A continuation of: The Best of A Bad Job: The Irish Pact Election of June 1922 (Part I)
‘If All the People of Ireland But Ten Men…’
The fundamental thing to remember about the General Election of June 1922 is that it was a face-saving fraud and always intended to be, a parliamentary Potemkin Village rather than an honest attempt to uncover the public desire. After all, that was not really in doubt: people wanted the Anglo-Irish Treaty, or rather the peace it represented for Ireland after two and a half years of shootouts and slayings in its fields and streets as the Irish Republican Army (IRA) pitted itself against the might of the British Empire. It was the policy of the Fenians writ large, the reclamation of Irish nationhood by strength of arms and the backing of a loyal populace.
And yet, by the start of 1922, if the IRA still had the weapons, then the support was less certain. With hindsight, “it may be that we were expecting too much from people who had suffered so greatly and who now felt that peace, even without full freedom, was what they really wanted,” wrote Liam Deasy in his memoirs. By then, Deasy was a sadder but wiser man, having lived through the collapse of the Republican cause in the Civil War and his own narrow escape from a firing-squad. At the time, however, Deasy was prepared to fight to the death for his ideals, as were the rest of the IRA bloc hostile to the Treaty, and popular will be damned.
“This should not be wondered at,” Deasy explained to his readers. “We were never unduly influenced by election results.”
It was about sticking to one’s principles. “If all the people of Ireland but ten men voted that the nation go over to the Islamic faith, their decision would not bind the ten men,” wrote Aodh de Blácam in Poblacht Na h-Eireann – The Republic of Ireland, the newsletter for the anti-Treaty viewpoint, in May 1922. “If all Ireland but ten men voted that the Archbishop of Canterbury be head of Irish Christians, those ten men would yet owe that dignitary no allegiance.”
Maybe not – but would these hypothetical ten men allow the rest of the nation to bind itself? Putting principles first could become elevating them above all else, even if it meant riding roughshod over others. While Deasy might not have considered his comrades to be overly susceptible to democracy, with de Blácam poo-pooing the very concept of majority rule, the power of a public vote was still recognised, enough for the need to thwart it.
“No election on the issue at present before the country to be held while the threat of war with England exists,” insisted Poblacht Na h-Eireann in April 1922.
‘Without Prejudice to their Present Respective Positions’
Unwritten was the reason why: because the Anti-Treatyites would lose, which would force the Treaty sticking point to breaking point and open warfare. Robert Brennan had been increasingly and uncomfortably aware of this nightmarish scenario ever since reading in a newspaper about the signing of the Treaty while in Berlin as an Irish envoy. He instantly returned to Dublin and chanced upon a jolly Arthur Griffith in the Mansion House. If Griffith assumed Brennan would be supportive of his decision to put his name to the Treaty, then Brennan wiped the smile off his face by telling him that he had made a terrible mistake. Even if the alternative was further war, said Brennan, then at least the revolutionary movement would have faced it as one body.
“The person who talks like that is a fool,” Griffith snapped. Nonetheless, the two men remained on friendly terms, an amiability not commonly shared in Ireland as divisions widened into an outright schism.
While he never wavered in his opposition to anything short of an Irish Republic, Brennan grew impatient with his military allies, such as Liam Mellows and Ernie O’Malley, whom he viewed as naively unprepared, to the point of delusional, for conflict, even after their seizure of the Four Courts in April 1922 brought that grim possibility all the closer. And then Michael Collins and Éamon de Valera, each representing their own faction, were able to hammer out an electoral rapprochement on the 20th May, signing what would become known as the Pact.
This came not a moment too soon for Brennan, a solution in the eleventh hour that promised both peace and the protection of the anti-Treaty presence in the Dáil, for candidates from the two sides were not to run against each other. Instead, they would be standing on the same platform, not as Anti-Treatyites, not as Pro-Treatyites, but as Sinn Féiners first and foremost, just like before.
The situation could allow for no other option, as the opening clause in the agreement proclaimed:
The national position requires the entrusting of the Government of the country into the joint hands of those who had been the strength of the national situation during the last few years, without prejudice to their present respective positions.
“When the Pact was unanimously adopted by the Dáil, the feeling of relief was profound because the shadow of civil war had been lifted,” was how Brennan described the mood. Which made the news that some were seeking to throw the toys out of the pram all the more shocking.
A young man of Brennan’s acquaintance – given the pseudonym of ‘Dan Smith’ in his reminiscences:
…came into my office [on O’Connell Street] with a sensational report. He had been present at a secret meeting of an Independent group that morning. Darrell Figgis, who was not a member of the group, had attended and made a speech urging the group to put forward candidates in opposition to the Sinn Féin panel of candidates at the election.
It was no secret that Figgis, a long-time Sinn Féin activist whose curriculum vitae included organising the Howth Gun-Running in 1914, had come down firmly on the side of the Treaty. Less clear was why he wanted to undermine the Pact but, whatever the motive, to Brennan, “this was treachery, because Figgis, as a member of the Sinn Féin Executive, was bound in honour to uphold the Pact.”
As proof of these machinations, ‘Smith’ gave Brennan a verbatim report of this meeting. Brennan wasted no time in getting to Suffolk Street, where he met with de Valera in the latter’s office, along with Erskine Childers and Austin Stack. The decision was made to publish the report in a special STOP PRESS edition of Poblacht Na h-Eireann, on the 30th May 1922, under the dramatic headline TREACHERY TO THE PACT – THE PLOTTERS.
