The Dublin police played a fundamental role in the creation of the first workers’ army in the world, the Irish Citizen Army.
The Dublin employer syndicate’s offensive against the working-class “syndicalism” of the Irish Transport & General Worker’s Union1 began with the 1913 Lockout, in turn triggering strikes on August 26th, when workers were presented with a document they were to sign declaring that they would leave the ITG&WU or, if not a member, would refuse to support it in any action2. Most workers of any union and none refused to sign and 20,000 workers were confronted by 400 employers.
However, the employers’ numbers were added to by the Dublin Metropolitan Police and the Royal Irish Constabulary, backed up by the judiciary. Morally and ideologically the Irish Times and Irish Independent (the latter owned by W.M. Murphy, leader of the employers) backed the employers as, to a large extent, did the Irish Catholic Church hierarchy3.
The national (non-workers’) movement was divided in its opinion: many of Redmond’s Irish Parliamentary Party representatives were employers or landlords and their sympathies were naturally not with the workers. But for example Seán Mac Diarmada, a republican and national revolutionary, organiser for the secret Irish Republican Brotherhood4, opposed the strike on the basis that foreign business interests would profit by the paralysing of Irish business concerns5. On the other hand, Mac Diarmada’s mentor and head of the IRB in Ireland, Tom Clarke, was sympathetic to the strikers.
Unlike the gendarmerie6 British police force throughout Ireland of the Royal Irish Constabulary, at this time the constables of the DMP were unarmed except with truncheons but even with those they managed to kill people. On 30th August 1913 the DMP baton-charged a crowd in a street meeting on Eden Quay, outside Liberty Hall, HQ of the union7. Among the many injured were James Nolan and John Byrne who died 31st August and 4th September respectively, both in Jervis St. Hospital. (see also other riots and police attacks in Sources & Further Reading below).
On the 31st Jim Larkin went in disguise to address an advertised public meeting, banned by a magistrate, in Sackville (now O’Connell) St., Dublin. In view of the behaviour of the police, most of the IT&GWU activists went instead to their rented facilities at Fairview but a large enough crowd of the committed and the curious were assembled in O’Connell Street, along with large force of the DMP. Larkin, disguised as an elderly Protestant minister arrived by horse-drawn carriage and, as befitted a man made infirm by age, was assisted by Nellie Gifford8 into the Clery’s building which housed the Imperial Hotel restaurant, which belonged to W.M. Murphy (as did the Dublin Tram Co.). In order that Larkin’s strong Liverpool accent should not give him away, Nellie Gifford did all the talking to the staff inside. Shortly afterwards Larkin appeared at a restaurant window on the first floor and, top hat removed, spoke briefly to the crowd below but, as DMP rushed into the building, tried to make his getaway.
The DMP arrested Larkin and when the crowd cheered him (led by Constance Markievicz), the DMP baton-charged the crowd, striking out indiscriminately, including knocking unconscious a Fianna (Republican youth organisation) boy Patsy O’Connor who was giving First Aid to a man the police had already knocked to the ground. Between 400 and 600 were injured and Patsy suffered from headaches thereafter; though active in the Republican movement (he was prominent in the 1914 Howth guns collection9) he died in 1915, the year before the Rising. Among those beaten were journalists and casual passers-by. Those caught in Princes Street10 between DMP already in that street and the police charging across the main street were beaten particularly savagely.
The police attack became known as “Bloody Sunday 1913” (though two workers had been fatally injured on Eden Quay the day before and are often wrongly listed as having been killed on that day).
Also on that day the DMP attacked the poor working-class dwellings of Corporation Buildings (in “the Monto”, off Talbot St11), beat the residents and smashed their paltry furniture. The raid was a revenge attack for the reception of bottles and stones they had received on the 30th, when they were chasing fleeing workers from Liberty Hall (others crossed Butt Bridge to the south side and a running battle took place along Townsend Street and almost to Ringsend.
THE IRISH CITIZEN ARMY 1913 AND 1916
Very soon after those attacks, Larkin and Connolly each called publicly for the formation of a workers’ defence force, which became the Irish Citizen Army. Around 120 ICA, including female members fought with distinction in the 1916 Rising and raised their flag, the Starry Plough on the roof of WM Murphy’s Imperial Hotel on the upper floors of Clery’s building, opposite the GPO13. A number of its Volunteers were killed or wounded in action and two of the ICA’s leaders, Connolly and Mallin, were executed afterwards; another, Constance Markievicz, had her sentence of death commuted.
