The Emergency

We are very much aware today in 2023 of how a regional war can impact business and society on a global scale.  The war in Ukraine which started in February 2022 has led to marked increases in energy and fuel costs across Europe in particular and of course here in Ireland.  Reduced availability of seed oils, corn and wheat from Ukraine has impacted food products, with costs rising significantly.  The result has been an unsettling effect on trade, on our economy and on society, compounded by the impact of Brexit and the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.  All of this gives us some understanding and appreciation of the challenges faced by the Chamber and general public in Sligo during World War II, or as it was known in Ireland, “The Emergency”.

H.C. Lyons – Sligo Warehouse

Mr. H.C. Lyons, a founding member of the Chamber, was the owner of the Sligo Warehouse, one of the largest retail stores in the West of Ireland.  Unlike many of the businesses of the 1920s and 30s, the store, more colloquially known simply as “Lyons”, remains operational today in 2023.  At the General Meeting of the Chamber on the 15th of September 1939, D.M. Hanley, President in the Chair, H.C. Lyons addressed the members on the impact the Emergency was having on his business noting that “at the present time there is a great difficulty in procuring textiles, Drapery and Footwear from Great Britain and Northern Ireland and it is likely that these difficulties will increase as the war goes on.”  At that time in September 1939, what would become known as World War II, had only been ongoing for a matter of months.  Little did H.C. Lyons realise as he addressed the members that the war would continue for another six years, impacting his business and other interests in Sligo and indeed throughout the Free State, as Ireland was then known.  Mr. Lyons went on to say that under the circumstances, the Drapers Chamber of Trade Ireland Ltd., had requested the Minister of Industry and Commerce to remove all quotas on these goods and he suggested the Chamber should write to the Minister to that effect.  The Secretary, J.A. McLoghry was directed to write to the Minister on the matter.

Cargo Boat at Sligo Docks

Sligo Port was of great importance to the traders of Sligo for the transport of livestock, cargo and other goods between the town and England and Scotland.  In the late 1930s before the Emergency, there were three sailings a week between Sligo, Glasgow and Liverpool alone.  However, at the same meeting of the 15th of September 1939, Secretary McLoghry advised the members that Burns & Laird Lines Ltd., had given notice that their service between Sligo, Glasgow and Liverpool had been suspended.  He read a letter he had forwarded to the General Manager of the company pointing out the “great loss and inconvenience caused to the Traders of the Town and District” and requested to know what the prospects were of the company resuming its service.  The members expressed their disapproval at the way the company had treated the Traders by withdrawing the service without giving notice.  They did decide to await the company’s response to Secretary McLoghry’s letter, and if not satisfactory, a deputation from the Chamber be formed “to wait on the Minister for Transport in the matter”.

Sligo Fish Quay and Quay Street

They did not have to wait long for the response.  The next meeting of the Chamber two weeks later on the 29th of September, D.M. Hanley, President, in the Chair, was called with one item of business on the Agenda, the reply from Burns & Laird Lines Ltd.  The Chamber had already been active on the matter as two days earlier a deputation consisting of Messrs. D.M. Hanley, H.C. Lyons, T.G. Bourke and the Secretary visited Dublin.  There, having been joined by Mr. J.C. Cole and Mr. M. A. Downs, the “Deputation interviewed Mr. J. O’Brien, Secretary of the Minister of Transport with regard to a steamship service between Sligo and Liverpool”.  Mr. O’Brien promised to do everything possible to assist the Chamber in the matter.

The letter from Burns & Laird Lines Ltd., pointed out that the suspension of the service had been “caused by the emergencies of the war” going on to mention that for a number of years the service has been run at a serious annual loss.  They did however advise that they would look around to see if they could get a suitable steamship to resume the service.  A vessel called the S/S “Ulster Hero” was found and sailed from Liverpool on the 7th of October arriving at Sligo Port two days later with 260 tons of general cargo.  Although difficult to commit to any long-term assurance about future sailings, Burns & Laird Lines stated their intention to run a fortnightly service if possible.  The Chamber considered it very satisfactory that through their efforts, sailings for general cargo between Sligo and Liverpool had resumed.  The Secretary, J.A. McLoghry, was directed to impress on the company the importance of procuring a vessel to carry livestock from the Port and also the necessity of notifying the English Railway Companies that the service had been resumed as there had been cases where the English Railways refused cargo for Sligo on the assumption there was no direct steamer.

