…candidature of most interest to women is that of Mr. James Connolly…

Another piece on James Connolly and woman’s suffrage. In this case, a lead article in The Irish Citizen (11/1/1913) urging people to support Connolly during the 1913 municipal elections in Belfast. The Irish Citizen was the Irish Women’s Franchise League’s own newspaper.

Irish Citizen

Connolly stood for elections as a Councillor to Belfast City Council in the Dock Ward, the heavily congested district encompassing Sailortown, Tigers Bay, North Queen Street and the New Lodge Road. His opponent was the Unionist candidate, David Jones, a butcher from York Street. The highly restricted access to electoral rights meant that the odds were heavily stacked against Connolly. The election, which took place on 15th January, recorded the number of electors in Dock Ward as 3,473 (some of whom had more than one vote). The 1911 census shows that the number of men over the age of 21 in Dock Ward was 5,701, so even with the restricted entitlement to vote, the Dock Ward electorate at most was 60.9% of the adult males (in practice, given plural votes, it was even less). Adding in the number of women excluded from the electorate shows that the 1913 electorate was a mere 29.6% of adults over 21 in the Dock Ward (in modern terms where 18 year olds have the vote, it would be only 26.5%).

Connolly, was nominated as a ‘Labour Nationalist’. He summarised his own political beliefs prior to the election: “As a lifelong advocate of national independence for Ireland, I am in favour of Home Rule, and believe that Ireland should be ruled, governed, and owned by the people of Ireland. I believe that men and women having to face the battle of life together, could face it better were all enjoying the same political rights.

He was nominated by James Turley and Francis MacMahon, both from the New Lodge Road, the more affluent area of the ward (highlighting that, as well as gender, there was a direct link between relative wealth and access to the vote). Turley was the National School teacher at Star of the Sea on Halliday’s Road. Francis MacMahon owned a shop on the New Lodge Road at the corner of Trainfield Street (the family continued to run it into the 1960s). The polling stations for the election were Hillman Street National School (also the count centre), York Street National School and Earl Street National School.

Hillman Street

Hillman Street National School, the main polling station and count centre in 1913.

Initially, an additional candidate had been proposed, Charles McShane – a clerk from Gilford Street who was backed by Bernard Magee (a North Queen Street pawnbroker) and Frank McKernan, a Sailortown publican (suggesting McShane was to be a Nationalist candidate). Once the list of proposed candidates was published, there was a limited time for candidates to withdraw before the list was finalised. The day after they were announced, the Belfast Newsletter (7/1/1913) reported that the Belfast High Sherriff and others tried to persuade candidates to stand aside or to they would have their nominations declared void so Corporation both didn’t incur the expense of an election and unionists didn’t risk splitting the vote in some areas. McShane withdrew from the election, likely to give Connolly a free run. This may also have been the purpose of Connolly being designated as the ‘Labour Nationalist’ candidate.

When the election count took placein Hillman Street National School a crowd had gathered outside, carrying torches and headed by a band and Union Jack (Hillman Street was heavily unionist at the time) to await the declaration of the result by the deputy returning officer, Mr John Hanna. The result was that Connolly had received 905 votes to Jones 1,523 on a turnout of 69.9%.

Prior to the election, The Irish Citizen, had been critical of the Socialists in Dublin (in the same issue as above), reporting that “…a Socialist speaker denounced the women’s movement as side-tracking the workers, an issue which should be avoided.” However, the Irish Citizen isolated Connolly from that criticism and fully endorsed his candidacy:

In Belfast, the candidature of most interest to women is that of Mr. James Connolly for Dock Ward. Mr. Connolly is undoubtedly the ablest Labour Leader in Ireland; he is also the strongest supporter of woman suffrage to be found in the ranks of Irish Labour. Both in Dublin and Belfast he has done much to educate his party on the vital importance of the women’s fight for freedom. Last summer, while the organised opposition to suffragist meetings was at its height in Dublin, Mr. Connolly travelled specially to Dublin to speak at one of the Phoenix Park meetings of I.W.F.L. at considerable risk and inconvenience, to testify to his support of the fight for free speech and political emancipation. While, for reasons set out in our leading article, we do not recommend to women suffragists any general support of Labour candidates as such, we strongly hold that in the case of a man like Mr. Connolly, of whose genuine attachment to the women’s cause there can be no doubt, the fullest possible support should be given him by organised bodies of women. We hope Belfast suffragists will do all they can to secure Mr. Connolly’s return. The Belfast City Council, whose Lord Mayor, a bitterly anti-suffragist MP refused even to receive a resolution in favour of the Conciliation Bill, badly needs men like Mr. Connolly to bring into it a breath of freedom. Others all withdrew the next day (Belfast Newsletter reported that the Belfast High Sherriff and others tried to persuade candidates to stand aside or to have their nominations declared void so Corporation didn’t incur the expense of an election).

