De Valera elected as President of Sinn Féin
Dublin, 27 October 1917 - Over 1,700 delegates representing 1,009 clubs have attended a convention of the Sinn Féin organisation at Dublin’s Mansion House.
The convention adopted a new constitution and elected Éamon de Valera as its president. The election of de Valera – one of the leading figures of the 1916 Rising – was unanimous and came after the surprise decision of both Count Plunkett and Arthur Griffith to withdraw their candidacies.
Griffith, in announcing his decision to withdraw from any contest for the role, described de Valera as a statesman and a soldier.
In the course of his address, Griffith claimed that a fundamental principle upon which the party had been founded – the renouncement of the British parliament – had already been delivered and with that, the moral sanction of English authority in the country had been destroyed.
Accepting the presidency, Mr de Valera’s spoke about Sinn Féin’s new constitution and its focus on international recognition of Ireland as an independent republic:
‘That is what I stand for, and it is because I stand for that that I was elected unanimously here. I said I regarded that election as a monument to the brave dead, and I believed that what they fought for – complete and absolute freedom – was the pious wish of every Irish heart.’
In one of the convention’s less harmonious moments Countess Markievicz objected to the Professor Eoin MacNeill being a member of the party’s new Executive on account of his actions in the days leading up to the 1916 Easter Rising. However, both Arthur Griffith and Éamon de Valera spoke in favour of Prof. MacNeill and, eventually, Madame Markievicz resumed her seat and calm was restored.
As it turned out, Prof. Mac Neill received the highest number of votes in the election of members to the 24 member council, the incoming body of which will also include Markievicz herself, along with Cathal Brugha, Sean Milroy, Count Plunkett, Harry Boland, J.J. Walsh, Kathleen Clarke (née Daly), Sean T. O’Kelly, David Kent, Grace Plunkett (née Gifford), Sean McEntee, Ernest Blythe and Michael Collins.
The convention was Sinn Féin’s 10th and a striking feature of the gathering was its size and composition, which was on a far larger scale that the organisation’s last convention in April 1916.
An Irish Independent editorial admits the support of Sinn Féin should not be underestimated: ‘It may be said that Sinn Féin now represents by far the largest body of Irish Nationalists... It would be idle to deny the force of numbers behind Sinn Féin.’ It speculates, however, that some converts to the new party might not wholeheartedly adhere to its doctrines. Rather, they are sick of the ‘empty tricks and sorry stage-play of the Irish Party and their leaders’.
[Editor's note: This is an article from Century Ireland, a fortnightly online newspaper, written from the perspective of a journalist 100 years ago, based on news reports of the time.]