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Irish Republic

This article is about the historical Irish Republic. For the modern Irish state, see: Republic of Ireland1.

The Irish Republic (Irish: Poblacht na hÉireann or Saorstát Éireann), also known as the Republic of Ireland, was a revolutionary state established by Irish nationalists seeking secession from the United Kingdom (UK) in the 1910s, with the aim of supplanting the UK government. The War of Independence of 1919-1922 was considered by nationalists to be a war waged between Great Britain and the army of this revolutionary state, the Irish Republican Army (IRA).

During the war the republic established political organs which enjoyed the support of much of the Irish public, and received international recognition from the Russian SFSR. However no other state recognised the Irish Republic and it did not succeed in entirely over-throwing the British state. Furthermore, despite comprising, notionally, the whole island of Ireland, the republic's influence did not extend to Unionist dominated north-east Ulster. The Irish Republic is generally considered to have come to an end in 1922 at the latest, when it was superseded by the Irish Free State.



In English, the revolutionary state was known as the 'Irish Republic' or, occasionally, the 'Republic of Ireland'. Two different Irish language titles were used: Poblacht na hÉireann and Saorstát Éireann, based on two competing Irish translations of the word republic: Poblacht and Saorstát. Poblacht was a foreign loan word, a simple Gaelicisation of its English equivalent. Saorstát, on the other hand, was a compound word based on two already existing Irish words: saor (meaning "free") and stát ("state"). Its direct, literal translation was "free state". A slight variant of the title, Saorstát na hÉireann, was also sometimes used in later days as was the Latin Respublica Hibernica.

The term Poblacht na hÉireann is the one used in the Easter Proclamation of 1916. However the Declaration of Independence and other documents adopted in 1919 eschew this title in favour of Saorstát Éireann.

When the Irish Free State was established Saorstát Éireann was adopted as its official Irish title. However the Free State was not a republic but a form of constitutional monarchy within the British Empire. For this reason, since that time, the word saorstát has fallen out of use as a translation of republic. When the Irish state became the 'Republic of Ireland' in 1949, for example, its official Irish description became Poblacht na hÉireann.


In 1916 nationalist rebels participating in the Easter Rising issued the Proclamation of the Republic. By this declaration they claimed to establish an independent state called the 'Irish Republic' and proclaimed that the leaders of the rebellion would serve as the "Provisional Government of the Irish Republic" until it became possible to elect a national parliament. The Easter Rising was short-lived, limited to Dublin and, at the time it occurred, enjoyed little support from the Irish general public.

In the UK general election of 1918 candidates of the radical Sinn Féin party, including many who had participated in the 1916 rebellion, stood on a manifesto that committed the party to boycott the British Parliament and instead unilaterally establish a new Irish assembly in Dublin. Sinn Féin candidates won a large majoriy of seats, many uncontested, and in January 1919 gathered in the Mansion House for the first meeting of Dáil Éireann. At this meeting the Dáil adopted the Irish Declaration of Independence. However, because of the Easter Proclamation already adopted in 1916, the Dáil claimed merely to retrospectively 'ratify' the establishment of the Irish Republic, an event believed to have already occurred.

On the same day as the Declaration of Independence was issued two members of the Royal Irish Constabulary were ambushed and killed at Soloheadbeg , in Tipperary, by members of the Irish Volunteers. This incident had not been ordered by the Dáil but the course of events soon drove the Dáil to recognise the Volunteers as the army of the Irish Republic, and so the Soloheadbeg incident became the opening incident of a war between the Irish Republic and Great Britain.

The leaders of Easter Rising had decided to proclaim a republic. However some of its leaders were willing to countenance that eventually the German prince, Prince Joachim, son of Kaiser Wilhelm II, might be invited to become 'King of Ireland'. In the years following the Rising Sinn Féin was split between monarchists, led by Arthur Griffith, who favoured the establishment of a form of dual monarchy between Ireland and Great Britain, and republicans, under Eamon de Valera. However a compromise was reached at the 1917 Árd Fheis (party conference), where it was agreed that the party would pursue the establishment of an independent republic in the short-term, until the Irish people could be given the opportunity to decide on the form of government they preferred. This agreement was subject to the condition that if the people chose monarchy, no member of the British royal family would be invited to serve as monarch.