The ‘treachery’ in question had taken place at the close of a special session of the National Executive of the Irish Farmers Union (IFU) at 37 Upper Fitzwilliam Street, Dublin, on the 25th May. Figgis’ choice of venue was unusual in that he was in no way connected to anything agricultural. He also admitted, after being introduced to the room, that his position was a delicate one since he was a member of the Sinn Féin Standing Committee, which had just signed off on the Pact five days ago. Anything Figgis did was to be understood as purely personal and in no way on behalf of anyone or anything else.
With that said, his view was that the Treaty, warts and all, represented the best chance the country had, particularly at developing industry and the economy. With that in mind, those with expertise at turning a profit should have an opportunity to contribute to the forthcoming government.
Ireland had a greater proportion of its population out of work than was the case in any other country. The figures were, roughly, 150,000 unemployed – who represented a population of 500,000 – which meant that one-eighth of their people were out of work and suffering from hunger. These problems should be solved by the business people of the country, and these people should get into Parliament.
Which was not going to happen with any sort of Pact Election, rigged – ‘crooked’ to use Figgis’ word – as it was in favour of a forced equality between pro and anti-Treaty adherents that would do no more for national stability than before. Instead, the three groups currently excluded, representing Irish commercial, industrial and farming interests, should stand together on a common platform. The Dáil already had a pro-Treaty majority, though a slight one, and if reinforced by Independent delegates of the same opinion, it would strengthen the likelihood of the Treaty being implemented.
The boldness of this proposal made some attendees hesitant. A Mr Beamish from Cork expressed his view that, if Republican voters were to stick to Republican candidates, and Pro-Treatyites to likewise back their own, then there was not much room left for any third options. That was, after all, how the Pact had been designed to operate.
Not so, replied Figgis, as he thought it likely that seventy percent of the electorate would choose a non-Sinn Féin candidate before a Sinn Féin, or ‘Panel’, one. The strategy would only work if, say, farmers’ candidates refrained from standing in rural areas, and instead targeted Republican-held spots. In the Kildare-Wicklow area, for example, there were four anti-Treaty seats that were for the taking if planned accordingly. In places where neither the agricultural nor business communities were strong, by pooling their votes they could cut the ground from underneath the Anti-Treatyites.
“The farmers want a farmers’ party,” said the IFU Chairman, Sir John Keane, as he seconded this strategy, “but that would not prevent us from working together.”
That appeared to be the consensus in the room. County Clare was raised as another case in point: its business element was small but what there was could lend its support to an agrarian nominee in the absence of an industrial one and push the vote accordingly in their mutual favour. In other counties, the reverse could be applied. Having been frozen out of the election before, there was now a chance for the farmers and businessmen to push their way in from the cold.
The country was tired of elections, Figgis remarked as the meeting drew to a close, the implication being that now was the time to get down to work.
A Mystery Man
Perhaps it was understandable that Brennan and other Republicans would react so strongly to this democratic putsch. Figgis and his IFU audience had talked not just of putting forward their own candidates, alongside the Panel-approved ‘official’ ones, but in targeting anti-Treaty-held seats specifically. A more blatant violation of the neutrality the Pact was intended to uphold could scarcely be imagined, to the point that David Lloyd George wondered to his Privy Council if this precipitated a split between Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith, given the latter’s closeness with Figgis.
The British Prime Minister was not alone in speculating. To Joseph Connolly, there was no way Figgis would have done what he did “without the full consent and approval of Griffith.” Connolly was in New York at this time, representing the Irish Republic as Consul General, and so lacked a front-row seat to the drama at home, but he knew Figgis enough to dislike him, regarding the other man as “something of an interloper, a careerist or an opportunist.”
This was apparently a widely shared opinion in the Irish revolutionary movement, with Griffith a notable exception, and his friendship with Figgis was one Connolly struggled to understand. The implication Figgis’ behaviour had for Griffith’s own conduct was disturbing to Connolly: “It is not to me a pleasant recollection of Griffith, but what seems to be the clear facts of that move must be recorded.”
Not that much was clear about the whole affair, with undisputed facts hard to come by. Poblacht Na h-Eireann chose to treat Figgis as a rogue element, albeit one whose misdemeanour threatened a wider indictment if unchecked. As a Sinn Féin official, Figgis’ partisan actions had thrown the credibility of his fellow Pro-Treatyites into jeopardy. While his previous record of service to Ireland was well-known and respected, “Mr Figgis should be promptly disowned by his party.”
The man in question was quick to defend himself via a letter to the press, published on the 31st May, the day after Poblacht’s exposé. None of the Pact’s seven clauses forbade what he had said or done, Figgis wrote; indeed, Clause Four specifically stated that “every and any interest is free to contest the election with the Sinn Fein panel.” The only limitation was on pro and anti-Treaty candidates on the aforementioned Panel running against each other. Otherwise, all was as it should be. The liberties of the Irish people and their right to a free election, had been safeguarded, despite the efforts of some in the spirit of the old Irish Parliamentary Party who used to argue that any opposition to it was de facto treason against the national interest.
In case readers missed the historic allusion:
The issue is the same to-day, not because of the Pact, but because of the attempt to misuse the Pact. Let us remember that we have had no elections since 1918. Some of the present members of the Dail have never been voted upon by the people. The rest have not been voted upon since December, 1918. We are, therefore, almost as far from a genuine election as the Irish Party was.
All of which was anathema to what Sinn Féin stood for, in Figgis’ view. Sinn Féin, a name Figgis had worn as far back as when it was dangerous to do so, was “not a close political corporation. It is itself a composition of many different parties,” out of which the electorate would select whoever they deemed best:
That is the simple issue before us. The people of Ireland are free and responsible, and no one can restrict that freedom or diminish that responsibility.
