Liam Lynch, Ernie O'Malley and the politics of the Civil War, 1922

Éireann_Ascendant

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Article on the working relationship between Liam Lynch and Ernie O'Malley during the Civil War, and their efforts towards victory in the face of the Free State's might, the IRA's mishaps and their own frequent disagreements.

The Treachery of Peace: Liam Lynch, Ernie O’Malley and the Politics of the Civil War, 1922 (Part V)

When O'Malley returned to Dublin in July 1922, after helping to cut a swathe through the countryside, he had been tasked by his Chief of Staff, Lynch, in setting up a command staff in the city, while simultaneously organising the IRA units in Leinster and Ulster.

This was a tall order indeed, but O'Malley - remembering the quote of Wolfe Tone's that ’tis in vain for soldiers to complain" - got down to business.



(Ernie O'Malley)​

Not that it was easy. Writing to Lynch on the 28th July, O'Malley's initial assessment was that:

Enemy very active and in some cases whole coys [companies] have been picked up. This cannot be prevented, as the men must go to their daily work and there are not sufficient funds on hand to even maintain a strong column.
Feeling that prolonged conflict would only whittle down the IRA's strength, OMalley asked for permission to carry out something ambitious, such as seizing a block of buildings for a day or two before melting away.

A more cautious Lynch warned him against such risks. Instead, O’Malley was to focus on sabotaging wires and telegraph poles in order to better isolate enemy posts from each other. As Lynch explained: “I believe more effectual activities can be carried out on the lines of the old guerrilla tactics.”

O'Malley was unimpressed, and griped to a colleague that “we are not going to win this war on purely guerrilla tactics as we did on the last war.”

Taking an enemy post, particularly in Dublin, would have a far greater impact than their current piecemeal approach, O’Malley believed. “If we could by means of better armament bring the war home to the Staters in the Capital,” he ruminated, “it would have an immense effect on the people here and on the people in surrounding Counties.”

But Lynch was not one to change his mind once it had been made up. Even the surprise landings by the enemy in early August along the Cork and Kerry coastlines did not shake his certainty. He announced to O'Malley that that he was “thoroughly satisfied with the situation now.”

The guerrilla war he had always wanted was about to restart in Cork and Kerry, and Lynch had no doubt that “extensive operations will begin immediately” there. His main concern was with the “lying press propaganda” and the impact that may have on morale, as if the numerous setbacks were merely a case of adverse publicity.



(Liam Lynch)​

As the war dragged, there were those who wondered if there could be an alternative to the violence, a way to resolve the differences without further bloodshed. Lynch appeared more irritated than interested in such suggestions. As he instructed O'Malley in September 1922:

So many private and unauthorised individuals are engaged in endeavouring to bring about peace in various terms, and are putting forward so many different proposals that it is necessary to inform all these individuals that the only body on our side competent to consider any proposals or terms submitted to us, or to put forward terms on which Peace may be concluded is the whole Army Executive.
“These scarcely need or deserve comment – we are sick of this sort of trash,” he said, more emphatically, to O'Malley, in response to the latest ‘peace offers’ that amounted to nothing more than a demand by the enemy for an unconditional surrender, which was the furthest thing from Lynch's mind.
 


Talk Back

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Article on the working relationship between Liam Lynch and Ernie O'Malley during the Civil War, and their efforts towards victory in the face of the Free State's might, the IRA's mishaps and their own frequent disagreements.

The Treachery of Peace: Liam Lynch, Ernie O’Malley and the Politics of the Civil War, 1922 (Part V)

When O'Malley returned to Dublin in July 1922, after helping to cut a swathe through the countryside, he had been tasked by his Chief of Staff, Lynch, in setting up a command staff in the city, while simultaneously organising the IRA units in Leinster and Ulster.

This was a tall order indeed, but O'Malley - remembering the quote of Wolfe Tone's that ’tis in vain for soldiers to complain" - got down to business.



(Ernie O'Malley)​

Not that it was easy. Writing to Lynch on the 28th July, O'Malley's initial assessment was that:


Feeling that prolonged conflict would only whittle down the IRA's strength, OMalley asked for permission to carry out something ambitious, such as seizing a block of buildings for a day or two before melting away.

A more cautious Lynch warned him against such risks. Instead, O’Malley was to focus on sabotaging wires and telegraph poles in order to better isolate enemy posts from each other. As Lynch explained: “I believe more effectual activities can be carried out on the lines of the old guerrilla tactics.”

O'Malley was unimpressed, and griped to a colleague that “we are not going to win this war on purely guerrilla tactics as we did on the last war.”

Taking an enemy post, particularly in Dublin, would have a far greater impact than their current piecemeal approach, O’Malley believed. “If we could by means of better armament bring the war home to the Staters in the Capital,” he ruminated, “it would have an immense effect on the people here and on the people in surrounding Counties.”

