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 Dáil votes on the Treaty: sixty-four for approval and fifty-seven against.
The debate took a huge emotional toll on the participants. The official Dáil 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 where 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, Éamon de Valera, Cathal Brugha take part in the Rising.
1918: Sinn Féin wins massive majority (73 seats) in General Election and refuses to take its seats in UK Parliament.
21 January 1919: Sinn Féin members meet in Dublin proclaiming the first Dáil and declaring an Irish Republic (not recognised by Britain). On the same day in a totally unconnected incident, two Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) are ambushed and killed at Soloheadbeg, Co Tipperary by IRA men including Dan Breen and Sean Treacy. The unauthorised attack is now accepted as the first incident in the brutal War of Independence which would eventually force Britain to the negotiating table.
6 December 1921: The Anglo-Irish Treaty is signed in London. The debate in Dáil Éireann primarily centered on whether Collins, Griffith and company had the authority to sign an agreement on behalf of the Irish people.
1922: Dáil Éireann votes to ratify the treaty. Éamon 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, Austin Stack, Countess Markievicz and President of the Dáil, Éamonn de Valera.
28 June 1922: Opening act of what would prove to be a vicious civil war when Irish government forces bombard the Four Courts in Dublin which anti-Treaty forces had taken by force.
22 August 1922: Michael Collins killed in Cork by anti-Treaty forces.
6 December 1922: Irish Free State is formally established consisting of the whole Ireland of Ireland. The wording of the Treaty allowed the impression to be given that the Irish Free State temporarily included the whole island of Ireland, but legally the terms of the Treaty applied only to the 26 counties, and the government of the Free State never had any powers—even in principle—in Northern Ireland.
7 December 1922: 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: Éamon de Valera founds Fianna Fáil.
1927: Fianna Fáil wins 44 seats in the general election and de Valera now enters Dáil Éireann, 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.
Photo: A scene from the first Dáil as well as pictures of each of the members.
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