2/4/1919 De Valera’s new government and Ireland’s first woman minister

Irish nationalists are attempting to secure the independence of their country. The military strand of this struggle is still relatively dormant, with the ambush at Soloheadbeg in January not being followed by a general escalation in violence. However disturbances are still occurring, with a recent example being the killing of magistrate John C. Milling in County Mayo; his judgements had imprisoned members of the Irish Volunteers.

The political strand of the independence struggle is currently centred on Dublin, where Dáil Éireann, the self-declared Irish parliament, is meeting. Following De Valera‘s escape and the release of other leading Sinn Féin members, the party is now in a position to revitalise the Dáil government. Yesterday the Dáil approved De Valera’s appointment as prime minister and today it approves his cabinet. Michael Collins, who led the operation to break him out of jail, becomes the Minister for Finance, charged with rustling up money to keep the fledgling state apparatus running. And Constance Markievicz is appointed Minister for Labour; she is already the first woman elected to Britain’s House of Commons and now she is the first woman to hold ministerial office in a modern democracy.

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Éamon De Valera (Century Ireland: Introducing de Valera – The East Clare by-election and the rise of an Irish political leader)

3/2/1919 Éamon de Valera busts out of Lincoln Jail

Éamon de Valera is the leader of Sinn Féin, the radical Irish nationalist party. Since last May he has been under arrest, rounded up with other Sinn Féin leaders on suspicion of involvement in an imaginary German plot to invade Ireland.

De Valera is being held in Lincoln Jail in England, but is keen to escape and return to Ireland. And his comrades at home are keen to set him free. Hidden in a cake they send de Valera a blank key and a set of files. With the aid of another prisoner, de Valera creates a master key. Tonight he and fellow Republicans Sean McGarry and Sean Milroy let themselves out of their cell and then through a door to the outside world in the prison’s exercise yard. Waiting for them are fellow revolutionaries Michael Collins and Harry Boland, who whisk the fugitives away to a safe house. Soon they will be transported to Ireland, where de Valera will be able to resume his leadership of Ireland’s struggle for independence.

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Harry Boland, Michael Collins and Éamon de Valera (BBC News: How a fruit cake helped Eamon de Valera escape Lincoln Prison)

28/12/1918 Ireland’s election results: Sinn Féin landslide and the first woman elected to the House of Commons #1918

Ireland voted on 14 December as part of the United Kingdom’s first general election since 1911. Today the votes are finally counted and the results reveal that Sinn Féin has definitively supplanted the Irish Parliamentary Party as the voice of Irish nationalism, with the IPP winning just 6 seats to Sinn Féin’s 73. John Dillon, the IPP’s leader, loses his East Mayo seat to Sinn Féín leader Éamon de Valera, who is currently in prison in England after being arrested earlier this year on suspicion of involvement in an outlandish German plot to invade Ireland. Unionist parties meanwhile dominate in the north east of the country, where many Protestant voters fear the consequences of self-rule in mainly Catholic Ireland. This is also where the Irish Parliamentary Party wins most of its seats; IPP candidates are more used to battling on against adverse circumstances here.

Apart from the north east, the electoral map of Ireland is now a sea of dark green, representing Sinn Féin victories. The only exceptions to the Sinn Féin sweep are Waterford City, where William Redmond is elected to the seat previously held by the late John Redmond, his father and the former leader of the IPP, and Rathmines in Dublin, where Unionist candidate Maurice Dockrell is elected.

Two women ran for Sinn Féin and one of these, Constance Markievicz, is elected. Like De Valera she played a leading role in the 1916 Rising and like him she is also currently in jail in England.

Sinn Féin candidates have secured election on an abstentionist ticket: they have promised not to take their seats in Westminster but instead to assemble as an Irish parliament in Dublin. Now those elected Sinn Féin representatives who are not on the run or in jail prepare to meet in January as the first sitting of a sovereign Irish parliament, to be known in the Irish language as Dáil Éireann.


Sinn Féin election poster (RTÉ: Election 1918 – what you need to know about how Ireland voted)

Constance Markievicz (Wikipedia: Constance Markievicz)

17/5/1918 Sinn Féin leaders arrested as Britain strikes against “German plot” #1918Live

Ireland is in a tumult thanks to British plans to introduce conscription. Nationalist parties Sinn Féin and the Irish Parliamentary Party have joined forces with the Catholic Church and organised labour to oppose the measure.

Despite the opposition and warnings from senior figures in the local administration, London is determined to bring conscription to Ireland; such is the desperate need of new recruits to make good the losses suffered in the German spring offensives. Lord French (previously the British commander on the Western Front) has been appointed Lord Lieutenant in Ireland. A member of the Anglo-Irish gentry, French is convinced that firm measures will bring the lower orders to heel.

Some of the British suspect a German hand in the unrest in Ireland. Joseph Dowling, captured after a U-boat landed him in the west of Ireland, has spun a tall tale about Sinn Féin leaders being in league with Berlin and preparing for a German invasion of the Emerald Isle. Lord French himself is sceptical, as are others, but Dowling’s story finds a receptive audience in London. The British decide to nip this plot in the bud by rounding up the Sinn Féin leaders before they can get up to any further mischief.

