100 years ago, a succession of events unfolded across a ten-year period that would redefine the island of Ireland and its people forever.
The Ulster Covenant
On Ulster Day, 28 September 1912, almost 500,000 people signed the Ulster Covenant and Belfast City Hall served as one of the venues for the signing. They pledged to defend ‘for ourselves and our children our cherished position of equal citizenship in the United Kingdom’ and to resist the implementation of a Home Rule parliament in Ireland.
29 Jul 1911
Carson opposes Home Rule
Sir Edward Carson, the political and spiritual leader of Irish Unionism from 1910–21, indicates his militant stance for the maintenance of the Union in a letter to Ulster Unionist Sir James Craig:
‘I am not for a mere game of bluff, and, unless Ulster men are prepared to make great sacrifices ... the talk of resistance is no use.’
08 Feb 1912
Churchill supports Home Rule
Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty in H.H. Asquith’s Liberal government, addresses a meeting held in Belfast’s Celtic Park in support of Home Rule for Ireland. Due to Unionist demonstrations and increasing tensions in the city, Churchill (who was denied the use of the Ulster Hall for his address) was forced to undertake a circuitous route back to his ferry at Larne.
09 Apr 1912
Bonar Law pledges ‘unconditional support’
On Easter Tuesday, a mass Unionist gathering is held at the Balmoral Showgrounds, Belfast. The new Conservative leader, Andrew Bonar Law (left), addresses the meeting and pledges unconditional support for Ulster Unionist resistance to Home Rule. Over 100,000 men march past Bonar Law’s platform in an imposing display of Unionist strength.
11 Jun 1912
Liberal MP Thomas Agar-Robartes proposes an amendment to exclude the northern Protestant-majority counties of Antrim, Armagh, Derry, and Down from Home Rule Bill, the first formal parliamentary proposal to exclude part of Ulster. The motion is defeated, but causes anxiety among northern Nationalists.
28 Sep 1912
Unionists declare this day ‘Ulster Day’. Edward Carson addresses a religious service in the Ulster Hall before walking to Belfast City Hall, where he is the first to sign the Solemn League and Covenant. Those who signed the Covenant, which drew its name from the 1643 treaty signed by Scottish Presbyterians and English parliamentarians, pledged to oppose Home Rule by ‘all means which may be found necessary’. 237,368 men signed the Covenant, and 234,046 women signed the Women’s Declaration.
28 Sep 1912
Signing in blood
It has been claimed that many signed the Covenant in their own blood, particularly Frederick Hugh Crawford. Tests conducted in 2012 make it highly unlikely that Crawford signed the Covenant in his own blood, casting doubt on whether anyone else had. It has been suggested, however, that signing the Covenant ‘in blood’ was meant metaphorically and not literally.
21 Jul 1914
Buckingham Palace conference
At the king’s request, a conference of all parties is held at Buckingham Palace to resolve the ‘Irish Question’, bringing together the leaders of the unionist and nationalist parties together for the first time. The conference fails, amid rising tensions in Europe.
Rise Of The Labour Movement
The Dublin Lock-Out was a major industrial dispute between 20,000 workers and 300 employers, marking a watershed in Irish labour history.
26 Apr 1907
Belfast on strike
James Larkin, of the National Union of Dock Labourers, helps to organise dock workers in Belfast. Employers lock out union members and precipitate a bitter strike, which lasts until November 1907. During the strike there is sectarian violence, anti-sectarian actions by workers, and police mutiny in Belfast while British Army troops are deployed to quell unrest. James Sexton, leader of the NUDL, settles the strike without consulting Larkin, causing Larkin to feel dissatisfied at the role of British trade unions in Ireland.
01 Jan 1911
Larkin mobilises workers
After moving to Dublin, Larkin starts to organise workers within the city. His combination of strident trade unionism, passion for his members and organisational skill spawns a new description for his strategy: ‘Larkinism’. Employers across Ireland become increasingly alarmed at this new form of trade unionism.
26 Aug 1913
Dublin Lock-Out begins
Dublin’s leading employer, William Martin Murphy (left), sacks 100 tramway workers because of their membership with the ITGWU. Larkin and the ITGWU decide to withdraw their labour in protest and force the Dublin employers to recognise their employees’ membership of the ITGWU. Approximately 20,000 workers go on strike against 300 employers. The ‘Lock-Out’ lasts until early 1914.