But Lynch was not one to change his mind once it had been made up. Even the surprise landings by the enemy in early August along the Cork and Kerry coastlines did not shake his certainty. He announced to O'Malley that that he was “thoroughly satisfied with the situation now.”

The guerrilla war he had always wanted was about to restart in Cork and Kerry, and Lynch had no doubt that “extensive operations will begin immediately” there. His main concern was with the “lying press propaganda” and the impact that may have on morale, as if the numerous setbacks were merely a case of adverse publicity.



(Liam Lynch)​

As the war dragged, there were those who wondered if there could be an alternative to the violence, a way to resolve the differences without further bloodshed. Lynch appeared more irritated than interested in such suggestions. As he instructed O'Malley in September 1922:



“These scarcely need or deserve comment – we are sick of this sort of trash,” he said, more emphatically, to O'Malley, in response to the latest ‘peace offers’ that amounted to nothing more than a demand by the enemy for an unconditional surrender, which was the furthest thing from Lynch's mind.
The renegade Free State army (deserts and betrays an organization, country, or set of principles) had fellow Crown Forces, the Royal Navy support them during the Cork and Kerry invasions. The support included supplying machine guns and ammunition to Free State outposts, and firing in support of Free State attacks on the army of the Irish Republic, Óglaigh na hÉireann.
 

Dearghoul

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Article on the working relationship between Liam Lynch and Ernie O'Malley during the Civil War, and their efforts towards victory in the face of the Free State's might, the IRA's mishaps and their own frequent disagreements.

The Treachery of Peace: Liam Lynch, Ernie O’Malley and the Politics of the Civil War, 1922 (Part V)

When O'Malley returned to Dublin in July 1922, after helping to cut a swathe through the countryside, he had been tasked by his Chief of Staff, Lynch, in setting up a command staff in the city, while simultaneously organising the IRA units in Leinster and Ulster.

This was a tall order indeed, but O'Malley - remembering the quote of Wolfe Tone's that ’tis in vain for soldiers to complain" - got down to business.



(Ernie O'Malley)​

Not that it was easy. Writing to Lynch on the 28th July, O'Malley's initial assessment was that:


Feeling that prolonged conflict would only whittle down the IRA's strength, OMalley asked for permission to carry out something ambitious, such as seizing a block of buildings for a day or two before melting away.

A more cautious Lynch warned him against such risks. Instead, O’Malley was to focus on sabotaging wires and telegraph poles in order to better isolate enemy posts from each other. As Lynch explained: “I believe more effectual activities can be carried out on the lines of the old guerrilla tactics.”

O'Malley was unimpressed, and griped to a colleague that “we are not going to win this war on purely guerrilla tactics as we did on the last war.”

Taking an enemy post, particularly in Dublin, would have a far greater impact than their current piecemeal approach, O’Malley believed. “If we could by means of better armament bring the war home to the Staters in the Capital,” he ruminated, “it would have an immense effect on the people here and on the people in surrounding Counties.”

But Lynch was not one to change his mind once it had been made up. Even the surprise landings by the enemy in early August along the Cork and Kerry coastlines did not shake his certainty. He announced to O'Malley that that he was “thoroughly satisfied with the situation now.”

The guerrilla war he had always wanted was about to restart in Cork and Kerry, and Lynch had no doubt that “extensive operations will begin immediately” there. His main concern was with the “lying press propaganda” and the impact that may have on morale, as if the numerous setbacks were merely a case of adverse publicity.



(Liam Lynch)​

As the war dragged, there were those who wondered if there could be an alternative to the violence, a way to resolve the differences without further bloodshed. Lynch appeared more irritated than interested in such suggestions. As he instructed O'Malley in September 1922:



“These scarcely need or deserve comment – we are sick of this sort of trash,” he said, more emphatically, to O'Malley, in response to the latest ‘peace offers’ that amounted to nothing more than a demand by the enemy for an unconditional surrender, which was the furthest thing from Lynch's mind.
Ernie O Malley grows in stature again, beset as he was by the demands of this brave but unprepared and unrealistic scout troop.
 

JohnD66

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Lynch's tactics were far more realistic under the circumstances than O'Malley's for my money. O'Malley was a brave fighter, but no tactician.
 

Boy M5

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Lynch's tactics were far more realistic under the circumstances than O'Malley's for my money. O'Malley was a brave fighter, but no tactician.
There's the irony.
 

DaveM

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Lynch's tactics were far more realistic under the circumstances than O'Malley's for my money. O'Malley was a brave fighter, but no tactician.
In fairness Lynch's grasp on reality faded to oblivion too as the Civil War progressed.
 

