The Irish Civil War: Law, Execution and Atrocity


Seán Enright

New Edition – March 2022

During the Irish Civil War, eighty-three prisoners were executed after trial by military court. The Irish Civil War: Law, Execution and Atrocity explores the pressures that drove the provisional government to try prisoners for arms offences by military courts, and how, at a time of great crisis, the rule of law evaporated and the new policy morphed into reprisal executions.


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During the Irish Civil War eighty-three executions were carried out by the National Army of the emerging Free State government, including four prisoners not tried or convicted of any charge. After the war the trial records were destroyed and the execution policy became a bitter memory that was rarely discussed. In this groundbreaking work, Seán Enright examines how a climate emerged in which prisoners could be tried by rudimentary military courts and then executed, and how so many other prisoners were killed without any trial at all.

The government of the emerging state relied on the National Army to fight the war and implement policy, but the National Army was new and lacked discipline. More than 125 further prisoners were killed in the custody of the state; shot at the point of capture or killed in custody. ‘Shot while trying to escape’ became an all too familiar press release. Seventeen prisoners were killed in the Kerry landmine massacres alone.

In the struggle to survive, the new state turned a blind eye and the rule of law simply unravelled. Featuring new material from the Irish Military Archives, The Irish Civil War: Law, Execution and Atrocity examines the dark legacy of this chaotic and bitter conflict.



Table of Contents

Key Events and Main Protagonists
Author’s Note
Chapter 1. Jock McPeake
Chapter 2. A State in Chaos
Chapter 3. The Origins of the Execution Policy
Chapter 4. Military Courts and the First Executions
Chapter 5. Childers
Chapter 6. Spooner, Farrelly, Murphy and Mallin
Chapter 7. The Creation of the Irish Free State and the Mountjoy Executions
Chapter 8. Trial by Army Committee
Chapter 9. The Rathbride Prisoners
Chapter 10. The Leixlip Prisoners
Chapter 11. Christmas and New Year
Chapter 12. January
Chapter 13. The Pause in the Executions: February to 13 March
Chapter 14. The Kerry Landmine Massacres and the Resumption of Executions
Chapter 15. April
Chapter 16. Summer and Autumn of 1923
Chapter 17. Postscript
Note on Sources
Select Bibliography

About the Author

Seán Enright was called to the Bar at Middle Temple in 1982 and at the Four Courts in 1993. He practised at the Bar in London for many years and is now a Circuit Judge. He is the author of The Trial of Civilians by Military Courts: Ireland 1921 (2012), Easter Rising 1916: The Trials (2014), and After the Rising: Soldiers, Lawyers and Trials of the Irish Revolution (2016).

Praise for The Irish Civil War: Law Execution and Atrocity

‘This book will be popular with both the general reader and the specialist, and is sure to stir up a debate two years ahead of the centenaries of its events.’
Joe Culley, History Ireland

‘In 1932, de Valera won a general election. Before he took office, the outgoing government ordered the burning of all documentation relating to the executions and the military tribunals. It is to  Enright’s enormous credit that, in their absence, he has been able to piece so much back together… a shocking read almost a century on.’
Chris Bambery, Military History Matters

‘This remarkable book is important … [a] rewarding volume well served by the chronology of key events and the pen portraits of the main protagonists. … I would recommend it not only to those intrigued by this period of Irish history but also to anyone with an interest in what happens when the rule of law and due process break down and necessity arguments and egg and omelette metaphors start to drown out less bellicose voices.’
Patrick Butler, Familia: Ulster Genealogical Review

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