Wicklow Rejects Home Rule for a Republic PART III

After War . . . Peace?


The following is Part III in a series of articles commenced and published in 1991 and 1992 and written by Brother John Kavanagh. Brother John’s enthusiasm for this period in our history shone through his writings but regrettably his transfer to Skibbereen, Co. Cork deprived the Society of one of its most enthusiastic members. This article is dedicated to him and is an account of the changing times in Wicklow and its environs as seen through the eyes of the local newspapers “The Wicklow Newsletter” and “The Wicklow People” and the corresponding Wicklow Urban District Council Records for the same period.

As 1918 drew to a close and 1919 dawned, the results of the December General Election were on everyone’s lips with the drastic changes that must ensue. Yet the editorial on Jan. 4th in the “Wicklow Newsletter” began, “There are few amongst us who will be disposed to shed copious tears over the passing of the old year” and continued with a long discourse on the Great War but made no mention whatsoever of Ireland’s problems. The editorial in the “Wicklow People” published the same day reads thus: “The result of the General Election is basically that the coalition with Mr. Lloyd George at its head, has been returned in England by a majority of 248 seats. In Ireland, as was expected, Sinn Féin has been victorous. The Irish Party, as a party, has practically disappeared. 73 Sinn Féiners and only 6 members of the Irish Party have been returned. This means practicaly the disfranchisement of Nationalist Ireland if the Sinn Féiners persist in carrying out their policy of abstention”.

The editorial continues: “We regard the voting of the Irish electorate as a vote of want of confidence in the Irish Party rather than a vote of approval of the policy of the Sinn Féin Party. We, in common with so many others, do not think that the Sinn Féin policy could possibly be successful enough to establish an Irish Republic or complete separation”.

The results of the General Election were of immense national significance and resulted in massive wins for the Sinn Féiners, Robert C. Barton, Glendalough House, Annamoe for West Wicklow and John (Seán) R. Etchingham of Courtown Harbour, Co. Wexford for East Wicklow. The final count returns were as follows:


East WicklowVotesWest WicklowVotes
Cogan D. J .: Irish Party2466Barton R. C.: Sinn Féin6839
Etchingham S.: Sinn Féin5916O Mahony: Irish Party1370
Keene A. P.: Unionist2600  


The count was held at the Courthouse Wicklow and both newspapers report remarkable scenes of jubilation after the result had been announced. “The Soldiers’ Song” and other patriotic verses were rendered and the Irish National Foresters’ Brass and Reed Band paraded the town accompanied by a large torchlight procession. Many houses were be?agged for the occasion. Mr. C. M. Byme of Ballykillavane, Glenealy gave the victory speech on behalf of John Etchingham, whom he said was presently detained in an English jail without a charge being made against him and to the huge delight of the large assembled crowd he informed them that neither Mr. Etchingham or Mr. Barton had any intention of taking their seats in the British House of Commons. He also informed the assembled masses of Sinn Féin’s great sweeping victory throughout the country, which was loudly cheered.

Robert Barton was to have a high national profile in the years ahead while John Etchingham’s resume makes very interesting reading: He was a journalist with the Enniscorthy Echo for whom he wrote articles under the pseudonym of “Patsy’s Patrick”. He had been a member of Sinn Féin since its foundation, a prominent Gaelic Leaguer and supporter of the Gaelic Athletic Association. In 1916, having been a member of the Irish Volunteers, he acted as commandant over a section of the Volunteers who took part in the Easter Week Rising and accompanied military officers to Dublin to ascertain the truth of the surrender there. Courtmartialed subsequently, he was sentenced to death but this was commuted to penal servitude for life and with other volunteers he was imprisoned in England. Released during the amnesty, he resumed his career in Co. Wexford but when in May (1918) Sinn Féiners were re-arrested in connection with the “German Plot”, Mr. Etchingham was amongst them and he was imprisoned in Lincoln Prison along with Eamon De Valera. He was released from jail on Tuesday Jan. 21st 1919, being unconditionally discharged because of his delicate state of health. He arrived home to Ireland on Wednesday Jan. 22nd bringing a message from Mr. De Valera to the Irish people and giving a most detailed account of life in Lincoln Jail, to the Wicklow Newsletter’s reporter.

