SMASHING THE MYTH – THE KILMICHAEL AMBUSH

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time text: 15 mins.)

Forget not the boys of Kilmichael,

those brave lads both gallant and true;

They fought ‘neath the green flag of Erin

and conquered the red, white and blue.

INTRODUCTION

In Irish history, which arquably is full of such wars, what is generally termed “The War of Independence” began with the Soloheadbeg Ambush on 21st January 1919 and ended with the Anglo-Irish Treaty on 11th July 1921 (which however, because of its limited measure of Irish independence led shortly afterwards to the Civil War 1922-1923). That ambush was one of many during the war by Irish guerrillas on the Royal Irish Constabulary, the British colonial police force and these attacks continued with a three-fold aim: to capture arms for the guerrillas, to eliminate much of the intelligence source for the Crown from rural districts and to open up areas of relative safety in the Irish countryside for the forces of independence.

In 1920 two different constabulary forces were recruited in Britain to bolster the Royal Irish Constabulary: the “normal” recruits in January and the Auxiliary Division RIC in July1. There were insufficient police uniforms for the “normal” constable recruits at first, leading to their being issued a mix of dark green RIC and khaki Army uniforms (usually Army trousers and RIC tunics) and Christopher O’Sullivan wrote in the Limerick Echo that they reminded him of the “Black and Tans”, from a well-known pack of Kerry beagles in the Scarteen Hunt. The nickname spread quickly and soon they were almost universally known (and thereafter in Irish history and folklore) by that name or shortened to “the ‘Tans”. The Irish translation is “na Dubhchrónaí” but it is likely that even in the Gaeltachtaí, the Irish-speaking areas, they were also known as “na ‘Tans”.

WW1 had ended in November 1918 and many of the ‘Tans were ex-British Army soldiers. Some were perhaps even demobbed (discharged) specifically in order to enlist in the new force. At the time there was ongoing agitation for discharge from the armed forces and even riots among thousands of British soldiers, many of whom had been conscripted but whom the British High Command was reluctant to allow to leave, knowing that many would be needed to suppress resistance to British colonial rule across the Empire, on the Indian sub-continent, in the Middle East, Africa and China.

The Tans quickly gained a reputation for brutality towards prisoners and the general civilian populace when conducting personal and home searches. They were also considered generally indisciplined, liable to intoxication on duty and to carrying out theft and harassment of women. Their behaviour towards civilians was so bad that even some British Army officers and loyalists in Ireland complained of it. The fighters of the Irish Republican Army, the new name for the reorganised Irish Volunteers, though they might fear being captured by the Tans, quickly enough gained their measure and were soon engaging them with arms.

The Auxiliaries, or “Auxies” as they became known, were a different matter. Their role was a rapid response motorised strike force and every single member was a War veteran and ex-officer, some indeed having been awarded battle decorations. Just as inclined to brutality and indiscipline in some respects, they gained a fearful reputation for their counter-guerrilla aptitude; though their commanding officer, Frank Crozier, sacked 21 of them in January 1921 because of their brutal raids in Trim, Co. Meath and murder of two Republicans in Drumcondra, Dublin, Chief of Police Henry Hugh Tudor reinstated them, so that Crozier resigned. One IRA officer commented that if the Tans were ambushed they would hide behind cover to return fire, whereas the Auxies would quickly be seeking to outflank their opposition and counter-attack.

The relaxed but warlike attitude of the Auxies is evident in this photograph of two of them with a Dublin Metropolitan Police officer (not sure what unit the fourth man represents). (Source photo: Internet)

The Auxies could carry out operations against the IRA and the civilian population with impunity, it seemed. The Kilmichael Ambush was planned specifically to take on the Auxiliaries and smash the myth of their invincibility.

THE LEADER AND THE COLUMN

The operation was led by a 23 year-old ex-British soldier: Tom Barry, Commandant of the West Cork Flying Brigade was at the time only 23 years of age and only a little over three months active in the IRA. When news of the 1916 Easter Rising reached him and other British troops fighting the Ottoman Empire in Mesopotamia (now Iraq), he “had not a nationalist thought in my head”, he confessed in his book Guerrilla Days in Ireland (1949). Barry was discharged at the end of the War but did not join the IRA until the capture and torture of Republicans Tom Hales and Pat Harte by Arthur Percival of the Essex Rifles in July 19202 so appalled him that he joined the IRA’s 3rd Cork Brigade, operating in the West Cork area. Barry’s highest rank in the British Army had been Corporal, in which role the limit of his command would usually have been of seven to 14 men. By the end of 1920, Barry had quickly risen to command 310 men in the IRA, operating over large areas of West Cork and occasionally further afield.

Early print of Tom Barry’s memoir by Anvil in pulp fiction paperback cover style. (Image sourced: Internet)
Later reprint copy of Barry’s memoir showing Tom Barry at the age of 23 when he commanded the Flying Column (Image sourced: Internet)

One of the many innovations of the IRA at that time was the flying column, designed to maximise the effective striking force of a guerrilla army in rural Ireland. This had been advocated by Seán McLoughlin while organising in South Tipperary. McLoughlin had been a member of the Irish Volunteers during the 1916 Rising, employed on reconnaisance and communication work by Commandant James Connolly in Dublin. He was only 20 years of age when, impressed by his conduct up to that point and during the evacuation from the GPO to Moore Street, James Connolly3 promoted him to Dublin Commander. Later, McLoughlin had proposed the flying column tactic in discussion with guerrilla leaders from Tipperary, Limerick and North Cork4 and recommended it to IRA HQ in Dublin, where the idea found favour and was soon disseminated. In West Cork the flying column organisation reached perhaps its apogee.

Younger and mature men in a rural community are likely to be engaged in agriculture or servicing that economy. In the first they are needed intensively at particular times of the year and families may depend on their work. Servicing work is usually more evened out throughout the year but is also less likely to have long periods when those employed in it are not needed. This is one reason why maintaining a medium-sized permanent guerrilla force in the field was difficult.

Another restricting factor was the shortage of armament – the guerrilla movement was dependent on firearms and ammunition captured from the opposing armed forces, confiscated from loyalists or purchased in small amounts at home or abroad. Some explosive material could be home-made but was sometimes of unreliable effectiveness, especially so in the case of hand-grenades.

Supposing sufficient armament could be found, a force of around 50 fit men could be maintained in a flying column, trained in the field, flexible, able to travel fairly long distances, carry out an attack and then travel far enough out of the area to avoid enemy encirclement. They had to carry their equipment and their own food or be fed by civilians in the localities through which they passed.

But this arrangement left a larger potential force of men mostly untrained and inactive. Barry solved that problem by the rotation of men to the flying column in his brigade area. For a period of a number of weeks, a force of perhaps up to 100, fully armed, would be engaged in a training program in the field, in the course of which at least one attack operation would be planned and carried out. A small core of permanent officers and guards would be maintained to ensure continuity of command, intelligence, armament supply and security. After their training period, the majority of the column would be demobilised, leaving the command core and at some point a new batch taken on. The arms carried by the previous trainees would be distributed to the next batch. Smaller groups could be rotated in and out of the column too.

The highest number fielded by Barry at any one time was a little over 100 when, on the 19th March 1921, four motorised columns totaling 1,200 British Army and Auxiliaries, supported by spotter planes, set out to encircle the column at Crossbarry5, Co.Cork. In a fighting retreat, the column killed at least ten of the enemy but lost only two men (a third, senior officer Charlie Hurley, had been surprised by the encircling British just prior to the engagement at a local house some distance from the main body and shot dead).

Charlie Hurley, Adjutant to Tom Barry, was the first casualty of the Crossbarry Battle and his monument lies a little distance from the centre of the main fighting. (Photo sourced: Internet)

This development of the flying column proved effective and made the West Cork area a particular problem to the British occupation forces and it was not long before Cork was declared a “martial law area”, along with Limerick, Kerry and Tipperary (December 6th 1920). The military in these areas were empowered to execute anyone found carrying arms or ammunition and intern people without trial, also to carry hostages on their trucks to discourage attacks.

Auxies with prisoner explains the caption on this photo but the unfortunate passenger may have been a hostage against attack. (Image source: National Library Ireland)

In November 1920 local IRA intelligence had noted the regular travelling on Sundays of two British Army lorries, Crossley Tenders, from the Auxies’ base at Macroom Castle to Dunmanway and it was decided to attack them. The Crossleys normally carried up to three men in front and eight in the rear so the maximum force with which the IRA would need to contend would be 22, well-trained and armed. The flying column had only recently been given permanent status and three days’ training with only three rounds for firing practice (due to shortage of ammunition). Barry mobilised a force of 36 for the operation, barely sufficient to take on two lorries, no more.

On the 28th Day of November,
 the Auxies came out of Macroom;
 They were seated in two Crossley Tenders
 that were taking them straight to their doom.
 They were on the road to Kilmichael  
 and never intending to stop ..... 

The spot chosen for the ambush was at Dus a’Bharraigh, on a stretch of the road between the village of Kilmichael and Gleann but it was remarkable in IRA ambush sites in having no obvious escape route for the attackers to use in case the operation were unsuccessful or only partially so.

The start of the ambush is fairly well represented in a scene from the Ken Loach-directed film The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006). Barry, dressed in Irish Volunteer uniform on the assumption that most British soldiers had never seen one and would take it as being of an officer in some branch of their own armed services, flagged down the leading lorry, threw one of two Mills grenades at the driver, fired a pistol and the attack began (Loach has the ambush organiser in British officer uniform, standing by an apparently malfunctioning motorbike and shooting the driver when he slowed down).

Still from the film The Wind that Shakes the Barley, depicting Auxies approaching an ambush site. (Image sourced: Internet)

The earliest full account of the ambush is Tom Barry’s (in Guerrilla Days etc) and that should be read but Conor Kostik put together an even fuller account, drawing on material that would not have been available to Barry in 1949.6

Those Auxies not killed outright quickly took cover and fought back. They were pinned down and surrounded and their position was hopeless without reinforcements, of which there was no reason to expect any soon. The Auxies called out they wanted to surrender and two IRA men stood up, whereupon the Auxies immediately shot them dead. Barry had signalled to cease firing but had also issued orders that none of the ambushing party were to reveal themselves until he gave the order to do so but the two Volunteers, flushed with the battle and success, had forgotten the order and left their cover.

Raging at the treachery of the Auxies and at the unnecessary loss of two of his men, Barry ordered the battle to continue, ignoring all further cries of “we surrender” until every single Auxie appeared dead or seriously injured. The ambush party then, with the exception of the lookouts, came down into the road, collected the enemy’s arms and, removing the bodies of the injured from the vicinity of the Crossley tenders, set fire to the vehicles. Two men of the Flying Column were dead and a third was seriously wounded: Vice-Commandant Michael McCarthy in the fighting and Volunteer James O’Sullivan and 15-years-old Signals Lieutenant Pat Deasy7 by the false surrender, the former dead and the teenager dying.

Then Barry did a truly remarkable thing. Amidst the bodies of the Auxies, near the burning lorries, he took his men suffering from reaction through parade drill, then in front of the rock where the bodies of Michael McCarthy and Jim O’Sullivan lay, they presented arms as a tribute to the dead Volunteers. It was half an hour after the opening of the ambush when Barry called down the lookouts and the column moved away southwards, intending to cross the Bandon River upstream from the British-held Manch Bridge. Eighteen men carried the captured enemy rifles8 slung across their backs. It started to rain again and the men were soon drenched. The rain continued as the IRA marched through Shanacashel, Coolnagow, Balteenbrack and arrived in the vicinity of dangerous Manch Bridge. The Bandon River was crossed without incident and Granure, eight miles south of Kilmichael, was reached by 11pm.

One severely wounded Auxie had survived and was rescued when the British arrived at the scene. The driver of the second lorry somehow got away and made it to a house when two local IRA sympathisers took him prisoner — he was executed the next day and his corpse hidden.

The lorries were ours before twilight
And high over Dunmanway town
Our banner in triumph was waving
For the Auxies were beaten right down.
So we gathered our rifles and bayonets
And soon left the glen so secure
And we never drew rein till we halted
At the faraway camp at Granure

In the first planned attack on the Auxiliaries, the IRA had defeated a platoon of 18 (the lorries were not travelling full to capacity), of which they had killed 16. The guerrillas’ casualties were two dead, one of whom had been victim of the false surrender and the second victim severely wounded; these were removed to safe houses by horse and cart. The column had all the weapons and remaining ammunition of the Auxies and had burned the two lorries. It was a hard slog after the battle and carrying all that equipment to their billet in an empty house at Granure, eight miles away, which they reached at eleven. There the wounded were treated, they were fed by local people and the Column’s support structure, with men and Cumann na mBan standing guard over them while they slept.

