Talk:Executions during the Irish Civil War

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77 killed[edit]

Great Article - really interesting. A member of my own family was one of the 77 killed after the dump aarms order. I tried to research the details surrounding his death but was told by the guys in the military archives dept that the Cosgrave government destroyed most of the files before handing over power to Dev & co. I've heard anecdotally that quite a number of the unofficial killings were the settling of old scores that may of had nothing really to do with politics. That's apparently the case with the death of my grand uncle. 199.43.14.101 15:44, 20 September 2006 (edit)


77 killed after the dump arms order?? I thought that was the number officially executed by the Free Staters during the whole war.

Thank you for the kind words about the article. It makes sense that local enmities played a big part in who got executed during the civil war, as from all I can see, the selection of those who were executed seems to have been completely arbitrary. One group of anti-treaty fighters could surrender and be sent to a prison camp, another group could face the firing squads. It is interesting that, apart from Childers, Mellows, O'Connor, McKelvey, and Barret, no other captured republican leaders were shot by firing squad. The vast bulk of those shot seem to have been small fry, so to speak. So how they picked them out may well have been down to local grudges, especially after they "decentralised" the executions in January 1923.

Jdorney 19:38, 20 September 2006 (UTC)

I have read in the book "The IRA in Kerry: 1916-1921", that some of the Free Staters who enlisted from the Kerry area where some men who were either not accepted into the IRA or were kicked out for being undesirables. The author implied that these men gave no quarter to the Volunteers they got their hands on.

The is a book titled "Seventy Seven of Mine Said Ireland" ISBN 0 95356342 1 compiled by Martin O'Dwyer which gives details on all 77. --Domer48'fenian' 14:45, 17 January 2009 (UTC)

negitive image[edit]

I greatly appreciate the value of this page. I believe however, that when studying history, that the value of a given document is in a balanced portrayl of the actions and misdeeds of forces acting in the name of both sides. As far as I am aware, this contribution deals only with the actions of soldiers of the National Army. It does not conclusivly deal with the executions carried out by members of the Irregular side. 83.70.129.153 23:16, 17 October 2006

Also, great pains have been shown to portray a negitive image of the national army. This includes the opinion that many irregular fighters were shot in the legs as regards the Kerry executions. Finally, it is unlikely that a prisoner would be taken from Kenmare jail (a fictional entity- surely you meant the RIC Barracks) to Ballyseedee woods, a good distance even my modern standards. The man refered to is Seamus Taylor. This detail is not accurate. 83.70.129.153 23:16, 17 October 2006

The Irish civil war is always a controversial topic and executions in it are the most emotional aspect, even today. However, to deal with the criticism; firstly this page does indeed detail the anti-treaty side's killings of TDs, senators and their families. Lynch also issued orders to kill hostile judges and newspaper editors, this is also mentioned (though his men did not carry out these orders for whatever reason). Also included here is Bob Lambert's vindictive killing of four National Army soldiers in Wexford in March 1923. The only other killing of prisoners on the anti-treaty side that I have come across is the murder of Tom "Scarteen" O'Connor and his brother after the taking of Kenmare in September 1922. Doubtless there are more examples, but I do not have information about them. If you do please add it to the article.
Re the killings at Cahirciveen, A Lieutenant MacCarthy of the National Army wrote of it, "There was no attempt at escape as the prisoners were shot first and then put over a mine" (Michael Hopkinson, Green against Green, page 241). Re Seamus Taylor, I can't find right now where I got that information from (yes, I should have referenced it at the time) but yes it seems more likely he was taken from teh barracks at Tralee than the RIC station at Kenmare.
Jdorney 23:42, 17 October 2006 (UTC)

Questionable?[edit]

"Whereas Collins had hoped for a speedy reconciliation of the warring Irish nationalist factions, after his death the Free State government, led by W. T. Cosgrave, Richard Mulcahy and Kevin O'Higgins, took the position that the anti-Treaty IRA were conducting an unlawful rebellion against the legitimate Irish government and should be treated as criminals rather than as combatants."

After August 1922? I don't think so. The "pact" had kept a sort of peace up to the election in June which led to the outbreak of open war on 28 June, but the government line for months had been that anyone opposing them in arms was a criminal.86.42.227.176 (talk) 20:53, 23 April 2008 (UTC)

The point is about the prosecution of the war. Collins wanted to use the absolute minimum amount of force necessary to win it. He was against executions and wanted the republicans to hand in their guns and go home. After his death and the onset of guerrilla war, the government line hardened a lot, so that irregulars in the field would be punished as criminals.

