The Irish gain independence – and keep on fighting

August 5, 2021 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: history, journalism.

By all rights, the Irish Republic might have celebrated the centenary of its birth — its on Independence Day — this month.

It was only July 11, 1921 that Great Britain called for a ceasefire in its battle with Irish Republican Army — a ceasefire that led to the creation of the Republic of Ireland. The three-year war that the ceasefire ended had been bloody and horrific for both the British and the Irish. The British had decided that, while they had the physical strength to ultimately defeat the rebels, they were not sure they wanted to pay the cost in lives — both British and Irish — that it would take to keep Ireland within the United Kingdom.

The Irish seemed determined to fight on even when defeat appeared to be the only outcome.

So, the call for a ceasefire was welcomed on all sides.

But the ceasefire meant that there would need to be negotiations for a treaty to make the peace permanent, and anyone vaguely aware of Irish history knew that the British would impose conditions that many in Ireland could not find acceptable. The main condition was that the six counties of northern Ireland — whose residents were majority Protestant and who considered themselves British — would remain under the control of the British government. (The process that I have just described was more complicated, but the result was the same. It was also highly predictable.)

Another especially galling aspect of the treaty was that Ireland would be part of the British Commonwealth and that members of the government would have to swear an oath of loyalty to the King, much as those of Canada and Australia had done.

While most of the rebellion’s leaders accepted this compromise because it ended most of direct British rule in Ireland, a strong faction within the IRA denounced the treaty and the new government that it had established. They saw the treaty as a betrayal of the idea of a united Ireland that was completely independent of Great Britain.

The denunciations led to fighting among the IRA factions, and the fighting led to a full-blown Irish Civil War that lasted for nearly a year.

The war was particularly costly in lives of Ireland’s leaders such as Michael Collins, who negotiated the treaty and headed the provisional government. By the summer of 1923, however, the anti-treaty rebels had been defeated. The provisional government created by the treaty and backed by the British government became the permanent government of the Irish Free State.

One of the most influential factors that weighed heavily on the conflict and the treat negotiations and the ultimate outcome was the Irish ex-patriot population — particularly the one in the United States. American politicians and businessmen put pressure on the British government to negotiate its way out of Ireland, and American money was spent in large sums on arms and supplies for the rebels.

Ireland today generally ignores the ceasefire of 1921 and instead celebrates the Easter Rising of 1916, the event that sparked the next six years of fighting.


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