Trip Through Time

The history of the Dundalk Labourers' Society

Peter Kavanagh

Peter Kavanagh


Peter Kavanagh


The history of the Dundalk Labourers' Society

The history of the Dundalk Labourers' Society

Glancing through an old copy of the Tempest's Annual of over 100 years ago I came across an interesting article on a trade union society that existed at that time which is little remembered in Dundalk of the present day but must have had a profound effect on Dundalk life of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

It was headed 'The Dundalk Labourers Society' --- A few notes on its history'. The Annual, dated 1910, does note give the name of the author (as was usual for publications of those days) but I am pretty sure that it must have been written by William Tempest, the publisher and editor of the journal, who died just ten years later.

As my regular readers may guess, I have a great admiration for this man who did much to preserve the story of the town at a time when local history was not all that popular.

The Labourers' Society must have been one of the very first organisations founded locally for the benefit of ordinary working people of the town and district and many others were to follow in its footsteps. It was not that which interested me most about the account in the Tempest's Annual but that fact that it contained the names of many local men involved in the movement whose descendants must be still around the Town today and be justly proud of their work and sacrifices.

The article begins by stating ---

'The Dundalk Operatives and Labourers' Friendly Society, to give it its full legal title, was founded in November, 1871. The founders were --- James Larissey, first President; Thomas Carroll; Thomas Carroll, Vice-President; Patrick Lynch, Secretary; Patrick Smyth, Andrew McCormack, Owen Quigley, Owen Turtle, John Carroll, Owen Kindlon, Patrick Ward. These men were the first Committee and met in William Mulholland's in Earl Street, in a room which they rented at 4/- (shillings) a night.

The entrance fee was fixed at 6d (pence), with a weekly subscription of 3d per week. The members at the time number about 100.

Slender purse

In the next few months the meeting place was in Owen Quigley's house in Windmill Road in order to save the young Society's slender purse.

It was here that the rules were drawn up and registered in February 1872.

The names attached to these rules were :-- Edward Morgan, President; Patrick McDermott, Secretary; Owen Quigley, Frank McGinn, Thomas Kerley, Denis Hoey, James Anderson, Thomas Carroll.

'The Society then took rooms, first in Warren's Stores in Church Lane, then over Mrs. Walsh's in Church Street. It remained in the latter place till the Hall was built in Clanbrassil Street.'

Oddly, there is no mention of a Treasurer being appointed, in spite of the fact that finance was an important factor in the Society's existence!

As I have intimated at the outset, these family names, mostly, are still among the leading citizens of Dundalk at the present time.

I was interested in the story because, in my youth, I was well acquainted with the Labourer's Hall, at the back of 57, Clanbrassil Street, where two snooker tables, this pastime was popular for young men in Dundalk in the middle of the last century.

The early meetings of the Dundalk Trades' Council, I believe, were also held in this hall and it was also the place where some of the early meetings and lectures of the Dealga Debating Society were held in the late 1950s.

So, as you can understand, it must have been a place that greatly influenced the development of modern thinking it the town of the period!

The story as to how the Labourers' Hall came to be built in 1888 is also recounted in the Tempest's Annual; but I do not have space this week to go into that part of the Society's history but hope to come back to it later!

I was also interested in the location of the first meeting place of the Labourers' Society in 'Owen Quigley's house in Windmill Road', because there would not have been many houses along what is now St. Alphonsus Road in 1871.

You see, the Redemptorists Father, who built St. Joseph's Monastery along it, did not come to Dundalk until September of 1876 when they took up residence in a house in Park Street.

The entrance to the Railway Goods Yard at Barrack Street was there but I am not sure that the small houses of McCormack's Terrace on the east side of the Road were built by that time.

I suspect that the meetings might have been in of the two houses set back off the narrow part of the road where a man called Austin Kerley lived with his wife and daughter in the first half of the last century.

Austin was a partner, with his brother Maurice, in the substantial the egg business at 85, Park Street and was a great storyteller from whom I learned much about old Dundalk. Another member of the family, Peter James Kerley, was famous for being a physician to King George VI and was knighted.

You will note that there is a Thomas Kerley mentioned as being a member of that first committee, I wonder if he was their father?