A crowd gathered in Dublin today to commemorate the Free State opening fire on the Four Courts on 28th August 1922, an event that began what is usually called “the Civil War” which lasted until 1923 (with State assassinations until 1924). The UK supplied the cannons and shells used by the Free State’s “National Army” along with munitions, including small arms and ammunition, armoured cars, army lorries and even coastal naval vessels. The conflict has also been called a “counterrevolution” and “the UK’s proxy war” with more Republicans executed by the new Irish State1 in that conflict than had been by the British State over the whole 1916-1921 period.
One hundred years ago this month, the IRA under the command of Rory O’Connor occupied and fortified the Four Courts complex, last occupied as a fighting post during the 1916 Rising. The Anglo-Irish Treaty partitioning the country and giving the Free State the status of a Dominion country had been narrowly accepted by the delegates to the First Dáil, the Irish Parliament previously banned by the UK State. However by far the majority of the military part of the Irish resistance – the IRA, Cumann na mBan and na Fianna, along with the remnants of the Irish Citizen Army – were opposed to the Treaty. The occupation of the Four Courts was seen by the Free State government as a challenge to its authority and by the British Government as a threat of anti-colonial struggle being renewed. Both parties were hostile to any radical republican, socialist or socialist-republican program.
On 28th June the Free State opened fire from British cannon on the Four Courts from Bridge Street on the south side of the river and the Civil War – or Counterrevolution – had begun. By the time the Republicans conceded defeat (and some assassinations continued even after it officially ended) perhaps around 1,300 had been killed. From January 1922 to April 1924, according to the Republican Roll of Honour, 426 anti-Treaty Volunteers had been killed, some 25 of these died fighting British and Northern Irish forces. Most anti-Treaty dead were IRA Volunteers, but some were Na Fianna members and four were women of Cumann na mBan2.
On the Free State side just under 800 died, of whom 488 fell in enemy action, others due to accidents or illness, while seven were executed having deserted to the Republican side. “To this total should be added a small number of police, including four from the Civic Guard (later renamed Garda Síochána), four from the Criminal Investigation Department and two from the Citizens’ Defence Force, who were killed from 1922-19243.”
Dorney remarks on omissions in the Last Post record and concludes: “Even allowing for this, though, the total of anti-Treaty IRA dead in the Civil War is not likely to be much more than about 500, of whom 81 died before Free State firing squads and more than 100 were summarily executed in reprisals.”
Many Irish Republicans also emigrated to avoid repression or because they were being denied employment.
The Irish State today is a direct descendant, legally and in other ways, of the Free State of 1922 and all periods since.
The commemorative event in Dublin today was organised by the National Graves Association (Cumann Uaigheanna na Laochra Gael), an organisation which since its founding in 1926 has been maintaining the graves of Irish patriots, arranging for the installation of gravestones, plaques and monuments and also organising commemorative events.
Before marching to the Four Courts, participants formed up in groups in the road outside Croppies’ Acre, a public park over a mass grave of victims of the English state’s repression of the United Irishmen and their supporters in 1798, now across the road from the Collins Barracks National Museum. They were led by a lone piper and colour party, followed by people in double ranks flying Starry Plough flags and carrying banners of history and conservation groups, along with some other flags, including that of Cumann na mBan.
At the rally outside the Liffeyside of the Four Courts, the organisers had an MC with number of speakers to read out the 1922 Proclamation, the lyrics of The Soldiers of Twenty-Two4 and Tim Horgan to give a keynote oration. At least one floral wreath was laid in honour of those who fought there and a number of posters attached to lampposts commemorated the three Volunteers who were fatally wounded there: Thomas Wall, Joe Considine and Sean Cusack.
It is almost certainly the case that it is the NGA which has erected the majority of patriotic struggle commemorative plaques around the country, with most of the remainder being organised by local authorities, local history groups and old comrades’ associations – a very small proportion being the work of the State. As stated on its website, the objectives of the Association have always been: to restore, where necessary, and maintain fittingly the graves and memorials of our patriot dead from every generation; to commemorate those who died in the cause of Irish freedom; to compile a record of such graves and memorials.
The NGA’s general alignment is unequivocal: “Only a 32 County Irish Republic represents the true aspiration of those who gave their lives for Irish freedom.5“
One might assume that every participant at the event today was of a definite political bent, yet not a single party or political organisation banner was to be seen on the march or at the rally. This is because participants were asked in advance not to bring any banners or placards of political organisational allegiance. As the Chairperson of the rally informed the audience, the NGA is not affiliated to any political party or organisation and furthermore does not accept contributions from any such nor from the State – in order to continue to guarantee the NGA’s independence. In fact, members of its governing body are not even permitted to belong to a political party. A senior Garda officer however, of least at Inspector rank, took down details in his notebook as the rally was addressed by speakers.
Patriots of the United Irishmen, the Young Irelanders, the Fenians, the Land League, na Fianna Éireann, Irish Volunteers, Cumann na mBan, IRA, Official and Provisional IRA, the Irish National Liberation Army etc have all been commemorated by the NGA. According to Wikipedia, since its founding, the NGA has erected, or accepted into its care, over 500 monuments and memorials throughout Ireland.
A number of other Civil War/ Counterrevolution commemorative and discussion events will be taking place at least during this year, two of which will take place next week (see photos of leaflet).
The Gardaí remained at the scene as people dispersed. Passing by again shortly afterwards, we found the floral wreath had been removed.
1Official executions are usually listed as 81 or 83, these having been subjected to some kind of military judicial process (but without any jury). However, apart from IRA fighters killed in battle, a number of captured combatants were murdered (such as those of the Ballyseedy Massacre on March 7th 1923) while known activists were assassinated by Garda-Army squads operating from Oriel House. Often, the murdered had been tortured first.
Passers-by on foot and on the Luas tram lines watched curiously as housing activists and others held a picket outside Store Street Garda station in Dublin on the evening of 13th June 2022. The picket was called for by the Revolutionary Workers Union, protesting the taking by over 80 Gardaí of a house on Eden Quay and arresting of two occupants, followed by the arrest of another two activists near another address.
The picket was called at fairly short notice and supported by people from a variety of political backgrounds, all with what were clearly home-made placards. Picketing a police station is somewhat counter-intuitive, given that’s to where the police take their prisoners and most people want to stay away from those places, with good reason. However, the station is the location of the police symbolically and in reality and Store Street is one of the main ones in Dublin so, when one wants to protest about the police …… Once having protested at a police station, the apprehension is never quite the same again.
Some passers-by stopped to ask what the protest was about, some of whom expressed anger at the actions of the Gardaí and a reporter from an independent media interviewed some of the participants.
Some time later the picketers were addressed by Seán Doyle of the RWU who spoke about the morality of the landlords and speculators and the Gardaí who work for them. Doyle contrasted that morality with the one that saw provision for need instead of profit. During the course of his address, Doyle pointed out that the RWU knows people who work in emergency interventions such as with people attempting suicide, who are then brought to agencies to help them but who are soon out again and homeless. “This is not ‘ethnic cleansing’,” the activist said, “it’s class cleansing.”
The RWU spokesperson at the picket remarked on the use of the law and the Gardaí against housing activists while speculators and landlords make big profits out of the misery of homelessness. A law that upholds and defends that kind of practice must be defied, he stated as he drew to a close.
Seán Doyle was one of two activists that were removed recently by over 80 Gardaí from a one-and-a-half years empty homeless hostel which the RWU had “acquisitioned” and renamed “James Connolly House”. Another premises subsequently acquisitioned, also empty for a long period, the RWU renamed “Liam Mellowes House” and the Gardaí arrested two activists near there also, despite any occupation of the building being a civil law matter and outside the remit of the Gardaí.
The RWU on a number of occasions have called on people to “take back empty buildings” and have declared that they will not be intimidated by arrests but will continue to fight for the right of people to a secure home.
The Salvation Army went to court yesterday to obtain a court order against the Revolutionary Workers’ Union, the latter currently occupying a building on Dublin’s Eden Quay since earlier this month. The RWU occupied the building — which had been empty last year — in order to house the homeless and as a public protest against continuing homelessness in the city, property speculation and high rents. The RWU were not represented in court, which granted the Salvation Army the order they sought, but some RWU supporters held a protest picket outside the court and held a rally outside the Eden Quay building a few hours later, their speakers and songs expressing determination to continue the struggle and defiance of the authorities.
