by ehistoryadmin on December 13, 2018

The 1918 General Election in Co. Kildare

James Durney

The British general election of 1918 was the first general election to be held after the Representation of the People Act (February)1918 and the first real test of public opinion since 1910.  It was thus the first election in which women over the age of thirty, and all men over the age of twenty-one, could vote. Previously, all women and most working-class men had been excluded from voting.  The new Act increased the Irish electorate from around 690,000 to 1.9 million – and of those, only an estimated 360,000 had ever voted before. It is now seen as a key moment in modern Irish history because it saw the overwhelming defeat of the moderate nationalist Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP), which had dominated the Irish political landscape since the 1880s, and a landslide victory for the radical Sinn Féin party, which had never previously enjoyed significant electoral success. It was an election of the ‘old’ against the ‘new.’ One of Sinn Fein’s election posters asked ‘Is Ireland a part of England? … why should Irish Members attend the English Parliament when they are outnumber 6-1?’ An important decision which contributed to Sinn Fein’s success was the Labour Party’s decision not to contest the election at all. The IIP were also on the wrong side of history with its leader John Dillon declaring loftily ‘Women’s suffrage will, I believe, be the ruin of our western civilisation.’ One of  Sinn Fein’s major election promises was that they would secure Ireland a place at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. They did not, however, but  Sinn Féin had been inspired by the words of US President Wilson, who had promised self-determination for all small nations following the end of World War I.

The 1918 General Election became known as the Khaki election as millions of British soldiers were still overseas. As a consequence the results were delayed for two weeks. But the result was not in doubt. Sinn Féin routed the old Irish Parliamentary Party, winning seventy-three seats, including two in Kildare. The IPP won just six, five of them in Ulster. Countess Markievicz was the first woman elected to the British parliament. In Co. Kildare Domhnall ua Buachalla and Art O’Connor were elected for Sinn Féin to Dáil Éireann, the new Irish Parliament. The results in North Kildare were Domhnall Ua Buachalla (SF) 5,979; John O’Connor (IIP) 2,772. With 13,000 people on the register and 8,855 votes recorded Ua Buachalla had a clear majority of 3,207, the largest majority ever in North Kildare. Art O’Connor (SF) was elected with 7,104 votes, while Denis Kilbride (IIP) received 1,545, giving O’Connor a majority of 5,559.

Nationalist and Leinster Times 21 December 1918

Polling Day in South Kildare

Polling day in South Kildare passed off very quietly. There was almost an entire absence of that excitement, and high feeling which characterised the elections after the Parnell split. The fine weather prevailing enabled many of the old and invalid people to record their votes, and accounted to a great extent for the exhaustive poll, particularly in Castledermot. The Republican colours were ubiquitous and in the vicinitv of every booth Sinn Fein flags were to be seen floating in the breeze. One Presiding Officer, who had acted in a similar rapacity in Castledermot at the elections In 1895 said it was remarkable the intelligence shown by the voters, especially the working classes. The number of illiterates was very small and were mainly confined to the old people. The Sinn Fein organisation was splendid. The Election Committee previous to the polling dav had completed a thorough canvass of the district, and almost every supporter of the Sinn Fein candidate was brought to the polling booths. A very small section of the well-to-do farmlng class and a considerable number of Unionists, it was stated, voted for Mr. Kilbrlde, the Party candidate. The labour section, as In most of the other districts In the constituency, voted solidly for the Republican candidate. A modest estlmate of the result left the voting at 10 to 1 for O’Connor. The Party organlsatlon in the district was very poor; in fact there was almost no organisation at all. The Sinn Fein transport arrangements worked out very satisfactorily, and the voters in the outlylng districts were in this respect very well looked after.

The polling booths were closed at 8 o’clock. The Sinn Fein Director of Elections sealed the ballot boxes after the Presldlng Officers. Three members of the. Volunteor Corps accompanied the ballot boxes to Athy where they were placed in the Courthouse. Shortly after eight o’clock a torch-light procession was formed, headed by the local Fife and Drum band and ‘marched through the principal streets, followed by a larqe crowd of people. Lusty cheers were given for Mr. O’Connor. The people afterwards dispersered in an orderly manner.


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