Jdorney (talk) 16:16, 24 April 2008 (UTC)

Just thinking...[edit]

Why do we compare 77 executions with the 14 British executions in 1919-21? Shouldn't we compare the 77 with the dozens of IRA executions during the War of Independence? After all, the Prov Govt policy from late 1922 was thought "workable" because the large number of IRA executions had "worked", while the 14 British executions obviously had not.Red Hurley (talk) 14:54, 7 August 2008 (UTC)

Church para[edit]

I removed the para linking the RC church's condemnation of the anti-treatyites with the executions policy. The may have apporved of the executions but the case that they participated actively in it a partisan one. Jdorney (talk) 18:06, 27 September 2008 (UTC)

I have reinserted it in a new subsection along with the amnesty and the new press realities, as "social pressure" - unless anyone can think of a better title - they were not legalities. Obviously the exact legal basis deserves a place in this article. The timing of these other well-publicised events around and alongside the army emergency powers debate made them very relevant indeed. I appreciate that the bitter partisan nature of the conflict caused both sides to emphasise or ignore various parts of the truth, but after 80 years can we please look at the totality.Red Hurley (talk) 10:55, 7 October 2008 (UTC)

Ok, we have a few problems here. First the Public Safety Bill. Maybe it's hard to find ,but it did exist. Hopkinson, Green Against Green, p. 181, "The Public Safety Bill was was introduced to the Dail on 27 September. It set up military courts which were given powers, including that of execution, for sundry offences, for instances the possession of arms and the aiding and abetting of attacks on government forces."

Helen Litton, The Irish Civil war - an Illustrated History, p110-111,"The first business at hand was to pass a new constitution. This was followed bya Public Safety Bill, introduced on 27 September, which set up military court. These courts could impose teh death penalty on anyone found carrying arms or ammunition or who committed any act of war; prisoners would no longer be treated as political prisoners".

So it did exist.

Jdorney (talk) 12:32, 7 October 2008 (UTC)


I thought so too, but couldn't find it in the Dail records...or anywhere. Instead it seems the existing emergency powers were amended by resolution, after a lot of debate that you'll find online. As distinct from introducing a formal Bill that became an Act. Dail procedure from 1919 had included other such resolutions that had legal force. The introduction to the motion on 26 September is legally only a statement of provisional government opinion.
So there were not going to be multiple votes and readings and committees examining the wording of a Bill at their leisure, this was now a matter of some urgency. You could argue that they had let the legal aspect slide for three months and decided to fix the legality of execution. Or you could argue that they hoped in the previous 3 months that the "irregulars" would lose support; when they did not, a quick and co-ordinated response was necessary (thus the church and press aspects).
Section 4 is the relevant part covering the executions, and obviously it was not observed to the letter every time. It could be that the historians were not good on legal processes, or copied someone else's mistake. It's clear from the debates that the emergency powers were to last only as long as the fighting and would not become a permanent part of everyday law.Red Hurley (talk) 21:34, 7 October 2008 (UTC)
Maybe we should add that the motion and resolution has subsequently often been described as a "Public Safety Act" to avoid confusing readers, and square that circle.Red Hurley (talk) 22:10, 7 October 2008 (UTC)

Second, a question of style. I feel that inserting large blocks of legal text into the article makes it harder for the reader to get to grips with the information. If they need the exact text, they can find it easily in the notes. Better to summarise it and put the quotes in the footnotes. Also, by deleting reference to the Labour Party and the debate, Cosgrave's quote is now without context.

On the Church, I have no ideological axe to grind here one way of the other. The point I'm making is that the article now states that the Catholic hierarchy came out in support of the executions. This is what republicans like Peadar O'Donnell argued alright, but I'm not sure it passes npov.

Jdorney (talk) 12:32, 7 October 2008 (UTC)


The blocks of text are short and more convenient than quoting a day's debate of hundreds of lines. These are the exact words that applied to executions, so let's have them in. Bullet points seem neater and cover three very different areas of what I consider was "social pressure" - there may be a better term. It would be hard to deny that excommunication was a huge deal here at the time, so npov is not an issue. I don't think the church overtly approved of executions, but if you really considered that a man's soul was already dead then the rest of him was of no doctrinal consequence maybe. The condemned were not to expect absolution, nor a church burial, which is not quite the same thing as approving of executions as such. The timing of the hierarchy's statement is the important thing (I don't think it made much difference). Yes, Cosgrave's context and the Labour party should be in there. I also appreciate that this good article is your baby.Red Hurley (talk) 21:34, 7 October 2008 (UTC)

Also, I don't like the bullet points in teh social pressures section, purely on an aesthetic level!


