He also asked not to be wrapped in a shroud but a blanket. The idea of a shroud he found humiliating. His remains being wrapped in a blanket was not a shock. The blanket had defined the prison protest and he identified as a blanketman, even telling British secretary of state Roy Mason “bury me in my blanket.”
A cross-section of mostly independent activists from across the Communist, Republican and Anarchist continuum held a small march today to celebrate May 1st, International Workers’ Day. All wearing masks against spreading the virus and marching from the north city centre to the south, they held a momentary picket outside the HQ of the KPMG financial group which has carried out evictions of people from their homes as well as raids on Debenham’s stores to inventory stock, led by Gardaí attacking Debenham workers’ pickets and their supporters. At the close of the march the participants were surrounded by a large force of Gardaí and all had their names and addresses recorded under Covid19 legislation while a number were arrested and others were threatened with arrest under the Public Order Act.
May 1st was agreed as the international day of the working class after the police massacre of demonstrators in Chicago in 1886 on a demonstration for the 8-hour day and the subsequent framing of anarchists leading to the judicial martyrdom of five activists.
Just after noon today the march set off in two columns from outside the Garden of Remembrance and proceeded down O’Connell Street (Dublin’s main street). The leading banner recalled that on Liberty Hall prior to the 1916 Rising: “We serve neither King nor Kaiser but Ireland”. Many of the marchers were young and led by a banner with a red flag showing the design of the hammer and sickle, followed by a number of Fianna Éireann flags (orange sunburst on a blue field) and Starry Ploughs (gold ursa mayor and plough on a green field) of the Irish Citizen Army. There were also some other red flags and flags of Antifascist, Cumann na mBan flag (name in peach with brown rifle on a blue background), “Irish Republic”, the Irish Tricolour and the Starry Plough (ursa mayor in white on a blue background).
“WE ONLY WANT THE EARTH”
Initially a lone voice on the march sang verses of James Connolly’s satirical song Be Moderate1 to the air of Davis’ A Nation Once Again with other voices joining in on the chorus:
We only want the Earth,
We only want the Earth
And our demands most moderate are:
We only want the Earth!
The marchers gathered briefly outside the GPO, where a couple of speakers addressed them before re-forming to march again, turning into Abbey Street and gathering again at the James Connolly monument in Beresford Place, where they were briefly addressed again, then marching on past the Bus Áras and across the river, a heavy screen of Gardaí between the marchers and Custom House Quay, where a far-Right “May Day” rally has been advertised by the Irish Yellow Vests2, opportunistically and hypocritically using the image of Martin Luther King!
The Mayday marchers proceeded to Pearse Street, around by Trinity College and into Grafton Street. There were a number of shouts and slogans, including:
Happy May 1st, International Workers’ Day! Up the workers!
Housing for need, not for profit! Housing for all, not for profit!
There were also a number of slogans shouted against the two main Coalition parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, who were accused of being robbers. A number of shouts also pointed out that the workers are the creators of all wealth.
Proceeding along the west side of Stephens’ Green, a voice called out that this area had been held under the Irish Citizen Army in 1916 and called attention to the marks of bullet impact on the exterior of the College of Surgeons building. In Harcourt Street the march turned into Stokes Place and, as the security guard at the barrier challenged them with “Excuse me!” a marcher replied: “You’re excused!” Outside the KPMG building the marchers paused briefly before leaving again and retracing their steps, folding up their banner and rolling up flags.
GARDA HARASSMENT, THREATS AND ARRESTS
At the bottom of Grafton Street the leading group of marchers, all flags and banner now folded, turned left into Dame Street prior to dispersing and were there halted by a large group of Gardaí with a number of Garda vans and cars in attendance.
Garda officers proceeded to harass the marchers, asking them their purpose in being in the city, requiring replies under Covid19 regulations, along with names, addresses and dates of birth. When a man shouted “Shame on you! Shame!” at the Gardaí as they were arresting a young man, a Sergeant threatened him with arrest under the Public Order Act. “For what?” asked the man, denying that he had used threatening or abusive words, the Garda insisting he had and cautioning him.
Four Gardaí were around another marcher accusing him of having an offensive weapon (a pair of scissors to cut the cable ties on the groups’ flags!). When another marcher pointed out to them that they were just using excuses to harass the marchers and asked were they going to do the same to the Irish Yellow Vest crowd on Custom House Quay, he too was threatened for using “threatening and abusive words” and ordered to disperse.
It is believed that three were arrested but difficult to confirm due to Gardaí ordering others to disperse under threat of further arrests.
DEMOCRATIC RIGHT TO PROTEST AND PICKET UNDER ATTACK
Despite Covid19 legislation under Level Five forbidding non-essential work, last week KPMG employees entered Debenham’s stores in cities of the Irish state while Gardaí forcibly removed Debenham workers and supporters’ pickets.
On Thursday this week, taxi drivers in Dublin were intimidated by Gardaí from holding a protest although they would have been isolated within their taxis and perforce practicing social distancing. According to information given in the Dáil by some TDs (members of the Irish Parliament), the taxi drivers were threatened with hefty fines and impact upon their license renewals (a department of the Gardaí manages the verification and renewal of taxi drivers’ licenses).
Yet all throughout the Level Five restrictions, Far-Right groups have held marches and rallies protesting against the Lockdown, without wearing masks or practicing social distancing, without enduring Garda threats and without mass taking of names and addresses. It remains to be seen what action if any the Gardaí took or will be taking on Custom House Quay today3. What the charges against the May Day marchers arrested today might be remain to be seen too and how long they are (or were) detained.
The Garda actions against legitimate and peaceful protests and pickets seem to harbinger more attacks on rights to protest as the Gombeen capitalist class and their government endeavour to make the workers pay for the financial cost of the Covid19 crisis and ‘recovery’.
1One of the songs published in Connolly’s songbook “Songs of Freedom” in 1907 in New York.
2A Far-Right organisation led by an Islamophobe that has joined with openly fascist organisations in the past.
3According to reports received, in Dublin Gardaí prevented the IYV entering on to Custom House Quay and moved them on a number of times after that. However in Cork the Gardaí facilitated the Far-Right (around 350, according to the Irish Times) in holding a march and rally in which they were addressed bty former Aontú Councillor Anne McCloskey from Derry (despite travel restrictions) and Dolores Cahill, 2nd-in-command of the fascist Irish Freedom Party. Cahill has been withdrawn by UCD from her lecture course after petition by 133 students and debunking of her theories but is still receiving her salary from the institution. On St. Patrick’s Day she told a rally the wearing of masks would mean that children would “never reach their IQ and job potential because their brains are starved of oxygen,” adding that the reason “globalists” are “putting down the masks” is due to the fact “oxygen-deprived people are easier to manipulate”. McCloskey told the crowd in Cork that people were dying of other illnesses untreated because the authorities wanted to to ascribe the deaths to the “mild” Covid19 virus so their freedom could be restricted. She said that people should take off their masks and embrace.
Garraithe na Lus/ Botanic Gardens is one of the jewels in Dublin, either in the city centre or just beyond, depending on how one calculates it.1 It is free to enter and open all days of the week, though there have been closures and reduced hours during the current Covid19 pandemic. It contains over 5,000 living species and cultivars2 and also accidental fauna, most but not all of which is indigenous and the Tolka, one of the few uncovered rivers of Dublin, flows along its border and through part of it. Walking through the garden is relaxing but one is walking not only through nature but history too.
Text on the official website proclaims truthfully that “the National Botanic Gardens are an oasis of calm and beauty” and goes to state that the whole is “A premier scientific institution … and that “the gardens also contain the National Herbarium and several historic wrought iron glasshouses.” All of the glasshouses are closed currently as an infection protection measure but one that had fallen into disrepair will hopefully be restored to working order and will be available when the rest can be safely reopened.
In defence of its status as a “scientific institution” the website states that“we do not allow dogs, picnics, bicycles, fishing, ball games, jogging or running, nor the playing of musical instruments or recorded music”, however this prohibition adds considerably to its calmness and the ability for visitors to take in the natural atmosphere, sound, views and smells without being jarred by those other features so common in many public spaces.
The gardens, at 19.5 hectares are not very large and certainly nowhere near the size of those at Kew, London, which are over 132 hectares in size but the smaller acreage of the Dublin site is arguably part of its charm. It is bordered on the west and south by Glasnevin Cemetery (well worth visiting too) and connected by a gate, while the Tolka (an Tulcadh) borders it to the north and cuts off the rose garden, which can be accessed by a short bridge. A road called Glasnevin Hill borders the eastern side of the Gardens and the Tolka runs under a bridge there on its way to the sea.
The Gardens were a project of the Dublin Society (later the Royal Dublin Society), founded in 1731, the Gardens themselves being opened in their current location in 17953 and are now owned and managed by the Office of Public Works, a State body.
