Winners and Losers in an Unfree State

by Philip Ferguson; this is thesis chapter 12


In the chapters on the Treaty and the civil war, it has been established which classes or sectors of society supported the establishment of the Free State: the old Unionist elite, the Catholic Church and the emerging nationalist bourgeoisie, along with some sections of the middle class who saw the Free State as offering them the chance to join the big bourgeoisie.  It has also been argued that workers, small farmers, women and northern nationalists were the groups which lost out.  In this final chapter, I want to look at the development of aspects of the state and state policy in its formative years and the way in which these acted for and against these respective social sectors.  I will look at how the state represented the interests of capitalist sectors, established the Catholic Church as a dominant institution within the new state, and how it abandoned northern nationalists in the midst of pogrom attacks, pushed women back into the narrowest of spheres, especially the domestic sphere, and drove down the living standards and conditions of life of much of the working class and small farming sector.  The response of the labour movement and the republicans, the two main political forces outside the government, will be seen to be rather predictable, given their earlier stances.

While the return of Larkin to Ireland in 1923 introduced the possibility of a re-radicalised labour movement there were, as we shall see, severe limitations – both in terms of changed material conditions and Larkin’s own weaknesses – on this development.  Additionally, the most radical political factions – the left republicans, the group around Roddy Connolly, and the Larkin-led forces – remained divided, although it is difficult to see any significant political differences which justified their organisational separation.  The ICA, meanwhile, disappeared after the civil war.

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To begin with it is necessary to look at the demography and resources of the new state[1] whose neo-colonial content has been summarised by Gillmor:

“The establishment of the Irish Free State with largely independent political status in 1922 did not bring about an abrupt or fundamental change in the economic environment.  The Irish economy had developed as that of a colony of Great Britain and a peripheral region within the British Isles, reinforced by its proximity to the centre of political power and the developed industrial core in Britain and by the nature of its resource base.  Its evolution may be seen to accord with dependency theory.  Ireland functioned principally as a primary producer, mainly of agricultural produce, supplying the British market.  This role was even accentuated at independence, through partitioning of the island and separation of the most industrialised part of the country in the northeast . . . Almost nine-tenths of Irish trade was with Britain and there was an established movement of Irish capital and labour to Britain.  There was considerable uniformity in administrative and economic structures between the two islands. . .  The high level of economic integration ensured that economic change would not be the automatic accompaniment of the altered political status.“[2]

Partition had taken away the most developed area of Ireland.  Although the six counties which now constituted Northern Ireland contained only a sixth of the area of Ireland, it included a third of the population and the country’s major industrial area, the Lagan valley, in and around Belfast. There were only 80,000 skilled workers in the Free State, compared with 220,000 in Northern Ireland,[3] although the British-ruled area had less than half the population of the south.  With thirty-five percent of the northern state’s economically active population engaged in industry, it was more industrialised than France; in the south, however, only 14 percent of those economically active were engaged in industry.[4]  The new state had not only lost this essential industrial base, but there was a population decline of several hundred thousand within the 26 counties between the censuses of 1911 and 1926, due partly to war dead (about 50,000 young men) but more significantly to emigration in the 1920s.  There were barely 3 million people, and a disproportionate number of old people, in the new state.

Marriage rates were quite low, 9 per 1000 in 1924, compared with 12 per l000 in the north, 13 in Scotland and 15 in England and Wales.  The 1911 census had shown that substantial majorities of young people were single; four-fifths of males aged 20-35 were unmarried and even in the 35-45 bracket, two fifths were unmarried; seven-eighths of women aged 20-25 were unmarried and even in the 25-35 bracket, only half were married.  Altogether over half of those over 25 years of age were unmarried and it seems that this pattern continued through the next fifteen years, although the percentage of married males may have risen due to the war ending the lives of many unmarried men.  One of the results of the low rate of marriage among women would have been that they needed jobs, a point which will be returned to when I discuss the position of women generally in the new state.  Given the historical industrial underdevelopment in the south, it would have taken resources beyond any capitalist enterprise to create the necessary number of jobs to provide work for everyone.

The economy and demography of the south were dominated by agriculture.  In the province of Connacht in the West and the three Ulster counties which were included in the Free State (Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan)the population was almost entirely small farmers, agricultural labourers and fishermen.  In Munster (the south-west province) out of a population of a million, only 200,000 lived in towns, with only Cork being of any size (70,000), the rest being small farmers and agricultural labourers.  In Leinster, with 1.1 million people, Dublin (400,000 inhabitants) was the only large centre, the rest consisted mainly of ranching and, in a few areas, small farmers and agricultural labourers.  Two-thirds of the population of the new state lived in rural areas or in towns of less than 1500 people,[5] while only a quarter lived in towns of over 5000 people.[6]

The neo-colonial and underdeveloped nature of the economy of the new state is evident also in its trading statistics.  Britain was the only place with which any large amount of trade took place.  In 1926 all but £1.37 million of its total exports of £40 million went to Britain.  About 55 percent of this amount was taken up by live animals (£17.5 million) and meat (£12 million), most of the rest being butter, milk, cream and eggs (£7 million), beer and porter (£5 million) and other food and drink (£2 million).  The same year it imported £59 million worth of goods, over £46 million of which came from Britain.  About £26 million of its imports were in food, drink and tobacco.[7]  Basically, the economy of the new state remained dominated by Britain, providing the old colonial power with cheap meat and dairy products.  As the figures for live animals show, much of the slaughtering for meat was not even carried out in Ireland itself.

The underdeveloped and neo-colonial nature of agriculture was also reflected in the scale of landholdings.  Although the Land Purchase Act of 1924 meant that the big majority of “farmers” were now peasant owners, this tended to obscure the fact that there were still substantial lands held by cattle ranchers and other big landowners.  Gwynn notes that the peasant owners usually held less than 50 acres and often under 15 acres, “particularly in the western counties where the population is thickest and the land is least fertile.”[8]  Not surprisingly, the west was where republicanism remained particularly strong.  Brown has recorded that only a fifth of the farmers were employers of labour.  Most worked their land by themselves or with the help of family members.  About a quarter of those engaged in agriculture depended on farms of only 1-15 acres; a further quarter on farms of 15-30 acres; the rest on farms of over 30 acres.  Just over 300,000 people were dependent on farms under 30 acres, just over 120,000 on 30-50 acres, 117,255 on 50-100 acres, 61,155 on 100-200 acres, and a mere 34,298 on farms of 200 or more acres.[9]

The new state’s primary source of income was customs and excise, while income tax covered only 60,000 people of whom 75 percent earned (or claimed to earn) under £500 per year.  In any case, the figures reveal a very small elite class atop a mass of poor peasant farmers, agricultural labourers and urban workers.  Keeping government costs down, rather than finding new sources of income, was the guiding principle of fiscal policy in the 1920s.  The budget of early 1923 of about £42 million was down to £27-6 in 1926, although by far the biggest factor in this was the end of the civil war.  Nevertheless it also reflects cuts in old age pensions and wages of state workers, as we shall see below.  In 1927 income tax was reduced, to three shillings in the pound, compared with three shillings and sixpence per pound in Britain.  The aim here was to bring in new capital and encourage members of the old elite not to emigrate or, if they had, to return, as well as to stimulate Irish capitalist enterprise.

Yet the depressed 1920s were not conducive to Irish capitalists investing in productive industry.  Government house-building, which created 14,000 new homes from 1923-27, failed to interest Irish capitalists and was primarily dependent on foreign capital.  At the same time, in an area in which capitalist development had been held back by centuries of British rule and in which the old land tenure system had militated against technological advance, there were probably not private capital resources sufficient to carry out a sweeping modernisation anyway.  Moreover, the government held the view that “economic policy should aim at maximising farmers’ incomes, that this would maximise national income, and that such a policy must take precedence over self-sufficiency and the reduction of unemployment”[10] and that “agriculture was and would remain by far the most important industry and that the touchstone by which every economic measure must be judged was its effect on the prosperity of the farmer.”[11]

By late 1920 the boom associated with the war – during which Ireland benefited from the removal of its foreign competitors in the British market and the greater demands for Irish agricultural produce both for the British Army and because part of the agricultural workforce in Britain had been conscripted – gave way to a slump.  The price of arable products fell by 43 percent from 1920 to 1923, that of animal produce by 38 percent, and store cattle prices by 40 percent.[12]  Taking the agricultural price index of 1911-13 as 100, it rose during the war to a peak of 288 by 1920, but then collapsed rapidly to 160 in 1922 and was only at 110 in 1931.[13]  Noting that the value of net output in 1929/30 was actually 5 percent less than in 1924/25, Kennedy et al argue “there was little or no progress in agriculture”,[14] although Johnson, noting that agricultural exports increased 33 percent from 1925 to 1930 claims that “Irish agricultural performance was highly creditable.”[15]  The answer to this contradiction however lies in examining why the exports increased and what this represented.  As Gwynn noted at the time, Irish small farmers were exporting high quality agricultural products, including live sheep and cattle, because they could not feed them and most Irish people could not afford to buy these products.[16]

Without any large-scale plan or possibility for industrialisation and job creation, accompanied by a breaking up of the remaining large landholdings and the provision of assistance to small farmers, substantial levels of emigration were bound to recur.  Emigration was given further impetus by the depressed state of Irish economic life in the 1920s, the demobilisation of huge numbers of soldiers – according to Gwynn, 150-200,000[17] – and the persecution of republicans, thousands of whom refused to recognise the new state or take the oaths of loyalty necessary in state jobs.  As Ward notes, “in the sullen years that followed the end of the civil war, those who opposed the Treaty found themselves surviving in a state that seemed determined to stifle every form of political dissent.”[18]  Many republicans left Ireland permanently.  In 1924, emigration reached 19,000; the following year it was 30,000, and it  continued at this rate in 1926 and 1927.  Thus in the 1924-27 period over 100,000 people, mainly young, left the country.  Visiting the United States in 1928, Cosgrave himself noted there were considerably more Irish people there than in Ireland itself and that many families in Ireland had more relatives in the United States than at home.[19]

All in all, there was hardly a material basis for the brave and inspiring new society spoken of by Treaty supporters during the debates in the Dail.[20]  In fact the new state carried forward all the backwardness and inequalities inherited from the colonial era and entrenched them in the new society.  The Free State, then, involved distinct sets of winners and losers and it is to these that we now turn.


a. The British state and establishment

The first winner was Britain,[21] although its success was far from unqualified since it was forced to abandon complete formal control over much of its first colony.  The British did succeed, however, in carrying through a reorganisation of the form which their power took in Ireland.  In the past Britain had conquered Ireland and ruled the whole country.  British interests in Ireland had changed over the centuries and the form of rule reflected this.  Intervention in Ireland had begun in the 1100s, with Ireland originally serving as a source of pillage in a manner typical of such raids and conquests in medieval Europe.  With the rise of competing nation states, control of Ireland had taken on a further importance; it became strategically necessary to hold Ireland in order to prevent it being used as a base for attack on Britain by other European powers, especially France or Spain. Ireland also became a site for battles in the struggles between factions of the ruling class in Britain; for instance, at the time of the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688-89, when James ll was replaced as British king by William of Orange and Mary, James fell back upon Ireland to raise an army to regain the Crown.  The major battle of that struggle for the Crown was fought in Ireland at the Boyne.

