The Battle for Cork: Irelands Civil War (Mercier Military History of the Irish Civil War)

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The civil war was brought to the Cork IRA by events elsewhere, principally in Dublin, where Michael Collins, under British pressure, moved against the most hardline Republican faction of all in the Four Courts, prompting the outbreak of hostilities around the country.

Another staple of Irish civil war writing has been to stress the utter incompetence of the Republican war effort. While there is much to this, Borgonovo unveils a Republican administration in Cork city, in the month or so of war before the Free State landing, that deployed troops to different fronts, collected customs and taxes effectively and even organised mobile kitchens for returning fighters. It amounts to quite a different picture from the usual portrayal of chaos and muddle. Borgonovo has a clear-sighted analysis of why this was so — the Free State army, built around a hardcore of IRA volunteers, successfully made the transition from a guerrilla to a conventional force and the anti-Treaty IRA did not.

This meant that the National Army had a clear command structure and hierarchy, so that operations could be planned and executed in a coordinated manner. It mattered also, of course that the anti-Treatyites were haphazardly armed and supplied, whereas the British-backed Free State forces had ample arms including artillery and armour and ammunition.

The Battle for Cork, Irish Civil War, John Borgonovo, Mercier Press

The actual fighting at Douglas and Rochestown, after the landing seems to have been fierce enough — a fact that, again, previous accounts stressing the ease of the Free State victory, have tended to elide. Eyewitnesses in this book talk about lorry-loads of casualties being ferried away from the firing line.

Perhaps as many as 30 were killed and many more wounded before the Republicans, outnumbered, outgunned and outflanked made their ignominious retreat from the city. There is, as John Borgonovo remarks towards the end of the book, more to say on the civil war in Cork. He writes that the guerrilla campaign there was more intense than that against the British.

You can listen to John Borgonovo talking about this book here. However, since the anti-treaty side were not equipped to wage conventional war, Liam Lynch was unable to take advantage of the Republicans' initial advantage in numbers and territory held. He hoped simply to hold the Munster Republic long enough to force Britain to re-negotiate the treaty.


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The large towns in Ireland were all relatively easily taken by the Free State in August Michael Collins, Richard Mulcahy and Eoin O'Duffy planned a nationwide Free State offensive, dispatching columns overland to take Limerick in the west and Waterford in the south-east and seaborne forces to take counties Cork and Kerry in the south and Mayo in the west. Another seaborne expedition to Mayo in the west secured government control over that part of the country.

While in some places the Republicans had put up determined resistance, nowhere were they able to defeat regular forces armed with artillery and armour. The only real conventional battle during the Free State offensive, the Battle of Killmallock , was fought when Free State troops advanced south from Limerick.

Government victories in the major towns inaugurated a period of guerrilla warfare. They held out in areas such as the western part of counties Cork and Kerry in the south, county Wexford in the east and counties Sligo and Mayo in the west. Sporadic fighting also took place around Dundalk , where Frank Aiken and the Fourth Northern Division of the Irish Republican Army were based, and Dublin, where small-scale but regular attacks were mounted on Free State troops.

August and September saw widespread attacks on Free State forces in the territories that they had occupied in the July—August offensive, inflicting heavy casualties on them. Arthur Griffith, the Free State president, had also died of a brain haemorrhage ten days before, leaving the Free State government in the hands of W. For a brief period, with rising casualties among its troops and its two principal leaders dead, it looked as if the Free State might collapse.

However, as winter set in, the Republicans found it increasingly difficult to sustain their campaign, and casualty rates among National Army troops dropped rapidly. For instance, in County Sligo, 54 people died in the conflict, of whom all but eight had been killed by the end of September. In the autumn and winter of , Free State forces broke up many of the larger Republican guerrilla units — in Sligo, Meath and Connemara in the west, for example, and in much of Dublin city.

Despite these successes for the National Army, it took eight more months of intermittent warfare before the war was brought to an end.

By late and early , the Anti-Treaty guerrillas' campaign had been reduced largely to acts of sabotage and destruction of public infrastructure such as roads and railways. However, by then the anti-treaty side held no significant territory and de Valera's government had no authority over the population. The legislation, commonly referred to as the "Public Safety Bill", set up and empowered military tribunals to impose life imprisonment, as well as the death penalty, for 'aiding or abetting attacks' on states forces, possession of arms and ammunition or explosive 'without the proper authority' and 'looting destruction or arson'.

The final phase of the Civil War degenerated into a series of atrocities that left a lasting legacy of bitterness in Irish politics. They were followed on 24 November by the execution of acclaimed author and treaty negotiator Erskine Childers. In all, out of around 12, republican prisoners taken in the conflict, 81 were officially executed by the Free State during the Civil War.

On 7 December , the day after Hales's killing, four prominent Republicans one from each province , who had been held since the first week of the war— Rory O'Connor , Liam Mellows , Richard Barrett and Joe McKelvey — were executed in revenge for the killing of Hales. In addition, Free State troops, particularly in County Kerry, where the guerrilla campaign was most bitter, began the summary execution of captured anti-treaty fighters.

The most notorious example of this occurred at Ballyseedy , where nine Republican prisoners were tied to a landmine , which was detonated, killing eight and only leaving one, Stephen Fuller , who was blown clear by the blast, to escape. The number of "unauthorised" executions of Republican prisoners during the war has been put as high as Cosgrave's uncle in February The Anti-Treaty IRA were unable to maintain an effective guerrilla campaign, given the gradual loss of support. The Catholic Church also supported the Free State, deeming it the lawful government of the country, denouncing the Anti-Treaty IRA and refusing to administer the Sacraments to anti-treaty fighters.

