It has been 95 years since the formation of the Irish Free State, but the event has an uneasy presence in Irish history, particularly for the radical Left. Kieran Allen, author of ‘1916: Ireland’s Revolutionary Tradition’ and ‘The Politics of James Connolly’, considers why the event that began the process of unraveling the British empire will not be met with fanfare.
Following the massive centenary anniversary of the 1916 rebellion – comprised of exhibitions, parades and revisions to the school syllabus – it is prudent to ask: will there be a similar celebration of the formation of the Irish Free State? The answer: unlikely.
Almost 95 years ago, on January 16th 1922, the British garrison at Dublin Castle handed over its keys to the IRA guerrilla leader, Michael Collins. The castle had long been a symbol of British rule in Ireland and the transfer of its administration was warmly welcomed by the Irish people. The story goes that the colonial officer in charge of the handover to Collins complained that he was seven minutes late, to which Collins retorted ‘we have been waiting over 700 years’. This display of boldness and its place in the Irish historical imaginary is typical of Ireland’s sanctifying of Collins. A mood of romance and dynamism follows Collins, oft-contrasted with Eamon De Valera; the ‘Irish Machiavelli’. Though the inclusion of the oath of allegiance to the British monarchy in the Anglo-Irish treaty is cited as the reason behind the subsequent civil war, it is implied that the clash of these two personalities led to the subsequent civil war.
These folk tales of Irish history hide a much deeper tragedy. In reality, the vote for the Treaty by a majority of Sinn Fein representatives in the Second Dáil and subsequent formation of an Irish free state was the point at which the Irish revolutionary process was buried. Continue reading