BERNADETTE TAKES ON THREE AND WINS

Introduction by Diarmuid Breatnach

The right-wing patrician UStater William F Buckley (despite the Irish surname) and two dogs, one of them the imminently slappable racist Tory Roger Evans, take Bernadette Devlin (now Devlin-McAlliskey) on and she wipes the floor with them. She was a month short of 25 years of age when she sat this interview in late March 1972, without any notes to hand, keeping up with the arguments, never losing her temper, reeling off historical facts and financial figures. It was a stellar performance.

Even more remarkable, not two months had passed since the Paras had shot 26 unarmed marchers in Derry, murdering 14 men at a march she had herself attended and, though then an MP, she had been refused permission to speak on it in the House of Commons, while lies were being stated by people who had not been there. Also, her interview took place only a month after the travesty of an inquiry into the murder by Lord Widgery who completely exonerated the gunmen and their officers, maintaining they were acting in self-defence against all evidence except the soldiers’ and Widgery even claimed a march of at least 30,000 was at most around 3,000! It seems that there must’ve been an agreement not to mention Bloody Sunday, perhaps as a condition for the interview, otherwise what else can explain its omission?

Bernadette Devlin, Member of Parliament for Mid-Ulster, speaking at a rally in Trafalgar Square, London, on June 1, 1971. (AP Photo) (Note: Trafalgar Square was later banned to Irish solidarity demonstrations for decades).

Bernadette came out against the Good Friday Agreement when it was born, not pushing armed struggle as an alternative but stating that the GFA institutionalised sectarianism and because she accused the Provos of seeking alliances with the Right and capitalism rather than with the Left and the working class. She would have been a powerful voice against the GFA and could not be accused of being in a ‘dissident’ armed group but the British State held her daughter Roisin, who was pregnant, hostage and Bernadette stepped back from that issue. She was marginalised by the Republican movement in the 1970s and 80s, along with being shot 14 times in front of her children (her husband shot too) in 1981 and lost to us as a national leader again in the first decade of the GFA.

Watching this discussion brings back to mind all the economic and political issues that were around at the time, especially as Bernadette reels them off, many of them largely forgotten. All the fudges and lies of British governments avoiding doing anything fundamental to improve things even within an illegitimate colonial context.

End.

https://ansionnachfionn.com/2021/03/27/bernadette-devlin-mcaliskey-versus-william-f-buckley-jr/

A FOOTBALLER AND RACISM WITHOUT COLOUR

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time main text: 10 mins.)

Current media news reports quote James McClean, a player for the English Football League club Stoke City and for the soccer team of the Irish State1, protesting against being subjected to anti-Irish racism and his wife Erin also, not so much on her own behalf but in consideration of her three children. McClean points out that while other kinds of discrimination are rightly opposed, anti-Irish racism goes largely ignored by British society and by the football profession. Despite its existence for 800 years and its persistence today, anti-Irish racism has long been neglected in the study of racism and the struggle against it.

James MacClean, who comes from Derry, has been made a controversial figure by his refusal to comply with the expectation that he wear a Remembrance Poppy, which he correctly sees as a promotional emblem for the British Army. As a result he has been subjected to sectarian Loyalist abuse and anti-Irish abuse targeting him and his family.

Erin and husband and footballer James MacClean, enjoying a social occasion. They have been harassed by anti-Irish racism and threats to them and to their children. (Photo source: Internet)

The origins of anti-Irish racism can be traced back to the writings of Anglo-Norman Gerald of Wales (Giraldus Cambrensis) in the latter half of the 12th Century. Coming from a background of Norman feudal culture and a comparatively recent history of conquest of large parts of Celtic and Saxon Britain2, Gerald found little to admire in Gaelic culture3 or society and much to deride. The feudal Norman visitors were encountering a culture of clan ownership of land, of election of clan leaders and greater kings who might not be first-born, of a Christian clergy that was not celibate and in which women could own their own property before, during and after marriage with the right to divorce. A culture shock indeed.

The writings of Gerald helped justify the 1169 opportunistic invasion of Ireland at the invitation of a resentful overthrown Irish king. With that beachhead well-established and the Irish Vikings of Dublin evicted by Richard de Clare, “Strongbow” in 1170, anti-Irish racism served to justify the official invasion of Henry in 1171 backed up by the authorisation of Pope Adrian IV with the Papal Bull Laudabiliter, a 1155 letter of ecclesiastic authorisation, to bring the semi-independent Irish church to the Gregorian Reforms.4

Despite the early scorn and distaste of the Norman invaders for Irish culture, within less than two centuries they were becoming integrated with it to such an extent as to cause alarm among the English Normans. The latter drafted a number of laws forbidding elements of that integration, the most infamous being the Statutes of Kilkenny in 1366, forbidding the Irish Normans from adopting native Irish customs, forms of dress and use of the Irish language; they had become “more Irish than the Irish themselves”, their critics in England complained. Inside the “Pale”, the central enclosures of the occupiers’ power, the Statutes could be enforced but not outside and so Ireland remained essentially Gaelic in culture, with some cultural transference from the Normans.

Control of Irish territory breakdown 1450 (Image sourced: Internet)

For the conquest to be secure, Ireland needed to be conquered entirely and plantations of people seemed the way to achieve this: send in settlers, give them expropriated land which they they would have to defend. This was the approach of the Tudor monarchs of England and to a requirement that the settlers would be English-speaking they added the new religion, that of the Protestant Reformation. Settlements had to be capable of defence5 and no “mere Irish” should be employed.

Dispossession, plantation and oppression continued through the 17th Century under Cromwell and King William and through the Penal Laws thereafter up to the 19th.

Land distribution in ireland after the Cromwellian Resettlement Act 1652 (Image sourced: Internet)

The native Irish (Gael) and now also the Norman Irish (Gall-Ghael) were the enemy surrounding these settlements outside the Pale, they had been dispossessed and would no doubt recover their lands and their sovereignty if given the chance. And they were by far the majority. Justification for conquest and dispossession required an appropriate ideology and this was found in the assumed superiority of the occupiers’ religions, language, culture and polities. And the natural corollary to that was an ascribed inferiority to everything among the natives: language, religion, cultural habits and mores, dress … Naturally practical physical measures were required also: oppression, discrimination and repression of resistance.

The Irish were characterised as savage, child-like, emotional, untrustworthy (they agreed to treaties when beaten but broke them later6), superstitious, violent (they kept resisting the lawful authority or even uprising), drunkards, dirty ….

Following the scientific breakthrough of Darwinism came “Social Darwinism” and some Victorian pseudo-anthropologists placed the Irish as a Celtic Iberian race below the Teutonic (with which of course they identified the English) but above the “African Hottentot”. The Irish and Latin “races” were described as of “feminine” nature: emotional, weak, charming at times, unintelligent, needing to be controlled; while the “masculine” Anglo-Teutonic “races” were strong, measured, logical and obviously the right ones to be in control.

Éire struggling with Famine, which was in reality an imposed holocaust — while the irish starved, due to a blight on their staple food of potato, their other products were collected for rent and left Ireland in ships for Britain. (Image sourced: Internet)

Irish uprisings increased the sense of insecurity of the conquerors and occupiers and intensified their efforts to justify their oppression and repression of the Irish so that Victorian Britain during Fenian campaigns churned out jokes against the Irish, along with nasty tales and horrible caricatures in popular newspapers. But not just popular newspapers: as the Irish starved in the Great Hunger of the mid-19th Century while their produce fed the British industrial revolution, the London Times, newspaper of record for the British ruling class, exulted in an editorial that the the Irish (survivors) were leaving and that soon an Irishman would be as rare in Ireland as the American Indians on the North-East Coast of the USA.

