Three Rivers of Ireland: History and Culture

The Third Home Bill and World War I

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The Third Home Bill and World War I

In 1914, the Third Home Rule Act, which contained provision for a "temporary" partition of these six counties from the rest of Ireland, was approved. However, in August 1914 the UK went to war with Germany. In order to concentrate on the war effort, the government decided to postpone the Third Home Rule Bill implementation until after the war, and this left the Nationalists and Unionists wondering what action would be best on their part. Both decided that if they fought alongside the British in the war, they would have a bargaining tool for use after the war.

Most of the Nationalist IVF did go to war alongside the British. However a small splinter group disagreed with this policy of helping the British and stayed at home. In order to disassociate themselves, the majority of the IVF renamed themselves the National Volunteer Force (NVF) while the splinter group remained the IVF.

Many of the UVF men also joined the war, along with other Unionists. During the Battle of the Somme, nearly half of the UVF men were injured or killed. London viewed this sacrifice, on the part of the men of Ulster, as an indication that Ulster could not now be forced into Home Rule.

The war was only supposed to last a few months, but it went on for 4 years. When the war finally ended, events in Ireland made the implementation of the home rule impossible. Public opinion in the majority "nationalist" community (who sought for greater independence from Britain) had shifted during the war from a demand for home rule to one of full independence.

Easter Uprising of 1916

When England entered World War I, other Irish nationalist openly supported the Germans with the hope that Germany would be able to support their cause. Several republican groups, the Irish Republican Brotherhood and the splinter IVF, decided to take advantage of the fact that the British had few troops to spare in Ireland, and planned a huge rebellion to drive the British out of Ireland. Plans were being made for an open rebellion to take place on Easter Monday, April 24, 1916. These plans relied on a shipment of German arms to Ireland. This shipment was discovered and the boat carrying the arms was scuttled. Attempts to postpone action by the nationalists failed, and the rebellion started, as planned, on April 24 without the weapons.

During the Easter Rising, a total of 1,500 rebels took over the Dublin Post Office and other key buildings in the city. They raised the Irish Flag and read a proclamation of independence and formation of the Republic of Ireland. A fierce battle ensued between the rebels and the British. On April 29, after 5 days of mortars, shells and gunfire, the rebels surrendered after 450 volunteers had been killed.

Huge areas of Dublin’s city center were in ruins and many locals sided with the British and shouted abuse as the rebels were lead away. Almost 100 men were shot after nominal trials. It was announced that the leaders would be executed at Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin. Between May 3 and May 12, 1916, fifteen additional men and women were executed by the British.

The people of Ireland were shocked at all the executions. The British wrongly blamed Sinn Féin for the rising (it had actually been the Irish Republican Brotherhood).

After the executions at Kilmainham Goal, public opinion moved toward support for Irish republicanism, in particular for support of the political party Sinn Fein. In July 1917, a man named Eamonn de Valera became the President of Sinn Fein. He had taken part in the Easter Rising, but had not been executed. De Valera ran for Parliament in 1918 and won. The Sinn Fein won a landslide victory in the British Parliamentary elections in Ireland in 1918, winning 73 seats. The Home Rule Party won only 6. The Unionists won 26 seats, mostly in Ulster.

The Self-declared Irish Republic and Irish War of Independence (1919-1922)

However, on January 21, 1919, all 73 Sinn Fein Members of Parliament from Ireland elected to the British House of Commons, met in Dublin to form their own parliament called the Dail Eireann (Assembly of Ireland) and adopted a Declaration of Independence. They refused to take their seats in Parliament in London. Essentially, these individuals were declaring the existence of the Irish Republic.

Meanwhile, the third home rule bill had been under discussion for seven years and had not been implemented. The IVF decided they had had enough, and that they needed to take action themselves. In 1919, they renamed themselves the Irish Republican Army (IRA), and started the Irish War of Independence, a guerrilla war mounted the IRA against the British government and its forces in Ireland.

