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The Anglo-Irish Treaty ( ), officially called the Articles of Agreement for a Treaty Between Great Britain and Ireland, was a treaty between the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Irelandmarker and representatives of the de facto Irish Republic that concluded the Irish War of Independence. It established an autonomous dominion, known as the Irish Free State, within the British Empire and provided Northern Irelandmarker, which had been created by the 1920 Government of Ireland Act, an option to opt out of the Irish Free State, which it exercised.

The treaty was signed in Londonmarker on 6 December 1921 by representatives of the British government, (which included David Lloyd George who was head of the British delegates) and envoys of the Irish Republic who claimed plenipotentiary status (i.e., negotiators empowered to sign a treaty without reference back to their superiors, including Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith). In accordance with its terms the Treaty needed to be and was ratified by the members elected to sit in the House of Commons of Southern Ireland and the British Parliamentmarker. Dáil Éireann for the de facto Irish Republic also ratified the Treaty (narrowly). Though the treaty was duly ratified, the split led to the Irish Civil War, which was ultimately won by the pro-treaty side.

The Irish Free State created by the Treaty came into force on 6 December 1922 by royal proclamation after its constitution had been enacted by the Provisional parliament of Southern Ireland (also styled the Third Dail) and the British parliament.


Among the Treaty's main clauses were that:
  • British forces would withdraw from most of Irelandmarker.
  • Ireland was to become a self-governing dominion of the British Empire; a status shared by Canadamarker, Newfoundland, Australia, New Zealandmarker and The Union of South Africa.
  • As with the other dominions, the British monarch would be the head of state of the Irish Free State (Saorstát Éireann) and would be represented by a Governor General (See Representative of the Crown).
  • Members of the new free state's parliament would be required to take an Oath of Allegiance to the Irish Free State. A secondary part of the Oath was to "be faithful to His Majesty King George V., his heirs and successors by law, in virtue of the common citizenship".
  • Northern Irelandmarker (which had been created earlier by the Government of Ireland Act) would have the option of withdrawing from the Irish Free State within one month of the Treaty coming into effect.
  • If Northern Ireland chose to withdraw, a Boundary Commission would be constituted to draw the boundary between the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland.
  • Britain, for its own security, would continue to control a limited number of ports, known as the Treaty Ports, for the Royal Navy.
  • The Irish Free State would assume responsibility for its part of the Imperial debt.
  • The Treaty would have superior status in Irish law, i.e., in the event of a conflict between it and the new 1922 Constitution of the Irish Free State, the treaty would take precedence.


Page from a draft of the Treaty, as annotated by Arthur Griffith.

The negotiators included:
British side
*David Lloyd George, Prime Minister.
*Lord Birkenhead, Lord Chancellor.
*Winston Churchill, Secretary of State for the Colonies.
*Austen Chamberlain, Lord Privy Seal.
*Gordon Hewart, Attorney General for England and Wales.

Irish side
*Arthur Griffith (delegation chairman), Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.
*Michael Collins, Secretary of State for Finance.
*Robert Barton, Secretary of State for Economic Affairs.
*Eamonn Duggan
*George Gavan Duffy

(Robert Erskine Childers, the author of the Riddle of the Sands and former Clerk of the British House of Commons served as one of the secretaries of the Irish delegation. Tom Jones was one of Lloyd George's principal assistants, and described the negotiations in his book Whitehall Diary.)Notably, the Irish President Éamon de Valera did not attend.

Winston Churchill had a dual role in the British cabinet concerning the Treaty. Firstly as Secretary for War hoping to end the Irish War of Independence in 1921; then in 1922 as Secretary for the Colonies (which included Dominion affairs) he was charged with implementing it.

Status of the Irish plenipotentiaries

The plenipotentiaries' Letter of Accreditation signed by President de Valera in 1921
Éamon de Valera sent the Irish plenipotentiaries to the 1921 negotiations in London with several draft treaties and secret instructions from his cabinet. Pointedly the British side never asked to see their formal accreditation with the full status of plenipotentiaries, but considered that it had invited them as elected MPs: " ascertain how the association of Ireland with the community of nations known as the British Empire can best be reconciled with Irish national aspirations". This initial invitation in August had been delayed for over a month by a correspondence in which De Valera argued that Britain was now negotiating with a sovereign state; a position Lloyd George continually denied.

In the meantime, De Valera had been elevated to President of the Republic on 26 August, primarily to be able to accredit plenipotentiaries for the negotiations, as was usual between sovereign states. On 14 September all the Dáil speakers unanimously commented that the plenipotentiaries were being sent to represent the sovereign Irish Republic, and accepted De Valera's nominations without dissent. Unfortunately the Dáil did not meet again until after the Treaty was signed, and so was not informed of the effective alteration of their status.

