The media informs us of the visit on the 22nd July of Mícheál Martin, Prime Minister of the Irish state, to the concentration camp where his uncle was a prisoner of the Japanese after the fall of Singapore in World War II.
Many Irish fought in the UK and British Commonwealth armies against Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan.
But there is another strong and ironic Irish connection to the fall of Singapore. The Lieut.-General Arthur Percival who surrendered the Singapore fortress to the Japanese Army in 942 had been Intelligence Officer (and torturer) for the Essex Rifles against the IRA in West Cork 1920-’21.
PERCIVAL IN IRELAND
Percival served first as a company commander then as Intelligence Officer of the Essex Rifles in Kinsale, Co. Cork, where he “stood out for his violent, sadistic behaviour towards IRA prisoners, suspects and innocent civilians……
“He also participated in reprisals, burning farms and businesses in response to IRA attacks,” according to a USA historian. General Tom Barry, IRA commander in West Cork, said that Percival was “easily the most vicious anti-Irish of all serving British officers”1.
Two victims in particular were IRA Brigade Commander Tom Hales and Quatermaster Patrick Harte. Both reported being beaten and tortured with pliers to private parts and extraction of nails. Percival got an OBE for their capture; Harte died in a mental hospital in 1925.
Tom Barry recorded that after a number of ignored warnings, the IRA in Cork placed the Essex Rifles on the same status as the Black ‘n Tans and the Auxilliaries – they could depend on no mercy if captured.
Percival was also the man who unconditionally surrendered Singapore to a much smaller invading force of Japanese in 1942, thereby condemning thousands of soldiers and civilians to a terrible fate.
LARGEST BRITISH SURRENDER IN HISTORY — AND TO LESSER NUMBERS
Singapore had been a British colonial possession since 18262. At the time of WWII the British considered it a strong fortress, a thick jungle and hills on the landward side and with huge 15” cannon facing out to sea against a possible naval invasion.
The British High Command considered no navy in the world could survive an assault on the island and no army capable of penetrating the thick jungle. Apparently no-one told the Imperial Japanese that for come through the jungle they did, marching or riding on bicycles.
The UK and Commonwealth troops on the landward side fought but were outgunned and badly commanded. After seven days of fighting, Percival decided to surrender unconditionally, with most of the 85,000 troops on the island not yet having engaged the 36,000 of the enemy.
The surrender of Singapore delivered 80,000 UK and Commonwealth troops, along with a million civilians, into captivity in the hands of the Imperial Japanese Army. Three days after the British surrender, the Japanese began the “Sook Ching” purge, killing thousands of civilians3.
The day before the surrender, Japanese soldiers also invaded the Victoria Hospital and murdered over 250 soldiers, doctors, male staff and patients.
Most of the soldiers taken captive had not been given a chance by Percival to even fire a shot at the advancing Japanese Army, to the contempt of their captors, led by officers with a strong military tradition and pride (not to say arrogance).
Whether that fact contributed to the cruel and inhumane treatment of the prisoners by their captors and guards is not certain but it seems to have done. In any case, many who died day by day and month by month building the Burma Railway would no doubt have preferred to die fighting.
Most of the civilians massacred would probably also have preferred to die fighting.
Around 30,000 Allied Prisoners of War of the Japanese died in captivity of cruel treatment including inadequate food, disease and overwork; working from statistics R.J. Rummel estimates a death rate of around 29% for POWs4. Huge numbers of civilians died similarly also.
Australian Russell Braddon, who wrote about his experiences in the Japanese concentration camp at Changi and on the slave-labour construction of the Burma railroad5, was extremely bitter about the surrender and the general Allied High Command management of the war in Malaya.
Many no doubt did so out of a desire to fight fascism — surely an admirable motivation6.
But once the War ended, any Irish remaining in the British armed forces anywhere could not claim to be doing anything else than helping the domination of many nations and millions of people by what was at the time the world’s biggest imperialist power (though soon to be eclipsed by the USA).
If anti-fascism motivated his uncle and that is what Mícheál Martin appreciates about him, one would wonder why the police of the state which he leads protected fascists in Ireland and attacked antifascists on a number of occasions in recent years.
Of course there may be a more sinister aspect to Martin’s publicised visit. It may be a public expression of the desire among the Irish elite to be part of a western military alliance, either the US-NATO or an EU such, which would in the end amount to much the same thing.
And such an alliance in these times would not be fighting — even in part – against fascism but rather alongside it.
1Guerrilla Days in Ireland (1949 and many reprints since) by Tom Barry.
2Singapore became an independent republic on 9 August 1965.
3People from all ethnic groups were massacred but the Chinese most of all. Though the Japanese government years later paid some compensation to relatives of victims, it has never accepted responsibility for the events. Nor has the UK. “Since 1998, Singapore has observed Total Defence Day on 15 February each year, marking the anniversary of the surrender of Singapore. The concept of Total Defence as a national defence strategy was first introduced in 1984, which serves as a significant reminder that only Singaporeans with a stake in the country can effectively defend Singapore from future threats.” (Wikipedia)
5The Naked Island (1952) sold over a million copies. Russel Braddon (1921-1925) had a breakdown soon after the war and felt suicidal but, once recovered, became a successful writer of novels, articles and TV scripts. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russell_Braddon
6I met one of those, curiously enough a Corkman in a lodging house in London. Denis was a decent man, very big, who rarely talked about the war except sometimes when he had drink taken. Strangely, he never had a bad word to say against the Japanese – even the concentration camp guards.
Tá Rebel Breeze fíor-bhuíoch do Kerron Ó Luain as cead foillsithe a óráid ag comóradh scaoileadh marfach an tSaor Stát le Chathal Brugha a thabhairt dúinn. Rebel Breeze is most grateful to Kerron Ó Luain for permission to publish his oration on the occasion of the fatal shooting by the Free State of Cathal Brugha.
(Reading time: 11 mins.)
Óráid a tugadh ag Comóradh Chathail Uí Bhrugha, 7ú Iúil 2022, Baile Átha Cliath
Oration given at a Commemoration for Cathal Brugha, 7 July 2022, Dublin
Buíochas leis an gcoiste as an gcuireadh a thabhairt dom labhairt ag an ócáid stairiúil seo. Tá tábhacht ar leith go líonfar an bhearna maidir le stair an Chogaidh Chathartha, óir tá an stát tar éis na maidí a ligeadh le sruth.
