The Anti-Unionist Riot in Limerick (October 1912)

This post recounts the riot in Limerick on the night of 10th October 1912. It started in response to an Anti-Home Rule meeting being held in the Theatre Royal, on Henry Street, by the Unionists of North Munster. It also deals with the aftermath of the violence.

Advert for the Unionist Meeting, at the Theatre Royal, Limerick

An Anti-Home Rule Meeting, organised by the Unionists of North Munster was held in the Theatre Royal, Limerick at 4pm on October 10th 1912. This narrative is pieced together from reports published in the Limerick Chronicle (Unionist), and the Limerick Leader (Nationalist) newspapers.

The speeches were scheduled to start at 4pm but the theatre was filled well in advance, latecomers having to make do with standing at the back. A large crowd of protesters, mostly boys and girls at this point (their parents still at work) assembled outside.They sang Nationalist songs and jeered and booed the ticket-holders as they entered the Theatre. Notably this was done despite the fact that the Ancient Order of Hibernians disassociated itself from any protest at the meeting. They called for people not to protest “in word or action”. Citing the principles of free speech & toleration, they warned that any Hibernian “acting in antagonism” against the meeting would be a traitor, and that

[Aggressive actions against this meeting would] besmirch the proud name Limerick has won for itself.

These words had little effect. The A.O.H. and the Irish Parliamentary Party clearly had far less control of the nationalist narrative than they would have liked.

The Meeting
There were around 20-30 RIC constables outside the Theatre entrance, positioned at intervals. There was also a unit of mounted police nearby. with County Inspector Yates, and District Inspector Craig in command. Inside the Theatre, as the meeting got underway, Lord Massy and George Wyndham MP approached the podium to loud cheers. Some Nationalists were evidently present in the crowd as shouts of “Up Redmond” and “Up Devlin” came from the gallery  along with a rendition of “A Nation Once Again” After this boisterous prelude, the speeches began.

George Wyndham
George Wyndham

Lord Massy asked the crowd

“Who wants Home Rule? Apart from Redmond and his followers, I really know of no other class who are keen on Home Rule…why break up the Union, which would plunge the country into financial ruin & with the grave possibility of Civil War!”

Lord Massy finished his speech to applause and George Wyndham, the guest speaker, then began. He stated that if Home Rule is defeated that

the Irish will [then] make up their leeway in a manner that will astonish the economic world.

He argued that the fate of Ireland and England were “inextricably intertwined” and in a thinly veiled threat he warned that if Home Rule is enacted

Ireland will be regarded as a partner who has retired from the business.

The Two Limericks
The Limerick Chronicle reporter made note of Wyndham’s “masterly criticism of the financial question” whereas the Limerick Leader saw

Oratory of the type usually served at such gatherings, argument being of course conspicuous by it’s entire absence.

The Leader also acerbically remarked that Wyndham “delivered a long string of nicely polished platitudes.” According to both journalists, the cheers of the crowd outside was heard within the theatre as Wyndham concluded his polemic.

Next up on the podium was Sir Charles Barrington of Limerick who proposed a resolution.

That we, the Unionists of Limerick, representing all classes and creeds, hereby declare unswerving loyalty to the throne.

The Resolution claimed that Home Rule would “Lead to bankruptcy…deprive us of our birthrights as British citizens…” These economic arguments against Home Rule were identical to those made by Lord Dunraven in 1893. The Limerick Leader witheringly described Barrington’s performance; ”he said nothing, and said it in a great many words.” The resolution was passed with acclamation. The meeting closed with the singing of the National Anthem (God Save the King).

The Riot Begins
Apart from a few Nationalists who were ejected from the Theatre for heckling,the situation was relatively peaceful until the Unionists began to leave. The crowd were jeering and singing; but tensions were seriously inflamed when the mounted police, on orders, began to canter aggressively between the two parties. This action, sparked off a riot in the City of Limerick that continued until Sunday the 13th of October.

I’ve created an interactive map of the riot

What was the Significance of the Riot in Limerick?
There was an obvious split between the Ancient Order of Hibernians and Na Fianna/Irish Republican Brotherhood. The A.O.H. had issued a decree that no one was to protest at this meeting. This was ignored. Limerick’s Na Fianna had the strongest Sluagh in Ireland at this time (250 members) and all the damage done during the riot was attributed to boys. Is this a coincidence? Furthermore the A.O.H. banned Na Fianna from attending the upcoming commemoration to the Manchester Martyrs in November 1912. Was this a form of punishment for “imperilling” Home Rule?

