Career Conspirators: The (Mis)Adventures of Seán Ó Muirthile and the Irish Republican Brotherhood in the Free State Army, 1923-4

Future Plans

Seán Ó Muirthile caricature

By January 1923, with the Irish Civil War still ongoing, Seán Ó Muirthile was a busy man as Quartermaster General of the Free State Army. Not too busy, however, to turn his thoughts towards an issue that he believed needed serious consideration: the state of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB).

Some prominent army officers had been wondering amongst themselves about the future of the Brotherhood to which they had previously belonged. In theory they still did, but the Supreme Council of the IRB had not met since the January of the previous year, and neither had there been meetings of the local branches throughout Ireland. The policy had been to await events and then set about re-uniting the Organisation, as insiders were supposed to refer to it. If the time for this was not now, then when?

It was entirely natural that these officers would bring such concerns to Ó Muirthile. He was, after all, one of the few remaining members of the Supreme Council still around, not to mention a former confidant of the late, great Michael Collins.

Michael Collins

Commander-in-Chief of the Army as well as President of the IRB, Collins had exemplified the dual role of soldier and operative that many in the Army were eager to emulate. Certainly, Ó Muirthile had little doubt that Collins, had he lived, would have continued using the Organisation in the pursuit of achieving further freedom for Ireland.[1]

First Steps

With these questions in mind, Ó Muirthile consulted the other Supreme Council members who were also serving in the Army. The basic points that were agreed upon in their January meeting were that:

  • The proud tradition of the IRB should be preserved and passed onto those loyal to the Free State government.
  • This effort would fall upon the previous members of the Supreme Council.
  • The Free State government must not be prejudiced or subverted in any way even if any members of its Executive Council were also in the IRB.

The seriousness of this last point is an open question. The past record of the IRB did not indicate an unwillingness to wield its underground influence on the other bodies it had infiltrated, whether they were the Irish Volunteers, the Gaelic League, Sinn Féin or others. Whether the Free State Army would be the exception, however, would remain to be seen, as there was still plenty of work to be done on the first two points.

This was begun in earnest a few weeks later. The matter of a revived IRB was put to a number of army officers stationed in Dublin who had also been IRB Centres, or junior officers (each Centre being in charge of a Circle, the basic unit of the IRB, consisting of no more than 10 members). The feedback was positive, with the consensus of opinion being that these proposals could be put into effect.

The only caveat was that a new constitution should be written to accommodate IRB men serving in the Army. After an existence on the outskirts of power, the fraternity would have to adjust to being on the inside.[2]

A New Constitution

A copy of such a constitution gives an idea as to how this accommodation could have been managed. Titled ‘I.R.B. Constitution – 1923 (Provisional?)’, it can be found in the papers of Florence O’Donoghue. Once a prominent IRB/IRA officer, he had dropped out of both, disillusioned by the fratricide of the Civil War.

The document had been sent to O’Donoghue by a “D. Lynch”, possibly Diarmuid Lynch, another former IRB man. Whoever the sender, he had noted at the top of the document: “This copy was made by me of the new official draft (which I was not supposed to have seen).”

Richard Mulcahy

Another annotation in the margins identified Ó Muirthile and General Richard Mulcahy as the ones who had presented this proposed constitution to the Army. Truly, this revived IRB was moving in elevated circles.

The successor to Michael Collins as the Commander-in-Chief, Mulcahy had also sat on the IRB Supreme Council with Ó Muirthile before the Civil War. It was a sign that the new IRB would be continuing with the old leadership.

Much of the document is a rehash of material from past IRB constitutions. This is unsurprising, given that it was supposed to be building on an already established society, but there are some noteworthy, not to say disturbing, innovations.

One such is the Clause 13(b): in addition to the Divisions for different Irish counties (15 and a 16th for Great Britain) as before, there were to be eleven parallel Divisions for the Army, each based on a different command post. The 1st Division encompassed G.H.Q., the second was for the Dublin Command, the third for the Curragh Command, and so on.

To no other institution in the Free State did the Constitution pay such particular attention; as far as the new IRB was concerned, the Army was very much its territory, to be managed accordingly.

While the groupings of the rest of the Organisation consisted of ‘Circles’, those within the Army would be ‘Clubs’ but otherwise would follow the same arrangements, with the Clubs not exceeding ten members unless authorised by the Supreme Council, and each to be headed by a Centre who would report up the IRB chain of command. The new additions were intended to work seamlessly with the old, an exception being that a Club member could not also be in a civilian Circle.

Every Power and Movement in the Nation

The Supreme Council was to be expanded accordingly. There would be twenty-eight members, as opposed to the fifteen in the 1920 Constitution: one from each of the sixteen Divisions covering the country, and eight out of the eleven Army Divisions. The remaining four would be co-opted by the remainder.

Thus constituted, the Supreme Council would be ready to pursue its stated aims:

Objects 1. The objects of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (hereinafter sometimes called “The Organisation”) shall be: – To establish and maintain a free and independent Republican Government in Ireland.

Policy 2(a) Whereas National Sovereignty is inherent and inalienable and, while acknowledging that political authority is exercised through instruments legitimately expressed, the Irish Republican Brotherhood pledges itself the custodies of the Republican Ideal – the traditional expression of National Independence.

(b) The policy of the IRB shall be to utilise every power and movement in the Nation, it shall influence them in their activities so as to secure that the maximum organised strength of the Nation – armed, economic, political, social and otherwise shall be at all times available for the achievement of its objects.[3]

It is hard to say how much of a finished product this document was intended to be: a rough draft or the final instructions. But it is not the proclamation of an organisation that was planning on going away anytime soon.

Instead, it showed a leadership that was thinking in the long term. It was prepared to be innovative, with its expanded Supreme Council and the formation of ‘Clubs’ to fulfil the role of Circles’. But in its assurance of itself as the only true keeper of the Republican flame and the willingness to use others in the pursuit of that self-appointed mission, it had revealed itself as very much the IRB of old.

Tom Barry’s Plea

Seán O’Hegarty

Ó Muirthile and his Army colleagues were not the only ones considering what a resuscitated IRB could bring. Four months after agreeing to revive the Organisation, Ó Muirthile had an appointment in his office with Seán O’Hegarty in May 1923.

The former O/C of the Cork 1st Brigade, O’Hegarty had remained neutral during the Civil War, though he remained in close contact with many of his former comrades. It was on behalf of one of these compatriots, Tom Barry, the famed leader of the West Cork Flying Column, that O’Hegarty had asked for the meeting.

O’Hegarty delivered to Ó Muirthile a letter written by Barry. Announcing himself as “an officer in the Organisation in County Cork”, Barry appealed to the pro-Treaty IRB to use its influence towards stopping the manhunt of the embattled Anti-Treatyites, many of whom, like Barry, considered themselves as much a part of the Brotherhood as their Free State counterparts. The Brotherhood, Barry argued, should come together again as one body in order to not lose sight of its ideals, particularly as there was still work to be done for the Republic.

Beneath the stirring rhetoric, Barry was counting on the IRB to facilitate an honourable climb-down for both sides. As far as Ó Muirthile was concerned, that horse had well and truly left the stable. Another prominent Anti-Treatyite, Liam Deasy, had already signed a public document while imprisoned, urging his partisans to surrender themselves and their arms to the Free State. Ó Muirthile curtly declined to pass on Barry’s message to the rest of the Army Council and told O’Hegarty that if the Anti-Treatyites had any interest in stopping the fight, they should consider Deasy’s example.

Tom Barry

For Ó Muirthile, the only value of the meeting was how it revealed the depths of the despair among the Anti-Treatyites. If a fighter like Barry was close to breaking point, then there was little hope for the rest. Contrary to what he told O’Hegarty, he did discuss the matter with Mulcahy and the rest of the Army Council. They likewise were indifferent, and nothing was passed onto the government.

Barry’s hopes for the Brotherhood as a bridge between the two sides had been mired in sentimentality and wishful thinking. Ó Muirthile’s dismissal was pitiless but clear-headed. From then on, any new incarnation of the IRB would be formed on the Army’s terms.[4]

Roads Not Taken

While a failure, Barry’s letter did provide a convenient excuse when the re-emergence of the IRB became public knowledge in the wake of the Army Mutiny of 1924. Speaking to the Dáil on the 26th June 1924, Richard Mulcahy quoted a note he had made shortly after learning of the offer from Ó Muirthile, with the following points:

1. The Anti-Treatyites had tried to form their own IRB to strengthen their grip on their members.
2. That Barry’s letter was addressed to the Supreme Council showed his recognition of its authority.
3. That the letter came from Barry was particularly important given his reputation as a fighter.
4. The IRB might be utilised as a body for which the Anti-Treatyites could acquiesce in terms of them disbanding without humiliation.
5. That there was no group other than the IRB in such a position made the situation a delicate one.[5]

FSAThe first point is a peculiar one as there had been nothing in Barry’s letter about attempts among the Anti-Treatyites at forming a counter-IRB. It is possible that Mulcahy had heard about the musings of Liam Lynch, the IRA Chief of Staff, about reforming the IRB Supreme Council, and the Brotherhood in general, along Anti-Treatyite lines.[6]

Although nothing came of such plans, they showed that the IRB was still indeed considered a valid institution by many on the Anti-Treaty side, and that Mulcahy’s hopes were not entirely without substance.

