seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Formation of the Provisional Government of Ireland

provisional-government-of irelandA meeting of the members elected to the House of Commons of Southern Ireland is held at the Mansion House in Dublin on January 14, 1922. At the meeting the Anglo-Irish Treaty is ratified by the Irish side in accordance with the Treaty and a Provisional Government is elected for the purposes of Article 17 of the Treaty.

Under the Irish Republic‘s Dáil Constitution adopted in 1919, Dáil Éireann continues to exist after it has ratified the Anglo-Irish Treaty. In protest at the ratification, Éamon de Valera resigns the presidency of the Dáil then seeks re-election from among its members in order to clarify his mandate, but Arthur Griffith defeats him in the vote and assumes the presidency.

Most of the Dáil Ministers become concurrently Ministers of this Provisional Government. Michael Collins becomes Chairman of the Provisional Government (i.e. prime minister). He also remains Minister for Finance of Griffith’s republican administration.

The Provisional Government takes office two days later on January 16, 1922 when British administration hands over Dublin Castle to Collins in person. At this time, Westminster has not formally appointed the new Irish ministers or conferred their government with any powers.

The handover of Dublin Castle to the Provisional Government is one of the earliest and most remarkable events in the short life of the Provisional Government. For centuries Dublin Castle is the symbol, as well as the citadel, of British rule in Ireland. The transfer of its Castle administration to the representatives of the Irish people is greatly welcomed in Dublin. It is regarded as a significant outward and visible sign that British rule is ending.

Following the general election on June 16, 1922, held just before the outbreak of the Irish Civil War, the Second Provisional Government takes power until the creation of the Irish Free State on December 6, 1922.

By mid-1922, Collins in effect lays down his responsibilities as Chairman of the Provisional Government to become Commander-in-Chief of the Irish Army, a formal structured uniformed army that forms around the pro-Treaty Irish Republican Army (IRA). As part of those duties, he travels to his native County Cork. En route home on August 22, 1922, at Béal na Bláth, he is killed in an ambush. Arthur Griffith dies of a cerebral haemorrhage ten days prior to Collins’ assassination. After Collins’ and Griffith’s deaths in August 1922, W. T. Cosgrave becomes both Chairman of the Provisional Government and President of Dáil Éireann, and the distinction between the two posts becomes irrelevant.

On December 6, 1922, the Irish Free State comes into being, and the Provisional Government becomes the Executive Council of the Irish Free State, presided over by a prime minister called the President of the Executive Council. On December 7 the House of Commons of Northern Ireland unanimously exercises its right under the Treaty to opt out of the Free State.

(Pictured: The Provisional Government of Ireland with President Arthur Griffith (front row center) and his cabinet and party includng Michael Collins (to Griffith’s right) likely taken at the Mansion House in February 1922)


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Free State Government Purchases Copyright to “The Soldiers Song”

amhran-na-bhfiannThe Irish Free State government purchases the copyright of Peadar Kearney‘s The Soldiers Song on October 20, 1933, which becomes the Irish national anthem Amhrán na bhFiann. The song has three verses, but only the choral refrain is officially designated the national anthem.

A Soldiers’ Song is composed in 1907, with words by Peadar Kearney and music by Kearney and Patrick Heeney. The text is first published in Irish Freedom by Bulmer Hobson in 1912. It is used as a marching song by the Irish Volunteers and is sung by rebels in the General Post Office (GPO) during the Easter Rising of 1916. Its popularity increases among rebels held in Frongoch internment camp after the Rising, and the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in the Irish War of Independence (1919–21). After the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922, a large proportion of the IRA’s men and apparatus become the National Army. The Soldiers’ Song remains popular as an Army tune, and is played at many military functions.

The Free State does not initially adopt any official anthem. The delicate political state in the aftermath of the Irish Civil War provokes a desire to avoid controversy. Ex-Unionists continue to regard God Save the King as the national anthem, as it has been for the rest of the British Empire. W. T. Cosgrave, President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State expresses opposition to replacing The Soldiers’ Song, which is provisionally used within the State.

There is concern that the lack of an official anthem is giving Unionists an opportunity to persist with God Save the King. The Soldiers’ Song is widely if unofficially sung by nationalists. On July 12, 1926, the Executive Council of the Irish Free State decides to adopt it as the National Anthem, with Cosgrave the driving force in the decision. However, this decision is not publicised.

In 1928, the Army band establishes the practice of playing only the chorus of the song as the Anthem, because the longer version is discouraging audiences from singing along.

