What do Irish people consider their date of independence?
February 27, 2018 8:42 AM   Subscribe

I got in an argument last year with a woman who insisted it was 1916 (and said she knew because she was Irish - but she's Irish like I am - American descended from people who fled because of the famine). I know there was a declaration that Ireland was a republic during the Easter uprising, but that independence wasn't until - 1922 or 1937 or 1949 or never (because of Northern Ireland). What do actual Irish people say?

If you Google "When did Ireland become independent?", 1916 is the answer at the top of the page. But my understanding was that the Irish fought in World War I because they were promised independence if they did so. And the free state was declared in 1922. And Ireland was a "dominion" until 1937. And the republic was declared in 1949. So there are a lot of dates that seem like they could be dates of independence, and I find the Wikipedia article confusing.

I was thinking that in the US, we date from 1776, but I'm not sure you can really say we were independent at that point, since the Revolutionary War didn't end until 1783. Is there a similar way of looking at it in Ireland?

Bonus points if you can also recommend a great book that will help me expand my knowledge on the subject.
posted by FencingGal to Society & Culture (10 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: This is an extreeeeemely complicated question. I am not sure that Irish people mark a date of independence, partly because any possible date is going to be fraught and contested. The closest thing, I think, would be January 21st, which is the date in 1919 when the first Dáil (parliament) declared independence. Basically, there were parliamentary elections in 1918, and the winners refused their seats in Westminster, set up a separate parliament in Dublin, and declared that Ireland was an independent state and they were its lawful parliament. But as you point out, there were a lot of interim steps before the Republic actually became independent, and some people would argue that Irish independence is still incomplete, and it's much easier just not to celebrate an independence day than to deal with all of that.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:57 AM on February 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Glad to hear it's complicated. I was feeling really dumb. If anyone wants to expand on what the dates I've listed or any other pertinent dates actually mean, that would be helpful too.
posted by FencingGal at 9:35 AM on February 27, 2018

Best answer: As an Irish person who went to school in the Republic of Ireland, I date Irish Independence to the 1921 Anglo-Irish treaty which created the Free State and ended the War of Independence. As ArbitraryAndCapricious says it's complicated since immediately afterwards you have the Civil War where no-one who survives has clean hands.

DeValera's 1937 Constitution and the Economics War were treated more as a revision of the Anglo-Irish Treaty rather than a complete repudiation.

Leaving the Commonwealth in 1949 is a piece of trivia for pub quizzes. The uncharitable would say it's a sign of the lack of DeValera's conviction that Costello was the one to pull the trigger on a complete republic.

My history teacher liked to say that Irish independence came when we got our own stamps which come in with the Free State.

Sometimes I feel it's a bit of Shibboleth to spot people who have more than surface knowledge of Irish history (or weird political views).
posted by DoveBrown at 9:40 AM on February 27, 2018 [12 favorites]

Best answer: I think the Anglo-Irish treaty is the answer that feels right (I'm Irish, raised and living in Ireland). It's too messy a story to be a single definitive answer without footnotes, but it's the one line that feels clearest.

I'm not sure if you're looking for Irish history or discussion of the independence date, but I like J.J. Lee's Ireland, 1912-1985: Politics and Society and Diarmaid Ferriter's The Transformation of Ireland particularly - they're both somewhat holistic though the former has more of a focus on politics (but is weak on Northern Ireland, looking at it now) and the latter on Irish society, but they're both enjoyable reading and the two texts I've kept on my bookshelf. I will warn against Tim Pat Coogan (not a good historian) and Roy Foster (too elitist for my tastes), but that's political too...
posted by carbide at 9:58 AM on February 27, 2018 [5 favorites]

I would actually be really interested to know whether people's answer to this question varied by things like age, region, and/or (mainstream) political affiliation. Are you more likely to date Ireland's independence to the Treaty if your great-whatever grandparents supported the Treaty? If you support Fine Gael?
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 10:33 AM on February 27, 2018

Depends on where you are in Ireland and what are your beliefs, as some perhaps rightly argue that the 6 Northern Counties aren't currently free yet.
posted by mfoight at 11:17 AM on February 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I would always say after the War of Independence, so agree with 1921. Although, yes it depends on what you mean by Ireland and what you mean by independence.

I could never, ever imagine anyone dating it to 1916 though.
posted by Fence at 12:10 PM on February 27, 2018

Best answer: This is true for a lot of countries that gained self-governing powers from Britain: if you look at case law in Canada and Australia, the point at which the UK becomes a "foreign power" is often blurry, even with the Australia Act and Constitution Act and their dextrous transfer of reserve powers. New Zealand only abolished appeals to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and introduced its own Supreme Court in 2003, and the last case heard by the Privy Council was in 2015.

One other example of blurriness in Ireland: the 1936 abdication of Edward VIII gave de Valera the chance to change the status of the monarch and delegate the power to make treaties and accept the credentials of diplomats to the "king so recognised" by the UK and other states. The powers remained in place, but with new legal authority for their vesting. These changes were cited after the fact (though not without dispute) to argue that the Irish Free State had been a republic since 1936.

For what it's worth, my British education (in a Catholic school with a significant Irish-born and Irish-ancestry population) drew the line at the 1921 Treaty.
posted by holgate at 12:25 PM on February 27, 2018

Not a book (and I keep recommending Future Learn courses on here), but if you want to work through a really great informative resource, the MOOC Irish Lives in War and Revolution: Exploring Ireland's History 1912-1923 is very good. I'm fairly sure the tutors recommend actual books in the course too.
posted by paduasoy at 1:22 PM on February 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

we celebrated the centenary of the Easter RISiNG last year, so like other irish people on metafilter id look to 2021 for the answer.
posted by Wilder at 4:07 PM on October 23, 2018

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