Friday 18 October 2019

Political heirs to the rebellion

While many veterans achieved high office, the descendants of the 1916 leaders were less fortunate, writes Gerard Siggins

Sean MacBride, former Chief of staff of the Irish Republican Army and founder of Clann na Poblachta
Sean MacBride, former Chief of staff of the Irish Republican Army and founder of Clann na Poblachta

ONCE the fighting was done, many participants in the Rising and the subsequent conflicts played important roles in Irish politics. For decades, to have been "out" in 1916 almost seemed a pre-requisite for high office. Presidents Seán T O'Kelly (GPO) and Éamon de Valera (Boland's Mill) saw action, as did taoisigh WT Cosgrave (South Dublin Union), de Valera and Seán Lemass (GPO).

Several of the 16 executed men left behind wives, children and siblings who entered politics after the formation of the Dáil and independence, but surprisingly few were successful.

The son of Major John MacBride and Maud Gonne was the most notable. Seán MacBride had been chief of staff of the IRA for a few months in 1936, but later set up the republican socialist party Clann na Poblachta. He was elected to the Dáil in the Dublin County by-election in 1947 and in three subsequent general elections in Dublin South West. His party won 10 seats in 1948 and joined the Inter-Party Government with MacBride as Minister for External Affairs. In this portfolio he played important roles in the implementation of the European Convention on Human Rights and the declaration of the Irish Republic in 1949.

He lost his seat in 1957 and tried three more times but was never elected again and returned to practise as a barrister. He was awarded the Nobel and Lenin Peace Prizes in the 1970s.

Patrick Pearse's mother, Margaret Pearse, was elected unopposed to the 2nd Dáil in 1921 but was unseated on the final count the following year when she stood in Dublin County as an anti-treaty Sinn Féin candidate. In 1933, her daughter Margaret Mary Pearse ran for Fianna Fáil and was the last of eight TDs elected in Dublin County. She failed to be returned in 1937 but was elected to the Seanad where she remained until her death in 1968. She still holds the record for the longest unbroken service in the upper house.

Kathleen Clarke was the widow of Tom Clarke and was a vocal member of the 1st and 2nd Dála where she opposed the Treaty. She failed to win her seat in Dublin Mid County in the 1922 election as an anti-Treaty Sinn Féiner, but was re-elected for Fianna Fáil in Dublin North in June 1927. That Dáil lasted just a few weeks and she lost her seat in November and failed at a by-election in 1928. She served in the Free State Seanad until it was abolished in 1936.

She was also the first female Lord Mayor of Dublin (1939-41) and at the age of 70 contested the 1948 general election for Clann na Poblachta but didn't come close to capturing a seat.

Two of James Connolly's children served in the Oireachtas. Roddy Connolly ran for Labour in five general elections and a by-election in Louth from 1943-54, winning twice. He later ran unsuccessfully in Dublin South Central. Nora Connolly O'Brien had been a founding member of the Young Republicans, the female wing of Na Fianna, and was 23 when her father was shot. She was involved with several far-left groupings and corresponded with Leon Trotsky, but from 1957 to 1969, she served three Seanad terms as a nominee of the Taoiseach.

Michael O'Hanrahan's brother Henry O'Hanrahan was also given a death sentence for his role in the Rising at the Jacob's factory, but it was commuted to life imprisonment. He ran for the Dáil in 1924 but failed to be elected on the Republican ticket in Dublin North when his better-known running-mates Seán T O'Kelly and Ernie O'Malley were returned.

Tom Kent's brother David Kent was a member of the first Dáil and re-elected in 1921 and 1922 as an anti-treaty Sinn Féin candidate. He was elected again as a Republican for Cork East in 1923 and for Sinn Féin in June 1927, which was his last time to stand. His brother, William Kent, was elected for Fianna Fáil in September 1927, and the National Centre Party in 1933 but did not contest in 1937.

Irish Independent

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