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History – Labour Meeting at Kill

Kildare Observer, 29 September 1883

On Sunday last a meeting of the labourers of the district was held at Kill, for the purpose of securing the benefits of the Act recently passed. The proceedings were enlivened by the Ardclough band, which played a choice selection of music at intervals. There was a large attendance of local farmers, and when the proceedings commenced, the substantial platform, which had been erected in a field close to the town, was well filled. Amongst those present were – Very Rev. Dr. Gowing P.P.; Rev. G.P. Gowing, C.C; Dr. Patrick J. McEvoy, Dr. Coady, Mr. A. Ritchie, Mr. L. Malone, Mr. D. Kearney, Mr. M. Kearney, Mr. Howe, Mr. Barry, Mr. T. Fitzpatrick, Mr. Monahan, Mr. Cummins, Mr. Palmer, Mr. J. Coady, Mr. Walsh, J.P.; Mr. J. Short, Mr. R. Turner, Mr. P. Traynor, Mr. R. Ledwich, Mr. T. Broughall.
On the motion of Mr. Ritchie, seconded by Mr. T. Fitzpatrick, the chair was taken by Very Rev. Dr. Gowing, P.P.

The chairman said as he had been moved to that position he would read for them some of the correspondence he had received as follows: –

“Narraghmore, Athy, 20th Sept., 1883.

“My Dear Dr. Gowing, – In reply to your invitation for Sunday next, I regret extremely it will be wholly out of my power to be with you on that day. I am nevertheless glad to see you moving on behalf of the working class, and trust to hear of your meeting as an entirely successful one. The labourers stood everywhere loyally by the farmers in the late land agitation. The farmers are therefore now bound in common gratitude to return the compliment. Add to this that it is the interest as well as the duty of the farmers, and others in comfortable and independents positions, to now come forward and do all they can to elevate their poorer fellow men and fellow Christians in the social scale (Hear, hear.). No man has more to do with the working men of Kildare than I ever had, and no man can speak with great experience of their honesty, civility and intelligence than I can. (Hear, hear.) These qualities I have always found in the character of the labouring class to a degree which has always appeared to me to be surprising considering the treatment its members have had to submit to. It now therefore gives me the greatest pleasure to see light breaking on the working man and his following. A comfortable, an airy, and a well lighted dwelling will be a fitting first step in the improvement of his position. (Hear, hear.)The bit of land attached to his residence will be a means of teaching his children habits of care and industry, while the produce carefully cultivated and harvested, will supply his family with many comfort, and be moreover to him and them, a stock to drain from at intervals of chance or unavoidable disemployment. Secure in his home, the Irish labourer will gradually feel a new life within him. He will gain in manliness and independence. He will realise that he is at least a citizen and no longer a serf. (Hear, hear.) Self respect will follow, and for this offspring he will long for that education he never had the opportunity of acquiring for himself. The great gains to society by the elevation of the labourer will be a lessened pauperism, and a decrease of crime. Labour is the only source of a nation’s prosperity – (Hear, hear.) – and wealth. Until this is fully recognised in Ireland the resources of the country will never be developed as they ought. (Hear, hear.) The Labourers’ Act is a beginning in this direction. May the policy be yet further improved upon is the sincere wish and hope of yours faithfully and truly,     
“Thos. Robertson”
(Loud cheers.)
                     “Ballygoran, Maynooth
                                       “Sept. 21st 1883

“Rev. Dear Sir-In reply to your kind letter of the 19th inst.. I hasten to say that I am truly obliged for your invitation to attend the meeting at Kill on behalf of the labourers. Nothing would give me greater satisfaction than to be able to be with you all for the promotion of this most desirable object. But my other engagement will, I regret, not admit of it. Perhaps at some future time I may have the pleasure of giving my humble cooperation. Rest assured of my sympathy of this, I have endeavoured to give practical proof in my own immediate neighbourhood, for nearly fifteen years ago I spontaneously raised the pay of my workmen 33 per cent. and I have in the interval spent several thousand pounds in wages. Here wishing you great success – I am, Rev. dear sir, yours faithfully,          
“S. Patterson”

