The Staunchest Priest who ever lived in Ireland

The First Dáil assembles in the Mansion House on Jan 21st 1919
The First Dáil assembles in the Mansion House on Jan 21st, 1919.

Chapter V

The Roscommon Election - From the Witness Statement of Laurence Nugent.

Envoy of the Irish Republic,
New York, November 1920
Envoy of the Irish Republic, New York, November 1920.

This is not a history of the Roscommon election. It is just the story of the part played in it by some of the men of K Company. There was no organisation whatever. With the exception of a small amount of money given to Father O'Flanagan by a few friends to defray initial expenses, we had no funds with which to contest the seat. After a long consultation with Rory O'Connor and I must say without any instructions, only 'Do what you think is right'.

I had no previous experience of electioneering, but I knew the intrigues of the I.P.P. Captain T.J. Cullen had gone to Boyle, Co. Roscommon, as advance agent for Rory O'Connor in that area. I caught the late train for Dromod St. on the Saturday evening preceding the opening of the campaign on the next day.

The snow was very deep and when I arrived in Rooskey late at night, I met a few forlorn sympathisers: Flynn, the school-teacher, John O'Farrell and a few more. They were not expecting me or anybody else for that matter. They knew that they would get no assistance from Sinn Féin. They did not want to leave the platform for the I.P.P. who, along with an Independent candidate, were contesting the election.

I had never spoken in public prior to this occasion but they insisted that I should speak after First Mass the next morning. The snow was now about one foot deep, but I was on the spot as arranged. The local curate, Father Lavin, was very cautious and was biding his time. He did not like turning down the I.P.P. and he was anxious to be friendly with both sides. Tom Smith, an I.P.P. M.P., was on the Bill and, as he was going to Slatta Chapel to speak after last Mass, he took the curate with him in his car. Arrangements were made so that I also could travel with him.

The curate introduced Smith after First Mass in Rooskey. He was received in silence by the people. I was not introduced but when Smith had finished his speech I mounted the steps - 'How would I start? What would I say?'. All the people present were either friends or relations of my own. At any rate, I got going and the people told me afterwards that I had said very strong things. Smith, who was listened to in silence while he was speaking, started to interrupt. Of course this interruption helped me. Later, when Smith became aggressive, the men moved in his direction in a threatening manner.

There were just a few members of the local A.O.H. present but, as far as the election in this district was concerned, the Count had won there that first Sunday morning of the campaign. Then the time came to start off for Slatta Chapel, the curate then told me that Smith refused to take me in his car - I was becoming popular. With my mother, my brother and a local man, we had driven into Mass in Rooskey in a horse and trap, a distance of two miles, and my mother insisted on walking home in the deep snow so that I could drive to Slatta Chapel.

Count Plunkett in 1917
Count Plunkett's election covered in the newspapers in 1917.

When we arrived about a mile from the chapel Smith's car was stuck in the snow on the side of the road. The curate, Fr. Lavin, and himself had to walk the balance of the way. Smith could have saved himself the journey for in this rural district in the Kilglass Hills, in which Tom McDonagh's father taught school for a short time, he had only one supporter and the people would not allow him to speak at all. My meeting was over before he arrived and it was most enthusiastic.

With one exception, Count Plunkett got all the votes in this district. On this, the opening day of the Campaign, Fr. O'Flanagan and Larry Ginell addressed meetings in Boyle and Elphin, and their long tramp in the deep snow, which made the roads impassible, is still spoken of.

In preparation for the campaign the I.P.P. held their convention in Boyle to select a candidate. Delegates from the A.O.H. in Tarmonbarry - these delegates were Joe McGuinness' neighbours - the adjoining parish to Rooskey, attended this convention in Boyle and without any authority they proposed Count Plunkett as a candidate. This proposal was ruled out of order, as the Count was not eligible. A large number of delegates, including the men from Tarmonbarry, left the convention. These men and their associates at home formed themselves into a committee and worked for Count Plunkett throughout the campaign. The nominations took place on the 26th January 1917. There were three candidates nominated.

