The World at War

Ireland Timeline 1918-1948



1918 December Sinn Fein captures 48% of popular vote and 73 of 105 Irish seats in elections for Westminster parliament. Last election held prior to partition of the island.
1919 January 21 Sinn Fein MPs meet at Mansion House, Dublin, constituting themselves as first Dail Eireann (Irish Parliament) and declaring Irish independence.
January 21 Irish War of Independence begins with an attack by the Third Tipperary Brigade of Irish Volunteers on members of the Royal Irish Constabulary at Soloheadbeg, Co. Tipperary. Some 50,000 British troops, police and auxiliaries face a force of 2,000 volunteers at the height of the conflict. Arthur Griffith estimates that in the first 18 months of the war Crown forces stage 38,720 raids on private homes, arrest 4,982 suspects, commit 1,604 armed assaults, 102 sackings and shootups in towns and 77 murders. The police became the principal target of the rebels. RIC losses were 165 killed and 251 wounded. The Dail established republican "Arbitration Courts" and the IRA acted as a police force in many parts of the country where British law ceased to operate.
August Irish Volunteers take an oath of allegiance to the Dail and become the Irish Republican Army.
1920 March 20 Tomas MacCurtain, Lord Mayor of Cork, murdered by members of the Royal Irish Constabulary.
April 3-4 IRA raids on Inland Revenue offices end tax collection in southern Ireland until the establishment of the Free State.
April 5 Republican prisoners in Dublin’s Mountjoy Prison begin hunger strike to draw attention to the general state of affairs in Ireland and to the refusal of the British government of David Lloyd- George to recognize the IRA as a belligerent entitled to have its members treated as prisoners of war.
April 12 The Irish Trades Union Congress calls for a general strike to protest treatment of Republican prisoners.
April 15 Mountjoy Prison hunger strikers released.
July British send 1500 man auxiliary force to replace 600 members of the Royal Irish Constabulary who have resigned since the outbreak of the Anglo-Irish conflict. The auxiliaries are commonly called Black and Tans in reference to the colors of their uniforms.

Westminster parliament enacts the Government of Ireland Act repealing the 1914 Home Rule bill, partioning the island between the predominantly nationalist and Catholic 26 counties of southern Ireland and the predominantly unionist and Protestant 6 counties of northeastern Ireland and establishing separate parliaments for each. The Act is never implemented in the south.
July 19 Terence MacSwiney, Lord Mayor of Cork, arrested under the Defence of the Realm Act. MacSwiney dies in Brixton Prison after a 74 day hunger strike and predicting that in the end "It is not those who can inflict the most but those who can endure the most" who will prevail.
November 21 Bloody Sunday in Dublin - IRA counterintelligence squad acting on orders from Michael Collins kills eleven members of a British spy network known as the Cairo Gang. Later that day Black and Tans invaded Croke Park during a football match between Dublin and Tipperary on the pretext of searching for illegal arms. The Auxiliaries open fire killing a dozen spectators and one player. Three Republican prisoners are "shot while trying to escape from Dublin Castle" still later in the day.
1921 March 11 The President of the Dail Eireann, Eamon de Valera, secures the Dail’s support for a formal declaration of war with England.
June 27 King George V opens the first session of the Northern Ireland parliament at Stormont. The King’s speech prepared by Lloyd-George calls for and end to the war. Lloyd-George invites de Valera to attend a peace conference in London.
July 11 Truce between the IRA and British forces under General Sir Neville Macready takes effect.
October Irish delegation headed by Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith arrives in London for treaty negotiations. De Valera declines to head the Irish delegation citing the need for himself to remain behind in case the negotiations turn sour.
