Controlling History: Commemorating the First Dáil, 1929-1969.

The First Dail of January 1919.

Diarmuid Francis Bolger on the battle for ownership of the legacy of the First Dáil Éireann.



January 21 2019 will mark the 100th anniversary of the first meeting of the First Dáil Éireann, where Sinn Féin members who had been elected as MPs in Westminster in the election held the previous month – or at least those newly-elected Sinn Féin MPs not then arrested or on the run – met in Dublin’s Mansion House to declare Ireland to be an independent nation and to establish their own alternative parliament.

With the Representation of the People’s Act of 1918 increasing the number of Irish voters from 700,000 to 2,000,000 voters, the 1918 election can be seen as the first time that a truly representative Irish electorate were able to express their preferences on the issue of self-determination.

January 21 2019 will mark the centenary of the First Dáil Éireann, where Sinn Féin members declared Ireland independent and to established their own alternative parliament

Sinn Féin’s landslide victory gave it an indisputable mandate to boycott Westminster and establish their own alternative First Dáil.  On the same day Irish Volunteers shot dead two RIC policemen in Soloheadbeg. Although unconnected, the two events were seen as interlinking the constitutional and physical force streams of nationalism in Ireland and beginning the Irish War of Independence.

The 50th anniversary commemoration of the First Dáil has been well covered in Irish historiography – being remembered more for the inflamed protests that occurred on the streets in that turbulent year of 1969 than for the extremely low key official commemoration ceremony itself.

However there has been little examination of the politics behind the fact that the Irish government in 1969 were so determined to select the First Dáil as the chief event to be commemorated in 1969, when the anniversaries of other major events that occurred in 1919 – like the start of the War of Independence were very deliberately downplayed at an official level.

Commemorating the First Dáil has not been about remembering the past but about controlling the historical narrative of a complex period of Irish history

In this context, the fact that the Fianna Fáil government of 1969 would wish to pay homage to the past and commemorate the First Dáil might be seen as inevitable: marking, as it did, the anniversary of when a constitutionally elected majority of MPs declared the right of the Irish people to have their own democratic state.

However in reality commemorating the First Dáil was not about remembering the past, and more about controlling the historical narrative of a complex period of Irish history; a stance existing with other commemorations in Ireland. Commemorative and celebratory events were common after independence, and often used to emphasis differences and create more selective readings of history and national identity.[1]

They were used by successive governments not only to highlight the roles that they had played in promoting and creating a prosperous Irish independent state, but to lament the failures of either previous administrations or current political opponents. An examination of why the First Dáil was commemorated spreads a fascinating light on the politics behind commemoration in Ireland; not just for the 50th anniversary, but even prior to this.


The first commemoration, 1929


WT Cosgrave.

The first major commemoration was not held until 1929. The ruling Cumann na nGaedhael government after 1923, in the aftermath of the Civil War, wished to move away from the association of physical force nationalism after independence.

Perhaps a key reason as to why commemorations of the First Dáil was rare in those years with its obvious links to physical force republicanism and to claims that the Free State was an illegitimate successor to the Republic declared in 1919.

Cumann na nGaedhael’s decision to downplay the commemorations of the first Dáil could be traced to the divide in Irish politics which occurred after the ratification of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in January 1922. Sinn Féin split into pro and anti-Treaty factions with the pro-Treaty side, who formed the government side in the subsequent Civil War, becoming Cumann na nGaedheal, under the leadership of W.T. Cosgrave in 1923. The anti-Treaty side ran simply as ‘Republicans’ in 1923 but thereafter regrouped in what was effectively a re-founded Sinn Féin.

The first commemoration in 1919 was held by Sinn Féin, who refused to recognise the ‘Free State parliament’ as the legitimate successor to the First Dáil

Sinn Féin then split again in 1926 between what Timothy O’Neill called ‘negotiable republicans and absolute republicans’[2]. Moderates around Eamon de Valera left Sinn Féin to from Fianna Fáil, and in 1927 made the reluctant decision to take an Oath of Allegiance to the King of England in order to take their seats in Dáil Éireann. It was conceivable that, from Cosgrave’s perspective, commemorating such an event could open old wounds – as well as lead to questions about the differences between the ideals presented by the Dáil in 1919 and the reality of the current state.

