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21 May 2022

Trip Through Time: The problem with Edward's 'Oath'

Looking back at Dundalk's past, with former Democrat editor Peter Kavanagh

Trip Through Time: The problem with Edward's 'Oath'

The answer in this week's Question Time about the last visit of a British Monarch to Dundalk shows some of the tensions that were festering in Dundalk at the beginning of that last century which would lead to violence within a couple of decades.

It was not just that Edward was claiming to be 'King of Ireland' that caused the resentment but because of the oath he had taken at his coronation in the previous year!

Few people alive in Dundalk today can scarce realise the problems raised by Edward VII's Coronation Oath, taken in 1902; not just between Catholics and Protestants in Dundalk but also between older nationalists who had been seeking Home Rule for Ireland for many decades and younger people who were looking for a more radical break from British rule.

This issue may explain the reason why there was such a division among townspeople on the occasion Edward's stopping at Dundalk Railway Station in April 1904.

The reason was that this oath contained reference to the Roman Catholic faith as being 'superstitious and idolatrous'.

Many Catholics in Ireland at the beginning of that century had been fairly loyal to the British Crown and had hoped that Edward would be more liberal than his mother Queen Victoria who had reigned for over sixty years.

They hoped that Edward would refuse to take such an insulting oath or, at least, would alter the wording!

They believed that he had been a great peace maker in European politics and had been a friend of Pope Leo XIII, while Prince of Wales.

The Coronation was due to take place in June 1902 but was postponed due to Edward's illness.

Leo died in July and, when the Coronation took place in in Westminster Abbey in August, Edward did take the objectionable oath - which was a cause of great disappointment to many in Ireland, including the Editor of the Dundalk Democrat, Thomas F. McGahon.

This tension in Dundalk at the time is reflected in Padraic Ua Dubhtaigh's 'Book of Dundalk were he writes --- 'In 1903, a meeting of Louth magistrates arranged for an address to King Edward on the occasion of his visit to this country. Lord Bellew (Lord Lieutenant of the County) presided and the attendance included: Sir Henry Bellingham, Dr. Blake, William Tempest, J. McAdorey, C.A. Duffy, James Norton, Thomas C. MacArdle, R. Love, William Joseph O'Reilly, and Sir Vere Foster, T. Balfour and O. J. Kelly.

A suggestion by Mr. O'Reilly, from Knockabbey, Louth, that the King be requested to have the coronation oath eliminated was supported by Mr. Balfour, Townley Hall Drogheda, as a member of the Church of Ireland and by Sir Vere Foster, Ardee, also a non-Catholic.

Mr. O'Reilly (Mountain View, Blackrock,) resigned his Commission of the Peace when a proposal by him to protest against the Oath was rejected by a majority.'

The piece goes on to list the address to be delivered to the King which refers to as having 'deeply at heart the interests of the Realm of Ireland.'

All this might seem very childish and almost laughable to young people of Dundalk today but it was to have very serious consequences for the area with onset of the Great War only a few years later.

Dundalk people of the time were, mainly, very religious and took any slight to their beliefs very seriously!

Ua Dubhtaigh, reporting the visit of the King in April 1904 writes - 'The royal party, when passing through Dundalk Station was greeted by a crowd waving Union Jacks.

Most effusive in their demonstrations were members of a few prominent Catholic families.'

The author was to travel to Dublin to take part in the 1916 Rising, although he returned to Dundalk, believing it had been called off.

He was interned for his political views and took part in the Fight for Independence on his release!

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