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Casualties of the Irish Civil War in Dublin

The Four Courts burning under bombardment in July 1922.

Towards a figure for civil war casualties in Dublin and environs, January 1922-November 1924. By John Dorney.

It has always been a truism of the, very limited, writing on the period of civil war between Irish nationalists in 1922-23 that immediately followed the War of Independence, that no one had ever accurately counted the casualties.

Michael Hopkinson, in his history of the conflict, Green Against Green, wrote, “There are no means by which to arrive at even approximate figures for the dead and wounded. [Richard] Mulcahy stated that around 540 pro-Treaty troops were killed between the Treaty’s signing and the war’s end; the government referred to 800 army deaths between January 1922 and April 1924. There was no record of overall Republican deaths, which appear to have been very much higher. No figure exists for total civilian deaths.”[1]

 

Through local studies it is now becoming possible to determine casualty figure for the civil war of 1922-23

However, this lack of figures reflects not so much the impossibility of discovering how many died as the lack of will to do so. It was not only that the Civil War was bitter and savage – as limited guerrilla conflicts go, the War of Independence was at least as bad if not worse in this regard. It was also that the internecine bloodshed seemed so futile in hindsight. What was the point of dragging up what neighbours and in many cases former comrades had done to each other?

By now enough time has passed that we can look at the period at last with relative lack of emotion. And local studies are indeed beginning to tell us how many were killed and injured in the conflict.

 Local Studies and figures

Peter Hart’s study of County Cork, The IRA and its Enemies, gives us a figure of 180 killed and 295 wounded in that county. Of which fatal casualties, 1 was British Army, 70 were National or Free State Army, 51 were Anti-Treaty IRA, 28 were civilians and 30 were of unknown status.[2]

Dublin has slightly fewer fatal casualties than Cork or Kerry but far more wounded.

Tom Doyle’s, The Civil War in Kerry throws up a figure of fatal casualties of 170 people, of whom 85 were Free State Army, 72 Anti-Treaty IRA and 12 civilians.[3]

Michael Farry’s The Irish Revolution: Sligo 1912–23 gives 48 people killed in the county during the civil war, 19 Free State Army, 18 Anti-Treaty IRA and 11 civilians.

Phillip McConway found that a total of 22 people were killed in County Offaly during the conflict. 8 Free State Army, 11 Anti-Treaty IRA and 3 civilians.[4]

James Durney’s study of Kildare found 45 deaths, of whom 17 were Free State Army, 3 were police, 8 were Anti-Treaty IRA men executed. It is not clear how many civilians the remainder included.[5]

Casualties of Civil War in Dublin

Going by these figures, Dublin was among the worst affected localities by the conflict. I have counted 195 killed and 695 wounded in the city and its environs. A detailed breakdown is in the table below but the dead were; 58 Free State Army, 71 Anti-Treaty IRA and 61 civilians. The British Army had 6,000 troops in the city until December 1922 and while they did play a limited part in Free State operations,  beyond a reference to 4 soldiers killed in 1922 (two before the Civil War) here, I have been unable to determine their casualties, if any, in the Civil War period.

This is a higher total, 906 killed and wounded, than Joost Augustjein’s figure of 458 killed and wounded for 1919-21 in the city in the War of Independence. [6] However it is a considerably lower rate of fatal casualties, counted by Eunan O’Halpin as 309 killed, in the ‘Tan War’, including about 150 civilians.[7]

One reason for this is that O’Halpin’s study counted as Dublin casualties people brought there for medical treatment who subsequently died from their wounds. I have only looked at casualties inflicted in Dublin.

The difference this might make is indicated by the Free State plot at Glasnevin cemetery in Dublin, where over 100 names of National Army soldiers are recorded as buried next to Michael Collins (see here), only a small proportion of whom were actually killed in Dublin. If these or other casualties who died in hospital were counted, Dublin’s death toll would rise sharply.

The main reason for the high number of wounded in the civil war is the week’s conventional fighting that started the civil war, the likes of which had not been seen in the city since the Easter Rising, in which over three quarters of the wounded were hit .

The most bloody periods in Dublin were in the initial week’s fighting around the Four Courts and O’Connell Street in late June/early July 1922 (in which over over 60 were killed) and subsequently a period of about three months, from September to December 1922 when the republicans attempted to mount a high intensity guerrilla campaign. In this period some 100 more people were killed in Dublin.  December and November also saw all but three of the 20 official executions in the city.

The bloodiest phase of the conflict in Dublin were autumn and early winter of 1922.

Whether due to the terrorising effect of executions or the arrest of many senior figures in their ranks, the anti-Treaty campaign petered out by early 1923 and January to June saw only 30 more deaths in the city due to the war.

