History: Election campaign fifty years ago
History: Election campaign fifty years ago

The general election in the 26 Counties announced in early February 1957 took place on March 5.

Four Sinn Féin candidates were elected to an all-Ireland Parliament. They were returned as Deputies, one in each of the four provinces, for the constituencies of Monaghan, South Kerry, Longford- Westmeath and Sligo-Leitrim.

Their names were Eineachan O hAnluain (23), John Joe Rice, Ruairi O Bradaigh (24) and John Joe McGirl (36).

Rice was a former O/C Kerry No 2 Brigade IRA and a veteran of the Black-and-Tan and Free State Wars. McGirl was an IRA Volunteer since 1938 who had been interned at the Curragh 1940-45.

O hAnluain, the youngest Deputy returned in the election, was from Park Street, Monaghan, a brother of Fearghal O hAnluain killed in action at Brookborough on New Year’s day. O Bradaigh, the next youngest to be elected was a native of Longford town and had been on active service with the Teeling Column in South Fermanagh.

Both McGirl and O Bradaigh were serving sentences in Mountjoy Jail at the time of their election. McGirl’s sentence expired about 10 days following his return in Sligo-Leitrim and he was given a most enthusiastic welcome in his constituency.

He was first greeted at a public meeting in Longford, followed by receptions at Dromod, Mohill and his home town of Ballinamore. A ballad “McGirl from Ballinamore”, composed during the election campaign was sung from the platforms.

The following weekend a tumultuous reception was held in Sligo. The centre of the town was packed and blocked by people from all over the constituency and from the surrounding counties. The Sligo Champion at the end of March gives a vivid account of the scenes on that occasion, featuring it on its front page.

At a meeting of An Ard-Chomhairle on February 6, arrangements had been made for constituency conventions to select candidates and set up election machinery for an intense campaign.

Many of those selected for the contest were prisoners in Belfast jail and in Mountjoy. Nineteen of the 40 constituencies in the 26 Counties were fought. The full list of candidates, apart from the four successful ones, already mentioned was: Sean L MacCormaic (Mountjoy) for Meath; Paddy Duffy (Mountjoy) for Cavan; Maire Ni Dhalaigh (sister of Charlie Daly, executed at Drumboe, Donegal in 1923) for North Kerry; Padraic O Ceallaigh of Ballygar for North Galway; Murtagh Quotaalter of Athenry for South Galway; Sean O’Hegarty (Belfast Jail) for Cork City; Tomas O Duill, Vice-President of Sinn Féin, Dublin South Central; Sean Scott (Mountjoy) for Roscommon; Liam Earley (Mountjoy), a member of Cork City Council, for East Cork; Lawrence Grogan (Mountjoy), veteran of the 1920s for Louth; Walter Mitchell (Mountjoy), veteran of 1920s, for Laois/Offaly; Paddy Mulcahy, veteran of the 1940s and member of Limerick City Council, for Limerick East; George Dearle for Dublin South West; Tom Mitchell (Belfast jail) for his native Dublin North East and Aindrias Mac Domhnaill (Mountjoy) for Tipperary North.

Nine candidates were prisoners in Mountjoy and four of these had been captured on active service. Two were in Belfast jail and both were take prisoner while on active service.

The remaining eight were free to campaign in their constituencies . Two of these were veterans of the 1920s; two were 1940s veterans and four were young 1950s activists. The total included one woman and one Protestant.

The full list is given in Irish in An tEireannach Aontaithe/The United Irishman for March 1957.

Also Quoted in full in the March edition is the text of their election manifesto which was written in Mountjoy by a prisoner candidate for his constituency. Tony Magan gave some help with this. An Ard-Oifig, Sinn Féin, made slight alterations and adopted it as a general manifesto, It reads as follows: “We feel greatly honoured in being selected as the standardbearers of Sinn Féin in this election. At the outset we would like to point out that we place the Unity and Independence of our country above all petty issues which may be raised. “If you should think fit to elect us as your representatives we will sit only in an All-Ireland Parliament, the convening of such a Parliament being one of the primary objects of Sinn Féin.