Britain was also anxious about the growth of Irish industry and trade and its potential as a rival.  Special laws were passed to prevent Ireland from trading with Europe and the British colonies and halt the development of Irish industries.  Ireland was also used as a reward for loyal service for British rulers.  Monarchs and Cromwell gave land in Ireland to faithful lieutenants.  It was also a source of enrichment for the British landed aristocracy, sections of which were planted in Ireland as a garrison class.  Peasant paid rents and provided the labour that produced cheap supplies of food to the British market.  Following the Famine and the Encumbered Estates Act, the rural population of Ireland was massively reduced and large areas of tillage were turned into pasture.  The poverty-stricken dispossessed former peasantry provided a source of cheap labour for the new British industrial cities and also helped depress wages in general in Britain.  The new sheep and cattle runs established with the conversion of tillage to pasture provided cheap sources of meat protein for the new British working class.  In the north-east of Ireland industrialisation around the ship-building and engineering industries were connected with Britain’s imperial role.  The privileged position of the Protestant workers in a limited job market ensured that their docility in comparison with workers of the Clyde.

Ireland, unlike any of Britain’s other colonies, was actually incorporated within the British state itself.  This process reached its peak with the abolition of the limited powers of the Dublin parliament in 1803 and the wholesale integration of Ireland into the United Kingdom.  The upper class in Ireland, the Protestant Ascendancy of landlords in the south and west and landlords and industrialists in the north-east, was part of the British ruling class.  Thus when the old order was challenged by republican insurrectionism, the rebel movements did not simply present a threat to colonial rule but to the British ruling class and British state itself.

As Britain entered a period of imperial decline in the two-three decades preceding World War 1, its rule in Ireland appeared secure.  It managed a partial transition from an almost feudal relationship between landlord and peasant to a situation of peasant proprietorship, taking the heat out of the land question, which had been the most dangerous social and political question in Ireland.  (Because the landlords were part of the British ruling class, land wars tended to challenge British political rule, and challenges to British political rule tended to spill over into raising the land/property issue.)  The resurgence of republicanism, especially the radical social republicanism of Clarke, Pearse and the other pre-1916 leaders, was related to the growth of the working class and the fact that other class layers, such as the Irish bourgeoisie, had adapted themselves to British rule and abandoned any struggle for independence.  After 1918, when republicanism became the mass political movement of the majority nationalist population of Ireland, British rule was made untenable.

As we have seen, this challenge to British rule coincided with a period of sharp class conflict within Britain, the rise of anti-colonial movements in other colonies such as India and Egypt, the decline of one of the main parties of the British capitalist class (the Liberals) and the weakening of Britain as an imperial power, the latter fact marked by Britain’s postwar massive indebtedness, its agreement to limit its navy and the beginning of its replacement by the United States on the stage of global power politics. [22]

In this troubled context, the rebellion in Ireland made British control over the country through direct political rule no longer tenable.  Yet Britain was neither in the position to use the massive repressive force necessary to put down the rebellion nor to simply abandon its rule.  As is clear from Jones’ diary, the British cabinet discussed the scope of military commitment and the measures necessary to defeat the republicans and decided that British public opinion – and US opinion – would not allow them to do this.  Indeed the attempt to do so might bring about a social crisis in Britain and yet still be insufficient to put down the rebellion.  On the other hand, to have granted Ireland independence would have meant allowing itself to be defeated by a rebel movement in a period of social turmoil.  British withdrawal could have opened up the prospect of social revolution in Ireland; it would have also served to drastically undermine the authority of the British ruling class in Britain itself.  If the British elite could be beaten in Ireland, British workers might be encouraged to think it could also be beaten on the Clyde or the coalfields of south Wales or in the country in general.

Britain had therefore to find a way to bring the turmoil in Ireland to an end while, at the same time, ensuring its major interests were secured.  The Treaty did this.  Partition and the establishment of the Free State divided the republican movement.  The smaller section, which accepted the Treaty, were forced to rely upon British support, goodwill and, when necessary, British guns to defeat the anti-Treaty section.  They guaranteed that Ireland would never be used by Britain’s enemies, continued to provide the British with naval bases in the south, and ensured that the new, underdeveloped state would continue to be a source of cheap labour and food for the British market.  Most of all they ensured that social radicalism would be destroyed and there would be no challenge to the power and authority of Britain from within Ireland.  In the north, Britain retained direct control, as well as most of the industry of Ireland.  Ireland was divided between north and south, and within the north between Unionist/Protestant and Nationalist/Catholic and within the south between Free Stater and republican.

Britain, then, escaped from the crisis with a conservative-dominated Ireland in which its key interests were preserved and in which it remained the dominant power.  At the same time, its success was not unqualified.  It had not been able to defeat republicanism outright and its granting of formal political independence to 26-counties was a sign of the decline of Britain as an imperial power, a process which gathered speed over the following decades.

b. Class elites old and new within Ireland

From the beginning the Free State regime showed its support for the old Unionist elite and the nationalist bourgeoisie.  The Unionists were given seats in the newly-established unelected upper house, the Senate, out of all proportion to their numbers in the population.  Among them were Andrew Jameson (of the whisky firm), Lord Glenavy, Lord Mayo, Lord Dunraven , Lt General Sir Bryan Mahon and Major-General Hickie.  Glenavy, who had been Carson’s right-hand man in the campaign against Home Rule, became chairman of the Senate and was also appointed chairman of the committee set up to advise the government on a new court system.[23]  Markievicz wrote tersely of the upper house:

“It is an imitation of the House of Lords, with one advantage – that it is not necessary to raise a useful man to the Peerage before he takes his place in it.  Of the 60 members, 30 were nominated by President Cosgrove.  Among his nominations, two notorious men, hated through Ireland because of their records against the people of Ireland, are on it.  These are, the President (Lord Glenavy) and Sir Bryan Mahon. . .”

Glenavy had been made Chancellor during the war for independence and,

“During the Terror it was his name that the people of Ireland read beneath the proclamations that were issued to “proclaim” the IRA, Cumann na mBan, the Gaelic League and the Sinn Fein organisation.  Sir Bryan Mahon succeeded Maxwell as Commander-in-Chief of the King’s army in Ireland, and held that post from 1916 till 1918.  The others are mostly drawn from the landlord, Capitalist British-Garrison class, though, of course, there are the usual couple of Labour men to give it a really democratic flavour.”[24]

The committee on the new court system was dominated by conservative barristers and solicitors and included the President of the Chamber of Commerce.  Gwynn comments, “(W)ithin a few months most of the highest judicial positions had been given to distinguished members of the Irish bar who were Protestants and had been conspicuously identified in the past with resistance to the nationalist movement.”[25]

In turn, the old elite showed its support for the new state in a number of ways.  For instance, at the end of 1923 the Free State faced economic disaster because of the large military expenditures required to build up the 55,000-strong army needed to suppress the republicans, along with the cost of paying for damages during both the civil war and the war for independence, and the taking on of part of the British national debt.  The new government floated a £10 million loan.  Gwynn writes that the loan was oversubscribed within three weeks thanks to the “generous support” of the “Protestant community. . . The Church of Ireland, Trinity College, the Guiness breweries and other great Protestant interests which had larger financial resources than any other bodies in the Free State, gave immediate and conclusive proof of their desire to throw in their lot unreservedly with the new regime.”[26]  Given that the 5 percent interest offered was a substantial figure in those days, and slightly above existing gilt-edged securities in other Commonwealth countries, such public spiritedness on the part of the old elite coincided happily with profit-making.

The nationalist bourgeoisie were represented not only in the original Free State government by the great ideologist of Irish capitalist development, Arthur Griffith, and by the younger politicians who followed him, but also by the first Governor-General, Timothy Healy.  Healy had been a leading figure in the IPP in the late 1800s and a ring-leader of the drive to force Parnell out of the party leadership and politics in the wake of the Kitty O’Shea affair.  He had also been the employers advocate during the 1913-14 industrial struggle in Dublin.  Gwynn describes him as having a “chivalrous devotion to the royal family”,[27] while his presence in the Viceregal Lodge “was a factor of incalculable assistance to the establishment of law and order.”[28]  Following the deaths of Griffith and Collins, the government was largely made up of the new nationalist middle class which had come up through the National University.  This new institution “provided many of its ablest and most promising recruits to the Government Party.”[29]

The educated new nationalist middle class, formed through the opening up of tertiary education to Catholics in the later 1800s, had gained positions, along with their Unionist equivalents, in the state administration.  About 98 percent of the civil servants of the new state had served under the Crown,[30] and this helped ensure that political change on the surface was not accompanied by more wide-sweeping changes in the structure of society or the nature of the state.  Middle class layers were also given a stake in the new society when a second loan was floated.  The government now encouraged small subscribers, “with the object of making as many people as possible investors who would be directly concerned in the stability and the prosperity of the State.”[31]

Economic policy, as we have noted, in general followed the interests of the dominant capitalist sectors in agriculture.  But it also reflected urban capitalist interests in banking, industry and manufacturing.  As Daly notes, “The experts favoured the status quo.  Ireland would maintain parity and financial links with sterling, produce food for Britain and retain a free trade industrial sector.”[32]  O Grada notes how “a group of tough but talented gunmen became the staid and rather conservative rulers” of the new state, opting for “continuity and caution in economic affairs.”[33]  While Cumann na nGaedheal’s policies were “grounded in orthodox economic theory” these also suited its supporters, “the urban middle class and the more substantial farmers.”[34]

Griffith’s protectionist ideas were not implemented in the new state’s early years,[35] as the state primarily defended the existing bourgeoisie rather than, as later under de Valera, encouraging the growth of small capitalists into big ones and using the state as an instrument in this development. Key sectors such as malting, biscuit manufacturing, jute production, and brewing and distilling, were viewed in the 1920s as efficient enough not to require protection.  Also, a number of the export industries required cheap raw material imports.  In addition, the depression of agriculture in the 1920s meant that protective tariffs would have placed “burdens upon the mass of people which they were not in a position to bear at the time, and which at best could not produce any substantial result for a number of years” wrote Gwynn in 1928. But the real worry was that higher prices would have led to increased wage demands.[36]  These in turn would make Irish exports more expensive and less competitive, in a situation in which exports were essential to the Irish economy.

