In a nutshell, what events, occurrences, or mishaps took place that allowed the Irish to win the war of Independence over what could arguably be the most powerful nation of the time, when they were unsuccessful in their multitude of attempts previously?

4 Answers 4


World War I is the short answer. Conscription efforts incensed large volumes of the Irish population and the massive casualties sustained as well as economic damage from fighting the war made it harder for the British to respond. I'm sure the 1918 flu didn't help matters any.

  • 2
    The Irish had indeed been particularly abused in WWI, used as some of the most expendable infantry.
    – Noldorin
    Oct 18, 2011 at 20:51
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    The Irish were particularly abused, full stop.
    – user88
    Oct 18, 2011 at 21:00
  • This is true... Just pointing out it includes the case in context though!
    – Noldorin
    Oct 18, 2011 at 21:09
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    According to Wikipedia: "The number of Irish deaths in the British Army recorded by the registrar general was 27,405, a casualty rate of 14%, roughly in line with the rest of the British forces." en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ireland_and_World_War_I#Casualties
    – quant_dev
    Jul 17, 2012 at 12:40

One of the factors of Irish independence in 1918 was U.S. President Wilson's Fourteen Points declaration, which included national self-determination. Used as a weapon against Germany and her allies in favor of central European peoples, it was also held against the British in favor of the Irish.

Also, Britain had been weakened and sickened by the carnage of World War I. It did not have the stomach for another one, even a "small" war.

The one other time an Irish independence movement received outside help was in 1798 from 1100 French soldiers in "the year of the French." But that was too little aid to secure the country's independence.

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    Following WWI there was a general feeling that the old empires, the Austro-hungarian and British should go and a league of nations was the new fashion. There was a genuine rush to create new (although often client) states in europe and the middle east
    – none
    Dec 11, 2011 at 2:10

The Irish War of Independence is usually viewed at starting in 1916, with the Easter Rising. It was militarily a disaster, since they surrendered after a few days. The British government executed most of the the ring leaders, and turned them into martyrs, further helping the Irish Independence movement.

  • The Irish War of Independence is usually viewed as starting with the Soloheadbeg ambush on 21 January 1919 when two police officers escorting quarrying gelignite were killed and the explosives seized.
    – Henry
    Feb 11, 2022 at 15:11

The British were exhausted, and indeed bled dry by WWI. There was no will for yet another war of attrition, and also, Michael Collins was a master at guerilla war.

  • But managed to hang onto the rather more militarily challenging India for another 25years
    – none
    Dec 11, 2011 at 2:08
  • India was much more important for them.
    – quant_dev
    Jun 29, 2012 at 16:25
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    @mgb: Actually, there were no military challenges for the British in India, since 1857. The Indians opted instead for nonviolent resistance which worked just as well... Dec 10, 2012 at 1:01
  • @FelixGoldberg - there were minor violent revolts which were put down. But the posters claim that Britain was unable to face the challenge, post WWI, of subduing 3million Irish - while keeping 600 million Indians half a continent away under control is a bit of stretch.
    – none
    Dec 10, 2012 at 1:47
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    @mgb: Well, the 600 million Indians were not in open rebellion, whereas the Irish were. In the end, it was a matter of stomach, and the British didn't have enough of it (speaking strcitly objectively here). What would have happened if there were a comparable rebellion in India? Good question, but quite counterfactual. Dec 10, 2012 at 2:04

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