IRISH REPUBLICAN, SOCIALIST, ANTI-RACIST, TRADE UNION FOUNDER: MICHAEL J. QUILL

“A man the ages will remember.” -Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

By Kevin Rooney (reprinted by kind permission of author).

Michael J. Quill and Martin Luther King at a trade union conference, USA, 1961, to which Quill had invited ML King.
(Photo source: Internet)

Michael Joseph Quill was born in Gortloughera, near Kilgarvan Co. Kerry on 18 September, 1905. His parents were John Daniel Quill and Margaret (née Lynch). Fighting injustice seemed to be in his blood. He remembered: “My father knew where every fight against an eviction had taken place in all the parishes around”. His Irish-speaking family’s home served as headquarters for the No. 2 Kerry Brigade Of The Irish Republican Army during the War Of Independence Of 1919-1921. His uncle’s house was so well known for rebel activity, it is said that the Black and Tans in the area referred to the house as “Liberty Hall”; a reference to James Connolly’s ITGWU Union Headquarters in Dublin which was to prove prophetic.

IRISH REPUBLICAN ACTIVITY

          While still a boy of 14, Michael was a dispatch rider for the IRA during the War of Independence. He served in 3rd Battalion of the No. 2 Kerry Brigade. Once on a scouting mission, he stumbled on a patrol of Black and tans asleep in a ditch. He stole all their ammunition without rousing them. He eventually graduated to carrying a rifle and organized a group of about thirty boys in the village into an IRA scout group, and drilled several times a week.

When the Civil War began in 1921, Quill joined the Republican side which opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty that ended the War Of Independence. He took part in the re-capture of the town of Kenmare from The Free State Army in August of 1922, one of few Republican victories. He was said to have been involved in robbing a bank for the IRA during the war. He was much affected by the brutality and violence dished out by the Government Forces (Free Staters) to his Republican comrades in Kerry who were captured.

Michael J. Quill Centre, Kilgarvan, Co. Kerry, Ireland
(Photo source: Internet)

The worst atrocity was the Ballyseedy massacre where eight Republican prisoners were killed by being tied to a landmine, which was then detonated. In March of 1923, at total of 23 Republican prisoners in Kerry were killed in similar manner, or summarily executed by shooting on different occasions. Another five were officially executed by firing squad. The most of any county.

His mother died in September 1923. The local priest refused to request a temporary amnesty so that Michael and his brother John could attend her funeral without risking arrest by National troops. It left a lasting bitterness in him toward the Catholic Church.

During the Wars, he met many prominent Republican leaders of the time who passed through his area; including Eamon de Valera, Liam Lynch, Tom Barry, Liam Deasy, Dan Breen, Erskine Childers among them. While still young, he conversed with these great minds.

EMIGRATION TO THE USA

          After the war, Quill found opportunities limited for him as he had supported the losing side. He was also blacklisted after a sit-in strike with his brother John at a saw mill in Kenmare. He emigrated to the US, arriving on 16 March, 1926 in New York, where he stayed with an aunt on 104th Street in East Harlem (New York).

He hustled to make a living working a series of menial jobs which included what was called “bootlegging”: smuggling alcohol during Prohibition, during which time the sale of alcohol was illegal in the US. He worked passing coal and peddling roach powder and religious articles in Pennsylvania coal country. While there he wrote his father his observation that “the cows and pigs in Kerry were better housed and fed than were the miners’ children in America.”

Quill returned to New York and met a young Kerry woman named Maria Theresa O’Neill, known as Mollie who came from Cahersiveen. With the onset of the Great Depression she became unemployed and decided to return to Ireland. She and Quill maintained a patient long-distance courtship, keeping in touch with weekly letters.

Quill found employment with the IRT (Interborough Rapid Transit) railroad in 1929. He worked several jobs before becoming a ticket agent. The IRT, the largest transit company in New York attracted employment from many Irishmen; particularly Republican veterans of the Irish Civil War like Quill. There was a joke that IRT stood for “Irish Republican Transit”. Their advantage over other immigrant groups was that they already spoke English. Coming from mostly farm land, they were also able for the twelve to fourteen-hour days demanded of them seven days a week. About half of the employees were Irish.

Moving from station to station, he got to know many of the employees. Along with deplorable working conditions, Quill also observed discrimination based on racism and bigotry, which he hated. He said: “During those twelve hour nights we’d chat about the motormen, conductors, guards etc. whose conditions were even worse. They had to work a ‘spread’ of 16 hours each day in order to get 10 hours pay. Negro workers could get jobs only as porters. They were subjected to treatment that makes Little Rock (Arkansas) and Birmingham (Alabama) seem liberal and respectable by comparison. I also saw Catholic ticket agents fired by Catholic bosses for going to Mass early in the morning while the porter ‘covered’ the booth for half an hour. Protestant bosses fired Protestant workers for similar crimes, going to Church. The Jewish workers had no trouble with the subway bosses. Jews were denied employment in the transit lines”.

INFLUENCED BY CONNOLLY’S WRITINGS

          While working a 12-hour overnight shift, Quill passed the time with reading to supplement his education, which had ended with National school. The main influence on his political thinking was James Connolly. Connolly had also organised unions in New York, where he lived for a few years before returning to Dublin where he was executed in 1916 for his part in the Easter Rising.

Michael J. Quill speaking at a conference with the image of James Connolly, whose writings he admired, on the wall behind him, uncomfortably perhaps next to the flag of the USA.
(Photo source: Internet)

Quill’s second wife Shirley later wrote: “Connolly’s two basic theories were to guide Mike Quill’s thinking for the next three decades: that economic power precedes and conditions political power, and that the only satisfactory expression of the workers’ demands is to be found politically in a separate and independent labour party, and economically in the industrial union.” He then set about organizing a union. He stood on his soap box during lunch hour in power-houses and shops all over the city.

Quill recalled: “We were no experts in the field of labor organization, but we had something in common with our fellow workers; we were all poor, we were all overworked, we were all victims of the 84 hour week. In fact, we were all so low down on the economic and social ladder that we had nowhere to go but up.”

Quill and some of his fellow Irish immigrants became involved in Irish Worker’s Clubs that were established by James Gralton, and were affiliated with the American Communist Party. Gralton’s political views got him deported from Ireland in 1933 as an “undesirable alien”; even though he was born in Co. Leitrim because of pressure from the Catholic Church. This made him the only Irishman ever to be deported by the Irish government.

Quill didn’t find much difference in the attitude of Irish-American Organisations that were Catholic church-based. Quill recalled: “We went to the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, but they would have nothing to do with the idea of organizing Irishmen into a legitimate union. We went to the Ancient Order of Hibernians, and they threw us out of their meeting hall. They wanted no part of Irish rebels or Irish rabble. That was the reception we got from those conservative descendants of Ireland’s revolutionists of a hundred years ago.”

Making no bones or apologies, he said “I worked with the Communists. In 1933 I would have made a pact with the Devil himself if he could have given us the money, the mimeograph machines and the manpower to launch the Transport Workers Union. The Communist Party needed me, and I needed them. I knew what the transit workers needed. The men craved dignity, longed to be treated like human beings. The time had come to get off our knees and fight back.”

FOUNDING A TRADE UNION

          On 12 April 1934, Quill, along with six other Irishmen including Thomas H. O’Shea and Austin Hogan from Co. Cork, and Gerald O’Reilly from Co. Meath formed the Transport Workers Union of America (TWU). All seven including Quill were members of Clan na Gael, an Irish Republican organisation that succeeded the Fenian Brotherhood as the American branch of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). They were said to have initially applied the rules and practices of secrecy from that tradition. Quill was to remain a silent financial supporter of the Republican cause in Ireland his whole life.

Like Quill, they were all influenced by Connolly’s ideas and writings; in particular, Connolly’s 1910 pamphlet “The Axe To The Root” where he wrote specifically about a recent 1910 transit workers strike in New York that had failed, known as the New York Express Strike.

Connolly wrote: “It was not the scabs (strikebreakers, replacements) however, who turned the scale against the strikers in favour of the masters. That service to capital was performed by good union men with union cards in their pockets. These men were the engineers in their power-houses which supplied the electric power to run their cars, and without whom all the scabs combined could not have run a single trip.”

The very name of the union was a tip of the hat to James Larkin and James Connolly’s Irish Transport & General Workers Union (ITGWU). In fact the word “Transit” is more normally used than “Transport” regarding that industry in the US. Thomas H. O’Shea was the Union’s first president, followed by Quill, who would remain president for the remainder of his life.

The Union began with a membership of 400, then eventually represented all 14,000 IRT workers. An African-American porter named Clarence King was elected to the first TWU executive board. In 1937 there was a sit-down strike on the Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit (BMT); the second-largest Transit company in New York. Two BMT employees at the Kent Avenue Brooklyn station were fired for union activity. The 500 members of TWU in the company secured their re-instatement. It eventually represented all BMT employees as well.

Quill began to involve himself in city politics and was elected to the New York City Council in 1937 representing the American Labor Party. His whole career people loved or hated him, with no middle ground. He returned to Ireland to marry Mollie on 26 December 1937. They would return to New York to live, where she bore a son; John Daniel Quill, named after Michael’s father. Theirs proved to be an unhappy marriage of convenience. Quill filled this void first with drink, later with extramarital romance.

While in Ireland, he met with Michael O’Riordan from Co. Cork, who was headed to Spain to fight for the Spanish Republic in that country’s Civil War; which side Quill supported. Michael Lehane, the child of a neighbor from Kilgarvan, also went to Spain to fight fascism.

AGAINST ANTI-SEMITISM

          In 1939, he organized a rally against anti-semitism in a heavily Irish neighborhood in The South Bronx attended by four thousand. This was in response to Father Charles Coughlin’s anti-semitic campaign preaching to New York’s Irish. Fr. Coughlin was born in Canada of Irish parents, but moved to the US. He began radio broadcasting in 1926 in response to a Ku Klux Klan anti-catholic attack on his church in Michigan, but moved into political commentary and also moved far to the political right. Fr. Coughlin’s sympathies to the fascism of Hitler and Mussolini got him removed from the air later in 1939.

Having little use for the church, this is how Quill summed up his personal philosophy: “I believe in the Corporal Works Of Mercy, the Ten Commandments, the American Declaration Of Independence and James Connolly’s outline of a socialist society. Most of my life I’ve been called a lunatic because I believe that I am my brother’s keeper. I organise poor and exploited workers, I fight for the civil rights of minorities, and I believe in peace. It appears to have become old-fashioned to make social commitments; to want a world free of war, poverty and disease. This is my religion.”

TESTIFYING AT MC CARTHY HEARINGS

          In April of 1940, former TWU President and founder Thomas O’Shea; who had been earlier been ousted from the union testified against his former fellow union leaders including Quill. He alleged that the union was in complete control of the communist party and their goal was to promote revolution through strikes. Quill testified in the US House Of Representatives before the House Committee on Un-American Activities and denied these allegations, calling O’Shea a “stool pigeon.” He told Chairman Martin Dies: “You are afraid to hear the truth about our union. You can’t take it, but the American labour movement will live.”

