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A Chronology of Key Events in Irish History
1800 to 1967
Text and Research: Brendan Lynn ... with additional text by: Martin Melaugh
Material is added to this site on a regular basis - information on this page may change
This is a draft chronology of key events in Irish history from 1800 to 1967.
This chronology has been compiled from a number of sources.
See also: Events 1169-1799 and chronologies 1968-2001
Chronology of Key Events in Irish History, 1800 to 1967
Overview 1800 to 1967
Within the political establishment in Britain there was hope and expectation that the Act of Union offered a fresh start for Ireland. Furthermore it also viewed the Union as the ideal way to solve the ‘Irish problem’ that had bedeviled it for generations and to ensure that it would no longer need to devote huge amounts of time or resources to deal with Ireland. However it was not long before it became clear that such beliefs were too ambitious and as time moved on the authorities soon found Ireland was once again a pressing concern.
From the controversial issue of Catholic emancipation to the ‘Famine’ of the 1840s was added the debate over the Act of Union itself. In particular developments during the 19th century were to result in the Protestant community in Ireland, almost overwhelmingly, becoming firm advocates of the Union. On the other hand for the majority of Catholic opinion in Ireland the Union failed to win its loyalty and instead the demand grew for the British government to consider measures which would allow for Irish national aspirations to be fully met. As these opposing political philosophies developed the potential for sectarian tension to grow between Protestant and Catholic increased. This was to prove the case in those areas where they lived in closed proximity to one another, such as the city of Belfast.
Faced with growing instability in Ireland once again the British government began the search for a new solution and eventually settled on the concept of partition. As a consequence a form of self government was to be offered to both sides of the religious divide in Ireland: the Protestant community was to be given six of the nine counties of Ulster to administer, whilst Catholic opinion was handed the remaining twenty-six counties to govern. Although partition was quickly to become a fait accompli what no one could predict was whether it now marked a final settlement or marked yet another chapter of the ‘Irish problem’.
The following are some of the key events and developments that were to occur over this period.
In June after a long and bitter struggle the Act of Union was passed by the Irish parliament (it was to take effect on 1 January 1801).
On 1January 1801 the political union of Great Britain and Ireland became law. To the dismay of Catholic opinion in Ireland the Act of Union did not automatically bring about the repeal of the remaining Penal Laws.
The remnants of the United Irishmen planned a fresh rebellion. Led by Robert Emmet, their plan involved the capture of Dublin and the outbreak of spontaneous popular risings throughout Ireland. But when the revolt broke out in July 1803, it failed to secure any of these goals and ended in failure. Emmet and other leading figures were arrested and later executed.
Disturbances in Ulster between Catholics and Protestants occurred during 12 July 1813 (the 'twelfth') celebrations organized by the Orange Order. Catholic ‘Ribbonmen’ fought with ‘Orangemen’ in the "Battle of Garvagh".
The brotherhood of the Apprentice Boys of Derry was formed. A Protestant organisation it took its name from the thirteen apprentices who had shut the gates of Derry against Catholic troops loyal to James II in December 1688.
Legislation which would have removed the remaining penal laws imposed on Irish Catholics was narrowly defeated in the British House of Commons.
Following the death of his father, George IV (1820-30) became King of Great Britain and Ireland.
George IV became the first ruling monarch to visit Ireland since the end of the Williamite wars at the end of the 17th century.
The Catholic Association was established in order to campaign for the removal of the remaining legal restrictions placed on Catholics under the Penal Laws. This struggle became known as ‘Catholic emancipation’ and focused on those public positions that Catholics were still excluded from holding. These include senior government and legal posts as well as the right to sit in parliament.
Under the leadership of Daniel O’Connell, a Catholic lawyer, the Catholic Association was transformed from a relatively small and narrow based organization into a mass movement with members throughout Ireland. This was achieved by the decision by O’Connell to offer people the opportunity to become associate members at a minimum subscription of 1 penny per month. This was subsequently referred to as the ‘Catholic Rent’.
A bill which proposed the granting of Catholic emancipation was rejected in the House of Lords, the upper house of the British parliament. The Unlawful Societies Act was passed which proscribed the Catholic Association and the Orange Order. In response to the act the Catholic Association dissolved itself and reformed as a new organization.
In order to illustrate the growing strength and the potential power of the Catholic electorate O’Connell agreed to support candidates in the 1826 general election who supported the emancipation cause. This produced a significant result in County Waterford where the pro-emancipation candidate, Henry Villiers Stuart, won the seat.
In a by-election in County Clare O’Connell announced his decision to stand as a candidate. Backed by the overwhelming support of the Catholic electorate in the constituency he easily won the seat but under existing legislation was still unable to take his seat. The result provoked a response from the British political establishment. The conviction grew that the granting of emancipation could not be delayed indefinitely. Furthermore there was increased concern that serious unrest could break out in Ireland unless the issue of emancipation was tackled immediately. Thus the task of preparing the necessary amending legislation got underway.
The final Catholic Relief Act became law with Irish Catholics allowed to sit in parliament and to hold most senior civil and legal positions. However, the granting of Catholic emancipation was followed by reform to the electoral franchise. This in effect raised the property qualification for those entitled to vote and as a result large numbers of Catholic voters were now excluded.
There was fierce rioting in Belfast when the 12 July 1829 (the 'twelfth') parade was banned. The rioting spread to Counties Armagh, Tyrone, Enniskillen and Antim, and between 20 and 30 people were killed.
The death of George IV led to his brother, William IV (1830-37) succeeding him as king.
Daniel O’Connell took his seat in the House of Commons.
In Ireland there was growing agrarian unrest over the compulsory payment of a tithe to the Church of Ireland, which was still regarded as the established church.
The Irish Tithes Composition Act was passed in an attempt to ease the widespread protests on the issue of tithes.
The first of the Party Procession Acts was introduced in August 1832. These Acts were in place from 1832-1844 and from 1850-1870.
Daniel O’Connell proposed a motion in the House of Commons calling for the repeal of the Act of Union. It was overwhelmingly defeated.
Although restating his commitment to the cause of Repeal, Daniel O’Connell agreed to enter into a parliamentary alliance in the hope that it would lead to the introduction of practical reforms in Ireland. This agreement became known as the ‘Lichfield House Compact’.
William IV died and with no immediate legitimate successor, his niece succeeded to the throne as Queen Victoria (1837-1901).
In order to try to combat poverty and to provide a public health authority in Ireland the Poor Law system was introduced. Based largely on the existing model in England, Ireland was divided into 130 Poor Law Unions with a workhouse to be built within each district.
Legislation was introduced abolishing the direct payment of a tithe to the church of Ireland. In its place was a reduced fixed payment which was to be collected directly by landlords.
Disillusioned by what he judged to be the lack of progress in Ireland Daniel O’Connell decided to abandon the ‘Lichfield House Compact’. As an alternative he opted to launch a renewed campaign for Repeal.
In the wake of further legislative reform, Daniel O’Connell became the first Catholic to serve a term as Lord Mayor of Dublin (1841-42).
The newspaper The Nation was published for the first time. It was published by a group of middle-class graduates who were committed to the Repeal cause and the promotion of Irish history and traditions.
Daniel O’Connell’s campaign for Repeal culminated with a series of ‘monster meetings’ at which huge crowds attended. An example was the meeting held at Tara, County Meath in August. Alarmed that O’Connell’s movement was a possible threat to law and order in Ireland the authorities decide to act. A "monster meeting" planned for Clontarf, County Dublin in October was banned and O’Connell was then arrested on conspiracy charges.
Daniel O’Connell was found guilty and served almost four months in prison before he was freed after a successful appeal.
