Sinn Fein Visits – May to June 1920

In 1920 South Kirkby and Moorthorpe, along with neighbouring South Elmsall, saw demonstrations by locals with Irish roots, including speeches by Sinn Fein at the Moorthorpe Miners’ Institute. At the time, as it does today, Moorthorpe had close Catholic ties. As part of the May Day celebrations speeches were given at the Miners’ Institute, in Moorthorpe, by John Guest, the Labour Member of Parliament for Hemsworth, and by Sinn Fein, as reported in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph on the 3rd of May 1920. John Guest MP was a former miner from South Hiendley, who worked his way up to Vice President of the Yorkshire Miners’ Association before being elected as the Member of Parliament for Hemsworth, with a slim 2,000 majority.  He held the seat for four terms, increasing his majority to 20,000 before his death, in 1931. At the May Day rally in Moorthorpe he was jeered and heckled by the large crowd, who openly applauded the denunciations of the government by Sinn Fein. In June 1920 sympathisers of the Irish cause descended upon the village from across the county, to witness the speech by Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington, of Sinn Fein, and to declare their support for their ancestral motherland. ‘Irishmen’ arrived en-mass and processed through the streets, headed by Irish pipers in national dress. The procession was said to have been over a mile in length. This meeting was reported in both the Sheffield Daily Telegraph and Sheffield Independent on the 21st of June 1920.

Father McNiff presented the Sinn Fein representatives with a cutlery set, on behalf of the people of Hemsworth and Moorthorpe. Mrs Sheehy-Skeffington was an Irish Nationalist and suffragette who campaigned hard for women’s rights and worker’s rights. She also objected to participation in the First World War and was prevented from attending the International Congress of Women in The Hague by the British Government, in 1915. During the Easter Rising of 1916 the husband of Mrs Sheehy-Skeffington was shot dead by British troops, leading the the already proud Republican to align herself with Sinn Fein. A family friend of James Joyce, author of Ulysses, Mrs Sheehy-Skeffington was a prominent figure in society and was publicly accused of pro German sentiment by the British government, eventually being barred from entering Britain until after the First World War. After the war she was imprisoned entering Britain and incarcerated in Holloway Prison, later openly supporting the IRA upon her release.

At her speech in Moorthorpe Mrs Sheehy Skeffington said that she hoped that people in England were sympathetic to Sinn Fein, stating that (in her belief) Sinn Fein and the Labour Party were natural allies. Sharing a public forum with the Labour constituency Member of Parliament she gave an account of the poor treatment of the Irish by British soldiers and pleaded with the English to “clear out”. The rallies and demonstrations by Sinn Fein sparked trouble in the area, with Irish bricklayers going on strike and bareknuckle fights breaking out between locals on more than one occasion, as reported in the Yorkshire Evening Post on the 29th of June 1920. In 1921 some locals viewed an unusual string of events in South Elmsall as being the work of Sinn Fein activists. In June 1921 Theaker’s Farm in South Elmsall was engulfed in flame for the second time inside two years, with arson suspected. The telephone lines from South Elmsall to Frickley Colliery were also found to have been cut. The police, however, felt that there was no Sinn Fein link and reprimanded culprits in possession of lengths of stolen wire and wire nippers. The motive put forward by the police was that the suspects were obtaining wire to make bird cages.

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