Pat Deasy died during the night and temporary graves had to be found for his and the other two bodies until the area had calmed down.and high over Dunmanway town

Pat Deasy died during the night and temporary graves had to be found for his and the other two bodies until the area had calmed down.

BATTLE TACTICS

BATTLE TACTICS

The topography along the Auxies’ route had made the choice of a good ambush site far enough away from quick enemy reinforcements impossible, which was what dictated the eventual choice of the site by Barry and Vice-Commandant McCarthy. Available cover for the ambush was in short supply and even more so along any possible route of evacuation; which would mean heavy casualties for the guerrillas in any retreat from an undefeated enemy at that site. This in turn meant that the battle had to be fought to a successful conclusion – the complete defeat of the Auxie column. In this respect the planning of the engagement violated the general practice of the IRA at that time as well as the general rules of guerrilla warfare, which are of heavily outnumbering the enemy at the point of attack9 and at least being able to withdraw quickly and safely from enemy reaction. Barry and McCarthy no doubt knew this and were opting for daring rather than caution, taking a calculated risk (which is not the same as being reckless).

Old but post-ambush photo showing the ambush location. (Image sourced: Internet)

For a maximum enemy number of 22, Barry had mobilised a force of 36 but at least two of those and perhaps more would have to be scouts, to alert of the approaching Auxie lorries and to guard against being surprised by British reinforcements. Eventually, 34 including Barry were appointed to the actual fighting, his command post with three riflemen, another two sections of ten and a third section of twelve — but six of those would have to be prepared to hold off a third lorry if one appeared. The ratio of attackers to the target force was therefore just under two to one, which is far from ideal for an attacking force and less so when taking the topography into account. It would indeed have been wonderful for the Column had they the 100 in the ambush party group later claimed by the British!

The enemy could be expected to have the latest in Lee Enfield rifles, firing a clip of five bullets before needing to reload and also quickly re-loadable. In addition, they carried holstered revolvers. They would probably have some grenades and might well have at least one Lewis machine gun. Against that impressive potential and even certain firepower, the IRA column had a mix of rifles, shotguns, a few revolvers and two grenades10.

These considerations dictated the order of battle for the guerrilla force and plan of action: the battle could not be a long one and many of the enemy had to be eliminated at short range and in the first few minutes of the battle. This meant that after throwing one of their two British Army-issue Mills grenades, to disable the first lorry and front occupants, the attack on those in the rear of the lorry would have to be savage and almost hand-to-hand after discharge of shotguns at close range, followed by bayonet and rifle-butt.

Apart from Barry who had experience of combat in the British Army, few of the guerrillas had any military experience other than guerrilla training periods during earlier months and most had no combat experience whatsoever. The force they were intending to attack however were all ex-military, probably every single one with combat experience at least in WW1, which had ended only two years previously.

In terms of leadership, all of the Auxies had held officer rank and, if in the field, had commanded a minimum of 30 soldiers if at the rank of lieutenant and 120 if a captain. Barry would hardly have commanded more than 14 at a stretch and no more than seven normally. All the British officers other than those who had been appointed in the field during wartime perhaps, would have received training in officer school whereas Barry had had to train himself while also training their fighting force.

One hundred years ago this force of guerrillas in West Cork carried out a courageous and successful attack on a merciless enemy, in conditions both physically and emotionally difficult. The result was a huge boost in morale for the forces of Irish resistance at a time when it was needed, in particular in rural Ireland, while other responses were being developed to meet the changing tactics of the enemy in the cities, for example seven days earlier in Dublin with the wiping out of the “Cairo Gang” of British Intelligence. Both events shook the British occupation authorities but did not deter them and the war thereafter intensified further.

AFTERMATH

As was becoming standard behaviour of the British armed forces after an attack on them, they retaliated against the civilian population. All the houses near the ambush site were burned but they also went on to burn houses, shops and barns in Kilmichael, Johnstown and Inchigeelagh. And four days later, on 3rd December, three IRA Volunteers were arrested in Bandon, Cork County by soldiers of the Essex Rifles; after beating them, their dead bodies were dumped on the roadside.11

Barry wrote that some of the British media printed lies about the Kilmichael ambush, claiming that the dead Auxies had been mutilated but of course that could have been on the basis of information supplied by the British occupation forces; certainly there had been close quarter fighting which included bayonets and rifle-butts. He also recorded that after that War, the British State had written to him asking him to confirm details of the Auxies’ deaths for the sake of pensions to relatives and that he had declined to reply. However the body of Gutteridge, the driver of the second lorry, who had been killed after escaping the ambush site, was disinterred in 1926 by the IRA at the request of relations and buried in the Church of Ireland graveyard in Macroom

The false surrender of the Auxies was an important issue to explain the wiping out of the column which otherwise might have seen as execution of prisoners after the battle. The incident was described in a number of recorded accounts, of which the earliest was in 1937 by participant Stephen O’Neill. Tom Barry’s, although years later (1949), remains the fullest published account of the battle by a participant. The false surrender was mentioned in a number of British sources, including by the Auxies’ former commander, Crozier, who quoted an unnamed source in the area in his Ireland Forever (1932).

In The IRA And Its Enemies Professor Peter Hart (1963–22 July 2010) took issue with the false surrender account, focussing on Tom Barry’s recall in his book. Mistakenly believing Crozier’s to have been the first published account (and a concoction), Hart asserted that the false surrender claim was invented to conceal the killing of surviving Auxiliary officers after surrendering.

Most of Hart’s claimed sources in interviews in 1988 have been disproved by research by a number of historians, including Meda Ryan, Brian Murphy and Niall Meehan, among others (including by some of his supporters): one participant was already dead when supposedly interviewed by Hart, another was considered by his son incapable due to ravages of age and a stroke (he would have been 97 years of age) and some utterances quoted were matched to recorded interviews, including Fr. John Chisholm’s in 1970, taken long before Hart’s alleged interviews (and to which only Hart had been given access for over a decade).

It would seem that the issue has been long settled but the controversy continues albeit without any real substance. Hart was one of those people active around Irish history who have been called “revisionists” which, in the Irish context, means historians who wish to present an alternative discourse to the popular one of anti-colonialist Irish forces fighting a courageous war of resistance against a powerful and ruthless military occupying power.12

The Kilmichael Ambush modern monument (Image sourced: Independent Left)
Information text and diagram display at the ambush site (Image sourced: Internet)

TOM BARRY

After the 28th of November 1920 the myth of Auxiliary invincibility had been well and truly shattered and there would be many further engagements between the IRA and the Auxies, with varying results. A figure of 12,500 British Army troops stationed in County Cork during the conflict has been quoted but it is not clear whether this includes the ‘Tans, Auxies and the regular RIC. The war would continue with assassinations by both sides, ambushes and attacks on barracks by the guerrillas, burning of homesteads and towns by Crown forces along with raids including murders, detentions, torture and executions. Barry stated that the West Cork Flying Column had suffered 34 fatalities but that his 310 men had killed over 100 enemy combatants and wounded another 93 during that conflict.

The Truce of 11th July 1921 was followed by the Anglo-Irish Agreement, signed in London by Michael Collins and the Irish negotiating party against the advice of their English adviser Erskine Childers13 and ratifed by a slim enough majority in the First Dáil, the separatist Irish Parliament. Its limited provisions would lead to a vicious Civil War in which the majority of the guerrilla fighters and their close support structures were opposed to the new Free State Government; the latter however had the support of British armament and transport and a hastily-recruited regular army of native personnel.

During the Truce, Tom Barry married Lesley Mary Price, a 1916 Rising veteran (and later Director of Cumann na mBan, the Republican women’s auxiliary military organisation) and survived the War of Independence. He took the Anti-Treaty side and was appointed to the IRA Executive (although he later wrote that the considered the struggle unwinnable once Dublin was lost to the Free State forces – he believed a decisive blow should have been struck at the outset against the Free State and to challenge the British). Barry was taken prisoner with most of the Republican garrison of the Four Courts in the Battle for Dublin in July 1922 and imprisoned in Mountjoy Jail, later transferred to the internment concentration camp at Gormanstown in Co. Meath.

In September Barry escaped from the concentration camp and headed south, where he was appointed to command the Southern Division of the Republican forces, which eventually defeated, ended their resistance in May 1923. However, Republicans continued to be liable to arrest (and murder) by Free State forces and had to remain on the run (or emigrate) at least until the Amnesty of November 1924.

Narrowly outnumbered in a leadership vote on whether to end the Civil War, Barry had resigned from the IRA leadership as the Republican resistance limped on for a short period before the order to cease hostilities. However he returned to the leadership in 1927 and during the 1930s, like Republicans elsewhere in the territory of the State and the Republican Congress in Dublin, he was engaged in fighting the “Blueshirts”, the Irish fascist movement led by former IRA officer and comrade Eoin O’Duffy.14 And in May 1934, under the De Valera government, Barry was convicted of arms possession and jailed until December of that year. In March 1936 Vice-Admiral Henry Somerville was shot dead in his home in Castletownshend, Cork for attempting to recruit men to join the Royal Navy and Barry, though not tried for the act was believed to have been involved. When Sean McBride resigned as IRA Chief of Staff, Barry was elected to the position but resigned in 1938 over a tactical dispute.

Otherwise Barry settled down to a civilian post as Superintendent of Cork Harbour Commission from 1927-1965, during which he published his book but was much in demand for interviews and led Cork Republicans in commemorations of the War of Independence and of the Civil War. In the 1970s he publicly declared his support for the Provisional IRA (while disagreeing with some of their actions).

Tom Barry in 1966 addressing a meeting at the site of the Kilmichael Ambush at the age of 69 (Image sourced: Internet)

Tom Barry died on 2nd July 1980 — despite a number of questions regarding his political trajectory,15 perhaps Ireland’s foremost guerrilla leader, certainly in modern times. He had led many engagements against the British enemy and had lost not one; although in those engagements his force suffered some casualties they were always relatively very low. There are monuments to two of those battles at the site of the initial engagements, the Kilmichael Ambush and the Crossbarry Retreat, and to him personally at Fitzgerald Park in Cork City, near the bank of the river Lee (which also holds a monument to fellow Corkman and Barry’s opponent during the Civil War, Michael Collins).

Tom Barry bust in park in Cork City, where there is also the bust of an urban guerrilla who became an adversary of his but who died long before Tom Barry.

THE BALLAD

In admittedly light research, I have been unable to find the date of the composition or publication of the Boys of Kilmichael ballad (which I presume to have been around the mid-1960s) and only a little about the author? (listed on a couple of sites), Declan Hunt himself, who played with groups Battering Ram and Marks Men. The musicians received enthusiastic reviews for the quality of their singing and playing, as well as for commitment impact of their lyrics.

From a historical point of view the Kilmichael song contained a surprisingly inaccurate theme in its depiction of the ‘Tans as being the targets of the ambush and perhaps this is a reflection of the also inaccurate description of that conflict as “the Tan War”. I amended the lyrics to figure the Auxies instead of the Tans and, in order to maintain the rhythm, had to change one line completely (see footnotes to lyrics).

The song has a number of slightly different versions both published and in the vernacular16 and has been recorded by a number of artists. The structure and even some of the lyrics are strongly based on an earlier song, Men of the West, by Michael Rooney (1873-1901)) and the air to which it is sung is the same as the other’s. Men of the West is about the 1798 United Irishmen rising in Mayo with some French military assistance and Conchúr Mag Uidhir won a prize for the translation of the lyrics into Irish as Fir and Iarthair at the 1903 Feis Ceoil (a traditional music convention held in different areas annually) in Mayo.

The video below (reproduced with kind permission of Anti-Imperialist Action) includes near the beginning a clip of the ballad being sung in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin at the end of last month. There are of course better renditions musically but this is the only one publicly available to date in which the lyrics record that it was the Auxiliaries who were defeated there.

LYRICS OF THE BALLAD (amended by me for historical accuracy)

BOYS OF KILMICHAEL

By Declan Hunt?

I

While we honor in song and story
The memory of Pearse and McBride17
Whose names are illumined in glory
With martyrs who long have since died;
Forget not the boys of Kilmichael
Who feared not the might of the foe:
The day that they marched into battle
They laid the Auxilliaries low.

