28/12/1918 Ireland’s election results: Sinn Féin landslide and the first woman elected to the House of Commons #1918

Ireland voted on 14 December as part of the United Kingdom’s first general election since 1911. Today the votes are finally counted and the results reveal that Sinn Féin has definitively supplanted the Irish Parliamentary Party as the voice of Irish nationalism, with the IPP winning just 6 seats to Sinn Féin’s 73. John Dillon, the IPP’s leader, loses his East Mayo seat to Sinn Féín leader Éamon de Valera, who is currently in prison in England after being arrested earlier this year on suspicion of involvement in an outlandish German plot to invade Ireland. Unionist parties meanwhile dominate in the north east of the country, where many Protestant voters fear the consequences of self-rule in mainly Catholic Ireland. This is also where the Irish Parliamentary Party wins most of its seats; IPP candidates are more used to battling on against adverse circumstances here.

Apart from the north east, the electoral map of Ireland is now a sea of dark green, representing Sinn Féin victories. The only exceptions to the Sinn Féin sweep are Waterford City, where William Redmond is elected to the seat previously held by the late John Redmond, his father and the former leader of the IPP, and Rathmines in Dublin, where Unionist candidate Maurice Dockrell is elected.

Two women ran for Sinn Féin and one of these, Constance Markievicz, is elected. Like De Valera she played a leading role in the 1916 Rising and like him she is also currently in jail in England.

Sinn Féin candidates have secured election on an abstentionist ticket: they have promised not to take their seats in Westminster but instead to assemble as an Irish parliament in Dublin. Now those elected Sinn Féin representatives who are not on the run or in jail prepare to meet in January as the first sitting of a sovereign Irish parliament, to be known in the Irish language as Dáil Éireann.

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Sinn Féin election poster (RTÉ: Election 1918 – what you need to know about how Ireland voted)

Constance Markievicz (Wikipedia: Constance Markievicz)

17/5/1918 Sinn Féin leaders arrested as Britain strikes against “German plot” #1918Live

Ireland is in a tumult thanks to British plans to introduce conscription. Nationalist parties Sinn Féin and the Irish Parliamentary Party have joined forces with the Catholic Church and organised labour to oppose the measure.

Despite the opposition and warnings from senior figures in the local administration, London is determined to bring conscription to Ireland; such is the desperate need of new recruits to make good the losses suffered in the German spring offensives. Lord French (previously the British commander on the Western Front) has been appointed Lord Lieutenant in Ireland. A member of the Anglo-Irish gentry, French is convinced that firm measures will bring the lower orders to heel.

Some of the British suspect a German hand in the unrest in Ireland. Joseph Dowling, captured after a U-boat landed him in the west of Ireland, has spun a tall tale about Sinn Féin leaders being in league with Berlin and preparing for a German invasion of the Emerald Isle. Lord French himself is sceptical, as are others, but Dowling’s story finds a receptive audience in London. The British decide to nip this plot in the bud by rounding up the Sinn Féin leaders before they can get up to any further mischief.

Now the British strike. Ireland wakes up this morning to learn that more than 70 leading members of Sinn Féin have been arrested, including Éamon de Valera, Constance Markievicz and Arthur Griffith. The British hope that this bold step will decapitate the troublesome party and bring an end to the unrest in Ireland.

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Some of the arrested Sinn Féin leaders (Ireland’s Own: The German Plot)

21/4/1918 Nationalist and Catholic Ireland unites against conscription #1918Live

The German offensives on the Western Front are taking a heavy toll on the British. Every man is needed refill the depleted ranks of its force on the Continent. Britain introduced conscription in 1916 but did not extend it to Ireland, fearful of the consequences in that restive part of the United Kingdom. Now the army’s desperate need for more men has turned attentions back to Ireland’s exemption from the draft.

The authorities in Ireland continue to warn of the dangers of forcing men into the army, but they are not heeded in London. Parliament has passed a new law allowing for the extension of conscription to Ireland (with older men across the United Kingdom also being subject to the draft, such is the army’s need for manpower). It looks like it will not be long before Irishmen are being rounded up and sent to die in France and Belgium.

The threat of conscription has the effect of uniting broad swathes of hitherto mutually hostile Irish opinion. At a conference in Dublin on the 18th hosted by Lord Mayor Laurence O’Neill, representatives of Sinn Féin, the more moderate Irish Parliamentary Party, the Labour Party, the trade unions and smaller parties formed the Irish Anti-Conscription Committee, agreeing to oppose conscription by any means at their disposal.