Also in 1940, the city purchased the BMT and IRT. This put Quill in the path of every New York mayor from then on, beginning with Italian-American Republican Fiorello LaGuardia. Years ahead of his time, in 1944, Quill introduced a bill in the City Council to establish free childcare centers for working mothers. Also in 1944, he ended a TWU wildcat (unauthorised) strike in Philadelphia initiated by a racist reaction to a contract that secured promotions to conductor for eight black porters.

After World War II and the Holocaust, Quill said “We licked the race haters in Europe, but the millions of Jewish dead cannot be restored to life”. He was re-elected to the City Council also in 1945. His election campaign manager was Shirley Ukin, a fiery former communist born in Brooklyn Of Russian-Jewish parents with whom he began a longtime affair. She had worked with him in TWU from the beginning. In the late 40’s the union expanded to include airline workers, utility workers and railroad workers.

Also after the war, under pressure from the government on communists in the labor movement but mostly his own dissatisfaction and mistrust caused him to purge the communists out of the Union. In 1948 he secured a large increase for subway workers from Democratic Mayor William O’Dwyer, a native of Bohola, Co. Mayo.

In the 50’s he supported the candidacy of Democrat Robert F. Wagner for mayor. Wagner’s German-born father, a US Senator for New York (Democrat 1927-1949) had authored the Wagner Act Of 1935 that created the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which protected workers’ rights to organise and strike.

Quill’s past relationship with the communist party continued to be criticised. He was nicknamed “Red Mike”. Wagner was elected to three terms and his administration was able to come to collective bargaining agreements with the TWU.

IN THE US TRADE UNION MOVEMENT AGAINST RACISM

          Mollie died August 16, 1959. In 1961 he married Shirley; his longtime girlfriend who had previously been married and divorced twice. She would later carry on his union work and write his biography. Also in 1961, Quill received a letter from twenty-five TWU members in Tennessee protesting the Union’s support for Civil Rights and de-segregation. He responded by inviting a prominent black Civil Rights leader to address the Union Convention, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whom he admired.

He introduced Dr. King as “The man who is entrusted with the banner of American liberty that was taken from Lincoln when he was shot 95 years ago.” This was indeed high praise as the only two pictures in Quill’s office were of President Abraham Lincoln and James Connolly. The two became friends. As far back as 1938, Quill made a statement much like Dr. King’s famous speeches: “If we, black and white, Catholic and non-Catholic, Jew and gentile, are good enough to slave and sweat together, then we are good enough to unite and fight together”.

In November 1965, John Lindsay was elected Mayor. The aristocratic Protestant Republican whose name he intentionally mispronounced as “Linsley” immediately rubbed Quill the wrong way. Quill quipped: “we explored his mind (Lindsay) yesterday and found nothing there.” This was amid the union negotiating a raise for its members due to inflation caused by the War in Vietnam, of which Quill was typically an early critic.

STRIKE!

          The TWU had always threatened a strike that could cripple the city of New York, the largest in the US; a city of 8 million where many people’s commutes involve travel across rivers. Manhattan, the center of commerce is an island. Quill knew and stated that this was from where came the union’s power. Quill had seen many Mayors come and go and such a situation had always been averted.

Before he took office, Lindsay felt empowered and entitled to “call their bluff”. He felt such a strike was illegal as it would endanger public safety as transportation is a public utility. He also seemed to feel the union was incapable of pulling it off as history had shown. Irish-American newspaper journalist Jimmy Breslin observed: “[Lindsay] was talking down to old Mike Quill, and when Mike Quill looked up at John Lindsay he saw the Church of England. Within an hour, we had one hell of a transit strike.”

Lindsay was sworn in on 1 January 1966. The same day, 33,000 members of the TWU announced a strike and 2,000 members of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) also joined them. This demonstrated James Connolly’s lesson from “Axe To The Root” put into action.

(Photo source: Internet)

A legal injunction was issued to stop the strike along with an order for the arrest of Quill and eight others: Matthew Guinan, Frank Sheehan, Daniel Gilmartin, Ellis Van Riper, and Mark Kavanagh of the TWU and John Rowland, William Mangus, and Frank Kleess of the ATU) effective at 1am January 4th.

Quill tore up the injunction and famously said in his thick Kerry accent: “The judge can drop dead in his black robes. I don’t care if I rot in jail. I will not call off the strike.” Only two hours after being imprisoned; Quill who was sixty years old and had health issues with his heart, suffered a heart attack and was sent to Bellevue Hospital. He had ignored all medical advice from his doctors and the strain of the battle was taking its toll. Ironically, he had to wait two hours for an ambulance because the strike had indeed brought the city to a grinding halt.

Right-wing newspaper Daily News headline and photo showing Mike Quill tearing up a court order.
(Photo source: Internet)

 

15,000 workers picketed City Hall on 10 January. The strike ended on 13 January with a huge victory. The TWU had secured the workers a package worth $60 million. Hourly wages rose from $3.18 to $4.14 per hour. Quill seemed to be on the mend and was released from the hospital on 25 January. Quill died in his sleep of congestive heart failure on 28 January. Like ancient Irish High King Brian Boru, he had won his greatest victory at the cost of his own life. His coffin was draped in the Irish

Pickets during the January 1961 strike of the TWU.
(Photo source: Internet)

tricolour.

Scene from TWU strike Jan 1966.
Pickets during the January 1961 strike of the TWU.
(Photo source: Internet)
Pickets during the January 1966 strike of the TWU.
(Photo source: Internet)

Upon his death, the TWU Express newspaper reported: “Mike Quill did not hesitate or equivocate. He died as he lived fighting the good fight for the TWU and its members.” His friend Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said of him: “Mike Quill was a fighter for decent things all his life: Irish independence, labor organization, and racial equality. He spent his life ripping the chains of bondage off his fellow man. When the totality of a man’s life is consumed with enriching the lives of others, this is a man the ages will remember. This is a man who has passed on but who has not died.”

Aerial view of Michael J Quill cultural & sports centre in East Durham, NY, USA.
(Photo source: Internet)

In 1987, The Michael J. Quill Cultural & Sports Centre was opened in the predominantly Irish-American hamlet of East Durham, NY featuring an authentic Irish cottage and the largest scale map of Ireland in the world. There is also a Michael J. Quill centre in Kilgarvan, Co. Kerry. In 1999, the MTA named the West Side bus garage the Michael J. Quill Depot. The TWU today has a diverse membership of over 100,000.

Kevin Rooney©️

*Originally posted by K. Rooney September 23, 2018

POSTSCRIPT

by Diarmuid Breatnach

In 1964 the TWU offered the Irish Government to carefully remove Nelson’s Column in O’Connell Street.  Quill wrote that the scale of the statue and its location would give the impression to visitors that the Irish looked up to Nelson and that it meant to them what the Statue of Liberty meant to US citizens.  The TWU volunteered to pay for its removal and its replacement with a more appropriate one among which they included Pearse, Connolly or Larkin.

A British soldier stands guard over the shell of the GPO after the 1916 Rising behind him. Nelson’s Pillar is to the right of the photo. In 1966 a Republican explosion left only the stump, later removed by the State.
(Photo source: Dublin Libraries)

The Irish Government passed the letter to Dublin Corporation (now DCC) who claimed that since the column was managed by a Trust, the Corporation had no power to remove it.

Two years later, the 50th anniversary year of the Easter Rising, a ‘dissident’ group of the IRA, Saor Éire, took matters into their own hands and demolished the structure, commonly known as Nelson’t Pillar.

End.

Plaque on the Manhattan depot named in honour of Michael J. Quill.
Pickets during the January 1961 strike of the TWU.
(Photo source: Internet)

 

 

FURTHER READING

 

 

 

 

Red Mike Quill and Nelson’s Pillar.

PART FOUR: UNITY AGAINST REPRESSION

(Reading time this section: 3 minutes)

Diarmuid Breatnach

Part of series HOW TO WIN THE WAR — GETTING INTO POSITION.

See also: INTRODUCTION:

PART ONE: THE THIRTY-YEARS’ WAR – DOOMED TO LOSE

PART TWO: COLLECTING THE FORCES FOR REVOLUTION

PART THREE: THE ABSOLUTE NEED FOR UNITY – BUT HOW AND WHAT KIND? WITH WHOM?

All revolutionary movements – and many that are progressive but not revolutionary – face repression at some point in their existence. Not to recognise that fact and to have some kind of preparation for it, even if very basic, is indicative of a non-revolutionary attitude to the State. Nor have we any reason in Ireland to be complacent on this question.

The Irish State turned to military suppression in the first year of its existence as did also the colonial statelet. Detentions, torture, murders and official executions were carried out by Free State forces over a number of years, followed by censorship and arrests, all facilitated by emergency repressive legislation. In the Six Counties, in addition to similar even more repressive legislation, there were two sectarian militarised police forces and sectarian civilian organisations.

After a change of government, the Irish State introduced internment without trial during the Emergency (1939-1946), the Offences Against the State Act in 1939, Special Criminal (sic) Courts in 1972 and the Amendment to the OAS in that same year.

Bloody Sunday march Derry 2014
Poster for 2014 Commemoration of Bloody Sunday massacre, Derry 1972. The poster calls for unity. (Image source: Internet)

The Six County statelet had the Special Powers Act (1922) and brought in internment without trial in 1971 (the Ballymurphy Massacre that year and the Derry Massacre the following year, both by the Parachute Regiment, were of people protesting the introduction of internment). The statelet also introduced the Emergency Provisions Act and the no-jury Diplock Courts in 1973 and, though technically abolished in 2007, non-jury trials can and do take place up to today.

The British state targeted the Irish diaspora in Britain in 1974 with the Prevention of Terrorism (sic) Act and that same year and the following, framed and convicted nearly a score of innocent people of bombings in five different cases – had the death penalty not been previously abolished for murder, most of them would have been executed. Brought in as a temporary measure, the PTA continued in force until 1989 but a general Terrorism Act was brought into British Law in 2000 and remains in force today.

Birmingham Six Photos Bruises
Photos of the Birmingham Six, Irishmen resident in England, showing bruises from police beatings after their arrest in 1974; they were also beaten by jailers. Also arrested, brutalised, framed and convicted were the Guildford Four, Maguire Seven and Giuseppe Conlon and Judith Ward. (Photo source: Internet)

State repression rarely targets the whole population and, particularly in a capitalist “democracy” focuses on particular groups which it fears or feels it can safely persecute. However, we should also recall Pastor Niemoller’s words about the creeping repression which even the German Nazi state instituted, going after first one group, then another, and another …. Among the list of groups targeted eventually by the Nazis were Jews, Roma, Communists, Socialists, Anarchists, Social Democrats, Jehova’s Witnesses, Free Masons, Gays and Lesbians, Mentally ill or challenged, physically challenged ….

It is in the interests of the vast majority of the population to oppose repression of different groups, whether those groups be based on ethnicity, gender, sexuality, citizenship status or democratic politics. Not everyone recognises this of course but one might expect that political activists challenging the status quo would do so.  Sadly, experience shows that they do not in practice (though they may acknowledge it intellectually).

