One Hundred Years Ago This Week….February 5, 1913.
National Foresters – New Hall for Bray – Opened by Very Rev. R.F. Colahan P.P
The National Foresters of Bray took part on Monday night, in a function that will be ever memorable in the annals of their Association and of Bray itself. The occasion was the opening of their new Hall and their formal possession of it. In every sense of the word it is a magnificent building, situated prominently in the town. Two-storeyed, there is a vestibule and an entrance hall on the ground floor; also a billiard-room, and two committee rooms. Overhead is a commodious meeting hall, 50 feet long by 30 feet wide – indeed, one of the largest public halls in Bray. Externally it presents a handsome appearance, while the interior is elaborately and artistically fashioned, and fitted out on the most up-to-date lines. For the opening ceremony the Hall upstairs was lavishly decorated with pictures of leading Irishmen and other historic friends of the country.
Very Rev. Father Colahan, P.P., declaring the Hall open, amidst applause, said it was an extreme pleasure to him to do so. They all felt proud to know that it was the child of Bray enterprise, conceived in the minds of the members of their illustrious order, and carried out splendidly under a Bray architect, on plans formulated in the most perfect manner possible.
“A beautiful and useful Hall”
A lengthy account of the festivities celebrating a new meeting hall for the Bray branch of the Irish National Foresters was carried in the Irish Independent on February 5, 1913. The piece included details of the entertainment provided — a banquet for over three hundred guests followed by dancing that “went on into the early hours of the morning” and a “concert programme pleasingly rendered by Miss Alice Murphy, Mr. D. Mullally, Mrs. Wilde, Mr. A. McDonnell, Miss Mason and Mr. J. McDonnell”. Father Colahan, who was “engaged from time to time in many good works for his parish”, was conferred with honorary membership of the branch and Mr. J.T. Coffey sang ‘A Nation Once Again’ in a “spirited and splendid style”.
Speeches were presided over by the Chief Ranger of the Bray branch, Councillor J. Archer and his toast — “Ireland a Nation” — was heartily supported by those present. A response by Mr. T. Clarke, J.P., that Irish Catholics “simply wanted to have management of their own local affairs – of everything Irish, everything belonging to the country” drew loud applause. Branch General Secretary, Mr. Hutchinson concurred with Clarke and praised those Foresters who had recently participated in the parliamentary by-election in Derry just a few days earlier. In this contest, pro-Home Rule candidate David Hogg defeated his Unionist rival, Colonel George Pakenham, by just sixty-seven votes, thus giving Nationalists a majority of one seat in Ulster. Hutchinson went on to say that the Foresters were all hopeful that the opening of “an Irish Parliament in the Irish capital would bring increased prosperity for the entire country…a prosperity in which Bray, the beautiful Brighton of Ireland, must largely share”.
Established in Dublin in 1877, the Irish National Foresters Association (previously part of the Ancient Order of Foresters) was founded as a friendly society for contributing members and their families in Ireland. Membership of the organisation increased significantly in the wake of the 1911 National Insurance Act. Branches were also founded in places where the Irish diaspora settled around the world.
Between 1904 and 1926 the Irish National Foresters Friendly Society built twenty halls throughout Ireland. In 1913 the organisation opened two more Wicklow halls — at Aughrim and Kilcoole — and two in Dublin, one at Balbriggan in the north of the county and one in the city centre at 41 Rutland (now Parnell) Square. At about this time, the Foresters became closely bound up with the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and their Rutland Square hall became a venue for drill practice by IRB members.
The “Bray architect” referred to in the newspaper report was Ted Archer, brother of the Chief Ranger. He had recently completed building Enniskerry Library. Today the Foresters’ Hall in Bray is home to another benefit society – the Educational Building Society.
Mel Cousins, “The Creation of Association: The National Insurance Act, 1911 and Approved Societies in Ireland” in Associational Culture In Ireland And Abroad, J. Kelly and R.V, Comerford, eds., (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2011). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1737846
David Fitzpatrick, Harry Boland’s Irish Revolution, (Cork: Cork University Press, 2003)
British Pathé newsreel of Irish National Foresters procession, O’Connell Street, Dublin, 1923
British Film Institute Derry Election Day February 1, 1913
The photo collage is composed of images from the following sources: Main Street, Bray, Co. Wicklow from the Valentine Photographic Collection, courtesy of the National Library of Ireland; the Foresters’ Hall, Bray image accompanied the newspaper report on February 5, 1913. Image of the EBS, 82 -83 Main Street, Bray from Google street view (2009).
Image of Irish National Foresters Friendly Society Membership Certificate (c.1910) courtesy of Whyte’s Auctioneers, Dublin
Extract from the Irish Independent newspaper report and accompanying image: Copyright 2010 by the Irish News Paper Archives; Information provided by participating INA publishers