Face to face: leading figures of the anti and pro-treaty factions
Cathal Brugha During the Revolutionary War, substantial tension developed between Cathal Brugha and Michael Collins. Following the truce, Brugha refused to join the Anglo-Irish Treaty delegation in October 1921.
We strongly opposed the treaty, believing that it would not bring peace. IRA intelligence officer Tadhg Kennedy also recalled that Brugha “had a deep distrust of the wisdom and diplomacy of Mick Collins”.
Following the Dáil’s approval of the treaty, Brugha, who had been defense minister, was replaced by Richard Mulcahy and in March he became vice-president of the anti-treaty Cumann na Poblachta.
In the months leading up to the Civil War, he attempted to maintain unity and discouraged the anti-treaty side from taking up arms.
The Civil War began with the bombardment of the Four Courts occupied by the Free State on June 28, 1922. Brugha took up position at the Hotel Hammam on O’Connell Street. It wasn’t long before the hotel was hit by furious gunfire and Brugha, a “limping little man” was at the forefront of the building’s defense.
By 5 July most of the garrison in the O’Connell Street bastion had surrendered, but Brugha continued to fight. As he left the building on Thomas’s Lane he rushed forward “brandishing a revolver from the flaming pile” but was fatally shot in the thigh.
While Liam Mellows strongly opposed the treaty, a member of the Sinn Féin executive recalled that he had “no hard feelings” against those who were for it.
However, after the treaty was accepted by the Dáil, he became a prominent member of the anti-treaty IRA army executive. He joined Rory O’Connor in occupying the Four Courts in April.
In late June, the Four Courts were reduced to ruins as they were attacked by the Free State Army. Even after explosives were detonated in the basements of the building, Mellows remained opposed to the idea of surrender. However, as the structure began to crumble around them, the garrison was ordered by IRA member Oscar Traynor to surrender. Mellows reluctantly did so alongside O’Connor and was held at Mountjoy for six months.
While in prison he wrote “Notes from Mountjoy Prison” which detailed his plans for a socialist program in an independent Ireland. He was also elected Minister of Defense in the Republican government of Éamon de Valera. In December 1922 pro-treaty TD Sean Hales was killed by the IRA and in retaliation the Provisional Government decided to execute Liam Mellows, along with Rory O’Connor, Dick Barrett and Joseph McKelvey.
In her final moments, Mellows wrote to her mother to say goodbye. His desire for unity was manifested when he asked that “no thought of revenge or retaliation should animate the Republicans because of our death” and that “blood brothers will soon be brothers of arms against the oppressor of our country”.
On December 8, 1922, he was shot by a firing squad.
Kevin O’Higgins was originally against any deal that did not include Republican status for Ireland. Gradually, he becomes one of the main supporters of the Anglo-Irish treaty.
He becomes minister of economic affairs of the provisional government. At the start of the Civil War, he took up a military post as assistant adjutant general. In August, after Collins’ death, he became Home Secretary. On December 6, 1922, he became Vice President of the Free State Executive Council and played a major role in the Dáil’s acceptance of the new constitution.
O’Higgins was proud of the creation of a new, unarmed Civil Guard, which would become the Garda Síochána. He also oversaw the establishment of a new “elementary justice system”.
He feared that a protracted civil war would lead to Britain’s attempt to take control of the Free State, so he took a hardline approach to quell the conflict. This included sanctioning the execution of 77 Republicans, including his close friend Rory O’Connor.
According to The Northern Whig, O’Higgins was hated more than any other minister because the Republicans realized “he was the most dangerous and effective enemy”.
He remained a prominent figure in the formation of the Free State in the years following the Civil War.
On July 10, 1927, he was on his way to mass in Booterstown when he was shot by members of the IRA. He remained conscious for some time and the press reported that as he lay dying he said, “I die in peace with my enemies. I die for my country. I’m going to join Michael Collins.
WT Cosgrave supported the treaty and felt that despite some issues, such as the oath of allegiance, it was an opportunity for the people of Ireland to develop “their own nation in their own way”.
After the treaty was passed in January 1922, he became Minister of Local Government. In July, he also becomes Minister of Finance.
After the deaths of Collins and Griffith, he became President of Dáil Éireann and, in December 1922, President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State.
Cosgrave was adamant that anti-treaty violence should be dealt with ruthlessly. On December 27, 1922, the Tipperary Board of Guardians wrote to Cosgrave asking him to bring a “cessation” to strife, to which he sternly replied “no minority can be allowed to dictate to a majority by force of arms” . He later said that the execution of 77 Republicans had had a “remarkable effect”.
Although some doubted his abilities, Cosgrave remained as head of the new Irish state for 10 years and had a long political career. He notably founded the Cumann na nGael government in 1923 and became leader of its successor, Fine Gael, from 1934 until his retirement from politics in 1944. He died on 16 November 1965.
Dr Ciara Stewart holds an MA in Irish History from University College Dublin and a PhD from Durham University. She specializes in the history of 19th century Irish women’s political movements and petition