The first meeting of Laois County Council took place on Saturday the 22nd April, 1899. There were no computers, mobile phones, projectors or printers. Yet many of the issues faced by that particular Council were the same as those that face the Council today. The meeting took place in the Grand Jury Room of Maryborough Courthouse in Portlaoise. Proceedings began about half an hour after the appointed starting time of 11.30am. The meeting was conducted in an efficient and workmanlike fashion. The historic meeting set an exemplary tone for Local Government administration in the County for the years ahead.
Politics and matters of the Government were strictly a male domain at the time. These were the days before women’s suffrage and much longer still before a mention of women’s liberation. All thirty-one Members present at the first meeting were men. The pendulum has swung over the years in favour of women -albeit slowly it must be admitted. Mary Wheatley, in 1985, became the first woman to be elected to Laois County Council. In the Local Government elections in 2004 of the twenty-five Members elected only two were women.
On April 22nd 1899 there was a full attendance as Returning Officer and Sub-Sheriff for the Queens County, Mr. Richard Bull, got proceedings underway. Despite his name the convenor allowed “no bull” whatsoever to diminish the importance of the occasion.
Both the Leinster Express and the Nationalist & Leinster Times of the 29th April 1899 recorded the proceedings of that first meeting of the Council.
The report in The Nationalist read as follows. “The first meeting of Queens County Council on Saturday last was a very respected and model business – like gathering and its proceedings bore very favourable contrast with the proceedings of the predecessors, the Grand Jury.The troublesome question of co-option and the Chairmanship were disposed of without any of that friction which was prophesied for us by the Unionist cranks, and although the contest for the Chair was a very close one it was concluded with the best temper.”
The report in the Leinster Express read as follows. “The proceedings were conducted in an expeditious and business-like manner, under the Chairmanship of Mr. Meehan who proved his efficiency for the position assigned to him by the Council by the able manner in which he discharged his duties.”
Minutes of the First Meeting
The Minutes of the first meeting record the name of those present as read out by Capt. Henry Despard, Secretary.
- Abbeyleix – William Phelan
- Arles – John Byrne
- Ballinakill – Patrick Brennan
- Ballybrittas – Denis Boland
- Borris-in-Ossory – Laurence Thomas Kelly
- Castletown – Arthur McMahon
- Clonaslee – John Treacy
- Coolrain – Michael Fitzpatrick
- Cullenagh – James MacMahon
- Donaghore – Bernard Edward Barnaby
- Durrow – Patrick O’Flanagan
- Emo – John Williams
- Luggancurren – Thomas Breen
- Maryborough – Patrick A. Meehan
- Mountmellick – William McEvoy
- Mountrath – John Dowling
- Newtown – Patrick Brennan
- O’Moore’s Forest – Patrick Doran
- Portarlington South – Charles Bannon
- Rathdowney – Daniel Quigley
- Stradbally – Denis Shaughnessey
- Tinnahinch – William Dunne
Present also were the Chairmen of the five Rural District Councils:
- Abbeyleix – Arthur McMahon
- Athy No. 2 – Thomas Timmins
- Carlow No. 2 – Matthias McWey
- Mountmellick – James Dunne
- Roscrea No.3 – Thomas Lowry