Wednesday, February 12, 2014

General Election December 1918

The First World War ended at 11.00 a.m. on the 11th day of November 1918.  Many who survived the war would not survive the flu epidemic which swept the continent of Europe towards the end of that year.  The Irish Independent of Tuesday, 3rd December 1918 reported:-

            “The flu epidemic was first noticed in Belfast where about the end of July it was very bad.  The first cases that Dr. Browne, Medical Inspector to the Local Government Board, met outside Belfast was in Athy about the end of July when workmen who had gone there from Belfast were stricken with the disease which the doctors thought was Typhus Fever.  Two or three of the patients died.”

Just ten days previously the local newspapers reported on the arrangements made locally in Athy with regard to the elections to the House of Commons scheduled for 14th December.  At a meeting held in Athy Denis Kilbride, the outgoing Member of Parliament for South Kildare, a position he held for the previous 15 years, was selected as a candidate for the Irish Parliamentary Party.  He was proposed by Canon Mackey, the Parish Priest of Athy and seconded by Mr. John Alexander Duncan who was described in the press reports as a “Protestant Home Ruler”.  The Sinn Fein party after its successful foray into Parliamentary elections in the previous year’s Roscommon Bye-Election was poised to further its cause in the 1918 General Election on a policy of absenteeism.  Denis Kilbride, who 30 years earlier had been evicted from his farm at Luggacurran, was diametrically opposed to the Sinn Fein policy. “I am not in favour of abandoning the House of Commons” he declared, “Home Rule as enjoyed by Australia could only be won by unity in Ireland”. 

A week later Charles Bergin of Kildare town presided at a meeting of Kilbride’s supporters where letters of support were read from Rev. P. Campion P.P., Kildare, Rev. J. Kelly P.P., Suncroft and Rev. W.A. Staples of White Abbey.  Clearly the Catholic clergy were behind the Irish Parliamentary candidate where the only other candidate was a Sinn Feiner.

On Sunday, 1st December separate meetings in support of Denis Kilbride and the Sinn Fein candidate, Art O’Connor, were held in Athy.  Art O’Connor was still in prison having been arrested the previous May with almost the entire Sinn Fein leadership for allegedly conspiring with the German enemy in what is now referred to as “The German Plot”.  The Sinn Fein meeting was addressed by Fr. Michael O’Flanagan, the Roscommon born Catholic clergyman and Republican who successfully campaigned for the election of Count Plunkett as a Sinn Fein M.P. the previous year.  O’Flanagan who was known as the “Sinn Fein priest” told his Athy audience “that by withdrawing her representatives from Parliament Ireland would demonstrate to the world what a united people could do.  Thirty members of the Irish Parliamentary Party have already dropped out.  The others we will be compelled to sweep aside.”

The Irish Parliamentary Meeting supporting the candidature of Denis Kilbride was presided over by the local Parish Priest Canon Mackey.  Addressing many who were his local parishioners, he said Mr. Kilbride claimed their support on the strength of Ireland as a nation but not a separate nation.  He continued, “There were only two conceivable ways in which the freedom of Ireland could be achieved, physical force or moral or parliamentary persuasion.  Any man who would propound the doctrine of physical force must be suffering from mid summer madness.  A united Ireland resisted conscription successfully and if the same unity prevailed in other matters, the same happy results would be achieved.  Absenteeism was a negative policy and if pursued and brought into practice will bring ruin and disaster on Ireland.  Crushing taxation would be imposed in Ireland without parliamentary representation.”

Mr. Kilbride who was frequently interrupted said the new idea of freedom was “shout down everyone who does not agree with you”.  He never believed until lately that there was so many young men in the asylums and so many lunatics outside.  “One would think that for the first time in Ireland men went to jail in 1916.  In the old days they took their punishment and their plank beds without squealing.  Today no political prisoners had to be on a plank bed.  All they wanted was cigarettes and chicken.  That was the programme of the men determined to lose the last of their blood for Ireland.”  Mr. M.E. Doyle, Chairman of the Athy Urban District Council and others also spoke and a resolution was passed pledging support to Mr. Kilbride. 

The Irish Independent reported on Saturday, 14th December 1918 the day of the election under the heading “The Kildare Campaign” that bands and contingents carrying torch lights from various districts including Carlow attended a large Sinn Fein meeting in Athy on the previous Thursday night at which Mr. P.P. Doyle who presided read a letter from Mr. Art O’Connor, the Sinn Fein candidate for South Kildare.  Mr. O’Mara, Mayor of Limerick, also spoke and referring to the Insurance Act as one of the fruits of the parties 40 year agitation added “I hope they kept their cards stamped as they will be of benefit on Saturday”.  Mr. Tynan of the Laois Land and Labour Association appealed to labourers to support Sinn Fein as victory for it meant a better day for the workers.

The election resulted in a landslide victory for Art O’Connor who polled 7104 votes compared to the 1545 votes of the outgoing M.P. Denis Kilbride.  This marked the end of Kilbride’s parliamentary career which had started with his election as M.P. for South Kerry following the Luggacurran evictions.  Art O’Connor was a member of the first Dáil which issued the Declaration of Independence.  In 1921 nominations to the Second Dáil did not give rise to a contested election in the new five seat constituency of Kildare and Wicklow, and Art O’Connor retained his seat as a member of the Dáil.  However, in the 1922 election which followed the Treaty O’Connor, who stood for the Republican side lost his seat and he failed to regain it in the 1923 election.  He last stood for the Dáil in the 1927 election, this time as a Sinn Fein candidate in opposition to his former anti-treaty colleagues, most of whom had become members of the newly formed Fianna Fáil party.  He bowed out of politics after receiving 1133 votes, his lowest poll in the four elections he fought over a nine year period. 

Kilbride after his defeat in the 1914 election bowed out of politics and returned to Luggacurran where he died aged 76 years on 24th October 1924.  Dr. Kilbride who for many years up to the late 1950’s was a G.P. in Athy, living in Athy Lodge, Church Road was a nephew of Denis Kilbride.

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