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The Treaty: Timeline of 'the most important document in Irish history'

The Anglo-Irish Treaty, or simply ‘The Treaty’, was signed on 6 December 1921.

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THIS WEEKEND IS the centenary of the signing of what’s been called “arguably the most important document in Irish history”. 

The Anglo-Irish Treaty, or simply ‘The Treaty’, was signed on 6 December 1921.

It was an effective peace treaty between Ireland and Britain that outlined the proposed Irish Free State as a dominion within the British Commonwealth. 

It was a proposal only, as it had to be ratified by both the House of Commons and Dáil Éireann. 

Following a series of acrimonious debates, Dáil Éireann ratified The Treaty by just seven votes the following month. 

As part of our coverage of the Treaty’s centenary, historian Donal Fallon has written for The Journal about how the negotiators were received in London, but here’s a timeline of some of the important events around the time. 

July

Four British soldiers and five IRA volunteers are killed in a gun battle at Castlemaine, Co. Kerry. It is the last major engagement of the War of Independence. 

A truce is called between British and Irish forces – coming into effect as of noon on 11 July. 

It’s estimated that since the Easter Rising, about 2,000 people have been killed in the conflict, including 550 IRA volunteers, 410 RIC members and over 700 civilians. 

the-irish-peace-delegation-grosvenor-hotel-london-1921-after-18-months-of-guerrilla-war-both-the-british-government-and-the-leaders-of-the-ira-sought-to-bring-the-conflict-to-an-end-a-truce-was The Irish Peace Delegation, Grosvenor Hotel, London, July 1921. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

A number of days later, President of the Dáil Eamon de Valera travels to London to meet Prime Minister Lloyd George where an enthusiastic crowd gathered at Downing Street.

De Valera met with Lloyd George on a number of occasions, with Lloyd George famously describing negotiating with the Irish leader as being “like picking up mercury with a fork”. 

By the end of the week, it became clear that the British side would not accede to granting Ireland the status of a Republic.  

September

In September 1921 the the British Government made an offer of negotiations “to ascertain how an association of Ireland with the community of nations known as the British Empire can best be reconciled with Irish national aspirations”.

This invitation was accepted.

On 14 September, the Dáil met to approve the delegation that are to attend the peace conference with the British side.

De Valera announces he will not go and his decision is supported by Cathal Brugha, Austin Stack and Robert Barton and opposed by Arthur Griffith, Michael Collins and Willam Cosgrave.

October

anglo-irish-treaty-1921-sinn-fein-delegates-in-london-from-left-arthur-griffith-edmund-duggan-michael-collins-at-table-robert-barton-behind-with-folder-erskine-childers-george-gavin-duffy-jo Source: Alamy Stock Photo

(From left: Arthur Griffith, Edmund Duggan, Michael Collins (at table), Robert Barton (behind with folder), Erskine Childers, George Gavin Duffy, John Chartres)

Negotiations between the Irish and British governments began in London on 11 October, with the delegation of Irish plenipotentiaries led by Minister for Foreign Affairs Griffith.

With Griffith in London were Minister for Finance Michael Collins and Minister for Economic Affairs Robert Barton.

The other two Irish negotiators were Charles Gavan Duffy TD, a barrister and Dáil Éireann’s representative in Rome, and solicitor Éamonn Duggan TD.

The Dáil and de Valera described these representatives as ‘plenipotentiaries’, from the Latin for someone invested with full authority.

The British team was led by Lloyd George and included Austen Chamberlain and Winston Churchill.

No women were part of either delegation. 

Talks lasted for almost two months and included tense communications back and forth between the Irish negotiators in London and the rest of the government in Dublin.

December

1921-david-lloyd-george-lord-birkenhead-winston-churchill-outside-10-downing-street-during-the-anglo-irish-treaty-talks Source: Alamy Stock Photo

(David Lloyd George, Lord Birkenhead & Winston Churchill outside 10 Downing Street during the Anglo-Irish treaty talks)

An agreement for a treaty between Britain and Ireland was signed at Downing Street shortly after two o’clock in the morning on 6 December 1921. 

The full text of the agreement is available here

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It begins by declaring that the Irish Free State shall have the same constitutional status as the dominions of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the Union of South Africa.

This was a higher status than the previously sought ‘Home Rule’ for Ireland.

The representative of the king in Ireland would be appointed in the same way as the governor-general of Canada.

irish-men-women-and-children-on-their-knees-praying-in-downing-street-during-the-anglo-irish-treaty-meetings-of-1921-the-anglo-irish-treaty-aka-the-treaty-was-an-agreement-between-the-government Women and children pray outside Downing Street as Treaty talks continue. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

The final agreement did not require Dáil deputies to swear an ‘oath of allegiance’ to the king, instead the oath of allegiance was to the Constitution of the Irish Free State with an oath of faithfulness to the monarch. 

Britain created Northern Ireland as part of the Government of Ireland Act 1920 and the Treaty said this shall “remain of full force and effect”.

The threat of renewed violence hung over the signatories, with the Irish being warned that failure to agree would mean ‘immediate and terrible war’.

The Dáil began debating the Treaty on 14 December and continued into the new year. 

A substantial minority of Dáil deputies, including de Valera, maintained that the Treaty did not go far enough and that the new state must be a republic outside the British Empire. 

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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