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05-05-2021, 23:44   #1
gaiscioch
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Socio-economic factors as a cause of the Irish Civil War

The straightforward answer to 'What was the cause of the Irish Civil War' is one/some/all of the 18 terms of the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty. But if we were to change the question to 'To what extent was the 1921 Treaty responsible for the Civil War', what other factors should be brought in?

To what extent were socio-economic factors which had been covered over during the 1917-1921 period a cause? In France, Germany, Italy and Britain fear of Godless, property-taking communism was a live issue following the October 1917 Russian Revolution. To what extent did that fear in Ireland intersect with Catholicism to propel people to support the Treaty?

Or should we assume all the blame for the Civil War rests with the anti-Treaty side, rather than the British essentially buying off one side against the other?

Or, quite simply, were older socio-economic divides made bare in the post-Treaty period and the CW was as much a rearguard action by the old Catholic Home Rule order against social change and radicalism generally? Could the CW be seen as a counterrevolution by the better-off, who had been protected by British rule and were now worried that a continuation of revolution would overthrow their wealth and influence now?

Some of the comments on poverty and the poor by Blythe, McGilligan, Walsh and others in the early 1920s were at least strongly authoritarian if not outright fascist. The language, too, was frequently riddled with derision about the 'dregs' of society. On the other side, was there any correlation with social radicalism and the areas of most resistance during the CW? I remember reading that recruiters in Kerry during the War of Independence would only recruit in the hills and mountains as there in the poor land was where the poor and radical were.

In short, what factors outside the Treaty were causes of the Irish Civil War?
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06-05-2021, 02:40   #2
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It's an interesting and valid question, but I'm not sure that it's framed entirely correctly. Factors like poverty and social exclusion on the one hand, or being a property-owner or a person with a stake in the establishment on the other, might explain why people togged out for one side or the other in the Civil War, but I don't think they can really be described as the cause of the Civil War.
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06-05-2021, 20:22   #3
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Originally Posted by gaiscioch View Post
The straightforward answer to 'What was the cause of the Irish Civil War' is one/some/all of the 18 terms of the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty. But if we were to change the question to 'To what extent was the 1921 Treaty responsible for the Civil War', what other factors should be brought in?

To what extent were socio-economic factors which had been covered over during the 1917-1921 period a cause? In France, Germany, Italy and Britain fear of Godless, property-taking communism was a live issue following the October 1917 Russian Revolution. To what extent did that fear in Ireland intersect with Catholicism to propel people to support the Treaty?

Or should we assume all the blame for the Civil War rests with the anti-Treaty side, rather than the British essentially buying off one side against the other?

Or, quite simply, were older socio-economic divides made bare in the post-Treaty period and the CW was as much a rearguard action by the old Catholic Home Rule order against social change and radicalism generally? Could the CW be seen as a counterrevolution by the better-off, who had been protected by British rule and were now worried that a continuation of revolution would overthrow their wealth and influence now?

Some of the comments on poverty and the poor by Blythe, McGilligan, Walsh and others in the early 1920s were at least strongly authoritarian if not outright fascist. The language, too, was frequently riddled with derision about the 'dregs' of society. On the other side, was there any correlation with social radicalism and the areas of most resistance during the CW? I remember reading that recruiters in Kerry during the War of Independence would only recruit in the hills and mountains as there in the poor land was where the poor and radical were.

In short, what factors outside the Treaty were causes of the Irish Civil War?
The backbone of the IRA were middle class rural Catholic sons of small farmers educated by the CBS who opposed conscription in 1918. The majority of the IRA had little or no combat experience when the IRA campaign began in 1919 and intensified in 1920-21.

Wealthier Catholics or Anglo Irish Protestants had made up most of the Irish born officers in the British Army during WW1 and some of these men would join the IRA after 1918 and some later joined the National Army of the Free State.
The majority of British Army enlisted men in Irish regiments were the rural and urban Catholic poor who had joined the British Army Irish regiments for generations.

There was some economic factors. Anglo Irish Protestant gentry estates and large farms were still being liquidated for decades afterwards by the Land Commission. Many wealthy and upper middle class nationalists who supported Redmond and the Irish Parliamentary Party were supportive of Collins and Griffith and later the Cosgrave government and were Blueshirts in the 1930s and staunch Fine Gael supporters in subsequent decades.

Several die hard Fenians of the 1860s who supported Parnell in the 1880s and 1890s and Redmond in 1914 supported the 1921 Treaty and supported the Cosgrave government. Irish American leaders who fell out with De Valera during his tour of the US supported Collins and Griffith later.

Generally speaking the lower middle class and the poor tended to vote Fianna Fáil from the late 1920s onwards.

However it is too simplistic to say economics was the only factor.

