When Did Ireland Become a Republic?

Irish busts
Bernd Biege

Ireland refers to a geographic area, but when speaking about countries themselves, it is important that we differentiate between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Northern Ireland consists of 6 counties and is a part of the United Kingdom, while the Republic of Ireland is an independent country that is made up of 26 counties. Sp when did the 26 counties of “Southern Ireland” actually become a republic?

Ireland become a republic during the Easter Rising, after the Anglo-Irish War, or after the Irish Civil War? It is clear that the non-UK part of Ireland today is an independent republic, but noone seems to be quite sure when this officially occurred. There really is a lot of confusion about the exact date, in a great part due to the very confusing Irish history and the unilateral, somewhat optimistic and premature proclamation of a republic in 1916. Add a number of important dates and you may still struggle to pinpoint when Ireland became a republic. Here are the basic facts you need to know:

From Part of the United Kingdom to Republic

The steps leading to Ireland, which was still a part of the United Kingdom in the early 20th century, becoming a republic are best outlined in a quick list of important events:

  • 1916: Rebels led by Patrick Pearse staged an armed insurrection on Easter Monday (the "Easter Rising"). On April 24th the "Proclamation of the Republic" was read by Pearse to bemused onlookers outside Dublin's General Post Office. However, this proclamation had no legal status whatsoever, and should be seen as a "declaration of intent." The end to the declaration was decided by the over the rebels British victory.
  • 1919: An "Irish Republic" declared itself and claimed independence from Great Britain. This was more or less a theoretical exercise, with real power shifting in the following years. The Anglo-Irish War (or War of Independence) followed. 
  • 1922: After the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, the Union was dissolved and Ireland was given "Dominion" status, complete with a British Governor-General. The "Irish Free State" was formed, Northern Ireland included. However, Northern Ireland which immediately proceeded to split from the Free State and declare its own independence as part of the United Kingdom. The King of England was still King of Ireland, North and South.
  • 1937: A new constitution was adopted, changing the state's name to a simple "Ireland" and scrapping the office of the Governor-General, replacing it with the President of Ireland. In external matters, however, the King of England was still functioning as executive authority.

1949 - Ireland Finally Becomes a Republic

Then came the Republic of Ireland Act 1948, which declared Ireland to be a republic, plain and simple. It also gave the President of Ireland the power to exercise the executive authority of the state in its external relations (but only following the advice of the Government of Ireland). This act was actually signed into law in late 1948 but only came into force on April 18th, 1949—Easter Monday.

Only from this moment on could Ireland be regarded as a fully fledged and totally independent republic. 

As the whole process leading to the Republic of Ireland Act already made most of the important changes and also established a constitution, the actual text of the act was very short indeed:

The Republic of Ireland Act, 1948
An Act to repeal the Executive Authority (External Relations) Act, 1936, to declare that the description of the State shall be the Republic of Ireland, and to enable the President to exercise the executive power or any executive function of the state in or in connection with its external relations. (21 December 1948)
Be it enacted by the Oireachtas as follows:—
1.—The Executive Authority (External Relations) Act, 1936 (No. 58 of 1936), is hereby repealed.
2.—It is hereby declared that the description of the State shall be the Republic of Ireland.
3.—The President, on the authority and on the advice of the Government, may exercise the executive power or any executive function of the State in or in connection with its external relations.
4.—This Act shall come into operation on such day as the Government may by order appoint.
5.—This Act may be cited as The Republic of Ireland Act, 1948.

As a final note, the Constitution of Ireland still has no passage implying that Ireland actually is a republic. Some dissident republicans deny that Ireland has the right to call itself a republic until Northern Ireland is reunited with the 26 counties of the so-called South. This campaign has been renewed by some following Brexit, which means that Northern Ireland is no longer a part of the European Union, while the Republic of Ireland remains an active member of the EU.