Yet there was a price to be paid for this by Irish small farmers, agricultural labourers and urban workers.  Irish agriculture exported high quality cattle, pigs and butter to Britain for prices which ordinary Irish people could not afford; the Irish working class and even the small farmers themselves were forced to eat inferior quality imported meat, bacon, butter and margarine.[37]  In this situation, it was not surprising that the republican leaders’ programme of state intervention, farmers’ co-operatives and self-sufficiency continued to attract significant levels of support.  Or, as Gwynn put it, de Valera’s “simple programme of a return to primitive conditions undoubtedly commands a large following among those who in recent years have not enjoyed a standard of living that could even be called primitively civilised.”[38]

The way to make Irish industry more effective and provide a spur to development was seen as being through opening it up to outside competition.  When the Free State in 1923, at the end of the civil war, set up a committee of economic experts it reported that even in the case of industries catering for the home market, what was needed was “the increasing efficiency both of management and labour which competition tends to stimulate.”[39]  In relation to the general depressed economic situation in Ireland, the committee concluded from its review of policies followed in other countries, “(S)ince no remedy had as yet been devised to meet this disturbed economic condition it must apparently be left to the normal evolution of industrial activities.”[40]

Yet in Ireland such a “normal evolution” tended to shut down rather than open factories.  For instance, while Cosgrave in 1925 claimed that 8-10 factories had opened since his government took office, around 200 factories were closed during the 1920s throughout which his government was in power.[41]  O Grada notes, “Cumann na nGaedheal set little store by industrial development, and employment and output in manufacturing may well have fallen during their years in power”,[42] while “The Census of Industrial Production implies virtual stasis in industrial employment in the 1920s.”[43]  Between 1922-30 there was also only one public issue of shares in Irish industry, and that for a mere £15,000.[44]  The effects of these overall policies – accurately described by Kevin O’Higgins as being about “restoring conditions which will enable commercial enterprise to have free play”[45] – on the working class and rural poor will be viewed in the section of this chapter dealing with the losers in the Free State.

c. The Catholic Church

The Catholic Church played an important role in the consolidation of the Free State, using its authority to legitimise the new neo-colonial set-up. The hierarchy had made clear where it stood on the Treaty, with the Lenten pastorals supporting the agreement.  Then on April 27 1922, the meeting of the bishops at Maynooth issued a statement saying, “We think the best and wisest course for Ireland is to accept the Treaty” and attacked “the unconstitutional policy of certain leaders who think themselves entitled to force their views upon the nation, not by reason but by firearms. . .”  Such anti-Treaty figures were attacked as “parricides”, “murderers”, and “robbers and brigands”.[46]  In October 1922 the hierarchy excommunicated all republicans.[47]  The pay-off was, as Dunphy notes, “the clear entrenchment of the Catholic church’s authority under the Free State regime”, with “control over education, the ban on divorce, the stringent censorship laws in accordance with Catholic moral teaching.”[48]

In the context of the massive upsurge from below which had characterised the previous decade, the need to re-establish order, and the fact that a sizeable percentage of the population did not give its support to the new state, Catholicism was particularly important.  While other traditional ties of authority had disintegrated, all was not lost:  as Fanning points out, “there remained Catholic ideals to bind together a riven nation.”[49]  Arguing – questionably in my view – that Catholicism was always central to much of Irish nationalist ideology – Fanning is nevertheless right to point to the role it took on in “the search for a national identity” in the “riven nation”.  As Dunphy notes, “Catholicism, with its hostility to class, its emphasis upon the moral obligation to submit to authority, and its effective isolation of non-conformist elements, would provide not merely an electoral asset, but would act in times of social tension as an invaluable social cement.”[50]

Anderson has noted the subservience of the post-1916 labour leaders to a Catholic Church determined to prevent the development of “ungodly” political ideas.  In this situation, “The Church was allowed to set the agenda and labour’s attempt to defend its independence and integrity became increasingly premised on an acceptance of the Church’s ‘right’ to exercise a powerful, indeed authoritative, supervisory role.”[51]  The use of the Church by the state to attack radical political ideas and movements has actually continued up to this day, with the present head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Cardinal Daly, having a long record of denouncing republican armed struggle while generally refraining from condemnations of British military intervention in Ireland.

In the 1930s, when there was a resurgence of radical republicanism and Marxism, Cosgrove enlisted the Catholic church hierarchy in a campaign against these movements.  On Sunday, October 18, 1931 every congregation in Ireland was read a pastoral letter from the bishops and all-Ireland Primate, Cardinal MacRory, denouncing the IRA and the left-wing party it had initiated, Saor Eire (Free Ireland), as “sinful and irreligious” and declaring that “no Catholic can lawfully be a member of them”.  The pastoral instructed priests to impress upon young people the “satanic tendencies of communism”.[52]  The letter coincided with draconian new repressive legislation outlawing republican groups and publications, the Church working “in tandem with the Government in an assault on the rights and liberties of republicans and socialists.”[53]  The Church also impacted upon the mainstream labour movement; in Anderson’s view there was “an abject renunciation of Connolly’s political vision at the request of the Catholic Church.” [54]

This, however, seems to overstate the case.  While the Church certainly used its authority in this way, it did not exert pressure on an unwilling labour leadership.  Since Connolly’s death, and even during his lifetime, the main body of labour leaders were not supporters of the workers’ republic envisaged by Connolly and Larkin.  The idea of the overthrow of capitalism was as much an anathema to the LP and ITUC leaders[55] as it was to the Catholic hierarchy.  Moreover, the Church was not an independent factor forcing itself upon either the new state or any sector of civil society.  It was the creation first of all of British policy.[56]  After 1921, its position in society was created for it by the fragile new neo-colonial state and its actions and influence served the interests of that state, a process which continued under de Valera’s nationalism and protectionism in the 1930s, 40s and 50s.  It  is only today, after several decades of international capital investment in Ireland and the exhaustion of Irish nationalism and its project of self-sufficiency, that the power of the Church has been called into question.[57]  Indeed the close relations between the Church and the State, itself a reflection of the underdevelopment imposed on Ireland by British rule, held the inherent danger that a loss of authority for one institution tended to undermine the other at the same time.


a. Northern nationalists

We have seen that, far from suffering persecution in an Irish nationalist and predominantly Catholic state, the southern Protestant-Unionist elite had continued to occupy its privileged position in society.  They fully supported the new state and had good reason to be happy with most of its policies.  The close and happy relations between the old Ascendancy and the new political rulers was evident on occasions such as Cosgrave’s attendance at the 1927 annual inaugural meeting of the Trinity College Historical Society – a bastion of the old Unionist upper class.  At this event, “the whole audience testified to their appreciation by rising to their feet and cheering tumultuously for several minutes.”[58]  But while southern Unionists had every reason to cheer the regime established in the south, northern nationalists faced a very different situation in the Unionist-ruled Northern Ireland statelet.

Griffith and the Irish plenipotentiaries had initially argued against partition during the Treaty negotiations. Griffith expressed the view that Britain had encouraged the truculence of the Northern Unionists and that if British backing was withdrawn the Ulster problem could be settled.[59]  Later in the negotiations he argued that if a plebiscite was taken in Belfast a majority would be against partition.[60]  Although, in relation to Belfast, this is debateable, the most significant issue involved in the partition debate was whether the Irish people as a whole had a right to their own country, as it existed as a unit under British rule, or whether a privileged minority created by British policy had a right to opt out of the nation, taking a third of the population and most of the significant industry with them.  Even in terms of their own arguments the British-Unionist position was inconsistent.  After all, if the Unionists demanded that they not be “coerced” by the national majority and be able to opt out of the unitary state which Britain had created in Ireland, why should nationalists in the north-east be forced into a Northern Ireland state they did not want?  Yet there was no willingness on the part of the British and Unionists to allow nationalist majority counties and local areas to opt out of Northern Ireland.

The northern statelet created by the Treaty and accepted by Griffith and the other Free State leaders did not contain the whole of Ulster (nine counties) with a population of 850,000 Protestants and 750,000 Catholics purely because such a state would have been unsustainable.  The Unionists would not have been assured control and the Catholics would have quickly become the majority because of their much higher birth rates.  Instead the new state consisted of the six Ulster counties with the largest number of Protestant/Unionists, leaving a total population of 800,000 Protestants and 400,000 Catholics.[61]  Even then, two of these counties had Catholic/nationalist majorities.  In addition, Catholics/nationalists constituted majorities in large areas of the other four counties.  It also appears clear that a section of northern Protestants were supporters of Irish nationalism, the ideology which they themselves had largely founded.  Griffith, for instance, held a seat in the north, North-West Tyrone, with a majority of 1700 which, given the numbers of Catholics and Protestants in the constituency, made it possible that 1000 Protestants had voted for him.  In his view 15-20 percent of northern Protestants were sympathetic to Sinn Fein.[62]  Further evidence that there were some sections of Protestants opposed to partition was provided when a group of Derry Unionists took part in a delegation to Dublin at the time of the Treaty debates; along with other northern delegations from border areas, they wanted inclusion in the south since Derry city depended on its Donegal hinterland and faced ruin without it.[63]

But it was upon the Catholics, especially the Catholic workers that the disaster fell most heavily.  As we have seen, a new pogrom had broken out in Belfast in July 1920,[64] in which “Not only Catholics, but all Protestants known or believed to have any connection with Sinn Fein or Socialist organisations were violently expelled from their employment.”[65]  This “period of murder and arson, unparalleled in intensity and brutality anywhere else in Ireland . . . was to last more than two years.”[66]  As a result “(v)irtually the whole of the Catholic working population were driven from their employment.”[67]  In May 1922, the month before the opening of the civil war, the pogroms in the north intensified.[68]  Overall between June 21, 1920 and June 18, 1922, 418 people were killed, 1766 were wounded; 8750 Catholics were driven from their homes and 23,000 Catholics were made homeless.[69]

James Connolly had warned about precisely this situation, at the time partition was first being mooted.  Of the prospect of partition and Unionist rule in the north, he wrote in 1914, “Belfast is bad enough as it is; what it would be under such rule the wildest imagination cannot conceive. . . the Orangemen would have scant regards for the rights of the minority left at their mercy.” The nationalists would be left “at the mercy of an ignorant majority with the evil record of the Orange party”, a proposal which “should never have been made”, and whose establishment “should be resisted by armed force if necessary.” [70]  Even members of the southern regime were initially concerned about the intensity of the continuing pogrom after the Treaty was signed.  The regime even agreed to collaborate with the anti-Treaty IRA forces in attacks in the north in order to force the British into ensuring the Unionists would cease the pogrom attacks.  However their need to preserve their power in the south made them dependent on Britain, so they were unprepared to express opposition to the British government as the northern pogroms continued and the northern statelet institutionalised discrimination against and oppression of the Catholic/nationalist population abandoned by partition.