The occupied building formerly known as Lefroy House and now renamed James Connolly House by the occupiers, in honour of the celebrated revolutionary socialist James Connolly executed in 1916, was constructed on the site in 1925 (all the terraces along Eden Quay had been demolished by British artillery and fire during the suppression of the 1916 Rising). Extended in 1948, the legend “Seamen’s Institute” suggests it served for a time as a seamen’s hostel but in more recent times served as hostel for young people run by the Salvation Army1 organisation, which closed the facility last year when their government funding was cut.
The Salvation Army organisation hold a long lease on the building and claimed in court that they had been renovating the building to house Ukrainian refugees, for which one assumes they have funding. However, a quick independent inspection of the building’s interior found it in good repair but with no sign of ongoing renovation work of any kind. Their claim was repeated in media reports without any attempt to check its veracity. The RWU in a statement date the 17th and of which copies were handed out supporters attending the rally yesterday headed off any attempt to use racism in their support, stating that: “The Revolutionary Workers’ Union is a pro-refugee and migrant organisation” and went on to call for housing for all residents, regardless of nationality and “an end to the shameful prison system of direct provision”.
In common with previous statements, it went on to call on people across the country, all 32 counties, to take similar action. This seems a new departure from housing occupation actions in recent years, of which the most famous was that of the large formerly NAMA building Apollo House in December of 2016. That occupation received a lot of activist support and media attention, the latter due at least in part to the participation of celebrity personalities such as the musicians Glen Hansard and Damien Dempsey and support from actress Saoirse Ronan and film-maker and author Jim Sheridan. After the building was abandoned to its owners for demolition however no similar action followed – except for a protest concert outside Leinster House the following year — and the housing crisis continued to intensify. Some minor occupations have occurred without usually any follow-up action after the occupants were evicted and protest marches have taken place – but the crisis continues to worsen.
A wide public housing program is urgently needed to address the crisis but, although by no means a revolutionary solution, has the support of not one of the major political parties, in or out of government. Not only should the sale of any public land to private concerns by declared illegal but other facilities and empty buildings need to be seized for conversion into public housing to rent according to means. Those rents would not only fund repairs and maintenance but new building also.
But any local authority wishing to carry out this program is starved of the necessary funding from the State, which feeds it instead into private landlords and speculators, who then use it to further deepen their grip on the housing market. Not only is the problem not resolved but it gets worse.
According to Department of Housing, there were more than 9,800 people experiencing homelessness in Ireland at the end of March, representing an increase of 3.5% in one month and a 23% increase compared to the same time last year.
Of the 9,825 homeless people, 2,811 were children and there were 5,143 single adults and 1,238 families in emergency accommodation. Youth homelessness is more than double other categories as there was a 58% increase in the number of homeless people aged between 18 and 24 (1,230) when compared to last year.
The Simon Communities of Ireland said it was “the highest level of adult homelessness and young person homelessness ever recorded” by the Department of Housing.2
In addition, the number of homeless people dying is sharply increasing: a total of 115 homeless people died in Dublin last year, more than double the number who died in 2019. In 2020, there were 76 deaths recorded while in 2019 and 2018, the number was under 50.3
RALLY ON THE QUAY – SPEECHES AND SONG
The rally yesterday evening outside “Connolly House”, which had been called at fairly short notice, started a little late but was fairly short, concluding even as people were still arriving. The average age profile was noticeably young and a number of political tendencies seemed to be represented.
A man chairing the rally apologised for the lack of a PA system and asked people go gather closer. He informed the audience that the Revolutionary Workers’ Group has occupied “a second long-term vacant property in Dublin City, naming it Liam Mellows House, “the great socialist Republican executed by the Free State counterrevolution in 1922 …. which we continue to live with the consequences of and continue to fight to this day.”
Apart from the man chairing the event, there were two speakers from the RWU, one of whom gave his entire speech in fluent Irish. The message in summary from all was that the housing crisis is artificially created for the benefit of landlords and property “vulture” speculators, that the buildings belong by right to all of us, that housing is a human need that requires fighting for and the time for fighting – “to shake off the paralysis” — is now. All the speeches were cheered.
A performer accompanying himself by guitar sang a new resistance song while a giant banner was waved, reading “EVICTIONS KILL — HOUSE THE PEOPLE ”.
The event concluded with a man singing a cappella The Larkin Ballad4 (also known as the Lockout Song). He introduced his performance by saying that on that very Quay in August 1913 the police had killed two workers and that the Irish Citizen Army had been formed as a result, which had gone on to participate in the 1916 Rising — with the lyrics referencing both periods.
Following that, the chairperson invited those who wished to do so to enter the building but to treat it with respect in general and to abide by the rules of the occupiers of which he mentioned in particular that there were to be no photographs taken. A long queue formed for admittance even as some latecomers still arrived to join it.
1The Salvation Army is a Protestant religious charity and temperance organisation and its funding by the State to address homelessness is another example of the ubiquitous private status of social services in Ireland whether through different faith organisations or other NGOs.
4“In Dublin City in 1913, the Boss was rich and the workers slaves ….” The original lyrics were composed by Donagh McDonagh, son of Thomas McDonagh, Signatory of the Proclamation of Independence and executed by British firing squad in 1916, with some further lyrics by his own son.
Around two thousand demonstrators, including a high proportion of women, held a rally on Saturday afternoon outside Leinster House, the building housing the Irish Parliament. They were protesting the lack of clarity around whether the new maternity hospital will carry out pregnancy terminations on demand — with the suspicion that it will not.
But speaker after speaker went further still and demanded the secularisation of the Irish health service and of society in general.
The issue arises in the first place due to the necessity to relocate the Dublin maternity services currently based at Holles Street due to the inability of the latter to meet the demand. However, the Government decided to relocate the facility to land near St. Vincent’s Hospital, owned by a Catholic Church organisation, which in turn formed a company to buy the land and lease it to the State at a nominal annual rate. It is the perceived Church veto on some procedures that has raised so much concern.
A SECULAR SOCIETY – A REPUBLICAN DEMAND
A secular society is a fundamentally republican demand, up there with opposition to monarchy. English Republicanism failed to achieve1 it even after the execution by Parliament of Charles I in 1649 but the French revolution did not, which was one of the reasons why the Irish Catholic Church hierarchy was against La Republique and against the United Irishmen too.
Irish Republicans after the United Irishmen have had at best an ambivalent attitude to the Catholic Church – although the Young Irelanders and even more so the Fenians were decidedly anti-clerical, the Republicans in the first two decades of the last century were not so in general and many actually courted the support of the Church. The fact that the Irish Republican movement during the rest of the century failed to lead social struggles is adequate testimony to its leadership at the very least not wishing to earn the hostility of the Catholic hierarchy. That in turn was one of the factors ensuring that the Republican movement failed to broaden its struggle to encompass the majority of the nation … a factor sufficient on its own to ensure its defeat.
On the whole it has been left to writers, revolutionary socialists, social democrats and liberals to fight the secularisation battles – but above all, left to women. Control of fertility, access to contraceptives, personal sexual freedom, gender equality in law, equal pay, and termination of pregnancy were all hard battles won over decades by women. And often at huge personal cost. Most of those battles confronted the authority of the Church Hierarchy and even when some did not so directly, they did so by implication, undermining its basic judgement that the role of a woman is as wife to husband and mother to children.
The position of the Church hierarchy in Irish society was one of moral judge, jury and practical punisher and when punishment failed to correct, the State took over. In fact, we can view the Irish State in social and political terms as a partnership of native capitalist class – the Gombeens – and the Church hierarchy. In return for its role in social control, the State permitted the education, health and social care systems to be run by the Church either wholly or in part. Which in turn increased the power and authority of the Church hierarchy further. And it was that unquestioned (and unquestionable) authority that fostered the decades of physical, mental and sexual abuse carried out by so many clergy, in particular on women and children.
Women are still to the forefront of the struggle for the secularisation of the State and they are too in this struggle over an important branch of the health service. The people need a well-resourced national health service, with free access – but it needs to be secular also. Irish Republicans who do not actively support this struggle are failing not only the society they hope one day to lead but, in secularisation, failing also a fundamental principle of republicanism. That one of the issues with regard to Church influence on the maternity hospital is a suspicion that it will not carry out elective pregnancy termination should not prevent even those Irish Republicans opposed to elective termination from supporting its secularisation.
