The General Election of January 1910 represented the most serious challenge to the dominance of the Irish Parliamentary Party since its re-unification in January 1900. Dissent within wider nationalist circles presented serious problems to the hegemony of the organisation at a local level. Nowhere was this more clearly illustrated than in Cork. This paper aims to briefly outline the narrative of the build-up to, and the conduct of, the election in Cork city and county, through the prism of the most significant personality of the period: William O’Brien.
Cork politics at the turn of the twentieth century were very much the realm of O’Brien. He and his supporters effectively controlled the machinery of the Irish Party within the city and the county. His personal magnetism was such that ‘William O’ was a revered figure within both the poorer areas of the city and throughout large parts of the county. This presented challenges to him and his cohort when he split from the Party in November 1903 over the political ramifications of the Wyndham Land Act. Although he nominally re-joined the Party in 1908, the violence directed towards him and his supporters at the Mansion House Convention in February 1909 convinced him and his followers it was necessary to begin a process of re-growth from within the Irish nationalist political structure. O’Brien also desired to reach out to those within the unionist community, particularly in the south of the island, who desired to align themselves with a new centrist-orientated party, which would sweep away the sectarian intensities of the old confrontational party system. In addition, many agricultural labourers had become disenchanted with the provisions of the new land bill introduced by Augustine Birrell in 1909. There was therefore plenty of raw material with which O’Brien could work with.
There is a tendency within the historiography of the period 1900 to 1914 to place the foundation of O’Brien’s new political vehicle, the All-for-Ireland League, after the January 1910 general election. In fact, the inaugural meeting of this embryonic organization, which had deep roots within the Land and Labour Association, took place in Kanturk, Co. Cork, on March 21st, 1909. O’Brien had been toying with the idea for some weeks previously. In a letter to Pierce O’Mahony, a former organiser of O’Brien’s, by then domiciled in semi-retirement in Wicklow, in early March, he laid out his stance:
“The necessity is evidently … to give to the country, in place of an organisation that has practically withered to death and only survives as Molly Maguire Catholic Orangeism, [one] of the broadest possible kind which will eventually sweep all the fragmentary coteries into its camp and give the country real unity … now we will have reached a new plan [and] as in the United Irish League days, I intend to ignore all Parliamentary quarrels – stick to our own work of a wider united Ireland, without of course attempting to curtail the people’s own right to replace many of the present contemptible and withered representatives by better men.”
The Kanturk meeting had been called for the purpose “of explaining to the people the programme of the All-for-Ireland League.” O’Brien opened the meeting by reading a circular from Irish Party leader John Redmond warning of the dangers of aligning with this new organisation, which he claimed would “break up the Party and destroy the United Irish League”. O’Brien denounced this letter as “insolent and threatening … to the people of Cork … let him come down to Cork and take the verdict of the people in the secret ballot”. He also criticised Redmond’s attitude towards the Wyndham Land Act, but the majority of the speech was devoted to attacking the Ancient Order of Hibernians (Board of Erin), or “Molly Maguires”. Reaction to the meeting was swift, with the Party passing a resolution a few days later to effectively ban Party members from attending any gatherings that had been organised by anyone readily identified as being an AFIL member. O’Brien, racked by poor health, resigned as MP and left for Italy in April 1909. The by-election called by this resignation was the first test of the AFIL, and one they passed; Maurice Healy (brother of Tim) was elected, a result John Horgan called a ‘just judgement on the [Cork] Examiner and the Irish Party’.
During the summer and early autumn of 1909, the AFIL encountered organisational difficulties in Cork. The Land and Labour Association was beset by infighting between the joint chairmen JJ O’Shee and DD Sheehan, which caused Mid-Cork MP Sheehan to resign from the joint chairmanship at a meeting at Castletown-Kenneigh in August. Sheehan noted that MPs who supported O’Brien, though not formally cut adrift from the Party, were subject to much intimidation within Party circles, and were treated as “political pariahs”. Several skirmishes occurred between Party organisers and local groups of O’Brien supporters throughout the autumn of 1909. Prominent O’Brien supporter and member of Cork Corporation John Forde wrote to O’Brien in October:
“We are giving them enough of it by a negative policy as without you we cannot declare ourselves openly. All the friends here are very anxious about your health [;] I am bombarded every moment I am out by people stopping me asking how you are … and … when you are to come back.”