Mulcahy made a second note a few days later, expanding on his original thoughts:

1. The Anti-Treatyite IRA was at a dead end as a body and should disband, with only the IRB able to provide a pivotal point to arrange this.
2. The IRB was fully controlled by the Army Council. It was possible that within a couple of years, the IRB could evolve into an open political society, much like the Irish Volunteers had done.
3. While the Government might not want to associate with a secret society like the IRB, it was essential that the state control the moulding of the Organisation, both as a constructive entity and as a means for penitent Anti-Treatyites to withdraw from the Civil War with honour.[7]

The problem with these noble-sounding, if wistful, ambitions is that there is no evidence of any attempts to put them into practice. Ó Muirthile’s later account made it clear that the reaction of the Army Council, including Mulcahy, towards the letter was an imperious, if not contemptuous, one – hardly the best basis for an IRB outreach programme.

Whether the IRB could become an open society and not a secret one, using the Irish Volunteers as its template, is a question that would never be answered. However, there is nothing in the 1923 Constitution to suggest any such leanings. If anything, the old oath to keep the secrets of the Brotherhood and the right of the Supreme Council to punish any errant members remained on paper.

As for the notion of the state being allowed to guide the IRB, that would again be in contrast to the list of goals in the 1923 Constitution which made it plain that the new role of the Organisation was to be the other way around. Far from being given the keys to the Brotherhood, state ministers were kept in the dark for long as they could be.

Suspicious of rumours he was hearing about Army officers being summoned from all over the country to sit in secret sessions, the Minister of Justice, Kevin O’Higgins, confronted Mulcahy in February 1923. With no small amount of chutzpah, the general blandly denied that there was anything behind such reports.

Mucahy’s statements to the Dáil must thus be seen as excuses and rationalisations after the fact, for all the evidence points to the IRB being for the IRB first and foremost.

Kevin O’Higgins Concerns

This revived IRB was to be very much an elitist affair. The informal meetings that Ó Muirthile had characterised the IRB revival had been between those with previous experience in the administrative roles for the Organisation. Ó Muirthile took care to consult former Supreme Council members and IRB officers but made no effort to reach out to ordinary initiates.

FSA2This was more than mere thoughtless but part of a glass-ceiling policy. As he described later in his memoirs, Ó Muirthile did not think it wise to be indiscriminate in the shaping of the new Brotherhood. This cartel within a cabal soon led to resentment among those on the outside, a simmering discontent that would have ruinous consequences for all concerned.[8]

But before that, Ó Muirthile had more immediate worries. Shortly after seeing O’Hegarty, Ó Muirthile heard that Kevin O’Higgins, the Minister for Justice, had found out about the efforts within the Army to revive the IRB. Wishing to head off any future problems, Ó Muirthile discussed the matter with Mulcahy, and they agreed to invite O’Higgins to a meeting where they could soothe his fears.

As O’Higgins later recalled, Mulcahy came to him “in a purely personal way” which the minister found distasteful. Another bit of overfamiliarity was how the general referred to Seán Ó Muirthile by name rather than by his rank of Lieutenant-General. O’Higgins made his displeasure plain at the subject of the IRB. He may also have been a member in the pre-Truce days but now, secret societies could only be detrimental to the state of the Army, not to mention the country. Mulcahy accepted this but asked O’Higgins to come along to the meeting all the same.[9]

It was on this unpromising start that the meeting was held on the 10th July in the office of President W.T. Cosgrave. Cosgrave was present along with O’Higgins and the Minister for Education, Eoin MacNeill. Representing the IRB were Ó Muirthile and Mulcahy. Ó Muirthile began by bringing up the subject of Tom Barry’s letter, which was discussed in a general way by those present but resulted in nothing definite.

The talk then turned to the IRB. Ó Muirthile was happy to outline to his audience the activities of the society before and after the Treaty. He was to leave the meeting confident that the ministers had understood his position and accepted the IRB as part of the new state of affairs.

On that score, however, Ó Muirthile was to be very, very much so mistaken.[10]

A Conspiracy against the Conspiracy

Liam Tobin

Another erroneous assumption on Ó Muirthile’s part was that the junior IRB members who found themselves disenfranchised would passively acquiesce. A rival faction was formed out of these frustrations: the IRA Organisation (IRAO), also called the Old IRA or the Tobin Gang after Liam Tobin, one of its ringleaders and a former gunman in Michael Collins’ Squad.

Tobin added the foreword to The Truth about the Army Crisis, the document disseminated by the IRAO to explain its motives and grievances. The impact The Truth had on a wider audience is doubtful, and there no evidence that it rallied any segment of the Irish public to its cause, but it does reveal much about the conflict between the IRAO and the IRB, how they differed and, more importantly, where the groups overlapped.

The main difference between The Truth’s and Ó Muirthile’s version of events is which group came first: the IRB or the IRAO. According to the former, the IRB had never gone away to begin with, and was keen to stress the continuity between the ideals of the IRB of old and the aspirations of the new:

The big majority of the (IRB) members…accepted the Treaty as a means towards complete independence, and felt, when they joined the Free State Army, that they were acting in accordance with the spirit and tradition of the Brotherhood, and, of course, they all had the continuity of the Organisation in mind.[11]

The appearance of the IRAO seems almost incidental in Ó Muirthile’s account. He went so far as to deny that the two factions were rivals.[12] This seems highly disingenuous in light of the IRAO’s insistence that their insubordination against the Army Council was fuelled by the hostility of the IRB, which they clearly equated with the Council.

In The Truth, the new IRB was not created until after the IRAO had already been set up. Alarmed by the banding together of those soldiers who were dissatisfied with the direction the Army was taking, the Army Council set up what it called the IRB in order to counteract the IRAO’s counteractions. These efforts culminated in an ultimatum from one of the Army Council to the new group: “Drop your organisation and we will drop ours.”[13]


The Truth drips with contempt at the idea that the new so-called Irish Republican Brotherhood could ever call itself as such. If it was truly the IRB of old, the reader is asked, why were the IRAO members not advised on its re-organisation, considering how they had been IRB members from before. Clearly, the disgruntled soldiers saw nothing wrong with the reappearance of the IRB, just that they had not been invited to the party.

Also revealing is the language in The Truth. With its talk of the “national ideal” and what should be done for “the Nation”, not to mention the liberal invoking of Michael Collins’ name, the self-righteous, self-assured tone of the IRAO were more than a little reminiscent of that used in the 1923 IRB Constitution. Whatever their differences, the two societies were reading from the same hymn sheet.[14]

A Continuity IRB?

While neither is unpartisan in their accounts, Ó Muirthile’s and the IRAO’s are in agreement in how both groups discussed a merger as a way of resolving the conflict. According to Ó Muirthile, this never got beyond the talking stage due to the same prejudice the IRB showed towards any prospective members who had not held a senior role from before.[15]

The Truth was more detailed about the series of talks and meetings which the IRAO came to believe were merely stalling tactics on the part of the IRB. Mulcahy at one point promised the IRAO places on the IRB Supreme Council. This was not kept. Another meeting between the IRAO and the IRB, the former in the persons of Mulcahy and Ó Muirthile, saw the same promise of representation on the Supreme Council made. When pressed, however, Ó Muirthile admitted that this would only amount to one placement. Once again, even this meagre promise fell through.[16]

It was not until the IRAO saw that the IRB had no intention of releasing even a finger of its grip on Army policy that it concluded that further negotiations were futile and took steps towards what would become the Army Mutiny of 1924. In this, The Truth is almost certainly reliable. For all its self-aggrandising, the IRAO would most likely have been content with a relaxation of the monopoly held by the IRB on the upper echelons of the Army.

This would not have meant the end of the monopoly, however, merely more stakeholders in it. Neither the IRB nor the IRAO disagreed with the issue of control, just who should have the rights to it.

In the resulting inquiry into the Mutiny and the discussions in the Dáil, the IRB was characterised as having been revived or re-organised as if this IRB was a new incarnation of the old. However, there are grounds to believe that this IRB was in fact a continuation of the same. That men like Ó Muirthile and Mulcahy, who had sat on the Supreme Council during the Treaty talks, remained on as senior members of the IRB within the Army to the point of writing the new constitution, suggests that nothing had intended to change.

While there is no reason to disbelieve Ó Muirthile when he said that there had been no meetings of the IRB between January 1922 and the start of 1923, this is more likely due to a lack of opportunity and the confusion brought about the split from the Civil War than the death of the old IRB. That the IRAO mutineers had been IRB members from before the Treaty and had expected the new IRB to continue treating them as insiders suggests that while the pecking order had changed, the mindset of Organisation members had not.

The End

The results of the Mutiny were the ending of the military careers of both the mutineers and the Army Council. Mulcahy was to endure the lambasting of the man he had attempted to deceive, Kevin O’Higgins, who was quick to levy blame on the Army heads who had tried playing at secret societies.

Kevin O’Higgins

O’Higgins was to describe to the Dáil a very different interpretation to Ó Muirthile’s of the meeting in President Cosgrave’s office on the 10th July 1923. Ó Muirthile was to insist that he had left the meeting confident that everyone was on board with the IRB. But according to O’Higgins, both Ó Muirthile and Mulcahy had at no point specified the IRB as actually in existence. They had instead opaquely described it only as an option. O’Higgins had used the meeting to denounce any revived IRB, option or not, likening it to a Tammany Hall that would make puppets of all in the Dáil.[17]

Or so O’Higgins told the Dáil. It is possible that, like any good public speaker, O’Higgins was tailoring his message to the audience. However, the revived IRB seems to have made no effort to reconnect with its members in the Dáil, being content to keep itself a military franchise. Perhaps Ó Muirthile had been sincere after all when he said that the intention when reviving the IRB was not to subvert the government.

Whether out of myopia or principle, this attitude would cost the Brotherhood dear. Having entwined itself so tightly with the Army, the IRB was unable to survive when expelled from it. There would be no further efforts to resuscitate the Organisation after 1924. Whatever dreams or ambitions it had had for itself, in the new Ireland they would wither on the vine.