“The Irish Frankenstein” (sic) 1882, popular Punch magazine (Image sourced: Wikipedia)
Anti-Eviction Rally in they Land War, 1850 (Image sourced: Internet)

EXPORTING ANTI-IRISH RACISM

Not surprisingly, a central ideology such as anti-Irish racism accompanied the British wherever they went, despite the number of Irish in their armies and administrative layers. Boston, Massachusetts was particularly known for ant-Irish prejudice and discrimination and that may explain why the Irish community there was reportedly so clannish and defending its hard-won turf against all comers, including unfortunately competition from those considered even lower than the Irish, African Americans7. The anti-Irish ideology made itself felt in the white-ruled colonies, later Dominions of Australia, New Zealand and Canada too.

A common enough sign in Britain and white settler British dominions during certain periods (Image sourced: Internet)

A strange case of the dissemination of this virus was its export to Scotland, a nation although of Celtic origin, heavily settled by Normans and Saxons, and incorporated into the United Kingdom in 1707. This was in particular of Ulster origin and took the form of anti-Catholicism. The English occupation had consciously stirred up religious sectarianism in the 1790s in order to break up the growing unity of Protestant Irish of various backgrounds with the Catholic vast majority which was framed in a republican project for greater independence. An important part of that subversion was the creation of the Orange Order in Loughgall in 1795, which became active in helping to suppress the United Irishmen uprising of 1798 and especially in repression afterwards, both against Republican Protestants and Catholics in general. As the Republican element among the Protestants decreased dramatically due to repression and emigration, the Order concentrated almost exclusively on oppression of Catholics and repression of resistance, a role it plays to this day.

But with the decline of the Ulster weaving industry in particular due to Ireland entering the UK in 1801 and British preferential treatment of their own production, many Ulster emigrants came to Scotland and were in competition for work, with the Orange Order being used to infect the already widely Protestant Scottish society against the Catholics which meant essentially, against the Irish. That has continued to this day (see References) and finds its expression in an often violent rivalry for example between soccer football teams of “Catholic” and “Protestant” background8, in Orange marches celebrating the victories of King William in Ireland and in discrimination in other areas such as policing too.

ANTI-IRISH RACISM IN THE 20th AND 21st CENTURIES

Anti-Irish racism was whipped up again during the 1916 Easter Rising and Irish war of Independence (1919-1921), and not just against the Irish in Ireland but against the Irish in Britain, in the USA9 and in Australia10. It raised its ugly head (and bared its teeth) again during WW2 (inflamed by the IRA campaign in Britain and Irish state neutrality) and again during the recent 30 years’ war.

An allegedly common lodging house sign in Britain, the existence of which is now disputed. What is beyond doubt is that those three exclusions (and of children) were advertised though not all necessarily all together. (Image sourced: Internet)

In the 1970s anti-Irish articles, jokes and cartoons abounded in the British press and to this ideological offensive was added the 1971 weekly program of The Comedians (“stand up comedians”), of which a huge proportion of their material was anti-Irish racism, depicting the Irish in particular as stupid. I was London myself during that period and remember that a “comedian” only had to say “There was this Paddy on a building site” and the audience would be already laughing. Bernard Manning was the most infamous of those but there were many, many others.

Bernard Manning, perhaps chief among a long line of British racist comedians. (Image sourced: Internet)
Perhaps a better aspect of Bernard Manning (Image sourced: Find a Grave)

Those jokes and others were repeated not only by comperes and club comedians but of course also at work, in school, at college and in universities. They represented a deeply degrading ideological offensive on a cultural level against the whole Irish community.

Apart from the Comedians TV program, a number of media personalities made racist jokes about or references to the Irish without any apology from the media or repercussions from their employers. Angus Deaton, for a long time presenter of Have I Got News For You, the popular British TV comedy news and current affairs commentary show, made a joke about the Irish (although participant Paul Merton, who said his mother was Irish, riposted brilliantly). Caroline Aherne, a comedienne who brilliantly played the biting chat-show character “Mrs. Merton”, was one of the few to speak out publicly against the racist “humour” but both her parents were Irish. Billy Connolly, Scottish comedian of Catholic Irish background, while discussing comedy, admitted to having told an anti-irish joke once when feeling lonely on stage, which he regretted. To the urbane Irish presenter Terry Wogan’s great credit while judging a popular British TV talent show, he declared anti-Irish jokes were not funny.

1974 saw the introduction of the Prevention of Terrorism (sic) Act and the framing and incarceration of two score innocent Irish people. Apart from raids on homes, spurious arrests without warrants, detention without charge and oppressive interrogations, thousands were questioned at ports and airports, often made to miss their flights at the latter. Though the charges falsely alleged involvement in “terrorist acts” the basis was Irishness, in a way very reminiscent to “Muslim” being considered sufficient justification today.

James MacClean playing for his club, Stoke City. (Photo credit: Northern Echo)

“INVISIBLE” RACISM

If a good working definition of racism is “discrimination against and disparaging of another ethnic group from a position of power”, then the Irish should have had no problems in gaining recognition as being racially oppressed and discriminated against. However, so many insisted that the Irish could not qualify because they were “white”. But in fact there already existed a “white” ethnic group which was widely acknowledge as having been discriminated against for centuries – the Jews. That however was explained by some as being a “religious discrimination” at root and not “racism”. The basic fact of the matter was and is that it did not suit the British ruling class or their intelligentsia to admit to anti-Irish racism – and not just because of guilt but for very practical reasons: they are still in conquest-occupation of nearly one-fifth of Irish territory. And the Irish diaspora is the oldest ethnic minority in Britain as well as, until recently perhaps, the largest11.

Cover of memoir by John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten, lead singer of the punk band Sex Pistols. Lydon was of irish descent growing up in North London. (Image sourced: Internet)

The British Left, the leading parts of which have either gained access to management of the British State or aspire to do so, for the most part have denied or minimalised anti-Irish racism. It took Liz Curtis to put together a popular illustrated booklet on anti-Irish racism and the Irish in Britain Representation Group, founded in 1981 to campaign against it. The IBRG made official complaints to and about the media and picketed WH Smiths12 until they stopped selling “Irish mugs” with the handle inside. While supporting general equality, the IBRG made complaints to local authorities about racist measures that impacted upon the Irish and sought to have an Irish ethnicity identification choice in the British Census, which was eventually successful.13 An approach of theirs to the GLC convinced the Council, under the leadership of Ken Livingstone, to withdraw all their advertising from the London Evening Standard until the latter apologised for publishing an anti-Irish racist cartoon. The Editor refused to apologise and never again received any advertising from the GLC14, at a revenue loss to the newspaper estimated at £2 million.

Mostly the Irish community fought the racism on their own, without the support of most of the British Left or the liberal-social-democratic elements. Even after the 1965 Race Relations Act the widespread feeling was that whether one was for or against the Act, it did not apply to the Irish. The Act specifically excluded shops and boarding houses (i.e places where notices declaring “No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish”) were widespread but they were included in the 1968 Act15. The 1976 Act was more comprehensive but the assumption of inapplicability to the Irish continued. It appears that it was not until the Killian case against the British pharmaceutical retail chain Boots in 1989 that an Irish person was successful in taking a case for discrimination16 under the 1976 Act.

James McClean for Ireland in International friendly match against Bulgaria at Aviva Stadium, Dublin, September 2019. (Photo credit: Seb Daly/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

The anti-Irish racist offensive mostly petered out at the end of the 1990s but flared up again in the British media during the whole Brexit saga. In 2015 Jeremy Clarkson flew into a rage with an Irish co-producer of the Top Gear show, abused him racially and punched him in the mouth. It is a virus or bacteria living deep in the British mainstream psyche; it recedes at times only to be reactivated whenever the British ruling class — or sections of the chattering class — perceive that the Irish are not acting in the best interests of Britain, whatever they perceive those to be.

End.