On 7 October De Valera signed the letter of accreditation as "President" on behalf of the "Government of the Republic of Ireland" (see image), but the letter was never requested in a diplomatic manner. The original invitation was finally repeated unaltered by Lloyd-George on 11 October, and was tacitly accepted as such by the Irish side. Both the Irish and British sides knew that, in the event of failure, the truce agreed in July 1921 would end and the war would inevitably resume, a war that neither side wanted. Three months had passed by with nothing agreed.

The ambiguous status of the plenipotentiaries was to have unforeseeable consequences within the Nationalist movement when it divided over the Treaty's contents in 1921-22. Subsequently the anti-treaty side felt that the plenipotentiaries from the existing sovereign republic had somehow been persuaded to agree to accept much less. The pro-treaty side was to argue that after 11 October the negotiations had been conducted on the understanding that, even though the British were not negotiating with a sovereign state, the agreement was a significant first step towards Irish sovereignty. Further, the pro-treaty side argued that the status of plenipotentiary as granted by the Dáil had given them full powers to handle negotiations as they saw fit, without the need to refer back to Dublin on every point.


Days after the Truce that ended the Anglo-Irish War, De Valera met Lloyd George in London four times in the week starting 14 July. Lloyd George sent his initial proposals on 20 July that were very roughly in line with the Treaty that was eventually signed. This was followed by months of delay until October, when the Irish delegates set up headquarters in 22 Hans Placemarker, Knightsbridgemarker.

The first two weeks of the negotiations were spent in formal sessions. Upon the request of Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins, the two delegations began informal negotiations, in which only two members of each negotiating team were allowed to attend. On the Irish side, these members were always Collins and Griffith, while on the British side, Neville Chamberlain always attended, though the second British negotiator would vary from day to day. In late November, the Irish delegation returned to Dublin to consult the cabinet according to their instructions, and again on 3 December. Many points still had to be resolved, mainly surrounding the form of an oath to the monarch, but it was clear to all the politicians involved by this stage that a unitary 32-county Irish republic was not on offer.

When they returned, Collins and Griffith hammered out the final details of the treaty, which included British concessions on the wording of the oath and the defence and trade clauses, along with the addition of a Boundary Commission to the treaty and a clause upholding Irish unity. Collins and Griffith in turn convinced the other plenipotentiaries to sign the treaty. The final decisions to sign the Treaty was made in private discussions at 22 Hans Placemarker at 11.15am on 5 December 1921. Negotiations closed by signing on at 2.20am 6 December 1921.

Michael Collins later claimed that at the last minute Lloyd George threatened the Irish delegates with a renewal of "terrible and immediate war" if the Treaty was not signed at once, but this was not mentioned as a threat in the Irish memorandum about the close of negotiations, merely a reflection of the reality. Robert Barton noted that:
At one time he [Lloyd George] particularly addressed himself to me and said very solemnly that those who were not for peace must take full responsibility for the war that would immediately follow refusal by any Delegate to sign the Articles of Agreement.

Éamon de Valera called a cabinet meeting to discuss the treaty on 8 December, where he came out against the treaty as signed. The cabinet decided by 4 votes to 3 to recommend the Treaty to the Dáil on 14 December.

The contents of the Treaty divided the Irish Republic's leadership, with the President of the Republic, Éamon de Valera, leading the anti-Treaty minority. The Treaty Debates were difficult but also comprised a wider and robust stock-taking of the position by the contending parties. Their differing views of the past and their hopes for the future were made public. The focus had to be on the constitutional options, but little mention was made of the economy, nor of how life would now be improved for the majority of the population. Though Sinn Féin had also campaigned to preserve the Irish language, very little use was made of it in the debates. Some of the female TDs were notably in favour of continuing the war until a 32-county state was established. Much mention was made of '700 years' of British occupation, and even '700 centuries'. Personal bitterness developed; Arthur Griffith said of Erskine Childers: "I will not reply to any damned Englishman in this Assembly" and Cathal Brugha reminded everyone that the position of Michael Collins in the IRA was technically inferior to his.

The main dispute was centred on the status as a dominion (as represented by the Oath of Allegiance and Fidelity) rather than as an independent republic, but partition was a significant matter for dissent. Ulstermen like Sean MacEntee spoke strongly against the partition clause. The Dáil voted to approve the Treaty but the objectors refused to accept it, leading eventually to the Irish Civil War. McEntee was among their leaders.