With some periodic exceptions, socialist groups in Ireland do not support protests against repression of republicans. Furthermore, some republican groups will not support others when the latter are subjected to repression. Yet at any time, Republicans of any group can be and are regularly harassed in public or raided at home; their employers may be warned about them by the political police; they may be detained on special repressive legislation, denied bail, effectively interned; they can be easily convicted in the non-jury Special Criminal Courts or Diplock Courts; ex-prisoners released on licence in the Six Counties can be returned to jail without any charge or possibility of defence.

The Irish State’s non-jury Special Criminal Court is a tempting facility for putting away people which the State finds annoying and it is widely thought it was considered for the trials of the Jobstown protesters. The result of the trial, where the jury clearly took a different view to the presiding judge, may well have justified the opinion of those in the State who considered sending the defendants to the SCC.

Lineup Clenched Fists & Banner
Anti-Internment and political prisoner solidarity picket September 2016 at Kilmainham Jail, Dublin (a former place of detention and execution for political prisoners under both the British occupation and the Irish State, now a museum (Photo source: Rebel Breeze)

Unity against repression is a fundamental need of a healthy society and of movements that challenge the status quo. Practical unity in any kind of action also tends to break down barriers and assists general revolutionary broad unity. Unity against repression is so basic a need that agreement with this or that individual is unnecessary, nor with this or that organisation in order to defend them against repression. Basic democratic rights were fought for by generations and have to be defended; in addition they give activists some room to act without being jailed. On this basis, all must unite in practice and political sectarianism has no place in that.

Without some basic unity in practice across the sector challenging the status quo, there can be no revolution. But more than that: we stand together against repression ….. or we go to jail separately.

solidarity woodcut

End.

Diarmuid Breatnach is a veteran independent revolutionary activist, currently particularly active in committees against repression, in some areas of internationalist solidarity and in defence of historical memory.

THE GREAT HUNGER COMMEMORATED IN SLIGO, DUBLIN AND CELTIC PARK

AN GORTA MÓR COMMEMORATED IN SLIGO, DUBLIN AND CELTIC PARK

(Reading time of article text: 5 minutes)

Clive Sulish

Michael and Olivia Blanch and piper halt the procession for a moment’s reflection outside the GPO building, HQ of the Easter Rising in 1916.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A small crowd gathered at the Garden of Remembrance, Dublin on Sunday afternoon to commemorate the Great Hunger, an Gorta Mór on National Famine Day.  Led by a lone piper, they marched through O’Connell St., the city’s main street, some of them in period costume, to the Great Hunger Memorial on the Custom House Quay, North Dock and later on to the iconic sailing ship, the Jeannie Johnson.

Participants proceed after a moment’s reflection at the GPO building, HQ of the Easter Rising 1916 and pass by Jim Larkin’s monument, “who also agitated for the poor of Dublin”.

With some adults and children dressed in period clothes, some of them tattered to represent the destitution of the starving poor, they marched down O’Connell Street led by the lone piper and turned left at the Bridge, proceeding along to Custom Quay’s North Dock and the Great Hunger memorial. There they were addressed by Michael Blanch of the organising committee and by Niall Ring, Lord Mayor (coming to the end of his year in that role), who had accompanied them from the Garden of Remembrance.

Lord Mayor Niall Ring speaking at the Famine Memorial.

Some sentences in Irish were spoken by the MC of the event and by the Lord Mayor, while Michael Blanch referenced the deadly impact the Great Hunger had on the Irish language (i.e with the depopulation of the main Irish-speaking areas of the western seaboard). The Irish Tricolour came in for a mention in the Dublin commemoration also; it had been presented to William Smith O’Brien by women in Paris during the revolution there of 1848 and the Young Irelanders had staged their own uprising that year also, small and certainly too late, easily crushed by the British colonial forces. The huge Irish diaspora was also mostly a result of the Great Hunger and had contributed significantly to the formation and membership of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, also known as the Fenians, founded simultaneously in 1858 on St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin and in New York. The IRB, in turn, had been the main driving force behind the 1916 Rising.

Section of crowd at Famine Memorial (and unintentional illustration of clashing architectural styles and building heights on the south quays opposite).
Piper playing lament and Michael Blanch at the Famine Memorial.
Michael Balanch and MC of proceedings at the Famine Memorial and banner of the Committee.

Tourists and other passers-by stopped to watch as wreaths were laid on on the statues of the monument and an Irish-language version of Amazing Grace was sung by a young girl in period costume. A currach (small traditional Irish sea-craft), containing a woman and two young girls in period costume and rowed by a man, pulled into place on the Liffey across from the group; one of the girls placed a wreath in a cardboard box into the river, to commemorate the Irish diaspora and those who had perished during their journeys. Participants then threw single red roses bouquets into the river also and floral wreaths were deposited around the statues of the 1977 memorial by sculptor Rowan Gillespie. And the piper played a lament, Hector the Hero.

Girl singing “Amazing Grace” in Irish.

The gathering moved on then to the sailing ship the Jeannie Johnson, to hear Evelyn Campbell sing her Famine Song and Diarmuid Breatnach sing Skibereen and Fields of Athenry. After that, some repaired to the Teachers’ Club, where tea, sandwiches, gur cake and biscuits were on offer. By coincidence, a Musical Society were relaxing there too and it was not long before songs from different parts of the world were being exchanged from different parts of the room.

Somewhat incongruous, the top floors of the International Finance Services Centre, which looms over the Famine Memorial, commissioned by Nora Smurfit of the Irish capitalist family.

Evelyn Campbell on board the Jeannie Johnson, accompanying herself on guitar while she sings her Famine Song.

THE CAMPAIGN FOR A NATIONAL IRISH FAMINE DAY

The currach on the Liffey near the Famine Memorial on the quay.

The commemorative wreath is lowered into the Liffey from the currach.
Participants prepare to throw stem roses into the Liffey to commemorate those who died during emigration and the diaspora that survived.
Some of the stem roses floating in the Liffey.

 

 

The Great Hunger is the preferred term in English by many for the terrible disaster that struck Ireland in the mid-19th Century, for people starved alongside what was for a while at least, an abundance of food.

Mast and some of the rope work of the Jeannie Johnson sailing ship.

For three successive years, a fungus-like oomycete infested the potato crop, staple diet of most of the population. Although Phytophthora infestans had attacked the potato crops on the European mainland and in Britain also, nowhere was the disaster of the dimensions it grew to in Ireland: nowhere else were the the majority of the population obliged to sustain themselves on the potato while yielding up every other edible product (except perhaps milk) to pay the landlord’s rent on land conquered from the ancestors of the starving, thousands of soldiers and police being on hand to ensure the hungry paid up. “The Almighty indeed sent the potato blight”, wrote Young Irelander journalist John Mitchell, “but the English created the Famine.”

Well over one million Irish starved or died of attendant diseases in less than five years during the reign of Queen Victoria, while ships left Irish ports laden with food and grain was fermented to make lucrative whiskey and beer. Another million emigrated and it is estimated that about one third of those also died – of drowning, of disease aboard ship or of the various dangers migrants faced. Five years after the potato crop failed, estimates put the population of Ireland at around six million, from the over 8 million of before. Over the next decade, another million would leave, paid to go, lied to go, forced to go, or gone out of desperation and loss of faith in any future in the country of their birth under foreign domination.

The floral wreath deposited from the currach earlier floats past the Jeannie Johnson.

In 2008 it was agreed by the Irish Government that there would be a national Famine Day in the Irish calendar of national events and it would take place on the third Sunday in May. The State commemoration this year was held in Sligo, attended by Leo Varadkar (who was met by a protest of the Sligo Women’s Cervical Smear Action Group). The ceremony was covered in the RTÉ news which was shown on TV in the Teacher’s Club. Michael Blanch told those present that the campaign he and his wife had started in 2004 through the Committee for the Commemoration of Irish Famine Victims, had resulted in this national event and that it was also being commemorated by the Glasgow Celtic team in the special jerseys they wore that day (in their Scottish Premiership win 2-1 against Hearts). The symbol is black and white which are the colours of the Commemoration and he had also wanted GAA teams playing on this day to wear it on their jerseys (the Munster Hurling Championship match between Limerick and Cork was also being shown that afternoon on the TV screen in the Teachers’ Club).

End.

People commemorating stand among the ghosts of the victims who, as a result of the Great Hunger, died in Ireland or in emigration.

 

REFERENCES AND LINKS FOR FURTHER INFORMATION

Celtic game on Sunday: https://www.bbc.com/sport/football/48242024

Celtic FC wearing Famine Commemoration logo on their jerseys on 19th May 2019: http://www.celticfc.net/news/16184

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Famine_Commemoration_Day

Presentation by Michael Blanch at the Oireachtas in support of a National Annual Famine Commemoration Day: https://data.oireachtas.ie/ie/oireachtas/committee/dail/32/joint_committee_on_culture_heritage_and_the_gaeltacht/submissions/2018/2018-11-28_opening-statement-michael-blanch-chairman-committee-for-commemoration-of-irish-famine-victims_en.pdf

Sligo National Irish Famine Day commemoration event: https://www.rte.ie/news/ireland/2019/0518/1050300-national-famine-commemoration/

BLESSINGS, CURSES, OATHS, THE FENIANS AND POPE PIUS IX

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: under 10 minutes)

This is an article about grammar, religion and politics. While the last two are often discussed in the same conversation, grammar is usually absent as a subject. But it has its place here.

 

SWEARING AND CURSING

          “Don’t curse!” or “Don’t swear!” a parent or an elder might have said to us when we were children or teenagers. And particularly when we were teenagers we did exactly what we had been told not to, certainly the boys, in a mistaken sign of manhood. As a verse in the English folk song The Shoals of Herring has it, in fact:

Well you’re up on deck, you’re a fisherman,

You can swear and show a manly bearing,

Take a turn on deck with the other fellows

As you hunt the bonny shoals of herring.”

A related admonition was against “taking the Lord’s name in vain”, which was a prohibition of blasphemy, the misuse of Yahweh’s name, taken from Exodus 20.7: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord they God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that takes his name in vain.” 1

So most of us grew up thinking that swearing and cursing were the same thing and more or less careful about which company in which to use those words – or not. But we were mistaken, cursing and swearing are not the same thing at all.

We are familiar with swearing in some formal settings, such as courts of law, for example: “I swear by almighty God that the evidence I give shall be the truth, the whole truth ….”2 and also with swearing for entry into some organisations (frequently the armed forces).

Bejaysus”, common in Dublin, is from “by Jesus” and “bedad” is probably a disguised “by God”. The Cockney’s “Blimey” was originally “May God blind me” (e.g “if I am not telling the truth”).

The use of “Bloody” in informal society was often a swearing upon the “blood of Christ” or, strangely sometimes, the blood of “Mary”, the mother of Christ in the religions of “the Book” (Bible, Talmud or Koran). Of course “bloody” could be used pejoratively in the sense of “blood-stained”3, in which case it was not swearing but might still raise objections in some quarters of society, or descriptive of a massacre as in “Bloody Sunday”4.

