Michael F. Cronin (1901-1982)
The Lamp, 2016-17, pages 56-60
Michael Finbar Cronin was born in Lorrha on the 26th September 1901. Seventeen years previously his father, Felix, had come to the parish as a National Teacher, all the way from Kilgarvan, Co. Kerry, where his parents had the Post Office.
Three years after arriving at Lorrha Felix married a girl called Mary Dalv from Kenmare and they had ten children, eight boys and two girls. Michael was the seventh son. One of his brothers, Felix, became a Major General in the Irish Army. Another brother, Tom, lost his life in a shooting accident while out fowling. Two other brothers made their names on the hurling field: Gerard hurled for Clare and played against Michael. Phil played for Dublin. Michael was to make his name playing with Lorrha and Tipperary, the highlight of his hurling career winning an All-Ireland senior title in 1930 and being part of the American Tour the Tipperary team made in 1931
Michael was educated in his father's school in Lorrha and went to secondary at De La Salle, Waterford. After completing the secondary course, he transferred to the Teacher Training College. He got a fine gold medal in recognition of his position as De La Salle hurling team captain, 1922.
On completing his teacher training he got a job at Lorrha and succeeded his father, almost immediately, as Principal. This was a controversial appointment as the practice was for a teacher to need five years’ teaching experience before becoming a Principal. The school manager, Fr. Gleeson, ignored the controversy, claiming that Michael was the best man for the job. The result was that when he retired in 1969, Michael Cronin must have been the longest serving National School Principal in the country. Later, he studied for his B.A. by driving to Galway after work. He was conferred in 1932 and received his Higher Diploma in Education the following year. He received an M.A. in 1935. He was also a fluent Irish speaker.
In an earlier article (Tipperary G.A.A. Yearbook, 1983), I gave a detailed account of Michael Cronin’s hurling life. On this occasion I want to concentrate on his political life, which involved being one of the early members of Clann na Poblachta in Tipperary, a member of North Tipperary County Council from 1950-1967, and being a candidate for the Dáil in the 1948 and 1954 General Elections.
Party Established 1946
Clann na Poblachta was established in July 1946 as a radical alternative to the Fianna Fail party, which at that point had been in office continuously since early 1932. Many of those associated with the Clann were disaffected Fianna Fail supporters and the party appealed to disillusioned young urban voters and republicans, who were tired of de Valera and Civil War politics. Some of the members of the new party came from the ranks of the Irish National teachers Organisation, whose Dublin members had engaged in a protracted strike with the government on the issue of pay.
The Clann set out to challenge Fianna Fail on economic and social policy in particular. The country was in a mess following the deprivations of the Second World War, suffering from emigration, economic stagnation, poor health and terrible housing conditions. For instance, over 4,000 people a year were dying of tuberculosis.
The new party’s primary purpose was to establish complete national independence and provide a decent living in a free Ireland for every citizen, who was able to engage in useful activity. It also claimed to stand for the ideals of the men of 1916.
The party got a great chance in 1947 when there were three bye-elections, in Dublin, Waterford and Tipperary. Clann na Poblachta decided to contest the three and won in Dublin and Tipperary.
The Tipperary candidate was Paddy Kinane of Upperchiurch, who had played a prominent part in the fight for freedom and was a strong supporter of Irish language and culture.
The bye-election was held on 29th October 1947 and it was the last election to be fought in the county as one constituency. It was called following the death of Clann na Talmhan T.D., William O’Donnell.
There were five candidates in the election and Kinane caused a sensation when he won the seat, even though he was well behind the Fianna Fáil front runner after the first count.
Sean Hayes (Fianna Fáil) 17,169
Paddy Kinane (Clann na Poblachta) 11,471
Col. Jerry Ryan (Fine Gael) 11,341
Denis O’Sullivan (Labour) 7,201
Michael Fitzgerald (Clann na Talmhan) 6,323
Kinnane caught up with Hayes in subsequent counts and was elected on the fourth with 23,265 votes to the Fianna Fáil candidate’s 21,647.
De Valera and Fianna Fail immediately recognised the threat caused by the new party and called a general election for 4th February 1948 in the hope of stymying the Clann’s progress. The result failed to reach their expectations.
His Political Beliefs
Michael Cronin worked for Paddy Kinane in the bye-election and when the General Election was called, was selected as a running mate for Kinane in the North Tipperary constituency.
In the course of the election he spoke at many political rallies and at Thurles on January 17, he elaborated on what the party stood for and what it would do for the Irish people.
He called Clann na Poblachta ‘a peace-loving, Christian, democratic party, whose political aim was the complete independence of Ireland and a 32-county republic.’
Economically, the party ‘would strive to develop their land and natural resources and their industries so that there would be a decent living for every citizen and a substantial volume of goods for export in order to pay for the materials, which they must necessarily import.’
