It Should Never Have Happened: The Anglo Irish Treaty of 1921


The Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed on December 6, 1921, one hundred years ago today.

Anglo-Irish Treaty signed 100 years ago today

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in London.

The Treaty formally ended the War of Independence, set the stage for British withdrawal from most of Ireland, and the handover of power to an independent Irish government.

It was signed in 10 Downing Street in the early hours of 6 December 1921.

It was signed on the Irish side by delegates Arthur Griffith, Michael Collins, Eamon Duggan, Robert Barton and George Gavan Duffy.

On the British side were Prime Minister David Lloyd-George, Winston Churchill, Austen Chamberlain and FE Smith, Lord Birkenhead.

The signing of the Treaty was acclaimed in Ireland, Britain and around the world, but it was immediately surrounded by controversy.

Other news items on the anniversary:

BBC: NI 100: Signing of Anglo-Irish Treaty marked 100 years on

Breaking News Ireland: Taoiseach and Tánaiste mark 100th anniversary of signing of Anglo-Irish Treaty

Working under the ludicrous assumption that partitioning Ireland would “bring peace”, the deal was signed. Instead it led to resentment by reublicans and violent occupation by the English. Within a year, Michael Collins would be assassinated by his own people and 77 years of war marked by multiple “Bloody Sundays”, the most infamous of which reaches its 50th anniversary seven weeks from now.

Peace finally came with the Good Friday Accords in 1998, which thankfully have lasted 23 years.  A large part of that can be attributed to John Major’s political courage, his willingness to negotiate with Sinn Fein WITHOUT preconditions of disarmament.  For the first time, an English prime minister treated the Irish as equal partners, and it took less than ten years to reach an agreement everyone could live with.

Ironically, of all the attempts to reunite Ireland, it is the English destroying their own economy and society with “brexit” that will most likely result in reunification. The Occupied North still has access to the European Common Market, and if forced to choose between UK membership and starvation or Irish reunification and prosperity, they will likely make the smarter choice. Even the unionists may admit to the inevitable.

Colm Tóibín: will the Brexit fallout lead to a ‘united Ireland’?

[T]here has been an interesting change. Up to now, there was an image spread of the former colonies including Ireland. It suggested that we were somehow hot-headed and given to soft patriotism and nationalist sentimentality, that we could not be trusted in negotiation, that we spoke with a forked tongue. Now, all of these qualities have been taken over by Whitehall itself. But it is worse on this occasion. We, at least, were actually colonised. The United Kingdom, such as it is, was only ever colonised in its dreams, and by the EU, of all things. Dealing with the UK now, as Lloyd George said about Eamon de Valera, is like trying to pick up mercury with a fork.

In Ireland now, Brexit is still viewed with disbelief. It is hard to think of any real advantage that has been gained from it. Slowly, its implications are becoming clear in the most ordinary ways. There is a feeling in the Republic that someday soon Britain will wake up from this bad dream and benefit from some daylight.

[. . .]

Now, after Brexit, Northern Ireland may become subject to EU regulations on medicine, to take just one example, but has no democratic relationship to the EU and is not represented in the European parliament. Thus, arbitrary authority approaches from two directions – Brussels and Dublin.

The problem Northern Ireland has is serious. It has become low on everyone’s priority list. The British government was prepared to negotiate a hard Brexit, despite the implications for Northern Ireland. It promised one thing and delivered another. While Dublin wants the Good Friday agreement, in all its ingenuity and sense of inclusion, to be preserved to the letter, there is no appetite in the Republic to take over Northern Ireland or become responsible for funding it or dealing daily with its factions. Dismantling partition would be a most dangerous process.

A dangerous process, perhaps, but not an untenable one.  Reunification would mean access to the EU, not necessarily subservience to Dublin.

From the National Museum of Ireland:

The Signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, 1921

Arthur Griffith’s statement told the world that the war between Ireland and Britain was at an end.

This note, hastily written by Arthur Griffith, was the first message to the public on the outcome of the negotiations which led to the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921. Written for issue to the World Press immediately after signing the Treaty on 6 December, it reads:

“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”.

[. . .]

Negotiations for peace

The War of Independence is generally recognised by historians as having started on 21 January 1919 in Soloheadbeg, Co Tipperary, when seven members of the IRA shot and killed two RIC constables. A series of actions in the form of raids and reprisals followed over the next year. In 1920 the RIC received reinforcements in the form of the British recruited Black and Tans and the Auxiliaries; a division made up of ex-British Army Officers, and the conflict intensified. In December that year, after the events of Bloody Sunday, Ireland was placed under Martial law. From this point the violence and death toll escalated, and when British Prime Minister Davd Lloyd George suggested a conference between the two governments Sinn Féin agreed, and a Truce was called in July 1921.

A series of meetings were held and in October an official delegation, headed by Arthur Griffith and including Michael Collins, was formed to carry out the negotiations with the British government. After two months an agreement was reached, officially known as The Articles of Agreement for a Treaty between Great Britain and Ireland.

The Treaty would see the withdrawal of British troops from the majority of the country, but gave dominion status to Ireland rather than that of an independent Republic, retained the Oath of Allegiance to the British Crown, and provided for the establishment of a Boundary Commission to create a border between the Irish Free State and the Northern counties which opted to remain under British rule.

[. . .]

A lasting legacy

The Treaty was rejected by de Valera and split Republican opinion. Though it was narrowly ratified in the Dáil, this split eventually led to civil war, which started with the occupation of the Four Courts by Anti-Treaty Republicans in April 1922 and its bombardment by Pro-Treaty Republicans, now the Free State Forces, on 28 June. By its close in May 1923 many leaders in the Irish Republican movement were dead, with 77 official executions of Anti-Treaty Republicans during the war. Arthur Griffith died of heart failure on 12 August 1922, and Michael Collins was killed in an ambush and gun battle at Béal na Bláth, Co. Cork, ten days later. While this conflict lasted only 10 months, it was to effect Irish politics for the next decade, and lived long in the memory of the Irish people. The Irish Free State of 26 counties officially became the Republic of Ireland in 1949.

The Police’s “Invisible Sun” was written about “The Troubles” in the Occupied North.

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