Not even, Figgis added pointedly, the “artificial restriction of candidates.”
A Tipperary Case Study
Knowingly or not, acting alone or in concert, Figgis had thrust an awkward question into the spotlight: what was the general election for? For democracy and liberty, Figgis had argued, but others looked to different priorities. Given the current circumstances, unity and good government was paramount, Commandant-General Dan Breen told a convention of the Irish Farmers Party in Tipperary Courthouse, on the 5th June 1922. To this effect, he asked them to withdrew their candidates, giving the outgoing Dáil representatives for North, Mid and South Tipperary a clear run and a chance to work together. The coming parliament would only last a short while anyway, before another election – and then the farmers of Tipperary could send their own to the Dáil.
That was good enough for the Farmers Party, and their two aspirants, Hassett and James Duggan, were stood down. Not so pliable was Daniel Morrissey, who held his ground on behalf of Labour, despite Breen’s appeal in a one-on-one talk to “close the ranks”, to which Morrissey had replied, as he explained to the Nenagh Guardian:
It is not Labour’s fault that the ranks were divided any more than it was Comdt.-Gen. Breen’s; neither am I sure with it being either of their faults if they are not now closed…There are many starving labourers in the country as well as others who may be excused if they fail to see that the “country was above all interests” to the members of the late Dáil.
Breen had a response of his own, written in a tone more of sorrow than anger for the pages of the same newspaper:
I interviewed a Mr Morrissey of Nenagh, but the arguments which moved the farmers of Tipperary failed to move him.
He was a worker, Breen declared, and would not have asked fellow workers to step aside in the election if he thought their interests would be at risk. As it was:
Our country is above all interests. On the declaration of the poll, I hope to see Tipperary stand on the National record where it has stood for the past four years.
It was a matter of politics, not personalities, and nowhere did either Breen or Morrissey behave with anything less than civility, in print or in person. Indeed, Morrissey spoke of being treated with “nothing but the greatest courtesy from Comdt.-Gen. Breen.” A letter from a Seamus Nolan, also published in the Nenagh Guardian, took on a harsher tone, however:
It is lamentable that Mr Morrissey was not more vocal in support of his countrymen when the fight [against Britain] was on: and that he now holds up for his own glorification the sacrifices made by genuine Labour men throughout the country. But it is doubtful if Mr Morrissey can claim to be the spokesman of Labour in Tipperary, having regard to certain incidents which occurred at the meeting which selected him.
What occurrences were these, Nolan did not elaborate. Two years later, Breen was similarly snide in his autobiography, refusing to refer to Morrissey by name, only as “the Labour candidate” who “cared nothing about the idea of presenting a united front to the enemy. He was ambitious for power and insisted upon going forward.” This depiction jars sharply with the public exchange between the pair at the time, but then, Breen was writing in the aftermath of defeat, amidst the ashes of the Republic, a bitter and sullen man.
The Surrender Business
Elsewhere in Ireland, other candidates not already on the Panel were made to feel like the poor relations at the feast. At Ennis Courthouse, Co. Clare, the three contenders selected as Labour, Farmers and Independent respectively withdrew within minutes of the deadline to do so, leaving the constituency wide open for the four Panel candidates, pro and anti-Treaty alike. With no other contenders, the seats would go to them by default.
The cheers from the onlookers showed the popularity of this decision, and further applause greeted Éamon de Valera when he appeared on the Courthouse steps, the same ones he had stood on when elected in Clare for the very first time, back in 1917 – a parallel the Chief was not slow to draw. That election then had been a triumph for the dead, de Valera told his audience, just like he believed the present one was. After all, were they not here today because of the ideals for which others died?
Such lofty talk belied the darker goings-on beneath the surface of consensus. Patrick Hogan, the erstwhile Labour selection in Clare, had “got cold feet when it came to the point because of local pressure there from the people who wanted no election so that their nominees would be returned unopposed,” according to William O’Brien, a leading trade unionist in Dublin. O’Brien sent his Labour comrade letters and telegrams, urging him to be firm, along with an encouraging telephone call, but the strain proved too much for Hogan. Nor was Hogan’s case unique, for O’Brien, as did the other Labour aspirants, “got anonymous letters and protests continually” over their decision to stand.
At least neither Hogan nor O’Brien suffered actual violence. Others were not so spared. That Denis J. Gorey, the Farmers Party selection for the Carlow-Kilkenny constituency, took a double-barrelled shotgun to bed on the 4th June indicates something was already in the air when the sound of footsteps roused him to his feet in the middle of the night. Despite the insistence of the four uninvited callers at his front-door that they just wanted a chat, Gorey refused to come out.
When one reached inside his jacket, so Gorey told the Kilkenny People:
He was too slow, and I “got the drop” on him with my empty gun. I ordered them to stand back. They did. I asked were they going to speak or not, and the leader said, shaking his head, “Oh, if that’s the way you are going to get on” and looking disgusted at my manner the four turned about and walked away back through the yard without saying a word, evidently shocked at my idea of hospitality.
Gorey knew he did not have long to prepare before the next ‘social call’. Bereft of ammunition, he settled on the upstairs corridor as the best redoubt for a last stand with his sons, using knives and whatever else at hand if it came to it. Mrs Gorey was dispatched to summon help, for which her family was still waiting when the ‘visitors’ reappeared first.
They were at least cordial enough to open with a call for the Gorey household to submit. However:
I wasn’t in the surrender business, and said so. I got three minutes or take the consequences. I chose the consequences, so the fight started, revolvers first. I advised going on, and the rifles began. One bullet about 18 inches over my head came through the window shutter, plaster, and out through the other window, covering me with broken glass and plaster. I again advised going on. A few more revolver shots and rifle fire at the back, and then silence. I understood I used some “language” by way of encouragement to help my visitors to fight. If so I apologise; I don’t like “language.”
