Skip to main content

Republican Fatalities

Republican Fatalities of the Irish Civil War 

John Dorney


The outbreak of Civil War took many anti-Treaty republicans by surprise. Todd Andrews, a young IRA officer in 1922, was ‘incredulous’ when he heard that the Provisional Government had opened fire on the Four Courts. ‘I never thought it could happen’, he wrote, ‘that IRA men would try to kill fellow IRA men.’ But kill them they did.

We have counted 438 republican combatants in the IRA, Fianna and Cumann na mBan who died between the opening of the bombardment of the Four Courts on 28 June 1922 and the IRA Dump Arms Order of 24 May 1923.

While the temporal boundaries of this project do not take into account the republican fatalities in Northern Ireland in the first half of 1922, the anti-Treaty Volunteers killed in clashes with the pro-Treaty forces before the formal outbreak of the Civil War or those were assassinated or died in prison or on hunger strike after the Dump Arms order, the figure of 438 captures the vast majority of those who died fighting the Treaty settlement. This compares to 491 who died fighting Crown forces in the 1919-21 War of Independence.

In most civil wars, the losing side take far more casualties than the winners. Their memory is often also stricken from the historical record. In the case of the Irish Civil War neither of these things were true.


Map showing the location of republican fatalities during the Irish Civil War

Fig 1. Map of the Republican (IRA, Cumann na mBan and Fianna Éireann) fatalities in the thrity-two counties, 28 June 1922- 24 May 1923

Deaths in Combat

The striking thing about anti-Treaty fatalities is that they were far fewer than pro-Treaty ones – which we counted at 648 in the 26 counties. This disparity is even more marked if we only count deaths in combat. At least 402 pro-Treaty personnel were killed in action or died of wounds, whereas only 185 among the IRA and its auxiliaries fell in combat. Or, to put it bluntly, National Army and other Free State personnel were more than twice as likely as republicans to die in, or as a result of, armed engagements.

This was not because the anti-Treaty side possessed greater military prowess. The IRA was defeated in all of the major engagements at the beginning of the war, in Dublin, Limerick, Cork, Waterford, Tralee and elsewhere, due to the National Army’s superior numbers, firepower and logistics. Nevertheless, in such encounters there were far more casualties and fatalities among the pro-Treaty forces, who were attacking fortified positions held by the anti-Treatyites.  In Dublin, for example, at least twenty-five National Army soldiers were killed in the opening week of fighting in comparison to only fourteen IRA deaths. The ratio was similar elsewhere. Once we factor in prisoners as casualties however, the picture looks rather different, as 750 republicans were, by the end of the fighting in Dublin, lodged in Mountjoy Gaol and other prisons and barracks.

July and August 1922, which marked the peak in overall Civil War fatalities, were also, however the bloodiest months in terms of combat-related republican fatalities. As one officer in Tipperary wrote despairingly in late July 1922 ‘it is most unfortunate to realise what the result of the fighting in the Second Southern Division has been to us. In two engagements we have suffered severely’.

It was at the apex of guerrilla warfare in September and October 1922 that the disparity between pro-and-anti-Treaty combatant fatalities was greatest. In this period, the National Army suffered three times more fatalities than the IRA. National Army convoys were exceptionally vulnerable to ambush, particularly in parts of Cork, Kerry and Tipperary, where they were often outsiders in unfamiliar countryside.

Kerry No. 2 IRA Brigade commander, John Joe Rice, could write to his superiors at the end of September 1922 that ‘there is no day that the hospital in Killarney does not receive its supply of [National Army] wounded and dead’. Prominent towns such as Kenmare, Clifden, Ballina and Dundalk also all fell out of the hands of the Provisional Government for varying lengths of time during in the early guerrilla phase.


