Irish Civil War could have been avoided but for Churchill’s intervention, says historian

Anti-Treaty intelligence officer Jim O’Callaghan worked in a bakery and had a novel way of delivering dispatches, placing them inside loaves

The Irish Civil War could have been avoided on the basis of an agreement drawn up by Michael Collins and Eamon de Valera but for the intervention of Winston Churchill, historian Dr Martin Mansergh told a commemoration in Cork to mark the death of an anti-Treaty IRA man.

Dr Mansergh told the commemoration to mark the death of anti-Treaty IRA soldier Jim O’Callaghan in the Civil War in north Cork in 1922 that many people wanted and tried to avoid Civil War. “Sean McBride in old age took the view, I believe correctly, that the agreed draft constitution, which made no mention of the monarchy, and which was the basis of the Collins-De Valera pact, would have avoided Civil War but it was vetoed by Churchill.

“There was a third party to the Civil War across the water,” said Dr Mansergh, adding that although the Civil War ended in military defeat for the anti-Treaty side the republican ideal remained intact and over the next 25 years was vindicated in the State with the minimum of concessions.

He recalled how Jim O’Callaghan, aged just 16, joined the Irish Volunteers in Castletownroche in 1917 where his brother, Dave, was already a member, and during the War of Independence he was active in the Killavullen company of the Cork No 2 Brigade under the command of Liam Lynch.


He recalled how as an intelligence officer O’Callaghan, who worked in a bakery run by Michael Russell at Main Street in Killavullen, had a novel way of delivering dispatches, splitting open batch loaves, placing the dispatches inside and then clamping the loaves back together.

Dr Mansergh said the O’Callaghan family took the anti-Treaty side in the split among the former comrades and O’Callaghan gave up his job at Russell’s bakery in February 1922 when General Liam Lynch ordered volunteers under his command to dedicate themselves full time to the cause.

As the National Army advanced into Munster during the summer of 1922, anti-Treaty IRA forces retreated from the towns and, after leaving Fermoy on August 12th, 1922, both Jim O’Callaghan and his brother Dave went on the run.

“Unfortunately during the guerrilla phase of the Civil War, Jim O’Callaghan was caught up in an unexpected but straightforward encounter with Free State forces. While two comrades escaped, he unfortunately was shot and his body was found the following morning by some of his family.”

Unveiling the newly-refurbished memorial to Jim O’Callaghan, Dr Mansergh paid tribute to the progress that has been made since the volunteer’s death.

“Over the last 100 years great progress has been made in this part of Ireland, fulfilling, occasionally exceeding, the hopes of those like volunteer Jim O’Callaghan, who sought to bring about a free Ireland which is to the benefit of all. Their sacrifices have not been in vain.”

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times