Each month, the Oireachtas Library & Research Service exhibits selected treasures from the Oireachtas collection in a display case in Leinster House.
With most staff working from home due to Covid-19, our historical document display is digital only for now.
This month we are taking a look at an address by Dr. E. D. Mapother to the Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland in 1880. The speech was published and bound with other pamphlets as part of the reference library of the Chief Secretary’s Office in Dublin Castle.
The speech offers a fascinating overview of public health conditions in Ireland in the late 19th century.
In addition to discussing developments in housing, sanitation, registration and control of infectious diseases, Mapother discusses recent attempts to improve the quality and supply of food, water and milk. He bemoans the lack of cookery skills in Ireland and is critical of the increasing preference for white bread and tea amongst the urban poor. Mapother also derides the practice of afternoon tea, which he claims is causing "dyspeptic and nervous females" to seek help at medical dispensaries.
Currier & Ives (1884). A cup that cheers / Courtesy of the Library of Congress
Tea drinking had risen in popularity in the 19th century. For the British and Irish middle and upper classes, afternoon tea became a fashionable ritual associated almost exclusively with women. Tea drinking for them was governed by strict rules around preparation and serving. This was in contrast to poor urban and rural households where tea was "stewed" in a pot all day. Its consumption came to be viewed as excessive and indulgent, not unlike the way that potato consumption had been viewed before the Famine.
The price of tea fell in the late 19th century, putting the substance at easier reach for the lower classes. The number of shops rose as well, especially in rural areas, making tea even more accessible. It was not cheap, however, and Mapother bemoans the waste of money that could have been spent on meat and vegetables.
The rise of tea drinking in Britain and Ireland was seen as problematic by some doctors and other authority figures. The Dean of Bangor, Henry Thomas Edwards, went so far as to claim in 1883 that “excessive tea-drinking creates a generation of nervous, hysterical, discontented people, always complaining of the existing order of the universe, scolding their neighbours, and sighing after the impossible”. This negative opinion of tea-drinking was certainly shared by Dr. Mapother. It would appear that these attitudes had little effect, however: today Ireland is the second biggest consumer of tea per capita in the world.
Ian Miller. (2015). Nutritional decline in post-Famine Ireland, c. 1851–1922. Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy: Archaeology, Culture, History, Literature, 115C, 307-323. doi:10.3318/priac.2015.115.01
Cusack, T. (2018). “This pernicious tea drinking habit”: Women, tea, and respectability in nineteenth-century Ireland. The Canadian Journal of Irish Studies, 41, 178-209. Retrieved April 1, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/26435227
Statista. (2016). Annual per capita tea consumption worldwide as of 2016, by leading countries. Retrieved 11 May, 2020 from www.statista.com/statistics/507950/global-per-capita-tea-consumption-by-country/.
This month, we’re taking a look at a 1762 edition of The Dublin Magazine, a journal that ran for just a few years. The Dublin Magazine was a miscellany of articles on topics such as history, geography, medicine, literature, current and political affairs. This edition even carried an account and picture of a "remarkable machine for flying", on page 549.
The magazine also featured reports on prominent Dublin institutions like the workhouse and voluntary hospitals. We are focusing on the account of Mercer's Hospital, on page 104.
The early 18th century was a time of subsistence and economic crisis in Ireland, leading to much poverty, disease and famine conditions for the growing population. Vagrancy and begging became impossible to ignore, particularly in the towns and cities. A small number of workhouses were established, along with foundling hospitals for abandoned children. In the absence of an organised poor law, however, government intervention remained limited. Assistance to the poor was mostly provided by religious organisations and a growing number of charitable societies.
It was in this climate that a Dublin woman named Mary Mercer founded a home for poor girls in 1724 on Stephen Street. Ten years later, management of the facility was passed to a group of physicians and surgeons, who converted the premises into a voluntary hospital for the sick poor. This was the third such hospital in Ireland, after the Charitable Infirmary (1718) and Dr Steevens (1733). The voluntary hospitals, which catered to those unable to afford private healthcare, were generally funded by subscription or donation, and run by charitable or religious organisations.
The account of Mercer’s given by The Dublin Magazine refers to the challenges of fund-raising to keep the hospital operational in its early years. Concerts became a very popular means of raising charitable funds in 18th century Ireland, and the most famous example was the world premiere of Handel’s Messiah in Dublin on 13 April 1742. This was organised by the Charitable Musical Society for the benefit of several Dublin institutions. In order to fit 700 people into the 600-seat music hall on Fishamble Street women were asked not to wear hoops in their skirts, and men were asked not to bring their swords. Over £400 was raised, with a portion going to Mercer’s.
Like other voluntary hospitals, Mercer’s became an important teaching hospital, and attracted many renowned physicians and surgeons. It closed in 1983.
The document is part of the Milltown Collection, a collection of books given to the Oireachtas Library by the National Gallery of Ireland in the 1920s.
Kelly, J. (1992). Harvests and Hardship: Famine and Scarcity in Ireland in the Late 1720s. Studia Hibernica, (26), 65-105
Kelly, J. (2012). Coping with Crisis: The response to the Famine of 1740-41. Eighteenth-Century Ireland / Iris an Dá Chultúr, 27, 99-122
Mercer’s Medical Centre (n.d.) History of Mercer’s. Accessed on 20/04/2020 at: www.mercersmedicalcentre.com/about/history
This month the Oireachtas Library is exhibiting a 1797 print of General Lazare Hoche. Hoche was the commander of an attempted French invasion of Ireland in December 1796.
The newly formed French Republic believed that Ireland would be an ideal place from which to launch an invasion of England. Several members of the revolutionary Society of United Irishmen, including Theobald Wolfe Tone, travelled to France to assure leaders that hundreds of thousands of Irish people would be willing to support them.
The experienced General Lazare Hoche was appointed to lead the expedition. Tone was granted a commission in the French army, and he was on board one of the ships that set sail from Brest in December 1796. Even though they mostly evaded British ships, appalling weather conditions quickly broke up the fleet, with several ships blown out into the Atlantic. For those that reached the Irish coast it proved impossible to land, despite Tone’s lament that they were “near enough to toss a ship’s biscuit ashore”. Several ships were lost, and what remained of the fleet returned home to Brest several weeks later.
Cartoon by caricaturist James Gillray inspired by the French military disaster
Hoche went on to success elsewhere in the French revolutionary wars before he suddenly fell ill and died in September 1797. It was on board the flagship Hoche that Tone returned with French forces in 1798 but this second invasion was defeated. Arrested, tried and found guilty of treason, Tone died by suicide before his execution was carried out.
The portrait of Hoche is one of a small collection of engravings and prints of 18th and 19th century personalities and politicians from the Oireachtas Library’s Dublin Castle Collection.
Bartlett, T. (2010). Ireland: a history. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Tone, T. W., & O'Faoláin, S. (1937). The autobiography of Theobald Wolfe Tone. London ; New York: T. Nelson.
This month the Oireachtas Library is exhibiting an unusual cartoon book about the unsuccessful Fenian plot to raid Chester Castle on 11 February 1867. The story depicts Ensign Smith as he reports for duty at Chester Castle, where he gets drunk, dreams about defeating the Fenians and then heads home to a family christening.
The plot to raid Chester Castle was spearheaded by John McCafferty, a fiery Irish-American who fought for the confederate army during the American Civil War. Under American leadership, Fenian members from all over the north of England were to meet in Chester on 11 February 1867. They would steal a lightly guarded cache of weapons and ammunition from the castle to smuggle back to Ireland for the planned rising in Dublin.
However, on the night of 10 February an informer alerted the Liverpool police, and the plan had to be called off. There wasn’t enough time to send word to everyone, and over 1,000 Fenians arrived in Chester in the early hours of 11 February, only to discard what few weapons they shared and retreat as quickly as possible.
Hundreds of soldiers were sent to Chester to bolster the castle’s defence, but there was little to do once they arrived. The whole event caused much amusement, with the Manchester Guardian joking that “the excitement seemed to be welcomed by many as an agreeable relief to the oppressive monotony of ordinary Chester life”.
This satirical book appears to have been created not long after the event, based on the date written on the cover.
Moody, T.W. (1981) Davitt and Irish revolution 1846-82. Clarendon Press, 1981
"Late Georgian and Victorian Chester 1762-1914: Politics, 1835-1914." A History of the County of Chester: Volume 5 Part 1, the City of Chester: General History and Topography. Eds. C P Lewis, and A T Thacker. Victoria County History, 2003
This month the Oireachtas Library is marking 200 years since the publication of James Hardiman’s renowned history of Galway by exhibiting our first edition copy in the Leinster House display case.
