A crowd gathered in Dublin today to commemorate the Free State opening fire on the Four Courts on 28th August 1922, an event that began what is usually called “the Civil War” which lasted until 1923 (with State assassinations until 1924). The UK supplied the cannons and shells used by the Free State’s “National Army” along with munitions, including small arms and ammunition, armoured cars, army lorries and even coastal naval vessels. The conflict has also been called a “counterrevolution” and “the UK’s proxy war” with more Republicans executed by the new Irish State1 in that conflict than had been by the British State over the whole 1916-1921 period.
One hundred years ago this month, the IRA under the command of Rory O’Connor occupied and fortified the Four Courts complex, last occupied as a fighting post during the 1916 Rising. The Anglo-Irish Treaty partitioning the country and giving the Free State the status of a Dominion country had been narrowly accepted by the delegates to the First Dáil, the Irish Parliament previously banned by the UK State. However by far the majority of the military part of the Irish resistance – the IRA, Cumann na mBan and na Fianna, along with the remnants of the Irish Citizen Army – were opposed to the Treaty. The occupation of the Four Courts was seen by the Free State government as a challenge to its authority and by the British Government as a threat of anti-colonial struggle being renewed. Both parties were hostile to any radical republican, socialist or socialist-republican program.
On 28th June the Free State opened fire from British cannon on the Four Courts from Bridge Street on the south side of the river and the Civil War – or Counterrevolution – had begun. By the time the Republicans conceded defeat (and some assassinations continued even after it officially ended) perhaps around 1,300 had been killed. From January 1922 to April 1924, according to the Republican Roll of Honour, 426 anti-Treaty Volunteers had been killed, some 25 of these died fighting British and Northern Irish forces. Most anti-Treaty dead were IRA Volunteers, but some were Na Fianna members and four were women of Cumann na mBan2.
On the Free State side just under 800 died, of whom 488 fell in enemy action, others due to accidents or illness, while seven were executed having deserted to the Republican side. “To this total should be added a small number of police, including four from the Civic Guard (later renamed Garda Síochána), four from the Criminal Investigation Department and two from the Citizens’ Defence Force, who were killed from 1922-19243.”
Dorney remarks on omissions in the Last Post record and concludes: “Even allowing for this, though, the total of anti-Treaty IRA dead in the Civil War is not likely to be much more than about 500, of whom 81 died before Free State firing squads and more than 100 were summarily executed in reprisals.”
Many Irish Republicans also emigrated to avoid repression or because they were being denied employment.
The Irish State today is a direct descendant, legally and in other ways, of the Free State of 1922 and all periods since.
The commemorative event in Dublin today was organised by the National Graves Association (Cumann Uaigheanna na Laochra Gael), an organisation which since its founding in 1926 has been maintaining the graves of Irish patriots, arranging for the installation of gravestones, plaques and monuments and also organising commemorative events.
Before marching to the Four Courts, participants formed up in groups in the road outside Croppies’ Acre, a public park over a mass grave of victims of the English state’s repression of the United Irishmen and their supporters in 1798, now across the road from the Collins Barracks National Museum. They were led by a lone piper and colour party, followed by people in double ranks flying Starry Plough flags and carrying banners of history and conservation groups, along with some other flags, including that of Cumann na mBan.
At the rally outside the Liffeyside of the Four Courts, the organisers had an MC with number of speakers to read out the 1922 Proclamation, the lyrics of The Soldiers of Twenty-Two4 and Tim Horgan to give a keynote oration. At least one floral wreath was laid in honour of those who fought there and a number of posters attached to lampposts commemorated the three Volunteers who were fatally wounded there: Thomas Wall, Joe Considine and Sean Cusack.
It is almost certainly the case that it is the NGA which has erected the majority of patriotic struggle commemorative plaques around the country, with most of the remainder being organised by local authorities, local history groups and old comrades’ associations – a very small proportion being the work of the State. As stated on its website, the objectives of the Association have always been: to restore, where necessary, and maintain fittingly the graves and memorials of our patriot dead from every generation; to commemorate those who died in the cause of Irish freedom; to compile a record of such graves and memorials.
The NGA’s general alignment is unequivocal: “Only a 32 County Irish Republic represents the true aspiration of those who gave their lives for Irish freedom.5“
One might assume that every participant at the event today was of a definite political bent, yet not a single party or political organisation banner was to be seen on the march or at the rally. This is because participants were asked in advance not to bring any banners or placards of political organisational allegiance. As the Chairperson of the rally informed the audience, the NGA is not affiliated to any political party or organisation and furthermore does not accept contributions from any such nor from the State – in order to continue to guarantee the NGA’s independence. In fact, members of its governing body are not even permitted to belong to a political party. A senior Garda officer however, of least at Inspector rank, took down details in his notebook as the rally was addressed by speakers.
Patriots of the United Irishmen, the Young Irelanders, the Fenians, the Land League, na Fianna Éireann, Irish Volunteers, Cumann na mBan, IRA, Official and Provisional IRA, the Irish National Liberation Army etc have all been commemorated by the NGA. According to Wikipedia, since its founding, the NGA has erected, or accepted into its care, over 500 monuments and memorials throughout Ireland.
A number of other Civil War/ Counterrevolution commemorative and discussion events will be taking place at least during this year, two of which will take place next week (see photos of leaflet).
The Gardaí remained at the scene as people dispersed. Passing by again shortly afterwards, we found the floral wreath had been removed.
1Official executions are usually listed as 81 or 83, these having been subjected to some kind of military judicial process (but without any jury). However, apart from IRA fighters killed in battle, a number of captured combatants were murdered (such as those of the Ballyseedy Massacre on March 7th 1923) while known activists were assassinated by Garda-Army squads operating from Oriel House. Often, the murdered had been tortured first.
This year’s celebration of the Patum 2022 festival in Berga has sung and chanted for independence. With the square full of about 6,000 people on Thursday, the massive Catalan independence flag, the Estelada (with the white star in a blue triangle)1 was launched across the crowd as they sang the Catalan national anthem, Els Segadors2 (the Reapers).
With the song finished, some began to shout “independencia” (independence) and this was quickly taken up by the mass, revisiting the tradition of protest that existed before the pandemic. The Catalan independence movement has been somewhat becalmed of late, with serious divisions between the two main nationalist political parties and a lack of grass-roots activity.
The Patum festival is a traditional Catalan festival of great importance and is recognised by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. “The fiesta coincides with Corpus Christi and includes a whole series of theatrical representations, characters and figures that fill the town of Berga every spring. It is a religious commemoration that dates back to the Middle Ages, which has managed to preserve both its religious and profane roots.
“La Patum de Berga has been held annually for centuries during Corpus Christi, and includes street entertainment and shows with different figures typical of these fiestas (giants, “big-heads”, eagles, guitas (dragons), plens (devils)). Fire and dance play a central role. The fiesta really gets underway on the Thursday of Corpus Christi, with the Ceremonial Patum. The salto de plens is the apotheosis of the fiesta. It represents an infernal orgy where fire devils jump to the rhythm of music. The following day is the Children’s Patum.”3
Berga is in the Barcelona region but over 107km from the city (and about half-way to Andorra). The Patum Festival of this year 2022, which began Wednesday, June 15 and will last until Sunday, June 19, was expected to be even more crowded than usual after two years in a row without being able to celebrate it due to the pandemic.
1The other Catalan nationalist flag commonly seen is the Vermelha, with a red star and no blue. The white X on a black background is also flown but more rarely, it draws on history also and signifies ‘death before surrender’.
2An anarchist, Emili Guanyavents won the competition to compose the national anthem lyrics in 1899 and based it upon a traditional historical cultural expression arising out of an uprising of Catalan rural workers in 1640 against the chief minister of Philip IV of Spain. The lyrics are, as might be expected, very militant and, since even the Catalan lanugage was banned, the song was of course banned during the four decades of the Spanish Franco dictatorship
In mid-April (2022) Gardaí, the police force of the Irish State, broke down the door of Mick Plunkett’s home. They would not have been able to claim he resisted their entry or arrest (the usual explanation for injuries on the detained individual) – he was already dead. To be fair to them, this time they were forcing entry in response to concerns from people that Plunkett had not been seen and wasn’t answering calls. Still, Mick Plunkett’s door had been forced by police a number of times before – by the Special Branch, at least once by the Garda ‘Heavy Gang’ and another time by the special ‘anti-terrorist’ Paris police.
Mick was born into a working class family of ten siblings in Dún Laoghaire, in Kelly’s Avenue in the small area of council houses built for rent to the seaward side of the town’s main road (without however overlooking the sea itself, a view reserved for the big houses and hotels, later somewhat ruined by the DART wires and towers). Dún Laoghaire1, long-imagined as a area in which only the affluent or at least comfortably-off lived, nevertheless contained such council (formerly ‘Corporation”) houses in the nearby bottom of York Road, also Cross Avenue, Glasthule, Carriglee Gardens, Monkstown Farm and Sallynoggin areas.
As many of that era, especially among manual workers, Mick’s father died relatively young which left his widow Lilly to care for ten children with all siblings able to work and find employment contributing to the care of the rest.
