While some parts of Ireland have contributed to the wealth of the nation by virtue of the rich land in their locality or the excellence of their ports etc. The area around Ballaghaderreen has not made its contribution based on the quality of its land or natural resources but of its people. At each stage in the struggle of our nation, the people from the Ballaghaderreen area have stepped forward at the crucial moment in time and like giant beacons in the dark guided our nation unerringly on its path. Fergal O’Gara saved for us the history of our race, Douglas Hyde saved our literature and folklore, Luke Duffy with many more, saved our spirit. Numbered with these giants of Irish history is William Partridge, whose remains rest in Kilcoman cemetery where Countess Markieviez fired a volley at his burial. We are indebted to Hugh Geraghty for all the research he has done on the life of William Partridge and for the following article.
“As THE chairman very properly remarked, when an employer engaged a man’s service the money he paid was only for them, and by no means to purchase the principles, the convictions or the opinions of his employees, and any attempt on the part of any employer to control the opinions of the men he employed was and had been described from the platform as an attempt to impose a condition of slavery…’’
These were the opening remarks of William P. Partridge to a public meeting at the United Irish Memorial in Denny Street, Tralee in October 1915. The demonstration had been called to protest at the dismissal of Michael J.O’Connor by a firm of solicitors for taking part in an anti-war demonstration. A week earlier James Connolly had visited Tralee to give support to a strike at the Munster Warehouse Company. At a public demonstration Connolly condemned the horrors of the war raging in Europe. The platform was shared by the leading members of the Tralee trades council, including M.J.O’Connor. As a result of O’Connor’s dismissal, Connolly sent Partridge to Tralee to give assistance in opposing the dismissal and with permission to offer O’Connor a job as organiser for the Irish Transport Workers Union.
Partridge went on. “…The British sovereign which in the market was worth 20/- (£1) some years ago was reduced because of the war – to 11/6 (57 1/2p) now. A man might bring home a pound now, but it was his poor unfortunate wife that would find the difference. At the present time, the only way they had to meet these huge increases was by combining amongst themselves. I am not out to argue the cause of any particular trade union; the men ought to consult themselves and form any union they like.
If they will not be united they will be crushed…If they would come and unite as we have done in Dublin for the one purpose and for one object – and that one purpose and object was our own protection and the defence of their own country: if they did that, if they stood shoulder to shoulder they would do much to prevent unnecessary and undue suffering…Ireland has contributed more than her share to the shambles of Europe. Some of our best went out and spilled their blood and wasted their lives. Thousands of them lay beneath the troubled waters of the Dardenelles…’’
Partridge remained in Kerry addressing further meetings and demonstrations. He formed a branch of the ITGWU in Tralee and placed M.J O’Connor as the first branch secretary. Along with O’Connor, he formed branches of the ITGWU at Listowel and Fenit Harbour. On Christmas Eve 1915 standing on a box outside the town hall in Kilarney, Partridge addressing a large crowd, called for the formation of a branch of the ITGWU and urged the local trade to establish a trades council. The ITGWU branch was formed on 25 January 1916 and the trades council on 8 February.
At Dingle Partridge addressed a public meeting, again calling for trade union organisation. He also met Tom O’Donnell M.P, owner of the Tralee Dingle Railway where the train drivers were on strike. The drivers were members of ASLEF and were seeking an increase in pay. Partridge secured the increase and settled the dispute to the satisfaction of the drivers and their union. He also secured an increase for the doctors at Fenit Harbour.
On Wednesday of holy week 1916, Partridge was again sent to Tralee by Connolly. On that occasion his objective was to use the Transport union members at Fenit Harbour to unload the arms ship Aud. The ship was due from Germany with arms and ammunition for distributing to Munster and Connaught to be used in the Easter Rising.
Partridge was the ideal man suited for the task for which he was selected. Closely associated with Connolly and trusted by the secret IRB, he had built up a relationship with the workers of Fenit and Tralee. With a lifelong association with the railway he knew the system, which was important as the plan included transporting the armaments for distribution by rail.
With the interception of the Aud by the British Navy and its sinking. Partridge returned to Dublin. He reported to Connolly at Liberty Hall on the Saturday of Easter weekend. On the night of Easter Sunday, as a member of the Irish Citizen Army, Partridge stood as officer of the guard at Liberty Hall as the proclamation of 1916 was being printed.
During the Easter Rising Partridge, who was seriously ill on Easter Monday morning reported for duty along with his close colleague Michael Mallin, at Stephen’s Green. Partridge and Mallin had in common that they were both among the very small number of craftsmen who were members of the Citizen Army. Those who served with Partridge at the Royal College of Surgeons were taken by his extraordinary courage and his depth of concern for his comrades. On the Wednesday he carried the wounded Margaret Skinnider on his back from Harcourt Street corner to the college while under constant fire.