Chorus

So here’s to the boys of Kilmichael
Those brave lads so gallant and true —
They fought ‘neath the green flag of Erin
And conquered the red white and blue.18

II

On the 28th day of November
The Auxies came out of Macroom;
They were seated in two Crossley Tenders
That were bringing them straight to their doom.
They were all on the road to Kilmichael
And never expecting to stop,
They there met the boys from the Column
Who made a clean sweep of the lot.

(chorus)

So here’s to the boys of Kilmichael …

III

The sun in the west it was sinking
‘Twas the eve of a cold winter’s day
When the Auxies we were eagerly waiting
Sailed into the spot where we lay
And over the hill came the echo
The peal of the rifle and gun
And the flames from the lorries brought tidings
That the boys of Kilmichael had won.

(chorus)

So here’s to the boys of Kilmichael …

IV

The lorries were ours before twilight
And high over Dunmanway town
Our banners in triumph were waving
For the Auxies were beaten right down19.
So we gathered our rifles and bayonets
And soon left the glen so secure
And we never drew rein till we halted
At the faraway camp at Granure.20

(chorus)

So here’s to the boys of Kilmichael …

End.

FOOTNOTES

1At its height the Auxiliary Division RIC numbered 1,900.

2For whose capture Percival was awarded the Order of the British Empire.

3James Connolly, born to Irish migrants and reared in Edinburgh, developed into a revolutionary socialist and was Dublin Commandant of the Easter Rising but could not have known that Mac Loughlin would later himself become a communist.

4McLoughlin proposed the formation of bands of around 40 in which those for whom there were not enough firearms would be employed in roles such as first aid and demolition (scouting would have been another obvious role). Of course, as arms were seized those men could be armed. Interestingly, Liam Lynch had proposed the inclusion of Cumann na mBan and McLoughin had agreed; given the attitudes of the time one assumes their role would have been in an auxiliary one to that of the fighters.

5The location’s name is not directly related to Tom Barry but rather to the Norman family De Barry or, in Irish, De Barra; or possibly in West Cork of Ó Báire, an ancient Irish family name.

6I came across that account while searching for images for this article which by then was nearly completely written; had I come across it much earlier I doubt I would have written on the event at all but I hope I have added an additional something to the account, even if no more than about the ballad and about Barry himself.

7He had not been enlisted for the ambush party but followed them at a distance, his presence being discovered when nearing the site. He had begged to be allowed to stay and, unfortunately for him, had convinced them to do so.

8The Auxie who ran away had left his rifle behind so the Column had gained 18 modern rifles.

9Obviously this does not include the sniper or bomb attack.

10A number of accounts state that each of the attacking party had a rifle with 35 rounds which, if accurate, since accounts agree that shotguns were used, must mean some men carried a rifle in addition to a shotgun, which hardly makes sense. It is more likely that there were insufficient rifles for all and that some had shotguns, those in particular being assigned close-quarter fighting.

11Barry wrote that apart from the Auxies and Tans, who soon gained no mercy from the IRA, generally those who surrendered to the IRA were deprived of their weapons, told not to take up arms against the Irish people again and set free. Because of their treatment of civilians on raids and prisoners, an exception was made of soldiers of the Essex Regiment – but not until a note from Barry to their Commanding Officer warning him to have his men – and in particular his Intelligence Officer Arthur Percival — desist from torture and murder, was ignored. During WW2, to the disgust of many British, Dominion and Empire troops under his command, and civilians on the island, Lieut-General Percival surrendered Singapore to the Japanese Imperial Army along with 80,000 of his command, most of whom had not fired a shot. More than half of those POWs never returned home.

12Peter Hart rejected the term “revisionist historian”, saying it was pejorative, which in terms of Irish history it generally has been. In some other historical contexts however, for example the USA, revisionist historians have gone against the historical canon and have been concerned to tell the stories of the working class, women, indigenous people, slaves and ethnic minorities. Something similar has occurred in Britain. In Europe some revisionist historians have questioned the dominance of the post-Nazi discourse of a generally resisting population and researched the degree of collaboration among the occupied populations.

13Erskine Childers was an English sailor and author of the best-seller The Riddle of the Sands. He had brought his yacht The Aud, crewed by his wife and others, to Howth in 1914 to deliver Mauser rifles for the Irish Volunteers; these were in particular use during the 1916 Rising. He enlisted in the British Army for the duration of WW1 but, returning to Ireland, joined the reorganised Volunteers/ IRA, where he directed the insurrectionary war’s publicity department. Siding with the majority of the resistance military against the Anglo-Irish Treaty, he was captured during the Civil War, condemned to death by Free State military tribunal and executed. His son became fourth President of the Irish State.

14These were later incorporated into the Fine Gael political party, for generations one of the two main political parties in Governmentwhich, at the time of writing, is in coalition government with the Fianna Fáil and Green parties.

15He had advocated joining forces with Fianna Fáil during the 1930s and had also opened relations with Nazi Germany which he maintained up to 1939 while during WW2 he worked for the Irish State’s Army intelligence for the Southern Command with the rank of Commander and even wrote for its publication An Cosantóir.

16As for example in the lines
"For the boys of the Column were waiting
With hand grenades primed on the spot
And the Irish Republican Army
Made shit of the whole bloody lot."

17Two of the 14 executed by the British in Dublin after the 1916 Rising; Patrick Pearse was Commander-in-Chief and stationed at HQ (GPO and Moore Street) while Major John McBride joined the garrison at Jacobs at the last minute (he had his rank from the Irish Transvaal Brigade, in which he had fought the British in the 2nd Boer War).

18The Tricolour, not the green flag was the generally-accepted national flag at this time. The “red, white and blue” are the colours of the “Union Jack” the flag of the United Kingdom. The name of Ireland is “Éire” and “Erin”, although often used, does not exist (probably originally taken in error from the Genitive “na h-Éireann” or the dative, “in Éirinn”).

19My substituted line for “to show that the Tans had gone down”.

20The song lyrics I saw list “Glenure”; there are two places listed as “Glenure” in Cork County, both a long distance from Kilmichael, even without having fought a battle and being loaded down with captured equipment. However, in the military pension statement of Stephen O’Neill, one of the participants, I found the place listed as Granure which, at just over 8 miles away from the ambush site, was more reasonable, though still a heavy slog. They reached it about an hour before midnight.

SOURCES

The flying column:

On Another Man’s Wound (1936), Ernie O’Malley

Guerrilla Days in Ireland (1949), Tom Barry

Raids and Rallies (1985), Ernie O’Malley

McLoughlin’s development of the flying column formation in Killing At Its Very Extreme (2020), by Derek Molyneux and Darren Kelly and read out by the former in Moore Street: https://www.facebook.com/879326262086966/videos/335616977683240

Very full account and assessment by Conor Kostik: https://independentleft.ie/kilmichael-ambush/

For the post-ambush flying column actions from Saoirse 92 blog: http://www.kilmichael.org/hisambush.htm

Terence MacSwiney – Heroism, Pacificism, Internationalist Solidarity

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Note: It was intended to post this on the anniversary of MacSwiney’s death but technical problems prevented that.)

(Reading time text: 15 mins.)

Terence MacSwiney, Lord Mayor of Cork died in Brixton Prison, London, on October 25th 1920: it was the 74th day of his hunger strike. His struggle brought international attention not only to his sacrifice but also to an Ireland in the second year of its War of Independence, a political and guerrilla war against the occupying power, the British State.

Between 1917 and 1981, twenty-two Irish people died on hunger strike against the injustice of British occupation of Ireland.1

HEROISM AND SELF-SACRIFICE

MacSwiney exhibited heroism and self-sacrifice in a number of steps he took before he embarked on his fatal hunger-strike. He did so first of all in putting his liberty and very life in jeopardy in opposing the colonial occupation and domination of his land. He took a second step towards endangering his liberty and life by joining the Irish Republican Brotherhood, an organisation dedicated at the time to the overthrow of British rule in Ireland.

Thirdly, he took the trend further still by not only joining the Irish Volunteers in 1913 but by being one of the founders of the Cork Brigade. Fourthly, MacSwiney opposed Redmond’s offer of the Volunteers to the British imperialist Army and stood with the dedicated minority in the subsequent split.

Fifthly, he joined the IRA after the 1916 Rising.

His sixth step was to take the Lord Mayor position in which his predecessor, Tomás Mac Curtain, had recently been murdered by Crown forces. Seventh, he embarked on his hunger-strike to the end.

Tomás Mac Curtain and family; he was murdered by British agents two months after his election to Lord Mayor of Cork City. (Photo sourced: Internet)

That trajectory reminds us all that the path of revolution is a dangerous one, requiring courage and sacrifice, though not necessarily always to that same degree.

PACIFICISM

Because he chose in the end to offer up his life in a hunger-strike to the death, Terence MacSwiney is often held up as the ideal example of pacifism and especially so when a particular phrase of his is quoted: It is not those who can inflict the most but those who can endure the most who will conquer.

Of course, the reality is that both are absolutely necessary. No struggle can be won by endurance alone, no more than a struggle can be won merely by inflicting damage upon the enemy.

There are genuine pacifists and fake ones. I don’t agree with either but I have some respect for those who put their liberty and even their lives at risk in a pacifist struggle. For the others, the social democrats and liberals who enjoin us to have all our resistance be peaceful, while they support the violence of the ruling class and their states at home and abroad, we should have nothing but contempt. It would indeed suit our enemies if we set out to endure every attack and made them pay nothing in return!

Those who remind us only of that quotation from MacSwiney, or of the one from that other hunger-striker and poet Bobby Sands, that “Our revenge will be the laughter of our children”, choose to forget – and try to make us forget – a very important fact about Sands and MacSwiney: each was a revolutionary soldier. Each was arrested because he was known to be a member of an armed force of resistance – the IRA.

INTERNATIONALIST SOLIDARITY

For some people, internationalist solidarity is almost all, ensuring that they don’t become any danger to the State in which they live or to its ruling class.

For some others, internationalist solidarity is something kind of extra, to be indulged in now and again.

I think both those tendencies are wrong. We need to confront our own ruling class and State, not only for the benefit of our own working class but also as a contribution to the world. But at the same time we need to pay attention to questions of solidarity with other struggles around the world.

And that can serve as a barometer too – for I have noticed in a number of organisations that when the leadership was heading towards giving up on revolution, inconvenient internationalist solidarity was one of the first things they threw out the window.

MacSwiney’s hunger strike drew the eyes of much of the world to his struggle and to that of his people. In India, the Nehru and Gandhi families made contact with MacSwineys and those connections were maintained for decades afterwards. It is said that Ho Chi Minh was working in a hotel in London when he heard of MacSwiney’s death and remarked that with such people as that, Ireland would surely win her freedom. In Catalonia, people fought daily battles with the Spanish police outside the British Legation in Barcelona. The story reached the Basque Country too and the example of Cumann na mBan was taken a little later to create the female section of the Basque Nationalist Party.

Photo Ho Chi Minh

A young Ho Chi Minh (not his name then) at Marseilles conference in 1919 (Sourced on Internet)
Some of AIA front Hunger Strike Memorial Glasnevin MacSwiney Commemoration Oct 2020
Spanish police fought Catalans sometimes daily outside the British Consulate there during MacSwiney’s hunger strike as they protested in solidarity with the Irish patriot. (Photo sourced: Internet)
Photo shows the Emakume Abertzale Batza, the women’s section of the Basque Nationalist Party, parading in celebration of Aberri Eguna, Basque national day, in 1932. Their formation was inspired by learning of Cumann na mBan. (Photo sourced: Internet)

In Britain too, there was great solidarity, a fact not often spoken about; 30,000 people walked in his funeral procession from the jail to St. George’s Cathedral in Southwark. Who were these people? Certainly many were of the Irish diaspora, the longest-established and largest ethnic minority throughout most of Britain’s history. But there were English socialists too.

At that time, the London Borough of Poplar – not far from the area where the anti-fascist Battle of Cable Street was fought, the anniversary of which we celebrated recently — was in dispute with the Government, who were expecting the rates to be collected there to be on the rental value, which meant the poor East London borough had to pay more than rich boroughs of West London.

The Councillors were planning to refuse to set the expected rates and were threatened with jail, whereupon their leader, George Lansbury said they would be proud to go to the same jail where MacSwiney was being kept. British socialists of that kind marched in the funeral procession (besides, at least two of the Poplar Councillors bore Irish surnames: Kelly and O’Callaghan).

