According to reports, a Dublin City Councillor and former Lord Mayor, Niall Ring, along with his son, were racially abused and assaulted in a pub in Fulham, a part of SW London in which the Chelsea FC stadium is located.
Ring recounted how, having a pint after watching a game at the Chelsea stadium, first his son was racially abused and then, as they tried to leave, each assaulted, requiring a hospital attendance for both.
Decades ago I was active in a building occupation for homeless families five minutes’ walk from the stadium as Fulham became gentrified and even then, though like many parts of London it had its Irish community with pubs and trad music, Chelsea FC was particularly known for its fascist ultras.
Whether affiliated to the National Front or its successor the British Movement, they took part in attacks on migrants and ethnic minorities, including the Irish and in particular on marches in Irish solidarity, when groups like AFA, Red Action and some Irish Republicans led the counterattack.
And the police usually restricted themselves to attack the Irish and antifascists.
Some years after that period in Fulham, I joined the Irish in Britain Representation Group and soon after was elected to the Ard-Choiste, which had meetings approximately monthly. Since the branches ranged from NE Lancashire to London, the meeting city venues were rotated.
Consequently I was often enough on a train journey between London and Manchester and on one occasion was unfortunate enough to share a carriage on a full train with a load of racist and fascist Chelsea FC fans returning to London.
I plugged my walkman leads into my ears to avoid getting into conversation with any of them but played no music so I could listen to what went on. In the course of that horror journey I heard racist chants against the martyred Bobby Sands and even against the population of Liverpool.
I also noted their use of the term “Fenians”, not at all common among the English, presumably learned from equally racist Rangers and Linfield FC fans. A white man walking through the carriage with a dark woman elicited hisses of “race traitor”.
This is the kind of scum that the boot-boys of fascism everywhere are and which are trying to get a foothold here in Ireland through the protests against refugees (which Ring referenced briefly).
In late November last year the UK’s Home Secretary1 referred to refugees and migrants entering Britain as “an invasion”, for which a Hollocaust survivor, 83-year-old Joan Salter, challenged her, likening her speech to that of the Nazis.
An NGO working with refugees, Freedom From Torture, posted some of the exchange on Twitter. In turn, the NGO came under pressure from the Home Office to retract the video.
This month, not only did the charity refuse but did so publicly, fully endorsing the content of the video.
Anyone would well understand the difference between invading a country and entering it as a refugee, asylum seeker or even economic migrant. Those come unarmed, fleeing to safety or trying to make a living for themselves and their family.
A minister of a British Government should be extremely well-placed to understand the distinction. After all, there is no continent and very few countries, including its near neighbours, which the British ruling class has not caused to be invaded at some time or other.2
From the time the descendants of the Anglo-Saxon invaders of Celtic England merged with the descendants of the later Norman invaders, England has gone from being a major invading and colonising military and naval power to being a major imperialist one.
Imperialist action did not always end in invasion; pressure could be applied in other ways, through bribery — or open threat. The term “gunboat diplomacy” was coined to describe imperialist actions short of actual invasion and Britain was renowned for actions of that type.
The ruling class of Britain has waged war against people to take over trade routes, to colonise land and extract resources, in competition with other colonial powers, to quash resistance and even for the right to sell opium in China.
In the course of those colonial and imperialist activities, Britain has carried out many invasions. In fact, Suella’s parents themselves come from former colonies.
Braverman is a child of migrants
Suella Braverman is the daughter of parents of Indian origin who emigrated to Britain in the 1960s: Uma (née Mootien-Pillay) from Mauritius and Christie Fernandes, from Kenya. Both those countries have indeed been invaded by Britain.
Kenya in particular from 1952-1960 had one of the worst experiences of colonial treatment by the British military, including wide-scale murder, torture and rape. India and Pakistan had their infrastructure and manufacture undermined by Britain leading to regular country-wide famines.
Suella should know about invasions, refugees and migrants but is on record as saying that the British Empire was on the whole a beneficial experience for its conquered. This is a prime example of the “slave mind” that apes the invader and wants to collaborate with it.3
Such “slave-minded” people can be even more vicious and callous in their attitudes than the conquerors themselves and Braverman certainly fills that bill. And it’s not just in occasional choice of words that Braverman nears Nazi appearance.
During Braverman’s unsuccessful campaign for selection as leader of the Conservative Party last July, she said her priorities would have included to “solve the problem of boats crossing the Channel” and “to withdraw the UK from the European Convention of Human Rights.”
In October 2022, Braverman said that she would love to see a front page of The Daily Telegraph sending asylum seekers to Rwanda4 and described it as her “dream” and “obsession.” No doubt she includes human rights and legality concerns as “all of this woke rubbish.5”
A courageous NGO
Holocaust survivor Joan Salter, the woman who accused Braverman of Nazi-like speech, is the daughter of refugees from Nazi persecution who survived but endured imprisonment and hazardous journeys. She has an MBE for her work on Holocaust education.
In response to a Home Office accusation that the clip is only partial and therefore misleading, the NGO’s CEO Sonya Sceats pointed out the full exchange is available in video on its website and said the charity will not remove the Twitter clip.
“As an organisation providing therapy to torture survivors who feel targeted by her language and who know first-hand where such dehumanising language can lead, we will not do so. She has used language she should be ashamed of, and we won’t be pressured into helping her hide it.”
Non-Governmental Organisations nearly always rely on government funding, whether directly or indirectly and as a result tend not to rock the boat too much, in case they find their boat getting smaller or their team even being tossed overboard.
As a result, in public the CEOs of those organisations tend to vary from generally totally compliant6 to cautiously critical on certain occasions. In that context, the actions of Salter in the initial video and of the Freedom From Torture NGO in militantly backing her can only be admired.
1This is the UK’s equivalent to Minister for Home Affairs, these days normally restricted to Britain (i.e excluding the colony in Ireland) and in particular England and Wales (i.e often excluding even Scotland).
3The concept of the ‘slave mind’ or ‘colonised mind’ has been addressed by a number of writers on national liberation, notably Patrick Pearse (1879-1916) from Ireland and Franz Fanon (1925-1961) from Martinique.
4That plan has been condemned by many human and civil rights organisations and also denounced as illegal.
5A quote dating from her attempt at Leader of the Conservative Party.
Speech by Pat Reynolds2 in Commemoration of Irish Civil Wars 1920-1923 on a sub-zero evening outside Camden Irish Centre, London on 8th Dec 2022
(Reading time: 15 mins.)
A Chairde Ghaeil agus a Chomrádaithe, tonight we are gathered here to remember and celebrate the lives of Liam Mellows, Rory O’Connor, Dick Barrett and Joe McKelvey, four great Irish patriots.
We also call out the neo-colonial Irish Free State for those unlawful murders and all other executions carried out by this British Imperialism-backed Dublin regime, acting on orders to attack the Irish Republic and its army and people.
In remembering this time and the setting up of the Irish Free State and the Northern Ireland government 1920 -1923 we take the Republican view of history in an All-Ireland context and avoid the narrow structures of the Free State 26-County centenaries.
These ignore the Six Counties and the heroic role played by the people there in defence of the Republic and a United Ireland.
In looking at this time in history we consider the two proxy wars waged in Ireland by British guns and on behalf of imperialistic interest to put down the Republican fight for a 32-county Irish Republic declared in Dublin at Easter 1916.
That was voted by a very large majority in 1918 for the same All-Ireland Republic, fought for in a war of independence from 1919 -1920 by an undefeated IRA.
The revisionists try to partition the Irish struggle to backdate some kind of imaginary Loyalist/Unionist state which never existed, was never fought for or voted on to create a colonial divide-and-rule in what was always even — under colonial rule — one country.
As Republicans we reject the 1948 Republic declared by the Blueshirts3 and fascist Franco ally Costello.
Those who want to read about this heroic struggle by the Irish people should read the two books by Ernie O’Malley TheSinging Flame on the War of Independence and On Another’s Man’s Wound on the Civil War.
In looking at the history of this time we see two wars being fought against the Republic, the first in what became Northern Ireland from June 1920 to June 1922, a two-year war to put down the Republican people in the North East of Ireland.
The second war was within the newly created 26 Counties Free State from November 1922 to May 1923, a nine-month war by British guns against the Republic.
It is sad to state here tonight that the only war ever fought by the Free State Army was to put down the Irish Republic and its own people.
James Joyce in the Dubliners short story collection has this wonderful story The Dead where at the end he looks out the window and sees it is snowing, in his words “it is snowing all over Ireland, snowing, on the living and the dead.”
At that time in history, we see British guns firing down all over Ireland, leaving us the heroic dead and the living nightmare that became the Irish Free State and the Six Counties, seen years earlier by James Connolly as “a carnival of reaction”.
What we see happening at this time of history is that Imperialism tried and won by negotiation what they had failed to do in war, to defeat the undefeatable IRA and the undefeated people.
The imposition of Partition upon the Irish people required the breaking up of the Republic declared in 1916 in rebellion, by democratic vote in 1918, and fought for in the War of Independence from 1919-1921.
The Imperialists moved first to break the Republicans and Nationalists in the North East of Ireland.
We see from Churchill’s father playing “the Orange card”4 to benefit the Tory party in the late 1800 to the Curragh Mutiny in 1913, and the arming of the Unionists their intentions on retaining the wealthiest part of Ireland and the Belfast manufacturing base of shipbuilding.
We see the hand of Sir Henry Wilson at play from the aftermath of the Curragh Mutiny, where he protected senior army officers, to his role in being political and military advisor to the emerging Northern Ireland government, and the arming of the new Unionist state.
We see his hand in diverting the body of Terence MacSwiney from Holyhead to Cork, the hanging of young Kevin Barry and the Orange led anti-Catholic pogroms of Belfast and Banbridge.
We see it in other links too with the Orange murder gangs which, led by Orangemen were involved in murders in Cork, and in the murder of Thomas MacCurtain Lord Major of Cork.
District Inspector Swanzy5 was believed to be responsible for the gang who murdered Thomas MacCurtain who was then moved to Lisburn, Co. Antrim. He was tracked there and executed by the IRA.
