seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Liam Tobin, Irish Army Officer & IRA Intelligence Officer

Liam Tobin, officer in the Irish Army and the instigator of the Irish Army Mutiny in March 1924, dies in Dublin on April 30, 1963. During the Irish War of Independence, he serves as an Irish Republican Army (IRA) intelligence officer for Michael CollinsSquad.

Tobin is born William Joseph Tobin at 13 Great Georges Street in Cork, County Cork, on November 15, 1895, the eldest son of Mary Agnes (nee Butler) and David Tobin, a hardware clerk. He has two younger siblings, Katherine and Nicholas Augustine Tobin, also born in Cork. His family moves to John Street in Kilkenny and then to Dublin. He goes to school in Kilkenny and is an apprentice in a hardware shop at the time of the 1916 Easter Rising. As a participant in the Rising he fights in the Four Courts garrison under Edward Daly. He is arrested, court martialed, and sentenced to death but his sentence is commuted to life imprisonment. He is a prisoner in Kilmainham, Mountjoy, Lewes, Dartmoor, Broadmoor and Pentonville prisons. He is released in June 1917.

In early 1919 Tobin becomes Collins’ chief executive in the Intelligence Directorate handling the many spies in Dublin Castle, including double agent David Neligan. Nancy O’Brien works for Under-Secretary for Ireland James Macmahon, decoding messages sent from London. Each day between 2:30 and 3:30 she passes any information acquired to either Tobin, Joseph McGrath, or Desmond FitzGerald. Tobin is involved in planning the assassinations of British soldiers, informants, members of the Royal Irish Constabulary, the Dublin Metropolitan Police, and operatives of MI5. He constructs detailed profiles of everyone remotely connected to the British government, often using Who’s Who, The Morning Post, and The Times, a newspaper that describes him as “one of the most formidable of [the] Twelve Apostles.”

In October 1921, Tobin travels with the Irish Treaty Delegation as part of Collins’ personal staff.

Tim Pat Coogan and James Mackay have examined Tobin’s involvement in the assassination of British Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson. Wilson’s public tirades about Collins is evidence of mutual personal dislike between the two men. In May 1922 Collins tells Tobin “We’ll kill a member of that bunch” to the news of “bloody pogroms” in Belfast. Wilson is intimately involved with the Ulster loyalist cause, including the Curragh Mutiny and the establishment of the Ulster Special Constabulary. Just before the shooting, Coogan places Tobin in London. He meets courier Peig Ni Braonain at Euston Station collecting a document that has been sent from Dublin. Returning to Dublin before the incident, he is jubilant when he tells defence minister Richard Mulcahy about Wilson’s death. Mulcahy is appalled and threatens to resign.

Following the Anglo-Irish Treaty, Tobin is appointed deputy director of intelligence in the new state and assigned to the Criminal Investigation Department based at Oriel House. However Collins soon replaces him with Joseph McGrath. Tobin is placed on the Army Council and is Director of Intelligence from September 1922 until his appointment as Senior Aide-de-Camp to the new GovernorGeneral of the Irish Free State, Tim Healy, in November 1922. The position provides an apartment in Viceregal Lodge.

In October 1922, Tobin’s brother Nicholas, a Free State captain, is accidentally shot dead by his own troops during the raid and capture of a bomb making factory at number 8 Gardiner’s Place, Dublin.

Tobin believes in the stepping stone doctrine which sees the Treaty as a stage towards full independence. With the outbreak of the Irish Civil War he remains loyal to Collins and takes the Pro-Treaty side. He leads in the fight against the Anti-Treaty IRA in the south. Disillusioned with the continuing hostilities and in the aftermath of the death of Collins, he forms an association called the IRA Organisation (IRAO) or “Old Irish Republican Army” to distinguish themselves from the anti-treaty insurgents.

Richard Mulcahy, the new Irish defence minister, proposes to reduce the army from 55,000 to 18,000 men in the immediate post- Civil-War period. Tobin knows his own position is to be affected and shares the perception that the Irish Army treats former British officers better than former IRA officers. On March 7, 1924, Tobin, together with Colonel Charlie Dalton, sends an ultimatum to President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State W. T. Cosgrave demanding an end to the army demobilisation. The immediate response is an order for the arrest of the two men on a charge of mutiny. The cabinet, already wary of the Irish Army, orders an inquiry and appoints Garda Commissioner Eoin O’Duffy to the army command.

