One Day In January 1919

The general election of December 1918 was an election of historical firsts and historical lasts. It was the first election that (some) Irish women and (most) Irish men were permitted to vote in without the precondition of property ownership. The expanded electorate returned the first ever female MP to Westminster in the form of Constance Markievicz - electing her to a seat that she refused to take on a point of principle.

It was also the first election where an Irish republican party won a landslide majority of seats. And as a result it was the last election that the Irish Parliamentary Party would ever contest. Unfortunately it was also the last all-Ireland election - the last full expression of Irish self-determination.

As a result of the first-past-the post electoral system the high republican vote translated into an even higher proportion of the seats. Sinn Féin won a total of 73 seats out of the available 105. The total Unionist tally was 26 seats, while the IPP won just 6 seats.

Following the election, invitations were sent to all MPs to attend an assembly in The Mansion House in Dublin on January 21st, 1919. Unsurprisingly both the Unionists and the IPP declined to attend

On the afternoon of the appointed day hundreds of republicans gathered inside The Round Room of The Mansion House, while large crowds gathered outside on Dawson Street. The crowd rose to its feet in applause as 27 Sinn Fein MPs entered the room.

The remaining Sinn Fein MPs were not present because they were “fé ghlas ag Gallaibh” (imprisoned by the foreigners), or otherwise unable to attend. As least some of the latter were actually engaged in revolutionary activity to advance the cause of the Republic.

The 27 strong assembly (Dáil) lasted for roughly two hours, during which time it adopted four documents namely the Dáil Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, a Message to the Free Nations of the World and the Democratic Programme.

The Sinn Féin delegation may have entered The Mansion House as MPs, but they walked out as Teachta Dála of An Chéad Dáil Éireann - members of the first independent Irish parliament in history.

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As these historic scenes unfolded in Dublin, another critically important event was taking place 150 kilometers away in Soloheadbeg, Co Tipperary, where the first action of The Tan War was already underway. The ambush left two RIC men dead. Two days later South Tipperary was declared a ‘Special Military Area’ by the British government. Many of the volunteers who carried out the ambush, including Seán Treacy, Dan Breen, Seamus Robinson and Seán Hogan went on the run to avoid capture. The flying column of the IRA was born.