An event was held on a busy Saturday afternoon in Dublin’s city centre to commemorate IRA volunteer Patrick O’Brien, killed by soldiers of the Irish State.
The event included bagpipe airs, a colour party, speeches and a resistance song.
A colour party with Irish Tricolour and the flags of the four provinces, led by a lone piper marched into and a short distance westward up Talbot Street towards where a crowd waited beside a memorial sign that had been erected shortly earlier. The colour party took up station on the opposite side of the road.
Among the airs being played on the short march were Thomas Moore’s Let Erin Remember and The Wearing of the Green or The Rising of the Moon, the same traditional air to both different songs referring to the 1798 Rising.
THE SHORT LIFE OF A LOYAL REPUBLICAN
Gina Nicoletti, chairing the event, recounted to the crowd a short history of Volunteer Patrick O’Brien who was born on 17 August 1898 in the townland of Woodlands near Castledermot in County Kildare to a local agricultural working couple.
The O’Brien family had 16 children, all of whom survived and ten of whom lived with Patrick and his parents in a three-room house at the time of the 1911 Census.
An obituary published in a Republican newspaper on the anniversary of his death suggests that Patrick moved to Dublin in 1915, joining the Irish Volunteers in December of that year aged 17. He took part in the 1916 Easter Rising under the command of Edward Daly.
Evading capture in 1916 and returning home, O’Brien joined the local Irish Volunteers company in Castledermot but returned to Dublin in May 1917 and became attached to E Company, 3 Battalion, Dublin Brigade, Irish Volunteers, which was based on the south side of the city.
An active IRA member during the War of Independence, Vol. O’Brien took the anti-Treaty side in the IRA split in March 1922.
In a response to a renewal of executions of IRA men by the Free State government, Liam Lynch (IRA Chief of Staff) issued the ‘Amusements Order’ on 13 March 1923 banning all cinema, theatre and sports events “at a time of national mourning” with action threatened against non-compliance.
At midnight on 23 March 1923, Patrick took part in an operation to blow up the Carleton Picture House, O’Connell Street (then near the Parnell Monument opposite the Savoy Cinema). The cinema had closed an hour before a landmine at the front entrance shattered the glass of several windows.
There were no injuries but newspaper articles reported that the sound of the explosion was heard several miles away. Accounts of what happened afterwards were gathered from one of the IRA unit, Volunteer Joseph Doody in his pension application.
The unit unexpectedly encountered Free State soldiers coming from the Parnell Monument who opened fire on them and another patrol was approaching from the southern end of O’Connell Street and the unit retreated through Findlater Place and out to Marlborough Street.
In the running firefight in Talbot Street, O’Brien was hit by at least four bullets (three in his left leg and one in his right leg). He fell wounded on the pavement between Speidel’s pork butchers and the Masterpiece Picture Palace at 99 Talbot Street and died about 30 minutes after arrival at hospital.
Patrick O’Brien was 24 and his death certificate listed his occupation as an employee of a railway company. His address was 28 Cadogan Road, Fairview which is a cul de sac of Victorian redbrick houses close to Annesley Bridge and opposite the Sean Russell statue.
Only three weeks before Patrick’s death, the Free State CID1 had raided no. 43 Cadogan Road and captured the press used to print the Sinn Féin2 paper An Phoblacht along with eight people who were on site. A number of prominent IRA families lived in the vicinity, including the Brughas.
Patrick O’Brien was buried in the Republican Plot, Glasnevin Cemetery and a volley was fired over his grave, presumably following the funeral in the cover of darkness as the IRA could not have risked such a public display during the burial, in a time of martial law.
Despite the hard repression by the Irish State on combatants, their relatives and friends, O’Brien’s family were proud of Patrick as displayed in an anniversary notice placed in The Nationalist & Leinster Times.
The Irish Independent reported on 27 March 1923 that at the inquest of Patrick’s death, his brother James told those present:
“[My brother] … belonged to the IRA since 1915 being then about 15 years of age. He had never changed his principles since then. He always intended to die as he did … rather than change his principles as he swore allegiance to the Republic in 1916.”
FLORAL WREATH, SONG AND SPEECH
A representative of Anti-Imperialist Action was called upon and stepped forward to attach a green, white and orange floral wreath to the pole beneath the commemorative sign.
Seán Óg accompanied himself on guitar singing The Foggy Dew, a popular Republican ballad about the 1916 Rising composed by Fr. Charles O’Neill.
Dublin City Councillor Cieran Perry gave a fairly short speech stressing the importance of these acts of remembrance upholding traditions of resistance in the Dublin working class, also denouncing the fake patriots who stir up racist divisions and hostility in the community.
Perry’s speech also listed some of the crimes of the Irish state, facts underlined when Joe Mooney read out the list of 70 IRA Volunteers formally executed by the Irish state along with those killed in battle or after they surrendered, or were abducted, tortured and murdered in Dublin 1922-’23.
TRAFFIC AND PEOPLE
Traffic was light along the narrow Talbot Street during the event and slowed down to ease past the crowd that had spilled from the pedestrian pavement into the street. A few minutes’ eastward of the spot is the plaque commemorating the killing of Sean Treacy by the British in November 1920.
There was a substantial number of people in support of the event on both pavements of the one-way street but others gathered too, whether out of curiosity or in sympathy. Some of those present consisted of visitors from other countries, whether as students, tourists or workers.
Not for the first time I thought that having leaflets to distribute summarising the event and the reason for it would be useful. I spent a little time explaining some aspects of the event and its history to a couple of visitors from Sweden who seemed very interested.
The uniformed Gardaí kept away from the event, though no doubt the plain-clothed political Special Branch had a few of their own in the vicinity to collect faces and try to match names.
THE ORGANISERS: INDEPENDENT REPUBLICANS
The commemorative event was organised by a group by the name Independent Republicans which has been doing great work in conserving and promoting historical memory associated with events such as the 1916 Rising, the War of Independence and the Civil War.
The Irish Free State came to power as an instrument of British imperialism which clothed, armed and otherwise supplied the state’s National (sic) Army. Independent Republicans have collected the names of 70 Irish Republicans killed in Dublin by that Army.
The group has also devoted time and effort to researching the backgrounds and circumstances of death of many on that list, a substantial undertaking for which we owe them a great debt. Their erection of ‘plaque’ signs around the city at the spot where the fighters fell is also great work.
On Easter Saturday (8 April) Independent Republicans will be holding a 1916 Rising commemoration in Dublin city centre, details below.
Anti-Imperialist Action will be holding theirs on Easter Sunday (9 April), details below.
1Criminal Investigation Department, based at Oriel House, where police detectives and some soldiers of the Free State organised operations against Republicans including raids, assassinations, abductions and torture.
2This is not the party of the same name today. Sinn Féin began as a dual-monarchy Irish nationalist party, adopting Republicanism later in 1918. Those who later supported the anti-Republican status of the country and partition by England left the party and another large number left to join the Fianna Fáil party upon the latter’s founding. Briefly in the 1960s the party espoused socialism but split at the end of the decade and Sinn Féin under the Provisionals briefly adopted socialism again during the 1970s. The party of that name today is neither socialist nor even Republican.
Speech by Pat Reynolds2 in Commemoration of Irish Civil Wars 1920-1923 on a sub-zero evening outside Camden Irish Centre, London on 8th Dec 2022
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A Chairde Ghaeil agus a Chomrádaithe, tonight we are gathered here to remember and celebrate the lives of Liam Mellows, Rory O’Connor, Dick Barrett and Joe McKelvey, four great Irish patriots.
We also call out the neo-colonial Irish Free State for those unlawful murders and all other executions carried out by this British Imperialism-backed Dublin regime, acting on orders to attack the Irish Republic and its army and people.
In remembering this time and the setting up of the Irish Free State and the Northern Ireland government 1920 -1923 we take the Republican view of history in an All-Ireland context and avoid the narrow structures of the Free State 26-County centenaries.
These ignore the Six Counties and the heroic role played by the people there in defence of the Republic and a United Ireland.
In looking at this time in history we consider the two proxy wars waged in Ireland by British guns and on behalf of imperialistic interest to put down the Republican fight for a 32-county Irish Republic declared in Dublin at Easter 1916.
That was voted by a very large majority in 1918 for the same All-Ireland Republic, fought for in a war of independence from 1919 -1920 by an undefeated IRA.
The revisionists try to partition the Irish struggle to backdate some kind of imaginary Loyalist/Unionist state which never existed, was never fought for or voted on to create a colonial divide-and-rule in what was always even — under colonial rule — one country.
As Republicans we reject the 1948 Republic declared by the Blueshirts3 and fascist Franco ally Costello.
