A Protestant Sinn Féiner

Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Features, Issue 2 (March/April 2018), Volume 26

The political conversion of Orangeman Frederick Youell.

By Quincey Dougan

In its 21 January 1909 edition, the Belfast Weekly News contained an editorial entitled ‘The Vanguard County’, a report on the proceedings of the recently held meeting of the County Grand Orange Lodge of Leitrim, and it was unusual in that it also included portraits and brief biographies of three recently elected County Grand Lodge officers. Among them was Frederick George Youell, the re-elected county grand secretary.

The grand secretary

Above: Frederick George Youell, grand secretary of the County Grand Lodge of Leitrim. (Belfast Weekly News, 21 January 1909)

A few words told how Brother Youell had filled the position now for quite a number of years, and how he was also the worshipful master of the flourishing Corgar Loyal Orange Lodge No. 332, based near Ballinamore. The commentary added that Youell came from what would be described as an outpost of Orangeism (Ballinamore) but, while a consistent Orangeman, he had gained the esteem of those who differed from him. What the author would not realise, what the other officers of the County Grand Orange Lodge of Leitrim would not realise and, indeed, what perhaps even Brother Youell himself would not realise was that in the space of a few short years Orangeism would be expunged from his life and he would be espousing opinions and be involved in organisations that were anathema to the Orange Institution. Indeed, within ten years he would be being proclaimed by a Ballinamore priest as ‘a Protestant Sinn Féiner’.

Frederick George Youell was born in Leitrim in 1871, the second of the eleven children of Brereton James and Anna Youell. Brereton James assumed the prominent position of clerk of petty session in Ballinamore court in 1870, and also established a business on Main Street, Ballinamore, B. Youell and Sons, which advertised as an ‘auctioneers and valuers, commissioner of oaths’, while also serving as a licensed general store and hardware merchant. It was within this environment that Frederick George Youell was raised. In the census of 1901 he was recorded as aged 30 and an ‘inspector of buildings’, but it is apparent from newspaper reports that he soon became involved with his father’s business, he and his brother Edgar eventually being the partnership that constituted ‘B. Youell and Sons’.

He was sufficiently prominent in communal standing and respect in Orange circles to be elected grand secretary of the County Leitrim Grand Orange Lodge in 1902, and until relinquishing the role never missed any meetings. This was a period when Leitrim Orangeism still consisted of eighteen lodges and, based on financial dues paid to the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland in Dublin, had a minimum membership of 500. Youell’s presence at Orange gatherings was referenced regularly in newspaper reports of events. On 12 July 1904 he attended the parade at Arnmore, Co. Cavan, while in July 1907, as worshipful master of Corgar LOL, he attended a Twelfth procession in the Castle Saunderson demesne, alongside over 60 other Orange lodges from the districts of Cavan, Cootehill, Belturbet, Ballyconnell, Kinawley and Newtownbutler. In August that year Youell was back at Castle Saunderson for another loyal demonstration, this time to commemorate the Relief of Derry. On this occasion he was deemed important enough to be seated with the platform party. In 1908 he was present at the Twelfth in Killeshandra and in 1909 at Farnham Park.

The beginning of the end

Youell attended his last meeting of the County Grand Orange Lodge of Leitrim on 1 June 1910, still acting as secretary. On 30 November a vote of thanks was passed for the grand secretary, while at the December 1911 meeting a proposal was made that each lodge must pay a levy of ten shillings in order to pay off a debt to Brother Youell. An emergency meeting was held in January 1912 because Brother Youell had refused to ‘give up the County Box’ (the minute books and other records), and had also refused to attend a meeting in an Orange Hall to rectify the situation. This resulted in three county officers visiting his house, where upon payment of £3 18s. the box was returned.

In April 1912 Youell was reported in the media not only to have attended a concert and dance to raise funds for the renovation of the Ballinamore Catholic parish curate’s dwelling but also to have ‘presided at the gramophone recitings’. A Grand Lodge emergency meeting was held in September 1912 prior to the Ulster Covenant, with, after the main business, the minutes ominously ending: ‘after some discussion respecting F. Youell, the Lodge was closed’. In May 1913 he was once again a topic of conversation, respecting his conduct towards the Orange Institution in general. A specific crime was remarked on, namely that he had been attending football matches on Sundays! A note that the county grand master would bring the matter before the Grand Lodge of Ireland with a view to having Youell’s name ‘brought before Orangemen generally so as they may be on their guard’ was retrospectively struck from the minutes.

At that same meeting the Grand Lodge passed a resolution resolving to oppose Home Rule by ‘every means at their disposal’. Unionist Clubs were established at the Orange Halls of Cullies and Killegar, with the membership of both lodges forming a unit of Ulster Volunteers that worked within the ranks of the 2nd Battalion of the Cavan Ulster Volunteers. Frederick Youell meanwhile had already compounded his attendance at Sunday football with more overt ‘conduct towards the Orange Institution’, and was not just aligned with a separate group of Volunteers but highly conspicuously so. On Friday 3 July 1914 the Ballinamore corps of the Irish National Volunteers held a meeting in the town’s market hall. A resolution was passed stating that ‘We, the members of the Ballinamore corps of the Irish National Volunteers, approve of the suggestion of Mr John Redmond MP, as to the Provincial Committee’. Frederick Youell was listed as a member of the Ballinamore Irish Volunteers committee that passed it.

Above: The report in the Leitrim Observer of the anti-conscription resolution proposed by Frederick Youell in 1918 and passed by Ballinamore rural district council.

Above: Frederick Youell’s 1911 census return. Does the mark under ‘Religious Profession’ (fourth column) mean ‘same as above’ or ‘nil’?

