Offaly and the Treaty Debate: widespread acceptance. Specially contributed

Early 1922 saw just two local organs of public opinion in Offaly – the Midland Tribune and the King’s County Chronicle. The Tribune was owned by the long-term nationalist Mrs Fanning, widow of the late Dr Fanning and herself active in regard to Sinn Féin policy on amalgamation of the workhouses. Her editor was James Pike from Roscore, long-term supporter of Sinn Féin who was now ready to recommend acceptance of the Treaty. So also was Archie Wright, owner of the Protestant and unionist Birr-based Chronicle. The Offaly Independent was more representative of North Offaly, but its printing works had been destroyed by crown forces in November 1920 and did not re-emerge until late spring 1922. During the course of 2022 we plan to bring you articles on the evolving situation in Ireland and Offaly in 1922 and we will be looking into the Offaly Archives, Offaly History Centre and Offaly Libraries to dig deeper for the nuggets.

The beginning of the second great divide in Ireland: ‘Only nine of the 338 pages mentioned partition’. Lyons, Ireland since the Famine (1971), fn p. 443.

Carson may have been disappointed but Southern Unionists such as those in Laois, including Lord De Vesci were in favour. So too were all the local authorities in Offaly and most of the local Sinn Féin executives including Clara, Mountbolus, Daingean and Edenderry. Birr Sinn Féin also supported the Treaty and defeated a motion to take no action (MT, 7 Jan 1922).

The Dáil had debated the Treaty over a thirteen-day session and finally voted 64 to 57 to accept. The four TDs in Leix-Offaly Patrick McCartan, Kevin O’Higgins, Joseph Lynch and Frank Bulfin voted in favour. Early in the debate McCartan said he was disgusted at having to debate the Treaty and would not vote at all. McCartan did vote for acceptance . Marie Coleman writes in the DIB: ‘Having been reelected to Dáil Éireann for Leix–Offaly in the 1921 general election, he was defeated in 1922 when he stood as a pro-treaty candidate, after which, disillusioned, he left politics to concentrate on a private medical practice in New York, where he lived at East 68th St. In 1937 he returned to live in Ireland.’ So ended the career in Offaly of its first Sinn Féin TD. McCartan lost out on the transfers to Joseph Lynch in 1922. That was the year of the huge vote of 15,167 for Labour’s William Davin. In 1923 two CGs (Egan and Bulfin) were elected, two Republicans (McGuinness and Brady) and one seat for Labour (Davin).

The days over Christmas were not all filled with debating and high politics. The bad weather and violent storms at New Year did not deter the Royal Scots Fusiliers from marching about Tullamore on the Saturday night 31 December with their pipers’ band playing. Early in the week a fancy dress ball was held in the Charleville school room attended by members of the crown forces, civilians and the ladies. In Kilcormac entertainment was put on by the technical school students. Business continued also and George N. Walshe who took over the Poole car sales business in 1920 at Bridge Street now requested permission to put a petrol pump outside the shop. Dr McGuinness of Kilbeggan was appointed by the new Central Hospitals and Homes Committee to be medical officer in Kinnitty. .. Dr McGuinness could not attend the meeting but his brothers were present and the appointment was unanimous with praise from Toler Garvey. Over at Moystown on St Stephen’s Day Mrs Waller Sawyer was caught up in an agrarian dispute and suffered loss, damage and personal injuries when a group of men entered Moystown House, Belmont.

Drama and craic in Kilcormac January 1922

Once the levity of New Year and the disturbances were over it was time again to consider the Dáil debate. No strange to Offaly was the full-time Sinn Féin organiser who was second only to Sean Robbins in topping the poll in the June 1920 county council election. More to everyone’s surprise Russell departed Tullamore for Dublin in October 1920. He was now in favour of the Treaty and wrote to the press about the choice before the Dáil deputies and the people.

MR. T. M. RUSSELL & THE TREATY           Mr. T. M. Russell, Kingstown (late of Tullamore), in a letter to the Dublin Press on Thursday, states :- 1. Republic. 2. External Association. 3. Internal Association. Each of these three forms of Government has advocates in An Dail and in the country. To secure the Republic it is necessary that Britain should be completely prostrated. This is not the case. An Dail knows it, and has practically ruled out no. 1. According to the conditions governing the Treaty of 16th inst., any alternative threat would lead to immediate war. No. 2 is a proposed alternative. Therefore, unless a successful war be waged against Britain, No. 2 goes out. The difference between No’s. 2 and 3 is mostly sentimental. Should the country choose war, for a sentiment, with every human prospect of being beaten, and accepting the terms imposed by the victor? Or should An Dail and the country accept No.3, as already done by peace delegates, and work it in good faith, with peace and harmony at home, and peace and goodwill among the people constituting the British Commonwealth of Nations, encircling the globe. Irish citizens familiar with the fruits of the “Parnell Split” do not want another, and will not have it. Neither do they want nor will they brave another war, when it can be avoided, with profit and honour.   Ireland’s Treaty with Britain puts control of Finance, Customs, Excise, Industries, Fisheries, National Economics, Trade and Commerce, Defence and Education, in the hands of Irishmen. To turn down the Treaty, in the circumstances, would be the equivalent of national insanity… (King’s County Chronicle, 5 Jan 1921).