The change in the attitude of the Free State leaders between March 1922 and the end of the civil war is evident in Jones’ diary.  Jones records on March 28, 1922 meeting Kevin O’Higgins in London and notes that O’Higgins was “much more bitter than I had expected” about the Unionist attacks on nationalist areas.[71]  Yet all O’Higgins could come up with was the idea of re-imposing the Belfast boycott, a measure which tended to reinforce rather than challenge partition.  Once the war with the anti-Treaty faction began, the Free State leaders abandoned the boycott.  The Free State leaders rapidly lost interest in the fate befalling northern Catholics.  On October 3, 1923 Lionel Curtis, Colonial Office Adviser on Irish Affairs, wrote to Jones, for instance, that “Cosgrave has succeeded to an amazing extent in damping down. . . in the Press on his side” references to murders of Catholics in the north.[72]

The abandonment of the northern nationalists reached its full achievement with the Boundary Commission of 1924-5.  The Free State regime showed little enthusiasm for establishing this commission which they had earlier seen as redrawing the border in such a way that would make the six counties unviable.  It was only due to pressure within the Dail, especially from the Labour Party, that the Dublin government moved on the issue.  The Northern Ireland government refused to nominate a member and London appointed one for them, J.R. Fisher, a staunch Ulster Unionist.  South African Supreme Court judge Richard Feetham was appointed chairman.  Eoin MacNeill, now the Free State Minister of Education, represented the south.  Writing from Dublin on March 30, 1924 Jones noted MacNeill “is on the whole willing” as far as British positions on the issue of the border were concerned.[73]  In the event, far from redrawing the border the Boundary Commission left it essentially intact.  MacNeill failed to press the nationalist case and, having allowed the British to dominate proceedings, then refused to take any responsibility whatever for his actions.  He resigned from the commission and subsequently withdrew from public political life.  Feetham and Fisher declared that MacNeill had assented to the draft;[74] twenty copies of the final report were deposited in the British cabinet offices and all others were destroyed.[75]  The report itself was never publicly released although eventually, in 1969, it was dug out by an Irish academic publisher.[76]

While MacNeill was able to withdraw to a life of comfort and ease in the Free State, northern nationalists were left to bear the result of his actions.  The consolidation of the northern state as a Protestant state for a Protestant people necessitated policies to prevent Catholics ever becoming a majority.  Discrimination in the labour market, housing and voting rights ensured a massive rate of Catholic emigration, with the result that the Catholic population grew comparatively little over the following decades.  Catholic ghettos were also subjected to further pogroms over the following decades.  It was not until the rise of the civil rights movement of the late 1960s that this situation was challenged.  In the intervening years, the southern establishment expressed little interest in events in Northern Ireland and little concern with the position of Catholics in that state.

b. The working class, rural poor and the left

As we have seen above, the socio-economic policies of the new state favoured the existing capitalist sectors.  Factory closures and the continuing conversion of tillage into pasture meant that thousands of urban workers and rural poor were left without the means of subsistence, but Ireland continued to supply cheap agricultural products to Britain.  Many small businesspeople were heavily squeezed.[77]  Maximising the incomes of the big farmers and making Irish industry and transport competitive meant cutting workers’ wages.  The relatively easy victory of the Free State over the republicans during the civil war emboldened the regime in its attacks on the working class.[78] P.S. O’Hegarty, who had been made Permanent Secretary to the Post Office reorganised the system, laying off postal workers, cutting the number of deliveries and placing a 6d fee on all parcels.[79]  In July 1923 Dublin dockers’ wages were cut by two shillings; subsequent cuts and freezes were made to the pay of building workers, coalmen, carters, tradesmen, transport and manufacturing workers.[80]  When many families could not longer pay rents and debts, O’Higgins responded by declaring, “(T)he ceasing of the bailiff to function is the first sign of a crumbling civilisation.”[81]  In October 1923 the Assistant Commissioner of the new police force, the Gardai Siochana (Guardians of the Peace), submitted a report to the government suggesting workers were too highly-paid and too powerful and the state would have to provide the forces to defeat the workers.[82] As well as increasingly using police and troops against striking and locked-out workers, the state and employers sent orders abroad.

Markievicz assailed the Free State for sharing the British cabinet’s policy of “the creation of unemployment in areas where labour is virile and well-organised, and providing employment where labour is docile or unorganised.”  In 1923 she noted that orders for two ships had recently been given to Belfast, although they “should in common justice have been given to the Clyde where many men are suffering from the effects of unemployment.”  The reasons for the choice of Belfast were not hard to find.  “(T)he men on the Clyde are class conscious, and organised efficiently to win freedom; moreover the flag of revolt is constantly raised there, while in Belfast the workers are deluded into supporting Imperialism.”[83]

She also pointed to substantial clothing and other orders being sent out of Ireland, mainly to Britain, arguing that it constituted a “policy of using one country’s workers to starve the workers of another country into submission.”  “Cruel boys tame canary birds by starvation; the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals intervenes.  Capitalist brutes try to tame workers by the same methods; all the powers of the Capitalist State are at their disposal.”[84]

Citing Connolly’s view of the state – “The political institutions of today are simply the coercive forces of Capitalist society” – she says, “This aptly describes the Free State Government and its machinery.”  In her view

“Their policy is a carefully calculated one.  All the forces that they can gather into their hands are employed to force on to Ireland and to root in Irish soil the social and economic system of England, known as the capitalist system, which strangles and makes slaves of the workers of Britain.  They are attempting to eliminate all Labour-Republican ideas by force, and for this purpose they have adopted such expedients as importing foreign trusts, importing scabs and blacklegs, the exportation of Government orders, the employment of military in the interest of the employers during strikes, the employment of military in the interest of the landlord to seize food for rent, the arresting and imprisoning of republicans on suspicion, and the torturing and execution of prisoners for comparatively small offences.”[85]

Apart from driving down wages, increasing unemployment and the rate of emigration, such policies also had the effect of reducing the power of the trade unions.  By 1926 the powerful trade union movement of 1918-21, which had organised 300,000 workers and held several successful general strikes, had been reduced to a mere 95,000 members.  Cuts were also made in pensions, which were reduced from ten to nine shillings a week in 1924, while Finance Minister Ernest Blythe also looked at doing away with national health insurance and labour exchanges.[86]  Many unemployed were not even eligible for the dole.  For instance, in 1928, out of 58,000 unemployed only 11,000 workers and their families were eligible.[87]  The state’s attitude was that the unemployed should be looked after by Catholic and other charities.  When famine broke out in part of the west, Industry and Commerce Minister Patrick McGilligan even declared that providing work and food for the unemployed and starving was not any function of the state.  “People may have to die in this country and they may have to die through starvation,” he told the Dail.[88]  In response Markievicz wrote

“They make no secret of their attitude; their words and attitude during the debate on unemployment on October 30 shows us their selfish and cruel policy.

“Mr McGilligan, their Minister for Industry and Commerce, spoke for them.  His only answer to heart-rending accounts of starvation and misery was to try and evade all responsibility for it.

“He sneered at Deputy Byrne who spoke of the misery of the people, and told him he ‘indulged (him)self in the luxury of grief’ and went on to state, ‘those things are quite well-known, but simply to state that they are there, and to tell a tale of a child dying of starvation, and the coroner’s verdict that the child did die of starvation, as if that is a verdict against the Government, is nonsense.’

“He was absolutely definite as to the Free State policy when he stated: ‘It is not the function of this Dail to provide work.’

“So we find that today the workers are starving and with little hope of finding work.  That the small farmers and small businesspeople are facing ruin and starvation.  Death or emigration are what this Junta is providing for the plain people of Ireland, while they and their numberless officials revel in luxury and drink, and foreign trusts daily strengthen their grip on the economic life of Ireland.”[89]

The slump, the defeat of the republicans and consolidation of the new state, and the increasing conservatism of the leadership of the labour movement shaped working class resistance to the attacks on wages, living standards and employment.  The only mass industrial stoppage organised by the labour leaders in the period after the Treaty was a general strike against “militarism” in April 1922.[90]  “The Dublin newspapers heartily approved”[91] and the strike was a great success.  ICA leader John Hanratty attacked it as being called with the aim of giving backing to the Free State.  Mitchell concurs, noting it was directed mainly at the republicans and was strongly criticised by both them and the left-wing workers’ groups.[92]  In June 1922, on the eve of civil war Labour declared that the struggle would now be “against capitalism” and “our opponents are the employers”.[93]  Yet the employers’ interests and the Free State government’s were the same.  It was impossible to fight one without fighting the other.

The Labour leaders also assisted the regime by taking their seats in the Dail when it was boycotted by the republicans.  This allowed the Free State to function with a democratic veneer.  As Mitchell notes, “The government needed the Labour Party as at least a nominal opposition to give the Dail the appearance of being a national assembly rather than a gathering of a political faction.”[94]  While Labour attacked some of the more draconian pieces of Free State legislation, such as the “Flogging Bill”[95] and its attacks on workers, these took place entirely within the framework of an acceptance of the state and its right to action.  It was also accompanied by assailing the republicans for their, as Johnson put it, “attack upon the social fabric itself.”[96]  Gwynn noted approvingly that Johnson brought to the political development of the Free State the political virtues “characteristic of the English ‘moderate’ trade union leader. . . . having been educated in the English constitutional labour agitation, he regarded the position of Leader of the Opposition as involving responsibilities scarcely less than those of the Prime Minister” and that “He had carried his own party solidly in support of the Treaty and of the Free State.”[97]  In 1927 Johnson looked fondly “back on the four years (of the Dail – PF) as a period of friendliness and fellowship. . .”[98]  By 1927 even Labour’s originally critical attitude to the Oath of Allegiance to the Crown, which had to be taken by all TDs in the Free State parliament, had faded.  When Fianna Fail was deciding whether to enter the Dail and move for the abolition of the oath, Johnson warned about the grave consequences of such a measure, declaring the country “had had one revolution and one revolution in a generation is enough.”[99]

James Larkin return to Ireland in early 1923, after almost a decade in the US, much of it in prison for “seditious” activity.  He had assailed the ILPTUC leaders for supporting the Treaty and the Free State and for their lack of leadership on economic issues and his return opened up the possibilities for a serious left-wing challenge to the mainstream labour leaders and the moderates at the head of the republican movement.

Recognising that the republican military struggle had reached a dead end, he urged them to cease armed actions and wage a socio-political fight against the new state.  Roddy Connolly and the CPI, along with Delia Larkin and P.T. Daly who had fallen out with the Transport Union leaders over personal as much as political issues, urged Larkin to take on O’Brien and the other leaders who had run the union in his absence and deradicalised it.  Larkin wasted little time in throwing himself into the thick of political activity, leading the Dublin dockers in their resistance to pay cuts in July.  When the dispute was settled over their heads by the ITGWU leaders, the division between Larkinites and O’Brienites came to a head.  The union split with Larkin taking two-thirds of the Dublin membership, but O’Brien’s group retaining the bulk of the membership outside the capital.  Larkin and his supporters established a new union, the Workers Union of Ireland.  The split was also reflected in Dublin by the trades council backing Larkin; the ILPTUC leaders and apparatus was firmly behind O’Brien and Johnson.

Larkin also established a political party, the Irish Worker League and relaunched Irish Worker newspaper.  The IWL stood against official Labour in the August 1923 election, called by the Free State regime to take advantage of their victory in the civil war and the disarray of the republicans, thousands of whom were still in prison.  In the June 16, 1922 issue of Irish Worker Larkin attacked mainstream Labour as “lost to all sense of dignity, manipulated by ambitious self-seekers. . . a feeble imitation of the English labour party.”  Labour received 119,000 votes, lost three seats, returning only 14 TDs compared to the 17 seats they had won in 1922, and blamed Larkin.  But, as Mitchell notes, workers had little reason to vote Labour.  Its role in the Dail “was of little import to working class voters whose lives it did not directly affect.”[100]  Considering the odds stacked against them, in terms of harassment of electoral workers, censorship and the imprisonment of a large proportion of their activists, the republicans did relatively well, increasing their vote and seats; SF took 284,000 votes and 44 seats.

