The spirit of murdered Lord Mayor of Cork, Tomás MacCurtain, was honoured last night as Cork officially embarked on its programme of 1920 commemorations.
MacCurtain’s grand-daughter, Fionnuala, and two of his great-grandchildren, Aron and Sarah, were among the many guests who attended a special meeting of Cork City Council in the historic chamber last night to commemorate his election as lord mayor in the same room exactly a century ago.
The meeting also commemorated that corporation’s vote on January 30, 1920, to recognise the legitimacy of Dáil Éireann.
Lord Mayor Councillor John Sheehan said he was honoured to wear the chain worn by MacCurtain, by his successor Terence MacSwiney, and by many others over the years.
“I am reminded every day of the sacrifices they made for freedom,” he said.
“We have an obligation to continue the work and legacy of the brave men and women who led by example a century ago.
“The 1920 local elections played a key transitional role in Irish revolutionary history and this commemorative meeting is a focal point of the city council’s programme of events to mark this defining year.”
The meeting was attended by almost 150 guests from the political, business, community, and voluntary sectors.
Proceedings were streamed live online and to a big screen set up in the atrium of the adjoining civic offices where up to 80 members of the public, who had applied for tickets, gathered to watch.
City archivist Brian McGee presented the corporation’s 1920 minutes book to the meeting, and displayed it open on the page where MacCurtain’s election as lord mayor is recorded and where his signature is still visible.
City councillors wore a white rose on their formal robes before fifth year student at St Angela’s Secondary School, Emily Gunn, pinned a white rose to Mr Sheehan’s lapel — a symbolic link to the pinning on MacCurtain’s lapel a century ago of a Sinn Féin rosette by a member of the Cork branch of Cumann na mBan.
Dr John Borgonovo from UCC’s School of History outlined the historical importance of the results of the 1920 local elections.
“The republicans were a new force in Irish politics and its leaders had been largely unknown in the city prior to 1916,” he said. “Their victory in the 1920 local elections was an expression of the public’s clear desire for Irish self-determination.
“The election in Cork was also connected to the rapid expansion of popular democracy in Ireland and in Europe in this period as seen by Cork Corporation’s 1920 election of its first female councillor and of an unprecedented number of labour and trade officials to the chamber.”
Dr Fiona Buckley from UCC’s Department of Government and Politics spoke of the role of women in local politics at the time.
“Across Ireland, a total of 1,800 seats were up for election. Women won 42 of those seats including Anne Sutton of Sinn Féin, representing the north-east electoral ward on Cork Corporation,” she said.
“The presence of women in local council chambers across the country was a very welcome development, but as historian Dr Margaret Ward of Queen’s University Belfast assesses, hardly the “fair proportion” as claimed by the Irish Independent.”
Representatives from Comhairle na nÓg, the trade union movement, the 50/50 group, and members of new community groups, including Mounerah Delan, Faten Alnatour, Martiza Aguilera, Bishwamitra Thakur, and Wjociech Bialeck, read the names of elected members who attended that 1920 council meeting.
Current councillors then read extracts from the minutes of the meeting, including MacCurtain’s own proposal to reject a salary hike to £1,000, and instead accept a salary of £500.
The special meeting was told how he challenged his fellow elected members to put the interests of their communities before anything else.
“The people do not want speeches,” he said. “They want the work done and with as little ‘froth’ as possible.”
Among those in the public gallery were several former Lords Mayor of Cork, including Jim Corr, Tom O’Driscoll, John Buttimer, PJ Hourican, Mary Shields, Catherine Clancy, Donal Counihan, Bernard Allen, Paud Black, Chris O’Leary, Danny Wallace, and John Dennehy.
The Cathaoirleach of the Seanad, Denis O’Donovan; Oireachtas members including Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire; representatives of the Armed Forces and Naval Service, including Chief of Staff, vice-admiral Mark Mellet, Commodore Mike Malone, Flag Officer Commanding Irish Naval Service, Patrick O’Flynn, General Officer Commanding 1 Brigade; Catholic Bishop of Cork and Ross, Most Rev Fintan Gavin, and Church of Ireland Bishop of Cork, Cloyne, and Ross, Paul Colton, and Dr Martin Mansergh, vice chair of the Expert Advisory Group on the Decade of Centenaries also attended.
Legendary singer Seán Ó Sé closed the meeting with a rendition in English of ‘The Soldier’s Song’, as it was sung on the night of MacCurtain’s election.