01 Jan 1914
The Dublin Lock-Out comes to an end when Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union members are forced back to work to avoid starvation. Many also agree to sign pledges not to join the ITGWU. The ITGWU is badly damaged, but not defeated. A dispirited Larkin departs for America later that year. In the aftermath, he declares:
‘We are beaten, we will make no bones about it, but we are not too badly beaten still to fight.’
Outbreak of First World War
Two great alliances, the Éntente versus the German alliance, vied for domination of Europe between 1914–18. Over 200,000 men from Ireland took part in the fighting, most famously at Gallipoli and the Somme.
28 Jun 1914
Franz Ferdinand assassinated
Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife are shot dead in Sarajevo by members of the Serbian Nationalist group ‘The Black Hand’. Austria-Hungary is backed militarily by its powerful ally the German Empire, while Serbia is backed by the Russian Empire, allied militarily to France and Britain. On 28 July Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia and a localised Balkan conflict threatens to become a general European war.
04 Aug 1914
Britain declares war
The German invasion of Belgium and France in August 1914 threatens the British government’s strategic interests. On 4 August 1914 Britain declares war on the German Empire and, publicly, the British government declares its aim as the defence of the rights of small nations.
20 Sep 1914
The Woodenbridge speech
John Redmond, leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, gives a speech at Woodenbridge, Co. Wicklow, declaring his support for the war.
‘... account yourselves as men, not only for Ireland itself, but wherever the fighting line extends, in defence of right, of freedom and religion in this war.’
01 Dec 1914
Willie Redmond signs up
Willie Redmond, brother of IPP leader John Redmond, declares his intention to fight in the war, as ‘I can't stand asking fellows to go and not offer myself’. He signs up to fight for the British Army in 1915, becoming an inspiring figure on the battlefield, revered by his fellow troops.
Ireland at War
Irish men joined the war effort for a variety of reasons including adventure, peer pressure, support for the war effort, job prospects and good pay. Many men had their jobs reserved for them at home in anticipation of their return from the fighting.
07 May 1915
Torpedoing of the RMS Lusitania
RMS Lusitania is torpedoed by German U-Boats and sinks off coast of Queenstown (Cobh), Co. Cork, killing 1,198 people. The event sparks widespread outrage. In Cork, hundreds of bodies are washed up over coming weeks; worried family members travel to identify loved ones.
01 Aug 1915
Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa’s funeral
Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, prominent member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, dies in New York City in July 1915. His body is returned to Ireland, where his funeral is used as a propaganda event by republicans. Patrick Pearse delivers a famous graveside oration.
The Easter Rising
A coalition of republican separatists seized the opportunity to reclaim the island from British rule while Britain was preoccupied with war overseas. The predominantly Dublin-based battle saw over 400 die as the Easter rebels were defeated and the leaders of the Rising executed.
26 Jul 1914
The Irish Volunteers stage a gunrunning at Howth, Dublin. Ammunition is transported from Germany using Erskine Childers’ pleasure yacht, Asgard (left). When the cargo is landed the Dublin Metropolitan Police attempt to arrest the Volunteers, and a riot breaks out. 19 rifles are seized, but other weapons are safely hidden away.
01 Jan 1915
Preparing a rising
The Irish Republican Brotherhood establishes a new Military Council, which contains members who go on to play a role in the 1916 Rising, including Sean MacDermott (left). The Council recruit key men from the Irish Volunteers into its ranks in preparation for a proposed rising, but hide their preparations from fellow IRB members who disagree with these plans. Other non-IRB members help plan for the insurrection by approaching Germany for weapons and ammunition.
21 Apr 1916
20,000 rifles and ammunition, which will be used to arm volunteers outside of the capital, makes its way to Ireland four days before the Rising on board the ship The Aud. With no-one there to welcome the cargo, the ship’s captain finds himself pursued by three vessels; he scuttles the ship with the loss of the weapons.
22 Apr 1916
Eoin MacNeill revokes orders
Eoin MacNeill suspects a plot to use the Volunteers for rebellion and revokes the orders for Easter manouevres. His revocation appears in the Sunday Independent the following day, Easter Sunday. The IRB Military Council decide to go ahead regardless, but delay the start of the Rising until Easter Monday, 24 April.
24 Apr 1916
The Rising begins
First day of the Easter Rising. Key Dublin locations seized by 1,250 members of the IRB, Irish Volunteers, Cumann na mBan, and Irish Citizen Army. Irish tricolour hoisted outside captured General Post Office in Dublin. Patrick Pearse, the Volunteers' Director of Organisation, reads the Proclamation aloud from the GPO steps. Smaller actions take place in Galway, Meath, and Wexford.
