Our friendly and excellent guides are available as Step On Guides for any visiting tour or coach operators who may like a unique, entertaining and educational tour of Irish History and the events of Easter Week 1916.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

The Battle of Bass Ale

The Battle of Bass
Many moons ago when I was a bar manager, the pub I worked in had been renovated and a well-known Dublin politician was to perform the opening ceremony but the only stipulation was that I had to have a pint of Bass for him, a product that at that time was not a great seller and once the opening was performed within a week the tap had been removed. There had been a sea change in Irish politics after the battles of the civil war and Eamon DeValera had taken power in March 1932 but despite his movement away from the IRA, including naming his new party Fianna Fail, the IRA remained in the shadows. The organisation manifested itself under different guises including in November 1932 as the ‘Boycott British Goods League’. The Leagues campaign was aimed at one particular company, the British ale brewery Bass.

Bass had already been subject of an earlier boycott in Ireland from 1918 to 1924 as it was a huge seller in Ireland, probably second only to Guinness with a bottle costing the customer 8d and a draught Bass between 10d and a schilling. Bass was targeted because one of its directors was Colonel John Gretton, who was in 1932 a Conservative Party MP and an Olympic gold medallist in sailing, was seen to side with the Unionists in Ulster and during the conscription crisis he was quoted as saying ‘send every young Irishman to Flanders, then the Irish race will be exterminated’.  The Boycotters also advised that there were plenty of alternative Irish made Ales for the consumers.

In Dublin the company, Bass, Radcliffe, Gretton and Company imported their casks on ships to the Liffey Quays and then moved them by horse and dray to a warehouse they maintained on Moore Lane. From there the drays would deliver to pubs in the inner city, by truck to Leinster and by train to the rest of Ireland. In November 1932 came the first reports of draymen being attacked and their casks of Bass emptied into the gutter began to emerge.

In December especially in Dublin, publicans were visited by armed men and told that they had seven days to get rid of their Bass stock or face some serious consequences, some threatened with being burned out of business. The problem for publicans was that Bass ale needed to mature in stock before being served and with the run up to Christmas publicans carried a lot of Bass stock. The Minister for Defence Fianna Fail man and War of Independence veteran Frank Aiken said when questioned in the Dail by TD’s allied to the Licensed Vintners Association said that there seemed to be ‘concerted activity amongst members of the Irish Republican Army and kindred terrorist organisations’.  The ‘Army Comrades Association’ known as The White Army made up of veteran IRA men who had sided with the Treaty forces at a meeting in the Mansion House said that they were willing and able to assist the publicans in the protection of their businesses from what they described as ‘a bunch of hooligans’.

On December 14th there was an armed raid on the Bass warehouse at Lavitt’s Quay in Cork with all the stock destroyed. Casks were emptied and bottles smashed although it was reported over the festive period that bottles of stolen Bass was seized in a pro-IRA shebeen near Macroom. The next day on Dublin’s north quays a dray moving stock from the port warehouse to Moore Lane was attacked and twenty casks emptied onto the streets. On the 20th, sixteen men from the ‘White Army’ escorted a convoy of drays from the Quays to Moore Lane which itself was now protected by armed guards.

The campaign in early 1933 consisted mainly of attacking Bass signage and advertising inside and outside pubs and in some cases especially in rural areas, hammers were used to smash ads in pubs where only a barmaid was on duty. The boycott and intimidation campaign intensified once again towards the end of the year. In August there were attacks on pubs in Dublin, Killarney, Midleton and Waterford, with masked men entering the pub and ordering the publican to cease buying or selling Bass and destroying the Bass stock on the premises. In September there were more attacks in Dublin stretching from Sandymount to Pimplico Merrion Row to Patrick Street and Henry Street to Stoneybatter. Across the country there were attacks in Ballinrobe, Dun Laoghaire, Clonmel, Navan and Tramore. Armed Gardai were protecting trains as they travelled across the country. Thirty-five pubs were visited in Monaghan on one night by a large group of armed and masked men.

