Calm before the storm: Bray in 1919 by Brian White
A description of some of the happenings around Bray before the town felt the impact of the War of Independence:
Tourism: With the Peace Conference underway in Paris, Bray thought that a new era would begin in 1919. The tourist hotels had limped on since 1913. The lockout in 1913 had brought some uncertain times. This was followed by the First World War 1914 -1918 with shortages of labour, coal and tourists. There was also the Easter Rising of 1916 that cast a shadow over the tourist season of May to September 1916. In February 1919 the staff of the Dublin & South Eastern Railway served strike notice. Their demands included an increase in wages and a shorter working week. Interestingly, Mr. Frank Bethel of Bray was elected chairman of the Hotel Owners Association of Ireland.
(In 1920, during the War of Independence, the Royal Hotel on the Main Street was used to hold prisoners, before moving them to Wicklow Gaol, Wicklow Town, prisons in Dublin or internment camps on the Curragh, Ballykinler in Co. Down and Crumlin Road prision in Belfast.)
Princess Patricia Hospital, formerly the International Hotel. Photo: Wicklow Library Service.
Healthcare: The International Hotel (now Bray Bowl) was converted into the Princess Patricia Hospital for wounded soldiers. On 21st October 1919 all the equipment used in the Princess Patricia Hospital was sold at a public in the Arcadia Ballroom, over 1,000 lots were sold. Items unsold made their way to the hospital at Arklow and were used up to 1961.
On the 8th November 1919 the King of the Belgians announced he was going to confer Miss Kate Lenny of Bray with the Medal of Honour of “Reine Elizabeth “ for her kindness in caring of the Belgian Refugees in Bray. Miss Lenny was the daughter of the Medical Officer of Dr. Lenny of Bray.
Post office: In 1919 a new postmaster was appointed to Bray Post Office, Mr Nicholson was postmaster in Clones and took up the Bray appointment on a salary of £365. In October Mr J M O’Brien postmaster of Tuam replaced Mr Nicholson at the request of Mr Nicholson.
R.I.C.: In February 1919 Sir Rowland Fanning died in his 92nd year at his Bray residence. He retired as Deputy Inspector General of the Royal Irish Constabulary (today his rank would be an Assistant Commissioner) in 1886. He was appointed a Justice of the Peace for County Wicklow.
Spannish Flu Pandemic: On 25th February 1919 the Bray Town Clerk , John McCaul published a notice regarding the Great Influenza epidemic. Anyone who contracted the flu had to notify the Urban District Council. Public meetings could not take place until the restriction notice was lifted. Before the ban on meetings was put in place a public meeting took place in the town hall where Lord Powerscourt proposed the erection of a war memorial in the town.
Extract from minutes of Bray Urban District Council, 25 February 1919 – concern at prevalence of Spannish Flu in Bray. Image: Wicklow County Archives
Music: The Bray Choral Society gave a concert at Woodbrook, in May 1919 the proceeds went to the memorial cross for the fallen in World War in Bray and District.
Housing: In June 1919 the Pembroke Estate sold cottages at Bray and Dundrum. The Cottages in Bray included the cottages opposite the Town Hall. In total seven cottages were sold in Bray.
Swimming: In August 1919 the Bray Swimming Club held a moonlight gala with fifty swimmers taking part in the event , after the final a great fireworks lit up the night sky. Artificial light for the races was provided by Thomas Miller of Bray.
Aviation: Josephine Heffernan the first world war nurse from Bray was in New York in August 1919 and took photographs for the first mid air wedding.
First mid-air wedding, New York August 1919, photo taken by Bray nurse Josephine Heffernan. Photo: Brian White courtesy of Heffernan family collection.
Politics: In October the Sinn Fein hunger strikers including Michael J Hoey of Bray was released under the Cat and Mouse Act. He was released from a prison in Derry.
Schools: The Boys School on the Seapoint Road was established in 1820, and by 1880 the school moved to the Little Flower Hall beside the Holy Redeemer Church on the Main Street. The building on the Seapoint Road was used by the Gaelic League and the Land League. The premises were searched on a frequent basis during the War of Independence and the Civil War.