Those who want to read about this heroic struggle by the Irish people should read the two books by Ernie O’Malley TheSinging Flame on the War of Independence and On Another’s Man’s Wound on the Civil War.
In looking at the history of this time we see two wars being fought against the Republic, the first in what became Northern Ireland from June 1920 to June 1922, a two-year war to put down the Republican people in the North East of Ireland.
The second war was within the newly created 26 Counties Free State from November 1922 to May 1923, a nine-month war by British guns against the Republic.
It is sad to state here tonight that the only war ever fought by the Free State Army was to put down the Irish Republic and its own people.
James Joyce in the Dubliners short story collection has this wonderful story The Dead where at the end he looks out the window and sees it is snowing, in his words “it is snowing all over Ireland, snowing, on the living and the dead.”
At that time in history, we see British guns firing down all over Ireland, leaving us the heroic dead and the living nightmare that became the Irish Free State and the Six Counties, seen years earlier by James Connolly as “a carnival of reaction”.
What we see happening at this time of history is that Imperialism tried and won by negotiation what they had failed to do in war, to defeat the undefeatable IRA and the undefeated people.
The imposition of Partition upon the Irish people required the breaking up of the Republic declared in 1916 in rebellion, by democratic vote in 1918, and fought for in the War of Independence from 1919-1921.
The Imperialists moved first to break the Republicans and Nationalists in the North East of Ireland.
We see from Churchill’s father playing “the Orange card”4 to benefit the Tory party in the late 1800 to the Curragh Mutiny in 1913, and the arming of the Unionists their intentions on retaining the wealthiest part of Ireland and the Belfast manufacturing base of shipbuilding.
We see the hand of Sir Henry Wilson at play from the aftermath of the Curragh Mutiny, where he protected senior army officers, to his role in being political and military advisor to the emerging Northern Ireland government, and the arming of the new Unionist state.
We see his hand in diverting the body of Terence MacSwiney from Holyhead to Cork, the hanging of young Kevin Barry and the Orange led anti-Catholic pogroms of Belfast and Banbridge.
We see it in other links too with the Orange murder gangs which, led by Orangemen were involved in murders in Cork, and in the murder of Thomas MacCurtain Lord Major of Cork.
District Inspector Swanzy5 was believed to be responsible for the gang who murdered Thomas MacCurtain who was then moved to Lisburn, Co. Antrim. He was tracked there and executed by the IRA.
Sir Edward Carson in the House of Commons supported the Amritsar Massacre6 as did Churchill who falsely claimed that the protesters were armed and stated, ‘Men who take up arms against the State must expect at any moment to be fired on.
Men who take up arms unlawfully cannot expect that troops will wait until they are quite ready to begin the conflict. When asked What about Ireland?, Churchill stated, I agree and it is in regard to Ireland that I am specially making this remark.
We can see this in the murder of Thomas Mac Curtain7 and other Republicans
Also when another Orangeman from Banbridge, Colonel Smyth stated this policy that suspects could be shot on sight if the RUC had good reason to believe they might be carrying weapons or did not put up their hands.
Smyth’s new shoot-to-kill policy was published and he was recalled to London to meet Lloyd George. Michael Collins ordered that Smyth be executed before he could implement his shoot to kill policy.
Later on, Smyth’s brother,8 also in special forces was shot dead in a shoot-out with Dan Breen in Dublin. After Smyth’s funeral in Banbridge there was organised large scale anti-Catholic attacks on businesses and houses.
The anti-Catholic pogroms lasted for two years from June 1920-June 1922 in the North-East of Ireland in Belfast, Banbridge and other areas. There were over 500 deaths in these pogroms but only 13% (65) were army/police or IRA while the other 87% were civilians.
Here civilians are the main targets, with 58% of these being Catholic and 42% being Protestant. But based on the population of Belfast at the time, 76% Protestant and 24% Catholic, Catholics were four times more likely to be killed than Protestants.
The British government stood largely idly by while these pogroms went on and did absolutely nothing about it.
We see this clearly in how Catholic workers and Protestant socialists were driven out of the shipyards, some ten thousand Catholic workers driven out of their jobs for being Irish and Catholic and we see one thousand homes and business burned out.
Some 80%of the places burned out were Catholic-occupied or owned and 80% of the refugees were Catholic. Considering Catholics only made up one quarter of the Belfast population we can see what happened here.
This was the putting down of the Republican nationalist community to enforce the partition in Ireland and to prepare for a one-party neo-fascist apartheid Protestant statelet.
The impact of the ten thousand job losses and the burning of houses and businesses led to large scale migration of Catholics from the North east to Britain and to Dublin.
We also see at this time the use of British death squads to murder Catholic as they did in Cork City with McCurtain and now in Belfast with the McMahon family and others. These death squads were operating within the RUC9.
In the 1970-1995 period we see the emergence again of these British death squads in Northern Ireland linked to British intelligence, army and police with often open collusion and sharing of agents and information.
Collins had asked a Catholic priest and a university professor to record and write up each of the deaths during the pogroms, but when it was at the printers the Free State government after Collins death decided to pulp the whole print run.
This was in order to cover up what had happened to the Republican/nationalist community around Belfast in the pogroms, probably because of their own shame with the own war crimes of executions of prisoners and atrocities during the war.
It was to add to their shameful record. The story of the Orange pogrom was not published until the 1990s. Those who want to can read it under the title Orange Terror. Equally The Orange State or Arming the Protestants by Michael Farrell cover this time.
The execution of Sir Henry Wilson in London in June 1922 put an end to these pogroms against Catholics in that the head of the serpent, the rabid anti-Catholic Orange Bigot was gone.
He was a political and military advisor to the new Northern Ireland government and was largely responsible for the arming of the new Protestant state, including the B Specials10.
Tonight, we honour those brave Irish volunteers and community activists who tried to stop the pogroms and defend isolated Catholic areas in Belfast where most of the killings took place, those who stood for an All-Ireland Republic and against the imposition of Partition.
We must never separate their fight from the fight in the rest of Ireland to defend the Republic. The partitionist mind has no place in Republican history.
The war in Ireland to smash the Republic now turned to the rest of Ireland when under Churchill’s orders and Churchill-supplied weapons, Collins attacked the Republican army in the Four Courts starting a second proxy war on behalf of British imperialism in Ireland.
The Truce between the undefeated IRA and the British government started on 6th July 1921 and ended with the Treaty of 5/6 December 1921. The Treaty was signed under threats by Lloyd George of immediate and terrible war.
The Treaty today would be seen as unconstitutional under international law given the violent threats made by Lloyd George. The Treaty was for the Partition of Ireland with a British Governor General in Dublin and an oath of loyalty to the English King.
Two of the big lies around the Treaty were when Collins stated it was a stepping stone towards a united Ireland, in fact it was a millstone around the necks of the Irish people since then.
The second lie to justify this surrender was that the IRA was weak and low in arms. This was nonsense as evidenced by the Civil war fight.
The Dáil on 7th January 1922 voted 64-57 in favour of the Treaty, once again the Dáil11 voted under the duress of immediate and terrible war.
All the women deputies voted against it, as did the female relatives of the 1916 leaders Pearse, Connolly, the MacSwineys and Cumann na mBan
The Catholic Bishops fully supported the Treaty as they did with the Act of Union in 1800, and every priest in Maynooth took an oath of loyalty to the English Crown on ordination.
The Press in Dublin, TheIrish Times, Independent and The Freema ns Journal all supported the Treaty as did big businesses, big farmers and the Unionist community which included four Unionist TDs.
From January to May 1922 Collins rebuilt the new Irish army up to some 58,000 men. These included some 30,000 ex-British Army men, some 3,000 deserters from the IRA and some 25,000 new recruits.
The British Army allowed any serving Irishman to transfer into the new Irish army without any loss of pay or rank.
Collins was running to London on a regular basis to see Churchill who wanted to see the new army attack the IRA. In May 1922 Churchill stated that ‘there is a general reluctance to kill each other’.
There was a General Election on 16th June 1922 when Pro-Treaty group won 58 seats with 35 going to anti-Treaty, four to Unionists, 17 Labour, seven to a Farmers’ party and 17 others.
Collins broke the Pact with De Valera under orders from Britain and by June 1922 there were two armies in Ireland, the IRA and the new army set up by Collins and Mulcahy.
The IRA held an Army Convention in Dublin with over 200 delegates representing about 75% of the IRA and they voted to stand by the Republic.
They took over the Four Courts under the leadership of Rory O’Connor and Liam Mellows with Liam Lynch as Chief of Staff.