On January 30th an appeal for cars for polling day was issued from 26 Upper Fitzwilliam Street - Count Plunkett's home. A local friend in Rooskey had a motor car and I made all possible use of it. In most places cars were unable to travel as the snow was too deep and it had drifted in great heaps at several places, but, somehow, we managed to get along.

Count Plunkett in 1917
Count Plunkett, released from internment in Oxford in 1917.

The day before the Count arrived in Roscommon we had a public meeting in Rooskey, at which Fr. O'Flanagan spoke. During the progress of the meeting Mrs. Nugent arrived in a car from Dromod station. Rory O'Connor had sent her all the way from Dublin with a message to the effect that Count Plunkett was travelling to Carrick-on-Shannon on the following day and to notify Fr. O'Flanagan. I was to meet the Count at Dromod station. Mrs. Nugent had only time to catch the evening train back to Dublin.

Rory would not trust the post or telegraphs in these days: he refrained also from giving information to the press. The Freeman's Journal was, as a matter of course, backing the I.P.P. The Independent would publish any news about the Count if the Censor would allow them. No news was better than censored news.

Jasper Tully, the Independent candidate, had his own paper, The Roscommon Herald. It carried columns of vitriolic language against the Count but we had the largest newspaper ever printed in any part of the world: we had the snow. For the greater part of the campaign the children refused to go to school. They were printing a newspaper and posters. They were writing slogans and patriotic poems in the white sheets of pure snow.

When the campaign opened some friends of Father O'Flanagan told him that he could not win the election as he had only the women and children to help him - the women, at that time, had no vote. He replied, 'All right: give me the women and children and I will win the election'. The children of Roscommon were his printers and press correspondents and they did their work well.

At one meeting he stated that 'from Curraghroe to Corriggeenroe, and from Knockglasheen to Cloghglasheen, we have lighted a flame that will spread all over the whole of Ireland and will never be extinguished.' I saw these words printed in the snow in several places throughout the constituency.

I met Count Plunkett at Dromod station. He was accompanied by Miss Plunkett and Fr. Conlon, a brother of Martin Conlon. They were the only occupants of the carriage. I gave the Count a general outline of what was happening and how the campaign was progressing. I also impressed upon him the certainty of victory. He was rather bewildered as it was not easy to believe these statements unless one saw for themselves. He was soon to see. On our arrival in Carrick-on-Shannon there were enthusiastic crowds to greet him.

After a short visit to the hotel a procession was formed and the people marched across the bridge into Co. Roscommon, where his first meeting was held. The Count was now a new man in every movement and gesture. He saw for himself the true feelings of the population. Fr. O'Flanagan made, I might say, his greatest speech that day in welcoming Count Plunkett to North Roscommon. This speech was never published.

Ballaghadereen rally, 1918.
Ballaghadereen rally, 1918.

The snow was deep and the weather was icy cold. He had been speaking at meetings days and night. His lips were broken and although the blood flowed freely from them, he went on and on with his speech that day. The people were electrified. Count Plunkett also made a great impression on his listeners and when the meeting was over he was more than satisfied as to the result of the election.

My own few words that day were to inform the people round Carrick-on-Shannon how the campaign in Rooskey, Tarmonbarry and Kilglass was progressing and, of course, I had a very encouraging story to tell them. I was well aware that when the news of the Rising reached these districts, that men were gathered in groups and were saying that if they had had any means of taking part in the Rising, they would have done so.

Count Plunkett in 1917
Count and Countess Plunkett.

Count and Countess Plunkett, who had previously been interned in Oxford, were released on the 30th January 1917. The Count arrived in Dublin on the 31st January 1917 and' proceeded to Roscommon the following day. After the meeting in Carrick-on-Shannon, the Count and his party went on to Boyle.

This was the only real stronghold of the opposition parties in the county. It was an old British garrison town and, consequently, contained a good number of families receiving separation allowances from the British Army. This type of opposition was very rough: their methods were difficult to overcome: they attacked whwnever an opportunity presented itself: they tried to seize republican flags, and so there were always disturbances in Boyle.

I was not in Boyle during the election and am not in a position to give a really accurate account of the events there, but the two opposition candidates were both natives of the town. They were very popular with their own supporter, but they were fighting a losing battle.