A previous post on Connolly’s adoption of the hunger strike tactic from the suffragettes later in 1913 can be read here (with links to previous posts on Connolly).

The #1918Election in Belfast

Today 100 years ago the 1918 General Election took place. In Ireland the election was contested by Sinn Féin as the basis on which all elected members would be eligible to sit in a ‘Dáil Éireann’ formed to, effectively, legitimise the declaration of an Irish republic in 1916 through the creation of an elected, representative assembly. The changes in the law prior to the election removed most of the restrictive property qualifications for men over 21, with men who had turned 19 during the war also permitted a vote. Women were allowed to vote but only if over 30 years of age and based on a property qualification.

For the purposes of the election Belfast was divided into nine constituencies many only used for the 1918 election which used the first past the post system. Ultimately, Unionist candidates won five of the seats, with three going to Labour Unionists and the last going to the leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, Joe Devlin. The IPP soon folded after the election, surviving as the Devlin-led Nationalist Party.

Sinn Féin had fielded candidates in all nine constituencies, including four that were in prison at the time of the election. One of these was Eamonn de Valera, who stood in Belfast Falls against Devlin, where he became the only Sinn Féin candidate to save the £150 deposit. Another notable Sinn Féin candidate was Winifred Carney, who was the only female candidate that stood in any of the Belfast constituencies (she stood in Belfast Victoria).

Other notable candidates included Edward Carson (in Belfast Duncairn). Queen’s was also a constituency on its own (only graduates could vote). The winner there was Unionist William Whitla (of Whitla Hall fame). His only opponent was Sinn Féin’s John Dolan.

The candidates in the nine Belfast constituencies, and the results, are  included below along with the details of the proposers and seconders of the Sinn Féin candidates.

Cromac
LINDSAY, WILLIAM ARTHUR, of Tyrone House, Malone Road, Belfast, managing director (Unionist)
FREELAND, JAMES. 18, Woodvale Street, Belfast, trade union official (Labour)
SAVAGE, ARCHIBALD, 2, Sussex Place, Belfast, grocer (Sinn Féin). Proposed by Joseph McParland, 39 and 40, Joy Street; seconded by Margaret Magill, 37 Hamilton Street.
Result: Lindsay 11,459 (76.58%); Freeland 2,508 (16.76%), Savage 997 (6.66%).

Duncairn
CARSON, EDWARD HENRY, 5, Eaton Place, London, Knight, King’s Counsel and Privy Councillor (Unionist)
DAVEY, WILLIAM H., 48, Bawnmore Road, Belfast, Major (Nationalist)
McNABB, HENRY RUSSELL, 147, Donegall Street, Belfast, at present in Birmingham Prison medical doctor (Sinn Féin). Proposed by Peter Joseph Ward, 16, Kilronan Street; Felix McAuley, Mountcollyer Street.
Result: Carson 11,637 (81.05%); Davey 2,449 (17.06%); McNabb 271 (1.89%)

Falls
DEVLIN, JOSEPH. 3, College Square North, Belfast, secretary (Nationalist).
De VALERA, EAMONN, Greystones, County Wicklow, at present in Lincoln Prison, Professor of Mathematics (Sinn Féin). Proposed by Daniel Joseph McDevitt, 455, Falls Road; Denis Maguire, 30, Springfield Road.
Result: Devlin 8,488 (72.3%); de Valera 3,245 (27.7%)

Ormeau
MOLES, THOMAS, 5, Chichester Terrace, Antrim Road, Belfast, journalist (Unionist)
STEWART, WILLIAM JOHN, Breda Park, Belfast, builder (Independent Unionist).
DOBBYN, JAMES JOSEPH, 21, Clonard Gardens, at present in Lincoln Prison, commercial traveller (Sinn Féin). Proposed by Thomas McAlinden, 26, St. Jude’s Avenue; James Phillips, 66, Castlereagh Street.
Result: Moles 7,460 (59.06%); Stewart 4,833 (38.26%); Dobbyn 338 (2.68%)

