Published in Issue 5 (September/October 2022), Letters, Volume 30

Above: General Michael Collins at Arthur Griffith’s funeral in August 1922. Was he by then a military dictator—or was there just a ‘democratic deficit’? (NLI)

Sir,—Dr Thomas Tormey may have the better of me where he identifies a ‘democratic deficit’ during the Civil War, rather than the ‘military-dictatorship’ under Michael Collins I referenced in my review of Ronan McGreevy’s new book on Sir Henry Wilson.

To be clear, no one has ever challenged the evidential basis on which my description rests. Nor in his timely letter does Dr Tormey. Rather, Dr Tormey asserts the situation pertaining in July-August 1922 was a ‘democratic deficit’, which of course is correct. Spain under Franco, Portugal under Salazar, and Italy under Mussolini in their different ways also experienced ‘democratic deficits’. We may not always be able to change the evidence, but we can do something to improve the labels attaching to it.

Among some historians, and even the occasional political scientist, there is a time-honoured tradition of reducing the Irish Civil War to a conflict between pro-treaty ‘democrats’ and anti-treaty ‘dictators’. The ‘democrats and dictators’ interpretation is of course valid; it is just not as historical as it might be. This is to recognize when it comes to civil war in Ireland, we are sometimes confronted with a ‘historical deficit’ too.—Yours etc.,

University of Dundee


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