When the prisoners were released, a new personage immediately came into the public eye. It was certain that one of them would be nominated to contest the vacancy in East Clare left by Willie Redmond’s death; the choice fell on Mr. de Valera; and the world learnt that in these months while the imprisoned Sinn Feiners had been discussing their plans for the future—for the right of association as political prisoners had been conceded to them—this young man had been recognized by his fellows as the leading spirit. Ireland as a whole knew nothing of him. He was the son of a Southern American and a county Limerick woman; scholarly, a keen Gaelic Leaguer, by profession a teacher of mathematics. In the rebellion he had held Boland’s bakery, a large building covering the approaches to Dublin from Kingstown by rail; he had been the last of the leaders to surrender, and had earned high opinions by his conduct in these operations. This was the Sinn Fein candidate for East Clare—a county where “extreme” men had always been numerous.
The view was expressed that he should have been opposed by one who took up the cause where Willie Redmond left it—by a soldier who was a strong Nationalist and strongly identified with the Parnellite tradition. It was decided that we should stand a better chance if constitutional Nationalism were represented by a Dublin lawyer with close personal ties to the constituency. How it would have gone had a soldier been put up, no man can say; but it could not have gone worse. Mr. de Valera won by a majority of five thousand. He was a stranger, but he stood for an ideal. The alternative ideal—which was John Redmond’s and Willie Redmond’s—had never been put before the electors. The election was, rightly, taken as a repudiation of Redmond’s policy; but in it Redmond’s policy had gone undefended.
The newly elected Sinn Fein leader was very prominent in these days, and a good deal of his eloquence was spent in ridicule of the Convention. That body was certainly starting its task under the most unpromising auspices.
The first meeting was fixed for July 25. On the evening before, Redmond came up and there was an informal discussion between the Nationalist members of Parliament and the Catholic Bishops. There were four of each group. Five members had been allowed to the party and as many to the Ulstermen. Redmond was not present at the meeting when selection was made, but he recommended a list, consisting in addition to himself of Mr. Dillon, Mr. Devlin, and Mr. Clancy, K.C.—the latter having been always his most trusted adviser in all points of draftsmanship and constitutional law. My name was added in the place which should have been his brother’s, as representing Irish troops.