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The Intricacies of Waterford's Political History.

PAT MCCARTHY'S PASSION for the intricacies of Waterford's local political history again shines through his latest monograph. In 2015, McCarthy was the author of Waterford in The Irish Revolution, 1912-23 series edited by Daithi O Corrain and Marian Lyons, published by Four Courts. Covering a much broader period, the focus of his latest book--the Redmond family's political dynasty, 1891-1952--offers a unique lens through which the reader can understand the politics of Ireland's "pre-revolution," the upheavals of the revolutionary period, and the fate of constitutional nationalists after the foundation of the state in 1922. By taking us through the political careers of Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) leader John Redmond, Captain William Archer Redmond and his widow Bridget, McCarthy captures the nuances of Irish political life between 1891 and 1952.

This study is framed by the Redmond family's association with Waterford city. It begins, therefore, in December 1891 with John Redmond's successful campaign as a Parnellite in the Waterford city by-election. This marked his return to parliament after his failure to hold Parnell's seat in the famous Cork by-election six weeks earlier. Redmond had served as MP for New Ross from 1881 to 1885 and represented the new North Wexford constituency from 1885 to 1891 before resigning his seat to fight the Cork city by-election as the standard-bearer for the Parnellites.

While the politics of post-Parnell Ireland have been the subject of considerable scholarly attention, this monograph adds a new dimension to our knowledge. Given that John Redmond has been the subject of extensive biographical treatment by Paul Bew (1996), Chris Dooley (2015), Dermot Meleady, in two volumes (2008 and 2013) and in Alvin Jackson's joint study Judging: Redmond & Carson (2018), it is those chapters dealing with Bridget and William Archer Redmond that truly break new ground. Adopting a chronological structure, McCarthy devotes the bulk of his study (chapters one to five) to John, the founding member of the Redmond dynasty. Although the nature of pre-1918 Home Rule politics, at local and national level, is familiar to us from the ground covered by, among others, David Fitzpatrick, Politics and Irish Life, 1913-21 (Dublin, 1977); Alvin Jackson, Home Rule (Oxford, 2003); Conor Mulvagh, The Irish Parliamentary Party at Westminster, 1900-18 (Manchester, 2016), Michael Wheatley, Nationalism and The Irish Party (Oxford, 2005) McCarthy sketches in some new details relating to Redmond's skills as a constituency politician.

In his own inimitable writing style, McCarthy's work explores how Waterford came to be such a Redmondite stronghold that the city's devotion to the Home Rule cause survived the Sinn Fein tide of December 1918 and, it could be argued, the foundation of the state in 1922. In demonstrating how Redmond built his local political base, McCarthy draws on his intimate knowledge of Waterford's local political landscape. Waterford emerges as an anomaly in the politics of the twenty-six counties. The city remained loyal to Charles Stewart Parnell through the great schism of 1890-91, and, as the leading Parnellite, it was Waterford that offered Redmond an opportunity to revive his career after losing the Cork by-election. McCarthy argues that Redmond consolidated his new political base by building local alliances and attending to the needs of his constituents. He positioned himself as the city's defender by securing funds for housing schemes and supporting the construction of new bridges (49-51). Redmond enjoyed cross-class support in Waterford as a friend of the local trade union movement while at the same time defending the economic interests of the city's major industries. Here the Ballybricken Pig Buyers Association--the "economic and political heartbeat of the city"--loom large in securing the foundations of the Redmond dynasty (20, 34-36) and in helping to sustain it after the baton passed on to William Archer Redmond in 1918 and Bridget Redmond in 1933. At election time, the pig-buyers and ex-servicemen of the city added muscle to the Redmondite campaigns.

The avid reader of Irish history will be struck by the prevalence of political violence in Waterford from the 1890s through to the 1930s. Irish nationalist history is characterized by discourses on constitutional and physical force forms of nationalist activity. McCarthy's study sheds light on the extent to which the lines between the two nationalist traditions were blurred at a local level. The famous Waterford election in 1891 was marked by disturbances that left dozens injured, while Redmond's opponent Michael Davitt "suffered a severe blow to the head by a stick." David Sheehy, Redmond's opponent in the 1892 election, suffered near identical injuries and had to be hospitalized (21, 29). Rioting also marked the 1895 election--the last contested election that John Redmond would fight in Waterford. On his opponent Thomas J. Farrell's arrival in the city, eighty policemen had to shield him from a hostile crowd of 600 Redmond supporters. On another occasion, a hostile crowd prevented Farrell from canvassing (33). The March 1918 by-election occasioned by the death of John Redmond was, according to McCarthy, "particularly violent," with Sinn Fein candidate Dr. Vincent White earning the distinction of becoming the third challenger to a Redmond candidate (namely William Archer) to be struck on the head with a stick. Street brawls remained a familiar theme in the life of the city, according to McCarthy, a situation that was "unknown elsewhere in Ireland outside of Belfast" (104). In my view, this case study of nationalist politics tells us something about the broader political culture of the island and the labels we ascribe to the pre-1922 nationalist organizations.

