Civil War Fatalities in the Northern Ireland

Fatalities in Northern Ireland: Civil War, Pogrom and Specials’ ineptitude

by Kieran Glennon


While the Civil War was in progress south of the border, fifty-nine people were killed in Northern Ireland.

Among them were five whose deaths were due, either directly or indirectly, to the Civil War. A member of the National Army was wounded in Donegal but died of his wounds in Derry. A Monaghan-born member of the anti-Treaty IRA who had taken refuge in the north was killed by the Ulster Special Constabulary. Two women were killed while returning from bringing food to anti-Treaty forces across the border in Louth. The lorry of a south Armagh farmer, also a member of the Special Constabulary, was hijacked and brought to a different IRA camp in Louth – his body was not discovered until 1924.

These five deaths, however, were overshadowed by the twenty that resulted from the ongoing political/sectarian violence in Belfast, which had raged since July 1920. But in turn, those twenty killings in the city during the first four months of the Civil War paled in comparison with the savagery of the four months that immediately preceded it. During that period, the most lethal phase of what Belfast nationalists had come to call ‘the Pogrom’, 208 people were killed.

‘Pogrom”: A disputed term

Use of the term ‘pogrom’ was disputed at the time and still is. What happened in Belfast fails to meet some definitions of the word, as it was not instigated or condoned by the authorities. On the contrary, the police and British troops tried to quell the violence. Nor was it directed at a single minority – Protestant socialists and trade unionists were also targeted in the initial outbreak.

However, to the Catholics who bore the brunt of the violence, what was happening to them certainly felt like what they thought a pogrom entailed. The word was already in common currency following nineteenth-century attacks on Jews in eastern Europe and it seemed to Belfast’s nationalists to be an apt description for the workplace expulsions, evictions, house-burnings, killings and woundings to which they were subjected: the word encapsulated the brutality of their lived reality.

March - May 1922: Surging violence

The violence in Belfast diminished rapidly over the late summer of 1922, for a number of reasons. In March, the IRA in the city had split, in parallel with developments elsewhere. However, the split in Belfast was not on pro-versus anti-Treaty lines – due to partition, few Belfast Republicans were in favour of the Treaty. Rather, the divide was between those motivated by ideological purism who reported to the new anti-Treaty IRA Army Executive and those driven by logistical pragmatism who remained with pro-Treaty GHQ in Dublin – GHQ promised to send them more weapons and ammunition than the Executive. By late June, before the Four Courts in Dublin had even been shelled, the two factions in Belfast were already exchanging shots.

A ‘northern offensive’ planned for May to involve all five of the IRA’s northern divisions, acting with southern support to destabilise the Unionist regime, failed dismally. On 22 May, the IRA killed Unionist MP William Twadell in Belfast, prompting the Northern Ireland government to implement the internment provision of the Special Powers Act. To escape this, many key IRA activists fled across the border, both from Belfast and further west from Tyrone and Derry. However, many were captured in what applicants for military service pensions would later term ‘the big round-up’.

The co-ordinated aspect of the offensive alarmed unionism and so the Specials, aided by loyalist paramilitaries, fell upon Belfast nationalists. Hundreds of Catholic families were evicted, as whole streets were burned out. During May 1922 seventy-five killings were recorded in the city, forty-four of whom were Catholics. So widespread and ferocious were the attacks that even Fred Crawford, architect of the UVF’s gun-running at Larne in 1914 but by now Commandant of the South Belfast B Specials, wondered ‘if the men were out of hand’.

Disintegrating morale

Faced with this onslaught, against which the IRA could clearly no longer offer any defence, morale among Belfast nationalists disintegrated. Many simply escaped the city for Scotland or south of the border – some estimates put the number of Catholic refugees in the south as high as 30,000. Having already lost its unity of purpose, the IRA also lost its civilian backing – tip-offs led the RUC to capture a number of IRA arms dumps in the first week of July and the secret headquarters of the IRA’s Belfast Brigade was also discovered.

The very public support for the plight of Belfast nationalists offered earlier in the year by the Provisional Government, and by Michael Collins in particular, had already waned by the time the Civil War began. The second Craig-Collins Pact of 30 March, which had optimistically trumpeted ‘Peace is today declared’, quickly fell apart under the weight of a renewed round of killings. Countermanding orders issued by GHQ, instructing IRA divisions along the border to stand down, contributed enormously to the fiasco of the May ‘northern offensive’.

By late June, Collins no longer had a viable political or military strategy for the north. Some argue that the Civil War arrived as a distraction, drawing Collins’s focus away from the north, but in truth, he was already floundering by that stage. Three days before he was killed on 22 August 1922, the Provisional Government voted to adopt ‘a peace policy’ with regard to the north.


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

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


July-October 1922: Contracting violence

As the conventional phase of the Civil War expanded, the scale of the violence in Belfast contracted, but these developments coincided rather than the former causing the latter.

Among the twenty fatalities in Belfast was a member of Na Fianna killed in action while carrying despatches and a Special Constable killed by a loyalist paramilitary as he tried to prevent the latter shooting two Catholics. However, as had been the case throughout the ‘Pogrom’, the majority of the Belfast victims during this period were non-combatants.