The Irish War of Independence began in January 1919, following the Irish Republic's declaration of independence. The war started when several IRA members, acting independently, shot and killed two Royal Constabulary officers. The Royal Irish Constabulary was an organization of Catholic Irish police working for the British Government. The British clamped down hard in response and soon a guerrilla war was underway. With the post-war British army in a shambles, they were only willing to send over groups of ex-First World War solders to fight. The combination of black police uniforms and tan army outfits gave rise to the term 'Black and Tans' for these men.

Also in 1919, a plan was proposed which would divide Ireland into two home rule areas: twenty-six counties being ruled from Dublin and six being ruled from Belfast. Straddling between these two areas, would be a shared Lord Lieutenant of Ireland who would appoint both governments and a Council of Ireland, which some believed would evolve into an all-Ireland parliament. The plan was too late and too little.

The 'Black and Tans' were undisciplined and often shot innocent civilians in reprisal for attacks on them. These attacks helped to create and then strengthen local support for the IRA. The Royal Irish Constabulary withdrew from the countryside, leaving it in the hands of the IRA. The British Court system collapsed when jurors refused to attend. The newly formed Irish Parliament formed its own police force. By the middle of 1920 the Irish Republic was a reality in the lives of many people, enforcing its own laws, maintaining its own armed forces and collecting its own taxes.

However, the war was going nowhere. So the IRA, in the Summer 1920, escalated violence. On November 21, 1920, the IRA shot dead 11 British agents. In reprisal, a group of Black and Tans fired randomly into a crowd of civilians at a Gaelic football match at Croke Park, Dublin. Twelve people were killed and the day became known as Bloody Sunday. (Not to be confused with another Bloody Sunday in Derry in 1972.) Ten days later the IRA shot dead 17 British soldiers in County Cork.

Meanwhile, despite the conflict, the government decided to press ahead with Home Rule and passed the Government of Ireland Act in 1920. This gave Ireland two Parliaments (each with a Prime Minister), one for the Unionists and one for the Nationalists, but kept both Parliaments answerable to the overall UK parliament in London. Six counties in the northeast (Londonderry, Tyrone, Fermanagh, Antrim, Down and Armagh) were to be under the Unionist Parliament, and the citizens there agreed to the creation of 'Northern Ireland' by way of a referendum. The first elections for the Northern Ireland parliament were held in May 1921 and the Unionists got 40 of the 52 seats. It first met in Belfast in June 1921.

In the middle of this, the Dail Eireann declared war on Britain in March of 1921.

The elections were also held for the Nationalist Parliament in Dublin in May 1921 and Sinn Féin took 124 seats with the remaining 4 being taken by Unionist candidates. However Sinn Féin refused to recognize this Parliament and instead continued to meet in Dail Eireann. The four Unionists were the only ones who attended the new Parliament.

The IRA, continued to fight on for more independence. While the conflict in the south and west of Ireland was between the IRA and the British forces, in the northeast and particularly in Belfast, it often developed into a cycle of sectarian killings between Catholics, who were largely Nationalists and Protestants, who were mostly Unionists.

Finally stalemate was reached. From the point of view of the British government, it appeared as if the IRA would continue its guerrilla campaign indefinitely with spiraling costs to Britain. The IRA fought a largely successful and lethal guerrilla war, which forced the British to conclude that the IRA could not be defeated militarily. On the IRA side, leaders felt that the IRA as it was organized could not continue indefinitely.

On June 24, 1921, the British Government proposed talks with the leaders of Sinn Fein. A truce was signed between the IRA and the British on July 11, 1921.

The Irish Free State and the Partitioning of Ireland

After four months of negotiations a treaty was hammered out. The Anglo-Irish Treaty, which was negotiated and eventually agreed to between the IRA and the British government, replaced the Dublin Home-Rule Parliament which had been created by the Government of Ireland Act. That Act had created an Ireland which was much more independent than it would have been under pure Home Rule. Britain would also have a representative in Ireland and would keep some naval bases in Irish waters. The treaty ended British rule over most of Ireland, and established the Irish Free State.

