Mick Healy of the Irish Marxist History Project was kind enough to interview me about some of the issues about which I have been active. Parts I and II were published together a couple of months ago and here’s Part III now.
Mostly its snippets about the founding of the Irish in Britain Representation Group, my involvement in the foundation of the Lewisham branch of IBRG in SE London and from there, the Lewisham Irish Centre. Also my participation in Kurdish solidarity and a trade union delegation to Turkish-occupied Kurdistan (the YPG placard photo is of me in Trafalgar Square, London a couple of years ago when I was over visiting kids & grandkids) and the anti-water charge campaign in Ireland.
Javier Ortega Smith, No.2 in the leadership of the fascist Spanish party Vox recently attacked the Basque language, he did more than reveal the hatred of the core of Spanish unionism for the diversity of national cultures currently in existence within the Spanish state – he revealed his abysmal depth of ignorance about how languages, including his own are formed. And got lambasted and ridiculed in comment even in some conservative media as also social media, especially in tweets.
Vox was on an expedition into what is for them electorally virgin territory in the run up to the elections in the Basque Country Autonomous Region this weekend, where they have no elected representation at all. Far from what might have been expected, their presence and speeches seemed calculated to arouse hostility and expose their few supporters there to embarrassment.
Gaining the prize for generating hostility was Javier Ortega Smith, No.2 of the Vox party, speaking in Vitoria/ Gastheiz in Alava, one of the three provinces of the “Basque Autonomous Region”. Calling the second party in electoral strength in the region “terrorists” would cause little surprise, since EH Bildu is descended from Herri Batasuna, which was once associated with the armed group ETA and considered by some to be terrorists (by others, freedom fighters). But to say of the party of main electoral strength, the Basque Nationalist Party, that they are only “four cats”, equivalent in English to “three men and a dog”, this in a region where Vox has failed to get even one delegate elected …. well!
But Ortega Smith really put his hoof in it when he blundered into linguistics. “Asturian (language) is invented and Euskera (Basque language) also,” he declared, going on to declare that Batua, the standarised form of the Basque language, was formed “from dialects” of communities “who would not even have understood one another.”
Asturias, to the north-west of the Spanish state, with a population of around 1.02 million, is in some cultural expressions a Celtic nation but their language is of the Romance group, like Castillian (Spanish), with contributions from the Iberian-Celtic of the Astures tribe and later Germanic languages of the conquering Visi-Goths and Suevi. Euskera, the Basque language, is of uncertain origin but certainly ancient and currently spoken over the seven provinces of the Basque nation, three under French and four under Spanish control (total population a little over 2.17 million). All languages in the Spanish Kingdom other than Castillian have come under suppression at one time or another and most widely and rigorously under the four decades of the Franco dictatorship, a period nostalgically recalled by fascists and by even many conservatives in the Spanish state. What language has rights where and at what level is a battleground of struggle with the central State and a preoccupation for Spanish unionists.
Anyone who understands even the basics of how languages and their vocabularies are formed and developed would not have dared make such a statement as did Ortega Smith.
One would not even need to know that English, belonging to the Germanic group and currently a dominant world language, has a vocabulary which is 60% from French, with heavy sprinklings of words of Greek and Latin origin. Latin, which was a ‘world language’ before English, French or Spanish, started life as a Romance language in small province of Italy called Latium. Latin influenced heavily the development of Castilian, which includes many words of Arabic origin as well as from other languages and yes, even from Euskera! Nearly all European languages are thought to have developed from an Asian ancestor something like Sanskrit, so that they are grouped together as ‘Indo-European’. And what language was spoken in Europe before the advent of those Asian-influenced tongues? None other than Euskera, probably the original language of the early early Neolithic settlers!
Still, who needs knowledge when prejudice is king!
Some of the social media comments are sarcastically amusing, reproduced here in translation:
“Asturian is invented and Euskera also. Unlike Spanish which already existed in the time of the dinosaurs” or
“unlike Spanish, which came out of the Big Bang” or
“unlike all the other languages, that only use words growing on trees” or
“Unlike Castillian (Spanish) which arrived in Noah’s Ark with all the words”.
“Do you know how to say Ortega Smith in the Valencian tongue? ‘IGNORANT’”
“Well now, Ortega Smith, the vocabulary of all the languages of the world are invented, like your patriotism.”
“Ortega Smith is sure that the Basque Language has been taken from The Lord of the Rings.”
The Vox party was formed in 2013 from an extremely right-wing political core that has contributed in turn to the creation of the Partido Popular, from former supporters of Franco and Ciudadanos before going on to the creation of Vox. It has campaigned for the abolition of the statutes of autonomy for regions, for the right of parents to withdraw their children from liberal sex and gender education, spoken against a focus on male violence against women. The party climbed in popularity in recent years, in particular in the more economically depressed regions and now has 52 deputies in the Spanish Parliament and four MEPs.
Still intent on their version of making friends and influencing people, on Wednesday in Oñati in Gipuzkoa province, where Vox carried out a ceremony to honour the militarised Spanish police force, the Guardia Civil, spokeswoman for the fascist party Macarena Olona screamed at protesters that “Oñate is in Spain, you crockful of ETA!Oñate is in Spain!” In this township of 11,000 people Vox received, in the last general election, a total of 21 votes.
Throughout their visits to the Basque Country, Vox representatives were surrounded by Basque police and left quickly after their rallies.
On June 24th, as the repressive Offences Against the State Act was up for debate in the Dáil, it was voted for renewal by TDs of the Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Green parties, along with Labour, while only a Solidarity/People Before Profit and two Independent TDs voted against. For the first time since Sinn Féin had TDs present in the Dáil in 1997, they abstained in the vote. They failed to vote against an undemocratic Act that was brought into being precisely to repress their own political ancestors.
The Offences Against the State Act was made law by the De Valera Government (Fianna Fáil) in 1939 and 1940 to nullify the writ of habeas corpus served by Seán McBride (Irish Republican, former IRA officer and later one of the founders of Amnesty International) which gained the release of IRA prisoners interned without trial under the previous Emergency Powers Act 1939. The Act established the Special Criminal Court which processed the rearrested internees and sent them back to prison and concentration camp in the Curragh.
BRITISH INTELLIGENCE FATAL BOMBING HELPED TOUGHEN LAW AGAINST REPUBLICANS
In 1972 the Fianna Fáil Government sought to strengthen the Act even further, among other attacks on civil liberties to permit an inference of guilt by the Special Criminal Court from refusal to answer questions by the Gardaí, along with the taking of a senior Garda officer’s word, unsupported by any substantial evidence, as the main “proof” of membership of an illegal organisation. However, the forecast looked bad for the Government since the Labour Party and Fine Gael were predicted to vote the Amendment down. During the debate, two bombs exploded in Dublin killing two Dublin public transport workers and injuring a number of others, some horrifically (two years later a similar bombing team was to kill 33 and injure around 260 in Dublin and Monaghan). The 1972 explosions, most likely the work of Loyalists working with British Intelligence, were blamed on the IRA and the opposition to the Amendment crumbled, ensuring it passed into law — and there it has remained.
The Act empowers the Government to bring internment without trial into force by order (i.e without debate, even if the Government should be a minority one). Among its powers the OAS permits the State to ban organisations and subsequently (with its 1972 Amendment) jail people for membership of said organisation, the unsupported testimony of a Garda not below the rank of Chief Superintendent being considered prima facie evidence of said membership.
In a state where trials of all indictable offences under criminal law are by jury with a judge presiding, the Special Criminal Court is a non-jury court. Virtually all Irish Republicans serving time in prisons of the State have been convicted in the SCC, where even the unsupported word of a senior Garda officer is considered important proof and the standard of additional evidence required is very low. As one might expect in such conditions, the conviction rate is unusually high. On the charge of “membership of an illegal organisation” and largely on the word of senior Garda officer, conviction is almost certain and becomes an easy way to remove Irish Republican activists from circulation for the standard two years.
“GREATEST MISCARRIAGE OF JUSTICE IN THE IRISH STATE”
In two trials in 1978, the Special Criminal Court, in what has been called “the greatest miscarriage of justice of the Irish State”, tried and sentenced three Republicans to long terms of imprisonment for a mail train robbery at Sallins in which they had played no part. The judges in the Court chose to believe what 12 jurors would likely not have done: that the defendants had voluntarily confessed to actions they had not committed, that they had not been beaten by Gardaí and that the defendants’ bruising had been self-inflicted. The Garda “Heavy Gang” went on to obtain “voluntary confessions” from others, including Joanna Hayes and her relations in the “Kerry Babies” case, later also cleared and recipients of a Government apology in 2019. Those convicted of the Sallins mail train robbery were eventually cleared and released. The circumstances of those false “voluntary confessions” accepted by the SCC have never been investigated.
In 2001 Colm Murphy was convicted in the Special Criminal Court of conspiracy to cause a bombing on the basis of Garda evidence which Murphy said was untrue — but the judges chose to believe the Gardaí. The Court of Appeal ordered a retrial when it was shown that the Gardaí’s notes had been fabricated and Murphy was cleared in the SCC in 2010.
In 2003 Michael McKevitt was convicted in the Special Court of leadership of the Real IRA on evidence widely believed not to have met the standard necessary for conviction, including that given by a paid informer. McKevitt is still serving his 20-year sentence.
Although the title of the Court includes the word “criminal” it was clearly created for political purposes and until 1998 all but one of its trials have been of Irish Republicans. That did not prevent the TDs of the Greens, a party with a record of previous opposition to the Act, using gang crime along with Labour as an excuse for voting for the Act’s renewal during the recent debate.
