Love, life, death and lots of alcohol! Yeah the sort of themes you expect to hear on a Celtic-Punk album but in the hands of German band Tir Nan Og on their new album Sing, Ye Bastards! these traditional themes are anything but traditional!
The fascist far-Right in Ireland organised a protest in Dublin on Saturday 27th February against the Government-ordered restrictions on travel and entertainment, pubs etc. In a departure from the usual submissive conduct of these “rebels” with the Gardaí, some of the participants were aggressive towards the police to the extent of throwing fireworks at them. Following the event, Drew Harris, the Commissioner of the Irish State’s police force, the Garda Síochána, outrageously claimed that the far-Right and the far-Left and Republicans had jointly organised the event but soon had to withdraw the claim. Irish Republicans were also blamed by the State’s television broadcaster on-line report which was also subsequently edited to remove the allegation but the Minister for Justice repeated them. Opinion is divided about the significance of these claims.
The event was attended by a number varying, according to reports, from 300 to 1,000 and undoubtedly attracted participation from some people who would not normally be regarded as of the far-Right. However it was organised from the Far-Right with the fascist National Party taking a prominent role and not only would the socialist Left and Republicans not have any kind of association with the fascists and other far-Rightists but they had actively opposed the latter and sections of the former had clashed with them on a number of occasions.
After the uproar over his claim, including by some TDs in the Dáil), Drew Harris withdrew the allegation but pretended that there had been “initial indications” to give rise to his accusation. Subsequently, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee tried to obscure the issue, claiming that some people who had previously been Republicans had subsequently become far-Rightists. Regardless of the alleged isolated case of an individual here and there, their claims had neither Irish nor world history to suggest what Harris had said. From the moment fascism appeared in history, communists and socialists have fought it, right around the world. As Hitler, Mussolini and later Franco clawed their way to power in Germany, Italy and Spain, communists and socialists and anarchists – i.e the so-called “far left” — fought them fiercely and when they lost there, paid with their lives. The turning points of WW2 came outside Moscow, even inside Stalingrad and in the Battle of Kursk. Overall it cost twenty million Soviet Union lives to turn the war.
In the rest of the world, during the 1930s the “far Left” fought fascism and this was the case in Ireland too, although here, where the Left was small, Irish Republicans led the struggle and drove the Blueshirts off the streets, some of their number also going on to fight the fascists in the Spanish state. It was De Valera’s pseudo-Republican government, installed in particular on Republican votes, that banned the Blueshirts but was soon to ban the IRA too.
So nothing in World or Irish history exists to give rise to Drew Harris’ outrageous and outlandish early claims.
PARTIAL RECENT HISTORY OF SOCIALIST AND REPUBLICAN OPPOSITION TO THE FAR-RIGHT
But further – in more recent history in Ireland, Republicans and Socialists have mobilised against racism, fascism, and populist groups of the far-Right. In 2016 the European Islamophobic organisation Pegida planned to launch itself in a major city in every European state and planned a Dublin GPO rally on 6th February. A massive mobilisation took place against them and Republicans and Socialists1 confronted them physically, so that an Irish fascist required A&E treatment and the East European fascists needed to be taken out of the area in a police van with another acting as a diversion. Three Republicans still face serious charges2 arising from those events.
More recently, since the fascists and other far-Rightists have begun to organise again, Socialists and Republicans have confronted them time and time again. And the Gardaí and their intelligence service know this from monitoring social media traffic and from policing those events, without needing even their other facilities such as phone tapping and informers. They know also that the Far-Right have been threatening Republican and Socialist activists with violence and accusing them of being paedophiles, drug merchants, child kidnappers, paid agents of a certain Greek Millionaire etc.
Far-Right racist, fundamentalist Catholic and crazy conspiracy theorist Gemma O’Doherty has often been confronted by Socialists and Republicans at her public protests, as have others such as Niall McConnell and his handfull of Síol na hÉireann fascists, or other fascists such as Herman Kelly of the Irish Freedom Party, Justin Barrett of the National Party, along with the likes of QAnon and other small far-Right groups and the larger populist Irish Yellow Vests, led by the Islamophobe Glen Miller.
The Gardaí have attended all the public events of the far-Right in Ireland and whenever they have seen the Left and/or Republicans attend also, it was clear to the police that it was to counter-protest. On some occasions the Gardaí have been content to keep the two sides apart but on others have actively sided with the Right. A few Dublin examples will suffice:
A number of those countering a Gemma O’Doherty “free speech” protest in Dublin in November 2019 were threatened with arrest for getting ‘too close’ to the far-Rightists while on the other hand some of the latter were permitted to walk among their opponents and challenge them, all the while under police protection.
On 14th December 2019, a broad gathering of anti-fascists and anti-racists occupied the planned protest ground of the far-Right in a counter “Rally for Peace” outside Leinster House, outnumbering the latter by order of at least two to one. Republicans and Socialists were, of course, with the antifascists.
In January 2020 a smallish Irish Yellow Vest protest on Custom House quay was confronted by much smaller group of antifascists from the Irish Left. The unfurling of the Antifa flag was sufficient to attract instant hostility and threatening behaviour from the far-Rightists.
Early in the year Gardaí permitted some of the far-Right QAnon protesters at the GPO to cross the street to insult counter protesters on the central pedestrian reservation, often at one-foot distances without wearing masks (despite the pandemic); then rescued one of them who had entered among the counter-protesters to punch a Republican, escorting the fascist safely out and refusing to arrest him.
A few weeks later, the Gardaí removed a counter-protester who had approached the QAnon and been assaulted by one of the latter, not even cautioning the assailant.
Gardaí harassed masked and social-distancing Debenhams pickets under pandemic restrictions in Henry St. while not bothering QAnon around the corner at the GPO who were neither wearing masks nor social distancing.
On a number of those Saturdays the Special Branch police also harassed Republicans picketing in solidarity with political prisoners.
On 11th July 2019 during a homophobic rally (under the pretence of “protecting children from paedophilia’) of the Far-Right outside Leinster House, the Gardaí permitted thugs to attack a tiny counterprotest, beating them and grabbing their banner before the police chose to intervene, arrested none of the assailants and ushered the counter-protesters away.
On 31st July 2020 a Far-Right and fascist islamophobic protest outside Croke Park was opposed by anti-racist anti-fascists, including Socialists and Republicans.
On 8th August 2020 antifascists including Socialists and Republicans opposed a Far-Right march (towards RTÉ) and clashed with them on O’Connell Bridge, on D’Olier Street and again later at the GPO.
On 18th October 2020 a mixed-gender group of Socialists, Republicans and LGBT campaigners counterprotesting an Irish Yellow Vest rally on Custom House Quay were attacked by a larger male group, mostly masked (although at an anti-mask protest!) and armed with metal bars and wooden clubs. The Gardaí allowed the unequal fighting to continue for a while before intervening, a few police gently ushering the assailants back while the rest, including the riot police, violently pushed the counter-protesters out of the area, threatening them with drawn batons and forcing them to leave one of their number unconscious on the ground. The Gardaí’s statement later was that there had been no serious incidents and that they had arrested four people (which occurred in an unrelated incident at the other end of the Quay).
Three weeks later, at a National Party rally outside Leinster House in Kildare St, a tiny oppositional group of women were attacked and an LGBT campaigner clubbed to the ground. Streaming blood from a head wound, the Gardaí pushed her out of the area. Later their statement claimed that nothing had happened but due to social media videos in circulation and protests had to change their story but claimed the victim had to make a complaint!3
On 1st February and again on 10th October 2020 in Kildare Street, socialist and republican counter-protesters were attacked by Gardaí. They also sealed off a section of Nasseau Street to prevent the National Party from being pursued by their opponents as they left.
On 22nd October 2020 for the first time (that time in Grafton Street also), the police attacked some of the Far-Right at a protest organised by the Yellow Vests. However that was because not only were they violating all the restrictions but they were jamming Grafton Street and refusing to move and some even getting aggressive with the Gardaí, which led to a few baton blows and 11 arrests (no ‘far-Left’ there that time either). Drew Harris claimed afterwards that they were investigating the organisers and perhaps they did finally warn them off as the Yellow Vests organised nothing officially since – but as we can see, their place has been taken by other far-Right groups.
WHAT GAVE RISE TO HARRIS’ EARLY STATEMENT?
Some have explained Harris’ early statement as coming from the liberal complaint that “extreme Right and extreme Left are essentially the same”. Certainly this travesty of analysis exists and it is a fact that we have seen some of that view expressed by some media pundits. Such liberal claims serve as excuses for the liberals not to take action in defence of the vaunted democratic rights when the fascists organise. Then the liberals criticise those who go out to fight the fascists and to try to prevent them taking power. Sometimes the State uses these liberals to justify the banning of “far left” organisations, sometimes at the same time as those of the far right. Of course, the capitalist system remains to do the work of pushing austerity on to the working people and in such situations the State knows who the real enemies of the capitalist system are and hardly needs the fascists any more.
