Centenary of Laurence Ginnell’s death to be marked in Delvin

Ambassador of Argentina to unveil plaque in centre of village

A special event to mark 100 years since the death of the former MP and TD, Laurence Ginnell (1852-1923) will be held in Delvin on the afternoon of Sunday, May 14 (3pm).

The event will incorporate the unveiling of a plaque to the memory of Ginnell, the Delvin native, barrister, scholar, parliamentarian, propagandist and diplomat, who served the embryonic Irish state in both the United States and Argentina (1920-22).

The plaque, which is being installed in the plaza at the centre of Delvin (which is home to the handball alley), will be unveiled by Her Excellency, Ms Ana Laura Cachaza, the Ambassador of Argentina to Ireland.

This celebration of Ginnell’s life and career is organised by the Laurence Ginnell Commemorative Committee and Delvin Tidy Towns, with the support of Westmeath County Council’s Decade of Centenaries programme. While the event will start with the unveiling, it will also involve an exhibition at St Patrick’s Hall, featuring various documents, photographs, items and ephemera relevant to Ginnell’s life, and that of his wife and political comrade, Alice.

At the hall, a talk will be given by Dr Paul Hughes, historian, who is currently writing a biography of Ginnell. Light refreshments will also be served. Members of the Ginnell family will be present at the event.

The black marble plaque, made by Gibney Monumental Works, Mullingar, was one of two funded through the Ireland 2016 programme, one of which is located at the 1916 monument beside the Fair Green in Mullingar. After many efforts to find an appropriate location for the second plaque in Delvin, it will be installed at a spot in the village centre development, on the site of the old courthouse which was demolished during the early 2000s.

“A plaque is the very least of what there should be in Delvin and Westmeath to mark Ginnell’s life and legacy. He is the county’s strongest connection to the Irish Revolution, and his career was a running commentary on the turbulent events stretching from the late 19th century through the first quarter of the 20th century,” says Dr Hughes.

“As an eccentric and vocal member of the House of Commons in Westminster, he was a genuinely famous figure, and as much a feature of British political life as he was a figure of note in Ireland. 

“During the First World War, his parliamentary agitations against Irish involvement in the conflict reached international ears. After the 1916 rising, he became one of the most passionate and prominent defenders of the rebels in the House of Commons.

“As someone who followed this by going on to serve the Dáil and Irish republicanism in the United States and Argentina, Ginnell stands as one of the truly global figures of the Irish Revolution.

“It is entirely appropriate that his plaque is being installed at a site where British courts once operated, but which is now a hub of Irish sport, business, education and housing in the heart of Ginnell’s native village.”

Born in relative poverty in post-Famine Delvin, the self-educated Ginnell qualified as a barrister at the age of 41. He worked for the United Irish League, before being elected to the House of Commons in 1906 as MP for North Westmeath. He was the leader of the agrarian struggle known as the ‘ranch war’ (1907-9), during which he pioneered the use of cattle-driving as a political weapon.

After a stormy career in the ‘Mother of Parliaments’, he left Westminster in 1917 to join Sinn Féin, and was imprisoned several times. He was elected a TD in December 1918, went on to serve the revolutionary First Dáil as director of publicity, before representing the republic in Chicago and Buenos Aires.

Ginnell opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty, and died in Washington, DC on April 17, 1923, while campaigning against the Irish Free State. He was laid to rest in Clonarney graveyard, near Delvin two weeks later. All are welcome to the event in Delvin, which kicks off at 3pm on Sunday, May 14 with the unveiling of the plaque, before proceeding to the hall.

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