Henry Campbell (Town Clerk of Dublin, 1893-1920)

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Henry CampbellHenry Campbell was Private Secretary to Charles Stewart Parnell, leader of the Home Rule Party and supported him during ‘The Split’ arising from the controversy over the divorce of Mrs Kitty O’Shea. A native of Kilcoo, Co. Down, where he was born in 1856, Campbell was Home Rule MP for South Fermanagh in 1885 and 1886-92.  But when Parnell died suddenly in 1891, Campbell unexpectedly found himself without a job. He therefore applied for the post of Town Clerk of Dublin, which was the most senior post in Dublin Corporation.  Defeating seven other candidates, he was appointed on 24 May 1893 and, conscious that he did not have a background in local government, he said that he would leave no stone unturned to become a ‘capable and efficient servant in as short a time as possible.’

In September 1899, Campbell requested the Local Government Board of Ireland to increase his salary to take account of his additional duties which were the result of greater municipal enterprise. He described the passage of legislation which benefitted the city, citing the example of the Water Act 1897, bringing a “considerably increased revenue to the Corporation”. Campbell also emphasised his promotion of the Boundaries and Markets Bills, which had conferred borrowing powers on the Corporation to the extent of £700,000; as he remarked with some satisfaction, the suggestion for this provision had originated with himself.  In March 1907, Campbell asked for a further increase in salary, in consequence of more duties imposed upon him by the passage of the Dublin Corporation Act of 1900, which had added a large area to the city.

To mark his twentieth anniversary as Town Clerk, Campbell submitted a letter to the City Council stating that it had done “magnificent” work and had “rendered lasting and beneficial services to the citizens” of Dublin.  Since the passage of the Public Health Act of 1878, Dublin Corporation had provided among other things, an abattoir, market, baths, disinfecting chambers, main drainage, electric lighting, technical schools, five public libraries, a sanatorium, open spaces, and several housing schemes.  In recent times, the Corporation had undertaken the building of a new storage reservoir which would provide an adequate supply to the townships and the city.  In looking back over his time as town clerk, Campbell acknowledged that the income from the City Estate had greatly increased, and that the Corporation had made grants to city hospitals and other institutions for the benefit of the poor. He undertook to compile a report which would determine and outline the management of the city by the different departments of the Corporation.

In the local elections of 1920, Dublin City Council for the first time had a Sinn Fein majority of 42 seats out of 80, a situation which was disliked by Campbell, who had supported Home Rule.   He quickly fell out with this new City Council, which instructed him not to submit the Corporation accounts to the Local Government Auditor, who was a British-appointed official.

Campbell felt that the Corporation would soon be unable to function without audited accounts and he resigned in December 1920, along with his assistant John J. Flood.

Sir Henry Campbell

Campbell retired to live at Greenwood Park in Newry, Co. Down, with his second wife Alice Harbottle, a widow originally from Newcastle-upon Tyne who was the daughter of Robert Fogan.  She is likely to have been a friend of Campbell’s first wife Jenny Brewis who also came from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and died in 1906. As this photograph shows, Campbell was flamboyant in appearance, with a magnificent waxed moustache.  He is mentioned in the ‘Eumaeus’ chapter of James Joyce’s Ulysses, where a jarvey is described as resembling the town clerk Henry Campbell.  Campbell was knighted in 1921 and died on 5 March 1924.


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As well as instructing the clerk to keep the books from the (British) auditors until they had their own independent (Irish) auditors.

There was also an additional problem when the clerk refused to record votes expressed in Irish. The effect of this would have been certain votes lost for nationalist/Sinn Féin councillors.

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