As the early days of 1919 set in, it was clearly evident the country was embarking on a tumultuous era which would define its future, writes Eamonn Duggan.


With the Great War over and the result of the December 1918 general election still reverberating throughout the corridors of political power, the people of Ireland faced into an uncertain 1919 unsure of what was ahead of them.

The one thing they were certain of was that the political landscape had changed appreciably and republicanism had taken over from the old ideal of home rule. The new political elite were young and vibrant and determined to set Ireland on a course towards independence which would allow the country to take its rightful place among a new community of nations set to emerge after four years and more of devastating conflict.

The winds of change began to blow dramatically as early as January when the successful Sinn Féin candidates in the general election maintained their party’s policy of abstention from Westminster and opted instead to set up Dáil Éireann, much to the displeasure of the near decimated Irish Parliamentary Party and the government in London.

That first and historic meeting of Dáil Éireann took place on January 21st in the Round Room of Dublin’s Mansion House and marked the beginning of the end for British rule in Ireland.

The business of the meeting was conducted for the only time entirely in the Irish language and was attended by 27 of Sinn Féin’s successful general election candidates, with the remainder described as absent and either “imprisoned by foreigners” or “deported by foreigners”.

The six successful Irish Party candidates and the twenty-six Unionist Party candidates refused to attend and instead took their seats in the Westminster parliament.
The Dáil elected Cathal Brugha as Ceann Comhairle in the absence of the imprisoned Éamon de Valera and it adopted a Constitution as well as a declaration of independence. The First Dáil also adopted the so-called Democratic Programme mainly as a sop to the Labour Party, which had agreed not to contest the election, and it issued a message to the free nations of the world asking them to recognise the Irish Republic free from British rule.

On the very same day the first Dáil met, there was an incident in Soloheadbeg in County Tipperary which is now universally accepted as being the first action in the War of Independence. The fact that it happened on the day republican politicians met in the Mansion House was a coincidence and there was no evidence to suggest that both events were co-ordinated.

On that fateful day two RIC men were killed in an ambush carried out by Volunteers from the 3rd Tipperary Brigade. The ambush of a convoy escorting a consignment of gelignite was led by Dan Breen, Sean Treacy, Sean Hogan and Seamus Robinson, all men who would later go on to play an active part in the independence conflict.
The two RIC men who lost their lives – James Mc Donnell and Patrick O’Connell – were local men who, many at the time pointed out, were carrying out their duties as policemen and their deaths were strongly condemned by the authorities in Dublin Castle and the Catholic Church hierarchy.

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