A lack of governmental desire to commemorate the First Dáil gave its political opponents the potential to grasp hold of what was still seen by many as a momentous occasion in recent Irish history. Whilst the newly created Fianna Fáil party failed to grasp this opportunity, the hard-line republican Sinn Féin chose to mark the event. By doing this, they could claim they were continuing the legacy of the First Dáil, and that they were the only group who could rightfully claim this title.

This would give legitimacy to a party in steady decline following the departure of many of its key individuals in 1926. The need for validation was vital for the political organisation: by 1929 there were only seventy-one party branches in the state and their funds, after expenses, was £3. In the preceding days before the tenth anniversary of the Dáil, they made an appeal for all ‘Republican citizens’ to swear an oath of loyalty to the Republic – making a clear distinction between not only their party and their political opponents, but also distancing any citizen who did not connect themselves to Republicanism.

Mary MacSwiney, leader of Sinn Fein in 1929.

A public meeting was also held on 21 January 1929, on O’Connell Street. Although this was the actual commemoration date, the party had chosen to wait till the following day to have their official commemoration. In attendance at this street gathering were leading party members John Joe O’Kelly, who had joined the part at its inaugural meeting in 1905, and Mary MacSwiney, who had given the longest anti-Treaty speech in the debates of December 1921, at two hours and forty minutes.[3]

In a similarly impassioned, yet substantially shorter speech, MacSwiney denounced the Anglo-Irish Treaty and the government. One key characteristic of the meeting ten years previously had been who was not there – with many elected deputies either on the run from the British authorities, or in prison.

MacSwiney argued that many Irish people were still under the bondage that those individuals had faced, but instead of it being British Rule, it was from those who had surrendered during the fighting; people who she argued had been afraid of losing their best financial customer. Her rhetoric, which matched the other speakers, argued for the people’s right to independence and the choice to decide their own future – but described any electoral decisions, barring joining Sinn Féin, as voting for the ‘English Free State’.[4]

She also announced that Sinn Féin would hold a meeting of “Dáil Éireann” in the Rotunda and that this would be the real legacy of the first Dáil Éireann. Those in attendance were implored to join the I.R.A, Cumann na mBan or Fianna Éireann, and badges were sold which said ‘No British possession here’. They were also encouraged to boycott newspapers for a week.[5]

The following day saw the official commemoration in the Rotunda; where MacSwiney announced the party’s plan to send a copy of the constitution from ten years previously to every house in Ireland and stated her belief that ‘Parliament was a failure…democracy was a failure and that no solution had been found for a real Christian government’.[6]

A meeting was then held by those present – ex-TD’s who had voted against the Treaty. The meeting discussed many of the problems in Irish society – in particular farming and emigration – however, while blaming Cumann na nGaedhael and Westminster for this, there were very few suggestions for policy change.[7]

The other commemoration of 1929 – Catholic Emancipation


While the Cumann na nGaedhael government had chosen not to mark the event, this could possibly have been due to the other anniversary being held that year: the 100th anniversary of the Roman Catholic Relief Act, which had allowed Catholics to take their seats in Westminster.

