On this day, one hundred years ago, the Civil War ended. It concluded with a ceasefire rather than any formal ending. The ten-month conflict claimed between 1,500 and 1,700 lives, including civilians, while the real number of fatalities is unknown and likely higher. It ended the lives of many prominent figures such as Michael Collins, Liam Lynch, Cathal Brugha, and Arthur Griffith; although the latter died of natural causes, the stresses of the conflict contributed in no small part
The effects of the civil war were numerous and immeasurable. The passage of time has gone some distance towards healing the animosity between both sides. For many years, the Irish population hardly ever mentioned it, as it was perceived as taboo, although there were attempts in political circles.
As April 1923 faded into May, the anti-Treatyites campaign against the National Army began to lose its potency. By then, it was more of a destruction of property than a felony against the person. A great number of republicans were captured and imprisoned, and more were demoralised by the adverse conditions they existed under in the mountainous terrain of the south and west of Ireland. After the death of IRA leader Liam Lynch in April 1923, Frank Aiken, his successor, prompted his comrades to stand down. It was becoming obvious that victory was not theirs.
In 1923, twenty years had passed since St. Patrick’s Day had become an officially recognised public holiday. It was the second national saint’s day after Irish independence, but had a long shadow cast on it that year as the country was still in the grip of the Civil War. In 1923, it was still a ‘dry’ holiday, as no public houses were open. The ban on opening the pubs on March 17th, St. Patrick’s Day, was sanctioned by Dail Eireann. Ironically, James O’Mara, who was behind the day being made a national holiday, was the chief supporter of such measures. One TD was heard quipping that “the drowning of the shamrock” was “a direct insult to the saint.” Democratic Countess Markievicz made the point that hotels must abide by the law too, because poorer members of society, who usually drank in pubs, were penalized while the rich, who mainly frequented hotels, were allowed to purchase alcohol there. “I do not see why rich people should not be kept off their drink as well as poor people.”.
The reasoning behind it was religious in origin, as St. Patrick’s Day fell during Lent, a period of abstinence. Up until 1973, the only place that could legally sell alcohol was in the members’ lounge at the Royal Dublin Dog Show, which, not surprisingly, was packed to capacity!
Freeman’s Journal 16 March 1923
17 March 1923 – Weekly Freeman’s Journal – Dublin, Dublin, Republic of Ireland
On January 11 1923, Sligo Railway Station, one of the country’s finest at the time, was set alight by Republican forces. They managed to douse it in gasoline under the cover of darkness. It took no time for the inferno to take off. Both the ticket and parcel offices were completely destroyed, causing damage worth £80,000. It was one of many stations wrecked at the time. The railways were being destroyed at such a rapid rate that numerous newspapers at the time coined the phrase “War on the Railways.”
Because Sligo was a garrison town with a large number of army troops on duty, many questions were raised about its station’s destruction. The number of soldiers on duty was greatly exaggerated in the press, which suggested that a garrison of 500 men was present in the town the night of the attack. There were only 70. They were distributed at four locations around the town, one of which was guarding 100 prisoners as well as at least three strategic posts. The matter was brought before the Dail by Darrell Figgis, who questioned the Minister for Defense, Richard Mulcahy:
During the Civil War, Republican forces revived their campaign to burn down big houses. The campaign was facilitated by the absence of any forces of law and order in the countryside as a result of the withdrawal of the Crown forces in 1922 and the abolition of the RIC, but the elimination of signs of British rule in Ireland was the underlying motivation behind the destruction. The Republicans were also running dangerously low in arms so destruction of property was one of few acts of guerrilla warfare left at their disposal.
The big houses were burned down during the War of Independence as a way for the IRA to assert their authority. However, during the Civil War, many of the mansions abandoned by their owners for fear of attack were taken over by the anti-Treatyites and only destroyed when they were forced to leave when the National Army moved in on them.
Below were a few of many set alight in early 1923:
January 29 The Earl of Mayo’s Dublin residence is set alight by Republicans.
Sir Horace Plunkett’s Art Treasures are Destroyed
1 February: Moore Hall near Claremorris in County Mayo is burned down by Republicans.