Caoimhin O’Muraile 🔖This book was written by Micheal O’Fathartlaigh and Liam Weeks, published by Irish Academic Press in 2021.

It is a concise examination of the events which took place in Ireland between 11th June 1921 and the 16th June 1922, the general election of that year, though it briefly looks at the 1918 general election results and how the system known as first past the post is very misleading and undemocratic. This system is still used in British elections. 

The book examines in detail the talks which took place in London culminating in the signing of the “terms of an agreement” on 6th December by the British and Irish delegations. The authors go to great lengths and successfully put to bed the century old myth that the Irish delegates, plenipotentiaries, signed the “Treaty” -  they did not. What they signed was the “terms of an agreement”, something they did with much reluctance and heavy hearts, which was to be taken before the Dail for ratification, or not, and then it would, or would not, become a Treaty. 

There has been much misunderstanding over the years over what they actually signed but this book, certainly for me, puts the argument to bed. Collins and his cohorts did not, as is popularly believed, sign away The Republic. The Dail did that by a slender majority of 57 against the agreement to 64 in favour, though Collins and Griffith did argue loudly for the agreement. It then became the Treaty between Britain and Ireland. The problem and what appears to be a contradiction is after having gone to great lengths to explain this was an agreement, not a treaty, successfully doing so, the authors either by design or accident, continue to refer in later chapters to the document signed in London as “the Treaty”. It becomes a little confusing but the reader should remember what they are actually referring to is the “Terms of the Agreement” which led to the Treaty.

Many of the TDs who gathered in the often fabled Second Dail on December 14th 1921 possibly voted for the agreement on the grounds that it provided for a Boundary Commission to sit and determine how much of the part of the island known to some as “Northern Ireland” would be returned to the now named Irish Free State. It was expected by these optimists that Fermanagh and Tyrone with nationalist majorities would be returned to the Free State by this commission, a forlorn hope which was never realised. The book explains why. On 7th January 1922 the vote was taken, after much debate chiefly, though not exclusively, between Eamon de Valera (against) and Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith (for) resulting in the 64 votes in favour and 57 against. The authors even meticulously document the number of words the chief protagonists used in the debate. It was also noted that the five women TDs, Kathleen Clarke, Constance Markievicz, Kathleen O’Callaghan, Mary McSweeney, and Ava English all voted against.

The work can become a little convoluted in places but the reader should persevere - it is worth it. They look at the “Treaty” as it had become and the negotiations which led to the “Terms of the Agreement” through the context of the British Empire and internationally. Britain had emerged from the First World War as one of the victors, their empire intact, arguably even stronger, so why should they have conceded anything let alone as much as they did? 

The work then goes on to examine the reaction of Britain’s other five dominions, as the Treaty now provided this as the Free State’s status, a dominion, which the Irish never accepted, to the final outcome. Those five were Australia, New Zealand, both of whom viewed the “Treaty” through negative lenses as they considered this gave away too much and weakened the British Empire. They both also did not wish to be seen doubting the integrity of the British Government so their criticisms were tapered. Canada, and South Africa both looked on the deal as positive as Ireland had gained what they had wanted for decades. Newfoundland looked on the Treaty as the final outcome, something which the Irish did not. And provided the British gave no more ground and Ireland remained a dominion it got their blessing. Looking at things through the lenses of empire/commonwealth and the reactions of the other dominions was very important and well researched. Perhaps the country, which was not yet even a dominion, which Ireland had most in common with was India and this is looked at in some detail.

Flags and emblems are an important part of status and of all the dominions, though the Irish never accepted this status despite what the Crown thought. The Irish flag was/is the only one not to contain the Union Jack in its design. Australia, New Zealand have the Union flag to this day in their design. At the time Canada, until 1965 when they began using the red Maple on white background with red bands at either end, was a Red Ensign with the Union Jack in the corner. The South African flag incorporated the Union Jack until 1994 with the fall of apartheid contained none of these trappings. Newfoundland ceased to exist in 1949 when it became part of Canada due to economics but up until then the Union Jack was incorporated into their flag.

When in 1931 Britain introduced the Statute of Westminster which gave more autonomy, or de facto independence, to the dominions Ireland never endorsed it. The Irish Minister for External Affairs, Patrick McGilligan said:

The powers inherent in the Treaty position are what we have proclaimed them to be for the last ten years. The Statute was merely achieving for the other dominions what the Irish Free State had secured in 1921” (P7). 

Put plainly the Treaty confirmed the basis for Irish independence. Plus, for the Dail to have endorsed the Statute of Westminster they would have been accepting they were a dominion, something they always resisted.