In fact, swearing is to call a divine Power to witness the truth of what we are saying (in courts of law, for example) and that we intend to carry out the expectations of the organisation (e.g in the armed forces). In swearing, we utter an “oath”. Nowadays, most people who are not highly religious probably attach little importance to the form of words, though some institutions persevere with them. But in older times and not even so long ago, most people viewed an oath as a very important thing.

To break an oath of allegiance in some countries and in some periods incurred severe penalties, including death. “Oath-breaker” was an epithet that might be attached to the name of an “outlaw”, one who had broken his oath of service to a Saxon, Norman or English Lord in the Middle Ages.

The required Oath of Allegiance to the British Crown, simultaneously to the Head of the Anglican Church, prevented many Catholics for centuries from entry into many professions and from being elected as a public representative. And the British Crown was itself particularly worried for centuries by alternative “oath-bound societies” that were seeking united workers’ actions, such as agrarian defence organisations and trade unions, or equality and improvement in social conditions, for example political organisations. Laws were passed against the dispensing and swearing of such oaths.

Representation of the three witches in Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”. throwing a curse.
(Image sourced: Internet)

Cursing, although it may sometimes “take the Lord’s name in vain”, is something else completely. We know in Ireland of the “Curse of Cromwell” but more frequent probably was Mallacht na bPréacháin “the Curse of the crows”, which wished upon the victim a childless land, to be inherited only by the crows. Scread mhaidne was another ill-wish to lay upon someone, that he or she may die in agony, screaming into the morning. Ná feice tú Dia sounded less terrifying but might have been more frightening for a very religious person: “May you (never) see God!”.

Painting of Oliver Cromwell, an English Republican whose name became part of a curse in Ireland (including for Irish Republicans!).
(Image sourced: Internet)

 

Damn” and “Goddamn” are abbreviations of “May God damn …” (“you, her, it, them” etc) and to utter them in many circles in the USA is considered evidence of bad rearing. They are curses which are also oaths, in calling upon the Devine being to add power to the curse.

Typically, curses and oath-curses use the subjunctive in grammar and, although seemingly strange, this connects them to blessings and greetings. Go raibh maith agat (may you have good”) is the Irish for “thank you” and Go mba hé duit (“may it be [the same] for you”) is the reply to the Irish greetings Sé do bheatha or Móra duit. Slán abhaile (“Safe home”) is an abbreviation of Go dtéigh tú slán etc (“May you go safely home”). All of these are in the subjunctive form of speech.  Vaya con Dios (“May you go with God”) is a castillian-language (Spanish) farewell wish we might come across in tales set in the south-west USA or in Latin America; that is also in the subjunctive. In fact “farewell” was “fare thee well” and probably originally, “May thee fare well”. Instead of the “Go to Hell” or “I hope you break your neck” one might hear today, centuries ago one would have heard “May you go to Hell” or “May you break your neck”.

This constant use of the subjunctive to wish well or ill upon others suggests to me that it was widely believed, at some stage in society, at least in most European societies, that one could make something happen by using a certain form of words. That form was the subjunctive; however, according to many who study language, the subjunctive is disappearing in European language and remains most in use preserved in everyday greetings and well-wishes – and the occasional curse.

It seems to me that the reason for this gradual disappearance is that we no longer believe we can make things happen by the way that we say them. We may wish them – and show the object person that we wish them – but we can’t make them happen. Nor can we expect a thing to happen with anything like a confidence that invoking a God will bring the wish, for good or ill, to fruition.

FENIANS

          Earlier in this discussion I touched on oath-bound societies and the apprehension with which they were often regarded by those in power. Well, the Fenians were such an organisation. Formed on St. Patrick’s Day 1858, in Ireland as the Irish Republican Brotherhood and in the USA as the Irish Fenian Brotherhood, it was a popular movement until the Irish Civil War (1919-1922). Because of their revolutionary credentials and democratic program, they were accepted into the International Workingmen’s Association (the First Socialist International 1864-1889). As a true Republican organisation, they sought the separation of Church and State5 and in that, apparently incurred the wrath of Pope Pius IX (Giovanni Maria Mastai-Feretti, ruled from 1846 to his death in 1878). He excommunicated the Fenians.

Pope Pius IX
(Photo source: Internet)

Although a significant number of Fenians (particularly in the leadership) were of Protestant background (Presbyterian, Anglican, Methodist, Unitarian), most of the Fenians had been brought up in the religious faith of the majority in Ireland, Catholicism. Not only would excommunication be painful to Catholic Fenians but could also lead to their being shunned by other Catholics who might otherwise have supported them. In the end this did not occur to anything like the extent that would have pleased the Catholic Church hierarchy or the British rulers of Ireland, as Irish Catholics have historically shown an ability to set to one side the teachings of the Church when they appear in contradiction to their struggle for national self-determination.

But obviously the public excommunication did the movement some harm and hurt many Fenians who were also strongly Catholic, such as John O’Mahony, co-founder in the USA, who left the Fenians as he approached his death so that he might be administered the last rites of the Church6.

John O’Mayony, c.1867, a Catholic Fenian, excommunicated by Pius IX (Source photo: Internet)

SCHOOL SOPHISTRY

          In an Irish secondary school run by the Christian Brothers, we were taught that the opposition of the Catholic Church to the Fenians (and presumably to the subsequent Republican military organisations), rather than being due to their struggle for Irish independence, was the secret organisation’s dispensing and repetition of an oath of allegiance. Perhaps we were too ill-informed (I know that I was) to bring up the question of oaths given in other circumstances, such as in giving evidence in court or in military service, circumstances with which the Church appeared to have no problem.

Had one of us done so, our Christian Brother teachers might have replied that what was wrong was “taking the Lord’s name in vain” and explained that “in vain” did not, in the English at the time of translation of Bible texts, mean only “for no important purpose” but also “for no good purpose” and that would of course have included “for an evil purpose”.

Had we questioned what the “evil purpose” might have been in the case of the Fenians, we would have put our teachers in some difficulty.

What for example in the two versions of the Fenian Oath recorded, might be considered “evil”?

I, A.B., do solemnly swear, in the presence of Almighty God, that I will do my utmost, at every risk, while life lasts, to make Ireland an independent democratic republic; that I will yield implicit obedience, in all things not contrary to the law of God, to the commands of my superior officers; and that I shall preserve inviolable secrecy regarding all the transactions of this secret society that may be confided to me. So help me God! Amen.”

I, A.B., in the presence of Almighty God, do solemnly swear allegiance to the Irish Republic, now virtually established; and that I will do my very utmost, at every risk, while life lasts, to defend its independence and integrity; and, finally, that I will yield implicit obedience in all things, not contrary to the laws of God, to the commands of my superior officers. So help me God! Amen.

Would a Christian brother have admitted opposition, not only by himself but by the Catholic Church, the dogma of which he was explaining, to the establishment of an “Irish Republic”, or even to “an independent democratic republic”? And if not, what then? The use of armed force, i.e violence? Since when has the Catholic Church hierarchy been against violence in or of itself? Did it not support some side in most inter-European wars and Spanish, French and Portuguese colonial wars? In fact, did the Catholic hierarchy not itself initiate some wars and did the Vatican not have its own army, as pointed out by Fr. Sean McManus in the USA7?

If the objection were not to “a democratic Republic”, against which Pius IX was definitely set, in that he opposed the separation of Church and State, then surely the only honest reply could have been: “The Catholic Church hierarchy in Ireland made a deal first with the British occupation that if they gave Catholics equal rights and let us build up our power here, we would not support their overthrow. Since then we made a similar deal with the Irish State and its rulers. And we intend to honour that deal.”

End.

FOOTNOTES:

2In the courts of many countries one is now permitted to use the words “I affirm that the evidence I shall give …” and one may sometimes be asked by the presiding judge whether one is an atheist, or agnostic – presumably as otherwise the failure to “swear by Almighty God” might be regarded as suspect.

3“Bloody Queen Mary” was an example, Mary Tudor, Mary I Queen of England (1560-1558; ruled ’53-’58), who had nearly 300 Protestants burned at the stake for “heresy”. )

4In Irish history, three are generally recognised: Dublin 1913, Dublin 1920 and Derry 1972.

5Not all organisations dubbing themselves “Republican” do in fact uphold this principle and in fact it could be said that the Irish Republican movement from the early 20th Century until its end did not generally do so, in that it rarely confronted the Church on its social policies or interference in lay matters, except when the Church condemned Republican actions. Also a great many Republican commemorations included the officiating of a member of the Catholic clergy.

6See the Irish Echo article in Links & References.

7Ibid.

 

LINKS AND REFERENCES

https://www.google.com/search?q=Dictionary#dobs=excommunication

https://www.irishecho.com/2011/02/unholy-row-brews-over-anti-fenian-pope-pius-ix-2/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syllabus_of_Errors

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_people_excommunicated_by_the_Catholic_Church

https://www.encyclopedia.com/international/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/two-fenian-oaths

CATALONIA — WHO BEST TO EXPLAIN? QUI ES MEJOR PER EXPLICAR?

Diarmuid Breatnach

 

Outside of Catalonia or the Paisos Catalans (“Catalan Countries”, which includes the Balearic Islands and Valencia), who best to explain the realities and the controversies concerning the current independence bid of Catalonia? (Version in Castillian follows this one)

There are of course many unionist Spanish commentators but for the most part they rely on denunciation rather than explanation. When they do supply some explanation it either relies on a legalistic explanation of the Spanish State Constitution of 1978 or of a misreading of Catalan society (or both together).

Inside the Spanish State there are other groups which may well provide an adequate explanation, such as for example the Basques, the Galicians and small groups in other parts.

Outside the Spanish State, there are those struggling for the national liberation of other small nations in Europe who may well have studied the Spain-Catalonia question or have quickly informed themselves and, along with them, anti-fascists and revolutionary communists or socialists.

Catalan independence solidarity groups can of course collect accurate information and disseminate it but they are comparatively small and with little influence in the societies around them.

Undoubtedly, the largest and generally best-informed group of people are the Catalan diaspora – Catalans living in other states.

Of course, these Catalans may have a wide range of views among themselves on whether Catalonia would best be independent of the Spanish State, in a federal arrangement or totally independent. They may disagree on which political party is best – or on whether any should be supported. Socialism or not might be issues for discussion, as might whether to get independence first and resolve those other questions later. Even on the issue of whether armed resistance is justified or viable, there might be considerable variation in opinion.

But anyone from Catalonia can give the lie to the Spanish unionist propaganda that the Spanish language and those who use it are under attack in Catalonia, and also to the lie that the Catalan independence movement is of a racist-nationalist kind. Anyone from Catalonia who is being honest will say that the violence of the Spanish police on the day of the Referendum, 1st October 2017, was inexcusable and a crime against civil rights (indeed some Catalans who wanted to vote ‘No’ to independence would now vote ‘Yes’ as a result of that attack). Catalans for ‘Si’ or for ‘No’ can explain many things that are not available to most people outside Catalonia.

