Between the 1840s and the 1880s elections for the board of guardians were keenly contested and reflected in many ways the politics of the day, particularly the early elections which occurred during Daniel O’Connell’s move to repeal the act of Union, and the issues raised by the Irish National Land League in the 1880s.
However, after the first phase of the Land War (1879-1881), the power of these party candidates began to wane. In 1883 it was said that every Catholic member of the guardians had been voted out, except those who represented predominantly Catholic areas.
Three years later, in 1886, it was reported that the elections proved that the ‘Home Rule question was not making any progress in Protestant ranks’ and that the Irish National League candidates made little impact. By the early 1890s there were few contests at election time.
However, the early part of the twentieth century was marked by renewed contests with the nationalist candidates receiving support from the United Irish League (UIL) and other groups, while unionist candidates were determined to prevent the introduction of Home Rule which loomed continued to loom large on the Irish political landscape, both local and national.
For example, at the 1905 elections divisions such as Tullyniskin which ‘had never seen a contest before’, while Donaghmore having no contest at the previous election, were both keenly contested.
There were other examples of tensions at election time. In July 1920 pandemonium reigned at a meeting of the Board of Guardians in the workhouse when both nationalist and unionist members held their own meetings, elected their own officials and began to talk across one another, as the War of Independence intensified.
Again, in the early 1920s when the Boundary Commission were doing their work, the local election of guardians were hotly contested affairs.