Shortly after the election the government cut old age and blind pensions, teachers’ salaries and then the salaries of all government workers.  While Johnson accused the regime of having a policy of reducing wages at all costs, the labour leaders’ acceptance of the new state continued to hamper them in providing any effective, extraparliamentary challenge.  At the same time, the prospects for resistance were greatly hampered by unemployment.  For instance, when the government undertook the massive Shannon electrification project in 1925, setting labourers’ wages at a meagre 25 shillings a week, the ILPTUC attempted for two years to carry out a boycott but failed.  Plentiful supplies of labour in the poverty-stricken west ensured the government’s success in maintaining low wages on the scheme.  The effects of unemployment were also registered in the decline of strike activity – the number of workers involved in strikes declined from 31,780 in 1925 to just 6,200 in 1925.[101]

In some areas, however, Labour and republicans united and were able to prevent government wage-cutting.  This was achieved, for instance on Dublin Corporation (city council) in 1924.  The government responded, however, by dissolving the Corporation and sending in three commissioners who cut the rates, dismissed a section of the workforce and reduced wages and sick pay.[102]  Dissolving elected local government authorities was a widespread practice of the new regime in 1923-4, especially in dealing with authorities led by republicans or labour elements opposed to the government’s policy of trying to make them collect rates which people had withheld during the war for independence.[103]  Kerry and Leitrim county councils were the first to be dissolved, followed by Dublin Corporation and then Cork Corporation, the dissolution of the latter being followed by similar wage and job cuts as in Dublin.  The regime also abolished altogether the rural district councils.[104]  Further anti-democratic measures were taken in 1926 in response to the British general strike of that year: the regime brought in a bill enabling the state to take control of the distribution of goods in an emergency.[105]

In July 1927 Kevin O’Higgins was assassinated by the IRA.  Labour offered to help prop up the Cumann na nGaedheal government,[106] which was teetering at the time, but the regime responded to the killing by introducing fresh repressive measures.  Three bills dealing with public safety, removal of the Constitution’s provision for referenda initiatives, and for making it compulsory for all candidates in Dail elections to take a pledge that they would take their seats in the Dail if elected.  Again, Labour was left to criticise the measures within the Dail but was not prepared to mobilise opposition outside parliament or launch any campaign with the republicans – who were now divided between the IRA, Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail (see below) – against the government.

As we have seen, the mainstream of the labour movement “was quickly domesticated and adapted itself to the requirements of the new political elite”.[107]  It was challenged from the left.  But, while Larkin’s WUI became a significant trade union, the political groups led by Larkin and Roddy Connolly remained marginalised.  When Larkin set up the Irish Worker League, the Communist International instructed the CPI to dissolve and join the IWL.  This does not seem to have been based on any depth of political assessment by the International’s leadership, but motivated by the fact that Larkin was by far the most well-known militant labour leader in Ireland and he, or at least his name, was seen as the key to building a Marxist party in Ireland.

Connolly loyally followed the International line and the CPI was dissolved, its members joining the IWL.  But they and other working class militants ran into the same problems as everyone else who had tried to work with Larkin rather than under him.  Larkin was a mesmeric orator and inspirational figure, but he was not a party-builder and, even at the trade union level, he was highly disorganised and autocratic.[108]  Although committed subjectively to the overthrow of capitalism, Larkin was no theorist and showed no inclination to become one.  He and the IWL were then entirely unsuited to the task of building a Bolshevik-type party in Ireland.

Roddy Connolly and a layer of other IWL members soon became exasperated and left, founding a new party in 1926, the Workers Party of Ireland.  The WPI’s first executive included Maud Gonne and Charlotte Despard,[109] the sister of former British viceroy, Lord French.  Despard paid Roddy Connolly a wage so he could organise the Workers Party, subsidised the WPI paper, Hammer and Plough, and started up a labour college in Dublin.  Gonne and Despard also played a leading role in campaigns against repression and for the release of prisoners during the 1920s and the 1930s.  Once again, the Third International intervened and instructed the WPI to dissolve and join Larkin’s party and Connolly obeyed, although a small group who refused to follow Comintern instructions kept the WPI going and it gradually faded out of existence.  Both Larkin and his son, James junior, won and quickly lost Dail seats over the next two decades, but the IWL never became any significant force and certainly could not be described as a vanguard Marxist party.  Eventually it too faded away in the early 1930s, with Larkin and his supporters rejoining the Labour Party.[110]

Overall, the decade following the Treaty was a miserable one for the working class.  While workers had had no say in the politics of the independence movement, they had played an important role in the struggle, through two general strikes and numerous other stoppages, through voting Sinn Fein and, often, through joining the IRA and other republican organisations.  The war for independence and the civil war had also seen an intensification of economic struggles, leading to factory occupations and the declaration of soviets was widespread.  However, much of this struggle was spontaneous and lacked the political leadership and overall social vision necessary to become converted into a challenge to the capitalist system.  The soviets were generally short-lived and dissolved once employers met the workers’ demands.  In the cases of the most significant soviets, such as the Limerick Soviet and those established in the west (especially Bruree and Knocklong) during the civil war, the first was ended due to lack of support from the labour leadership in Dublin and the second group by the collapse of the republican resistance in the west.  Yet the fact that these soviets were dependent on either the official leadership of the labour movement or on the republican army’s ability to hold off the Free State showed that the working class lacked its own revolutionary organisation and consciousness.  The 1921-22 settlement brought an end to the rise of working class radicalism which had begun in 1908 with the founding of the ITGWU and opened a period of retreat and defeat.  Cuts in wages and living standards, widespread unemployment and the continuation of underdevelopment and poverty conditioned the existence of both urban workers and rural labourers and small farmers.  Trade union membership declined, militant working class action declined, and emigration soared.

c. Women

Coulter, who sees women’s long history of involvement in Irish nationalism as having given them greater access to public life than women in the imperialist countries, notes, “(A)ll this was closed off to them by the newly-formed patriarchal state, modelled essentially on its colonial predecessor.”[111]  While this certainly helps explain why so many women opposed the Treaty, the term “patriarchal state” is problematic.  It was not a state based on male power – indeed, most males had little, if any, power over it – but on the power of a minority class of capitalists, the remains of the old landed elite, and the section of the middle class which had aspirations to become large-scale capitalists now they had political power.  For instance, as Valiulis notes, the new state shared the ideals of British Victorianism, “respectability, sobriety, hard work, self-help, thrift and sexual puritanism”.[112] These moral values coincided both with Catholic moral/social teaching and the needs of Irish small businessmen, with aspirations for economic advancement.

The new regime, and the class interests it represented, wished to restore order and get on with the business of making money.  Order required that all the troublesome sections of society which had demanded their rights over the previous decades – industrial workers, women, agricultural labourers, small farmers – be put back in their place.  For women, that place was the home.  For the new regime, the sooner women were put back there the better.  As Kevin O’Higgins, the main strongman of the regime in the 1920s, put it, the government was dealing with “hysterical young women who ought to be playing five-fingered exercises or helping their mother with the brasses.”[113]  At around the same time, the beginning of 1923 when the Treaty faction was establishing its new political party, Cumann na nGaedheal, Cosgrove told Yeats he believed, “(W)omen, doctors and the clergy ought to keep out of politics, as their business is with the sick.”[114]  In fact the Free State had shown its attitude towards women’s rights at the time of the Treaty debates, when women opposed to the Treaty had met with particular vituperation.  Then, in March 1922, when extension of the franchise to women over 21 was being proposed, they opposed the measure.  It was claimed that they could not alter the register because the British would not accept an election under any terms different to those already agreed through the Treaty.  There were also fears that women in their twenties would vote against the Treaty.[115]  Particular vindictiveness towards women opposed to the Treaty had also been shown during the civil war, for instance in assaults on them in prison.[116]

As noted earlier in this thesis, Cumann na mBan had recruited thousands of women of this age group, and they constituted the largest section of the 1921 convention.  These were women who had been politically active during the worst days of “The Terror” – the republican term for the height of the repression in 1920-21, when the Black and Tans, Auxiliaries and others were let loose – and were not likely to accept the abandonment of the Republic, much less go meekly from the political stage.  The place they had won for themselves so far had been won in a period of disorder and, while sections of republican men gained power sufficient to encourage them to give up what they had stood for (or purported to stand for), power was not an option in the new state for women.  They would have to give up their newly-acquired independence without gaining anything at all.  They were simply expected to abandon their ideals and go home.

In contrast, the Republic declared in Easter Week 1916 had guaranteed “absolutely equal rights” to women and this spirit had been maintained in the Democratic Programme when the Republic was given form by Dail Eireann in 1919.  Opposition to the Treaty therefore made sense from both the republican and women’s rights aspects of the political thinking of women who had been active in the cause.  As Ward notes, “(R)ecognition of the Republic was inextricably linked with recognition of women’s right to equality.   The fight for both had to continue.”[117]

Daly has pointed to the effects of socio-economic conditions inherited from the colonial period in determining, or at least heavily influencing, the position of women in the new state.[118]  The late marriages, high levels of emigration, and declining female employment in agriculture – factors which characterised the late 1800s – also, she argues, also conditioned women’s position within the new state.  This argument is used to counter accounts which contrast women’s political activity during the independence struggle with the situation in the Free State.  Daly claims, there is “a danger that the freedom and status accorded to women in the early years of the twentieth century have been exaggerated and that in turn the repressive nature of the new Irish state may also have been overstated.”[119]  Yet as Valiulis argues, although Cumann na mBan played a subordinate role to the IRA, and in some ways replicated women’s domestic roles, “women’s participation in the conflict did expand their sphere. . . (it) took them out of the home, made them participants in the political process, and gave them a taste of life in the public sphere. . .  The growing independence and radicalization of Cumann na mBan through the years 1919-23 is a testimony to the effect which public participation had on nationalist women.”[120]

Moreover it is quite clear from their statements and legislation that the politicians of the new state rejected the equality enshrined in the Easter Proclamation and other republican documents and were determined to limit women’s participation in public life.  It introduced discriminatory legislation on illegitimacy and divorce, barred women from juries, and restricted women’s access to employment and equal treatment in both the civil service and industry.[121]  The key pieces of legislation in this process were the 1924 and 1927 Juries Bills, the 1925 Civil Service Act (which enabled the government to bar women from various Civil Service Exams); the 1925 Matrimonial Property Act, banning divorce; and the 1929 Censorship Act, which included a ban on contraception information.[122]  It also attacked women’s participation in political activity, particularly its radical manifestations. Catholic Church control of education and the general teaching of the Church on the place of women in the home, both legitimised and helped achieve the driving out of women from the public sphere.[123]  At the same time, as Daly notes, Protestantism and Unionism had the same view about the place of women in the home: “far from originating in Catholicism or nationalism, many of the original exponents were members of the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy who were Protestants and Unionists.”[124]

While the new state’s policies indicate Daly underestimates the extent to which there was a conscious attempt to push women out of the public sphere, she is nevertheless right to emphasis the important role that economic factors played, a point often missing in feminist accounts of the period which tend to emphasise male/nationalist images of women.  She argues, “Population decline, emigration, and apparent economic failure had all fed the growth of Irish nationalism; the need to reverse these trends was seen as a key test of the new Irish state.”[125]  While the first part of this claim is highly questionable – for instance, emigration tended to drain the country of youthful rebels rather than feed their growth – it is certainly the case, as she notes, that Cumann na nGaedheal did not develop policies to reverse the trends of population decline and emigration.  Overall employment even fell.[126]  In a country marked by underdevelopment, widespread poverty and large-scale emigration, there was no capacity for providing jobs for all who wanted to work.  The sexual division of labour would be maintained as long as that society itself continued.  Women would be displaced or shut out from the labour market in conditions in which there were not enough jobs for male workers, let alone for everyone capable of working outside the home.  Eventually, under de Valera’s regime in the 1930s, this would reach the stage where women in the state sector were to give up their jobs upon marriage.[127]   Thus while Daly underplays the ideological aspects, she is right to stress the importance of material conditions in the new society in fixing women’s position within the home.

