A Tale of Three Dillons 1816-1986- Ballagh Gala Reunion 1998

John Blake Dillon was born in Ballaghaderreen in 1816, son of Luke Dillon, an evicted tenant from lissine who moved into town and started a small business. He was educated in trinity College Dublin and qualified as a Barrister in 1841, and practiced in America for a few years. Prior to that, he was involved with the Young Irelanders and the unsuccessful Fenian uprising in 1848. He, along with Thomas Davis and Charles Gavin-Duffy founded the newspaper “The Nations” in 1847 – A voice for the oppressed. In 1865 he was elected M.P. for Tipperary but died suddenly a year later while on a trip to Kerry aged fifty years. He is buried in Dublin

John Dillon was born in Blackrock, Co. Dublin in 1851 and was educated in the Catholic University of Dublin and qualified as a surgeon (L.R.C.S.I.). Later he made politics his vocation and was returned as a Nationalist M.P. for Tipperary in the General Election of 1880. He was son of John Blake-Dillon and Adaline Harte, a Dublin woman. He was closely identified with the “Plan of Campaign” then a proscribed Agrarian movement. In November 1886 while carrying that plan into operation in Loughrea by receiving the rents from the tenants he was arrested by the police. He was subsequently tried for the offence but was not convicted. On May 11th 1888 at the petty sessions in Drogheda, he was charged with and convicted for: having on April 8th 1888, at Tullyallen, Co. Louth, taken part in the criminal conspiracy known as the ‘’Plan of Campaign’’ (against high rents by absentee landlords) was sentenced to six months imprisonment. The sentence was confirmed on appeal on June 21st. He was then sent to Dundalk prison, but was released in September 1888. In 1890 he returned from a tour of the Australian colonies where he collected large contributions in aid of the Nationalist cause and Agrarian Reform. He was arrested in September 1890 and tried on a political charge but escaped while out on bail with William Smith O’Brien M.P. to Cherbourg. From there he escaped to the U.S.A. and in February 1891 surrendered himself and was later in Galway Jail. He was released on July 30th 1891.

On the 9th of August 1891 while on a visit to Mallow he delivered a speech repudiating the leadership of Charles Stewart Parnell. The infamous spilt was now taking place in the Nationalist Party as a result of the Parnell/ Kitty O’Shea affair. Parnell was by now a broken man but still managed to address a Land League meeting in Creggs, Co. Roscommon but died about a week later. Prior to 1898, Ballaghaderreen was part of Co. Mayo and was in East Mayo electoral area. The returns for the 1895 election were: Total electorate: 8053. John Dillon (Nationalist): 2621. John Fitzgibbon (Parnellite): 257. Only those with property worth a certain valuation (£10) could vote, hence the low electorate for East Mayo. John Dillon was first elected for East Mayo in 1885 and held the seat until 1918 when he was defeated by Eamonn De Valera. Mr De Valera received double the number of votes of Mr. Dillon. The Nationalist Party was by now almost finished and was superseded by Sinn Féin who won the majority of the seats in the 1918 32 county election. He subsequently retired from politics and returned to manage the family business known as Monica Duff and Co. LTD. Which he inherited from his cousin Anne Deane (nee Duff) in Ballaghaderreen.

A bitter general strike affected his business at the time and he referred to the strikers as ‘’Bolshevics’’. It could be said he was a radical in National politics and a conservative in private business but he certainly left his mark on the political scene for posterity. His greatest achievements were in his contributions towards securing the lands acts which guaranteed the security of tenure of land for the tenants and an end to evictions. Influencing the British Government to halt the executions of the 1916 volunteers. Sharing the same anti-conscription platform as Eamonn De Valera in 1918. He died in 1927 and is buried in Dublin.

