7th January1922 is possibly the saddest day in Irish history when a vote on the Treaty unfortunately set the scene for the Irish Civil War.
Thirty-two days after Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith sign the treaty in London granting Ireland legislative and financial independence for the first time since 1800, the divided Dail votes on the Treaty: sixty-four for approval and fifty-seven against.
The debate took a huge emotional toll on the participants. The official Dail record states that at the end of the debate, when De Valera knew he had lost the vote:
“PRESIDENT DE VALERA: I would like my last word here to be this: we have had a glorious record for four years; it has been four years of magnificent discipline in our nation. The world is looking at us now——
(The President here breaks down).”
Civil war was now just months away between men who fought side by side during the War of Independence.
The vote followed a vitriolic debate were each side accused the other of bad faith. Michael Collins—who when he signed the Treaty wrote “I have signed my death warrant—was a significant target for personal attacks from anti-Treaty members of the House.
Anti-Treatyite Cathal Brugha commented: “While the war was in progress I could not praise too highly the work done by the Head Quarters’ Staff. The Chief of Staff and each of the leaders of the subsections—the members of the Head Quarters’ Staff—were the best men we could get for the positions; each of them carried out efficiently, so far as I know, the work that was entrusted to him they worked conscientiously and patriotically for Ireland without seeking any notoriety, with one exception; whether he is responsible or not for the notoriety I am not going to say (cries of “Shame” and “Get on with the Treaty”). There is little more for me to say. One member was specially selected by the Press and the people to put him into a position which he never held; he was made a romantic figure, a mystical character such as this person certainly is not; the gentleman I refer to is Mr. Michael Collins.”
The Treaty vote may well have signaled the saddest day in Irish History.
A brief timeline:
1916: Easter Rising. Michael Collins, Eamonn De Valera, Cathal Brugha take part in the Rising.
1918: Sinn Fein wins massive majority (73 seats) in General Election and refuses to take its seats in UK Parliament
1919: 21 January: Sinn members meet in Dublin proclaiming the first Dail and declaring an Irish Republic (not recognized by Britain)
1921: 6 December: The Anglo-Irish Treaty is signed in London. The following debate in Dail Eireann primarily centered on whether Collins, Griffith and company had the authority to sign an agreement on behalf of the Irish people.
1922: Dail Eireann votes to ratify the treaty. De Valera and anti-Treaty members refuse to accept the vote. Senior members of the IRA who had fought so hard to oust Britain from Ireland were now on different sides. The pro-Treaty side included Richard Mulcahy, Eoin O’Duffy, Michael Collins, Emmet Dalton, Piaras Bealsai. The anti- Treaty side included Rory O’Connor, Liam Mellows, Cathal Brugha, Austen Stack, Countess Markievicz and President of the Dail Eamonn De Valera.
August 22nd: Michael Collins killed in Cork by anti-Treaty forces.
December 6th: Irish Free State is formally established consisting of the whole Ireland of Ireland
December 7th: Six counties of Northern Ireland opts out of the Irish Free State and becomes a separate political entity with allegiance to England.
1923: Late May: Civil War ends with complete victory for Irish government forces. Atrocities had been carried out by both sides.
1926: Eamonn De Valera founds Fianna Fail
1927: Fianna Fail wins 44 seats in the general election and De Valera now enters Dail Eireann, prepared to take an Oath of Allegiance that he railed against during the Treaty debate now describing it merely as an “empty political formula.” Had he taken that view on January 7th 1922, it is quite likely there would have been no Civil War.
Read ‘The Treaty Debate 7 January 1922’: http://historical-debates.oireachtas.ie/D/DT/D.T.192201070002.html
Photo: First Dail Eireann – Happier Times. Front Row: From Left to Right: Second Left Michael Collins (pro-Treaty), Cathal Brugha (anti), Arthur Griffith (pro) Eamonn De Valera (anti)
Photo: De Valera, Kevin O’Higgins and Best Man Rory O’Connor. O’Higgins would approve the execution of his friend O’Connor during the Civil War.
Photo: At a meeting in the Mansion House, Dublin, on 18 May 1922, the pro-Treaty and anti-Treaty politicians signed a pact relating to the forthcoming general election, after the meeting this photograph was taken in the garden of the Mansion House. (Michael Collins and Eamon De Valera Arthur Griffith and Harry Boland).