Sir Edward Carson in the House of Commons supported the Amritsar Massacre6 as did Churchill who falsely claimed that the protesters were armed and stated, ‘Men who take up arms against the State must expect at any moment to be fired on.
Men who take up arms unlawfully cannot expect that troops will wait until they are quite ready to begin the conflict. When asked What about Ireland?, Churchill stated, I agree and it is in regard to Ireland that I am specially making this remark.
We can see this in the murder of Thomas Mac Curtain7 and other Republicans
Also when another Orangeman from Banbridge, Colonel Smyth stated this policy that suspects could be shot on sight if the RUC had good reason to believe they might be carrying weapons or did not put up their hands.
Smyth’s new shoot-to-kill policy was published and he was recalled to London to meet Lloyd George. Michael Collins ordered that Smyth be executed before he could implement his shoot to kill policy.
Later on, Smyth’s brother,8 also in special forces was shot dead in a shoot-out with Dan Breen in Dublin. After Smyth’s funeral in Banbridge there was organised large scale anti-Catholic attacks on businesses and houses.
The anti-Catholic pogroms lasted for two years from June 1920-June 1922 in the North-East of Ireland in Belfast, Banbridge and other areas. There were over 500 deaths in these pogroms but only 13% (65) were army/police or IRA while the other 87% were civilians.
Here civilians are the main targets, with 58% of these being Catholic and 42% being Protestant. But based on the population of Belfast at the time, 76% Protestant and 24% Catholic, Catholics were four times more likely to be killed than Protestants.
The British government stood largely idly by while these pogroms went on and did absolutely nothing about it.
We see this clearly in how Catholic workers and Protestant socialists were driven out of the shipyards, some ten thousand Catholic workers driven out of their jobs for being Irish and Catholic and we see one thousand homes and business burned out.
Some 80%of the places burned out were Catholic-occupied or owned and 80% of the refugees were Catholic. Considering Catholics only made up one quarter of the Belfast population we can see what happened here.
This was the putting down of the Republican nationalist community to enforce the partition in Ireland and to prepare for a one-party neo-fascist apartheid Protestant statelet.
The impact of the ten thousand job losses and the burning of houses and businesses led to large scale migration of Catholics from the North east to Britain and to Dublin.
We also see at this time the use of British death squads to murder Catholic as they did in Cork City with McCurtain and now in Belfast with the McMahon family and others. These death squads were operating within the RUC9.
In the 1970-1995 period we see the emergence again of these British death squads in Northern Ireland linked to British intelligence, army and police with often open collusion and sharing of agents and information.
Collins had asked a Catholic priest and a university professor to record and write up each of the deaths during the pogroms, but when it was at the printers the Free State government after Collins death decided to pulp the whole print run.
This was in order to cover up what had happened to the Republican/nationalist community around Belfast in the pogroms, probably because of their own shame with the own war crimes of executions of prisoners and atrocities during the war.
It was to add to their shameful record. The story of the Orange pogrom was not published until the 1990s. Those who want to can read it under the title Orange Terror. Equally The Orange State or Arming the Protestants by Michael Farrell cover this time.
The execution of Sir Henry Wilson in London in June 1922 put an end to these pogroms against Catholics in that the head of the serpent, the rabid anti-Catholic Orange Bigot was gone.
He was a political and military advisor to the new Northern Ireland government and was largely responsible for the arming of the new Protestant state, including the B Specials10.
Tonight, we honour those brave Irish volunteers and community activists who tried to stop the pogroms and defend isolated Catholic areas in Belfast where most of the killings took place, those who stood for an All-Ireland Republic and against the imposition of Partition.
We must never separate their fight from the fight in the rest of Ireland to defend the Republic. The partitionist mind has no place in Republican history.
The war in Ireland to smash the Republic now turned to the rest of Ireland when under Churchill’s orders and Churchill-supplied weapons, Collins attacked the Republican army in the Four Courts starting a second proxy war on behalf of British imperialism in Ireland.
The Truce between the undefeated IRA and the British government started on 6th July 1921 and ended with the Treaty of 5/6 December 1921. The Treaty was signed under threats by Lloyd George of immediate and terrible war.
The Treaty today would be seen as unconstitutional under international law given the violent threats made by Lloyd George. The Treaty was for the Partition of Ireland with a British Governor General in Dublin and an oath of loyalty to the English King.
Two of the big lies around the Treaty were when Collins stated it was a stepping stone towards a united Ireland, in fact it was a millstone around the necks of the Irish people since then.
The second lie to justify this surrender was that the IRA was weak and low in arms. This was nonsense as evidenced by the Civil war fight.
The Dáil on 7th January 1922 voted 64-57 in favour of the Treaty, once again the Dáil11 voted under the duress of immediate and terrible war.
All the women deputies voted against it, as did the female relatives of the 1916 leaders Pearse, Connolly, the MacSwineys and Cumann na mBan
The Catholic Bishops fully supported the Treaty as they did with the Act of Union in 1800, and every priest in Maynooth took an oath of loyalty to the English Crown on ordination.
The Press in Dublin, TheIrish Times, Independent and The Freema ns Journal all supported the Treaty as did big businesses, big farmers and the Unionist community which included four Unionist TDs.
From January to May 1922 Collins rebuilt the new Irish army up to some 58,000 men. These included some 30,000 ex-British Army men, some 3,000 deserters from the IRA and some 25,000 new recruits.
The British Army allowed any serving Irishman to transfer into the new Irish army without any loss of pay or rank.
Collins was running to London on a regular basis to see Churchill who wanted to see the new army attack the IRA. In May 1922 Churchill stated that ‘there is a general reluctance to kill each other’.
There was a General Election on 16th June 1922 when Pro-Treaty group won 58 seats with 35 going to anti-Treaty, four to Unionists, 17 Labour, seven to a Farmers’ party and 17 others.
Collins broke the Pact with De Valera under orders from Britain and by June 1922 there were two armies in Ireland, the IRA and the new army set up by Collins and Mulcahy.
The IRA held an Army Convention in Dublin with over 200 delegates representing about 75% of the IRA and they voted to stand by the Republic.
They took over the Four Courts under the leadership of Rory O’Connor and Liam Mellows with Liam Lynch as Chief of Staff.
After the execution of Sir Henry Wilson on Collins’ command, the British government blamed the Four Courts garrison and Lloyd George openly called for the Four Courts to be attacked or the Treaty would be declared void.
On 28th June 1922 Collins ordered the Four Courts to be attacked using borrowed British big guns, but even the uniforms boots and the Lee Enfield rifles had been supplied by Churchill.
A big explosion of ammunition inside the Four Courts led to their surrender, while fighting continued around O’Connell Stree and Cathal Burgha died emerging from one building. The IRA retreated from Dublin towards their new Munster Republic.
Griffiths and Collins were to die in August 1922 and the war against the Republic entered a new and ugly phase. Mulcahy set up a semi-dictatorship, fascist in outlook and in practise. On 15th October he introduced the new Bill labelled “the Murder Bill” into Dáil Éireann.
The new government’s links with fascists can be clearly seen later on in the 1930s with their linking up with Blueshirts, their support for Franco and we saw against in the 1970s, with their police Heavy Gangs, press censorship and emergency courts12.
The Emergency Powers Act aka the Murder Bill is a shameful chapter of history which that party and the people involved including the church by its silence needs to be held accountable.
In November 1922 Ernie O Malley was arrested lucky for him he was badly wounded so escaped being executed, but on 17th November 1922 four young Republicans were executed by their State to get the public ready for bigger executions.
The later execution of Erskine Childers a patriotic Irish man was most shameful. Griffiths’ mocking of Childers was racist and shocking as all the Irish abroad and at home would be offended by Griffiths. Childers with an Irish mother was as Irish as De Valera, Pearse, Cathal Brugha or Terence MacSwiney.
The Free state was formally up on 6th December 1922, on 7th Sean Hayes TD was shot dead by the IRA and the following morning the Free state executed Rory O’Connor, Liam Mellows Dick Barrett and Joe McKelvey from Belfast one from each province.
While the Free State made a big issue of a TD being killed, they themselves killed in cold blood Cathal Brugha, Harry Boland and Liam Mellows, all TDs.
The song composed after the executions,
Take it down from the mast Irish traitors, It’s the flag we Republicans claim. You murdered brave Liam and Rory You have taken young Richard and Joe.13
The Free State went on to commit further war crimes against the Republic and Republicans; in all they murdered over 80 men without proper trial and in cold blood.
They executed four young IRA men in Donegal and Sean McKeown was responsible for the cold-blooded murder of the Noble Six Republican prisoners in Sligo.
Co Kerry was the worst for Free State atrocities, in one case nine IRA prisoners were tied to a land mine and blown to pieces, along with four more executed in Kerry and more again executed by land mine in Cahirciveen.
In total 17 were murdered in cold blood by the Free State army in Kerry. There had been over 400 sentenced to death over 80 state executions, but we must also add in the number of surrendered prisoners who were executed.
Tod Andrews in his Book Dublin Made Me suggested the total figure of State and army executions during this time to be 153.
After the death of Liam Lynch, the IRA decided to dump arms at the end of April 1922.
In a general election in August 1922 the Free State got 63 seats with Sinn Féin getting 44 despite the loss of the Civil War. In 1926 DeValera14 broke with Sinn Féin and in 1927 won 44 seats with Fianna Fáil, thus taking the Sinn Féin vote.
In 1932 De Valera came to power and he in turn after using the IRA in the 1930s to defeat the Blueshirts turned against them and was cruel in his jailing and treatment of Republicans.
To finish, we are here tonight in Camden to honour all those who stood with the Republic in the War of Independence and in the battle to prevent the Partition of Ireland.
Those who died in the pogroms in the North East as much as the young soldiers who died defending the Republic in the Civil War.
In the Republic too the Free State used the same tool as the Unionists in using a form of ethnic cleansing to push out their opponents out by emigration.
