Prelude to the Easter Rising of 1916

Prelude to the Easter Rising of 1916
The Signatories of the Proclamation

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Saturday, July 24, 2010

First Dáil

Members of the First Dáil:
First row, left to right: Laurence Ginnell, Michael Collins, Cathal Brugha, Arthur Griffith, Éamon de Valera, Count Plunkett, Eoin MacNeill, W. T. Cosgrave, E. Blythe.
Second Row: P.J. Maloney. T. McSwiney, R. Mulcahy, J. O'Doherty, J. Dolan, J. McGuinness, P. O'Keefe, M. Staines, J. McGrath, B. Cusack, L. de Roiste, M.P. Colivert, Fr. M. Flanagan,
Third Row: J.P. Ward, A. McCabe, D. Fitzgerald, J. Sweeney, R.J. Hayes, C. Collins, P. O'Maille, J. O'Mara, B. O'Higgins, J.A. Burke, Kevin O'Higgins
Fourth Row: J. McDonagh, J. McEntee
Fifth Row: P. Beasley, R.C. Barton, P. Galligan
Sixth Row: P. Shanahan, S. Etchingham

The First Dáil (Irish: An Chéad Dáil) was Dáil Éireann as it convened from 1919–1921. In 1919 candidates who had been elected in the Westminster elections of 1918 refused to recognise the Parliament of the United Kingdom and instead assembled as a unicameral, revolutionary parliament called "Dáil Éireann". The establishment of the First Dáil occurred on the same day as the outbreak of the Irish War of Independence. After elections in 1921, the First Dáil was succeeded by the Second Dáil of 1921–1922.

In 1918, Ireland was a part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and was represented in the British House of Commons by 105 MPs. From 1882–1918 most Irish MPs were members of the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) who strove in several Home Rule Bills to achieve self-government for Ireland within the United Kingdom through the constitutional movement for reform. This approach put the Third Home Rule Act 1914 on the statute book but the implementation of this legislation was temporarily postponed with the outbreak of the First World War. In the meantime the more radical Sinn Féin party grew in strength.

Sinn Féin's founder, Arthur Griffith, believed that nationalists should emulate the means by which Hungarian nationalists had achieved partial independence from Austria. In 1867, led by Ferenc Deák, Hungarian representatives had boycotted the Imperial parliament in Vienna and unilaterally established their own legislature in Budapest. The Austrian government had eventually become reconciled to this new state of affairs which became known as an Ausgleich or "compromise". Members of Sinn Féin also, however, supported achieving separation from Britain by means of an armed uprising if necessary.

Between the Easter Rising of 1916 and the 1918 general election, Sinn Féin's popularity was increased dramatically by the execution of most of the leaders of the 1916 rebels, the party's reorganisation in 1917 and by its opposition to military conscription in Ireland (see Conscription Crisis of 1918). The party was also aided by the 1918 Representation of the People Act which increased the Irish electorate from around 700,000 to about two million. Voting in the 1918 general election occurred in most constituencies on 14 December and elections were held almost entirely under the traditional 'first-past-the-post' system.

Sinn Féin won 73 out of the 105 Irish seats in the Westminster parliament, their votes 476,087 (or 46.9%) for 48 seats, plus 25 uncontested without a ballot. Unionists (including Ulster Unionist Labour Association) previously 19 won 26 seats on 305,206 (30.2%) votes, all but three of which were in the six counties that today form Northern Ireland, and the IPP won merely six (down from 84 in 1910), all but one in Ulster, on 220,837 (21.7%) votes cast.

The Labour Party had decided not to participate in the election, allowing the electorate to decide on the issue of Home Rule versus a Republic by having a clear two way choice between the two nationalist parties.The Irish Party won a smaller share of seats than votes, as the election was run under the British "First past the post" system, and not by the proportional representation method that is usual in Ireland today. Because of the large number of Sinn Féin candidates elected unopposed, and despite their opponents polling nearly 52% of the votes, the elections were seen as a landslide victory for the party.

Once elected the Sinn Féin MPs chose to follow through with their Manifesto's plan of abstention from the Westminster parliament and instead assembled as a revolutionary parliament they called "Dáil Éireann": the Irish for "Assembly of Ireland". Unionists and members of the IPP refused to recognise the Dáil, and three Sinn Féin candidates had been elected in two different constituencies, so the First Dáil consisted of a total of seventy Deputies or "TDs". Forty-three of these were absent from the inaugural meeting as they were imprisoned or on the run from the British. Six Sinn Féin MPs were elected in the counties that are now Northern Ireland. Of these two also held seats in other parts of the country.

