A debate is currently taking place about whether armed struggle is appropriate in the context of achieving national liberation in Ireland. The debate is hardly new — traditionally some sections of the polity have opposed it and some have advocated, even embraced it. However tiresome it may be for some, revolutionaries need to address questions as they emerge and re-emerge but there is another reason to enter this debate, which is that in my opinion bothsections in the main are basing themselves on a false premise.
The composition of the sections opposed to or in favour of armed struggle has varied but in general and hardly surprisingly, the social democratic and liberal sections have opposed its use, while the revolutionary Republicans have defended it. But sections of the Republican movement at various times have also moved out of the armed struggle camp and into the ‘constitutionalist’ quarter. As to the revolutionary Left (or that claiming to be revolutionary), the main parties1 have opposed it not only in terms of Irish national liberation (with which they hardly concern themselves as a rule2) but also in the class struggle, while smaller parties and groups have at different times endorsed it as a legitimate or even necessary mode of struggle.
Before going deeper into this question it would be as well to look at the current situation in general and also to review the usual relevant scientific rules, which is to say those tested in the laboratory of Irish and world history.
OVERVIEW OF IRISH ANTI-COLONIAL HISTORY
Ireland is a small country in size and population but historically has had an effect on the history of large parts of the world out of all proportion to its size. Currently this is not the case which is perhaps not surprising since it is partitioned with one-sixth of its land mass under British colonial rule and the rest ruled by a neo-colonial capitalist class that came from under direct colonial domination a little over a century ago. The process of that colonial domination began eight and a half centuries ago3 and the decades and centuries since that time have seen Ireland colonised, most of its land appropriated, cultural, economic and political domination, famines and mass emigration, all of which the Irish have resisted and against which they and sections of the settler population have risen time and time again. The resistance has taken many forms but in general has always included armed struggle: sword, pike or gun.
The phase of the national liberation struggle in the early decades of the last century resulted in the granting of nominal independence to five-sixths of the country and the retention of the remaining portion as a direct British colony, formally part of the United Kingdom but with a number of administrative and legislative elements peculiar to itself4. This was followed almost immediately by a civil war in which the Republican movement was defeated and all governments of the Irish state since then, regardless of their political party composition, have been of the “Gombeen” neo-colonialist class.
Elements of the Irish Republican movement have never reconciled themselves to this situation and surges of armed struggle took place in the 1930s and 1940s, after that usually restricted to the Six County colony in the mid 1950s to early 1960s and again from the beginning of the 1970s to the end of the 1990s, since when there have been what could best be described as sporadic armed incidents.
During the course of those years sections of the Irish Republican movement have abandoned armed struggle for national liberation, denouncing their erstwhile comrades and even participating in repression against them, whilst those who continue to support armed struggle accuse those who have left the fold of treason.
The history of Irish resistance to colonial domination and expropriation has been replete with armed instances which should surprise no-one, since that colonial domination was achieved in the first place by force of arms, a force employed again and again in repression also. Whenever other means of repressing Irish resistance were employed, e.g by legislation or cultural imposition, the arms of the conqueror were never far from view. “Dieu et mon droit” is the historical motto of the English monarch5, meaning “God and my right”; however “my right” in English at least has the other meaning of “my right hand”, which can also be understood as the hand used to strike a blow, whether as a fist or holding a weapon. And neither monarchs, feudal or capitalist classes of England have been historically reticent in employing force, including armed violence, in pursuit of their “right” to rule – their own country or others’.
Indeed, it took an armed rising in 1916 followed by three years of guerrilla war (1919-1921) to convince the rulers of Britain that they should grant even limited autonomy to Ireland, albeit with partition as part of the deal. The intervening peaceful gain of 73 out a total of 105 Irish seats in the 1918 British General Election, every seat won on a public commitment to Irish independence and a rejection of the British Parliament, did not at all sway the British ruling class.
Furthermore, around the world the history of nations that have liberated themselves from colonial occupation or incorporation has been, almost without exception, that of armed repression overcome eventually by armed resistance.
AGAINST ARMED STRUGGLE IN IRELAND
Those who oppose the right and indeed necessity to resist armed occupation with armed resistance are opposing a law of history. Granted that in theory, Ireland may be an exception or that the historical rule may no longer apply in this historical period and if that is the claim, then it is incumbent on those who oppose armed struggle to explain why they believe one of those to be the case.
In general, they do not even try to do so but rely instead on emotional appeal and moral argument. These are irrelevant in this context: yes, people get killed and otherwise suffer in armed struggle but the deaths and suffering imposed by imperialism and colonialism world-wide are hundreds of times greater. If we want to apply emotional and moral rules to the question then logically we should support the most widescale and energetic struggle everywhere to overthrow imperialism in the shortest possible time.
Those who argue that the current historical situation provides an exception to the general rule of history usually rely on two issues:
1) The gaining of the most seats in the parliament of the Irish state by the Sinn Féin political party in the 2020 General Election6 and 2) the discussion current in society about the holding of a “Border poll” at some point in the near future.
Neither of these is valid for positing that Ireland is currently — or about to enter – a historical phase that will nullify the general historical rule.
1) The Sinn Féin political party has done much more than abandon armed struggle – it has accepted the partition of the country and joined the administration of the British colony, accepting its legal system and repressive apparatus, in particular its police force. Its party within the Irish state is striving to become the dominant party of the Gombeen capitalist class, as first step towards which it seeks to join a coalition government of one or more of the parties of that class, manoeuvering to appeal to the Gombeen class while at the same time keeping its popular base. Nor is this the first time this has happened in Ireland, for what became the foremost party of the Gombeen class, Fianna Fáil, followed that trajectory after splitting from Sinn Féin in 1926.
2) The question of a “Border poll” does not change the historical rule because it is not the expression of the desire of the colonised that governs the decisions of the coloniser, as evidenced from 1918 to 1921 in Ireland for example. Indeed, even during the most recent war in Ireland, opinion polls repeatedly showed a majority of the British population wishing to have their governments pull out of the colony, those wishes never acted upon or even tested in referendum. On a purely legalistic level, even if (and it is by no means certain) a majority of the population of the colony should favour formal unification with the rest of Ireland, the question of how large that majority should be remains uncertain, as does whether – despite the words of some politicians of the British State – the wishes of such a majority would find a majority in the British Parliament and, in the final analysis, the endorsement of the British monarch.
Nor is there any guarantee that such a poll would even be held. And in the final analysis the right to self-determination of a nation in its entirety is not to be decided by a minority made into an artificial majority by colonialism and backed up by its repressive apparatus.
THOSE IN FAVOUR OF ARMED STRUGGLE
The section of our polity supporting the right to armed struggle therefore has a well-established international historical rule and the nation’s historical experience to vindicate its position. But neither factor necessarily dictates the form or the timing for such struggle. And our history has had many occasions when armed struggle was not the most appropriate form of resistance, either because the subjective or objective conditions did not favour it or because we had suffered a recent crushing defeat in arms.
Taking up the option of armed struggle usually occurs in a revolutionary situation but can also be in others, for example against a fascist takeover or other repression, or in defence of some gains (both were present in the case of the Popular Front Government of Spain in 1936 and the second in the case of the Civil War in Ireland). It does not seem to me that any of the periods of armed struggle in Ireland since 1922 fit into any of those categories except perhaps in the recent war in the Six Counties which in part might be categorised as defensive armed struggle against repression.
To wage war against a superior armed and experienced enemy is a serious undertaking. To do so with the struggle largely confined to one-sixth of one’s country and in a part in which almost two-thirds of the population is ideologically opposed to one’s forces has to be considered madness. Extremely courageous but madness nevertheless. How could those leading that armed struggle ever expect to win? Only by basing themselves on a flawed analysis or a reformist one – never on a revolutionary one.
The flawed analysis was that the British ruling class had no great interest in holding on to the colony and could therefore be encouraged to leave if only they could be made to suffer enough. The theory that the British ruling class places no great importance in maintaining its grip on the Six Counties has been amply debunked by its actions since 1921 and even more so since 1968. Of course, that does not prevent liberals, social democrats, unionists and other defenders of British imperialism from peddling that theory but revolutionaries at the very least should be able to see through it.