FOOTNOTES

1In the world of soccer football, there are two “national” teams competing for the championships: “Republic of Ireland” and “Northern Ireland”, a clear example of intrusion of politics into sport, for Ireland is one country and was recognised as such even by the English invaders (the inventors of soccer) from 1169 until they partitioned the country in 1921. Thus what is mostly recognised as the Irish national team has to compete against another team from a part of its own country in order to progress in championships!

2England suffered a Norman invasion in 1066 which gradually extended over the whole of Britain, the south-east of which had been already conquered by the Saxons.

3He admired Gaelic decorative art as expressed in illuminated manuscripts and harp-playing, describing them as “the work of angels”, almost expressing incredulity that they could have come from Gaelic culture. It is unlikely that he learned the Irish language, perhaps conversing with natives through the medium of Latin or an interpreter.

4The Gaels, who earlier had a pantheistic religion moderated by the druidic order, had been largely Christian by the 5th Century; furthermore the transition to Christianity in Ireland was not imposed by conquest and appears to have been largely voluntary; in addition the Christian monks recorded a great many of the pre-Christian myths and legends. During the Early Middle Ages the Irish Church sent out missionaries to many parts of Europe, establishing monasteries similar to universities as far away as Asia Minor.

5Hence the layout of triangle, square or diamond town centres of settler origin in Ireland, rather than native layout of lines of housing following road or river crossing and backing up behind, or congregating around harbour, fort or monastery. See also the design of even the small Protestant churches which look built to be used as forts, with strong doors and narrow windows, some even like arrow-slits.

6Compare this with the long history of conquerors, certainly including the English, repeatedly violating treaties they had made when victorious!

7Of course Boston was far from being the only US City where anti-black racism was the norm in Irish communities but it was perhaps the worst. Of course Irish anti-slavery, labour and civil rights workers also existed, some of them very prominent in their field.

8e.g supporters of Glasgow Celtic v. Rangers, of Hibernians v. Heart of Midlothian in Edinburgh.

9The British intelligence services were well aware that the Irish insurgency was receiving substantial concrete and moral assistance from the Irish diaspora in the USA.

10It had existed there before from in particular English settlers but reached hysterical proportions when two attempts to impose conscription in WW1 through referendum – because they feared to impose it otherwise – failed, a fact which was attributed by many to the Irish element in the (white) Australian electorate.

11Certainly the largest national diaspora

12 British equivalent of Easons in Ireland

132001; the opposition did not come from the British establishment alone but also from middle-class black activists keen to keep anti-racism as their preserve solely.

14The GLC was abolished by the Thatcher Government in 1985.

15Which was not applicable in the Six Counties, despite being a part of the UK

16 As in the early successful cases where the complainant was Irish, it was about discrimination in employment; later there were many about abuse at point of service as well of as employee.

REFERENCES AND FURTHER READING

General history of Anti-Irish Racism
Nothing But the Same Old Story: Roots of Anti-Irish Racism, Liz Curtis, (1984) GLC; 1996 Sásta reprint)

Apes and Angels: The Irishman in Victorian Caricature, L. Perry Curtis (1971, republished 1996 by Smithsonian DC

Ireland: The Propaganda War ; the British Media and the Battle for Hearts and Minds, Liz Curtis, (1984) Pluto Press; 1998 Sásta update and reprint)

The Irish Community – diversity, disadvantage and discrimination, Bronwen Walter, 1999 https://www.runnymedetrust.org/bgIrishCommunity.html

Anti-Irish Sentiment in Modern Britain: https://theyorkhistorian.com/2018/03/18/anti-irish-sentiment-in-modern-britain/

Snippets across the centuries: https://sheelanagigcomedienne.wordpress.com/anti-irish-racism/

Swift, Roger and Sheridan Gilley, The Irish in Britain, 1815-1939. London: Pinter, 1989.

Swift, Roger and Sheridan Gilley, The Irish in the Victorian City. London: Dover, 1985.

The use of the ‘cartoonist’s armoury’ in manipulating public opinion: anti-Irish imagery in 19th century British and American periodicals: https://www.jstor.org/stable/41932626?seq=1

A very rare occasion when a letter of mine was published by the Irish Times:
https://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/letters/anti-irish-racism-in-britain-1.4188132

MORE RECENT OCCURRENCES FROM PROMINENT BRITISH COMMENTATORS

2005 — comment on decades of anti-Irishness in the Daily Mail: https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/anti-irish-newspaper-plans-to-launch-edition-here-26213160.html

Jeremy Clarkson and anti-Irish racism: http://littleatoms.com/society/jeremy-clarkson-and-being-lazy-irish-britain

Daily Mail, 2017: https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/art-and-design/apes-psychos-alcos-how-british-cartoonists-depict-the-irish-1.3149409

Julie Burchill, 2018: https://london.eater.com/2018/1/26/16933806/julie-burchill-anti-irish-sentiment-nuala-es-mag-restaurant-review

John Cleese: https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/john-cleese-has-a-faulty-sense-of-humour-about-the-irish-1.4294487?mode=sample&auth-failed=1&pw-origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.irishtimes.com%2Fculture%2Fjohn-cleese-has-a-faulty-sense-of-humour-about-the-irish-1.4294487

Tony Abbot, leader of Australian Liberal Party at the time (2011): https://theconversation.com/the-problem-with-jokes-about-irishmen-2370

CAMPAIGNING AGAINST ANTI-IRISH RACISM

James McClean and wife Erin speak out against threats and anti-Irish comments received by them and against their children: https://www.forbes.com/sites/mikemeehallwood/2021/02/15/anti-irish-racism-condemned-as-james-mccleans-wife-shares-social-media-threats-against-their-children/

A year-by-year record of many activities of the IBRG, regular campaigner against anti-Irish racism: https://lipsticksocialist.wordpress.com

Battle to have an Irish category in the British census: https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-319-20095-8_7, Chap 7.2, paragraph 2.

GLC banning adverts over anti-Irish cartoon in the London Evening Standard: https://books.google.ie/books?id=fVcGDAAAQBAJ&pg=PT94&lpg=PT94&dq=GLC+ban+on+advertising+evening+standard&source

Asian man who won first successful case against racial discrimination in Britain mentions anti-Irish racism: https://eachother.org.uk/racism-1960s-britain/

British media racist cartoonist JAK: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raymond_Jackson

1977 comment: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/irish-suffering-in-britain-is-more-than-just-racist-jokes-1.85448

Exclusion of the irish from the anti-racism mainstream paradigm: https://discoversociety.org/2019/03/06/is-anti-irish-racism-still-a-problem-you-can-bank-on-it/

Commenting on anti-Irish Racism in Scotland

James MacMillan: https://www.heraldscotland.com/news/12398473.composer-celtic-fans-should-feel-free-to-sing-republican-songs-james-macmillan-claims-sectarianism-rules-out-pride-in-irish-roots/

Neil Lennon: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2018/nov/02/neil-lennon-sectarianism-racism-hibernian-scotland

TFN: https://tfn.scot/news/anti-irish-racism-is-rife-in-scotland

Event against anti-Irish racism in Scotland cancelled after threats: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/anti-irish-racism-event-cancelled-as-venue-receives-threats-of-violence-k2wdjxl3z

IRISH HISTORY … AND HERDS OF ELEPHANTS

Diarmuid Breatnach

Politics is about the present and the future, obviously … but it is also about the past.

