First Dail Declaration

In January 1919, the Sinn Fein members of parliament elected in the 1918 UK General Election formed an assembly in the Mansion House, Dublin instead of taking their seats in parliament.  It was not immediately apparent, if this was a determined effort to assert independence or whether it was symbolic.  Many of the elected Sinn Fein members were still in prison. The Unionist and Irish Parliamentary party members took their seats in the Houses of Parliament.

The assembly adopted a provisional constitution with the executive government consisting of a prime minister chosen by the Dail.  It was to have legislative and financial powers.

The Dail, in its first constituent session, approved the , Dail Constitution, A declaration of independence which would seem as ratifying the Republic proclaimed during the Easter Rising in 1916.  It sent a message to the free nations of the world demanding that Ireland should have the right to attend the peace conference in order that that the civilised world having judged between English wrong and Irish right might  guarantee to Ireland its permanent support for the maintenance of her national independence. Delegates were appointed.

The third document approved was the democratic program. The programme outlined a socialist policy which included: the public ownership of the means of production, natural resources and “wealth”; state provision of education for children and care for the elderly; ensuring that children receive food; promotion of industrial development as well as the exploitation of natural resourcesThe Labour Party inserted a clause that private property was to be subordinate “to the public right and welfare.”

Irish Volunteers

The Irish Volunteers had been infiltrated by the IRB who had been instrumental in the 1916 rebellion.  Its members maintained that the Supreme Council of the IRB was the sole government after Ireland secured absolute national independence and a permanent republican government.

In August 1919, the Minister for Defence persuaded the Dail to require its members and officials and the volunteers to take an oath of allegiance to the State.  They pledged they would support and defend the Irish Republic and the Government of the Irish Republic, which is Dail Eireann against all enemies, the domestic and foreign.

Volunteers took the oath as individuals. Gradually the volunteers, whose numbers may have varied from between 3,000 to 15,000 to 30,000 were never fully deployed at any one time and acted as relatively small bodies. Many members of the volunteers were already members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood.  Over the course of 1919 to 1920, the title Irish Volunteers was substituted by the Irish Republican Army.


Meanwhile the UK government had strengthened the Royal Irish Constabulary by the recruitment of so called “Black and Tans” many of them were ex-soldiers.  They were however recruited as ordinary members of the RIC.  The “Auxiliary” force consisting largely of ex-officers, was recruited as an auxiliary division of the RIC.

A guerrilla struggle ensued between the official UK government and the widely supported Sinn Fein government in the South.  The Restoration of Order in Ireland Act gave the general officer commanding in Ireland, wide powers of arrest and imprisonment without trial, powers for trial by court martial and military inquiries instead of coroners inquests.  The military were effectively permitted to employ reprisals against attacks.

The Anglo-Irish Treaty

Following the ceasefire agreement of July 1921, a process was initiated which ultimately led to the signing of a treaty on 6th December 1921.  The treaty proved divisive and  was passed by the second Dail by a relatively narrow  majority in January  1922.  Eamon De Valera  resigned as president of the republic declared by  Dail.

The Sinn Fein organisation divided in early 1922. Eamon De Valera, who by then had become an increasingly marginal figure, recommended that the army should take control of the provisional  Free State government and that those opposed should leave the army and become members of the republican clubs.

Provisional Government & Split

The provisional government was elected by the pro-treaty TDs  and four Dublin University representatives in January 1922 acting technically as members as the House of Commons of Southern Ireland.  The body never met again and the second Dail continued to meet.

Upon the formation of the provisional government on 16th January 1922, British troops evacuated from most centres except certain major centres.  Divisions between the pro-treaty and anti-treaty sides were evolving into a renewed guerrilla-style civil war.  The provisional government reluctantly agreed to evacuated military barracks being  taken over by local IRA units regardless of their attitude to the treaty.

The  provisional government attempt to establish a police force had failed and in the meantime the RIC had withdrawn.  The army on both sides of the treaty split was largely independent and

By Summer 1922 the pro-treaty forces were being described as the National Army.  By a decree of the provisional government, 2nd August 1922, commissions for officers in Oglaigh na hEireann and other armed forces of the Irish Free State were to be issued into the hands of the general commanding in chief and the Minister for Defence.

The splits at political level, mirrored  splits in the IRA which remained a volunteer organisation.  Anti-treaty members took the view that the allegiance to the Dail was conditional on the existence of the Republic.  They believed the treaty control of the army should divert to its  executive convention which had been unable to meet during the Anglo-Irish ward.  The IRA organisations in the south and west opposed the treaty.  Collin’s influence enabled a significant  minority of the IRA including the majority of the general headquarter staff in Dublin and certain other areas to support the treaty.

On January 10th, 1922, a meeting of the divisional brigade OCs and of the GHQ members opposed of the treaty, affirmed the independence of the army.  It commanded an army convention on the 5th February and established a military action committee known as the army council.  After a meeting with anti-treaty officers, the government agreed to the holding of the convention, but delayed for two months.  A series of infringements of the truce occurred with raids on RIC barracks

The provisional government financed units that swore allegiance to it, taking over barracks  including Beggars Bush, where the first regular unit of the new army was established in March 1922.

The army was hastily recruited. There was no disciplinary code and there were few trained officers.