“THE SPECIAL BRANCH ACT”
The granting of wide powers to the State to use against their political opponents has resulted in even those powers being regularly exceeded. Without ever even charging anyone with any crime, the Act has been used by generations of the Special Branch, the political police renamed the Special Detective Unit, to harass and intimidate Republican activists and their supporters. People have been approached and their contact details demanded by these secret police when they have attended a protest picket or rally, public meeting, visited a Republican office or were observed talking to a Republican. People have been searched in the street, had their vehicles stopped and searched also.
Sellers and distributors of Republican newspapers have been harassed and threatened. Without any authorisation even by the Act, officers have approached parents of young activists and their school or college, as well as the place of employment of older activists, to express their concern at the activity or associations of the activists concerned. Officers of the special unit, all of which go armed, have displayed their weapons on occasion to intimidate Republicans (on one famous occasion discharging their firearm in a busy shop). They have filmed and photographed Republicans without any legal right to do so, followed them around, sat obtrusively outside their offices and even their homes, often day after day for months or even years. So widely have the secret police of the Irish State come to see the Act as entitling their intimidation and file-building that when, at a recent Dublin picket about political prisoners, a Republican asked what legal authority the officer had for harassing him, the man replied in all seriousness: “Special Branch Act.”
But on the 24th June, only three TDs voted against the Act’s renewal: Mick Barry (Solidarity/ People Before Profit), Michael MacNamara (Independent, formerly Labour) and Thomas Pringle (Independent). Two TD abstentions were recorded: Pa Daly and Martin Kenny (both Sinn Féin).
“UNTENABLE IN A DEMOCRACY”
Traditionally, Sinn Féin, along with other Irish Republicans, have opposed this undemocratic repressive legislation. But not just SF, also the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Amnesty International, Irish and international jurists and UN Rapporteurs and Committees on democratic rights of the United Nations. And not just once but a number of times. The following statement was released by the ICCL in the week before the debate.
23 June 2020
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL), ahead of the mooted renewal of the Offences Against the State Act next week and the Dáil debate tomorrow, renews our call for repeal of the Act and with it the abolition of the non-jury Special Criminal Court.
There is no jury at the Special Criminal Court and it accepts secret evidence from gardaí. This is in violation of our right to a fair trial, our right to trial by jury and our right to equality before the law. ICCL has opposed both the Act and the Court since their introduction to deal with a terrorist threat in 1972. We continue to strongly oppose these emergency measures which have now become the norm in dealing with organised crime.
ICCL’s Executive Director, Liam Herrick, said:
“It’s untenable that in a democracy like ours, which prides itself on its human rights record abroad, a law and court like these can exist.
The State contends that it needs the Special in order to protect juries but it has never considered alternatives to abandoning jury trial.”
The protection of jury members is of deep concern to ICCL. But the State has never demonstrated, as required by human rights law, that alternatives to a non-jury trial are ineffective. There are a number of obvious options for protecting juries such as anonymising juries, the use of video link for juries, or granting special protections for juries.
Last year at the Special Criminal Court, Judge Tara Burns acquitted two men of IRA membership after the head of the Garda Special Detective Unit refused to disclose underlying evidence pertaining to “belief evidence” to the prosecution. This meant gardaí were seeking a conviction without disclosing evidence to the defendant’s legal team, the Court or the DPP. ICCL welcomed the Judge’s decision but the case revealed some concerning attitudes and practices at the Court.
ICCL is not alone in our opposition to the Special Criminal Court. Various UN human rights independent experts and the UN Human Rights Committee have repeatedly declared the State to be in violation of its human rights obligations because of the continued use of the Court beyond the emergency it was designed to address. Eminent Irish legal experts, Mr. Justice Hederman, Professor Dermot Walsh and Professor William Binchy have also called for abolition of the Court.
At its introduction in 1972, the Special Criminal Court was considered a radical and purely temporary departure from the norm. Forty years have passed since then. It’s time for its abolition. Statement ends.
Defenders of Sinn Féin have said that dropping opposition to the OAS from their election program for government and even after their party won the highest number of elected TDs (delegates) in the February 2020 General Election, was purely a temporary tactical one. Presumably this decision was in response to Mícheál Martin’s statement last year that Sinn Féin was not a legitimate choice for government because they were against the Act.
Not a legitimate choice for whom? one might ask. Do the mass of working people in the country want this undemocratic Act in place? Not that they were ever asked by any Irish Government! Now there was an opportunity to put this before the electorate — but it is not the opinion of the mass of working people that Sinn Féin worries about but that of the ruling class and their media hounds.
When however the two main parties of the Irish Gombeen capitalist class went into coalition with the “alternative” Green Party in order to exclude Sinn Féin from government – and one might have thought SF had nothing now to lose by voting against the renewal of the OAS – even then they failed to oppose it. Some say SF’s tacticians expected the negotiations between the other parties to collapse and then to be able to put themselves forward as a credible alternative. But again, credible to whom?
For years now, Sinn Féin has been at pains to demonstrate that it is a safe pair of hands for Irish capitalism (which entails also being safe for foreign capitalism and British colonialism). It is not necessarily a question of supporting armed struggle or not but to enter into the administration of an invader, as SF did in 2007 when it became part of the British colony’s government, would for most patriots and anti-imperialists be considered a clear crossing of the line. After WW2 many liberated countries executed a number of those who had taken part in such administrations and from one example, a new adjective entered the English language: “quisling”.
Sinn Féin has gone even further now to show the Irish ruling classes and both states that their panoply of repression on both sides of the British Border is safe: undemocratic legislation granting special powers to the police, politicised police forces and special non-jury courts with low quality “proof” required for convictions.
It is understandable with so little viable alternative choice that so many voted for SF candidates in February and in fact, would probably have elected even more had the party fielded sufficient candidates. All the other main parties and even the Greens have been in Government previously, all have approved bank bailouts and austerity budgets.
Sinn Féin is the only major party who had not been in Government and those who wanted to see them in practice had a reasonable point. But seeing them in “opposition” is also instructive. A political party that is so afraid of the ruling class and its media that even in opposition it will not vote against undemocratic repressive legislation and instruments, that were brought in precisely against its own earlier members and supporters – is not going to be braver in government, when it will inevitably be in a coalition with a capitalist party or parties.
However, the undemocratic Offences Against the State Act and its non-jury Special Courts remain and must be opposed. The struggle against them will continue to be waged by its victims, currently the “dissident” Republicans and by people and bodies concerned with civil rights. As the State encounters increasing resistance to austerity measures it may well be that it will widen the list of targets of this Act to include social and economic campaigners, as it was rumoured considering against the Jobstown water protest defendants in 2017, all of whom were cleared by the jury who did not believe Garda witness lies (exposed by recordings).
It is essential to oppose this Act and a wider opposition to it needs to be built – one that does not depend on false friends.
The results of opinion polls prior to the the elections for the government of Euskadi predict a majority for the Basque Nationalist Party. The predictions have EH Bildu, the party of the official Abertzale Left leadership, coming second with third place going to the social-democratic PSE, the Basque version of the PSOE, currently governing the Spanish State in coalition with Podemos Izquierda (whose Basque version will come a very poor fourth).
The elections on Sunday, although they usually described as for “the government of the Basque Country” are nothing of the sort. The are for the government of what is termed “the Basque Autonomous Region”, which covers only the Basque provinces of Bizkaia, Alava and Guipuzkoa – the fourth province within the Spanish state, Nafarroa (Navarra), has its own autonomous regional government. The remaining three provinces of Euskal Herria, the true Basque Country, are over the border in the territory controlled by the French State. And the Spanish State allows the Basque regions autonomy only to a point, as with all the “autonomous regions”, ultimately answerable to the Spanish State.
The PNV, Basque Nationalist Party, many of whose ancestors fought Franco in the Spanish Anti-Fascist War, have long accommodated themselves to this situation and given up the dream of Basque independence and the party has hardly any representation even in Nafarroa, to say nothing of the three northern provinces, across the Border. Since their fiefdom was granted autonomy after the death of Franco, they have dominated it electorally and used that domination to the commercial and financial advantage, both legal and illegal, of the Euskadi capitalist class (Irish readers will readily see a parallel with the Fianna Fáil party).
EH Bildu is the official party of the Abertzale Left, political descendants of the Herri Batasuna party, substantially changed and the main internal opposition to the PNV, at least on the electoral front. Herri Batasuna evolved as the political expression of ETA, the left-wing movement for Basque independance that in the 1960s developed an armed wing against the armed might of the Spanish State. Under the leadership of Arnaldo Otegi and others, ETA gave up armed struggle in 2012 and the EH Bildu and Sortu parties developed a theory of a “Basque Peace Process” which had no substance, since the Spanish State’s only interest was in surrender and never even ceased repression or released its around 900 Basque political prisoners (now around 700 as prisoners served their sentences – or died).
Batasuna and its iterations over the years in the face of bannings by the Spanish State have at many times sought alliance on a nationalist basis with the PNV (the Irish parallel holds here again, as with periodic overtures of the leadership of the Provisional Sinn Féin party to the Fianna Fáil party), which on the whole have been rejected by the leadership of the PNV. The Basque Nationalist Party has preferred to rule in coalition with the PSE and even to allow the Spanish-unionist party to rule Euskadi on its own. Therefore the call from some Basque nationalist quarters for a PNV-EH Bildu coalition is very unlikely to bear fruit.