Jdorney (talk) 12:32, 7 October 2008 (UTC)

Sorry for the delay in responding, I got distracted by other things. First up, fair enough if you can't find mention of the Public Safety Bill in the records online, but that doesn't necessarily mean it doesn't exist. It is after all mentioned in the standard (to date) history of the war. I'm afraid mention of it has to go back in Original Research and all that. Anyway, have a look at my edit and see what you think.

Re the Church para, ok it can stay in but I'm going to clarify that this was not an explicit approval of the executions.

Also, I'm going to rearrange some stuff and put the reference to Labour etc, back in. I'll leave the quotes in, although, as I said, I'd prefer a summary.

Jdorney (talk) 19:45, 13 October 2008 (UTC)

Looks much better now. If I ever find a real Public Safety Act 1922 out there, I'll ref it accordingly. I was surprised myself not to find it in the debates. I think it was generally referred to in the newspapers as a Bill, even if it wasn't one (for sake of speed etc.). You'll find that a lot of our historians prefer using interviews and newspaper cuttings, and not tedious dusty Oireachtas debates.Red Hurley (talk) 18:47, 18 October 2008 (UTC)

Public Safety Act 1922 / where[edit]

No PSA on the main list I found here.Red Hurley (talk) 16:48, 16 January 2009 (UTC)

Fair enough RH, but it is in the secondary literature, so...Original research etc. Incidentally, do you fancy having a look at recent developments at Dunmanway Massacre? Things have got a little heated and some third opinion would be good. Jdorney (talk) 18:25, 16 January 2009 (UTC)

That says something about our historians, doesn't it? More exactly, it is in some of the secondary literature, but is not where it should be in other secondary literature. This is relevant to the legality of the legislation itself. You can take 2 views on that - what was conveniently described as the PSA was an illegal / unlawful process, OR it was so badly needed that the 3rd Dail exercised its sovereign independent right to ignore the usual procedures. Given the government control over the press in late 1922, obviously no commentator wanted to make that point, and they all gave it a veneer of respectability by calling it an Act, and this was taken up by historians without checking. Press support for the provisional govt was naturally amplified after the anti-treaty gang led by Rory O'Connor destroyed the Freeman's Journal presses earlier in 1922, when it had the effrontery to ask and publish some awkward questions. I'll look at DM - not my favourite subject.Red Hurley (talk) 13:53, 17 January 2009 (UTC)

This is an interesting point and worth exploring more. Were any of the executions strictly legal in that case? I'm surprised that no one has picked up on this before now. Jdorney (talk) 18:00, 18 January 2009 (UTC)

Again, it boils down to which side you were on. The "irregulars" had very little support, except in Munster, and were wrecking the economy. The irregulars felt that dozens of ad-hoc executions since 1919 were legal, so they couldn't logically object to the 3rd Dáil passing a resolution allowing executions. To object would be to rely on English-law concepts of law and legislation that they had emphatically rejected, so they didn't remark on the legality, not even their hagiographer Dorothy McArdle. Why did she ignore it? Perhaps also because Dev had tolerated the IRA in 1932-36, but there was a chill by 1937 when her book was published. Within 3 years Dev himself was executing IRA activists for rather less than his fighters were doing in 1922-23. The prov government had let things slide and then argued for its resolution as fast as possible, dressing it up as an Act in the papers, tying in the other aspects as well (church/press). An Act allowing executions would have been passed by the 3rd Dáil, it would just have taken months longer to go through all its stages. So it seems to me, now, but my opinion is WP:OR and so it can't go in the article.Red Hurley (talk) 09:57, 20 January 2009 (UTC)

Mmm, I'm always nervous when people pick one side or the other in the civil war. A lot of the people who'd done the assassinating and 'executing' in 1919-21 ended up on the Free State side, in the Dublin Guard and CID and they continued on thier activities during the civil war. A lot of the the Free State executions, official and otherwise seem to me to have been needlessly vindictive. And the Anti-Treatyites did come second in the 1923 election, so they had at least reasonable support. It's not that I have any sympathy for the Anti-Treaty side especially, especially after August 1922, their campaign was, as O'Higgins said, 'sheer futility'. But a lot of the recent comment on the period has been pro-Free State to an unbalanced degree. If there was no 'Public Safety Act', to me this shows an alarming disrespect for legality in the inception of the Irish state. Again, just my opinion.Jdorney (talk) 16:10, 20 January 2009 (UTC)