The Count arrived in Roscommon on Thursday: he had spoken in Boyle and Carrick-on-Shannon on the same night. On the following day, Friday, he spoke in Elphin. On the same night he addressed a meeting in Strokestown. This was the last meeting in the election campaign and the only opportunity he had of addressing the people.

Polling day was on Saturday and when people say that this was not a Republican election, they say wrong. The principles of the men of Easter Week were shouted from every platform. From the crowds attending these meetings came the cries of 'Up Dublin'. Everywhere in the constituency the Republican flag was displayed.

During the last week of the campaign Sinn Féin began to wake up. They had reports of what was happening in the constituency. The Irish Independent was publishing lengthy reports of the enthusiasm prevailing there and now they started to flock to Boyle and other districts so that they could take some credit for the victory which was making itself apparent. They filled the hotels and ran up expenses without any consideration as to who was to foot the bill. The Labour Party were also anxious to be in on the victory but they started earlier than the Sinn Féin Party.

About ten days before the polling I had to return to Dublin for a few days and Tom Lawlor, P.T. Daly and some other members of the Party called on me and asked me to lend them my Ford delivery van for the purpose of travelling to Roscommon to take part in the election in the interest of Count Plunkett and move around freely. This was a tall request and of course was not granted, but they got, there and were in for the victory.

Newspaper illustration from the Election of the Snows.
Newspaper illustration from the Election of the Snows 1917.

The Count left Boyle for Elphin on Friday where a meeting was held. He was late in getting there as everywhere along the road there were groups of people out to meet him and he had to say a few words to them. He was due in Strokestown early in the evening for the final rally.

The I.P.P. had arranged a meeting for the same day and place but they could not get an audience. Their speakers who intended to address the people kept marching up and down the square, while a number of speakers held the platform for the Count's meeting.

The town was crowded despite the cold and snow. McCrann and Ryan and Sharkey and a few more kept on addressing the people so as not to give the I.P.P. men a chance. I retired for a short time with a young man, a local farmer, whom I had not previously met. He talked a lot and told me all the local complaints. I said, 'You must get up and help us to keep the meeting going until Count Plunkett arrives'.

He protested that he could not make a speech. I told him to get up and tell the people all the things he had just told me. This young man, who was well known locally, spoke for over an hour and held the crowd. At last a torchlight procession was seen in the distance: the Count was coming. The gathering was big for a country town and most enthusiastic. Miss Plunkett got lost in the crowd and some of the local women took possession of her and she was certainly well cared for. It was her first experience of what real Irish hospitality meant, and she enjoyed it.

On the morning of the polling in Rooskey, men were vying with each other as to who would have the honour to vote first for Count Plunkett. They were saying that they had got no chance of shooting in Easter Week and now they were going to fire their 'shot'. When the polling opened we had no personating agent. Their papers had not arrived. Mr. Gough, Solicitor, Elphin, was election agent for the Count. We were unable to travel by car from Rooskey to Elphin on account of snow drifts, and we did not know what had happened.

I wired the County Sheriff and early in the day he replied that our personating agents were to be admitted to the polling booth. The I.P.P'S agents and Tully's agents had their papers in order and were admitted to the polling booth. Tully's agents deserted him and agreed to act in Count Plunkett's interest until our own agents were admitted. When the telegram from the sheriff arrived and our agents were allowed in, Tully's agents left.

Our two impersonating agents were the two delegates who had attended the I.P.P. Convention in Boyle and proposed Count Plunkett as the candidate. Up to this time they were members of the A.O.H. The A.O.H. organisation in Tarmonbarry had a hall. At this hall on the day of the polling the local voters met in a body. They took out the A.O.H. flag and burned it and hoisted a new Republican flag and behind this they marched over four miles in the deep snow to Rooskey to vote for the Republic.

They were joined by others on their way and they made an impressive sight when they arrived in Rooskey village. Ireland was marching again, young and old. Our transport was bad, but we succeeded in getting every voter to the poll. Old men were carried by young men across fields and along laneways where cars awaited them.