“Many a single shire in England has been more copiously described and better illustrated than the whole of Ireland!”
Hardiman was born in Mayo but spent his childhood in Galway. He intended to go into the priesthood but was prevented by a serious injury to one of his eyes. He studied law in Dublin, became a solicitor and worked in the Public Record Office in Dublin. His passion for historical research led to the publication of his first book, The History of the Town and County of the Town of Galway, in 1820.
Title page of Hardiman's History of the Town and County of the Town of Galway
According to Hardiman’s preface, the book was intended to fill a gap in the historical record of Ireland. He believed that too little was known in Britain about Ireland, particularly the western part of the island. Containing facsimile maps and engravings, the book outlines the history of Galway from its beginnings to the post-Union period. It is still considered an important reference work today.
The fourteen ancient families or "tribes" of Galway
Hardiman was an active member of the Royal Irish Academy, and a fluent Irish speaker. He researched and wrote about Irish history, archaeology and culture. At one point he became involved with the peerage claim of James Netterville, conducting extensive research to help the distant cousin of an aristocratic family claim the title of Viscount. Hardiman had to sell some of his manuscripts to the British Museum at a reduced rate simply to fund the research, which was ultimately successful (though not financially rewarding). He was a founding member of the Celtic Society and the Irish Archaeological Society, and became librarian at Queen’s College of Galway when it opened in 1849. The James Hardiman Library at NUIG is named after him.
O'Brien, A. & Lunney, L. (2012). Hardiman, James. In McGuire, J & Quinn, J. (ed.), Dictionary of Irish Biography. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press
This month the Oireachtas Library is marking 185 years since the first passenger railway in Ireland – the Dublin and Kingstown Railway - by displaying a pamphlet by James Pim, Jr., a key figure behind the railway’s development. Addressing Member of Parliament Frederick Shaw, Pim discusses the challenges and opportunities of implementing a national railway in Ireland.
Though a stockbroker and businessman, he believed that the state should be involved in planning and developing the railway, not just for profit but as a means of promoting industrial growth in Ireland. He describes the issue as “one of the most important, if not the most important Irish practical question that has ever been discussed within the walls of Parliament”.
Pim was born to an enterprising Quaker family in Dublin. He became passionate about developing an Irish railway following the development of the first inter-city railway in the world between Liverpool and Manchester in the late 1820s. Forming the Dublin & Kingstown Railway Company with other Dublin businessmen he pushed for a parliamentary act to establish a railway in Dublin, which was passed in 1831.
The design and construction of the line from Westland Row to Dunleary (later extended to Kingstown) was led by renowned engineer William Dargan. On the morning of 17 December 1834, the first train departed from Westland Row. By the end of the day almost 5,000 passengers had travelled aboard. It was intended, like many early railways, to support the transfer of freight, but quickly became established as the first suburban passenger railway in the United Kingdom.
Jones, S.P. (2009). Pim, James. In McGuire, J. & Quinn, J. (ed.), Dictionary of Irish Biography. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.
Murray, K., & Irish Railway Record Society. (1981). Ireland's first railway. Dublin: Irish Railway Record Society.
This month the Oireachtas Library is marking Science Week by displaying Robert Thompson’s 1847 report on experiments to cure the blight that had been destroying potato crops throughout America and Northern Europe. The effect had been devastating in Ireland, where the majority of the population was reliant on the potato as the main source of food.
Thompson, a superintendent at the Horticultural Society in London, planted tubers and experimented by scattering over different combinations of lime, charcoal, salt, sulphates, potash and chalk. He planted tubers alternated with bean plants and in the shade of Indian corn and also planted rows to which nothing was applied, as a control.
In the second part of the report John Lindley, a prominent botanist, explores the theory that procuring potatoes from their "native country" might help to eradicate the disease. Once the blight reached England Lindley had recognised the potential dangers for Ireland, and he was part of the commission first sent there in late 1845 to investigate the effects. At the end of this 1847 report he ominously concludes that his and Thompson’s work demonstrated that the disease could not be prevented, and that not a single recommendation could be made to the public to thwart the spread of the blight.
When the potato blight first emerged in Ireland, there was some wild speculation as to potential causes, including fairies, lightning or a curse brought about by Catholic emancipation. Two theories came to dominate scientific thought – that the blight was caused by a fungus, and that it was caused by excessive moisture from heavy rainfall.
The meteorological cause, of which botanist John Lindley was a proponent, became the prominent theory for some years until further investigation showed that while wet and windy conditions aided the spread of the disease it was essentially a fungus. In 1882 French botany professor Pierre Marie Alexis Millardet accidentally discovered how to make a successful fungicide for grape vines. That same mixture of copper sulphate and lime was found to work well in controlling potato blight and is still used today.
O’Neill, T.P. (1946) The Scientific Investigation of the Failure of the Potato Crop in Ireland, 1845-6. Irish Historical Studies, 5 (18), pp. 123-138.
Bourke, P.M.A. (1964) Emergence of Potato Blight, 1843-46. Nature, 4947, pp. 805-808.
This month the Oireachtas Library is marking 140 years since the foundation of the Irish National Land League by displaying a cartoon showing an attempted eviction at Castleview, Co. Cork in 1886. The cartoon was included as a supplement in United Ireland, the nationalist weekly newspaper.
The late 1870s in Ireland saw poor weather and harvests that greatly affected small tenant farmers.
Unable to pay rising rents to their landlords, many tenants were evicted. In response, a number of tenants’ rights organisations were founded, including the Mayo Land League under activist and Republican Michael Davitt. At the same time, Charles Stewart Parnell, then a prominent member of the Home Rule Party, became convinced that alliance with the land reform movement would be valuable in his political campaign for Irish independence.
On 21 October 1879 the Irish National Land League was established, with Parnell as its president. The League wanted fair rents and the transfer of land ownership to Irish tenants. The League was at the forefront of the ‘Land War’ that followed from 1879 to 1882. When it was suppressed in 1882, the Irish National League became its successor, and the Land War was renewed when evictions rose again in the mid-1880s.
The Irish land issue consumed British politics in the 1880s. Large groups often gathered at evictions, and there was great media interest in these events. The cartoon here depicts the efforts of the Royal Irish Constabulary to remove Timothy Hurley from his house and mill.
According to a newspaper report, “the tenant came to the window and said he was willing to pay a fair rent, but he could get no fair play from his landlord, and he was now prepared to defend his home or die”. Hurley and a group of supporters barricaded themselves into the building, throwing stones, timber and boiling water at the approaching policemen. The scene in the lower right corner shows a large crowd of League members carrying a hut to the site, so that Hurley would have somewhere to spend the night. However, the eviction was eventually abandoned.
McLachlan, N. (2009). Davitt, Michael. In J. McGuire, & J. Quinn (Ed.) Dictionary of Irish Biography. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Moody, T.W. (1981). Davitt and Irish revolution, 1846-82. Oxford: Clarendon Press
This month the Oireachtas Library is exhibiting a supplement to the Dublin Gazette from 11 September 1919, containing the Lord Lieutenant and Privy Council’s proclamation that “The Dáil Éireann” was considered a dangerous organisation and was now prohibited.
Since 1918 the government had been attempting to suppress the growing push for independence in Ireland by targeting nationalist organisations in a number of specified counties, including Sinn Féin, the Sinn Féin clubs, the Irish Volunteers, Cumann na mBan and the Gaelic League.
A proclamation published in the Dublin Gazette in November 1919 finally outlawed these groups on a nationwide basis.
The actions were taken under the Criminal Law and Procedure (Ireland) Act 1887, which had been introduced by the Chief Secretary for Ireland Arthur Balfour to suppress Parnell’s Irish National League and deal with agrarian protests during the Land War. The Lord Lieutenant was granted powers to outlaw dangerous organisations and hold special jury trials. From the end of 1918, as the nationalist conflict escalated in Ireland, hundreds of cases were dealt with under the Act, with over 1,000 people prosecuted.
The Library is also exhibiting a news article from the end of November 1919 reporting on the final proclamation by the Lord Lieutenant. It also reports that both the Sinn Féin and Dáil Éireann offices on Harcourt Street had been raided “again” by soldiers, uniformed police and detectives. The article mentions that a large crowd gathered outside during the raids “displayed considerable hostility towards the police and military”. It is notable from the list of outlawed organisations in 1919 that the government did not distinguish between military, political and cultural nationalist groups, a decision which only served to increase support for republicans as the conflict wore on.