On March 18, the mutineers assemble with hostile intent at a Dublin pub. An order is made to arrest the mutineers and the cabinet demands the resignation of the army council. The generals resign, affirming the subservience of the military to the civilian government of the new state.

In later years, Tobin rebuilds relations with his Civil War foes and joins Éamon de Valera‘s Anti-Treaty Fianna Fáil party. He joins up with Joseph McGrath to form the Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstake in the 1930s. Many other former army comrades find work in this lottery. He leaves the Sweep in 1938. After World War II, he becomes Superintendent of the Oireachtas for the Irish Dáil.

On October 14, 1929, Tobin marries Monica “Mona” Higgins at the Church of the Holy Family, Aughrim Street, Dublin. They have two daughters, Máire and Anne Tobin. Following the death of his father, David, in 1956, Tobin’s health declines, resulting in his death in Dublin on April 30, 1963.

Tobin is portrayed by actor Brendan Gleeson in Neil Jordan‘s biopic Michael Collins.


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Death of James McNeill, Second Governor-General of the Irish Free State

James McNeill, Irish politician and diplomat who serves as first High Commissioner to London and second Governor-General of the Irish Free State, dies on December 12, 1938.

One of five children born to Archibald McNeill, a Roman Catholic working class “baker, sailor and merchant,” and his wife, Rosetta (née McAuley) McNeill, McNeill is the brother of nationalist leader Eoin MacNeill. He serves as a high-ranking member of the Indian Civil Service in Calcutta.

Although unconnected with the Easter Rising in 1916, McNeill is arrested and jailed by the British Dublin Castle administration. On release, he is elected to Dublin County Council, becoming its chairman. He serves as a member of the committee under Michael Collins, the chairman of the Provisional Government, that drafts the Constitution of the Irish Free State. He is subsequently appointed as High Commissioner from Ireland to the United Kingdom.

When the first Governor-General of the Irish Free State, Tim Healy, retires in December 1927, McNeill is proposed as his replacement by the Irish government of W. T. Cosgrave and duly appointed by King George V as Governor-General of the Irish Free State.

In office, McNeill clashes with the King’s Private Secretary when he insists on following the constitutional advice of his Irish ministers, rather than that of the Palace, in procedures relating to the receipt of Letters of Credence accrediting ambassadors to the King in Ireland. He also refuses to attend ceremonies in Trinity College, Dublin, when some elements in the college try to ensure that the old British national anthem God Save the King is played, rather than the new Irish anthem, Amhrán na bhFiann.

When Éamon de Valera is nominated as President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State in 1932, McNeill opts to travel to Leinster House, the parliament buildings, to appoint de Valera, rather than to require that he go to the Viceregal Lodge, the Governor-General’s residence and the former seat of British Lords Lieutenant, to avoid embarrassing de Valera, who is a republican.

However, McNeill’s tact is not reciprocated by de Valera’s government, and some of its ministers seek to humiliate him as the King’s representative by withdrawing the Irish Army‘s band from playing at functions he attends and demanding he withdraw invitations to visitors to meet him. In one notorious incident in April, two ministers, Seán T. O’Kelly (a future President of Ireland) and Frank Aiken, publicly walk out of a diplomatic function when McNeill, there as the guest of the French ambassador, arrives. In a fury, McNeill writes to de Valera demanding an apology for this treatment. When none is forthcoming, apart from an ambiguous message from de Valera that could be interpreted as partially blaming McNeill for attending functions at which ministers would be present, he publishes his correspondence with de Valera, even though de Valera had formally advised him not to do so. De Valera then demands that George V dismiss him.

The King engineers a compromise, whereby de Valera withdraws his dismissal request and McNeill, who is due to retire at the end of 1932, will push forward his retirement date by a month or so. McNeill, at the King’s request, resigns on November 1, 1932.

In June 1932 John Charles McQuaid, President of Blackrock College hosts an extravagant garden party to welcome Papal Legate Lorenzo Lauri, who had arrived in Ireland to represent Pope Pius XI at the 31st International Eucharistic Congress. While de Valera maintains a very high profile at the event, McQuaid, at de Valera’s request, goes to great lengths to avoid MacNeill to the extent possible.

