Rewind - Vote, vote, vote for Alfie Byrne

By Sean Heffernan

This week we are hopping back on the 41 bus at stop 3689 Main Street Swords – Fingal County Council, and we will stay on this bus until it reaches the last stop 288 Abbey Street, Irish Life Mall.

From here we will walk the 11 minutes to Seville Place, birthplace of one of Dublin’s most famous citizens, and the focus of this week’s column – Alfie Byrne.

Rewind 1

Alfie Byrne is revered as the only Irish politician to serve as an MP, TD, senator, councillor and Lord Mayor

Born on Saint Patrick’s Day to Thomas and Fanny Byrne, like so many others at the time he finished his education when he completed primary school at 13.

As a working teenager he had various jobs such as a delivery boy for a grocers, in a bike repair shop and as a seller of programmes to patrons at the theatre.

His father was an engineer so his family, unlike many others resident in the North Inner-City, were able to keep their heads above water – pay the rent/mortgage on time and put a proper dinner on the table on a daily basis.

However his traversing the area near his house everyday as a child opened his eyes to the real and ruthless poverty that existed in many parts of the capital, which was to have a lasting effect on him and influenced his decision to enter into politics.

Whilst still in his 20’s he did something people of his age could have only dreamed of when he purchased a public house on Talbot Street, not far from where he was born and reared.

In 1909 at the age of 27 he was elected to Dublin Corporation as a councillor for what was then known as the “North Dock Ward”.

Four years later in the 1915 General election he won a seat for the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) for the Dublin Harbour Constituency on the platform of fighting for “Home Rule”.

This was a policy which sought the granting from the British Government in Westminster of powers to an Irish parliament to be able to independently set it’s own domestic policy while still being under the rule of London with regard to Foreign affairs and trade issues.

In 1917 he raised a few eyebrows when he attended the funeral of the former Lord Mayor of Cork Thomas Ashe, who passed away as a result of going on hunger strike, he was the only member of the IPP to do so.

When the IPP was all but annihilated by the newly established Sinn Fein party he left the party and would spend the rest of his political career as an Independent member of both The Dail and Dublin Corporation (up until 1997 one could be both a TD and County/City councillor at the same time).

He was firmly on the Pro-Treaty side when it came to a vote on the deal that Michael Collins had brought home from London, but did not participate in any of the hostilities that took place in what became known as the “Irish Civil War”.

In 1930 Byrne was to become Alderman of Dublin as we was elected by his peers to the position of Lord Mayor of Dublin, a position he held for an incredible nine years in a row.

He was renowned for rarely ever missing an event he was invited to and it is said he famously once managed to attend 13 separate events on the same day.

He would make himself very visible at an event before quickly scarpering off to another.

Apparently he was a very accomplished dancer and this played a big part in enabling him to be seen at an event, which naturally would be talked about across the community over the following days, “I saw the Lord Mayor at...”.

Another thing he was known for was handing out sweets to children he would meet on his travels where he made sure the child would tell their parents who it was that gave them the gobstopper or lollipop etc.

If you did not have the money to heat your home a trip to see Alfie would more often than not see you receive a bag of coal and/or a few logs at your door later, which was something he became legendary for.

In 1936 King George V passed away and the Independent TD for Dublin North set tongues wagging no end when he turned up at the funeral in London.

At this time the Irish Free State was still in the throes of a crippling economic war with it’s near neighbour with punitive tariffs placed on many of our agricultural and other exports to the UK.

Three years previously he nabbed the second of the eight seats on offer, with last week’s subject Seán T O’ Kelly taking top spot.

That same year he attended the first meeting of the anti-communist “Irish Christian Front”, at the Mansion House on Dawson Street.

This group attracted controversy in part due to the extreme anti-Jewish views of some of it’s members.

In 1954 the man from Seville Place was to be given his 10th and final go at being the ‘First Citizen of Dublin’ when he was handed the Mayoral chains one last time.

In 1956 Alfie Byrne passed away and in truth the city was a much poorer place in his absence. His funeral was regarded as being the biggest the city had witnessed in years.

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