However, Drew Harris is no liberal. In 2014 he was deputy head of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the successor of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, an armed colonial police force with a long history of suppression of anti-colonial resistance and democratic rights and, in fact, riven with anti-Catholic and anti-republican sectarianism. It is a force with a long history of brutality, torture and murder.
Many people outside the Six Counties mistakenly view the British Army as the main repressive force of British colonialism there; however that role belongs to the armed colonial police. From the partition of Ireland in 1921, it was they who raided the nationalist areas, arrested people, beat them up, sometimes murdered them, enforced the sectarian and fascist Flags and Emblems Act, used their Special Powers Act, attacked the Civil Rights marches from 1968 onwards, oversaw Loyalist attacks on marchers, machine-gunned the Derry Bogside and were the cause of the barricades barring them from entry and the subsequent Battle of the Bogside, where colonial police fought side by side with Loyalist sectarian thugs (when they were not actually the one and the same). Only then did the British ruling class send in the Army but even then the repressive role of the colonial police did not end – they just shared it with the imperialist army.
Drew Harris served in that colonial police force for 21 years and led it for four. His father was in the RUC for 33 years and had reached the rank of Superintendent before he was killed by the IRA during the 30 Years War.
During that long war, intelligence played a major role on both sides and the MI5 and MI6 departments of British Intelligence were both active with RUC Special Branch there, with MI5 eventually gaining overall control. People who find it easy to disbelieve Gerry Adams’ claims that he was never in the IRA somehow find it reasonable to deny that Drew Harris is an MI5 asset. Actually, both claims are at least as likely to be true. And now he is head of the police force of the Irish neo-colonial State – nor would it be the first time British Intelligence has penetrated the upper echelons of the State’s police force. Ned Garvey, who was Garda Commissioner and formed the “Heavy Gang”, was exposed as a British agent; when they got back into government in 1975 Fianna Fáil sacked him but without exposing him publicly, which would have exposed also the Irish ruling class4.
Harris is long accustomed to handling and using intelligence collected by his agents in both police forces in Ireland from surveillance, touts, tapping phones, pressurising and blackmailing people, raids and searches etc. He would know very well that Socialists and Republicans have been to the forefront in opposition to the far-Right in Ireland. And that even those Socialists and Republicans who have not fought the Right actively have at least condemned them in print and spoken word.
Given all the history of socialists and republicans in Ireland, given the world history of fascists and their opposition by socialists, given also Drew Harris’ long policing background and the Gardaí’s knowledge of events over the years in Ireland in addition to their ongoing intelligence-gathering, what can be behind his extraordinary original statement and McEntees’s attempted justification? Preparation for the repression of the Socialists and Republicans, perhaps to assist in the imposition of austerity measures upon the working class? A planting of the seed in the public’s psyche to allow for restrictions on “both sides” — while in reality concentrating on the socialists and republicans?
One thing is for sure: Neither ignorance nor liberal confusion is behind this “mistake”.
1From now on I will be using this word to describe any or all of the various groups covered by the term: communists, trotskyists, anarchists, left social-democrats but not Irish Republicans, though some of them may be as committed to socialism as any of the others or even more so than some.
2“Violent disorder”, carrying a maximum jail penalty of 10 years, unlimited fine – or both! These are the first political demonstrators to be charged under that Act.
Born and raised on the New Jersey shore, Sean Tobin was influenced by Folk-song troubadours like Guy Clark, Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson, as well as high-energy rockers like Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger and Tom Petty. Self-taught and trained by the New Jersey bar scene, Tobin owes much to his time spent busking on the streets of Galway, Ireland throughout 2015 and 2017. After graduating college in 2017 and uncertain of which direction to take he undertook the El Camino de Santiago, a 500-mile trail through Spain, with his guitar tied to his pack. Upon completion, the future became obvious and on returning to New Jersey he worked hard to fund his music. He released his first album, This Midnight, in the summer of 2018, and in 2019 he played Frank Turner’s Lost Evenings III Festival at the House of Blues in Boston and soon after quit his day job.
In July 2019, Sean released ‘Dreams & Black Caffeine,’ a four-song EP recorded in Ocean, NJ with his band, The Boardwalk Fire. The group played several shows promoting the work, and had planned a tour for the summer of 2020, but were forced to cancel due to the Covid lockdown. The last year has seen the release of ‘East Coast Artifacts’, a compilation of his first EP, various tracks recorded through lockdown and three new songs.
“We’ve all played together as duos or trios in the past, but St. Patrick’s Day Forever really fortified us as a band,” said Tobin. “I just wish we could play live. That’s what we’re best at.”
Well he has a lot of catching up to do and on his new 4-track EP, accompanied by his band The Boardwalk Fire, he has made a pretty good start.
Released at the end of February, 2021 the EP features two originals and two covers and kicks off with the title track, a fast paced Irish trad influenced Celtic-Punk song about the lockdown and it’s first anniversary in New Jersey. It was after all the cancellations of St. Patrick’s Day events around the world that set the scene for what was going to follow. Lively, upbeat and catchy as hell Sean Tobin tells a great story with a brilliant accompanying video too!
It was winter 2020, we were playing on the roof, Jack was slapping stand-up to another song by Bruce. A mere twenty hours later, we heard it on the news: the Jersey Shore’s in lockdown, so stock up on your booze!*
Now it’s one, two, three fuckin’ months inside this house. There’s not too much I need, but I need fuckin’ out. So I make my way down Main Street, the flag’s on every door–it’s St. Patrick’s Day forever on the Jersey Shore, St. Patrick’s Day forever on the Jersey Shore.*
Not long later it was Easter, I was sippin’ on some stout. I’d horded fifty cases out of fear that they’d run out, but I couldn’t taste a drop ’cause I gave it up for Lent. So come Easter, fifty cases, up the field they went!*
Now it’s one, two, three fuckin’ months inside this house. There’s not too much I need, but I need fuckin’ out. So I make my way down Main Street, the flag’s on every door–it’s St. Patrick’s Day forever on the Jersey Shore, St. Patrick’s Day forever on the Jersey Shore.*
Murphy! Your laws are screwin’ me! But frankly, I don’t blame you. If it’s what we gotta do, to keep people from dyin’, then I’ll stay home for you. I just miss my friends…and the bar…*
So now it’s comin’ up on summer, and I’m still drinkin’ stout. I would be switchin’ to Corona, but I don’t think that’s allowed…So instead I’ve got a toucan on one can, three cans, five. If Guinness makes you stronger, I’m the strongest man alive!*
Now it’s one, two, three fuckin’ months inside this house.There’s not too much I need, but I need fuckin’ out. So I make my way down Main Street, the flag’s on every door–it’s St. Patrick’s Day forever on the Jersey Shore, St. Patrick’s Day forever on the Jersey Shore.
Now it’s one, two, three fuckin’ months inside this house.There’s not too much I need, but I need fuckin’ out. So I make my way down Main Street, the flag’s on every door–it’s St. Patrick’s Day forever on the Jersey Shore, St. Patrick’s Day forever on the Jersey Shore.*
The EP’s other original song is titled ‘Ode to Anna Liffey’s’ a bittersweet love song to the now closed Irish bar Anna Liffey’s in New Haven, Connecticut. As with all of Sean’s songs and in common with Irish music in general the songs tell intricate stories and at over six minutes the song gives him plenty of scope in telling his story of days spent propping up the bar there. A swirling gentle song with Sean’s strong voice backed by accordion and percussion that soon enough gets faster and faster with Sean’s guitar and Sean-David’s fiddle smoking! A real Irish tinged bluegrass/country floor filler that ends on a sad note (especially for us Irish!) with the last chorus going out to all the bars that are forced to close but “go down swinging”.
Current media news reports quote James McClean, a player for the English Football League club Stoke City and for the soccer team of the Irish State1, protesting against being subjected to anti-Irish racism and his wife Erin also, not so much on her own behalf but in consideration of her three children. McClean points out that while other kinds of discrimination are rightly opposed, anti-Irish racism goes largely ignored by British society and by the football profession. Despite its existence for 800 years and its persistence today, anti-Irish racism has long been neglected in the study of racism and the struggle against it.
James MacClean, who comes from Derry, has been made a controversial figure by his refusal to comply with the expectation that he wear a Remembrance Poppy, which he correctly sees as a promotional emblem for the British Army. As a result he has been subjected to sectarian Loyalist abuse and anti-Irish abuse targeting him and his family.