Now the British strike. Ireland wakes up this morning to learn that more than 70 leading members of Sinn Féin have been arrested, including Éamon de Valera, Constance Markievicz and Arthur Griffith. The British hope that this bold step will decapitate the troublesome party and bring an end to the unrest in Ireland.

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Some of the arrested Sinn Féin leaders (Ireland’s Own: The German Plot)

21/4/1918 Nationalist and Catholic Ireland unites against conscription #1918Live

The German offensives on the Western Front are taking a heavy toll on the British. Every man is needed refill the depleted ranks of its force on the Continent. Britain introduced conscription in 1916 but did not extend it to Ireland, fearful of the consequences in that restive part of the United Kingdom. Now the army’s desperate need for more men has turned attentions back to Ireland’s exemption from the draft.

The authorities in Ireland continue to warn of the dangers of forcing men into the army, but they are not heeded in London. Parliament has passed a new law allowing for the extension of conscription to Ireland (with older men across the United Kingdom also being subject to the draft, such is the army’s need for manpower). It looks like it will not be long before Irishmen are being rounded up and sent to die in France and Belgium.

The threat of conscription has the effect of uniting broad swathes of hitherto mutually hostile Irish opinion. At a conference in Dublin on the 18th hosted by Lord Mayor Laurence O’Neill, representatives of Sinn Féin, the more moderate Irish Parliamentary Party, the Labour Party, the trade unions and smaller parties formed the Irish Anti-Conscription Committee, agreeing to oppose conscription by any means at their disposal.

Today rallies are held across the country to oppose conscription. It is a Sunday, so much of the focus is on meetings at the church gate. The Catholic Church is wary of involvement in politics, save in defence of its own interests, but so broad is opposition to conscription that it lends its support to the struggle. Protests against conscription happen within the churches as well as at their gates, with many priests denouncing enforced enlistment from the pulpit.

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Members of the Irish Anti-Conscription Committee (Wikipedia: Conscription Crisis of 1918)

25/10/1917 De Valera takes over Sinn Féin #1917Live

The Sinn Féin party was not involved in the Easter Rising that shook Dublin in 1916. However the British authorities and the pro-British press so associated the party with the Rising that it has seen an influx of new members from those with advanced nationalist positions. These new members include many of those who took part in the Rising, notably Éamon de Valera, the most senior of the surviving rebel commanders, and Constance Markievicz.

Sinn Féin had not hitherto been an explicitly republican party; Arthur Griffith had founded it to advocate for Ireland to be internally self-governing in the same way that Hungary was within the Habsburg Empire. But Sinn Féin’s new members are committed republicans, determined to sever all links with Britain. This has led to some tension within the party between these opposing tendencies.

Today Sinn Féin’s Ard Fheis (party conference) meets. The British authorities had thought of suppressing the conference but let it go ahead, hoping that the party’s divisions would cause it to self-destruct. But the party is able to paper over its tensions. De Valera is elected party president in place of Griffith, but Griffith is chosen as one of his vice-presidents. And the party agrees a compromise between its republican and monarchist wings; for now Sinn Féin is working towards the establishment of an Irish republic, after which the Irish people will be free to choose their own system of government.

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Eamon de Valera (Galway Advertiser: Éamon de Valera enters the Irish political stage)

Arthur Griffith (Wikipedia)

10/7/1917 Political realignment in Ireland as de Valera wins by-election #1917Live

Last year Irish nationalists staged a rebellion in Dublin. The revolt was crushed within a week. At the time the rebels had little support but since then there has been a shift in Ireland’s mood. Partly this was triggered by the executions that followed the Rising, ordered by General Maxwell under martial law powers. People were also perturbed by the mass arrests and internment without trial that Maxwell ordered, as many of those seized had nothing to do with the revolt.

Another concern is conscription. When the UK introduced conscription this was not extended to Ireland. As the war has gone on, the butcher’s bill on the Western Front has meant that the British army is struggling to replace its losses. Many in Ireland fear that their menfolk will soon be forced to go off to die in England’s war.

British policy in Ireland is contradictory. The initial harshness of Maxwell’s response to the Rising has been followed by a more conciliatory approach. The internees have all been released (with many of them radicalised by the experience and now determined to work for Ireland’s independence). More recently the British have released convicted participants in the Rising, including leaders like Éamon de Valera and Constance Markievicz.

The radicals have flocked to the banner of Sinn Féin, giving that party a more advanced nationalist position than it had previously. Now they are able to test the public mood in an election. The death on the Western Front of Irish Parliamentary Party MP Willie Redmond leads to a by-election in East Clare. The moderate Irish Parliamentary Party, under Willie Redmond’s elder brother John, has dominated southern Irish politics for some time now. But their candidate is now opposed by Éamon de Valera for Sinn Féin.

De Valera wins by a landslide. In line with Sinn Féin policy, he will not take his seat in the House of Commons.

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Éamon de Valera addresses an election rally in Ennis, Co. Clare (The Courthouse Gallery and Studios)