“We will not make empty promises. We do, however, pledge ourselves to work unstintingly for the ideals of all our patriots down through the ages - the freedom of our country and the welfare of its people.

“Already our people in the North have made their stand on this issue. In the last Westminster election in the British Occupied Counties, the Nationalist people discarded the old Parliamentary politicians whose policies since 1922 proved fruitless, elected Phil Clarke and Tom Mitchell and voted 152,000 strong for Sinn Féin and an All-Ireland Parliament.

“Now they look to their brethren in the 26 Counties for support, and Sinn Féin ALONE has a policy to win freedom for them. Suffice to say the politicians of all parties are content to stand by and watch them suffer on indefinitely under British Occupation and British repression.

“Forty years ago exactly - in 1917 - Longford pointed the road to freedom by electing Joe McGuinness, an Easter Week man, as the first Sinn Féin prisoner TD ever. Westmeath had as its champion Larry Ginnell and the entire Irish Nation followed their lead and set up a 32-County Parliament in defiance of England.

“Sinn Féin leadership bought the united people of Ireland within reach of complete freedom. Unfortunately, the high hopes were dashed in 1922 when English trickery divided us and brought bitterness into our midst again.. “In the intervening years, no really worthwhile progress has been made. The politicians of all parties have brought our country to the verge of disaster. They have had ample time to implement their policies over the last 35 years, yet the legacy they pass on to us of a new generation is pitiful indeed: England’s stranglehold on the industrial North-East is unbroken; the Gaeltacht is dwindling year after year; a Quotaarter of a million of our youth and bloom lost in emigration over the last five years alone; 95,000 unemployed in the 26 Counties and 40,000 in the Six Counties.

“Ireland literally ‘lies broken and bleeding’, while we are burdened with taxation to maintain two states and three governments. To continue along the path indicated by politicians since 1922 can only lead to complete disaster. Extinction as a nation would be the inglorious end of our epic 800 years’ struggle for freedom.

“Sinn Féin HAS the remedy for the plight of our country. We ask you, the people of Ireland, to consider the Sinn Féin programme carefully. We feel sure you will be forced to the conclusion that ONLY THROUGH SINN Féin can we resume the march to victory.

“Therefore, it is with confidence that we appeal to the people of Ireland for support. We are convinced that the children of the Gael will not fail their country in its hour of need”. (Ends).

Note: In the original text the last sentence read; “We are convinced that the sons and daughters of those who fought England’s Black-and- Tans will not fail...etc”.

A hectic and enthusiastic campaign took place in all 19 constituencies. Old Republicans and ex-internees of the 1940s who had not been active now joined in the contest which saw the first Sinn Féin TDs elected in the 26 Counties in 30 years.

In 1927 five Sinn Féin TDs and two Independent Republicans who were abstentionists were elected. A month later the Free State administration put a political test oath into parliamentary nomination papers, thus blocking Republican candidates and barring Sinn Féin from public life at that level. Only local councils were now open to be contested by Republicans.

In 1957 the total first preference vote secured by Sinn Féin was 65,640. With 19 candidates in the field, this was an average of 3,455 per candidate. Quotas varied but were generally in the region of 5-6,000. Many candidates secured good transfers and remained in the contest to the fifth and sixth counts, and even later.

Notable was the first preference vote for John Joe McGirl who headed the poll in Sligo- Leitrim with 7,007. When this figure was announced on radio, a mighty cheer went up in Mountjoy Jail which seemed to lift the roof off D-Wing where the Republican prisoners, including McGirl, were held.

Then in Longford-Westmeath, Ruairi O Bradaigh with 5,506 came second. He was 500 votes behind General Sean MacEoin (Fine Gael) who headed the poll. McGirl secured the first seat out of five and O Bradaigh the third seat also out of five.

In Monaghan Eineachan O hAnluain came second in the first count with 4,791. He secured third seat in a three-seater constituency. In Kerry South, another three-seater, veteran John Joe Rice came third with 5,582 first preferences and took the third seat.

