‘Mad and mischievous’: the 1916 rising in the minutes from the township archives

Please find enclosed the link to the 1916 project, entitled ‘Mad and mischievous: the 1916 rising in the minutes from the former township archives.’ http://www.dlrcoco.ie/files/1916/
Many thanks to the team out in Dun Laoghaire Rathdown county council for making this possible.

Please find my piece below, enjoy!:

Mad and Mischievous: The 1916 rising in the Minutes from the Township archives

These are an online selection of minutes (abbreviated recordings of meetings) from the different local government bodies in the Dun Laoghaire Rathdown area in 1916. They included the Blackrock urban district Council, the Dalkey urban district Council, the Killiney and Ballybrack urban district Council and the Kingstown Urban district Council (now Dun Laoghaire). Prior to the rising, the Urban district councils fulfilled many of the same functions as Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council do today. They dealt with water supplies, sanitation, school attendance, libraries, construction, finances, pensions, as well as the relatively new electric lighting which was being installed across the district. 1
Major concerns included Belgian refugees fleeing the First World War, and especially which ‘class’ of refugee would be housed in the upper-class areas in these minutes.2 They also dealt with legal issues, with the Blackrock councillors avoiding litigation from the local gas company by agreeing to pay a certain rate per annum for 2,000 hours lighting and maintenance for a minimum number of 250 lamps.3 Other issues included requests for the local boys school to play in the People’s park, Dun Laoghaire4, reports about water consumption,5 local housing,6 and so on. The setting of the poor rates (taxes for relieving the deprived) and the urban rates was very important, as well as payments to various groups including Teachers with records meticulously kept and published.7 Other issues included an offensive smell near Booterstown railway station and William Butler the park keeper applying for leave on account of a scalded foot.8
The fact that there were serious issues of social deprivation in these areas is often ignored in the minutes. There was a letter from the under-secretary about children engaged in street trading under the employment of children act 1903. In Killiney they argued that the act was not enforceable in the area, whilst in Dalkey it was stated ‘there were no children employed in street trading in the district’ which seems grounded more in wishful thinking than reality.9

Politics and the leadup to the rising

The Councillors were seriously involved in the big issues of the time. Blackrock County Council for instance read out a letter endorsing a speech by the nationalist Sir John Redmond of the Irish Parliamentary Party about the passage of the Home Rule bill. This legislation gave Ireland the right to self-government (but not independence as the 1916 leaders wanted) once the war with Germany was over. 10
Blackrock was at this time dominated by the Home rule party. The latest elections had been held on 25th January 1916. A Councillor JP McCabe was nominated as Chairman having narrowly beaten off several other contenders.11
The unionists in the Blackrock councillors were led by the redoubtable Lady Dockrell. Margaret Dockrell was also a powerful anti-war activist, and was unusual for the time in being a woman engaged in politics.12 In this period, the nationalists were consistently able to outvote the unionists in Blackrock, yet Dockrell was still able to voice constant opposition to McCabe at almost every turn.13
The most important issue facing all these local bodies was the war. By 1916, the First World War had been grinding on for two years, and it is clear that this was a society under stress.
There were serious personnel shortages, while the Blackrock councillors arranged the issue of ‘certificates of honour’ to people who had served on the front lines. It should not be forgotten that in 1914-1916 many Irishmen were fighting in the British army, often to serve the interests of Home rule.14 There was the grim task of sending out condolences to the loved ones lost in the fighting.15 One such vote of condolence was issued to the Town clerk of Dalkey town Council, who was probably the very man writing the minutes, who had lost his brother in France.16
In the lead up to the rising, there was clearly a good deal of tension, at least in Blackrock. There was disgust at the appointment of a Mr. JH Cambell, a unionist, as attorney general for Ireland over the head of Mr. James O’Conner. This was regarded as ‘perpetuating the worst days of Tory ascendency.’ They believed this attempt ’must be met by active organisation on the part of nationalists…’17
A few weeks before the rising, one Judge Kinny had been saying from the bench that Dublin was ‘seething with sedition’. The Blackrock councillors resolved ‘this council would like to learn from Judge Kinny where and when he denounced the sedition which was openly preached in the north of Ireland by Mr. James Campbell MP.’ They later tried to delete this passage after Kinny was proven correct by the rising, but the chairman refused.18