The reformist analysis was that if only the struggle became serious enough then sections of the Irish capitalist class would oppose British colonial rule in Ireland and move towards the reunification of the country. This analysis is deeply mistaken in that it fails to take account of the nature of the native Irish capitalist class, which is weak and foreign-dependent and has never been anything else. The last time the Irish capitalist class or a substantial section of it was revolutionary was in the time of the United Irishmen and they were led and in some areas largely constituted by descendants of planters and settlers. The development of the native Irish capitalist class under British colonialism was hampered by Penal anti-Catholic laws, destruction of native industry and the influence of a large section of its intelligencia, viz. the conservative Catholic Church hierarchy and much of the priesthood. In 1921, this native capitalist class, raised in huckstering, clientism and corruption, preferred to murder and jail its own national fighters than to carry the struggle for independence through to the end. Since then it has largely allowed foreign capitalists to exploit its labour force and other natural resources on land and sea, along with large parts of its infrastructure. It was never going to take a serious stand for independence and national reunification.
If both those analyses are mistaken, what other rational basis can there be for waging an armed struggle confined to the Six Counties? And if there be no such rational basis, how can the sacrificing of idealistic and courageous young people to years of prison and negligible employment prospects be justified, to say nothing of loss of life and serious injury?
IN CONCLUSION: THE URGENT TASKS OF REVOLUTIONARY STRUGGLE
If an armed struggle confined to the Six Counties is unwinnable, it does not follow that the time is therefore right for armed struggle across the whole of Ireland.
The task for revolutionaries in Ireland, i.e people who are determined to work for a revolution, is to analyse objective and subjective conditions and work in accordance with them in order to advance the struggle to the point of insurrection, at which point there will be no choice but to take up arms, since foreign imperialism and native capitalism will both send their armed forces against us. While it is true that an effective resistance to armed attack requires certain preparations in advance of that crisis, concentration on armed struggle at this stage will not bring us to that point. The mass of the population, including our potential mass base, does not require armed struggle at this point and therefore would not support it. In these conditions and at this time, different forms of struggle are called for.
Nevertheless there are many struggles which working people undertake now and will do in future and revolutionaries need to participate in them and also to use them to help the working people to see their potential. If people must go to jail — and historical experience tells us that they must — would it not be better for them and even more so for the overall struggle, if they did so for taking part in a social or economic struggle of wide sympathy, for example around housing, rather than for “membership of an illegal organisation” or possession of firearms? This would be so even if the immediate objective were the reformist one of forcing the Irish Government to release funds to the local authorities for a construction program of public housing for rent.7
While at times we fight for reforms, we should not advocate any faith in a reform of the system, nor in organisations or leaders who advocate such faith but we rather use the struggles to educate the working people in struggle, showing their strengths and of what they are capable but also the need to go further, to take power into their own hands. It also means that we have to organise against oppression and repression in all their forms – political, economic, religious/cultural, sexual, intellectual ….. And that we have to find ways to participate in all those struggles, putting forward a revolutionary analysis.
This approach calls for both temporary and long-term alliances, both of which have to be managed with care and never by surrendering our revolutionary direction.
We need to build fighting organisations and revolutionary media. We lack broad fighting organisations of any size on any one of the fronts on which we have to fight, including (crucially) fighting trade unions or grassroots trade union organisations. We do not even have a mass revolutionary weekly newspaper.8 Nor a wide political education program. Without those things, it does not seem a realistic proposition to overthrow the ruling classes in Ireland. Towards the building of those elements is where the energies of revolutionaries in Ireland should be directed, whether they be Irish Republicans, Socialists, Communists, Anarchists (or any combination of the above).
In the face of such tasks, does it really matter much why at this time this or that individual speaks out for or against armed actions by relatively small organisations?
1These are two, both of Trotskyist ideology: the Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party (both now part of the Anti-Austerity Alliance — People Before Profit parliamentary coalition).
2While usually supporting it in areas of the underdeveloped world.
3The British occupation of Ireland is normally dated from 1169.
4These included permanent emergency repressive powers and a number of blatantly sectarian discriminatory provisions.
5It is also displayed on the coat of arms above and behind judges in British courts, which should alert people to the nature of the justice dispensed there.
6However they fell short of the absolute majority required to form a government and would have needed others to form a coalition government which instead, was formed by parties (of previous governments) that had won less support: Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party.
7The housing crisis within the territory of the Irish State is acute but no local authority is building housing for rent — they do not have the funds to do so. Successive governments are starving local authorities of that funding in order to benefit the property speculators and private landlords, which in turn the State funds through a number of measures including social welfare payment for the homeless converted to rent. Funding construction of public housing could also be used to expand public employment and training in construction, thereby pulling away from neo-liberal domination of the capitalist economy and strengthening workers’ rights. Meanwhile some fascists are using the housing need to push their “house the Irish first” propaganda against migrants and asylum-seekers.
8Ireland has two ruling classes: the native Irish neo-colonial one and the colonial unionist class ruling in the colony.
Cumann na mBan (“Women’s Association”), a female military auxiliary and counterpart to the Irish Volunteers, was founded on this day in 1914, one hundred and seven years ago. Its members took part in the 1916 Rising and perhaps even more importantly in keeping up the momentum of the militant movement for independence during martial law after the defeat of the Rising and for years afterwards. They were part of the War of Independence and the Civil War in military and political activities. Many were jailed. The Easter Lily emblem, which many will wear to commemorate the Rising, is their invention. The role of Cumann na mBan, along with that of other women in Irish history, is to this day still not sufficiently highlighted or valued.
Cumann na mBan was formed as a female counterpart and auxiliary to the Irish Volunteers, which had been formed the previous year (as had, separately, the Irish Citizen Army). The inaugural public meeting was held in Wynn’s Hotel, Thursday, 2 April 1914. It was presided over by Agnes O’Farrelly, who was elected President. The provisional executive unveiled at the meeting included Jennie Wyse Power, Nancy O’Rahilly, Agnes MacNeill, Margaret Dobbs, Mary Colum, Nurse McCoy, Louise Gavan Duffy and Elizabeth Bloxham. A constitution was adopted which stated that Cumann na mBan aimed: 1. To advance the cause of Irish liberty 2. To organise Irishwomen in the furtherance of this object 3. To assist in arming and equipping a body of Irishmen for the defence of Ireland 4. To form a fund for these purposes to be called the ‘Defence of Ireland Fund’.
It was not the first organisation of women to stand for Irish independence that century – Inghinidhe na hÉireann had been formed in 1900 as a cultural organisation and had developed a militant Irish independentist political outlook along with a suffragettist one. Inghinidhe formally dissolved itself and joined Cumann na mBan in 1914 but in effect formed one of its branches and continued to represent a trend for greater activism and female independence within Cumann.
Unlike the Volunteers, membership of the socialist Irish Citizen Army, founded in 1913, was open to both genders and the women who joined that tended to disdain the membership of Cumann na mBan because not only did they not have a social program but were, at that time, under the overall authority of the all-male Irish Volunteers.
Prior to 1916, Cumann na mBan took part in agitation and publicity actions, a number of which they organised themselves. Their marching in the procession to the grave of O’Donavan Rosa’s grave in 1915 was apparently what most impressed other women, in particular young women; they had never witnessed a self-organised women’s organisation on the streets before and the Cumann’s membership swelled thereafter. When Redmond promised Irish men to the rulers of Britain to fight in WW1 the minority part of the movement but the most active split in order to fight for independence from the UK. Cumann na mBan split also but in their case, the majority went for fighting against Britain.