Pottinger
DIXON, HERBERT, Wilmont, Dunmurry, Belfast, Army Captain (Unionist).
BENNETT, JAMES HENRY, 1, Victoria Villas, Charlemont Road, CJontarf, Dublin, trade union official (Labour).
CAMPBELL, BERNARD, 41, Albert Street, solicitor (Sinn Féin). Proposed by Patrick Casey, 4, Thompson Street; John Bavins, 4; Thompson Street.
PORTER, SAMUEL CLARKE, 31, Stranmillis Road, Belfast (Belfast Labour).
Result: Dixon 8,574 (70.63%); Porter 2,513 (20.7%); Bennett 659 (5.43%); Campbell 393 (3.24%)

St. Anne’s
BURN, THOMAS HENRY, 18, Ratcliff Street, Belfast, lithographic printer (Labour Unionist).
ALEXANDER, WILLIAM HUGH, Craigatten, 213, Cavehill Road, motor and cycle merchant and factor (Independent Unionist)
BARNES, DERMOT, 253, Falls Road, draper (Sinn Féin). Proposed by Arthur A. McManus, 196, Falls Road; Michael Doyle, 348, Falls Road.
Result: Burn 9,155 (74.8%); Alexander 1,752 (14.3%); Barnes 1,341 (11%)

Shankill
McGUFFIN, SAMUEL, 107 Shankill Road, Belfast, foreman hackle-maker (retired) and tradesman (Labour Unionist).
KYLE, SAMUEL, 42, Bray Street, Belfast, trade union official (Labour).
CAROLAN, MICHAEL, 80, Chief Street, Belfast, schoolmaster (Sinn Féin). Proposed by Charles Bradley, 20, Herbert Street; Thomas H. Gallagher, 34, Chief Street.
Result: McGuffin 11,840 (73.8%); Kyle 3,674 (22.9%); Carolan 534 (3.3%)

Victoria
DONALD, THOMPSON, 8, Fortwilliam View, Skegoniel Avenue, shipwright (Labour Unionist).
WAUGH, ROBERT, 42, Deramore Avenue, Belfast, delegate of Carpenters’ and Joiners’ Society (Labour).
CARNEY, WINIFRED, 2, Carlisle Circus, clerk (Sinn Féin). Proposed by John Quinn, 77, North Thomas Street; Andrew Leonard, 22, Garmoyle Street.
Result: Donald 9,309 (69.9%); Waugh 3,469 (26.05%); Carney 539 (4.05%)

Woodvale
LYNN, ROBERT JOHN, 4, Clonsilla, Antrim Road, Belfast, editor “Northern Whig” (Unionist).
HASKIN, ROBERT, 5, Cairns Street, Belfast, at present in Usk Prison, labourer (Sinn Féin). Proposed by James Harbinson, 143, Divis Street; John Donnelly, 139, Divis Street.
Result: Lynn 12,232 (90.75%); Haskin 1,247 (9.25%)

Queen’s University of Belfast
WHITLA, WILLIAM, Knight, M.D. (Unionist).
DOLAN, JOHN B., M.A. (Sinn Féin). Proposer, James Bernard Moore, M.B.: seconder, Peter McGinn, B.A. Assentors—Daniel Mageean. B.A.; Daniel Lafferty, B.A.; Daniel Lister, M.B. ; Henry Macauley, M.B.: John H. Savage, M.B.; Seamus O’Searcaigh, M.A.; Edward J. Crossin, B.A.; James P. Clenaghan, CA.; and Charles McNally, B.A.
Result: Whitla 1,487 (92.65%); Dolan 118 (7.35%).

Election headquarters, Barrack St, Belfast, 1925

The photograph below was posted online by Gerry Adams. It is of the republican election headquarters in the former Oceanic Bar, at the corner of Barrack Street and Divis Street at the time of the  April 1925 elections. The photograph neatly tidies up an existing account of that election that was otherwise unclear.

