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 Freeman’s Journal, 21 May 1920.

In May 1920, East London dockers refused to load the SS Jolly George, a ship intended to carry arms to be used against the new Bolshevik state. Reflecting on the event years later, the communist activist Harry Pollitt remembered:

On May 15th, the munitions are unloaded back onto the dock side, and on the side of one case is a very familiar sticky-back, ‘Hands Off Russia!’ It is very small, but that day it was big enough to be read all over the world.

Certainly, the brave stand taken in London would have an impact internationally. The SS Jolly George sailed on without any armaments on board. The leaflets that littered the docklands of London made it clear; “no munitions must sail. No guns, aeroplanes, shells, bombs. Take no heed of cowardly politicians. With peace, Russia will light a beacon for the world.”

On 20 May, Dublin dockworkers followed the lead of their London equivalent. Refusing to handle British military equipment, Irish dockworkers introduced a new form of resistance into the country, which would quickly be adopted by railwaymen in the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union. Writing in his memoir Forth The Banners Go, the trade unionist William O’Brien recounted the tale:

…a member of the dockers’ section of the Dublin No.1 Branch came to see me late one evening. He told me there were two vessels coming to Dublin with munitions to be used in the war here. One of the boars had arrived and was ready to be started discharing first thing on the following morning. He said that he might be one of the casual dockers, hoping to be picked for this job.

The man was a Citizen Army veteran of the Easter Rising, not particularly unusual in the docklands of Dublin. 1916 veterans included Tom Leahy, who had fought in the rebellion with the Irish Volunteers, but transferred to the ICA in the aftermath of the Rising. He recalled that throughout 1917 and 1918:

The work went on – making train wrecking tools, hand bombs, and everything that would be handy and useful when required. Several British naval vessels came to the dockyard for repairs – as our firm was on the Government list for such – and several raids were made on these vessels for arms when most of the crew were ashore.

When news of this proposed radical action was brought to O’Brien’s desk, he informed the visiting docker that he would raise it with Thomas Foran, General President of the union. The following day, the men standing around waiting to begin work were told that the work was not to start. The munitions strike had begun.

On hearing of the political action at the Dublin docks, the second ship was then diverted for Dun Laoghaire. Here, the military were on hand to unload its cargo, but when it arrived at Westland Row station, workers there refused to handle the goods. This, as Padraig Yeates notes in his masterful study of Dublin in the period,upped the temperature considerably. While the dockworkers were casual workers who could be reallocated elsewhere, the railwaymen were permanent employers and members of the separate National Union of Railwaymen.

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The Freeman’s Journal shows the goods which Dublin dockers refused to offload.

In Britain, large sections of the working class movement responded favourably to the actions of Dublin dockworkers, though there was no sympathetic action. From John Maclean, the Scottish socialist firebrand, came words of praise and hope; ” Irishmen now refuse to supply the Army of Occupation with the ammunition that may be used to kill themselves when off industrial duty. This is surely the most sensible thing Irishmen have ever done in their history of toil and trouble. Irish Labour may call an Irish General Strike to force the withdrawal of troops from Ireland.”

In the following days, the action taken at the docks and Dun Laoghaire would be replicated elsewhere. The Freeman’s Journal reported on 24 May that “Yesterday afternoon some men at Inchicore were ordered to take a train-load of wagons containing ‘goods’ from Amiens street to Thurles, from which place the ‘goods’ were to be distributed to three other centres. When it became known that the wagons contained munitions disembarked at Kingstown the men refused to work the train.”

To sections of the conservative press, the behaviour of dockers and railwaymen was scandalous. The ever reliable Punch illustrated news produced a sketch in a June 1920 edition showing an IRA gunman hiding behind a rural wall, joined by a railway worker, or “the blameless accomplice.”  The “Sinn Féin assassin” and the worker were conspiring hand in hand in the eyes of Punch. Still, the condemnation was nothing compared to The Irish Times at home, who believed that the workers involved were challenging “the fundamental security of the state and the fundamental rights of employers.”

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A brave stand that began on the docks of Dublin spread nationwide, largely thanks to the militancy of railway workers. From arms in storage, the strike was widened to include the carrying of men holding arms representing Crown Forces. One Irish Volunteer, also employed at Mallow train station, recounted being dismissed from his job in his statement to the Bureau of Military History, noting that “when eventually 19 men had been dismissed for the same reason, the O/C Mallow decided to take the stationmaster prisoner and to detain him for a time.” The strike has real potential to create such tensions in work forces across the country.

The munitions strike was an effective tactic, proven by the infuriated responses to it from the upper-echelons of the British military and political class. In Westminster,  Hamar Greenwood thundered that “no government can allow railways subsidised out of the pockets of the taxpayers to refuse to carry police and soldiers.” Likewise, in his Annals of an Active Life, Sir Nevil Macready, Commander in Chief of Crown Forces, acknowledged the tremendous difficulty the munitions strike created for the movement of men across the island.

Some £120,000 was subscribed to support men victimised for their participation in the strike, but in the absence of sympathetic strike action in Britain, and with increasingly vicious physical assaults on railwaymen, the Irish leadership felt increasingly vulnerable in the dispute, which eventually wound-down in December. In November, the Government began closing rail lines, including the Limerick to Waterford and Limerick to Tralee lines,as well as trains into Galway city, which certainly instigated a fear among the public that the Irish railway system could be shut down in its entirety.

The British approach to the crisis was to present the railwaymen as acting under duress. A bogus “order issued to railwaymen in Ireland and signed by the Ministry of War of the government of the Republic of Ireland” was produced, though dismissed outright by the report of the Irish Trade Union Congress, which insisted that “the railwaymen acted from the beginning of their own initiative, and were supported by the National Executive, by the Trade Union movement, and the country generally. They dictated their own policy independent of any instructions from any authority outside the Labour Movement.”

As both an industrial action and an example of mass civil disobedience, the munitions strike is a part of the story of revolutionary Ireland which is deserving of a place in this on-going Decade of Centenaries. Working class militancy across the island of Ireland, from the (largely Protestant and Unionist working class) Belfast Engineers Strike of 1919 to the Limerick Soviet, demonstrated the power of organised labour here clearly. In refusing to load or carry the weapons of war, both dockers and railwaymen demonstrated a unique form of opposition to the British occupation of Ireland.

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In 1965, BBC journalist John Morgan was sent to Dublin to gather some idea of the attitudes of the Irish public to censorship. Standing outside a Dublin bookshop, he began his report by commenting on the types of books that did sell in Ireland. In the window behind him, we can see an ad for Dan Breen’s memoir My Fight For Irish Freedom, as well as other titles focused on the revolutionary period and Irish history more broadly.

On the streets, Morgan encountered a variety of opinions, but most of the public seemed broadly supportive of some degree of censorship of the printed word and screen. There were some voices of objection ,but in the words of one young man, “we’re not as liberal as the British, who are after all not a Christian race if one is to say that at present day.”

By the second half of the 1960s, censorship in Ireland was beginning to unravel, in no small part thanks to the efforts of some high profile victims of the Censorship of Publications Board to publicly challenge the body. This year, Dublin City Council and Dublin UNESCO City of Literature will celebrate Edna O’Brien’s The Country Girls trilogy, a series of books which were banned upon release but are now recognised as Irish literary classics. As the very deserving chosen title for One City One Book, thousands of people across the city will engage with the work of an author whose work was shamefully dismissed as “a smear on Irish womanhood” at the time of publication.

