There is a popular saying in politics sometimes attributed to Ronald Reagan ‘When you’re explaining,…
If only the American policymakers of late years since 2001 (Afghanistan), (or even Kennedy and LBJ) had read B.C. Molloy. A former MP for King’s County, Bernard Charles Molloy, was one of the few to predict that the First World War would not be over by Christmas 1914. Molloy read the signs well, besides he had fought with the French in 1870 and knew the strength and perseverance of the Prussians. He was an MP in King’s County from 1880 to 1900 and died in 1916. It is a good time to reflect as we near 11 November and the anniversary of the Truce and the Peace in June 919. It was a a war that killed at least 40,000 Irishmen, led to 1916, the War of Independence and the Second World War.
Bernard Charles Molloy was of a distinguished Offaly family, being a son of Maria Teresa Molloy and Bernard Charles Molloy, He was the second son of Maria Teresa, of Hawke House, Sunbury, daughter of James Lynam, and of Kedo, youngest son of Bernard Molloy, of Charlestown House, Clara. His older brother was the songwriter James Lynam Molloy. He was born in 1842, and to his being born in Cornalur, Rahan seems highly unlikely. Certainly his family had lands there with a Hugh Molloy owner of Cornalur in 1803 on what was a virtual freehold. Molloy was clearly a man of private means and one of his attractions as a parliamentary candidate was that he was able to maintain himself in London as MPs were not paid until 1912. The receipt of a salary was much maligned by Sinn Féin in the 1916–18 period as the ‘£400 a year men’.
Bernard Charles Molloy, MP for King’s County 1880 to 1900
B. C. Molloy was educated at St Edmund’s College, Herts, and at the University of Bonn. In 1867, he volunteered for the Pontifical army then engaged against Garibaldi. In 1870, he entered the French service, was reported for bravery in face of the victorious Germans, and received one of four gold war medals, specially struck by Marshal MacMahon, the President and General in Chief. In 1872 he was called to the English Bar, and was a barrister of the Middle Temple as was his song-writer brother.
Molloy first contested the representation of King’s County as a Liberal in 1874 but was defeated by Sir Patrick O’Brien with 2,009 votes, Sergeant David Sherlock, 1,201, and B C. Molloy, 758. He did not then have the support of the Catholic clergy which was essential in 1874 and again in 1880. Patrick Hynes in his election address in 1874 was well aware of what his Banagher neighbours wanted – not just Home Rule and to become proprietors of the soil, but also to have Catholic controlled schools and drain the Shannon. Hynes decided to withdraw from the contest but Molloy and Coroner W.A. Gowing (coroner for North King’s County, 1860–1901) kept their hats in the ring despite the formidable opposition. The Irish Times reported in 1874:
Bernard O’Molloy, the Home Rule candidate, addressed an assemblage of over 5,000 persons yesterday. Sir P. O’Brien canvassed in Edenderry on Monday. Sergeant Sherlock visited Banagher, and canvassed the principal voters, accompanied by ten of the Roman Catholic clergy. Mr Patrick Hynes, who issued his address in the Home Rule and working men’s interest, has announced his intention of going to the poll.
Molloy with his pontifical medals, died in 1916 was the junior MP for King’s County
The 1880 general election was the last, according to Moran, in which the influence of the Catholic clergy was predominant. By 1885 Parnell and the central office of the parliamentary party had a much greater grip on the selection of candidates. It was Fr McAlroy, the Tullamore parish priest (died 1892), who tended to lead on the adoption of parliamentary candidates up to 1880. Molloy was not in 1874 or 1880 the favourite of the clergy, but in the latter year there was no other home rule candidate and it would have been unthinkable at this time to support a Conservative. Molloy had a track record as a home ruler and in 1880, and as a supporter of Parnell, succeeded in being elected as one of the two MPs for the county. The voters were beginning to strike an independent line (the secret ballot had been introduced in 1872) and so ended sixty years of domination of the selection process by the parish priest of Tullamore as leader of the county’s clergy on political issues. McAlroy’s predecessor O’Rafferty (died in 1857) was said to have had the county representation in his pocket. One of the successors of McAlroy, Philip Callary (parish priest of Tullamore 1899–1925) exerted very little influence on the national movement during his tenure and was no supporter of Sinn Féin.
