Kieran’s Our City, Our Town Article,
Cork Independent, 2 June 2022
Journeys to a Free State: The Shaw Commission Arrives
The Compensation (Ireland) Commission for the Irish War of Independence arrived in Cork on 31 May 1922. The Commission was set up jointly by the Irish Provisional and British Governments in 1922. It would sit in Ireland under the presidency of, originally, Lord Shaw of Dunfermline, and later, Sir Alexander Wood-Renton. The Commission’s terms of reference were limited to the deliberation of claims in respect of damage or injury incurred between 21 January 1919 and 11 July 1921. Representatives of the the Provisional Government, some weeks before hand already has been to Cork to go through how the physical financing structure would work.
The three-person group known as the Shaw Commission comprised two representatives from the British Government and one from the Irish Provisional Government. Lord Shaw of Dumfermline (Chairman) who was a prominent Scottish Liberal Peer and Lawyer chaired the group. Mr C J Howell Thomas was Deputy Chief Valuer to Westminster’s Board of Inland Revenue. Mr James Dowdall was a representative of the Provisional Government and a prominent merchant from Cork city, and Mr Norman MacPherson was Secretary and Mr Michael Ryan was Assistant Secretary.
The sittings at Cork were opened in in the County Court. Mr Tim M Healy, and Mr J Byrne (instructed by Mr M Corrigan, solicitor) appeared for the Irish Provisional Government at the sitting of the Court.
Mr H Exham, solicitor on behalf of Ireland’s Southern Law Association, welcomed the Commission to Cork, and assured them of every assistance, from the Association. They wanted to know whether the Commission would sit in Cork to hear all the County Cork cases and whether a list would be drawn up on the order in which each case would be taken.
Lord Shaw thanked the Association for its welcome, and said he hoped that Mr Exham and his colleagues “would have the same worthy opinion of them at the close of their sittings as they had at the beginning”. He detailed that the claims from various parts of Ireland were very large in number. Many had already been initially deliberated on by a local Court Recorder, as in the Cork City context, but needed to be further critiqued. In particular, he noted the impact of the war on the the City and County of Cork owing to circumstances he wished not to get into during his chairmanship.
Continuing his introduction, Lord Shaw outlined that it was almost impossible at their point in time to form any opinion or forecast as to the particular order in which certain cases would be taken. He did wish though to give those people involved in the cases sufficient time for preparation.
Lord Shaw also wished to say that there was an inclination to make Cork acentre of their deliberations in the immediate south of the country. He was going to notify publicly all County Councils in the South of Ireland and local authorities that the Commission relied on their co-operation to send them all the claims, which had been lodged. The Commission had also delegated certain functions to a local investigator who would go to the localities and conduct the local investigation before the case came before the Commission.
The case of Messrs William Egan and Sons, 32 and 33 Patrick’s Street, was the first case taken. Mr James Rearden and Mr George Daly appeared for the business.
There were two claims – one in respect of the damage caused on the night of the 29 November 1920, when a bomb was thrown into the premises – and the second for the burning of the premises on the night of 11 December. The total claim for the former was £2,858 16s 6d, and the decree by the Recorder of Cork on foot of it was £2,413.
In respect of the December burning the claim totalled £58,544 13s 9d, made up as follows – fittings and plants, £21,670 11s 9d; stock-in-trade, £22,578 11s 9d; furniture and plant in workshops, £6.576 2s , and resulting loss and cost of temporary premises, £1,608 8s 3d. The Recorder on foot of this claim gave a decree for £51,367 with costs and expenses.
Evidence substantiating the claims was given by Mr R M Egan, managing director at the firm. He emphasised that the business was most anxious to start rebuilding immediately once their claim was decided. They did intend to extend their business and had acquired premises adjoining; he noted “We believe in the future of Cork and it is a matter of indifference to us how the money is made payable, whether on architect’s certificates, or direct personally, or through the Government. Personally, he would prefer that the payments be made through the Government”.
Mr Healy, on rising to put some questions to the witness relative to the Company’s balance sheet and to insurance, said: “We are here not to oppose any claim; we are not opponents of the applicants; we are critics and no more. Mr B O’Flynn (architect), estimated the cost of rebuilding at £12,904 15s. 3d., and of replacing the fittings £5,846.
Mr. John Hayes, manager of the ecclesiastical department of Messrs. Egan, gave evidence as to the quantity of goods in stock in his department at the time of the time and similar testimony was given with reference to the jewellery department and shop by the manager of these, Mr James O’Connell.
After legal arguments on the question as to whether the goods looted came within the scope of the Malicious Injuries Act, the Court adjourned until 11.15am the following day on 1 June, when the decision of the Commission was announced. The total awarded was £34,606 plus £14,000 to be expended in connection with the re-erection of the buildings. This was less than the original recorder’s assessment.
Mr Egan on receiving the news wished to intervene to express his disappointment. He noted: “I have no feelings of anger or heart, and nothing but thanks for the courteous way you have carried out the in inquiry, but I must say this court appears to me in its decision as nothing but a mockery, a delusion, and a snare”. Lord Shaw noted that he was sympathetic but highlighted: “I think you would he very well-advised Mr Egan, not to make that statement”. The statement stood though. However, Egan’s was not the only damaged premises who saw their original recorder’s claim reduced. A large majority of reductions occurred right across the Shaw Commission’s work in the ensuing months.
Kieran’s June Tours:
Saturday 11 June 2022, Cork and the River Lee, An Introduction to the Historical Development of Cork City; meet at the National Monument, Grand Parade, 2pm, in association with Cork Harbour Festival (free, 2 hours, no booking required for all tours).
Sunday 12 June 2022, Stories from Blackrock and Mahon, Historical Walking Tour; meet in the courtyard of outside Blackrock Castle, 2pm, in association with Cork Harbour Festival (free, 2 hours, finishes at old railway line walk).
Saturday 18 June 2022, The Workhouse and St Finbarr’s Hospital; meet at entrance to St Finbarr’s Hospital, Douglas Road, 2pm (free, 2 hours).
1153a. James C Dowdall, Irish Provisional Government Representative on the Shaw Commission 1922 (source: Dowdall Family).