On 10 October , the Catholic Bishops of Ireland issued a formal statement, describing the anti-treaty campaign as:. All who in contravention of this teaching, participate in such crimes are guilty of grievous sins and may not be absolved in Confession nor admitted to the Holy Communion if they persist in such evil courses. Churchmen were appalled by the ruthlessness and cruelty. The Church's support for the Free State aroused bitter hostility among some republicans.

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Although the Catholic Church in independent Ireland has often been seen as a triumphalist Church, a recent study has found that it felt deeply insecure after these events. By early , the offensive capability of the Anti-Treaty IRA had been seriously eroded and when, in February , the Republican leader Liam Deasy was captured by Free State forces, he called on the republicans to end their campaign and reach an accommodation with the Free State. The State's executions of Anti-Treaty prisoners, 34 of whom were shot in January , also took its toll on the Republicans' morale.

In addition, the National Army's operations in the field were slowly but steadily breaking up the remaining Republican concentrations. March and April saw this progressive dismemberment of the Republican forces continue with the capture and sometimes killing of guerrilla columns. As the conflict petered out into a de facto victory for the pro-treaty side, de Valera asked the IRA leadership to call a ceasefire, but they refused. Tom Barry proposed a motion to end the war, but it was defeated by 6 votes to 5.

It is often suggested that the death of Lynch allowed the more pragmatic Frank Aiken , who took over as IRA Chief of Staff, to call a halt to what seemed a futile struggle. Aiken's accession to IRA leadership was followed on 30 April by the declaration of a ceasefire on behalf of the anti-treaty forces. On 24 May , Aiken followed this with an order to IRA volunteers to dump arms rather than surrender them or continue a fight that they were incapable of winning. Soldiers of the Republic. Legion of the Rearguard: The Republic can no longer be defended successfully by your arms.

Further sacrifice of life would now be in vain and the continuance of the struggle in arms unwise in the national interest and prejudicial to the future of our cause. Military victory must be allowed to rest for the moment with those who have destroyed the Republic.


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The Free State government had started peace negotiations in early May, which broke down. Many of their candidates and supporters were still imprisoned before, during and after the election. In October , around 8, of the 12, Republican prisoners in Free State gaols went on a hunger strike.

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The strike lasted for 41 days and met little success among those who died were Denny Barry and Andy O'Sullivan. In July, de Valera had recognised the Republican political interests lay with the prisoners and went so far as to say:. The whole future of our cause and of the nation depends in my opinion upon the spirit of the prisoners in the camps and in the jails. Although the cause of the Civil War was the Treaty, as the war developed the Republicans sought to identify their actions with the traditional Republican cause of the "men of no property" and the result was that large Anglo-Irish landowners and some less well-off former Protestant Loyalists were attacked.

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A total of "stately homes" of the old landed class and Free State politicians were destroyed by Republicans during the war. The stated reason for such attacks was that some landowners had become Free State senators. In October , a deputation of Southern Unionists met W. Cosgrave to offer their support to the Free State and some of them had received positions in the State's Upper house or Senate.

Bagwell was kidnapped and held in the Dublin Mountains , but later released when reprisals were threatened. However, in addition to their allegiance to the Free State, there were also other factors behind Republican animosity towards the old landed class. Many, but not all of these people, had supported the Crown forces during the War of Independence. This support was often largely moral, but sometimes it took the form of actively assisting the British in the conflict. Such attacks should have ended with the Truce of 11 July , but they continued after the truce and escalated during the Civil War.

Though the Wyndham Act of allowed tenants to buy land from their landlords, some small farmers, particularly in Mayo and Galway, simply occupied land belonging to political opponents during this period when the RIC had ceased to function. Sometimes these attacks had sectarian overtones, although most Anti-Treaty IRA men made no distinction between Catholic and Protestant supporters of the Irish government. The 60 orphans were taken to Devonport on board a Royal Navy destroyer.

Controversy continues to this day about the extent of intimidation of Protestants at this time. Many left Ireland during and after the Civil War. In all, from to , the Protestant population of the 26 counties fell from some The Civil War attracted international attention which led to various groups expressing support and opposition to the anti-treaty side. If the Irish Labour Party would only dare! The CI will assist all efforts to organise the struggle to combat this terror and to help the Irish workers and peasants to victory. However anti-treaty republicans had control of what was left of Clann na Gael and the American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic so they supported the anti-treaty side during the war.

The Civil War, though short, was bloody. Both sides carried out brutal acts: the anti-treaty forces murdered TDs and burned many historic homes, while the government executed anti-treaty prisoners, officially and unofficially.

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Precise figures for the dead and wounded have yet to be calculated. The pro-treaty forces suffered between —1, fatalities. The economic costs of the war were also high. As their forces abandoned their fixed positions in July—August , the Republicans burned many of the administrative buildings and businesses that they had been occupying. In addition, their subsequent guerrilla campaign caused much destruction and the economy of the Free State suffered a hard blow in the earliest days of its existence as a result.

Particularly damaging to the Free State's economy was the systematic destruction of railway infrastructure and roads by the Republicans. This adversely affected the boundary negotiations in —25, in which the Free State government acquiesced that border with Northern Ireland would remain unchanged in exchange for forgiveness of the Imperial debt.

Further, the state undertook to pay for damage caused to property between the truce of July and the end of the Civil War; W. Every Deputy in this House is aware of the complaint which has been made that the measure of compensation for post-Truce damage compares unfavourably with the awards for damage suffered pre-Truce. The fact that the Irish Civil War was fought between Irish Nationalist factions meant that the sporadic conflict in Northern Ireland ended.

Collins and Sir James Craig signed an agreement to end it on 30 March , [] but, despite this, Collins covertly supplied arms to the Northern IRA until a week before his death in August The continuing war also confirmed the northern Unionists' existing stance against the ethos of all shades of nationalism.