Refusing to accept the banning of her works, O’Brien was central to the high profile foundation meeting of the Censorship Reform Society at Dublin’s Gate Theatre in December 1966, which received international attention. While living in London, she returned to Dublin, banned books in hand, to address the rally that included leading voices from the world of theatre, academia and literature. Of her arrival, the Irish Examiner noted:

Edna O’Brien, the Clare-born authoress, landed at Dublin Airport on Saturday night with five copies of her books. She left the airport holding only the dust jackets of her novels. The customs officials had confiscated the books.

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Evening Herald, 5 December 1966.

Few public meetings receive the level of attention that the launch of the Censorship Reform Society on 4 December 1966 did,but the sheer calibre of speaker at their launch explains the public interest. Among thirteen speakers, theatre director and actor Micheal Mac Liammoir, poet Brendan Kennelly and novelist James Plunkett addressed the meeting. The following day, the Irish Press reported that “twelve men and Edna O’Brien declared that the system branded authors as pornographers, obscene and indecent.”

Jim Fitzgerald, theatre and television producer, served as Chairman of the group and was a driving force behind the rally. Taking a similar line to other opponents of censorship in Irish life, including Sean O’Faolain of The Bell, he emphasised that the society were not against all censorship, as “the society was not being formed to challenge the bona fide aims of the Censorship Board where it concerned genuine pornography, but to lay the grounds for a system of appeal against a law which forbade the works of many true artists appearing on the bookshelves or bookshops and libraries in this country.”

Around a hundred people were turned away from the packed Gate Theatre, where the meeting began with actors T.P McKenna and Maureen Toral reading excerpts from Edna O’Brien’s latest work, which was then in legal limbo, having been seized by customs and other consideration by the Censorship of Publications Board. The Censorship Reform Society announced its intention to challenge the banning of O’Brien’s work in the courts, if the Board deemed the book unfit for Irish audiences.

Not all reporting on the meeting was friendly, Seamus Brady in the Irish Press was particularly scathing of O’Brien, while also suggesting a link between ‘corrupting publications’ and crime in other nations:

The National Council of Juvenile Court Judges in the United States,which is surely more entitled to speak on the subject, has come out sternly to blame corrupting publications as a major cause of the growth of sex and armed robbery crimes among juvenile delinquents. then we have Miss Edna O’Brien,who is becoming somewhat tiresome in her self-appointed role of acting as special advocate in pleasing the cause of our womanfolk. Well, whatever they may say in the free and exacting atmosphere of Britain about our censorship, we are certainly broadminded when it comes to affording public platforms for our cranks and critics. Miss O’Brien enjoys the freedom of the State-owned Radio Telefis Eireann for her views.

Frustratingly, the Censorship of Publications Board was not obliged to give any information on why books were banned. Less than a week after the Gate Theatre meeting, it was announced that O’Brien’s Casualties of Peace was the latest banned work, with the press reporting that “the ban is on grounds of indecency. A spokesman for the Board would give no further details.” With this being the case, the Censorship Reform Society called for “a system whereby a banned author could appeal to the courts”.

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1st UK edition of Causalities of Peace, banned by the Censorship of Publications Board (Image Credit: Ulysses Rare Books)

Living outside of Ireland, O’Brien perhaps felt more comfortable challenging censorship than other Irish writers, who were sometimes victimised in their professional lives when works fell foul of the Board. Most famously, the fallout from the banning of John McGahern’s The Dark has contributed, at least in part, to his removal from a teaching post. To be banned, it was joked, an honour for an Irish writer. Still, as O’Faolain noted, it could also bring feelings of great anger. On learning that his book Midsummer Night Madness was banned, he later noted that “outwardly I laughed at the news. In my heart I felt infuriated and humiliated.”

How important was the Censorship Reform Society in changing things? In truth, censorship was already in the process of collapse. Bruce Arnold recalled that the body was short lived:

Some of us started the Censorship Reform Society. Edna O’Brien spoke at the Gate Theatre on the inaugural night. We had seen Edna’s novels banned, along with a host of other works of literature, and we wanted to fight this.

As with most Irish ventures, few offered financial help. In any case, the society was overtaken by events; censorship began to crumble.

The Censorship Reform Society did succeed in bringing public scrutiny on the Censorship Publications Board. Judge Charles Conroy, chairman of the board,  found himself in the spotlight after the rally, telling one journalist from Trinity News that “our main aim is to keep filth out of this country.” The student journalist came away from it all wondering:

Is the judge himself qualified to be on the Censorship Board? In my hour’s conversation with him he did not appear to have anything more than superficial knowledge of literature. The main attribute of all the members of the Board was their common sense, rather than their knowledge of literature.

1967 brought real reform to Irish censorship law, as now prohibition orders made on the grounds of indecency would expire after a period of twelve years, though they could then be reexamined then. The immediate effect of the reform was the unbanning of thousands of works. Undoubtedly, the controversies around 1960s works like O’Brien’s and McGahern’s had played a pivotal role in this change. If nothing else, the December 1966 meeting was an unprecedented united front against censorship from right across the artistic community.

O’Brien very beautifully described Irish censorship as being rooted in a “fear of knowledge, a fear of communicating our desires, our secrets, our stream of consciousness”.  This year, Dublin will rightly honour her work, and her contribution to intellectual freedom in Irish life.

 

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Thomas Johnson, Secretary of the Irish Labour Party and drafter of the Democratic Programme of the First Dáil.

The meeting of the First Dáil in Dublin’s Mansion House on 21 January 1919 was the realisation of Sinn Féin’s stunning electoral victory in the General Election of the previous month. For many of those in attendance,  it was a defining moment in their own political journey. The title of this post comes from the memoir of Máire Comerford, Cumann na mBán activist who watched it all from the gallery. She remembered listening to the speaker, as “we repeated the words of the Declaration after him, and felt we had burnt our boats now. There was no going back.”

Sweeping aside the old order of the Irish Parliamentary Party, the Sinn Féin electoral landslide was described beautifully by one contemporary observer as the “triumph of the young over the old.” Some of those who lost their seats had stepped aside graciously; in the words of one defeated Home Ruler, it was simply: “the passing away of a great movement, to be succeeded by another.”To the conservative British press, the result was horrifying, though the Daily Mail found some comfort in the fact that: “the victory of the Sinn Féiners, since they do not intend to come to Westminster, may indeed be regarded as a blessing.”

Sinn Féin’s election manifesto had been unambiguous about the question of Irish parliamentarians sitting in Westminster, pledging the party to: “withdrawing the Irish Representation from the British Parliament and…denying the right and opposing the will of the British Government or any other foreign Government to legislate for Ireland.” More ambiguous however was its commitment to: “making use of any and every means available to render impotent the power of England to hold Ireland in subjection by military force or otherwise.”

With 69 parliamentarians representing 73 constituencies, Sinn Féin could assert itself as the dominant force in Irish political life. Yet a century ago, it was a mere 27 elected representatives who gathered in Dublin’s Mansion House, reflecting the political turmoil of the day and the widespread suppression of prominent Sinn Féin voices.

Internationally, the gathering was front page news, with New York’s The Evening World telling their readers that: “probably no country except Ireland could present an episode as remarkable as the assembly of the Dáil Éireann (Gaelic for Irish Parliament) which was called to order in Dublin’s ancient Mansion House.” In London, the press reports noted that: “Dublin Castle has apparently decided to ignore the Dáil, as long as it is confined to talking.”

When the roll call of all elected Irish parliamentarians was read, 29 were ‘i lathair’ (present), many more ‘as lathair’ (not present), and others either ‘fé ghlas ag Gallaibh’ (jailed by the foreigner) or ‘ar díbirt ag Gallabih’ (deported by the foreigner). There was some laughter in the room when Unionist leader Edward Carson was recorded as ‘as lathair.’ Despite 29 being declared in attendance, there were 27 in reality.  Harry Boland and Michael Collins, while declared to be in the room, were both absent. It provided an alibi for other plans, and said something of the seditious nature of it all.