This month the Oireachtas Library is marking the 170th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s first visit to Ireland by displaying a celebratory poem by John D’Alton. This unpublished poem was printed and submitted to the Irish Office in London by D’Alton himself and is now part of the historical collection at the Oireachtas Library.
Victoria brought Prince Albert and four of her children with her on her first visit to Ireland. The royal yacht arrived in Cobh (then Cove) on 2 August 1849 to an enthusiastic reception. The town was renamed Queenstown in her honour.
She knighted the Mayor of Cork and toured Cork city, declaring later in her diary that “Cork is not at all like an English town. It looks rather foreign. The crowd is a noisy, excitable, but a very good-natured one, running and pushing about, talking and shrieking”. Victoria then continued to Dublin, and finally Belfast, before departing for Scotland on 12 August.
D'Alton’s gushing poem was representative of the general warmth with which Victoria was received. Though the sentiments were by no means universal, the welcome was still something of a surprise coming so soon after the emergence of a devastating famine, and only one year after the armed rising of the Young Irelanders. However, it may be that the pomp and ceremony was a welcome distraction to city crowds. The royal party did not visit the countryside, where the worst effects of the famine were visible. Irish nationalism was also in a disorganised state. Daniel O’Connell’s mass movement to repeal the 1801 Act of Union had dissipated, and the attempted insurrection by the Young Irelanders in 1848 had been an embarrassing failure.
Though the visit was a success, it did not lead to any fundamental change in political relations between Ireland and Queen Victoria. She visited again in 1853 and 1861, but her coolness towards the country only increased with the rise of land agitation and the Irish Parliamentary Party, as well as the spread of Fenian violence. By the time of her last visit in 1900 there was much more open criticism from members of the political and cultural Irish nationalist movement, for whom she would always be the "famine queen".
Read the full poem in the Oireachtas Library catalogue
Loughlin, J. (2002) Allegiance and Illusion: Queen Victoria’s Irish Visit of 1849. History, 87 (288), pp. 491-513.
Johnson, J.D.A. (1933) Queen Victoria’s visit to Cork. Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society, 38 (148), pp. 103-107.
This month the Oireachtas Library is displaying the 1883 report of the Tuke committee. This year marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of James Hack Tuke, an English Quaker remembered for his philanthropic work in the west of Ireland during the 1880s.
In the late 1870s a combination of bad weather, failed harvests and competition from cheap imports meant that Irish tenant farmers were suffering badly. By 1879 a famine situation had arisen.
Authorities were quicker to intervene than they had been in the 1840s, but struggled to improve the situation in the congested districts of Connacht, where the land was poorer and the holdings very small.
In 1880 James Hack Tuke visited the region and concluded that economic rather than political intervention (as prioritised by the Land League and Irish Parliamentary Party) was what was required to alleviate the situation. Amongst several recommendations he called for a scheme of assisted emigration to the US and Canada, and formed a private committee to raise funds and administer the process.
In order to ensure success Tuke’s committee focused on a number of principles: Emigrants should be whole families rather than individual people, so as best to ease congestion on the land and free up entire holdings that could be taken by neighbouring tenants. No pressure should be put on anyone to emigrate. Families would be provided with new clothes and subsistence money, and should be booked through to a final destination. A majority of the family members emigrating needed to be of bread-winning age (i.e. over 12). The committee made all the travel arrangements, including transport for families to the boats. They even prioritised sailings earlier in the year so that people had time to settle in before the winter.
Applications soared, and Tuke mentions in his report how difficult it was to turn away desperate families who weren’t suitable for the scheme. The success prompted the government to make additional money available through the 1882 Arrears of Rent Act and the 1883 Tramways and Public Companies Act. Some of this went to Tuke’s committee, with the rest used by the boards of guardians in the poor law unions to administer their own assisted emigration programme.
Though by no means solving the problems in the west of Ireland, Tuke’s private scheme assisted over 9,000 people to start a new life in North America. He continued working to alleviate poverty and hunger in Ireland, and his reports on conditions in the west and northwest were influential in the establishment of the Congested Districts Board in 1891. He died in 1896.
Moran, G. (1995) Escape from hunger: the trials and tribulations of the Irish state-aided emigrants in North America in the 1880s. Studia Hibernica, 29, pp. 99-115.
Moran G. (2013) James Hack Tuke and his schemes for assisted emigration from the west of Ireland. History Ireland, 21 (3). Retrieved from https://www.historyireland.com/18th-19th-century-history/james-hack-tuke-and-his-schemes-for-assisted-emigration-from-the-west-of-ireland/
This month, to mark Bloomsday, the Oireachtas Library is taking a closer look at censorship in Ireland by exhibiting the Report of the Committee on Evil Literature from 1926. James Joyce’s novel Ulysses, now celebrated in an annual festival on 16 June, caused uproar when it was first published. Deemed obscene by many, the book was banned in the United States and Britain, with hundreds of copies burned.
Though it was never formally banned in Ireland it was prevented from being imported, which ensured censorship of its content for decades.
When the Irish Free State was established in 1922, Roman Catholicism – the religion of the majority of the population – was generally accepted as a vital means of delineating between British and Irish identity. Roman Catholic Church morals, therefore, were very much reflected in the policies of the new Free State Government.
It was against this backdrop that a small group of Roman Catholic activists campaigned for the censorship of "demoralising" books and newspapers, with a focus on non-Irish publications. They were worried about the corrupting influence of lurid court case details (including “divorce cases”) in British newspapers, and imported pamphlets with information about birth control. Their lobbying led Justice Minister Kevin O’Higgins to establish a committee in 1926 “to consider and report whether it is necessary or advisable in the interest of public morality to extend the existing powers of the State to prohibit or restrict the sale and circulation of printed matter”.
Minister for Justice, Kevin O'Higgins
Witnesses to the committee included members of religious interest groups and representatives from the postal service, the police force and retailers, including Mr. Charles Eason. The report indicated a majority level of support for new legislation, with a focus on preventing the import of offending material. The committee noted the difficulty of censoring books but recommended that a censorship committee be set up regardless, to review publications: “It ought not to be difficult for a group of citizens selected for their culture, good sense and respect for morality to recognise books written with a corrupt intent”.
The committee’s work led to the drafting of a Censorship of Publications Bill, enacted in 1929. Out of this a Censorship of Publications Board was established to review publications and it is still in existence to this day.
Horgan, J. (1995) Saving us from ourselves: contraception, censorship and the ‘evil literature’ controversy of 1916, Irish Communication Review, 5 (1), pp. 61-67.
Keating, A. (2013) Censorship: the cornerstone of Catholic Ireland, Journal of Church and State, 57 (2), pp. 289-309.
Bradshaw, D. (2016) Ulysses and obscenity, British Library. Available at: https://www.bl.uk/20th-century-literature/articles/ulysses-and-obscenity
Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland
This month the Oireachtas Library is highlighting one of the oldest books in our collection, Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland. The Library’s copy is the second edition, published in 1587, and was originally part of the library of the Chief Secretary at Dublin Castle.
The Chronicles originated from an ambitious attempt by the Dutch-born, London-based printer Reyner Wolfe to publish a history of the world. He died before the book could be finished, and so his assistant, Raphael Holinshed, took up the project, but decided to limit the scope to just Britain and Ireland. The first edition was published in 1577, illustrated by woodcuts. Ten years later an expanded edition was published. This had no woodcut illustrations but did contain highly decorated front pages for each volume and decorated letters at the beginning of many chapters.
Though named after Raphael Holinshed the book was actually a major collaboration between about eight writers and a number of printers and publishers. The original passages on Ireland were compiled by Richard Stanihurst, a scholar, diplomat, writer and alchemist from Dublin, who based much of his work on a history compiled by his mentor Edmund Campion. The section on Ireland was updated in 1587 by the English writer and civic administrator John Hooker.
Though the histories contained in Holinshed’s Chronicles were not always entirely reliable the 1587 edition is particularly famous because it was used by William Shakespeare as a source for more than one third of his plays, including Macbeth, King Lear and the history plays. Other writers of the Elizabethan era, including Marlowe and Spenser, were also inspired by stories in Holinshed’s Chronicles.
Colm Lennon (2009). Stanihurst, Richard in James McGuire, James Quinn (ed.), Dictionary of Irish Biography. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.
The Holinshed Project. http://www.cems.ox.ac.uk/holinshed/index.shtml
Holinshed’s Chronicles, 1577. British Library. https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/holinsheds-chronicles-1577
First report of the General Board of Health 1822
This month, to mark World Health Day on 7 April, the Oireachtas Library is displaying the First Report of the General Board of Health in Ireland in 1822. This report comes from the historical Dublin Castle Collection.
The second half of the 1810s had been marked by a severe period of famine and disease.