Man and child, faces painted in the colours and symbols of the estelada, a pro-Catalan independence flag. (Image source: Internet)

This reservoir of information about the struggle around Catalan independence is the largest outside Catalonia – but is it being used? These Catalans living abroad have partners, children, workmates, fellow-students, neighbours and friends they have met in the country in which they are living. In many states of Europe these Catalans are free from the fear of deportation and therefore free to speak out to those around them about what is happening in Catalonia and in the Spanish state.

 

AN EXAMPLE

It might be instructive to examine a historical example with some parallels.

In 1968 a struggle broke out in the British colony in Ireland, the Six Counties, as a struggle for civil rights for the Catholic community (mostly descendants of the pre-colonial inhabitants). The British colonial statelet responded with great violence from its armed force, backed up by the British Army and was responded to with armed guerrilla resistance.

It may surprise many to realise that initially, the civil rights struggle often received truthful and even sympathetic coverage in the British media. Once the British army went in, this began to change noticeably and with the first British Army casualties there was no longer any real pretence of unbiassed reporting.

British media reporting then wished not only to justify the actions of the British State to the world but also to its own population. But in the latter case, it faced a serious obstacle – the Irish community in Britain.

As well as being the longest-establish migrant community in Britain, it was by far the largest. Many of these people knew their history and also at least something about conditions in the Six Counties. It was less than 50 years since the creation of the Irish State after a guerrilla war of national liberation following 800 years with many armed uprisings and cruel English repression. And these Irish – including first-generation born in Britain and even second-generation – were capable of undermining the effect of the colonial discourse on partners, friends, work-mates, neighbours and trade-union members.

Old anti-Irish racism embedded in British culture could disturb the Irish diaspora’s counter-discourse but not, it seemed, sufficiently. The Irish not only undermined the State discourse by speaking what they knew to those around them, they also organised solidarity campaigns, held pickets and demonstrations – sometimes huge ones.

The IRA’s bombing campaign in Britain could have weakened the reception for the Irish voice but, though it certainly did it no good, it did not weaken it sufficiently. The British State decided to gag that voice with state terror and prepared legislation, waiting for the appropriate moment to introduce it, which they received with the 1974 massacre resulting from an IRA bomb in a Birmingham pub and problems in communicating a warning.

The Prevention of Terrorism Act was introduced under a Labour Government and passed in a few hours, allegedly as a only a temporary measure but was renewed every year under different party governments until 1989. The Act permitted banning of Irish Republican organisations; 5-day detention without charge (which could also be extended); search without warrant; detention for questioning at airports and ports under which many thousands were interrogated, often missing their flight or boat as a result; deportation; exclusion to the Six Counties (amounting to internal exile). And of course, not officially permitted but tolerated, frame-ups, threats, beatings and torture.

Nearly 20 innocent members of the community and their friends were arrested and framed on bombing-related charges in five different cases and all convicted of murder and terrorism, to spend long years trying to establish their innocence, most of their marriages destroyed, their mental health severely injured, one to die in jail. That, and the ongoing repression of arrests-and-release, raids etc, was enough to silence, for the most part, the Irish community.

Until the Hunger Strikers of 1981 brought them out in mass again.

 

THE REASON

Why am I telling you this history? To frighten you? To make you feel sorry for the Irish in Britain in those years? No, I am retelling this history to illustrate the potential power of the diaspora to tell the truth about what is happening in its country of origin. That power was so great against the British propaganda machine that the State felt obliged to weaken it, to terrorise the Irish community, to take hostages from it.

Women with faces painted in Catalan national colours, one with the estelada design and the other with the ensenyera
(Photo credit: JOSEP LAGO/AFP/Getty Images)

Today, the Catalan diaspora outside the Spanish state has a similar power but it is not “in the belly of the beast” as the Irish in Britain were nor in most cases is it subject to threat of imprisonment or other state terror.

To have that power implies a responsibility to use it, to explain things to those around them in whichever country they find themselves.

 

End

(VERSION IN CASTILLIAN FOLLOWS)

 

Fuera de Cataluña o de los Paisos Catalans (lo cual incluye a las Islas Baleares y Valencia), ¿quiénes son los mejores para explicar las realidades y las controversias sobre la actual candidatura de independencia de Cataluña?

Por supuesto, hay muchos comentaristas españoles unionistas, pero en su mayor parte se basan en la denuncia más que en la explicación. Cuando ofrecen alguna explicación, se basa en una explicación legalista de la Constitución del Estado español de 1978 o en una mala interpretación de la sociedad catalana (o ambas juntas).

Dentro del Estado español hay otros grupos que pueden proporcionar una explicación adecuada, como por ejemplo los vascos, los gallegos y grupos pequeños en otras partes.

Fuera del Estado español, hay quienes luchan por la liberación nacional de otras naciones pequeñas en Europa que bien pudieron haber estudiado la cuestión España-Cataluña o se han informado rápidamente y, junto con ellos, antifascistas y comunistas o socialistas revolucionarios.

Los grupos de solidaridad con la independencia catalana, por supuesto, pueden recopilar información precisa y difundirla, pero son comparativamente pequeños y con poca influencia en las sociedades que los rodean.

Sin lugar a dudas, el grupo de personas más grande y generalmente mejor informado es la diáspora catalana: los catalanes que viven en otros estados.

Some european cities where Catalans may be found
(map source: Internet)

Por supuesto, est@s catalan@s pueden tener una amplia gama de puntos de vista sobre si Cataluña sería mejor independiente del Estado español, en un acuerdo federal o totalmente independiente. Pueden estar en desacuerdo sobre cuál es el mejor partido político, o si se debe apoyar a alguno. El socialismo o no puede ser un tema de discusión, ya sea si obtener la independencia primero y resolver esas otras preguntas más adelante. Incluso en la cuestión de si la resistencia armada es justificada o viable, puede haber una variación considerable en la opinión.

Pero cualquiera de Cataluña puede desmentir a la propaganda sindicalista española de que el idioma español y los que la usan están bajo ataque en Cataluña, y también a la mentira de que el movimiento independentista catalán es de tipo racista-nacionalista. Cualquier persona de Cataluña que sea honesta dirá que la violencia de la policía española el día del Referéndum, el 1 de octubre de 2017, fue inexcusable y un crimen contra los derechos civiles (de hecho, algunos catalanes que querían votar “No” a la independencia ahora votarían “Sí” como resultado de ese ataque). Los catalanes para ‘Si’ o para ‘No’ pueden explicar muchas cosas que no están disponibles para la mayoría de las personas fuera de Cataluña.

Esta reserva de información sobre la lucha en torno a la independencia catalana es la más grande fuera de Cataluña, pero ¿se está utilizando? Est@s catalan@s que viven en el extranjero tienen compañer@s, hij@s, compañer@s de trabajo, compañer@s de estudios, vecin@s y amig@s que han conocido en el país en el que viven. En muchos estados de Europa, est@s catalan@s están libres del temor a la deportación y, por lo tanto, pueden hablar libremente con quienes les rodean sobre lo que está sucediendo en Cataluña y en el Estado español.

UN EJEMPLO

Podría ser instructivo examinar un ejemplo histórico con algunos paralelos.

En 1968 estalló una lucha en la colonia británica en Irlanda, los Seis Condados, como una lucha por los derechos civiles de la comunidad católica (en su mayoría descendientes de los habitantes ante coloniales). El estadito colonial británico respondió con gran violencia de su fuerza armada, respaldado por el ejército británico y fue respondido con la resistencia guerrillera armada.

Puede sorprender a muchos darse cuenta de que inicialmente, la lucha por los derechos civiles a menudo recibió una cobertura sincera e incluso simpática en los medios británicos. Una vez que entró el ejército británico, esto comenzó a cambiar notablemente y con las primeras bajas del ejército británico ya no hubo ninguna pretensión real de informar sin sesgos.

Los medios de comunicación británicos entonces deseaban no solo justificar las acciones del Estado británico ante el mundo, sino también ante su propia población. Pero en este último caso, se enfrentó a un serio obstáculo: la comunidad irlandesa en Gran Bretaña.

Además de ser la comunidad de migrantes más antigua en Gran Bretaña, fue, con mucho, la más grande. Muchas de estas personas conocían su historia y también al menos algo sobre las condiciones en los Seis Condados. Pasaron menos de 50 años desde la creación del Estado irlandés después de una guerra guerrillera de liberación nacional, después de 800 años con muchos levantamientos armados y la cruel represión inglesa. Y estos irlandeses, incluyendo la primera generación nacida en Gran Bretaña e incluso la segunda generación, fueron capaces de socavar el efecto del discurso colonial en los socios, amigos, compañer@s de trabajo, vecin@s y miembros de sindicatos.

El viejo racismo antiirlandés incrustado en la cultura británica podría perturbar el discurso en contra de la diáspora irlandesa, pero no, al parecer, lo suficiente. L@s irlandes@s no solo socavaron el discurso del Estado al decir lo que sabían a quienes los rodeaban, sino que también organizaron campañas de solidaridad, celebraron piquetes y manifestaciones, a veces enormes.

La campaña de bombardeos del IRA en Gran Bretaña podría haber debilitado la recepción de la voz irlandesa pero, aunque ciertamente no le sirvió, no la debilitó lo suficiente. El Estado británico decidió amordazar esa voz con terror estatal y preparó una legislación, esperando el momento adecuado para introducirla, que recibió con la masacre de 1974 que resultó de una bomba del IRA en un pub de Birmingham y problemas para comunicar una advertencia.

La Ley de Prevención del Terrorismo se introdujo bajo un gobierno social demócrata y se aprobó en unas pocas horas, supuestamente como una medida temporal, pero se renovó cada año bajo gobiernos de diferentes partidos hasta 1989. La Ley permitió la prohibición de organizaciones republicanas irlandesas; 5 días de detención sin cargos (que también podría ampliarse); búsqueda sin orden judicial; detención por interrogatorio en aeropuertos y puertos en los que se interrogó a miles de personas, por lo que a menudo perdieron su vuelo o bote; deportación; exclusión a los Seis Condados (equivalente al exilio interno). Y, por supuesto, no está permitido oficialmente, pero se tolera, enmarañamientos, amenazas, golpizas y torturas.

Cerca de 20 miembros inocentes de la comunidad y sus amigas fueron arrestados y acusados ​​de atentados con bombas en cinco casos diferentes y tod@s condenad@s por asesinato y terrorismo, por largos años tratando de establecer su inocencia, la mayoría de sus matrimonios destruidos, su salud mental gravemente herido, uno para morir en la cárcel. Eso, y la continua represión de detenciones y liberaciones, redadas, etc., fue suficiente para silenciar, en su mayor parte, a la comunidad irlandesa.

Hasta que los huelguistas del hambre del 1981 los sacaron a la calle de nuevo en masas.

LA RAZÓN

          ¿Por qué les estoy contando esta historia? ¿Para asustar les? ¿Para hacer les sentir mal por los irlandeses en Gran Bretaña en esos años? No, estoy contando esta historia para ilustrar el poder potencial de la diáspora para contar la verdad sobre lo que está sucediendo en su país de origen. Ese poder era tan grande contra la maquinaria de propaganda británica que el Estado se sintió obligado a debilitarlo, a aterrorizar a la comunidad irlandesa, a tomar rehenes de él.

