The War of Independence (1919-1921) and the Irish Civil War (1922-1923)
The aftermath of the First World War saw national borders re-drawn and calls for independence grow around the world. In Ireland, nationalists had rebelled against British rule for centuries, and had recently fought unsuccessfully against the British in the 1916 Rising in Dublin and in isolated pockets in Ireland such as Wexford, Galway and Meath. The execution of the Rising’s leaders and the incarceration of thousands of Irishmen and women strengthened republican feeling across the country. This was further reinforced by the Conscription Crisis of 1918, and the 1918 General Election saw mass support for Sinn Féin candidates who, instead of taking their seat in Westminster in London, formed Dáíl Éireann. This new government of Ireland rejected British authority and declared independence from Britain by establishing counter- government, justice and policing systems.
In 1919 the Irish Volunteers, now known as the Irish Republican Army, resumed their armed struggle with the British forces who were now widely seen as an army of occupation. Acting as the military arm of the newly-proclaimed Irish government, the IRA embarked on a campaign of harassment and guerrilla activity. However, wars are fought on many different fronts; hunger strike was also a powerful weapon used by Republican prisoners throughout the revolutionary years, and the state executions of republican prisoners sparked protests and labour strikes among the general population. This brought international attention and sympathy for the Irish cause. The British authorities retaliated with brutal force to the developments in Ireland. This war resulted in the deaths of thousands of people; Volunteers, soldiers and police, and civilians.
As the British forces were unable to quell the conflict in Ireland by 1921, the British Prime Minister and the IRA agreed a ceasefire and began negotiations to end the war. The resulting Anglo-Irish Treaty led to the formation of the Irish Free State in 1922, consisting of 26 counties, and a separate six county Northern Ireland which was to remain under British control. It also led to the divisive Irish Civil War (1922-1923), where former comrades fought for different visions of a free and independent Ireland.
Explore these conflicts through a selection of the collections of the National Museum of Ireland below.