Patrick Dollan - Times Past
In partnership with the Glasgow Times, our archivists are exploring Glasgow's fascinating history. This week, Michael Gallagher writes about Sir Patrick Dollan.
He was a gun-carrying firebrand who served time with hard labour in Wormwood Scrubs. He helped broker the USA’s involvement in the Second World War and evaded the grasp of Neo-Nazis. He was also Glasgow’s Lord Provost and a knight of the realm.
These are just some of the many lives of Patrick Dollan.
One of 13 siblings, Dollan was born and raised in Baillieston. He attended St Bridget’s school where, he once quipped, he and his schoolmates in their blue uniforms “would have provided a very thrilling and inspiring spectacle for Rangers Football Club.”
Dollan left school at the age of ten to work in the local grocers. He later followed his father down the mines (an experience he described as “like sliding into Purgatory”). He took evening classes on the side, where he developed a talent for writing. He wrote about mining for the Evening Times under the pseudonym Myner Collier. As he became more involved in the labour movement he joined the Independent Labour Party newspaper Forward.
This background formed the basis for Dollan’s political career. He was elected to the Glasgow Corporation in 1913 as a representative for Govan. He remained in municipal politics until his retirement in 1946, believing that the local arena offered more opportunity to affect real change, compared with Westminster.
He demonstrated this early in his career with a prominent role in the 1915 rent strikes. His opposition to the First World War led to a prison sentence of 112 days. After the war Dollan held many key positions within the Corporation and gained a reputation for pulling the levers in the local Labour “machine”. In 1938 he was elected Lord Provost, becoming the first person from an Irish-Catholic background to hold the office.
Dollan pledged to be an ambassador for Glasgow promoting the city internationally, including a high-profile visit to New York in 1939. When war broke out soon after, Dollan became an enthusiastic supporter of the conflict, encouraging Glaswegians to enlist to defeat fascism. This "U-turn" drew criticism from some left-leaning associates, as did the knighthood he accepted for war services in 1941. It also led to the Neo-Nazi death threats many years later, according to Dollan, who revealed that once he carried a revolver. Not in any official capacity but “in my capacity as Pat Dollan. He was more important.”
Dollan also claimed to be the first man in Europe to know that America would join the war effort. Winston Churchill asked him to schmooze with President Roosevelt’s closest advisers, Harry Hopkins, who visited Glasgow in 1941.
After leaving front-line politics, Dollan remained active in public life. He played a key role in the development of East Kilbride where the swimming pool bears his name. A colourful, often controversial figure, there have been few more influential figures in Glasgow politics than Sir Patrick Dollan.