This event was particularly important because, by commemorating it, the Free State government could project itself as a united, free and Catholic country.[8] This was perhaps best summed up by Joseph O’Connor, who had been second in command in Jacob’s Biscuit Factory during Easter Week and had fought on the Anti-Treaty side in Dublin during the Civil War. Discussing 1929, he recalled that

‘I was in the procession from Phoenix Park to Watling Street Bridge and feeling very discontented was passing along the Quays when I glanced up and saw our flag flying proudly over Collins Barracks. The thought suddenly came to me that all our efforts were not in vain’.[9]

In the 1930s and 40s


Eamon de Valera commemorating the 1916 Rising in 1966

Nineteen twenty nine was an exception however; in reality commemorations of the First Dáil were a rarity. Fianna Fáil came to power in 1932, and were far more focused on commemorating Easter Week rather than the Dáil: as Diarmaid Ferriter has noted, during this period their aim was to ‘claim sole right to the 1916 inheritance’.[10]

In this context, controlling the narrative of the Rising was far more of a priority than that of the First Dáil, especially when considering the different groups also claiming this inheritance: such as Old IRA groups, who Maud Gonne called ‘true Republicans’.[11]

Fianna Fáil came to power in 1932, and were far more focused on commemorating Easter Week rather than the Dáil

However, one newspaper to repeatedly reference the anniversary was The Irish Press. The paper had been controlled by de Valera and his family, and seen as vital for the nationalist movement – writing to Ernie O’Malley in 1928, de Valera informed him that ‘without a newspaper it will be impossible to make any real national progress in our generation’.[12]

In the mid-1930s, the paper effectively became a lone voice to note the anniversary of the First Dail; as well as using the date to raise complaints about the split in Irish politics post-civil war and to call for a return to the unity and Republican vision of 1919. This began in 1932 with one journalist writing that ‘a nation invincible in unity was rendered helpless by internal divisions…national unity can only be achieved on the basis of the ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence’.[13]

This rhetoric would visibly become stronger and more impassioned; two years later it called for a unity between all nationalist groups as ‘only such a submerging of all minor differences as characterised the essence of Sinn Féin fifteen years ago can bring us back to the position when we were strong enough to declare our self-established freedom to the world’.[14]

The nationalist rhetoric peaked one year later, claiming that the civil war was entirely to blame for the border with Northern Ireland, and calling for all Nationalists to adopt the slogan ‘A United Ireland in our time’.

In this same year (1935), Sinn Féin also chose to hold another commemoration meeting; led by Father Michael O’Flanagan, who opened his speech by arguing to the crowd that being an Irish Republican apparently was worse than either Jewish or Protestant for how you were treated in society.[15] However, what is clear, through the rhetoric and actions of both Sinn Féin and The Irish Press was how, even only a few years on, a trend was already beginning to emerge of using this event as a commemoration to push agendas further away from the actual event being remembered itself.

It would not be until 1936 that Fianna Fáil would choose to actually host a celebration of the First Dáil – the first government sponsored commemoration. This appears to have been done largely as a response to Sinn Féin’s attempt to control the historical narrative of the event. In response to Sinn Féin’s 1935 commemoration, one year later the Free-State Broadcasting Authorities transmitted a radio broadcast from Radio Athlone – originally known as 2RN and aired in the GPO, before being moved to Athlone. Here, participants from the First Dáil, including Robert Barton and Piaras Béásliá, read out declarations made on the day, in both Irish and English.

It was not until 1936 that Fianna Fáil chose to host a celebration of the First Dáil – and then largely as a response to Sinn Féin’s attempt to control the historical narrative of the event.

It was presented by the Republican leaning Noel Hartnett, who read a vivid description of the event which had been written by a witness in 1919. The key speaker was Fianna Fáil’s Sean T O’Kelly.[16] The event also included songs from the revolutionary period played by the Station Orchestra, and culminated with the Station’s Male Quartet singing such marching songs of the Irish Volunteers as ‘Wrap the Green Flag Round Me Boys’, ‘The Three Coloured Ribbon’ and ‘Kelly, the Boy from Killann’.[17]

A furious Sinn Féin argued that this was a political stunt and that ‘no citizen…will be deceived by this latest attempt by the “Free State authorities” as masquerade as the successors of the First Dáil Éireann’.[18] They held their own commemoration in Wynn’s Hotel, Dublin – and while perhaps this was symbolic due to its importance in Irish history (being the location where Cumann na mBan had been formed on 5 April 1914), it was also a sign that they were reaching smaller audiences.