What took place at this gathering was deeply symbolic, and intended for the consumption of a global audience. As Europe was reeling from the fallout of World War One, and all eyes were focused on France and the peace conferences many hoped could bring permanent peace to the continent, a ‘Message to the Free Nations of the World’ was read in the Mansion House in English, Irish and French.It explicitly stated that: “the permanent peace of Europe can never be secured by perpetuating military dominion for the profit of empire but only by establishing the control of government in every land upon the basis of the free will of a free people.” Sinn Féin sought to give Ireland a voice at this new table of European diplomacy, maintaining that while it was a new day, we were an old nation: “Ireland today reasserts her historic nationhood the more confidently before the new world emerging from the War.”

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Members of the First Dáil photographed on 21 January 1919.

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In February 2015, I published an article listing the remaining dozen or so ‘early house’ pubs in Dublin city centre along with some brief historical background about why these bars have special licenses allowing them to open at 7am.

Delaney’s, North King Street, 1976. Note the ‘Bar Open 7am’ sign. Credit – dublincity.ie

In the last four years, one pub has been demolished and two have closed down. A further three have been put on sale or sold so their futures are uncertain.

The Dark Horse Inn on George’s Quay closed its doors in July 2016 and reopened as a Starbucks coffee shop the following month. I wrote a long piece about the history of the building here.

Ned Scanlon’s on Townsend Street closed and and the pub was demolished in October 2018.

‘Before and After’. Ned Scanlon’s, Townsend Street. Credit – John Fleming on Facebook

 The Capel Bar on Little Green Street, which featured in a 2016 Dublin Inquirer piece,  closed in recent months and reopened as a “cocktail bar” called Bar 1661 which.

So as far as I can assert, these are the remaining 11 ‘early house’ pubs in Dublin city as of early 2019.

Northside:

1. The Boar’s Head, Capel Street (Mon-Fri 8am; Sat 11am)

2. The Chancery Inn, Inns Quay (Mon-Fri 9am; Sat 7am). The pub (and five apartments) was on the market for €1.7 million in May 2018 so it’s unclear what the future may bring.

3. Delaney’s, North King Street (Mon-Sat 9am). This pub was up for sale in 2016 but no changes has affected it yet it seems.

4. M. Hughes, Chancery Street (Mon-Fri 8.30am; Sat 7am)

5. The Metro, Parnell Street. After sixty years in business, the current owners have retired and put up the pub for sale in October 2018. So time will tell whether the pub will continue to open early.

6. Molloy’s, Talbot Street (Mon-Sat 7am)

7. Slattery’s, Capel Street (Mon-Sat 7am)

8. Madigan’s, Connolly Station (Mon-Fri 8.30am, Sat 10.30am)

Southside:

9. The Galway Hooker, Heuston Station

10. The Padraig Pearse, Pearse Street (Mon-Fri 7.30am; Sat 9am)

11. The Windjammer, Lombard Street (Mon-Sat 7am)

Outside of city:
– The Fisherman’s Bar, attached to The Waterside pub, in Howth (Mon-Sat 8am)

 

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My thanks to my friend Dorje for passing on a heap of old copies of In Dublin recently. An invaluable publication in the days before social media, it gave some sense of what was happening in the city. Dating from 1977 and 1978, these issues give good insight into culture in the city.  Many of the places advertised within remain loved parts of the city today.

Firstly, and most importantly, Grogans public house on South William Street.

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There are two advertisements from the gay rights movement, firstly Tel-A-Friend (which in time became the Gay Switchboard), and secondly the Irish Gay Rights Movement, with its phoenix logo rising from the ashes. The movement was based at Temple Bar’s Hirschfeld Centre, which was also home to Dublin’s much-loved Flikkers disco.

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Books Upstairs celebrated 40 years in business this year. This advertisement comes from their first year of business. We wish them every success for the next four decades (they are now on D’Olier Street)

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In the days of cinema censorship, cinema clubs were hugely important. It cost 1.50 to join the Project Cinema Club:

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Larkin

Jer O’Leary as Jim Larkin (Image by Donal Higgins)

Playing Larkin is a pleasure and an honour. Some parts are just performance tasks, but Larkin was one of the finest specimens of humanity; a wonderful mind, great courage with the heart of a lion, unusual vision, and a voice like rolling thunder.

-Jer O’Leary on playing the role of Larkin, Evening Press, January 1980.

There are many difficult audiences in this town, but if you haven’t, you should try explaining the ins and outs of the 1913 Lockout to a room full of school children. Against the backdrop of the centenary of the great dispute, I had the pleasure of trying this. They listened, though how much of it registered has puzzled me since. Following a brief historic overview, the next speaker was Jer O’Leary. The veteran and much-loved Dublin actor shook the walls of the Ringsend school, bringing the words of Jim Larkin to life. I think the children by the end had some sense of the power of the story.

Dubliner Jer O’Leary, the Bard of Drumcondra, lived many lives in one. As an actor, activist, artist and raconteur he was a frequent face on the streets of Dublin. His booming and distinctive voice could be heard across the street over any volume of Dublin traffic. He was, firmly and completely, a man of the Left. In 1967, a 22 year old Jer O’Leary joined the Republican movement, the beginning of a life-long involvement in republican and socialist politics that shaped everything he did.

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O’Leary in the Project in 1986 at an exhibition of his labour movement banners. More on that below.

Football was a great love too. As the book The Lost Revolution rightly notes, “he delighted in reminding GAA devotees that the Dublin IRA’s commander in 1921, Oscar Traynor, had been a soccer player.” O’Leary may well have attended more FAI Cup Finals than Traynor himself, and was present in 1961 when Saint Patrick’s Athletic won the cup in Dalymount Park against his own beloved Drumcondra. Willie Peyton’s heroic goal that day is something I’ve heard of from many Pats fans that were in attendance, but nobody told the tale as well as Jer. Each time I heard the story from him it was as if Peyton was deeper and deeper into his own half. Eventually in the telling, he may as well have been in deepest suburban Cabra kicking a ball in the general direction of the stadium. Whatever the debate about where Peyton kicked from, he was certainly far from goal. When Drumcondra went to the wall, one of the great losses of Irish footballing history, O’Leary retained a grá for association football in Dublin. A great Celtic fan, like his late son Diarmuid who died in tragic circumstances on a trip to see the Hoops, he remained familiar with Dalymount Park as a supporter of Bohs. Still, like all true Drumcondra fans, he answered ‘Drums’ to the question of which Dublin team he supported. Those who kept faith with the sport are now spread across the football grounds of Dublin.

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A Bohemian FC flag produced by Jer O’Leary, bringing together two of his great passions.

As a stage actor, O’Leary came to public prominence thanks to a legendary production of James Plunkett’s The Risen People, directed by Peter and Jim Sheridan. The production did tremendously well in Dublin, but was also taken to London as part of the Sense of Ireland Festival. A 1986 profile piece on O’Leary noted that “his most notorious moment on stage – which is also a legend in Irish circles – was his dramatic playing in Peter Weiss’s work, The Marat Sade.

The play, a Marxist view of the French Revolution, coincided perfectly with O’Leary’s vision for modern day Ireland. But one fine night at the end of the performance, the actor decided that modern Ireland and revolutionary France should bridge the gap of time. He told the packed house in a completely unrehearsed speech that the alleged Sallins train robbers, who were then on trial, were completely innocent. For his ‘unprofessional conduct’ he had to be rescued from the wrath of the cast, whose efforts to hang him fro the highest point of the dressing room were guillotined by the back stage staff.