Hoy en día, la diáspora catalana fuera del Estado español tiene un poder similar, pero no está “en el vientre de la bestia” como estaban l@s irlandes@s en Gran Bretaña ni en la mayoría de los casos está sujeta a amenazas de encarcelamiento u otro terror estatal.

Tener ese poder implica la responsabilidad de usarlo, de explicar las cosas a quienes los rodean en cualquier país en el que se encuentren.

Packed Concert Commemorates Return of the Irish Brigadista Volunteers

Diarmuid Breatnach

A mixed audience of anti-fascists were entertained on 23rd November by a range of artists from the Irish trad-folk scene and a Spanish band performing to commemorate on its 80th anniversary the return of the Irish survivors of the International Brigades to Ireland. The event, “The Return of the Connolly Column” was organised by the Friends of the International Brigades in Ireland (FIBI) and the venue, the Workman’s Club on Wellington Quay of the Dublin City Centre, was packed.

The event began with Dougie Dalby introducing Harry Owens, a Spanish Civil War historian and founder member of the FIBI. Owens gave a speech, recalling how the social-democratic PSOE Government in the Spanish State in the 1980s had not wished to support the marking and conservation of graves of International Brigaders who had fallen in battle but had been convinced to do so by Edward Heath, British Prime Minister and by the leader of the Irish Labour Party at the time, Dick Spring. FIBI had become part of that commemoration effort in visiting some of the sites but also in erecting monuments and plaques in various parts of Ireland.

Colm Morgan from Co. Louth followed, with guitar and voice, with some of his own compositions, including one about Frank Ryan – excellent material in my opinion – to be followed by Mick Hanley (guitar and voice again) accompanied by Donal Lunny. Hanley and Lunny have history, of course, not least in that great band of the past, Moving Hearts; both belong to that honourable class of Irish musicians who have not been afraid to support progressive causes including some in their own country – and who have never performed for “any English King or Queen”.

(L-R) Dónal Lunny and Mick Hanley performing at the FIBI event.
(Photo source: FIBI)

Lunny accompanied various artists at different times during the evening, sometimes on keyboard and sometimes with guitar, as well as adding vocals once also. After his pairing with Hanley, he accompanied Tony Sweeney’s excellent lively accordion-playing which drew more than one whoop from the audience. All however quietened down for Justin McCarthy reading “The Tolerance of Crows” by Charlie Donnelly, Irish poet, member of Republican Congress and Field Commander of a unit of the International Brigades and who fell at the Battle of Jarama on 27th February 1937.

Muireann Ní Amhlaoibh on whistle accompanied by Dónal Lunny
(Photo source: FIBI)

After the break excellent singer Muireann Ní Amhlaoibh sang (accompanied by Lunny) and her rendition of Sliabh Geal gCua na Féile, a song composed by an Irish emigrant working in a Welsh coalmine in the late 19th Century, was particularly beautiful. It is a lament for home and language by Pádraig Ó Míléadha, from the Déise (‘Deci’) area of Wateford.

John Faulkner, virtuoso composer and singer-songwriter, raised in London of Irish background and for many years a resident of Kinvara, Co. Galway (but almost Co.Clare) accompanied himself singing a number of songs, including Patrick Galvin’s great composition Where Oh Where Is Our James Connolly? He performed an anti-war song by Eric Bogle also, All the Fine Young Men, which he introduced saying that some wars need to be fought.

Andy Irvine playing and singing at the concert (Photo source: FIBI)

Andy Irvine took the stage second-to-last of the acts for the evening, another London import to Ireland for which Irish folk and traditional music is very grateful, a composer, singer-songwriter and player of a number of instruments, accompanied once again by Lunny, who shares a history with him in Moving Hearts and Planxty. Irvine performed a number of songs, including Woody Guthrie’s All You Fascists Bound to Lose which, though not very creative in lyrics has a chorus with which the audience joined enthusiastically.

Gallo Rojo performing at the event (Photo source: FIBI)

Last on for the evening was Edinburgh-based Gallo Rojo1, anti-fascist musical collective, opening with a reading in the original Castillian of La Pasionara’s farewell speech to the International Brigaders at their demobilisation parade in Barcelona (see Links). It seemed to me that this would have worked better for an Irish audience with a simultaneous or interspersed reading in English but it received strong applause from the audience. This was followed by Ay Carmela!, then Lorca’s Anda Jaleo! I had to leave after that but I could hear the band starting on Bella Ciao, the song of Italian anti-fascist resistance of the 1940s but based on an older song of oppressed women agricultural workers.

It did occur to me at that point that among all the great material of the evening, I had heard no song to represent the International Brigaders of nations other than Ireland which is often the case at such events. More unusually, no reference I could recall was made to growing fascism in Europe and especially in the Spanish State (it never went away there), nor to antifascists facing trial arising out of mobilisation against the attempted Dublin launch of the fascist organisation Pegida in February 2012.

Immediately outside the concert hall, the bar area held a large number of people, perhaps as many as a quarter again of the audience inside. The performances inside were being conveyed by electronic speakers to them too but I am unsure how many were listening. There was a FIBI stall there too selling antifascist material.

Overall, the audience appeared to be mostly Irish with some foreign nationals and from a broad range of political backgrounds: Communist Party of Ireland, Sinn Féin, Anarchists and independent supporters and activists of mainly socialist and/or Republican ideology.

I am informed that FIBI are currently finalising the editing of a video of the concert and this will be available as soon as possible.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND:

1. THE INTERNATIONAL BRIGADES

The International Brigades were raised through Communist parties around the world to assist in the defence of the republican Popular Front Government of the Spanish State against a military coup with Spanish fascist (and Basque Carlist) support, aided by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. The Brigades consisted of volunteers from at least 65 nations2 and included Jews from a number. Early Irish volunteers enlisted chiefly in units of British and USA organisation but were present in groups from Australia and Canada too but later some made their way directly from Ireland; later too some of the Irish came to be known as the Connolly Column. The English-speaking units and some others were formed3 into the 15th International Brigade (originally the Fifth, but when added to the ten indigenous brigades of the Spanish Republic – Spanish, Catalan and Basque – became the Fifteenth). Not all foreign anti-fascist volunteers enlisted through the International Brigades, some joined Anarchist or Trotkyist militias4 and at least one, an Irishman, joined a Basque unit.

The Republican Government of the Spanish state disbanded the International Brigades on 23rd September 1938 in an unsuccessful bid to have the non-fascist European powers5 pressure their German and Italian fascist counterparts to withdraw their logistics, soldiers and airforce support from the Spanish military-fascist forces. By that time many of the “Brigadistas” were dead or captured as they had borne some of the heaviest prolonged fighting at Madrid (1936); Jarama, Brunete and Belchite (all 1937); Fuentes del Ebro and the Ebro itself (1938).

Famous photo by Robert Capa, war reporter from Hungary, showing emotional face of Brigadistas saluting (and perhaps singing the Internationale) at their demobilisation parade in Barcelona.
(Photo source: Internet)

Their formal demobilisation parade with their auxiliary recruits (including women) was held in Barcelona on 28th October, where they received the famous oration from the Basque Dolores Ibárruri, “La Pasionara”, prominent anti-fascist and activist of the Communist Party of Spain (see Links). It is notable that she addressed her oration to “communists, socialists, republicans, anarchists” as not only communists fought and died in the ranks of the Brigadistas.

Section of survivors of the International Brigades at their demobilisation parade in Barcelona.  (Photo source: Internet)
Another close-up from the demobilisation parade in Barcelona
(Photo source: Internet)

 

2. A DIFFERENT IRELAND

The Irish Brigadistas returning to Ireland found a society very different from that of today. Anti-communist hysteria was prevalent, whipped up in particular by the Catholic Church and supported in particular – but not exclusively – by Fine Gael (which formed in part from Blueshirts6). The Fianna Fáil Government was not fascist but was of the Irish capitalist class relying heavily on Catholic Church support and so contributed to anti-communism; all of the main media was anti-communist and finally the IRA, as well as having forbidden any of its Volunteers to fight for any other cause than Ireland’s, had expelled communists from the IRA in 1934. As with the time of repression of Republicans by the Free State, the USA seemed a good option for some of the Irish Brigadistas (some had enlisted there anyway) but there too, many antifascist war veterans found themselves subject to anti-communist hysteria and even later, when the USA was fighting fascist powers, labelled as “premature antifascists”!

Today here in Ireland the general attitude is one of respect or even pride in that part of our history, when Irish Volunteers went abroad to fight in defence of democracy and socialism against fascism7. The best-known song to date about the Irish Brigadistas is undoubtedly Viva La Quinze Brigada8 by Ireland’s best-known folk singer-songwriter, Christy Moore. Published accounts by Irish participants include The Connolly Column by Michael O’Riordan (1979) and Brigadista (2006) by Bob Doyle. Moore’s song is very popular in Ireland (and among the Irish diaspora in Britain) and a plaque listing some of the Irish martyrs is fixed to the wall by the entrance to the Theatre building of the major Irish trade union, SIPTU.

Funeral in May 1983 of Michael O’Riordan, survivor Irish Brigadista and General Secretary of the Communist Party of Ireland (among other positions and activities).
(Photo source: Indymedia)

Michael O’Riordan survived the War and was prominent in the Communist Party of Ireland, dying in Dublin in 1983. Bob Doyle was the last surviving known Brigadista from Ireland; on 22nd January 2009 he died in England, where he had been living and had raised a family. On February 14th that year his ashes were carried by relatives and admirers in a march from the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin city centre to Liberty Hall, where a reception was held. An optimistic photographer with the byline of “anarchaeologist” reported the following day in Indymedia: “…. in a display of left unity and solidarity we will doubtless see more of on the streets of Dublin over the coming months ….. Groups attending the celebration included the main unions, Éirigí, the WSM, the IRSP and Dublin Sinn Féin. Banners were also carried by the International Brigades Memorial Trust and the Inistiogue George Brown Memorial Committee. Supporters of the Dublin branch of the Irish Basque Solidarity Campaign demonstrating outside the GPO dipped their flags as a mark of respect as the crowd passed by”. The DIBSC actually wheeled in behind the march as the tail end passed, though the reporter seems not to have noticed that.9

Supporters of the Dublin Basque Solidarity Committee lower Basque flags in honour as ashes of last Irish Brigadista to die are carried down O’Connell Street in procession.
(Photo source: Indymedia)
Relatives and friends leading procession with Bob Doyle’s ashes give clenched fist salute to Basque solidarity demonstrators they are passing (see other photo with Basque flags).
(Photo source: Indymedia)

FRIENDS OF THE INTERNATIONAL BRIGADES IN IRELAND

 

The aim of the concert was to honour the enduring legacy of the 15th International Brigade and its ongoing contribution in the war against fascism”, a spokesperson for FIBI said in a statement. “As such, it was both a commemoration of the 80th anniversary of the disbandment of the Brigade and the subsequent return of the survivors to Ireland but it was also a celebration of their spirit in choosing to sacrifice everything for working-class principles.”

