IRA convention in March 1934, a motion was proposed to establish a
Republican Congress. This was intended to be an umbrella group covering
republicans, trade unionists, small farmers and people on the left of
Fianna Fáil. When this motion was voted down, a group broke with the
IRA and decided to have a meeting of the Congress in September 1934.
Edwards was among the first to leave the IRA and he joined the
Republican Congress with the likes of Peadar O'Donnell, George Gilmore,
Frank Ryan and Peter O'Connor.
In Waterford, members of the Congress were very active and one of
their great successes was the exposure of the slum landlords in the city
and the terrible living
in places like Little Michael Street, New Street, Brown's Lane and
Kearney's Court (off Patrick Street). Edwards had now found his true
avocation, that of a polemicist, with his contributions to the Congress
newspaper (also called the Republican Congress). From the beginning
of the paper in May 1934, reports from Waterford appeared in almost every
issue, usually on the front page, with headlines such as SLAVERY IN
WATERFORD (2 June 1934); SNOBBISH WATERFORD TOWN CLERK (21 July 1934);
SLUM DWELLERS OF WATERFORD/CONGRESS WORKERS ATTACK WARRENS (28 July 1934);
WORKERS CAPTURE STREETS OF WATERFORD (4 August 1934); SCABS CHASED BY
STRIKERS (1 September 1934); FIERCE CLASHES BETWEEN STRIKERS AND POLICE (8
September 1934). Edwards wrote those reports from information supplied by
fellow Congress members. He believed in a policy of 'naming and shaming'
and his reports were full of colourful language. He nicknamed one local
businessman 'Mattie the Rat' and wrote that 'At
present he decorates the city Council ... He is also sometimes held up to
the workers of Waterford and especially to those he is depriving of a
Christian living as a model Christian. The Lord deliver us.'
Edwards believed that all his troubles with the Church started with the
exposure of the slum landlords. He wrote that Monsignor Byrne (he was
created a Monsignor in October 1933) was a trustee of some slum property,
although Edwards was unaware of it at the time, and that this was the cause
of Byrne's animus towards him.
Byrne was, however, attacked by name and even called a liar. The following
appeared in the issue of Republican Congress dated 18 August 1934 under
the heading Editorial Notes (written by Frank Ryan).
Rev. Mgr Byrne, Waterford P.P., is a strong upholder of
Imperialist-Capitalism. He makes a habit of invoking religion in
politics. His latest effort was to ban the Builder's strike on the
grounds that a strike 'involves serious risks to higher interests,
to the sacred interests of justice and charity,' etc., etc. He
trots out the lie that he will be 'very sorry if the workers put
themselves in a position in which they cannot have public
It is high time that unwarranted interferences of Mgr Byrne
be checked. Mgr Byrne is talking for the bosses. He is on the side
of the bosses. In his opinion 10½d. an hour (when they can get
it) is good enough for 'common people.' The Mgr does not know what
hunger and want mean; he has never experienced either. The workers
of Waterford save him from hunger and want. Mgr Byrne is a priest.
Let him cease to be an Imperialist mouth-piece.'
to the Republican Congress Convention, that took place on the 29 and 30
September 1934, in Rathmines Town Hall, Brother Flannery had warned
Edwards that his attendance at the convention would lead to his dismissal.
This was the third time that Edwards had been warned by his co-managers.
In 1932, after Edwards had spoken from an IRA platform, Monsignor Byrn
for me and spent three hours pleading with me to leave the IRA
'for the sake of my soul!' When he saw that no words of his could
prevent my soul from going to the devil, he dropped the pose of
Mentor and spoke to me as a Boss. He said that if pressure were
brought to bear on him as Co-Manager of the school, 'he would be
very reluctant to consent to my dismissal.' About a year later he
repeated the threat. Similar threats, though not so openly
expressed, were made by Bro. Flannery, Superior of Mount Sion ...