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There was something about Jer as Larkin that registered deeply with Dubliners, even if the Toxteth-born Scouser developed an accent more akin to Dublin’s north inner-city, the energy was a perfect replica. In 1993 he was centrally involved in the historical commemorations of the Lockout organised by the North Inner City Folkore Project, addressing a huge crowd from the window of Clery’s, and he would revive the role for further historic anniversaries. Countess Markievicz recalled hearing Larkin speak and feeling that she was in the presence of “some great primeval force rather than a man”. To try and be Larkin took a certain confidence, which Jer had in abundance.

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Dublin Pubs (Mid 1980s)

I picked up this book for $5 in the amazing Powell’s bookshop in Portland, Oregon during the summer.

It features 60 full-colour photographs of pubs across Ireland taken by Liam Blake with accompanying text by David Pritchard and Joe Reynolds. It was first published in 1985 with this softback edition republished in 1993.

I’ve included the 15 photographs of Dublin pubs which I am guessing were taken in the 1984-85 period.

The Brazen Head

The Brazen Head, 20 Lower Bridge Street, Merchant’s Quay. We visited this pub in our November 2009 pub crawl.

Doheny & Nesbitt’s

Doheny & Nesbitt’s at 5 Lower Baggot Street near St. Stephen’s Green. A pub we also visited in our November 2009 pub crawl.

Mulligan’s

Mulligan’s (now L. Mulligan Grocer) at 18 Stoneybatter, Dublin 7. A boozer we reviewed in our May 2012 pub crawl.

Slattery’s

 The exterior of Slattery’s, 217 Rathmines Road in Rathmines. A pub we dropped into in our February 2010 pub crawl.

McDaid’s

McDaid’s pub at 3 Harry Street off Grafton Street. Somewhere we visited in June 2010 for a pub crawl.

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1918 Election handbill. The election occurred a century ago today.

It is difficult to imagine political canvassers tossing “rotten eggs, dead cats and rats” at one another today. A century ago this week, that is exactly what happened on the Falls Road in West Belfast, as supporters of the Irish Parliamentary Party candidate, Joe Devlin MP, attempted to drive young Sinn Féin canvassers from the district. The election, described beautifully by one Royal Irish Constabulary report as “the triumph of the young over the old”, pitted a youthful Sinn Féin against an ageing party which had dominated Irish politics for decades. For many tens of thousands of Irish people, it was a first taste of the ballot box in a General Election. The Representation of the People Act, which made its way through the House of Commons earlier that year, had increased the Irish electorate from some 700,000 people to 1.9 million. Here in Dublin, the election produced the first female M.P in the history of Westminster.

Much coverage of the centenary of the 1918 election has focused on the granting of the vote to women (of a certain age and class), though the Representation of the People Act was also transformative in giving a voice to millions of working class men. Now, all men over 21 found themselves entitled to partake in a General Election. It was an unprecedented mass exercise of democracy in these islands, but in Ireland it was dominated by the national question.

The Irish Parliamentary Party had achieved much through its participation in Westminster politics, including meaningful land reforms and the seeming inevitability of Home Rule itself, but buckled before the mass appeal of a young and confident Sinn Féin. In October 1917, Sinn Féin has been transformed into a new fighting machine, spearheaded by Éamon de Valera, elected in the East Clare by-election of 1917. The party jettisoned the ambiguous language of its founder Arthur Griffith’s in favour of that of republican separatism. Now, in its own words, Sinn Féin aimed “at securing the international recognition for Ireland as an independent Irish republic.” Throughout 1917 and 1918, the party had fought a series of bitter by-elections against the Parliamentary Party, with very mixed fortunes. Anger at the very real fear of conscription in 1918 had moved many towards support for the party, while the language of some leading Parliamentary Party figures on the question of women’s suffrage would not have endeared them to sections of the newly enlarged electorate. To John Dillon MP, the vote in the hands of women would “be the ruin of our Western civilisation. It will destroy the home, challenging the headship of man, laid down by God. It may come in your time – I hope not in mine.”

As women made their way into the ballot box for the first time in a General Election setting, they encountered female candidates, providing they lived in either Belfast’s Victoria Ward or Dublin’s Saint Patrick’s Ward. In Belfast, Winifred Carney stood for Sinn Féin. A veteran of Easter Week, Carney had served faithfully as James Connolly’s secretary, earning her place in history as ‘the typist with the webley’. A veteran of Belfast labour politics, her election manifesto stated that she stood for a ‘Worker’s Republic’, which was not Sinn Féin policy. There was little desire to stop her expressing that ambition, and in the decidedly Unionist electorate, she came away with a mere 539 votes. In Dublin, Countess Markievicz was elected, becoming the first female MP in the history of the Westminster parliament. Markiecicz took her seat from the Parnellite William Field, in office since 1892 – ironically, he himself was a something of a suffragist and had supported votes for women – it proved his undoing in the end.

There were tensions between Sinn Féin and the Irish Women’s Franchise League, who felt the party had not stood enough women, or supported the women who stood sufficiently. Markiecicz’s campaign on the ground was curiously absent – while she herself was in prison – IWFL leaders complained in private about a perceived lack of enthusiasm in the constituency from Sinn Féin. Margaret Connery of the IWFL complained to Hanna Sheehy Skeffington that “the very nerve of Sinn Fein sets my teeth on edge… Why should the work be left to the chance care of outsiders as they are so fond of calling us.” Still, the election of Markievicz was a triumph for both the women’s movement and the national movement, and emerged as one of the international headlines of the election.

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Constance Markievicz, elected in Dublin’s Saint Patrick’s Ward.

What violence did occur happened largely in West Belfast and Waterford, where the IPP had strong bases. Kevin O’Shiel, having gone north to canvas for de Valera in West Belfast, recalled:

I shall never forget that wild, yelling, maddened Hibernian mob that pelted us for two hours with sticks, stones, rivets, rotten eggs, dead cats and rats. Only for a strong draft of Volunteers and, later, some belated help from reinforced R.I.C., I doubt if any of us would have survived intact.

The hostility of the Ancient Order of Hibernians to youthful Sinn Féin canvassers there was unlike anything witnessed elsewhere. It took uniformed men to police and protect Sinn Féin meetings in the district. Patrick J. Whelan, a Harland and Wolff worker and a local Irish Volunteer, remembered that:

During the general election of 1918, C. company acted as bodyguard for Sinn Féin. election speakers. The speakers wont by brake from meeting to meeting in the Falls Road division, and rather rowdy meetings were held. The opposition was provided mostly by mill workers and not the Orange mobs. These mill workers were enthusiastic supporters of Joseph Devlin, the Nationalist M.P. for West Belfast. At one of the meetings which was held in King Street, Belfast, I was struck on the head by a brick and rendered unconscious. When I recovered, I was brought to a first-aid station on the Falls Road, and had my injury attended to by local Cumann na mBan.

Absent from proceedings were the Irish Labour Party. In popular history, this boils down to the idea that ‘Labour must wait’, and that the party were somehow brushed aside prior to polling. In reality, the party leadership had initially intended to contest the election, but later stepped aside of their own volition. The national executive of the party voted 96 to 23 not to contest the election. Jason Knirck has suggested that Labour leaders “may have feared a decisive defeat for their party if they had entered the election. Cooperating with Sinn Féin, even as a junior party, was preferable to the delegitimation of the entire cause. while Labour did gain some concessions from this agreement, it also simplified Sinn Féin’s recurrent claim to speak for the entire Irish nationalist population.” The party would perform incredibly well in the local elections of 1920, and see 17 of their 18 candidates elected in the 1922 General Election following the birth of the state. If 1918 was Labour’s great missed opportunity is a question that has been pondered for a century now.

