Basques marked the 50th anniversary of the Burgos military trials by the Franco dictatorship of 16 members of ETA, the armed Basque socialist independentist organisation. A few days ago a group went to the town of Burgos itself and posted slogans on the wall of the Spanish Ministry of Defence building there declaring that the Spanish State had not succeeded in its repression in 1970 and would not do so in future. In the Basque Country itself events were also held in commemoration.
The military trials of 16 members of ETA took place between 3rd and 9th December 1970 in the Spanish city of Burgos in Castille (north-central Spain). The trial concluded on the 28th with sentences of death on six and sentences up to 70 years on the remaining ten. Intended to be a mortal blow to ETA and to Basque resistance the trials instead inspired greater and more united resistance in the Basque Country and became an international publicity debacle for the Franco dictatorship.
Within the Basque Country, demonstrations and pickets took place and a general strike saw 100,000 workers there out on strike. ETA distributed pamphlets and leaflets among the people and in its repressive measures the Spanish police beat many workers and killed a number, as in Etxarri in Nafarroa (Navarra) province.
Internationally, protest demonstrations took place across Europe and other parts of the world, particularly outside Spanish Embassies, often leading to battles with the police of the host country. Pope Paul VI appealed for the death sentences to be commuted and Jean-Paul Sartre, a leading intellectual of the French Left and with an international literary reputation congratulated the defendants on having brought the situation of the Basque Country under Franco to international attention.
ETA hired prominent lawyers of Left and Human Rights reputation to defend the sixteen. The organisation also kidnapped the German honorary Consul as a hostage (and later released him unharmed). The defendants themselves used the trial politically, turning it into an exposure of the Franco regime and its repression. A number described the tortures to which they had been subjected, all of them declared their commitment to socialist freedom and some even stated that they were fighting for the rights of all working people.
The military judges, aware that the publicity of the trial was going against the Dictatorship, began to clamp down and restrict the defendants from saying anything that was not directly, as they saw it, pertinent to the charges, after which the defendants refused to speak at all. At one point during the trial the defendants all stood and sang the battle-song and national anthem of the Basque nation, Eusko Gudariak1. An even greater sensation occurred in a brief incident when the final defendant to speak, Mario Onaindia, attempted to attack the judges with an axe.2
A military-fascist uprising against the elected Popular Front government of Spain took place in 1936 and in the Spanish Antifascist War that followed, the Spanish Republic was defeated by the military with substantial assistance from Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, while the UK and France blockaded the Republican forces.
A military-fascist dictatorship with the strong assistance of the Spanish Catholic Church followed amongst huge repression, making Spain the state with the most mass graves in Europe and second only to Cambodia in the world.
The Popular Front Government had granted autonomy to the Basque Nation (and to Catalonia) for the first time in centuries of the Spanish State, although Nafarroa province had sided with the military-fascist forces. Any notion of autonomy was withdrawn under the Dictatorship and even use of the Basque and Catalan languages in public or in education was forbidden.
Some guerrilla resistance continued for a period in the mountains of the Basque Country, Catalonia and other parts of the Spanish state territory but the fighters were hunted down or fled the Spanish state. The Communist Party and some socialist organisations continued an underground existence and built illegal trade unions but the CP of Spain did not support independence for the Basque Country or for Catalonia, on the theory that this would “break up the Spanish working class” (however later they all mobilised against the Franco Dictatorship and in solidarity with the Burgos defendants).
Euskadi3 Ta Asakatasuna (Basque Land and Freedom) was formed in 1959 out of a coalition between a left-wing Basque youth group and the youth wing of the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) who were discontented with the lack of action of their elders. In June 1968 ETA carried out its first armed action against Spanish police when killing a police officer asking for their identification papers at a checkpoint and shortly afterwards one of the ETA pair was gunned down by police. Two months later the organisation carried out its first planned attack when they killed Melitón Manzanas, Commander the Political Police Brigade in Alava Province. Manzanas was a notorious fascist and torturer who had hunted down Jewish refugees to turn them over to the Nazis during WWII.
The Burgos trials was intended to smash ETA completely but as outlined above, had an entirely opposite effect. The death sentences were commuted in an attempt to reduce the damage the trials had caused the international reputation of the Spanish State.4
AFTER BURGOS AND TODAY
ETA continued its armed and non-military actions and other revolutionary armed communist resistance began to take shape elsewhere in the Spanish territory.
Despite the huge success of the Basque solidarity mobilisations to prevent the executions in 1970, five years later a similar wave failed to prevent the executions of another two ETA members and three FRAP (Revolutionary Anti-Fascist Patriotic Front) members: Ángel Otaegui Etxeberria; Juan “Txiki” Paredes Manot; José Humberto Baena; Ramón García Sanz; and José Luis Sánchez Bravo.
ETA counted some actions notable for the harmful effect on them but also some spectacular successes in its armed campaign. Included in the latter were the assassination in Madrid in 1973 of Admiral Carrillo Blanco, Franco’s appointed successor and the abandonment of the nuclear reactor project in Lemoiz5 in Bizkaia in 1983. Blanco’s assassination and the death of the Dictator Franco in 1975 hastened the Transition of the Spanish State to an alleged democracy and a monarchical and unitary state constitution in 1978.
The Basque resistance constructed a network which beyond the armed group consisted of trade unions, youth organisation, social centres, daily bilingual newspaper and political parties. The Spanish State waged war against that movement with repressive laws, arrests, torture, jailings, closure of organisations and media, along with armed action against ETA. In addition, it organised and funded a terror and assassination campaign over a period of 26 years6.
In the late 1990s the Basque Left-Independentist movement began a process of unilateral disarmament and change in political direction which led first to an indefinite ETA truce in 2010, then to decommissioning of arms and finally to the dissolution of ETA in 2018. However around 250 Basque political prisoners remain in jail, a tiny group of which have declared their dissidence from the leadership’s path and are supported outside the jails by a growing movement which has a very different line to that of the “official” leadership.
The Spanish State insists that the only possible relaxation of prison conditions, end of dispersal7 or granting of parole for the prisoners is “if they recant their beliefs and apologise to the victims.”
Political repression continues at some level within the Basque Country. There is no indication that there is any intention in Spanish ruling circles to grant independence to the southern Basque Country – quite the contrary (as seen also in Catalonia).
THE 50th ANNIVERSARY
A group of activists from the official Abertzale Left carried out a publicity commando raid in Burgos recently (see video below) and attached a banner poster to the Spanish Ministry of Defence building which read: “NEITHER WERE YOU ABLE to repress the struggle of the people NOR WILL YOU BE ABLE” and LONG LIVE THE REPUBLIC!
A number of public meeting and on-line events were also held this month, including the commemoration in Etxarri of two Basques who were killed by Spanish police during the Burgos Trials protests.
In Eibar city in Gipuzkoa province around 100 people assembled despite Covid19 restrictions in the open air to mark the anniversary and included one of the Burgos trial defendants who, along with another woman, read out a manifesto which has been signed by many in the Basque independentist movement.
“The Franco regime wanted to prosecute, punish and subdue again a people that in the darkness of the dictatorship had dared to rise from the ashes of war,” they read, introducing the manifesto.
Recalling the moment when the defendants rose in court and with upraised clenched fists sang the Eusko Gudariak, the manifesto commented: “With their courage, that handful of young militants taught us to stand up even when it seems impossible, and their example lives on today in us and in the future in the actions and dreams of the new generations.”8
The manifesto also states that the Burgos Trials were “a milestone” for the survival of Euskal Herria. However today, 50 years later, the substantive process has not concluded, since “they continue to take Basque youth to court, thinking that by disciplining them they will quench the desire for freedom of this people, and the states that surround us have not abandoned their strategy against the independence movement.”
The anniversaries of milestones in the struggle, of successes and failures, of martyrs, continue to be marked. And the journey is far from finished.
1“Soldiers of the Basque Country”, very similar in title and theme to the Irish national anthem, Amhrán na bhFiann/ The Soldiers’ Song.
2How Onaindia managed to get his hands on an axe in court is one question but the significance of the axe cannot be underestimated – it was a traditional tool of foresters but also of ancient Basques in war and formed one part of ETA’s emblem, the other being the snake, representing wisdom.
3Formerly used to describe the whole Basque nation, “Euskadi” nowadays mainly describes the Basque Autonomous Region of the provinces of Bizkaia, Alaba and Gipuzkoa. “Euskal Herria” (The Country of Basque Language”) is more commonly used today to describe the whole seven provinces of the Basque nation, four currently within the Spanish and three within the French states.
4It also increased the pressure on the Spanish ruling class from the USA and European states to become more moderate politically and less vulnerable to revolution.
5This was in addition to frequent large protest mobilisations.
7The vast majority of the prisoners are in jails dispersed throughout the Spanish and French states, between hundreds and even a thousand kilometres from their homes, placing a huge burden on their families and friends in visiting them.
8Comment: One wonders whether they felt any sense of irony in reading that out, considering that only in September last year 47 Basque prisoner solidarity activists pleaded guilty in a plea deal that ended their trial in 25 minutes with suspended sentences for all except for a few months’ jail for a couple of them. The deal came as a total shock to the estimated 50,000 people who had, only two days earlier, marched in solidarity with the accused, defending their right to do solidarity work without being persecuted or prosecuted.
Few people know the pain of being dispossessed of their land better than the Irish, but tragically in the 1870s, thousands of impoverished Irish immigrants ended up enlisting in American armies that were fighting to push Native Americans off their land.