The origins of anti-Irish racism can be traced back to the writings of Anglo-Norman Gerald of Wales (Giraldus Cambrensis) in the latter half of the 12th Century. Coming from a background of Norman feudal culture and a comparatively recent history of conquest of large parts of Celtic and Saxon Britain2, Gerald found little to admire in Gaelic culture3 or society and much to deride. The feudal Norman visitors were encountering a culture of clan ownership of land, of election of clan leaders and greater kings who might not be first-born, of a Christian clergy that was not celibate and in which women could own their own property before, during and after marriage with the right to divorce. A culture shock indeed.
The writings of Gerald helped justify the 1169 opportunistic invasion of Ireland at the invitation of a resentful overthrown Irish king. With that beachhead well-established and the Irish Vikings of Dublin evicted by Richard de Clare, “Strongbow” in 1170, anti-Irish racism served to justify the official invasion of Henry in 1171 backed up by the authorisation of Pope Adrian IV with the Papal Bull Laudabiliter, a 1155 letter of ecclesiastic authorisation, to bring the semi-independent Irish church to the Gregorian Reforms.4
Despite the early scorn and distaste of the Norman invaders for Irish culture, within less than two centuries they were becoming integrated with it to such an extent as to cause alarm among the English Normans. The latter drafted a number of laws forbidding elements of that integration, the most infamous being the Statutes of Kilkenny in 1366, forbidding the Irish Normans from adopting native Irish customs, forms of dress and use of the Irish language; they had become “more Irish than the Irish themselves”, their critics in England complained. Inside the “Pale”, the central enclosures of the occupiers’ power, the Statutes could be enforced but not outside and so Ireland remained essentially Gaelic in culture, with some cultural transference from the Normans.
For the conquest to be secure, Ireland needed to be conquered entirely and plantations of people seemed the way to achieve this: send in settlers, give them expropriated land which they they would have to defend. This was the approach of the Tudor monarchs of England and to a requirement that the settlers would be English-speaking they added the new religion, that of the Protestant Reformation. Settlements had to be capable of defence5 and no “mere Irish” should be employed.
Dispossession, plantation and oppression continued through the 17th Century under Cromwell and King William and through the Penal Laws thereafter up to the 19th.
The native Irish (Gael) and now also the Norman Irish (Gall-Ghael) were the enemy surrounding these settlements outside the Pale, they had been dispossessed and would no doubt recover their lands and their sovereignty if given the chance. And they were by far the majority. Justification for conquest and dispossession required an appropriate ideology and this was found in the assumed superiority of the occupiers’ religions, language, culture and polities. And the natural corollary to that was an ascribed inferiority to everything among the natives: language, religion, cultural habits and mores, dress … Naturally practical physical measures were required also: oppression, discrimination and repression of resistance.
The Irish were characterised as savage, child-like, emotional, untrustworthy (they agreed to treaties when beaten but broke them later6), superstitious, violent (they kept resisting the lawful authority or even uprising), drunkards, dirty ….
Following the scientific breakthrough of Darwinism came “Social Darwinism” and some Victorian pseudo-anthropologists placed the Irish as a Celtic Iberian race below the Teutonic (with which of course they identified the English) but above the “African Hottentot”. The Irish and Latin “races” were described as of “feminine” nature: emotional, weak, charming at times, unintelligent, needing to be controlled; while the “masculine” Anglo-Teutonic “races” were strong, measured, logical and obviously the right ones to be in control.
Irish uprisings increased the sense of insecurity of the conquerors and occupiers and intensified their efforts to justify their oppression and repression of the Irish so that Victorian Britain during Fenian campaigns churned out jokes against the Irish, along with nasty tales and horrible caricatures in popular newspapers. But not just popular newspapers: as the Irish starved in the Great Hunger of the mid-19th Century while their produce fed the British industrial revolution, the London Times, newspaper of record for the British ruling class, exulted in an editorial that the the Irish (survivors) were leaving and that soon an Irishman would be as rare in Ireland as the American Indians on the North-East Coast of the USA.
EXPORTING ANTI-IRISH RACISM
Not surprisingly, a central ideology such as anti-Irish racism accompanied the British wherever they went, despite the number of Irish in their armies and administrative layers. Boston, Massachusetts was particularly known for ant-Irish prejudice and discrimination and that may explain why the Irish community there was reportedly so clannish and defending its hard-won turf against all comers, including unfortunately competition from those considered even lower than the Irish, African Americans7. The anti-Irish ideology made itself felt in the white-ruled colonies, later Dominions of Australia, New Zealand and Canada too.
A strange case of the dissemination of this virus was its export to Scotland, a nation although of Celtic origin, heavily settled by Normans and Saxons, and incorporated into the United Kingdom in 1707. This was in particular of Ulster origin and took the form of anti-Catholicism. The English occupation had consciously stirred up religious sectarianism in the 1790s in order to break up the growing unity of Protestant Irish of various backgrounds with the Catholic vast majority which was framed in a republican project for greater independence. An important part of that subversion was the creation of the Orange Order in Loughgall in 1795, which became active in helping to suppress the United Irishmen uprising of 1798 and especially in repression afterwards, both against Republican Protestants and Catholics in general. As the Republican element among the Protestants decreased dramatically due to repression and emigration, the Order concentrated almost exclusively on oppression of Catholics and repression of resistance, a role it plays to this day.
But with the decline of the Ulster weaving industry in particular due to Ireland entering the UK in 1801 and British preferential treatment of their own production, many Ulster emigrants came to Scotland and were in competition for work, with the Orange Order being used to infect the already widely Protestant Scottish society against the Catholics which meant essentially, against the Irish. That has continued to this day (see References) and finds its expression in an often violent rivalry for example between soccer football teams of “Catholic” and “Protestant” background8, in Orange marches celebrating the victories of King William in Ireland and in discrimination in other areas such as policing too.
ANTI-IRISH RACISM IN THE 20th AND 21st CENTURIES
Anti-Irish racism was whipped up again during the 1916 Easter Rising and Irish war of Independence (1919-1921), and not just against the Irish in Ireland but against the Irish in Britain, in the USA9 and in Australia10. It raised its ugly head (and bared its teeth) again during WW2 (inflamed by the IRA campaign in Britain and Irish state neutrality) and again during the recent 30 years’ war.
In the 1970s anti-Irish articles, jokes and cartoons abounded in the British press and to this ideological offensive was added the 1971 weekly program of The Comedians (“stand up comedians”), of which a huge proportion of their material was anti-Irish racism, depicting the Irish in particular as stupid. I was London myself during that period and remember that a “comedian” only had to say “There was this Paddy on a building site” and the audience would be already laughing. Bernard Manning was the most infamous of those but there were many, many others.
Those jokes and others were repeated not only by comperes and club comedians but of course also at work, in school, at college and in universities. They represented a deeply degrading ideological offensive on a cultural level against the whole Irish community.
Apart from the Comedians TV program, a number of media personalities made racist jokes about or references to the Irish without any apology from the media or repercussions from their employers. Angus Deaton, for a long time presenter of Have I Got News For You, the popular British TV comedy news and current affairs commentary show, made a joke about the Irish (although participant Paul Merton, who said his mother was Irish, riposted brilliantly). Caroline Aherne, a comedienne who brilliantly played the biting chat-show character “Mrs. Merton”, was one of the few to speak out publicly against the racist “humour” but both her parents were Irish. Billy Connolly, Scottish comedian of Catholic Irish background, while discussing comedy, admitted to having told an anti-irish joke once when feeling lonely on stage, which he regretted. To the urbane Irish presenter Terry Wogan’s great credit while judging a popular British TV talent show, he declared anti-Irish jokes were not funny.
1974 saw the introduction of the Prevention of Terrorism (sic) Act and the framing and incarceration of two score innocent Irish people. Apart from raids on homes, spurious arrests without warrants, detention without charge and oppressive interrogations, thousands were questioned at ports and airports, often made to miss their flights at the latter. Though the charges falsely alleged involvement in “terrorist acts” the basis was Irishness, in a way very reminiscent to “Muslim” being considered sufficient justification today.
If a good working definition of racism is “discrimination against and disparaging of another ethnic group from a position of power”, then the Irish should have had no problems in gaining recognition as being racially oppressed and discriminated against. However, so many insisted that the Irish could not qualify because they were “white”. But in fact there already existed a “white” ethnic group which was widely acknowledge as having been discriminated against for centuries – the Jews. That however was explained by some as being a “religious discrimination” at root and not “racism”. The basic fact of the matter was and is that it did not suit the British ruling class or their intelligentsia to admit to anti-Irish racism – and not just because of guilt but for very practical reasons: they are still in conquest-occupation of nearly one-fifth of Irish territory. And the Irish diaspora is the oldest ethnic minority in Britain as well as, until recently perhaps, the largest11.