After the execution of Sir Henry Wilson on Collins’ command, the British government blamed the Four Courts garrison and Lloyd George openly called for the Four Courts to be attacked or the Treaty would be declared void.
On 28th June 1922 Collins ordered the Four Courts to be attacked using borrowed British big guns, but even the uniforms boots and the Lee Enfield rifles had been supplied by Churchill.
A big explosion of ammunition inside the Four Courts led to their surrender, while fighting continued around O’Connell Stree and Cathal Burgha died emerging from one building. The IRA retreated from Dublin towards their new Munster Republic.
Griffiths and Collins were to die in August 1922 and the war against the Republic entered a new and ugly phase. Mulcahy set up a semi-dictatorship, fascist in outlook and in practise. On 15th October he introduced the new Bill labelled “the Murder Bill” into Dáil Éireann.
The new government’s links with fascists can be clearly seen later on in the 1930s with their linking up with Blueshirts, their support for Franco and we saw against in the 1970s, with their police Heavy Gangs, press censorship and emergency courts12.
The Emergency Powers Act aka the Murder Bill is a shameful chapter of history which that party and the people involved including the church by its silence needs to be held accountable.
In November 1922 Ernie O Malley was arrested lucky for him he was badly wounded so escaped being executed, but on 17th November 1922 four young Republicans were executed by their State to get the public ready for bigger executions.
The later execution of Erskine Childers a patriotic Irish man was most shameful. Griffiths’ mocking of Childers was racist and shocking as all the Irish abroad and at home would be offended by Griffiths. Childers with an Irish mother was as Irish as De Valera, Pearse, Cathal Brugha or Terence MacSwiney.
The Free state was formally up on 6th December 1922, on 7th Sean Hayes TD was shot dead by the IRA and the following morning the Free state executed Rory O’Connor, Liam Mellows Dick Barrett and Joe McKelvey from Belfast one from each province.
While the Free State made a big issue of a TD being killed, they themselves killed in cold blood Cathal Brugha, Harry Boland and Liam Mellows, all TDs.
The song composed after the executions,
Take it down from the mast Irish traitors, It’s the flag we Republicans claim. You murdered brave Liam and Rory You have taken young Richard and Joe.13
The Free State went on to commit further war crimes against the Republic and Republicans; in all they murdered over 80 men without proper trial and in cold blood.
They executed four young IRA men in Donegal and Sean McKeown was responsible for the cold-blooded murder of the Noble Six Republican prisoners in Sligo.
Co Kerry was the worst for Free State atrocities, in one case nine IRA prisoners were tied to a land mine and blown to pieces, along with four more executed in Kerry and more again executed by land mine in Cahirciveen.
In total 17 were murdered in cold blood by the Free State army in Kerry. There had been over 400 sentenced to death over 80 state executions, but we must also add in the number of surrendered prisoners who were executed.
Tod Andrews in his Book Dublin Made Me suggested the total figure of State and army executions during this time to be 153.
After the death of Liam Lynch, the IRA decided to dump arms at the end of April 1922.
In a general election in August 1922 the Free State got 63 seats with Sinn Féin getting 44 despite the loss of the Civil War. In 1926 DeValera14 broke with Sinn Féin and in 1927 won 44 seats with Fianna Fáil, thus taking the Sinn Féin vote.
In 1932 De Valera came to power and he in turn after using the IRA in the 1930s to defeat the Blueshirts turned against them and was cruel in his jailing and treatment of Republicans.
To finish, we are here tonight in Camden to honour all those who stood with the Republic in the War of Independence and in the battle to prevent the Partition of Ireland.
Those who died in the pogroms in the North East as much as the young soldiers who died defending the Republic in the Civil War.
In the Republic too the Free State used the same tool as the Unionists in using a form of ethnic cleansing to push out their opponents out by emigration.
Just as the Catholics in the North East were driven out of Harland and Wolf and driven abroad, so too were the defeated Republicans in the rest of Ireland who could not get a job in the army, police or civil service, in teaching or in any other public service.
We see in Sean Sexton’s book of Irish Photos15 whole IRA battalions in New York and in Chicago at their annual dinner dances driven out of |Ireland by the new Free state.
By 1923 the Irish Republican Army had been defeated in the battle for the Republic but their spirit was still alive among the Irish people. In every generation the Republican movement would attempt to fight on towards that original dream of a United Irish republic.
More so the Spirit of the Republic came alive in the 30-year war in Northern Ireland from 1969 -1998, and it came alive in the 1981 Hunger strike of Bobby Sands MP and his nine comrades.
As we approach another crucial stage in Irish history, we need to be wary of the dying embers of British imperialism, they will again try and dilute that Republican dream with offers of NATO, Commonwealth, and a role for British monarchy.
We can see the Tory Right again use the Orange card with the Protocol where they are prepared to break an international agreement.
And we see in the Legacy Bill how the Tory Party has contempt for all the people of Northern Ireland, Unionist and Nationalist, when it comes to protecting British imperial interest there.
We see it in unionist Keir Starmer16 when he stated that he would campaign for Northern Ireland to stay in the Union, contrary to another agreed international treaty to remain neutral on this issue. Let us as Republicans remain eternally vigilant against British deceit.
Tonight, as we honour the men and women who stood by the Republic and against the Partition of Ireland, we should stand by the same Republic declared by the 1916 Proclamation free from any British interference and the pledge to treat all our children equally17.
We stand here too in the spirit of Tone and Connolly.
We stand proudly in honour of four brave Irish patriots here tonight, in honour of the workers driven from the shipyards of Belfast, the people who perished in the pogroms, the men and women in the North East and in the whole of Ireland who stood with the Republic, all those who gave their lives for the Republic, and those who down the long years have fought and kept that flame alive.
The view of Joyce that it is snowing all over Ireland stays with me on this cold night, but it moves on to a vision of Ireland of Easter lilies growing in freedom all over Ireland and dancing freely in the breeze.
It is there in the struggle of those who fought and died for the Republic. That we remember tonight. It is there in the words of Bobby Sands in his Rhythm of Time18 when he shouts that they, the Republicans, were Right.
1The title was chosen be Rebel Breeze as this take on the Irish Civil War consisting of two wars (or campaigns?) is unusual and worthy of consideration. The editing for publication and footnotes are Rebel Breeze’s also. The text was supplied thanks to Pat Reynolds.
2Pat Reynolds, from Longford, is a long-time Irish community activist settled in London. He was co-founder of the campaigning Irish in Britain Representation Group and is co-founder of the Terence McSwiney Commemoration Committee.
3Irish fascist organisation of the 1930s led by former Free State Commissioner of Police and former IRA officer Eoin O’Duffy.
4A reference to the 1886 quotation of the senior Churchill with regard to whipping up members of the unionist Orange Order in Ireland to defeat British Government proposals on Ireland.
5Of the Royal Irish Constabulary, the British colonial gendarmerie in Ireland.
6In India, 1919 when over 1,000 unarmed people were shot dead by British Army soldiers.
7IRA Volunteer and elected Lord Mayor of Cork in January 1920, murdered by Royal Irish Constabulary in March 1920.
8Major George Osbert Smyth, one of the British Army killed during an escape from a raid on a house in Drumcondra, Dublin of IRA Volunteers Dan Breen and Sean Tracy during raid to capture them.
9Royal Ulster Constabulary, British colonial gendarmerie, currently renamed Police Service of Northern Ireland.
10A part-time reserve of the RUC which had weapons at home or at work, greatly detested and feared among the nationalist community. The reserve was disbanded in May 1970 with many members incorporated into the Ulster Defence Regiment of the British Army.
11Dáil Éireann, an all-Ireland Parliament prior to Partition, now of the Irish State and excluding the six counties of the British colony.
12Reference to a special political police force tasked with repression of Republicans and gaining confessions under torture (see for example framing of The Sallins accused and Joanne Hayes case), the censorship under Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act and the Special no-jury Courts set up under the Amendment to the Offences Against the State Act.
13Two couplets from different verses of the Soldiers of Twenty-Two Irish Republican song.
14Éamonn De Valera, a 1916 commandant, later anti-Treaty leader, later still founder of the Fianna Fáil party after splitting from Sinn Féin, Taoiseach (Prime Minister) and later President of the Irish State.
(Note: It was intended to post this on the anniversary of MacSwiney’s death but technical problems prevented that.)
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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 few hundred Irish Republicans and other Anti-Fascists gathered today in the Ballybock area north of Dublin city centre to commemorate IRA leader of the 1940s Seán Russell. The event was organised a few weeks after the incumbent Irish Prime Minister, Leo Varadkar, had made a public statement suggesting that Russell was a fascist sympathiser and that his monument and some others in Ireland should be removed. In attendance yesterday (Sunday 21st June) was a cross-section of the Irish Republican movement in addition to independent Irish socialists and anti-fascists.