McNeill dies on December 12, 1938 at the age of 69 in London. His widow Josephine is appointed Minister to the Hague by Seán MacBride, Minister for External Affairs in the coalition government of 1948.


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Seán Thomas O’Kelly Elected Second President of Ireland

Seán Thomas O’Kelly (Irish: Seán Tomás Ó Ceallaigh) is elected the second President of Ireland on June 18, 1945. He serves two terms from 1945 to 1959. He is a member of Dáil Éireann from 1918 until his election as President. During this time he serves as Minister for Local Government and Public Health (1932–1939) and Minister for Finance (1939–1945). He serves as Vice-President of the Executive Council from 1932 until 1937 and is the first Tánaiste from 1937 until 1945.

O’Kelly is born on August 25, 1882 on Capel Street in the north inner-city of Dublin. He joins the National Library of Ireland in 1898 as a junior assistant. That same year, he joins the Gaelic League, becoming a member of the governing body in 1910 and General Secretary in 1915.

In 1905 O’Kelly joins Sinn Féin who, at the time, supports a dual-monarchy. He is an honorary secretary of the party from 1908 until 1925. In 1906 he is elected to Dublin Corporation, which is Dublin’s city council. He retains the seat for the Inns Quay Ward until 1924.

O’Kelly assists Patrick Pearse in preparing for the Easter Rising in 1916. After the rising, he is jailed, released, and jailed again. He escapes from detention at HM Prison Eastwood Park in Falfield, South Gloucestershire, England and returns to Ireland.

O’Kelly is elected Sinn Féin MP for Dublin College Green in the 1918 Irish general election. Along with other Sinn Féin MPs he refuses to take his seat in the British House of Commons. Instead they set up an Irish parliament, called Dáil Éireann, in Dublin. O’Kelly is Ceann Comhairle (Chairman) of the First Dáil. He is the Irish Republic’s envoy to the post-World War I peace treaty negotiations at the Palace of Versailles, but the other countries refuse to allow him to speak as they do not recognise the Irish Republic.

O’Kelly is a close friend of Éamon de Valera, and both he and de Valera oppose the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 1921. When de Valera resigns as President of the Irish Republic on January 6, 1922, O’Kelly returns from Paris to try to persuade de Valera to return to the presidency but de Valera orders him to return to Paris.

During the Irish Civil War, O’Kelly is jailed until December 1923. Afterwards he spends the next two years as a Sinn Féin envoy to the United States.

In 1926 when de Valera leaves Sinn Féin to found his own republican party, Fianna Fáil, O’Kelly follows him, becoming one of the party’s founding members. In 1932, when de Valera is appointed President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State he makes O’Kelly the Minister for Local Government and Public Health. He often tries to publicly humiliate the Governor-General of the Irish Free State, James McNeill, which damages O’Kelly’s reputation and image, particularly when the campaign backfires.

In 1938, many believe that de Valera wants to make O’Kelly the Fianna Fáil choice to become President of Ireland, under the new Irish constitution, Bunreacht na hÉireann. When Lord Mayor of Dublin, Alfie Byrne, says he wants to be president there is an all party agreement to nominate Douglas Hyde, a Protestant Irish Senator, Irish language enthusiast and founder of the Gaelic League. They believe Hyde to be the only person who might win an election against Alfie Byrne. O’Kelly is instead appointed Minister of Finance and helps create Central Bank in 1942.

O’Kelly leaves the cabinet when he is elected President of Ireland on June 18, 1945 in a popular vote of the people, defeating two other candidates. He is re-elected unopposed in 1952. During his second term he visits many nations in Europe and speaks before the United States Congress in 1959. He retires at the end of his second term in 1959, to be replaced by his old friend, Éamon de Valera. Following his retirement he is described as a model president by the normally hostile newspaper, The Irish Times. Though controversial, he is widely seen as genuine and honest, but tactless.

