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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of William Martin Murphy

william-martin-murphyWilliam Martin Murphy, Irish businessman, journalist and politician, is born on January 6, 1845 in Castletownbere, County Cork. A member of parliament (MP) representing Dublin from 1885 to 1892, he is dubbed “William Murder Murphy” among Dublin workers and the press due to the Dublin Lockout of 1913. He is arguably both Ireland’s first “press baron” and the leading promoter of tram development.

Murphy is educated at Belvedere College. When his father, the building contractor Denis William Murphy dies in 1863, he takes over the family business. His enterprise and business acumen expand the business, and he builds churches, schools and bridges throughout Ireland, as well as railways and tramways in Britain, West Africa and South America.

Murphy is elected as Irish Parliamentary Party MP for Dublin St. Patrick’s at the 1885 general election, taking his seat in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. He is a member of the informal grouping, the “Bantry Band,” a group of politicians who hail from the Bantry Bay area.

When the Irish Parliamentary Party splits in 1890 over Charles Stewart Parnell‘s leadership, Murphy sides with the majority Anti-Parnellites. However, Dublin emerges as a Parnellite stronghold and in the bitter general election of 1892, Murphy loses his seat by over three to one to a Parnellite newcomer, William Field.

Murphy is the principal financial backer of the “Healyite” newspapers the National Press and the Daily Nation. His support for Tim Healy attracts the hostility of the majority anti-Parnellite faction led by John Dillon. He makes two attempts to return to Parliament, at South Kerry in 1895 and North Mayo in 1900, but both are unsuccessful because of Dillonite opposition.

In 1900, Murphy purchases the insolvent Irish Daily Independent from the Parnellites, merging it with the Daily Nation. He re-launches this as a cheap mass-circulation newspaper, which rapidly displaces the Freeman’s Journal as Ireland’s most popular nationalist paper. In 1906, he founds the Sunday Independent newspaper.

Murphy is highly critical of the Irish Parliamentary Party. From 1914 he uses the Irish Independent to oppose the partition of Ireland and advocate Dominion Home Rule involving full fiscal autonomy.

Worried that the trade unions would destroy his Dublin tram system, Murphy leads Dublin employers against the trade unions led by James Larkin, an opposition that culminates in the Dublin Lockout of 1913. This makes him extremely unpopular with many, being depicted as a vulture or a vampire in the workers’ press.

After the 1916 Easter Rising he purchases ruined buildings in Abbey Street as sites for his newspaper offices, however it is his viewpoints that make him even more unpopular, by calling for the executions of Seán MacDiarmada and James Connolly at a point when the Irish public is beginning to feel sympathy for their cause. He privately disavows the editorial, claiming it had been written and published without his knowledge.

In 1917 Murphy is invited to take part in talks during the Irish Convention which is called to agree terms for the implementation of the suspended 1914 Home Rule Act. However he discovers that John Redmond is negotiating agreeable terms with Unionists under the Midleton Plan to avoid the partition of Ireland but at the partial loss of full Irish fiscal autonomy. This infuriates Murphy who criticises the intention in his newspaper, which severely damages the Irish Parliamentary Party. However, the Convention remains inconclusive, and the ensuing demise of the Irish party results in the rise of Sinn Féin, whose separatist policies Murphy also does not agree with.

William Martin Murphy dies in Dublin on June 26, 1919. His family controls Independent Newspapers until the early 1970s, when the group is sold to Tony O’Reilly.

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The Great Dublin Lockout

great-dublin-lockoutThe Great Dublin Lockout, a major industrial dispute between approximately 20,000 workers and 300 employers, begins in Dublin on August 26, 1913 and lasts until January 18, 1914. It is often viewed as the most severe and significant industrial dispute in Irish history.

Irish workers live in terrible conditions in tenements. The infant mortality rate among the poor is 142 per 1,000 births, extraordinarily high for a European city. Poverty is perpetuated in Dublin by the lack of work for unskilled workers, who lack any form of representation before trade unions are founded.

James Larkin, the main protagonist on the side of the workers in the dispute, is a docker in Liverpool and a union organiser. In 1907 he is sent to Belfast as local organiser of the British-based National Union of Dock Labourers (NUDL). His tactic of the sympathetic strike are deemed highly controversial and as a result Larkin is transferred to Dublin.

Larkin sets about organising the unskilled workers of Dublin which is a cause of concern for the NUDL, who are reluctant to engage in a full-scale industrial dispute with the powerful Dublin employers. They suspended Larkin from the NUDL in 1908. Larkin then leaves the NUDL and sets up the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union (ITGWU), the first Irish trade union to cater for both skilled and unskilled workers.

Another important figure in the rise of an organised workers’ movement in Ireland at this time is James Connolly, an Edinburgh-born Marxist of Irish parentage. In 1911, Connolly is appointed the ITGWU’s Belfast organiser. In 1912, Connolly and Larkin form the Irish Labour Party to represent workers in the imminent Home Rule Bill debate in Parliament.

Foremost among employers opposed to trade unionism in Ireland is William Martin Murphy, Ireland’s most prominent capitalist, born in Castletownbere, County Cork. In 1913, Murphy is chairman of the Dublin United Tramway Company and owns Clery’s department store. Murphy is vehemently opposed to trade unions, which he sees as an attempt to interfere with his business. In particular, he is opposed to Larkin, whom he sees as a dangerous revolutionary.

The resulting industrial dispute is the most severe in Ireland’s history. Employers in Dublin lock out their workers and employ blackleg labour from Britain and elsewhere in Ireland. Dublin’s workers apply for help and are sent £150,000 by the British Trades Union Congress (TUC) and other sources in Ireland, doled out dutifully by the ITGWU.

The “Kiddies’ Scheme,” allowing for the starving children of Irish strikers to be temporarily looked after by British trade unionists, is blocked by the Roman Catholic Church and especially the Ancient Order of Hibernians, who claim that Catholic children will be subject to Protestant or atheist influences when in Britain. The Church supports the employers during the dispute, condemning Larkin as a socialist revolutionary.

Guinness, the largest employer and biggest exporter in Dublin, refuses to lock out its workforce. It has a policy against sympathetic strikes and expects its workers, whose conditions are far better than the norm in Ireland, not to strike in sympathy. Six who do strike are dismissed.

Strikers use mass pickets and intimidation against strike breakers, who are also violent towards strikers. The Dublin Metropolitan Police baton charge worker’s rallies, including a rally on Sackville Street which results in two deaths and over 300 injuries. James Connolly, Larkin, and ex-British Army Captain Jack White form a worker’s militia, the Irish Citizen Army, to protect workers’ demonstrations.

For seven months, the lockout affects tens of thousands of Dublin families. The lock-out eventually concludes in January 1914, when the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in Britain rejects Larkin and Connolly’s request for a sympathetic strike. Most workers, many of whom are on the brink of starvation, go back to work and sign pledges not to join a union. The ITGWU is badly damaged by its defeat in the Lockout, and is further hit by the departure of Larkin to the United States in 1914 and the execution of Connolly, one of the leaders of the Easter Rising in 1916.

Although the actions of the ITGWU are unsuccessful in achieving substantially better pay and conditions for workers, they mark a watershed in Irish labour history. The principle of union action and workers’ solidarity has been firmly established. No future employer would ever try to “break” a union in the way that Murphy attempted with the ITGWU.