In 1815, an enormous eruption of Mount Tambora in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) sent so much ash into the atmosphere that the earth cooled. This led to a devastating subsistence crisis around the world. In Ireland, persistent cold and rain led to failed crops and wet turf. A typhus epidemic followed between 1817 and 1819, killing tens of thousands. In response to these events the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Charles Talbot, established a permanent, centralised General Board of Health in 1820.
Charles Talbot, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland 1817-1822 and the First report of the General Board of Health
Fever hospitals and dispensaries had been on the increase throughout Ireland and fever outbreaks often led to temporary, locally established committees. But up to this point there had been no attempts to centralise administration of public healthcare. The Board was tasked with inquiring into the state of public health around the country and investigating ways to improve it. It began by issuing a survey to Irish and Anglo-Irish landowners, clergymen, magistrates and doctors in each county. The survey posed questions about the health conditions of the poor in each area, the state of their dwellings, their supply of fuel, clothing, food and employment. Because the Board received so many replies they decided to concentrate on Munster for the first report, which was presented to the new Lord Lieutenant in 1822.
The collated results of the survey paint a picture of pervasive scarcity throughout the counties of Munster. In Clonmel “the condition of the poor as to bedding is wretched; they sleep on straw, seldom changes, and frequently on the damp ground”. In Clare, at Newmarket on Fergus “numbers are reported to be half-naked and half-starved from deficiency of employment”.
Though the responses are mostly sympathetic, demonstrating the increasing recognition of the link between poverty and poor health, they are interspersed with occasional moral judgements. One respondent complained that Irish women were not keeping their cabins clean enough, and that “nothing is more difficult than to induce the common Irish to allow proper ventilation in their houses”.
The Board’s design for an improved Irish cottage
The report concludes with several recommendations for the improvement of health, such as the publication of a pamphlet to encourage uptake of the smallpox vaccine, of which the poorer classes remained suspicious. The Board also printed designs for elevated cottages to alleviate damp and improve ventilation, as well as designs for temporary fever hospitals. Though the General Board of Health operated mainly as an advisory body in the following years, its establishment – almost twenty years before its equivalent in England – marked a significant increase in public health intervention by governments.
Geary, L. M. (2018) From voluntary hospitals to voluntary health insurance: a history of Irish healthcare from the early-eighteenth to the mid-twentieth century. In The Irish Healthcare System: an historical and comparative review. Dublin, Healthcare Insurance Authority, pp.9-27
Maye, B. (2016) A volcanic eruption with global repercussions: An Irishman’s Diary on 1816, the year without a summer. The Irish Times, 16 August. Retrieved from: https://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/a-volcanic-eruption-with-global-repercussions-an-irishman-s-diary-on-1816-the-year-without-a-summer-1.2760797
Ó Gráda, C. (1995) Ireland: a new economic history 1780-1939. Oxford, Oxford University Press.
O’Neill, T.P. (1973) Fever and public health in pre-famine Ireland. The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, 103, pp.1-34. Retrieved from: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25508612
This month the Oireachtas Library is looking at the legacy of the Irish Parliamentary Party by displaying political cartoons from two issues of the periodical Irish Fun: A Tonic in Type.
Dating from October 1917 and May 1918, these cartoons mock the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP), which had been in marked political decline since 1916 and was the object of much satire for Sinn Féin periodicals like Irish Fun.
The IPP had been the main political driver of Irish nationalism for decades, advocating for a self-governing Irish parliament within the United Kingdom. In 1914, it looked like home rule was finally going to become reality but it was put on hold at the outbreak of the war. In the years that followed the IPP suffered a complete collapse in popularity. By the time an election was held in December 1918, the party returned only six seats in Ireland to Sinn Féin’s 73, a crushing defeat.
Irish Fun cartoon, October 1917
Unlike Sinn Féin, the IPP took up their seats in Westminster, where they continued to represent Irish nationalist interests under the leadership of Joseph Devlin. They criticised the British government’s policy towards Ireland throughout 1919 and 1920. After Bloody Sunday on 21 November 1920 Devlin was physically attacked by another MP in the chamber for raising questions about the reported military killing of civilians in Croke Park. The party was very conscious of their perception as pro-British. They agreed not to compete with Sinn Féin for seats in the 1921 election in southern Ireland. That meant that none of their members were elected to the second Dáil (or House of Commons of Southern Ireland), members of which negotiated and debated the Treaty.
Joseph Devlin, Leader of the IPP (1918-21)
In the north, Joseph Devlin and other former IPP members formed the Nationalist Party. They co-operated with Sinn Féin so that both parties returned six seats each to the House of Commons of Northern Ireland in the 1921 elections. They pursued a mostly abstentionist policy in the decades that followed.
In the south, prominent IPP member Stephen Gwynn had founded the Irish Centre Party in 1919 in an attempt to reinvigorate the debate for home rule in Ireland. With little support from either nationalists or unionists, however, Gwynn merged the party with Sir Horace Plunkett’s Irish Dominion League. This also advocated a form of home rule but the party only lasted until 1921.
Some former IPP members ran for the Dáil as independents, including Alfie Byrne, the famous Dublin lord mayor. Captain William Redmond, the son of John Redmond, founded the National League Party with Thomas O’Donnell in 1926, but lost support after a failed attempt in 1927 to oust Cumann na nGaedhael in favour of a Labour/Fianna Fáil coalition. Others joined Cumann na nGaedhael and the National Centre Party, both of which amalgamated into Fine Gael in 1933. Thomas O’Donnell was one of the few prominent former IPP members to join Fianna Fáil.
Irish Fun is part of a small collection of early 20th century newspapers and magazines in the Oireachtas Library’s Special Collections.
HC Deb 22 November 1920, vol 135, cols 38-43. Accessed 21/02/2019 at: https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/commons/1920/nov/22/murder-conspiracy
Dorney, J. and O’Donoghue, M. (2017). The Irish Parliamentary Party after 1918, an interview with Martin O’Donoghue. Accessed 21/02/2019 at: http://www.theirishstory.com/2017/01/21/the-irish-parliamentary-party-after-1918-an-interview-with-martin-odonoghue/#.XFrU1_43aUl
Michael L. (2009). Redmond, John Edward. In J. McGuire, J. Quinn (eds.), Dictionary of Irish Biography. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press. Accessed 21/02/2019 at: http://dib.cambridge.org/viewReadPage.do?articleId=a7602)
O’Donovan, J. (2015). The Decline of Irish Parliamentary Party. Accessed 21/02/2019 at: http://theirishrevolution.ie/decline-irish-parliamentary-party/#.XFrSiP43aUk
This month the Oireachtas Library is remembering Eamon de Valera’s escape from Lincoln jail by exhibiting a copy of The Shamrock magazine from February 1919. The satirical cartoon on the cover shows the Home Secretary, Edward Shortt, searching for his "German Plot", which is depicted as a dog with its “TALE cut SHORTT”.
The German Plot was a political conspiracy that took place in May 1918 while Shortt was Chief Secretary for Ireland. The Dublin Castle administration accused Sinn Féin of engaging in "treasonable communication with Germany" and the party’s leaders were subsequently rounded up and interned in English prisons.
By the time this issue of The Shamrock was published in mid-February 1919, de Valera had escaped from Lincoln jail along with Seán Milroy and Seán McGarry, bringing the number of escapees to seven. There was mounting pressure on and from within the newly elected British government to release the other Sinn Féin prisoners. In early March the Cabinet finally acquiesced to a gradual release of the remaining internees.
The issue also contains short stories, poems, cultural reviews and commentary on nationalist issues, with decorative headings for each section.
There is even a humorous page dedicated to the “press cuttings of tomorrow”, in which a news article from the year 2000 reports that a federation of Celtic people has organised all over Europe, and that “all means of aerial transport is in the hands of the Gael, who has by this means forced all the world to learn his almost impossible language”.
The Shamrock is part of a small collection of early 20th century newspapers and magazines in the Oireachtas Library & Research Service Special Collections.
McCullagh, D. (2017) De Valera : Rise 1882-1932. Dublin: Gill Books.
De Valera in sensational escape from Lincoln Prison, RTÉ Century Ireland: https://www.rte.ie/centuryireland/index.php/articles/de-valera-in-sensational-escape-from-lincoln-jail
Learn more about the centenary of Dáil Éireann at www.dail100.ie
This month the Parliamentary Library is displaying a copy of Arthur Griffith’s pamphlet entitled The Resurrection of Hungary: A Parallel for Ireland, which was published in 1904. According to the historian Brian Maye, Griffith was struck by the parallel he saw between Hungary and Ireland – two small countries linked with great empires. He believed that the history of Hungary contained an important lesson for the Ireland of his own time.
