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Firearms of the Irish Civil Wars: Part 2 the Republicans: their Unionist opponents had a much better quantity and variety of arms, but the Republicans put theirs to a lot more use.

In the first part (7/20 issue), largely Protestant Unionists loyal to Britain accumulated arms to resist Home Rule for Ireland. It didn't take their Republican opponents long to get their own guns.


As the Ulster Volunteer Force staged more and more public demonstrations. Irish nationalists, republicans and Catholic leaders were alarmed by the appearance of a well-armed Protestant militia and set about forming forces to counter the UVF.


Unfortunately, unlike the UVF, they found it difficult to raise funds to purchase weapons or attract volunteers and the most reliable source of donations was the Irish community in the United States. In November 1913, a primarily Catholic. pro-Home Rule militia was formed to counter the UVF and to pressure Britain in the other direction. Under the leadership of a number of prominent nationalists, Catholic Anglo-Irish aristocrats and--as odd as it may sound pro-Home Rule Englishmen. the Oglaigh na hEireann (Irish Volunteers), began accepting recruits.

Shortly after the formation of the Volunteers, they sent Robert Erskine Childers, a wealthy, English-born supporter--to Germany, where he contacted the same Benny Spiro who had provided weapons to the UVF. From Spiro's firm--Waffen Munition und Militar-Effeckten, Childers obtained several thousand military rifles, including German Infanterie-Gewehre M.71 Mausers and Italian Mo. 1870/87 Vetterlis, along with bayonets and ammunition.

Michael O'Rahilly. Sir Roger Casement, and Bulmer Hobson coordinated a daylight gun running expedition to the port of Howth, just north of Dublin. On 26 July 1914, Childers and his American born wile used their personal yacht, the Asgard, to deliver 1,000 rifles and 25,000 rounds of ammunition to the waiting Volunteers without interference from the authorities.

As the Volunteers returned to Dublin. they were intercepted by a force of the Dublin Metropolitan Police and British soldiers. While the Volunteers escaped largely unscathed, when the British troops returned to Dublin they fired upon an unruly crowd of civilian hecklers, killing several of them. a "massacre" that caused enlistments in the Volunteers to soar. A week later, an additional 600 rifles and 20,000 rounds of ammunition were landed at Kilcoole by Sir Thomas Myles.

Infanterie-Gewehr M.71: the first metallic cartridge rifle adopted by the German army, it was a simple, rugged design that used a two-piece bolt locked by' the bolt handle turning down in front of the split-bridge receiver. Besides Waffenfabrik Mauser. M.71s were manufactured by a number of German government arsenals and Steyr and sold widely around the world.

The Volunteers obtained additional arms from the abovementioned Birmingham dealers, bought them from, less than honest. British soldiers (the going price for a Lee-Enfield and bayonet was 5 [pounds sterling]), stole them from army depots and RIC barracks, purchased sporting weapons and souvenir military arms.


M1895 "Boer" Mausers: since many Irish soldiers served in South Africa during the Boer War, numbers of German-made Model 1895 Mauser rifles and carbines found their way to Ireland as souvenirs, and photos show the Volunteers using small numbers of them.

Another anti-British militia was the Arm Cathartha na hEireann (Irish Citizen Army or ICA), a small group-they never numbered more than 250--of trained trade union Volunteers established in Dublin for the defense of worker's demonstrations from the police during labor troubles in 1913. In 1914, James Connally reorganized the ICA as a revolutionary organization dedicated to the creation of an Irish socialist republic.

A veteran of the British army who knew something about military tactics and discipline, he was a radical socialist and Republican and believed that achieving political change through force was legitimate and eventually allied himself with the IRB. While the IRB refused to openly cooperate with Sinn Fein, the Volunteers or ICA, they did infiltrate the latter two organizations in an attempt to take control of their forces and stockpiles of weapons.