WALK LATE APRIL
IRISH YEW AND NORTH AMERICAN SQUIRRELS
At this time of year, some of the trees are in full leaf, some in early stages and some still bare or just in bud. It is a good time to note the shapes of branches, some seemingly fantastic and also the effect of the emerging leaves against them. The clumps of the parasitic mistletoe (Sú darach) can be seen high in the branches of many species in the Gardens and having spread also to some trees in the Cemetery.
We would not expect the Gardens to be restricted to native species and although there are examples of those present, there are species of plants present from at least six continents, varying from tall trees to low cacti or succulents. But among the native flora there is a surprise for many: the Irish (compact) yew.
Many places in Ireland are named in connection with trees and the yew (Iúir) figures in a number of those, the most prominent perhaps being Iúr Chinn Trá or its more modern name An tIúir (Newry). The heartwood of yew was used to make the English longbow, from which the “cloth yard” (about 37 inches, or 94 cm) arrows played such a decisive role in the defeat of the flower of the French knighthood and cavalry at Agincourt in 1415. Because the yew is slow-growing it was policy in England to plant them in order to ensure a supply and yeomanry were required to practice at weekends. No doubt the English took their toll on the yew in Ireland as they did on other trees such as the oak.
The European Yew typically had a spreading growth but in County Fermanagh in 1767 George Willis, a local farmer, discovered two freak seedling specimens that grew in a tight, compact shape. Of those original two, one is still living4 in the grounds of Florence Court Estate demesne and it estimated that over five million offspring have been propagated from that one tree, typically seen in churchyards, graveyards and parks, not only in Ireland but in many parts of the world.
From export to the world let’s turn to an import ubiquitous in the Gardens – the grey squirrel (Iora liath). This is an invasive species to Ireland originally from North America and is blamed for helping to greatly reduce our own native species, the red squirrel (Iora rua) which, to my mind, is a much more attractive animal.
Research on Irish wildlife a few years ago showed the red squirrel making a comeback in some areas and that is associated with the slow increase in the presence of the pine marten (I prefer its traditional if inaccurate name “Cat chrainn” to “Marten péine”) which had been recently nearing extinction in Ireland. It is a predator on squirrels but apparently finds the grey species easier to catch since the latter spends longer on the ground.
Strangely, I have not noted grey squirrels in the nearby Griffiths Park so they do not seem to be expanding in that direction – at least, not yet.
BATTLE OF CLONTARF
The Battle of Clontarf, which was fought in this area on 23rd April 1014, was between Brian Boróimhe’s (Boru) forces of mainly Munster and Connacht forces, along with some Viking allies, against the forces of the Viking King of Dublin and the King of Leinster, aided by a substantial force of Viking mercenaries from the Orkneys and Manx. It was of great consequence since the High King of Ireland and many petty kings were killed in it but it also put a definitive stop to any further expansion of Viking power in Ireland (though their Dublin kingdom was tolerated but required to pay tribute).
The available history tells us that Brian’s headquarters camp for the Battle of Clontarf (Cluain Tairbh) was in Glasnevin (Glas Naíonn). Brian’s camp may have been where the Cemetery is now, since the highest point there is higher than the Gardens’, or even a little further north around where St. Mobhi’s Church is today, higher still. Wherever it was is where he was slain too, in a sneak attack by one of the Viking mercenaries from the Isle of Man, according to one of the accounts.
The Battle was certainly not fought at Clontarf but is where one part of it ended, as defeated Viking mercenaries ran for their ships there, many being killed at a bottleneck at a salmon weir (round about where Ballybough is now), only some surviving to reach their longships.
The name of the river is an old Irish word for “flood” and had there been heavy rains in the Dublin hills, the river level might have been high generally but would certainly be so anyway in the estuary at high tide. Since the record tells us that the battle started at high tide and was still high tide when it finished, it means the battle lasted 12 hours. Twelve hours of fighting in any kind of battle is hard enough but with hand-operated kinetic weapons, along with shields and armour, impossible without taking rest breaks. So the fighting waned at times by agreement or by mutual exhaustion but was engaged again. The actual battle site has never been found5 but was probably fought along the Tolka (Tulcadh) for some of its length.
Unlike battles today, all the commanders of high rank in it on both sides were killed, including Brian (though not in the actual battle) and the King of Leinster, Maél (‘Maol’ in modern Irish) Mórda Mac Murchada, the latter killed along with many of his troops and Dublin Vikings at the other bottle-neck, the only bridge then in existence across an Life (the Liffey), perhaps around Islandbridge (Droichead na hInse). This was probably at the delayed intervention in the battle of the forces of the King of Meath, Maél Sechneill Mac Domnaill (though one of the annals has his actual death at the hands of a relative of Brian’s who himself received mortal wounds from Maél Mórda).
The cancellation of the Rising by Mac Néill for Easter Sunday (23rd April that year) and its reinstatement by the IRB’s Military Council was resolved by going ahead on Easter Monday (24th April). When news of that reached the area around Maynooth, a group of Irish Volunteers who had gathered the day before but stood down, set off for Dublin along the banks of the Royal Canal, arriving in Dublin city late on Easter Monday. They found two Volunteers guarding the Cross Guns Bridge over the canal and were advised that proceeding into Dublin city centre might not be advisable in that evening.
The men spent the night in Glasnevin cemetery and set off again the following morning, crossing the now unguarded bridge and making their way, hungry and footsore, down to the very centre and the GPO on the Tuesday of Easter Week, where they remained in action until the evacuation of the burning building on the 28th. One of their number, Tom “Boer” O’Byrne, who had served in the Irish Brigade against the English in the Boer War, had his sore feet bathed there by Cumann na mBan Volunteer Lucy Agnes Smyth, whom he escorted with most of the other women Volunteers from the GPO and wounded prisoners to Jervis Street Hospital on Friday 28th and whom he would later marry.
1One of the ways in which people locate Dublin’s city centre is “between the canals”, i.e between the Royal Canal on the south side (of the Liffey) and the Grand Canals on the north side. However, the location of the Botanic Gardens is only a little past the Royal Canal, a matter of five minutes’ walk.
2A cultivar is an artificially developed variety of a plant through selection or the result of cross-breeding (eg the Loganberry or the Nectarine). As to the numbers, Wikipedia claims “approximately 20,000 living plants” for the site while the figure given here is from the Botanical Gardens’ own web page.
3That century was one in which Dublin rose in status as a city of the British Empire and many of its prominent residents took civic pride in the city and strove for improvements in a number of fields for the city and for Ireland in general. The Botanical Gardens were opened three years before the United Irishmen uprising but when the organisation was already in existence and pushing, along with more liberal constitutional elements, for Catholics and Presbyterians to have the vote and to be permitted to stand for election for the Irish Parliament, which was being blocked by the Crown administration and some vested interests. After the Rising, the Irish Parliament was abolished and so began the decline in importance of Dublin from what had been considered the second city of the British Empire.
4The other was recorded as having died in Willis’ garden in 1865, almost a hundred years later.
5I did hear years ago that some artifacts had been found in excavations for the site of the current meteorological station building near Mobhi Road but I have not seen any documentation of that. There was mention in one account of the battle of tired fighters slaking their thirst at a well and the location of that was thought to be in Phibsboro/ Glasnevin, at the junction of the southward part of the one-way system. And a housing development I noted there is called “Danewell”.
The right-wing patrician UStater William F Buckley (despite the Irish surname) and two dogs, one of them the imminently slappable racist Tory Roger Evans, take Bernadette Devlin (now Devlin-McAlliskey) on and she wipes the floor with them. She was a month short of 25 years of age when she sat this interview in late March 1972, without any notes to hand, keeping up with the arguments, never losing her temper, reeling off historical facts and financial figures. It was a stellar performance.
Even more remarkable, not two months had passed since the Paras had shot 26 unarmed marchers in Derry, murdering 14 men at a march she had herself attended and, though then an MP, she had been refused permission to speak on it in the House of Commons, while lies were being stated by people who had not been there. Also, her interview took place only a month after the travesty of an inquiry into the murder by Lord Widgery who completely exonerated the gunmen and their officers, maintaining they were acting in self-defence against all evidence except the soldiers’ and Widgery even claimed a march of at least 30,000 was at most around 3,000! It seems that there must’ve been an agreement not to mention Bloody Sunday, perhaps as a condition for the interview, otherwise what else can explain its omission?
Bernadette came out against the Good Friday Agreement when it was born, not pushing armed struggle as an alternative but stating that the GFA institutionalised sectarianism and because she accused the Provos of seeking alliances with the Right and capitalism rather than with the Left and the working class. She would have been a powerful voice against the GFA and could not be accused of being in a ‘dissident’ armed group but the British State held her daughter Roisin, who was pregnant, hostage and Bernadette stepped back from that issue. She was marginalised by the Republican movement in the 1970s and 80s, along with being shot 14 times in front of her children (her husband shot too) in 1981 and lost to us as a national leader again in the first decade of the GFA.