The voters’ register in 1880 stood at about 3,134, but the extended franchise in 1884 gave ‘almost manhood suffrage’, and increased the number entitled to vote to 10,398. Just how limited the register was is more evident when it is appreciated that only 4.5 per cent of the population of the county in 1881 were on the voting register . Of the c. 3,000 147 were in Birr town and 67 in Tullamore town. For the 1885 campaign on the enlarged electorate, the county was divided, each division returning one member. Sir Patrick O’Brien retired and Molloy took the South King’s County seat, defeating the Conservative candidate Captain T.S. Wellesley Bernard of Kinnitty Castle. The Birr Chronicle took comfort from the fact that Molloy was the ‘nearest approach to a Conservative as can be found’. This its editor saw as compensation for the defeat of the actual Conservative candidate Bernard. Bernard was again defeated in 1886 and the Conservative W.T. Trench in 1892. The unionist vote in those elections was stable at about 700 while the nationalist candidate was polling over 3,000 votes.
The Chronicle editor, John Wright, in his 1890 King’s County Directory, noted that since 1886 Molloy ‘had sat undisturbed, nor did he disturb his Constituency, he never having once paid them a visit’. Unlike William O’Brien, T. D. Sullivan, MP and others Molloy was seen as mild as a Conservative. ‘His attitude being that of the cultivated gentleman.’ His House of Commons portrait (online) of the early 1890s certainly shows him as such. Molloy was defeated in 1900 by the more radical Shannonbridge man, Michael Reddy, the United Irish League candidate. In that contest Molloy, now an independent nationalist (Healyite) lost by 270 votes, polling 1,181 as to Reddy’s 1,451. Molloy had failed to join the new United Irish League and Sean McEvoy in his thesis on the League in King’s County saw that as crucial to Molloy’s defeat:
Birr in 1894. Molloy was not asked to do the honours at the unveiling of the Martyrs’ memorial in Birr in 1893
The most notable achievement of the UIL during this period was the election of Michael Reddy as MP for the southern division of the county. Surprisingly, the Midland Tribune supported B.C. Molloy, the sitting member, who had lost the confidence of many constituents, and had failed to join the UIL, whose principles the paper, had expounded over the previous year. The decision is all the more surprising when one considers that the paper had solidly through the years since its foundation in 1881 supported the IPP, which by now had the backing and support of the UIL.
In 1901 a meeting was held in Birr to pay tribute to Molloy following his retirement from the constituency. The occasion was clouded by the death of two of the principal promoters of the national movement, in the persons of John Powell, editor of the Midland Tribune and Stephen Matthews, the hotelier in Birr and town commissioner. Powell had been a supporter of Molloy over the more radical Reddy. The tribute to Molloy in Birr noted that he was ‘unjustly ousted’ from his seat in the county. Yet, the departure of Molloy from the political scene saw the Shannonbridge man elected in 1900 and Tullamore man Graham in the 1914 by-election in north King’s County, following on the death of Haviland Burke. Burke, another club man, had held the seat since 1900 and did not much visit his constituency. The death of Graham in March 1918 saw the pendulum swing back again to the election of a national figure, Patrick McCartan, who did not visit the constituency at all until October 1921. Thereafter the local men were on the way back and none more so than Bill Davin, the Labour candidate, who was elected for Laois-Offaly with two quotas in 1922 securing almost fifty per cent of the votes cast (15,160 out of 33,000) or a majority of 9,000.
Reddy as a United Irish League candidate succeeded Molloy in 1900 and survived until defeated in December 1918.
Molloy, now thirteen years after the Birr presentation and in retirement, wrote to the press in August 1914 shortly after the war had commenced with useful insights based on his European experience of the late 1860s and 1870s:
The results will be proportionately as great – both to conqueror and conquered. The future of these results is still in the dark and no man can foretell. It is a life and death struggle for all engaged. With these indisputable facts before us it is well without going into detail – to understand in outline at least, – the history cause and motives which underlie it.
One hundred years ago Germany, – that is Prussia, – lay in the dust crushed beggared and ruined by the Great Napoleon. After the death of Napoleon – our prisoner in the small island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean, – Prussia started to build herself up once more. Two main efforts she made with this view – one to train her children by the best and most practical education possible to them, and the other to rebuild her military system and re-establish her army. By these means her leaders and wise men hoped to establish her position amongst the other nations of Europe. It was a long and hampered struggle but that she has succeeded and to the full Europe knew now. In commerce and manufacture she rivals Great Britain, in military excellence she has astounded all other nations. Her military excellence may prove to be the case of her downfall.. .
Molloy died in June 1916, a few weeks after the 1916 Rebellion. He did not engage in any memoir writing which we can regret now as he had been over thirty years connected with the politics of the county. That said it appears he was infected with the club atmosphere of the House of Commons and was not close to his constituents. His death merited only a short note in the Birr local newspapers. The Chronicle editor, John Wright, died the year before and John Powell of the Tribune was dead since 1901. The paper’s editor from 1912, James Pike, was not much interested in old House of Commons men, even if they had represented King’s County for twenty years in the late nineteenth-century. By Pike’s time as editor it was a new generation and a new era.