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Frank Edwards Pt 5

 

Frank Edwards Pt 6


The Bishop's Pastoral letter - Aftermath - The Mount Sion school strike

THE BISHOP’S PASTORAL
On the following day, Sunday 6 January 1935, the bishop issued his pastoral. A large force of Gárdaí was present inside the Cathedral, and outside, while the bishop was speaking. Numbers of Gárdaí also attended at the other city churches where the pastoral statement was also read. These precautions were indicative of the highly charged atmosphere in the city concerning the case. The Cathedral was crowded when the bishop rose to speak

My dearly beloved—The event which is the occasion of my addressing you today, is the termination of a teacher's appointment in the Christian Brothers' School, Mount Sion. I understand that there is a certain amount of sympathy for this teacher in the city, that resolutions in his favour have been passed by certain bodies, and that there is an agitation on foot to secure his continuance in his position. These facts have brought home to me the necessity for an authoritative statement from me on this matter, and for authoritative teaching on certain other matters connected with it ... Bishops are the successors of the Apostles and, as such, are divinely constituted authoritative teachers in faith and morals ... From the fact that a Bishop is the authoritative teacher of faith and morals in his diocese, it follows that his teaching is binding, and that his subjects must obey it, even under pain of mortal sin, whenever the matter involved is notable ... Any failure in obedience in grave matter is a mortal sin ... I may now proceed to the main purpose of my discourse ... I am speaking to you mainly as your divinely constituted leader in faith and morals, and I intend whatever teaching my address contains to have all the authority and binding force which can be derived from the sacred office which I hold ...[1]

  It was at this point in the address that disturbances began in various parts of the Cathedral. Women, men and some children were seen to rise from their seats and it was thought that some violent demonstration was planned. The demonstration, however, was peaceful and took the form of a walkout. The demonstrators arrived at the aisles, genuflected to the Blessed Sacrament, turned their backs on the bishop and marched out of the Cathedral. The bishop continued.

… I have given the matter careful study and much thought ... The Superior of the Christian Brothers' School, Mount Sion, consulted me before issuing the notice terminating the services of the teacher in question. He informed me that this teacher, despite the public warning—twice issued—of his parish priest and co-manager of his school, attended the Republican Congress and took an active part in its discussions—this fact was published in the press and is admitted by the teacher himself. Now, the principles and aims of the Republican Congress movement are opposed to the teaching of the Church; its principles are Socialist and Communistic: it aims at setting up a socialist Republic, evidently on the Russian model ... and one of its weapons for achieving this is class hatred and class warfare. Evidently, one who belongs to a movement of this kind is unfit to be a teacher of Catholic children. The most appropriate course in the circumstances would have been instant dismissal. The spirit of leniency and the desire to recall the teacher from the error of his ways, however, prevailed ... During the past week having invited the teacher to come before me ... I explained to him the opposition between the principles of Republican Congress movement and the teaching of the Church, and I told him of his own grave obligations in the matter. I then asked him to sign an undertaking, which would be made public, to dissociate himself from this movement and not join any similar movement in the future. Whilst I urged him to sign the undertaking principally because of his duty as a Catholic and for the welfare of his immortal soul, I at the same time promised that, if he did sign it, I should recommend him for employment to the Christian Brothers and I gave him an assurance that my recommendation would be accepted. He refused to sign the undertaking.

  It is hardly necessary for me to state that it would be sinful to try to prevent the action of the manager of the Christian Brothers' School, Mount Sion, from becoming effective, or to cause him or anybody else inconvenience on account of it ... Now, when the good Catholics of this city are aware of the vital religious issues at stake, I am confident that whatever little agitation has been afoot will immediately cease.[2]

 

AFTERMATH OF THE PASTORAL
  It was clear that the Pastoral had only inflamed an already tense situation. The notice of dismissal was due to expire in nine days. A meeting of support to demand the withdrawal of the notice of dismissal had been called for the following Saturday 12 January 1935. This meeting had the support of the local INTO branch, two cumainn of Fianna Fail (P.H. Pearse and Gracedieu), the IRA, the Republican Congress Branch, the Gaelic League, Gasra an Fháinne, Waterford Worker's Council, the Irish Citizen's Army and various trades union branches. On 11 January 1935, Mgr Byrne wrote a letter to the press cautioning people to stay away from the meeting 'which is to be held in flagrant opposition to the authoritative teaching and ruling of the Bishop of the Diocese ... The Bishop has spoken; the Church had spoken; and the opposition to the Church is opposition to Jesus Christ.'[3] Despite the Monsignor's warning and driving rain, which fell continuously for the two hour duration of the meeting, a large crowd numbering several hundreds turned out in Broad Street to hear the speakers, Peadar O'Donnell, Frank Ryan and Seamus Malone, secretary of the Edwards Defence Committee, under the chairmanship of Jimmy O'Connor, Poleberry. A motion from Malone was passed calling for a strike of pupils on the following Tuesday.[4]