The rising

When the rising occurred, the effects seem to have been mixed. No mention was made of the rising in any of the council’s minute books initially. It is likely this was because the councillors (many of whom were unionists) were simply unsure about the outcome of the rising and did not know about the consequences if they took a stand.19 British troops landed in Dun Laoghaire and proceeded down the road through Blackrock to the battle of Mount street bridge, but none of this is mentioned. The Blackrock councillor’s chambers were used as a post office, presumably thanks to the disruption caused by the General post office/GPO by the rebels.20
In the Kingstown minutes, there is two pages left mysteriously blank, followed by the special meeting of 28th April.21 The councillors urgently requested the newly arrived general Sir John Maxwell to send on food and supplies to the local traders. They thanked a Mr. A.V. Urborwick, one of the s, for his help in placing the ‘S.S. Dun Leary’ at the councillor’s disposal so they could ship food from Liverpool.22
Only 5 councillors turned up for this meeting, and a similar pattern was repeated in Blackrock, where martial law played havoc with their schedule, though by the 8th May most councillors were back at their posts.23 The Dalkey and Killiney/Ballybrack councils seem to have been less disrupted by the rising, with meetings taking place on the 26th and 27th respectively.24
By 29th April, the rising had been crushed, but it would be weeks or months before things returned to normality, which would be crucial in a change in public opinion about Ireland’s place in the British empire.

A change in opinion?

On 8th May 1916, the nationalist Blackrock councillors made a statement ‘The Blackrock urban district Council desire to express our heartfelt reprobation of the mad and mischievous revolt which has taken place in our midst, and which has unfortunately caused it much loss of life and such disaster and destruction to our beautiful city, and which has imperilled the best prospects of our country.‘ They supported the nationalist John Redmond, who was largely against the rising.25
5 individuals voted for the resolution including the Chairman Mccabe, with Lady Dockrell and three others voting against it, (presumably because of the endorsement of their political rival Redmond) while Councillors JP Sexton and Garvey abstained, and Councillor Foy left the meeting. All this suggests there was serious debate going on about how to react to the rising and many were undecided.26
In Dun Laoghaire it was only on the 1st June that they finally issued a statement condemning the rising.27 It reads: ‘…this council deplores the awful sacrifice of human life… To the relatives and friends of all who have been killed both civilians and soldiers during this dreadful time, this council tenders its most heartfelt sympathy and condolence, and prays that in this their time of sorrow and all may be comforted… to bear the cross with patience and resignation to Gods holy will.’ 28
They were roundly thanked for this by the Prime minister, General Sir John Maxwell (commander in chief of his majesties armed forces Ireland) the war office, while others wrote back to Mr. Vaughan the chairman thanking them and saying ‘We shall all pray that the horrors of Easter week may never be repeated.’29
Yet it is clear that the mood over in the Blackrock council at least changed in the next few weeks. Their language became more anti-British, thanks partly to the muddled Imperial response to the rising. At the same time that same muddled response was leading to a crucial change in public opinion about Ireland’s place in the empire in other parts of the country. The councillors were angered by the arrest and detention of local men by British forces after the rising. On the 27th May they put forward a motion demanding ‘an immediate examination of the evidence’ for the arrest of three men from Blackrock. Chairman McCabe was concerned about the ‘Hardships of innocent men’, and sent this request on to John C. Redmond.30 They later protested against continuance of martial law and ‘we call for its immediate withdrawal,’ despite strong opposition from Dockrell.31
On the 19th June McCabe proposed ‘we condemn the attempt to re-establish castle as a coercive regime in Ireland.’ There was another very close vote, which McCabe only just about won.32 There does not seem to have been anything like this shift outside Blackrock in the other councils. It is not known if McCabe represents a fundamental ground-level shift in public opinion in Blackrock along with the rest of Ireland. It must be stated that Dockrell’s unionists ultimately regained control of Blackrock around war’s end, so things were clearly in flux.33

Conclusion

The minutes do not tell us anything we don’t already know. But they confirm what we do, and they give us a ground-level insight into the effects of these tumultuous days on the people and on the local government of the time, which after all, kept the country functioning. They leave us with many tantalising questions: What did individuals think about the rising? How does this all fit into the larger happenings of 1916? And when did they start changing their minds about Ireland’s place in the Empire? All this needs further research.

Bibliography:

BUDC / Blackrock Urban District Council minute book (16th September 1914- 5 December 1917, Dublin.)
Connaught Telegraph, 15 April 1916
Dalkey Urban District Council minute book, (4 November 1908-13th June 1924, Dublin.)
K&BUDC/ Killiney and Ballybrack Urban district Council minutes (21st October 1912 – 1st November 1922 Dublin)
KUDC/ Kingstown Urban District Council minute book, (9 April 1914 – 15th June 1917 Dublin)
The Anglo-Celt, 29 January, 1916, p. 9.
The Freemans Journal, 29 May 1916.
Yeates, Padraig, ‘the War against the war,’ Irish times 22 October 2014, http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/heritage/the-war-against-the-war-1.1950918 , accessed 09/01/2016.

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