Tim Healy wrote to John Herlihy (editor of the Irish People) that an election was “inevitable”, possibly in early January 1910. Another Cork contact wrote to O’Brien in November lamenting firstly his absence, secondly “some of the misdeeds done in the name of the dear old country ye both love so well”, and finally the culture of non-action that pervaded politics in his absence. Forde made it clear to O’Brien in a letter in late November that he would be considered a prime candidate in the upcoming election. O’Brien replied that he had no wish to return to politics, and even suggested as to how this bombshell should be disclosed to the people. However, in his memoirs, he points to a letter “from a private citizen of Cork … [that] implored me to interfere” to help his followers in their fight against the UIL. O’Brien despatched a telegram via the Press Association which warned his enemies to “drop the campaign of vengeance against my friends.” That they did not heed his warning was, in his view, due to “their heads [being] … completely intoxicated with their undisputed power in the country, and with their confidence that I was no longer to be counted with in the clash of living forces to dispute their will … it is difficult to comprehend the state of mental infatuation in which the representatives of Ireland made those tremendous and unrequited sacrifices to the Liberal Party.” Sheehan commented that
“the people were told … that Home Rule was already as good as carried … Mr Dillon … had not a scrap of authority or a line of sanction for his pronouncements. It seemed as if every friend of Mr O’Brien was to go under in the campaign of opposition that was elaborately carried out against them. Our constituencies were swarming with paid organisers and men and money galore were pouring in from outside, so that our downfall and defeat should be made an absolute certainty.”
The Lloyd George Budget was defeated in the House of Lords on November 30th, 1909, and Parliament was dissolved in late December, fulfilling Healy’s prophecy of a January election. The Party moved to strike at the heart of O’Brienite dissension in both Cork city and county. The remainder of this paper will sketch out the contests in six of the eight Cork constituencies, and examine some of the themes arising from these.
Contrary to his flat denial to Forde in late November, O’Brien did indeed stand as a candidate in Cork city. Some confusion, however, surrounded his running mate. A nominating convention on St Stephens’ Day 1909 had apparently selected Sir Edward Fitzgerald – or ‘Fitzie’ – as the AFIL’s second candidate; claims were made by Fitzgerald later that “fifteen-sixteenths” of those present at the meeting had supported him. It was, however, Maurice Healy that accompanied O’Brien, Eugene Crean, James Gilhooly, and Fr James O’Flynn in a carriage from the railway station on Lower Glanmire Road to the Committee Rooms on Grand Parade, upon O’Brien’s return to the city on January 4th, 1910. Fitzgerald held his own rally at the City Hall the same night, and clashes broke out between O’Brienites and Fitzie supporters at the meeting. The Irish Party, in a convention on December 28th, selected outgoing MP Augustine (‘Gussie’) Roche and the city coroner William Murphy. The campaign was intense, with the three groups holding meetings most nights in various parts of the constituency. Violence became a common feature of most of the meetings. For example, a Party rally at The Lough had to be scaled down after a caravan containing Roche and his supporters came under heavy attack in the Gilabbey Street area. O’Brien came under sustained attack in the last week of the campaign for his hypocrisy and inconsistency, not to mention his sectarianism (which seemed more than a touch ironic) in attacking the seats of Protestant MPs William Abraham in North Cork and Captain Anthony Donelan in East Cork. O’Brien countered by lampooning most of the Party programme, and, in one speech at Dillon’s Cross, he contrasted the enthusiastic gathering welcoming him with:
“[The] funereal procession that visited you the other night, with the coroner in attendance – (laughter) – in curious contrast to the mournful accompaniment of the fife and drums … playing the Dead March”.
It was altogether symptomatic of the tone set during the campaign.
