SPEECH DELIVERED BY ME AT A LECTURE ON THE 1913 LOCKOUT ORGANISED BY RSF

LOCK OUT  1913                        WYNNS HOTEL 27/08/2013

FINAL DRAFT – MALACHY STEENSON

Firstly I want to thank RSF for holding this event and asking me to speak at it, it’s important as we go through one of the most intense periods of historical revision that we continue to place a correct historical narrative on the events of the last century. This will become more vital as we move towards 2016. We have recently seen attempts to treat William Martin Murphy as a hero in his native Cork.

In my talk I want to concentrate on local issues and events which occurred within walking distance of where we now sit. I will talk about the Schoolboy Strike in East Wall in 1911, The riots in this general area and and some rioting in Finglas. 

 Just over a century ago, September 13th 1911, teachers arriving at the East Wall Wharf National School found a message chalked on the door

 “Any boy cot going into school and not following other schoolboys examples will be killed by order Strike Strike Strike”.

The school boys strike had begun, with the demands set out as shorter hours, cheaper books and no canings. For at least three days this Junior Industrial unrest continued, with pupils attempting to enter the school being branded as scabs and pelted with stones and vegetable waste. Unfortunately, history records the strikers as being unsuccessful in achieving their demands.

Of course, new ideas of trade union radicalism were spreading like wildfire in the City at that time, “Larkinism” was about the town and a number of important strikes had already taken place that year. This militancy would no doubt have seeped down to the children of Dublin workers, no more so than in the Docks, and particularly in area like East Wall where much of the workforce was engaged in Dock related work, with its confluence of labourers, carters, railwaymen etc.

 In his report on the strike, the school inspector added a PS

“A good many men have been out on strike for some time in the neighbourhood of this school, the boys are hearing about strikes from morning till night, and the contagion has reached the type specified by the Principal as ringleaders.”

 This was also the opinion of the school manager/ parish priest Father Brady –

“Strikes were in the air at the time, and the residential quarters of the general strikers were all around the school”.

 When an Evening Telegraph journalist conducts “An interview with the kids” he asks the boys to speak “one at a time”, they oblige and recount their motivation in an orderly fashion.

Their knowledge of events not only in Dublin but also in England is clear – a series of school boy strikes had recently occurred in Wales and the East Wall boys demands were framed in very similar terms. They were able to point out that while their parents have to pay for school books these were free across the water. Indeed we still see at this time of the year much debate about the price of school books.

And their organisation ability was worth noting. While press reports of “secret meetings held in fields at the dead of night” may be fanciful, they are just as likely to be true. The reports also claim that the boys had organised pickets in the vicinity of the school to turn back children on their way in. Parents trying to force their way through with children were forced back by the striking boys. The school attendance officer was greeted with boos and cheers when he arrived.

The Freemans Journal recorded how “A strike took place on yesterday morning of the boys attending the East Wall National Schools. A large number of the boys assembled in the vicinity of the schools about 9.30 a.m. and paraded the district, carrying flags in which were shown their demands. The strikers sent out “scouts” in all directions to prevent any pupils entering the schools. The police arrived on the scene and were busily engaged watching the boys, who kept parading for a considerable time.”

The traditional working class hatred of scabs was evident too. A newspaper report two days into the strike quotes a striking boy:

 

 “If we don’t get our rights we won’t go back, and we will bring out all the boys tomorrow and nail the boys who are at school in the evening”. Fighting talk indeed, and backed up by actions as the blacklegs were pelted with stones and cabbage stalks.

 

 The reporter was invited to “Come down, mister, at 3 o’clock and see their ould ones (their mothers) bringing them home under their aprons.”

Books in general in those days were expensive and schoolbooks were no exception. Parents would have found it difficult to buy school books for six or seven of their children, when a man’s wages in 1911 would be between sixteen shillings and one pound a week. This small sum would have been the wages of a man for twelve hours work a day for six days a week. Schoolbooks would have strained the resources of many families to the limit, indeed the cost of school books are still a strain on family resources. In the England of 1911 children at National school got their schoolbooks free and Mothers in East Wall wanted cheaper books for their children. As one woman put it to a reporter “We want cheaper books, eight shillings and sixpence for books out of my husband’s pound a week wages is more than any poor person should be expected to pay.”

