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).