Different political interests interpret and/or represent the past in different ways, emphasising or understating different events or aspects or even ignoring or suppressing them entirely. There is choice exercised in whom (and even what particular pronouncement) to quote and upon what other material to rely. And by “political interests” I mean not only groups, formal (such as political parties) or informal, but also individuals. Each individual is political in some way, having opinions about some aspects of questions that are political or at least partly-political. For example, one often hears individuals say today that they have no interest in politics, yet express strong opinions of one kind or another about the right to gay and lesbian marriage, the influence of the Catholic Church, and how the country is being run by Governments

So when an individual writes a history book, there are going to be political interpretations, although not all writers admit to their political position, their prejudices or leanings, in advance or even in the course of their writing. One historian who does so is Padraig Yeates, author of a number of historical books: Lockout Dublin 1913 (a work unlikely to be ever equalled on the subject of the title), A City In Wartime — 1914-1919, A City in Turmoil 1919-1921and his latest, A City in Civil War – Dublin 1921-’24. The latter was launched on Tuesday of this week, 12th May and therefore much too early for people for who did not receive an earlier copy to review it. So it is not on the book that I am commenting here but rather on the speeches during the launch, which were laden with overtly political references to the past and to the present. If a review is what you wanted, this would be an appropriate moment to stop reading and exit – and no hard feelings.

The launch had originally been intended to take place at the new address at 17 D’Olier Street, D2, of Books Upstairs. However the interest indicated in attending was so great that Padraig Yeates, realising that the venue was going to be too small, went searching for a larger one. Having regard to how short a time he then had to find one and with his SIPTU connections, Liberty Hall would have been an obvious choice. Whether he had earlier been asked to speak at the launch I do not know but, having approached Jack O’Connor personally to obtain the use of Liberty Hall, in the latter’s role of President of SIPTU, the owners of that much-underused theatre building, it was inevitable too that O’Connor would be asked to speak and act as the MC for the event.

O’Connor’s introduction was perhaps of medium length as these things go. He talked about the author’s work in trade unions, as a journalist and as an author of books about history. O’Connor’s speech however contained much political comment. Speaking of the period of the Civil War (1919-1923), he said it had “formed what we have become as a people”. That is a statement which is of dubious accuracy or, at very least, is open to a number of conflicting interpretations. The Civil War, in which the colonialism-compromising Irish capitalist class defeated the anti-colonial elements of the nationalist or republican movement, formed what the State has become – not the people. The distinction between State and People is an essential one in our history and no less so in Ireland today.

Talking about the State that had been created in 1921 (and not mentioning once the creation of the other statelet, the Six Counties) and referring to the fact that alone among European nations, our population had not risen during most of the 20th Century and remained lower than it had been up to nearly the mid-Nineteenth, a state of affairs due to constant emigration, O’Connor laid the blame on the 26-County State and in passing, on the capitalist class which it served. He was undoubtedly correct in blaming the State for its failure to create an economic and social environment which would stop or slow down the rate of emigration – but he did not explain why it was in the interests of the capitalists ruling the state to do so. Nor did he refer to the cause of the original drastic reduction in Ireland’s population and the start of a tradition of emigration – the Great Hunger 1845-’49.

The Great Hunger memorial on Dublin's Custom House Quay. The Great Hunger and its immediate aftermath initiated mass Irish emigration.
The Great Hunger memorial on Dublin’s Custom House Quay. The Great Hunger and its immediate aftermath initiated mass Irish emigration.

Even allowing for the fact that O’Connor wished to focus on the responsibility of the 26-County State, the Great Hunger was surely worthy of some mention in the context of Irish population decline.  Just a little eastward along the docks from Liberty Hall is the memorial to that start of mass Irish emigration. It was the colonial oppression of the Irish people which had created the conditions in which the organism Phytophthora infestans could create such devastation, such that in much less than a decade, Ireland lost between 20% and 25% of its population, due to death by starvation and attendant disease and due also to emigration (not forgetting that many people emigrating died prematurely too, on the journey, upon reaching their destination and subsequently). Phytophthora devastated potato crops in the USA in 1843 and spread throughout Europe thereafter, without however causing such a human disaster as it did in Ireland. In Mitchell’s famous words: “The Almighty, indeed, sent the potato blight, but the English created the famine.” And that is what makes that period of population decline uncomfortable for some historical commentators.

Indeed, O’Connor did not mention British colonialism once, nor Partition, nor imperialism. And nor did either of the other two speakers, nor the author. I remarked on this to an Irish Republican present, to which he responded with a rhetorical question: “Did you expect them to?” Well, yes, perhaps naively, I did. While not expecting an Irish Republican analysis from Padraig Yeates and perhaps not either from anyone he would consider appropriate to speak at the launch of one of his books, dammit, we are talking about history. The presence of Norman/English/British Colonialism for 800 years prior to the creation of the Irish Free State, and its influence on that state’s creation and on subsequent events in Ireland, is worthy of at least a mention in launching a book about the Civil War. Not to mention its continuing occupation of one-fifth of the nation’s territory.

Colonialism and Imperialism and, in particular, the Irish experience of the British variant, were not so much ‘the elephant in the room at the launch as a veritable herd of pachyderms. They overshadowed us at the launch and crowded around us, we could hear them breathing and smell their urine and excreta – but no-one mentioned them. The date of the launch was the anniversary of the execution of James Connolly 99 years ago, a man whom the Labour Party claims as its founder (correctly historically, if not politically), a former General Secretary of the ITGWU, forerunner of SIPTU and the HQ building of which, Liberty Hall, was a forerunner too of the very building in which the launch was taking place. His name and the anniversary was referred to once, though not by O’Connor, without a mention of Sean Mac Diarmada, executed in the same place on the same day. And most significantly of all, no mention of who had Connolly shot and under which authority.

That circumspection, that avoidance, meant that a leader of Dublin capitalists, William Martin Murphy, could not be mentioned with regard to Connolly’s death either i.e. his post-Rising editorial in the Irish Independent calling for the execution of the insurgents’ leaders. But of course he did get a mention, or at least the class alliance he led in 1913 did, in a bid to smash the ITGWU, then under the leadership of Larkin and Connolly. This struggle, according to O’Connor and, it must be said also to Padraig Yeates, was the real defining struggle of the early years of the 20th Century, not the 1916 Rising, the War of Independence nor yet the Irish Civil War. It was in 1913 that “the wrong side won”.

One-eyed as that historical vision must be, we have to question whether it is even partially correct. The Lockout was a great defeat for the ITGWU and for the leading elements in the Irish workers’ movement. But the Lockout did not break the trade union and, in fact, it later began to grow in membership and in branches. Other trade unions also survived and some expanded. So in what manner was 1913 decisive in ensuring that “the wrong side won” in later years? The Irish trade union movement was still able to organise a general strike against conscription in April 1918 and the class to organise a wave of occupations of workplaces in April 1919. 

True, the Irish working class had lost one of its foremost theoreticians and propagandists by then, in the person of James Connolly. And who was it who had him shot? Not Murphy (though he’d have had no hesitation in doing so) nor the rest of the Irish capitalist class. In fact, worried about the longer-term outcome, the political representatives of the Irish nationalist capitalist class for so long, the Irish Parliamentary Party, right at the outset and throughout, desperately called for the executions to halt. General Maxwell, with the support of British Prime Minister Asquith, ordered and confirmed the executions of Connolly and Mallin of the Irish Citizen Army and British Army personnel pulled the triggers; in essence it was British colonialism that executed them, along with the other fourteen.

For the leaders of the Labour Party and of some of the trade unions, and for some authors, Padraig Yeates among them, the participation of Connolly and the Irish Citizen Army in the Rising was an aberration. For these social democrats, the struggle should have been against the Irish capitalist class only (and preferably by an unarmed working class). It is an inconvenient fact that Ireland was under colonial occupation of a state that had strangled much of the nation’s economic potential (and therefore of the growth of the working class) in support of the interests of the British capitalist class. It is an inconvenient fact that the Irish capitalist class had been divided into Unionist and Nationalist sections, the former being descendants of planter landowners and entrepreneurs whose interests were completely bound up in Union with Britain. It is an inconvenient fact that the British and the Unionists had suppressed the last truly independent expression of the Irish bourgeoisie, the United Irishmen and, in order to do so effectively, had created and enhanced sectarian divisions among the urban and rural working and middle classes. It is also an inconvenient fact that the British cultivated a client “nationalist” capitalist class in Ireland and that the police and military forces used to back up Murphy’s coalition in 1913 were under British colonial control.