This led him to call on Irish MPs, in October 1902, to end their attendance at Westminster and set up their own parliament in Dublin.
He outlined his policy in a series of 27 articles in the United Irishman newspaper. In November 1904 the articles were published in pamphlet form and more than 20,000 copies were sold within three months of publication.
The policy suggested that Ireland should become a separate kingdom alongside Great Britain, the two forming a dual monarchy with a shared monarch but separate governments. Griffith thought that this solution would be more palatable to the British. With the founding of Sinn Féin in 1905 Griffith first presented this theory as the "Sinn Féin policy". However by 1916 dual monarchism as a policy was replaced by republicanism.
Griffith was one of 73 members of Sinn Féin arrested in May 1918 on the pretext that they had conspired with Germany (the so-called German Plot). He spent the period on the run-up to the 1918 general election in prison but was elected for both the Cavan East and Tyrone North-West constituencies. He was one of the Members described as “fé ghlas ag Gallaibh” (imprisoned by a foreign enemy) during the roll call at the first meeting of Dáil Éireann on 21 January 1919.
Griffith never aspired to leadership of a political party, preferring to remain as a policy maker and adviser. According to Seán Ó Lúing:
“his mature and realistic mind was a valuable stabilizing factor in the First Dáil, which, like its successor, was composed of extreme and militant nationalists. Dáil Eireann itself was designed out of the thought of many years which Griffith had given to national planning, and it, and its institutions, provided the moral and democratic structure that sustained the later years of Irish revolution”.
References and further reading
McGee, O. (2015). Arthur Griffith. Dublin, Merrion Press.
Ó Lúing, S. (1971). Arthur Griffith, 1871-1922: Thoughts on a Centenary. Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review, Vol. 60, No. 238, pp. 127-138.
This month the Parliamentary Library is marking the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War by exhibiting the first interim report of the Committee on the Interpretation of the Term “Period of the War”. This is from the Dublin Castle collection, which was transferred to the Library in the 1920s from the Chief Secretary’s office. The committee had been established by the Ministry of Reconstruction, which itself was tasked with planning for the end of the war.
A number of committees were set up by the Ministry to investigate housing, employment, health, education and other requirements for the post-War country, particularly for millions of demobilised military personnel.
Under the committee’s terms of reference, they would inquire into any legal questions arising from the determined date of the end of the war. In particular they needed to examine how any Acts, orders and regulations created during the conflict would be affected. For the committee, “the operation of the emergency statutes and orders is so far-reaching, the powers given are so vast, the responsibility of those exercising them so serious, that it would be a calamity if there were any real doubt as to when the respective rights and duties came to an end”.
The starting point for the committee, as laid out in this short interim report of January 1918, was to compile all the phrases used in wartime legislation to describe the period of the war.
They concluded that, as they expected the war to be ended formally by a treaty or treaties, the legal date of the end of the war could be taken as the date when ratifications were exchanged. By the time the Armistice was signed on 11 November 1918, the "Great War" had claimed approximately 40 million military and civilian casualties, half of whom had died from battle, famine or disease. At least 200,000 Irish men had served in the military (the vast majority of whom were volunteers) and approximately 35,000 Irish people were killed.
Dungan, M. (1997) Irish Soldiers and the Great War. Dublin: Four Courts Press.
Imperial War Museum https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/irelands-role-in-the-first-world-war
This month the Oireachtas Library is marking Budget 2019 by displaying a file of material relating to budgets, estimates and expenditures made between 1923 and 1924. The file is from the Oireachtas archival material collection held by the Oireachtas Library & Research Service.
The file displays a note from the then Ceann Comhairle, Michael Hayes TD, on the procedure to be followed in dealing with budget resolutions and the Finance Bill.
The budget for 1923 was discussed in the Dáil on 13 April 1923. The debate was introduced by the Ceann Comhairle and, because it was the first occasion upon which a Budget statement was about to be made, he reminded Members of the procedure to be followed. The Budget was then introduced by William T. Cosgrave TD, President of the Executive* and Minister for Finance.
In his overview of the Irish economy President Cosgrave said that:
“the general state of our finances makes it plain that reduction of taxation is out of the question at the present moment. Largely because of the campaign of destruction which has been waged in the country during the past year, borrowing to a great extent will be necessary during the current financial year. The credit of the State, and the conditions on which borrowing on such a scale will be found feasible, are matters on which it is not yet possible to frame definite conclusions, and it is, therefore, important that we should not depend more than we can help upon having resort to borrowing”.
This budget was introduced just as the Civil War was ending. The war’s effect on the economy imposed a major burden on the new government. It has been estimated that the material damage involved amounted to more than £30 million and that it cost £17 million to finance the war. Ronan Fanning has written that “in 1923-24 30% of all national expenditure was devoted to defence and a further 7% to compensation for property losses and personal injuries”.
In concluding his speech, President Cosgrave remarked that:
“the anticipated deficit for the coming year is, no doubt, serious, but it is not such as to cause any misgiving as to the financial future of the Free State and the credit of the country. A large amount of the expenditure is non-recurring, and it is quite clear that on the arrival of settled conditions the revenue of the country will be ample to cover all commitments.”
The file on display also includes a copy of the Appropriation Bill 1923; Estimates for Public Services; Finance Bill 1923; Central Fund (No 1) Bill 1923; Supplementary Estimates to "defray the expenses" of public works and buildings, railways, public education, the army, post office and "to pay the expenses" of Seanad Éireann and the Ministry of Industry and Commerce.
Fanning, R. (1978) The Irish Department of Finance, 1922-58. Dublin: Institute of Public Administration.
Hopkinson, M. (1988) Green against green: the Irish Civil War. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan.
*From December 1922 until December 1937 the leader of the government was called the President of the Executive Council. Following the coming into operation of the Constitution of Ireland in December 1937 the title of the office became Taoiseach and the Office of President was established.
This month the Oireachtas Library is marking 90 years since the first Irish state banknotes were entered into circulation. On display is the 1929 report of the Currency Commission, which had been established to oversee the production and issue of the new currency.
British notes and coins continued in circulation for several years after the foundation of the Free State. Irish trade and finance was linked extensively to the United Kingdom, and the emphasis on maintaining good ties and stability in the economy meant that the rollout of a national currency was not a particularly urgent priority for the new government.
Parliamentary debate about the issue began in earnest in the mid 1920s. The Coinage Act was passed in 1926, and a Banking Commission, chaired by Professor Henry Parker-Willis, an American finance expert, was set up to report on potential changes in the laws of banking and note issue for the new State. This recommended the establishment of the Free State’s own currency, of parity with sterling, and recommended setting up an independent Currency Commission to oversee the endeavour. The Currency Commission was formed after the passing of the Currency Act 1927 and was chaired by former Secretary to the Department of Finance, Joseph Brennan.
The document on display was the first report presented to the Oireachtas by the Commission after the new currency was issued. It records the progress made on distribution of the currency, and also describes the design choices for the legal tender notes. This included “an emblematic female figure” designed by Sir John Lavery (giving rise to the common reference to the "Lady Lavery banknotes"). On the reverse sides were a series of sculptured heads from the Dublin Custom House, to symbolise different rivers of Ireland.
Images of Series A banknotes are kindly provided by Central Bank of Ireland Archives. An exhibition on the development of the independent state currency is now on display at the Central Bank Visitor Centre.
Kelly, J. (2003). The Irish Pound: From Origins to EMU. Central Bank Quarterly Bulletin, Spring, 89-115.
Honohan, P. (2002). Using Other People’s Money: Farewell to the Irish Pound. History Ireland, 10(1), 34-37.
Pratschke, J.L. (1969). The Establishing of the Irish Pound: a Backward Glance. Economic and Social Review, 1(1) 51-75.
Banking Commission (1926). First Interim Report on Banking and Currency. Accessible at http://opac.oireachtas.ie/AWData/Library3/Library2/DL068535.pdf
Given the recent atypical Irish weather, in August we took a look back at the early days of scientific weather observation in Ireland. We exhibited a copy of A Comparative View of Meteorological Observations Made in Ireland (circa 1793). This paper, which was read by Richard Kirwan at the Royal Irish Academy on 2 February 1793, is a daily record of the weather in Ireland during the years 1789 and 1790. It is included in a volume entitled Kirwan’s essays and sundries others and was acquired by the Houses of the Oireachtas Library in the 1920s.