At least as unlikely is the raising by the electronic media Publico of the possibility in Euskadi of a “Government of the Left”, on the basis of the poll results. The left-wing Publico itself conceded it an unlikely eventuality, based on a coalition of EH Bildu/ PSE/ Unidas Podemos (the Basque version of Podemos Izquierda). Whatever one may say of the “Left” credentials of EH Bildu and of Unidas Podemos, one can hardly credit the PSOE or its Basque version with any. No doubt there are genuine people of the Left in that social-democratic party, as there are within the Irish and British Labour Parties too – but that does not affect the character of the parties in government, which have always been servants of capitalism and, in the cases of the UK and Spanish state, of their imperialist ruling classes.
On the poll results therefore it is certain that the PNV will be in government, whether in coalition with the PSE or with its tactical support. EH Bildu looks no nearer to achieving its dream of governing even Euskadi, not to mention all four southern provinces of the Basque Country.
MEANWHILE, ON THE STREETS
The Amnistia movement meanwhile has shown little interest in the elections, apart from chiding EH Bildu for its focus on elections and neglect of resistance anywhere else, including the jails. The Basque struggles for independence and against repression have paid a price in huge numbers of political prisoners and, though down to around 700 now from its height of 900, the Basque nation probably has the highest percentage of political prisoners of anywhere in the world. After all, the total population of the Basque Country is under 1.5 million and such a high concentration of political prisoners means that there is hardly a Basque who does not know a relation or friend of a prisoner, if not indeed the prisoner him or herself.
When Arnaldo Otegi and others led the majority of the Abertzale Left to the institutional road, they kept referring to the Good Friday Agreement in Ireland and the release of political prisoners. However, the Provisionals ensured that the release of political prisoners of their allegiance was delivered before finally decommissioning their weapons. The Otegi initiative went in reverse and their prisoners are still in jail. For some years now the leadership has been telling the prisoners that basically they are on their own and must negotiate with the prison authorities their reduction from Grade 1 down to Grades 2 and 3 and eventual release on parole. And telling the families that they have no hope of an amnesty so to stop asking for it and instead demand an end to the dispersal of political prisoners all over the jails of the Spanish (and French states), hundreds of kilometres from their families. There is no sign of even that basic human right being granted.
One of the Basque political prisoners, Patxi Ruiz, publicly denounced the new path of the movement and, after attempts to silence him were unsuccessful, he was expelled from the Basque Political Prisoners’ Collective. His treatment caused another four to break with the Otegi leadership too. Amnistia supported them and criticised the leadership of the movement which, in turn, accused them of using the prisoners for their own ends, since they did not agree with the new direction.
Persecution by the prison authorities including beatings by guards and refusal to allow him to attend his father’s funeral drove Ruiz last month to a hunger-and-thirst strike. After 8 days he abandoned the thirst strike but continued refusing food, ceasing that protest too after 31 days. His support movement led by Movement for Amnesty and Against Repression (to give Amnestia’s full title in English) brought Basque political prisoner solidarity back on to the streets, from which it had largely disappeared apart from the ritual demonstration each January and weekly pickets by families and friends, diminishing in attendance.
Solidarity actions were taken in the jails too, not only by the other four “dissidents” but by some of those still in the Collective and by a number of political prisoners from other struggles, GRAPO and PCE(r).
In a number of statements, Amnistia acknowledged that some of their support in street actions has come from progressive sectors not traditionally from within their own ranks. There is a substantial autonomous movement in the Basque country consisting of youth occupations of empty buildings, anarchists, feminists, LGBT campaigners, animal rights campaigners, environmental activists …..
On Saturday 4th July, in spite of a ban by the Spanish State’s Delegation in the city and a heavy police presence at an expected starting location, Amnistia led a fairly large demonstration through streets of Irunea/ Pamplona, capital city of Nafarroa, calling for complete amnesty for the prisoners and that “the struggle does not cease”.
Today, the 11th, they led a march to the Murcia jail (where Patxi Ruiz is held currently). In a brief report on the event and their reasons for undertaking it, they commented even more briefly on the elections due tomorrow:
“There will be elections tomorrow in a part of Euskal Herria (the Basque Country) but none of the political parties will propose any alternative to bring to an end the capitalism that tramples on and murders the working class or to destroy the imperialism that occupies peoples and makes them disappear but will instead debate different ways to manage the same system and the same misery.
“None of them will demand amnesty for those who endure repression for fighting for these goals. The strength and pressure exerted by the people on the street will be the key to reversing the situation. With the popular struggle amnesty, independence and socialism.”
(Article originally published 2017 in New York Irish History, journal of the New York Irish History Roundtable, abbreviated slightly and reprinted here with kind permission of the author)
In her article, “Dr. Gertrude B. Kelly: A Forgotten Feminist,” Wendy McElroy summarizes the paradoxes in Dr. Kelly’s worldview that make her a complex, seemingly contradictory figure: A labor radical who was deeply skeptical of unions, a medical doctor who opposed state licensing of medicine, a staunch anti-statist who broke with the most prominent individualist anarchists of her day, an ardent feminist who denied that there were “women’s rights” as distinct from “human rights.” (McElroy, “Gertrude B. Kelly”)
Kelly’s seemingly paradoxical and contradictory juxtapositions come into focus, though, in the light of her Irish birth and anarchist beliefs. Individual anarchists, like Kelly, were a group of anti-authoritarian radicals who regarded total individual autonomy and free labor as the answer to the social and economic problems of the day. Kelly believed that overthrowing power structures and maximizing individual autonomy and responsibility would create a truly free society, which would evolve organically once society had liquidated the oppressive state. Because individualist anarchists regarded labor as the source of value and exchanges of unequal values to be exploitative, they may be regarded as a part of the broader socialist movement. Kelly’s views not only were highly uncommon and radical, but they also placed her in direct conflict with the establishment: the church, the state, and the capitalist order.
Shaping Kelly’s perspectives was that in her eyes, Ireland was victim of both capitalism and the British state.
Although she left Ireland at age eleven, the experiences and opinions of her parents profoundly shaped Kelly’s perspectives. She was born into a family of Irish nationalist educators in 1862 in Carrick-on-Suir, Co. Tipperary (Co. Waterford identifies Kelly as being born in the same year but in Ballyneale, across the border from Tipperary). Her father was a schoolmaster apparently forced out of his job for his Fenian sympathies. He left Ireland in 1868, five years before Gertrude would join him in New Jersey in 1873. He would become a high school principal, but he and the whole family remained passionately devoted to Irish affairs. Her older brother, John, played a huge role in shaping her anarchist worldview.
Kelly was one of twelve children, but little is known about any of her other siblings except for John who had a profound influence on her attitudes towards Ireland and anarchism. John graduated from Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken and went on to earn a Ph.D at age twenty-two in electrical engineering. An assistant for a time to Thomas Edison, Kelly became one of the world’s foremost experts in using dynamos to transmit telephone signals. During Kelly’s lifetime he held over seventy electrical related patents and pioneered high voltage electricity generating and transmission systems.
However, he was not just a man of science; he was also devoted to Ireland and used his considerable wealth generously to advance the cause of Irish freedom. In the 1880s, he wrote articles for individualist anarchist publications including Liberty, Alarm, and Lucifer, which must have greatly influenced his sister. John Kelly spent the last years of his life supporting Irish causes, working closely with his sister. From 1916–18, he served as the president of the Massachusetts State Council for Friends of Irish Freedom. From 1920–21, he wrote a third of the Irish World’s anonymous political commentaries, and in 1921, from July to December, he and his young sister agitated for a nationwide boycott of British goods.
Despite being in America, Kelly still remained keenly interested in events within Ireland. Although she was busy with her medical studies she followed Ireland from articles in the Irish World, published in New York, and the Boston Pilot. Both newspapers featured several stories on the failure of the Irish Land Act of 1870 to improve the lot of tenant farmers, the formation of the Irish Land League in 1879, the subsequent Land Wars, the No-Rent movement, and the indiscriminate evictions of Irish tenant farmers from their land by agents of absentee English landlords. These stories cemented Kelly’s rejection of British imperialism and private ownership of land.
In 1879, John Devoy of Clan na Gael in the United States forged a broad-based coalition called the “New Departure,” with Michael Davitt of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and Charles Stewart Parnell of the Home Rule League to create a joint front that united believers in physical force, agrarian agitation, and constitutional nationalism to aid the suffering Irish tenant farmer and demand Irish Home Rule from England. Parnell and Davitt were also members of the Irish National Land League. In support of that initiative Fanny and Anna Parnell founded the Ladies Land League in America in 1880 with branches in Hoboken, Jersey City, Newark, and Patterson.
Young Gertrude Kelly became an active member of the League and a vocal supporter of a No-Rent Manifesto published by the National Land League in 1881. Kelly’s understanding of individualistic anarchist philosophy was strengthened by the columns of “Honorius” in the Irish World, an organ of the Irish No-Rent movement. Honorius was, in fact, a pseudonym for the American natural rights advocate Henry Appleton, who contributed frequently to the early issues of Liberty, both under his own name and under the pen name of “X.”(McElroy, “Gertude B. Kelly”)
PROLIFIC WRITER AND FEMINIST
Anger at how British imperialist government had subverted its proper role in Ireland shaped Kelly’s anti-authoritarian worldview. Kelly was not only a dedicated Irish-Nationalist, but she was also a prolific writer and insightful social and political commentator. In articles published in the individualist periodical Liberty and the Irish World she expressed her indignation and abhorrence at the lack of fairness empathy or sense of humanity inherent in the attitude of the ruling elite towards the poor of Ireland. She contributed a number of other well-received articles for Liberty whose founder and editor, Benjamin Tucker, said of her “Gertrude B. Kelly…by her articles in Liberty, has placed herself at a single bound among the finest writers of this or any other country.” (McElroy, “Gertrude B. Kelly”).
