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 [IIreland 1850-1920 Copyright © 2005 by Desmond Keenan. Book available from and]

Chapter Eight



Summary of chapter. The university was reformed again, this time on sectarian lines, which pleased the Catholic bishops. An Old Age Pensions Act was introduced which replaced local and variable provision for the aged destitute with a national flat-rate minimum income. Labour troubles grew worse. Ireland found itself in the forefron of Marconi's revolution in radio telegraphy, for the Irish coast was the closest to America across the width of the Atlantic.




The Ministry April 1908 to December 1910 (Liberal)            

Prime Minister             Herbert Asquith

Home Secretary           Herbert Gladstone Feb 1910 Winston Churchill; Oct 1911 Reginald McKenna

Lord Lieutenant          Earl of Aberdeen

Chief Secretary             Augustine Birrell

Under Secretary           Sir Anthony MacDonnell; July 1908 Sir James Dougherty

              [April 1908] Winston Churchill was an extraordinary figure. He was the grandson of the Duke of Marlborough, and American on his mother’s side. His father Lord Randolph Churchill was a younger son of the third Duke of Marlborough, the Lord Lieutenant, and lived on an allowance from his father. Members of Parliament were not paid, and he devoted his life to politics. He married Jennie Jerome, daughter of Leonard Jerome of New York City. He died from tertiary syphilis, leaving his widow virtually penniless. Winston joined the army, while his mother pulled strings in London to advance his career. To pay his mess fees, Winston took up journalism. He was retained by newspapers to report on the Malakand Field Force on the North West Frontier of India in 1897, and his mother got him assigned to Kitchener’s expedition to the Sudan in 1898. Having left the army in 1899 he went to South Africa to report on the war, was captured by the Boers, escaped, and returned as a hero to England where he was immediately elected a Conservative MP at the age of 26. In his maiden speech he announced that if he had been a Boer, he would have fought on their side. His literary sales had amassed a respectable sum. Great things were expected of him because of his father and grandfather. He quarrelled with his party over Tariff Reform, joined the Liberals, and was given the junior post of parliamentary Under Secretary for the Colonies.

            Churchill knew a lot about Ireland with which his father and grandfather had been connected. Sir John Leslie, second baronet, of Glaslough Co. Monaghan, married Leonie Jerome, Jennie’s youngest sister, and their eldest son was Sir Shane Leslie, the third baronet, making Winston a first cousin. Shane became a Catholic and a Nationalist at Cambridge and Churchill introduced him to John Redmond. Shane stood unsuccessfully as a Nationalist candidate in Londonderry in 1910.

            Reginald McKenna’s father had gone from Co. Monaghan to London and became a Protestant. His son was educated in Cambridge and was elected as a Liberal MP. Asquith made him First Lord of the Admiralty where he supported the ‘big ship’ policy which was opposed by Churchill and Lloyd George who wished to spend the taxpayers’ money on welfare projects. His name was his only connection with Ireland.

            David Lloyd George needs to be introduced at this point though he had no direct connection with Ireland until he became Prime Minister in 1916. He was the son of a Welsh schoolmaster called William George and his wife who was born Elizabeth Lloyd. When his father died he was brought up by an uncle, a shoemaker named William Lloyd. Lloyd George became his surname, though hyphenated only in his title Earl Lloyd-George Dwyfor. He was a radical Liberal, and if born a generation or so later would have been a socialist, and indeed still later he would have joined Plaid Cymru. He was against the upper classes, the Established Church and the English, and admired the way the Irish Catholic MPs stuck together in a way the Welsh MPs did not. He and Winston Churchill worked together and he instructed the younger man in the views of the Radicals. He was eleven years older than Churchill. (Churchill always retained a regard for his old mentor, and offered him a post in his Government in 1940 which was refused.) Lloyd George became Chancellor of the Exchequer in Asquith’s cabinet, and this intensified the struggle with the House of Lords. Sir James Brown Dougherty Kt., 1844-1934, born in Garvagh, Co. Londonderry, the son of an Ulster  surgeon, was educated at Queen's College, Belfast; he was Professor of  Logic and English at Magee College 1879-95, Assistant Under Secretary for Ireland 1895-1908; permanent Under Secretary 1908-1914; Liberal-Pro-Home Rule MP for Londonderry City 1914-1918 Who's Who 1918).


            The great Act of 1908 was the Old Age Pension Act (1908). This was a modest Act in itself, but it provided that a sum of 5 shillings a week should be paid to every old person after their seventieth birthday. This was a non-contributory scheme and was paid out of general taxation. The idea of a national old age pension was raised by the philanthropist Charles Booth who had been studying the condition of the poor in the East End of London in the 1880s. He noted that very many old people were being assisted by the parish or poor law union. Booth claimed that old age pensions would not need extra taxation, but simply shifting a burden from the parish to the Exchequer. Also the conditions for receiving the benefit would be the same everywhere instead of varying from parish to parish. Various plans were put forward until Herbert Asquith, as Chancellor of the Exchequer put forward his simple scheme in 1908 (Briggs and Jordan, Economic History, 692-4).

            The Act came into force on 1st August 1908 and amounted to 5/- a week or £13 a year and applied to the whole the United Kingdom. There were no conditions or disabilities attached to receiving the pension, which went to all who were British subjects for at least 20 years, over 70 years of age, and whose income from any source did not exceed £31 10/- a year or 12/- a week. Those who were in receipt of Poor Law relief or had received it since 1st January 1908 were disqualified until the end of 1910. Medical or surgical assistance, or any relief which did not disqualify for registration as a parliamentary elector, did not involve the disqualification. There were various disqualifications including those who had failed to support their families, or had been sent to prison without the option of a fine, for 10 years afterwards.

            The best evidence of age was a birth certificate, but as compulsory registration of births did not come into force in Ireland until 1863, the best available evidence had to be given including certificate of baptism, certificate of service in the crown forces, certificate of membership of a friendly society or trade union, or certificate of marriage. It was well known that local registers for marriage were very imperfect. Many old people are quite ignorant of their own ages, but it could be established by comparison with others, or by reference to a known event such as the erection of a public building; in some cases middle-aged clergymen would be able to testify that the claimant was old when they were young.

