Irish Civil War - Attacks On Former Loyalists

Attacks On Former Loyalists

See also: Irish Unionist Party#Southern Unionists

Although the cause of the Civil War was the Treaty, as the war developed the Republicans sought to identify their actions with the traditional Republican cause of the "men of no property" and the result was that large Anglo-Irish landowners and some not very well-off former Protestant Loyalists were attacked. A total of 192 "stately homes" of the old landed class were destroyed by Republicans during the war.

The stated reason for such attacks was that some landowners had become Free State senators. In October 1922, a deputation of Southern Unionists met WT Cosgrave to offer their support to the Free State and some of them had received positions in the State's Upper House or Senate. Among the prominent senators whose homes were attacked were: Palmerstown House near Naas which belonged to the Earl of Mayo, Moore Hall in Mayo, Horace Plunkett (who had helped to establish the rural co-operative schemes), and Senator Henry Guinness (which was unsuccessful). Also burned was Marlfield House in Clonmel, the home of Senator John Philip Bagwell with its extensive library of historical documents. Bagwell was kidnapped and held in the Dublin Mountains, but later released when reprisals were threatened.

However, in addition to their allegiance to the Free State, there were also other factors behind Republican animosity towards the old landed class. Many, but not all of these people, had supported the Crown forces during the War of Independence. This support was often largely moral, but sometimes it took the form of actively assisting the British in the conflict. Such attacks should have ended with the Truce of 11 July 1921, but they continued after the truce and escalated during the Civil War. In July 1922, Con Moloney, the anti-treaty IRA's Deputy Chief of Staff, ordered that unionist property should be seized to accommodate their men. The "worst spell" of attacks on former unionist property came in the early months of 1923, 37 "big houses" being burnt in January and February alone.

Though the Wyndham Act of 1903 allowed tenants to buy land from their landlords, some small farmers, particularly in Mayo and Galway, simply occupied land belonging to political opponents during this period when the RIC had ceased to function. In 1919, senior Sinn Féin officials were sufficiently concerned at this unilateral action that they instituted Arbitration Courts to adjudicate disputes. Sometimes these attacks had sectarian overtones, although most Anti-Treaty IRA men made no distinction between Catholic and Protestant supporters of the Irish government.

In July 1922 a Protestant orphanage near Clifden, County Galway, housing 58 children was burnt by the anti-treaty side. The children were subsequently transferred to England on board a British destroyer as the Provisional government was unable to rescue them. The proselytising aspect of the Society for Irish Church Missions, which ran the institutions, had long been a source of local resentment, but it had apparently ceased proselytising in the area before 1921.

Controversy continues to this day about the extent of intimidation of Protestants at this time. Many left Ireland during and after the Civil War. Dr Andy Bielenberg of UCC considers that about 41,000 who were not linked to the former British administration left Southern Ireland (which became the Irish Free State) between 1919 and 1923. He has found that a "high watermark" of this 41,000 left between 1921 and 1923. In all, from 1911–1926, the Protestant population of the 26 counties fell from some 10.4% of the total population to 7.4%.

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