Ba mhaith liom an chaint ghairid seo a thabhairt in ómós do Mhícheál Ó Doibhilin, an staraí a bhásaigh an tseachtain seo.
Rinne Mícheál neart oibre ar leithéidí Anne Devlin agus d’fhoilsigh sé neart saothair tríd Kilmainham Tales, a thug léargas ar ghnéithe den stair poblachtach a ligeadh i ndearmad.
Le linn 2016, agus comóradh céad bhliain ar Éirí Amach 1916 faoi lán seoil tháinig sé chuig mo bhaile dúchais, Ráth Cúil, áit ar thug sé caint ar Josie McGowan, a bhí mar bhall de Chumann na mBan, agus a mharaigh na póilíní in 1918.
Thanks to the committee for the invitation to give this short talk. It’s important to mark events such as these to do with the Civil War since the State has not seen fit to do so.
I’d like to dedicate this talk to Mícheál Ó Doibhlin, the historian who died just this week.
Mícheál carried out a great deal of work on the likes of Anne Devlin and he published numerous works through Kilmainham Tales which provided an insight into lesser known aspects of republican history.
During 2016, with the hundredth anniversary of the 1916 Rising in full swing, he came to my hometown of Rathcoole, where he have a talk on Josie McGowan, who was the first member of Cumann na mBan to be martyred when she was killed by police in 1918.
I’d like to speak about Cathal Brugha first and then the impact of the Civil War/Counter-Revolution.
CATHAL BRUGHA – EARLY YEARS
In terms of the historical sources, it is not easy to find a wealth of material on Cathal Brugha online. Unlike Michael Collins, for example, there is not an abundance of accessible sources online pertaining to Brugha.
He is referred to in the Bureau of Military History sources such as the Witness Statements, and these have been digitised, but his private papers, held in UCD, await digitisation.
The recently published biography of Brugha by Daithí Ó Corráin and Gerard Hanley, entitled Cathal Brugha: “An Indomitable Spirit”, will hopefully go some way to popularising a fuller and more nuanced account of his life and politics.
Cathal Brugha was born as Charles Burgess in Dublin in 1874. He was born into a middle-class family, his father a cabinet maker. Brugha was born into a large family, which was not unusual at the time. Perhaps less common, was that he came from a mixed Protestant and Catholic marriage.
There is a good chance his father was a Protestant Fenian during the 1860s and 70s.
The crucial politicising force of this mid-twenties was Conradh na Gaeilge. He joined Craobh an Chéitinnigh in Dublin in 1899. And it was through the Conradh he met his wife Kathleen Kingston whom he married in 1909.
It was in this Gaelic revivalist and republican milieu that he met the likes of Seán Mac Diarmada, Tom Clarke and Piaras Béaslaí, and this influenced his move towards militant republicanism.
It is worth noting, at this point, that six of the seven signatories of the 1916 Proclamation were members of Conradh na Gaeilge, as were fourteen of the sixteen men executed in the wake of the Rising.
PREPARATION FOR RISING, PREPARATION FOR WAR — AND FURTHER
In 1908, Brugha joined the IRB. He was employed as a travelling salesman with a candlestick company during those years and so, like many within Fenianism before him, was able to disguise his organising and recruitment under the cloak of his business activities.
Brugha was later instrumental in the setting up of the Irish Volunteers and then the Howth Gun Running. He was second in command to Éamon Ceannt at the South Dublin Union (now James’s Street Hospital) during the 1916 Rising.
He held a detachment of the British Army at bay singlehandedly with his ‘Peter the Painter’ revolver and nearly died from the wounds, including a lacerated nerve, he sustained in the feat. For the remainder of his life he walked with a limp and had to have a special boot made so that he could walk.
In the wake of the 1916 Rising Brugha was central to the re-organisation of the Irish Volunteers, which during these years, along with the Irish Citizen Army, began to coalesce into the Irish Republican Army.
In terms of his rejection of the Treaty in 1921 and death during 1922, we get a snapshot of the trajectory of his politics in 1917.
He was central to the debates over the formation of the Sinn Féin constitution in 1917, and he clashed with the dual-monarchist Arthur Griffith over the insertion of the word “Republic” into the document, which Brugha ardently supported.
Later, at the outbreak of the Black and Tan War in 1918 another indication of his politics can be seen. Brugha, as President of the Dáil, and later as Minister of Defence, was anxious that the IRA would do nothing that might effect Ireland’s case at the Peace Conference underway in Paris.
These were not the actions of a militarist fanatic, as state and revisionist historians have often portrayed him, but the strategic calculations of a principled political republican.
His dedication to the cultural and linguistic revolution is a feature of his activities during 1919 — particularly during the reading of the 1919 Democratic Programme.
Rinneadh gach rud trí Ghaeilge an lá sin agus ba é Brugha a bhí chun cinn.
During that day all the business was conducted through Irish and Brugha was very forthright about that. He understood not only the political importance of announcing the advent of the Dáil at an international level, but in doing so through Irish.
Another indication of his desire to advance the Irish language was that his plan for Conradh na Gaeilge be given sanction by the newly emergent state. “It was essential”, he said “that the authority of Dáil Éireann should be placed behind the Gaelic League”.
LESSONS OF HISTORY
It is our duty as historians and as republicans who want to learn from the mistakes of the past to analyse things as they were and not gloss over them.
Brugha was less advanced when it came to other social questions, such as that of the land.
When a loan scheme was set up by the Dáil in 1919-1920 Brugha viewed it as “a scheme that would be a perfectly sound business proposition, and offer a good field to Irishmen who desire to invest their money”.
This speaks to the class composition of much of that era’s Irish Republicanism – with over-representation from the lower-middle and middle classes and under-representation from the urban and rural working-class.
There was a consequent lack of a radical social programme that might have attracted the masses, particularly during 1922.
Liam Mellows, according to a recent publication by Conor McNamara, only really came towards socialism late in the day whilst imprisoned in Mountjoy Jail.
In a similar vein, the great socialist-republican Peadar O’Donnell, remarked that during the occupation of the Four Courts in July 1922 there existed a gulf between the republicans inside and the workers outside.
