Irish Civil War

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The Irish Civil War (Irish: Cogadh Cathartha na hÉireann; 28 June 1922 – 24 May 1923) was a conflict that followed the Irish War of Independence and accompanied the establishment of the Irish Free State, an entity independent from the United Kingdom but within the British Empire.

The civil war was waged between two opposing groups, the pro-treaty Provisional Government and the anti-treaty IRA, over the Anglo-Irish Treaty. The forces of the Provisional Government (which became the Free State in December 1922) supported the Treaty, while the anti-treaty opposition saw it as a betrayal of the Irish Republic (which had been proclaimed during the Easter Rising). Many of those who fought on both sides in the conflict had been members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) during the War of Independence.

The Civil War was won by the pro-treaty Free State forces, who benefited from substantial quantities of weapons provided by the British Government. The conflict may have claimed more lives than the War of Independence that preceded it, and left Irish society divided and embittered for generations. Today, two of the main political parties in the Republic of Ireland, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, are direct descendants of the opposing sides of the war.

Dan Breen's appeal to Free State troops to join the Anti-Treaty IRA forces
National Army soldiers during the Civil War
The Treaty is already vindicating itself. The English Die-hards said to Mr. Lloyd George and his Cabinet: "You have surrendered". Our own Die-hards said to us: "You have surrendered". There is a simple test. Those who are left in possession of the battlefield have won. ~ Michael Collins
Anti-Treaty IRA unit in Old Parish area of Waterford in 1922
A prisoner under escort by Free State troops on 22 July 1922
Four Courts on fire on 30 June 1922
Commandant Charles McAlister with the National Army soldiers and the armoured car The Fighting 2nd outside the Talbot Hotel in 1922
Seldom in the history of any country has a single unlucky bullet so utterly altered the course of events. Indeed, it would be no exaggeration to say that Ireland suffers the consequences to this day. ~ James Mackay
Had Michael lived, it is highly probable that he would have brought the civil war to a speedy conclusion and succeeded in healing the breach with the North, leading to the removal of partition which few politicians, from Lloyd George and Churchill downwards, regarded as anything other than a purely temporary measure in 1922. After Michael's death, however, the South had no one with the breadth of vision and the negotiating skills to tackle Sir James Craig, and as time passed, the breach between North and South widened. ~ James Mackay
Major General Ennis (with Thompson gun) and Comdt. McCreagh or McCrea
Two of the Rolls-Royce Armoured Cars used by the National Army in 1922, The Big Fella and The Fighting 2nd

Quotes[edit]

  • We beat them in the cities and we whipped them in the streets.
    And the world hailed Michael Collins, our commander and chief.
    And they sent you off to London to negotiate a deal
    And to gain us a Republic, united, boys, and real.
    But the women and the drink, Mick, they must have got to you,
    'Cause you came back with a country divided up in two.
    • Black 47, Big Fellah (1989)
  • We had to turn against you, Mick, there was nothing we could do
    'Cause we couldn't betray the Republic like Arthur Griffith and you.
    We fought against each other, two brothers steeped in blood,
    But I never doubted that your heart was broken in the flood.
    And though we had to shoot you down in golden Béal na mBláth,
    I always knew that Ireland lost her greatest son of all.
  • Black 47, Big Fellah (1989)
  • Fairly restrained by international standards, the Irish Civil War was nonetheless an intense and often cruel war; there is evidence that victims and perpetrators knew each other, and the community's complicity in violence was central to the success of the killing or forcible displacement of the target.
    • Gemma Clark, Everyday Violence in the Irish Civil War (2014), p. 195
  • There is no British Government anymore in Ireland. It is gone. It is no longer the enemy. We have now a native government, constitutionally elected, and it is the duty of every Irish man and woman to obey it. Anyone who fails to obey is an enemy of the people and must expect to be treated as such. We have to learn that attitudes and actions which were justifiable when directed against alien administration, holding its position by force, are wholly unjustifiable against a native government which exists only to carry out the people's will, and can be changed the moment it ceases to do so. We have to learn that freedom imposes responsibilities.
  • The Treaty is already vindicating itself. The English Die-hards said to Mr. Lloyd George and his Cabinet: "You have surrendered". Our own Die-hards said to us: "You have surrendered". There is a simple test. Those who are left in possession of the battlefield have won.
  • From the beginning Michael was targeted by the anti-Treaty faction and as the sessions wore on the issue became not so much the Treaty itself, but the personal standing of Mick Collins. In the end, and to a very large extent, the voting reflected the love or hatred for him- there could be no half measures- of the individual deputies. During the stormy sessions, Michael was for the most part calm and dignified, even stoical at times; but now and then his famous temper would explode. Strangely enough, or perhaps characteristically, what seemed to rouse his ire most of all was the inability of deputies to arrive for each session on time, there by delaying the start of proceedings. With immense forcefulness he reminded them that punctuality was a great thing. Two factors were immediately apparent: the disagreement was set to divide opinion right across the country, and if Michael were the chief target of opprobrium he was not going to take it lying down.
    • James Mackay, Michael Collins: A Life (1996), p. 230-231
  • Seldom in the history of any country has a single unlucky bullet so utterly altered the course of events. Indeed, it would be no exaggeration to say that Ireland suffers the consequences to this day. Had Michael lived, it is highly probable that he would have brought the civil war to a speedy conclusion and succeeded in healing the breach with the North, leading to the removal of partition which few politicians, from Lloyd George and Churchill downwards, regarded as anything other than a purely temporary measure in 1922. After Michael's death, however, the South had no one with the breadth of vision and the negotiating skills to tackle Sir James Craig, and as time passed, the breach between North and South widened. Michael would almost certainly have prevented the Ulster boundary crisis of 1925, with its tragic consequences for Anglo-Irish relations over the ensuing seven decades. This arose when the report of the Boundary Commission was published, revealing that not an inch of Northern Ireland was to be ceded to the Free State, despite the wishes of at least a third of the inhabitants of the Six Counties. This bombshell reopened old wounds and almost triggered off a renewal of civil war in southern Ireland.
    • James Mackay, Michael Collins: A Life (1996), p. 302
  • The curlew stood silent and unseen
    In the long damp grass
    And he looked down on the road below him
    That wound its way through Beal Na mBlath
    And he heard the young men shouting and cursing
    Running backwards and forwards
    Dodging and weaving and ducking the bullets>br>That rained down on them
    From the hillside opposite.

