As the year began, civil war still raged and atrocities continued to be committed by both sides. But by year’s end the Irish Free State and her people were showing signs of settling into a new and peaceful order, writes Eamonn Duggan
When the new year of 1923 dawned, the spectre of violence hung over the country as it had done for some years and there was no indication that the situation was about to change for the better.
In fact, the level of violence had risen to an extraordinary extent in the last few months of 1922 with reports of death and suffering dominating the news cycle almost every day. Families, friends and communities had been torn apart since the outbreak of hostilities back in June 1922 resulting in a sense of bitterness which, as we now know, continued to cast a shadow over the political spectrum for many decades.
The violence of the civil war continued from the first day of the year and the people of the Free State could have been forgiven if their spirits were at a very low ebb. The month of January saw the killing and suffering continue on an even greater scale than the previous year as ambushes and attacks were reported from almost every region in the country and, most especially, in Munster.
The conflict had evolved from a more conventional war into one where the anti-Treaty forces employed guerrilla tactics which saw them carry out attacks and ambushes on the National Army troops reminiscent of the tactics employed by the IRA against the British during the War of Independence.
On the political front, the government, known as the First Executive Council of the Irish Free State, was led by W. T. Cosgrave and he and his cabinet colleagues had taken an increasingly authoritarian stance in relation to those who had repudiated the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Executions became commonplace over the last few months of the previous year and continued as the new year began to take shape.
During January, 1923, the Free State executed a total of 34 anti-Treaty prisoners, bringing the total executed during the civil war to 53. The executions seemed to galvanise the anti-Treaty forces and there continued to be a sizeable minority of people in the fledgling Free State who were determined never to accept the legitimacy of it. They were all, to a man and woman, very determined to carry on the fight for an independent thirty-two, county republic no matter what the consequences of their actions might have been.
Despite the continuation of the conflict, the government and the civil service had a duty to run the country for the benefit of all the people. While many of the mechanisms from the British administration were still in place and continued to be utilised, certain changes had to be made in order to differentiate the Free State from the British ruled country of the past.
One of the first instances of change came on 10 January when a government order creating the Revenue Commissioners came into being. This was a significant milestone and a clear indication that the days of British rule were truly over.
Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own