O’Kelly’s strong Roman Catholic beliefs sometimes cause problems. Éamon de Valera often thinks that O’Kelly either deliberately or accidentally leaks information to the Knights of Saint Columbanus and the Church leaders. He ensures that his first state visit, following the creation of the Republic of Ireland in 1949, is to the Vatican City to meet Pope Pius XII. He accidentally reveals the Pope’s private views on communism. This angers the Pope and Joseph Stalin and is why he is not given the papal Supreme Order of Christ which is given to many Catholic heads of state.

O’Kelly dies in Blackrock, Dublin on November 23, 1966 at the age of 84, fifty years after the Easter Rising that first brought him to prominence. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, Glasnevin, Dublin.


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The Dromcollogher Burning

drumcollogher-cinema-fireForty-eight people die when a fire breaks out in a make-shift cinema on the upper floor of the village hall in Dromcollagher, County Limerick, on September 5, 1926.

The conversion of village halls into makeshift cinemas is a common practice in many rural villages in Ireland, right up to the 1940s. Prints are often borrowed from cinemas in larger towns or in Cork city, and then bicycled over to smaller venues (sometimes surreptitiously).

During the Irish Free State period (1922-1937), the exhibition of films is still governed by legislation put in place by the British government in 1909. The Cinematograph Act 1909 stipulates that cinema owners must apply for a license to screen films, and that venues must observe strict safety standards. Such standards include encasing projectors in fireproof booths, ensuring that the highly-unstable nitrate film, then the industry standard, be properly stored and handled, and fitting out venues with several fire exits. The regulations are generally observed by established cinemas but they are often ignored by operators of ad hoc venues/makeshift conversions.

The consequences of such indifference to patron safety are tragically realized in the small town of Dromcollogher in West Limerick in 1926. Situated a few miles from the County Cork border, its population is around 500 at the time, hardly enough to sustain a full-time cinema. However, local hackney driver, William Forde, identifies a business opportunity that seems too good to pass up. Through a contact, Patrick Downey, who works as a projectionist in Cork city’s Assembly Rooms cinema, he arranges for a print of Cecil B. DeMille’s Biblical epic The Ten Commandments to be bicycled over for an unofficial one-off screening.

Forde rents the upstairs room of a venue on Church Street, later described by the Leinster Express as a wooden two-story structure, and advertises his evening’s entertainment. He finds a readymade audience among the churchgoers that come out of the service in the adjacent Catholic Church and straight into the hall, many with their rosary beads still entwined in their hands. It is estimated that 150 people crowd into the room and ascend the ladder to the upstairs room. Though Forde has been informed by one local Garda that he cannot run a screening unless the venue is equipped with fire blankets and exits, he and Downey disregard the advice and, in a bid to reduce the weight for the cyclist bringing the reels from Cork, instruct that the fireproof metal cases be left behind in the city.

A generator hooked up to a lorry is used to power the borrowed projector, and candles to illuminate the makeshift box-office. It is one of those candles, placed in close proximity to an exposed film reel, which sparks off a series of small fires that quickly developed into an inferno. Some of those seated closest to the main exit manage to escape, but those nearer the screen find themselves trapped and iron bars that had been placed on the few windows in the hall windows seal their fate. Whole families are wiped out and the final death toll comes to 48. As newspapers of the time report, 1/10th of the town’s population is lost.

Newspapers around the world carry reports of the tragedy and a relief fund is set up for the survivors with Hollywood star Will Rogers being one of the contributors. President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State William T. Cosgrave later travels to the town to attend the mass funeral service held for the victims.

As for Forde and Downey, they are later charged with manslaughter but the State chooses not to pursue the prosecutions. Forde apparently later immigrates to Australia and possibly accidentally poisons himself, and two others, while working as a cook in the Outback.

The “Dromcollogher Burning”, as it becomes known, holds the dubious honour of Ireland’s worst cinema fire. Sadly, it is not the last time safety regulations are disregarded in an entertainment venue: 75 years later the devastating Stardust Nightclub fire in Dublin also claims the lives of 48 patrons.

(From: “The Dromcollogher Cinema Fire,” http://www.corkmoviememories.com | Image Source: National Library of Ireland)


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Éamon de Valera Elected 3rd President of Ireland

president-eamon-de-valeraThe 1959 Irish presidential election is held on June 17, 1959. Éamon de Valera, then Taoiseach, is elected as President of Ireland. A referendum proposed by de Valera to replace the electoral system of proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote with first-past-the-post voting which is held on the same day is defeated by 48.2% to 52.8%.

