The South Armagh by-election

There were three by-elections in the county in 1917. John Redmond's brother, Willie, who was Member of Parliament for East Clare was killed in the war in France, causing an election in July. Sinn Féin decided on Eamon De Valera as their candidate, he was still in jail at the time. Redmond put forward Paddy Lynch as candidate to replace his brother. Lynch was a King's Councillor and a very influential person. They felt that De Valera's imprisonment would gain him sympathy votes and pushed for his release prior to the election, but of course De Valera was elected.

In the South Armagh by-election of late 1917, the supporters of the Irish Parliamentary Party candidate [Donnelly] and members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians imported from outside constituencies were, with the tacit approval of the police authorities, making matters very rough for those who sided with Sinn Fein. Approaching polling day, the Sinn Fein leaders felt that the prospects of their candidate [Dr Mc Carton] would be jeopardised unless adequate protection was provided at the polling booths for their supporters. Accordingly, detachments of armed Volunteers were brought into the constituency. About fifty men went from the North Clare battalion. I travelled with this group. From Willbrook, we went by train to Kingsbridge and then marched military fashion from Kingsbridge to Amiens Street. The Dundalk Volunteers arranged accommodation for us and another detachment that had travelled from East Clare. The captain of the Dundalk detatchemnt was a man named Rynne who came from Clouna. He was employed at that time in a draper's shop in Dundalk.

Frank Barrett called a meeting to discuss how the men would be deployed the following day. We were to split between Crossmaglen and Forkhill. The two commanders decided to toss for it. West Clare [Brennan] won the toss and picked Forkhill, only 9 miles from Dundalk. Mid-Clare [Barrett], the losers, were left with Crossmaglen, a distance of 14 miles. There was no transport available for either group.

After the meeting nine of us went on to the Phoenix Hotel where accommodation had been arranged. Supper was at eleven that night. Some of the group went into the bar, but more of us were not interested in having a drink and went in to eat. We were given what we thought was a very generous feed, but when the others arrived there was no food left. One of them, Fox McNamara, rang the bell demanding more food, saying, 'You might as well be throwing biscuits to bears as handing out a snack like that.' The kitchen staff relented and more food appeared. They asked us what time we wanted breakfast to be served and we replied 3 a.m., as we had to make an early start. We were then shown to our rooms.

By the following morning over three hundred Volunteers had been assembled, mostly from Monaghan and some began to march and drill in the town square near the polling station where there was only a token R.I.C. presence. A large crowd of opposition supporters appeared and started jeering the Volunteers and it looked as if there could be serious trouble ahead.

Some of the ringleaders of the opposition were noticed as they went into a public house to confer, and some of our officers followed them in. One of our men ordered two minerals in a loud voice and made a show of opening his jacket as he paid for them. This was to display a large revolver to the group which had arrived ahead of them and it seemed to have a sobering effect on them as there was very little trouble during the day.

That evening an old man with a ginnet car and creel came into the town to vote. He climbed up on the car to survey the scene and began to shout 'Up the Fenians.' The Volunteers took this as a rallying call and with sticks and clubs raised, charged their tormentors, who fled the scene, hurling insults as they went on about Clare Moonlighters and murderers. At Crossmaglen when the polling closed, Fr. McEniff approached the Volunteers and told us that a meal had been prepared and was now ready. As we left, a volley of stones was thrown by the Redmondite supporters, but a few rifle shots over their heads soon stopped that.

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