A much-diminished ICA took part in the War of Independence.
The end of August 1913 on Eden Quay and in O’Connell Street may be seen as the period and birthplaces of the ICA, the “first workers’ army in the world” and the first also to recruit women, some of whom were officers.
The Jim Larkin monument stands opposite the Clery’s building, which is now under renovation but without a mention on the monument or on the building of Bloody Sunday 1913 or its background and result. Sic transit gloria proletariis
1The ITGWU was formed in 1909 by James Larkin, former organiser for the National Union of Dock Labourers after his bitter departure from that union. Most of the members Larkin had recruited for the NUDL, with the exception of the Belfast Protestant membership, left the NUDL and joined the IT&GWU.
2The provision in the declaration for members of unions other than the iT&GWU was necessary for the employers because of the general credo in Irish trade unionism that one did not cross a picket line, whether of one’s own union or of another, a credo that persisted in Ireland until the 1980s when the Irish Trade Union Council joined the “Social Partnership” of the State and the employers’ Federation. In addition, Larkin had added the principle that goods from a workplace on strike, even if strike-breakers could be got to bring them out, were “tainted goods” and would not be handled by members of the IT&GWU, nor should they be by any other union either.
3 Apart from any statements by bishops and priests, the religious charity organisation, the St. Vincent de Paul, refused assistance to families of strikers.
4 The IRB was founded simultaneously in Dublin and New York on 17th March 1858 and became known as “the Fenians”. In 1913 the movement had declined but was being rebuilt under the leadership of Tom Clarke, who went on to become one of the Seven Signatories of the 1916 Proclamation of Independence, all of which were executed b y firing squad after surrendering, along with another nine. Both were signatories of the Proclamation of Independence.
5It is one of the many ironies that on May 12th 1916, the last of the of the 14 surrendered leadership executed in Dublin (another two were executed elsewhere, one in Cork and the last in London) were Mac Diarmada and James Connolly, shot by British firing squads in Kilmainham Jail; the one an opponent of the workers’ action and the other one of its leadership.
6The gendarmerie is a particular militarised type of police force, armed and often operating out of barracks, like the Carabinieri of Italy, Gendarmerie of Turkey and Guardia Civil of the Spanish State. It is an armed force of state repression designed to control wide areas of potentially rebellious populations and it is notable that the parallel of the RIC did not exist in Britain, where the police force was mostly unarmed except by truncheon.
7Liberty Hall is still there today but a very different building (the original was shelled by the British in 1916) and SIPTU is a very different union too.
8Nellie was one of 12 children of a mixed religion marriage and was, like all her sisters (unlike the six unionist boys), a nationalist and supporter of women’s suffrage. Her sister Grace married Volunteer Joseph Plunkett hours before his execution and is, with Plunkett, the subject of the plaintive ballad “Grace” and Muriel married Thomas McDonagh, one of the Seven Signatories of the Proclamation, all of whom were among the 16 executed after surrendering in 1916. Nellie Gifford was the only one who participated in the Rising; she was a member of the Irish Citizen Army and was active in the Stephen’s Green/ College of Surgeons garrison, jailed and continued to be active after her release.
926th July 1914, when the yacht Asgard, captained by the Englishman Erskine Childrers, delivered a consignment of Mauser rifles and ammunition to the Irish Volunteers.
10Those may have been heading for Williams Lane which even today leads out from Princes Street to Middle Abbey Street (the junction of which is where James Connolly received the impact to his ankle in 1916).
11Corporation Buildings as one might expect housed working class people and the “Monto” (Montgomery Street) was a notorious red light district.
12The police station is still there, staffed by the Garda Síochána but in 1913 it housed also a British Army garrison.
13This flag, one of at least four different flags flown during the Rising, is now in the Irish National Museum at Collins Barrack. Shortly after the Rising it was noted by a British Army officer still in place upon the gutted Clery’s building and taken by him as a trophy to England. In 1966, the 50th anniversary of the Rising, the officer’s family returned the flag to the Irish people.
