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24 June 1999 Edition

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Remembering the Past: Electoral success - the election of the snows

By Aengus Ó Snodaigh

The election of the snows, as it became known, saw the election team struggling with the elements, the opposing candidates and with their own inexperience of electoralism.

Count Plunkett had been nominated by an alliance of difference groups named The Federation of National Societies, which would ultimately make-up the reinvented Sinn Féin of October 1917. This alliance was reflected in the make-up of the election team: Seamus O'Doherty the Director of Elections and Count Plunkett and his family aided by Father O'Flanagan, Sean Milroy, Rory O'Connor, Arthur Griffith, Darrell Figgis, Larry Ginnell MP (who abstained himself from Westminster after the elections), Mick Staines, Sceilg (J. J. O'Kelly), Joe McGrath, Thomas Dillon and Louis Walsh and the many others who laboured for the victory were flat out until the close of polls on Saturday 3 February. Much of the campaign funds were donated by Fr O'Flanagan himself.

The snow was hampering every aspect of the election and it was difficult to get personation agents for the Count at every polling booth for the day of the vote, but they succeeded. Fr O'Flanagan was concerned about Frenchpark, having not visited himself during the campaign:

``At 8 o'clock the evening before, two men had been sent walking to Boyle to make sure of their appointment as sub-agent and polling agent. In fear and trembling we motor into Frenchpark. It was 9 O'clock when we arrived there. The polling was in full swing, our men were at their posts none the worst of their 18 mile tramp of the night before.

``But a pleasanter surprise even than this awaited us. In front of each polling station [in the district] was a band of about 20 of the finest looking young fellows you ever saw, neatly dressed, athletic figures, with clean cut features and hawk-like eyes.''

All that day they used whatever means available to ferry people through the snow to the polling booths and later that night Volunteers were posted at polling booths to ensure that the sealed ballot boxes were not interfered with by the RIC men guarding them that night. An agreement was reached with the RIC to move the ballot boxes into a sealed room in Boyle Courthouse on the Sunday night. The count began on Monday morning and the result was announced at 2pm.

Count Plunkett was elected with 3,022 votes to Devin's 1,708 and Tully's 687. Amid scenes of jubilant Count Plunkett announced that Sinn Féin's policy regarding Westminster was one of abstentionism and said:

``My place henceforth will be beside you in your own country, for it is in Ireland, that the battle of Irish liberty will be fought. I recognise no parliament in existence, as having a right over the people of Ireland, just as I deny the right of England to an inch of the soil of Ireland. I do not think I will go further than the old house in College Green to represent you. I am sent by Ireland to represent you in Ireland; to stand by you and to win Ireland's freedom upon her own soil.''

The victory led to Sinn Féin being revamped as radical party, an amalgamation of many of the smaller radical nationalist groupings and embracing republicanism as its party philosophy. George Nobel Count Plunkett who has been described as Sinn Féin's first member of parliament was elected 82 years ago.

(More on 1917 electoralism and republican history next week)

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