Lost Lives 1923-1969 (draft)

Between the end of the Irish Civil War on 1st May 1923 and the upsurge in conflict from 1st August 1969, some 279 deaths occurred relating to the political conflict over sovereignty in Ireland. This post is a brief introduction to the map showing the locations of those fatalities.

The deaths identified to date suggest that the most violent period was 1923-1929 with 118 fatalities, followed by the 1940s (64), then the 1930s (60), then the 1950s (21), with only 13 deaths identified in the 1960s. The most violent locations appear to be Belfast (58 deaths), Dublin (29) and Cork (27).

The deaths recorded here were largely collected as part of the background research for the Belfast Battalion book. The list is very much a draft and is likely to be missing names and events and anyone with suggestion can add them in the comments section and I’ll update the map periodically. The data included in the map is incomplete in any regard as there are individuals where further information is needed as well.

As this is very much a draft, the deaths are grouped by loose themes on the mapping. This include the likes of 1950-60s border campaign, the S-Plan campaign, the mid-1930s pogroms (largely in Belfast) and what the Fianna Fáil Minister for Justice, Gerry Boland, called the ‘Second Civil War’ which was the low intensity conflict between the IRA and both the Dublin and Belfast governments in the late 1930s and 1940s (fatalities where the IRA claimed the individual involved was an ‘informer’ are listed separately here too). Another theme is the violent deaths in period immediately after the Civil War, which are significant in number. Deaths from wounds received before 1st May 1923 is also a notable factor in a number of deaths through the 1920s. Lastly there are fatalities labelled here (for want of a better term) as due to a Left/Right dimension to the political violence including attacks on strikes and strike-breakers and incident involving the Blueshirts and related organisations like the League of Youth – I’ve also included two murders of Jewish men in Dublin the 1920s in this group (it was claimed that the killers were known and actively protected by the Free State government of the day and were later prominent in the Blueshirts).

Defining conflicts solely through fatalities is fraught with problems. The most obvious is the depressing one of defining the parameters of a death due to political violence, which isn’t actually that straightforward. Conventionally it can be taken as a fatality arising from an act of violence with a political motive. Yet this needs further elaboration as it can easily exclude operational losses sustained by state forces where the stresses and pressures of deployment can lead to carelessness and errors with fatal consequences (whereas post-operational reviews will usually include all such fatalities within their own statistically reporting). It also privileges ‘violent’ death over increased mortality where deliberate socio-economic and security policies, generally on the part of the state, can have negative impact on life expectancy and mortality, leading to premature deaths (i.e. due to what is described elsewhere as structural violence). Thus many people who die as a consequence of that type of political action are, almost literally, mere statistics and un-nameable and neither appear nor are remembered as individuals in the historical record. Similarly their collective deaths don’t then contribute to or shape an overarching narrative of the full extent and scope of ‘violence’ (and might better explain why violence occurs and how it is perpetuated).

It is also important to recognise that the ‘political’ policies that promoted the type of conservative, patriarchal society that was perpetuated on both sides of the border in Ireland were responsible for many violent deaths in mother and baby homes and other institutions that do not feature here. Similarly, having reviewed many fatal incidents from 1923 to 1969, the quantum of deaths due to conventional ‘political’ violence is still probably way below those arising from fatal violence against women over the same period (which are surely ‘political’ too as they simply are another manifestation of the misogyny evident in the public sphere).

The data offered here, then, suffers from all these same problems. At least, though, it can address some of them as it includes operational losses on the part of the various security services (north and south of the border) where a death occurred in a setting where security was heightened and could have been a causative factor. Similarly, prison fatalities often arise post-release with the conditions of incarceration leading to a breakdown in health and an early death. In the cases included here the interval between release and death are generally understood to be short, up to twenty-four months. In that sense the numbers of those who died due health issues related to their imprisonment is an underestimation, possibly a significant one. In both of these instances the impact on partners and children is unmeasured – although it is undocumented, we can only presume that security duty and imprisonment (particularly internment as it was open-ended) caused stress and strain on families that might be evident as reduced life expectancies for the partners and children of those involved. Again, none of those deaths would appear here.

There is some information about most deaths (just click the relevant dot on the map). You can also play with the map to show each individual layer (click the icon in the top left of the map and then you can turn on or off each layer). Or you can simply explore the locations and if you know of omissions, please add a comment with further information.

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