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Frank Edwards part 4



The Republican Congress - Notice of Dismissal - Interview with the Bishop

At an 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 conditions 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.'[1]

  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.[2] 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).

Right 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 approval.'
  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.'

  Prior 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

sent 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.[3]

  Edwards, 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 Irish language.

  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.'[4] 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.
Yours faithfully
12/12/'34               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.
Yours faithfully,
12/12/ 34            W. BYRNE, P. P. 

Edwards replied

  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.
Yours sincerely,
13/12/'34                F. EDWARDS.[5]

  The 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.[6] 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.

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 Congress.

Bishop 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 bishop[7]

After 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 asked;

Q: 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?
A: Mr. Edwards should have known from the pronouncement of his P.P. Monsignor Byrne that membership of the Congress is contrary to Catholic teaching.

Q: Is Mgr Byrne, therefore, also entitled to decide their faith and morals for the people of Waterford?
A: He undoubtedly is for his own parishioners ...

Q: Is there not a grave danger of abuse of this authority?
A: I feel sure he would not abuse his authority.

Q: 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?
A: I consider Mgr Byrne an excellent type of Irishman.

Q: Mgr Byrne sent advice to Edwards, through Mrs. Edwards and Miss Edwards, advice of a political character?
A: I believe that is so.

Q: You 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 friendly advice?
A: The Mgr admits to me that he committed an error of judgment on that occasion and has expressed regret.

Q: 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?
A: You must not speak thus of Mgr Byrne.

Q: The late Dr. Nulty[8] 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 a crime?
A: 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.

Q: Are the Blueshirts among these organisations?
A: The Republican Congress is the only organisation mentioned.

Q: 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 questions:

Q: 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 document privately].

  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.[9]

[1] Republican Congress, July 28, 1934
[2] MacEoin, Survivors, P. 8
[3] Republican Congress, April 27, 1935
[4] An Múinteoir, P. 11
[5] Waterford Star, December 14, 1934
[6] An Múinteoir, P. 12
[7] Republican Congress, January 12, 1935
[8] Thomas Nulty (1818-98) was ordained 1846. An early supporter of Parnell and the Land League his denunciation of Parnell after the split in the Irish Party was as forthright as his earlier support had been. He issued a pastoral letter during the general election of 1892 following which the result in Meath South was annulled on the grounds of clerical intimidation.
[9] Republican Congress, January 12, 1935


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