For the Urban District Council it was business as usual, at the January monthly meeting, with no reference whatsoever to national happenings. Chairman Charles Davis being absent, the chair was taken by Simon J. Doyle and other councillors present were Matthew Murtagh, H. Hamilton, D. H. Haskins, M. J. Tobin, M. J. Butler, and new councillor Michael Burke. Two men, who were to have a long association with town development, made their first reports to the meeting. Bartholomew O’Toole, commencing a six months probationary period as Sanitary Officer, reported on the condition of the town and was not impressed by what he saw, while new waterworks overseer John De Courcy also presented his first report. It seemed a case of “new brushes sweeping clean”.

Poor attendances at many council meetings throughout the year re?ected the apathy which many councillors felt in the limbo situation. The proposed huge gas price increases were more alarming than the National problem, or so it seemed. Under a heading “Dáil Éireann”, the Wicklow People of Jan. 11th reported the first meeting of Irish Republican M.P.s in the Mansion House, Dublin, including Robert C. Barton representing West Wicklow. Thirty members were present at the meeting, with many absences, due to the fact that 30 elected M.P.s were in jail at the time and 3 in America. The assembled Republican Members protested against the imprisonment of fellow M.P.s while meetings were held* demanding their release. The Newsletter reported that, “The new Parliament was formally opened on Monday last (Feb. 3rd, 1919) by a Royal Commission. No Nationalists attended”. The previous editorial of the Wicklow People (Jan. 25th 1919) reported ” Indications are not wanting that we are in for stormy times in Ireland. The new political party in power means to set the heather on fire. They should act with discretion and avoid coming into collision with the armed forces”. Mr. MacPherson, Gov. Chief Secretary speaking in London at a Bums Club dinner said “the situation in Ireland requires tactful handling”. He hoped he might find a way, by which that country could rest in peace. . . . A most peculiar choice of words!

On Sat. Feb. 8th the Wicklow Newsletter reported in depth on the escape of Sinn Féin prisoners from Lincoln jail thus: “Mr. E. De Valera M.P., Mr. Sean Milroy and Mr. Sean McGarry escaped from Lincoln prison on Monday (Feb. 3rd, the same day as the new government sat in London) and despite the fact that their description was minutely published and a diligent search made, no trace of their whereabouts could be discovered. The escape took place between 4.30 p.m. and 9.30 p.m. and the authorities are quite perplexed as to how it was effected. It is believed that the fugitives motored to the coast, the nearest point being Grimbsy about 30 miles from Lincoln and it is possible that they had the service of a craft to convey them to the continent. A reward of £5 has been offered for information which will lead to their capture. A house to house visitation by the police failed to uncover their whereabouts. The Lincoln correspondent of the Daily Telegraph says: “The behaviour of the Sinn Féin prisoners in Lincoln Jail was exemplary and they were permitted to associate. It is believed that they became possessed of a rope ladder, though they did not require to use it”.

Usual business was conducted at the February monthly meeting of the Wicklow U.D.C. although a resolution from the Charles Stewart Parnell Branch of the Irish National Foresters was taken, deploring the unsanitary condition of many town dwellings and the resultant sickness of the poor inhabitants. The recommendation was that steps should be taken, urgently, to rectify the situation which was totally unacceptable. The Feb. meeting of the Harbour Board had to be abandoned due to lack of a quorum. The disquiet felt by some members due to the lack of support from the public-at-large and the reported disgraceful state of the harbour itself were disheartening.