December 6 Anglo-Irish Treaty signed in London. The treaty grants southern Ireland dominion status within the commonwealth, maintains the British monarch as head of state, requires an Oath of Allegiance to the crown from members of the Irish parliament, formally recognizes the partition of the island between Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State (Saorstat Eireann), and allows the Royal Navy to maintain bases at the Treaty Ports of Cobh, Brerehaven and Lough Swilly. Collins signs the Treaty fearing the British will launch a full scale war and certain that it will be seen as a betrayal of the Republic by more militant elements in Ireland. He tells a member of the British delegation, "I have just signed my own death warrant."1
1922 January 7 Dail Eireann approves the Anglo-Irish Treaty by a vote of 64 to 57. Sinn Fein is split into Anti-Treaty (Republicans) and Pro-Treaty factions. The Republicans derisively label the Pro- Treaty element (Free Staters). De Valera and Liam Lynch, supported by a breakaway portion of the IRA (Irregulars) assume the helm of the Republican faction. Collins, Griffith and General Eoin O’Duffy lead the Free State forces with include most of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and part of the IRA.
January 9 De Valera resigns as President of the Dail Eireann and then offers himself for reelection. Arthur Griffith elected President by a vote of 60 to 58.
March IRA Irregulars organize a convention which declares itself opposed to the Treaty and elects an executive of 16 members charged with defending the independence of the Republic.
April 1-3 Republican troops occupy the Four Courts in Dublin and other strongholds around the country.
April 7 Royal Assent given to the Special Powers Act passed by the Northern Ireland parliament. The Act grants the Minister for Home Affairs powers to "take all such steps and issue all such orders as may be necessary to preserve the peace." The Minister is empowered to arrest without warrant and intern without trial, prohibit coroners’ inquests, flog, execute, requisition land or property, ban any organization and prohibit meetings and publications.
June 19 General election returns 58 Free Staters, 35 Republicans, 17 Labour, 7 Farmers and, 11 independent members to the Dail Eireann.
June 22 Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson assassinated.
June 27 Free State Government yields to British demands for an end to the Republican occupation of the Four Courts. Republicans ignore Free State authorities order to vacate the premises.
June 28 Free State forces under General O’Duffy begin bombard of Republican holdouts in the Four Courts using cannon borrowed from the departing British garrison in the opening engagement of the Irish Civil War.
June 30 Republican commander Oscar Traynor order surrender of the Four Courts garrison. Republican mines planted in the building which housed Ireland’s Public Records Office destroy a priceless collection of historical documents.
August 12 Death of Arthur Griffith.
August 22 Micheal Collins, commander in chief of Free State forces, killed in ambush by West Cork IRA irregulars at Beal na mBlath, County Cork.
September 27 Defence Minister Richard Mulcahy asks the Dail to grant emergency powers to the Army. Legislation introduced by Minister for Home Affairs (later Justice) Kevin O’Higgins establishes military courts and makes unauthorized possession of arms a capital offence. Among the first and most prominent victims of the legislation is Robert Erskine Childers. Childers is arrested for possession of a revolver (presented to him in more unified times by Michael Collins) and executed while a writ of habeas corpus is pending. Childers’ son is elected President of the Republic of Ireland half a century later.
October 25 Republicans elected to the second Dail Eireann meet in Dublin and call on de Valera to resume his presidency.
October 26 The Republican rump of the second Dail forms a government. This "Government of the Republic" is unable to assert its authority.
December 6 Constitution of the Irish Free State takes effect. William T. Cosgrave assumes the presidency of the Free State Executive Council.
December 8 Justice Minister Kevin O’Higgins orders the summary execution of four Republicans taken prisoner at the Four Courts; Rory O’Connor, Liam Mellows, Richard Barrett and Joseph McKelvey, in retaliation for the murder of Free State deputy Sean Hales. Cosgrave’s government executes 76 republican prisoners over the course of the following six months.
1923 February 1 Republican commander Liam Lynch threatens retaliatory assassinations if Free State government continues to execute prisoners.
February 9 Free State government announces amnesty for Republican prisoners facing execution.
March 24 Republican Executive meets in Waterford to discuss de Valera authored peace proposal. Liam Lynch leads the opposition and the proposal fails on a six to five vote. Lynch is killed later the same day.
April 14 Government forces capture Austin Stack, member of the Republican Executive.
April 20 Republican Executive authorizes de Valera to declare a temporary ceasefire effective April 30th. Free State government refuses any concessions.
May 14 Republican cabinet meets with Irregular IRA Army Council. Decision is made against resuming the war.
