Anglo-Irish Treaty signatories: who’s who on both sides
The Irish delegation (from left) Arthur Griffith, Eamonn Duggan, Erskine Childers, Michael Collins, George Gavan Duffy, Robert Barton and John Chartres. Photograph: Hulton Archive
Arthur Griffith (1871-1922): Arthur Griffith was the head of the Irish delegation to London and more than anyone else he was responsible for them signing the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Griffith was the founder of Sinn Féin in 1905 and advocated abstentionism from Westminster, the establishment of an independent Irish parliament in Dublin and the setting up of a counter state. The Easter Rising provided an unlikely fillip to Sinn Féin and Griffith gave way in 1917 for Éamon de Valera to become leader. Griffith was the most anxious to reach a settlement during the negotiations and told the British he would sign even if his colleagues would not. He declared that he would “not break on the crown”, but he was outmanoeuvred by British prime minister David Lloyd George in agreeing to a vague Border Commission to deal with the Ulster question. Griffith died in August 1922 from a heart attack at the age of 51.
Michael Collins (1890-1922): Michael Collins, known as the “Big Fellow”, has cast the longest of shadows on Irish history. He is less of an historical figure now and more of a revolutionary and Hollywood hero (thanks to the eponymous movie). His premature death in August 1922 robbed the country of one of its most dynamic characters. Collins was a reluctant member of the London delegation and felt, not unfairly, that he was being set up by de Valera knowing the republic was unobtainable. Collins knew better than any of the other delegates that the IRA was in no position to resume the War of Independence. He chillingly recounted that, in signing the Treaty, he had signed his death warrant, but gave a spirited defence in the debates that followed, famously opining: “In my opinion it gives us freedom, not the ultimate freedom that all nations desire, but the freedom to achieve it.”
Robert Barton (1881-1975): Robert Barton was an unlikely revolutionary coming from a landed and wealthy Protestant family who owned the well-known French wine company, Barton & Guestier. He went to Rugby School and then to Oxford University. He served in the first World War where two of his brothers were killed. He was converted to Irish nationalism after the Easter Rising. Barton was the most reluctant Irish signatory of the Treaty and had to be cajoled to sign. He was faced on one side by Griffith, Collins and Duggan and on other by his cousin, Erskine Childers, the secretary of the Irish delegation, who urged him not to sign. His actions during the negotiations caused Lloyd George to describe him as that “pipsqueak of a man”. Having signed the Treaty, Barton repudiated it during the Civil War and Childers was executed after being found in Barton’s home with a firearm.
Éamonn Duggan (1874-1936): Éamonn Duggan was the lowest profile of the Treaty signatories on the Irish side. He was a lawyer by training and after fighting in the Rising, he was a key conduit between the Irish side and the British government during the truce and subsequent negotiations. He accompanied de Valera to London, where they met with Lloyd George in July 1921. According to Robert Barton, Duggan could not be found when it came to signing the Treaty at 2am and his signature had to be cut from a menu card he had signed, and pasted into the document. Whether true or not, Duggan was one of the most staunch defenders of the Treaty and went on to become a senior minister in the Cumann na nGaedheal government.
George Gavan Duffy (1882-1951): George Gavan Duff was the eldest son of the Young Irelander Charles Gavan Duffy who went on to be the premier of Victoria in Australia. Gavan Duffy was born and brought up in England and France. As a lawyer his involvement with Irish nationalist politics began when he acted for Roger Casement in his trial for treason in 1916. An urbane polyglot, he represented Ireland at the Paris Peace Conference though the Irish delegation failed to get a hearing. De Valera nominated him as part of the Treaty delegation. He signed the document reluctantly, concluding he could see “no rational alternative”. He went on to become a High Court judge.
David Lloyd George (1863-1945): David Lloyd George, the “Welsh Wizard”, was Britain’s war-time prime minister who came from modest beginnings yet achieved the highest office by dint of his inexhaustible ability and energy. He negotiated the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 and brought all his experience to bear during the Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations. Lloyd George used his rhetorical flair and charm to get the Irish delegation to sign up to a treaty which had not changed substantially from his initial offer of dominion status in the British Empire in July 1921. He had to navigate an uneasy coalition government that included many Tories who were die-hard unionists. He compelled the Irish delegation to sign the Treaty under threat of “terrible and immediate war”. According to Lord Birkenhead, another British signatory, Lloyd George’s threat was a bluff.
Austen Chamberlain (1863-1937): Austen Chamberlain was part of a political dynasty which included his father Joseph and his half-brother and future prime minister, Neville. Joseph Chamberlain had been one of the chief opponents of the first Home Rule Bill, but his son took a more conciliatory approach. Austen Chamberlain became Conservative party leader in March 1921 replacing Andrew Bonar-Law who had been one of the most fervent supporters of Ulster unionism in the British cabinet.
Frederick Edwin (FE Smith), Lord Birkenhead (1872-1930): Birkenhead was a Conservative politician and supporter of Ulster unionism who prosecuted the crown’s case against Roger Casement. As lord chancellor (Britian’s chief law officer), he was responsible for drafting much of the Treaty. He famously told Michael Collins that in signing the Treaty, he had signed his “political death warrant”. Birkenhead was regarded as a brilliant, but self-destructive man. He drank himself to death at the age of 58.
Winston Churchill (1874-1965): Winston Churchill, Britain’s other great war-time prime minister, was the secretary for the colonies and the chairman of the cabinet commission on Irish affairs during the Treaty negotiations. He was the man who sent the Black and Tans and auxiliaries into Ireland for which he earned a stern rebuke from his wife Clementine who told him: “It always makes me unhappy and disappointed when I see you inclined to take for granted that the rough, iron-fisted ‘Hunnish’ way will prevail.” Churchill was anxious to reach a settlement with the Irish which did not imperil the empire. He was also the one who insisted on the British retaining the use of the so-called “Treaty ports” in the South and strongly protested when they were handed back in 1938.
Laming Worthington-Evans (1868-1931): Laming Worthington-Evans, though a Tory MP, was a close confidant of the Liberal prime minister David Lloyd George and a veteran of several post-war conferences. He attended the negotiations as the secretary of state for war.
Hamar Greenwood (1870-1948): Hamar Greenwood was the last chief secretary for Ireland between 1920 and 1922. Born in Canada, he was a supporter of Irish Home Rule and stated in 1912 that “Ireland has been shamefully treated and is justly entitled to local self-government”. He was an opponent of Irish republicanism and was frequently called upon in the House of Commons to justify British reprisals in Ireland. His reputation suffered as a result. Eventually he settled for Ireland being granted the same dominion status as his native Canada. His wife had an affair with Lloyd George while Clementine Churchill called him “nothing but a blaspheming, hearty, vulgar, brave, knock-about colonial”.
Gordon Hewart (1870-1943): A Liberal MP, Gordon Hewart was appointed attorney general in 1919, with a seat in the cabinet from 1921 and attended the negotiations in that guise.