'To raise the banner in the remote North' : Politics in County Monaghan, 1868-1883.
This study examines the evolution of the political process
in the Ulster county of Monaghan during the period 1868-1883.
Considerable attention has been given to the social, economic
and geographic features from the end of the sixteenth century.
In addition, a survey of the parliamentary representation of
Monaghan from the Act of Union to the general election of 1865
has been undertaken. This extended treatment of the socioeconomic
and political background is regarded as essential to a
clear appreciation of political behaviour at constituency level
in the later nineteenth century.
The period 1865-1883 saw a most significant change in the
parliamentary representation of the county. Monaghan had always
been regarded as a stronghold of Irish Conservatism, albeit with
occasional Whig interludes. In 1865 one of the seats was captured
from the Tories by a member of the local Liberal ascendancy.
Our period, then, opened with the representation of Monaghan split
between the two major British parties.
The 'Disestablishment Election' of 1868 saw the Conservatives
regain control of the county's second seat. Thereafter that
party's hegemony was threatened first by the conservative constitutional
nationalism of the Home Government Association and later,
in 1880, by the Ulster Liberals. Advocating strong tenant right
principles, the Liberal party nominees defeated both Conservative
members. The result appeared to be a vindication of non-sectarian
class politics. The key to victory had been held by a relatively
small number of Liberal Presbyterian tenant farmers.
In 1883 one of the M. Ps. resigned, and the ensuing byelection
pitted a local Liberal Presbyterian against a Conservative
and Tim Healy, the nominee of Charles Stewart Parnell and
the Irish National Party. The result saw a narrow victory for the
Nationalist candidate over his Conservative counterpart with the
Liberal receiving an embarrassingly small vote.
The massive decline in the Liberal vote between the contests
of 1880 and 1883 looks anomalous. However, it is argued here
that the 1880 result reflected an anti-Conservative rather than a
pro-Liberal vote on the part of the Catholics. In other words,
the sectarian nature of politics in Monaghan which had been such
a prominent feature of the county had not been interrupted.
The thesis narrates the story of Irish politics during this
most formative period, and relates it to a local study. By so doing it illustrates the strongly sectarian dimension to Irish
politics. In the late nineteenth century few, if any, public
issues could be fully divorced from the religious factor. The
rhetorical expression of political ideals might appear nonsectarian
at Westminster, but in the Monaghan region their
true nature was indicated by the manner in which the population
reacted to them. Thus the real significance of the political
activities of the representatives of the two traditions can
often by more fully appreciated when related to constituency
Monaghan occupied a peripheral position on the borders of
Ulster. Its population was around 75% Catholic during the second
half of the nineteenth century. This means that Monaghan
offers an illuminating example of the interaction of Protestant
Ulster and Catholic Ireland. The activities of the county's
Protestant and Catholic populations, its Orangemen and its
Fenians, its various groups of clergy, its Protestant landlords
and its Catholic Bishop, all constituted the political life of
'the county of the little hills'.
Today Monaghan's geographic position places it in the front
line of an assault upon Northern Ireland. Once again the people
of the county are strategically placed in relation to national
and sectarian confrontations on the island - plus ca change plus
la reste meme.