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Thread: Count Plunkett, the man of the hour in 1917

  1. #1

    Default Count Plunkett, the man of the hour in 1917

    A 5-part series of articles on the brief but intense political career of Count George Plunkett, father of the 1916 leader Joseph Plunkett, from early to mid-1917.



    (Count Plunkett)

    Plunkett’s Rising: Count Plunkett and His Family on the Road to Revolution, 1913-7 (Part I)

    On Easter Monday, 1916, Count Plunkett dropped by the office of Archbishop Walsh of Dublin, and explained to the secretary there that he had just returned from Rome, having met the Pope and reassured him about the forthcoming rebellion. When told about this, the Archbishop did not initially take the Count too seriously, regarding him “as a simple soul and [he] could not conceive a man like him being at the head of a revolution.”

    In truth, however, there was more to the elderly scholar, ardent Parnellite and three-time electoral candidate than meets the eye...


    Plunkett’s Turbulence: Count Plunkett and his Return to Ireland, January-February 1917 (Part II)

    Count George Plunkett, father of the 1916 Rising signatory Joseph Plunkett, began 1917 in a miserable state - exiled from his home to England and publicly ejected from the Royal Dublin Society. His luck turned when he was chosen to be a candidate in the North Roscommon by-election.

    He had been selected by a coalition of Nationalist groups and individuals, joined by an impatience with the status quo, who sought to use the Plunkett name and its connection with the Rising. Their thoughts on Count Plunkett himself were often ambivalent, however. Arthur Griffith said to anyone who asked that: “If Plunkett goes for Roscommon, all Nationalists should support him.”

    But in private, Griffith was distinctly cool towards a candidate he knew so little about. One of the Plunkettite workers in North Roscommon later claimed that Sinn Féin not only refused to support the Count at first but did everything it could to stop him from standing.

    Upon his triumphant return to Dublin after his electoral success in North Roscommon, the Count announced his refusal to take his Westminster seat and called for a separate Irish assembly to govern the country.

    At no point did he acknowledge Griffith as the originator of these policies. To hear Plunkett talk, one would think he had come up with them entirely on his own, which did not bode too well for future working relations with Griffith...


    Plunkett’s Agenda: Count Plunkett against Friend and Foe, February-April 1917 (Part III)

    The election victory of Count Plunkett, father of Joseph Plunkett, in North Roscommon, February 1917, was soon followed by the frosting of relations between him and Arthur Griffith. The immediate point of contention was Plunkett's public refusal to take his seat at Westminster. Although absentionism had long been a policy of Sinn Féin, Griffith was concerned that this was a step too far and too soon for the Irish electorate.

    As the mutual dislike between the two leaders festered into a feud, other members of the burgeoning nationalist movement weighed up their preferences. Plunkett found support in hardliners such as Michael Collins and Rory O'Connor, who saw Griffith as insufficiently committed to their republican ideals.

    On the other hand, there were fears that Plunkett was starting to throw his weight around: "[he] no longer supplicated; he commanded; and it seemed to all that he had made up his mind that he was going to rule whatever organisation was to take shape from his triumph."

    As if the internal disputes were not enough, there was an attempt to link Plunkett with - God forbid - socialism. This was almost certainly the work of the Irish Parliamentary Party, who recognised a dangerous rival in the Count. But Plunkett had his defenders, one of whom argued that: "To refer to him in connection with ‘socialism’ is unjust, because its principles, as usually understood, could not possibly be sanctioned by any true Catholic or patriot."


    Plunkett’s Gathering: Count Plunkett and His Mansion House Convention, 19th April 1917 (Part IV)

    On the 19th April 1917, the simmering feud between Count Plunkett and Arthur Griffith, the two most prominent leaders of the burgeoning independence movement, spilled out into public view at the 'Plunkett Convention'.

    The Convention, held in the Mansion House, Dublin, was also notable in how it was the first attempt to voice the mood in Ireland since the Rising of the previous year. Due to the lack of elections since the start of the War in Europe, public bodies tended to be full of nominees of the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) who now longer spoke for their constituents or the country as a whole. But, while the IPP was on its way out, what would replace it was by no means certain.

    As president of Sinn Féin, Griffith was regarded as a relative moderate who intended to continue with constitutional methods to achieve independence. This was not necessarily seen as a virtue by some, particularly those who had fought in the Rising, and they preferred to rally around Count Plunkett as a more militant alternative.

    At the Convention, Plunkett did not disappoint his supporters. "Two things the Irishman could not separate from life were,” said the Count, “first, his reverence and subjection to God, and, secondly, his duty to his fellows in establishing liberty."

    He then spoke of the need to form a new organisation, both politically and which would use the young men of the movement to establish "a series of resistance which no government could ignore and which no government could withstand."

    This was met with approval from some, caution from others. It was when Seán Milroy, supported by Griffith, spoke of the need to form an alliance of nationalist groups, as opposed to a more centralised society like Plunkett wanted, that the suspicions and hostility between the two factions oozed out into view.



    (Arthur Griffith)


    Plunkett’s Liberty: Count Plunkett and the Liberty Clubs, April-August 1917 (Part V)

    The tensions between Count Plunkett and Arthur Griffith finally spilled out into the open at the 'Plunkett Convention' on the 19th April 1917. Griffith announced to the audience that the Count had refused him permission to speak, and warned them about the likelihood of failure unless they stayed united.

    The reaction in the hall was one of consternation, according to a newspaper report:

    Those on the platform rose to their feet and conversed – in some cases very heatedly – in small groups, while murmurs of protest throughout the room testified that opinion was divided on the action taken.
    To prevent the split from worsening into something irreparable, a committee consisting of the two men and their respective allies was formed. Even so, this could be nothing more than a stopgap, and not a very effective one at that. On the first meeting of the new committee, Griffith was able to deny Plunkett the chairmanship through deft maneuvering.

    Determined to replace Griffith's Sinn Féin with an organisation of his own creation, Plunkett set up the Liberty Clubs. These initially flourished throughout the country but ultimately failed to replace Sinn Féin as the voice of the new nationalist Ireland, in no small part due to Sinn Féin being already associated in the public mind with the hallowed Easter Rising (however undeservedly, in the opinions of some).

    However, Griffith's position was increasingly untenable, and he came under pressure to step down as President of Sinn Féin. It was at the party's Ard Fheis in October 1917 that the feud between the two men, and the direction of nationalist Ireland, would be decided, with the help of a certain Éamon de Valera...



    (Éamon de Valera in the uniform of the Irish Volunteers)

  2. #2

    Default Re: Count Plunkett, the man of the hour in 1917

    Article on the 'Election of the Snows', the 1917 by-election in North Roscommon which saw Count Plunkett elected as the first abstentionist MP to Westminster and the start of the Sinn Féin upheaval in post-Rising Irish politics.

    An Idolatry of Candidates: Count Plunkett and the North Roscommon By-Election of 1917

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    Default Re: Count Plunkett, the man of the hour in 1917

    Much to digest here, many thanks.
    The United Irishman. Updated 5/2/14

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