North Wales Western Front Association

Internecine feuding

 Civil war starts in June 1922

Many observers blame De Valera for the Civil War.  He incited opposition to the Treaty and colluded with the IRA leaders who ran the campaign.  The first step by the anti-Treaty forces was to occupy the Four Courts building in Dublin.  Lloyd George pressed the new Free State government to act, which they did by shelling the building using borrowed British artillery.  The civil war, like the War of Independence was largely confined to Dublin and South West Ireland.

 Irish Civil War: key events

  • 77 official executions by the Irish government in 9 months; 153 “unofficial” executions (compared to 24 official executions by the British in more than two years of the War of Independence)

These executions were all without any pretence of a trial and were typically in retaliation for the killing of Free State forces but could be for minor offences such as putting up anti-Treaty posters.  Erskine Childers was perhaps the highest profile execution.  He was on the anti-Treaty side and was found to have a small pistol in his possession when he house was raided by Free State forces.  The gun had been given to him by Michael Collins who was in charge of the Free State forces.

  • Arthur Griffith dies 12th August 1922

He was the first president of the new Free State but was only in office six months when he suffered a brain haemorrhage at the age of only 51.  So, another of the 1916 group disappears.

  • Death of Michael Collins: 22nd August 1922

Collins was killed in an ambush on his Free State Army patrol in County Cork where he was on an inspection tour.  He became the only casualty of the ambush after he had stopped his convoy and stood in the middle of the road to survey the scene. He was 32 years old.

  • Death of IRA chief Liam Lynch: 7th April 1923

The IRA campaign was petering out in any event and largely confined by this stage to mountainous country in SW Ireland.  After a meeting in March 1923, the IRA leadership voted by a majority of one to continue.  De Valera was at the meeting but did not have a vote.  However, the death of Lynch in April after a shoot-out with Free State forces effectively ended the war. He was 29 years old.

 Border Wars and Belfast chaos

  • Border wars, especially after the truce in July 1921.  Collins redirected IRA activities to the border and against the “new” Northern Ireland.  There was a nasty sectarian motivation behind much of the violence.  IRA units from the new Free State attacked targets along the new border.  This continued into 1923 when in one notable action, the British army had to use artillery to dislodge the IRA from the village of Belleek.
  • Sectarian warfare in Belfast 1920-1922

In contrast to the 1913-1914 period in Ulster when sectarian violence did not erupt, Belfast fell to bits in the 1920-1922 period, aided by inept political leadership from Craig and others who failed to act.  Both Protestants and Catholics fell victim to the violence, where snipers were a particular problem.  It was not a “pogrom” in any way, as that would be government directed violence, as happened typically against Jews in Russia and Poland, where tens of thousands died.  Catholic fatalities were disproportionate at about 300 people but Protestant casualties were in three figures as well. (Parkinson p313).

In a time of awful deeds, the murders of the McMahon family, for one, stand out.  A well-to-do Catholic family were attacked at home in North Belfast at 1am by a methodical gang some of whom were in police uniform.  It seems likely that there was some involvement, at least, by a rogue police element and eventually a district inspector was sacked.  Four of the six sons of the household and the bar manager who lodged there all died.

William Twadell was the unionist MP for Woodvale in the new Northern parliament and a city councillor.  He was a vehement opponent of Sinn Fein.  He was shot by the IRA on Monday 22nd May 1922 whilst walking to open his drapers shop.  This and the death of Sir Henry Wilson in London caused outrage in the Unionist community and in London.

Sir Henry Wilson, by now a former Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS) and newly elected unionist MP was killed on his doorstep in London on 22nd June 1922 after returning from unveiling a war memorial in Liverpool Street station.  One consequence of this killing, allegedly ordered by Collins, was severe pressure from Churchill on the Free State government to deal with the anti-Treaty detachment that had seized the Four Courts in Dublin in July 1922.

The Altnaveigh massacre of 17th June 1922 was perpetrated by an IRA unit from outside the area, which is near Newry in County Down.  They attacked a small Presbyterian farming community, destroying over a dozen properties and killing six people and wounding others.  In later years, a former local IRA member said that they were shocked as they had joined to fight the Crown forces not to attack their unarmed neighbours.

However, by the end of 1922 the situation in Belfast was much more under control with a combination of better organised police, more political will on the part of the northern government, internment of suspects, the Irish civil war altering the focus of republicans and their migration south to participate in the civil war.

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