Mick followed his father Oliver into a skilled manual worker trade, trained and qualified as a gas fitter-plumber and, by reputation, a good one; later he would often carry out repair jobs for neighbours free of charge or in exchange for fish caught nearby or by trawlers that docked in the harbour. “We saw and ate fish that many other people never saw,” said one of his sisters at his funeral reception in the evening.
Amidst the student and youth upsurge of the 1960s around the world, of which Ireland was also a part, many Irish youth of the time became rapidly politicised. The Vietnam War, Black struggles in the USA and South Africa, Civil Rights in the British colony, lack of sufficient housing in the Irish state (just as today!) were issues that engaged lively interest and which to people like Plunkett, called for solidarity and, in Ireland, direct action. At his funeral, Niall Leonach2, formerly of the IRSP, related how Plunkett, at the age of 17, had resisted the neglect of the young apprentices by his union and won improvements by organising a sit-in at the union’s office.
HOUSING AND HISTORY
The Dublin and Bray Housing Action Committees were campaigning for an end to slums and affordable rental housing around the city and Dún Laoghaire soon had its own Housing Action Committee too. Nial Leonach, former comrade of Plunkett’s told the mourners at Mount Jerome that a large public housing building program was initiated as a result of this campaigning, a program that not only replaced derelict inner city tenements but created large new housing areas such as that in Ballybrack in south county Dublin.
The Housing Action campaigns not only squatted homeless families, they also fought evictions, held marches and public meetings. And in at least one case, became involved in a struggle for historical building conservation.
The Dún Laoghaire group joined with conservationists wishing to save Frescati House, a large derelict building on acreage of the property planned by Roches Stores to demolish and convert into a shopping centre. The original building dated from 1739 but had been purchased by the largest landowning family in Ireland at the time, the Fitzgeralds and had wings added and the grounds planted with exotic shrubs. The house had been the childhood residence and favoured retreat of Edward Fitzgerald3, a much-loved leader of the first Irish Republican revolutionary movement, the United Irishmen, as late as 1797, the year before their Rising.
The figures heading the campaign were not only conservationists but fairly conservative too (Desmond Fitzgerald, son of a father of the same name who was Minister in a number of Fine Gael governments, was its chairperson). But it was of course the activist supporters of the DHAC who occupied the building in protest at plans for demolition and were subjected to a baton-wielding police attack to evict them.4
Niall Leonach told the crowd in the Mount Jerome chapel that the criminal charges against the arrested were serious but that as a result of Plunkett’s stratagem of issuing a subpoena for Liam Cosgrave5 to appear as witness for their defence, for the politician had been part of the conservation campaign, the more serious charges were dropped and, on the lesser ones, the penalties were lower-scale fines.
Much of DHAC soon became the Markievicz Cumann of Sinn Féin6, then a very socialist Irish Republican party, particularly in Dublin. The Civil Rights campaign in the British colony of the Six Counties became a focus for activity and Leonach told his audience that Plunkett had been particularly affected by the colonial police killing of a child by indiscriminate fire from machine-guns at a nationalist housing estate, the Divis Flats.
In 1969 the IRA, the military wing of Sinn Féin, was caught unprepared and largely unarmed to face the pogroms in the British colony, which was one of the reasons for the 1970 split in the party, out of which emerged the Provisional IRA and Provisional Sinn Féin.
Plunkett and others in the Markievicz Cumann, the three Breatnach brothers for example7, viewing the Provos as socially conservative, remained in what was now known as “Official Sinn Féin” but tried to change their party’s direction. Failing in that, they split, along with others such as the charismatic Séamus Costello8 and formed the Irish Republican Socialist Party in 1974.
It seems clear that the ruling elite of the Irish State viewed the IRSP and the associated INLA as a threat and decided to go beyond the standard and regular harassment, intimidation and petty and medium arrests9 with which they had been treating all Irish Republicans and some socialist activists.
FRAMED IN DUBLIN AND IN PARIS
On 31st March 1976 the Cork-Dublin mail train was stopped near Sallins, Co. Kildare and around £200,00010 was netted by armed men. The State decided to believe, at least officially that the operation had been carried out by the INLA and armed police raided the homes of 40 members of the IRSP and their families. The Gardaí beat up their victims and obtained “confessions” from a number of them – however, some who gave self-incriminating statements could not have been present and their prosecutions were dropped.11 Eventually, a trial in the political Special Criminal Court proceeded against Plunkett and another three IRSP members: Osgur Breatnach, Nicky Kelly and Brian McNally.
After many abuses of the legal system and the longest judicial procedure in the State, three of the four were convicted on the basis of their tortured “confessions” which they had denied. Forensic “evidence” was provided against the only one who had refused to sign a “confession” – an alleged lock of Plunkett’s hair12 was claimed to have been found at the scene of the robbery; that was insufficient and Plunkett was finally discharged. The others were released after years of campaigning13 and were paid a financial compensation but an official enquiry into the arrests, trials and convictions was never held and currently a campaign for such is underway.14.
Mick Plunkett remained politically active but after his arrest in the vicinity of an armed training camp was charged with “membership” and scheduled to appear before the Special Criminal Court. Plunkett, knowing the chances of acquittal in “the Special” were next to nil, decamped to France.
In Paris he and Mary Reid, a poet-activist and also formerly of the IRSP, shared accommodation. In the summer of 1982, their door was kicked down by armed police of the new special “anti-terrorist” French unit. Both were arrested, along with another Irishman Stephen King and charged with possession of automatic weapons and explosives. This followed the bombing of a delicatessen in the Jewish quarter of the city which was later revealed to have had police complicity.
Plunkett, Reid and King were accused of being part of an Irish-Palestinian cell, a figment of the special unit’s imagination. All three denied the charges and the accusation and the existence of such a cell, insisting that if any weapons and explosives had been found in their accommodation, it had been planted there by the police. Niall Leonach commented to the mourners in Mount Jerome that Plunkett had gone from being involved in the greatest miscarriage of justice in the Irish state to being accused in the greatest miscarriage of justice in the French State’s modern history.
Fortunately for the Irish accused, the special police unit was in serious conflict with the main police force and that helped bring to public view the fact that the armaments had, indeed, been planted on the accused by the “anti-terrorist” police unit. All three were released after nine months in jail and Mary Reid’s nine-year-old son Cathal had been taken into care. The whole case was by then such as to convince the Irish state authorities to refrain from severely embarrassing their French counterparts by requesting Plunkett’s extradition to face his charges in the Special Criminal Court.
Working in London at the time, I read the news about the arrests of Irish political activists in Paris and was shocked to see names I recognised. I remembered the last time I had seen Mick; I had been back in Dún Laoghaire on holiday and with four of my brothers we set off in Mick’s brother Jimmy’s rowing boat from a pier, Mick himself in it too. We had fishing rods and lines and began to fish as we cleared the harbour. Hours later as the sun dropped to the west, we turned back with our varied catch. Once inside the harbour it was quite dark and a large ship entering the harbour appeared to be bearing down on us and we couldn’t find our flashlight. The incident provided more excitement than we had wished for but seemed to give extra taste to the pints in the local pub afterwards.
Mick found happiness for a time with Tracy out of which union came their daughter Natacha. After the Good Friday Agreement Mick felt safe to returned to Ireland but Tracy remained in Paris with their daughter, Natascha visiting him and his extended family by arrangement on occasion. Plunkett seemed to have retired from political activity and had also withdrawn from social contact with many of his former contacts. His health deteriorated significantly but nevertheless his death came as something of a shock to many.
Many came to pay their respects at the funeral parlour where his coffin lay and to watch the wonderful collection of photos collected by his ex-partner, Tracy. His daughter Natacha was there to receive condolences and to offer shots of Irish whisky over the coffin (where tobacco roll-ups were also placed irreverently on the crucifix attached to the woodwork – Mick was reportedly an atheist). Natacha was also at the cremation service in Mount Jerome cemetery with her mother Tracy, where Plunkett’s coffin was covered in the blue version of the Starry Plough flag15 before being removed from the hearse, carried by relations and with the Seamus Costello Memorial Committee, in uniform and white gloves, providing a small ceremonial guard of honour.
Mick’s nephew Karl chaired the event and in turn called Jennifer Holland to give a short talk on Mick and his times followed by Niall Leonach, former General Secretary of the IRSP and close comrade of Plunkett’s, for a longer oration on Mick’s background and activism.
Karl provided many personal anecdotes from his association with his uncle and from within family stories, many of them amusing and some hilarious. He did not however avoid the political and recounted that many of them were kept unaware of the reasons for Mick’s absence and his apparent inability to travel back to Ireland even to visit. It was by going through some papers in his mother’s room that he came across the IRSP pamphlet on the Sallins case and was shocked; confronting his mother, the story began to be told.16
Recollecting the family’s trip to Paris to present two children for baptism in Notre Dame Cathedral which Mick attended, Karl spoke about their warm reception there and being touur-guided around by Plunkett, who had acquainted himself with much of the city’s history. One wonders whether that included the “Wall of the Communards” where in 1871, revolutionaries of the Paris Commune were summarily executed by French firing squads under the command of Marshall Patrice McMahon, descendant of Irish “Wild Geese” refugees from Williamite-controlled Ireland. Plunkett would hardly have been unaware of that history and its irony for the Irish.
