On this date in 1922 the Irish Free State was established as a dominion of the British Commonwealth of Nations under the Anglo-Irish Treaty signed by British and Irish representatives exactly twelve months beforehand. As expected, Northern Ireland immediately exercised its right under the Treaty to remove itself from the new state. The Irish Free State effectively replaced both the self-proclaimed Irish Republic (founded 21 January 1919) and the Provisional Government of the Irish Free State. W. T. Cosgrave, the first President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State, had led both of these governments since August 1922. The Free State came to an end in 1937, when the citizens voted by plebiscite to adopt a new constitution. Under the new constitution the Irish state was named Ireland.
The Easter Rising of 1916, and particularly the execution of fifteen people by firing squad, the imprisonment or internment of hundreds more, and the imposition of martial law caused a profound shift in public opinion towards the republican cause in Ireland. Meanwhile, opposition at home increased to Ireland’s participation in World War I in Europe and the Middle East. This came about when the Irish Parliamentary Party supported the Allied cause in World War I in response to the passing of the Third Home Rule Bill in 1914. Many people had begun to doubt whether the Bill, passed by Westminster in September 1914 but suspended for the duration of the war, would ever come into effect.
Due to the war situation deteriorating badly on the Western Front in April 1918, which coincided with the publication of the final report and recommendations of the Irish Convention, the British Cabinet drafted a doomed “dual policy” of introducing Home Rule linked to compulsory military service for Ireland which it eventually had to drop. Sinn Féin, the Irish Party and all other Nationalist elements joined forces in opposition to the idea during the Conscription Crisis of 1918. Irish republicans felt further emboldened by successful anti-monarchical revolutions in the Russian Empire (1917), the German Empire (1918), and the Austro-Hungarian Empire (1918). In the December 1918 General Election, Sinn Féin won a large majority of the Irish seats in the Westminster parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland: 73 of the 105 constituencies returned Sinn Féin members (25 uncontested). The Sinn Féin party, founded by Arthur Griffith in 1905, had previously espoused non-violent separatism. Under Éamon de Valera’s leadership from 1917, it campaigned aggressively and militantly for an Irish republic.
On 21 January 1919, Sinn Féin MPs (who became known as Teachta Dála, TDs), refusing to sit at Westminster, assembled in Dublin and formed a single-chamber Irish parliament called Dáil Éireann (Assembly of Ireland). It affirmed the formation of an Irish Republic and passed a Declaration of Independence,
The Irish people are resolved…to promote the common weal, to re-establish justice …with equal rights and equal opportunity for every citizen.
and calling itself Saorstát Éireann (Irish Free State). Although a small majority of Irish people accepted this course, the U.S. and Soviet Russia were expected to recognize the Irish Republic internationally. “The Message to the Free Nations of the World” called on
every free nation to support the Irish Republic by recognizing Ireland’s national status…the last outpost of Europe towards the West…demanded by the Freedom of the Seas.
Cathal Brugha elected President of the Ministry Pro-Tem warned, “Deputies you understand from this that we are now done with England.”
The War of Independence (1919–21) pitted the army of the Irish Republic, the Irish Republican Army (known subsequently as the “Old IRA” to distinguish it from later organizations of that name), against the British Army, the Black and Tans, the Royal Irish Constabulary, the Auxiliary Division, the Dublin Metropolitan Police, the Ulster Special Constabulary and the Ulster Volunteer Force. On 9 July 1921 a truce came into force. By this time the Ulster Parliament had been opened, established under the Government of Ireland Act 1920, presenting the republican side with a fait accompli and guaranteeing the British a permanent entanglement in Ireland. On 11 October negotiations opened between prime minister David Lloyd George and Arthur Griffith, who headed the Irish Republic’s delegation. The Irish Treaty delegation set up its headquarters in Hans Place, Knightsbridge. On 5 December 1921 at 11:15 am the delegation decided during private discussions to recommend the negotiated agreement to the Dáil Éireann; negotiations continued until 2:30 am on 6 December 1921, after which the parties signed the Anglo-Irish Treaty.
Nobody had doubted that these negotiations would produce a form of Irish government short of the independence wished for by republicans. The United Kingdom could not offer a republican form of government without losing prestige and risking demands for something similar throughout the Empire. Furthermore, as one of the negotiators, Michael Collins, later admitted (and he would have known, given his leading role in the independence war), the IRA at the time of the truce was weeks, if not days, from collapse, with a chronic shortage of ammunition. “Frankly, we thought they were mad”, Collins said of the sudden British offer of a truce – although the republicans would probably have continued the struggle in one form or another, given the level of public support. The president of the Republic, Éamon de Valera, realizing that Westminster would not accept an Irish republic, decided not to become a member of the treaty delegation (Griffith, Collins, Duggan, Barton, and Gavan Duffy) and so not to become accused by more militant republicans as a “sellout”. Yet his own proposals – published in January 1922 – fell far short of an autonomous all-Ireland republic. Sinn Féin’s abstention was unambiguous.