Mitsui2

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Lynch's tactics were far more realistic under the circumstances than O'Malley's for my money. O'Malley was a brave fighter, but no tactician.
Lynch's ability to appreciate circumstances realistically seemed to go into quite a decline as the war wore on, though.

[I see DaveM 's made the same point before me - sorry, Dave!)
 

DaveM

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Lynch's ability to appreciate circumstances realistically seemed to go into quite a decline as the war wore on, though.

[I see DaveM 's made the same point before me - sorry, Dave!)
Great minds Mits... ;)
 

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Lynch's ability to appreciate circumstances realistically seemed to go into quite a decline as the war wore on, though.
It was arguably never very firm to begin with. As Tom Barry put it in his memoirs (p. 162 of the 1999 edition): "His faith in a military victory over the British forces in the not too distant future appeared to be over optimistic to me."

Lynch was also "not very receptive to ideas, he was very stubborn."

In fairness, Barry also had some nice things to say about Lynch:

Honesty and single-mindedness of purpose struck one as a bright light. Lynch could not lie or could he quibble. He was a terrific worker and never seemed to relax, day or night, from his military duties...Lynch’s faith was an asset and there could be no doubt that he inspired and encouraged the officers.
 

Éireann_Ascendant

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Lynch's tactics were far more realistic under the circumstances than O'Malley's for my money. O'Malley was a brave fighter, but no tactician.
The same could be said of Lynch - brave but with a horrible sense of strategy.

To give Lynch his due, however, he couldn't have foreseen that the IRA that had endured the War of Independence for two years and a half would collapse in less than a year during the Civil War.
 

JohnD66

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The same could be said of Lynch - brave but with a horrible sense of strategy.

To give Lynch his due, however, he couldn't have foreseen that the IRA that had endured the War of Independence for two years and a half would collapse in less than a year during the Civil War.
Well, I think Lynch needs a bit of a reevaluation to be honest. First off, the military criticisms of him in the early period of the Civil War from people like Barry are fair enough (from that point of view), in that in particular the truce in Limerick was a calamitous error from his side's perspective. But Lynch trying to broker a truce at that stage does not seem dishonourable to me.

The other thing that Lynch grasped from the start and O'Malley did not, was that there was no chance of an anti-Treaty victory in conventional warfare. Lynch wanted to return to guerrilla tactics even before their position in the 'Munster Republic' collapsed. For the good reason that the Free State was far superior in money - and therefore numbers - and firepower that if they failed the British garrison, still in Dublin in the North, were even more superior, whereas the anti-Treaty IRA was very weak in this form of warfare.

The second and most important thing is that in the Civil War Lynch did have a strategy, which was primarily economic warfare and sabotage to cripple the Free State financially and force them to come to terms and the British to renegotiate the Treaty. Now don't get me wrong, it was an ugly strategy, it involved destroying the rail network and trying to cripple the economy, but it could certainly have worked. The Free State was in a very precarious financial position in late 1922 and that's why they started executions.

Whereas O'Malley was addicted to the heroic gesture, like for instance taking a column south in July 1922 and taking towns like Baltinglass and Enniscorthy, where he lost men killed but then just left again. Or the idea of taking over block in Dublin and holding it for a few days, which you've mentioned above. When Lynch (or anyone) could have told him that this would quite obviously have resulted in them being surrounded, besieged and either killed or captured. And you see a surprising amount of this kind of thing with O'Malley.For a guy who was quite intellectual in other ways he often didn't think things out.

A couple of people above had argued that Lynch lost perspective towards the end of the Civil War. That's probably true, Lynch kept telling his own side that they were on the verge on victory when it was becoming obvious to all in the spring of 1923 that the guerrilla effort was falling apart - collapse in morale, columns surrendering etc. For instance he wrote to his Director of Intelligence Michael Carolan that the Free State is about to go broke and Carolan writes, back, not it isn't not, not as long as they have a line of credit with the Irish banks and the British government. But the degree to which Lynch was out of touch with reality has also been overstated I believe.

For instance, Hopkinson repeats the story in Green Against Green that Lynch put all his faith in importing mountain guns from Germany to turn the tide. In fact if you read the correspondence between de Valera and Lynch it's clear it was de Valera who put the misplaced faith in 'wonder weapons' to turn the war around. And Lynch quite clearly tells him that no, conventional military victory is not possible. We have to keep up the pressure on things like burning income tax offices, preventing the functioning of government etc. As I said it's ugly, but it's not deluded (again from an anti-Treaty point of view).
 
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Antóin Mac Comháin

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The other thing that Lynch grasped from the start and O'Malley did not, was that there was no chance of an anti-Treaty victory in conventional warfare. Lynch wanted to return to guerrilla tactics even before their position in the 'Munster Republic' collapsed. For the good reason that the Free State was far superior in money - and therefore numbers - and firepower that if they failed the British garrison, still in Dublin in the North, were even more superior, whereas the anti-Treaty IRA was very weak in this form of warfare.