Quite simply, one is either a Republican and therefore in favour of a secular health service — or one is not a Republican.
Since 1524, not only is the UK a monarchy but the monarch, the Head of State, is also the head of the (Anglican) Church of England.
In mid-April (2022) Gardaí, the police force of the Irish State, broke down the door of Mick Plunkett’s home. They would not have been able to claim he resisted their entry or arrest (the usual explanation for injuries on the detained individual) – he was already dead. To be fair to them, this time they were forcing entry in response to concerns from people that Plunkett had not been seen and wasn’t answering calls. Still, Mick Plunkett’s door had been forced by police a number of times before – by the Special Branch, at least once by the Garda ‘Heavy Gang’ and another time by the special ‘anti-terrorist’ Paris police.
Mick was born into a working class family of ten siblings in Dún Laoghaire, in Kelly’s Avenue in the small area of council houses built for rent to the seaward side of the town’s main road (without however overlooking the sea itself, a view reserved for the big houses and hotels, later somewhat ruined by the DART wires and towers). Dún Laoghaire1, long-imagined as a area in which only the affluent or at least comfortably-off lived, nevertheless contained such council (formerly ‘Corporation”) houses in the nearby bottom of York Road, also Cross Avenue, Glasthule, Carriglee Gardens, Monkstown Farm and Sallynoggin areas.
As many of that era, especially among manual workers, Mick’s father died relatively young which left his widow Lilly to care for ten children with all siblings able to work and find employment contributing to the care of the rest.
Mick followed his father Oliver into a skilled manual worker trade, trained and qualified as a gas fitter-plumber and, by reputation, a good one; later he would often carry out repair jobs for neighbours free of charge or in exchange for fish caught nearby or by trawlers that docked in the harbour. “We saw and ate fish that many other people never saw,” said one of his sisters at his funeral reception in the evening.
Amidst the student and youth upsurge of the 1960s around the world, of which Ireland was also a part, many Irish youth of the time became rapidly politicised. The Vietnam War, Black struggles in the USA and South Africa, Civil Rights in the British colony, lack of sufficient housing in the Irish state (just as today!) were issues that engaged lively interest and which to people like Plunkett, called for solidarity and, in Ireland, direct action. At his funeral, Niall Leonach2, formerly of the IRSP, related how Plunkett, at the age of 17, had resisted the neglect of the young apprentices by his union and won improvements by organising a sit-in at the union’s office.
HOUSING AND HISTORY
The Dublin and Bray Housing Action Committees were campaigning for an end to slums and affordable rental housing around the city and Dún Laoghaire soon had its own Housing Action Committee too. Nial Leonach, former comrade of Plunkett’s told the mourners at Mount Jerome that a large public housing building program was initiated as a result of this campaigning, a program that not only replaced derelict inner city tenements but created large new housing areas such as that in Ballybrack in south county Dublin.
The Housing Action campaigns not only squatted homeless families, they also fought evictions, held marches and public meetings. And in at least one case, became involved in a struggle for historical building conservation.
The Dún Laoghaire group joined with conservationists wishing to save Frescati House, a large derelict building on acreage of the property planned by Roches Stores to demolish and convert into a shopping centre. The original building dated from 1739 but had been purchased by the largest landowning family in Ireland at the time, the Fitzgeralds and had wings added and the grounds planted with exotic shrubs. The house had been the childhood residence and favoured retreat of Edward Fitzgerald3, a much-loved leader of the first Irish Republican revolutionary movement, the United Irishmen, as late as 1797, the year before their Rising.
The figures heading the campaign were not only conservationists but fairly conservative too (Desmond Fitzgerald, son of a father of the same name who was Minister in a number of Fine Gael governments, was its chairperson). But it was of course the activist supporters of the DHAC who occupied the building in protest at plans for demolition and were subjected to a baton-wielding police attack to evict them.4
Niall Leonach told the crowd in the Mount Jerome chapel that the criminal charges against the arrested were serious but that as a result of Plunkett’s stratagem of issuing a subpoena for Liam Cosgrave5 to appear as witness for their defence, for the politician had been part of the conservation campaign, the more serious charges were dropped and, on the lesser ones, the penalties were lower-scale fines.
Much of DHAC soon became the Markievicz Cumann of Sinn Féin6, then a very socialist Irish Republican party, particularly in Dublin. The Civil Rights campaign in the British colony of the Six Counties became a focus for activity and Leonach told his audience that Plunkett had been particularly affected by the colonial police killing of a child by indiscriminate fire from machine-guns at a nationalist housing estate, the Divis Flats.
In 1969 the IRA, the military wing of Sinn Féin, was caught unprepared and largely unarmed to face the pogroms in the British colony, which was one of the reasons for the 1970 split in the party, out of which emerged the Provisional IRA and Provisional Sinn Féin.
Plunkett and others in the Markievicz Cumann, the three Breatnach brothers for example7, viewing the Provos as socially conservative, remained in what was now known as “Official Sinn Féin” but tried to change their party’s direction. Failing in that, they split, along with others such as the charismatic Séamus Costello8 and formed the Irish Republican Socialist Party in 1974.
It seems clear that the ruling elite of the Irish State viewed the IRSP and the associated INLA as a threat and decided to go beyond the standard and regular harassment, intimidation and petty and medium arrests9 with which they had been treating all Irish Republicans and some socialist activists.
FRAMED IN DUBLIN AND IN PARIS
On 31st March 1976 the Cork-Dublin mail train was stopped near Sallins, Co. Kildare and around £200,00010 was netted by armed men. The State decided to believe, at least officially that the operation had been carried out by the INLA and armed police raided the homes of 40 members of the IRSP and their families. The Gardaí beat up their victims and obtained “confessions” from a number of them – however, some who gave self-incriminating statements could not have been present and their prosecutions were dropped.11 Eventually, a trial in the political Special Criminal Court proceeded against Plunkett and another three IRSP members: Osgur Breatnach, Nicky Kelly and Brian McNally.
After many abuses of the legal system and the longest judicial procedure in the State, three of the four were convicted on the basis of their tortured “confessions” which they had denied. Forensic “evidence” was provided against the only one who had refused to sign a “confession” – an alleged lock of Plunkett’s hair12 was claimed to have been found at the scene of the robbery; that was insufficient and Plunkett was finally discharged. The others were released after years of campaigning13 and were paid a financial compensation but an official enquiry into the arrests, trials and convictions was never held and currently a campaign for such is underway.14.
Mick Plunkett remained politically active but after his arrest in the vicinity of an armed training camp was charged with “membership” and scheduled to appear before the Special Criminal Court. Plunkett, knowing the chances of acquittal in “the Special” were next to nil, decamped to France.
In Paris he and Mary Reid, a poet-activist and also formerly of the IRSP, shared accommodation. In the summer of 1982, their door was kicked down by armed police of the new special “anti-terrorist” French unit. Both were arrested, along with another Irishman Stephen King and charged with possession of automatic weapons and explosives. This followed the bombing of a delicatessen in the Jewish quarter of the city which was later revealed to have had police complicity.
Plunkett, Reid and King were accused of being part of an Irish-Palestinian cell, a figment of the special unit’s imagination. All three denied the charges and the accusation and the existence of such a cell, insisting that if any weapons and explosives had been found in their accommodation, it had been planted there by the police. Niall Leonach commented to the mourners in Mount Jerome that Plunkett had gone from being involved in the greatest miscarriage of justice in the Irish state to being accused in the greatest miscarriage of justice in the French State’s modern history.
Fortunately for the Irish accused, the special police unit was in serious conflict with the main police force and that helped bring to public view the fact that the armaments had, indeed, been planted on the accused by the “anti-terrorist” police unit. All three were released after nine months in jail and Mary Reid’s nine-year-old son Cathal had been taken into care. The whole case was by then such as to convince the Irish state authorities to refrain from severely embarrassing their French counterparts by requesting Plunkett’s extradition to face his charges in the Special Criminal Court.