Post Brotherhood

Whichever was the more accurate account of that meeting in the President’s office, O’Higgins was to have the last word. Ó Muirthile lost his rank as Quartermaster General. A business venture in Dublin failed, and he returned to his home village in Leap, Work Cork. There, he resumed his previous job as an Irish language teacher, and set to work writing a book. Part memoir, part history and part apologia, it was never published and remains largely forgotten in UCD Archives other than the occasional appearance in a footnote of a more successful book.[18]

Mulcahy was also to lose his position as Commander-in-Chief. He continued in politics but, as late as 1932, the embarrassment of his past associations was used against him. Mulcahy attempted to make additions to the Army Pensions Bill by Fianna Fáil that would have debarred members of certain illegal organisations. By this, Mulcahy meant the IRA, which was then in an informal alliance with the new ruling party. Frank Aiken as Minister for Defence retorted by reminding Mulcahy of the time he had helped to facilitate another certain illegal organisation. Mulcahy’s motion was lost by 65 to 45.[19]


Originally posted on The Irish Story (29/06/2015)


See also:

To Not Fade Away: The Irish Republican Brotherhood, Post-1916

‘This Splendid Historic Organisation’: The Irish Republican Brotherhood among the Anti-Treatyites, 1921-4



[1] P7a/209, University College Dublin – Richard Mulcahy Papers, p. 177

[2] Ibid, p. 299

[3] National Library of Ireland – Florence O’Donoghue Papers, MS 31,236 ; the 1920 Constitution at MS 31,233

[4] P7a/209, pp. 220-223

[5] Dáil Report, Volume 7, Columns 3121-3122 (23 June 1924)

[6] National Library of Ireland (NLI), MS 31,240

[7] Dáil Report, Volume 7, Columns 3123-3124 (23 June 1924)

[8] P7a/209, p.253

[9] Dáil Report, Volume 7, Columns 3157-3158 (23 June 1924)

[10] P7a/209, p.229

[11] Ibid, p.177

[12] Ibid, p.253

[13] The Truth About the Army Crisis (Official), with a foreword by Major-General Liam Tobin (Dublin, issued by the Irish Republican Army Organisation [1924]), p. 4

[14] Ibid, p.6

[15] P7a/209, p.275

[16] The Truth About the Army Crisis, p. 6

[17] Dáil Report, Volume 7, Columns 3158-3159

[18] Southern Star, 15/11/1997

[19] Irish Independent, 28/10/1932



University College Dublin – Richard Mulcahy Papers


National Library of Ireland – Florence O’Donoghue Papers

MS 31,233

MS 31,236

MS 31,240


The Truth About the Army Crisis (Official), with a foreword by Major-General Liam Tobin (Dublin, issued by the Irish Republican Army Organisation [1924])

Dáil Report

Volume 7, 26 June 1924


Irish Independent, 28/10/1932

Southern Star, 15/11/1997

‘This Splendid Historic Organisation’: The Irish Republican Brotherhood among the Anti-Treatyites, 1921-4

Liam Lynch

Liam Lynch

By November 1922, five months into the Irish Civil War, Liam Lynch was a busy man as Chief of Staff to the Anti-Treatyite IRA. Not too busy, however, to turn his thoughts towards an issue that he believed needed serious consideration: the state of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). With that in mind, he wrote to one of his most trusted lieutenants, Liam Deasy. Displaying a sentimental streak, he asked Deasy for advice on how best to “save the honour of this splendid historic organisation.”

As a member of the IRB’s Supreme Council, Lynch had watched with dismay the direction the Brotherhood’s leadership had taken. With the death of Harry Boland, and the imprisonment of Joe McKelvey and Charlie Daly who had both also taken the anti-Treaty line, he was now the sole remaining Council member opposed to the Treaty who was alive and at liberty.

Determined not to let opportunities pass by, Lynch outlined to Deasy his idea that the IRB Division Council call on its secretary to reopen an adjourned meeting from before. Represented at this meeting would be the Supreme Council and a number of IRB middle-tier officers. If necessary, signatures would be taken of as many officers could be had, as most of them had been against the Treaty at the last session. Lynch was clearly aiming to go into such a showdown with the numbers loaded in his favour.

At this hypothetical congress, each member of the Supreme Council would be held to account for their sanctioning of the hated Treaty and their waging of war against fellow Republicans. The guilty individuals – and Lynch clearly had certain people in mind – would be removed, leaving the Supreme Council free to be reformed on appropriately anti-Treaty lines. If such individuals were to refuse such a meeting, the Supreme Council could be reorganised without the guilty members who would be dropped altogether.

Florence O’Donoghue

Lynch asked Deasy to show his letter to other IRB members, including Seán O’Hegarty and Florence O’Donoghue. Although both men had taken a neutral stance for the Civil War, Lynch believed they would support him in bringing the IRB “back to the old idea.” All three of them, after all, had formed close bonds from serving together in the Cork IRA during War of Independence and remained his confidants even as they had backed away from either side in the succeeding conflict.[1]

Playing Possum

The IRB – also known as the Organisation to insiders – provides a challenge to researchers in that the sources do not necessarily provide a clear narrative. Being a secret society, it was not in its nature to advertise itself or leave convenient records for historians. Nonetheless, some paperwork was essential to maintain communications between the various groups and individuals making up of the IRB, and enough has survived to make sense of the society as it went through one of the most turbulent times in modern Irish history.

This article does not aspire to explain the IRB at this period in its entirety at this period. Instead, it will attempt to shed some light on the thoughts of the men within the Brotherhood and what they hoped to achieve with it.

Part of the problem of studying the IRB in the later stages of the War of Independence and afterwards is that even contemporaries were not sure if this secretive fraternity was still around in any meaningful sense. It was the viewpoint of James Hogan, “on the eve of the Truce the IRB was semi-moribund beneath, and alive only on top or in its upper levels.”[2]

As Hogan was Director of Intelligence in the Free State army, this was a substantial opinion, and one supported by others. Two of the leading figures in the Athlone IRA Brigade characterised the Organisation as falling into disuse during the later stages of the War of Independence as British efforts intensified and communications became difficult. But they also described the IRB as being revived during the breathing space provided by the Truce.[3]

This spoke of one of the Brotherhood’s great strengths: the ability to lie dormant until the pressure had slackened, allowing it to pick itself up again. It survived the Easter Rising which had seen its senior leaders executed and their replacements forced to start anew. As Liam Lynch saw it, there was no reason why the Organisation could not be recovered again, this time from its split over the Treaty.

The IRB would be condemned by critics as the instigator behind the acceptance of the fateful Treaty. Éamon de Valera cursed the machinations of “secret societies” within the Dáil as the Treaty was debated. When the Dáil ended up carrying the Treaty by a small majority, Seán T. O’Kelly held the IRB to blame, and rhetorically asked how such a crowd could be held as honest men.[4]

So there is then a certain poignancy in how Lynch, who would similarly be censured by many for leading the Anti-Treaty side into a doomed fight, did not lose his faith in the Brotherhood and what it could accomplish.

Dissent in the Ranks

Given the policy of the IRB to focus its recruitment among the IRA on officers and others with influence, it is perhaps not surprising that onlookers like James Hogan saw the Brotherhood as essentially an elitist society, one with a head but not necessarily much of a body.

It was a view that Florence O’Donoghue was keen to challenge in his later writings. To him, the IRB had been a living, active group. If there had been anything moribund about it, it was its upper tiers who had forsaken the Republic when they had accepted the Treaty. The rank and file of the Organisation, O’Donoghue stressed, “believed with passionate intensity in the de facto existence of the Republic, and they hotly resented that any group of men, even chosen leaders, should attempt to assume the power of destroying what they had sworn to uphold.”[5]

As an example of this intensity to the point of disobedience, O’Donoghue cited a meeting of all the officers in the County Board officers and District Centres of the IRB on the 21st of January 1922. There, they protested to the Supreme Council against the latter’s support of the Treaty. “Only a high sense of duty could have driven a group of disciplined officers into such open conflict with their superiors,” was how O’Donoghue explained it, with pride and no small sense of wonder.[6]

A Democratic Conspiracy

It would be worthwhile at this point to assess how the IRB was structured. A detailed description is found in the nine-page IRB Constitution from 1920. It was marked as “revised to date”, making it the most current version that would have been available to Lynch and O’Donoghue.

The basic unit of the society was its Circles, which were divided into sections of not more than ten men each, and which elected an officer, or Centre, for the Circle.

Each county in Ireland was divided into two or more Districts. Centres in each District formed a board which elected a committee for itself. Cities were enough to be considered Districts in themselves.

Further up the hierarchy were the County Centres, elected by the local Centres in each county. District Centres and County Circles were grouped into the eleven Divisions encompassing the IRB’s sphere of influence: eight Divisions for Ireland, two for the south and north halves of England, and one for Scotland.

At the apex of this pyramid was the Supreme Council. District Centres and County Circles in each Division elected by ballot a five-strong committee which in turn elected someone to represent the Division on the Supreme Council. These eleven men, one for each Division, would co-opt four additional members, leading to a total membership of fifteen for the Council.

As its name would suggest, the Supreme Council demanded, and for the most part, commanded the respect of the rest of the IRB: “The authority of the Supreme Council shall be unquestioned.” It claimed the authority to inflict punishments on errant members such as suspensions, dismissals or, in the cases of those termed treasonous, the death penalty.

But at the same time the IRB Constitution was at pains to ensure its leadership was a representative one, and that the middle and lower tiers had some say in the make-up of the ones above. It was that democratic tradition that Liam Lynch was hoping to tap into when he made his proposals to reform the Supreme Council.[7]

Florence O’Donoghue

There would be few people better qualified to critique Lynch’s views on IRB reform than O’Donoghue, having risen through the fraternity’s ranks in the months before the Truce, allowing him opportunity to observe its inner workings.

