Up - (1923 1939)
After the Civil War ended the anti-Treaty side, the main
opposition, took no part in the political life of the new
state. Refusing to take the oath of allegiance, politicised
republicans were excluded from the Dáil. With over
11,000 Republicans in prison, including Eamon de Valera
who was arrested during the course of the General Election
campaign in August 1923 and detained for 11 months, the
governments main aim was the maintenance of the Treaty.
In the election, the pro-Treaty Cumann na nGaedheal party
won 63 seats, with the main anti-Treaty party, Sinn Féin
landing 44. All Government ministers were returned, but
de Valera scored an easy win in Clare. When the Dáil
met in September, William T. Cosgrave was elected President
of the Executive Council. The Sinn Féin TDs absented
themselves from the Dáil as they refused to take
the Oath of Allegiance to King George V. In the same month,
the Free State joined the League of Nations.
As the new Government set about rebuilding the country a
terrible seam of bitterness remained. When the bodies of
those republicans executed by the state were handed back
to relatives no church would take them in and the traditional
wakes had to be held in a theatre.
In the aftermath of the Civil War some republicans believing
their dream to be over emigrated leaving two factions to
soldier on. The IRA regrouped to fight for a united island
totally free from Britain while De Valera took a subtler
Several hundred Republican prisoners went on hunger strike
and two died before the protest was called off in November.
In the same month W.B. Yeats became the first Irishman to
win the Nobel Prize for Literature and received his prize
in Stockholm the following month. A measure of the tension
that still existed was the renewal of the Public Safety
Act in January 1924, which allowed for imprisonment without
In February, the Executive Council proposed cutting the
numbers in the Army from 60, 000 to 35, 000 and in an ensuing
Mutiny, army officers demanded removal of the Army Council,
an end to demobilisation and a declaration of the Free State
Governments intention to achieve an Irish Republic.
The Mutiny ended within a week and a committee of inquiry
was established to examine the administration of the army.
W. T. Cosgrave had two meetings with Sir James Craig, Prime
Minister of Northern Ireland, but failed to agree an amicable
settlement of the territorial division between the two states.
As a result Cosgrave requested the setting up of the Boundary
Commission under the terms of the Treaty. Craig refused
to nominate a representative on the Commission and the British
Government appointed J.R. Fisher, while Eoin MacNeill represented
the Free State.
An adjustment of the Border in accordance with the
wishes of the inhabitants could have led to major
realignment of the boundary as Nationalists held sway in
considerable parts of Tyrone and Fermanagh, as well as parts
of Derry, South Down and South Armagh. On the other hand,
there those in parts of east Donegal and North Monaghan
who wished to be incorporated into Northern Ireland.
The Commission met until December 1925 when it was shelved
in return for the cancellation of certain financial obligations
on the Free State to the British Government. The existing
border between Northern Ireland and the Free State remained
and Cosgrave declared publicly; today we have sown
the seeds of peace
A period of stability and consolidation was underway in
the infant state, but the issue of partition didnt
go away. Speaking in Dáil Eireann, Kevin OHiggins
ruefully reflected on the impact that civil strife in southern
Ireland had on the Protestant population of the North; we
had an opportunity of building up a worthy State that would
attract and, in time, absorb and assimilate those elements
. We preferred to burn out our own houses, blow up
our own bridges, rob our own banks, saddle ourselves with
millions of debt for the maintenance of an army
Generally we preferred to practise upon ourselves worse
indignities than the British had practised on us since Cromwell
and now we wonder why the Orangemen are not hopping
like so many fleas across the border in their anxiety to
come within our fold and jurisdiction
1, 1926 Radio 2RN (later known as Radio Eireann) began broadcasting
and later that year transmitted the All-Ireland Hurling
semi-final between Kilkenny and Galway, reputed to be the
first live transmission of a sporting event
anywhere in Europe.
Eamon de Valera resigned as President of Sinn Féin
in March. In the same month Minister for Finance, Ernest
Blythe and Winston Churchill, British Secretary of State
for the Colonies signed the Ultimate Financial Agreement
whereby British Treasury waived some financial claims against
the Free State in return for payment of land annuities and
payment of pensions to former members of the RIC.