Working in London at the time, I read the news about the arrests of Irish political activists in Paris and was shocked to see names I recognised. I remembered the last time I had seen Mick; I had been back in Dún Laoghaire on holiday and with four of my brothers we set off in Mick’s brother Jimmy’s rowing boat from a pier, Mick himself in it too. We had fishing rods and lines and began to fish as we cleared the harbour. Hours later as the sun dropped to the west, we turned back with our varied catch. Once inside the harbour it was quite dark and a large ship entering the harbour appeared to be bearing down on us and we couldn’t find our flashlight. The incident provided more excitement than we had wished for but seemed to give extra taste to the pints in the local pub afterwards.
Mick found happiness for a time with Tracy out of which union came their daughter Natacha. After the Good Friday Agreement Mick felt safe to returned to Ireland but Tracy remained in Paris with their daughter, Natascha visiting him and his extended family by arrangement on occasion. Plunkett seemed to have retired from political activity and had also withdrawn from social contact with many of his former contacts. His health deteriorated significantly but nevertheless his death came as something of a shock to many.
Many came to pay their respects at the funeral parlour where his coffin lay and to watch the wonderful collection of photos collected by his ex-partner, Tracy. His daughter Natacha was there to receive condolences and to offer shots of Irish whisky over the coffin (where tobacco roll-ups were also placed irreverently on the crucifix attached to the woodwork – Mick was reportedly an atheist). Natacha was also at the cremation service in Mount Jerome cemetery with her mother Tracy, where Plunkett’s coffin was covered in the blue version of the Starry Plough flag15 before being removed from the hearse, carried by relations and with the Seamus Costello Memorial Committee, in uniform and white gloves, providing a small ceremonial guard of honour.
Mick’s nephew Karl chaired the event and in turn called Jennifer Holland to give a short talk on Mick and his times followed by Niall Leonach, former General Secretary of the IRSP and close comrade of Plunkett’s, for a longer oration on Mick’s background and activism.
Karl provided many personal anecdotes from his association with his uncle and from within family stories, many of them amusing and some hilarious. He did not however avoid the political and recounted that many of them were kept unaware of the reasons for Mick’s absence and his apparent inability to travel back to Ireland even to visit. It was by going through some papers in his mother’s room that he came across the IRSP pamphlet on the Sallins case and was shocked; confronting his mother, the story began to be told.16
Recollecting the family’s trip to Paris to present two children for baptism in Notre Dame Cathedral which Mick attended, Karl spoke about their warm reception there and being touur-guided around by Plunkett, who had acquainted himself with much of the city’s history. One wonders whether that included the “Wall of the Communards” where in 1871, revolutionaries of the Paris Commune were summarily executed by French firing squads under the command of Marshall Patrice McMahon, descendant of Irish “Wild Geese” refugees from Williamite-controlled Ireland. Plunkett would hardly have been unaware of that history and its irony for the Irish.
SOCIAL, SONG AND FLAG
Later that evening in a large reserved section of the Rochestown Lodge Hotel (formerly the Victor Hotel) just above the large Sallynoggin housing estate, mourners and celebrants gathered to eat, drink and talk. Some had not seen one another for decades. Among the many reminiscences of the social and music scene in Dún Laoghaire in the later decades of the last century, including the remark that “our harbour is a marina now”, one of Mick’s sisters spoke of raids by the Special Branch on their family home, where children would be ordered or pulled out of bed and the mattresses and beds tipped over, allegedly searching for weapons.
Strangely perhaps, there was no performance of musicians or singers or even sing-alongs at the event, though the traditional song The Parting Glass was sung to Plunkett’s daughter Natacha and a small unexpecting audience on the covered patio outside. Later inside, by which time some had left and following a query about a ceramic badge of the Starry Plough worn by one those remaining, a whole length of the original green-and-gold version of the flag was unfurled, causing much interest and queues forming asking to be photographed behind it. And a little later, a man sang Patrick Galvin’s Where Is Our James Connolly? to much applause.
This was fitting for as the mourners had been reminded in Mount Jerome, Connolly17 had been a great inspiration to Mick Plunkett’s political activism and to the IRSP too. But not only that, for a building in Dublin city centre, formerly a hostel but empty for many years and very recently occupied by socialist Republicans in Dublin had been named Connolly House and had that very day witnessed a rally held outside it to resist a threatened Garda operation to evict the occupants.
It seemed to me that something other than the remembrance of a retired fighter alone had happened at the Plunkett memorial events, something more than the appropriate marker of a past and finished period in Irish history, as had been suggested by Holland in her oration. It seemed to me that the history of struggle in Ireland for national self-determination and social justice had to an extent been re-invoked, that it appeared to some extent as the ghost of struggles past but also as the gaining substance of struggles present and, in particular, yet to come. I think Mick would have been pleased and, in any case, in defiance of the declarations of Fukuyama and such idealogues, history is nowhere near finished or dead. As some have commented, it is not even past.
1A harbour town seven miles south of Dublin city centre, in Dublin County but administered by DL-Rathdown Council for some years now.
3He is more usually referred to as “Lord Edward Fitzgerald” which, apart from being somewhat historically inaccurate, does him a service. He was a republican, renounced his title and his sister Lucy said of him some years after his death in prison that “He was a paddy and no more; he desired no other title than this.”
4The Wikipedia entry on Frescati House and the campaign makes no mention at all of this sit-in, Garda attack or the subsequent court cases, of which there is ample documentary evidence. Hopefully someone will undertake its appropriate updating.
5Liam Cosgrave was a Fine Gael politician, son of the Leader of the Irish parliamentary Opposition from 1965 to 19873 and Taoiseach (Prime Minister) from 1973 to 1977, W.T Cosgrave.
6The Sinn Féin party has gone through many metamorpheses, from being a reformist dual-monarchy party, to revolutionary republican to constitutionalist. Constance Markievicz was a socialist Republican who took part in the 1916 Rising as an officer in the Irish Citizen Army – the name of a socialist revolutionary woman chosen for the cumann (‘association’, a branch of the SF party at the time) indicated an inclination towards revolution, feminism and socialism.
8Séamus Costello (b. 1939) was murdered by the Official IRA in Dublin on 5th October 1977.
9An example of the medium-seriousness was the charge of “membership of an illegal organisation” under the Amendment to the Offences Against the State Act, introduced in 1972 which required only the unsupported word of a Garda officer at rank of superintendent or above for conviction and a virtually automatic jail sentence of one to two years.
10€237,389.81 –without taking into account inflation — for today’s value
11Notably John Fitzpatrick, who years later publicly challenged the State to charge him with the offence to which he had “confessed” – there was no response.
12If it had been Plunkett’s hair, it had to have been planted by the Heavy Gang, since Mick had been nowhere near that scene and, in fact, the robbery had been carried out by the Provisional IRA. In addition, without the later development of DNA testing, all a sample of hair could tell, apart from its natural colour, was the blood-type of its owner.
13Some of those involved at the time, whether as victims or as campaigners, were present at some of the funeral events too, including Osgur Breatnach, Nicky Kelly, Caoilte and Peetera Schilders-Bhreatnach.
15The flag with a design in the shape of the constellation known as Ursa Mayor was of the Irish Citizen Army, formed to defend the workers during the strike and 8-month lockout of 1913 and later fought in the 1916 Rising. Originally the design was of the constellation in white or silver overlaid by the depiction of a plough in gold, with sword as the plough-share and all on a green background. A later version was the plain blue one with Ursa Mayor outlined in white stars. That version was the one in use by the short-lived Republican Congress of the 1930s and was for many years later, probably up to the end of the century, the main one displayed and therefore familiar to Republicans and socialists (even for years flown by the Irish Labour Party) but has now been largely supplanted by the original green version.
16This is not at all an unusual experience in Ireland and, whether by desire to protect the young, pain of reminiscence or even disapproval, much of our history has been concealed from generations for a time or even completely lost.
17James Connolly, revolutionary socialist, trade union organiser, historian, journalist, song-writer and one of the Seven Signatories of the 1916 Proclamation of Independence, was tried by British military court for his leading role in the Rising and executed by firing squad.
On 9th April, the Dublin Anti-Internment Committee held another of its regular awareness-rising events in the city, this time on on the northside, at the junction of the busy shopping Henry Street and Liffey Street.
Supporters lined up with the Anti-Internment Committee of Ireland banner and placards. In addition to the Starry Plough of the Irish working class, the Palestinian and the Basque flags were flown in symbols of solidarity and also as a demonstration that political prisoners are held in many countries around the world.
