BI­OG­RA­PHY

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Living - - BOOKS -

Al­fie

Trevor White €25.00

Re­viewed by Leo Varad­kar

WHEN Al­fie Byrne died in March 1956, shortly before his 74th birth­day, there was a mo­ment of si­lence in the Dail as TDS stood to pay their re­spects to a re­mark­able man who, uniquely in Ir­ish his­tory, had been a coun­cil­lor, an al­der­man, an MP in the Bri­tish par­lia­ment, Lord Mayor of Dublin, a Se­na­tor and a TD. The Taoiseach, John A Costello, praised Byrne as a “kind, cour­te­ous” and “char­i­ta­ble” man, and de­scribed him as “prob­a­bly the most pop­u­lar rep­re­sen­ta­tive we had in our cap­i­tal city dur­ing the past 50 years”.

There was a time when the ‘Shak­ing Hand of Dublin’ would have been known to every school­child and adult in the cap­i­tal, but as time has passed, his mem­ory has faded. Trevor White brings him vividly back to life in the pages of his el­e­gant new bi­og­ra­phy. For ex­am­ple, there is an amus­ing story about the 1930 coun­cil elec­tions and how Byrne was found mind­ing a baby in a pram while the mother went in to vote, with the news­pa­per not­ing that “kindly man that he is, he would have done it even if aware that the mother was hos­tile to him”.

Read­ing the book, it be­comes clear why Al­fie Byrne was such a loved fig­ure in Dublin, and also why a Young Fine Gael branch is named af­ter him. Even though he was never a mem­ber of the party, or its pre­de­ces­sor Cu­mann na ngaed­heal, he had strong links and his son, Pa­trick, who I had the honour of meet­ing last week, was for many years a Fine Gael TD. ‘Al­fie’ was also per­son­ally very close to WT Cos­grave, hav­ing served with him on Dublin Cor­po­ra­tion where they had de­vel­oped a last­ing friend­ship, and he was a strong sup­porter both in and out of the Dail.

When Al­fie Byrne stood to be­come Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1930, he was sup­ported by Cu­mann na ngaed­heal and he de­feated the lead­ing Fianna Fail politi­cian (and future president of Ire­land) Sean T O’kelly. He was re-elected through­out the decade, serv­ing a re­mark­able nine con­tin­u­ous terms in of­fice, some­times de­feat­ing Kath­leen Clarke, the widow of the 1916 leader Tom. How­ever, when he stood down in 1939, he used his cast­ing vote to en­sure that Clarke suc­ceeded him.

As Lord Mayor, he al­lowed the Man­sion House to be used by politi­cians in­ter­ested in es­tab­lish­ing a new po­lit­i­cal party “uni­fy­ing all opin­ion”, and fol­low­ing on from that, it was there that Fine Gael was for­mally launched in 1933. White quotes with ap­proval the his­to­rian Ciara Mee­han, who calls Byrne “the Lord Mayor of Dublin and leg­endary in­de­pen­dent deputy [who] played an in­stru­men­tal role in forg­ing the no­tion of a new na­tional party”. When I was elected leader of Fine Gael in that same Man­sion House last sum­mer, I was con­scious of the pow­er­ful links with our party’s his­tory, go­ing back to that time, and fur­ther back to Michael Collins and the very first Dail. In some ways, Byrne was an un­usual politi­cian. Few politi­cians vol­un­tar­ily give up their seats in the Dail, but he re­signed in 1928 cit­ing ex­haus­tion, en­abling the brother of the as­sas­si­nated Kevin O’hig­gins to take his place in the by-elec­tion. How­ever, he re-re­turned in 1932 when Cos­grave made­made a per­sonal ap­peal to per­suade him to run for elec­tion as an in­de­pen­dent, and he topped the poll in Dublin North, re­ceiv­ing 18,170

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