Watching this discussion brings back to mind all the economic and political issues that were around at the time, especially as Bernadette reels them off, many of them largely forgotten. All the fudges and lies of British governments avoiding doing anything fundamental to improve things even within an illegitimate colonial context.
On a sunny but windy day in Greystones, lá grianmhar ach gaofar, nature put on an abstract art show. The sunshine brought out intensely the yellow of the lichen on the limestone rocks, while the black lichen encrustation on some rocks contrasted sharply with a neighbouring section of bare grey. Some trick of the camera and light brought out a gorgeous blue in the rock-shadowed sea which had not been visible to the eye.
Lichens are an amazing life form, being an integrated symbiosis of an alga and a fungus. A cross between a frog and a goose would not be more bizarre in concept – fungi are not even plants, while algae are. The fungus provides a relatively strong skeleton while through photosynthesis the alga produces sugars to feed the fungus.
Although not all are easy to distinguish, there are over 1,165 species of lichen in Ireland, varying from the common to the rare. The yellow-orange one, Xanthoria parietina, is one of the common ones in Ireland. The white and often off-white or grey Ochrolechia parella can be mistaken for bird excreta at a distance, or even as the ground-in chewing gum that costs Dublin City Council so much to remove from street surfaces every week. The black one, Verrucaria maura if I am identifying it correctly, covers rocks that are wave-lapped or hit by sea-spray on a daily basis.
These are all hardy adventurers, extremophiles, living in zones exposed to great variations of temperature, all even in one day, as the sun beats down between rain showers or windy spray. And they are very tolerant of salinity, without at the same time being dependent upon it. Perhaps not these species but their ancestors, or other forms like them, were the early colonisers of the land on our planet. Terraformers too, as they slowly abrade the rock upon which they cling, helping to create soil, while black lichen attracts heat to warm up surfaces and the alga in the symbiotes releases oxygen into the atmosphere.
Lichens can live attached to rock, wood and metal, some species even inside stone and on snow.
No plaque or monument celebrates these hardy adventurers but down on the harbour wall was a plaque to another hardy life-form, celebrating the 1910 confrontation there of Chief Secretary Birrell, one of the Crown’s main representatives in Ireland, by Hannah Sheehy-Skeffington and Hilda Webb. They were kick-starting the militant Votes for Women campaign which was later brought into conflict with the Irish Parliamentary Party too but influenced the 1916 Proclamation’s advanced and stirring address: “Irishmen and Irishwomen ….”. That Rising six years after the Greystones confrontation would shock Birrell and sadly, would see Hannah’s pacifist husband Francis murdered by a British Army officer during that momentous week.
Earlier, in a Dublin train station, I photographed a wall of varied limestone, where algae and moss, also terraformers, had made an abstract art collage.
The fascist far-Right in Ireland organised a protest in Dublin on Saturday 27th February against the Government-ordered restrictions on travel and entertainment, pubs etc. In a departure from the usual submissive conduct of these “rebels” with the Gardaí, some of the participants were aggressive towards the police to the extent of throwing fireworks at them. Following the event, Drew Harris, the Commissioner of the Irish State’s police force, the Garda Síochána, outrageously claimed that the far-Right and the far-Left and Republicans had jointly organised the event but soon had to withdraw the claim. Irish Republicans were also blamed by the State’s television broadcaster on-line report which was also subsequently edited to remove the allegation but the Minister for Justice repeated them. Opinion is divided about the significance of these claims.
The event was attended by a number varying, according to reports, from 300 to 1,000 and undoubtedly attracted participation from some people who would not normally be regarded as of the far-Right. However it was organised from the Far-Right with the fascist National Party taking a prominent role and not only would the socialist Left and Republicans not have any kind of association with the fascists and other far-Rightists but they had actively opposed the latter and sections of the former had clashed with them on a number of occasions.
After the uproar over his claim, including by some TDs in the Dáil), Drew Harris withdrew the allegation but pretended that there had been “initial indications” to give rise to his accusation. Subsequently, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee tried to obscure the issue, claiming that some people who had previously been Republicans had subsequently become far-Rightists. Regardless of the alleged isolated case of an individual here and there, their claims had neither Irish nor world history to suggest what Harris had said. From the moment fascism appeared in history, communists and socialists have fought it, right around the world. As Hitler, Mussolini and later Franco clawed their way to power in Germany, Italy and Spain, communists and socialists and anarchists – i.e the so-called “far left” — fought them fiercely and when they lost there, paid with their lives. The turning points of WW2 came outside Moscow, even inside Stalingrad and in the Battle of Kursk. Overall it cost twenty million Soviet Union lives to turn the war.
In the rest of the world, during the 1930s the “far Left” fought fascism and this was the case in Ireland too, although here, where the Left was small, Irish Republicans led the struggle and drove the Blueshirts off the streets, some of their number also going on to fight the fascists in the Spanish state. It was De Valera’s pseudo-Republican government, installed in particular on Republican votes, that banned the Blueshirts but was soon to ban the IRA too.
So nothing in World or Irish history exists to give rise to Drew Harris’ outrageous and outlandish early claims.
PARTIAL RECENT HISTORY OF SOCIALIST AND REPUBLICAN OPPOSITION TO THE FAR-RIGHT
But further – in more recent history in Ireland, Republicans and Socialists have mobilised against racism, fascism, and populist groups of the far-Right. In 2016 the European Islamophobic organisation Pegida planned to launch itself in a major city in every European state and planned a Dublin GPO rally on 6th February. A massive mobilisation took place against them and Republicans and Socialists1 confronted them physically, so that an Irish fascist required A&E treatment and the East European fascists needed to be taken out of the area in a police van with another acting as a diversion. Three Republicans still face serious charges2 arising from those events.
More recently, since the fascists and other far-Rightists have begun to organise again, Socialists and Republicans have confronted them time and time again. And the Gardaí and their intelligence service know this from monitoring social media traffic and from policing those events, without needing even their other facilities such as phone tapping and informers. They know also that the Far-Right have been threatening Republican and Socialist activists with violence and accusing them of being paedophiles, drug merchants, child kidnappers, paid agents of a certain Greek Millionaire etc.
Far-Right racist, fundamentalist Catholic and crazy conspiracy theorist Gemma O’Doherty has often been confronted by Socialists and Republicans at her public protests, as have others such as Niall McConnell and his handfull of Síol na hÉireann fascists, or other fascists such as Herman Kelly of the Irish Freedom Party, Justin Barrett of the National Party, along with the likes of QAnon and other small far-Right groups and the larger populist Irish Yellow Vests, led by the Islamophobe Glen Miller.
The Gardaí have attended all the public events of the far-Right in Ireland and whenever they have seen the Left and/or Republicans attend also, it was clear to the police that it was to counter-protest. On some occasions the Gardaí have been content to keep the two sides apart but on others have actively sided with the Right. A few Dublin examples will suffice:
A number of those countering a Gemma O’Doherty “free speech” protest in Dublin in November 2019 were threatened with arrest for getting ‘too close’ to the far-Rightists while on the other hand some of the latter were permitted to walk among their opponents and challenge them, all the while under police protection.
On 14th December 2019, a broad gathering of anti-fascists and anti-racists occupied the planned protest ground of the far-Right in a counter “Rally for Peace” outside Leinster House, outnumbering the latter by order of at least two to one. Republicans and Socialists were, of course, with the antifascists.
In January 2020 a smallish Irish Yellow Vest protest on Custom House quay was confronted by much smaller group of antifascists from the Irish Left. The unfurling of the Antifa flag was sufficient to attract instant hostility and threatening behaviour from the far-Rightists.
Early in the year Gardaí permitted some of the far-Right QAnon protesters at the GPO to cross the street to insult counter protesters on the central pedestrian reservation, often at one-foot distances without wearing masks (despite the pandemic); then rescued one of them who had entered among the counter-protesters to punch a Republican, escorting the fascist safely out and refusing to arrest him.
A few weeks later, the Gardaí removed a counter-protester who had approached the QAnon and been assaulted by one of the latter, not even cautioning the assailant.
Gardaí harassed masked and social-distancing Debenhams pickets under pandemic restrictions in Henry St. while not bothering QAnon around the corner at the GPO who were neither wearing masks nor social distancing.
On a number of those Saturdays the Special Branch police also harassed Republicans picketing in solidarity with political prisoners.
On 11th July 2019 during a homophobic rally (under the pretence of “protecting children from paedophilia’) of the Far-Right outside Leinster House, the Gardaí permitted thugs to attack a tiny counterprotest, beating them and grabbing their banner before the police chose to intervene, arrested none of the assailants and ushered the counter-protesters away.
