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John Dillon: new leader of Irish Parliamentary Party
John Dillon, the newly appointed leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party Photo: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C. USA

John Dillon: new leader of Irish Parliamentary Party

Dublin, 13 March 1918 - John Dillon, MP for East Mayo, has been unanimously elected to replace the late John Redmond as leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party.

At a meeting yesterday in the Mansion House, Dublin, at which 45 members of the party attended, Mr Dillon’s name was proposed for the position of Party chairman by Joseph Devlin MP, and seconded by Thomas Condon MP.

The party also elected a new cast of officers, including whips, honorary secretaries and honorary treasurers.

The first telegram of congratulations received by Mr Dillon came from Rev. N. Lawless in Dundalk. It simply stated that the ‘North Louth executive offers support to the new leader’.

Mr Dillon, 67, was born in Dublin in 1851 and is the son of John Blake Dillon, a famous Young Irelander who, along with George Gavan Duffy and Thomas Davis, founded the Nation newspaper, and took part in the 1848 uprising.

Educated at the old Catholic University, Mr Dillon later studied medicine and qualified as a licentiate of the Irish College of Surgeons. However the pull of politics drew him in. In 1874, he supported John Mitchel when he contested for a seat in Tipperary.

Later, he became involved with the Land League and, in 1880, he accompanied Charles Stewart Parnell on his historic visit to America, and was with him when he addressed Congress.

Arrested and imprisoned during the Plan of Campaign, Dillon, who was first elected to the Westminster seat for East Mayo in 1885, sided with the anti-Parnellite wing during the dispute that split and almost ruined the Irish Party in the 1890s. However, once Mr Redmond was elected as chairman of a re-united party in 1900, Mr Dillon threw his support wholeheartedly behind him.

18 years on and it is Mr Dillon who now succeeds Redmond as leader and his task, if different, is possibly even more daunting than that faced by his predecessor in 1900.

‘Courage has never been lacking in him at any crisis’, the Freeman’s Journal has editorialised, ‘but it may be questioned whether he has ever shown greater courage than in thus facing the duties and responsibilities of the Irish leadership at the present moment.’

Where once the leadership of such a party was a position to be craved, now it is ‘an inheritance of toll, hostility, misrepresentation and difficulty’.

[Editor's note: This is an article from Century Ireland, a fortnightly online newspaper, written from the perspective of a journalist 100 years ago, based on news reports of the time.]


Century Ireland

The Century Ireland project is an online historical newspaper that tells the story of the events of Irish life a century ago.