Going on for 200 of the AIGI’s leaflets were distributed, explaining that Irish Republicans continue to be held in custody without trial through the practice of refusal of bail and through revocation of licence. This practice by administrations on both sides of the British Border are anti-democratic suppression of the right to hold political opinions and to organise in their furtherance.
Recordings of relevant songs were played on a portable PA, such as The Roll of Honour, Viva la Quinze Brigada and Something Inside So Strong. Throughout the period of the event, two Special Branch (plainclothes political police) kept up an obvious surveillance which however did not deter the picketers.
The Anti-Internment Committee of Ireland is an independent broad and democratic committee, endeavouring to hold regular awareness-raising events and all democratic people are welcome to attend its public events, always advertised in advance on its Facebook page.
The Dublin Anti-Internment Committee held a well-attended picket on Saturday (5th March) against the continuing practice of interning Irish Republicans without trial and also in support of human rights for political prisoners. At one point the picket was subjected to the unwelcome attention of the Irish political police.
The event was in furtherance of the Committee’s advertised intention to hold monthly public events to highlight the deprivation of civil rights from Irish Republicans — on both sides of the British border — through the operation of special legislation and in particular of the no-jury political courts (Special Criminal Courts in the Irish state and Diplock Court in the British colony). The Committee has admitted that it does not always succeed in holding a public event every month and in fact its most recent public appearance was during the December festive season, in solidarity with Irish Republican prisoners, when it was supported by a number of organisations and independent activists.
WHY THESE PUBLIC EVENTS?
The Dublin Committee holds these public events because it believes that most people are unaware of the abuse of civil rights in Ireland, the civil right to belong to an organisation that criticises the State and seeks profound change. The reaction of people receiving a leaflet at their public events would seem to bear this out.
Choosing a couple of extracts from their current leaflet: ‘At various times in Ireland’s history, people have been rounded up and jailed without bothering with a trial – people whom the government found troublesome and wished removed. Today the same process carries on although they don’t call it “internment” now – other names such as “due process”, “remanded in custody” are used ….”
‘Even when Republican activists are granted bail, it is on outrageous conditions such as not being permitted to reside in their own home, having to observe a curfew and wear an electronic tag, not being permitted to attend meetings and demonstrations …..’
The leaflet text makes the point that one doesn’t have to agree with the politics of Irish Republicans to see that these injustices are profoundly undemocratic abuses of civil rights — and “are ultimately a danger to all oppositional movements, whether Republican or not”. One aspect of their protest was against the denial of open family visits to Republican prisoners in the jails of the British colony in the north-east of Ireland — a violation of human rights.
The surprise in learning the facts is not confined to Irish people because often it is expressed by tourists or migrants, even if they have encountered such practices in their own countries of origin.
An example of the interest from abroad on Saturday was of a Basque man and, separately, of two young Basque women, reacting warmly to seeing the Basque flag among the picketers. The Dublin Committee objects not only to the incarceration of Irish Republicans but also of people seeking freedom in many other parts of the world, for which reason the Palestinian and Basque flags are frequently flown on their pickets, next to the revolutionary Irish workers’ flag of the Starry Plough.
A person who expressed support for the right to campaign without state repression was, interestingly, from Barcelona. However he did not wish for Catalan independence, wanting instead a unitary but democratic Spanish state – a position held by some communists and the main socia-democratic parties there. Although his position did not concur with that of the picketers, who tend to support the struggles for self-determination, the conversation was conducted without hostility.
Not so with another individual, who approached some picketers to argue for their support for the Ukrainian state in the current armed conflict there, a question that has deeply divided the Irish Left and Republican movements. He went further and announced his support for the Azov Battalion, an East European fascist organisation integrated into the Ukrainian state’s military, at which point the tolerance of the picketers for his intervention ended and he was urged to depart.
POLITICAL POLICE INTIMIDATION
Another temporary presence unwelcome to the picketers was of three members of the Irish State’s political police. These are members of what used to be called the Special Branch but are now officially called the Special Detective Unit, formerly C3 and successor to the CID when the Irish State was created. This type of political police force is modelled on the Irish Special Branch of Scotland Yard, the HQ of the British police, founded to spy on the influence and activities of the “Fenians” (i.e the Irish Republican Brotherhood) in the cities of Victorian-era Britain. However, in Dublin under British occupation, their parallel force was the G Division of the Dublin Metropolitan Police, known as “G-men”; it was they who identified many Republican and other prisoners of the British military after the 1916 Rising, ensuring death sentences for many (though most commuted to life imprisonment) and jail sentence for many others. During the War of Independence (1919-1921 they were identified as the intelligence service of the British occupation and many were selectively assassinated by the IRA of the time.
The Garda “Branch” (as they are known colloquially) of the Irish State have a long history of harassment of and spying on Irish Republicans, sometimes associated with violence and often with perjury in court. Their unsupported observations through the mouth of a Garda officer at the rank of Superintendent has been enough “evidence”, in the no-jury Special Criminal Court, to send many Irish Republicans to jail on a charge of “membership of an illegal organisation.”
One of these gentlemen on Saturday approached the youngest supporter of the picket, who was distributing leaflets to passers-by, identified himself as a Gárda officer in plain-clothes and demanded the young activist’s name. His accosting of the leafletter attracted the attention of others on the picket and two went quickly to support the subject of State harassment. The Branchman demanded no further information and sone moved away. However, when he had reached about half-way along the picketters, he stopped and began filming them.
At that point one of the picketers began to call out to passers-by, many of whom were tourists, that this man was a member of the secret political police, who was filming and attempting to intimidate people on a legal political protest, that this is the kind of ‘democracy’ that exists in the Irish state, etc, etc. Shortly thereafter, the Branchman departed, along with another two of his colleagues that had been observed further down towards Temple Bar.
According to picket participants this intervention of the political police represented an escalation of their attentions in recent times, though not in the least unusual in the past, when every picketer might have their name (and even their address) demanded and jotted down.
A spokesperson of the Dublin Anti-Internment Committee stated that it is independent of any political party or organisation and that it welcomes the participation at its public events of democratic individuals, whether independent activists or members of organisations and had distributed many of its leaflets. It regrets that a number of political activists — who should have an interest, even if only in self-preservation – in defending the democratic rights to organise and to protest, decline to support their events.
Recently the Queen of the UK and Commonwealth regions reached the 70th year of her reign, called by convention the “platinum jubilee” and has received congratulations from the heads of imperialist, colonial and neo-colonial states around the world. In Ireland, she has also received the congratulations of the head of a formerly Republican party now aspiring to neo-colonial government. When Mary Lou MacDonald, President of Sinn Féin praised Elizabeth II for her “long service” we should ask: service to whom and to what? We are also entitled to compare her words to those of James Connolly, Irish revolutionary socialist and republican, in reference to the British Monarchy.
WHAT THE PRESIDENT OF SINN FÉIN SAID
Mary Lou McDonald, President of Sinn Féin was widely reported reacting to the news that a tree is to be planted in the grounds of Parliament Buildings at Stormont to mark the anniversary.
“I think it is important that we are respectful of the identity of our citizens who are British,” she said on Thursday.
“I think that is entirely appropriate and I welcome that decision.
She was reported wishing well to those who will celebrate the jubilee, and said she believes those who won’t “are now big enough, bold enough, generous enough to acknowledge the identity of others.”
“Can I also extend to the British Queen a word of congratulations because 70 years is quite some record,” she added.
“That is what you call a lifetime of service.”
Any logical consideration of those words should quickly find some problems with them. What does “respecting the identity of our (Irish) citizens who are British” or “acknowledging the identity of others” actually mean? One would imagine that respecting the identity of others would involve primarily not subjecting them to discrimination, racism or religious sectarianism. Does respecting the national identity of any people give them the right to seize with armed force and occupy a part of the nation? Because that is what constitutes the basis for the British colony of the Six Counties in Ireland and the administration of that colony is the purpose of the Stormont Parliament and Executive. Furthermore, discrimination and sectarianism is precisely what is suffered by a huge part of the population of that colony – from the very institutions being upheld by SF and by its President.
Stripped down to its essentials, we are only “big enough, bold enough, generous enough” if we accept the partition of our small nation, the forcible retention of a colony and pay our respects to the Head of that state and the Commander-in-Chief of its armed forces.