            With regard to income this could be very difficult to establish especially on small holdings in Ireland; this was especially so if the applicant possessed a cottage in which he resided which was capable of being let, or a patch of land, though not worked, was capable of being let and worked, or savings which could be invested to produce an income

            The machinery of the Act included the local Pensions Committee, the central Pensions Authority, and the pension officers. The local committee was to be appointed by every county or county borough, or by the urban district council in towns of over 10,000 inhabitants; the members of this committee might not belong to the appointing council. On proof of age, it could be established whether the claimant was born on or before the ‘Night of the Big Wind’, the hurricane which struck the British Isles on 6 Jan 1839 [70 years to 6 Jan 1909]. All applications were to be sent to the pension’s officer; 16 different forms had been printed; the first or principal form could be obtained at any Post Office. Committees and sub-committees were set up in the counties and boroughs to the number of 433; Kerry had 22 sub-committees. There were initially 100,000 Irish claimants (Weekly Irish Times 19 Sept; 3, 10 Oct 1908).

          It was an historic day when the first pensions were paid on 1st January 1909; 127,309 claims were accepted in Ireland out of 209,136. The Post Office machinery to pay out the pensions worked smoothly. All the pensioners apparently had to go in person, even those who had not been outside for years; however medical certificates could be obtained giving exemption. Later the newspaper commented on the number of people in the West of Ireland who remembered the Night of the Big Wind clearly, and whose non-appearance in the 1841 census was explained by the fact that they were living with an aunt in a different townland, whose name they did not recall at the time! The census returns had been preserved since1841. The Inland Revenue Board was supposed to check on claims, but gave up after thousands of claims were submitted; nor could the clergy furnish proof, for they said they had no written records. Nobody knew on what grounds the Local Government Board decided on appeals; it had no staff for its own investigations. It was estimated that 108 persons were receiving the pension in Ireland for every 100 entitled. Several inspectors from Somerset House in London were sent over to investigate. In many parts of England, Wales and Scotland fewer were applying than were entitled, in Ireland much the reverse (Weekly Irish Times 9, 30 Jan; 20 Feb 1909).

            The Act had an unexpected effect. Whether or not Ireland had been overtaxed, after 1910 the nett flow of funds was into Ireland, not out of it. Northern Ireland was later to benefit enormously from this effect, which increased with every piece of social legislation.


            The principle Act to enable the construction of urban housing was passed in 1890, but it was not until the Clancy Act of 1908 which removed restrictions on borrowing powers by local authorities that much progress was made in providing urban housing.  But in fact little was done in the few years before the War (Cork Weekly News 3 Jan 1920). Affordable housing for the working classes was to be one of the great preoccupations of Local Authorities in the twentieth century with a growing realisation that it would have to be subsidised. Clearly there was need for cheap healthy housing for artisans etc, who could only afford a small weekly rent. Legislation on the subject began about 50 years earlier; the ideas were to provide suitable dwellings at not too great a cost to ratepayers. Philanthropists, like the Guinness family, Baron Rowton and George Peabody, who projected such dwellings usually ran into two difficulties which resulted in  buildings with rents higher than could be afforded by the people they were intended to benefit; the first was the high price of land for building, and the other was the high rates of interest  demanded. The Housing of the Working Classes (Ireland) Act (1908), Clancy Act, tended to remove these difficulties. It amended the Housing of the Working Classes (1890) Act, which was itself a far-reaching Act consolidating previous legislation. The earlier Act had three main divisions dealing respectively with unhealthy areas, unhealthy dwelling houses and the erection of healthy dwellings and lodging houses. The effects of this earlier Act could be seen in Dublin in the Montgomery Street area where 460 tenements were erected by the Corporation. Under the Labourers Acts country workers could get cheap suitable housing; but the problem in large cities was the lack of money. This was remedied by the Act steered through the House by Mr Clancy. If the local authorities acted on it they could provide many suitable dwellings at little annual cost to the rates. Prior to the Act the Local Authorities could only borrow at the higher rates, and the longer the period of repayment the higher the interest. Also many had reached the limits of their borrowing powers under the Public Health Act (1878) under which the total sum borrowed could not exceed twice the annual value of the rateable premises in the district. Now they would be allowed to borrow money for housing and spread the repayments over 80 years, and the lowest rate of interest would apply regardless of the period of repayment; money could probably be obtained at 3½% instead of 5%. To get round the difficulty of the costs of the sites which were only being sold, if at all, at extortionate prices, authorities would be allowed to acquire land outside their own districts. Dublin's slums were among the worst in the three Kingdoms, a large number of tenements in Dublin being unfit for human habitation. Nor under the provisions of  the Clancy Act would investment in  slum property be as profitable as  before, for under the Act the owner was obliged to keep the properties in habitable condition; it he did not the municipal  authority was  empowered to demolish the premises (Weekly Irish Times 13 Feb 1909; 10 Dec 1910).


            Pontifical decrees were issued in 1908 removing the Churches in Great Britain, Canada, Holland, and the United States from under Propaganda. It was understood that Ireland was included under Great Britain. The practical effect was that ecclesiastical questions from those places would no longer be dealt with by one congregation, but each would go to its proper tribunal. The Congregation of Propaganda was established in 1622 to deal with Eastern Churches and with those churches which were subject to heretical or pagan Governments. In practice it was the Congregation which dealt with foreign missions. For convenience, and because of the distances and expense, Propaganda was given all the powers that were given to the other Roman Congregations. After 1908 priests and bishops in the designated lands would have to deal with a different Office in Roman for each species of case. As the Government had long recognised, the communications with Rome had no political content, but concerned administrative matters like the granting of dispensations in matter like fasting or the degrees of marriage.