He continued in the following vein: ‘They had a fertile land and a virile people and with full production and full employment there was no occasion for this proud nation to seek loans or charity from any other country. Must they go with hat in hand to beg for money or alms when they had the full means of production in their own country, good arable land, and willing workers to produce the bulk of their own requirements? Full production and full employment at a Christian family wage and related directly to the cost of living, would be assured if the people rallied around Sean McBride and Clann na Poblachta in the election.
‘Clann na Poblachta had a plan and a policy which would bring back to the Irish people their national self-respect, their complete political freedom, their economic opportunities and their cultural inheritance. Under the leadership of Sean McBride. Ireland would march forward to complete nationhood and to a fuller life for all its citizens,’
Cronin went on to describe the role of agriculture in the Irish economy: ‘Agriculture was their principal industry: it was the primary child of the nation and needed to be fostered and developed. Millions of acres, capable of producing excellent crops, but now flooded and incapable of yielding their best, must be drained and reclaimed and put to the best possible use.
The farmer must be encouraged to grow the crops best suited to his land and must be paid a price, which would be guaranteed over a number of years so that he could purchase in the certainty that he would be in a position to dispose of his products at a remunerative price and be enabled to pay the agricultural worker a proper wage for his labour. It was the first concern of Clann na Poblachta to ensure that the people of the land would have a decent honest livelihood in their own country.’
The 12th Dail was dissolved on January 14, 1948 and polling day was February 4. The electoral landscape was changed as a result of the Electoral (Amendment) Act 1947. This had increased the size of the Dáil from 138 to 147 seats. Another important change was the increase in the number of three-seat constituencies from 15 to 22. Under this change Tipperary was divided into two constituencies, Tipperary North with 3 seats and Tipperary South with 4 seats. Critics of the change claimed that the increase in three-seaters would enhance the chances of the bigger parties.
There were eight candidates in the new North Tipperary constituency for three seats. Four of the candidates, Mary B. Ryan, F.F., Andrew Fogarty, F.F., Paddy Kinane, C. na P., and Dan Morrissey, F.G., were outgoing T.D.s, so one was going to lose out. As it happened Andrew Fogarty was the one, falling between two stools in the political divide of the county.
The result of the first count was as follows in a total poll of 28, 217 with a quota of 7,055:
Dan Morrissey, F.G. 5656 (20.04%)
Mary B. Ryan, F.F. 4601 (16-31%)
Paddy Kinane, C.na P. 4502 (16.31%)
John Murphy, Lab. 4408 (15.62%)
Andrew Fogarty, F.F. 4377 (15.51%)
Thomas McDonagh, F.F. 2227 (7.89%)
Michael F. Cronin, C. na P. 1638 (5.81%)
Joubert Powell, F.G. 708 (2.51%)
Kinane, Ryan and Morrissey were elected in that order. A second Clann na Poblachts candidate, Timoney, was elected in South Tipperary. However, at national level the result was frustrating with only 10 T.D.s elected, in spite of receiving 13.3% of the national vote. A total of 93 candidates had stood for the party across the country but 51% lost their deposits.
Michael Cronin was disappointed but realistically it was never going to happen that Clann na Poblachta would get a second seat in a three seat constituency.
In his concession speech he said that Clann na Poblachta were idealists. They were a new party and had got a fine vote. Paddy Kinane eventually headed the poll and it was great that Sean McBride had done so in Dublin also. The party gave the lead in idealism. They had the youth of the country behind them. It would take some time before the youth had the majority. Clann na Poblachta stood for a sovereign Irish republic and he believed Sean McBride was the only man to achieve that result.
‘They owed allegiance to no one and never would and it would be the men who believed in Ireland Gaelic and free, who would achieve an independent republic, . . The party would get what they wanted by democratic means and they would one day rule the country, when the people would get freedom, democracy, prosperity and independence.’
The new Dáil met on February 18 to form a new government. De Valera was defeated by 75 votes to 70 for Taoiseach and a compromise candidate from Fine Gael, John A. Costello, was elected by 75 votes to 68. Four Independent T.D.s voted for de Valera in the first vote but two of them abstained in the vote for Costello.
The new government under Costello was known as the inter-party government. Clann na Poblachta became part of it following intensive debate and the decision was poorly received by a large minority, especially on the republican side, who found it loathsome to be political bed-fellows with Fine Gael. The party got two prestigious ministries with External Affairs going to Sean McBride and Health going to Dr. Noel Browne.
Decline of the Party
It has been said of Clann na Poblachta that the party reached the zenith of its power in the bye-elections of 1947 and that its decline began when it joined the interparty government in February 1948. As already stated the decision to go into power was not well received by many in the party. The party’s central organisation was weak and it became riven by disputes and personalities. The fact that the leader was away much, as Minister for External Affairs, didn’t help matters either. And, then the fate of Noel Browne in the Mother and Child controversy led to the party’s terminal decline. Many T.D.s resigned in sympathy with the Minister for Health.
The result of all this was that they lost eight seats in the 1951 General Election. Three were returned in 1954 and they supported the second interparty government but withdrew their support in 1956 because of the government’s I.R.A. stance. The party won one seat – John Tully in Cavan – in 1957 and he retained it in 1961 and 1965. Eventually, having struggled on to the latter year, the party was dissolved following a special Árd Fheis in July.
