Vincent Wynter – An Appreciation

Pioneering union organiser and long-serving public representative

Vincent Wynter: quick wit and easy charm won him friends across the political divide.

Vincent Wynter: quick wit and easy charm won him friends across the political divide.

 

Vincent Wynter, who was born on July 20th, 1926, was a prominent figure of the Labour movement in the Midlands for over five decades. He died at his home, aged 91, on January 2nd, surrounded by his family, who remained the centre of his long and eventful life.

A veteran of Jim Larkin’s Workers Union of Ireland, a pioneering union organiser and a long-serving public representative, Vincent was a proud Corkman in permanent exile among the plains of Offaly.

His home, “Carrighdoun”, on the Clonminch Road, represented a little bit of Cork in the heart of his adopted county. The well-known ballad – and the place – occupied a special place in Vincent’s heart, since his father sung it to him the night before he died.

A devout Catholic, Wynter had a strong sense of social justice and saw socialism and Christian values as twin elements of his faith.

On leaving the Presentation Brothers in Cork, he had trained as a horticulturalist at Pallaskenry Agricultural College, Co Limerick. His introduction to trade union activism was organising his fellow workers at the Botanic Gardens, Dublin.

Anger at working conditions in Glasnevin led him to join the radical Number 2 branch of the Workers Union of Ireland (WUI) and he quickly came to the attention of the general secretary, Young Jim Larkin.

He served as branch chair from 1959 to 1962 and commenced his full-time trade union career in Offaly in 1962. He quickly immersed himself in the local Labour party and in community life.

As central area secretary and chairman of the Bord na Móna Group of Unions, he played a pivotal role in defending workers in the semi-State sector. He had a stellar career as a union official at the WUI and later at the Federated Workers Union of Ireland (FWUI). In time we would go on to join the board of Bord na Móna. He was a founder of the Tullamore and District Council of Trade Unions and represented workers in the major industrial and manufacturing sectors in the region with characteristic determination.

He was a tough, fair negotiator who struck a hard bargain but won the respect of management for his strong principles and work ethic.

It was no small achievement for an “outsider” to secure a Labour seat on Tullamore Urban District Council and Offaly County Council. He faced stiff internal competition from the likes of Pat English, Lar Byrne and Ernie Maguire, not to mention formidable opposition from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, but Vincent enjoyed a long if precarious political career even when the tide was against the party in Laois/Offaly.

He could be tough and uncompromising in political debate but knew also the value of building cross-party alliances. His quick wit and easy charm won him friends across the political divide.

As a member of Offaly VEC he made a significant contribution to the development of vocational education; his studies at the Catholic Workers’ College and the People’s College stood him in good stead and he was a strong advocate of adult education. In retirement, Vincent devoted time to gardening, to reading and to writing verse, founding the Tullamore Poetry Group and was later was a supporter of the Tullamore Rhymers.

The death of his son Francis was a major blow to Vincent, who is survived by Bernie, daughters Mary and Deirdre and son Vincent.