Was the Irish Civil War a 'natural' conclusion to the events of previous years? Some historians will say that the Civil War was a 'natural' conclusion to the activities of the previous year others will disagree. This essay will take the line that yes; the civil war was a natural and inevitable conclusion to the Anglo-Irish difficulties. In order to understand why the Civil War came about one must first understand how it came about by studying the actions of the previous years, the War of Independence and the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Then it is necessary to look at the feelings of the opposing sides of the Civil War. Finally one must look at history itself and compare the Irish War of Independence and the Civil War with similar cases.
Once all steps have been taken the ultimate aim of this essay is to prove that the Civil War was a 'natural' conclusion to the previous years. The War of Independence (WOI) was fought between the years 1918 and 1921 and 'was mainly limited to Dublin and the province of Munster, and the IRA victories were few and far between'. Ireland had forgotten about its aspirations for Home Rule and was now looking for a more drastic form of Independence. The war had its origins in the formation of unilaterally created independent Irish parliament, called D'ail 'Eireann, formed by the majority of MPs elected in Irish constituencies in the Irish (UK) general election, 1918. This parliament, known as the First D'ail, and its ministry, called the Aireacht declared Irish independence.
The D'ail knew that 'England's difficulty (was) Ireland's opportunity' and ce ized the day. After the failed rebellion of 1916 public sympathies slowly but surely swung to the militant IRA (and Sinn Fein). By 1921 the WOI was a cause of British anxiety and embarrassment and something had to be done. Once the Ulster province had been calmed by the Government of Ireland Act in 1920, the Lloyd George turned to its Nationalist neighbour.
A Sinn Fein delegation, including Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith was sent to Westminster to negotiate the Anglo-Irish Treaty. It is important to note that President De Valera was not present. It is very possible that he knew there would have to be some compromise made and he didn't want to make it. After heated discussions and debates the delegation were given 2 days to sign the treaty or except war. Ireland could not support another war and so the delegation were forced to sign the Treaty and bring it home for ratification. The Treaty caused heated debate with some agreeing with Michael Collins that the Treaty 'gives us freed on- not the ultimate freedom that all nations desire and develop to, but the freedom to achieve it.
' In fact, 'the population at large was strongly in favour of the terms'. However there was a strong minority within the Dail that were strongly apposed to it and agreed with De Valera that 'the minority have not the right to do wrong'. The Second D'ail formally ratified the Treaty in December 1921 and the Civil War was begun. The anti-Treaty forces were vehement that it did not succeed and were not apposed to the use of violence. There were two main points that they could not agree to: the Oath of Allegiance to the King and the Partition of Ireland. They felt that 'it was a cowardly betrayal of Ireland's martyr's, particularly the most recent'.
The women in and out of parliament were the most strongly opposed. They had lost sons and husbands, fathers and brother, they were not going to stain their memories. Mary MacSweeny (sister of Terence) stood up in the Dail and announced that 'if England exterminates the men, the women will take their places, if she exterminates the women, the children are rising fast. ' She and other women would continue to fight in the place of their men. It was not only women who felt that the Treaty was shaming the martyr's and so the anti-Treaty force grew and were militarily superior to the pro-Treaty forces (National Army). 'With nearly 7000 rifles, the anti-treaty forces were outwardly more impressive than the IRA as a whole had been at the height of the Anglo-Irish War.
' It didn't take Michael Collins long to get his act together and organize an equally powerful pro-treaty force. British supplies of artillery, aircraft, machine-gun and ammunition were much help to pro-treaty forces. They were further aided by the fact that their opponents, the anti-treaty IRA, lacked an effective command structure and were forced to adopt a defensive stance throughout. In April they proved their military might when they defeated the anti-treaty forces occupying the Four Courts in Dublin. With Dublin in pro-treaty hands, conflict spread throughout the country, with anti-Treaty forces briefly holding Cork, Limerick and Waterford. However, the lack of structure of the anti-treaty forces and the growing prowess of the pro-treaty side lead to a ceasefire in May 1923.
In assessing the likelihood of a civil war in Ireland after the WOI, it is essential to look at examples from history. The American War of Independence is a perfect comparison. Once America got its Independence, civil war broke out on the issue of slavery. This civil war decided not only the issue of slavery but also who would run the country and how they should do it. The WOI could also be called the Irish Revolution, as it was an uprising against the established power. With this said one can compare it with the Russian Civil War.
The Russian Civil War again determined who would rule the country once the established power had been removed. In studying these and many other cases more ancient and more modern, it is evident that in the majority of cases where there is Revolution there is Civil War. As we see with history, it was almost inevitable that Ireland would experience civil war once she achieved 'independence'. However, it was not just the history of other countries which dictated this, but also her own. When one person dies they leave behind a hundred mourners.
As we can see by the strong words of Mary MacSweeny many of the families of Irish 'martyrs' wanted to see their deaths avenged. This was a strong force behind the Civil War and saw it as a 'natural' conclusion to previous years. There were also many rifts within the IRA prior to the Treaty and once they had no common enemy they were prone to fight themselves. With all this evidence pointing to the Civil War's 'natural' occurrence it is hard to see how it could not have happened.
Litton, Helen, The Irish Civil War: An Illustrated History, (Dublin, 1995).
Pardon, Edward, The Civil War 1922-1023, (Cork, 200).
Townshend, Charles, Ireland: The 20th Century, (London, 1998) WEB: web War of Independence.