The treaty provided for a self-governing Irish state in 26 of Ireland's 32 counties, having its own army and police. However, rather than creating the independent republic favored by most nationalists, the Irish Free State would be an autonomous dominion of the British Empire with the British monarch as head of state, in the same manner as Canada and Australia.

Northern Ireland provisionally became an autonomous part of the newly independent Irish Free State. However, Northern Ireland was given the option of “opting out” of the Irish Free State. As expected, the Parliament of Northern Ireland resolved the following day to exercise its opt-out at the earliest possible opportunity (one month later). Northern Ireland, therefore, remained part of the Great Britain. Ireland was now partitioned.

The treaty also set up a Boundary Commission which was to fine-tune the border to take account of Unionist/Nationalist. But owing to the outbreak of civil war in the Free State, the work of the commission was delayed until 1925.

To oversee that the two Irish states got along, a Council of Ireland was set up to manage relations. The British believed that the two Parliaments would soon settle their differences and agree to unite, and the Council of Ireland was to oversee this reunification as well. However, in the end, the Council of Ireland never met.

When the Boundary commission finally met, leaders in Dublin expected a substantial reduction in the territory of Northern Ireland, with nationalist areas moving to the Free State. However the commission decided against this and its report recommended that some small portions of land should be ceded from the Free State to Northern Ireland. To prevent argument, this report was suppressed and, in exchange for a waiver to the Free State's obligations to the UK's public debt and the dissolution of the Council of Ireland (sought by the Government of Northern Ireland) which never met anyway, and the initial six-county border was maintained with minor changes.

The legacy of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, rather than peace and eventual unity, was to be one of decades of continued conflict. The treaty allowed for the six counties in the northeast to remain within the United Kingdom as Northern Ireland. The partitioning of Northern Ireland resulted in continued violence until the end of the 20th century. And in the Irish Free State, a civil war was brewing.

Two Countries – One Island


The Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed for Ireland by a man named Michael Collins on behalf of the IRA. Michael Collins was an IRA leader during the war of Independence. However he did not fully consult his colleagues, many of whom were horrified that he had accepted partition. This is why he is now regarded by some as a traitor and this probably contributed to his assassination a short time later.

The Sinn Fein leader, Eamonn de Valera, became the first Prime Minister of the Irish Free State.

The UK was renamed The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to reflect the change. Dublin became the capital of the Irish Free State.

Irish Free State (1922–1949)

With the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, a new system of government was created for the new Irish Free State. During the first year two governments co-existed; the Dail originally set up with the Declaration of Independence and a Provisional Government nominally answerable to a new the House of Commons for Southern Ireland.

The 26 counties of the Republic of Ireland and the 6 counties of Northern Ireland

Most of the Irish independence movement's leaders were willing to accept the compromise in the Anglo-Irish Treaty, at least for the time being. Many militant Republicans were not. The Prime Minister De Valera, however, was furious that Collins had signed the treaty. To him it still fell much too short of what he had been fighting for, which was an independent Ireland covering all 32 counties.

Most members of the IRA who supported the treaty were transformed into the first official Irish Army. The split between the pro-and anti-treaty was so narrow, that Sinn Fein decided to have a vote on it in the Dail. When the Dail voted 64-57 in favor of the treaty, de Valera and a considerable number of Sinn Fein members walked out in protest.

However it was not going to be that simple - those who had been outvoted in the Dail were not prepared to simply accept the rule of a Dail which had supported what they regarded as a 'treacherous' treaty. In April 1922, the anti-treaty IRA seized control of the Dublin Four-Courts and other key buildings. The situation grew very tense as the new Irish government tried to mediate with the IRA. However, the government quickly lost its patience and in June, Michael Collins ordered the Irish Army to shell the Four-Courts. He succeeded in driving the IRA out of Dublin but had also triggered the Irish Civil War.

