ACIS Logo Ireland’s “Wilsonian Moment”: Anti-Imperialism, Postcoloniality & the Paris Peace Conference

By Seán Donnelly

A century on from the conscious internationalisation of the “Irish question” at the Paris Peace Conference, I propose to explore how the global dimensions of the War of Independence and the colonial dynamics of the Anglo-Irish relationship played a critical role in shaping an emerging Treatyite politics in the months leading up to the Civil War. I will highlight the significance of anti-imperial rhetoric in enabling Sinn Féin to internationalise its plight after World War I and emphasise how the movement grew fundamentally dependent on the nature of its relationship with the outside world. Sinn Féin, like Westminster, were highly conscious of the manner in which the War of Independence played out on an international stage; following to conclusion of World War I, it was ultimately the judgement of foreign governments that would determine the success of the Party’s appeal for sovereign statehood in Paris. Inevitably, the imperative of keeping liberal opinion on side exerted a significant influence over the image of Ireland that the nationalist leadership sought to promote and this process helped to shape a developing Treatyite politics when international sympathy first started to ebb away from Sinn Féin following King George V’s call for peace and reconciliation at the opening of the new Northern Ireland Parliament on 22 June 1921. For it is at that point that a revolutionary leadership, already hyper-aware of being “watched,” is confronted by the recrudescence of a centuries-old discourse that cast fundamental doubt over the capacity of the Irish people to govern themselves. An analysis of the manner in which the Party leadership responded to such commentary is essential to understanding the politics of the subsequent Civil War. Such a paper, I believe, can make a useful contribution to the “Ireland, America, and Paris” conference theme.

Published on: March 31, 2020