The Aftermath of 1916

Find out how the internments and reprisals that followed the 1916 Rising led directly to a renewed Irish republicanism and, ultimately, the Civil War.


Of those arrested after the Rising, most were interned in various British prisons – Knutsford, Lewes, Wandsworth, Wakefield, Stafford, Glasgow and Perth. Later, about 1,800 were transferred to an internment camp at Frongoch in Wales.

Here, internees elected their own leaders, studied Irish language and history and generally maintained their own organisation. The majority were released in August 1916, the remainder the following December. The convicted prisoners were freed in June 1917.

The War of Independence 

As the War of Independence (1919-21) intensified, existing prisons were unable to cope with the huge flood of prisoners and a number of internment camps were set up, such as Spike Island, Co. Cork and Ballykinlar, Co. Down.

Ballykinlar held over 2,000 prisoners, who organised their own theatre companies, classes, societies and craft groups and even issued their own token coinage. The camp was referred to by its inmates as “the university”.

The guerrilla warfare that developed in Ireland from 1919 was largely unplanned. It was influenced more by local developments and personalities than by any central direction and varied in intensity from region to region. Described as ‘part-time and episodic’, it was fought with greatest intensity in Dublin city and Munster, while other parts of the country saw very little conflict.

As the IRA and the British army changed and developed their military tactics, amid a growing level of ambushes, raids, atrocities and reprisals, it gradually became apparent that outright victory for either side was unattainable. Initially the war took the form of raids for arms, the first being at Soloheadbeg, Co. Tipperary, in January 1919.

As the year wore on, attacks on police barracks intensified, the regular British Army was increasingly brought into use, and by the end of the year there were 40,000 troops in the country. The fighting intensified in 1920 as ambushes and military sweeps became commonplace. The IRA perfected a type of guerrilla warfare, based upon flying columns and active service units, which was very difficult to combat.

By 1921, the war had reached a new level of ferocity, as IRA attacks on barracks and convoys were followed by British reprisals, official and unofficial. Finally, with the military conflict in stalemate, a truce was agreed on 9th July 1921, and came into effect on 11th July.

From Truce to Treaty

When the Truce came into effect, British and Irish representatives commenced peace negotiations. The exclusion of a portion of Ulster, the status of the new state and the nature of the relationship with Britain, led to virtual deadlock between the Irish and British, and disagreement among the Irish themselves. Finally, a Treaty was signed on 6th December 1921.

After a long and angry debate in the Dáil, it was ratified in January 1922 by 64 votes to 57. Evacuation of British regular troops, Auxiliaries and Black and Tans commenced immediately and the Royal Irish Constabulary was disbanded.

Beggar’s Bush Barracks was occupied as the headquarters of the new Free State army, and by the end of May the British had evacuated most of the barracks and military installations.

Free State or Republic?

The ratification of the Treaty in January 1922 was followed by a bitter struggle between those in favour of and those against its implementation. Ideological differences, local rivalries and personal animosities all played a part. The issue of partition, the complicated allegiences of the IRA and IRB, and uncertainty over the status of the Dáil and the new Provisional Government, all added to the confusion.

Civil War Begins

As soldiers loyal to one side or the other began to occupy barracks and vantage points, there were numerous attempts at reconciliation as the country slid towards civil war. Serious conflict broke out at the end of June when the pro-Treaty forces shelled the Four Courts in Dublin and forced the surrender of its Republican garrison.

The Republican forces were strongest in the south and west but the early capture of Cork, Waterford, Limerick and Castlebar by Free State troops brought conventional warfare to an end by the autumn of 1922. In the meantime the deaths of Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins removed two of the most influential figures in Irish politics.

The End of the Civil War

As the conflict switched to guerrilla warfare, it became increasingly vicious and chaotic. Each camp waged bitter propaganda wars against the other and provided comprehensive reports of the atrocities of the other side. Shooting of prisoners, mistreatment of detainees, the burning of pro-Unionist houses, the destruction of railways and bridges and the use of prisoners to clear mines, all led to revenge and reprisal.

In early December, Seán Hales, a pro-Treaty TD, was shot dead by Republicans. As a reprisal, four Republican prisoners, Rory O’Connor, Joseph McKelvey, Liam Mellows and Dick Barrett, were executed by the Free State. By the end of the conflict, in May 1923, the number of executions was to stand at 77.

Disunity in the Republican ranks and especially between the military and political leaders, made continued resistance against the better-armed and organised Free State forces more and more difficult. Finally, in May 1923, the order was given to cease hostilities and dump arms. This brought to an end a conflict that was to leave a legacy of bitterness and influence the shape of Irish politics for many decades.