As expected, the Anglo-Irish Treaty explicitly ruled out a republic. It offered Ireland dominion status, as a state within the then British Empire, equal to Canada, Newfoundland, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Though less than expected by the Sinn Féin leadership, this deal offered substantially more than the initial form of home rule within the United Kingdom sought by Charles Stewart Parnell from 1880, and represented a serious advance on the Home Rule Bill of 1914 that the Irish nationalist leader John Redmond had achieved through parliamentary proceedings. However, it all but confirmed the partition of Ireland between Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State. The Second Dáil in Dublin ratified the Treaty (7 January 1922), splitting Sinn Féin in the process.
The Treaty, and the legislation introduced to give that Treaty legal effect, implied that Northern Ireland would be a part of the Free State on its creation, but legally the terms of the Treaty applied only to the southern 26 counties, and the government of the Free State never had any powers—even in principle—in Northern Ireland.
The Treaty was given legal effect in the United Kingdom through the Irish Free State Constitution Act 1922. That Act, which established the Free State, allowed Northern Ireland to opt out of it. Under Article 12 of the Treaty, Northern Ireland could exercise its option by presenting an address to the King requesting not to be part of the Irish Free State. Once the Treaty was ratified, the Houses of Parliament of Northern Ireland had one month (dubbed the “Ulster month”) to exercise this option during which month the Government of Ireland Act continued to apply in Northern Ireland.
Realistically it was always certain that Northern Ireland would opt out of the Free State. The Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Sir James Craig, speaking in the Parliament in October 1922 said that “when 6 December is passed the month begins in which we will have to make the choice either to vote out or remain within the Free State”. He said it was important that that choice be made as soon as possible after 6 December 1922 “in order that it may not go forth to the world that we had the slightest hesitation”. On the following day, 7 December 1922, the Parliament resolved to make the following address to the King so as to opt out of the Irish Free State:
MOST GRACIOUS SOVEREIGN, We, your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Senators and Commons of Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled, having learnt of the passing of the Irish Free State Constitution Act, 1922, being the Act of Parliament for the ratification of the Articles of Agreement for a Treaty between Great Britain and Ireland, do, by this humble Address, pray your Majesty that the powers of the Parliament and Government of the Irish Free State shall no longer extend to Northern Ireland.
Discussion in the Parliament of the address was short. Prime Minister Craig left for London with the memorial embodying the address on the night boat that evening, 7 December 1922. The King received it the following day, The Times reporting:
YORK COTTAGE, SANDRINGHAM, DEC. 8. The Earl of Cromer (Lord Chamberlain) was received in audience by The King this evening and presented an Address from the Houses of Parliament of Northern Ireland, to which His Majesty was graciously pleased to make reply.
If the Houses of Parliament of Northern Ireland had not made such a declaration, under Article 14 of the Treaty Northern Ireland, its Parliament and government would have continued in being but the Oireachtas would have had jurisdiction to legislate for Northern Ireland in matters not delegated to Northern Ireland under the Government of Ireland Act. This, of course, never came to pass.
On 13 December 1922 Prime Minister Craig addressed the Parliament informing them that the King had responded to the Parliament’s address as follows:
I have received the Address presented to me by both Houses of the Parliament of Northern Ireland in pursuance of Article 12 of the Articles of Agreement set forth in the Schedule to the Irish Free State (Agreement) Act, 1922, and of Section 5 of the Irish Free State Constitution Act, 1922, and I have caused my Ministers and the Irish Free State Government to be so informed.
The Treaty established that the new Irish Free State would be a constitutional monarchy, with a Governor-General. The Constitution of the Irish Free State made more detailed provision for the state’s system of government, with a three-tier parliament, called the Oireachtas, made up of the King and two houses, Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann (the Irish Senate). Executive authority was vested in the King, and exercised by a cabinet called the Executive Council, presided over by a prime minister called the President of the Executive Council.
The King in Ireland was represented by a Governor-General of the Irish Free State. The office replaced the previous Lord Lieutenant, who had headed English and British administrations in Ireland since the Middle Ages. Governors-General were appointed by the King initially on the advice of the British Government, but with the consent of the Irish Government. From 1927 the Irish Government alone had the power to advise the King whom to appoint.
As with all dominions, provision was made for an Oath of Allegiance. Within dominions, such oaths were taken by parliamentarians personally towards the monarch. The Irish Oath of Allegiance was fundamentally different. It had two elements; the first, an oath to the Free State, as by law established, the second part a promise of fidelity, to His Majesty, King George V, his heirs and successors. That second fidelity element, however, was qualified in two ways. It was to the King in Ireland, not specifically to the King of the United Kingdom. Secondly, it was to the King explicitly in his role as part of the Treaty settlement, not in terms of pre-1922 British rule. The Oath itself came from a combination of three sources, and was largely the work of Michael Collins in the Treaty negotiations. It came in part from a draft oath suggested prior to the negotiations by president de Valera. Other sections were taken by Collins directly from the Oath of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), of which he was the secret head. In its structure, it was also partially based on the form and structure used for ‘Dominion status’.