Note: Photos of the event are from individuals D. Breatnach and C. Perry and organisations Saoradh and Anti-Imperialist Action.
“NAZI COLLABORATOR” SLUR
Leo Varadkar’s comment that Sean Russell had been “a Nazi collaborator” was made in the course of a TV discussion on racism, arising out of the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in the USA, an event which sparked off huge protests not only in the USA but, because it had been so clearly documented and shared on social and news media, around much of the world. Among the angry retorts in reply had been an Open Letter by Matt Doyle, of the National Graves Association, pointing out that Russell was an Irish Republican with no elements of fascism in his history or ideology and that in fact Varadkar’s party, Fine Gael, was the one built on fascism, i.e the Blue Shirts movement of the 1930s, which Republicans had fought and defeated.
Seán Russell had gone to Nazi Germany in 1940 to seek assistance from them in ridding Ireland of British colonialism but on his way back to Ireland in a German submarine, accompanied by Frank Ryan, Russell had become seriously ill, died and was buried at sea, 20 miles from Galway. Frank Ryan was also an Irish Republican but had been wounded fighting fascists in the Spanish Civil War; after his capture the Nazi German allies of the Spanish fascists had expressed interest in Ryan for the purposes of assisting Irish Republican action against the English occupation of the occupied Six Counties.
A BROAD REPUBLICAN PARTICIPATION IN PROCESSION AND RALLY
The attendance had representation from across the Irish Republican spectrum from “Stickles” to “Provies” to “Dissidents”1, mixed with some independent socialists and antifascists but notably absent was a representation from the Irish socialist and communist parties in any numbers, nor were their flags to be seen. No anarchist flags were in evidence either and only one Antifa flag was, that one from the Basque Country. The event was organised by “Independent Republicans”, a headline permitting a wide attendance free from sectional hostilities or the more fundamental division of for or against the Good Friday Agreement. The flags most in evidence among the attendance were the orange rising sun on a blue field of Na Fianna and both versions of the “Starry Plough”, the one in gold on a green field and the one with white stars on a blue field.
The Starry Plough was the flag of the Irish Citizen Army, founded by James Connolly and Jim Larkin and described as “the first workers’ army in the world”; formed in 1913 to defend the Dublin strikers and locked-out workers from the attacks of the Dublin Metropolitan Police, its ethos was socialist and for Irish independence. The ICA recruited men and women and a number of the latter were officers during the 1916 Rising, including third-in-command in two insurgent garrisons. That version was gold-on-green field version but the Republican Congress of the 1930s had the white-stars-on-blue-field version. The Republican Congress was a short-lived attempt to unite communists, socialists and the Irish Republican movement in one front.
Na Fianna Éireann was an Irish Republican youth organisation founded by Bulmer Hobson of the IRB and Constance Markievicz in 1909 and therefore predated the ICA (and the Irish Volunteers). Members of na Fianna were highly motivated and disciplined and played a prominent part in the collection of Mauser rifles smuggled into Howth in 1914, in the 1916 Rising, the War of Independence and in the Irish Civil War.
Led by a traditional Irish Republican colour party and a lone piper, the parade on Sunday set off from under the railway bridge crossing the North Strand road and marched north in the traditional formation of two lines, their flags fluttering in the strong breeze. The procession crossed the Tolka river at Annesley Bridge, scene of a battle in 1916. In fact, the whole area had also been the scene of running battles in 1014 as the defeated Viking mercenaries from Orkneys and Manx ran for their ships, pursued by some of Brian Boróimhe’s (“Boru”) forces, for prior to the draining and reclaiming of the marsh, dunes and mudflats of the “sloblands” to permit laying out of Fairview Park and parts of the East Wall area, the seashore had been there.
Once over the bridge, the procession turned into Fairview Park and marched a short distance under trees until arriving at the Seán Russel monument and its surrounding low iron fence, where a number of people had already gathered. The monument had been erected in 1951 by the National Graves Association, a totally independent NGO and had been attacked twice, once having an arm removed and on the other occasion, its head. The first attack has been attributed to right-wing elements and the second, to antifascists.
WREATH, SPEECHES AND SONG
Patrick “Parko” Burke as MC for the event welcomed those in attendance and called for the placing of a floral wreath at the monument on behalf of Dublin Republicans. The piper played a short piece while the flags of the colour party were lowered and a moment’s silence was observed, then as the flags were raised again a short piece was played again.
The MC then introduced Gerry Mac Namara, who is a member of the extended Russell family.
Speaking briefly first in Irish and going on to address the gathering in English, the speaker recounted that Russell’s antecedents had been Fenians and that Seán himself was an Irish Republican who fought in the 1916 Rising and War of Independence and continued in the IRA after De Valera led a split to form Fianna Fáil. Mac Namara denounced Varadkar for his comments and commented that if the Prime Minister was in the mood to remove monuments there are a number of memorials of the British occupation and to English landlords in Ireland with which he might make a good beginning. Mac Namara made some comments in a similar vein in reference to Cnclr. Ray McAdam, “the publicity-seeking Fine Gael Councillor” who had recently sought to desecrate the 1798 mass grave monument at Croppies Acre. “Sean Russell has no grave”, commented Mac Namara, “because he was buried at sea. This monument is the closest thing to a gravestone he has.”
If Varadkar wanted to talk about racism in Irish history, he would do well to refer to Oliver J. Flanagan, a prominent member of the Fine Gael party and Minister in Fine Gael government, who had in the Dáil in 1943 called called on the Irish Government to do as the Nazis had done and to “rout the Jews out of this country …. where the bees are, there is honey and where the Jews are, there is money.”
Liam Manners, a young man came forward then to read a statement from the Irish Republican prisoners in Maghaberry, Mountjoy and Portlaoise jails. The first of those prisons is of the Six Counties colonial administration while the other two are of the Irish State.
Pat Savage was called forward and performed the Republican ballad “White, Orange and Green”, about an anonymous teenage Republican girl who refuses to surrender the Irish Tricolour to an English soldier during the War of Independence.
“A REPUBLICAN LIKE TONE AND PEARSE”
Mallachy Steenson came to stand in front of the monument and gave a resumé of Seán Russel’s service to the Republican movement. In seeking help to rid Ireland of British occupation Russell had been not only to Nazi Germany but to imperialist USA and Soviet Russia, however he had not been accused by Varadkar of being a Soviet or a US imperialism collaborator. Russell was ready to receive help from Nazi Germany to get rid of the British occupation, as he said himself but nothing more.
Steenson stated that Russell had been an Irish Republican in the same mold as Patrick Pearse and Theobald Wolfe Tone: Tone had sought help from France and Pearse from Imperial Germany, yet Tone was not a “French collaborator” nor was Pearse a collaborator with German imperialism or monarchy. Steenson commented that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” has been a well-known tactical slogan on many occasions.
Briefly touching on John Mitchell, whose statue in Newry some had suggested had suggested should be got rid of, Steenson pointed out that Mitchell had opposed English rule in Ireland for which he had been deported to Australia as a convict. From there he had escaped to the USA. While it was unfortunate that he had taken the side there of the slave states of the Confederacy, were it nor for the English he would have been in neither Australia nor America.
The Sean Russell monument is not only to commemorate Russell, Steenson pointed out and there are names on the pediment of many other Republicans, including those executed by the De Valera government because they had continued the fight which Fianna Fáil had abandoned. The Irish Republicans of the 1940s, of which group Sean Russell was an important member, passed through a particularly difficult period.
Talking about monuments which he said should be removed, Steenson referrred to the wall of names in Glasnvevin Cemetery, which he said should be called “the Wall of Shame” and went on to refer to the attempt to interfere with the Croppies’ Acre memorial2. Steenson said that there was a concerted effort to remove or rewrite Irish history. There had not been too much controversy during the early part of the “Decade of Commemorations” but coming up soon would be the Civil War. How would Varadkar and Fine Gael justify the Free State’s execution of 77 Republicans after a summary court martial, he wondered. Or the Free State army tying of captured Republicans to a land mine and blowing them up? Or the removal from their cells in Mountjoy Jail of four Republican leaders, one from each province before shooting them dead the next day3?
The MC made a mention of the National Graves Association and announcing that the organisation had a big event planned for later in the summer, then called for another song which Pat Savage performed: “Off to Dublin in the Green”, a Republican ballad about the 1916 Rising.
Patrick Burke acknowledged the presence of Dublin City Councillors Cieran Perry and Christy Burke and invited the latter to say a few words.