In my opinion, it is a great pity that the leaders of the Irish struggle for independence did not work on building links with the British working class. In 1920 the British ruling class was in serious trouble – it had thousands of military conscripts wanting demobilisation after WWI but the British didn’t want to let them go as they felt they would need them to suppress risings in many parts of the British Empire. The working class in industry was building a strike movement and in 1919 the Government had sent soldiers to shoot strikers in Liverpool and to threaten strikers in Glasgow. The great coal strike of 1925 was not far off, nor was the General Strike of 1926.

If the leaders of the Irish independence struggle had made those connections, not only might the history of Ireland have turned out differently but that of the very world.

The preceding is a very close approximation to the speech I gave on the 25th October 2020 by the Hunger Strike Memorial in Glasnevin Cemetery at the Terence MacSwiney commemoration organised by Anti-Imperialism Action Ireland.

Hunger Strike Martyrs’ Memorial, Republican Plot, Glasnevin Cemetery. (Photo D.Breatnach)
Some of Anti-Imperialist Action in front of the Hunger Strike Memorial, Glasnevin Cemetery, after their MacSwiney Commemoration Oct 2020 (Photo: D.Breatnach).

FUNERALS AND FUNERAL PROCESSIONS IN DIFFERENT COUNTRIES

The working class Irish, who had had some scuffles with the police during vigils at the jail, were there in their thousands at the funeral procession in London in their Sunday best, with the middle class represented too. Some of the Irish women could be identified at a distance, wearing their traditional shawls of Irish city and countryside. The Mayor of Poplar was not the only town mayor to walk in the procession. British socialists took part as did visitors from abroad and the world media was well represented. Aside from the procession, huge crowds lined the South London streets as the cortege passed.

World media interest was intense. The funeral procession, the vast majority walking, travelled the 3.5 miles (nearly 6 kilometres) from Brixton jail northwards to the cathedral where McSwiney’s body was to be received for requiem service the following day.

London Funeral Terence MacSwiney St.George’s Cathedral, Painting by John Lavery

The church where Terence Mc Swiney’s body was laid out under IRA guard of honour, with 30,000 filing past was St. George’s, on the south side of the river, near Southwark Bridge. It had been formally opened in 1848, known as “the year of revolution” in Europe and Ireland had its own contribution with the Young Irelanders’ brief rising. St. George’s was the first Catholic Cathedral of London until the Catholic Westminster Cathedral opened up in 1903. The English Catholics, who were a very small minority in their country had not dared challenge the anti-Catholic restrictions for generations but under the influence of large Irish Catholic congregations became more assertive; however that did not mean that the mostly aristocratic English Catholics were eager to rub shoulders with their largely plebeian Irish brethren and also, north of the river were the main desirable areas. So in 1903 they built the Catholic Cathedral in Westminster and left St. George’s to the Irish plebs on the south side of the Thames.

The Bishop of Westminster in 1920, Cardinal Francis Bourne, head of the Catholic Church of England and Wales, did not comment publicly on the hunger-strike but let it be known in private that he considered it suicide. The London inquest however, at the insistence of his widow Muriel and the evidence of the Governor of Brixton Jail, had recorded the cause of death as heart failure. A week after MacSwiney’s funeral mass in Southwark, Bourne conducted a mass in Westminster for Catholic British Army officers killed in Ireland.

Front view Westminster Catholic Cathedral (Photo sourced: Internet)
Muriel McSwiney before here widowhood (Photo sourced: Internet)

The next day after the removal of the body from Brixton Jail, Bishop William Cotter of Portsmouth gave the Solemn Requiem with Bishop Amigo, Archbishop Daniel Mannix of Melbourne, and Archbishop Anselm Kennealy of Simla, India, in attendanc. It was a ticket-only even; six of those who had tickets were a close group of men, all wearing long coats – once inside they stripped these off and revealed their IRA uniforms. After the previous Republican guardians departed, McSwiney’s body was guarded by six men in the uniform of the army to which he had belonged and of which he had co-founded its Cork element. The Bishop of Southwark might or might not have been pleased but it would not be for long.2 Certainly Peter Emmanuel Amigo, originally from Gibraltar, Bishop of Southwark from 1904 to 1949, had pleaded publicly for MacSwiney’s release before he should die, writing to politicians at Westminster petitioning his release. In a telegram to prime minister David Lloyd George on September 5th, Bishop Amigo warned: “Resentment will be very bitter if he is allowed to die.”

After the service a large entourage accompanied the body in its coffin to Euston Station for the train journey to Hollyhead. From there it was to go on to Dublin, to be received by the people of the Irish capital and then onwards to his home city and final resting place. But it was not to be.

The train left Euston station early with many police on board. At Hollyhead the grieving relatives and friends were informed that the boat they had engaged would take them and the body instead to Cork. The funeral party protested, produced their contract of shipment — to no avail. Porters were called to remove the coffin but were resisted and left. The police were summoned and, manhandling the protesting mourners, seized the coffin (sadly it was not the only kidnapping of an Irish rebel’s body in history, one of the other occasions being by the Irish State with Vol. Michael Gaughan’s body in 1974).

The British authorities feared fueling the fire of patriotic fervour already burning in Dublin at the news of MacSwiney’s death and the impending execution by hanging of Volunteer Kevin Barry. The funeral party were determined to travel to Dublin as arranged and had to engage another ship, which they finally succeeded in doing. While McSwiney’s body travelled on to Cork, the reception was held in Dublin, a city in official mourning declared by the First Dáil and in the midst of an urban guerrilla war against a foreign military occupation.

Mourners in Boston, Chicago, Melbourne, Newcastle upon Tyne, and Manchester held symbolic funerals with empty caskets.

When the Rathmore dropped anchor in Cobh harbour, the coffin containing MacSwiney’s body was transferred to the Mary Tave tug to travel on to Cork to deliver the body to a waiting funeral party. The deck was packed with Auxies, murderers of his predecessor, the final indignity.

Arrival MacSwiney’s Coffin tug surrounded by Auxies Custom House Quay Cork. (Photo sourced: Internet)

A special meeting of Cork Corporation was convened where councillors (those not “on the run”) expressed their condolences and raw emotion at losing the City’s Lord Mayor.

The Deputy Lord Mayor Councillor Donal Óg O’Callaghan, revealing that he had received death threats, issue a defiant statement, decrying that despite Terence’s death, the merit of Republicanism would still linger and pass on:

The only message that I on behalf of the Republicans of Cork give today over the corpse of the late Lord Mayor is that Cork has definitely yielded its allegiance to the Republic, that the people of Cork will continue that allegiance unswervingly and that those of us who man the Municipal Council will attempt as far as in us lies to follow the noble and glorious lead of the two martyred Republican Magistrates.

The Republican hold on the Municipal Chair of Cork ceases only when the last Republican in Cork has followed Tomás MacCurtain and Terence MacSwiney into the Grave. Death will not terrorise us”.

After a funeral service in Cork Cathedral a massive crowd accompanied his coffin to the cemetery, with Republican organisations and ordinary citizens in the procession. The occupation authorities had banned marching in uniform or even in military fashion, or display of flags.

Nationalists under colonial occupation of European powers (including nations within Europe) would be taking inspiration from the Irish struggle for decades. The war of resistance in Ireland would continue, with Cork County and City seeing more than its share. The special terrorist units of the British and their regular army would burn the City on the night of 11th-12th December of that same year. Irish Republicans in Britain would concentrate on supplying intelligence and arms to the struggle at home, in addition to organising some prison escapes. Some British socialists would continue solidarity activities on a publicity level and liberals and social democrats would protest the British reprisals on the Irish civilian population.

But the body of Terence McSwiney had come home.

End.

MacSwiney’s Free, composed and performed by Pat Waters, with video footage:

Footage London & Cork funeral processions Terence MacSwiney:

Terence MacSwiney Cork funeral only footage:

FOOTNOTES

1Some, like MacSwiney and the ten in 1981, died of the depletion of the body through the hunger-strike while some were killed by force-feeding, like Thomas Ashe in 1917, Michael Gaughan in 1974 and Frank Stagg in 1976. Others survived hunger strike and force-feeding but their bodies (and sometime their minds) suffered for the rest of their lives, such as the Price sisters (1973-1974).

2Part of that journey was marked in reverse by the Terence MacSwiney Commemoration Committee with a march in 1989. The idea as far as I can recall had been Brendan O’Rourke’s, an Irish solidarity activist and at that time Manager of the Lewisham Irish Community Centre, the Management Committee of which I was Chairperson and with a few others, Brendan and I led that Commemoration Committee.

The march, supported by Irish Republicans and some English socialists, rallied at Kennington Park, on the lookout for National Front or police attack but knowing that in Brixton itself, an area of high Afro-Caribbean settlement, both those misfortunes were unlikely. We were led by a Republican Flute Band from Scotland and applauded by people as we marched past the police station (the State garrison of the area) and through the centre of Brixton. The march proceeded without incident up Brixton Hill to the entrance of the road leading in to the Jail, held a moment’s silence there and marched down to the centre of Brixton Town, ending there for people to proceed to a reception at Fr. Matthew Hall.

It was the last such march as we could not get another band from Scotland to lead us. We were independent of Provisional Sinn Féin and Scottish RFB members told us that the bands had been told, unofficially of course, that participating in our events would adversely affect their chances of being invited to play at annual events in the Six Counties, which for those bands was the high point of their annual calendar.

SOURCES:

https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/heritage/the-three-funerals-of-terence-macswiney-1.4387267

https://www.stgeorgescathedral.org.uk/about/history/

https://www.irishexaminer.com/news/spotlight/arid-40070420.html

The Polish count who saved thousands of Irish People

Geoffrey Cobb

(Reading time: 3 mins)

In London in 1847 (i.e the worst year of the Great Hunger — Editor Rebel Breeze), though images of the suffering and starvation in Ireland appeared in newspapers, few upper class British people were moved to help. One exception to this indifference was a Polish count who became a naturalized British subject, Paul (Pawel) Strzelecki. A new exhibit at the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin: A Forgotten Polish Hero in the Great Irish Famine, Paul Strzelecki’s struggle to save thousands, honours this selfless Pole who helped feed at least 200,000 starving people in the west of Ireland. Created by Nikola Skowska-Moroney at the Polish Embassy in Dublin, the exhibition will be part of a nationwide tour at various venues throughout the country.

An older Paul Strzelecki

Strzelecki was not only a great humanitarian, but also a fascinating character in his own right. Born into a minor aristocratic family, he served in the Prussian army and had his heart broken when the family of the young woman he had fallen in love with refused his offer of marriage on account of his modest means. Crushed, he decided to leave Poland and traveled the world, visiting Africa, North and South America before traveling to Polynesia and Australia. He became a self-taught scholar in geography, geology and anthropology and corresponded with Charles Darwin. In Australia, he climbed the continent’s highest peak, naming it for the great Polish revolutionary Tadeusz Kosciuszko and explored Tasmania.  He became a British subject in 1845 and published his Physical Description of New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land, for which he received the Founder’s medal of the Royal Geographical Society.

Paul Strzelecki

In 1845, he returned to London where he became friendly with Samuel John Lloyd, an associate of the powerful banker Baron Lionel de Rothschild. The two bankers, moved by the suffering of the Irish, founded the British Relief Association, which collected money for famine relief. Strzelecki volunteered to go to Ireland as an unpaid agent of the B.R.A. Traveling across the famine stricken land, Strzelecki was shocked by the suffering and death he saw around him. In Co. Mayo, Strzelecki organized soup kitchens and gave cash to relief committees. He focused much of his relief work on children. Strzelecki decided to stay in Ireland because, unlike others, he correctly predicted that famine would return to Ireland the following year. The B.R.A. named Strzelecki as agent for all of Ireland and he helped the hungry until the organization’s funds were depleted. He then returned to London where he pled for further funds and explained that humanitarianism must take precedence over every other consideration. In 1849, he again returned to Ireland where he tried to feed the hungry.

Strzelecki also helped many Irish families to emigrate to Australia and the United States. His efforts were recognized by the Crown and he was knighted in 1849. For many years Strzelecki’s heroism was forgotten, but the Polish Embassy in Ireland has sponsored the exhibition to remind Ireland of this great Polish humanitarian. Hopefully, Strzelecki’s story will resonate both with the Irish and with the many Polish people who now call Ireland home and bond the two groups closer together.

End.

Postscript from Editor Rebel Breeze: There is a plaque in Dublin commemorating this man on the side of the Clery’s building in Sackville Place, at the corner with O’Connell Street. Do our readers know of any other such plaques or monuments to him, for example in Mayo?

Plaque Sackville Place Polish Count Paul Strzelecki (Photo: D.Breatnach)



Irish Founder of the Transport Workers Union of America — “Red” Mike Quill (1905-1966)

(Reading time: 7 mins.)

