Radical Politics in Interwar Ireland, 1923–39

  • Fearghal McGarry


The history of the Irish left has been one of false dawns and failure. The most unexpected result of the ‘pact’ general election of June 1922 was the spectacular performance of the Labour Party which won seventeen of the eighteen seats it contested, outpolling the anti-treatyites and taking over 30 per cent of the poll in some constituencies. As conservative a source as the Irish Times believed that ‘Labour has “arrived” as an important and highly organised factor in national affairs.’1 Yet in the following year’s general election, Labour’s vote plummeted from 21 per cent to 12 per cent: ‘Labour, not for the last time, snatched failure from potential success.’2 Labour’s 22 seats in June 1927 appeared to herald another breakthrough, but this figure dropped to thirteen seats only three months later following Fianna Fáil’s decision to enter the Dáil. Such results inevitably led to a certain degree of frustration among Labour activists: ‘How any working man or woman can feel justified in supporting Cumann na nGaedheal or Fianna Fâil is difficult to understand.’3 Not much had changed some six decades later in the summer of 1981 when, despite economic recession, high unemployment, continuing emigration and a near meltdown of public finances, the Labour Party suffered its worst general election performance since the 1950s.


Small Farmer Radical Politics Socialist Republican Class Struggle Labour Party 
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© Fearghal McGarry 2005

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  • Fearghal McGarry

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