Tuesday 23 July 2019

Remembering the first Dáil

As the cententary of the sitting of the first Dáil is to be celebrated, Jessica Farry recalls the life of Jack Clancy, who was one of the Sligo men elected

Sligo men and women elected to the first Dáil are among those who will be commemorated at a centenary event at the Mansion House, Dublin, on January 21st.

Sinn Féin's John Joseph Clancy was elected in the Sligo North constituency, while Sinn Féin's Alexander McCabe was elected in the Sligo South constituency in the December 1918 General Election. The first meeting took place on January 21, 1919.

Countess Markievicz was elected to the first Dáil in the Dublin St. Patrick's constituency.

Family members of those elected to the first Dáil have been invited to the centenary event later this month.

For the family of JJ Clancy, it has allowed them to go back and research their grandfather's role in Irish politics and indeed history.

There is much written about Clancy online, but his family feel that some of it may not be entirely true.

A chance encounter at Mr. Clancy's grave in Ardmayle, Cashel, allowed his granddaughter Maria Clancy Wootton and her cousin Anna Rachel Kilkenny the opportunity to research their grandfather's life for a journal produced by 'Boherlahan-Dualla Heritage Group', on behalf of the Clancy and Coman families.

This gave them the opportunity to tell their grandfather's story as best they could.

John J. Clancy, known as 'Jack' was born in 1890 in Collooney. His father Thomas was a farmer and tenant on the Cooper Estate at Markree.

It is most likely that Jack met his wife, known as 'Cis' through the Sinn Féin organisation. Jack was appointed Secretary to the County Sligo Committee of Agriculture and Technical Instruction in 1912 after applying for the role. Having been working in Dublin at the time, this new job allowed Jack to move back to Sligo where he would be base in the Courthouse on Teeling Street.

Jack and Cis together played a vital role in organising Sinn Féin in the county. In 'Boherlahan - Dualla Historical Journal 2018', it is stated that"there was always an underlying ambition in the Clancy clan to free themselves from British oppression."

In 1915, Jack joined the Irish Volunteers and became a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, although he didn't take part in the 1916 rising as a result of a communication error.

A national aid association was set up in the aftermath of 1916 for dependants of those killed or imprisoned. Jack and another man, Alderman Edward Foley, were both given the role of secretaries of the fund in Sligo.

Two years later, Jack Clancy was elected President of the Sinn Féin Executive for North Sligo.

In May 1918, Clancy was arrested in connection with anti-conscription speeches and the 'German Plot'. He had taken part in the campaign against the introduction of conscription into this country.

He was detained in Usk prison in Wales. A general election took place in December that year and Jack won the seat for North Sligo, with Sinn Féin claiming victory throughout the country.

"There were at least two distinct strands in Sinn Féin, those who hoped independence could be won by peaceful political methods and those who had no problem with physical force. Jack Clancy was one of the former," stated the journal.

Jack and fellow 'German Plot' prisoners were released in March 1919.

He attended his first Dáil Éireann meeting a month later. A committee was appointed to assist the Minister for Local Government in preparing policy for his department, and Clancy was among the members.

Jack was also a selected member of a committee that was appointed to consider land policy under the Land Department. He was put in charge of the Dáil Éireann loan for Sligo along with Alec McCabe.

He was arrested again later in the month and sentenced to six months. He was charged while in prison and sentenced to another three months with hard labour but was released in September.

In June 1920, he was elected chairman of Sligo County Council for a term of one year.

"Nationalists were caught up in the War of Independence but the methods of some members were not always in keeping with an acceptable code of behaviour. Jack was an elected politician, an administrator, not a military man, who tried to keep the county institutions functioning. A breakaway faction of the IRA started interfering with County Council matters, making it impossible for Jack to carry out the job he had been employed to do and putting him under severe mental strain," recalls the journal.

Jack was once again arrested in February 1921 and was released in April. His name was not put forward for elections in 1921 for the second Dáil, although it is not known whether or not he did not seek re-election or if he was prevented from running again.

A general report on Sligo in July 1921, discovered by Maria Clancy Wootton and Anna Rachel Kilkenny during their research, cast a new light on events at the time.

"Military Interference: Here I may say a rather ugly situation is developing. The IRA seem to think they can interfere when and where they like in public affairs. I say it becaause they have done so.

A. A £1,000 was demnaded by them from County Council for their help in the collection of the rates. This amount seemed too large and the then Chairmain, covertly I must say and on his own responsibility offered £500. However this was declined and he was informed to have the money ready by a certain time or take the consequences. In the presence of Mr. Grimes, an official, he gave over the money at the appointed time. He is naturally anxious to know if money were properly expended and if sanction for such action were given by Defence. If I remember correctly this money was handed over before Defence and this Department had decided anything on the matter. None but Mr. Clancy and Grimes and the IRA are aware of this transaction."

Jack Clancy's granddaughters added: "Truly, the idealism of some members of the nationalist movement was being thwarted by the ulterior motives of others. Jack was among the former, finding himself compelled to hand over public money against his better judgement. This was blatant robbery by a faction of the IRA but the loss of money to the Council cast a lifetime shadow over the integrity of our grandfather."

The following letter which was found among General Richard Mulcahy's papers adds further evidence to strengthen the claim that Jack was subjected to intimidation to hand over public money to an individual who was acting illegally.

"To: The Brigade Commandant, Sligo. Will you let me have a report on the allegation that a local Volunteer, named Bradshaw, is demanding the sum of £1,000 from the Sligo County Council.

"If, by any chance, the action is as alleged, it is entirely irregular and action in the matter should be withheld pending your reporting on the matter here."

Following the robbery, Jack Clancy felt obliged to resign as secretary of Sligo Committee of Agriculture, but stayed on as a member of the County Council.

At a meeting in 1922, TDs claimed that speakers during Arthur Griffith's visit were all threatened.

In 1926, he returned to his position as acting secretary of Sligo Committee of Agriculture until his ill health finally took its toll.

In May 1932, tragedy struck when Jack drowned in the river Shannon having moved back to Tipperary.

The inquest into his death ruled he died by accidental drowning, and there were no witnesses so what happened remains unclear.

With thanks to Maria Clancy Wootton, Anna Rachel Kilkenny and the 'Boherlahan - Dualla Historical Journal'.

Sligo Champion