We can also point to a lack of militancy within the leadership of the labour movement, as we can to a lack of socialism within the republican movement.
However, and despite a climate of soviets springing up, land agitation and general strikes over the course of several years, socialism and republicanism failed to fully synthesise into an organised and militant socialist and anti-imperialist movement.
Nevertheless, this is not to take away from Brugha, Mellows or any of his comrades. The picture that emerges of Brugha is one of a dedicated and political Irish Republican. A man of principle, honour and integrity.
It isn’t the picture of a mindless militarist, or “a fanatic”, as a recent review of the above-mentioned book Indomitable Spirit in the Irish Independent characterised Brugha. Likewise, some historians have derided Brugha essentially as a man of “no politics”.
However, as JJ O’Kelly, better known as Sceilg, said of Brugha, he was “showered with intellectual gifts of a high order, coupled with an exquisite literary taste; was a good linguist, a powerful writer, a fluent and convincing speaker, a pleasing singer and exquisitely fond of good music”.
Previously, during a potential split in Craobh an Chéitinnigh in 1908 Brugha was seen as a force for reconciliation, rather than as an apolitical “splitter”.
At its core, the realisation that the Treaty represented a half-way house between Empire and Republic that was doomed to failure informed Brugha’s actions during 1921 and 1922.
The mainstream historical narrative is that the “militarists” couldn’t see sense and get behind the so-called “empty formulas” of the oath. But, harking back to his dispute with Griffith in 1917, I think Brugha knew the importance of the term “Republic”.
Brugha understood that the wording and principles laid down in such documents would influence the character of any Irish state which might emerge. Thuig sé, creidim, go gcuireadh na prionsabail a leagfaí síos ag an bpointe criticiúil cruth ar an stát a bhí le tíocht.
Brugha had also pushed for an Oath to the Republic to be adopted by the IRA in 1919. The context for him doing so was the long tradition of oaths stretching back through Fenianism and other oathbound secret societies.
Oathbound secret societies were common throughout Europe in opposition to feudal and absolutist monarchies from the Enlightenment era onwards.
But in Ireland such secret societies, whether agrarian, nationalist or republican, or an admixture of each, represented an opposition to colonialism and their oaths were a necessary offering of allegiance to the community and the Irish body politic rather than to the invader.
Brugha’s dedication to the Republic and rejection of imperialism was shown again during the Treaty debates of 1921 when he spoke thusly:
“if …. instead of being so strong, our last cartridge had been fired our last thinking had been spent and our last man was lying on the ground and his enemies howling around him and their bayonets raised, ready to plunge them into his body, that man should say – true to the traditions handed down – if they said ‘will you come into the Empire?’ he should say and he would say : ‘No, I will not!’
That is the spirit which has lasted the centuries and you people in favour of the Treaty know that the British Government and the British Empire will have gone down before that spirit dies in Ireland”.
CIVIL WAR/ COUNTERREVOLUTION
Civil War eventually began in 1922 with the shelling of the Four Courts with British guns by Free State forces. Again, busting the myth that he was only out for war, Brugha had actually been reluctant to enter the Republican garrison with Mellows, Rory O’Connor, and Joe McKelvey.
Likewise, Oscar Traynor; he and Brugha occupied Hamman Hotel and Buildings on Upper O’Connell street as a secondary garrison. As the Battle of Dublin raged the buildings occupied by Brugha went ablaze.
Free State soldiers shouted at him to surrender, to which he replied “níl aon chuimhneamh agam ar a leithéid a dhéanamh” (I have no notion of doing so). After asking his own garrison to surrender Brugha approached the Free State soldiers and was shot dead.
The Civil War has often been over-simplified into a cartoonish clash of “brother against brother” and “the Big Fellow” (Collins) versus “the Long Fellow” (De Valera). This negates the aspects of it which were clearly counter-revolutionary in nature, and it can just as easily be labelled the Counter-Revolution of 1922-23.
The results of the Counter-Revolution in which Brugha died and which deepened in the years after, especially during the 1920s, speak for themselves.
Sided with Empire over Republic. The acceptance of the Treaty meant the acceptance of White Dominion status along with Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
In doing so the counter-revolutionaries severed the nascent anti-colonial links with the Third World which had existed throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
This move, according to Bill Rollston and Robbie McVeigh in their recent publication Anois ar Theacht an tSamhraidh: Ireland, Colonialism and the Unfinished Revolution, informs the nature and perseverance of Irish racism today.
It sided with Rich over Poor. The infamous quote from the good Catholic and Christian W.T. Cosgrave about “people being reared in work houses taking it in their minds to emigrate”, resonates here.
This is the mentality which laid the blueprint for how the State facilitated and turned a blind eye to the horrors of the industrial schools and laundries – horrors which were inflicted against women and children mainly from the urban and rural working class.
It sided with Partition over Unity. The nationalists of the North were abandoned to the mercy of the Orange state, despite knowledge among the emergent conservative republican elite like Cosgrave and Kevin O’Higgins of the pogroms which had been going on in Belfast between 1920-22.
The lame duck Border Commission of 1925 was never going to challenge the economic or political viability of the Six Counties
It sided with Anglophone Ireland over what was left of Irish speaking Ireland. There was over half a million, or 543,511 to be precise, native Irish speakers in the state in 1926. Today there are less than 10% of that, roughly 20,000.
The Free State in the 1920s implemented a symbolic cultural programme – state departments used the cúpla focail, schools were superficially Gaelicized, post boxes were painted green.
This was also a means of shoring up support for the State against republicans and other “subversives” in the 1920s and 30s by capturing and channelling one ideological aspect of the revolutionary years. But no radical social programme was devised.
Rather than re-distribute wealth and local power to the West, a symbolic and centralised pseudo-revival was implemented, while Conradh na Gaeilge, which Brugha had been so loyal to, went into rapid decline naively thinking that the conservative state would somehow act as a genuine custodian of the language revival.
Tá go leor leor samplaí den leanúnachas seo leis an impiriúlachas le fáil.
Other examples of a continuity and no real break with imperialism abound. In law, the Free State remained wedded to British common law over a potential new system.
Brehon Law had been mooted as having communal benefits different from the individualist and property focussed British law by cultural nationalists and by Marxists such as James Connolly. But this mode of thought was not considered.