Kelly, however, would later break with Tucker and cease writing for Liberty, a sign of her fiery independence. Kelly was more than a mere analyst of Irish anti-imperialism. She was also an avant garde feminist who understood the struggles that women faced, especially poor women, with whom the doctor had a lifelong affinity and her articles for Liberty reflect a keen understanding of the special problems females faced. In one of her articles for Liberty she developed a highly controversial argument about prostitution. Instead of seeing prostitutes as “fallen women,” Kelly saw them as economic victims. Her first article in Liberty, “The Root of Prostitution,” claimed that women’s inability to earn enough money through respectable forms of labor was the root cause of sex work. She wrote: “We find all sorts of schemes for making men moral and women religious, but no scheme which proposes to give woman the fruits of her labor. In her writing, she railed against men forcing women to conform to paternalistic codes of behavior. Men…have always denied to women the opportunity to think; and, if some women have had courage enough to dare public opinion, and insist upon thinking for themselves, they have been so beaten by that most powerful weapon in society’s arsenal, ridicule, that it has effectively prevented the great majority from making any attempt to come out of slavery.” (McElroy,“Gertrude B. Kelly”)
Despite Kelly’s sincere feminism, she could make the following statement that must have alienated her from many of the leading feminists of her day: “There is, properly speaking, no woman question, as apart from the question of human right and human liberty.” She added: “The woman’s cause is man’s— they rise or sink/Together—dwarfed or godlike-bond or free.” She saw women’s struggles in the wider context of humanity’s struggle against all forms of coercion. Women would gain their deserved social status only when all of society had also liberated itself. Kelly also became a militant suffragette, believing that women with the power to vote could solve many of the issues they faced. (McElroy, “Gertrude B. Kelly”).
In Kelly’s eyes both women and men were in fact the victims of a coercive capitalist society. Radical individualists of nineteenth-century America, like Kelly, saw capitalism as the root cause of poverty and social injustice. Kelly subscribed to the labor theory of value espoused by the anarchist individualist theoretician Josiah Warren who posited that capitalists stole the fruits of labor by underpaying the worker for his or her efforts. She also accepted the popular radical belief that capitalism was an alliance between business and government, in which the state guaranteed the rich their privileged position. Kelly considered all forms of capitalism to be what individualist anarchists called “state capitalism.”
In Irish-America, where so many fellow immigrants had climbed the ladder by joining the civil service, her anti-government stance was especially incendiary.
KELLY’S WORK AS A DOCTOR
Kelly’s becoming a physician is an extraordinary story in itself. She became one of the very few women to study medicine and become a doctor thanks to two English sisters, Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell who set up the first school to grant women licenses to practice medicine, the Women’s Medical College of New York. Kelly graduated from Blackwell’s school in 1884 with an M.D. degree and became an accomplished surgeon.
If Kelly is recalled today in New York City, it is not for her important role in agitating for Ireland, but in helping the city’s poor through her work as a doctor. Although she campaigned for many deserving causes during her lifetime, her primary focus was on treating the downtrodden and poor working women and their families in the clinics she worked in. She set up such a clinic in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood where she became legendary for surreptitiously leaving cash under her dinner plate when she made house calls at the homes of impoverished patients. Kelly was also a renowned surgeon who, in addition to her work at the clinic, was a member of the surgical staff at the New York Infirmary for Women and Children, the institution where she had received training. During her medical career she authored and co-authored papers on abdominal surgical procedures and other medical and health care-related issues.
KELLY AND THE RISING
Kelly would play an oversized role in the events before and after the 1916 Easter Rising. In 1901, John Redmond, who assumed leadership of the reunited Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP), established the United Irish League of America to raise funds for the IPP and promote its Home Rule agenda in the United States. Dr. Kelly supported the United Irish League, even though its acceptance of continued British sovereignty over Ireland disturbed her. In accepting home rule, she reasoned that it could serve as an intermediary step before launching a nonviolent, anti-British, grassroots campaign that would lead to an independent Irish Republic.
In October of 1914, Kelly issued a call to “women of Irish blood” to join the first chapter of Cumann na mBan formed in the United States. Hundreds of women met at the Hotel McAlpin, where Kelly, Mary Colum, and Sidney Gifford, a recently arrived émigré from Dublin outlined the aims of the organization. Their chapter would follow the lead of Cumann na mBan in Ireland by raising funds and garnering support for the Irish Volunteers formed in 1913 in response to the formation of the anti-independence Ulster Volunteer Force the previous year. The declared aim of the Irish Volunteers was “to secure and maintain the rights and liberties common to the whole people of Ireland.” (“Dr. Gertrude B. Kelly” in Feniangraves.net). Chosen as president of the organization, Kelly helped set-up other branches and arranged for speakers from Ireland to address its members, conduct lecture tours and help in fundraising efforts.
When Redmond in a speech called on young Irishmen to enlist and fight in the British Army, it was too much for the anti-imperialist Kelly, who issued the following statement: “May I, as a woman, an Irishwoman and physician, spokeswoman of hundred, thousands of my sisters at home and abroad ask our leaders what it is they propose to Ireland to do—commit suicide? Admitting for the moment that this is “a most righteous war” not—”a war of iron and coal”—a war between titans for commercial supremacy— why should little Ireland have to do what the United States, Switzerland, etc., do not. Is Home Rule to be secured for the cattle and sheep when the young men of Ireland are slaughtered, the old men and old women left sonless, the young women obliged to emigrate to bring up sons for men of other climes.” (“Dr. Gertrude B. Kelly” in Feniangraves.net)
After the Easter Rising, Cumann na mBan’s fundraising efforts were redirected to the support of the thousands of families of imprisoned Volunteers. Kelly and other Irish women activists including Margaret Moore, a Land League veteran and labor leader Lenora O’Reilly led the highly successful fundraising campaign.
In 1917, America entered World War I on the side of the British. President Wilson threatened members of any organizations that protested against the British Empire with jail sentences. Nevertheless, in the same year Dr. Kelly was part of a group that formed the Irish Progressive Party, whose aim was to lobby the government in Washington to protest British imperialism and recognize the Irish Republic.
In 1920, Dr. Kelly would perform her greatest services to Irish freedom. She understood that women could take bold actions, such as in public protests, that would capture popular attention and focus the American public on the continued presence of Britain in Ireland, which violated one of the Fourteen Points identified by Wilson in 1918 as necessary for world peace—self-determination for small nations. The first official meeting of the activist group, American Women Pickets for the Enforcement of America’s War Aims, was held in New York on April 20, 1920, organized by Gertrude Kelly.
With Irish men in America mired in fighting one another, this women’s movement grabbed headlines through a succession of highly effective public acts, some of which created chain reactions across the eastern seaboard of the United States. In September, 1920, Kelly was one of the organizers of a female blockade of the British Embassy in Washington as response to their actions in Ireland. Kelly was arrested for her part in the agitation.
In December, 1920, the women pickets and the Irish Progressive League organized a strike at a Chelsea pier in Manhattan to protest the arrests of Irish-born Australian Archbishop Daniel Mannix, an outspoken foe of British rule in Ireland, and Terence MacSwiney, the Lord Mayor of Cork, who was on hunger strike and near death. Kelly, Leonora O’Reilly, Hannah SheehySkeffington, and Eileen Curran of the Celtic Players assembled a group of women who dressed in white with green capes and carried signs that read: “There Can Be No Peace While British Militarism Rules the World.”(“Dr. Gertrude B. Kelly” in Feniangraves.net)
The strike which, lasted three and a half weeks, was directed at British ships docked in New York. Striking workers included not only Irish longshoremen but also, Italian coal passers, AfricanAmerican longshoremen, and workers on a docked British passenger liner. According to a New York Sun report it was “…the first purely political strike of workingmen in the history of the United States. The strike became famous and spread to Brooklyn, New Jersey, and Boston. When reporters asked who exactly was behind these protests, Dr. Kelly responded “American women.” (“Gertrude B. Kelly” in Irish Echo).
By the end of 1920, many thought the only prospect for an independent Ireland was an acceptance of partition. Dr. Kelly was a fiery opponent of division and expressed her views on Ireland being divided: “The thing itself is absolutely unthinkable. We have always been slaves, but unwilling slaves. Now we are subscribing to our slavery. I cannot believe that the Irish people will do this. The whole thing is a fake from start to finish. Summed up I would say that after 750 years we have given England moral standing in the world when she has none: it’s a tremendous defeat.” (“Gertrude B. Kelly” in Feniangraves.net)
Nevertheless, partition did take place, much to Kelly’s dismay. Bitterly disappointed, she continued her work treating the poor of the city. In the first quarter of the twentieth century she was on the “must meet” list of every Irish political and literary figure who came to the United States.
Kelly passed away on February 16, 1934. The poor of Chelsea mourned her and remembered her acts of kindness. In 1936, Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia named the Dr. Gertrude B. Kelly Playground located in Chelsea west of Ninth Avenue between Sixteenth and Seventeeth Streets in her honor. It was one of five model playgrounds developed in New York City during the mid-1930s. (“Gertrude B. Kelly Playground” in NYCgovparks.org)
The playground is perhaps the only public tribute to a woman who made an outsized contribution to Irish independence and to the City of New York. Perhaps in the future Dr. Kelly will garner more.
