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Monday 19 March 2018

Letters reveal Alfie Byrne's secret life as a matchmaker

MR FIX IT: Alfie Byrne was an MP, TD, Senator and Lord Mayor for Dublin 10 times, but also a matchmaker for the lovelorn, new letters show.
MR FIX IT: Alfie Byrne was an MP, TD, Senator and Lord Mayor for Dublin 10 times, but also a matchmaker for the lovelorn, new letters show.
Alfie’s son, Paddy, and daughter, Carmel, at the opening of the Alfie Byrne collection at the Little Museum of Dublin
Claire Mc Cormack

Claire Mc Cormack

He is revered as the only Irish politician to serve as an MP, TD, senator, councillor and Lord Mayor, but now new documents reveal that the legendary Alfie Byrne was also a matchmaker for the lovelorn.

A new exhibition celebrating the life and work of Alfie, elected Lord Mayor of Dublin 10 times, includes dozens of letters seeking his intercession.

In 1965, William P May, from California, wrote a letter to the independent politician dubbed "the shaking hand of Dublin" seeking his assistance in finding a wife.

"Dear Lord Mayor, I'm very anxious to correspond with an Irish girl and I am writing you in hopes you may be able to assist me in meeting some girl through the means of correspondence," he said.

"I am fairly young, single and work as an engineer on a major railroad in San Francisco.

"Hoping you will be able to help me in this request and thanking you in advance for anything you may do," he wrote.

Although it's unclear whether Mr Byrne successfully managed to find the lonesome railway man a wife, Trevor White, curator of the exhibition, said the correspondence speaks volumes of Byrne's popularity.

"It is a measure of his authority and his fame in the Ireland of his day that people actually wrote to him in the hopes that he could serve as a matchmaker and help a man find a wife," he told the Sunday Independent.

"He received thousands of begging letters and epistles asking for his assistance in finding a job or finding a home every year, and he did his very best to help.

"He had a profound connection with the people and went out of his way all the time for them," he said. Born in 1882, Mr Byrne left school as a teenager when his father, a ship engineer, became unemployed.

He started off working as a bicycle mechanic at the bottom of Dawson Street and worked his way up to the Mansion House where he served 10 terms as mayor between the 1930s and 1950s.

He was also an MP and TD for Dublin city.

He represented the poor with particular relish. Every morning up to 50 people gathered at the Mansion House seeking his help. They never needed appointments.

He was often celebrated for his Victorian style - including his waxed moustache and top hat - and loquacious manner.

The New York Times once described him as the 'Champion Showman'.

Alfie Byrne's 90-year-old son, Patrick, told the Sunday Independent of his great admiration for his father

"He was a highly successful politician and a very popular man of the people for his time. He was very good-hearted," he said, adding that he didn't see "a huge amount" of his father growing up due to his demanding public life.

Mr White believes that as the next General Election looms, today's politicians could learn a lot from Mayor Byrne who passed away 60 years ago.

"There are undoubtedly some very good politicians working in Ireland today but frankly there is a degree of scepticism about our politicians and some of that is well founded," said Mr White.

"What is really interesting about Alfie is when you study his life, you realise what a wonderful mechanism politics can be for affective change in a society in the right hands," he said.

The Alfie Byrne collection is now on permanent display at The Little Museum of Dublin.

Sunday Independent

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