In administration, according to historian J.J. Lee, 98% of civil servants from the old British colonial administration were kept on during the years of the early Free State.
In finance, Ernest Blyth’s conservative fiscal policies were carbon copies of Westminster’s and the punt was shackled to the sterling.
Even down to seemingly innocuous cultural traits such as dress – W.T. Cosgrave and his ilk adopted the top hat and coat-tails of the British once in office – there were continuities.
While this last point may seem minor, it was a signifier of the whole ideology and culture of the state – Conservative, Catholic, Anglophone, with only a veneer of Gaelic symbology.
Little wonder then that the State lurched from dependence on one empire from the 1920s into dependence on others in the 1960s and 70s in the form of the US empire and the emergent EU empire — via the policies of Foreign Direct Investment and the Common Agricultural Policy.
The legacy then of the counter-revolution still weighs heavily on our people.
It is our duty to analyse the different forces – be they political, class or cultural – which defeated the Republic in 1922-23 and to work towards defeating them and breaking fully with Empire, as Cathal Brugha sought to do.
An Phoblacht Abú!
Kerron Ó Luain, staraí, Ráth Cúil, Co. Átha Cliath.
On 16th July 2022 the frame-up of the Craigavon Two was highlighted in public events in locations across all four provinces of Ireland. John Paul Wooton and Brendan McConville were framed and convicted in 2012 of the killing of colonial police officer Stephen Carroll in 2009.
The agency that framed them is the colonial police force of the Six Counties statelet but then they were railroaded through the non-jury Diblock Courts. As a result the two men have spent 14 years in jail for something they did not do.
In Dublin city centre banners in Irish and in English calling for the freeing of the Craigavon Two were hung from the iconic curved pedestrian Ha’penny Bridge. Green and gold Starry Plough flags streamed in the breeze from the sea as leaflets were distributed to passers-by.
Hand-held Placards called for the men’s release and regular calls could be heard of “Justice for the Craigavon Two!” followed by “14 years in jail for something they didn’t do”. In addition there were calls to “Smash the Specials”1 and comments about “British justice”.
All the leaflets brought to the event were distributed and a number of conversations with interested people took place.
At one point four members of the State’s police force, the Gardaí, walked past the picketers and gathered at the far end of the bridge, watching them. However, the picketers were not intimidated and the police took no further action.
The events in respect of the Craigavon Two were organised by the Anti-Imperialist Action Ireland organisation and took place in Waterford, Oldcastle (Meath), Naas (Kildare), Mullingar (Westmeath), Kerry, Galway, Dublin, South Derry, Armagh and Arklow (Wicklow.)
A CROOKED CASE
To say that the case against the men was flimsy would be to give it too much credit. The killing weapon was recovered and the fingerprints on the weapon and magazine did not match either of the men’s. No eyewitness was found except one who claimed to have seen one of the men in the area.
The alleged eyewitness who identified one of the men, “Witness M” only came forward 11 months after the killing and long after the arrest of both men. Witness M’s inability to have identified anyone at night at the distance he claimed to have done was exposed in court.
That man’s father described him as “a Walter Mitty character” who was chronically untruthful and his own partner refused to corroborate the witness’ account of his movements on the night of the killing.
The ‘evidence’ against the second man of being in the area came from an MI5 agent who testified from behind a screen about a tracking device they claimed to have planted in the accused’s car which had unexplained gaps in its recording.
The agent declined to answer a number of questions under “public immunity” certificate related to “national security”.
The colonial police went further and detained Witness M’s father to intimidate him into not giving evidence about his son’s veracity (or lack of it) — and the witness was also paid a sum of money.
One can say that the no-jury Diplock Court was crucial in convicting the men of murder but even when they were eventually granted leave to appeal in 2014, their convictions were not overturned. The normal judicial system is bad but the no-jury courts are worse.
Another victim of being framed in the British ‘justice’ system, Gerry Conlon, 15 years in jail in the famous case of the “Guildford Four”, joined the campaign for the men and was proclaiming their innocence until a mere few days before his premature death in June 2014 (aged 60).
1A reference to the political no-jury courts of the colony and of the Irish State, the Diplock Courts and the Irish State’s Special Criminal Courts.
They had been preparing for this for some time. The infants were selected, received special care and food and were raised carefully in the Palace chambers inside the Citadel. They were now adolescents, maturing sexually.
As the time approached for their great expedition, the tunnels leading to the departure terminal were widened and cleared of all obstructions. Experts tested the weather conditions daily and, when the majority of these were in agreement, the Queen gave the order to launch.
The adolescents took off then, a great host of them, amidst great excitement. Their pheromones, male and female, filled the air around them and those who could, which was most of them, quickly found a partner and coupled.
It was a maiden flight from which the adolescent females would land no longer maidens. Those who would land, that is. For suddenly the air was filled with giant flying monsters with huge eyes and giant whirring wings.
Much more accustomed to flight, these monsters flew among them, gobbling them up. Some even held rows of their hapless victims in their huge beaks as they flew off to feed them to their young. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of the little flyers perished in minutes.
Those who managed to land safely and didn’t end up drowning in a lake or a river, or snapped by denizens of the deep who sprang up at them as they passed overhead, or caught in sticky webs, or who were not stamped carelessly to death by huge walking giants or flattened by roaring, stinking monsters, still had to contend with smaller predators on the ground. The casualty rate was huge but some made it alive – some always did.
The males who made it down to ground safely would all die within a couple of days. Their wings were only intended for their nuptial flight; on the ground, they were nothing more than a nuisance, impeding their progress over and underground.
The females, sexually sated and no longer interested, had left their male partners behind. They bit off their own wings, ate them and, quickly finding some reasonably soft ground, began to dig.
Each one dug down as though her life depended on it, which of course it did; and not only her own life – each one was pregnant. Then she blocked the entrance to her tunnel, went back down it, excavated a chamber and began to lay eggs.
It was completely dark down there but she had been reared in darkness – she had one day of daylight only, the day she flew.
The young grubs who hatched were all females. She supplied them with some sparse nutrition from herself and cared for them as they grew, shed skin, grew … until they spun a cocoon from which they emerged as very small worker ants.
They were infertile workers and tended to their large mother, their Queen; even when they were fully-grown she was still one-and-a-half times their size, although about half the size she had been when she left her old nest.
