I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized The View from the Hill

The View from the Hill

Michael Halpenny
Road to Independence: Howth, Sutton and Baldoyle Play Their Part, by Philip O’Connor, Howth Free Press, 312 pp, €15, ISBN 978-0955316333 Just when you thought you were 1916ed out, along comes yet another book on the subject. However, Philip O’Connor’s work is different. While local in its focus, it skilfully weaves the history of part of North County Dublin during the revolutionary period into the national context, so that the reader learns as much of the bigger picture as of the locality. He opens with the twentieth century ushering in a period of prosperity and political progress for a growing Catholic middle class in the developing suburban areas of Howth, Sutton and Baldoyle. Large and middling farmers in North County Dublin had benefited from land reform and John Redmond and his Irish Parliamentary Party ruled supreme. There had even been some modest advances for working people in the all-important fields of housing and rudimentary pension and social welfare provision. The area had its own distinct character, with a large unionist and Protestant population, around a third of the overall. The author shows this was not a homogenous group and contained many strands, both religious and political. There was, however, a revolutionary tradition dating back to 1798, when Dublin Castle spies reported that every man in Howth was sworn into the United Irishmen. Nevertheless, that, and the subsequent Fenian tradition, co-existed with constitutional nationalism, which was no less committed to a notion of freedom, more moderate in measure, but articulated just as strongly. Thus, at its inaugural meeting in May 1899, the new Dublin County Council lost no time in declaring: “We repudiate the claim of any other legislature or government to legislate for or govern the people of this country.” As well as maintaining political co-existence, the revolutionary and constitutional traditions found cultural expression through Gaelic games in the formation of clubs like Howth’s “Ben Edars”, Baldoyle and Sutton’s “Star of the Sea” and through the Howth branch of Conradh na Gaeilge, founded in 1900. So, as the man said, where did it all go wrong? O’Connor explains that not everyone was part of this onward march. The poor wages and conditions of farm labourers in the area shocked even Big Jim Larkin. Now, with the new and militant Irish Transport and General Workers Union (ITGWU), there was the means to effectively take on the employers, and local labour heroes…

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