Irishmen fought and died in the most iconic conflict between Native Americans and the United States Army at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in Montana. The defeat of the General Custer’s 7th Cavalry by Native Americans on June 25, 1876 has become legendary. Many people know the story of Custer’s defeat, but few are aware of the role the Irish played in fighting the battle, and in creating the most famous painting of it.
One hundred and three Irish soldiers perished on that fateful day, and yet another Irishman, John Mulvany, realizing the popularity a canvas of the battle would create, painted his iconic “Custer’s Last Rally,” which remains today one of the most celebrated paintings of the American West.
In the 1870s, the hard and dangerous life of an American cavalry trooper was still the best option for many poor, newly arrived Irish immigrants. In 1875, Custer’s 7th Cavalry was full of Irish-born recruits when gold was discovered in the Black Hills of South Dakota, the sacred ground to the Lakota. These soldiers must have known the danger they faced when the United States claimed the land and invaded it, despite treaties the American government had signed with the Lakota, guaranteeing them its ownership. The military’s armed incursion into the area led many Sioux and Cheyenne tribesmen to leave their reservations, joining the rebel leaders, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, in Montana. By the spring of 1876, more than 10,000 Native Americans were camped along the Little Bighorn River – defying a War Department order to return to their reservations and setting the stage for the famous battle.
The charismatic General George Armstrong Custer and almost 600 troops of the 7th Cavalry rode into the Little Bighorn Valley, determined to attack the native encampments. Riding with Custer were over 100 Irishmen, ranging in rank from newly recruited troopers, many of whom could barely control their mounts, to Captain Myles Keogh, a heroic veteran of the Civil War from County Carlow. There were 15 Irish sergeants and three Irish corporals in Custer’s command, the backbone of his noncommissioned officers.
Today, we imagine Custer wearing his trademark buckskin jacket – it was sewn by an Irishman, Sergeant Jeremiah Finley from Tipperary, the regiment’s tailor. The song of the 7th Cavalry was another Irish influence. Just prior to Custer’s arrival in Fort Riley, Kansas, where he took command of the 7th Cavalry, Custer ran into an Irish trooper who, “under the influence of spirits,” was singing “Garryowen,” an Irish song. Custer loved the melody and began to hum the catchy tune to himself. Custer made it the official song of the 7th Cavalry and it was the last song played before Custer and his men separated from General Terry’s column at the Powder River and rode off into history.
John Mulvany, who is known for his paintings of the American West and in particular “Custer’s Last Rally,” also painted “The Battle of Aughrim,” in 1885, which was exhibited in Dublin in 2010. The battle, fought between the Jacobite and the Williamites forces in Aughrim, County Galway on July 12, 1699, it was one of the bloodiest battles in Ireland’s history, over 7,000 killed. The battle marked the end of Jacobitism in Ireland, a movement that aimed to restore the Roman Catholic Stuart King James II of England and Ireland (as James VII in Scotland) to the throne
Before the battle, the legendary Lakota chief Sitting Bull had a vision in which he saw many soldiers, “as thick as grasshoppers,” falling upside down into the Lakota camp, which his people saw as a foreshadowing of a major victory in which a large number of soldiers would be killed. Custer, however, blinded by ego and visions of glory, made a reckless decision to attack the huge gathering of Native Americans head on, saying, ironically, “Boys, hold your horses, there are plenty down there for us all.”
Foolishly splitting his command into three units, Custer tried in vain to attack and envelop the largest concentration of Native American fighters ever to face the American Army. The first assault against the Native American encampment was launched shortly after noon by three companies – 140 officers and men – led by Major Marcus Reno, whose men attacked along the valley floor towards the far end of the camp. Thrown back with many casualties, the survivors scrambled meekly for their lives to the top of a hill. Custer, with five companies totaling more than 200 men, advanced along the ridgeline, commanding the river valley on its eastern side. He further divided this force into two groups, one of them led by Captain Keogh.
There is debate about what occurred when Custer engaged the Native American forces just after 3 p.m. because the General and all his men were killed, so no one from Custer’s command could tell their tragic tale. Archaeological evidence suggests that Keogh and his men fought bravely, being killed while trying to reach Custer’s final position after the right wing collapsed.
On June 27, 1876, members of Gen. Terry’s column reached the Little Bighorn battlefield and began identifying bodies. Keogh was found with a small group of his men and his was one of the few bodies that had not been mutilated, apparently owing to a papal or religious medal that he wore about his neck (Keogh had once served in the in the Battalion of St. Patrick, Papal Army). Although Captain Keogh did not survive the battle, his horse, Comanche, did. The horse, spared by the Native American fighters for its heroism, recovered from its serious wounds and was falsely honored as the lone survivor of the battle (many other U.S. Army horses also survived). Comanche was retired with honors by the United States Army and lived on another 15 years. When Comanche died he was stuffed, and to this day remains in a glass case at the University of Kansas.
White Americans, shocked and angered by the defeat of Custer and his men, demanded retaliation. And they got it. Soon after, over 1,000 U.S. troops under the leadership of General Ranald Mackenzie opened fire on a sleeping village of Cheyenne, killing many in the first few minutes. They burned all the Cheyenne’s winter food and slit the throats of their horses. The survivors, half naked, faced an 11-day walk north to Crazy Horse’s camp of Oglalas.
The victory at Little Big Horn marked the beginning of the end of the Native Americans’ ability to resist the U.S. government, but 37-year-old John Mulvany from County Meath saw opportunity in the tragedy.
12 YEARS OLD IN THE USA
Mulvany arrived in America as a 12-year-old. He went to art school in New York City and became an assistant of famed Civil War photographer Mathew Brady. He later covered the Civil War as a sketch artist for a Chicago newspaper, developing an amazing ability to capture battlefields on canvas.
Mulvany knew that a painting of the fight would be a sensation. He visited the battlefield twice and also found Sitting Bull in Canada so that his painting could capture even minute details of the battle and its combatants. Mulvany finished the epic 11 ft. x 20 ft. canvas in 1881, which was hailed as a masterpiece, and began a 17-year tour of the United States. The canvas made Mulvany the toast of Chicago, but his good fortune would not last.
Mulvany eventually sold his painting and ended up destitute in Brooklyn, where he drowned in the East River in 1909 in what many labeled a suicide. Mulvany quickly became forgotten, but not the fame of his great canvas, which recently sold for $25 million. Mulvany painted many great works, but they are lost and there is a concerted effort to find these missing canvases. Perhaps we will soon find more works of this great, tragic Irish painter.
In Irish history, which arquably is full of such wars, what is generally termed “The War of Independence” began with the Soloheadbeg Ambush on 21st January 1919 and ended with the Anglo-Irish Treaty on 11th July 1921 (which however, because of its limited measure of Irish independence led shortly afterwards to the Civil War 1922-1923). That ambush was one of many during the war by Irish guerrillas on the Royal Irish Constabulary, the British colonial police force and these attacks continued with a three-fold aim: to capture arms for the guerrillas, to eliminate much of the intelligence source for the Crown from rural districts and to open up areas of relative safety in the Irish countryside for the forces of independence.
In 1920 two different constabulary forces were recruited in Britain to bolster the Royal Irish Constabulary: the “normal” recruits in January and the Auxiliary Division RIC in July1. There were insufficient police uniforms for the “normal” constable recruits at first, leading to their being issued a mix of dark green RIC and khaki Army uniforms (usually Army trousers and RIC tunics) and Christopher O’Sullivan wrote in the Limerick Echo that they reminded him of the “Black and Tans”, from a well-known pack of Kerry beagles in the Scarteen Hunt. The nickname spread quickly and soon they were almost universally known (and thereafter in Irish history and folklore) by that name or shortened to “the ‘Tans”. The Irish translation is “na Dubhchrónaí” but it is likely that even in the Gaeltachtaí, the Irish-speaking areas, they were also known as “na ‘Tans”.
WW1 had ended in November 1918 and many of the ‘Tans were ex-British Army soldiers. Some were perhaps even demobbed (discharged) specifically in order to enlist in the new force. At the time there was ongoing agitation for discharge from the armed forces and even riots among thousands of British soldiers, many of whom had been conscripted but whom the British High Command was reluctant to allow to leave, knowing that many would be needed to suppress resistance to British colonial rule across the Empire, on the Indian sub-continent, in the Middle East, Africa and China.
The Tans quickly gained a reputation for brutality towards prisoners and the general civilian populace when conducting personal and home searches. They were also considered generally indisciplined, liable to intoxication on duty and to carrying out theft and harassment of women. Their behaviour towards civilians was so bad that even some British Army officers and loyalists in Ireland complained of it. The fighters of the Irish Republican Army, the new name for the reorganised Irish Volunteers, though they might fear being captured by the Tans, quickly enough gained their measure and were soon engaging them with arms.
The Auxiliaries, or “Auxies” as they became known, were a different matter. Their role was a rapid response motorised strike force and every single member was a War veteran and ex-officer, some indeed having been awarded battle decorations. Just as inclined to brutality and indiscipline in some respects, they gained a fearful reputation for their counter-guerrilla aptitude; though their commanding officer, Frank Crozier, sacked 21 of them in January 1921 because of their brutal raids in Trim, Co. Meath and murder of two Republicans in Drumcondra, Dublin, Chief of Police Henry Hugh Tudor reinstated them, so that Crozier resigned. One IRA officer commented that if the Tans were ambushed they would hide behind cover to return fire, whereas the Auxies would quickly be seeking to outflank their opposition and counter-attack.