SOCIAL, SONG AND FLAG
Later that evening in a large reserved section of the Rochestown Lodge Hotel (formerly the Victor Hotel) just above the large Sallynoggin housing estate, mourners and celebrants gathered to eat, drink and talk. Some had not seen one another for decades. Among the many reminiscences of the social and music scene in Dún Laoghaire in the later decades of the last century, including the remark that “our harbour is a marina now”, one of Mick’s sisters spoke of raids by the Special Branch on their family home, where children would be ordered or pulled out of bed and the mattresses and beds tipped over, allegedly searching for weapons.
Strangely perhaps, there was no performance of musicians or singers or even sing-alongs at the event, though the traditional song The Parting Glass was sung to Plunkett’s daughter Natacha and a small unexpecting audience on the covered patio outside. Later inside, by which time some had left and following a query about a ceramic badge of the Starry Plough worn by one those remaining, a whole length of the original green-and-gold version of the flag was unfurled, causing much interest and queues forming asking to be photographed behind it. And a little later, a man sang Patrick Galvin’s Where Is Our James Connolly? to much applause.
This was fitting for as the mourners had been reminded in Mount Jerome, Connolly17 had been a great inspiration to Mick Plunkett’s political activism and to the IRSP too. But not only that, for a building in Dublin city centre, formerly a hostel but empty for many years and very recently occupied by socialist Republicans in Dublin had been named Connolly House and had that very day witnessed a rally held outside it to resist a threatened Garda operation to evict the occupants.
It seemed to me that something other than the remembrance of a retired fighter alone had happened at the Plunkett memorial events, something more than the appropriate marker of a past and finished period in Irish history, as had been suggested by Holland in her oration. It seemed to me that the history of struggle in Ireland for national self-determination and social justice had to an extent been re-invoked, that it appeared to some extent as the ghost of struggles past but also as the gaining substance of struggles present and, in particular, yet to come. I think Mick would have been pleased and, in any case, in defiance of the declarations of Fukuyama and such idealogues, history is nowhere near finished or dead. As some have commented, it is not even past.
1A harbour town seven miles south of Dublin city centre, in Dublin County but administered by DL-Rathdown Council for some years now.
3He is more usually referred to as “Lord Edward Fitzgerald” which, apart from being somewhat historically inaccurate, does him a service. He was a republican, renounced his title and his sister Lucy said of him some years after his death in prison that “He was a paddy and no more; he desired no other title than this.”
4The Wikipedia entry on Frescati House and the campaign makes no mention at all of this sit-in, Garda attack or the subsequent court cases, of which there is ample documentary evidence. Hopefully someone will undertake its appropriate updating.
5Liam Cosgrave was a Fine Gael politician, son of the Leader of the Irish parliamentary Opposition from 1965 to 19873 and Taoiseach (Prime Minister) from 1973 to 1977, W.T Cosgrave.
6The Sinn Féin party has gone through many metamorpheses, from being a reformist dual-monarchy party, to revolutionary republican to constitutionalist. Constance Markievicz was a socialist Republican who took part in the 1916 Rising as an officer in the Irish Citizen Army – the name of a socialist revolutionary woman chosen for the cumann (‘association’, a branch of the SF party at the time) indicated an inclination towards revolution, feminism and socialism.
8Séamus Costello (b. 1939) was murdered by the Official IRA in Dublin on 5th October 1977.
9An example of the medium-seriousness was the charge of “membership of an illegal organisation” under the Amendment to the Offences Against the State Act, introduced in 1972 which required only the unsupported word of a Garda officer at rank of superintendent or above for conviction and a virtually automatic jail sentence of one to two years.
10€237,389.81 –without taking into account inflation — for today’s value
11Notably John Fitzpatrick, who years later publicly challenged the State to charge him with the offence to which he had “confessed” – there was no response.
12If it had been Plunkett’s hair, it had to have been planted by the Heavy Gang, since Mick had been nowhere near that scene and, in fact, the robbery had been carried out by the Provisional IRA. In addition, without the later development of DNA testing, all a sample of hair could tell, apart from its natural colour, was the blood-type of its owner.
13Some of those involved at the time, whether as victims or as campaigners, were present at some of the funeral events too, including Osgur Breatnach, Nicky Kelly, Caoilte and Peetera Schilders-Bhreatnach.
15The flag with a design in the shape of the constellation known as Ursa Mayor was of the Irish Citizen Army, formed to defend the workers during the strike and 8-month lockout of 1913 and later fought in the 1916 Rising. Originally the design was of the constellation in white or silver overlaid by the depiction of a plough in gold, with sword as the plough-share and all on a green background. A later version was the plain blue one with Ursa Mayor outlined in white stars. That version was the one in use by the short-lived Republican Congress of the 1930s and was for many years later, probably up to the end of the century, the main one displayed and therefore familiar to Republicans and socialists (even for years flown by the Irish Labour Party) but has now been largely supplanted by the original green version.
16This is not at all an unusual experience in Ireland and, whether by desire to protect the young, pain of reminiscence or even disapproval, much of our history has been concealed from generations for a time or even completely lost.
17James Connolly, revolutionary socialist, trade union organiser, historian, journalist, song-writer and one of the Seven Signatories of the 1916 Proclamation of Independence, was tried by British military court for his leading role in the Rising and executed by firing squad.
On Saturday 22nd January 2022 an event was held to commemorate the centenary year of the occupation of the Rotunda building in Dublin by 150 unemployed workers led by Liam Ó Flaithearta, a Republican and Communist and writer from Inis Mór (off the Galway Coast). The occupation took place two days after the formation of the Free State and was attacked by an anti-communist crowd while after a number of days the occupiers were forced out by the police force of the new state of the dismembered nation1. The event last week was organised by the Liam and Tom O’Flaherty Society.
The event began with a gathering at 1.30pm in North Great George’s Street, where the Manifesto had been printed in 1922.2 People then proceeded to the nearby Rotunda, site of the occupation in 1922.3
Seosamh Ó Cuaig from Cill Chiaráin, Carna, Conamara, opened the proceedings as Chairperson, ag cur fáilte roimh dhaoine i nGaeilge agus i mBéarla, briefly introducing the historical occasion and recounting how some companies, including Boland’s, had supplied bread, sugar and tea to the occupiers, before he introduced published historian and blogger Donal Fallon.
Fallon not only recounted the events of that occupation 100 years ago but also placed it in context of a number of other factors: the unemployment then in the State (30,000 in Dublin) and to follow through into the 1930s, the upsurge in workers’ occupations and local soviets, the reactionary nature of the government of the new state and of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church at the time, which was very supportive of the new regime and extremely hostile to any kind of socialism, along with the cultivation of a reactionary social and political attitude among sections of the population.
Fallon also commented on the censorship and otherwise neglect of Liam Ó Flaithearta as an accomplished modern Irish writer and hoped for his writing to become more popularised now.
Alan O’Brien, Dublin poet and dramatist, was welcomed on to the stage to read the Manifesto which had been issued at the time, copies of which were available at a nearby stall. One of the aspects of that document was a call for Dublin City Council to set up public works to provide paid employment for those out of work in exchange for services to the community.
Diarmuid Breatnach, singer and blogger was invited to the stage to sing “The Red Flag” because it had been sung there during the occupation. No doubt those in the Government, Church hierarchy and generally among reactionary people at that time would have been horrified by the lyrics and would have asserted that they were foreign to Irish culture and thinking. However, as Breatnach explained, the lyrics had been composed by an Irishman (see Appendix 1), Jim Connell from Meath. Connell wrote the lyrics to the air of The White Cockade and was appalled to hear it sung to the air of Oh Tannebaum, a Christmas carol. Breatnach had never heard it sung to the White Cockade air but had been practicing it for days and hoped he would be faithful to the original air.
Called by the Chairperson to sing a follow-up song, Breatnach sang most of the verses of “Be Moderate”, satirical lyrics published by James Connolly in 1907 in New York. There had been no air published for the song and it has been sung to a number of airs but he would sing it to the air of A Nation Once Again, which provides a chorus:
We only want the Earth, we only want the Earth, And our demands most moderate are – We only want the Earth!
The event was later reported by RTÉ briefly in English on the Six O’Clock News and also by video on TG4’s Nuacht in Irish including interviews with Fallon an a number of participants.
End main report.
THE RED FLAG: AUTHOR, LYRICS AND AIR
After the Rotunda occupation was terminated, Liam Ó Flaithearta emigrated to London, which is where the Red Flag lyrics had been composed twenty-three years earlier. The lyrics were composed by Meath man Jim Connell in London in 1889 to the air of the Scottish Jacobite march TheWhite Cockade — he was reported livid when he learned that it was being sung to the air of Oh Tannebaum, protesting: “Ye ruined me poem!”
Jim Connell was a Socialist Republican (he had taken the Fenian oath), activist and journalist who emigrated to England in 1875 after being blacklisted in Dublin for his efforts in unionising the docks in which he worked. Apparently he began to write the song lyrics on his way home from a demonstration in London city centre, on the train from Charing Cross to Honor Oak in SE London, where he lived and completed it in the house of a fellow Irishman and neighbour, Nicholas Donovan.
The lyrics have been sung by revolutionary and social-democratic (the latter less so now) activists all over the English-speaking world but also in some other languages in the years since.