He had been an early member of the Cork IRB in the opening salves of the War of Independence, and had remained with it even while troubled by the issues of a dual command within the IRA that a secret society would bring. O’Donoghue’s decision to stay with the IRB seems to have been largely based on the realisation that the Brotherhood would continue to be a deciding force behind the scenes. Which is lucky for historians, as it is in no small part due to him and his meticulous note-taking that as much is known about the IRB for this time.[8]

Seán Ó Muirthile caricature

O’Donoghue was promoted to responsibility over the Circles in Cork City and the county in March 1921. A letter from Seán Ó Muirthile, a member of the Supreme Council, explained to him that Liam Lynch and he had been recommended in a high-level IRB meeting in Dublin that had included himself, Michael Collins and Liam Deasy. Although Ó Muirthile did not say, Deasy was most likely the one who pushed his fellow Corkmen forward.

As Ó Muirthile described it, O’Donoghue’s elevation to acting County Centre was a temporary one until the proper elections could be held. It was also an overdue one, as the Cork IRB was in limbo due to the loss of two of its leading lights.

Tom Hales, who had represented South Munster for the IRB as a Divisional Commander, had been arrested in July 1920 by British soldiers. His replacement, Paddy Cahill, had been unable to come from Tralee to take over, so Lynch had been asked to instead.

O’Donoghue’s role would be to replace Domhnall O’Callaghan as County Centre, as the latter had left without telling anyone, leaving the local IRB floundering. O’Callaghan’s subsequent court-martial for his dereliction of duty would be just one of the many ongoing concerns O’Donoghue would be obliged to deal with.

In addition to updating the new acting County Centre, Ó Muirthile sent O’Donoghue eight copies of general orders from the Supreme Council to distribute. Ó Muirthile comes across in his correspondence as eager to please, almost cheery, and it is sobering to think that in a little over a year’s time, the two men would be on opposing sides in the Treaty split.

General Orders

Addressed “To All County Centres” and composed on behalf of the Supreme Council, the general order that Ó Muirthile told O’Donoghue to pass on provides for historians the direction the IRB leadership was planning on taking its membership. Dated to March 1921, the document opens by stressing the importance of maintaining the Organisation in a “virile and effective position throughout the country.”

In what would have made critics like Éamon de Valera and Cathal Brugha grind their teeth, the Supreme Council took unreserved credit for making possible the current fight against the British. Continued coordination with the IRA was called for, as “the military functions of both bodies are similar to each other, the success or failing of one is the success or failure of both.”

The IRB had spent a lot of time infiltrating the IRA, and could boast of a large amount of the latter’s officers as its own. It clearly looked forward to the persistence of such an advantageous relationship. The document ended by reminding its readers that only “physical force methods” would have a chance of winning them anything.

Irish Volunteers

Such passages show that the Supreme Council was preparing its members for the possible continuation of the War. Also, that the IRB had no intention of stepping out of the shadows. It planned on remaining as it was before: an army within an army.

Another issue that the document addressed was that of elections throughout the levels in the IRB. The Circle elections were planned for the 15 of June 1921, the County elections on the 15th of August, and the Divisional Elections on the 15th of October. In a separate document, the County elections would be called for the 4th of November, indicating they had been pushed back. The last round of elections for the IRB had been two years ago, and the Supreme Council admitted that a lot of work would have to be made up for.

Interestingly, there seems to have been no dates set for re-electing the Supreme Council, suggesting that the democracy within the Organisation may only have been intended to go so far at this delicate stage.[9]

Treaty Reactions

O’Donoghue’s files do not indicate how these general orders were received by the Organisation audience. These files do, however, allow us insight into how some within the lower and middle ranks responded to the Treaty. By this time, O’Donoghue had gone from acting County Centre to the Divisional Secretary of South Munster, granting him supervision over the Circles in Cork, Kerry and Waterford.

The letters O’Donoghue received, or at least the ones he kept in his papers, were overwhelmingly against the Treaty. A letter from the 1st of January 1922 from a County Centre spoke of the Organisation suffering due to the uncertainty over the Treaty and an impatience for the Supreme Council to issue instructions. What was clear in this letter was that the Cork IRB was generally against the Treaty, with three District Boards forwarding resolutions to that effect.

Michael Collins

A letter to O’Donoghue on the 10th of January from Liam Lynch, by then a recent addition to the Supreme Council, bemoaned the general lack of trust within the Council, and blamed it on the likes of Ó Muirthile and Michael Collins. The disquiet was evidently as much a feature of the upper tiers as it was of the rest of the Brotherhood.

The New Political Situation

The Supreme Council released what was for many an overdue announcement. The title, ‘The Organisation and the New Political Situation in Ireland’, showed an awareness that it was treading into uncharted waters. The document was signed for the 12th of December 1921, and issued to the rest of the Brotherhood, according to O’Donoghue, on the 12th of January.

It began with a cautious, but telling, statement about how it had always been IRB policy to make use of all instruments, “political or otherwise”, towards the ultimate pursuit of the Republic. In case readers were in doubt as to what this talk of political instruments could mean, the announcement went on to state how the Supreme Council had decided that the “present peace Treaty between Ireland and Great Britain should be ratified.” The uncompromising stance from ten months back, when physical force methods were touted as the only way forward, must have seemed a long time ago.

The Supreme Council, however, appeared hesitant to push the point too far, as it allowed for IRB members doubling as TDs to vote as they saw fit on the matter. Perhaps the Council feared that to appear too domineering would push its followers into a split. Nonetheless, that was exactly what it got.[10]

Cracks Widen

Another letter from a District Centre in Cork was about a meeting held on the 18th of February 1922, where a resolution was passed expressing approval of County and Division Boards withdrawing their support from the Supreme Council over the Treaty, and calling for re-elections of the Supreme Council at the earliest date.

Irish Volunteers/IRA

All of this would support O’Donoghue’s claim in his later writings that the South Munster IRB had overwhelmingly rejected the Treaty to the point of defying their leadership. This did not mean that the rebellious rank-and-file saw themselves as in opposition to the IRB as an organisation, just its Supreme Council. After all, the same resolution by the County and Division Boards condemned the Treaty in that it was contrary to the spirit of the IRB Constitution. Little wonder, then, that Liam Lynch assumed that he would have the numbers on his side when retaking control of the Supreme Council.

This attitude was not limited to the Cork IRB. A report from Co. Kerry at the same period proudly told of how the Supreme Council’s orders had practically no effect on its Circles there, where the pro-Treaty members were very much a minority. Otherwise, the Kerry IRB was doing well and holding regular meetings. Similarly, a report from the Waterford IRB from the 13th of January 1922 enthused about how its membership had in the past month increased considerably in size to the point of having to subdivide some Circles and create new ones.

Whatever the divisions were in the ranks and at the top, the Organisation was far from moribund. Instead, it was thriving. Little wonder, then, that Liam Lynch saw that the IRB, if properly reformed under anti-Treaty lines like many of its membership already wanted, could continue to be a great asset.[11]

The Replies

Deasy did as his Chief of Staff asked and forwarded the latter’s letter to the two neutrals, Seán O’Hegarty and Florence O’Donoghue. Deasy’s covering letter to the pair was cautiously optimistic about Lynch’s proposals, though he said he was keen to have their opinions before taking any steps.

Seán O’Hegarty

O’Hegarty’s reply to Deasy was brief and unmoved. He had no idea at present on the subject of the IRB, and that in any case it seemed a waste to bother reorganising it while the war continued.

O’Donoghue’s first reply on the 2nd of December went beyond dismissive to insulting. Lynch’s idea was absurd, which surprised O’Donoghue as he thought Lynch had more sense. The IRB as it stood was too sundered to be worth much. If the current Anti-Treatyite offensive was successful, then there might be a chance to such a reorganisation, but in which case the victorious party would have no need for an IRB of any kind anyway.

A second reply from O’Donoghue almost a month later, on the 29th of December, saw him in a more reflective and agreeable mood. He apologised for his curt tone from before, blaming it on his poor health at the time. Now he agreed with Lynch’s original points: that the IRB should be maintained to continue the fight for the Republic, and that in order for this to happen, the rotten and disloyal elements would have to be purged. In addition, the influence of the IRB would have to be extended to include the “young virile Separatist and Republican elements” as opposed to the “fogey” members that O’Donoghue held responsible for the disarray.

O’Donoghue was less sure about Lynch’s proposal to call a meeting for the Supreme Council. He feared that the pro-Treaty members already formed a majority who would stonewall any further arguments against the Treaty. It was, after all, as O’Donoghue admitted, the traditional IRB policy to use any concession by Britain as stepping-stone towards eventual Irish independence, and O’Donoghue was honest enough to doubt that his side had any good counter-arguments.

A more promising alternative would be to make a demand at a Supreme Council meeting – and this demand could be used as an excuse for getting the meeting agreed in the first place – for a reassembling of the complete society, with elections for a new Supreme Council by the Circles that made up the grassroots of the IRB.

O’Donoghue did not think the current Council could refuse such a demand and even if it did, the Anti-Treatyite faction would be justified in going ahead with such elections anyway, elections that O’Donoghue had no doubt would result in a Supreme Council more to their liking.

This was a more ambitious overhaul than Lynch’s, which was concerned only with the Supreme Council. O’Donoghue’s vision encompassed the whole of the IRB, a vision entirely in keeping with its Constitution, which was at pains to ensure that the leadership was a representative one.