In August and September 1845 a severe blight in the potato crop occurred across Ireland. This had far reaching implications as huge numbers of the population were heavily dependant on the crop as their main food supply. The blight marked the beginning of the Great Famine (1845-49). Under the direction of Robert Peel, then British Prime Minister, the authorities had ordered corn and meal from the United States. However there was a new Whig government in July 1845. This new government in Britain led to a distinctive change in attitude to the famine in Ireland. The new administration was devoted to the economic doctrine of laissez-faire and the belief that central government should refrain from trying to manage the economy. Instead it was argued by people such as Charles Trevelyan, then permanent head of the treasury, that the economy and the people should be left as far as possible to market forces.
The situation in Ireland deteriorated further when it emerged that blight had virtually destroyed the potato crop for that year. In April 1846 the sale of imported Indian corn began. In August 1846 a new system of public works was devised which had to be paid for from the county levy. This public works system did not begin issuing tickets for work until October 1846. In October 1846 the first deaths from starvation were reported. In December 1846 some charities set up ‘soup kitchens’. The weather during the winter of 1846-7 was very bad and curtailed public works.
Those elements associated with the newspaper The Nation and widely known as ‘Young Ireland’ split with O’Connell and his Repeal movement. In essence the split occurred over the issue of the use of violence to achieve political objectives. Whilst O’Connell was to remain steadfastly opposed, ‘Young Ireland’, inspired by the example of the United Irishmen refused to rule it out completely.
The British government passed An Act for the Temporary Relief of Destitute Persons in Ireland which effectively conceded that policy to date to tackle the famine had not worked. The public works programme was run down and ended by June 1847. In its place were to be soup kitchens the main cost of which was to be borne by local taxation. To the problem of starvation was added the outbreak of epidemics such as typhoid and many thousands were dying.
In Ireland conditions continued to worsen and with so few potatoes planted, the crop that was harvested was unable to meet demand. In September 1847 the British government stopped the provision of soup in almost all of the districts. Relief was now to be provided only by the workhouses financed by rates. However, some landlords did not pay their rates thus the work of the Poor Law Union in some counties was curtailed.
On his way to visit Rome Daniel O’Connell became ill and died a short time later.
Famine continued to affect Ireland with the potato crop failing once again and diseases like cholera spreading rapidly. The death rate in the workhouses increased. Some outdoor relief was paid for by charities but the British government had insisted that the ‘able-bodied’ could only get relief if they agreed to enter the workhouses. Heavy rain reduced the grain harvest and increased blight which destroyed the potato crop.
Inspired by the outbreaks of popular revolutions across Europe, the ‘Young Ireland’ movement began to make plans for a rising in Ireland. The authorities however had prior knowledge of their plans and moved quickly to ensure that any revolt would be stillborn. As a result when a rebellion occurred in late July 1848 it quickly ended in failure. The leading members of Young Ireland who had not already fled to America were arrested and convicted of treason. But their death sentences were later commuted and instead they were transported to penal colonies in Australia.
The potato crop failed again and the Irish countryside remained devastated by the impact of famine and disease. The British government reduced the amount of outdoor relief being offered and the population of the workhouses increased. An estimated one million people had died as a result of the famine and another million had emigrated.
Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert visited Ireland.
On 12 July 1849 (the 'twelfth') outside the village of Castlewellan, County Down violent clashes broke out between rival gangs of Protestant and Catholics. This becomes known as the ‘Battle of Dolly Brae’ and involved a bloody conflict between supporters of the Protestant Orange Order and Catholics, organised in a semi-secret society, which was referred to as the ‘Ribbonmen’.
A census was held in Ireland. Official figures showed the full extent of the effects of the Famine. At the time of the previous census in 1841, the population of Ireland was estimated to have been over 8.1 million but by 1851 this had fallen to some 6.5 million.
James Stephens, who had participated in the Young Ireland rebellion of 1848, returned to Ireland with the intention of laying plans for another rising in the future. In County Cork Jeremiah O’Donavan Rossa established the Phoenix Society, a literary and political organization which sought to promote the principles of Young Ireland and the United Irishmen.
Following Orange Order parades on 12 July 1857 (the 'twelfth') sectarian clashes broke out in Belfast which lasted for ten days. There were further periods of violence during the summer which only ceased in September 1857.
The organisational work done by James Stephens in Ireland culminated with the formation of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). As a secret revolutionary group the IRB was committed to removing British influence in Ireland by means of an armed insurrection, and to help with this goal emphasis was placed on attracting assistance from overseas. With this mind IRB sympathisers in America formed the Fenian Brotherhood and soon the term ‘Fenian’ was applied to describe both organisations.
The American Civil War broke out (1861-65). Irish regiments made up of immigrants were formed and fought in the conflict. Some leading members of the Fenian Brotherhood were closely involved in this process and firmly believed that the military experience gained would be of assistance to a future rebellion in Ireland.
In Belfast the shipbuilding firm Harland & Wolff was established.
The funeral in Dublin of Terence Bellew McManus, a former leader of the Young Ireland movement, was used by the ‘Fenians’ as a public show to illustrate their growing strength.
Leading members of the ‘Fenians’ established the movements own newspaper, The Irish People.
There was serious sectarian conflict in Belfast during the month of August 1864. The official figures put the number of dead at twelve but the true number is likely to have been higher.
The Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Paul Cullen, in a St Patrick’s Day pastoral message condemned the ‘Fenians’.
Plans for a rebellion in Ireland by the ‘Fenians’ were made. The ‘Fenians’ believed that over 54,000 men had taken the organisation’s oath, with some 8,000 of these believed to be soldiers serving with British army units in Ireland. In a response to the perceived threat of the ‘Fenians’ the authorities moved against the movement and arrested many of its senior leadership. However James Stephens evaded capture.
A force of ‘Fenians’ launched an invasion of Canada from America in the hope that any territory seized could be used in future negotiations with the British government. Undaunted by the setback of the previous year the ‘Fenians’ renewed their attempts to organise a rising in Ireland. With that purpose in mind Thomas Kelly, a veteran of the American Civil War, arrived in England to take charge of the preparation.
Plans were finalised for a rebellion in February by the ‘Fenian’ movement. However major problems arose when an attempt to seize weapons on 11 February from Chester Castle in England failed and on 12 February a premature uprising broke out in Ireland in County Kerry. The authorities reacted by carrying out a wave of arrests of leading ‘Fenians’ including Thomas Kelly.
In spite of this setback the ‘Fenian’ uprising planned for 4-5 March went ahead. However following the earlier setbacks and a heavy snowstorm the uprising failed and amounted to no more than a number of isolated incidents across the country. This was illustrated by the fact that police estimates of those killed, on both sides, amounted to no more than a dozen.
The failure of the rebellion however did not immediately spell the end of activities by the ‘Fenians’ and instead the focus switched to England. In the month of September in Manchester, ‘Fenians’ killed a police officer in an effort to free Thomas Kelly from prison. Three men were later brought to trial in connection with the incident. They were subsequently found guilty and executed on 23 November 1867. The three men, Allen, Larkin and O’Brien, became known as the ‘Manchester Martyrs’.
Then in London in December 1867 twelve people were killed by a bomb explosion at Clerkenwell Prison during an attempt to free a ‘Fenian’ prisoner.
In May 1868 Michael Barret was hanged for his involvement in the attack at Clerkenwell. He has the distinction of being the last public execution in Britain.
An Amnesty Association was formed to launch a campaign to secure an amnesty for all Fenians then serving prison sentences.
The Church of Ireland was disestablished as a result of the Irish Church Act.
