Genealogical and Historical Research Service in Ireland


Dividing Line on MC Researc, County Louth, website

Prior to 1872 voters were required to stand up and declare publicly their electoral allegiance. This resulted in tenants voting for their landlords or according to the wishes of the landlords.

By the Ballot Act of 1872 secret voting was introduced.

The importance of voting in secret was best explained in an article in the Dundalk Democrat dated 20 July 1872 (Louth County Library):-

‘At length the Ballot Bill has been passed .... What a long time it has taken to achieve this victory in the cause of justice? .... The great argument against it was that it was un-English. That is, that the English people were so stout and manly that they liked to vote in the faces of their neighbours, and act according to their convictions, careless what any one might say of them.

This argument, however, was only a fancy sketch. There never was a people who required secret voting more than the English .... Scarcely a voter was free to act according to his own wishes; and by terrorism and threats the aristocracy filled the house of Commons with their nominees ...’

In the case of Ireland the report goes on to state:

‘The system pursued by the wealthy and the powerful was fully as bad. How often have we seen long rows of cars filled with voters coming into the towns during contested elections, and guarded by military and police. The poor voters were treated like serfs, and taken to the poll as if they were beasts of burden, their own wishes and feelings being totally disregarded.’

On 18 May 1872 it stated:

‘It was really a painful sight to witness at some elections to this and other counties, men of intelligence voting contrary to their convictions, .... They dreaded to give an honest vote, lest they might be expelled from their farms, and sent out wanderers on the world. To preserve the shelter of a roof over their families, they voted for men who assisted in driving three or four millions of our people to foreign lands. They permitted themselves to be driven to the poll like a flock of sheep to a fair, and it was humiliating to the manhood of those looking on, to see them recording their suffrages for a person who would sell them and their country to the highest bidder.’

It was believed that the Ballot Act when passed would ‘put an end to all such disgraceful scenes, .... the humblest voter will be able to vote in secret; and if the people make mistakes, and elect men who will not attend to their interests, they will have no one to blame but themselves’. The importance of a secret ballot today is the same as it ever has been. In the polling booth the only person of importance is the elector there to cast his or her vote.

In 1884 the franchise was extended to all male householders. This measure together with the Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898 helped to reduce the landlord’s control of local government. Also it gave weight to the votes cast as been representative of the general population and helped towards Irish Independence.

By 1920 Arthur Griffith stated that for the whole thirty-two counties ‘nine of Ireland‘s eleven municipal corporations are pledged to the Republic and ninety of the 115 urban councils support the national claim.’ In fact in the local elections of that year the majority elected were in favour of independence. In an address to the Congress of the United States it was pointed out that:

Of the City and Urban Councils 77.0 per cent
of the Rural District Councils 88.4 “
of the Board of Guardians 89.6 “
of the County Councils 87.9 “
were carried in favour of the Republic, give allegiance to Dail Eireann (the National Assembly) and carry out its decrees.
(Source: James O’Mara Papers 1922 January -March Folder booklet entitled ‘Address to the Congress of the United States Adopted at the January Session of Dail Eireann 1921, p.8, National Library Ms 21550.)

The British Prime Minister also admitted in the House of Commons in April 1920-

“The elected representatives of Ireland now by a clear definite majority, have declared in favour of independence.”

                                   Link to Home Page                                  Link to County Louth Page.

Dividing line on MC Research webste

Please send any comments on above Genealogical & Historical Research Service by e-mail to:
© MP McConnon, MC Research, Seabank Road, Castlebellingham, Dundalk, County Louth, Ireland
(Original uploaded 9 April 2004) Last update 17 December 2022.