The Redmonds and Waterford: A Political Dynasty, 1891 – 1952
by Pat McCarthy (Four Courts Press 2018, €29.95 pb)
John Redmond inaugurated the Redmond political dynasty when he was returned to the House of Commons for New Ross in December 1881. It would remain in place until 1952.
A native of Wexford, he was born in 1851. Educated at Clongowes College and Trinity College, Dublin, he was called to the bar in 1887 and practised on the Munster circuit. On entering the House of Commons he became one of the whips in the Irish Parliamentary Party and his oratorical skills were put to good use inside and outside parliament. He remained loyal to Parnell during the split in the party in 1890.
Just a few weeks after Parnell’s death in October 1891 Redmond successfully contested the seat in Waterford city against no less a person than Michael Davitt, a seat which he held for the rest of his life. The Parnellites were routed in that general election and won only nine seats to the Anti-Parnellites’ 72.
Redmond found himself leading a declining rump of the IPP. However, there was pressure on the warring factions of the IPP to unite, which they did in January 1900. Redmond was elected chairman.
Redmond was a brilliant parliamentarian. In the House of Commons he sought concessions for Ireland until the opportunity to press for Home Rule arose in 1910 when Prime minister H.H. Asquith was forced to offer a Home Rule bill. Eventually this was placed on the statute book with the provisos that Home Rule would not come into operation until parliament had the opportunity to make special provision for Ulster and that the act be suspended for the duration of the war.
The war and the 1916 Rising destroyed Redmond’s life’s work. In return for the enactment of the Home Rule bill he had given total support to the recruitment for the war.
This was no longer popular. Redmond died on March 6, 1915. In the general election in December 1918 the Home Rule party was wiped out in southern Ireland winning only six seats. One of those seats was Waterford city, won by John Redmond’s son, Captain William Redmond.
Captain Redmond had been earlier elected MP for Tyrone East in the general election in December 1910. While serving in France in 1917 he was decorated for bravery. Following his election in 1918 to the seat in Waterford he continued to serve as an MP until he was elected to Dáil Éireann as an independent TD in 1923. With Tom O’Donnell he co-founded the Irish National League in 1926.
He made an unsuccessful attempt to form a coalition to replace the Cosgrave government in 1927. The Irish National League was reduced to two seats, Redmond’s and another, after the general election of September 1927. He and O’Donnell then wound up the party and Redmond joined Cumannn na Gaedheal in 1931.
After Captain Redmond’s death in 1932 his widow won his seat in the general election in January 1933. She went on to stand in seven consecutive general elections for the Waterford seat and was returned in each, initially for Cumannn na Gaedheal and subsequently for Fine Gael.
A friend of Eoin Duffy, she was a central figure in the Blue shirt movement in Waterford city and county in the years 1933-4. She was indefatigable in her work for her constituents and a frequent contributor to Dáil debates on social issues. She died on May 3, 1952, ending the Redmond political dynasty in Waterford city.
The core of the electoral support for the Redmond’s came from the pig-buyers of Ballybricken, a district in the city. The Ballybricken Pig Buyers Association was a central part of the bacon industry in the city which in the 1890s constituted more than a quarter of the bacon industry in the country. They were excellent employers and exercised considerable influence.
At the behest of John Redmond many of the young men in Waterford signed up to fight in France and by 1915 more than a third of the city’s male population had rallied to the colours and a strong tradition of joining the crown forces was established.
Over the years the pig-buyers and ex-servicemen supplied the bully boys who at the hustings controlled the streets and sought to intimidate anyone who challenged the Redmonds at the polls. Their activities are described in detail in this fine study of the halcyon years of the Redmond political dynasty in Waterford city.