Not mentioned in the Wikipedia entry on Jim Connell is the fact that he also wrote a book, apparently a best-seller in his time, called something like “The Poacher’s Handbook“. I’ve been looking for that book for years without success (DCC Library could find no reference to it).
UNVEILING PLAQUE ON JIM CONNELL’S HOME
Today there is a plaque on the two-storey house where Connell lived until his death in 1929, having been awarded the Red Star Medal by Lenin in 1922.
In the late 1980s a history archivist with the London Borough of Lewisham contacted the Lewisham branch of the Irish in Britain Representation Group, of which I was Secretary, to consult us about the erection of a history plaque on the house and the wording to use4. We attempted to have the words “Irish Republican” added to “Socialist” after his name on the plaque and were successful with “Irish” but not with “Republican”.
There was a handful at the unveiling at midday on a weekday, including a representative of the local Council, a couple from the Greater London Council including its Irish section, a trumpeter (who played the Oh Tannebaum air) and Gordon Brown (then just an MP). I believe this was 1989, the centenary of the song being written.
Brown’s speech did not mention Ireland once but as he finished, I jumped up on a nearby garden wall and while thanking those in attendance said that it was sad to see the country of Jim Connell’s birth omitted along with his views on Irish independence, particularly at a time when British troops were fighting to suppress a struggle for that independence.
This was during the age before mobile phones and I have no photos, sadly. So no big deal but the next edition of the Irish Post, a weekly paper for the Irish community in Britain, carried a report on the ceremony and my intervention. It was written by the columnist Dolan, who was the alter ego of the Editor, Brendan Mac Alua (long dead now) and a supporter of much of the IBRG’s activities.
I lived in Catford then, five minutes by bicycle from the site of the house and have photographed the plaque.
FENIAN CONNECTION BETWEEN LYRICS ACROSS TWO DECADES
The words and sentiment “Let cowards flinch or traitors sneer” in the Red Flag mirror some in a song celebrating Irish political prisoners, The Felons of Our Land: “While traitors shame and foes defame” and “Let cowards mock and tyrants frown”. Arthur Forrester wrote that song 20 years before Connell’s and it would be surprising indeed had Connell not consciously or unconsciously borrowed the construction and sentiment.
Arthur Forrester was himself of great interest as were his poet sisters, both raised by their Irish nationalist mother, also very interesting person and poet in her own right, in Manchester, known to Michael Davitt. Arthur was a Fenian and did time in prison for it5. He was also for a period proof-reader for the Irish Times! Frank McNally wrote an article about the song but I don’t have access to anything except the first few lines.
Lyrics of The Red Flag:
The People's Flag is deepest red,It shrouded oft our martyred dead,And ere their limbs grew stiff and cold,Their hearts' blood dyed its every fold.Chorus:Then raise the scarlet standard high.Beneath its shade we'll live and die,Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer,We'll keep the red flag flying here.Look round, the Frenchman loves its blaze,The sturdy German chants its praise,In Moscow's vaults its hymns were sung,
Chicago swells the surging throng.(chorus)It waved above our infant might,When all ahead seemed dark as night;It witnessed many a deed and vow,We must not change its colour now.(chorus)It well recalls the triumphs past,It gives the hope of peace at last;The banner bright, the symbol plain,Of human right and human gain.(chorus)It suits today the weak and base,Whose minds are fixed on pelf and placeTo cringe before the rich man's frown,And haul the sacred emblem down.(chorus)With head uncovered swear we allTo bear it onward till we fall;Come dungeons dark or gallows grim,This song shall be our parting hymn.
1Not long afterwards, the new Free State’s National Army, under the orders of Michael Collins, attacked a protest occupation by Irish Republicans of the Four Courts which began the Civil War of the State against the IRA, lasting until 1923 with over 80 executions of Republicans by the State along with many kidnappings and assassinations (such as Harry Boland’s and of course others killed in battle (excluding the shooting of surrendered prisoners, which the National Army also did on occasion). Some were even murdered AFTER the war had ended, for example Noel Lemass, his body left in the Dublin mountains.
2Possibly this was the same location which had housed the James Connolly College (raided by the Auxiliaries in 1921).
3Also the location of the first public meeting to launch the Irish Volunteers in 1913 and where much of the GPO garrison and others were briefly kept prisoner after the surrender in nearby Moore Street in 1916. And just beside it the Parnell Monument, across the street the location of the founding of the Irish Ladies Land League (where members were arrested) and diagonally in SE direction, Tom Clarke’s tobacconist and newsagent shop (occupied by the British Army during the Rising).
4The Lewisham branch of the IBRG had been founded in 1986 and founded the Lewisham Irish Centre in 1992, I think. It was a very active branch in campaigning, community and political work, ceasing to exist around 2002. The IBRG itself was founded in 1981 and was active on many issues, including anti-Irish racism, representation for the diaspora, release of the framed Irish prisoners, British withdrawal from Ireland, against anti-Traveller racism, plastic bullets and strip-searches. It was also for equality in general, being against all racism, gender discrimination and homophobia and one year shared a march with the Broadwater Farm campaign.
5 Despite the Irish diaspora having given the working class in Britain its anthem (The Red Flag), its classic novel (TheRagged-Trousered Philanthropists) and, among many social and trade union activists and leaders, two leaders of the first genuine mass workers’ movement in Britain (the Chartists — O’Brien and O’Connor), and having fought against the Blackshirts at the Battle of Cable Street, there is no BA in Irish Studies alone available in British Universities. The Irish diaspora is also the first migrant community in Britain and for centuries the largest, has made significant contribution to the arts and a huge one to rock, punk and pop music. It would seem that the British ruling class does not want its population to know in any depth about the Irish.
A group of Irish people were jubilant in London’s Little George Street on 15th December. The location was that of the UK’s Supreme Court and it was unusual for Irish people to be happy at a judgement of a British court. But the judges inside had quashed an appeal by the Police Service of Northern Ireland1 against a judgement of the High Court in Belfast, that the colonial police force had been wrong not to investigate the claims of fourteen men of being tortured in the British colony in 19712.
The claims related to what happened during the introduction of internment without trial in the occupied Six Counties in August 1971. What many internees experienced ranged from brutal treatment to torture: “Many of those arrested reported that they and their families were assaulted, verbally abused and threatened by the soldiers. There were claims of soldiers smashing their way into houses without warning and firing rubber baton rounds through doors and windows. Many of those arrested also reported being ill-treated during their three-day detention at the holding centres. They complained of being beaten, verbally abused, threatened, harassed by dogs, denied sleep, and starved. Some reported being forced to run a gauntlet of baton-wielding soldiers, being forced to run an ‘obstacle course’, having their heads forcefully shaved, being kept naked, being burnt with cigarettes, having a sack placed over their heads for long periods, having a rope kept around their necks, having the barrel of a gun pressed against their heads, being dragged by the hair, being trailed behind armoured vehicles while barefoot, and being tied to armoured trucks as a human shield” (for the soldiers against attack by the IRA). (Wikipedia)
Some were hooded, beaten and, having been told they were hundreds of feet in the air, were then thrown from a helicopter — but were actually only a few feet from the ground. In addition, they were subjected to disorientating “white noise”, forced to remain in stress positions for long periods and deprived of food, water and sleep. Fourteen men who endured this for seven days became known as the “Hooded Men” and have been campaigning for over 50 years to have the British State admit that in its Irish colony, it had tortured them. Interestingly, some of those techniques have also been complained of more recently – by prisoners of the British military in Iraq3 — and this despite a statement by the UK’s Attorney General in 1977 that the techniques would not be used by them again.4
Unusually, the Irish State5 took the case of the Fourteen to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and in 1976 obtained a judgement that “the five interrogation techniques” were torture.
The British State appealed the ECHR judgement and in 1978 won a judgement that although the treatment of the Hooded Men amounted to “inhuman and degrading treatment” and breached Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights it nevertheless fell short of torture6.
When documentation came to light proving that British Government Ministers had approved the treatment, the Irish State appealed the revised judgement of the ECHR but in 2018 was unsuccessful.
Meanwhile, the legal team of the Hooded Men pursued their case through the legal system of the UK’s Irish colony. In October 2014 the PSNI formally decided not to investigate the allegations, following which in 2015 judicial review proceedings against the PSNI, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and Department of Justice were initiated by Francis McGuigan, one of the ‘Hooded Men’. A co-appellant was Mary McKenna, the daughter of Sean McKenna, another of the Hooded Men, who died in 1975, never having fully recovered from his mistreatment. The proceedings followed the discovery of additional documentary materials relevant to the mistreatment of the men, which were featured in a 2014 RTÉ Documentary, The Torture Files.7
Following this Documentary, the Chief Constable stated that the PSNI would assess “any allegation or emerging evidence of criminal behaviour, from whatever quarter” concerning the ill-treatment of the Hooded Men “with a view to substantiating such an allegation and identifying sufficient evidence to justify a prosecution and bring people to court’”. However in October 2014 the PSNI took the decision not to investigate. In late 2017, the High Court ruled that the failure by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) to investigate the allegations of torture was unlawful.
