Anglo-Irish Treaty (1921)

Agreement ending the *War of Independence.


In a meeting on July 8, 1921, *de Valera and General Macready, the commander in chief of British forces in Ireland, agreed to end the Anglo Irish War. The truce came into effect on Monday July 11, 1921. *De Valera arrived in London the following day to meet with the British Prime Minister *Lloyd George, but preliminary negotiations failed to secure any agreement. Throughout August and September, a series of letters helped maintain contact between both sides as they attempted to find some common ground. The difficulty lay in reconciling Irelands claim to be an independent Republic with the British governments determination not to compromise the integrity of the Commonwealth. De Valera at this stage suggested a way around the problem by proposing an  “external association” between the two countries, whereby Ireland would not actually be part of the British Empire, but would be closely affiliated with it by means of a special relationship.

On September 29, Lloyd George carried the negotiations a stage further when he suggested that Irish delegates come to a conference in London with a view to determine “how the association of Ireland with the British Commonwealth may be reconciled with Irish national aspirations”.

De Valera sent a delegation representing the Dáil consisting of chief negotiators *Arthur Griffith, *Michael Collins, Robert Barton, and legal advisers Eamonn Duggan and George Gavan Duffy. *Erskine Childers also attended as non-voting secretary. The delegates had the power to sign any agreement, but they were also confusingly told to report back to Dublin before signing anything.  In a controversial move — that has been open to many interpretations–de Valera decided not to attend, arguing  himself. He himself maintained that his presence was needed in Dublin to gather support for the agreement at home. However, some historians have argued that de Valera did not want to take the blame for what could only be a compromise solution.

Negotiations opened in London on October 11, with the British delegation led by the Prime Minister Lloyd George, *Winston Churchill, Austin Chamberlain and Lord Birkenhead. The Irish delegation had been instructed to seek a thirty-two county Republic. If this failed, the delegates were told to give up some degree of independence in return for the restoration of unity.  If this failed, the delegates were told to give up some degree of independence in return for the restoration of unity (as had existed before the Government of Ireland Act). Confusingly, at the same time de Valera began arguing for some degree of “external association” between a united Ireland and Britain. The British, on the other hand, were adamant that Ireland would remain part of the Commonwealth and that the demands of the Ulster Unionists be satisfied. Given these divergent positions, political status and unity remained divisive. However, matters such as trade, defense and national debt were quickly solved.


On November 2, Griffith agreed that Ireland would remain part of the Commonwealth in return for Lloyd George’s promise to persuade Ulster Unionists to accept Irish unity. His efforts failed and on November 8, as an alternative solution, Lloyd George offered to establish a *Boundary Commission which would redefine the Northern Ireland border. The British continued to reject the idea of external association and insisted that Ireland remain part of the Commonwealth. Griffith reluctantly accepted the proposal and at the end of November returned to Dublin with a final draft of the treaty. On December 3, the Dáil rejected the proposals and ordered Griffith to renegotiate without giving him specific instructions.  There were no instructions on how to proceed if the British refused to alter the terms or threatened a return to armed conflict.

Back in London, Griffith brought up the question of Northern Ireland again but Lloyd George pointed out that they had already agreed on the Boundary Commission.  He did, however, modify the oath of allegiance and agreed that the Free State should be free to impose its own tariffs. Griffith wanted to bring these new terms back to Dublin, but Lloyd George gave him an ultimatum–they either agreed to the terms or war would recommence. The delegates reluctantly signed the treaty on December 6, 1921.

Under the agreement, the 26 counties of southern Ireland would become the *Irish Free State, a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, with dominion status equal to that of Canada. A Governor-General would represent The British Monarch and members of the Irish legislature would be required to take an oath of allegiance. If Northern Ireland opted out of the Irish Free State, then a Boundary Commission would be established to adjust the border “in accordance with the wishes of the inhabitants”. Britain also retained ownership of the ports of Cobh, Bearhaven and Lough Swilly for defensive purposes.

The debate on the Treaty, which began on December 14, 1921, was emotional and divisive. De Valera rejected the treaty outright. The Dominion Status, which some argued gave Britain too much influence in Ireland, and the Oath of Allegiance took up most of the debate. There was little discussion on partition. The Treaty was ratified in the Dáil on January 7, 1922, by 64 votes to 57. De Valera resigned as president (to be replaced by Griffith) and led the anti-Treaty faction out of the Dáil. The pro-Treaty side formed a Provisional Government to oversee the establishment of the new state, drafting a constitution and organizing elections for the new assembly. Elections in June 1922 gave encouragement to the Provisional Government as a pro-treaty majority was returned. Outside the Dáil however, the split in the IRA over the Treaty laid the foundations for a*Civil War which commenced on June 28, 1922.


Garvin, T. 1922: The Birth of Irish Democracy. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1996.
Moody, T.W. and Martin, F.X. (eds.) The Course of Irish History. Dublin: Mercier Press, 1994.
Murphy, J. Ireland in the Twentieth Century. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1989.