            Birrell had introduced his Irish University Act (1908) before the resignation of Campbell-Bannerman but this did not affect its progress through the House. He said with regard to the Royal University finances that it was an examining board, but taught nothing. It had an income of £20,000 a year derived from the Irish Church Fund; Belfast College had 390 students and an income of £13,000 a year from the Exchequer; Cork had 261 students and drew £11,000, and Galway 111 students, and getting £10,000 odd, giving a  total of 662 students  costing £36,500  a year. University College, Stephen’s Green, managed by the Jesuits, drew £7,000 a year from the Royal University through a system of fellowships; clearly a federal system was required. He considered the Byrce proposal to include all the colleges including Trinity College Dublin as too large and unwieldy. Also clearly Cork was too small to become a university in its own right. (A final decision on whether the Galway College should be suppressed or not was not taken for some years.) Therefore, besides Trinity College, he proposed two new universities, one in Belfast, and the other comprising the colleges in Dublin, Cork, and Galway.

          Dublin University was, and is, one of the great universities of the world. The university had a single college, that of the Holy Trinity, but is more correctly referred to as Dublin University. It was regarded as being on a par with Oxford and Cambridge Universities, though it was sometimes called the ‘Silent Sister’ because its fellows did not publish their works. During the nineteenth century it produced many outstanding scholars in many disciplines whose research was regarded as equal to any other research in the world. It was the largest college in Ireland having about 1000 students against 2200 for all the others combined. Its doors were opened to Catholic students by the Catholic Relief Act (1793) and a royal letter of 1794 to take degrees but not to receive scholarships or fellowships, so all professors and officers had to be Protestants. In the febrile atmosphere in Ireland regarding education the Catholic bishops imposed an outright ban on Catholic students attending Trinity College. The English Catholics negotiated with Pope Leo XIII for the right to attend Oxford and Cambridge universities. The standards were higher, the degrees were accepted everywhere in the world, and young Catholic gentlemen could mix with their peers and make contacts which would be useful in later life. The Irish Catholic bishops who regarded the Queen’s Colleges or ‘Godless Colleges’ as bad considered Trinity College, a Protestant college, far worse. The ban on Catholics attending Trinity College was not lifted by the bishops until 1970. Once again, the anti- Protestant prejudices of the Catholic bishops ensured that Catholics were not receiving as good an education as they might. It size, its different traditions, and its Protestant character meant it was unsuitable for incorporation in a new University, and in any case the entire staff of the College was opposed to any such idea. The Presbyterians also had no intention of subjecting themselves to a Church of Ireland university (Dowling, Irish Education, 173).

          The Royal University would be dissolved and its income divided between the two new universities in Dublin and Belfast. There was to be no religious interest in any of them, and each was to be governed by its own senate. Universities would have powers of affiliation, strictly limited, but he thought that Maynooth and Magee College would qualify. Though in theory the non-denominational principle was enshrined, it in effect made one Catholic University, the National University of Ireland, with three constituent colleges, and one single-college Protestant university in Belfast to be called The Queen’s University of Belfast. (Strictly speaking, as Edward VII was on the throne, it should have been The King’s College, but the earlier name of The Queen’s College was retained. The initial ‘The’ always is used in official documents but not in popular usage.) The colleges forming the National University were now called University College, Dublin (UCD), University College, Cork (UCC), and University College, Galway (UCG). The President of University College, Dublin could no longer be a Jesuit, but a Catholic layman. By and large the college buildings were already in existence, but the National University was given a capital grant of £170,000 and an annual grant of £74,000. As Lyons remarked, it was a prelude to the partition of Ireland (Weekly Irish Times 4 April 1908; Lyons, Ireland Since the Famine, 98). Ireland, if fact, got three denominational universities, Trinity College for the Church of Ireland, Queen’s University for the Presbyterians, and the National University for the Catholics. It was a bad solution but the Government had finally to concede defeat with regard to sectarianism in education.  Cardinal Logue made it clear that the National University was to be regarded as a Catholic University despite what the government intended, and the ban on attending Trinity College Dublin remained. He considered that an excellent university for Protestants, and they should stick to their own. He deplored the mixed classes in the colleges of the National University, and considered that there should be a separate female college (Weekly Irish Times 29 June 1912).

          Archbishop Walsh was elected Chancellor of the National University, and Lord Shaftesbury Lord Chancellor of The Queen’s University. These were ceremonial posts. Fittingly, Margaret Byers was made a senator of The Queen’s University. There was a long and intense debate whether Irish should be a compulsory subject for matriculation at the colleges of the National University. As County Councils were by this time empowered to grant university scholarships they would in practice be restricted to Catholics. The Irish language was made compulsory in 1913 (Bew Ideology and the Irish Question 86-89; Dowling, op. cit. 174).


            Anthony MacDonnell got no support from Birrell to bring any measures against agrarian crime, though Birrell admitted that the number of incidents recorded was the highest since 1890. The figures reached a peak in 1908 and thereafter declined (Bew, Ideology and the Irish Question, 81) In July 1908 MacDonnell resigned and was raised to the peerage as Baron MacDonnell of Swinford.

            The Countess of Aberdeen devoted herself to assisting the Irish poor. She is chiefly remembered for her campaign against tuberculosis, then the principal killer in Ireland. Medical statistics showed that consumption was the greatest killer in Ireland accounting for one in six deaths in Ireland, more than all the other infectious diseases put together. The Annual Report of the Registrar General showed higher mortality from tuberculosis in Ireland than in England, Scotland, and Wales.  It was a curable disease which had been steadily increasing over the past 40 years at a period when it was steadily declining in England and Scotland. 12,694 died in 1905 almost half and half between males and females. The mortality was quite high among under-fives; fell between 5 and 10 and then rose to a maximum about the age of 35, after which the incidence fell off. More than ¾ of all deaths were under 45. By far the highest incidence was in Dublin, followed by Belfast and Cork, Kildare, and Limerick, and Londonderry; these indicated that it was an urban disease, Cavan, Clare, and Donegal having low values. Ireland was very poorly provided with sanatoria. The chief sanatorium, and the only one within reach of the poor of Dublin, was the Royal National Hospital for consumption near Newcastle, Co. Wicklow, founded 13 years before with 24 beds, now increased to 100 at a charge of 7/- weekly. During 1905 470 patients were treated with considerable success. The estimated cost of running the hospital was just over £6,000 including the interest paid on the capital; so we can take the cost of 100 bed hospitals at around £7,000 each. If counties grouped themselves into fours or fives they could easily afford them without a great increase in the rates (Weekly Irish Times 6 June 1906).

