Society of Ireland

Irish Civil War

The Irish Civil War (Irish: Cogadh Cathartha na hEireann; 28 June 1922 24 May 1923) 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 conflict was waged between two opposing groups of Irish nationalists over the Anglo-Irish Treaty. The forces of the "Provisional Government" (which became the Free State in December 1922) supported the Treaty, while the Republican opposition saw it as a betrayal of the Irish Republic (which had been established during the War of Independence). Many of those who fought in the conflict had been members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) during the War of Independence. The Civil War was won by the Free State forces, which were heavily armed and assisted 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, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, are direct descendants of the opposing sides in the war.

The Anglo-Irish Treaty arose from the Irish War of Independence, fought between Irish separatists (organised as the Irish Republic) and the armed forces of the British government, from 1919 to 1922. The treaty provided for a self-governing Irish state in 26 of Ireland's 32 counties, having its own army and police. However, rather than creating the independent republic favoured by most nationalists, the Irish Free State would be an autonomous dominion of the British Empire with the British monarch as head of state, in the same manner as Canada and Australia.[4] This had been suggested by the British in secret correspondence even before treaty negotiations began, but rejected by Sinn Fein leader Eamon de Valera.[5] The treaty also stipulated that members of the new Irish Oireachtas (parliament) would have to take the following "Oath of Allegiance" I... do solemnly swear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of the Irish Free State as by law established, and that I will be faithful to His Majesty King George V, his heirs and successors by law in virtue of the common citizenship of Ireland with Great Britain and her adherence to and membership of the group of nations forming the British Commonwealth of nations.[4] This oath was considered highly objectionable by many Irish Republicans. Furthermore, under the treaty, the state was not to be called a republic but a "free state" and it would be limited to the 26 southern and western counties of Ireland. The remaining six northeastern counties, with their unionist majority, were allowed toand didopt to remain part of the United Kingdom as Northern Ireland. The partition of Ireland had already been decided by the Westminster parliament in the Government of Ireland Act 1920 and was confirmed in the Anglo-Irish treaty. Also, several strategic ports were to remain occupied by the Royal Navy. Michael Collins, the republican leader who had led the Irish negotiating team, argued that the treaty gave "not the ultimate freedom that all nations aspire and develop, but the freedom to achieve freedom". However, anti-treaty militants in 1922 believed that the treaty would never deliver full Irish independence.


ESHSI, Department of Modern History, Trinity College, Dublin, Republic of Ireland Contact: Membership Secretary