University of Leicester
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The role of organized labour in the political and economic life of Cork City 1820-1899.

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posted on 2015-11-19, 09:13 authored by Maura J. B. Murphy
This is a study of the parallel development of trade unionism and nationalism among the working men of nineteenth century Cork. Until the 1840s local trade unionism was a subversive movement which pursued ite ends through violence and intimidation, but thereafter, it tried to secure public approval for its objectives through reasoned and moderate behaviour. Trade unionism in nineteenth century Cork, as in other Irish centres, was extremely introspective, tradesmen from other centres being excluded as far as possible from the local labour market. However, from the 1830s onwards, the advent of British-based amalgamated unions in Cork helped to broaden the base of local labour organization. Yet, for most of the century unionism was confined to the skilled artisans who, in some cases, actively worked against the unionization of the unskilled. Though in the 1890s many unskilled occupations were organized, effective unionization of the general labourer was not attempted until the early twentieth century. While trade unionism was slowly developing, nationalism - both constitutional and militant - was putting down roots at popular level. The Repeal movement of 1830-50, the Home Rule movement of 1870-1900, and the Fenian movement of 1860 onwards, all drew their rank-and-file following from the working classes of the city - artisans, labourers, and shopkeepers. In nineteenth century Cork politics tended to engulf all other matters. A number of successive attempts to revive local industry were swamped by the nationalist movement, and the organized trades of the city regarded themselves as the local strongholds of nationalism, tending to spend exorbitant sums of money on political demonstrations. Such involvement was due to the fact that Cork artisan nationalism was at heart economic: political independence was seen as the gateway to economic prosperity, and the most distressed trades in the city were also the most enthusiastically nationalist. As the century passed, however, the local trades began to separate economic from political matters. Disillusionment with the performance of middle class nationalist politicians set in, and from the 1880s onwards the organized trades of Cork placed their hopes in independent labour representation at local level rather than in the traditional panacea of national independence.


Date of award


Author affiliation

Historical Studies

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



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