After the surrender Partridge was courtmartialled along with other leading figures in the Rising. Extraordinary charges against Partridge was that he had made anti-war speeches in Kerry in 1915. He was not charged for his actions during Easter Week, but was found guilty as charged with what must have been the more serious crime of opposing the imperialist power during its war efforts. Suffering from Bright’s disease and unable for the rigours of prison life, Partridge was released from prison in April 1917, and died in July of that year.
William Partridge had been born in the town of Sligo in 1874 and was reared in the town of Ballaghaderreen. His father was an Englishman and a follower of the Church of England, while his mother was an Irish Catholic. His father had come from England as a train driver in the 1860’s.
As a boy William was affected by the religious difference in the family. At 16 years of age he went to serve his time as an apprentice fitter at the railway running shed in Sligo. Even at that stage in life Partridge displayed talent as a writer of short stories and poetry. Along with his brother Felix, who became a leading figure in Ballaghaderreen, William contributed stories and poems to a magazine called The Shamrock. The following poem appeared on 8 February 1896.
Farewell Ye Scenes
Farewell, ye scenes that I have learned to love,
Ye medows green, ye gentle sloping hills,
No more thy fragrant, dewy paths I’II rove,
Or watch the sunbeams dance upon thy hills,
No more for me the peasant joyous song
At eve shall float upon the silent air
As the gay singer plods his way along.
His heart unburdened by the weight of care.
Farewell ye ruins that rear thy dark gray walls,
So proudly from the sparkling wavewashed shore,
To see thee ever to my mind-recalls
Our days of freedom now, alas, no more.
Oft on thy tower I have stood to see
The summer’s sun sink down beneath the waves.
Its lingering rays were fondly cast on thee
The home of freemen in the land of slaves.
Ye gentle friends that made each scene more dear,
With tender words and timid glancing eyes.
Where modest looms the angels well might wear,
In their bright home, that other paradise,
When far away from Oranmore, and thee
On fancy’s pinions oft times I shall fly,
Back to those scenes that I so love to see,
When time and pleasure pass unherded by.
His poetry was filled with a mixture of romantic love, and a recognition of the beauty of nature. They also portray the early stages of political thought which was to develop in the following years. The tenderness of character reflected in the poems remained with him through his life and was displayed even in the worst of times. Countess Markiewicz referred to his caring nature while they were under fire in the College of Surgeons. The same message was given by others who served with him during that week.
Michael Mallin in his final letter to his wife, referred to the comfort Partridge gave him during their time in Richmond Barracks. At that time Partridge was a very sick man, yet he gave comfort to Mallin. Mallin, because of the conditions, was suffering from the effects of malaria, which he had caught in India, referred to Partridge as being more than a brother. Even Sean O’Casey referred to the humanity of Partridge.
At the age of 18 Partridge was transferred from Sligo to the railway workshops at Broadstone, Dublin. He stayed at Broadstone until May 1897. It was while at Broadstone that Partridge joined the Dublin No. 2 branch of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers (ASE). The following year we find Partridge acting as secretary of the Dublin support committee during the ASE strike in London to establish the Eight Hour Day. He was also by then a branch auditor and was soon a member of the Dublin union’s committee.
In 1897 the Dublin District Committee of the ASE served a claim on the employers for an increase in the basic rate of pay. The union’s members worked for the railway companies, for engineering contract shops and as maintenance workers in manufacturing companies. Negations took place with the employers and agreement was reached when the rate was increased by one shilling a week. The claim had been for two shillings to bring the engineers in line with other trades in the city.
Having failed to bring the rate into line, the ASE again made a wage claim on the Dublin employers in 19.1. The claim this time was for 3/- in the railway workshops and 2/- in other employments. The claim was based on the fact that higher rates applied to railway engineers in Belfast, Limerick, Cork and throughout Britain.
Agreement was reached with the contract shops and the manufacturing employers for 1/- to be paid. The railway companies resisted the claim and would not make an offer. Partridge felt that negotiations should continue, but ASE members voted for a strike. Though disagreeing with the decision, Partridge was the first charge hand to hang up his key when the notice ran out, and leave work.
The strike lasted from May to October of 1902. Although the strike was not successful and the men had to return to work without securing any increase, there were some positive sides to the disagreement. Partridge was called on to act as secretary of the strike committee. The three railway companies involved imported scab labour from Britain and succeeded in maintaining a service.
