Kieran’s Our City, Our Town Article,
Cork Independent, 17 August 2023
Recasting Cork: Forming the Cork Progressive Association
In the first week of June 1923 and in view of the vital importance to Ireland of the impending parliamentary elections, a preliminary meeting of Cork citizens was held with the object of forming an organisation for safeguarding and furthering the interests of the general community. Several gentlemen, representing all shades of business, were present.
At the meeting – the minutes of which were published by the Cork Examiner – it was decided that the new organisation should be called the Cork Progressive Association. A work programme was drawn up dealing with questions around representation in Dáil Éireann from the commercial and industrial community, with a particular focus on the development or the industrial our cultural and fishery resources in the country. In addition, the 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.
On 3 July 1923, the Honorary Secretary John C Foley (President of Cork Chamber of Commerce) was in a position to report very satisfactory progress in the development of the organisation. He said that applications for membership were coming in and with increasing numbers the time had arrived that the association should appoint official organisers to look after the work of the association; “The feeling amongst the people of all classes and creeds who had any stake in the country was that such an organisation as theirs is very badly needed, on the head received congratulations from many large centres and being the first to take up seriously the questions of safeguarding the interests of Commerce and Industry in the coming elections”. Messrs John P O’Brien and John Clery were appointed to receive membership subscriptions.
Some days later the new chairman Thomas P Dowdall even went to Dublin to meet some of the leading businessmen there. There some expressed great interest in what was being done by the Association in Cork to conserve the interest of the ratepayers. They even asked that copies of any circulars and leaflet issued by them should be forwarded with the object of starting an organisation on similar lines in Dublin. They congratulated Cork on being the first place in the Irish Free State to set in train a movement for the “safeguarding of the commercial and industrial interest of the country”.
Several weeks later on 19 July 1923, the first meeting of the general committee of the Cork Progressive Association was held at their offices on the Grand Parade. Chairman Mr Thomas P Dowdall was present with 30 individuals also present all of whom came from different backgounds.
Mr Dowdall articulated that an involvement in Dáil Éireann was crucial; “Their [Association] programme spoke for itself. The main object was to seek representation for parties who in the past had practically no representation. The commercial class did not in the past pay any real attention to parliamentary representation, but left it to the political parties the reason for that was that the party that would go to the British parliament was comparatively so small compared with the number in that parliament that I cannot influence them. Now that the control of Irish affairs were in their own hands it was for them, the Irish people, to do the best they could to achieve that success which, for one reason or another heretofore did not think they would be able to manage”.
On 27 July 1923 the general committee cast its eye on the fact that the extension of electoral boundaries of the Cork Borough district had brought into the parliamentary constituency nearly 24,000 additional votes and stop the new area took in a large area of the county including Passage West, Monkstown, Currabinny, Carrigaline, Blarney, Ballinhassig, Ballincollig, Dripsey, Firmount and Rathduff.
The chairman Thomas P Dowdall reiterated the point of being not political in the old sense; “The programme was wide enough to interest everybody who had an interest in the country’s welfare, and the intended, with the people’s help, to carry it to success… they wanted unexpected every member to become an organiser in himself, and get his friends to join the association, so that when their candidates were put forward they would have the united backing of the commercial and industrial people of the constituency”.
By 14 August 1923 at a committee meeting on various matters in connection with the impending elections were discussed. It was revealed that the Association’s two general election candidates were to be Andrew O’Shaughnessy of Dripsey and Sallybrook Woollen Mills and Alderman Richard H Beamish, an expert in the dairy industry.
It was the feeling both of the organisers and members that the prospects of getting the Association’s candidates elected were good. It was published: “The people all through the constituency had sent messages approving of the decision to send forward representatives of the commercial and industrial interests, and promising them the support needed”.
At a committee meeting on 15 August 1923, Richard H Beamish was present as well as Michael Murphy, the election agent for the two candidates. Having six years in Sweden and Denmark, during the development of the dairy industry in these countries Richard eventually became manager of the largest dairy in Europe.
On 30 August 1923, both Andrew O’Shaughnessy and Richard H Beamish were elected for Cork in the general election.
Upcoming Historical Walking Tours (all free, no booking required):
Friday 18 August, The Northern Ridge – St Patrick’s Hill to MacCurtain Street; meet on the Green at Audley Place, top of St Patrick’s Hill, 6.30pm
Saturday 19 August, Douglas and its History, in association with Douglas Tidy Towns; meet in the carpark of Douglas Community Centre, 2pm.
Sunday 20 August, Views from a Park – The Story of the Black Ash and Tramore Valley Park, historical walking tour; meet at Halfmoon Lane gate, 2pm.
Sunday 27 August, Stories from Blackrock and Mahon, meet in the carpark below Blackrock Castle, 2pm.
1215a. Thomas Dowdall, Chairman of the Cork Progressive Association, c.1923 (source: Dowdall Family Archive).