As a side issue, such an election could also serve a secondary function as a way of ascertaining which of the Circles on paper actually existed. Keeping a society in the dark could be as much of a nuisance to those inside as it was to its opponents.[12]

Liam Deasy

Liam Deasy

O’Donoghue admitted the difficulty in implementing such a grand scheme in the present war conditions, and was at a loss for a solution unless the opportunity of another truce presented itself. Nonetheless, Deasy was taken with O’Donoghue ideas without being put off by the latter’s doubts. Reporting back to Lynch, Deasy doubted the adjourned meeting could be reconvened, as Lynch as suggested, repeating O’Donoghue’s anticipation that the Supreme Council would just block it.

But the call for the meeting should be made all the same, with the County Centres made aware of it. If the Supreme Council were to stymie it as expected, the County Centres could act as a temporary Council in its place until the IRB was sufficiently reoriented to hold elections for a fresh leadership. Deasy’s concern was for when, not if, this could be carried out.

Deasy ended his discussion on the topic in his letter with a request for Lynch for the names of the IRB officers in the southern area outside of South Munster – parts Deasy was evidently foggy on – in order to pass these ideas onto them.[13]

The End

There was to be no further correspondence relating to the ideas by Lynch, Deasy and O’Donoghue to take back the IRB, or, at least, none that has survived. Not that it would have made much difference in the end, as Free State forces simply steamrolled the opposition into submission. Lynch was killed on April 1923, five months after he had first aired his intention to re-establish the honour of the IRB as he saw it.

O’Donoghue had made the point in his first reply that if the Anti-Treatyites were to win, reforming the IRB would become an unnecessary endeavour. The Free State was to prove the truth of that initial assessment, though not in the way he had intended.

The new IRA Executive after Lynch was to be of a very different mindset to Lynch in regards to his “splendid historic organisation.” There was a meeting of eleven County Centres held on the 2nd of November 1924, eighteen months after the Civil War had officially ended. Of the eleven Centres who had been summoned, four were absent; in one case, because the man had recently died.

The Brigadier-General read out the decision of the IRA Executive for the remaining IRB Circles within the IRA to disband. From then on, the IRA alone would be sufficient, and the use for a secret society had ceased. When it came to fulfilling the role of an underground army for a republican Ireland, the post-Civil War IRA would need or brook no distractions.

There was no amendment or counter-proposal, but each of the seven Centres was anxious to state his personal view. Three agreed that the IRB had outlived itself. One also agreed that the Organisation should be disbanded but with the caveat of it being re-established at a future time if necessary.

Three disagreed with the Executive’s decision. The IRB should instead be reformed – in an unknowing echo of the late Liam Lynch – and if properly controlled, it could still uphold the “National Tradition,” as one man put it. These views revealed the emotional attachment some of the members still had for their Brotherhood even after the trials of two wars. Another dissenter argued in favour of retaining the Brotherhood on the grounds of tradition, as it had represented the ‘physical force movement’ since the time of Wolfe Tone and even at the present, it had not ceased.

But it had. The Brigadier-General recommended that the County Centres present meet with the Circle Centres under their sphere of influence to inform them of the disbandment orders. The Circle Centres would in turn pass the message on the members of their Circles. The minutes of the meeting would be sent in circulars to the Circles who had not been represented at the meeting, including those in Britain and the United States.

The IRB had been designed under its constitution to be a compromise between a top-down and down-top structure: the leadership would decide on policy but the leadership would be chosen in part by the middle and lower tiers, ensuring a mixture of discipline and representation. Now the new command was having the final say, and the membership acquiesced. Although not, it was noted, without protest.[14]


The Irish Republican Brotherhood in its later years is a complex picture to put together but not an impossible one. Sources such as the correspondence between Liam Lynch, Liam Deasy and Florence O’Donoghue allow historians to see how senior and long-term members who opposed the Treaty struggled to regain control of the Organisation.

The initial plan by Lynch was to reopen an adjourned meeting and use it to remove the pro-Treaty members of the Supreme Council. O’Donoghue’s extension of this idea was to call for elections that would rehaul the IRB from top to bottom. Both proposals were in keeping with the IRB Constitution that strove to create a leadership that was representative of its membership.

Files from O’Donoghue’s time as a middle-tier organiser within the IRB reveal many grassroots members as being vehemently against the Treaty, giving weight to Lynch’s and O’Donoghue’s ideas on reforming the Supreme Council. They also show the IRB stagnating in the months before the Truce before thriving afterwards in confidence and numbers. Even when the IRB Circles in the anti-Treaty IRA were disbanded in 1924, there were still members who felt a strong affinity for Ireland’s longest-running republican society.


Originally posted on The Irish Story (27/04/2015)


See also:

To Not Fade Away: The Irish Republican Brotherhood, Post-1916

Career Conspirators: The (Mis)Adventures of Seán Ó Muirthile and the Irish Republican Brotherhood in the Free State Army, 1923-4



[1] National Library of Ireland (NLI), MS 31,240

[2] Ó Broin, Leon. Revolutionary Underground: The Story of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, 1858-1924 (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1976), p. 192

[3] O’Brien, Henry, (BMH / WS 1308), p.23-4 ; O’Meara, Seumas, (BMH / WS 1504), p. 53

[4] Ó Broin, pp. 198-9

[5] O’Donoghue, Florence. No Other Law: The Story of Liam Lynch and the Irish Republican Army, 1916-1923 (Dublin, Irish Press [1954]), p. 194

[6] Ibid, p. 194-5

[7] NLI, MS 31,233

[8] O’Donoghue, Florence (ed. Borgonovo, John) Florence and Josephine O’Donoghue’s War of Independence (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2006) pp. 58-60

[9] NLI, MS 31,237(1)

[10] O’Donoghue, Florence. No Other Law, pp. 193-4 ; NLI, MS 31,244

[11] NLI, MS 31,237(2)

[12] NLI, MS 31,233

[13] Ibid

[14] NLI, MS MS 31,240



National Library of Ireland – Florence O’Donoghue Papers

MS 31,233

MS 31,237(1)

MS 31,237(2)

MS 31,240

MS 31,244


Ó Broin, Leon. Revolutionary Underground: The Story of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, 1858-1924 (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1976)

O’Donoghue, Florence (ed. Borgonovo, John) Florence and Josephine O’Donoghue’s War of Independence (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2006)

O’Donoghue, Florence. No Other Law: The Story of Liam Lynch and the Irish Republican Army, 1916-1923 (Dublin, Irish Press [1954])

Bureau of Military History Statements

O’Brien, Henry, W.S. 1308

O’Meara, Seumas, W.S. 1504

To Not Fade Away: The Irish Republican Brotherhood, Post-1916

Every Dog Has its Day

Having organised and trained her manhood through her secret revolutionary organisation, the Irish Republican Brotherhood…patiently perfected her discipline, having resolutely waited for the right moment to reveal itself, she now seizes that moment…

(The Proclamation of the Republic, 1916)


The Easter Rising of 1916 was a triumphant debut for the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), whose creed of physical force republicanism had at last been vindicated. For years the group had toiled in the shadows to set such a scene, forced into a state of subterfuge by the attentions of a hostile state, and now its name was read out alongside the other participants whose combined efforts were set to create a new and free Ireland.

That these efforts collapsed after a week of fighting did not mean the end of the dream. The physical force methods that the IRB – or ‘the Organisation’ as insiders preferred – had pioneered were set to continue on through the rejuvenated Irish Volunteers, an electorally dominant Sinn Féin and the memories of the executed leaders of the Rising, almost all of whom had been the IRB’s own. That many members of these groups doubled as IRB men must have made continued Brotherhood dominance over the wider nationalist movement seem certain.

And yet even after a war that ended with the recognition of a separate Irish government, if not a wholly independent one, the group that had initiated the violent rejection of British rule in Ireland remained unloved and unappreciated. For the IRB there was to be no recognition from their fellow revolutionaries, no love from the masses who now lived in the state the IRB had helped to create, and in this new state, no place.

The Revolution Will Not Be Polled

The main fault-line between the IRB and many of its fellow revolutionaries was to be the Treaty, but the Organisation had been controversial even before that. A secret society had been all very well before the Rising, it was argued, but now that physical force republicanism had been taken up by the public bodies of the Irish Volunteers and Sinn Féin, there was little need for its original advocates.

Eamon O’Dwyer, a prominent organiser for the nationalist cause in South Tipperary, summed these thoughts up when recalling the discussions he had had in prison with a number of other notable republicans in 1918:

It was generally our opinion that the need for the I.R.B. had practically ceased to exist, owing to the fact that the Irish Volunteers were now doing the I.R.B. work, that when an Irish Parliament was set up the Volunteers would come under its control. They, the Volunteers, would then be titled the army of Ireland and the continuation of the I.R.B. would not, therefore, be necessary.[1]

These sentiments had an impact, in an exodus of members who resigned or refused to re-join the Organisation. For O’Dwyer, it was a simple matter of continuing the same work as before, except now for the Tipperary Volunteers instead for the IRB. As far as he was concerned, there was little the IRB could do that not already being done by the Volunteers.