Roche canvassed the votes of the trade and labour unions by speaking in the Evergreen Street area; this was also to strike at a key area of support for Fitzgerald: no man could, he asserted, win any beneficial legislation for the country or its people on their own; it was the result of a coalition of eighty people working as a team in the House of Commons. John Horgan saw O’Brien and Healy as “a most ill-assorted couple” and asked the voters to “give them a divorce … [or] at least … a judicial separation (laughter).” Elsewhere, an unnamed representative of Cork Unionists told the Cork correspondent of the Freeman’s Journal that it was likely that no candidate would be put forward, and admitted that many unionists were likely to vote for O’Brien, but Fitzgerald was likely to win his share of unionist voters also. On Saturday January 15th, Fitzgerald, Healy, Murphy, O’Brien and Roche were nominated as candidates, with polling day set for the following Tuesday. The Party held meetings citywide over the weekend, as O’Brien came under attack from clergy as well as from the candidates. Canon Shinkwin, PP, Glanmire, called the policies of the AFIL “absolutely ruinous and destructive to the country” and denounced O’Brien for being “never remarkable as a leader … [with] a wild personage … [and] a man that was carried away by his impulses”. It was a good thing that the Party “did not see their way to accept Mr O’Brien’s views or to put up with his idiosyncrasies and bow before him as a heaven-sent dictator (applause).” The weather over the weekend was not conducive to canvassing or speaking, with heavy snow showers and strong winds. As a result, O’Brien did not venture much outside and left the speaking to his lieutenants. Nevertheless, on Monday night before the polling both camps held large final rallies; the Party outside the Victoria Hotel in Patrick Street, the AFIL on Grand Parade. Neither group diverted from their messages delivered throughout the campaign: unity versus tyranny.
The results of the city election showed that O’Brien had been justified, despite his frail health, in standing for the seat. The total AFIL vote exceeded that of the Party, and they fell short of capturing both seats by just less than one per cent of the vote. In retrospect, it may be that the jettisoning of Fitzgerald from the ticket may have cost the movement the two seats. However, the realpolitik of the situation was that O’Brien needed the support of Tim Healy and his cadre against the Party, and thus had little choice but to accept Maurice Healy on the ticket. At a celebratory rally held at Turner’s Hotel, O’Brien expressed his sorrow for Healy, and declared the result “a terrible calamity for Ireland”. The Freeman’s Journal celebrated the result, claiming O’Brien now depended on the support of the Tory vote in the city to hold onto his seat. The Skibbereen-based Southern Star remarked:
“The devotion of Cork city … to Mr O’Brien has been remarkable. But … the people are tired of internecine strife … It was the opinion of Mr O’Brien’s best friends that he made a mistake in returning to public life at such a juncture as the present … It is certainly regrettable that Mr O’Brien should refuse to accept the lesson of the Cork City election as the indication of an altered public feeling towards him.”
In the county, five of the seven constituencies were contested. In Mid Cork, O’Brien’s chief organiser DD Sheehan fought off a challenge from the President of the Young Ireland Branch of the UIL, WG Fallon. The nominating convention in Macroom was beset by rioting, and Sheehan and his supporters made “hostile advances … towards Mr Fallon and the organisers of the Convention.” Windows in the Town Hall were broken, and when the Party group reached the Victoria Hotel, an angry mob gathered outside, and damage was caused to the façade of the building. Later in the evening, hand to hand fighting occurred between both camps, and houses of known Party supporters were attacked, though the violence later subsided. Intimidation and violence were to become a theme of the campaign, as both sides sought to entrench themselves in their respective positions. Sheehan later recalled the Party tactics were “audacious and unscrupulous”. O’Brien, though fully occupied with candidatures in Cork City and North-East Cork, found time to address an open letter to the voters of Mid-Cork, via the secretary of Sheehan’s campaign. After acknowledging that “the farmers and labourers of Mid-Cork owe a debt of gratitude to Mr Sheehan” who would require thirty men to replace him, O’Brien indulged in a little emotional rhetoric:
“One would despair, not only of Irish gratitude, but almost of human nature, if many thousands of families of farmers and labourers in Mid-Cork, whom he has so magnificently served, were to desert him in favour of some utterly unknown youngster from Dublin, of whom all that anybody here [in Cork] knows is that he is the nominee of the men who have killed land purchase and brought the whole National movement to the brink of ruin.”
Concluding, he hoped that the Mid-Cork voters would “teach the organisers of this campaign of calumny and vengeance against Mr Sheehan a lesson which will haunt them to their dying days.” It seems O’Brien supporters took this final order to heart, for in the concluding days of the campaign violence towards Fallon and his caravan broke out in Ballinagree, Ballinanmorrive, Coolea, Dripsey, Coachford, and Ballincollig. Sheehan eventually defeated his rival by 825 votes.
