This is more of a post for some one close to me, explaining why it is so hard to trace back her Irish roots. This was caused mainly by the opening shots of the Irish Civil War. So enjoy.

Why Was There a Civil War in Ireland 1922-1923



The Irish Civil war of 1922 was a defining moment in Irish history. It is the culmination of different issues that originated from the Angle Irish war (Irish War of Independence) and its resulting treaty. This divided the Irish Free State politically along fault lines, which are still visible today in the main two parties.  Ireland was on the verge of Civil war before the First World War. In a sense you could say that the First World War delayed the inevitable internal conflict. The Conflict was called to mediation to resolve the issue of Irish sovereignty. De Valera was invited by British Prime Minister Lloyd George to put and end to the conflict.  This would lead to a treaty that would provide a split within the Irish Government and plunge the Irish Free State into Civil War. Was it necessarily the case that this would happen? Or were there other factors involved.

In my View it can be said that the treaty did provide the main factor for the civil war. Both Great Britain and the provisional government under De Valera they both wanted a peaceful compromise to the present situation. De Valera who was the de facto leader of the unofficial Irish State at that time stated in a letter to Lloyd George, the agreement for a peaceful settlement. “Sir, the desire you express on the part of the British Government to end the centuries of conflict between the peoples of these two islands, and to establish relations of neighbourly harmony, is the genuine desire of the people of Ireland. I have consulted with my colleagues and secured the views of the representatives of the minority of our Nation in regard to the invitation you have sent me. In reply, I desire to say that I am ready to meet and discuss with you on what bases such a Conference as that proposed can reasonably hope to achieve the object desired.”[1] With this it can be seen that De Valera wanted to end the current conflict, and break away from the United Kingdom and form a Republic. In this respect though, De Valera makes no real mention of his intention of creating a Republic until after the treaty has been passed.

The Treaty in itself would only pass with a majority of seven, many members of the Dail changed their minds due to political pressure from their constituents who just wanted an end to the conflict. This can be reflected in the results of the First Irish Free State Election with pro Treaty getting 58 seats and Anti Treaty getting 35. (35 voted other).

So what caused the political controversy? This was the supposed political sovereignty of the Irish State. What was agreed in the Anglo Irish Treaty, was that Ireland (not including modern day Northern Ireland) would gain dominion status within the British Empire. It can be argued that full independence could have been achieved if assurances were not made by Arthur Griffiths to Lloyd George in a letter sent a few months earlier. Michael Collins stated that the treaty was massively important to peace and stability in region. Collins said that it was “Not the ultimate freedom that all nations aspire and develop to, but the freedom to achieve freedom”[2]. This makes perfect sense, in most respects the general perception in the street was that peace needed to obtained. The Threat of a renewed conflict with Britain made it clear by the time of the vote that many members of the Dail had their mind changed due to pressure from the electorate. Collins could see that it was vitally important to take this first step, to obtain the same statues as the White Dominions. This stance gave Collins a lot of political backing especially in the Irish Republican army council. Most notable was Kevin O Higgins, who would even go as far as saying to the opposition that “They should not vote against its ratification, unless they could demonstrate clearly how more concessions could be won in practise.”[3] In a sense it is basically saying that what other alternative would there be, if a renewed war with Britain was to take place, Ireland would not doubt lose. Collins leadership and political skill must not be underestimated. A clause in the treaty even stipulated that a boundary commission would be used  to oversee the issue of the border between the South and the North, and possible unification through a council of Ireland.

To many members of the political classes the treaty was not acceptable. It came down to the issue of sovereignty, and in there eyes it was seen as a betrayal of Republican principles that most had supposedly fought the Anglo Irish war for. It was point four of the treaty that provided the problem. “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 H.M. 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] It basically states that Ireland would be in essence a free state but would have the British King as their head of state.

Ironically De Valera was against this, which is quite interesting because it brings into an argument that he could be considered pre Civil war. His motives are crucial to understand this period before the civil war. It is true that Valera wanted a whole untied Ireland that is even mentioned in the Irish Republics constitution. D H Alkenson puts forward a very strong case that Valera in fact was a true republican of the word. He would state the characteristics of Irish Republicanism and how in a way Valera did not fit into the category. “The first of these characteristics is that Irish republicans agreed that under the con-situation of an Irish republic there would be no deference, symbolic or real, paid to the British Crown. Nothing would be permitted, in fact or in theory, to interfere with Ireland’s management of its own affairs. All ties with Great Britain were to be severed”[5]. This is true and provides the main argument against the treaty. What it does provide though is an interesting argument. This is that Valera himself was directing policy from Ireland. As the talks went on in he makes no mention of a republic just an idea of a united Ireland. Alkenson would then go on to say that. “The military situation dictated that the achievement of a pure republic was impossible. As the price for maximum freedom in the real world, de Valera had to surrender the theoretical republic. During the negotiations he did not mention the republic. He only pressed for the principle of the consent of the governed, a weak substitute.”[6] Even in document two which was put to the house makes no mention of a real Republic in the true sense. Alkenson even notices that even in this document “The closest de Valera came to the pure republican position was to state that dominion status should explicitly guarantee the right to withdraw from the Commonwealth.”[7] . The Valera knew Griffith was a strong monarchist it is interesting to note why he picked him as the leader of the delegation to London. Also that Collins understood the dire situation of the Military capability of the IRA. If conflict was resumed, it can be argued that he stayed at home to provide political stability no matter what the outcome, or to distance himself from the political fall out.

