Courtesy Reuters

Ten Years of the Irish Free State

FOR three centuries, from the reign of Elizabeth to the Famine Exodus, Irish history presents the gloomy picture of an unorganized nation, in Queen Victoria's words "quivering in the grasp" of a highly organized foreign government, every movement of resistance followed by a stroke of power which reduced the vitality of the people by weakening their economy. Patriotic sentiment reassured itself by glorying in the memory of those who had given or risked their lives in these successive conflicts, and by a sort of mystic belief in the nation's indestructibility.

Ireland's hour of opportunity came in the latter part of the year 1921.

My first knowledge of the terms of the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 came with its publication. I was left in no doubt that the Treaty implied a great deal more than it expressly stated or than might be understood from it by one who had not followed in some degree the history of constitutional developments. During the ratification debate, on January 10, 1922, in the hope of removing misapprehensions and securing a wider agreement, I proposed that Dail Eireann, before proceeding to ratification, should adopt the following declaration: "That Dail Eireann affirms that Ireland is a sovereign nation, deriving its sovereignty in all respects from the will of the people of Ireland; that all the international relations of Ireland are governed on the part of Ireland by this sovereign status; and that all facilities and accommodations accorded by Ireland to another state or country are subject to the right of the Irish Government to take care that the liberty and well-being of the people of Ireland are not endangered." While this resolution was on the notice paper General Collins spoke to me about it, saying that it contained nothing that was not already implicit in the Treaty. That was also my view, but it was evident from the debate that there were others who were unable to grasp the implications of the Treaty and who might be reassured by a formal declaration.

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