Editorially the month of February brought little change. The Wicklow People asked “What does Ireland want? A Republic or Home Rule?” and reported that “the prevalence of industrial unrest, threatening serious disorder in the state is impressing politicians. A long term solution is urgently required”, while the Newsletter editorial of the following week (Feb. 15th) seeks Social Reform and stresses the difficult post-war situation in Great Britain while steering clear of the political problems facing the new Government.

More alarming than the threatening national problem was the rapid spread of In?uenza which during the next few months was to claim many victims. The “People” reported “further outbreaks of influenza” on Feb. 20th saying that the disease does not seem to be spreading as rapidly or be as serious as the previous outbreak. The Christian Brothers Schools (De La Salle) were closed, some of the teaching staff being laid up. The Newsletter reported that “Spanish Flu” was spreading like wildfire. “Most of the ‘?u’ victims so far have come from the Kilpoole area but at least three cases are from the town. Doctors are working energetically at preventing a spread and effectively treat patients by having them removed immediately to hospital”.

During late February and early March both newspapers report a meeting of the Sinn Féin Club chaired by Mr. W. O’Grady at which it was proposed that the money to the credit of the anti-Conscription Fund** be allocated for the purpose of providing a public hall in the town, the suggestion being added that the renovation and alteration of the old schools on St. Patrick’s Road would provide the cheapest building. Support for the proposal was to be sought from the many town associations and the Urban District Council who however at their meeting on March 6th washed their hands of the affair stating that they had nothing to do with the disposal of the fund as it was only a matter affecting the subscribers to it.

As March arrived the ?u epidemic had worsened, although it was not as virulent as that of Nov. 1918. However as a precautionary measure many schools in Wicklow, Barndarrig and Nun’s Cross were closed. Doctors were reported to be very busy as the epidemic was accompanied by whooping cough and measles, and on March 8th the first fatality, a little boy, son of Mr. Thomas Kavanagh, was reported. Many social events including the Golf Club and Y.M.C.A. dances were postponed and the April meetings of the Wicklow Urban Council were also cancelled.

The “Newsletter” reported in March that the Flu was still rampant and that deaths caused by the illness continued to occur, “Among the recent dead from the ‘scourge’ was Robert H. E. Somerville Truell of Clermont, Rathnew (an only son) aged just nine months, whose death was followed shortly afterwards by that of his sister Barbara Jane, aged four years. The flu is of a decidedly malignant type and many households are completely laid low by its effects. Many of the De La Salle Brothers and Police Constables have also been laid low”. In the following week’s report the Newsletter states that the In?uenza Epidemic was “on the wane”, but informs us that the run on whiskey during the epidemic was abnormal and that limited supplies in the public houses were totally inadequate. It was almost impossible to get a “half one” anyday. By the end of April the epidemic was in its last throes although many were still laid low including the town Clerk Henry McPhail and local G.P. Dr. Doyle. During the week, however, it claimed another victim, one of the most popular members of the farming community in Wicklow, Mr. Richard Codd of Roscath.

On the political scene Robert C. Barton the M.P. for West Wicklow was arrested in Dublin on Friday night Feb. 21st shortly after his departure from the Mansion House where he had presided at a meeting. He was imprisoned in Mountjoy Jail awaiting court martial in connection with a speech he had delivered in Wicklow† some time previously. However on March 22nd both local newspapers reported the sensational news of Barton’s escape from prison, the “Newsletter” stating that the escape had taken place on Saturday night March 15th while the “People” plumped for Sunday night March 16th. However both accounts of the escape tally with the “People” reporting thus: “When his cell was opened on Monday morning it was found that Mr. Barton had disappeared. The pillow and bedclothes were so arranged as to give the bed the appearance of being occupied. This was obviously intended to deceive the warder who on his round during the night had ?ashed a light into his cell. The bars on the cell window had been filed through and removed, intimating the prisoner’s means of escape. A note was found addressed to the Governor of the prison, the effect of which was to intimate that owing to the discomfort of the place Mr. Barton had felt compelled to leave. He asked the Governor to keep his bag and effects safe until he sent for them”.