The Auxies could carry out operations against the IRA and the civilian population with impunity, it seemed. The Kilmichael Ambush was planned specifically to take on the Auxiliaries and smash the myth of their invincibility.
THE LEADER AND THE COLUMN
The operation was led by a 23 year-old ex-British soldier: Tom Barry, Commandant of the West Cork Flying Brigade was at the time only 23 years of age and only a little over three months active in the IRA. When news of the 1916 Easter Rising reached him and other British troops fighting the Ottoman Empire in Mesopotamia (now Iraq), he “had not a nationalist thought in my head”, he confessed in his book Guerrilla Days in Ireland (1949). Barry was discharged at the end of the War but did not join the IRA until the capture and torture of Republicans Tom Hales and Pat Harte by Arthur Percival of the Essex Rifles in July 19202 so appalled him that he joined the IRA’s 3rd Cork Brigade, operating in the West Cork area. Barry’s highest rank in the British Army had been Corporal, in which role the limit of his command would usually have been of seven to 14 men. By the end of 1920, Barry had quickly risen to command 310 men in the IRA, operating over large areas of West Cork and occasionally further afield.
One of the many innovations of the IRA at that time was the flying column, designed to maximise the effective striking force of a guerrilla army in rural Ireland. This had been advocated by Seán McLoughlin while organising in South Tipperary. McLoughlin had been a member of the Irish Volunteers during the 1916 Rising, employed on reconnaisance and communication work by Commandant James Connolly in Dublin. He was only 20 years of age when, impressed by his conduct up to that point and during the evacuation from the GPO to Moore Street, James Connolly3 promoted him to Dublin Commander. Later, McLoughlin had proposed the flying column tactic in discussion with guerrilla leaders from Tipperary, Limerick and North Cork4 and recommended it to IRA HQ in Dublin, where the idea found favour and was soon disseminated. In West Cork the flying column organisation reached perhaps its apogee.
Younger and mature men in a rural community are likely to be engaged in agriculture or servicing that economy. In the first they are needed intensively at particular times of the year and families may depend on their work. Servicing work is usually more evened out throughout the year but is also less likely to have long periods when those employed in it are not needed. This is one reason why maintaining a medium-sized permanent guerrilla force in the field was difficult.
Another restricting factor was the shortage of armament – the guerrilla movement was dependent on firearms and ammunition captured from the opposing armed forces, confiscated from loyalists or purchased in small amounts at home or abroad. Some explosive material could be home-made but was sometimes of unreliable effectiveness, especially so in the case of hand-grenades.
Supposing sufficient armament could be found, a force of around 50 fit men could be maintained in a flying column, trained in the field, flexible, able to travel fairly long distances, carry out an attack and then travel far enough out of the area to avoid enemy encirclement. They had to carry their equipment and their own food or be fed by civilians in the localities through which they passed.
But this arrangement left a larger potential force of men mostly untrained and inactive. Barry solved that problem by the rotation of men to the flying column in his brigade area. For a period of a number of weeks, a force of perhaps up to 100, fully armed, would be engaged in a training program in the field, in the course of which at least one attack operation would be planned and carried out. A small core of permanent officers and guards would be maintained to ensure continuity of command, intelligence, armament supply and security. After their training period, the majority of the column would be demobilised, leaving the command core and at some point a new batch taken on. The arms carried by the previous trainees would be distributed to the next batch. Smaller groups could be rotated in and out of the column too.
The highest number fielded by Barry at any one time was a little over 100 when, on the 19th March 1921, four motorised columns totaling 1,200 British Army and Auxiliaries, supported by spotter planes, set out to encircle the column at Crossbarry5, Co.Cork. In a fighting retreat, the column killed at least ten of the enemy but lost only two men (a third, senior officer Charlie Hurley, had been surprised by the encircling British just prior to the engagement at a local house some distance from the main body and shot dead).
This development of the flying column proved effective and made the West Cork area a particular problem to the British occupation forces and it was not long before Cork was declared a “martial law area”, along with Limerick, Kerry and Tipperary (December 6th 1920). The military in these areas were empowered to execute anyone found carrying arms or ammunition and intern people without trial, also to carry hostages on their trucks to discourage attacks.
In November 1920 local IRA intelligence had noted the regular travelling on Sundays of two British Army lorries, Crossley Tenders, from the Auxies’ base at Macroom Castle to Dunmanway and it was decided to attack them. The Crossleys normally carried up to three men in front and eight in the rear so the maximum force with which the IRA would need to contend would be 22, well-trained and armed. The flying column had only recently been given permanent status and three days’ training with only three rounds for firing practice (due to shortage of ammunition). Barry mobilised a force of 37 for the operation, barely sufficient to take on two lorries, no more.
On the 28th Day of November,the Auxies came out of Macroom;
They were seated in two Crossley Tendersthat were taking them straight to their doom.They were on the road to Kilmichael and never intending to stop .....
The spot chosen for the ambush was at Dus a’Bharraigh, on a stretch of the road between the village of Kilmichael and Gleann but it was remarkable in IRA ambush sites in having no obvious escape route for the attackers to use in case the operation were unsuccessful or only partially so.
The start of the ambush is fairly well represented in a scene from the Ken Loach-directed film The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006). Barry, dressed in Irish Volunteer uniform on the assumption that most British soldiers had never seen one and would take it as being of an officer in some branch of their own armed services, flagged down the leading lorry, threw one of two Mills grenades at the driver, fired a pistol and the attack began (Loach has the ambush organiser in British officer uniform, standing by an apparently malfunctioning motorbike and shooting the driver when he slowed down).
The earliest full account of the ambush is Tom Barry’s (in Guerrilla Days etc) and that should be read but Conor Kostik put together an even fuller account, drawing on material that would not have been available to Barry in 1949.6
Those Auxies not killed outright quickly took cover and fought back. They were pinned down and surrounded and their position was hopeless without reinforcements, of which there was no reason to expect any soon. The Auxies called out they wanted to surrender and two IRA men stood up, whereupon the Auxies immediately shot them dead. Barry had signalled to cease firing but had also issued orders that none of the ambushing party were to reveal themselves until he gave the order to do so but the two Volunteers, flushed with the battle and success, had forgotten the order and left their cover.
Raging at the treachery of the Auxies and at the unnecessary loss of two of his men, Barry ordered the battle to continue, ignoring all further cries of “we surrender” until every single Auxie appeared dead or seriously injured. The ambush party then, with the exception of the lookouts, came down into the road, collected the enemy’s arms and, removing the bodies from the vicinity of the Crossley tenders, set fire to the vehicles. Two men of the Flying Column were dead and a third was seriously wounded: Vice-Commandant Michael McCarthy in the fighting and Volunteer James O’Sullivan and 15-years-old Signals Lieutenant Pat Deasy7 by the false surrender, the former dead and the teenager dying.
Then Barry did a truly remarkable thing. Amidst the bodies of the Auxies, near the burning lorries, he took his men suffering from reaction through parade drill, then in front of the rock where the bodies of Michael McCarthy and Jim O’Sullivan lay, they presented arms as a tribute to the dead Volunteers. It was half an hour after the opening of the ambush when Barry called down the lookouts and the column moved away southwards, intending to cross the Bandon River upstream from the British-held Manch Bridge. Eighteen men carried the captured enemy rifles8 slung across their backs. It started to rain again and the men were soon drenched. The rain continued as the IRA marched through Shanacashel, Coolnagow, Balteenbrack and arrived in the vicinity of dangerous Manch Bridge. The Bandon River was crossed without incident and Granure, eight miles south of Kilmichael, was reached by 11pm.
One severely wounded Auxie had survived and was rescued when the British arrived at the scene. The driver of the second lorry somehow got away and made it to a house when two local IRA sympathisers took him prisoner — he was executed the next day and his corpse hidden.
The lorries were ours before twilightAnd high over Dunmanway town
Our banner in triumph was waving
For the Auxies were beaten right down.So we gathered our rifles and bayonets
And soon left the glen so secure
And we never drew rein till we halted
At the faraway camp at Granure
In the first planned attack on the Auxiliaries, the IRA had defeated a platoon of 18 (the lorries were not travelling full to capacity), of which they had killed 16. The guerrillas’ casualties were two dead, one of whom had been victim of the false surrender and the second victim severely wounded; these were removed to safe houses by horse and cart. The column had all the weapons and remaining ammunition of the Auxies and had burned the two lorries. It was a hard slog after the battle and carrying all that equipment to their billet in an empty house at Granure, eight miles away, which they reached at eleven. There the wounded were treated, they were fed by local people and the Column’s support structure, with men and Cumann na mBan standing guard over them while they slept.
Pat Deasy died during the night and temporary graves had to be found for his and the other two bodies until the area had calmed down.and high over Dunmanway town
Pat Deasy died during the night and temporary graves had to be found for his and the other two bodies until the area had calmed down.
The topography along the Auxies’ route had made the choice of a good ambush site far enough away from quick enemy reinforcements impossible, which was what dictated the eventual choice of the site by Barry and Vice-Commandant McCarthy. Available cover for the ambush was in short supply and even more so along any possible route of evacuation; which would mean heavy casualties for the guerrillas in any retreat from an undefeated enemy at that site. This in turn meant that the battle had to be fought to a successful conclusion – the complete defeat of the Auxie column. In this respect the planning of the engagement violated the general practice of the IRA at that time as well as the general rules of guerrilla warfare, which are of heavily outnumbering the enemy at the point of attack9 and at least being able to withdraw quickly and safely from enemy reaction. Barry and McCarthy no doubt knew this and were opting for daring rather than caution, taking a calculated risk (which is not the same as being reckless).