Without anything stronger than bad words to throw back, the defenders of the Gorey Alamo had no choice but to endure the twenty minutes of fusillades before Mrs Gorey returned up the drive with an armed posse of their neighbours. The assailants pulled back, ending the siege that had, thankfully, not seen any casualties save the damage to the house. The four Panel candidates for the Carlow-Kilkenny constituency instantly decried the affair, with the two pro-Treaty men, W.T. Cosgrave and Gearóid O’Sullivan, presenting a united front of condemnation with the Anti-Treatyite pair, James Lennon and Eamonn Aylward.
Nowhere were the political leanings of the raiders explicitly stated in the Kilkenny People, but a defiant (and waspish) Gorey left little doubt as to his suspicions:
I am certainly for the Treaty, but if my country needs a fighter, old as I am, I guarantee that I will put in more real fighting in seven days than one of the anti-Treaty men could put in seven lifetimes.
Other non-Panel nominees were not so much encouraged to step back as forced down. On the night of the 3rd June, Godrey J. Greene also found his house surrounded. Unlike Gorey, he was able to shoot back; unlike Gorey, he submitted after a wounded arm made further resistance unfeasible and withdrew from the electoral contest in Waterford-East Tipperary. Elsewhere, nomination papers for Bernard Egan failed to reach Westport, Co. Mayo, in time for him to run on behalf of the Farmers Party in North-West Mayo when the courier was waylaid.
Those responsible were persistent: the night before, so it was reported, “two armed men called on Mr. Egan and unavailingly tried to persuade him to withdraw his candidature.”
‘The Rule of .45’
But the worst treated was Darrell Figgis, when he suffered an invasion of his flat in Kildare Street, Dublin, just before midnight on the 12th June. The three youths who barged in when Mrs Figgis answered the door told her husband they were acting under instruction; that said, two held him down on a chair while the third cut off a chunk of his beard. They would have moved on to his hair if Figgis had not persuaded the trio that they had fulfilled their orders enough.
Any doubts as to culpability was answered in the publication of Robert Briscoe’s recollections in 1958, in which the author treated his part in the assault as if it had been no more than a spirited lark. Figgis had been annoying him and his fellow Anti-Treatyites for quite some time, “strolling dapperly down O’Connell Street in smartly cut clothes, with his red hair gleaming like newly polished boots and a fine, red, square-cut beard that was his special pride.” Between his peacocking and high-profile partisanship, “it seemed proper to close his mouth.”
But his was one mouth not to be closed. Speaking to the press after his ordeal, Figgis said:
…that he had nothing to say against the men in question…the offence lay not with these boys, but with the men who had charged them, and, finally, with the leaders of those who opposed the Treaty, unless they specifically repudiated this act and took measures to see that proper discipline was observed, and that other acts of a like sort did not occur in the future.
Which was unlikely.
“We have the rule of .45,” Briscoe had overheard Seán Etchingham saying sardonically in response to someone questioning the procedures of the IRA Convention they were attending. Held at the Mansion House in March 1922, the event presented a study in contrasts: grim young warriors standing in the genteel reception room, beneath the crystal chandelier and surrounded by oil portraits, their shabby tweed coats militarised by Sam Browne belts and holsters containing .45 calibre service automatics. Dick Barrett was to brandish such a weapon at the manager of a bank Briscoe proceeded to use to launder bank notes robbed earlier as part of the ‘levy’ imposed by the anti-Treaty IRA Executive, by then headquartered in the Four Courts, which had likewise been occupied by force.
Figgis, Gorey and Greene were but the latest victims of this ‘Might Makes Right’ mentality that showed no signs of abating. After all, the shadow of the gunman was what enabled the Anti-Treatyites to bring about the Pact Election and its shielding of a vote that otherwise would have cost them. “They feared that the Irish people would be stampeded by England’s threat of war into approving [the Treaty] against their real desires,” Briscoe explained.
How fortunate, then, that the masses of Ireland had leaders who knew their wants better than they did.
A Bombshell (?) in Cork
Intimidatory incidents like Briscoe’s and Gorey’s aside, the anti-Treaty IRA held their hand. If the likes of Briscoe and his superiors truly wanted to sweep the board clean, then they had the guns and numbers to do so. That the general election was proceeding at all made Richard Mulcahy confident enough to drop by the O’Kelly residence in St Stephen’s Green, Dublin, with his wife Mimi in an open-topped car, and invite the other couple to accompany them in enjoying the afternoon sun. Seán T. O’Kelly was reluctant, until Mulcahy pointed out that for two brothers-in-law, each on opposite sides of the Treaty divide, to be seen together would send out a signal for how well the accord they had helped to broker was working.
Besides, he added, there was some business he wanted to go over. O’Kelly gave in and the four got on board, where:
Mulcahy then told me, in the presence of our wives, that Mick Collins had given much thought to the setting up of a coalition government. That he meant that it should consist of persons who would work harmoniously together.
For the Minister of Finance, Collins wanted O’Kelly and had tasked Mulcahy with relaying the offer. Far from flattered, O’Kelly was instead taken aback at Collins’ presumption that he would be the one unilaterally making all the selections. When he pointed out that the Republican Party Executive would surely expect a say, Mulcahy replied that Collins was insistent on the matter. But O’Kelly could be equally hard-nosed and the ride ended with the foursome having a distinctly non-political tea in the Malahide Hotel, after which they drove back.