I write to say how much I admired your attempt to have the Royal Irish Constabulary and the Dublin Metropolitan Police honoured in Ireland. It was never going to be easy to propose such a ceremony in a country that was occupied by les Anglais for nearly eight centuries and a part of which it is still occupying. But you did not flinch! It took real courage and I empathise with you on its failure (temporary, I hope).
Perhaps it was a little too soon. But as you know, I’m sure, once the unthinkable has been proposed, it is no longer unthinkable; then some day ….
It must be particularly galling for you to see the response of the “swinish multitude”, as your own orator Edmund Burke would have had it, result in the pushing into No.1 slot in the ITunes charts of that odious song of Dominic Behan’s, performed by that rabble-rousing folk group, the Wolfe Tones. To see that disgusting song enter the current Irish charts at No.33 –- and from there reach the No.1 played in the British and Irish charts! But go straight to No.1 in Scotland! Not to mention doing well in the USA and in Canada …..
How hurtful also to see the proliferation of mocking cartoons, videos and memes (all over social media, it seems). And coming up to the anniversary of the introduction of that great band of public servants, too: the RIC Special Reserve and the Auxiliaries.
But as I said earlier, it took courage to attempt what you did – something lacking in your silent partners in government, Fianna Fáil, who remained silent until they could see how the public wind would blow. Someone could get hurt in the rush to disassociate! It is the fate of courageous individuals such as yourself, if I may borrow a phrase from a popular science fiction series, “to boldly go where no-one has gone before.” Even if it looks like no-one follows.
Would that we had men of your calibre here in France! The legitimacy of the Vichy Government (1940-1945) was denied by ‘Free France‘ during WWII and by all subsequent French governments after that. They maintained that the Vichy government was an illegal one run by traitors – hard to believe, I know but look it up on Wikipedia! A group of us have been trying to get German soldiers and the Vichy police honoured for some time now but can we find even one politician of any stature who would risk his reputation in the attempt? No, we seem to have no Monsieur Flanagans here in France, c’est dommage!
We have a network of people with similar interests in a number of other countries, including Russia, Poland, Vietnam and Algeria – you may smile when you see the network’s acronym: RIC! Of course the letters stand for other words in our case: Rehabilitation of Invader Collaborators. Whether it was the Russians or Poles who aided the German invaders, or the Algerians who aided our French occupation or the Vietnamese who aided the US invaders, they all have something in common: they did a difficult job, hated by most of their compatriots.
Bandying around words like “concentration camps”, “torture”, “massacres”, “rape” and “executions” does not conceal the truth that ultimately these men (and women, it must be said) were obeying orders. Some of those words I hear have been bandied around about the RIC and DMP too, including those of “spies”, “informers”, “shoneens” and “Castle Catholics”. One must admit that the Irish have a capacity for les bon mots, however one might disdain what they mean – while not mincing words they certainly know how to weave them, if you’ll pardon the mixed metaphors.
Perhaps some day when you can be spared from your Ministerial duties (or when you have retired, far away be the day!), you could come and address the annual general meeting of our RIC – it would be a great honour for us.
When, some day in the future, the Irish public recognises how deserving the RIC and DMP are of State honouring, the logical consequence will be of course to honour the Black and Tans and the Auxilliaries, who were sent specifically by Churchill to work in support of – and closely with – those two bodies of fine men. And once that has been accepted it should not be difficult to have the successors of the RIC in Northern Ireland honoured too: the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the B-Specials. Of course, there will be some die-hards who will mutter “sectarianism”, “brutality” and “Loyalist murder gang collusion” but one can never quite get rid of those bitter people, can one? God knows, the English tried!
Speaking of bitter words, I hear some Irish people are saying that as Minister for Justice, rather than honouring “traitors” and “murderers” (sic) you should be pursuing the English to disclose their secret papers regarding the murder of 33 people in the Dublin and Monaghan Bombing by alleged British agents in 1974. How unkind! Some people just can’t forget and move on, can they? Do they not realise that those bombers, whoever they were, were just obeying orders too?
