Irish Separation 1918–23


Map Code: Ax01819

The General Election of December 1918 produced a landslide for the nationalist Sinn Féin party in Ireland. Many of their 73 elected MPs were in prison – without trial, though purported involvement in a ‘German Plot’. The election was heavily polarized: the second largest party was the Ulster Unionists with 22 MPs all in the northeast. Sinn Féin had only been founded in 1905, and had been of negligible political significance pre-war. However, the Irish public had been alienated by the draconian response of the British authorities to the Easter Rising. Attempts by Lloyd George to link Home Rule to compulsory conscription contrived to infuriate both Irish nationalists and Unionists for diametrically opposed reasons. Sinn Féin reaped the electoral harvest from this mismanagement. With sentiment already polarized, the introduction of a first-past-the-post system proved a perfect storm for the more moderate Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP), which managed only one seat outside Ulster, in Waterford, despite obtaining 22 per cent of the overall popular vote. Sinn Féin, with 47 per cent, benefited from electoral agreements with the IPP to gain 25 seats unopposed, and 70 per cent of all seats. The Irish Unionists won 22 seats, concentrated in Ulster from 25 per cent of the vote. Northern Ireland remained pro-British, with the Unionist party winning the most seats. The subsequently convened Irish Assembly declared independence on 21 January 1919. There followed two years of hostilities, with guerrilla raids by the military wing of Sinn Féin (the Irish Republican Army) incurring fierce reprisals from British troops and ‘Black and Tan’ irregulars. Violence peaked in early 1921: a subsequent Anglo-Irish Treaty enabled the foundation of the Irish Free State in December 1922. Northern Ireland immediately ceded to Britain.

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