On 31st July 2020 a Far-Right and fascist islamophobic protest outside Croke Park was opposed by anti-racist anti-fascists, including Socialists and Republicans.
On 8th August 2020 antifascists including Socialists and Republicans opposed a Far-Right march (towards RTÉ) and clashed with them on O’Connell Bridge, on D’Olier Street and again later at the GPO.
On 18th October 2020 a mixed-gender group of Socialists, Republicans and LGBT campaigners counterprotesting an Irish Yellow Vest rally on Custom House Quay were attacked by a larger male group, mostly masked (although at an anti-mask protest!) and armed with metal bars and wooden clubs. The Gardaí allowed the unequal fighting to continue for a while before intervening, a few police gently ushering the assailants back while the rest, including the riot police, violently pushed the counter-protesters out of the area, threatening them with drawn batons and forcing them to leave one of their number unconscious on the ground. The Gardaí’s statement later was that there had been no serious incidents and that they had arrested four people (which occurred in an unrelated incident at the other end of the Quay).
Three weeks later, at a National Party rally outside Leinster House in Kildare St, a tiny oppositional group of women were attacked and an LGBT campaigner clubbed to the ground. Streaming blood from a head wound, the Gardaí pushed her out of the area. Later their statement claimed that nothing had happened but due to social media videos in circulation and protests had to change their story but claimed the victim had to make a complaint!3
On 1st February and again on 10th October 2020 in Kildare Street, socialist and republican counter-protesters were attacked by Gardaí. They also sealed off a section of Nasseau Street to prevent the National Party from being pursued by their opponents as they left.
On 22nd October 2020 for the first time (that time in Grafton Street also), the police attacked some of the Far-Right at a protest organised by the Yellow Vests. However that was because not only were they violating all the restrictions but they were jamming Grafton Street and refusing to move and some even getting aggressive with the Gardaí, which led to a few baton blows and 11 arrests (no ‘far-Left’ there that time either). Drew Harris claimed afterwards that they were investigating the organisers and perhaps they did finally warn them off as the Yellow Vests organised nothing officially since – but as we can see, their place has been taken by other far-Right groups.
WHAT GAVE RISE TO HARRIS’ EARLY STATEMENT?
Some have explained Harris’ early statement as coming from the liberal complaint that “extreme Right and extreme Left are essentially the same”. Certainly this travesty of analysis exists and it is a fact that we have seen some of that view expressed by some media pundits. Such liberal claims serve as excuses for the liberals not to take action in defence of the vaunted democratic rights when the fascists organise. Then the liberals criticise those who go out to fight the fascists and to try to prevent them taking power. Sometimes the State uses these liberals to justify the banning of “far left” organisations, sometimes at the same time as those of the far right. Of course, the capitalist system remains to do the work of pushing austerity on to the working people and in such situations the State knows who the real enemies of the capitalist system are and hardly needs the fascists any more.
However, Drew Harris is no liberal. In 2014 he was deputy head of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the successor of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, an armed colonial police force with a long history of suppression of anti-colonial resistance and democratic rights and, in fact, riven with anti-Catholic and anti-republican sectarianism. It is a force with a long history of brutality, torture and murder.
Many people outside the Six Counties mistakenly view the British Army as the main repressive force of British colonialism there; however that role belongs to the armed colonial police. From the partition of Ireland in 1921, it was they who raided the nationalist areas, arrested people, beat them up, sometimes murdered them, enforced the sectarian and fascist Flags and Emblems Act, used their Special Powers Act, attacked the Civil Rights marches from 1968 onwards, oversaw Loyalist attacks on marchers, machine-gunned the Derry Bogside and were the cause of the barricades barring them from entry and the subsequent Battle of the Bogside, where colonial police fought side by side with Loyalist sectarian thugs (when they were not actually the one and the same). Only then did the British ruling class send in the Army but even then the repressive role of the colonial police did not end – they just shared it with the imperialist army.
Drew Harris served in that colonial police force for 21 years and led it for four. His father was in the RUC for 33 years and had reached the rank of Superintendent before he was killed by the IRA during the 30 Years War.
During that long war, intelligence played a major role on both sides and the MI5 and MI6 departments of British Intelligence were both active with RUC Special Branch there, with MI5 eventually gaining overall control. People who find it easy to disbelieve Gerry Adams’ claims that he was never in the IRA somehow find it reasonable to deny that Drew Harris is an MI5 asset. Actually, both claims are at least as likely to be true. And now he is head of the police force of the Irish neo-colonial State – nor would it be the first time British Intelligence has penetrated the upper echelons of the State’s police force. Ned Garvey, who was Garda Commissioner and formed the “Heavy Gang”, was exposed as a British agent; when they got back into government in 1975 Fianna Fáil sacked him but without exposing him publicly, which would have exposed also the Irish ruling class4.
Harris is long accustomed to handling and using intelligence collected by his agents in both police forces in Ireland from surveillance, touts, tapping phones, pressurising and blackmailing people, raids and searches etc. He would know very well that Socialists and Republicans have been to the forefront in opposition to the far-Right in Ireland. And that even those Socialists and Republicans who have not fought the Right actively have at least condemned them in print and spoken word.
Given all the history of socialists and republicans in Ireland, given the world history of fascists and their opposition by socialists, given also Drew Harris’ long policing background and the Gardaí’s knowledge of events over the years in Ireland in addition to their ongoing intelligence-gathering, what can be behind his extraordinary original statement and McEntees’s attempted justification? Preparation for the repression of the Socialists and Republicans, perhaps to assist in the imposition of austerity measures upon the working class? A planting of the seed in the public’s psyche to allow for restrictions on “both sides” — while in reality concentrating on the socialists and republicans?
One thing is for sure: Neither ignorance nor liberal confusion is behind this “mistake”.
1From now on I will be using this word to describe any or all of the various groups covered by the term: communists, trotskyists, anarchists, left social-democrats but not Irish Republicans, though some of them may be as committed to socialism as any of the others or even more so than some.
2“Violent disorder”, carrying a maximum jail penalty of 10 years, unlimited fine – or both! These are the first political demonstrators to be charged under that Act.
A new periodical has emerged from the Irish Left. At the time of writing two issues of Rupture have been produced and Parts I and II of this article consist of a political overview (but of course from my individual viewpoint) of a number of issues discussed in the magazine. While the assessment of some is highly critical, overall my opinion is that Rupture is a welcome introduction to socialist analysis of conditions in Ireland.
Rupture is a quarterly magazine format produced by RISE, a group of socialists whose most publicly-prominent individual is Paul Murphy (see Appendix) who is also a TD, i.e a member of the Parliament of the 26 Counties. The formation of the party RISE was announced in September 2019 when Murphy announced his departure from the Socialist Party and his joining this new organisation, of which he is a founding member.
Rupture espouses “eco-socialism”, a drive to organise the production of food and fuel under socialist control while dramatically reducing its harmful impact on the environment. Most of its contributors address issues from a Marxist perspective but interviews with activists from some other perspectives are included.
The magazine’s two issues to date included features on public health and private services, the environment and food production. In addition there have been a number of articles on developing a broad socialist front, combating racism and fascism, multi-national companies and neo-liberal capitalism, Big Pharm and trade union struggle. For the first time, the latest issue (November 2020) addressed the issue of the national question (and struggle) in Ireland. PART I of this article deals mostly with the magazine’s discussion of a) the Environment and b) the National Question, while PART II focuses on its coverage of c) the Health Service and d) the Broad Front and Anti-Fascism. As a consequence each Part contains both positive and negative evaluation.
For another aspect, the layout is generally attractive and mostly easy to read with photography and artwork which is interesting (if its relevance is not always clear). Some articles are perhaps on the longer side for some tastes but then these are big issues being discussed, in many cases literally of life-and/or-death dimensions.
An annual subscription costs €40 all Ireland or €60 international and I would recommend taking out one for 2021).
As with most serious commentators on the environment, the articles in Rupture point to an accelerating crisis and the need for urgent action right now. At the same time they point to the unwillingness or inability of the capitalist system – which means the governments of most states today — to take the necessary steps. In fact, unwillingness and inability are almost the same thing with the capitalist system because if one capitalist does not maximise his profit he will be undercut and crushed – or taken over – by another who will do “what is necessary” according to the rules and logic of the system. Even if in the longer term (or the medium term, in this case) the scramble for profit maximisation destroys the very resource — cod and herring, for example or rainforest. In this case, without the slightest exaggeration, it is the whole civilisation-sustaining environment that is at stake.