Some of those arrested were jailed for their offences and then in Mountjoy Jail they went on a failed Hunger Strike in an attempt to be released. The attacks trailed off, in October there was just one reported attack in Clare and in November only Tramore suffered the intimidation from the Boycott movement. Pressure from the DeValera Government had reduced the numbers involved and the fact that courts were not showing any leniency, the campaign against Bass ended.  

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Parnell's Sunday Drinking Dens

It was designated as ‘Parnell Sunday’ but October 12th1902 would shine a light on a darker side of the Irish psyche, our drinking culture. The licensing laws in Ireland in the early part of the twentieth century meant that public houses closed early on a Saturday night and only opened for a couple of early evening hours on a Sunday if they had a seven-day licence. The gap in the opening hours allowed illegal drinking dens, so called ‘bogus clubs’ and shebeens to profit and on this particular ‘Parnell Sunday’ the gap would be exposed and some famous people caught up in the resultant court actions.

A number of ‘clubs’ opened in the early 1900's mainly serving various industries allowing workers to gather socially to play card games and enjoy banter though these were also the hotbed of industrial unrest as the Unions used these clubs to enroll new members and ferment unrest. The clubs would open and serve large quantities of alcohol from early evening to Sunday night often not closing and they were the only place in Dublin to get a drink on a Sunday morning. The problem became such a problem between January and November 1903 there were 105 prosecutions of these ‘bogus clubs’ for illegally selling alcohol to other than members as per the law.

‘Parnell Sunday’ was a popular day in the Dublin city as they celebrated the life of Charles Stewart Parnell and the authorities knew that many of these clubs would be full and on that Sunday evening in 1902 a number of raids were carried out leading to numerous subsequent convictions. Wexford man Patrick Hanlon, who’s wife Margaret ran a public house at 6 St John Rogerson’s Quay ran a hall at 4 Sandwith Street Lower where a number of unions and clubs met. On October 12th a ‘Sunday’ meeting of The Dock Labourers Club was in full swing when a DMP Inspector Dunne and Sergeant Dockery from nearby Great Brunswick Station (now Pearse Street Garda station) raided the club and discovered many of those on the premises were neither members nor signed in by members. The Inspector observed that many of the women and some children were highly intoxicated. Hanlon and two bar staff, Joseph McMahon and his sister Kate Reilly were charged with breaking the then licensing laws.  After leaving the Dock Labourers the two policemen moved around the corner to 46 Great Brunswick Street where the Democratic Labour Club were meeting. The Club had been formed in 1892 on nearby Lombard Street and on that night over one hundred patrons were on the premises when the two policemen arrived just after nine o’clock that night. While it was supposed to be a club and a meeting hall the Inspector said that there ‘was a bar that was a public house bar’ even though the club did not have the required license. The bar manager James Murphy, his wife Mary who was serving behind the bar and John Kane were arrested in this shebeen when it was later demonstrated in court that there were more people of the premises than there were actual registered members. Mrs Murphy was freed by the courts subsequently as the Judge said that he believed she was under the influence of her husband. James Murphy was fined ten pounds while John Kane was fined one pound. Kane’s crime was buying drink for a non-member and allowing a non-member to buy him a drink. The non-member who was called as a witness in the prosecution of the club operators was James Larkin who would later have played such a pivotal role in the 1913 Lockout.

The Foresters Club on Capel Street was also raided and John and Sarah Somers convicted of selling alcohol without a licence. John was given a three months with hard labour sentence while his wife was fined fifty pounds. When raided there were eighty four persons on the premises and the DMP seized 239 bottle of porter. There was a lot of newspaper comment on the widespread number of the ‘bogus clubs’ and the increasing public drunkenness especially when public houses were closed. It eventually led a couple of years later to a tightening of the laws surrounding Clubs and their ability to serve alcohol.