Under Article 12 of the Constitution of Ireland, a candidate for president may be nominated by:

  • at least twenty of the then 207 serving members of the Houses of the Oireachtas, or
  • at least four of 31 councils of the administrative counties, including county boroughs, or
  • themselves, in the case of a former or retiring president.

Outgoing president Seán T. O’Kelly had served two terms, and is ineligible to serve again. On April 27, the Minister for Local Government, Neal Blaney, signs the ministerial order opening nominations, with noon on May 19 as the deadline for nominations, and June 17 set as the date for a contest. All Irish citizens on the Dáil electoral register are eligible to vote.

De Valera who had served as President of Dáil Éireann and President of the Irish Republic from 1919 to 1922 during the Irish revolutionary period, as President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State from 1932 to 1937, and as Taoiseach from 1937 to 1948, from 1951 to 1954, and again from 1957 until his election as president, is nominated by Fianna Fáil on May 12. He had served as Fianna Fáil’s leader since its foundation in 1926.

Seán Mac Eoin, a Fine Gael TD who had been the party’s candidate in the 1945 Irish presidential election, is nominated again by the party on May 15.

Patrick McCartan, who had also been a candidate in the 1945 election and had served as a senator for Clann na Poblachta from 1948 to 1951, is nominated by two county councils only, short of the four required for nomination. Eoin O’Mahony also seeks and fails to secure a nomination by county councils.

De Valera wins the popular vote with 538,003 votes (56.3%) to Mac Eoin’s 417,536 votes (43.7%).

Éamon de Valera is inaugurated as the third President of Ireland on June 25, 1959.


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Formation of the Provisional Government of Ireland

provisional-government-of irelandA meeting of the members elected to the House of Commons of Southern Ireland is held at the Mansion House in Dublin on January 14, 1922. At the meeting the Anglo-Irish Treaty is ratified by the Irish side in accordance with the Treaty and a Provisional Government is elected for the purposes of Article 17 of the Treaty.

Under the Irish Republic‘s Dáil Constitution adopted in 1919, Dáil Éireann continues to exist after it has ratified the Anglo-Irish Treaty. In protest at the ratification, Éamon de Valera resigns the presidency of the Dáil then seeks re-election from among its members in order to clarify his mandate, but Arthur Griffith defeats him in the vote and assumes the presidency.

Most of the Dáil Ministers become concurrently Ministers of this Provisional Government. Michael Collins becomes Chairman of the Provisional Government (i.e. prime minister). He also remains Minister for Finance of Griffith’s republican administration.

The Provisional Government takes office two days later on January 16, 1922 when British administration hands over Dublin Castle to Collins in person. At this time, Westminster has not formally appointed the new Irish ministers or conferred their government with any powers.

The handover of Dublin Castle to the Provisional Government is one of the earliest and most remarkable events in the short life of the Provisional Government. For centuries Dublin Castle is the symbol, as well as the citadel, of British rule in Ireland. The transfer of its Castle administration to the representatives of the Irish people is greatly welcomed in Dublin. It is regarded as a significant outward and visible sign that British rule is ending.

Following the general election on June 16, 1922, held just before the outbreak of the Irish Civil War, the Second Provisional Government takes power until the creation of the Irish Free State on December 6, 1922.

By mid-1922, Collins in effect lays down his responsibilities as Chairman of the Provisional Government to become Commander-in-Chief of the Irish Army, a formal structured uniformed army that forms around the pro-Treaty Irish Republican Army (IRA). As part of those duties, he travels to his native County Cork. En route home on August 22, 1922, at Béal na Bláth, he is killed in an ambush. Arthur Griffith dies of a cerebral haemorrhage ten days prior to Collins’ assassination. After Collins’ and Griffith’s deaths in August 1922, W. T. Cosgrave becomes both Chairman of the Provisional Government and President of Dáil Éireann, and the distinction between the two posts becomes irrelevant.

