Home > Uncategorized > Forgotten Civil War in the Six Counties 1922-1924

Forgotten Civil War in the Six Counties 1922-1924

The Civil War between the new Government of “Norther Ireland” and Republicans from the very inception of the state is often overlooked.


Young people should be forgiven if they believe that conflict between unionists and nationalists arose out of the Civil Rights movement in the sixties. In fact the conflict was part of the very formation of the statelet. Thanks to the authors  for the pieces below

“The Northern Offensive”  May19 1922


The political and military division on the Treaty had already taken place but hostilities in the 26-Counties  had not commenced in early 1922 when the following took place: “Eventually concrete plans were laid between Michael Collins and General Liam Lynch, chief-of-staff with the Army Executive wing of the defence forces and one of the ablest field commanders of the entire period, to launch an operation known variously as the “Northern Offensive” or the “May Rising“. Intended to collapse the Stormont dictatorship and harry the UK into renegotiating the more objectionable aspects of the treaty the first attacks by northern-based units against the British Occupation Forces began on the night of Friday the 19th of May, 1922. Unfortunately a lack of coordination, confused orders, and contrary actions by volunteers serving with three army divisions under the influence of the Provisionals(Provisional Government of Southern Ireland) meant that the campaign quickly faltered.”  An Sionnach Fionn, Ireland’s Great Betrayal.

In plain language, the northern divisions of the IRA were expected to defeat the British Army, the Unionist government forces, loyalist mobs etc, in addition to protecting the nationalist population which was being subjected to state terrorism. The additional arms supplied by the southern IRA still left the Nothern IRA grossly under-armed for such a task. WE are not just talking about guerilla warfare here. We are talking about battles between armies. Not surprisingly the majority of northern IRA divisions did not take part and the “offensive” failed disastrously.

It is difficult to believe that experienced military figures like Collins and Liam Lynch could believe that such a campaign could even be attempted. What was the real intention?

See Material by An Sionnach Fionn   further down

Ireland’s Great Betrayal

Ireland’s Great Betrayal


The Context in which the Nothern Offensive by the Provisional Goverment of Southern Ireland together with pro and anti-treaty IRA  against unionism took place is set out by Alan Parkinson in his book-Belfast’s Unholy War

From Belfast’s Unholy War by Alan Parkinson

(The Parliament of Northern Ireland was the Home Rule legislature of Northern Ireland, created under the Government of Ireland Act 1920, which sat from 7 June 1921 to 30 March 1972)

Excerpt: (after Carson’s Speech on the Twelfth of July 1920 ) In two weeks loyalist gangs expelled 10,000 Catholics and several hundred Protestant socialists from the shipyards, engineering firms and mills in Belfast and neighbouring towns. Over the next two years 23,000 people, mainly Catholics, were driven from their homes in the city. https://wp.me/pKzXa-1CA The Irish government estimated that 50,000 persons left the North permanently in response to the violence and intimidation of these years……..

The Belfast outbreak erupted against the background of the escalation of the War of Independence between the IRA and Crown forces in the rest of Ireland, political uncertainty about the future of the North and the demobbing of thousands of ex-soldiers, brutalised by the horrors of the Western Front. June 1920 saw a bitter mini-civil war in Derry City involving the IRA, the UVF and British troops. As Parkinson points out, the IRA assassination of a hard-line Ulster-born RIC officer in Cork and an inflammatory speech by Sir Edward Carson at Finaghy provided the necessary sparks in Belfast. Carson—now bent on a policy of partition—told the assembled Orangemen: ‘We in Ulster will tolerate no Sinn Féin’. Within two weeks loyalist gangs expelled 10,000 Catholics and several hundred Protestant socialists from the shipyards, engineering firms and mills in Belfast and neighbouring towns. Over the next two years 23,000 people, mainly Catholics, were driven from their homes in the city. The Irish government estimated that 50,000 persons left the North permanently in response to the violence and intimidation of these years……..