Document two would enter the treaty debate. This was Valera’s alternative to the treaty. It makes only small changes and talks about external association, which historically at the time was a new concept, never been used before. Michael Hays states that. “It was a policy of ‘external association’ of which members of the Cabinet like Cosgrave told the writer they had never heard before the Treaty was brought back. (Something like it was adopted in India in 1947 but that was twenty-five years later under a government in London which was engaged, as a matter of policy, in dismantling the Empire” [8].  In a sense then it can be argued that it was a small change and not a full swing to a Republic, in my view it was a chance for De Valera to try to swing across any fringe voters in the Dail. There was one problem with document two. This was that it was kept private from the Irish public, Valera was more than ready to bring out in public the political infighting the treaty was causing. Arthur Griffith would in a way sum up the confusion that Valera was causing politically.

“We are ready,” he said—“to leave the whole question between Ireland and England to external arbitration.” What did that mean? Need I comment on it? Is that saying you will have a Republic and nothing but a Republic” [9]. In a sense this would clearly back up Alkenson and his argument that Valera was not in a sense a true Republican of the word.

The Debate on the Treaty provides the main focus and divisions for the civil war. It manages to split the Irish Republican Army council and the political elite, some say the issue was over partition, as the first shots of the civil was in a sense were fired in by the IRA in the North. Tom Garvin would say this was not the case “The Conflict was Clearly not about partition, which was scarcely mentioned in the Dail debates on the Anglo Irish Treaty of 1921. Both sides declared publically to join that Northern Ireland was not to be coerced physically to join their new polity.  The Civil war was deeply unpopular with the majority of the population and was, in a sense, an anomalous event. It involved only the elites and their immediate followers, the new political class”[10].  To a point this is true, because the issues in Ireland were already brought to a head, due to the debate over the treaty; the situation with the Boundary commission report stating that more land would go to the North this caused the anti treaty members of the IRA to begin an armed campaign in the north. This lead the new Irish Free State government who was reluctant to fight fellow Irishmen, most notable of this view was Collins himself.  An Irish News Paper in the North would sum up the rising tension “The national will has been made manifest. Those Deputies of Dail Eireann who have deliberately resolved to defy it are withholding from the Irish people the right that British governments and British military power had forcibly denied to all the generations of Irishmen”[11]. It can come to a head that is maybe the political elite that caused the civil war. In most instances in the west of the country  which were IRA strongholds began to wane, mainly due to  many simply leaving the cause due to the idea that the political process has been done.

The majority of the Irish nation wanted this peaceful settlement, it was mainly the political split over the over the treaty and to some small extent the issue of the boundary commission. What we can ascertain though through the build up and come into question is how politically viable a Republic was.  More ever how much was Da Valera behind the split, and the argument put forward is that he may not be in the traditional term a true Republican. Where as it must be noted the support for Collins, mainly due to his the belief that it was not worth risking another war with Great Britain which it was more thank likely to lose. This did win him a lot of the support and can be said helped widen the gap in the political elite, which in turn caused the situation to intensify and turn into a civil war.


Garvin, Tom., 1922: The Birth of Irish Democracy (Dublin: Colour Books Ltd 1996)

Hennessey ,Thomas., A History of Northern Ireland 1920-1996 (Hampshire: Palgrave 1997)

Laffen, Michael., The Partition of Ireland 1911-1925 (Dundalk: Dundalgan Press, 1983)

O nagh, Walsh., Irelands Independence 1880-1923 (London: Routledge 2002)

Rees Russell ., Ireland 1905-1925: Volume 1 Text and Historiography (County Down: Colourpoint Books 1998)

D. H. Akenson Was De Valera a Republican? The Review of Politics > Vol. 33, No. 2 (Apr., 1971), pp. 233-253

Paul Bew Moderate Nationalism and the Irish Revolution, 1916-1923 The Historical Journal > Vol. 42, No. 3 (Sep., 1999), pp. 729-749

Hayes Michael., Dáil Eireann and the Irish Civil War An Irish Quarterly Review, Vol. 58, No. 229 (Spring, 1969), pp. 1-2,

Debate on Treaty, Dáil Éireann – Volume 3 – 07 January, 1922

Department of Defence, Dáil Éireann – Volume 2 – 28 April, 1922

Excerpts of the Articles of Agreement for a Treaty between Great Britain and Ireland as signed in London, 6 December 1921, taken from the transcript in Documents on Irish Foreign Policy Volume I, 1919-1922.

Eamon de Valera to David Lloyd George Mansion House, Dublin, 8 July 1921

[1] Eamon de Valera to David Lloyd George Mansion House, Dublin, 8 July 1921

[2]Rees Russell ., Ireland 1905-1925: Volume 1 Text and Historiography (County Down: Colourpoint Books 1998) .,pg291

[3] ^IBID.,pg291

[4] Excerpts of the Articles of Agreement for a Treaty between Great Britain and Ireland as signed in London, 6 December 1921

[6] ^.IBID.,pg234

[8] Hayes Michael., Dáil Eireann and the Irish Civil War An Irish Quarterly Review, Vol. 58, No. 229 (Spring, 1969), pp. 1-2,,pg4

[9] Debate on Treaty, Dáil Éireann – Volume 3 – 07 January, 1922

[10] Garvin, Tom., 1922: The Birth of Irish Democracy (Dublin: Colour Books Ltd 1996).,pg25

[11] Hennessey ,Thomas., A History of Northern Ireland 1920-1996 (Hampshire: Palgrave 1997).,pg23