The anthem is played by Radio Éireann at closedown from its inception in 1926. Cinemas and theatres do so from 1932 until 1972. Peadar Kearney, who has received royalties from publishers of the text and music, issues legal proceedings for royalties from those now performing the anthem. He is joined by Michael Heeney, brother of Patrick Heeney, who had died in 1911. In 1934, the Department of Finance acquires the copyright of the song for the sum of £1,200. Copyright law changes in 1959, such that the government has to reacquire copyright in 1965, for £2,500. As per copyright law, the copyright expires in December 2012, following the 70th anniversary of Kearney’s death. In 2016, three Fianna Fáil senators introduce a private member’s bill intended to restore the state’s copyright in the anthem.


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Enactment of the Constitution of Ireland

constitution-of-irelandThe current Constitution of Ireland is enacted by a national plebiscite of voters on July 1, 1937 in what is then the Irish Free State. The Constitution comes into effect on December 29, 1937. The Constitution is closely associated with Éamon de Valera, the President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State at the time, who is personally eager to replace the Constitution of the Irish Free State.

There are two main motivations for replacing the constitution in 1937. Firstly, the Irish Free State constitution of 1922 is, in the eyes of many, associated with the controversial Anglo-Irish Treaty. The second motive for replacing the original constitution is primarily symbolic. De Valera wants to put an Irish stamp on the institutions of government, and chooses to do this in particular through the use of Irish nomenclature.

De Valera, as President of the Executive Council, personally supervises the writing of the Constitution. It is drafted initially by John Hearne, legal adviser to the Department of External Affairs. De Valera serves as his own External Affairs Minister, hence the use of the Department’s Legal Advisor, with whom he has previously worked closely, as opposed to the Attorney General or someone from the Department of the President of the Executive Council. He also receives significant input from John Charles McQuaid, the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, on religious, educational, family, and social welfare issues. The text is translated into Irish over a number of drafts by a group headed by Micheál Ó Gríobhtha who works in the Department of Education.

The framers of the 1937 Constitution decide that it will be enacted not by an elected body but by the people themselves by means of a plebiscite. The preamble to the 1937 Constitution is thus written in the name not of the legislature but of “We, the people of Éire.” On June 2, 1937, the Oireachtas passes the Plebiscite (Draft Constitution) Act 1937, which mandates the holding of a plebiscite on the draft constitution on the same date as the next general election. The Dáil is dissolved on June 14, 1937, as soon as it has approved the draft constitution. The ensuing general election is held on July 1, 1937, and the plebiscite is held in parallel. The question put to voters is simply “Do you approve of the Draft Constitution which is the subject of this plebiscite?” It is passed by a plurality – 56% of voters are in favour, comprising 38.6% of the entire electorate.

Neither the Dáil resolution approving the draft Constitution nor the Plebiscite (Draft Constitution) Act 1937 provide for the plebiscite establish how the Constitution would come into force. It is the Constitution itself which states that this will occur 180 days after its approval, and that the 1922 Constitution will simultaneously be repealed. This happens on December 29, 1937, one hundred eighty days after the July 1 plebiscite.

Consequential acts are passed between July and December to provide for the establishment of, and holding elections for, the new Seanad and the Presidency, as well as for other adaptations. The Presidential Establishment Act, 1938 is passed after the Constitution has come into effect but before the first President, Douglas Hyde, takes office.


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Éamon de Valera Elected President of Dáil Éireann

eamon-de-valeraÉamon de Valera is elected President of Dáil Éireann (Príomh Aire) at the third meeting of the First Dáil on April 1, 1919.

The Declaration of Independence asserts that the Dáil is the parliament of a sovereign state called the “Irish Republic,” and so the Dáil establishes a cabinet called the Ministry or “Aireacht,” and an elected prime minister known both as the “Príomh Aire” and the “President of Dáil Éireann.”

When the First Dáil meets in the Round Room of the Mansion House in Dublin on January 21, 1919, de Valera is the president of Sinn Féin and thus the natural choice for leadership. However, he is imprisoned in England so, at the second meeting of the Dáil on January 22, Cathal Brugha is elected as the first Príomh Aire on a temporary basis. De Valera escapes Lincoln Gaol in February and is then elected to replace Brugha at the Dáil’s third meeting.

As leader, de Valera visits the United States from June 1919 to December 1920. His aim is to gain both popular and official recognition for the Republic and to obtain a loan to finance Dáil Éireann and the War of Independence. By the time of his return, de Valera has won public but not official support for the Republic and has raised a loan of $6 million.

