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Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

Carlow Workingman's Club


Research: William Ellis

Source: CARLOVIANA 'Millennium Edition' & Friends and Neighbours 1986.

Extracts from the files of ‘The Nationalist and Leinster Times and the “Carlow Sentinel” give the background to the formation of Carlow Workman’s Club
Mr Thomas Little - First President of Carlow Workingman's Club
Brown Street c1968 showing Workman's Club as a three storied building.
Easter March 1966
Brown Street front of the Workman's Club reduced to two stories.
Workmans Club 1956
 Back Row, L. to R.: Liam Quigley, Mickey Byrne, Johnny Monks, Joe Hayden, Pirn Quinlan, Bunty Lacey. Middle L. to R.: Terry Ryan, Ted Byrne, Dick Begley, Bill Hanlon, Frank Becker, Ml. Bergin. Front L. to R.: Johnny Walker, Ned Farrell, Billy Connolly, Bono Geoghegan, Jim Butler.

It appears that the poor showing of candidates representing tradesmen and workers in the first election for Urban Councillors held in January 1899 motivated the printers of Carlow at their annual meeting to initiate moves to form a Workman’s Club.

The following is the wording of the motion passed at the annual general meeting of the Carlow branch of the Typographical Association, held on 6th.February 1899.

"That we, the members of the Carlow Branch of the Typographical Association, consider that the time has arrived when there should be established in this town a Trade’s Council and Workman s Club, as we believe it would be for the protection of trade and labour, and safeguard the interests of all fair employers".

After a short discussion it was decided to make application to the Urban District Councillors for the use of the Board Room of the Town Hall for the purpose of holding a meeting on Saturday. 11th February, at six o’clock p.m.

Mr. R. Clifford was appointed Hon. Secretary pro tem and directed to serve notice on five members of each trade and five labourers to attend the meeting with a view to establishing the above organisation.

At their preliminary meeting it was proposed that Mr. John Murphy (Secretary Bakers Society) act as chairman. but he declined, it was then proposed that Mr. T. Little. (President of the Typographical Association) preside. Mr. Clifford was appointed Secretary to the meeting. Mr. Little explained the object for which the meeting had been convened, and dwelt on the many advantages, which an organisation such as it was proposed to establish would confer on the workers of Carlow. He appealed very forcibly to those present, not alone to become members themselves, but to use their influence with the workingmen of the town. A Workingman’s Club and Trades Council could not but be of great benefit to the workers. It was decided that a further meeting be held on a Sunday to give more workers an opportunity to attend, Saturday did not suit everybody.

A more representative gathering of workers attended the meeting held on Sunday. February 26th. 1899, at which Mr. Little again presided. Mr. R. J. Clifford Provisional secretary read some correspondence he had received encouraging the object of the meeting, including letters from Bishop Foley and Mr. John Hammond MP.

As he had done at the previous meeting Mr. Little outlined the reasons for calling the meeting to discuss the formation of a Workman’s Club.

There would be one shilling entrance fee and two-pence a week afterwards. That was a sum which would not be much of a strain on the workingmen, and he was certain that they could easily afford it. They had placed the subscription at that low’ figure because they did not want to shut out any workingman.

By establishing the proposed organisation they would be able to afford recreation for the workingmen of the town. They proposed having a billiard table, a first class reading room, and different kinds of games. and thereby supply a source of amusement, instruction, and interest. A rumour had gone afloat - he could not say where it came from - that it was proposed to establish the club on a political basis. Now they had not the remotest intention of doing any such thing, neither would they attempt to exclude any man on account of his political convictions.

The club would be non-sectarian and non-political. It would be open to every man - whether he was a Catholic or a Protestant- and the only test of membership that they would insist on was that he should be a workingman.

Another report had also gone forth to the effect that they intended making a liquor bar a feature of the new club, lie repelled that report as utterly false and as being without a shadow of foundation.

Mr. Little then gave an explanation of the principles on which the proposed Trades Council would be worked. He need not tell the meeting, he said, that to establish a Trades Council in Carlow would be a very difficult task. Some people had a very vague idea of what was meant by Trades Council. He had heard one man say that the object of the proposed council was to establish an eight-hour day and payment at the rate of ten pence per hour. Now they did not propose to move in that direction at all, nor did they propose to make it a lever for raising up the workingman against his employer. These were very far from being the real objects of the council.

