Supporting the Free State Loan

Nov 10 1923

As we celebrate in 2023 the first one hundred years of Sligo Chamber, the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union at the end of January 2020 remains fresh in the memory.  As a consequence of Brexit, the UK has been left with a significant financial settlement to pay the EU. Brexit also resulted in the Irish land border being centre of political and economic dialogue.  How familiar these same topics would sound to those members of Sligo Chamber as they went about their daily lives in 1923.  How disbelieving would they be if alive today to learn that one hundred years later, the Irish land border and the financial burden imposed for leaving an economic union were both still matters of political and economic discussion involving Ireland and the UK.  In this article we explain and reveal how these same themes became directly relevant for Sligo Chamber within only three months of its establishment in 1923.

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was a sovereign state established by the Acts of Union of 1800.  On seceding from the Union, the Irish Free State was established in 1922.  This secession was not without significant economic and political cost for the emerging new State.  As part of the earlier Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, the Irish Free State accepted an undefined share of the UK public debt and the redrawing of the Irish land border by an independent Boundary Commission.  It is estimated that the financial claim imposed on the Irish Free State for exiting the UK amounted to 80 per cent of Irish Gross National Product (GNP).  Under Article V of the Treaty, the Irish Free State assumed liability for the service of a share of the Public Debt of the UK and War Pension payments. Unfortunately for the new State, UK debt at the time was at its highest level since the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815.

Signing the Anglo Irish Treaty 6th December 1921

When the Irish Free State was established in 1922, it was granted full fiscal autonomy.  The public finances of the new State were severely tested by the Civil War of 1922 – 1923 and by having to operate against the backdrop of an unresolved liability for leaving the UK.   The fiscal deficit which arose was funded through raising in 1923 the Free State Loan which was then floated on the Dublin Stock Exchange.

In November 1923, an Extraordinary Meeting of Sligo Chamber was held in Café Cairo, H. Campbell Perry, President, in the Chair.   In addition to 32 named members of Sligo Chamber a “large number of other business and professional men” were also present.  These included representatives from the clergy, Canon Butler and Rev. Canon Ardill; W.T. Fenton, Clerk of the Peace; and W. J. O’Reilly, State Solicitor.  J.A. McLoghry, Secretary, Sligo Chamber was also in attendance.  A letter of apology was read from Senator Arthur Jackson.   Addressed from the Junior Constitutional Club, Piccadilly, W1, Senator Jackson wrote:

Arthur Jackson TD

My Dear Perry,

I am very sorry I will be unable to be present at the meeting on Wednesday. I trust there will be a good attendance and that Sligo will give the utmost support to the National Free State Government Loan. Again expressing my great regret that I cannot be present to help you.

Yours sincerely,

Arthur Jackson

P.S. – I have sold some securities and applied for £2,000 myself”.

Read to the meeting, Senator Jackson’s words were acclaimed with applause by those present.

Major Brian Cooper

The business of the meeting was “to meet Representatives from the Ministry of Finance regarding forthcoming Saorstat Eireann Loan”. (The Irish Free State Loan).  The representatives, both members of the Dáil were Professor Michael Hayes and Major Bryan Cooper.  Professor Michael Hayes was Ceann Comhairle, (Speaker of the House), a position he held from September 1922 until 1932.  As a seventeen-year-old he fought with Thomas McDonagh in Jacobs Factory during Easter Week of 1916, was later arrested in November 1920 and interned at Ballykinlar, County Down. Released in August 1921, he supported the Treaty and served as Minister for Education until being elected Ceann Comhairle.  Major Bryan Cooper who lived in Markree Castle was an Independent TD.  A distinguished soldier in the British Army, a country gentleman and a gifted writer, he was an influential member of the Dáil and provided regular support to Sligo Chamber in the early years of its formation.  He died suddenly in 1930 before the premiere of his detective play, aptly named, “Let the Credit Go” at the Abbey Theatre.

Representing the Ministry of Finance, Professor Hayes and Major Cooper addressed the meeting at length on the advantages of the Free State Loan and of the necessity of it being supported in order to assist the Government to establish the future stability and prosperity of the Irish Free State.  Professor Hayes outlined that after seceding from the Union, the members of the new Irish Free Government although inexperienced were earnest, sincere and resolute.  World War 1 followed by their own war in Ireland against the British, had left the country in a “disturbed condition” and facing an unparalleled position.  The problem, Professor Hayes said, was to find a method to pay off normal current expenditure and contracted debts to the United Kingdom and to repair public buildings, railways, private and business properties destroyed or damaged by the war.  It was to pay off those obligations that the Saorstat Eireann Loan was being floated.  The loan would bear interest at 5 per cent and would increase every year and Government would redeem the loan in 1945, or perhaps as soon as 1935.  Sligo was a town that was “situated in a peculiarly fortunate position geographically, and tapped a larger area than any other similarly-sized town”.  Concluding, Professor Hayes said that he thought the influence of Sligo Chamber would be far-reaching in the success of the Loan in that part of the North West.  Responding to Professor Hayes’ address, the Chamber minutes note “Several others present also expressed their opinion that the loan was worthy of support and the following Resolution was:

Proposed by:      Mr. Frank Nally

Seconded by:     Mr. H.R. Woodmartin and Resolved:

That this Special Meeting of the Chamber of Commerce, and other business and professional men of Sligo, consider that the Irish National Loan (1923) is worthy of the strongest possible support.

Frank Nally

We appreciate the recent pronouncements of various Ministers of the State and other responsible Representatives, that immediate attention will be given towards economy in Administration, and consequent possible reductions in both National and Local Taxation.  This will tend towards all law-abiding citizens combining in a determination to use their individual efforts to maintain the State in the highest form of efficiency and prosperity.

Passed unanimously”.

A vote of thanks to Mr. Speaker Hayes and Major Bryan Cooper for coming to Sligo to explain the details of the loan was proposed by Mr. D.M. Hanley and seconded by Mr. W.R. Fenton to which the Speaker and Major Cooper suitably replied.  The meeting was brought to a close on a vote of thanks to the Chairman, H. Campbell Perry, on the motion of Alderman Jinks seconded by Mr. J.J. Connell.

Reporting on the visit by Speaker Hayes and Major Cooper, the Sligo Independent considered the meeting a success, writing in the 1st of December 1923 edition that “The Meeting was a good omen for the future of the Chamber, and proved how important such an organisation is to the business community, and the necessity for every business man belonging to the Chamber, in his own interests”. 

Professor Michael Hayes 1920s

Ultimately, the Irish Free State never paid back the UK public debt.  The debt was waived by the UK in 1925 in an attempt to compensate the Irish Free State for the failure by the UK to deliver a redrawn border with Northern Ireland, a financial settlement with political ramifications which remain with us today in 2023.

Professor Hayes, Ceann Comhairle, and Major Bryan Cooper T.D., met with the members of Sligo Chamber of Commerce in the Café Cairo on the 28th of November, on this week in 1923.

Researched and written by Conor McCarthy

Supported by the Sligo Chamber Centenary Committee:

  • Catherine Maguire – Admin & Photographic Research
  • Geraldine Courtenay – Creative Direction
  • Aidan Doyle – Review & Publication

The next Article in the series commemorating The Centenary of Sligo Chamber and entitled

New Road in a 100 Years Time” will be released on the  4th of December, 2023.

#Sligo Chamber Centenary