An amusing story is told in Sinn Féin circles in connection with the escape. As late as the closing days of the previous week the Governor had had a conversation with Mr. Barton and amongst the matters touched upon was the escape of prisoners. The Governor then made the observation that during his term of office there was never a prisoner entrusted to his custody who had escaped and he was one of the few who could make such a claim.

“At the time he was scarcely aware that Mr. Barton was planning the coup which has shorn him of the laurels which he had so long enjoyed”. The “Newsletter” also states that Mr. Barton’s was the first successful escape from Mountjoy Jail.

The National Holiday, St. Patrick’s Day, was celebrated with the customary degree of enthusiasm in Wicklow. Favoured by pleasant weather the annual procession, organised by the Wicklow Foresters and including Sinn Féin, Cumann na mBan, Irish Volunteers, Schoolchildren’s Sodalities, Catholic Club, Labour Union, G.A.A., and representatives of the U.D.C., was impressive. In the evening the Gaelic League organised a most successful “Ceilidh” in the Town Hall which was very well attended.

Local “bad news” in late March was the strike by labourers at Dominican Convent which was to escalate in the following days to disorder on a larger scale as support for both sides grew. Five labourers, seeking increased wages to bring them into line with the existing town rate, went on strike and pickets were placed. The Dominican Sisters offered an increase of 2/- (l0p) per week but this was declined and the pickets attempted to cut off the food and fuel supplies to the convent.

The labourers seeking urban labourer rates for rural labour (farming) sought the assistance of the Labour Union and at a meeting addressed by Mr. James Everett on Thursday March 21 a general strike affecting many of the town’s businesses was threatened unless the problem was faced and solved. The animosity had arisen after the strikers had prohibited food, meat and fuel etc. being delivered to the convent and a siege situation was developing. A mini riot had occurred on Fairday when farmers attempting to raise the siege and deliver ?our and other provisions to the convent were confronted by angry members of the Labour Union. Quarrels developed and many blows were struck in the fracas and melee that took place at Morton’s Lane (Hopkin’s Hill). References by the clergy during Masses at St. Patrick’s Church concerning the strike did little to ease the tensions. Thankfully however, sanity prevailed when the strike was settled but not before Dr. McCormack offered his resignation as medical officer as he “did not wish to render service to an element in this town who have recently been guilty of the most inhuman and cowardly conduct in their vicious methods of intimidation and attempt to cut off food supplies to a community of defenceless women and children” (Dominican Convent). The Newsletter of April 5th reported that the Labour Union had accepted terms offered in the strike, “Everyone in the town learned last night that the dispute existing between the Dominican Nuns and the Labour Union had been settled – a compromise having been reached”, while the Wicklow People accredits the solution to the behind the scenes efforts of Rev. M. J. Cogan, C.C. Regrettably this was not the end of the whole affair, which was to culminate with the arrest of Union Leader James Everett, his imprisonment in Mountjoy and subsequent release. This event could in itself be the basis for a future article, as detailed descriptions of his arrest and release with the accompanying protests and celebrations are widely reported. Suffice to say here that in a letter from Mr. R. C. Barton M.P. and reported in the Wicklow Newsletter of April 19th in reference to the arrest of James Everett, the renowned M.P. writes, “I have seen of the arrest of your secretary. The fact, that the army of occupation saw fit to arrest him, is proof of his usefulness as an Irish citizen. You will be deprived for a short while of his services and of his wisdom in council but the cause of Labour gains from victimisation, just as does the cause of Ireland… In a free Ireland I see a brilliant future for such men as your Labour Secretary”. Prophetic words indeed, as James Everett, was to serve honourably, the people of Wicklow for many decades in a free Irish Parliament.

