The Irish Free State

1921-1937


Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
International Program
Choi, Eunsol
Term Paper, AP European History Class, April 2007



Table of Contents


I. Historical Background of Ireland
II. The Creation of the Irish Free State
III. The Political Structure of the Irish Free State
IV. The Irish Civil War
V. Political Change in the Irish Free State
VI. The Limitations and Achievements of the Irish Free State
VII. Society and Culture of the Irish Free State
VIII. The Constitution of the Irish Free State
IX. From Irish Free State to Republic of Ireland
X. Bibliography



I. Historical Background of Ireland


            In 1810, Ireland, England, Scotland, and Wales were technically united and constituted the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. However, the colonial relationship between England and Ireland continued and Irish nationalism developed. Throughout 19th and 20th century, Irish Nationalism, especially among the poorer Catholic population, continued. Charles Stewart Parnell campaigned for self government within "Home Rule," but he was unsuccessful. After this failure, Irises changed from moderate nationalism to militant separatism. In 1916, Easter rising, a rebellion against British colonial rule staged in Ireland happened. Ireland Nationalists especially opposed to the idea of compulsory military service for Irish men in 1918. This caused the Irish War of Independence, a guerrilla campaign mounted against British government by the Irish Republican Army. The proclamation of a republic has been made.
However, not all Ireland wanted the independence. . Two-state solution, a partition, was inevitable because of this northern Irish people. Northern Ireland had a majority Protestant population which feared becoming a minority in a majority Catholic Irish state. Not unexpectedly Northern Ireland chose instead to remain part of the United Kingdom.


II. The Creation of the Irish Free State


            British and Irish republicans made a treaty in 1921, even though this treaty created two Irelands instead of one. The Irish Free State was merely an interlude on the road to a republic. The Irish Free State replaced two co-existing but nominally rival states: One is de jure the Southern Ireland, which had been created by the Government of Ireland Act 1920 and which had been governed by a Provisional Government under Michael Collins, and the other is de facto Irish Republic under the President of Dail Eireann, Arthur Griffith, which had been created by Dail in 1919.


III. The Political Structure of the Irish Free State


            The Political structure of the Irish Free State was stipulated in the Constitution of the Irish Free State. It provided for a constitutional monarchy, with a free parliament: Oirechatas which is made up of the King, Dail Eireann and Seanad Eireann (the Irish Senate). This parliament was bicameral. The lower-house Dail of 153 members was elected by proportional representation, intended by Britain to protect Protestant minority interests. The upper-house senate, or Seanad, was composed of sixty members, half appointed by the president (prime minister) of the executive council and half elected by the Dail. The Executive Council, a cabinet presided over by a prime minister called the President of the Executive Council.


IV. The Irish Civil War


            The Irish Civil War (June 28, 1922 - May 24, 1923) was a conflict between supporters and opponents of the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 6, 1921, which established the Irish Free State. The split between the pro-treaty politicians (Collins, Griffith) and their anti-treaty opponents in the Dail (led by de Valera) is reflected in the Irish Republican army, which has until now been fighting as a unified force against the British. Anti-treaty opponents disliked the treaty because the treaty of 1921 retained constitutional links between United Kingdom and Ireland and did not included Northern Ireland, More people died in this Civil war than in the War of Independence. Moreover, this war deeply divided Irish socity and politicians.
During the Civil War, both sides wanted to win the election for Dail in June 1922. The pro-treaty faction lead by Collins win a victory, with 94 out of 128 seats. The government by pro-treaty faction seemed to be certain because they got support from Britain. (Collins receives at least one shipment of 10,000 British rifles). But the Free State government receives a double blow in August 1922, the death of Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins.


