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Civil War Fatalities in Dublin

Civil War Deaths in Dublin

by John Dorney 


Dublin was the county with the largest death toll in the Irish Civil War, with, by our count, 260 violent deaths between 28 June 1922 and 24 May 1923. Of these, seventy-nine were civilians, 103 were members of the pro-Treaty forces (mainly the National Army), seventy-four were anti-Treaty combatants (primarily the IRA) and four were British servicemen.

These fatality figures, which are considerably higher than those of the next most violent counties, Cork and Kerry, somewhat overstate Dublin’s role in the conflict. Adjusting for population, counties such as Kerry, Tipperary and even Louth were far more violent per head of population. Secondly, the total fatality count for Dublin includes all those who died in the city’s hospitals, even when the fatal wound was inflicted elsewhere. Finally, nearly a third of the Dublin fatalities occurred during the fighting in the city in the first week of the Civil War.

With all that being said, Dublin city and county was markedly affected by the Civil War. The ‘Battle for Dublin’ between 28 June and 5 July 1922 saw considerable material destruction and hundreds of dead and wounded, the majority of whom were civilians. Thereafter, to an extent that is not often appreciated, the anti-Treaty guerrilla campaign in Dublin caused the pro-Treaty government considerable difficulties. Additionally, while many of those who died in Dublin were not born there, it was the county of origin of 282 Civil War victims, many of whom, mostly in the National Army, died elsewhere in the country.

Dublin was also the largest single site of government executions by firing squad and, after Kerry, the county with the highest number of ‘unofficial’ executions of republican guerrillas by pro-Treaty forces. For these reasons, the Civil War in Dublin was remembered by republican combatants with a special bitterness.


Map showing the location and affiliation of the combatant and civilian fatalities in Dublin City during the Irish Civil War

Fig 1. Map showing the location and affiliation of the combatant and civilian fatalities in Dublin City between 28 June 1922 and 24 May 1923


Chronology of the Civil War in Dublin

In Dublin, the Provisional Government could count on the fact that the IRA Headquarters and special units such as the intelligence ‘Squad’ and Active Service Unit were loyal to the leadership of Michael Collins and Richard Mulcahy. These units would form the core of the ‘Dublin Guard’ the first formal unit of the National Army. Other elements of pre-Truce IRA intelligence ended up in the armed detective unit, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). Anti-Treaty sentiment was predominant, however, among the city’s four regular IRA battalions and the Second Brigade in the county. In contrast, the civilian population was solidly pro-Treaty, with the republicans winning only 14 per cent of the vote in the city in the general election of 16 June 1922. Dublin would be the primary recruiting ground of the Free State’s armed forces and, during the Civil War, Dubliners were three times more likely to die in National Army service than in the IRA.

Dublin’s Bloodiest Chapter

Tensions simmered in Dublin between pro and anti-Treaty factions of the IRA after they formally split in March 1922. Some shots were exchanged in April as the two sides jostled over who would occupy the barracks vacated by the departing British forces, and the anti-Treaty IRA Executive forcibly occupied the Four Courts in central Dublin.

Civil War, however, did not break out until the Provisional Government forces opened fire on the anti-Treaty headquarters at the Four Courts on 28 June 1922. There followed a week of sharp fighting in the city. Comparisons are often made with the insurrection in Dublin at Easter 1916, but the IRA in 1922 were far less determined or prepared than the Volunteers in 1916, reacting to, rather than initiating, events. The Four Courts was shelled into surrender after a two-day siege, its garrison taken prisoner. The Dublin Brigade of the IRA had occupied several garrisons around the city, but most were concentrated around the ‘Block’ of buildings at the northern end of O’Connell (Sackville) Street. The initial aim of their commander, Oscar Traynor, was to aid a breakout of the Four Courts garrison. When this failed, further republican efforts amounted to a drawn-out rearguard action as the anti-Treaty fighters attempted to disperse.

The last anti-Treaty garrison on O’Connell Street, at the Hammam Hotel, surrendered on 5 July, when erstwhile minister for defence, Cathal Brugha was fatally wounded. Over 750 republicans were taken prisoner and the capital secured for the Provisional Government. ‘The Battle for Dublin’, during which artillery, heavy machine guns, rifle grenades and mines were used, was by far the bloodiest chapter of the Civil War in Dublin.


Guests leaving the Edinburgh Hotel, O'Connell Street, Dublin where they had been confined for three days during fighting, 5 July 1922 NLI HOGW 27

Fig. 2 Guests leaving the Edinburgh Hotel, O'Connell Street, Dublin where they had been confined for three days during fighting, 5 July 1922 [Image: NLI HOGW 27]


Ongoing republican campaign

Defeated but not destroyed by the fighting in July, the IRA in Dublin planned a major operation in early August involving the destruction of all the road and rail bridges leading into the city to disrupt the Provisional Government’s offensive into republican-held Munster. It failed catastrophically after an IRA intelligence officer was captured in possession of plans for the operation, and more than 100 anti-Treatyites were captured on the ‘Night of the Bridges, 5-6 August in the act of attempting to destroy roads and bridges.