In spite of the strong position of the employers, the strike committee succeeded in maximising support for the strike. They held very successful public meetings which were addressed by the leading trade union people in the city, by the Lord Major Tim Harrington and by city councillors, aldermen and members of parliament.
Along with the ASE men the strike was joined by non- union men and the strike succeeded in raising sufficient money to maintain the non-union men at the same level as the benefit paid to ASE members.
A lot of the issues of the strike were raised in the courts, arising out of the many clashes between the scabs and the local people and the company’s attempts to evict strikers from company houses. With the guiding hand of Partridge the eviction issue was resisted until the company withdrew the action and the men were allowed to return to work, though in similar situations around that time, where strikes were lost on the railway, men were dismissed from their jobs.
Living in the Inchicore area Partridge had become involved in local activities. He was a founder member of the first Inchicore branch of the Gaelic League. The branch held its meetings and classes at the Workmen’s Club.
With the introduction of the 1898 local government act Labour Electoral Associations (LEA) were formed by the trades union in the various electoral wards. Inchicore was part of the New Kilmainham ward. The association was very successful in that ward, with Partridge acting as chairman and delegate to the central committee at the trades council, they succeeded in winning two of the three council seats. When William Reigh won the Aldermanship in 1904, Partridge successfully held Reigh’s seat as councillor.
With the assistance of both the Oblate fathers and the Rev. Nash from St. Jude’s church of Ireland, Partridge persuaded the railway company to allow him the time off work to attend at the city council. At the city council Partridge aligned himself with PT Daly and those who had become disenchanted with the activities of the L.E.A councillors. By the time Partridge took his seat on the city council, the L.E.A. had aligned themselves with the worst sections of the nationalist party.
Partridge and his colleagues played the role that the Labour Party should have been playing. They challenged the council for its failure to tackle the problem of bad housing, poor coverage of public health and the corruption of city hall. They also demanded the night sittings of council committees in order that working people might be able to participate and they fought for the direct employment of labour by the council. This policy resulted in the establishment of Stanley Street workshops.
After some time the railway company, who disapproved of the activities of Partridge made things awkward for him so he had to resign from the city council. The group of councillors with whom Partridge had worked were the forerunners of what eventually became Sinn Féin. They had aligned themselves to the National Council. Partridge resigned in 1906 having succeeded in getting the council to agree to build houses near the Oblate Church in Inchicore.
Outside of the city council Partridge attempted to establish an organisation for young boys in the Inchicore area. He was concerned by the fact that other boy’s brigades in the city were influenced too much by ex-British officers. His efforts were unsuccessful due to the fact that he could not get the use of a hall on a regular basis.
At Inchicore works Partridge succeeded in organising the different trades into a works council. This council was successful in frustrating the efforts of the company to reduce the earning power of the workers through the piecework scheme. The scheme was raised at meetings of the shareholders by people like Monsignor O’Halloran, who afterwards became Bishop of Limerick. Sir William Goulding, chairman of the board of directors issued an invitation to any of the workforce who felt that there was a grievance, they should put their complaints to the board.
As a result of a promotion during 1912, Partridge felt that he could not remain silent on the issue no longer. Partridge wrote to the board listing a number of promotions which had been make during the years that he had been at Inchicore. The reaction of the board was that he should be asked to withdraw the letter or be dismissed.
Interviewed by Goulding, Partridge was advised of the board’s decision. He refused to withdraw his letter and was dismissed on 7 August 1912. Efforts were made by the trade’s council and others to regain his job, but the company were not prepared to change their position.
When Larkin came to Dublin following the Belfast dispute of 1907, he came under criticism from Arthur Griffith, the central figure of the National Council or Sinn Féin movement. This criticism was most vocal when Larkin was under severe pressure. During the Dublin carter’s strike of 1908, Griffith described Larkin as an Englishman importing foreign political disruption into this country and putting native industry at risk.
Having listened to Larkin at a public meeting, Partridge realised that Larkin’s objectives were very much in line with his own. When the Carter’s strike became dead-locked, Partridge called on the Lord Major and the two archbishops to step in and arbitrate. The reaction of the employers to the arbitration was so bad that public opinion turned in favour of the strikers. Partridge, Daly and their colleagues could no longer associate themselves with Griffith so they left Sinn Féin.
After his dismissal from Inchicore Partridge was forced to go to Carrick-on-Suir to obtain employment. He was not very long there when he had an accident resulting in the loss of a portion of one of his fingers. When he returned to Inchicore, Partridge was nominated to fight a corporation seat for New Kilmainhan left vacant following the resignation of Councillor Glesson. Partridge, conscious of the possibility that his supporters from the Inchicore works might be victimised, advised them to stay at home instead of working for him during the election.