May 24 Frank Aiken, commandant of the Irregulars, orders Republican troops to cease fire and dump arms. De Valera concedes defeat, "Military victory must be allowed to rest for the moment with those who have destroyed the Republic". Mass roundup on Republicans follows with 11,316 interned.
August 15 De Valera arrested by Free State troops in Ennis and held at Kilmainham Gaol.
August 27 General election victory for the Free State party now called Cumann na nGaedheal
1924 Jule 16 DeValera released from internment.
November De Valera arrested for illegally entering Northern Ireland and held in solitary confinement at Belfast Prison for a month.
1925 December Cosgrave government accepts partition boundary between the Free State and Northern Ireland and shelves Report of the Boundary Commission.
1926 March 11 De Valera addresses the convention of the republican Sinn Fein proposing that the party accept the Free State constitution and return to electoral politics contingent on the abolition of the Oath of Allegiance to the Crown. Opponents of the proposal, led by Father Michael O’Flanagan, defeat it by a vote of 223 to 218. De Valera resigned as President of Sinn Fein and set about establishing his own constitutional party Fianna Faill (Soldiers of Destiny) Party.
November 24 First convention of Fianna Fail elects de Valera party president a position he holds without interruption until 1959.
1927 June Fianna Fail wins 44 of 153 seats in general elections for the Dail Eireann but refuses to take the Oath of Allegiance and is not allowed to occupy them. The government passes a bill requiring future candidates to affirm their willingness to take the oath prior to placing them on the ballot. DeValera facing elimination a political force yields to the demand.
July Kevin Higgins, Minister of Justice, assassinated.
August 12 De Valera leads Fianna Fail members into the Dail and sign the book containing the Oath and stating, "I am not prepared to take an oath. I am not going to take an oath. I am prepared to put my name down in this book in order to get permission to go into the Dail, but it has no other significance."
September 15 Fianna Fail increases its representation in the Dail to 57 seats. De Valera presents a petition calling for a referendum to abolish the Oath under article 48 of the Free State constitution. The petition has more than the requisite number of signatures but is rejected by the government.
1931 September 5 First issue of the Fianna Fail backed Irish Press published.
1932 February Fianna Fail wins 72 seats in general elections for the Dail and forms government with the support of 7 Labour members. DeValera becomes Prime Minister. Using powers accorded to the dominions under the Statute of Westminster he proceeds to remove the Oath from the constitution. Actual implementation of the measure is delayed briefly by opposition from the Senate.
February The Army Comrades Association, popularly known as the Blueshirts, formed by veterans of the Civil War era Free State Army in reaction to the unexpected victory by Fianna Fail.
Fianna Fail government withholds payment of Land Annuities to the British Exchequer in breach of the Anglo-Irish Financial Agreements of 1925 and 1926 setting off the Economic War. Britain imposes a 20% tariff on agricultural imports from the Free State, de Valera countered with a 5 shilling per ton tax on imports of British coal and a 20% tariff on British cement, machinery, electrical goods, steel and iron. Britain made up 96% of the Irish export market and over the next few years the value of Irish exports to the United Kingdom dropped 60%.
1933 January Fianna Fail consolidates it hold on government with victory in general elections. De Valera removes retired Free State General Eoin O’Duffy from his post as commissioner of the Garda Siochana (Civic Guards, i.e. police). Eamon Broy the new Commissioner recruits a new armed auxiliary Garda from Republican ranks.
Cumann na nGaedheal supporters flock to the ranks of the Blueshirts which becomes more openly reactionary and begins to adopt the trappings of European fascism including the wearing of the distinctive shirts from which it draws its name.
July Eoin O’Duffy assumes leadership of the Blueshirts who adopt a new formal name of the National Guard.
August Successful government ban on a march by the Blueshirts demoralizes the more militant membership but the National Guard joins with Cumann na nGaedheal and the Centre Party to form Fine Gael (Family of Gaels) which becomes a permanent presence on the center-right of the Eire political spectrum. O’Duffy was elected the party’s first leader but his tenure was shortlived.