While it is hard to fully gauge the public’s reaction to the commemorative events held by both parties, it should be noted that they were poorly advertised: one correspondent in Belfast actually believed that the large commemoration in Athlone, which had many TD’s travelling up to the county, was for the death of King George V, who had died on 20 January 1936, before being corrected by an irate commentator in the Belfast Newsletter.[19]

However, the main consequence which seemed to intrigue most commentators was Sinn Féin expelling Father O’Flanagan from the party, who had taken part in the government broadcast.[20] O’Flanagan had been the vice President of the party at the time of the First Dáil, and a committed Republican; although he had also been working with the Department of Education in editing county histories.

The 25th anniversary in 1944 was a large occasion, with commemorations nationwide. Fine Gael established a committee for the event, who commissioned ‘Founders of the Dáil’. These were three oil portraits of those they considered to be rightful heirs to such a title – Arthur Griffith, Michael Collins and Kevin O’Higgins. They were painted by Leo Whelan, and had probably been commissioned by the party in response to de Valera’s removal of the cenotaph during the Second World War, which had honoured the three men.

Another radio broadcast was transmitted, where again O’Kelly made a speech, this time speaking of the work done to establish the policies from 1919 and called for the end of partition, saying Ireland needed to

‘bring all Irishmen under a single rule…make it a just, a kindly, a tolerant rule, a rule that shall cherish all the children of the nation equally, generously allowing for their differences of belief, of tradition and of cultures, trusting to time and the influence of a common nationhood, common interests and common institutions, to make us all again, in the fullest sense, one people’. [21]

The majority of the rhetoric was about presenting how much had been done to implement the policies of the First Dáil twenty-five years previously; arguing that their social programming had been in keeping with that presented by the Democratic Programme – a stance that could be argued by many. The broadcast received some attention in the newspapers – although none were as flowery as the writing in the Irish Press, who stated that the programme ‘turned the memories of the middle-aged and aged back through the mists of twenty-five years and reminded them again of magic names that are slipping into the shadows of the past’.[22]

There were also commemorations held by Sinn Féin, who called for greater protests against partition, as well as Ailtiri na hAlséirghe and Glún na Buaidhe.[23] A public meeting held in Cork saw a passionate defence of de Valera, which argued that just because he had taken wrong turns in his life did not mean that everything he had done previously was wrong as well.[24] Most publically, a large commemoration concert was held in Galway on 13 March.

Here, a tableaux was presented by Walter Macken, portraying many of the leading figures in Irish history, from St. Patrick to 1918. Macken also read a history of Ireland remarkable ‘for its concise yet very lucid review of Irish history’.[25] The crowd were treated to Irish dancing, performed by the pupils of dancing champion, J. McMenamin, and a musical selection played by the Army Pipe band.

However, some of the potential magic of the event was lost when it was announced that the three surviving members of the First Dáil from Galway, Brian Cusack, Pádraic Ó Máille and Frank Fahy, would not be in attendance (the fourth man elected for Galway had been Liam Mellows; a strong opponent to the Treaty in 1921, he had been involved in the occupation of the Four Courts in Dublin in 1922, and later executed by the Free State Army). The money raised from the event was sent to the Green Cross – which provided aid to political prisoners in Northern Ireland.[26]

A concern with partition


As the years progressed, the tone of commemoration continued to focus less on the First Dáil, and more towards partition: one Irish Press article on 21 January 1949 was more concerned with the part of the island ‘torn away, wantonly and arbitrarily by an edict of a foreign Parliament’.[27]

There was also incredible potential for the thirtieth anniversary in 1949. After John A. Costello, Taoiseach of the First Inter-Party Government had declared an Irish Republic while on a state visit to Canada in 1948, the Ireland Act needed to be passed in order to officially create the Republic.