Somewhat mischievously, O’Dwyer recounted a story of the IRB Supreme Council sending someone to Tipperary to ask him to reconsider his leaving, only to be imprisoned in a barn by local Volunteers who mistook him for a British spy due to his furtive manner – useful for a secret society, not always for outside of one. Only of the intervention of a doubtlessly amused O’Dwyer saw his release.[2]

Éamon de Valera

Two of the most prominent individuals to shake the dust off their feet from the Brotherhood were Éamon de Valera and Cathal Brugha, both being alumni of the Easter Rising. De Valera’s resignation was unsurprising, as he had joined only weeks before the Rising upon discovering, to his horror, that his IRB-connected subordinates in the Volunteers knew more about the plans than he did – a testament to the influence the IRB had had in the Rising.[3]

Brugha was a different matter, going from a veteran member of the Organisation to one of its most outspoken opponents. One of his stated reasons for this volte-face was that the IRB had not turned out for the Rising, leaving the Volunteers to do the work.[4]

Brugha’s accusation of shirking prompted a census for numbers of the IRB members who participated in the Rising as opposed to those from the Dublin Volunteers. Apparently, the census found overwhelmingly in favour of an IRB turn-out compared to that from the Volunteers – for example, supposedly seventy-five IRB men turned out on Easter Monday compared to a mere twenty-five Volunteers. Whether or not one trusts the results of an in-house investigation, the IRB had clearly become a lightning-rod for controversy.[5]

Cathal Brugha

Significantly, another reason was Brugha’s reluctance to be part of a group that he considered under the sway of Michael Collins, even at that early date.[6] This was a suspicion not entirely without foundation, for Collins was considered by IRB insiders to be the main reason for the re-establishment of the IRB Supreme Council after the Rising, and held the position of secretary before becoming its president.[7]

The tension between Collins and Brugha was to mark much of the IRA GHQ throughout the War of Independence. Supporting Collins was his fellow IRB associate and IRA Chief of Staff Richard Mulcahy, with De Valera helping Brugha to form an anti-IRB counter-balance.

Whether personal issues played as much as a factor as that of secret societies is debatable. But in many ways GHQ was to be a microcosm of the tensions the IRB could provoke in the wider revolutionary movement.

Down but Not Out

Despite these post-Rising resignations, the IRB remained an active body. How active is a matter of debate. Séumas Robinson of the Third Tipperary Brigade asserted that the authority of the IRB at this time was “moribund where not already dead.”[8]

He left the IRB but not before attending a meeting in Dublin intended to revive the influence of the IRB within the Volunteers, an account that is both comical and scathing:

I saw young fellows with notebooks rushing round and about the ground floor (there were about 150 present) button-holing individuals with anxious whispers – “We must make sure that no one will be elected an officer of the Volunteers who is not a member of the ‘Organisation’” – as if that were something new or something we would be allowed to forget, and without adverting to the fact that that sort of thing would undermine the authority and efficiency of the whole Volunteer movement. Without waiting for the meeting to start officially I walked out in disgust thinking of Tammany Hall.[9]

Séumas Robinson

Robinson gave the address for the meeting at 44 Parnell Square but, unfortunately, not the date or names of any other attendees, making it hard to corroborate. One wonders if Michael Collins was one of these ‘young fellows with notebooks’.

For all of Robinson’s extravagant scorn and American comparisons, an alternative interpretation of this event could be that the IRB still had enough members with the energy and desire to continue its mission as prime mover towards Irish independence, even if it had to unashamedly infiltrate larger bodies like the Volunteers to do so.

The IRB desire for new recruits continued throughout the later years. Liam Deasy recalled a council of the South Munster IRB at Easter 1921, presided over by Michael Collins, where it was agreed to extend membership to Volunteers of proven worth.[10]

As late as November-December 1921, a similar decision was made at a conference in Limerick for the IRB branches – or ‘Circles’ in the IRB vocabulary – present to renew their drive for fresh initiates (as observed by the disgusted Ernie O’Malley, who had not been invited but gate-crashed the meeting anyway). Whatever the likes of O’Dwyer, Robinson or O’Malley may have thought or wanted, the IRB was there to stay.[11]

It was not always a case of the IRB members entering the Volunteers, for the reverse did also happen. Frank Henderson of the Dublin Volunteers decided to join the IRB around 1918-1919 on the grounds that since he saw that war was on the horizon and the Volunteers had been joined by post-Rising recruits of uncertainty worth, “membership would bind those in the organisation in the event of defections or attempts to compromise.”[12] This was after Henderson had already twice refused invitations to join, being sympathetic to Brugha’s concern, who told him in a conversation, that such a secret society would produce “conspirators but not soldiers.”[13]

As with De Valera before the Rising, Henderson’s reasons for IRB membership were pragmatic rather than passionate. Even with his doubts about the Brotherhood, he could recognise its value as backup.

Revolutionary Entrepreneurs

The IRB’s role in the War of Independence has been neglected by historians, to the point of the Organisation being dismissed as “in an advanced state of decay” by that time.[14] As the above examples have shown, the Organisation was in a state of anything but decay. This academic neglect is possibly due to how, for practical purposes, the IRB’s policy of armed resistance to British rule had become indistinguishable to that of the Volunteers/IRA in general, making it hard to tell where one began and the other ended.

That was the line Michael Collins took when responding to a letter of complaint in April 1920 from the Sligo Brigade complaining about IRB members participating in an unauthorised (by him) bank robbery, and demanding from Collins a clarification between the IRB and the Volunteers:

Arising out of your letter of the 4th inst. re attitude of Irish Volunteers and another organisation, you will notice that there is no difference between the aims and methods of the Irish Volunteer Organisation and the other one you mention.[15]

Michael Collins

Collins did not even mention the IRB by name in his reply, either out of habitual secrecy or to annoy the Sligo commandant, who could hardly have been reassured to have received such a cursory response. Whether Collins wanted to admit it or not, the IRB continued to be a factor in the years between the Rising and the Truce, though less than a case of its members acting on behalf of a countrywide society and more as another complication in already complicated local scenes.

Tom Hales had been an IRB member before the Rising. In the increasingly militant atmosphere afterwards he took to swearing into his IRB Circle the Volunteers he trusted, making the IRB and himself central to the revolutionary scene in West Cork. When, in 1919, the original Cork Brigade was divided into three, he was a natural choice of leader for the Third Cork Brigade.[16] Hales was later to brag that he had ‘made’ the Third Cork Brigade with the men he had personally sworn in.[17]

Tom Hales

Hales could be seen as something of a revolutionary entrepreneur, using a franchise to establish a local monopoly for himself rather than as an drone-like operative acting on behalf of the larger group. This was not unusual. The IRB provided the perfect outlet for individuals with ambition, energy and an enterprising zeal. Whether an IRB Circle was successful in a certain area could depend on finding the right person to promote it. In return, a successful IRB Circle could give such members like Tom Hales a good deal of local clout.

Seán Mac Eoin is another case in point. He had joined the IRB in 1914, but did not see any particular advantage from it until 1917, when Circles were properly established in Longford and he was elected to a senior position over them. The election of William Redmond in the Waterford 1918 by-election for the opposing Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) gave him his first chance to exercise his new-found authority. In response to the planned IPP victory celebrations, Mac Eoin, in his own words: “acting under the authority vested in me as Centre of the I.R.B, I proclaimed the celebrations and enforced the decision with the aid of the Volunteers.”[18]

While Mac Eoin was also in the Volunteers, and used that body to forcibly impose his decision, he felt entitled to decide in the first place from his IRB status. Also, he was not dependent on orders or instructions from above, acting as he was on his own initiative. Having suffered through his family being the targets of a Land League boycott, Mac Eoin must have relished the chance to play the local big man for once.[19]

Seán Mac Eoin

Conversely, an IRB Circle could suffer if it depended too heavily on a particular member. The success of the IRB in South Tipperary was largely because of the efforts of Eamon O’Dwyer. When he passed over the Organisation in favour of the Volunteers, the former’s influence there withered and died, and there was little the IRB Supreme Council, for all the grandiosity of its name, could do about it.

Feuds and Factions

Hales’ success brought him into conflict with his official superiors in the Volunteers, Terence MacSwiney and Tomás MacCurtain, especially the latter, who struggled to rein in unauthorised actions from within the Volunteers that he was technically in charge of.[20] It is possible that the premature deaths of both MacSwiney and MacCurtain, the former on hunger strike, the other murdered by ‘persons unknown’ (almost uncertainly off-duty RIC officers), prevented the tensions from worsening.

Not so for the Limerick City Battalion, which remained split post-1916 between IRB stalwarts headed by Donnachadh O’Hannigan and those under Liam Manahan, who wished to remain free from IRB influence.[21] In both of the cases in Cork and Limerick, there were other factors at play: Manahan, MacSwiney and MacCurtain had been blamed by their detractors for bloodlessly surrendering Volunteer armouries in the aftermath of the Rising’s failure, and there were class dimension between the white-collar workers under O’Hannigan and the more working-class men under Manahan.[22]

One could ask whether these divisions would have still happened if there had been no IRB at all. It did not seem to be a case of IRB members acting on orders from above. If anything, the IRB comes across as a decentralised organisation, one with a central leadership and a consistent ideology, but not necessarily with much control over or input into its Circles throughout the country.

But in Cork and Limerick that did not have to matter. The IRB may have been perhaps more a “badge of militancy than a well-defined organization”, but it could be potent enough badge to rally behind all the same.[23]

The Cork IRA was to continue on as an IRB bastion, with many of its leading alumni – Liam Lynch, Liam Deasy and Florence O’Donoghue, among others – being of the Organisation throughout the War of Independence. In not every county was the IRB so divisive for the local Volunteers/IRA. Even in the ones where it was, it may not have been the most divisive of local issues. Either way, the IRB throughout the War of Independence was to remain a significant factor, up to the time of the Treaty, if only as one to fall out over.

Suspicious Minds

And there was much to fall out over. As far as many contemporaries were concerned, the IRB’s defining role after the Rising had been that of the Treaty. For many who opposed the Treaty, it was an article of faith that the IRB had worked behind the scenes to force through its pro-Treaty agenda. That one of the Treaty signatories was Michael Collins, by then President of the IRB Supreme Council, gave this view a certain credence.