The British Left, the leading parts of which have either gained access to management of the British State or aspire to do so, for the most part have denied or minimalised anti-Irish racism. It took Liz Curtis to put together a popular illustrated booklet on anti-Irish racism and the Irish in Britain Representation Group, founded in 1981 to campaign against it. The IBRG made official complaints to and about the media and picketed WH Smiths12 until they stopped selling “Irish mugs” with the handle inside. While supporting general equality, the IBRG made complaints to local authorities about racist measures that impacted upon the Irish and sought to have an Irish ethnicity identification choice in the British Census, which was eventually successful.13 An approach of theirs to the GLC convinced the Council, under the leadership of Ken Livingstone, to withdraw all their advertising from the London Evening Standard until the latter apologised for publishing an anti-Irish racist cartoon. The Editor refused to apologise and never again received any advertising from the GLC14, at a revenue loss to the newspaper estimated at £2 million.
Mostly the Irish community fought the racism on their own, without the support of most of the British Left or the liberal-social-democratic elements. Even after the 1965 Race Relations Act the widespread feeling was that whether one was for or against the Act, it did not apply to the Irish. The Act specifically excluded shops and boarding houses (i.e places where notices declaring “No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish”) were widespread but they were included in the 1968 Act15. The 1976 Act was more comprehensive but the assumption of inapplicability to the Irish continued. It appears that it was not until the Killian case against the British pharmaceutical retail chain Boots in 1989 that an Irish person was successful in taking a case for discrimination16 under the 1976 Act.
The anti-Irish racist offensive mostly petered out at the end of the 1990s but flared up again in the British media during the whole Brexit saga. In 2015 Jeremy Clarkson flew into a rage with an Irish co-producer of the Top Gear show, abused him racially and punched him in the mouth. It is a virus or bacteria living deep in the British mainstream psyche; it recedes at times only to be reactivated whenever the British ruling class — or sections of the chattering class — perceive that the Irish are not acting in the best interests of Britain, whatever they perceive those to be.
1In the world of soccer football, there are two “national” teams competing for the championships: “Republic of Ireland” and “Northern Ireland”, a clear example of intrusion of politics into sport, for Ireland is one country and was recognised as such even by the English invaders (the inventors of soccer) from 1169 until they partitioned the country in 1921. Thus what is mostly recognised as the Irish national team has to compete against another team from a part of its own country in order to progress in championships!
2England suffered a Norman invasion in 1066 which gradually extended over the whole of Britain, the south-east of which had been already conquered by the Saxons.
3He admired Gaelic decorative art as expressed in illuminated manuscripts and harp-playing, describing them as “the work of angels”, almost expressing incredulity that they could have come from Gaelic culture. It is unlikely that he learned the Irish language, perhaps conversing with natives through the medium of Latin or an interpreter.
4The Gaels, who earlier had a pantheistic religion moderated by the druidic order, had been largely Christian by the 5th Century; furthermore the transition to Christianity in Ireland was not imposed by conquest and appears to have been largely voluntary; in addition the Christian monks recorded a great many of the pre-Christian myths and legends. During the Early Middle Ages the Irish Church sent out missionaries to many parts of Europe, establishing monasteries similar to universities as far away as Asia Minor.
5Hence the layout of triangle, square or diamond town centres of settler origin in Ireland, rather than native layout of lines of housing following road or river crossing and backing up behind, or congregating around harbour, fort or monastery. See also the design of even the small Protestant churches which look built to be used as forts, with strong doors and narrow windows, some even like arrow-slits.
6Compare this with the long history of conquerors, certainly including the English, repeatedly violating treaties they had made when victorious!
7Of course Boston was far from being the only US City where anti-black racism was the norm in Irish communities but it was perhaps the worst. Of course Irish anti-slavery, labour and civil rights workers also existed, some of them very prominent in their field.
8e.g supporters of Glasgow Celtic v. Rangers, of Hibernians v. Heart of Midlothian in Edinburgh.
9The British intelligence services were well aware that the Irish insurgency was receiving substantial concrete and moral assistance from the Irish diaspora in the USA.
10It had existed there before from in particular English settlers but reached hysterical proportions when two attempts to impose conscription in WW1 through referendum – because they feared to impose it otherwise – failed, a fact which was attributed by many to the Irish element in the (white) Australian electorate.
A new periodical has emerged from the Irish Left. At the time of writing two issues of Rupture have been produced and Parts I and II of this article consist of a political overview (but of course from my individual viewpoint) of a number of issues discussed in the magazine. While the assessment of some is highly critical, overall my opinion is that Rupture is a welcome introduction to socialist analysis of conditions in Ireland.
Rupture is a quarterly magazine format produced by RISE, a group of socialists whose most publicly-prominent individual is Paul Murphy (see Appendix) who is also a TD, i.e a member of the Parliament of the 26 Counties. The formation of the party RISE was announced in September 2019 when Murphy announced his departure from the Socialist Party and his joining this new organisation, of which he is a founding member.
Rupture espouses “eco-socialism”, a drive to organise the production of food and fuel under socialist control while dramatically reducing its harmful impact on the environment. Most of its contributors address issues from a Marxist perspective but interviews with activists from some other perspectives are included.
The magazine’s two issues to date included features on public health and private services, the environment and food production. In addition there have been a number of articles on developing a broad socialist front, combating racism and fascism, multi-national companies and neo-liberal capitalism, Big Pharm and trade union struggle. For the first time, the latest issue (November 2020) addressed the issue of the national question (and struggle) in Ireland. PART I of this article deals mostly with the magazine’s discussion of a) the Environment and b) the National Question, while PART II focuses on its coverage of c) the Health Service and d) the Broad Front and Anti-Fascism. As a consequence each Part contains both positive and negative evaluation.
For another aspect, the layout is generally attractive and mostly easy to read with photography and artwork which is interesting (if its relevance is not always clear). Some articles are perhaps on the longer side for some tastes but then these are big issues being discussed, in many cases literally of life-and/or-death dimensions.
An annual subscription costs €40 all Ireland or €60 international and I would recommend taking out one for 2021).
As with most serious commentators on the environment, the articles in Rupture point to an accelerating crisis and the need for urgent action right now. At the same time they point to the unwillingness or inability of the capitalist system – which means the governments of most states today — to take the necessary steps. In fact, unwillingness and inability are almost the same thing with the capitalist system because if one capitalist does not maximise his profit he will be undercut and crushed – or taken over – by another who will do “what is necessary” according to the rules and logic of the system. Even if in the longer term (or the medium term, in this case) the scramble for profit maximisation destroys the very resource — cod and herring, for example or rainforest. In this case, without the slightest exaggeration, it is the whole civilisation-sustaining environment that is at stake.
Not Fun Facts
“In 2017 a habitat area the size of a football field was lost every second.” “Eirgrid has projected that 2027 as much as 31% of Ireland’s electricty could by consumed by data centres” (most of it for cooling the servers to prevent them overheating). “In Ireland a fairly normal herd of pigs consists of 3,000 animals — only 2% of pigs are living in small herds of 5 or less. ….. a flock of chickens can normally be around 3,000.” Diseases due to overcrowding of animals enter the food chain for humans, causing infections of “bird ‘flu” and “swine ‘flu” through ‘zoonotic spillover’ (remember that term — you’ll be hearing more of it in future).
The prediction a fairly long time ago that the choice, rather than being between socialism or capitalism is in reality socialism or barbarism, is facing us now as an urgent practical question. Because when civilisation crashes the remaining groups of humanity around the world, assuming their survival, will indeed be thrust back into barbarism.
The contributors to Rupture quote writings of Karl Marx and Engels which one never hears from non-Marxist environmentalists and rarely either from Marxists themselves. These early developers of Marxist thought studied not only economics, class struggle and philosophy but also (and dare I say it, necessarily), history, science and culture too.
Mental health is an issue discussed in the magazine not only in respect to the appalling lack of health services in that area or the stresses and strains of work under capitalism but also in the divorcing of most humans in cities from nature. The agricultural landscape, having been moulded by humanity is far from natural and yet retains much of nature, the environment in which humanity first came to exist and in which it developed …. but most people in the West are not employed in agriculture. In these times of fear of infection along with isolation from our regular social contacts, even a walk in a park, in woods, on hills or botanic gardens can be rewarding and a reminder of what we have lost and are losing.
It is a challenge to radically change the way we produce food and generate power in a long-term sustainable way but only a socialist system, with overall benefit replacing profit as the ruling motivation has the possibility of bringing an end to the ruthless exploitation of not only labour but the very environment.
THE NATIONAL STRUGGLE
This is a question rarely dealt with by the socialist parties in Ireland, a situation which surprises revolutionary socialists across Latin America and much of Europe in particular. Some might ascribe that to the British origin of a number of those parties, particularly the main Trotskyist ones which in that respect established a tradition very far from the theory and personal practice of Karl Marx. So although I have much to disagree with in this article, the fact that it is being discussed at all should be encouraged.
I hope it will serve to encourage further discussion rather than its opposite when I summarise the piece as containing partial history and poor analysis with however one important recommendation. This critique really deserves a treatment all of its own but since this evaluation of the magazine has already got appreciably longer than was my original intent, I will have to be brief and therefore blunt.
