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Thread: The South Longford By-Election, 9th May 1917

  1. #1

    Default The South Longford By-Election, 9th May 1917

    On this day, the 9th May 1917, the South Longford by-election was held, resulting in the defeat of the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) by the Sinn Féin challenger, and signifying the overthrow of the old order in Ireland by the new.

    A Choice of Green: The South Longford By-Election, May 1917

    The first of such defeats earlier in the year, at North Roscommon in February, was enough to send John Redmond, as IPP Chairman, into a crisis of faith. "If the North Roscommon election may be regarded as a f reak election," he wrote, "then it may be disregarded."

    But, he continued, "if is an indication of a change of principle and policy on the part of a considerable mass of the Irish people...Let the Irish people replace us, by all means, by other and, I hope, better men, if they so choose."

    The electorate of South Longford prepared to answer that very when their current MP, John Phillips, a former Fenian turned politician, died on the 2nd April 1917. To contest the seat, Sinn Féin put up Joe McGuinness, despite his imprisonment for his part in the Easter Rising from the year before.


    (Sinn Féin election poster, depicting Joe McGuinness in prison)

    For its part, the IPP could not decide on which of the three possible contenders, leading the Party Deputy to complain that "the Longford election is a most deplorable tangle." While the IPP eventually settled on local man Patrick McKenna, Sinn Féin had taken advantage of its head-start, as explained by one Longford newspaper:

    For two consecutive Sundays they had the ear of the people at all the masses in all the chapels, and no one who knows how hard it is to get an Irishman to change his view once he has made his mind up but must admit that this was a serious handicap.
    With the challenger in the ascendant, the IPP hastened to make up for lost time. The constituency was turned into a cross between a battlefield and a carnival, as reported by the 'Irish Times':

    Longford was crowded with partisans, who seem to have flocked to their separate standards from all parts of Ireland…The flags of the rival parties are displayed at every turn, and incessant party cries become grating to the ear. Nothing is being left undone by either side to further its propects.
    When the vote came and the results were counted inside the Longford Courthouse on the day after, the 10th May, it was initially believed that McKenna had won, albeit by the narrowest of margins. This was announced to the crowds outside, with one Sinn Féin activist, Kevin O'Shiel, remembering how:

    We were dumbfounded, our misery being aggravated by the wild roars of the triumphant Partyites and their wilder 'Separation Allowance' women who danced with joy as they waved Union Jacks and green flags.
    Just as dramatically, an error was revealed: a bundle of fifty votes had been misplaced and not included in the tally. When these were finally counted, Joe McGuinness, and Sinn Féin, was shown to have triumphed by a majority of just 37 votes. As small as this difference was, it was enough to inflict a crippling blow to the once-invincible Irish Party. What that meant for Ireland as a whole, however, with its demands for independence, had yet to be seen.

    "The country is a confusion of factions," reported the 'Daily Telegraph'. "A unanimous Nationalist demand, which could be faced, and which could be dealt with through an accredited leadership, no longer exists."


    (Anti-Redmond cartoon from the Roscommon Herald, 21st May 1917)

  2. #2
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    Default Re: The South Longford By-Election, 9th May 1917

    Thank you for these very timely posts - I'm just been re-reading my way through the Rising and immediate aftermath, and will read all of your posts on 1917.
    https://erinascendantwordpress.wordp...tion-may-1917/

    One question - with so many men in jail, what were the women doing in these election campaigns ? The impression I have from reading letters from the time is, quite a bit.
    “ We cannot withdraw our cards from the game. Were we as silent and mute as stones, our very passivity would be an act. ”
    — Jean-Paul Sartre

  3. #3

    Default Re: The South Longford By-Election, 9th May 1917

    Quote Originally Posted by C. Flower View Post
    One question - with so many men in jail, what were the women doing in these election campaigns ? The impression I have from reading letters from the time is, quite a bit.
    Well, you had the 'separation women' at all these elections, who seemed more passionately pro the various IPP candidate than the actual IPP members at this point (or, at least, anti-Sinn Féin). They tend to be overlooked by historians as they don't fit into the narrative, but they were definitely a feature.

    Otherwise, yeah, the fairer sex were heavily involved - Countess Plunkett and Kathleen Clarke were speakers in Longford, and were attacked by a mob while driving back to their electoral HQ, with the former getting a stone in her mouth. That young women as well as young men were part of the new Sinn Féin movement was noted as being quite unusual, as politics had previously been the domain of their (male) elders.

    And then there's this photo of Sinn Féin activists (to judge from the pro-McGuinness poster), where most of them are women or girls:

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails Click image for larger version. 

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    Last edited by Éireann_Ascendant; 11-05-2019 at 05:17 PM.

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    Default Re: The South Longford By-Election, 9th May 1917

    Quote Originally Posted by Éireann_Ascendant View Post
    Well, you had the 'separation women' at all these elections, who seemed more passionately pro the various IPP candidate than the actual IPP members at this point (or, at least, anti-Sinn Féin). They tend to be overlooked by historians as they don't fit into the narrative, but they were definitely a feature.

    Otherwise, yeah, the fairer sex were heavily involved - Countess Plunkett and Kathleen Clarke were speakers in Longford, and were attacked by a mob while driving back to their electoral HQ, with the former getting a stone in her mouth. That young women as well as young men were part of the new Sinn Féin movement was noted as being quite unusual, as politics had previously been the domain of their (male) elders.

    And then there's this photo of Sinn Féin activists (to judge from the pro-McGuinness poster), where most of them are women or girls:

    Click image for larger version. 

Name:	mcguinness-_1917_election.jpg 
Views:	25 
Size:	53.4 KB 
ID:	1293

    Great photo, thanks. Just a couple of lines, two years later, from Con Markievicz (written from Holloway to her sister Eva Gore Booth) have the same flavour as that photograph - " You criticise our election organisations! The Enemy says it was efficient, perfect, etc. It was practically nil! So everyone butted in, women and children taking a very prominent part. I believe it brought out a lot of women speakers."
    “ We cannot withdraw our cards from the game. Were we as silent and mute as stones, our very passivity would be an act. ”
    — Jean-Paul Sartre

  5. #5

    Default Re: The South Longford By-Election, 9th May 1917

    Quote Originally Posted by C. Flower View Post
    Great photo, thanks. Just a couple of lines, two years later, from Con Markievicz (written from Holloway to her sister Eva Gore Booth) have the same flavour as that photograph - " You criticise our election organisations! The Enemy says it was efficient, perfect, etc. It was practically nil! So everyone butted in, women and children taking a very prominent part. I believe it brought out a lot of women speakers."
    That from the recently published collection of her letters? I have it on the shelf at the moment, will have to check through it if so.

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