seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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First Meeting of Dáil Éireann

first-dailThe first meeting of Dáil Éireann, chaired by Sean T. O’Kelly, occurs on January 21, 1919 in the Round Room of the Mansion House, the residence of the Lord Mayor of Dublin.

The First Dáil is convened from 1919–1921. It is the first meeting of the unicameral parliament of the revolutionary Irish Republic. In 1919 candidates who have been elected in the Westminster elections of 1918 refuse to recognise the Parliament of the United Kingdom and instead establish an independent legislature in Dublin called “Dáil Éireann.” The establishment of the First Dáil occurs on the same day as the outbreak of the Irish War of Independence.

Being the first and highly symbolic meeting, the proceedings of the Dáil are conducted for the only time entirely in the Irish language, except for previously drafted declarations that are repeated in other languages as well. The Dáil elects Cathal Brugha as its Ceann Comhairle (chairman). A number of short documents were then adopted. These are the:

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.” The first, temporary president is Cathal Brugha. He is 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 are listed as being present for the first meeting. Of the remainder 34 are described as being “imprisoned by the foreigners” and three as being “deported by the foreigners.” Five Sinn Féin members are described as being “as láthair” (absent). The remaining 32 members who are invited but not present are six members of the Irish Parliamentary Party and 26 unionists, mainly from the northern six counties that would later form Northern Ireland. These include all MPs elected to sit for Belfast, Counties Down, Antrim, Armagh, and Londonderry, two out of three MPs for County Tyrone and one out of two MPs for County Fermanagh. For the portion of the country that would later become the Irish Free State, MPs do not sit for Waterford city or the Dublin University constituency, although members do attend for the National University of Ireland constituency.

(Pictured: Members of the First Dáil, April 10, 1919. First row, left to right: Laurence Ginnell, Michael Collins, Cathal Brugha, Arthur Griffith, Éamon de Valera, George Noble Plunkett, Eoin MacNeill, W. T. Cosgrave and Ernest Blythe.)


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Éamon de Valera Elected President of Dáil Éireann

eamon-de-valeraÉamon de Valera is elected President of Dáil Éireann (Príomh Aire) at the third meeting of the First Dáil on April 1, 1919.

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.