Irish liberation from British rule was achieved as the
result of a struggle extending over several centuries and marked by numerous
rebellions. That "England's
difficulty is Ireland's
opportunity" was the oldest principle of Ireland's long resistance to the
The Irish Revolution (1919-l922)
The Easter Rebellion, an uprising of Irish
nationalists in Dublin
on Easter Monday, April 24, 1916, was doomed to fail, in part because of
limited support from the Irish people. Britain's overreaction, however,
including the execution of 15 Irish nationalist leaders, set the stage for Sinn
Fein to replace Home Rule as the dominant political party. Founded in 1902 by
Arthur Griffith, a Dublin journalist, Sinn Fein
now called for Ireland to
become a republic independent of Great Britain and for an end to the
partition movement of the Protestant north. In the 1918 election, Sinn Fein
candidates won 73 of the 106 seats allotted to Ireland in the British Parliament.
In January 1919 the Sinn Fein members of Parliament
met in Dublin
as the Dáil Éireann, or national assembly. They proclaimed Ireland's
independence, and formed a government with Eamon De Valera as president. There
followed guerrilla attacks by Irish insurgents, later called the Irish Republican
Army (IRA), on British forces, particularly the Royal Irish Constabulary,
called the Black and Tans. These attacks and British reprisals became an ugly
war in which hundreds of people were killed.
In December 1920 the British Parliament enacted the Government
of Ireland Bill, providing one parliament for the 6 counties of the Protestant
north (Northern Ireland)
and another for the remaining 26 counties. The people of Northern Ireland
accepted this limited home rule, and elected a separate parliament in May 1921.
Efforts to implement the new government in the other 26 counties served only to
solidify Sinn Fein's position. The guerrilla war ended with a truce on July 11.
Negotiations between representatives of the Dáil and the British government of
Prime Minister David Lloyd George produced a treaty signed On December 6, 1921,
whereby the 26 counties would become the Irish Free State within the British
Commonwealth of Nations, with a status equal to that of Canada and a
modified oath of allegiance to the British monarch. The Dáil ratified the
treaty on January 15, 1922, by a vote of 64 to 57. De Valera, who opposed the
treaty, resigned as president of the Dáil and was replaced by Griffith. Michael Collins, another Sinn Fein
leader, became chairman of the provisional government.
Under the leadership of De Valera, the dissident Sinn
Fein group, known as the Republicans, called for a resumption of the struggle
and instituted a campaign, which amounted to civil war, against the provisional
government. With the question of the treaty the chief issue, an election for a
provisional Dáil was held in June 1922. Candidates supporting the treaty won a
majority of the seats. The Republicans, refusing to recognize the authority of
the new Dáil, proclaimed a rival government and intensified their attacks on
the Irish Free State. In the ensuing struggle,
hundreds were killed on both sides, including prominent Republican leaders such
as Collins. Meanwhile, the Dáil, headed now by William Thomas Cosgrave, drafted
a constitution providing for a bicameral legislature (Dáil and Seanad, or
senate), which was adopted on October 11, 1922. Following approval by the
British Parliament, it became operative on December 6. The official government
of the Irish Free State was instituted at
once, with Cosgrave assuming office as president of the executive council. In
April 1923 the Republicans ended their guerrilla campaign in time to
participate in the national elections, and public order was gradually restored.
Neither party secured a majority in the August elections. Cosgrave retained
power, however, and De Valera led the Republicans in a boycott of the Dáil.
Cosgrave put together a viable government, which reached an agreement with Britain on some mutual problems and strengthened
the economy by a series of measures, including a hydroelectric project on the Shannon River. The boundary between the Free State and Northern Ireland was confirmed in
The Irish Free State had joined the League of Nations
in 1923, and the following year it set a precedent for members of the British
Commonwealth by sending its own ambassador to Washington, D.C.
At the Imperial Conference of 1926, the Free
State joined with other dominions to obtain the Balfour
Report, which stated that the British government would not legislate for the
dominions or nullify acts passed by their own legislatures. Once this was
confirmed by the Statute of Westminster in 1931, Ireland
had the power to legislate away its relationship with Great Britain.
De Valera and the Republicans ended their boycott
following the elections in August 1927 and entered the Dáil as the Fianna Fáil
party. In part as a result of the government's failure to cope with domestic
difficulties brought on by the world economic crisis of the early 1930s,
Cosgrave's party lost several seats to the Republicans in the elections of
February 1932. De Valera thereupon became head of the government, beginning a
stay in office that would last 16 years. Legislation that he sponsored in April
included provisions for revoking the oath of allegiance to the British crown.
This bill, which also would have virtually ended the political ties between Great Britain and the Free State, was approved by the Dáil, but
was rejected, in effect, by the Seanad. Next, De Valera withheld payment of
certain land purchase annuities that the British claimed were legally due them.
This led to a protracted tariff war between the two countries, with serious
damage to the economy of the Free State.