On May 25th, the Home Rule Bill passed as the Government of Ireland Act 1914. To placate Protestant concerns, six counties in Ulster were to be excluded "temporarily" from the territory of the new Irish parliament and government and would continue to be governed as before from Westminster and Whitehall. With the outbreak of the Great War in August 1914, both mainstream nationalists and unionists, keen to ensure the implementation of the Act on the one hand and to influence the issue of how temporary was partition to be on the other, rallied in support of Britain's war commitment to the Allies.

Many Irishmen, including members of the Volunteers, convinced that Ireland had won freedom and self-government under the Act, joined the 10th and 16th (Irish) Divisions of the British Army while a large percentage of the UVF enlisted in the 36th (Ulster) Division, all of which served with distinction during four years of war.

After the outbreak of the war, many of the UVF's rifles were turned over to, or confiscated by, the British authorities. Due to the severe shortage of standard weapons, some Infanteriegewehre 88 were issued to Home Guard units in Ireland while others were stored, under guard, in Belfast. After the war, many of these were sold to surplus dealers who, early in World War II disposed of some of the Vetterlis to the Ethiopians while others were reportedly used by British Home Guard units ("Dad's Army") during the dark days of the Blitz.

Significant numbers of nationalists, members of the IRB, Volunteers and ICA opposed Irish support for the war effort. Shortly after the outbreak of the war, the IRB's leaders decided to take action sometime before the conclusion of the war. Since its inception in 1913, the IRB had infiltrated the Volunteers and had IRB members elevated to officer rank whenever possible so by 1916, a large proportion of the Volunteers leadership were devoted republicans.

A notable exception was the founder and Chief-of-Staff Eoin MacNeill, who planned to use the Volunteers as a bargaining tool with Britain following World War I, and was opposed to any rebellion that stood little chance of success. Nevertheless, the IRB hoped either to win him over to their side or bypass his command altogether.

The plan encountered its first major hurdle, when James Connolly, and the ICA, unaware of the IRB's plans, threatened to initiate a rebellion on their own if other parties refused to act. IRB leaders met with Connolly in January 1916 and convinced him to join forces with them. They agreed to act together the following Easter, and made Connolly a member of their Military Committee.


With the old adage (England's difficulty is Ireland's opportunity) in mind, the Volunteers sent Sir Roger Casement to Germany via neutral USA and Sweden, where in 1916 he began negotiating with the German High Command for weapons. Realizing that an Irish rebellion might drain British manpower from the Western Front. the Germans provided Casement with 20,000 captured Russian Mosin-Nagant obr. 1891 rifles, 10 Maxim MG08/15 machine guns, 5 million rounds of assorted 7.62mm. 7.9mm, .303 and 11mm ammunition and a ship, the Aud Norge, manned by German naval personnel, to smuggle the arms. into Ireland.

Trekhlineinaya Vintovka obr. 1891g: Imperial Russia's first smallbore, smokeless powder rifle. During World War I, the Germans captured vast quantities of them on the Eastern Front and supplied them to their allies, and would-be allies.

Maschinengewehr 08/15 to give troops portable firepower, in 1915 the Germans redesigned the Maxim MG08 heavy machine guns with a lightened receiver, shoulder stock, pistol grip, smaller water jacket, and a simple bipod, reducing the unloaded weight to 39 pounds. Chambered for the 7.9mm Patrone S. it was fed by a 100-round fabric belt-carried in a drum magazine on the right side of the receiver.

Informers within the Volunteers warned the British of the gunrunning scheme and the Royal Navy intercepted the Aud Norge off the Irish coast near Cork, whereupon the German captain scuttled the ship to prevent its capture. The Royal Navy later depth charged the wreck so as to prevent the retrieval of any of the weapons. Sir Roger Casement was smuggled back to Ireland by a German U-boat, but was captured by British troops shortly after landing.

The Easter Rising

The IRB's plan was to seize strategic buildings throughout Dublin on April 24th, cordon off the city and resist British counter-attacks whereupon, it was hoped, the British would concede Irish self-government rather than divert badly needed resources from the Western Front to contain a rebellion in their rear.

