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The World Wars and Interwar Period 



The first half of the 20th century saw the world entangled in two global wars, conducted with an unprecedented brutality. The First World War developed from a purely European affair into a conflict involving the colonies and the United States. It altered Europe's political landscape and shifted the power balance worldwide. In World War II, the nations of Europe, Asia, the Americas, and Africa were drawn into the conflict through the aggressive policies of an ambitious Nazi Germany. The war was conducted with the most up-to-date weapons technology and cost the lives of more than 55 million people. The Holocaust, the systematic annihilation of the European Jews, represented an unparalleled moral catastrophe for modern civilization.


Pablo Picasso "Weeping Woman", 1937




Ireland: Division and Independence 



In  Ireland in 1921, the nationalist movement won a partial victory in its struggle for independence against Great Britain; in exchange, however, it had to agree to the division of the country. After years of civil war in Ireland over the question of unity, the island was officially divided in the 1940s. While Northern Ireland remained part of the United Kingdom, the majority of Ireland became an officially independent republic in 1949.


From the War for Independence to the Anglo-Irish Treaty

Ireland won the status of an autonomous dominion in 1922 after a bloody war of independence, while the northern province of Ireland remained a British possession.


The smoldering conflict between the 1 Irish and the British reignited in 1914 when the British government passed a Home Rule Bill that guaranteed Ireland partial autonomy, including the Protestant parts of the North which were opposed to the bill.

1 Street in an Irish village, ca. 1930

The decision to suspend the bill as war broke out was met with nationalist outrage.

The militant Irish Volunteers occupied public buildings in Dublin on April 24, 1916, and proclaimed an Irish Republic in the 3 Easter Rising.

The British military brutally suppressed this revolt; hundreds of people were killed, and the leaders were arrested and executed or condemned to long 5 prison sentences.

Further 4 radicalization on both sides followed, initiating a new phase of violence.

Under Eamon de Valera, an illegal revolutionary parliament was formed; most of its members were from the Sinn Fein ("We ourselves") political party. A year later the military unit called the Irish Republican Army (IRA) was founded to attack British authority. In 1921 the British government and Sinn Fein agreed to a ceasefire and signed the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which gave Ireland the official status of a "free state."

3 The city center of Dublin after the suppress the Easter Rising, 1916

5 Prison where the Easter
Rising leaders were held

4 Remains of a train derailed by a terrorist attack
planned by the IRA, 1916

2 Town hall in Londonderry in the
province of Ulster, Northern Ireland

Excluded from this were six counties of the mainly Protestant province of 2 Ulster, which had voted to remain part of the United Kingdom.

In 1922, the Irish Free State gained the status of a dominion. The acceptance of this partial sovereignty was approved by the Irish parliament, the Dail, by a narrow majority of 64 against 57 votes. On December 6, 1922, the new Irish constitution came into effect.



"Bloody Sunday" of 1920

"Bloody Sunday"—November 21, 1920—was representative of the brutal cycle of violence in Ireland: Following the execution of 14 British officers on the orders of Michael Collins, a leading Irish nationalist, a unit of British soldiers opened fired into an Irish crowd during a Gaelic football match in Dublin, killing many civilian spectators.

Victims of street fighting in Dublin, 1920




From Civil War to Independence

The division of Ireland led to bloody altercations within the Irish independence movement over the question of unity. The southern republic of Ireland gained full sovereignty in 1949 and left the Commonwealth.


The Anglo-Irish Treaty divided not only the country, but also the Sinn Fein independence movement. Supporters and opponents of the treaty now fought among themselves.

The radicals under de Valera, the later Fianna Fail party, accepted the exclusion of 7 Northern Ireland, but strove for a reunification.

The Fine Gael, under Prime Minister Thomas Cosgrave, sought equality with Great Britain.

The IRA was divided as well, with one part joining the official Irish army while 9 radical "irregulars" fought against the government of the Irish Free State in 1922-1923.

Over time, the radicals lost support, and de Valera ordered the end of hostilities.

Isolated 8 acts of terror took place into the 1930s, after which the IRA was banned.


