Exhibition a testimony to lasting popularity of Dublin mayor Alfie Byrne

Independent politician who was elected mayor nine years running in the 1930s, and once again in the 1950s, is honoured with a permanent display at the Little Museum of Dublin

Glory years: Alfie Byrne, nicknamed ‘the shaking hand of Dublin’ because of his relentless canvassing

Glory years: Alfie Byrne, nicknamed ‘the shaking hand of Dublin’ because of his relentless canvassing

 

and a senator. Such was his popularity that he once looked likely to become Ireland’s first president as well, before Douglas Hyde pipped him to the honour.

Now, having carved a unique place in history, Alfie Byrne has his own room in a museum to go with it. It’s a modest room, in the modestly named Little Museum of Dublin. But the permanent exhibition now opened there is yet another testimony to the enduring affection for a man who died almost 60 years ago and who is largely ignored by the history books.

Born in 1882, the son of a docker, Byrne left school at 13 when his father died, and thereafter worked hard enough in a succession of jobs to buy a pub in his 20s. He became an MP at 33, just in time to see his Irish Parliamentary Party obliterated by the events of 1916.

Pro-Treaty

Senate

His success was in part due to relentless canvassing – his nickname was “the shaking hand of Dublin” – but also to assiduous constituency work. As mayor, he could be met every morning at the Mansion House by up to 50 people seeking help. They never needed appointments.

Former taoiseach Liam Cosgrave, who knew Byrne well, was among those who came to pay tribute at the exhibition’s opening.

So was Byrne’s son, Paddy, now aged 92, and two further generations, including a 12-year-old great-grandson who has the famous name but is better known as “Fred”.

Paddy, who succeeded his father as TD, admitted never having seen much of his father, who was also a prolific attender of social functions.

But he drew laughter from the crowd by recalling Byrne snr’s “arrogant” decision to sell the family home in 1931.

“We had no home for seven years – that’s why he held on to the Mansion House.”

Mr Cosgrave remembered Byrne as a genius “for raising things on the order of Business that had nothing to do with the order of Business”.

He also recalled working as director of elections for Paddy Byrne in the 1956 byelection caused by his father’s death.

Between them, they kept the seat in the Byrne family, in the process defeating a little-known Fianna Fáil candidate by the name of Charlie Haughey.