In North-East Cork, O’Brien stood against William Abraham. This contest was the most widely covered by the media outside of Cork city. Fiery rhetoric was once again in evidence, much of it directed against O’Brien by a Fermoy curate, Fr Michael Kennedy. The campaign was a mix of personality and ideology: it was a contest between the two strands of constitutional nationalism, and a test of O’Brien’s conciliatory platform. The Freeman’s Journal reported that Mallow, O’Brien’s native town, accorded him a reception that was decidedly chilly when “contrasted with the ovations … he was accustomed to [receiving] in his native town.” Riots broke out in Fermoy and Castletownroche at Party gatherings. Kennedy and O’Brien clashed over the fallout from O’Brien’s resignation in 1903. O’Brien toured the constituency on polling day by car, a tactic the Irish Times claimed was “an enormous advantage in a rural constituency, particularly … on a day marred by bad weather.” The Freeman correspondent predicted that Mitchelstown and Fermoy would solidly vote Nationalist, but Mallow would “largely favour him.” He was also likely to pick up votes from the “formidable” Unionist minority in all three towns. The Irish Times reported that Redmond had spoken in secret at Fermoy on the night of the polling, but this was never corroborated, nor carried by any other newspaper. The result gave O’Brien a majority of over fifteen hundred votes, an enormous advantage. In a speech at Turners Hotel in Cork shortly after the declaration of the result, O’Brien let it be known that he would hand the seat over to Maurice Healy, and therefore silence “the calumniators of Cork for evermore.” Cork and its people had “proved to both the English Parties and to their own Protestant fellow-countrymen … that they would be perfectly safe, in trusting their future to a people … animated by principles that had triumphed in North East Cork that day (cheers).” Maurice Healy then thanked the voters of North-East Cork for delivering “the ‘bosses’ … a most humiliating defeat.” The Times, analysing the result, saw it as a sign that the “revolt against Mr Redmond’s authority grows in strength, and in view of the balance between Ministerialists [Liberals] and Opposition [Unionists] … it has become a factor of distinct importance in the situation.” The Irish Times argued that the “remarkable victories of Mr O’Brien’s party … show that Nationalist Ireland resents the betrayals of the official clique.”
North Cork saw the election of Patrick Guiney, the vice-president of the North Cork LLA and an O’Brien supporter. James Flynn, the outgoing MP, had initially intended to stand again but was forced to retire; evidence suggests that Guiney played a key role in this decision. A group of his supporters attacked Flynn near Newmarket in December 1909; Guiney “doubted if Mr Flynn would again put in an appearance in North Cork … after the warm reception which he got that day in the Sand Pit.” Michael Barry of Newmarket was selected in Flynn’s stead. Newspaper coverage of the entire North Cork campaign was, at best, patchy. The fact that more newsworthy events were occurring in other constituencies in the county meant that editors of national dailies were reluctant to print lengthy reports of the speeches given by Barry and/or Guiney. The only paper that did this was the Cork Weekly News, which devoted large tracts of column space to reportage of speeches in the constituency, albeit mostly made by Guiney and his supporters. Extensive reportage was given to Guiney rallies in Tullylease, Milford, Doneraile, Buttevant, and Knocknagree, along with carefully annotated attendance lists. On Barry’s side, his speeches were only reported in the Freeman’s Journal on two occasions, the second of which was polling day. Was this an admission that Guiney was already more than certain to win the seat? The answer, as might be expected, is not wholly clear-cut. Commercial pressures dictated that reports on more significant election campaigns were carried. For Barry to squeeze his way into even the minor columns would have required something more than platitudes towards his opponent, and exhortations to the voters to put interests of unity before other considerations. In the face of organised, motivated opposition, this was never going to be enough. The only occasion when national newspapers took notice of the campaign was at its violent conclusion.