Passenger Boats at Sligo Docks

It was not only having access to sailings that was at issue during the Emergency, it was also the cost.  Mr. T.G. Bourke told the General Meeting of the Chamber on the 9th of October 1939 that he got a consignment of Nuts and Fruit by the Limerick Steamship Company’s steamer from Liverpool to Ballina when the direct sailings to Sligo were suspended.  The freight charged on the nuts was 66/8 per ton plus 331/3% War Risk Insurance.  The Burns & Laird Lines’ direct steamer to Sligo was also charging War Risk Insurance in addition to a freight rate of 45/= per ton.  The Secretary was directed to write to request a rebate be allowed to Mr. Bourke on the charge.

Steam Packet Fares to England

Indicative of how serious the Chamber considered the impact of War Risk Insurance, a deputation attended a Meeting of the Associated Chambers of Commerce (now Chambers Ireland) in Dublin four days later.  The impact of War Risk Insurance together with the difficulties in obtaining supplies because of the war were discussed.  The matter of War Risk Insurance arose again at the General Meeting of the Chamber on the 6th January, 1941, D.M. Hanley, President, in the Chair and was the only item on the Agenda.  The question of Insurance of Stocks against War Risks, particularly in view of the recent dropping of bombs on Eire, was discussed.  The Meeting was unanimously of the opinion “that the time has arrived for the Government of Eire to take immediate action and introduce some form of Insurance or guarantee in respect of loss of stocks or commodities, somewhat on the lines of the British Scheme”.   The Associated Chambers of Ireland was requested to take the matter up with Government.  What is remarkable about the Chamber bringing this up in the context of bombs dropping on the country, is that this was almost five months before that ill-fated early morning of the 31st of May 1941 when four German bombs fell over the North Strand area of Dublin claiming 28 lives.

Closing times of business premises in Sligo were also impacted by the Emergency.  At the Chamber Meeting of the 23rd of October 1941, H.C. Lyons in the Chair, (apology for absence was received from the President, D.M. Hanley), the early closing of business premises was discussed.  The Secretary, J.A. McLoghry, advised that a conference had been held in Dublin in the 22nd inst. at the Department of Industry and Commerce to discuss the advisability of an Order for the early closing of shops to conserve the limited supplies of fuel available for lighting and heating.  It was the suggestion of the meeting that if an Order came into force, the shops in Sligo for the months of November to February should “open from 9.30am to 5.30pm except on Saturdays when the closing hours would be 8.30pm, the half-holiday on Wednesdays as usual”.

O’ Connell Street, Formerly Knox Street

The need to conserve energy extended out later to the general public while energy costs remained high.  At the Chamber Meeting of the 22nd of September 1944, D.M. Hanley, President, in the Chair, we read that the Electricity Supply Board (ESB) is asking domestic users to cut down their consumption to one-fifth of their 1941 quota and at the same time pay the full valuation rate.  The Chamber consider this unfair and write to the Associated Chambers pointing this out.  The letter is not met with the expected response.  Surprisingly, the reply from the Associated Chambers states that “it might be argued that a reduction in the income received from domestic resources would mean increased taxation to make up the deficiency to the Electricity Board”.  They go on to advise that the matter has been raised in the Dail and is under consideration.

P&T Telephone Box

The lack of readily available telecommunications equipment due to the war had an adverse impact on the ability of Chamber members to conduct business by telephone.  In September 1944, the Chamber writes to the Department of Posts and Telegraphs “complaining of the unsatisfactory telephone service in Sligo which it is understood is due to the want of up-to-date equipment in the Local Exchange”.  At the General Meeting of the Chamber on the 22nd of September, D.M. Hanley, President, in the Chair, the members are advised of the response.  The Department replied expressing regret that the Chamber should have cause for complaint and explain that owing to the existing Emergency, certain components cannot be obtained.  The Local Exchange has no alternative other than to make the “fullest use of existing equipment”.  Additional operation staff have been employed but in the absence of the additional switchboards and trunk lines required, “delay by the Exchange in answering calls and delay in connecting of trunk calls is at times unavoidable”.

It is evident that although the Irish Free State or Eire, was not directly involved in the war, the impact of the Emergency was profound for the business community and the general public in Sligo.  In the face of challenging circumstances, the Chamber did what it could to advocate on behalf of its members and the public to limit the effect of the undoubted adverse impacts.

One such intervention was in relation to War Risk Insurance and the difficulty in obtaining supplies, when a deputation from the Chamber travelled to Dublin to meet with the Associated Chambers of Commerce on Friday the 13th of October, on this week in 1939.

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

Arrival of Electricity Supply to Sligo” will be released on the 16th of October 2023.

#Sligo Chamber Centenary