During 1789 Kirwan noted that:
“from July the 1st to the 13th it rained every day in showers resembling thunder showers. But the 22nd it rained all day; on the 23rd a heavy shower … From this to August the 3rd it rained every second day. On the 7th, about sixty-four miles N. W. of Dublin, I met a violent storm with rain and some hail”.
Kirwan travelled outside Dublin too, and his observations for 1790 records that on:
“August the 1st, heavy rain in Galway. 3rd, 4th and 5th, dark and cloudy, but no rain; but from the 6th scarce a day passed without rain until the 24th”.
Kirwan kept a daily record of Dublin weather for many years. He observed the weather in the garden of his house in Cavendish Row. Others had kept weather diaries before him, but Kirwan’s observations were the first in Ireland to be compiled with the aid of accurate instruments. Records survive from 1787 to 1808, giving readings from a barometer, thermometers, a rain gauge, and an anemometer that he designed himself.
He was a prolific author of papers and books on chemistry, mineralogy, meteorology, and other subjects, and frequently published in the Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy. His books appeared in multiple editions in English, and four were translated into French, German, Spanish or Russian. His geological publications included the important books Elements of mineralogy (1784), which was the first English-language text on the subject, and Geological essays (1799).
Meteorologist and former Irish Times columnist Brendan McWilliams said that Kirwan:
“made a number of original contributions. Indeed many of his ideas anticipated 20th-century concepts: he evolved a theory of air masses, for example, and classified them 'polar', 'tropical' and 'marine' – ideas very familiar to today’s weather people. He also tried his hand at forecasting, using climatological information to predict the coming season, and the story goes that his predictions were so popular and well respected that farmers delayed their sowing until they knew the details of his latest prognostications”.
James Malton’s print of the Rotunda and Cavendish Row c. 1792 / National Library of Ireland
Further Reading: Met Éireann publications
Met Éireann’s Historical Note series has been in publication since 1995. It is issued on an irregular basis. Issues are compiled by Met Éireann staff and focus on the history of meteorology, with a particular emphasis on the history of meteorology in Ireland.
Their Major Weather Events series includes a report on the exceptionally fine and warm summer of 1798 when most of the fighting during the rebellion took place. The report notes that one effect of the fine weather on the course of the rebellion was to facilitate the Wexford rebels and their families who lived outdoors for several weeks and marched over long distances.
Burns, D.T. (2003). Richard Kirwan, 1733–1812: “the philosopher of Dublin”’, National Committee for the History and Philosophy of Science, 8th Annual Lecture, Royal Irish Academy.
Dixon, F. E. (1971). Richard Kirwan: the Dublin philosophe. Dublin Historical Record, 24, 52-64.
Donovan, M. (1847 – 1850). Biographical account of the late Richard Kirwan Esq. Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, 4, App. VIII, lxxxi-cxviii.
McWilliams, B (1988). A memorable eccentric, The Irish Times 23 June, page 2.
Treanor, M. (2012). A large area and a common plan: the progress of scientific meteorology in Ireland. Science at the Royal Irish Academy, 28-36, 404-408.
Wyse Jackson, P.N. (2009) Richard Kirwan. In McGuire, J; Quinn, J. (ed) Dictionary of Irish Biography. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.
In August, to mark the 170th anniversary of the Young Irelander rebellion, we displayed the report of the trial of William Smith O’Brien. The report is one of several bound 19th century trial proceedings transferred to the Oireachtas Library in the 1920s from the Chief Secretary’s Office in Dublin Castle.
William Smith O’Brien was a descendant of Brian Boru, and an MP. He became a passionate advocate of repeal of the Act of Union in the House of Commons, joining Daniel O’Connell’s Repeal Association in 1843.
By the 1840s, something of a generation gap had emerged within the repeal movement. Younger repealers – well educated and broadly liberal intellectuals such as Charles Gavan Duffy and Thomas Francis Meagher – became impatient with the lack of political reform in Ireland. The situation was compounded by the onset of famine. In July 1846 this group of Young Irelanders, led by O’Brien, split from the Repeal Association because of O’Connell’s assertion that repeal should be achieved by non-violent means only.
In February 1848, the French people overthrew King Louis-Philippe and established the French Second Republic. With their expectations raised, O’Brien, Duffy and others began giving impassioned speeches and travelling through Ireland to recruit supporters for an armed rebellion. The worried government suspended habeas corpus on 22 July and began arresting the leaders.
The agitation culminated in the somewhat inglorious "Battle of Widow McCormack’s Cabbage Plot" on 29 July. An RIC unit took refuge from the Young Irelander rebels in the house of Mrs Margaret McCormack in Ballingarry, Co. Tipperary, where they held her five children hostage. Though O’Brien attempted at one point to negotiate the children’s release, a gunfight ensued, with two Young Irelanders shot dead. When police reinforcements arrived a few hours later, the rebels dissipated.
Woodcut of the removal of William Smith O’Brien to prison in 1848 / Published in The Citizen newspaper, 1854
O’Brien was arrested and tried for high treason in Clonmel throughout September and October 1848. He was sentenced to death, but this was commuted to transportation to Van Dieman’s Land (Tasmania). He was eventually pardoned completely, like the other leaders, a number of whom went on to have successful political careers in Australia and the United States.
Cronin, M. (2005). Young Ireland in Cork, 1840-1849. In Dunne, T.; Geary, L.M. History and the Public Sphere: Essays in Honour of John A. Murphy. Cork: Cork University Press.
Davis, R.P. (2009). O’Brien, William Smith. In McGuire, G; Quinn, J. (ed.), Dictionary of Irish Biography. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.
Ó Cathaoir, B. (1998). The Rising of 1848. History Ireland, 6(3), 26-28.
Petler, D.N. (1985). Ireland and France in 1848. Irish Historical Studies, 24(96), 493-505.
In June, we exhibited a copy of the Report of the Proceedings of the Irish Convention published in 1918. The report was included in the Chief Secretary of Ireland’s library collection at Dublin Castle which was acquired by the Oireachtas Library in the 1920s.
The Irish Convention, which was held in the Regent House in Trinity College Dublin, was first suggested by the Prime Minister David Lloyd George in May 1917 as a way to break the deadlock around the issue of Home Rule for Ireland. However, it has been seen as a stalling device to allow the Irish question to be put on the long finger during the war.
Members of the Irish Convention at Trinity College / Image courtesy of the National Library of Ireland
Under the chairmanship of Sir Horace Plunkett, its membership comprised the following categories: Government nominees (15), Irish episcopate (7), Irish Party (5), Ulster Party (5), Irish peers (2), Southern Unionists (5), Lord Mayors and Mayors (6), County Council delegates (32), Urban district councils (8), Chambers of Commerce (3) and Labour delegates (7).
In May 1917 the Executive of the National Council of Sinn Féin met at 6 Harcourt Street in Dublin and decided that Sinn Féin should decline to participate in any convention called by the Government. Outlining his scepticism about the proposed convention, Count George Plunkett stated that:
“The convention is not ours. It is called by England, and will be worked by English contrivances to suit English ends. Does any Irishman think the English government is ready to leave this small nationality free to shape a constitution to our desires? No! So we turn to the peace conference, and to our own resolves, for liberty.”
In May 2018, we exhibited a copy of a campaign speech delivered by Father Michael O’Flanagan at Ballyjamesduff, Co. Cavan on Sunday 26 May 1918. O’Flanagan was speaking in support of Arthur Griffith, the president of Sinn Féin, who was standing for election as an MP in the Cavan East by-election. The speech was particularly demonstrative of the anti-conscription stance of Sinn Féin, a sentiment that set them apart from the faltering Irish Parliamentary Party and helped them sweep to victory in the general elections later that year.
“As a Nation, then, and only as a Nation, are we right in resisting conscription, and as a Nation we cannot have any parleying any longer with any foreign Parliament.”
Michael O’Flanagan was born in 1876 at Kilkeevan, Co. Roscommon. Brought up in a politically and culturally active household, he was ordained in 1900 and became a professor of Irish at Summerhill College in Co. Sligo. He was heavily involved in agricultural and land reform issues, as well as the growing nationalist movement of the time, joining the executive committees of the Gaelic League and Sinn Féin in the early 1910s. A renowned, passionate public speaker, he recited prayers at the funeral of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa in 1915.
O’Flanagan with Padraig Pearse at the grave of O’Donovan Rossa / Image courtesy of the National Library of Ireland
In 1917 he became a vice-president of Sinn Féin and played an energetic role as a campaigner in elections, first in support of Count Plunkett in the North Roscommon by-election of 1917 and then in support of Arthur Griffith and other Sinn Féin members in 1918. He was suspended by the Bishop of Elphin shortly after giving his fiery speeches in Cavan, having been warned not to attend such political meetings after the North Roscommon election. He was, however, appointed chaplain of the First Dáil in January 1919.