The Trades Council would be composed of representatives from each trade and labour, and it would direct it’s operations to watching the interests of the trade and labour in Carlow. It would endeavour to keep work in the town, which was now done outside it, and by bringing pressure upon public men it would endeavour to have contracts for public institutions and such other matters carried out in Carlow. Sometimes they saw public contracts given away to strangers from other parts of Ireland who imported workmen, skilled and unskilled, from other places while the workmen of Carlow were left idle. The speaker explained the difference between Trades Council and a Trade and Labour Union. The principal point of difference which he dealt with was that the Trade and Labour Union devoted itself solely to the interests of the workers, while the Trades Council looked to the interests both of the employers and the employed in relation to competition from outside. In conclusion he appealed to the workingmen of Carlow to support to the utmost of their power the project whose details he had endeavoured to put before them.

After some discussion, Mr. W. Ellis. (Secretary Typographical Association) proposed, “that in the opinion of this meeting the proposal to establish a Workman’s Club in Carlow deserves the hearty support of the town and neighbourhood; and the persons present pledge themselves to use their best exertions to make the undertaking successful”.

Mr. Ellis said it needed no words of his to commend the resolution, which he had just proposed to the meeting, after the exhaustive statement made by the Chairman. He hoped that the workingmen would put their shoulders to the wheel and leave no effort untried to make the proposed club a success.

Mr. Michael Mulhall said he had great pleasure in seconding the motion. It was not necessary to detain the meeting with any lengthened remarks after the statement of their Chairman. The project should have been taken up many years ago, but now that they had set their hands to the plough they should not look back until they had placed the club on an assured foundation.

Mr. P. Dooley proposed - “that a provisional committee be now appointed to consider the question of providing funds to take, fit up, and furnish suitable premises, and to prepare draft rules for adoption by the members; and that the provisional committee consist of the following persons, with power to add to their number Messrs. E. Dwyer. W. Ellis, M. Wetherall, L. Cullen, M. Mulhall, J. Walsh, R. Clifford, T. Little.”

Mr. M. Wetherall seconded the resolution.

The Chairman put the resolutions to the meeting and declared them carried with acclamation. A large number of members were then enrolled.

Subsequently the following names were added to the provisional committee -Messrs. M. Kavanagh, James Quinlan, P Fenlon, P. Comerford, (Secretary Carpenter’s Society); J. McAssey, J. Dooley, C. Kellett.


A letter received by Mr Henry Hanrahan, Hon Sec. of the club and published on the 8th. July 1899 in reply to one sent to Mr. Michael Governey thanking him for a set of billiard table light shades he had presented.

Dear Sir,

I beg to acknowledge receipt of your letter conveying vote of thanks from the committee of your club.

Kindly say to them that I am extremely grateful, and that it has been to me a great pleasure to present the billiard light shades, as the advertisements on them will help to remind the members of the high-class and sparkling waters manufactured by Corcoran and Company Carlow.

Yours faithfully,

Michael Governey

A kind gesture

A resolution passed at a committee meeting held on the 12th of April 1899 read as follows: “That we, the Committee of the Carlow Workman’s Club, desire to place on record our high appreciation of the services rendered to our club by Mr. B. Coleman, U.D.C., Painter and Decorator, Dublin Street, Carlow, he having gratuitously painted and papered the club premises throughout in a manner highly creditable to himself and his workmen.

In passing this resolution we are voicing the wishes of the general body of the members. That a copy of this resolution be sent to Mr. Coleman and that it also be published in the local paper as a small recognition of his services.

The resolution, proposed by Mr. W. Ellis, C.C. and seconded by Mr, Mr. S. Sparks was passed unanimously.

Artisan’s Dwellings

The committee and members of the Workmans’ Club lost no time in making their presence felt in Carlow as the following reports testify.

At a special meeting held on Sunday, 4th June 1899 the members considered the question of erecting artisans’ dwellings, in Carlow, a topic of discussion at recent U.C.D. meetings.

The president. Mr. T. Little addressed the meeting, he said:  the members present were aware that some few weeks ago Mr William M. Byrne had given notice of motion at the Urban District Council for the’ erection of 25 artisan’s dwellings.

The promoters and founders of the Workman’s Club had a two-fold object in view when establishing this club, viz., the amusement and recreation of its members, and looking to the interests of working classes.

At the same time they should be very careful not to get mixed up in matters which did not directly concern them, as this could have a most disastrous effect on the organisation.

Was the building of those houses for the labourers and artisans a movement, which they should support? Undoubtedly it was. It was not because Mr Byrne had moved in this matter that they were assembled to support him, for they are prepared to support any gentleman who will take up the cause of the workers, no matter what his opinions may be otherwise. He hoped that the members of the Urban District Council would give this burning question their undivided support, and lose no time in forwarding the scheme.