  The support for Edwards appeared to be very strong, and widespread. The mayor had assured Frank Ryan that ninety per cent of the people were behind Edwards but, in truth, the city was deeply divided.[5] On Saturday 12 January 1935, (the day of the Broad Street meeting) the Waterford Pig Buyers' Association passed unanimously a resolution 'That we ... pledge ourselves as faithful Catholics to give our unqualified support in every way possible to our beloved Bishop, Most Rev. Dr Kinane and his clergy; and we further desire to express our wholehearted approval of his Pastoral read in all the city churches on Sunday, the 6th inst.'[6] On the following day, both Dr Kinane and Monsignor Byrne were given a tremendous reception when they attended the annual tea party at St. Joseph's Boys Club. When they entered the Club, the assembled boys cheered for several minutes and then sang the hymn, Faith of our Fathers. Messages of unqualified support for the bishop poured in to the newspapers from many sources including the Legion of Mary, the Mount Sion Sodality, the United Ireland Party (John Redmond Branch), the Sodality of Mary, the Aquinas Study Circle and Fine Gael, Waterford Central Branch.

  The Dockers' Society of the Amalgamated Transport and General Workers Union (ATGWU) held a special meeting on 14 January 1935 at the union rooms, O'Connell street. The meeting passed, unanimously, an extraordinary expression of loyalty and support. I quote it in full

We, the members of the Dockers' Society assure our beloved and revered Bishop, Most Rev. Dr Kinane that, conscious of our duty as Catholics, we accept and will loyally obey his authoritative teaching given us in the Cathedral on the 6th inst. Mindful of the warning conveyed in that solemn pronouncement, we can assure him that we shall do all in our power to keep our Union free from the virus of Communism and Socialism. We will endeavour to see that our Union shall be guided by the principles laid down by Pope Leo XIII and the present Holy Father rather than by the anti-Christian maxims of Communist and Socialist agitators. We wish this expression of our Loyalty and obedience to be some reparation to his Lordship for the unfilial attitude of an insignificant section of his flock in the city.
   Signed,   Matthew McCloskey, Chairman.[7]

Over the following week, many more groups filed similar expressions of loyalty. On Monday morning, however, about half-a-dozen boys carrying banners with inscriptions such as WE WANT OUR TEACHER BACK/WE ARE ON STRIKE/WE STAND FOR JUSTICE/STRIKE ON HERE appeared outside Mount Sion. They paraded in front of the schools and urged other pupils to join them. About ten pupils responded and the demonstrators then marched through the principal streets of the city cheering loudly for Edwards. They halted for a meeting on Ballybricken and two of the strikers declared that they were not going back to school until the teacher was reinstated and victimisation was stopped. A few Civic Guards remained on duty outside the schools until after the luncheon interval, by which time the demonstration had withdrawn, several of the boys returning to their homes. The Irish Times reported 'speculation is rife as to the number of boys, if any, who will take part in tomorrow's one-day strike.'[8]

THE STRIKE
The events of Tuesday, the day Edwards' dismissal notice expired, were distilled neatly in the Waterford News headlines describing the day's events.

SCHOOL AS USUAL/EXCITING INCIDENT/CLASH IN BARRACK STREET/MEN TAKEN INTO CUSTODY/STRIKE PICKET SCUFFLE/ STATEMENT BY MOUNT SION SUPERIOR 

  Some dozen boys, aged from eleven to fourteen, who left school on Monday, again made appearance on the streets on Tuesday morning, and remained for some time outside the gates as the scholars were entering classes and endeavoured to persuade them to join them. The scholars, many of whom were brought to the school gates by parents or relatives, remained loyal to the teachers, and entered on their daily tasks with indifference to either pleas or threats. One youngster amongst the strikers tied the school gates with a short length of rope, which was, however, quickly burst asunder by another boy going into school. A woman who called non-striking boys 'cowards' was booed and hissed by the crowd who had assembled to watch events.

