Oath of Allegiance (Ireland)

The Irish Oath of Allegiance was a controversial provision in the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, which Irish TDs (members of the Lower House of the Irish Parliament) and Senators were required to swear before taking their seats in Dáil Éireann (Chamber of Deputies) and Seanad Éireann (Irish Senate) before the 'Constitution (Removal of Oath) Act, 1933' was passed on 3 May 1933.[1] The controversy surrounding the Oath was one of the principal issues that led to the Irish Civil War of 1922–23 between supporters and opponents of the Treaty.

Text of the Oath

The Oath was included in Article 17 of the Irish Free State's 1922 Constitution. It read: "I (name) do solemnly swear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of the Irish Free State as by law established, and that I will be faithful to H.M. King George V, his heirs and successors by law in virtue of the common citizenship of Ireland with Great Britain and her adherence to and membership of the group of nations forming the British Commonwealth of Nations."

The words "allegiance to the Constitution of the Irish Free State" were taken from De Valera's preferred version, which read: "I (name) do solemnly swear true faith and allegiance to the constitution of the Irish Free State, to the Treaty of Association, and to recognise the King of Great Britain as Head of Associated States."[2]

The Oath had to be taken in front of the Governor-General of the Irish Free State or some other person authorised by him.


Ironically, in view of the opposition expressed to the oath by anti-treaties, it was in fact largely the work of Michael Collins, based in its open lines on a draft oath suggested by the President of the Republic, Éamon de Valera, and also on the oath of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. In fact, Collins cleared the oath with the IRB before proposing it during the treaty negotiations.[3] By the standards of the oaths of allegiance to be found in other British Commonwealth Dominions, it was quite mild, with no direct personal Oath to the monarch, only an indirect oath of fidelity by virtue of the King's role in the treaty settlement as "King in Ireland", a figurehead position. The public perception among those who were hostile to the treaty was that it was an offensive oath due to its inclusion of the British monarch.[4] They claimed:

In contrast to this Pro-treaty campaigners claimed that:

The Collins 22 Society later said of the anti-treaty position, the idea that the oath "was a direct oath to the Crown [was] a fact demonstrably incorrect by an examination of its wording. But in 1922 Ireland and beyond, it was the perception, not the reality, which influenced public debate on the issue."[6]

As the Oath was effectively to the elected government in the Irish Free State, it was also described as the "Crown in Ireland". Opposition to this was based on the fact that it was not fully discussed and explained before the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed in December 1921, and that many of the members of the second Dáil Éireann, elected without opposition in May 1921, had already sworn an Oath to uphold an Irish Republic.

While the Republican Oath was much mentioned in the Treaty debates of 1921–22, it had taken over a year to arrange to have the oath sworn by the Dáil TDs and IRA volunteers, between May 1919 and August 1920. It then became a suitably symbolic reason to oppose the Treaty.

De Valera and abolition

When de Valera founded Fianna Fáil as the party of an "Irish Republic" in 1926, he and his party, though agreeing to contest elections, refused to take the Oath. However, the assassination of the Vice-President of the Executive Council, Kevin O'Higgins, led the Cumann na nGaedheal government under W. T. Cosgrave to introduce a law requiring all Dáil candidates to promise that they would take the Oath. Otherwise they could not contest the election. Backed into a corner, de Valera took the Oath, declaring that he was simply signing a piece of paper to be admitted to the Dáil. In power from 1932, de Valera amended the Free State's constitution [at the time, amendable by simple majority in the Dáil], firstly to allow him to introduce any constitutional amendments irrespective of whether they clashed with the Anglo-Irish Treaty, then amended the constitution to remove Article 17 of the constitution which required the taking of the Oath.[1] It was the political descendants of Michael Collins, the pro-treaty Fine Gael party (leading a multi-party coalition that included an anti-treaty party, Clann na Poblachta), not de Valera of the anti-treaty Fianna Fáil party – who finally declared the state to be a republic in 1948.[7]

Historical oaths of allegiance

An oath of allegiance to the English crown was required by the Irish Act of Supremacy since the time of Queen Elizabeth I. This oath was extented under King William and Mary to peers, members of the House of Commons, bishops, barristers and attorneys. Under Queen Anne holders of many civil and Military were required to take oaths of allegiance, supremacy, and abjuration, attend an Anglican Church of Ireland eucharist service and declare against the catholic beliefs in transubstantiation.[8] Although these oaths were gradually changed over the years.

Under British rule an oath of allegiance to the King was required for barristers in Ireland were called to the bar, this excluded a number of Nationalists who were not prepared to swear such an oath, also for Catholics the wording of this and other oaths required by the British administration proved difficult since they were denouncing the Pope.

1782 Relief Act

Following the 1782 Relief Act, which gave Catholic schools a legal footing, teachers were required to take an oath of allegiance to the British Crown. The oath was of a similar wording to that which was used by Catholics who served in the British military since 1774, previous oaths contained a profession of fidelity to the British Crown with a rejection of Papal authority.

Trinity College Dublin

The Irish Catholic Relief Act by Irish Parliament in 1793 (which followed the 1791 British Parliament Act), allowed Catholics to take degrees at Trinity College Dublin,[9] by taking an oath of allegiance to the King but not supremacy which would negate their Catholic faith. It also affected Non-conformists who refused to accept the authority of the Crown and Anglican church.

Maynooth College

On the foundation in 1795 of St Patrick's College, Maynooth trustees, students and staff were required to swear an oath of allegiance to the King of Great Britain,[10] since the college was in receipt of funding from the British Government. As a result a number of clerics chose to study for the priesthood elsewhere. The Oath was compulsory until 1862 although it was common for students to ignore the oath by non-attendance at the ceremony.

City corporations

There was an oath of allegiance required by members of the city corporations; this was an oath to the English monarch and accepted its supremacy.

House of Commons (UK)

The Oath of Allegiance was also seen as a barrier to Catholics (and later Nationalists) in Ireland sitting in the House of Commons following the Act of Union. In 1828 following his victory in the election in County Clare, Daniel O'Connell refused to take the Oath of Allegiance to the British Crown, following the granting of Catholic emancipation in 1829 and the dilution of the tones of religious supremacy, O'Connell took his seat in 1830 the first Irish Catholic to do so in the modern era.[11]

This oath to attend the House of Commons was seen to this day and part of the reasoning behind the Abstentionist policy of Sinn Féin and other Nationalists throughout history.

See also


  1. 1 2 "CONSTITUTION (REMOVAL OF OATH) ACT, 1933". 3 May 1933. Retrieved 16 January 2007.
  2. Coogan, Tim Pat. Michael Collins: The Man Who Made Ireland, p. 267. (Boulder: Roberts Rinehart Publishers, 1996).
  3. Coogan, Michael Collins, p. 234
  4. Coogan, Michael Collins, pp. 234–276.
  5. 1 2 3 Dáil Éireann – Volume 3–19 December 1921 debate on treaty "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 21 July 2011. Retrieved 4 March 2011.
  6. "The Irish Free State (1922-1937) Saorstát Éireann". Collins 22 Society. Retrieved 3 January 2015.
  7. Signed by the President in 1949
  8. Ireland -Test Acts – Office, England, Church, and Persons
  9. Text of the 1793 Irish Act
  10. Maynooth College New Advent.
  11. Daniel O'Connell www.ireland-information.com

Additional reading

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