Even this second major defeat did not mark the end of the anti-Treaty campaign in Dublin, however. In fact, in the autumn of 1922 the tempo of urban guerrilla operations reached a considerable pitch. The Dublin Guard and the more experienced National Army troops had been sent elsewhere in the country and replaced with mostly inexperienced new recruits. Small IRA units from the city’s four battalions launched regular small-scale ambushes in the streets, both the National Army and the remaining British garrison.

The high point of this campaign came in late October and early November 1922, with relatively large-scale assaults on CID headquarters at Oriel House, and Wellington Barracks, the home of Military Intelligence. This momentum, however, could not be sustained. While well over 100 people were killed in Dublin between August and December 1922, only sixty-four died between January and 24 May 1923, many of whom had been involved in accidents or wounded elsewhere and transported to hospital in the capital.

A Vicious Cycle of Reprisals

Anti-Treaty morale was affected by the gradual arrest of most of the high-ranking anti-Treaty leadership – heads of the Dublin Brigade, Oscar Traynor and Frank Henderson; IRA Eastern Commander Ernie O’Malley and Joe O’Connor, head of Third Battalion. Summary or unofficial executions of anti-Treatyites accompanied the uptick in guerrilla activity in Dublin in the late summer and autumn of 1922, notably those of Fianna officer Sean Cole and Alf Colley, whose bodies were found at Whitehall, north of the city in late August 1922.

Formal executions, which began in Kilmainham Gaol in November 1922, also affected anti-Treaty morale, and led to a vicious series of reprisals in the city. In retaliation for what they termed the ‘judicial murder’ of eight prisoners, the IRA assassinated pro-Treaty TD Seán Hales on 7 December 1922. In response, the Free State authorities summarily executed four senior republicans, Rory O’Connor, Liam Mellows, Dick Barrett and Joe McKelvey, who had been held in Mountjoy Jail since the surrender of the Four Courts.

No other TDs were killed in Dublin but former TD, Seamus Dwyer was gunned down at his business in Rathmines in late December 1922 and a number of Free State senators, including Oliver St John Gogarty, were kidnapped and threatened with death. Republicans also mounted an extensive arson campaign, targeting the homes and businesses of pro-Treaty politicians. An attempt to burn the Fairview home pro-Treaty TD Seán McGarry in December led to the tragic death of his seven-year-old son, Emmet.

A Diminished IRA

The National Army garrison in Dublin grew steadily in size and was assisted by the plain clothed, but heavily armed CID. By the spring of 1923, there was approximately 3,000 National Army soldiers and over 400 armed police in the Dublin area and mass internments had reduced the Dublin IRA to approximately 250 fugitive Volunteers with no more than fifty rifles between them. Columns in the city’s rural hinterland, notably in the Leixlip, Blessington and Dalkey areas, were rounded up in late 1922 and 1923 and by the end of the Civil War at least 3,500 people from Dublin had been imprisoned. By this point Cumann na mBan had taken over most of the logistics, propaganda and communications work on the anti-Treaty side. No women republican activists were killed in Dublin but 238 female activists from all around the country were imprisoned in the city.

Last spasm of Civil War violence

Despite the republicans’ weakness, the spring of 1923 saw a last spasm of Civil War violence in Dublin. The IRA mounted a concerted arson campaign against public buildings such as tax offices and, in reaction to the resumption of executions in March 1923, attempted to ban public entertainments, making several attempts to blow up cinemas and theatres. Pro-Treaty forces, for their part, resumed targeted assassinations of republicans. They picked up and killed several leaders of Dublin IRA active service units including Bobby Bonfield, Thomas O’Leary and Martin Hogan.

On 1 April 1923, well before the IRA leadership issued the Dump Arms order, the Dublin command of the National Army was able to write, ‘there is practically nothing in this command to show that there is a war raging in the country’. The IRA ceasefire and order to secure arms only confirmed the anti-Treatyites’ defeat there.

Nevertheless, Dublin saw a significant number of deaths after 24 May 1922, including Noel Lemass, the prominent republican, who was abducted in June and whose body was found in the Dublin mountains in October 1923. The county’s death toll rises to nearly 300 if all of 1922 and 1923 are included.

Cause of death: Civil War Combatants in Dublin

Nearly half of the deaths in combat in Dublin occurred during the first week of the Civil War. The ‘Battle for Dublin’ claimed the lives of at least twenty-five National Army soldiers, one British soldier and fourteen republican combatants. Thereafter, National Army soldiers were considerably more likely to die in combat than IRA members who could attack vulnerable static posts, patrols and convoys and then melt away into Dublin’s civilian population. This is consistent with the pattern found elsewhere in the guerrilla phase of the war.