[He] took quite a different line. 'A school is like a shop. And
you know that the man who keeps a shop cannot offend his customers
by publicly expressing any opinion on controversial subjects. In
the same way a teacher must be careful not to offend the parents
of the children.
however, was committed to his course and he attended the Convention where
he made two speeches—one on internal organisation and the other on the
On his return to Mount Sion he was again summoned to the Superior's
office (on 2 October 1934) and was asked if he were the Mr. Edwards who
was reported as having attended and spoken at the Republican Congress held
in Dublin on 30 September 1934. Edwards answered in the affirmative and he
was then ordered to cease teaching catechism to the Confirmation class,
pending a review. On 15 October 1934, he was served with three months
notice of dismissal. Edwards, who was financial secretary of the INTO
branch, brought the dismissal notice to the attention of the INTO
executive. The Irish School Weekly, the journal of the INTO,
recorded on 10 November 1934, that representatives were deputed 'to deal
with a case of threatened dismissal in the Waterford area.'
There was some disquiet, locally, about the threatened dismissal and the
school's co-managers, Brother Flannery and Monsignor Byrne, wrote to the
local press, each explaining his involvement in the issuing of notice
Sir, As an unjustifiable attack has been made on the revered
Parish Priest of Ballybricken in reference to the termination of a
teacher's appointment in the Christian Brother's School, Mount
Sion, I desire to make it very clear that responsibility for
serving the notice of the termination of the said teacher's
employment is entirely mine.
S. J. R. FLANNERY
Dear Sir, Rev.
Brother Flannery has sent me a copy of a letter which he is
sending you for publication. What he states in his letter is
true—I would add even chivalrously so. He must, however, permit
me to state that he took me into consultation on the matter and
that I approved of his decision.
W. BYRNE, P. P.
Sir, In reply to the letters which appeared in your issue of the
12th inst., re my threatened dismissal, I wish to state that I
have made no attack upon Mgr. Byrne, and that if such an attack
has been made, I am in no way responsible.
I do not know who is responsible for my dismissal, and the letters
of the Joint Managers do not make the matters clearer. What I do
know is, that I am being dismissed unjustly. I was of the opinion
that a teacher could only be dismissed on one of three grounds,
namely, inefficiency, immorality or irreligion. No charge has been
made against me under any of these heads, and no such charge can
be made with justification.
first salvos of the war had now been fired and over the following three
weeks the city was in uproar. A public meeting in support of Edwards was
mooted, but was postponed at the request of the INTO. The local INTO
Branch Committee sent a resolution to its executive committee asserting
that a 'very serious principle' was involved in the case and requesting
the Executive to ensure 'an amicable settlement.' On 21 December 1934,
this committee heard a submission from Edwards in person. The executive
committee resolved to seek reasons for the proposed dismissal and to send
a deputation to meet the bishop of Waterford.
The INTO president and general secretary met bishop Kinane on 4 January
1935 and the bishop showed them a document that he had prepared asking
Edwards to sign an undertaking, which would be made public, to dissociate
himself from the Republican Congress and not join any similar movement in
the future. He told them that the notice of dismissal would be withdrawn
if Edwards were prepared to sign. Subsequent to this meeting the INTO
representatives met the Mayor and the chairman of the Worker's Council,
both of whom had backed Edwards, and told them that they would advise
Edwards to accept the bishop's proposal. Attitudes had hardened and become
polarised and as the new year approached it was clear that some desperate
measures were needed to break the deadlock.
WITH THE BISHOP
Rumours abounded in the city that the bishop was about to give a
reason, after a delay of almost three months, for the proposed dismissal
of Edwards. This reason was to be in the form of a pastoral letter
condemning the Republican Congress, the IRA and, in fact, all republicans
who had not repented for their opposition to the 1922 Treaty. On Saturday
5 January 1935, the day after the INTO had seen the bishop, an interview
took place between the bishop, Frank Ryan (the editor of Republican
Congress) and local schoolteacher Seamus Malone (teacher of Irish at
Newtown School). The following are extracts (relating to the Edwards case)
from that interview as written by Frank Ryan and published in Republican
Kinane received Malone and myself immediately on arrival at the
Cathedral. Our interview lasted over an hour. I set down here
extracts from the notes taken by each of us. We do not claim that
the conversation is reported verbatim ... [but] we emphasise that
the substance of the statements are correctly reported by us. As
arranged by us, before the interview, our questions fall under
certain headings, aimed at the elicitation of the views of the
prolonged questioning of the bishop concerning his position with regard to
the Pastoral Ban of 1922, whether the bishops condemned any imperialist
organisations and what the bishop's views were on the 'Blueshirts', Malone
Supposing, for arguments sake, that your Lordship's condemnation
of the Congress is right. Edwards could not have been aware of it,
was not made aware of it, in fact, until this week. Is it then not
exceedingly harsh treatment to victimise him for an offence of
which he could not have been aware?
