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.
One hundred years ago today, Liam Lynch lost his life to a long-range bullet fired by the Free State soldiers. Lying on a cold mountainside in County Tipperary’s Knockmealdown Mountains as Chief of Staff of the anti-Treaty IRA, he commanded his troops to leave him and save themselves.
Liam Lynch had called a meeting with his senior officers on the mountainside, as was common for the anti-Treaty IRA side to evade the better-armed Free State soldiers. As the Civil War progressed, it became increasingly clear that the anti-Treaty side was losing.
Lynch and his officers had arrived in Newcastle the previous day and were hiding out in safe houses around the village. Somehow, the Free State troops found out, formed columns, and began a search of the area. By the time the IRA members were tipped off it was too late for them to disperse and take cover. The Free State Army were all over the mountains and valleys closing in on the irregulars with great speed and stealth. Although the IRA were well prepared and armed there were just too many troops and were quickly outgunned in the shootout that ensued.
Liam Lynch took a bullet almost immediately. Not wanting to implicate his officers more than necessary, he gave them his gun and documents and ordered them to save their own lives, as his was ebbing away. Reluctantly, they did. Lynch, who was bleeding profusely, was captured by the Free State troops, who did their best to save his life. He was carried back to Newcastle, where he was attended first by local doctors and then by medics at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Clonmel. But his wounds were too severe, and he lost his life later that night.
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.
As the National Army was the official army sanctioned by the Irish government, it was provided with superior weapons. They were also provided for by the state. The IRA was outlawed and relied on Cumann na mBan (including Emily) and the few remaining sympathetic members of the public to provide food and shelter for them. Many gave up and went home; the remainder took to the safer haven of the hills, where they were less likely to run into the well-armed National Army.
In September 1922, the government passed the Public Safety Bill, emergency legislation permitting the National Army the authority to issue punishment, which included the death penalty for anyone found with weapons on their person. Because of this, as well as a lack of weapons, the anti-Treatites (IRA) resorted to guerrilla tactics such as sabotage and destruction of public infrastructure such as roads and railways.