The brief overview of history does not even mention that the United Irishmen (and therefore the uprisings of 1798 and 1803) was led almost exclusively by a section of the colonist-descended bourgeoisie, which is why the leadership was virtually all of various Protestant religious backgrounds. This is important because this is not the same bourgeoisie that rules the Irish state today. The article also omits any mention whatsoever of the linguistic genocidal legislation and practice of the conquerors of Ireland and for any treatment of “the national question” one would have to wonder how or why one would omit that. In dealing with the occupied Six Counties, the treatment of the civil rights movement is poor, even for a very brief overview – it was not only “anti-Unionist unity” that drove or characterised it but opposition to the violent response of the Unionist statelet, Loyalist mobs and paramilitaries and their resolute backing by the armed force of the British State.
The article remarks on the“weak capitalist class” in Ireland. But what is the nature of the weakness of this class? In other words, towards which forces are they weak? Not towards the working class, with programs of austerity funding bank bailouts, decades of emigration, slow adoption of equal social rights, high homelessness. Not towards the working class, with the Army used to undermine the Dublin Bus strikers in 1963 and 1979 or the restrictions on the right to strike and solidarity action. Not towards the Irish Republican movement with its Civil War history, special non-jury courts, its repressive legislation and armed police.
No, it is not those towards which the Irish capitalist class is weak. But it is weak in developing its own industry and developing an independent political line. Its weakness economically is marked by the takeover by big foreign capitalists of nearly all of its industry and telecommunications network, along with chunks of its transport infrastructure and services, its health services (private religious and foreign companies) and its national airline and large pieces of its agriculture. Its weakness is demonstrated in failure to develop its own natural resources and selling them off or giving them away.
The weakness of the Irish capitalist class is demonstrated in its firstly accepting the partition if its national territory and going to war with the independence movement rather than join it gaining total independence. The same weakness manifested itself in its inability to unite its territory and subsequently abandoning any claim to do so. The weakness of the Irish capitalist class is demonstrated in its permitting atrocities committed against its citizens at home and abroad by the occupying power, only once taking a case against it to the European Courts of Human Rights and never to the European Court of Justice or the United Nations. And it permitted without protest the intelligence services of that occupying power to bomb its capital city many times, including in 1974, with the murder of 26 people (and another eight in Monaghan). And there are many other examples too.
The article admits that the Irish capitalist class has been “acting to facilitate the exploitation of people and resources by foreign capital”. What would we call a capitalist class that behaved like that in Latin America, Asia or Africa? Yes, neo-colonial. Or in Latin America, possibly “comprador”. The difference is not just in location but in the minds of the Irish electoral Left – but none of any significance in the reality on the ground. As the contributor from Talamh Beo points out, “even though we’re geographically in Europe, our land history is radically different.” Of course defining the Irish capitalist class as neo-colonial might give one a very different outlook on the national struggle, right?
And also on socialist revolution, which we would understand to be opposed in Ireland not only by the majority native and the minority colonial capitalist classes and their apparatus, not only by our powerful imperialist neighbour, but also against economic interests in the imperialist USA and EU.
In addition, despite the officially neutral status of the Irish State, its armed forces are being integrated into the European imperialist military alliance. Ireland has not (yet) joined NATO but has the EU Battlegroups, as part of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) of the European Union (EU).
The truth is that in the above respects, Irish Republicans in general have a much better understanding of the Irish State, the representative of that neo-colonial capitalist class, than do the electoral left parties in Ireland. The Republicans have traditions and history and recurring practical experience that teaches them.
The electoral socialist Left, far from joining with the Republicans, chooses instead to snipe at them on occasion and to ignore them the rest of the time. And to permit their civil liberties and human rights to be attacked for the most part without protest.
The positive recommendation in the article regards the projected Border Poll. While not wishing for any kind of capitalist Ireland, whether partitioned or united, the article recommends voting YES in any such referendum. I myself must agree with that and along with them find it difficult to imagine how any socialists could advocate any other position.
Recommending a NO vote even if for the best of reasons would isolate any party from the majority of the Irish people, while recommending abstention would leave the party on the sidelines not only regarding the poll but in important debates about what kind of Ireland we should have. Even the British & Irish Communist Organisation deviation of the 1960s and 1970s with their two-nation theory, although it generated much discussion, never looked likely to grow to any size, much less become a mass party of the Left.
I am far from convinced however that a genuine poll on the reunification of Ireland will ever be agreed by the ruling classes of the UK and of Ireland or, should it be held and have a majority for reunification, that the ruling classes will implement the verdict.
(See also Part II published separately)
A BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO PAUL MURPHY (RISE)
Formerly an activist and TD of the Irish Socialist Party, an Irish child of the British Trotskyist organisation the Socialist Party (and formerly, Militant, the largest among a number of entrist groups into the British Labour Party), Murphy left them gently in September 2019 to form the RISE group. It may be remembered that Clare Daly, also a TD, left the SP in August 2012 in a somewhat more acrimonious dispute and became part of Independent Left with some other socialist TDs and municipal councillors, since when she and her partner Mick Wallace were elected Members of the European Parliament and virtually disappeared from the Irish political scene (to be missed by many without allegiance to either group). Paul Murphy has also been an MEP in the past, from 2011-2014. Although now a member of a different political party, he has remained in the Solidarity-People Before Profit coalition of SP and PBP which retains another five TDs (four essentially of the Socialist Workers’ Party but no longer any of the SP).
Murphy has a long record of activism and has been violently handled by the Gardaí (Irish state police force) on a number of occasions and also arrested as part of the celebrated Jobstown case defendants in 2015 (all acquitted two years later). His international activism includes participation in the Gaza blockade flotilla in 2011 and high seas capture by the Israeli Zionist state, detention and deportation. His production of regular video broadcasts to date during the Covid19 crisis, both from home and of his interventions in the Dáil have included lashing the Government on placing accommodation of capitalism above the lives or ordinary people, denouncing its “yo-yo policy” of precautionary restrictions followed by much-too-early relaxation and also demanding the nationalisation of private health facilities.
The 1st February is Lá Fhéile Bríde1 the feast day of St. Brigid, one of three patron saints of Ireland and one of the many traditions associated with this personage on her feast day was the making of the Cros Bríde (“St. Brigid’s Cross”) in many households and their placing in the loft or above the door, for example, to guard the house. But whether St. Brigid was a real historical person and whether the cross really represented her and Christianity, the origins of both are much, much older.
The cross associated with St. Brigid is woven from rushes, a thin-stemmed plant growing in wet places (so, easily found in Ireland!), or from straw, the dried stalks remaining after the seed-heads and chaff of cereal crops have been gathered. The distinctive four-armed woven shape was the logo of Teilifis Éireann, the forerunner of RTÉ as the Irish national TV service, when it was launched in 1960 and remained so until it was short-sightedly removed in the 1990s. The four-armed shape was the symbol adopted by a number of organisations and it is still that of An Bord Altranais, the Irish national nursing profession authority. Though its ubiquity now is considerably less, it was recognisable as one of the symbols of Irish national identity, along with the Harp, the Shamrock and the Tricolour. But interestingly, a three-armed version has also been known historically2.
The four-armed shape, with our without a large centre, has recurred in many places around the globe. The closest to us geographically perhaps where it is still in use is in the Basque Country, with the Lauburu (“four-head”) and the Basques, who tend to zealously defend their heritage and their role in developing that, say that it was from the Celts that they received it.
Long before the Nazis appropriated it, the Swastika was a symbol of deity and good fortune of people across Asia and I still recall the feeling of shock when I saw the symbol replicated many times across the stonework of the Indian Embassy in Aldwych, London. It is still used in a number of important Eastern ceremonies. The swastika also had a strong presence in Europe under different names but the Nazis have ensured it will be a long time before it can be used in the Western world without its fascist association. It also has a presence among American Indigenous people and has been found in archaeological excavations in Africa.
Further afield one could argue that the Ojo de Dios so widespread in Mexico and in some other Latin American regions is also one of them – or at least a close relative. Of course the mystic Eye is also a symbol in many cultures, thought to express divine providence, God watching over humanity and the Ojo may be another one of those as its name suggests — but in many places it is contructed by weaving yarn around two crossed twigs. And in any case could the Eye and the Cross all originally represent the same thing, the Sun in the sky?
Many anthropologists think that sun-worship was once an important part of human societies across the globe and, given the life-giving properties of the sun (and the fact that we live in its system, the solar system) that should come as no surprise to us3. In Ireland many places are associated by name with the sun, for example An Ghrianán (“Greenan”), in locations as far apart as the counties of Antrim, Armagh, Derry, Donegal, Down, Fermanagh and Tyrone in Ulster; Dublin, Meath, Wicklow, Westmeath and Wexford in Leinster; Tipperary and Waterford in Munster; Mayo and Sligo in Connacht (see Sources).
