Interview: The East Clare By-Election of 1917, with Padraig Og O Ruairc

A flag from 1917 featuring Eamon de Valera.
A flag from 1917 featuring Eamon de Valera.

In July 1917, Eamon de Valera, just released from prison for his role in the Easter Rising, was elected as Sinn Fein MP for East Clare. Here John Dorney speaks to Clare historian Padraig Og O Ruairc about the historic election.

Poignantly, the seat opened up because Willie Redmond, brother of Irish Parliamentary Party leader John Redmond and East Clare MP, was killed in the British Army in the First World War. He paid the ultimate price for fighting, as the Home Rulers believed for the ‘freedom of small nations’.

In Clare his successor was supposed to be a local lawyer, Patrick Lynch.

De Valera meanwhile, veteran of the 1916 Rising, championed fighting of a different sort, for Irish independence. His victory marked a decisive breakthrough for the Sinn Fein party and the beginning of the eclipse of the constitutional nationalists of the Irish Parliamentary Party.

The following year, 1918, Sinn Fein, headed by de Valera, won a crushing victory in a general election and early the following year, declared independence, leading the Irish War of Independence.

Here, O Ruairc discusses the context of both political sides, the tactics used and the results of de Valera’s victory. He talks about the role played by xenophobia, anti-semitism, intimidation and voter fraud. And we finish by talking about the centenary of the event and its commemoration.

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