by Sean Ryan
Longford recently remembered a former Home Rule MP who represented the north Longford constituency 100 Years ago.
James P Farrell, who also founded the Longford Leader newspaper, certainly had a circuitous, if not interesting political career. He stood as an Anti-Parnellite candidate at the general election in July 1895 in Kilkenny City, where the outgoing Anti-Parnellite MP Thomas Curran was not standing again.
Farrell lost narrowly to the Parnellite candidate, Patrick O’Brien by a margin of only 667 votes to 681, but a vacancy arose immediately in west Cavan. Edmund Vesey Knox, who had been West Cavan’s MP since 1890, was re-elected there in 1895 but also won a seat in Derry City, and chose to sit for the latter.
The resulting by-election in West Cavan was held on 2 August, 1895, and Farrell was elected unopposed in the first by-election of that Parliament.
Farrell was a fervent supporter of land reform and spoke and wrote frequently on the subject. He was imprisoned four times between 1890 and 1910 and during his last imprisonment in Kilmainham Gaol contracted an illness, which may have led to his death, aged 56, in 1921.
When the split in the Irish Parliamentary Party was resolved in time for the 1900 general election, Farrell did not seek re-election in Cavan, but stood instead in north Longford, where he was returned unopposed.
He was popular in the constituency as he had previously founded the Longford Leader newspaper there in 1897 and produced a number of books including A History of County Longford. Farrell was also a founder of the GAA in Longford and served as a councillor.
He was re-elected unopposed again in 1906, and at both elections in 1910 but at the 1918 general election he was heavily defeated in the new Longford constituency by the Sinn Féin candidate Joseph McGuinness.
Recently, a plaque dedicated to Member of Parliament (MP) was unveiled by former Taoiseach John Bruton at the Market Square in Longford Town. The event was organised jointly by County Longford Historical Society and the Farrell family, with the support of Longford Municipal District, which gave permission for the plaque to be erected on the building.
Indeed, speaking at a reception in St Mel’s College following the unveiling, former Taoiseach John Bruton alluded to the former MP’s fight for the rights of the people he represented in the Longford/west Cavan Constituency.
“It is too easy to forget what was achieved by JP Farrell,” Mr Bruton told the large crowd that gathered to join in proceedings. He added ‘’But it is worth recalling what JP Farrell, John Redmond, John Dillon and all of those people who laboured long and hard did serving and advancing the interests of Ireland.”
Mr Bruton went on to say that the most important achievement of JP Farrell’s life took place on September 12th, 1914 when Home Rule became law. “This was very important – Home Rule became law over the heads of the House of Lords, over the heads of repeated rejections by the English, Scottish and Welsh people – and Ireland achieved a right to independence,” he continued. “However, none of that succeeded in avoiding partition because partition is there still’’.
Mr Bruton added “JP Farrell and John Redmond were condemned, including by the Bishops in the Longford By-Election in 1917, because they had accepted temporary partition; people that the bishops supported ended up accepting permanent partition, which we have to this day’’.
Mr Bruton said ‘’So Home Rule, with the consent of the British people without a single shot being fired, was undoubtedly the big achievement for JP Farrell and with that came the ending of landlordism’’. He added “The land of Ireland, which previously was held by people who had gained it through military conquest in the 17th century, was handed back to the people who were actually working the land. That too was done peacefully.”
After losing his seat in the 1918 election, he died three years later aged just 56 years.
Also speaking at the unveiling, JP’s grandson Lucius Farrell, reflected on his grandfather’s life. “It is sad that he died aged only 56, and for the last three years of his life, he had to cope with the effects of a stroke. Of course, he had served spells in prison in earlier times, due to his involvement in land agitation, and that weakened his health,” said Lucius.