Much of the remaining Republican activity was destruction of property and ineffective sniping attacks. These could also be deadly however, such as when on March 23, an anti-Treaty fighter, Patrick O’Brien was shot dead trying to blow up the Carlton cinema to enforce the Republicans’ ban on public entertainment in response to executions of their men in Kerry. Burning the houses of TDs and Senators was another part of the anti-Treaty campaign in Dublin and claimed at least one life – TD Sean McGarry’s seven year old son Emmet, who died of burns in December 1922.

There was another flurry of assassinations by both sides in March 1923 as the war came to a close, including three Free State sentries who were killed at close range with revolvers and seven anti-treaty fighters killed anonymously by undercover Free State forces.

Two more Republicans, Noel Lemass and Henry MacEntee were also abducted and killed by pro-Treaty forces in June and August 1923, after the Republicans had called a ceasefire.  I have also counted as civil war casualties two Jewish civilians killed by National Army soldiers (apparently in a private vendetta) in October 1923.

I stress that these numbers are minimum and provisional figures, taken from a variety of published sources – mostly from the Irish Times archive. Only where the dead were named and confirmed are they counted, not where claimed by the rival sides in internal reports and not verified by the other.

Another thing to stress is that the body count is probably not the most important statistic here. The pro-Treaty forces won the war by locking up over 12,000 republican guerrillas and sympathisers, not by killing them. In Dublin itself I do not yet have figures for how many were arrested and imprisoned. However the number certainly runs into thousands. Some 400 prisoners were taken in the initial fighting in July 1922. Around 150 more prisoners were taken in a botched IRA operation to destroy bridges in August and many more in dribs and drabs thereafter.

Combat, assassinations and executions

The list of republican executed and assassinated is taken from the Wolfe Tone annual 1962. However, from looking at the press of the day and other published accounts we can see their figures actually miss out some of the 29 covert or reprisal killings of republicans in the city.

I have counted nine accidental deaths among Free State troops but the real total is probably higher, given that nationally about 25% of the casualties in this virtually untrained army were self-inflicted. By contrast there were relatively few self-inflicted anti-Treaty deaths – the 4 I have counted blew themselves up while preparing a mine on the Naas Road in November 1922 and another died on hunger strike in 1924.

In addition, Republican wounded were obviously kept secret from the press and a number of these probably died. Similarly, a number of Free State soldiers and civilians probably succumbed to wounds later and are listed here as wounded rather killed.

Dublin has a high proportion of civilians killed and injured compared to other places but generally through being hit in the crossfire rather than being directly targeted. 

Dublin has a comparable casualty rate to Cork and Kerry but has a much higher number of wounded due to fighting taking place in densely populated area and civilians being hit in the crossfire, both in the street battle in July 1922 at the start of the war and in subsequent street ambushes. Some 50 civilians were killed and several hundred wounded by one or other combatant side during armed engagements in the city.

However, despite the relatively high proportion of civilian casualties,Dublin tends to bear out the thesis that civilians were much more rarely targeted deliberately in this phase of the conflict than in that against the British 1919-21. I have found no cases of fatal shootings of informers by the IRA in Dublin in the civil war. There probably were some cases that I have missed, but the practice was not widespread.

By contrast, in May and June 1921 alone, 15 civilians were killed in the city by the IRA as ‘spies’. The total figure for civilians deliberately killed 1919-21 is considerably higher.[8] One reason for this is that the IRA’s assassination unit, the Squad was on the Free State side in the Civil War, but there also seems to have been a psychological block on killing civilians for talking to an Irish Army, which did not exist for those who cooperated with British forces.

That said, Free State forces did kill a number of civilians suspected of republican sympathies.  For instance on March 11, 1923, a civilian whose brother was a known anti-Treatyite was shot dead by Intelligence officer from Wellington barracks on Donore Avenue. Republicans assassinated two Free State politicians (Sean Hales and Seamus O’Dwyer). While both were members of the armed forces, neither was armed at the time.

The republicans killed another 9 civilians at least in raids on houses and shops where civilians resisted their taking money or supplies. Also, more incidents may come to light in the future.  For instance, on June 22 1922, just before the attack on the Four Courts and the formal start of the Civil War, unidentified gunmen looking for a man named ‘Wilson’ broke into a tenement house on Rutland Street in central Dublin and shot dead a civilian ex-soldier named John Lawless. It cannot be determined at this point who killed him and why.

