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Remembering 1920: A Dáil inquiry comes to Cork

Wednesday, 22nd January, 2020 4:44pm

One hundred years ago this week, a research inquiry set up by Dáil Éireann – six months previously – arrived to the steps of Cork City Hall.

The ensuing event coincided with another stand-off between individuals pushing for a republic and those upholding Ireland’s place within the British empire.

On 18 June 1919 Dáil Éireann decreed the appointment of a National Commission of Inquiry into the resources and industries of Ireland. Subject to its report, it was planned to establish a National Exhibition of Irish Products and Manufactures and Resources, and that an appropriate figure of £5,000 would be made available for such an event.

Dublin man and Sinn Féin Honorary Secretary Darrell Figgis was appointed secretary of this national commission of inquiry.

Professor Mary Daly’s work in the ‘Atlas of the Irish Revolution’ outlines that to attract support across a broad political spectrum, 60 experts were approached for their expertise from business, academia, county surveyors and labour leaders. Forty-nine agreed to share their perspectives.

Two broad areas were focussed on – food supply and power resources. The first public meeting of the Commission in Dublin was held on 2 December 1919 without any disturbance recorded.

On 22 January 1920, the Commission met at Cork City Hall. The Cork Examiner outlines that several policemen were in possession of the front portion of the building. Hence admission at the entrance fronting Albert Quay was denied to the members of the Commission as they were part of the outlawed Dáil Éireann (since September 1919).

They, however, succeeded in baffling the police and got in by the door leading from the Corn Market side. They went in there one by one between ten and eleven o'clock. It was only at 12 noon that the police discovered that a sitting was being held within the building. Immediately the head constable and some police went to the room where the evidence was being taken and ejected the members of the commission.

On the same day a delegation from Westminster was due to meet in City Hall to gather its data on industrial resources and opportunities in the region. The delegation, with the Lord Mayor William F O’Connor (a Nationalist member) and the High Sheriff arrived a few minutes after noon.

As the lord mayor walked through the small crowd that had congregated on the quay towards the door of the City Hall, he was stopped by Darrell Figgis, secretary of the Dáil Éireann commission. Darrell asked him if it was not a fact that he had granted them the use of the hall for the purpose of holding an inquiry into the resources of the country. The Lord Mayor said that was so and Mr Figgis then said that the police had forcibly ejected them and asked if this was done with the lord mayor’s consent.

The lord mayor said that he had given no such order, and that as far as he was concerned, he desired that they should use it. The head constable intervened to say that he had orders not to allow them enter.

The diaries of Liam de Róiste MP and Dáil Éireann member outlines his involvement with the bringing of Darrell Figgis to Cork. His diaries can be read in Cork City and County Archives.

He met the group the evening before the inquiry meeting at their Cork hotel. He was present that evening when the head constable arrived and told the group the commission would not be allowed to sit at City Hall the following day.

It was Liam de Róiste, who had just been elected as a councillor during the local elections, who brought the group in a side door on the Corn Market side the following day.

After the group were told to leave City Hall, Liam brought the group to the Cork School of Art. He details that the delegation was about ten in number and amongst others included high profile Sinn Féin members and regional experts – Colonel Maurice Moore (retired Connaught Rangers Regiment commander and Sinn Féin member), Professor Alfred O’Rahilly (Cork Sinn Féin councillor and UCC academic), Roger Sweetnam (Sinn Féin MP), Professor Robert Tweedy (a prominent electrical engineer), Thomas P Dowdall (Cork IDA and butter and margarine manufacturer), Andrew O’Shaughnessy (Dripsey Woollen Mills), Edward Lysaght and Labour leader Tom Johnson.

Professor of Agriculture at UCC Thomas Wibberley was the first witness who spoke about agriculture and milk production. He was an expert in tillage dairy farming, farm management and the production of animal foodstuffs.

After an hour of debate at the School of Art, a head constable and constable arrived and sat amongst the meeting for a time before they were replaced by two detectives. The commission went on undisturbed.

Mr Figgis and a farmer spoke about milk production. The meeting adjourned for lunch but on the group’s return they found the door blocked by the police.

They then left intending to go the Crawford Technical School. Passing the Courthouse, Liam brought them into the Cork County Council offices. Some of the clerks there locked the doors and the sitting continued till 8pm. Evidence on meat, milk, wool and other products were taken.

The following day Liam de Róiste reports in his diary that the police occupied the Courthouse and the City Hall. The evidence on fish industries was taken at the delegation’s Cork hotel. The police made a complaint, but the hotel upheld the view that persons not residing in the hotel would not be allowed in.

In the months ahead, further planned meetings across the country were scuppered by the War of Independence.

Eventually in 1922, the National Commission of Inquiry into the Resources and Industries of Ireland concluded its proceedings and published reports and elaborate maps on dairying, coal, industrial alcohol, milk, peat, fisheries, stock breeding and water power.

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