The Controversial Role Played by St Mary’s Schoolchildren in the 1907 Batley Pageant

On 23 August 1907 around 3,500 elementary school children, representing schools across Batley, took part in a pageant in front of around 20,000 people at Mount Pleasant. It was organised to celebrate the raising of money to build an extension to Batley Hospital. The special representative of the Leeds Mercury wrote:

However much the town might be engrossed in it on ordinary occcasions, Batley showed on Saturday that it possesses a soul far above shoddy.1

In the pageant, described as “A Triumph of Artistic Design and Execution” and “A Sight Never to be Forgotten2 the individual schools represented the countries of the British Empire. St Mary’s schoolchildren unsurprisingly portrayed Ireland. I have included some name-rich write-ups which appeared in the Batley News on 30 August 1907. Some of the names are in bold, which will be explained later in this post.

The little Catholic children at St. Mary’s did splendidly. Their procession did them and their teachers credit. The little people made representation of almost every class ranging from saints to politicians. Of course St. Patrick figured in the procession, no Irish festival could ever be complete unless he was represented. His banner was carried aloft and guarded by these little mites with all the enthusiasm characteristic of their race. One little fellow, who was dressed in black sateen and white top hat, cut after an ancient pattern, told me with pride that he represented Daniel O’Connell,3 another that he was Robert Emmitt [sic],4 and another that he was Lord Nelson.


St. Mary’s for Ireland

The Mother Superior and the Sisters, who arranged the Ireland portion of the Pageant, turned out an exceedingly fine procession, and one which many people considered amongst the very best. At the head was a car, and on it the Irish coat-of-arms with hand-painted banners representing the coat-of-arms of each province. The car was festooned with white, and decorated with ferns and choice greens. On the car was the King of Ulster (Master Willie Merriman), robed in a green satin tunic, red cloak lined with white, and wearing a black velvet plumed hat. His Queen was Miss Agnes Morley, dressed in a white silk dress with train of blue satin lined with white. Her scarf was green, with gold shamrocks. On the car also was the King of Munster (Master Edward Lynch), robed in purple satin tunic and black coat lined with gold. He wore a fine crimson plumed velvet hat. The Queen of Munster (Miss Mary Dillon) was in white silk dress with train of pink satin lined with white. Her green satin scarf was ornamented with gold harp and shamrocks. The King of Connaught was Master Francis Monaghan, robed in crimson satin, with green velvet plumed hat. The Queen of Connaught was Miss Nelly Waters, in white silk dress with train of green satin lined with white and a green satin scarf with gold shamrocks. The King of Leinster was Master Willie Mullins, in white satin tunic, purple cloak lined with gold, and purple velvet plumed hat to match. His Queen was Miss Nelly Rourke, in white silk dress and train of white and gold satin. Her green scarf was ornamented with gold shamrocks. The train-bearers were Masters Austin Egan, Harry Egan, John Ryan, and Thos. Kilroy, dressed in blue velvet, trimmed with lace, white silk sashes with gold harp and shamrocks, white hats with green plumes, and black buckled shoes.

Following the car came the Irish Gentlemen, represented by – Daniel O’Connell (Master F. Tomlinson), Lord John Russell (Master J. Tomlinson), Duke of Wellington (Master J. Flatley).5

Peasants, dressed in green jerseys, white knickers, and brown hats, carrying shillelahs with bundles, formed a striking group. They were Thos. Cairns, John Cafferty, Edward Barber, Joseph Firth, James Kelly, James McDonald, Wm. McGuire, David Sheridan, Jas. Preston, Tommie Harkin, John Burns, Martin Flynn, Thos. Lyons, Fred Cairns, John Leech, James Judge, Jas. Carrol, John Conlin, Robert Cassidy, John Tinsdale, Robt. Dewhirst, John McManus, Michael Leech, Leo Berry, Henry Low, and Jas. Callighan.


The Queen of the Mountains was Miss Annie McDonald, attired in primrose-colour dress and train trimmed with lace and silver. Her maids of honour were the Misses Lily M. Moore, Nelly McDonald, L. Lambert and K. Sykes, and the train-bearers Masters John Power and Edward Brennan.