In preparation for the 1916 Rising all members of the main female organisation learned First Aid and prepared field dressings for wounds, which perhaps brought them to face the physical dangers of insurrection more than did the training schedules of the Volunteers. They also engaged in anti-British Army recruitment activities which, after Britain declared War in 1914, increasingly meant being assaulted and arrested by the Dublin Metropolitan Police and the Royal Irish Constabulary. Many also transported secret messages and weapons, often storing the latter. In an informal way, they also provided intelligence they were able to gather. Through their cultural and social activities they provided diversion for male activists as well as a cover for clandestine meetings and other activities. During the Rising, Cumann na mBan members helped deliver arms, ammunition and equipment, construct barricades, set up field hospitals, provided food and water/ tea to combatants, acted as messengers. ICA women did most of that but a number of them were snipers also and one of those, Vol. Margaret Skinnider was gunshot-wounded three times while sniping and in other military activity in the Stephen’s Green/ College of Surgeons garrison area. Most of the Dublin garrisons had Cumann na mBan in them and those in the GPO garrison were asked to leave with some wounded when the building was in danger of collapse. Three women refused to leave with them and were there at the final surrender in Moore Street: Vols. Elizabeth O’Farrell, Winifred Carney and Julia Grenan.
Around 300 women are known to have taken part in the Rising and from the relative numbers of women in CnmB and the ICA, most of those had to be Cumann members; only 157 womens’ names appear on the Roll of Honour for the Rising.
Cumann na mBan was the first organisation of its kind in the world, a point that is often lost sight of: an insurrectionary female military organisation with its own uniform and officers.
The greater role of the women in general and in particular of members of Cumann na mBan however was after the Rising when, even under martial law, they organised fund-raising for relief for families who had lost a breadwinner to death or prison; organised also public commemorations, defying arrest to keep the flame and memories alive, helping to create the sea-change in attitude to the Rising and giving a fertile ground for them to plant the seeds of resistance, along with the male and female prisoners released under amnesty.
In 1918 members of the Cumann worked to help the landslide victory for Sinn Féin in the British General Election in Ireland and then helped in the War of Independence, this time greatly organised into intelligence work but also as before as couriers, carrying and hiding weapons, caring for the wounded, running safe houses and other actions, as well as in public demonstrations and pickets, for example outside prisons. They were assaulted on occasion and jailed, sometimes replying with a hunger strike. They could not easily go “on the run” and were subjected by British Army and colonial Police to invasions of their homes and ill-treatment which included shearing their hair.
In 1921, Cumann na mBan again split over the Treaty but once more with the majority against it and in 1922 took the Republican side in the Civil War, for which they suffered repression, home invasions and imprisonment anew, this time by the forces of the Free State.
In 1926 Cumann na mBan invented the Easter Lily emblem in order to raise funds for the dependents of prisoners and killed in action fighters, in addition to those officially and unofficially executed, abducted an murdered. It is purely as a result of their efforts at this time that the emblem is so widely worn and appreciated in the wide Irish Republican movement, especially around this time of year.
Cumann na mBan ceased to exist soon after the split between the “Officials” and “Provisionals” in 1969 but women continued to be active in the political organisations and also to be recruited into the various military ones.
(note the omission of the Moore Street battlefield at the end, with a Winifred Carney, Elizabeth O’Farrell and Julia Grenan noted as staying on in the GPO but omitting to mention where they went soon afterwards, or Farrell’s important roles thereafter): https://www.richmondbarracks.ie/women-1916/cumann-na-mban/
There is a blind eye being turned to oppression in Ireland – and I use the expression in its usual meaning of “deliberately not seeing”. And it is not the Irish ruling circles I am accusing of that deliberate act, for one could hardly expect anything else of them. No, it is the Irish socialist and liberal sectors I am accusing, along with a section of the Republican movement.
All of these are in Ireland; each of these sectors either knows of this oppression or has chosen not to know. In that respect, in so far as they cry out about injustice or inequality in other areas, they are being hypocritical. And in how much hypocritical activity can one indulge and how long, before one is really and totally a hypocrite, not to be trusted on anything they say they believe?
For years, before the Good Friday Agreement, wide areas in the Six Counties suffered oppression from the colonial statelet, its police force and the imperial armed forces. Those were the working and lower middle-class “nationalist/ Catholic” areas. Prior to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, sections of the Irish Left and liberal consensus were actively ignoring this oppression and in that respect, nothing has changed. But what has happened since is that while smaller areas, neighbourhoods, are continuing to be oppressed, sections of the Republican movement have joined in that blindness and resultant silence.
HOUSE RAIDS, HUMILIATION, HOSPITALISATION & DEATH THREATS
From Republic Media: A statement released by the Republican party Saoradh quoted Cliodhna McCool, daughter of Kieran McCool who was arrested last week in Derry following a heavy house raid, reading a statement on behalf of the McCool family. Describing the ongoing and escalated harassment she said:
“As a family who hold strong traditional Republican views we have become accustomed to many forms of harassment and intimidation, in fact we have almost come to expect it. However, in recent months the occupiers have escalated this harassment by constantly following every member of our family during almost every aspect of our lives. Something that is somewhat creepy and very distressing is the fact they seem to have prior knowledge of where we are going to or coming from and will be there to mete out their harassment. “
Detailing incidents over the last year she continued: “In the last year alone we have been attacked resulting in my mother, father and younger brother being hospitalised and we have received death threats from British soldiers dressed in Crown Force uniforms.”
Describing the events of last week she said: “Once my father was removed from the house, what can only be described as a nightmare for our family began. My family were shouted at aggressively, verbally abused and threatened with arrest by masked gunmen.”
“My younger brother Fionn, who is autistic, was again manhandled and removed from his bed, searched and evicted from his home; as was my mother and other brother.”
Giving the public details of some of the more grim details of what a search entails for Republicans she explained: “While they were forced to leave our house they were refused access to a toilet, food or water. My mother was also denied her medication. My entire family was searched in an intimate manner of which I prefer not to go into detail; I will let you use your own imagination“
Concluding the family statement she said: “No matter what you think of our family’s politics, no family should ever be treated like this. If it was wrong in the 1970’s, 1980’s and 1990’s then it’s wrong now. Our family have feelings too and refuse to be treated as lesser human beings because politicians say it’s acceptable. It’s not!”
Cliodhna McCool’s statement was read out at a protest press conference of which the purpose was, according to Saoradh “to highlight the continued profiling and targeting of Creggan residents, community activists and those who hold traditional Republican beliefs.”
“THUGS IN UNIFORM CLIMBING OVER EACH OTHER TO GET TO ME”
Pete Cavanagh, who suffered injuries during the raid, spoke next, describing sectarian jibes and threats handed out to residents. “It was here they began to trade in sectarian and snide remarks, calling Creggan and the people in it ‘dirty and unwashed.’ Some of them began mentioning personal details of individuals gathered there. Some raised and showed off their weapons in an attempt to intimidate us. Many of the cops gathered there were very shaky and nervous. “
Describing his attack by armed police he explained:
“After trying to push us further down the street, these thugs in uniform drew their batons and launched what can only be described as a frenzied attack. It is here I was beat between two cars with my head busted open by a British baton. So reckless was this attack that these thugs in uniform were fighting with each other to get at me. They were climbing over each other to get at me again as I lay on the ground busted open. The cop who hit me called me a “Fenian prick.”
Pete also told how the police lied about how he received the injuries: “When I was in the back of an armoured car I seen and heard the inspector who attacked me tell his superior that I had fell and busted by head. But when asked at the hospital the doctor said there is no way I could have sustained this injury by either falling backwards or forwards given the severity and location of the strike. I received eight stitches.”
Despite Pete being on the receiving end of the physical attacks from Crown forces, he and another member of Saoradh were detained overnight and given bail with restrictive and oppressive measures.
A local resident Clare Friel also gave testimony at the conference:
“The actions and behaviour of the PSNI witnessed on Thursday 18th March were reminiscent of our past. These attacks, as described by our neighbours and community activists, were supposed to be of a bygone era, again that is not the case.
“What happened to the McCool family, residents of Ballymagowan and the wider Creggan community along with political and community activists has only served in raising further tensions between our young people, residents and the police.