By Geoff Cobb (with addendum from Rebel Breeze)

Michael Quill forever changed labor relations in the USA. The founder of the powerful union representing New York City’s bus and subway workers, Quill’s numerous achievements helped transform the lives of millions of workers by his setting national standards for equal pay for women and minorities, health benefits and paid medical leave. However, it was his leadership of the 1966 Transit Strike that made “Red Mike Quill” a celebrity, famous for defying the Mayor and a jail sentence, when Quill shut down public transportation in the nation’s largest city.

Michael Quill photographed during mass meeting of the union. (Image source: Internet)

Born in 1905 into a humble, Gaelic-speaking family in rural Kilgarvan, Co. Kerry, which was restive under British rule, Quill inherited his desire to fight for justice from his father. “My father,” recalled Quill, “knew where every fight against an eviction had taken place in all the parishes around.”

During the War of Independence, the fifteen-year-old Quill fought in the 3rd Battalion, Kerry No. 2 Brigade of the Irish Republican Army. On a solo scouting mission, Quill stumbled on a patrol of Black and Tans asleep in a ditch. Instead of fleeing, he quietly stole all their ammunition, gleefully returning home with his stolen loot.

During the war, Quill fought bravely and met almost all the top military leaders, providing him the rare opportunity of personally knowing many of Ireland’s most famous patriots. The war also started in Quill a lifelong animosity towards the Catholic Church. While on the run, Mike and his brother were gutted when their parish priest refused their request for temporary amnesty to attend their mother’s funeral.

Opposed to the Treaty creating the Free State with a partitioned British colony, Quill fought against Michael Collins’ National Army and in the conflict Kerry Republicans suffered greatly, especially at Ballyseedy, where 23 anti-Treaty fighters were murdered with dynamite by Free State soldiers. That fight’s unbelievable brutality and injustice never left Quill.

EMIGRATION

Being on the wrong side of the Treaty, Quill, unable to find work, left for America, arriving in New York the day before St. Patrick’s Day in 1926 with just $3.42 in his pocket. Through his uncle who was a subway conductor, Quill got a job on the Interborough Rapid Transit company (which ran the original subway system in New York), first as a night gateman, then as a clerk or “ticket chopper”. The IRT quickly employed many of Quill’s comrades who were also ex- anti-Treaty fighters. Moving from station to station, Quill got to know many IRT employees. He learned they craved dignity and wanted to be treated like human beings, but Quill knew this meant fighting. He said, “You will get only what you are strong enough to take. You will have to fight for your rights—they will never be given to you. And you cannot win if you fight alone.”

James Connolly was a life-long inspiration to Michael Quill (Image source: Internet)

While working night shifts, Quill, who had only attended national school, used dead time to read labor history, especially the works of James Connolly. To fight the low pay, terrible working conditions and long hours of I.R.T workers, Quinn used Connolly, the leader of the Transport Workers Union in Dublin, executed by the British for his role in the 1916 Rising, as his inspiration, and Connolly’s ideas guided Quill throughout his life. Like Connolly, Quill believed that economic power precedes political power, and that the only effective means of satisfying the workers’ demands is the creation of an independent labor party, which creates and supports strong unions. He would honor Connolly by also calling his American union the Transportation Workers Union and years later, as president of the TWU, Quill only had two pictures on his office wall, Abraham Lincoln and James Connolly.

In his union-organizing activities, Quill got the cold shoulder from many established Irish-American organizations. “When we first started to organize the union, we asked for help from the Knight of Columbus and the Ancient Order of Hibernians”, he said. “We were booed and booted out. The Irish organizations did nothing for us, and the Church campaigned actively against us.”

Rejected by mainstream Irish Americans, Quill was embraced by the American Communist Party, which helped him obtain the money, the mimeograph machines and the manpower to launch the Transport Workers Union. Quill, though, merely used the Communists, while knowing he wanted no part of them. When they thought he should attend “Workers School” for indoctrination, Quill told them he needed no indoctrination and soon left the party.

Fearing anti-union informers, Quill organized the TWU, using the methods of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, a secret Fenian society dedicated to a violent rising against British rule. Employing cells of five so that no man knew the names of more than four other workers in the organization, messages were also sent in half-Gaelic and half-English to confuse company spies, known as “beakies.” One night, the “beakies” attacked Quill and five other activists in a tunnel as they were returning from picketing the IRT’s offices. Falsely arrested over the incident for incitement to riot, Quill gained huge notoriety amongst his fellow workers and the charges were eventually dismissed. On April 12, 1934, fighting back against 12 hour days, six days a week, at 66 cents an hour, Quill and six other men formed the T.W.U.

Quill soon became union President and succeeded in getting his union into the American Federation of Labor. He then began unionizing the other transportation companies of New York. In January 1937, the Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit Coorporation dismissed two boiler room engineers from their power plant in Brooklyn for their union activity. Quill immediately called a successful sit-down strike and the BMT had to reinstate the men, which further raised Quill’s standing amongst the rank and file.

ANTI-RACISM

At a time in American history when bigotry and discrimination were commonplace, Quill became famous for fighting prejudice. An ardent opponent of the pro-Fascist Fr. Coughlin, Quill said, “Anti-Semitism is not the problem of the Jewish people alone. It is an American problem, a number one American problem.” He also fought for African Americans against the prejudice of many in his own union. He explained, “The bosses hired you and the same bosses hired the blacks. You are on one payroll; you come to work and leave through the same gate; you punch the same time clock. Unless there is one union to protect all of you, the employer will train these men and use them to displace you—at half your wages.”

Quill became an early ally of Martin Luther King who referred to Quill as “a fighter for decent things all his life” who “spent his life ripping the chains of bondage off his fellow man.” Quill once asked, “Do you know what I’m most proud of? That in TWU we have eliminated racial discrimination in hiring and in promotions and within the union’s ranks. Blacks, Hispanics, Orientals, American Indians and women are holding appointive and elective office.”

STRIKE AND JAIL

Perhaps Quill’s finest hour was during the Transit Strike of 1966. Newly-elected patrician Mayor john Lindsay wanted to get tough with Quill and the TWU. Journalist Jimmy Breslin summarized the conflict succinctly: “…[Lindsay] was talking down to old Mike Quill, and when Quill looked up at John Lindsay he saw the Church of England. Within an hour, we had one hell of a transit strike.”

TWU strike picket 1st Jan 1966 Transit Strike. (Image source: Internet)

Quill attacked the Mayor just as if he were a British soldier, chiding Lindsay for his “abysmal lack of knowledge of the fundamentals of labor relations.” He castigated Lindsay as “a pipsqueak, a juvenile” and jested: “We explored his mind yesterday and found nothing there.” To add insult to injury Quill intentionally repeatedly mispronounced the mayor’s name as “Linsley,” proving that even in the heat of battle Quill never lost his sense of humor.

Then Lindsay made a fatal mistake, jailing Quill, who defiantly said, “The judge can drop dead in his black robes!” While in prison, Quill suffered another heart attack and was sent to the worst of city hospitals. The only person who called Mrs. Quill asking if he could help was Senator Robert F. Kennedy of New York. No other politician inquired about the stricken Quill. While Quill was in the hospital a deal was reached granting the TWU a 15% wage increase along with improvements in the health, welfare and pension systems. In all, it was a great victory. The strike over, he was released from police custody, but just three days later Quill died at age sixty with many claiming that the stress of the strike led to his premature passing.

Quill tearing up the court order banning the strike. (Image source: Internet)

Mike Quill left an enduring legacy. Today the Transport Workers Union is composed of an estimated 60 percent minorities and Quill is still revered within it. He had an inclusive vision of labor, which minority workers respected, strengthening the movement. Pete Seeger dedicated a ballad to Quill and producers Macdara Vallely and Paul Miller have made a biographical film about Quill entitled Which side are you on?

(Image source: Internet)

(Image source: Internet)
Aerial view Mike Quill Centre with feature in the shape of Ireland.
(Image source: Internet)

End.

POSTSCRIPT: Mike Quill and Vice-Admiral Nelson

In the Dublin City Centre, in the middle of its main street, is a curious steel erection which most people call “The Spire”. But from 1809 until 1966, something else stood there: a granite column with the English naval hero Nelson atop it, very much in the style of the one that stands in London’s Trafalgar Square today.

British soldier standing beside ruined GPO building (left) and Nelson’t pillar is visible (right), post-Rising 1916. Quill’s offer to Dublin City Council to demolish he Pillar and replace it with a monument to an Irish national hero was refused but the dissident group Saor Éire blew it up in 1966 in advance of the annual Easter Rising commemorations. (Image source: Internet)

About 50 metres away from what was colloquially called “The Pillar” stands the General Post Office building, which operated as the command HQ of the 1916 Easter Rising and is therefore a traditional gathering place for State and other commemorations of the Rising.

As the 50th Anniversary of the Rising drew near, Mike Quill contacted Dublin City Council and offered to have the statue removed for free and replaced with a more suitable monument. Quill’s first choice was a statue of Jim Larkin, who led his and Connolly’s Irish Transport and General Workers Union in resisting the 8-month Dublin Lockout – the tram crews had walked off their vehicles once they reached the Pillar and Dublin Metropolitan Police had run riot against the people in O’Connell Street shortly afterwards on Bloody Sunday 1913. But Quill offered the Council other options too. A private trust and not Dublin City Council owned Nelson’s Column, he was informed and there the matter rested. Until, on 8th March 1966, the Pillar was blown up by Saor Éire, a socialist split from the Irish Republican Movement, in advance of the 50th Anniversary commemorations.

The Jim Larkin monument in O’Connell Street today (Photo: D.Breatnach)

REMEMBERING THE ARRIVAL OF THE GUNS

Clive Sulish

(Reading time: 5mins.)

On 26th July 1914 there was unusual crowding on the East Pier of the fishing harbour of Howth, Dublin and great excitement which grew as the sail of yacht was spotted making for the harbour. Among those gathered on the pier were members of the Irish Volunteers and of Na Fianna Éireann, the Irish Republican youth organisation. As the yacht, the Asgard, maneouvered to pull into position along the pier, mooring ropes thrown were quickly made fast. Then an amazing number of Mauser rifles and ammunition began to be unloaded into eager hands.

Unloading rifles at Howth, 1914, Erskine and Molly Childers in foreground. Erskine was English but would later join the IRA and was executed by the Free State regime in 1922.
(Source photo: Internet).

          On Sunday 26th July this year the annual commemoration of the historic event was organised by the Anti-Imperialist Action group to take place in Howth. A group of people formed up at the start of the pier and proceeded along to the end, where the commemorative plaque is and where the ceremony was to be held. A small colour party preceded the procession, followed by a banner against the extradition of Liam Campbell, in turn followed by another banner stating: “This Is Our Mandate, This Is Our Republic” (from the Democratic Programme of the First Dáil, 1919), with the rest of the procession following behind.

Attendees or onlookers?
(Photo source: Rebel Breeze)

Part of the attendance at the event.
(Photo source: Rebel Breeze)

The idea of arming the Irish Volunteers to counter the arming of the Ulster Volunteers, who had declared their aim to prevent the limited autonomy of Home Rule being given to Ireland by the British Government, had been discussed in 1914 by a group that could best be described as Anglo-Irish, middle class and including even an aristocrat – nearly all of Protestant background. The eventual sailing of the gun-laden yacht from off the Belgian coast to Dublin was accomplished by a crew of the Asgard assembled for the purpose: Erskine and Molly Childers, Molly Spring-Rice, Conor O’Brien and two seamen from Gola in Donegal: Patrick McGinley and Charles Duggan. Apart from the Captain, Erskine Childers, they all had some Irish in their backgrounds but only Conor O’Brien and the Donegal men were of indigenous stock, with only the latter two native Irish speakers.

The rifles were successfully landed and were used effectively during the 1916 Rising, though only single-shot against the five-shot magazines of the British Army’s Lee-Enfield rifles, of which the Volunteers had only a few (and no machine-guns at all).

THE COMMEMORATION

          When the commemorative procession reached the pier head, the attendance fanned out in a square with an open end facing Margaret McKearney, who was to chair the event. The colour party stood to to one side, the flags bearing the designs of the Irish Citzen Army and Na Fianna Éireann, along with the Tricolour, fluttering in the gentle sea-breeze.

McKearney called for a minute’s silence in remembrance and honour of all those who had given their lives in the struggle for Irish independence, during which the colour party performed the presentation, lowering and raising of the flags. Floral wreaths on behalf of Anti-Imperialist Action and Spirit of Freedom Westmeath were then laid underneath the commemorative plaque to the historic landing of the weapons.