Table: Fatalities by affiliation in each three-month phase of the Civil War in the Twenty-Six Counties   
Period Civilians  NA IRA Total
Jun-Aug 1922  114 210  108  444 
Sept-Nov 1922  88 214 103  411 
Dec 1922-Feb 1923  78 111 107  300
Mar-May 1923  56 102 108  271
Total  336 637  426  1426 

Summary & Official Executions

However, this period, where the guerrillas appeared to be gaining the initiative, did not last. Whereas anti-Treatyites could not replace their dead or imprisoned volunteers, the pro-Treaty side had a burgeoning supply of new recruits. Thus, the numerical superiority of the pro-Treaty forces grew steadily as the Civil War progressed. National Army fatalities fell markedly in the late autumn of 1922 while those of the IRA remained steady. Moreover, the character of anti-Treaty fatalities changed. Fewer were killed in combat and more in summary, and from November 1922, official executions. The IRA Dublin Brigade reported in December 1922, for instance, that ‘two thirds of [IRA] deaths were due to official or unofficial murder’.

There were two peak periods of ‘unofficial executions’ of which we have counted 101. The first came in August, September and October 1922 as the National Army often avenged its own losses with the summary execution of captured republicans. The main locations for such killings at this point were in Dublin and, to a lesser extent, Cork and Kerry. The Dublin assassinations included particularly shocking incidents such as the ‘Red Cow murders’ where three teenaged IRA members were shot after being arrested for putting up posters.  There were also incidents elsewhere in the country, including the summary execution of six captured IRA fighters on the slopes of Ben Bulben in Sligo in September 1922.

The second peak came in March of 1923, with a concentrated series of reprisals, mostly, though not only, in County Kerry. These included three incidents at Ballsyseedy, Countess Bridge and Cahersiveen, in which seventeen prisoners were blown up with land mines in retaliation for an IRA bomb that had killed five National Army soldiers in Knocknagoshel. March 1923, as a result, was the bloodiest month of the Civil War for the IRA, with at least sixty-nine deaths.

 Line graph showing deaths by month in each category (IRA, National Army and Civilian) in the twenty-six counties during the Irish Civil War

Fig. 2 Line graph showing deaths by month in each category (IRA, National Army and Civilian) in the twenty-six counties


The ’official’ executions by firing squad had a somewhat different trajectory, beginning in Dublin in November 1922, before spreading out to most of the garrison towns around the country. The worst single month was January 1923, in which thirty-four prisoners were shot. Some 400 more prisoners were sentenced to death but not ultimately executed – effectively kept as hostages to discourage continued attacks by their comrades still at liberty.

The spectre of execution, as well as the internment of approximately 12,000 republicans by the spring of 1923 severely impacted the IRA’s ability to carry on its guerrilla campaign. Had it not been for the obduracy of their Chief of Staff Liam Lynch, the Civil War might have been called to a halt sooner. His fatal wounding while fleeing from pro-Treaty troops in the Knockmealdown Mountains was the catalyst for the ceasefire and then Dump Arms orders issued by his successor Frank Aiken in May 1923.

Ultimately, nearly half (over 40 per cent) of the republican dead were executed, killed after capture or sought out and assassinated. For this reason, and despite the higher number of pro-Treaty casualties, republican memory of the Civil War was defined by a sense of victimhood. Republican Todd Andrews, for example, characterised the Civil War as, ‘a reign of terror’, in which ‘sustained savagery [was] shown by the Free Staters in shooting prisoners held as hostage or murdering IRA men’.

Social Profiles

The typical republican fatality of the Civil War was an IRA member. We counted only nine deaths among the youth organisation Na Fianna Éireann and three in the women’s auxiliary organisation, Cumann na mBan.

He was most likely to have been aged between fifteen and twenty-four and from the province of Munster. IRA Volunteers from Leinster represented the second highest category of republican fatalities, with far fewer from Connacht and Ulster. Most republicans were killed in their home county, unlike the many National Army soldiers who were killed outside their country of origin. Collectively, counties Dublin, Kerry, Cork and Tipperary accounted for over half of the total republican deaths, with counties such as Longford or Wicklow seeing virtually none.

An overwhelming majority of the pro-Treaty fatalities were from a rural or urban working-class background. This was also true of many of the republican fatalities, but anti-Treaty combatants were far more likely than Free State soldiers to be lower professionals such as clerks or local government employees, skilled workers, farmers or farmer’s sons. About 16 per cent of National Army fatalities and only 5 per cent of republican fatalities had previously served in the British Army. Conversely, anti-Treatyites were far more likely to have served in the IRA during the War of Independence. Almost three quarters of the republican fatalities were recorded as having pre-Truce IRA service, in comparison to about one quarter of the pro-Treaty dead.