Not Fun Facts
“In 2017 a habitat area the size of a football field was lost every second.” “Eirgrid has projected that 2027 as much as 31% of Ireland’s electricty could by consumed by data centres” (most of it for cooling the servers to prevent them overheating). “In Ireland a fairly normal herd of pigs consists of 3,000 animals — only 2% of pigs are living in small herds of 5 or less. ….. a flock of chickens can normally be around 3,000.” Diseases due to overcrowding of animals enter the food chain for humans, causing infections of “bird ‘flu” and “swine ‘flu” through ‘zoonotic spillover’ (remember that term — you’ll be hearing more of it in future).
The prediction a fairly long time ago that the choice, rather than being between socialism or capitalism is in reality socialism or barbarism, is facing us now as an urgent practical question. Because when civilisation crashes the remaining groups of humanity around the world, assuming their survival, will indeed be thrust back into barbarism.
The contributors to Rupture quote writings of Karl Marx and Engels which one never hears from non-Marxist environmentalists and rarely either from Marxists themselves. These early developers of Marxist thought studied not only economics, class struggle and philosophy but also (and dare I say it, necessarily), history, science and culture too.
Mental health is an issue discussed in the magazine not only in respect to the appalling lack of health services in that area or the stresses and strains of work under capitalism but also in the divorcing of most humans in cities from nature. The agricultural landscape, having been moulded by humanity is far from natural and yet retains much of nature, the environment in which humanity first came to exist and in which it developed …. but most people in the West are not employed in agriculture. In these times of fear of infection along with isolation from our regular social contacts, even a walk in a park, in woods, on hills or botanic gardens can be rewarding and a reminder of what we have lost and are losing.
It is a challenge to radically change the way we produce food and generate power in a long-term sustainable way but only a socialist system, with overall benefit replacing profit as the ruling motivation has the possibility of bringing an end to the ruthless exploitation of not only labour but the very environment.
THE NATIONAL STRUGGLE
This is a question rarely dealt with by the socialist parties in Ireland, a situation which surprises revolutionary socialists across Latin America and much of Europe in particular. Some might ascribe that to the British origin of a number of those parties, particularly the main Trotskyist ones which in that respect established a tradition very far from the theory and personal practice of Karl Marx. So although I have much to disagree with in this article, the fact that it is being discussed at all should be encouraged.
I hope it will serve to encourage further discussion rather than its opposite when I summarise the piece as containing partial history and poor analysis with however one important recommendation. This critique really deserves a treatment all of its own but since this evaluation of the magazine has already got appreciably longer than was my original intent, I will have to be brief and therefore blunt.
The brief overview of history does not even mention that the United Irishmen (and therefore the uprisings of 1798 and 1803) was led almost exclusively by a section of the colonist-descended bourgeoisie, which is why the leadership was virtually all of various Protestant religious backgrounds. This is important because this is not the same bourgeoisie that rules the Irish state today. The article also omits any mention whatsoever of the linguistic genocidal legislation and practice of the conquerors of Ireland and for any treatment of “the national question” one would have to wonder how or why one would omit that. In dealing with the occupied Six Counties, the treatment of the civil rights movement is poor, even for a very brief overview – it was not only “anti-Unionist unity” that drove or characterised it but opposition to the violent response of the Unionist statelet, Loyalist mobs and paramilitaries and their resolute backing by the armed force of the British State.
The article remarks on the“weak capitalist class” in Ireland. But what is the nature of the weakness of this class? In other words, towards which forces are they weak? Not towards the working class, with programs of austerity funding bank bailouts, decades of emigration, slow adoption of equal social rights, high homelessness. Not towards the working class, with the Army used to undermine the Dublin Bus strikers in 1963 and 1979 or the restrictions on the right to strike and solidarity action. Not towards the Irish Republican movement with its Civil War history, special non-jury courts, its repressive legislation and armed police.
No, it is not those towards which the Irish capitalist class is weak. But it is weak in developing its own industry and developing an independent political line. Its weakness economically is marked by the takeover by big foreign capitalists of nearly all of its industry and telecommunications network, along with chunks of its transport infrastructure and services, its health services (private religious and foreign companies) and its national airline and large pieces of its agriculture. Its weakness is demonstrated in failure to develop its own natural resources and selling them off or giving them away.
The weakness of the Irish capitalist class is demonstrated in its firstly accepting the partition if its national territory and going to war with the independence movement rather than join it gaining total independence. The same weakness manifested itself in its inability to unite its territory and subsequently abandoning any claim to do so. The weakness of the Irish capitalist class is demonstrated in its permitting atrocities committed against its citizens at home and abroad by the occupying power, only once taking a case against it to the European Courts of Human Rights and never to the European Court of Justice or the United Nations. And it permitted without protest the intelligence services of that occupying power to bomb its capital city many times, including in 1974, with the murder of 26 people (and another eight in Monaghan). And there are many other examples too.
The article admits that the Irish capitalist class has been “acting to facilitate the exploitation of people and resources by foreign capital”. What would we call a capitalist class that behaved like that in Latin America, Asia or Africa? Yes, neo-colonial. Or in Latin America, possibly “comprador”. The difference is not just in location but in the minds of the Irish electoral Left – but none of any significance in the reality on the ground. As the contributor from Talamh Beo points out, “even though we’re geographically in Europe, our land history is radically different.” Of course defining the Irish capitalist class as neo-colonial might give one a very different outlook on the national struggle, right?
And also on socialist revolution, which we would understand to be opposed in Ireland not only by the majority native and the minority colonial capitalist classes and their apparatus, not only by our powerful imperialist neighbour, but also against economic interests in the imperialist USA and EU.
In addition, despite the officially neutral status of the Irish State, its armed forces are being integrated into the European imperialist military alliance. Ireland has not (yet) joined NATO but has the EU Battlegroups, as part of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) of the European Union (EU).
The truth is that in the above respects, Irish Republicans in general have a much better understanding of the Irish State, the representative of that neo-colonial capitalist class, than do the electoral left parties in Ireland. The Republicans have traditions and history and recurring practical experience that teaches them.
The electoral socialist Left, far from joining with the Republicans, chooses instead to snipe at them on occasion and to ignore them the rest of the time. And to permit their civil liberties and human rights to be attacked for the most part without protest.
The positive recommendation in the article regards the projected Border Poll. While not wishing for any kind of capitalist Ireland, whether partitioned or united, the article recommends voting YES in any such referendum. I myself must agree with that and along with them find it difficult to imagine how any socialists could advocate any other position.
Recommending a NO vote even if for the best of reasons would isolate any party from the majority of the Irish people, while recommending abstention would leave the party on the sidelines not only regarding the poll but in important debates about what kind of Ireland we should have. Even the British & Irish Communist Organisation deviation of the 1960s and 1970s with their two-nation theory, although it generated much discussion, never looked likely to grow to any size, much less become a mass party of the Left.
I am far from convinced however that a genuine poll on the reunification of Ireland will ever be agreed by the ruling classes of the UK and of Ireland or, should it be held and have a majority for reunification, that the ruling classes will implement the verdict.
(See also Part II published separately)
A BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO PAUL MURPHY (RISE)
Formerly an activist and TD of the Irish Socialist Party, an Irish child of the British Trotskyist organisation the Socialist Party (and formerly, Militant, the largest among a number of entrist groups into the British Labour Party), Murphy left them gently in September 2019 to form the RISE group. It may be remembered that Clare Daly, also a TD, left the SP in August 2012 in a somewhat more acrimonious dispute and became part of Independent Left with some other socialist TDs and municipal councillors, since when she and her partner Mick Wallace were elected Members of the European Parliament and virtually disappeared from the Irish political scene (to be missed by many without allegiance to either group). Paul Murphy has also been an MEP in the past, from 2011-2014. Although now a member of a different political party, he has remained in the Solidarity-People Before Profit coalition of SP and PBP which retains another five TDs (four essentially of the Socialist Workers’ Party but no longer any of the SP).
Murphy has a long record of activism and has been violently handled by the Gardaí (Irish state police force) on a number of occasions and also arrested as part of the celebrated Jobstown case defendants in 2015 (all acquitted two years later). His international activism includes participation in the Gaza blockade flotilla in 2011 and high seas capture by the Israeli Zionist state, detention and deportation. His production of regular video broadcasts to date during the Covid19 crisis, both from home and of his interventions in the Dáil have included lashing the Government on placing accommodation of capitalism above the lives or ordinary people, denouncing its “yo-yo policy” of precautionary restrictions followed by much-too-early relaxation and also demanding the nationalisation of private health facilities.
As we in the SE London, Lewisham branch of the Irish in Britain Representation Group began to plan our Easter Rising commemoration locally in 2000, we could not have imagined the drama it would bring. It resulted in calls for the event’s cancellation, for the Lewisham Irish Community Centre to revoke our hire of the hall and even for the withdrawal of the Centre’s meagre funding from the local authority. And shortly afterwards an attempt was made to burn down the Centre.