Full circle

By 1917 Frederick Youell can be regarded as being a prominent member of Sinn Féin. At a mass demonstration that year in Swanlinbar, where an estimated 5,000–6,000 people attended alongside Sinn Féin clubs and bands from across Leitrim, Cavan and Fermanagh, he was sufficiently important to have a place on the platform. A court appearance in 1918 also confirmed his republican credentials, when at the Carrick-on-Shannon quarter session Michael Mulligan of Ballinamore appealed against a previous sentence of one month in jail for drilling at Ardrum, Ballinamore. His appeal was based on new witness evidence from Frederick Youell and three others that Mulligan had been seen in Ballinamore town during the time in question, and therefore that the police had made a mistake in identifying him. The presiding judge disregarded the new alibi evidence. That same year it was Youell who put forward a proposal at Ballinamore rural district council against the imposition of conscription on Ireland, i.e. the Military Service Act. The words of his resolution included the ominous phrase that if it were to be enacted it would ‘inaugurate a new phase in Irish history, the dangers of which no man can foresee’.

On 28 November 1905, as grand secretary of the County Leitrim Grand Orange Lodge, Brother Frederick Youell had proposed the following resolution:

‘That this County Grand Lodge is of the opinion that the best interests of Ireland are imperilled by a proposal for Home Rule, that this measure is antagonistic to the foundation principles of the Orange Institution. We therefore authoritatively declare that no Orangeman can accept by violation of his principles by any way whatever a candidate for parliamentary honours who will not pledge himself to vote against this proposal if introduced into the Houses of Parliament.’

Some fourteen years later, in May 1919, a demonstration in Ballinamore to welcome the Sinn Féin MP for South Leitrim, James Dolan, on his first visit to the county since being released from internment saw Frederick Youell important enough to be included in the Leitrim Observer’s list of ‘those we noticed on the platform’.


Despite his alleged conduct against the Orange Institution—indeed, conduct later verified beyond doubt—there is, surprisingly, no record of Frederick Youell’s being expelled, suspended or resigning from the Orange Institution. There was undoubtedly a significant toleration for the activity of local Orangemen who lived, worked or owned businesses in essentially Irish nationalist and Catholic communities, and an understanding that compromises would have to be made. As early as 1897 there were signs that Frederick Youell was willing to breach the boundaries without fear of local Orange chastisement, breaches that would, perhaps, have been unacceptable for an Orangeman or unionist of the period further north or east. Following the eviction of Mrs Owen Morahan, a Catholic, from her shop and premises in Ballinamore’s Main Street, a meeting was held to raise funds to provide alternative accommodation for Mrs Morahan and her young family. Frederick Youell gave ten shillings to the cause. In 1904 Frederick and his brother Edgar jointly organised a concert in Ballinamore courthouse of the famous Irish baritone William Ludwig, which was described as ‘An Irish Ireland Concert’, and, whilst having no ‘song sung in Gaelic’, this was compensated for by the whole tenor of the programme. The pieces performed included ‘The Croppy Boy’, ‘Erin My Country’, ‘The Rising of the Moon’, ‘Who Fears to Speak of Ninety-Eight’, ‘God Save Ireland’ and ‘A Nation Once Again’!

Alongside these apparent acts of liberality towards the Catholic/nationalist community, there is also evidence of a Frederick Youell who in business was single-minded, if not ruthless. His tendency to litigate in business matters is illustrated in court cases reported in local newspapers. He personally decried many customers of his business who had not paid their bills, and he sued the Great Northern Railway Company and the Cavan and Leitrim Railway Company no less than eighteen times for shortages in deliveries of coal, timber, cement and fire clay. In a deposition in defence of the companies, a Belfast employee stated that on one occasion when a delivery wagon was shown to be overweight Youell had insisted that it sit for several days to dry out! On a further occasion in court it was alleged that Youell had been fully aware of the construction of a butcher’s shop within lands that he was managing, and, indeed, had given his blessing with no issue, only to raise the issues of financial recompense and rent upon its completion.

Traitor or patriot?

By 1924 Frederick George Youell had an address at 100 North Circular Road, Dublin, and his part in the public life of Ballinamore, judging by newspaper reportage, seems to have come to an end. He appears to have died without marrying and without issue, and with him died the truth of what motivated his journey between opposite ends of the Leitrim cultural spectrum. Whether Youell was a deep thinker who slowly made an internal journey from one political position to another, helped by disagreements with his fellow Orange travellers, or whether he was primarily a businessman willing to do whatever it took to protect his interests remains unknown. The truth is probably a complex mixture of elements from both. While the evidence certainly does not label him as a Ballinamore ‘Uncle Tom’, the swiftness of his conversion does challenge the earnestness and sincerity of his actions. It is noteworthy that during periods of boycotting in south Leitrim from 1907 to 1909, when several local Protestant businesses and families were targeted, the Youell family escaped sanction. Perhaps even more notable is that on his 1911 census form, under ‘Religious Profession’, a mark interpreted by the census-taker as meaning ‘same as above’ bears a striking resemblance to the word ‘nil’.

Above: The remains of Corgar Orange Hall today. While Frederick Youell was worshipful master it was noted in 1909 that the large and commodious hall was specifically a ‘memorial of his zeal and hard work’.

Quincey Dougan is a columnist with The Orange Standard, monthly newspaper of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland.

Read More:

 Corgar [Ballinamore] Orange Lodge


Dougan, Leitrim—a county at war (Leitrim, 2015).

King & C. McNamara (eds), The west of Ireland: new perspectives on the nineteenth century (Dublin, 2011).

Ó Suilleabháin, Leitrim’s republican story 1900–2000 (San Francisco, 2014).


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