For a maximum enemy number of 22, Barry had mobilised a force of 37 but three of those and perhaps more would have to be scouts, to alert of the approaching Auxie lorries and to guard against being surprised by British reinforcements. Eventually, 34 including Barry were appointed to the actual fighting, his command post with three riflemen, another two sections of ten and a third section of twelve — but six of those would have to be prepared to hold off a third lorry if one appeared. The ratio of attackers to the target force was therefore just under two to one, which is far from ideal for an attacking force and less so when taking the topography into account. It would indeed have been wonderful for the Column had they the 100 in the ambush party group later claimed by the British!
The enemy could be expected to have the latest in Lee Enfield rifles, firing two clips of five bullets before needing to reload and also quickly re-loadable. In addition, they carried holstered revolvers. They would probably have some grenades and might well have at least one Lewis machine gun. Against that impressive potential and even certain firepower, the IRA column had a mix of rifles, shotguns, a few revolvers and two grenades10.
These considerations dictated the order of battle for the guerrilla force and plan of action: the battle could not be a long one and many of the enemy had to be eliminated at short range and in the first few minutes of the battle. This meant that after throwing one of their two British Army-issue Mills grenades, to disable the first lorry and front occupants, the attack on those in the rear of the lorry would have to be savage and almost hand-to-hand after discharge of shotguns at close range, followed by bayonet and rifle-butt.
Apart from Barry who had experience of combat in the British Army, few of the guerrillas had any military experience other than guerrilla training periods during earlier months and most had no combat experience whatsoever. The force they were intending to attack however were all ex-military, probably every single one with combat experience at least in WW1, which had ended only two years previously.
In terms of leadership, all of the Auxies had held officer rank and, if in the field, had commanded a minimum of 30 soldiers if at the rank of lieutenant and 120 if a captain. Barry would hardly have commanded more than 14 at a stretch and no more than seven normally. All the British officers other than those who had been appointed in the field during wartime perhaps, would have received training in officer school whereas Barry had had to train himself while also training their fighting force.
One hundred years ago this force of guerrillas in West Cork carried out a courageous and successful attack on a merciless enemy, in conditions both physically and emotionally difficult. The result was a huge boost in morale for the forces of Irish resistance at a time when it was needed, in particular in rural Ireland, while other responses were being developed to meet the changing tactics of the enemy in the cities, for example seven days earlier in Dublin with the wiping out of the “Cairo Gang” of British Intelligence. Both events shook the British occupation authorities but did not deter them and the war thereafter intensified further.
As was becoming standard behaviour of the British armed forces after an attack on them, they retaliated against the civilian population. All the houses near the ambush site were burned but they also went on to burn houses, shops and barns in Kilmichael, Johnstown and Inchigeelagh. And four days later, on 3rd December, three IRA Volunteers were arrested in Bandon, Cork County by soldiers of the Essex Rifles; after beating them, their dead bodies were dumped on the roadside.11
Barry wrote that some of the British media printed lies about the Kilmichael ambush, claiming that the dead Auxies had been mutilated but of course that could have been on the basis of information supplied by the British occupation forces; certainly there had been close quarter fighting which included bayonets and rifle-butts. He also recorded that after that War, the British State had written to him asking him to confirm details of the Auxies’ deaths for the sake of pensions to relatives and that he had declined to reply. However the body of Gutteridge, the driver of the second lorry, who had been killed after escaping the ambush site, was disinterred in 1926 by the IRA at the request of relations and buried in the Church of Ireland graveyard in Macroom.
The false surrender of the Auxies was an important issue to explain the wiping out of the column which otherwise might have been seen as execution of prisoners after the battle. The incident was described in a number of recorded accounts, of which the earliest was in 1937 by participant Stephen O’Neill. Tom Barry’s, although years later (1949), remains the fullest published account of the battle by a participant. The false surrender was mentioned in a number of British sources, including by the Auxies’ former commander, Crozier, who quoted an unnamed source in the area in his Ireland Forever (1932).
In The IRA And Its Enemies Professor Peter Hart (1963–22 July 2010) took issue with the false surrender account, focussing on Tom Barry’s recall in his book. Mistakenly believing Crozier’s to have been the first published account (and a concoction), Hart asserted that the false surrender claim was invented to conceal the killing of surviving Auxiliary officers after surrendering.
Most of Hart’s claimed sources in interviews in 1988 have been disproved in research by a number of historians, including Meda Ryan, Brian Murphy and Niall Meehan, among others (including by some of his supporters): one participant was already dead when supposedly interviewed by Hart, another was considered by his son incapable due to ravages of age and a stroke (he would have been 97 years of age) and some utterances quoted were matched to recorded interviews, including Fr. John Chisholm’s in 1970, taken long before Hart’s alleged interviews (and to which only Hart had been given access for over a decade).
It would seem that the issue has been long settled but the controversy continues albeit without any real substance. Hart was one of those people active around Irish history who have been called “revisionists” which, in the Irish context, means historians who wish to present an alternative discourse to the popular one of anti-colonialist Irish forces fighting a courageous war of resistance against a powerful and ruthless military occupying power.12 History is not just about the past but also about the present and the future, in which we all have a stake, which no doubt influences what some historians would like to believe (and to make others believe). Understandable though all that may be, to plagiarise and to falsify in order to achieve the desired result is inexcusable.
After the 28th of November 1920 the myth of Auxiliary invincibility had been well and truly shattered and there would be many further engagements between the IRA and the Auxies, with varying results. A figure of 12,500 British Army troops stationed in County Cork during the conflict has been quoted but it is not clear whether this includes the ‘Tans, Auxies and the regular RIC. The war would continue with assassinations by both sides, ambushes and attacks on barracks by the guerrillas, burning of homesteads and towns by Crown forces along with raids including murders, detentions, torture and executions. Barry stated that the West Cork Flying Column had suffered 34 fatalities but that his 310 men had killed over 100 enemy combatants and wounded another 93 during that conflict.
The Truce of 11th July 1921 was followed by the Anglo-Irish Agreement, signed in London by Michael Collins and the Irish negotiating party against the advice of their English adviser Erskine Childers13 and ratifed by a slim enough majority in the First Dáil, the separatist Irish Parliament. Its limited provisions would lead to a vicious Civil War in which the majority of the guerrilla fighters and their close support structures were opposed to the new Free State Government; the latter however had the support of British armament and transport and a hastily-recruited regular army of native personnel.
During the Truce, Tom Barry married Lesley Mary Price, a 1916 Rising veteran (and later Director of Cumann na mBan, the Republican women’s auxiliary military organisation) and survived the War of Independence. He took the Anti-Treaty side and was appointed to the IRA Executive (although he later wrote that the considered the struggle unwinnable once Dublin was lost to the Free State forces – he believed a decisive blow should have been struck at the outset against the Free State and to challenge the British). Barry was taken prisoner with most of the Republican garrison of the Four Courts in the Battle for Dublin in July 1922 and imprisoned in Mountjoy Jail, later transferred to the internment concentration camp at Gormanstown in Co. Meath.
In September Barry escaped from the concentration camp and headed south, where he was appointed to command the Southern Division of the Republican forces, which eventually defeated, ended their resistance in May 1923. However, Republicans continued to be liable to arrest (and murder) by Free State forces and had to remain on the run (or emigrate) at least until the Amnesty of November 1924.
Narrowly outnumbered in a leadership vote on whether to end the Civil War, Barry had resigned from the IRA leadership as the Republican resistance limped on for a short period before the order to cease hostilities. However he returned to the leadership in 1927 and during the 1930s, like Republicans elsewhere in the territory of the State and the Republican Congress in Dublin, he was engaged in fighting the “Blueshirts”, the Irish fascist movement led by former IRA officer and comrade Eoin O’Duffy.14 And in May 1934, under the De Valera government, Barry was convicted of arms possession and jailed until December of that year. In March 1936 Vice-Admiral Henry Somerville was shot dead in his home in Castletownshend, Cork for attempting to recruit men to join the Royal Navy and Barry, though not tried for the act was believed to have been involved. When Sean McBride resigned as IRA Chief of Staff, Barry was elected to the position but resigned in 1938 over a tactical dispute.
Otherwise Barry settled down to a civilian post as Superintendent of Cork Harbour Commission from 1927-1965, during which he published his book but was much in demand for interviews and led Cork Republicans in commemorations of the War of Independence and of the Civil War. In the 1970s he publicly declared his support for the Provisional IRA (while disagreeing with some of their actions).
Tom Barry died on 2nd July 1980 — despite a number of questions regarding his political trajectory,15 perhaps Ireland’s foremost guerrilla leader, certainly in modern times. He had led many engagements against the British enemy and had lost not one; although in those engagements his force suffered some casualties they were always relatively very low. There are monuments to two of those battles at the site of the initial engagements, the Kilmichael Ambush and the Crossbarry Retreat, and to him personally at Fitzgerald Park in Cork City, near the bank of the river Lee (which also holds a monument to fellow Corkman and Barry’s opponent during the Civil War, Michael Collins).
In admittedly light research, I have been unable to find the date of the composition or publication of the Boys of Kilmichael ballad (which I presume to have been around the mid-1960s) and only a little about the author? (listed on a couple of sites), Declan Hunt himself, who played with groups Battering Ram and Marks Men. The musicians received enthusiastic reviews for the quality of their singing and playing, as well as for commitment impact of their lyrics.
