In August 1940, The Irish Times painted a portrait of the surviving members of the Irish Parliamentary Party defeated by Sinn Féin in the 1918 election. As part of the report, ex-MP John Lalor-Fitzpatrick said that “its members have proved their belief in democratic methods of government; because they returned quietly in the private life, and since then none of them raised a voice against the elected governments or against a verdict of the people ”.
While the former member’s comments were interesting, they were not accurate. While Lalor-Fitzpatrick has returned to private life, many of his colleagues have not. In the first decades of independence, former home leaders entered politics, opposed governments, and even sought to shape the commemoration of the party and its leaders – in turn setting the tone for de many subsequent arguments about its role in achieving self-government and the thorny issue of sharing responsibility.
“Old wine in new bottles”?
David Fitzpatrick described the transition from IPP to Sinn Féin at the local level as “old wine … decanted into new bottles”, but nationally, the level of transfer between politicians was often a longer process than which is sometimes appreciated. Belfast MP Joe Devlin and the Old Order Hibernian political machine remained an important part of nationalist politics in Northern Ireland, but the position in the Free State was different.
Some former national rulers had moved to Sinn Féin before 1918 and most supported the treaty in 1922 because of the stability it offered, but it does not follow that all treaties were private rulers or that the former Redmondites could always be easily accommodated at Cumann na nGaedheal. In terms of personnel, treaty signatories did not garner large numbers of converts initially – the appointment of Tim Healy (Kevin O’Higgins’ step-uncle) as governor general was a nod to the old constitutional tradition, but also a pique to his former rival John Dillon.
Former Chief John Redmond’s son, Capt William, for example, turned down an invitation to run for Cumann na nGaedheal in 1923 and was comfortably elected to Waterford as an Independent – local loyalty also visible in the success of his freelance colleagues James Cosgrave and Alfie Byrne. Labor has absorbed some former Irish Land and Labor Association activists while others have found ways to reinvent themselves in the Farmers’ Party.
In the 1920s, bad memories of the Revolution, Partition, and official disrespect for the accomplishments of Redmond and his colleagues aggravated many recalcitrant leaders – feelings visible in major commemorations of John and Willie Redmond in Ennis and in the southeast. The Irish National League, founded in 1926 by Captain Redmond and his colleague ex-MP Thomas O’Donnell, therefore appeared as an attempt at renewal in the Free State. Composed mostly of former politicians and IPP activists, he polled best where the old party retained its support in 1918.
In the aftermath of O’Higgins’ assassination and Fianna Fáil’s entry into the Dáil, however, the League attempted a risky coalition deal with Labor and Valera – a botched attempt that ended. as a farce because TD John Jinks did not vote on a motion of no confidence, plunging the League into rapid decline.
National leaders and the politics of “civil war”
In the process, Capt Redmond and many colleagues then joined Cumann na nGaedheal ahead of the 1932 election. Yet James Dillon, son of the last IPP leader, and Frank MacDermot, a former Irish Party activist, did not. did not – both remained prominent speakers on agricultural issues, the constitutional status of the state and Irish unity.
The creation of Fine Gael in 1933 therefore marked the last great absorption of former national leaders into new politics as Dillon and MacDermot’s Center Party merged with the Treaties and the Blue Shirts. In the 1930s and 1940s, between 30 and 40 percent of Fine Gael TDs had traceable family roots – from surviving former MPs and councilors to those with more tenuous ties through family or activism.
Conversions to Fianna Fáil, on the other hand, were rare but notable. Examples include O’Donnell, who joined de Valera’s party after the fall of the National League; Honor Crowley (daughter of former MP John P Boland), elected Fianna Fáil TD in 1945; and Patrick Lynch, de Valera’s opponent in East Clare in 1917, who served as a senator and later attorney general.
It is ironic that although Fianna Fáil absorbed far fewer politicians from the IPP, its discipline in parliament, its interest in local issues and its ability to build lasting constituency networks within a “movement national ”were more like the old party than Cumann na nGaedheal or Cumann na nGaedheal or Beau Gaël. Fianna Fáil’s admiration for the Irish Party, however, was confined to the Land League and Parnell’s party; Redmond, on the other hand, was ultimately remembered in opposition to the victors of the Irish Revolution.
A questionable legacy?
Yet individuals from the PPI have left a distinctive mark on independent Ireland. The initiatives of Dillon and MacDermot to form the Center Party and the Fine Gael helped (albeit unintentionally) to shape the divide between the two major parties – a rivalry, as Mel Farrell noted, also steeped in the years 1930 as the Civil War.
The presence of former Irish Party members in politics has demonstrated the party’s shadow over Irish political life. It was sometimes a dubious legacy for those who entered politics and it was only by joining those from Sinn Féin that they approached real political power. However, their presence highlights the continuities between Ireland before and after independence, highlighting the tenacity of certain modes of political activism and identity ideas.
The roles they played in the early decades therefore belies the most extreme notions surrounding Redmond and his supporters – that they were completely forgotten in the new state, but also the alternative view that the former rulers of the interior were so easily rehabilitated that they could easily resume their place at the forefront of the Irish political establishment.
The Legacy of the Irish Parliamentary Party in Independent Ireland, 1922-1949 by Dr Martin O’Donoghue is published by Liverpool University Press. The book will be launched at the National University of Ireland building, 49 Merrion Square at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, February 19, by Dr Maurice Manning.