The Returning Officer: Galway

Clerical influence was notorious in Irish elections of the 19th century. In Galway in 1872, a petition was brought against John Philip Nolan by his defeated opponent William Le Poer Trench (whose grandfather was the MP between 1801 and 1812).

Nolan had written to a Father Lavelle three months before the poll to organise a conference of the local clergy, the object of which would be to “to determine how far the clergy should go in asking tenants to vote against their landlords”. In summing up, Justice Keogh (who had been MP for Athlone) said it was clear that: “The archbishop . . . and greater part of the parish priests . . . strained every point . . . [and] moved every engine . . . to overthrow all free will and civil liberty in this portion of Ireland.” Nolan was disqualified but won the seat in 1874 and sat as an MP, on and off, until 1906.

This article first appeared in the 25 March 2013 issue of the New Statesman, After God