President Higgins to lead celebrations to mark the very first Dail in 1919

by Padraig Conlon

“Now, therefore, we, the elected Representatives of the ancient Irish people in National Parliament assembled, do, in the name of the Irish nation, ratify the establishment of the Irish Republic and pledge ourselves and our people to make this declaration effective by every means at our command.”

The above Declaration of Irish Independence – the historic pronouncement of Ireland’s freedom from English rule – was made at the first meeting of Dail Eireann in the Mansion House on Tuesday, January 21, 1919.

Today, an event will take place to mark the centenary of that historic event, taking place in the Round Room, the residence of the Lord Mayor of Dublin.

In the general election of December 1918, members of the Sinn Fein party won 73 of the 105 Irish seats, but had pledged not to sit in Westminster.

Instead, they put together a representative assembly in Dublin and invited all the elected members for Ireland.

Missing on the day were Eamon de Valera and Arthur Griffith, who were both in jail, and Michael Collins, who was on the run from British Forces, and together with Harry Boland was busy preparing plans for the successful escape of de Valera from Lincoln Gaol.

The Dail asserted the exclusive right of the elected representatives of the Irish people to legislate for the country, and elected Cathal Brugha as its Ceann Comhairle.

The proceedings that afternoon were conducted for the only time in Dail history entirely in the Irish language, and began with a prayer from Fr Michael O’Flanagan.

The opening business involved the appointment of a speaker, Cathal Brugha, the appointment of clerks, and the calling of the roll.

Some 29 names were recorded as present; most of the others were declared to be “imprisoned by the foreigner” (fe ghlas ag Gallaibh) as they were still in English jails.

This was followed by the important business of the day being formulated: the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Address to the free nations of the world, and the Democratic Programme.

The Mansion House was open to the public over the weekend by Lord Mayor Nial Ring as a mark of the occasion.

To mark the occasion today, a joint meeting of Dail and Seanad Eireann will take place, featuring former and current TDs and senators.

Firstly, there will be an address from President Michael D Higgins, followed by a reflection from a descendant of a member of the first Dail, followed by a full joint sitting featuring the signing and presentation of a ‘Centenary Declaration’.

The joint sitting on January 21 will be broadcast live on Oireachtas TV from 3.30pm – 5.30pm.

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