7).
During the election of June 1922, the anti-treaty party won only thirty percent of the seats in Parliament. The war began shortly after this, although leaders had initially hoped for a political solution rather than a militaristic one. Collins didn’t think that the IRA possessed the necessary resources to keep fighting, and believed that the treaty could be used to obtain freedom. However, he was hesitant to start a war, for the reason that these were the very people who he had previously fought with (8).
Meanwhile, de Valera was also unenthusiastic about warfare, but Rory O’Connor and the rest of the anti-treaty IRA (known as Irregulars), who were staunchly against civilian rule, overrode him. In April, these forces seized the Four Courts building in Dublin (9).
Eventually, Collin gave in to British pressure to clear the Four Courts after the Irregulars assassinated Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson. On June 28, 1922, government force attacked the Irregulars’ headquarters, and after three days of fighting, Rory O’Connor surrendered(10). This incident began the Irish Civil War.
The war began at 4:15 a.m. on June 8, 1922. The Free State artillery positioned on Winetavern Street opened fire on the Four Courts building, where a garrison commanded by Commandant Paddy O'Brien was stationed(11). The Free State army directed their fire towards the southern wing of the Four Courts, but the desired amount of damage was not being attained. The Free State army, by nightfall, was running out of ammunition so General Dalton sent a request in to the British C-in-C in Ireland, General Macready for ammunition, who sent him fifty rounds of shrapnel so as to make noise through the night to keep the soldiers from being disheartened and clearing off(12).
Members of the 1st Dublin Brigade of the IRA took buildings around the city, causing the British to become alarmed and offered their assistance to the Free State army, which was turned down because the Free State army was concerned that the British would causedublinfighting2.JPG too many civilian casualties. On June 29, 2992, the Free State commanders determined that the breach that needed to storm the building had to be created more effectively. Guns were moved to Bridge Street set to fire across the Lifey, aiming at the western wing of the building, and also on Chancery Street, directing fire towards the Records Office, which the IRA had converted to a munitions factory. By the end of the day, Free State forces had stormed and captured the Records Office. The battle waged on and, because of the immense amount of shelling, fires had ignited all through the Four Courts complex and later that night, an elephantine (13) explosion shook the complex as two truck loads of gelignite erupted in the Records Office.
The IRA ceded to the Free State army on June 30 when Commandant Traynor sent orders to the garrison at the Four Courts to surrender, but half the garrison was in favor of prolonging and the other half desired surrender. Ernie O'Malley, who was commander of the garrison. chose to obey orders and led the 140 survivors of the garrison out of the burning Four Courts to surrender to Brigadier General Paddy Daly. The battle of the Four Courts was one of the most decisive battles of the war, for it determined that the fighting tactics of the IRA for the rest of the Civil War would be guerrilla warfare(14).
Republican forces had established defensive positions in cities around Ireland including Limerick, Waterford, Cahir, and Clonmel, but were unable to retain the positions and were soon captured by the Free State army(15). This forced the IRA army to rely heavily on guerrilla warfare, the Free State army having forced the IRA into small towns and the countryside after C-in-C Michael Collins was killed. The Dáil then passed a law that gave the Free State army the authority to set up military courts, where they executed Rory O'Connor and three other Irregulars after the assassination of TD Sean Hales. The brutalities continued until Chief of Staff of the IRA, Liam Lynch, was killed. A month later, under the authority of his successor Frank Aiken, a dump of arms was ordered and the official ceasefire of the war was declared on May 24, 1923, ending the Civil War(16).
The Irish Civil War left a bitter legacy on both sides. The pro-treaty Fine Gael party mistrusted the anti-treaty Fianna Fail party for many years. In the 80 years since the anti-treaty forces defeated the pro-treaty forces animosity has subsisted almost entirely. However, the defeat of the anti-treaty forces and their subsequent use of guerrilla warfare lead to the development of the modern IRA, which used guerilla and terrorist techniques.
The two main political parties of Ireland, the Fianna Fail “Soldiers of Destiny” in Gaelic and the Fine Gael “Family of the Irish” in Gaelic (17), are descendents of the Anti-treaty and Pro-treaty forces of the war. Both still differ on along the Civil War lines but the difference has become blurred over time(18).
There is a difference of opinion among historians as to whether the Irish Civil war was an end to the fight for freedom or merely a step on the path(19). On one hand, the victory of the Pro-treaty forces and the subsequent signing of the treaty led to an independent Ireland, the revolution’s ultimate goal. However under the terms of the treaty Ireland was still beholden to England, the members of the Irish parliament having to swear an oath to the King of England. These historians argue that the revolution ended in 1937 when de Valera introduced a new republican constitution(20). Regardless, the roots of a truly free Ireland lie in the Irish Civil War.
The Irish Civil War also helped to reignite the tradition of democracy in Ireland. This had languished for several decades with the Irish parliament, with the Daíl taking a backseat to the charismatic figures who occupied the office of Prime Minister Kissane. The strong democratic provisions of the Treaty, coupled with the new 1937 constitution, reinvigorated the Daíl, continuing the tradition of democracy through the twenty first century(21).
The Irish Civil war was a turning point in Anglo-Irish relations which had been strained for centuries. The victory of the protreaty forces and subsequent ratification of the treaty marked the beginning of a free Ireland.




(1) "Irish Civil War." World Book Advanced. World Book, 2009. Web. 27 Sept. 200
(2) Ibid
(3) Ibid
(4) Ireland and Great Britain. Anglo-Irish Treaty. London: n.p., 1921. The National Archives of Ireland. Web. 30 Sept. 2009.
<http://www.nationalarchives.ie/>.
(5)Ibid

(6) "Irish Civil War"

(7) Ibid
(8) Ibid

(9)Joost Augusteijn "Irish Civil War" The Oxford Companion to Irish History. S. J. Connolly. Oxford University Press, 2007. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. Infohio - NOACSC. 30 September 2009 <http://www.oxfordreference.com/views/ENTRY.html?subview=M
ain&entry=t245.e932>
(10) Ibid

(11)Walsh, Paul V. THE IRISH CIVIL WAR, 1922-1923: A MILITARY STUDY OF THE CONVENTIONAL PHASE, 28 JUNE - 11 AUGUST, 1922. MA thesis. City U. of New
York, 1998. New York City: n.p., n.d.
NYMAS. Web. 30 Sept. 2009.
<http://libraryautomation.com/nymas/irishcivilwar.html>.

(12) Ibid
(13) Ibid
(14) Ibid
(15)"Irish Civil War." BBC. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Sept. 2009. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A5404286#footnote4>.
(16)"Irish Civil War." Encyclopedia Britanica
(17)McHugh, John. "Fine Gael." World Book Advanced. World Book, 2009. Web. 27 Sept. 2009(18)"Irish Civil War." World History: The Modern Era. ABC-CLIO, 2009. Web. 15 Sep. 2009. <http://www.worldhistory.abc-clio.com>.
http://www.nationalarchives.ie/topics/anglo_irish/dfaexhib2.html
(19) Ibid
(20)Kissane, Bill. Politics of the Irish Civil War. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. Google Books. Web. 30 Sept. 2009. <http://books.google.com/books?id=50JqW4FIYnYC&printsec=
copyright&source=gbs_pub_info_s&cad=2>.

(21)Gerwath, Robert. Twisted paths: Europe 1914-1945, Part 720. Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2007. N. pag. Google Books. Web. 30 Sept. 2009.
<http://books.google.com/books?id=gb9WPLIlsNAC&source=gbs_navlinks_s>.