Like Steenson, Cnclr. Burk referred to the “wall” in Glasnevin but also reminded listeners that in January of this year the Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan had proposed to commemorate the Black ‘n Tans4 but his plans had been defeated by the public reaction of outrage. Burke referred also to the plan to build a playground on the United Irishmen mass grave at Croppies’ Acre and that a motion by Councillors such as Cieran Perry against any such desecration had won 50% of the vote and since he had been Chair, he had given the additional casting vote in favour of the protective motion. Cnlr. Burke said that he along with Cnclrs. Mannix, Perry and others were preparing a motion to prevent any Republican monument being removed in Dublin.
The formal part of the event concluded with the playing of the chorus of Amhrán na bhFiann, the Irish National Anthem while some remained in the area to take photographs, have theirs taken in front of the monument or catch up with friends or acquaintances whom they had not seen for some time.
There were three minor incidents during the event:
1) Two cyclists had strung a line of bunting in LBTG colours between their bicycles and were at first some distance behind the monument but later moved to the street in front. It is not known whether they were supporting the event or commenting on it in some way.
2) While one of the speakers was addressing the crowd, one of a small group of secret police approached one of the supporters of the event who had become momentarily separated from the general attendance and tried to detain him there for questioning. However, the man shouted to the crowd that he was being “harassed by the Special Branch” and with a snarl the secret policeman stepped out of the man’s way. After all, there were several hundred supporters of the event present but only a handful of secret police!
3) During the proceedings, a middle-aged woman came from behind the monument and stood to one side of it in the space left open, looked at the statue, then at the attendance with an insolent attitude, then stalked away without saying anything.
The event was marked by the absence of any obvious representation of the fascists and racists of the far-Right in Ireland who have been for some time now attempting to represent themselves as “Irish patriots” and who, it was rumoured had been warned not to attend.
The mood at the event was defiant and the speeches militant in form, seeming to reflect a determination to defend Irish Republican history and monuments to the anti-colonial resistance of the Irish people from forces in or outside Government who might wish to destroy or misrepresent them.
The calumny that Sean Russell was in any way a supporter of fascism has been staunchly refuted. However the correctness or otherwise of the general thesis that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” and its specific application to Nazi Germany or other cases remains a subject of some debate even in Irish Republican circles.
1Popular words used to describe the Official Sinn Féin and IRA and its split, Provisional Sinn Féin and IRA and those Republicans of various groups and none, of armed group or none, that rejected the Good Friday Agreement.
2The “wall” referred to is an installation put up in 2016 by the Glasnevin Cemetery Trust commemorating fatalities during the 1916 Rising but which includes the names of soldiers of the British Army alongside those of freedom fighters of the insurgency. Many in Ireland have objected strenuously to this juxtaposition and the installation has been continually guarded by Gardaí, the police force of the Irish State which has failed to prevent at least two attacks on the “Wall” and there are plans to include Black and Tans and Auxilliaries on it in future.
3Actually more than 77 executions of Republicans, since the number does not include a few executed for armed robberies to raise funds for the struggle. The first of the land mine atrocities was the Ballyseedy Massacre in Kerry, on 7th March 1923, followed by others within 24 hours: five at Countess Bridge near Killarney and four in Cahirsiveen. There were many unofficial executions by the Free State during the Civil War, varying from kidnapping and murders to shooting prisoners of war: of the 32 Republican fighters killed in Kerry in March 1923, only five were killed in combat.
4In January Charlie Flanagan, Minister of Justice of the Fine Gael minority Government, had declared his plan to commemorate the colonial police force of the British occupation of Ireland, the Royal Irish Constabulary. In 1920 these had also included two auxiliary special police forces, the “Black and Tans” and the “Auxiliaries”, whose role was to terrorise the Irish population and who committed torture, murder, arson and theft until they were disbanded in 1921 after the signing of the “Anglo-Irish Treaty”. A wave of public repugnance had caused the Government to “postpone the event”.
Socialists and Socialist Republicans gathered outside the General Post Office in Dublin on Thursday (Nov 1st) to honour the memory of Volunteer Kevin Barry on the 98th anniversary of his execution. Copies of his portrait were on display with candles lit and the ballad honouring his memory was sung.
The event was organised by the Irish Socialist Republicans organisation. Asked about the reason for the commemoration and speaking on behalf of the organisation, Pádraig Drummond said “It is important to honour people in our history who have played an important role, who have displayed characteristics worthy of emulation such as resolution, courage and loyalty. People like Kevin Barry are more worthy of interest for the youth of today than clothing brands or pop idols.”`
Some members of the public stopped in passing to listen to the song or to engage picketers in conversation.
At the time of Kevin Barry’s execution the whole of Ireland was under a centuries-old British occupation and the defeat of the Easter Rising was three years in the past, most of its leaders executed and prisoners released. The first World War had ended. But the Irish Volunteers had reorganised and the War of Independence had begun in January of 1919. The ICA had seen a partial reorganisation and Cumann na mBan had never disbanded and, though it had suffered a few notable resignations, had experienced no split. The UK General Election of December 1918 had delivered a huge majority in Ireland to the newly-organised nationalist-republican coalition of Sinn Féin and in January of 2019 the successful SF delegates set up the Dáil, the first independent Irish Parliament, in defiance of the rule that all delegates elected in a UK election attended the Westminster Parliament in London.
On the same day in a separate development, the War of Irish Independence had begun. To wage war against the British occupation, the Irish Volunteers needed arms so some of its operations were carried out in order to seize arms from the occupiers. Kevin Barry joined the IRA at 15 in Dublin and not much later the IRB and had been on a number of successful raids to seize weapons.
On 20thSeptember 1920 his unit was to ambush a British unit collecting bread from a bakery and relieve them of their weapons. Collecting breadrations from Patrick Monk’s Bakeryat 79-80, Upper Church Street, near the corner of North King Street, Dublin.
Barry was a medical student and had an examination scheduled for that day which he expected to attend after the operation. Having attended mass that morning, he joined the unit in nearby Bolton Street and when the British Army lorry arrived the volunteers, armed with pistols, ordered the soldiers in the back to drop their rifles, which they did. However a shot rang out, possibly from the front of the lorry and the volunteers opened fire but Barry’s gun jammed twice and he jumped under the truck, being left behind when his comrades retreated. He was discovered and arrested. All five of the British soldiers in the rear of the lorry had been hit and one, 15 years of age, was dead – another two died later.
Kevin Barry attested that he had been beaten up when captured and tortured for information later in Army custody. On 20th October he was tried by military tribunal under the provisions of the Restoration of Order Act of August that year. Brigadier-General Onslow presided on the tribunal and Barry had legal representation who, after Barry announced he would not recognise the court, withdrew. The sentence of the court, given to the Volunteer in his Mountjoy Prison cell that evening, was death by hanging. The sentence became publicly known on the 28th and a fierce campaign began to save his life, not only in Ireland. Terence McSwiney, author, playwright, Lord Mayor of Cork and IRA Volunteer, had died after a hunger strike of 74 days on 25th October and public opinion, especially in Ireland, was highly excited. Nonetheless, Kevin Barry was hanged on November 1st 1920, eighteen years of age. According the priest who accompanied him the gallows, who was not a republican, he went calmly to his death.
On 14 October 2001, the remains of Barry’s body and others were given an Irish state funeral and moved from Mountjoy Prison to be re-interred at Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin. A stained glass window in his honour was unveiled in 1934 at the Earlsford Terrace address of University College Dublin and was later moved to their new address in the Belfield Camput and restored in 2007.
The Ballad of Kevin Barry, which was sung at the commemoration by Diarmuid Breatnach, was composed around the time of the Volunteer’s execution and has been very popular in Ireland and among the Irish diaspora abroad. The author is unknown despite efforts by his family and others to trace him or her but there were some indications that it had been composed in Glasgow. The song has been recorded by many performers, including non-Irish singers Paul Robeson and Leonard Cohen.
This is an interesting criticism of the Michael Collins historical biopic 1996. Written and directed by Neil Jordan, the film begins with the end of the Irish 1916 Rising, has the longest part focused on the War of Independence (1919-1921) and ends not long after the start of the Civil War (1922-1923). The film starred Liam Neeson as Michael Collins and included others such as Aidan Quinn playing Harry Boland, Alan Rickman as Eamon De Valera, Stephen Rea as Ned Broy, Julia Roberts as Kitty Kiernan, Gerald Mc Sorley as Cathal Brugha and Brendan Gleeson as Liam Tobin.
The video from Foras Teamhrach presents its criticism using clips from the film while commenting and also comparative clips from other films, which is a useful way of presenting a challenging view. Unfortunately neither the name of the author of the commentary nor of the commentator (possibly the one and same) appeared on the Youtube link, only the company name and the comments function was disabled (perhaps understandably).