And even bitterer! Some have been heard to say that if Michael Collins were alive he’d have had you shot, given that he had enough RIC, ‘Tans and Auxiliaries shot himself. One can understand some bitterness but that is really nasty, given that Collins can be said to be one of the founders of your own party. And who can truthfully say what Collins would or would not have done? He certainly surprised a lot of Republicans in 1922 when he borrowed British cannon to open fire on Republican positions in Dublin!
When the day comes in the future for Irish rehabilitation for those noble collaborators of foreign occupation, the Royal Ulster Constabulary and Dublin Metropolitan Police, then hopefully the Blueshirts, that fine body of men, co-founders of your own party Fine Gael, can be rehabilitated too. And who knows, some day even reconstituted and formally brought into government? It is not beyond the bounds of possibility, even though the sympathisers of those kinds of politics are very few at the moment ….
And then there’s the man they called “Lord Haw Haw”, William Joyce, of similar ideology — was he not an Irishman also? Did he not carry out his orders too? Of course, that might not go down too well with les Anglais due to his broadcasts in English from Nazi Germany — even though he was an informer against the IRA for the British during the War of Independence. Or perhaps precisely because of it: the English can never quite forgive one they consider theirs, once he turns against them, can they? One must be careful sometimes – after all, les Anglais still have quite some influence in the world, especially in your own country, n’est ce pas?
Friends and Comrades, self-respecting people of all organisations and none, Irish or migrants, who understand what it is to resist colonialism and imperialism and exploitation of labour: this is an appeal to act in defence of our self-respect.
As you must all be aware by now, the current Government of the Irish State plans to hold an event honouring the Royal Irish Constabulary and the Dublin Metropolitan Police in Dublin on the 17th of this month. Some at least are probably already considering how to react to this shameful event; I hope you are and if so, that you will give my suggestions some consideration. If you have not yet decided to respond to this event then I hope all the more that you will consider what I have to say.
The need to protest this event in a large and unified way is great. It is a matter of our self-respect as a nation, as a colonised people (and colonised peoples) that never ceased resisting, as workers, as trade unionists, as Irish Republicans and all varieties of the Left in Ireland.
The RIC and the DMP were not only the eyes and ears of the English colonist regime but also its first rank arm of repression after the British Army; they were the enforcement bodies of the landlords and bosses.
ROYAL IRISH CONSTABULARY
Formed in 1822, the armed nationwide Irish Constabulary got the “Royal” appellation from Victoria, the Famine Queen herself, in recognition of that organisation’s role in the suppression of the Fenian uprising of 1867. During the evictions of poor peasants and agricultural labourers from their lowly cottages and huts, the RIC attended every one, having become the FIRST RANK force of repression in Ireland, the Army being relegated to their backup should it be required. The RIC was the ever-present force of repression during the Tithes War, the Great Hunger and the Land War and was the main force responsible for the suppression of the Young Irelanders in 1848. On 5th May 1882 in Ballina, Co. Mayo, there were children among the slain when the RIC opened fire on a demonstration celebrating the release of the Land League leader prisoners.
During the 1916 Rising, the RIC again played its part in repression of the resistance movement, particularly outside Dublin and it was they who attacked the Kent house in Cork, killing one son and arresting two others, including Thomas Kent which the British colonial regime executed, being one of the Sixteen the British killed in reprisal for the Rising. The RIC was the principal organisation supplying the names of non-participants in the Rising to be arrested and interned in jails and concentration camps in Britain.
After the Rising, the RIC continued one of its main roles as the eyes and ears of the British occupation in Ireland, collecting information on anyone who sang patriotic songs, spoke for independence or against the landlords, joined an Irish cultural organisation, agitated for women’s suffrage, organised a trade union branch ….
It was largely due to this role that the armed Republican forces made the RIC its first target in the War of Independence and in fact, the very first shots of that war were fired at the RIC in Soloheadbeg, killing two of them – this very month, 21st January 1919, 101 years ago and only four days after the date upon which this quisling State plans to honour that force.