    Just as quickly as it started the firing stopped
    And a terrible silence hung over the valley
    A lone figure lay on the roadside
    In the drizzling August rain
    Dressed in green cape coat, leggings,
    And brown hobnail boots
    That would never again
    Set the sparks flying from the kitchen flagstones
    As he danced his way through a half-set/

    A hurried whispered act of contrition
    And the firing breaks out again
    The curlew takes to flight
    And as he flies out over the empty sad fields of West Cork
    With his lonesome call
    He must tell the world
    That the Big Fellow has fallen
    And that Michael is gone.
    • Irish singer Johnny McEvoy, in his song Michael (1989)
  • Candles dripping blood, they placed beside your shoulders
    Rosary beads like teardrops on your fingers
    Friends and comrades standing by, in their grief they wonder why
    Michael, in their hour of need you had to go
    Michael, in their hour of need, why did you go?
    • Irish singer Johnny McEvoy, in his song Michael (1989)

A History of the Irish Naval Service (1994)[edit]

Aidan McIvor, A History of the Irish Naval Service (1994)

  • The Irish Civil War was not characterised by pitched battles fought between field armies; rather it was quite similar to the previous Anglo-Irish War. However in this campaign the anti-Treatyite fighters faced an Irish army which had the support of an increasing percentage of the population, especially among prosperous farmers and the middle classes who yearned for an end to the anarchy. Most importantly, the Provisional government had the support of the Roman Catholic Church. In this campaign the Army Council exhibited a great deal more tactical and strategic resource and guile than the British in the Anglo-Irish war. In addition, the Provisional government introduced draconian measures to suppress the rebellion, for example, summary execution of suspects without right or recourse to a trial. Seventy-seven Irregulars were executed (twice the number shot by the British), one of whom was Erskine Childers, the man who masterminded the Howth gun-running and who later attended the Anglo-Irish peace talks in London.
    • p. 40
  • The Provisional government's military goal was unambiguous, namely the suppression of armed rebellion by the republicans against the new Free State. To achieve this aim the 4000 strong National Army was quickly expanded to a strength of 60,000. Ten thousand British rifles were handed over to what Winston Churchill called "trustworthy Free State troops." Recruitment was not difficult as the onset of the post-war economic slump had created very high levels of unemployment. Nearly one thousand volunteers a day were recruited, many of whom had former service in the British Army. It was primarily an infantry-oriented army, although separate support arms and services were established.
    • p. 41
  • The first recorded use of military aircraft in the civil war was an air sortie against rebels in Dundalk in August 1922. The Air Service also undertook coastal patrols; the whole coastal area from Waterford to Kenmare Bay was constantly patrolled by Air Service aircraft. The day before the seaborne landings at Cork, Col. C.F. Russell flew over the city to reconnoitre the positions of anti-government forces. The use of military aircraft allowed the Dublin government to patrol the coasts of "rebel Cork," as well as to maintain contact with isolated garrisons, regardless of disrupted inland communications. The anti-Treatyites did not have any military aircraft in service.
    • p. 42
  • Initially the military balance was perilous as the Irregulars held sway over most of the west and south of Ireland. Even in Dublin, they had not been decisively defeated, rather they had gone to ground. The Free State's two main port cities, Limerick and Cork, were under the control of the Irregulars, and the River Shannon was beyond the Dublin government's control. It was General Michael Brennan, the Free State military commander in the Limerick area, who correctly summed up the situation: "the Shannon was a barricade and whoever held Limerick held the South and the West." Gen. Brennan firmly believed and with much justification that the outcome of the Irish Civil War turned on Limerick. The Irregulars, although numerically stronger and in possession of most of the Free State territory, did not move on Dublin. They surrendered the initiative to the National Army's forces and embarked on a systematic plan of destruction of all communications and anything that might be of assistance to the Free State army. In the course of this campaign of destruction, which in the words of the Conference of Roman Catholic Bishops "wrecked Ireland from end to end", the country's transport infrastructure was devastated: 236 bridges were damaged, 468 railway locomotives, carriages and other rolling stock were destroyed. The great railway viaduct over the Blackwater at Mallow linking Cork with the north was blown up. The reign of anarchy, which left factories and creameries destroyed and period mansion houses with their priceless art treasures burnt out, obliged the Provisional government to restore order as quickly as possible. In order to avoid a zone of isolation being created beyond the effective jurisdiction of Dublin, military formations were to be moved by sea thus avoiding a long and possibly costly overland advance.
    • pp. 42-43
  • During the Civil War consideration was given by the British government to using the Royal Navy to help the Free State Army. However, it was decided that such an action was unnecessary and would only embarrass the Provisional government in Dublin. The Royal Navy remained aloof during the conflict, although its presence dominated Ireland's coastal waters.
    • p. 46

External links[edit]

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