“The Rev. Dr. Gowing, P.P”
           “Drummin House, Sept. 20th 1883.
“Dear Sir-I thank you for your kindness in sending me an invitation to attend the meeting to be held at Kill next Sunday, for the purpose of taking into consideration the claims of the labouring classes and the best mode of improving their condition. I trust your meeting will be the precursor of many such in Kildare and the adjoining counties, I will be with you in spirit. Unfortunately, my strength is beginning to fail and I am quite incapable of making long continued bodily exertion, besides I am fast losing both sight and hearing, still what I can do in the cause of Ireland I will not willingly leave undone. I can carefully consider our unhappy condition and give my advice. I send you two copies of my last publications; perhaps you might find an opportunity to call the attention of the meeting to it. Recommend the adoption of Edenderry resolutions (page 24), the adoption by so influential a meeting as yours promises to be would give them an importance they might not otherwise possess, and place Kildare foremost in the present struggle for Irish independence. With sincere respect, yours very truly.           
“Richard Grattan.”

(Loud cheers.) A letter was also read from Mr. Charles Kelly, New York, in which he stated he had seen a report of the labourers meeting at Kill copied into the Irish World from Kildare Observer. He stated the money which had been subscribed there was given by the labourers, and it was expected that portion of it would be spent on the Irish labourer. (Cheers.)

The Chairman said the observations he proposed to make must necessary be short. He would bring under the notice a few texts from the valuable pamphlet he had before him by Mr. Healy. He thought he properly expressed the sentiment of all there when he stated they had only one purpose in their presence at this meeting, and that to aid the cause of labourers. He would not be there that day if he did not believe in his heart he was there in the discharge of duty of charity as well as of patriotism. (Cheers.) He might tell them this was not a political meeting, but it is one in which the hearts of all persons could unite. He hoped to see all in the country combine for the benefit of the Irish labourers and for the good of their mother land. It was in that spirit he made a move two years ago. It was at that time they had a meeting in the school house to help the labourers. He did not then expect that Parliament would have passed a bill in favour of the labourer so soon, and it was now likely to prove a great blessing. He for one did not believe that justice had been done to the tenant-farmers by the Land Act, and justice would not be complete until the leaseholders were placed on the same footing as the other farmers, and the working of the act made more expeditions and more inexpensive. (Cheers.) At the first labourers meeting held in the county he asked the tenant-farmers to give a few things to the poor man-a better house, a piece of land, &c. He was sorry to say two years had passed away and nothing was done. Now Parliament had stopped to make them generous and patriotic. 