Dublin offered some interesting results. Here, the only Unionist MP’s outside of Ulster were elected, with two Unionist seats in Trinity College Dublin and the victory of Maurice Dockrell in Rathmines. For southern Unionism, the election had been a disaster, and at a crisis meeting in the Freemason’s Hall shortly after the election the tone was downbeat. 79,000 votes were cast in Dublin for Sinn Féin candidates, who took eight of the nine contested seats in the capital.

In the end, the IPP won six seats across the island, only one of which, Waterford City, was outside Ulster. The British ‘First Past the Post’ system makes their result look truly dismal; in reality, Votes cast for the IPP were 220,837 (21.7%) for 6 seats (down from 84 out of 105 seats in 1910). Sinn Féin votes were 476,087 (or 46.9%). In many parts of Ireland, the status quo held up. Some IPP candidates received only marginally smaller votes than they had in 1910, but were swept aside by the enormous new electorate. The significant number of uncontested seats is sometimes pointed to as evidence of Sinn Féin intimidation of opponents, though in reality there were less seats uncontested than in the previous General Election.

On 21 January 1919, elected representatives of the Sinn Féin party met in Dublin’s Mansion House, proclaiming themselves to be the legitimate government of Ireland. Reading a roll call that included Unionist MP’s like Lord Edward Carson (unsurprisingly as lathair, or absent!), the gathering constituted just 27 parliamentarians, with many others imprisoned or exiled.

The meeting was loaded with political symbolism. Choosing the Mansion House, residence of the Lord Mayor of Dublin and a centre of civic political leadership, the parliamentarians sought to present themselves as statesmen before the world. Their ‘Message to the Free Nations of the World’ was read in Irish, English and French, seeking to place Ireland in the post-war Europe of peace, as she believed “permanent peace of Europe can never be secured by perpetuating military dominion for the profit of empire”.

On the same day that the Dáil met, the opening shots of the War of Independence were fired in the Soloheadbeg ambush in county Tipperary. This occurred without the sanction of the Dáil, with IRA leader Dan Breen recounting that “Seán Treacy had stated to me that the only way of starting a war was to kill someone, and we wanted to start a war.” In the eyes of the world’s media however, the two events were intrinsically linked, and Ireland was now at war.

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Alan at anti-fascist demo in the 1990s. Credit – WSM.

We learned at lunchtime today of the tragic news that Alan MacSimoin has died. It was sudden and hit us hard. Alan was a social historian, political activist, trade unionist and great supporter of the Come Here To Me! project from day one.

Alan first became interested in politics in the late 1960s as a young teenager in Dublin. Paddy Healy recalled a very youthful Alan approaching him outside the GPO to buy a copy of the Young Socialist newspaper.

Alan said back in 2011:

I remember it as a time of optimism, modern ideas were challenging the conservative ones, the civil rights movement had brought out tens of thousands across the North, the Vietnamese were beating the mightiest military power on earth, the women’s movement was winning very real reforms.. Big change seemed possible.

While a secondary school student at Newpark Comprehensive School in South Dublin, Alan joined the youth wing of Official Sinn Féin. He recalls that the Special Branch visited his home and school in attempt to intimidate him as was a common tactic back then. Alan was centrally involved in the Irish Union of School Students in the 1970s which at its height had 7,000 paid up members.

Red Rag cover, 1975. Credit – Irish Anarchist History project

17-year-old Alan and a friend, both members of the William Thompson Republican Club, published a political magazine entitled ‘Red Rag‘ in 1975. Shortly later Alan resigned from the Official Republican Movement “because of its decision to regard the Soviet Bloc countries as “actually existing socialism” and to describe the 1956 Hungarian uprising as fascist.”

Alan then became interested in libertarian socialist/anarchist politics and remained committed to these ideals until the day he died. In the 1970s, he was also active with the anti-Nuclear movement and the Murrays Defence Committee.  Alan went to London and helped the Anarchist Workers Association produce a two sided special edition of their paper focusing on the Murrays. He took part in a demonstration outside the Irish Embassy on 24 July 1976.

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Libertarian Struggle magazine, January 1976.

He helped form the Dublin Anarchist Group (1978) and later the Anarchist Workers Alliance.

Alan. Anarchist Worker 1979

Alan’s contact details for the Anarchist Workers Alliance, 1979

User Battlescarred on Libcom.org has written:

In the 1970s as national secretary of the Anarchist Workers Association, I corresponded with a young man in an Irish Republican youth organisation who had started considering anarchist ideas. This was Alan and he went on to working with us to setting up an anarchist organisation in the Republic. This eventually became the Workers Solidarity Movement. Alan parted with the WSM some years ago but he remained an active anarchist till the end. He was bright and acerbic and always well dressed whenever I met him. A great loss to the movement and to the world.

A still from a recent television documentary showed Alan at a counter-demonstration in the face of a large anti-Traveller march in Tallaght in 1982:

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Alan with leather jacket and long hair in Tallaght, 1992

Here is a wonderful photograph of Eddie Conlon (left) and Alan (right) at Dunnes Stores strike picket in 1984.

Eddie Conlon (left) and Alan (right) at Dunnes Stores strike picket, 1984. Credit – The Irish Times

In 1984, Alan was a founding member of the anarchist Workers Solidarity Movement and for the next 26 years was involved in countless campaigns around trade union rights, migrant solidarity, anti-racism, anti-apartheid, anti-war and anti-Bin charges.

In the early 1990s, he acted as spokesperson for the Dublin Abortion Information Service and was active with the campaign for divorce in the 1995 referendum.

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Letter to the Irish Times, 6 June 1996

A life-long historian, Alan was involved with SIPTU’s Dublin District Committee in its 1913 and 1916 commemorations and was a founding member of the Stoneybatter & Smihfield People’s History Project. Launching the website irishanarchisthistory.com in 2011, this pet project of his was an amazing resource of Irish anarchist material from the 1880s until today.

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Alan at Mayday march in Belfast, 2006. Credit – Sam

In the last couple of years, Alan was heavily active with the Stoneybatter Against the Water Tax and the Dublin Central branch of the victorious Together For Yes campaign that repealed the 8th amendment.

Alan was a political mentor and strong supporter of Come Here To Me! since we launched in 2009. He will be truly missed. A giant of a man, he managed to retain close friends from all strands of left-wing politics in Ireland.

Alan at launch of CHTM! book 1 in December 2012. Credit – Paul Reynolds

Our deepest condolences to his partner Mary Muldowney and his extended family.

Funeral details can be found here on RIP.ie

Alan MacSimoin (25 June 1957 – 5 December 2018)

  • 2013 recording of Alan speaking at a public meeting about his involvement in radical politics in 1970s/1980s Dublin. Starts about 5mins 30secs in. Link.
  • 2014 recording of Alan speaking about Irish Squatting history. Starts about 12mins in. Link.
  • 2015 interview of Alan speaking about his early entry into politics. Link.
  • 2017 recording of Alan speaking at Peter Graham memorial meeting. Link.

 

  • 2018 post from the Working Solidarity Movement marking his passing. Link
  • 2018 post from Look Left Magazine (Workers Party) marking his passing. Link.