When the “Black and Tans” and “Auxiliaries”, the RIC Special Reserve and the RIC Auxiliary Division to give them their official titles, were dispatched in March 1920 at Churchill’s initiative to terrorise and murder Irish people, outside Dublin they became part of the of the RIC and from then on, the existing RIC became responsible not only for its prior crimes but for those of the ‘Tans and Auxies too, such as the many murders, including those of the Mayors of Cork and Limerick; the torture of suspects and violation of women; the burning of farmhouses and cooperatives and even of villages and towns: Tuam, Trim, Balbriggan, Knockcroghery, Thurles and Cork – among others.
In 1922, while the RIC ceased to exist in the ‘Free State’, they became the Royal Ulster Constabulary in the Six Counties, with their even-more murderous reserve, the B-Specials. The B-Specials were incorporated into the Ulster Defence Regiment in 1970 and the RUC was renamed the PSNI (Police Force of Northern Ireland) in 2001. Both organisations have been active in carrying out or in collusion with sectarian murders, acting as members or in collusion with Loyalist paramilitaries and under British intelligence operatives.
DUBLIN METROPOLITAN POLICE
The DMP was the colonial police force specifically responsible for controlling Dublin, the capital city of the colony. During the 1913 Lockout it showed itself capable of serving Irish capitalists, whether native or of colonist background, without discrimination. Indeed the leader of the Dublin 400 capitalists out to break the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union, was an Irish nationalist, Catholic and owner of The Irish Independent: William Martin Murphy.
Apart from any others this force of tall thugs may have killed or fatally injured with beatings in their cells, the DMP killed a number of workers during the eight months of the struggle, raided houses and sent many to jail. Two workers, James Nolan and John Burke, died of their injuries within days of the DMP’s baton charge on a street meeting in Eden Quay just by Liberty Hall on 30th August 1913. The following day, in what became known as Bloody Sunday Dublin 1913, the DMP was in action again on O’Connell Street and in Princes Street, mercilessly beating people there (including those already knocked down), during which they knocked unconscious Patsy O’Connor, a young Fianna boy of 16 giving first aid to one of the wounded. Patsy died two years later from his injuries at the age of 18.
In a rage at the defence by the residents of Corporation Flats of people fleeing the police charge on Eden Quay, the DMP returned there on the 31st, leaving hardly a door or stick of furniture unbroken or person unbeaten, including women and children.
The special political secret police in Dublin were the G Division of the DMP, spying and compiling files on active nationalists, republicans, socialists, suffragettes, Irish speakers, pacifists. After the Surrender of the 1916 Rising, it was they who came among the prisoners to identify them for the British Army, leading to many receiving death and jail sentences. During the 1916 Rising it appears that three DMP officers were killed by the Irish Citizen Army – while many hid in their cells.
During the War of Independence, the DMP G Division spied on and targeted Irish Republicans and other dissident groups. The Irish Republican Army of course targeted this force and killed a number of them. On the day when the IRA mobilised in Dublin to eliminate the special British Army counterinsurgency intelligence network, the DMP and the Auxiliaries seconded to them had already murdered Conor Clune and Volunteers Peadar Clancy and Dick McKee in Dublin Castle.
Later that day, the DMP and RIC went down to attack the GAA and murdered 14 unarmed people, including two players on the field, also injuring 60-70 people.
AN ADEQUATE PUBLIC RESPONSE IS NECESSARY
It is not only appropriate but absolutely necessary, as a matter of self-respect, that we mobilise a public opposition to this disgusting honouring of the spies on our people and the murderers of our martyrs.
There are many ways that this can be done but I would humbly suggest that two in particular are necessary:
A mass public demonstration near the day of the ceremony (or at least near it) and near Dublin Castle (where the event is to be held);
An electronic petition something along the lines of “Self-Respect: Against honouring colonial spies and murderers of our martyrs”.
Although our people have achieved a number of successes in struggle over the years, we have often failed too. In particular we failed to give an adequate response to the visit of the British Queen (and Commander-in-Chief of the Paratroopers) to Dublin, or to Wall of Shame in Glasnevin Cemetery. There were some other visits of notable imperialists which also did not receive an adequate response.
Failure is not fatal and we can recover from it – but we cannot build on failure. We can only build on success. This public response needs to be a success and in order to achieve that it cannot be the response of one organisation or of two but needs to be a broad one in which anyone can take part who are not racists or fascists. In order to achieve that, the organising committee should be broad enough to include activists from across the oppositional spectrum who are not part of a party of government (or part of previous government) in either jurisdiction in Ireland. Such an organising committee should be able to include representatives of socialist and republican parties and collectives and also trade unionists.
