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The anti-imperialists and socialist Republicans gathered in the Bodenstown area, Co. Kildare on Saturday 26th to commemorate “the Father of Irish Republicanism” at Wolf Tone’s graveside were fortunate in having a day overcast but remaining dry. A number of flags were flown in addition to the traditional Irish Republican ones and more than half the attendance was of young people. A few speeches were given, interspersed with songs and the organisers commented that attendance this year was a quintupling of that of the year before. The event was organised by the Seamus Costello Memorial Committee and such pilgrimages are part of a long tradition in Ireland.
THE ANNUAL PILGRIMAGE TRADITION
Wolf Tone’s grave is set apart from others in the ruins of an Anglican Church1 in the small still-used cemetery, now about 15 minutes’ walk from the village of Bodenstown in Co. Killdare (incidentally, the county itself named after a medieval Christian church) and is approached from one side by a quiet country road which, in the other direction, passes by some isolated houses.
An annual pilgrimage to Wolfe Tone’s grave has long been an Irish Republican tradition. Thomas Davis, of the Young Irelanders and The Nation journal, penned his dedication to Wolfe Tone around 1843 after he visited Tone’s grave but found it unmarked and, according to the lyrics and his introduction2, guarded by a local blacksmith3 who would allow nobody to set foot on it. Over the years efforts have been made by the independent National Graves Association to make the grave a monument, with a tomb and kind of podium erected against a wall of the church ruins, with inlaid stone and metal markers and flagpoles, their flags permanently lowered.
For many decades during part of the 19th Century and throughout the 20th, the site has been the destination of Irish Republicans, often accompanied by members of smaller left-wing groups. When serious splits occurred in the Republican movement, groups would time their visits not to coincide with the other’s but in 1934 socialists of the Irish Republican Congress, including a contingent from the Shankill loyalist area, attended the commemoration organised by the Sinn Féin and IRA of the period4. After the Fianna Fáil split from Sinn Féin the former held their commemoration separately (though some of their members would attend the SF one also). A film clip of the early 1970s shows a huge attendance including County associations, children’s marching bands and GAA sport clubs in addition to political groups and associations attending a Bodenstown commemoration organised by the SF organisation of the time but subsequent splits saw the Officials, Provisionals and IRSP hold commemorations on different days.
includes footage from 1969 and 1970 (watch in particular from 0.55 secs)
AT THE WEEKEND’S COMMEMORATION
Supporters formed up at a nearby road junction and in files, with flags and banners and led by a lone piper playing marching tunes, paraded to the cemetery. The parade entered and then formed up in front of the memorial where they were welcomed and the order of events, speeches, song and wreath-laying, was outlined by the chairperson of the event.
The speaker on behalf of Macradh — Irish Socialist Republican Youth said that a number of people thought they understood what Wolfe Tone stood for but felt that perhaps less than claimed to do so. The speaker took a number of quotations from Wolf Tone as the framework of what that Republican regarded as guiding objectives, tracing the necessity of a complete break from England (now the UK) and the reliance on the working “people of no property” to achieve independence.
Floral Wreaths and Bouquets were laid on behalf of the Michael Fagan Fenian Society; Coiste Chill Dara/ IAI An Mhí; Spirit of Freedom Society Westmeath; Ard-Choiste Anti-Imperialist Action.
In Bodenstown Churchyard by Thomas Davis was sung by a young musician accompanying himself on his guitar. Another singer sang some verses unaccompanied from Who Fears to Speak of ‘98 by John Kells Ingram but preceded them with the last verse of Sliabh na mBan, in which Mícheál Óg Ó Longáin, himself an Irish-speaking participant in the rising, expresses fervent hope for the long-heralded French invasion. The singer also spoke for a few minutes on the traditions of Irish Republican song and themes of pride in struggle despite martyrdom, jail or exile and how even some phrases emerge again in later songs.
The main oration of the event was given by a speaker on behalf of Irish Socialist Republicans who also took a number of quotations from Wolfe Tone, James Connolly, Liam Mellowes and Seamus Costello as laying out a trajectory of Irish socialist Republican thought and principles. Addressing the need for action according to words, the speaker stated the need for a disciplined group of people dedicated to socialist revolution in Ireland and breaking the dependent connection with imperialism, stating also that those activists need to be willing to act within a broad front.
Pointing to the urgent needs of the people being neglected in many areas such as in housing, the speaker called on the attendance to put their energies into revolutionary work, saying that there are many around the whole of the country who are interested in combining their efforts towards achieving an independent and socialist Ireland. The speaker commented that the attendance at this commemoration was five times the number who had attended the previous one and that he would not think it unreasonable to double the attendance for this time next year.
APPLAUSE & CONCLUSION
All speakers and singers were vigorously applauded with a special commendation for those who substituted at very short notice for the pre-arranged colour party (that had developed transport difficulties and had therefore been unable to reach the venue).
The organisers thanked all for their attendance and Eamon McGrath then sang the first verse of the Soldiers’ Song in English with the chorus in Irish.
1Theobald Wolfe Tone was at least nominally a member of the Church of Ireland congregation, which was the colonial established church in Ireland at the time. A number of the leaders and supporters of the United Irishmen were members of this small congregation in Ireland, while more belonged to other mostly larger sects, in particular the Presbyterian one. The vast majority of the population however and therefore a large force in the Rising also were Catholics.
2Published in The Nation.
3Blacksmiths have an important connection to the 1798 Rising since they made the pike-heads in their forges. For that and because they were easily identifiable in their local areas, blacksmiths suffered particularly in the post-rising repression by British soldiers, loyalist militia (the “Yeos”, from “yeomanry”) and Orange bands.
4This contingent was shamefully attacked by a group of IRA and SF and had to defend themselves vigorously so as to continue their participation.
USEFUL LINKS FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
Wolfe Tone biographical notes, grave, lyrics of In Bodenstown Churchard: http://www.nga.ie/1798-Wolfe_Tone.php
A hostile anti-Republican piece which nevertheless notes the 1969 bombing attack on the memorial by the Ulster Volunteer Force (British Loyalist and religious-sectarian terrorist organisation): https://www.historyireland.com/volume-26/time-to-decommission-wolfe-tone-at-bodenstown/
Brian Hanley on the Republican Congress (with a mention of the Bodenstown incident): https://www.lookleft.ie/2014/12/a-disputed-legacy/
Macradh AIA Youth FB: https://www.facebook.com/ISRYouth
AIA Ireland FB: https://www.facebook.com/AIA-Ireland-100591735568561/