1934 De Valera’s government supports Soviet admission to the League of Nations.
1936 Elimination of the Blueshirt threat from the right ends the IRA’s usefulness and de Valera moves to outlaw the organization.
The government adopts a policy of non-intervention in the Spanish Civil War but the Blueshirts have a last hurrah when General O’Duffy and a handful of faithful followers march off to Spain to fight for Franco.
December The crises surrounding the abdication of Edward VIII facilitates de Valera’s removal of all references to the King and Governor General removed from the Free State constitution. The Crown is retained only for purposes of external relations under the External Relations Act.
1937 December 29 Constitution of Eire take effect southern Ireland becomes a republic in all but name. The new constitution abolishes the Oath of Allegiance, replaces the Governor General with a President, makes Gaelic the country’s first official language, recognizes the special position of the Roman Catholic Church in Irish society, prohibits the state from granting divorce and claims the whole island of Ireland and surrounding water as the national territory.
1938 January De Valera and British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain begin talks to end the Economic War. De Valera supports Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement during his tenure as President of the 13th (and last) Assembly of the League of Nations.
April The Anglo-Irish Agreements end the Economic War and return control of the Treaty ports to Eire. Opposition to the agreements is led by Winston Churchill, author of the clauses which had left the ports under control of the Royal Navy under the 1921 treaty.
1939 January The Irish Republican Army commence a bombing campaign in Britain and Northern Ireland.
April de Valera declares his government’s intention to remain neutral in the event of war. He tells the Dail, "I have stated in this house and I have stated in the country, that the aim of government policy is to keep this country out of war, and nobody, either here or elsewhere, has any right to assume anything else."
May 30 Eire government introduces the Treason Act to deal with revival of IRA militancy.
June 14 Eire government introduces the Offences Against the State Act allowing it to take further repressive measures to curb the IRA.
September 3 Britain and France declare war on Germany. Eire remains neutral and takes extreme measures to deal with IRA insurgency and shortages caused by disruption in shipping. World War II come into Irish history books as The Emergency. Eire’s "neutrality" took a decidedly Allied tilt. Irish citizens were free to join the British forces (43,000 from Eire vs 38,000 from "loyal" Northern Ireland) or work in British factories, Allied airmen shotdown over Eire were quietly repatriated while Axis flyers were interned, Allied overflights were ignored, British intelligence agents operated out of a flying boat base at Foynes in County Limerick and weather reports from the west of Ireland were regularly relayed to the British. Northern Ireland enters the war by virtue of its status as an integral part of the United Kingdom. The Unionist cabinet at Stormont calls on Westminster to impose conscription on the province several times during the course of the conflict. The British refuse fearing that Nationalist opposition would make such a measure more trouble than it would be worth.
September 16 Ministry of Supplies established under Sean Lemass. Rationing of foodstuffs and essential raw materials introduced a shortly thereafter. Supplies of petroleum products, coal and gas averaged less than 20% of normal, textiles 22%, and tea 25%. The British restrict shipping as part of a campaign to persuade Eire to support the Allies throughout the war. The restrictions tighten under Churchill who was enraged by de Valera’s refusal to return the Treaty Ports to British control.
December 25 IRA stages a successful raid on an army ammunition depot in Phoenix Park, Dublin.
1940 Department for Co-ordination of Defensive Measures established under Frank Aiken. Recruiting campaign raises Eire’s regular forces and reserve manpower to 54,500.
January Justice Minister, Gerald Boland, granted additional powers under the Emergency Powers Act enabling him to intern known or suspected members of the IRA and anyone suspected of aiding them. 600 IRA members are imprisoned and 500 interned during the course of the Emergency. The IRA formulates Plan Kathleen in hopes of winning Germans support but their German contacts conclude that the IRA is too disorganized to be of use to the Reich.
September Local Defence Force established. LDF numbers 100,000 during the emergency.
1941 Irish Shipping Ltd. in attempt to provide neutral shipping to facilitate importation of wheat. The venture has little impact on the shortages and 20 Irish ships are sunk with the loss of 138 lives during the course of the war.
