Aspects of the Civil War

Among the papers of Eamon de Valera about the Civil War period, one section covers the reorganisation of Sinn Féin, peace moves and the ceasefire (November 1922–August 1923). The documents in this section are wide-ranging, demonstrating that archives do not exist in isolation and are not neatly concerned with one topic. As the Civil War raged throughout the partitioned island, those charged with leading the new Irish Free State were concerned with diplomatic and legal issues, political party management, establishing peace and the practicalities of establishing the new state. The long thread running through this section is, however, the endeavours to bring the Civil War to a close and to establish peace.

These documents include large files of cuttings from Irish and British newspapers on political events in Ireland (November 1922–June 1923, P150/1782–1789); copies of texts of statements issued by de Valera to foreign correspondents, and texts of interviews given by de Valera to European and American newspapers and press agencies on subjects including the degree of support for the Irish Free State; the Anglo-Irish Treaty; the Oath of Allegiance; the background to the Civil War and the prospect for a truce (January–August 1923, P150/1790); texts of various statements issued by de Valera during 1923 including ‘Statement by Mr. De Valera on the Registration of the Anglo-Irish Treaty with the League of Nations’, and drafts of statement ‘To the People of Ireland’ beginning

‘On the eve of further executions of disinterested and patriotic Irish soldiers which will be but a prelude to still further intensification of hostilities…I feel it my duty to give the people my own personal views’

(February–August 1923, P150/1791)

The collection also includes memoranda between de Valera and Eamon Donnelly, Sinn Féin Director of Organisation, including communications on organisational work for the Árd Fheis and the upcoming elections (November 1922–August 1923, P150/1792); correspondence and reports on the activities and membership of the Neutral IRA Members’ Association, including reports on leading members of the Association and on their aims, ‘to end the Civil War’ (January−February 1923, P150/1793); correspondence between de Valera and Eileen McGrane of Cumann na mBan discussing de Valera’s contribution to a proposed Cumann na mBan pamphlet on Erskine Childers, protests against the execution of Republican prisoners and the proposed publication of speeches and correspondence of Erskine Childers (January–March 1923, P150/1796); correspondence between Chief of Staff Liam Lynch, de Valera and Mrs Una McClintock Dix, Honorary Secretary, Irishwomen’s International League, concerning the latter’s efforts seeking meetings with the Army Council and de Valera, on behalf of the Irishwomen’s International League and the People’s Pace League, to ‘discuss a basis for a truce’ (January 1923, P150/1797); communications between de Valera and Robert Barton in Mountjoy Jail in February 1923 and from Hare Park Internment Camp in June 1923:

‘Better an honourable surrender unconditionally than a dishonourable compromise. The fate of prisoners should never be considered, whether many or few, leaders or rank & file. If we can win today tomorrow or two years hence, carry on and let them execute every prisoner they hold. Each volley hammers home another nail in their coffin’.

(Barton to de Valera, 24 February 1923 (February, June 1923, P150/1801)

The documents reproduced below are concerned with the terms of settlement proposed by Eamon de Valera ‘on behalf of the Combined Republican Government and Army Council’ during the peace negotiations sponsored by Senators Andrew Jameson and James Douglas (1p) and typescript copy of draft ‘Proposed Terms of Agreement’ (3pp)

Illustrating that documents have a life long after they are created, a holograph covering note to de Valera from Frank Aiken, Minister for Defence, dated 23 September 1933, is included. It comments on the above copies of the draft proposals:

‘Paragraph D of attached page is the important one to stress in present circumstances. The terms of settlement were approved unanimously by the Executive of the I.R.A. who were free at the end of the Civil War. Copies were sent to all units in the country and to all jails and camps and not a single protest was received although we were in Daily communications with the prisoners’.

This post was written by Kate Manning, Principal Archivist, UCD Archives.

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