The Political World

The most striking difference between the political world of 1904 and 2004 is that Ireland is a republic, no longer part of the British Empire. That Empire has now ceased to exist and politicians are now elected by universal suffrage, with the vote available to all adults regardless of gender or income.

Women did not have the vote in 1904, but agitation for this had begun towards the end of the nineteenth century and came to a head just before the World War with the arrests of suffragettes and their subsequent hunger strikes in England.

In terms of the status quo in Ireland in 1904 it was the wealthy male voter who needed to be wooed by politicians. For this voter the major question was still the issue of Home Rule.

The Land Question which had played such an important role in the politics of the nineteenth century had been finally settled with the Wyndham Land Act of 1903, which effectively ended the system of landed estates in Ireland. In contrast, Home Rule was still very much a live issue. The National Party had never fully recovered from the split caused by the Parnell scandal. John Redmond was an able leader, but Conservative dominance at Westminster meant that the National Party no longer had the influence they had wielded when Gladstone and the Liberals were in power. In what is now Northern Ireland opposition to Home Rule was becoming ever more vocal.


The National Question extended to local government, and set the political divisions in the historic Corporations and the new County Councils. Apart from the major alignments of Nationalists and Unionists, other elements such as Labour played a very small role in local authority politics. Joyce demonstrates the state of paralysis of such bodies, their begrudgery and their pettiness, in one of his most scathing stories, Ivy Day in the Committee Room.

The political world at the turn of the 20th century could not, therefore, be said to have been a very vibrant one at the level of the established powers. But an undercurrent of activity and a ferment of ideas was taking place among the intelligentsia of Ireland, a ferment that would lead the country to a future many would have found unimaginable in 1904.

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