+ Irish Declaration of Independence + Commemoration Report
Wednesday, 21st January 2009
Dunne's Pub, White Plains, New York
21st January 2009 was the 90th anniversary of the Irish Declaration of Independence, issued by An Chéad Dáil Éireann (the First Dáil Éireann) in Dublin in 1919. This was the government of the Irish Republic, proclaimed in arms during Easter Week 1916, and ratified by the democratic will of the people of Ireland in the 14th December 1918 general election -- a virtual national self-determination plebiscite. It is worthy of commemoration.
The 1798 Committee accepted the kind offer of hospitality of Seán Dunne (originally of Ulster’s Monaghan Town), proprietor of Dunne's Pub in White Plains (http://www.dunnespubandrestaurant.com/) for this purpose. The Irish Declaration of Independence commemoration was integrated with the every Wednesday night live Irish music seisiún anchored by three-time All-Ireland fiddle champion Brian Conway (www.brianconway.com). Brian was joined by singers Treása Ní Chatháin (www.treasa.net, who drove in all the way from Pennsylvania for the occasion, and led the house in the singing of Pádraic Pearse’s “Oro ‘Sé do Beathatha Bhaile” as part of her contribution to the program) and Noeleen McGovern (whose rendition of “The Town I Love So Well” captured the attention of everyone there), by champion fiddlers Heather Martin Bixler and Shane Cornyn, and other young fiddlers, including Jonathan Alexander Gardella, by Pat Shields on the bodhran and by other musicians, including John Nolan on the accordion.
It was the playing of “The Foggy Dew” by Heather Martin Bixler (Julliard-trained classical violinist, and champion fiddler with a flair for Irish traditional music, especially for slow airs), immediately after the recitation of William Butler Yeats’ poem “Easter 1916” by Kevan Slattery and Ann MacPhearson, that held the house spellbound – a truly emotional moment. The commemoration date, 21st January 2009, was the exact anniversary date of the Irish Declaration of Independence.
For proper historical context, given that there would never have been an Irish Declaration of Independence, were it not for the blood sacrifice of the men and women of Easter Week, 1916, which inspired the Sinn Féin abstentionist republican victory in the 1918 general election, the first reading was of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, read by Kevin O’Rourke of Silvermines, County Tippreary.
To mark the occasion, Bill Ryan, Chairman of the Westchester County Legislature, caused the passage of a resolution marking the 90th anniversary of the Irish Declaration of Independence, which cited its historic relationship with the American Declaration of Independence (4th of July 1776), and noted the Irish role in the achievement and defense of American Liberty. The resolution, passed that day, was signed by every member of the Legislature present, and presented to Seán Dunne, in recognition of the hosting of this event.
The Irish Declaration of Independence was first published, and read out in the Mansion House, in An Chéad Dáil Éireann, as Gaedhilge, en français and in English, on 21st January 1919. As part of this commemoration it was read out, in the same order as in 1919, by Tom Abernethy, by Liam Murphy and by Cathleen McLoughlin O’Brien of the Friends of Irish Freedom, respectively.
Historian, lecturer, Conradh na Gaeilge president and Radio Free Éireann commentator (WBAI, 99.5 FM in New York, 1 PM on Saturdays), the late Nollaig Ó Gadhra, pointed out that the big change in Sinn Féin came in the Árd Fheis of 1917, when the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) under the guidance of Michael Collins and the Irish Volunteers under Cathal Brugha, caused Sinn Féin to change its policy from monarchist to republican abstention. Veterans of the Rising, had become involved with Sinn Féin. Éamonn deValera, campaigning in an Irish Volunteer uniform, was elected for East Clare in June 1917. At the Árd Fheis of Sinn Féin in October 1917, Arthur Griffith graciously stepped down from President to Vice President of Sinn Féin, to allow the election of deValera, who, after the death on hunger strike of Thomas Ashe, was the senior surviving Commandant from 1916. Sinn Féin adopted an election manifesto for all elections, insisting upon the Irish Republic Proclaimed on Easter Monday, 1916.
This was the Sinn Féin which contested the general election of 14 December 1918, promising to NOT represent their constituents or their country in the mighty Westminster Parliament in London, but rather, citing Ireland’s ancient nationhood, to set up, without foreign let or hindrance, a republican assembly which would form an Irish government for all Ireland.