  As the day advanced, matters took a more serious turn. About midday a number of boy strikers formed a picket in front of the school buildings, carrying banners and shouting: 'We are on strike.' By this time some hundreds of adults, including many women, had assembled on the sidewalks and roadway in Barrack Street. Shouts were raised of 'Up the Pope' and 'Up the Catholics.' Following this there was an unexpected stir amongst the crowd, and a menacing situation developed which, eventually necessitated the drawing of batons and a charge was made by the Gárdaí.

  In a subsequent melee more than one youngster was seen to fall and one member of the youthful picket alleged that he had received a blow of a baton ... the crowd quickly dispersed, but before they had done so Gárdaí took into custody three young men and one boy whom they removed to barracks nearby. Shortly afterwards Mr. Seamus Malone, Secretary of Frank Edwards' Defence Committee, was seen to enter the Barracks, following which the boy was released by the Gárdaí.[9]

The Irish Times reported

Brother Flannery issued a statement stressing the normality of the schools' day and referred to pupil attendance as being excellent. He said that Mr. Edwards was in attendance all day and that the three months notice expired that afternoon. As the closing hour arrived, people began assembling again at the school gates. 'A double cordon of Guards ... was drawn up and through this avenue of police the pupils left the schools for their homes. As Mr. Frank Edwards appeared there were cheers and counter-cheers and from the neighbourhood of the schools the crowd moved down Barrack Street and congregated in front of his home [no. 143] before they again dispersed quietly. Brief addresses were delivered by Mr. Frank Edwards and his mother.'[10]

It was after these statements that an event happened that is regarded as a shocking act of vindictiveness by the bishop. Peter O'Connor referred to it in his book.

Frank's mother did not escape persecution either. Bobby [Aileen] Edwards, Frank's wife, in an interview with Rosemary Cullen, shortly before her death in 1989, records the following: Mrs Edwards [Frank's mother] made a statement to the effect that 'in spite of the injustice done, the Edwards' will remain good Catholics.' A priest was sent to her by the Bishop ... to say that unless she publicly withdrew that statement she would be passed [refused Holy Communion] at the altar rails. To a woman like Mrs Edwards who was a devout Catholic this was a most hurtful and cruel thing to say. The injustice of [it] ... is beyond comprehension.[11]

  One of my interviewees corroborated the above story and told me that it affected Mrs Edwards deeply.[12]

  Some weeks later, three men appeared in court on a charge related to the pickets. These were, Patrick Walsh, John Lucas and John Hunt [This is the Jackie Hunt, later to become one of the ten Waterford men, including Edwards, who went to Spain to fight against the fascists]. The State Solicitor told the three defendants that if they would give an undertaking to keep the peace he would not ask for any bonds or bails and he would withdraw the charges. All but Hunt agreed and he was put back for trial. At the Hunt trial, some six weeks later, Inspector Tobin elaborated on the reported incidents that happened outside the school. He said that some boys paraded outside Mount Sion School with placards. At that time there were about three hundred people assembled in the street. A number of men carrying placards, led by Hunt, appeared and proceeded to picket the school. A Gárda approached Hunt and warned him that the actions of the picketers might lead to a breach of the peace but Hunt paid no attention to him. There was some rival shouting and the Gárdaí threw a cordon across the street. A section of the crowd rushed towards the pickets and the Gárdaí charged with batons drawn. Lucas dashed towards the pickets flashing a short stick and he came to grips with Sergeant Duignan. It was then that the Gárdaí arrested the three men. The Justice dismissed the case for lack of evidence.[13]

[1] Waterford News, January 11, 1935
[2] Waterford News, January 11, 1935
[3] Ibid, January 12, 1935
[4] Irish Times, January 15, 1935
[5] An Múinteoir, P. 12
[6] Waterford News, January 18, 1935
[7] Waterford News, January 11, 1935
[8] Irish Times, January 15, 1935
[9] Waterford News, January 18, 1935
[10] Irish Times, January 16, 1935
[11] A soldier Of Liberty,P. 4
[12] Mrs Edwards died of acute nephritis on October 20, 1936, aged sixty-two years. The old comrades of her son Jack did not forget her in death. They, and members of the IRA, bore her coffin, draped in the tricolour, to Ballybricken Church escorted by members of Cumann na mBan. At her burial in Ballygunner, a short funeral oration was delivered by Séamus Malone, Frank’s old comrade and friend.
[13] Waterford News, February 1, 1935

 

 

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Last modified: June 29, 2007