Edwards should have known from the pronouncement of his P.P.
Monsignor Byrne that membership of the Congress is contrary to
Is Mgr Byrne, therefore, also entitled to decide their faith and
morals for the people of Waterford?
undoubtedly is for his own parishioners ...
Is there not a grave danger of abuse of this authority?
A: I feel sure he would not abuse his authority.
Mgr Byrne is regarded by the majority of his parishioners as a
bitter Imperialist. Is it not unfortunate that he was the priest
on whom Edwards was so dependent for advice on such questions?
consider Mgr Byrne an excellent type of Irishman.
Mgr Byrne sent advice to Edwards, through Mrs. Edwards and Miss
Edwards, advice of a political character?
I believe that is so.
are aware that the Mgr attacked Miss Edwards for selling
Republican emblems near the Church and tried to hunt her away,
while at the same time he allowed a seller of Imperialist emblems
to remain. Would you consider that a good introduction for
Mgr admits to me that he committed an error of judgment on that
occasion and has expressed regret.
He has not expressed regret to Miss Edwards. Is not his liability
to error, and his failure to undo the injustice he did to Miss
Edwards proof that he is an unreliable teacher for Mr. Edwards?
You must not speak thus of Mgr Byrne.
The late Dr. Nulty
of Meath, who condemned the Plan of Campaign, and the late Dr.
O'Doherty in his hatred of Republicanism were looked upon as
tyrants. Yet both these bishops declared their willingness to
forgive and forget ... Why be a greater tyrant than they? Why
condemn Edwards for a crime which you have not hitherto pronounced
Far from acting as a tyrant, I am prepared to have him reinstated,
or at least transferred if he signs an undertaking that he will
not associate with certain organisations.
Are the Blueshirts among these organisations?
The Republican Congress is the only organisation mentioned.
You are depriving the man of his position, refusing him a
reference, and thus making it impossible for him to gain a
livelihood, and you are doing all that because he attended the
Republican Congress, months before you declared your disapproval
of the Congress?
At this stage there was a
heated scene during which I lost my temper ... For charity's sake
I will not report my utterances. One point I did make clear; no
denial can disprove it: The Pastoral was invoked three months
after, to cover up the victimisation of Edwards, and to check the
opposition to that victimisation.
Malone continued his
Are you aware that the signing of such political tests as you
demand of Edwards is looked upon with such disfavour in Ireland
that men have faced the firing-squad rather than sign undertakings
less objectionable than this? [The bishop stated that the document
presented to Edwards was not a political test. It concerned faith
and morals only. He said he would agree to Edwards' signing the
Repeated requests drew from His Lordship the explanation that he
was refusing to allow Frank Edwards to get another school because
'it would be on his conscience to see a teacher holding such
views' in charge of young people. He admitted that there was no
evidence, no charge even, that Edwards presented his personal
views directly, or indirectly, at school. Edwards was an efficient
teacher in every way. His Lordship alleged that a few Ballybricken
residents had objected to Edwards being employed as a teacher.
Malone replied: Edwards' slanderers, the Imperialists who for
three years have been engineering his dismissal do not hail from
Ballybricken. The residents of Ballybricken were amongst the first
to offer sympathy and support to Edwards. They are hard fighters
politically, but I believe they would be not so uncharitable as to
act as the Joint managers of Mt Sion Schools have acted.