            In 1907 the Countess of Aberdeen organised the beginning of the Women’s National Health Association devoted to the welfare of women and children. A local branch was formed by her in Dundalk under Lady Bellingham in 1908. One of the first steps was to secure the appointment of a second district nurse trained in the care of tuberculosis. They also distributed literature on health and cleanliness, and gave prizes for a clean house competition. In addition they directed their attention towards securing a clean milk supply and urged on the Urban District Council the need to have all the dairies and milk shops registered and inspected. Contaminated milk was notorious for spreading the disease. In co-operation with the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction they held simple lessons in cookery. The chief aim of the Association was the care of consumptive patients. Before the passing of the Insurance Act many patients  were  sent to the preventorium and sanatorium where they were maintained at the expense of the branch, and their families  were provided with food and clothing. By 1915 there was an aftercare committee which in conjunction with the Co. Louth Insurance Committee looked after the patients on their return from the sanatorium (Weekly Irish Times 21 Aug 1915)

            Most of the effort against the disease at this stage seems to have been directed against the sale of contaminated milk or meat. It was alleged for example that in Newry, if a butcher found that a cow was infected with tuberculosis only after he had bought it, he just cut off the tubercular parts, and displayed the rest to the inspectors.

          Lady Aberdeen also worked with the Irish Industries Association, and she established an Irish Lace Depot which marketed lace and crochet work by women in the Congested Districts. Mr W. Walker of the Congested Districts Board developed a very successful crochet industry which used the Depot. Lady Mayo had established a School of Art Needlework. During the War, when the Irish, like the Canadians, wished to fight in all-Irish units, Lady Mayo’s School embroidered a flag for an Irish Brigade, it was returned by Lord Kitchener, in what was probably the most stupid decision he made in his life. The gesture was a valuable gift to Sinn Fein which was opposing recruitment. Nor did it prevent the countess’s house being burned by the IRA.

            Another, perhaps even greater scourge, was intemperance and drunkenness. How many of the slum dwellers in Dublin were there because of the excessive amount of money men spent on alcohol. The Temperance Movement was most strongly established in the Protestant Community. Among the Catholics there had been a great temperance movement in the 1840s led by Fr Theobald Mathew, but it faded after mid-century. In 1898 a Jesuit priest, Fr James Cullen SJ established the Pioneer Total Abstinence Society, whose members pledged themselves to total abstinence for life from alcoholic drinks. By the middle of the twentieth century membership of the Pioneers had reached half a million. The bishops too tried with mixed success to enforce a ‘confirmation pledge’ which every Irish child being confirmed had to pledge that they would not take alcoholic drink until they were twenty one. The large number of total abstainers distorted national figures for the consumption of alcohol giving misleadingly low figures for consumption by actual drinkers.

            But temperance was more strongly entrenched in the Protestant Churches. Many Protestant Churches in the British Isles became teetotal, i.e. total abstainers. Nonconformists especially lobbied for the reduction of the hours of drinking. The Temperance Movement in the United Kingdom never became as politically powerful as in the United States where they succeeded in getting Prohibition established by law. Nevertheless, Liberal Governments were vulnerable to political pressure to bring in laws against drinking.

            Margaret Byers of Victoria College, Belfast, who did so much for the education of girls, was also a great promoter of temperance. She was Secretary of the Belfast Women’s Temperance Association from its establishment in 1874 until 1895, and was made President of the Irish Women’s Temperance Union in 1894. By 1900 the Irish Women’s Temperance Union had 87 branches in Ireland. It projected a home for inebriate women, for there were none such in Ireland though there were several in England, where they could get some assistance from the    County Councils. Mrs Byers visited one to see how it was run (Irish Presbyterian April 1900; Who was Who 1897-1916). The Movement also spurred the development of the non-alcohol drinks industry and of the great firm of Cantrell and Cochrane, soft drinks manufacturers, prospered. It also stimulated the provision of tea-rooms and coffee-rooms especially in towns which had local fairs. Henry Cochrane in 1867 replied to an advertisement of Thomas Cantrell (fl. 1820-84) a Belfast apothecary who had manufactured aerated waters since 1852.  They formed a partnership, Cantrell and Cochrane, and sunk an artesian well in Belfast to tap the pure water underneath. In 1869 a branch was opened in Dublin and Cochrane eventually resided there and became the sole partner. The Temperance Movement favoured the firm and by 1890 the firm had 500 employees; it was bottling 160,000 bottles of table waters a day; they acquired world-wide reputation (Jeremy, Business Biography, ‘Cochrane’).

            Another organisation which was started about this time was the Countess of Fingall’s Society of United Irishwomen which was founded by a Devon woman married in Wexford, Anita Lett, who was inspired by Horace Plunkett and George Russell. The name was rather unfortunate for it had not the remotest connection with the revolutionary society of United Irishmen, and it was later changed to the Irish Countrywomen’s Association (Encyclopaedia of Ireland, ‘Lett’; Weekly Irish Times 7 Dec 1912). Lett resigned after a few years and her place as President was taken by the Countess of Fingall, and it is with the latter the Society is usually associated. In 1921 the Irish Homestead reported: the Society was now 10 years old and was doing excellent work under the  presidency of Lady Fingall despite the troubled  times. Their objective was to better the social and industrial conditions of women in rural Ireland, the feeding of children and the care of the sick. Their milk-distribution scheme continues to prosper, its five milk depots selling 18,144 gallons of milk. Eight branches carry on a cocoa scheme by which children in the country districts are fed during school hours. Their village nurse scheme is also being developed, not only as a means of tending the sick but of teaching hygiene.  They have also been  successful in  promoting the keeping of goats, not only as a supply of nutritious milk but because the milk was free from TB;  they also promote cheese-making, fruit preserving, basket-making,  rabbit-keeping, and a library scheme (Irish Homestead 9 April 1921). Despite the value of goat’s milk in preventing the spread of TB, the Countess had great problems with the Swiss goats that Horace Plunkett had imported to give a better milk-supply. She said they were livelier and better goats than the native Irish one, but even more destructive. The ate everything before them – hedges, gardens, bark of trees, clothes on clothes-lines and even on occasion climbed onto roofs to eat the thatch. With regard to the United Irishwomen she said they were really united.  George Russell said that the Co-operative Society would promote better farming and better business, while the women should promote better living. With the help of Horace Plunkett and money from the Carnegie Trust, they established fifty branches in Ireland. As a secondary aim they tried to promote better social life in rural areas, especially for the young who were fleeing the dullness of life to get to America. They promoted dancing and choral societies, and hurling clubs for boys and camogie clubs for girls, the latter being a milder and more feminine version of dangerous hurling. (Both games are a variation of hockey.)  People came from England to see what they were doing, and went home to establish, with Government support, Women’s Institutes in every parish in England. The Women’s Institute was to become the backbone of social life for women in rural England, and remains so until this day (Fingall, Seventy Years Young, 254, 346).