24 Apr 1916
The opening line of the Proclamation, as read by Patrick Pearse on the steps of the GPO:
‘In the name of God and of the dead generations from which she receives her old tradition of nationhood, Ireland, through us, summons her children to her flag and strikes for her freedom.’
25 Apr 1916
Countess Constance Markievicz, one of the only women actively involved in fighting during the Easter Rising, is appointed second-in-command to Michael Mallin at St Stephen’s Green. Following the Rising she is arrested and sentenced to death. This is later commuted to imprisonment, however, and she was subsequently released from prison in 1917.
Battle of the Somme
The 36th (Ulster) and 16th (Irish) divisions went into battle against German forces in northern France in one of the fiercest battles of the First World War. Ulster men, in particular, made large sacrifices as they led the big push over the top on 1 July. In just two days of battle, the division had lost thousands of men through death and injury.
01 Jan 1916
Reality of war
The romantic image of war that so many young recruits had envisaged was cruelly shattered by the grim reality of trench warfare. For most, rival soldiers confronted each other from the relative safety of fortified trenches across a strip of earth known as no-man’s-land. By 1916, Kitchener’s Volunteer armies were trained and prepared for battle. The 36th (Ulster) Division was part of the first offensive use of the newly created mass British Army during the Battle of the Somme in the summer of 1916.
01 Jul 1916
Going over the top
On 1 July 1916 at 7:30am, the 36th (Ulster) Division are one of the first groups to go over the top of their trenches following an allied bombardment of the German lines. The consequence for the British Army is horrific. Of the 120,000 who advanced, 57,470 suffer casualties in the single greatest loss of men by the British Army in one day. The 36th (Ulster) Division is hit particularly hard with 5,500 dead, wounded or taken prisoner.
01 Jul 1916
On the morning of July 1st, 1916, Lurgan man Billy McFadzean was distributing bombs in preparation for the attack. The box slipped and two of the safety pins fell out as a result. Sensing the carnage it would cause his fellow comrades, McFadzean sacrificed his life and dived on the grenades. Only one other person was injured due to the action taken by McFadzean, who was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery.
03 Jul 1916
In the end
The 36th (Ulster) Division is able to capture their objective on the first day of the Somme, while suffering great casualties. The failure of other divisions of the British Army to be similarly successful leaves the 36th isolated and forced to retreat from their captured objective. They are eventually relieved from the front line on 5 July 1916.
Lloyd George’s Convention
British Prime Minister David Lloyd George staged a convention to discuss how best to grant self-government to Ireland. However, the Convention was beset from the beginning by two fatal flaws.
17 May 1917
Home Rule proposed again
Lloyd George proposes Home Rule for 26 counties (excluding Ulster) or a convention of Irishmen to resolve impasse. Speaking in the House of Commons he declares that ‘Ireland should try her hand at hammering out an instrument of government for her own people’. Redmond declines Home Rule.
25 Jul 1917
Convention gets underway
First meeting of Irish Convention, made up of 95 representatives from Redmond’s Irish Parliamentary Party, Irish Unionists, members of local government authorities, clergymen from the Roman Catholic Church and Church of Ireland, and prominent members of Irish society. All of these groups have different assumptions and expectations of what the convention can achieve.
05 Apr 1918
Final Convention meeting
Final meeting of the Irish Convention begins, with a final report delivered on 12 April. The German spring offensive of 1918 is sorely testing the Allies on the Western Front. Lloyd George is determined to introduce conscription in Ireland (in effect in Britain from 1916) and simultaneously to introduce Home Rule. Nothing comes of the convention’s report, which is out of date within weeks of its publication.
18 Apr 1918
Conscription for Ireland
Military Service Bill introduced in Westminster on 9 April, and Irish Convention proposal rejected by government. The bill receives Royal Assent on 18 April, expanding the age of compulsion to include all males aged 18–51. Representative gathering of Nationalists (including Irish Labour, the Catholic Church, and all Nationalist parties) at Mansion House, Dublin coordinate opposition to conscription.
Peace, Suffrage and General Election
1918 brought peace at last for war-torn Europe. It was also a hugely significant year for politics in Ireland and Britain. The Representation of the People Act 1918 gave rise to votes for both men aged 21 and over, and women aged 30 and over and who owned property.