The original article in full may be found here, including also a list of sources: nyih32.CobbG_pdf2%20(3)%20(1).pdf
Looking back along the road we’ve travelled, I can see we have come a long way to get where we are today. I’ve traveled a long way. I was very young then, when I started. We all were. In particular, I remember, Carl and Eva and I, we were in secondary school, fifteen years of age.
We discussed the situation often and pretty quickly became revolutionaries. We knew people in the Party – well, we called it the Old Party after awhile, you’ll see why soon. Yes and they wanted to recruit us. If enough of us joined them, voted for them, they would be able to change things, they told us. And they had some credibility because some of them had fought in the old days, when things were even worse. Some had lost relatives killed and some had gone to jail.
But we were not taken in, we weren’t fooled. It wasn’t just that theirs looked a really slow way to change things; we didn’t believe it would ever succeed. And we thought they knew that, deep inside and were just prepared to settle for things much as they were. Make the best of it (which for some of them meant shady deals and lining their pockets).
And we were never going to do that.
We weren’t in the armed group, the three of us but we supported them. The armed group were our heroes, the sharp end of our resistance. Over time they would weaken our oppressors and in the end we’d get the freedom we wanted. And these young men and women, they really fought. They paid for their resistance too; plenty of them were killed and if caught, they were tortured and sent to jail for really long sentences.
We delighted in their successes, marched in their funerals, supported them in their struggles in the jails and, later, honoured them when eventually they were released. We did the best we could ourselves against the oppression and general injustice but without actually taking up the gun: put up posters, painted graffiti slogans on wall, held protest marches and pickets, gave out leaflets, held public meetings. Of course, the oppressors went after us and we were out there, in plain sight, more or less.
Our oppressors had made some laws under which they could declare just about anything we did illegal. Unless we sat at home and did nothing. Or joined the Old Party. They called that group of laws the Anti-Terrorist Legislation.
ARREST AND TORTURE
One night while were out postering in memory of a couple of our martyrs, on the anniversary of their being killed by the police, we got caught. They gave us a bit of a beating and took us to the police station, telling us on the way what they were going to do to us.
Under the ATL they could keep us in a police station for five days without access to any of our friends and relatives or even a lawyer. I’m sorry to say they broke me in the first 24 hours. You might think that was a pretty short period – it didn’t seem like it at the time. Being held in a dark windowless cell, hooded, being threatened with all kinds of horrible things you know they can do, listening to the screams of other people having some of those things done to them, having a plastic bag put over your head until you can’t breathe anymore and you feel sure you’re going to die, your lungs straining ….. It’s amazing how long 24 hours can seem. And even if you lasted that 24 hours, you knew there were another 96 hours to go after that.
Yes, I signed a “confession”, what they told me to say. According to the confession, we were honouring the martyrs because they wanted to overthrow the State, which is why we were putting up posters about them. We wanted more people to join the fighters to help recruitment. Not really about honouring their memory at all. “Glorifying and Supporting Terrorism” was what I was going to be charged with which, if convicted, would get me three years in jail. And the others: my “confession” was not only about me but about Eva and Carl too.
After I signed the “confession” they left me more or less alone but somewhere I could hear shouting and screaming. I thought it might be Eva and Carl, hoped it wasn’t. And I still had to wear a hood whenever any of the guards came in the cell or their doctor examined me. Well, they told me he was a doctor. I told him I felt ok – I knew the guards were listening and I’d get repeat treatment if I said anything against them. And it wouldn’t do any good anyway.
By the third day, or what I thought might the third day, I didn’t hear what sounded like a female screaming any more but could still hear shouting. And sometimes someone crying.
I know it was the fifth day when they brought us to court, put us all in the same cell, waiting for our trial to start. Eva and Carl looked pretty rough and I suppose I did a bit too. Eva burst into tears and told us she had signed a confession against us after the second day. We put our arms around her and held her while she cried. I admitted I had signed too, assuming we all had. I didn’t say I had only held out for about 24 hours, though.
Well, women detainees, they get it especially hard. As well as the rest of it, they are kept naked or semi-naked and, if on their monthly periods, refused tampons or cloths. They are fondled in their private parts, threatened with rape, humiliated and sometimes have something pushed inside them ….. The police don’t do things like that to male detainees ….. well, occasionally, if they know one is gay ….
The shock was that Carl had not signed a confession – he hadn’t broken. So how come they had brought him to trial early on the fifth day with the rest of us? Well, they must have decided he wasn’t going to break; apparently most people break by the fourth day, which is why the limit is set at five. And anyway they had our statements implicating him.
We swore we would retract our statements during the trial, declare they had been obtained under torture. That would invalidate the statements, surely?
We were tried together in a special Anti-Terrorist Legislation court. One judge, no jury. No public. We had lawyers our family and friends had got for us but they were only given five minutes with us before the trial. The Prosecutor produced the statements against us all, those of the police who arrested us and my “confession” and Eva’s. Lied through their teeth that we had made them voluntarily. They produced a statement too for Carl but his lawyer objected it didn’t have his signature, so the police couldn’t show that they hadn’t made it all up.
When we gave our evidence, Carl denied he had made any statement whatsoever and we retracted ours, talked about the torture we had suffered. Eva was magnificent, denouncing them through her tears and shaking. The Prosecutor brought the police back to testify who of course denied not only the torture but any kind of coercion. Some of them even appeared shocked at the allegations. And the doctor – his voice sounded familiar so he probably had been the man who had “examined” me — said I had made no complaint (true) and had seemed calm and rested (not possible).
The courtroom is a funny place. Things the whole world knows are not true appear reasonable while the preposterous can seem logical. Not only had they not tortured us, the police witnesses said, but they had never heard of it being done. So why had we made such detailed statements and then retracted them, accusing them of torture. Well, they were mystified about that. Except …. some had heard that this was a propaganda tactic popular among our group, to smear the police. But why then had we given them a statement at all …. well, at least two of us? Skilled interviewing, was the reply. Trained interrogators, going over the suspect’s stories again and again, exposing every contradiction.
The only thing skilled about them was in making sure they stopped short of killing us and generally left no bruises, especially on our faces. Oh yeah, and the acting in court – that was very skilled.
The case against us, with our repudiation of the statements, should have got us at most a few months or maybe even a fine for postering agitational material on public property. Eva and I got three years each, while Carl got nearly four. I suppose the fact they hadn’t broken him pissed them off and they made out he was our leader so the judge gave him extra.
Prison was bad but it was a relief after the police station. They moved us around jails a few times over the years, we didn’t often see one another and our families and friends had to travel long distances to visit us. When they were permitted to or we hadn’t been moved the day before the visit. We learned later, though no-one told us at the time, that Carl’s aunt had a serious accident on the motorway. Long distances, tiring, unaccustomed to motorway driving, bad luck …. With a couple of operations and time, she was able to walk again but the family had to invent excuses why she couldn’t visit him, especially because they had always been close.
Most of the prison warders were hostile but some were sadists, constantly trying to provoke me, finding ways to frustrate whatever little pleasure or diversion I was permitted. Sometimes it was “too wet” to go in the exercise yard for my permitted two hours daily. Sometimes the library was “closed for stocktaking” or “due to staff shortages.” All prisoner mail is opened before being given to or sent by the prisoner but sometimes I got a letter that looked like it had been spat on. Or it smelled bad. Often, it would be two weeks later than the date stamp. Some letters were returned to the sender, I learned later, marked “UNSUITABLE”. I had one returned to me, although I was always careful what I wrote, this one marked “BREACHING PRISON SECURITY” — I had made some remarks about the prison food.
Some of the social prisoners were ok whenever I was in contact with them, some were hostile, seemed fascist. Sometimes a warder would make comments about me in the hearing of those kinds of prisoners. Anytime out of my cell I felt I had to be alert, with 180 degrees vision.
I did physical exercises in my cell to keep my body healthy and studied for the sake of my mind. Law was the subject I studied most, so I could represent activists in court and file motions and so on but I also studied politics and economics.
When I got out, I enrolled in a law studies course. I wrote to Carl – I hadn’t been allowed to previously. From his letters, he seemed ok but you never know for sure, do you? Not when you know the letters have to pass the prison censor and the prisoner has to keep up a strong front also. I met Eva too, she was released same time as I but a long distance away; she was subdued, a kind of frightened look in her eyes. Not surprising but she still kept in the movement, though we each took a step back from the more illegal street work, where we could be isolated – like postering. I qualified to practice law at a basic level.
THE POLITICAL PARTY
We began to discuss founding a political party and standing in elections. The armed struggle would go on, we thought, but over time we could push the Old Party back, take a lot of their votes. After all, what were they doing (except some of their leaders and contacts lining their pockets)? We could really expose them with our policies.
So we formed a political party, a New Party, for which we had to agree to respect the Constitution. We were doing well but, just before the elections, our party was disqualified by the State. “Connections with terrorism” was the reason given. We were furious and so were our supporters. And we formed another party. The State disqualified that one and, for good measure, banned it. Now one could go to jail for being a member.
This kind of thing went on over years, different versions of the New Party and more people going to jail and we rarely got a chance to stand in elections, much less to build up momentum.