Just as the Catholics in the North East were driven out of Harland and Wolf and driven abroad, so too were the defeated Republicans in the rest of Ireland who could not get a job in the army, police or civil service, in teaching or in any other public service.
We see in Sean Sexton’s book of Irish Photos15 whole IRA battalions in New York and in Chicago at their annual dinner dances driven out of |Ireland by the new Free state.
By 1923 the Irish Republican Army had been defeated in the battle for the Republic but their spirit was still alive among the Irish people. In every generation the Republican movement would attempt to fight on towards that original dream of a United Irish republic.
More so the Spirit of the Republic came alive in the 30-year war in Northern Ireland from 1969 -1998, and it came alive in the 1981 Hunger strike of Bobby Sands MP and his nine comrades.
As we approach another crucial stage in Irish history, we need to be wary of the dying embers of British imperialism, they will again try and dilute that Republican dream with offers of NATO, Commonwealth, and a role for British monarchy.
We can see the Tory Right again use the Orange card with the Protocol where they are prepared to break an international agreement.
And we see in the Legacy Bill how the Tory Party has contempt for all the people of Northern Ireland, Unionist and Nationalist, when it comes to protecting British imperial interest there.
We see it in unionist Keir Starmer16 when he stated that he would campaign for Northern Ireland to stay in the Union, contrary to another agreed international treaty to remain neutral on this issue. Let us as Republicans remain eternally vigilant against British deceit.
Tonight, as we honour the men and women who stood by the Republic and against the Partition of Ireland, we should stand by the same Republic declared by the 1916 Proclamation free from any British interference and the pledge to treat all our children equally17.
We stand here too in the spirit of Tone and Connolly.
We stand proudly in honour of four brave Irish patriots here tonight, in honour of the workers driven from the shipyards of Belfast, the people who perished in the pogroms, the men and women in the North East and in the whole of Ireland who stood with the Republic, all those who gave their lives for the Republic, and those who down the long years have fought and kept that flame alive.
The view of Joyce that it is snowing all over Ireland stays with me on this cold night, but it moves on to a vision of Ireland of Easter lilies growing in freedom all over Ireland and dancing freely in the breeze.
It is there in the struggle of those who fought and died for the Republic. That we remember tonight. It is there in the words of Bobby Sands in his Rhythm of Time18 when he shouts that they, the Republicans, were Right.
1The title was chosen be Rebel Breeze as this take on the Irish Civil War consisting of two wars (or campaigns?) is unusual and worthy of consideration. The editing for publication and footnotes are Rebel Breeze’s also. The text was supplied thanks to Pat Reynolds.
2Pat Reynolds, from Longford, is a long-time Irish community activist settled in London. He was co-founder of the campaigning Irish in Britain Representation Group and is co-founder of the Terence McSwiney Commemoration Committee.
3Irish fascist organisation of the 1930s led by former Free State Commissioner of Police and former IRA officer Eoin O’Duffy.
4A reference to the 1886 quotation of the senior Churchill with regard to whipping up members of the unionist Orange Order in Ireland to defeat British Government proposals on Ireland.
5Of the Royal Irish Constabulary, the British colonial gendarmerie in Ireland.
6In India, 1919 when over 1,000 unarmed people were shot dead by British Army soldiers.
7IRA Volunteer and elected Lord Mayor of Cork in January 1920, murdered by Royal Irish Constabulary in March 1920.
8Major George Osbert Smyth, one of the British Army killed during an escape from a raid on a house in Drumcondra, Dublin of IRA Volunteers Dan Breen and Sean Tracy during raid to capture them.
9Royal Ulster Constabulary, British colonial gendarmerie, currently renamed Police Service of Northern Ireland.
10A part-time reserve of the RUC which had weapons at home or at work, greatly detested and feared among the nationalist community. The reserve was disbanded in May 1970 with many members incorporated into the Ulster Defence Regiment of the British Army.
11Dáil Éireann, an all-Ireland Parliament prior to Partition, now of the Irish State and excluding the six counties of the British colony.
12Reference to a special political police force tasked with repression of Republicans and gaining confessions under torture (see for example framing of The Sallins accused and Joanne Hayes case), the censorship under Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act and the Special no-jury Courts set up under the Amendment to the Offences Against the State Act.
13Two couplets from different verses of the Soldiers of Twenty-Two Irish Republican song.
14Éamonn De Valera, a 1916 commandant, later anti-Treaty leader, later still founder of the Fianna Fáil party after splitting from Sinn Féin, Taoiseach (Prime Minister) and later President of the Irish State.
Current media news reports quote James McClean, a player for the English Football League club Stoke City and for the soccer team of the Irish State1, protesting against being subjected to anti-Irish racism and his wife Erin also, not so much on her own behalf but in consideration of her three children. McClean points out that while other kinds of discrimination are rightly opposed, anti-Irish racism goes largely ignored by British society and by the football profession. Despite its existence for 800 years and its persistence today, anti-Irish racism has long been neglected in the study of racism and the struggle against it.
James MacClean, who comes from Derry, has been made a controversial figure by his refusal to comply with the expectation that he wear a Remembrance Poppy, which he correctly sees as a promotional emblem for the British Army. As a result he has been subjected to sectarian Loyalist abuse and anti-Irish abuse targeting him and his family.
The origins of anti-Irish racism can be traced back to the writings of Anglo-Norman Gerald of Wales (Giraldus Cambrensis) in the latter half of the 12th Century. Coming from a background of Norman feudal culture and a comparatively recent history of conquest of large parts of Celtic and Saxon Britain2, Gerald found little to admire in Gaelic culture3 or society and much to deride. The feudal Norman visitors were encountering a culture of clan ownership of land, of election of clan leaders and greater kings who might not be first-born, of a Christian clergy that was not celibate and in which women could own their own property before, during and after marriage with the right to divorce. A culture shock indeed.
The writings of Gerald helped justify the 1169 opportunistic invasion of Ireland at the invitation of a resentful overthrown Irish king. With that beachhead well-established and the Irish Vikings of Dublin evicted by Richard de Clare, “Strongbow” in 1170, anti-Irish racism served to justify the official invasion of Henry in 1171 backed up by the authorisation of Pope Adrian IV with the Papal Bull Laudabiliter, a 1155 letter of ecclesiastic authorisation, to bring the semi-independent Irish church to the Gregorian Reforms.4
Despite the early scorn and distaste of the Norman invaders for Irish culture, within less than two centuries they were becoming integrated with it to such an extent as to cause alarm among the English Normans. The latter drafted a number of laws forbidding elements of that integration, the most infamous being the Statutes of Kilkenny in 1366, forbidding the Irish Normans from adopting native Irish customs, forms of dress and use of the Irish language; they had become “more Irish than the Irish themselves”, their critics in England complained. Inside the “Pale”, the central enclosures of the occupiers’ power, the Statutes could be enforced but not outside and so Ireland remained essentially Gaelic in culture, with some cultural transference from the Normans.
For the conquest to be secure, Ireland needed to be conquered entirely and plantations of people seemed the way to achieve this: send in settlers, give them expropriated land which they they would have to defend. This was the approach of the Tudor monarchs of England and to a requirement that the settlers would be English-speaking they added the new religion, that of the Protestant Reformation. Settlements had to be capable of defence5 and no “mere Irish” should be employed.
Dispossession, plantation and oppression continued through the 17th Century under Cromwell and King William and through the Penal Laws thereafter up to the 19th.
The native Irish (Gael) and now also the Norman Irish (Gall-Ghael) were the enemy surrounding these settlements outside the Pale, they had been dispossessed and would no doubt recover their lands and their sovereignty if given the chance. And they were by far the majority. Justification for conquest and dispossession required an appropriate ideology and this was found in the assumed superiority of the occupiers’ religions, language, culture and polities. And the natural corollary to that was an ascribed inferiority to everything among the natives: language, religion, cultural habits and mores, dress … Naturally practical physical measures were required also: oppression, discrimination and repression of resistance.
The Irish were characterised as savage, child-like, emotional, untrustworthy (they agreed to treaties when beaten but broke them later6), superstitious, violent (they kept resisting the lawful authority or even uprising), drunkards, dirty ….
Following the scientific breakthrough of Darwinism came “Social Darwinism” and some Victorian pseudo-anthropologists placed the Irish as a Celtic Iberian race below the Teutonic (with which of course they identified the English) but above the “African Hottentot”. The Irish and Latin “races” were described as of “feminine” nature: emotional, weak, charming at times, unintelligent, needing to be controlled; while the “masculine” Anglo-Teutonic “races” were strong, measured, logical and obviously the right ones to be in control.
Irish uprisings increased the sense of insecurity of the conquerors and occupiers and intensified their efforts to justify their oppression and repression of the Irish so that Victorian Britain during Fenian campaigns churned out jokes against the Irish, along with nasty tales and horrible caricatures in popular newspapers. But not just popular newspapers: as the Irish starved in the Great Hunger of the mid-19th Century while their produce fed the British industrial revolution, the London Times, newspaper of record for the British ruling class, exulted in an editorial that the the Irish (survivors) were leaving and that soon an Irishman would be as rare in Ireland as the American Indians on the North-East Coast of the USA.
EXPORTING ANTI-IRISH RACISM
Not surprisingly, a central ideology such as anti-Irish racism accompanied the British wherever they went, despite the number of Irish in their armies and administrative layers. Boston, Massachusetts was particularly known for ant-Irish prejudice and discrimination and that may explain why the Irish community there was reportedly so clannish and defending its hard-won turf against all comers, including unfortunately competition from those considered even lower than the Irish, African Americans7. The anti-Irish ideology made itself felt in the white-ruled colonies, later Dominions of Australia, New Zealand and Canada too.
A strange case of the dissemination of this virus was its export to Scotland, a nation although of Celtic origin, heavily settled by Normans and Saxons, and incorporated into the United Kingdom in 1707. This was in particular of Ulster origin and took the form of anti-Catholicism. The English occupation had consciously stirred up religious sectarianism in the 1790s in order to break up the growing unity of Protestant Irish of various backgrounds with the Catholic vast majority which was framed in a republican project for greater independence. An important part of that subversion was the creation of the Orange Order in Loughgall in 1795, which became active in helping to suppress the United Irishmen uprising of 1798 and especially in repression afterwards, both against Republican Protestants and Catholics in general. As the Republican element among the Protestants decreased dramatically due to repression and emigration, the Order concentrated almost exclusively on oppression of Catholics and repression of resistance, a role it plays to this day.