While the Bill was being debated in the chambers of Dáil Éireann on 24 November, de Valera declared that, in his view, the Bill should be passed on ‘the day on which a previous Dáil Éireann proclaimed a Republic, the republic that was destroyed’.[28]

This opinion was backed by Con Lehane and Michael Fitzpatrick. However the bill was ultimately introduced on 18 April 1949; the 33rd anniversary of the Easter Rising – continuing the events role as a catch-all date for commemorations.  The 40th anniversary of the foundation of the Dáil saw a concert in the Mansion House, organised by Martin Dempsey, and included performances by Frank Ryan, Maire Ni Scolaidhe and Eamonn de Barra; all accompanied by Evelyn Fitzpatrick.

President Éamon de Valera, spoke of how it was ‘easy to declare something, but to make that declaration effective is another matter’[29] before ending by saying that the last step towards completing this was by ending partition. With attendance numbers limited, the public were treated to a radio broadcast on 30 March instead. Entitled The Vision, this was a documentary highlighting the ideas of the First Dáil, and asked questions including ‘what was the vision that the many and varied leaders of the Rising shared?’ and ‘what, to speak in Greek ideas, were their ideas of the True, the Good, and the Beautiful’.[30]

People were also now encouraged to learn more about the meetings held by both the First and Second Dáil’s, with Fianna Fáil having the Government Publications Sale Office released three volumes containing all the debates of both.


The fiftieth anniversary – 1969


In 1968, it became apparent that Fianna Fáil government needed to organise a large commemoration for the 50th anniversary of the First Dáil. They argued that Fine Gael believed that the foundation of the Irish state dated from the establishment of the parliament under the Treaty of December 1921.

For Fianna Fáil, this was problematic; this stance denied the authority of the First and Second Dáil, meaning any military action done by members of the party during the War of Independence and the Civil War would have been done in order to defend a non-existent Government.

In 1969 Fianna Fáil marked the First Dáil and Irish Declaration of independence to head off a possibility that the fiftieth anniversary of the Anglo Irish Treaty could be heralded as the foundation of the Irish state.

It was believed that the party could not let the anniversary pass without ‘establishing the historical position’.[31] It was argued that, if not, Fine Gael would demand a full commemoration in 1971 for the Third Dáil. This meant that Lynch’s government would be left in ‘the unenviable position of having to celebrate the signing of the Treaty, the partitioning of the country, and the start of the Civil War’.[32]

This would become a key aspect of Fianna Fáil’s attitude towards commemoration of this period – the 50th anniversary of the War of Independence: an acute fear of raising controversy and tensions, in particular in regards to the tensions building in Northern Ireland. In this context, the attitude was to commemorate non-contentious historical events; such as the First Dáil.

This would also be seen in 1971, when the government commemorated the signing of the Anglo-Irish Truce which ended the War of Independence, instead of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. It was decided unanimously on 2 July 1968, that the party should organise a state commemoration on 21 January 1969, led by Minster for Finance, Charles Haughey.

The formalities would consist of a simple ceremony in the Mansion House, with short speeches to mimic the First Dáil.[33] A commemorative stamp would be created, as well as a plaque, unveiled at the ceremony. Interestingly, Haughey believed that no historians, especially those based in Dublin, should be involved, believing this aspect must be controlled by the state, particularly arguing against involving those who;

‘Fancy themselves as Lytton Strachey a tháinigh go hÉirinn (the Irish tendency to wallow in the academic fashion of the year before last is really painful). But…commemoration is perhaps not the metier of historians, particularly after a long occupation of the country’.[34]

His feelings were shared by other members of the party, perhaps emphasised by previous Taoiseach Sean Lemass’s desire to ‘minimise the twin dangers of raw irredentism and potential revisionism’ possible in 1966.[35] Arguably, this was also as some historians would make the link between the meeting of the First Dáil and the beginning of the War of Independence.