In the new state one of the few ways in which women could play a political role was in the republican parties – Sinn Fein and, initially, Fianna Fail – and other republican groups such as Cumann na mBan.[128]  Women occupied leading positions in Sinn Fein from 1917 onwards.  The October 1923 Sinn Fein ard fheis elected Mary McSwiney party vice-president and Caitlin Brugha party secretary.  Kathleen Lynn, Margaret Buckley, Lily Coventry, Maire Comerford, Dulcibella Barton, Kate O’Callaghan and Albinia Broderick were elected executive members who remained leaders after the Fianna Fail split.  In 1926 a new republican paper, Irish Freedom, was established, owned by Albinia Broderick and managed by Sheila McInerney.  Fianna Fail, in its first few years, also had a significant number of women in its leadership.  Markievicz, Margaret Pearse, Hannah Sheehy Skeffington, Kathleen Clarke, Linda Kearns and Dorothy Macardle, for instance, were on the first executive of the new party.  Most of these women, even Macardle who perhaps did more than anyone to promote de Valera’s reputation, became disillusioned with the party’s rightward shift and reconciliation with the Catholic Church in the 1930s, and drifted out.  Other prominent republican women, such as Maud Gonne and Charlotte Despard, continued to be active in political life, Gonne and Despard being associated both with republican prisoner campaigns and with Roddy Connolly’s Marxist groups in the 1920s.  Nora Connolly also remained a prominent left-wing activist.  In the 1930s, when there was a resurgence of radical republicanism, represented by both Saor Eire and then the Republican Congress,[129]  many of the activists and signatories to the manifestos announcing these organisations were women.  Often, as in the case of Maire Comerford, Sheila Humphreys and Eithne Coyle, these were women who had first been involved in Cumann na mBan in the 1916-21 period.

In the case of Labour, there were very few prominent women members.  The party also evinced a far more pronounced reluctance than the republicans in running women candidates.  The Irish Women Workers Union paper An Bhean Oibre (The Woman Worker) in its February 1927 issue, for instance, noted both the union’s “desire to see an IWWU representative in the Dail” and its belief that it was “no use to nominate a woman for the panel.  She’d stay there for ever.  They won’t choose a woman for any constituency whilst they have pals of their own falling over each other trying to get the job.”[130]  In the government party, women played no noticeable role at all and were conspicuous at leadership level only by their absence.  The sole exception was Michael Collins’ sister, Margaret Collins O’Driscoll, who was elected to the Dail but was notable chiefly by her silence.  Although a small women’s group in support of the Treaty had been set up in 1922 to counter Cumann na mBan, once the Free State was secured there was little left for these women to do in terms of political activity and they were sent home.  While the policy of Cumann na mBan, adopted in 1920 and maintained thereafter included as its first point, “To follow the policy of the republican proclamation by seeing that women take up their proper position in the life of the nation”,[131] there seems to have been little objection on the part of pro-Treaty women to being sent back to the domestic sphere.  Lil Conlon, for instance, relates how her pro-Treaty group dissolved in 1925 in the opinion “we had conscientiously performed our duty to the government and the Nation.”[132]

The crucial element in fixing the position of women is that the new state did not represent a break with the social system of the past.  Material conditions limit possibilities, but material conditions can also be changed.  The outlook of the leaders of the Free State did not go beyond the existing capitalist order and, in maintaining that order, they were forced to lower people’s horizons.  It was this which determined that in the ideological battle Valiulis notes “over which construction of womanhood would prevail” – the equal, free and independent vision of women held by Inghinidhe and reflected in the 1916 Proclamation or the conservative view of women in a domestic sphere rigidly separated from the rest of society – the conservative view would prevail.  The possibilities for women in a country marked by the socio-economic conditions we have already noted were highly limited; only a social revolution could have changed that.  And a social revolution was precisely what had been prevented.  The failure of republicanism, then, had disastrous consequences for women. At least workers in factories, offices and on the land had trade unions and could act collectively to achieve their aims.  Shut away in the home, atomised and without social power, women were in a worse position.  As Benton notes, “Women were not the only losers; but . . . their loss was the most enduring.”[133]

d. The republican movement and Collins’ followers

The years after the civil war were hard ones for republicans.  The state seemed intent on turning its back altogether on the revolutionary decade.   The existence of a sizeable body of republicans acted as a constant reminder of the abandonment of the goals of the movement during the previous decade.  The anti-Treaty republicans’ continuing denunciations of the Free State regime, coupled by its refusal to take seats in the new parliament, was met with constant political harassment, the denial of jobs in the public sector to people who refused to take the Oath of Allegiance to the Crown, and repressive legislation such as the “Flogging Bill”.  As Ward notes, even after the release of the thousands of republican civil war prisoners at the end of 1923, “The lack of an effective opposition enabled draconian laws to be passed with little dissent, and the prisons once again began to fill up.  Economic survival was the main preoccupation of many. . .”[134]  Large numbers of republicans emigrated, others dropped out of the movement.

Yet republicanism, far from disappearing, continued to remain a powerful force in Irish society.  In February 1924, for instance, the British representative in the Free State, N.G. Loughrane, estimated 40 percent of the people in the south to be basically republican and that this could rise to 60 percent very quickly in any “untoward circumstances”.[135]  By such circumstances he appears to have meant any action taken by Britain which was seen as a reassertion of its colonial power over Ireland or any failure by the Free State to resist such action.  The republicans, as we have seen, did relatively well in the elections at the end of the civil war and in 1924 were busy reorganising and rebuilding.  On the left of the movement, Markievicz was giving lectures at the Sinn Fein head offices on James Connolly’s thought.  Yet even at this stage, as Ward notes, Sinn Fein members “were not in agreement over whether or not to embrace a radical social programme”.[136]  De Valera remained unchallenged leader of the political wing of the movement which, rather than develop a programme for the new political situation, maintained the fiction that the Second Dail – the body elected in the partition elections of 1921 – still existed.  The republicans elected to that body continued to meet in Dublin, seeing themselves as the legitimate and real government of Ireland.

In the IRA, however, there had been some important changes.  Left-wing leader Peadar O’Donnell proposed in 1925 that the IRA withdraw its allegiance to this Second Dail fantasy and begin a campaign of socio-economic agitation and organisation.  One of the results of this was a campaign against the land annuities payments which were still being made by Irish small farmers to Britain as a result of arrangements in the Treaty.  Sinn Fein and its Second Dail suffered a further blow when de Valera, recognising that the existence of the Free State could not be ignored and that the existing republican political stance would not help their cause, proposed that SF elected TDs should take their seats in the Free State Dail if the oath was removed.  The issue eventually led to a split in Sinn Fein, with de Valera and his supporters leaving and forming Fianna Fail in 1926.[137]  Markievicz presided over the new party’s first public meeting in Dublin.  In 1927, following the assassination of O’Higgins, Fianna Fail was faced with the question of taking the Oath of Allegiance to the Crown in order even to stand in Free State elections or be pushed out into the wilderness.  The party’s lack of any conception of socio-economic-political struggle outside the parliamentary arena led to the decision to go into the Free State Dail and take the oath.  This they did in late 1927; the only one of their TDs elected that year who did not take the oath was Markievicz, who died in the pauper’s wing of a Dublin public hospital.  Markievicz’s funeral was attended by a crowd of over 100,000, again showing the resilience of republicanism.

However, the goals of republicanism, far from being achieved, were abandoned by the largest group to emerge from the anti-Treaty forces, Fianna Fail.  Radicals who had joined the party in the hope that it could offer a political way forward, especially the radical women, dropped out over the decade after the party’s formation; those who stayed, such as Sean Lemass, grew more and more conservative.  By the time Fianna Fail came to power in 1932, the Free State regime and its political project was exhausted.[138]  The policies followed by Cumann na nGaedheal had not led to prosperity or brought economic dynamism to Ireland.  The party was largely discredited and worn out.  The fact that this party had set up and shaped the state meant that the exhaustion of Cumann na nGaedheal also had repercussions for the state itself.  The resurgence of the IRA and social radicalism in the early 1930s reposed the possibility of a radical challenge to the state itself.  Fianna Fail became the means by which the state was preserved; the new party, with dynamism and an alternative project of state intervention in the economy, protectionism and the promotion of nationalism, stepped into the breach and sidelined more radical challenges to the existing order.[139]

The survival of capitalism and the state in Ireland, as elsewhere, generally requires not just a governing party but an opposition which can take over the reins of power in times of trouble or when the main party is exhausted.  Fianna Fail performed this task so well that it became the dominant party in southern politics for the next seventy years.  But, in doing so, it maintained and substantially strengthened a state which was the negation of the republican goals of complete national freedom for the whole of Ireland and a social transformation which would put the needs and rights of the majority before the property rights of the few.[140]

Finally, we come to that section of republicans who, following Collins, believed that the Free State was not the end of the struggle but a stepping stone which, having been secured, could then be used to bring about the final goal of national independence for all of Ireland.  This section fought hard for the Free State side during the civil war, but became rapidly disillusioned following its conclusion.  They found themselves being displaced in positions of power, especially in the Free State Army, by people with no record in the national struggle.  As one of the leading figures of this group, Liam Tobin, put it, after Collins’ death his followers “soon became painfully aware that those who succeeded him had not his outlook” and the Free State Army was “being built up largely out of anti-national elements”,[141] many of whom were ex-British soldiers who had fought against the independence movement, some were even former British secret service agents.  When the government began demobilising the Army after the civil war, and ensuring that it was subordinated to the state, the Collinsite group set up the Irish Republican Army Organisation (IRAO) which believed, in Tobin’s words, “There is the unity of Ireland and full independence still to be achieved.  In the last resource it may be necessary to fight for these.”[142] After nine months of getting nowhere with their opposition to being removed from positions of power within the Army and for the Free State to move forward on trying to secure full independence for the whole country, in March 1924 they sent an ultimatum to the government demanding a conference based on two conditions – the removal of the Free State Army Council and immediate suspension of army demobilisation and reorganisation.  The government, deciding the foundations of the state were under threat, issued a proclamation on “Mutiny in the Army” and began arresting IRAO leaders.  One meeting of IRAO leaders was surrounded by hundreds of troops with machine guns and armoured cars.  The IRAO prisoners were then used by the regime as hostages to bring about the collapse of the rest of the group.  In the end most of the officers belonging to the IRAO resigned from the Free State Army.

“In the name of ‘discipline’ the large majority of the old soldiers of 1916-21 have been driven out of the Army,” declared Tobin.[143]  In his view the IRAO group had “voiced the national desire for the full freedom of our country, and that desire cannot be stilled.”[144]  Yet while the group called for a return to “the spirit of 1916-21 and the completion of the work”,[145] they had failed to understand that the Treaty and civil war had been a counter-revolution, moreover one on whose side they had fought.  That counter-revolution was about destroying The Republic, not buying it a breathing space so that the struggle could be continued under more auspicious circumstances shortly afterwards.  Everything which the Republic had stood for, or purported to stand for, had been lost as a result of the counter-revolution.