The first Irish Land Act was passed with the objective of providing some protection in law for tenants.
Sectarian rioting broke out in Belfast. Several Catholics were killed as Protestant mobs forced Catholic families out of Malvern Street.
T he Ballot Act introduced the concept of secret ballot for voting in parliamentary elections.
Isaac Butt, a Protestant MP and president of the Amnesty Association, established the Home Government Association to campaign for ‘Home Rule’ for Ireland. In essence ‘Home Rule’, proposed that Ireland should have its own parliament for domestic matters whilst remaining an integral part of the United Kingdom of Britain and Ireland.
Following the results of the general election Gladstone and the Liberal Party lost office and were replaced by a new Conservative government led by Benjamin Disraeli. Of the 105 Irish seats, some 60 of these were won by candidates pledged to support the call for Home Rule. This group then came together, through an informal arrangement, to form the Irish Parliamentary Party with Isaac Butt as its first chairman. Butt introduced a motion in the House of Commons which proposed the introduction of Home Rule for Ireland. The attempt failed however as the motion was easily defeated.
Charles Stewart Parnell, a Protestant landlord, was elected to parliament in a by-election in County Meath. He quickly established himself as a firm advocate of Home Rule for Ireland.
Along with a number of his parliamentary colleagues, Parnell led a deliberate policy of obstructing business in the House of Commons in order to try to force the government to concede to their demands for Irish Home Rule. The growing power and influence of Parnell was recognised when he was elected President of the Home Rule Confederation of Ireland, a position previously headed by Isaac Butt.
Michael Davitt, a member of the ‘Fenian’ movement was released from prison and returned to Ireland.
An economic downturn plus poor weather conditions resulted in a series of bad harvests in many parts of Ireland with areas along the West coast and the province of Connacht worst hit. As a consequence many tenants were unable to pay their rent and were faced with the threat of eviction. The growing unrest that this produced in the Irish countryside was given the name the ‘Land War’. At a mass meeting to protest at the situation at Irishtown, County Mayo, organised by Michael Davitt, he pledged to lead a fight to gain better rights for Irish tenants. These centred on three main demands: fair rent, fixity of tenure and freedom of sale. These become known as the three ‘Fs’. To further his campaign Michael Davitt established the Irish National League and persuaded Charles Stewart Parnell to become its first President. In addition both men agreed that the ‘Land War’ could only be fought to a successful conclusion if there was a formal link between the land and national questions. This agreement was to be referred to as the ‘New Departure’.
With a further series of bad harvests the ‘Land War’ intensified with many farmers facing the threat of eviction. In order to protest against evictions the Land League advocated a new strategy based on the principle that its supporters should ostracise anyone it suspected of not fully supporting or cooperating with their cause. The tactic itself was first applied in County Mayo on a local land agent called Captain Hugh Cunningham Boycott and was soon simply referred to as ‘boycotting’.
Charles Stewart Parnell became chairman of the Irish Parliamentary Party.
With the Land War showing no signs of abating and agrarian unrest increasing in intensity William Gladstone, then British Prime Minister, introduced a second Land Act which sought to solve the problems then affecting the Irish countryside. The legislation itself did go a long way to meeting the original demand for the so called three ‘Fs’ - fair rent, fixity of tenure and freedom of sale. At the same time however many of those engaged in the Land War now believed that only a more radical solution involving a transfer of ownership from tenant to landlord would suffice. Given the depth of such sentiments Parnell then decided to reject the 1881 Land Act. As a result the authorities moved against the continuing unrest in Ireland with the Land League suppressed. This move was followed by the arrest and imprisonment of Parnell in Kilmainham Jail.
In order to end the unrest in Ireland, Gladstone and Parnell reached an agreement to end the ‘Land War’. With much of the negotiations having taken place whilst Parnell had been imprisoned in Kilmainham Jail, the agreement was referred to as the ‘Kilmainham Treaty’. For his part Parnell, in order to secure his release, gave an undertaking to use his influence to persuade his followers to accept the 1881 Land Act and to restore order. Gladstone meanwhile agreed to make further amendments to the 1881 Land Act. With the Land War brought to an effective conclusion due to the ‘Kilmainham Treaty’, Parnell moved to change the focus to the question of Home Rule for Ireland. In order to sustain this campaign the Irish National League was established.
On 6 May 1882 members of the ‘Invincibles’, an extremist element within the ‘Fenian’ movement, assassinated the Irish Chief Secretary, Lord Frederick Cavendish, and his deputy, T.H. Burke in an attack in the Phoenix Park in Dublin. The event was subsequently referred to as the ‘Phoenix Park Murders’.
The Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) was founded to promote those sporting pastimes which it judged to have a distinctive Irish background.
A further piece of legislation relating to the land issue in Ireland became law. Known as the Ashbourne Act it provided amongst other things for public money to be made available to allow loans to be given to tenants who wished to buy their own land holdings.
At the British general election Parnell and his supporters win eighty-five of the parliamentary seats in Ireland and as a result find that they now hold the balance of power in the House of Commons. Parnell made it clear that he would only support a government committed to introducing Home Rule for Ireland.
Gladstone and the Liberal Party, with the backing of Parnell, were able to form a new administration. As part of the arrangement Gladstone introduced the first Home Rule Bill in the House of Commons. The measure however was defeated and in the process the Liberal Party spilt on the issue, leading to another general election being called. The election campaign itself was then largely fought on the whole question of Home Rule. But with the Liberal Party divided on the issue, the Conservative Party was returned to office with an overall majority. In Ireland the controversy over Home Rule moved beyond the political field. With the majority of Catholic opinion in favour of its introduction and Protestant opinion resolutely opposed, sectarian tension increased. As a result the summer months witnessed an upsurge in sectarian violence particularly in Belfast. During June and July 1886 the number of dead was put officially at 31 but it is likely the true figure was around 50.
The London newspaper The Times published documents which purport to show amongst other things that Parnell had actively supported violent acts in Ireland such as the ‘Phoenix Park Murders’.
A Special Commission was established by the House of Commons to investigate the allegations against Parnell published by The Times.
As a result of investigations by the Special Commission it emerged that a forger, Richard Pigott, was responsible for producing the documents used by The Times. Parnell was cleared of all allegations against him and his political credibility was seemingly restored. A short time later it emerged that Parnell was to be named in a divorce case brought by Captain W.H. Shea against his wife Kitty O’Shea.
Captain O’Shea successfully divorced his wife Kitty. The evidence that had come to light of Parnell’s long term association with Kitty O’Shea caused a political furore. Although Parnell was subsequently re-elected as leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP), Gladstone made it clear that he would not support Home Rule in the future unless Parnell resigned from this position. A further meeting of the IPP was held at which the party split into an anti-Parnell faction and a pro-Parnell faction, with the anti-Parnell grouping the larger of the two.
Parnell’s political standing in Ireland was further weakened as pro-Parnell candidates lost three parliamentary by-elections to his former political allies. Parnell married Kitty O’Shea but died a short time later.
Gladstone introduced the Second Home Rule Bill. Although he succeeded in winning a majority for the measure in the House of Commons it was overwhelmingly defeated in the House of Lords.
Gladstone retired from political life.
At the British general election the Conservative Party was returned to power with a comfortable majority.
After a split lasting almost ten years the pro- and anti-Parnell factions agreed to reunite as the Irish Parliamentary Party under the leadership of John Redmond,
The Conservative Party won its second successive British general election.
Disillusioned by existing leadership of the Orange Order, a breakaway group established the Independent Orange Order.
George Wyndham, then chief secretary for Ireland, guided through parliament further legislation reforming the land system. In essence this provided further encouragement for Irish tenants to buy out their landlords.