The Group of Haymakers were not surpassed by anybody in the whole procession. They were dressed in linen smocks and rush hats, and carried implements for the hayfield, such as rakes, etc. Those who did so well in this respect were Willie Barber, John Brooke6, John Doyle, James Delaney, Harry Guider, Joseph Dews, James Gallagher, Jas. Gavaghan, Thos. Kilbride, Frank Lodge, Michael Durkin, Michael Brannan, George Gavaghan, Stanley Brearley, Walter Leonard, Christy McLoughlin, James Lyons, Clement Manning, Thos. Harkin, and Geo. Horkin.

The Queen of Rivers was Miss Alice Leonard, in a dress and train of salmon pink muslin, trimmed with silver and lace. Her maids of honour were Misses Mary Brennan and Kathleen Rotchford, and her train bearers, the Misses Eileen Tomlinson and Gertie Brennan, with Masters Thomas Durkin and Andrew Murphy as pages.

The Fishermen were dressed in dark blue smocks, red cape with tassels, and each carried a fishing net. There were fourteen of them as follow:- Thos. Donlon, Pat Hopkins, Michael Maloney, Willie Hemingway, Bernard Gallagher, Thos. Dolan, John Sword, Robert Kelly, Francis Rourke, Jas. Edwards, James Rush, Leonard Oram, Jas. Lyons and Richard Morris.

After the fishermen came the following pretty Red Colleens, dressed in red cloaks, with hoods and kerchiefs, and white dresses:- Sara Scally, Katie Tarpy, Kitty Lodge, Mary Leech, Maggie Craven, Florrie Mullins, Maggie Sword, Katie Cairns, Sara Phillips, Nelly Gavaghan, Katie Gallagher, Winnie Donlon, Annie McHugh, Katie Hopkins, Mary E. Cairns, Mary A. Kilroy, Mary Harkin, Nora Brannon, Mary Travers, Maggie Lowe, Mary McManus, and Lizzie Cartwright.

Queen Scota was Miss Nora Wilson. She had a gold crown and sceptre. Her dress was white and gold satin, with train of green satin trimmed with lace. As maids of honour she had the Misses Maria Harkin, Nelly Harkin, Mary E. Travers, and Doris Cartwright, with Masters James E. Connel and Bernard Moore as train bearers, and Masters John Kilroy and John Holmes as attendants.


The Blue Colleens were dressed in blue cloaks, with hoods and kerchiefs, and white dresses. They were Mary J. Ryan, Ruth A. Battye, Bridget Harkin, Alice Leonard, Mary Ryan, Margt. Gallagher, Lily Abbots, Nelly Connolly, Maggie Mannion, Agnes Cairns, Maggie Lowe, Margt. Ainwright, Mary Firth, Mona Ryan, Agnes Cairns,7 Mary T. Gallagher, Nelly Travers, Mary A. Frain, Nelly McLloughlin, Mary A. Murphy, Mary Gallagher, Katie Garner, Lily Fox, Jane A. Dews, Mary Higgins, Agnes Leonard, Nelly Prendergast, Nelly Hunt, Annie Brennan, Nelly Connel, Teresa Murray, and Annie Moran.

The Queen of Harps (Miss Gertie Hargreaves) wore a dress and train of green and white satin, trimmed with gold harps and shamrocks, and a green satin scarf. She was accompanied by the following maids of honour:- The Misses Ella Brett, Mary F. Darwin, Katie Callighan, and Mary Connel, with the train-bearers (Masters W. Guider and Thos. Ryan) and attendants (Masters Wm. Hannon, and Michael Gavaghan).

Then came the peasant women, dressed in white-bordered caps, long green dresses and white aprons. Thus attired were Annie Kilbride, Katie Prendergast, Mary Gavaghan, Agnes Brooke, Doris Wilson, Mary A. Bailey, Florrie Delaney, Katie Maloney, Lizzie Connel, Nelly Lanes, Mary Lea, Mary Oram, and Jane A. Donlon.

The Queen of Shamrocks was Miss Ethel Eaton,8 and her dress was cream with green shamrocks, and trimmed with green satin and lace. Her train was of white and green satin, with gold shamrocks, and she carried a bouquet of real shamrocks. Her retinue consisted of maids of honour, the Misses Margt. Harkin and Frances M. Barber; pages, Masters Clifford Brett and Thomas Kaine; train-bearers, Masters Thos. Oram and John Cartwright; attendants, Masters Patrick J. Sword and Joseph Ryan.