Two rallies were planned for Kanturk on Saturday January 29th. O’Brien was due to speak at the AFIL rally but, due to strict doctor’s orders and exhaustion, he had to cancel appearances at this rally and a later one in Charleville. Guiney was joined on the platform instead by DD Sheehan, MJ Nagle, and his usual coterie of Daly, Lucey and O’Shea. Guiney exhorted the people to swing away from the Party, in order to stop the practice of siphoning hard-earned money from American Nationalists into campaigns of violent intimidation towards hard-working small tenant farmers and agricultural labourers. Sheehan asked the voters to help them “root out cliqueism and Molly Maguireism in Ireland”, and promised
“If they voted for Mr Guiney they would be strengthening the hands of those who had already gone forward with a mandate from the constituencies to reform the Irish Party, to insist that land purchase must be restored to the conditions which prevailed under the Wyndham Act, and that money shall be speedily found for the expropriation of Irish landlordism … They would not … go into the Lobbies as the Liberal Whips dictated, but would see that the welfare of Ireland was put before every interest, either British or foreign.”
On the Party side, Barry, Tom Condon and David Sheehy had already addressed a meeting in the town. The parish priest of Kingwilliamstown asked, via a letter read to the crowd:
“Will Mr O’Brien ever learn that shameful and disgraceful abuse of opponents is not argument and that the number of ignorant people in Ireland who would be deceived by it is, thank God, rapidly decreasing?”
Barry asked the voters when they went to the polls on Monday 31st to “strike a blow against faction and … for Ireland and unity.” Condon remembered when he had gone to north Cork to help the locals against the landlord; they were now being asked by O’Brien to join with the same landlord “and the other men, who, a few short years ago[,] had been terrorising over them and whipping them with scorpion whips from one end of the country to the other.” In his opinion, Barry’s character “was above suspicion” and his election would help the Party “open the old house in College Green (cheers).” Sheehy condemned Guiney and his ilk for refusing the county council the honour of presenting an address to Captain O’Meagher Condon when he had visited the county recently. A vote for him would also be a vote “for every evicting landlord in the country, and for the House of Lords”. He asked the voters “not to discredit North Cork nor disgrace it, but … uphold the Nationalist prestige of their Division (cheers).” The main headlines came, however, not from the meetings and speeches, but from the violence that broke out when Barry’s supporters encountered Guiney’s at the edge of town. The RIC County Inspector for Cork (East Riding) reported on the scenes:
“it was only the presence and frenetic action of the large force [of RIC policemen] present which prevented a most dangerous riot … the men had to repel the rival parties with the butts of their rifles to prevent them breaking through the strong cordons … had the excitement lasted a few minutes longer I should have been compelled to charge both parties … but fortunately we were able to put one party out of the town[and] the necessity did not arise. All these people carried sticks [and] cudgels … many were armed with [word indecipherable] … they were mostly half mad with drink [and] excitement … it was the nearest shave for a very bad riot … without actually developing … that I have ever had anything to do with.”
Guiney eventually defeated Barry by over one thousand votes.
In West Cork, James Gilhooly defeated Bantry solicitor Daniel O’Leary. Tensions ran high in the constituency between the younger voters and their older counterparts, especially when O’Leary took to addressing meetings in Gilhooly’s stronghold of Bantry and the peninsulas. Violence and intimidation were also in evidence here: on Thursday January 27th, a Party meeting in Bantry, which was to be addressed by O’Leary, William Duffy and Richard Hazleton, was attacked by a boisterous mob that pelted them with lime and rotten eggs. Hazleton was partially blinded in this attack, but was able to continue on to another engagement in Ballydehob. Here, he was jeered and hissed at, and chants of ‘Dandy Dick’ and cheers were expressed for Tim Healy, along with more eggs being pelted at him. In the evening, Hazleton was accosted at Bantry train station, and more rotten eggs were thrown at his carriage; as the train moved out, loud cheers were heard. Another meeting in the town the following Saturday, this time with William Lundon in attendance, was also beset by violence and disruption, with eggs and mud thrown at their speaking caravan. In the verdict of the Cork Weekly News, the incident made for “a most trying time.” When Gilhooly and his supporters appeared in the vicinity, the scene grew ugly:
“A cordon of police … was drawn between the opposing crowds, but it soon appeared that an unfriendly element remained in Mr O’Leary’s crowd … The police received some hard knocks now and again themselves. Sticks were raised aloft by some country people, and a rush was made towards Mr O’Leary’s car … to pull him off. Sticks were brandished and angry threats were used by some of the crowd … The police after much difficulty pushed back the crowd … and the attempt at speech-making was resumed.”
