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.
McGuinness's victory was ``the equivalent to a serious defeat of
the British Army in the field''
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
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
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
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
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
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.