Republican News · Thursday 11 May 2000

[An Phoblacht]

IRA Convention meets

By Aengus Ó Snodaigh

At the time of the 1917 IRA Convention, 390 companies were affiliated to Óglaigh na hÉireann. The RIC estimated only 162 companies. Nearly 250 people attended the Convention, though some who would have been there were still incarcerated. The proceedings were presided over by Eamonn de Valera, who'd been elected President of Sinn Féin the previous day. On the platform also was Cathal Brugha and many others who were prominent in the reorganising of the Volunteers in the previous few months, many of them ex-prisoners.

De Valera was elected president and it was decided that the National Executive of the Army would be based on provincial representation. Dublin was regarded in this case as a province. The meeting broke into workshops based on the provincial make-up of those assembled and selected their own representatives and discussed re-organisation. The full Convention then approved the names suggested. It was also agreed that there was a need to elect directors to oversee specific tasks. The Director for Organisation was Michael Collins; Director for Communications was Diarmuid Lynch; Director for Supply was Michael Staines; Director of Engineering was Rory O'Connor and Seán McGarry was General Secretary. Cathal Brugha was made in effect Chief of Staff with the title of Chairman of the Resident Executive.

The other elected members were: M. W. O'Reilly (Dublin); Austin Stack (Kerry); Con Collins (Limerick); Seán McEntee (Belfast); Joe O'Doherty (Donegal); Paul Galligan (Cavan); Eoin O'Duffy (Monaghan); Seamus Doyle (Wexford); Peadar Bracken (Offaly); Larry Lardner (Galway); Dick Walsh (Mayo) and another member from Connaught, whose name I haven't tracked down. There were six co-options to make-up the full number when the directors were named from within their ranks. The six were all Dublin men: Éamonn Duggan; Gearóid O'Sullivan; Fintan Murphy; Diarmuid O'Hegarty; Dick McKee and Paddy Ryan.

Of the 26 elected, six of their number were also members of the Sinn Féin National Executive, with Eamonn de Valera president of both. Eleven of the 26 were elected TDs in the 1918 general election and 13 in the May 1921 election. This dual membership helped over the next few years in the promotion of a common republican agenda, and helped maintain unity among republicans throughout the country. There were at times, however, tensions between the military organisation and the political organisation. One such occasion was the capture of explosives and shooting dead of the two RIC men at Soloheadbeg on the inaugural day of the first Dáil. Tensions also emerged over the years between the IRB and the IRA, with those with dual membership who were on the Army Executive sometimes clashing on strategy and policy. Cathal Brugha and Eamonn de Valera frowned on the continued existence of the IRB, feeling that events had overtaken that organisation's role now that the IRA was reorganised and had the same stated aims.

In March 1918, the links between the Army and the First Dáil were set out when, at a meeting in the Dublin Typographical Society's rooms at 35 Lower Gardiner Street, the Volunteer National Executive established a General Headquarters Staff with responsibility for the military organisation and direction of the IRA. Richard Mulcahy was now Chief of Staff and also Minister for Defence and he was supposed to be responsible to the National Executive under Cathal Brugha. With the reshuffle of ministers in April 1918, Cathal Brugha was made Minister for Defence and Mulcahy became Assistant Minister for Defence. The Army was, therefore, supposed to be answerable to the Dáil.

The Convention considered its principle objective being ``to carry on the reorganisation of the Irish Volunteers throughout the country, and put them in a position to complete by force of arms the work begun by the men of Easter Week''. It did agree that no order to take to the field against the British would be given until such time as it was deemed possible to achieve success.

Following the success of the Convention and the exchange of information and knowledge, Volunteers returned to their areas with renewed confidence and sense of purpose. Volunteer activities throughout the country saw a major increase in the next few months.

(More on Thomas Ashe at a later date)

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