Today rallies are held across the country to oppose conscription. It is a Sunday, so much of the focus is on meetings at the church gate. The Catholic Church is wary of involvement in politics, save in defence of its own interests, but so broad is opposition to conscription that it lends its support to the struggle. Protests against conscription happen within the churches as well as at their gates, with many priests denouncing enforced enlistment from the pulpit.

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Members of the Irish Anti-Conscription Committee (Wikipedia: Conscription Crisis of 1918)

25/10/1917 De Valera takes over Sinn Féin #1917Live

The Sinn Féin party was not involved in the Easter Rising that shook Dublin in 1916. However the British authorities and the pro-British press so associated the party with the Rising that it has seen an influx of new members from those with advanced nationalist positions. These new members include many of those who took part in the Rising, notably Éamon de Valera, the most senior of the surviving rebel commanders, and Constance Markievicz.

Sinn Féin had not hitherto been an explicitly republican party; Arthur Griffith had founded it to advocate for Ireland to be internally self-governing in the same way that Hungary was within the Habsburg Empire. But Sinn Féin’s new members are committed republicans, determined to sever all links with Britain. This has led to some tension within the party between these opposing tendencies.

Today Sinn Féin’s Ard Fheis (party conference) meets. The British authorities had thought of suppressing the conference but let it go ahead, hoping that the party’s divisions would cause it to self-destruct. But the party is able to paper over its tensions. De Valera is elected party president in place of Griffith, but Griffith is chosen as one of his vice-presidents. And the party agrees a compromise between its republican and monarchist wings; for now Sinn Féin is working towards the establishment of an Irish republic, after which the Irish people will be free to choose their own system of government.

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Eamon de Valera (Galway Advertiser: Éamon de Valera enters the Irish political stage)

Arthur Griffith (Wikipedia)

10/7/1917 Political realignment in Ireland as de Valera wins by-election #1917Live

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.

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Éamon de Valera addresses an election rally in Ennis, Co. Clare (The Courthouse Gallery and Studios)

12/5/1916 Dublin: the last rebels executed

In Dublin the courts-martial and executions of participants in the recent rebellion have been continuing. Each execution must first be approved by General Maxwell, the military governor. Execution is meant to be reserved for ringleaders of the revolt, but Maxwell takes a generous view of who counts as a commander of rebellion.

Pearse, Connolly, Clarke and the other signatories of the rebels’ proclamation of independence have all now been shot, but so have some of the Rising’s smaller fish. Seán Heuston commanded a small detachment that was forced to surrender early in the revolt; he is now dead. James MacBride was only second-in-command of the rebel garrison at the Jacob’s Biscuit Factory, but he has long been a thorn in the side of the British so they are happy to send him to the firing squad. And Willie Pearse’s role in the revolt was pretty insignificant, but he is executed essentially for being Patrick Pearse’s brother.

The executions have led to increasing disquiet in Ireland and have begun to engender a sympathy for the rebels that was lacking during their revolt. In London, John Dillon of the Irish Parliamentary Party condemns the executions in the House of Commons while his party’s leader John Redmond makes representations to Asquith, the prime minister. Asquith is slow to act but now he obliges Maxwell to halt the firing squads. Seán Mac Diarmada and James Connolly die today, the firing squads’ last victims; Connolly is executed sitting in a chair as wounds sustained in the rebellion prevent him from standing.
The remaining rebels who were facing death have their sentences commuted to penal servitude for life. The most senior remaining rebel is Éamon de Valera, who had commanded the garrison at Boland’s Mill. Another prominent survivor is Constance Markievicz of the Irish Citizen Army, who was second in command at St. Stephen’s Green.

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Execution (Militaria Archive)

James Connolly execution (The Daily Edge)

30/4/1916 The last Easter Rising rebels surrender

In Dublin the Easter Rising is over. The outlying rebel garrisons have surrendered after receiving Pearse’s order to lay down their arms; to ensure that fighters from the Irish Citizen Army also surrender, Pearse’s order is counter-signed by James Connolly.

The rebels holding the Jacob’s Biscuit Factory are among the last to give in. Their second-in-command is James MacBride, who had previously fought for the Boers against the British Empire. Before the surrender he encourages his men to try and escape. He also advises them in future to adopt the guerrilla tactics of the Boers. “Take my advice: never allow yourself to be trapped in a building again.”

Another late surrender is that of the rebels holding formidable positions at Boland’s Mill. Their commander, Éamon De Valera only orders his men to give in after protracted negotiations. Many of them destroy their weapons rather than hand them over.

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Éamon De Valera under guard (Today in Irish History)