But with the decline of the Ulster weaving industry in particular due to Ireland entering the UK in 1801 and British preferential treatment of their own production, many Ulster emigrants came to Scotland and were in competition for work, with the Orange Order being used to infect the already widely Protestant Scottish society against the Catholics which meant essentially, against the Irish. That has continued to this day (see References) and finds its expression in an often violent rivalry for example between soccer football teams of “Catholic” and “Protestant” background8, in Orange marches celebrating the victories of King William in Ireland and in discrimination in other areas such as policing too.
ANTI-IRISH RACISM IN THE 20th AND 21st CENTURIES
Anti-Irish racism was whipped up again during the 1916 Easter Rising and Irish war of Independence (1919-1921), and not just against the Irish in Ireland but against the Irish in Britain, in the USA9 and in Australia10. It raised its ugly head (and bared its teeth) again during WW2 (inflamed by the IRA campaign in Britain and Irish state neutrality) and again during the recent 30 years’ war.
In the 1970s anti-Irish articles, jokes and cartoons abounded in the British press and to this ideological offensive was added the 1971 weekly program of The Comedians (“stand up comedians”), of which a huge proportion of their material was anti-Irish racism, depicting the Irish in particular as stupid. I was London myself during that period and remember that a “comedian” only had to say “There was this Paddy on a building site” and the audience would be already laughing. Bernard Manning was the most infamous of those but there were many, many others.
Those jokes and others were repeated not only by comperes and club comedians but of course also at work, in school, at college and in universities. They represented a deeply degrading ideological offensive on a cultural level against the whole Irish community.
Apart from the Comedians TV program, a number of media personalities made racist jokes about or references to the Irish without any apology from the media or repercussions from their employers. Angus Deaton, for a long time presenter of Have I Got News For You, the popular British TV comedy news and current affairs commentary show, made a joke about the Irish (although participant Paul Merton, who said his mother was Irish, riposted brilliantly). Caroline Aherne, a comedienne who brilliantly played the biting chat-show character “Mrs. Merton”, was one of the few to speak out publicly against the racist “humour” but both her parents were Irish. Billy Connolly, Scottish comedian of Catholic Irish background, while discussing comedy, admitted to having told an anti-irish joke once when feeling lonely on stage, which he regretted. To the urbane Irish presenter Terry Wogan’s great credit while judging a popular British TV talent show, he declared anti-Irish jokes were not funny.
1974 saw the introduction of the Prevention of Terrorism (sic) Act and the framing and incarceration of two score innocent Irish people. Apart from raids on homes, spurious arrests without warrants, detention without charge and oppressive interrogations, thousands were questioned at ports and airports, often made to miss their flights at the latter. Though the charges falsely alleged involvement in “terrorist acts” the basis was Irishness, in a way very reminiscent to “Muslim” being considered sufficient justification today.
If a good working definition of racism is “discrimination against and disparaging of another ethnic group from a position of power”, then the Irish should have had no problems in gaining recognition as being racially oppressed and discriminated against. However, so many insisted that the Irish could not qualify because they were “white”. But in fact there already existed a “white” ethnic group which was widely acknowledge as having been discriminated against for centuries – the Jews. That however was explained by some as being a “religious discrimination” at root and not “racism”. The basic fact of the matter was and is that it did not suit the British ruling class or their intelligentsia to admit to anti-Irish racism – and not just because of guilt but for very practical reasons: they are still in conquest-occupation of nearly one-fifth of Irish territory. And the Irish diaspora is the oldest ethnic minority in Britain as well as, until recently perhaps, the largest11.
The British Left, the leading parts of which have either gained access to management of the British State or aspire to do so, for the most part have denied or minimalised anti-Irish racism. It took Liz Curtis to put together a popular illustrated booklet on anti-Irish racism and the Irish in Britain Representation Group, founded in 1981 to campaign against it. The IBRG made official complaints to and about the media and picketed WH Smiths12 until they stopped selling “Irish mugs” with the handle inside. While supporting general equality, the IBRG made complaints to local authorities about racist measures that impacted upon the Irish and sought to have an Irish ethnicity identification choice in the British Census, which was eventually successful.13 An approach of theirs to the GLC convinced the Council, under the leadership of Ken Livingstone, to withdraw all their advertising from the London Evening Standard until the latter apologised for publishing an anti-Irish racist cartoon. The Editor refused to apologise and never again received any advertising from the GLC14, at a revenue loss to the newspaper estimated at £2 million.
Mostly the Irish community fought the racism on their own, without the support of most of the British Left or the liberal-social-democratic elements. Even after the 1965 Race Relations Act the widespread feeling was that whether one was for or against the Act, it did not apply to the Irish. The Act specifically excluded shops and boarding houses (i.e places where notices declaring “No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish”) were widespread but they were included in the 1968 Act15. The 1976 Act was more comprehensive but the assumption of inapplicability to the Irish continued. It appears that it was not until the Killian case against the British pharmaceutical retail chain Boots in 1989 that an Irish person was successful in taking a case for discrimination16 under the 1976 Act.
The anti-Irish racist offensive mostly petered out at the end of the 1990s but flared up again in the British media during the whole Brexit saga. In 2015 Jeremy Clarkson flew into a rage with an Irish co-producer of the Top Gear show, abused him racially and punched him in the mouth. It is a virus or bacteria living deep in the British mainstream psyche; it recedes at times only to be reactivated whenever the British ruling class — or sections of the chattering class — perceive that the Irish are not acting in the best interests of Britain, whatever they perceive those to be.
1In the world of soccer football, there are two “national” teams competing for the championships: “Republic of Ireland” and “Northern Ireland”, a clear example of intrusion of politics into sport, for Ireland is one country and was recognised as such even by the English invaders (the inventors of soccer) from 1169 until they partitioned the country in 1921. Thus what is mostly recognised as the Irish national team has to compete against another team from a part of its own country in order to progress in championships!
2England suffered a Norman invasion in 1066 which gradually extended over the whole of Britain, the south-east of which had been already conquered by the Saxons.
3He admired Gaelic decorative art as expressed in illuminated manuscripts and harp-playing, describing them as “the work of angels”, almost expressing incredulity that they could have come from Gaelic culture. It is unlikely that he learned the Irish language, perhaps conversing with natives through the medium of Latin or an interpreter.
4The Gaels, who earlier had a pantheistic religion moderated by the druidic order, had been largely Christian by the 5th Century; furthermore the transition to Christianity in Ireland was not imposed by conquest and appears to have been largely voluntary; in addition the Christian monks recorded a great many of the pre-Christian myths and legends. During the Early Middle Ages the Irish Church sent out missionaries to many parts of Europe, establishing monasteries similar to universities as far away as Asia Minor.
5Hence the layout of triangle, square or diamond town centres of settler origin in Ireland, rather than native layout of lines of housing following road or river crossing and backing up behind, or congregating around harbour, fort or monastery. See also the design of even the small Protestant churches which look built to be used as forts, with strong doors and narrow windows, some even like arrow-slits.
6Compare this with the long history of conquerors, certainly including the English, repeatedly violating treaties they had made when victorious!
7Of course Boston was far from being the only US City where anti-black racism was the norm in Irish communities but it was perhaps the worst. Of course Irish anti-slavery, labour and civil rights workers also existed, some of them very prominent in their field.
8e.g supporters of Glasgow Celtic v. Rangers, of Hibernians v. Heart of Midlothian in Edinburgh.
9The British intelligence services were well aware that the Irish insurgency was receiving substantial concrete and moral assistance from the Irish diaspora in the USA.
10It had existed there before from in particular English settlers but reached hysterical proportions when two attempts to impose conscription in WW1 through referendum – because they feared to impose it otherwise – failed, a fact which was attributed by many to the Irish element in the (white) Australian electorate.
As we in the SE London, Lewisham branch of the Irish in Britain Representation Group began to plan our Easter Rising commemoration locally in 2000, we could not have imagined the drama it would bring. It resulted in calls for the event’s cancellation, for the Lewisham Irish Community Centre to revoke our hire of the hall and even for the withdrawal of the Centre’s meagre funding from the local authority. And shortly afterwards an attempt was made to burn down the Centre.
Even in the general atmosphere of anti-Irish racism in Britain and context of the 30 Years’ War in Ireland, we could not have expected these developments. The Lewisham Branch of the IBRG, founded towards the end of 19861, had been hosting this annual event locally long before the Irish Centre had opened in 1992 and in fact the branch was instrumental in getting the disused building, which had belonged to the Cooperative Society, handed over to the Irish community and refurbished by the local authority. Furthermore, the 1916 Rising had been commemorated at the Lewisham Irish Centre by the local IBRG branch for a number of years running without any fuss.
As usual, whenever the event was to take place we naturally hoped others would promote it. In the days before Facebook and Twitter etc, email would would reach some contacts, a poster in the centre would be seen by users, some illegal street postering might be done and the Irish Post or Irish World might publicise the event. The rest would be by word of mouth.
It happened that in the week preceding the 1998 event, an activist of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement in London was in touch with the branch and he posted the event on the 32CSM site, intending it as a supportive advertisement. However, someone who hated that organisation took it to be an event of the 32 CSM themselves.
Victor Barker’s son James had been killed in the Omagh car bombing of 15th August 1998, carried out by the “Real IRA”, a group opposed to the Provisional IRA’s signup to the Good Friday Agreement and to the British colonial occupation of Ireland. Although the organisation responsible has always stated that it intended to kill no civilians2, with 29 fatalities the bombing took the highest death toll of a single incident (but not of a single day, which was the British intelligence bombing of Dublin and Monaghan in May 1974) during the 30 Years War.