Dr McCartan’s somewhat academic view on the Treaty did not go down well in Offaly. It was only a few months before that he had made his first visit to Offaly having been elected in the by-election in April 1918 and again in December 1918. Of a Sinn Féin board that Russell may have once chaired it was reported:

OFFALY SINN FEIN & THE TREATY             A meeting of the Joint Officers Boards of the Sinn Fein Organisation for Offaly, was held in Tullamore. The meeting disagreed with the view of Dr MacCartan in his statement that the Republic was dead, as neither ratification or rejection would kill the aspirations of the Irish people. A resolution was passed advising the people to follow the advice of Messrs de Valera and Griffith, viz, to keep calm, and have their views expressed, as during the past three years, by their clubs. They passed a certain resolution, copy of which has been sent to Dr MacCartan and the Publicity Department of An Dail. (King’s County Chronicle, 5 Jan. 1922).

Shopping in Birr in January 1922

People who speak of war are those who will not fight’

South Offaly was very much in favour of the Treaty and reports were carried by the Tribune and Chronicle:

RESOLUTION ADOPTED IN FAVOUR OF TREATY. “People who speak of war are those who will not fight.” A public meeting was held at John’s Hall, Birr, on Saturday, to discuss the question of the ratification of the Treaty. Mr. B. H. Drought (Secretary Offaly Farmers’ Association) acted as secretary to the meeting, which was he said, representative of the South Offaly Farmers Union and others. A suggestion had been made that a county meeting should be held, but this was not possible, as the representatives of the Southern end would not go to a meeting at the Northern end, and vice versa. [no Kilcormac venue in those days] Another meeting was, however, being held in Tullamore on that day and when its decision was announced he would telegraph the result to the proper quarters. The joint resolution of the two meetings would constitute a county opinion. Mr. Joseph Bulfin occupied the char. Others present included Messrs M. J. Horan, chairman Offaly Farmers’ Association; R. H. Drought, secretary, do., John Dooly, chairman Birr Urban County Council; J. J. Molloy, J. J. Kennedy, and M. J. O’Meara, solicitors; E. J. Fletcher, Thomas Dermody, Clonbardon; J. Grogan, Co. C.; P. McIntyre, Birr; John Connolly, Roscomroe; Philip O’Neill (secretary Birr Transport Union), Peter Brennan, Birr; M. Dalton, U.C., do.; J. J. Cashen, do.; James Hogan, do.; P. Davis, do.; Wm. Egan, do.; John Gleeson, U.C, do.; M. P. Cleare, auctioneer, Kinnitty; J. Bergin, Jonathan Cole, Castletown; J. F. Slye, Shinrone; M. Hackett, Johnsville, Brosna; Drs. K. Fleury, and J. D, Houlihan, Birr; A. Ryall, J. Bergin, Fancroft; John Meagher, Loughawn; G. W. Drought, Roscrea; Jerh. J. O’Meara, Birr. Mr. Joseph Bulfin (brother of Mr Frank Bulfin, M.P.), who was moved to the chair, on the motion of Mr. John Molloy, seconded by Dr. Fleury, said he felt honoured in being asked to preside over the meeting, which was called, he said, for the purpose of eliciting the views of the plain people – the views of the much talked of “man in the street” – on the question of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, and to call upon their representatives in An Dail to carry out the view expressed. There would be a resolution put before them, and if there was any amendment it would be accepted also. He thought the present was not a time for speech making, and enough has been said for and against the Treaty in An Dail. Mr. John Molloy, Solr., [and soon to be a district court judge] said he was very pleased to have been asked to submit the resolution favouring the acceptance of the Treaty. He had pleasure in submitting it, because he believed that there was never a time within recent years, when plain and outspoken action was more essential (hear, hear). In putting it it would be no harm to emphasise the fact that the present was a very critical time in Irish affairs and he would ask everyone – whether they met in public assembly or in private – not to use words of recrimination or bitterness, which might adversely affect the highest interests of the country. If there were people who differed from them regarding this Treaty they should remember that some of those who opposed it had brought about the present state of affairs by fighting and by the sacrifices which they made for the country. They all knew the sacrifices which had been made by President de Valera and those with him who opposed ratification. If those men had not made such sacrifices there would be no Treaty to be accepted or rejected, and whether they differed in small matters or big ones the freedom that had now been obtained was highly creditable to the men who had been successful in winning it. In recommending the resolution for acceptance he had no intention of making a lengthy speech. He merely desired to state briefly a few points which would go to show why the terms offered should be endorsed. An outstanding argument, to his mind, in favour of the Treaty, was that it obtained all the essentials of freedom. The Substance of Freedom. They had got the substance of freedom, and that was one reason why they should accept the Treaty (applause.) . . . In seconding the proposition, Dr. K. Fleury said he would like to couple with it an appeal to the members of Dail Eireann, and to the country, for absolute unanimity. . . Mr. James Hogan, Birr, said that the previous speakers had told them very forcibly the reasons why the country should not again be plunged into turmoil in the future. It was only the youth – the cream of the country – who were in favour of war, but they should realise that such a war meant only turmoil and slaughter. “Let them turn the country into a shambles if they will, but there has been enough trouble and war,” he concluded.

Death of Daniel Ravenhill father of prominent men from Durrow in the War of Independence MT 14 1 1922.

Very soon on this blog: The release of more prisoners and the departure of the British army.

If you would like to submit a blog email