The first meeting of Dáil Éireann occurred on 21 January 1919 in the Round Room of the Mansion House: the residence of the Lord Mayor in Dublin. Being the first and highly symbolic meeting, the proceedings of the Dáil were conducted for the only time entirely in the Irish language, except for previously drafted declarations that were repeated in other languages as well. The Dáil elected Cathal Brugha as its Ceann Comhairle (chairman or speaker). A number of short documents were then adopted. These were the:
  • Dáil Constitution - a brief, provisional constitution.
  • Declaration of Independence
  • Message to the Free Nations of the World
  • Democratic Programme - a tract espousing certain principles of socialism
The Declaration of Independence asserted that the Dáil was the parliament of a sovereign state called the "Irish Republic", and so the Dáil established a cabinet called the Ministry or "Aireacht", and an elected prime minister known both as the "Príomh Aire" and the "President of Dáil Éireann". The first, temporary president was Cathal Brugha. He was succeeded, in April, by Éamon de Valera.

The membership of the Dáil was drawn from the Irish MPs elected to sit at the Westminster parliament, 105 in total, of which 27 were listed as being present (i láthair) for the first meeting. Of the remainder 35 were described as being "imprisoned by the foreign enemy" (fé ghlas ag Gallaibh) and 4 as being "deported by the foreign enemy" (ar díbirt ag Gallaibh). Two names are left unstated as to their attendance or otherwise. The remaining 37 members who were invited but not present were unionists mainly from the northern six counties that would later form Northern Ireland. These included all MPs elected to sit for Belfast city, Counties Londonderry, Down, Antrim, Armagh, and Fermanagh, and two out of three MPs for County Tyrone. For the portion of the country that would later become the Irish Free State, MPs did not sit for Waterford city or the Dublin University constituency (although members did attend for the National University of Ireland constituency). In other places, attendance was not universal:
  • Dublin city (1 out of 9 absent)
  • Cork city (1/2)
  • County Cork (2/7)
  • County Kilkenny (1/2)
  • County Roscommon (1/2)
  • County Donegal (1/4)
On precisely the same day as the Dáil's first meeting, two members of the Royal Irish Constabulary were ambushed and killed at Soloheadbeg, in Tipperary, by members of the Irish Volunteers. This incident had not been ordered by the Dáil but the course of events soon drove the Dáil to recognise the Volunteers as the army of the Irish Republic and the ambush as an act of war against Great Britain. The Volunteers therefore changed their name, in August, to the Irish Republican Army, and swore allegiance in August 1920 to both the Republic and the Dáil. The dual nature of this oath did not become apparent until much later. The Soloheadbeg incident is thus regarded as the opening act of the Irish War of Independence, though the Dáil did not formally declare war on Britain until 1921. From its first meeting the Dáil also set about attempting to secure de facto authority for the Irish Republic throughout the country. This included the establishment of a parallel judicial system known as the Dáil Courts.

In September 1919, the Dáil was declared illegal by the British authorities and thereafter met only intermittently and at various locations. The First Dáil held its last meeting on 10 May 1921. After elections on 24 May the Dáil was succeeded by the Second Dáil which sat for the first time on 16 August.

The First Dáil and the general election of 1918 have come to occupy a central place in Irish republican mythology. The 1918 general election was the last occasion on which the entire island of Ireland voted in a single election held on a single day until elections to the European Parliament over sixty years later. The landslide victory for Sinn Féin was seen as an overwhelming endorsement of the principle of a united independent Ireland. Until recently republican paramilitary groups, such the Provisional IRA, often claimed that their campaigns derived legitimacy from this 1918 mandate, and some still do.

The list is given in alphabetical order by constituency of the MPs who agreed to be members of the First Dáil.