7 Parade for the opening of the
parliament in Belfast, Northern Ireland,

9 Irish volunteers with cannons and armored
cars acquired for their fight against the
British army, 1921

8 Extinguishing fires after an IRA bomb attack in London,

A new constitution introduced universal adult male and female suffrage as well as proportional representation. Ireland became a member of the League of Nations. The constitution established Gaelic (also called Erse) as the official national language. In March 1932 de Valera was elected prime minister and refused the oath of allegiance to the English king. His Fianna Fail party has stayed in power almost continuously since then, but the desired reunification of the country did not occur and the division became cemented.

After a constitutional change in 1937, southern Ireland called itself Eire.

It stayed out of World War II, while 10 Northern Ireland 6 participated as part of the United Kingdom.

On April 1,1949, Eire left the Commonwealth, and on April 18, officially proclaimed itself the Republic of Ireland.

10 Monastery of Clonmacnoise, province of Leinster

6 US soldiers at base in Northern Ireland
during WW II, 1942



Michael Collins and Eamon de Valera

Michael Collins and Eamon de Valera were leaders of Sinn Fein and also symbolically represent its division. Shaped by the Easter Rising of 1916, both were members of the underground government, de Valera as chairman of Sinn Fein and Collins as the founder of the IRA.

After thepeace agreement with Great Britain, their paths diverged: Collins accepted the secession of Northern Ireland and joined the official Irish army. De Valera fought first violently and the npeacefully for unity. While Collins was shot in an ambush in 1922, de Valera stayed at the top of Irish politics until 1973.

Michael Collins and Eamon de Valera




Michael Collins

Michael Collins

Irish statesman

born Oct. 16, 1890, Clonakilty, County Cork, Ire.
died Aug. 22, 1922, Beal-na-Blath, Cork

hero of the Irish struggle for independence, best remembered for his daring strategy in directing the campaign of guerrilla warfare during the intensification of the Anglo-Irish War (1919–21).

Collins was employed as a British civil servant in London from 1906 until he returned to Ireland in 1916. He fought in the Easter Rising, was arrested and held in detention at Frongoch, Merioneth, but was released in December 1916. In December 1918 he was one of 27 out of 73 elected Sinn Féin members (most of whom were in jail) to be present when the Dáil Éireann (Irish Assembly) convened in Dublin and declared for the republic. Their elected president, Eamon De Valera, and vice president, Arthur Griffith, were both in prison. Hence, much responsibility fell on Collins, who became first Sinn Féin minister of home affairs and, after arranging for De Valera’s escape from Lincoln jail (February 1919), minister of finance. It was as director of intelligence of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), however, that he became famous. As chief planner and coordinator of the revolutionary movement, Collins organized numerous attacks on police and the assassination (1920) of many of Britain’s leading intelligence agents in Ireland. He headed the list of men wanted by the British, who placed a price of £10,000 on his head.

After the truce of July 1921, Griffith and Collins were sent to London by De Valera as the principal negotiators for peace (October–December 1921). The treaty of Dec. 6, 1921, was signed by Collins in the belief that it was the best that could be obtained for Ireland at the time and in the full awareness that he was signing his own death warrant. It gave Ireland dominion status, but its provisions for the partition of the country and for an oath of allegiance to the British crown were unacceptable to De Valera and other republican leaders. Collins’ persuasiveness helped win acceptance for the treaty by a small majority in the Dáil, and a provisional government was formed with Collins as chairman; but effective administration was obstructed by the mutinous activities of the anti-treaty republicans. Collins refrained from taking action against his former comrades until IRA insurgents seized the Four Courts in Dublin and civil war became inevitable. W.T. Cosgrave replaced Collins as chairman when the latter assumed command of the army in mid-July 1922 in order to crush the insurgency. About five weeks later, while on a tour of military inspection, Collins was shot to death by anti-treaty insurgents in an ambush in west Cork.

Encyclopaedia Britannica



Eamon de Valera

Eamon de Valera

president of Ireland
original name Edward De Valera
born Oct. 14, 1882, New York, N.Y., U.S.
died Aug. 29, 1975, Dublin, Ire.

Irish politician and patriot, prime minister (1932–48, 1951–54, 1957–59), and president (1959–73). An active revolutionary from 1913, he became president of Sinn Féin in 1918 and founded the Fianna Fáil Party in 1924. In 1937 he took the Irish Free State out of the British Commonwealth and made his country a “sovereign” state, renamed Ireland, or Éire. His academic attainments also inspired wide respect; he became chancellor of the National University of Ireland in 1921.

