Paradise in East Wall

 Paradise Alley and the “ugly things” of 1913

 

Tuesday, June 26th sees the launch of a reprint of John D Sheridan’s classic account of working class life in Dublin’s docklands during the Lockout. “Paradise Alley” was first published in 1945 by Talbot Press and has been largely unavailable for half a century. This new edition, from Seven Towers, a not for profit publishing house, features an introduction by Sarah Lundberg and Joe Mooney of the East Wall History Group. It will be launched by Caitriona Crowe of the National Archives at St Joseph’s Co-Ed National School, East Wall Road, at 7.30pm on Tuesday.

                                                                                    

    Copies can be ordered direct from Seven Towers at:

http://www.seventowers.ie/cms/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=445&Itemid=1

Click on ‘More’ tag to read Sarah Lundberg and Joe Mooney’s critique of the book, its long forgotten author and the community that inspired it

                                           

“Paradise Alley” is a significant book for the Dublin Docklands – the author had been a teacher in East Wall, and while clearly a work of fiction the novel is strongly based on his knowledge of the area and its residents. The novel tells the story of Anthony Domican  a teacher (and later principal) in St. Johns National School in “Paradise Alley”, a barely disguised Wharf National School in East Wall. While acknowledging the work as fiction the details of the school, its staff and pupils, the locality and many of the events are firmly based in the areas history. This is highlighted in the new introduction, which includes information from the real school records, photos and floor plans and some recollections from former pupils.

There is much in the novel that touches on issues of historical and social interest, as wide ranging as emigration, poverty, Dublin commerce and two world wars, but the historic event that is most present is the 1913 Lockout. This is no surprise, as this time period was of crucial importance in the history of Dublin City – and East Wall along with other dockland communities were at the centre of the events .Dublin Port was a key battle ground, with many local firms and employers becoming involved, locking out their workers who refused to sign a pledge denouncing the ITGWU. Men at many shipping companies refused to handle ‘tainted’ goods from locked out companies, and these in turn were sacked and locked out. This included the Merchants warehousing Company, T and C Martins, Brooks Thomas; Heitons coal merchants, the Port and Docks Board, the London and North Western Railway Company (LNWR) and the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company

East Wall and Dockland workers were amongst the 20,000 involved in the Lockout. The men and their families now faced even more extreme poverty, and there were other tensions and threats to concern them.  Timber merchants T and C Martins were the first employer in Dublin City to bring in strike breakers from overseas (politely referred to as “free labourers”) and other local firms followed their lead. The so called “free labourers” were often allowed to carry fire arms, and both police and military escorts were common along the Quays.  Eviction was an ever present threat for many, particularly those in company owned dwellings. In a single day shortly before Christmas sixty two East Wall families were evicted.

In chapter seven Anthony Domican engages in a conversation regarding wages and living conditions in the city. His sympathetic attitude leads to him being accused of speaking “Rank socialism – Beresford place stuff”. Through this conversation between four characters, Sheridan very much sums up many of the opposing attitudes that were prevalent at the time, and illustrates the values and prejudices of a particular class. Many observers at the time could sense that events were building towards a climax, and there was a sense of a powder keg ready to explode.  Domican makes a grim pronouncement: “I know Paradise Alley and places like it and I can tell you that ugly things are brewing.”

As Domican tries to remain focussed on his teaching, the “ugly things” start to intrude, and he cannot avoid getting caught up in the events.

From chapter nine:

Strikes were the order of the day. Dray-horses champed in their stables, the trams stopped running, plate-glass windows shivered into starry fragments. In the side-streets platoons of policemen waited.

From chapter ten:

The strikes dragged on. The strikers pawned their blue serge suits, their brown boots, their china mantel-dogs, their bedclothes.   They fought hunger by going hungry.

And one character says in despair:

“Think of the terrible times we’re living in—strikes and baton charges and hearts full of hate. The poor people! It’s the women and the children who suffer most in violent times like these. God alone knows what will be the end of it.”

 

In chapter nine Anthony Domican finds himself caught up in a Police baton charge that had begun at Beresford Place and spreads onto Abbey Street . The description of this fictional incident could be taken straight from the eye witness accounts in the Dublin Disturbances Committee Report.