Gilhooly then began to speak, and for a time the scene became nothing more than a circus, with performing acts in each ring. Eventually O’Leary and his followers left the square, amid cheers for Gilhooly. Polling day was also marred by incidents: instruments belonging to a band in Baltimore were taken from storage and thrown into the sea; fighting also broke out between sets of rival supporters on the streets of Bantry. Extra police were also drafted in to quell disturbances in Castletownbere, Goleen and Schull; the Southern Star pointed out this would lead to extra expense for the tax payer, “every penny of which … by forcing this contest, Mr O’Leary and his friends are solely responsible.” Allegations that Jasper Wolfe, who was Gilhooly’s election agent, as well as being employed as Returning Officer, had favoured his candidate by placing polling stations in such a pattern as to stymie O’Leary’s supporters from turning out were wide of the mark, as he had no say in the location of the stations. Gilhooly eventually defeated his younger rival by almost eight hundred votes.
In South-East Cork, Eugene Crean defeated James Burke. The combination of labour issues in the towns of Bandon and Kinsale and unrest in the more rural parts of the constituency, as well as the disillusionment felt by workers in the harbour villages of Passage West and Monkstown, ensured Crean saw off his Party rival by just over eight hundred votes. The Southern Star did not congratulate Crean on his re-election; instead it complained that Burke had lost due to
“[An] injudicious speech made by a Member of Parliament in Bandon, and … the strong opposition of the clergy and a popular representative in Kinsale.”
Two constituencies were not contested. In South Cork, Edward Barry, who had shown sympathies towards O’Brien but stood as a Party candidate, was elected unopposed. O’Brien and Sheehan had agreed not to contest this seat, due to these sympathies, and also because Sheehan and the Bishop of Ross, Denis Kelly, had seriously clashed in the late nineteenth century over the fielding of a local candidate in the first elections for Skibbereen Urban District Council. In East Cork, Captain Donelan was elected unopposed. The dearth of unsettled agricultural labourers in East Cork militated against the necessary rapid growth of an organisation that would have unseated Donelan, as well as the consensual politics that existed in the constituency. Such as there were labourers in the division, almost all were affiliated to the O’Shee faction of the LLA – a natural affinity, given that O’Shee represented the neighbouring division of West Waterford. The chief powerbroker in East Cork was PJ Bradley, who had split with the Sheehan faction of the LLA before Christmas 1909; his new organisation, the Cork City and County LLA (based mainly in the hinterland of Cork city and East Cork) divided the O’Brienite organisation and precluded the fielding of a rival candidate to Donelan.
The general election of January 1910 in Cork city and county was a hotly contested affair. The main aim of the Party, it seems, was to challenge popular perception of O’Brien and his cohort; this they did with some success. This should not detract from the fact that the All-for-Ireland League, still in a sense embryonic, had secured five of the eight seats available. The combination of force of personality and a hatred of the Board of Erin was a powerful one, and fed O’Brien’s rhetoric in almost all of his speaking instances. In the more rural parts of the county, the strength of the LLA and the mobilisation of working class votes in the larger towns ensured that O’Brienite candidates were successful. Much of the credit for this must surely go to DD Sheehan, but many of the candidates must also receive credit for the assiduous way in which they had built up a secure base of support, enabling them to withstand attacks from Party outsiders parachuted into the constituencies for the election campaign. Another point that may be briefly made here is that finance was a key player in the fielding of candidates: the five successful AFIL candidates lodged claims for expenses totalling almost one thousand pounds. For a new party, the AFIL certainly spent big in trying to ward off the Party threat. In the final analysis, there were high hopes that, with a concerted effort put into organisation, the kernel of a new movement that had been sown in Cork would begin to bear bountiful fruit in the near future. The prospects seemed more favourable in early 1910 than they had been in 1903 for a new awakening in Irish politics. The Reverend Richard Hodges concluded his survey of Cork history published in 1911 on an optimistic note:
“The year 1910 saw the successful inauguration in the City and County … of a movement in which its spirited and patriotic founder aims at building every class and creed together in working for the welfare of the country. He appeals to all to lay aside their political and religious animosities, and stand together as Irishmen for Ireland’s good.”