Secondly, peace did not return to the streets until the RIC confined themselves to themselves to their Barracks. This move was made after the Catholic Clergy guaranteed that they would calm things down. This shows the immense power the Church held in the city at this time. Thirdly, some Nationalists (inc. Cllr Dalton) called for a general boycott of the RIC and “anyone seen speaking to the RIC.” This appears to show levels of distrust growing between the RIC and an angered section of the population, who see them increasingly as their enemies.

In the days following the riot the Limerick Leader ran with the headline “Police Cause Disorder” In response, the RIC refused to cooperate with reporters from the Limerick Leader for the next month. We’re not aware of any photos of these riots, if anyone knows of any please let us know. We must content ourselves with the Limerick Chronicle‘s description

..a visitor without knowledge of the circumstances would leave with impression that Limerick was the scene of a heavy bombardment.

Martial Law-style adverts appear
During the week of the riots, this advert for Kearney’s shop appeared in the local press, appearing to capitalise on the martial nature of the city.


Boycott of the Theatre Royal
The Theatre Royal was damaged during the Riot and was not due to reopen until the night of the 21st of October, where there would be a cinematograph exhibition. But the proprietor of the Theatre, Mr. George Fogarty, did not expect it to go smoothly. Rumours abounded that there was serious resentment among some local nationalists against the owners of the Theatre Royal for allowing the Irish Unionist Alliance to use their premises.

On cue, a large protest took place at the theatre on the night that it re-opened. The aim of this protest was to prevent or harass anyone who attempted to enter. During the protest Rev. J. O’Connor, the administrator of St. Michael’s Parish, arrived and advised the crowd to disperse. Most took his advice. The protest took a serious turn as the night dragged on. A number of persons waited outside for those inside the theatre to depart; two of them were assaulted on the street. Later on there was more trouble on Thomas St. as a crowd gathered and the police attempted to disperse them. Three soldiers who were passing by offered to help  but were turned on by the hostile crowd and had to flee, seeking refuge in a nearby pub.

The owner of the theatre later wrote to the local press, and stressed that he did not agree with the Unionists on Home Rule and that it was solely a business arrangement.


Post-Riot Unionist Propaganda in Limerick
After the meeting (and the riot)  there was a concerted information and disinformation campaign by the Unionists in Limerick. There were reports of Anti-Home Rule leaflets being delivered all over the county. The leaflet claimed that “it is almost certain the Irish Parliament will cut down future pensions” and that under Home Rule, Ireland will have to pay taxes to the British Parliament as well as it’s own. Another spurious leaflet distributed in Limerick purported to be an oath taken by members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. This blatant forgery included such lines as “wade knee-deep in Orangeman’s blood” and “massacre Protestants and cut away heretics” and finally that “I will think it no sin to kill a Protestant whenever the opportunity serves”.

Such propaganda was used to keep the Home Rule movement on the defensive; Joseph Devlin MP was even forced to deny the oath in parliament. A rehash of this oath was also passed off as “The Sinn Fein Oath” in 1920. For further reading there is an article by Michael Foy in History Ireland, Vol. 4 No.1, (1996) which I would recommend.

Limerick Hunt Meet Cancelled as Farmers Protest against Unionists
Some Farmers in the Drombanna area of Co. Limerick stopped the opening meet of the Hunt at The Four Elms. They objected to certain ‘obnoxious’ members of the Limerick Hunt who have made their political views public at the recent Unionist meeting. Some members of the Limerick Hunt were also classified as ‘obnoxious’ by the Land League in 1901, and they augured trouble if they appeared. In charge of this Hunt in 1912 was Mr. James O’Grady Delmege and he negotiated, to little avail, with the farmers to allow the meet to proceed.

Local History Note: James O’Grady Delmege (listed in Burke’s Peerage) was of Palatine heritage, and his great great grandfather fled France in October 1685 after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes by Louis XIV , which made Protestantism illegal in France. Adam John Dolmage, James’s great grandfather was a Captain in the Rathkeale militia unit known as the Loyal German Fusiliers (1778). His son and namesake was a Captain in the 4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards, amd he died on 27th May 1915 (age 24) after the 2nd Battle of Ypres.

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