Irish general election, 1922

After years of fighting, in 1922 the TDs of Dáil Éireann voted on the Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiated between its representatives and those of the British government. The Treaty inspired huge controversy, as it stipulated that Ireland would remain a British dominion, that TDs would have to take an Oath of Allegiance to the King, and that six counties in Ulster would remain entirely within the UK, resulting in the island being partitioned between north and south. Nevertheless, the majority of TDs - all of them Sinn Féin - voted to ratify the Treaty. The two sides of the argument came to be identified through their leaders. The pro-treaty side was voiced by Michael Collins, the Cork TD who had led the Irish negotiations in London. The anti-treaty side coalesced around the President of Dáil Éireann, Éamon de Valera, who rejected Collins' argument that the treaty was a stepping-stone which allowed "freedom to achieve the republic", and insisted that an independent Irish republic had to be secured.

With the treaty ratified, a fresh general election was required which would elect the members of the provisional parliament of what was for now termed "Southern Ireland". As far as the republicans were concerned, this would be the Third Dáil, the first being elected in 1918 and the second being the one now outgoing. Unlike the previous election, in which Sinn Féin was entirely unopposed in Southern Ireland, new parties were now contesting: Denis Gorey's Farmers' Party hoped to win rural votes, while the now ten year old Labour Party was finally contesting its first election. A small number of independents also ran. As for Sinn Féin itself, the division it experienced due to the treaty was not going to disappear just because one side had a majority. It became clear that the party might completely split in two, and that further violence could result. In response to this, Collins and de Valera agreed a "pact" by which the two sides would field their candidates as "Sinn Féin" candidates and they also agreed to form a coalition government after the election.

Summary of the seats won in the 1922 general election. Click to enlarge. Detailed maps below.
Despite the pact, the election was essentially about the treaty. Pro-Treaty Sinn Féin candidates received the most votes, with 58 seats. Anti-Treaty Sinn Féin won only 36. Over 40% of the vote went towards other parties: Labour received 17 seats, the Farmers' Party 7 and ten independents were elected, including the four unionist Trinity College members. The resulting parliament was boycotted by the Anti-Treaty Sinn Féin, negating the very reason for the pact in the first place. Without them, the Pro-Treaty side was free to govern with a large majority. Michael Collins subsequently became Chairman of the Provisional Government.

Mere days after the election results were known, Anti-Treaty forces occupied the Four Courts in Dublin and a civil war between the two sides began. Despite the measures taken to prevent a Sinn Féin split and further violence, they happened regardless. The Civil War lasted a year before the Anti-Treaty side backed down. One of the most high-profile casualties of the war was Collins himself, who was assassinated in West Cork on 22 August 1922. Coming soon after Arthur Griffith's death from a brain hemorrhage, Collins' demise saw the Pro-Treaty side without a definite leader. As the civil war ended and the provisional government became the first government of the Irish Free State, leadership of both the party and of the country fell to William Thomas Cosgrave, a TD from Carlow-Kilkenny. He and the rest of the Pro-Treaty Sinn Féin TDs would rename their side Cumann na nGaedheal and begin the task of building the Free State after two damaging conflicts. Anti-Treaty Sinn Féin abstained from the Dáil until a further split in 1926, in which de Valera and his followers founded a new party, Fianna Fáil.

Pro-Treaty Sinn Féin

(58 seats, 45.3% of vote)

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Rather than enjoying national uncontested status as they did in the last election, this time both sides of Sinn Féin had to campaign for their seats. The only exceptions were in several of the western constituencies, where both Pro and Anti-Treaty Sinn Féin faced no competition from other parties, and did not compete with each other as agreed in the pact. Collins' side won the majority of the vote, particularly in Ulster and northern Leinster, areas which had contained a large number of pro-treaty TDs in the last Dáil. Only Cork East-North East and Wexford returned no pro-treaty candidates. The TDs elected in the map above became the first government of the Irish Free State. They would solidify their position in a new general election a year later.

Anti-Treaty Sinn Féin

(36 seats, 28.1% of vote)

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Although ostensibly not a referendum on the treaty, the electorate nevertheless made their opinions clear by throwing the bulk of their support behind Pro-Treaty Sinn Féin. The majority of the seats won by de Valera's side were in the uncontested western constituencies. Leix-Offaly, Carlow-Kilkenny, Cavan and all but one of the Dublin constituencies returned no Anti-Treaty candidates. This side would keep the Sinn Féin name and abstain from the Dáil for the next four years, until the bulk of their membership founded the new Fianna Fáil party with de Valera in 1926, contesting its first election the next year.

Labour Party

(17 seats, 13.3% of vote)

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Founded in 1912, the Labour Party was forced to wait for its first chance to contest an election due to the outbreak of World War I two years later. By the time of the next general election in 1918, Labour abstained, viewing the contest as being singularly being about the independence issue. They also stayed out of the 1921 contest, and so this was their first election. Recognising that it was unlikely to win widespread support in rural areas, it kept its candidates confined to Leinster and east Munster, with the exceptions of Cork and Galway, where the party did win seats. Indeed the only constituency where a Labour candidate failed to win a seat was Dublin North East. While Dublin would eventually become Labour's base, on this occasion its biggest successes occurred elsewhere, particularly in Leix-Offaly, Kildare-Wicklow, Wexford and Waterford-Tipperary East, beginning a long trend in which the Labour vote has always been strongest in the south east of the state. With the abstention of Anti-Treaty Sinn Féin, Labour formed the main opposition until the September 1927 election.

Farmers' Party

(7 seats, 5.5% of vote)

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The Farmers' Party enjoyed moderate success in this election, winning a seat in every one of their contested constituencies bar Cavan. The party did particularly well on transfers. The party confined itself to the southernmost constituencies of Cork, Waterford, Carlow-Kilkenny and Wexford, though party leader Denis Gorey did win a seat in the then-rural Dublin County on transfers. Concerned solely with agricultural issues, the Farmers' Party backed the soon-to-be Cumann na nGaedheal government.


(10 seats, 7.8% of vote)

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Independents were not a new feature in Irish politics, and would indeed become a mainstay in the new state. Independents ran in twelve constituencies, with varying degrees of success. Trinity College's four unionist independents were elected unopposed, and while they had not previously recognised Dáil Éireann they now did so as it had, in their eyes, been validated by the treaty. Former Sinn Féin member Darrell Figgis, who supported the treaty, won election to Dublin County, while long-serving Dublin MP Alred Byrne was elected to Dublin Mid along with Laurence O'Neill. Future Cumann na nGaedheal member Myles Keogh won a seat in Dublin South, while William Magennis took one of the four NUI seats.

Outside of Dublin, Seán Lyons won a seat in Longford-Westmeath as an Independent Labour candidate (he is counted as a Labour TD by some sources as a result) while another future Cumann na nGaedheal politician, Michael Hennessy, won a Cork East-North East seat. One of the unsuccessful candidates, Richard Beamish, ran in Cork Borough under the "Businessman's Party" label, but was not elected.