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Governor-General of the Irish Free State

The Governor-General of the Irish Free State was the representative of the Crown in the Irish Free State between 1922 and 1936. Until 1927 the Governor-General was also the agent of the British Government in the Irish Free State.

Table of contents
1 List of Governors-General
2 Origins
3 Selection
4 De Valera in power
5 Abolition
6 Official residence

List of Governors-General


The Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 created the dominion to be called the Irish Free State or Saorstát Éireann. Central to the agreed system of governance of the new state was to be a Representative of the Crown. The new office was not named, but the Constitution Committee under Michael Collins decided, after considering a number of names, including President of Ireland, it was decided that the representative of the crown would be called Governor-General, a title that existed in other dominions, notably in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the Union of South Africa.


Constitutionally in 1922 the Governor-General was selected by His Majesty's Government in London, not His Majesty's Government in the Irish Free State. Among those speculated about as possible holders of the office were the famed Irish painter Sir John Lavery and HRH Edward, Prince of Wales. The Irish Government however let it be known that it wished Timothy Michael Healy, KC, former Parnelliteite MP to be appointed, a choice enthusiastically backed by King George V and which the British Government agreed to. By 1928, when it came to selecting the second governor-general, the British Government had no role whatsoever, with the King as King of Ireland advised on who to make his representative by his government in the Irish Free State.

James McNeill, a former member of Collins's constitution committee, and a former chairman of Dublin County Council, was selected for the post. McNeill was the first Irish Governor-General selected in theory and not just in practice by an Irish Government. McNeill also found himself with less influence than Governor-General Tim Healy. As part of the changes agreed in a Commonwealth Conference, the Governor-General lost the second half of his dual role, that of representative of the British Government. Until 1928 all official correspondence between the British and Irish governments went though the Governor-General, with him having access to British Government papers, as well as receiving British government instruction, that were unknown to the Irish government.

De Valera in power

In 1932, the pro-Treaty Cumann na nGaedhael lost power to Eamon de Valera's Fianna Fáil. De Valera, as an opponent of Treaty, opposed the existence of the governor-generalship. His government boycotted and humiliated McNeill, notably when during the Eucharistic Congress in 1932 McNeill, the de-facto resident head of state, had been sidelined, in one occasion the Irish Army's band being withdrawn from a function when McNeill attended a function. On another occasion, two ministers publicly stormed out of a diplomatic function when McNeill, the guest of the French government, arrived. In late 1932 de Valera and McNeill clashed when McNeill published his correspondence with the Irish President of the Executive Council. De Valera sought McNeill's dismissal. King George V, however, acting as peacemaker, got de Valera to withdraw the request on the basis that McNeill was due to finish his term of office within weeks. He then got McNeill to bring forward his retirement to 1 November 1932. De Valera then advised the King to appoint Domhnall Ua Buachalla, a former Fianna Fáil TD to the post. The new Governor-General was then formally advised by 'his' government to withdraw from public life and confine himself to formal functions such as issuing proclamations, dissolving Dála and appointing governments.


In December 1936, the abdication of King Edward VIII from all his thrones, which included being King of Ireland, was used by de Valera in an attempt to abolish the governor-generalship. A rushed Constitution (Amendment No.27) Act, 1936 removed all reference to the Crown, King and Governor-General in the constitution. However de Valera was advised by his own Attorney-General and senior advisors that the amendments in themselves did not abolish the office, merely its constitutional existence, it continuing on in Letters Patent, Orders-in-Council and statute law. Though officially insisting the office was abolished (de Valera told Ua Buachalla to act as though he was out of office and move from his official residence in the Dublin suburb of Blackrock) de Valera on advice introduced a second Act, the Executive Powers (Consequential Provisions) Act, 1937 to retrospectively abolish all remaining non-constitutional functions of the post and date the abolition back to December 1936.

In a final twist, Ua Buachalla and de Valera, once close friends, fell out over Ua Buachalla's treatment in the abolition, with Ua Buachalla initiating legal proceedings to sue de Valera. Their relationship was however later healed and de Valera as Taoiseach appointed Ua Buachalla to the Council of State.

Official residence

The first two governors-general resided in an official residence, the Viceregal Lodge, now known as Áras an Uachtaráin, the residence of the President of Ireland. The last governor-general resided in a specially hired private residence in Booterstown, County Dublin.

The last surviving governor-general, Domhnall Ua Buachalla, died aged 97 on the 30th October 1963.

Preceded by:
President of the Republic (1921-22)
Irish Heads of State/Resident Heads of State
According to Irish Constitutional Theory
Succeeded by:
President of Ireland (1937-present)
Preceded by:
Lord Lieutenant (mediaeval - under different names - up to 1922)
Irish Heads of State/Resident Heads of State
According to British Constitutional Theory
Succeeded by:
President of Ireland (1937-present)

Note: The Governor-General was NOT a head of state, merely the representative of one, but is described here as RESIDENT head of state because he fulfilled the functions of head of state in the Irish context.