The idea that the Irish revolution of 1916 and succeeding years entailed a “great transition‚” substantive change is a commonplace of our public history. I will challenge that idea in this paper.
Despite broad popular sympathy with the Easter Rising after the event, there was no general repudiation of the parliamentary tradition to which the Irish people had steadfastly adhered throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. On the contrary, the revolution was played out as much in the arena of constitutional politics as in the violence of 1916 and the War of Independence with critical by-elections in 1917 and 1918, Sinn Féin’s victory in the 1918 General Election, and the establishment of Dáil Éireann and its shadow administration to challenge that of Dublin Castle. The rebels commandeered the parliamentary tradition inherited from Parnell and his successors in the Irish Party and used it for their own purposes, and the governmental apparatus of the new State that emerged after 1921 drew upon the Westminster model of parliamentary democracy in almost every detail.
Moreover, the political revolution was not accompanied by social revolution. However, focusing on the absence of a social revolution is to miss an important point. The so-called Irish revolution was the end of a process of change, not the beginning. There had been a social revolution in Ireland before the political revolution, and the changes that had already occurred may ironically have helped create the circumstances that led to the revolution.