A number of these old men were members of the Fenian Movement, and was this a coincidence? They who were unable to get away in the snows of '67 and now in another heavy snowstorm were able, as they themselves described it, to strike a blow for freedom in their old age. They were all my father's friends, who was also a Fenian, and failed also owing to the snow to escape. My father was dead and these conversations were sad ones, but they, were a living link with the past. These old Fenians wanted all the information about the fight in Dublin and were very anxious about the future of the country. And, strange to say, they had little interest in the war in France.

Count Plunkett
Count Plunkett.

Polling day passed off with few incidents. There were no rows of any description. Beer was scarce and whiskey was almost impossible to obtain. When the voting finished and the boxes were sealed, the police took possession of the ballot boxes and took them on an outside car to Strokestown.

A man named Byrne from Dolphin's Barn, Dublin, who was a member of the Sinn Féin Party, came to Rooskey village that day. O'Mullane from Sligo (a brother of Bridie and M.J. O'Mullane) was working with his Ford car during the day in the Rooskey polling district.

Saloon cars in these days were few, and travelling in a car with side screens was very uncomfortable in cold weather. But we started off after the ballot boxes. They were precious and we would not depend on the police for their safety. Byrne travelled with us and when we arrived in Strokestown there were other parties with ballot boxes on their way to Boyle.

As there were a number of cars following these boxes we remained in McCranns for some time and later we started for Boyle, and driving through that famous snow tunnel - this tunnel was on the road between Strokestown and Boyle. The snow had drifted on to the road and made an enormous drift. The local men dug a tunnel through this snow drift and made the road passable for traffic - was very cold.

We arrived in the hotel both cold and hungry. Dan McCarthy had taken charge of arrangements and when we entered the Commercial Room he got a tray with a bottle of whiskey and a syphon of soda. He filled out drinks and then shook hands with the three of us. The room was good and warm and we were soon very comfortable.

When we were about to retire for the night a young man came into the room with an armful of bedclothes, including a mattress, and made up a bed. I enquired who he was and I was introduced to Mick Collins for the first time. I had heard of him previously, but had not met him. But from that night and for many years afterwards we were very good and confidential friends.

Dr. Walsh of North Frederick Street was working with his car in the election campaign in Count Plunkett's interest and I travelled back to Dublin with him on Sunday morning after the polling. I was the only one. All other workers remained over: they were anxious to be present when the result of the election was declared.

We carried the Republican flag all the way to the borders of the city of Dublin and we could observe the reactions of the people as we passed along. In Leitrim they were great - the people waved as we passed. In portions of North Longford, it was the same, but when we passed through the town of Longford we were ignored.

In other towns the people waved and, in places, the people ran after the car. Dr. Walsh stopped: the people were anxious as to the result of the election. When I arrived home in Dundrum the house was full with people. Mrs. Pearse and Miss Margaret Pearse and several others were there.

Larry Ginell and Count Plunkett.
Larry Ginell and Count Plunkett.

They were terribly anxious and, when I told them that we had won and that we would have a majority over the two candidates, Mrs. Pearse said that she would be satisfied if Count Plunkett won by only one vote. Even she found it difficult to believe that the Irish people were right at heart: that they were not West Britons.

This was the first and least expensive of the bye-elections. In the polling district of Rooskey there were no expenses incurred and the only help we got from the election committee was O'Mullane's car for election day, and this was voluntary. The result of the poll was announced in the evening papers on Monday. Count Plunkett had a majority of 627 votes over the combined vote of his two opponents.

There was consternation in the ranks of Sinn Féin over Count Plunkett's statement that he would not go to Westminster when the result was declared. None of the Republican Party expected that he would go. We knew in advance that he would not and it was not mentioned in any speech that he would. The people were asked to vote for the principles of the men of Easter Week and that was plain enough. Speaking at Ballaghderreen, the Count stated that the Volunteers would be recreated and constituted.

In a few days the Kilkenny Corporation conferred the Freedom of the City on the Count. The Sinn Féin Party in Dublin were in favour of the Count attending the House of Commons and they were protesting against his refusal to attend. Rory O'Connor asked me to go down to Roscommon again and find out what were the opinions of the people in connection with the Count's declaration that he would not enter the British Parliament. I did go: I was told that they did not vote for him to go to Westminster and that if there was another election he would be returned by a larger majority.

