Ulster University to host conference on historic 1918 general election in Belfast

Eamon De Valera, seen here at Downing Street in the 1930s, was Sinn Féin leader in 1918. Picture: PA
Robert McNamara

THE centenary of the most important general election in 20th century Ireland is being marked on Saturday by a conference at Ulster University, Belfast.

The postwar general election of December 1918 is one of the key events in Ireland's modern history. Constitutional nationalism was swept away by the reborn republicanism of Sinn Féin in three of Ireland's four provinces.

It was not, however, an unvarnished triumph for the more radical Irish nationalism forged by Easter 1916 and the conscription crisis of 1918. The unionist position in north-east Ulster was further entrenched, and the outlines of a future partitioned island became apparent from the electoral map.

While the revolutionary outcomes of the election have dominated historical analysis, it was also the most democratic election seen in Ireland up to that point. For the first time all men could vote, as could most women over 30. The electorate swelled from 800,000 to two million voters, providing a unique opportunity for radical political change.

The conference, open to interested members of the public, will explore both the politics of the moment and its wider social context.

Why did Sinn Féin triumph? How did the enfranchisement of women shape the election and the status of women in society? How did unionists and Britain respond? How was the election shaped by local and global concerns during a period of rapid revolutionary change?

Speakers include Diane Urquhart (Liverpool), Claire McGing (Maynooth), Colin Reid (Sheffield), Helga Woggon, Eamon Phoenix, Lord Bew (QUB), Michael Laffan (UCD), and Fearghal McGarry (QUB).

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