In January 1919, while the fist Dail was being formed and the Anglo Irish War was beginning. Life as continued as normal in most parts of the country. On Achill it was impossible to tell that great changes were unfolding in the country. Most people in Ireland, including Achill were too busy dealing with their immediate environment to contemplate what was taking place nationally.
After the Great War unemployment was high, but a new type of welfare was introduced, but that didn’t stretch too far if there was a number of mouths to feed. To make to make matters worse, the dreaded flu was still ravaging the land. Achill was not exempt, and in the first few weeks of the new year there were new cases. Had Emily been there at the time she would have been caring for the victims. But she was still in Dublin, nursing victims there and hoping to stave off the loss of her house for all long as possible.
On Janruary 21st 1919, while the first Dail were meeting at the Manison House another event was unfolding outside a little village in County Tipperary. The village, Soloheadbeg, the event was the fist shots of the War of Independence.
The article above appeared in the Freeman’s Journal two days afterwards. The headline “All in a Flash”, sums up how the war began. It would continue for two and a half years, ending in a truce on July 11th 1921.
“The War of Independence in Ireland which encompassed the years 1919 to1921 was a conflict involving the forces of the Irish Republic – Sinn Fein and its allied organisations, the IRA, Cumann na mBan and Na Fianna – on one side…On the other side was the British Government in Ireland based in Dublin Castle.”
National Director, Fire and Emergency Management, Custom House.
Gillis Liz, May 25 Burning of The Custom House 1921, Kilmainham Tales TEO
For the war’s two and a half years duration Emily lived mostly in Dublin. Although in its early stages most activity took place in Munster. In early part of the year as the Spanish flu still raged, Emily’s time was taken up on the wards. Later on in the year she had more time to take up on her causes, which led to her involvement.
23 January 1919 – Freeman’s Journal – Dublin, Dublin, Republic of Ireland
Gillis Liz, May 25 Burning of The Custom House 1921, Kilmainham Tales TEO
Dail Eireann assembled at the Mansion House on January 21st 1919, issued it Declaration of Independence, and formally andlegally established the Republic of Ireland, electing Cathal Brugha as its first President, De Valera and Griffith, although members of the Dail, were in jail, but Brugha and Collins had escaped the round-up.
Remembered by Seamus G. O’Cellaigh
The proceedings, which will open with the election of a person to fill a post equivalent to that of the Speaker of the House of Commons, will e conducted partly in the Irish language, and are expected to last about 2 hours, after which an adjournment will take place and a date to be fixed. A committee will arrange Irish titles for the different offices afterwards. the Feisiri Dail Eireann (or F.D.E.), as the Republican members are in future to be known, who are to be present numbers only 29 (the majority being interned or in prison).
Dublin Evening Telegraph, 22 January 1919
Members of the First Dail
A limited amount of tickets were issued for the first sitting, and were made available for journalists and the general public. Emily may have applied for a ticket however it is unlikely that she was present.
The first sitting of Dail Eireann in January 1919, was a momentous historical occasion. As there was a public meeting order put in place since July 1918 to prevent organisations such as Cumann na mBan, the Gaelic League, the Irish Volunteers and Sinn Féin gathering as they were all ‘deemed dangerous’. But for the occasion the ban was lifted, due to public interest.
With the order lifted, a limited amount of tickets were issued to the press and public, but had to be applied for through Sinn Fein headquarters at 6 Harcourt Street.
On January 6th 1839 a storm hit Ireland that is still talked about nearly two centuries later. It did not occur in Emily Weddall’s lifetime, but it did during her parent’s. That year her father was in his early career as a priest, and her mother was a girl of about twelve. No doubt they would both talked about during any night of high wind thereafter.
Today it is 180 years since that storm and 110 years since the Old Age Pension was paid to those over seventy in Ireland. Even though it doesn’t look it the two events are bizarrely linked. In the early 1900’s most people had no formal forms of identification the authorities had to rely on other ways of determining age. A lot of the census records from the 1840’s and 50’s had been destroyed so they had to rely on other sources. One of such was the would be recipients ability to recall the Night of the big Wind in 1839 but:
The truth of course was different: since their ages could not be proven one way or another, tens of thousands of Irishmen and Irishwomen aged well under 70 could not be denied the pension. Throughout the country, old people – and many not so old – testified to “eating a potato out of hand” on the night of the “Big Wind” in 1839, so much so that remembering “Oíche na Gaoithe Móire” soon had to be discarded as a test of old age.
From: “The greatest blessing of all: the old age pension in Ireland”, by Cormac Ó Gráda is professor of economics at UCD published in Past Present in 2002
Below is an example of how the ‘pension qualifying story’ traveled well:
Nonetheless it was still held in memory in 1937 when school children collected folklore from their parents, grandparents and neighbors. Here is an excerpt recorded by Kathleen Glynn, a schoolgirl from in County Galway, told to her by her father:
Long ago the old Irish people witnessed a lot of great storms, thunder and lightening. The biggest storm ever witnessed in Ireland was the Night of the Big Wind in 1839. This was a terrible storm. It swept the sea water in from the seas, and brought it miles inland. Cattle, sheep, and all kinds of animals were lost. It knocked houses, hay-ricks, and every kind of corn. There was hay and corn brought miles from people. It knocked houses and plenty of trees all over Ireland. It also left some poor people homeless. Some people were so horrified that they began to say the Rosary and continued praying until the storm was over.
School’s Collection (National Folklore Archive)
If the storm did untold damage in Rural Ireland, it was just as fierce in the Cities and Dublin did not escape its destruction but on a lesser scale
Dublin was described as resembling in many places *a sacked city”. The majority of Dubliners quitted their beds and remained all night in ‘indescribable terror’. The river Liffey rose many feet and overflowed the quay walls. On 6 January the Bethesda chapel in Dorset Street had given thanks at its Sunday noon service for being delivered from a lire which was thought to have been extinguished on Saturday. During Sunday night the wind must have revived the flames, for the chapel, orphan house and female penitentiary, together with five adjoining houses, were burned to the ground. Destruction of property in the capital was estimated, from police statistics, at £6405, or £3 per house on average (Pettigrew and Oulton. 1840). Nevertheless, the Dublin Evening Post (10 January 1839) concluded that the city has suffered less than might have been expected … certainly less — relatively — than other parts of the country.
Emily’s mother lived in Dublin at an address on Clare Street in 1839. She was about 12 years old and no doubt had a memory of the night. She was probably one of the “bed quitters” that took refuge in churches and other more robust buildings. Emily and her siblings may have heard the tale from her mother when they took refuge of a different kind in churches too.