Among the five Protestant civilian deaths were two men killed by the RUC for curfew violations and one-shot dead by loyalists as he intervened to try to prevent the eviction of Catholic neighbours. Another was caught in the crossfire as the IRA attacked a Specials post on 4 July; the following day, a woman was killed when a nationalist sniper fired into her home.

Thirteen Catholic civilians were killed in a range of attacks – some were shot by loyalists at point-blank range in their homes or at work, others were killed by snipers; one woman was killed when a bomb was thrown among a group of neighbours standing chatting in the street. The last ‘Pogrom’-related killing took place in early October when a woman was shot from behind outside a butcher’s shop, having gone to buy food for her family’s dinner.

By that stage, the portion of the IRA still left at large in the city was in utter disarray and keeping its head down, while the nationalist population was completely cowed, having been battered into resentful submission.

Outside Belfast, three fatalities marked the last dying embers of the northern IRA’s failed War of Independence. In Down, a member of the IRA died from wounds received during the ‘northern offensive’, another died from tuberculosis contracted while on active service. In Desertmartin in Derry in late July, an IRA member on the run was caught making a furtive visit home and beaten to death by Specials.

Ulster Special Constabulary

A more significant cluster of deaths involved six members of the Ulster Special Constabulary and three civilians, all killed as a result of the Specials’ poor training and sheer indiscipline – the IRA was not involved in any of these killings.

One Special was shot dead by a nervous sentry at Ballymena Barracks who mistook him for an intruder. Another was hit by a train while patrolling a railway line at Randalstown in Antrim. One, who had been drinking, attacked fellow-constables at Kilkeel Barracks in Down, but was shot by them when he grabbed his rifle and tried to flee. Another died in Tyrone while playing Russian roulette with his own revolver. Three more were killed by accidental discharges of colleagues’ weapons. Two civilians were killed, one in Belfast and one in Antrim, when Specials negligently fired their rifles during parties they had dropped in on while on patrol.

Accidental deaths

The fatalities in the north also included nineteen people who were killed accidentally. Many of these were knocked down by military or police vehicles, but the total number of accidental deaths was inflated by a single incident in February 1923: eight British soldiers and a boatman were drowned when the boat bringing the soldiers back to their camp at Ballykinlar, County Down, overturned during stormy weather.

A terrible price

By the time the Civil War concluded, Northern Ireland had already returned to an uneasy peace. Unionism had undeniably triumphed, but the victory had come at a terrible price – over 500 people died in Belfast alone; in a city where Catholics made up just under a quarter of the population, they represented over half the deaths. In the process, partition was consolidated and what the Unionist government viewed as the ‘Sinn Fein rebellion’ had been thoroughly crushed within its domain while its republican opponents in the south had conveniently torn each other apart over the Treaty and Civil War. However, it remained apprehensive, as there was still one outstanding item of business arising from the Treaty: The Boundary Commission had yet to be convened.


Fatality Profiles


Peter Mullan

Peter Mullan was a sixty-five-year-old Belfast Catholic who worked as a cinema usher. He and his family were forcibly evicted from their home in the Lower Ormeau district in the early summer of 1922, but found fresh accommodation in the nearby Market area. On 29 August, he was at work in the Crumlin Road Picture House when, in the semi-darkness, he was shot dead at close range. In a savage irony, the film then showing was called Danger. The RUC suspected, but could not prove, that the fatal shot was fired by the notorious “Buck Alec” Robinson, a member of both the Ulster Protestant Association, a loyalist paramilitary group, and the C1 class of the Special Constabulary. Robinson was interned two months later.


William Browne

William Browne was the only fatality in the north directly related to the Civil War. Originally from Derry, where he had been in the IRA, he was a Captain in the National Army in 1922. He was wounded on 11 July 1922 when his patrol was ambushed by the anti-Treaty IRA near Muff, a few hundred metres on the Donegal side of the border. As the nearest hospital was the Derry Infirmary, he was brought there, and died three days later.


Margaret Moore and Mary Connolly

Margaret Moore and Mary Connolly were indirect fatalities of the Civil War. The two, aged twelve and twenty respectively, were neighbours at Edenappa in south Armagh. On the night of 23 July 1922, they were returning from nearby Ravensdale in Louth, having brought food to a camp of the by-now anti-Treaty 4th Northern Division of the IRA, among them Margaret’s brother Owen. Nearing home, they were shot dead by British troops of the Royal Sussex Regiment, allegedly for breaking the curfew. At the subsequent inquest, locals pointed out that with summer time in effect, the clocks had gone forward an hour, so the curfew had not yet begun. More pointedly, Margaret’s older sister Mary, who had been shot and wounded in the same incident but survived, testified that the soldiers had issued no challenge before opening fire.


Header Image: Michael Collins addressing a meeting in Grand Parade, Cork March 1922 [Naltional Library of Ireland, HOGW 67]


Author’s Bio

Kieran Glennon is an independent researcher and writer specialising in the history of Belfast during 1920-22. He is the author of From Pogrom To Civil War - Tom Glennon and the Belfast IRA (Mercier Press, 2013) and Pogrom and Partition - Belfast's Market Area 1920-22 (Market Development Association, 2022); he also runs a blog,

The Irish Revolution Project

Scoil na Staire /Tíreolaíocht

University College Cork, Cork,