A Political Meeting in Kilkenny Castle, 1912

Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Home Rule, Issue 3 (Autumn 1995), News, Volume 3

Present day visitors to the Picture Gallery in Kilkenny Castle find a very large airy room decorated with a number of Ormonde family portraits. The atmosphere is of quiet contemplation of the works of art. On the 12 October, 1912 there was a very different atmosphere as a large number of people assembled for an anti-Home Rule meeting. The meeting took place at a time when southern unionists were trying to bring public opinion in Britain onto their side. They held a series of local county-based meetings to show the opposition to Home Rule in the south, especially after the introduction of the Home Rule Bill. They were concerned that Ulster unionist protests would overshadow their own efforts.
Tipperary SR County Museum recently copied a photograph album belonging to a family living in the South Riding and linked with the Butlers of Kilkenny Castle. The photographs described here are included among the album which mostly deals with Tipperary and family subjects.
The white-haired gentleman on the platform on the left  (picture overleaf) is the Marquis of Ormonde. The speakers included Mr T. Ponsonby, Mr H.C. Gregory, Lord Midleton, Mr R. Bagwell, Lord Annaly, Lord Kenmare and Lord Desart. The men seated directly in front of the platform are probably reporters from the press and it is interesting to note the very partisan approach they took. The Kilkenny People noted, with some glee, that the barrels upon which the platform was to be erected had been withdrawn by the brewery concerned, they having been sent ‘without authority’. The Marquis of Ormonde opened by making clear, to applause, that there would be nothing of a ‘sectarian character’ at the meeting. Speakers concentrated on the alleged material and commercial damage to the country from Home Rule. A lack of faith in the financial abilities of the Irish Parliamentary Party was noted and worries about individual liberty and security of property were expressed.
The Kilkenny People noted with approval the Marquis of Ormonde’s call for nothing of a sectarian nature but dismissed the speeches as ‘empty’ and the proceedings as a ‘farce’. While Notes from Ireland (a weekly publication of the Irish Unionist Alliance) estimated the attendance in the region of a thousand the People put the figure at 300, citing this as an indication of the extent of Kilkenny’s opposition to Home Rule. Another commentator in the same paper noted that of the 300 attending, 200 were ladies and ‘so far as Kilkenny is concerned, Home Rule has not much to fear from the opposition’. The franchise was only extended to most women aged over thirty in February 1918. A rough head-count of the crowd from the two photographs would seem to favour the lower figure. The presence of Tipperary unionists, the large size of hats worn by the ladies present, even the alleged large size of the ladies themselves, were also used to emphasise the weakness of the numbers attending. It is clear that the Kilkenny People was intent on dismissing the entire meeting as irrelevant and the anti-Home Rule movement in the county as powerless. The tone of the press comments also shows the depth of political feeling being stirred-up in Kilkenny by the Home Rule bill, a precursor of the troubled times of the following years.

Patrick Holland is Curator of Tipperary SR County Museum, Parnell Street, Clonmel.

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