What was very noticeable about the negotiations was the lack of or non-existent concerns by either negotiating team for the Irish working-class and rural poor. It should come as no surprise that those who drafted the “Terms of the Agreement” would not care a fig for these people, they were the largest imperial government on the planet. The Irish team cared little more either. Both sets of negotiators had one thing in common, they both supported Capitalism. Perhaps another reason, as outlined towards the end of the book, for the lack of class input and concerns for the class divisions between rich and poor could date back to the 1918 General Election. It was then that the Irish Labour Party were persuaded to stand down thus giving Sinn Fein a clear run. It was decided “labour must wait” in other words we’ll get the national question sorted then we will look at all other concerns. 

Had James Connolly still been alive would this have happened? Not very likely. Connolly, judging by his works and commitment to the teachings of Karl Marx, would have been unlikely to have allowed this “labour must wait” kite to fly, certainly not without question. Had Connolly being around, and this is supposition, the treaty talks at best would have had a labour input. Connolly was alas long dead, but one of his disciples, Constance Markievicz TD was involved - a veteran of the 1913/14 Dublin Lockout and Irish Citizen Army said nothing of note on the labour question! Quite ironic really.

All the articles of the Treaty are gone through and I would recommend the reader pays particular attention to articles seven and eight. Article seven covered the “Treaty Ports” of Berehaven, Queenstown (now Cobh), and Lough Swilly allowing the British navy to maintain a presence in the Free State. For obvious reasons, dealt with in the book it was imperative this article was scrapped as part of the negotiations ending the economic war 1932-38. De Valera successfully negotiated with the British these ports be returned to Ireland. It was not a day too soon as neutrality during the Second World War could not have been claimed if the Royal Navy were still present in these ports.

I found the book, minor contradictions aside, to be very informative, if at times a little convoluted. It approached the subject in an objective manner and comes from numerous angles including, as mentioned, that in the context of the British Empire. The Treaty between Britain and Ireland offered much more than others had achieved and the differences between the text and de Valera’s Document number two were so miniscule they were not worth fighting a civil war over! The writers try to be objective but it becomes clear they are sympathetic to the pro-Treaty side of the debate. Through this treaty Ireland secured what the dominions did not get for another ten years, though the British may question that no doubt. 

To me the difference between signing the “terms of the agreement” and the misguided belief the delegation had signed the “Treaty” may sound minor, even pernickety but it is very, very important to understand the difference. The authors do this very well.

Mícheál Ó Fathartaigh and Liam Weeks, 2021, Birth of a State: The Anglo-Irish Treaty. Published @ Irish Academic Press. ISBN-13: ‎978-1788551595.

Caoimhin O’Muraile is an Independent 
Socialist Republican and Marxist

Birth Of A State

Caoimhin O’Muraile 🔖This book was written by Micheal O’Fathartlaigh and Liam Weeks, published by Irish Academic Press in 2021.

It is a concise examination of the events which took place in Ireland between 11th June 1921 and the 16th June 1922, the general election of that year, though it briefly looks at the 1918 general election results and how the system known as first past the post is very misleading and undemocratic. This system is still used in British elections. 

The book examines in detail the talks which took place in London culminating in the signing of the “terms of an agreement” on 6th December by the British and Irish delegations. The authors go to great lengths and successfully put to bed the century old myth that the Irish delegates, plenipotentiaries, signed the “Treaty” -  they did not. What they signed was the “terms of an agreement”, something they did with much reluctance and heavy hearts, which was to be taken before the Dail for ratification, or not, and then it would, or would not, become a Treaty. 

There has been much misunderstanding over the years over what they actually signed but this book, certainly for me, puts the argument to bed. Collins and his cohorts did not, as is popularly believed, sign away The Republic. The Dail did that by a slender majority of 57 against the agreement to 64 in favour, though Collins and Griffith did argue loudly for the agreement. It then became the Treaty between Britain and Ireland. The problem and what appears to be a contradiction is after having gone to great lengths to explain this was an agreement, not a treaty, successfully doing so, the authors either by design or accident, continue to refer in later chapters to the document signed in London as “the Treaty”. It becomes a little confusing but the reader should remember what they are actually referring to is the “Terms of the Agreement” which led to the Treaty.

Many of the TDs who gathered in the often fabled Second Dail on December 14th 1921 possibly voted for the agreement on the grounds that it provided for a Boundary Commission to sit and determine how much of the part of the island known to some as “Northern Ireland” would be returned to the now named Irish Free State. It was expected by these optimists that Fermanagh and Tyrone with nationalist majorities would be returned to the Free State by this commission, a forlorn hope which was never realised. The book explains why. On 7th January 1922 the vote was taken, after much debate chiefly, though not exclusively, between Eamon de Valera (against) and Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith (for) resulting in the 64 votes in favour and 57 against. The authors even meticulously document the number of words the chief protagonists used in the debate. It was also noted that the five women TDs, Kathleen Clarke, Constance Markievicz, Kathleen O’Callaghan, Mary McSweeney, and Ava English all voted against.

