14th May 2019 – The people who made Skerries Library

by Oona Roycroft

May’s presentation was ‘The people who made Skerries Library’ by Oona Roycroft. There was a great deal to catch the eye while researching this paper, from the characters who made up the original committee that prepared the grant application to Andrew Carnegie, to the skulduggerous behaviour that characterised the tendering for the building contracts and the resultant incensed letters to the papers.

During the period of research, several of the players in the library drama became so familiar that they seemed to step across the decades early 20th century to the present. Reclusive Mr Edward Hamilton Woods was officially Chair of the committee but frequently absent unless important decisions needed to be taken; Rev. Thomas Dolan represented the Catholic clergy while Rev. Richard Shegog, was there for the Protestant church; Bernard Healy was Skerries’ medical man and brought his two brothers in law into the committee; there were also several farmers and merchants as well as John Ronaldson, the postmaster.

Journalists today dig deep to expose scandals and underhand business dealings but it’s nothing new under the sun. When tenders were invited for the building of the library, two Skerries based builders wrangled over who had won and solicitors’ letters were soon plaguing the harassed committee. They re-advertised the contract in an effort to clear the air but things only got murkier. A bogus tender was put in, outraging respected townsfolk whose signatures were forged on the document. 

While solicitors’ letters threatening legal action added to the spice, the real gems were from those pillars of the community who felt that their good names had been traduced by the malignant creator of the bogus tender. It was through letters to the papers that the audience was introduced to a true Skerries character, Patrick Mathews. He was an amazing man who seems to have possessed boundless energy, being on a plethora of committees. He also had a great way with words. Surely the scoundrel who forged his signature was left quaking in his boots when Mr Mathews declared his intention of bringing the ‘unspeakable ruffian’ to justice and asserted his hope that the man’s ‘yawning grave would be ever present with him’.

Despite his unfortunate experience during the letting of the library contract, Mr Mathews remained closely connected with it. Being a master mason, he prepared the stone for the building and later even joined the committee.