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‘Lovers of Liberty?’ Local Government in 20th century Ireland by Professor Diarmaid Ferriter

This unique book tells the story of 100 years of local government in Ireland, beginning with the first elections for county councils in 1899 and ending with the arrest of George Redmond, former Dublin City Manager, at Dublin Airport in 1999.


The book contains a large selection of previously unpublished original documents from the National Archives of Ireland, giving the flavour of central, local and personal concerns throughout the period (see extracts on the following page). In particular, the documents focus on the voices of ordinary citizens, making their views known, often forcefully, to those who controlled aspects of their lives.


Accessible and lively, provocative yet scholarly, the book opens a door to an understanding of the political, social and cultural forces which shaped attitudes to the distribution of power in twentieth century Ireland, at both local and national level. Based on comprehensive research of primary source material; it provides fresh insights into the reasons why the architects of Irish independence developed one of the most centralised states in Western Europe, and resisted delegation of power to local authorities.


‘Lovers of Liberty?’ also sheds light on poverty and social conditions in Ireland in the formative decades of independence, as local government politicians and officials grappled with the challenges of providing employment, housing, adequate sanitation, decent roads and infrastructure. The successes of generations of administrators and politicians at local level in achieving improvements for their local communities are examined, as are failures to plan adequately and allegations of corruption in the planning sphere towards the end of the twentieth century.


The book is lavishly illustrated throughout with contemporary photographs and graphics. Available from all major book shops priced €19.




‘…There is huge irony in the fact that the Irish social revolution of the late nineteenth century, in which the political and social power of the landlords was broken by their tenants, was replaced 100 years later by a class of landowners and speculators who were to exercise their domination of certain landed areas in an even more invidious way than some of the most wretched nineteenth century landlords’

- From the Introduction: A century of challenge, confrontation and corruption


‘I am directed by Mr. Blythe to state that from his knowledge of the work done by Macroom District Council, he does not consider that any important public interests will suffer as a result of its refusal to function’

- Ernest Blythe’s reply in 1923 to Macroom Rural District Council’s threat not to function until Republican prisoners in Mountjoy had been released


‘I found the imbecile and idiot inmates belonging to Tobercurry huddled together in a small ward, where they have been confined and congested since they were removed over a fortnight ago. This is a scandal…’

- A local government inspector’s report on Sligo Workhouse, 1921


‘…The big questions of national and local taxation and of national administration of the social services could be reviewed at length, and any such review would logically point to the complete abolition of local governing bodies and the merger of their functions with those of the central government’

- From an internal Fianna Fail memorandum in 1934


‘The water we are using is used by the cattle; they pass through the well also…the people using this water are all small farmers with from 2 to 15 acres of land’

- From a petition from Carlow residents to the Department of Local Government, 1942


‘Dr McPolin, Limerick County Medical Officer of Health, stated in evidence that he did not consider distances of over half a mile from cottages to water supply as unreasonable’

- From Limerick County Council Housing Inquiry, 1952


‘This is one of the most important Bills ever introduced in the realm of local government. It is designed to facilitate the expansion in the national economy and to raise national standards of amenity and development, making the country, urban and rural, a better place in which to live and work’

- From a government memorandum on the 1963 Local Government Planning Bill


‘Intensive centralisation since the 1920s has been a ghastly failure, with central government sinking into a sludge of detailed business that clogs channels of decision, swamps strategic issues, frustratesinitiatives and bureaucratises the whole’

-TJ Barrington, Institute of Public Administration, 1990




The author: Diarmaid Ferriter is a historian and broadcaster and is Professor of Modern Irish History at University College Dublin.


Cover of the

Cover of the 'Lovers of Liberty?' publication