            Boy scouts were introduced into Ireland in 1908 after the model developed by Robert Baden Powell in England after the Boer War. It was an organization of boys from 11 to 14 or 15 years of age that aimed to develop in them good citizenship, chivalrous behaviour, and skill in various outdoor activities. The Boy Scout movement was founded in Great Britain in 1908. Inevitably in Ireland a rival Catholic Boy Scout movement had to be developed in case Catholic and Protestant boys might play together. Another rival Boy Scout movement with a different ethos was founded by the IRB and the Countess Markievicz, the Fianna Eireann, in which boys were to be trained for the revolutionary struggle. They were taught military drill and the use of firearms. It was a forerunner of the Hitler-Jugend (Hitler Youth). Companies of Girl Guides were also established, and by 1917 there were 16 companies of these in Dublin.

            There was a long-lived Women’s Suffrage Movement in Ireland though it never descended to the militant gestures of Mrs Pankhurst’s followers in England. Some demonstrations and crimes were carried out by Englishwomen who came over to Ireland. Mrs. A. M. Haslam was Ireland’s leading suffragette. In 1866 she signed the first women’s suffrage petition and took a particular interest in the election of women to various local boards and municipalities (Weekly Irish Times 10 Feb 1912). Their first success was in achieving suffrage for women householders in Belfast in 1887.

            There was a wide range of women’s suffrage organisations, which inevitably included a Church League for Women’s Suffrage (Protestant), and a rival Irish Catholic Women’s Suffrage Association. Inevitably too, militant members of Sinn Fein started their own association to emulate the more strident English campaigners. Probably because of the prominence of Maud Gonne and the Countess Markievicz in the movement, Sinn Fein and the IRB made more use of women, and the countess was the first woman to be elected to the Parliament of the United Kingdom. As she was elected on an abstention ticket, the honour is usually given to Lady Astor.

                By 1910 Lady Arnott, Lady Betty Balfour, and Lady Fingall were leading the campaign in Ireland for women’s suffrage. However they got no support from the Irish Nationalist MPs.  It is a curious comment on the times, that Winston Churchill opposed a women’s enfranchisement Bill of the grounds that a wealthy man could get several votes for himself by making his wife and daughters eligible. He did not however oppose the principle (Weekly Irish Times 2 July 1910). It was to be a long time before a woman would dare differ from her husband on politics.

            These various schemes show us how involved the upper classes were in trying to improve the lot of the poor in the days before pensions, sickness and unemployment benefits, cheap public housing and so on. Yet the Catholic middle and working classes found it necessary to depict them as an alien ‘Ascendancy’ imposing ‘landlordism’ on the down-trodden Irish.


            For the next five years Ireland, like the rest of the United Kingdom, was to be racked by labour disputes, most of them stirred up by two outsiders, James Larkin and James Connolly. These have long been ensconced in the pantheon of Irish nationalist heroes, but their crude bully-boy tactics were far from the norm in Ireland. The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation INTO was a classic example of the kind of improvements workers could get without strikes or violence in spite of the combined opposition of Church and State.

            In the realm of economics and employment there are certain basic rules known as the laws of supply and demand. The Law of Supply states that an increase in supply brings about a fall of price and vice versa. The Law of Demand states that a fall in price brings about an increase in demand and vice versa. By way of illustration we can give the story of the fishermen supplying the Dublin fishmarket in the eighteenth century. It was said that they discovered that they got exactly the same amount of money if they fished on three nights as they did if they fished on six nights. Fishing on six nights supplied twice the amount of fish, the price fell to half, but twice as many people bought fish and the fishermen were no better off. So they determined to fish on only three nights. To prevent others entering the market they had to form a conspiracy to smash the boats of intruders. Larkin could get the wages of carters to the docks doubled, but only by intimidating and driving off all those prepared to work for less than his negotiated wage. What was good for the carters was bad for other workers. The excess supply of these excluded workers naturally drove down the wages of those in other industries. (Whether trade unions can raise the general level of wages in a whole economy is disputed, but the evidence is against it Lipsey, Positive Economics 466-8.) It should be observed that in the cut-throat world of ship building Belfast had one great advantage and that was that unskilled labour was cheaper in Belfast than in Glasgow or Tyneside. If that advantage were to be eroded, and it was Larkin’s purpose to erode it, Belfast ships might be no longer competitively priced. This danger was not imaginary, for Workman and Clark survived for scarcely more than another twenty years and went out of business during the Slump.

