Mammoth production featuring 45 actors to bring Anglo-Irish Treaty to life

RTÉ to stage six-hour reconstruction of the debates held in the lead-up to the Civil War a century ago

Three years ago the poet Theo Dorgan and theatre director Louise Lowe began the Herculean task of turning the Anglo-Irish Treaty debates into a theatrical production.

How do you distil 440,000 words of real-life drama into something that a contemporary audience would be able to view?

The original production was supposed to have been filmed and broadcast in December 2021 to mark the centenary of the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty and the beginning of the Treaty debates.

Unfortunately, like countless other artistic productions, it had to be postponed because of escalating Covid-19 numbers.


A year late, the production was finally staged at the National Concert Hall in Dublin in December over four days and will be broadcast on RTÉ online at from midday on Saturday. The total production runs for 11 hours.

Mr Dorgan and ANU Productions director Louise Lowe have distilled the final production down to 90,000 words. Critically, every word in the drama was spoken by the protagonists involved during the debates, which ended with a narrow victory for the pro-Treaty side by 64 votes to 57.

Mr Dorgan believes there is a “grim appropriateness” to staging the drama now on what will be the 101st anniversary of the Treaty vote on January 7th, 1922 and during the centenary of the Irish Civil War.

“What had been a war of identifiable armed forces became a wild and undisciplined campaign of murder directed against civilians, extrajudicial killings on the part of the State, score-settling and plain atrocity on both sides,” he said.

“Here was the blood consequence of debate in the Dáil, when pitiless argument turned to pitiless slaughter, a pitiful, pivotal moment in our history.”

There is no editorial intervention; the drama of the debates is in the actual words used by TDs on all sides. Dorgan believes no writer could script a more pointed debate, so why try when the source material is so powerful?

“All our lives we have been hearing partial and partisan views of the Treaty. Wouldn’t it be interesting that we could be there and hear exactly what was said?” asks Dorgan.

The production involved 45 actors and the live performance took place in four distinct parts over four days in December 2022 at Earlsfort Terrace where the original debates took place 101 years ago.

The production is funded by the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, as part of the Decade of Centenaries Programme 2012-2023.

The Minister, Catherine Martin, said bringing the show to fruition has been a “challenging and highly emotional journey for ANU and all the actors, crew and stakeholders involved”.

What they said in the Treaty debates

Countess Markievicz (anti-Treaty): I believe, and we are against the Treaty believing that England is being more dishonourable and acting in a cleverer way than she ever did before, because I believe we never sent cleverer men over than we sent this time, yet they have been tricked. Now you all know me, you know that my people came over here in Henry VIII’s time, and by that bad black drop of English blood in me I know the English – that’s the truth. I say it is because of that black drop in me that I know the English personally, better perhaps than the people who went over on the delegation.

Séamus Robinson (anti-Treaty): The press has called him the commander-in-chief of the IRA. He has been called “a great exponent of guerrilla warfare” and the “elusive Mike” and we have all read the story of the white horse. There are stories going around Dublin of fights he had all over the city – the Custom House in particular. If Michael Collins was all that he has been called then I will admire him and respect his opinions, if my little mind cannot comprehend his present attitude towards the Republic and this Treaty. Now, from my knowledge of character and psychology, which I’m conceited enough to think is not too bad, I’m forced to think that the reported Michael Collins could not possibly be the same Michael Collins who was so weak as to compromise the Republic.

Michael Collins (pro-Treaty): Every Irishman here who has lived among them knows very well that the plain people of England are much more objectionable towards us than the upper classes. Every man who has lived among them knows that they are always making jokes about Paddy and the pig, and that sort of thing.

Mary MacSwiney (anti-Treaty): I am but a plain member of this Dáil with a plain, straight intelligence that refuses point blank to draw the veil of my hypocrisy over my conscience for anyone. This matter has been put to us as the Treaty or war. I say now if it were war, I would take it gladly and gleefully, not flippantly, but gladly, because I realise that there are evils worse than war, and no physical victory can compensate for a spiritual surrender.

Margaret Pearse (anti-Treaty): I rise to support the motion of our president for the rejection of this Treaty. My reasons for doing so are various, but my first reason for doing so I would like to explain here today is on my sons’ account. It has been said here on several occasions that Patrick Pearse would have accepted this Treaty. I deny it. As his mother I deny it, and on his account I will not accept it. Neither would his brother Willie accept it, because his brother was part and parcel of him.

I am proud to say today that Patrick Pearse was a follower and a disciple – and a true disciple – of Tom Clarke’s. Therefore he could not accept this Treaty. I also wish to say another reason why I could not accept it is the reason of fear. As I explained here at the private meeting, that from 1916 – I now wish to go over this again in public – from 1916 until we had the visits from the Black and Tans, I had comfortable, nice, happy nights and happy days because I knew my boys had done right.

WT Cosgrave (pro-Treaty): Here in the capital of Ireland there are something like 20,000 families living in single-room tenement dwellings, and are these the people you are going to ask to fight for you? It is not fair, I submit. To my mind, when I first saw this instrument, it appeared that there were potentialities in it undreamed of in this country up to this time.

If as a result of the successful working and administration of this Act that that gradual improvement that has been outlined in a semi-prophetic fashion by the minister of finance was brought about and the ideals this country struggled for generations should come to pass, it might possibly be within the bounds of certainty that a reconciliation would be effected between the new world and the old; that these two great countries would be able to keep the peace not only of themselves but the world, working for the best interests of humanity, assisted by the civilisation and culture of this country, improved by people who have never had an opportunity in their lives of developing their own nation in their own way and effecting world improvements in problems that have never been solved and that are not even in the way of being solved.

*This article was amended on January 6th to correct the time of broadcast.

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times