Her most recent meal had been her own wings the day she had flown and mated. If she got past this crucial stage, she would recover her size and weight and lay more and more eggs.
The workers soon went up the tunnel, unblocked it and spilled out into daylight for the first time in their lives, beginning to forage for food. They found small seeds and, if they were lucky, sweet material such as soft-skinned ripe or rotting fruit.
They soon had their surroundings covered with their hive-scent, carried by each and every worker. Sometimes they found insects they could kill but these had to be very small indeed – these workers had been fed on insufficient nutrition and were, compared to the majority of their kind, puny.
If they found a food-source worth another visit, they left a specially-scented trail on their way back to their home, to guide theirs sisters back to the prize later.
A rich source of food typically would show two streams of traffic between their nest and the food – one empty-jawed heading for the food and the other, with pieces in their jaws, heading away from it and towards the nest.
The food gathered by the workers fed them and their Queen, while she continued laying eggs. As time went by, more and more workers were born, who would care for the hundreds of eggs their matriarch laid and raise more and more workers. Extensive tunnel networks were dug.
At some point the workers found aphids and began harvesting their sugary secretions; tending them on the stems of the plants the aphids infested and carrying them down to their citadel but bringing them back up later. The workers would fight to protect the aphids from those who preyed on their ‘herds’.
Successive generations of ant workers grew bigger, until they reached the optimum size of five millimetres (still four millimetres short of the Queen in her prime). A well-established citadel could in time house as many as 40,000 individuals (although between four and seven thousand would be more common).
They, and previous generations, are all daughters of the same mother and the product of one mating only. Their Queen, barring unusual disasters, might live to 15 years of age.
Once the citadel is built, it is vulnerable in the ordinary course of things only to parasites, flood, fire and severe surface disturbance. In Ireland, without bears, wild boar and largely without foraging pigs, severe surface disturbance is unlikely away from human construction or ploughing and digging.
Fire might not reach underground but the heat generated or the lack of oxygen might kill anyway; flood, of course, would be the biggest threat.
If a citadel should be uncovered or invaded by flood waters, some workers will rush to deal with the problem while others rush to save the young, trying to carry eggs, pupae or cocoons away in their jaws to a safe place. Some others will rush to do whatever they can for their Queen.
A black ant defends itself by running away if possible and if not, by biting. But intruders to the citadel are swarmed by biting ants. However most human skin is impervious to the bite and this species does not sting.
One day, perhaps three years from the Queen’s maiden flight, she will decide it is time to send her own children into the wider world. She will lay eggs and have these emerging grubs fed special food, which will produce males for the first time in her citadel, as well as other fertile females besides herself.
Then, one day in July or in August, she will send them out too, to start new colonies.
Lasius niger, the Black or Garden Ant, is the most common of the 21 species of ant in Ireland. It is the most common also across Europe and a sub-species, L. neoniger, is known in the USA where however, it is not one of the most numerous ant species.
Lasius niger is a very active, hardy and adaptable species, living mostly outdoors under rocks and but rarely inside houses (although it may well enter houses repeatedly if it learns of food within, especially sweet food).
In cities, its nests are to be found in parks and gardens but also under street paving stones, the workers emerging to forage from tunnels leading to the joints between the stone. When those joints are surrounded by thin lines or small heaps of bright sand in summer, one knows that the workers are clearing the tunnels for the adolescents’ flights.
Another indication is an unusual amount of seemingly erratic ant activity around a nest, though one would need to be aware of what normal activity looked like, for comparison.
The ants may delay, awaiting what they judge to be optimum conditions but someday soon, mid to late afternoon, they will take to the air, to fly, to mate, to die or to live, to start a new population.
Irish Republicans and revolutionary Socialists have traditionally been opposed to the commemoration of the dead in the “Great War”, WWI. Recently Michelle O’Neill, top Minister in the British colonial political regime in Ireland with the Lord Mayor of Belfast, both members of the Sinn Féin party, laid a wreath at the WWI memorial in Belfast, to the bewilderment of some and the disgust of others. But actually those emotions are misplaced, since the leadership of the Sinn Féin party were never Socialist and are no longer Republican.
The long-held position of Irish Republicans and Socialists that WWI should not be commemorated is however illogical and runs against history. The conflict was a hugely-important event in such areas as military, social conditions and mores, medicine, politics and economics.
The toll of WWI is around 40 million military and civilian casualties of which 20 million died. Of those, around 10 million were civilian dead. How can an event of such historical magnitude not deserve commemoration?
We should certainly commemorate the fact that a small group of monopoly capitalists, aristocracies and monarchies, in the course of an argument about how to divide up the world among themselves, sent millions of ordinary people, mostly workers, to kill one another to settle the argument. People who had no quarrel with one another and nothing to gain from killing one another; people whose real verifiable enemies were those very people who were mobilising and arming them before sending them forth to kill or be killed.
The conditions of the working classes at the time they were thrown into the killing arena should be commemorated. The lies that the war was fought for democracy and freedom of small nations should be exposed. The disciplinary court-martials and executions within the armies should be revealed, along with the treatment of conscientious objectors. The propaganda used for recruitment and to keep the home populations happy should be deconstructed and exposed. The fact that capitalism ends up as imperialism, which in turn causes war, should be made clear to all.
That wars are not alone fought for profits but that huge profits are made in the course of war is a grotesque fact that should become widely known.
All of this was true of WWI and is true (to one extent or another) of the wars caused by imperialism today, whether in Somalia, Western Sahara, Palestine or Ukraine. But now, in addition to the huge death toll of WWI, we have the possibility of the destruction of human cities around the world — and even of ecological disaster — in yet another war.
We should expose the fact that far from encouraging us away from war, WWI commemorations are for the most part about concealing those salient facts and encouraging us to be proud of how our forebears were conned into killing one another. By whipping up reactionary nationalism1, their commemorations make us vulnerable to being conned into fighting further wars, to agree to be sent to other countries to kill or maim people like us in other countries – or to be maimed or killed by them.
