A n unusual feature of parliamentary representation, back in the time when Irish MPs were returned to Westminster, was that the elected candidates often had little or no connection with the constituencies they represented.
And so it was in 1885 that John Deasy, a Corkman, was selected by the Irish Parliamentary Party to contest the newly created seat of Mayo West. Up to then, the whole county of Mayo had been represented by two MPs, but 1885 saw both the extension of the franchise and the creation of four Mayo constituencies (north, south, east and west), each to return one member.
All of this was at a time when the Irish were finding a new voice at Westminster, the call for Home Rule was getting louder, tenant rights was becoming the burning issue of the day. Deasy’s candidature was warmly welcomed, not least by the Catholic clergy who enthusiastically backed him and had no hesitation in publicly supporting him on the platform. The result was a sweeping victory for Deasy, who polled an incredible 4,790 votes against 131 for his only rival, RV Stoney of Rosturk Castle, representing the Irish Conservative Party.
Things went well for Deasy. He was returned unopposed in the general election of the following year, and in 1892 he was again returned with a massive majority over his opponent, John O’Connor Power.
But then misfortune struck. Arriving to his Pimlico lodging house one evening ahead of the parliamentary session, he checked into his room and was followed by Ellen Lewis, a young servant girl, who proceeded to light the candles in the room and take the guest’s order for supper. What happened next was to become the cause of his downfall.
The girl claimed that Deasy pushed her onto the bed and made unwelcome advances. Deasy claimed that the girl had tripped over, fell on the bed and, as he helped her up, he playfully offered a kiss. The landlady, Mrs Postlethwaite, arrived on the scene and after a heated exchange between herself and the guest, things seemed to settle down.
Little more was said of the incident, and Deasy had reason to hope that the worst was over. However, a week later, as he walked to Westminster, the lurid headline on a newspaper stand caught his eye – ‘The Member and the Maid’. With growing horror, he read on to have his worst fears confirmed. Yes, he was the member in question, and Miss Lewis was the maid.
In July, 1893 Deasy was tried at London County Sessions for the indecent assault of Ellen Lewis. Several high profile MPs testified to his good character. Eventually, the jury found him not guilty of indecent assault but guilty of common assault. He was fined £25, a considerable amount for the time, together with costs. A few days later, John Deasy resigned his Mayo West seat; within three years, at the age of 39, he was dead from TB.
Deasy was succeeded by Dr John Ambrose, a Limerick surgeon who had a lucrative practice in London, but who was a staunch advocate of tenant rights in Ireland. Ambrose was returned unopposed in three subsequent elections before vacating the seat in favour of William Doris, co-founder of The Mayo News.
Doris held the seat for eight years before being ousted in the landmark 1918 election by Joseph MacBride, representing the triumphant Sinn Fein.
That was the election which, 100 years ago, saw an end to Irish representation at Westminster, the founding of Dail Eireann, and many years of electoral success for Joe MacBride.