The Dairymaids looked quite captivating in their green cotton frocks and bonnets, and white aprons, and carrying dairy produce. This section was composed of Rachel Walker, Hilda Meagh, Edith McLoughlin, Teresa Burke, Lizzie Phillips, Annie Dewhurst, Agnes Pickup, Annie Phillips, Nelly Lambert, Annie Lynch, Mary Sword, Mary E. Cafferty, Lily Elders, and Katie Clarke.

The Queen of Avoca was Miss Lucy Scanlon, dressed in cream, with a train of green satin trimmed with wild flowers. Her maids of honour were Misses Katie Higgins, Margt. Carney, Katie Stubley, and Bella Lyons; her train-bearer, Master Edward Sword; her pages, Masters Frank Egan and Walter Manning, and her attendants, Masters Willie North and George North.

Then came the second car, bearing a large harp, with Miss Lizzie Brearley representing Erin. She looked well in a dress of cream lace, lined with green satin and trimmed with gold harps and shamrocks. She also wore a green satin scarf and gold crown. Her maids of honour were Misses Agnes Cairns,9 May Clegg, Lizzie Waters, and Annie Gannon, and her pages Masters Geo Rotchford, Thos. Harkin, Willie Collins, and Richard Hughes. The pages were dressed in black velvet and white coats, with green scarves.

All the Queens and Maids of Honour carried white bouquets, and had white wreaths and veils. The maids of honour wore white silk dresses and green scarves, with gold harps and shamrocks. The pages and attendants wore white suits, green satin scarves, black buckled shoes, and white hats with green plumes.

Some of the St Mary’s Children9

The teachers involved were the Mother Superior, assisted by Misses A Baines, M A Scanlon, C O’Grady, E Ryan, J Coleman, M J O’Neill, R Ryder, E Power, ? Gledhill, C A Phillips, M Bickley, A Maher and M Healey.

Many of the children’s names are familiar. Either boys who served in the war, or siblings of them. And sadly a number of them appear on the War Memorial. I have highlighted in bold the names of those 1907 era schoolboys who match names on War Memorial.

A Plate Presented to St Mary’s School Children in 1907 – With thanks to Shaun Camponi

The participation of the St Mary’s children in the pageant was not without controversy. It took place against the increasingly entrenched and bitter backdrop of the campaign for Home Rule for Ireland, the dominant movement of Irish Nationalism from the 1870s until the outbreak of the First World War. Home Rule sought the halfway house of limited self-government for the Irish, whilst remaining part of the United Kingdom.

These two letters, which appeared in the Batley News on 30 August 1914, perfectly illustrate the sensitivities regarding the St Mary’s children’s involvement in this overt display of British patriotism.

A writer under the alias ‘Jupiter’ penned:

Why a down-trodden and persecuted nation should be represented in England at any public enterprise by the very children of the exiled Irish, raising their voices in jubilant exultation by singing of the glories of the Government responsible for their sorrows and their tears, is a reflection full of serious import for the Irish Catholic and for the Irish Parliamentary Party in Westminster, to whom those children must look more than to any other influence outside themselves for the safety of their schools, before the conscienceless Government…For Irish children to join in singing the National Anthem of England bespeaks a total disregard for the feelings and sentiments of hundreds of those children and their kin. If Ireland is to be represented, let her be honestly represented, and let Irish songs, and no other, be sung.

Whilst pretending to support the school’s participation, in a thinly disguised attempt to stir up trouble, another correspondent made sly references to the soldiers shooting working men and women in Belfast and the King’s view of the Irish. Using a pseudonym, as was the tendency in such poisonous letters, they wrote:

