The First Dáil Éireann

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The Rise of Sinn Féin

In 1917, Britain released the remaining Easter Rising prisoners under a general amnesty. Several of the freed republican leaders threw themselves into Sinn Féin politics, transforming the party in the process. Among these were Easter Rising participants W. T. Cosgrave and Éamon de Valera, both future Presidents of the Irish Dáil (parliament). 

This election cartoon for de Valera suggests the manner in which Irish public opinion on the revolt had changed. Here, de Valera’s status as someone sentenced by the British Crown becomes a selling point for his candidacy, and he is depicted in his Irish Volunteer uniform. The illustration by Grace Plunkett may be for de Valera’s East Clare campaign in the 1917 by-election. Née Grace Gifford, the Irish artist and cartoonist was the widow of 1916 leader Joseph Mary Plunkett. The two were married in prison just hours before his execution.

The “Look at the Map!” theme on the second handbill was used by several Sinn Féin candidates in the 1918 UK general election. This particular leaflet is for Thomas Kelly, who defeated the Irish Parliamentary Party incumbent P. J. Brady for the St. Stephen’s Green seat.

Plunkett, Grace. “Vote for de Valera, A Felon of Our Land.” [Ireland, circa 1917?]. BK 17:8, Item 50

“Look at the Map!” Dublin: Patrick Mahon, [1918]. BK 17:8, Item 3



The First Dáil Éireann

In 1918, a group of 73 Sinn Féin candidates, led by Éamon de Valera, won seats in the UK general election. Their victory came in spite of the fact that de Valera and several other republican leaders were in jail for alleged involvement in a German plot at the time of their election.

Rather than take their seats at Westminster, on January 21, 1919, the elected Sinn Féin MPs who were not imprisoned assembled instead in Dublin to establish an independent parliamentary body, Dáil Éireann. The Declaration of Irish Independence they made at that first meeting of the Dáil is on display here in its official English translation. Citing the Irish Republic proclaimed on Easter Monday, 1916, the elected representatives ratified the establishment of the Republic “in the name of the Irish Nation.” The document also declares “foreign government in Ireland to be an invasion of our national right which we will never tolerate” and demands “the evacuation of our country by the English garrison.”

Many mark January 21, 1919 as the start of the Anglo-Irish War. In addition to the Dáil’s assertion of independence, there was a fatal attack on two members of the Royal Irish Constabulary in Tipperary by IRA members.

Dáil Éireann. “The Declaration of Irish Independence: Official English Translation...” [Dublin]: Fergus O’Connor, [1919].



Anglo-Irish War and the Civil War

The Irish War of Independence, also called the Anglo-Irish War, saw the Irish Volunteers, by then increasingly known as the Irish Republican Army, engage with Crown forces in a guerrilla campaign. Britain, in turn, recruited and imported auxiliary forces of demobilized soldiers to help reinforce the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC). These included the infamous “Black and Tans,” a British force of recruits whose harsh reprisals and unruliness helped alienate the RIC from the Irish people.

Traditionally dated from 1919 to 1921, the conflict ended with a truce followed by the negotiation of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. The Treaty established Ireland as a self-governing independent dominion—or “Free State”—loyal to the British Monarch, in the manner of Australia and Canada. In Ireland, disputes arose between those who supported the terms of the Treaty (including its negotiator Michael Collins, a veteran of 1916 and the Anglo-Irish War) and those who opposed it for not achieving full independence. This conflict evolved into the Irish Civil War (1922-1923), from which the pro-Treaty side emerged victorious.

During the Anglo-Irish War, some Irish prisoners were interned by the British at Ballykinlar in what is now Northern Ireland. The sketch on display depicts one of the huts that housed prisoners. In signing this internment camp autograph book, many prisoners included both their hometowns and camp hut numbers.

Ballykinlar Internment Camp autograph book. County Down, Ireland [now Northern Ireland], 1921. MS K19.



The last two acts of Sean O’Casey’s play The Plough and the Stars unfold in a Dublin tenement during the Easter Rising. Addressing issues of class, gender, and nationalist politics, the play sparked protests upon its debut at the Abbey Theatre in 1926 for its less-than-reverential treatment of the Rising. The cast list from that production is tipped-in to the printer’s proof copy on display.

O’Casey, a socialist who had grown up in poverty, had served for a time in 1914 as secretary of the Irish Citizen Army. However, he soon fell out with the militia over its ties to the more middle-class Irish Volunteers. A few years after the Easter Rising, he wrote The Story of the Irish Citizen Army (1919) to detail the group’s history.

The play takes its title from the flag of the Irish Citizen Army, the starry plough. This flag was flown over the Imperial Hotel on Sackville Street (now O’Connell Street) during Easter Week.

O’Casey, Sean. The Plough and the Stars. Printer’s proof copy with cast list and manuscript notes, belonging to printer R. & R. Clark, Ltd. Edinburgh, circa 1926. MS B114



A polarizing literary assessment of the Rising emerged in Eimar O’Duffy’s novel The Wasted Island (1919, revised edition 1929). A member of the IRB and an Irish Volunteer, O’Duffy had known the 1916 leaders and had been dispatched by Volunteer leader Eoin MacNeill to Belfast to countermand the Rising there. The novel is partially a roman-à-clef, and its protagonist, Bernard Lascelles, is based on O’Duffy himself. The Wasted Island was criticized upon release for its unflattering depiction of the men O’Duffy had known.

The manuscript on display is from O’Duffy’s revision of the novel in 1929, which critic Frances Flanagan has argued attempted to “speak to a wider, non-Irish audience.” Though some have read Pearse as the inspiration for the novel’s fanatical Austin Mallow, the character was actually based on Joseph Mary Plunkett. In this passage, O’Duffy strikes from the text of the 1919 edition a line describing Mallow as possessing a “body eaten away by disease (Austin was suffering from a slow internal cancer).” Plunkett was ill throughout his life and was likely terminally so during the rebellion.

O’Duffy, Eimar. The Wasted Island, mixed media draft with manuscript additions. Circa 1929. MS 21.



In 1932, literary critic Andrew E. Malone sent Irish writer George Bernard Shaw, then living in England, a series of questions on Irish politics. On display is Shaw’s answer to a question regarding the efficacy of the parliamentary opposition system. The questionnaire arrived at a significant time in Irish politics. Earlier in 1932, Éamon de Valera’s Fianna Fáil party had taken office. In so doing, it replaced W. T. Cosgrave’s Cumann na nGaedheal, the party in power since the pro-Treaty side won the Irish Civil War. Both veterans of 1916, Cosgrave and de Valera had differed on the signing of the treaty with England to form the Irish Free State. Cosgrave supported it as an important step in Irish self-governance, and de Valera opposed it for its partition of Ireland and failure to achieve a republic.

Shaw’s reference to Stalinist Russia and Mussolini’s Italy as better models of government suggests the at times totalitarian leanings of his politics during this period.

Shaw, George Bernard. Questionnaire answers on Irish politics. England, 1932. MS P286B