AP 3 - 2022 - 200-2

8 May 1997 Edition

Resize: A A A Print

Remembering the Past: McGuinness wins South Longford

On the first anniversary of the 1916 Rising, and the political climate throughout Ireland having changed dramatically, Sinn Féin prepared to put its policies to the electorate.
During the early month of 1917 the recently-released prisoners set about reorganising Sinn Féin. Their views as to future policy varied considerably. They included exponents of Arthur Griffith's dual monarchy doctrine and radical republicans who advocated an Irish republic.

Among those who supported a republican policy was Rory O'Connor, a man who believed in political methods only when these were backed by physical force. After much debate, O'Connor persuaded the national council of Sinn Féin to pursue the more republican policy.

An opportunity to put his new and radical policies to the electorate soon presented itself when a by-election was called in South Longford following the death of an Irish Parliamentary Party MP. Although Sinn Féin had won a by-election in February of that year, when Count Plunkett had taken North Roscommon, many people believed that his victory was a fluke. Plunkett had stood as an anti-Redmond Home Rule candidate and was the father of one of the executed 1916 leaders, Joseph Mary Plunkett. South Longford, therefore, could be the real test for Sinn Féin.

The candidate chosen to contest the by-election was Joseph McGuinness, who was serving penal servitude in Lewes Jail, England, for his part in the 1916 Rising and his name went before the electorate with the simply slogan ``Put him in to get him out.''

McGuinness, a Longford IRB man, had no desire to let his name go forward in the election, but Michael Collins, in the interests of strengthening the republican hold over the developing political movement and to preserve it from the relatively moderate ideas of Griffith, went ahead with the election on his behalf.

Collins mobilised the re-forming Irish Volunteers and the hundreds of young and enthusiastic Sinn Féin workers who had poured into the constituency from all over the country as an impressive rival to John Redmond's Irish Parliamentary Party machine.

The Parliamentary Party threw all its resources into the battle. To combat the youthful Sinn Féin workers, John Dillon and Joe Devlin, with the acquired experience of a dozen such campaigns, led a score of MPs to the area.

Despite the fact that the election was fought on an incomplete register and the franchise still had not been extended to women, Sinn Féin received 1,498 votes compared to 1,459 for the Parliamentary Party.

Joseph McGuinness was returned as MP for South Longford by a majority of only 39 votes. Narrow though the Sinn Féin victory was, the Manchester Guardian declared it to be ``the equivalent to a serious defeat of the British Army in the field''.

Polling in the historic South Longford election by-election took place on 9 May 1917, 80 years ago this week.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1