Most of the points are well made but there are some omissions which might usefully be added to the criticism.
The GPO surrender scene
The video criticism points out that showing only the GPO makes the Rising look much smaller than it actually was; despite the countermanding order which reduced the forces in Dublin by perhaps as much as two-thirds, the Rising was fought by four major garrisons on the southern and three on the northern side of the Liffey, with other smaller outposts and individual actions. However, the narrator says nothing regarding the historical inaccuracy of portraying the surrender as occurring at the GPO.
In fact, the GPO had been abandoned on the Friday and the Surrender took place on the Saturday, following a decision made in the 1916 Terrace in Moore Street and around 350 insurgents there were the first to surrender following the order. This matters not just from a point of historical accuracy but because there is a struggle (now approaching two decades) to save this area from property speculators and State and Dublin Council Planning Department collusion.
Portrayal of De Valera
One does not have to be a supporter of De Valera’s philosophy and actions to rapidly come to the conclusion that his portrayal in Jordan’s film is so inaccurate as to seem to be someone else. Every person who took up arms in 1916 to fight the British Empire showed courage and those who continued to actively oppose the British occupation during the intense years of the War of Independence showed even more courage in doing so.
Collins, of a much more ebulient character than De Valera, according to witnesses, was more inclined to exhibitions of temper and shouting than was De Valera, whose manner was generally in accordance with his studious appearance – contrary to his behaviour in the Treaty discussion scene of the film. As to another aspect, when we review the record of his actions in preparation for the Rising through to the War of Independence and on through the Civil War and the early years under the Free State, De Valera cannot reasonably be accused of lacking courage. The shivering wreck as which he is portrayed during the Civil War in Jordan’s film runs counter to the historical record.
There is testimony from one or two participants that at a period during his command of Boland’s Mill, De Valera had something of a breakdown. This, if it occurred, could have been as a result of fear or instead of lack of sleep, or of being overwhelmed by responsibility or a number of causes and if this alleged episode is what inspired Jordan’s depiction it was certainly unfair to use it to characterise De Valera at other times. There are many criticisms that can fairly be thrown at De Valera but lack of courage is not one of them.
Portrayal of Cathal Brugha
And likewise with the portrayal of Cathal Brugha. Some of Brugha’s military and political history may help in evaluating the portrayal of this man in Jordan’s film.
One of fourteen children empoverished by the death of their Protestant father, Brugha joined the Gaelic League in 1899 and quickly became fluent, soon changing his name from Charles Burgess to Cathal Brugha. He and Kathleen Kingston, also an Irish language enthusiast, married in 1912 and had six children. Brugha joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and in 1913, the year they were formed, he became a lieutenant in the Irish Volunteers and led a group of Volunteers to land the arms smuggled into Howth by the Asgard in 1914.
In the Easter Rising of 1916 Brugha was second-in-command at the South Dublin Union under Commandant Éamonn Ceannt, scene of some of the fiercest fighting during the Rising. Overlooked in the evacuation on Thursday of Easter Week and, being badly wounded, he was unable to leave. Bleeding from 25 wounds (some of which had penetrated arteries) he continued to fire upon the enemy and when Eamonn Ceannt led a group to investigate who was still firing he discovered Brugha singing “God Save Ireland” surrounded by his own blood and with his pistol still in his hands.
Brugha was not expected to survive which may have saved him from the execution parties and he was discharged from hospital in August 1916 as “incurable”. However he recovered in 1917 though left suffering pain and with a permanent limp and preferred to cycle than walk.
Already in 1917 from his hospital bed, Brugha began to seek out Volunteers and Irish Citizen Army people who were willing to join the new armed resistance group and it seems that he, more than any other, should receive the main credit for the initial formation of that which became the IRA.
Brugha was so respected in the movement that he was elected speaker of Dáil Éireann at its first meeting on 21 January 1919 and it was he who read out the Declaration of Independence in Irish, which ratified ‘the establishment of the Irish Republic’. He was also appointed temporary President, a position in which he remained until de Valera tok his place.
Far from being a bloodthirsty zealot as he is portrayed in the film, Brugha reduced Collins’ ‘Bloody Sunday’ assassination list considerably since in his opinion, there was insufficient evidence against a number of people named on the list. Then again, at the outbreak of the Civil War, a reluctant Brugha only joined the fighting on the Republican (Anti-Treaty) side in order to relieve the pressure on the Four Courts garrison. Cathal Brugha led a detachment in occupying a number of buildings in O’Connell Street and later, having got his men safely away or surrendered, was shot and mortally wounded in debated circumstances by Free State troops (which were under the overall command of Collins).
Brugha had, according to some opinions, alienated a section of waverers at the Dáil debates on the Treaty, by a personal attack on Collins and the way his persona had been elevated (a common problem, the deification of leaders). This was no doubt a tactical mistake but there had been ongoing conflict between both men for some time. Although both had been members, Brugha had left the IRB after 1916 in the belief that their conflict with the Volunteer leadership had damaged the Rising. Collins’ rank in the organisation was supreme in Ireland and it seems that Collins used this at times to circumvent or undermine decisions of the Dáil, where Brugha outranked Collins and which the former believed to be the repository of democratic decision-making.
Collins as a guerrilla war leader
All Collins’ many talents and contributions to the War of Independence aside, his representation in the film as not only directing the whole armed struggle but also as teaching rural people how to wage a guerrilla war is a complete distortion of history that could only be undertaken by a propagandist for Collins.
It was Brugha who began to pull the scattered elements of the armed struggle together and laid the foundations for what became the IRA. It was Robinson, Breen, Tracey and Hogan who began the armed resistance of the War of Independence in Tipperary on 21 January 1919 in which two paramilitary policemen were killed. And they did so without permission from GHQ in Dublin.
As to rural guerrilla tactics, these were such as had been used for centuries or developed in the struggle and were certainly not taught by Dublin. What was taught by instructors sent by Dublin was weapon use and maintenance and personnel disposition for ambushes, moving in extended order through countryside and securing a line of retreat. One of the chief instructors in this kind of instruction was Ernie O’Malley and, in West Cork, the young Tom Barry used his British Army experience and other learning to do the same. The order to create Flying Columns might have come from Dublin but had been advocated already by fighters in Cork, Kerry and Tipperary and it was they and others who developed them in the field.
Collins’ special contribution was in organising intelligence, counter-intelligence and the assassination squad (which turned out to be a double-edged sword) and also, to an extent, supply of weapons. His contribution was notable but it did not lie in initial organising of guerrilla war, much less in rural guerrilla instruction.
The role of women in the struggle
Women are underrepresented in this narrative, as is usual in Irish history and Republican and nationalist narrative. Where women are shown, apart from the brief appearance of Markievicz at the non-existent GPO surrender (when instead she was at the College of Surgeons!), they are objects of romance (Kittie Kiernan) or auxilliaries working for Collins’ intelligence department.
There was a great opportunity lost there to show the women in action during the Rising in the many roles they undertook, including firing weapons, or in keeping the flame lit after the Rising and in particular in commemorating the Rising a year later, organising demonstrations, pickets, and funerals.
The Croke Park Bloody Sunday massacre scene
The film shows the ‘Tans or Auxies shooting down people with machine-gun on the GAA ground. As far as we have been able to establish it was the RIC who did it, although of course the other two were auxilliary forces of the RIC. Thankfully they did not fire with a machine-gun (the Army had one outside the grounds and an armoured car, it seems but did not open fire) or the carnage would have been a lot worse. When one examines the casualty list of those shot, just like more modern British massacres in Derry and Belfast, it is clear that the shooting was mostly disciplined, i.e hitting males of military age. Showing that kind of scenario would in the last analysis not only be more historically accurate but also more telling of the intent and cold-bloodedness.
And what of the three tortured and murdered in the Castle that day, Peadar Clancy, Dick McKee and Conor Clune? Yes, we know, one can’t show everything.
Go raibh maith agat to the individual who sent the video links to this blog.
“He’s up there if you want him …. on the footpath.”
On 14th April 1920, a man in plainclothes was shot by another, also in plain clothes, in Camden Street, Portobello, on the south side of the city and not far from the centre. A passing motorist rushed the gunshot victim to the nearby Meath Hospital but he died there.
The victim was Det. Constable Harry Kells of the Dublin Metropolitan Police, a man of 41 years of age who lived in No. 7 Pleasant Street, i.e very close to where he was shot. He was married without children.
Many reports say that Kells was a member of the DMP “G” Division, which were known as “the political police” (apparently both within the DMP and outside). However, “McRIC” in the irishconstabulary forum states that this is inaccurate and that the man, although recently promoted to plain clothes work, was rather in “B” Division and investigating a number of burglaries in the city.
