Irish Partition Facts & Worksheets

Irish Partition facts and information plus worksheet packs and fact file. Includes 5 activities aimed at students 11-14 years old (KS3) & 5 activities aimed at students 14-16 years old (GCSE). Great for home study or to use within the classroom environment.

Irish Partition Worksheets

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    • Irish Movement and the Home Rule Crisis
    • Irish War of Independence
    • Official Partition 
    • Reasons for Partition

    Key Facts And Information

    Let’s find out more about the Irish Partition!

    Image showing the partition of the island

    The Irish Partition refers to the split of Ireland into two parts, one of which is a member state of Great Britain (Northern Ireland) and the other of which is a self-governing state (Southern Ireland, called The Irish Free State, today known as the Republic of Ireland). The Irish Partition took place on 3 May 1921 under the Government of Ireland Act 1920 following years of discussion and fighting for Home Rule in Ireland. Despite plans to keep both parts of Ireland within the United Kingdom, the southern part of the country seceded in 1922 during the Irish War of Independence, and the northern part opted to retain its ties with the United Kingdom.

    Irish Movement and the Home Rule Crisis

    National Movement

    • The Acts of Union 1800 abolished the Irish Parliament in Dublin and brought about the unification of the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland, which resulted in the formation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in the year 1801.
    • For centuries, Irish people have fought against British control. Before the outbreak of World War I, Irish nationalists, the vast majority of whom were Catholic, protested this authority in a variety of peaceful and violent ways. The goal of Irish nationalists was to free Ireland from British rule.
    • Throughout the early 19th century, several attempts to destabilise Anglo-Irish ties and overthrow the Act of Union were made.
    • Beginning in the 1870s, Irish nationalists led by Isaac Butt advocated for Home Rule in Ireland. The Home Rule movement was the leading political campaign of Irish nationalism, advocating for Ireland’s autonomy within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

      On 8 April 1886, Gladstone spoke during a discussion on the Irish Home Rule Bill
    • A bill proposing Home Rule for the British Isles was introduced three times in the House of Commons.
    • The first attempt at enacting a Home Rule bill did not occur until 1886. It was at this time that the Government of Ireland Bill 1886, commonly known as the First Home Rule Bill, was presented in the House of Commons by the Liberal government headed by Prime Minister William Gladstone and the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP). Due to opposition from unionists in Britain and Ireland, this effort failed.
    • In February 1893, a Second Home Rule bill was introduced and made it past the House of Commons. After three days of deliberation, the House of Lords voted 410 to 41 against the Second Home Rule Bill and rejected it.
    • After two losses in the House of Lords, the Third Irish Home Rule was an amending bill for the partition of Ireland introduced by Ulster Unionists. It was approved under the Parliament Act, which had reduced the veto of the House of Lords, meaning they could only delay the bill for two years.
    • The bill was given Royal Assent on 18 September 1914 as the Government of Ireland Act 1914. However, due to World War I, which lasted between 1914 and 1918, and the Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916, this ruling was never put into effect.

    Home Rule Crisis

    • Most Protestants in Ireland were against Home Rule and instead favoured maintaining their union with the United Kingdom. Politically, those who favoured the union came to be known as Loyalists or Unionists.
    • The Home Rule bill triggered widespread demonstrations by Unionists, who had formed the Irish Unionist Alliance to resist Home Rule. Since Protestant Unionists made up the majority in Ulster, Liberal Unionist leader Joseph Chamberlain advocated a provincial government for the region. Unionists from across Ireland opposed the bill and the intended partition at conventions held in Dublin and Belfast.
    • Unionists contended that Ulster should be excluded from Home Rule entirely or in part if it could not be avoided.
    • More than half a million Unionists signed the Ulster Covenant in September 1912, swearing to resist Home Rule by all means and disobey any Irish government.
    • Following the passage of the Third Home Rule Bill in 1912, Ulster Loyalists led by James Craig and Edward Carson established the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) with the goal of opposing the bill’s implementation through violent means.
    • Irish nationalists responded by founding the Irish Volunteers Force formed by Eoin MacNeill to secure the implementation of Home Rule.
    • In April 1914, the Ulster Volunteers smuggled 25,000 firearms and three million rounds of ammunition into Ulster from Germany. In July of that year, the Irish Volunteers also smuggled weapons from Germany during the Howth gun-running.
    • A civil war appeared inevitable as Irish nationalists created their own armed force in reaction to the UVF, and both sides imported weapons. 
    • King George V imposed the Buckingham Palace Conference on Ireland, which brought members of both sides together to talk about potential solutions.
    • Due to the beginning of World War I in August 1914, the meeting failed to resolve the Home Rule Crisis. There was an agreement between Unionist and Nationalist leaders to urge their recruits to enlist in the British army.
    • The Suspensory Act of 1914 assured that the Royal Assent-approved Home Rule (now the Government of Ireland Act of 1914) would be postponed for the remainder of the war, with the exclusion of Ulster yet to be determined.
    • It was during WW1 that the cause of Irish independence, long championed by republicans, gained traction. The Easter Rising occurred in April 1916, when republicans took advantage of the conflict to rise up against British control.