On December 6, 1922, the Irish Free State comes into being, and the Provisional Government becomes the Executive Council of the Irish Free State, presided over by a prime minister called the President of the Executive Council. On December 7 the House of Commons of Northern Ireland unanimously exercises its right under the Treaty to opt out of the Free State.

(Pictured: The Provisional Government of Ireland with President Arthur Griffith (front row center) and his cabinet and party includng Michael Collins (to Griffith’s right) likely taken at the Mansion House in February 1922)


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Free State Government Purchases Copyright to “The Soldiers Song”

amhran-na-bhfiannThe Irish Free State government purchases the copyright of Peadar Kearney‘s The Soldiers Song on October 20, 1933, which becomes the Irish national anthem Amhrán na bhFiann. The song has three verses, but only the choral refrain is officially designated the national anthem.

A Soldiers’ Song is composed in 1907, with words by Peadar Kearney and music by Kearney and Patrick Heeney. The text is first published in Irish Freedom by Bulmer Hobson in 1912. It is used as a marching song by the Irish Volunteers and is sung by rebels in the General Post Office (GPO) during the Easter Rising of 1916. Its popularity increases among rebels held in Frongoch internment camp after the Rising, and the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in the Irish War of Independence (1919–21). After the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922, a large proportion of the IRA’s men and apparatus become the National Army. The Soldiers’ Song remains popular as an Army tune, and is played at many military functions.

The Free State does not initially adopt any official anthem. The delicate political state in the aftermath of the Irish Civil War provokes a desire to avoid controversy. Ex-Unionists continue to regard God Save the King as the national anthem, as it has been for the rest of the British Empire. W. T. Cosgrave, President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State expresses opposition to replacing The Soldiers’ Song, which is provisionally used within the State.

There is concern that the lack of an official anthem is giving Unionists an opportunity to persist with God Save the King. The Soldiers’ Song is widely if unofficially sung by nationalists. On July 12, 1926, the Executive Council of the Irish Free State decides to adopt it as the National Anthem, with Cosgrave the driving force in the decision. However, this decision is not publicised.

In 1928, the Army band establishes the practice of playing only the chorus of the song as the Anthem, because the longer version is discouraging audiences from singing along.

The anthem is played by Radio Éireann at closedown from its inception in 1926. Cinemas and theatres do so from 1932 until 1972. Peadar Kearney, who has received royalties from publishers of the text and music, issues legal proceedings for royalties from those now performing the anthem. He is joined by Michael Heeney, brother of Patrick Heeney, who had died in 1911. In 1934, the Department of Finance acquires the copyright of the song for the sum of £1,200. Copyright law changes in 1959, such that the government has to reacquire copyright in 1965, for £2,500. As per copyright law, the copyright expires in December 2012, following the 70th anniversary of Kearney’s death. In 2016, three Fianna Fáil senators introduce a private member’s bill intended to restore the state’s copyright in the anthem.


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Enactment of the Constitution of Ireland

constitution-of-irelandThe current Constitution of Ireland is enacted by a national plebiscite of voters on July 1, 1937 in what is then the Irish Free State. The Constitution comes into effect on December 29, 1937. The Constitution is closely associated with Éamon de Valera, the President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State at the time, who is personally eager to replace the Constitution of the Irish Free State.

There are two main motivations for replacing the constitution in 1937. Firstly, the Irish Free State constitution of 1922 is, in the eyes of many, associated with the controversial Anglo-Irish Treaty. The second motive for replacing the original constitution is primarily symbolic. De Valera wants to put an Irish stamp on the institutions of government, and chooses to do this in particular through the use of Irish nomenclature.

De Valera, as President of the Executive Council, personally supervises the writing of the Constitution. It is drafted initially by John Hearne, legal adviser to the Department of External Affairs. De Valera serves as his own External Affairs Minister, hence the use of the Department’s Legal Advisor, with whom he has previously worked closely, as opposed to the Attorney General or someone from the Department of the President of the Executive Council. He also receives significant input from John Charles McQuaid, the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, on religious, educational, family, and social welfare issues. The text is translated into Irish over a number of drafts by a group headed by Micheál Ó Gríobhtha who works in the Department of Education.