However, the rebels, under the leadership of Padraig Pearse, were only able to mobilize 1,250 men-some unarmed while others carried the Mausers and Vetterlis which had been smuggled into the country earlier-which left several key points within the city, notably Dublin Castle and Trinity College, in British hands, meaning that their own forces were separated from each other where they could be isolated and taken one at a time. It should be noted that while most of ICA fighters had outfitted themselves with uniforms, the majority of the Volunteers except their officers--wore civilian clothing.

Ioin MacNeill, who was unaware of the rebellion until shortly before it broke out, ordered Volunteers units outside of Dublin to not take part. As a result, the rebels received little in the way of reinforcements while 16,000 British soldiers-with artillery and armored cars-and 1,000 RIC constables were rushed to the area who, by April 29th, had either destroyed or captured most of the rebel forces. Outside of Dublin, the rebellion received on sporadic support, consisting mostly of attacks on RIC barracks that were easily repulsed.


In the aftermath of the rising, thousands of Irish nationalists (including many members of Sinn Fain even though the organization had nothing whatsoever to do with the planning or carrying out of the rebellion) and republicans were arrested and imprisoned. Fifteen of the Rising's leaders (real and imagined), including Sir Roger Casement, were tried for treason and executed firing squad.

Several months after the Rising, steps were taken to reorganize the Volunteers. With the release of most of the prisoners from the rebellion by 1917, the Volunteers now had members who were hardened, by battle and prison. They also had more public support than before, due to the outcry over the execution of all the Rising's leaders (apart from Eamon de Valera) by the British government.

IRB links helped to restore communication between the central command in Dublin and the country units and it was decided not order Volunteers to take the field without a reasonable hope of success. So for the time being, the Volunteers would train and prepare for a possible conflict in the months or years ahead. Many Irishmen were in France fighting in the trenches, and Ireland was to receive a measure of home rule whenever the Great War ended.

Yet 1916 and its aftermath had put in motion a chain of events that would change the whole dynamic in southern Ireland. By the time the guns had fallen silent on the Western Front, the Irish no longer wanted to be part of the British Empire at all. They wanted an Irish republic, and many of them were prepared to use violence to achieve it.

The Irish Republican Army

In September 1917. the Volunteers began openly drilling in several southern and western counties and the reluctance of the local authorities in these areas to confront the Volunteers meant that drilling became a regular feature of life in several counties.

The Volunteers themselves were evolving from displays of public defiance to more secret, underground preparations for a possible military conflict, helped in great part by numbers of demobilized soldiers joining their ranks. Endeavors by local Volunteers in the south and west to capture arms from the RIC led to the first armed engagements of what would become the Irish War of Independence.


The war effectively began on the 21st of January 1919, the day that the Dail Eireann (Irish Parliament), dominated by Sinn Fein, met and declared its aim of ignoring British administration in Ireland and setting up its own governmental departments. Under the leadership of Eamon de Valera, it did not advocate the use of violence, yet.

As attacks on the RIC and British military increased, the Dail Eireann was outlawed and the British began moving large numbers of troops to Ireland. This only served to increase Volunteer attacks on police barracks which became particularly widespread in the South.

The relationship between the Volunteers and Dail Eireann was quite ambiguous. In 1919, The Volunteers recognized the Minister for Defense, Cathal Brugha, as their commander and became the national army with the title of Oglaigh na hEireann (Irish Republican Army or IRA). While the IRA officially recognized the Dail as their parliament, and Eamon de Valera as their president, IRA men had little use for politicians. many of whom displayed less than wholehearted support for IRA operations that were carried out without official sanction from the Dail, although they were usually sanctioned by the Volunteers GHQ, led by Michael Collins and Richard Mulcahy.

Many IRA men were also members of the secret IRB (Michael Collins was President of the Supreme Council of the IRB) and this potential conflict of interest worried the Minister for Defense. In reality, the IRA men looked to the Volunteers GHQ and to their local brigade commanders, rather than to Brugha and the Dail.