In another significant move, De Valera secured repeal of a law restricting the
activities of the IRA. The electorate registered approval of his program in the
January 1933 elections, in which a majority of Republicans were returned to the
With this mandate from the people, De Valera
systematically developed his program for the gradual elimination of British
influence in Irish affairs, obtaining abrogation of the oath of allegiance,
restrictions on the role of the governor-general who represented the British
crown, and other measures. Simultaneously, the government initiated measures
designed to give the country a self-sufficient economy. Steps taken included
high income taxes on the rich, high protective tariffs, and control of foreign
capital invested in Irish industry. In June 1935, De Valera severed his
political ties with the IRA, which had been extremely critical of many of his
policies, and imprisoned some of its leaders. Meanwhile, a draft of a new
constitution was in progress. In 1936 the Republicans, in coalition with other
groups in the Dáil, finally secured passage of legislation abolishing the
Seanad, long inimical to De Valera's policies. The Dáil functioned as a
unicameral legislature for the remainder of its term. In connection with the
events surrounding the abdication of Edward VIII, king of Great Britain, the Dáil enacted in 1936 a bill
that deleted all references to the king from the constitution of the Free State and abolished
the office of governor-general. The External Relations Act of 1936, passed at
the same time, restricted the association of the Free
State with the British Commonwealth of Nations to joint action on
certain questions involving external policy, specifically the approval of its
trade treaties of the Free State
and the appointment of its foreign envoys.
Armed uprising of Irish nationalists against the rule
of Great Britain in Ireland. The
uprising occurred on Easter Monday, April 24, 1916, and centered mainly in Dublin. The chief
objectives were the attainment of political freedom and the establishment of an
Irish republic. Centuries of discontent, marked by numerous rebellions,
preceded the uprising. The new crisis began to develop in September 1914,
following the outbreak of World War I, when the British government suspended
the recently enacted Home Rule Bill, which guaranteed a measure of political
autonomy to Ireland.
Suspension of the bill stimulated the growth of the Citizen Army, an illegal
force of Dublin citizens organized by the labor leader Jim Larkin and the
socialist James Connolly; of the Irish Volunteers, a national defense body; and
of the extremist Sinn Fein. The uprising was ned by leaders of these
organizations, among whom were the British consular agent Sir Roger David Casement,
the educator Padhraic Pearse, and the poet Thomas MacDonagh.
Hostilities began about noon on April 24, when about
2000 men led by Pearse seized control of the Dublin post office and other strategic points
within the city. Shortly after these initial successes, the leaders of the
rebellion proclaimed the independence of Ireland
and announced the establishment of a provisional government of the Irish Republic.
Additional positions were occupied by the rebels during the night, and by the
morning of April 25 they controlled a considerable part of Dublin. The counteroffensive by British
forces began on Tuesday with the arrival of reinforcements. Martial law was
proclaimed throughout Ireland.
Bitter street hting developed in Dublin,
during which the strengthened British forces steadily dislodged the Irish from
their positions. By the morning of April 29, the post office building, site of
the rebel headquarters, was under violent attack. Recognizing the futility of
further resistance, Pearse surrendered unconditionally in the afternoon of
The British immediately brought the leaders of the
uprising to trial before a field court-martial. Fifteen of the group, including
Pearse, Connolly, and MacDonagh, were sentenced to death and executed by firing
squad. Four others, including the American-born Eamon de Valera, received death
sentences that were later commuted to life imprisonment, although de Valera and
some others were granted amnesty the next year. Casement was convicted of
treason and hanged. Many others prominently connected with the rebellion were
sentenced to long prison terms. The uprising was the first of a series of
events that culminated in the establishment of the Irish Free State
(predecessor of the Republic
of Ireland) in 1921.
Casualties were about 440 British troops and an undetermined number of Irish.
Property damage included the destruction of about 200 buildings in Dublin.
Sinn Fein (Irish, "we ourselves"):
Irish nationalist society founded by the journalist
and political leader Arthur Griffith and his associates about 1902. Its primary
aim was to secure the political independence of Ireland
from Great Britain; the
society also sought to make Ireland
completely self-sufficient economically and to promote Irish culture and the
use of the Irish language. The formation of Sinn Fein was a direct consequence
of the collapse, late in the 19th century, of the Irish home rule movement, a
collapse caused principally by the split that occurred within the movement
after the public disgrace and fall from power of the Irish leader Charles
Stewart Parnell. The Sinn Fein leaders proclaimed total national independence,
rather than mere political autonomy, as their objective. In cooperation with
Irish trade unions and socialist groups they steadily increased their pressure
upon the British government.
In September 1914, shortly after the outbreak of World
War I, the British Parliament passed a Home Rule Act but delayed its
implementation until the conclusion of the war; the independence agitation then
began to assume revolutionary proportions. A climax was reached on Easter
Monday, April 24, 1916, in the form of an armed insurrection organized and
carried out by several extremist leaders of Sinn Fein, notably Michael Collins.