They all knew this Act came into force on the 25th August last. That Act of Parliament was one of the messages of peace Mr. Gladstone had sent to Ireland, and they were indebted to him for it. They owed a lasting debt of gratitude to Mr. Gladstone for the great boon. (A voice – And Mr. T. P. O’Connor.) He hoped Mr. Gladstone’s name would go down to posterity with the gratitude and blessings of the Irish people, and that his cherished memory would find an abiding place in the hearts of posterity, along with the other illustrious philanthropists of the 19th century: a Howard, a Wilberforce, an O’Connell, a Grattan and a Parnell. Moreover, he hoped yet to see – and that time might not be far distant when Ireland will adequately express her reverence for the great man, who, in spite of opposition, did so much for her. He hoped yet to see a monument erected to him in Dublin, and he thought no fitter time could be chosen to erect the monument than when the Irish Parliament was opened to the Irish people in College Green. (Cheers.) He would be greatly disappointed if these two events did not simultaneously take place within a few years: the unveiling of the national monument to W.E. Gladstone, and the restoration of Ireland’s legislative independence. It was not his place to enter into any lengthened explanation of the Labourers’ Act. It was their business and the business of the farmers to take the initiative, and the working of the Act lay with the Board of Guardians. This was the first step they had seen made towards self-government. They found this Act of Parliament empowered the Boards of Guardians throughout the country to administer public funds and to take the management into their own hands. This was a point in the right direction [Doctor Gowing here explained the working of the Act. He stated it was necessary to get a form of representation signed by twelve ratepayers and sent to the board of guardians who then carried out the necessary steps and the responsibility further rested with them]. No one should lose time in taking the initiative step so as to precure the benefit of the Act. He had seen in the papers within the past few days that a charge of apathy had been brought against the Irish farmers. He was sorry to say he could not free them from the charge. There was certainly a marked indifference shown in this matter. He trusted the farmers would hold public meetings to secure for the labourers the benefits of the Act. It was a matter of charity to assist the poor and it was their duty to do so. The man who did not help the poor in their necessities had not charity, and therefore, had not the love of God. Is not the social and domestic condition of the Irish poor a disgrace and a scandal in Europe? It was some years ago since the Devon Commission was appointed to enquire into the condition of the labourer. They stated, as a reference of most of the witnesses will show, that the agricultural labourer of Ireland continues to suffer the greatest privations and hardships; that he continues to depend upon casual and precarious employment for subsistence. That he is badly housed, badly fed, badly clothed and badly paid for his labour. Our personal observations during our inquiry have offered us a melancholy confirmation of these statements, and we cannot forbear expressing our strong sense of the patient endurance which the labouring classes have generally exhibited under sufferings greater, we believe, than the people of any country in Europe have to sustain. Mr. Ruskin, a distinguished man, wrote as follows:- “The cabins in Ireland have been so frequently described that there is no necessity for telling the English public that in the villages I have named anything approaching the character of a bed is very rare. A heap of rags flung on some dirty straw or the four posts of what was once a bedstead, filled in with straw, which a blanket spread over it form the sleeping place. Everybody knows that one compartment serve in these seaside hovels for the entire family, including the pigs (if any), ducks, chickens, or geese.” (A voice – Right, your reverence.) Speaking on the same subject, the special correspondent of the Daily Telegraph said “the cabins of the peasantry seem to be about the very worst dwellings for human beings I had ever viewed. I noted that many of the cottages I passed boasted of no windows-that they all had mud floors and most of them mud alls-that many were insufficiently thatched-nearly all wore shared by the family pig as well as the family children – that in the majority of cases a very slough of mud faced the door – and that the utmost misery of appearance characterized every dwelling. I have been in many lands, and have seen many so-called oppressed people at home, but I declare that neither in the Russian Steppes, nor in the most neglected Bulgarian village, still less in the very poorest Hindoo hamlets have I ever seen such squalid kraals as the Irish poor inhabit. Here they are not hidden away from public view, but front the high road-a dreadful testimony to mismanagement and uncleanness as can be met with nowhere else. An officer of one of Her Majesty’s Regiments, who lately served with honour in Zululand, declared to met that not even in the worst parts of Cetewayo’s dominions, did he come across anything so bad, and I am inclined to believe that he was not exaggerating in the slightest.” How could a nation prosper under such circumstance? (A voice – No, no.) That was the condition of a crushed people. It was as true that day as the time before mentioned-it was true three years back-aye forty years back. Was a nation like Ireland to be ever degraded in this manner? – a nation of renown for a knowledge of the arts and sciences and light of the Gospel long before any of the great nations of Europe had yet approached the cradle of Christianity or of civilization. He would continue Cardinal Newman’s beautiful thoughts as they apply at present: “A noble and puissant nation rousing herself as a strong man after sleep and shaking her invincible looks as an eagle renews her mighty youth and kindling her undazzled eyes at the full mid-day beam purging and unscaling her long-abused sight at the fountain itself of heavenly radiance, while the whole noise of timorous and flocking birds, with those also who love the twilight flutter about amazed at what she means; and would it not be strange indeed that this old Catholic nation should not feel acutely the bitterness and wounds, the injustice and injuries inflicted on her through centuries –that she should not have been through the strength of her unsullied faith her best support in every ordeal and persecution, hopes and aspirations, commensurate with her past and her future avocation.” There was no doubt good would come from the Labourers Act if vigorously and earnestly worked. The labourers would excuse him if he exhorted them to sobriety, good conduct and self respect. If they were not true to themselves and if they did not reform their habits the remedy which was now sought to be applied for their welfare would be worse than the disease. Let them endeavour to realise the future that was before them and be faithful to the trust that was placed in their hands. Unless that was done, he for one did not expect much advance in the future. He knew the poverty of the labourer was attributable somewhat to his own shortcomings. He (chairman) had seen poverty and wretchedness worse than Mr. Ruskin or the correspondent of the Daily Telegraph had described. If they asked him the cause of all this he would tell them it was unfortunately too often drink. More squalid poverty had resulted from drink than from anything else. Therefore it behoved all persons to lead sober lives. He did not want them all to become teetotallers, but he wanted every man to live within his means. (Cheers)

Mr. Fitzpatrick – Rev. Chairman and fellow countrymen (A voice – More power, Mr. Fitzpatrick) – I have great pleasure in reading for your adoption this resolution: –
“That all present pledge themselves to immediate and hearty co-operation to secure for our struggling and dependent fellow countrymen, the agricultural labourers, the fullest benefits of the Labourers’ Act within our respective electoral divisions.”

