Joanne Johnston wins Global Undergraduate Awards Programme Commendation


The Global Undergraduate Awards Programme ( has awarded Joannne Johnston a Highly Commended Entry award for her research paper on the 1937 Constitution.

In popular history, Bunreacht na hÉireann is often regarded as a document that was excessively coloured by the prevailing pieties of the 1930s and the personal religious beliefs of Éamon de Valera. Sometimes, it is suggested that sections of the document were effectively dictated by John Charles McQuaid, later Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin.

Joanne’s paper casts the Constitution in a different perspective. ‘The Constitution of 1937’, she argues, ‘represented an opportunity for the Irish Free State, in the aftermath of a long and tortuous physical struggle for independence, to forge its individual identity as a sovereign nation distinct from Britain. Given the fact that ninety-three per cent of the country’s population belonged to the Roman Catholic Church, including its head of government, this paper seeks to uncover the extent to which those religious convictions were reflected in the basic law of the state. In so doing, it draws on existing historical, legal historical and legal literature, while also examining papal encyclicals and constitutional provisions, in order to build the most comprehensive account to date detailing the extent of Catholic influences on the Constitution. While it cannot be denied that certain of its provisions are in close accord with the teachings of that creed, there has been a consistent failure in the literature thus far to exhaustively delineate the extent to which the climate of Catholic religiosity that pervaded the country at the time was downplayed in the final document.’

Joanne shows the presence of currents of liberal Catholicism, comparatively unexceptional religious clauses judged by contemporary European standards, and an oft-obscured influence of secular and rationalist theory in those ‘Catholic’ clauses of the Constitution. ‘Far from the creation of a ‘Catholic nation’ or ‘clerical state’ with the Constitution of 1937’, she concludes, ‘its drafters ultimately achieved a ‘fairly successful union’ of the aspirations of liberal democracy and Catholic social teaching, allowing its provisions to be acceptable to Catholics as well as non-Catholics alike. 

As Dr Susannah Riordan, who supervised Joanne’s research, points out, her paper goes beyond the existing scholarship to show how the drafters achieved a largely successful interweaving of Catholic social, and liberal-democratic principles in a constitution that was acceptable to all religious communities.

The School congratulates Joanne on her outstanding research and her award.