Irish Declaration of Independence: January 21, 1919
Updated: Dec 9, 2022
In 1912, the British government established limited "home rule" for Ireland. But in the north, the protestant Ulster Unionists violently resisted, and Irish nationalists formed their own militias to protect and expand this right, creating the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army (ICA).
After a brief interlude to fight World War I, the Easter Rising broke out in 1916, a push for Irish independence led by James Connolly and other members of the ICA.
A provisional government called the Irish Republican Brotherhood was formed, and it published the Proclamation of the Irish. Though this uprising was quickly squashed, the dream of a sovereign independent state survived.
In the name of God and of the dead generations from which she receives her old tradition of nationhood, Ireland, through us, summons her children to her flag and strikes for her freedom. — Proclamation of the Irish Republic
And on January 21st, 1919, the dream of an Irish Republic became real again.
On that day, the Dáil Éireann, a new provisional government formed by representatives of the Sinn Féin party, gathered in the Mansion House to pass the Declaration of Independence and establish the Irish Republic, complete with a constitution.
But the Irish Republic would not be a legitimate, permanent national government yet. In the years and decades that followed, violence routinely punctuated the story of the island.
On this day, as we remember this historic event that struck a blow to British imperialism, we are compelled to remember all the other struggles for the fundamental right of self-government that marked 1919.
An Archive of 1919: The Year of the Crack-Up
As part of her Partition Art series of anti-memorials, Pritika Chowdhry honors the memories and experiences of these events while contextualizing them within the year 1919, which saw the same story everywhere: a secret revolutionary organization fighting against foreign rule by an alien government.
1919, the Year that Changed Everything
An Archive of 1919 highlights the connection between the people around the world struggling for national freedom. But rather than reiterate official narratives, the work gathers many experiences together to create a vision of global anti-imperialist struggle.
In the installation, spittoons are engraved and enameled with the names of events that broke the brief international peace after World War I. On the body of the vessels are maps of the cities that the events took place in. Each spittoon acts as a vessel for personal and national memories, an allusion to Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children.
The installation features 14 spittoons, each from a similar struggle: the May Fourth Revolution, the Turkish War of Independence, the Russian Civil War, the declaration of a free Irish nation, and beyond.
There is also a partially disassembled well, a grim reference to the Martyr's Well in Jallianwallan Bagh. It was in this park that British soldiers opened fire on 5,000 peaceful demonstrators in 1919.
Colonel Dyer's men blocked off the single route of escape, forcing many to flee the carnage by jumping down a well. At least 150 people drowned there, with some 2,000 losing their lives in the bloodbath.
A video montage plays above this, depicting the entranceway to Jallianwallan Bagh, the bullet holes from the British army's massacre, and cinematic interpretations of the Martyr's Well.
This highlights the shared fates of Ireland and India over the course of the 20th century. Both would overcome British colonial rule. Both would be partitioned along communal lines, creating a legacy that would have violent reverberations in the long century ahead.
Chowdhry's installation tells the story of 1919 — how the stone edifice of the old order that seemed so established, so permanent, began to crack. And it was on January 21st of that year that the Irish took part in this daring project to face down imperial powers.
To commemorate January 21st, it is worth reading the words that the Dáil Éireann penned to proclaim the Irish republic.
"Whereas the Irish people is by right a free people:
And Whereas for seven hundred years the Irish people has never ceased to repudiate and has repeatedly protested in arms against foreign usurpation:
And Whereas English rule in this country is, and always has been, based upon force and fraud and maintained by military occupation against the declared will of the people:
And Whereas the Irish Republic was proclaimed in Dublin on Easter Monday, 1916, by the Irish Republican Army acting on behalf of the Irish people:
And Whereas the Irish people is resolved to secure and maintain its complete independence in order to promote the common weal, to re-establish justice, to provide for future defence, to insure peace at home and goodwill with all nations and to constitute a national polity based upon the people's will with equal right and equal opportunity for every citizen:
And Whereas at the threshold of a new era in history the Irish electorate has in the General Election of December, 1918, seized the first occasion to declare by an overwhelming majority its firm allegiance to the Irish Republic:
Now, therefore, we, the elected Representatives of the ancient Irish people in National Parliament assembled, do, in the name of the Irish nation, ratify the establishment of the Irish Republic and pledge ourselves and our people to make this declaration effective by every means at our command:
We ordain that the elected Representatives of the Irish people alone have power to make laws binding on the people of Ireland, and that the Irish Parliament is the only Parliament to which that people will give its allegiance:
We solemnly declare foreign government in Ireland to be an invasion of our national right which we will never tolerate, and we demand the evacuation of our country by the English Garrison
We claim for our national independence the recognition and support of every free nation in the world, and we proclaim that independence to be a condition precedent to international peace hereafter:
In the name of the Irish people we humbly commit our destiny to Almighty God who gave our fathers the courage and determination to persevere through long centuries of a ruthless tyranny, and strong in the justice of the cause which they have handed down to us, we ask His divine blessing on this the last stage of the struggle we have pledged ourselves to carry through to Freedom.