A broad demonstration of that kind should be free of paramilitary displays which would represent only a section and quite probably alienate another. But all Irish and migrant community and trade union flags and banners should be permitted (with the exception of racist or fascist ones) and the broad banner on the front should spell the general theme of the demonstration.
I am conscious that I am nobody in particular to make this call but given that I think such a response is necessary and that I really want to see this, I make the call anyway and pledge myself to help.
Dublin Castle, located in the south city centre, has been the centre of the British occupation of Ireland since 1171 until 1921 (and even after that, some would say).The site offers one-hour guided tours to the public for much of the day, at approximately an hour apart, seven days a week and last year claimed a visitor total of nearly half a million. As a Dubliner interested in history and a walking tour guide, I was well overdue to take an official guided tour of the place, which I did recently.
Overall the State Rooms Tour was interesting and I did learn some things but I was also aware of many gaps. Was this unavoidable in a tour of one hour covering more than eleven hundred years (given that Viking Dublin was also covered) of history? Of course – but in the choices of what to leave out, was there an ideology at play, one that sought to diminish the repressive history of the institution and the struggle against it?
The first presentation to us by the tour guide was of Viking Dublin, the settlement of which took place in the 7th Century. The Vikings had a confrontational occupation of England but this had not been the case here, we were told – the Vikings settled amongst us, intermarried, introduced personal and family names, place-names, etc.
Well, somehow the tour spiel had ignored the many battles between the Vikings and the natives in Ireland even after the settlement in Dublin (and other areas), leading up the famous Battle of Clontarf in 1014, fought on what is now the north side of Dublin city. The 12-hour battle was important enough to be recorded elsewhere in Europe and in a Viking saga. Yes, it had also been an inter-Irish battle, in particular between the King of Leinster and the High King of Ireland but Viking Dublin played an important part, as did Viking allies and mercenaries from Manx and the Orkneys – and its result had ended forever any possibility of a Viking takeover of Ireland.
A noticeable gap in Irish-Viking history of Dublin to omit it, one might say.
Nevertheless, the tour guide gave us interesting information about the Viking settlement and a map showed an artist’s impression of how it would have looked.
Down in the base of what had been the Powder Tower, it was interesting to see the stone work, to hear the guide talk about the foundation of the Viking wall below us and how the cement used to bind the stones was a mixture of sand, oxblood, horsehair and eggshells. To me it was also interesting to see the stone course lines of one pointed arch above a curved one but unsure what I was looking at — and we were a big group, the tour guide some distance away to ask.
Down below the walkway, where water lay on the ground a couple of inches deep, some green plant was growing in the lights illuminating the work. This was above the route of the Poddle, I supposed, which once fed the Linn Dubh (black pool) and which now runs underneath Castle and city before emptying into the Liffey.
“BEYOND THE PALE”
The Normans reached Dublin in 1171 after landing in Wexford in 1169, our guide informed us but we were not told that in the process they defeated Irish resistance and the Dublin Vikings and, most curiously, there was no mention of the Pale. That would have been an interesting explanation to visitors of the origin of the expression “beyond the Pale” and what it implied1.
The guide did tell us later in the St. Patrick’s Hall (the State banquet room) that the paintings on the ceiling were to demonstrate to the Irish that all the civilising influences had come from the English to the Irish savages, that if the Irish were now civilised, their ranking was definitely below the English.
That might have been an appropriate time to mention of the Statutes of Killkenny 1366, nearly two centuries after the Norman invasion and how the Irish Normans had, outside Dublin, adopted ‘uncivilised’ Gaelic tongue, custom and even law, so that their cousins in England were now calling them “the degenerate English” who had become “more Irish than the Irish themselves”.