Angered by indications that the Conservative government was weakening on its stance against Home Rule, Unionist opinion in Ulster agreed to come together to form the Ulster Unionist Council (UUC).
A Dublin journalist, Arthur Griffiths, established a new political party Sinn Féin (SF). Initially SF called for a new constitutional arrangement between Britain and Ireland based on the concept of a dual monarchy along the lines of that recently agreed between Austria and Hungary.
Due to internal policy differences the Conservative government in Britain collapsed and was replaced by a minority Liberal administration.
At the British general election the Liberal Party was returned to office with a large parliamentary majority.
The British political system was thrown into crisis as a result of a clash between the Liberal government and the House of Lords, which was dominated by supporters of the Conservative Party. Matters were brought to a head by the refusal of the House of Lords to pass measures contained in the 1909 budget.
Two indecisive general elections were held in Britain with neither the Liberals nor Conservatives able to gain an overall majority. As a result the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) was once again to hold the balance of power. In the end the IPP opted to support the Liberals in the expectation that such a decision would result in a commitment to press ahead with Irish Home Rule.
Edward Carson, a renowned barrister, accepted the leadership of the Irish Unionist Parliamentary Party.
In order to curb the power of the House of Lords to veto legislation passed by the more democratically elected House of Commons, the Parliament Act proposed to remove the power of veto from the Lords. Such a prospect held out the promise that any future Home Rule Bill for Ireland would ultimately become law.
The Third Home Rule Bill was introduced in the House of Commons by the Liberal government.
Under the leadership of Edward Carson, unionist opinion in Ireland launched a renewed attempt to thwart the introduction of the Home Rule Bill. However unlike previous campaigns greater emphasis was placed on mobilising support in the province of Ulster, where Protestants made up the majority of the population. A prime example of this came on 28 September 1912 ('Ulster Day') with the signing of the Solemn League and Covenant by men, and the signing of a parallel Declaration by women. In total the Covenant was signed by 237,368 men, and the Declaration by 234,046 women, and in so doing they pledged to resist any attempt to introduce Home Rule.
The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), an armed militia which was prepared to lead resistance against Home Rule, was established in January 1913.
In a further step the Ulster Unionist Council agreed to take the necessary steps to establish a Provisional Government for Ulster, under the leadership of Carson, in the advent of the British government passing legislation granting Home Rule for Ireland.
The Third Home Rule Bill was passed by the House of Commons. It failed however to become law as the House of Lords exercised its remaining rights under the 1911 Parliament Act to vote against the Bill and to temporarily delay it from becoming law.
In Dublin in November 1913 supporters of Home Rule decided to form their own militia, the Irish Volunteers, in order to arm themselves in defence of their political goals.
In March 1914 a number of British Army officers serving at the Curragh Camp, County Kildare threaten to resign their commissions if they were ordered by the civil authorities to move to impose Home Rule on Unionist opinion in Ulster. The whole incident later became known as the ‘Curragh Mutiny’.
On the night of 24-25 April 1914 a large supply of arms from Germany were landed at Larne for the UVF. The arms were part of the preparation to resist Home Rule by force. In response the Irish Volunteers, on a smaller scale, attempted their own importation of arms and ammunition from Germany to back their demands that Home Rule be introduced. British soldiers sent to seize the weapons succeeded in confiscating a small quantity. Later however on their return to barracks they became involved in an incident in Dublin with protestors, in which three people were killed and some thirty people injured.
The Home Rule Bill passed through the House of Commons for the third time but once again it was delayed by opposition in the House of Lords.
On 4 August 1914 Britain declared war on Germany.
In September 1914 the Home Rule Act was finally placed on the statute book. However the British government then announced that its introduction would be suspended for the duration of the War.
The leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, John Redmond, in a speech at Woodenbridge, County Wicklow, called on the Irish Volunteers to serve with the British Army in the present war with Germany. His appeal led to a split in the Irish Volunteers: those who supported Redmond become known as the National Volunteers, whilst those who opposed any involvement in the war retained the name the Irish Volunteers.
The Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) agreed to set up a military council and, to take advantage of Britain’s involvement in the war (World War I), began preparations for a new armed uprising in Ireland. They immediately identified the Irish Volunteers, now firmly under the leadership of Eoin MacNeill, as a source of recruits for their cause.
The funeral of the veteran ‘Fenian’, Jeremiah O’Donavan Rossa, was used by leading figures in the IRB, such as Patrick Pearse, as a means to rally public backing for their plans.
With the assistance of an IRB-led faction of the Irish Volunteers, the military council of the IRB decided on Easter Sunday, 23 April, as the date of their uprising. However when he became aware of the plan Eoin MacNeill placed a newspaper advertisement canceling all manouevres planned by the Irish Volunteers on Easter Sunday, 23 April. The military council of the IRB attempted to disregard MacNeill’s announcement and on Easter Monday, 24 April, a force of some 1,200 launched the rebellion in Dublin. It became known as the ‘Easter Rising’ and lasted for a week before it was put down. (Proclamation of the Irish Republic: Poblacht na hÉireann.)
In the wake of the rising the British government declared martial law and rushed army reinforcements to Dublin in order to tackle the insurrection. During the first two weeks of May the British government moved to execute the leaders of the rebellion.
Meanwhile on the Western Front in France at the beginning of July 1916 the British army launched a new military offensive, which was referred to as the Battle of the Somme. Amongst those regiments who suffered huge numbers of casualties was the 36th (Ulster Division), of which many had been recruited amongst the Protestant community in Ulster. It was estimated that some 5,000 men were lost in the first few days of the Somme campaign.
Following the ‘Easter Rising’ the British government attempted to restore a measure of stability in Ireland by offering to immediately introduce Home Rule, with the proviso that six of the Ulster counties would be excluded. The willingness of John Redmond and the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) to accept this offer, with the apparent stipulation from the British side that any exclusion would be only temporary, was however to prove increasingly unpopular for the IPP in the months ahead.
The British government decided to release all those remaining ‘Easter Rising’ internees.
In February the first real test of public opinion in Ireland since the Easter Rising Count Plunkett, the father of one of the executed leaders, won the North Roscommon by-election in a straight fight with the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP). He committed himself not to take his seat at Westminster.
Lloyd George, then the British Prime Minister, called an Irish Convention in order to try to come up with a form of government acceptable for all shades of opinion in Ireland. The IPP agreed to participate but their political credibility was further damaged when the Convention failed to reach an agreement. Evidence of this came when Eamon de Valera, the only surviving senior leader of the 1916 rising, won the East Clare by-election.
At a convention in October 1917 Arthur Griffiths agreed to stand down as President of Sinn Féin (SF) and allowed de Valera to succeed him.
Since the ‘Easter Rising’ SF had increasingly become an umbrella organisation for a variety of groups. This ranged from those involved in the 1916 insurrection and who continued to support its objectives to those members who still remained committed to SF’s original aims. This arrangement was then formalised at a SF convention in October 1917 when delegates agreed to accept a motion whereby it would commit itself to securing recognition of Ireland as an independent Republic, whilst allowing the Irish people to decide on their own form of government through a referendum.
In the wake of opposition from Sinn Féin (SF), the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) and the Catholic Church the British government decided to abandon plans to introduce conscription in Ireland.
Many of the leading figures in SF, including de Valera were interned after the British authorities alleged that they have been involved in a plot with Germany.
World War I came to an end on 11 November.
At the British general election in December the IPP collapsed in the face of the electoral challenge of SF and won only six seats. In contrast the election was a triumph for SF as it emerged with seventy three parliamentary seats. Furthermore during the campaign SF had made it clear that none of its successful candidates would take their seats at Westminster.