FIBI is an entirely voluntary organisation but does incur costs in erecting memorials, research, promotion etc. “This concert was designed to raise a modest amount to ensure the continuation of this work without having to resort to piecemeal fundraising over the next year or two. We are delighted to say we met our twin objectives of hosting a fitting occasion to coincide with the 80th anniversary of what became known as The Connolly Column and raising funds to help us continue with our efforts to ensure those who went are never forgotten.”

With its work of commemoration ceremonies and erection of plaques and monuments around the country, a work which not only reminds us of the Irish contribution in general but also links it to specific individuals from specific areas, the Friends of the International Brigades in Ireland has been deepening the wider attitude of respect for the International Brigades and pride in the Irish volunteers which has been growing steadily.

Hopefully all of this will combine with and inform any action necessary to halt the rise of fascism throughout the world and of course to prevent it taking hold in Ireland.

End.

REFERENCES AND USEFUL LINKS

Friends of the International Brigades in Ireland:

http://fibi-ireland.com/site/

States from which volunteers went to fight against Spanish fascism:

http://www.international-brigades.org.uk/content/volunteers-63-countries

English translation of La Passionara’s speech read by Maxine Peake: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Xfm3o45iIE

La Passionara’s speech read in the original Castillian in front of an audience by Esperanza Alonso:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H3HtLLelVeo

Brief account of some anti-communist violence in 1930s Ireland: https://comeheretome.com/2012/07/19/anti-communism-animal-gangs-and-april-days-of-violence-in-1936/

IRA expulsion of communists:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Republican_Congress

Video compilation of concert:

FOOTNOTES

1Not to be confused with the Mexico-based rock-ska-Latin band of the same name.

2“63 countries” are listed in one reference and I have added two, Scotland and Wales, on the assumption that they are unlisted but included under “Britain” or “UK”: http://www.international-brigades.org.uk/content/volunteers-63-countries

3 The Balkan Dimitrov Battalion and the Franco-Belgian Sixth February Battallion.

4George Orwell, who wrote Homage to Catalonia, probably the most famous English-language account of the war by a participant, enlisted in the militia of the POUM (Partido Obrero de Unifacción Marxista), a coalition of Trotskyis organisations (but whose alliance with the Right Opposition was renounced by Trotsky himself). The much larger anarcho-syndicalist trade union and movement Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT), closely associated with the Federación Anarquista Ibérica (FAI), also had militias, of which the Durruti Collumn was the largest and is the best known today. Some foreigners also enlisted in those militias.

5These powers, such as France and the UK, were following an allegedly “non-interventionist” policy but effectively forming part of the blockade preventing the Republican Government from receiving aid. Later the governments of those two states in particular tried a policy of appeasement of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy which was unsuccessful (except in encouraging further aggression) and they ended up going to war.

6Former IRA leader Eoin O’Duffy had, with Irish Catholic Church endorsement, recruited many more Irishmen to fight alongside the Spanish military-fascist forces but they acquired a reputation for ill-discipline and in one of their only two brief military engagement mistakenly fired on fascists; they went home in disgrace in late June 1937 (a year before the International Brigades were demobilised and the surviving, non-prisoner Irish were able to return home.

7Republicans and Communists had fought the fascist Blueshirts in Ireland too and the significant contribution of participants from the Irish diaspora to the famous antifascist victory of the Battle of Cable Street (and following guerrilla attacks on fascists at Hyde Park) in London has more recently been recognised (though not yet on the main relevant Wikipedia entry).

8Originally written as Viva La Quinta Brigada (i.e “the Fifth”); however that is the name of a song in Castillian contemporary with the War and later versions of Moore’s song include a line acclaiming “the Fifteenth International Brigade” which would be “la Decimiquinta” which has three syllables too many and so “Quinze”, i.e ‘Fifteen’.

9The DIBSC had already scheduled and advertised a picket to take place on the same day in Dublin’s main street, protesting against Spanish State repression of the Basque independence movement and treatment of prisoners. Upon learning of the planned march to honour Bob Doyle’s memory, I suggested holding our Basque solidarity event earlier, lowering the flags in respect when the march approached and then following it as the tail end passed us. I was unsure of what the reaction of Doyle’s relatives and supporters might be but as soon as those at the front saw what we were doing, a number of them raised clenched fists. It was an emotional moment for me, certainly.

Glasgow & Dublin Joint GPO Protest Against Internment

End Internment FB page

Glasgow and Dublin Anti-Internment Committees joined forces on 18th February in a protest against continuing internment without trial in Ireland. Around two score protesters gathered outside the iconic General Post Office building in Dublin city centre’s main thoroughfare, O’Connell Street. They displayed the anti-internment banners of the Dublin and Glasgow committees and placards against internment, including one against the jailing of Catalan political activists by the Spanish state (also refused bail).

Section of protesters outside the GPO building, O’Connell Street, Dublin (Photo source: End Internment FB page)
(Photo source: End Internment FB page)

Leaflets of the Anti-Internment Group of Ireland were distributed to shoppers and visitors passing by, along with others about the conviction of Brendan McConville and John Paul Wooton (the Craigavon Two), framed and jailed in 2009 and still in jail, serving life sentences. Songs about internment and political prisoners were played on a sound system, as well as Labi Siffre’s Something Inside So Strong and Christy Moore’s Viva La Quinze Brigada.

Young passer-by accepts leaflet from Dublin Committee leafleter (Photo source: End Internment FB page)

Despite the official end of internment by the British in 19751 and by the Irish state in 19572, Republican activists continue to be jailed without trial in a number of ways: Licence revoked and bail refused or revoked.

(Photo source: End Internment FB page)

When a Republican leaves jail under license, she or he can be returned there without any court hearing or the presentation of any evidence against them; this is what has happened to Tony Taylor and Gerry Mackle, for example. Refusing bail for accused Republicans has become almost standard, despite the fact that this is supposed to be a last resort, for example when there is a serious risk of the accused fleeing the administration, or interfering with witnesses – which has rarely applied to Republicans refused bail. The real reason has usually been revealed when they have been granted bail: they are required not to attend protests, meetings or to associate with other active Republicans. In other words, they are being prevented from exercising their civil rights to express their opinions and to organise politically.

Welcoming the participation of the Glasgow Committee in Dublin, a spokesperson for the Dublin Committee stated that “members of the Dublin Committee have been proud to attend anti-internment protests in Glasgow in the past” and went on to say that “we look forward to future cooperation with the Irish diaspora and internationally against political repression, particularly of jailing without trial of political activists.”

Another Dublin Committee leafleter.
(Photo source: End Internment FB page)

The Dublin Anti-Internment Committee is entirely independent of any political party or organisation and holds regular awareness-raising protests at different locations. The Committee welcomes the participation of other organisations or individuals in their protests but asks them not to bring political party material etc to the anti-internment protests.

On its FB page the Committee also maintains a list of Republican prisoners in jails on both sides of the British Border, updating it from time to time.

FOOTNOTES

1 By then more than 1,900 people – only around 100 of them Loyalists – had been interned, many of them tortured; it was during protests against it in 1971 in Ballymurphy and 1972 in Derry that the Parachute Regiment killed 25 unarmed people.
2Introduced by De Valera’s government in July 1957 during the “Border Campaign” of the IRA.
(Photo source: End Internment FB page)
(Photo source: End Internment FB page)

“Back Home in Derry” with new air

Bobby Sands, who was the first of the ten hunger strikers to die in 1981, had written a number of articles, songs and poems.  One of the latter was arranged for song by Christy Moore, calling it “Back Home In Derry” to the air of “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” (by Canadian singer Gordon Lightfoot).

The rendition here by Diarmuid Breatnach is to a new air composed also by Breatnach.  Although he has been singing it for some years in song sessions, this is the first time it has been posted as a video.

“I thought that the lyrics and the original author deserved a new air”, said Breatnach, a Dublin singer.  “Christy Moore did a great job arranging the lyrics for song.  I hope the new air becomes at least as popular as Gordon Lightfoot’s.”

https://www.dropbox.com/s/dosrz71cmcw1s3p/Song%20Video%20edit%20%202%20made%20jan%202018.mp4?dl=0

 

 

 

 

 

 

TWO DEATHS, FOUR FUNERALS AND THREE BURIALS

Diarmuid Breatnach

 

IRA Volunteer Michael Gaughan was killed in Parkhurst Jail on the Isle of Wight this month in 1974. He was killed on the 3rd June that year by force-feeding while on hunger strike. An honour guard of Provisional IRA had presided over his body’s removal by ferry to the mainland and from there to London, where the first of his three funeral processions was to take place.

Volunteer Michael Gaughan, the image most often associated with him.
(Photo source: Internet)

Also on hunger-strike with Gaughan although in different jails in Britain were other Provisional IRA prisoners: Gerry Kelly, Paul Holmes, Hugh Feeney and fellow Mayoman Frank Stagg. They were acting in support of the struggle of Volunteers Dolours and Marion Price1 to obtain political status and to be transferred to a jail in Ireland. The prisoners’ demands were as follows:

  • The right to political status
  • The right to wear their own clothes
  • A guarantee that they would not be returned to solitary confinement
  • The right to educational facilities and not engage in penal labour
  • The setting of a reasonable date for a transfer to an Irish prison2

At the time I was a young and fairly inexperienced activist supporting an English-based Marxist-Leninist group.3

 

LONDON

Vol. Gaughan’s funeral procession in Kilburn, London.
(Photo source: Internet)

On the 7th a funeral procession was being organised by Provisional Sinn Féın in an area of strong Irish diaspora settlement in North-West London. I took a bus from my South-East London home by a part of the canal near Peckham (now filled in) to the Elephant & Castle and changed on to the London Underground metro system to travel to Kilburn, from where I walked up to the Cricklewood area. There in the forecourt of the Crown pub was where I had been told the funeral procession would gather and where I would also meet my comrades of the organisation.

After a little, preparations were being made for departure. A priest was to lead the procession, which I strongly disliked but obviously had no say in the arrangements. A lone piper would follow, a traditional feature of mourning where Irish resistance is involved. The coffin would be carried for a period on the shoulders of volunteers, before being transferred to the hearse and a senior comrade of my organisation approached me.

Another view of the funeral procession of Vol. Gaughan through Kilburn, London.
(Photo source: Internet)

Some representatives of British Left organisations are going to carry the coffin,” he said. “We’ve been asked if we’d like to take part. What do you think?”

He was asking me, I presumed, because I was the only Irish supporter of the organisation present, although it had an excellent record of supporting Irish resistance and prisoners and several of its comrades had gone to jail as a result.

He seemed not keen on the idea and I got the impression that he felt as I did that it was tokenism, distasteful posturing by the British Left. Tariq Ali (now a journalist but then a member of the now-defunct Trotskyist organisation in Britain, the International Marxist Group) was one of those hefting the coffin. I agreed with my comrade and said we should not (a decision I now regret) and so we didn’t. No organisation on the British Left at that time, in terms of commitment and actions in proportion to its size, deserved the honour more than our organisation.