We tried forming a coalition with some more moderate elements, even some we had called “collaborationist” in the old days but the State said we would have to denounce the armed struggle to be a legal constitutional party. We couldn’t do that because we’d be turning our back on not only our martyrs but on hundreds of activists in jail. And our own people wouldn’t stand for it. By this time I had risen to General Secretary of our underground Party.
After long discussions with the leaders of the armed wing, eventually we all agreed to announce an end to the armed struggle and to hope for the legalisation of our Party and early release of prisoners. It was a hard decision but not as hard as one might think because we were all pretty worn down and our military wing hadn’t been doing all that well for some time. The State had penetrated both sides of our movement with agents and people turned informer — hundreds were in jail or awaiting trial.
What was harder was getting our supporters to agree but by managing a few meetings, ensuring we had people with a militant reputation to speak in favour of the plan, ensuring people for the idea got more time to talk than those who didn’t and a few other things, we got it through. Besides, a lot of them believed us when we whispered that it was all a game to fool our oppressors.
Eventually, after we declared our total opposition to any armed struggle and total commitment to the electoral process, we got legalised and now we are chipping away at the Old Party, though it looks like it may take a long time to supplant them.
But some of the young people, and some older ones like Carl, are saying we have compromised too much, that the road we’ve chosen is too long and anyway is never going to get us justice. These people do things we’d rather they didn’t, that we’ve dropped, like illegal postering and spraying slogans, holding illegal commemorations for martyrs, protest marches, getting into trouble with the police ….. Making us look bad.
And what’s more, unbelievable as it might seem, they’re calling us “The Old Party”!!!
Two separate political prisoner solidarity pickets took place Saturday 13th in Dublin City centre, one on O’Connell Bridge and the other at the Instituto Cervantes, the cultural arm of the Spanish Embassy, on the one-way traffic system at Lincoln Place, linking Nassau Street and Westland Row.
The first, at 2pm on the pedestrian reservation on O’Connell Bridge, was the fourth weekly one organised by a broad coalition in solidarity with Patxi Ruiz, who had ended his hunger strike in a Spanish jail on its 31st day earlier in the week. The second picket, outside the Instituto Cervantes at 3pm, was organised by the Irish Republican group Saoradh, not only in solidarity with Basque prisoners but with all political prisoners, although Patxi’s struggle had given the original impulse for a picket at this time. In addition, Irish Republican prisoners in Port Laoise had on Friday embarked on a 72-hour solidarity fast.
Patxi Ruiz is one of around 200 Basque political prisoners serving sentences in the Spanish and French states, almost invariably, in jails far from their homes, their families and friends, if not too sick, elderly or too young, having to travel long distances to visit them. Ending the dispersal policy was one of Ruiz’s demands, the end of beatings by warders another. He also called for the automatic right to attend funerals of close family (he had been denied permission to attend his father’s funeral) and the resumption of family visits. It is not known whether any of those demands have been conceded but thought unlikely.
Although Ruiz is one of five prisoners who have publicly rejected the new path of their movement’s official leadership announced in 2012, his struggle was supported during the hunger-strike by protest mobilisations across the Basque Country, involving pickets, solidarity fasts and sit-ins, protest marches and car-cavalcades. After ten days the official leadership criticised his following through statements by the political parties Sortu and EH Bildu (the latter may be seen as a successor to Herri Batasuna). More recently, the leader of EH Bildu Arnaldo Otegi, generally seen as the main architect of the shift in 2012, publicly attacked the hunger-striker and his support movement, including the Amnistia group, accusing them of directing the whole thing against his party. Amnistia, whose full name translates as “Movement for Amnesty and Against Repression”, replied that they had more important things to focus on than damaging that party’s electoral chances, such as conditions in the prisons, the liberation of their nation and of the working class.
Patxi Ruiz’s struggle found support internationally: a monster petition in Argentina, a rally in Italy, a mass picket in Barcelona and a number of public expressions of solidarity in Ireland. An ad-hoc coalition of four groups composed of Anti-Internment Group of Ireland, Dublin Basque Solidarity Committee and Anti-Imperialist Flying Column, all in Dublin, along with Derry Anarchists mobilised to support the prisoner’s hunger and thirst strike. A hunger strike can be sustained by a healthy individual for a number of weeks without irreparable harm, however going without fluids is not only painful but hastens collapse of a number of bodily organs. Fortunately Patxi Ruiz decided to end the thirst part of his strike on the 18th of May.
“The method political prisoners choose to protest is their choice, not ours,” one of the organisers said in Dublin on Saturday; “our role is to support them and publicise their situation. We don’t have access to the mass media, so if we need to highlight something, what we have is our social media along with whoever shares our posts — and our presence on the street.”
Their first picket was on O’Connell Street in front of the GPO on May 23, the second by the Jim Larkin monument in the same street on the 30th and the last two on O’Connell Bridge in June, while in Derry people gathered at the Free Derry Corner monument every Saturday. Each week photos were taken, some sent to the Basque Country and some published on social media, with an update on the situation.
SECRET POLICE HARASSMENT IN DUBLIN
One of the secret policemen who was harassing the protesters on Saturday. (Photo credit: Clive Sulish)
During a number of those pickets, participants were approached by plainclothes Gardaí, of the political surveillance section colloquially known as “the Special Branch” and required to give their names and addresses. Although the Special Powers Act does give the Gardaí quite extensive powers to question and even detain suspects, they are supposed to have a reasonable suspicion that the suspects are committing – or about to commit — a crime. It is hard to imagine in this case that such reasonable suspicion existed in the minds of these Gardaí and much easier to believe that the purpose is a cross between intimidation and amassing files on people who are carrying out a peaceful protest and breaking no law. Meanwhile a vocal group of far-Right people demonstrating against pandemic restrictions have been staging protests in front of the GPO, reportedly without any interference by the Special Branch. A number of participants commented that the Irish Council for Civil Liberty should be doing something about this abuse of Garda powers.
The secret political police were again very much in evidence at the second political prisoner solidarity picket on Saturday. Organised by the Irish Republican organisation Saoradh, it began at 3pm and soon collected a half-dozen of these gentlemen who proceeded to demand names and addresses from all present. Unable or unwilling to state which crime they suspected the picketers were committing or about to commit ensured that in the case of a couple of strong-willed individuals who understood the provisions of the quoted Act, the ‘Branch officer was unsuccessful. In a couple of other cases their inability to question in the Irish language left them also without success when confronted with some who were fluent and insisted upon their Constitutional right to have the whole exchange conducted “i nGaeilge”. Some of those problems the ‘Branch had encountered before with the picketers in O’Connell Street and on O’Connell Bridge.
Neither Gardaí nor protesters remarked upon the irony of the presence of Oriel House less than 100 metres away on the corner of Westland Row. The building, which operated as a police station during the Irish Civil War, was notorious for the torture inflicted on detainees within, as well as being used as an operations base for kidnapping and murder by the Free State Army and Gardaí.
IRISH REPUBLICAN PRISONERS IN PORTLAOISE ON 72-HOUR FAST
The protesters, who included some from the earlier protest on O’Connell Street, were spread following the curve of the pavement outside the Instituto, which was closed. A number of Basque flags were in evidence, along with a Palestinian one and a number of Irish ones too. Banners and placards completed the display.
Some time into the protest, the picketers gathered to hear a statement read out on behalf of the Irish Republican prisoners in Portlaoise prison, Co.Laois, Ireland. The statement had been published on social media earlier in the week as part of an announcement of a 72-hour fast of Republican prisoners en Portlaoise, commencing on Friday and expressed solidarity with Patxi Ruiz and other political prisoners arising from the struggles of the Basques, Catalans, Palestinians, Kurds and socialists in Turkey.
The Portlaoise prisoners’ statement went on to point out that they too are political prisoners as are those in Maghaberry and to denounce the strip-searching and sectarian abuse in the latter, along with the antiquated conditions in Portlaoise, as well as the special courts that are used to jail them on both sides of the Border. It also criticised people who campaign about faraway struggles without seeing those at home, along with some ex-prisoners who had signed a recent appeal in solidarity with Patxi Ruiz but who, according to the statement, did nothing about the current Irish political prisoners. (The End Internment Facebook page of the Anti-Internment Group of Ireland lists around 70 Irish Republican prisoners, mostly in Portlaoise or in Maghaberry).
A statement from the Saoradh group was read out too which, though shorter, covered much of the same ground. Both statements were applauded by those present and the protesters dispersed soon afterwards.
Mick Healy interviewed me about a number of my experiences in revolutionary work over the years and this is Part 1 (Part 2 will shortly be published), nearly all about some of my three decades in London. It contains a number of errors by me, for example the apartheid rugby team was South Africa’s one which were not called the “All Blacks”, that being New Zealand’s. Also I believe the giant Hunger Strikers solidarity march in London was to Michael Foot’s home, not Tony Benn’s. Still, here it is for what it’s worth with many thanks to Mick.
Diarmuid a long time political agitator was active in London from 1967, in interview part one, he talks about his involvement with Marxism-Leninism-Anarchism. His involvement in the Vietnam and Rhodesia solidarity campaigns, Anti-fascist mobilisation, solidarity Ireland, family squatting. In addition the campaign against the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the 1969 Peoples Democracy march from Belfast-Dublin.
I observed in Language Is a Treasure Chest 1 that it is full of wonders but that it has some horrors in it too. And I found it to be so again.
I was reading a novel in which the word “Cimarron” appeared and, doing some quick research on the word, I came across a 2004 query in an email website or page called Word Wizard:
What is the etymology of the word cimarron? I’ve always been told that it means “runaway slave” in Mexican Spanish. Can anyone verify this?