The election campaign is described in Jack McNally’s 1989 memoir Morally Good, Politically Bad although confusion over the dates means it uncertain which actual election it describes:

“In the 1923 elections Sinn Féin in Dublin decided to contest the elections on the abstentionist ticket. Interned men were put up as candidates. A man named McConville from Lurgan was put up in West Belfast. Hugh Corvin was put in North Belfast. I was appointed his agent. The Fianna canvassed the Catholic areas in the North for Hugh Corvin…

In West Belfast Sinn Féin had rented the old Oceanic Bar at the corner of Barrack Street which was lying empty. There was also an old Pawn Shop and a Sales Room, side by side in Divis Street beside the Oceanic Bar. These were rented as Committee and Tally Rooms. Speakers from Dublin began pouring in to help the campaign for McConville. Constance Markievicz, Dr Ida English, Frank Brady and his sister were there; as well as Sean McBride, Donagh O’Donoghue, Sheila Humphries, Tom Daly, Andy Coone and Pat McCormack from the Glens. The lads who had been newly recruited into the IRA worked like trojans alongside the girls and women of Cumann na mBan. Prominently identified were Cassie O’Hara, Bridie O’Farrell, Mary Donnelly, Mrs Ward, Bank Street, Maggie Kelly nee Magennis, May J. O’Neill nee Dempsey, Sally Ward nee McGurk, Kitty Kellet, Sally Griffen, Susan Rafferty, Mary Rafferty, May Laverty, Louis McGrath and sister Margaret, Miss McKeever, Mrs. Muldoon, Mrs. McLoughlin and Kitty Hennessy. These were the girls who carried the banner of Republicanism back to the Falls and little thanks they got for it from some of the locals there. There were also the families who kept open doors for us in the Lower Falls; The Cunninghams of Slate Street, Charley and Brigid Rafferty in Scotch Street, Koitty Hennessy and her mother. Mrs McLoughlin of Galway Street. These were the people we were proud of. If it hadn’t been for their untiring work in spreading a new Gospel of Republicanism in the Falls might never have risen to the challenge it faced in later years.

As it was, the hard line of Devlinite opposition to republican candidates was very much in evidence in 1923. Our election headquarters in Divis Street was attacked, as was also the Oceanic Bar at Barrack Street corner, where the windows were broken. The Craobh Ruadh pipe band was attacked in Cullingtree Road and some of the girl pipers badly shaken. Jim Johnstone, who trained the pipers, came to see us after the attack and agreed to let the band try again, if we gave them protection. We organised a squad of men with hurleys to accompany the band, which paraded from Barrrack Street across to the Loney and side streets;they came back by Albert Street and had no interference. That show of strength was enough for the malcontents and they began to change their ways. The window of the Oceanic Bar was broken one night, after that, but the culprits were caught and beaten. After that they left us alone…

That election in 1923 was a political disaster for Sinn Féin and for us as republicans. McConville was defeated in West Belfast and Hugh Corvin got a miserly 1200 vote in North Belfast, in spite of the fact that he and McConville were still interned on the Argenta prison ship. But the Bone and Ardoyne voted solidly.

After the debacle we settled down to improving the position of the IRA in Belfast and throughout the North.”

The photograph showing the McConville headquarters in the old Oceanic Bar now clears this up. McNally appears to be referring to two different elections here (although neither was in 1923 as there weren’t republican candidates put forward in Belfast in any of the elections that year). Hugh Corvin stood in North Belfast in an election in October 1924 (for Westminster) while Pat Nash stood in West Belfast. Sean McConville then stood in an election to the northern parliament held in April 1925. Corvin didn’t run in that election (there was no republican candidate in North Belfast). Whether it was in use as an election headquarters in October 1924, the photograph shows that the former Oceanic Bar was clearly in use during the April 1925 election. The building had been in use as an engineering works for a short while after the bar had closed. The photograph itself appears to have been taken from an upper storey if St Mary’s Christian Brothers School on the other side of Barrack Street.

Sean McConville had been Commandant of the Lurgan Battalion then vice O/C of the 3rd Brigade of the IRA’s 4th Northern Division, under Frank Aiken. He was nominated in March for West Belfast in the election to the northern parliament that was to be held in April. The other candidates in West Belfast (which was to elect four MPs using proportional representation) were unionists Thomas Henry Burn, Robert John Lynn, Robert Dickson, nationalist Joe Devlin, independent unionist Philip James Woods, Labour’s William McMullen and McConville. Torchlight processions alongside a band in support of McConville (as described by McNally) were recorded in the nights before the election although the press claimed there was ‘not the slightest untoward incident’. However, the photograph of the election headquarters appear to show the boarded up windows on the ground floor which are consistent with McNally’s account of the election. The press reports at the time indicate that there were processions by the Devlinites every night in the lead up to the election. Of the many luminaries listed as speakers during the campaign, Andy ‘Coone’ is Andy Cooney (IRA Chief of Staff by 1926) while Belfast republican Cassie O’Hara had been the fiance of executed IRA leader Joe McKelvey (thanks to Tim McGarry for this information).