From January to September 1922 the prov govt was not legally accountable to any parliament (see this). It was a power struggle, and both sides were executing people. The govt side had to make it appear legal, and they were in a hurry, that's all. Yes, their publicists over-emphasised the legality, but that's what publicists are paid to do.Red Hurley (talk) 09:16, 22 January 2009 (UTC)
I've added the Jan 1923 resolution of the extended army council order, with a very interesting debate on the civil war at that time. No mention in there of the September 1922 resolution as an Act or a Bill.Red Hurley (talk) 11:40, 20 March 2010 (UTC)

Army Council General Order 1923[edit]

It's annoying when an anonymous editor scraps the name of the order and says that "the Act was strengthened". There was no Act (see above) but a Dåil resolution that preceded the signing of the order itself. Army deserters were a small part of it, so I am re-editing it.Red Hurley (talk) 08:37, 21 May 2010 (UTC)

Where it says "Those executed were tried by court-martial in a military court and had to be found guilty only of bearing arms against the State." - the point of the 1923 order was that you could now be executed for having a map of army positions or a note for a prisoner about an escape, or a timetable of sentry duty, etc., not just for "being armed".Red Hurley (talk) 08:55, 21 May 2010 (UTC)

An "illegal act"??[edit]

Where it mentions the executions of O'Connor and Co.

  • "...on 8 December 1922, the day after Hales' killing, four members of the IRA Army Executive, who had been held since the first week of the war - Rory O'Connor, Liam Mellows, Richard Barrett and Joe McKelvey - were executed in revenge. This was an illegal act, as the four Republicans had been captured before the Dáil passed the legislation authorising executions."

...the illegality is only apparent if you believe (as I don't) that a brand new "Public Safety Act" was passed on 18 October. What had happened was that the existing Emergency Powers Order (EPO) had been amended legally on 18 October, but the 4 prisoners had been taken after the original EPO had been signed into law, and were therefore executed legally. Both the old and the new EPOs allowed for such executions; the only real difference being that 2 Army Council members had to sign the sentences.Red Hurley (talk) 22:57, 19 June 2010 (UTC)

