The period from 2012-2023 was branded the Decade of Centenaries by the Irish government. There have been a number of commemorations carried out over the past nine years. 1912 to 1923 was a period of revolutionary change for Ireland. 2021 itself witnessed a number of significant centenaries for the emerald isle. These included:
- The end of the War of Independence
- The Partition of Ireland
- The signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty
What followed the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty was one of the most important years in the history of this island. We are going to take a look at what significant dates of remembrance we should expect in the year ahead and, more importantly, why they are worth remembering.
The Anglo-Irish Treaty
An Irish delegation composed of Michael Collins, Arthur Griffith, Eamon Duggan, Robert Barton, and George Gavan Duffy traveled to London to enter negotiations with their British counterparts. Amongst the British delegation were Prime Minister David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill. The Treaty was eventually signed in the early hours of 6 December in No. 10 Downing Street.
This marked the beginning of the end for British rule on most of the island of Ireland. The treaty granted Ireland independence to govern themselves, however, they were to remain a member of the British Commonwealth (not a Republic). The Irish delegation was under pressure to sign as the Prime Minister threatened a return to war if they refused. Many view the treaty as an important and necessary stepping stone towards complete independence.
Not everyone saw this treaty as a success. The issue was that the treaty only included 26 counties (the current Republic), and the 6 counties in the North would remain under British rule. Furthermore, the British monarch was to be included in the Irish constitution.
President of Ireland, Eamon De Valera, and his supporters opposed the treaty and felt it contradicted everything they fought for throughout the war of independence (1919-1921). Michael Collins and his supporters argued it was the best deal they could have hoped for, and laid the foundations for further talks with Britain. Thus, the beginning of the pro-treaty and anti-treaty division.
“I have signed a treaty of peace between Ireland and Great Britain. I believe that treaty will lay foundations of peace and friendship between the two Nations. What I have signed I shall stand by in the belief that the end of the conflict of centuries is at hand”
(Arthur Griffith, 6 December 1921).
January: The Treaty was Ratified
Just over a month after the treaty was signed, on 7 January 1922, it was debated in the Dail (Ireland’s parliament). On this day, the treaty was ratified by the narrowest of margins.
Collin’s and Arthur Griffith formed a provisional government. President De Valera and the anti-treaty supporters refused to accept the terms of the treaty. The relationship between both sides was beginning to crack.
February-May: Rising Tensions
Immediately after the treaty was ratified in February, Collins began to build a new national army from pro-treaty IRA units. The IRA was also divided between pro-and anti-treaty opinions.
In March, the IRA held a convention. The majority of the convention refused the right of Dail to dissolve the Republic. A dispute between the two sides over who would occupy Limerick almost resulted in violent conflict.
In April, an anti-treaty IRA faction, led by Rory O’Connor, invaded the Four Courts (Ireland’s main courthouse) in Dublin and set up a garrison. Collins and De Valera made a pact to reunite Sinn Fein (the political party) as well as the anti-treaty IRA. There was still hope.
June: First General Election
On 16 June, the Irish Free State held its first general election. Collins and the pro-treaty supporters won the general election with the majority of the vote.The pact that was made broke down as a result of the British monarch being included in the Free State Constitution.
Later in June: Outbreak of War
On 28 June, just over a week after the results of the election, civil war broke out as a result of a number of events. Firstly, a retired British general was shot and killed in London by the IRA. To this date, the identity of the person who sanctioned the hit is unknown. Regardless, the British blamed the anti-Treaty IRA groups that were held up in the Four Courts. Britain threatened to use whatever troops they had remaining on the island to attack the Four Courts unless Collins and the Free State government took care of it.
To add to this, the Four Courts garrison abducted a Free State officer, J.J Ginger O’Connell. Collins offered those held up in the garrison one final chance to surrender and hand back O’Connell. The anti-treaty side stuck to their guns, so to speak, and would not budge. Thus, Collins and the pro-treaty side opened fire on the courts.
These developments caused a nationwide divide in the IRA ranks. The pro-treaty side made their argument on the side of democracy. The Irish people voted for them, and therefore, the treaty, whilst the anti-treaty contingent argued the treaty was imposed under the threat of war. There could be no free vote whilst Britain threatened reoccupation, effectively stating the treaty was a false representation of independence. Whatever way you look at it, the civil war had begun.
August: Michael Collins’ Assasination
One of the most infamous events in Irish history is the assassination of Michael Collins. On 22 August 1922, not far from his birthplace of Clonakilty, Collins was ambushed at Béal na Bláth. Shot by the anti-treaty recruits, under the orders of men that Collins would have fought alongside in the war for independence. Ireland had lost its Commander-in-Chief. Furthermore, Arthur Griffith died of heart failure on 12 August.
December: The Free State Begins
After Collins’ death, throughout the autumn, guerilla attacks by the anti-treay Republicans raged on. Whilst the pro-treaty Nationalists retaliated by executing a significant number of high ranking officials on the anti-treaty side.
All of this bloodshed and mayhem and the Irish Free State hadn’t even officially come into effect. On 6 December 1922, exactly one year after the signing of the treaty, the Irish Free State came into being. It would remain as such until it became a Republic in 1949.
1922 was certainly a year of drastic change for our country. It was also a year of great sadness as it spawned the Irish Civil War. We spent centuries fighting for our independence, only to fight each other once we got it. The civil war continued until 24 May 1923, with the pro-treaty side being victorious. 2022 will certainly be a year of justified commemoration of an important chapter of the island of Ireland.
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