The Dail announced a policy of ostracism towards RIC personnel that proved successful in demoralizing the force as the war went on, as people turned their faces from a force increasingly compromised by association with government repression. The rate of resignation went up, and recruitment dropped off dramatically.

RIC personnel were often reduced to buying supplies at gunpoint as shops and other businesses refused to deal with them. Some constables, primarily Catholics. cooperated with the IRA through fear or sympathy, supplying valuable information. As a result many isolated police posts were evacuated, which enabled Sinn Fein and the Volunteers to take Over civil control in these areas, which helped de Valera's fund raising campaign in America.

In response to the rising violence, the British government introduced the Restoration of Order in Ireland Act in August 1920, which allowed for the internment and court-martial of civilians. The British government also authorized two special police units, the Royal Irish Constabulary Reserve force--better known as the Black & Tans after the color of their uniforms and the Auxiliary Division.



The former were uniformed constables primarily recruited from unemployed ex-British servicemen while the latter was an investigative force made up of ex-British army officers. Neither was particularly well trained in police tactics and they soon became known for their use of violence and intimidation, including the shooting of prisoners, looting, using torture to obtain confessions and the burning of villages suspected of harboring IRA fighters.

As the violence increased, some British troops began engaging in similar practices, which were often overlooked by their superiors, Needless to say, their actions did the British administration more harm than good and served to increase the number of reprisals by the IRA.

The weapons used by the IRA, RIC and British forces varied widely. Basically, IRA fighters used any weapon they could get their hands on, including sporting shotguns, ex-UVF rifles-and others left over from the Rising. As their successes against the RIC and British forces grew, increasing numbers of Lee-Enfield rifles and Webley revolvers were captured.

With the end of the Great War, Europe was flooded with surplus weapons and the famed gunrunners of the era found Ireland a lucrative market for their wares and it wasn't long before IRA arsenals included ex-German Infanteriegewehre 98 Mausers. In July of 1921, a shipment of Gewehre 98s and Mauser C96 pistols were smuggled in to Waterford by the infamous Derry sea captain and IRA volunteer. Charlie "Nomad" McGuinness. Irish sympathizers in the United States provided weapons including, late in the conflict, small numbers of Thompson M1921 submachine guns.


Infanteriegewehr 98: Paul Mauser's last, and greatest, invention, the Gewehr 98 was the standard rifle of the German army in World War I and would go on to become the most popular bolt-action rifle of all time.

Thompson M1921 Submachine Gun: developed by General John T. Thompson between 1919-1921, it was the first American-made submachine gun. While heavy-and expensive-it was rugged and provided an individual with an unprecedented amount of firepower.

While the RIC and British troops were primarily equipped with the No. 1 Mk. III Lee-Enfield, they began to make wider use of full-auto weapons such as the Vickers and Lewis machine guns. The former were used to defend static positions, while the latter were particularly popular with mobile infantry and police units.

The Black & Tans in particular utilized a variety of handguns, including Colt and Smith & Wesson revolvers and Colt 1911 pistols that had been purchased during the war. In addition, numbers of Winchester M97 riot shotguns were obtained for issue to constables.

Short Magazine: Lee-Enfield No. 1 Mk. III (SMLE): the standard British army rifle from 1907 until 1942. It had all of the positive features of the earlier long Lee-Enfields but in a lighter, handier, faster to reload package. Generations of British soldiers came to love and respect "Old Smelly."

Gun, Machine, Vickers Mark I: yet another variation of the venerable Maxim, it was adopted by the British army in 1912 and would serve well into the 1960s.


Gun, Machine, Lewis Mark 2-trench warfare convinced the British of the need for a light, mobile, automatic weapon and in 1915 they adopted the American-designed Lewis. A gas operated, air-cooled, bipod mounted weapon, its most distinctive features were a top mounted pan magazine and a bulbous barrel jacket.


Winchester M97 Riot Gun based upon the Browning-designed, Winchester M97 pump-action shotgun fitted with a cylinder bore, 20-inch barrel. U.S. troops had used them to good effect during trench fighting on the Western Front and they were very popular with American police agencies.