The reply is dated the same day:
From Greek. It refers to people who live in perpetual mist and darkness, akin to the ‘land of the dead’. Latin ‘Cimmerius’, Greek ‘Kimmerios’, Assyrian ‘Gimirri’ even the bible ‘Gomer’ Gen.10:2 and Esk. 38:6. In Western United States it refers to a stretch of land that gets rainfall when other near by areas are desert year round.
Apart from the topographical reference, I thought the expert’s explanation highly dubious. And in fact I happen to know something about the Spanish-language origins of the word.
The searcher replied:
Thanks, Jim. I just wonder what connection this word has to Hispanics of Mexican origin because it shows up in their surnames (although not as common as Lopez or Vargas or Garcia). Is it just Mexican in origin or did that also come from Spain? So the “runaway slave” theory has no foundation then?
The expert’s reply did come back with a Spanish-language connection and he may be on to something with the topography, though I think he has it the wrong way around (as we shall see).
The “runaway slave” theory is not so obsolete.
Mexico did not have slaves (Outlawed in 1810)but
American slaves who fled to Mexico had to pass
through lands with water, or else parish (sic).
When relating their tales of woe to the locals
the word ‘cimmaron’ arose to describe their flight
through the South West desert.
Very curiously, there was no further contribution to the discussion. I tried to leave my own but had to register, which I have done (though wondering if worth the trouble) and am now awaiting confirmation1.
THE FOLK MEMORY WAS TRUE
Continuing with a little light online research I find that the Castillian-language (Spanish) origin is the explanation most often given, with rarely a reference to Greek or other classical or archaic languages. For example, in yourdictionary.com:
American Spanish cimarrón, wild, unruly ( from Old Spanish cimarra, thicket): probably origin, originally referring to the wild sheep (bighorn) found along its banks
(Latin America, of animals) feral (having returned to the wild)
Synonyms: alzado, bagual, feral
(Latin America, of people) rural; campestral
(Latin America, of plants) of a wild cultivar.
But …. what about the “runaway slaves”? Under the title Cimarron People, Wikipedia has this to say: The Cimarrons in Panama were enslaved Africans who had escaped from their Spanish masters and lived together as outlaws. In the 1570s, they allied with Francis Drake of England to defeat the Spanish conquest. In Sir Francis Drake Revived (1572), Drake describes the Cimarrons as “a black people which about eighty years past fled from the Spaniards their masters, by reason of their cruelty, and are since grown to a nation, under two kings of their own. The one inhabiteth to the west, the other to the east of the way from Nombre de Dios”. (location in Panama — DB)
While we may indulge ourselves in a sardonic smile at commissioned pirate Francis Drake talking about the cruelty of others, or about slave-owning by a country other than England in 1570, we remember also that at the time Spain was the main competitor with England in the rush to plunder the Americas – and had got there well before them.2 Both colonial powers were already plundering Africa for raw materials and slaves.
The meanings of animals having gone “feral” or “returned to the wild” would easily have been applied by the society of the time to escaped African slaves, a society which, despite evidence to the contrary including agriculture in Africa, would have considered indigenous inhabitants of Africa as people living in the “wild”. Once escaped and no longer under European control, they would be seen as “returning to the wild”.
So what happened to the Cimarron People? Their settlements were subject to punitive raids by the Spanish, killing people and burning crops, so that in the end they came to a treaty with their old enemy. The Wikipedia entry says no more except that the “Cimarrons” and the English quarreled (not surprising, given that they were of no further use to the latter). I believe some of their settlements in Florida were raided and burned by US “pioneers” and soldiers and that the remainder became part of the Seminoles, a native American tribe that resisted the USA in the longest and most costly of the USA’s wars against the indigenous people, the Native (North) Americans. The Seminole had many tribe members of part-African origin in their midst.
And here – a surprise: The word “Seminole” is derived from the Muscogee word simanó-li, which may itself be derived from the Spanish word cimarrón, meaning “runaway” or “wild one”!
So, in line with what that on-line searcher back in 2004 had heard, no doubt a folk belief, the word cimarronis, in Mexico (and in the USA), of Castillian (Spanish) language origin and is connected to escaped slaves of African origin.
Some of the sources for “cimarron” also give us “marron” or “marrón” which is also related to escaped slaves and, in English, became “Maroons”. The Maroons, escaped slaves who inhabited mountainous regions of Jamaica and elsewhere became a great problem to the English settlers (after they took the island from the Spanish) which they failed totally to quell, the Maroons emerging victorious in many military engagements. In the Cockpits area of Jamaica, I have read, there is a place called Nanny Town, which is believed to be one of the settlements of the Maroons; their chief was said to be a woman called “Granny Nanny”3, whether because of her former slave occupation or for other reason4. In the end, like the Spanish with the Cimarron People, the English had to treat with them. Sadly the treaty required the Maroons to return newly-escaped slaves, which they did and for which they received payment.
However if instead of being a voluntary escapee to go to a wild place you were forced by people or circumstance, well then, like Alexander Selkirk’s “Crusoe”, you’d be “marooned”!
Well then, what about the “cimarron strips” in the southwest of the USA? Could the word refer to strips of land “gone wild”? Or could the expert replying to the question in 2004 have been on to something?
If the slaves escaping through the desert from the USA to Mexico did indeed make their way through strips of watered land (not just for the water, as the expert speculates but for vegetation to conceal them), then there is a connection between escaped slaves and these strips of land. But not as the expert sees it, rather the other way around: since the escaped slaves, the “cimarrones” were travelling the strips, they would be called by those who knew about it (escapee hunters, escapee helpers and just observers), “cimarron strips”, i.e “those strips through which the runaway slaves travel.”
CHRISTIAN ETHNIC PREJUDICE
However, if the word comes from Castillian (Spanish) what were the origins of the word in that language?
Perhaps a year ago, I was reading a book that described the Spanish State as having been characterised, contrary to many other European states, by mass expulsions and exiles on a number of occasions throughout its history5. Naturally enough, first on the list of expulsions was the well-known example of the Moors and the Jews. Those who were not slaughtered by the forces of the “Christian Monarchs” of Ferdinand and Isabella in the “reconquest” were obliged to convert to Christianity or to leave “with only the clothes on their backs”. This also occurred in Portugal.
Those Jews who left were the Sephardim or Sephardic Jews, who spoke Ladino, an archaic kind of Iberian Romance6language with Aramaic and Hebrew words, along with the Moors, who spoke an Iberian-Arabic mixture or Arabic. The key of their houses or gates have been handed down to this day in families of both groups.7
Many converted, often referred to by Christians as “conversos” (Jews) or “moriscos” (Arabs) but were constantly under suspicion of reverting to their old religion even with the threat and constant trials and torture of the Spanish Inquisition. According to what I have read they too were sometimes called “marronos”, i.e in the eyes of the Spanish Christian ruling class, those who had been “domesticated” (Christianised) but had “returned to the their wild way”, (Moslem) i.e “gone feral”.
Wikipedia on Marrones in Iberia confirms:The (Spanish) Inquisition was aimed mostly at Jews and Muslims who had overtly converted to Christianity but were thought to be practicing their faiths secretly. They were respectively called marranos and moriscos. However, in 1567 King Phillip II directed Moriscos to give up their Arabic names and traditional dress, and prohibited the use of Arabic. In reaction, there was a Morisco uprising in the Alpujarras from 1568 to 1571. In the years from 1609 to 1614, the government expelled Moriscos.
THE BUSH FROM THE NUT?
And is “ci” or “cy” in “cimarron” then merely a prefix? The word “marrón” exists as a colour in Castilian and a number of Romance languages and came into English as the colour “maroon”. Its development is taken as originating from the colour of the large ripe chestnut, rather than given to it later. Of course there are a number of words for colours or tints which have a botanical origin, “orange” being an obvious one.
Alright, then the nut and tree might have been associated with uncultivated or “wild” areas, similar to those to which the “cimarrons” would escape. But where did the “ci” suffix come from? Somewhere in the midst of what I have been researching I came across an explanation, derived from Latin, meaning “towering”, “high” etc. But can I find it now?
The online sources are telling me that the relevant pages are up for deletion and I can join the discussion. No thanks, I do not have anything like sufficient knowledge to enter a debate on that, nor the patience of an academic to research it thoroughly.
But “high” and “wild” could easily correspond, given that valleys and plains lend themselves more easily to cultivation, as a rule, than mountainy areas, which might remain wooded or with with thick undergrowth. And that might also give us the “bush” or “thicket” referred to in a number of references for “cimarron”, which in turn might describe the “cimarron strips”. In parts of Latin America (and for all I know, in all of them) such as Chile, a “cimarra” is also a thicket or densely-grown area. The article in the Language Journal (see reference) comments that the “arra” cannot be a Romance language word-ending but even if true it seems to me that the author (or authors quoted) might be unaware that among those from Iberia who colonised or settled in the Americas, Romance language speakers were not alone. There were also Basques who spoke Euskera/ Euskara and for evidence, they applied a number of toponomics and left family names from the Basque Country (Basque descendants make up to 10% of the population of some Latin American countries). And “-arra” would be a common enough suffix or word-ending in Euskera.8
OKLAHOMA PANHANDLE AND THE CIMARRON STRIP
In the 19th Century wars between the Mexican Republic, the USA and the Native Americans in the area, it was carved up with less and less left to the Native Americans. Prior to the American Civil War, white Texas wanted to join the Union as a slave state and due to a US federal law prohibiting slavery north of 36°30′ parallel north, white Texas surrendered a strip of land north of that latitude. The settlement (temporary of course), left a strip as “Neutral Territory” (one can only imagine the temptation for African slaves in Texas to make for there). After the Civil War big cattle ranchers moved in, disregarding treaties and named the area the Cimarron Strip.