    Irish War of Independence

    War of Independence

    • During the Easter Rising of 1916, Irish nationalists rose up against British authority and declared the creation of an independent Irish Republic. 
    • Although it was eventually put down after a week of battle, the Easter Rising and the British reaction strengthened the cause of Irish independence. 
    • The Irish republican party Sinn Féin swept to power in a decisive December 1918 general election win.
    • On 21 January 1919, Sinn Féin’s elected representatives boycotted the British parliament and established a separate Irish parliament called Dáil Éireann, a government that declared independence of the entire island of Ireland from Britain.
    • The British authorities declared the Dáil illegal, and the Irish Republican Army (IRA) began fighting British soldiers, sparking a guerrilla war. This conflict was known as the Irish Independence War (Anglo-Irish War).
    • The Irish Republican Army (IRA) was comprised of volunteers who frequently lacked experience and weapons, so their operations were limited to attacks on British patrols and small barracks in order to acquire weapons and compel the British to leave the island.
    • The British attempted to suppress the IRA primarily through repressions against civilians. In the rising violence, nearly one thousand individuals were killed on both sides, and over five thousand were detained.

    Official Partition

    Government of Ireland Act 1920

    • Since 1914, the Third Home Rule Act had been on the statute books and could no longer be delayed. David Lloyd George, the British prime minister, appointed a committee, led by Walter Long, an English Unionist politician, to prepare the Fourth Home Rule Bill or Government of Ireland Bill to prevent the act from taking effect by default.
    • It was known as the ‘Long Committee’. In October, it was determined that two devolved administrations would be established, one for the nine counties of Ulster and the other for the remainder of Ireland.
    • There was absolutely no nationalist representation, nor were nationalists consulted. The Unionists in Ulster preferred the six counties of Armagh, Antrim, Derry, Down, Fermanagh and Tyrone to the nine counties of Ulster since this was the maximum region they believed they could control without being ‘outbred’ by Catholics.
    • Many Unionists were concerned that the area wouldn’t survive if it contained Catholics and Irish nationalists and that any reduction in size would render the state unviable.

      The six out of nine counties in Ulster
    • The Fourth Home Rule Bill, officially known as the Government of Ireland Act, was given Royal Assent and passed by British Parliament in December 1920. The act would go into effect on 3 May 1921.
    • This act partitioned Ireland into: Northern Ireland (six counties) and Southern Ireland (26 counties). 
    • Both territories would be self-governing dominions of the United Kingdom, with London maintaining authority over key policy areas such as defence, currency, foreign affairs and commerce.
    • Partition was both a concession and a necessity. It was designed to achieve Home Rule in Ulster without provoking well-armed Loyalist paramilitary organisations.
    • Another distinction between this act and other Home Rule proposals is the creation of the Council of Ireland, which would include 20 members from the North and the South, who would meet regularly to discuss issues of mutual concern. According to the British, the goal was for this Council of Ireland to lead to a unified Ireland and the merging of the two parliaments.
    • In what became Northern Ireland, the partitioning process was followed by violence, both in favour of and against the new settlement.
    • The partition of Ireland was established, but its reconciliation soon became a pipe dream. The events of the 1920s only served to reinforce and extend the divide between the North and South. Radical Republicans such as Sinn Fein and the Irish Republican Army (IRA) opposed partition and promised to continue their violent campaign against British authority. They refused to recognise the act and they refused to reconcile themselves to remaining within the United Kingdom.
    • The continuing Irish War of Independence prevented the implementation of Home Rule in the South.