After the election of the Second Dáil in 1921, de Valera resigns on August 26 and is immediately re-elected under the new title of President of the Republic. He then remains in office until January 1922 when, against his wishes, the Dáil votes to ratify the Anglo-Irish Treaty. De Valera resigns and submits his name for re-election but is rejected by the house, which instead elects Arthur Griffith, who supports the Treaty, by a vote of 60-58.

On January 16, 1922, the British government implements the Treaty and appoints a new Irish administration called the Provisional Government. The Dáil decides that the new administration will operate in parallel with the existing institutions of the Irish Republic, which the British do not recognise. Therefore, as the Irish Civil War begins the country has two leaders, Arthur Griffith as President of Dáil Éireann and Michael Collins as Chairman of the Provisional Government. Collins is also Minister for Finance in Griffith’s cabinet. This anomalous situation continues until Griffith and Collins both died suddenly in August 1922, Collins being assassinated by anti-Treaty irregulars and Griffith dying of natural causes. W.T. Cosgrave becomes Chairman of the Provisional Government on August 25 and, when he is also elected as President of Dáil Éireann in September, the two administrations are merged.

On December 6, both the Irish Republic and the Provisional Government come to an end as the new Constitution of the Irish Free State comes into force. The new Irish Free State has three leaders, the King as head of state, the Governor-General as the King’s representative, and the President of the Executive Council as head of government. W.T. Cosgrave is appointed as the first President of the Executive Council on the same day.


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The 1932 Irish General Election

1932-general-electionAn Irish general election is held on February 16, 1932, just over two weeks after the dissolution of the Dáil on January 29. The general election takes place in 30 parliamentary constituencies throughout the Irish Free State for 153 seats in the lower house of parliament, Dáil Éireann. The 1932 general election is one of the most important general elections held in Ireland in the 20th Century, resulting in the formation of the first Fianna Fáil government. Fianna Fáil becomes the largest party and would continue to be the largest party in Dáil Éireann and at every general election until 2011.

Cumann na nGaedheal fights the general election on its record of providing ten years of stable government. The party brings stability following the chaos of the Irish Civil War and provides honest government. However, by 1932 support of the government is wearing thin, particularly since the party has no solution to the collapse in trade which follows the depression of the early 1930s. Instead of offering new policies the party believes that its record in government will be enough to retain power. Cumann na nGaedheal also employs “red scare” tactics, describing Fianna Fáil as communists and likening Éamon de Valera to Joseph Stalin.

In comparison, Fianna Fáil has an elaborate election programme designed to appeal to a wide section of the electorate. It plays down its republicanism to avoid alarm but provides very popular social and economic policies. The party promises to free Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoners, abolish the Oath of allegiance, and reduce the powers of the Governor-General and the Senate. It also promises the introduction of protectionist policies, industrial development, self-sufficiency, and improvements in housing and social security benefits.

The election campaign between the two ideologically opposed parties is reasonably peaceful. However, during the campaign the government prosecutes de Valera’s newly established newspaper, The Irish Press. The editor is also brought before a military tribunal. This is seen by many as a major blunder and a serious infringement on the belief of freedom of speech. The “red scare” tactics also seemed to backfire on the government, who seem to have little else to offer the electorate.

When the results are known Fianna Fáil is still 5 seats short of an overall majority but looks like the only party capable of forming a government. Discussions get underway immediately after the election and an agreement is reached in which the Labour Party would support Fianna Fáil. The party now has the necessary votes to form a minority government.

On March 9, 1932, the first change of government in the Irish Free State takes place. Similar to when the party first enters the Dáil in 1927, a number of Fianna Fáil Teachtaí Dála (TDs) have guns in their pockets. However, the feared coup d’état does not take place. W. T. Cosgrave is determined to adhere to the principles of democracy that he has practised while in government. Likewise, the army, Garda Síochána, and the civil service all accept the change of government, despite the fact that they will now be taking orders from men who had been their enemies less than ten years previously. After a brief and uneventful meeting in the Dáil chamber, Éamon de Valera is appointed President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State by the Governor-General, James McNeill, who has come to Leinster House to make the appointment rather than require de Valera travel to the Viceregal Lodge, formerly a symbol of British rule. Fianna Fáil, the party most closely identified with opposing the existence of the state ten years earlier, is now the party of government. The 1932 general election is the beginning of a sixteen-year period in government for Fianna Fáil.