In May De Valera took a further step towards a return to
mainstream constitutional politics by setting up the Fianna
Fáil party. But the IRA let it be known that they
hadnt gone away and launched attacks on several Garda
barracks leading to the deaths of two members of the force
in November. Before the end of the year George Bernard Shaw
became the second Irishman to win the Noble Prize for Literature.
The census of 1926 revealed that the population of the Free
State was 2,971,992 (down more than 5% from the previous
census in 1911) while the population of Northern Ireland
was 1,256,561. The majority of the people had little stomach
for violence and the IRA lacked widespread support.
The anti-Treaty side took a further step down the road of
constitutional politics the following year. Fianna Fáil
won 44 seats, just three less than Cumann na nGaedheal,
in the General Election and might have won more, but many
of their supporters voted for the Labour Party as they took
a fuller part in the affairs of state.
When the new Dáil convened De Valera and some of
his fellow elected supporters tried to gain admittance,
but left when asked to take the oath. However, the assassination
of Kevin OHiggins by three members of the IRA, acting
on their own initiative, on July 10 indirectly led to a
change of heart by the Fianna Fáil leader.
The introduction of the Electoral Amendment Bill required
Dáil candidates to declare their intention to take
the Oath before nomination for Election. After describing
the oath as an empty formula, De Valera led 42 of his TDs
into the Dáil for the first time in August. A second
General Election that year saw Fianna Fáil increase
its representation to 57 seats, five less than the government
The new Free State currency was issued in 1928 and enjoyed
parity with sterling until 1979. Seán Lemass reminded
the Dáil of Fianna Fáils republican
credentials when describing it as a slightly constitutional
party, adding, our objective is to establish
a republican government in Ireland. If that can be done
by the present methods we have, we will be very pleased,
but, if not, we would not confine ourselves to them.
De Valera too made comments sympathetic to the ambitions
of the IRA. But the Fianna Fáil leader failed in
his attempts to petition the Dáil seeking a referendum
to eliminate the oath and shortly after the government abolished
the right to referendum under the Free State constitution.
Away from politics the new state continued to progress.
The hydro-electric power station at Ardnacrusha on the River
Shannon was officially opened in July 1929, the same year
that the new bank notes featuring the portrait of Lady Lavery
were first issued. The following year the government introduced
a tax on imported butter.
As the IRA continued to target members of the Garda Síochána,
it and 11 other organizations were declared illegal in 1931.
As the world recession brought about by the Wall Street
Crash of 1929 continued to bite the government was forced
to increase the duty on petrol and the rate of income tax.
It also imposed additional taxes to stop the dumping of
cheap foreign goods in the Free State. Toward the end of
the year the Statue of Westminster was passed allowing any
member of the Commonwealth repeal or amend any act of the
British Parliament which was part of Dominion law.
A General Election was called for February 16, 1932 as part
of their manifesto Fianna Fáil pledged to stop paying
land annuities to the British Government which Irish farmers
had been paying to purchase the lands they farmed. The IRA
canvassed on behalf of Fianna Fáil and on the day
of the election adopted tactics similar to those employed
in the 1918 General Election leading to widescale impersonation.
The result saw Cosgrave ousted after ten years in power
his party trailing De Valeras by 15 seats, 57 to 72.
When the new Dáil convened some members of Fianna
Fáil turned up with guns but such moves proved unnecessary.
One of De Valeras first moves was to release political
prisoners. However, only those members of the IRA who committed
crimes on their own initiative were not released. In March
the order declaring the IRA illegal lapsed and was not renewed.
Then the new President of the Executive Council set about
removing the Oath of Allegiance. He then struck the first
blow in the Economic War with Britain, which lasted until
1938, by withholding payment of land annuities to Britain
worth £1.5m. The British Government retaliated by
imposing a 20% tax on Irish agricultural products imported
into the UK.
The 31st Eucharistic Congress was held in Dublin in June
1932 and included a commemoration of the 1,500th anniversary
of St. Patricks arrival in Ireland. The Free State
was represented at the Olympic Games for the second time,
with Dr. Pat OCallaghan winning a second gold medal
(he also won in Amsterdam in 1928) in the hammer, while
Bob Tisdal won gold in the 400m hurdles.
The undercurrent of tension still remained. The Army Comrades
Association was formed by Commandant Edward Cronin as a
benevolent society for former members of the Free State
Army. In August 1932 Dr. T. F. OHiggins (brother of
Kevin) was elected as its President and pledged its support
to the lawfully constituted government of the state.
