Last year Irish nationalists staged a rebellion in Dublin. The revolt was crushed within a week. At the time the rebels had little support but since then there has been a shift in Ireland’s mood. Partly this was triggered by the executions that followed the Rising, ordered by General Maxwell under martial law powers. People were also perturbed by the mass arrests and internment without trial that Maxwell ordered, as many of those seized had nothing to do with the revolt.
Another concern is conscription. When the UK introduced conscription this was not extended to Ireland. As the war has gone on, the butcher’s bill on the Western Front has meant that the British army is struggling to replace its losses. Many in Ireland fear that their menfolk will soon be forced to go off to die in England’s war.
British policy in Ireland is contradictory. The initial harshness of Maxwell’s response to the Rising has been followed by a more conciliatory approach. The internees have all been released (with many of them radicalised by the experience and now determined to work for Ireland’s independence). More recently the British have released convicted participants in the Rising, including leaders like Éamon de Valera and Constance Markievicz.
The radicals have flocked to the banner of Sinn Féin, giving that party a more advanced nationalist position than it had previously. Now they are able to test the public mood in an election. The death on the Western Front of Irish Parliamentary Party MP Willie Redmond leads to a by-election in East Clare. The moderate Irish Parliamentary Party, under Willie Redmond’s elder brother John, has dominated southern Irish politics for some time now. But their candidate is now opposed by Éamon de Valera for Sinn Féin.
De Valera wins by a landslide. In line with Sinn Féin policy, he will not take his seat in the House of Commons.
Éamon de Valera addresses an election rally in Ennis, Co. Clare (The Courthouse Gallery and Studios)