Early life.
De Valera’s father, who was Spanish, died when the boy was two. He was then sent to his mother’s family in County Limerick, Ireland, and studied at the local national school and at Blackrock College, Dublin; he graduated from the Royal University, Dublin, and became a teacher of mathematics and an ardent supporter of the Irish-language revival. In 1913 he joined the Irish Volunteers, which had been organized to resist opposition to Home Rule for Ireland. In the anti-British Easter Rising in Dublin (1916), he commanded an occupied building and was the last commander to surrender. Because of his American birth, he escaped execution by the British but was sentenced to penal servitude.

Released in 1917 but arrested again and deported to England in May 1918, de Valera was acclaimed by the Irish as the chief survivor of the uprising and was elected president of the revolutionist Sinn Féin (“We Ourselves”) Party, which won three-quarters of all the Irish constituencies in December 1918. After a dramatic escape from Lincoln Jail in February 1919, he went in disguise to the United States, where he collected funds. He returned to Ireland before military repression ended with the truce of 1921 and appointed plenipotentiaries to negotiate in London. He repudiated the treaty that they signed to form the Irish Free State, however, because it accepted the exclusion of Northern Ireland and imposed an oath of allegiance to the British crown.

Rise to power.
When Dáil Éireann (the assembly of Ireland) ratified the treaty by a small majority (1922), de Valera supported the republican resistance in the ensuing civil war. William Thomas Cosgrave’s Irish Free State ministry imprisoned him; but he was released in 1924 and then organized a Republican opposition party that would not sit in the Dáil. In 1927, however, he persuaded his followers to sign the oath of allegiance as “an empty political formula,” and his new Fianna Fáil (“Warriors of Ireland”) Party then entered the Dáil, demanding abolition of the oath of allegiance, of the governor-general, of the Seanad (senate) as then constituted, and of land-purchase annuities payable to Great Britain. The Cosgrave ministry was defeated by Fianna Fáil in 1932, and de Valera, as head of the new ministry, embarked quickly on severing connections with Great Britain. He withheld payment of the land annuities, and an economic war resulted. Increasing retaliation by both sides enabled de Valera to develop his program of austere national self-sufficiency in an Irish-speaking Ireland, while building up industries behind protective tariffs. In 1937 the Free State declared itself a sovereign state, as Ireland, or Éire, conceding voluntary allegiance to the British crown.

De Valera’s prestige was enhanced by his success as president of the Council of the League of Nations in 1932 and of its assembly in 1938. The menace of war in Europe induced British prime minister Neville Chamberlain, in 1938, to conclude the “economic war” with mutual concessions. Britain relinquished the naval bases of Cobh, Berehaven, and Lough Swilly. In September 1939 de Valera proclaimed at once that Ireland would remain neutral and resist attack from any quarter. Besides avoiding the burdens and destruction of war, he had brought temporary prosperity, and he retained office in subsequent elections.

In 1948 a reaction against the long monopoly of power and patronage held by de Valera’s party enabled the opposition, with the help of smaller parties, to form an interparty government under John A. Costello. But this precarious coalition collapsed within three years, ironically, after declaring Ireland a republic by formal law, an act de Valera had avoided. De Valera resumed office until 1954, when he appealed unsuccessfully for a fresh mandate, and Costello formed his second interparty ministry. No clearly defined difference now existed between the opposing parties in face of rising prices, continued emigration, and a backward agriculture. De Valera claimed, however, that a strong single-party government was indispensable and that all coalitions must be weak and insecure. On this plea he obtained, in March 1957, the overall majority that he demanded. In 1959 de Valera agreed to stand as a candidate for the presidency. He resigned his position as taoiseach (head of government) and leader of the Fianna Fáil Party. In June he was elected president and was reelected in 1966. He retired to a nursing home near Dublin in 1973 and died there in 1975.

De Valera’s career spanned the dramatic period of Ireland’s modern cultural and national resurgence. As an anticolonial leader, a skillful constitutionalist, and a symbol of national liberation, de Valera dominated Ireland in the half century following the country’s independence.

Denis Rolleston Gwynn

Encyclopaedia Britannica



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