Collins built a loyal network of activists and organizers and many people such as Harry Boland who were close friends refused to support the Treaty. Their oath to defend the Irish Republic and their loyalty to De Valera and to Cathal Brugha and the IRA leadership took precedence.

Swearing an oath of loyalty to the king was too much for them to bear.

Collins and his Squad - many of whom turned against him - was closer to the Dublin units of the IRA than rural units during the War of independence. Apart from general directives little or no arms or money was forthcoming from Dublin and many IRA units fought separate rather than co ordinated operations. Therefore if a local leader backed the Treaty personal loyalty meant other men would go along.
Brother did indeed go against brother.

During the Truce period the numbers on both sides of the IRA split were swelled by men who had taken no active part in the fight against the Tans and were derided as Truceleers.

Some men on either side defected to the other as the conflict erupted and others in a significant faction known as the Neutral IRA refused to take a side and stayed out of the fight entirely.

Men of every class and walk of life took one side or the other. The majority of the IRA and IRB of all socio economic classes opposed the Treaty in 1921 and 1922.

The rank and file of the National Army was made up of many men who had not fought in the WOI and their numbers swelled to overwhelm the under armed IRA.

Many Civil War veterans were embittered when the Boundary Commission resulted in a 6 county Northern Ireland and the Army mutiny led by some Collins loyalists and members of the Dublin Guard who had commited atrocities especially in Co. Kerry almost led to a renewed civil war. They questioned what they had fought and killed for.

The overall majorities enjoyed by De Valera for many years in government suggests that many who had fought against him in the Civil War were won over by FF in later years.

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09-05-2021, 21:56   #4
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The arguments on the socio-economic factors surrounding the civil war too often ignore the fact that the strength of opposition to the Treaty correlates to the objects and intensity of the violence during the Land League and the War of Independence. The Civil War created a ‘climate’ for agrarian radicalism by the bottom stratum of rural dweller – look at the shift in land tenure by the outbreak of the Civil War, most tenants had by then acquired their holdings under the various Land Acts. It was the labouring ‘have nots’, most of whom had nothing, ever, who were behind the burnings of ‘Big Houses’. Most of those were wanton destruction by radicals who had no defined aims, no central control and just wanted ‘payback’ for past events, perceived or otherwise. And of course a big opportunity for ‘land grab’. The leaders of the IRA itself were worried by this, c.f. comments by C.S. ‘Todd’ Andrews and others e.g. Deasy and Lacey.. The fact that the Land Commossion records are not available prevents proper study of this, sadly they are stuffed away in PortLaoise, blocked to all.
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10-05-2021, 08:07   #5
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The arguments on the socio-economic factors surrounding the civil war too often ignore the fact that the strength of opposition to the Treaty correlates to the objects and intensity of the violence during the Land League and the War of Independence. The Civil War created a ‘climate’ for agrarian radicalism by the bottom stratum of rural dweller – look at the shift in land tenure by the outbreak of the Civil War, most tenants had by then acquired their holdings under the various Land Acts. It was the labouring ‘have nots’, most of whom had nothing, ever, who were behind the burnings of ‘Big Houses’. Most of those were wanton destruction by radicals who had no defined aims, no central control and just wanted ‘payback’ for past events, perceived or otherwise. And of course a big opportunity for ‘land grab’. The leaders of the IRA itself were worried by this, c.f. comments by C.S. ‘Todd’ Andrews and others e.g. Deasy and Lacey.. The fact that the Land Commossion records are not available prevents proper study of this, sadly they are stuffed away in PortLaoise, blocked to all.
That's not the full truth. The burning of Big Houses truly began in earnest during the Truce period although they had been attacked for decades prior. Collins ordered houses burned because many were vacated by bankrupt landlords and used by the Auxillaries. Many Protestant landlords were also military officers as were males in their extended families. Perhaps there were socio ecinomic factors and sectarianism involved but the military side was the primary motivator.

Last edited by Samsonsmasher; 10-05-2021 at 09:02.
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10-05-2021, 09:48   #6
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We are discussing the Civil War. Collins did not adopt a strategy of burning ‘Big Houses’. Prior to the Civil War he sanctioned the burning of Summerhill in Meath because he had hard evidence it was to be used as a barracks. I cannot recall others, can you? You contradict yourself by using ‘military use’ as an excuse for burning and then say the burnings began in earnest AFTER the Truce. More than twice the number of houses were burned after the truce than before it. Again, military use doe not stack up.

The two main factors in post-Truce burnings were retribution and land grab. Arguably a few were burned to show the Free State they did not have control of an area. Many of those tenants who got their farms under the Land Acts believed they were not sufficiently large to be economically viable. Drive out the landlords, terrify them so they will not return and then get the land cheap. The latter is well documented if you look – for example the County Inspector of Tipperary saw this coming when the Truce was signed - ‘The hunger for land is great, those who are landowners want more, while those who have none and who have been gunmen believe that the estates of Loyalists such as Kilboy once cleared will be divided up amongst them.’