To my mind, a good comprehensive analysis of the decline in prominence of the Irish working class on the political stage from its high point in early 1913 and even in 1916, has yet to be written. One can see a number of factors that must have played a part and the killing of Connolly was one. But something else happened between 1913 and 1916 which had a negative impact on the working class, not just in Ireland but throughout the World. In July 1914, WW1 started and in rising against British colonialism in Ireland, Connolly also intended to strike a blow against this slaughter. As the Lockout struggle drew to its close at the end of 1913 and early 1914, many union members had been replaced in their jobs and many would find it hard to regain employment, due to their support for the workers and their resistance to the campaign to break the ITGWU. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that many joined the British Army or went to work in war industries in Britain. Although the Irish capitalist class supported the British in that War (up to most of 1917 at any rate) it was imperialism which had begun the war and British Imperialism which recruited Irish workers into its armed forces and industries.

Reaching back in history but to different parts of Europe, Padraig Yeates, in his short and often amusing launch speech, cracked that “for years many people thought Karl Kautsky’s first name was ‘Renegade’ ” — a reference to the title of one of Lenin’s pamphlets: The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky. Yeates apparently admires Kautsky and quoted him on Ireland. But Kautsky advocated no uprisings against imperialism or colonialism in the belief that “super-imperialism” (also called “Hyper Imperialism”) would regulate itself peacefully, letting socialists get on with the task of evolving socialism. Two World Wars since then and current developments have negated Kautsky’s theory but more to the point, to advocate his theory as a guiding principle at the time he did was a major ideological threat to proletarian revolution and to the evolving anti-colonial struggles of the world and therefore he was a renegade to any variant of genuine socialism and socialist struggle.

This is relevant in analysing the position of the trade union leaders and the Irish Labour Party today. They are social democrats and their central thesis is that it is possible to reform capitalism, by pressure on and by involvement in the State. They deny what Lenin and others across the revolutionary socialist spectrum declare, that the state serves the ruling class and cannot be coopted or taken over but for socialism to succeed, must be overthrown.

It is the social-democratic analysis that underpinned decades of the trade union leaders’ social partnership with the employers and the State, decades that left them totally unprepared, even if they had been willing, to declare even one day’s general strike against the successive attacks on their members, the rest of the Irish working class and indeed the lower middle class too since 2011. Indeed Padraig Yeates, speaking at a discussion on trade unions at the Anarchist Bookfair a year or two ago, conceded that social partnership had “gone too far”. Can Jack or any other collaborationist trade union leader blame that on the transitory defeat of the 1913 Lockout? They may try to but it is clear to most people that the blame does not lie there.

Two other speakers addressed the audience at the launch, Katherine O’Donnell and Caitriona Crowe. Catriona Crowe is Head of Special Projects at the National Archives of Ireland and, among other responsibilities, is Manager of the Irish Census Online Project, an Editor of Documents on Irish Foreign Policy, Vice-President of the Irish Labour History Society. She is also Chairperson of the SAOL Project, a rehabilitation initiative for women with addiction problems, based in the North Inner City. It was her, I think, who made the only mention of “Blueshirts” and her also that mentioned the anniversary of James Connolly. Although her speech was overlong in my opinion for a book launch in which she had already been preceded by two longish speeches, strangely I can remember very little of what she had to say.

Katherine O’Donnell’s contribution however made a considerable impression upon me. She declared herself early in the speech to be lesbian and a campaigner for gay and lesbian rights and is Director of the Women’s Studies Centre at the School of Social Justice at UCD. O’Donnell began by praising Padraig Yeates’ work, of which she declared herself “a fan”. In a speech which at times had me (and sometimes others too) laughing out loud, she discussed the contrast in the fields of historical representation between some historians and those who construct historical stories through the use of imagination as well as data; she denounced the social conservatism of the state, including the parameters of the upcoming referendum on same-sex marriage, the legal status of marriage in general and the climate of fear of prosecution engendered by the shameful capitulation of RTE to the Iona Institute on the accusation of “homophobia” (she did not mention them specifically but everyone knew to what she was referring).

After the launch speeches -- (L-R) Padraig Yeates, Katherine O'Donnell, Caitriona Crowe.
After the launch speeches — (L-R) Padraig Yeates, Katherine O’Donnell, Caitriona Crowe.

Jack O’Connor, between speeches, made a reference to a giant banner hanging off Liberty Hall which had the word “NO” displayed prominently, saying that they had received congratulatory calls from people who thought it was against same-sex marriage. The banner was however against privatisation of bus services. The current banner on Liberty Hall says “YES” to the proposal in the forthcoming referendum and he said that now busmen were calling them up complaining …. to laughter, O’Connor commented that “it’s hard to the right thing, sometimes”. Presumably what he meant was that it is hard to know what the right thing to do is, or perhaps to please everybody. 

It is indeed hard to please everybody but I’d have to say that it is not hard to know that the purpose of and ‘the right thing to do’ for a trade union, is to fight effectively and with commitment for its members and for the working class in general. And that is precisely the responsibility which has been abrogated by Jack

In the background to this photograph of a Reclaim the Streets demonstration in 2002 is Liberty Hall, draped in a hug "Vote Labour" banner. SIPTU has maintained that position through a number of coalition governments in which Labour has participated and that have attacked the living standards and rights of workers.
In the background to this photograph of a Reclaim the Streets demonstration in 2002 is Liberty Hall, draped in a hug “Vote Labour” banner. SIPTU has maintained that position through a number of coalition governments in which Labour has participated and that have attacked the living standards and rights of workers.

O’Connor personally, along with other leaders of most of the trade unions, including the biggest ones for many years, SIPTU and IMPACT. And also by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. That is why Jack O’Connor gets booed now if he ever dares stand on a public platform related to trade union struggle, a treatment received also by David Beggs before he retired from the Presidency of ICTU.

Back in 2011, another giant banner hung from Liberty Hall – that time it urged us to VOTE LABOUR, as did leaders of other trade unions. Stretching magnanimity, we might give the trade union leaders the benefit of the doubt and say they had forgotten that the Labour Party had only ever been in Government in coalition, most often with the right-wing Blueshirt Fine Gael party and that its most recent spell sharing power had given us one of the most repressive governments in the history of the State. Let us imagine for a moment that these social-democratic union leaders had forgotten all that. But, after February 2011, as Labour and Fine Gael went into coalition and both reneged on their election promises, as the Coalition government began to attack the working class and the lower middle class, what is their excuse then? When did they denounce the Labour Party to their members, publicly disaffiliating from the party? No, never, and the fact that those disgusting connections continue was underlined by the presence at the book launch of a Labour Party junior Government Minister and the late arrival of none other than Joan Burton, Minister for Social Constriction …. er, sorry, Protection.

Plaques in Glasnevin's Republican Plot recording the names of 77 of the 81 Irish Volunteers officially executed by the Free State between November 1922 and May 1923. Their police and military killed about another 150 without judicial procedure.
Plaques in Glasnevin’s Republican Plot recording the names of 77 of the 81 Irish Volunteers officially executed by the Free State between November 1922 and May 1923. Their police and military killed about another 150 without judicial procedure.

Considering that the book being launched was about the Civil War, it is really extraordinary that no speaker mentioned the repression by the Free State during and after that war. I am certain that Padraig Yeates has not glossed over that, he is much too honest and too good a historian to do so. But that only one speaker at the launch (Catriona Crowe) should mention the sinister Oriel House and none the at least 25 murders its occupants organised, nor the 125 other murders by Irish Free State soldiers and police, nor the 81 state executions between November 1922 and January 1923, sets one wondering at just how much self-hypnosis sections of our political and academic classes are capable.

