South Antrim 1950-1970

map results graph
Map and diagram by Conal Kelly

This constituency, located to the north and west of Belfast, was established in 1948 and incorporated the southern portion of the old county Antrim two-seat constituency. Between 1950 and 1970 the constituency was represented by three different MPs, all of whom were Unionist. The longest serving of these was Sir Knox Cunningham who was first elected in 1955 and continued to represent the constituency until his retirement in 1970. All elections held during this period were contested, with the exception of 1951. The declared winner was Unionist nominee and incumbent Douglas Savory. The constituency recorded the lowest turnout in 1950 general election.

See also election results for South Antrim 1973-1982, 1983-1992 and 1993-2007.

Results Table

1970w 61.1% 11.2% 0.9% 20.5% 6.2%
1966w 64.3%


1964w 69.9%

1959w 95.1%

1955w 90.7%

1951w *

1950w 83.6%


* The only candidate nominated for the 1951 General Election was Unionist Douglas Savory. He was therefore duly elected without a contest.

Westminster Election, 18 June 1970

James Henry Molyneaux (U) 59,589 (61.1%)
Robert Johnson (NILP) 19,971 (20.5%)
Thomas Hadden Caldwell (Ind U) 10,938 (11.2%)
Daniel J McAllister (NDP) 6,037 (6.2%)
Rodney Anthony Marshall Smith (Lib) 913 (0.9%)

Unionist majority: 39,618; electorate: 143,274; votes cast: 68.0%

After 15 years as an MP for South Antrim and a prior 10 years for Queens University, Knox Cunningham announced his retirement and did not seek re-election in 1970. In his place the Unionists selected James Molyneaux, Cunningham's agent and a member of Antrim County Council. He faced four opponents including an Independent pro-reform Unionist, Tom Caldwell, who represented Willowfield in the Northern Ireland House of Commons. The result was a comfortable win for Molyneaux by a margin of almost 40,000 votes. The NILP managed to come in second but at only 20% of the poll, losing ground on their 1966 result.

Molyneaux continued the record set by his predecessor by amassing the highest personal vote of the election in Northern Ireland but this was greatly assisted by the size of the electorate in South Antrim. At over 143,000, South Antrim was significantly larger than the Northern Ireland average of 84,766 and two and half times as big as the smallest constituency of South Belfast.

James Molyneaux would later lead the Unionist parliamentary party beginning in 1974 and assume the overall party leadership in 1979. He would later represent the Lagan Valley constituency from 1983-1997.

Westminster Election, 31 March 1966

Sir Samuel Knox Cunningham (U) 40,840 (64.3%)
Sydney Andrew Stewart (NILP) 22,672 (35.7%)

Unionist majority: 18,168; electorate: 113,643; votes cast: 55.9%

In a repeat of the 1964 election, Cunningham and Stewart again squared off, however this time without a republican candidate. Cunningham was once again declared the victor, winning his fourth successive election and garnering the most votes of any candidate in Northern Ireland. The NILP recorded their highest poll in South Antrim, one of only four seats they contested in 1966. Stewart managed to increase his share of the poll to 35% and reduce his opponent's majority to just over 18,000.

Stewart had also stood unsuccessfully for the Northern Ireland House of Commons in the 1965 general election for the constituency of South Antrim.

Westminster Election, 15 October 1964

Sir Samuel Knox Cunningham (U) 47,325 (69.9%)
Sydney Andrew Stewart (NILP) 16,531 (24.4%)
Leo Francis Wilson (R) 3,830 (5.7%)

Unionist majority: 30,794; electorate: 105,304; votes cast: 64.3%

Cunningham seeking a third successive victory faced two opponents in 1964. Sydney Stewart was representing the NILP who had not contested the constituency since 1950, while Leo Wilson stood on an abstentionist republican ticket (Sinn Fein was now a proscribed organization). Cunningham won comfortably, although with a significantly reduced majority. He once again achieved the highest vote of any candidate in Northern Ireland. In their second best result of the election, the NILP managed to take 24% of the poll.

Westminster Election, 8 October 1959

Samuel Knox Cunningham (U) 52,786 (95.1%)
Michael Traynor (SF) 2,745 (4.9%)

Unionist majority: 50,041; electorate: 93,655; votes cast: 59.3%

The incumbent Cunningham again squared-off with his Sinn Fein opponent Michael Traynor in a repeat of the 1955 general election. Cunningham successfully defended his seat, once again recording the highest vote in Northern Ireland and increasing his majority to over 50,000. The Sinn Fein dropped dramatically here as elsewhere in Northern Ireland in light of the IRA's divisive Operation Harvest campaign.

Cunningham was subsequently picked by Conservative Prime Minister Harold Macmillan as his Parliamentary Private Secretary, responsible for the Prime Minister's relations with backbench MPs.

Westminster Election, 26 May 1955

Samuel Knox Cunningham (U) 50,347 (90.7%)
Michael Traynor (SF) 5,155 (9.3%)

Unionist majority: 45,192; electorate: 84,939; votes cast: 65.3%

The incumbent Savory did not seek re-election in 1955 and he was replaced on the Unionist ticket by (Samuel) Knox Cunningham. Cunningham, a Barrister, had unsuccessfully contested the West Belfast constituency in the 1943 by-election and again in the general election of 1945. This time out his opponent was veteran republican and one time hunger-striker Michael Traynor. Traynor was standing on a Sinn Fein abstentionist ticket. The result was a massive victory for Cunningham, amassing more votes than any other candidate in Northern Ireland and achieving a majority in excess of 45,000.

One interesting footnote is that in 1954 Cunningham had been elected as a councilor to Orpington Urban District Council in south-west London.

Westminster Election, 25 October 1951

Douglas Lloyd Savory (U)

Unionist Candidate Elected Unopposed.

Savory was the sole candidate nominated in South Antrim and was duly elected without a contest. South Antrim was one of four seats that went uncontested in the 1951 general election in Northern Ireland. The sole nominee (and hence winner) in each instance was the Unionist candidate.

Westminster Election, 23 February 1950

Douglas Lloyd Savory (U) 41,023 (83.6%)
Edward Brown (NILP) 8,068 (16.4%)

Unionist majority: 32,955; electorate: 77,499; votes cast: 63.3%

The 1950 general election saw the elimination of the Antrim two-seat constituency which was replaced by North Antrim and South Antrim. In this, the first election fought in the new South Antrim constituency, the result was a comfortable victory for the Unionists, producing their largest majority of the election. The successful Unionist candidate was Douglas Savory, the professor of French and Romance Languages at QUB, who had been the Unionist MP for Queens University since 1940. However as a result of the provisions of the Representation of the People Act, the Queen's University seat had been eliminated and Northern Ireland’s Westminster representation was reduced from 13 MPs to 12. This was one of just five seats contested by the NILP in 1950.

Brown would later stand unsuccessfully in South Belfast in the 1955 Westminster election.

See also:

Results from 1950 to 1970 for each seat: East Belfast | North Belfast | South Belfast | West Belfast | North Antrim | South Antrim | Armagh | North Down | South Down | Fermanagh and South Tyrone | Londonderry | Mid Ulster

Other sites based at ARK: ORB (Online Research Bank) | CAIN (Conflict Archive on the INternet) | Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey

Your comments, please! Send an email to me at

Conal Kelly, 1 June 2007.

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Disclaimer:© Nicholas Whyte 1998-2004 Last Updated on Wednesday, 12-Jan-2005 12:12