Remembering the Past
The 1917 IRA Convention
By Aengus Ó Snodaigh
Following the failure of the Easter Rising in 1916, the leadership of the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) were in the main arrested, sentenced or interned, or executed. Those who remained at large had to obviously curtail their activities in the few months after the Rising, but not for long.
Despite the difficulties it entailed, Irish Volunteer units, or what remained of them throughout the country, tried to meet regularly. The first serious attempt to draw the strands of the military republican organisation together again came following the release of Cathal Brugha from hospital in November 1916. Believing that he'd been severely disabled after being badly wounded during the Rising, the authorities discharged him.
Brugha, who'd been Vice-Commandant of Dublin's Fourth Battalion, was visited at his home in Rathgar on the night of his release by two IRB men, Seán Ó Muirthile and Diarmuid O'Hegarty. They explained the state of play with the IRB, but Brugha said he didn't wish to have any more to do with the IRB. They turned to discuss the Irish Volunteers, or the IRA, as it was becoming known.
At Brugha's behest, the two other men undertook to organise a small representative meeting of the Volunteers. This was held at Fleming's Hotel in Gardiner Street later that month and was attended by about 50 Volunteers. Cathal Brugha presided over the meeting, though he was still on crutches. A provisional committee was established under him to further establish contact with areas not represented at the meeting and inform them of future organisational moves.
Progress was slow for the next few months, but with the release of some prisoners in December 1916, a swing in the public's attitude towards republicanism and the early victories in the Westminster by-election in February and May, headway was being made. With the general release of POWs in June 1917 and the victory of Eamonn de Valera in East Clare, the Irish Volunteers signalled that they were back in action again.
During the East Clare election campaign, Volunteer units from Clare and the surrounding counties paraded publicly and prevented on occasion the police from interfering with the electoral process. The succeeding by-election in Kilkenny in August, where a number of released POWs played a prominent role, signalled the resurrection of the Army of the Irish Republic.
Early in August, a meeting was held in the offices of Craobh Chéitinn of Conradh na Gaeilge in 46 Parnell Square. Those in attendance included Eamonn de Valera, Cathal Brugha, Thomas Ashe, Diarmuid O'Hegarty, Diarmuid Lynch, Michael Collins, Michael Staines and Richard Mulcahy. It was decided at this meeting that an Army Convention would be held to establish a National Executive of Óglaigh na hÉireann. The date of the Convention was chosen to coincide with and to use the cover of the larger gathering of republicans in Dublin on October 25 and 26 1917 - the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis. The date chosen was the Saturday morning of October 27, when large numbers of republicans being in the city would not draw the attentions of the police, who'd presume they were still be around following the Ard Fheis.
[more next week]