That was the first and the last I heard of Michael Collins’ proposition that I should be Minister for Finance in the coalition government, which it was agreed under the Dáil Pact should have been set up if the Pact had been permitted to operate.
O’Kelly seems to have kept this exchange to himself and preparations for the general election went ahead. Figgis’ attempt at gate-crashing had unsettled the Anti-Treatyites, but they nonetheless went through the motions of democracy, working together with the Pro-Treatyites in the printing of posters and other promotional material that listed the names of Panel candidates who the public were supposed to dutifully and unthinkingly put their pencils beside in the polling booth.
O’Kelly may have declined a place on any coalition, at least if offered by Collins, but the issue remained forefront in the minds of his colleagues. Harry Boland would be frequently dispatched to ask Collins about how the setting up of their shared cabinet-to-be was faring, though to little avail:
Sometimes Boland would return and say Collins was too busy to see him. Sometimes he would meet Collins and report afterwards that Collins said he was faced with great difficulties and asked us to be patient.
Getting a concrete answer out of Collins, even by a friend like Boland, was proving akin to pulling teeth. But then, Collins was under pressure, namely from his British partners, who regarded the Pact with alarm and suspicion. If Anti-Treatyites were to enter government in any shape or form, then what were the odds of the Treaty and its thorny terms being implemented? Very little, was the fear in Downing Street.
Collins had already refused one meeting in London, though Griffith went. What he said, O’Kelly did not know, but he presumed Griffith had told the British Ministers of his own dislike of the situation – that was hardly a secret. When Collins gave in to another summons, early in June, and travelled to the heart of the enemy Establishment:
We hated to see him go but we still believed he would stand up to the pressure of Lloyd George, [Winston] Churchill and their associates. We believed that if Michael Collins stood firmly by the Pact and all it implied and if he were assured that he had the united people of the old Movement behind him, backed up by a reunited army, all would yet be well.
The problem was that all was not well; indeed, very far from it. “Thus was the Pact burst and repudiated by one of its two signatories,” O’Kelly wrote in conclusion of this chapter in his life’s story:
Thus also was the law of the land repudiated by the Minister who was to be the builder of the Coalition government. This, I believe, should be regarded as the real starting point of the civil war which followed soon after the bombshell was thrown by Michael Collins in Cork.
The ‘bombshell’ in question was a speech made on the 14th June, from a hotel window to a crowd standing patiently in the pouring rain. After thanking his fellow Corkonians for the magnificent welcome laid out for him, Collins announced that he was now speaking, not from a political script, but his own mind. On Friday, the 16th, in two days’ time, they were to cast their votes. His advice, then, was for the citizens of Cork to choose the candidates they thought best.
“[Collins] had broken his own Pact,” wrote Ernie O’Malley, sharing in O’Kelly’s interpretation of what had happened.
Both O’Kelly and O’Malley, of course, were writing from hindsight and possibly a need to extract their side from any liability in the conflict to come. As speeches go, Collins’ was not, on the face of it, a particularly dramatic one; certainly, he was not telling his audience not to vote for a Panel name. Adding to the ambiguity, or perhaps a sign that he feared he had said too much, he spoke the following day in Clonakility, as part of his tour of his South Cork constituency, this time urging listeners to put aside political views – which could only mean views on the Treaty – and vote for the current agreement in the spirit of unity as it was intended.
His last words to the electorate before polling day were thus a vouch for the Pact; in that regards, he was in tune with many others throughout the country who were also standing. In York Street, Dublin, Countess Markievicz and Alderman Charles Murphy shared a platform with Alderman Thomas Kelly and Dan MacCarthy, despite the anti and pro-Treaty stances of the latter and former respectively – a significant gesture in itself.
There was no question of the Treaty being an issue in this election, Markievicz said, that was something for consideration later. For now, they wanted law and order in Ireland, crops sown and work for the unemployed, for people to be content, with happy homes and better lives. They wanted unity to deal with the lingering question mark of North-East Ulster. Thus, she advised the electors to return the Panel candidates to their seats.
All of which was good, worthy stuff. That sense of consensus seemed to have trickled down to the public as a whole, at least to judge by the capital. “It would be hard to find a parallel to yesterday’s elections in Dublin,” reported the Irish Times on the 17th June. “Owing to the Collins-de Valera pact here was a complete absence of that acute party feeling which used to impart bitterness and excitement into such contests.”
There were, however, exceptions. Counting the paper ballots in the National University on Merrion Square, Dublin, where six candidates were competing for its four constituency seats, was coming to an end when fourteen or fifteen men entered the room and held up its occupants at gunpoint. The ballot-boxes were then removed outside to a waiting motorcar.
“Good evening, gentlemen” said the last of the intruders before departing.
It had been a spur-of-the-moment decision to do so, Ernie O’Malley later told in his memoirs. He was minding his own business in the Four Courts when Rory O’Connor invited him to pay a visit to the National University, being anxious, O’Connor said, to see if the votes had been evenly distributed between pro and anti-Treaty Panel candidates. Although O’Connor acknowledged the potential embarrassment if nothing was found to be amiss, neither he nor O’Malley was troubled much about the almost casual theft they were committing.
Inspecting the pilfered papers that evening, back in the Four Courts, the two IRA leaders learnt that O’Connor’s suspicions had not been groundless, as the total tally revealed:
Professor Michael Hayes (Panel, pro-Treaty) – 529
Professor Eoin MacNeill (Panel, pro-Treaty) – 528
Professor William Stockley (Panel, anti-Treaty) – 528
Professor William Magennis (Independent) – 483
The remaining two contenders, both falling short of the required support, were Dr Ada English (anti-Treaty) and Professor Conway (Independent). Previously, the National University had been equally shared by two Pro-Treatyites and two Anti-Treatyites. Now, with Magennis ascendant, the balance had shifted to three against one. If the Pact had worked as intended, then English would have been returned to her seat, Magennis kept out with the other Independent and the status quo preserved.