Further, the debate on the 4 executions on 8 December covered all the arguments and was carried by the (new Free State) government by a vote of 39 to 14 - see this.Red Hurley (talk) 00:03, 20 June 2010 (UTC)
The legality of the executions has long been challenged. Peter Cottrell is unequivocal on the matter The Irish Civil War p14. I'm not sure that such a bold statement saying the executions were legal can be referenced to a reliable source, but am open to correction. RashersTierney (talk) 09:59, 20 June 2010 (UTC)
The literature, Hopkinson for example, is clear on this RH. I know that you maintain that there was no public safety act, but all the sources on the period say otherwise. Hopkinson p191, "There could be no pretence that these executions were carried out under the Public safety Act. All four men had been captured in the Four Courts Attack and held in Mountjoy since that time." Jdorney (talk) 10:20, 20 June 2010 (UTC)
I know that, but they're wrong. All the history is based on the pro and anti Treaty versions, and not on an analysis of what legislation was to hand. As well as the EPO the Prov Govt, being transitional, had inherited all the existing UK security legislation via the Order in Council of 1 April 1922 under the Irish Free State (Agreement) Act 1922. But the Prov Govt didn't want to use the by-now-embarrassing UK Acts, and therefore moved to legislate for itself. All the legal and Oireachtas evidence shows an EPO amendment in autumn 1922, and not a brand new Act. If you look at the debate later on 8 December (see here), Eoin MacNeill even said:
"I do not say there was a statute. We have not had much time here to devise statutes, but I say there was full law and elementary law for that act. Every Government is armed with full emergency powers when emergencies of extreme necessity arise. When emergencies of extreme necessity arise there is no limit."
So I can't put my opinion on the page but I can correct factual errors. The anti-Treaty side thought that everything to do with the Prov Govt and Free State was unlawful anyway. The debate on the 8 December just after the executions ratified them by a vote in any case, but this also is naturally edited out of anti-Treaty history. The 4 were legally under arrest, and the Army Council pronounced sentence in accord with the laws then in force in the Free State, period.Red Hurley (talk) 10:53, 21 June 2010 (UTC)
I would suggest, given the ambiguous nature of the Free State (was it the successor of the Republic or British regime?) that it's impossible to state with certainty that existing British law applied. The Free State had not enacted any legislation allowing for executions in early July when they captured O'Connor and co. Regardless, you know the deal on OR Red. The literature says it was illegal. Would you propose changing it to, 'the executions are often cited as being illegal'? Jdorney (talk) 14:20, 21 June 2010 (UTC)
Seosamh Ó Longaigh's Emergency Law in Independent Ireland 1922-1948 is a useful source. My reading from a lay perspective is that the Civil courts (Justice O'Connor p26) often 'opted out' on deciding the legality or otherwise of certain matters at this time, as 'Military law' applied due to the proclaimed 'state of emergency' in certain areas. Haven't had time to study in great depth, but would welcome observations by others. As a source of interpretation of the law at this time, I think this book certainly has potential as a reliable source wrt this article. RashersTierney (talk) 15:03, 21 June 2010 (UTC)
Thanks both of you. I'll read Ó Longaigh first, and I don't want to circumvent WP:OR. It surprised me that there was no Act. It seems that, having seen the new laws described as a Bill or an Act in the press, the Prov Govt didn't correct anyone, to give the impression that they were doing something serious. That was a mistake. Clearly the perception continues that there was an Act. After the death of Hales the 4 were tried by a military court. Previously they were under arrest but not yet charged. The charges were brought and the ensuing rapid trials and executions were of course politically motivated to stop other murders of TDs. Irish military law was undeveloped, but it seems the European norm in World War I was that a military tribunal applied the law at the time of a hearing, without having to consider if the law was being applied retrospectively.Red Hurley (talk) 07:23, 22 June 2010 (UTC)
Ó Longaigh's book is interesting, and as we all know the definition of war here often stretches other peoples' definitions of war. So the Offences against the State Acts were preceeded by Public Safety Acts in e.g. 1923 (2) and 1927. But in regard to the civil war executions he doesn't give enough weight to the main 1923 Indemnity Act section 3, which reconfirmed the legality of what had gone before. For the avoidance of doubt, of course.Red Hurley (talk) 15:36, 21 July 2010 (UTC)
BTW there's an interesting angle on this on the Cahir Davitt page - in a civil war, "illegal" depends on who wins, doesn't it.Red Hurley (talk) 14:25, 20 February 2011 (UTC)

These arguments resemble "How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?". If the IRA had the authority to execute people during the war of Independence, which it did, then it had the same authority in the civil war. The Dáil had not legally removed its authority in the mean time.86.42.213.69 (talk) 13:43, 6 May 2011 (UTC)

Which Dáil? RashersTierney (talk) 16:22, 6 May 2011 (UTC)
And which IRA? The IRA, in it's convention of March 1922 rejected the Treaty and the authority of the Dail. Jdorney (talk) 10:42, 7 May 2011 (UTC)

Major Error, often repeated.[edit]

The article states that seven men from Kildare were executed in Dublin. They were actually executed in the Curragh Camp, Co. Kildare. For some reason they are often referred to as being executed in Dublin, any objection to correcting the article? — Preceding unsigned comment added by 86.46.114.204 (talk) 12:11, 21 September 2011 (UTC)

I have made the change but didn't footnote it, here is the information just as a back-up just in case http://www.curragh.info/articles/executions.htm — Preceding unsigned comment added by 86.46.114.204 (talk) 12:23, 21 September 2011 (UTC)

Thanks for the information. If you could also add the link as a footnote, that would be great. Jdorney (talk) 16:05, 21 September 2011 (UTC)

"This was *arguably* an unlawful act"[edit]

Hello? So, the Free State take out four innocent Irishmen from prison, a prison they were in when Seán Hales was killed, and execute them in retaliation for his murder. And this, according to this article, was "arguably" unlawful? "Arguably"? Incredible. Go on, give us the argument for how it could possibly be "lawful"? 79.97.64.240 (talk) 20:34, 28 November 2013 (UTC)

Or - give us the argument for how it could possibly be unlawful? This was a civil war pal. We can all play at armchair lawyers after the event.78.17.60.231 (talk) 16:44, 1 January 2014 (UTC)