A Beginner’s Guide to the First Dáil

What? The first Dáil.

OK, and again, what? “Dail”? No, “Dáil”, with a fada.

That accent thingy? Yes.

What does it do? It changes the pronunciation.

And the correct pronunciation would be? Doyle.

As in Mrs Doyle? From Father Ted? So you do know something about Ireland then.

Ah go on go on… Can we get back to the proper topic please?

Right you are, Ted. So after “what?” comes…?

I’m not sure we’ve actually finished “what” yet. Ah, right. The first Dáil was the self-declared parliament of the Irish Republic, which met in Dublin after the British general election of December 1918, instead of the elected MPs going to the House of Commons.

What, all of them? No, only the Sinn Féin candidates who were returned. MPs from other parties (the Unionists and the Irish Parliamentary Party) took up their seats in Westminster.

Why? This had been a Sinn Féin manifesto promise. For the background you should probably have a look at some of the other articles on this website, such as this one. Or read my book.

When? The first meeting was on 21st January 1919.

Ah ha, another centenary then. There’s a lot of them about. Two on this day, in fact.

What’s the other one? The Soloheadbeg ambush.

Are you going to talk about that too? Not here.

And who was at this first Dáil? Well, a few people, but not as many of them as there should have been. Among the better-known attendees were Eoin MacNeill, Eamonn Duggan, Cathal Brugha, and (Count) George Plunkett. All in all, 27 attended the first meeting.

And where were the rest? In prison or on the run from the British authorities.

I’ll spare you the cracks about a few of today’s politicians also deserving to be in prison. That would be appreciated.

And what was actually decided at this first meeting? Quite a lot. They adopted a new constitution, elected someone to lead the Dáil, issued a declaration of independence from United Kingdom, and appealed to the nations of the world for support.

Not a bad day’s work. Certainly puts today’s arguments over water rates and the like into perspective.

And what did the British authorities think about this? The view of Lord French, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and therefore the UK government’s top man on the island at the time, was that Sinn Féin were playing make-believe and it was better just to ignore the whole goings-on. People, he thought, would some come to their senses.

And did they? No.

And if there was a first, was there then a second, third and so on? Yes. At the minute they’re on the 32nd. But before that there was the Irish War of Independence, the negotiations over the Anglo-Irish Treaty and plenty of other stuff.

So no end to all the anniversaries then? Not for a few more years at least.

A Beginner’s Guide to the First Dáil by