This is a monarch who has presided over her armed forces’ participation in at least 24 wars or interventions since her inauguration, two of them in our national territory. Her armed forces invaded foreign lands, bombed and shot down those who resisted, carried out massacres, tortured prisoners and she has personally decorated the leaders of those armed forces, including those who murdered Irish people. The very least one could expect from an Irish politician with any dignity would have been silence or “no comment” on the occasion.
This is far from the worst thing that the Sinn Féin leadership has done with regard to the British Monarch, for in May 2011 they called for no protests against her while she desecrated the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin and while the Gardaí attacked “dissident” Republican protesters nearby and outside her state reception in Dublin Castle, the old seat of her royal enforcers in Ireland. The following year, Martin McGuinness, prominent in the leaderships of both the IRA and Sinn Féin, welcomed her to her colony and shook her hand.
WHAT JAMES CONNOLLY SAID
James Connolly on occasions too referred to contemporary British monarchs – but in markedly different terms to those from the leadership of Sinn Féin in recent decades.
“What is monarchy? From whence does it derive its sanction? What has been its gift to humanity? Monarchy is a survival of the tyranny imposed by the hand of greed and treachery upon the human race in the darkest and most ignorant days of our history. It derives its only sanction from the sword of the marauder, and the helplessness of the producer, and its gifts to humanity are unknown, save as they can be measured in the pernicious examples of triumphant and shameless iniquities.
“Every class in society save royalty, and especially British royalty, has through some of its members contributed something to the elevation of the race. But neither in science, nor in art, nor in literature, nor in exploration, nor in mechanical invention, nor in humanising of laws, nor in any sphere of human activity has a representative of British royalty helped forward the moral, intellectual or material improvement of mankind. But that royal family has opposed every forward move, fought every reform, persecuted every patriot, and intrigued against every good cause. Slandering every friend of the people, it has befriended every oppressor. Eulogised today by misguided clerics, it has been notorious in history for the revolting nature of its crimes. Murder, treachery, adultery, incest, theft, perjury – every crime known to man has been committed by some one or other of the race of monarchs from whom King George is proud to trace his descent.
“Fellow-workers, stand by the dignity of your class. All these parading royalties, all this insolent aristocracy, all these grovelling, dirt-eating capitalist traitors, all these are but signs of disease in any social state – diseases which a royal visit brings to a head and spews in all its nastiness before our horrified eyes. But as the recognition of the disease is the first stage towards its cure, so that we may rid our social state of its political and social diseases, we must recognise the elements of corruption. Hence, in bringing them all together and exposing their unity, even a royal visit may help us to understand and understanding, help us to know how to destroy the royal, aristocratic and capitalistic classes who live upon our labour. Their workshops, their lands, their mills, their factories, their ships, their railways must be voted into our hands who alone use them, public ownership must take the place of capitalist ownership, social democracy1 replace political and social inequality, the sovereignty of labour must supersede and destroy the sovereignty of birth and the monarchy of capitalism.
“Ours be the task to enlighten the ignorant among our class, to dissipate and destroy the political and social superstitions of the enslaved masses and to hasten the coming day when, in the words of Joseph Brenan, the fearless patriot of ’48, all the world will maintain
“The Right Divine of Labour To be first of earthly things; That the Thinker and the Worker Are Manhood’s only Kings.”2
SUPPORT FOR SINN FÉIN
Most followers of the Sinn Féin party, who are by long tradition anti-monarchist and desire a reunified and independent Ireland, tend to regard those kinds of heretical statements by the party leaders as no more than some kind of camouflage to get them into power. Once there, they imagine, their party will lead them to the hallowed objectives of Irish independence and unity. In fact, the same kind of attitude that was that of the early followers of Fianna Fáil, “the Republican party”3.
The blindness, or more accurately the ability of self-deception exhibited by these followers is amazing. The majority continued to believe the leadership when it publicly abandoned armed struggle against British colonialism and declared it would never return to that (believing that to be a fake position) and even when it had most of its arms decommissioned. Then the party not only fielded candidates in elections in the partitioned Irish state but also in the colonial one and, in arguably its greatest betrayal of its previous position, participated in the running of the colonial state which it continues to do. Since then its leaders have sought support for and even assisted in recruitment for the sectarian and colonial gendarmerie4 and, more recently, declared its acceptance of non-jury special courts, a clear reference in particular to the no-jury Special Criminal Courts of the Irish state5, condemned by a number of civil rights organisations6 and of which the party’s own supporters have been frequent victims.
The attitude of the larger mass of instinctively pro-independence people, mostly working-class or lower middle-class is that they might as well give Sinn Féin a turn in government – after all they can hardly treat them worse than the other gombeen7 parties that have been in government since the creation of the Irish State. Such attitudes account for the rapid growth in the party’s electoral base in recent years when it became the first party in terms of elected representatives so that two other neo-colonial parties, with a long history of hatred for one another, were obliged to join and form a coalition with a third8 in order to form a government excluding the new kid on the block.
The attitude expressed by the President of the SF party runs not only completely contrary to the traditions of Irish Republicanism but even to its own history. It is more than that, it is an expression of the lack of dignity and craven forelock-tugging attitude of the neo-colonial Gombeen class that has ruled the Irish state since its inception.
While socialists and republicans rightly condemn that mentality and its practical applications, we should place our hopes in another outlook, as outlined by Connolly over a century earlier, and in the practical expression of that outlook today and in the near future. It is surely appropriate then to end this commentary with Connolly’s own words on another British royal jubilee, Queen Victoria’s in 1897:
“….. It is time then that some organised party in Ireland — other than those in whose mouths Patriotism means Compromise, and Freedom, High Dividends — should speak out bravely and honestly the sentiments awakened in the breast of every lover of freedom by this ghastly farce now being played out before our eyes. Hence the Irish Socialist Republican Party — which, from its inception, has never hesitated to proclaim its unswerving hostility to the British Crown, and to the political and social order of which in these islands that Crown is but the symbol — takes this opportunity of hurling at the heads of all the courtly mummers who grovel at the shrine of royalty the contempt and hatred of the Irish Revolutionary Democracy. We, at least, are not loyal men; we confess to having more respect and honour for the raggedest child of the poorest labourer in Ireland to-day than for any, even the most virtuous, descendant of the long array of murderers, adulterers and madmen who have sat upon the throne of England ….
“The working class alone have nothing to hope for save in a revolutionary reconstruction of society; they, and they alone, are capable of that revolutionary initiative which, with all the political and economic development of the time to aid it, can carry us forward into the promised land of perfect Freedom, the reward of the age-long travail of the people.”9
List of armed interventions and wars by British Armed forces under Queen Elizabeth II:
3Fianna Fáil was a 1926 split from Sinn Féin led be De Valera, based on participating in elections within the Irish State, initially supported by many Irish Republicans in elections and when voted into Government in 1932 released Republican political prisoners jailed by the Government of pro-Treaty forces. Subsequently however a FF Government banned the IRA and jailed and even executed some Republicans.
4A gendarmerie is an armed state-wide military-like police force, such as for example the ones in the Spanish, Italian and Turkish states, typical of a State endeavouring to impose central rule on subject nations or regions where recurrent resistance may be expected. In Ireland the English occupation had the Royal Irish Constabulary which after 1922 in the colonial statelet became the Royal Ulster Constabulary, later changing its name to the Police Force of Northern Ireland. It has always been a sectarian (anti-Catholic) and repressive force.
5Both the Irish State and the colonial statelet have no-jury courts to jail political dissidents on low evidential requirements and under emergency legislation. The position SF’s elected representatives since 1972 has been to vote against the existence of the Special Criminal Court until two years ago, when it began to abstain and finally this year at its Ard-Fheis (annual general meeting), after an extremely poor debate, the party voted to accept such a court.
6Including the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and Amnesty International.
