The treaty that led to the war
At the beginning of Between two hells: the Irish civil war, Professor Diarmaid Ferriter explains that he did not intend to cover military combat in detail.
“It is not the historian’s duty to lecture people of the past on how they should have done better,” he insists. “The quest should be to understand and contextualize their positions, the lights that guided them and humanize their dilemmas and the deadly consequences of their decisions.
This is certainly a historically valuable approach, as many of those most involved in the conflict have subsequently been reluctant to address the issues publicly.
“Terrible things have been done on both sides,” future instructor Seán Lemass told journalist Michael Mills in 1969. But that was all he would say.
War took place over the Free State’s acceptance of the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 1921. The majority of the Irish people apparently approved this decision.
Rory O’Connor, who has been described by the author as “the most prominent spokesperson for anti-treaty officers”, told a press conference on March 22, 1922, that the Republican Army could prevent an election. When asked if he was “proposing a military dictatorship,” O’Connor replied emphatically, “You can take it that way if you want.
All doubts about the acceptance of the treaty by a majority of the electorate were clearly removed by the results of the general elections in Dáil on June 16, 1922. The pro-treaty Sinn Féin won 58 seats with 38.5% of the vote. , while the anti-treaty Le Sinn Féin won just 36 seats (with 21.2%). The Labor Party, which supported the treaty, won 17 seats. Thus, the Free State element and the Labor Party had 75 seats, more than double the 36 seats in the anti-treaty.
The real catalyst that led to the Civil War was the murder outside his London home of Field Marshal Henry Wilson on June 22, 1922. Lloyd George, the British Prime Minister, told Michael Collins that the British had evidence linking the two killers to the IRAs.
The Prime Minister said his government could no longer ignore the “ambiguous position” of the IRA force occupying the four courts in Dublin. They had to be evacuated. If the Free State didn’t do it, the British would obviously do it themselves. Collins therefore ordered his men to seize the four courtyards on June 28, which essentially sparked the Irish Civil War.
By the end of August, the two recognized leaders of the Free State, Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins, were both dead. Griffith died of natural causes and Collins was killed 11 days later in an ambush in Béal na Bláth. The author suggests that Collins “was the worst to wear with the drink” at the time, and this is what caused him “to commit the stupid military blunder by stopping to retaliate”.
One of the most distinctive aspects of the Civil War was the execution of 77 Republican prisoners by the Free State. The first of these executions took place at Kilmainham Prison under the Public Safety Act, which made possession of a firearm an offense punishable by death. Four men, aged 18 to 22, were executed by firing squad on the morning of November 17, 1922.
Thomas Johnson, the leader of the Labor Party, denounced the action, due to the lack of public trials and legal aid for the defendants. A week later, Erskine Childers was executed for possession of a small pistol which was ironically given to him by Michael Collins.
Republicans responded to these executions by killing pro-Treaty MP Dáil Seán Hales in Dublin on December 7, 1922. The Free State responded the next day by summarily executing four prominent Republican prisoners – Rory O’Connor, Liam Mellows, Richard Barrett, and Joe McKelvey.
“They were executed without trial for acts committed by others,” concluded Dr Ferriter. In addition, all four had been prisoners before the entry into force of the Public Security Law.
Kevin O’Higgins, the Minister of Justice, was a close friend of Rory O’Connor, who witnessed O’Higgins’ wedding just over a year earlier. But Dr Ferriter notes that “O’Higgins has vigorously defended executions” on the grounds that “the safety and preservation of the people is the highest law”.
Many people were surprised that the Catholic Hierarchy seemed to have nothing to say
on the desecration of a feast of the Church, because the executions of the four men took place on December 8, 1922.
Free State propaganda suggested that even those “most sensitive … to the excesses of executive government” accepted executions as “inevitable if Ireland were to be saved from a descent into Bolshevism.”
The Free State government obviously had no qualms about the executions, as it increased their pace. They executed 34 men in January 1923, although there had been no other murders of government deputies.
Cosgrave said his government was persisting with executions in order to save the country. “If we are to exterminate ten thousand Republicans, the three million of our people are greater than these ten thousand,” he insisted.
The Free State has come under intense emotional pressure from some outspoken women, such as Mary MacSwiney, a sister of the late Lord Mayor of Cork, Terence MacSwiney, who died in October 1920 during a strike by the prolonged hunger in protest against his imprisonment by the British. .
Referring to him as “my holy brother,” Mary spoke a lot about his memory and participated in a massive hunger strike of Republican prisoners that began in October 1923. It initially involved 7,003 of 8,207 Republican prisoners. By the beginning of November, the number of people on hunger strike had fallen to 3,067, and had risen to 315 by mid-November.
Dr. Ferriter’s book shows a clear difference between the leadership on either side during the conflict. The Free State authorities seemed to know what they wanted and were determined to do what they wanted. Republicans, on the other hand, often seemed rudderless and confused.
Éamon de Valera was the recognized leader of the anti-treaty side, but at times he showed little leadership. In fact, on his opening page, Dr. Ferriter quotes a letter that de Valera wrote to Mary MacSwiney in September 1922. This essentially suggested that he didn’t know what to do.
“For the sake of the cause, I have allowed myself to be put in a position that it is impossible for any of my personal views and prejudices to fill with effect for the party,” he said. -he writes. “Any of my instincts would indicate that I was meant to be an outright conservative, or even a bishop, rather than the leader of a revolution.”
As the conflict continued, de Valera was blamed as “solely responsible for the recent destruction of the country”. This, Dr. Ferriter convincingly dismisses as “a savage exaggeration”. Unlike her earlier confusion, de Valera played an important role in helping end the conflict.
After the death of IRA Chief of Staff Liam Lynch in April 1923, IRA leaders agreed among themselves that peace should be negotiated. “The military victory must rest for the moment on those who destroyed the Republic,” said de Valera. Fortunately, he helped end the conflict soon after.