From the forecourt of the Crown a long parade escorted Gaughan’s coffin from Cricklewood in West London along the main road to the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Quex Road church in Kilburn. It was a very Irish area then with nearly every pub being of mainly Irish clientele and it contained a dance hall where Irish bands played. Every shop and pub along the way was closed for the funeral and crowds lined the route. The atmosphere was very solemn with the laments being played by the piper very audible.

 

DUBLIN

Michael Gaughan’s funeral procession approaching O’Connell Bridge, Dublin city centre.
(Photo source: Internet)
Another view of the Michael Gaughan funeral, Dublin

On the 8th of June 1974, the body of IRA Volunteer Michael Gaughan arrived in Dublin, where it was met by mourners and an IRA guard of honour. The body was brought to the Adam and Eve’s Franciscan church on Merchant’s Quay, where thousands filed past as it lay in state (no doubt under the watchful eyes of the Garda Special Branch).

Vol Gaughan lying in state with IRA honour guard in Dublin.
(Photo source: Internet)

 

MAYO

On the following day, the 9th of June 1974, Michael Gaughan’s funeral took place in Ballina, County Mayo. The funeral mass was held at St. Muiredach’s Cathedral, Ballina, procession then to Leigue Cemetery, Ballina. He was given a full republican burial and laid to rest in the Republican plot (where Frank Stagg, also killed by force-feeding, would join him after being reburied in November 1976 – see further below). Vol. Gaughan’s coffin was draped in the same Tricolour that had been used for Terence McSwiney’s funeral 54 years earlier (the same flag would later be used in the funeral of James McDade, IRA member killed in a premature explosion in Coventry). Gaughan’s funeral was attended by over 50,000 people, larger than the funeral of former Irish president Éamon de Valera.

 

FRANK STAGG

Frank Stagg, the image most frequently used.
(Image source: Internet)

It was no doubt to avoid scenes such as this that the Irish state took certain steps when two years later, on 12th February 1976, a comrade of Gaughan’s, Vol. Frank Stagg, also from Mayo, was also killed in Wakefield Prison, Yorkshire, by force-feeding while on hunger-strike. Although much of this this took place during the IRA truce of 1975-January 1976, the British authorities refused to grant any of the demands. The Wikipedia entry says that “Stagg died on 12 February 1976 after 62 days on hunger strike” which, though not untrue is a lie by omission.4

The repatriation of the body of Frank Stagg at Shannon Airport from Wakefield Prison in Britain where he died on hunger strike on 12 February 1976.

The Irish Government had the flight carrying his coffin diverted from Dublin where a large crowd awaited it, to Shannon airport.

On arrival at Shannon, the Gardaí snatched the coffin and drove it straight to Ballina, Mayo under armed guard, to a cemetery near Stagg’s family home, where it was placed in a prepared grave into which wet concrete was then poured, six feet deep, instead of soil. And the site remained under guard until the concrete had set and for some time after.

Sean, one of Frank Stagg’s brothers, being assaulted at Shannon Airport by Gardai (Photo source: Internet)

Although those proceedings would have been in complete opposition to the wishes of the deceased, the State had obtained agreement for them from Frank Stagg’s widow and one of his brothers, the Labour Party’s Emmet Stagg. It was opposed by another two of Frank Stagg’s brothers and of course by the dead Volunteer’s comrades.

The first burial of Vol. Frank Stagg, managed by the State, contrary to his wishes of the deceased. One of his brothers, Emmet, who colluded in that operation, is on the back left, lowering the coffin. (Photo source: Internet)

In November of that year, a number of those comrades dug down near the grave, tunneled under the concrete, removed the coffin and re-interred it in the Republican plot, near to Michael Gaughan’s grave, where it rests today.

A simple but plaintive song about Michael Gaughan survives in not uncommon use: Take Me Home to Mayo. There are a number of versions on Youtube; this one contains relevant images and film footage: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=14-kuxsHjPg

National Graves Association memorial in the Republican Plot, Leigue cemetery, Ballina, to which the names of Vol.s Stagg and Gaughan were added. The NGA is a nationwide non-State-funded organisation caring for the graves and erecting memorials to Ireland’s patriot dead. (Photo source: Internet)

 

end

FOOTNOTES

1Although Gerry Kelly is a current Sinn Féin MLA, both the Price Sisters denounced the Good Friday Agreement and Sinn Féin; Marian was effectively interned for a period because of her politics and has not been active politically due to ill-health since her release in May 2013.  On January 23rd of that year she was escorted from jail to attend the funeral of her sister, Dolours.  Of the surviving hunger strikers of 1975-’76, Paul Holmes was the only other one to attend that funeral.

2The British promised to concede the demands after Gaughan’s death – they had already conceded them to Loyalist prisoners – but reneged on the promise. The Price Sisters did eventually win repatriation to jail in the Six Counties, Ireland. The struggle on the issue of repatriation, which the British authorities conceded to British prisoners in Irish jails but not generally in reverse, carried on for many years. It is UN and generally human rights policy that prisoners should serve their sentences in jails close to their family networks.

3I had previously been an unaffiliated Anarchist activist, then came to support the English Communist Movement (M-L), which later became the Communist Party of England (M-L), which I left some years later. It has since gone through a number of bigger changes and evolved into the current Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (M-L), a much-changed organisation from the days referred to in this article.

4This is an important omission because the death of Vol. Stagg at the State’s hands after Gaughan’s brought about a change in policy of the British Medical Association, which afterwards recommended to its members that people in sound state of mind embarking on a hunger strike should not be forcibly fed even if they were heading for death. In consequence, the British State no longer has a policy of force-feeding prisoners on hunger-strike, since such would have to be supervised by medical personnel.

SONS OF MOLLY MAGUIRES PLAYS IN DUBLIN

Diarmuid Breatnach

 

The play about the Irish miners in Pennsylvania and their exploitation and the secret society they formed to resist, written by US-Irishman John Kearns and directed by Dara Carolan, received its Irish premiere tonight/ last night (Wednesday) in Liberty Hall.

Wonderful banner honouring the Molly Maguires, designed by Jer O’Leary, pictured on Liberty Hall Theatre staircase.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

In the Pennsylvania coalmines of the 1870s, Irish miners resisted their exploitation as workers and the racism they experienced as Irish Catholics to form a trade union. But when their efforts seem to avail them little, drawing on their Irish experience of peasant resistance societies fighting landlords and their agents, some went on to form a secret society: the Sons of Molly Maguire, also known as the “Mollies”.

They suffered unsafe conditions (one fall in a mine with only one exit trapped and killed 110 miners), high prices in the company store and felt they were being cheated even on the agreed wages. Eventually miners began to carry out retribution on informers and on mine-owners’ agents and their property. It seems the “Mollies” used the Ancient Order of Hibernians as a cover but that may also have been political and racial propaganda against them.

The mine-owners engaged the Pinkerton Detective Agency who inserted one of their agents, a Catholic Ulsterman called McPartland, among the miners and he gave information on the men leading to their arrest and then gave evidence against them in court.

As the Irish Echo review in the US stated: The play employs an “… effective blending of pageant, mime, kitchen sink realism, and even flights of poetry”. It also has some moments of high drama. An interesting feature from a US playwright is the use of appropriate Irish language phrases at times, reminding us that an Ghaeilge would have been the mother language of many of those migrant Irish while nearly all would have had at least a nodding acquaintance with it.

Photo said to be of hanging of one of the Molly Maguires (Photo source: Internet)

One phrase used a number of times was “Ní thuigeann an sách an seang” of which I had no previous recollection. Looking it up, I noted a number of meanings, of which the prevalent was along the lines of the equivalent in English of No one knows where the shoe pinches, but he who wears it.” But a deeper examination which I found on another site (see link) gives a darker interpretation, which seems more in line with the play: “It is about more than a misunderstanding by the corpulent of the cadaverous. One variant is, “Ní thuigeann an sách an seang, nuair a bhíonn a bholg féin teann.” This literally means, the well-fed one does not understand the slender one, when his stomach is usually taut. In other words, the well-fed do not understand hunger.

Another variant is, “Ní mhothaíonn an sách an seang.” The verb ‘mothaigh’ can be translated as either ‘feel’ or ‘hear.’ Use either English transitive verb and it suggests that the satiated simply do not care about the starved.

There is certainly a wealth of meaning to be found in many of the pithy phrases in the Irish language.

Molly Maguire Executions marker. Schuylkill County Prison (Photo source: internet)

Twenty “Mollies” were hanged (including at least some innocent men) between 1877 and 1879 and this is sometimes said to be the largest known mass hanging of any specific group in the USA – it was not. Nor was the hanging of ten “Mollies” on the 21st June 1877 the largest hanging of one group in one day. The dubious honour for most men hanged of any group and on one day goes to the 38 Dakota Native Indians who were hanged on December 26, 1862. However, the Dakota were hanged by the US military and the “Mollies” were tried in civil courts, so the Mollies can claim the most judicially executed in the USA of one group as well as on one day.

The play employs an “… effective blending of pageant, mime, kitchen sink realism, and even flights of poetry” (the Irish Echo review in the US) and has some moments of high drama. It also employs appropriate Irish language phrases, reminding us that an Ghaeilge would have been the mother tongue of many of those migrant Irish while others would have had a nodding acquaintance with it.

One phrase used a number of times was “Ní thuigeann an sách an seang” of which I had no previous recollection. Looking it up, I noted a number of meanings, of which the prevalent was along the lines of the equivalent in English of No one knows where the shoe pinches, but he who wears it.” But a deeper examination which I found on another site (see link) gives a darker interpretation, which seems more in line with the play: “It is about more than a misunderstanding by the corpulent of the cadaverous. One variant is, “Ní thuigeann an sách an seang, nuair a bhíonn a bholg féin teann.” This literally means, the well-fed one does not understand the slender one, when his stomach is usually taut. In other words, the well-fed do not understand hunger.

Another variant is, “Ní mhothaíonn an sách an seang.” The verb ‘mothaigh’ can be translated as either ‘feel’ or ‘hear.’ Use either English transitive verb and it suggests that the satiated simply do not care about the starved.There is certainly a wealth of meaning to be found summed up in pithy phrases in the Irish language.

Hanging place perhaps in Mauch Chunk jail, Pennsylvania, USA.
(Photo source: Internet)

Its showing in Liberty Hall was its first on an Irish stage for John Kearns play “Sons of Molly Maguire” but it has previously been performed at the Midtown International Theatre Festival in New York. John Kearns is the Treasurer and Salon Producer for Irish American Writers and Artists. He is the author of the short-story collection, Dreams and Dull Realities and the novel, The World, along with plays including “In the Wilderness”and “In a Bucket of Blood”.

The play received an enthusiastic reception from the audience. Raging you missed it? Don’t worry – you can still catch it tomorrow/ today, that is Thursday 11th May as part of Mayfest at the Liberty Hall Theatre.

 

End.

 

LINKS:

http://www.irishcentral.com/roots/history/the-us-executed-20-molly-maguires-in-biggest-federal-executions-ever

http://www.daltai.com/proverbs/personal-qualities-types-of-people/ni-thuigeann-an-sach-an-seang/