Understandably Victor Barker had pursued a vendetta against the Real IRA since and, less understandably perhaps, against anything connected with it, including the 32CSM and even, in this case, the right of an unrelated Irish community organisation to commemorate its national history.
Barker contacted the Lewisham Irish Centre and expressed his outrage, demanding the event be cancelled. A nonplussed Brendan O’Rourke, Manager of the Centre, explained that the event was an annual one and booked by a local comunity organisation and affiliate of the Centre. Not in the least mollified, Barker then got to the local authority, an official of which rang Brendan, he repeated the explanation and the official seemed satisfied.
But Brendan was getting a bit worried and phoned me at work – I had been Chair of the Management Committee since the Centre opened and was at the same time Secretary of the local IBRG branch. We discussed the matter and agreed to cary on but his next phone call was to alert me that the matter was now national or at least London-wide news, with a report in an early edition of the Evening Standard headlining that we were running a “London fundraiser for the Omagh bombers”3. Furthermore, the cowardly local authority official was now saying – and quoted — that while they had no power to cancel the booking, they would be looking at the Irish Centre’s funding.
I hurried home to Lewisham as fast as I could – the SE London borough is about 90 minutes’ journey by underground line and overground train from King’s Cross, where I worked. With no time for a meal, I got some things ready and got down to the Centre, about 15 minutes’ walk from my flat.
By virtue of being Chairperson of the Irish Centre’s management committee, I had a key, opened the door, turned off the burglar alarm and locked the door again, then began to get things ready. The part-time Caretaker would lay out tables and chairs for events but I generally liked to change it to a less formal arrangement for our events and so I set to that. There was also “decoration” to be done: some posters and portraits of 1916 martyrs to put up in places, flags to hang etc.
In the lobby I placed a chair by a table there and also some hidden short stout lengths of wood. This was a provision inherited from earlier days when Irish or British left-wing meetings might be attacked by fascists of the National Front or the British Movement but we hadn’t felt the need at the Irish Centre for some years now. However, with the current hysteria being whipped up by Barker and the Evening Standard and assisted by the wriggling of the Council officer, fascists might well decide the conditions favoured an attack.
Another possibility was a police raid. The “Prevention of Terrorism Act” in force since 1974 in Britain specifically targeted the Irish community and gave the police the power to detain someone for up to five days without access even to a lawyer.4
Early arrivals started to knock at the door and I was in a quandary – until I had some reliable able-bodied people to staff the door, I didn’t want to start letting people in. On the other hand if we were going to be attacked, I couldn’t leave them outside either. So it was open, let them in, lock the door again, open, let some more in …. until the arrival of some I could ask to mind the door (after I’d told them about the “extras” in case they were needed).
Then there were sound amplification checks and gradually the hall was filling up. I was to be MC and so on duty inside the hall but kept checking the lobby to see everything was ok. And of course people wanted to chat about the news so would stop me and ask me about it …
For the evening’s program, the MC was to welcome people, introduce the Irish ballad band and have them play for an hour. Then intermission, MC on again with a few words on behalf of the local organisation, introduce the featured speaker, get the band on again for an hour or so to finish. So, some time to kill, to worry before the hour for which the band was booked.
The time came but the band didn’t. At half an hour late I started to worry and the supporter who had booked the band on behalf of the branch couldn’t get any reply from them by phone. As MC I apologised to the attendance and asked for their patience. Over an hour late, the band’s manager finally phoned to say they would not be coming. Because of worry arising out of the media reporting.
A few of us in the organising group held a quick conference. Nothing for it but to face the music – or rather its absence – and so I got on the stage and told the audience that the band had pulled out and everyone was entitled to a refund of their ticket price without any hard feelings whatsoever or …
Before I could lay out the alternative, a guy sitting near the stage jumped up and shouted “We will NOT accept our money back!” to the applause of some others. A little taken aback, I thanked him for his spirit but said people should have the choice and laid out the alternative, which would be to hear the speaker and just socialise for the rest of the evening. Nobody made a move to get up and approach the door so ….. I introduced the speaker, who that year might have been from the IRSP (a previous speaker had been Michelle Gildernew, then representing Sinn Féin in Britain). He did his bit, I did mine, much of that not surprisingly being devoted to censorship, intimidation and repression of the Irish community as well as the commemoration of our history.
Then a guy approached and said he’d play guitar and sing, so he went up on stage, I followed with a few songs acapella, someone else sang a few …. Everyone seemed to be enjoying the evening, there was no trouble at the door …. and because there was no band to pay, we made more money than we had ever done for function organised by the local IBRG branch!
But there were to be two dramatic sequels to this controversy. And tensions between myself and the Centre Manager would follow.
THE “MAC CHICKEN BROTHERS”
The professional name of the Irish ballad band was The Mac Namara Brothers but Brian, a resilient Dublin comrade from a deprived background, that night baptised them the Mac Chicken Brothers (a play on the Mac Donald chain’s naming of items and a reference to the band members’ cowardice.
Our event had been on a Friday night and they were due to play Sunday afternoon at an Irish bar a five minutes’ drive from the Lewisham Irish Centre. We didn’t see how we could let them do that without confronting them. In discussion I suggested we present them with some white feathers and denounce them and Brian was all up for that; he was taking the kids to the seaside and would pick up some white feathers around the beach. But, unbelievably, he could find none. Nor could I in a local park. In the end, I opened a pillow and took out handfuls but they were all small.
The next day, we declined to invite anyone who might get hurt without being accustomed to defending themselves or who might not be sufficiently disciplined in behaviour and of the remainder, only myself and Brian were available. The pub, The Graduate, was under new management, one of three sisters from the Six Counties (perhaps Armagh), who lived in South-East London. I knew her from when she had been barmaid and perhaps manager at the Woodman, another Irish pub in the general area, where I attended Irish traditional music sessions (and sometimes a lock-in for an extra hour or so).
On Sunday we were a bit late in getting going but Brian drove us there and we entered the crowded area that would have been the public bar before the lounge and that area were combined. I bought us a round and we tried to act as relaxed and natural as possible, nodded to people we knew … It was certain that many of those present already knew what had happened but no-one came to ask us about it.
The “Mac Chicken Brothers” were playing and I was unsure whether we had perhaps missed their break. I got another round in but that was going to be my limit. To our relief, the band took a break but now my tension racked higher as I positioned myself nonchalantly near the stage and waited for the band to get ready for the second half of their act.
Finally, I saw them coming and with a small plastic bag in my hand I jumped up on to the low stage, Brian ready to handle any trouble from the floor.
“Ladies and gentlemen!” I called out loudly and got instant attention. “A few nights ago the British press ran a scare story about a 1916 Rising commemoration in Lewisham,” I continued. “This band here was booked to attend but didn’t turn up, leaving a couple of hundred people waiting. This is what we think of you,” I said, turning to the band members and threw a handful of the feathers from the bag in their direction.
“Hear, hear!” shouted someone in the crowd and I got down from the stage, glanced at Brian and made for the door, with him following closely behind. Incredibly I heard one of the band members say to me: “You might have told us you were going to do that!”
As we walked away outside, my heart thumping, the manager came rushing out.
“You had no right to do that,” she said, her eyes flashing fire. “Not in my pub!”
“Sorry, Bridget,” (not her real name), I replied, “It had to be done!”
“Not in my pub!”
“But that’s where the band was! It just had to be done.”
Now a customer came haring out looking for us and, from the look on his face, it wasn’t to offer congratulations. I felt Brian beside me change his stance to take him on but the manager took the guy by the arm and talked him back inside and we got in Brian’s van and car and drove off. “Bridge” wouldn’t talk to me for some years afterwards, though one of her sisters would.
The following day, I wrote a letter about the matter to the Irish Post5, attacking the Labour Council for its cowardice, the band for failing to comply with their booking and the Evening Standard for its felon-setting. Since I was Chairperson of the Management Committee of the Centre, which was already under some pressure, I wrote it under a pseudonym. The letter was published.
I felt that not only our branch of the IBRG but the Irish community had been attacked and we had responded appropriately and publicly, both locally and in the wider context. We would now face the next move, if one was to come, from the Council, as an Irish community with pride.
But at the next monthly meeting Management Committee, I was surprised to find that Brendan, the Centre Manager, believed that either Lewisham IBRG had organised the event jointly with 32CSM or that I had placed the advertisement. But worse, I was genuinely shocked to see that he believed my use of a pseudonym for the Irish Post letter was an attempt to distance the IBRG and myself from the controversy and leave him to face it alone. Brendan and I disagreed politically (he was a Sinn Féin supporter and I was by this time hostile to the party’s new trajectory with respect to the conflict in Ireland) but I supported him as Manager of the Centre while as Irishmen we stood together against oppression. But no matter what I said now, I seemed unable to convince him that the use of a pseudonym, far from being a device to have a say and protect myself at the same time, was to protect the Centre and himself as its Manager.
We got through the meeting and the Council officials seemed happy to let the matter rest, since the Standard lost interest and moved on to the next sensation.
But a more direct attack than that of Barker and the media was being planned somewhere.
ARSON ATTACK ON THE CENTRE
In the early hours of one morning a couple of weeks later, I received a phone call from the Fire Brigade, attending at the Lewisham Irish Centre. I was one of the emergency nominees. When I got down there, Pat Baczor6, another member of the Management Committee and also an emergency nominee, was there already. So were the Fire Brigade and the police.
There had been an arson attempt and a hole was burned in the wood of the front door. We opened up and let the Fire Brigade in, who came out a few minutes later, pronouncing the building safe. A container with some inflammable liquid had been set by the door and had burned a hole about the size of my fist but the floor inside was tile and had not caught.
In response to the police, I said while we had received no threats, there had been some controversy in the media about a history commemoration and though I would suspect local fascists, I had no specific individuals in mind.
If we hadn’t wire screens on all the external windows, it would have been easy to smash a glass pane and to throw in the container with a lit fuse. The flooring of the whole hall was wooden and the result would have been quite different. I was very glad that during discussion on the refurbishment of the Coop Hall for use as an Irish Centre more than many years earlier, as Chair of the Steering Group, I had made a point of insisting on the wire screens. An Irish Centre in Britain could expect to be the target of an attack some day.
