Laurence Ginnell

Laurence Ginnell (baptised 9 April 1852 – 17 April 1923) was an Irish nationalist politician, lawyer and Member of Parliament (MP) of the House of Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland as member of the Irish Parliamentary Party for Westmeath North at the 1906 UK general election. From 1910 he sat as an Independent Nationalist and at the 1918 general election he was elected for Sinn Féin.[1]

Laurence Ginnell
Laurence Ginnell.jpg
Teachta Dála
In office
ConstituencyWestmeath (1918–21)
Longford–Westmeath (1921–23)
Member of Parliament
In office
ConstituencyWestmeath North
Personal details
Born(1852-04-09)9 April 1852 (baptised)
Delvin, County Westmeath,
Died17 April 1923(1923-04-17) (aged 71)
Washington, D.C., USA
Spouse(s)Margaret Wolfe (1882–83, widowed)
Alice King (married 1902)
OccupationBarrister / Author

Early lifeEdit

Ginnell was born in Delvin, County Westmeath in 1852, the son of Laurence Ginnell and Mary Monaghan and twin to Michael Ginnell.[2] He was self-educated and was called to the Irish bar as well as the England bar. In his youth he was involved with the Land War and acted as private secretary to John Dillon.

The last great social and agrarian campaign of the home rule movement – the Ranch War (1906 and 1909) – was largely led and organised by Ginnell from the central office of the United Irish League. Ginnell was elected an MP in 1906 and took his seat at Westminster, swearing allegiance to King Edward VII. On 14 October 1906, he launched the "war" at Downs, County Westmeath.

The purpose of the war was to bring relief to the large numbers of landless and smallholders, particularly in the West, who were relatively untouched by the Wyndham Land Purchase Act (1903) and by the larger policy of purchase. The strategy that Ginnell pursued was the Down's Policy, or cattle driving, a proceeding designed to harass the prosperous grazier interests, whose 'ranches' occupied large, under populated and under worked tracts. The 'Down's Policy' was also meant to draw public attention to the scandalous inequalities that survived in the Irish countryside. The conservatives within the Home rule leadership were understandably suspicious about the revival of agrarian disturbances, but the mood of the party organisation was hardening in the aftermath of a disappointing devolution bill in May 1907, from the new Liberal government, so that it seemed logical to turn to the traditional mechanism for reactivating the national question: agrarian agitation.[3]

Ginnell's cattle-drives began to tail off after the summer of 1908, and the agitation was finally dissolved with the passage of a 1909 Act by the Liberal Chief Secretary Augustine Birrell that allowed the transfer to the Land Commission of farmland by compulsory purchase, which was hailed by the national movement as an historic victory. In reality, the Ranch War involved an implosion within sectors of the Irish Party, as its leadership had not facilitated the working of the Wyndham Land Purchase Act in the first place, because John Dillon and his like wanted conflict above victory.[4]

In 1909 Ginnell was expelled from the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) for the offence of asking to see the party accounts, after which he sat as an Independent Nationalist. During this time he was addressed frequently as "The MP for Ireland". At Westminster he was highly critical of the British Government's war policy, and its holding of executions of certain participants in the Easter Rising of 1916. On 9 May he accused the British Prime Minister H. H. Asquith, of "Murder", and was forcibly ejected from the assembly. He visited many of the prisoners who were interned in various prisons in Wales and England, and smuggled out correspondence from them.[citation needed]

Sinn FéinEdit

In 1917 he campaigned to try to ensure the election of Count Plunkett in the Roscommon North by-election in which he defeated the IPP candidate on an abstentionist platform. Following the victory of Éamon de Valera in East Clare, while standing for Sinn Féin, on 10 July 1917, Ginnell joined Sinn Féin.

At the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis that year, at which the party was re-constituted as a Republican party with de Valera as President, Ginnell and W. T. Cosgrave were elected Honorary Treasurers. He was imprisoned in March 1918 for encouraging land agitation, and later deported to Reading Gaol. In the 1918 general election, he was elected as a Sinn Féin MP for the Westmeath constituency, comfortably defeating his IPP challenger. After his release from prison, he attended the proceedings of the First Dáil. Along with fellow TD James O'Mara he was one of the only TDs ever before to sit in a parliament.

He was one of the few people to have served in the House of Commons and in the Oireachtas. He was appointed Director of Propaganda in the Second Ministry of the Irish Republic.

After spending a year as a Republican campaigner in Chicago, he was appointed the Representative of the Irish Republic in Argentina and South America by de Valera. He carried out his propaganda work here to distribute copies of the Irish Bulletin and to provide the Sinn Féin version of the conflict during the War of Independence. On 16 August 1921 he returned home to attend the first meeting of the Second Dáil. He travelled back to Argentina some months later to serve as the Representative of the Republic there.

Anti-Treaty opinionEdit

He opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty that was ratified by the Dáil in January 1922, and was elected as an anti-Treaty Sinn Féin TD at the 1922 general election on the eve of the Irish Civil War.[5]

On 9 September 1922, Ginnell was the only anti-Treaty TD to attend the inaugural meeting of the Provisional Parliament or Third Dáil. Before signing the roll Ginnell said: "I want some explanation before I sign. I have been elected in pursuance of a decree by Dáil Éireann, which decree embodies the decree of 20 May 1922. I have heard nothing read in reference to that decree, nothing but an Act of a foreign Parliament. I have been elected as a member of Dáil Éireann. I have not been elected to attend any such Parliament. Will anyone tell me with authority whether it is …". He was at this point interrupted but resumed saying he would sign the roll and take his seat in the Assembly if the Assembly was Dáil Éireann. He was informed he was not allowed raise any such question until a Ceann Comhairle had been elected. He continued to ask questions regardless to which he got no answer including his question: "Will any member of the Six Counties be allowed to sit in this Dáil?".[6] W. T. Cosgrave moved at this point that he be excluded from the House, Ginnell protested, and he was dragged out by force.

De Valera later appointed him a member of his "Council of State", a twelve-member body set up to advise him on the deteriorating situation in the civil war. He returned to the United States soon afterwards to serve as the Republic's envoy in the country. He ordered Robert Briscoe and some of his friends to take possession of the Consular Offices in Nassau Street, New York City, then in the hands of the Free State Government, so as to obtain the list of the subscribers to the bond drive organized to aid the struggle in the War of Independence. At the time a court case was ongoing to decide on whomsoever had the right to the funds: the newly installed Provisional Government or de Valera, as one of the three trustees among the anti-Treatyites. Ginnell died in the United States on 17 April 1923, aged 71, still campaigning against the Anglo-Irish Treaty.[citation needed]


  1. ^ "Laurence Ginnell". Oireachtas Members Database. Retrieved 27 April 2009.
  2. ^ "Birth Death Marriage Genealogy Records Ireland - Irish Family History Foundation". Retrieved 14 May 2017.
  3. ^ Jackson, 2003, p. 110-113
  4. ^ Jackson, 2003, p. 113
  5. ^ "Laurence Ginnell". Retrieved 27 April 2009.
  6. ^ Election of Ceann Comhairle Archived 2 December 2010 at the Wayback Machine Dáil Éireann, volume 1, 9 September 1922


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