The war went on for almost a year, and was particularly intensive in Connaught and Munster. It was basically a guerilla war, involving sniper attacks, ambushes and raids. Slowly but surely the Army drove the IRA into the mountains and, as the fighting continued to disrupt local life, the IRA lost the support of the locals on which it relied. Therefore the IRA finally called a halt to its campaign in April 1923. Among the casualties of the Civil War was Michael Collins, who was shot dead in an ambush in his native county Cork.

Total casualties of the war have never been determined but were perhaps higher than those in the earlier fighting against the British.

The Country of Erie (1937)

Eamonn de Valera, who still wanted total independence, led away a delegation of Sinn Feiners to formed a new party, Fianna Fail, who stood in the 1927 election. It won only 42 seats in the Dail.

In 1930 the Free State joined with Canada and South Africa, (two other Commonwealth nations), and managed to force Britain into passing a law that permitted them to repeal any law that the UK had passed for them before granting independence. This meant that, in theory, the Free State government could repeal the Anglo-Irish Treaty and become fully independent.

In the 1932 General Election Fianna Fail swept to power in the Irish Free State and Eamon de Valera, the leader of Fianna Fail, became Prime Minister once again. He abolished the "land annuities" in 1932 (the repayment of loans Britain had given to farmers for land purchases), and the Dail's Oath to the King of England in 1933.

In 1936, de Valera abolished the King's right to interfere in Free State affairs, although he was still recognized as the Head of Commonwealth. This abolition coincided with the abdication of King Edward 8th so that Britain did not have time to object to it. Finally in 1937, de Valera abolished the powers of the British governmental representative in Ireland.

In 1937 de Valera introduced a new constitution, replacing the one agreed after the formation of the Free State. It included a number of issues: (a) The Irish Free State was to be renamed Eire. (b) The Prime Minister was to be renamed the Taoiseach. (c) The head of state would be an elected President, not the King. (d) Eire's boundary consisted of the whole island of Ireland. (e) The Eire government had the right to pass laws for the whole island although only enforcing them in the 26 counties. The new constitution was put to a referendum and was narrowly accepted by the people.

In September 1939, the UK went to war with Germany. Northern Ireland, as part of the UK, found itself at war too. Eire, being a small country with few military resources, immediately declared neutrality.

The Eire government looked with increasing anxiousness as Hitler invaded and took over eight neutral European countries in 1940, since they knew that the Irish army wouldn't have a hope against the Germans in an invasion. Nevertheless, de Valera refused to join the war. When the IRA began collaborating with the Germans in 1940, the Eire government cracked down hard in order not to anger the British and provoke a strategic invasion.

However, the Irish people sympathized with the British and 40,000 Irish joined the British army and over 150,000 worked for the war effort. Nevertheless, the Irish declaration of neutrality brought resentment in Northern Ireland where times had got hard with rationing and blackouts while Eire could still trade freely

In mid-1940, Britain looked to be in an impossible situation. With most of Europe in Nazi hands, and the United States refusing to join the war, they were desperate for any help. In June Winston Churchill more or less offered to give Northern Ireland to Eire in return for military help. He told de Valera that he believed that the Northern Ireland Parliament would agree to this idea. De Valera, however, was skeptical and did not think that Northern Ireland would be that easy to persuade. He also feared the consequences of a large Unionist population being pushed into Eire against their will. So he refused the offer.

All told, aside from the loss of life and property, the war was good for both Eire and Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland's flagging ship and cloth industries boomed. And a new industry, aircraft manufacture, was set up in Belfast which still exists today. Eire benefitted with many of its citizens employed in the war effort. It also enjoyed trade with Britain for scarce goods that Eire could get as a neutral country, such as butter.