Adding to O’Malley’s sense of betrayal, since he could read the names and addresses of individual voters on their ballot papers, he realised that “the Republicans had voted for Panel candidates; a few of the [Free] Staters had, but the majority, including some of their outstanding men, had broken the Pact” by voting for everyone but Anti-Treatyites.
The Main Political Result
As the last of the votes were tallied, the full scale of the Republican defeat became glaringly evident. Before, the twelve seats for Dublin City had been a ratio of seven to five, with Pro-Treatyites holding the narrow advantage. They retained their seven seats, but their anti-Treaty counterparts had been vanquished: one went to Labour and three to Independents, including Darrell Figgis, giving him the last laugh.
Only Seán T. O’Kelly kept the Republican flag flying in the city and even he had to wait until the fifth recount before securing his Mid-Dublin seat. O’Kelly took the reversal to his cause with good grace, seconding the vote of thanks by the Lord Mayor to the Returning Officer, and acknowledging that the process had been performed fairly and efficiently.
The pro-Treaty Panel winners refrained from saying anything too controversial, besides Dan MacCarthy’s complaint about the shortage of polling booths and his hope that things would be improved next time. Alfie Byrne, a former Home Ruler who had reinvented himself as an Independent (the first step in what was to be a highly successful career), was less diplomatic, stating that his victory equated to one for the Treaty and a message to President Griffith to get on with implementing it.
If so, then it was a very loud message. Breaking down the numbers, the Irish Times noted how:
The main political result at once leaps to the eye. In Dublin, 72,285 citizens voted for the Treaty and 10,929 voted against the Treaty. In other words, Dublin voted 7 to 1 in favour of the Treaty. In the County of Dublin, the figures are still more remarkable. The pro-Treaty candidates received 46,936 votes, while the Republican votes amounted to 4,819. The county voted 10 to 1 in favour of the Treaty.
Proportional representative only rubbed salt into the Republican wound. Recently adopted for Irish elections, its novelty was enough for at least one newspaper to provide instructions: no longer was a single X before the name of choice enough – “in fact to use it would spoil the paper,” warned the Anglo-Celt – but instead a row of numbers, based on preference, with 1 for the most favoured candidate, 2 for the second preference and so on.
“The Proportional System may seem a little involved at first,” read the Anglo-Celt soothingly, “but by remembering the foregoing hints, all electors should be able to mark their papers correctly.”
A (Mis)calculated Risk
In South Dublin at least, the electors had grasped the innovation sufficiently to show the anti-Treaty nominees could not even trust what preferences they did get:
The two Republican candidates, Madame Markievicz and Mr. Murphy, held between them 5,258 votes, and it seemed certain that one of the two would be returned. But when Mr. Murphy, at the third count, was declared defeated, the supporters of Mr. Murphy, instead of giving the second choice en bloc to Madame Markievicz, showed divided views.
Only 692, or a little more than half, gave a second choice for her, although she was the second Republican candidate, while 397 gave the next choice to Mr. Kelly, the pro-Treaty candidate. This, in effect, destroyed the chance of the return of a representative of the Republicans.
Elsewhere, each constituency told its own tale. Labour was the big winner in Carlow-Kilkenny, where Padraig Gaffney topped the poll at 10,875 votes, with W.T. Cosgrave (7,071), Denis Gorey (6,122) and Gearóid O’Sullivan (2,681) earning enough of the electoral goodwill of their own to merit the remaining three placements. Gorey had not endured the siege of his house for nothing, it seemed. The four were Treaty supporters, while both the anti-Treaty contenders, Eamonn Aylward (3,365) and James Lennon (1,113), had been side-lined due to the majority of Labour voters giving their second preferences to a Treaty candidate.
Pact or no Pact, the electors knew their own minds.
In the constituency of North, Mid and South Tipperary, things had been tighter, with the Anti-Treatyites retaining half of the four seats on offer:
Seamus Burke (Panel, pro-Treaty) – 9,309
Daniel Morrissey (Labour) – 7,819
Joseph MacDonagh (Panel, anti-Treaty) – 5,962
Patrick Moloney (Panel, anti-Treaty) – 4,960
Showing that one could never take the public for granted, and perhaps a sign that the Pact still held meaning for some, Moloney owed his win to the transfer of second preferences from Burke, despite the two men being on opposite sides of the big debate. Trailing at the bottom was the anti-Treaty Patrick O’Byrne, whose pittance of 586 votes was noted with some nonplus. Also eliminated, and “an even greater surprise,” noted the Nenagh Guardian, “was the defeat of Dan Breen [in neighbouring Waterford-East Tipperary] who had been selected by both sides of the Pact and whose election was regarded as certain.”
Clearly, then, very little was certain in the days to come. Exactly how Breen planned to square his support from both sides of the Treaty split upon election is an interesting conundrum: he presumably assumed that the contradiction would be rendered irrelevant and national divisions submerged beneath the wave of mutually reinforcing votes for Panel nominees, allowing former comrades to arise as one once more. That had been the aim behind the Pact in the first place, albeit one that had gone badly awry – at least for the Anti-Treatyites.
“They calculated that in this way they would have the same position in the new Dáil as in the old,” wrote Collins, doing his best not to overtly gloat. “But their calculations were upset by the people themselves.”