“Our young people are sick and tired of being targeted by police; they are sick and tired of watching community and political activist being stopped and searched; they are sick and tired of seeing their school friends being stopped and searched while attempting to get an education; they are sick and tired of the fake community policing being rolled out in Creggan as the PSNI cycle around streets with armoured jeeps on every entry and exit of the estate. This behaviour can’t continue without our youth saying enough is enough! Is it any wonder they react!”
Saoradh National executive member Stephen Murney wrapped up proceedings by giving Saoradh’s analysis of recent events and in reference to other world events he said:
“Whilst this raid was taking place two women were forced to the ground outside and knelt on by several members of the British Forces. This bears all the hallmarks of George Floyd and the recent disturbing images in England. Are all members of the British Forces trained in how to attack women?
Criticising P Sinn Féin’s false promises, Murney pointed out that after such incidents the party regularly promises to complain to the authorities and have the attacks stopped which, however, continue and that the SF party’s support for “the oppressing force” is “unwavering”1.
Continuing, Murney asserted:
“On the other hand the Republican position is clear as day. These raids and attacks are the outworking of British occupation, they were wrong and unjust in previous years and decades and are wrong today. The Crown forces responsible are not welcome or wanted in Creggan, or indeed in any Republican community in the Six Counties.”
Murney called on people to support those being subjected to this harassment and violence and pledged his party to do so too.
HARASSMENT AND INTIMIDATION OF COMMUNITIES AFTER THE GOOD FRIDAY AGREEMENT
This harassment of activists and oppression of neighbourhoods has been ongoing since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement but has intensified in recent years. The colonial statelet wishes to normalise its situation, which means gaining acceptance of the population. But colonial status is not a natural or even desirable state of affairs and human history, in particular perhaps its Irish component, demonstrates that it will always be resisted. When that is so, the State moves in to harass, provoke, disrupt and intimidate the sectors that continue to resist.
Those who expect the resistance to die down and wish for acceptance of the Good Friday Agreement are being unrealistic and flying in the face of human and in particular Irish history. Whatever their wishes, when they turn a blind eye to the continuing oppression of sections of the Irish nation, they are helping it to continue. And when, instead, they support the oppressors or condemn those who continue to resist, they are in active collusion with the oppressor, the colonial invader and occupier. From a different but similar historical experience, history has given a name for such collaborators: Quisling.
One needs to ask what can account for this willful ‘blindness’ and resultant silence? Since those afflicted with the condition do not usually explain it, one must speculate and it seems to me that the following are the likely reasons:
For the socialists:
they do not wish to even seem to be endorsing armed resistance to the statelet
they wish to give no assistance to what is their biggest competition in the opposition to the status quo, along with the one with the largest working class base: the Republican movement,
For a section of the Republicans:
They do not wish to give any support to their competition inside the Republican movement
The Left and Liberals never had any difficulty in supporting the ANC despite the fact that had an armed wing, membership of which was the main charge of which Mandela was convicted. Or if they did, they kept quiet about them. They kept quiet too about the horrific practice of “Pirelli-necklacing”, when alleged informers or spies had tyres doused in petrol placed around their necks which were then set on fire.
And in a sense, that was mostly right, because the main target had to be the South African racist white minority regime and its foreign imperialist backers. Similar positions were taken with regard to the Vietnamese liberation forces and to the Palestinian resistance.
“YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE A REPUBLICAN TO KNOW THAT THIS IS WRONG”
But even if one did not agree with the objectives of the ANC, the NLF in southern Vietnam and NVA, the PLO etc, that should not prevent one from speaking out against oppression of the people. Pastor Niedermeyer put it well in his famous quotation about the oppression of different groups under the Nazis. Anti-Imperialist Action Ireland put it well too when their post stated:
“Last week following a violent attack by a British Police force on women in London there was international media coverage, justified anger and protests in a number of countries including Ireland, as people rightly expressed their outrage at such disgraceful events.
“This week, as Britain’s Colonial militia in Ireland once again attacks women in Derry, some of those same Irish voices so loudly speaking out against police violence in London have said absolutely nothing. These voices remain silent because to speak out would be to raise and condemn Britain’s ongoing illegal occupation of Ireland, something they are ideologically opposed to doing. Are the women of the Creggan to be left fighting alone?
“Police violence is wrong against women in London and it is wrong in Derry. The RUC/PSNI are attempting to provoke the community in Creggan and are invading homes and attacking women and children with impunity.
“It is not acceptable for so called Socialist and progressive forces to stay silent on this. It’s not acceptable to look the other way. You don’t have to be a Republican to know that this is wrong.
“Anyone who is really an advocate for women’s liberation would be calling British Imperialism out for the violence its imperialist militia regularly perpetuates against Republican women in occupied Ireland.
“Ní Saoirse go Saoirse na mBan.”
The point about provocation is well made. It was during one such raid in Creggan on 18th April in advance of a planned Republican commemoration of the 1916 Easter Rising that a Republican youth fired at the colonial police, a bullet of which tragically killed Lyra McKee, a journalist who was standing near an armoured police Land Rover2.
Those who are afflicted with the blind eye need to turn the other eye on the situation in the Six Counties and speak out. Or give up forever any credibility when speaking about injustice towards anyone.
1The Sinn Féin leadership has formerly accepted the colonial police force in the Six Counties, doing so publicly a number of times.
2Numerous politicians, State figures and mass and social media at the time called her killing “murder”, a clearly inaccurate statement and prejudicial to the trial outcome of anyone who might be charged as a result of her killing.
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.
Around 30 Republicans and Socialists gathered on a very wet O’Connell Street in the Dublin City centre on Friday evening in solidarity with Irish Republican prisoners. Despite the rain and darkness, many passers-by took an interest in the banners and placards and some stopped to converse with the picketers. Behind the picket line other events were illustrating the sad state of a section of Irish society: one voluntary free meals service finished and another began, a Muslim one, with a queue along half the length of the General Post Office.
The December prisoner solidarity event is organised annually by the Anti-Internment Group of Ireland, an independent collective of activists which also organises other awareness-raising pickets during the year; this evening it was supported by Irish Republicans and Socialists of different organisations and by independent activists.
As the picket drew near to its scheduled end, placards were gathered, banners rolled up and picketers gathered (though some had already left) to hear a few words from the organisers.
The man speaking on behalf of the AIGI spoke a little in Irish welcoming those present before doing so again in English.
“60 POLITICAL PRISONERS IN IRELAND BETWEEN BOTH ADMINISTRATIONS”
“We send solidarity greetings from here to the political prisoners in jail,” he said. “We do this every year at a particularly difficult time for the prisoners and their families and friends.”
He went on to say that they also did it to remind people, “those who would like to be reminded and those who would not” of the existence of “60 political prisoners in Ireland between both administrations.”
In reference to the pandemic, the speaker noted that it had been a difficult year for ordinary people but even more so for the prisoners, their families and friends, with restrictions and reduced visits and that in some cases the authorities had used the health restrictions “as a stick to beat the prisoners with.”
“It’s been a hard year too for Republicans, for some more than others”, he continued, alluding to house raids, arrests, incarcerations, cars stopped and searched, intimidation and harassment of pickets by the police.
On the other hand, the AIGI spokesperson stated, “anti-vaxers, racists and fascists” had been “strutting around” pretending to be patriots and “desecrating our national monuments”, without any attempt being made to compel them to adhere to the pandemic regulations.
The speaker said that when Republicans and socialists had confronted with approaching or equal numbers those elements, they had “seen them off” clinging to “the protection of the British colonial police or of the Gardaí.” He pointed out that “They scream about ‘freedom’” but “they don’t know what freedom is”, pointing out that they are not being jailed for being active for the freedom of their country (implying that such is what is happening to Irish Republicans).
“We are here today,” said the spokesperson, “for those who cannot be, who would be here for us if we, in turn, could not.”
He thanked all who had attended the event that evening, “go raibh maith agaibh, particularly those who have supported our picket during the year.” On behalf of Anti-Internment Group of Ireland he thanked those present again and wished them and the prisoners, along with their friends and families all the best for the festive season.