In Longford-Westmeath, Monaghan and Kerry South, Sinn Féin took seats from Fianna Fail in all cases. In Sligo-Leitrim the seat was won from Ben Maguire, a former Fianna Fail TD now standing as an Independent Fianna Fail candidate.

With one exception no Sinn Féin election deposit (100 pounds) was lost. Dublin South Central was that exception where Tomas O Duill was 24 votes short of saving the #100. Tomas, as a Vice-President, probably spent too much of his time helping in other constituencies.

Besides, an Independent Unemployed candidate, John Murphy who was very popular, stood in Dublin South Central, gathered the anti-establishment vote and was elected to the last seat.

Of interest to readers in various counties will be the first preference votes secured by the Sinn Féin candidate in each constituency, together with the Quotaota in each case. The transfers can be seen in the local and national newspapers of the time.

Laois-Offaly: W Mitchell 2,939 (Quota 7,448)
Kerry South: JJ Rice 5,582 (Quota 5,554) Elected
Cork City: S O hEigeartaigh 4,789 (Quota 7,177)
Dublin SW: S Dearle 2,442 (Quota 6603)
Dublin NE: T Misteil 3,346 (Quota 6,732)
Sligh-Leitrim: SS MacFhearghail 7,007 (Quota 7,435) Elected
Galway South: M MacUaltair 2,086 (Quota 5,625)
Dublin SC: T O Duill 1,734 (Quota 5,322)
Limerick East: P O Maolchathaigh 3,085 (Quota 7,244)
Tipperary North: A McDonnell 2,548 (Quota 6,746)
Louth: L Grogan 2,991 (Quota 7,915)
Meath: SL MacCormaic 2,658 (Quota7,408)
Monaghan: E O hAnluain 4,791 (Quota 6,336) Elected
Kerry North: M O Dalaigh 3,171 (Quota 6,894)
Roscommon: Sean Scott 2,741 (Quota 6,127)
Cavan: P O Dubhthaigh 3,308 (Quota 6,116)
Cork East: L O Mochoir 2,635 (Quota 6,873)
Galway North: P O Ceallaigh 2,551 (Quota 5,593)
Longford-Westmeath: R O Bradaigh 5,506 (Quota 6,508) Elected

Meanwhile in the British-Occupied Six Counties, the ban on the main opposition party which secured 152,310 votes in the last election was being vigorously enforced.

Two 17-year-old Omagh boys appeared before a Crimes Court in Belfast on March 20. Daniel I Donnelly, student, Glenview Terrace and Sean M Woods, unemployed, Brook Street were charged with “distributing leaflets and posters inviting persons to join Sinn Féin, an unlawful organisation and with having posters”. There were in custody since February 9 when it was stated by the RUC, one poster was found on Donnelly bearing the words “Fight Your Corner. Join Sinn Féin. Don’t Emigrate”. A bottle of water and a cloth for spreading posters was found on Woods.

Donnelly was a schoolboy who hoped to take his Senior Certificate that year. Both youths were bound to the peace for 12 months on bail of 20pounds and one surety of 20pounds. South of the Border an inQuotairy was set up “into the conduct of District justice Micheal O Leannain on the hearing by him of charges under the Offences Against the State Act 1939 in the Dublin Metropolitan District Court on January 22, 1957”.

Mr Justice Teevan, a judge of the High Court was appointed to conduct the inQuotairy, the Irish Press of January 22, reported. The former IRB man, Mick Lennon, would not sit on the bench again.

In Sean Mac Bride’s announcement in the Irish Press of January 29 withdrawing Clann na Poblachta’s support for Mr Costello’s government, he protested against the ordering of an investigation into Michael Lennon’s “discharge of his judicial functions in the hearing of a political charge”.

This action was, McBride stated, “a thinly disguised attempt to interfere with the independence of a member of the Judiciary in the exercise of his functions. The action...is highly reprehensible and a dangerous precedent which will shake confidence in the administration of justice and the independence of the Judiciary”.

Lennon’s refusal to sentence Republicans to imprisonment had become a factor in bringing down the 26-County government of the day.

The Republican organ reported: 105 in Belfast Jail; 53 in Mountjoy; 4 in Wakefield; 3 in Wormwood Scrubs.

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