50 Years Ago


In the local elections in the 26 Counties in September 1950 Sinn Féin contested seats in Cork and Mayo.

It was the first time for many years that Sinn Féin had entered the contest in local council elections, but such activity was in keeping with its principled stand down the years.

An article in An tÉireannach Aontaithe/The United Irishman of September 1950 gives an idea of the level of feeling and activity in Co Cork:

"People in Cork county are asking themselves 'How did this happen?' A few years ago Mr [Gerry] Boland and his fellow-jailers told us, 'The Republican Movement is no more. We have killed it.'

"But, apparently, something has gone wrong, something for which Mr Boland had not bargained and which he could not explain were he not to remember the 'miracles of God who opens in the hearts of young people the seed sown by the young men of a former generation' (quoted from Pádraic Pearse at O'Donovan Rossa's grave).

"For now, along with the veterans who withstood the Free State prosecution of the 'Forties, the Sinn Féin organisation is attracting young men who were schoolboys four or five years ago.

"Every Sunday morning sees a Sinn Féin party setting out for some town or village in Cork county to bring to the people the fearless uncompromising doctrine of Republicanism.


"Sinn Féin is reorganising. Already it has contacts in Cobh, Burnfoot, Passage West, Donoughmore, Araglin and Mallow. Slowly the wheel turns.

"The youth, sick of the hypocritical platitudes of the Leinster House politicians, are turning towards the old idea -- that Ireland is ours -- that no Sasanach shall stop the march of the Irish nation -- that the work of liberation is ours to do -- that we must no longer be the invalid Nation of the world, beseeching America to right our wrongs, begging from the world for poor helpless Ireland.

"We were always a nation of men. We shall never be a nation of beggars." Spirited stuff that, but then Cork was reorganised as early as 1944-5, while in 1950 many counties had no Republican organisation since the early 1940s.

The report goes on: "When Sinn Féin began its reorganising campaign in Cork it was decided to use the municipal elections as the spearhead of the drive in the city.

"With the elections will come the opportunity to enunciate once more the Republican gospel, to propagate the creed of Tone.

"They can do this by voting for the two Sinn Féin candidates: Jerry Cronin and Eddie McNamara.

"These then are the candidates whom Sinn Féin offers to the people of Cork and with them it offers as a guarantee the proud record of the Republican Movement.

"Relying on its tradition of integrity it comes before the people once again in full confidence of support.

"This time there must be no halt. We must go forward together to the end of the road. We must complete the work of Tone, We must not fail. If we work together we shall not fail."

Yes, the enthusiasm of youth shines through in that report written in August 1950. But then Cork city had a headquarters building known as the Thomas Ashe Hall since about 1917.

It was still in the hands of the Movement and was a great asset. It was located at Father Mathew Quay in the city centre.

Another premises, Mac Curtáin Hall in MacCurtain Street was held by trustees for the Movement until the late 1940s. It was then sold to raise funds to renovate and repair the Thomas Ashe Hall.

In his monumental work The IRA in the Twilight Years 1923-48 Uinseann Mac Eoin notes that the "Ashe" as it was popularly known "passed down through a number of hands becoming run-down". That is what happened to it when the Workers' Party got control of it in 1970.

Cork city was on a firm footing by 1950 with the thorough reorganisation of the First Cork Brigade, IRA, the Cork Volunteer Pipe Band (known as "the Vols", Sinn Féin, Cumann na mBan, Fianna Éireann and Cumann na gCailíní.

It was, along with Dublin, in a position of leadership in the Movement and it was not unexpected that it should field two candidates for Cork Corporation in 1950.

Jerry Cronin and Eddie McNamara performed well and laid the ground for the election of two Sinn Féin councillors to the Corporation the next time round -- in 1955.

One of those who worked in the elections in Cork in 1950, Pádraig Ó h-Airtneide, came to work in Dublin soon afterwards. He told of a large strategically placed poster put up on the night before Polling Day.

It was placed on the bucket of a large digger working on the banks of the River Lee. All day long while voting was taking place, the bucket moved up and down while the message on it was clearly visible to hundreds if not thousands of passers-by.

"Vote Republican: Sinn Féin candidates -- Cronin Jerry and McNamara Eddie -- Vote 1 + 2." The workers on the machine did not interfere with the poster.


In Mayo, Caoimhín Mac Cathmhaoil was the Sinn Féin standard-bearer in the contest for the County Council. In the following local election Paddy Ruane was returned as councillor in the neighbouring Co Galway. Caoimhín had shown the way in the West.

In Longford a young Republican who had just entered his teens saw an election car festooned with Sinn Féin posters stop for petrol. A party of men got out but the youngster was too shy to approach them.

Nonetheless it did give him a fillip to see an active public demonstration of Republicanism in a county which had no Republican organisation in 1950.

The sight of Sinn Féin posters calling for votes for Caoimhín in the contest for Mayo Co Council was inspirational to the young boy.

He went on to play his part in the reorganised Movement -- and is still an active Republican. The election car was obviously on its way from Dublin to Swinford in Mayo -- the area being contested by Sinn Féin at the time.