Even in the general atmosphere of anti-Irish racism in Britain and context of the 30 Years’ War in Ireland, we could not have expected these developments. The Lewisham Branch of the IBRG, founded towards the end of 19861, had been hosting this annual event locally long before the Irish Centre had opened in 1992 and in fact the branch was instrumental in getting the disused building, which had belonged to the Cooperative Society, handed over to the Irish community and refurbished by the local authority. Furthermore, the 1916 Rising had been commemorated at the Lewisham Irish Centre by the local IBRG branch for a number of years running without any fuss.
As usual, whenever the event was to take place we naturally hoped others would promote it. In the days before Facebook and Twitter etc, email would would reach some contacts, a poster in the centre would be seen by users, some illegal street postering might be done and the Irish Post or Irish World might publicise the event. The rest would be by word of mouth.
It happened that in the week preceding the 1998 event, an activist of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement in London was in touch with the branch and he posted the event on the 32CSM site, intending it as a supportive advertisement. However, someone who hated that organisation took it to be an event of the 32 CSM themselves.
Victor Barker’s son James had been killed in the Omagh car bombing of 15th August 1998, carried out by the “Real IRA”, a group opposed to the Provisional IRA’s signup to the Good Friday Agreement and to the British colonial occupation of Ireland. Although the organisation responsible has always stated that it intended to kill no civilians2, with 29 fatalities the bombing took the highest death toll of a single incident (but not of a single day, which was the British intelligence bombing of Dublin and Monaghan in May 1974) during the 30 Years War.
Understandably Victor Barker had pursued a vendetta against the Real IRA since and, less understandably perhaps, against anything connected with it, including the 32CSM and even, in this case, the right of an unrelated Irish community organisation to commemorate its national history.
Barker contacted the Lewisham Irish Centre and expressed his outrage, demanding the event be cancelled. A nonplussed Brendan O’Rourke, Manager of the Centre, explained that the event was an annual one and booked by a local comunity organisation and affiliate of the Centre. Not in the least mollified, Barker then got to the local authority, an official of which rang Brendan, he repeated the explanation and the official seemed satisfied.
But Brendan was getting a bit worried and phoned me at work – I had been Chair of the Management Committee since the Centre opened and was at the same time Secretary of the local IBRG branch. We discussed the matter and agreed to cary on but his next phone call was to alert me that the matter was now national or at least London-wide news, with a report in an early edition of the Evening Standard headlining that we were running a “London fundraiser for the Omagh bombers”3. Furthermore, the cowardly local authority official was now saying – and quoted — that while they had no power to cancel the booking, they would be looking at the Irish Centre’s funding.
I hurried home to Lewisham as fast as I could – the SE London borough is about 90 minutes’ journey by underground line and overground train from King’s Cross, where I worked. With no time for a meal, I got some things ready and got down to the Centre, about 15 minutes’ walk from my flat.
By virtue of being Chairperson of the Irish Centre’s management committee, I had a key, opened the door, turned off the burglar alarm and locked the door again, then began to get things ready. The part-time Caretaker would lay out tables and chairs for events but I generally liked to change it to a less formal arrangement for our events and so I set to that. There was also “decoration” to be done: some posters and portraits of 1916 martyrs to put up in places, flags to hang etc.
In the lobby I placed a chair by a table there and also some hidden short stout lengths of wood. This was a provision inherited from earlier days when Irish or British left-wing meetings might be attacked by fascists of the National Front or the British Movement but we hadn’t felt the need at the Irish Centre for some years now. However, with the current hysteria being whipped up by Barker and the Evening Standard and assisted by the wriggling of the Council officer, fascists might well decide the conditions favoured an attack.
Another possibility was a police raid. The “Prevention of Terrorism Act” in force since 1974 in Britain specifically targeted the Irish community and gave the police the power to detain someone for up to five days without access even to a lawyer.4
Early arrivals started to knock at the door and I was in a quandary – until I had some reliable able-bodied people to staff the door, I didn’t want to start letting people in. On the other hand if we were going to be attacked, I couldn’t leave them outside either. So it was open, let them in, lock the door again, open, let some more in …. until the arrival of some I could ask to mind the door (after I’d told them about the “extras” in case they were needed).
Then there were sound amplification checks and gradually the hall was filling up. I was to be MC and so on duty inside the hall but kept checking the lobby to see everything was ok. And of course people wanted to chat about the news so would stop me and ask me about it …
For the evening’s program, the MC was to welcome people, introduce the Irish ballad band and have them play for an hour. Then intermission, MC on again with a few words on behalf of the local organisation, introduce the featured speaker, get the band on again for an hour or so to finish. So, some time to kill, to worry before the hour for which the band was booked.
The time came but the band didn’t. At half an hour late I started to worry and the supporter who had booked the band on behalf of the branch couldn’t get any reply from them by phone. As MC I apologised to the attendance and asked for their patience. Over an hour late, the band’s manager finally phoned to say they would not be coming. Because of worry arising out of the media reporting.
A few of us in the organising group held a quick conference. Nothing for it but to face the music – or rather its absence – and so I got on the stage and told the audience that the band had pulled out and everyone was entitled to a refund of their ticket price without any hard feelings whatsoever or …
Before I could lay out the alternative, a guy sitting near the stage jumped up and shouted “We will NOT accept our money back!” to the applause of some others. A little taken aback, I thanked him for his spirit but said people should have the choice and laid out the alternative, which would be to hear the speaker and just socialise for the rest of the evening. Nobody made a move to get up and approach the door so ….. I introduced the speaker, who that year might have been from the IRSP (a previous speaker had been Michelle Gildernew, then representing Sinn Féin in Britain). He did his bit, I did mine, much of that not surprisingly being devoted to censorship, intimidation and repression of the Irish community as well as the commemoration of our history.
Then a guy approached and said he’d play guitar and sing, so he went up on stage, I followed with a few songs acapella, someone else sang a few …. Everyone seemed to be enjoying the evening, there was no trouble at the door …. and because there was no band to pay, we made more money than we had ever done for function organised by the local IBRG branch!
But there were to be two dramatic sequels to this controversy. And tensions between myself and the Centre Manager would follow.
THE “MAC CHICKEN BROTHERS”
The professional name of the Irish ballad band was The Mac Namara Brothers but Brian, a resilient Dublin comrade from a deprived background, that night baptised them the Mac Chicken Brothers (a play on the Mac Donald chain’s naming of items and a reference to the band members’ cowardice.
Our event had been on a Friday night and they were due to play Sunday afternoon at an Irish bar a five minutes’ drive from the Lewisham Irish Centre. We didn’t see how we could let them do that without confronting them. In discussion I suggested we present them with some white feathers and denounce them and Brian was all up for that; he was taking the kids to the seaside and would pick up some white feathers around the beach. But, unbelievably, he could find none. Nor could I in a local park. In the end, I opened a pillow and took out handfuls but they were all small.
The next day, we declined to invite anyone who might get hurt without being accustomed to defending themselves or who might not be sufficiently disciplined in behaviour and of the remainder, only myself and Brian were available. The pub, The Graduate, was under new management, one of three sisters from the Six Counties (perhaps Armagh), who lived in South-East London. I knew her from when she had been barmaid and perhaps manager at the Woodman, another Irish pub in the general area, where I attended Irish traditional music sessions (and sometimes a lock-in for an extra hour or so).
On Sunday we were a bit late in getting going but Brian drove us there and we entered the crowded area that would have been the public bar before the lounge and that area were combined. I bought us a round and we tried to act as relaxed and natural as possible, nodded to people we knew … It was certain that many of those present already knew what had happened but no-one came to ask us about it.
The “Mac Chicken Brothers” were playing and I was unsure whether we had perhaps missed their break. I got another round in but that was going to be my limit. To our relief, the band took a break but now my tension racked higher as I positioned myself nonchalantly near the stage and waited for the band to get ready for the second half of their act.
Finally, I saw them coming and with a small plastic bag in my hand I jumped up on to the low stage, Brian ready to handle any trouble from the floor.
“Ladies and gentlemen!” I called out loudly and got instant attention. “A few nights ago the British press ran a scare story about a 1916 Rising commemoration in Lewisham,” I continued. “This band here was booked to attend but didn’t turn up, leaving a couple of hundred people waiting. This is what we think of you,” I said, turning to the band members and threw a handful of the feathers from the bag in their direction.
“Hear, hear!” shouted someone in the crowd and I got down from the stage, glanced at Brian and made for the door, with him following closely behind. Incredibly I heard one of the band members say to me: “You might have told us you were going to do that!”
As we walked away outside, my heart thumping, the manager came rushing out.
“You had no right to do that,” she said, her eyes flashing fire. “Not in my pub!”