Instead of accepting the judgement however the PSNI sought to appeal the High Court decision but in September 2019 the Court of Appeal ruled that the decision should stand. One would have to contrast the determination of the colonial police in the courts to their appalling record in investigating collusion between their own force and Loyalist murder gangs, for the PSNI then appealed to the UK Supreme Court. In November 2019 the UK Supreme Court upheld the decision of the colony’s Court of Appeal and the PSNI appealed that judgement too. The decision last week in London marks the end of the legal options of the colonial gendarmerie.
The very month the decision not to investigate the allegations of the Hooded Men was taken by the colonial police force, October 2014, Drew Harris had been appointed Deputy Chief Constable of the PSNI.
IMPLICATIONS OF JUDGEMENT
The implications of the High Court judgement for Britain and its colonial administration are that once again they have been shown to have deployed barbarous methods in their repression of resistance by the nationalist minority in the colony and that they have exceeded or ignored even their own laws.
As has been the case throughout the recent 30 Years’ War, with the system lying and trying to cover up the reality of its actions, then delaying by all available means, the judgement comes too late for a number of the victims, as only nine of the 14 are still alive.
Nevertheless, the judgement adds to a number of other judgements and admissions over the years, such as those surrounding the Bloody Sunday Massacre in Derry in 1972 and the Ballymurphy Massacre in 1971. On 13 December this year, the British Ministry of Defence and PSNI agreed to a £1.5m out-of-court settlement to compensate victims of the Miami Showband Massacre over suspected state collusion with loyalist terrorists.
Three members of the band died from explosions and bullets after they were forced to get out of their bus at a fake police checkpoint on their return to Dublin from the Six Counties. Stephen Travers, who was injured in the attack, said he was convinced he would have won his civil action to prove that there was collaboration between the State and terrorists but that the Government’s decision to “dispense with justice rather than to dispense justice” had motivated the out-of court settlement.
Had the UK’s Supreme Court rejected the Hooded Men’s case, the latter would have been free to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights – not that they had been tortured but that the police should have investigated their claims that they were. And, based on a similar case by the manager of a Basque newspaper against the Spanish State8, they would probably have won their case with damages awarded against the UK.
On the other hand, the Supreme Court decision puts the onus of investigating the accusations of the Hooded Men on to the PSNI, the very organisation deeply implicated in the treatment of the victims, the organisation which declined to investigate them previously and which justified its decision through the courts in the Six Counties and then in the Supreme Court of the UK.
But not only the British state and its colony are put into the dock by the Supreme Court judgement – Drew Harris, formerly Deputy Chief Constable of the PSNI is currently in charge of the police force of the Irish State, where he was appointed Chief Commissioner of the Gardaí in September 2018 on a yearly salary of €250,000.
APPENDIX — BACKGROUND
Creation of “Northern Ireland”:
The statelet of “Northern Ireland”9 was created in 1922 after Ireland was partitioned by the British Government at the end of 1921. Ireland had been invaded from Britain in 1169 and gradually entirely occupied and colonised by the invaders, albeit with its own semi-autonomous parliament which had been abolished in 1801, after the United Irish uprisings of 179810. Subsequently Members of Parliament elected in Ireland were required to attend the Westminster Parliament.
Following the rise of Irish nationalist sentiment after the suppression of the 1916 Rising, the 1918 UK General Election returned a huge majority of MPs in Ireland sworn to establish an independent Irish Republic. These formed their own parliament in Dublin, at first ignored but then later banned by the British. The guerrilla War of Independence of 1919-1921 convinced the British rulers to offer Ireland autonomy as a “Dominion” within the British system and under the Crown. However, at the same time, the British conceded to the demand of the unionist minority in Ireland to secede from the new Irish state and to remain a colony of Britain and in the UK. The Irish Free State was set up in December 1921 on 26 counties and the Northern Ireland statelet of six counties in January 192211.
From the outset the colonial statelet had been marked by the religious sectarianism of its local rulers, Presbyterians and Anglicans by religion and of unionist ideology, against a very large nationalist minority of mostly Catholics, representing the majority in Ireland as a whole. A raft of special powers empowered the statelet in repression of the nationalist minority; the colonial gendarmerie, abolished in the Irish state, continued in existence, with a part-time wing and even unofficial Loyalist militia in support and de facto anti-nationalist discrimination existed in every sphere: law, housing allocation, education.
In 1968 a campaign for civil rights for the nationalist minority began, to be met by truncheons, water-cannon, tear gas and bullets which however, merely drove parts of the minority into open insurrection. The colonial gendarmerie (the Royal Ulster Constabulary), even with the active support of the part-time B-Specials and Loyalist paramilitaries, was unable to suppress the uprising primarily in Derry but also in West Belfast and in August 1969 the British Government sent in the British Army to take control.
Initially the soldiers were represented to the nationalist population as being present to protect them from the sectarian colonial police and from the Loyalists but it soon became clear that their primary focus was to repress the risen nationalist population and the IRA began to take action against them.
Introduction of Internment Without Trial:
The Prime Minister of the “Northern Ireland” statelet, Brian Faulkner, recommended to his colonial masters that internment without trial be introduced against the nationalist population; this was agreed and “Operation Demetrius” began on 9th August and continuing over the 10th 1971 with British Army raids into nationalist areas, forcing their way into homes and dragging their captives away to be interrogated by RUC Special Branch, after which they were jailed. In the initial sweep the occupation forces arrested 342 men, sparking four days of violence in which 20 civilians, two IRA members and two British soldiers were killed and 7,000 people fled their homes. All of those interned were from the nationalist community.
The detentions without charge continued until December 1975 and by that time 1,981 people had been interned, of which 1,874 were from the nationalist community. Only 107 were Loyalists and none of those had been interned until February 1973. Resistance to internment continued after the initial sweep and from 9th to 11th August, British Paratroopers caused the death of 11 unarmed people in the Ballymurphy area of Belfast. In January the following year the Paras and other units attacked people marching against internment in Derry, killing 14 and injuring 12.
Internment was protested in the rest of Ireland and in other countries, including Britain. The Men Behind the Wire, an anti-internment song composed in 1971 by Paddy McGuigan and recorded by the Barleycorn group in Belfast, was pressed into disc in Dublin and shot to the top of the Irish charts, greatly exceeding in numbers of sales any record previously released in Ireland.
Through the little streets of Belfast, In the dark of early morn, British soldiers came marauding Wrecking little homes with scorn.
Heedless of the crying children, Dragging fathers from their beds; Beating sons while helpless mothers Watched the blood flow from their heads.
Armoured cars and tanks and guns Came to take away our sons But every man will stand behind The Men Behind the Wire.
Brian Faulkner, unionist Prime Minister of the statelet, who had asked the British to introduce internment, was hated by a great many people. When he died in March 1977 following an accident during a stag hunt, thrown by his horse Cannonball, an English communist composed a short song he named “Cannonball”.
Lord Faulkner was a hunter of men and of deer
And both have good reason to laugh and to cheer
At the death of a tyrant whose interests were clear
Those of imperialism that have cost Ireland dear.
Cannonball, Cannonball has many a friend,
From the top of old Ireland right down to its end,
Where the brave people struggle
In one resolute bid
To throw off their oppressors —
Just as Cannonball did!
The colonial gendarmerie formerly known as the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
3. The Court’s ruling that the five techniques did not amount to torture was later cited by the United States and Israel to justify their own interrogation methods, which included the five techniques. British agents also taught the five techniques to the forces of Brazil’s military dictatorship. During the Iraq War, the illegal use of the five techniques by British soldiers contributed to the death of at least one detainee, Baha Mousa.
4 “The Government of the United Kingdom have considered the question of the use of the ‘five techniques’ with very great care and with particular regard to Article 3 (art. 3) of the Convention. They now give this unqualified undertaking, that the ‘five techniques’ will not in any circumstances be reintroduced as an aid to interrogation.”
5 Unusually, because during the three decades of ill-treatment by a foreign power of people who were, according to the Irish Constitution its citizens, only in one other case did the Irish State bring a complaint against the UK to an international arena.
6 I admit that I fail completely to understand the distinction.
7. Rita O’Reilly, the journalist who led that program, also commented extremely well on the UK Supreme Court decision and the whole case on Prime Time on RTÉ this week (see Links).
8. Martxelo Otamendi, along with others detained, was tortured by his Guardia Civil captors when the Basque newspaper of which he was manager was closed by the Spanish State, alleging that it had been cooperating with terrorists. He was freed eventually and even later in 2010 the Spanish Supreme Court admitted that there had been no evidence against him or the newspaper – but neither admitted the torture nor ordered his allegations be investigated. Otamendi filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights in 2012 and in 2014 the ECHR found the Spanish State guilty of not having investigated Otamendi’s allegation of being tortured and awarded him €24,000 in damages and expenses from the Spanish state.
9. A misnomer since the British colony is not the northernmost part of Ireland, which is in County Donegal, inside the Irish state. “Ulster”, a name given by the Unionists to the statelet and frequently repeated in the British media, is also a misnomer since the Province of Ulster contains nine counties, six of which are in the colonial statelet but three of which are within the Irish state.
10. There were many uprisings prior to 1798, which was the first Republican one and there were many of that kind afterwards too.
