Nineteenth century Galway elections

Elections in the 19th century were a great deal more lively, entertaining, and violent than those of the present day.

In 1826 Humanity Dick Martin ran in an election against James Lambert. Martin was anxious to win because as a Member of Parliament, he could not be pursued by his numerous creditors. There was a lot of violence between rival factions, major riots, houses burned, many injured, and at least one man killed. Martin won by a landslide, but a Parliamentary enquiry found fraud on a massive scale, and also that the local authorities did nothing to quell the rioting, so Lambert was declared elected.

In 1856 it was O’Flaherty from Moycullen versus Monaghan from the Claddagh, and this rivalry led to serious rioting on the streets of Galway between the two groups of supporters which also involved the 10th Hussars. Monaghan won by four votes.

The 1872 by-election was one of the pre-Ballot Act contests that most explicitly highlighted the political climate, but the decisive victory achieved by the Home-Ruler, Captain Nolan, over the landlords’ champion, Captain Le Poer Trench, was overturned in Galway Courthouse by Judge Keogh on the grounds of “undue influence” being brought to bear on electors, particularly by the Catholic clergy. The election had been aggressively fought, with cars carrying Trench’s supporters to the polls receiving military protection. Judge Keogh’s judgement resulted in riots in Eyre Square, a police charge, all the windows in the County Club being smashed, and an effigy of the judge “blown to atoms with powder”.

The election of 1874 was interesting as the Conservative candidate withdrew before polling day and the contest was between Frank Hugh O’Donnell and Pierce Joyce Junior from Mervue. O’Donnell won by 579 votes to 358 in a victory that was a reflection of the growth of the cause of independence in the city.

The 1886 by-election was also historically important. Charles Stewart Parnell was having an affair with Kitty O’Shea, so when he nominated her husband William to contest the Galway election it caused consternation and a major split in his parliamentary party. In the face of Parnell’s resistance, the opposition collapsed and O’Shea beat the local candidate Lynch by a large majority. O’Shea was a Liberal, not a Nationalist, and he received death threats if he voted against the Home Rule Bill, so he wrote to The Times saying that he would not vote against the bill.

So we thought to show you two 19th century Galway election ‘manifestos’. The first is a ballad slip which was handed out by Martin Blake during the town election of 1835, the equivalent of the handouts given out by politicians today. Martin Blake had a lot more imagination than today’s lot.... “Those tithe eating gentry now expects your vote, but if you elect them the’d next cut your troat, Be advised by clergy the Lord sent quote you, So vote for Martin Blake and Sheela na Guire”.

For Sheela na Guire, read Ireland. Blake was victorious in the election.

As for Mr Guinnane Mullins from Loughrea, he was running in an election c1885. As you can see, he was very well connected through his wife’s relations and, “He will look after the interests of every man in East Galway who has a grievance” which might presume that nobody else had a grievance against these men. We don’t know whether Mullins was elected or not, he certainly proposed a lot, but the way he laid out his stall would have made it very hard to vote against him.

In the last century, before posters became popular, people used to paint their favourite candidate’s names on the road. The weather would eventually do the cleaning up.

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