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                                            Searc's Web Guide to 20th Century Ireland - Maire Comerford (1893-1982)

Maire Comerford was born in Rathdrum, County Wicklow and educated locally. She studied to be a secretary in London before returning to Ireland in 1915. Comerford witnessed the 1916 Rising in Dublin and afterwards joined the Gorey branch of Sinn Féin.
She moved to Dublin where she worked for Sinn Féin and Cumann na mBan during the War of Independence. In the Civil War Comerford fought in the Dublin Four Courts prior to the republican surrender in June, 1922. In January, 1923 Comerford was involved in a Sinn Féin plan to kidnap William Cosgrove, the Free State Taoiseach [Prime Minister], but she was arrested and imprisoned in Mountjoy Gaol where she went on hunger-strike. Subsequently she was transferred to the North Dublin Union Internment Camp from where she escaped. Comerford was afterwards imprisoned in Kilmainham Gaol where she went on hunger-strike for twenty-seven days before being released. In 1924 she travelled to America to collect funds for Sinn Féin and in 1926 she was arrested for allegedly having tried to influence a jury and was imprisoned for six months. Comerford joined the staff of The Irish Press in 1935 and continued working for that newspaper until her retirement in 1965. In 1969 she published The First Dáil from which the extract below is taken.
Comerford was a life-long member of Sinn Féin and was arrested on a Sinn Féin platform in Dublin at the age of eighty-one in 1974. She also campaigned for better conditions for Irish political prisoners in Portlaoise Prison and in Long Kesh during the H-Block hunger-strikes of 1980-1981.©

Dáil Éireann assembled for the first time in the Round Room of Dublin's Mansion House, on January 21st, 1919. Thirty, out of a possible 105 members answered the roll. Between them they represented thirty one constituencies because Eoin MacNeill had been successful both for Derry City and for the National University of Ireland. Thirty three republicans who would have been there if they could, were in prison, most of them without trial since the previous May 17th - this figure would have been 34 except that Pierce McCann, of Tipperary East, had died in jail. Neither the ending of the First World War - November 11th - nor the elections had brought any change in King George's prisons!
At the first meeting Leinster was represented by fourteen T.D's [members of the Dáil], Munster by eight, and Ulster and Connaught by four each.
Invitations to attend the Dáil were sent to all 104 men, and one woman who were successful at the polls on December 14th, 1918. Of these 73 were republicans; most of them had fought in the Easter Rising, or at any rate had been interned or sentenced by court martial after the Rising was suppressed. It was an opinion often expressed at the time that the convict jails of England were the universities of revolution; not only did Irishmen meet in them who might not otherwise have met, but there were other prisoners of conscience!
Apart from being so much in prison, and therefore the objects for sympathy and admiration, the members of Dáil Éireann had not had a great deal to do with events in Ireland since the Rising. A ground swell of feeling in the country carried the survivors of the Volunteers who fought in 1916 to the election victory of 1918 - but only 30 of them to the Mansion House on January 21st, 1919.
Nobody survived the 1916 Rising to take part in Dáil Éireann who had had any important part in creating the literature of the insurrection, or who understood its motives in depth. The men and the parliament who are the subject of this study were filling a gap. They can hardly be said to have had any more previous commitment to revolution, or training for it than anyone could have had from the mosquito press, and the pamphlets of the time. Countess Markievicz was the exception.
Larry Ginnell and James O'Mara were the only members of Dáil Éireann who had ever sat in a parliament before. Hardly any of them had been present at constituency conventions either to seek or decline nomination. Likewise few of the constituents who voted for the Republican candidates 'Put him in to get him out' - had had any opportunity to judge the suitability of their men for national politics. Ireland picked her representatives for the First Dáil, and voted for them because they had shown courage and qualities of leadership.
For instance, take the case of Eamon de Valera, senior surviving commander of the Rising. He broke the dread gloom and iron discipline of Dartmoor on the day when he stepped out from a file of Irish prisoners, called the men to attention, and ordered them to salute [Eoin] MacNeill, who was being brought into the wing. The act of a split second had a far reaching effect on de Valera's career and on history. The story went from mouth to mouth everywhere. People were looking for one hero bigger than all the others. From then for a long time they had him.
© Searc's Web Guide 1997-2008

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