This week marks the 90th anniversary of a democratic revolution that would, in time, dismember the biggest empire the world had seen since the time of the Mongols.
In the Mansion House in Dublin on the 21st of January 1919 the democratically elected representatives of the Irish people met in session.
The winners of the 1918 election in Ireland, Sinn Fein, had stated that they would not attend the British parliament in London if elected. Instead they promised to meet as a parliament for all of the people of Ireland if they were elected. This they did.
Of the 105 Irish constituencies 73 went to Sinn Fein. A landslide in anyone’s psephology.
28 Teachta Dala met in Dublin. Another 40 Sinn Fein TDs were either in prison or deported. At its first meeting the Dáil issued a Declaration of Independence, declared itself the parliament of the Irish Republic and adopted a short constitution.
For those who had voted Sinn Fein and gave their allegiance to the new parliament the significance of the First Dail was clear.
The British authorities on the island now had no legal legitimacy. That included the police-the Royal Irish Constabulary.
A group of volunteers in Tipperary took the Dail at their word. They intercepted a cartload of gelignite en route to a local quarry at Solohead beg. Two policemen were escorting the cart. In the eyes of the volunteers the RIC no longer had any legitimacy.
The RIC men were called on to surrender, they refused and brief gunabttle ensued. The men who shot them who went onto become legends in the War of Independence including Dan Breen and Sean Treacy considered that they were acting against a force without legal authority (the RIC).
In the Michael Jordan film “Michael Collins” there is a scene to depict the rural guerrilla war where the local volunteers with Collins leading them storm an RIC barracks. As the IRA enter the burning barracks Collins announces to the coughing RIC men “You’re being relieved of your duties lads!” Collins was a minister in the provisional government. He considered that he was acting with the democratic mandate of the people of Ireland.
The creation of the First Dail was not lost on other subject peoples in other parts of Britain’s empire. That was especially true in India.
It is pleasing for me to see the event being appropriately celebrated in Dublin this week. Hopefully this means that revisionism has reached its zenith and that Irish people can start to have amore accurate view of our history, no matter how difficult and painful that history has been.