Unlike during earlier sectarian troubles in the city, little effort was made by the British government or local Unionist leadership to have the expelled Catholics—dubbed ‘Sinn Féiners’ by their aggressors—reinstated. The chief secretary, Greenwood, chose to hide behind the principle of non-intervention in economic matters, and it was left to the Nationalist MP Joe Devlin to secure benefits for those in distress. In the wake of the July expulsions the city was raked by gunfire. Poignantly, the first victim was Mrs Margaret Noade, a young mother from the Short Strand, shot dead by police as she crossed Cromac Square. Over the next two years 500 people would die violently, of whom a staggering 58 per cent were Catholics in a city in which they numbered only 25 per cent of the population. In such circumstances the abiding nationalist sense of persecution is understandable. The author rejects the nationalist view that the anti-Catholic attacks of these years amounted to a ‘pogrom’ against the minority, and documentary evidence is hard to find. However, the repeated assaults on such isolated Catholic enclaves as the Short Strand suggest a considerable measure of pre-planning, and the British prime minister, Lloyd George, admitted to Winston Churchill in June 1922 in relation to the Belfast bloodshed: ‘Our Ulster case is not a good one’.
Sir James Craig, the future Northern Ireland prime minister, was able to use the Belfast disturbances to persuade Lloyd George to establish the sectarian Ulster Special Constabulary (USC) as an auxiliary police force based on the pre-war UVF. To nationalists the USC were nothing more than ‘the dregs of the Orange lodges’, but to Craig and his beleaguered cabinet they guaranteed the establishment of the Northern state against determined nationalist resistance. Distrustful of the police, Belfast nationalists looked to the local IRA for protection. As Parkinson points out, the republican force was relatively weak in the city, though in the wake of the Treaty it received valuable moral and military support from Michael Collins. Collins was pursuing his ‘twin-track’ approach of conciliation and coercion in his efforts to force the North into the new Irish Free State. While the Belfast IRA saw its role as essentially defensive, it was active in assassinating RIC personnel and in the sectarian bombing of shipyard trams.
IRA attacks were to provoke harsh reprisals by a ‘murder-gang’ within the police force, using the same tactics as the Black and Tans were employing in the south. Dr Parkinson has no doubt that senior police figures such as County Inspector Harrison and the deeply sectarian District Inspector J.W. Nixon (later a Stormont MP) were heavily implicated in a series of murders of Sinn Féin supporters and Catholic civilians during 1920–2. The mounting bloodshed led the Republican Dáil in Dublin to impose the ‘Belfast Boycott’ against Belfast banks and businesses in 1921. But, as the Sinn Féin writer P.S. O’Hegarty noted, this was both ineffectual and counter-productive, stereotyping partition and alienating moderate Unionist opinion.
The 1921 Treaty, with its provision for a Boundary Commission to revise the border, raised both nationalist hopes and unionist fears. The result was what Winston Churchill, the colonial secretary in charge of Irish affairs, called ‘a return to the hideous bog of reprisals’ in early 1922. An IRA ambush of a trainload of Specials at Clones in February sparked off a chain of barbaric atrocities in Belfast. Among these was the mass murder by loyalists of six children in Weaver Street, a Catholic district off the Shore Road. On 22 March 1922, under cover of curfew, a gang of men in police uniform carried out the almost ritualistic murder of Owen McMahon, a leading Belfast publican, his three sons and an employee at their villa off the Antrim Road. Dr Parkinson correctly identifies rogue members of the police as responsible for this atrocity, described by Churchill as an act of ‘cannibalism’. A few days later Catholic extremists bombed the home of a poor Protestant family, killing two children. The McMahon horror moved Churchill to bring Craig and Collins to London for urgent talks on how to end the killing. The resulting Craig–Collins pact contained radical proposals for recruiting Catholics into the Specials and promoting conciliation. However, it was soon washed away in a ‘sea of blood’.
By June 1922 Belfast was in a state of virtual civil war involving security forces, loyalists and the local IRA, now involved in a major military offensive secretly authorised by Collins. It was not until the outbreak of the civil war in the south that peace slowly returned to the city. However, the savage violence bequeathed a legacy of bitterness and division that affected the ‘psyche’ of both communities. Nationalists felt beaten and demoralised and abandoned by the South after the de



The Norther Offensive against the forces of the new unionist statelet in Early 1922,which was “co-ordinated” by Michael Collins and Eoin O’Duffy was a disaster

Given that the Free State assault on the Four Courts was carried out with the support of the British Occupation Forces, both the withdrawing garrisons in the south and the embedded ones in the north, the conspiracy to betray the northern divisions of the Irish Republican Army and the community they represented had its origins both in Dublin and London.