In Paradise Alley we read:

Anthony was caught one night in a baton charge that began outside Liberty Hall. He was one of a crowd that stretched round into Abbey Street, and he was jammed like a match in a full box. When the charge began he was carried off in the rush, but when the crowd thinned a little he was able to stand his ground with difficulty and he saw the police running and heard the thud of the batons. It was a sickening sound, and a terrifying one. One man went down near him, an old fellow with a wheezy, asthmatic way of breathing. His hat rolled from his bald head and a trickle of blood followed it.

While in the Dublin Disturbances Committee Report, one eye witness states:

I was surrounded by a forest of batons… I put my hands up. I was anything but militant. A constable made a dive for me… and I said – ‘Oh! For Christ’s sake have you no mercy?’ …He made a dive, I swerved, and I partly got into the arms of another policeman. The next thing happened was – I got a bash on the head… I was partly thrown on the ground and I got a strike on the back, and went down a second time.”  The same witness earlier described being “Driven by a stampede” of panicking citizens, and used the description “We were like herrings in a box.”

And the description from the Commission’s report of the death of James Nolan from North Strand is also echoed:

One of the constabulary walked from the centre of the road onto the sidewalk and without the slightest provocation felled the man with a blow from his staff. The horrible crunching sound of the blow was clearly audible fifty yards away. The drunken scoundrel was ably seconded by two of the metropolitan police who, as the man attempted to rise, beat him about the head until his skull was smashed in several places.

 

This was not to be the only real-life incident Domican finds himself caught up in- In chapter ten he is on the quay at North Wall and listens to the interaction between the Canon and a “little man” over children of strikers being transported to England.

“Why can’t you let the chislers go where they’ll get enough to eat?” shouted a voice.

“Because I don’t know where they’re going,” said the Canon. “The best and safest place for any child is his father’s house.”

“Listen to him,” shouted the man with the voice like a gale of wind. “What kind of houses have the fathers and mothers of Dublin? Rooms without a stick of furniture in them—grate without fires—beds without bedclothes— and larders without a bite in them. Is this kind of a home the best place for a growing child? Judge for yourselves, mothers of Dublin?”

This was of course one of the events that occurred during the controversy over the “Dublin Kiddies Scheme”, when the well-meaning Dora Montefiore plans were met with a furious response from Archbishop Walsh and the clergy.    As with the Canon’s work in Paradise Alley, the work of the Church in Dublin was successful in preventing the majority of the children being shipped to England, and the kiddie scheme was quickly abandoned.

In all the chapters on the strike, lockout and the kiddie scheme, Sheridan makes sure to give different sides of the story.  In chapter nine he says “The police were not the enemies of the people. They were of the people”.  In chapter ten, he gives a businessman’s side of the strike.  “The strike was costing Mandy money. The salerooms of Liverpool were stacked with stuff that he was itching to sell…. His supplies were not cut off completely, but the little he could handle under police protection wouldn’t fill his ledgers.”

We should leave the last word on all this to Domican, who sums up his own attitude to the events:  “There is tyranny on both sides, but the tyranny of the workers is the tyranny of desperate men”.

 

“Paradise Alley” is a great Dublin novel, sadly and inexplicably neglected for far too long. As far as we are aware, it is the first novel to incorporate the events of 1913 into their narrative. Following John D Sheridan’s death in 1980 The Irish Times stated:  Like that other great Scottish-born Irishman, James Connolly, he had a deep sympathy with Dublin’s working people. But his task was not to politicise them, nor to caricature them with bold pigments, but rather to cherish their warm particularities, and portray their idiosyncrasies. This, too, was to conserve and advance their humanity. How much, indeed, do the people of “Strumpet City” owe to the denizens of “Paradise Alley”?

 

 

“Paradise Alley”

is being launched by

 Catriona Crowe (Head of Special Projects at the National Archives of Ireland)

Tuesday 26th June at 7.30pm

St. Josephs Co-ed School, East Wall Road, East Wall.

 

 

And available for purchase from

http://www.seventowers.ie/cms/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=445&Itemid=1

2 Comments

Paradise in East Wall (Book Launch – June 26) « Come here to me!  on June 25th, 2012

[…] info can be found here. Share this:EmailPrintDiggShare on Tumblr Pin ItLike this:LikeBe the first to like […]

Gig :: Jinx Lennon / Captain Moonlight / Andy Irvine / Ian Prowse / The Annulments « Harmless Noise  on August 29th, 2013

[…] way heard tell of the witness accounts of the Lock-Out by remaining families in the Docklands area. One novel based around a schoolteacher, Paradise Alley, captured events very well while Lockout: Dublin 1913 […]

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