Oath of Allegiance (Ireland)

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 Irish parliament) and Senators were required to take, in order to take their seats in Dáil Éireann (The Chamber of Deputies) and Seanad Éireann (the Irish Senate).


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 DeValera'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 recognize the King of Great Britain as Head of Associated States."[1]


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

The Oath was widely condemned by the anti-treaty campaigners as involving Irish politicians taking an Oath of Allegiance to the British King. They claimed:

  • The oath was an acceptance of a common citizenship between Ireland and Britain under King George and therefore was in total contravention to the oath to the Irish Republic which they had previously taken.[2]
  • They rebutted the argument that it was simply an oath to the constitution by pointing out that the constitution itself made the King head of state and it was therefore the same as an oath of allegiance to him directly.[2]
  • They felt that the people had voted for a party which claimed it would fight for a full Republic and they could not accept something lesser without a fresh mandate from the people. [2]

In contrast to this Pro-treaty campaigners claimed that:

  • The Oath of Allegiance was actually "true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of the Irish Free State" (a line drafted by de Valera in his own proposed oath). The reference to the King involved a promise of fidelity, not an Oath of Allegiance.
  • The fidelity to the King was not to him as British monarch but "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", in other words, in his role as the symbol of the Treaty settlement, not as British King.

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.


Ironically, in view of the opposition expressed to the Oath by anti-treatyites, 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 to the British monarch.[4]

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 (deputy prime minister), 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.[5] It was the political descendants of Michael Collins, the Fine Gael - pro-treaty party in a coalition with an anti-treaty party, not de Valera of the Fianna Fáil - who did declare the state to be a republic in 1948.[6]

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.[7] 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,[8] 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[9], 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 is 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.[10]

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

See also


  1. ^ Coogan, Tim Pat. Michael Collins: The Man Who Made Ireland, p. 267. (Boulder: Roberts Rinehart Publishers, 1996).
  2. ^ a b c Dáil Éireann - Volume 3 - 19 December, 1921 debate on treaty http://historical-debates.oireachtas.ie/D/DT/D.T.192112190002.html
  3. ^ Coogan, Michael Collins, p. 234
  4. ^ Coogan, Michael Collins, p. 234-276.
  5. ^ "CONSTITUTION (REMOVAL OF OATH) ACT, 1933". 1933-05-03. http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/1933/en/act/pub/0006/print.html. Retrieved 2007-01-16. 
  6. ^ Signed by the President in 1949
  7. ^ Ireland -Test Acts - Office, England, Church, and Persons
  8. ^ Text of the 1793 Irish Act
  9. ^ Maynooth College New Advent.
  10. ^ Daniel O'Connell www.ireland-information.com

Additional reading

  • Tim Pat Coogan, Michael Collins (Hutchinson, 1990)

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