“Sorry, Bridget,” (not her real name), I replied, “It had to be done!”
“Not in my pub!”
“But that’s where the band was! It just had to be done.”
Now a customer came haring out looking for us and, from the look on his face, it wasn’t to offer congratulations. I felt Brian beside me change his stance to take him on but the manager took the guy by the arm and talked him back inside and we got in Brian’s van and car and drove off. “Bridge” wouldn’t talk to me for some years afterwards, though one of her sisters would.
The following day, I wrote a letter about the matter to the Irish Post5, attacking the Labour Council for its cowardice, the band for failing to comply with their booking and the Evening Standard for its felon-setting. Since I was Chairperson of the Management Committee of the Centre, which was already under some pressure, I wrote it under a pseudonym. The letter was published.
I felt that not only our branch of the IBRG but the Irish community had been attacked and we had responded appropriately and publicly, both locally and in the wider context. We would now face the next move, if one was to come, from the Council, as an Irish community with pride.
But at the next monthly meeting Management Committee, I was surprised to find that Brendan, the Centre Manager, believed that either Lewisham IBRG had organised the event jointly with 32CSM or that I had placed the advertisement. But worse, I was genuinely shocked to see that he believed my use of a pseudonym for the Irish Post letter was an attempt to distance the IBRG and myself from the controversy and leave him to face it alone. Brendan and I disagreed politically (he was a Sinn Féin supporter and I was by this time hostile to the party’s new trajectory with respect to the conflict in Ireland) but I supported him as Manager of the Centre while as Irishmen we stood together against oppression. But no matter what I said now, I seemed unable to convince him that the use of a pseudonym, far from being a device to have a say and protect myself at the same time, was to protect the Centre and himself as its Manager.
We got through the meeting and the Council officials seemed happy to let the matter rest, since the Standard lost interest and moved on to the next sensation.
But a more direct attack than that of Barker and the media was being planned somewhere.
ARSON ATTACK ON THE CENTRE
In the early hours of one morning a couple of weeks later, I received a phone call from the Fire Brigade, attending at the Lewisham Irish Centre. I was one of the emergency nominees. When I got down there, Pat Baczor6, another member of the Management Committee and also an emergency nominee, was there already. So were the Fire Brigade and the police.
There had been an arson attempt and a hole was burned in the wood of the front door. We opened up and let the Fire Brigade in, who came out a few minutes later, pronouncing the building safe. A container with some inflammable liquid had been set by the door and had burned a hole about the size of my fist but the floor inside was tile and had not caught.
In response to the police, I said while we had received no threats, there had been some controversy in the media about a history commemoration and though I would suspect local fascists, I had no specific individuals in mind.
If we hadn’t wire screens on all the external windows, it would have been easy to smash a glass pane and to throw in the container with a lit fuse. The flooring of the whole hall was wooden and the result would have been quite different. I was very glad that during discussion on the refurbishment of the Coop Hall for use as an Irish Centre more than many years earlier, as Chair of the Steering Group, I had made a point of insisting on the wire screens. An Irish Centre in Britain could expect to be the target of an attack some day.
AFTER ALL THAT
We weathered that storm and the following year’s 1916 Rising commemoration took place without incident.
The next crisis for the Irish Centre came some two years later when the Council’s Labour Party Leadership, which had been “Blairite before Blair” as one local Leftie commented, listed the Centre for cuts to our total staffing: one (underpaid) Manager and one part-time caretaker-handyman. There were heavy cuts planned to the whole Council-funded service sector across the Borough of Lewisham so, although in our case the cuts would have meant wiping out our entire staffing, it was difficult to say whether the controversy some years earlier had played a role or not.
But that was another day’s battle.
1The wider IBRG had been founded in 1981 and consolidated in 1982. The Lewisham branch was founded from an initiative by a core of people who had taken over organising the 1985-1986 Irish Aspects course at Goldsmiths (then) Community College from its original organiser, Derry-born Peter Moloney, who was stepping down and invited them to run it in his place or that the course would come to an end. Peter was one of founding members of the branch and active within it for a few years.
2The intentions of this bombing are still the subject of dispute. The killing of civilians would have been against the interests of the organisation and in the event were strongly so; it strengthened the hands of the authorities in enacting further repressive legislation and also ideologically for the authorities and the Provisionals in gathering support for the Good Friday Agreement and in neutralising its opponents within the Irish Republican movement. Over the years the Wikipedia page on the bombing has changed substantially as cases against accused collapsed, including one in which the Gardaí were found to have concocted notes of an interview and revelation has followed revelation of intelligence services awareness of elements of the plans and failure to alert the RUC (colonial police) on the ground. Four defendants were found responsible in a controversial civil case and it seems clear that that Mickey Kevitt’s criminal conviction on questionable evidence in another case in 2003 was related to his believed involvement as was the refusal to apply all possible reductions which would have seen him released in 2016. McKevitt died of cancer on 2nd January 2021, still serving his sentence of 20 years. The full truth may never be known.
3Pat Reynolds, PRO of the IBRG throughout most of its existence, in his year-by-year review of the IBRG commented: “The London Evening Standard with a long history of anti-Irish racism came out with the headline London fundraiser for the Omagh Bombers alleging that the event was organised by supporters of the real IRA. The IBRG were seeking legal advice on the article as the event was organised by Lewisham IBRG.” Busy with more practical organising and without perhaps the right contacts, Lewisham IBRG never did take up the misreporting legally or with the Press Council.
4As Irish community activists warned the British public, it would lead to wider repressive legislation if permitted to stand, which it did. The 2006 Act allows for detention up to 28 days without charge.
5The Irish Post was founded in 1971 as a newspaper aimed at the Irish community in Britain and played a generally progressive role until its editor-owner, Brendan Mac Lua and Thomas Beattie sold the title and company to Thomas Crosbie Holdings (TCH) in 2003. In 1981 the founding of the Irish in Britain Representation Group was in part inspired by comment in the paper’s “Dolan” column (a pen-name of Mac Lua’s). In later years the newspaper suffered competition from other titles aiming at the same community, The Irish World and The London Irish News(?). More about the Post’s later history (but next to nothing about it earlier work including promoting the cases of the Birmingham Six, Guildford Four, Maguire Seven etc and also covering protests against anti-Irish racism and promoting new Irish writing) here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Irish_Post
6Patricia Ellen Baczor owed her surname to having married a Polish man. There were many such marriages between Polish refugees and servicemen who met young Irish women at Catholic parish social events in Britain during WW2. Pat was a strong widow and supporter of the rights of the Irish community, progressive in her thinking, anti-racist but not one to push herself forward. She was generally very supportive of me as Chair of the Management Committee and appreciative of the other hat I wore in the local and ‘national’ IBRG and the tensions thereby I sometimes had to negotiate.
Last Saturday (November 28th) saw the centenary of the Kilmichael Ambush, when a column of the West Cork IRA commanded by Tom Barry ambushed two lorry-loads of Auxiliaries and fought them to a finish, losing three of their own in the fight. It was a battle of tremendous importance in rural Ireland during the War of Independence, when the forces of British occupation of the nation turned to undisguised terrorism and employed the Auxiliaries as the knife edge of that terror. Despite the Covid19 pandemic restrictions, the 100th centenary was marked by physical commemorations in addition to on-line talks and articles. However, it appears that the “patriots” of the Far Right and fascists1 in Ireland failed to commemorate this important event – why might this be?
The Auxiliary Division were all ex-British Army officers but were recruited in July 1920 as a mobile strike force to bolster the British colonial police, the paramilitary Royal Irish Constabulary. This was in addition to another police support group which became known as the “Black and Tans”. The massive swelling of the ranks of the police was because the British rulers wanted to deny that they were fighting a liberation war and instead to present it as a policing problem (though they were obliged to use 20,000 British Army nevertheless)2. Both the ‘Tans and the Auxies gained a reputation for rough and arrogant treatment of civilians, torture of captives, theft, drunkenness and general indiscipline. However, a fear of the the “Auxies” had also grown, a feeling that they could not be beaten. The Kilmichael Ambush smashed that myth and was as important in the rural areas as the wiping out of much of the British intelligence network in Dublin was for the city.
However although they have been posing as Irish patriots, we saw no sign of the commemorative celebration of the Kilmichael Ambush from the Irish Far-Right and fascists. They have played patriotic ballads and anthems often at events and strutted around under — and sometimes wrapped in — Irish flags. They have tried to appropriate Irish patriot heroes and martyrs including Wolfe Tone, James Connolly and Terence MacSwiney. But they left Tom Barry untouched.