Fr. O’Flanagan (standing on the far right hand side) with Dáil Members in April 1919
Though he was reinstated by the Bishop he remained very active on the Sinn Féin executive, particularly as political leaders went on the run during the War of Independence and he was made acting president. Uneasy about the level of violence occurring across the country, he unilaterally approached Lloyd George about potential peace talks in December 1920, an unpopular and unsuccessful move. He opposed the Treaty, but spent the years following the War of Independence fundraising for Sinn Féin in America and other countries. He was suspended again by the Bishop upon returning to Ireland. He fell out with Eamon de Valera over the suggestion that republicans might enter the Dáil if the oath of allegiance was abolished, a move that led to the setting up of the Fianna Fáil party.
A figure of complex and sometimes inconsistent views, Fr. O’Flanagan was a member of the establishment who often defied authority. He became president of Sinn Féin in 1933 but was expelled from the party in 1936 for taking part in a state radio re-enactment of the First Dáil. He supported the Italian invasion of Abyssinia but also the republican side of the Spanish Civil War. He was reinstated by the Bishop of Elphin in 1939 and acted as chaplain of two Dublin convents and a hospital for a number of years before dying on 7 August 1942.
Maume, P. (2009). O’Flanagan, Michael. In James McGuire, James Quinn (ed.), Dictionary of Irish Biography. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press. (http://dib.cambridge.org/viewReadPage.do?articleId=a6756)
Laffan, M. (1999). The Resurrection of Ireland: the Sinn Féin Party, 1916-1923. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.
In April 2018, we exhibited a copy of the Irish Labour Party general election manifesto published in September 1918. Despite the preparation of this manifesto, the Labour Party did not take part in the general election of 1918 or the parliamentary elections of 1921. This decision was taken to facilitate a clear-cut decision by the electorate on the national question and to avoid the possibility of a split in the labour movement which was organised on an all-Ireland basis.
During 1918, in anticipation of the forthcoming general election, the Irish Trade Union Congress and Labour Party reversed the order of its title to the Irish Labour Party and Trade Union Congress (ILP&TUC). It had more than doubled in strength to 250,000 members between the years 1916 and 1918.
Labour Party manifesto 1918 extract
Keeping up the momentum of the anti-conscription campaign from earlier in the year, the ILP&TUC Annual Congress, held at City Hall, Waterford on 5-7 August 1918, decided to draw up a manifesto for the upcoming general election as well as a new constitution. Both of these were to be presented to a Special Congress before the end of the year. Six weeks later the manifesto was published.
The Special Congress to decide on an election strategy and discuss the ILP&TUC manifesto was held in the Mansion House, Dublin, on 1-2 November 1918.
Delegates to the ILP&TUC Congress Waterford, 1918 / Image courtesy of the National Library of Ireland
Back in August 1918, when the National Executive decided to contest the forthcoming general election there was little sign of an early end to the war in Europe. The election was referred to as a ‘war election’ to be followed at the end of the war by dissolution and another election. In a matter of weeks, however, the war turned. Germany was on the retreat and peace was imminent. The election now became a ‘peace election’. With new republics being formed in Europe, the labour movement came under pressure to withdraw in order to allow a demonstration of unity on the issue of Irish self-determination. At the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis, held just two days before the Special Congress, speakers called for unity. Sean T O’Kelly was quoted in the Freeman's Journal saying that Labour should agree to stand aside and “let the election be fought on the clean issue of Ireland versus England”.
On the morning of the Special Congress, the National Executive met and recommended that the Labour Party should withdraw from the forthcoming general election. Later that day, Thomas Johnson, treasurer, on behalf of the National Executive, outlined the position to delegates (as quoted in the report of the conference, page 104):
“A call comes from all parts of Ireland for a demonstration of unity on this question, such as was witnessed on the Conscription issue. Your Executive believes that the workers of Ireland join earnestly in this desire, that they would willingly sacrifice, for a brief period, their aspirations towards political power if thereby the fortunes of the nation can be enhanced (applause).
"In the light of these new circumstances, the National Executive has reviewed the position and has decided to recommend the withdrawal from this Election of all Labour Candidates- (applause). They do so in the hope that the democratic demand for self-determination, to which the Irish Labour Party and its candidates give their unqualified adherence, will thereby obtain the freest chance of expression at the polls."
Mr Thomas McPartlin (Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners, Dublin) seconded the motion saying that he did so “solely influenced by the amount of good it would do in keeping the workers of Ireland united for the fight that would come in the future”.
The recommendation of the National Executive was accepted by the delegates.
Archives Exhibition by Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the National Archives of Ireland. Retrieved from http://centenaries-ituc.nationalarchives.ie/introduction/
Devoy-McAulliffe, F. (2017) The day when Irish labour found itself: the general strike against conscription in Crowley, J. Ó Drisceoil. D. and Murphy, M. (eds.) Atlas of the Irish Revolution, pp.330-334.
Farrell, B. (1970) Labour and the Irish political party system: A suggested approach to analysis, Economic and Social Review, 1 (4) pp. 477-509
Halligan, B. (1978) Snapshots: five days of Labour Party history. Retrieved from http://brendanhalligan.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/BH-5-Days-Labour-History-NC.pdf
O’Connor Lysaght, D. R. (2013) Labour in waiting: the after-effects of the Dublin lockout, History Ireland, 21 (4) July/August, pp. 44-47
In March 2018, we showed an Irish issue of The Police Gazette or Hue-and-Cry from 25 March 1921. This issue illustrates the turmoil in Ireland at the time, following a sharp escalation of violence in the War of Independence at the end of 1920. The list of wanted "criminals" includes IRA leaders Michael Collins, Richard Mulcahy and Cathal Brugha along with the thief of a pony and cart in Co. Armagh and a man who embezzled a large sum from the Midleton Co-operative Society Stores in Co. Cork.
List of apprehensions sought on 25 March 1921
On the back page, further descriptions include that of republicans Rory O’Connor, who had recently escaped from the Curragh internment camp, and Dan Breen, whose dark complexion was likened to “a blacksmith emerging from a forge”. Breen had been on the wanted list since his involvement in an ambush in Soloheadbeg, Co. Tipperary on 21 January 1919, in which two policemen were killed. The ambush occurred on the same day that the First Dáil convened in Dublin and is considered by many to be the inciting incident of the war.
Roderick "Rory" O’Connor
The Police Gazette originated as something of an experiment in late 18th century London when the concept of policing was still very much in its infancy. Brothers Sir John Fielding and Henry Fielding, pioneers of criminal investigation, published advertisements calling on people to send them details of crimes committed and descriptions of the criminals involved. The crowd-sourced information was then published and distributed to local magistrates to assist with arrest and prosecution. The experiment proved very popular, and similar journals were printed for a number of years. Eventually it was decided to make the publication official and the London Metropolitan Police began publishing The Police Gazette or Hue-and-Cry twice weekly for distribution to police stations. In Ireland a special edition was circulated by the policing authorities in Dublin Castle.
Organised policing in Ireland began in the early 19th century with the establishment of the Irish Constabulary, and the Dublin Metropolitan Police, which operated as an unarmed civic force in Dublin city. Perceptions of the Irish Constabulary were mixed amongst the Irish population. Many nationalists associated it with British imperial administration, enforcing evictions and gathering intelligence. It was awarded the "Royal" prefix by Queen Victoria for its efforts to quash the Fenian Rising of 1867. But members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) were also well integrated with local communities. Many were from farming backgrounds and carried out civic and local government tasks such as taking the census. RIC members also rarely carried guns despite their status as an armed police force.
RIC members in Waterford 1917 (Image courtesy of the National Library of Ireland)
With the outbreak of the War of Independence in 1919, the RIC became an immediate target of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). The declaration of a boycott by the IRA and the provisional government, the setting up of the Dáil courts and intimidation of witnesses made the policing of ordinary crime very difficult. The situation was exacerbated considerably by the recruitment of ex-soldiers from Great Britain as RIC constables, who famously became known as the Black and Tans. At the same time a group of British ex-army officers were recruited as the Auxiliary Division of the RIC, a paramilitary force which became noted for reprisal killings and the burning of Cork city.
