Saturday, 13 October 2018

Law trouble for James and John Byrne

The story this week relates to my mother's grandfather James Byrne and his eldest son John. They both worked as carters in the Dublin dockyards. Their brush with the law happened in 1930, when John was nearly thirty years old, just months before he married Alice Cummins. I'm sure it was a big deal for them at the time, but now, all these years later, it serves to let us know what they liked to do in their free time. 

On Sunday night, 8 June 1930, Joseph Kelly from Clarence Street, and John and James Byrne, both of Lower Jane Place, were charged by Station-Sergeant Maher with playing 'House' at the offices of the I.T.G.W.U., on Beresford Place. House was a game of cards. It must have been some quiet weekend for Station-Sergeant Maher, if this was all he had to worry about! 

Maher told the court there were sixty men playing the game. Kelly, was in the chair, while James and John Byrne were distributing the cards, at a cost of a penny each. The cards used were about half the size of ordinary playing cards, with thirteen numbers on each. It seems to have been a game of chance, though some men were 'better than others in spotting the numbers'. Sounds to me like they were playing bingo!

The event was being run by the Band Club, in aid of the unemployed and various other charities. The trouble is, it was held in an unregistered premises, and according to the law, the Justice was obliged to convict them. He did, and imposed a fine of £5. 

Although 'Byrne' was the most common surname in Dublin, it is easy to conclude this was my great-grandfather and granduncle. First, they did live in Lower Jane Place, a row of only thirty-one cottages. Also, as carters, they were paid-up members of the I.T.G.W.U. (the Irish Transport and General Workers Union). And, we know for sure they were members of its Band. I previously shared a photograph of the I.T.G.W.U. Prize Brass and Reed Band, including my granduncle John, here, and a picture of my great-grandfather's band medal here

Station-Sergeant Maher was obviously on a mission to rid Dublin city of groups of men, gathering together with their pennies, to play the game. The court next heard how he'd also found 200 men playing a game of House, at the Butcher's Hall, Lower Gardiner Street, on 8 June 1930. House must have been the in thing, at the time. This club also gave the profits to charity. My understanding is the winner of each game was paid a cash prize, £3 at this event, and the surplus takings were considered profit. 

The Justice deemed it 'strange that one section of the community could back horses all day and that the members of this club could not play House for a couple of hours'. Still, as he said himself, 'such was the state of the law'. He was compelled to convict them. He imposed a fine of £2 on each of the defendants. 

Source: The Irish Examiner, 20 August 1930, p. 4; Evening Herald, 19 August 1930, p. 1.


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