At the end of the first count, the quota was declared as 9,897. Devlin had received 17,558 votes and was elected. He was followed by Woods (9,599), Lynn (8,371), Burn (4,805), McConville (3,146), Dickson (3,133) and McMullen (2,269). Devlin’s surplus was then distributed giving Woods 11,071 (+1,472), Lynn 8,507 (+137), McMullan 7,237 (+4,968), Burn 4,878 (+73), McConville 4,456 (+1,310) and Dickson 3,438 (+305). With Woods elected, but his surplus failed to elect anyone so Dickson was elimited, with his transfers then electing Lynn on 10,437 votes with McMullan now on 8,002, Burn on 5,980 and McConville on 4.545. Since Lynn had an insufficient surplus to elect anyone, McConville was eliminated and his transfers elected McMullen who ended on 10,345 (+2,343) to Burn’s 6,515 (+532).

The IRA’s flirtations with politics were to be intermittent and violent electoral clashes with the nationalists were to continue into at least the late 1930s.

[Just to note that the reason McNally has the date wrong may be interesting in its own right – he may have checked the date against an internal IRA document – the IRA obsessively keeping records well into the 1940s. The problem McNally may have overlooked is that in the mid-1920s dates were normally given with the wrong year so they couldn’t be used in a prosecution if the document was captured. Typically this meant 1924 instead of 1926 etc.]

Falls Road election riots, 1938

Early in 1938 the northern government decided to introduce an oath for candidates standing for election. This stated that “I hereby declare that I intend, if elected as a member of the House of Commons of Northern Ireland, to take my seat in the said House after compliance with the law and the standing orders in that behalf.”


The oath effectively debarred republican candidates from standing since they refused to recognise the northern parliament. Despite its abstentionism, the IRA were active in electoral politics for much of the period up to 1938 and then, later, in supporting Sinn Féin from 1950 onwards. A similar oath had been in place since for several years for elections to the southern parliament (which effectively smoothed De Valera’s route to government since his republican opponents were effectively debarred from even standing in elections by their own abstentionist stance). The next election to the northern parliament was due on 9th February 1938.

In the aftermath of the oath, the Falls Road, in particular, saw running clashes between the RUC and republicans and riots over several nights before the election. This included clashes between republicans and supporters of the Nationalist Party, and, between supporters of the Northern Ireland Labour Party and Nationalist Party. Prior to the election the IRA had painted slogans on the gables of houses including “British Votes for British Slaves”, “Boycott the Elections”, “Make Byrne Arm” (Byrne was the Nationalist Party candidate in the Falls division), “Be British and Vote – Be Irish and Arm”. At least five people were injured and scores of windows broken in clashes.  Some streets witnessed running clashes between republicans and supporters of that Nationalist Party candidate, Alderman Richard Byrne (who had held the seat unopposed since 1929).

The night before the election, supporters of the Northern Ireland Labour Party candidate, John Glass, and followers of the Nationalist Party clashed in Clonard Street as a Nationalist Party procession was met by a hostile crowd. Four people were injured in the clashes which had occurred as the Nationalist Party procession literally bumped into a rally in support of John Glass. The Labour supporters reportedly had tricolours and booed the Nationalists, shouting “Up the Republic” and singing “A Soldier’s Song. They shouted down Richard Byrne when he tried to address them, haranguing him with “Get down you Catholic Orangeman!” and “What about the Republican Party!“. The latter suggests that the crowd also included republicans who were boycotting the election (otherwise, given that Glass had signed the required oath, the Labour supporters appear somewhat confused about their candidate’s status). The Nationalist Party supporters then started singing “A Nation Once Again” and scuffles broke out. The RUC then baton charged the crowd and the Labour and Nationalist Party supporters fought with each other and the RUC. Fireworks were also thrown at horses pulling a carriage that the Nationalists were using as a speaker’s platform.

The next day, when voting was to take place, Republicans and Nationalists clashed in Slate Street when the polling station there closed, with the Nationalists at one end singing “A Nation Once Again” and the republicans at the other end singing “A Soldier’s Song”, “Legion of the Rearguard” and “The Belfast Brigade”. The RUC then baton-charged the republicans which led to running battles in Sultan Street, Plevna Street and Raglan Street as the republicans used sticks and stones to defend themselves.

In the end Richard Byrne was returned with a majority of 667 votes over the Northern Ireland Labour Party’s John Glass (who was his only opponent). His majority had halved since his last actual election, against Billy McMullan in 1929.