A truce was finally called on 11 July 1921 and the RIC was disbanded after the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1922. It became the Civic Guard and finally An Garda Síochána, into which the Dublin Metropolitan Police was merged in 1925. In Northern Ireland the police force was renamed the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
Several Irish issues of The Police Gazette or Hue-and-Cry dating from 1915 to 1922 were transferred from Dublin Castle Library to the Oireachtas Library in the 1920s. You can view a digital copy of The Police Gazette or Hue-and-Cry from 25 March 1921 or search for other issues in our catalogue. (As the files are large, they may take some time to download)
Fedorowich, K. (1996) The problems of disbandment: the Royal Irish Constabulary and imperial migration, 1919-29. Irish Historical Studies, 30 (117) May, pp. 88-110.
Goodman, J. and Waddell, B. (1987) The black museum: Scotland Yard’s chamber of crime, London, Harrap
Hopkinson, M. (2002) The Irish War of Independence, Dublin, Gill and Macmillan
Leeson, D.M. (2011) The Black and Tans: British police and auxiliaries in the Irish War of Independence, Oxford, Oxford University Press
Pike, A.R. (1978) A Brief History of the Criminal Investigation Department of the London Metropolitan Police. Police Studies: Intnl Review of Police Development, 1 (2) June, pp. 22-30.
2018 marks the 320th anniversary of the death of William Molyneux, Irish writer, philosopher, scientist and member of the Irish Parliament in Dublin. Shortly before his death in 1698 he published a controversial pamphlet entitled The Case of Ireland’s being bound by Acts of Parliament in England, Stated.
During the latter half of the 17th century a series of laws had been passed by the English Parliament that damaged Irish trade and commerce – particularly the wool trade. Prompted by the increased regulation and by the writings of his great friend John Locke on human rights, Molyneux’s publication argued for Ireland’s autonomy in law-making:
“For tis the cause of the whole race of Adam that I argue: liberty seems the inherent right of all mankind.”
Molyneux’s legal argument was founded on the basis that Ireland had not been taken by conquest in 1172, but by a voluntary submission of the Irish kings to Henry II, who had then granted them the right to a legislative parliament. There was no precedent, therefore, for the English Parliament to circumvent those long-established legislative rights since the mid 17th century. Though not intended by its author – who was arguing for ‘home rule’ rather than separation from England – the book proved highly controversial. The House of Commons of England condemned the publication as dangerous, and petitioned the king to punish Molyneux, but no action was taken. He died only a few months after its publication, in October 1698, and was buried in St Audoen’s Church in Dublin.
The impact of the work was much greater than Molyneux could have anticipated, with reprints continuing throughout the following century and beyond. After the foundation of the Irish Free State the Oireachtas Library inherited five copies of the book from the Dublin Castle and London Irish Office libraries. References in the writings and speeches of prominent Irish Protestant figures, including Jonathan Swift and Henry Grattan, demonstrate its influence on the growing revolutionary consciousness of the 18th century.
Kelly, P. H. (2009) Molyneux (Molyneaux), William. In: McGuire, J. and Quinn, J. ed. Dictionary of Irish Biography. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
Kelly, P. (1988) William Molyneux and the Spirit of Liberty in Eighteenth-Century Ireland, Eighteenth-Century Ireland/Iris an Dá Chultúr, 3, pp.133-148.
Luce, J. V. (1986) William Molyneux of Dublin. Trinity Monday Memorial Discourse, accessible at https://www.tcd.ie/Secretary/FellowsScholars/discourses/discourses/1986a_J%20V%20Luce%20on%20W%20Molyneux.pdf
McBride, I. (2005) The nation in the age of revolution. In: Scales, L. and Zimmer, O. ed. Power and the Nation in European History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp.248-272.
Front page of 1698 pamphlet
In January 2018 we showed a copy of Ireland’s Case Against Conscription. The document was written by Éamon de Valera in 1918 and was published to support the campaign in Ireland to resist conscription during the First World War.
In early 1918, the British Army was short of troops for the western front and there were demands in the House of Commons and in the British media that conscription be extended to Ireland. On 17 January, a motion in the House of Commons to extend conscription to Ireland was defeated but, following the German spring offensive in which the British Army suffered a major setback, it was decided to introduce a new Military Service Bill to provide for the extension of conscription.
The Bill was passed in April 1918 and in response demonstrations were held throughout the country and an anti-conscription pledge was signed. The pledge was brought about by the Irish Anti-Conscription Committee, an alliance of leading Irish nationalists, including Éamon de Valera, John Dillon and Arthur Griffith. The move, which was supported by the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland and the labour movement, reflected the mood among the Irish public towards what had become an increasingly unpopular war. Anti-conscription support also came from women’s organisations including Cumann na mBan, whose members took a pledge not to fill the places of men forced into military service.
Images courtesy of the National Library of Ireland
On 23 April, a successful general strike against conscription was organized and led by the trade unions and the Labour Party. The mass mobilisation of resistance, as referenced in this contemporary ballad, ensured that conscription was never enforced.
At the height of the campaign against conscription, the British Government claimed that it had evidence of an alliance between Sinn Féin and Germany (the so-called "German plot"). While no evidence of such a plot was ever found, in May 1918 almost the entire leadership of Sinn Féin was arrested. The document on display was edited by Robert Brennan (then in charge of Sinn Féin publicity) who notes in the preface that Mr. de Valera intended to revise it before he was arrested and that “any apparent looseness of phraseology is attributable to the fact that this revision was interrupted”.
Crowley, J. Ó Drisceoil. D. and Murphy, M. (eds.) (2017) Atlas of the Irish Revolution. See especially, Travers, P. ‘The conscription crisis and the general election of 1918’, pp 323-330, and Devoy-McAulliffe, F. ‘The day when Irish labour found itself: the general strike against conscription’, pp.330-334.
McAuliffe, M (2017), ‘The campaign against conscription 1818’ in History Ireland special supplement: 1916-18 Changed Utterly, pp. 46-48.
McCarthy, C. (2014), Cumann na mBan and the Irish Revolution.
Plunkett, H. (1918), Home Rule and Conscription.
Bunreacht na hÉireann and the Constitution of the Free State
In December 2017 we displayed early reprints of the modern Constitution of Ireland, Bunreacht na hÉireann, and its predecessor, the 1922 Constitution of the Free State.
Bunreacht na hÉireann
December 2017 marked 80 years since Bunreacht na hÉireann/Constitution of Ireland came into force following a plebiscite (referendum) on 1 July 1937. The question posed – “Do you approve of this draft constitution which is the subject of this plebiscite?” – was carried by 57% to 43% of the vote (10% of the votes were spoiled).
The new Constitution had been an important project of Eamon de Valera’s since Fianna Fáil came to power in 1932, and he supervised the drafting by the legal expert John Hearne and a team of civil servants.
The resulting Constitution was very much a representation of the nationalism and conservatism of the time, both in Ireland and in other European states (though arguments have been made that certain aspects, such as the explicit recognition of the Jewish congregation, were progressive for the time period). It has been amended 34 times, including removal of the reference to the “special position” of the Roman Catholic Church (1973) and the ban on divorce (1996) and continues to be a source of much debate in Ireland today.
Constitution of the Irish Free State
The 1922 Constitution had been written by a committee (pictured right) chaired by Michael Collins, after the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed and in the run up to elections in June 1922. Consisting of a number of lawyers, civil servants, academics and businessmen, they met in the Shelbourne Hotel (which Collins considered a total extravagance by committee vice-chair Darrell Figgis) and produced several drafts within a few months.
The chosen draft, brought to London in May 1922, was an innovative document that horrified British officials with its strong emphasis on Irish sovereignty and the ‘Soviet’-like declaration that private property ownership was “subordinate to the public right and welfare of the Nation”. There was also a provision for ‘external ministers’, or unelected officials who could be granted a departmental portfolio.
The more revolutionary aspects were, unsurprisingly, rejected outright in London, and other elements watered down significantly, and a much compromised document was returned to Dublin by Collins and Griffith, where it was adopted by an Act of the Dáil in October 1922.
Power to make changes to the Free State Constitution lay in the hands of parliament and not the people (this was reversed in the 1937 document), and the Constitution was amended 27 times in the fifteen years of its existence. Once Fianna Fáil came to power in 1932, de Valera began removing the aspects most abhorrent to anti-Treaty proponents, including the oath of allegiance to the king, the right of Privy Council appeals, the post of Governor-General (the king’s representative in Ireland), and indeed any references to the king of England throughout the text. But the 1937 document retained many of the less controversial features of its predecessor.
Ó Tuama, S. (2011) Revisiting the Irish Constitution and De Valera’s Grand Vision. Irish Journal of Legal Studies, Vol. 2, No. 2, pp. 54-87
Mohr, T. (2008) British Involvement in the Creation of the First Irish Constitution. Dublin University Law Journal, Vol. 30 No. 1, pp. 166-186