History of 20th Century Ireland

History of 20th Century

By the early 1900’s more and more nationalist groups appeared in Ireland inspired by the Irish cultural rival of the late 1800s and the thought of independence from Britain. Groups such as Sinn Fein, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, the Irish Volunteers and the Irish citizen army had been formed.

In 1912 the Westminster Parliament in London passed the Home Rule Bill for Ireland, meaning that Ireland would have its own parliament and could make its own political decisions, to a certain extent of course. Unionists in Ireland strongly opposed Home Rule as they were loyal to Britain and seen the bill as a threat that could lead to a nationalist & Catholic-dominated country. In response, the Unionist leaders, Edward Carson, and James Craig formed the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) with one goal “To defend the British nation of Ireland, by use of force if necessary”.  Within a year it was estimated the UVF had a force of over 100,000 men half of which armed with rifles.

As Ireland was heading fast towards civil war the First World War helped lead Ireland more towards independence from Britain. Unionists answered Britain’s call for the fight against Germany and the UVF merged into the 36th Ulster division of the British Army. As Britain concentrated all its efforts in the fight against Germany in WWI the Irish saw a window of opportunity and by 1915 the Irish Republican Brotherhood started their plot of a rebellion in Ireland.

The Irish Rebellion of 1916

On Easter Sunday of 1916, the Irish rebellion began with Padraig Pearse reading the Irish Proclamation of Independence outside the GPO in Dublin city.

The rebellion had only lasted a week with Britain successfully regaining control of Dublin, after destroying most of the city.

14 leaders of the uprising were captured and executed, an event that fuelled Irish political opinions for years to follow. The only surviving commander of the rebellion was Sinn Fein leader, Eamon de Valera who went onto to be the president of Ireland. Support for Sinn Féin dramatically increased due to the execution of the rebellion leaders who fought for Ireland’s independence.

By 1918 the elections proved that Sinn Féin had the majority of the support around Ireland but rather than participate in the Westminster parliament at London they instead established the first Dáil Éireann in Dublin. The Dáil reaffirmed the 1916 Proclamation of Independence and also reconstituted the Irish Volunteer Movement into the Irish Republican Army, the beginning of the Irish war of independence.

Attacks on the British forces by the IRA began to increase across Ireland and with Michael Collins infiltrating the British Authority in Dublin Castle the British responded by arresting people by suspicion and without trial. By 1920 the British formed the Black & Tans, a ruthless force that would commit many atrocities against the Irish but would only strengthen Ireland’s fight for independence.

The Partition of Ireland

By the end of 1920, the Government of Ireland Act 1920 was introduced which partitioned the island of Ireland into two separate territories Northern Ireland, which contained only 6 counties of Ulster and the Irish Free State (now the Republic of Ireland) with the remaining 26 counties.  Michael Collins assisted in setting up the Irish Free State, thinking it was a stepping stone for an all Ireland,  but he was later assassinated during the Irish Civil War that followed after the partition of Ireland.

In 1922 the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) was disbanded and replaced by an Garda Síochána in the Irish Free State and with the Royal Ulster Constabulary in Northern Ireland.

After being imprisoned for being the Director of Operations for the anti-treaty side Eamon de Valera left Sinn Féin and formed a new political party in 1926 called Fianna Fáil. He went on to become the Prime Minister for Ireland in 1932 and by 1936 banned the IRA. Many thought de Valera would create a Republic but as Ireland was partitioned he held off and in 1937 Éire (Ireland) was established. It wasn’t until 1949 that Éire became a Republic but without the 6 counties of Northern Ireland. 

History Timeline of 20th Century Ireland

Last updated March 2, 2020.

About the Author

Brian O’Neill
Camera shy Brian is a proud Donegal man and regular contributor to our site.