From a historical point of view the Kilmichael song contained a surprisingly inaccurate theme in its depiction of the ‘Tans as being the targets of the ambush and perhaps this is a reflection of the also inaccurate description of that conflict as “the Tan War”. I amended the lyrics to figure the Auxies instead of the Tans and, in order to maintain the rhythm, had to change one line completely (see footnotes to lyrics).
The song has a number of slightly different versions both published and in the vernacular16 and has been recorded by a number of artists. The structure and even some of the lyrics are strongly based on an earlier song, Men of the West, by Michael Rooney (1873-1901)) and the air to which it is sung is the same as the other’s. Men of the West is about the 1798 United Irishmen rising in Mayo with some French military assistance and Conchúr Mag Uidhir won a prize for the translation of the lyrics into Irish as Fir and Iarthair at the 1903 Feis Ceoil (a traditional music convention held in different areas annually) in Mayo.
The video below (reproduced with kind permission of Anti-Imperialist Action) includes near the beginning a clip of the ballad being sung in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin at the end of last month. There are of course better renditions musically but this is the only one publicly available to date in which the lyrics record that it was the Auxiliaries who were defeated there.
LYRICS OF THE BALLAD (amended by me for historical accuracy)
BOYS OF KILMICHAEL
By Declan Hunt?
While we honor in song and story The memory of Pearse and McBride17 Whose names are illumined in glory With martyrs who long have since died; Forget not the boys of Kilmichael Who feared not the might of the foe: The day that they marched into battle They laid the Auxilliaries low.
So here’s to the boys of Kilmichael Those brave lads so gallant and true — They fought ‘neath the green flag of Erin And conquered the red white and blue.18
On the 28th day of November The Auxies came out of Macroom; They were seated in two Crossley Tenders That were bringing them straight to their doom. They were all on the road to Kilmichael And never expecting to stop, They there met the boys from the Column Who made a clean sweep of the lot.
So here’s to the boys of Kilmichael …
The sun in the west it was sinking ‘Twas the eve of a cold winter’s day When the Auxies we were eagerly waiting Sailed into the spot where we lay And over the hill came the echo The peal of the rifle and gun And the flames from the lorries brought tidings That the boys of Kilmichael had won.
So here’s to the boys of Kilmichael …
The lorries were ours before twilight And high over Dunmanway town Our banners in triumph were waving For the Auxies were beaten right down19. So we gathered our rifles and bayonets And soon left the glen so secure And we never drew rein till we halted At the faraway camp at Granure.20
So here’s to the boys of Kilmichael …
1At its height the Auxiliary Division RIC numbered 1,900.
2For whose capture Percival was awarded the Order of the British Empire.
3James Connolly, born to Irish migrants and reared in Edinburgh, developed into a revolutionary socialist and was Dublin Commandant of the Easter Rising but could not have known that McLoughlin would later himself become a communist.
4McLoughlin proposed the formation of bands of around 40 in which those for whom there were not enough firearms would be employed in roles such as first aid and demolition (scouting would have been another obvious role). Of course, as arms were seized those men could be armed. Interestingly, Liam Lynch had proposed the inclusion of Cumann na mBan and McLoughin had agreed; given the attitudes of the time one assumes their role would have been in an auxiliary one to that of the fighters.
5The location’s name is not directly related to Tom Barry but rather to the Norman family De Barry or, in Irish, De Barra; or possibly in West Cork of Ó Báire, an ancient Irish family name.
6I came across that account while searching for images for this article which by then was nearly completely written; had I come across it much earlier I doubt I would have written on the event at all but I hope I have added an additional something to the account, even if no more than about the ballad and about Barry himself.
7He had not been enlisted for the ambush party but followed them at a distance, his presence being discovered when nearing the site. He had begged to be allowed to stay and, unfortunately for him, had convinced them to do so.
8The Auxie who ran away had left his rifle behind so the Column had gained 18 modern rifles.
9Obviously this does not include the sniper or bomb attack.
10A number of accounts state that each of the attacking party had a rifle with 35 rounds which, if accurate, since accounts agree that shotguns were used, must mean some men carried a rifle in addition to a shotgun, which hardly makes sense. It is more likely that there were insufficient rifles for all and that some had shotguns, those in particular being assigned close-quarter fighting.
11Barry wrote that apart from the Auxies and Tans, who soon gained no mercy from the IRA, generally those who surrendered to the IRA were deprived of their weapons, told not to take up arms against the Irish people again and set free. Because of their treatment of civilians on raids and prisoners, an exception was made of soldiers of the Essex Regiment – but not until a note from Barry to their Commanding Officer warning him to have his men – and in particular his Intelligence Officer Arthur Percival — desist from torture and murder, was ignored. During WW2, to the disgust of many British, Dominion and Empire troops under his command, and civilians on the island, Lieut-General Percival surrendered Singapore to the Japanese Imperial Army along with 80,000 of his command, most of whom had not fired a shot. More than half of those POWs never returned home.
12Peter Hart rejected the term “revisionist historian”, saying it was pejorative, which in terms of Irish history it generally has been. In some other historical contexts however, for example the USA, revisionist historians have gone against the historical canon and have been concerned to tell the stories of the working class, women, indigenous people, slaves and ethnic minorities. Something similar has occurred in Britain. In Europe some revisionist historians have questioned the dominance of the post-Nazi discourse of a generally resisting population and researched the degree of collaboration among the occupied populations.
13Erskine Childers was an English sailor and author of the best-seller The Riddle of the Sands. He had brought his yacht The Aud, crewed by his wife and others, to Howth in 1914 to deliver Mauser rifles for the Irish Volunteers; these were in particular use during the 1916 Rising. He enlisted in the British Army for the duration of WW1 but, returning to Ireland, joined the reorganised Volunteers/ IRA, where he directed the insurrectionary war’s publicity department. Siding with the majority of the resistance military against the Anglo-Irish Treaty, he was captured during the Civil War, condemned to death by Free State military tribunal and executed. His son became fourth President of the Irish State.
14These were later incorporated into the Fine Gael political party, for generations one of the two main political parties in Governmentwhich, at the time of writing, is in coalition government with the Fianna Fáil and Green parties.
15He had advocated joining forces with Fianna Fáil during the 1930s and had also opened relations with Nazi Germany which he maintained up to 1939 while during WW2 he worked for the Irish State’s Army intelligence for the Southern Command with the rank of Commander and even wrote for its publication An Cosantóir.
16As for example in the lines
"For the boys of the Column were waiting
With hand grenades primed on the spot
And the Irish Republican Army
Made shit of the whole bloody lot."
17Two of the 14 executed by the British in Dublin after the 1916 Rising; Patrick Pearse was Commander-in-Chief and stationed at HQ (GPO and Moore Street) while Major John McBride joined the garrison at Jacobs at the last minute (he had his rank from the Irish Transvaal Brigade, in which he had fought the British in the 2nd Boer War).
18The Tricolour, not the green flag was the generally-accepted national flag at this time. The “red, white and blue” are the colours of the “Union Jack” the flag of the United Kingdom. The name of Ireland is “Éire” and “Erin”, although often used, does not exist (probably originally taken in error from the Genitive “na h-Éireann” or the dative, “in Éirinn”).
19My substituted line for “to show that the Tans had gone down”.
20The song lyrics I saw list “Glenure”; there are two places listed as “Glenure” in Cork County, both a long distance from Kilmichael, even without having fought a battle and being loaded down with captured equipment. However, in the military pension statement of Stephen O’Neill, one of the participants, I found the place listed as Granure which, at just over 8 miles away from the ambush site, was more reasonable, though still a heavy slog. They reached it about an hour before midnight.
On October 31st two people died, one known around the world for his cinema roles, Seán Connery, who played James Bond and many better and less well known roles. The other death was that of the Colombian liberal politician Horacio Serpa. No sooner had he died the liberals and NGOs and all the former revolutionaries began to write and comment on the life of Serpa with a script that not even Connery could convincingly play.
So, just who was Horacio Serpa and what was his role in Colombian politics? His body hadn’t time to go cold and they were already rewriting the history of the country. The headline on El Espectador said it all, Remembering an Authentic Liberal. i Of course part of the problem depends on what you understand as a liberal, as in the current times when they talk of liberals and the Liberal Party one can barely recognise that it is and always has been the party of a sector of the Colombian oligarchy, that it is the party that gave us legalised paramilitaries, it is the party of massacre after massacre and of course they talk about it as if it wasn’t Liberal Party that gave us the health reform Law 100 (the liberal senator Uribe was the the speaker to the motion on the law, but the law was a proposal from the entire Liberal Party), nor that it was the party that gave us the infamous economic aperture of 1990.
So, for starts, Horacio Serpa who was the Minister of the Interior, under Samper, a government which deepened the aperture, was a neoliberal politician. In the midst of the political poverty of the current Colombian left, such as statement comes across like a grenade thrown or a burst of gunfire against Serpa’s good name. But, how are we to describe a minister in a neoliberal government as anything else? They say we shouldn’t and part of the problem is there are those who forget who President Samper was and what his government’s policies were. Worse still, they forget their own criticisms of that government. So let’s remind ourselves. Serpa was a neoliberal. Of course, he was a neoliberal speaking out both sides of his mouth, capable of calming the angels whilst defended the devils tooth and nail. A man of the right wing at the service of the oligarchy who with his populist discourse made himself out to be a progressive. Once again, some will say he wasn’t right wing. Is there another type of Minister of the Interior? Not only was he Minister of the Interior under Samper and champion in defending him against accusations of links to drug traffickers, but also he would later be Uribe’s ambassador to the Organisation of American States.