The symbol of circling movement might however also represent the turning of our planet Earth, the cycle of life through the seasons (see Wikipedia entry in Sources).
THE FEAST DAY – OF CHRISTIAN SAINT, PAGAN GODDESS AND SEASONAL MARKER
As noted earlier, February 1st is the feast-day of St. Brigid but it is also date of the pagan Celtic feast of Imbolc (though probably the exact date would have varied somewhat according to the astral calendar), one of the four great festivals of the year4. Falling midway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox, it is considered in Ireland as the first day of the Spring season.
The feast-day’s role as the harbinger of Spring is mentioned in the first verse of Cill Aodáin, the poem (and song) by the celebrated blind poet Raifteirí (1779 – 1835), as with the coming of Spring he anticipates heading to his native Mayo:
Anois teacht an Earraigh beidh an lá dul chun síneadh
Is taréis na Féile Bride ardóigh mé mo sheol;
Ó chur mé i mo cheann é ní stopfaidh mé choíche
Go seasfaidh mé síos i lár Chondae Mhuigheo.
Brigid is known in Irish as Muire na nGael (“Mary of the Gaels”), which points to her importance as an individual personage, since in Christian belief Mary is the mother of Jesus Christ, in turn believed to be an aspect of God in human form. Brigid’s status is underlined by her nomination as a patron saint of the nation but points also to the significance of the female, of some status in Gaelic society5 and very likely representing a trace of a more ancient matriarchical society.
Brigid’s feast day in Irish culture was of greater importance than that of St.Patrick’s, although the latter was always considered the highest in that he is thought responsible for the conversion of the society of the Gaels to Christianity. There was little ritual associated with the feast day of Patrick and even the wearing of shamrock on the day seems a late innovation6. On St. Brigid’s Day the Cros Bríde was woven, the old one burned or otherwise disposed of as the new one took its place as a protector of the house. In some areas there would be ritual visits to a well and I have read too, though I cannot now find the references, of ritual milking and butter churning. Of course the rituals may owe more to custom of veneration of the pagan goddess and the marking of a place in the cycle of the seasons than to the Christian saint.
There is some disagreement about the date and provenance of some of the early accounts of the life of St. Brigid as well as their accuracy but the earliest known is thought to have been written two centuries after her death7. We are told that she was born in 451 CE in Faughart near Dundalk, Co. Louth to Brocca, a Pict slave woman who became pregnant by Dubhthach, a Leinster chieftain who then sold her due to the jealousy of his wife. According to the tradition Brocca had been converted to Christianity by St.Patrick. The selling of a pregnant slave seems unlikely but according to the tradition not only was that done but she was sold to a Druid. At the age of ten Brigid went to Dubhthach’s home as a household servant and the tradition relates that Rí Laighin (King of Leinster) Crimthann Mac Énnai, noting her charity and piety, freed her (however it has been my understanding that slavery in this part of the world was not hereditary8).
Accounts of her life describe her performing miracles as a child and also of acts of charity towards the poor. The doing of great deeds as a child is one of the recurring themes in accounts of heroic characters in legends (in Ireland, think of Culainn’s giant guard hound slain by the boy Setanta with hurley and ball).
Around 480 CE the tradition has Bríd founding the abbey at Cill Dara (Kildare – “the Church of the Oak” or Oakwood) on the site sacred to the Celtic Goddess Brigid (see more later) where female devotees guarded an eternal flame and by this founding act alone the saint’s story is being conflated with the pagan deity. At the abbey St. Brigid brought about the institution of Christian female devotional community, starting with seven followers9.
St. Brigid founded two religious institutions, one male and one female and for centuries history records that the abbey was ruled by a dual abbotship, female and male with the former being considered head of all monasteries in Ireland.
At Kildare, Brigid founded a school of metalwork (another nod to the Goddess); also one of art and Giraldus of Wales (c. 1146 – c. 1223), the Norman-Welsh visitor (and founder of anti-Irish racism in literature) reported seeing The Book of Kildare with gorgeous illumination of every page, which he pronounced as beyond compare, declaring it to be “the work of angelic and not human skill” (a verdict of his on Irish harp music also). The book disappeared during the Reformation.
According to tradition, Brigid was a friend of St. Patrick and also traveled through many parts of Ireland.
Among the many miracles which Brigid of Kildare was said to have made were healing, with which she has traditionally been associated and preservation of chastity. The latter seems more likely an outgrowth of feudal Christianity imported by the Norman occupation from the 12th Century and of course would have been highly valued by the Catholic Church in Ireland, in particular in the 19th Century.
Healing reminds us of the Druids and her foster-father, to whom her mother was given by her real father. There has long been an association between Bríd and healing, which is presumably why “her” cross is used as a logo for An Bord Altranais, the nursing authority in Ireland.
She was also reputed to be able to turn water into beer (some publicans have been reported tending towards accomplishing the reverse) and was also associated with dairy production. These latter two are reflections of plenty and are represented in a number of pagan deities. Brigid was also associated with fire, which reminds us again of the Goddess Brigid.
Bríd, Bridget and Brigid are common names given to girls in Ireland (also encountered in parts of the world where Irish missionaries have been) as are other variants: Breda, Bridie, Breedge, Bree, Biddy, Bridge, Bridgie. There are also variants of the name in other languages, for example Brigitte, Brigida, Bergit, Britt, Bricia, etc.
Christianity and Druids
If she existed – and it appears likely that someone of the kind did — it seems an impossible task to completely disentangle the abbess of Kildare from the pagan goddess. Indeed it is even possible that the Bríd or Brigid referred to in Irish Christian hagiography was herself a Druid and her early life with a Druid as her foster-father hints at that. However one of the traditions has her vomiting food he gave her which seems to represent a violently symbolic rejection of the old religion at a time when it was the dominant one in Ireland.
Being the daughter of a Pictish concubine10 slave is also interesting although the advent of Christianity in Ireland pressured for an end to chattel slavery.
The early history of Christianity in Ireland is curious for unlike most other countries in Europe, it was introduced into a pagan society largely without violence. The Gaels had a number of gods and goddesses and were very familiar with trinities and dualities, so that the (very late historically) account of St. Patrick explaining the Christian Trinity with reference to a three-leaved shamrock is of course pure nonsense. Nevertheless the conversion represented a radical enough change in culture and religious belief and one can only speculate on some kind of accommodation between the Druids and early Christian missionaries and certainly the Celtic Christian Church was quite different from the Roman one, as the family names signifying descent from priest and bishop attest, as well as those associated with a Christian ancestor11 who might well have been a monk or devotee of some saint. It is a matter of record that the Roman Christian Church struggled with the Celtic one to impose celibacy on monks, abbots, priests and bishops, as well as to insist on lay marriages being monogamous and to abolish the right of divorce.
From Wikipedia: “In Gaelic Ireland, Imbolc was the feis or festival marking the beginning of spring, during which great feasts were held. It is attested in some of the earliest Old Irish literature from the 10th century onward. It was one of four Gaelic seasonal festivals: Samhain (~1 November), Imbolc (~1 February), Bealtaine (~1 May) and Lughnasa (~1 August).
“From the 18th century to the mid 20th century, many accounts of Imbolc or St Brigid’s Day were recorded by folklorists and other writers. They tell us how it was celebrated then, and shed light on how it may have been celebrated in the past.
“Imbolc has traditionally been celebrated on 1 February. However, because the day was deemed to begin and end at sunset, the celebrations would start on what is now 31 January. It has also been argued that the timing of the festival was originally more fluid and based on seasonal changes. It has been associated with the onset of the lambing season (which could vary by as much as two weeks before or after 1 February), the beginning of the spring sowing and the blooming of blackthorn.
“The holiday was a festival of the hearth and home, and a celebration of the lengthening days and the early signs of spring. Celebrations often involved hearthfires, special foods, divination or watching for omens, candles or a bonfire if the weather permitted. Fire and purification were an important part of the festival. The lighting of candles and fires represented the return of warmth and the increasing power of the Sun over the coming months. A spring cleaning was also customary.
“Holy wells12 were visited at Imbolc, and at the other Gaelic festivals of Bealtaine and Lughnasa. Visitors to holy wells would pray for health while walking ‘sunwise’ around the well. They would then leave offerings, typically coins or ‘clooties’ (see clootie well). Water from the well was used to bless the home, family members, livestock and fields.
“Donald Alexander McKenzie also recorded that offerings were made “to earth and sea”. The offering could be milk poured into the ground or porridge poured into the water, as a libation.”
