A soldier wounded after the National Army landing at Passage West being conveyed to the base hospital on board the Lady Wicklow. Photo: National Library of Ireland, HOG54

Project reveals Civil War fatalities

The Irish Civil War was one of the saddest and most deadly periods of Irish history but until now, the precise number of deaths was unknown.

A ground-breaking new project launched this week aims to rectify that and discover the combatant and civilian fatalities in the Irish Civil War. The Irish Civil War Fatalities Project represents the first systematic attempt to investigate the number of people killed in the conflict and has uncovered some surprises.

The research and digital mapping project was launched on Monday by the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Catherine Martin TD. Dublin had the highest death toll at 260 with Cork closely following at 215 people. The total figure was 1,485.

The project covers one of the most complex periods in Ireland’s history. Historians of the Irish Civil War have resorted to estimates when surveying the death toll. Now a rigorously researched, academically contextualised database and interactive map lists all of the combatant and civilian fatalities in the thirty-two counties between the opening shots of the Civil War on 28 June 1922 and the ceasefire and dump arms order on 24 May 1923.

The project shows that numbers killed were considerably lower than in the War of Independence. This is primarily due to the lack of deliberate killing of civilians, who were three times more likely to have been killed in the War of Independence than in the Civil War. It also shows the Civil War was more violent, brutal and protracted in counties Kerry, Tipperary and Louth.

The research also suggests a new chronology of the Civil War, contradicting the idea that major combat was over after the first month of the war. The study of fatalities shows that deaths spiked not only in the opening ‘conventional’ phase of the war, but also in the peak of the guerrilla war in autumn 1922 and again in March 1923 with a concerted series of reprisal killings.

Led by UCC in partnership with RTÉ and the Irish Military Archives, the project was made possible through funding from the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media under the Historical Strand of the Decade of Centenaries Programme 2012-2023.The Irish Civil War Fatalities Project provides new insights into the frequency, nature and concentration of violence across Ireland during the Civil War. The interactive map is a major work of public scholarship and fills a significant gap in the historical record.

Launching the project, Minister Martin said: “The Irish Civil War was a great national tragedy and left a deep wound in the newly independent state. The significant loss of life and the injury to the fabric of our communities, and many families, were felt for generations, even to this day.

“By exploration of the impacts and factual history of the war, UCC’s research serves to deepen our appreciation of the challenges faced and sacrifices made by the individuals and families that made those communities - and the university has done so with a very thorough, engaging, innovative and accessible new resource.”

Dr Andy Bielenberg, Principal Investigator of the Irish Civil War Fatalities Project and Senior Lecturer at UCC School of History, said: “This project offers new insights into the spatial and temporal patterns of violence during the Civil War as well as the social profiles, ages and backgrounds of the victims of that violence. In addition to building a clearer picture of the combatant fatalities of the Irish Civil War, the new research presents a fuller picture of civilian fatalities. We can now see the impact of the conflict on civilians in large swathes of Ireland which remained entirely uncharted until now.”

“The interactive map will be an invaluable tool for researching family history, local history, and filling in gaps in our knowledge about the Civil War,” he added.

John Dorney, Historian and Research Assistant, said: “Some of the most interesting findings come from the data collected about fatalities as well as the raw numbers. For instance, we can show that pro-Treaty military casualties were of a significantly lower social class than the anti-Treaty side; that both Dubliners and natives of Cork were overrepresented in the pro-Treaty casualties, while people from Kerry were twice as likely to die on the anti as on the pro-Treaty side; and that while pro-Treaty deaths significantly outnumbered anti-Treaty, the latter were far more likely to executed or killed after being taken prisoner.”

View the project on UCC’s website and on RTÉ.