He said the working out of the Act in a great measure depended on themselves. If they did not urge on farmers to assist them, the farmers might be slow to move in it. (A voice – That is right.) The labourers stood by the farmers during the last two or three years of the Land League. He thought the farmers should come forward and work this Act for the benefit of the labourers. The Act was in a great measure due to the extraordinary exertions of Mr. T.P. O’Connor. He thought many of them had the pleasure of hearing him at a Land League meeting at Allen. That was the man who brought forward this Act, which was acknowledged to be the only measure of good for Ireland. A plot of ground was to be attached to every house (A voice – They will think very bad of giving it.) He hoped when they got it when they would be contented with it. Some one in the crowd says the farmers will think badly of giving the plot of ground. He must say the farmers in that district did not benefit much by the Land Act, as they were nearly all leaseholders. He thought the farmers were willing to conform with the Act, and he hoped they would adopt it spiritedly and speedily. (Loud cheers.)
Mr. Carroll seconded the resolution which was passed.

Mr. Byrne proposed -“That an organizing and corresponding  committee (with power to add to their number) of the following gentlemen, be now appointed to take speedy and effective steps to carry out the preliminary conditions required to render operative in our midst the Labourers’ Act-a measure which we regard as an augury of future peace, contentment, and national prosperity, and highly calculated moreover to alleviate the social and domestic privations of a necessary, deserving, and long neglected class – Rev. Dr. Gowing. P.P; Rev. G.P. Gowing, Messrs. T. Fitzpatrick, P.L.G., Laurence Malone and Archibald Ritchie.”

Mr. Malone seconded the resolution. Peter Purcell, labourer, proposed –
“That we, the labourers of the parish of Kill, express our sincere gratitude to Mr. W.E. Gladstone and to the Irish party, in particular among the latter Mr. T. P. O’Connor, for espousing our cause and so effectively helping to improve our domestic and social condition; and we hereby promise to turn our newly acquired advantages to the best account by the careful practice and example of sobriety, industry, and faithful attention to our duties and to the business of our respective employers.”
He said he felt pleasure, brother labourers and gentlemen (hear, hear) in proposing the resolution. If they would look after their own interests the farmers would do their duty. It was time to get some relief. They all knew in what sort of hovels they lived, and wages, food, and clothing bad. He hoped better times were in store for them.

Patrick Halligan, labourer, had great pleasure in seconding the resolution. When they got the benefits of the labourers act they would have peace and plenty.

Dr. McEvoy proposed -“That we work together without sectarian differences for Ireland’s prosperity and peace as a united Ireland with a sympathetic and intelligent spirit of justice and compassion for the labouring poor.”

He said the labourers cottages should be vastly improved as far as sanitary arrangements were concerned. Mr. Palmer seconded the resolution, which was passed. A vote of thanks was proposed and seconded to the chairman.

The Chairman, in thanking them, said he did not feel he deserved the vote of thanks. He was convinced he was only doing his duty to the people. Whenever an opportunity arose which was suitable, he should not be wanting in assisting the people. He knew no part of Ireland which presented so desolate a spectacle as northern Kildare. He would give a few figures to show how matters stood there. In 21 townlands they had 4,8882 acres. How many houses did they think were on that extent of land? 62! And some of those were so wretched that they ought not to be called houses. He was speaking to a man last week who was living in a house with only one room, and seven children besides himself and his wife had to reside there. That man told him also that he had to walk 4 ½ miles to his work every day and the same distance back in the evening. Not very far from where they stood he could show them a house with only one room which had to accommodate twelve in family. This was a condition of things too general, he was sorry to say. There were 334 people living on the 4,882 acres. He hoped everybody by and bye would have justice and fair play. (Hear, hear). They should go home orderly and quietly and they would be pleased with the business of the day, as they had done good work. (Loud and prolonged cheering.) The meeting then separated.

A Kildare Observer report from 29 September 1883 on a large labour meeting held at Kill

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