Birr Historical Society celebrate first Dáil centenary


On Monday January 21, members and friends of Birr Historical Society met in The County Arms Hotel, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the 1st Dáil. There was a full turnout for the meeting, where Birr Historical Society President Brian Kennedy gave a talk on the foundation of the 1st Dáil and the establishment of Irish Democracy up to the ‘Emergency’ (World War 11).

As the evening commenced Brian outlined the great events that occurred on that day a century ago. Not only was it the day on which our parliamentary democracy began but it was also the anniversary of the Soloheadbeg Ambush and the beginning of our War of Independence. He pointed out that many present had connections to these events and his own grandfather was very much a part of the Independence struggle.

The talk began by outlining the situation in Ireland between 1900 and January 1921. The role of the Home Rule Party and foundation of Arthur Griffith’s Sinn Fein Party in 1905 were significant events leading to Dáil Éireann. A major milestone along the way was the passing of the 3rd Home Rule Bill in 1912. Due to the House of Lords veto this was set to become law in 1914. It would have established a devolved parliament in Dublin to deal with domestic Irish issues, with the King as Head of State.

The issues surrounding Unionist opposition to the bill were listed, as were the causes of the 1916 Rising. Brian pointed out that General John Maxwell was referred to as, ‘The man who lost Ireland’, due to his execution of the 1916 leaders. In particular, the perceived unjust executions of Willie Pearse, James Connolly, Joseph Mary Plunkett and Francis Sheehy-Skeffington were examined. These events turned Ireland towards republicanism.

Due to a mis-representation in an English newspaper, Sinn Fein were credited with organising the 1916 Rising, consequently their popularity grew under the leadership of Eamon De Valera. This resulted in a dramatic win of 73 seats for Sinn Fein in the December 1918 election. An historic election on many counts, it also marked the extension of the vote to women over 30 years and universal male franchise.

In keeping with their policy of abstention from Westminster, Sinn Fein now felt they had a mandate to establish a Dáil, in Dublin. Accordingly, 27 deputies met in the Round Room, of the Mansion House, on January 21, 1919. The remaining TDs were on the run or in jail.

The second part of the talk concerned the actions of the Cumann na nGaedheal and Fianna Fáil governments following the War of Independence and Civil War, to establish democracy in this country.

The W.T. Cosgrave led Cumann na nGaedheal Party achieved much in power, on democratic and economic fronts. Kevin O’Higgins as Minister for Justice set up the Civic Guards (later renamed an Garda Siochána) and the Irish Court system. In 1927 they established the ESB and built Ardnacrusha Power Station. Other projects included Carlow Sugar Beet Factory and the ACC Bank. Their biggest coup was getting the British Commonwealth to adopt the 1931 Statue of Westminster, which later allowed De Valera to dismantle the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty.

Following the 1932 General Election, De Valera’s Fianna Fáil gained power. Immediately they had to participate in the Eucharistic Congress. Brian pointed out that the success of this major world event led to Fianna Fáil being accepted as a party of government. From 1932 to 1937 this government dismantled the Treaty and due to the British abdication crisis were able to remove all referenes to the King from the Irish Constitution. As a result, a new constitution ‘Bunreacht na hÉireann’ was adopted in 1937, making Ireland a republic in everything but name.

At the end of the talk Brian mentioned the debt of gratitude we owe to our State’s founders. The democratic rights we enjoy today are a result of their hard work and sacrifice.

The meeting concluded with a question and answer session. The next meeting on February 18 will see Offaly Heritage Officer Amanda Pedlow, outline the ‘Heritage Ireland 2030’ plan and will give members an opportunity to contribute to the consultation.

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