Members of the 1st Dáil

Constituency Name Party
Carlow James Lennon Sinn Féin
Cavan East Arthur Griffith Sinn Féin
Cavan West Peter Galligan Sinn Féin
Clare East Éamon de Valera Sinn Féin
Clare West Brian O'Higgins Sinn Féin
Cork City Liam de Róiste Sinn Féin
Cork City †James J. Walsh Sinn Féin
Cork East David Kent Sinn Féin
Cork Mid Terence MacSwiney Sinn Féin
Cork North Patrick O'Keeffe Sinn Féin
Cork North East Thomas Hunter Sinn Féin
Cork South Michael Collins Sinn Féin
Cork South East Diarmuid Lynch Sinn Féin
Cork West †Seán Hayes Sinn Féin
Donegal North †Joseph O'Doherty Sinn Féin
Donegal South †Peter Ward Sinn Féin
Donegal West †Joseph Sweeney Sinn Féin
Dublin Clontarf †Richard Mulcahy Sinn Féin
Dublin College Green †Seán T. O'Kelly Sinn Féin
Dublin Harbour †Philip Shanahan Sinn Féin
Dublin North Frank Lawless Sinn Féin
Dublin Pembroke Desmond FitzGerald Sinn Féin
Dublin South †George Gavan Duffy Sinn Féin
Dublin St James's Joseph McGrath Sinn Féin
Dublin St Michan's †Michael Staines Sinn Féin
Dublin St Patrick's Constance Markiewicz Sinn Féin
Dublin St Stephen's Green †Thomas Kelly Sinn Féin
Fermanagh South Seán O'Mahony Sinn Féin
Galway Connemara †Pádraic Ó Máille Sinn Féin
Galway East Liam Mellows Sinn Féin
Galway North Bryan Cusack Sinn Féin
Galway South Frank Fahy Sinn Féin
Kerry East †Piaras Béaslaí Sinn Féin
Kerry North James Crowley Sinn Féin
Kerry South Fionán Lynch Sinn Féin
Kerry West Austin Stack Sinn Féin
Kildare North †Domhnall Ua Buachalla Sinn Féin
Kildare South Art O'Connor Sinn Féin
Kilkenny North W. T. Cosgrave Sinn Féin
Kilkenny South James O'Mara Sinn Féin
King's County Patrick McCartan Sinn Féin
Leitrim James Dolan Sinn Féin
Limerick City Michael Colivet Sinn Féin
Limerick East Richard Hayes Sinn Féin
Limerick West †Con Collins Sinn Féin
Londonderry City †Eoin MacNeill Sinn Féin
Longford Joseph McGuinness Sinn Féin
Louth †John J. O'Kelly Sinn Féin
Mayo East Éamon de Valera Sinn Féin
Mayo North †John Crowley Sinn Féin
Mayo South William Sears Sinn Féin
Mayo West Joseph MacBride Sinn Féin
Meath North Liam Mellows Sinn Féin
Meath South †Eamonn Duggan Sinn Féin
Monaghan North Ernest Blythe Sinn Féin
Monaghan South Seán MacEntee Sinn Féin
National University of Ireland †Eoin MacNeill Sinn Féin
Queen's County †Kevin O'Higgins Sinn Féin
Roscommon North †Count Plunkett Sinn Féin
Roscommon South Harry Boland Sinn Féin
Sligo North J. J. Clancy Sinn Féin
Sligo South Alexander McCabe Sinn Féin
Tipperary East Pierce McCan Sinn Féin
Tipperary Mid †Séamus Burke Sinn Féin
Tipperary North Joseph MacDonagh Sinn Féin
Tipperary South †P. J. Moloney Sinn Féin
Tyrone North West Arthur Griffith Sinn Féin
Waterford County †Cathal Brugha Sinn Féin
Westmeath Laurence Ginnell Sinn Féin
Wexford North †Roger Sweetman Sinn Féin
Wexford South James Ryan Sinn Féin
Wicklow East Seán Etchingham Sinn Féin
Wicklow West †Robert Barton Sinn Féin

†Denotes members who attended the opening session of the First Dáil on 21 January 1919.

The list is given in alphabetical order by constituency of the MPs who refused to be members of the First Dáil.

Constituency Name Party
Antrim East Robert McCalmont Irish Unionist
Antrim Mid Hugh O'Neill Irish Unionist
Antrim North Peter Kerr-Smiley Irish Unionist
Antrim South Charles Curtis Craig Irish Unionist
Armagh Mid James Rolston Lonsdale Irish Unionist
Armagh North William Allen Irish Unionist
Armagh South Patrick Donnelly Irish Parliamentary
Belfast Cromac William A. Lindsay Irish Unionist
Belfast Duncairn Edward Carson Irish Unionist
Belfast Falls Joseph Devlin Irish Parliamentary
Belfast Ormeau Thomas Moles Irish Unionist
Belfast Pottinger Herbert Dixon Irish Unionist
Belfast St Anne's Thomas Henry Burn Labour Unionist
Belfast Shankill Samuel McGuffin Labour Unionist
Belfast Victoria Thompson Donald Labour Unionist
Belfast Woodvale Robert Lynn Irish Unionist
Donegal East Edward Kelly Irish Parliamentary
Down East David Reid Irish Unionist
Down Mid James Craig Irish Unionist
Down North Thomas W. Brown Irish Unionist
Down South Jeremiah McVeagh Irish Parliamentary
Down West Daniel M. Wilson Irish Unionist
Dublin Rathmines Maurice Dockrell Irish Unionist
Dublin University Arthur Warren Samuels Irish Unionist
Dublin University Robert Henry Woods Independent Unionist
Fermanagh North Edward Archdale Irish Unionist
Londonderry North Hugh Anderson Irish Unionist
Londonderry South Denis Henry Irish Unionist
Queen's University of Belfast William Whitla Irish Unionist
Tyrone North East Thomas Harbison Irish Parliamentary
Tyrone South William Coote Irish Unionist
Waterford City William Redmond Irish Parliamentary

Today, the name Dáil Éireann is used for the lower house of the modern Oireachtas (parliament) of the Republic of Ireland. Many commentators, including, recently, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, have suggested that despite the ambitious aspirations of the First Dáil, Irish independence only really began in December 1922 with the foundation of the Irish Free State, in terms of international law and diplomatic recognition.

Nonetheless, successive Dála (plural for Dáil) continue to be numbered from the "First Dáil" convened in 1919. The current Dáil, elected in 2007, is accordingly the "30th Dáil". Seán MacEntee, who died on 10 January 1984 at the age of 94, was the last surviving member of the First Dáil.

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