Lectures of Opportunity: "'CLEAR – HOLD – (RE)BUILD’ - The Irish Civil War 1922-1923"

Rear Adm. Jeffrey A. Harley, president, U.S. Naval War College (NWC) in Newport, Rhode Island provides opening remarks during a Pearl Harbor Day evening lecture held at NWC.

About this Event

Event Information

Apr. 30, 2019
12:00 p.m.
Hewitt Hall, U.S. Naval War College, 686 Cushing Road, Newport, RI 02841

U.S. Naval War College, LOO Coordinator

This event is only open to individuals with base access.

About this lecture series

Lectures of Opportunity (LOOs) offer Naval War College (NWC) students, faculty, and staff an opportunity to learn more about national and international socio-political subjects that may be of relevance to the NWC community.


The Irish Civil War was fought between 28th June 1922 and 24th May 1923, and it brought to an end a decade of insurrection and conflict in Ireland.

What was achieved by the National Army and Government of the fledgling Irish Free-State during the Irish Civil War was remarkable. Through the ashes of a previous bitter war with their former British colonial masters, and in the midst of trying to create a new state, the Irish National Government defeated a dangerous insurgency that threatened its very foundation.

The strategy used by the National Government was so effective and contemporary, even by today’s standards, that it bore a remarkable resemblance to the counterinsurgency tactics and doctrine now being taught and employed by modern armies on the unconventional battlefields of Iraq, Mali, Syria and Afghanistan.

Modern counterinsurgency strategy is driven by the overarching US Doctrine FM 3-24, Counterinsurgency Field Manual (FM). The objective of my research is to view the Irish Civil War, and in particular the campaign conducted in Cork, by the National Army through the distinctive lens of modern counterinsurgency doctrine. This thesis is not a local history or an analysis at the tactical level, but rather an in-depth analysis of the Civil War in Cork, at the Operational Level of warfare, using ‘Clear-Hold-Build’ counterinsurgency doctrine. By using modern military doctrine, I hope to add to the overall narrative and debate on the Irish Civil War as we approach the 100th Anniversary of this bitter conflict. By using this research methodology, I also hope to bring the conduct of the Irish Civil War, to a wider international audience.

To the neutral observer, it appears obvious that the National Army won the Irish Civil War, because of the support they received from the British Empire, and also because of their inherent knowledge of the terrain, the environment and the people. However, this advantage could have been easily lost or squandered by overlooking or miscalculating the importance of the support of the population. Throughout history, military leaders and their forces have overlooked how important it is to capitalize on the initial support they received from the local population. Heavy-handed tactics, disregard for public opinion, clumsy operations resulting in excessive collateral damage, non-legitimate governance, absence of local security forces, continued lack of essential services and other such errors of judgement, including a lack of common sense, can be devastating to a military campaign. It can result in the squandering of all the original advantages that were initially available to the military leadership. The forces of liberation can so easily become an army of occupation, because of poor planning and a lack of cultural awareness. These were the problems faced by the leadership of the National Army, during the Irish Civil War.

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