The Border, the Laggan and the Professor
The physical boundary (‘the border’) between Northern Ireland and the rest of Ireland has featured as a crucial part in relationships across the island, not least in the negotiations between the UK and the EU over Brexit.
Under the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 1921, a Boundary Commission was established with Professor Eoin MacNeill as the representative of the Irish Free State. It started its work after the civil war in the Irish Free State (1922-23) had ceased. It almost achieved its objective of a revised border.
With the agreement of all sides, the major source of data was religion in the 1911 Census, but individual returns were not made available to the Commission. The areas agreed for transfer involved large majorities of Catholics to the Free State and large majorities of Protestants to the North. The only exception was the Laggan in northeast Donegal, an area with a small Protestant majority.
At the last moment MacNeill withdrew, the Commission could not produce a unanimous report, therefore its report was unenforceable and it remained secret for over 40 years. The 1911 Census forms became available in the new millennium permitting detailed examination of the Laggan.
This paper addresses the outcomes of the Commission’s work and questions whether there was a particular problem which caused MacNeill to withdraw. Speculation on MacNeill’s activity in this exercise is offered and related to his official reasons for sinking the Commission.