Haughey believed the commemoration to be ‘political rather than cultural or historical’.[36] One key aspect in the committee’s plans was presenting the First Dáil’s history to schools. For Haughey, the main way of progressing this idea was through the teaching of civics, arguing that the subject’s lack of attention was affecting future politicians who could not follow the increasing complexities of Government business.[37]

In January 1969, Marie Comerford’s ‘The First Dáil’ was published. Comerford was a veteran of the Rising who worked on Roger Sweetman’s electoral campaign in 1918, so unsurprisingly the tone was both passionate and nationalistic, arguing that:

‘it is not fair that we who stand by the 1916 graves at commemoration times should sometimes do so without having taken the trouble to understand the message which the Proclamation of the Provisional Government of the Irish Republic was intended to convey to us. That plan was adopted by the first Dáil Éireann: but what happened to it?’[38]

This book would be used by the Department of External Affairs to create their school booklets on the history of the First Dáil. They also used The Irish Republic by Dorothy McArdle and De Valera and the March of a Nation by American historian Mary C. Bromage.

The choice of authors was telling. McArdle had been one of the first people to leave Sinn Féin and join the Fianna Fáil party. At the time of publication, she would say that ‘I am a propagandist, unrepentant and unashamed’.[39] Bromage had lived in Merrion Square from 1936 to 1939, where she and her husband frequently had tea with de Valera and his wife.[40]

Ultimately, the commemoration was a monotonous yet functional affair: The Irish Times described it as ‘historic, but solemnly uninspiring’.[41] President Éamon de Valera spoke of his party’s determination to ‘not fail the people who have gone before us in maintaining this Irish nation as a living nation’.[42]

The ceremony was aired by Radio Telefís Éireann, with a special programme created for school children.


‘Hypocrisy no! Democracy yes!’


It was outside the Mansion House where the atmosphere was electric, with student groups, protest committees and Sinn Féin members organising large scale demonstrations around the city; interlinked by the belief that the ideals of fifty years previously had not been achieved.

Marching towards the Mansion House, student groups chanted ‘Hypocrisy? No. Democracy? Yes’.[43] This was mainly based around the Democratic Programme – the charter of social rights in an Irish Republic which had been issued fifty years earlier alongside the declaration of independence.

Left wing students protested in 1969 that the social ideals of 1919 had not been achieved.

While the government were worried about what history they would present to the public, they could not control who newspapers chose to write about the period. The Irish Press had Donal McCartney, modern history lecturer in UCD, write an article, which stressed the connection between the First Dáil and the beginning of the War of Independence, arguing that two strands of Irish nationalism came together and that the events significance

‘lies in the synthesis of these two traditions, resulting in a new departure in Irish nationalism that was more dramatic than anything similar ever achieved by Parnell. Ireland not had a nationalist parliament and nationalist army and they were linked together’.[44]

The British Army in Belfast in August 1969. The looming conflict in the north led the Irish government to play down link between the First Dail and physical force.

Irish newspapers had various different reaction to the commemoration. Most innovative was The Irish Times who created a special supplement. It’s began by saying that, ‘In 1971 we will have an opportunity to remember the end of the Anglo-Irish War; then, depending on which government is in power, there may be a call for major ceremonies to mark the 50th anniversary of the Treaty’.[45]

The supplement itself was more nuanced than may have been expected, including detailed analysis of the Democratic Programme, assessments of Ireland politically and socially since, and examining the civil rights protests in Northern Ireland.

The fiftieth anniversary of the First Dáil was significant for the Fianna Fáil government for many reasons. Firstly, although not known at the time, ‘it was perhaps the last year in which the Government could participate in national or republican commemorations without the attendant controversy caused by violence in the North’.[46]

There was little mention throughout the event of the War of Independence, and this is arguably why it was desired for historians not to be involved.

With the tensions existing in Northern Ireland at this time, which would explode into the conflict known as the Troubles by the end of the year, the government desired to distance itself from its republican past, meaning that the events at Soloheadbeg were left out of the official commemorations. The commemoration could also be seen as an ‘object lesson for the historically conscious of the vast difference between the revolutionary aspirations of the founders of the state and the political and social achievements of their successors’.[47]

The protests which did occur were based around the supposed promises of the Democratic Programme, and thus highlighted the differences between the realities of what Irish government’s had implemented since independence and the public’s perceptions of the ideals of fifty years previously. Most importantly, the commemoration could be used to avoid commemorating other, arguably more controversial events.

