Published in Issue 1 (January/February 2023), News, Volume 31

By Brian Trench

Above: W.B. Yeats—in October 1893 he accepted the position of president of the Eclectic Club, some of whose members had established the Bohemian Football Club three years earlier. (Alice Broughton)

Just over 130 years ago, on 25 November 1892, Douglas Hyde delivered a lecture that was a landmark in the Irish Revival. ‘The Necessity for De-Anglicising Ireland’, later published as a pamphlet, underpinned the formation of the Gaelic League less than a year later. For this lecture Hyde had the platform of the National Literary Society, the most prominent of the burgeoning debating societies of post-Parnell Ireland. Other such societies included the Sheridan Literary Society and the Celtic Literary Society.

One of the more ephemeral was the Eclectic Club, which, true to its name, gathered very mixed participants, among them W.B. Yeats, legendary lord mayor of Dublin Lorcan Sherlock, two founding officers of the Bohemian Football Club and Murtagh Lyng, co-founder with James Connolly of the Irish Socialist Republican Party.

The Eclectic Club appears to have lasted no more than a few months but many of its alumni went on to play significant roles in public life. Yeats had set up the National Literary Society in 1892 and then spent the next year in dispute with other members about its publishing and library activities. In October 1893 the Eclectic Club was formed, with Yeats accepting the position of president.

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The initiative to start the club was taken by young men who in 1890 had helped set up the Bohemian Football Club. One of these, Samuel Bell, served with Yeats on the Libraries subcommittee of the National Literary Society, providing his family address for use in fund-raising. The Eclectic Club’s founding secretary, Dudley Hussey, was also the founding secretary of Bohemian FC and founding secretary of the Leinster Football Association (1892). Its record secretary and treasurer was Bohemian Hamilton P. Bell, brother of Samuel Bell.

At Eclectic Club meetings in late 1893 Hamilton Bell advocated for ‘Yes’ on the questions of ‘Were the Irish right in supporting James II?’ and ‘Should railways be a state monopoly?’ He was in the chair for a debate on the motion ‘That the character of Cromwell should command admiration’; the vote on this question was 12–11 in favour! Soon, however, on Hussey’s proposal, with Hamilton Bell seconding and Yeats present, the club decided to ‘federate with the National Literary Society’.

Among the young men (mainly or exclusively) reported as attending meetings or holding office in the Eclectic Club were several who performed notable public service before and after Independence.

  • Hamilton P. Bell was active in the Gaelic League while also working in the prisons service at Dublin Castle, and was later a senior civil servant in the Department of Justice.
  • Samuel Bell was a tutor at Bell’s Academy, a civil service training college established by his uncle, Hamilton J. Bell; he was later a tutor at the Royal University.
  • Dudley Hussey was a long-serving and eventually senior civil servant in the Department of Agriculture.
  • Henry Connell Mangan served in the 1920s as Dublin city treasurer and was a financial adviser to the Irish delegation in the 1921 Treaty negotiations in London. He was also a military historian and author of a play on Robert Emmet, and later a member of the board of governors of the National Gallery of Ireland.
  • Murtagh Lyng was in 1896 a founding member with his brother Tom and James Connolly of the Irish Republican Socialist Party, of which both Lyngs served several periods as secretary. When Murtagh died, aged 31, in 1902, the Workers’ Republic praised his ‘ardent and generous temperament’ and his ‘uncommon ability’ as a lecturer.
  • Lorcan Sherlock was first elected as a city councillor in Dublin for the Irish Parliamentary Party in 1905, serving as lord mayor in 1912–15 and later as city sheriff and chief returning officer. He was a leading figure in the cattle trade and a director of several companies, and was also active in musical and sporting circles, including as president of Bohemian Football Club in 1927–8.
  • Gerald Sherlock, brother of Lorcan, worked for over 40 years in Dublin Corporation, including a long period as city manager.
  • Martin Wheeler married Bridget Sherlock, sister of Lorcan and Gerald; he was a lecturer in economics and principal of the Technical School, Parnell Square. He was also active (a Wheeler by nature as well by name!) in national and international cycling organisations.

With the dissolution of the Eclectic Club, the Sherlock brothers found a home in the Sheridan Literary Society, formed in 1894. Gerald became editor of the society’s journal, Critic, and in January 1895 he and Lorcan were awarded medals for their debating. In December 1895 the society debated ‘That Home Rule is not essential for the prosperity of Ireland’, and in January 1896 it debated ‘Should railways be a state monopoly?’, with the two Sherlocks on opposite sides. Lorcan Sherlock later became a director of Great Southern Railways.

Brian Trench is a former senior lecturer at the School of Communications, Dublin City University.


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