The framers of the 1937 Constitution decide that it will be enacted not by an elected body but by the people themselves by means of a plebiscite. The preamble to the 1937 Constitution is thus written in the name not of the legislature but of “We, the people of Éire.” On June 2, 1937, the Oireachtas passes the Plebiscite (Draft Constitution) Act 1937, which mandates the holding of a plebiscite on the draft constitution on the same date as the next general election. The Dáil is dissolved on June 14, 1937, as soon as it has approved the draft constitution. The ensuing general election is held on July 1, 1937, and the plebiscite is held in parallel. The question put to voters is simply “Do you approve of the Draft Constitution which is the subject of this plebiscite?” It is passed by a plurality – 56% of voters are in favour, comprising 38.6% of the entire electorate.

Neither the Dáil resolution approving the draft Constitution nor the Plebiscite (Draft Constitution) Act 1937 provide for the plebiscite establish how the Constitution would come into force. It is the Constitution itself which states that this will occur 180 days after its approval, and that the 1922 Constitution will simultaneously be repealed. This happens on December 29, 1937, one hundred eighty days after the July 1 plebiscite.

Consequential acts are passed between July and December to provide for the establishment of, and holding elections for, the new Seanad and the Presidency, as well as for other adaptations. The Presidential Establishment Act, 1938 is passed after the Constitution has come into effect but before the first President, Douglas Hyde, takes office.


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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.


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The 1932 Irish General Election

1932-general-electionAn Irish general election is held on February 16, 1932, just over two weeks after the dissolution of the Dáil on January 29. The general election takes place in 30 parliamentary constituencies throughout the Irish Free State for 153 seats in the lower house of parliament, Dáil Éireann. The 1932 general election is one of the most important general elections held in Ireland in the 20th Century, resulting in the formation of the first Fianna Fáil government. Fianna Fáil becomes the largest party and would continue to be the largest party in Dáil Éireann and at every general election until 2011.

Cumann na nGaedheal fights the general election on its record of providing ten years of stable government. The party brings stability following the chaos of the Irish Civil War and provides honest government. However, by 1932 support of the government is wearing thin, particularly since the party has no solution to the collapse in trade which follows the depression of the early 1930s. Instead of offering new policies the party believes that its record in government will be enough to retain power. Cumann na nGaedheal also employs “red scare” tactics, describing Fianna Fáil as communists and likening Éamon de Valera to Joseph Stalin.

In comparison, Fianna Fáil has an elaborate election programme designed to appeal to a wide section of the electorate. It plays down its republicanism to avoid alarm but provides very popular social and economic policies. The party promises to free Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoners, abolish the Oath of allegiance, and reduce the powers of the Governor-General and the Senate. It also promises the introduction of protectionist policies, industrial development, self-sufficiency, and improvements in housing and social security benefits.

The election campaign between the two ideologically opposed parties is reasonably peaceful. However, during the campaign the government prosecutes de Valera’s newly established newspaper, The Irish Press. The editor is also brought before a military tribunal. This is seen by many as a major blunder and a serious infringement on the belief of freedom of speech. The “red scare” tactics also seemed to backfire on the government, who seem to have little else to offer the electorate.

When the results are known Fianna Fáil is still 5 seats short of an overall majority but looks like the only party capable of forming a government. Discussions get underway immediately after the election and an agreement is reached in which the Labour Party would support Fianna Fáil. The party now has the necessary votes to form a minority government.

On March 9, 1932, the first change of government in the Irish Free State takes place. Similar to when the party first enters the Dáil in 1927, a number of Fianna Fáil Teachtaí Dála (TDs) have guns in their pockets. However, the feared coup d’état does not take place. W. T. Cosgrave is determined to adhere to the principles of democracy that he has practised while in government. Likewise, the army, Garda Síochána, and the civil service all accept the change of government, despite the fact that they will now be taking orders from men who had been their enemies less than ten years previously. After a brief and uneventful meeting in the Dáil chamber, Éamon de Valera is appointed President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State by the Governor-General, James McNeill, who has come to Leinster House to make the appointment rather than require de Valera travel to the Viceregal Lodge, formerly a symbol of British rule. Fianna Fáil, the party most closely identified with opposing the existence of the state ten years earlier, is now the party of government. The 1932 general election is the beginning of a sixteen-year period in government for Fianna Fáil.