100 Years, An Chéad Dáil Éireann - Daithí Ó Ríain

January 21st 1919- “These are Revolutionary Times”

The Republic Established

On January 21st 1919, the democratically elected representatives of the Irish People established the All Ireland Socialist Republic- the Republic that had been Proclaimed in Arms in 1916.

On that historic day, An Chéad Dáil Éireann, the Revolutionary Government of the Republic, met for the first time in the Mansion House, Dublin at 3.30pm. Before a packed public audience and representatives of the Irish and International Media, the Dáil declared itself the only legitimate Government in Ireland. During its first session lasting nearly two hours and conducted entirely in Irish, Dáil Éireann issued the Declaration of Independence, agreed a Provisional Constitution of the Irish Republic, sent a message to the Free Nations of the World, elected three delegates to the Paris Peace Conference and most importantly, outlined the Democratic Programme of Dáil Éireann, which in conjunction with the 1916 Proclamation is the revolutionary outline of a socialist society in Ireland. 

Building on the 1916 Proclamation, the Democratic Programme reasserted “the right of the People of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland and to the unfettered control of Irish Destinies. Declaring Pádraig Mac Phiarais as the First President of the Irish Republic it continued, that “The Nations sovereignty extends not only to all men and women of the Nation, but to all its material possessions, the Nations soil and all resources, all wealth and wealth producing processes within the Nation” and proclaimed that “all right to private property must be subordinated to the public right and welfare”.

In the Words of Liam Mellows, any reading of the Democratic Programme makes it clear that “The Irish Republic is the People’s Republic”, the Socialist Republic that James Connolly gave his life for. Importantly, it is also clear from reading the Democratic Programme that that Republic would not just be free, but Gaelic as well.

The Provisional Constitution agreed at the first meeting of Dáil Éireann established a President and Four Ministers as the Cabinet of the Irish Republic. With many elected TDs still in prison, Cathal Brugha. the hero of the Battle of South Dublin Union, was named as acting President, while Eoin Mc Neil was named Minister for Finance, Michael Collins as Minister for Home Affairs, Count Plunkett, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Richard Mulcahy, the Minister for National Defence.

Under the direction of Dáil Éireann the cabinet immediately began the work of overseeing the establishment of Republican Dual Power across the country, to undermine the illegal British Forces of occupation and build the Irish Republic from the bottom up. Institutions to defend and build this revolutionary republican system of Dual Power were quickly established including the Republican police, Dáil Courts and the Land Commission. The Republican Army which had been in existence since Easter Monday 1916, now gave its allegiance to Dáil Éireann.

As part of the system of Republican Dual Power, County Councils across the country began to give their backing to Dáil Éireann and the Republic became very much a state within a state that had the popular allegiance and support of the Irish People.

Soloheadbeg

As the Republic was being established in Dublin, the opening shots of the Black and Tan war rang out in Soloheadbeg, Tipperary. 

IRA Volunteers from the 3rd Tipperary Brigade, under the leadership of 1916 veteran Seamus Robinson, staged a daring ambush to liberate explosives guarded by the Royal Irish Constabulary.

The mastermind of the operation was the legendary guerrilla Séan Treacy, who believed the revolutionary armed struggle was the only path to National Liberation in Ireland. In December 1918, the unit received intelligence that a consignment of gelignite was to be moved from the British Army Barracks in Tipperary to Soloheadbeg Quarry at some point in January. The IRA decided to liberate it.

Everyday from January 16-21st the IRA Volunteers took up ambush positions from early morning to await the precious delivery. On January 21st, the consignment was spotted by IRA scouts leaving the barracks on a horse drawn cart led by two council workers and guarded by just two armed RIC men. 

As the horse drawn cart drove into the ambush zone, masked IRA Volunteers confronted them on the road and demanded they surrender. The RIC immediately took up firing positions and the volunteers were forced to engage and neutralise them. The weapons and ammunition were confiscated from the dead RIC men and the IRA then commandeered the cart full of explosives and made good their escape. The council workers were held under armed guard until the explosives were safely dumped and then released unharmed. 

Many of those who took part in the opening ambush of the ‘Tan War would become household names in the epic guerrilla struggle that followed. Seamus Robinson, Sean Treacy, Dan Breen and Sean Hogan would all play a key part in the war against British Imperialism in Ireland.

In response to the ambush the colonial administration declared South Tipperary a special military zone, while on January 31st, An t-Óglach, the organ of the IRA, defiantly declared that the establishment of Dáil Éireann “justifies Irish Volunteers in treating the armed forces of the enemy- whether soldiers or policemen- exactly as a National Army would treat the members of an invading army”.

The IRA action at Soloheadbeg greatly inspired the general population as it was a clear signal that the Irish People’s War for National Liberation and Socialism had begun. 

Rebuild the Republic

Over the course of the ‘Tan War which waged from 1919-1921 the IRA and the mobilised Irish People fought British Imperialism to a stalemate. However, the Republic was betrayed by a mutually beneficial alliance between domestic capitalism and British Imperialism and was suppressed during a violent counter revolution that has continued to this day. Yet in the words of the 1916 Proclamation “The Irish Republic is entitled to and hereby claims the allegiance of every Irishman and Irishwoman”. The Socialist Republic as set out in the Proclamation and Democratic Programme remains the objective of genuine Irish Republicans today. Therefore, the only legitimate honouring of our revolutionary history is to rebuild the All Ireland Socialist Republic Proclaimed in 1916 and Established 100 years ago on January 21st 1919. This is not an aspiration or rhetoric, it is our duty. 

Carried in Issue 3 of An Spréach Magazine, Jan - Mar 2019