Mr James Mulhall proposed the following resolution-

“That we, the members of the Carlow Workmans Club, in meeting assembled, call on the Urban District Councillors of Carlow to support Mr William M. Byrne’s notice or motion for the erection of artisans’ dwellings, as we consider it a move in the right direction for the better housing of the working classes.

“That a copy of this resolution be sent to the Urban Council of Carlow.” He said that he was sure there was no one present who did not wish the working-men better housed, neither did he think that the movement would meet with any serious opposition. It was the duty of every member of this club to do what he could to advance the interests of his fellow-workers.

Mr James Walsh said be had great pleasure in seconding the resolution.

Mr P Comerford said: - Mr Chairman and gentlemen, not alone that I am wishful to support this resolution, but I am wishful to make a few remarks and say that it is most necessary that the proper housing of the artisans a labourers in general throughout the town of Carlow, calls for immediate attention. I say that their housing in general is most discreditable and a shame to civilisation, and in making his statement I challenge contradiction and consider that it is more than time that their proper housing should be looked after. We claimed direct, representation on local bodies at recent elections, and although, we were then told, in the course of remarks by an old Commissioner, that owing to their being involved financially they would be for a very considerable time to come prevented from doing anything in the way of proper housing such as required, but I will ask you is that fair to us, admitting such to be the state of affairs.

Mr. Richard Clifford said it gave him great pleasure to speak in support of the resolution proposed by Mr James Mulhall, but after the remarks made by his fellow-workmen he had been left very little to say. He hoped Mr William Byrne’s proposition would receive the support of the Urban Councillors, as the artisans’ dwellings could be of great benefit.

Mr William Ellis. County Councillor, also rose in support of the resolution. He said that the building of artizan.s’ and labourers’ dwellings in Carlow, with proper sanitary accommodation, they would be making a move in the right direction. He also, said that if a suitable number were built in the town there could be competition against the present owners of houses, who - although some of the houses were both unsanitary and overcrowded - are charging most exorbitant rents, and at the present time there is no redress.

Mr. William Warren said he did not oppose the building of artisans’ dwellings, but in his opinion the present unsanitary state of the workingmen’s houses was of much more importance. The Urban District Council should compel the landlords to put those houses in sanitary repair, as some of them were in a very dilapidated condition, and the stench that existed in them was terrible.

Mr Edward Warren proposed the following resolution:- That we call upon the Urban District Council, as the sanitary authority for Carlow, to take the necessary steps to compel the local landlords to put their house property in sanitary repair, and make them fit for human habitation. That a copy of this resolution be sent to the Urban District Council of Carlow.

Mr. J. O’Neill seconded the resolution.


The formation of a Brass Band was an early achievement of the club, it lasted until 1916. It gave regular outdoor concerts in the town and played at gatherings throughout the county. An early engagement outside the county was attending the laying of the foundation stone of the Vineger Hill memorial at Enniscorthy on Sunday. 28th May 1905.

Members of the band who attended on that occasion were: P. Byrne, T. Donnelly. T. Burke, P. King. R. J. Clifford. J. O’Neill. J. Clifford. W. Ellis, J. Sullivan. James King. I. Little, Jas. Doyle, C. Panberrv. P. Little, J. Mullins. T. Hughes. P. Kelly and G. Murphy.

For a long number of years the Carlow Pipers’ Band also had their band room in the club.

Another feature of the early club was the staging of plays. A lengthy review appears in “The Nationalist & Leinster Times of the 12th April, 1902 about a play, “Ireland as it Was”, which had been produced by Carlow Workman’s Club Dramatic Amateurs in the Town Hall. The performance was followed by a seasonable farce. “April Fool”

To the Editor of the “Carlow Sentinel” Carlow, 23rd February. 1899

Dear Sir,

It has come under our notice that some person has circulated statements to the effect that it was the intention of the promoters of the proposed Workman’s Club to have it a political one, and also that we proposed to establish a bar for the sale of intoxicants.

We lake this, the earliest opportunity of repudiating such statements as being false and without a shadow of foundation, as it was never intended that it should be a political or drinking club, believing as we do that such an organisation would have a demoralising effect on its members and a large section of the community.

Signed on behalf of the organising committee.

T. Little, Chairman.

R. J. Clifford, Hon. Sec.

{ pro tem.

 (The above letter also appeared in The Nationalist and Leinster Times the same week, 25/2/1899


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