Monthly Archives: April 2024

Kieran’s Our City, Our Town, 25 April 2024

1250a. Portrait of Lord Mayor of Cork Cllr Seán French, 1924 (picture: Cork City Council).
1250a. Portrait of Lord Mayor of Cork Cllr Seán French, 1924 (picture: Cork City Council).

Kieran’s Our City, Our Town Article,

Cork Independent, 25 April 2024

Making an Irish Free State City – The Lord Mayor is Interviewed

On 21 August 1924 in the Council Chamber of the Cork Corporation, Mr Nicholas O’Dwyer, Chief Engineering Inspector Local Government Department, opened a sworn inquiry into the performance of the duties of Cork Corporation.

On 28 August, the Lord Mayor, Councillor Seán French was examined.  The Cork Examiner describes that he took umbrage against the line of general questioning given by the inquiry to that date, much of which he deemed outside of the scope of the inquiry itself. He deemed that the witnesses, who had given their evidence and made complaints about the workings of the Corporation, had been asked rather pointed questions by the inquiry.

The Lord Mayor continued to say on behalf of his colleagues and himself that they desired to have published as broadly as possible the evidence. If there was the slightest question against the honour of those members of the Corporation, individually or collectively, he wished for the inquiry to produce that evidence.

The Lord Mayor wished to draw attention to a proposal he made in public after his election as Lord Mayor. At a meeting of the Cork Catholic Young Men’s Society, he suggested that a serious attempt should be made to educate the citizens in local civics and to instil into them an interest in local bodies. That to his mind this was the greatest drawback in public administration not only in Cork, but all over Ireland; “The citizens not alone in Cork, but throughout the country in general, did not give sufficient attention to civic affairs, and if they did so he was sure that their services would lead towards one way and that was towards better administration if that were possible”.

The Lord Mayor continued to note that in 1920 a Departmental Committee within Cork Corporation was elected under Lord Mayor Tomás MacCurtain to go into the question of the work in each department with the view of “effecting economies”. Lord Mayor MacCurtain had but three months in office before death. The committee continued during the short lifetime of Terence MacSwiney.

Lord Mayor French added that in late 1920 it was only under circumstances of great difficulty that the members of the Corporation were able to approach the Municipal Buildings or City Hall. He describes that the premises were continually raided by British forces and documents were taken, and every department of the Corporation was generally upset; “There was also a considerable risk to individual members of the Corporation in their giving of their full time to the work of that body…Lord Mayor McCurtain was murdered in March, during the period in which the Corporation should strike its half-year’s rates. They would admit that that period would seriously affect quick administration, but it altogether delayed the adoption of the estimates for fully a month or two months. Unfortunately, during the next period that they were to strike their rates, a similar thing or circumstances occurred”.

The Lord Mayor also outlined that in December 1920 when the City Hall was burned with all its documents, the Corporation was completely paralysed and every department in it.

In July 1921, at the re-election of his predecessor in office in the courthouse, Donal Óg O’Callaghan, the building was surrounded by military and police. On that occasion, fourteen members of the Corporation were arrested and interned; He noted; “They were useful members out of a total body of fifty-six members, and deducting them with the members who could not come and a few others who had something else to do, a position of great embarrassment was presented”. The Lord Mayor described that the position was so bad that it was with difficulty a quorum of three could be obtained for meetings of some of the Committees; “Within a month or two we became definitely aware that the Councillors who had been arrested would not be released and that meant the electing of other members in their places, and then time had to be devoted to the education of new members in their duties”.

As regards the  question of rates, the Lord Mayor noted they were “honesty set” for the benefit of the city; “The work of the Corporation was in defence of the people who contributed the bulk of the rates – it was pure democratic control – and if they were honest to these people, who would return them again, they could not turn around and say to the people of Cork that they wero deliberately dishonest in condoning dishonesty”. The rates income, he contended, were showing a downward income tendency, and in this conundrum, he pointed out the difficulties, which confronted the Corporation with regard to income and service provision itself.

