Effects of the Partition of Ireland on the postal service (1920-1922). 

Images of stamps of the Provisional Government are to be found towards the end of this page.

This page give the historical background to the partition of Ireland in 1922, a brief synopsis of the Civil War, and describes (with illustrations) the stamp issues of the Provisional Government and of the IRA.

Historical background.

Throughout 1919, 1920, and most of 1921 a virtual war was fought in Ireland between a section of the Irish population (primarily through Sinn Féin) and the established British Authorities in Ireland. The Government of Ireland Act, 1920, sought to establish two distinct Parliaments in Ireland, one for the 6 northern counties predominantly opposed to Home Rule, and one for the 26 southern counties. This act came into force on 3rd May 1921. While this Act was being enacted, the military struggle escalated, with martial law being declared for part of the south on 10th December 1920. Serious peace negotiations between the British Government and the nationalists did not begin until May 1921.

Elections were held for the Northern Parliament on 19th May 1921, and it was duly convened on 7th June. Elections for the Southern Parliament were held on 24th May 1921, resulting in the election of 124 unopposed Sinn Féin members, and 4 representatives for Trinity College in Dublin. The Southern Parliament was due to convene on 28th June, but if fewer than half the elected members attended then it could be dissolved in accordance with the provisions of the Government of Ireland Act. In order to circumvent the problem of the impending dissolution, British Prime Minister David Lloyd-George invited Éamon de Valéra to London for talks, and a truce came into effect between the IRA and the British forces on 11th July 1921. The two leaders met on 14th July, and the British Government allowed the elected members of the Southern Parliament to meet openly, as Dáil Éireann, on 18th August.

Following more negotiations, a conference opened in London on 11th October for delegates representing, and approved by, Dáil Éireann and the British Government. The Irish delegation was led by Arthur Griffith seconded by Michael Collins; the principals for the British Government were Lloyd-George, Austin Chamberlain, and Winston Churchill. After some weeks of talks, a Treaty was signed on 6th December 1921. Under its provisions, a separate Provisional Government of Ireland representing the 26 southern counties was to be established, with Dominion status within the British Empire (like Canada), while Northern Ireland would remain within the United Kingdom. After a lapse of one year, on 6th December 1922, an Irish Free State was to come into existence.

The British Government ratified the Treaty on 16th December 1921, and Dáil Éireann ratified it by a majority of 64-57 on 7th January 1922. Under the terms of the treaty, actual ratification on the Irish side had to be by the Southern Ireland Parliament rather than by Dáil Éireann, and this was duly done on 14th January 1922. The formal handing over of power took place in Dublin Castle on 16th January, between Lord Fitzalan, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and Michael Collins, Chairman of the new State.

Among the minority of 57 who opposed ratification of the treaty was de Valéra, who resigned as President of the Dáil on 9th January; a motion for his re-election the same day was defeated by 60-58. Arthur Griffith was elected President of the Dáil the next day, but he was not President of the Provisional Government, for there was no such post - Michael Collins was its elected Chairman, which was in effect the President, but it circumvented the difficulties of the conflict of the status of Dáil Éireann and the Southern Ireland Parliament. In early 1922 there were two distinct forms of government in Ireland; on the one hand was Dáil Éireann which represented the Parliament of the Republic, and on the other hand was the Southern Ireland Parliament which represented the Provisional Government of the Irish Free State; there were even two different sets of ministers. In terms of real control, the effective government was the Provisional Government, because it had sufficient financial backing; politically Dáil Éireann was dominant because of the sentiment it evoked. Control of the Army was a basic requirement of effective rule; on the one hand the IRA was predominantly (but not wholly) anti-Treaty, and its allegiance was to Dáil Éireann. On the other hand was the Police force (re-formed as the Civil Guard, Garda Siochana, to replace the former Royal Irish Constabulary and Dublin Metropolitan Police) together with those elements of the army that had broken away from the IRA and were under the control of the Provisional Government under a new designation, the National Army. Tension rose, and a crisis occurred on 14th April 1922 when units of Republican forces occupied a number of buildings in Dublin, including the Four Courts. To avoid a confrontation, the Provisional Government did not try to evict them. On 1st May a conciliatory Army Document was signed, but Rory O'Connor leading the elements in the Four Courts repudiated it and continued the occupation. The following weeks were marred by violence as anti-Treaty forces seized barracks evacuated by the departing British forces, and banks and post offices were raided to finance the running of the anti-Provisional Government forces. Armed clashes between the National Army and the IRA became more frequent and violent, with many casualties on both sides. The Civil War had, in effect, begun.

