Article on the build-up to the Civil War, from the Dáil debates to the confrontations in Westmeath and Sligo, with a focus on Seán Mac Eoin, the Longford IRA leader turned Free State general.

Shadows and Substance: Seán Mac Eoin and the Slide into Civil War, 1922

Seán Mac Eoin was in a triumphant mood when he came to Athlone to oversee the evacuation of its British garrison in February 1922. Standing in the centre of the Castle square, he addressed the parade of Irish soldiers and the teeming crowds:

"Fellow soldiers and citizens of Athlone and the Midlands, this is a day for Athlone and a day for the Midlands. It is a day for Ireland, the first one glorious day in over three hundred years...Thank God the day has come when I, as your representative, presented arms to the last British soldier and let him walk out of the gate – in other words – he skipped it!"
To those who asked, Mac Eoin knew what to thank for this state of affairs. "Were it not for the ratification of the Treaty this a day we would not see, or perhaps ever see," he said. He had already helped the Treaty be passed through the Dáil in December 1921, when he had seconded Arthur Griffith's motion for the Treaty to be ratified, before speaking up in its favour.

(Seán Mac Eoin)

As far as he was concerned, the Treaty brought the sort of practical benefits to Ireland that could not be ignored. As he told his fellow delegates in the Dáil:

"I take this course because I know I am doing it in the interests of my country, which I love. To me symbols, recognitions, shadows, have very little meaning. What I want, what the people of Ireland want, is not shadows but substances."
Maintaining this substance, however, would prove to be another challenge. When he returned from Dublin to the barracks in Athlone, he found many of the soldiers there on the verge of mutiny rather than accept the Treaty and its compromises. Mac Eoin was able to quell the unrest then, but remained at the forefront of the struggle as the IRA, as well as the country as a whole, split into pro and anti-Treaty factions.

(Newsreel of the pro-Treaty rally in Sligo, April 1922, by Páthe)

Later, in April 1922, Mac Eoin led a procession of soldiers onboard armoured cars through Sligo in support of a pro-Treaty rally that was to be held there. Mac Eoin rode with one hand holding a revolver and the other on the gun-turret of his car. He positioned this vehicle by the post office, occupied by anti-Treaty men, and had its machine-gun trained on the building in an unsubtle warning not to cause trouble.

The rally went off without further incident.