The decline of the Clann na Poblachta is reflected in the party’s share of the national vote between 1948 and 1965. It peaked at 13.3% in 1948, declined to 4.1% in 1951, to 3.8% in 1954, to 1.7% in 1957, to 1.1% in 1961 and to 0.8% in 1965. Decline in North Tipperary
This decline in North Tipperary was equally dramatic. From 22.1% in 1948 the percentage of the vote for Clann na Poblachta dropped to 9.2% in 1951. There was a slight recovery to 10.00% in 1954 but further decline to 5.7% in 1957. The party didn’t contest the 1961 election in the constituency.
Michael Cronin didn’t run in the 1951 election. The three T.D.s elected were Dan Morrissey, F.G., John Fanning, F.F. and Marty Ryan, F.F. Paddy Tierney, Lab., contesting for the first time came fourth and Paddy Kinane came fifth with 2,601 votes as distinct from a combined vote of 6,140 for Clann na Poblachta in the 1948 election
Michael Cronin went forward again in the 1954 election and the combined vote of the party increased slightly. The three outgoing T.D.s, Morrissey, Ryan and Fanning, retained their seats. Paddy Kinane received 1898 votes or 6.72% of the poll, and Michael Cronin received 935 votes or 3.31% of the poll.
The party’s final fling was in 1961. Dan Morrissey, F.G. didn’t stand and the party failed to get a seat. Fianna Fail retained their two seats with John Fanning and Mary Ryan and Paddy Tierney, Lab. got elected for the first time.
Neither Paddy Kinane or Michael Cronin stood for Clann na Poblachta. Daniel Kennedy was the party’s candidate and he received 1537 votes or 5.7%. The party didn’t contest the constituency after that.
Michael Cronin was one of four councillors elected to North Tipperary County Council for the Borrisokane Area between 1950 and 1967.
In the 1951 local elections the electorate in the Borrisokane area was 6751, the turnout was 3637, the valid poll was 3601 and the quota was 721.
The results of the First Count were as follows:
Paddy Tierney, Lab. 913 (25.4%)
William Brennan, F.F. 816 (22.7%)
Martin Collins, F.G. 570 (15.8%)
Michael Cronin, C.na P. 523 (14.5%)
John Cahalan, F.F. 478 (13.3%)
James McGrath, C.na P. 188 (5.2%)
Michael Carroll, REP 113 (3.1%)
Michael Cronin was elected on the 5th count without reaching the quota.
The electorate in the 1955 local elections was 6,400, the turnout was 4235 and the quota was 836.
The results of the First Count were as follows:
Martin Collins, F.G. 1017 (28.7%)
Paddy Tierney, Lab. 895 (23.5)
John Cahalan, F.F. 868 (22.8%)
William Brennan, F.F. 526 (13.8%)
Michael Cronin, C.na P. 500 (13.1%)
Fifty transfers from Collins brought Cronin past Brennan in the second count and he got plenty of transfers in subsequent counts to be elected on the fourth count.
In the 1960 local elections the electorate was 6024, the turnout 3619, the valid poll was 3591 and the quota was 719.
The results of the First Count were as follows:
Paddy Tierney, Lab. 1068 (29.7%)
John Cahalan, F.F. 613 (17.1%)
Pat Cleary, F.G. 486 (13.5%)
Liam Whyte, F.G. 459 (12.8%)
Michael Cronin, C.na P. 435 (12.1%)
John Donoghue, F.F. 313 (8.7%)
Seamus Ó Slatarra, S.F. 217 (6.0%)
Tierney, Cahalan and Whyte were elected in that order and Croinin was elected on the Sixth Count
The next local election didn’t take place until 1967 and Michael Cronin stood as a Non-Party candidate on this occasion. The total valid poll was 4,110 and the quota was 823.
The results of the First Count were as follows:
Paddy Tierney, Lab. 863 (21.0%)
John Cahalan, F.F. 826 (20.1%)
Liam Whyte, F.G. 761 (18.5%)
James Darcy, F.G. 709 (17.2%)
John Cashen, 552 (13,4%)
Michael Cronin, Non-Party. 399 (9.7%)
Tierney and Cahalan were elected on the First Count and when Cronin was eliminated in the Second Count, his votes were distributed as follows: Whyte 146, Darcy 60, Cashen 90.
Whyte and Darcy were elected to the remaining seats. Following the count the remaining candidates sympathised with Cronin ‘who was a very good councillor and had served the area well.’
End of Political Career
This was the end of Michael Cronin’s political life. He was well got by all who knew him in politics and was noted for his loyalty. He was a member of the Library Committee and the Vocational Education Committee. His family- he married Madge Hoctor of Sharragh in 1938 and had three children, Clare, Felix and Mairead, who was tragically drowned in 1954- relate how avid a reader he was and how he enjoyed his membership of the Library Committee.