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Ordinary Brutalities

Gavin Foster
Everyday Violence in the Irish Civil War, by Gemma Clark, Cambridge University Press, 250 pp, £27.99, ISBN: 978-1316635278 While we don’t yet have a comprehensive tally of casualties in the Irish Revolution, it is sufficiently clear that the upheaval between the Home Rule crisis of 1912-14 and the end of the Civil War in 1923 wasn’t all that violent in the broad sweep of Irish history or when compared to contemporary European conflicts. As Gemma Clark observes in Everyday Violence in the Irish Civil War, the Civil War was an especially restrained conflict by modern standards, the few pitched battles between pro- and anti-treaty forces quickly giving way to a low-level, asymmetric conflict which blurred with more diffuse forms of “everyday” violence largely ignored in military histories. And yet, the role of violence as a catalyst for political and social change is the principal reason why 1912-23 is considered a “revolutionary” period, though counter-revolutionary and state violence were no less constitutive of the country’s revolutionary experience. The problem of violence is thus central to the Irish Revolution’s historiography, with scholars taking a variety of approaches to grapple with it, from traditional military histories and local studies; to statistical and geographical analyses of casualties and violent incidents; to thematic studies of particular forms of violence or classes of perpetrators and victims; to recent work on the intersection of violence with issues of class, gender, ethno-religious identities, and memory. Everyday Violence contributes to this crowded field by wading into ongoing debates over geographical disparities in revolutionary violence; the degree of victimisation experienced by the minority southern Protestant community; and republicanism’s relationship to social discontents like land hunger and sectarianism. Clark also reconnoitres new terrain by prioritising an underused body of sources that detail thousands of acts of violence against (and sometimes by) civilians, while offering an innovative examination of the forms and functions of this “everyday violence” that is attentive to comparative and theoretical perspectives on civil war, collective violence, and ethnic conflict. A comparative perspective informs the study’s underlying premise that, contrary to popular assumptions about the “mindless” or apolitical character of much violence in localised conflicts, communal violence in southern Ireland in 1922-23 possessed an internal logic, as reflected in perpetrators’ deliberate use of various time-honoured forms of punishment and reprisal for the purposes of achieving rational goals, from thwarting the state’s ability to govern, to (re)acquiring lands, to intimidating, economically crippling, and/or…



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