by Dr Michelle Doran
The North Roscommon by-election of 1917 was held on 3 February 1917. The by-election was called following the death of the Irish Parliamentary MP, James Joseph O’Kelly. It was called the Election of the Snows and it was won by the Sinn Féin candidate Count George Noble Plunkett (1851-1948), the father of Joseph Mary Plunkett (1887-1916) a signatory of the Irish Proclamation who was executed for his role in the Easter Rising. Count Plunkett’s victory was one of the most significant for early twentieth century Irish history and paved the way for Sinn Féin’s electoral success in the 1918 General elections.
Count George Noble Plunkett, of Papal Nobility, scholar and Irish nationalist, was born on 3 December 1851, at 1 Aungier Street, Dublin. The only surviving child into adulthood of Patrick Joseph Plunkett (1817-1918) and his wife Elizabeth, neé Noble, Count Plunkett was educated at Nice, the Oblate Father’s School at Upper Mount Street, Dublin, Clongowes Wood College, Co. Kildare and later attended Dublin University. On 4th April 1884, Pope Leo XII made him a hereditary count for his charitable donations to the nursing order of the Little Company of Mary (Blue Sisters).
On 26th June 1884 Plunkett married Mary Josephine Cranny (1858–1944). The couple had seven children: Philomena (Mimi) (b. 1886), Joseph Mary (b. 1887), Mary Josephine (Moya) (b. 1889), Geraldine (b. 1891), George Oliver (b. 1894), Fiona (b. 1896), and Eoin (Jack) (b. 1897).
In 1907, he became director of the National Museum of Ireland. As director, his policies increased annual visitor numbers from 100 to 3,000. In April 1916, he was sworn into the Irish Republican Brotherhood by Joseph Plunkett and he was subsequently sent to Europe to seek arms from Germany and a papal blessing for the Irish rebellion.
Following the defeat of the Rising, Count Plunkett was arrested on 28th of April and was interred at Richmond Barracks where he detained until 5th June. He was then deported together with his wife to Oxford and was expelled from the National Museum for his role in the rising. and the following January he was expelled by the Royal Dublin Society.
Included in the Letters of 1916 collection are two letters written by Count Plunkett during his time in Richmond Barracks. Both letters are addressed to his daughter Geraldine (Gerry) and were sent in May 1916. In the first letter, Plunkett requests food, refers to a visit by Geraldine that ‘lifted his heart’ and the ‘joy’ of being clean. He also asks that she communicates with her mother, who had also been arrested.
In the second letter, dated five days after the first, he refers to some good news delivered to Geraldine by a solicitor, perhaps referring to the commutation of the death sentences of his two sons George and Jack. He also requests some money and thanks Geraldine for food she had sent.
Count Plunkett’s sacrifices for the Easter Rising, including Joseph’s execution, earned him the nomination as the surviving rebels’ candidate in the Roscommon North by-election. Also included in the Letters of 1916 collection are three letters sent from Count Plunkett to Arthur Patrick O’Brien sent during his time in Oxford.
He returned to Ireland illegally on 31st of January 1917 and won the election three days later. Count Plunkett’s victory marked the ruin of the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) and a sign of the sign of how the people of Ireland had come to identify with the events of the Easter Rising.
Count Plunkett was elected as an MP in 1918 and a member of the first Dáil.
Letters in the Collection:
Dr. Michelle Doran completed a PhD. in Early and Medieval Irish Studies at University College Cork. She later returned to study Digital Humanities with An Foras Feasa, Maynooth University. She is currently employed as an intern with the Letters of 1916 project.
Laffan, M. “Aftermath of the Rising and 1917 By-Elections.” Audio blog post. The Irish Revolution, Lecture 5. Web. 23 Jan. 2017. <http://historyhub.ie/aftermath-of-the-rising-and-1917-by-elections-the-irish-revolution-lecture-5>.
O’Connor Lysaght, D. R. “Plunkett, George Noble, Count Plunkett in the papal nobility (1851–1948).” D. R. O’Connor Lysaght Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online ed. Ed. David Cannadine. Oxford: OUP, 2004. 27 Jan. 2017 <http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/54747>.