An attempt to hold a similar protest at City Quay. The boys here were less successful, with the mothers beating them back and getting all the children into their lessons.

There are also  a number of similar instances at around the same in the West of Ireland, There were strikes of schoolboys from a working class background in Sligo (Sligo Champion, 23 September 1911) and in Loughrea (Connacht Tribune 30 September 1911)

 ‘SCHOOLBOY STRIKE: LOUGHREA HOPEFULS DEMAND CHEAPER BOOKS, SHORTER HOURS, NO HOME LESSONS:

 

There were some thirty strikes from January to August 1913. Many of the workers in the Dublin Tramway Company went on strike on the 26th August 1913, but the company hired additional staff and remained operative.

The Dublin Metropolitan Police and Royal Irish Constabulary provided a guard for each tram because of attacks on trams and tram drivers. As tensions increased in the weeks that followed, riots broke out sporadically all over the city, The Government appointed a Commission on 19 December 1913 to inquire into the rioting and to investigate allegations of “the use of excessive and unnecessary force” by police on these occasions.

The Inquiry lasted 18 days, The Commissioners concluded that the police were not guilty of starting the riot in Sackville Street [now O’ Connell Street] on 31 August or of gross brutality during it. The riot started because of an error of judgment on the part of the police. The Commissioners praised the courage and patience of the police, in particular, when provoked or threatened by people they described as a ‘desperate criminal band’.

 

 

 

East Wall along with other dockland communities were at the centre of the events .Dublin Port was a key battle ground, with many local firms and employers becoming involved, locking out their workers who refused to sign a pledge denouncing the ITGWU. Men at many shipping companies refused to handle ‘tainted’ goods from locked out companies, and these in turn were sacked and locked out. This included the Merchants warehousing Company, T and C Martins, Brooks Thomas; Heitons coal merchants, the Port and Docks Board, the London and North Western Railway Company (LNWR) and the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company

 

East Wall and Dockland workers were amongst the 20,000 involved in the Lockout. The men and their families now faced even more extreme poverty, and there were other tensions and threats to concern them.  Timber merchants T and C Martins were the first employer in Dublin City to bring in strike breakers from overseas (politely referred to as “free labourers”) and other local firms followed their lead. The so called “free labourers” were often allowed to carry fire arms, and both police and military escorts were common along the Quays.  Eviction was an ever present threat for many, particularly those in company owned dwellings. In a single day shortly before Christmas sixty two East Wall families were evicted.

 

 

BERESFORD PLACE, TALBOT STREET, MARLBOROUGH STREET, EARL STREET, EDEN QUAY, AND BURGH QUAY, SATURDAY, 30 AUGUST 1913.

On the 30th August a baton charge occurred and at Eden Quay, a man called James Nolan, of 8, Spring Garden Street, North Strand, was originally from 17 Upper Gloucester Street and was married with 5 children,  sustained a fracture of the skull, which resulted in his death at Jervis Street Hospital on the morning of Sunday, the 31st. The jury at the inquest found that death was caused by fracture of the skull, and compression of the brain. They also found that the injuries were caused by the blow of a baton, but that the evidence was too conflicting to say by whom the blow was administered.

On the same night a labourer named John Byrne, residing at 4, Lower Gloucester Place, was treated at Jervis Street Hospital for a wound on his head. He died on the 4th September, his inquest found that he died from fracture of the skull and haemorrhage but surprise surprise they  found that they had no evidence to show how he received his injuries.

Both Byrne and Nolan are likely to have known each other coming from the same street originally.

According to the Commissioners report a baton charge had taken place at Burgh Quay on Saturday night, and that the crowd against which this charge was directed was very disorderly and violent, and that that they had little doubt that in the course of this charge Byrne received the injury which led to his death. They were also of the opinion that in the case of both Nolan & Byrne the crowds their conduct towards the police clearly showed to any peaceable persons the danger that they ran by remaining members of them in other words it was their own fault.