7A term of contempt dating from the years of the Great Hunger to describe capitalists who are happy to use the colonial system to amass personal wealth at the expense of their compatriots; its source is in the Irish language (an gaimbín/ gaimbíneachas — https://www.dictionary.com/browse/gombeen)
8Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party. The first two have been the major parties of the State almost since its inception, with the Greens being a smaller and more recent phenomenon. Fine Gael are the political representatives of the neo-colonial class that supported the partition of the country in the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1921 for which they fought a Civil War (1922-1923) against the Irish Republicans (chiefly the IRA and Sinn Féin). Fianna Fáil led a major split in the Republican movement to form an Irish Government and soon attracted support (and later domination) by a section of native capitalists, soon becoming the favoured choice of the neo-colonial Irish capitalist class, alternating in government from time to time with Fine Gael (the latter in coalition, several times with the social-democratic Labour Party). However, since 1981 no Irish political party has commanded an absolute majority in elected representatives and all governments of the State since then have been coalitions of one kind or another.
9https://www.marxists.org/archive/connolly/1897/xx/qundimnd.htm Queen Victoria’s Jubilee Day, 22 June 1897, was marked by Connolly and Maud Gonne with protests on the streets of Dublin. Connolly dumped a symbolic coffin into the River Liffey and shouted “to hell with the British Empire”, for which ‘crime’ he spent the night in jail.
Between 400 and 500 people gathered in Moore Street on Saturday 22nd January 2022 to hear a number of speakers declare their complete opposition to the plans of the Hammerson property group, most of which had been approved by the chief officer of Dublin City Council’s Planning Department, in the face of a great many formal and informal objections and against even decisions of the elected councillors. Musicians also played and sang a number of songs at the event.
SPEAKERS AND SPEECHES
Chaired by the Secretary of the Moore Street Preservation Trust, Mícheál Mac Donncha (Sinn Féin Councillor), the crowd listened to a range of speakers: dramatist and campaigner for decades Frank Allen, 1916 relatives Brendan Mulvihill and Donna Cooney (latter a long-time campaigner and also Green Party Councillor), Diarmuid Breatnach for the Save Moore Street From Demolition campaign group (with a campaign stall every Saturday), Carolyn Alright (fourth-generation street trader), Stephen Troy (2nd generation local butcher) and Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Sinn Féin TD [member of the Irish Parliament]).
Each speech was different but of course sharing such themes as the struggle for Irish independence, historical memory and conservation but also closely linked to issues very much of the day: lack of justice in economic and social policy, lack of democracy in decision-making, reference to the housing crisis, property speculators, vulture funds, the banks ….. A number also made reference to the recent deaths of two homeless people in the vicinity.
There were some additional points made, for example Frank Allen called on people to tell the Fianna Fáil party they’d never get a vote in Dublin again if they didn’t act to save the area from demolition; Donna Cooney pointed out that demolition of buildings had a much worse effect on the environment than restoration; Diarmuid Breatnach stated that the area was of international historical importance and merited world heritage status; Stephen Troy spoke about the disaster for small businesses next to a 15-year building site; Caroline Alright pleaded for the future of the street to be taken out of the hands of the developers and Ó Snodaigh expected a more supportive attitude from the next Government (widely predicted to be a coalition with Sinn Féin as the larger partner).
Live music for the event was provided by Pat Waters, performing his own compositions, including a song about the O’Rahilly who was fatally wounded in 1916 in Moore Street leading a charge against a British Army barricade; also two musicians from the Cobblestone Pub, including the son of the owner, Tom Mulligan who performed Pete St. John’s Dublin in the Rare Aul’ Times.
There was speculation in some quarters as to why the rally had been called at such short notice; with prominent members of the Moore Street Preservation Trust absent1 and having an incorrect Irish name of the street2 on the event poster and promotional merchandise did seem to indicate a rushed event.
For some too, the Trust is being increasingly seen as closely linked to Sinn Féin, which for some is a positive factor but for others is not. The closeness has been evident on a number of occasions: a SF public meeting some years ago at which Jim Connolly Heron, prominent member of the Trust was the only speaker representing campaigners and more recently the promotion of the Trust’s Alternative Moore Street plan by SF, including the party President, Mary Lou Mac Donald, speaking at its launch a few months ago. At the rally on Saturday, the speaker for the Save Moore Street From Demolition campaign group made a point of saying that their group is independent of any political party.
However, the Bill to make the area a cultural quarter, currently proceeding with glacial slowness through the Dáil (Irish Parliament) is sponsored by a Sinn Féin TD, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, who spoke at the rally. Others counter by pointing out that Darragh O’Brien, a Minister of a party now in Government, Fianna Fáil, had sponsored a very similar bill back in 2015; however, with that party now the leading member of the current coalition Government, their leaders have welcomed the speculator’s plan for Moore Street.
The Government department most concerned with the Moore Street issues is the Department of Heritage, part of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage3. When Heather Humphries was the Minister responsible for Heritage she championed the bid of property speculator Joe O’Reilly to get control of Nos. 24-25 (owned by DCC) at the end of the central Moore Street terrace in exchange for the four buildings the State had declared a National Monument (Nos.14-17).
When Dublin City councillors voted not to allow that “land-swap”, against the recommendation of the City Managers, she castigated them publicly. She also instructed her legal team to appeal the High Court Judgement of March 2016 that the whole area is a National Historical Monument and in February was successful in having the judgement set aside.4 When Humphries attended Moore Street during the Easter 2016 events she was picketed and booed when she spoke. However, the current Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Darragh O’Brien actually put in a submission against the proposed demolition of a building at the south end of Moore Street; however the Planning Department of Dublin City Council approved it.
As Minister 1n 2016, Humphries set up a Consultative Group on Moore Street on which all the Dáil political parties had a seat, along with a couple of councillors. From the campaigners, only the Jim Connolly Heron group had representation on it. The Minister’s group (latterly “Advisory”) has been in operation from 2016 until late last year but seems to have achieved nothing. The Hammerson Plan was welcomed by its Chairperson and by some of its members, including Brian O’Neill, Chairperson of the 1916 Relatives Association which seems a volte-face of that organisation, which had the conservation of the Moore Street battlefield as a central point of the Association’s constitution. However, the Hammerson plan was strongly opposed by others in the Minister’s Group, including Jim Connolly Heron. Outside the Minister’s Group, the opposition is even more widescale.
The planning permission given to Hammerson will be appealed to An Bord Pleanála but the Bord has a bad reputation with conservation campaigners, who see it as generally favouring the property developers5. Scheduling the appeal would take at least two months and possibly much longer. Should the campaigners not succeed at that stage, a legal challenge is also a possibility. Alongside the exploring of these options, street activities such as the rally on Saturday are likely. In 2016 conservation campaigners occupied the buildings for six days, blockaded them for six weeks, organised marches, rallies, pickets, re-enactments, concerts, history tours and public meetings.
Moore Street might be in for a hot summer. Or, given how long some processes have taken to date, even a hot Autumn.
2 The name they used was Sráid Uí Mhórdha, which is also the one on DCC’s street nameplate. However, it has been widely accepted in recent years that the correct name in Irish is Sráid an Mhúraigh, which is the one recorded in the State’s database for place-names, logainm.ie and furthermore is the version used in Sinn Féin’s own Bill currently proceeding through the Dáil.
On Saturday 22nd January 2022 an event was held to commemorate the centenary year of the occupation of the Rotunda building in Dublin by 150 unemployed workers led by Liam Ó Flaithearta, a Republican and Communist and writer from Inis Mór (off the Galway Coast). The occupation took place two days after the formation of the Free State and was attacked by an anti-communist crowd while after a number of days the occupiers were forced out by the police force of the new state of the dismembered nation1. The event last week was organised by the Liam and Tom O’Flaherty Society.
The event began with a gathering at 1.30pm in North Great George’s Street, where the Manifesto had been printed in 1922.2 People then proceeded to the nearby Rotunda, site of the occupation in 1922.3
Seosamh Ó Cuaig from Cill Chiaráin, Carna, Conamara, opened the proceedings as Chairperson, ag cur fáilte roimh dhaoine i nGaeilge agus i mBéarla, briefly introducing the historical occasion and recounting how some companies, including Boland’s, had supplied bread, sugar and tea to the occupiers, before he introduced published historian and blogger Donal Fallon.
Fallon not only recounted the events of that occupation 100 years ago but also placed it in context of a number of other factors: the unemployment then in the State (30,000 in Dublin) and to follow through into the 1930s, the upsurge in workers’ occupations and local soviets, the reactionary nature of the government of the new state and of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church at the time, which was very supportive of the new regime and extremely hostile to any kind of socialism, along with the cultivation of a reactionary social and political attitude among sections of the population.
