Alfie Byrne Lord Mayor of Dublin

Alfie Byrne lived in Seville Place and was the Lord Mayor of Dublin for ten years. He was known as the Shaking Hand of Dublin and was totally committed to the welfare of his constitutants who lived all around him. Cardinal Edward Byrne Archbishop of Dublin & Dublin's Lord Mayor Alfie Byrne at the opening of the reconstructed Butt Bridge 1932 Cardinal Edward Byrne Archbishop of Dublin & Dublin's Lord Mayor Alfie Byrne at the opening of the reconstructed Butt Bridge 1932
Courtesy of the Dublin Port Company
Trevor White Director of The Little Museum of Dublin. Trevor has kindly allowed us to display some photos and an excerpt of his wonderful biography of ""Alfie The Life and Times of Alfie Byrne. Every lover of the rich history of Dublin will love this book
Maria McGrane
Maria McGrane Courtesy of Trevor White
Cover from Dublin Opinion, July 1939
Byrne on his bicycle - a familiar sight for generations of Dubliners
Maria McGrane Courtesy of The Independant Collection at the NPA
Maria McGrane courtesy of The Independent Collection at the NPA

The following is an excerpt from Trevor White’s Biography of:

“Alfie The Life and Times of Alfie Byrne”  

Trevor White is the Director of The Little Museum of Dublin

“Alfred Byrne’s childhood home was a terraced house with five rooms off the North Strand. Byrne dropped out of school at the age of 13, juggled jobs and used his savings to buy a pub on Talbot Street. He was elected as a Member of Parliament at Westminster at the age of 33, and later to the Dáil as an independent TD in favour of the Anglo-Irish treaty. Without the benefit of a party machine, Byrne became acutely conscious of attending to the needs of his constituents, and was perhaps the epitome of the parish pump politician. In his personal archive there are several letters from men who thought he could find them a wife.

Elected as Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1930, Byrne served in the post for nine consecutive terms. When cycling or walking around the city, his eternal canvassing earned him the first of those nicknames, courtesy of comedian Jimmy O’Dea: the Shaking Hand of Dublin. 

Like many Catholics, Byrne was staunchly anti-communist, though he represented the poor with particular relish, highlighting problems in housing, jobs and the treatment of young offenders at a time when Official Ireland seemed indifferent or even hostile to such concerns. In 1937, children between the ages of eight and eleven years old were being sentenced to spend up to five years in Industrial Schools. Their crime was stealing a few apples from an orchard. When Byrne called such sentences “savage,” a judge responded with a bullish defence of the Industrial School system, urging an end to “ridiculous Mansion House mummery.” But Byrne stood firm. “For the punishment of trifling offences,” he said, “the home of the children is better than any institution.”  

When Byrne died, just over 50 years ago, Dublin came to a standstill. Lord Mayor a record ten times (his final term was in 1954-55), he clearly had a special place in the hearts of Dubliners, as his funeral was the largest seen in the city for many years. Traffic in O’Connell Street was held up for 20 minutes to allow the cortege of over 150 cars to pass, and at junctions along the route to Glasnevin cemetery women knelt in circles, saying the Rosary. 

The Taoiseach, John A Costello, led the tributes to a local hero: “We mourn in the passing of Alfie Byrne the loss of an honoured and distinguished Irishman whose place in the hearts of his fellow countrymen was unique and who gave a lifetime of unselfish devotion to their service.” That service included many offices – Byrne was the only man in history to serve as an MP, TD, Senator and Lord Mayor of Dublin.”

Alfie Byrne was born in No 36, Seville Place, and later moved to  28, Lower Oriel St, Dublin 1. He was the second of eight children born to Frances and Tom Byrne on the 14th March 1882. He had one sister and six brothers. He attended school at the Christian Brothers O’Connell School on North Richmond St.

He served Dublin City as Lord Mayor for ten years ending in 1955. He was the most popular Lord Mayor in decades. He was very concerned with the plight of the poor and he openly condemned the harsh treatment delivered to the children in Industrial schools and spoke openly about the injustice of the harsh sentences they received, despite his knowledge that to do so was a generally unpopular stance. He was a champion of the poor, particularly his community in the North Inner City Docklands.

The crowds lining  the streets are a testament to the love and high regard that he was held in by so many far and wide.

“Byrne in 1955, during his tenth and final term as Lord Mayor. He made Dublin a source of pride all over the country. In the press, he was known as the Lord Mayor of Ireland

additional quote taken from the book “Alfie The Life and Times of Alfie Byrne”

Reproduced with the kind permission of Mr Trevor White.


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