It should be mentioned here that Sinn Féin councillors acted in local government even under British rule. Prior to 1916, Alderman Tom Kelly, Seán T Ó Ceallaigh and WT Cosgrave participated for Sinn Féin on Dublin Corporation and gained experience of working for the people at that level.

Throughout the 32 Counties after the local elections of 1920 Sinn Féin -- sometimes with the support of nationalists -- controlled local councils.

They promptly voted to sever all connection with the British Local Government Board in the Dublin Custom House and to affiliate with the All-Ireland First Dáil, coming under its Department of Local Government.

Thus was another part of the machinery of government taken out of British hands and placed under Irish control. The same action was taken with the courts and police at that time. Dáil Éireann courts and Republican police replaced the British Petty Sessions etc and the RIC.

Following the imposition by force of the Free State and Northern Ireland state under the Treaty of Surrender, Sinn Féin representatives continued to sit on local councils in the 26 Counties.

Alderman Charles Murphy and Councillor Joe Clarke on Dublin City Council were two examples of such representation in the 1920s.

Charles Murphy was the same Cathal Ó Murchú TD who as a member of the Executive Council of the Second (All-Ireland) Dáil delegated the executive powers of the Dáil to the Army Council of the IRA in 1938 to be held in trust for the people until the Third (All-Ireland) Dáil was assembled and took control.

In the Cork context Seán Mac Swiney, brother of Terence (Lord Mayor), Mary and Eithne was a member of the Corporation during the 1920s and into the 1930s representing Sinn Féin.

A book yet to be published The IRA in the Twomey Years 1926-36 deals with Republican representation on local councils in the 1930s when Sinn Féin and the IRA were not co-operating:

"There were IRA members who held elected office in local politics, Seán O'Farrell (Sinn Féin TD for Sligo-Leitrim 1923-27) was elected to Leitrim Co Council in 1934 and the O/C of the North Westmeath Battalion, Thomas Maguire, was Chairman of Westmeath Co Council during 1933 and was re-elected a year later.

"Michael O'Donnell, a stationmaster at Fenit, Co Kerry and an IRA member, sat on Kerry Co Council during the same period. They were all elected as 'Independent Republicans'."

It can be added that in other areas throughout the 26 Counties, IRA Veterans who were no longer on the active list for one reason or another were elected as "Independent Republicans" also.

In Longford, for instance, Matt Brady and Seán T Lynch were returned to seats on the Co Council for the Ballinalee and Drumlish areas respectively. In Roscommon Brian Nangle was elected for the Strokestown area.

These veterans of the national struggle invariably took a pro-Republican Movement stance. It must be remembered that Sinn Féin was not organised in every county in the 1930s and 1940s.


In the Six Counties from the establishment of Stormont by British Act of Parliament in 1921, candidates for local councils were required to take a solemn declaration of allegiance to the Crown of England, which of course precluded either Republican or Sinn Féin candidates participating.

In the face of the People's Struggle in 1973 this political test oath was removed and Sinn Féin contested successfully on a wide scale. In 1988, fifteen years later, a similar requirement was re-imposed by the Thatcher regime, thus excluding Republican Sinn Féin once more.

The Westmeath Tom Maguire mentioned above remained faithful until his death at the age of 87 in 1974. In that year he came out of hospital in Mullingar to take part in the funeral of hunger striker Michael Gaughan passing through the town.

He never voted in a parliamentary election from 1927 to 1957 because no Republican abstentionist was standing. In the latter year and again in 1961 he campaigned and voted for Ruairí Ó Brádaigh.

A most respected man, he had served on his local Board of Guardians in the 1920s, had worked with Paddy Dermody and Hugh MacAteer in the 1940s and was again returned as an Independent republican member of Westmeath Co Council in 1960.

His final year (1966-67) on that body was as Chairman once more. An honour and respect to his unswerving allegiance to the All-Ireland Republic. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal.

Sinn Féin membership of local councils numbered six in 1955 and increased to 30 in 1960. A majority of Republican Movement councillors rejected the Workers' Party breakaway in 1970.

Sadly, that cannot be said of the Provo defectors in 1986 but Michael McGonigle (Limavady), Éamon Larkin (Newry and Mourne) and Frank McCarry (Moyle) stood firm, as did Frank Glynn (Galway), Joe O'Neill (Bundoran) and Finbar Kissane (Tipperary town).

In general the Republican Sinn Féin contribution to local government for over 80 years has been an honourable one and is something to be proud of.

In February fifty years ago Sinn Féin took a high profile stance when it contested the Westminster elections in Belfast and Derry with abstentionist candidates.

The Movement followed up on this in September by entering the local elections in Cork and Mayo. The build-up and restructuring of the political organisation continued . . .

(More next month. Refs. An tÉireannach Aontaithe/The United Irishman September 1950; The IRA in the Twilight Years 1923-48 by Uinseann Mac Eoin and The IRA in the Twomey Years (yet to be published).

Buíochas: to a diligent Republican archivist and reader for the full text of Máirtín Ó Cadhain's sworn statement of July 1950 on the Curragh shootings of 1940.

Starry Plough

Web layout by SAOIRSE -- Irish Freedom
September 4, 2000

Send links, events notifications, articles, comments etc, to the editor at: saoirse@iol.ie marked "attention web-editor".