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15 January 2009 Edition

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Remembering the Past: The First Dáil and Soloheadbeg

BY MÍCHEÁL Mac DONNCHA


When Sinn Féin swept to victory in the General Election of December 1918 it had a mandate to establish the Irish Republic proclaimed in arms at Easter 1916, to convene a national constituent assembly of all the members elected for Irish constituencies, to push for international recognition of the Republic and to oppose British rule in Ireland by all means at its disposal.
The New Year 1919 began with preparations for convening the constituent assembly which was to be called Dáil Éireann. On 7 January 1919 a private preliminary meeting of Sinn Féin Teachtaí Dála was held in Dublin’s Mansion House. A committee was elected to draw up the key documents to be adopted at the first meeting of the Dáil. An invitation was issued in the name of Count Plunkett to all those elected in the General Election to attend the inaugural assembly in the Mansion House on 21 January.
Many of the Sinn Féin TDs were in English prisons, having been rounded up the previous year on the basis of the British government’s fabricated ‘German Plot’. But it was decided to proceed with the First Dáil meeting. The forced absence of so many representatives elected by the Irish people would in itself send out a powerful message to the international community about the true nature of the British government in Ireland.
Twenty-four Sinn Féin TDs attended the First Dáil meeting. The rest were either imprisoned or ‘on the run’. The unionists and the remnant of the Irish Parliamentary Party chose not to accept their invitations.
The streets surrounding the Mansion House were thronged and the Round Room was packed with visitors from all over Ireland and abroad and press reporters from many countries as Dáil Éireann convened on the afternoon of 21 January. Cathal Brugha who had survived multiple bullet wounds in the 1916 Rising was Ceann Comhairle. As the Roll was called ‘faoi ghlas ag Gallaibh’ (‘imprisoned by the foreign enemy’) was read after many names.  
Cathal Brugha then called for the reading of the Declaration of Independence, the Message to the Free Nations of the World and the Democratic Programme. The Dáil chose envoys to represent it at the post-war Peace Conference in Versailles and to seek international recognition of Irish independence.
It was by co-incidence that on the same day the First Dáil met IRA Volunteers ambushed an RIC detachment transporting a consignment of gelignite at Soloheadbeg, County Tipperary. Two RIC men were killed in the engagement and the IRA Volunteers included Dan Breen, Seán Treacy, Seán Hogan and Séamus Robinson, all of whom were to play prominent roles in the Black and Tan war. But it would be several months before the Black and Tans were introduced to Ireland and at this stage IRA operations were concentrated on capturing arms.
In the meantime the British government was thwarting all political efforts for Irish independence. It ensured that the Dáil representatives were not given a hearing at the Peace Conference. It reassured Unionists that Partition would be imposed. And in September 1919 it banned Dáil Éireann, ensuring that armed struggle in defence of the Irish Republic would be escalated.
The First Dáil met and the Soloheadbeg ambush took place on 21 January 1919, 90 years ago next week.

An Phoblacht Magazine

AN PHOBLACHT MAGAZINE:

  • The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
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