The question, then, was: what next?
The whole point of the Pact had been to remove the element of chance, rendering the process as a choreographed game of musical chairs in which everyone shuffled about, putting on a display of activity, before resuming the same seats as before. Confidence could reach the point of complacency: as election agent for the Anti-Treatyites in South Galway, Pádraig Ó Fathaigh had assumed the Pact would enfold as intended. News that fellow Sinn Féiners were forgoing this to lend a helping hand to the Labour campaign angered him; even so, he had found alarming the indifference of his two candidates, Liam Mellows and Frank Fahy:
Both refused to hold any meetings, to canvass or do anything to further their interests as candidates. I told them that the electors would become careless if they did not meet them, and would consider they were being made little of.
It was advice to which the Anti-Treatyites should have paid heed. Instead of rubber-stamping the names before them, the contumacious masses actually took the election literally. Since the rules of the Pact had been so wilfully overturned, did that mean the next intended stage – the joining of the pro and anti-Treaty parties into one ruling body – was likewise to be pushed aside?
So pondered the Irish Times:
The results of the elections, which are regarded everywhere as a Treaty triumph, are likely to change the plans of the Republican section. It is probable, says our Political Correspondent, that the Coalition Government provided for in the Collins-de Valera pact will not now function, and that the onus of administrating the Treaty will be left to Messrs. Griffith and Collins, who will have the benefits of an appreciable majority.
Which assumed Republicans would be gracious losers. Judging by contemporary reactions, many did not see themselves as having lost at all. The election did not even warrant a mention at the IRA Convention, held in the Mansion House, a mere two days later on the 18th June. Instead, the agenda was about whether to attack the remaining British troops in Dublin, thereby restarting the war and derailing the Treaty for good. There was no talk of ‘coalition’ then, nor of ‘mandate’ or ‘working majority’ which the attendees failed to form even amongst themselves. The Convention ended in a tantrum: denied another war, Rory O’Connor withdrew with a splinter group to the Four Courts and locked out the rest, creating a schism within a schism.
Even Anti-Treatyites who paid attention to the poll results did not seem fazed by their crushing defeat. While acknowledging that “the elections showed that the people favoured the Treaty and our party lost many seats,” Harry Boland still waited for “a call from Mick [Collins] as to the men on our side who would be required to fill the posts in the Cabinet, in accordance with the agreement.” Boland was writing this to a friend on the 13th July 1922, a fortnight into the Civil War and less than a month before his death.
De Valera also nurtured fantasies of a world where the Pact had averted disaster. “Had Mick and Griffith died before they broke the pact,” he wrote on the 10th September, “I believe the four of us – [Austin] Stack, Mulcahy, [Eoin] MacNeill and myself, could have worked the pact and beaten England by it.” Notably, there is no sense of responsibility on either Boland’s or de Valera’s part, both preferring to point fingers at others, whether the Pro-Treatyites or the British. Or both together. As it had been British artillery in Irish hands bombarding the Four Courts, it was obvious to Boland that the ongoing conflict was a “British manufactured war on the Republic.”
Coming to Heel
Blaming the ancestral foe provided a useful balm in Republican reminiscences. “In the House of Commons on June 26th ,” wrote Seán T. OKelly:
Lloyd George and Churchill in the course of speeches on the situation in Ireland insinuated that an ultimatum had been served on Collins. That nature of this ultimatum was not specified but it seems reasonable now to infer that Collins was ordered to have the Republican forces driven out of the Four Courts or that they, the British, would order their own forces to undertake this task.
Despite this fluttering red flag and the shift of the domestic position in favour of the Pro-Treatyites, O’Kelly was dumbfounded when artillery shells began pounding the Four Courts. Assuming Collins was merely playacting to placate his British partners, O’Kelly tried contacting him, first by phone and then letter, to no avail. O’Kelly was in the Hammond Hotel, O’Connell Street, hoping against hope that the brink could be stepped back from, when word reached him that the Pro-Treatyites were now turning their attention – and their guns – to there as well.
To O’Kelly, the only explanation for this shocking turn of events was that “the British by their threats had forced Collins to come to heel again.”
He was not altogether wrong, as a letter had arrived from Downing Street, demanding immediate action against the Four Courts and all other armed holdouts. But Collins needed no prompting. As he saw it, the electoral majority had granted the Pro-Treatyites carte blanche to do what they will, Pact or no Pact – which may have been his intent from the start. Behind closed doors, Collins, Griffith and the rest of the Cabinet agreed to jump on the first casus belli that came their way. When this appeared in the form of General ‘Ginger’ O’Connell’s arrest in Dublin by Anti-Treatyites, the civilian and military leadership of the nascent Free State convened to ponder how long a war might take. About a week, maybe two, assured Gearoíd O’Sullivan as Adjutant-General.
It was a bad miscalculation, one of many in 1922. Both sides had grasped the Pact Election as an opportunity, ostensibly for peace, but mostly to wring whatever advantages they could. For the Anti-Treatyites: an election in name only in return for a deal; for the Pro-Treatyites, a deal in name only in return for an election. Naturally, when it all went belly-up, the whole ridiculous business became another slingshot in the ‘blame game’ exchange.
“The Collins-de Valera Pact might have saved the nation, but the wiseacres again, agreeing to the Pact when they were weak, broke it when they thought they were strong,” O’Malley wrote to the press in August 1922. He was by then conducting a guerrilla war against the Free State and its supporters, such as Piaras Béaslaí who did not quite refute the charges of opportunism when he described how Collins and his cohorts had previously been “hampered by their small majority in the Dáil, and the absence of a clear mandate from the country on the Treaty issue, but the result of the General Election placed them in a strong position to assert their authority.”