AFTER ALL THAT
We weathered that storm and the following year’s 1916 Rising commemoration took place without incident.
The next crisis for the Irish Centre came some two years later when the Council’s Labour Party Leadership, which had been “Blairite before Blair” as one local Leftie commented, listed the Centre for cuts to our total staffing: one (underpaid) Manager and one part-time caretaker-handyman. There were heavy cuts planned to the whole Council-funded service sector across the Borough of Lewisham so, although in our case the cuts would have meant wiping out our entire staffing, it was difficult to say whether the controversy some years earlier had played a role or not.
But that was another day’s battle.
1The wider IBRG had been founded in 1981 and consolidated in 1982. The Lewisham branch was founded from an initiative by a core of people who had taken over organising the 1985-1986 Irish Aspects course at Goldsmiths (then) Community College from its original organiser, Derry-born Peter Moloney, who was stepping down and invited them to run it in his place or that the course would come to an end. Peter was one of founding members of the branch and active within it for a few years.
2The intentions of this bombing are still the subject of dispute. The killing of civilians would have been against the interests of the organisation and in the event were strongly so; it strengthened the hands of the authorities in enacting further repressive legislation and also ideologically for the authorities and the Provisionals in gathering support for the Good Friday Agreement and in neutralising its opponents within the Irish Republican movement. Over the years the Wikipedia page on the bombing has changed substantially as cases against accused collapsed, including one in which the Gardaí were found to have concocted notes of an interview and revelation has followed revelation of intelligence services awareness of elements of the plans and failure to alert the RUC (colonial police) on the ground. Four defendants were found responsible in a controversial civil case and it seems clear that that Mickey Kevitt’s criminal conviction on questionable evidence in another case in 2003 was related to his believed involvement as was the refusal to apply all possible reductions which would have seen him released in 2016. McKevitt died of cancer on 2nd January 2021, still serving his sentence of 20 years. The full truth may never be known.
3Pat Reynolds, PRO of the IBRG throughout most of its existence, in his year-by-year review of the IBRG commented: “The London Evening Standard with a long history of anti-Irish racism came out with the headline London fundraiser for the Omagh Bombers alleging that the event was organised by supporters of the real IRA. The IBRG were seeking legal advice on the article as the event was organised by Lewisham IBRG.” Busy with more practical organising and without perhaps the right contacts, Lewisham IBRG never did take up the misreporting legally or with the Press Council.
4As Irish community activists warned the British public, it would lead to wider repressive legislation if permitted to stand, which it did. The 2006 Act allows for detention up to 28 days without charge.
5The Irish Post was founded in 1971 as a newspaper aimed at the Irish community in Britain and played a generally progressive role until its editor-owner, Brendan Mac Lua and Thomas Beattie sold the title and company to Thomas Crosbie Holdings (TCH) in 2003. In 1981 the founding of the Irish in Britain Representation Group was in part inspired by comment in the paper’s “Dolan” column (a pen-name of Mac Lua’s). In later years the newspaper suffered competition from other titles aiming at the same community, The Irish World and The London Irish News(?). More about the Post’s later history (but next to nothing about it earlier work including promoting the cases of the Birmingham Six, Guildford Four, Maguire Seven etc and also covering protests against anti-Irish racism and promoting new Irish writing) here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Irish_Post
6Patricia Ellen Baczor owed her surname to having married a Polish man. There were many such marriages between Polish refugees and servicemen who met young Irish women at Catholic parish social events in Britain during WW2. Pat was a strong widow and supporter of the rights of the Irish community, progressive in her thinking, anti-racist but not one to push herself forward. She was generally very supportive of me as Chair of the Management Committee and appreciative of the other hat I wore in the local and ‘national’ IBRG and the tensions thereby I sometimes had to negotiate.
(Note: It was intended to post this on the anniversary of MacSwiney’s death but technical problems prevented that.)
(Reading time text: 15 mins.)
Terence MacSwiney, Lord Mayor of Cork died in Brixton Prison, London, on October 25th 1920: it was the 74th day of his hunger strike. His struggle brought international attention not only to his sacrifice but also to an Ireland in the second year of its War of Independence, a political and guerrilla war against the occupying power, the British State.
Between 1917 and 1981, twenty-two Irish people died on hunger strike against the injustice of British occupation of Ireland.1
HEROISM AND SELF-SACRIFICE
MacSwiney exhibited heroism and self-sacrifice in a number of steps he took before he embarked on his fatal hunger-strike. He did so first of all in putting his liberty and very life in jeopardy in opposing the colonial occupation and domination of his land. He took a second step towards endangering his liberty and life by joining the Irish Republican Brotherhood, an organisation dedicated at the time to the overthrow of British rule in Ireland.
Thirdly, he took the trend further still by not only joining the Irish Volunteers in 1913 but by being one of the founders of the Cork Brigade. Fourthly, MacSwiney opposed Redmond’s offer of the Volunteers to the British imperialist Army and stood with the dedicated minority in the subsequent split.
Fifthly, he joined the IRA after the 1916 Rising.
His sixth step was to take the Lord Mayor position in which his predecessor, Tomás Mac Curtain, had recently been murdered by Crown forces. Seventh, he embarked on his hunger-strike to the end.
That trajectory reminds us all that the path of revolution is a dangerous one, requiring courage and sacrifice, though not necessarily always to that same degree.
Because he chose in the end to offer up his life in a hunger-strike to the death, Terence MacSwiney is often held up as the ideal example of pacifism and especially so when a particular phrase of his is quoted: It is not those who can inflict the most but those who can endure the most who will conquer.
Of course, the reality is that both are absolutely necessary. No struggle can be won by endurance alone, no more than a struggle can be won merely by inflicting damage upon the enemy.
There are genuine pacifists and fake ones. I don’t agree with either but I have some respect for those who put their liberty and even their lives at risk in a pacifist struggle. For the others, the social democrats and liberals who enjoin us to have all our resistance be peaceful, while they support the violence of the ruling class and their states at home and abroad, we should have nothing but contempt. It would indeed suit our enemies if we set out to endure every attack and made them pay nothing in return!
Those who remind us only of that quotation from MacSwiney, or of the one from that other hunger-striker and poet Bobby Sands, that “Our revenge will be the laughter of our children”, choose to forget – and try to make us forget – a very important fact about Sands and MacSwiney: each was a revolutionary soldier. Each was arrested because he was known to be a member of an armed force of resistance – the IRA.
For some people, internationalist solidarity is almost all, ensuring that they don’t become any danger to the State in which they live or to its ruling class.
For some others, internationalist solidarity is something kind of extra, to be indulged in now and again.
I think both those tendencies are wrong. We need to confront our own ruling class and State, not only for the benefit of our own working class but also as a contribution to the world. But at the same time we need to pay attention to questions of solidarity with other struggles around the world.
And that can serve as a barometer too – for I have noticed in a number of organisations that when the leadership was heading towards giving up on revolution, inconvenient internationalist solidarity was one of the first things they threw out the window.
MacSwiney’s hunger strike drew the eyes of much of the world to his struggle and to that of his people. In India, the Nehru and Gandhi families made contact with MacSwineys and those connections were maintained for decades afterwards. It is said that Ho Chi Minh was working in a hotel in London when he heard of MacSwiney’s death and remarked that with such people as that, Ireland would surely win her freedom. In Catalonia, people fought daily battles with the Spanish police outside the British Legation in Barcelona. The story reached the Basque Country too and the example of Cumann na mBan was taken a little later to create the female section of the Basque Nationalist Party.
Photo Ho Chi Minh
In Britain too, there was great solidarity, a fact not often spoken about; 30,000 people walked in his funeral procession from the jail to St. George’s Cathedral in Southwark. Who were these people? Certainly many were of the Irish diaspora, the longest-established and largest ethnic minority throughout most of Britain’s history. But there were English socialists too.
At that time, the London Borough of Poplar – not far from the area where the anti-fascist Battle of Cable Street was fought, the anniversary of which we celebrated recently — was in dispute with the Government, who were expecting the rates to be collected there to be on the rental value, which meant the poor East London borough had to pay more than rich boroughs of West London.
The Councillors were planning to refuse to set the expected rates and were threatened with jail, whereupon their leader, George Lansbury said they would be proud to go to the same jail where MacSwiney was being kept. British socialists of that kind marched in the funeral procession (besides, at least two of the Poplar Councillors bore Irish surnames: Kelly and O’Callaghan).
In my opinion, it is a great pity that the leaders of the Irish struggle for independence did not work on building links with the British working class. In 1920 the British ruling class was in serious trouble – it had thousands of military conscripts wanting demobilisation after WWI but the British didn’t want to let them go as they felt they would need them to suppress risings in many parts of the British Empire. The working class in industry was building a strike movement and in 1919 the Government had sent soldiers to shoot strikers in Liverpool and to threaten strikers in Glasgow. The great coal strike of 1925 was not far off, nor was the General Strike of 1926.
If the leaders of the Irish independence struggle had made those connections, not only might the history of Ireland have turned out differently but that of the very world.
The preceding is a very close approximation to the speech I gave on the 25th October 2020 by the Hunger Strike Memorial in Glasnevin Cemetery at the Terence MacSwiney commemoration organised by Anti-Imperialism Action Ireland.
FUNERALS AND FUNERAL PROCESSIONS IN DIFFERENT COUNTRIES
The working class Irish, who had had some scuffles with the police during vigils at the jail, were there in their thousands at the funeral procession in London in their Sunday best, with the middle class represented too. Some of the Irish women could be identified at a distance, wearing their traditional shawls of Irish city and countryside. The Mayor of Poplar was not the only town mayor to walk in the procession. British socialists took part as did visitors from abroad and the world media was well represented. Aside from the procession, huge crowds lined the South London streets as the cortege passed.
World media interest was intense. The funeral procession, the vast majority walking, travelled the 3.5 miles (nearly 6 kilometres) from Brixton jail northwards to the cathedral where McSwiney’s body was to be received for requiem service the following day.