            James Larkin now turned his attention to Dublin. In 1913 a public enquiry under Sir George Askwith was established to enquire into the great strike in that year. (DNB, George Askwith 1861-1942, later Baron Askwith) He was a London barrister who specialized in labour disputes, and worked for the Board of Trade, making his national reputation in the labour disputes before the outbreak of the First World War. Askwith traced the origin of the later dispute to 1908 when the docks and quay workers, the carters and similar classes of workmen were being organised by Mr Larkin, an official of the National Union of Dock Labourers whose headquarters were in Liverpool. Notice was given in that year that after 20th July the union men would not work with non-union men, i.e. in order to reduce the supply of labour. A stoppage of work ensued and as a result of negotiations conducted by Lord [Anthony] MacDonnell an agreement was  signed by the representatives of the employers, and by the president and general secretary of the National Union of Dock Labourers, and by the officials of the General Federation of Trade Unions on  behalf of the men. By this it was agreed that disputes should be referred to a Conciliation Board consisting of a representative of the employers and the employed, and an umpire. No effective steps were taken to carry out this part of the agreement, and no Conciliation Board was formed.  In November 1908 a strike of carters occurred, and as result of the mediation of the Lord Lieutenant and Sir James Dougherty the new Under Secretary who had succeeded Anthony MacDonnell, it was agreed that work should be resumed and the matter in dispute referred to arbitration.

            The arbitrators were Sir A. M. Porter, and P. J. O’Neill who recommended that there should be no stoppage of work on either side without a fortnight’s notice except in cases of breaches of agreement or misconduct, and also that a permanent Conciliation Court should be set up; this latter part was not acted on. Later the Dublin members of National Union of Dock Labourers broke away under Larkin and formed the ITGWU Irish Transport and General Workers' Union with Larkin as General Secretary (Weekly Irish Times 11 Oct 1913). Larkin was to acquire a good reputation in Irish nationalist and labour circles, but he was not equally esteemed at the time by those in the labour movement either in England or Ireland, who regarded him as a dictator and opportunist. He was unscrupulous and aggressive (Boyd, Irish Trade Unions, 79). Larkin’s attitude towards violence was the same as that of the United Irish League; he did not publicly countenance it, but did nothing to prevent it. Larkin also called out men on strike knowing that his union had no funds to support them or their families. Because he was wont to act without the authorisation of the National Union of Dock Labourers he was expelled from it and so had to form his own union.

          Neither the employers nor the workers seem to have been particularly anxious to see a Conciliation Court established. The Report of the arbitrators in the labour dispute stated that there was no minimum wage fixed; there was wide variation in conditions and pay; there was no great desire on the part of employers and carters for change. It set out conditions for overtime; did not allow early closing at 3pm on a Saturday, which though desirable, would interfere with the unloading of ships; a fixed one hour mid-day break would also be unworkable. It set out rates of pay for various jobs. There were by now 385 persons receiving police protection (Weekly Irish Times 20 Feb 1908). The Lord Lieutenant, Aberdeen, ordered that several of the strikers imprisoned for breaches of the peace and intimidation should be released from prison. Sexton, the Secretary of the National Union of Dockworkers to which Larkin belonged, and the English Trade Union leaders distanced themselves from Larkin’s uninhibited violence and intimidation (DNB, Sexton, Sir James)


            The theory of revolutionary Syndicalism was now spreading in Europe. It believed that all workers should be joined into one union. It was not stated that they were to be forced into one union, but this was understood. It was also understood, that the members would overthrow capitalism by seizing the various businesses which would then come under worker’s control. The Anarcho-Syndicalists argued that the traditional function of trade unions--to struggle for better wages and working conditions--was not enough. The unions should become militant organizations dedicated to the destruction of capitalism and the state. They should aim to take over factories and utilities, which would then be operated by the workers. In this way the union or syndicate would have a double function--as an organ of struggle under the present dispensation and as an organ of administration after the revolution. To sustain militancy, an atmosphere of incessant conflict should be induced, and the culmination of this strategy should be the general strike. In France, syndicalism is known as syndicalisme révolutionnaire (the word syndicalisme means only "trade unionism") (Encyclopaedia Britannica ‘Syndicalism’; ‘Anarchism’). The chief exponent in Ireland of revolutionary syndicalism was James Connolly; Larkin seems to have taken from the doctrine only the bits that were useful to himself.


          [1909] The year 1909 brought the first of Lloyd George’s famous budgets which brought to a head the conflict between the Lords and the Commons, which had been successfully avoided for eighty years. Because of the increased cost of building Dreadnoughts, and the cost of Old Age Pensions and other items Lloyd George had to raise taxes. He increased death duties on large estates, a supertax on incomes over £3,000 p.a., and a tax on unearned increase in value of land, to be paid when land was sold. This last, which would have involved valuing all the land in the kingdom, aroused fierce opposition from the landowners, mostly Conservatives. The Irish Nationalists abstained. The Finance Bill was rejected by the Lords, which meant throwing down the gauntlet to the Commons. Lloyd George was delighted at the rejection, for it was unprecedented for the Lords to reject a Money Bill which was supposed to be the exclusive province of the Commons. The Parliament had to be dissolved and a General Election called for January 1910.

            Before the rejection of the budget other pieces of legislation were passed. By the Health Resorts and Watering Places (Ireland) Act (1909), local authorities with all party backing were enabled to strike a rate for advertising. Many Irish resorts had in recent years spent much on improvements, and they should be allowed to advertise them. By an accident in drafting, Blackpool was allowed to advertise on the rates since 1879; the resorts on the Welsh north coast wanted similar facilities.

          In 1909 Labour Exchanges were established by Winston Churchill at the Board of Trade and were run by the Government. Private employment agencies had long been established for particular occupations such as domestic servants. In the new exchanges, employers who had vacancies in any occupation would notify the local exchange, and those who were in a particular line of business would be informed if there were places suitable for them. By March 1910 about 100 local exchanges were open in Ireland. There were great benefits of the labour exchanges, especially in Dublin. Miss Brown, the Lady Supervisor for Ireland of labour exchanges noted their increasing use by employers and employees; some still thought that they were only for casual labour, but in fact the most skilled workers were making use of them (Weekly Irish Times 10 Dec 1910). Before that those seeking work had to tramp around to every shop or factory which might be taking on workers. Churchill also wanted to introduce a compulsory insurance scheme against unemployment, but the idea was taken up by Lloyd George (DNB, Churchill, W.; Sir Hubert Smith).