The ruthless suppression of this revolt by the British increased the militancy
of the Irish populace. In the elections held shortly after the armistice of
November 1918, 73 Sinn Fein delegates were elected to the British Parliament.
In January this group constituted itself Dáil Éireann, or the Assembly of
Ireland, proclaimed the country's independence, and named the Sinn Fein leader
Eamon De Valera head of the new republic. For the next three years Ireland was the
scene of bloody hting between Irish guerrillas and British military forces.
In 1921 the British agreed to open negotiations for the establishment of the
southern part of Ireland as
the Irish Free State. The resulting treaty was
accepted by the Sinn Fein, but a majority led by De Valera rejected it. After
an unsuccessful civil war they formed a new party, the Republicans, as an
opposition group. In 1926 they were known as Fianna Fáil (Irish, "the men of
destiny"). After the establishment of the independent Irish government the
importance of Sinn Fein as a political movement diminished rapidly; it
contested seats in the Dáil but refused to occupy them. As the political arm of
the outlawed Irish Republican Army, however, Sinn Fein members have been active
in the struggle raging in Northern
Ireland since the late 1960s. In November
1986 the party reversed its longstanding opposition to participation in the
Dáil, resulting in the formation of a new splinter party, Republican Sinn Fein,
which remained loyal to the boycott. Although recognized as a political party,
Sinn Fein was barred from talks with the British government because of its
refusal to renounce violence. However, on August 31, 1994, the IRA declared a
cease-fire, promising to suspend military operations in favor of peace talks.
Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Fein and one of the IRA's chief leaders, helped
organise the cease-fire.
An American-born schoolteacher,
Eamon De Valera became one of Ireland's
greatest leaders in its struggle for independence. After the country was freed
from British rule in 1922, he led it from 1932 to 1948, first as president of
the executive council and later as prime minister. After the Republic of Ireland
was proclaimed, he served two terms as its prime minister before he was elected
president in 1959 and in 1966.
Edward De Valera was born in New York City on Oct. 14,
1882. His father was Spanish, and his mother Irish. When the boy was 2 years
old his father died, and Edward went to live with his grandmother in County Limerick, Ireland. In school he was a brilliant
student and a good athlete, especially in track. At 16 he won a scholarship to Blackrock College. In 1904 he got a degree in
mathematics at Royal
University, now the
For years De Valera gave little thought to politics. He taught languages
and mathematics at several schools. He also joined the Gaelic League, which
aimed to revive Irish culture and the ancient Gaelic language. In 1910 he
married Jane O'Flanagan, a teacher of Gaelic. They later adopted the Gaelic versions
of their names Eamon and Sinead. The couple had five sons and two daughters.
In 1913 he joined the Volunteers, an underground army pledged to ht
British rule. During the Easter Week rebellion in 1916 he led a group of 50.
All the leaders were executed except De Valera. His life was spared because of
his American birth, but he was sentenced to life imprisonment. In jail he
studied mathematics and read widely. In 1917 the British released all political
prisoners. De Valera was at once elected to the Irish Parliament and rose to
leadership in the Sinn Fein, the Irish revolutionary party.
Again jailed for revolutionary activity, he
escaped to America
in 1919 and raised millions of dollars for the Irish cause. The Anglo-Irish
Treaty of 1921 was far short of De Valera's ideal of an independent Ireland. He
refused to accept it. His republican group fought the Free State government, and in 1923 De Valera
was again sent to prison.
The Sinn Fein returned him to Parliament in
1924, but the party split on taking the oath of allegiance to the king. In 1926
he formed a new party, Fianna Fail (Soldiers of Destiny). It won control in
1932. He became president of the executive council.
In 1933 and 1938 to 1939 De Valera was
president of the League of Nations Assembly. In 1938 he became prime minister
Defeated for office in 1948, he was prime minister again from 1951 to 1954 and
from 1957 to 1959, when he resigned to seek election as president. He won and
was reelected in 1966. De Valera retired in 1973. He died in Dublin on Aug. 29, 1975.
Michael Collins (1890-l922).
was an Irish patriot and soldier, born in Clonakilty. From 1906 to 1916 Collins
worked as a clerk in London,
where he joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood, a revolutionary group working
for Irish independence from British rule. He participated in the Easter
Rebellion of 1916 in Dublin
and was captured. After his release he became one of the chief workers for
Irish freedom as a leader in the Sinn Fein movement. In 1918 he was again
arrested. Later, in spite of persistent attempts to capture him, he eluded the
police and helped colleagues to escape. While still a fugitive, he was elected
to the Sinn Fein revolutionary parliament and served as finance minister. From
1919 to 1921 Collins organised the guerrilla warfare that succeeded in forcing Great Britain
to sue for peace. Collins represented Ireland
in London and signed the peace treaty that
brought the Irish Free State into existence.
Later he was appointed commander in chief of the Irish
Free State forces. On August 22, 1922, members of the Sinn Fein
who were opposed to the peace treaty assassinated him.