 

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The Dublin Castle homosexual scandal of 1884 is a complex story. It involves more than a dozen characters that were introduced over a series of separate criminal trials. All sections of society were involved. The upper echelons of serving police detectives, eminent civil servants and British Army captains. Aspirational middle-class bank clerks and Trinity college graduates. Right down to the semi-blind brothel-keepers and young male prostitutes who were described as “persons of the lowest class of life”. All of these men were accused in newspapers and in court of having same-sex physical relationships. Irish society was shocked.

My main interest is in one specific aspect of the scandal – the backgrounds and post-prison lives of three men who were convicted of running homosexual brothels in the city in 1884.

But before that, a very brief background.

Tim Healy (Irish Nationalist MP) accused two high-ranking British establishment figures, of being homosexual in the United Irishman newspaper edited by William O’Brien MP. They were:

  • James Ellis French (43) (1842-?), Detective Director of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and County Inspector for Cork, who lived at Bessborough Terrace off the North Circular Road
  • Gustavus Charles Cornwall (62) (1822-1903), Secretary of the General Post Office (GPO) who lived at 17 Harcourt Street.

Gustavus Cornwall photographed by Camille Silvy in 1861. © National Portrait Gallery, London

Both men had little choice but to sue the newspaper to uphold their reputations. French backed off as there was multiple evidence of his sexual relationships with young police officers. He retired from the RIC on the grounds of being medically unfit.

Cornwall, who was known by the nickname ‘the Duchess’, pressed on with his libel action and it went to court on 2 July 1884.

O’Brien’s solicitors and his private detective managed to convince three men to give evidence against Cornwall. They were:

  • Malcolm Johnston (21) known as ‘Conny’ or ‘Connie Clyde’ or ‘Connie Taylor’. A Trinity-educated student of ‘private means’ whose father ran a bakery business in Ballsbridge which later became ‘Johnston, Mooney and O’Brien’.
  • Alfred McKiernan/McKernan (25), from Pembroke Road, who was employed as a clerk in the Munster Bank for 16 years
  • George Taylor (33) known as the ‘Maid of Athens’. A former Royal College Surgeons medical student who was employed as a clerk in the British and Irish Steam Packet Company for four years

Another ‘Dublin Castle’ figure who was accused of being homosexual in court was:

  • Captain Martin Oranmore Kirwan (37) (1847-1904) of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, (aka ‘Lizzie’), who lived at 42 Upper Mount Street

Cornwall denied all the allegations. The trial lasted five days but the jury took only an hour to find Cornwall guilty. He was charged with buggery and with conspiracy to corrupt young men.

Headline from ‘Flag of Ireland’ newspaper, 1 November 1884.

O’Brien’s supporters held street parties in celebration outside the offices of the United Ireland newspaper and bonfires were supposedly lit around the country.

As a result of the evidence given in this trial, James Ellis French was arrested and brought to trial on 5 August 1884. He was charged with the attempted buggery of George Taylor and the soliciting of Malcolm Johnstone.

Kilmainham Prison Court Registry (5 August 1884) listing Cornwall, French, Pillar, Kirwan, Considine and Fowler. via FindMyPast.ie

Malcom Johnstone, Alfred McKiernan, George Taylor – the witnesses from the first trial – were charged along with James Ellis French and two other individuals:

  • Major Albert de Fernandez, a British Army surgeon in the Grenadier Guards
  • Johnston Lyttle (20), son a Protestant clergyman, and employee of Jameson’s distillery, Bow Street

Many other men fled the county to escape arrest including Charles Fitzgerald (26) of Dalkey, whose father ran a wine business in Brunswick Street; Police Inspector Esmond of the B Division and Richard Boyle, Chairman of the Dublin Stock Exchange.

The cases against Malcolm Johnston and Lyttle were dropped; Cornwall was acquitted; de Fernandez was found not guilty and French was found guilty and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment with hard labour in December 1884.

The trial was a political victory for Irish Nationalists like Tim Healy and William O’Brien. As Jonathan Coleman has written, it was their “masterful, practiced rhetoric” that led Dublin Castle to be portrayed in the hearts and minds of the Irish public as “a bastion of corrupting, leprous perverts preying on the literal flesh of young Ireland—a powerful image for Irish nationalists.”

Prominent opponents of landlordism during the Land Wars William O’Brien (left – throwing papers into the fire) and Tim Healy (right – holding a large bottle of “Healy’s Disinfecting Fluid”) are pictured ‘disinfecting’ Dublin Castle. via http://www.dublincity.ie

It was revealed in court that liaisons and meetings took place between the various characters in the many locations around Dublin – the hothouses at the Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin; at a ‘musical party’ in a house on Raglan Road; the back seats of the Queen’s Theatre and the Gaiety Theatre; the urinal behind the Moore statue; laneways off Brunswick Street and Cornwall’s home. A lot of other activity happened in three brothels ran by three middle-aged men who were convicted in the August 1884 trial. Who were they and what happened to them?

Daniel Considine (41), a blind Protestant basketmaker and former school teacher, who was charged with keeping a room “for the purpose … of buggery” at his lodgings at 10 Great Ship Street in the shadow of Dublin Castle. He was found guilty and sentenced to the maximum punishment of two years hard labour.

– Robert Fowler (60), a Protestant toymaker, who lived in nearby 43 Golden Lane who was charged and found guilty of the same offence.

– James Pillar (63), a married Quaker grocer and merchant, who pleaded guilty to the charge of buggery and was sentenced to twenty years penal servitude. Pillar’s business premises at 56 Lower Rathmines Road beside Portobello Barracks was revealed to be a key meeting point for this homosexual network. Was it his Quaker beliefs that led to him pleading guilty to the charge? We can only guess.

All three men died before the century was out, two in desolation in the workhouse.

I’ve mapped out the locations of brothels and private residences of Considine (purple), Fowler (green) and Pillar (blue):

Daniel Considine was born in 1843 in Lower Ormond Quay, Dublin. In May 1884, he was charged with assaulting a police officer and sentenced to a fortnight’s imprisonment. Later that year, he was charged with running a brothel at 10 Great Ship Street. Considine told the court that in his youth he used to perform in drag at balls and at “little parties” in Dublin Castle.

Evidence from Daniel Considine. Belfast Newsletter, 22 August 1884.

The prison records described him as blind, 5ft 10inches with grey hair, blue eyes and a fair complexion.

Assuming he served his full sentence, Considine was released from prison on 4 August 1886. Two years later he charged with assault but the case was dismissed in court.

In April 1898, Daniel Considine of 31 Jervis Street was admitted into the North Dublin Union workhouse. He died there on 18 April 1898 aged 55 of bright’s disease (chronic inflammation of the kidneys.). He was described as a ‘dealer’ and single.

Death certificate of Daniel Considine (1843-1898) of 31 Jervis Street, Dublin. Irishgenealogy.ie

Robert Fowler was born in 1823 or 1824 in London, England. The first records of him in Dublin date from July 1843 when he was charged with “attempting to violate” a woman named Mary but was found not guilty in court. In August 1864, he was described as a basket maker of 1 Bride Street when up on the charge of breaking glass of an unknown premises and sentenced to 10 days imprisonment.

In 1884, he was charged with running a brothel at 43 Golden Lane and it was revealed that his friends and lovers knew him as ‘Mother Fowler’.

The prison records described him as 5ft 6inches with grey hair, grey eyes and a sallow complexion.

Assuming he served his full sentence, Fowler was also released from prison on 4 August 1886. In December of that year, Robert Fowler (63), a toymaker of 42 Upper Kevin Street, was charged with ‘vagrancy’ (i.e. homelessness) and sentenced to one month hard labour. He was convicted of the same offence in March 1889.

