Monarchy in the Irish Free State

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Monarchy of the Irish Free State
Style His Majesty
First monarch George V
Last monarch George VI
Formation 6 December 1922
Abolition 29 December 1937
Residence Viceregal Lodge

The Irish Free State was, in accordance with its constitution, governed formally under a form of constitutional monarchy. The British monarch was the head of state of the Irish Free State from 1922 to 1931, when the Statute of Westminster came into effect, and thereafter the Irish Free State had a unique crown, though held by the same person who was sovereign for the other Dominions. Until 1936, the monarch exercised a number of important duties, including appointing the Executive Council (cabinet), dissolving the legislature and promulgating laws. Nonetheless, by convention the monarchs's role was largely ceremonial and these and his constitutional duties were largely exercised on his behalf by his official representative, the governor-general. Most of the monarch's functions were taken from him in the final year of the Irish Free State, under a constitutional amendment adopted in 1936. The monarchy of Ireland was finally abolished with the formal declaration of the Republic of Ireland in 1949.

Monarchical title[edit]

The monarch's title in the Irish Free State was exactly the same as it was elsewhere in the British Empire, being

  • 6 December 1922 – 13 May 1927 – By the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and of the British Dominions beyond the Seas King, Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India
  • 13 May 1927 – 29 December 1937 – By the Grace of God, of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas King, Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India

The reason the monarch's title changed in 1927 was because the term "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland" had been superseded by the establishment of the Irish Free State and the renaming of the UK as the "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland". Rather than draw attention to the partition of Ireland, the monarch's title simply referred to Great Britain and Ireland. This change did not mean the monarch adopted different crowns for different realms; that development did not formally occur until 1953.

Duties and functions[edit]

  • Executive authority: The executive authority of the state was formally vested in the monarch but 'exercised' by the governor-general, on the 'advice' of the Executive Council.
  • Appointment of the cabinet: The President of the Executive Council (prime minister) was appointed by governor-general after being selected by Dáil Éireann (the lower house of parliament). The remaining ministers were appointed on the nomination of the president, subject to a vote of consent in the Dáil.
  • Convention and dissolution of the legislature: The governor-general, on behalf of the monarch, convened and dissolved the Oireachtas on the advice of the Executive Council.
  • Signing bills into law: The monarch was formally, along with the Dáil and the Senate, one of three tiers of the Oireachtas. No bill could become law until it received the Royal Assent, given by the governor-general on behalf of the monarch. The governor-general theoretically had the right to veto a bill or reserve it "for the signification of the King's pleasure", in effect postponing a decision on whether or not to enact the bill, for a maximum of one year. However neither of these two actions was ever taken.
  • Representative of the state in foreign affairs: The monarch accredited ambassadors and received the letters of credence of foreign diplomats; ministers signed international treaties in his name. The role of the monarch in the Free State's foreign affairs was the only function retained by him after the constitutional changes of 1936.
  • Appointment of judges: All judges were appointed by the governor-general, on the advice of the Executive Council.

Oath of Allegiance[edit]

Under the Free State constitution, members of the Oireachtas were required to take an Oath of Allegiance to the Irish Free State with a promise of fidelity—but not allegiance—to the monarch before being permitted to assume their seats. This oath was strongly objected to by many republicans and was one of the causes of the Irish Civil War. The oath was eventually abolished in 1933. The Oath of Allegiance read as follows:

I ................ 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.

Constitutional changes[edit]

Leinster House, decorated for the visit of King George V and Queen Mary in 1911; within a decade, it became the seat of the Oireachtas of the Irish Free State

In 1936, the Fianna Fáil government of Éamon de Valera carried out a major revision of the constitution aimed at all but eliminating the role of the monarch in the Irish state. The parliament passed the Constitution (Amendment No. 27) Act 1936, which removed all explicit reference to the monarch from the constitution, abolished the office of governor-general, and shared all of the monarch's former functions amongst various other organs of government.

However, without mentioning him by name, the amendment also introduced a provision permitting the government to "avail of" the monarch as a "constitutional organ" for the "appointment of diplomatic and consular agents and the conclusion of international agreements". Thus, henceforth, the sovereign's role was restricted to diplomatic and foreign affairs, a standard head of state role. The monarch retained no other constitutional role internally in the life of the Irish state and was relegated in the 1937 Constitution of Ireland to being an unnamed "organ" used by the state should it choose in statute law to do so. The role continued until the enactment of the Republic of Ireland Act 1948, by which it was transferred to the President of Ireland. At that time, the new republic also ceased to be a member of the British Commonwealth.

List of monarchs[edit]

No. Name
Reign Governors-General Presidents of the Executive Council
1. George V
6 December 1922 20 January 1936 Timothy Healy (1922–28)
James McNeill (1928–32)
Domhnall Ua Buachalla (1932–36)
W. T. Cosgrave (1922–32)
Éamon de Valera (1932–36)
2. Edward VIII
20 January 1936 11 December 1936 Domhnall Ua Buachalla (1932–36) Éamon de Valera (1932–36)
3. George VI
11 December 1936 29 December 1937[1] Office abolished Éamon de Valera (1936–37)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The date on which the present Constitution of Ireland came into force, creating the office of President of Ireland and abolishing the Irish Free State.