Cloud-Cuckoo Land: How ‘The Irish Times’ viewed the meeting of the first Dáil in 1919

‘Irish Times’ believed opinion beginning to rally to forces of order, sanity, and the law

The Irish Times gave its views on the meeting of the first Dáil in 1919 in a January 23rd editorial

The Irish Times gave its views on the meeting of the first Dáil in 1919 in a January 23rd editorial

 

The meeting of the first Dáil on January 21st 1919 made headlines around the world and was a landmark event in the evolution of an independent Ireland. Sinn Féin had won 73 of Ireland’s 105 parliamentary seats in the 1918 election, but its manifesto focused on four key principles including withdrawing from Westminster and establishing an assembly to speak for and act in the name of Irish people.

The Irish Times published this editorial on page four of its edition two days later, on January 23rd, setting out its view of the events of the preceding days. It is fair to say, it was not impressed.

Sinn Féin leaders at the first Dáil Éireann in 1919. Photograph: Hulton Archive
Sinn Féin leaders at the first Dáil Éireann in 1919. Photograph: Hulton Archive

For those afraid to ask, the reference to “nephelocaccygia” comes from ancient Greek and in particular from the Aristophanes play The Birds. It is defined as “the act of seeking and finding shapes in clouds” and hence the headline “Cloud-Cuckoo Land” was put on the article.

The Irish Times

Thursday, January 23, 1919

Cloud-Cuckoo Land

The ‘Republican Party’s “National Assembly” had an emphatically bad “Press” yesterday. Even those Nationalist newspapers which “played up” so assiduously to Sinn Féin during the last two years have begun to reconsider their

position. Sinn Féin helped them to kill the Parliamentary Party, but has put something in its place for which they are exceedingly anxious to accept no responsibility. Their anxiety is very natural. It is clear now that the Republican movement must end either in ridicule or in disaster. If Tuesday’s proceedings at the Dublin Mansion House were merely solemn nonsense, then Sinn Féin has induced nearly half a million voters to make fools of themselves, and has brought humiliation on the whole country. On the other hand, if the Republican Party intends to translate its boasts and promises into action, the whole country is threatened with calamity. Of course, the new party will not be able to defeat the law, but any attempts to defeat it may provoke civil strife on a large scale, and certainly will do grave harm to Irish industry and commerce. The Peace Conference part of its programme is now what our soldiers in France used to call a “dud.” There remains only —if these young men are in earnest— the plan of making Ireland “ungovernable,” and the Nationalist man-in-the-street is beginning to consider the nature and results of such a plan. It must involve strikes, refusal to pay taxes, widespread unemployment and poverty, the loss of English custom, a deliberate surrender of all the benefits of reconstruction. It may involve also, as we pointed out yesterday, the letting loose, amid the general disorders, of forces, desperate and criminal which the young ideologues of the Republican Party will have no power to check. These fears were ignored during the heat of the assaults on the old party and during the excitements of the General Election; but they very much alive today, and their influence will continue to spread. Every Irishman has a sense of humour and therefore dislikes that either he or his country should be made ridiculous; and most Irishmen have the average man’s desire to enjoy in peace the fruits of his labour. The report of yesterday’s proceedings of the “National Assembly” will tend still further to depress its stock in the political market. We are told that the Assembly appointed a temporary Prime Minister, and Ministers of Finance, Foreign Affairs, Home Affairs, and Defence. The names of the five statesmen are not given to the Irish public, which is required to take their fitness on trust. This secrecy is capable of only two explanations. The Assembly either is afraid to expose the names to public criticism or it claims a despotic authority which no Tsar or Kaiser of the old regime would have dared to assert.

The Irish Times reacted to the meeting of the first Dáil with a scathing editorial on January 23rd, 1919
The Irish Times reacted to the meeting of the first Dáil with a scathing editorial on January 23rd, 1919

At this moment Ireland, apart from political agitation, is one of the most favoured countries in the world. We advise all the Sinn Féin electors to turn from the proceedings at the Mansion House to the annual report of the Council of the Dublin Chamber of Commerce. They will read there that during the last few months the deposits in the Irish banks have increased by many millions, that our farmers are enjoying unexampled prosperity, that our working classes are getting their full share of the national wealth. If Sinn Féin had exorcised British government after the Easter Rebellion, could the Dublin Chamber have had this story to tell? Would the Republican Government’s Minister of Foreign Affairs - to whom the Peace Conference now turns a stony ear - have done better for Ireland than Mr Balfour has done? Would these many millions of deposits still be swelling our banks if a Republican Minister of Finance had been in charge in 1916? Where was Sinn Féin’s Minister of Defence when the deep closed over the victims of the Leinster? Would any Irish Chamber of Commerce be inviting his High Admiral to dinner today in recognition of the saving of Ireland’s shores from invasion by a foreign fleet? What do the Republican Party’s five Ministers propose to do for Ireland now? On Tuesday the Harbour Board of Wexford, a Nationalist body, thanked an Ulster Unionist member of Parliament for his work in restoring to its service a vessel which the Admiralty had “commandeered.” Its own member of Parliament - a Sinn Féiner who, for all that the public knows, may be the new Minister for Defence or Home Affairs - refused to help the Board on the ground that “he must decline to adopt palliative measures while the radical remedy lay within their grasp.” We know that “radical remedy.” We know that it is unattainable, or, if attainable, only through years of misery and destruction. Will Ireland really allow her affairs to run to ruin while the young Republicans dream in their Nephelocaccygia and Irish Bolshevism matures its plans for plunder and anarchy? We have enough faith in our country to believe that nobody can fool the whole of it all the time. We believe that even now popular opinion is beginning to rally to the side of the forces of order, sanity, and the law.