Although ‘a new departure’, and notably indirect in its reference to the monarchy, it was criticized by nationalists and republicans for making any reference to the Crown, the claim being that it was a direct oath to the Crown, a fact demonstrably incorrect by an examination of its wording. But in 1922 Ireland and beyond, it was the perception, not the reality, that influenced public debate on the issue. Had its original author, Michael Collins, survived, he might have been able to clarify its actual meaning, but with his assassination in August 1922, no major negotiator to the Oath’s creation on the Irish side was still alive, available or pro-Treaty. (The leader of the Irish delegation, Arthur Griffith, had also died in August 1922). The Oath became a key issue in the resulting Irish Civil War that divided the pro- and anti-treaty sides in 1922–23.
The compromises contained in the agreement caused war in the 26 counties in June 1922 – April 1923, in which the pro-Treaty Provisional Government defeated the anti-Treaty Republican forces. The latter were led, nominally, by Éamon de Valera, who had resigned as President of the Republic on the treaty’s ratification. His resignation outraged some of his own supporters, notably Seán T. O’Kelly, the main Sinn Féin organizer. On resigning, he then sought re-election but was defeated two days later on a vote of 60–58. The pro-Treaty Arthur Griffith followed as President of the Irish Republic. Michael Collins was chosen at a meeting of the members elected to sit in the House of Commons of Southern Ireland (a body set up under the Government of Ireland Act 1920) to become Chairman of the Provisional Government of the Irish Free State in accordance with the Treaty. The general election in June gave overwhelming support for the pro-Treaty parties. W. T. Cosgrave’s Crown-appointed Provisional Government effectively subsumed Griffith’s republican administration with the death of both Collins and Griffith in August 1922.
The civil war ended in 1923 with the defeat of the anti-treaty forces. The Irish Free State became a fully independent republic in 1937. Attempts to re-unite the north and south have lead to decades of bloodshed, some of which I experienced directly as a young man in the 1960s and ‘70s.
Because of English/British control of Ireland for centuries, their cultures are deeply entwined, yet separate. Nowhere is this clearer than in cooking. There is not a lot that is uniquely Irish in cooking. In the U.S., the trotting out of corned beef and cabbage on St Patrick’s Day is a tradition without real roots in Ireland. A boiled dinner of meat and vegetables, certainly has a venerable history in Irish households, but so does it in Britain and across Europe. Even so, I have often espoused dishes here that have a direct connexion with Ireland and Gaelic culture, such as Irish stew (made with mutton), colcannon, dulce, and the like. In the post-war years Irish cooking tended to be as bland and ordinary as English cooking for the same reasons – economic hardship and an impoverished farm industry. That is now rectified and Irish ingredients and cooking are, once again, superb. Nevertheless, Irish cuisine still has peasant roots reflected in offal dishes that I love.
Cork, on the southern coast of Ireland, has a long-standing association with animal produce and, from the 17th century to the end of the 19th century, was a major supplier of butter and salted (preserved) beef and pork to the British Empire, specifically the armed forces. The beef and pork industry meant a plentiful supply of offal. Offcuts were available at affordable prices for local consumption by the poor and underprivileged. An entire Cork cuisine developed based on offal – particularly pig offal. Examples include crubeens (pigs’ trotters); pigs’ tails; drisheen – a boiled blood sausage traditionally served with tripe; bodice – plain or salted pig ribs, cooked as a simple white stew, or as a salted bacon dish cooked with cabbage and turnip. In Cork, the word offal came to mean one specific dish – pig’s backbone. Now illegal to use because of BSE, it was cooked either salted or as a white stew.
For today I will highlight skirts and kidneys. The meat ingredients for skirts and kidneys can be bought generally in any pork butcher’s shop in Ireland, and you can probably do well enough anywhere where pork is prevalent. Skirts are the trimmings from the inside of the ribs and backbone. While the meat is thin, it is quite tender as it forms part of little-used muscle in the animal. It is encased in a tough white membrane which needs to be stripped off before cooking. Kidneys need to be carefully washed in copious amounts of fresh water to ensure that all traces of urine are washed away. Pork kidneys can be quite strong, and so are not as plentiful as ox kidneys.
The dish is a basic white stew for which you don’t really need a detailed recipe. Trim the skirts to remove all membranes and other inedible parts. Cut the kidneys in half and remove all the white tubing at the center. Put them in a large pot and cover with light stock. Bring to a simmer and skim the froth that rises. Then add chopped onions, thyme, and salt and white pepper to taste. Continue to cook until the meats are tender (1 to 2 hours). Then add diced potatoes. You can peel them if you like but I just scrub them and cook them with the skins on. Cook until the potatoes are soft. Some cooks add cornstarch (mixed with a little water) towards the end to thicken the sauce. It’s also possible to add a little cream if you like. You can also add a little thyme towards the end to brighten the flavor.
In some parts of Ireland they do not use thyme, but are heavy with the pepper.
Always serve this stew in deep bowls with crusty bread. It’s also traditional to drink tea with the stew.