Fallon also commented on the censorship and otherwise neglect of Liam Ó Flaithearta as an accomplished modern Irish writer and hoped for his writing to become more popularised now.
Alan O’Brien, Dublin poet and dramatist, was welcomed on to the stage to read the Manifesto which had been issued at the time, copies of which were available at a nearby stall. One of the aspects of that document was a call for Dublin City Council to set up public works to provide paid employment for those out of work in exchange for services to the community.
Diarmuid Breatnach, singer and blogger was invited to the stage to sing “The Red Flag” because it had been sung there during the occupation. No doubt those in the Government, Church hierarchy and generally among reactionary people at that time would have been horrified by the lyrics and would have asserted that they were foreign to Irish culture and thinking. However, as Breatnach explained, the lyrics had been composed by an Irishman (see Appendix 1), Jim Connell from Meath. Connell wrote the lyrics to the air of The White Cockade and was appalled to hear it sung to the air of Oh Tannebaum, a Christmas carol. Breatnach had never heard it sung to the White Cockade air but had been practicing it for days and hoped he would be faithful to the original air.
Called by the Chairperson to sing a follow-up song, Breatnach sang most of the verses of “Be Moderate”, satirical lyrics published by James Connolly in 1907 in New York. There had been no air published for the song and it has been sung to a number of airs but he would sing it to the air of A Nation Once Again, which provides a chorus:
We only want the Earth, we only want the Earth, And our demands most moderate are – We only want the Earth!
The event was later reported by RTÉ briefly in English on the Six O’Clock News and also by video on TG4’s Nuacht in Irish including interviews with Fallon an a number of participants.
End main report.
THE RED FLAG: AUTHOR, LYRICS AND AIR
After the Rotunda occupation was terminated, Liam Ó Flaithearta emigrated to London, which is where the Red Flag lyrics had been composed twenty-three years earlier. The lyrics were composed by Meath man Jim Connell in London in 1889 to the air of the Scottish Jacobite march TheWhite Cockade — he was reported livid when he learned that it was being sung to the air of Oh Tannebaum, protesting: “Ye ruined me poem!”
Jim Connell was a Socialist Republican (he had taken the Fenian oath), activist and journalist who emigrated to England in 1875 after being blacklisted in Dublin for his efforts in unionising the docks in which he worked. Apparently he began to write the song lyrics on his way home from a demonstration in London city centre, on the train from Charing Cross to Honor Oak in SE London, where he lived and completed it in the house of a fellow Irishman and neighbour, Nicholas Donovan.
The lyrics have been sung by revolutionary and social-democratic (the latter less so now) activists all over the English-speaking world but also in some other languages in the years since.
Not mentioned in the Wikipedia entry on Jim Connell is the fact that he also wrote a book, apparently a best-seller in his time, called something like “The Poacher’s Handbook“. I’ve been looking for that book for years without success (DCC Library could find no reference to it).
UNVEILING PLAQUE ON JIM CONNELL’S HOME
Today there is a plaque on the two-storey house where Connell lived until his death in 1929, having been awarded the Red Star Medal by Lenin in 1922.
In the late 1980s a history archivist with the London Borough of Lewisham contacted the Lewisham branch of the Irish in Britain Representation Group, of which I was Secretary, to consult us about the erection of a history plaque on the house and the wording to use4. We attempted to have the words “Irish Republican” added to “Socialist” after his name on the plaque and were successful with “Irish” but not with “Republican”.
There was a handful at the unveiling at midday on a weekday, including a representative of the local Council, a couple from the Greater London Council including its Irish section, a trumpeter (who played the Oh Tannebaum air) and Gordon Brown (then just an MP). I believe this was 1989, the centenary of the song being written.
Brown’s speech did not mention Ireland once but as he finished, I jumped up on a nearby garden wall and while thanking those in attendance said that it was sad to see the country of Jim Connell’s birth omitted along with his views on Irish independence, particularly at a time when British troops were fighting to suppress a struggle for that independence.
This was during the age before mobile phones and I have no photos, sadly. So no big deal but the next edition of the Irish Post, a weekly paper for the Irish community in Britain, carried a report on the ceremony and my intervention. It was written by the columnist Dolan, who was the alter ego of the Editor, Brendan Mac Alua (long dead now) and a supporter of much of the IBRG’s activities.
I lived in Catford then, five minutes by bicycle from the site of the house and have photographed the plaque.
FENIAN CONNECTION BETWEEN LYRICS ACROSS TWO DECADES
The words and sentiment “Let cowards flinch or traitors sneer” in the Red Flag mirror some in a song celebrating Irish political prisoners, The Felons of Our Land: “While traitors shame and foes defame” and “Let cowards mock and tyrants frown”. Arthur Forrester wrote that song 20 years before Connell’s and it would be surprising indeed had Connell not consciously or unconsciously borrowed the construction and sentiment.
Arthur Forrester was himself of great interest as were his poet sisters, both raised by their Irish nationalist mother, also very interesting person and poet in her own right, in Manchester, known to Michael Davitt. Arthur was a Fenian and did time in prison for it5. He was also for a period proof-reader for the Irish Times! Frank McNally wrote an article about the song but I don’t have access to anything except the first few lines.
Lyrics of The Red Flag:
The People's Flag is deepest red,It shrouded oft our martyred dead,And ere their limbs grew stiff and cold,Their hearts' blood dyed its every fold.Chorus:Then raise the scarlet standard high.Beneath its shade we'll live and die,Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer,We'll keep the red flag flying here.Look round, the Frenchman loves its blaze,The sturdy German chants its praise,In Moscow's vaults its hymns were sung,
Chicago swells the surging throng.(chorus)It waved above our infant might,When all ahead seemed dark as night;It witnessed many a deed and vow,We must not change its colour now.(chorus)It well recalls the triumphs past,It gives the hope of peace at last;The banner bright, the symbol plain,Of human right and human gain.(chorus)It suits today the weak and base,Whose minds are fixed on pelf and placeTo cringe before the rich man's frown,And haul the sacred emblem down.(chorus)With head uncovered swear we allTo bear it onward till we fall;Come dungeons dark or gallows grim,This song shall be our parting hymn.
1Not long afterwards, the new Free State’s National Army, under the orders of Michael Collins, attacked a protest occupation by Irish Republicans of the Four Courts which began the Civil War of the State against the IRA, lasting until 1923 with over 80 executions of Republicans by the State along with many kidnappings and assassinations (such as Harry Boland’s and of course others killed in battle (excluding the shooting of surrendered prisoners, which the National Army also did on occasion). Some were even murdered AFTER the war had ended, for example Noel Lemass, his body left in the Dublin mountains.
2Possibly this was the same location which had housed the James Connolly College (raided by the Auxiliaries in 1921).
3Also the location of the first public meeting to launch the Irish Volunteers in 1913 and where much of the GPO garrison and others were briefly kept prisoner after the surrender in nearby Moore Street in 1916. And just beside it the Parnell Monument, across the street the location of the founding of the Irish Ladies Land League (where members were arrested) and diagonally in SE direction, Tom Clarke’s tobacconist and newsagent shop (occupied by the British Army during the Rising).
4The Lewisham branch of the IBRG had been founded in 1986 and founded the Lewisham Irish Centre in 1992, I think. It was a very active branch in campaigning, community and political work, ceasing to exist around 2002. The IBRG itself was founded in 1981 and was active on many issues, including anti-Irish racism, representation for the diaspora, release of the framed Irish prisoners, British withdrawal from Ireland, against anti-Traveller racism, plastic bullets and strip-searches. It was also for equality in general, being against all racism, gender discrimination and homophobia and one year shared a march with the Broadwater Farm campaign.
5 Despite the Irish diaspora having given the working class in Britain its anthem (The Red Flag), its classic novel (TheRagged-Trousered Philanthropists) and, among many social and trade union activists and leaders, two leaders of the first genuine mass workers’ movement in Britain (the Chartists — O’Brien and O’Connor), and having fought against the Blackshirts at the Battle of Cable Street, there is no BA in Irish Studies alone available in British Universities. The Irish diaspora is also the first migrant community in Britain and for centuries the largest, has made significant contribution to the arts and a huge one to rock, punk and pop music. It would seem that the British ruling class does not want its population to know in any depth about the Irish.