The Great Betrayal indeed.

Paddy Healy -Was the Northern Offensive a ploy by Collins to destroy the northern divisions of the IRA to prevent them fighting the partitioning Treaty being imposed by London and Dublin????

Irelands Great Betrayal   An Sionnach Fionn  https://wp.me/pKzXa-1CA

What date marks the end of Ireland’s War of Independence? It is a question more debated than you might think (along with the commencement of the struggle itself, with both Cork and Donegal claiming the “first shots” of the conflict in 1918, well ahead of the usual date of January 1919). If you were to follow the conventional narrative crafted by the post-partition elites in Dublin the hostilities ended with the Irish-British Truce of July 11th 1921, followed by the Irish-British Treaty of December 6th and the controversial ratification of the international agreement by Dáil Éireann on January 7th 1922. While many books point to the July ceasefire as the moment when the war stopped some historians prefer to look to the signing of the treaty in London, several months later.

Truth be told, despite the formal peace in the summer of 1921, the War of Independence went on unabated in some parts of the country for the rest of the year and well beyond that. Right up to the winter of 1922 the northern brigades of the Irish Republican Army, both Anti-Treaty and Pro-Treaty, continued to attack the British Occupation Forces as well as the Unionist terror factions in their areas. Both wings of the IRA (as well as the rarely discussed “Neutral IRA” led by General Frank Aiken and others) supported the resistance in what was to become the parastate of “Northern Ireland”, as the British colony on the island of Ireland was whittled down to the smallest defensible region in the north-east of the country. While the Irish Republican Army (formerly the Anti-Treaty IRA side) and its opponents in the Irish National Army (formerly the Pro-Treaty IRA side) moved towards civil war nationally both were active locally seeking to undermine British rule in the north. As well as pursuing separate operations the two militaries worked together to resist the authority of the new Unionist regime at Stormont and its London allies. The most dramatic instance of this was the Battle of Pettigo and Belleek in late May and early June of 1922 when Anti-Treaty and Pro-Treaty IRA units – the latter technically part of the breakaway Irish National or Free State Army – fought a sustained defence against a force of several hundred British troops and paramilitary police supported by artillery as they attacked by land and water.

Both wings of the IRA also sought recruits from the northern divisions, transferring Volunteers from units in Belfast and Derry to Anti- and Pro-Treaty formations elsewhere. The great irony of Ulstermen (and women) fighting in support of the 1921 Treaty on what was ultimately to emerge as the Nationalist rather than Republican side should not be forgotten. That they did so based upon promises and pledges that were soon to be broken by those in power in Dublin should not be forgotten either. The Irish Times has more on this, in particular the renewed campaign agreed by both wings of the Irish Republican Army in mid-1922, including those striving to remain unaligned to either:

“This joint-IRA offensive was envisioned as a full-scale invasion – a campaign of sweeping troop movements and “scorched earth” policies, culminating with an advance on Belfast.

Of course, things did not work out that way. The offensive commenced on May 19th, 1922, but quickly collapsed amid confusion and recrimination. Since then, its details have been obscured by a lack of documentary evidence and the conflicting testimonies of those who were involved. As a consequence, many questions surrounding the episode remain a source of speculation.

One of the more intriguing questions to emerge in recent years has concerned the role of Frank Aiken, commander of the IRA’s Fourth Northern Division, and later one of Ireland’s most prominent statesmen. Aiken was a key player in the planning of the offensive, and was widely reputed to be its chosen leader. His division – which operated in the borderlands of Armagh, south Down and north Louth – was one of the more active and organised IRA units in Ulster. As such, it was expected to play a crucial role in the attack. When the time came, however, Aiken and his men failed to commence their operations.

…Aiken – despite numerous claims to the contrary – was not in command of the offensive.