Niall McConnell, head of the fascist organisation (registered as a business) Síol na hÉireann, posted about James Connolly as though Connolly would have supported McConnell’s type of people and claimed Connolly was born in Ireland. Laughable though it may be to think that revolutionary socialist and anti-sectarian, anti-imperialist Connolly would ever have supported a little Ireland religious sectarian and fascist like McConnell, the latter did try to appropriate him. And although Connolly was born to Irish parents in Edinburgh, where he grew up, that was not enough for McConnell, who had to claim he’d been born in Ireland.
Wolfe Tone, a revolutionary patriotic democrat who strove to unite the mass of people in Ireland of different religions and who fought for a secular independent state, would have crossed the street to avoid the likes of McConnell – but that didn’t prevent McConnell from trying to appropriate him.
Recently we passed through the 100th anniversary of the death on hunger strike of Terence MacSwiney – and they tried to appropriate him too. MacSwiney was a devout Catholic but the IRA, of which he was a prominent officer in Cork, was a non-sectarian body. Presumably MacSwiney, like his IRA comrades, fought under the principles of the 1916 Proclamation, part of which read: “The Republic guarantees civil and religious liberty to all ….” Nevertheless, got up somewhat reminiscently of the Ku Klux Klan, McConnell led a small torchlit group allegedly to MacSwiney’s grave and had himself videoed making a speech there.
Dee Wall (real name Dolores Webster), whose Saturday afternoon screeching on behalf of the QAnon negationists and conspiracy theorists assails the ears of people passing the GPO in Dublin and whose social media tries to reach those who avoided that experience, tried to claim MacSwiney too, only she pronounced the surname as rhyming with “tiny” instead of like “sweeney” (as one who had never heard the name before might from the spelling alone).
Jim Dowson, a British fascist and sectarian Loyalist, who has shared a platform with fascists Rowan Croft (aka “Tan” Torino) and Herman Kelly of the Irish Freedom Party (but formerly of UKIP), has cheered the armed fascists of the National Party in attacking unarmed counter-protesters, calling them “my Fenians”. Yes, bizarre to call his fascist comrades anything to do with the revolutionary Irish Republican Brotherhood but even more so when “Fenians” is one of the hate-names of Dowson’s Loyalist brethren for Irish Republicans.
Another centenary we passed by very recently with a number of commemorations held outside the stadium was that of the Bloody Sunday Massacre in Croke Park by Auxiliaries, ‘Tans and RIC. Apparently the fascist National Party sneaked in an early videoed commemoration of their own before anyone else on the day and left a wreath among other floral tributes there.
Yet, despite this focus on recent centenaries in the Irish struggle for independence, the “patriots” of the Far Right and fascists in Ireland seem to have let that great event of the Kilmichael Ambush slip them by without a commemoration of any kind. Not a murmur, not a video, not a post, not a photo, not even a tweet from these publicity-obsessed types.
THEIR PROBLEM WITH KILMICHAEL AND TOM BARRY
What possible reason could there be for this omission by the fascists and Far Right?
Was it because Tom Barry, who led that ambush was anti-sectarian and proved it by publicly punishing two men who had robbed from a Protestant chapel in West Cork? Doubtful, because that did not stop the fascists trying to appropriate Wolfe Tone, whose main effort was precisely to end sectarianism.
Or was it because following the Kilmichael Ambush, the IRA were condemned by the Bishop of Cork, Daniel Colohan? We might be on to something there. “Demented” Dee Wall, Niall McConnell and National Party representatives all attended the anti-Muslim protest earlier this year, organised by Gemma O’Doherty, who unfurled a banner bearing the slogan “Make Ireland Catholic Again”, where they prayed the rosary through amplification. The new fascist parties, far-right organisations and the anti-mask people are building on the remaining fundamentalist hard-right reactionary core of the Catholic Church in Ireland who have seen its grip on the social and political life of society slipping over the years, due to its scandals and people’s democratic desire for equality.
By the way, Barry commented in his memoir that, although practicing Catholics, the threat of excommunication deterred the patriots of West Cork not in the least, as they were able to separate their religious from their patriotic views.
It may be that the false patriots have another problem with Barry: he fought against the Free State at least twice. Tom Barry, like the overwhelming majority of the military part of the resistance movement, rejected the terms of the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1921 and refused allegiance to the 26-County Free State. The latter, in 1922 under Michael Collins, opened artillery fire upon the Republicans, launching a civil war which persisted until 1923 and during which the State, apart from those killed in battle, killed at least another 120, either through shooting prisoners, martial court executions or covert assassinations. Barry was part of the IRA’s leadership in the Civil War.
Although because he felt the war could no longer be won and was narrowly outvoted on ending it, Barry had resigned his leadership position shortly before the end of the Civil War, he rejoined the IRA leadership in 1927 and was jailed by the DeValera Government in 1934 for seven months on a charge of illegal possession of firearms.
In March 1936 Barry was suspected — but never charged — of involvement in the assassination of retired Vice-Admiral Henry Somerville at his home in Cork, because he was attempting to recruit people into the British Naval forces3. In 1937 Tom Barry was elected Chief of Staff of the IRA after the resignation of Seán McBride but resigned the position himself in 1938 over a tactical dispute.
Yet another problem for the Far Right and the fascists is that from the 1970s onward, though he publicly disagreed with some of their actions, Tom Barry stated he supported the Provisionalsand later, Republican prisoners in the H-Blocks. At a commemoration at Crossbarry in 1980, the scene of another of Barry’s famous battles, shortly before his death, he was quoted as saying:
‘I don’t want you to fall out4 until the same prayers are said for men who are being crucified in H-block, Long Kesh. I want you to say prayers for them to show our unity with these men, many of whom are completely innocent and are railroaded by the same British that killed these men whom we are commemorating.’
The Far Right and fascist “patriots” have a big problem with the Provisionals5 and others who were, during the recent war of three decades, at the time fighting against British occupation for a united, independent Ireland.
Of course, given their flexibility with history, logic and integrity6, there is no guarantee that at some time in the future the Far Right and fascists will not try to appropriate the Kilmichael Ambush. However, their present difficulty with commemorating the event and celebrating the memory of a true patriot, Tom Barry, exposed the false patriotism of the Far Right and fascists in Ireland. But it did more: it gave a clear indication of what they do support.
The Far Right and fascists in Ireland support:
the 26-County neo-colonial State
the continuation of British colonial occupation and division of Ireland
a Catholic Church dictating in political and social affairs to the population within the Irish state
The Far Right and fascists, for all their slogans about “freedom”, “free speech” and posturing as “patriots”, are in oppositionto freedom, both national, social and individual. There is nothing patriotic about them.
1 Though the dividing line in Ireland between most of of the Far Right and committed fascists is a thin one, it nevertheless exists but it is important to note their past cooperation in staging public events and the continued presence of fascists within the Far Right.
2 Wikipedia gives the following figures: British Army 20,000; Royal Irish Constabulary 9,700; Black and Tans 7,000; Auxiliary Division 1,400; Ulster Special Constabulary 4,000 (i.e a total of 42,000 combatants). These were opposed in fighting by little more than 15,000 IRA and about 250 ICA (although those were supported by a large network of formal and informal non-combatants).
3 With the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1921, the British had retained the three deepwater “Treaty Ports” of Lough Swilly in Donegal, Berehaven and “Queenstown” (Cóbh) in Cork. The Irish State took these ports over with British agreement in 1938. De Valera’s refusal to allow the UK to use these ports during WW2 led to a threat of invasion by Churchill and the resultant declaration of an “Emergency” by the Irish Government and recruitment into its armed forces; the threat was unfulfilled and the Irish State remained neutral through the war though generally friendly to the Allies.
4 A military parade command: “Fall out” indicates that the parade is formally over and soldiers may disperse for recreation or take up other duties.
5 However the history-illiterate Dee Wall of the QAnon group, protesting outside Maghaberry Jail in solidarity with an anti-masker jailed for a few days in Maghaberry for refusing to give his name, stated that Bobby Sands had died there. Bobby Sands, the first of ten hunger strikers of the Provisional IRA and of the INLA, died on hunger strike in the H-Blocks of the Maze prison, which was closed 20 years ago.
6 Along with their willingness to libel with the most vile and outlandish personal accusations individuals who oppose them
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 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.
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).
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.
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 37 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 Tendersthat 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).
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 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 twilightAnd 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.
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).
For a maximum enemy number of 22, Barry had mobilised a force of 37 but three 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 two clips 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.
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 been 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 in 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 History is not just about the past but also about the present and the future, in which we all have a stake, which no doubt influences what some historians would like to believe (and to make others believe). Understandable though all that may be, to plagiarise and to falsify in order to achieve the desired result is inexcusable.
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 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).
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?
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.
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
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.
So here’s to the boys of Kilmichael …
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.
So here’s to the boys of Kilmichael …
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
So here’s to the boys of Kilmichael …
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 McLoughlin 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.