In early January those SF representatives who had been elected at the Westminster general election the previous month, and who were not presently interned, met to convene the first Dáil Éireann (Irish Parliament). This body subsequently issued a Declaration of Independence and elected Cathal Brugha as its acting president.
Two policemen were killed by members of the Irish Volunteers, acting on their own initiative, near Soloheadbeg, County Tipperary. This event was seen as marking the beginning of what was to become known as the ‘Anglo-Irish War’ or the ‘War of Independence’. The conflict quickly escalated as the Irish Volunteers, now reorganised as the Irish Republican Army (IRA) attempted to force the British authorities out of Ireland by means of armed resistance.
The level of violence in Ireland increased as the IRA stepped up its attacks against the British forces in Ireland. In response the British government decided to recruit former members of the British Army to send to Ireland to assist the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC). Once in Ireland these units engaged in counter-insurgency tactics. Subsequently they were given the nickname of the ‘Black and Tans’, due to the distinctive uniforms they wore. Their presence however failed to restore any sense of order or normality in Ireland. Whilst the IRA engaged in ambushes, arms raids and assassinations, the ‘Black and Tans’ responded by attacking civilian targets and property. In Ulster the summer months brought an increase in tension which led to sectarian rioting in Belfast and Derry with scores killed and injured. The ‘Anglo-Irish War’ reached a new level of ferocity on Sunday 21 November. In Dublin the IRA killed some thirteen British intelligence officers at various locations around Dublin. Later in the same day units of ‘Black and Tans’ were sent to search for potential suspects at a Gaelic football match at Croke Park in Dublin. They however open fire on the crowd and twelve people were killed. This incident became known as ‘Bloody Sunday’.
The Government of Ireland Act passed through the British parliament. As a solution to the ‘Irish Problem’ it proposed that Ireland should be partitioned with a devolved parliament based in Dublin for twenty-six southern counties and a similar body in Belfast for six of the Northern counties. Whilst Sinn Féin (SF) totally rejected the proposals, Ulster Unionists decided to accept the Act. In particular they believed that the six counties which were to make up Northern Ireland would be the largest area they could control without fear of Catholics becoming a majority. Furthermore with their own devolved administration they considered that they stood a better chance of resisting any further attempt by the British government to seek to reunite the island of Ireland.
James Craig, a leading businessman who had also been prominent in organising Unionist opposition to Home Rule before World War I, replaced Edward Carson as leader of Ulster Unionism. Craig took charge of the Unionist campaign for the election to the Northern Ireland parliament in May. With the Unionist Party returned with a huge majority in the body Craig became the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland (1921-40) when the parliament was opened by King George V in June.
Across Northern Ireland sectarian violence continued to break out. On 12 July 1921 (the 'twelfth') 23 people were killed and over 200 Catholic homes destroyed.
With increasing signs of war weariness on both sides in the ‘Anglo-Irish War’ a truce was finally agreed in July 1921. Steps were then taken to prepare the ground for negotiations to take place between the British government and representatives from Sinn Féin (SF). After lengthy talks between Lloyd George, then British Prime Minister, and Eamon de Valera, then President of SF, provisions were made for a conference, to be held in London in October 1921, where it was hoped a final settlement could be reached. The Anglo-Irish conference began in early October and lasted until the beginning of December (11 October 1921 to 6 December 1921). Whilst Lloyd George led the British delegation Eamon de Valera chose to remain in Dublin and instead the Irish delegation was headed by Arthur Griffiths and Michael Collins. After weeks of negotiations the Treaty of Peace between Great Britain and Ireland ('The Treaty') was signed at Downing Street, London on 6 December 1921. To the dismay of a section of Irish Republican opinion, including De Valera, Griffiths and Collins had seemingly failed to secure an independent Irish Republic. Instead ‘The Treaty’ proposed the establishment of the Irish Free State as a self-governing dominion within the British Commonwealth.
After a lengthy and at times bitter debate in the Dáil ‘The Treaty’ was passed by sixty-four votes to fifty-seven. As a consequence of this vote a split occurred within the republican movement with both Sinn Féin (SF) and the IRA dividing into pro- and anti- treaty factions.
In June 1922 the first general election in the new Irish Free State was held and resulted in an overall majority for the pro-treaty faction of SF.
At the end of June 1922 the ‘Irish Civil War’ (1922-23) began when Free State forces attacked anti-treaty forces who had occupied the Four Courts in Dublin.
Arthur Griffiths, then President of the Dáil died suddenly after a short illness. A few days later on 22 August 1922 Michael Collins, then Commander in Chief of the Free State Army, was killed in an ambush by anti-treaty forces.
In Northern Ireland the growing civil unrest and sectarian violence resulted in approximately 232 people being killed and roughly 1,000 injured. In response on 7 April 1922 the Northern Ireland government introduced the Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act (Northern Ireland) 1922.
The Dáil ratified a constitution for the new Irish Free State. On 6 December 1922 legislation passed by the British parliament formally established the Irish Free State (Saorstát Éireann). The Northern Ireland Parliament passed the Method of Voting and Redistribution of Seats Act (Northern Ireland). This piece of legislation abolished the use of Proportional Representation (PR) for local government elections and paved the way for the revision of electoral wards.
Under the direction of de Valera anti-treaty forces decided to end hostilities and to call a ceasefire at the end of April. Just over a month later in May they agreed to dump their weapons. This event was then taken as marking the formal end of the ‘Irish Civil War’.
Pro-treaty supporters in the Irish Free State decided to form a new political party, Cumann na nGaedheal. The new party was led by W.T. Cosgrave, then President of the Executive Council of the Free State (1922-32).
J.H. Whitely, then Speaker of the House of Commons, ruled that matters which had been delegated to the Government of Northern Ireland could not be discussed at Westminster. [This ruling became enshrined as a convention which for over 40 years made it impossible to raise issues related to discrimination in Northern Ireland in the House of Commons.]
After some delay a Boundary Commission, which had been provided for in the ‘Anglo-Irish Treaty’ of 1921, was established to formally establish the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State. For the minority Catholic community in Northern Ireland there was an expectation that it would result in the significant transfer of territory from the North to the Free State.
A leaked copy of the report of the Boundary Commission appeared in a British newspaper, The Morning Post. Instead of sanctioning the transfer of a large amount of territory from North to South, the report proposed that there should only be minor re-adjustments to the existing border. In the end the three governments in London, Belfast and Dublin agreed to abandon the Commission and instead sign a tripartite agreement. In essence this confirmed the present frontier whilst releasing the Free State and, to a certain extent Northern Ireland, from certain financial provisions in the 1921 treaty.
A split developed within the ranks of the anti-treaty faction of Sinn Féin (SF) with de Valera and his supporters leaving to form a new political party Fianna Fáil (FF). The basis of the rift was de Valera’s opposition to the continuation of the policy of abstention from the Dáil and his insistence that he would lead his supporters into the Dáil if the Oath of Allegiance to the British monarch was removed.
On 6 May 1926 the Emergency Powers Act was introduced in Northern Ireland.
In June 1927 a general election in the Free State witnessed the first electoral test between Fianna Fáil (FF) and Sinn Féin (SF). The results clearly indicated that FF had easily eclipsed its rival.
Kevin O’Higgins, then Minister for Justice, in the Free State was shot and killed by militant republicans. In response the Free State authorities passed the Electoral Amendment Act. Under this piece of legislation all candidates’ in future parliamentary elections were required to take an oath obliging them to take their seats in the Dáil if elected. In response to the Electoral Amendment Act de Valera and FF decided to abandon their policy of abstentionism and took the Oath of Allegiance allowing them to sit in the Dáil.