Commemorating the truth about imperialist wars past and present mean rejecting the wearing of the Poppy symbol. The Poppy is not about commemorating the dead in wars, as it is sold. This promotional emblem of the British Legion only commemorates the British soldiers who have been killed in wars – it does not commemorate all the soldiers of the colonies (for example Ireland) or the Commonwealth who died in the wars, not to mention all the civilian auxiliaries helping cook, clean, carry, dig, build etc for the British armed forces. The Poppy does not commemorate the dead soldiers of Britain’s allies, for example France, USA or Russia in the case of WWI. It does not commemorate the soldiers or auxiliaries of the hostile states who were killed, which might seem natural, until we ask ourselves why not, if the idea really is just to commemorate the dead soldiers in war. Most tellingly, the Poppy does not commemorate the millions of civilians who have been killed in wars – actually more than the total number of soldiers and a percentage of war deaths that is growing with every war.
The real role of the Poppy is to build social support for the imperialist British armed forces, including helping recruitment — so in other words, the emblem and its publicity is actually helping to build support for future armed conflicts.
Not addressing the nature of imperialist war and just boycotting any idea of commemoration leads to missed opportunities. A few years ago a sculpture of a WW1 British soldier constructed out of scrap metal was installed in Stephen’s Green, a recreational park in Dublin’s city centre. Some Irish Republicans staged a protest around it in which they castigated it being located there in what had been a 1916 Rising battleground. They were correct in the historical reference but was that all that could be said about that war? Would most of the tourists passing by relate to that 1916 reference or would the whole international horror of imperialist war not have engaged them more?
We should indeed commemorate WWI but we should do it in the framework laid out, of exposing what the wars are about, who they benefit, what class contains the main victims – and not just the dead but also the injured, many of them crippled for life.
That is not how the ruling elites commemorate war and it is not how Michelle O’Neill and Tina Black did it. Michelle O’Neill said that she did this symbolic act in order to demonstrate that she is going to be “a First Minister for everyone” – clearly meaning Nationalist and Unionist. Liberals may laud O’Neill for that but one cannot represent national liberation simultaneously with colonialism, republicanism at the same time as loyalism, democracy at the same time as reactionary sectarianism. Making a war wreath green does not change its nature. Sinn Féin will often seem to try to present themselves as all things to different groups of people but essentially they are serving Irish Gombeenism2 in the 26 Counties and English colonialism in the Six.
In addition, workers and lower middle-class people from the Protestant or Unionist community were also killed and maimed in imperialist war. How does concealing the reality of war help those people?
1I use the term in the sense that not all nationalism is reactionary.
To an arachnophobe, the very idea of flying spiders must be a terrifying thought but they would reassure themselves that such a thing is only possible in horror movies. I am sorry to disabuse them but in fact many spiders do fly … and in fact, they’re flying in Ireland right now.
“Flying” might be a slight misnomer – “ballooning” might be more accurate, though they don’t use balloons. What they do is let out a line of silk – standard spider equipment – into rising warm air, or perhaps a breeze and …. up and away they go.
If it’s any consolation to the arachnophobes, the spider aeronauts are tiny – and probably need to be so for the airlift to work. On Wednesday in Dublin, at least three landed on me – one on my hand, one on my neck where I could feel the tickling (sorry, ararachnophobes!) and one on my bike, where it began to spin a web before I flicked it away to spin it somewhere else.
Traditionally, these have been called “money spiders” – apparently the folk belief or fancy was that if they landed on you, they meant good luck: as they symbolised a new suit being woven for you they were a prediction of an increase of wealth coming your way. They were landing on people all around Dublin on Thursday1 but wealth is coming sadly only to the same people as before: i.e native and foreign capitalists, property and finance speculators and landlords.
Looking up “money spiders” on the Internet, I find reference to Linyphidae which reminds me of Linyphia, that I recall2 spins those “hammock” webs in the hedges or bushes that you only really notice when they’re covered in dew.
But I had no ideal that “Linyphidae is a family of very small spiders comprising 4,706 described species in 620 genera3 worldwide.This makes Linyphiidae the second largest family of spiders after the Salticidae. The family is poorly understood due to their small body size and wide distribution, they are actually the most 3rd venomous spider worldwide4 after the black widow and Brazilian wandering spider; new genera and species are still being discovered throughout the world. The newest such genus is one from from Nepal …… Since it is so difficult to identify such tiny spiders, there are regular changes in taxonomy5 as species are combined or divided.”6
But wait a minute! No mention of our common wolf spider, which is small but not tiny except for its young, which I remember also take to the air. Was mine a false memory? Or was Crompton mistaken in Life of the Spider? So, I do a quick on-line check on the Wolf Spider into Wikipedia and yes, it mentions how the mother carries the tiny young on her back but …. no mention of them flying! However, a little more digging into the Internet (because it’s hard to believe I have been so mistaken about this for so long) and …. I find the reference! Yes, the young of Pardosa amentata, a species in the big family of wolf spiders, do also take to the air.
This is a small dark brown spider which you are most likely to see running over dry parched earth, especially when it cracks a bit, or over a stone or concrete path. It does not construct webs but runs its prey down, hence the “wolf” part of its name but unlike the wolf, Pardosa amentata hunts alone.
When she has been fertilised (whether her mate got away alive or not), she will weave a silk sheet into which she will lay her eggs and which she will then bind up into a round pill-shape, before strapping it on to her body underneath her abdomen. Since the egg-case is usually off-white, to a quick look it will appear that this is a brown spider with a white abdomen and most people who spend any time in a garden will have seen these7.
She carries this at all times, even when hunting or escaping from prey. She is very protective of that egg-case and if it is removed, Compton wrote, will try hard to retrieve it, even daring an ant-lion8 funnel to save it.
When she senses her young are are ready, she bites the egg-case open and tiny spiderlets come tumbling out, crawl up her legs and sit on her back, all linked legs, sometimes three layers deep.
Now when you see her, it looks like she is furry on the back or maybe has some kind of infestation. If the young are brushed off, she will try to wait for them to find her and climb back on. With egg-case or young, she can stil hunt and does but I don’t think anything is known of how the young receive alimentation – if indeed they do at all. Anyway, one day soon it’s goodbye Mam, goodbye back-travel mates and up they climb along stems and branches, let out the silk line …. wait …. wait …. wait …. YES! Up and up, soaring into the sky, to come down in …. somewhere. If they live that long.