11. Shortly after that the Free State, supplied with weapons and transport by the British, attacked the Republicans, who had been demonstrating their dissatisfaction with the Anglo-Irish Treaty. This precipitated a Civil War in which the Republicans were defeated.
Socialist Republicans gathered in Dublin’s main O’Connell Street on Saturday 4th December to reaffirm their commitment that Britain has no right to be in Ireland. The event, taking place on the nearest weekend to the centenary of the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, was organised by the Anti-Imperialist Action Ireland organisation and supported by other socialist Republicans including the Anti-Internment Group of Ireland.
One of the participants sang Irish revolutionary songs, accompanying himself by guitar, his unamplified voice ringing across the street and bouncing off the General Post Office opposite, location of the headquarters of the 1916 Rising. Another singer’s voice accompanied him in some of the songs.
Despite the cold, people passing on the street stopped to look, to take photos or video and, in some cases, to applaud. Some individuals also approached the participants to talk, while gestures of approval were being made from some passing public and private transport.
The event concluded with the singing in Irish of the first verse and chorus of The Soldiers’ Song, a patriotic fighting song, the air of the chorus of which was adopted as the national anthem of the Irish state (but regarded by many as the property of the unfinished national liberation struggle).
The Anglo-Irish Agreement was signed on 6th December 1921 in London by negotiators of the Irish resistance movement. What was conceded by the British ruling class fell far short of what the armed movement had been fighting for since January 1919 and led soon afterwards to civil war (1922-1923). Clearly the negotiators should have brought back the terms for approval or rejection by the Dáil (the banned Irish parliament), instead of first signing the document, which is what they did.
The Treaty offered Dominion status for Ireland as a member of the Commonwealth under the British Crown, i.e akin to that of the “white”-governed colonies such as Australia, Canada and South Africa. It also offered the British Unionists in the north of Ireland the right to secede.
The subsequent debate on whether to ratify the Treaty was at times bitter. Some felt the terms were the best they were likely to get, other that they offered a base on which to build for greater gains while others still felt they were a betrayal of Ireland’s long struggle for independence and the sacrifices of two years of guerrilla struggle against state repression. The vast majority of the military organisations of the movement, the IRA and Cumann na mBan, were opposed to the Treaty terms but those in favour of signing gained a slim majority in the Dáil (64 in favour and 57 against).
The British unionists swiftly availed themselves of the terms, leading to the partition of Ireland early in 1922, six of the 32 Counties becoming a permanent British colony.
Some have seen the positioning around the Treaty in most of Ireland as signifying a trend led by the native Irish capitalist class and supported by the Irish Catholic Church hierarchy of putting the brakes on the national liberation movement and elements of its social content. From that perspective, the signing of the document in London signalled the first overt move of the counterrevolution which was sealed with armed force by the new neo-colonialist state through war, repression, imprisonment, kidnappings, torture and executions, both official and unofficial.
Both states in Ireland henceforth would be socially conservative, the colonial one religiously sectarian and the Irish one with the Catholic Church hierarchy as the regime’s arm of social control. The Irish state remained for decades under-industrialised and generally under-developed with constant emigration maintaining the population at its post-Great Hunger low point until near the close of the Century (and even today has not fully recovered).
Since the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed there have been armed challenges by Irish Republicans during the Civil War of 1922-1923, during the 1930s, WWII, the “Border Campaign” of 1959-1962 and of course the more recent war of thirty years.
In addition there have strong struggles for social rights against censorship and around gender and sexuality: the right to purchase prophylactics, divorce, female equality, homosexuality, pregnancy termination and gay marriage. Struggles have also taken place around housing, wages and workers’ rights, in defence of natural resources, infrastructures and the environment.
The Six County colonial statelet remains socially conservative and sectarian religiously. Both administrations maintain no-jury special courts for dealing with some political cases.
Clearly, the Treaty left much unfinished business.
Last Saturday in the Teachers’ Club in Dublin (26/11/21), the revolutionary music Grup Yorum from Turkey, with some Irish musician input, played to an audience of up to two hundred. In between performing different numbers from their repertoire, band members spoke to the audience of the history of the struggles of their people and of the band.
The Irish tour of the band was organised by the Anti-Imperialist Action Ireland organisation; earlier that week Yorum played in a small music venue in Belfast to around 40 people. The attendance in Dublin was so large that the location had to be changed from a large room on the first floor to the much larger hall down below.
In Belfast in the Sunflower Lounge, Bobby Fields from Armagh and Séan Óg from Dublin entertained those in attendance with songs of Irish resistance followed by Grup Yorum coming on afterwards. The Grup’s performance was enthusiastically received and was followed by a questions-and-answers session to learn more about the situation in Turkey.
The Grup members toured some of the area and visited the famous international solidarity wall along with the grave of Bobby Sands, where paying their respects included singing a song at the graveside.
In the large hall in the Teachers’ Club, Dublin, Séan Óg took to the stage first, playing guitar to accompany himself on guitar to sing The Killmichael Ambush, Viva la Quinze Brigada, Back Home in Derry1 and The Internationale. Veteran activist and traditional singer Diarmuid Breatnach followed, singing unaccompanied the Anne Devlin Ballad, I’ll Wear No Convict’s Uniform2and James Connolly’s satirical song Be Moderate3. Some of the audience sang along with some of the lyrics sung by each singer.
The four members of Grup Yorum present then took to the stage to huge applause and addressed the audience in Turkish, their words being translated into English by a member of their entourage. In the performance that followed, two guitars, flute and cajón were the instruments with a male and female leading voices. Each song was preceded by an explanation placing the piece in historical and political context.
Some of the songs in particular were clearly known to Turkish and Kurdish people in the audience and at some points they sang along, often waving an arm in the air. Towards the end of their performance the crowd got more and more excited and then Seán Óg joined them for a couple of numbers.
The Grup’s interpreter made a special appeal for help from those in attendance to pressurise the Turkish authorities to release political prisoner Ali Osman Köse who has been in solitary confinement for 20 years and has multiple health issues. There are fears for the man’s life as he has had a cancerous kidney removed in May of this year without any follow-up treatment and despite everything has been pronounced “fit” to continue in jail.
This was followed by members of the Resistance Choir taking to the stage to join Grup Yorum in a rendition of the Italian antifascist Bella Ciao! Song before Diarmuid Breatnach returned to the stage to bring the evening to a close with the first verse and chorus of Amhrán na bhFiann4 with members of the audience joining in (including some from Anatolia)
THE GRUP YORUM BAND
A revolutionary music band from Turkey, Grup Yorum members compose their own material and the band has has released twenty-three albums and one film since 1985. The band has suffered repression with some concerts and albums banned and members have been arrested, jailed and tortured, two members also dying on hunger strike. The band is popular in Turkey and as well as their albums selling well in Turkey and internationally, it has also given concerts in Germany, Austria, Australia, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, United Kingdom, Greece and Syria.
Grup Yorum publishes an art, culture, literature, and music magazine entitled Tavir, and several group members manage a cultural centre called İdil Kültür Merkez in the Okmeydani neighbourhood of Istanbul.
1The lyrics and air of Viva la Quinze Brigada are by famous Irish folk musician Christy Moore, who also arranged Bobby Sands’ poem to the air of the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald (by Gordon Lightfoot) as Back Home in Derry.
2Diarmuid sings this song to an air he composed himself.
3Diarmuid sings this to the air of A Nation Once Again (by Thomas Davis).
4Written by Peadar Kearney originally under the title The Soldiers’ Song and sung by insurgents during the 1916 Rising, its chorus is the official national anthem of the Irish State. However, it is also sung by many who are opposed to the State, particularly by Irish Republicans. Normally only the chorus is heard, sung in Irish (translation).
Replying to a query on Quora on the above question, I spent some time thinking and typing the reply and then thought I might as well make that effort available to a wider audience. I have participated in many Irish instrumental music and singing sessions over decades, mostly in London and Dublin and I have two brothers who are musicians and another who is a singer. I am myself a singer, not an instrument player, nor an academic but will attempt an answer. I would recommend consulting the Irish Traditional Music Archive and reading books on the subject such as Ó Súilleabháin’s and Ó Lochlainn.
Traditional Irish music has had many external influences and among the main forms of its dance expression, jigs, hornpipes and reels, only the latter is considered originally Irish. Polkas are particularly popular in Kerry and, I suppose, built around reels. There are also slip-jigs.
The best way to experience these is probably is probably at or viewing a set-dancing session. These are based in form on the “quadrilles” of the Napoleonic period (which can be found as far away as Latin America and Cuba) and are similar to English and US Old Timey square dancing. Probably all the variants of the Irish instrumental dance music will be heard performed among the various set-dances — virtually all sequentially in the deceptively-named “Plain Set”.
The form of dance called “sean-nós” (see description of the singing form by the same name further down) is individual expression, fast footwork with what one might also call “ornamentations”, similar to tap-dancing. The arms are held loosely down to the side or elbows to the side, slightly extended but also loosely. The overall posture may be erect or slightly stooped.
In terms of instruments used today, not one is believed to be originally Irish except the harp (which incidentally is the symbol of the Irish state, the only state in the world to feature a musical instrument in that capacity though we are far from being the only nation with a harp tradition).