Under the terms of the treaty, three separate parliaments had to approve the document.
  1. The British House of Commons did so on 16 December 1921 by a vote of 401 to 58. On the same day the House of Lords voted in favour by 166 to 47.
  2. So too did Dáil Éireann after long debate on 7 January 1922 by vote of 64 to 57.
  3. In addition the treaty required the approval of a third body, the House of Commons of Southern Ireland, which constituted the "lawful" parliament of the twenty-six county state called Southern Ireland created under the Government of Ireland Act 1920 (of its 128 members, 124, having been elected, had formed the "Second Dáil" in 1921, the body which had approved the new Treaty in December 1921). Though few Irish people recognised it as a valid or legal entity, it too needed to give approval in order to satisfy British Constitutional theory, which it did overwhelmingly. Anti-Treaty members stayed away, meaning only pro-treaty members and the four elected unionists (who had never sat in Dáil Éireann) attended its meeting in January 1922.

Dáil debates

The Dáil debates lasted much longer and exposed the diversity of opinion in Ireland. Opening the debate on 14 December, President de Valera stated his view on procedure:
"it would be ridiculous to think that we could send five men to complete a treaty without the right of ratification by this assembly. That is the only thing that matters. Therefore it is agreed that this Treaty is simply an agreement and that it is not binding until the Dáil ratifies it. That is what we are concerned with."
However when the Treaty was ratified by the Dáil on 7 January, he refused to accept the vote as final.

Private sessions were held on 14-17 December, and a.m. on 6 January, to keep the discord out of the press and the public arena. During the first of these De Valera also produced his ideal redraft, which was not in most respects radically different from the signed agreement, but which was probably not acceptable to the British side as the differing points had already been explored.

On 15 December Robert Barton was questioned by Kevin O'Higgins about his notes on Lloyd George's statement about signing the agreement or facing a renewal of war: "Did Mr. Lloyd George single Mr. Barton out as the left wing of the delegation and did he say, “The man who is against peace may bear now and forever the responsibility for terrible and immediate war?"" Barton replied: "What he did say was that the signature and the recommendation of every member of the delegation was necessary, or war would follow immediately and that the responsibility for that war must rest directly upon those who refused to sign the Treaty". This was seized upon by opponents of the Treaty as proof that the Irish delegates had been subjected to duress at the last minute, and "terrible and immediate war" became a catch-phrase in the debates that followed.

The crucial private Dáil session on 6 January was informed that it could not be told about a private conference of 9 TDs that had reached a compromise agreement on almost all points the night before. Most TDs wanted at least to be told what matters were still not agreed on, and from this point onwards the pro-Treaty members insisted that all sessions should be held in public.

The public sessions lasted 9 days from 19 December to 7 January. On 19 December Arthur Griffith moved:"That Dáil Éireann approves of the Treaty between Great Britain and Ireland, signed in London on December 6, 1921."

By 6 January, the day before the final vote, de Valera acknowledged the deep division within his cabinet: "When these Articles of Agreement were signed, the body in which the executive authority of this assembly, and of the State, is vested became as completely split as it was possible for it to become. Irrevocably, not on personalities or anything of that kind or matter, but on absolute fundamentals."

The Second Dáil formally ratified the Treaty on 7 January 1922 by a vote of 64 to 57. De Valera resigned as President on 9 January and was replaced by Arthur Griffith, on a vote of 60 to 58. On 10 January De Valera published his second redraft, known generally as "Document No. 2".

Griffith, as President of the Dáil, worked with Michael Collins, who chaired the new Provisional Government of Ireland, theoretically answerable to the House of Commons of Southern Ireland, as the Treaty laid down. In December 1922 a new Irish constitution was enacted by the Third Dáil, sitting as a Constituent Assembly, providing the legal basis for the Irish Free State.

At "a meeting of members of the Parliament elected for constituencies in Southern Ireland", (though not the House of Commons of Southern Ireland - see this), as provided for in the Treaty to, did so unanimously on 14 January 1922.


The split over the Treaty eventually led to the Irish Civil War (1922–23). In 1922 its two main Irish signatories, President Griffith and Michael Collins, both died. Griffith died partially from exhaustion; Collins, at the signing of the Treaty, had said that in signing it, he may have signed his "actual death warrant" and he was correct: he was assassinated by anti-Treaty republicans in Béal na mBláth in August 1922, barely a week after Griffith's death. Both men were replaced in their posts by W. T. Cosgrave. Two of the other members of the delegation, Robert Barton and Erskine Childers sided against the Treaty in the civil war. Childers, head of Anti-Treaty propaganda in the conflict, was executed by the Free State for possession of a pistol in November 1922.