Many young people went from house to house with a symbol of the saint, ‘The Brideóg’: this was an effigy supposed to represent St. Brigid and made according to the local custom. It was usually a straw doll, dressed to portray a human figure. Often small children went to the neighbours’ houses and were given money. In some areas unmarried girls carried the effigy bestowing Brigid’s blessing on the house, often they handed out crosses to the head of the houses they visited. It was accepted that the girl who carried the effigy was the most beautiful and modest of all. In other regions no effigy was used, the girl dressed in white and carried a locally made cross to represent the saint. Those who carried the ‘brideog’ were called ‘brideóga’, ‘biddies’ or ‘biddy-boys’.
Whatever about the historicity of Saint Brigid, there certainly was a Goddess Brigid figure of great importance in Ireland and she was associated with the spring season, fertility, healing, poetry and blacksmithing. There is a suggestion that she may have been a triple deity from an entry in the 10th Century Cormac’s Glossary written by Christian monks, as it states that the Goddess Brigid had two sisters: Brigid the healer and Brigid the smith.
The Goddess of European Celtic society Brigantia may have had her qualities attributed to the Gaelic Brigid or possibly the latter was a Gaelic representation of Brigantia. The Graeco-Egyptian historian and geographer (among other scholarships) Ptolemy, who gave us the earliest description of a possible Dublin settlement, “Eblana” in 140 CE, mentioned a Leinster tribe called the Brigantes, possibly taking their name from the Goddess but nothing is known of them now. In Celtic pre-Roman northern England, an area centered around Yorkshire was the domain of the Brigantes, the largest Celtic tribe in Britain (and ruled by a queen) while there was an Alpine sub-tribe known as the Brigantii.
Eight inscriptions to Brigantia have been found from the Midlands to Northern Britain and the word appears on some Celtiberian coins. Elements of the name may appear in a number of settlement locations in mainland Europe and in Britain (including the river Brent) but is difficult to be certain of that due to the etymological origin of Brigid/ Brigida, “high, exalted” (ultimately of Proto-Indo-European origin), so that the toponym could also be describing the aspect of the location itself, “high place” or of the human occupants “high/ elevated”.
1“Brighde” in older spelling; Là Fhèill Brìghde in Scottish Gaedhlig; Laa’l Breeshey in Manx.)
2The Celtic triskele is a relatively well-known shape also thought to represent the sun and, in the form of three legs, is the national symbol of the Isle of Man, a nation of celtic origin. But there is also a four-armed version of the triskele design.
3Indeed the pronunciation of the word “Dia” for God in Irish and the word “día” for “day” in Spanish and Catalan are not just coincidences as I discovered ‘digging’ one day, finding an etymological connection in Proto-Sanskrit.
4The others being Bealtaine, and Lúghnasadh and Samhain.
5Apart from the representation of important goddesses and warrior queens or chieftains in Irish legend and history, according to the Brehon Laws free women’s rights to their own property continued into marriage and they had the right of divorce and even female slaves had some right in law (and had the possibility to rise in status).
10Cúchullain (Setanta) was taught skill of arms by Scáthach, a female Pictish warrior and bore him a son, unknown to him after he left, with tragic consequences years later for both father and son.
11Mac an tSagairt/ Taggart (“Son of the Priest”), Mac an Easpaig/ Nesbig (“Son of the Bishop”), Giolla and Mac Giolla Chríost/ Gilchrist (Son of Servant of Christ), Mac Giolla Bríde (S. Of Servant of Brigid!), Maol Muire/ Mulmurry (S of Servant of Mary), Maol Eoin/ Malone (S of Servant of John) and many more.
12Many wells in Ireland were dedicated to a saint and therefore considered holy, probably too originally a pagan view of wells.
The Far-Right in Ireland have been been for some time hiding behind the homeless. Fascists, other racists and even anti-vaxxers have been organising public demonstrations while pretending concern for homeless people and the crisis of homelessness within the state. But recently they sank to a new low – impersonating the homeless.
Fascists are unable to go to the public with their true intentions unadorned, which is understandable. Why would most people support a capitalist dictatorship built on the suppression of all defence organisations such as trade unions and all other democratic organisations? So fascists need to point to false enemies and false problems, along with false solutions to real problems. One section of the false enemies are migrants and therefore immigration is a false problem. But in a real problem, the ongoing homelessness crisis within the state, they propose a false solution: “house the Irish first”.
The Far-Right ignores the real source of that crisis, that local authorities are not building municipal housing for rent and that for several decades governments have denied them the finance to do so. It is not migrants, who struggle to pay high rents in often sub-standard accommodation, who benefit from that situation but property developers and landlords. And their credit-extending backers, the banks, that our governments forced us to bail out not so long ago at the price of an austerity program and interest-repayment schedule to run for decades.
It is rational for the Far-Right to shift the blame to the blameless and away from the real causes for to do otherwise would bring them up not just “against the Government” but against the capitalist system that all our governments have represented and continue to act for.
When the Irish Yellow Vests started up in Ireland a few years ago, a number of Socialist and Republican activists, along with people not active previously, unaware perhaps of how the Far-Right in France had infiltrated the movement there, joined the rallies and marches. But it quickly became clear that this “movement without leaders” did indeed have leaders and that they were of the Far-Right, one a prominent islamophobe and the other a self-promoting opportunist1. And that fascists and racists were working within it using, among other things, the homelessness crisis and promoting “house the Irish first”. Landlords were only targeted for housing migrants and property developers and the banks not at all.
The theme continued as other sections of the Far-Right accused migrants and asylum-seekers of being housed in luxury accommodation and at public expense. Fascists and other racists organised against buildings being used as asylum-seeker hostels and whipped up fears of invasions by thousands of muslim terrorists and in at least one case, set fire to a proposed hostel building.
Another opportunist and cynical use of the homelessness crisis has been the holding of anti-vaxxer rallies and other publicity-seeking events while claiming to be doing so “for the homeless”. Carey has been holding little rallies for a number of Saturdays at the Garden of Remembrance, having himself videoed there, also broadcasting regular videos of himself sitting in his car, addressing his supposed public support group that is regularly failing to show up. Carey claims that his actions are designed to help the homeless but they neither challenge the cause of the problem nor supply relief, for example through delivering free food or clothing services. Oh yes, he did have a fundraising appeal but where did the money go? Carey was also at one of the early Irish Yellow Vest gatherings on Custom House Quay, Dublin, where he was videoed by their own people behaving aggressively towards a tiny group of antifascists who were present there, also attempting to snatch one of their flags.
A similar publicity stunt was a supposed “walk from east to west” by another anti-vaxxer, Alan Sweeney, who was raising money “for the homeless”. His call for people to join him seems to have resulted only in one woman who was doing it, she said, “for the mentally ill”. Among wide disbelief that he is walking all the way, his sparse videos showed him occasionally walking or, in at least one case, having a confrontation with staff in a shop who didn’t want him in there without wearing a protective face covering. On that occasion, it is the woman “doing it for the mentally ill” who is videoed by Sweeney while she gets served in the shop twice without a mask and goes in a third time to get the confrontation she is seeking.
While they manage to keep both staff (apparently brothers) in pointless argument, what seems to be the no-nonsense father comes along and pushes them out the door. No physical reaction from the bold Sweeney, who was videoed last year aiming a kick at and spitting on a disabled woman on the ground, an antifascist protester who had been knocked down and kicked by another nazi warrior.
All that is reasonably well known and much of it in the public record though it might take a little digging to unearth it. But last weekend the Far-Right went beyond pretending to support the homeless to actually pretending to be homeless themselves.
CONVOY &RALLY AGAINST THE LOCKDOWN
On Sunday (10th January 2021), QAnon called for an anti-vaxxer2 “anti-lockdown” convoy from Belfast to Dublin. QAnon is one of the negationist groups who proclaim that the pandemic is either not real or not serious, that the (rather insufficient) preventative measures brought in by the Government are just intended to restrict the freedom of assembly for other purposes. They also have a range of other conspiracy beliefs that include, according to which individual is speaking, Jewish financiers or the Chinese Communist Party or Millionaire George Soros being behind it all and financing their opponents, Republicans, Socialists, “Antifa” etc. Or that all are in the service of paedophiles. And that the vaccines are going to inject nanomachines into people’s bloodstream which will allow the Government to control them.
There are a number of QAnon groups around the world and they are especially prominent in the USA, where they have been enthusiastic Trump supporters and were among those who stormed the Capitol building just recently (and where the woman shot by police was a duped by QAnon supporter3).
On the day of this intended great “convoy”, Covid 19 reported cases within the Irish state were just starting to fall again, at 153,000 with 2,532 reported deaths.
Advertised to start with meeting at Dublin Airport at noon, the anti-vaxxers were going to head north to Belfast and then swing around to come into Dublin with a number of stops along the way to meet at the GPO, a regular weekly rallying point of QAnon in the past. The bringing in of individuals and small groups of people from different parts of the country has been a regular feature of Far-Right rallies to make them seem as having much more public support than is actually the case. Despite current travel restrictions being in place as part of the tardy effort of the Government to prevent or reduce the spread of Covid19 infection, currently at 5 kilometres for exercise, and no outside activities to be organised, the anti-vaxxers clearly had no fear of their convoy and rally failing to attract their supporters nor of any interference by the State.
