Skip to content

The Irish Civil War

The signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1921 triggered a short but bitter Civil War, during which more than a thousand Irish people died, including Michael Collins.

After 18 months of guerrilla war, both the British government and the leaders of the IRA sought to bring this ugly conflict to an end. When Michael Collins signed a treaty accepting something less than complete independence for all of Ireland (26 instead of 32 counties), he prophesied that he was probably signing his death warrant. He was right. The signing of the Treaty triggered a short but bitter Civil War, during which more than a thousand Irish people died, including Collins.

How did men who had fought together for the ideal of a free and independent Ireland come to kill each other? To a great extent the division was between those who had worked with Michael Collins and been influenced by his charismatic personality, and those fighters far from Dublin who had followed other leaders with different views. Few of the IRA commanders in the field supported the treaty, and the majority of rank and file men followed their local commander

Michael Collins (1890-1922)

Michael Collins served as the brains of the IRA during the War of Independence, and having negotiated the Treaty with Britain, became Minister of Finance in the Provisional Government that followed. On the outbreak of the Civil War he resigned that post to take command of the National Army. His death at age 32 in an ambush on a country road deprived Ireland of a charismatic leader and changed the course of Irish history.

Liam Lynch (1890 -1923)

During the War of Independence, Liam Lynch made his mark as a well-respected IRA leader. One of the most important opponents of the Treaty, he persuaded the majority of the IRA to join him. Nevertheless, as the Civil War approached, he did his utmost to avoid the conflict, but when it came, he accepted the post of Chief of Staff of the anti-Treaty IRA. A skilled and determined fighter, he was one of the last casualties of the Civil War.

Sign up to our newsletter

Keep up to date

Receive updates on the latest exhibitions