Growing Crisi

The speed of withdrawal of British troops in early 1922 provided considerable challenges to the provisional government in asserting authority.  In Limerick the provisional government was determined to ensure that the pro-treaty forces took over the barracks.  However, the anti-treaty forces occupied rival barracks.  There were a succession of clashes over barrack occupations – in the early months of 1922.

A similar crisis to that  Limerick took place in Kilkenny in early May with a last-minute compromise.  The election of delegates to the March IRA convention showed a considerable anti-treaty majority.  The president of the official provisional government Arthur Griffiths  issued an order banning it. The Dail cabinet on 15th March 1922, asserted that the Dail should be the sole body in  supreme control of the army.

The meeting of the army convention on 26th March confirmed the military split. The convention reaffirmed the army’s independence and elected a new executive.  The convention saw emerging differenced in executive IRA ranks. Members of the executive IRA remained independent of political control and direction.

The start of the confrontation between pro-treaty and anti-treaty forces was marked by the takeover by the units of the Dublin brigade of the Four Courts and other significant buildings in Dublin.  Members of the army executive were prominent  in issuing statements with a uncompromising republican stance.

Pact Election

During this period a compromise was reached by Collins and De Valera was reached that a Sinn Fein panel of candidates would be drawn up for the June 1922 election preventing a contest on the treaty.  The treaty should be accepted as a basis for army unification and a coalition government should be set up following the election.

The pact was approved on  broadly the above terms on 20th May 1922 and an agreed Sinn Fein panel of pro and anit-treaty candidates based under existing strengths in the Dail was put forward and a coalition executive was agreed to.

The truce between the pro and anti-treaty forces was extended by agreement during the Collins- de Valera pact.  Pursuant to that pact an attempt to engineer a more republican constitution than the treaty allow was firmly y rejected by the UK government. Concessions made in the context with that pact. in an attempt to avoid civil war proved unacceptable and Collins was unable to win approval for a more republican constitution.

The truce between anti-treaty  and pro-treaty forces was extended. An agreement was almost secured under the distribution of GHQ appointments in a reunited army.  However, the proposal did not meet the approval of the Four Courts group and an  IRA convention on 18th June 1922 rejected the army unity proposals. A counter resolution was now defeated  proposing to give 72 hours’ notice to British units before being attacked.  Those who supported this resolution staged as split, electing their own executive.

Civil War

On 22nd June 1922, Sir Henry Wilson, chief of the general staff during the World War and security advisor to the Northern Government MP for North Down,  was assassinated by two IRB members in London.  The parties responsible had  close links to Collins and it was not clear if they had acted on their initiative or on instruction.

The next day the provisional government was given its final warning to end  republican occupation of the Four Courts and it was made clear that the British army would reoccupy Dublin if necessary.  Orders are given to recapture the Four Courts and were cancelled at the last hour.  The provisional government had very little room for manoeuvre and decided to attack the Four Courts on 26th June.  At the same time, a prominent anti-treaty individual was arrested followed by retaliatory kidnapping of the assistant chief of staff of the army.

Although the provisional government was not aware of the plans to take over the Four Courts, they were aware of the likelihood of direct action by the UK forces, if the government did not take action. The Four Courts garrison refused to leave, were shelled and after eight days of fighting were defeated. The public record office was destroyed

The government ordered large-scale recruitment to a point where up to 60,000 was reached.  The volunteers were ordered to place their entire establishment on an active service basis and officers  commanding local units requested volunteers to accept six months’ permanent service.  Michael Collins joined the army as commander in chief with the rank of general.  Richard Mulcahy  was Minister for Defence.

An ad-hoc command structure was developed for the National Army.  An army council l was established on 13th July with Collins as commander in chief, Mulcahy as chief of staff and Minister for Defence.  On Michael Collin’s death a month later, Mulcahy  became commander in chief.

There ensued a period of killings and appraisal killings by both the National Army and the ant-treaty side, many in breach of international conventions. The conflict ended in May 1923, with a he general order to dump arms. In 1924 the government instituted large scale demobilisation and the army was  reduced radically in numbers.

Irish Army

The Constitution of the Irish Free State provided that Oireachtas  with exclusive power to regulate, raise and  maintain armed forces.  Armed forces were subject to the control of the Oireachtas.

The Defence Forces (Temporary Provisions) Act deemed  the armed forces of the state to be the then continuing and existing national forces as the constitutional and legal armed forces of the State depending the establishment of permanent forces. The formal forces were established by proclamation of the Executive Council on 1st October 1924 as successor to the temporary forces.

The 1937 Constitution continued these exclusive power of the Oireachtas to  raise and maintain military and armed forces in the State. Supreme command was regulated by law and formally vested in the President.  The command of the armed forces is vested in the government exercised through the Minister for Defence.

The 1923 Act was continued by the Defence Forces (Continuance and Amendment) Act 1924.  The armed forces renamed, the military defence force;  became the Defence Forces under the Defence Act 1954. The legislation in relation to the defence forces was ultimately consolidated and continued in the Defence Act 1954.

Subsequent legislation (1960) authorised members to serve with United Nations with duties of a police character. 1987 legislation permitted the enlistment of women].  A 1990 act provided with the establishment of a representative association within the permanent defence forces.  A 1993 act authorised members of the Permanent Defence Force to participate in United Nations missions, with a wider scope than merely one of a police nature.


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