The church where Terence Mc Swiney’s body was laid out under IRA guard of honour, with 30,000 filing past was St. George’s, on the south side of the river, near Southwark Bridge. It had been formally opened in 1848, known as “the year of revolution” in Europe and Ireland had its own contribution with the Young Irelanders’ brief rising. St. George’s was the first Catholic Cathedral of London until the Catholic Westminster Cathedral opened up in 1903. The English Catholics, who were a very small minority in their country had not dared challenge the anti-Catholic restrictions for generations but under the influence of large Irish Catholic congregations became more assertive; however that did not mean that the mostly aristocratic English Catholics were eager to rub shoulders with their largely plebeian Irish brethren and also, north of the river were the main desirable areas. So in 1903 they built the Catholic Cathedral in Westminster and left St. George’s to the Irish plebs on the south side of the Thames.
The Bishop of Westminster in 1920, Cardinal Francis Bourne, head of the Catholic Church of England and Wales, did not comment publicly on the hunger-strike but let it be known in private that he considered it suicide. The London inquest however, at the insistence of his widow Muriel and the evidence of the Governor of Brixton Jail, had recorded the cause of death as heart failure. A week after MacSwiney’s funeral mass in Southwark, Bourne conducted a mass in Westminster for Catholic British Army officers killed in Ireland.
The next day after the removal of the body from Brixton Jail, Bishop William Cotter of Portsmouth gave the Solemn Requiem with Bishop Amigo, Archbishop Daniel Mannix of Melbourne, and Archbishop Anselm Kennealy of Simla, India, in attendanc. It was a ticket-only even; six of those who had tickets were a close group of men, all wearing long coats – once inside they stripped these off and revealed their IRA uniforms. After the previous Republican guardians departed, McSwiney’s body was guarded by six men in the uniform of the army to which he had belonged and of which he had co-founded its Cork element. The Bishop of Southwark might or might not have been pleased but it would not be for long.2 Certainly Peter Emmanuel Amigo, originally from Gibraltar, Bishop of Southwark from 1904 to 1949, had pleaded publicly for MacSwiney’s release before he should die, writing to politicians at Westminster petitioning his release. In a telegram to prime minister David Lloyd George on September 5th, Bishop Amigo warned: “Resentment will be very bitter if he is allowed to die.”
After the service a large entourage accompanied the body in its coffin to Euston Station for the train journey to Hollyhead. From there it was to go on to Dublin, to be received by the people of the Irish capital and then onwards to his home city and final resting place. But it was not to be.
The train left Euston station early with many police on board. At Hollyhead the grieving relatives and friends were informed that the boat they had engaged would take them and the body instead to Cork. The funeral party protested, produced their contract of shipment — to no avail. Porters were called to remove the coffin but were resisted and left. The police were summoned and, manhandling the protesting mourners, seized the coffin (sadly it was not the only kidnapping of an Irish rebel’s body in history, one of the other occasions being by the Irish State with Vol. Michael Gaughan’s body in 1974).
The British authorities feared fueling the fire of patriotic fervour already burning in Dublin at the news of MacSwiney’s death and the impending execution by hanging of Volunteer Kevin Barry. The funeral party were determined to travel to Dublin as arranged and had to engage another ship, which they finally succeeded in doing. While McSwiney’s body travelled on to Cork, the reception was held in Dublin, a city in official mourning declared by the First Dáil and in the midst of an urban guerrilla war against a foreign military occupation.
Mourners in Boston, Chicago, Melbourne, Newcastle upon Tyne, and Manchester held symbolic funerals with empty caskets.
When the Rathmore dropped anchor in Cobh harbour, the coffin containing MacSwiney’s body was transferred to the Mary Tave tug to travel on to Cork to deliver the body to a waiting funeral party. The deck was packed with Auxies, murderers of his predecessor, the final indignity.
A special meeting of Cork Corporation was convened where councillors (those not “on the run”) expressed their condolences and raw emotion at losing the City’s Lord Mayor.
The Deputy Lord Mayor Councillor Donal Óg O’Callaghan, revealing that he had received death threats, issue a defiant statement, decrying that despite Terence’s death, the merit of Republicanism would still linger and pass on:
“The only message that I on behalf of the Republicans of Cork give today over the corpse of the late Lord Mayor is that Cork has definitely yielded its allegiance to the Republic, that the people of Cork will continue that allegiance unswervingly and that those of us who man the Municipal Council will attempt as far as in us lies to follow the noble and glorious lead of the two martyred Republican Magistrates.
“The Republican hold on the Municipal Chair of Cork ceases only when the last Republican in Cork has followed Tomás MacCurtain and Terence MacSwiney into the Grave. Death will not terrorise us”.
After a funeral service in Cork Cathedral a massive crowd accompanied his coffin to the cemetery, with Republican organisations and ordinary citizens in the procession. The occupation authorities had banned marching in uniform or even in military fashion, or display of flags.
Nationalists under colonial occupation of European powers (including nations within Europe) would be taking inspiration from the Irish struggle for decades. The war of resistance in Ireland would continue, with Cork County and City seeing more than its share. The special terrorist units of the British and their regular army would burn the City on the night of 11th-12th December of that same year. Irish Republicans in Britain would concentrate on supplying intelligence and arms to the struggle at home, in addition to organising some prison escapes. Some British socialists would continue solidarity activities on a publicity level and liberals and social democrats would protest the British reprisals on the Irish civilian population.
But the body of Terence McSwiney had come home.
MacSwiney’s Free, composed and performed by Pat Waters, with video footage:
Footage London & Cork funeral processions Terence MacSwiney:
Terence MacSwiney Cork funeral only footage:
1Some, like MacSwiney and the ten in 1981, died of the depletion of the body through the hunger-strike while some were killed by force-feeding, like Thomas Ashe in 1917, Michael Gaughan in 1974 and Frank Stagg in 1976. Others survived hunger strike and force-feeding but their bodies (and sometime their minds) suffered for the rest of their lives, such as the Price sisters (1973-1974).
2Part of that journey was marked in reverse by the Terence MacSwiney Commemoration Committee with a march in 1989. The idea as far as I can recall had been Brendan O’Rourke’s, an Irish solidarity activist and at that time Manager of the Lewisham Irish Community Centre, the Management Committee of which I was Chairperson and with a few others, Brendan and I led that Commemoration Committee.
The march, supported by Irish Republicans and some English socialists, rallied at Kennington Park, on the lookout for National Front or police attack but knowing that in Brixton itself, an area of high Afro-Caribbean settlement, both those misfortunes were unlikely. We were led by a Republican Flute Band from Scotland and applauded by people as we marched past the police station (the State garrison of the area) and through the centre of Brixton. The march proceeded without incident up Brixton Hill to the entrance of the road leading in to the Jail, held a moment’s silence there and marched down to the centre of Brixton Town, ending there for people to proceed to a reception at Fr. Matthew Hall.
It was the last such march as we could not get another band from Scotland to lead us. We were independent of Provisional Sinn Féin and Scottish RFB members told us that the bands had been told, unofficially of course, that participating in our events would adversely affect their chances of being invited to play at annual events in the Six Counties, which for those bands was the high point of their annual calendar.
Dem were de days …. hard days and nights but busy! 1970s Britain in relation to Ireland was the decade in which the British troops were sent into the Six Counties, the war with the IRA began, internment without trial was introduced, Army massacres of civilian protesters took place and the IRA took the war to Britain. The British State introduced legislation to terrorise the Irish community, the Prevention of Terrorism Act and framed 20 Irish people on murder and murder-related charges. 1980s Britain was the decade in which, due to the hunger strikes, the Irish community stood up, shrugged off the terror of the PTA and took to the streets. At the start of that decade too, the Irish in Britain Representation Group was founded.
In the 1980s when IBRG branches were being set up across the country one of the biggest problems was finding somewhere to meet. There were many Irish Centres, but most of them did not want an Irish group with a political agenda meeting there. Most of them were attached to Catholic churches who promoted a reactionary agenda or they were commercial venues who worried about their alcohol licence as well as police surveillance and threats to their future.
Manchester IBRG found a home at St. Brendan’s Irish Centre in Stretford. Originally the Lyceum Cinema, it opened as an Irish Centre on 25th April 1961. Surrounded by streets of Victorian houses it became the home for many of the Irish who emigrated to the Manchester district in the 1960s.
St. Brendan’s Irish Centre
St.Lawrence’s Church which was located next to the Centre organised an Irish community care organisation which met Irish…
Sir, – Gerard Murphy (Letters, February 27th) and some others doubt the existence of anti-Irish racism in Britain prior to the Brexit debates, claiming never to have experienced or witnessed it themselves.
After the Race Relations Act (1976) drove the blatant discrimination of notices in lodging-house windows and “help wanted” advertisements into concealment, in 1984 the Greater London Council published Liz Curtis’s booklet Nothing But the Same Old Story, full of public examples of anti-Irish racism in print and in drawings over centuries, including cartoons in the Evening Standard during the 1970s.
In the mid-1970s nearly a score of innocent people in five different cases were taken from the Irish community and convicted of murder or in assisting murder while Irish people were being regularly stopped at airports and embarkation points, as well as having their houses raided and being taken into Paddington Green police station, for example, to spend days in underground cells without daylight or access to solicitor, to be eventually released without charge. In the 1970s Granada TV series The Comedians, stand-up performers told sexist and racist jokes, with the Irish often being the butt of the latter. In the 1980s the Irish in Britain Representation Group picketed WH Smith shops until they removed from sale their “Irish mugs”, which had the handle on the inside.
Letters in Irish community newspapers in Britain like the Irish Post and the Irish World regularly complained of anti-Irish racism in print, on TV, on radio and in public places. Anti-Irish racism has a history of centuries but it was all around Britain in the 1970s, 1980s and even the 1990s. – Yours, etc,
A packed function room at Club an Múinteoirí (Teachers’ Club) in Dublin last night heard speakers, including Arthur Scargill and the Cuban Ambassador, praise some of the highlights of the life of irish activist Des Bonass (died 26 September last year). The meeting was chaired by Colm Kinsella of Unite.