As we are in Colombia and politicians like Serpa are very deft, there is no lack of supposed lefties who will talk about how Serpa helped them. So in order to see what he was really like we should deal with some examples when Serpa did the exact opposite. In his passage through the Procurator General’s office he did nothing for the disappeared from the Palace of Justice. It was not at all surprising given his own role in that. The then Procurator Carlos Jiménez Gómez drew up a report and formerly denounced to
… the House Commission of Accusations President Belisario Betancur and his Minister of Defence, Miguel Vega Uribe for violating the Constitution and the Law of Nations now known as International Humanitarian Law.
The Procurator Jiménez’s denunciation with precise hard-hitting proof in hand was shelved through a motion presented by the representatives Carlos Mauro Hoyos, Horacio Serpa and Darío Alberto Ordoñez, arguing that “it was a typical act of government in the most important area under the remit of the President of the Republic namely to uphold public order and re-establish it wherever it has broken down”.ii
That is Horacio Serpa, the man who ensured that there would be no investigation of the events. A friend and accessory after the fact of criminals. It is worth pointing out that two of those who suppressed the accusation would later hold the office of procurator, Hoyos was the successor to the whistleblower Jiménez Gómez and Serpa then replaced Hoyos and thus the truth was buried underneath the ruins of the palace and the manoeuvres of Serpa and company.
But some claim he was a friend of the workers and an enemy of paramilitaries. Leave aside that he served in governments that actively promoted paramilitaries, those of Samper and Uribe and lets look at when workers reached out to his office to seek protection. After the 1995 massacre of palm workers in San Alberto, Cesar, the workers met with Horacio Serpa who was the Minister of the Interior at the time. In their oral history published in 2018, the workers narrate how Serpa told them “there was nothing that could be done as the paramilitary project was very big, and upon finishing the meeting and when we were heading towards the door he said ‘lads it is best that you be careful, because in this country if you stick your head above the parapet it will get knocked off.”iii Of course, he didn’t want to do anything to protect the workers of the palm company Indupalma, whilst at that exact time both he and his government maintained a military base within the plantation to protect the company’s assets. That is Horacio Serpa, loyal friend of the oligarchy, traitor speaking out both sides of his mouth to the workers, a defender of criminals such as the murderers behind the events of the Palace of Justice and a man capable of placing an entire battalion at the disposition of a company in order to protect it and not lift a finger to protect the workers in that company.
So, on October 31st, one of the greats died who we will remember fondly, with admiration, someone who contributed positively to our lives. Rest in Peace, Seán Connery.
(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.
In the midst of an arrest operation on Wednesday of 21 people for alleged misuse of public funds to assist the Catalan independence movement, the Spanish State issued a statement alleging that Russia had offered the movement 10,000 Russian soldiers to aid their struggle. It wasn’t the only Russian connection to the Spanish police operation, which they had named Operación Volkhov.
The arrests this week form part of measures by the State against Catalan independence activists since 2017. That year, a coalition of pro-independence political parties and a huge grassroots movement in Catalonia pushed for a referendum to vote for or against an independent Catalan republic, which the pro-Spanish union opposition called on people to boycott. The Spanish State sent its police to raid Catalan regional government offices, confiscate ballot papers, search for ballot boxes (unsuccessfully) and, on the day of the Referendum itself on October 1st, to storm polling stations and beat up voters.
Since then, the Spanish State has jailed seven Catalan politicians and two leaders of grassroots movements on charges of sedition, charged senior Catalan police officers with disobedience (recently acquitted), charged activists with possession of explosives (turned out to be fireworks), other Catalan politicians – including the former President — are in exile, the current President of the regional government has been banned from holding office, 700 local town mayors are under investigation and others are facing charges arising out of strikes and acts of civil disobedience such as blocking streets and a motorway (for which one activist was charged with terrorism). The raid this week comes in addition to all those legal processes.
There is something of an irony in charging Catalan activists with misuse of public funds in pursuance of independence, given that independence is what many of the Catalan public desire but even more ironic considering the rampant corruption endemic in Spanish political circles and the Monarchy itself, the former King Juan Carlos resigning amidst allegations of financial corruption and being allowed to flee the country ahead of an investigation.
Whatever about the charges of misuse of public funds it is unlikely that most political observers will take the allegations of an offer of Russian military intervention seriously and not only because it comes from Guardia Civil intelligence, a police force maintaining the fascist Franco dictatorship for four decades and, according to many, especially Basques and Catalans, not much changed since. The notion that Russia would risk a war with the EU and the US-dominated NATO, in order to help free a nation of 7.5 million people nowhere near its own territory, must be laughable.
For those facing charges, under investigation, in exile or already in jail, the situation is not humorous. And then there is the sinister name of the police operation. During WW2, General Franco, dictator of a neutral Spain sent fascist volunteers to aid the Axis in Europe, many of them fighting on the Russian front. Franco had quite recently led a successful military-fascist uprising against the Spanish left-wing Popular Front Government, for which he had been aided by Nazi German and Fascist Italian armament and men. His victory was followed by a repression that left Spain with more mass graves than anywhere else other than Cambodia. The Spanish volunteers to fight Soviet communism formed the Blue Division – blue, from the colour of the Falangist shirts and uniforms.
SPANISH FASCISTS ON THE VOLKHOV FRONT
Among the Nazi German forces in the Volkhov region were the men of the Blue Division and it seems they carried out a successful night crossing of the Volkhov River on 18th October 1941. A subsequent Red Army advance in January 1942 failed ultimately because not all the components of the operation had advanced according to plan. In August 1942 the Blue Division was transferred north to take part in the Siege of Leningrad, on the south-eastern flank of the German Army.
However in February of that 1943, operations on the Volkhov Front formed Part of the Red Army plan to first break the siege of Leningrad and then trap Nazi forces in encirclement. According to what seems a Spanish-sympathetic Wikipedia account of the battle at Krasny Bor, in the vicinity of Volkov, the Blue Division fought stubbornly from 10-13 February 1943. On February 15, the Blue Division reported casualties of 3,645 killed or wounded and 300 missing or taken prisoner, which amounted to a 70–75% casualty rate of the troops engaged in the battle. The remnants were relieved and moved back towards the rear.
Red Army casualties were much higher and, although forces attacking well-fortified positions backed by good artillery and tanks, all of which the Nazis had, can expect to lose three attackers for every one defender, Russian analysis later blamed bad leadership, ineffective use of artillery and clumsy use of tanks for their losses.
A Spanish police force evoking today the memory of Spain’s fascist troops in WW2 might seem ominous but to those who believe that the Spanish ruling class and their police force have never ceased to be fascist, the only surprise will be its effrontery. To the Guardia Civil, the fighting in the vicinity of Volkhov in October 1941 might seem the finest hour of the Blue Division but they might do well to remember that effectively it also met its end there in 1943: the Division ceased to exist and was reformed as the Blue Legion, soon afterwards to be disbanded, some soldiers absorbed into the Waffen SS and others withdrawn home.
RUSSIAN TROOPS FOR CATALONIA?
Fast forwarding to the present, the Russians, at least in their Embassy in Madrid, treated the allegation of their offering troops to support Catalan independence as a joke. The following post in Spanish appeared on their electronic notice and comment board (translated):
Note: The information that appeared in the Spanish media about the arrival of 10,000 Russian soldiers in Catalonia is incomplete. It is necessary to add a further two zeros to the number of soldiers and the most shocking thing of all this conspiracy: the troops were to be transported by “Mosca” and “Chato” planes assembled in Catalonia during the Civil War and hidden in a safe place in the Catalan Sierra (mountain range) until they received the encrypted order to act through these publications.
A leaflet from the Socialist Party of Ireland distributed at the antifascist rally in Dublin on Saturday 12th made a correct analysis of the source of the problems in Irish society of which the Far-Right are taking advantage in order to mislead people but also grow. But the leaflet text failed shamefully when it came to outlining the next steps to take.
Titled “OPPOSE RACIST DIVISION — Organise to stop the far right”, the leaflet correctly identified the haphazard Government restrictions as the cause of insecurity and confusion about the Covid19 virus, which fed the negationist movement. It also stated that the Far-Right was manipulating these people and working to infect them with racism and homophobia.
It was correct also to point to the need for socialists to expose the real issues and organise to resolve them.
However, the leaflet text went on to state: “Recent experiences have shown that small counter demonstrations with confrontational tactics have jeopardised the safety of anti-fascist protestors and can drive some some people further into the arms of the far right.”
Perhaps the Socialist Party can tell us what kind of counter demonstration would not be seen as having “confrontational tactics”. In fact since to their credit for the first time some of their comrades actually took part in one such counter-protest, on Custom House Quay on the 22nd August, they couldinform their party that the counter-protesters were attacked almost as soon as they stepped on to the Quay, before anything at all was said by them. Also, the Far-Right have been staging regular street protests since last year, many of them centred around the racist and conspiracy theorist Gemma O’Doherty, who recently unfurled a banner calling to “Make Ireland Catholic Again”. Should the Far-Right have been permitted to continue without public opposition?
The counter-protests were small because the majority of the antifascist movement did not participate in them. It was independent anarchists, socialists and Irish Republicans who first took up that task and at that time the Far-Right protests were quite small. When the Far-Right called a larger one for Leinster House, in a coalition of fascist parties and organisations, a fairly large force of Irish Republicans and independent antifascists confronted them and a number of the Republicans were arrested. Following that event, on 14th December 2019 a larger combined force of antifascists including Irish Republicans, Antifascist Action and socialist parties occupied the protest ground planned by the Far-Right outside Leinster House and outnumberedthe latter by about ten to one.