Robert Fowler died in the South Dublin Union workhouse on 1 September 1889 aged 65. His death certificate listed his occupation as ‘artist’.

Death Certificate of Robert Fowler (c. 1824 – 1899) of [42] Upper Kevin Street, Dublin. Irishgenealogy.ie

James Pillar was born on 2 February 1822 in Culkeeran, Dungannon, County Tyrone.

Griffith’s Valuation shows that he had a wine and grocery business at 56 Lower Rathmines Road, Dublin from at least 1850.

He married Susanna Pillar (née Hudson) (1822 – 1894) in 1847 and had three children: Charles Henry Pillar (1851-1910), Frederick James Pillar (1852-?) and Susanna Pillar (1857-1928).

The Pillar family in the Quaker records (1884) via FindMyPast.ie

At the time of the 1884 scandal, the Pillar family were living at 63 Palmerston Road. He was known to his friends and lovers as ‘Papa’ or ‘Pa’.

Advertisement for James Pillar’s business. The Irish Times, 28 Jan 1860.

Pillar was charged with committing buggery with Malcolm Johnston; George Taylor; Villiers Sankey; Private Odell and with conspiring with Clarke; Daniel Considine; Robert Fowler; Michael McGrane; Thomas Allen and William Carter.

The Richmond prison records described him as 5ft 6inches with grey hair, grey eyes and a fair complexion.

Dublin Quaker record book announcing that Pillar’s name would be erased from their membership list. September 1884. via FindMyPast.ie

Pillar served half of his 20 year sentence according to author Glenn Chandler and was released in 1894. He didn’t last very long on the outside. Records show that James Pillar died in Mercers Hospital, Dublin on 24 November 1894 aged 72. He was a listed as a merchant of Ballin?, Wicklow.

Death certificate of James Pillar (1822-1894) of County Wicklow. Irishgenealogy.ie

Further reading

The Dublin Castle scandal offer a fascinating glimpse into the underground gay scene of 1880s Dublin which cut through all sections of society. It’s also significant for preceding a number of other key LGBT milestones – the Oscar Wilde libel trials (1895) in London; the Cleveland Street scandal (1899); the theft of the Irish Crown Jewels (1907) which revealed a homosexual network within Dublin Castle and the emergence of the Roger Casement diaries (1916).

+ Glenn Chandler – The Sins of Jack Saul (Grosvenor House, 2016) – Chs. 8-10

+ Jonathan Coleman – Rent: Same-Sex Prostitution in Modern Britain, 1885-1957 – Ch. 3

+ Averill Earls – Queer Politics: The Dublin Castle Scandal of 1884 (2018 Podcast)

+ Brian Lacey – Terrible Queer Creatures: Homosexuality in Irish History (Wordwell Books, 2008)- Ch. 11

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A hundred years ago today, it finally ended. A war that had coughed and spluttered along since 1914 came to a halt. For men like my great-grandfather, who survived the Somme and Passchendaele in the uniform of a Royal Dublin Fusilier, a nightmare had passed. Or, at least, one form of it. There is still something haunting about the words of writer and radical Liam O’Flaherty, who suffered severe shellsock in the war: “You have to go through life with that shell bursting in your head.”

On the streets of Dublin, the news of the end of the conflict was greeted with jubilation. Flags flew in the breeze, a mock funeral for the Kaiser made its way through the streets and great crowds thronged around public spaces, eager to celebrate. Over the following days however, tensions grew and real scenes of violence on the streets highlighted the political turmoil in the capital and beyond. Besieging Sinn Féin headquarters on Harcourt Street, the Mansion House and the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union HQ at Liberty Hall, mobs made their hostility to separatists, who they regarded as ‘Pro German’, perfectly clear.

1918 was a year of eventful days in Dublin. There was the impeccably observed general strike against conscription, the defiance of Gaelic Sunday, and the day Ireland went to the polls in December. Armistice Day was another day that demonstrated something profound.

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Freeman’s Journal, 12 November 1918.

In the days before the Armistice, there had been remarkable scenes on the continent. On the streets of Berlin, workers sick of the conflict and the poverty it had brought into their lives made a stand against the war that grabbed the attention of the world. According to one eyewitness report:

On the morning of November 9th they churned out following the calls of their leaders, the immense working masses came from the outskirts, from the factories where they had gathered, toward the interior of the city. Armed troops marched at the head of the mass. New troops continuously joined them. From the small businesses, from the houses now flowed a never-ending stream of them, adding to their number. The whole of proletarian Berlin, the grey impoverished mass that had starved and bled for four years, rose up.

Such radicalism was absent in Dublin, which was in a  more joyous mood. All across the island, flags were the order of the day. On the nationalist Falls Road in West Belfast, it was reported that American stars and stripes flew alongside the green flags of the Irish Parliamentary Party. America was a theme of much of the celebration, with President Wilson taking pride of place on the Freeman’s Journal as the “peoples’ peacemaker.” Nationalist Ireland perhaps believed her place at the table was certain in any post-war conference. For others, the flag of choice was the Union flag, and celebrations were first and foremost about the victory of Britain and not the United States. After all, it was in the ranks of the British armed forces that so many Irish had fought.

Over the city, planes took to the sky, performing loop-the-loops and “gracefully gambolling in a cloudless sky, their wings flashing in the sunlight.” Back down on the street, there was a moment of light relief when students of Trinity College Dublin staged a mock funeral for the Kaiser, commandeering a hearse, in which “was laid the remains of the Kaiser, wearing a gas mask. The funeral, preceded by a number of students and followed by a large crowd of laughing soldiers and civilians, created general amusement, and added considerably to the hilarity of the proceedings.” Some newspapers failed to mention that the effigy of the Kaiser was wrapped in a “Sinn Féin flag.”

The city was described as being “delirious with joy”, with the Freeman’s Journal maintaining that “the rejoicings were continued far into the evening, and it was midnight before the crowds had dispersed…..The quays were bedecked with flags. The Allied ensigns were flown from the ships in port and from the various shipping offices. Rockets were fired from the London and North Western steamers”.  As the day wore on, and presumably as the drink flowed, things got a little more sinister.

Reading the statements of republicans in the Bureau of Military History collections, I think some, after decades had passed, may have misplaced some of the violence that occurred over subsequent days on Armistice Day itself. Certainly, the 12th and the 13th were days of more considerable violence in Dublin. There was an attempt to storm the Sinn Féin office on Harcourt Street on the 11th, which would become a repeated target over the following nights. Joseph O’Connor, remembering some of the crowd from the first night to be Trinity College students, recounted:

When the mob arrived and found it impossible to enter they proceeded to attack the place with stones and broken bottles. That failed and they attempted to set fire to the place by igniting some materials at the hall door. This failed also and after some time they desisted in their attacks.

Volunteer Simon Donnelly, inside the building at the time of the first attack, recounted that “a volley of stones through the window heralded their arrival”, and that Sinn Féiners, ready and waiting with “hurleys and sticks”, became entangled in a row in the hallway, where “skull cracking was the order of the day.” Coal, returned stones and even boiling water was hurled from the windows. Harry Boland, on the premises during one attack, may not have helped proceedings by goading the crowd from the windows, telling them that while they may wreck the building they would never wreck Sinn Féin.

The distinguished writer and journalist Seamus O’Kelly, working at his desk at the time of the riots, became an unlikely casualty of the days of celebration. On 13 November the building was again ransacked. A contemporary of James Joyce in University College Dublin, O’Kelly attempted to fight off the mob, but collapsed during a melee, some accounts suggesting he may have had a heart attack amidst the panic. Taken to the Jervis Street Hospital, he died of a brain hemorrhage on 14 November.