The Northern Ireland Parliament enacted the House of Commons (Method of Voting and Redistribution of Seats) Act (Northern Ireland). This abolished PR for all future parliamentary elections.
The Statute of Westminster was passed by the British parliament. As a result those nations of the British Empire which had been granted Dominion Status, such as the Irish Free State, were given powers enabling them to repeal or amend British legislation which was enshrined in their law.
In the Free State, legislation was passed prohibiting organisations such as the IRA.
Following a general election in the Free State, Fianna Fáil (FF) emerged as the largest single party and for the first time formed a government. Once in office de Valera took the opportunity to pass legislation which abolished the Oath of Allegiance.
A trade war broke out between Britain and the Free State after de Valera moved to cancel annuity payments to the British exchequer for loans provided to Irish tenants in the era of land reform. In retaliation Britain imposed tariffs on goods imported from the Free State. This episode became known as the ‘Economic War’ (1932-38).
In June 1932 the Catholic Church held a Eucharistic Congress in Dublin. The event was one of a series of international congresses held to promote devotion to the Blessed Scarement.
The Northern Ireland parliament moved to a purpose built building on the Stormont estate on the eastern outskirts of Belfast. The official opening was carried out by the Prince of Wales. As a consequence after this date the Northern Ireland parliament was often simply referred to as ‘Stormont’. In October 1932 economic hardship coupled with welfare cuts imposed by the Northern Ireland government provoke widespread unrest and this culminated in rioting on the streets of Belfast. What was to make this unique was that it saw Protestant and Catholic protestors, for a time ignoring sectarian divisions, and briefly agreeing to cooperate with one another. The events were known as the outdoor relief riots.
A general election in the Free State resulted in Fianna Fáil (FF) being returned to power with an overall majority for the first time. The electoral rise of FF eventually led to a significant political realignment in the Free State. A number of centre-right parties, including Cumann na nGaedheal, come together to form Fine Gael.
During speech in parliament Lord Craigavon (James Craig), then Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, remarked in respect of Northern Ireland, "All I boast is that we are a Protestant Parliament and a Protestant State".
In Belfast growing sectarian tension led to an upsurge in violence which reached its peak in the wake of the Orange Order marches on 12 July 1935 (the 'twelfth'). The rioting was some of the worst seen for a decade and did not until the end of August 1935.
The Public Order Act was introduced in Northern Ireland. This gave the Chief Constable the power to impose conditions on parades or public processions if it was thought they would lead to public disorder.
In the Free State de Valera’s government decided to outlaw the IRA. De Valera moved to further undermine the remaining constitutional links between the Free State and Britain. The remaining powers of the post of Governor-General were removed and the External Relations Act restricted the role of the monarch in the external affairs of the Free State. In a further step the Irish Senate was abolished.
De Valera proposed to introduce a new constitution for the Irish Free State, Bunreacht na hÉireann. Amongst the new features proposed was for an elected President as head of state and a parliamentary system with two chambers. This would consist of a democratically elected lower house, the Dáil and a re-constituted Senate. To the anger of Unionists in Northern Ireland the constitution (articles 2 and 3) also claimed sovereignty over the whole island of Ireland. A referendum was later held on the new constitution and it was passed with a comfortable majority.
Douglas Hyde (a Protestant Irish-speaker from County Roscommon) was elected as the first President of Ireland.
De Valera and Neville Chamberlain, then British Prime Minister, reached an agreement to end the "Economic War" after lengthy negotiations. In essence the settlement was based on the resolution of a number of outstanding issues. To begin with the British government agreed to hand over a number of Irish ports it had retained under the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty, whilst de Valera agreed to pay a lump sum to meet all financial claims of the 1921 treaty. In a further move both sides agreed to remove all the tariff and trade restrictions which had been imposed.
In an effort to end partition the IRA launched a bombing campaign in Great Britain. Later in the year the IRA carried out a raid on Magazine Fort, Phoenix Park, Dublin in order to try to seize weapons and ammunition. As a direct response to the renewed IRA campaign de Valera’s government introduced the Offences Against the State Act. Amongst the provisions of the new Act was the establishment of a Special Criminal Court to try those suspected of terrorist related activities.
In April the British government decided against the introduction of conscription in Northern Ireland. The decision disappointed the Unionist authorities in Northern Ireland who had been in favour but was welcomed by Catholic opinion throughout Ireland which had pledged to oppose such a move.
On 1 September 1939 World War II began (1939-45). A few days later the Dáil passed legislation declaring that Éire would remain neutral during the conflict. The years from 1939-45 in Éire were referred to as ‘The Emergency’.
Continuing activity by the IRA in Éire led to de Valera’s government introducing internment for those suspected of being involved in the organisation. This tough stance on the IRA was later to see the authorities in Éire execute two members of the IRA and to allow two others to die on hunger-strike.
The leadership of the IRA decided to try to attempt to open up links with Nazi Germany in the hope that it would provide assistance to remove the British presence in Ireland.
Lord Craigavon (James Craig) died and was replaced as Northern Ireland Prime Minister by John M. Andrews (1940-43).
The city of Belfast was attacked by German aircraft on four occasions during the months of April and May. Some 1,110 people were killed and over 2,000 injured, with over 50,000 houses damaged and approximately 100,000 people made homeless as a result of the air raids. The authorities in Dublin sent fire engines to Belfast to assist in the emergency operations.
Late in May a German bomber mistook Dublin for the British city of Liverpool and dropped a number of bombs which killed over 30 people.
Towards the end of 1941 the IRA decided to step up its campaign of attacks in Northern Ireland. In response the Unionist authorities introduced internment and used the provisions of the Emergency Powers Act.
The first American troops began to arrive in Northern Ireland and an American naval base was established in Derry.
Early in April 1942 the IRA attacked a Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) patrol in Belfast. A policeman was killed in the incident and a number of IRA members involved were arrested and put on trial. All were subsequently found guilty and the man accused of firing the fatal shots, Tom Williams, was executed in Crumlin Road jail in September.
Growing disenchantment within the Unionist Party with the performance of the government of John M. Andrews finally forced his resignation as Northern Ireland Prime Minister. His replacement was Sir Basil Brooke (1943-63), later to become Lord Brookeborough.
World War II came to a formal end with the surrender of Germany and then Japan. The ending of the conflict however then saw de Valera and Winston Churchill, then British Prime Minister, engage in angry exchanges over the radio airwaves on the question of Éire’s neutrality.
An election in Britain was to result in Churchill and his Conservative dominated coalition losing power. For the first time the Labour Party won an overall majority and went on to form a government committed to the introduction of widespread welfare reform.
In Northern Ireland a new political organisation, the Irish Anti-Partition League, was established to try to unite the minority Catholic community in a renewed campaign to end partition.
Sean O’Kelly succeeded Douglas Hyde as President of Ireland.
Séan Mac Bride, a prominent Republican, founded a new political party Clann na Poblachta in Éire. The party committed itself to achieving its goals by constitutional methods and set out to attract support from those disillusioned by de Valera and Fianna Fáil (FF).
Although initially uneasy with the proposals of the Labour government in Britain, the Unionist authorities agreed to oversee the launch of the welfare state in Northern Ireland. The National Insurance Act (Northern Ireland) was passed by the Northern Ireland parliament and amongst its provisions were benefits for the unemployed, the sick, the retired, widows and orphans as well as for women during pregnancy.
The Northern Ireland government introduced the Education Act (Northern Ireland). The Act included proposals for a new structure for primary schools as well as for secondary and further education. In addition it required local education authorities to provide a range of free services to all schools such as the provision of transport, books, and school meals.