The man nominated by the nationalists to oppose Partridge was Thomas O’Hanlon, a coach builder who worked at Spa Road tram shed. The nationalists carried out a totally scurrilous campaign. Two leaflets were issued by John Saturanious Kelly, a councillor for the ward.
Following the election Larkin and Partridge brought Kelly to court for libel, arising from the election pieces, and they won their case but sought no financial compensation. The judge suggested that the name Saturnanious came from the name Satan. Partridge was defeated by just 23 votes.
In autumn of 1912 Larkin had taken a lease on the Emmet Hall at Inchicore to establish a branch of the ITGWU. Larkin employed Partridge to act as manager of the Emmet Hall. The hall was opened to the local branches of other trade unions for meetings and a number of activities were organised in the hall. Sunday’s were given to lectures and activities aimed at recruiting members to the labour movement, followed by a concert in the evening. Other activities included a sewing class, typing class and leisure and other activities for the benefir of the families of local trade union members.
His position at the Emmet Hall suited Partridge as he was elected as Dublin district secretary of his own trade society, the ASE. He was in a position to attend conferences with employers on behalf of the ASE. In January 1913 Partridge was again nominated for a council seat. JS Kelly declared that Partridge would have to be opposed even if he had to dig up Glasnevin to get a candidate. Partridge suggested that John S. ought to call to Mountjoy Jail and get himself a candidate.
The nationalists nominated a former member of the Orange Lodge to oppose Partridge. In the columns of the Irish Worker Partridge went for Kelly and highlighted Kelly’s record of criminal activity which caused him to go to jail on three occasions. Partridge won the seat on that occasion.
At the city council Partridge was tireless in exposing the corrupt the corrupt activities of the nationalists. He pressed the issues of housing, school meals and public health. He condemned the slum landlords for the effect the conditions of their houses was having on the poor people of the city. He also reported on the state of the lodging houses of the city.
During May 1913 Partridge attended the annual conference of the ITUC in Cork s the first delegate from the ASE. Spending some time in Cork following the conference, Partridge reorganised the branch of the ITGWU and acquired the site of the present Connolly Hall. He returned to Dublin for the May Day celebrations at Phoenix Park and moved a resolution of solidarity with the workers of the world.
In the campaign to organise the rural workers of County Dublin Partridge was very active addressing public meetings in the towns of Tallaght, Baldoyle, Swords, Malahide, Crumlin, Blanchardstown and Clondalkin. His Baldoyle speech was reported in the Irish Worker.
“Partridge or as he usually styles himself, William P. Partridge, Councillor, New Kilmainhaim ward was the first speaker. I have heard and I have listened to a great many in Ireland, England and Scotland. I consider Partridge to possess the finest and most powerful voice for outdoor meetings….’’
With the outbreak of the tram dispute Partridge was twice arrested for speeches the first week of the strike. He was sent to Manchester, along with McPartlin and Councillor Tom Lawlor to address the TRC on 2 September. It was Partridge who made the main speech which resulted in the congress adopting a resolution to send a delegation to Dublin and to establish a fund to feed the people of Dublin. Right throughout the period of the lockout Partridge travelled through Britain addressing public meetings calling for support for the Dublin workers.
In the period between the 1913 lockout and the 1916 Rising Partridge tirelessly threw himself into the tasks of reorganising the ITGWU. He was appointed a national organiser for the south of Ireland by Connolly. That is why he was the man sent to Tralee in October 1915.
His travelling throughout the south did not take away from his activities on Dublin Corporation. Sean O’Casey said of him that he was the only Labour representative who actively recruited for the Irish Citizen Army. He was elected as a vice president of the Citizen Army.
When he died he was 45 years old. He had helped to strengthen his own trade society and had brought it into the Irish TUC. He played a big part in establishing the Irish Transport Union and contributed largely to the survival of that organisation when it was under attack in 1913 and afterwards.
He supported the Bridge Street bakers in their strikes of 1904 and 1912, the brushmakers in 1910, the draper’s assistants at Boyers and the Munster Warehouse in Tralee and the railway men in 1911. At Tralee he negotiated on behalf of ASLEF and secured an increase for train drivers on the Dingle railway.
He assisted in the organisation of the Women Worker’s Union and attempted to commit the entire Dublin membership of the ASE, to support the women worker’s strike at the Savoy restaurant and factory. He played an important role in establishing the Irish Labour Party. He may not have been as colourful a character as Larkin or Connolly, but he was instrumental in establishing the platform from which they launched their great attack on the injustices perpetuated against the working people of Ireland.