    Anglo-Irish Treaty

    • In July 1921, in an effort to halt the hostilities in southern Ireland, the British government offered the Nationalists a truce. 
    • A Nationalist team led by Dail Éireann member Arthur Griffith and IRA commander Michael Collins travelled to London for treaty negotiations. Eamon de Valera, the president of the self-proclaimed Irish Republic, did not attend, but he gave the delegation instructions.

      Signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty
    • The Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed on 6 December 1921, by representatives including Griffith and Collins.
    • In its terms, Southern Ireland would secede from the United Kingdom and form the Irish Free State, a self-governing province. The Irish Free State Constitution Act of 1922 gave the pact legal force in the United Kingdom, and Dáil Éireann ratified it in Ireland.
    • This treaty also stated that if Northern Ireland chose not to join the Irish Free State (Southern Ireland), as was its prerogative under the treaty, the Boundary Commission would define the line in conformity with the desires of the population.
    • On 7 December 1922, as expected, the Northern Ireland Parliament sent a letter to King George V requesting that its area be excluded from the Irish Free State. The next day, this was delivered to the King and then went into effect.
    • Sir James Craig, the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, notified the Northern Ireland Parliament on 13 December 1922 that the King had approved the Parliament’s address and informed the British and Irish Free State administrations.
    • This declaration formally established the separation of Northern Ireland from the Irish Free State and affirmed the birth of Northern Ireland.

    Reasons for Partition

    • After a long period of struggle, the Irish Free State was able to break free from British rule and become an independent nation. On 18 April 1949, it officially became the Republic of Ireland and changed its name to Éire (Ireland). Meanwhile, Northern Ireland remains a part of the United Kingdom to this day. In hindsight, there are few plausible explanations for Ireland’s division.

      Border of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland

    Ireland’s society was profoundly divided

    • Catholicism was the predominant religion in Ireland, while Protestantism emerged in Britain. When Queen Elizabeth passed away, James I, who had previously reigned over Scotland, was elevated to the throne of the United Kingdom. 
    • James I made the decision to send Protestants in an effort to modernise the Irish countryside. He dispatched them to Ulster, also known as the Ulster Plantation, which is located in Northern Ireland.
    • The region was predominantly rural, with few towns and villages. Throughout the 16th century, the English considered Ulster to be ‘underpopulated’ and underdeveloped. 
    • The majority of the colonised territory was stolen from the indigenous Gaelic chiefs (Irish nobility). 
    • Ulster, a province of Ireland, was colonised systematically by individuals from Great Britain under King James I. This colonisation was known as the Plantation of Ulster. The cultures of the native Irish and the immigrants from southern Scotland and northern England were distinct.
    • It resulted in the segregation of native Catholics and settler Protestants in Ulster and the strengthening of Protestants and the British on the northeastern side of Ireland. Consequently, this viewpoint regards the Plantation as one of the primary reasons for Ireland’s Partition in 1921. 
    • Over time, both sides developed two very different and incompatible conceptions of what it means to be Irish: One Catholic, republican and nationalist, and the other Protestant, loyalist and unionist.
    • One territory was shared by two divided and antagonistic populations, each with its own culture, language, political allegiances, religious beliefs, and economic history.

    Longing for Independence and Failure of Home Rule

    • Since the arrival of the Normans in Ireland in 1169, several factions in Ireland have made numerous efforts to attain independence. It was believed that the Normans were the first foreign power to dominate Ireland. Many interpreted this as the beginning of England’s attempt to dominate and govern Ireland.
    • People in Ireland were unhappy with how the union functioned. They believed that their interests would not be safeguarded by the British parliament and that they would be better off with their own parliament.
    • The idea of an Irish Parliament was supported by many Irish people, especially Catholics and Nationalists.
    • In Northern Ulster, though, things were different. Many Protestants in Ulster opposed Home Rule.
    • They believed that the union with Protestant Britain would better secure their religion than being a minority in Catholic Ireland.
    • They were concerned about losing their employment and the economy. Large, prosperous businesses were springing up all throughout Ulster. Both the shipbuilding industry and the textile industry contributed to the expansion of the British Empire.
    • Additionally, they took great pride in their British heritage and affiliation with the world’s biggest empire.
    • All of these causes strengthened Protestant disbelief in the north and their unwillingness to join an independent Ireland in the south.