The chapters that deal exclusively with the careers of John Redmond's successors, William Archer and Bridget, make a particularly valuable contribution to the historiography of independent Ireland. Studies of independent Ireland's politics (this reviewer included) have a tendency to focus on Sinn Fein's successor parties, Fianna Fail and Cumann na nGaedheal/Fine Gael, to the neglect of the smaller parties. Having served four years as an MP at Westminster--years that were marked by the growing irrelevancy of the Irish Party--Redmond was forced to re-orient his political career with the foundation of the Irish Free State in 1922. In the August 1923 election Redmond was elected to the Dail as an independent nationalist. Such was the strength of Redmond's vote in Waterford that Cumann na nGaedheal, now the government party in the new state, failed to win a single seat in the county. The continued appeal of Redmondism in Waterford had left no room for the return of a government party TD and would frustrate Cumann na nGaedheal for the next ten years. His electoral success notwithstanding, William Archer Redmond lacked his father's shrewd political antennae. While his mid-1920s attempt to resurrect a Home Rule style party in the Free State, the National League, offered a home to groups rhat were under-represented in the new state--adherents of constitutional nationalism, ex-servicemen and southern unionists--Redmond's own strategic mistakes cost it dearly. After a strong performance in the June 1927 election, Redmond alienated his conservative base by agreeing to join forces with Labour and Fianna Fail in a putative anti-Cumann na nGaedheal alliance. His party never recovered, losing deputies and voters. Redmond was forced to dissolve the League in January 1931, and later that year finally joined Cumann na nGaedheal in a "carefully choreographed" political move that identified the pro-Treaty party with the Redmond name in Waterford (136). McCarthy informs us that Redmond's "health was not the best" by this stage, and there are hints that a car accident in which he killed a cyclist on 16 April 1930 had caused a downward spiral. Redmond died suddenly two years later, almost to the day, 17 April 1932.

The Redmond dynasty in Waterford survived William Archer's untimely death. Cumann na nGaedheal pulled off another "perfectly stage-managed event" by revealing that the deceased deputy's wife Bridget would stand in his place as the party's general election candidate in Waterford. In the conservative Ireland of 1933 Bridget Redmond was comfortably elected with close to 7,000 first preference votes. In contrast to her late husband and late father-in-law, Bridget Redmond did not rise to national leadership. She was, however, an energetic campaigner and diligent constituency representative. In the turbulent summer of 1933, she threw her weight behind the Blueshirt movement in Waterford and worked to organize the new Fine Gael organization that Cumann na nGaedheal had merged into in September 1933. Here McCarthy makes good use of his limited sources--party records, Dail debates and local newspapers--to sketch a detailed picture of a female politician operating in the conservative Ireland of the 1930s and 1940s. This, arguably, is the strongest and most original contribution of this monograph. A study of Bridget Redmond alongside contemporaneous female TDs who served in the Dail in the three decades after 1922--Mary Reynolds (Leitrim-Sligo), Margaret Collins-O'Driscoll (Dublin North), Helena Concannon (National University), Margaret Pearse (Dublin County), Bridget Rice (Monaghan), Mary Ryan (Tipperary) and Honor Crowley (Kerry South) is required to further explore the unique challenges that these women faced in the political climate of post- Civil War Ireland.

Bridget Redmond's death on 3 May 1952, brought down the curtain on the Redmond dynasty in Waterford. However, as Dr. Garret Fitzgerald discovered when canvassing for Fine Gael's Eddie Collins in 1966 the attraction of Redmondism in Waterford would endure. Thanks to Pat McCarthy's intimate history of this famous political dynasty we can now understand the unique set of circumstances that led to its creation and endurance in Waterford at a time when Ireland was shaped by the defeat of the cause that John Redmond had championed since his election in 1891.

--School of History, UCD, and Irish Humanities Alliance (IHA)


Pat McCarthy.

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Title Annotation:The Redmonds and Waterford: A Political Dynasty, 1891-1952
Author:Farrell, Mel
Publication:Irish Literary Supplement
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2019
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