Louth 1920 online archives exhibition

Published in Issue 1 (January/February 2021), News, Volume 29

https://www.louthcoco.ie/en/services/archives/online-digital-archives/1920-archives/

By Lorraine McCann

This exhibition, by Louth County Archives Service, highlights themes surrounding the reform of local government and the 1920 local elections; the War of Independence; social and cultural activities; and the impact of the events of the period in the lead-up to partition. It is arranged by archive collection type; politics, administration, military and estates predominate but the importance of cultural matters relating to music and theatre is also highlighted, with programmes of the Dundealgan Choral Society and photographs of performers and scenes from plays such as The Gondoliers, The Country Girl and The Mikado, performed c. 1920.

Included are the extant minute books of Louth County Council, the former Drogheda Corporation, Dundalk Urban District Council and the Rural District Councils of Ardee and Drogheda. The minutes give us a glimpse into the lives of ordinary people, some of whom were struggling to survive, and illustrate the extent of their support and concerns for both local and national political and social issues of the time. For example, in response to the hunger strikes undertaken by republican political prisoners in Irish prisons in April 1920, Drogheda RDC protested ‘against the inhuman treatment meted out … and we demand the immediate release of these men in order to avert a shocking tragedy’.

Of particular interest are the papers of Joseph Dolan (1872–1930), a businessman and antiquarian from Ardee. He was the first president of the County Louth Archaeological and Historical Society (1904) and was an early supporter of the Gaelic League. In 1908 he made a substantial financial donation to assist Patrick Pearse in establishing St Enda’s School. Dolan was a prolific letter-writer, holding strong nationalist views but opposing the destruction of the War of Independence; he exchanged correspondence with Michael Collins and the likes of Horace Plunkett, who in April 1920 informed Dolan that ‘I am doing my best to bring before the people of England the aspects of the present situation which you suggest … I have never known the dice so badly loaded against Ireland’. In the same month, Thomas Callan Macardle of the Dundalk brewery, the father of Dorothy Macardle, author, playwright, republican and feminist, also discussed the efforts he was making to pursue a truce. In September 1920, Unionist leader Edward Carson wrote that he and the government ‘want a cessation of this sad state of affairs’ but stated that ‘you must remember that the forces of the Crown were sent to Ireland in consequence of a series of most cowardly murders of innocent men’.

Several election and political documents featured in the exhibition are from the Hughes/McArdle archive, which relates primarily to Joseph H. McArdle of Rampark, a nationalist activist and later county councillor, and his son-in-law, Patrick Hughes. A rates collector until 1916, Patrick Hughes was one of the founders of Sinn Féin in Dundalk and later established the Irish Volunteers in Louth, one of the few units outside of Dublin that mobilised at Easter 1916. He became chairman of Dundalk Urban District Council in the 1930s. His brother Peter Hughes, who is also briefly featured, was a leading Redmondite until he was radicalised before the 1916 Rising and was jailed as part of the ‘German Plot’ in 1918. He later became a TD and was appointed minister of defence (1924–7) in the aftermath of the Army Mutiny of 1924.

Above: ‘Dundalk Jail 1918. Leaders of IRA’—back row (l–r): Fionán Lynch, Ernest Blythe, Terence MacSwiney, Dick McKee, Michael Colivet; front row (l–r): Frank Thornton, Austin Stack, Michael Brennan. (Military Archives)

The exhibition contains a transcript of the Dundalk Jail register (the original is held in the National Archives) recording prisoners during the period June 1917–September 1920, amongst them Austin Stack, Fionán Lynch, Ernest Blythe, Terence MacSwiney, Dick McKee, Michael Colivet, Frank Thornton and Michael Brennan. Originally sentenced to various prisons such as Mountjoy, Limerick and Belfast for various terms of penal servitude for breaches of the Defence of the Realm Act, they were later transferred to Dundalk Jail during 1917–18.

Also featured are pages from an auction catalogue showing photographs of the exterior and interior of the mansion house at Ravensdale Park, which extended to nearly 2,000 acres and which was sold in 1920 to a timber firm. It was one of the first big houses to be burned down during the Troubles in June 1921.

The extent and frequency of local activities during the struggle for independence, so often overlooked in favour of more dramatic events, are well documented in Louth County Archives. The purpose of developing this digital content in County Louth is to support local research and scholarship by providing free online access to our archival holdings, thereby assisting in the democratisation of access to records. It is hoped that this will help develop a deeper understanding of the various activities in Louth during this formative period of our history.

Lorraine McCann is County Archivist with Louth County Council and a member of the Local Government Archivists and Records Managers.

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