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The Boundary Commission: 1924-1925

When Lloyd George persuaded Collins and Griffith to accept the treaty of 1921, with its exclusion of the six counties, he sweetened the pill with a promise of a Boundary Commission 'to deterimine in accordance with the wishes of the inhabitants, so far as may be compatible with economic and geographic considerations, the boundaries between northern Ireland and the rest of Ireland'.

The logical implication of this is that nationalist Catholics living in large border regions of Tyrone and Fermanagh, and in rather smaller areas of Derry, Down and Armagh, will find themselves included in the Irish Free State. Similarly Protestants in slim border regions of Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan will join northern Ireland.


Michael Collins, in 1921, put much faith in this aspect of the treaty, believing that the six counties so much reduced in size might not prove economically viable and thus would eventually merge within a unified Ireland. Cosgrave hopes for a similar benefit in 1924 when he presses the new British prime minister, Ramsay MacDonald, to fulfil this part of the bargain.

By the same token the parliament in northern Ireland, which was not involved in the treaty of 1921, is resolutely opposed to the idea of the commission. The prime minister, James Craig, even rejects the treaty's stipulation that he nominate one of the three members.


The Irish Free State's representative is Eoin MacNeill, a venerable figure in Irish republican politics, but he proves feeble in pressing the southern Irish case. During 1925 senior Conservatives at Westminster declare that the treaty envisaged no more than consolidation of the boundaries of northern Ireland, adjusting them by only a few parishes here and there. By the end of the year, after the resignation of MacNeill, it becomes clear that this is indeed all that the Commission intends. Its report is neither published nor acted upon.

Cosgrave, in compensation, makes an advantageous financial treaty with Britain. But a large minority of Catholics is now stranded in Protestant northern Ireland, with ominous implications for the future.


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