Winston Churchill Correctly Predicts That the Job of Setting the Permanent Irish Boundary Will Result in Disturbances or Instability

“The Irish development will, I fear, lead to so many difficulties that I shall have to be back in England early in October.”

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Churchill was a Liberal member of Parliament and became Secretary of State for the Colonies in 1921. He was a signatory of the epochal Anglo-Irish Treaty of that year, which established the Irish Free State [known as the Republic of Ireland] in Southern Ireland. Churchill was involved in the lengthy negotiations of...

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Winston Churchill Correctly Predicts That the Job of Setting the Permanent Irish Boundary Will Result in Disturbances or Instability

“The Irish development will, I fear, lead to so many difficulties that I shall have to be back in England early in October.”

Churchill was a Liberal member of Parliament and became Secretary of State for the Colonies in 1921. He was a signatory of the epochal Anglo-Irish Treaty of that year, which established the Irish Free State [known as the Republic of Ireland] in Southern Ireland. Churchill was involved in the lengthy negotiations of the treaty. The Irish Civil War broke out after the signing of the Treaty, with the Irish Republican Army dead set against leaving Northern Ireland in British hands. Churchill supported the government of the Free State with arms and ordered the British forces still in Ireland to assist the Irish National Army against the Republican Army.

But by 1923 Churchill was disenchanted with the Liberals and had lost his seat in Parliament, and the summer of 1924 saw Churchill finally sever ties with the Liberal Party. He also engaged in talks with the Conservatives, and searched for a constituency he could serve in Parliament. On September 11, 1924, after a summer of electioneering and public speaking, Churchill accepted an offer from the Conservative Party’s Constituency Committee in Epping to stand for Parliament in the next General Election as a Constitutionalist with Conservative Party support. Britain had a general election on October 29, 1924, and Churchill was elected MP for Epping, a constituency he served in Parliament for over two decades – throughout the Second World War. He then served its successor constituency until he retired in 1964, a total span of 40 years. Soon after his election in 1924, he was appointed to the prestigious post of Chancellor of the Exchequer.

The Irish Boundary Commission met in late 1924–25 to decide on the precise border between the the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland. The 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty that ended the Irish War of Independence provided for such a commission if Northern Ireland chose to secede from the Irish Free State, an event that occurred as expected two days after the Free State’s inception on December 6, 1922. The governments of Great Britain, Northern Ireland, and the Irish Free State were to nominate one member each to the commission. When the Northern Ireland government refused to cooperate, the British government assigned a Belfast newspaper editor to represent Northern Irish interests.

Most Irish nationalists hoped for a considerable transfer of land to the Free State, on the grounds that most border areas had nationalist majorities. Their opposition – likely violent opposition – could be expected if their views were ignored. On the other hand, Northern Irelanders thought that too much land had been given to Southern Ireland already, hence their initial lack of cooperation with the entire commission idea. And they were no strangers to violence either.

Arrangements for the commission were in full swing by early August 1924, though the commission did not meet until November. Having just been through the Irish War of Independence, Irish Civil War, and Irish Army Mutiny, many feared that the establishment of the commission might exacerbate the “troubles”, or at least result in instability.

Typed letter signed, Chartwell, August 8, 1924, to Graham Greene, who was on Churchill’s staff when he was Lord of the Admiralty during World War I, manifesting concern about what would happen in Ireland. “I have kept your letter of the 29th July till now in the hopes of being able to conform to your wishes and to accept the very kind invitation with which, on behalf of your brother, you have honored my wife and me. I am sorry to say, however, that my plans make it impossible for me to do so. I have a political engagement on the 24th or 25th at Edinburgh, and I have arranged to leave immediately thereafter with my wife for ten days abroad.

“The Irish development will, I fear, lead to so many difficulties that I shall have to be back in England early in October. In these circumstances I hope you will forgive me for not undertaking this task at any rate this year. I need not say how much we both appreciate your having wished us to pay this visit.”

This is just our second letter of Churchill relating to Ireland in all our decades in this field.

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