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Arthur Griffith wins East Cavan by-election
Arthur Griffith sitting at a desk Photo: DigitalLibrary@Villanova University

Arthur Griffith wins East Cavan by-election

Cootehill, 22 June 1918 - Arthur Griffith, the founder of Sinn Féin, has been elected to the Westminster seat for East Cavan.

Mr Griffith is currently incarcerated, having been arrested in May as part of the large-scale round-up of Sinn Féin activists for alleged conspiracy with Germany.

Some surprise has been expressed at the size of Mr Griffith’s victory. He defeated his only opponent, John O’Hanlon of the Irish party, by a margin of 1,204 votes.

The full result, which was declared at 4.30 yesterday afternoon in Cootehill, was:

Arthur Griffith (Sinn Féin) 3,785
John O’Hanlon (Irish Party) 2,581

This represents a turnout of 72%, particularly impressive given the heavy rain that fell during the opening hours of polling. The East Cavan constituency encompasses the towns, townlands and villages of Cootehill, Bailieboro, Shercock, Mullagh, Ballyjamesduff, Kilnaleck, Virginia, Stradone and Kingscourt.

The Freeman’s Journal, a champion of the Irish Parliamentary Party, has placed the blame for the defeat of their preferred candidate on the shoulders of both Lord French’s administration in Dublin and Lloyd George’s government in London. A mere six week ago, they claim that nationalists were confident of seeing off the Sinn Féin challenge until their opponents were rescued by the ‘story of the fake plot prepared for the anti-Irish propaganda in America’ by the ‘Ascendancy administration’.

Extracts from reports by the County Inspector and the Inspector General on the East Cavan by election. Click to enlarge. (Image: National Archives, UK CO 904 106 1918)

Electoral unrest
The campaign in East Cavan has highlighted the divisions within Irish nationalism at a time when the anti-conscription movement has been emphasising its unity. On the day of the poll, about 20 older men, who were supporters of the Irish Party, were greeted on the streets of Cootehill with shouts of ‘Up the rebels’ by some Sinn Féiners.‘We’re no rebels’, responded one of the men, ‘O’Hanlon is our man’.

The police also kept a close eye on proceedings and in some places monitored the movement of motor cars, noting the vehicles’ numbers and checking drivers’ licences. In one instance, in Bailieboro, a car was stopped in the early morning bearing the inscription on its number plate ‘I.R. 1916’. When quizzed, the occupants produced a permit signed ‘M. O’Flanagan, C.C.’ (Michael O’Flanagan is the parish priest in Crossna, Co. Roscommon and is a senior figure in the Sinn Féin party.)

The result of the election is being celebrated by Sinn Féin supporters far beyond the constituency itself.

News of Mr Griffith’s victory reached Cork by yesterday evening where a crowd had gathered outside the Post Office and newspaper offices. In the town of Newmarket in the north of the county, a large crowd, accompanied by the local brass, fife and drum band paraded through the streets with a lighted barrel of tar.

Minor scuffles erupted and rifle shots were fired when the local police, with batons drawn and supported by military, held up the procession. No one was seriously injured but several children were thrown to the ground during the unrest.

[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.