This introductory chapter provides a brief summary of the literature on the Irish civil war and its relevance to the general debate on civil wars. It suggests that despite the localized nature of most of the fighting, and the personalization of the issues around the figure of Eamon de Valera in much of the historical literature, the Irish civil war should be regarded above all as a legitimacy crisis. That crisis reflected the intense concern with international status which had characterized the Sinn Fein movement and overrode any socio-economic or regional tensions. In that movement, questions of national freedom were intimately bound up with ideas of democratic legitimacy, and this made for an increased importance of constitutional divisions following the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. The last section of this chapter outlines the structure of the book.
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