There also was wanton destruction, for example, Mitchelstown Castle in Co Cork was occupied by republican forces and then destroyed when they left. While occupying it they used the backs of priceless paintings to draw maps and stacked books from the library in lieu of sandbags in the windows. It, like many burned houses, was looted by locals before being torched.

The story of each burning is different but after the Truce it generally was done for land grab.

Last edited by Mick Tator; 10-05-2021 at 09:53.
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10-05-2021, 11:25   #7
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We are discussing the Civil War. Collins did not adopt a strategy of burning ‘Big Houses’. Prior to the Civil War he sanctioned the burning of Summerhill in Meath because he had hard evidence it was to be used as a barracks. I cannot recall others, can you? You contradict yourself by using ‘military use’ as an excuse for burning and then say the burnings began in earnest AFTER the Truce. More than twice the number of houses were burned after the truce than before it. Again, military use doe not stack up.

The two main factors in post-Truce burnings were retribution and land grab. Arguably a few were burned to show the Free State they did not have control of an area. Many of those tenants who got their farms under the Land Acts believed they were not sufficiently large to be economically viable. Drive out the landlords, terrify them so they will not return and then get the land cheap. The latter is well documented if you look – for example the County Inspector of Tipperary saw this coming when the Truce was signed - ‘The hunger for land is great, those who are landowners want more, while those who have none and who have been gunmen believe that the estates of Loyalists such as Kilboy once cleared will be divided up amongst them.’

There also was wanton destruction, for example, Mitchelstown Castle in Co Cork was occupied by republican forces and then destroyed when they left. While occupying it they used the backs of priceless paintings to draw maps and stacked books from the library in lieu of sandbags in the windows. It, like many burned houses, was looted by locals before being torched.

The story of each burning is different but after the Truce it generally was done for land grab.
Collins definitely ordered many stately homes used by the Auxies and Tans to be burned. There are numerous testimonies by local IRA commanders who took pro and anti Treaty positions subsequently.
During the Civil War burnings happened for a variety of reasons some sectarian some for land some for military reasons as they used as bases for local units on either side and some for sheer vandalism by lawless opportunists.
Why or how people took either side is probably different for every individual but most who took the Republican side did so because they were loyal to their oath and solely to the Irish Republic of 1916.
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10-05-2021, 14:16   #8
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Collins definitely ordered many stately homes used by the Auxies and Tans to be burned. There are numerous testimonies by local IRA commanders who took pro and anti Treaty positions subsequently.
During the Civil War burnings happened for a variety of reasons some sectarian some for land some for military reasons as they used as bases for local units on either side and some for sheer vandalism by lawless opportunists.
Why or how people took either side is probably different for every individual but most who took the Republican side did so because they were loyal to their oath and solely to the Irish Republic of 1916.

I reiterate - this thread is about the Civil War . . There is no point in posting about 1916, Tans, etc and burnings during the WoI. Collins was dead a year or so before the last big house burned. If Collins ordered the burning of 'stately homes' during the Civil War please give some examples.
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12-05-2021, 22:17   #9
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I think Socio-economic conditions in Ireland had to have played a huge factor.

I mean one of the main arguments made about the reason for needing a Republic instead of Home Rule or Dominion status is, that we needed economic freedom as well as political freedom which obviously the treaty & Home Rule didn't produce.

1918 - 24 period as well as guerrilla war was accompanied by strikes, boycotts, land seizure, cattle drives, mutinies and a rise of soviets (workers councils & factor committees). This evident from reading presses of the day for example
after a workers council was formed in Galway, this report appeared in the Watchword of Labour paper
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"Well, the Workers’ Council is formed in Galway, and it’s here to stay. God speed the day when such Councils shall be established all over Erin and the world, control the natural resources of the country, the means of production and distribution, run them as the worker knows how to run them, for the good and welfare of the whole community and not for the profits of a few bloated parasites. Up Galway!"
Manchester Guardian after a workers council formed in Clonmel
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It is particularly interesting to note the rise of the Workers’ Councils in the country towns. The direction of affairs passed during the strike to these councils, which were formed not on a local but a class basis. In most places the police abdicated and the maintenance of order was taken over by the local Workers’ Councils… In fact, it is no exaggeration to trace a flavour of proletarian dictatorship about some aspects of the strike

after a dispute between the Carlow's Famers Association and the ITGWU
and from the Watchword again