V. Political Change in the Irish Free State


            Irish Free State can be divided into two periods. First period (1922-32), was governed under Cumann na nGaeldheal (CNG) party under W.T. Cosgrave: the other was governed by Fianna Fail under Eamon de Valera (1932-37)
Actually, the first president of the executive council was Arthur Griffith. But he died in August 1922, right after the formation of the Irish Free State. He was succeeded by Easter rising veteran William Thomas Cosgrave, a founding member of Sinn Fein in 1905. He joined the Volunteers (1913) and served a prison term because of the participation in the Easter Rebellion (1916-1917). He served in the lower parliament, Dail (1918). His party won 63 out of 153 seats in the election of 1923. This first government had a dual task, a domestic task and a constitutional task. Domestically, it had to improve badly damaged society and economy. Inheriting a cautiously efficient civil service it set about this task with energy, on conservative assumptions, and with a fair measure of success. The Shannon hydro-electric scheme was successful both in itself and as a visible symbol of peaceful construction. The Garda Siochana (Civic Guard) police force numbered 4,500 and merged with Dublin Metropolitan Police in 1925. The president had to pay land annuities dating from decades before World War 1 and to fund pensions for the now-defunct Royal Irish Constabulary. The total obligation amounted to 5 million. Cosgrave reduced an old-age pension by 1 Shilling per week in 1924 to improve the economy of the country.
Politically, the government had to achieve political sovereignty. Although Cosgrave's government had achieved the substance of political sovereignty, the diplomatic and constitutional gains of the Cosgrave government were disappointed republican hopes which wanted the gains from the boundary commission. The Boundary Commission, which recognize the existing border between the Free State and Northern Ireland, did not gain any territory.
All during this Consgrave rule, there had been anti-treaty Republicans. Eamon de Valera, was the leader of this group. They were against the way that Irish members of parliaments still swore allegiance to the King of England and that the Free State was part of the British Commonwealth. By 1926, Eamon de Valera formed a new party, Fianna Fail ('Soldiers of Destiny'), which contested the election of the following year. The party won 42 seats in the Dail while Cumann na nGaedheal's won 47 seats. (Eamon's party was barred from the parliament for a time until it finally agreed to take its oath of allegiance to the King.)
In 1932, Fianna Fail won a majority and Cosgrave handed over the government to the Eamon de Valera.


VI. The Limitations and Achievements of the Irish Free State


            The treaty of 1921, which engendered the Irish Free State, granted power and fuctions of indepedence, including a functioning parliamentary democracy, executive, judiciary, a written constitution. Although it was a 'free state', the British king remained king in Ireland. Moreover, the British Government had a continued role in Irish governance. Officially the representative of the King, the Governor-General also received instructions from the British Government on his use of Royal Assent. Royal Assent is a bill passed by the Dail and Seanad. The Irish Free State was different from the Irish Republic had an inferior status to the United Kingdom. Acknowledging British King and United Kingdom, in theory, The Irish Free State could not have its own citizenship but merely a shared Commonwealth citizenship. Despite the new name of Irish Free State, this Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 did not make Ireland a Republic but made a British dominion state and required allegiance to be sworn to the British King by members of parliamnet and civil servants. Because of these limitations, many people including Eamon De Valera opposed this treaty, and Civil War ensued.
During 1920s, this first inferior state started to improve. By the Royal and Parliamentary Titles Act 1927 of the United Kingdom, the king's role in each dominion changed. The British king now had no role whatsoever in each dominion. Moreover, the British government lost any role in selection of a governor-general. The United Kingdom lost most of its ability to influence internal dominion legislation. The Irish Free State achieved more. It registered the treaty of 1921 with the Leaue of Nations as an international document. Moreover, it enabled each dominion to enact any legislation to change any legislation, without role for the British parliament .which may have enacted the original legislation in the past. The unprecedented abandonment of the use of the British Great Seal of the Realm and its replacement by the Great Seal of the Irish Free State, which the King awarded to his Irish Kingdom as King of Ireland, again in 1931. (The Irish Seal consisted of a picture of 'King George V of Ireland' enthroned on one side, with the Irish state Harp and the words Saorstat Eireann (Irish for Irish Free State) on the reverse.)
Eamon de Valera, became President of the Executive Council (February 1932). With no British restrictions on his policies, he abolished the Oath of Allegiance (which Cosgrave intended to do had he won the 1932 general election), the Senate, university representation in the Dail, appeals to the (British) Privy Council.


