History of General Elections in West Cork

Posted on: 5th February, 2014

Category: The History Corner

Contributor: Samuel Kingston

Samuel Kingston studied history at NUI Galway and has a keen interest in oral and local history. He is also interested in the Irish historical experience abroad especially in Canada and South America. The aim of this column is to tell the stories of West Cork people both famous and forgotten who, through their lives at home or abroad, made an impact on their time.

General elections give a fascinating insight into local history. From the political persuasion of those elected, we can gather an understanding of the public mood. For many years County Cork was a single constituency, but in 1885, Cork was divided into seven constituencies and it’s from here our story In Part II Sam continues with his overview of every election in the West Cork region since 1885. 

1933 – Newcomer James Burke topped the poll for C na G. Eamonn O’Neill, Timothy O’Donovan and Timothy J Murphy all returned. Raphael Keyes lost his seat to his Fianna Fail colleague Tom Hales. Like Keyes, Hales was a member of the West Cork IRA during the war of Independence.  Hales brother Sean was elected in 1921 and 1922. James Burke actually died in 1936 but no by-election was held.

1937 – Timothy J Murphy, Timothy O’Sullivan, Timothy O’Donovan and Eamonn O’Neill returned. Daniel O’Leary also elected, not to be confused with Daniel O’Leary who contested earlier elections.  O’Donovan and O’Neill were now members of the Fine Gael party.

1938 – The three Timothys were all returned, as was Eamonn O’Neill. Daniel O’Leary failed to get re-elected. Topping the poll was a returning Sean Buckley. Last elected in 1923 as a Sinn Fein candidate, now standing as a Fianna Fail candidate.

1943 – First election during ‘The Emergency’ or World War II, as it known to everywhere else. The country had been in an official state of emergency since September 2, 1939. Once again the three Timothys were returned with Murphy topping the poll. Sean Buckley also retained his seat. Also elected was newcomer Patrick O’Driscoll for Clann na Talmhan.

1944 – Timothy J Murphy topped the polls. Also returning were Timothy O’Sullivan, Patrick O’Driscoll Sean Buckley and Eamonn O’Neill (FG). O’Neill had failed in 1943. Tom Hales also sought election as an Independent but only captured 2.9 per cent of the first preference. Timothy O’Donovan failed to get elected. This was the last election in which five TDs were elected. From 1948 the constituency had three seats.

1948 – Timothy O’Sullivan (FF) and Timothy J Murphy (Labour) returned. Sean Collins (FG) elected for the first time. Murphy became Minister for Local Government, as part of the coalition government. He started a house building programme that by 1951 had built 12,000 houses. Unfortunately he died suddenly in 1949. He had been returned in nine consecutive elections. New constituency of Cork South covered eastern part of West Cork. Three seats. Elected were Dan Desmond (Labour), Patrick Lehane (Clann na Talmhan) and Sean Buckley (FF). Buckley came across from Cork West.

1949 – By-election in Cork West – won by William J Murphy (Labour) who defeated Edward Cotter (FF). He was only 21 years old when he won. He has the honour of being the youngest ever TD. He, along with Liam Cosgrave are the only two surviving members of the Oireachtas to have been elected in the 1940s.

1951 – Timothy O’Sullivan and Sean Collins returned. Michael Murphy (Labour) elected for the first time. In Cork South, the outgoing deputies were returned. Patrick Lehane stood as an Independent.

1954 – Sean Collins (FG) and Michael Murphy(Labour) returned. Edward Cotter elected for the first time. In Cork South Dan Desmond was returned and he was joined by newcomers Tadhg Manly (FG) and Sean McCarthy (FF)

1957 – Michael Murphy (Labour) and Edward Cotter (FF) returned. Sean Collins failed to retain seat, losing out to independent candidate and somewhat surprise package that year Florence Wycherley. In Cork South, the three outgoing TDs are returned in the last term for the constituency of Cork South.

1961 – Cork West became Cork South-West with part of Cork South transferring over. Remains a 3 seat constituency.  Michael Murphy (Labour)and Edward Cotter (FF)returned with Sean Collins (FG) regaining his seat.

1965 – Michael Murphy (Labour), Edward Cotter (FF) and Sean Collins (FG) all returned.

1969 – Michael Murphy(Labour) returned. Flor Crowley (FF) and John O’Sullivan (FG) elected for first time.

1973 – Michael Murphy, Flor Crowley and John O’Sullivan all returned. Michael Murphy served as a Parliamentary Secretary at the Dept. of Agriculture and Fisheries.

1977 – Michael Murphy (Labour), Joe Walsh (FF) and Jim O’Keeffe (FG) elected. This election was the last for Michael Murphy who had served the people of West Cork for 30 years.

1981- Flor Crowley (FF) returns for a term. PJ Sheehan (FG) and O’Keeffe also elected (FG). O’Keeffe became Minister of State for Overseas Development. Joe Walsh failed to be elected.

1982 – February and November – In February, PJ Sheehan (FG), Jim O’Keeffe (FG) and Joe Walsh (FF) were elected. These three would be consistently returned until the 2002 election. In November, O’Keeffe returned to this post as Minister of State for Overseas Development. In 1986, he became Minister of State for the Department of the Public Service.

1987 – Joe Walsh becomes Minister of State at the Dept. of Agriculture and Food.

1989 – Joe Walsh plays a key role in the negotiations, which lead to the formation of the Fianna Fail – Progressive Democrats coalition.

1992 – Joe Walsh becomes Minister for Agriculture and Food until 1994.

1997 – Once again Joe Walsh becomes Minister for Agriculture and Food, holding the position until 2004.

2002 – Joe Walsh and Jim O’Keeffe were returned. Denis O’Donovan elected for first time. He had contested every election since 1987. This was the last term for Joe Walsh who retired.

2007 – PJ Sheehan and Jim O’Keeffe were both elected and retired at the end of this term. Christy O’Sullivan convincingly topped the poll in his first attempt as a member of Fianna Fail.

2011- This election saw a complete change in TDs for West Cork. Jim Daly and Noel Harrington were elected for Fine Gael and Michael McCarthy for Labour. It was the first election in which Fianna Fail failed to produce a TD in west Cork.

2016 – The scheduled date for the next election. Can the three incumbents keep their seats? Can Fianna Fail regain a seat?  Or will some outside challenger surprise us all?

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