From a number of investigations carried out it seems that this question may never be resolved but it is highly likely that Kells was at least in the process of being transferred to “G” Division. However, the reason for his killing is almost certainly much more specific. It seems that Kells had been reviewing identity parades in Mountjoy Jail in attempts to find the killers of British intelligence agent Alan Bell, who had been assassinated on the 27th March. While engaged in this work, he had been identified by Peadar Clancy1, Vice-Commandant of the Dublin Brigade of the IRA, who sent a note about him to Michael Collins, who put the execution order on Kells.
It is worth noting that Republican prisoners in Mountjopy had also been taking part in a hunger-strike at that time in protest at removal of political status while detained without trial. Ironically, 90 prisoners were released on the very day Kells was killed.
THE LARGEST RAID EVER CARRIED OUT BY BRITISH TROOPS IN DUBLIN
“Aul Decency”, posting on Dublin Forum.ie on 31st March 2012, drawing on April reports in the Irish Times and New York Times, says that the incident “was the cause of the largest raid ever carried out by British Troops in Dublin.”
According to “Aul Decency”: “Two of those sought in connection with Kells’ killing were Sinn Féin members Michael and William Kavanagh who lived at 5 Pleasant St., who had previously been “fingered” by Kells, and it was thought they would seek refuge among friends in the neighbourhood. The troops swarmed over Camden St from Cuffe street and into Portobello and the homes of the local Jews2. Over 100 people were arrested that day but Kells’ killer was not among them.”
This “fingering” had in fact been carried out after the 1916 Rising when Kells reported that the brothers had been seeing changing into Volunteer uniforms in the house, information which had resulted in at least one of the brothers ending up in Frongoch concentration camp that year and losing his job.
It is enough perhaps to know that Kells was killed by Republicans and the probable reason but we can go a bit further, drawing on The Squadby T. Ryle Dwyer (quoted in irishconstabulary.com) where Paddy Daly of the Squad is quoted about the operation to kill the police officer:
“On our way we picked up Hugo MacNeill, a nephew of Eoin MacNeill3 the initial President of the Irish Volunteers. He was not a member of the Squad but he asked to come along.
We divided up into patrols of two4, MacNeill was with Joe Leonard. O‘Daly said he heard a couple of shots, and saw MacNeill sauntering down Pleasant St. as if nothing had happened.
‘What was the shooting about?‘ O’Daly asked.
‘Kells is up there if you want him‘, MacNeill replied.
‘Where?‘ O’Daly asked.
‘On the footpath‘, replied MacNeill.
Det. Constable was the third police officer to be killed in Dublin so far in 1920 in a war between the British occupation forces and the IRA, in which not only police officers but intelligence agents and British soldiers on one side were killed and, on the other, Volunteers, active Republicans, sympathisers and uninvolved civilians. Of course the war was going on in many other parts of Ireland but it is often forgotten that among those areas subject to martial-type law were Dublin County and City, where had been the HQ of the British occupation since 1171: Dublin Castle.
1Peadar Clancy was one of two Volunteers and one civilian who were tortured by RIC Auxiliaries in Dublin Castle and killed on November 21, 1920 (Bloody Sunday).
2Portobello had a Jewish quarter at that time. Some of the residents are reputed to have been active in the resistance movement and a number had been on strike or locked out in 1913.
3He who had on Easter Saturday 1916 issued the cancellation order for the Rising.
4According to testimonies by Squad members, working in two groups of two was standard procedure. Typically each pair would take one side of the road. Once the assassination was carried out, the two who had not done the killing would cover the escape of the two who had.
Dublin awoke on the morning to March 14th 1921 to the news that six IRA Volunteers, captured in an ambush at Drumcondra two months before, had been hanged.
The gates of Mountjoy Gaol were opened at 8:25 am and news of the executions was read out to the distraught relatives of the dead. As many as 40,000 people had gathered outside and many mournfully said the rosary for the executed men.
On the morning of March 14 1921 six IRA Volunteers were hanged in Mountjoy Gaol.
The labour movement called a half-day general strike in the city in protest at the hangings. The clandestine Republican Government declared a day of national mourning. All public transport came to a halt and republican activists made sure the strike was observed. IRA officer Frank Henderson recalled:
“Patrick Sweeney, Vice Commandant of the 2nd Battalion, and other members of the Battalion paraded the Battalion area during the hours of public mourning to ensure that shops were closed. With the exception of one or two public houses which had to be cleared, the order to cease work was loyally obeyed by the citizens.”
By evening, the streets cleared rapidly as the British-imposed curfew came into effect at 9pm each night. The city must have been a fearful place, patrolled by regular British troops and the much-feared paramilitary police, or Auxiliaries, as people scurried home and awaited IRA retaliation for the hangings. This was not long in coming.
Pearse Street, or Great Brunswick Street as it then was, nestles just south of the river Liffey, running from Ringsend, an old fishing port, to the city centre. Number 144 housed the company headquarters of the Dublin IRA’s 3rd Battalion at St Andrews Catholic Hall. It had been used for this purpose since before insurrection of 1916.
On the evening of March 14, their captain Peadar O’Meara sent them out to attack police or military targets. As many as 34 IRA men prowled the area, armed with the standard urban guerrilla arms of easily-hidden handguns and grenades. One young Volunteer, Sean Dolan threw a grenade at a police station on nearby Merrion Square, which bounced back before it could explode, blowing off his own leg.
It was about 8 o’clock. The curfew was approaching. A company of Auxiliaries, based in Dublin Castle was sent to the area to investigate the explosion. It consisted of one Rolls Royce armoured car and two tenders (trucks) holding about 16 men. Apparently the Auxiliaries had some inside information as they made straight for the local IRA headquarters at 144 Pearse Street. One later testified in court that – “I had been notified there were a certain number of gunmen there”.
But the IRA were also waiting. As soon as the Auxiliaries approached the building, fire was opened on them from three sides.
What the newspapers described as ‘hail of fire’ tore into the Auxiliaries’ vehicles. Five of the eight Auxiliaries in the first tender were hit in the opening fusillade. Two of them were fatally injured, including the driver (an Irishman named O’Farrell) and an Auxiliary named L. Beard.
But the IRA fighters were seriously outgunned. The Rolls Royce armoured car was impervious to small arms fire (except its tyres, which were shot out) but mounted a Vickers heavy machine gun, which sprayed the surrounding houses with bullets. The unwounded Auxiliaries also clambered out of their tenders and returned fire at the gun flashes from street corners and rooftops.
Civilian passersby flung themselves to the ground to avoid the bullets but four were hit, by which side it was impossible to tell. The British military court of inquiry into the incident found that the civilians had been killed by persons unknown; if by the IRA then they were ‘murdered’, if hit by Auxiliaries the shootings were ‘accidental’ — which, aside from demonstrating the court’s bias, shows us that no one was sure who had killed them.
Firing lasted for just five minutes but in that time seven people (including the two Auxiliaries) were killed or fatally wounded and at least six more wounded. A young man, Bernard O’Hanlon aged just 18, originally from Dundalk, lay sprawled, dead, outside number 145, his ‘bull-dog’ revolver under him which had five chambers, two of which contained expended rounds and three live rounds – indicating he had got off just two shots before being cut down.
Another IRA Volunteer, Leo Fitzgerald was also killed outright. Two more guerrillas were wounded, one in the hip and one in the back. They, along with Sean Dolan who had been wounded by his own grenade were spirited away by sympathetic Fire Brigade members and members of Cumann na mBan and treated in the nearby Mercer’s hospital.
Three civilians lay dead on the street. One, Thomas Asquith was a 68 year-old caretaker, another, David Kelly was a prominent Sinn Fein member and head of the Sinn Fein bank. His brother, Thomas Kelly was a veteran Sinn politician and since 1918 a Member of Parliament. The third, Stephen Clarke, aged 22, was an ex-soldier and may have been the one who had tipped off the Auxiliaries about the whereabouts of the IRA meeting house. An internal IRA report noted that he was ‘under observation… as he was a tout for the enemy’.
In five minutes of intense gunfire, seven people were mortally wounded; two IRA Volunteers, two Auxiliaries and three civilians.
Two IRA men were captured as they fled the scene, one, Thomas Traynor a 40 year-old veteran of the Easter Rising, was carrying an automatic pistol but claimed to have had no part in the ambush itself. He had, he maintained, simply been asked to bring in the weapon to 144 Great Brunswick Street. The other was Joseph Donnelly a youth of just 17.