The Lord Mayor alluded to statements that it had been suggested that the high rates were responsible for the non-building of premised and houses in Cork. The Lord Mayor implored upon the inquiry to walk through the city centre and see that many buildings despite getting compensation had not begun work; “If the inspector had walked along St Patrick’s Street since he came to Cork he would find that during the three years that had passed since the premises in that area had been destroyed, very little progress had been made in the rebuilding of those premises”.

Alluding to the condition of the streets, the Lord Mayor held that they compared favourably, with those of any city in Ireland; “The Corporation would block-pave every lane and alley in Cork if they could. The men in that particular department were doing eachof them a mile and a half of street per man, and I hold that that was too much for any man”.

To be continued…


1250a. Portrait of Lord Mayor of Cork Cllr Seán French, 1924 (picture: Cork City Council).

Kieran’s Our City, Our Town, 18 April 2024

1249a. Nicholas O'Dwyer, c.1924 (source: National Library, Dublin).

1249a. Nicholas O’Dwyer, c.1924 (source: National Library, Dublin).

Kieran’s Our City, Our Town Article,

Cork Independent, 18 April 2024

Making an Irish Free State City – The Cork Corporation Inquiry

On 21 August 1924 in the Council Chamber of the Cork Corporation, Mr Nicholas O’Dwyer, Chief Engineering Inspector Local Government Department, opened a sworn inquiry into the performance of the duties of Cork Corporation.

Limerick born Nicholas O’Dwyer (1895-1956) studied engineering at University College, Dublin, graduating in 1916, and followed a post-graduate course from 1916 to 1917. He was involved in the independence struggle, in which he played an active role as brigade engineer and battalion commander in the East Limerick Brigade. On 8 February 1921 he was appointed an engineering inspector in the pre-Truce Department of Local Government. On 1 July 1922 joined the staff of the new Ministry of Local Government with the same rank.

Under his chairmanship Nicholas O’Dwyer conducted the inquiry into Dublin Corporation across March and April 1924. Such a story and the dissolution of that Corporation has been written about in depth by UCC scholar Dr Aodh Quinlivan. Aodh has also penned a book on the Cork inquiry.

Amongst those present at the Cork inquiry in August 1924 were – The Lord Mayor, Councillor Seán French and members of the Cork Progressive Association. The Cork Examiner in opening the proceedings, notes that Nicholas O’Dwyer read his instructions, which were “to conduct an inquiry into the performance of their duties by the County Borough Council of Cork”. He then dealt with the procedure to be followed at the inquiry. Any ratepayer or representatives of the ratepayers who desired to give evidence would get a full opportunity of doing so. It was his intention to grant an adjournment so that each side would be enabled to prepare its case for presentation at the inquiry. Presentations would also be examined on oath.

Mr Donegan, solicitor for the Cork Progressive Association, asked if the inquiry included evidence of neglect of duty of members of the Corporation. Nicholas O’Dwyer replied that the inquiry would deal with every function of the members of the Corporation.

Mr Barry St J Galvin, City Law Agent, represented the Corporation of Cork. He noted that the perspective the Corporation took was that if they could reasonably believe there would be an “impartial, bona-fide” inquiry, nobody would welcome it more than the Corporation. They believed that the record of their work and the manner in which it was carried out compared very favourably with any Corporation that had managed the affairs of Cork in unbroken sequence since the twelfth century.

Mr Galvin highlighted that certain individuals in Cork had “openly boasted for twelve months back that they would put the Corporation out of office”, and that promises had been given by the Government,“or a highly-placed individual in the Government, that the Corporation was to go out of office”. On behalf of the Corporation, he protested in the strongest manner possible against what they regarded as the “tyrannous action or the Government in deciding in advance to do away with the Corporation of Cork…we were ashamed and humiliated that the Progressive tail was able to wag the Government to the extent that this inquiry should be called”.

Mr Galvin continued that the officials of the Corporation would be at Inspector Nicholas O’Dwyer’s disposal and the records would be before him. Evidence would also be produced to show that “the Corporation had done its work fairly and honestly, and if certain action were taken, it would be for the people of Cork to judge”.

Mr Donegan said he was surprised at the remarks of Mr Galvin. He highlighted that he represented the Cork Progressive Association, whose membership included the merchants and ratepayers of the city, and the vast majority of the ratepayers of Cork welcomed the inquiry. 