Despite this, a General Election was held on 16th June 1922, though the results were not announced until 24th June. The intention was to assemble a (single!) new Parliament on 30th June. The election resulted in 58 successful pro-Treaty candidates, 35 anti-Treaty candidates, 4 members for Trinity College, 17 Labour Party, 7 Farmers and 7 Independents. No single party had won an overall majority, and 40% of the total votes were cast for neither of the two main protagonists.

Before the new Parliament could meet, the IRA assassinated Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson in London on June 22nd. This incensed the British Government which still had the right under the Treaty to dissolve the Provisional Government under certain circumstances. To the British, the occupation of the Four Courts was symptomatic of the powerlessness of the Provisional Government to maintain law and order in the country.

At 4 a.m. on 28th June 1922 an ultimatum was issued requiring the immediate surrender of the Four Courts complex to the National Army. The IRA refused, and the bombardment of the buildings began half an hour later. This marked the beginning of the Civil War in earnest. The Four Courts surrendered unconditionally on 30th June following an enormous explosion and fire which destroyed thousands of historical documents including papers concerned with postal matters up to that time.

For the next two weeks fighting was largely confined to the Dublin area, but it soon spread to the rest of the country. Grossly simplifying, the Republicans controlled the south of the country and part of the west, while the Nationalists controlled Dublin and the north together with most of the central area and part of the west. The city of Limerick fell to the Nationalists on 19th July, while Cork fell on 10th August.

On the political front, Griffith had died peacefully on 12th August, while Collins had been killed in an ambush near Cork on 22nd August. De Valéra had a secret meeting in Dublin with the Provisional Governments' Defence Minister Mulcahy in an attempt to end the Civil War which was clearly going in the Nationalists' favour, but nothing was settled. Just prior to this, on 9th September, the Dáil had finally convened (in the absence of most of the Republicans) in order to elect a new President, William Cosgrave. On 27th September the Dáil passed a vote by 48-18 giving the National Army powers that amounted to martial law. The Special Emergency Powers were announced on October 10th to come into effect on October 15th; an amnesty was to be granted to all those who handed in their arms before that date. A death sentence was possible for those convicted of posession of firearms without proper authority, and indeed 77 Republicans were to be executed under these powers.

The Republican Army Executive met on 16th October and asked de Valera to be president of a new Government, effectively a government-in-exile, and one of its first acts was to rescind the ratification of the Treaty of 7th January 1922. This move had no effect on the Provisional Government, and on 6th December 1922 the Irish Free State came into being. The next day the Senate was established, composed of 30 members nominated by the President and 30 elected by the Dáil. During the next three months the Civil War reached its climax with assassinations on the one side and executions on the other. Liam Lynch, Chief Executive of the Republican Army Executive was killed on 10th April 1923 and in a meeting of that body on 20th April it decided to ask de Valera to sue for peace. This he did on 27th April with a suggested cease fire to come into effect from 30th April. Inevitably there was much discussion and the cease fire was delayed until 24th May, marking the effective end of the Civil War though its' formal conclusion did not come until 1st August 1923 when the Public Safety (Emergency Powers) Act was passed, restoring the right of habeas corpus.

Another election was held in August 1923 with the Nationalists winning 63 of the 153 seats at stake, the Republicans won 44 seats but all refused to attend the Dáil. Gradually however there was a return to normality and by 1924 a true peace prevailed at last.

Postage Stamps of the Provisional Government.

