McCarron, Edward Patrick (1881–1970), civil servant, was born on 1 March 1881 in Co. Louth, youngest of three sons of Edward McCarron of Fanad, Co. Donegal, and his wife, Katherine (née McKeown), a native of Co. Louth. Having worked for two years as a teacher in a school managed by the notorious third earl of Leitrim (qv) on his Fanad estate, McCarron senior joined Irish Lights in 1866 and served as lighthouse keeper at Dundalk, Arranmore island, Inishtrahull and Ardglass before transfer to the Baily lighthouse, Howth, Co. Dublin, towards the end of his career; his memoirs, Life in Donegal, 1850–1900, were published in 1981.
E. P. McCarron was educated by the Christian Brothers at O'Connell schools in Dublin and joined the civil service as a boy clerk in November 1896 when still only 15 years old. He served first in the Land Commission and then with the Congested Districts Board before becoming an assistant clerk in the Local Government Board (LGB) in January 1901 and a second division clerk in May that year. He worked as clerk to an LGB auditor (1903–8), was himself appointed as third-class auditor in May 1909 on a temporary basis, and, having sat a qualifying examination, was appointed on a permanent basis in April 1911. Having studied at King's Inns (1911–14), he was called to the bar in 1914 and promoted to a second-class auditor post in June 1920. Like other auditors, he soon found himself in difficulty with local councils who, having decided to withdraw recognition from the LGB, refused to submit their accounts for audit. McCarron and other auditors then applied to the court of king's bench for orders of mandamus which, although granted in most cases, achieved nothing. In 1920–21 he was assigned on loan to the chief secretary's office at Dublin Castle to work with George Chester Duggan (qv), then a principal officer in the finance division of that office, on preparations for the commencement of the financial clauses of the Government of Ireland Act. McCarron became a first-class auditor in October 1921 at a salary of £700 a year, but LGB staff returns indicate that he continued to be on loan until February 1922.
On 22 February 1922 W. T. Cosgrave (qv), then minister for local government in the provisional government, gave formal notice to LGB officials that McCarron 'was to be facilitated freely in all respects as regards any information he requires in all matters affecting Local Government. Officials in charge of papers shall submit them for decision at the City Hall and take any necessary directions from Mr McCarron who is authorised by the minister to receive them.' Having met Cosgrave in early March, a senior British official at Dublin Castle understood that McCarron was acting as Cosgrave's 'personal secretary and assistant, a position in which he can do most useful work as he of course is familiar with the various financial problems from the Castle point of view, and is both an experienced and trustworthy official' (TNA, T 158/7, letter of 7 March 1922).
Although no announcement of the appointment had been made the matter was raised in the dáil on 1 March 1922 by Joseph MacDonagh (qv), the anti-treaty TD for Tipperary, who asked Cosgrave if he had taken McCarron into his service and made him private secretary and liaison officer between his department and the LGB. In reply, MacDonagh was told that McCarron was still on the payroll of the LGB but that his services were being availed of by Cosgrave in his capacity as a member of the provisional government and that he was acting under Cosgrave's direction and with his authority in matters affecting the functions of the LGB. MacDonagh followed up by suggesting that McCarron had attested under the Derby scheme during the war, that he had offered his services to the military in Drogheda during Easter week, and that he had surcharged Balrothery board of guardians in respect of the salary of the dáil deputy Dr Richard Hayes (qv) for a period during which the doctor was in gaol. Cosgrave pleaded ignorance of these allegations although he argued, as regards the surcharge, that McCarron would have failed in his duty and left himself liable to instant dismissal if he had not acted (Dáil Éireann, Official report, 1 March 1922, 141–2).
Sir Henry Augustus Robinson (qv) had given notice of his wish to step down on 15 March 1922 from the vice-presidency of the LGB but this created difficulty because the Irish and British sides could not agree on a successor. Cosgrave suggested that it would be best to let Robinson stay on until 31 March, and in an effort to break the impasse wrote on 27 March to the chairman of the provisional government (Michael Collins (qv)) suggesting that the accounting officer vacancy would then have to be filled by 'an official having a correct impression of the psychology of the times' and going on to discuss the case for appointing McCarron, noting his professional qualifications, his twenty-five-year career with the LGB, his usefulness, efficiency, ability and industry, and his practice of usually working in the office until 10.00 p.m. He concluded that he had no alternative but to recommend McCarron, apparently ignoring the possibility of appointing one of the more senior staff of the LGB, or any of the staff of his own dáil department. In a subsequent letter he wrote that McCarron had been, in effect, his chief executive officer since 22 February and would become so in fact as from 31 March when Robinson would relinquish duty; a letter of appointment as accounting officer followed on 31 March (NAI Fin 1/2658).
