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10: Conclusion

The division of Ireland into two states – Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State – was just one solution to a difficult problem.  It was a pragmatic compromise more than a perfect solution.  Indeed, as Robert Lynch notes, by 1922 both states ‘barely represented even two-thirds of people in them’. Southern unionists were left on the wrong side of the border, and Anti-Treaty republicans had to reconcile to an Irish state they did not want.  In the north, unionists were given a parliament they had not asked for, while the northern Catholic minority came under the power of a Unionist-dominated state that treated them with suspicion, and largely froze them out.

In many ways, the constitutional compromises that emerged in the 1920s merely kicked the issues that separated the sides further up the field, rather than out of play.  The legacies of partition remain with us today.

In 2021 Northern Ireland is 100 years old.  While many will celebrate its centenary, some will simply mark its birth, and others will wish to forget its conception altogether.  An ethical approach to remembering recognises the validity of all three of these positions; different interpretations of the past exist.

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Sir james Craig - ILC&LM Collection

Poster, Sir James Craig, c.1933
LMILC.2013.49

Sir James Craig, the architect of Northern Ireland, remained in office until his death in 1940, and led the state through its difficult early years.

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