James Mathew Dillon was born in North Great Georges Street, Dublin in 1902. He was son of John Dillon M.P. and Elizabeth Matthew, was educated in St. Benedict, Gorey and U.C.D., qualified as a lawyer but never practiced. He went to U.S.A to study business methods in various locations. He returned to Ireland and entered politics first as a member of the Roscommon Co. Council where he became involved in the new water supply system and sewerage systems. In 1932 he was elected T.D. for Donegal as an Independent and like most other T.D’s of that period promised among many other things ‘Shoes for the footless’’ if elected. As a member of the National Centre Party along with Frank McDermot of Coolavin joined with W.T. Cosgrave of Cumann na nGael and General Eoin O’Duffy the then dismissed Commissioner of the Gárda Síochána who now had formed his own organisation called the Army Comrades Association to form the new party called Fine Gael.

In 1937 he changed from Donegal to Monaghan after Ernest Blythe had lost his seat in Monaghan previously. He was re-elected for the next ten General elections often heading the poll, even when he advocated the abandonment of neutrality in the early years of World War II when Germany posed a major threat to Britain and Ireland, he was still re-elected with a safe majority. He once said he would rather be dead than alive under Nazi tyranny. Earlier in the 1930’s when approached by Cumann na nGael and Fianna Fáil to join their parties, declined the offer and declared that they were both a branch of Sinn Féin as the architect of all our misfortunes. In 1942 he resigned from Fine Gael over the neutrality issue and stood as an Independent in 1943 and was elected. The following year 1944 he stood again as an Independent in Monaghan and was re-elected topping the poll with over 8,000 votes. The first political meeting he attended was with his father at the Baileboro convention in Co. Cavan in the by-election of September 1917 where Arthur Griffith defeated the Nationalist candidate – O’Hanlon.

In the middle of the proceedings Griffith was arrested and put in jail and won the seat with a substantive majority of votes. On Easter Monday 1916 he was returning from a visit to the zoo with Gerard Sweetman on the top of an open tram. At Dorset St. they found themselves in the middle of the Lancers galloping towards the G.P.O. where there was some kind of a ‘‘riot’’ taking place. After the 1916 rising when the executions commenced his father and Lord Winbourne called on General Maxwell and urged him to stop the executions. He then left for and secured an undertaking from the Prime Minister Mr. Asquith that there would be no further executions until the situation had been debated in the House of Commons. Asquith then left immediately for Dublin and assumed the post of Chief Secretary himself suspended Martial Law and there after no more executions took place.

In the Dáil, James Dillon was the quintessence of the Independent T.D. He could support the Fianna Fáil Government and could be very critical of his colleagues when in coalition Government. He once described the coalition Governments of 40’s-50’s of which he was Minister of Agriculture in both, as a bunch of  ‘‘mixum Gatherums’’. He even described our system of parliamentary democracy as the worst in the world after all the others, but what was important was the fact that normal democracy was taking place (without the gun) based on free elections. On matters of foreign affairs he once described Sean McBride as having the judgement of a hen, another government minister, Joe Blocwick couldn’t read. General Sean McEoin was Minister of Justice when an adoption bill was brought before the cabinet for discussion. McEoin consulted with Archbishop McQuaid about the bill and afterwards announced ‘‘he wasn’t having it’’- the matter proceeded no further. Less than a year later when out of office and Gerry Boland was Minister for Justice, the bill was introduced without any fuss at all. He deemed McEoin as a simple man who would not cross an Archbishop. Dillon could always be relied on to liven up a dull debate. Once when he was ridiculed by Eamonn De Valera about his pro-British  stand on World War II he boomed out: ‘‘my ancestors fought for Ireland down the centuries on the continent of Europe while yours were banging banjos and bartering budgies in the backstreets of Barcelona.

While Minister for Agriculture he introduced the land project trade agreements with Britain etc. which were a big help for the farmers, in particular the small farmers. In 1959 he was elected leader of Fine Gael with a count of 66 votes to Declan Costello’s 26 votes and Liam Cosgraves 6 votes. He retired after the 1965 General Election which was lost narrowly to Fianna Fáil. He married Maura Phelan from Clonmel in 1942 and had one son John Blake Dillon born in 1944. He died in February 1986 and is buried in the family plot in Kilcoman with his great grandfather Luke Dillon and other members of his family. The British Ambassador Sir Alan Goodison attended the funeral- a symbolic gesture.