HIS32940 Devolution, Dominion, Democracy: Ireland's constitutional history north and south, 1870-2007

Academic Year 2023/2024

Devolution, dominion, democracy explores the evolution of ideas for the establishment of parliaments and legislative assemblies on the island of Ireland from the 1870s through to the twenty-first century. The concept of Home Rule foresaw a devolved parliament for Ireland. This was ultimately realised for Northern Ireland only in 1921. That same year, dominion status based on the model of Canada was offered to a new and sovereign Irish Free State. In the years that followed, Ireland developed its nascent democracy in an era when new states were being formed both in Europe and elsewhere. In many cases, new states either failed or succumbed to totalitarianism. In 1973, the devolved powers of the Northern Irish government were revoked. It would take until 1998 to agree a functioning model for devolved powers in Northern Ireland and this new arrangement would not be without its challenges and interruptions.

Beginning with the Home Rule movement, which was founded by Isaac Butt in the wake of the Fenian uprising of 1867, the module will explore concepts originating on the island of Ireland, in Britain and further afield for the devolution of powers to representative bodies, first of Irish men and ultimately of all Irish people. The module will explore the partition on Ireland, the formation of devolved, revolutionary, and dominion parliaments established during the island’s ‘revolutionary decade’ before going on to look at the structures of governance articulated in the constitutions of 1922 and 1937, the revocation of devolved power from Stormont in 1973 and the attempts to find a workable mode of power-sharing in the decades that followed, a process that continues in a dynamic peace process. Along this path, the module will also touch upon supra-national layers of representation and association to include Ireland and the United Kingdom’s associations with the European community.

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Curricular information is subject to change

Learning Outcomes:

• Understand the different modes of government for the island of Ireland, proposed and realised, that have been conceived since the 1870s
• Evaluate core texts in Ireland’s constitutional history including pamphlets, speeches, legislation, and constitutions
• Articulate your own comprehension and analysis of contrasting forms of historical government on the island of Ireland
• Compare and contrast different models of government and administration within the framework of the history of political thought.
• Understand research methods in the history of political discourse.
• Assess evolutions in the discourse on government and governance on the island of Ireland from the nineteenth to the twenty-first centuries.

Indicative Module Content:

Week 1: Introduction and background

Week 2: Fenians and federalists: imagining alternative Irelands in the 1870s

Week 3: Gladstonianism, land, and the union: Ireland’s first Home Rule Bills in context

Week 4: Devolution, constructive unionism, and Ulster unionist opposition to Irish home government, 1895-1907

Week 5: From the third Home Rule Bill and the Ulster crisis, 1909-16

Week 6: Two state solution: the 1920 Government of Ireland Act

Week 7: From devolution to dominion, Dáil Éireann, the Anglo-Irish Treaty and the 1922 Irish Free State Constitution

Week 8: Reading week

Week 9: From dominion to republic: Ireland, 1926-1949

Week 10: Direct rule and integration: Northern Ireland in Westminster; Ireland and the UK in Europe

Week 11: Frameworks for shared devolution, Northern Ireland 1985-2007

Week 12: Conclusions: democracy, politics, and power sharing in the 21st century

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours


Seminar (or Webinar)


Specified Learning Activities


Autonomous Student Learning




Approaches to Teaching and Learning:
This module will consist of a one-hour lecture and a two-hour seminar weekly. Seminars will focus on a key text in the history of Irish political thought and will feature student presentations and discussion on same.

Weekly seminars focus on small-group active / task-based learning using both secondary and primary sources related to the weekly topic covered in the lecture. Autonomous learning is nurtured through required preparatory reading each week, and formative and summative written assignments throughout the module. Key research, writing and citation skills are explicitly incorporated into seminar work and are assessed and advanced from the formative to the summative assignments. 
Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations

Not applicable to this module.

Module Requisites and Incompatibles
Not applicable to this module.
Assessment Strategy  
Description Timing Open Book Exam Component Scale Must Pass Component % of Final Grade
Assignment: A 3,500 to 4,000 word original final essay due at the end of the module. Title, topic, and approach to be agreed in advance with the module coordinator. Coursework (End of Trimester) n/a Graded No


Assignment: Book review: 1,500 word, referenced book review of one of the secondary texts from the module handbook situating it within its wider literature and relating it to selected module themes. Week 7 n/a Graded No


Continuous Assessment: Students will be graded on their participation during the seminars (note: this is not based on attendance, but rather active discussion and participation). Throughout the Trimester n/a Graded No


Carry forward of passed components
Resit In Terminal Exam
Autumn No
Please see Student Jargon Buster for more information about remediation types and timing. 
Feedback Strategy/Strategies

• Feedback individually to students, post-assessment
• Group/class feedback, post-assessment

How will my Feedback be Delivered?

Feedback on seminar contributions will be given informally in class or during office hours by prior arrangement. Feedback on the mid-term book review will be provided in writing either on the hard copy or via brightspace. Feedback on the end of term essay will be provided in writing and opportunity to arrange a one-to-one meeting to discuss this further will also be offered.

Timetabling information is displayed only for guidance purposes, relates to the current Academic Year only and is subject to change.
Seminar Offering 1 Week(s) - 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33 Thurs 09:00 - 10:50
Lecture Offering 1 Week(s) - 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33 Wed 12:00 - 12:50