Rising of an Irish political colossus
On June 7, 1917, Major Willie Redmond MP for east Clare
was killed in action while leading the Royal Irish Brigade
to victory at the Battle of Messines Ridge, at Ypres, Belgium
during the First World War.
A member of the Irish Party, he had represented East Clare
for 25 years at Westminster. At 53 years old, Redmond was
too old to be a soldier, but he was convinced that an Ireland
loyal to the Crown would succeed in achieving Home Rule,
and so he joined the Irish troops in Flanders.
A by-election was called to fill the vacant seat left by
the death of Redmond. The election was hotly contested between
Eamon De Valera, the Sinn Féin candidate and Patrick
Lynch of the Irish Party.
This election had come at a time when there was a growing
wave of support for Sinn Féin, a political movement
founded in 1905 by Arthur Griffith, that believed Irelands
future lay in complete independence from Britain.
The Easter Rising of the previous year had passed off without
much note in Clare and was even condemned as being misguided
by church leaders. For example, Dr Fogarty, Bishop of Killaloe,
said, I bewail and lament their mad adventure - they
died bravely and unselfishly for what they believed foolishly
was the cause of Ireland.
With the execution of the leaders of the rising the tide
of public opinion turned dramatically and overnight the
executed leaders were perceived as heroes, although, de
Valera, the commander of a unit of Volunteers at Bolands
Mills during the rising, was spared execution due to his
At a Sinn Féin meeting at the Clare Hotel, possible
candidates were discussed. The majority of the party initially
voted in favour of Peadar Clancy from Cranny, who had taken
part in the Easter Rising and had his sentence of death
commuted to ten years penal servitude.
It was decided then to hold a convention at the Old Ground
Hotel on Thursday July 14. At the convention over 200 delegates
focused on the emerging candidate, Eamon de Valera, who
had recently been released from prison.
Fr. William OKennedy of St. Flannans College
was one of his first enthusiastic supporters. At the convention
Clancy and three other candidates withdrew leaving the way
clear for de Valera.
On June 23, de Valera arrived at Ennis with Professor Eoin
MacNeill who was to canvass with him throughout the campaign.
His election posters were proposing a vote for de Valera
was a vote for Ireland a Nation, a vote against Conscription,
a vote against partition, a vote for Irelands language,
and for Irelands ideals and civilisation.
In opposition to de Valera and Sinn Féin was the
Irish Party candidate, Patrick Lynch, a Crown Prosecutor
by profession. When he arrived in Ennis he was met with
enthusiastic support, and a band from the Labourers
Association welcomed him. As the Irish Party was at the
forefront of driving forward the Land Purchase Acts in Parliament,
he was guaranteed support in Clare, a predominantly agricultural
county at that time.
Lynchs election posters were headed up in bold print
Nothing but the strenuous opposition of the Irish
Party has stopped conscription in Ireland. he claimed.
His party maintained that the 1916 Rising only strengthened
the hand of those who deemed conscription necessary.
Another key point he noted to the electorate was that Sinn
Féins intended policy of abstention from Parliament
would only allow conscription to be passed by default.
At this time a by-election in Kilkenny was preoccupying
the Irish Party and it was there that they focused their
energies. The party had considered Patrick Lynch a safe
bet in Clare, but they had misread the huge swell of support
for de Valera.
None of the party leaders canvassed for Lynch. Indeed their
leader John Redmond, brother of the late Willie, was in
poor health after the shock of his brothers death
and he passed away himself the following year.
Both opposing parties by now were claiming to be responsible
for the postponement of conscription, so in the absence
of other major issues, de Valera the soldier-statesman,
had a much greater vote pulling power than Lynch, due to
his rising involvement.
Polling took place on Tuesday July 10 and de Valera was
elected by a majority of 2975 votes. de Valera informed
his wife of his victory by simply sending her a telegram
with votes for each candidate written upon it.
Afterwards, de Valera appeared on the steps of the Courthouse
in Ennis wearing his Volunteers uniform, accompanied by
Countess Markievicz, Count Plunkett MP, and Sinn Féin
For de Valera, it was the start of a long political career
representing County Clare which continued until 1959, when
he went on to serve two consecutive terms as President of
From this point in 1917, Clare would be caught up in a decade
of political upheaval where former friends became bitter
enemies during Irelands Civil War which followed the
signing of the Treaty of 1921.
The politically astute de Valera eventually eased his intransigent
stance on the Oath to the King in order to enter the Dáil.
This was not acceptable to his Sinn Féin colleagues
and so he formed the Fianna Fáil Party in 1926 and
entered the Dáil in 1927 heading up his new party,
ten years after his first election victory in Clare.
The telegram used by de Valera to inform his wife of his
victory is on display in the Power section of Clare Museum,
or can be viewed on the Clare Museum website at www.clarelibrary.ie.
Courtesy of the Clare Champion