The Citizens Defence Force or CDF was one of the more desperate responses by the pro-treaty Provisional Government to the anti-treaty opposition in Ireland during the course of the country’s 1922-23 Civil War. Proposed by Kevin O’Higgins, the hardline Minister for Home Affairs, at a cabinet meeting of the Provisionals’ leadership in November 1922, the militia eventually emerged as a hundred-strong grouping of former servicemen with the United Kingdom’s Imperial Armed Forces, many of them recruited from local branches of the Royal British Legion. Based in Dublin’s Oriel House, a regional intelligence headquarters of the soon to be established Irish Free State, the organisation shared its spacious address with the infamous Criminal Investigation Department (CID), tasked with “dirty war” operations during the internecine conflict, and the Protective Officers’ Corps (POC), a personal security force for Treatyite ministers and businessman, and their offices.
Like the CID, which was initially under the control of the Intelligence Department of the Irish National Army (INA), the renamed breakaway faction of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), the CDF quickly became a semi-autonomous body, waging a secret and largely unacknowledged war in Dublin city and county. Even its leader, Henry Harrison, an ex-MP with the anti-republican Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) and a former captain in the British Army during World War I, went under an alias: Peter Joyce.
To this day, its exact activities remain a mystery, many records lost or destroyed by the Ministry of Home Affairs, the nominal authority for the Citizens Defence Force, Criminal Investigations Department and Protective Officers’ Corps until their disbandment in the early 1920s. The best that can be noted is that Kevin O’Higgns, one of the bloodiest leaders in the Provisionals, expressed grim satisfaction with the group’s habit of roving the capital at night, armed with revolvers, and firing on suspected republican activists.
The Irish history blog, the Military Service (1916-1923) Pensions Collection (MSPC), touches upon the role of the Citizens Defence Force during the counterrevolutionary period in this account of a pension submission by Annie Mary Smith (née Brennan), who worked as a republican intelligence agent against the British authorities in Ireland, the short-lived Provisional regime and its Free State successor.