Laying of wreaths by AIAI and by Spirit of Freedom Westmeath.
In foreground, Margaret McKearney, chairing the event.
(Photo source: Rebel Breeze)

McKearney, a life-long Republican from a Republican family in East Tyrone, had once been described by Scotland Yard as “possibly the most dangerous woman terrorist in Britain” but had legally defeated extradition attempts to extradite her from the Irish state in 1975. Two of her brothers had been killed on active service and another murdered by Loyalists during the three-decades war in the Six Counties; another brother had barely survived 53 days of the 1980 hunger strike upon its termination.

Recounting the events of the obtaining of the rifles and ammunition and their landing at Howth in 1914, McKearney went on to tell of the failure of the colonial Dublin Metropolitan police and British Army to confiscate the weapons and how at Bachelors’ Walk, the King’s Own Scottish Borders opened fire on a crowd mocking their failure and bayoneted at least one, killing four and injuring 38.

Socialist Republican colour party.
(Photo source: AIAI)

The guns had been used in the 1916 Rising, McKearney related and went on to refer to the long struggle for Irish independence since, still uncompleted, with the Good Friday Agreement seeking to draw a line under it and preserve the status quo.

Side view of the colour party with Howth harbour in the background.
(Photo source: Rebel Breeze)

Referring to the growing danger of fascism in Ireland and in the world, McKearney pointed out that as the financial losses incurred during the Covid19 epidemic mounted, the ruling class in Ireland and its government would be seeking to break the resistance of the people in order to impose austerity upon them and it was then that they might well turn to the fascists.

The chair then introduced historian Peter Rogers of the Spirit of Freedom who delivered a lengthy speech on the nature of Irish Republicanism and the struggle for independence. Rogers referred to Good Friday Agreement as having failed to resolve the situation with even Francis Molloy (a Provisional Sinn Féin TD, i.e member of the Irish Parliament) remarking that they “had been sold a pup”. The speaker concluded saying that Sinn Féin must be given time to fail in the Dáil when the option of a united Ireland would be more easily embraced.

Peter Rogers of Spirit of Freedom Westmeath giving an oration.
(Photo source: Rebel Breeze)

A speaker from Macra – Irish Republican Youth was then called forward and delivered a short statement.

Diarmuid Breatnach, representing the Anti-Internment Group of Ireland, was next to speak. Pointing out that internment without trial of Republican activists was continuing albeit under other forms, Breatnach related how Irish Republicans were being charged and refused bail prior to being brought before non-jury special courts on both sides of the British Border. In the unlikely event of their being found not guilty subsequently, they had nevertheless spent two years in jail. Also the practice of rearresting without trial or even charge of Republican prisoners released on licence constituted a form of internment, Breatnach said.

Going on to speak of the historic Howth event, the speaker remarked upon the varied nature of those who had planned and carried out the operation, including a number who would not have satisfied the criteria for “Irishness” of the current crop of Irish racists and fascists of the Far-Right in Ireland. Yet some involved in the gun-running had made that contribution before leaving the struggle, while most had gone on to fight in the 1916 Rising, joined there also by the workers’s Irish Citizen Army. Many had gone on the fight in the War of Independence and while some had sided with the Free State in the split and Civil War in 1922, most of the fighters had remained on the Republican side.

Diarmuid Breatnach, who spoke on behalf of Anti-Internment Group of Ireland and also sang Amhrán na bhFiann at the end.
(Photo source: AIAI)

The lesson he drew from that, Breatnach continued, was that the fight for freedom had to be extended in as broad an alliance as possible but also remaining aware that some of that alliance would be temporary and to prepare accordingly.

The speaker commented on the historical importance of possession of weapons when facing an armed enemy and concluded by saying that though the time for weapons might not be now, the lesson of history is that such a time would come in the future.

McKearney thanked the organisers, attendance and all the speakers for their contributions and announced the handing over of a donation from Anti-Imperialist Action to the Loughgall Memorial Martyrs’ fund.

Donation from AIAI to the Loughgall Martyrs’ Memorial fund against the background of the plaque commemorating the landing of the rifles.
(Photo source: Rebel Breeze).

The event then concluded with the singing of a verse and chorus of Amhrán na bhFiann, the Irish national anthem, sung in Irish by Breatnach.

HISTORICAL POSTSCRIPT: THE ASGARD TODAY

          The boat was built in Norway by an acclaimed Scottish migrant boat-builder and sold in 1904 to the Erskine Childers and his USA bride, Molly (Mary Alden Osgood), with the interior built to the specifications of Erskine and Molly. Childers, though English and had volunteered for the British armed forces during WWI, nevertheless took up the cause of Irish independence, joining the IRA in the War of Independence and continuing on the Republican side. He was captured by the Free State forces and executed by the State in 1922 (his son Erskine Hamilton Childers was elected the 4th President of the State in 1973).

The Asgard in its separate Exhibition in Collins Barracks.
(Photo source: Rebel Breeze)

Part of the deck of the Asgard in its separate exhibition in Collins Barracks.
(Photo source: Rebel Breeze)

The Asgard was sold and in 1961 Journalist Liam Mac Gabhann discovered the vessel in the River Truro, Cornwall and wrote about it. After lobbying, the Irish State purchased and overhauled the ship and sailed back to Howth in 1961, where the original event was re-enacted with surviving members of the Irish Volunteers. The Irish Navy used her as a sail training vessel but in 1974 the Yacht was dry-docked in what was in essence a large shed in Kilmainham, partly open to the elements, until new restoration work began in 2007. In 2012 the yacht was moved to the National Museum complex at Collins Barracks, where it has resided since in a separate and permanent exhibiton, along with memorabilia and related information and photographs. In normal times the National Museum is open six days a week and entry is free to both the Asgard exhibition and the general Museum exhibitions.

Anti-Imperialist Action Ireland banner and Starry Plough flags at the event. (Photo source: Rebel Breeze)

End.

FURTHER INFORMATION:

Anti-Imperialist Action: https://www.facebook.com/antievictionflyingcolumn/

The Howth Gun-Running: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Howth_gun-running

The Asgard: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asgard_(yacht)

Loughgall Martyrs Memorial: https://www.lurganmail.co.uk/news/crime/memorial-two-ira-men-killed-loughgall-razed-ground-639757

IRISH REPUBLICANS AND ANTIFASCISTS GATHER IN DUBLIN TO HONOUR SEÁN RUSSELL

Clive Sulish

(Reading time: 10 mins)

A few hundred Irish Republicans and other Anti-Fascists gathered today in the Ballybock area north of Dublin city centre to commemorate IRA leader of the 1940s Seán Russell. The event was organised a few weeks after the incumbent Irish Prime Minister, Leo Varadkar, had made a public statement suggesting that Russell was a fascist sympathiser and that his monument and some others in Ireland should be removed. In attendance yesterday (Sunday 21st June) was a cross-section of the Irish Republican movement in addition to independent Irish socialists and anti-fascists.

Note: Photos of the event are from individuals D. Breatnach and C. Perry and organisations Saoradh and Anti-Imperialist Action.

The statue representing Seán Russell on the monument plinth.

The theme banner crossing Annesley Bridge on the way to Fairview Park.

NAZI COLLABORATOR” SLUR

          Leo Varadkar’s comment that Sean Russell had been “a Nazi collaborator” was made in the course of a TV discussion on racism, arising out of the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in the USA, an event which sparked off huge protests not only in the USA but, because it had been so clearly documented and shared on social and news media, around much of the world. Among the angry retorts in reply had been an Open Letter by Matt Doyle, of the National Graves Association, pointing out that Russell was an Irish Republican with no elements of fascism in his history or ideology and that in fact Varadkar’s party, Fine Gael, was the one built on fascism, i.e the Blue Shirts movement of the 1930s, which Republicans had fought and defeated.

Seán Russell had gone to Nazi Germany in 1940 to seek assistance from them in ridding Ireland of British colonialism but on his way back to Ireland in a German submarine, accompanied by Frank Ryan, Russell had become seriously ill, died and was buried at sea, 20 miles from Galway. Frank Ryan was also an Irish Republican but had been wounded fighting fascists in the Spanish Civil War; after his capture the Nazi German allies of the Spanish fascists had expressed interest in Ryan for the purposes of assisting Irish Republican action against the English occupation of the occupied Six Counties.

View of section of the parade crossing Annesley Bridge on the way to the monument in Fairview Park.

A BROAD REPUBLICAN PARTICIPATION IN PROCESSION AND RALLY

          The attendance had representation from across the Irish Republican spectrum from “Stickles” to “Provies” to “Dissidents”1, mixed with some independent socialists and antifascists but notably absent was a representation from the Irish socialist and communist parties in any numbers, nor were their flags to be seen. No anarchist flags were in evidence either and only one Antifa flag was, that one from the Basque Country. The event was organised by “Independent Republicans”, a headline permitting a wide attendance free from sectional hostilities or the more fundamental division of for or against the Good Friday Agreement. The flags most in evidence among the attendance were the orange rising sun on a blue field of Na Fianna and both versions of the “Starry Plough”, the one in gold on a green field and the one with white stars on a blue field.

Section of the crowd at the event in Fairview Park with Annesley Bridge Road in the background.

The Starry Plough was the flag of the Irish Citizen Army, founded by James Connolly and Jim Larkin and described as “the first workers’ army in the world”; formed in 1913 to defend the Dublin strikers and locked-out workers from the attacks of the Dublin Metropolitan Police, its ethos was socialist and for Irish independence. The ICA recruited men and women and a number of the latter were officers during the 1916 Rising, including third-in-command in two insurgent garrisons. That version was gold-on-green field version but the Republican Congress of the 1930s had the white-stars-on-blue-field version. The Republican Congress was a short-lived attempt to unite communists, socialists and the Irish Republican movement in one front.

Na Fianna Éireann was an Irish Republican youth organisation founded by Bulmer Hobson of the IRB and Constance Markievicz in 1909 and therefore predated the ICA (and the Irish Volunteers). Members of na Fianna were highly motivated and disciplined and played a prominent part in the collection of Mauser rifles smuggled into Howth in 1914, in the 1916 Rising, the War of Independence and in the Irish Civil War.

The colour party at the event.  The flags displayed traditionally include the Tricolour, those of the four provinces and that of Na Fianna, along with the Starry Plough (either version but that shown here is the original ICA design).

Led by a traditional Irish Republican colour party and a lone piper, the parade on Sunday set off from under the railway bridge crossing the North Strand road and marched north in the traditional formation of two lines, their flags fluttering in the strong breeze. The procession crossed the Tolka river at Annesley Bridge, scene of a battle in 1916. In fact, the whole area had also been the scene of running battles in 1014 as the defeated Viking mercenaries from Orkneys and Manx ran for their ships, pursued by some of Brian Boróimhe’s (“Boru”) forces, for prior to the draining and reclaiming of the marsh, dunes and mudflats of the “sloblands” to permit laying out of Fairview Park and parts of the East Wall area, the seashore had been there.

Once over the bridge, the procession turned into Fairview Park and marched a short distance under trees until arriving at the Seán Russel monument and its surrounding low iron fence, where a number of people had already gathered. The monument had been erected in 1951 by the National Graves Association, a totally independent NGO and had been attacked twice, once having an arm removed and on the other occasion, its head. The first attack has been attributed to right-wing elements and the second, to antifascists.

The lone piper plays by the monument.

WREATH, SPEECHES AND SONG

          Patrick “Parko” Burke as MC for the event welcomed those in attendance and called for the placing of a floral wreath at the monument on behalf of Dublin Republicans. The piper played a short piece while the flags of the colour party were lowered and a moment’s silence was observed, then as the flags were raised again a short piece was played again.

The wreath to be laid on behalf of Dublin Republicans at the monument.

Laying the wreath at the foot of the monument.

The MC then introduced Gerry Mac Namara, who is a member of the extended Russell family.

Speaking briefly first in Irish and going on to address the gathering in English, the speaker recounted that Russell’s antecedents had been Fenians and that Seán himself was an Irish Republican who fought in the 1916 Rising and War of Independence and continued in the IRA after De Valera led a split to form Fianna Fáil. Mac Namara denounced Varadkar for his comments and commented that if the Prime Minister was in the mood to remove monuments there are a number of memorials of the British occupation and to English landlords in Ireland with which he might make a good beginning. Mac Namara made some comments in a similar vein in reference to Cnclr. Ray McAdam, “the publicity-seeking Fine Gael Councillor” who had recently sought to desecrate the 1798 mass grave monument at Croppies Acre.  “Sean Russell has no grave”, commented Mac Namara, “because he was buried at sea.  This monument is the closest thing to a gravestone he has.”