The defeat of the pro-Collins faction in the Free State Army was followed by the withdrawal of nine TDs from the Cumann na nGaedheal party.  The dissidents, led by Patrick McGrath, established themselves as the “National Group”, but there was little space in Irish politics for a Collinsite republican grouping in between the Free State regime and the anti-Treaty republican movement outside the Dail.  The nine shortly afterwards resigned from the Dail, seven of their seats being won back by Cumann na nGaedheal and two going to Sinn Fein.[146]  The Collinsite faction may have genuinely seen the establishment of the Free State as a stepping stone to freedom.  But their inability to distinguish between a revolution and a counter-revolution, and their participation in the counter-revolution, ensured that they too joined the ranks of those who lost out as the new arrangements in Ireland were consolidated.

 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Overall, the establishment and consolidation of the Free State represented the defeat of Irish republicanism and its twin goals of complete political independence and radical social transformation. Far from becoming a step on the road to freedom, with the struggle for complete freedom being resumed once the new state was consolidated, the Free State became a powerful barrier between the Irish people and British imperialism.  Any struggle to achieve the goals of Irish republicanism would now have to face not only the British state, but the neo-colonial state apparatus in the twenty-six counties.

Just as the republican goal of political independence, through the establishment of a sovereign republic, was lost, so was the inter-related goal of social transformation. Those who took governmental power in the new state comprised the most conservative wing of the national liberation movement.  They would build no brave new free society, but a neo-colonial statelet in twenty-six counties.  They followed a set of social and economic policies in line with the dominant orthodoxy of the time, based on the operations of a market economy, with the state operating more or less directly to protect and strengthen the interests of the dominant economic groups.  In the Free State these were the capitalists, the big farmers/ranchers and the remains of the old landed aristocracy.  The new state’s economy remained subordinate to Britain.  The government, being dependent on British goodwill – required both to provide the weapons and back-up necessary ensure the defeat of the republicans and because of the economic dependency on Britain – was unlikely to antagonise the old colonial power.  The losers in this process were those sections of society which had been able to move forward during the radical period which opened in 1908 and had been brought to a close by 1927.  Workers, the rural poor and women all found themselves heavily under attack by the new state.  Economic recession, mass unemployment and laissez-faire economic policies, coupled with the political/repressive policies of a state determined to bring an end to social radicalism, bore down on these sections of society and drove them out to the margins.  Women were increasingly isolated in the home sphere, the labour movement lost much of its membership and social power, the rural poor remained in a semi-impoverished conditions throughout the 1920s and emigrated in substantial numbers.

The largest of the republican organisations by the late 1920s, Fianna Fail, was drawn into mainstream politics.  Its decision to enter the Dail in 1927 represented the end of the party as a republican organisation in any meaningful sense of the word.  While the disintegration of the Cumann na nGaedheal regime in the late 1920s exposed the weakness of neo-colonialism in Ireland and could have thrown into question the continued existence of the Free State, the shift by Fianna Fail effectively rescued the new state and its institutions.  By 1927, then, republicanism was defeated and neo-colonialism was triumphant.

[1] So far there is no authoritative history of the Free State of the 1920s; indeed there is comparatively little published material on the economics, politics, society, position of women, republicanism, labour, public policy and similar areas during the 1920s.  In 1985 Johnson noted, for instance, “The economic history of interwar Ireland has not generated a great deal of recent research” and “Most of the data available to us today was easily available to contemporaries..”  Additionally, “much of the economic history of interwar Ireland, particularly the Saorstat, was being written at the time.  Sometimes when it has been rewritten it has not been improved upon.”  (David Johnson, The Interwar Economy in Ireland, Studies in Irish Economic and Social History 4, Dublin, Economic and Social History Society of Ireland, 1985, p1-2.)  Almost a decade later, O Grada reported “Despite considerable research activity in the field since the 1950s, general accounts of the Irish economy in the past are few” (Cormac O Grada, Ireland: a new economic history 1780-1939, Oxford, Clarendon, 1994, Preface, pv), while “Official national accounts for the 1920s and most of the 1930s are lacking” (ibid, p383) and there is a “dearth of quantitative research into the post-independence period – and especially of reliable national income data. . .” (Ibid, p389)  Because this is only one chapter in a much more broad thesis, it is not my intention to attempt to compensate for this and provide detailed analyses of these areas.  In terms of economic information, I am forced to draw largely on Dennis Gwynn, The Irish Free State 1922-1927, London, MacMillan and Co, 1928, which provides valuable statistics.  His book is particularly interesting because he is a fulsome admirer of the new state, yet contained in it are facts from which it can be seen that this was a rigidly class-divided society in which the interests of the rich were looked after while the workers and small farmers were left to survive as best they could.  Gwynn, however, has nothing to say about women, which would in itself be an indication of the way in which they were disappearing from official public life.

[2] Desmond A. Gillmor, Economic Activities in the Republic of Ireland: a geographical perspective, Dublin, Gill and MacMillan, 1995, p7.

[3] Dennis Pringle, “Partition, politics and social conflict”, in R.W. G. Carter and A.J. Parker (eds), Ireland: contemporary perspectives on a land and its people, London and New York, Routledge, 1990, p41.

[4] Johnson, Interwar Economy, p20.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Gwynn, Free State, p32.

[7] These statistics are drawn from ibid, pp358-365.

[8] Ibid, p286.

[9] Terence Brown, Ireland: A Social and Cultural History, London, 1981, p19.

[10] Kieran Kennedy, Thomas Giblin and Deirdre McHugh, The Economic Development of Ireland in the Twentieth Century, London and New York, Routledge, 1988, p36.

[11] George O’Brien, “Patrick Hogan”, Studies, XXV (1936), pp353-68, cited from Johnson, Interwar Economy,  p22.

[12] Johnson, Interwar Economy, p5.

[13] Kennedy et al, Economic Development,  p37.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Johnson, Intwerwar Economy, p13.

[16] Gwynn, Irish Free State, p357.

[17] Ibid, pp273-4.  Gwynn here is referring both to the Irish demobilised from the British Army after WW1 – a significant number of which were recruited to the Free State Army – and the Free State soldiers demobilised after the civil war.

[18] Ward, Maud Gonne, p148.

[19] Gwynn, Irish Free State, p36-7.

[20] See Chapter 10.

[21] In general when I use the word Britain, I am doing this as short-hand for the British ruling class and state, rather than the British people as a whole.  By the ruling class, I mean that combined class of landed aristocracy, finance and industrial capitalists who constituted an elite of wealth and power in Britain.  The state covers a range of institutions through which such rule is organised and reproduced at the political level – the government, parliaments and upper houses, the civil service/state bureaucracy/government departments, the army, police, courts, municipal authorities and ideological institutions such as schools and universities.  But when I refer to the British state in relation to Ireland I am referring essentially to the British governmental apparatus, including the political parties (especially Conservative and Liberal) and parliament and the House of Lords, the army and police, and the section of the civil service directly concerned with servicing the regime.  When the term “British establishment” is used I am referring to the combination of the ruling class, the upper echelons of state personnel and the Church of England.

[22] See this thesis, chapter ten.

[23] Gwynn, Irish Free State, p165.

[24] Constance de Markievicz, What Republicans Stand For, p6, itals in original.

[25] Gwynn, Irish Free State, p232.

[26] Ibid, pp337-8.

[27] Ibid, p68.

[28] Ibid, p67.

[29] Ibid, p192.

[30] Johnson, Interwar Economy, p22.

[31] Gwynn, Irish Free State, p342.

[32] Mary E. Daly, Industrial Development and Irish National Identity 1922-1939, Dublin, 1992, p16.

[33] O Grada, Ireland: a new economic history, p385.

[34] Ibid, p386.

[35] Kevin O’Higgins, for instance, dismissed Griffith’s earlier protectionism as “The propagandist writings of one man.” (Lyons, Ireland Since the Famine, p600)

[36] Gwynn, Irish Free State, p235 and 242.

[37] Ibid, p357.

[38] Ibid, p369.

[39] The quote is from the committee’s report which was issued on November 1, 1923, cited from ibid, p242.

[40] Committee’s report cited from ibid, p240.

[41] Dunphy, Fianna Fail, p52.  The Irish factory was a rather small industrial unit; O Grada has noted the minuscule size of plants in 1932-47, with almost three quarters having under 20 workers, while the other quarter had an average of 82 workers (O Grada, p399).  Given that these statistics come from the Fianna Fail period of encouraging Irish industry, we might assume that in the 1920s factories were even more modest, with a few notable exceptions such as the big brewing and distilling plants such as Guinnes.

[42] O Grada, Ireland: a new economic history, p396.

[43] Ibid, p397.

[44] Ibid, p398.

[45] Dail Eireann Debates, 1, col 1861.

[46] Hierarchy statement cited from Conlon, Cumann na mBan, p269.

[47] Ward, Unmanageable Revolutionaries, p193.  For a republican response to the Church’s pro-Free State stance, see Constance Markievicz, “Reply to the Bishop of Killaloe”,  Markievicz wrote the letter originally to the Irish Independent, but it was also published in the August 21, 1923 issue of Sinn Fein and the September 21 issue of Eire, appearing in the latter under the title “Comment on the Folly of Dr Fogarty”.

[48] Dunphy, Fianna Fail, p45.  The ban on divorce dates from 1925, the censorship laws 1923 and 1929.

[49] Fanning, Independent Ireland, Dublin, Helicon, 1983, p59.

[50] Dunphy, Fianna Fail, p45.

[51] Anderson, James Connolly, p89.

[52] Catholic Bulletin Vol 21, No 11, November 1931, pp1021-22, cited from Anderson, James Connolly, p93.

[53] Ibid, p93.

[54] Ibid, p96.  A prominent example of this is the decision of the Labour Party conference in 1939 to drop the words “workers’ republic” from its constitution, by a vote of 89 to 25.  The motion was moved by the Irish National Teachers Organisation, one of the party’s main affiliates, following lengthy correspondence between the union and the Catholic hierarchy.

[55] In 1929, the ILPTUC had decided to split the political and industrial wings of the movement into two separate organisations, the Labour Party and the Irish Trade Union Congress.

[56] See Donal A. Kerr, Peel, Priests and Politics: Sir Robert Peel’s administration and the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland 1841-1846, Oxford, Clarendon, 1982.

[57] For a general account on the Church and the state, see John Whyte, Church and State in Modern Ireland 1923-1979, Dublin, Gill and MacMillan, 1980.

[58] Gwynn, Irish Free State, p233.

[59] Jones, Whitehall Diary, pp127-8.

[60] Ibid, p156.

[61] These figures are cited from Jones’ diary, p127.  For a county by county breakdown see Lee, Ireland, who gives the 1911 Census statistics (p1-2) and discusses the question of partition and democracy (pp43-7).

