The Dillons moved to Ballaghaderreen in 1812 when Luke Dillon could no longer pay his land lease in the countryside. His son Thomas opened a shop in the town, this shop grew over the years and became the town’s biggest employer. The shop closed its doors in 1986. The Dillon family lived next door to their business in what is known as Dillon House, today it houses the public library and the Western Development Commission.
The Dillon family produced three generations of politicians, all were very prominent figures on a national level:
John Blake Dillon (1814-1866)
The first of these was John Blake Dillon. He became well known as one of the founders of the Nation, a journal which was a very valuable source in teaching Irish people about their country at a time when the newspapers available in Ireland had a British bias. He was involved with the young Irelanders, a group who used violence in an attempt to achieve their aims. The Irelanders gathered an army in their fight to help gain Irish Independence, resulting in the unsuccessful Fenian uprising in 1848. After the failed uprising Dillon fled the country as he was convicted of treason and sentenced to death. He returned to Ireland in 1855 and was elected as an MP for Tipperary in 1865. His promising political career was cut short when he died of cholera in 1866.
John Dillon (1851-1927)
The first step in John Dillons political career was becoming MP for Tipperary in 1880, he resigned from this seat three years later due to illness. He then went onto represent East Mayo in 1885 until 1918. Dillon was very active in the Land League, this was set up to change land reform in Ireland and get justice for tenants. Dillon along with Charles Stewart Parnell and Michael Davitt organised many meetings to inform the public of their rights and used many methods of campaigning, including boycotting. Dillon helped organise a campaign where tenants paid their rent to the Land League instead of their landlords, for his part in the campaign Dillon spent two months in prison.
In 1887, Dillon got 8,000 people to demonstrate outside a courthouse in Mitchelstown, Cork where his fellow land leaguer William O’ Brien was up on charges of inciting non-payment of rent. Three estate agents were killed and many people were injured as a result of this protest which has become known as the ‘Mitcheltown Massacre’’. In 1905 he was second in command of the Irish Parliamentary Party and succeeded John Redmond as leader in 1918, later that year he retired from politics after a poor election result. He took over the family business in Ballaghaderreen and died in 1927.
James Dillon (1902-1986)
James Dillon was first elected to the Dáil in 1932 as TD for west Donegal. He later went on to represent Monaghan from 1938-1969, winning 10 general elections. He was deputy of Fine Gael from 1938-1942, he left the party when it accepted de Valera’s policy of neutrality during World War II. Dillon was the only Irish politician who was in favour of the allies during World War II. He returned to Fine Gael in 1953 and went on to become Minister for Agriculture. He was elected leader of Fine Gael in 1959 where he remained leader until his retirement in 1965. He died in 1986 and received many tributes from his Dáil colleagues as a gifted orator.