Map of Ireland

History of the Republic of Ireland

History of Ireland
Early history
Protestant Ascendancy
Union with Great Britain
History of the Republic
History of Northern Ireland
Economic history

The state known today as the Republic of Ireland came into being when twenty-six of the traditional counties of Ireland seceded from the United Kingdom (UK) in 1922. The remaining six counties remained within the UK as Northern Ireland.

The state has been known by a number of names. Following the 1918 General Election, nationalist MPs declared the "Irish Republic" in 1919 but full de facto independence was not achieved until 1922 when the "Irish Free State" was established. In 1937, the state was renamed to simply "Ireland". It has been commonly known as the "Republic of Ireland" since becoming a republic in 1949.

Political map of Ireland.
1 Background to independence

1.1 Separatism and the Anglo-Irish War
1.2 Civil War

2 1922 to 1973
3 Relationship with Northern Ireland
4 National scandals
5 Liberalisation and economic success
6 Notes
7 See also

Background to independence

Separatism and the Anglo-Irish War

From Union in 1801 until 6 December 1922 the whole of Ireland was part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. In 1914, the UK Parliament enacted a Third Irish Home Rule Bill but suspended its effect until after what was confidently expected to be a brief Great War. In the late 1910s, after the execution of the leaders of the Easter Rising by the British government, and the perceived failure of the moderate home rule movement, militant nationalists in the form of the Sinn Féin party and its paramilitary wing, the Irish Volunteers, began to win popular support. In the 1918 general election Sinn Féin won the vast majority of seats, many of which were uncontested. Sinn Féin's elected candidates refused to attend to the UK Parliament at Westminster and instead assembled in Dublin as new revolutionary parliament called "Dáil Éireann". They declared the existence of new state called the "Irish Republic" and established a system of government to rival the institutions of the United Kingdom.

The first meeting of the Dáil coincided with an unauthorised shooting of two RIC men in Tipperary, now regarded as the outbreak of the Anglo-Irish War. From 1919 to 1921 the Irish Volunteers (now renamed as the Irish Republican Army, being deemed by the Dáil to be the army of the new Irish Republic) engaged in guerrilla warfare against the British army and paramilitary police unit known as the Black and Tans and Auxilaries. Both sides engaged in brutal acts; the Black and Tans deliberately burned entire towns and tortured civilians. The IRA attacked Loyalists who collaborated with the Crown forces, as well as burning historic homes in retaliation for the torching of homes of suspected IRA members. (A few historians describe this as "ethnic cleansing of Protestant communities"1, but most challenge2 the validity of that interpretation, as the IRA sought to publicly humiliate, exile or kill anyone who collaborated with the British, regardless of their religion. Nevertheless, between 1911 and 1926, the Free State lost 34 percent of its Protestant population.) While there were many reasons for this, secession from the United Kingdom was a factor in Protestant emigration.

Northern Ireland was created by the Government of Ireland Act, 1920. This was one part of an attempt to satisfy nationalists by establishing in Ireland two semi-autonomous states: Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland, both of which were to remain part of the United Kingdom. However, while Northern Ireland became a political reality, the political institutions of Southern Ireland were boycotted by nationalists and so never became fully functional. Eventually a cease-fire was called and negotiations between the antagonists began.

Discussions between the British and Irish sides produced the Anglo-Irish Treaty, concluded in December 1921. The treaty created a new system of Irish self government, known as "dominion status", with a new state, to be called the Irish Free State. The new Free State was in theory to cover the entire island, subject to the proviso that Northern Ireland could opt out and choose to remain part of the United Kingdom. Though given the option in the Treaty of joining the Free State Northern Ireland chose not to do so.

Civil War

Main article: Irish Civil War

The Dáil narrowly passed the Anglo-Irish Treaty in December 1921. Under the leadership of Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith it set about establishing the Irish Free State, a national, fully re-organised army from the irregular IRA and a new police force, the Civic Guard (soon renamed the Garda Síochána) which replaced one of Ireland's two police forces, the Royal Irish Constabulary. The second, the Dublin Metropolitan Police merged some years later with the Garda.

However a minority led by Eamon de Valera opposed the treaty, on the grounds that did not create a fully independent state, or a republic, that it imposed an oath of fidelity to the British monarch on Irish parliamentarians and that it provided for the partition of the island. De Valera led his supporters out of the Dáil and a bloody civil war, between pro and anti-treaty sides, followed; only coming to an end in 1923. The civil war cost more lives than the Anglo-Irish War that preceded it and left divisions that are still felt in Irish politics today.

1922 to 1973

After Collins's assassination in August 1922 and Griffith's natural death shortly before, W.T. Cosgrave assumed control of both the Irish Republic's cabinet and the Provisional Government and both administrations disappeared simultaneously shortly afterwards, replaced by the institutions of Irish Free State on 6 December 1922. The Free State was a constitutional monarchy over which the British monarch reigned (from 1927 with the title "King of Ireland"). The Representative of the Crown was known as the Governor-General. The Free State had a bicameral parliament and a cabinet, called the "Executive Council" answerable to the lower house of parliament, the Free State Dáil. The head of government was called the President of the Executive Council.

The Anglo-Irish Treaty provided that should Northern Ireland chose not be included in the Free State, a Boundary Commission would be set up to revise the borders between the two jurisdictions. This was intended to allow largely nationalist areas of Northern Ireland to rejoin the Free State, and shortly after the establishment of the Free State this commission came into being. However the Free State were allowed a lot less input to the commission than they had been led to believe and the commission concentrated on economic and topographic factors, rather than the political aspirations of the people who would be living near the new border. In 1925 the Boundary Commission report, contrary to expectations, proposed ceding some small areas of the Free State to Northern Ireland. This was a disaster for a Free State government trying to contain militant republicans and the reaction from the government in Dublin was the suppression of the report and the winding up of the commission.