The AIGI spokesperson concluded by saying. “Feicfimíd sibh arís ar an tsráid. We will see you again on the street.”
NB: An updated list of political prisoners and the addresses of the prisons may be found on the End Interment FB page.
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.
(Note: It was intended to post this on the anniversary of MacSwiney’s death but technical problems prevented that.)
(Reading time text: 15 mins.)
Terence MacSwiney, Lord Mayor of Cork died in Brixton Prison, London, on October 25th 1920: it was the 74th day of his hunger strike. His struggle brought international attention not only to his sacrifice but also to an Ireland in the second year of its War of Independence, a political and guerrilla war against the occupying power, the British State.
Between 1917 and 1981, twenty-two Irish people died on hunger strike against the injustice of British occupation of Ireland.1
HEROISM AND SELF-SACRIFICE
MacSwiney exhibited heroism and self-sacrifice in a number of steps he took before he embarked on his fatal hunger-strike. He did so first of all in putting his liberty and very life in jeopardy in opposing the colonial occupation and domination of his land. He took a second step towards endangering his liberty and life by joining the Irish Republican Brotherhood, an organisation dedicated at the time to the overthrow of British rule in Ireland.
Thirdly, he took the trend further still by not only joining the Irish Volunteers in 1913 but by being one of the founders of the Cork Brigade. Fourthly, MacSwiney opposed Redmond’s offer of the Volunteers to the British imperialist Army and stood with the dedicated minority in the subsequent split.
Fifthly, he joined the IRA after the 1916 Rising.
His sixth step was to take the Lord Mayor position in which his predecessor, Tomás Mac Curtain, had recently been murdered by Crown forces. Seventh, he embarked on his hunger-strike to the end.
That trajectory reminds us all that the path of revolution is a dangerous one, requiring courage and sacrifice, though not necessarily always to that same degree.
Because he chose in the end to offer up his life in a hunger-strike to the death, Terence MacSwiney is often held up as the ideal example of pacifism and especially so when a particular phrase of his is quoted: It is not those who can inflict the most but those who can endure the most who will conquer.
Of course, the reality is that both are absolutely necessary. No struggle can be won by endurance alone, no more than a struggle can be won merely by inflicting damage upon the enemy.
There are genuine pacifists and fake ones. I don’t agree with either but I have some respect for those who put their liberty and even their lives at risk in a pacifist struggle. For the others, the social democrats and liberals who enjoin us to have all our resistance be peaceful, while they support the violence of the ruling class and their states at home and abroad, we should have nothing but contempt. It would indeed suit our enemies if we set out to endure every attack and made them pay nothing in return!
Those who remind us only of that quotation from MacSwiney, or of the one from that other hunger-striker and poet Bobby Sands, that “Our revenge will be the laughter of our children”, choose to forget – and try to make us forget – a very important fact about Sands and MacSwiney: each was a revolutionary soldier. Each was arrested because he was known to be a member of an armed force of resistance – the IRA.
For some people, internationalist solidarity is almost all, ensuring that they don’t become any danger to the State in which they live or to its ruling class.
For some others, internationalist solidarity is something kind of extra, to be indulged in now and again.
I think both those tendencies are wrong. We need to confront our own ruling class and State, not only for the benefit of our own working class but also as a contribution to the world. But at the same time we need to pay attention to questions of solidarity with other struggles around the world.
And that can serve as a barometer too – for I have noticed in a number of organisations that when the leadership was heading towards giving up on revolution, inconvenient internationalist solidarity was one of the first things they threw out the window.
MacSwiney’s hunger strike drew the eyes of much of the world to his struggle and to that of his people. In India, the Nehru and Gandhi families made contact with MacSwineys and those connections were maintained for decades afterwards. It is said that Ho Chi Minh was working in a hotel in London when he heard of MacSwiney’s death and remarked that with such people as that, Ireland would surely win her freedom. In Catalonia, people fought daily battles with the Spanish police outside the British Legation in Barcelona. The story reached the Basque Country too and the example of Cumann na mBan was taken a little later to create the female section of the Basque Nationalist Party.
Photo Ho Chi Minh
In Britain too, there was great solidarity, a fact not often spoken about; 30,000 people walked in his funeral procession from the jail to St. George’s Cathedral in Southwark. Who were these people? Certainly many were of the Irish diaspora, the longest-established and largest ethnic minority throughout most of Britain’s history. But there were English socialists too.
At that time, the London Borough of Poplar – not far from the area where the anti-fascist Battle of Cable Street was fought, the anniversary of which we celebrated recently — was in dispute with the Government, who were expecting the rates to be collected there to be on the rental value, which meant the poor East London borough had to pay more than rich boroughs of West London.
The Councillors were planning to refuse to set the expected rates and were threatened with jail, whereupon their leader, George Lansbury said they would be proud to go to the same jail where MacSwiney was being kept. British socialists of that kind marched in the funeral procession (besides, at least two of the Poplar Councillors bore Irish surnames: Kelly and O’Callaghan).
In my opinion, it is a great pity that the leaders of the Irish struggle for independence did not work on building links with the British working class. In 1920 the British ruling class was in serious trouble – it had thousands of military conscripts wanting demobilisation after WWI but the British didn’t want to let them go as they felt they would need them to suppress risings in many parts of the British Empire. The working class in industry was building a strike movement and in 1919 the Government had sent soldiers to shoot strikers in Liverpool and to threaten strikers in Glasgow. The great coal strike of 1925 was not far off, nor was the General Strike of 1926.
If the leaders of the Irish independence struggle had made those connections, not only might the history of Ireland have turned out differently but that of the very world.
The preceding is a very close approximation to the speech I gave on the 25th October 2020 by the Hunger Strike Memorial in Glasnevin Cemetery at the Terence MacSwiney commemoration organised by Anti-Imperialism Action Ireland.
FUNERALS AND FUNERAL PROCESSIONS IN DIFFERENT COUNTRIES
The working class Irish, who had had some scuffles with the police during vigils at the jail, were there in their thousands at the funeral procession in London in their Sunday best, with the middle class represented too. Some of the Irish women could be identified at a distance, wearing their traditional shawls of Irish city and countryside. The Mayor of Poplar was not the only town mayor to walk in the procession. British socialists took part as did visitors from abroad and the world media was well represented. Aside from the procession, huge crowds lined the South London streets as the cortege passed.
World media interest was intense. The funeral procession, the vast majority walking, travelled the 3.5 miles (nearly 6 kilometres) from Brixton jail northwards to the cathedral where McSwiney’s body was to be received for requiem service the following day.
The church where Terence Mc Swiney’s body was laid out under IRA guard of honour, with 30,000 filing past was St. George’s, on the south side of the river, near Southwark Bridge. It had been formally opened in 1848, known as “the year of revolution” in Europe and Ireland had its own contribution with the Young Irelanders’ brief rising. St. George’s was the first Catholic Cathedral of London until the Catholic Westminster Cathedral opened up in 1903. The English Catholics, who were a very small minority in their country had not dared challenge the anti-Catholic restrictions for generations but under the influence of large Irish Catholic congregations became more assertive; however that did not mean that the mostly aristocratic English Catholics were eager to rub shoulders with their largely plebeian Irish brethren and also, north of the river were the main desirable areas. So in 1903 they built the Catholic Cathedral in Westminster and left St. George’s to the Irish plebs on the south side of the Thames.
The Bishop of Westminster in 1920, Cardinal Francis Bourne, head of the Catholic Church of England and Wales, did not comment publicly on the hunger-strike but let it be known in private that he considered it suicide. The London inquest however, at the insistence of his widow Muriel and the evidence of the Governor of Brixton Jail, had recorded the cause of death as heart failure. A week after MacSwiney’s funeral mass in Southwark, Bourne conducted a mass in Westminster for Catholic British Army officers killed in Ireland.
