Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Patriot and Man of Peace

I knew the name Laurence O'Neill from reading the minutes of meetings of Dublin Corporation between 1920 and 1924, from the time my grand uncle was elected to the Council to the time it was abolished by the new Free State Government.

I wasn't paying much attention to O'Neill as such. He was incidental. My interest was in the grand uncle, Patrick J Medlar. But O'Neill's strong presence was there all the time. Hovering in the background, though he was actually the Lord Mayor and chaired the Council.

I didn't really know anything much about him. So I was interested to hear Dr. Thomas J. Morrissey, S.J.'s account of O'Neill's stewardship of the Council in what was a tumultuous period not only for the Council but for the nation as a whole.

I was fairly familiar with much of the Council's activities during the latter part of the War of Independence, but a point made by Dr. Morrissey, and one which had not fully struck me, was that, in the absence of a national parliament, the Council filled this role in many respects. It was elected and it had legal standing.

So it was not too surprising in the circumstances to find that Laurence O'Neill was a significant player on the national as well as the municipal front. He was a modest man who worked for consensus and gave advice advisedly. He left his mark on many of the leaders of that time and later. He was a man of unquestioned integrity and he was trusted by all sides.

It is very refreshing to be able to go beyond the traditional pop-up book cardboard versions of history and to find magnificent role models among the real people in their day to day struggle for existence and more.

In the Q&A session afterwards the work of people like Dr. Morrissey, Dr. Mary Clarke, and Dr. Máire Kennedy, in bringing real history to an increasingly receptive public, was praised. Dr. Morrissey felt that this approach was already being reflected in the schools' curriculum in recent years and that hopefully this trend would continue. He did, however, wryly mention the dropping of history as a compulsory subject in the junior cycle.

This talk, in the Oak Room of Dublin's Mansion House, was one of a series dealing with a selection of Dublin's Lord Mayors from the mid 17th to the mid 20th century. The final talk, on Mrs. Tom Clarke, the first woman Lord Mayor of Dublin 1939-41, is on next Tuesday 3 November 2015, at 6.30pm in the Oak Room. You can see the full schedule here.

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