However, the attitude towards commemorating the 50th anniversary also parallels with previous commemorations held by Fianna Fáil of this event – in essence commemoration for the sake of controlling the historical narrative. Of course they were not unique in doing this – the use of commemoration as a political tool was, and indeed is, common around the world.

After the 50th anniversary, commemorations of the First Dáil continued to be rare occurrences. Sinn Féin famously split in 1970 into two wings, one side being known as ‘Official Sinn Féin’, and later the Workers Party. The other section, ‘Provisional Sinn Féin’ became known as Sinn Féin. A further split in Sinn Féin occurred in 1986 over the issue of breaking its absenteeism from Dail Eireann, with a new faction breaking away, known as ‘Republican Sinn Féin’.

In 1994, the Fianna Fáil government forgot altogether about the 7th anniversary of the First Dail

All these incarnations of Sinn Féin would attempt to gain ownership of the First Dáil, in order to establish their own legitimacy, primarily as successive governments again continued to show a lack of desire to mark the event. This included commemorating the 60th and 70th anniversaries, and in 1990, the Republican Sinn Féin would hold a ‘Walk for Democracy’; a ten day march from Mayo to Dublin, ending with marching to the Mansion House on 21 January 1990.

Fianna Fáil’s lack of interest in marking the event would be best seen in 1994, when they simply forgot the 75th anniversary, later organising a hurried ceremony on 27 April 1994. While there was inevitable criticism towards them for this, especially from Sinn Féin, the mood of the population was best summed up by one Limerick Leader correspondent, who wrote that:

‘The high and mighty civil servants who languish in the splendiferous Taj Mahal in Merrion Square apparently overlooked telling the Taoiseach. But to blame them would be foolish. How many of us on the main streets of Ireland were even remotely interested in celebrating this momentous event’.[48]

In 2009, there was a ceremonial sitting for the anniversary, where Brian Cowen continued to commemoration tradition of looking to the future, comparing the economic crisis and the collapse of the Celtic Tiger to Europe lying in ruin after the First World War, saying that ‘Ireland learned early that the world can be a lonely place for small states. This lesson is as valid today in the depths of a global economic crisis, as it was in 1919, in the aftermath of a war of unprecedented devastation’.[49] In recent times, the idea of making this anniversary an ‘Independence Day’ has been mooted by Fianna Fáil’s Keith Swanick in his ‘Declaration of Independence Bill Day’, and has passed through the Senate.

While big events, such as the 1916 Rising, lended themselves to controversial commemorations, the non-contention of commemorating the First Dáil, as well as the political rather than militant aspect of the event itself, made it a perfect event to be used by political parties in the first fifty years after independence in order to stress their own legitimacy.




[1] Brian Walker, ‘Public Holidays, Commemoration and Identity in Ireland, North and South’ in Gabriel Doherty & Dermot Keogh (eds.) De Valera’s Ireland (Dublin, 2003), p.154.

[2] Timothy O’Neill, ‘Reframing the Republic: Republican Socio-Economic Thought and the Road to Fianna Fáil, 1923-26’, in Mel Farrell, Jason Knirck and Ciara Meehan (eds.), A Formative Decade: Ireland in the 1920s (Kildare, 2015), p.157.

[3] Brian Murphy. ‘Mary MacSwiney’:

[4] Irish Examiner, Sinn Fein Public Meeting in Dublin. 21 January 1929.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Irish Examiner, Sinn Féin ‘Dail’. 22 January 1929.

[7] Connaught Telegraph, Founding of Dáil Commemorated by Former Deputies, 26 January 1929.