National Army soldiers were also far more likely to die in accidents than IRA Volunteers. Of the sixty-two accidental deaths counted in Dublin, only four were anti-Treatyites, killed by their own mine on the Naas Road in November 1922. Of the remainder, forty-eight were pro-Treaty personnel, most of whom died in firearms-related accidents, the inevitable result of recruiting and arming so many soldiers without time to instil proper discipline or weapons training.

Presenting quite a different pattern to the National Army fatalities, less than half of the seventy-four republican dead were killed in action. More than half (at least thirty-seven) were executed, either formally or summarily. Among the most disturbing of such incidents was the case of three teenage IRA members Eamon Hughes, Brendan Holohan and Joe Rogers, who were arrested on 7 October 1922 while putting up posters calling for the killing of Free State forces. They were found shot dead the next day at a quarry in the Red Cow area.

Such incidents as these gave rise to the republican perception that, whereas they had attempted to fight the Civil War with clean hands, the ‘Free Staters’ were, as Todd Andrews put it, merely ‘traitors and murderers’. From the pro-Treaty perspective, however, the ‘irregular’ guerrilla fighters in Dublin, who endangered the lives of both soldiers and civilians, would meekly surrender when cornered to save their own lives. Executions were, in this reading, the only way to make the anti-Treatyites feel the cost of the war they were conducting.

Cause of Death: Civilians

The majority of the seventy-nine civilians who died in Dublin were caught in the crossfire. Thirty-five of those civilians were killed in the week’s fighting in the capital, a lower number than we night expect given the level of munitions used and the tendency of civilians to gather to watch the fighting. The civilian fatality figure is also much lower than the 300 civilians who died in Dublin during the Easter Rising, largely because the pro-Treaty forces in 1922 were much more discriminate in their use of firepower. There was no deliberate mass targeting of civilians in Dublin during the Civil War to compare with the British Army’s killing of fourteen civilians on North King Street in 1916 or the fourteen spectators shot dead by Crown forces at Croke Park on ‘Bloody Sunday’ in 1920.

For their part, the IRA in Dublin did not kill any civilians as alleged informers in the Civil War, compared to at least thirteen such shootings in the city during the War of Independence. The National Army was more likely than the IRA to shoot civilians who failed to halt at checkpoints, but fatalities in these circumstances amounted to less than twenty in Dublin. Sixteen more Dublin civilians were killed in firearms or accidents involving military vehicles. While there were no Cumann na mBan fatalities recorded in Dublin, seventeen civilian women were killed. Most were shot unintentionally, but one, Lillie Bennett, was killed when National Army troops opened fire on a Cumann na mBan protest on O’Connell Street in November 1922.


Fatality Profiles


Civilian: Mabel Lynn

Twenty-four-year-old Mabel Lynn, originally from Bangor in County Down, lived in Dublin’s Talbot Street, right at the centre of the fighting during the first week of the Civil War. Sporadic fighting in the area from 28 June increased in intensity from 2 July when the pro-Treaty forces redirected their attacks from the Four Courts to the ‘Block’ around O’Connell Street. Lynn was unlucky enough to be looking out of her window on the upper floor of Talbot House on 3 July when hit in her left side by a stray bullet. She was removed by ambulance and died in Jervis Street Hospital, one of thirty-two civilian fatalities in crossfire between 29 June and 5 July 1922.


National Army soldier: James Kennedy

Twenty-eight-year-old James Kennedy, a sailor in civilian life, was from Dublin’s East Well.  On 22 September 1922 his military tender was part of a convoy proceeding down Eden Quay in central Dublin towards O’Connell Street. The lorry suddenly came under attack with gunfire and grenades from concealed ambushers. Three other soldiers and three civilians were injured but Kennedy received a mortal head wound from a grenade splinter. He died in St Vincent’s Hospital.


IRA Volunteer: Michael Neville

Originally from Lisdoonvarna, County Clare, twenty-two-year-old Michael Neville was a member of the Dublin Brigade’s First Battalion. He divided his time between service as battalion intelligence officer and bartending at a pub on Eden Quay. After the ambush in which James Kennedy (above) was killed, Neville was sought out by pro-Treaty forces who suspected he may have planned the attack. He was taken from work at Eden Quay by two unidentified ‘young men with revolvers’ and later found shot dead at Killester Cemetery, shot in the hand, arm, jaw and head. His body was laid out at the city morgue where pro-Treaty soldiers allegedly insulted relatives who had come from Clare to pick up the body.

The Irish Revolution Project

Scoil na Staire /Tíreolaíocht

University College Cork, Cork,