The decision to establish a republic in 1919, rather than any other form of government, was significant because it amounted to a complete repudiation of all constitutional ties with Great Britain, and set the party against any compromise that might involve limited home rule or continued membership of the British Empire.

Institutions of government

The was a popular symbol amongst supporters of the Irish Republic.
The Irish tricolour was a popular symbol amongst supporters of the Irish Republic.

The central institution of the republic was Dáil Éireann, which convened itself as a unicameral parliament. While the First Dáil consisted of members elected in 1918, two further general elections conducted by the British government in Ireland were also treated by nationalists as elections to the Dáil. The Second Dáil comprised members returned in the 1921 elections to the Northern Ireland Parliament and the failed Parliament of Southern Ireland; the Third Dáil was elected in 1922 as the "provisional parliament" provided for by the Anglo-Irish Treaty.

At its first meeting the Dáil adopted a brief, provisional constitution known as the Dáil Constitution. This vested executive authority in a cabinet called the 'Aireacht' or 'Ministry'. The Aireacht was answerable to the Dáil which elected its head, known initially as the 'Príomh Áire' or 'prime minister'. Later the English title President of Dáil Éireann also came to be used for the same post, especially during President de Valera's tour of the United States.

Initially, because of the division between republicans and monarchists, the Irish Republic had no explicit head of state. In August 1921, de Valera, standing for re-election as President of Dáil Éireann, had the Dáil rename the post to 'President of the Republic', so that he would be regarded as the head of state.

The military branch of the Irish Republic were the Irish Volunteers who, shortly after the outbreak of the War of Independence, were renamed as the 'Irish Republican Army' to reflect their claim to be a national army. Despite being theoretically under the command of the Dáil's Ministry, in practice individual IRA columns enjoyed a high level of autonomy.

The judicial arm of the Irish Republic consisted of a network of Dáil courts , which operated in parallel with the UK judicial system. The Dáil courts repudiated British jurisprudence entirely, opting instead to base their judgements upon the ancient Celtic Brehon law which had preceeded the Norman conquest.


Efforts by President de Valera in the United States, and the republic's 'ambassador' at the Versailles Peace Conference, Sean T. O'Kelly, to win international recognition failed. The only foreign recognition won for the Irish Republic occurred when the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic, under Vladimir Lenin, borrowed money from Michael Collins' Ministry of Finance and paid it back in the Tsarist crown jewels.

The Irish Republic was also never recognised by the UK government. In 1921 the UK government attempted to establish a new home rule state in Ireland called 'Southern Ireland', with its own parliament which convened in June. Nationalists refused to recognise Southern Ireland and so the Irish Republic and the new home rule state existed side by side.

When, in December 1921, the republic sent representatives to negotiate a truce with the government of David Lloyd George the Dáil commissioned them as 'envoys plenipotentiary', acting under the authority of the President of the Republic. However Lloyd George refused to consider the negotiations as talks between two sovereign states. Furthermore, when the Anglo-Irish Treaty was concluded the UK government insisted that it be submitted to the House of Commons of Southern Ireland for Irish ratification, rather than the Dáil (although in practice the membership of the two bodies was almost identical). Finally, in the transitional period leading to the establishment of the Irish Free State, the UK government transferred governance over Southern Ireland to an organ called the 'Provisional Government', rather than the Ministry of the Irish Republic.


By approving the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1921 and the Constitution of the Irish Free State in October 1922 the Dáil effectively agreed to the dissolution of the Irish Republic and its replacement with the system of constitutional monarchy found in the Irish Free State. The Third Dáil, elected under the terms of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, included only members elected in Southern Ireland and so the territory of the republic can be said to have been reduced by compliance with the treaties terms.