The next day after the removal of the body from Brixton Jail, Bishop William Cotter of Portsmouth gave the Solemn Requiem with Bishop Amigo, Archbishop Daniel Mannix of Melbourne, and Archbishop Anselm Kennealy of Simla, India, in attendanc. It was a ticket-only even; six of those who had tickets were a close group of men, all wearing long coats – once inside they stripped these off and revealed their IRA uniforms. After the previous Republican guardians departed, McSwiney’s body was guarded by six men in the uniform of the army to which he had belonged and of which he had co-founded its Cork element. The Bishop of Southwark might or might not have been pleased but it would not be for long.2 Certainly Peter Emmanuel Amigo, originally from Gibraltar, Bishop of Southwark from 1904 to 1949, had pleaded publicly for MacSwiney’s release before he should die, writing to politicians at Westminster petitioning his release. In a telegram to prime minister David Lloyd George on September 5th, Bishop Amigo warned: “Resentment will be very bitter if he is allowed to die.”
After the service a large entourage accompanied the body in its coffin to Euston Station for the train journey to Hollyhead. From there it was to go on to Dublin, to be received by the people of the Irish capital and then onwards to his home city and final resting place. But it was not to be.
The train left Euston station early with many police on board. At Hollyhead the grieving relatives and friends were informed that the boat they had engaged would take them and the body instead to Cork. The funeral party protested, produced their contract of shipment — to no avail. Porters were called to remove the coffin but were resisted and left. The police were summoned and, manhandling the protesting mourners, seized the coffin (sadly it was not the only kidnapping of an Irish rebel’s body in history, one of the other occasions being by the Irish State with Vol. Michael Gaughan’s body in 1974).
The British authorities feared fueling the fire of patriotic fervour already burning in Dublin at the news of MacSwiney’s death and the impending execution by hanging of Volunteer Kevin Barry. The funeral party were determined to travel to Dublin as arranged and had to engage another ship, which they finally succeeded in doing. While McSwiney’s body travelled on to Cork, the reception was held in Dublin, a city in official mourning declared by the First Dáil and in the midst of an urban guerrilla war against a foreign military occupation.
Mourners in Boston, Chicago, Melbourne, Newcastle upon Tyne, and Manchester held symbolic funerals with empty caskets.
When the Rathmore dropped anchor in Cobh harbour, the coffin containing MacSwiney’s body was transferred to the Mary Tave tug to travel on to Cork to deliver the body to a waiting funeral party. The deck was packed with Auxies, murderers of his predecessor, the final indignity.
A special meeting of Cork Corporation was convened where councillors (those not “on the run”) expressed their condolences and raw emotion at losing the City’s Lord Mayor.
The Deputy Lord Mayor Councillor Donal Óg O’Callaghan, revealing that he had received death threats, issue a defiant statement, decrying that despite Terence’s death, the merit of Republicanism would still linger and pass on:
“The only message that I on behalf of the Republicans of Cork give today over the corpse of the late Lord Mayor is that Cork has definitely yielded its allegiance to the Republic, that the people of Cork will continue that allegiance unswervingly and that those of us who man the Municipal Council will attempt as far as in us lies to follow the noble and glorious lead of the two martyred Republican Magistrates.
“The Republican hold on the Municipal Chair of Cork ceases only when the last Republican in Cork has followed Tomás MacCurtain and Terence MacSwiney into the Grave. Death will not terrorise us”.
After a funeral service in Cork Cathedral a massive crowd accompanied his coffin to the cemetery, with Republican organisations and ordinary citizens in the procession. The occupation authorities had banned marching in uniform or even in military fashion, or display of flags.
Nationalists under colonial occupation of European powers (including nations within Europe) would be taking inspiration from the Irish struggle for decades. The war of resistance in Ireland would continue, with Cork County and City seeing more than its share. The special terrorist units of the British and their regular army would burn the City on the night of 11th-12th December of that same year. Irish Republicans in Britain would concentrate on supplying intelligence and arms to the struggle at home, in addition to organising some prison escapes. Some British socialists would continue solidarity activities on a publicity level and liberals and social democrats would protest the British reprisals on the Irish civilian population.
But the body of Terence McSwiney had come home.
MacSwiney’s Free, composed and performed by Pat Waters, with video footage:
Footage London & Cork funeral processions Terence MacSwiney:
Terence MacSwiney Cork funeral only footage:
1Some, like MacSwiney and the ten in 1981, died of the depletion of the body through the hunger-strike while some were killed by force-feeding, like Thomas Ashe in 1917, Michael Gaughan in 1974 and Frank Stagg in 1976. Others survived hunger strike and force-feeding but their bodies (and sometime their minds) suffered for the rest of their lives, such as the Price sisters (1973-1974).
2Part of that journey was marked in reverse by the Terence MacSwiney Commemoration Committee with a march in 1989. The idea as far as I can recall had been Brendan O’Rourke’s, an Irish solidarity activist and at that time Manager of the Lewisham Irish Community Centre, the Management Committee of which I was Chairperson and with a few others, Brendan and I led that Commemoration Committee.
The march, supported by Irish Republicans and some English socialists, rallied at Kennington Park, on the lookout for National Front or police attack but knowing that in Brixton itself, an area of high Afro-Caribbean settlement, both those misfortunes were unlikely. We were led by a Republican Flute Band from Scotland and applauded by people as we marched past the police station (the State garrison of the area) and through the centre of Brixton. The march proceeded without incident up Brixton Hill to the entrance of the road leading in to the Jail, held a moment’s silence there and marched down to the centre of Brixton Town, ending there for people to proceed to a reception at Fr. Matthew Hall.
It was the last such march as we could not get another band from Scotland to lead us. We were independent of Provisional Sinn Féin and Scottish RFB members told us that the bands had been told, unofficially of course, that participating in our events would adversely affect their chances of being invited to play at annual events in the Six Counties, which for those bands was the high point of their annual calendar.
Michael Quill forever changed labor relations in the USA. The founder of the powerful union representing New York City’s bus and subway workers, Quill’s numerous achievements helped transform the lives of millions of workers by his setting national standards for equal pay for women and minorities, health benefits and paid medical leave. However, it was his leadership of the 1966 Transit Strike that made “Red Mike Quill” a celebrity, famous for defying the Mayor and a jail sentence, when Quill shut down public transportation in the nation’s largest city.
Born in 1905 into a humble, Gaelic-speaking family in rural Kilgarvan, Co. Kerry, which was restive under British rule, Quill inherited his desire to fight for justice from his father. “My father,” recalled Quill, “knew where every fight against an eviction had taken place in all the parishes around.”
During the War of Independence, the fifteen-year-old Quill fought in the 3rd Battalion, Kerry No. 2 Brigade of the Irish Republican Army. On a solo scouting mission, Quill stumbled on a patrol of Black and Tans asleep in a ditch. Instead of fleeing, he quietly stole all their ammunition, gleefully returning home with his stolen loot.
During the war, Quill fought bravely and met almost all the top military leaders, providing him the rare opportunity of personally knowing many of Ireland’s most famous patriots. The war also started in Quill a lifelong animosity towards the Catholic Church. While on the run, Mike and his brother were gutted when their parish priest refused their request for temporary amnesty to attend their mother’s funeral.
Opposed to the Treaty creating the Free State with a partitioned British colony, Quill fought against Michael Collins’ National Army and in the conflict Kerry Republicans suffered greatly, especially at Ballyseedy, where 23 anti-Treaty fighters were murdered with dynamite by Free State soldiers. That fight’s unbelievable brutality and injustice never left Quill.
Being on the wrong side of the Treaty, Quill, unable to find work, left for America, arriving in New York the day before St. Patrick’s Day in 1926 with just $3.42 in his pocket. Through his uncle who was a subway conductor, Quill got a job on the Interborough Rapid Transit company (which ran the original subway system in New York), first as a night gateman, then as a clerk or “ticket chopper”. The IRT quickly employed many of Quill’s comrades who were also ex- anti-Treaty fighters. Moving from station to station, Quill got to know many IRT employees. He learned they craved dignity and wanted to be treated like human beings, but Quill knew this meant fighting. He said, “You will get only what you are strong enough to take. You will have to fight for your rights—they will never be given to you. And you cannot win if you fight alone.”
