In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Irish Civil War, 1922–1923

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Introductory Works
  • Memoirs
  • The Partition of Ireland
  • The Irish Revolution, 1916–1923
  • From Treaty to Civil War
  • Military History of the Civil War
  • Local History of the Civil War
  • Social Aspects of the Conflict
  • Women and the Civil War
  • The Aftermath of the Civil War
  • The Irish Party System
  • The IRA and Irish Republicanism
  • Michael Collins
  • Éamon de Valera
  • The Cumann na nGaedheal Administrations
  • The Roots of Fianna Fáil
  • The 1922 Constitution
  • The 1937 Constitution
  • The Two Irelands
  • Comparative Studies
  • Historiography
  • Commemoration and Memory
  • The Civil War in Irish Literature

Military History Irish Civil War, 1922–1923
Bill Kissane
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 July 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0042


The Irish civil war of 1922–1923 has generated two types of literature. On the one hand, as the defining moment in the formation of the independent Irish state, it has been studied essentially as a political conflict fought within the territory of this new state, by a nationalist elite divided over the terms of the Anglo-Irish Treaty signed on 6 December 1921. More recently the stress on elite politics has receded, and the civil war’s complexity has been borne out by less conventional studies. Local histories, taking the county as the unit of analysis, stress the importance of local, factional, and personal divisions in shaping responses to the treaty. Others point out the connection between events south of the border and violence in the first few years of Northern Ireland’s existence. The place of the civil war within the course of the Irish War of Independence begun in 1919 is also important, while the social dimension to the civil war has begun to be studied only recently. Some interesting comparative studies have been done. In general, the more recent the study, the more likely is the work to depart from the elite politics approach. This reflection is even more true for the last fifteen years, which has seen the emergence of an increasingly diverse set of sources and perspectives.

General Overviews

When the contemporary history of the Irish state began to be written, the events of 1922–1923 were shrouded in silence. The subject was not on the official curriculum for schools, and few articles appeared in history journals. Indeed, it was only after the passing of the revolutionary generation that academic historians began to focus on the civil war, and Hopkinson 2004 (originally published in 1988) was for a long time the only such study. Its attention to events on the ground brings out the chaos and social unrest in Irish society in 1922–1923. Before then, Younger 1968 and Neeson 1973 had covered the conflict chronologically. Younger identified strongly with the pro-treaty position, arguing that the alternative was anarchy, while Neeson suggested that the issues at stake remained in some ways unresolved. Garvin 1996 combines political science with history and brings back the issue of democratic legitimacy to the center of the debate. Kissane 2005 focuses on the politics of the conflict and sees the civil war as a consequence of Ireland’s partial breakaway from the British Empire. Similar to Braun 2002, which focuses on propaganda, for the most part it explores the struggle for legitimacy in 1922–1923 rather than the actual fighting.

  • Braun, Nikolaus. Terrorismus und Freiheitskampf: Gewalt, Propaganda und politische Strategie im irischen Bürgerkrieg, 1922/23. Veroffentlichungen des Deutschen Historischen Instituts London 54. Munich: Oldenbourg, 2002.

    Only available in German, a unique look at the propaganda war and thus the struggle for legitimacy in the civil war.

  • Garvin, Tom. 1922: The Birth of Irish Democracy. Dublin: Gill & Macmillan, 1996.

    Has an excellent chapter on local government reform and is perceptive on elite culture and mentalities. Written with brio but colored by a strong antirepublican bias, it is based largely on sources left by the pro-treaty elite.

  • Hopkinson, Michael. Green against Green: The Irish Civil War. 2d rev. ed. Dublin: Gill & Macmillan, 2004.

    Originally published in 1988. For a long time the standard work and the most comprehensive study. Since it combines coverage of events in the localities with a chronological approach, it can serve as a research resource for students. The first study to achieve a serious level of primary research.

  • Kissane, Bill. The Politics of the Irish Civil War. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199273553.001.0001

    More a political study than Hopkinson 2004, this work documents the presence of a strong desire for peace in Irish society during the conflict, with chapters on peace negotiations and the interventions of civic organizations. Should be read as an antidote to Garvin 1996, since it argues that the democracy question has to be related to that of imperial control.

  • Neeson, Eoin. The Civil War, 1922–1923. Rev. ed. Cork, Ireland: Mercier, 1973.

    Quirky, but at times insightful, and the first study to do justice to the anti-treaty point of view.

  • Younger, Carlton. Ireland’s Civil War. London: Muller, 1968.

    Standard chronological history, which identifies strongly with the Free State’s desire to return the country to law, order, and stability.

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