Tuesday 8 December 2009

1930: the County Mayo librarian case

One of the examples that unionists use to try to portray the south as the mirror-image of the north in terms of sectarianism is the case of the non-appointment of Letitia Dunbar as a librarian in County Mayo in 1930.

For some unionists, this was a simple case of religious discrimination. Dunbar was a Protestant, and this – to them – was the reason that she was not appointed.

The meeting of the County Council that rejected Dunbar took place on today's date – December 8 – in 1930, and as part of its series of historical series the Irish Times has republished its report of the event, as a report and as a facsimile.

Certain facts about the case are worth noting. Firstly, Dunbar's religion was central to the discussion at the time, but the Fianna Fáil party leader on the Council, Richard Walsh, said his party would not stand for the turning down of Miss Dunbar on the sectarian issue.


Dunbar was officially turned down for the post because she had only an elementary knowledge of Irish – and in a county that was, at that time, quite widely Irish-speaking, this made her insufficiently qualified to provide librarian services. Certainly there were members of the Council – and even one member of Fianna Fáil, a Mr Morahan – who opposed Dunbar on nakedly sectarian grounds, but the Fianna Fáil party clearly disassociated itself from this.

Fianna Fáil remained convinced that the reason for Dunbar's refusal was sectarian, and their political opponents, the governing party Cumann na nGaedhael, dissolved the County Council and replaced it with a Commissioner, who appointed Dunbar to the role of county librarian. In December 1931, Dunbar was transferred from Castlebar to work for the Department of Defence in Dublin.

So while Mayo County Council, and in particular its library committee covered themselves with ignominy, the Dublin government and the Fianna Fáil party – between them representing the overwhelming majority of the political class in the south, were implacably opposed to the suspicions of sectarianism that the case showed, and moved decisively to ensure that Dunbar both got the job, and subsequently got another one closer to home (she was a Dubliner). Along the way the government dissolved a County Council – a quite extraordinary event – in order to ensure that no stain of sectarianism could be seen to be tolerated.

So while there is no doubt whatsoever that sectarianism raised its ugly head in this case, the actions of the two dominant parties in the south were strongly opposed to it. And that marked a clear difference between the north and the south at that time. In the north the governing party was actively encouraging sectarianism, while in the south the parties were actively opposing it.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

I had heard of the case but didnt know the additional details which, as you suggest, should be used to illustrate the non sectarian nature of the southern state rather than the reverse.

Kieron

Watcher said...

Have you anything on the holocaust 'hoax' Horseman?

hoboroad said...

The first person to call someone else in a online discussion a Nazi automatically loses the argument. Or Godwin's Law as it is better known Watcher.

Watcher said...

Wooshhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh...

Point straight over head.

Anonymous said...

Saying that the two dominant parties at national level were opposed to the sectarianism in this case is not accurate. Fianna Fail played politics with the issue, and put the government under a lot of pressure. De Valera said the following in the Dail:

“If I thought that the principle that the librarian in a Catholic community should be Catholic was a new principle introduced merely to deny a Protestant an appointment, I should vote against it, but I know from my youth that it is not so. I say that if I had a vote on a local body, and if there were two qualified people who had to deal with a Catholic community, and if one was a Catholic and the other a Protestant, I would unhesitatingly vote for the Catholic”.

Hardly a condemnation of sectarianism....

Anonymous said...

There probably was some religous hostility at play. But it should be recalled that the south had only been separate from the U.K. for less then a decade after a bitter struggle. How might a German have been treated in London at this time as a comparison?

Nordie Northsider said...

Not very impressed with the above comment. Are we saying that Protestants are un-Irish? Not too sure what the point of the original post was anyway. There's no point denying that the Irish Free State and later the Republic had a pro-Catholic sectarian bias. Whether or not this bias was as drastic or as unjust as the Protestant bias in the Northern state is neither here nor there: Republicans should oppose both.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said:

"There probably was some religous hostility at play. But it should be recalled that the south had only been separate from the U.K. for less then a decade after a bitter struggle. How might a German have been treated in London at this time as a comparison?"

Good point. And, of course, the same could be said about Northern Ireland at that time, where the minority was much larger, more hostile to the new state and as a result more of a threat.

Anonymous said...

"Are we saying that Protestants are Un-Irish"?......

Uh, isn't it the Protestants that are saying that?

Watcher said...

There are two people's on The Island of Ireland, The Irish and The Ulster British, both entitled to exercise self determination and to some territory on which to practice it. Hence the border.

Nordie Northsider said...

Anonymous might like to note how neatly his views match those of Mad Andy. To liken Irish Protestants in the period after the War of Independence to Germans living in post-war Britain is undiluted sectarianism. It ignores the role of hundreds of Irish Protestants in the cultural and political activity that led to the creation of the Irish Free State. Even those Protestants (and Catholics) with a hankering after British Rule were entitled to their opinion and to equality before the law. That's Republicanism, as I see it.

Pedro said...

Watcher,
The resultant county entity has a ntionalist population presently of 40%+ and rising - hence major change is on the way however unpalatable you may find it.

Watcher said...

I think you mean Catholic background population Paedo...

Anonymous said...

Watcher said...

"There are two people's on The Island of Ireland, The Irish and The Ulster British"

Apostrophe's! Extra apostrophe's! Use 'em for plural's! One dollar!