Apostates or Imperialists? W. T. Cosgrave, Kevin O'Higgins, and Republicanism

Document Type


Department or Administrative Unit


Publication Date

Winter 2010


The acceptance of the Anglo-Irish Treaty stands as one of the most momentous events in modern Irish history. W. T. Cosgrave and Kevin O'Higgins, two titans of the early Free State, each played critical roles in passing the Treaty through the cabinet and allowing the full Dáil to vote on the document. While the post-revolutionary careers of each man are receiving increasing scrutiny, their specific contributions to the passage of the Treaty have been underplayed by historians focusing, understandably, on Collins, de Valéra, Childers, or Griffith. Republican critics in the 1920s, as well as many historians since, have often painted O'Higgins and Cosgrave as men who were never especially connected to the revolution in the first place, or as moderates who used the revolutionary movement for the advantages it could bring and then abandoned it once it had placed them in power. But a more careful scrutiny of Cosgrave's and O'Higgins' revolutionary records—including some newly released private letters from O'Higgins—reveals men who had more of an affinity to the revolution than previously thought. Their decisions to accept the Treaty were more rooted in pragmatism, and a desire to move toward revolutionary goals, than in opportunism.


This article was originally published in New Hibernia Review. The full-text article from the publisher can be found here.

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New Hibernia Review


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