            A Cinematograph Act (1909) was passed giving authority to regulate cinematograph exhibitions. Regulations were issued in 1910 and 1914. Local authorities were made responsible for the contents of films. In 1917 Thomas Power (T.P.) O’Connor was made first President of the British Board of Film Censors, which had been established in 1912.  T.P. represented as an Irish Nationalist the Scotland division of Liverpool from 1885, and was made a Privy Councillor in the first Labour Government in 1924.

            The Land Act (1909) made compulsory purchase possible in a limited number of cases. This was not always welcome, for it was inclined to raise the price to the purchaser. Sir Horace Plunkett agreed to restricted compulsory purchase of grasslands in Congested Districts. The main argument against compulsory purchase was that there was no logical point at which it would stop. For example, there was no reason why tiny holdings of elderly persons should not be purchased. Also if it was intended that the divided holding should be tilled, tillage brought a lesser return than stock rearing so the total number of those employed would fall, not rise. (The greater the disposable income the more there is to spend on buying food, clothes, housing and many unnecessary articles, and giving employment to servants, shopkeepers, tradesmen, grooms, boatmen, etc. who were not primary producers.) The area under the Congested Districts Board was increased, and new powers were given to it, The Act changed the nature of the work of the Board, which came largely to deal with re-organising estates, gathering scattered plots together, and ‘striping’ the land. This meant that the small holdings should be re-arranged into strips so that each tenant had a fair share of good and bad land. (Gradually it came to resemble the Land Commission. In 1923 its functions were transferred to the Land Commission and it was suppressed. Plunkett remained a member of the Board until 1918.)

            William O’Brien, who had totally changed his political views, launched his All for Ireland League which envisaged Catholics and Protestants co-operating. He got the support of Tim Healy who was backed by Cardinal Logue of Armagh. The idea was promptly denounced by the Nationalist Party as one would expect.

          By 1909 Louis Bleriot had settled on a design of an aeroplane, and on July 25 he piloted the Blériot XI, a monoplane with a 28-horsepower engine, across the English Channel from Calais to Dover. This feat won him lasting fame and a prize of 1,000 offered by the London Daily Mail. [TOP]


          [1910] The General Election held between 18th and 28th January 1910 saw concerted efforts by the United Irish League and the Ancient Order of Hibernians to unseat Tim Healy in North Louth. Healy, backed by the cardinal in whose diocese the constituency lay was returned as an Independent Nationalist. William O’Brien was returned for Cork City, and drew most of his support from that region. Healy had joined O’Brien’s All-for-Ireland Party, so a Nationalist candidate called Hazleton was put up against him. There were vast registration schemes in North Louth to register new voters, there being no fewer than 3,397 new claims, 1,966 of these were of the lodger class, the rest being householders and rated occupiers. From Ravensdale there were 366 claims including 254 lodgers, and 501 from Carlingford including 382 lodgers. These two were regarded as Healy strongholds; of a total of 1900 claims by lodgers 1400 are on the Healy side. (Weekly Irish Times 20 August 1910. Tim remained a folk hero in north Louth where he had held the seat since 1892. (My grandfather and an uncle lived in Ravensdale at the time.) There were wild scenes of disorder as Mr Healy visited Dundalk; a young priest drove off interrupters of the meeting with his stick, but the supporters of Hazleton broke up the meeting. 200 extra police were drafted into Dundalk. (The so- called ‘lodger franchise’ was given in boroughs in 1867 to persons occupying lodgings at an annual rental of at least £10, which was extended to the counties in 1884 OED.)

          The Liberals did not do as well as they had expected, many voters being put off by the proposed higher taxes. Election final results were Unionists 273; Liberals 275; Labour 40; Nationalists 72; Independent Nationalists (O’Brienites) 10. The Return of the number of persons who voted as illiterates showed that nearly 10% of the Irish electorate was illiterate at the election compared with 0.3% in Scotland and the same in England and Wales; in the Irish boroughs the percentage illiteracy was 2.3% and 13.9 % in the counties (Weekly Irish Times 3 Sept 1910).

          The Liberals, though the largest party could only form a minority Government, not good for passing controversial legislation. The budget was re-introduced and passed by the Lords with only minor amendments. Nevertheless Asquith brought in his controversial Parliament Bill (1910). It proposed that the House of Lords should lose all power to amend or reject a money bill, that any Bill passed by the Commons in three successive sessions, even though rejected by the Lords should become law, and that the length of a Parliament should be reduced from seven to five years.

            At this point the king, Edward VII, an experienced man, died on 6 May 1910. The shock to the nation was immense, for he was a comparatively young man, and well-liked. When the old queen had died, everyone had been expecting it for years. Edward VII had visited Ireland seven times. There was general sorrow in Dublin and the vast majority of Dublin shopkeepers draped their shops.

            He was succeeded by his son George V. George was the second son of Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. The king’s eldest son, Prince Albert Victor Charles Edward (Prince Eddy) was second in line to the throne during Victoria’s reign but he died of pneumonia thus making Prince George the next in line. At the age of twelve he had been sent to join the navy, and he became an expert yachtsman and an excellent shot. He also became an enthusiastic collector of stamps. In 1892, he was created Duke of York, Earl of Inverness, and Baron Killarney. In 1893 he married Princess May of Teck, who had been betrothed to his elder brother. She became Queen Mary after whom the famous liner was named. The Duke and Duchess visited Ireland on various occasions. Edward had regularly discussed matter of state with his son, not wishing to exclude him as his own mother had done.

            The leaders in Parliament felt that the new king should not be involved, so a conference between four representatives of the Liberals and the Conservatives met to discuss the matter. The meetings lasted from June to November 1910, with both the Irish Nationalists and Ulster Unionists excluded from the discussions. Lloyd George was considering a federal structure which might have been acceptable to the Southern Irish Unionists. Balfour rejected this on the grounds that it would satisfy neither party in Ireland (Lyons, Ireland Since the Famine, 268-9). The Nationalist Party put pressure on the Liberals by announcing that they would not be voting on any issues this session until the constitutional question was settled.