It extended membership to those wishing to uphold freedom
When a Cumann na nGaedheal meeting at Kilmallock, Co. Limerick
was attacked by some 200 Republicans the new organization
flexed its muscles and beat off the attackers. In November,
the IRAs Frank Ryan stated; while we have fists,
hands and boots to use, and guns if necessary, we will not
allow free speech to traitors.
When the Eighth Dáil assembled after the 1933 General
Election Fianna Fáil had its first overall majority
having won 77 seats, while Cumann na nGaedheal had slipped
to 48. General Eoin ODuffy was removed as Commissioner
of the Garda Síochána and soon after was elected
leader of the Army Comrades Association, now known as the
National Guard. In the same year the organization earned
the nickname Blueshirts, after adopting a new uniform of
blue shirt and black beret.
The Oath of Allegiance was removed from the Constitution
and the National Guard was declared an unlawful organization.
Gardaí began collecting guns from private houses
after an order cancelling all firearms certificates was
ODuffy side-stepped the ban by renaming his organization
the Young Ireland Association, but the government outlawed
it also. ODuffy then dissolves the Young Ireland Association
and went on to form the League of Youth.
In September 1933, Cumann na nGaedheal, the National Centre
Party and the Blueshirts formed the United Ireland Party
with ODuffy at the helm, later to become known as
Any doubts some Republicans had about De Valeras regime
were assuaged when in 1934 pensions were issued to those
IRA members who fought in the Civil War. A special auxiliary
police force formed the previous year to counter the threat
of ODuffys organization recruited from IRA ranks
and became known as the Broy Harriers after its first commissioner.
ODuffy, who had earned the hatred of militant republicans
for the manner in which he as Garda Commissioner implemented
Cosgraves anti-terrorist laws, was seen by some as
a potential dictator even within his own party and he soon
resigned as leader of the United Ireland Party.
Trade relations between Britain and the Free State improved
with the signing of the Anglo-Irish Coal Cattle Pact in
1935 under which the British government agreed to increase
imports of cattle from by one-third and in return the Free
State agreed to buy its coal from Britain. The Criminal
Law Amendment Act banned the importation of contraceptives.
The Aliens Act defined as such all those not born in the
Free State, while exempting UK citizens. Those born in Northern
Ireland after December 6, 1922 were regarded as citizens
of the Free State up to the age of 21, when they ceased
to be so unless they declared for citizenship.
Following the murders of three civilians, the government
outlawed the IRA in June 1936. In the same year the United
Ireland Party (Fine Gael) severed its links with the Blueshirts
and later Eoin ODuffy went off to fight on the side
of General Franco in the Spanish Civil War. A few weeks
later Frank Ryan led a group to fight on the Republican
side in the Spanish conflict.
The removal of the King from the Constitution and the abolition
of the post of Governor-General paved the way for the introduction
of the new constitution in 1937. The census of 1936 showed
a further decline in the population of the state, down by
about 3,500 to 2,968,420 from 1926.
The first transatlantic flying boat landed on the River
Shannon at Foynes, Co. Limerick. De Valeras Constitution
was passed by the Dáil and later by the electorate
in a referendum held on the same day as the General Election,
which returned Fianna Fáil as the largest party once
again. The new constitution came into effect on December
In April 1938 an Anglo-Irish agreement was signed by De
Valera and British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain ending
the Economic War. Irish ports retained by the
British Government under the terms of the Treaty were returned
and Éire, as the state was now officially known,
paid £10m in settlement of all financial claims between
the two governments.
Trade tariffs were withdrawn, but protection was allowed
for certain goods. The UK cattle market became more accessible
to cattle from Ireland while the return of the ports allowed
Éire to remain neutral during the Second World War.
In an attempt to force a withdrawal of British troops from
Northern Ireland, the IRA began a bombing campaign in England.
Under terms of the Prevention of Violence Bill all Irish
citizens living in Britain had to be registered and were
liable to deportation. This didnt prevent an explosion
in Coventry on August 25, which killed five people.
The day before Germany invaded Poland, De Valera informed
the German Ambassador in Dublin that although Éire
desired peace with all nations his government would have
to show some consideration to Britain for geographical and
economic reasons. When war Britain and France declared war
on September 3, a state of emergency was declared by the
Éire government and the country was officially neutral.