When Did Ireland Become a Republic?

The Transition From the Irish Free State to the Republic of Ireland

Irish busts
••• Bernd Biege

When we are not speaking of “Ireland” in general (really a geographical term only), we differentiate between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. But when did the 26 counties of “Southern Ireland” actually become a republic? Did this happen during the Easter Rising, after the Anglo-Irish War, or after the Irish Civil War? One thing is sure, the non-UK part of Ireland today is a republic. But nobody seems to be quite sure since when.

There really is a lot of confusion about the exact date, it seems, not helped by the actually 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 will have the mind reeling. Here are the basic facts you need to know:

From Part of the United Kingdom to Republic

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

  • 1919 - An "Irish Republic" declared itself and 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) ensued. 
  • 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 ...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.

By the way—the Constitution of Ireland still has no passage implying that Ireland actually is a republic. And 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.