The harsh tactics adopted by British forces, and condoned by London, undermined the credibility of British rule in Ireland. By the spring of 1920, British forces had withdrawn from hundreds of garrisons in rural Ireland while "flying columns"--full-time mobile units of IRA fighters-engaged in guerrilla tactics which, although they could not hope to defeat organized British forces in open combat, caused uncertainty and chaos throughout the island. When both sides had fought to near-exhaustion with no clear victor in sight, a truce was called in July 1921 to allow peace talks to begin.

The Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 provided for a self-governing Irish state in 26 of Ireland's 32 counties, having its own army and police. However, rather than creating an independent republic, Ireland would be a dominion of the Empire, similar to Canada and Australia. In addition, members of the new Parliament would be required to take an oath of allegiance to the British monarch. While many members of the IRA were bitterly opposed to the treaty, others were sick and tired of the fighting and felt it was an acceptable first step towards the creation of an Irish Republic.



The split over the treaty was deeply personal. The leaders on both sides had been close friends and comrades during the War of Independence, which made their disagreement all the more bitter. Michael Collins, the republican leader who had led the Irish negotiating team, argued that the treaty gave "... not the ultimate freedom that all nations aspire and develop, but the freedom to achieve freedom."

However, anti-treaty militants believed that Britain would never deliver full Irish independence and a serious split developed within IRA ranks. The Dail narrowly approved the treaty and the following year the pro-treaty Sinn Fein won the general election, leading to radical elements of the IRA demanding the overthrow of the newly elected government.

With weapons, materials and advisors provided by the British army, the Irish Provisional government formed the National Army with Michael Collins as commander-in-chief. Fighting soon erupted between the two forces but, with pro-treaty sentiment running high, the National Army had little trouble recruiting manpower and eventually numbered 55,000 men and 3,500 officers, many of them veterans of the Great War.

Collins' most ruthless officers and men were recruited from the Dublin "Active Service Unit" (the elite unit of the IRA's Dublin Brigade), which Collins had commanded in the Irish War of Independence and in particular from his assassination unit "The Squad."

The national army easily drove the IRA from the major Cities and the fighting became a guerilla war in rural areas. As do most civil conflicts, the final phase of the conflict degenerated into a series of atrocities, with both sides executing prisoners while political assassinations became commonplace. Michael Collins was ambushed and killed by IRA fighters near his home in County Cork.

But without the support of the general population, the anti-treaty IRA were unable to maintain an effective guerrilla campaign and several prominent IRA commanders Surrendered. With the death of their most intransigent leader, Liam Lynch, more and more IRA fighters laid down their arms and on 24 May 1923, the IRA's leadership told their men to dump their arms, cease hostilities and return to their homes--where many were subsequently arrested.

As with most civil wars, Ireland's internecine conflict left a bitter legacy, which continues to influence Irish politics to this day. The two largest political parties in the Republic, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, are the descendants respectively of the anti-treaty and pro-treaty forces of the 1920s. Until the 1970s, almost all of Ireland's prominent politicians were veterans of the civil war, a fact which poisoned the relationship between the country's two biggest parties.

The breakaway IRA continues to exist in both political and military form and, until recently, the latter conducted a violent terrorist campaign in a, rather Quixotic, attempt to reunite Northern Ireland with the Republic. In fact, up until the 1980s, the IRA still claimed to be the actual Provisional Government of the Irish Republic declared in 1918 and annulled by the Treaty of 1921.

Special thanks to the following for providing information and photos used to prepare this article: Michael Curran (check out his fascinating website, Stuart Mowbray, Vince DiNardi, John Wall, Jason Atkin, Nick Ford. Bruce Canfield, Capt. Monty Mendenhall, Kris Gasior, Russ Pastena, Heino Hintermeier, Quinn Shelton and Patrick Sutton.

(1) These two rounds only differed in that the M.84 Used a flat nosed bullett.

