When the Civil War began – The Irish Times


Sir, – It has long been common to say that the civil war began on June 28, 1922, with the bombardment of the Four Courts. We see it again this week as the media marks this event.

It places the burden of the outbreak of the Civil War on the shoulders of the Free State government and supports a narrative that the British forced its hand.

In fact, civil war had been brewing since February, with numerous acts of occupation and violence by the anti-treaties.

There was a fierce two-day shooting spree in Kilkenny in May, for example. There was even a “truce” discussed in May, and there is no truce without war.

No government could tolerate violent defiance indefinitely, especially after the four courts were seized at gunpoint in April and its occupiers demanded that the government cease to function and that the treaty approved by Dáil Éireann be abandoned. A general election in June had seen the anti-treaty vote come in at less than 30 percent of first preferences. The government hoped that the resumption of the Four Courts would deter further confrontations.

With regard to the borrowing of British arms to bombard the Four Courts, it may be noted that the Anti-Treaty IRA itself was willing to take delivery of British guns and ammunition from Collins for use against the Irish Unionists in Northern Ireland. The new national army needed weapons from somewhere.

Why is the recapture of the Four Courts and not its capture considered the start of a war? Dramatic photos of explosions may be one reason. The media and historians should avoid lending themselves to a version of history that too clearly portrays a legal and democratic state as the instigator of violent confrontation. – Yours, etc.,


Honorary Professor,

Dublin City University,

Dublin 9.


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