Violence against women in the Irish Civil War, 1922–3: gender-based harm in global perspective

Research paper by Gemma Clark

Indexed on: 14 Aug '20Published on: 01 May '20Published in: Irish historical studies : joint journal of the Irish Historical Society and the Ulster Society for Irish Historical Studies


Since the 1990s, in the wake of the wars and ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia, violence against women in wartime has become a matter of international concern. This article, on gender-based violence (G.B.V.) during the Irish Civil War, draws on research from scholars and activists around the globe, and newly accessible archival sources, to highlight the relatively humane treatment of women in Ireland – even during the bitter final stages of the Irish Revolution, c.1912–23. Records of the Irish Free State's Compensation (Personal Injuries) Committee show that women suffered some serious and traumatising interpersonal violence during 1922–3 – often on account of their gender (as guardians of the domestic space). Women's interactions with the Civil War were thus distinctive from men's because of the prevalence in Ireland of forms of aggression and intimidation, including crimes against property, which transgressed public/private boundaries. However, I argue that it did not serve the strategy nor ideology of either warring side to denigrate women en masse. The genocidal aims underlying conflict-related G.B.V. elsewhere in the world were absent in Ireland, where gendered power structures, shored up by Catholic authority, remained largely unshaken by the revolution – despite the great efforts of many radical females. Revolutionary Ireland was not a safe place for many Irishwomen (nor indeed for some men); however, for pro- and anti-Treaty forces, maintaining propriety militated against the need for sexual violence as warfare.