Neither the British Government nor the I.P.P. took a serious view of the result of this election and it was reported that the Irish Guards Band were coming to Ireland on a recruiting campaign. Colonel Moore announced at this time that a convention of the National Volunteers would be held on Easter Monday.

In the middle of February 1917 Lord Mayor Gallagher of Dublin was knighted by the King of England. This was a compliment for the work he had done for the British Army in Easter Week 1916. In the town of Youghal 20 rifles belonging to the National Volunteers were seized by the British military. They were later returned and stored for safety in the Market House. They were removed from here by the Volunteers and could not be traced.

The National Aid Fund was now £88,150. After Easter Week 1916 Gaelic hurling and football matches were banned by the British military, but now the Association were arranging tournaments. The Bishops of the different dioceses issued their Lenten Pastorals and there was a clear divergence of opinion in their references to Easter Week. The Irish Guard's Band was announced for a recruiting meeting in Kilkenny, but their posters were covered with Easter Week literature, and in parts of the country men were courtmartialled for buying rifles from British soldiers.

It is still February 1917 and whilst some men were released from prisons and internment camps in England, others were being arrested and imprisoned in Ireland without any charges being preferred against them. Thirty men were arrested in Dublin and other parts of the country including Seán T. O'Kelly and Sceilg.

A new Lord Mayor of Dublin (Larry O'Neill) was elected and at this meeting of the Corporation Alderman Tom Kelly opposed a vote of thanks to the outgoing Lord Mayor (Sir James Gallagher) on account of his attitude towards the men of Easter Week and the help which he gave to the British military. Seán T. O'Kelly intended to propose this motion but, as he was arrested the previous night, he could not do so.

Myself and Captain Cullen wrote three lengthy reports of our activities during Easter Week, including our visits to the Mansion House. One of these we gave to Rory O'Connor. He passed it on to Seán T. O'Kelly so that he would have a full detailed account of the Lord Mayor's activities. But this document was seized, as was also the second document. This second document we had given to Hugh McNeill (a brother of Eóin McNeill) for safe keeping. He intended placing it in the Corporation safe but he was arrested before doing so. They must be still in some archives, either at home or in England.

Some men were now tried by courtmartial for singing seditious songs. The songs in this charge were 'The Green Flag' and 'The Soldier's Song'. The concert at which these songs were sung was held at 41 Parnell Square, and a third batch of prisoners were deported to England. The press in England and in Ireland was stating that conscription was about to be applied to Ireland - this time without any conditions. Carson would, of course, agree to this.

Those of us who were members of the National Committee of National Volunteers and who had worked in the Roscommon election for Count Plunkett were now under the suspicions of the I.P.P. Captain Cullen and myself were in an independent position. We were on the Committee as members of Colonel Moore's military staff, and not representing any political section. We therefore could not be accused of what they called treachery. We continued our demands for a National Volunteer Convention and we were successful in getting in more arms and ammunition.

When Count Plunkett arrived at the Broadstone Station on his return from Roscommon, there were dense crowds of people there to meet him, and the enthusiasm among men, women and children was unbounded. Something new with which the people were delighted had happened. Republican flags in plenty were carried and the police were helpless to interfere.

In the first week of March a concert and reception for Count Plunkett was held in the Mansion House, Dublin. Again, the enthusiasm knew no bounds. The Round Room and all the approaches were packed and thousands were unable to gain admission. Some detectives occupied seats, having gained early admission. When some men of the Citizen Army recognised them, angry scenes followed and demands were made for their expulsion. National Dublin had come to life again. British rule was being defied everywhere and, at the same time, there was no serious crime. The courts were empty only for minor or political cases.

Witness Statement 907: Laurence Nugent
Lieutenant 'K' Company, 3rd Battalion, Dublin Brigade.
The Count Plunkett Convention held in the Mansion House in April  1917.
The Plunkett Convention held in the Mansion House in April 1917.