In short, the republican dead were slightly older, somewhat better off and more often of rural origin than their pro-Treaty counterparts, more likely to have served in the IRA in the War of Independence, and far less likely to have previously served in British forces.

Bar chart showing the ten categories of employment in which the civilian, pro and anti-Treaty Irish Civil War fatalities were occupied 

Fig 3 Bar chart showing the ten categories of employment in which the civilian, pro and anti-Treaty fatalities were occupied


During the Civil War, republicans found it difficult to publicly mark or to commemorate their dead. Senior IRA officer Ernie O’Malley recalled: ‘Our men were buried quietly; women mostly as mourners. The CID were nosing for men. Cumann na mBan girls in uniform, some with eyes shut and faces turned to one side, fired a volley over the graves with revolvers or automatics’.

There were no funerals for those executed by firing squad during the Civil War. They were anonymously buried in barracks or prisons, and their families were only notified after the execution.

After the Civil War, however, it was the anti-Treaty side who were far more enthusiastic about commemorating their dead. The bodies of those executed were disinterred in 1924, handed back to their relatives and, in most cases, reburied in republican plots around the country after demonstrative funerals.

In the same year, the IRA sent orders to all units to begin compiling lists of those who had died between 1916 and 1923. The lists thus compiled, though imperfect, had no equivalent on the pro-Treaty side. Many of the spots where anti-Treaty fighters fell were later marked by small monuments erected by bodies such as the National Graves Association.

Larger monuments became hubs of republican commemoration. In 1935 a monument was unveiled to IRA Chief of Staff Liam Lynch – a soaring round tower in the Knockmealdown Mountains at the spot where he was shot. As late as 1959, a large memorial was erected at the site of the ‘Ballyseedy Massacre’ outside Tralee. In romantic, realist style, it depicted women mourning the mutilated republican dead and a virile, perhaps resurrected, fighter striding determinedly into the future.

In post-Civil War Ireland, the republican side integrated the memory of their dead into their narrative of the struggle for Irish independence. It was much later before the same was attempted for those who died on the pro-Treaty side.


Fig. 4 Memorial by Yann Goulet at Ballyseedy, County Kerry

Fatality Profiles

IRA Private Daniel Murphy

Daniel Murphy from Charleville, a member of Cork No 4 Brigade, was among those Cork and Kerry units sent to Limerick in the opening month of the war to try to stem the National Army’s advance south from Limerick city. He was killed in action at Kilmallock, County Limerick on 28 July 1922 during a sustained republican stand in the south Limerick countryside, which saw some of the hardest fighting of the Civil War.  Murphy was a farm labourer and had served in the IRA in the War of Independence.


IRA Volunteer John Gaffney

On 19 November 1922 at Dublin’s Kilmainham Gaol, John Gaffney, a twenty-one-year-old electrician at Dublin Corporation, was among the first four IRA prisoners to be shot by firing squad during the Civil War. He had been arrested, carrying a revolver, about three weeks earlier on 28 October and imprisoned in Kilmainham. The others, all captured carrying weapons in late October, were Peter Cassidy, also twenty-one and a Dublin Corporation employee, James Fisher, an eighteen-year-old factory worker from James’ Street and Richard Touhig, a twenty-one-year-old railway worker, whose father had died in the British Army in the First World War. They were informed by a priest at 4.00 am that they would be executed that morning and given time to write final letters to their loved ones. They were shot one after the other by four firing squads of six men each, in the courtyard of Kilmainham Gaol.


IRA Volunteer John O’Connor

Cork-born John O’Connor was a seaman who had served in the British Army before joining the Cork No 3. Brigade IRA. He was based in Liverpool during the Civil War and his role was to smuggle weapons between there and Ireland. O’Connor was arrested at Fenit in County Kerry in early March 1923 on a ship found to be carrying arms and ammunition and imprisoned at Ballymullen Barracks in Tralee. He was one of eight prisoners killed in a deliberate explosion at Ballyseedy on 7 March in a reprisal for the deaths of five National Army soldiers in an IRA bomb at Knocknagoshel. 

The Irish Revolution Project

Scoil na Staire /Tíreolaíocht

University College Cork, Cork,