[62] Jones, Whitehall Diary, p127.  For a discussion on Protestant radicalism and republicanism see Flann Campbell, The Dissenting Voice: Protestant Democracy in Ulster from Plantation to Partition, Belfast, Blackstaff Press, 1991; see also, Jack White et al, Protestant Protest.

[63] Greaves, Liam Mellows, p290.

[64] See this thesis, chapter ten.

[65] Clarkson, Labour and Nationalism, p366.

[66] “Belfast launched on a period of murder and arson, unparalleled in intensity and brutality anywhere else in Ireland – a period that was to last for more than two years.” (Ibid, p372)

[67] Ibid, p369.

[68] Berresford Ellis, History of the Irish Working Class, p260.

[69] Ibid.

[70] James Connolly, “The First Hint of Partition”, Forward, March 21, 1914.  Reprinted in Socialism and Nationalism.  The other articles in this collection dealing with Ulster are along the same lines.

[71] Jones’ diary, p195-6.

[72] Curtis to Jones, ibid, p225.  Curtis held this position, 1921-24; he was also editor of the conservative publication The Round Table, and had been second Secretary to the British delegation at the Irish Conference 1921.

[73] Ibid, p228.

[74] Ibid, p237.  Given MacNeill’s political record, his failure to deny Feetham and Fisher’s claim, and his subsequent abandonment of public life, there seems every reason to believe them.

[75] Ibid, p246.

[76] Report of the Irish Boundary Commission 1925, introduction by Geoffrey J. Hand, Shannon, Irish University Press, 1969.

[77] See Dunphy, Fianna Fail, pp52-3.

[78] O’Connor, Labour History of Ireland, p113.

[79] Gwynn, Irish Free State, pp427-8.

[80] Dunphy, Fianna Fail, p53.

[81] Lyons, Ireland Since the Famine, p487-8.

[82] Dunphy, Fianna Fail, p55.

[83] Markievicz, What Republicans Stand For, p7, itals in original.

[84] Ibid.

[85] Ibid, p8.

[86] Fanning, Independent Ireland, p64-5.

[87] Ibid, p72.

[88] Dail Eireann Debates ix, Col 562.

[89] Constance Markievicz, “Definite Reply to Mr O’Higgins”, Sinn Fein, November 15, 1924.

[90] In fact it was not until the 1980s that the leaders of the Irish labour movement organised such mass action, on this occasion around the issue of income tax.

[91] Mitchell, Labour In. . .,  p156.

[92] Ibid, p163.

[93] Voice of Labour, June 14, 1922.  Cited from Berresford Ellis, History of the Irish Working Class, pp258-9.

[94] Mitchell, Labour In. . ., p172.

[95] The 1923 Public Safety Bill, labelled by republicans, the Labour Party and others as the “Flogging Bill”, gave the government continued power to detain political prisoners and also to flog people who were found guilty of robbery under arms and of arson.  See Mitchell (1974), p179;  The legislation actually went further than this.  Markievicz states, “This Act carries with it the death penalty for other offences than murder.  It carries it ‘for threatening. . . or attempting to threaten’ if the man who threatens is a Republican.  It gives the Government the power to have Republicans, even children, flogged, and to imprison any person known to have Republican ideas, for six months on the whim of an official.  It brings us back to the times of the Penal laws, with only this difference, the Penal laws were directed against Roman Catholics, this Bill is directed against Republicans.”  She also noted that no more than 48 of the 123 members of Parliament voted in favour of any of its clauses. See Markievicz, What Republicans Stand For, p8.

[96] Johnson cited from Mitchell, Labour In. . ., p175.

[97] Gwynn, Irish Free State, p193.

[98] Johnson, cited from ibid, p196.

[99] Sunday Independent, June 5, 1927.  Cited from Mitchell, Labour In. . ., p245.

[100] Ibid, p190

[101] Ibid, p198.

[102] Gwynn, Irish Free State, p397.

[103] Ibid, p394.

[104] Mitchell, Labour In. . ., p222.

[105] Ibid, p230.

[106] Ibid, p252.

[107] Coulter, Hidden Tradition, p27.

[108] See Emmet Larkin, op cit, for a considered evaluation of Larkin’s strengths and weaknesses.

[109] See Margaret Mulvihill, Charlotte Despard: a biography, London, Pandora, 1989.

[110] See Larkin, James Larkin, chapter thirteen.

[111] Coulter, Hidden Tradition, p3.

[112] Maryann Gialanella Valiulis, “Power, Gender and Identity in the Irish Free State”, Journal of Women’s History, Double Issue on Irish Women’s History, Winter-Spring 1995 p128.

[113] O’Higgins, cited in Eire, February 17, 1923.

[114] Cosgrove to Yeats, cited originally in J. Hone, W.B. Yeats 1865-1939, London, MacMillan, 1943; repeated in Nancy Cardoza, Maud Gonne; lucky eyes and a high heart, London, Victor Gollancz, 1979, p359 and Anderson, James Connolly, p81.  Cosgrove certainly did not believe that priests should be kept out of politics – simply that they should not be involved in parties.  Instead they should use their power at the pulpit to defend the new state and the oppressive class and gender relations upon which it was founded.

[115] The debate took place on March 2, 1922.  See Dail Eireann, Official Report, pp197-214.  Markievicz, for instance, noted, “One Deputy here seems to think that Cumann na mBan would torpedo the Treaty.  In the name of Cumann na mBan I thank him for his appreciation of their valour and strength and I can tell him that it will be up to them to do it whether they get the votes or not.”

[116] See “The North Dublin Union Riot” in Ward (ed), pp144-7.

[117] Ward, Unmanageable Revolutionaries, p178.

[118] Mary E. Daly, “Women in the Irish Free State 1922-1939: the interaction between economics and ideology”, Journal of Women’s History, Double Issue on Irish Women’s History, Winter/Spring 1995, pp99-116.

[119] Ibid, p100.

[120] Valiulis, “Power, Gender and Identity. . .”, pp119-20.

[121] Coulter, Hidden Tradition, p25.

[122] Valiulis, “Power, Gender and Identity. . .”, pp133-4, fn 17.  These measures were continued by Fianna Fail when it got into power in the 1930s.  De Valera’s regime barred married women from teaching in the national schools and then from the entire civil service, prohibited the sale and importation of contraceptives and, in the 1937 Constitution, enshrined women’s place within the home.  (Valiulis’ footnote actually provides wrong dates for the ban on married women teachers and the Constitution, but has the government and the decade right.)  See also, Valiulis, “Defining their Role in the New State: Irishwomen’s Protest Against the Juries Act of 1927”, Canadian Journal of Irish Studies, vol 18, no. 1, 1992, pp43-60.

[123] For the  Catholic Church see, for instance, Liam O’Dowd, “Church, State and Women: The Aftermath of Partition”, in Gender in Irish Society, eds Chris Curtin, Pauline Jackson and Barbara O’Connor, Galway, Officina Typographica Galway University Press, 1987, pp3-36 and James J. Keneally, “Sexism, the Church, Irish Women”, Eire-Ireland, vol 21 no. 3, 1986, pp3-16.

[124] Daly, “Women in the Irish Free State. . .”, p111.  On this latter point see Joanna Bourke, Husbandry to Housewifery: Women, Economic Change and Housework in Ireland 1890-1914, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1993, chapter 8.

[125] Daly, “Women in the Irish Free State. . .”, p109.

[126] Ibid.

[127] Yet when Fianna Fail came to power in 1932 with a more state interventionist policy in the development of industry, the position of women changed.  Despite the ban on married women in the civil service, jobs were opened up to women in manufacturing.  See ibid, p110.

[128] For accounts of women’s marginal role in official state politics see Maurice Manning, “Women in Irish National and Local Politics 1922-77”, in Women in Irish Society: the historical dimension, eds Margaret MacCurtain and donncha O Corrain, Dublin, Arlen House, 1978, pp92-102; Mary Clancy, “Aspects of Women’s Contribution to the Oireachtas Debate in the Irish Free State, 1922-1937”, in Women Surviving: Studies in Irish Women’s History in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, eds Maria Luddy and Cliona Murphy, Dublin, Poolbeg Press, 1989, pp206-232; Frances Gardiner, “Political Interest and Participation of Irish Women 1922-1992”, in Irish Women’s Studies Reader, ed Ailbhe Smyth, Dublin, Attic Press, 1993, pp45-78.

[129] Republican Congress was founded in 1934 mainly by Nora Connolly, Roddy Connolly and left-wing IRA leaders – especially Peadar O’Donnell, George Gilmore and Michael Price – who had left the republican army because of the unwillingness of the majority leadership to engage in serious social struggles.  Although it was a significant initiative, the Congress was divided from the start: the Connollys and Price wanted to turn it into a new socialist republican party while O’Donnell and Gilmore, backed by the now-Stalinist Communist Party, wanted it to be a broad front of republican and labour elements around the national question.  The O’Donnell/Gilmore faction won a small minority at the organisations first congress, whereupon the Connollys and Price withdrew and the movement quickly fell apart.

[130] An Bhean Oibre cited from Anderson, James Connolly, p84.

[131] Cumann na mBan first policy point cited from Conlon, Cumann na mBan, p300.

[132] Ibid, p298.

[133] Benton, “Women Disarmed. . .”, p166

[134] Ward, Maud Gonne, p148.

[135] Jones, Whitehall Diary, p225.

[136] Ward, Maud Gonne, p148.

[137] Dunphy (Fianna Fail, p71) notes that de Valera, Gerry Boland, Sean Lemass, Sean MacEntee, P.J. Brennan and others who took the helm of the new party were glad to leave Sinn Fein behind, having recognized “its inability to function as a vehicle for the construction of their political supremacy.”

[138] Dunphy (Ibid, p72) notes, for instance, “the apparently disintegrating Cumann na nGaedheal bloc”, pointing out that small capitalists were worried that this political decay would open the way to renewed class conflict.

[139] Dunphy (ibid, p73) notes the wide populist appeal of Fianna Fail, the way it tapped into the specific grievances of particular social classes and put forward concrete objectives in the name of the national interest.  The national interest was used as a means of organising class relations and  cohering society.  Fianna Fail also recruited substantially from outside Sinn Fein, partly from disillusioned republicans who had been inactive after the civil war, while “Numerous old IRA companies were transformed into Fianna Fail cummain.” (p75).  Cummain are branches.

[140] For a review of the changeover from Cumann na nGaedheal to Fianna Fail rule, see Francis MacManus (ed), The Years of the Great Test 1926-1939, Cork, Mercier, 1967.

[141] Irish Republican Army Organisation (IRA0), The Truth About the Army Crisis (Official), with a foreword by Major-General Liam Tobin, Dublin, no date, (1924?), p3.  (Photocopy in my possession.) For a recent account of the crisis/mutiny see Maryann Gialanella Valiulis, Almost a Rebellion: the Irish Army mutiny of 1924, Cork, Tower, 1985.

[142] IRAO, The Truth About the Army Crisis, p11.

[143] Ibid, p15.

[144] Ibid, p16.

[145] Ibid

[146] Mitchell, Labour In. . ., p207.

Posted on September 20, 2011, in Constance Markievicz, Free State in 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, Historiography and historical texts, Political education and theory, Republicanism post-1900, Thesis chapters, Women in republican history. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Winners and Losers in an Unfree State.

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