What was the real death toll of the Irish Civil War?

Figures previously put forward of 4,000-5,000 dead now no longer thought to be accurate

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Until very recent times, there was no systematic attempt made to count the Irish Civil War dead.

This led to much speculation that the total killed in the war over the Treaty greatly exceeded those in the preceding War of Independence, with figures of 4,000-5,000 dead sometimes being put forward.

Today, however, we have access to far more sources for casualties and can thus speak with far more precision about the numbers killed and wounded.


James Langton’s study of National Army casualties, “Forgotten Fallen”, found just under 800 National Army dead, of whom 488 died due to enemy action, others due to accidents or illness, while seven were executed having deserted to the other side.

To this total should be added a small number of police, including four from the Civic Guard (later renamed Garda Síochána), four from the Criminal Investigation Department and two from the Citizens’ Defence Force, who were killed from 1922-1924.

Exact totals of casualties of the anti-Treaty side are more difficult to come by. The Republican Roll of Honour The Last Post lists just 426 anti-Treaty Volunteers killed from January 1922 to April 1924 and some 25 of these died fighting British and Northern Irish forces. Most anti-Treaty dead were IRA Volunteers, but some were Na Fianna members and four were women Cumann na mBan.

Incomplete picture

However, The Last Post, gives us an incomplete picture. For instance, while returns for the Dublin Brigade are fairly complete, showing 84 Volunteers killed there, the Last Post chronicled only 17 out of at least of 53 anti-Treaty fighters who were killed in Co Cork and four out 29 republicans killed in Co Limerick, as found in the recently digitised Military Service Pensions collection.

Even allowing for this, though, the total of anti-Treaty IRA dead in the Civil War is not likely to be much more than about 500, of whom 81 died before Free State firing squads and more than 100 were summarily executed in reprisals. Thus, the anti-Treatyites lost slightly more than half as many men killed than their pro-Treaty opponents and far fewer killed in action.

At first glance this seems surprising but the pro-Treaty troops in the initial stages of the war had to attack fixed positions, inevitably incurring more casualties than their opponents and in the subsequent the guerrilla phase, it was the anti-Treaty IRA who almost always initiated combat, again, giving them an advantage. Thirdly, the pro-Treaty troops, vastly better armed than the guerrillas, but on the whole just as poorly trained, were far more prone to deaths due to firearms accidents.

There is no definitive list of civilian casualties. However, studies of 10 of the most violent counties in the Civil War reveal a total of about 220 civilian deaths. While this is a minority of the 26 counties in the Free State, it includes the most populous ones and the ones where most military activities occurred. Allowing for a high estimate of an average of 10 civilian fatalities in the remaining 16 counties, the civilian death toll was probably between 300 and 400.

A number of British forces were also killed in the conflict, including at least 19 British army soldiers, and 14 serving and 17 retired members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (disbanded in August 1922).

All told then, a reasonable estimate suggests that the fatalities in the Civil War were of the order of 1,600. It seems safe to say that the Civil War death toll did not equal, let alone exceed, the figure of 2,346 dead logged by the Dead of the Irish Revolution project for the War of Independence.

However, if we were to count the casualties in Northern Ireland in the first six months of 1922, a period of intense sectarian violence in Belfast as well as a fitful "Border war", the figures would include another 350 or so dead, bringing the all-Ireland figure for deaths in 1922-24 up to about 2,000.