Whereas O'Malley was addicted to the heroic gesture, like for instance taking a column south in July 1922 and taking towns like Baltinglass and Enniscorthy, where he lost men killed but then just left again. Or the idea of taking over block in Dublin and holding it for a few days, which you've mentioned above. When Lynch (or anyone) could have told him that this would quite obviously have resulted in them being surrounded, besieged and either killed or captured. And you see a surprising amount of this kind of thing with O'Malley. For a guy who was quite intellectual in other ways he often didn't think things out.

A couple of people above had argued that Lynch lost perspective towards the end of the Civil War. That's probably true, Lynch kept telling his own side that they were on the verge on victory when it was becoming obvious to all in the spring of 1923 that the guerrilla effort was falling apart - collapse in morale, columns surrendering etc. For instance he wrote to his Director of Intelligence Michael Carolan that the Free State is about to go broke and Carolan writes, back, not it isn't not, not as long as they have a line of credit with the Irish banks and the British government.
'Taxes continued to be forwarded by County Councils to the British Local Government Board in Dublin, but now some Councils refused to forward the monies. The Dáil was slowly gaining control and increasing that control was our main effort. The British could defeat some of our columns and round-up our men, but they could not maintain civil administration when they had lost the support of the people.' - O'Malley, May, 1921. Although 1916 was a military disaster, towards the end of the WOI the Limerick Brigade had managed to destroy a couple of aircrafts, and operations of that nature, may have clouded O'Malley's judgement during the Civil War, believing that the breaks would come and the tide would turn. He cited a lack of experience as the reason why he left administrative posts vacant, and said that it 'reduplicated itself without end.'

The second and most important thing is that in the Civil War Lynch did have a strategy, which was primarily economic warfare and sabotage to cripple the Free State financially and force them to come to terms and the British to renegotiate the Treaty. Now don't get me wrong, it was an ugly strategy, it involved destroying the rail network and trying to cripple the economy, but it could certainly have worked.
'Soon we would destroy railways, the main supply artery of garrisons'..'Official military blowing up of houses had ceased, perhaps they realized a castle of their friends counted a lot more than a cottage of ours.' - On Another Mans Wounds

I'm not sure whose ideas they were, but they were as thick as thieves..
 
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JohnD66

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'Taxes continued to be forwarded by County Councils to the British Local Government Board in Dublin, but now some Councils refused to forward the monies. The Dáil was slowly gaining control and increasing that control was our main effort. The British could defeat some of our columns and round-up our men, but they could not maintain civil administration when they had lost the support of the people.' - O'Malley, May, 1921. Although 1916 was a military disaster, towards the end of the WOI the Limerick Brigade had managed to destroy a couple of aircrafts, and operations of that nature, may have clouded O'Malley's judgement during the Civil War, believing that the breaks would come and the tide would turn. He cited a lack of experience as the reason why he left administrative posts vacant, and said that it 'reduplicated itself without end.'



'Soon we would destroy railways, the main supply artery of garrisons'..'Official military blowing up of houses had ceased, perhaps they realized a castle of their friends counted a lot more than a cottage of ours.' - On Another Mans Wounds

I'm not sure whose ideas they were, but they were as thick as thieves..
Lynch and O'Malley were close comrades of course. But I would suggest that what O'Malley says in his memoir (when he was also older and perhaps wiser) about the war against the British was different from what he was saying to Lynch during the Civil War in 1922-23. You can read their correspondence in the Twomey papers and most of it is published also in No Surrender Here which is a collection of his Civil War papers.
 

Antóin Mac Comháin

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Lynch and O'Malley were close comrades of course. But I would suggest that what O'Malley says in his memoir (when he was also older and perhaps wiser) about the war against the British was different from what he was saying to Lynch during the Civil War in 1922-23. You can read their correspondence in the Twomey papers and most of it is published also in No Surrender Here which is a collection of his Civil War papers.
I'll pick up a copy and re-read the other book.
 

McTell

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It's still the sinn fein civil war, however you read it. Still a couple of thousand on each side making life hell for everyone else.

The object of the Dublin occupations from April 1922 was to make the brits want to take over the country again, and unite everyone against them. The last thing London wanted to do.

So by June we had sinn-fein-without-jobs versus sinn-fein-with-jobs, and all the words of O'Malley and Lynch don't change that. The brits were not going to re-start the war, the sinn-fein-without-jobs lads would not go home quietly, and so someone was going to have to disarm them.

There was no sense that the people were to benefit in any way, god forbid, it was all about the Big Men on each side.
 


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