History of General Elections in West Cork

Posted on: 15th January, 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 begins. We see the early dominance of Home Rule, the turbulence of the independence struggle and the contrasting fortunes of competing politicians. We also see a contrast in public mood – mainly we see voter conservatism, yet there are sudden bursts of radical reactionary swings resulting in outsider triumphs.  I have compiled an overview of every election in the West Cork region since 1885. This will run in two parts in January and February editions. Part I

1801 to 1885 – County Cork was one electoral area.

1885 – County Cork divided into seven parliamentary divisions including West Cork and South Cork. South Cork covered the eastern part of what most would call West Cork today. James Gilhooly, Nationalist was elected for West Cork. He would retain his seat until his death in 1916. In South Cork, Joseph Edward Kenny was elected, when the party split, he was pro-Parnell.

1886 – Both Gilhooly and Kenny were returned.

1892 – James Gilhooly returned. This election was also contested by Somers Payne, a local Unionist. Edward Barry an anti-Parnellite was elected for South Cork.

1895 – James Gilhooly and Edward Barry both returned under the Anti-Parnellite banner.

1900 – James Gilhooly and Edward Barry were both returned but now as members of the Irish Parliamentary Party.

1906 – Both men were once again returned.

1910 – Two elections in this year, one in January, the second in December. Both times James Gilhooly was returned. At this point he was a member of the All for Ireland League, which was strong in Cork at the time. Both times he defeated Daniel O’Leary, a Redmondite. In South Cork, Edward Barry was elected in January, he was still a member of the IPP. In December his seat was taken by John Walsh who was a member of the All for Ireland League.

1916 – By-election on Gilhoolys death. This was the first election after Easter Rising and the last victory for the IPP in west Cork. Seat won by Daniel O’Leary. Last great clash between William O’Brien and John Redmond.

1918 – Sean Hayes elected in West Cork and Michael Collins was elected for South Cork. Both were members of Sinn Fein and were unopposed. Hayes was editor of the Southern Star and a political propagandist. Neither man took their seat at Westminster. Instead the elected Sinn Fein MPs established Dail Eireann, which met for the first time on  January 21, 1919. Collins became Minister of Finance.

1921 – Constituency became Cork Mid, North, South, South East and West and had 8 seats.  No seats were contested in the 26 counties which became the Irish Free State. In Cork Mid, North, South, South East and West only eight candidates were nominated for the constituency’s eight seats. No ballot was needed, and all eight Sinn Féin candidates were elected unopposed – Michael Collins, Daniel Corkery, Sean Hales, Sean Hayes, Sean Mac Swiney, Sean Moylan, Sean Nolan and Patrick O’Keeffe. Labour Party did not put forward any candidates.

1922 – This election came after the signing of the Treaty so Sinn Fein were divided into Pro-Treaty and Anti-Treaty. Michael Collins topped the poll, joining him on the Pro-Treaty side were Sean Hales and Sean Hayes. From the Anti-Treaty side Daniel Corkery and Sean Moylan were elected. Also elected were Michael Bradley and Thomas Nagle for Labour and Daniel Vaughan of the Farmers Party. Collins at this point was leader of the Pro-Treaty side.

1923 – First election as Cork West constituency. Up until 1944 this constituency elected 5 TDs. The first five to be elected were Sean Buckley (Sinn Fein), Cornelius Connolly (Cumann na Gaedhael), Timothy J Murphy (Labour), Timothy O’Donovan (Farmers Party) and John Prior (C na G)

1927 – June and September – In both elections the same candidates were elected. These were Thomas Mullins (FF), Timothy Sheehy (CnaG), Timothy J Murphy (Labour), Timothy O’Donovan (Farmers Party) and Jasper Wolfe (Independent). June election was the first election for Fianna Fail with Mullins becoming the first west Cork Fianna Fail TD.

1932 –Timothy J Murphy and Jasper Wolfe were returned as was Timothy O’Donovan who was now a member of the National Centre Party. Entering the House for the first time were Raphael Keyes (FF) and Eamonn O’Neill (C na G). Keyes had been captain of the Bantry company of the fifth battalion of the IRA in West Cork during the war of Independence. Jasper Wolfe did not contest any further elections.

Part 2 in February’s edition.


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