06 Feb 1918
Representation of the People Act
The 1918 Representation of the People Act receives Royal Assent, giving the vast majority of men over the age of 21 the right to vote. For the first time, female property owners aged over 30 also receive the franchise. The legislation trebles the electorate in both Britain and Ireland, increasing in Britain from 8 million to 21 million, and from 800,000 to 2 million eligible voters in Ireland.
21 Jan 1919
A new declaration
At its first meeting Dáil Éireann adopts a Declaration of Independence, deliberately borrowing the title of the American Declaration of Independence of 1776. The Declaration states:
‘We solemnly declare foreign government in Ireland to be an invasion of our national right which we will never tolerate, and we demand the evacuation of our country by the English Garrison.’
War Of Independence
The Irish War of Independence began on 21 January 1919 – the same day that Dáil Éireann issued a Declaration of Independence as an Irish Republic. It was a guerrilla war fought between the Irish Republican Army and British forces in Ireland, which lasted until the end of 1921.
25 Mar 1920
Black and Tans deployed
The British government recruits temporary forces to support the RIC in the war. The first, known as the ‘Black and Tans’ due to their improvised uniforms, arrive in Ireland in March 1920. Roughly 10,000 men are recruited. A further 2,300 former British Army Officers are recruited as ‘Auxiliaries’ from August 1920.
21 Nov 1920
Michael Collins masterminds the assassination of 13 British intelligence officers and two civilians living in Dublin. In retaliation, later that day British Auxiliary forces attack a football crowd at Croke Park, killing 14 and wounding 65. A total of 41 people are killed across Ireland on this day. ‘Bloody Sunday’ is one of the most brutal days in the War of Independence.
Government of Ireland Act
The Government of Ireland Act was passed on 23 December 1920 and partitioned Ireland, with the six counties of Ulster (which had a Protestant majority) becoming Northern Ireland and the remaining 26 counties becoming Southern Ireland.
04 Nov 1919
The Long Committee
The British Cabinet’s Irish Committee, led by southern Unionist Walter Long (left), proposes the repeal of the 1914 Government of Ireland Act. He proposes two Home Rule parliaments for Ireland: one in Belfast, covering the nine counties of Ulster, and one in Dublin, which would preside over the remaining 23 counties. Long’s recommendations also include the establishment of a Council of Ireland to address matters of common interest, and to provide a potential framework for reunification.
10 Mar 1920
Unionist Council accepts Home Rule
The Ulster Unionist Council accepts Long’s proposals and a parliament for Northern Ireland, which will hold jurisdiction over six of the nine counties of Ulster, excluding Cavan, Monaghan, and Donegal. While defending the decision to opt for a six-county parliament rather than a nine-county one, Edward Carson expresses regret at the ‘men abandoned’, both ‘in this province … and in the southern and western parts of Ireland’.
31 Mar 1920
Carson voices his feelings
Edward Carson calls the partition of Ireland a betrayal of Unionists in the south and west. Nevertheless, he refuses to vote against the legislation, believing it was a better solution than that provided by the 1914 Home Rule Act, which would have seen Ulster governed from Dublin.
23 Dec 1920
Government of Ireland Act
The Government of Ireland Act partitions Ireland, creating two Home Rule states of 'Northern' and 'Southern' Ireland within the United Kingdom. Ulster Unionists are now prepared to accept this outcome, but the proposal falls far short of what the Republican administration, Dáil Éireann, is prepared to accept.
13 May 1921
Elections are held in the 26 counties of the South, under the terms of the Government of Ireland Act. Sinn Féin refuses to recognise the Southern Ireland parliament and view the elections as a contest for the second Dáil Éireann. As Labour and what remained of the Irish Parliamentary Party did not contest the election, all 128 candidates are returned unopposed, including 124 Sinn Féin members, who form the Second Dáil. The remaining four seats, comprising the Dublin University (Trinity College) constituency, are taken by independent southern Unionists.
24 May 1921
Northern Irish elections are held under the terms of the Act. Unionists win 40 out of the 52 seats, including two women, Julia McMordie and Dehra Chichester (left). Six seats are won by the Nationalist party, and six are taken by Sinn Féin members, including Éamon de Valera, Michael Collins, and Arthur Griffith. Sinn Féin, who had poured considerable resources into the northern campaign standing on an anti-partition platform, are disappointed by the Unionist landslide.