But that was because the word Cimarron was already in the area, from the “Cimarron Cutoff” leading to a crossing of the Cimarron river. And yes, there was a popular 1967-1968 TV series called “Cimarron Strip”, starring Stuart Whitman. But, though I used to watch it, that is only faintly related to the story of the word that set me out on this journey.
1Which days later had still not arrived – perhaps the site is no longer in operation, which would explain the silence after those two posters.
2Columbus voyage to America 1641 and Spain’s first colonial settlement 1565 (now Florida); Mayflower expedition to America with English settlers 1587 (now Virginia). However, Europeans had founded settlements much earlier, as with the Norse in the 10th Century and very likely Irish monks in the 6th Century. But it was the English and Spanish who conquered most, the Dutch, French and Portuguese less. The descendants of the English settlers after gaining independence from England completed the seizure and colonisation of most of the North American continent, while English colonists remaining loyal to the English Crown seized land to form what is now Canada.
4All the folk tradition, albeit conflicting on some points, declares that she had not been a slave which leaves one to wonder how she might have reached Jamaica from Africa without having been enslaved.
5 I borrowed the book from the public library and cannot remember its title at the moment.
6“Romance languages” is the name give to the group on Indo-European languages such as Castillian (Spanish), Catalan, Galician, Portuguese, Romanian, Italian and French. They are sometimes called “Latin-based” or “Latin Languages” but there is some dispute about the origins and developments of these languages.
7 Ironically, the door or gate “key” is also a symbol of return for Palestinian refugees driven from their homes by Zionist massacres, threats and fear during the founding of the State of Israel.
8 Among toponomics of North America’s southwest Durango (Colorado and Mexico), Navarro and Zavala Counties (Texas) are perhaps the best known; while Aguirre, Arana, Bolívar (Bolibar), Cortazar (Kortazar), Duhalde, Echevarria (Etxebarria), García, Guevara (Gebarra), Ibarra, Larrazábal, Mendiata, Muzika, Ortiz, Salazar, Ugarte, Urribe and Zabala are but some among a host of family names of Basque origin from the American south-west to Latin America. And of course the country of Bolivia, from Simon Bolívar, a Basque surname from a Basque toponomic.
“Sinn Féin is not like other Irish political parties” goes the propaganda campaign against the party by media commentators and rival mainstream politiciansduring the elections. What nonsense! It is exactly like the other main Irish political parties – and that’s the problem.
Their opponents’ main objection seems to be that Provisional Sinn Féin was widely seen as the political wing of the armed resistance group Provisional IRA and, although the IRA have dissolved and decommissioned their weapons, the party still carries that mark in the eyes of its detractors (and, it must be said, fondly in the eyes of some of its supporters).
This propaganda campaign is acutely unhistorical. A few short lessons in Irish history might be of use here.
The Irish Labour Party was founded by, among others, the revolutionary socialist James Connolly and anarcho-sindicalist Jim Larkin. In 1913 both advocated arming union workers to resist armed police attacks. In 1916, the Irish Citizen Army they founded was part of the armed Rising and two of their leaders were among the 16 executed by British firing squads.
The party stayed neutral during the Civil War and was an opposition party to the Cumann na nGaedheal government. Since then, the Labour Party has been in Government only as a coalition partner – most times with the right-wing Fine Gael party. Except for it links with trade unions, the party has little claim to having “Labour” in its name and has turned away from everything if which its founders believed.
Fine Gael was formedin 1933 when two smaller groups joined Cumann na nGaedheal, which had been the governing party of the partitioned Free State from 1923 up until the merger. Michael Collins and his followers were the kind of people The founders of Cumann na nGaedheal were among the pro-Treaty and Free State supporters, i.e people who until then had been active in leading or supporting a campaign of armed resistance to the occupying British forces, including assassinations, ambushes and robberies. The Free State began the Civil War in 1922 by an artillery bombardment of Republican positions in Dublinand over the next few years carried out repression on the civilian population, torture, summary executions of prisoners of war as well as State executions – and assassinations. The victors handed the reins over to Cumann na nGaedheal in 1923.
The parties that joined Cumann na nGaedheal in 1933 were 1) the National Centre Party, essentially a big farmers’ quasi-fascist party and 2) the Army Comrades Association (the fascist “Blueshirts”). Of the mainstream Irish political parties, Fine Gael has stayed truest to its founders and base.
Fianna Fáil emerged from a split from Sinn Féin in 1926; interestingly, much of what is being said against Sinn Féin by establishment political commentators now – and worse — was said then about Fianna Fáil: “murderers”, “revolutionaries” (and even “Communists”!). The party first entered power in 1932, its leader De Valera having been — little more than a decade previously — a leader of the Republicans during the Civil War, opponents of the Treaty and of the Irish Government of the time. It freed the Republican prisoners locked up by the Cumann na nGaedheal government, also having a special police force (“Broy’s Harriers”) to persecute the Blueshirts, who aspired to taking power as had Fascists in Europe.
By 1939, the Fianna Fáil government had introduced the savage repressive legislation of the Emergency Powers Act to intern republicans without trial and after a successful habeas corpus challenge by Seán McBride (one of the founders of Amnesty International), the Government brought in the Offences Against the State Act, was re-arresting Republicans and interning them without trial again (around 2,000). Two Republicans died on a hunger strike protest in Mountjoy Jail. Under Fianna Fáil the State executed six Republicans and some more are alleged to have died as a result of their treatment in the concentration camp.
In 1957, a Fianna Fáil government once again brought internment without trial into force, the colonial administration of the Six Counties having done the same the year previously. The last prisoner was released by FF in 1959.
From having been seen as the main political party of Irish Republicanism, Fianna Fáil became in a short time the preferred party of the Irish capitalists (the “Gombeen” class) and has been in government more than any other party, more often indeed than the party that won the Civil War and set up the State.
JUST LIKE ANY OTHER IRISH PARTY
There is no historical basis for saying that Sinn Féin is very different from the other Irish mainstream political parties. It has traversed a similar path to all those others, perhaps most similarly to Fianna Fáil – it’s just a more recent arrival on the mainstream scene. It is already very like other main Irish political parties and is getting to be exactly like them.
That is not a compliment.
This is a party that, in recent decades, had a revolutionary Irish republican – or at least nationalist – position. It strongly opposed the partition of the country and the colonial occupation of one-sixth of the nation’s territory. With the latter came — naturally enough — opposition to the colonial police force, the Royal Ulster Constabulary but this was much more than an ideological opposition: the RUC was an armed force created specifically for the repression of Irish Republicans and acted consistently against the Catholic minority in the Six Counties, which SF sought to represent and among which it organised.
The colonial Statelet itself, with its gerrymandering of electoral boundaries, sectarian allocation of housing and employment and its Special Powers Act, was the sworn enemy of the Sinn Féin party. And when British troops were sent in 1969 to repress the civil rights uprising, of course Provisional Sinn Féin and Provisional IRA fought them too.
The Provisional IRA gave up armed struggle against the British in 1998 and, although it maintained its armed force for control of its community for some time afterwards, eventually dissolved its organisation. By then it had already decommissioned its weapons.
In 2007 the SF party became part of the British colony’s administration in Stormont, with Martin McGuinness, former chief of the IRA in Derry, partnering Ian Paisley, notorious Loyalist religious sectarian and social bigot.
That same year the party agreed to support the armed and sectarian police force and in the reorganisation of the RUC had the name changed to “the Police Service of Northern Ireland”. The essence of the force, naturally, remains the same.
All the austerity measures inflicted on the working class by the administration since the party entered joint government of the colony have been approved by Sinn Féin MLAs.
In 2011, despite an official SF policy of opposition to the visit of the Queen of England, Commander-in-Chief of the British Armed Forces, to the 26 Counties (the Irish state), leaders greeted her (one in person) and urged no protests be made against her visit.
In 2019, SF welcomed Prince Charles on a two-day visit to the colony and to the State; this man is not only son of the English Monarch but ceremonial commander-in-chief of the Parachute Regiment, authors of the massacres of Derry’s Bloody Sunday (14 dead) and Ballymurphy (11 dead) for which not a single soldier or commander has ever been tried. The SF Mayor of Derry, however, refused to meet him.
This year, 2020, the Six-County part of the leadership of Sinn Féin joined others in publicly seeking recruits for the PSNI, while the 26-County leadership withdrew from its previous position of seeking abolition of the repressive emergency powers of the Offences Against the State Act.
In the 26 Counties, SF long ago indicated its willingness to join in a governing coalition with some one of the other mainstream political parties: i.e capitalist, neo-colonial political parties.
On so many occasions, it has shown itself to be like the other parties and prepared to ditch formerly-declared principles for what it considered a political advantage, proving itself a “safe pair of hands” to the rulers of the system.
Yes, Sinn Féin is indeed a party like any other Irish mainstream political party: capitalist, neo-colonial, undemocratic and supporting State repression. As to the latter, why not? It won’t be SF that the State will be repressing — it’ll be Irish Republicans. And if SF ever get where they want to, into majority control of government – they’ll have plenty of opponents themselves to drag before those non-jury courts.