Ernie OMalley passport photo 1925.jpeg
Ernie O’Malley

Ernie O’Malley, writing years afterwards, castigated Collins and the IRB for the Treaty, and unfavourably compared them to the executed heroes of 1916 who, he was sure, would never have done such a thing (the number of IRB men among said heroes being lost on him). For the most part, however, such criticisms tended to focus on the IRB in general at the exclusion of Collins, who remained a heroic figure to many.[24]

Frank Gallagher of the Dublin Volunteers was to mention the IRB a mere two times in his memoir The Four Glorious Years (under the penname of David Hogan), once to darkly inform his readers that the IRB “plainly had plans of its own that which were not those of an elected Government. The I.R.B. regarded as the primary authority in Ireland the Supreme Council of their own Secret Society. There were the seeds of calamity in that kind of attitude.”[25]

While the book did not venture beyond 1921 to cover the Civil War, a hint is enough for Gallagher to lay the blame: “What was to prove a tragedy later for the Volunteers, and for Ireland, was that a section of the I.R.B. continued its secret existence, and its struggle for control both of the Dail and of the Army.”[26]

The same penchant for secrecy that had allowed the Brotherhood to operate under the noses of Dublin Castle had left it open to suspicions of conspiracy and self-centredness. To Séumas Robinson, a leading Anti-Treatyite, the Brotherhood was a “sinister cabal” while somewhat contradictory dismissing it as having only a “nuisance value” from 1919 onwards.[27]

Arguments against the IRB could often be on the tenuous side. Ernie O’Malley bemoaned that “the IRB had driven Sinn Fein underground” by the time of the Civil War due to the party putting its energies into electioneering as opposed to, say, economics, without much explanation as to why the IRB should be held responsible. Was O’Malley truly surprised at a political party in a democracy taking part in the democratic process? Either way, no act was too villainous like that of electioneering to hang on the IRB’s door.[28]

Equally myopic on the issue was Seamus McKenna of the Belfast IRA who was of the opinion that many of the IRB men who supported the “ill-fated” Treaty did so on the Organisation’s instructions. He based this on his own experience of being advised to do so by an IRB Supreme Council member; a man who, in McKenna’s strong opinion, had “already compromised, and led others along the same path.”[29]

This same man – McKenna was uncertain as to his name – went against the Treaty several months later, raising the question of whether he had originally advocated for the Treaty on the IRB’s instructions or his own opinion, which later changed as opinions are wont to do.

Another of McKenna’s gripes was that the IRB promoted its own within the IRA regardless of incompetence (himself presumably not included), his case in point being Joe McKelvey of the Third Northern Division.[30] McKelvey was later executed by the Free State for fighting against the Treaty, suggesting that the situation was more complex than McKenna was willing to give it credit for. But McKenna was an embittered man, and the IRB provided the perfect villain for his narrative, as it did for the Anti-Treatyite one. As with Brugha and Robinson, the IRB’s sternest critics were often its former Brothers.

Herding Cats

The long-held charge that the Brotherhood had forced the Treaty through rests on the premise that the IRB could exercise enough control to do just that. Given how widespread it was through its Circles and how highly placed certain members like Michael Collins were in the wider revolutionary movement, it would seem at first glance that this could indeed have been so. This was certainly Ernie O’Malley’s view when he wrote of the IRB conference in November-December 1921 that he intruded upon, intending to shock his readers with his depiction of an insidiously spreading conspiracy covertly gathering fresh members.

But the expectation of the IRB leadership at this same meeting was that it would be the grassroots who would be doing the work in recruiting. There was no indication of any penalties if Circles neglected to do so or that the IRB had the means to impose any in the first place.

On closer inspection, the Organisation reveals itself to have been too decentralised, too dependent on its grassroots, and with branches too self-sufficient for it to be a convincing character in a conspiracy theory. The Supreme Council could only have dreamed of exercising the control that its enemies accused it of. Ultimately, it could only ‘control’ its members who were willing to go along with it anyway.

Back in the Limelight

Joseph M. Curran, in assessing the IRB at the time of the Treaty, dismissed the Brotherhood by then as obsolete and constituting “no real threat to either the British or Republican government.”[31] Another obituary is from Michael Hopkinson, in that far from being a controlling power over the Treaty, the IRB disintegrated over the issue and ceased to be of importance.[32]

Whether or not it was obsolete, as its critics had long argued since after the Rising, and the Treaty split had certainly left it in a diminished capacity, the IRB was far from gone or over. Instead, it had taken root, away from the sight of the casual observer. When the Organisation was to surface again, it was in the most ignominious of ways: as a defence strategy in the investigation into a mutiny.

Liam Tobin

In March 1924, several Free State army officers issued an ultimatum to President Cosgrave, styling themselves the Irish Republican Army Organisation (IRAO) and protesting against the incoming demobilization. These malcontents included Liam Tobin and Charles Dalton, formerly of Michael Collins’ famous Intelligence Squad, and other veterans who had grown dissatisfied with having been repeatedly passed over for promotion in favour of those who may have been more qualified or better suited but who had not, as the mutineers saw it, paid their dues in the War of Independence. That demobilization would almost certainly include their jobs was enough of a casus belli against state policy.

As Commander-in-Chief, General Richard Mulcahy responded by dismissing the mutineers from their army posts, only to find himself as much on trial as the mutineers in the subsequent government investigation in April 1924. The IRAO based their defence on the claim that by forming their military faction they had merely been responding to the one already present: the IRB.

Richard Mulcahy

What appeared to be a flimsy excuse was given unexpected credence by the admission from the Army Council that not only was there indeed an IRB within the army, but that they were a part of it.

Coke vs. Pepsi

The ‘IRB card’ was not to be played by the mutineers until late in the day – the IRAO ultimatum to Cosgrave did not even mention the IRB, calling only for the “removal of the Army Council” and the “immediate suspension of army demobilisation and reorganisation.” It was the The Truth About the Army Crisis, a 16-page booklet published on behalf of the IRAO, that set the mutiny within the context of the IRAO-IRB dispute.[33]

The booklet claimed that this IRB was a counterfeit, and had only been set up by the Army Council as a counter-block to the demands of the IRAO, to the point of an anonymous IRB officer telling the IRAO to “drop your organisation and we will drop ours.” Many of the IRAO had been in the Brotherhood from before, and a point of contention was that they had not been invited to re-join it.[34]

However, the booklet did admit that the reason for the irreconcilable breakdown in talks between the IRAO and the Army Council had been the latter reneging on a promise to include the former on the IRB Supreme Council. The mutineers objected to the IRB less from its existence and more because of their exclusion from it. Up to these talks breaking down for good, the mutineers had seen reconciliation with the IRB and a place for themselves within it as both likely and desirable.[35]

The mutiny should perhaps be seen not as a feud between two separate groups, one worthy and the other not, as the mutineers claimed, but as one between members of the same body: an entrenched elite against a disenfranchised grassroots.

Under the Microscope

Understandably jittery from the last time a portion of its armed forces had displayed a mind of their own and gone rogue, the government clamped down on both the mutineers of the IRAO and the Army Council. The accusations of IRB dominance of the Army Council were in part confirmed in the resulting inquiry that was spearheaded by Minister Kevin O’Higgins. Through the inquiry, the exact role of the IRB became a matter of heated debate.

Seán Ó Muirthile caricature

As Quartermaster-General of the Army Council, Seán Ó Muirthile was to bear the brunt of the inquiry committee’s questioning. A long-time Brother, he had been the chair of the IRB conference in Limerick that Ernie O’Malley had intruded upon in November-December 1921. His defence for his part in reorganising the IRB within the army was that it had been done to stop the Anti-Treatyites from taking up the IRB mantle for themselves. As prominent Anti-Treatyites Liam Lynch and Harry Boland had both been members of the IRB Supreme Council, this was not an unrealistic concern, and it shows that the IRB name still had enough potency to fear it.[36]

Lynch had gone as far as to propose – in November 1922, four months into the Civil War – writing to the IRB Supreme Council in the hope of reconvening an adjourned meeting from the previous April. There had been an anti-Treaty majority then, and Lynch had hoped to use that to re-establish the Brotherhood in his own anti-Treaty image. From there Lynch would have had a new resource from which to draw upon.[37]

Liam Lynch

As this plan was never attempted, its odds of success are debatable. But both sides of the Treaty-sundered IRB gave it the credibility of consideration: the Antis in proposing it, the Pros in countering it. As with the IRAO, the Anti-Treatyites could appreciate the value of being in the IRB as opposed to out of it.

Same Message, Different Times

Not knowing when to keep his mouth shut, Ó Muirthile went on to suggest that the IRB should continue on to guide “the social and political atmosphere with the programme of any government working towards the National and economic advancement of the Irish people without regard to parties or party influence.”[38]

This was more than just a spirited defence on Ó Muirthile’s part. Mulcahy had previously expressed the similar hope that the IRB would in time evolve into a more open society, and take the lead in implementing nationalist ideals for the rest of the country.[39]

In that regards, Ó Muirthile’s and Mulcahy’s hopes for the IRB’s role in the new Ireland were not dissimilar from that of the IRAO for itself, who publicly exhorted that “there is the unity of Ireland and full independence still to be achieved,” with themselves best placed to achieve this, of course.[40]

The sense of unfulfilled aspirations from the War of Independence and the unresolved grievances that were the Treaty’s aftertaste gave groups like the IRAO and the IRB the chance to position themselves as the true heirs of a national mission – not unlike the language in The Proclamation of the Republic which had kick-started everything off, for that matter. Given the IRB’s starring role in The Proclamation, as shown at the start of this article, one has to grant the Brotherhood a certain consistency after eight years.