In 1922 the Provisional Government came into being but the Irish Republic was not dismantled, rather its institutions continued to operate in parallel with those of the provisional authority. Thus, for a time, Southern Ireland had two heads of government, Michael Collins as Chairman of the Provisional Government, and Arthur Griffith as President of the Republic. However the two administrations were progressively merged until in August, following the deaths of both Griffith and Collins, William T. Cosgrave assumed both leadership positions simultaneously and so the two most important offices effectively became one. On the 6th December 1922 the Constitution of the Irish Free State came into effect and the institutions of both the Irish Republic and the Provisional Government ceased to be.


The goal of those who established the Irish Republic was to create a de facto independent republic comprising the whole island of Ireland. They failed in this goal, but the Irish Republic paved the way for the creation of the Irish Free State, a British dominion with almost complete self-government, and a territory that extended to most of the island. By 1949 the Free State would have become a fully independent republic, known as the 'Republic of Ireland'.

Speaking in the Dáil on 29th April, 1997 leader of the once anti-Treaty Fianna Fáil party, Bertie Ahern, and the then taoiseach (prime minister) John Bruton, leader of the pro-Treaty Fine Gael party, agreed that as a basis for inclusive comemoration, the date from which Irish independence should be measured was not the formation of the Irish Republic in 1919, but the 1922 establishment of the Irish Free State, the first state to achieve de facto independence.

Since the Civil War of 1922-1923 the Irish Republic has been an important symbol for radical republicans. The Civil War began in June 1922 when both Sinn Féin and the IRA split between those pragmatists, who supported the Treaty, and those who opposed the compromises it contained. In particular the anti-Treaty faction objected to the continued role in the Irish constitution that would be granted to the British monarch under the Irish Free State. When the Dáil ratified the Treaty its opponents of the agreement walked out, arguing that the Dáil was attempting to 'destroy' the Irish Republic, and that its members had no right to do so.

Opponents of the Treaty refused to recognise either the Provisional Government or, when it was established, the Irish Free State, insisting that the Irish Republic continued to exist as a de jure entity. The anti-treaty faction also refused to recognise the Third Dáil, as it excluded representatives of Northern Ireland, and instead insisted that the Second Dáil, comprised only of deputies 'loyal' to the Irish Republic, was still in session.

After the defeat of the anti-Treaty side in the Civil War most opposition to the Free State came to an end in 1926 when Eamon de Valera, along with most anti-Treaty politicians, founded a new party called 'Fianna Fáil' and ended their boycott of the insitutions of the southern state. Nonetheless a hard-line minority have continued to reject the southern state. Most importantly, the Provisional IRA (PIRA), which conducted a campaign of bombings and shootings in Northern Ireland from the late 1960s until 1998, and its political wing, the modern Sinn Féin party, insist that the Irish Republic is still in existence, with the PIRA was its national army, and the PIRA Army Council Ireland's sole legitimate government. Analogous views are also held by other radical groups such as the Continuity IRA and the Real IRA.


  1. In order to avoid the implication that the Republic of Ireland extends to the whole island of Ireland, some British journalists and politicians refer to the modern Republic of Ireland as the "Irish Republic". Others simply use the term as a colloquial shorthand. However, as a title for the modern state, Irish Republic is technically incorrect. The "Ireland Act 1949" (a UK Act of Parliament) provides for the use of "Republic of Ireland" as a subsitute for "Éire" in United Kingdom for official purposes, whilst the term "Irish Republic" has no legal status.


  • Tim Pat Coogan, Michael Collins (Hutchinson, 1990) ISBN 0091741068
  • Tim Pat Coogan, Eamon de Valera (Hutchinson, 1993) ISBN 009175030X
  • R.F. Foster, Modern Ireland 1600–1972
  • Joseph Lee, The Modernisation of Irish Society
  • F.S.L. Lyons, Ireland Since the Famine
  • Lord Longford, Peace by Ordeal
  • Dorothy McCardle, The Irish Republic
  • Earl of Middleton, Ireland: Dupe or Heroine?
  • Arthur Mitchell & Pádraig Ó Snodaigh, Irish Political Documents 1916–1949
  • John A. Murphy, Ireland in the Twentieth Century

See also

Last updated: 05-07-2005 07:59:13
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04