According to Aaron Ellis’s Twitter, the noted American diplomat Henry Kissinger had three key points about revolutions. I noticed that the Irish revolutionary period does conform to those points which are:
1. The end rarely resembles what the revolution set out to be.
The Irish revolution began as a doomed “blood sacrifice” insurrection in Dublin along conventional lines. By its end, it was the worst kind of guerilla fighting in the Civil War. This is also true of political motivations, as the aim of a 32 country Republic became a 26 county Free State.
2. The leaders of the revolution rarely survive till the end; its key to watch out for the second wave.
This is true in two distinct ways. In one, the leaders of the Easter Rising were executed, only to be replaced by Ireland’s “second wave”: men like De Valera, Collins, Mulcahy and Brugha who were all more effective than Pearse and Connolly. In the second way, Dev and his compatriots fell from grace following the Treaty split and the Civil War, but he outlived the two main men – Griffith and Collins – who opposed him. De Valera and his new party, Fianna Fail, became the “second wave” of free Irish politics, coming to power only nine years after losing the Civil War.
3. The greater the upheaval, the greater the use of force will be to restore a sense of order and legitimacy.
The upheaval in Ireland is marked by the sudden shock of the Easter Rising, the order restored through brutal executions, the guerilla war, order resorted through a brutal COIN campaign, and the Civil War, order restored through a mixture of the above. In the end, the force used by the Free State was severe, matching the upheaval that a complete change in administration brought.
It’s important to note that not all revolutions will match these criteria – America springs to mind – but many (Russia, France, Spain, Texas) do. Every revolution should first be studied on its own terms, but there is no point in denying historical constants.
Aaron Ellis also has this excellent blog, Thinking Strategically, which you should check out.