Then they have to find prey that they can handle at their tiny size, avoid other predators, grow, moult, grow, moult until one day they will be a hopeful mature female or a hopeful and very cautious male. If the former, the cycle will begin again, all taking place in the space of only a couple of years.
But right now, all over Ireland, the little spider-nauts are flying …. and landing, somewhere near you.
2I read John Crompton’s Life of the Spider (Mentor, UK, 1954) as a child and remember a lot of what I read there.
3Genera is the plural of genus and means the overall group after the family which is then divided into species. For example the wolves, coyotes, hyenas, foxes and the domestic dog are all members of the overall family Canidae, but that itself is divided into 12 genera, of which Canis is the one to which the wolves Canis lupus and their descendants the domestic dog Canis (lupus) familiaris belong, while the foxes belong to the genus Vulpes. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_canids
4Even should this be true, their tiny jaws are unable to pierce human skin; the spiderlet itself is no bigger than the head of an ordinary sewing pin.
5The branch of science concerned with classification, in particular of life-forms.
7I’ve also seen a yellowish spider in water margins carrying a similar egg-case.
8The ant-lion is something like the “sand-worms” in the fictional Dune series, except that they remain in their funnel in a tip in the sand, waiting for the unwary traveler when their head emerges with fearsome jaws and …. well, you can imagine the rest.
A crowd gathered in Dublin today to commemorate the Free State opening fire on the Four Courts on 28th June 1922, an event that began what is usually called “the Civil War” which lasted until 1923 (with State assassinations until 1924). The UK supplied the cannons and shells used by the Free State’s “National Army” along with munitions, including small arms and ammunition, armoured cars, army lorries and even coastal naval vessels. The conflict has also been called a “counterrevolution” and “the UK’s proxy war” with more Republicans executed by the new Irish State1 in that conflict than had been by the British State over the whole 1916-1921 period.
One hundred years ago this month, the IRA under the command of Rory O’Connor occupied and fortified the Four Courts complex, last occupied as a fighting post during the 1916 Rising. The Anglo-Irish Treaty partitioning the country and giving the Free State the status of a Dominion country had been narrowly accepted by the delegates to the First Dáil, the Irish Parliament previously banned by the UK State. However by far the majority of the military part of the Irish resistance – the IRA, Cumann na mBan and na Fianna, along with the remnants of the Irish Citizen Army – were opposed to the Treaty. The occupation of the Four Courts was seen by the Free State government as a challenge to its authority and by the British Government as a threat of anti-colonial struggle being renewed. Both parties were hostile to any radical republican, socialist or socialist-republican program.
On 28th June the Free State opened fire from British cannon on the Four Courts from Bridge Street on the south side of the river and the Civil War – or Counterrevolution – had begun. By the time the Republicans conceded defeat (and some assassinations continued even after it officially ended) perhaps around 1,300 had been killed. From January 1922 to April 1924, according to the Republican Roll of Honour, 426 anti-Treaty Volunteers had been killed, some 25 of these died fighting British and Northern Irish forces. Most anti-Treaty dead were IRA Volunteers, but some were Na Fianna members and four were women of Cumann na mBan2.
On the Free State side just under 800 died, of whom 488 fell in enemy action, others due to accidents or illness, while seven were executed having deserted to the Republican side. “To this total should be added a small number of police, including four from the Civic Guard (later renamed Garda Síochána), four from the Criminal Investigation Department and two from the Citizens’ Defence Force, who were killed from 1922-19243.”
Dorney remarks on omissions in the Last Post record and concludes: “Even allowing for this, though, the total of anti-Treaty IRA dead in the Civil War is not likely to be much more than about 500, of whom 81 died before Free State firing squads and more than 100 were summarily executed in reprisals.”
Many Irish Republicans also emigrated to avoid repression or because they were being denied employment.
The Irish State today is a direct descendant, legally and in other ways, of the Free State of 1922 and all periods since.
The commemorative event in Dublin today was organised by the National Graves Association (Cumann Uaigheanna na Laochra Gael), an organisation which since its founding in 1926 has been maintaining the graves of Irish patriots, arranging for the installation of gravestones, plaques and monuments and also organising commemorative events.
Before marching to the Four Courts, participants formed up in groups in the road outside Croppies’ Acre, a public park over a mass grave of victims of the English state’s repression of the United Irishmen and their supporters in 1798, now across the road from the Collins Barracks National Museum. They were led by a lone piper and colour party, followed by people in double ranks flying Starry Plough flags and carrying banners of history and conservation groups, along with some other flags, including that of Cumann na mBan.
At the rally outside the Liffeyside of the Four Courts, the organisers had an MC with number of speakers to read out the 1922 Proclamation, the lyrics of The Soldiers of Twenty-Two4 and Tim Horgan to give a keynote oration. At least one floral wreath was laid in honour of those who fought there and a number of posters attached to lampposts commemorated the three Volunteers who were fatally wounded there: Thomas Wall, Joe Considine and Sean Cusack.
It is almost certainly the case that it is the NGA which has erected the majority of patriotic struggle commemorative plaques around the country, with most of the remainder being organised by local authorities, local history groups and old comrades’ associations – a very small proportion being the work of the State. As stated on its website, the objectives of the Association have always been: to restore, where necessary, and maintain fittingly the graves and memorials of our patriot dead from every generation; to commemorate those who died in the cause of Irish freedom; to compile a record of such graves and memorials.
The NGA’s general alignment is unequivocal: “Only a 32 County Irish Republic represents the true aspiration of those who gave their lives for Irish freedom.5“
One might assume that every participant at the event today was of a definite political bent, yet not a single party or political organisation banner was to be seen on the march or at the rally. This is because participants were asked in advance not to bring any banners or placards of political organisational allegiance. As the Chairperson of the rally informed the audience, the NGA is not affiliated to any political party or organisation and furthermore does not accept contributions from any such nor from the State – in order to continue to guarantee the NGA’s independence. In fact, members of its governing body are not even permitted to belong to a political party. A senior Garda officer however, of least at Inspector rank, took down details in his notebook as the rally was addressed by speakers.
Patriots of the United Irishmen, the Young Irelanders, the Fenians, the Land League, na Fianna Éireann, Irish Volunteers, Cumann na mBan, IRA, Official and Provisional IRA, the Irish National Liberation Army etc have all been commemorated by the NGA. According to Wikipedia, since its founding, the NGA has erected, or accepted into its care, over 500 monuments and memorials throughout Ireland.