VII. Society and Culture of the Irish Free State


            The Irish Free State, although the constitution guaranteeing separation of church and state, had an implicit cooperation with the church. According to 1926 census, 92,6% of the population was Roman Catholic. There were 14,000 Catholic clergy, and everyone except one in Cosgrave's cabinet was Catholic. Edward Byrne, archbishop of Dublin, commented that the church strongly influenced political issues as well as social mores. Church urged to intensify moral limitation, and the Dail passed the Censorship of Films Act in 1923 and limited the sale of licquor in 1927. The opposition of the Catholic Church to abortion, contraception, and female priests was not abolished. Several legal limits upon women existed. (Married women were banned from serving in the government until 1973.) Seven women in Fianna Fail's first executive committee promoted womens suffrage, which was proclaimed by 1922 constitution. The Church also promoted Censorship of Publications Act (1929). W.B Yeats and George Bernard Shaw founded Irish Academy of Letters to fight state censorship. Some artists such as James Joyce fled from Ireland and wrote about Ireland. Joyce assailed the false fa?ade offered by Irish religion and social institutions. Most Irish writers in 1920s were working class, which constarsted with the Anglo-Irish leadership during the Gaelic renaissance a few decades earlier. New authors were less idealistic and more realistic, because of many wars and censorship. The Free State government rendered public funding of the arts, including the National Gallery and the Science and Art Museum and National Library. A State radio system started at the beginning of 1926 in Dublin. Department of Education failed to fully support national schools because of budget constraints. 16,000 teachers' salaries were cut by 10 percent in 1923. Nonetheless, school systems were well organized. The Dail act required compulsory school attendance for children between six and fourteen.
Only 10 percent of the Free State population were able to speak Irish language in 1922. The government implemented compulsory courses in Gaelic. The native language were started to be used in government communications, debates and legal proceedings. Although teachers complained that excessive time is used to learn native languages, government pursued Gaelic education. Despite these efforts, the number of Gaelic-speaking Irish in 1939 was half the 1922 figure.
The old, traditionally anglophile aristocracy felt isolated and ostracized. The Royal Dublin Society became a cultural haven for the Anglo-Irish in the capital, sponsoring lectures and concerts. The old cultural center of Trinity College suffered from financial problems. One third of protestant population left the Irish Free State in late 1920s


VIII. The Constitution of the Irish Free State


            The constitution was enacted by the Provisional Parliament on October 25, 1922. The constitution declares that the Irish Free State is a co-equal member of the Community of Nations forming the British Commonwealth of Nations, and that 'all powers of Government, and all authority, legislative, executive, and judicial, in Ireland is derived from the people of Ireland.' The Irish language was declared to be the national language, but English is recognized as an official language. Citizens of 21 years of age or over, both male and female, who comply with the prevailing electoral laws, can vote at elections of members of Dail Eireann (a chamber of deputies). Every voter has one vote, and voting is to be secret. And every citizen of 21 years of age or over is eligible for election to Dail Eireann.


IX. From Irish Free State to Republic of Ireland


            In 1937, Eamon de Valera renamed the Irish Free State to Eire, and created a new 'president of Ireland' in place of the Governor-General of Irish Free State. By the means of the new constitution the Republic claimed jurisdiction over all of Ireland, although the constitution acknowledge the British presence in the northeast. The constitution omitted reference to the king or the commonwealth but did not describe the state as a republic. Eire's structure of government included a largely ceremonial president elected for a seven-year term. The Dail retained its Free State format, but the Seanad of sixty members were altered somewhat following the 1936 suspension. Eire declares to be neutral in any forthcoming war, and therefore will not accept her posts to be used for an invasion of Britain. Eire successfully maintained this neutral position through six years of World War II.


X. Bibliography

1.      O'Brien, Marie and Conor Cruise. Ireland, a concise history. third ed. Singapore : Thames and Hudson, 1994.
2.      Daniel Webster, Hollis. The History of Ireland. Greenwood, 2001.
3.      Article : The Irish Free State, in : The New International Year Book of 1933, pp. 378-380
4.      Article : The Irish Free State, in : The Statesman's Yearbook of 1937, pp. 72-95.
5.      Article Irish Free State, from Wikipedia
6.      First Stamps of the Irish Free State, 6th December 1922, from Irish Stamps
7.      The De Valera Years, from Fianna Fail
8.      History of the Republic of Ireland, from History World