100 YEARS AGO: The First Dáil is seated

Published in Volume 27

By Joseph E.A. Connell

Above: Twenty-four of the 28 TDs who were present in the Mansion House’s Round Room on 21 January 1919. Absent TDs had been either imprisoned or deported ‘by the foreign enemy’.

On 21 January 1919 the First Dáil met in the Mansion House’s Round Room. At 3.30pm Count Plunkett called the meeting to order and nominated Cathal Brugha as Ceann Comhairle (speaker/chairperson). Padraig Ó Maille seconded this. Brugha presided thereafter and, following the reading of the Declaration of Independence, he told the cheering assembly: ‘Deputies, you understand from what is asserted in this Declaration that we are now done with England. Let the world know it and those who are concerned bear it in mind.’ Fr Michael O’Flanagan read opening prayers.

The Declaration of Independence was passed unanimously. Brugha read it in Irish, Éamonn Duggan in English and George Gavan-Duffy in French. (Piaras Béaslaí, Conor Collins, George Gavan-Duffy, Seán T. O’Kelly, James O’Mara and James J. Walsh drafted the provisional constitution and the Declaration of Independence.)

The ‘Message to Free Nations’ was read by Robert Barton in English and by J.J. O’Kelly in Irish:

‘The Nation of Ireland, having proclaimed her national independence, calls, through her elected representatives in Parliament assembled in the Irish Capital on January 21st, 1919, upon every free nation to support the Irish Republic by recognising Ireland’s national status and her right to its vindication at the Peace Congress.’

A Democratic Programme of Dáil Éireann was read and unanimously adopted, founded on the 1916 Proclamation. At the request of the Dáil, Thomas Johnson, secretary of the Irish Labour Party, and William O’Brien prepared and submitted a draft for a social and democratic programme. About half of their draft was included in the programme as finally written and submitted by Seán T. O’Kelly:

‘We declare in the words of the Irish Republican Proclamation the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies to be indefeasible, and in the language of our first President, Padraic Pearse, we declare that the nation’s sovereignty extends not only to all men and women of the nation, but to all its material possessions; the nation’s soil and all its resources, all the wealth and all the wealth-producing processes within the nation; and with him we re-affirm that all the rights to private property must be subordinated to the public right and welfare.’

Twenty-eight TDs attended. (Some claim 27; the photo taken that day showed 24 attendees.) The answer to the roll-call for 34 absent deputies was ‘Imprisoned by the foreign enemy’, and for three absent deputies ‘Deported by the foreign enemy’. Answering ‘Present’ were 28 Sinn Féin TDs out of a total of 104 names called, including all other parties. Even Ulster’s Edward Carson received an invitation—in Irish.

Some TDs were elected for two constituencies, so there were only 69 persons elected. Two were ill, others had been deported and five were on missions abroad, but the majority were in gaol in England. (Michael Collins and Harry Boland were in England working on de Valera’s escape from prison but were marked present to keep others from asking where they were.) Of the Dáil members 33% were under 35 years and another 40% were between 35 and 40. There were only two Protestant members, Ernest Blythe and Robert Barton.

The officers elected were: Éamon de Valera, president; Arthur Griffith and Fr O’Flanagan, vice-presidents; Austin Stack and Darrell Figgis, secretaries; William T. Cosgrave and Laurence Ginnell, treasurers. The Executive elected consisted of Boland, Collins, Seán T. O’Kelly, Seán MacEntee and James J. Walsh. Clerks appointed were Risteard Ó Fogladha (chief clerk), Seán Nunan, Diarmuid O’Hegarty and Patrick Sheehan. 

No oath was administered to the deputies on 21 January. The elected deputies present had signed a republican pledge at their meeting on 7 January: ‘I hereby pledge myself to work for the establishment of an independent Irish Republic; that I will accept nothing less than complete separation from England in settlement of Ireland’s claims; and that I will abstain from attending the English Parliament’.

Joseph E.A. Connell is the author of Michael Collins: Dublin 1916–22 (Wordwell Books).


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