Elephants, elephants everywhere

but not one can be seen!

End.

THE BLOODIEST BATTLE OF THE EASTER RISING

D. Breatnach

99 YEARS AGO ON 26th APRIL, THE BLOODIEST BATTLE OF THE EASTER RISING WAS FOUGHT IN A DUBLIN SUBURB

At a little past 6am on 26th April 1916, the SS Tynwald and SS Patriotic, two British troop-ships, had berthed in Dun Laoghaire harbour. The harbour and town had been renamed Kingstown by Unionist elements when King George IV came to visit the new port under construction in 1821. Although the town returned to its former name in 1920, it was known as “Kingstown” by most people in 1916, whatever their allegiance.

The troopships had been requested by General Maxwell, who had been given the responsibility for suppression of the Easter Rising, which was now in its third day. Several British thousand troops from the 59th Midland division began to disembark on a bright sunny morning. Hundreds of civilians went down to see them despite the early hour. Many in that town, especially around the seafront and some of the big houses, would have been sympathetic to the British – but by no means all and no doubt some eyes were noting the arrivals in order to report to the insurgents.

Around 9am, disembarkation completed, the soldiers were formed up and inspected, equipment checked and the Sherwood Foresters set off marching towards Dublin city centre, seven miles away, to be followed by Nottingham and Derby regiments around 10.30hrs. Their forces appear to have split up, with two Battalions marching to the city along the coast road and another two heading inland.

To reach the city centre from Dun Laoghaire, the most direct route is to proceed northward along the coast to Mount Merrion. Once there, the coast road goes through the railway level crossing to the right and continues along the seafront, into Ringsend and then along what is now Pearse Street to Trinity College. The British officers did not lead their men in that direction, perhaps because they had received intelligence of the Boland’s Mill strongpoint along their route. There would be no going past that without first taking it, which might prove a lengthy and difficult battle.

But one could avoid that by not turning right at Mount Merrion and instead continuing on what has become the main road, through Ballsbridge and Northumberland Road, across the Grand Union Canal at Mount Street Bridge, past the fashionable Merrion Square and into Nasseau Street and the city centre. That seemed the obvious choice, not just because of the Jacob’s garrison but also because at Mount Street Bridge was located Beggars’ Bush Barracks, one of the many such of the British Army in Dublin city.

Northumberland Road looking southwards. The Irish insurgents first saw the British troops coming up this road.
Northumberland Road looking southwards. The Irish insurgents first saw the British troops coming up this road.  The Parochial Hall and Schoolhouse are to the left but out of the photo.  The canal is behind the photographer.  (Photo D.Breatnach)

Before the British troops arrived in the area, a female courier, probably Cumann na mBan, had brought news of the troops landed in Dún Laoghaire and that they were heading towards them to the insurgents waiting in the Mount Street Bridge area.

At around noon a burst of fire hit the forward sections of the British troops marching in from Dun Laoghaire. When fired upon, in order to find effective cover, it is important to know from where the firing is coming but the soldiers were unsure. No. 25 Northumberland Road, a house at the junction with Haddington Road, seemed to some to be the source of the firing but by how many was unknown.

Screams from wounded men filled the air in the quiet suburban upper-middle class and largely Loyalist residential street.

Soldiers began to maneouver to outflank No.25 Northumberland Road and a detachment reached Baggot Street Bridge, further west, which was apparently undefended. From there it is a straight road into Stephens Green and the southside city centre. The rest of the soldiers were not led by their officers in that direction, a decision which was to cost them dearly. Instead, shortly after being fired upon, at least two British platoons attacked 25 Northumberland Road but were driven back in disarray by fire from the building’s upper floors; yet as they turned they were also shot down in droves.

Perhaps under cover of that assault, at around 1pm some of the 2/7th Battalion Sherwood Foresters got past the corner house and made their way on to Percy Place, which runs along the south side of the canal between Mount Street and Baggot Street bridges. Now they came under fire from in front and from their left. They huddled for cover along the Canal.

The fire from the left of the British at this point was coming at long distance from the towers of Jacob’s Factory in Bishop Street, one of the insurgent strongpoints. A defensive line with insufficient mobilised insurgent numbers to hold it for very long stretched from Jacob’s down to the railway connecting Dublin and Dun Laoghaire and to Boland’s Mill beside it, overlooking the south bank of the Liffey. Roughly in the middle of this chain or defensive line were the Irish Volunteers in the Mount Street Bridge area, an outpost of the Boland’s Mill garrison.  The total strength of the insurgent force defending that area had been 17 Volunteers but two had been sent home, being thought too young.   

New Clanwilliam House, Mount Street, north side of the Royal Cana. Looking eastward.
New Clanwilliam House, Mount Street, north side of the Royal Canal, looking eastward. The Bridge and Canal are to the right but out of shot. (Photo D.Breatnach)

The Schoolhouse, Northumberland Road, today (a snack-cafe nowadays). The Bridge is to the right; the British troops were advancing along the road from the right.
The Schoolhouse, Northumberland Road, today (a snack-cafe nowadays). The Bridge is to the right; the British troops were advancing along the road from the right.

Incredible as it seemed to the British when they learned of it later, there were only two Volunteers in No.25 Northumberland Road: 27 year-old Volunteer Lieutenant Michael Malone, a carpenter by trade, and Section Commander James Grace. In the Schoolhouse on the right-hand side just before the Bridge, there were two Volunteers. Next to that building was the Parochial Hall, held by four men: P.J. Doyle in command, Joe Clarke, William Christian and J. McGrath. Clanwilliam House, across the canal on the right-hand corner with the junction with Mount Street Lower, was occupied by seven Volunteers; the frontal fire hitting the British was coming from there.

The British were scattered around gardens and behind the granite steps leading up the to front doors of the elegant houses in the street. Their officers called them out and they launched an attack on the Schoolhouse in Northumberland Road. As they charged up the road they came under fire from across the Canal from Clanwilliam House; about a dozen reached the Schoolhouse but they left many bodies behind. And they were still coming under fire from across the Canal too.

The officers now attempted to outflank Mount Street Bridge and Northumberland Road by advancing along Shelbourne Road to the east but were stopped as they came under fire from Volunteers along the railway line and from positions in and around Horan’s Shop nearby.

The column advancing from Dun Laoghaire had set up a temporary HQ in Ballsbridge Town Hall. Incredibly, the officers there, receiving regular dispatches reporting their troops being slaughtered around Mount Street Bridge and, presumably, knowing that other troops had found Baggot Street Bridge undefended, continued to press for an advance across the killing field.

But at least the officers on the battlefield for the time being seem to have had enough of death-or-glory charges, which were bringing plenty of death and no glory. The soldiers are now crawling along the road but whenever any are visible, which is often, they are being fired at. Clanwilliam House is wreathed in smoke.

Mauser Model 71 small
The Mauser Mark 71

The weapon the Volunteers were using was almost certainly the Mauser Model 71, the weapon of most Volunteers and Irish Citizen Army during the Rising; 1,500 had been been delivered in two landings in July 1914, first at Howth, north Dublin and then at Kilcoole, Wicklow. It had been the first cartridge rifle adopted by the Prussian Army in 1872 which by 1914 had gone on to another more advanced model, presumably the reason that the rifle was being sold cheaply. The Model 71 fired a larger bullet than the British Army standard-issue Lee Enfield .303 but did not have a magazine, each cartridge having to be ejected and anew one inserted before firing again; its rate of fire was only four or five rounds a minute. The Lee Enfield took a ten-bullet magazine and the British Army were trained to fire fifteen rounds a minute. Despite this, the occupants in Clanwillian House and in No.25 in particular were able to lay down a tremendous rate of fire. Their guns grew so hot they burned to the touch and they had to cool them with wet rags. Down below, British officers blew their whistles and soldiers carried out more charges, only to be cut down by the Volunteers’ rifle fire.

