The Birth of the Irish Free State, 1921-1923

By Joseph M. Curran | Go to book overview

Chapter 13

What Price Peace?
April-May 1922

On April 9 the IRA adopted a constitution that committed it to maintain the Republic and the rights and liberties of the Irish people, and to serve an established Republican government that upheld these aims. Lynch, O'Connor, Mellows, O'Malley, and twelve other officers were elected to a new executive, which in turn appointed an Army Council of seven men and named Lynch chief of staff. After discussing the proposal to set up a military dictatorship, dissolve the governments in both parts of Ireland, and prevent an election on the Treaty, the convention rejected it by a narrow margin and again referred the question to the executive. The executive decided not to declare a dictatorship or try to overthrow the existing governments, but it opposed any election on the Treaty in the near future. 1

Mellows stated the executive's terms for army reunification on April 14 in a letter to the Dail. The Republic must be maintained, with the Dail as its government and the IRA under the control of its own executive. The Civic Guards must be disbanded, leaving the IRA to police Southern Ireland, and the Dail must pay all the army's expenses. Finally, there must be no election on the Treaty while the British threat of war remained. The letter evoked no response, despite its warning that this was probably the Dail's last chance to avert civil war. 2

On the night of April 13 the executive occupied Dublin's Four Courts, the seat of the country's highest judicial tribunals, as a military headquarters and its forces soon seized other buildings in the capital. The government's only response was to occupy several important buildings with its own forces. 3 Outside the capital, the IRA seized a number of barracks held by Dail troops, and in some instances fighting took place. Early in May there was a sizable skirmish in Kilkenny when Free State troops defeated a Republican attempt to take over the town. By May 5 military clashes between the two army factions had left eight killed and forty-nine wounded, over 60 percent of them Free State troops. 4

The IRA attacked barracks because it lacked accommodations and supplies; its members turned to robbery because they needed money. The executive justified raids on banks and post offices by claiming that the government had not kept its promise to pay all army debts incurred before the convention split. The IRA also commandeered supplies and

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