In later years, Mulcahy was to find the IRB connection in the affair, and his own, a trifle embarrassing, preferring to characterise the Brotherhood less as a significant body at that stage and more, in vague and woolly terms, as a “pure Volunteer spirit that was just serving…in the traditional spirit.”[41]

One wonders, however, if the eventual result of either the IRB or IRAO continuing on would have been an Ireland in a situation akin to Turkey’s, with an ideology-led army prepared to intervene in politics to the point of ‘stepping in’ if it felt a civilian government needed amending.

And That Was That

If Ó Muirthile and Mulcahy honestly thought that the Free State would be happy for a Fenian throwback to be hovering over its shoulder like some praetorian guard, they were grossly mistaken. Likewise, the mutineers had badly misjudged the mood of the Free State government if they thought it would prefer their military faction over the other.

A plague was wished on both their houses. The inquiry committee concluded that “the reorganisation of the IRB…was a disastrous error in judgement,” and much of the blame was levelled by O’Higgins at the Army Council, Mulcahy especially as its most senior officer.[42] The Army Council – Mulcahy, Ó Muirthile, Adjutant General Gearoid O’Sullivan and Chief of Staff Sean MacMahon – were forced to resign in a ‘house cleaning’ of IRB influence from the upper military echelons.

As for the IRAO, had the mutineers been reinstated to their posts as they wished, then their faction may have continued on and even prospered in the absence of its rival. But they were not, and the fledgling IRAO died with their military careers.

From then on, the IRB ceased to be a factor in Irish politics or society. While the IRB had weathered worse storms than its loss of four senior members from the army, it never recovered from this one. Nor was there much to mark its loss. Fittingly for a society that had lived in the shadows, it passed away unseen. Even the historian Leon Ó Broin, usually an authoritative source on the Brotherhood, was uncertain as to “whether any formal decision was ever taken to wind ‘the Organisation’ up: the Supreme Council may have just stopped meeting.”[43]

An example of how deeply rooted the IRB had been, to be the point of being hard to tell where it began and ended, was how the government’s choice of replacement for Mulcahy, Eoin O’Duffy, had to resign as Treasurer for IRB funds in order to take up his new post as Commander-in-Chief.[44]

Wolfe Tone statue, St Stephen’s Green, Dublin

Despite this glaring oversight on the government’s part, there is no suggestion that O’Duffy used this position to continue the IRB in any form. As late as 1964, these same funds lay in a bank in the names of trustees, the first being Seán Ó Muirthile. Finally they were transferred towards the cost of the Wolfe Tone statue now on St Stephen’s Green, Dublin.[45]

Whatever the exact point the IRB could be pronounced dead, it was well and truly gone by that stage. The wheel had turned since the glory days of Brotherhood influence, such as when it had engineered at the Gaelic League ard-fheis of 1915 the election of one of their own as director of appointments despite Tom Clarke not knowing a word of Irish.[46] Or keeping an impetuous James Connolly from acting too soon with his Irish Citizen Army in 1916, thus allowing for the IRB’s own plans to go ahead for Easter Monday as synchronized. By 1924, the IRB had stepped on too many toes and made too many enemies, and few tears were shed at its loss.[47]

Fittingly, the man who more than anyone had delivered the coup de grâce to the IRB in the form of the Army Crisis investigation, Kevin O’Higgins, was a former Brother. There was to be little room for sentimentality in the new Ireland, and the sow had devoured its farrow.

Kevin O’Higgins


While in many ways a successful organisation, the IRB was not a popular one. Its strategy of armed revolution against British rule in Ireland was vindicated by the adoption of this same policy by other nationalist bodies such as the Irish Volunteers. Yet the IRB was to be distrusted by many if its fellow revolutionaries for its secrecy and insularity, or dismissed as an irrelevance.

Despite this hostility, the IRB continued to thrive as it retained the enthusiasm of its members and recruited new ones throughout the War of Independence, even if its presence within IRA brigades led to tensions. Much has been said of its supposed role in pushing the Treaty through, but that is to misunderstand the structure of the IRB, which was too decentralised for its leadership to force anything on unwilling members.

While diminished from the Treaty split, the IRB nonetheless seemed set to continue on in an influential role within the Free State army, with its leaders within the Army Council nurturing ambitions for the Organisation as a shepherd of national ideals. This was until a mutiny and the subsequent government investigation in 1924 brought this influence to light and derailed these ambitions.

With its leading members forced to resign from the army, the IRB died an undignified death, fading away from a country and state built on its efforts that saw no further use for it.


Originally posted on The Irish Story (11/11/2013)


See also:

‘This Splendid Historic Organisation’: The Irish Republican Brotherhood among the Anti-Treatyites, 1921-4

Career Conspirators: The (Mis)Adventures of Seán Ó Muirthile and the Irish Republican Brotherhood in the Free State Army, 1923-4


[1] O’Dwyer, Eamon (BMH / WS 1474), p. 39
[2] Ibid, pp.52-3
[3] Ó Broin, Leon. Revolutionary Underground: The story of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, 1858-1924 (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1976), p. 163
[4] Lynch, Diarmuid (BMH / WS 4), p. 9
[5] Lyons, George (BMH / WS 104), p. 6
[6] Ibid
[7] Lynch, Diarmuid (BMH / WS 4), p. 9
[8] Robinson, Séamus (BMH / WS 1721), p. 18
[9] Ibid
[10] Deasy, Liam. Towards Ireland Free (Dublin: Mercier Press, 1973), pp. 258-9
[11] O’Malley, pp. 36-7
[12] Henderson, Frank (BMH / WS 821), p. 18-9
[13] Ibid, p. 18
[14] Bell, J. Bowyer. The Secret Army: The IRA (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2008), p. 46
[15] Valiulis, Maryann Gialanella. Portrait of a Revolutionary: General Richard Mulcahy and the Founding of the Irish Free State (Kill Lane: Irish Academic Press Ltd, 1992), p. 48
[16] Deasy, p. 57 ; Hart, Peter. The I.R.A. and its Enemies: Violence and Community in Cork 1916-1923 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999), pp. 192-3
[17] Hart, p. 193
[18] MacEoin, Seán (BMH / WS 1716), pp. 9-10
[19] Ibid, pp. 4-5
[20] Ibid, pp. 193, 241
[21] Hopkinson, Michael. The Irish War of Indepenence (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 2002), p. 118
[22] Ibid
[23] Hart, p. 242
[24] O’Malley, pp. 285-6
[25] Hogan, David. The Four Glorious Years (Dublin: Irish Press Ltd., 1971), p.246
[26] Ibid, pp. 246-7
[27] Robinson, Séamus (BMH / WS 1721), p. 18
[28] O’Malley, Ernie. The Singing Flame (Dublin: Anvil Books, 1978), p. 286
[29] McKenna, Seamus(Bureau of Military History / Witness Statement, BMH /WS 1016), p. 45
[30] McKenna, Seamus (BMH /WS 1016), p. 45
[31] Curran, Joseph M. The Birth of the Irish Free State 1921-1923 (Alabama: The University of Alabama, 1980), p. 146
[32] Hopkinson, Michael. Green Against the Green: The Irish Civil War (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1988),  p. 45
[33] The Truth About the Army Crisis (Official), with a foreword by Major-General Liam Tobin, issued by the Irish Republican Army Organisation (Dublin: 78A Summerhill) Available from the UCD Library – Special Collections, 1.X.2/7, p. 12
[34] Ibid, p. 6
[35] Ibid
[36] Ó Broin, p. 213
[37] Regan, John M. Michael Collins, General Commanding-in-Chief, as a Historiographical Problem, p. 334 (Accessed on 05/10/2013)
[38] Valiulis, p. 229
[39] Ibid
[40] The Truth, p. 11
[41] Valiulis, p. 168
[42] Ibid, p. 230
[43] Ó Broin, p. 221
[44] Bell, p. 67
[45] Ó Broin, p. 222
[46] Foster, R. F. Modern Ireland 1600-1972 (London: Penguin Books, 1989), pp. 475-6
[47] Lynch, Diarmuid (BMH / WS 4), p. 9


Bureau of Military History / Witness Statements

Henderson, Frank, WS 821

Lynch, Diarmuid, WS 4

Lyons, George, WS 104

Mac Eoin, Seán (BMH / WS 1716)

McKenna, Séumas, WS 1016

O’Dwyer, Eamon, WS 1474

Robinson, Séamus, WS 1721


Bell, J. Bowyer. The Secret Army: The IRA (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2008)

Curran, Joseph M. The Birth of the Irish Free State 1921-1923 (Alabama: The University of Alabama, 1980)

Deasy, Liam. Towards Ireland Free (Dublin: Mercier Press, 1973)

Foster, R. F. Modern Ireland 1600-1972 (London: Penguin Books, 1989)

Hart, Peter. The I.R.A. and its Enemies: Violence and Community in Cork 1916-1923 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999)

Hogan, David. The Four Glorious Years (Dublin: Irish Press Ltd., 1971)

Hopkinson, Michael. Green Against the Green: The Irish Civil War (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1988)

Hopkinson, Michael. The Irish War of Indepenence (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 2002)

Ó Broin, Leon. Revolutionary Underground: The story of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, 1858-1924 (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1976)

O’Malley, Ernie. The Singing Flame (Dublin: Anvil Books, 1978)

The Truth About the Army Crisis (Official), with a foreword by Major-General Liam Tobin, issued by the Irish Republican Army Organisation (Dublin: 78A Summerhill). Available from the UCD Library – Special Collections, 1.X.2/7

Valiulis, Maryann Gialanella. Portrait of a Revolutionary: General Richard Mulcahy and the Founding of the Irish Free State (Kill Lane: Irish Academic Press Ltd, 1992)

Online Material

Regan, John M. Michael Collins, General Commanding-in-Chief, as a Historiographical Problem (Accessed on 05/10/2013)