Galway and the first Dáil

On Tuesday, the US celebrated a major milestone in its history with the inauguration of Barack Obama as the first African-American to become that country’s president.

The same day saw Ireland mark an important event in its past history with a commemoration in the Mansion House in Dublin to mark the 90th Anniversary of the holding of the First Dáil.

The British general election of 1918 was a landmark in Irish history. The country no longer felt Home Rule was enough and was now behind the calls for a republic. Sinn Féin candidates stood in every constituency on a platform of non-attendance at Westminster.

SF won 69 out of the 73 seats and its MPs, in a show of defiance and intent that Ireland would become self-governing, convened a meeting in the Mansion House, Dublin, on January 20, 1919.

Here a government was formed and a Dáil Constitution, a declaration of independence, a ‘Message to the Free Nations of the World’, and a democratic programme were adopted. Irish independence was recognised by Lenin and the Soviet Union - the first country to do so.

The meeting in the Mansion House was called the First Dáil, and the term Dáil has continued to be used to describe the Irish parliament since (the current Dáil is the 30th ).

In 1919, Galway was divided into three constituencies - Galway East, Galway North, and Galway South, so the county had three Sinn Féin TDs in the first Dáil.

Liam Mellows was the TD for Galway East. Mellows was born in Manchester and grew up in Wexford. He was later active in the IRB and was a founder member of the Irish Volunteers (the forerunner of the IRA ).

Galway was one of the few counties, along with Dublin, Wexford, and Tyrone, to take an active part in the 1916 Rising and Mellows led the Galway volunteers in their operations that April and May.

Mr Mellows was also responsible for drafting the first Dáil’s democratic programme, a document which espoused his socialist ideals.

He become the IRA’s director of supplies and took part in the 1919-21 War of Independence. He considered the Anglo-Irish Treaty a betrayal of the cause of the Irish Republic and took the anti-Treaty side in the Irish Civil War.

Tragically he was executed in 1922 along with Rory O’Connor, Joe McKelvey, and Richard Barrett as a reprisal for the shooting of TD Seán Hales. Today his statue stands in Eyre Square.

The other two Galway members of the first Dáil were Bryan Cusack for Galway North and Frank Fahy for Galway South.

Bryan Cusack was a medical doctor, first elected in 1919 and re-elected for Sinn Féin in the 1921 elections. He opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty and was re-elected as an Anti-Treaty Sinn Féin TD for Galway in the 1922 general election but did not take his seat. Mr Cusack did not contest the 1923 general election and became a founder member of Fianna Fáil in 1926.

Frank Fahy was an Irish teacher, barrister, and politician. He served for nearly 35 years as a TD, first for Sinn Féin and later as a member of Fianna Fáil, before becoming Ceann Comhairle for more than 19 years. He was also a member of the Presidential Commission (acting head of state ) from 1937 to 1938.

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