The work can become a little convoluted in places but the reader should persevere - it is worth it. They look at the “Treaty” as it had become and the negotiations which led to the “Terms of the Agreement” through the context of the British Empire and internationally. Britain had emerged from the First World War as one of the victors, their empire intact, arguably even stronger, so why should they have conceded anything let alone as much as they did? 

The work then goes on to examine the reaction of Britain’s other five dominions, as the Treaty now provided this as the Free State’s status, a dominion, which the Irish never accepted, to the final outcome. Those five were Australia, New Zealand, both of whom viewed the “Treaty” through negative lenses as they considered this gave away too much and weakened the British Empire. They both also did not wish to be seen doubting the integrity of the British Government so their criticisms were tapered. Canada, and South Africa both looked on the deal as positive as Ireland had gained what they had wanted for decades. Newfoundland looked on the Treaty as the final outcome, something which the Irish did not. And provided the British gave no more ground and Ireland remained a dominion it got their blessing. Looking at things through the lenses of empire/commonwealth and the reactions of the other dominions was very important and well researched. Perhaps the country, which was not yet even a dominion, which Ireland had most in common with was India and this is looked at in some detail.

Flags and emblems are an important part of status and of all the dominions, though the Irish never accepted this status despite what the Crown thought. The Irish flag was/is the only one not to contain the Union Jack in its design. Australia, New Zealand have the Union flag to this day in their design. At the time Canada, until 1965 when they began using the red Maple on white background with red bands at either end, was a Red Ensign with the Union Jack in the corner. The South African flag incorporated the Union Jack until 1994 with the fall of apartheid contained none of these trappings. Newfoundland ceased to exist in 1949 when it became part of Canada due to economics but up until then the Union Jack was incorporated into their flag.

When in 1931 Britain introduced the Statute of Westminster which gave more autonomy, or de facto independence, to the dominions Ireland never endorsed it. The Irish Minister for External Affairs, Patrick McGilligan said:

The powers inherent in the Treaty position are what we have proclaimed them to be for the last ten years. The Statute was merely achieving for the other dominions what the Irish Free State had secured in 1921” (P7). 

Put plainly the Treaty confirmed the basis for Irish independence. Plus, for the Dail to have endorsed the Statute of Westminster they would have been accepting they were a dominion, something they always resisted.

What was very noticeable about the negotiations was the lack of or non-existent concerns by either negotiating team for the Irish working-class and rural poor. It should come as no surprise that those who drafted the “Terms of the Agreement” would not care a fig for these people, they were the largest imperial government on the planet. The Irish team cared little more either. Both sets of negotiators had one thing in common, they both supported Capitalism. Perhaps another reason, as outlined towards the end of the book, for the lack of class input and concerns for the class divisions between rich and poor could date back to the 1918 General Election. It was then that the Irish Labour Party were persuaded to stand down thus giving Sinn Fein a clear run. It was decided “labour must wait” in other words we’ll get the national question sorted then we will look at all other concerns. 

Had James Connolly still been alive would this have happened? Not very likely. Connolly, judging by his works and commitment to the teachings of Karl Marx, would have been unlikely to have allowed this “labour must wait” kite to fly, certainly not without question. Had Connolly being around, and this is supposition, the treaty talks at best would have had a labour input. Connolly was alas long dead, but one of his disciples, Constance Markievicz TD was involved - a veteran of the 1913/14 Dublin Lockout and Irish Citizen Army said nothing of note on the labour question! Quite ironic really.

All the articles of the Treaty are gone through and I would recommend the reader pays particular attention to articles seven and eight. Article seven covered the “Treaty Ports” of Berehaven, Queenstown (now Cobh), and Lough Swilly allowing the British navy to maintain a presence in the Free State. For obvious reasons, dealt with in the book it was imperative this article was scrapped as part of the negotiations ending the economic war 1932-38. De Valera successfully negotiated with the British these ports be returned to Ireland. It was not a day too soon as neutrality during the Second World War could not have been claimed if the Royal Navy were still present in these ports.

I found the book, minor contradictions aside, to be very informative, if at times a little convoluted. It approached the subject in an objective manner and comes from numerous angles including, as mentioned, that in the context of the British Empire. The Treaty between Britain and Ireland offered much more than others had achieved and the differences between the text and de Valera’s Document number two were so miniscule they were not worth fighting a civil war over! The writers try to be objective but it becomes clear they are sympathetic to the pro-Treaty side of the debate. Through this treaty Ireland secured what the dominions did not get for another ten years, though the British may question that no doubt. 

To me the difference between signing the “terms of the agreement” and the misguided belief the delegation had signed the “Treaty” may sound minor, even pernickety but it is very, very important to understand the difference. The authors do this very well.

Mícheál Ó Fathartaigh and Liam Weeks, 2021, Birth of a State: The Anglo-Irish Treaty. Published @ Irish Academic Press. ISBN-13: ‎978-1788551595.

Caoimhin O’Muraile is an Independent 
Socialist Republican and Marxist

No comments