Later on  the same night  crowds assembled in Marlborough Street, Talbot Street, and Earl Street, They gathered at the corners of streets, and when charged by the police rushed away, to re–assemble later on and again indulge in stone–throwing. In fact during the greater part of the night continuous disturbances existed in this area, and the Police were kept busy in dispersing crowds.

 

SACKVILLE STREET [O’CONNELL STREET], SUNDAY, 31 AUGUST 1913.

The immediate cause of the riot in Sackville Street on Sunday afternoon, the 31st August, 1913, was the appearance of James Larkin outside the Imperial Hotel in Sackville Street, for the purpose of addressing a public meeting, which had been proclaimed by the Chief Magistrate of the City of Dublin. Larkin was arrested, and committed for trial on the 28th August, 1913, and was admitted to bail on the same day. After his admission to bail Larkin publicly expressed his intention of holding a public meeting in Sackville Street on Sunday, the 31st of August.

On the 29th of August a Proclamation, which was extensively posted and circulated in the city, was issued by the Chief Magistrate, prohibiting this meeting.

On the evening of the 29th of August, Larkin burned a copy of this Proclamation at a meeting in Beresford Place, and again expressed his intention of holding a meeting in Sackville Street on Sunday, the 31st of August. In these circumstances a warrant was issued for the rearrest of Larkin, and it became necessary for the police authorities to take steps for the purpose of preventing and dispersing the meeting if an attempt were made to hold it in Sackville Street, on the Sunday.

 

CORPORATION STREET AND BUILDINGS, SUNDAY, 31 AUGUST 1913.

Many people fleeing the baton charges in O’ Connell Street sought refuge in the nearby  balconies of the Corporation Buildings, in Foley Street and they, assisted by many of the occupants, made an attack on  police, who proceeded to enter the buildings for the purpose of inflicting further casualties on the strikers. With this object they ascended to the balconies, and when there entered a large number of dwellings—some thirty—forcibly.

In many of the dwellings damage was caused by the force used on entering, but in some cases after the entry was made and when no rioters were found inside, the Police destroyed the property of the tenants. Glass was broken, delph, lamps, and pictures. In some instances furniture and other articles were damaged, and, considering the means of the occupants, substantial damage was inflicted on them. The windows in some houses were also broken.

In the case of a man named Michael Whelan, living in No 28 D,  he, his wife, and a number of visitors were violently assaulted by Police batons, they had not been involved in any earlier disturbances and were not even strikers.

This disturbance was spread over the entire district, and the serious feature of it was the readiness of the occupants of the various tenement houses to shelter escaping rioters, and to join with them in attacking the police from the upper stories of many houses. Some baton charges were made, but as a rule these were useless, as the crowds fled before the police and took refuge in houses which were open to receive them.

There were further disturbances in

 GLOUCESTER STREET, WATERFORD STREET, GARDINER STREET, AND PARNELL STREET,  GEORGE’S QUAY AND MOSS STREET,CAPEL STREET AND ADJOINING STREETS.

 

Finglas in 1913

 

 During the Dublin Lockout Finglas briefly became a flash point in the farm labourers’ dispute.  This event is not generally well-remembered today with only an occasional paragraph devoted to it in the books and articles on the Dublin Lockout and the farm labourers’ strike in County Dublin.

In 1913 Finglas was a rural village with a population of about 900 people a few miles north of Dublin. The main sources of employment were dairying and agriculture. In the era before widespread mechanisation agriculture required a substantial workforce. It was this group of farm labourers who became the focus of a movement to improve their pay and conditions.

Throughout June 1913 mass meetings in County Dublin led to large numbers of farm and transport workers joining the ITGWU and by the end of July, around 1000 labourers were on strike.

 

Rather than see their crops rot in the fields, the County Dublin Farmers Association agreed to the demands of the workers.  The conditions the farm labourers had won were; a six-day week,  a 12 hour day with 2 hours for meal breaks and a half day on Saturday. Their wages were set at 17s per week plus the usual perquisites, or 4s per day for casual labourers.