While Cosgrave had intended that McCarron should also be appointed as secretary, his status was that of acting secretary until 12 September 1922 when the new minister, Ernest Blythe (qv), at the request of Cosgrave who had transferred to the Department of Finance two weeks earlier, gave notice that McCarron was appointed secretary, adding that he would exercise authority generally over the various units of the department as well as the work of the general local administration branch, while Michael de Lacy (a senior member of the staff assimilated from the 1919–22 dáil department) would act as principal of that branch. It is clear from this wording that there was still some sensitivity about the position of de Lacy and other officials who were now to be subservient to McCarron, whose appointment was resented by many of those who had, at some risk to themselves, served the department. Blythe told the Bureau of Military History in 1954 that the appointment led to the threat of a crisis corresponding to that which had arisen in the Civic Guards in May 1922 when certain ex-RIC men had been employed as officers and instructors; McCarron handed Blythe his resignation but Blythe refused to accept it and the crisis was defused (BMH, WS 939).
McCarron's assignment as secretary of a department responsible for local government, health, social welfare and transport – one of the most active in the first ten years of the Free State – was a demanding one but he proved to be 'undoubtedly a man of outstanding ability' and 'an extremely active and reforming secretary' (Daly, 166). He inherited a local government system which had been severely disrupted from mid 1920 onwards, when most of the local councils broke off relations with the LGB, roads and bridges had been damaged during the war of independence and the civil war, and the closure of workhouses and the transformation of some of them into county hospitals had been carried through in only some of the counties. In the disturbed conditions of the 1920s, a large number of local councils had to be dissolved (including Dublin and Cork corporations) while a substantial reform programme was pushed through: rural district councils (which McCarron regarded as an experiment in democracy which never really succeeded) were abolished in 1925; boards of guardians were replaced by county boards of health; the Local Appointments Commission was set up in 1926; the management system was introduced to local government, beginning in Cork city in 1929; and the national health insurance system was reorganised.
McCarron was described in 1927 as a very amiable and capable secretary, one of the most familiar and popular figures in Government Buildings, and known to work for an almost incredible number of hours every day. However, without prior warning, he was formally advised on 30 November 1936 (S.6744) that the executive council had removed him from office with effect from 1 December. The Irish Times reported that news of the removal of 'one of the ablest administrators in any government department' had caused general surprise and had been received with incredulity in the civil service. It carried in full a lengthy statement in which McCarron explained that his minister, Seán T. O'Kelly (qv), had told him that the immediate reason for his dismissal was dissatisfaction and embarrassment caused by a medical appointment at Portrane Asylum, but O'Kelly also alleged that McCarron had not given him his full confidence. McCarron insisted that this claim was without the slightest foundation and although he had been awarded a pension at the highest possible rate and had declined an offer of another civil service position without loss of salary, he regarded his removal from office as being arbitrary and unjust. The government defended its action on the basis that the minister could no longer have that complete confidence in McCarron's discretion and general appreciation of government policy which was necessary for efficient administration, but John A. Costello (qv) sought to have a dáil select committee appointed publicly to investigate and report on the dismissal; his motion to this effect was regarded as a motion of censure by President de Valera (qv) and was defeated (Dáil Éireann debates, lxv, no. 1 (3 February 1937), 54–144).
McCarron was co-opted as a director of the Irish Civil Service Building Society in 1934 and was chairman of the board of the society (1950–60). In 1945 he was elected to the board of the Hibernian Insurance Company, a position which he occupied for some twenty years. At different times he was also a director of Irish Pensions Trust, a director of Waterford Ironfounders, a member of the film censorship appeals board, and chairman of the Dublin Trout Anglers' Association. He died 4 October 1970 at Mount Carmel Hospital, Dublin, and was survived by his wife, Agnes Mary (May) (1893–1974), with whom he had lived at Cowper Road, Rathmines, Dublin, and by three sons; he and his wife are buried at Deansgrange cemetery. His brothers, also civil servants, predeceased him: Hugh J. (1874–1940) ended his career as chief assistant registrar of deeds, while John (d. 1951) worked for most of his life in the national health insurance section of the Department of Local Government and Public Health. An appreciation by Frank Duff (qv) (founder of the Legion of Mary and himself a civil servant (1908–34)) described McCarron as a man of grace and charm, supremely accessible, an ideal administrator with a keen mind, who worked almost round the clock every day during his official life but whose career stood the risk of being buried in oblivion.