Irish Free State

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Irish Free State, 1922–48. The state was formed by the Anglo-Irish treaty of December 1921, which granted dominion status, with defence safeguards, to twenty-six counties of the south and west of Ireland. Its first months, December 1922–April 1923, saw the completion of a bitter civil war; that conflict established political authority over the military challenge, but the tactics used by the Free State government, especially executions, ensured long-term acrimony. Thereafter the Free State proved remarkably stable, thanks to an overwhelmingly catholic agrarian population and the exclusion of the north-eastern counties. Once stability was established, the fundamental conservatism in social and economic affairs asserted itself. Both Cumann na nGaedheal (1922–32) and Fianna Fail (from 1932) governments adopted protectionist economic policies and catholic hierarchy-approved social policies. British forms ironically were major models for the governmental institutions. Heavy emphasis was put on Gaelic revivalism. Issues unresolved from the revolutionary period—partition and relations with Britain—dominated party politics. de Valera's government of the 1930s successfully widened the treaty settlement by abolishing the oath to the crown and removing the governor-general. The constitution of 1937 established a virtual republic and independence in international affairs was confirmed by neutrality during the Second World War; those achievements at the cost of becoming isolated. A republic was finally declared by the coalition government at a press conference in Ottawa in September 1948. Recently historians have emphasized the poor performance of the Free State economy, resulting in appalling levels of emigration and a sluggish, parochial character. The pro-treaty leader Kevin O'Higgins had been correct to observe: ‘we were probably the most conservative-minded revolutionaries that ever put through a successful revolution.’

Michael Hopkinson

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Irish Free State the name for southern Ireland from 1921 until 1937.