The Treaty's provisions relating to the monarch, the governor-general, and the treaty's own superiority in law were all deleted from the Constitution of the Irish Free State in 1932, following the enactment of the Statute of Westminster by the British Parliament. The Statute removed the ability of the British Parliament to legislate on behalf of the dominions without their consent. Thus, the Government of the Irish Free State was free to change any laws previously passed by the British Parliament on their behalf.

Nearly 10 years earlier, Michael Collins had argued that the Treaty would give "the freedom to achieve freedom". De Valera himself acknowledged the accuracy of this claim both in his actions in the 1930s but also in words he used to describe his opponents and their securing of independence during the 1920s. "They were magnificent", he told his son in 1932, just after he had entered government and read the files left by Cosgrave's Cumann na nGaedhael Executive Council.

Although the British government of the day had, since 1914, desired home rule for the whole of Ireland, the British Parliament believed that it could not possibly grant complete independence to all of Ireland in 1921 without provoking a massacre of Ulster Catholics at the hands of their heavily-armed Protestant Unionist neighbours. At the time, although there were Unionists throughout the country, they were concentrated in the northeast and their parliament first sat on 7 June 1921. An uprising by them against home rule would have been an insurrection against the "mother county" as well as a civil war in Ireland. (See Ulster Volunteer Force). Dominion status for 26 counties, with partition for the six counties that the Unionists felt they could comfortably control, seemed the best compromise possible at the time.

In fact, what Ireland received in dominion status, on par with that enjoyed by Canadamarker, New Zealandmarker and Australia, was far more than the Home Rule Act 1914, and certainly a considerable advance on the Home Rule once offered to Charles Stewart Parnell in the nineteenth century. Even de Valera's proposals made in secret during the Treaty Debates differed very little in essential matters from the accepted text, and were far short of the autonomous 32-county republic that he publicly claimed to pursue.

The solution that was agreed had also been on Lloyd George's mind for years. He met Tim Healy, a senior barrister and former nationalist MP, in late 1919 to consider his options. Healy wrote to his brother on 11 December 1919: "Lloyd George said that, if he could get support for a plan whereby the six counties would be left as they are, he would be ready to give the rest of the country Dominion Home Rule, free from Imperial taxation, and with control of the Customs and Excise." Healy considered that the idea had foundered on de Valera's insistence on having an all-Ireland republic, months before the War of Independence became seriously violent in mid-1920.

Though Lloyd George is often portrayed as having tricked the Irish delegation, he also had a long experience of Irish politics. He had supported the slow process of the 1914 Home Rule Act and liaised with the Irish Convention in 1917-18. By 1921 his coalition government depended on a large Conservative majority, and collapsed during the Chanak crisis in October 1922.

Further, though it was not generally realised at the time, the Irish Republican Army was in trouble. It had little ammunition or weaponry left. When Collins first heard that the British had called a Truce in mid-1921, following King George V's appeal for reconciliation at the opening of the Parliament of Northern Ireland under the Government of Ireland Act 1920, he commented: "We thought they were mad". The British, though they may never have realised it, were weeks, perhaps even days, away from inflicting severe losses on an exhausted IRA; though, even if they had, it is likely that some form of autonomy in excess of home rule would have been achieved, given the extent to which the Irish population had turned its back on continuing British rule. It is also doubtful that British public opinion would have tolerated the larger and more frequent atrocities this would have entailed.

Former Taoiseach (prime minister) Bertie Ahern has conceded that the date that marks the real achievement of independence is 1922, when the Irish Free State created by the Anglo-Irish Treaty came into being, as this brought about British and international recognition of Irish independence.

See also

Further reading

Notes and references

  1. Robert Barton was the last surviving signatory. He died on 10 August 1975 at the age of 94.
  2. Preliminary negotiations online, June-September 1921
  3. Dáil Proposal of De Valera as President
  4. Ratification of the plenipotentiaries
  5. Arthur Griffith; comment on the delegates' credentials
  6. De Valera to Lloyd George, 8 July 1921
  7. Lloyd George to De Valera, 20 July 1921
  8. Irish cabinet notes on the negotiations, 3 Dec 1921
  9. Notes by Robert Barton of two sub-conferences held on December 5/6, 1921.
  10. Minutes of a Cabinet Meeting held on 8 December, 1921
  11. Dáil Éireann - Volume 3 - 22 December, 1921 DEBATE ON TREATY
  12. Hansard Commons debate online; 16 Dec 1921
  13. Hansard Lords debate on 16 Dec 1921
  14. De Valera's first redraft; 14 Dec 1921
  15. Barton's statement, 15 Dec 1921
  16. Private session, 6 January 1922
  17. Document No. 2, 10 January 1922
  18. De Valera's 2 proposals publicised on 10 January, 1922
  19. Chapter 43 of Healy's memoirs published in 1928

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