A turbulent time in Irish history exposed by Jim Maher

A KILKENNY historian has written the definitive story of Ireland’s abolition of the oath of Allegiance to Britain.

A KILKENNY historian has written the definitive story of Ireland’s abolition of the oath of Allegiance to Britain.

“The Oath Is Dead And Gone” by Jim Maher was launched on Thursday night by Labhrás Ó’Murchú, Director-General of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann who paid tribute to the compelling excellence of Mr Maher’s opus.

He was particularly impressed by the new sources of information turned by Mr Maher after painstaking research.

He also highlighted the importance of the book in terms of its history in what it told us about a very turbulent time in Irish life.

“The future of the country was at stake at that time and it was important that the abolition of the oath was played out with fairness to ensure that the fledgling State, the Irish Republic, did not break up. He said there were lessons to be learned from that period now when the country was also on the brink, albeit of a different kind.

“If there is one lesson this book teaches us it is that in times of crisis people must focus and take up the challenge to ensure the survival of the State and it shows that we can come through extremely difficult times,” the Fianna Fail Senator said.

“It also reinforces the important of our legislature and from whence we came,” he added. And it’s international significance was not lost Mr Ó’Murchú either. “Other countries in a similar situation will look at it for guidance and to the background to the events leading up the abolition of the oath as they steer a course in their fledgling democracies,” he said.

He was honoured to be asked to launch the book and said he was not surprised by its greatness because he recalled the same Jim Maher as a debater in the 1960s during a national Gaelic League competition. “I was impressed then by his ordered mind and the excellent way he prepared and delivered his debate and nothing has changed and this book is a testament to his rigorous standards and to his enquiring mind,” Mr Ó’Murchú said.

Former Ceann Comharle, Seamus Pattison was equally enthused by the book and thanked Mr Maher for his work and also had some choice words about the lack of decorum in the new Dail as displayed by the new TDs elected earlier this year.

Other dignitaries present in the Ormonde Hotel, Kilkenny for the launch were the Mayor, Cllr David Fitzgerald and the Cathaoirleach of Kilkenny County Council, Cllr Paul Cuddihy. Both Cllr Cuddihy and Cllr Fitzgerald praised Mr Maher for his fortitude in bringing the weight volume to fruition.

The books centres on the clause in the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, which obliged all elected representatives in the Irish Free State to swear allegiance to the British monarch . This was the major cause of the Civil War of 1922-3. Mr Maher explained that The anti-Treatyites were defeated but Sinn Féin emerged with forty-four Dáil seats in the 1923 general election. Gradually, Sinn Féin leader Éamon de Valera became convinced that the party’s policy of abstaining from Dáil Éireann was untenable. In 1926 he proposed ‘that Sinn Féin elected deputies enter the Dáil or Six-County Assembly if the Oath of Allegiance were removed’. His motion was defeated and he resigned as President of Sinn Féin, soon afterwards founding a new political party, Fianna Fáil. In the general election of June 1927, the vast majority of Republican voters voted for Fianna Fáil and forty-four of the party’s deputies were elected. These TDs declared that the Oath was just ‘an empty formula’ and took their Dáil seats.

After a long political battle, Fianna Fáil, in power from 1932 and backed by the Labour Party – which played a very important role in opposing the Oath throughout the 1920s – pushed a Bill through the Dáil and Senate and abolished the Oath in May 1933. The work of Cumann na nGaedheal’s Kevin O’Higgins at the Imperial Conference of 1926, which led to the passing of the Statute of Westminster, also played a vital role in the abolition of the Oath.

Although initially the British government regarded the abolition of the Oath as a breach of the Treaty of 1921, it finally accepted the situation when the people of Ireland endorsed the 1937 constitution by referendum.

Jim Maher is one of Kilkenny best known and best loved authors. A retired school principal who has been recognised for his tremendous work by PEN, the association of Irish writers. His first book was The Flying Cloumn: West Kilkenny and East Tipperary (1987) and then came Harry Boland: A biography.