While working night shifts, Quill, who had only attended national school, used dead time to read labor history, especially the works of James Connolly. To fight the low pay, terrible working conditions and long hours of I.R.T workers, Quinn used Connolly, the leader of the Transport Workers Union in Dublin, executed by the British for his role in the 1916 Rising, as his inspiration, and Connolly’s ideas guided Quill throughout his life. Like Connolly, Quill believed that economic power precedes political power, and that the only effective means of satisfying the workers’ demands is the creation of an independent labor party, which creates and supports strong unions. He would honor Connolly by also calling his American union the Transportation Workers Union and years later, as president of the TWU, Quill only had two pictures on his office wall, Abraham Lincoln and James Connolly.
In his union-organizing activities, Quill got the cold shoulder from many established Irish-American organizations. “When we first started to organize the union, we asked for help from the Knight of Columbus and the Ancient Order of Hibernians”, he said. “We were booed and booted out. The Irish organizations did nothing for us, and the Church campaigned actively against us.”
Rejected by mainstream Irish Americans, Quill was embraced by the American Communist Party, which helped him obtain the money, the mimeograph machines and the manpower to launch the Transport Workers Union. Quill, though, merely used the Communists, while knowing he wanted no part of them. When they thought he should attend “Workers School” for indoctrination, Quill told them he needed no indoctrination and soon left the party.
Fearing anti-union informers, Quill organized the TWU, using the methods of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, a secret Fenian society dedicated to a violent rising against British rule. Employing cells of five so that no man knew the names of more than four other workers in the organization, messages were also sent in half-Gaelic and half-English to confuse company spies, known as “beakies.” One night, the “beakies” attacked Quill and five other activists in a tunnel as they were returning from picketing the IRT’s offices. Falsely arrested over the incident for incitement to riot, Quill gained huge notoriety amongst his fellow workers and the charges were eventually dismissed. On April 12, 1934, fighting back against 12 hour days, six days a week, at 66 cents an hour, Quill and six other men formed the T.W.U.
Quill soon became union President and succeeded in getting his union into the American Federation of Labor. He then began unionizing the other transportation companies of New York. In January 1937, the Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit Coorporation dismissed two boiler room engineers from their power plant in Brooklyn for their union activity. Quill immediately called a successful sit-down strike and the BMT had to reinstate the men, which further raised Quill’s standing amongst the rank and file.
At a time in American history when bigotry and discrimination were commonplace, Quill became famous for fighting prejudice. An ardent opponent of the pro-Fascist Fr. Coughlin, Quill said, “Anti-Semitism is not the problem of the Jewish people alone. It is an American problem, a number one American problem.” He also fought for African Americans against the prejudice of many in his own union. He explained, “The bosses hired you and the same bosses hired the blacks. You are on one payroll; you come to work and leave through the same gate; you punch the same time clock. Unless there is one union to protect all of you, the employer will train these men and use them to displace you—at half your wages.”
Quill became an early ally of Martin Luther King who referred to Quill as “a fighter for decent things all his life” who “spent his life ripping the chains of bondage off his fellow man.” Quill once asked, “Do you know what I’m most proud of? That in TWU we have eliminated racial discrimination in hiring and in promotions and within the union’s ranks. Blacks, Hispanics, Orientals, American Indians and women are holding appointive and elective office.”
STRIKE AND JAIL
Perhaps Quill’s finest hour was during the Transit Strike of 1966. Newly-elected patrician Mayor john Lindsay wanted to get tough with Quill and the TWU. Journalist Jimmy Breslin summarized the conflict succinctly: “…[Lindsay] was talking down to old Mike Quill, and when Quill looked up at John Lindsay he saw the Church of England. Within an hour, we had one hell of a transit strike.”
Quill attacked the Mayor just as if he were a British soldier, chiding Lindsay for his “abysmal lack of knowledge of the fundamentals of labor relations.” He castigated Lindsay as “a pipsqueak, a juvenile” and jested: “We explored his mind yesterday and found nothing there.” To add insult to injury Quill intentionally repeatedly mispronounced the mayor’s name as “Linsley,” proving that even in the heat of battle Quill never lost his sense of humor.
Then Lindsay made a fatal mistake, jailing Quill, who defiantly said, “The judge can drop dead in his black robes!” While in prison, Quill suffered another heart attack and was sent to the worst of city hospitals. The only person who called Mrs. Quill asking if he could help was Senator Robert F. Kennedy of New York. No other politician inquired about the stricken Quill. While Quill was in the hospital a deal was reached granting the TWU a 15% wage increase along with improvements in the health, welfare and pension systems. In all, it was a great victory. The strike over, he was released from police custody, but just three days later Quill died at age sixty with many claiming that the stress of the strike led to his premature passing.
Mike Quill left an enduring legacy. Today the Transport Workers Union is composed of an estimated 60 percent minorities and Quill is still revered within it. He had an inclusive vision of labor, which minority workers respected, strengthening the movement. Pete Seeger dedicated a ballad to Quill and producers Macdara Vallely and Paul Miller have made a biographical film about Quill entitled Which side are you on?
POSTSCRIPT: Mike Quill and Vice-Admiral Nelson
In the Dublin City Centre, in the middle of its main street, is a curious steel erection which most people call “The Spire”. But from 1809 until 1966, something else stood there: a granite column with the English naval hero Nelson atop it, very much in the style of the one that stands in London’s Trafalgar Square today.
About 50 metres away from what was colloquially called “The Pillar” stands the General Post Office building, which operated as the command HQ of the 1916 Easter Rising and is therefore a traditional gathering place for State and other commemorations of the Rising.
As the 50th Anniversary of the Rising drew near, Mike Quill contacted Dublin City Council and offered to have the statue removed for free and replaced with a more suitable monument. Quill’s first choice was a statue of Jim Larkin, who led his and Connolly’s Irish Transport and General Workers Union in resisting the 8-month Dublin Lockout – the tram crews had walked off their vehicles once they reached the Pillar and Dublin Metropolitan Police had run riot against the people in O’Connell Street shortly afterwards on Bloody Sunday 1913. But Quill offered the Council other options too. A private trust and not Dublin City Council owned Nelson’s Column, he was informed and there the matter rested. Until, on 8th March 1966, the Pillar was blown up by Saor Éire, a socialist split from the Irish Republican Movement, in advance of the 50th Anniversary commemorations.
A rally outside Leinster House organised by the Irish fascist National Party for Saturday 10th October survived a clash with antifascists thanks only to the protection of a large force of Gardaí. The rally was a continuation of the attempt of the Far-Right in Ireland to use popular frustration over the Government’s haphazard and stop-go restrictions to build up their fascist and racist organisations.
A broad coalition of antifascists, Irish Republicans, Socialists, Communists, LGBT activists etc, led by Antifascist Action Ireland, mobilised a counter-protest to the National Party’s presence. Immediately the counter-protesters arrived, the two forces clashed. The NP supporters were visibly taken aback as the barriers between them and their opponents flew aside or were thrown down, some actually going into the air. Two flash-bangs they threw into the antifascists seemed to have no effect and it was the Gardaí with baton blows that saved the NP. The rally’s banner was seized by antifascists and only retrieved by Gardaí.
The National Party, formed in 2016, are a fascist, racist, homophobic and fundamentalist sectarian Catholic organisation. Their leader Justin Barrett recently commented that when he got into power he would remove the citizenship of the current elected Mayor of Dublin, Ms. Hazel Chu, although she was born and raised in Ireland. The party propagates the “Replacement conspiracy”, where the EU is supposedly planning to replace all Irish people with migrants, proposes hanging for doctors who carry out a pregnancy termination and opposes LGBT equality. A prominent member of their organisation boasted about having organised the mob of up to 60 men who attacked a peaceful counter-protest on Custom House Quay on August 22nd with iron bars and lengths of timber.