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The Red commandants had perfected their plan of campaign, and the rank and file are ready. This was to have been no mere stay-out holiday strike. The time is past when battles are won by men on holiday. The experience of last year's land strikes has proved that if the proletariat of the land are to win against the organised farmers, victory only comes through organised aggression, not organised passivity... Terrorism is the most potent of Labour's weapons, and while every other weaponry in our armoury must be used, it is on the Red Terror that our greatest reliance must be placed.
^Carlow, on Red Terror! That doesn't fit with Official Ireland's narrative of the Revolutionary period, who like to frame as a straight fight between the poorly armed 3,000 brave IRA men against the might of the British Empire, which included the regular British Army, Black & Tans, Auxies, RUC, B-Specials &

James Good a Cork union official

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The railwaymen in Ireland should be given complete control of their organisation . They asked to be left alone and they would leave Englishmen alone. All they wanted was a workers republic like the the Republic of Russia and on the day that they had it , the death knell of Capitalism & profiteering would be sounded.

What's interesting is the reaction to it not from the British who obviously were against this but so to & maybe even more vigorously were the Republicans or at least a good few of them, for example the Irish Republican Police that was approved by the Dail in the Spring of 1920, were used to put down castle drives, stop the land seizures, putting down workers councils & committees etc...
Like Sean Moylan a IRA Commander said:
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I Know what the IRA were doing, in 1920-21, they were engaged in an unselfish struggle for the freedom of this country... I remember very well a discussion by IRA HQ officers, and the question cleaning up the cattle dive in Mayo. And they were cleaned up by the IRA & the Mayo IRA".
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13-05-2021, 00:24   #10
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You forgot to mention the Limerick Soviet. The problem for those of that political persuasion is that they are unable or unwilling to accept that the ordinary Irish peasant (and I do not use the word pejoratively) wanted no truck with ‘that sort of thing’. He wanted to ‘get on’, to work, acquire and retain the fruit of his labour. He wanted to enlarge the farm he had bought under the Land Acts. (Or get land if he was landless, see my posts above.) Communism was anathema to him from every perspective - economic, social and religious. That is why those ‘communes’ failed so quickly and miserably.

You should go through the compensation files in the NAI here and in Kew and you will see ordinary decent people suffering from what was thuggery, not ‘freedom fighting’ and certainly not republicanism or patriotism. With the RIC gone, the British Army going and swathes of the country ‘unguarded’ and unable to be policed by pro-Treaty forces, the opportunists took advantage. Even Seán Moylan (who you quote) later reflected that the Truce period allowed young brats with guns to pose as ‘war hardened soldiers’. He said (I think it is referenced in Dooley’s book) that throughout the country they terrorised the ordinary decent civilian and he was worried that they would earn for the I.R.A. a reputation for bullying, drunkenness, and dishonesty. Moylan was a total philistine, as his later remarks in the Dail on our heritage showed.

The Truce was a shameful period ; those with an agenda wanted (and still want) to whitewash it.
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13-05-2021, 00:29   #11
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The age old tactic of divide and conquer by the British is what caused the Irish civil war.

A wise man once said "the greatest tactic of the oppressor is to make the oppressed believe they cannot win"

They convinced enough of the IRA they could not win and then offered them positions of power to sweeten the deal.
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13-05-2021, 00:30   #12
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The age old tactic of divide and conquer by the British is what caused the Irish civil war.

A wise man once said "the greatest tactic of the oppressor is to make the oppressed believe they cannot win"

They convinced enough of the IRA they could not win (30%) and gave them military backing and support to crush the other 70% and then offered them positions of power to sweeten the deal
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14-05-2021, 15:54   #13
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Most post colonial countries have a Civil war shortly after independence. ray Crotty produced a statistic in the 1980s. Of 147 post colonial countries, 146 had a Civil war shortly after independence. The Irish Civil War was probably caused for the same reasons as all the other Post Colonial Civil Wars.
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14-05-2021, 21:29   #14
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Most post colonial countries have a Civil war shortly after independence. ray Crotty produced a statistic in the 1980s. Of 147 post colonial countries, 146 had a Civil war shortly after independence. The Irish Civil War was probably caused for the same reasons as all the other Post Colonial Civil Wars.
.and they were?
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20-05-2021, 11:15   #15
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What's this?! No mention of Marx yet?

A Marxist reading of Irish history would describe, and indeed have predicted, a bourgeois counter-revolution to "keep the peace", which is always shorthand for "preserve capital", immediately following independence.

This isn't to say the immediate causes of the Civil War have been misidentified, just that they were only the immediate causes.

The motivations of a certain class (I don't think bourgeois is right for Ireland at that time, but we may use it as sufficiently close description) obviously underpinned their pragmatic approach, or what they would have described as pragmatic.

This is a feature of all revolutions. Maybe the classic examples are France in 1814 and the aftermath of the July Revolution. Victor Hugo calls them the "contented" cohort, the man who has time to sit down; but in sitting down, may stop the march of progress – I'm paraphrasing, but I always liked that analogy!
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