The confusion stems from Aiken’s position as chairman of the IRA’s Ulster Council. This shadowy body was established by Michael Collins in January 1922 to co-ordinate IRA activity in Northern Ireland. It was composed of the commanders of all those IRA divisions with an operational presence north of the border.

…the council’s most significant operation in the months that followed – the abduction of more than 40 unionists from the border areas of Tyrone and Fermanagh – was instigated by another member, Eoin O’Duffy, the pro-Treaty chief-of-staff, and sanctioned by Collins.

When the plans for an offensive were announced in April 1922, seemingly at Collins’s behest, the Ulster Council became central to its planning. Aiken, meanwhile, was twice offered the role of commanding the campaign, and on both occasions he refused. The pro-Treaty leadership refused to give him a free hand in the matter… He also appears to have been suspicious of their motives in proposing the initiative, particularly in light of the risk it posed to the Treaty settlement.

It did not help that his relationships with Collins, O’Duffy and Richard Mulcahy (the minister for defence) were becoming increasingly strained, mostly as a result of his neutral stance in the IRA split. Although his division remained nominally under the authority of the provisional government’s department for defence, Aiken had made it very clear that he could not be relied upon for support in any future confrontation with the anti-Treaty IRA.

So if Aiken was not in command of the offensive, who was? The available evidence – though sketchy – would suggest that the task fell to O’Duffy, as chief-of-staff of the provisional government forces. He had the final say on when the operations would commence, and it was on his authority that the original start date was later postponed to allow further time for preparation.

If this was the case, who then cancelled the Fourth Northern Division’s participation in the offensive? …it seems more likely that the division’s withdrawal from the offensive was related to a broader decision by the pro-Treaty leadership that there should be no fighting on or around the border. Having instigated the offensive for the dual purpose of securing the nominal loyalty of the northern IRA and promoting republican unity in the south through the lure of a common cause, they now sought to hide their complicity.

…was it the pro-Treaty leadership’s intention all along? Was the offensive simply a means of buying time ahead of a confrontation with the anti-Treaty IRA, and of decimating a now inconvenient IRA presence in the north?

…it is telling that Aiken and his Fourth Northern Division believed that an offensive was still in the offing right up until the provisional government attacked the Four Courts on June 28th, 1922. What is more, they were actively encouraged in this belief by figures such as Mulcahy and O’Duffy. If there was betrayal on the border in the spring of 1922, perhaps its origins were to be found in Dublin.”

Given that the Free State assault on the Four Courts was carried out with the support of the British Occupation Forces, both the withdrawing garrisons in the south and the embedded ones in the north, the conspiracy to betray the northern divisions of the Irish Republican Army and the community they represented had its origins both in Dublin and London.

The Great Betrayal indeed.


Paddy Healy -Was the Northern Offensive a ploy by Collins to destroy the northern divisions of the IRA to prevent them fighting the partitioning Treaty being imposed by London and Dublin????



Internment in Northern Ireland 1922-23. By Ann-Marie McInerney

Dr. Anne-Marie McInerney

Librarian, Dublin and Irish Studies(DCL)| Irish History PhD GradTCD | Researching Military Imprisonment in Ireland 1920s/30s

It has been argued that Ireland experienced not one but two civil wars in 1922. The first between Republicans and the new unionist government of Northern Ireland in the first half of the year and the second in the latter part of that year and into 1923, between pro and anti-Treaty factions in the Irish Free State.

Both ended in defeat for Irish Republicans and both led to mass internment of their fighters and activists. In the North, the principle site of internment was on the prison ship Argenta…………………………….

The civil war in the Free State ceased in May 1923 but internment levels remained high throughout both the Free State and Northern Ireland. In 1923, there were still some 752 people interned in Northern Ireland.[32] By October a series of hunger strikes spread throughout the country for the mass release of Republican prisoners. In the south, some 8000 prisoners took part in the hunger strike[33] while in Northern Ireland; there were some 500 prisoners on hunger strike by November.



Michael Collins, Northern Ireland and the Northern Offensive, May 1922-THEIRISHSTORY

 By Patrick Concannon

I am a 40 something Derryman with a fondness for all things History. I also like challenging accepted narratives. An Irish History First Class Honors Graduate” 

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