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Photograph of George Clancy, Professor Edmund Hogan, and Seumas O’Kelly,” held by UCD Library Special Collections. © University College Dublin. Digital content: © University College Dublin.

The violence escalated over subsequent nights, but undoubtedly the worst violence was at Liberty Hall. The Irish Independent reported on “a large gathering of soldiers, sailors and civilians carrying flags, singing Rule Britannia and shouting Liberty Hall, observed coming down Eden Quay. A series of trade union meetings were being held in the Hall, when the crowd, without warning, sent a fusillade of bricks and stones through the windows”. The president of the ITGWU condemned those who attacked a “non-political and purely trade union organisation.” Undoubtedly, the memory of James Connolly’s famous banner, thundering that WE SERVE NEITHER KING NOR KAISER BUT IRELAND, was not forgotten,and this was an act of revenge. Shots were fired at Beresford Place, perhaps saving the building, with numerous Citizen Army men recounting their role in the “defence of Liberty Hall” during the Armistice Day riots in their later pension applications. At the Mansion House, the Lord Mayor of Dublin was considerably less prepared, and windows were broken there too. The violence was a two way street, and several soldiers and policemen were reported injured in the press, some seriously.

It was all widely condemned, and negatively contrasted with the largely peaceful scenes of the 11th. Just who was blamed varied from paper to paper, reflecting various editorial lines. To the Freeman’s Journal:

If all mobs are dangerous, soldiers who have got out of hand are the most dangerous mob of all, and it certainly does not speak well for discipline that certain elements in the Dublin garrison were permitted to plunge the city into turmoil and confusion. Fortunately, civilians kept their heads, if the soldiers lost theirs, and saved what might have developed into a very ugly situation by their calmness and self-restraint.

Certainly, emotions were high and would remain so. As early as 1918 and into the following year, those who made it back from the war would begin debating its meaning. Some three thousand veterans of the war, aligned to the Irish Nationalist Veterans’ Association (INVA), would refuse to march in the subsequent victory parade, with the widow of Tom Kettle, Irish Parliamentary Party MP in the years before his death on the Western Front in 1916, proclaimed that “the men who went to France have been betrayed.” For others however, the war was viewed as a noble cause and a supreme sacrifice deserving of commemoration. There would be other violent November confrontations in the years that followed.


In memory of Thomas Howard (Royal Dublin Fusiliers) and all Dubliners who gave and risked their lives in the First World War. For a world without war.

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At night we lie in filthy beds
Scratching our aching lousy heads.
Broken by the thought of rent
For a room in a stinking tenement.

-excerpt from ‘The Workless’ in Republican Congress, 30 June 1934.

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Iconic image of Republican Congress delegation partaking in commemoration. “Shankill Road Belfast Branch: Break The Connection With Capitalism.”

The Republican Congress occupies an important, though disputed, place in Irish left-wing memory. In existence from 1934 until 1936, the organisation emerged from a split within the ranks of the IRA, proclaiming boldly at its inception that “we believe that a Republic of a united Ireland will never be achieved except through a struggle which uproots capitalism on its way.”

Torn apart by internal ideological disagreement from the beginning, there is a certain romanticism attached to the Congress owing to its ability to organise some Belfast Protestant workers into its ranks and the fact some of its leading lights were killed on the battlefields of Spain (the Spanish Civil War remaining one of the few occasions in human history where history has very much been written by the defeated protagonists). Yet while much has been written on the anti-fascist activities of the Congress and its contribution to the ranks of the International Brigades, other aspects of its political activities are often overlooked. If Congress enjoyed success on any frontier, it was certainly in its abilities to organise in both Dublin slumdom and emerging suburbia with the emergence of Tenants Leagues, winning a number of victories over landlords and an embarrassed Dublin Corporation. Many of its tactics, from rent boycotts to the occupation of houses, would be adopted by later generations of housing activists.

A changing tenement landscape

The tenement landscape of 1930s Dublin is something we have previously examined on the website. In an irony of history, many of the tenements occupied what was once the splendor of a Georgian city. As Jim Larkin Jr. would recount, Dublin stood upon the Liffey as “a city of fine Georgian houses which had been slowly rotting away for a hundred years and which had become an ever growing cancer of horrible, inhuman, dirty, vermin infest tenements, unequaled by any modern city in Europe.”

The period witnessed some significant advances in public housing in the capital, thanks in no small part to the approach taken by Housing Architect Herbert George Simms, responsible for the construction of some 17,000 new dwellings in his time in office. New flat dwellings were constructed in the city, while suburban development pushed ahead. Taking Cabra as an example of growth, the population there increased from 5,326 in 1926 to 19,119 in 1936. Cabra on the northside and Crumlin/Drimnagh on the southside represented the most ambitious suburban developments of the still relatively new Free State. Fianna Fáil had made housing an election issue in 1932, referring to the out-going first government of the state as a “rich mans government” who had failed to provide for the working classes of Ireland’s urban centres.

Still, images like this one recently posted on the blog show how there was still much work to do. Right alongside the new developments of Simms and Dublin Corporation, tenements like those shown there in Mary’s Lane remained a reality for many. Conditions were poor in early Dublin Corporation inner-city housing schemes like Corporation Buildings, but they were worse still for those at the mercy of private landlords.

‘We, The People Of York Street’

From the very beginning of the Congress, its newspaper, Republican Congress, focused its attention on conditions in tenement Dublin. An edition of the paper in June 1934 reported on the refusal of residents of York Street to pay rents until conditions improved:

The slum dwellers of York Street have been the first section of the working-class to petition the people of Ireland to right the insufferable, shocking,inhuman conditions under which they live. Here is an appeal to the conscience of the Irish working-class that should strike a deep, momentous note of response. Terrible indignation should burn up in the breast of every worker at a system that condemns our brothers and sister to crawl to an unholy death in such cesspools of misery and abomination. Dublin landlords stand forth in this area as the most soulless, greedy, despicable exploiters of their class.

The paper called for the refusal of rents to be extended into other areas where housing was inadequate, insisting that “York Street is the first; where is the next? Extend the area! Broaden the struggle! Compel the Corporation to house the workers, whether they are able to pay or not. Houses first; talk of rent afterwards….Already it is done in English cities controlled by Labour Corporations.”

The paper encouraged tenement dwellers to “appear in your hundreds at the next Corporation meeting! Demand immediate action to clear these areas and transfer the tenants to Corporation houses and flats.” At the time, Alfie Byrne was Dublin’s Lord Mayor. Byrne had long enjoyed a strained relationship with the labour movement, stretching back to the days of Larkinism. The tenants marched onto the Mansion House, making their demands for “the  stopping of eviction proceedings now pending, and immediate steps by the Corporation to house the workers of the areas in suitable surroundings.” Byrne was in unfamiliar territory, the ever-popular politician now in a hostile crowd. While he met with a delegation from the York Street tenements, he emerged to an unfamiliar audience:

When the deputation appeared with Byrne on the Mansion House steps, the crowd refused to hear Alfie Byrne and shouted for Congress speakers. In response, Charlie Donnelly said that when the Congress led the tenants of Magee’s Court, York Street and Gloucester Place to the Mansion House did not give them the undertaking that the Lord Mayor would have any solution to their problem. The Congress had told them that the Corporation was a landlord Corporation, that it served the interests, not of the tenants, but of the landlords (cheers)

The landlords’ Corporation could not solve the workers’ housing problem because under the present system, houses were not built for workers’ use but for landlords’ profit (cheers).

charlesdonnelly.jpg

Charles Donnelly, a young Congress activist centrally involved in the Tenants Leagues.

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