In Northern Ireland the concept of a ‘National Health Service’ became a reality when the Health Service Act (Northern Ireland) was passed by the Stormont parliament.
After some 16 years in office de Valera and Fianna Fáil (FF) lost power following the result of a general election in Éire. The new administration (1948-51) was made up of a broad range of parties and became known as the ‘Inter-Party Government’. It was led by John A. Costello, a member of Fine Gael.
During a visit to Canada in September Costello announced that his government intended to repeal the 1936 External Relations Act and for Éire to leave the British Commonwealth and to become a Republic. This was confirmed a short time later when the Dáil passed the Republic of Ireland Act.
On 20 November 1948 there was a secret meeting at Chequers between Basil Brooke, then Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, and Clement Attlee, then British Prime Minister. Brooke used the decision by Éire to leave the Commonwealth as an excuse to seek further constitutional guarantees for Northern Ireland. Attlee gave an assurance that the constitutional position of the region would be safeguarded (a new Ireland Act was introduced on 2 June 1949).
On 6 January 1949 there were talks between British government and Stormont government ministers.
Basil Brooke, then Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, called a general election for Northern Ireland in February in which the dominant position of the Unionist Party was once again clearly demonstrated.
On Easter Monday, 18 April 1949, Éire officially left the British Commonwealth and became known as the Republic of Ireland.
3 May 1949 the Ireland Bill was published.
On 2 June 1949 the British government enacted the Ireland Act 1949, [PDF; 304KB] which provided Brooke and the Unionist government with the additional constitutional guarantees it had sought for Northern Ireland.
The ‘inter-party’ government in the Republic of Ireland collapsed and in the ensuing general election de Valera and Fianna Fáil (FF) were returned to power.
In Northern Ireland the Flags and Emblems Act became law. This piece of legislation placed a number of restrictions on the flying of the 'tricolour' (the flag of the Republic of Ireland).
Following a general election in the Republic of Ireland a new coalition government, consisting of representatives of Fine Gael and the Labour Party, took office.
The IRA mounted a raid on Gough Barracks in Armagh to seize weapons. A few months later a similar attack in Omagh failed and up to eight men were arrested.
The Republic of Ireland joined the United Nations.
A British general election was held in May and Sinn Féin (SF) candidates were nominated to contest all ten of the parliamentary seats in Northern Ireland. In two constituencies, Mid Ulster and Fermanagh and South Tyrone, Republican MPs were returned.
On 11 December 1956 the Irish Republican Army (IRA) launched a new military campaign in Northern Ireland (1956-62). The IRA referred to the campaign as ‘The Campaign of Resistance to British Occupation’ but it became more commonly known as the 'Border Campaign'. [The campaign ended on 26 February 1962 because of lack of support.]
On 1 January 1957 one of the infamous incidents of the six-year ‘Border Campaign’ occurred. An attack on the police station in the small village of Brookeborough, County Fermanagh resulted in the death of two members of the IRA, Fergus O’Hanlon and Sean South. The funeral of South, a few weeks later in his home city of Limerick, attracted thousands of people.
A general election in the Republic of Ireland led to yet another change in government. The electorate decided to reject the coalition government and to return de Valera to office. However one of the most significant features of the result was the re-emergence of Sinn Féin (SF) with the party gaining its highest share of the vote in thirty years and having four of its candidates elected.
In response to the ongoing IRA ‘Border Campaign’ the authorities on both sides of the border decided to re-introduce internment.
In the Republic of Ireland de Valera decided to stand down as leader of Fianna Fáil (FF) and as Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister). He was subsequently elected as President of Ireland. His replacement as leader of FF and Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) was Sean Lemass (1959-66).
A British general election was held in September 1959 and in the Northern Ireland constituencies Sinn Féin (SF) failed to repeat its successes of 1955 losing the seats it had won on that occasion as well as seeing its overall share of the vote drop.
Radio Telefis Éireann (RTE), the Irish Broadcasting company, began transmission of television programmes.
A general election in the Republic of Ireland returned Sean Lemass to office at the head of a minority government. Elsewhere Sinn Féin (SF) was unable to retain any of the seats it had won in 1957 and also the party’s share of the vote dropped.
The Republic of Ireland’s attempt to join the European Economic Community (EEC) was rejected.
At the end of the February the IRA announced that it was calling off its ‘Border Campaign’. The reasons given for this decision were based largely on its failure to attract wide support across Ireland.
Lord Brookeborough (formerly Sir Basil Brooke) resigned as Prime Minister of Northern Ireland and leader of the Unionist Party. His replacement in both positions was Captain Terence O’Neill (1963-69). O’Neill soon committed himself to transforming "the face of Ulster".
John F Kennedy, then President of the United States of America, visited the Republic of Ireland.
On 17 January 1964 the Campaign for Social Justice (CSJ) was formed. The CSJ was the forerunner of the civil rights movement and set out to try to draw attention to claims that the minority Catholic community had been actively discriminated against by the Unionist authorities in Northern Ireland. On 5 February 1964 the CSJ published a first edition of 'Northern Ireland The Plain Truth', [PDF; 58KB], which set out the allegations of discrimination against Catholics by Unionists in Northern Ireland.
During the campaign for the British general election the Irish national flag (the tricolour) went on display in the window of an office used by the Republican candidate in the constituency of West Belfast. On Monday 28 September 1964 Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers, acting under instructions from the Minister of Home Affairs, forced their way into the Divis Street offices of the Republican Party and removed the flag. The move led to serious rioting in west Belfast. [See: Boyd, A. (1969), '1964: The Tricolour Riots']
The Northern Ireland government published the Wilson Plan which proposed large-scale public investment in order to attract new industrial development.
[ Public records related to the location of the second university.]
In early January Sean Lemass, then Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) travelled to Belfast and met Terence O'Neill, then Northern Ireland Prime Minister. This marked the first meeting in some forty years at a senior government level between representatives of the two parts of Ireland. A meeting between the two men also took place later in Dublin. For some sections of Unionist opinion in Northern Ireland the meeting between O’Neill and Lemass provoked some unease. In the wake of the talks between Lemass and O’Neill the Nationalist Party, the party viewed as the main political representative of the minority community in Northern Ireland, decided to accept the position of Official Opposition at Stormont. In the past the Nationalist Party had always refused to accept this role on the grounds it would be perceived as the party recognising the permanency of partition.
Early in 1965 a group of British Labour Party MPs launched the Campaign for Democracy in Ulster (CDU). The chairperson and prime mover of the group was Paul Rose.
On 19 February 1965 the CSJ published 'Londonderry: One Man, No Vote', [PDF; 281KB], which detailed discrimination against the Catholic community in Derry.
22 February 1965 There was an adjourment debate at Westminster on unemployment in Northern Ireland. During the debate some Labour backbench MPs managed to raise the issue of discrimination despite the convention that these types of matters could not be discussed at Westminster.
9 May 1965 Terence O'Neill, then Northern Ireland Prime Minister, travelled to London for a meeting with Harold Wilson, then British Prime Minister. [Wilson is believed to have encouraged O'Neill to introduce reforms aimed at eliminating discrimination in the region.]
In June 1965 the Campaign for Democracy in Ulster (CDU) was established at Westminster. The CDU, consisted of backbench Labour MPs, who had committed themselves to working for the introduction of a package of reforms in Northern Ireland.
