Watch CBSN Live

Publisher Sorry for Mangling Irish History

Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc. apologized Wednesday for mangling the history of the Irish Civil War in past editions, but stressed that Ireland's 4,000 schools have access to the corrected version.

Irish radio stations received irate calls this week complaining that the Britannica Concise Encyclopaedia describes Ireland's civil war as a 1919-21 fight between the Catholic south and Protestant north. The war actually happened in 1922-23, took place entirely within the south, and was fought between the Irish army and Irish rebels.

The Chicago-based publisher launched an investigation Tuesday after hearing of the complaints. It determined the errors exist only on older versions of its concise edition, and survive today chiefly on handheld electronic devices.

"We're obviously sorry that we ever got this information wrong in any edition, ever," said Encyclopaedia Britannica spokesman Tom Panelas. "But I want to reassure Ireland that what its schools will be getting will not contain that information."

Earlier, the managing director of the encyclopedia's London office, Ian Grant, said the company's "editors have been up all night looking at this. It's important to get this thing right."

Panelas said the criticism from Ireland had spurred the company to hire scholars of Irish history to review and revise its current listing on the Irish Civil War. He said changes had been made in the past 24 hours but he couldn't immediately describe them.

The civil war took place entirely south of the border in the months following the birth of the Irish Free State, the precursor to today's Republic of Ireland. The fledgling army, which enforced the 1921 Anglo-Irish treaty creating the state, defeated rebels who had rejected the treaty for failing to deliver total independence from Britain.

The Irish Department of Education struck a deal this year to begin providing the Britannica's online version to all 4,000 schools in the state. The contract costs a reported euro450,000 ($625,000) a year for annual access to the encyclopedia and the publisher's other online references.

Reports here of the concise encyclopedia's old description of the Irish Civil War inspired laughter on live radio phone-in shows and cross-party political criticism. The Department of Education said it would review the encyclopedia's Irish listings.

"This screwy version of events is a gross insult to our people and our history," Irish Sen. Fidelma Healy Eames told the Irish Independent.

The Irish Civil War - in which Michael Collins' pro-treaty army defeated the rebels backed by future Prime Minister and President Eamon de Valera - has cast a profound shadow over Irish political life for decades.

Collins, slain in an August 1922 ambush by former Irish Republican Army comrades, is still mourned by many as Ireland's "lost leader." The country's two main political parties trace their origins to opposite sides of the struggle.

IRA die-hards rejected the treaty establishing the Irish Free State because Britain required the new state to remain within the British Empire, its elected officials to make an oath of fidelity to the British monarchy, and its ports to permit Royal Navy access.

View CBS News In