Mr Donegan noted that he was seriously concerned with what might be described as the maladministration of the affairs of the city by the present Corporation. He outlined that the Association would put forward as the ‘acid test’ the recent report of the auditor of the Local Government Department, which showed that every department under the control of the Corporation appeared to have been worked on “very reckless and extravagant lines”. He continued “No department showed a profit, but every department a loss. Members of the Cork Progressive Association who would come forward, not in a spirit of antagonism to members of the Corporation, or anyone else, but as public spirited citizens anxious to do a public duty”.

Mr Donegan, on behalf of his members, desired to draw attention to such matters as the disgraceful condition of the roads and the state of the streets, the lack of attention to them and heavy expense that had to be borne in connection with them. He argued that the principal streets were laid with wood pavement at considerable expense, but the condition of those streets had been allowed to deteriorate owing to no supervision or proper attention being devoted to them; “We require a treatment of creosote and sand every two years in order to protect them from the ravages of the weather, and if they got such treatment they would last for a considerable number of years and at a small cost. They have not been so treated, and they were developing pot holes”.

Mr Donegan outlined that he would also critique the extravagant way in which several departments of the Corporation were carried out. One “reckless point of extravagance” he raised was in connection with the burning of the Municipal Buildings and the Carnegie Library by the Black and Tans; “The walls of those handsome and massive buildings wero left standing, and those buildings could have been reinstated, but he was instructed that the massive that constituted the main front wall of the Municipal Buildings was broken up, and workmen wore employed for a considerable time at such work at great expense to the city, though such demolition was wholly unnecessary”.

The Nicholas O’Dwyer inquiry met for nine days with a number of councillors and commercial merchants being interviewed. To be continued…


1249a. Nicholas O’Dwyer, c.1924 (source: National Library, Dublin).

Kieran’s April Tours:

Sunday 21 April, Douglas and its History, historical walking tour; meet in the carpark of Douglas Community Centre, 1.30pm (free, duration: two hours, no booking required, circuit of village, finishes nearby). 


Kieran’s Our City, Our Town, 11 April 2024

Kieran’s Our City, Our Town Article,

Cork Independent, 11 April 2024

Making an Irish Free State City – Calls for a City Administration

Set up in early June 1923, the Cork Progressive Association was formed by businessmen in Cork City. Their intention was to support proper schemes for the housing of the working classes, to lobby for the completion of land purchases, to improve and cheapen transport, and secure resilient administration in the public service. In particular they were dissatisfied with the politics at play at national and local level post the Irish Civil War, which limited progress in Cork Corporation.

By early spring of 1924, the Association’s strong calls for a proper and effective Cork Corporation led them to call for a national inquiry to look at the business and workings of the Corporation. An inquiry came to pass later in August 1924 but the journey to such an action is worth of reflection.

On 1 February 1924 Mr T F O’Leary presided at the weekly meeting of the Executive Committee of the Cork Progressive Association, in their offices at 40, Grand Parade. The Cork Examiner editorial summarised the view of the Association expressed views ranging from dissatisfaction with reforms to lack of street cleansing to problems with water supply; “Great dissatisfaction was again expressed at the manner in which the affairs of the Cork Corporation were being administered. Not only is there excessive waste in almost every department of the Corporation, but the officials are often transferred when they endeavour to carry out reforms. The streets for months past have been kept in a filthy condition; the scavenging is not satisfactory and excessively costly, the water is reported as impure, and the whole system is defective”.

The question of high rates was also raised; “The rates are now so high – in fact, even higher than last year – that the burden on the city is almost unbearable, and there is a universal feeling that the Government, in order to protect the ratepayers, should at once appoint a Commission of Experts to inquire into the whole of municipal administration”.

Over the next few weeks, the Cork Progressive Association explored the business management schemes for some towns in England and the United States. By 22 February 1924, their first collection of data of sites in the latter countries was presented to their Executive Committee. The committee was interested in the uniformity and administration and the non-clashing of one department with another and the saving in expenses. It was found that in some of these places a manager was appointed to carry out the general administration and necessary public works in conjunction with municipal representatives, all under one head, and coordinated.