Whereas elsewhere, the National Army tended to lose more men than the IRA, in Dublin they lost less, primarily due to the effect of assassinations and executions by their forces, which accounted for 49 of the 71 IRA dead I have counted. If deaths and wounded caused in combat only are counted the National Army suffered considerably more (45 to 22). This is consistent with a pattern seen elsewhere – as guerrillas could choose the time and place of their attacks and then melt away. Conventional forces could only ‘even the score’ with reprisals on disarmed and captured guerrillas – a factor that also accounts for a large proportion of anti-Treaty deaths in Kerry (some 30 prisoners were killed there in March 1923 alone).

One final point emerges here – that the Free State forces did considerably more assassinations (29 to 6) than did their opponents. Almost all of these seem to have been carried out by former IRA Squad members, by then in the Criminal Investigation Department or National Army Intelligence. Some were on-the spot-killings, such as the shooting of anti-Treatyites James Spain and Patrick Mannion (September and November 1922 respectively) who were found wounded after attacking Free State troops and finished off. But many were targeted assassinations such as, for instance the killing of Frank Lawlor on December 29 1922, who was arrested at his home, driven out to Milltown, south of the city and shot.

The republicans’ relative lack of such killings was probably not down to chivalry so much as a lack of good intelligence and reliable gunmen, who were mainly on the other side. We know there were lists of names drawn up for the killing of large numbers of Free State officers and politicians but these plans were only irregularly carried out.

For a more intimate portrait of the civil war in Dublin see Wellington Barracks, a microcosm of the Irish Civil War. And for more on Free State assassinations in the city see; Who Shot Frank Lawlor?

Towards a civil war casualty figure

Taken together with other studies this puts us some way towards a final casualty figure for the conflict. The number of dead and wounded was significant, but if Dublin, Cork and Kerry together amount to about 550 dead and these were the three worst affected localities, we can safely set aside the estimates of 4-5,000 deaths sometimes mentioned. There were also fairly high casualties in counties such as Mayo,Tipperary,Limerick and Clare, but nowhere near the amount that would make up the difference.

James Durney’s estimate of 1,300 deaths – 730 National Army, 350 IRA and 200 civilians[9] does not look to be too far off – though the IRA total looks too small based on the proportion of casualties in Dublin, Cork and Kerry. Moreover the IRA named about 400 of their Volunteers killed in the Civil War in ‘The Last Post’ in the late 1920s, which must surely be the minimum figure. Not all low-ranking Volunteers were probably counted so the true total is likely to be somewhat higher.

Altogether it appears as if considerably fewer people died in the intra-nationalist fighting of 1922-23 than the 2,141 deaths from political violence in 1917-21 counted by Eunan O’Halpin and Daithí Ó Corráin in the Dead of the Irish Revolution project. The figure for wounded is harder to determine but in Dublin at least it is higher than in the preceding period.

Figures

These figures are incomplete, but as of 8/12/12, casualties I have found are;

(KIA = killed in action. WIA = wounded in action)

Free State (National Army and CID)
KIA: 58

Of whom;
16 kia in first week of fighting.
9 killed in accidents (probably underestimate)
6 assassinated (incl. Sean Hales and Seamus O’Dwyer, Hales and Dwyer  are counted as combatants due to membership of the National Army and Citizens’ Defence Force Respectively), and 3 armed sentries in March 1923)
26 kia in guerrilla phase

WIA: 188

IRA
KIA: 71

Of whom;
12 kia in first week of fighting, Four Courts,O’Connell St.
17 kia in guerrilla phase
c.29 assassinated or killed while prisoners.
20 officially executed
4 killed by own bomb
1 died on Hunger strike

WIA: 100 plus wounded in conventional fighting, no reliable subsequent figures.

Civilians
KIA: 61

Of whom,
33 killed in first week fighting.
1 in crash with Free State lorry
1 killed in arson by republicans, Sean McGarry’s son Emmet.
None killed as informers?
9 shot by republicans (or unknown forces) in raid on houses
17 killed, mostly in crossfire, in guerrilla phase.

WIA: c.305 of whom c.250 in first week’s fighting.

 

British Army
KIA: 4 kia and 1 suicide
WIA: no reliable figure

Total
KIA: 195
WIA: 695

 

 References

 


[1] Michael Hopkinson, Green Against Green: The Irish Civil War, p272-3
[2] Peter Hart, The IRA and its Enemies, p 121
[3] Tom Doyle, The Civil War in Kerry, p328-331
[4] Philip McConway, The Civil War in Offaly, Offaly Tribune, 2 January 2008.
[5] James Durney, the Civil War in Kildare, p14-15
[6] Joost Augusteijn, Public Defiance to Guerrilla Warfare, p 179
[7] Eunan O’Halpin, Counting Terror, in Fitzpatrick Ed., Terror in Ireland p 152
[8] Augustein p170
[9] Durney, Civil War in Kildare, p159

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