The small ad-hoc antifascist coalition of various political and social threads has been left to confront all the other fascist gatherings on their own. A Far-Right group called QAnon occupied the GPO forecourt for Saturday rallies as soon as the Covid19 restrictions were introduced and were left largely unmolested by antifascists to establish themselves as a weekly event, supported by fascist activists who travelled from different parts of the country to attend it. They were left unmolested by the Gardaí too, who nevertheless used Covid19 powers to harass Debenhams picketers around the corner in Henry Street and also by the Special Branch, Ireland’s political police, who harassed pickets held in solidarity with Irish Republican and Basque political prisoners, demanding the names and addresses of the picketers.
All subsequent rallies, pickets and meetings of the Far-Right were left entirely to the small aforementioned coalitions to oppose but when the Debenhams workers staged their march and rally on 8th August, the QAnon group abandoned their Saturday spot and took to Phoenix Park instead, showing the antifascist potential of a large gathering of the Left.
HISTORY OF ANTIFASCIST STRUGGLE IN IRELAND
The rise of the fascist movement in Ireland in the 1930s was defeated by Irish Republicans, who confronted them physically on the streets to the extent that the ruling class feared revolution and mostly acquiesced with De Valera’s government banning a Blueshirt march, after which the Blueshirts became integrated into the Fine Gael party and ceased to have a separate existence.
Every attempt to establish a fascist party since then has been promptly squashed by antifascists. In 2016 the European islamophobic fascist organisation Pegida tried to launch itself in Dublin and was driven off the street by massive mobilisation of both those advocating peaceful opposition as well as those favouring physical confrontation (by the way four Republicans still face serious charges arising out of those events). The tiny group of native Irish fascists was attacked on its way into the city centre and the East European contingent had to run or be brought to safety in Garda vans.
The fascist movement of Sir Oswald Moseley’s Blackshirts was physically opposed in numerous battles on the streets of British cities throughout the 1930s and after WW2, Moseley himself being knocked to the ground in Manchester and hit by a flying brick in Liverpool. Numerous battles took place in London too of course, the most famous being at Cable Street, where a coalition of Irish and Jewish antifascists, along with local Communist Party activists, fought a battle of several hours on 4th October 1936, principally with 7,000 London Metropolitan Police and all the mounted police of the city. The police got through the first barricade but failed to penetrate the second and the Blackshirts had to turn away, many being ambushed at other points such as at Hyde Park Corner.
After WW2 all attempts of Moseley and other fascists to organise were suppressed by robust action on the streets, the most serious being in 1958 in London’s Notting Hill area. Many of the post-war migration of Afro-Caribbean people to London lived in that area. Moseley’s Union of Fascists and the White Defence League organised and whipped up gangs of white youths to attack first migrant Caribbean males, then the white wife of a Caribbean man and finally Caribbean families. The Caribbean migrants and Irish and British antifascists organised defence and battles went on for two weeks. According to Wikipedia: “The riots caused tension between theMetropolitan Police and the British African-Caribbean community, which claimed that the police had not taken their reports of racial attacks seriously. In 2002, files were released that revealed that senior police officers at the time had assured the Home Secretary, Rab Butler, that there was little or no racial motivation behind the disturbance, despite testimony from individual police officers to the contrary.” (That pattern of police denial of racism and neglect of targeted communities became a repeated pattern and has also been seen in many other countries).
When fascists began to organise again in Britain at the end of the 1960s, the parties of the Left first advocated ignoring them and when they did eventually mobilise counter-demonstrations, marched them away from confrontation with the fascists. Meanwhile fascists were attacking sellers of socialist papers, socialist meetings, migrants and ethnic minorities. Some elements of the Left after a while adopted the slogan of “no platform for fascists” which became popularised among students and some staff in institutions of third-level education, eventually becoming policy of the National Union of Students.
A coalition of antifascists of various political backgrounds, including some acting unofficially outside their party discipline, mainly in AFA (Anti-Fascist Action) and small groups of revolutionary communists, anarchists, Irish Republicans and antifascists expelled from their parties (e.g. Red Action) took on the National Front, the League of St. George and the British National Party in numerous battles and smashed the ability of the fascists to take possession of any significant physical space in order to organise. On September 13th we passed by the anniversary of one of those battles in Lewisham, SE London in 1977 and we are nearly at the the anniversary of another,on the 18th in 1992 at Waterloo (the London Underground and train station, not the site of the 1815 battle in Belgium).
Throughout that period the main parties of the left (with the exception for a period of the SWP and the IMG) refused to confront the fascists physically and instead concentrated on organising events to attract youth away from fascism, principally through the Anti-Nazi League. It was however clearly the physical confrontations by antifascists on the streets, as had been the case in the 1930s that again defeated the rising fascist threat in Britain – for a time. Clearing the fascists from the street not only prevented the intimidation of Left activists and ethnic minorities and prevented the creation of fascist areas but also made it much more difficult for fascists to recruit and marshall forces.
LEARNING THE LESSONS?
Rather than draw on the lessons of those struggles in Ireland and in Britain, the leaflet text advocates repeating the mistakes. In effect, the leaflet advocates leaving the antifascist mobilisations for the moment and concentrating on the class struggle against the system. That strategy entails allowing the fascists to become established and grow unhindered, making it much harder to root them out later. But not only that – the Left in Ireland has a pretty poor record of taking on the capitalist system and is particularly weak at the moment, with the trade union movement largely supine. The leaflet points to the just struggle of the Debenhams workers, with which the SP is particularly closely connected, at least in Dublin; however it is well to note that those workers have been sacked, their workplaces closed and the struggle is a last-ditch defensive one for redundancy pay. In other words, we are nowhere near a situation where the overall struggle against the capitalist system is such as to cut the ground from under the Far-Right.
Because those loose antifascist networks currently active are not under the control of the SP and are hardly likely to heed their call, the effect of the leaflet text is to advocate a continuation of the current situation, where counter-protests will be outnumbered by mobilisations of the Far-Right, despite the fact that the fascist parties actually have tiny support, bussing in people to swell the numbers. Fascist attacks will continue and may well even escalate. Fascists will continue to arm with Garda impunity for their attacks but it is certain that when the antifascists arm likewise, they will be arrested for “possession of offensive weapons” and even jailed.
Finally, the leaflet failed to give any specific indication of a short or medium-term way forward except to “join the socialists”, i.e the Socialist Party. The leaflet could have advocated building a broad antifascist front and called on people to help in that work, to bring in people not currently active, to ensure large turnouts to counter mobilisations of the Far-Right. But it didn’t.
“Mo Ghile Mear”, lyrics composed later in the the 18th Century lamenting the failing of an earlier Rising, a traditional Irish air at least generations old, combined in the 1970s, sung today in great style.
I have not researched the origins of this myself but the theme is well-known, so from relying on Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: “Mo Ghile Mear” (translated “My Gallant Darling”, “My Spirited Lad” and variants) is an Irish song. The modern form of the song was composed in the early 1970s by Dónal Ó Liatháin (1934–2008), using a traditional air collected in Cúil Aodha, County Cork, and lyrics selected from Irish-language poems by Seán “Clárach” Mac Domhnaill (1691–1754).
The lyrics are partially based on Bímse Buan ar Buairt Gach Ló (“My Heart is Sore with Sorrow Deep” (but “Gach Ló” means “every day” and there is no mention of “My Heart” in the title – D. Breatnach), c. 1746), a lament of the failure of the Jacobite rising of 1745. The original poem is in the voice of the personification of Ireland, Éire, lamenting the exile of Bonnie Prince Charlie.Mo ghile mear is a term applied to the Pretender in numerous Jacobite songs of the period. O’Daly (1866) reports that many of the Irish Jacobite songs were set to the tune The White Cockade. This is in origin a love song of the 17th century, the “White Cockade” (cnotadh bán) being an ornament of ribbons worn by young women, but the term was re-interpreted to mean a military cockade in the Jacobite context.
Another part of the lyrics is based in an earlier Jacobite poem by Mac Domhnaill. This was published in Edward Walsh‘s Irish Popular Songs (Dublin, 1847) under the title of “Air Bharr na gCnoc ‘san Ime gCéin — Over the Hills and Far Away”. Walsh notes that this poem was “said to be the first Jacobite effort” by Mac Domhnaill, written during the Jacobite rising of 1715, so that here the exiled hero is the “Old Pretender”, James Francis Edward Stuart.
The composition of the modern song is associated with composer Seán Ó Riada, who established an Irish-language choir inCúil Aodha, County Cork, in the 1960s. The tune to which it is now set was collected by Ó Riada from an elderly resident of Cúil Aodha called Domhnall Ó Buachalla. Ó Riada died prematurely in 1971, and the song was composed about a year after his death, in c. 1972, with Ó Riada himself now becoming the departed hero lamented in the text. The point of departure for the song was the tape recording of Domhnall Ó Buachalla singing the tune. Ó Riada’s son Peadar suggested to Dónal Ó Liatháin that he should make a song from this melody.
Ó Liatháin decided to select verses from Mac Domhnaill’s poem and set them to the tune. He chose those that were the most “universal”, so that the modern song is no longer an explicit reference to the Jacobite rising but in its origin a lament for the death of Seán Ó Riada.