Sinn Féin won over 79% of the popular vote in all Ireland, and 73 of 105 seats, in what can only be described as a plebiscite for independence. The delegates who assembled in the Mansion House in Dublin formed An Chéad Dáil Éireann, the First Dáil Éireann, and, under the (acting) Presidency of Cathal Brugha, issued the Irish Declaration of Independence on 21st January 1919 (legally the equivalent of the American Declaration of Independence by the Second Continental Congress, promulgated on the 4th of July 1776). That Easter Monday, 1916 is regarded as such a significant date is a consequence both of the promise of the Sinn Féin candidates to establish the Irish Republic proclaimed during Easter Week 1916, and of the pre-existing Army Council of the Irish Republican Army – Óglaigh na hÉireann (the IRA) insisting upon the First Dáil Éireann recognizing that Irish Republic, proclaimed in arms in 1916, as a condition for the IRA coming under the authority of the government formed by the First Dáil Éireann. [See also Dorothy Macardle, The Irish Republic (New York, 1965).]
The democratic voice of the Irish people had spoken (vox populi, vox Dei), and their elected representatives sought the recognition of their national self-determination as promised by American President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points, on which basis the Armistice ending the Great War on 11 November 1918, had been accepted by the Central Powers.
Ireland was denied recognition and a seat at the Versailles peace conference. The ensuing conflict between the forces of the Imperial Government in London and the Irish Republic, the Irish War for Independence, has also become known to history as the “Black and Tan War” (1919-1921). But, the military lessons of Dublin 1916 having been studied in the internment camp of Frongoch, and elsewhere, by the IRA, the forces of the Irish Republic waged an asymmetrical conflict against the alien forces of occupation. Modern guerilla warfare entered on to the twentieth century. England, though still in control of many strong points, could no longer coerce Ireland into remaining peacefully within her empire.
[A Second (Republican) Dáil Éireann was elected and came together in August 1921 (124 Sinn Féin and 4 Unionist members).] Nollaig Ó Gadhra, author of Civil War in Connacht (Cork & Dublin: Mercier Press, 1999), pointed out that the Sinn Féin Dáil delegates regarded their mandate to be as Teachta Dála Éireann (TDÉ), that is, deputies to the assembly of all Ireland (not just 26 counties, as presumed by the British Government of Ireland Act, 23 December 1920 – for which no Irishman voted)
One of the most notable features of the commemoration was the printed program, which featured the art work of Brian Mór Ó Baoighill on the front and back covers, and the text of the Irish Declaration of Independence, both in English and as Gaedhilge, on the inside. For those who might want a more in depth look at the Irish Declaration of Independence, and the Irish War for Independence (a part of the Troubles, captured so well in “The Wind that Shakes the Barley”, winner of the 2006 Cannes Film Festival), Tom Abernethy wrote “1919 and All That”, a most cogent 12-page explanation of why we should commemorate the Irish Declaration of Independence, which was also distributed that night (text available on
www.irishfreedom.net, along with video clips of the event and with the text of the Irish Declaration of Independence).
As part of this American salute to An Chéad Dáil Éireann, and to the Irish Declaration of Independence, John Walsh arranged three very attractive, and historically appropriate, posters from Budweiser’s new American Ale, as well as the opportunity to toast the Irish Republic with the same. While the Wednesday night seisiún in Dunne’s Pub is always well attended, by musicians and patrons alike, on 21st January 2009 there was not an empty seat to be had for this historic, standing room only event.
Mike Costello, of Conamara, who recorded key parts of this commemoration, learned that a similar commemoration had taken place in Dublin, on the eve of the 21st, under the auspices of Republican Sinn Féin / Sinn Féin Poblachtach during which the Declaration of Independence, the Address to the Free Nations of the World, and the Democratic Programme were read out, and the principal address was delivered by An Uachtarán, Ruairí Ó Brádaigh, who said, in part: “Faithful Republicans today agree with Dorothy Macardle in regard to January 21, 1919. She stated in her book The Irish Republic: ‘For Irish Republicans what had been done on that day was a national act as grave as was the Declaration of Independence in the United States for the American people – an act from which the nation could not retreat.’....
“For Republicans the task today is to implement the Declaration of Independence of the First (All-Ireland) Dáil and make it effective through the means of the ÉIRE NUA proposals for a federation of the four provinces with optimum local devolution of power.” [http://saoirse.info]
The Honorary Chairman of the Dunne’s event, Ken Tierney, of Tuam, County Galway, in thanking all present for their attendance, commented that commemoration, by Ireland's exiled children in America, of the anniversary of the Irish Declaration of Independence is, in itself, of historic significance. It can only help to underscore the continuity of the Cause of Irish Freedom, along with the recognition of the democratic mandate for an Irish republic as manifested in the 1918 “Khaki” general election and the
21st January 1919, Irish Declaration of Independence.
Go saoraidh Dia Éire! -- An Phoblact Abú!