Marine and Coastwatching Service, Minefield section established to supervise mining of entrances to Cork and Waterford harbors. Royal Navy lays minefields off the southern coast of Ireland.
April German air raids kill 740, injure1,511 and damage 56,000 homes in Belfast. De Valera orders all Dublin fire brigades save one to assist Belfast in putting out the resulting fires.
May 30 Germans bombs fall on Dublin killing 28 and wounding 45.
1942 Bread rationing begins despite increases in wheat harvest after introduction of compulsory tillage policy.
February James Dillon resigns his seat in the Dail and from Fine Gael to protest the party’s continuing support of the government’s neutrality policy.
First of 300,000 American troops stationed in Northern Ireland during the course of the war arrive at Derry. Derry becomes a major port of call for Atlantic convoys and Allies establish half a dozen airfields in the province.
1944 Bord na Mona (Irish Peat Board) established develop supplies of peat. Eire rations coal to half a ton per month at the beginning of the emergency but supplies are quickly exhausted and the country is unable to obtain coal from foreign sources.
Fianna Fail wins a sixth consecutive general election under the leadership of DeValera.
1945 April 30 de Valera visits the German embassy in Dublin and signs a book of condolences memorializing the death of Hitler. The visit provokes widespread criticism but de Valera regards it as a perfunctory diplomatic act by a neutral government. -
May 13 Churchill takes one last jab at Irish neutrality during victory broadcast, "the approaches which the southern Irish ports and airfields could so easily have guarded were closed by the hostile aircraft and U-boats. This indeed was a deadly moment in our life, and if it had not been for the loyalty and friendship of Northern Ireland, we should have been forced to come to close quarters with Mr. de Valera, or perish from the earth. However, with a restraint and poise to which, I venture to say, history will find few parallels, His Majesty’s Government never laid a violent hand upon them, though at times it would have been quite easy and quite natural, and we left the de Valera Government to frolic with the German and later with the Japanese representatives to their heart’s content"
May 17 de Valera makes his reply to Churchill in a broadcast over Radio Eireann. The speech does much to restore his domestic popularity in the wake of the furor over his visit to the Germans. " Allowances can be made for Mr. Churchill’s statement, however unworthy, in the first flush of victory. No such excuse could be found for me in this quieter atmosphere. There are, however, some things it is essential to say. I shall try to say them as dispassionately as I can.
     Mr. Churchill makes it clear that, in certain circumstances, he would have violated our neutrality and that he would justify his actions by Britain’s necessity. It seems strange to me that Mr. Churchill does not see that this, if accepted, would become a moral code and that when this necessity became sufficiently great, other people’s rights were not to count... That is precisely why we had this disastrous succession of wars - World War No.1 and World War No.2 - and shall it be World War No.3?
     Mr. Churchill is proud of Britain’s stand alone, after France had fallen and before America entered the war. Could he not find in his heart the generosity to acknowledge that there is a small nation that stood alone not for one year or two, but for several hundred years against aggression; that endured spoliations, famine, massacres, in endless succession; that was clubbed many times into insensibility, but each time on returning to consciousness took up the fight anew; a small nation that could never be got to accept defeat and has never surrendered her soul?"
1946 Royal Navy minesweeping flotilla based at Cobh, Eire removes or destroys 4,000 mines laid in Irish waters during the war.
1948 Coalition led by John Costello’s Fine Gael Party forms government after general election although Fianna Fail remains the Dail’s single largest Party. Costello’s government passes the Republic of Ireland Act ending the country’s last links with the Commonwealth.
1949 Easter Republic of Ireland Act becomes effective on Easter Monday.
1955 The minimal impact of The Emergency of the Eire psychic is noted by German writer Heinrich Böll. Böll is so stunned by the sight of a laundry truck bearing the logo of the Swastika Laundry est. 1913 that he nearly steps off a Dublin curb in front of it.
1995 As the 50th Anniversary of V-E Day approaches, Prime Minister John Bruton declares that it is time for the Republic to reassess its history and finally pay proper homage to its citizens who served in the Allied forces.

© Richard Doody and WorldAtWar

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