Tuesday, December 29, 2020

General Election 1920 and South Kildare

Towards the end of November 1918 the local newspapers reported on the arrangements made in the Athy area with regard to the General Election scheduled for 14th December. At a meeting held in Athy, Denis Kilbride, the outgoing Member of Parliament for South Kildare, was selected as a candidate for the Irish Parliamentary Party. He was proposed by Athy’s parish priest Canon Mackey and seconded by Mr. John Alexander Duncan, described in the press reports as a “Protestant Home Ruler” who attended at the local railway station in August 1914 as the first batch of soldiers went to war. The Sinn Féin 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 thirty years earlier had been evicted from his farm at Luggacurran, was diametrically opposed to the Sinn Féin 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 Féiner. On Sunday, 1st December separate meetings in support of Denis Kilbride and the Sinn Féin candidate, Art O’Connor, were held in Emily Square, Athy. Art O’Connor was still in prison having been arrested the previous May with almost the entire Sinn Féin leadership for allegedly conspiring with the German enemy in what is now referred to as “The German Plot”. The Sinn Féin meeting was addressed by Fr. Michael O’Flanagan, the Roscommon born Catholic clergyman and Republican who had successfully campaigned for the election of Count Plunkett as a Sinn Féin M.P. the previous year. O’Flanagan who was known as the “Sinn Féin 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 Canon Mackey. Addressing many who were his local parishioners, he said 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.” Denis Kilbride who was frequently interrupted as he addressed the meeting said the new idea of freedom was “shout down everyone who does not agree with you”. He continued “I 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.” M.E. Doyle, Chairman of the Athy Urban District Council, also spoke in favour of the Parliamentary Party candidate and a resolution was passed pledging support to Kilbride. The Irish Independent on the day of the election, Saturday, 14th December 1918, under the heading “The Kildare Campaign” reported that bands and contingents carrying torch lights from various districts including Carlow attended a large Sinn Féin meeting in Athy on the previous Thursday night at which Mr. P.P. Doyle who presided read a letter from Art O’Connor, the Sinn Féin candidate for South Kildare. The Mayor of Limerick, also spoke and referring to the Insurance Act as one of the fruits of the parliamentary party’s 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 made an appeal to labourers to support Sinn Féin “as victory for it meant a better day for the workers”. The election resulted in a landslide victory for Art O’Connor who polled 7,104 votes compared to 1,545 votes for the outgoing M.P., Denis Kilbride. This marked the end of Kilbride’s parliamentary career which had commenced his election as M.P. for South Kerry following the Luggacurran evictions of the 1880’s. The emergence of Sinn Féin changed the political face of urban Ireland. Power and influence hitherto sustained and nurtured by wealth and class passed to men whose allegiances were to Irish nationalism and to an Irish parliament.

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