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King of Ireland

The title High King of Ireland is attested many times in the annals of the early medieval period. In its earlier range this usage reflects dynastic aspiration and propaganda rather than reality but towards the twelfth century a real office of this name was being contested between three regional dynasties. The title together with its nascent kingdom was extinguished in the wake of the Anglo-Norman invasion of 1169.

Table of contents
1 History
2 Kings or Queens of Ireland


A new kingship going by the name King of Ireland was created by an act of the Irish Parliament of 1541, which replaced the Lordship of Ireland which had existed from 1171 with the Kingdom of Ireland. By the terms of the act (the Crown of Ireland Act) whoever was king of England was to be king of Ireland and so its first holder was King Henry VIII of England.

The title 'King of Ireland' remained as an adjunct to the kingship of England (since 1707 assumed into the kingship of Great Britain) until 1801, when the Act of Union which merged the Kingdoms of Ireland and Great Britain, came into force. The new kingdom was called the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. This version of the United Kingdom was abolished when twenty-six of Ireland's counties were formed into the Irish Free State in 1922. Under the 1922 Constitution of the Free State, the King became king in Ireland. However evolution in the concept of the monarchy in the late 1920s replaced the British Empire's concept of a shared crown with a multiple crown, whereby the sovereign became king separately in each of his dominions. This change, introduced in the Royal Titles Act, recreated the office of King of Ireland.

In this role, the King exercised a role in the Irish state independent to his role in Britain. The full meaning of this fact was shown when in 1931 the King as 'King of Ireland' signed an international treaty on Ireland's behalf as King of Ireland personally presented to him by Ireland's Minister for External Affairs, Patrick McGilligan, in the absence of any British minister. The King also awarded the Irish Free State an unprecedented degree of independence from Britain, namely its own Great Seal to use. The rest of the Commonwealth still used Britain's Great Seal of the Realm. (See also Victor Emmanuel III of Italy)

In 1936, the 1922 Constitution was amended to remove references to the King, Crown and Governor-General of the Irish Free State. However the King of Ireland's role continued by virtue of the External Relations Act, 1936. This procedural role of representing the Irish Free State in international affairs continued when a new constitution, Bunreacht na hÉireann, was introduced in 1937. It only ceased with the passage of the Republic of Ireland Act, 1948, which came into force in April 1949. This act, as the name suggested, made Ireland a republic.

The Crown of Ireland Act was repealed in the republic of Ireland by the Statute Law Revision (Pre-Union Irish Statutes) Act 1962.

Kings or Queens of Ireland


A kingship of Ireland was contested between three dynasties in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. The following were described as Rig Erenn co fressabra ('Kings of Ireland with opposition'), indicating that the monarchy was not yet settled in the hands of a single family. Periods of heightened contention can be deduced from overlapping dates.

for the full list of pre-1169 High Kings of Ireland, see
List of High Kings of Ireland

under the 1541-1800 Kingdom of Ireland

(George III from 1801, George IV, William IV, Victoria, Edward VII and George V served as monarchs as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland between 1801 and 1922)

under the Irish Free State/Éire

Though the 1937 constitution, Bunreacht na hÉireann, provided for a 'president of Ireland', King George VI was proclaimed 'King of Ireland' in 1936. No legislative amendment was introduced to amend that title, which in Ireland operated under a combination of the External Relations Act, 1936 and Article 28 of the Bunreacht. (When in 1952, the Union of South Africa accidentally included the title 'queen of Ireland' among Queen Elizabeth II's titles, the mistake was immediately rectified.)