[8] Miriam Moffitt, ‘“Ireland’s Destiny is in the Making”: The Impact of the Anniversary Celebrations of 1929 and 1932 on the Religious Character of Ireland’, in Mel Farrell, Jason Knirck and Ciara Meehan (eds.), A Formative Decade: Ireland in the 1920s (Kildare, 2015), p.226.

[9] Bureau of Military History: Joseph O’Connor.

[10] Diarmaid Ferriter, ‘Commemorating the Rising, 1922-1965; “A Figurative Scramble for the Bones of the Patriot Dead”?’ in Mary E. Daly and Margaret O’Callaghan (eds.), 1916 in 1966: Commemorating the Easter Rising (Dublin, 2007), p.202.

[11] Ibid, p.204.

[12] Richard English, Ernie O’Malley: IRA Intellectual (New York, 1998), p.31

[13] Irish Press, Independence Day. 21 January 1932.

[14] Irish Press, Independence Day. 22 January 1934.

[15] Irish Press, Sinn Féin Reference. 22 January 1935.

[16] Gerard O’Brien, Irish Governments and the Guardianship of Historical Records, 1922-72 (Dublin, 2004), p.171.

[17] Evening Herald, Assembly of First Dáil: Commemoration of Historic Event. Dublin Broadcast. 22 January 1936.

[18] Irish Independent, Sinn Fein and Broadcast. 20 January 1936.

[19] Belfast Newsletter, No Proclamation: Broadcast of ‘Irish Independence’ Ceremony. 24 January 1936.

[20] Strabane Chronicle, Expelled from Sinn Fein: Action against Father O’Flanagan. 25 January 1936.

[21] Irish Press, First Dáil’s Programme: Tánaiste’s Call. 22 January 1944.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Irish Press, Sinn Fein commemoration. 22 January 1944.

[24] Irish Examiner, The First Dáil. 22 January 1944.

[25] Connacht Sentinel, Green Cross to benefit by Galway Concert. 14 March 1944.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Irish Press, The First Dail. 21 January 1949.

[28] Dail Debates: The Republic of Ireland Bill, 1948 – Second Stage. 24 November, 1948.

[29] National Archives of Ireland (hereafter NAI), Department of the Taoiseach (hereafter TSCH)/97/9/1465, 22 January 1959, Clipping from Irish Press: ‘Seek now to Consolidate gains’.

[30] Donegal Democrat, Vision of Freedom. 27 March 1959.

[31] NAI, TSCH2002/6/638. Undated, 1968. Memorandum for Taoiseach.

[32] Ibid.

[33] NAI, TAOIS 2002/6/638. 13 September 1968. Haughey to Lynch.

[34] Ibid.

[35] John Horgan, Seán Lemass: The Enigmatic Patriot (Dublin, 1997), p.284

[36] NAI, TSCH 2000/6/639, 8 January 1969, Haughey to Lynch.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Marie Comerford, The First Dai: January 21st 1919 (Dublin 1969), p.9.

[39] Nadia Clare Smith, ‘Dorothy McArdle (1889 – 1958): Republican and Internationalist’, History Ireland Volume 15, Issue 3 (2007).


[41] Irish Times, Solemn Tone to Historic Ceremony. 22 January 1969.

[42] Irish Independent, We will not fail Them. 22 January 1969.

[43] Irish Independent, Old Remembered, Young Protested. 22 January 1969.

[44] Irish Press, Historical Significance of the Assembly. 21 January 1969.

[45] NAI TAOIS 2000/15/17. Irish Times Supplement. 21 January 1969.

[46] Donnacha Ó Beacháin, Destiny of the Soldiers – Fianna Fáil, Irish Republicanism and the IRA, 1926-1973 (Dublin, 2010), p.278.

[47] Erika Hanna, Modern Dublin: Urban Change and the Irish Past, 1957-1973 (Oxford, 2013), p.139.

[48] Limerick Leader, A Generation of Mé Féiners, 29 January 1994.

[49] Irish Independent, Ninety Years Later, a new Anglo-Irish War had to be fought, 21 January 2009.

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