Although anti-virus contagion measures on a number of occasions have put travel restrictions in place, until now the Far-Right have been able to travel about freely, and assemble unmasked without social distancing. On one occasion in Dublin they marched to the Garden of Remembrance (dedicated to the martyrs who fought for an independent Ireland) and chanted in triumphant mockery “Where’s your Lockdown?”
But last Sunday was a different case.
IMPERSONATING THE HOMELESS
Last Sunday, the Gardaí (police force of the Irish State) had roadblocks out and were stopping traffic to question the drivers on their starting point and destination. The British colonial police force, the PSNI did too and turned up to a score of the anti-vaxxers back at Newry. On the quays in Dublin, Gardaí checkpoints stopped a number of other anti-vaxxers and fascists, such as Alan Sweeney4, who had himself videoed in a short argument from his car refusing to tell a Garda where he was bound or the reason for his journey (which at one point he claimed was for “family”) or to give his address, which he quickly did when threatened with arrest and a hefty fine. Later, on foot, while shouting at Gardaí carrying out other checks, he claimed he was “of no fixed abode” and “homeless” before giving his address, again under threat of arrest. Alan Sweeney does have a home, which is in the lovely area of Kinvara in Co. Galway (sorry, Kinvara but we know he does not represent you) and is 213.3 km from Dublin city centre.
Having reached the GPO without making most of the scheduled stops, Dolores Webster, one of the leaders of the QAnon group regularly rallying there who broadcasts videos under the nom de guerre of “Dee Wall” (and known to her opponents by other names such as “Deemented”, “Off Dee Wall” and “the Screech”) was approached by Gardaí. She claimed she was homeless and was waiting for the homeless feeding service5 to set up but eventually she and her coterie ran out of excuses and had to disperse.
There are an estimated in excess of 8,000 people without a permanent home in the 26-County State, only part of which were the 1,117 families who accessed emergency accommodation in October 2020, including 2,642 children. The use of the homeless as a cover for fascist and racist mobilisation, as a pretence for targeting migrants and asylum seekers, for fund-raising and, in the end, as a cover for violating contagion prevention measures, shows the total cynicism of the Far-Right. Furthermore it exposes their total lack of any concern or feeling of social solidarity for the victims of the capitalist system, in addition to their complete lack of any intention of resolving the real crisis of homelessness.
1 Glen Miller is a prominent islamophobe and Ben Gilroy has often been a speaker for it, when not being a self-publicist.
2A collective term for people opposed to vaccines but in particular those campaigning against their use.
3Ashli Babbit, a former member of the US military, her QAnon support confirmed by posts on her FB page and reported interviews with family and friends.
4Sweeney has regularly been associated with the fascist National Party headed by Justin Barrett.
5There are feeding services for the homeless and poor people in hostel accommodation etc provided at the GPO by voluntary organisations, religious and secular, every week. The General Post Office is a grand building in the middle of Dublin’s main thoroughfare, O’Connell Street and was the HQ of the insurgents in the 1916 Rising.
“Mandate Trade Union members employed by Arcadia (Topshop, Topman, Burton, Miss Selfridge, Dorothy Perkins, Burton, Outfit, Wallis and Evans) held a socially distanced protest on Kildare Street yesterday (Tuesday, December 22nd) where they handed a letter into the Dail demanding stronger protections for workers losing their jobs due to liquidation scenarios.
“We’ve seen workers in Debenhams, Clerys, the Paris Bakery, La Senza, and many more other companies lose their jobs while their employer abandoned their obligations. The government commissioned its own report on this issue in 2016 (Duffy/Cahill) and for more than four years has refused to implement it.Every day workers are losing their jobs while our government procrastinate and sit on their hands. We need action, and we need it now.” (Mandate, on their website)
The ruthless action of capitalists in sacking workers — often without even paying agreed redundancy pay — to safeguard their rates of profit during the Covid19 crisis is a harbinger for the austerity they will force on working people with the collusion of the government as soon as this pandemic has been quelled.
Dear Mr. Tony Holohan, We write to congratulate you on being voted Man of the Year for 2020 in the Today FM poll this month1. It must have come as a pleasant surprise to you – it certainly surprised us. We couldn’t have expected the Irish public would forget that embarrassing debacle with the cervical cancer checks.
People might think it reasonable to send the test results off to the USA for screening but, when it turned out that many of those “all clear” results were in error and that some who who later learned of the error were too late for treatment and going die …. you couldn’t hope they would forgive you for trying to keep a lid on the news or for declining to create an urgent response. Well, of course, some of those who wouldn’t be likely to forgive you aren’t with us any more …. but surely so many others would remember? Well thank God for short memories, you must’ve thought!2
Still, that was news in 2018 and your award was for this year. What is more surprising is that they forgot that when the HSE first became officially aware of the pandemic in February this year, as Chief Medical Officer, you did not advise the Government to close the ports. Or even to isolate those returning from watching the rugby in Italy, where the pandemic was raging. Well, we can’t have the flow of capital interrupted, can we?
We wonder too how it slipped the mind of so many that you did not advise the Government to order precautionary arrangements and protective measures in essential services, so that An Post workers had to strike for such provision and shops and supermarkets only put them in place slowly, piecemeal. We’re sure your thinking was that those who are making money out of such establishments are the best placed to decide what is needed and when – even if they won’t actually be working at the danger point.
Then there was the advice to lockdown, relax, lockdown, relax, lockdown again …. what one know-it all TD called “the yo-yo policy” as reducing rates of contagion recovered and shot up again, etc.
More surprising still — and must have been more than you dared hope — was that people who are nearly unanimously and everywhere now wearing masks, apparently forgot that back in the early days you declared in public that wearing masks was of no help at all in reducing the spread of the virus.
We thought your humble acknowledgement of the award was excellent and especially that you refrained from one of those insincere responses one often hears like: “I feel I don’t really deserve this award.”
Around 30 Republicans and Socialists gathered on a very wet O’Connell Street in the Dublin City centre on Friday evening in solidarity with Irish Republican prisoners. Despite the rain and darkness, many passers-by took an interest in the banners and placards and some stopped to converse with the picketers. Behind the picket line other events were illustrating the sad state of a section of Irish society: one voluntary free meals service finished and another began, a Muslim one, with a queue along half the length of the General Post Office.
The December prisoner solidarity event is organised annually by the Anti-Internment Group of Ireland, an independent collective of activists which also organises other awareness-raising pickets during the year; this evening it was supported by Irish Republicans and Socialists of different organisations and by independent activists.
As the picket drew near to its scheduled end, placards were gathered, banners rolled up and picketers gathered (though some had already left) to hear a few words from the organisers.
The man speaking on behalf of the AIGI spoke a little in Irish welcoming those present before doing so again in English.
“60 POLITICAL PRISONERS IN IRELAND BETWEEN BOTH ADMINISTRATIONS”
“We send solidarity greetings from here to the political prisoners in jail,” he said. “We do this every year at a particularly difficult time for the prisoners and their families and friends.”
He went on to say that they also did it to remind people, “those who would like to be reminded and those who would not” of the existence of “60 political prisoners in Ireland between both administrations.”
In reference to the pandemic, the speaker noted that it had been a difficult year for ordinary people but even more so for the prisoners, their families and friends, with restrictions and reduced visits and that in some cases the authorities had used the health restrictions “as a stick to beat the prisoners with.”
“It’s been a hard year too for Republicans, for some more than others”, he continued, alluding to house raids, arrests, incarcerations, cars stopped and searched, intimidation and harassment of pickets by the police.
On the other hand, the AIGI spokesperson stated, “anti-vaxers, racists and fascists” had been “strutting around” pretending to be patriots and “desecrating our national monuments”, without any attempt being made to compel them to adhere to the pandemic regulations.
The speaker said that when Republicans and socialists had confronted with approaching or equal numbers those elements, they had “seen them off” clinging to “the protection of the British colonial police or of the Gardaí.” He pointed out that “They scream about ‘freedom’” but “they don’t know what freedom is”, pointing out that they are not being jailed for being active for the freedom of their country (implying that such is what is happening to Irish Republicans).
“We are here today,” said the spokesperson, “for those who cannot be, who would be here for us if we, in turn, could not.”
He thanked all who had attended the event that evening, “go raibh maith agaibh, particularly those who have supported our picket during the year.” On behalf of Anti-Internment Group of Ireland he thanked those present again and wished them and the prisoners, along with their friends and families all the best for the festive season.
The AIGI spokesperson concluded by saying. “Feicfimíd sibh arís ar an tsráid. We will see you again on the street.”
NB: An updated list of political prisoners and the addresses of the prisons may be found on the End Interment FB page.