The History

Why there was a Civil War in Ireland

By David P. Turner

The nature of the executions following the 1916 Rebellion caused such horror amongst the ordinary people that even those removed from politics became sympathetic to the Rebel cause. This enabled the Irish to conduct the War of Independence in a way that convinced Lloyd George that he was dealing with an international problem. Thus the return of DeValera from America, whom the British regarded as a true and able politician persuaded the prime-minister that it was time for a truce and negotiations. Delegations were sent to London between the months of October and December 1921. The Irish delegation was made up of Michael Collins, Arthur Griffith and Robert Barton with Eamon Duggan and George Gavan Duffy as legal advisors.

On leaving for England, the delegation, who were notably without DeValera, were given strict instructions that any decisions made had to be referred to Dublin for ratification. Lloyd George, a vary able diplomat, as was the young Winston Churchill, foiled DeValera's plan by handing down an ultimatum on the 5th of December ; sign or be responsible for total war in Ireland. The men signed the treaty at 2.10 am. on the 6th December 1921.

They returned to find DeValera, the president of the Dail in total opposition to the Treaty, specifically with the Oath of Allegiance to the Crown. The Dail debate on the document was extremely bitter and abusive towards the signatories. During the debate Griffith outlined some of the achievements; "We have brought back the flag, we have brought back the evacuation of Ireland after 700 years of British troops and the formation of an Irish army."

On January 7th 1922 the Dail voted: 64 in favour 57 against thus the Treaty became law. DeValera resigned his post and his supporters boycotted the Dail.

The major operation of taking over the administration of the country was now on the shoulders of Michael Collins as Chairman of the Provisional Government. The key question for the new regime was control of the I.R.A.

Richard Mulcahy, Minister for Defence and Head of the I.R.A. was determined that "the army will remain the army of the Irish Republic". i.e. the I.R.A. would be loyal to the Provisional Government. The reality was that the army had split. The force from which the I.R.A. sprang, the Irish Volunteers, had only taken the oath to the Republic at the insistence of Cathal Brugha and had always tended to be independent of political authority. On January 12th they demanded that an army convention be held to discuss the Treaty and their allegiances. This was opposed but eventually took place on 26th March 1922.

The convention was attended only by dissidents who doubted the authority of Mulcahy (e.g. Liam Lynch, Liam Mellows). The Convention elected its own new executive with Liam Lynch as the chief of staff of the anti-treaty I.R.A. Various sections of the army hardened into pro and anti Treaty factions and clashes occurred in many areas as both groups wanted to take over police barracks as the British evacuated. Supporters of the Treaty dressed in the new green uniform became known as the Free State Army while the anti-Treaty I.R.A. became known as the Irregulars.

The Irregulars refused to recognise the Dail which in effect meant that the I.R.A. were an illegal army within the Irish Free State. In defiance of the Dail, Rory O'Connor, leader of the anti-Treaty I.R.A., led the occupation of the Four Courts and other Dublin buildings in a 1916 style rebellion. There was an initial hope that the conflict would remain in the political arena as the so called Collins / DeValera Pact was proposed containing plans for an agreed election of five "pro" and four "anti" ministers along with the P.M. and Minister for Defence. The pact was widely criticised, Rory O'Connor describing it as a "political dodge intended to split the Republican ranks." The British opposed it and shortly before the June elections Collins repudiated the Pact.

The results of these elections which showed strong support for the Free State reflected the desire of people to return to normal living conditions. This did not influence the Irregulars who were still determined to overthrow the Treaty.

The assassination of Sir. Henry Wilson in London by two of Collins' men acted as a catalyst for events in Ireland. The British government blamed Rory O'Connor's garrison which had occupied the Four Courts for two months. Churchill threatened Collins with war unless these men were removed from their position (the same threat used in the Treaty negotiations). On 26th June an Irregular officer was arrested while on a raid so in retaliation the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Free State Army was kidnapped. On 28th June 1922 the Free State government sent an ultimatum to O'Connor to surrender or submit to shelling. No answer was given thus the Free State Army bombarded their former comrades out of the Four Courts over two days. The Irish Civil War had begun.
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