A number of other Civil War/ Counterrevolution commemorative and discussion events will be taking place at least during this year, two of which will take place next week (see photos of leaflet).
The Gardaí remained at the scene as people dispersed. Passing by again shortly afterwards, we found the floral wreath had been removed.
1Official executions are usually listed as 81 or 83, these having been subjected to some kind of military judicial process (but without any jury). However, apart from IRA fighters killed in battle, a number of captured combatants were murdered (such as those of the Ballyseedy Massacre on March 7th 1923) while known activists were assassinated by Garda-Army squads operating from Oriel House. Often, the murdered had been tortured first.
Passers-by on foot and on the Luas tram lines watched curiously as housing activists and others held a picket outside Store Street Garda station in Dublin on the evening of 13th June 2022. The picket was called for by the Revolutionary Workers Union, protesting the taking by over 80 Gardaí of a house on Eden Quay and arresting of two occupants, followed by the arrest of another two activists near another address.
The picket was called at fairly short notice and supported by people from a variety of political backgrounds, all with what were clearly home-made placards. Picketing a police station is somewhat counter-intuitive, given that’s to where the police take their prisoners and most people want to stay away from those places, with good reason. However, the station is the location of the police symbolically and in reality and Store Street is one of the main ones in Dublin so, when one wants to protest about the police …… Once having protested at a police station, the apprehension is never quite the same again.
Some passers-by stopped to ask what the protest was about, some of whom expressed anger at the actions of the Gardaí and a reporter from an independent media interviewed some of the participants.
Some time later the picketers were addressed by Seán Doyle of the RWU who spoke about the morality of the landlords and speculators and the Gardaí who work for them. Doyle contrasted that morality with the one that saw provision for need instead of profit. During the course of his address, Doyle pointed out that the RWU knows people who work in emergency interventions such as with people attempting suicide, who are then brought to agencies to help them but who are soon out again and homeless. “This is not ‘ethnic cleansing’,” the activist said, “it’s class cleansing.”
The RWU spokesperson at the picket remarked on the use of the law and the Gardaí against housing activists while speculators and landlords make big profits out of the misery of homelessness. A law that upholds and defends that kind of practice must be defied, he stated as he drew to a close.
Seán Doyle was one of two activists that were removed recently by over 80 Gardaí from a one-and-a-half years empty homeless hostel which the RWU had “acquisitioned” and renamed “James Connolly House”. Another premises subsequently acquisitioned, also empty for a long period, the RWU renamed “Liam Mellowes House” and the Gardaí arrested two activists near there also, despite any occupation of the building being a civil law matter and outside the remit of the Gardaí.
The RWU on a number of occasions have called on people to “take back empty buildings” and have declared that they will not be intimidated by arrests but will continue to fight for the right of people to a secure home.
On my way to Griffiths Park in the Glasnevin-Drumcondra area on Monday I stopped to gape at a glitter-storm above the street. They were flies, dancing in the sunlight, the slanting light reflected off them. In the Park itself through which the Tolka flows, I saw many more clouds of them, always in patches of the early evening sunlight. These were the Mayfly or Cuil Bhealtaine. I took photos but my phone was unable to capture their true beauty, coming out in the photos more like snowflakes.
At one point I was able to observe a cloud of them at closer distance. They didn’t all just fly around haphazardly – every now and again individuals would dive down like a meteor – the sun making them seem as though they had a burning trail — and then zoom up again. On and on they went and it amazed me that no birds or bats seemed to be preying on them.
A poem or a piece of music might have done the sight justice.
The mayflies rise from their larval stages underwater only to procreate, to open their wings and fly, then to mate and to lay eggs into the water. They cannot eat as they no longer have mouthparts and individuals that are not seized and eaten by other life-forms have at most a couple of days to live.
A great many life-forms, especially invertebrates, spend their youth in the water and rise to mate. Dragonflies and damsel flies do so – a return to ancient mother water for some, perhaps. Long ago the cetaceans – whales and dolphins – ‘returned’ to sea and evolved to adopt to it, limbs converted to fins and tail. Penguins did the same, wings becoming flippers. And mayflies are quite an ancient life form too.
As a child and into my early teens I would spend hours by a pond or other stretches of water, looking at what I could see of the animal life there, also sweeping a long-handled net through the water and bringing my assorted catch home to examine in jars or basins of water.
The larvae or nymph stages of water-laying flies comprised a large part of the collection: midges, gnats, mosquitos, rat-tailed maggots, stoneflies, bloodworms and also the larvae of the dysticus beetle (handle with care!). These and more shared the murky waters with daphnia and rotifers, leeches and planarian worms, water-mites, frog and newt tadpoles while water-scorpions, water-measurers, pond-skaters and water-margin spiders prowled the surface above like pirates.
In clearer water such as streams and rivers, I caught sticklebacks while caddis fly larvae inside their home-made tubes imitated drowned twigs.
But I don’t recall ever seeing mayflies and certainly never saw a hatch like this. No doubt trout anglers have seen the like often for such mass ‘hatchings’ are a bonanza for them. From boat or land they cast out their lines with articifial flies attached, hoping the trout rising to snatch at the mayfly harvest will grab the false fly instead. These hooks with bits of feather or fibre tied around them don’t look like a fly to you or me but sitting on top of the water and seen from below, they must look good enough to eat.
ON THE WAY BACK
There was more to see, like the mallard duck with her clutch of chicks or ducklings but the intervening branches made a photograph impossible. In shape and colour the new ducklings remind one of bumblebees and they zip around on the water without difficulty and fearless. Alas, they have a high attrition rate as seagulls and herons will each take them as a snack.
Looping around on my walk I passed by the closed Botanic Gardens looking great in the sunset but I had to stalk the view from the side to get a shot clear of the scaffolding inside and signpost outside in front.
On the bank of the Royal Canal on the home stretch a heron was standing close to the path but I delayed too long getting my camera ready so it became uneasy and began to move off. Further along, a swan couple kept their cygnets close, just a couple of days old at most, balls of grey fluff – Anderson’s “ugly ducklings”.
But the day’s prize for me was undoubtedly the clouds of mayflies in their glittering dance in the sun.