Photos by: Nathan Reynolds & James Waiters (unless otherwise indicated)
Specifications: Model 1895 Mauser

Caliber:          7x57
Overall length:   48.6 inches
Barrel length:    29 inches
Weight:           8.8 pounds
Magazine:         Five-round, charger-loaded
Sights:           Front-inverted V-blade
                  Rear-V-notch adjustable from 300
                  to 2000 meters
Bayonet:          Knife-style with 12-inch blade

Specifications: Trekhlineinaya Vintovka obr. 1891g

Caliber:          Patron obr, 19088 (7.62x54R)
Overall length:   51.25 inches
Barrel length:    31.6 inches
Weight:           9.6 pounds
Magazine:         Five-round, charger-loaded single-column
Sights:           Front: Inverted V-blade
                  Rear: V-notch adjustable by ramp and
                  leaf from 400 to 2700 arshins
Bayonet:          Socket style with a 16-inch cruciform blade

Specifications: Infanterie-Gewehr M.71

Caliber:          11mm scharfe Patrone M.71 and M.84 (1)
Overall length:   53 inches
Barrel length:    33.7 inches
Weight:           10.1 pounds
Magazine:         Single-shot
Sights:           Front: Inverted V-blade
                  Rear: V-notch adjustable from 270
                  to 1600 meter
Bayonet:          Sword style with an 18.5-inch blade

Specifications: Maschinengewehr 08/15

Caliber:          7.9mm Patrone S
Barrel length:    28.25 inches
Weight:           39 pounds
Magazine:         100- or 250-round belts
Sights:           Front: Inverted V-blade
                  Rear: V-notch adjustable by ramp from
                  200 to 2000 meters
Rate of fire:     600 rpm

Specifications: Infanteriegewehr 98

Caliber:          79mm Patrone S
Overall length:   49.2 inches
Barrel length:    29 inches
Weight:           9 pounds
Magazine:         Five-round, charger-loaded box
Sights:           Front: Inverted V-blade
                  Rear: V-notch adjustable from 400
                  to 2000 meters
Bayonet:          Sword-type with 20-inch blade

Specifications: Thompson M1 921 Submachine Gun

Caliber:          45 ACP
Overall length:   33.7 inches
Barrel length:    10.5 inches
Weight:           11 pounds (unloaded}
Magazine:         20-round box or 50- and 100-round drums
Sights:           Front: Blade
                  Rear,: Notch & aperture adjustable from
                  50 to 600 yards
Bayonet:          None

Specifications: Short Magazine: Lee-Enfield No. 1 Mk. III

Caliber:          .303 Mark VII
Overall length:   44.5 inches
Barrel length:    25 inches
Weight:           8 pounds 10 oz.
Magazine:         10-round, removable; charger-loaded box
Sights:           Front: Blade
                  Rear: U-notch adjustable by tangent from
                  200 to 2000 yards
Bayonet:          Pat. 1907 sword style with 17-inch
                  single-edge blade

Specifications: Gun, Machine. Vickers. Mark I

Caliber:          .303 Mk. VII
Overall length:   45.5 inches
Barrel length:    28:5 inches
Weight: gun:      33 pounds
        tripod:   52 pounds
Feed device:      250 round fabric belt
Sights            Front: Blade
                  Rear; Aperture adjustable from 100
                  to 2000 yards
Rate of fire:     500 rpm

Specifications: Gun, Machine, Lewis Mark 2

Caliber:          .303 Mk. VII
Overall length:   50.5 inches
Barrel length:    26.25 inches
Weight:           26 pounds (unloaded)
Magazine:         47-round pan
Sights:           Front: Blade
                  Rear: Aperture adjustable from 100
                  to 2000 yards
Rate of fire:     500 rpm

Specifications: Winchester M1897 Riot Gun

Caliber:          12 gauge
Overall length:   39.25 inches
Barrel length:    20 inches
Weight:           8 pounds
Magazine:         Five-round, tabular
Sights:           Front: Brass bead
                  Rear: None
Bayonet:          None
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Author:Scarlata, Paul
Publication:Shotgun News
Geographic Code:4EUIR
Date:Aug 20, 2009
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