Strangely, up to yesterday afternoon, many socialist, Republican and trade union activists seemed unaware of the event, organised by Bonass’ branch of the trade union Unite. I only learned of it myself when Arthur Scargill and Nell Myles stopped at our weekly Save Moore Street From Demolition campaign stall earlier in the day and explained that he was in Dublin in order to speak at an event that evening.
The event was scheduled to begin at 7.30pm but by that time there were less than a dozen people present, arousing fear in some quarters that the attendance would be poor. As time went on, the side room leading off the main room was closed and the chairs removed. Some more people arrived and then as if by magic by 8.30 the room was packed, with extra seating being made available for people who arrived even after that.
IRISH TRADE UNIONISTS AND CUBAN AMBASSADOR
John Douglas (former General Secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, currently General Secretary of Mandate trade union) spoke of how he had come to know Des Bonass when Douglas was a member of the Amalgamated Transport & General Workers’ Union (now part of UNITE), a section catering for bar workers which at the time represented a great many in the trade. He related how the bar workers would come off late shift and go to a union meeting around midnight, a meeting that sometimes would not finish until five a.m! Bonass had asked Douglas for a space to address the union members in support of the British miners, after which he had come away with buckets overflowing with financial contributions from the barmen.
Douglas also related that Bonass was in support of women’s right to choose abortion at a time when that would not have received popular support in Ireland and went on to speak about the strike against TESCO and how Bonass had brought Scargill to a number of picket lines around the city, raising their morale and drawing media attention.
Des Derwin (Executive Member of Dublin Council of Trade Unions and Vice-Chair of SIPTU Dublin District Council) gave what seemed a comprehensive list of the activities of Des Bonass down through the years, including how he had actively supported the struggles in the H-Blocks in the Six Counties and of the Palestinian people, as well as the struggle of the Dunne’s Stores strikers. Unknown to many, perhaps, Bonass had been a founder of People Before Profit and the Unemployed Workers’ Movement.
When the Irish Labour Party conference had voted to go into coalition government, Bonass and Matt Merrigan had walked out together, after they had seen Noel Browne leave the room. The media thought Bonass and Merrigan had led a protest walkout, whereas they said they had followed Noel Browne. When Brown appeared in the lobby, the reporters asked him why he had led the walkout, which he adamantly denied, saying he had only left the conference to go to the toilet!
Subsequently Bonass and Merrigan had founded the Irish branch of the Socialist Labour Party. The Dublin Council of Irish Trade Unions had been another of his areas of activity and Bonass had been President of the organisation; he had also been active in Unite the union.
Also a supporter of internationalist causes, Bonass had been againstsuch as the Chilean coup, for Nicaragua and Cuba, against the South African Apartheid regime and the invasion of Iraq.
Hugo René Milanés, Cuban Ambassador to Ireland, expressed his gratitude to Des Bonass for the latter’s support for Cuba and in particular “against the Yanqui blockade” and for working for socialism throughout his life.
SCARGILL, BRITISH TRADE UNIONIST
Arthur Scargill, ex-President of National Union of Mineworkers (Britain) spoke about Des Bonass’ support for the NUM, particularly those of South Wales, when they were in the big strike of 1984-’85 and how Bonass had agreed to receive money from the NUM to keep it safe from the British State’s sequestration. At first, the money had been couriered by Nell Myles, an NUM official (who was present at the meeting) and delivered to the ATGWU office in Parnell Square; on one occasion she had been mugged on her way but the money stolen was her personal money and not the union funds, which were safely delivered. Six months later, Scargill himself came to Dublin and Des Bonass accompanied him to a Dublin branch of a bank with a holdall stuffed full of a lot more money but the alarmed branch manager referred them to the bank’s head office, where the money was safely stored.
Des Bonass brought Arthur Scargill around to many Dublin pickets during the TESCO strike organised by the MANDATE union, which had been welcomed by the strikers and which had lifted their spirits. He had been happy to attend, Scargill said and related a journalist asking him about his reaction to a bomb threat against TESCO. To laughter and applause from the meeting’s audience, Scargill related his response to the journalist, that neither he nor the TESCO strikers could have anything to with any such bomb inside as they would never cross a picket line! Des Bonass had also got Scargill a spot on the popular Gay Byrne show, where he had been confronted with a Margaret Thatcher impersonator.
Bonass had been a founder of the Irish branch of the Socialist Labour Party which Scargill had founded in Britain as founded by James Connolly.
Paying tribute to the moral and practical support of the Irish people for the NUM’s struggle, Scargill said that their support in ratio to union members in Ireland had been the highest of all and went on to reveal that he and Nell both had Irish ancestry on both parental sides, referring also to the history of oppression of Irish people by the British State. Scargill talked about the financial contributions but also how Irish families had taken in miner’s children for holiday breaks, as British trade unionists had wanted to take in Irish children during the 1913 Lockout.
Later on in his speech, Scargill declared himself a firm follower of the “11th Commandment: Thou shalt not cross a picket line!” (loud applause) and went on to talk about the determination of the Thatcher Government to break the NUM and its leadership. Thatcher and Government personnel had claimed at the time that they had not intervened in the strike, which was allegedly between the NUM and the National Coal Board but Scargill stated that was a lie and the truth had emerged in documentation over the years, available on the Internet to anyone who wished to check it. “Unjust laws have to be broken” he said also because “if we hadn’t done that, women would not have the vote; we would not have trade unions!” He paid tribute to the Levellers, the Tolpuddle Martyrs and the Suffragettes.
Scargill emphasised that the best way to celebrate the life of Des Bonass and to honour his memory is to continue the struggle for the principles that Des Bonass upheld, then finished his speech to a standing ovation from those present.
Colm Kinsella then welcomed the last speaker, Ciarán Bonass. Ciarán announced that he was the son of Des Bonass and talked about what the family had learned from his father as they had also supported him in his activism. Thanking all the speakers and all others present on his family’s behalf, his mother Eileen and sisters Mairéad and Deirdre, along with in-laws and grandchildren, he ended his contribution to loud applause from the attendance.
Colm Kinsella announced that their branch of Unite was now named “the Des Bonass Branch of Unite” in Des Bonass’ honour, thanked all the speakers and the attendance and invited people to partake of refreshments while listening to labour and other songs performed by Richie Brown (of Unite) and friends.
The 23rd November is the anniversary of the hanging of the Manchester Martyrs by the English State in 1867 in front of Belle Vue Gaol, Salford1, Manchester. The “noble-hearted three” were Phillip Allen, William Larkin and Michael O’Brien. The Wikipedia page on the Manchester Martyrs says they were hanged for the murder of Constable Brett but this is completely incorrect. Although it was indeed the verdict, no murder occurred and, it is doubtful if even a verdict of manslaughter would have been correct.
On the 18th December of that year, Colonel Thomas J. Kelly and Captain Deasy, Fenian Brotherhood officers and Union Army veterans of the American Civil War, who had been arrested in England, were being transported in a horse-drawn prison van from the courthouse to Belle Vue Gaol. Manchester was an industrial town with a large working class population, of which at least a 10% of the population was of Irish origin. A large group of Fenians ambushed the prison van at a place since called locally “Fenian Arch”, as a railway line ran overhead. The Irish rescue party drove off the 12-man mounted police escort but failed to break open the van door with hatchets and crowbars and one of them fired a pistol shot at the lock.
It was unfortunate that just at that moment, Constable Charles Brett was peering through the keyhole – the bullet entered his brain through his eye and killed him. The lock was not broken and keys were still inside with the dead policeman but a female prisoner recovered them from his body and passed them out to the rescue party through a grille.
Kelly and Deasy were spirited away. A reward of £300 (£24,000 as of 2015, according to Wikipedia) was offered for information leading to their recapture but was never paid. Friedrich Engels, communist revolutionary lived in Manchester at the time with his common-law Irish patriot wife, Mary Burns and some say they were involved in hiding the fugitives (the Fenian Brotherhood had been welcomed by Marx and Engels into the First International Workingmen’s Association). Kelly and Deasy were never recaptured, getting back eventually to the USA.
A WAVE OF ANTI-IRISH HYSTERIA
But a huge wave of British State repression descended upon the working class areas of Manchester, in particular upon “Little Ireland” and scores of people were arrested. The British media named the events the “Manchester outrages”.
Twenty-six were sent for trial in a wave of anti-Irish hysteria and and eventually five were convicted of murder and sentenced to hang. As noted earlier, without any intention to kill the officer, there should not have been even a charge of murder, never mind a conviction. Thomas O’Meagher Condon and Thomas Maguire had their sentences overturned; the first through the offices of the USA (of which he was a citizen) and the second was a Royal Marine and had a cast-iron alibi, as they say and the witnesses against him were exposed in lies. No convincing evidence was ever produced against the remaining three, Allen, Larkin and O’Brien and of those, only one had probably even been present at the rescue. But they hanged them all the same.
When their sentences were passed down by the judge, they cried “God Save Ireland!” and it was that which inspired TD Sullivan, an Irish constitutional nationalist politician, to write the lyrics to the ballad, known and sung to this day. TD Sullivan remarked that within a month of the executions, the song could be heard performed in pubs in England and Ireland, a remarkable feat for a time without radio, not to speak of mobile phones and the Internet! (Listen to Youtube video of the song being performed by the Dubliners ballad group).
Commemorations of the Manchester Martyrs became part of the events on the Irish Republican and Nationalist calendars and formed part of the tradition and history that helped form subsequent Irish revolutionaries; six Irish counties hold monuments to the three, two of those counties holding two each. The Irish community in Manchester commissioned a memorial to them in Moston Cemetery, Manchester, which was several times defaced by fascists and and an annual commemorative march was held there for years (sometimes too clashing with British fascists). There is a grand memorial to them too in Dublin’s Glasnevin Cemetery.
1Salford has received a number of uncomplimentary literary references, one in Frederik Engels’ The Condition of the Working Class in England (1845) and another being in Ewan McColl’s song Dirty Old Town (1949).