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Comptes rendus de lecture

A Formative Decade: Ireland in the 1920s

Steven O’Connor
p. 169-170
Bibliographical reference

Mel Farrell, Jason Knirck, Ciara Meehan (eds), A Formative Decade: Ireland in the 1920s, Sallins, Irish Academic Press, 2015, xii + 257 p., ISBN 978 0 7165 3281 1.

Full text

1This collection of ten essays seeks to shed new light on the politics and political culture of the first decade of independent Ireland, from 1922 to 1932, and it makes an excellent companion to the 1999 collection of essays, Ireland in the 1930s. As pointed out by the editors in their introduction, the historiography of Irish politics in the 1920s concentrates overwhelmingly on the War of Independence (1919-1921) and the Civil War (1922-1923), leaving much terrain unexplored. While this volume does not claim to be comprehensive, it certainly succeeds in making an original and revitalising contribution to a much neglected area of study.

2The volume is notable for the diversity of topics covered and for the number of essays which address gaps in the historiography. The opening chapter by Ciara Meehan takes a sample of election posters, in order to examine the nature of Irish political discourse during the decade. This chapter is richly illustrated with six posters from Cumann na nGaedheal, the party which governed the Irish Free State during the 1920s. Although it is a pity that none of Fianna Fail’s posters are reproduced. Meehan argues that while Cumann na nGaedheal’s posters grew more creative as the decade progressed, their concentration on attacking Fianna Fáil betrayed the party’s desperation as the electoral threat from Fianna Fáil grew. The posters are visually arresting and they reinforce Meehan’s point that they were conversation starters in a way that modern election posters, with their uniform headshots of candidates, utterly fail to achieve. New ground is also covered in essays on the Farmers’ Party, the work of the Irish Senate, the politicisation of the Shannon Hydroelectric Scheme by Cumann na nGaedheal and the tensions between the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of Ireland surrounding the centenary celebration of Catholic emancipation in 1929 and the 1500th anniversary of St. Patrick’s arrival in Ireland in 1932. Moreover, Justin Dolan Stover’s contribution traces the shifting discourse on loyalty during the Irish revolution and the early years of the Free State.

3The volume also offers new perspectives on existing topics, such as the 1923 Land Act, the origins of Fianna Fáil and the treatment of the Catholic minority by the Northern Ireland state. Significantly, Mel Farrell’s re-evaluation of Cumann na nGaedheal demonstrates that from its inception the party regarded itself as a cross-class “national party”. He also challenges the idea that by absorbing the remnants of the Irish Parliamentary Party, Cumann na nGaedheal became a reincarnation of John Redmond’s party. Farrell points out that both Cumann na nGaedheal and Fianna Fáil attracted former Home Rulers and that in their structures and methods both parties were influenced by previous nationalist movements. Overall, this volume makes an important contribution to our understanding of Irish politics in the 1920s and it will stimulate further research into the early decades of Irish independence.

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Bibliographical reference

Steven O’Connor, “A Formative Decade: Ireland in the 1920s”Études irlandaises, 40-2 | 2015, 169-170.

Electronic reference

Steven O’Connor, “A Formative Decade: Ireland in the 1920s”Études irlandaises [Online], 40-2 | 2015, Online since 15 December 2015, connection on 25 September 2023. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Steven O’Connor

Trinity College Dublin

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