The Declaration of Independence asserts that the Dáil is the parliament of a sovereign state called the “Irish Republic,” and so the Dáil establishes a cabinet called the Ministry or “Aireacht,” and an elected prime minister known both as the “Príomh Aire” and the “President of Dáil Éireann.”
When the First Dáil meets in the Round Room of the Mansion House in Dublin on January 21, 1919, de Valera is the president of Sinn Féin and thus the natural choice for leadership. However, he is imprisoned in England so, at the second meeting of the Dáil on January 22, Cathal Brugha is elected as the first Príomh Aire on a temporary basis. De Valera escapes Lincoln Gaol in February and is then elected to replace Brugha at the Dáil’s third meeting.
As leader, de Valera visits the United States from June 1919 to December 1920. His aim is to gain both popular and official recognition for the Republic and to obtain a loan to finance Dáil Éireann and the War of Independence. By the time of his return, de Valera has won public but not official support for the Republic and has raised a loan of $6 million.
After the election of the Second Dáil in 1921, de Valera resigns on August 26 and is immediately re-elected under the new title of President of the Republic. He then remains in office until January 1922 when, against his wishes, the Dáil votes to ratify the Anglo-Irish Treaty. De Valera resigns and submits his name for re-election but is rejected by the house, which instead elects Arthur Griffith, who supports the Treaty, by a vote of 60-58.
On January 16, 1922, the British government implements the Treaty and appoints a new Irish administration called the Provisional Government. The Dáil decides that the new administration will operate in parallel with the existing institutions of the Irish Republic, which the British do not recognise. Therefore, as the Irish Civil War begins the country has two leaders, Arthur Griffith as President of Dáil Éireann and Michael Collins as Chairman of the Provisional Government. Collins is also Minister for Finance in Griffith’s cabinet. This anomalous situation continues until Griffith and Collins both died suddenly in August 1922, Collins being assassinated by anti-Treaty irregulars and Griffith dying of natural causes. W.T. Cosgrave becomes Chairman of the Provisional Government on August 25 and, when he is also elected as President of Dáil Éireann in September, the two administrations are merged.
On December 6, both the Irish Republic and the Provisional Government come to an end as the new Constitution of the Irish Free State comes into force. The new Irish Free State has three leaders, the King as head of state, the Governor-General as the King’s representative, and the President of the Executive Council as head of government. W.T. Cosgrave is appointed as the first President of the Executive Council on the same day.