 

However, it was to be a short lived victory for the ITGWU. By the end of the same week newspaper articles appeared suggesting that the agreement wouldn’t survive long, as both the labourers and farmers were dissatisfied with it. Many expected that they would soon be on strike again.

 

On September 3, William Murphy persuaded 400 of Dublin’s leading employers to support him in action against the ITGWU. They agreed not to employ any person who was a member of the union, sacking any who refused to give up their membership followed quickly by the Dublin Building Trades Employers Federation and the Dublin Master Builders Association

 

The Co. Dublin Farmers Association decided to join the ‘lockout’  and dismiss any farm labourer who chose to remain a member of the ITGWU.  As a result, the labourers walked off the farms and went on strike. This was the catalyst which led to the riot in Finglas a few days later on Tuesday 16thSeptember.

 

The riot had a prequel in an attack on the farm of John Butterly, resident of Newpark, Finglas.  Some of the labourers on Butterly’s farm had refused to join the strike and in retaliation strikers destroyed a field of Butterly’s cabbages and threw his agricultural tools and machinery into a drain.

 

The situation in Finglas began to escalate when it became known that a “scab” had been served drink in one of the local pubs. A farm labourer by the name of Patrick Perry, from Finglas,  was served drink in the public house in the main street of Finglas (now the Drake Inn).  Perry was “…one of the few workmen in the district who had not joined the strike,…”.

 

An estimated 300 to 350 people had gathered in the street outside the pub, many of whom were boys;“The youngsters were very demonstrative…calling offensive names and shouting.”

 

In an attempt to protect the pub the Police stationed themselves outside it.  Some reports suggested that members of the crowd were armed with “sticks and other weapons”

 

 Speeches were made by members of the crowd;

Joseph Mackey spoke, saying that “Murphy was already beaten” and Owen Keane said to “stand by Larkin, that he was the man who would get them more wages, and if he were dead there would be others to take his place.”  James Brady made a speech denouncing the police, that “…the police in the city had murdered women and children.”The police were later to allege that Brady’s speech contributed most to the subsequent events, that it was inflammatory and “calculated to stir up the crowd to acts of violence against the police” . 

 

The police stepped out to confront the crowd and ordered them to disperse, warning that they would open fire. When the crowd continued to advance Constable Barry dropped to one knee and instead of firing over their heads, fired to one side, towards the other side of the street. Barry had fired four shots by the time Sergeant Brennan ordered him to cease fire, by which time the crowd had fled out of sight up the old North Road.

As the crowd fled  17 year old Patrick Daly was seen to stumble and fall. he had been shot in the back. Another member of the crowd, a boy named Cummins, saw him fall and “…helped Daly over to where the police were standing, and pointed out to them that the youth had been shot. The policemen is alleged to have stated that only blank cartridge was used, and this Cummins answered by showing the hole in the boy’s clothing, about the middle of the back, through which the blood was oozing.”

‘.

Despite their having shot the young man, both police returned to the barracks for their rifles before taking Daly to seek medical assistance. The two policemen were later to claim that they only found Daly after they returned from their barracks.

 

That same evening in Dublin, James Larkin took up the cause of young Patrick Daly. Addressing a crowd outside Liberty Hall, Larkin advised those present to be peaceable and quiet, that:

The police were already responsible for the murder of their comrades, Byrne and Nolan, and only a few hours ago they shot down young Daly, at Finglas, like a dog. The people should not give any chance to the police who are thirsting to continue their murderous assaults.”

 

However, even though the men of Finglas had mostly returned to work the authorities had not forgotten about them. Ten men were summoned to appear at Drumcondra Courthouse on 7thNovember 1913 charged with riot, unlawful assembly and assaulting the police.

 

The Magistrate who heard the inquest into the police shooting in Finglas commended the police officers for their actions, saying “…he had never come in contact with a set of circumstances that justified the police more in using deadly weapons..”  the “…young officer had performed his duty in a most humane manner.

 

The more things change the more they stay the same.
Thank you for listening to what I hope was an informative talk on a few small aspects of 1913.

 

 

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