Gerry Mac Namara, a member of the extended Russell family, speaking at the event.

If Varadkar wanted to talk about racism in Irish history, he would do well to refer to Oliver J. Flanagan, a prominent member of the Fine Gael party and Minister in Fine Gael government, who had in the Dáil in 1943 called called on the Irish Government to do as the Nazis had done and to “rout the Jews out of this country …. where the bees are, there is honey and where the Jews are, there is money.”

Liam Manners, a young man came forward then to read a statement from the Irish Republican prisoners in Maghaberry, Mountjoy and Portlaoise jails. The first of those prisons is of the Six Counties colonial administration while the other two are of the Irish State.

Pat Savage at the event performing an Irish ‘rebel’ ballad. The MC, Patrick “Parko” Burke is holding the microphone for him.

Liam Manners at the event reading statement on behalf of Irish Republican Prisoners.

Pat Savage was called forward and performed the Republican ballad “White, Orange and Green”, about an anonymous teenage Republican girl who refuses to surrender the Irish Tricolour to an English soldier during the War of Independence.

A REPUBLICAN LIKE TONE AND PEARSE”

          Mallachy Steenson came to stand in front of the monument and gave a resumé of Seán Russel’s service to the Republican movement. In seeking help to rid Ireland of British occupation Russell had been not only to Nazi Germany but to imperialist USA and Soviet Russia, however he had not been accused by Varadkar of being a Soviet or a US imperialism collaborator. Russell was ready to receive help from Nazi Germany to get rid of the British occupation, as he said himself but nothing more.

Steenson stated that Russell had been an Irish Republican in the same mold as Patrick Pearse and Theobald Wolfe Tone: Tone had sought help from France and Pearse from Imperial Germany, yet Tone was not a “French collaborator” nor was Pearse a collaborator with German imperialism or monarchy. Steenson commented that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” has been a well-known tactical slogan on many occasions.

Briefly touching on John Mitchell, whose statue in Newry some had suggested had suggested should be got rid of, Steenson pointed out that Mitchell had opposed English rule in Ireland for which he had been deported to Australia as a convict. From there he had escaped to the USA. While it was unfortunate that he had taken the side there of the slave states of the Confederacy, were it nor for the English he would have been in neither Australia nor America.

Mallachy Steenson, delivering the main speech at the event.

The Sean Russell monument is not only to commemorate Russell, Steenson pointed out and there are names on the pediment of many other Republicans, including those executed by the De Valera government because they had continued the fight which Fianna Fáil had abandoned. The Irish Republicans of the 1940s, of which group Sean Russell was an important member, passed through a particularly difficult period.

Talking about monuments which he said should be removed, Steenson referrred to the wall of names in Glasnvevin Cemetery, which he said should be called “the Wall of Shame” and went on to refer to the attempt to interfere with the Croppies’ Acre memorial2. Steenson said that there was a concerted effort to remove or rewrite Irish history. There had not been too much controversy during the early part of the “Decade of Commemorations” but coming up soon would be the Civil War. How would Varadkar and Fine Gael justify the Free State’s execution of 77 Republicans after a summary court martial, he wondered. Or the Free State army tying of captured Republicans to a land mine and blowing them up? Or the removal from their cells in Mountjoy Jail of four Republican leaders, one from each province before shooting them dead the next day3?

The MC made a mention of the National Graves Association and announcing that the organisation had a big event planned for later in the summer, then called for another song which Pat Savage performed: “Off to Dublin in the Green”, a Republican ballad about the 1916 Rising.

Patrick Burke acknowledged the presence of Dublin City Councillors Cieran Perry and Christy Burke and invited the latter to say a few words.

Like Steenson, Cnclr. Burk referred to the “wall” in Glasnevin but also reminded listeners that in January of this year the Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan had proposed to commemorate the Black ‘n Tans4 but his plans had been defeated by the public reaction of outrage. Burke referred also to the plan to build a playground on the United Irishmen mass grave at Croppies’ Acre and that a motion by Councillors such as Cieran Perry against any such desecration had won 50% of the vote and since he had been Chair, he had given the additional casting vote in favour of the protective motion. Cnlr. Burke said that he along with Cnclrs. Mannix, Perry and others were preparing a motion to prevent any Republican monument being removed in Dublin.

The formal part of the event concluded with the playing of the chorus of Amhrán na bhFiann, the Irish National Anthem while some remained in the area to take photographs, have theirs taken in front of the monument or catch up with friends or acquaintances whom they had not seen for some time.

INCIDENTS

          There were three minor incidents during the event:

1) Two cyclists had strung a line of bunting in LBTG colours between their bicycles and were at first some distance behind the monument but later moved to the street in front. It is not known whether they were supporting the event or commenting on it in some way.

2) While one of the speakers was addressing the crowd, one of a small group of secret police approached one of the supporters of the event who had become momentarily separated from the general attendance and tried to detain him there for questioning. However, the man shouted to the crowd that he was being “harassed by the Special Branch” and with a snarl the secret policeman stepped out of the man’s way. After all, there were several hundred supporters of the event present but only a handful of secret police!

3) During the proceedings, a middle-aged woman came from behind the monument and stood to one side of it in the space left open, looked at the statue, then at the attendance with an insolent attitude, then stalked away without saying anything.

CONCLUSION

          The event was marked by the absence of any obvious representation of the fascists and racists of the far-Right in Ireland who have been for some time now attempting to represent themselves as “Irish patriots” and who, it was rumoured had been warned not to attend.

The mood at the event was defiant and the speeches militant in form, seeming to reflect a determination to defend Irish Republican history and monuments to the anti-colonial resistance of the Irish people from forces in or outside Government who might wish to destroy or misrepresent them.

The calumny that Sean Russell was in any way a supporter of fascism has been staunchly refuted. However the correctness or otherwise of the general thesis that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” and its specific application to Nazi Germany or other cases remains a subject of some debate even in Irish Republican circles.

End.

FOOTNOTES

1Popular words used to describe the Official Sinn Féin and IRA and its split, Provisional Sinn Féin and IRA and those Republicans of various groups and none, of armed group or none, that rejected the Good Friday Agreement.

2The “wall” referred to is an installation put up in 2016 by the Glasnevin Cemetery Trust commemorating fatalities during the 1916 Rising but which includes the names of soldiers of the British Army alongside those of freedom fighters of the insurgency. Many in Ireland have objected strenuously to this juxtaposition and the installation has been continually guarded by Gardaí, the police force of the Irish State which has failed to prevent at least two attacks on the “Wall” and there are plans to include Black and Tans and Auxilliaries on it in future.

3Actually more than 77 executions of Republicans, since the number does not include a few executed for armed robberies to raise funds for the struggle. The first of the land mine atrocities was the Ballyseedy Massacre in Kerry, on 7th March 1923, followed by others within 24 hours: five at Countess Bridge near Killarney and four in Cahirsiveen. There were many unofficial executions by the Free State during the Civil War, varying from kidnapping and murders to shooting prisoners of war: of the 32 Republican fighters killed in Kerry in March 1923, only five were killed in combat.

4In January Charlie Flanagan, Minister of Justice of the Fine Gael minority Government, had declared his plan to commemorate the colonial police force of the British occupation of Ireland, the Royal Irish Constabulary. In 1920 these had also included two auxiliary special police forces, the “Black and Tans” and the “Auxiliaries”, whose role was to terrorise the Irish population and who committed torture, murder, arson and theft until they were disbanded in 1921 after the signing of the “Anglo-Irish Treaty”.  A wave of public repugnance had caused the Government to “postpone the event”.

James Connolly on St. Patrick’s Day

The National Festival

by James Connolly

From Workers’ Republic, 18 March 1916.
Transcribed by The James Connolly Society in 1997.
Proofread by Chris Clayton, August 2007.

James Connolly poster by Jim Fitzpatrick.
(Image sourced: Internet)

The question often arises: Why do Irishmen celebrate the festival of their national saint, in view of the recently re-discovered truth that he was by no means the first missionary to preach Christianity to the people of Ireland? It is known now beyond the shadow of a doubt that the Christian religion had been preached and practised in Ireland long before St. Patrick, that Christian churches had been established, and it is probable that the legend about the shamrock was invented in some later generation than that of the saint. Certainly the shamrock bears no place of any importance in early Celtic literature, and the first time we read of it as having any reference to or bearing on religion in Ireland occurs in the work of a foreigner – an English monk.

But all that notwithstanding there is good reason why Irish men and women should celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. They should celebrate it for the same reason as they should honour the green flag of Ireland, despite the fact that there is no historical proof that the Irish, in the days of Ireland’s freedom from foreign rule, ever had a green flag as a national standard, or indeed ever had a national flag at all

Shamrock for sale in Moore Street last year, one of the few times in the year they are permitted to sell something outside the vegetable-fruit permit. They were not finding many buyers during the past week.
Photo: D.Breatnach

The claim of the 17th of March to be Ireland’s national festival, the claim of St. Patrick to be Ireland’s national saint, the claim of the shamrock to be Ireland’s national plant, the claim of the green flag to be Ireland’s national flag rests not on the musty pages of half-forgotten history but on the affections and will of the Irish people.

Sentiment it may be. But the man or woman who scoffs at sentiment is a fool. We on this paper respect facts, and have a holy hatred of all movements and causes not built upon truth. But sentiment is often greater than facts, because it is an idealised expression of fact – a mind picture of truth as it is seen by the soul, unhampered by the grosser dirt of the world and the flesh.

The Irish people, denied comfort in the present, seek solace in the past of their country; the Irish mind, unable because of the serfdom or bondage of the Irish race to give body and material existence to its noblest thoughts, creates an emblem to typify that spiritual conception for which the Irish race laboured in vain. If that spiritual conception of religion, of freedom, of nationality exists or existed nowhere save in the Irish mind, it is nevertheless as much a great historical reality as if it were embodied in a statute book, or had a material existence vouched for by all the pages of history.

It is not the will of the majority which ultimately prevails; that which ultimately prevails is the ideal of the noblest of each generation. Happy indeed that race and generation in which the ideal of the noblest and the will of the majority unite.

In this hour of her trial Ireland cannot afford to sacrifice any one of the things the world has accepted as peculiarly Irish. She must hold to her highest thoughts, and cleave to her noblest sentiments. Her sons and daughters must hold life itself as of little value when weighed against the preservation of even the least important work of her separate individuality as a nation.

Therefore we honour St. Patrick’s Day (and its allied legend of the shamrock) because in it we see the spiritual conception of the separate identity of the Irish race – an ideal of unity in diversity, of diversity not conflicting with unity.

Magnificent must have been the intellect that conceived such a thought; great must have been the genius of the people that received such a conception and made it their own.

On this Festival then our prayer is: Honour to St. Patrick the Irish Apostle, and Freedom to his people.

James Connolly monument, Beresford Place, Dublin.

COMMENT:

I seem to recall that Connolly wrote something else about celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, perhaps when he was living and working in the USA but can’t find it now.  For similar reasons to what he lays out here, I supported and indeed organised public celebration of the feast day in London.

And I might have agreed with Connolly in the case of Ireland at the time he wrote it: the whole country under British occupation, in the middle of the First World War with thousands of Irish casualties in the British armed forces and coming up to the 1916 Rising.

But now?  I don’t think so, neither with what it celebrates nor how it is celebrated, which always makes me want to get out of Dublin.  Republic Day, which Connolly was party to creating but could perhaps not have anticipated being a national festival day, is what we should be focusing on now, I think.

 

REFERENCE:

https://www.marxists.org/archive/connolly/1916/03/natlfest.htm

 

HAS FERRITER BEEN READING REBEL BREEZE?

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 2 minutes)

On 15 February Ferriter’s column in the Irish Times expressed the opinion that comparison of Sinn Féin with Fianna Fáil in the 1930s only takes us so far. After looking at less of the overall history of the main Irish parties than I had in my article of 11 February in Rebel Breeze but adding some pieces I had not, what was his conclusion that differed so widely from mine? Well, that the military past was too new with SF!

Diarmaid Ferriter in Thinker pose
(Source: Internet)

But, actually, not true of Provisional SF with regard to FF, which came into government in 1932, less than two decades after the end of the Civil War and only six years after its split from Sinn Féin. De Valera, President of Fianna Fáil, had been a leader of the Republican side in the Civil War, from which side came the majority of Fianna Fáil’s supporters. By the time PSF gets into Government, it will be LONGER than two decades since Provisional IRA gave up its armed struggle!