There was growing unease amongst the minority community in Northern Ireland with two major strategic decisions taken by O’Neill’s administration. The first concerned the site chosen for a ‘new town’ to ease the urban spread of Belfast and the subsequent decision to give it the name of Craigavon (in honour of James Craig, later Lord Craigavon, Northern Ireland’s first Prime Minister). This was then followed by further controversy which resulted from the choice of O’Neill’s government to locate Northern Ireland’s second university in the Protestant town of Coleraine, County Derry, instead of Derry City. Not only was Derry Northern Ireland’s second city but it also was the site of Magee University College, an academic institution with a long tradition.
The Unionist Party made significant gains at the expense largely of the Northern Ireland Labour Party at the Stormont general election in November. This result was seen as a vindication by Terence O'Neill of his government’s approach.
[ PRONI public records related to the location of the second university.]
[ NAI public records for 1965. ]
In the Republic of Ireland Sean Lemass stood down as Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) and was replaced by Jack Lynch (1966-73 and 1977-79).
On 4 March 1966 Frank Soskice, then British Home Secretary, met with Harold Wilson, then British Prime Minister, to discuss intelligence reports from the RUC Special Branch that there might be trouble in Northern Ireland surrounding events to mark the 50th anniversay of the Easter Rising.
On 8 March 1966 a group of Republicans blew up Nelson's Pillar in O'Connell Street in Dublin. [In September 2000 Liam Sutcliffe, a resident of Dublin, claimed during a raido interview that he was one of the people responsible for the attack on the monument.]
31 March 1966 The British general election was won by the Labour Party led by Harold Wilson. At the British general election Gerry Fitt, standing as a member of the Republican Labour Party, was returned as the new MP for the constituency of West Belfast. On taking his seat Fitt worked to overturn a ruling that had prevented domestic matters relating to Northern Ireland being discussed at Westminster. In addition he sought to interest a significant number of Labour backbench MPs to investigate claims of alleged discrimination by the Unionist authorities against the minority Catholic community in Northern Ireland.
7 April 1966 The British Cabinet met and approved the sending of an additional infantry battallion of the British Army to Northern Ireland as part of a 'training exercise'.
25 April 1966 Gerry Fitt made his maiden speech using the occasion to highlight problems in Northern Ireland despite the Westminster convention that matters related to the region could not be discussed at Westminster.
Events marking the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising took place throughout Ireland. The holding of such events in Northern Ireland had given rise to concerns amongst Unionist opinion that a revival of the IRA was imminent.
Early in 1966 Ian Paisley, who had gained a reputation as a fundamentalist Protestant preacher, formed the Ulster Constitution Defence Committee (UCDC). The UCDC set out to campaign against O’Neill on the grounds that his policies were seen as a threat to Northern Ireland’s constitutional position. Soon after Paisley went on to help establish the Ulster Protestant Volunteers (UPV) which was to come under the control of the UCDC (Holland, 1999: p23).
The modern version of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) was formed. The UVF issued a statement in May 1966 containing the threat that, "known IRA men will be executed mercilessly and without hesitation". On 7 May 1966 The UVF carried out a petrol bomb attack on a Catholic owned bar and off-licence in Upper Charleville Street in the Shankill Road area of Belfast. The attackers missed their intended target and set fire to the home of Matilda Gould (77), a Protestant civilian, who lived next door to the public house. Gould was severely injured in the attack and died on 27 June 1966 as a resulted of her injuries. On 27 May 1966 the UVF shot and mortally wounded John Scullion (28), a Catholic civilian, in the Clonard area of west Belfast. Scullion died from his injuries on 11 June 1966. On 26 June 1966 the UVF shot three Catholic civilians in Malvern Street in the Shankill area of Belfast. One of those shot, Peter Ward (18), died at the scene and the two other men were seriously injured. On 28 June 1966 the Northern Ireland government moved to declare the UVF an illegal organisation.
On 4 July 1966 the Queen paid an official visit to Northern Ireland. There were demonstrations during the visit and at one point a concrete block was dropped from the top of a building onto the bonnet of the car she was travelling in. On 3 July 1966, to conincide with the visit, the Sunday Times (a London based newspaper) published an investigation, under the title 'John Bull's Political Slum', into the growing crisis in the region.
5 August 1966 There was a meeting between Harold Wilson, the British Prime Minister, and Terence O'Neill, then Northern Ireland Prime Minister. Also present was Roy Jenkins, then British Home Secretary. [Years later Wilson claimed that he warned O'Neill of the urgency for speedy reform, while O'Neill claimed that he was not pressed to move more quickly.]
[ NAI public records for 1966. ]
In January the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) was formed. The civil rights movement called for a number of reforms one of which was for 'one man, one vote', that is, a universal franchise for local government elections. At the time only rate-payers were entitled to vote, and there were other anomalies to do with additional votes for companies. The association also pressed for the end to gerrymandering of electoral boundaries. Other reforms sought included: the end to discrimination in the allocation of public sector housing and appointments to, particularly, public sector employment; the repeal of the Special Powers Act; and the disbandment of the 'B-Specials' (Ulster Special Constabulary) which was a paramilitary style reserve police force which was entirely Protestant in its makeup.
14 April 1967 Three British MPs, who were members of the Campaign for Democracy in Ulster (CDU), paid a three-day visit to Northern Ireland at the invitation of Gerry Fitt MP. The three MPs were Stanley Orme, Dr Maurice Miller, and Paul Rose. They visited Belfast, Coalisland, Dungannon, Strabane and Derry. The Unionist Party refused to attend meetings organised on behalf of the CDU delegation who later described Unionist reation to their visit as "hostile and provocative". [The CDU wrote a report of their visit which was submitted to Roy Jenkins, then British Home Secretary. The main recommendation by CDU was that the British government should establish a Royal Commission to investigate the operation of the Government of Ireland Act and the Ireland Acts.]
18 April 1967 The Society of Labour Lawyers (SLL) established a 'Northern Ireland Sub-Committee' to inquire into the working of the Government of Ireland Act 1920 and the allegations of religious discrimination. [No report of this investigation is though to currently exist.]
24 April 1967 The Times (a London based newspaper) published an assessment of the situation in Northern Ireland under a headline of 'Ulster's Second-Class Citizens'. The report highlighted what it considered to be evidence of widespread discrimination against Catholics.
27 April 1967 Speaking about Northern Ireland in the House of Commons Harold Wilson, then British Prime Minister, said: "There is still acute concern about many questions affecting the functioning of democracy over there."
10 May 1967 There was a meeting between Roy Jenkins, then British Home Secretary, and Terence O'Neill, then Northern Ireland Prime Minister.
13 September 1967 There was a meeting between Roy Jenkins, then British Home Secretary, and Terence O'Neill, then Northern Ireland Prime Minister.
27 October 1967 Jeremy Thorpe, then leader of the British Liberal Party, arrived in Northern Ireand on a three-day visit to look into allegations of discrimination in the region. [Thorpe was highly critical of the Labour government's slow progress in achieving progress.]
The Derry Housing Action Committee (DHAC) was launched in November 1967 with the purpose of campaigning to improve housing conditions in the city.
[ NAI public records for 1967. ]
See also: Events 1169-1799 and chronologies 1968-2001
Bardon, J. (1992). A History of Ulster. Belfast: Blackstaff Press.
Barton, Brian. (1996). A Pocket History of Ulster. Dublin: The O'Brien Press.
Beckett, J.C. (1981). The Making of Modern Ireland 1603-1923. London: Faber and Faber.
Buckland, P. (1981). A History of Northern Ireland. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan.
Kee, Robert. (1982). Ireland: A History. London: Sphere Books Ltd.
Power, Patrick.C., and Duffy, Sean. (2001). The Timechart History of Ireland. London: Worth Press Ltd.
Rose, Peter. (2000). How the Troubles Came to Northern Ireland. Basingstoke: Macmillan Press Ltd.