            James Larkin now appeared in court charged with financial irregularities concerning contributions sent from Cork to the National Union of Dock Labourers. He was found guilty of deceiving the Cork Dockers into believing that they would become members of the NUDL, and sentenced to twelve months in prison with hard labour. Many believed that he was guilty of muddle rather than deception, and that the sentence was too harsh. He was released by Lord Aberdeen after serving three months (Weekly Irish Times 25 June; 6 Aug 1910; Boyd, Irish Trade Unions).

          Edward Carson succeeded Walter Long as leader of the Irish Unionists in Parliament. In Claremorris, in Co. Mayo there was a clear attempt to intimidate the Catholic clergy and there was a concerted effort not to pay the Easter stipend, with a resulting loss to the clergy. The same crowd had burned the sodality clubroom with its statuary, its library and its billiard table; they also wrecked tables at the church door, and invaded the church grounds in a tumultuous manner. They also visited people at nights and threatened to burn their homes; daily burnings and destruction of farm implements took place (Weekly Irish Times 23 April 1910).

            The Abbey Theatre was struggling after the attacks on it by Sinn Fein. Lennox Robinson was appointed manager. On the king’s death, Lady Gregory’s instruction to close ‘though courtesy’ arrived too late, and the Abbey was the only theatre in the United Kingdom that remained open. Though this was unintentional Robinson became a nationalist hero. The incident brought to a head differences between Annie Horniman who was subsidising the little theatre and its directors. She left for Manchester shortly afterwards. The theatre eventually received a state subsidy from the Irish Free State. In the meantime, Robinson, though not a first-class playwright, produced a steady flow of good plays typical of modern Irish drama. Sean O’Casey did not begin writing for the Abbey until 1923.

            Winston Churchill became Home Secretary in 1910 and it was he who had to deal with the onslaught of the English suffragettes. His first concern was to improve the state of the prisons, as he had had personal experience of being held in a prison. He considered short terms of imprisonment useless. The Annual Report of the General Prisons Board for Ireland for 1909 laid on the table of the House of Commons referred to a statement by Winston Churchill on the inutility of very short sentences; last year prisoners under sentences less than seven days comprised 41% of the prison population. Nowadays the Report said the punitive side of prison was being subordinated to the reformatory side, prison life is rather comfortable, and has no deterrent effect. For young people the borstal system was to be preferred. The policy of concentration of prisoners continued because of the decrease in the number of prisons, and the better facilities of communication. Prisoners in handcuffs were moved on the railways. In 1878 there were 4 convict prisons, 38 local prisons, and 95 bridewells ; in 1910 there was 1 convict prison, 1 joint convict and local prison, 15 local prisons,  and 6 bridewells; to this list must be added the Borstal Institution at Clonmel (1909) and the state Inebriate Reformatory in Ennis (1899). The local prisons referred to seem to have been the county gaols, while the bridewells were for very short stays. Almost any town would have had one in the early part of the nineteenth century. The consolidation was the work of the General Prisons Board established in 1877 which gradually moved the responsibility for maintaining prisons from the counties to the central government.

          The total number in Irish prisons in 1909 was 31,469 or a daily average of 2,305; the number of convicts sentenced in 1909 was 118, and the daily average number in convict prisons was 243; the numbers sentenced for drunkenness remained unchanged at 41%.

            With regard to the confined suffragettes Churchill abolished the compulsory bathing and hair-cutting, and allowed them to get their food from outside, to take outside exercise, and to talk with their fellow prisoners. The period of solitary confinement would be reduced from 3 months to one, except in certain cases. The Central Association for the aid of Discharged Prisoners, formed at the instigation of Churchill in 1911, replaced the system of ticket-of-leave men under the supervision of the police, which was a hindrance to getting employment (Weekly Irish Times 30 July, 6 Aug 1910). 


            A dramatic change in women’s dress commenced in 1910 with the introduction of the tight-fitting 'hobble skirts’ which it was claimed caused many accidents. From this time onwards the skirts reaching the ground of Victorian times disappeared, and the hemline was to rise throughout the Twenties. The first Irish aviation meeting was held at Leopardstown Monday 29 Aug 1910. Several planes were exhibited and the weather was perfect on the day, though there were several heavy showers and it was slightly squally aloft. In January 1910 Mr Ferguson’s aeroplane made the first flight in Ireland at Lord Downshire’s park at Hillsborough, flying over 100 yards. The weather conditions were bad with wind of 28 mph. Steering was by wing-warping and some of the time he was actually being blown backwards. When in 1913 Mr Harry Ferguson was forbidden by his wife to fly aeroplanes he began developing tractors (DNB, Ferguson). In September 1910, the first flight was made across the Irish Sea, but the aviator had to wait several days for a favourable wind. It was noted too that many Irish jarvies were retraining as taxi-drivers.

            By 1910 wireless telegraphy was established as a profession. The busiest station in the United Kingdom was a remote telegraphy station in Co. Cork 400 feet above the Atlantic. The remote stations had to have their own electricity generators run by steam. The purpose of the station was to keep track of ships which were due. The operator had to tune to various frequencies of the big Cunards or North German ships.  In the meantime a continuous stream of messages was being sent from Clifden in Galway, and Poldhu in Cornwall. The messages from the latter were sent to ships and consisted of news for appearance in the ships’ newspapers. When the German ships were about 400 miles from Fastnet they begin transmitting, sending about 60 messages, mostly bookings to various hotels in Europe, but also some messages back to America. They all had to be written down and taken by hand to the local Post Office (Weekly Irish Times 15 Oct 1910). Telephone lines had obviously reached these remote places.

            October 1910 saw the launch of the world’s largest ship in Belfast, the Olympic, whose keel had been laid on 15 Dec 1908, with a launching weight of 27,000 tons the largest ever launched.  The Titanic was due to be completed in about six months. With gross registered tonnage 46,300 tons, and displacement fully laden 66,000, she would be twice as large as the Adriatic of the White Star line at 25,000 tons, the Lusitania of 31,550 and the Mauritania 31,938. (The two latter ships were of the Cunard Line, and the Mauritania held the record for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic from 1907 until 1929. The Cunard ships were built in the rival shipyard of John Brown in Glasgow.)



Copyright Desmond J. Keenan, B.S.Sc.; Ph.D. ;.London, U.K.