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Sunday 22 September 2019

100 years ago: Wexford’s role in the First Dáil

Remembering the contributions of Roger Sweetman and Dr James Ryan

Dr James Ryan from Taghmon was elected to the First Dáil to represent Wexford South.
Dr James Ryan from Taghmon was elected to the First Dáil to represent Wexford South.

Brendan Keane

As Ireland this week celebrates the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Dáil - which sat for the first time on January 21, 1919 - the occasion will have added resonance for the people of Wexford as two men from the county played a major role in the formation of that initial Irish Government: Roger Sweetman and Dr James Ryan.

Roger Sweetman (1874 - 1954) was a Sinn Féin politician and barrister who was elected to the Dail for Wexford North.

He was elected as a Sinn Féin MP for that constituency in the 1918 General Election and the following January his party's MPs refused to recognise the parliament of the United Kingdom and instead assembled at Dublin's Mansion House for what was effectively a revolutionary parliament called Dáil Éireann.

Mr Sweetman was a very significant contributor to the formative Dáil debates and made his own bit of history on January 25, 1921, when, during truce discussions, he was alone in voicing disapproval of the conduct during the Irish War of Independence.

He didn't contest the elections of 1921 but he wasn't the first member of his family to enter the world of politics as his cousin, John Sweetman, was an Irish Parliamentary Party MP between 1892 and 1895.

Mr Sweetman, whose son, Edmund, was a senator from 1948 to 1951, died in May, 1954.

Dr Ryan was elected for the Wexford South constituency. A medical officer, he tended to the wounded in the GPO during the 1916 rising and he also fought in the War of Independence.

Born in December, 1861, Dr Ryan was the second youngest of 12 children and was educated at St Peter's College and at Ring College, Waterford.

A founder member of Fianna Fáil, during a long political career he held a number of different portfolios.

He studied medicine at University College, Dublin, and was a founder member of the Irish Volunteers.

Opposed to the Anlgo-Irish Treaty he was actively involved in the Easter Rising and also the War of Independence. He was a member of Sinn Féin when he was elected in the Wexford South constituency in 1918.

However, he refused to take his seat in the House of Commons, Westminster, and instead attended the first Dáil.

He later became a member of Wexford County Council.

In a distinguished political career he served in the following roles: Minister for Finance (1957 to 1965); Minister for Health (1947 to 1948, and 1951 to 1954); Minister for Social Welfare (1947 to 1948, and 1951 to 1954) and Minister for Agriculture (1932 to 1947).

He served as a TD for Wexford from 1918 to 1965.

After a period in opposition Dr Ryan was appointed to his first ministerial position as Minister for Agriculture when Fianna Fáil came to power in 1932; it was a position he would hold for almost 15 years before taking up the role of Minister for Health and Social Welfare in 1947.

He resumed that role when Fianna Fáil returned to power following three-year absence in 1951.

Dr Ryan retired from politics, as Minister for Finance, in 1965, and passed away later that same year.

Both the Ryan and Sweetman families were very prominent on the Irish political landscape.

Dr Ryan's sister, Josephine (Min) Ryan married Richard Mulcahy who was a future leader of Fine Gael.

Work has begun on the development of a new public park in Wexford town that will be named in her honour.

Wexford People

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