A letter was read from the Town Clerk’s office in Leeds. There the City Council in 1914 authorised the appointment of a commercial manager that of a Mr JB Hamilton who also ran the cities tramways services. He did not superintend the work of the Corporation, but was responsible for the coordination of conditions of labour in the various departments. He also controlled the highways and cleansing departments. Mr Hamilton as commercial manager acted as an executive officer of the General Purposes Committee of Leeds council. That committee was appointed for the purpose of dealing with hours, wages and conditions of labour of all workmen employed in the Corporation departments.

The commercial manager obtained uncollated information as to comparable work in other towns and the conditions pertaining to private employers in the city and with trade unions where standard rates of pay have been established. The letter continued; “The information has been invaluable to the committee in assisting them to maintain uniformity of treatment between the various departments of the corporation and outside employment. The commercial manager is also responsible for the distribution and supply of labour to the various departments and the arrangement has been found beneficial in observing any over staffing issues”.

Amongst the correspondence read was a letter from Mr Earl C Elliott, President of the City Managers’ Association, United States. Established in 1914 as the City Managers’ Association, it worked with the National Civic League with support from US President Theodore Roosevelt, and others. The organisation’s core aim was to help professionalise local government and create reforms to reduce corruption. In 1924, the organisation changed its name to the International City Managers’ Association.

Mr Elliott in his letter to the Cork Progressive Association noted that the Association was correct in the assumption that a number of important cities in the United States were being administered by a city manager, under what was known as the Commission manager form of government. It was a form followed, in a general way through methods and organisations used by American business corporations. A small non-partisan Board of Directors was elected by the people at stated intervals; “The Board of Directors employ an executive, who is called ‘City manager.’ and who is in complete charge of the administration of the affairs of the city. The directors’ function is legislative only. The Manager employs and removes all men who are employed or dismissed, and has complete control, under the Board of Directors. of the enforcement of the ordinances and the conduct of the city’s affairs”.

  The letter continued that more than 300 cities in the United States and Canada were operating under the Commissioner form plan. It was found to be equally successful in a City of a million inhabitants and in a city of 2,000 inhabitants. Mr Elliott noted in his letter that the idea is growing very rapidly in the United States; “It would appear now that within a comparatively short time most of the important cities will be operating under the plan. Of all cities that have tried the plan in the United States, less than half a dozen have abandoned it”.

The Cork Progressive Association kept pressure on central government until an inquiry was called into the governance of Cork Corporation and this began in August 1924 (more in the next few weeks).


1248a. Offices of Cork Progressive Association were just on the right of this c.1920 postcard (source: Cork City Reflections by Kieran McCarthy & Dan Breen).

Kieran’s April Tours (free, two hours):

Sunday 14 April 2024, The City Workhouse, historical walking tour, meet just inside the gates of St Finbarr’s Hospital, Douglas Road, 1.30pm, free, two hours, on site tour

Sunday 21 April 2024, Douglas and its History, historical walking tour, meet in the carpark of Douglas Community Centre, 1.30pm (free, duration: two hours, no booking required, circuit of village, finishes nearby). 

Kieran’s Historical Walking Tours, April 2024

Sunday 14 April, The City Workhouse, historical walking tour, meet just inside the gates of St Finbarr’s Hospital, Douglas Road, in association with Cork Lifelong Learning Festival, 1.30pm, free, two hours, on site tour, no booking required.

Sunday 21 April, Douglas and its History, historical walking tour; meet in the carpark of Douglas Community Centre, 1.30pm finishes nearby, no booking required.

Kieran’s Our City, Our Town, 4 April 2024

Kieran’s Our City, Our Town Article,

Cork Independent, 4 April 2024

Launch of the Ballycannon Boys Memorial Park

This article is another follow up of articles I have written in recent years on the Ballycannon Boys memorial. In recent weeks the Ballycannon Boys Memorial Park, created by local community group of Clogheen/ Kerry Pike Community Association, has been unveiled. The park complements the nearby memorial (1945) and honours the memory of six young IRA men that were killed by Black and Tans on 23 March 1921.