The Republic of Ireland (1949-Present)

In the 1948 general election, de Valera’s party was defeated. John Costello led the government. He announced his intention of leading Erie out of the British Commonwealth. He did so on Easter Monday, 1949, when the national parliament passed the Republic of Ireland Act which proclaimed Ireland a republic by discarding the remaining duties of the monarch. The Republic of Ireland was officially recognized by Britain through the Ireland Act 1949.

The Oireachtas is the national parliament of Ireland and is based in Dublin. It comprises the President of Ireland, the upper house Seanad Éireann (Senate), and the lower house Dáil Éireann (House of Representatives). Both houses of the Oireachtas meet in Leinster House, a former palace on Kildare Street. It has been the home of the Irish parliament since the creation of the Irish Free State. The government responsible to the lower house of the national legislature is headed by the Taoiseach, or Prime Minister.


After Partition, Northern Ireland was a distinct division of the United Kingdom. For over 50 years it had its own devolved government and parliament. A devolved government is one that is granted its powers and authority by the central government of a sovereign state. The authority granted to the devolved government often is limited to financial matters but can also be the authority to legislate for the area that the devolved government covers.

In June 1940, to encourage the Irish State to join with the Allies during World War II, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill indicated to the Irish Prime Minister , Eamon de Valera at that time, that the United Kingdom would push for Irish unity if Ireland would support England in the war. Believing that Churchill could not deliver, de Valera declined the offer. The British did not inform the Government of Northern Ireland that they had made the offer to the Dublin government, and de Valera's rejection was not publicized until 1970.

World War II did come to Northern Ireland. On the night of April 15-16, 1941, German bombers pounded both Belfast and Derry with hundreds of tons of explosives, killing 900 people, destroying thousands of buildings and making 10,000 people homeless.

Great Britain officially recognized the Republic of Ireland with the Ireland Act 1949. This act also gave the first legal guarantee that the Parliament and Government of Northern Ireland would not cease to be part of the United Kingdom without consent of the majority of its citizens.

The Troubles

The Troubles, starting in the late 1960s, consisted of about thirty years of recurring acts of intense violence between elements of Northern Ireland's nationalist community (principally Roman Catholic) and unionist community (principally Protestant) during which 3,254 people were killed. The conflict was caused by the disputed status of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom and the discrimination against the nationalist minority by the dominant unionist majority.

In 1967-72 the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association led a campaign of civil resistance against discrimination, modeling itself on the US civil rights movement, but NICRA's campaign, and the reaction to it, proved to be a precursor to a more violent period.

As early as 1969, armed campaigns of paramilitary groups began, including the Provisional IRA campaign of 1969-1997 which was aimed at the end of British rule in Northern Ireland and the creation of a new "all-Ireland", "thirty-two county" Irish Republic, and the Ulster Volunteer Force, formed in 1966 in response to the perceived erosion of both the British character and unionist domination of Northern Ireland.

The state security forces—the British Army and the police (the Royal Ulster Constabulary) - were also involved in the violence. The British government's point of view is that its forces were neutral in the conflict, trying to uphold law and order in Northern Ireland and the right of the people of Northern Ireland to democratic self-determination. Irish republicans regarded the state forces as "combatants" in the conflict, alleging collusion between the state forces and the loyalist paramilitaries as proof of this. The "Ballast" investigation by the Police Ombudsman has confirmed that British forces, and in particular the RUC, did collude with loyalist paramilitaries, were involved in murder, and did obstruct the course of justice when such claims had previously been investigated, although the extent to which such collusion occurred is still hotly disputed.

As a consequence of the worsening security situation, the autonomous regional government for Northern Ireland was suspended by Great Britain in 1972. Alongside the violence, there was a political deadlock between the major political parties in Northern Ireland, including those who condemned violence, over the future status of Northern Ireland and the form of government there should be within Northern Ireland. In 1973, Northern Ireland held a referendum to determine if it should remain in the United Kingdom, or be part of a United Ireland. The vote went heavily in favor (98.9%) of maintaining the status quo with approximately 57.5% of the total electorate voting in support, but only 1% of Catholics voted following an organized boycott.

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