Shake hands with the past

Alfie Byrne cut a dapper figure

Alfie Byrne cut a dapper figure


Ten times lord mayor of Dublin Alfie Byrne left behind a big archive that’s about to go on show in the Dublin’s Little Museum, writes ROISIN INGLE

It’s been gathering dust in his son’s garage for years, but now the Alfie Byrne Collection, an archive of more than 4,000 letters, photographs, correspondence and souvenirs documenting the life of a quintessential Dublin character, is to be given a home at a Dublin museum.

Known for his friendly demeanour as “the shaking hand of Dublin”, Byrne, an independent politician, cut a dapper figure around the city in the early 1900s, in his bowler hat, cutaway coat and waxed moustache.

He was one of the city’s most celebrated public representatives, elected as an MP and TD and holding the post of lord mayor of Dublin a record 10 times.

Byrne monopolised the lord mayorship in the 1930s, when he was elected to the post for nine consecutive years.

The 10th time he became mayor, in 1953, he opted not to live at the Mansion House, remaining with his wife and children at his home in Rathmines. He took the bus into work every day, and even as a septuagenarian his work ethic and compassion for his constituents never wavered. When he discovered that 20,000 houses in the Fairview and North Strand area of the city had been damaged by floods, it’s reported that he left his sick bed to organise a relief fund.

His final attempt at election came in 1955, but he was defeated by a Fianna Fáil-backed candidate. The next day he was awarded an honorary doctorate of law by Trinity College. In the citation he was described as a “champion of the poor and needy, friend of all men”.

Byrne died on March 13th, 1956, while still serving in the Dáil, and his funeral attracted thousands of Dubliners. After his death, three of his sons went on to become TDs.

The Alfie Byrne Collection will be launched at the Little Museum of Dublin on Tuesday, when the city manager John Tierney presides over the donation of artefacts by Byrne’s son, Paddy, who has been storing them for safekeeping in his garage for years. They include a letter from a Westmeath farmer asking Byrne for help finding a wife, and correspondence with Lady Gregory concerning the national gallery’s art collection.

There are several documents relating to the 1932 Eucharistic Congress when, as Dublin’s first lord mayor, Byrne presented the papal legate Cardinal Lauri with the freedom of the city.

“Fifty-seven years after his death, it is wonderful that so many people remember Alfie with affection,” says Paddy Byrne.


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