Empire Day in Batley
The Position of the Catholic Children

Sir – Would you kindly allow me to express my views on the above festival in Batley, as a section of the public seems to have completely misunderstood it.
This display was got up for the benefit of the Batley Hospital – a most worthy object. All the inhabitants of the district feel grateful for the noble work of charity done in this excellent institution, and all must feel an honour in being able to assist it in every legitimate way in their power. But all are not satisfied with this late attempt to mix charity with politics.
Some feel keenly that their children should be compelled to represent ancient Ireland as singing Jingo songs.
Of course, every right-minded man must admit that it would be absurd to represent the Kings and Queens of ancient Ireland as singing “Rule Britannia” except for comic effect.
But here is where the misunderstanding has occurred. It was never intended to represent Ireland in such a ridiculous fashion. What was intended to represent the Irish Colony in Batley, namely Cross Bank, Skelsey Row, Fleming’s Buildings and Spa Street. I think they could not have been better represented than on this occasion. Irishmen of Batley are undoubtedly loyal to Edward VII. It is true he once said they were “Idolators,” but then can a king not be allowed that liberty of speech so freely granted to his subjects?
The Irishmen of Batley know well how their fatherland has prospered under the reign of His Gracious Majesty. It is true that the six counties are now proclaimed, one of the Irish party in prison, and English soldiers have been lately shooting at the working men and women in Belfast but then the intelligent Irishmen of Batley know that this is all their own fault, and if only they had obeyed our English law, none of those things would have happened.
Now I affirm in spite of the criticisms of some cranks, that the Irishmen of Batley were proud of their children on Saturday last. Their best thanks are due to the Director of Education for allowing the children of St. Mary’s Irish School to practice these patriotic songs at times often devoted to religious instruction.
Irishmen know well that such a training for their children will surely have its effect. That they will be able to bring up sons and daughters worthy of the land of their adoption; loyal men and women who shall one day vie with their neighbours in their anxiety to defend and expand this great Empire. Here is a grand example for any disaffected Irishmen in Batley Carr or Morley, one that should open their eyes to see things as your obedient servant.

The row rumbled on the following week with a bumper, and even more vitriolic, post bag about the part played by St Mary’s in the pageant. Some in the Irish community cast aspersions on the ‘Irishness’ of those parents who allowed their children to take part in the display, believing one motive was to ensure they kept their jobs. It was claimed not more than one half of those participating attended mass – code for them not being proper Catholics. Horror was expressed that time, which should have been spent on religious tuition, was spent on learning “God Save His Gracious Majesty”. There were cries that the identity of the Irish was being absorbed. The depiction of Ireland as an English Colony was condemned. The ‘shoddy Irish of Batley and their Britannia Club’ were denounced by a Dewsbury Irish correspondent – yes town rivalry played a part. There were even calls to bring over an Irish speaking teacher to St Mary’s to solve the perceived problem.

Others were jealously scathing of the fine display the school put on. One writer said they had expected to:

…see the ragamuffins of Cross Bank, Skelsey Row, Fleming’s Buildings, Spa Street, and Scargill Fold. But, lo and behold, instead of that I saw nothing but silk, velvet and plush.The rags had entirely disappeared…

The writer then claimed the finery had not been paid for, before letting slip their Non-conformist credentials.

There was a more measured analysis in and amongst the criticism though, about not:

…making a Hospital gala an occasion for fighting the battle of the Boyne over again…

It all illustrates what a difficult balancing act the Batley Irish community trod in this period. There was the toxic political dimension; the choice they faced between allegiances to Ireland and even the smallest attempts at integration; the criticism which rained down on those who were seen to be abandoning the land of their birth; the sneering religious opposition they faced in the town in which they lived; and the perception that they were a somehow inferior people. Yet within a decade Batley Catholics were fighting, and dying, in the British military.

1. Leeds Mercury, 26 August 1907;
2. Batley News, 30 August 1907;
3. In the first half of the 19th century Irish Nationalist leader Daniel O’Connell campaigned for the repeal of the Act of Union and the restoration of the Kingdom of Ireland. He also championed the rights of Catholics;
4. Robert Emmet was an Irish Nationalist leader who lead an abortive rebellion against British rule in 1803 and was captured, tried and executed for High Treason against George III;
5. The Batley Reporter and Guardian names them in full as Frank and Jimmie Tomlinson, and John Flatley;
6. Likely to be John Brooks on the Memorial, who features as Brooke in other records. The group of children he appears with are those born around 1894-1895 which would fit.
6. This duplication of the Agnes Cairns is as per the newspaper report
7. Heaton in the Batley Reporter and Guardian, 30 August 1907;
8. A third mention of an Agnes Cairns;
9. Batley Reporter and Guardian, 30 August 1907