On 11 February I posted an article of mine on Rebel Breeze and from there on to Facebook, making the point that, despite hostile media and politician claims to the contrary, Sinn Féin is very like the main Irish political parties – and that that is not a good thing. I traced the main elements of the parties’ history, how they had changed their positions and I elaborated the point that the main difference in their trajectories is that SF’s arrival on the neo-colonial capitalist political field was just more recent.

Meeting of Provisional Sinn Féin’s Ard-Choiste (national executive) in February 2020.
(Source photo: Niall Carson, AP, Internet)

It is worth noting (a point I had omitted in my piece) that nearly the entire Fianna Fáil government Cabinet in 1932 was composed of Civil War IRA men and that most of the remainder had been in Free State prison during that war.

It is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery but I can easily avoid being pleased by Ferriter substantially following my line of historical analysis. This is the man who, during the 2016 High Court hearing about the Government and property speculator plans for Moore Street, wrote a nasty attack on the demonstrators who had occupied the buildings and subsequently blockaded them against demolition. If he had been hoping to influence the High Court’s decision he failed – and spectacularly, because the judgement was that not only the buildings but the whole quarter is a 1916 historical monument.

Frank McDonald had also written an opinion piece during the trial against conservation and the demonstrators in the same newspaper (what WAS the Irish Times up to?) but after the judgement, he had the grace to apologise (sort of: he wrote that he had been in error).

But Ferriter? Nary a word.

End.

REFERENCES:

Piece by D. Breatnach in Rebel Breeze: https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/2020/02/11/despite-hostile-propaganda-sinn-fein-is-just-another-irish-political-party/

Piece by D. Ferriter in the Irish Times: https://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/diarmaid-ferriter-fianna-f%C3%A1il-s-trajectory-holds-lessons-for-sinn-f%C3%A9in-1.4173709?

 

 

DESPITE HOSTILE PROPAGANDA, SINN FÉIN IS JUST ANOTHER IRISH POLITICAL PARTY

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 5 minutes)

Sinn Féin is not like other Irish political parties” goes the propaganda campaign against the party  by media commentators and rival mainstream politicians during the elections. What nonsense! It is exactly like the other main Irish political parties – and that’s the problem.

          Their opponents’ main objection seems to be that Provisional Sinn Féin was widely seen as the political wing of the armed resistance group Provisional IRA and, although the IRA have dissolved and decommissioned their weapons, the party still carries that mark in the eyes of its detractors (and, it must be said, fondly in the eyes of some of its supporters).

This propaganda campaign is acutely unhistorical. A few short lessons in Irish history might be of use here.

The Irish Labour Party was founded by, among others, the revolutionary socialist James Connolly and anarcho-sindicalist Jim Larkin. In 1913 both advocated arming union workers to resist armed police attacks. In 1916, the Irish Citizen Army they founded was part of the armed Rising and two of their leaders were among the 16 executed by British firing squads.

The party stayed neutral during the Civil War and was an opposition party to the Cumann na nGaedheal government. Since then, the Labour Party has been in Government only as a coalition partner – most times with the right-wing Fine Gael party. Except for it links with trade unions, the party has little claim to having “Labour” in its name and has turned away from everything if which its founders believed.

Fine Gael was formed in 1933 when two smaller groups joined Cumann na nGaedheal, which had been the governing party of the partitioned Free State from 1923 up until the merger. Michael Collins and his followers were the kind of people The founders of Cumann na nGaedheal were among the pro-Treaty and Free State supporters, i.e people who until then had been active in leading or supporting a campaign of armed resistance to the occupying British forces, including assassinations, ambushes and robberies. The Free State began the Civil War in 1922 by an artillery bombardment of Republican positions in Dublin and over the next few years carried out repression on the civilian population, torture, summary executions of prisoners of war as well as State executions – and assassinations.  The victors handed the reins over to Cumann na nGaedheal in 1923.

The parties that joined Cumann na nGaedheal in 1933 were 1) the National Centre Party, essentially a big farmers’ quasi-fascist party and 2) the Army Comrades Association (the fascist “Blueshirts”). Of the mainstream Irish political parties, Fine Gael has stayed truest to its founders and base.

Fianna Fáil emerged from a split from Sinn Féin in 1926; interestingly, much of what is being said against Sinn Féin by establishment political commentators now – and worse — was said then about Fianna Fáil: “murderers”, “revolutionaries” (and even “Communists”!). The party first entered power in 1932, its leader De Valera having been — little more than a decade previously — a leader of the Republicans during the Civil War, opponents of the Treaty and of the Irish Government of the time.  It freed the Republican prisoners locked up by the Cumann na nGaedheal government, also having a special police force (“Broy’s Harriers”) to persecute the Blueshirts, who aspired to taking power as had Fascists in Europe.

Cumann na nGaedheal (forerunner of Fine Gael) poster against Fianna Fáil during 1930s.
(Image sourced: Internet)

By 1939, the Fianna Fáil government had introduced the savage repressive legislation of the Emergency Powers Act to intern republicans without trial and after a successful habeas corpus challenge by Seán McBride (one of the founders of Amnesty International), the Government brought in the Offences Against the State Act, was re-arresting Republicans and interning them without trial again (around 2,000). Two Republicans died on a hunger strike protest in Mountjoy Jail. Under Fianna Fáil the State executed six Republicans and some more are alleged to have died as a result of their treatment in the concentration camp.

In 1957, a Fianna Fáil government once again brought internment without trial into force, the colonial administration of the Six Counties having done the same the year previously. The last prisoner was released by FF in 1959.

Left: Cumann na nGaedheal poster urging votes against FF because of the party’s history. Right: Fianna Fáil poster appealing to the working class and small farmers.
(Image sourced: Internet)

From having been seen as the main political party of Irish Republicanism, Fianna Fáil became in a short time the preferred party of the Irish capitalists (the “Gombeen” class) and has been in government more than any other party, more often indeed than the party that won the Civil War and set up the State.

JUST LIKE ANY OTHER IRISH PARTY

          There is no historical basis for saying that Sinn Féin is very different from the other Irish mainstream political parties. It has traversed a similar path to all those others, perhaps most similarly to Fianna Fáil – it’s just a more recent arrival on the mainstream scene. It is already very like other main Irish political parties and is getting to be exactly like them.

Leader of the Sinn Féin party, Mary Lou McDonald, at the launch of the party’s manifesto. With no intention of overthrowing capitalism it promised reforms for working people.
(Photo source: Internet)

That is not a compliment.

This is a party that, in recent decades, had a revolutionary Irish republican – or at least nationalist – position. It strongly opposed the partition of the country and the colonial occupation of one-sixth of the nation’s territory. With the latter came — naturally enough — opposition to the colonial police force, the Royal Ulster Constabulary but this was much more than an ideological opposition: the RUC was an armed force created specifically for the repression of Irish Republicans and acted consistently against the Catholic minority in the Six Counties, which SF sought to represent and among which it organised.

The colonial Statelet itself, with its gerrymandering of electoral boundaries, sectarian allocation of housing and employment and its Special Powers Act, was the sworn enemy of the Sinn Féin party. And when British troops were sent in 1969 to repress the civil rights uprising, of course Provisional Sinn Féin and Provisional IRA fought them too.

The Provisional IRA gave up armed struggle against the British in 1998 and, although it maintained its armed force for control of its community for some time afterwards, eventually dissolved its organisation. By then it had already decommissioned its weapons.

Martin McGuinness (right) of SF, formerly of the IRA, as Deputy Prime Minister of the British colony of the Six Counties. He partnered the Prime Minister Ian Paisley (left), a rabid religious sectarian, Christian fundamentalist and homophobe. They were dubbed “the Chuckle Brothers”.
(Photo sourced: Internet)

In 2007 the SF party became part of the British colony’s administration in Stormont, with Martin McGuinness, former chief of the IRA in Derry, partnering Ian Paisley, notorious Loyalist religious sectarian and social bigot.

That same year the party agreed to support the armed and sectarian police force and in the reorganisation of the RUC had the name changed to “the Police Service of Northern Ireland”. The essence of the force, naturally, remains the same.

All the austerity measures inflicted on the working class by the administration since the party entered joint government of the colony have been approved by Sinn Féin MLAs.

Martin McGuinness publicly shaking hand of British colonial Queen when SF officially opposed the visit. However SF did not demonstrate against her visit and Gerry Adams later approved of it.
(Photo sourced: Internet)

In 2011, despite an official SF policy of opposition to the visit of the Queen of England, Commander-in-Chief of the British Armed Forces, to the 26 Counties (the Irish state), leaders greeted her (one in person) and urged no protests be made against her visit.

In 2019, SF welcomed Prince Charles on a two-day visit to the colony and to the State; this man is not only son of the English Monarch but ceremonial commander-in-chief of the Parachute Regiment, authors of the massacres of Derry’s Bloody Sunday (14 dead) and Ballymurphy (11 dead) for which not a single soldier or commander has ever been tried. The SF Mayor of Derry, however, refused to meet him.

Gerry Adams shakes hands with Prince Phillip, titular head of the Parachute Regiment (the SF Mayor of Derry refused to meet him).
(Photo sourced: Internet)

This year, 2020, the Six-County part of the leadership of Sinn Féin joined others in publicly seeking recruits for the PSNI, while the 26-County leadership withdrew from its previous position of seeking abolition of the repressive emergency powers of the Offences Against the State Act.

In the 26 Counties, SF long ago indicated its willingness to join in a governing coalition with some one of the other mainstream political parties: i.e capitalist, neo-colonial political parties.

On so many occasions, it has shown itself to be like the other parties and prepared to ditch formerly-declared principles for what it considered a political advantage, proving itself a “safe pair of hands” to the rulers of the system.

Yes, Sinn Féin is indeed a party like any other Irish mainstream political party: capitalist, neo-colonial, undemocratic and supporting State repression. As to the latter, why not? It won’t be SF that the State will be repressing — it’ll be Irish Republicans. And if SF ever get where they want to, into majority control of government – they’ll have plenty of opponents themselves to drag before those non-jury courts.

End.

L-R: PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne, Anne Connolly, Chairperson of the NI Policing Board, Gerry Kelly MLA, Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill and Deputy Chief Constable elect, Mark Hamilton at recruitment launch for the colonial police force.

MORE INFORMATION LINKS

“Sinn Féin is not a conventional democratic party”: https://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/sinn-f%C3%A9in-is-not-a-conventional-democratic-party-this-is-undeniable-1.4161818?

The most vicious of unhistorical attacks on SF, although from an alleged historian: https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/opinion/columnists/ruth-dudley-edwards/sinn-feins-rise-akin-to-that-of-nazis-in-1930s-and-is-a-threat-to-democracy-on-this-island-38940177.html

Internment without trial under Fianna Fáil 1957: https://www.anphoblacht.com/contents/19806

Sinn Féin shares in administration of the British colony for the first time: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/sinn-f%C3%A9in-endorses-psni-by-overwhelming-majority-1.1292110?

Sinn Féin accepts the colonial police force: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/sinn-f%C3%A9in-endorses-psni-by-overwhelming-majority-1.1292110?

Relatives of people murdered by Crown forces and allies object to SF support for the PSNI: https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/209838/posts/2580601201

Sinn Féin leader McGuinness welcoming Queen of England to the colony despite SF official policy against her visit: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/queen-publicly-shakes-hands-with-sinn-feins-martin-mcguinness-after-historic-meeting-7892750.html

SF leader Gerry Adams commenting favourably on Queen’s visit to the Irish State despite official SF policy: https://edition.cnn.com/2012/06/27/world/europe/uk-queen-northern-ireland/index.html

Sinn Féin welcoming Prince Phillip: https://www.irishnews.com/news/northernirelandnews/2019/05/22/news/duchess-1625989/

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-44474996

Gerry Adams meeting Prince Phillip: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-northern-ireland-32786393

Sinn Féin recruiting for the colonial police force: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/crime-and-law/sinn-f%C3%A9in-presence-at-psni-recruitment-event-seismic-and-historic-1.4161267?

Sinn Féin and the Special Criminal Court: https://www.thejournal.ie/special-criminal-court-explainer-4993281-Feb2020/

https://www.irishexaminer.com/breakingnews/ireland/sinn-fein-call-for-review-not-abolition-of-special-criminal-court-976322.html

February 2020 Election results: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/feb/10/irish-general-election-everything-you-need-to-know

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.