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7 December 1922: Ulster opts out of the Irish Free State

Read Robert Lynch’s article on “Partition and Power” on Century Ireland.

Ireland 1922, edited by Darragh Gannon and Fearghal McGarry, features 50 essays from leading international scholars that explore a turning point in history, one whose legacy remains controversial a century on. Building on their own expertise, and on the wealth of recent scholarship provoked by the Decade of Centenaries, each contributor focuses on one event that illuminates a key aspect of revolutionary Ireland, demonstrating how the events of this year would shape the new states established in 1922. Together, these essays explore many of the key issues and debates of a year that transformed Ireland.

In collaboration with Century Ireland(link is external), we are making the 50 essays freely available online. Today’s essay is by Robert Lynch and it covers Ulster’s exit from the Irish Free State.

On the evening of 7 December 1922 the prime minister of Northern Ireland, James Craig, set sail from Belfast to deliver his parliament’s decision, made only that afternoon, to opt out of the newly created Irish Free State. There had been no need to hurry. By the terms of Article 14 of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, the northern parliament had a month to make its choice, but Craig was anxious ‘not to show the slightest hesitation to the world’ of his government’s rejection of the separatist nationalist project.1 As one of his MPs observed in the brief debate a few hours earlier, Ulster’s decision was akin to that of a lifeboat readying itself to escape a sinking ship. That the new Irish Free State was imploding seemed self-evident. The next morning as Craig arrived in London to present his humble petition, the Free State government ordered the summary execution of four republican prisoners in Dublin in retaliation for a fatal attack on a TD the previous day, beginning a journey into the darkness of political authoritarianism, arbitrary arrest and state-sponsored murder. Continue reading (you will be redirected to the website of Century Ireland)

Ireland 1922, edited by Darragh Gannon and Fearghal McGarry, is published by the Royal Irish Academy with support from the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media under the Decade of Centenaries 2012-2023 programme. Watch an address by Taoiseach Micheál Martin, T.D. to mark the publication of this book (30 November 2022).


Ireland 1922