BITE-SIZED HISTORY

Published in Issue 2 (March/April 2019), News, Volume 27

BY TONY CANAVAN

Sinn Féin’s success in the 1918 general election

A research study carried out at Queen’s University, Belfast (QUB), has found that the 1918 electoral reforms in Britain and Ireland did not cause Sinn Féin’s subsequent electoral victory, as previously proposed. In early 1918, the right to vote was extended to all men over 21 and women over 30 who met a property requirement. At that time Ireland saw its electorate grow from under 700,000 to over 1.9 million. In the general election of December 1918, Sinn Féin won 73 out of 105 seats in Ireland. The Irish Parliamentary Party was decimated, retaining just six of the 67 seats that they held prior to 1918. A research team led by QUB’s Alan De Bromhead and Alan Fernihough, with Prof. Enda Hargaden of the University of Tennessee, has concluded that the legacy of the Easter Rising and the conscription crisis of 1918 had a greater influence on Sinn Féin’s electoral success than the increase in the number of voters. Their conclusions about the 1918 elections are that there is little evidence to suggest that ‘new voters’ can explain Sinn Féin’s victory, that the granting of female voting rights may have in fact reduced the Sinn Féin vote and that new voters appear to have been less inclined to use their vote at all. For more information on their findings: quceh.org.uk/uploads/1/0/5/5/10558478/wp18-08.pdf.

Son receives father’s Second World War medals

The son of an Irish Second World War hero has been given the medals his father never received. Two years ago Tom McGrath, from County Waterford, discovered that his father, Tom Sr, had served in the British Army after he was conscripted at the outbreak of war. Tom Sr was captured in Dunkirk in 1940 and taken to Stalag XXA, a German prisoner-of-war camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. After two years he escaped from the camp and was looked after by locals for a short time before being put on a train to Berlin. He then travelled to Paris using a fake ID, from where he eventually made his way to Spain via the Pyrenees. In Spain he was arrested and kept in a concentration camp for four months. Through Irish diplomatic intervention he was released and returned to England—a year after he escaped from the German camp. Although awarded the Military Medal in June 1943, Tom Sr never received it and returned to Waterford. His son Tom, through various circumstances, lost contact with his father, who died in 1968. Tom started to research his family history and discovered that his father was a war hero. Last Christmas a ceremony was held in the British ambassador’s residence in Dublin, where Tom received his father’s campaign medals and the Military Medal.

The walls come tumbling down

A plan to modernise Trinity College, Dublin (TCD), Ireland’s oldest university, will see some of its historic walls being demolished. Historically the walls are blamed for separating the university from the city and making it an alien place to many Dubliners. The idea is to open up the campus with a series of new pedestrian entrances, making the university more accessible. It’s all part of a scheme to reboot TCD for the 21st century, which will also see the construction of a series of landmark buildings—some currently under construction—aimed at modernising the facilities and breathing new life into neglected streetscapes. There is also, however, a commitment to preserve the 426-year-old university’s historic buildings, which, although in the heart of Dublin, are closed off from public view at present. Despite TCD having about two million visitors a year, most of these are overseas tourists, and now the university wants to be accessible to Dubliners, inviting them to enjoy the campus as a place through which to stroll or in which to sit. A criticism levelled at the university is that many of the surrounding streets have suffered because of its foreboding walls. In particular, Pearse Street is cited as somewhere that has experienced neglect and lack of activity because of TCD’s walls. It is hoped that the new development will change this.

Above: Aerial view of Trinity College, Dublin—plans are afoot to open up the campus with a series of new pedestrian entrances, making the university more accessible. (Irish Times)

What’s not to celebrate?

The revelation that there are proposals for official celebrations of the centenary of the establishment of Northern Ireland has received a mixed reception. The plans are said to include a major exhibition in Belfast, echoing events in 1971 when Northern Ireland was 50 years old. There is apparently no awareness of the irony involved here since the 50th anniversary was celebrated as the Troubles began, leading to over three decades of violence. The plans were first proposed by the DUP’s Simon Hamilton in 2017 when he was the Minister for Tourism. It had been thought that the idea had been quietly dropped, but the suggestion of an official celebration of the ‘wee North’s’ centenary was raised again recently by Northern Ireland Secretary of State Karen Bradley. The SDLP and Sinn Féin are both on record as saying that they will not participate in such celebrations, but both Ms Bradley and the two main unionist parties appear to want to maintain the fiction that Northern Ireland is an entity commanding the loyalty and respect of all who live there. One wonders where this will end.

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