In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Irish Revolution, 1911-1923

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Genealogical Guides
  • British Published Archival Sources
  • Published Republican Primary Sources
  • Published Interviews and Recollections
  • Newspapers
  • Journals
  • Michael Collins
  • Eamon de Valera
  • 1916 Easter Rising
  • Geopolitical Environment
  • Strategies, Operations, and Tactics of the Conflict
  • Nationalist Political Groups
  • Home Rule
  • Unionism
  • Women in Ireland
  • Dáil Éireann
  • The Anglo-Irish Treaty
  • Popular Opinion
  • Irish Diaspora and Expatriate
  • Smuggling and Gunrunning
  • Commemoration, Interpretation, and Memory

Military History The Irish Revolution, 1911-1923
W. H. Kautt
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 June 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 June 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0110


The Irish War of Independence, also sometimes known as the Tan War or the Anglo-Irish War, was part of the Irish revolution, which consisted generally of three conflicts spanning from 1911 to 1923. The constituent struggles were the Easter Rising of 1916 and the events leading up to it, the Irish War of Independence (1919–1921) and the Irish Civil War (1922–1923). Widespread debate continues as to the exact relationship of these conflicts to each other and whether they constituted a single war or separate wars. Consensus is growing toward their distinctive, yet interconnected nature within an overarching revolution, albeit interrupted, changed, and, in many ways spurred on by World War I, spanning a period from roughly 1910 or 1911 to the end of the Irish Civil War in 1923. Further, some scholars advocate the use of the word “for” to make the title the Irish War for Independence, in place of the War of Independence. The reasoning behind this title change is that Ireland gained only limited independence from the United Kingdom in 1923 rather than complete independence or a republic separate from the British Crown. Regardless, this was a war unlike any war fought in Ireland up to that time. It was not only that it was a guerrilla war, but also that it was a conflict typified by strong political organization. This was the first time the rebels counted the fully enfranchised as the majority within their ranks. It was also the first time many of the rebel leaders were elected to Parliament. Although not universally popular, the war still enjoyed a level of legitimacy among the populace not seen previously. The rebels did not fight in a mass rising as they did in 1916 because they did not want a repetition of the rising, in which they were caught in static defense of an urban center. This was a war based on the guerrilla concepts of dispersal and temporary concentration. Finally, this was the first time the British government avowed independence, although limited, as its goal. The issues were the form and type of new government to be permitted as well as to whom to hand over power.

General Overviews

The rural and urban guerrilla nature of the War of Independence has tended to defy adequate definition and explanation. While the British army was able to define the conflict simply as a “murder campaign,” historians, until later in the 20th century, were frequently at a loss to describe the processes and mechanisms of change. This fact may be due partly to a lack of experience with such wars and a corresponding lack of revolutionary theory at the time. Macardle 1937 is one of the first among the comprehensive histories, albeit it is unapologetically propagandistic. Hopkinson 2002 is one of the more recent works to examine the era as one in which a separate war was waged, while Costello 2003 followed soon after with a more comprehensive view of the revolutionary era. Augusteijn 2002 brings many leading historians together to examine the issue of whether it was a revolution or a war of national liberation. Bric and Coakley 2004 examines the war broadly but in the context of the rest of the era and of those following. Finally, Townshend 2013 and Coleman 2013 provide comprehensive examinations of the foundation of the Irish state. Townshend 2013 looks at the higher politics and grander strategies, and Coleman 2013 examines the lower levels of activities.

  • Augusteijn, Joost, ed. The Irish Revolution, 1913–1923. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.

    In a series of essays by many of the leading and up-and-coming historians in the field, this work examines many aspect of the revolution, from propaganda to mobilization, from rebel government to motivation, and from Unionists to remembrance.

  • Bric, Maurice J., and John Coakley, eds. From Political Violence to Negotiated Settlement: The Winding Path to Peace in Twentieth-Century Ireland. Cork, Ireland: Cork University Press, 2004.

    Another series of essays examines the era (and beyond) comprehensively and thoughtfully. While it examines events beyond the scope of the revolutionary era, the majority fall within that scope.

  • Coleman, Marie. The Irish Revolution, 1916–1923. Harlow, UK: Pearson, 2013.

    Coleman provides a fairly comprehensive view of the war, the political situation leading up to it, its conduct, and other aspects, such as issues concerning the involvement of women and of organized labor. Finally, she includes a representative sample of primary documents.

  • Costello, Francis. The Irish Revolution and Its Aftermath, 1916–1923: Years of Revolt. Dublin, Ireland: Irish Academic, 2003.

    This voluminous work examines in good detail the whole period of the conflict. Broken down chronologically, Costello ably tells the story from the Easter Rising to the end of the Irish Civil War.

  • Hopkinson, Michael A. The Irish War of Independence. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2002.

    Billed as the first narrative account of the overarching war since Macardle 1937, Hopkinson intended to give the macro view of the conflict. Although he examined the British side more than the republican, left out the war in Ulster, and ended at the truce, Hopkinson’s strength is in examining the struggle of dealing with this modern approach to guerrilla warfare in Ireland.

  • Macardle, Dorothy. The Irish Republic: A Documented Chronicle of the Anglo-Irish Conflict and the Partitioning of Ireland, with a Detailed Account of the Period 1916–1923. London: Gollancz, 1937.

    Available in several editions, this was the “official” history of the war from the republican side. It portrays the revolution as many republicans, especially the anti-treatyites, wanted. For the same reason, it must be used with caution.

  • O’Hegarty, Patrick Sarsfield. The Victory of Sinn Féin: How It Won It and How It Used It. Dublin, Ireland: University College Dublin Press, 1998.

    Originally written shortly after the war in 1924, it is a good pro-treaty account. As Bill Kissane has noted (see Kissane 2005, cited under Civil War, 1922–1923), it should be read along with Macardle 1937.

  • Townshend, Charles. The Republic: The Fight for Irish Independence, 1918–1923. London: Allen Lane, 2013.

    The eminent Townshend attempts to cut through the hyperbole of the past century to get to the truth of what happened during this period. He rejects the stereotypical explanations and legends throughout.

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