During the late afternoon, a nurse ran on to the road and began treating the wounded British soldiers. The Volunteers agreed to a ceasefire as doctors and nurses from Sir Patrick Dunne’s hospital nearby went into Northumberland Road. But after a while the British attempted to use the ceasefire to advance their positions and the Volunteers ended it. Those wounded still to be tended lay where they were. This had been very different situation to what was to be seen in other areas of Dublin during the Rising, when British troops refused to allow wounded to be taken out unless the insurgents surrendered and when they accused Nurse Elizabeth Farrell of being a spy and tore her Red Cross bibfront off her.

The British got a machine gun up to the bell-tower of the church on Haddington Road so that they could fire over the roofs of the houses at Clanwilliam House, the bullets knocking chips off the outer walls and zipping through windows. They were also being backed by rifle snipers.

British soldiers recommenced attacking No.25, now with hand grenades as well as rifle fire. Finally they got close enough to blow the door in with explosives but incredibly were fired upon from inside as they tried to gain entry, injuring a number of them. They hurled grenades in and after they exploded, dashed in again. Coming down the stairs to meet them was Volunteer Lieutenant Michael Malone, his pipe in his mouth and was shot dead.

Section Commander James Grace had been downstairs using a cooker as cover from bullets and shrapnel and such was the bomb damage to the room that the British assumed anyone in there had to be dead. There was still plenty of fighting to do – they had not even crossed the Canal yet.

If they believed that two men alone had held out against repeated assaults for four hours and had inflicted such damage upon them, they must have been very fearful leaving No.25. But perhaps they thought there had been others who must have escaped in the last minutes. James Grace did escape to get out of the area after lying low for some hours; however he was arrested some days later.

With No.25 taken, the Sherwood Foresters are soon able to take the Parochial Hall but they find it empty. The garrison of four Volunteers had run out of rifle ammunition and evacuated into Percy Place, where British troops, who were now all around the area, captured them.

An officer takes Volunteer Joe Clarke‘s loaded pistol off him, puts him with his back to a door and fires at him. Missing Joe, the bullet goes through the door to where a doctor is attending to injured British soldiers. He storms out in rage, berating the officer and Joe Clarke’s life is saved (he continued active in the IRA and in Republican politics nearly until his death in 1976 at the age of 94).

British soldiers are occupying nearby houses for cover and for firing positions and they are also crouched behind the low wall along Percy Place. They are still being hit. Now, they attack the Schoolhouse from its front, running across enfilading fire from Clanwilliam House to their left as they attack and from other positions to their front. When they enter, they find the Schoolhouse unoccupied by any Volunteer, alive or dead. However, their storm of bullets during the attack has riddled the bodies of its caretaker and his wife.

The cost to the British has been enormous but they have at last taken the southern side of the Canal around Mount Street Bridge. Across it, waiting for them, is Clanwilliam House. And to the east, their right-hand side, snipers at Boland’s Mill and nearby positions are also firing at them.

Now the officers order forward their reserves who had been sheltering in St Mary’s Road. The soldiers charge for the Bridge, answering to their discipline and their officers as they and many like them will do across the WWI battlefields of Europe, Greece, Turkey and Russia for another three years. It is partly against this slaughter that James Connolly led the men and women of the Irish Citizen Army out this week. One of the ICA’s detachments is not far away, under the command of Michael Malin and Constance Markievicz, in the College of Surgeons on the side of Stephens Green and they have already taken casualties.

Despite the covering fire from the Vickers Machine Gun firing incendiary bullets from St Mary’s Church, this charge too is driven back, their casualties adding to the pile of khaki-clad bodies and wounded on Northumberland Road, the Canal banks and the Bridge.

Around 8pm, the British are finally across Mount Street Bridge. An officer was in the charge, one of their few unwounded, and is at Clanwilliam House’s outer walls. Firing continues from the windows of this last insurgent bastion and from the east, a hail of Mauser death is still hitting the Bridge and the northern side of the Canal.

The British are now close enough to throw grenades but one, thrown by a British NCO, bounced back from a second floor window and exploded next to his head, killing him. The British begin to make their way into the now-burning Clanwilliam House but are forced to retreat by the flames, leaving the fire to consume the bodies of the presumed dead Volunteers inside. They will not know now how many there were. In fact, there were only seven Volunteers, three are dead and the remaining four have escaped out the back.

Clanwilliam House after the Rising
Clanwilliam House after the Rising

The four survivors of the Clanwilliam House garrison.
The four survivors of the Clanwilliam House garrison.

Ninety-nine years ago in the Battle of Mount Street Bridge, despite having only single-shot rifles and some pistols, the  Volunteers held off two British Battalions, numbering approximately1,600 between them, for five hours. Approximately 234 men (including 18 officers) of the British Army had become casualties at the hands of fifteen insurgents.

Mount Street Battle Monument on the south side of the Bridge. (Photo D.Breatnach)
Mount Street Battle Monument on the Bridge

Mount St Bridge Gaeilge pla
Part of the memorial on the south side of the canal. (Photo D.Breatnach)

End

Sources:

Article in http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/an-easter-rising-timeline-wednesday-april-26th-1916-1.2188089 drawing on When The Clock Struck in 1916 – Close-Quarter Combat in the Easter Rising by Derek Molyneux and Darren Kelly, Collins Press, at €17.99.

Remembering the Past – the battle of Mount Street Bridge, by Aengus O Snodaigh, article in http://www.anphoblacht.com/contents/6137

Article on the “Howth rifle” in http://www.historyireland.com/20th-century-contemporary-history/the-mauser-model-71-rifle/

The Irish War of Independence and the retreat from stated objectives in spite of the precariousness of the British position

(This is reprinted with minimal editing from a section of a much longer piece of mine published in English and in Spanish a year ago https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/2014/01/30/how-can-a-people-defeat-a-stronger-invader-or-occupying-power-2/)

 

Diarmuid Breatnach

The War of Independence 1919-1921 and retreat from stated objectives

Three years later (after the 1916 Rising), the nationalist revolutionaries returned to the armed struggle, this time without a workers’ militia or an effective socialist leadership as allies, and began a political struggle which was combined a little later with a rural guerilla war which soon spread into some urban areas (particularly the cities of Dublin and Cork). The political struggle mobilised thousands and also resulted in the majority of those elected in Ireland during the General Election (in the United Kingdom, of which Ireland was part) being of their party.

The struggle in Ireland and the British response to it was generating much interest and critical comment around the world and even in political and intellectual and artistic circles within Britain itself. In addition, many nationalist and socialist revolutionaries around the world were drawing inspiration from that fierce anti-colonial struggle so near to England, within the United Kingdom itself.

The dismantling by the nationalist forces, by threats and by armed action, of much of the control network of the colonial police force, which consequently dismantled much of their counter-insurgency intelligence service, led the British to set up two new special armed police forces to counter the Irish insurgency. Both these forces gained a very bad reputation not only among the nationalists but also among many British loyalists. The special paramilitary police forces resorted more and more to torture, murder and arson but nevertheless, in some areas of Ireland such as Dublin, Kerry and Cork, they had to be reinforced by British soldiers as they were largely not able to deal effectively with the insurgents, who were growing more resolute, experienced and confident with each passing week.

However, two-and-a-half years after the beginning of the guerrilla war, a majority of the Irish political leadership of the nationalist revolutionary movement settled for the partition of their country with Irish independence for one part of it within the British Commonwealth.

