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Irish Party victory in South Armagh halts Sinn Féin’s progress
(L) Patrick Donnelly being escorted by his supporters after his victory was announced in Newry (R) Patrick Donnelly Photo: Irish Independent, 4 February 1918

Irish Party victory in South Armagh halts Sinn Féin’s progress

Newry, 4 February 1918 - The progress of the Sinn Féin movement has been slowed in South Armagh, where the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) candidate, Mr Patrick Donnelly, has secured a decisive victory in a Westminster by-election.

The contest developed as a straight choice between Donnelly and Sinn Féin’s Dr Patrick McCartan, after a third candidate, the unionist Mr Thomas W. Richardson, withdrew, albeit too late to have his name removed from the ballot paper.

40 votes were still cast for Richardson, but it is understood that the vast majority of Unionist support went to the IPP candidate.

These votes undoubtedly helped Mr Donnelly’s cause and may have proved decisive to his victory. The final result declared at Newry Workhouse was:

P. Donnelly (Irish Party)
Dr McCartan (Sinn Féin)
T.W. Richardson (Unionist)

2,324
1,305
40

With 37 votes spoiled, Mr Donnelly emerged with a majority of 1,019. The number of Unionist votes cast in this constituency has been declining since the 1890s, yet unionists still polled 1,628 votes here in 1909.  

When the result was declared at the workhouse, there was cheering and flag-waving, a union jack being spotted among the green flags that predominated.

Afterwards, the Irish Party and Sinn Féin contingents formed separate processions and marched into the town.

Opposite the Imperial Hotel in Newry town, a triumphant Mr Donnelly declared the result to be a victory for Irish freedom the like of which had not been seen in 50 years. It sent a message of conciliation and goodwill to the British people and a message to the members of the Irish Convention that the nationalists and unionists of Ulster were ready to stand hand in hand.

Joseph Devlin MP also spoke, insisting that South Armagh had made clear that ‘common sense and tried patriotism’ were the dominant virtues of Ulster nationalism.

Mr Éamon de Valera, the President of Sinn Féin, has attributed his party’s defeat to complacency. Speaking in Letterkenny, Co. Donegal, Mr de Valera remarked that they had been ‘over-confident’ as regards their position in Ulster and had consequently neglected to preach their doctrines.

In an editorial devoted to the by-election result, the Cork Examiner has interpreted it differently. So complete and so ‘overwhelming’ was Mr Donnelly’s victory that that it was an ‘unmistakable setback to the Sinn Féin organisation’ and a rejection of the ‘fantastic programme that Mr de Valera has offered to the country as a substitute for sanity and statesmanship’.

South Armagh, the newspaper added, was a ‘triumph of reason and patriotism over a foolish campaign which aims at an impossible Republic’.

[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.]

RTÉ

Century Ireland

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