On a national front April brought news of seven Irish districts being proclaimed by the Lord Lieutenant, Lord French, and Privy Council to be in a state of disturbance, the proclaimed†† areas being Cork – county and city, Limerick – county and city and counties Kerry, Tipperary and Roscommon. Wicklow was being regarded as trouble free and later in the year many of the smaller R.I.C. stations such as those at Rathnew, Redcross, Aughrim and Laragh were closed with the officers transferred elsewhere. However the Newsletter reported in detail the sensational attack on the sentries at Kynoch’s Munitions Factory, Arklow who had their ri?es and ammunition stolen. Wicklow, peaceful or not, probably had trouble seething just below the surface and the change in editorial feelings of the “Wicklow People” since January was evident in the editorial of April 12th which asked “What did Ireland get for her peacefulness and her help to win the war in the interests of small nations?” The paper answers its own question thus: “Nothing but deception, betrayal and repeated broken promises with the result that many people now believe that there is no use in being peaceable and lawabiding; that nothing will come to this country by being in that state and if Ireland wants to succeed in securing her rights there is no other course open to her but to follow the successful policy of Sir Edward Carson, the policy which the Sinn Féiners have, to some extent, been following. . . ” Many organisations were adopting such non-cooperative policies and the local G.A.A. Association was moving to expel civil servants.

With the passing of the ?u epidemic and the arrival of summer, both local papers published in their May 3rd editions the text of speeches by Sean Etchingham M.P. (T.D) on Sat. April 26th and Countess Markievicz on Sun. April 27th at Wicklow with an addendum “as passed by the censor”. Press censorship prevented the papers from printing nationalist propaganda. Mr. Etchingham, returning to full health following his Lincoln prison experience, addressed a large crowd from the steps of the “Billy Byrne Monument” in the Market Square. In his speech he thanked all for their support and good wishes and said he was proud to represent their historic county. He thanked the people for defeating conscription in 1918 and said that those who sided with Sinn Féin would lose nothing, for a friend would treat them more decently than a foreigner. He forecast that the world would soon sanction an Irish Republic. In conclusion he asked the townspeople of Wicklow to give “the Countess” a hearty welcome on the following day.

Madame Markievicz arrived at Wicklow on the 11.15 a.m. train to be greeted by a huge crowd. She was paraded from the station and prior to addressing the planned meeting on “Sinn Féin Policy” she visited Ashford accompanied by some friends. At 3 .30 p.m. in the Market Hall she recalled the events of three years previously stating that the Sunday after Easter Week, the surrender, was the most terrible day she had ever lived through. She advised and encouraged all present to learn the Irish language and if for nothing else it would give the police something to do to learn it too (laughter). In conclusion she said “England can only settle the Irish question by giving complete independence. Other nations will see to that! “

In Arklow on Thursday May 14th police arrested a group of local men and charged them with holding a church gate collection on behalf of the “Irish Republican Parliamentary Fund”, without a proper permit. Arrested were James Walsh, President of Arklow Sinn Féin Club, William Cleary, Secretary, J. J. Kavanagh, Denis Keogh, Robert Tyrrell, Thomas Quigley and William Keyes. Such incidents led to increased feelings of animosity and growing disquiet in the Nationalist community. In a speech at Kilmacanogue in late May Mrs. Sheehy Skeffington declared that America would never desert Ireland and said that “England would never succeed in keeping Ireland in subjection as the spirit of the Irish people was never stronger than at present”. The statement concerning American support is backed up by a comment from Lord Reading when discussing the difficult negotiations proceeding at Versailles (France) to find the solution and terms for the Peace Treaty ending World War I, he is credited with saying, “I believe that the understanding between the U.S.A. and England is absolutely necessary to future world peace and the anti-British agitation in America is entirely due to the Irish Americans who have been disappointed as to the treatment of Ireland by the British Government”.