As most of the IRA fighters got away through houses, over walls and into backstreets, the Auxiliaries ransacked St Andrew’s Catholic Hall at number 144, but found little of value. Regular British Army troops quickly arrived from nearby Beggars Bush barracks and cordoned off the area, but no further arrests were made. Desultory sniping carried on in the city for several hours into the night.
The 1916 Rising, to which Moore Street is so closely linked, represented some very important events for the people of the world and it impacted on people in all populated continents of the globe.
FOR DEMOCRACY, EQUALITY
The 1916 Proclamation, printed in Liberty Hall and signed in No.21 Henry Street, just around the corner from Moore Street, is a document not only of clear patriotic and anti-colonial expression but also a democratic and inclusive one. At a time when hardly a state anywhere in the world permitted women to vote in elections, the document specifically addressed “Irishmen and Irish women”. It also clearly expressed the wish of the insurgents to overcome the religious sectarianism which had played such an important part in securing continued colonial rule: “ … religious and civil liberty … oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien Government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past.”
The Rising had expressed the gender equality intentions of the insurgents in more than the words of its address: women fought in the Rising and, in two garrison areas, commanded for awhile. The British colonial authorities recognised the role of some of those women by sentencing one to death, albeit a sentence later commuted, and keeping a number of them in prison even after many men had been released.
FOR GENDER EQUALITY
Irish women organised for and acted in the Rising in two separate organisations: Cumann na mBan and the Irish Citizen Army.
The women founded as an auxiliary force to the Irish Volunteers, Cumann na mBan, later to assert considerable organisational independence, wore their own uniforms and had their own female officers. Women had participated in many insurrections and resistance movements across the world but no insurrectionary force in history ever before had such a consciously women-organised force.
The women in the Irish Citizen Army had formally equal status with men and a number carried arms in the Rising and fired them at the enemy. Men acted on orders from women officers in at least two garrison areas and, in medical matters, also in at least a third.
Such a situation was of great significance in the struggle for women’s rights and gender equality, not only in Ireland but in the world.
FOR WORKERS AND SOCIALISM
The Irish Citizen Army was founded in 1913 as a workers’ defence force by trade unionists and socialists and later as a workers’ army and, despite its strongly anti-colonial stance, until the 1916 Rising, maintained a strict separation from the nationalist republican organisations of the Irish Volunteers and Cumann na mBan. As detailed earlier, it formally recognised women within the organisation as of equal status with men.
Workers’ organisations had existed before, including armed ones but nowhere had such an armed organisation existed outside of armed conflict for so long (1913-1916), led by socialists and with equal status for men and women. In the history of socialist organisation and particularly of a revolutionary and insurgent kind, this was a development of enormous importance.
The 1916 Rising took place in the middle of the first of two huge international conflicts that were later called World Wars. WW1 was a struggle for markets, resources and strategic positions and bases between a number of states ruled by capitalists and those states recruited heavily from among the nations they had colonised; in Britain’s case, that included Ireland.
To many nationalist Republicans, the War represented an opportunity, expressed in the maxim that “England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity”. But to many socialists around the world, the War represented a disastrous pitting of the working people under one Power against the working people of another, as well as an excuse for the suppression of demands to fulfill the needs of their workers while the capitalists gathered huge profits. James Connolly was one of those socialists.
Connolly, Edinburgh-born Irish revolutionary socialist, formerly Acting General Secretary of the Irish Transport & General Worker’s Union, had joined the International Workers of the Word, the hugely influential in the USA syndicalist organisation. As well as being an energetic organiser, Connolly was a historian and revolutionary theoretician. Connolly took to heart the resolution formally adopted by representatives of the vast majority of European socialists to oppose war and, should it come, to turn it into class war against their rulers. In the event, Connolly was one of the few European socialist leaders to live up to that resolution: as Commandant of the Irish Citizen Army, GPO Garrison commander in a rising against Ireland’s British colonial masters, James Connolly was also striking a blow against imperial and colonial war.
That aspect of the Rising, of being consciously or unconsciously against War, predated the February Russian Revolution of 1917, also in part an anti-war uprising, by ten months. And of course, predated the October Socialist Revolution in Russia by seventeen months and the nearest uprising geographically to Ireland, also in part an anti-war one, the German socialist uprising in November 1918, by two-and-a-half years. For all these reasons, the 1916 Rising, the Headquarters of which were in the GPO and later removed to Moore Street, was and remains of enormous significance in the world-wide history of people’s movements against war.
AGAINST COLONIALISM IN THE WORLD
The 1916 Rising reverberated around the world. It took place in what had a century earlier been widely regarded as the second city of the British Empire and, when it erupted, did so against the largest empire, in terms of directly-controlled areas and population numbers ruled, that the world has ever known. How can such an event be of other than huge interest, not only to other peoples under British colonial rule but also to those under the colonial rule of France, Belgium, Germany, Holland, Portugal, Spain, Russia and the United States? How could it not have been of considerable interest to socialist revolutionaries everywhere?
Socialists around the world discussed the Rising, at first often criticising it, while Lenin, of huge importance in the socialist movement at that time and some others commented favourably upon it. Consequently, the Rising and the War of Independence was to play an important part in the development of a revolutionary theory around the world that advocated the linking of the struggles of worker, peasant and small farmer, of anti-imperialism and anti-colonialism with struggle for a socialist republic.
The Rising was a topic of great discussion in the United States and in Australia, and in the USA of financial and other support, as is well known. Connolly had been active there and had published his songbook in New York in 1910; Larkin was actually there in 1916. For a number of reasons, including the sentencing to death of Eamon Bulfin for his role in the GPO and in Moore Street, a sentence later commuted and Bulfin deported to Buenos Aires, the Rising was discussed in Argentina and in other Latin American countries (where, at that time, the British were the main imperialist power).
It was certainly discussed in the huge country of India (which at that time included what is now the states of Pakistan and Bangladesh), whose revolutionary nationalists had contact with Fenian revolutionaries from decades earlier. The Connaught Ranger mutiny in the British Army was a direct result of the Rising and the War of Independence and, before the mutiny was crushed, the soldiers and oppressed Indians had begun to make movement towards reciprocal solidarity. And we know, from history and the writings of Indian nationalists and socialists, that the Rising and the War of Independence which organically followed the Rising influenced the struggles against colonialism and imperialism in India right up to the Second World War. We are also aware of correspondence between the Nehru and Ghandi families and the McSwineys.
We know also that the War of Independence influenced African uprisings and Ho Chi Minh, later leader of successful wars against Japanese invasion and French colonialism. In South Africa, the Rising must have been a subject of discussion too, at least among the whites. John McBride, sentenced to death ostensibly for his role in Rising was probably in reality being shot for having organised and led an Irish Brigade to fight the British in the Second Boer War, which had ended but fourteen years earlier.
In Britain itself, the Rising influenced the huge Irish diaspora in England, Scotland and Wales and a significant proportion of the insurgent forces in Dublin had actually come from there. The Rising and especially the War of Independence caused a crises of a kind in British socialist thinking, threatening an irrevocable rupture between revolutionary socialists and even sections of radical social democrats on the one hand and pro-imperial social democracy on the other.
This is not the place to discuss this further but that situation, allied to anti-colonial struggles around the world, huge dissatisfaction and mutinies in the British armed forces and a growing strike movement in Britain, provided great opportunities for an Irish revolutionary movement to influence the history of the world in a direction other than that which it has taken.
For all the reasons outlined above, the Moore Street quarter should be of recognised World Heritage Status.
UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE AND OTHER CONSERVATION STATUS
The Irish State ratified the World Heritage Convention in 1991, which qualifies Ireland to apply for that status for the Moore Street quarter. Up to US$1 million is available from the World Heritage fund for the saving and development of a World Heritage site and funds are also available for urgent works to save it. World Heritage status attracts considerable tourist interest and substantial revenue is of course also available to the State and businesses surrounding the area from such tourist interest.
Currently Ireland has only two sites which have been accorded full World Heritage status (one of archaelogical and the other or natural, mainly geological, importance). However, another seven sites are under “Tentative” categorisation since 2010 and Dublin City is one of those. The Moore Street battleground could be afforded that full World Heritage status in its own right, which I believe its history deserves but it can also be used to strengthen the case for full such status for Dublin City.
The ten grounds on which UNESCO currently relies in order to examine the “the unique importance” of a site is admittedly rather restricted in the category of historical importance, particularly in the development of social movements. However, even under the existing list, I would submit that the Moore Street battleground meets four of the criteria: 2, 4, 6 and 8. The USA has the Statue of Liberty and Independence Hall building as World Heritage sites.
Registering under EU programs may also be possible, in particular Horizon 2020.