The harp (there two main kinds, the smaller knee-standing and the larger resting on the floor between the knees) was described by Norman travellers (spies) prior to their invasion of Ireland but were known also in Wales (observers remarked not only on the aesthetic quality of the performances but also on their speed). A kind of drum was referred to by the travellers and some kind of flute but without any detail on either. The proliferation of instruments in a traditional Irish session are therefore far from being originally Irish: fiddle (violin), uilleann pipe, flute, whistle, accordion (piano or more likely button), concertina, melodeon, bazouki, mandolin, banjo and …. guitar. This last is mostly performed as an underlying rhythm instrument, a function also of the bodhrán (a kind of one-sided drum) and one may also hear a pair of spoons or sections of rib bones played for percussion. The guitar-player is often also the singer and given space to do so accompanied by his guitar, presumably in recompense for his restriction to rhythm performance the rest of the time. In many sessions there has grown sadly a tendency to restrict the performance of song to this individual or some other in the circle of musicians whereas in the past a member of the audience would perform the song; this restriction has led to the growth of song and even voice-only sessions (such as the Góilín in Dublin).
We owe the typical instruments in traditional Irish music to northern and central Europe, the Middle and Far East and to Africa. Many other instruments have been brought into use in performing Irish traditional music (including, famously, the Australian didgeridoo) but, apart from the proliferation of variations on the whistle, they have as yet failed to win popularity among musicians.
Traditional march airs also exist and, to my ear, have a tendency to be fast for the purpose. I have speculated that these represented trotting horses of the elites or warrior-caste with lower-ranking fighters running alongside — but that is pure speculation.
There are many slow airs and waltzes, definitely an import, have been composed and are also played.
With regard to the ethnicity of the performers this is not of great relevance and Irish traditional music on instruments and in voice is being played well in many different parts of the world or in Ireland by musicians with a non-Irish ethnic background. Naturally too the Irish diaspora has spawned many excellent traditional Irish musicians (and, we can remark in passing, in many other genres too: rock, pop, blues, jazz, classical).
The term “traditional” itself can open up a debate but with regard to song, I was offered this interesting definition some years ago: “author unknown, performed over three generations.” Authorship is therefore an issue as is permanency (or at least persistency). One feature of traditional music throughout the world, according to Ó Súilleabháin is never to end in a crescendo (although occasionally one may hear a traditional song or ballad treated in this way, it is rare).
However, as with “tunes” or “airs” in instrumental music, songs are being composed all along within the traditional or folk form, sometimes re-using known airs, sometimes adapting them and on occasion composing new ones.
It is important to note that ballads are not considered a “traditional” form, having entered Ireland in the 18th and 19th centuries but they are accepted in traditional singing circles.
THE SINGER AND THE SONG
Traditional-style singers not only eschew crescendos but also, in general, bodily gestures or dramatic pauses or changes of volume. There are emphases rendered on occasion but these tend to be subtle.
A form of singing known as “sean-nós” (literally ‘old style’) exists with regional variations. From experience and perception (but without formal study) I would say that the main distinguishing feature of this form is in the ornamentation of notes, viz. drawing some out to briefly twist around them (interestingly, one verb in Irish for “play” as in instrument or “sing” is “cas”, literally “twist/ turn/ weave”) and the ending of a line may have an additional note added. The Qawwali religious music of Pakistan and Indian shares many features as does parts of the Flamenco singing, albeit the latter is loudly expressive.
In terms of the great themes of Irish song (and at times of instrumental pieces) these are overwhelmingly love, patriotic struggle and emigration, with sub-categories, including some that merge two or even three of the main themes (hear for example “Skibereen” or the waltz-air “Slieve na mBan”.
PLEASE DON’T CLAP ….
A very important element of Irish traditional and folk singing is not only the performance but also the audience. The tradition is not for choral or duet etc singing with harmonies, though these exist but rather for the single voice. In this we differ from other Celtic nations such as the Welsh and Bretons but parallel the Scottish tradition as well as some other folk traditions, including some English and USA Old Timey expressions.
The tradition has been that a singer will be heard through to the end with perhaps some sounds of encouragement at various junctures (on occasion I have observed a noisy Irish pub become suddenly silent as the customers become aware that a song is being sung, remaining totally silent until the end of the song). Should there be a chorus, listeners may join in and a well-known and appreciated line may get listeners joining in too (think for example of the last line in the non-traditional form — but often sung in sean-nós style — ballad about the Great Hunger: “… revenge for Skibereen!”).
I should mention here that accompanying the beat in traditional music by clapping is certainly not “cool”, although traditional musicians performing on stage have been seen to encourage it (presumably in order to reduce the isolation feeling of the performers and to increase the enjoyment of non-perceptive listeners). In fact clapping overcomes the nuances of the performance as well as the concentration of the listener, therefore limiting the depth of the experience. “Tap feet by all means and clap at the end if you please” is the general rule.
I must note also in conclusion that Irish/ Scottish traditional music with some English folk contribution are the main influences in not only Old Timey USA music but also bluegrass and country & western, with spillover into some other forms. As such, this fount of music is responsible for the creation of the “white” or “European-origin” popular music of the USA, ie around half of the entire body. The other half is of African origin, in blues and jazz (in so far as these are not the same thing), giving rise to rock n’roll, swing etc. But both these “halves” have naturally had an influence on the other and in Ireland, traditional music is also influenced by — and contributes to — “crossover” variations of music.
I would comment also that socially and politically Irish musicians have tended to identify to one degree or another with the people and their resistance and were often persecuted for doing so. This was natural, given that they mostly came from the Irish population and that was where they found their audience. In that regard it is sad to note that some, including the Chieftains musician group and singer Imelda May, performed at a state banquet in Dublin a few years ago for the English Queen, who is head of the UK state and of the British Armed Forces, currently occupying one-sixth of our small national territory and also invading other parts of the world.
In 1843 the lyrics of In Memory of the Dead were published anonymously in The Nation but it seems to have been an open secret in Dublin political circles that the author was John Kells Ingram. As often happens, the song became known by its opening line “Who Fears to Speak of ‘98” and years later Ingram admitted having written the lyrics. Though it never once mentions Daniel O’Connell, taken in context of its subject, time and where it was published, the song was a blistering attack on the politician and his Repeal of the Union organisation. Yet while Kells Ingram was many things, he was no revolutionary — unlike the editors of the Nation and many of its readers.
John Kells Ingram was a mildly nationalist mathematician, economist, philosopher and poet who was selected to write expert entries for the Encyclopedia Britannica. But although he was no revolutionary it is clear that he felt a distaste for O’Connell’s distancing himself from the memory of those who had risen in rebellion four decades earlier.
Supporting O’Connell initially, The Nation sought to create a patriotic and indeed revolutionary culture through its pages. One of The Nation’s founders and editors, Thomas Davis was perforce also one of the periodical’s contributors and his compositions The West’s Awake and A Nation Once Again are still sung today, the latter very nearly becoming Ireland’s national anthem. The lyrics of Who Fears to Speak celebrated historical memory of resistance and lamented death and exile, the latter to the USA, where many of the surviving United Irish had gone (“across the Atlantic foam“). Davis’ In Bodenstown’s Churchyard, commemorated and celebrated Theobald Wolfe Tone, remembered as the father of Irish Republicanism and martyr.
Three years after co-founding The Nation, Thomas Davis died of scarlet fever in 1845, a few months short of his 31st birthday. Two years later, in “Black ‘47”, the worst year of the Great Hunger, the Young Irelanders finally and formally split from O’Connell’s Repeal Movement and in 1848 had their ill-fated and short uprising – again jail and exile for the leaders followed. Just under a score of years later, 1867 saw the tardy and unsuccessful rising of the Fenians with again, resultant jail sentences and exile (in addition to the executions of the Manchester Martyrs).
Two years following the rising of the Young Irelanders, in 1850 Arthur M. Forrester was born near Manchester in Salford, England (the “Dirty Old Town” of Ewan McColl) and in 1869 his stirring words of The Felons of Our Land appeared in Songs of a Rising Nation and other poetry (Felons reprinted by Kearney Brothers in a 1922 collection including songs by Thomas Davis). Songs of a Rising Nation was a collection published by the militant and resourceful Ellen Forrester from Clones, Co. Monaghan, who struggled to raise her children after the early death of her husband and included poems by her son Arthur and daughter Cathy.
Felons of Our Land indeed contains some of the themes of Who Fears to Speak (of which Arthur was doubtless aware) but in addition those of jail and death on the scaffold. By that time, the Young Irelanders had been added to the imprisoned and exiled, some in escape to the USA but others to penal colony in the Australias. And Forester added the theme of pride in our political prisoners:
A felon’s cap’s the noblest crown
an Irish head can wear.
We love them yet, we can’t forget
the felons of our land.
Twenty years after the publication of The Felons of Our Land, in 1889, another Irishman, Jim Connell, writing in SE London, would contribute the lyrics of the anthem of the working class in Britain, The Red Flag. Although commonly sung to the air of a German Christmas carol, Connell himself put it to the the traditional Jacobite air of The White Cockade. Connell, from Crossakiel in Co. Meath, also invoked historical memory and included the theme of martyrdom in explanation of the flag’s colour:
The workers’ flag is deepest red —
it shrouded oft’ our martyrs dead,
And ‘ere their limbs grew stiff and cold
their life’s blood dyed its every fold.