And assert they would. Two very different versions of the same event, but a word used by both is ‘strong’ and, at the end of the day, that was what really counted: not honour, not mandates, not brotherhood, not even pacts, but strength.
 Deasy, Liam. Brother Against Brother (Cork: Mercier Press, 1998), p. 43
 Poblacht Na h-Eireann – The Republic of Ireland, 25/05/1922
 Ibid, 27/04/1922
 Brennan, Robert (BMH / WS 799, Section III), pp. 162-4
 Ibid, pp. 175-6
 Irish Times, 22/05/1922
 Ibid, pp. 176-7
 Poblacht Na h-Eireann, 30/05/1922
 Jones, Thomas (edited by Middlemas, Keith) Whitehall Diary: Volume III, Ireland 1918-1925 (London: Oxford University Press, 1971), p. 205
 Connolly, Joseph (edited by Gaughan, J. Anthony) Memoirs of Senator Joseph Connolly (1885-1961): A Founder of Modern Ireland (Dublin: Academic Press, 1996), pp. 227-8
 Poblacht Na h-Eireann, 01/06/1922
 Irish Times, 31/05/1922
 Nenagh Guardian, 10/06/1922
 Breen, Dan. My Fight for Irish Freedom (Tralee: Anvil Books, 1964), p. 168
 Nenagh Guardian, 10/06/1922
 O’Brien, William (as told to MacLysaght, Edward) Forth the Banners Go (Dublin: The Three Candles Limited, 1969), pp. 220-2
 Kilkenny People, 10/06/1922
 Irish Times, 07/06/1922
 Ibid, 13/06/1922
 Briscoe, Robert and Hatch, Alan. For the Life of Me (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1958), p. 158
 Irish Times, 13/06/1922
 Briscoe and Hatch, pp. 148, 156
 Ibid, pp. 160-1
 ‘How the Pact was Broken’, NLI, MS 27,702(6), pp. 2-4
 Ibid, pp. 5-7
 Ibid, p. 8
 Irish Times, 15/06/1922
 O’Malley, Ernie. The Singing Flame (Cork: Mercier Press, 2012), p. 105
 Irish Times, 16/06/1922
 Ibid, 17/06/1922
 O’Malley, pp. 105-6
 Irish Times, 17/06/1922
 O’Malley, p. 106
 Irish Times, 20/06/1922
 Ibid, 21/06/1922
 Anglo-Celt, 17/06/1922
 Irish Times, 21/06/1922
 Kilkenny People, 24/06/1922
 Nenagh Guardian, 24/06/1922
 Collins, Michael. The Path to Freedom (Cork: Mercier Press, 1996), p. 10
 Ó Faithaigh, Pádraig (edited by McMahon, Timothy G.) Pádraig Ó Fathaigh’s War of Independence: Recollections of a Galway Gaelic Leaguer (Cork: Cork University Press, 2000), p. 88
 O’Malley, The Singing Flame, p. 106
 Cronin, Sean. The McGarrity Papers (Tralee: Anvil Books, 1972), p. 120
 Ibid, pp. 120, 125
 ‘Civil War Begins’, NLI, MS 27,702(6), p. 1
 Ibid, p. 4
 Ibid, p. 2
 Blythe, Ernest (BMH / WS 939), pp. 147-8
 O’Malley, Ernie (edited by O’Malley, Cormac K.H. and Dolan, Anne, introduction by Lee, J.J.) ‘No Surrender Here!’ The Civil War Papers of Ernie O’Malley, 1922-1924 (Dublin: The Lilliput Press, 2007), p. 117 ; Béaslaí, Piaras. Michael Collins and the Making of a New Ireland, Volume II (Dublin: Edmund Burke Publisher, 2008), p. 262
Béaslaí, Piaras. Michael Collins and the Making of a New Ireland (Dublin: Edmund Burke Publisher, 2008)
Breen, Dan. My Fight For Irish Freedom (Tralee: Anvil Books, 1964)
Briscoe, Robert and Hatch, Alan. For the Life of Me (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1958)
Collins, Michael. The Path to Freedom (Cork: Mercier Press, 1996)
Connolly, Joseph (edited by Gaughan, J. Anthony) Memoirs of Senator Joseph Connolly (1885-1961): A Founder of Modern Ireland (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1996)
Cronin, Sean. The McGarrity Papers (Tralee: Anvil Books, 1972)
Deasy, Liam. Brother Against Brother (Cork: Mercier Press, 1998)
Jones, Thomas (edited by Middlemas, Keith) Whitehall Diary: Volume III, Ireland 1918-1925 (London: Oxford University Press, 1971)
O’Brien, William (as told to MacLysaght, Edward) Forth the Banners Go (Dublin: The Three Candles Limited, 1969)
Ó Fathaigh, Pádraig (edited by McMahon, Timothy G.) Pádraig Ó Fathaigh’s War of Independence: Recollections of a Galway Gaelic Leaguer (Cork: Cork University Press, 2000)
O’Malley, Ernie (edited by O’Malley, Cormac K.H. and Dolan, Anne, introduction by Lee, J.J.) ‘No Surrender Here!’ The Civil War Papers of Ernie O’Malley, 1922-1924 (Dublin: The Lilliput Press, 2007)
O’Malley, Ernie. The Singing Flame (Cork: Mercier Press, 2012)
Poblacht Na h-Eireann – The Republic of Ireland
Bureau of Military History Statements
Blythe, Ernest, WS 939
Brennan, Robert, WS 799
National Library of Ireland
Seán T. Ó Ceallaigh Papers