Much discussion has taken part around the events that led to this development. We are told that British Prime Minister Lloyd George blackmailed the negotiating delegation with threats of “immediate and terrible war” if they did not agree to the terms. The delegation were forced to answer without being allowed to consult their comrades at home. Some say that the President of the nationalist political party, De Valera, sent an allegedly inexperienced politically Michael Collins to the negotiations, knowing that he would end up accepting a bad deal from which De Valera could then distance himself. Michael Collins, in charge of supplying the guerrillas with arms, stated afterwards that he had only a few rounds of ammunition left to supply each fighter and that the IRA, the guerrilla army, could not fight the war Lloyd George threatened. He also said that the deal would be a stepping stone towards the full independence of a united Ireland in the near future. None of those reasons appear convincing to me.

How could the leadership of a movement at the height of their successes cave in like that? Of course, the British were threatening a worse war, but they had made threats before and the Irish had met them without fear. If the IRA were truly in a difficult situation with regard to ammunition (and I’m not sure that there is any evidence for that apart from Collins’ own statement), that would be a valid reason for a reduction in their military operations, not for accepting a deal far short of what they had fought for. The IRA was, after all, a volunteer guerrilla army, much of it of a part-time nature. It could be withdrawn from offensive operations and most of the fighters could melt back into the population or, if necessary, go “on the run”.

If the military supply situation of the Irish nationalists was indeed dire in the face of the superior arms and military experience of Britain, was that the only factor to be taken into account? An army needs more than arms and experience in order to wage war – there are other factors which affect its ability and effectiveness.

The precariousness of the British situation

In 1919, at the end of the War, the British, although on the victorious side, were in a precarious position. During the war itself there had been a serious mutiny in the army (during which NCOs and officers had been killed by privates) and as the soldiers were demobbed into civilian life and into their old social conditions there was widespread dissatisfaction. Industrial strikes had been forbidden during the War (although some had taken place nonetheless) and a virtual strike movement was now under way.

In 1918 and again in 1919, police went on strike in Britain. Also during 1919, the railway workers went on strike and so did others in a wave that had been building up since the previous year. In 1918 strikes had already cost 6 million working days. This increased to nearly 35 million in 1919, with a daily average of 100,000 workers on strike. Glasgow in 1921 saw a strike with a picket of 60,000 and pitched battles with the police. The local unit of the British Army was detained in barracks by its officers and units from further away were sent in with machine guns, a howitzer and tanks.

James Wolfe in his work Mutiny in United States and British Armed forces in the Twentieth Century(http://www.mellenpress.com/mellenpress.cfm?bookid=8271&pc=9) includes the following chapter headings:

Workers pass an overturned tram in London during the 1926 British General Strike. In general, goods travelled through Britain with authorisation from the workers or under police and troop protection.

Workers pass an overturned tram in London during the 1926 British General Strike. In much of the country no transport operated unless authorised by the local trade union council or under police and army escort.

4.2 The Army Mutinies of January/February 1919
4.3 The Val de Lievre Mutiny
4.4 Three Royal Air Force Mutinies January 1919
4.5 Mutiny in the Royal Marines – Russia,
February to June 1919
4.6 Naval Mutinies of 1919
4.7 Demobilization Riots 1918/1919
4.8 The Kinmel Park Camp Riots 1919
4.9 No “Land Fit For Heroes” – the Ex-servicemen’s Riot in Luton
4 4.10 Ongoing Unrest – Mid-1919 to Year’s End

 The British Government feared their police force would be insufficient against the British workers and was concerned about the reliability of their army if used in this way. There had already been demonstrations, riots and mutinies in the armed forces about delays in demobilisation (and also in being used against the Russian Bolshevik Revolution).

Elsewhere in the British Empire things were unstable too. The Arabs were outraged at Britain’s reneging on their promise to give them their freedom in exchange for fighting the Turks and rebellions were breaking out which would continue over the next few years. The British were also facing unrest in Palestine as they began to settle Jewish immigrants who were buying up Arab land there. An uprising took place in Mesopotamia (Iraq) against the British in 1918 and again in 1919. The Third Afghan War took place in 1919; Ghandi and his followers began their campaign of civil disobedience in 1920 while in 1921 the Malabar region of India rose up in armed revolt against British rule. Secret communiques (but now accessible) between such as Winston Churchill, Lloyd George and the Chief of Staff of the British armed forces reveal concerns about the reliability of their soldiers in the future against insurrections and industrial action in Britain and even whether, as servicemen demanded demobilisation, they would have enough soldiers left for the tasks facing them throughout the Empire.

The Irish nationalist revolutionaries in 1921were in a very strong position to continue their struggle until they had won independence and quite possibly even to be the catalyst for socialist revolution in Britain and the death of the British Empire. But they backed down and gave the Empire the breathing space it needed to deal with the various hotspots of rebellion elsewhere and to prepare for the showdown with British militant trade unionists that came with the General Strike of 1926. Instead, the Treatyites turned their guns on their erstwhile comrades in the vicious Civil War that broke out in 1922. The new state executed IRA prisoners (often without recourse to a trial) and repression continued even after it had defeated the IRA in the Civil War.

If the revolutionary Irish nationalist leaders were not aware of all the problems confronting the British Empire, they were certainly aware of many of them. The 1920 hunger strike and death of McSwiney, Lord Mayor of Cork, had caught international attention and Indian nationalists had made contact with the McSwiney family. The presence of large Irish working class communities in Britain, from London to GlaSgow, provided ample opportunity for keeping abreast of industrial disputes, even if the Irish nationalists did not care to open links with British militant trade unionists. Sylvia Pankhurst, member of the famous English suffragette family and a revolutionary communist, had letters published in The Irish Worker, newspaper of the IT&GWU. The presence of large numbers of Irish still in the British Army was another source of ready information.

Anti-Treaty cartoon, 1921, depicts Ireland being coerced by Michael Collins, representing the Free State Army, along with the Catholic Church, in the service of British Imperialism

Anti-Treaty cartoon, 1921, depicts Ireland being coerced by Michael Collins, representing the Free State Army, along with the Catholic Church, in the service of British Imperialism

The revolutionary Irish nationalist leaders were mostly of petite bourgeois background and had no programme of the expropriation of the large landowners and industrialists. They did not seek to represent the interests of the Irish workers—indeed at times sections of them demonstrated a hostility to workers, preventing landless Irish rural poor seizing large estates and to divide them among themselves. Historically the petite bourgeoisie has shown itself incapable of sustaining a revolution in its own class interests and in Ireland it was inevitable that the Irish nationalists would come to follow the interests of the Irish national bourgeoisie. The Irish socialists were too few and weak to offer another pole of attraction to the petite bourgeoisie. The Irish national bourgeoisie had not been a revolutionary class since their defeat in 1798 and were not to be so now. Originally, along with the Catholic Church with which they shared many interests in common, they had declined to support the revolutionary nationalists but decided to join with them when they saw an opportunity to improve their position and also what appeared to be an imminent defeat of the British.

In the face of the evident possibilities it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the section of revolutionary Irish nationalists who opted for the deal offered by Lloyd George did so because they preferred it to the alternatives. They preferred to settle for a slice rather than fight for the whole cake. And the Irish bourgeoisie would do well out of the deal, even if the majority of the population did not. The words of James Connolly that the working class were “the incorruptible heirs” of Ireland’s fight had a corollary – that the Irish bourgeoisie would always compromise the struggle. It is also possible that the alternative the nationalists feared was not so much “immediate and terrible war” but rather a possible Irish social revolution in which they would lose their privileges.

Irish Free State bombardment 4 Courts
Start of the Irish Civil War 1922: Irish Free State bombardment, with cannon on loan from the British Army, of the Republican HQ at the Four Courts, Dublin.

 

Another serious challenge to the Empire from Irish nationalist revolutionaries would not take place until nearly fifty years later, and it would be largely confined to the colony of the Six Counties.

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