The six men killed were Daniel Crowley of Blarney Street (aged 22), William Deasy of Mount Desert, Blarney Road (aged 20 years), Thomas Dennehy of Blarney Street (aged 21 years), Daniel Murphy of Orrey Hill (aged 24 years), Jeremiah O’Mullane of Blarney Street (aged 23), and Michael O’Sullivan of Blarney Street (aged 20 years).

The new and detailed information panels in the park highlight that early in the morning of the 23 March, a number of lorries left police barracks in Cork loaded with Black and Tans, British born recruits to the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) who wore khaki uniforms & the black belts and caps of the RIC. The Black and Tans were feared for their ruthlessness and lack of discipline. The lorries drove out to Kerry Pike where the Tans dismounted and made their way silently over the road, crossing the fields, approaching and surrounding the O’Keeffe farmyard. They banged on the front door demanding admittance, and having woken the terrified household began searching the house, then spread out to search the outbuildings, catching the six young men asleep and unarmed in the tack room next to the stables.

What happened next is contested, but it appears that some of the six young men were dragged outside and mistreated as the police demanded to know where they had hidden their arms. There was an attempted break-out as they tried to escape through the surrounding fields. But a cordon had been posted and one by one the young men were picked off in a hail of high velocity rifle fire and revolver bullets. Some of the bodies were horribly mutilated, some showed marks of having been shot at close range.

When the firing ceased, six bodies were wrapped in blankets and carried down to the road, through the field, where they were loaded in the lorries and brought back to the military barracks. According to evidence given later by Cornelius O’Keeffe, who was taken prisoner and brought along, one of the victims was still alive when put into the lorry.

The Ballycannon tragedy must also be viewed in the broader context of what was happening elsewhere. During the eight months leading up until the Truce of July 1921, there was a spiralling of the death toll in the conflict, with 1,000 people including the RIC police, British military, IRA volunteers and civilians, being killed in the months between January and July 1921 alone. This represents about 70% of the total casualties for the entire three-year conflict. In addition, 4,500 IRA personnel (or suspected sympathisers) were interned in this time.In the middle of this violence, the Dáil formally declared war on Britain in March 1921. Between 1 November 1920 and 7 June 1921 twenty four men were executed by the British.

On 19 March 1921, four days before the Kerrypike incident Tom Barry’s 100-strong West Cork IRA unit fought a large-scale action against 1,200 British troops – the Crossbarry Ambush. Barry’s men narrowly avoided being trapped by converging British columns and inflicted between ten and thirty killed on the British side. About 100 Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteers escaped an attempt by over 1,300 British forces to encircle them. During the hour-long battle three to six IRA volunteers were killed.

Michael Murphy who was a Commandant in the 2nd Battalion Cork No. 1 Brigade in his witness statement for the Bureau of Military History (WS1547) noted that in the case of the Ballycannon six that information was given to the military by a former comrade of the boys, a man named Patrick “Cruxy” O’Connor; “All our intelligence service vas alerted for information leading to the person who ‘tipped off’ the British as to the location of the Volunteer dugout. Finally, the informer was discovered to be a man named Connors who was actually a comrade of the murdered Volunteers at one time and who, possibly for monetary reward, decided to sell his friends”.

Michael writes that Patrick O’Connor went into hiding in the military barracks, Cork. Day and night, a watch was kept for him by Volunteers, but he never left the barracks. Eventually, we got word that he had gone to New York and, immediately, contact was made ‘with Cork men there to locate him. He was duly found and his address sent on to the Cork Brigade.

Michael notes of the New York assassination attempt; “Two Cork Volunteers Danny Healy and Martin Donovan from my battalion were sent out to New York. They watched for Connors, noted the times of his coming and going from his residence and, one afternoon when Connors opened the door of the house in which he lived, he was confronted by Healy and Donovan carrying revolvers”. Patrick managed to recover from his wounds. He moved to Canada, married an Irish immigrant and had a daughter. He died in 1952, at age 60.


1246a. John Mulcahy, historian, speaking at the launch of the Ballycannon Boys Memorial Park, 23 March 2024 (picture: Kieran McCarthy).