In 1932, Eamon de Valera, who had been the nominal leader of the anti-treatyites and who had left Sinn Féin in 1926 to found his own Fianna Fáil party, won a general election and became President of the Executive Council. He gradually altered the 1922 Irish Free State constitution through a series of laws, before eventually proposing an entirely new constitution to the electorate in a plebiscite. On the 29 December 1937 the new "Constitution of Ireland" came into effect, renaming the Irish Free State to simply "Ireland". The Governor-General was replaced by a President of Ireland and a new more powerful prime minister, called the "Taoiseach", came into being, while the Executive Council was renamed the "Government". Though it had a president, the new state was not a republic. The British monarch continued to hold the title King of Ireland and was used as an "organ" in international and diplomatic relations, with the President of Ireland relegated to symbolic functions within the state but never of outside it.

The state was nominally neutral during World War II, known within the state as the "Emergency", though behind the scenes it worked closely with the Allies; for example the date of the D-Day Normandy landings was decided on the basis of transatlantic weather reports supplied by the Irish state. Despite the official line of neutrality many Irishmen fought in the war. It is estimated that about 100 thousand men from Ireland took part, with that number roughly evenly divided between Northern Ireland and the southern state. Tens of thousands more of men who enlisted in Britian also gave next-of-kin addresses in Ireland, so the true figure is much higher. Following the suicide of Adolf Hitler, de Valera controversially offered condolences to the German ambassador. The state's neutrality largely arose from anti-British sentiment provoked by the Anglo-Irish War and the Civil War, and the state's lack of military preparedness for involvement in a war.

On 1 April 1949, the Republic of Ireland Act was enacted. The new state was unambiguously described as a republic, with the international and diplomatic functions previously vested in or exercised by the King now vested in the President of Ireland who finally became unambiguously the Irish head of state. Though the official name of the state remained Ireland, the term Republic of Ireland though officially just the 'description' of the new state, came to be commonly used as its name. Under the Commonwealth rules then in force, the declaration of a republic automatically terminated the state's membership of the British Commonwealth. Unlike India, which became a republic at the same time, the Republic of Ireland chose not to reapply for admittance to the Commonwealth.

The state joined the European Economic Community (now known as the European Union) in 1973.

Relationship with Northern Ireland

Irish governments have sought the peaceful unification of Ireland and in recent decades have cooperated with the UK government against extra-legal paramilitary groups such as the Provisional IRA and the 'Real IRA'. Sinn Féin and the Provisional IRA refused until the 1980s to participate in the political institutions of the Republic.

The party has changed its policy stance on the existence of both the Republic and Northern Ireland, serving in the parliament of the former and the cabinet of the latter, as part of the Good Friday Agreement, which set up power-sharing institutions within Northern Ireland, North-South instructions and links between the various components of the British Isles. The Irish state also changed Articles 2 and 3 of the constitution to acknowledge both the existence of Northern Ireland and the desire of Irish nationalists for a united Ireland.

National scandals

Both church and state were hit by a number of scandals in the 1980s and 1990s. The revelation that one senior Catholic bishop, Eamon Casey, fathered a child by a divorcée caused a major reaction, as did the discovery of child abuse by a large number of clerics, notably the infamous paedophile Father Brendan Smyth (the incompetent handling of a request for the extradition of Smyth brought down an Irish government in 1994). Another bishop subsequently resigned over his mishandling of child abuse cases in his diocese.

Until the 1980s and '90s Catholic Church had great influence in Irish society. This was famously demonstrated by a number of religious references in the 1937 constitution and the controversy over of health minister Dr. Noel Browne's "Mother and Child Scheme" in the 1950s. The scandals of the '80s and '90s contributed to an increased secularisation of the state.

Also in the 1990s, a series of tribunals began inquiring into major allegations of corruption against senior politicians. Ray Burke, who served as Minister for Foreign Affairs in 1997 was gaoled on charges of corruption in January 2005.

Liberalisation and economic success

Since 1922 the state has become increasingly less socially conservative. Liberalisation has been championed by figures like Mary Robinson, a radical feminist senator who became President of Ireland and David Norris, who led the Campaign for Homosexual Law Reform.

In the 1990s the state, which had been gripped by poverty and emigration for most of its existence, became one of the fastest growing economies in the world: a phenomenon known as the Celtic Tiger. By the early 2000s, the Republic had become the second richest (in terms of GDP per capita) member of the European Union, and had moved from being a net recipient of EU funds to a net contributor, and from a position of net emigration to one of net immigration.


Note 1: Peter Hart The IRA at War 1916-1923(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003 ISBN 0-19-925258-0) and The IRA and Its Enemies: Violence and Community in Cork, 1916-1923 (OUP 1998, ISBN 0-19-820806-5)

Note 2: Meda Ryan Tom Barry: IRA Freedom Fighter (Cork: Mercier Press, 2003). ISBN 1-85635425-3 quotes Lionel Curtis, political advisor to Lloyd George, writing in early 1921 that Protestants in the south do not complain of persecution on sectarian grounds. If Protestant farmers are murdered, it is not by reason of their religion, but rather because they are under suspicion as Loyalist. The distinction is fine, but a real one.

See also

  • History of Ireland
  • Names of the Irish state
  • Irish pound (former currency unit)
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Map of Ireland