June arrived and with it the headache for Wicklow Urban District Council of the malicious injury compensation claims lodged against it by Head Constable Patrick Plower R.I.C. Wicklow (£600 sought), Constable Michael McCormack R.I.C (£500 sought) and Sergeant Thomas Jones R.I.C Rathnew (£500 sought) in respect of personal injuries suffered during the riot of April 15th 1918†††. During the latter months many appeals and counter appeals were lodged and cases heard until at the Wicklow Quarter Sessions held on Thursday Oct. 9th 1919, County Court Judge Brereton Barry finally ruled in favour of the claimants who had been injured by “sticks and stones” and had also suffered a “good deal of insult and injury The judge awarded Head Constable Plower £313-4-0, Sergeant Jones £182-16-0 and Constable McCormack £218-8-0 (2 years salary). No exemptions were to be allowed in the Urban Council rates despite many applications seeking the same.

During the month of June a circular was received by the D.M.P. & R.I.C from the Chief Commissioner informing his superintendents of attempts being made at the time to undermine the authority of the police. It read: “It has come to my notice that strong efforts are being made to induce the Dublin Metropolitan Police to withdraw from duty. While I feel sure that the large majority of the force will not be led into such foolish action I feel bound to warn the force that any officer or man of any rank who refuses to do duty when called upon will be dismissed. Such dismissal will result in the loss of all service counting towards pension. Officers or men so dismissed will not be re-instated in the force. All members of your division are to be informed as above forthwith”.

Local problems at Council level in June were the regulating of a coal price and considerable discussions took place between the coal suppliers and council officials prior to a price being resolved. First grade coal was to cost £2-18-9 per ton delivered, £2-15-9 per ton to be collected at wharf or yard and 2/10½ per cwt. to customers. With the arrival of summer, repairs to the Woodenbridge were in progress with flooring planks being replaced, angle rails being renewed and the painting of timber structure (3 coats – white) by William Clarke at a cost of £18.0.0.

June was also a month of increasing tension about house searches. Parnell’s home at Avondale was raided and James O Keefe, a volunteer, arrested and charged with unlawful drilling. Police searched for arms at Glanmore, Ashford. In an early morning raid, the home of James Shannon was minutely searched while two constables stood guard with fixed bayonets. Nothing of a condemnatory nature was discovered and no arrests were made. Such house searches led to increasing tension and press censorship added fuel to the fire. The “Daily News” special correspondent in Dublin reported in the Newsletter as saying that “the Press Censorship in Ireland has been tightened-up severely during the past fortnight (early June) and is now almost as dramatic as at any time during the war. Mr. De Valera’s speeches are so amended that the gentleman might have difficulty in recognising them himself”. In an editorial on June 21st the Wicklow People says, ” Ireland has as just a claim to the right of self-determination as any other nation in the world, so says the new Archbishop of New York, Most Rev. Dr. Hayes. He only repeats what every other reasonable man has been asserting for a considerable time”. Even the pro-establishment Newsletter reported in its July 5th issue that press censorship had ceased in England, America, Italy, Spain and Egypt but NOT in Ireland.

The end of June brought the joyful banner headlines:


Historic scenes at Versailles

“At 3.12 p.m.. on Saturday June 28th a peace treaty with Germany was signed, to the infinite relief of peoples round the world, after a war which has devastated Europe for practically five years”. Immediately after the signing of the treaty, President Wilson sent a message to the American people advocating a full and sincere execution of its terms. “The peace, he says, “liberates people who have never been able to find a way to freedom and it recognises the rights of all nationalities. Congressmen and others in America are now asking if he, “President Wilson”, refers in the statement to Ireland? Regrettably the answer was to be in the negative! Things were to seriously deteriorate in subsequent months leading eventually to “The Troubles” and “Civil War”, rather than the “just solution” and desired peace.

*all over the country

**Nearly £180.00

†at Shillelagh

††Proclaimed: Martial Law restrictions

†††See Bro. John Kavanagh’s article “Wicklow rejects Home Rule for a Republic”.

Staff of Kerrs Coachbuilders, Church St., Wicklow. Pictured circa 1890.

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