07 Jun 1921
First Northern parliament
The first meeting of the new Northern parliament takes place at Belfast City Hall. James Craig (left) is elected as the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland. Both Sinn Féin and the Nationalist party refuse to take their seats. Due to their absence, all 24 nominations for the new parliament’s upper chamber, the Senate, are made by the Unionist party whip. On 15th June, the Cabinet meets for the first time and selects Northern Ireland’s 20 representatives on the Council of Ireland.
22 Jun 1921
Parliament formally opened
King George V formally opens the new Parliament of Northern Ireland. He describes the event as ‘a profoundly moving occasion in Irish history’. He also appeals to all Irishmen ‘to stretch out the hand of forbearance and conciliation, to forgive and to forget, and to join in making for the land which they love a new era of peace, contentment, and goodwill’.
With the Ulster Question seemingly resolved through the creation of the Northern Ireland parliament, the British government turned its attention to securing a peaceful settlement in the south. Both sides agreed to a ceasefire in July 1921 and signed the Anglo-Irish Treaty signed on 6 December 1921. Irish representatives in London for the signing included Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith.
10 Jul 1921
Catholics and Protestants clash in Belfast, following an IRA ambush of a police raiding party in the city’s Catholic and republican enclaves. Loyalists retaliate, attacking Catholics homes and businesses. 16 are killed on 10 July, and 23 in total are killed over a four-day period. Over 200 – mostly Catholic – homes are destroyed in the violence.
08 Sep 1921
Lloyd George makes his final proposal to de Valera, offering limited sovereignty within British Empire. Between October and December, negotiations for a bilateral agreement begin between representatives of Dáil Éireann and the British government in London. Dáil Éireann selects the five delegates to negotiate the agreement, including Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith. Critically, De Valera does not attend.
06 Dec 1921
Agreement is reached between Irish and British representatives, creating the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Key points include the creation of an Irish Free State within the Commonwealth, an Oath of Allegiance to the Crown, and retention by the British naval services of certain ports. The treaty also includes a provision for a boundary commission to determine the final border between the two Irish jurisdictions. De Valera accuses the Irish delegation of agreeing to demands which fall short of a Republic.
19 Dec 1921
Freedom to achieve freedom
As one of the signatories of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, Michael Collins defends it during a sitting of Dáil Éireann in December 1921:
‘In my opinion, it gives us freedom, not the ultimate freedom that all nations desire and develop to, but the freedom to achieve it.’
10 Feb 1922
Irish Free State (Agreement) Act
The Irish Free State (Agreement) Act 1922 is introduced in the British House of Commons by Winston Churchill. The Act provides for dissolution of the Parliament of Southern Ireland and the election of a parliament to which the Provisional Government will be responsible.
The Anglo-Irish Treaty caused a split in the republican movement, leading to a civil war between pro-Treaty and anti-Treaty forces. Michael Collins led pro-Treaty government forces against De Valera’s anti-Treatyites for almost a year with up to 927 people losing their lives. The uneasy coalition of interests, which had constituted the republican movement and Sinn Féin at the time, was fractured.
09 Jan 1922
De Valera resigns
Eamon de Valera resigns as President of the Republic, refusing to support the Treaty. Speaking in Dáil Éireann, de Valera states:
‘I am against this Treaty not because I am a man of war but because I am a man of peace. I am against this Treaty because it will not end the centuries of conflict between the two nations of Great Britain and Ireland.’
14 Apr 1922
Four Courts occupied
Over 200 anti-Treaty IRA members occupy the Four Courts and other buildings in the heart of Dublin in an attempt to defy the provisional government. In May 1922, Collins and de Valera agree to an electoral pact in the hope this would stop the slide towards violent confrontation between republicans. However, following British pressure and the kidnap of a leading pro-Treaty General, Irish Free State forces begin attacking the Four Courts. The anti-Treatyites surrender after two days of shelling.
20 Jul 1922
Violence across the country
Towns and cities throughout the country are engaged in battle, including Limerick which falls to Free State forces on 20 July. Collins’ Free State forces hold superior artillery and armour to that of de Valera’s Irregulars, and are able to defeat them in most instances.
30 Apr 1923
Following months of attacks and casualties, a ceasefire is called by Frank Aiken, the IRA’s Chief of Staff, in April 1923. A month later he orders the IRA to dump their arms, indicating it was a fight they were incapable of winning. By the time the ceasefire is called, 927 people have lost their lives during the bloody conflict. The principal protagonists in the civil war, Treatyites against anti-Treatyites, would form the basis for party political divisions in southern Ireland for decades to come.