With threatening batons and at times striking with them, the Gardaí first of all pushed all the counter-protestors into Molesworth St. where uniformed Gardaí and POU (Public Order Unit) faced off the antifascists, who alternated between shouting at the fascists over the heads of the Gardaí and shouting at the Gardaí themselves, e.g “Garda Blueshirts!”1
At one point POU officers blocked off access to some antifascists who were on the steps of one of the buildings in the street and proceeded to search them but apparently found nothing. They did not conduct searches among the supporters of the NP, who had earlier thrown the flash-bangs and some other missiles at their opponents. Nor were they seen confiscating any flags from the NP supporters, while they wrenched flags from a number of antifascists – including a tricolour on a long fairly fragile carbon plastic rod (shown on Breaking News, which also showed NP supporters in a different photo striking at antifascists with flags that seemed to be on metal rods).
Things could have remained at stasis at that point but the Gardaí several times pushed the antifascists savagely back, a few feet at a time. They were successful in doing so over some metres but it was not made easy for them – there was strong militant resistance and a number of clashes.
During the whole of these interactions after the initial clash with the NP, a number of antifascists were guarding the rear of their numbers and some fascists approaching, presumably latecomers for the rally, were turned away.
At one point it appeared that the Gardaí were mobilising numbers to block off the antifascists’ exit but in response to a call to fall back, the solid mass passed through the Gardaí’s incomplete lines thereby defeating any intention of “kettling” the antifascists and shutting down their mobility.
NP SPEAKERS AND SPEECHES
The fascists chanted “Pedos off our streets!” in response to the antifascists’ calls for “Nazi scum off our streets!” — to the fascists, LGBT people are “paedophiles” and they find it a handy though baseless slogan to throw at all antifascists. The antifascists, apart from regularly chanting also met any attempt at fascist speeches with a barrage of shouts, rhythmic clapping, whistles and booing. Consequently, although the speakers were visible to the antifascists albeit at a distance, the content is known only from media reports.
The speakers were Mick “Chopper” O’Keefe, Rowan Croft (“Tan” Torino)2 and Justin Barrett. According to The Beacon, Barrett claimed that the Government is altering the death figures in relation to COVID-19 in order to justify its actions and that that the virus is part of a wider agenda on the part of “international finance capital”3 to destroy the world’s economies. Barrett insisted that the “restrictions are here to stay” as part of the economy-destroying agenda.
Prior to the event, on social media the NP cautioned its supporters to be friendly towards the Gardaí: “The Gardaí know the reds are scum, remember the migration compact protest: the Gardaí were having the banter with us, they had their batons out for the reds. We need to maintain that dynamic.”
According to the Beacon, Barrett, who beats the law-and-order drum, told the Gardai “you are of us and we are of you”.
FASCISTS CHASED AND REPORTING
After mocking the fascists as they left, the antifascists marched off in apparently the opposite direction, then swung around to pursue the NP supporters. Apart from the Garda circle around the latter, they also threw up a cordon against the antifascists at the Nasseau Street junction with Kildare Street.
The main body of antifascists turned then and marched through the city centre chanting “Fascist scum off our streets” to applause from some bystanders, then rallied at the GPO. Gardaí reported two arrests and it is known that they arrested an antifascist in Moore St for having allegedly confiscated a POU cap back in Molesworth Street. There are rumours that a few unguarded fascists were also met by antifascists to the dismay of the former but these have not been confirmed.
Media reporting varied, from a wildly inaccurate account in Dublin.Live to RTÉ’s equating of both groups on the same level, with the Irish Times giving the very erroneous impression that the NP were as eager to get to grips with the antifascists as the antifascists were with them.
Commenting on the events in a statement later, Anti-Fascist Ireland said: “The NP event was a failed attempt to use current Covid-19 restrictions as a rallying point to attract unsuspecting members of the public who may hold genuine grievances with the lockdown.”
Quoting the London-based Anarchist antifascist Albert Meltzer (1920-1996) “there’s no such thing as a fascist march – only a police march”4 the statement referred to” the massive Garda operation required to ensure the larger anti-fascist mobilisation was kept away from the underwhelming fascist presence.”
Referring to the recent fascist boast of about ‘controlling’ the streets of Dublin, the AFA statement commented that “they seemed genuinely shocked and scared by the sight of hundreds of working-class anti-fascists in Dublin today” and reported that “A nervous Torino was spotted leaving the vicinity immediately after his rant and did not even stay around for Justin Barret’s rambling long speech.”
The statement pointed out that the NP oppose the use of masks to prevent the spread of Covid19 and that their supporters disregard any restrictions. “We know that huge numbers of our supporters did not take to the streets today out of concern for the most vulnerable in society”, the statement continued. Those of us out today did so out of a sense of necessity and true patriotism to protect our country from their dangerous and toxic ideologies.”
The statement concluded: “AFA Ireland is a militant anti-fascist organisation formed in 1991. We believe in physically and ideologically confronting fascism whenever and wherever it rears its ugly head. As always, we encourage all anti-fascist minded people across the island to reach out to us and work together in a militant, disciplined movement against fascism. Profound thanks again to all our members and supporters in the republican, socialist, grassroots, LGBTQ+ and trade union movements.
Beir Bua. La Lucha Continúa. No pasarán.”
FAILURE OF THE LEFT FACILITATED GROWTH OF THE FAR-RIGHT
The National Party is one of a number of similar organisations and parties that make up the Far-Right in the 26 Counties (in addition there are the Loyalists in the Six Counties). There are also the Irish Freedom Party led by Herman Kelly, Síol na hÉireann led by Niall McConnell, QAnon led by Dee Wall (real name Dolores Webster) – who was at the NP rally, Anti-Corruption Ireland led by Gemma O’Doherty and Irish Yellow Vests, led by Glen Miller and Ben Gilroy (who also has his own promotion through the Tiger Reborn FB page). Despite their wide representation on social media, most of these are tiny groups which is why until recently they have been banding together at a number of events and in particular participating in events organised by the more popular Irish Yellow Vests. The IYV have been making a comeback since they fizzled out a couple of years ago after the Islamophobia of Miller, opportunism of Gilroy and racism of some of their supporters was exposed.
The failure of the Irish Left to mount a comprehensive resistance to the attacks of the Irish ruling class on working people over the years and, in particular, its failure to construct an adequate response to the Covid19 pandemic and to the Government’s handling of it has proved a boon to the ‘Vests and they have provided platform and marching space for all the other parts of the Far-Right, including the obvious fascists, but also attracting a number of innocent but confused people.
Recently the ‘Vests have been trying to clean up their image a bit by dumping the likes of O’Doherty, despite having using her notoriety up to now, along with the parties led by Barrett, McConnell and Kelly. And a report in the Examiner recently suggested that the State wished to assist the Vests in gaining popularity, as the report quoted unnamed senior Garda sources alluding to their alleged investigation of the “penetration” of the anti-mask movement “by fascist organisations”. If this is so however, the Gardaí on Saturday seemed to have not yet received the message – unless it was just their old prejudice against Republicans and the Left coming into play.
The media reported that Gardaí were going to “investigate the organisers” of the NP event (pretty obvious really!) and of the antifascist counter-protest. This is a ritual verbal response from a police force which has left the weekly QAnon protest outside the GPO unmolested from the very start of the Covid19 restrictions, while they harassed Debenhams workers’ pickets around the corner in Henry Street and their Special Branch did the same to political prisoner solidarity pickets further down O’Connell St.
1A reference to the fascist movement in 1930s Ireland, the leader of which was the former first Commissioner of the Free State Gardaí.
2Rowan Croft nicknamed himself the “Gran Torino” but has been nicknamed “Tan Torino” by opponents due to his past service in the British Army and possibly also due to his participating in a panel, along with Herman Kelly, with notorious fascist and British Loyalist Jim Dowson.
3This term in the past has been and today too is often a coded expression of anti-semitism and Barrett has let slip some remarks indicating in that direction.
4Based on the experience of antifascists when fascist marches are accompanied or even led by police, as for example in London at Cable Street in 1936 and Lewisham in 1977.