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Sunday 21 September 2014

Archives shed light on the politics of a century ago

David Medcalf regularly covers modern-day meetings of Wexford County Council. Now, thanks to the County Archive, he also takes a look at proceedings from 1913.

Published 12/11/2013 | 05:42

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In 1913, the council took out a loan for £5,000 (€6,350) to pay for the 'Deeps Bridge Contract' providing a crossing of the Slaney at Killurin
Wexford County Council's roll call from November 1913.

BACK a century ago, Wexford County Council boasted a peer of the realm (which realm, I know not). How's that for posh!

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Yes, the attendance list for the council meeting of November 12, 1913 included Lord Stopford, the baron of Courtown. The full roll call is available from the County Archive, via the wonders of the worldwide web.

Aside from His Lordship, the line-up in 1913 included - just as it does today - a couple of Codds, namely James and Mark (rather than Pat and Kathleen). The only others given their full handles in the official minutes were Patrick Rossiter and John O'Connor.

Otherwise, it was a case of initials only - M Gough, M Doyle junior, RA Rice, P O'Neill, M Cloney, M Doyle senior, TL Esmonde and JT Mayler (sic). Proceedings were presided over by Mr CH Peacocke, and all the 14 members present were male, in keeping with the gentlemen's club spirit of the age, just before World War One.

A typical county council meeting of 2013 requires the attendance of at least seven high ranking officials. There were no directors of services to be seen a century ago. It sufficed to have the 'Secretary, County Surveyor and Mr. RW Elgee, Solicitor to the Council' present to keep the members on the strait and narrow.

These days, the great glass box at Carricklawn provides a venue for deliberations. Way back then, meetings were staged at the courthouse in Wexford town, making sensible use of facilities which would otherwise have been vacant on the day.

The councillor of the 21st century must tip his (or her) cap to Phil Hogan and the Department of the Environment. His/her predecessor in the days when ermined peers sat on local authorities and the British Crown still held sway, was in the grip of something called the Local Government Board.

Let's call it the LGB, though presumably no-one in Wexford at the time would have made so free... The LGB ruled that the county council should have nothing to do with the Boys' Club, which was a project of Enniscorthy cathedral administrator Reverend R Fitzhenry. The mandarins in Dublin suggested that Father Fitz should take his application for use of part of the courthouse in Enniscorthy to Lord Portsmouth, as the good Earl was the legal owner of the building.

The LGB also communicated views on a proposal to increase the salary of Mr. Paddle who rejoiced in the title 'Assistant Surveyor'. Paddle was employed check returns at the weighbridge in the quarry at Tara Hill. He made a heartbreaking case, writing: 'it is anything but a pleasure to stand by the weighbridge during a winter's day with a roof or a fire or a place in which one might partake of a bit of lunch with any degree of comfort.' Even the LGB could not begrudge the poor man a fiver - a fiver per annum, that was.

The salary of a perishing Assistant Surveyor may be compared with the riches showered on the late Mr. E O'Flaherty as Harbour Master in Kilmore, as also recorded in the minutes. The deceased drew a basic £15 per year as caretaker of the pier. To this was added a consideration of £4 for the burial of carcases washed ashore in the neighbourhood and then an additional £6 to cover his work as the local lamplighter, making a handy total of £25 (around €31.75).

Minister Phil Hogan has nothing on the LGB when it comes to micro managing Wexford County Council. In November 1913, the board wrote letter No. 58396-13 urging on members the necessity of collecting the poor rates due for the second half of the year.

The Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction also kept a strict eye on proceedings. The department was in touch pointing out that any persons sitting the county committee of agriculture who were paid grants from schemes administered by that committee automatically disqualified themselves from continued membership.

This was a rule not taken lightly. The resignation of Mr. RG Wordsworth from Duffcarrig near Gorey was accepted by the council after he wrote acknowledging 'I have a Stallion that is registered.' He was swiftly replaced by his Knockbawn neighbour Mr. HH Moore.

Moving on, the councillors postponed any decision on whether to accede to a request from Enniscorthy to purchase a steam roller. In the new millennium, infrastructural projects are likely to cost millions. In 1913, the council took out a loan for £5,000 (€6,350) to pay for the 'Deeps Bridge Contract' providing a crossing of the Slaney at Killurin which is still in use today by 21st century traffic. Good value.

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