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A blog about the recent history of Ireland, with a focus on the revolutionary period of the 20th century, including the Easter Rising, the War of Independence and the Civil War.
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An Idolatry of Candidates: Count Plunkett and the North Roscommon By-Election of 1917

Posted February 2nd, 2017 at 03:18 PM by Ascendant

Hurrah for Plunkett,
Ring out the slogan call.
The Count’s our man,
He leads the van for Ireland over all.

In what was to be called the Election of the Snows, Count Plunkett defeated the candidate for the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) along with an Independent runner for the North Roscommon seat on the 3rd February 1917.

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(Count and Countess Plunkett)

Retrospectively, this marked the ruin of the IPP and its replacement by Sinn Féin. Despite being nominated by Sinn Féin, Count Plunkett did not identify with the party during the actual election, and was supported by a number of other Nationalist activists and organisations, such as the Irish Nation League, the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB).

Originating in Ulster as an anti-Partition movement, the Irish Nation League enjoyed some initial success in the rest of the country. But infighting and a lack of clear direction had diminished the momentum of the League by December 1916. The by-election in North Roscommon, triggered by the death of its long-term MP, gave the League, among others, a fresh battlefield on which to fight on.

Also involved was the IRB, at least in part. Seamus O'Doherty, the acting head of its Supreme Council, helped nominate the Count and served as his Director of Elections. He was unable to persuade the rest of the Council to support the election, however.

Holding this diverse collection of renegades, revolutionaries and radicals was Father Michael O'Flanagan. A charismatic speaker and tireless worker, the curate of Crossna was described by the Irish Times as being:

...up and down the constituency, going like a whirlwind and talking in impassioned language to the people at every village and street corner and cross-roads where he could get people to listen to him.
But what of the candidate himself?

A noted scholar, Count Plunkett had spent the years prior to the Easter Rising as the Director of the National Museum of Ireland. By then in his 60s, he was a most unlikely figurehead for a revolution but he did have one advantage that none of the other candidates could hope to duplicate: his son, Joseph Mary Plunkett, had been among those executed as part of the Rising.

The subsequent success of the Plunkett campaign was a sign of how completely the country had come to identify with the events of Easter Week 1916, and utterly the IPP's stock had fallen with the electorate.

Click the image to open in full size.

(Plaque on the wall of Boyle Courthouse in commemoration on the election, reading: “In this Courthouse on February 3rd 1917, George Noble Count Plunkett was elected Sinn Fein M.P. for North Roscommon. His election was the first step in breaking the parliamentary links with England.”)
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