While all this drama was going on, the Postal Service continued to function most of the time, although there was considerable upheaval especially in the area of the border where it was common for addresses to be served by a sorting office on the other side of the previously non-existent border. The transfer of control of the Post Office between the British and Provisional Governments was controlled by the (UK) Postal Office Act, 1922, and the Irish Free State (Agreement) Act and the Irish Free State (Consequential Provisions) Act. These provided for the Post Office to be transferred to the Provisional Government at midnight on 31st March 1922, the end of the financial year. Much of the documentation relating to Irish postal history was stored in the Custom House, the home of the Irish Civil Service, and was lost in the fire in the Four Courts complex in June 1922. The interim arrangements for the Irish Post Office included provisions that the British Post Office would supply postage stamps in sheet form to the Irish Post Office, to be overprinted, until such time as the Irish could produce their own. Postage due labels would also be supplied.

For a period of about 10 weeks, covering the signing of the Treaty on 6.12.1921, the formal transfer of authority on 16.1.1922, and the issue of overprinted stamps on 17th February 1922) British stamps had to be used for prepayment of postage in the absence of anything else to use.

0.5d green; Rialtas Sealadac Dollard overprint 1d red; Rialtas Sealadac Dollard overprint
1.5d brown; Rialtas Sealadac Thom overprint  

On 17th February 1922, overprinted stamps were put on sale. The overprint consists of the words "Rialtas Sealadac na hÉireann 1922" ("Provisional Government of Ireland 1922"). The overprinting was done by two Dublin printers, Dollard Printing House Ltd, who did the ½d, 1d, 2½d, 3d, 4d, 5d, 9d and 10d, together with the 2/6, 5/- and 10/- high-value "Seahorses" issue, which were overprinted in small quantities (2/6: 40,000 examples; 5/-: 26,000 examples; 10/-: 20,000 examples). The 1½d, 2d, 6d, and 1/- stamps were overprinted by Alex Thom and Co. Ltd. The work of the two printers can easily be distinguished because Dollard used a Gaelic script for the numbers "1922" while Thom used a block font.

2d orange, Die I and Die II; Rialtas Sealadac overprint

There are two separate versions of the 2d stamp catalogued, known as Die I and Die II, because of differences in the original British stamp (observe the difference in the frame at the top of the stamps).

2.5d blue;Rialtas Sealadac, Dollard overprint 3d violet; Rialtas Sealadac Dollard overprint
4d grey-green; Rialtas Sealadac Dollard overprint
  • 6d reddish purple; Rialtas Sealadac Thom overprint
9d agate; Rialtas Sealadac Dollard overprint
10d Turquoise blue; Rialtas Sealadac Dollard overprint 1/- bistre-brown; Rialtas Sealadac Thom overprint


2/6 chocolate Seahorses; Rialtas Sealadac overprint
5/- scarlet Seahorses; Rialtas Sealadac overprint
10/- blue Seahorses; Rialtas Sealadac overprint

At various stages throughout the year there were further variations in overprints. Between 1st April and July Dollard overprinted the 2½d, 4d, and 9d using red or carmine coloured ink; between 19th June and August, Harrison & Co in England overprinted the ½d, 1d, 1½d and 2d using a slightly larger setting for the overprint (15 x 17 mm, compared with 14.5 x 16 mm for the Thom printing). Between June and November Thom overprinted all values between 1/2d and 1/-, and between October and December they overprinted the 2/6 to 10/- high values in shiny blue-black ink (which are some 5 times as valuable as the February printing).

Because the "Rialtas" issues were released while the Post Office in Ireland was still under British control, these stamps were valid for postage on letters posted throughout the UK, as well as in the territory controlled by the Provisional Government.

IRA issues during the Civil War

IRA issue of July 1922

During the Civil War the IRA prepared three denominations of postage stamps for their own postal service, a 1d brown, a 2d green, and a 6d blue. They appear to have been produced in July 1922, but all except a small quantity (about 250 of each value) were destroyed when the National Army captured Cork in August. These stamps are known with perforation 11 on wove paper; imperforate on wove paper (probably proofs), and the 6d is known with perforation 11 on laid paper. All versions are rather valuable, cataloguing in the IE£100-200 range in the MacDonnell Whyte Stamps of Ireland catalogue, from where these illustrations were taken.

First stamps of the Irish Free State
Postage Due stamps of Ireland, 1925-1993
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I hope you have enjoyed this page, and found it interesting. Let me know what you think of it - too detailed, too light, just right?

Last updated: 06-08-1998
©Arwel Parry, 1997, 1998