Centenary of Catholic Emancipation: The Centenary Record

Published in 18th–19th - Century History, Issue 3 (Autumn 2004), News, Volume 12

36_small_1245950381Seventy-five years ago, on Sunday 24 June 1929, celebrations to mark the centenary of Catholic Emancipation ended in Dublin with a Pontifical High Mass in the Phoenix Park attended by 300,000 people, and a procession to Watling Street Bridge followed by Benediction. According to the newspapers of the time everything went like clockwork, due no doubt to meticulous planning that included a special act of the Oireachtas to postpone the opening hours of public houses in the city area until these liturgical events had concluded.

 
The celebrations did not include any formal participation by the other Christian denominations, but Revd R.M. Gwynn in the chapel of Trinity College and Revd J.C. Breakey in the Abbey Presbyterian church preached sermons that would not be out of place in later, more ecumenical, times, while the Methodist Conference meeting in Cork a few days earlier had passed a motion expressing appreciation of the fact that so many Christians were now free of persecution and that Emancipation had been achieved by a great Irishman supported by men of various religious beliefs.

 
One by-product of the anniversary was the publication of a handsome Centenary Record edited by Revd Myles Ronan, containing scholarly articles on the history of the Catholic Church in Ireland and no less than 312 advertisements, all of which had been booked, proofed and passed by Kenny’s Advertising Service, the largest advertising agency in the country, according to its own notice.

 
The prime position was given to Clery & Co., O’Connell Street, who published a series of ‘resolutions’ to which their salespeople had signed up. These amounted to what would nowadays be called a customer service charter and, with minor amendments, they could usefully be adopted by some modern purveyors of ‘customer care’. Staff promised that they would know their stock, treat each customer with cheerfulness and courtesy, be as attentive to the purchaser of the most inexpensive item as to the person with more elaborate needs, be patient with the customer who was ‘provoked’, be prompt with the customer who was hurried, be sympathetic to the customer who was puzzled, and be considerate to those who were difficult to satisfy.

 
Financial institutions preferred to talk about themselves. The Bank of Ireland and the Hibernian Bank simply reproduced their latest balance sheets, while the Irish Life & General Insurance Company announced that companies under its control had authorised capital of £1,000,000 and assets of £350,000. Other businesses adopted a more informal style. Varian Brushes claimed that their products swept all before them, while the notice for Urney Chocolates of Tallaght, like many an advertisement before and since, linked up with the event of the hour by declaring that its Tara product was manufactured by ‘really emancipated’ Irish brains and workers. Morgan, hatter of Duke St., promised to take head shapes free of charge and, as an additional bonus, offered the public an opportunity to view a hat made for Daniel O’Connell in 1832, while J.T. Lemass, hatter, hosier and outfitter of Capel Street, simply claimed that Irish-made goods were their speciality.

 
Nowadays most of us think of Dún Laoghaire as a suburb of Dublin, but in 1929 it was anxious to promote its merits as a seaside holiday resort and its Publicity Bureau took space in the Record to make claims that lacked little in creativity. The alleged benefits for the visitor included a mean rainfall as low as 29.5 inches, a mean temperature higher than that of Bournemouth or Stockport, and a combination of bracing sea breezes and exhilarating mountain air that, in the opinion of ‘eminent’ but unnamed medical men, produced the ‘ideal tonic’.

 
Meanwhile, Our Boys magazine was concerned about the health of young people. It warned young men not to take up the pernicious habit of smoking until they were 21 at least, if they wanted to be athletes, and it added the observation that smoking was an unlovely and unmaidenly habit for girls.

 
T.F. O’Donnell & Co. of Eden Quay, ‘wine suppliers, whiskey bonders, tea and coffee importers’, proudly boasted that they supplied their products to convents, colleges, institutions and the clergy at wholesale prices!
The Centenary Record is available to readers in the excellent Gilbert Library, Pearse Street, Dublin.

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