The traditions and themes of resistance and struggle are handed from generation to generation and song is one of the vehicles of that transmission. But songwriters borrow themes not just from history but from the very songs of the singers and songwriters before them. In 1869 Arthur M. Forrester wrote in Who Fears to Speak of ‘98:
Let cowards mock and tyrants frown
ah, little do we care ….
Jim Connell, three decades later, took up not only the themes but also that line:
Let cowards mock and traitors sneer,
we’ll keep the red flag flying here.
References in lyrics to themes
In Who Fears to Speak of ‘98 (1843)
Some on a far-off distant land
their weary hearts have laid
And by the stranger’s heedless hands
their lonely graves were made.
But though their clay
be far away
Across the Atlantic foam …
In The Felons of Our Land (1869)
“…We’ll drink a toast
to comrades far away …
…. or flee, outlawed and banned
In The Red Flag (1889)
In Who Fears to Speak of ‘98 (1843)
In The Felons of Our Land(1869)
(Apart from the title and refrain)
… though they sleep in dungeons deep
Some in the convict’s dreary cell
have found a living tomb
And some unseen unfriended fell
within the dungeon’s gloom …
A felon’s cap’s the noblest crown
an Irish head can wear……
In The Red Flag (1889)
Come dungeons dark or gallows grim ….
of martyred death:
In Who Fears to Speak of ‘98 (1843)
Alas that might should conquer right,
they fell and passed away …..
In The Felons of Our Land (1869)
….. Some on the scaffold proudly died …
In The Red Flag (1889)
….. their life’s blood dyed its every fold ….
….. to bear it onward til we fall;
Come dungeons dark or gallows grim,
this song shall be our parting hymn.
of cowards and/ or traitors:
In Who Fears to Speak of ‘98 (1843)
Who fears to speak of ‘98,
who blushes at the name?
When cowards mock the patriot’s fate,
who hangs his head for shame?
He’s all a knave or half a slave
Who slights his country thus …
In The Felons of Our Land (1869)
…. And brothers say, shall we, today,
unmoved like cowards stand,While traitors shame and foes defame,
the Felons of our Land.
Let cowards mock and tyrants frown, …
In The Red Flag (1889)
. ..Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer (repeated in the chorus, sung six times)
It suits today the weak and base, Whose minds are fixed on pelf and place To cringe before the rich man’s frown, And haul the sacred emblem down.
of the higher moral fibre of revolutionaries:
In Who Fears to Speak of ‘98 (1843)
Repeated reference in every verse to such as
a true man, like you man and you men, be true men etc.
Alas that Might should conquer Right ….
In The Felons of Our Land (1869)
… No nation on earth can boast of braver hearts than they ….
And every Gael in Inishfail,
who scorns the serf’s vile brand,
From Lee to Boyne would gladly join
the felons of our land.
In The Red Flag (1889)
The banner bright, the symbol plain, Of human right and human gain.
With heads uncovered swear we all To bear it onward till we fall; Come dungeons dark or gallows grim, This song shall be our parting hymn.
of eventual victory:
In Who Fears to Speak of ‘98 (1843)
… a fiery blaze that nothing can withstand …
In The Felons of Our Land (1869)
None – but inferred.
In The Red Flag (1889)
It well recalls the triumphs past, It gives the hope of peace at last; The banner bright, the symbol plain, Of human right and human gain.
For months the Duque government in Colombia has been unleashing violent repression on its people, in particular those who organise or participate in protests. The statistics are frightening, which is what they are intended to be: 40 dead, hundreds injured (some with loss of an eye), nearly 170 “disappeared”. Yet the people continue to protest.
What all this has exposed is that Colombia, despite its support by western states, has no democracy and that its vaunted “peace process”, like all others elsewhere before it or since, has had nothing to do with peace but everything to do with pacification. Unlike many in other parts of the world however, its acceptance by the FARC was the prelude to intensified State repression, with assassinations of leaders and activists of popular democratic movements. Also exposed is the lie that Colombia and the USA are truly involved in a “War on Drugs”, a commodity the sale of in which most of the political class of Colombia are involved and the profits in which the financial institutions in Colombia and much of the world are active in laundering.
Meanwhile, the people are subjected to economic squeeze, they protest, they are shot, beaten, tortured, raped, disappear ….
In two weeks of protests, statistics from the Defensoria del Pueblo (a kind of Ombudsman), listed 42 dead and 168 reported “disappeared”; of the dead, 41 were civilians and one was a member of the State security forces. A 17-year-old female demonstrator was reportedly sexually abused by four police officers and took her own life afterwards. Protesters burned the station where it happened but the officers themselves remain at large.
Protestors burning the station where police officers sexually violated a 17-year-old demonstrator who took her own life afterwards.
WHO KILLED VILLA?
Lucas Villa Vasquez, an iconic figure in the peaceful demonstrations, dancing and carrying out acrobatic acts, was shot during the General Strike, was declared brain dead in hospital and had his life-support system turned off, his heart stopping finally on 11th of May. Andrés Felipe Castaño, a 17-year-old youth shot on the same day underwent two operations before he could come off the critical list.
Who killed Villa? Not Duque, the President wanted people to believe as he sent a message of condolence to Villa’s family, the first personal condolence he has offered since the demonstrations – and the killing – began, except for the one police officer killed so far. Not the Police, their Director General, Major General Jorge Luis Vargas Valencia insisted, insisting his force is working hard to find the culprits and that a reward for information has risen to 100 million pesos1 for information. But people who know how these things work are only in doubt about one question: was it the police themselves who killed Villa and nearly killed Andrés Felipe, or was it one of the State-sponsored fascist gangs (which have strong links with the police and army)?
Villa has joined over 40 martyrs known to have been killed by the forces of the State; since their names are known only to their families or smaller political and social circles, Villa’s name stands for them all. As did Dilan Cruz before him, shot at close range to the head by a “non-lethal” beanbag in October 2019. And what of the nearly 170 disappeared? Are some of them already dumped into pits or rivers? Others in prison cells, awaiting their next session with the torturers? Or in the case of female prisoners, awaiting their next incident of violation?
Man in blue top and white trousers dancing in some clips was Lucas Villa Vasquez
Two Latin American league soccer matches in Colombia were affected on Wednesday: Visitors from Argentina’s River Plate team had their warm-up in Barranquilla abandoned for awhile due to the volume of police tear gas drifting in from outside and loud bangs could be heard also. That was a Copa Libertadores game and another, between Atletico Nacional and Nacional of Uruguay in Pereira was delayed by an hour due to protests there.
The South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) moved matches from Colombia to Paraguay and Ecuador last week to ensure the protests did not affect games but the Copa America is due to be held in Colombia and Argentina next month with Colombia hosting 15 games including the final of the world’s oldest international tournament. The title match is due to be held in Barranquilla on July 10.
“SUSTAINABLE SOLIDARITY” WITH WHOM?
Part of the reason for the protests in the first place was the proposed tax reform by another name: Sustainable Solidarity Law. The Duque Government plans by this system to collect 23 billions in Colombian pesos (US$ 6,300 millions) by extending its tax base, to avoid any further increase in the country’s international risk qualification, to institutionalise the basic income level and build a fund to comply with its environmental protection targets.
Well, ok, but who is going to pay this tax-by-another name? According to the Minister of Finance himself, Alberto Carrasquilla, 73% is to be contributed by ordinary citizens and the rest by the companies.
Art in active resistance
In addition, the law proposes to apply the collection of Value Added Tax, which in Colombia is up to 19%, to basic consumer products such as public services (water, electricity and gas), funeral services, electronic items such as computers and other services that have been exempt until now.
Add to that ongoing State repression in the countryside, the number of unemployed nationally rising to 4.1 million as a result of the pandemic and the country was ready to take to the streets. But not ready for the repression of the demonstrators that followed.
President Duque asked the Colombian Parliament to withdraw the new tax reform which they did but the people are on their feet now, as they say there; now they have martyrs too on top of the issues they already had.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
It is up to the people of Colombia, the workers, civil servants, small business people, indigenous – to free themselves. None else can do it. But we owe them solidarity, just as we in turn have claimed solidarity (and will claim again) from others. It is difficult at the moment to see how our solidarity can express itself in much more than symbolic form, such as pickets, demonstrations, articles and memes on social media. But even those have more than a moral effect, for the Colombian Embassy staff here have as part of their duties to collect information on how the regime in Colombia is viewed in Ireland and to report that to their bosses at home. And since the Colombian ruling class needs to do business around the world ….
The Colombian masses also need to know that they do not stand alone, that others are watching, applauding them, cursing their enemies, mourning their martyrs.
We can also assist by continuing our efforts against another faraway enemy of democracy, the main instigator and protector of reaction, repression and oppression around the world, and main external supporter of the Colombian regime, trainer of its repressive forces – the ruling class of the United States of America.
Solidaridad con el pueblo Colombiano! Dlúthpháirtíocht le poball na Colóime!
TV news report on the general strike, general protests against killing by government forces; mothers and grandmothers of murdered protesters demonstrate against “Public Order” forces; Duque tries to present concern and gives a concession to students at a certain level: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xz8ed0hS6OQ