THIS RENDITION is to my mind and ear an excellent one in traditional-type arrangement and voices (not to mention looks of certain of the singers) and all involved are to be commended. I have not always liked the group’s rendition but this is just wonderful.
In history, we fought in Ireland for two foreign royals at two different times and on each occasion they left us in the lurch.
Press release, founding of Jardun (translated by D.Breatnach)
On Saturday August 15, two events were held on Mount Albertia in Legutiano.
“At 12 noon, at the top of Mount Albertia, the Eusko Lurra Foundation remembered the Gudari activists who fell in the war of ’36 fighting against fascism. This year the participation of women who fought for freedom and for the rights of workers in the war of ’36 was especially remembered, since women are have been greatly overlooked in this war.
“Later, in the surrounding of the Gaztelua oak grove, a political act was held. There, to begin the act, three veteran Ekintzales militants who maintained their militancy for decades were honoured. Later the organizations Eusko Ekintza and Jarki presented the new coordination called “JARDUN”, as an initiative for the union of forces of the pro-Independence Left.
“Today in Albertia, we bring to mind the gudaris (patriotic soldiers – Trans.) who, faced with fascism, fought for the freedom of Euskal Herria (Basque Country) in the war of ’36. Even so, we cannot, in any way, bring them to mind in a folklorist type of perspective. Passing beyond tears, we must approach today’s event from the point of view of the working people, whose only desire is to win and fight. That is why today, beyond only memory, we proclaim the legitimacy of the struggle of all those who in Albertia and in different parts of Euskal Herria have fallen fighting for this people. Precisely, the Albertia Day of 2020 has been organized along the line of that desire to continue fighting, in which its organizers want to make public a new tool that must respond to the aspirations of the Basque Working People. A tool that should function as a space for activation and organization.
“Due to fractures that have occurred for different reasons following the end of the previous cycle, the various organizations have not been able to overcome our differences and mistrust in order to agree on spaces for unity and coordination. Today, Eusko Ekintza and the revolutionary organization JARKI want to present a coordination space called JARDUN to the Basque Working People. JARDUN is not a split from anything, rather a framework that should shelter different national and local organizations, combining them in a political project and a strategy of a revolutionary independence and socialist nature. So that everyone can, from their space of struggle, organize individually or collectively.
“Today’s presentation, far from being what certain organizations are raving about, is in line with the capacity that the Basque Working People has historically shown when it comes to self-organisation in the face of the oppression it suffers. JARDUN is not a brand for the organizations that compose it to impose their ideology or their political project. It is a meeting point whose objective is to encompass and coordinate the Basque Working People, and all the organizations that work in favor of it, around broad but defined ideological principles. Its strategic objectives are clear: The construction of an Independent and Socialist state that integrates Araba, Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa, Lapurdi, Nafarroa Behera, Nafarroa Garaia and Zuberoa.”
(i.e the seven provinces of the Basque Country, including those on both sides of the Border between the Spanish and French states – Translator).
Albertia is the site of a battle in the Anti-Fascist war in Araba province from 30 November to 24 December 1936. The Basque Government’s forces launched an offensive on Villareal to take the town from coupist military-fascist forces and relieve the pressure on Madrid. Though the Basque forces significantly outnumbered their opponents, the latter were in defensive positions and had substantial air cover, while the Basque forces had hardly any. Eventually the siege was relieved by which time the Basques had lost 1,000.
Clearly a revolutionary movement needs to unite within itself different organisations and groups if it is to succeed. The official Abertzale Left had succeeded in this to a large degree, including under its umbrella a daily newspaper, a trade union, along with its welfare, political, cultural and social organisations. However, in taking the road of not only abandoning armed struggle but also focusing on the electoral path above all else, the official Abertzale leadership has taken some of its parts down that ruined road, causing confusion and fragmentation around it.
Is this Jardun a first step in the process of unification of the revolutionary alternative? Will it include the Amnistia and youth movements? Can it also include different elements such as anti-authoritarian self-organising groups? Will the internationalist arm of Basque national liberation, Askapena, be re-activated on a revolutionary basis? And can the mistakes of the past be overcome?
This series of short pieces sets out to demonstrate not only that the “patriotism” claimed by the Far-Right in Ireland is profoundly fake but that so also are their chief symbols. It is not that the flags and songs are false in themselves – far from it — but that they are being employed falsely, i.e in disregard of their origins and in total contradiction to their historical context and meaning. The “patriots” displaying them are fake, not only in their use of the flags and songs but in the contexts in which they employ them, their discourse and the direction in which they wish to take the Irish nation.
OTHERS TO FOLLOW SEPARATELY:
Flag: The “Irish Republic” flag
Flag: The “Starry Plough”
Flag: The Harp on a green field flag
Patriotic song: Amhrán na bhFiann
Patriotic song: A Nation Once Again
The Far-Right creed of fake patriotism
1. THE IRISH TRICOLOUR
This is the flag design most commonly associated with Ireland and the official one of the Irish State, though it was not officially adopted by the State until the Constitution of 1937. The flag gained prominence during the 1916 Rising, when it was flown on the Henry Street corner of the GPO roof and was the flag of the Republic during the War of Independence (1919-1921). The Free State which came into being in 1922 controlling five-sixths of Ireland was not the Irish Republic most people had fought for and, in fact, it went to war against those who upheld that Republic. However, the neo-colonial State feared to leave all the symbols of Irish nationalism in the exclusive hands of its enemies and therefore eventually appropriated the flag, adopted the Irish language as its symbolic first language and the Soldiers’ Song to represent it.
On the other hand its display in public in the Six Counties colony was held to be illegal under the Flags and Emblems Act of 1954 until its repeal in 1987 and a number of street battles took place there when colonial police moved in on people to confiscate it.
Although the first use of the colours of green, white and orange as a tricolour arrangement (on cockades and rosettes) was in 1830, when Irish Republicans celebrated the French revolution of that year restoring the French Tricolour as the flag of France, their first recorded use on a flag was not until 1848.
On 28th July 1846 a group of progressive Irish nationalists had broken from Daniel O’Connell’s movement to Repeal the Union, i.e to give Ireland an Irish parliament again but under ultimate British rule. Meagher was one who led the breakaway, opposing the Repeal Association resolution to refuse the option of armed resistance in any and all circumstance, in a famous speech about the right to use weapons in the struggle for freedom, which earned him the nickname Meagher “of the Sword”.
The group became known disparagingly as The Young Irelanders but, like many mocking names, became fixed with respect in Irish history. One of its leaders was Thomas Davis, co-founder of The Irish Nation newspaper and composer of such iconic works as A Nation Once Again, The West’s Awake (songs) and Fontenoy (poem).
During what became known as “the Year of Revolutions:, 1848, Meagher went to Paris, which was in the hands of revolutionaries as an envoy to the Provisional Government and was there presented by revolutionary women with the Irish Tricolour, which they had sown in fine silk. They explained that its design was intended to reflect the revolutionary ideal of peace, represented by the colour white, between the Catholic Irish (indigenous and Norman descendants), represented by the colour green and the Protestants, descendants of planters and other colonists, represented by the colour orange. But an active peace, a collaboration in national liberation from English rule and the establishment of a secular Republic.
It would not be surprising had those women been aware of Les Irlandais Unis (the United Irishmen), who had risen less than fifty years earlier for a secular and independent republic and had sought military assistance from the French Republic.
Returning to Ireland with the flag, Meagher unfurled it in public for the first time on 7th March 1848 while speaking from an upper-floor window of the Wolfe Tone Club in Wexford to people celebrating the revolution in Paris. In Dublin it was unfurled in the Music Hall in Lwr. Abbey Street on 15th April 1848 but there was another Irish flag which at the time was more popular and the question of which flag was to represent an independent Ireland (or the movement to achieve such) was left undecided.
Meagher was sentenced to transportation to Van Demien’s Land (now Tasmania), later freed on condition of not returning to Ireland and emigrated to the USA. He supported the Union in the American Civil War for the abolition of slavery and he and his wife actively recruited for the Union Army; he served as a Brigadier General in the Irish Brigade, of which one regiment, the 88th New York, became known as “Mrs. Meagher’s Own”. The Irish Brigade fought many important engagements against the Confederacy and suffered 4,000 dead in the course of the war; two of its commanding officers including Meagher were wounded and three killed. Meagher was believed drowned from a Missouri riverboat on a trip on 1st July 1867, leading some to suspect that he had been murdered, possibly by the nativist anti-migrant organisation known as the “Know Nothings”.1
The Far-Right in Ireland, composed as it is of racists, fascists, Catholic conservatives and religious sectarians, seeks an Ireland far removed from the republican ethos of the flag, presented by French republican revolutionaries to their Irish republican counterparts. It is a flag symbolising inclusion rather than exclusion and explicitly, in its colours, rejecting religious sectarianism. It flies in declared opposition to those who seek an Ireland “made Catholic again”2, oppose immigration and seek an Ireland based on “Irish ethnicity” (meaning blood), a prescription that would have had no place for Thomas Davis’ Welsh father, nor for Meagher, who led thousands of Irish migrants who fought against slavery of Africans in the USA. Their Ireland would have had no place for the Young Irelanders who, like Thomas Davis, were mostly Protestant Republicans.
1A nickname they earned through their habit of saying that they knew nothing in answer to questions by the police or in court.
2Slogan put forward by notorious racist and conspiracty theorist Gemma Doherty in preparation for an islamophobic rally outside Croke Park on 31st July, supported by fascist organisations Síol na hÉireann and the National Party, both parties opposed to immigration and promoting a racist concept of “Irishness” based on blood.