Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Cork UIL Advisory Committee - an embryonic AFIL?

Having spent the last few months engaged in research into the embryonic AFIL (i.e. that existed in de facto form from 1903 - and more especially the 1904 Cork city by-election) a number of things become clear. One needs to bear in mind that the new organisation was still exisiting as a de jeure part of the United Irish League, albeit one that did not recognise the authority of governing National Directory in Dublin. The vanguard of the Cork UIL (as the embryonic AFIL were nominally called) had one major object: the effective working of the Wyndham Land Act, and the creation of a coterie of peasant farmers in the country. The establishment of an Advisory Committee in autumn 1904 provided a mechanism both for the effective implementation of the Wyndham Act, and also gave O'Brien's supporters a vehicle for advancing their views. The major figures in the Advisory Committee included the following:
  1. DD Sheehan, MP for Mid-Cork and founder of the Irish Land and Labour Association, who acted as secretary to the Committee
  2. Eugene Crean, MP for South-East Cork, a former ally of Michael Davitt, and a prominent advocate of Cork city labour movements.
  3. Michael Murphy, a solicitor based on the South Mall, who acted as legal advisor to the Committee.
  4. JC Forde, an insurance broker with Royal Insurance (Fire and Life), who later became an alderman on Cork Borough Council (Corporation), and was a trusted confidant of O'Brien.
  5. Fr Denis M O'Flynn of St Finbarr's West, who regularly chaired the Committee meetings.
  6. Dan O'Connor, an evicted tenant who chaired the Cork Evicted Tenants Association.

The Committee existed from late 1904 until the formation of the AFIL in 1909, and succeeded in mediating in many disputes on estates in Cork city and county, as well as championing the cause of evicted tenants and agricultural labourers, who were (through the intense organisational work of Sheehan) becoming a considerable political presence in local and national politics in Cork. Meetings were held fortnightly in the City Hall, and were open to any UIL branch in Cork city and county willing and able to agitate for purchase of estates in their locality. Any body of tenants who were unable to reach a satisfactory settlement with their landlord were entitled to bring their case before the committee.

The political power of the committee was clear in the city by-election of June 1905 (caused by the death of sitting MP JFX O'Brien, and resulting in the election of former Lord Mayor Augustine Roche) and the general election of January 1906 (where no contest was held in any of the eight Cork constituencies, and by the fact that any addresses by O'Brien to committee meetings were the subject of much extensive reporting in the local and national newspapers, as they invariably touched on both local and (more often than not) national political issues.

The success of the Committee is hard to quantify, both there can be no doubt that it played a key role in the social and political life of Cork during the first decade of the twentieth century.

1 comment:

David Toms said...

you might get a bit of a laugh from this:

“Dear Sir – I notice that in the published report of the specially convened meeting of the West Ward Branch of the UIL, amongst the names of “Gentlemen selected to contest the Ward in the nationalst (sic) interest” is Mr. JJ Harrington, Chairman, Munster Central Council, 13 Great Georges St. This is an evident attempt to drag the GAA into politics, although the rules of that Association distinctly forbid such action. Will JJ Harrington, Chairman, Munster Council, kindly explain his actions in breaking the rules he is supposed to uphold? – Yours Truly, ‘Sportsman’”

October 28th 1910 Cork Free Press