Marching on the Road to Freedom: Dáil Éireann 1919 opens at the National Museum of Ireland

The new exhibition commemorates the centenary of the first meeting of Dáil Éireann

Marching on the Road to Freedom: Dáil Éireann 1919, a new exhibition commemorating the centenary of the first meeting of Dáil Éireann on 21st January 1919, has opened at the National Museum of Ireland – Decorative Arts and History in Collins Barracks, Benburb Street, Dublin 7. The exhibition was officially opened in January by the 19th Ceann Comhairle of Dáil Éireann, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, TD.

Marching on the Road to Freedom: Dáil Éireann 1919 features important artefacts from the National Museum of Ireland’s collections including the metal seal of Dáil Éireann, used by the first and second Dáil and the ‘Declaration of Independence’, handwritten by Éamon de Valera on the stationery of the American Delegation of the Elected Government of the Republic of Ireland, Washington DC and dated 21st January, 1919.

First Dáil meeting

The first meeting of Dáil Éireann took place in the Mansion House, Dublin, on the 21st January, 1919. Twenty-seven of the Dáil’s sixty-nine elected deputies attended the first meeting, while the remaining forty-two were absent, in most cases due to imprisonment. The total attendance was in the region of 2,000, with a large proportion of the attendees being journalists.

During the first Dáil, the ‘Declaration of Independence’ was approved, and all ties with the Westminster parliament were renounced. Sean T. O’Kelly was later elected Ceann Comhairle of Dáil Éireann and the Dáil constitution was adopted. Three delegates were appointed to the Paris Peace Conference, while a ‘Message to the Free Nations of the World’ was endorsed.

The formal opening of Dáil Éireann occurred at a time of increasing violence in Ireland between nationalists and British forces. On the same day as the first meeting of the Dáil, 21st January 1919, nine Volunteers from the 3rd Tipperary Brigade carried out an ambush at Soloheadbeg, Co. Tipperary. 

In retrospect, the ambush at Soloheadbeg would be seen as the first engagement of the War of Independence.

This seminal moment

Chair of the Board of the National Museum of Ireland, Catherine Heaney, said: “The centenary of this seminal moment offers the opportunity to reflect on our relatively contemporary history, while providing opportunities for citizens – of all ages – to consider the important role parliamentary democracy plays in shaping our lives, and those of generations to come.

Marching on the Road to Freedom: Dáil Éireann 1919 is a yearlong exhibition and opens to the public at the National Museum of Ireland – Decorative Arts and History, Collins Barracks.