Archive for April 29th, 2010

Urban Unrest and Decent Dwellings: The Early Radicalism of WT Cosgrave

29 April 2010

Contributed by Frank Bouchier-Hayes

Old newspapers provide the historian with often overlooked pieces of information which add important details to the historical record of a person or event. I recently came across two long forgotten letters by WT Cosgrave in the Irish Independent which were written when he was a member of Dublin Corporation. The earlier letter published in January 1912 addressed the perennial task of preventing strikes by suggesting that “a Committee of Inquiry be formed for the purposes of investigating grievances of employees whether in public or private service”.  Cosgrave attributed the growing unrest among the urban working population at the time both to an awareness of the enhanced working conditions for rural workers and to the higher demands which a greatly improved educational system had evoked in the public at large.  Interestingly, he also believed that dissatisfaction among the working population as a whole was actuated by “the enormous success that has followed in the wake of democracy of late years in many parts of the world”.  Moreover, he went on to offer a definition of democracy which makes for interesting reading in light of his later involvement in the Easter Rising: “When I say democracy, I mean the power of the people – that is of the masses, legitimately and lawfully used for the attainment of their reasonable rights and the improvement of their condition – and as such, democracy has no time for unrealisable dreams or extreme measures”.  Cosgrave also laid out the problems which he saw facing workers in his day that sadly still have some contemporary echoes: “There are long hours and scanty remuneration in many large concerns; there are under-paid girls in large catering establishments, and abuses to be remedied in the treatment of nurses in some of our large hospitals, not to speak of the most urgent need for better housing for the poor”.  Read more