If the English Reformation got a mention I must have missed it but certainly there was nothing said about the imposition of the new religion on Ireland, colonists and natives alike and the many wars that resulted. Anglicanism had become the religion of the English State, with its monarch at the head of the Church but none of the Irish natives and most of the colonists did not wish to adopt that religion. So it led to many uprisings, first notably from the Irish Normans (Gall-Ghael), then by the Irish and a number of major wars, including the Cromwellian and Williamite ones, also to the Penal Laws. That State religion was the reason that Elizabeth I had founded Trinity College, so that the sons of the colonists would be educated in the “true faith”. Religion had been used by the coloniser to try to undermine unity among the inhabitants of Ireland and had been employed to physically divide the island in 1922, which had also led to a much more recent war of nearly three decades.
The Reformation and its effects seemed a quite significant portion to leave out of Irish history in general and of Dublin history in particular.
As the Castle had briefly been acknowledged as being, among other things, a prison, it seemed strange to omit the escape after four years of captivity of Red Hugh O’Donnel and two O’Neill brothers in 1592 — particularly so since the whole experience had left O’Donnell with a seething hatred of the English occupation which only ended years later in a poisoned death in Spain at the hands of an English agent. Aodh Ruadh Ó Domhnaill, as he was known then to most of Ireland (and Scotland), fought the English occupation from 1591 to 1602. Apart from being an important part of the Castle’s history one would have thought it would make an exciting and interesting story for tourists.
However, the story was omitted – but then so were the tortures carried out in the Castle, the severed heads erected on spikes on Castle walls and, although it was said that it took the English 400 years to conquer the rest of Ireland, this was apparently because “there were no roads and there were lots of bogs”!
Commenting on later medieval Dublin city, the guide told us about the many diseases that were endemic, due to lack of sanitation in the city, along with blood-letting being the major medical treatment. It was strange that she did not mention the effects of the Black Death or Bubonic Plaque, which travelled through Ireland in 1634. The plague, carried by fleas on the black rat, affecting almost alone the city populations, almost wiped out the English colony in Ireland.
IRISH WOOD, FAKE STONE COLUMNS
In the Chapel, the guide pointed out the names and coats of arms on each side as being those of Lord Lieutenants of Ireland, i.e the representatives of the English monarch in governing Ireland. There were of course no native Irish names among them and few even of the Gall-Ghael.
One that took my attention, near the doorway, was that of Cornwallis, dated 1798. Lord Cornwallis (“Cornwall’” in the traditional ballad The Croppy Boy) was in charge of the suppression of the United Irishmen uprising in 1798, at which he was successful but less so in the Thirteen Colonies of North America, which he lost to rebellious colonists, some of whom were relatives and friends of the beaten republicans in Ireland.
In response to an enquiry as to whether there were any questions, I asked who were represented by the sculpted heads along the chapel wall on the outside. Some represented Christian saints and some kings, such as Brian Boru2, she replied. Is there a list available of who they all are? No, I was told, only of some of them and I could consult that later.
Amazingly, only the floor and walls in the chapel were stone. The columns, she told us, were Irish oak plastered over to look like stone.
MONARCHS AND PRESIDENTS
In her introduction to the tour, our guide had informed us that Lords, Kings, Queens and Presidents had visited the Castle. The creation of the role of President in the 1937 Constitution, she told us later, had been to replace that of the English Monarch. I had not been aware of that. She told us that he commanded the Army, which was news to me too (or I had forgotten) and it turns out to be true, though more so in form than in substance for, as she informed us, real power is vested in the Taoiseach (Prime Minister).
In the Throne Room we were told that Queen Victoria had visited Ireland 1n 1849 and had to be lifted up to the Throne, as she was so small (bit of a deflater for the lines in the “Monto” song!3).
In her visit to Ireland the guide told us, the Monarch had been shocked by the scenes of hunger during the “Famine” (the Great Hunger) and that aid to the starving improved after her visit. Well, perhaps but the effects of the Great Hunger were covered in newspapers and appeals long before 1849 and the worst of the holocaust was over before then, the statistics of which the guide gave us; in our folk history Victoria is referred to as “the Famine Queen”.
The guide made much of the fact that Queen Elizabeth II (who might be known in a republic as: “Ms. Elizabeth Windsor”), had visited the Castle, had spoken in Irish at the reception banquet and how this was the first time an English monarch had spoken English at a State occasion, though Elizabeth I she told us knew a few Irish phrases.4 The guide attached no little importance to Elizabeth I’s gesture and to the whole visit as an act of reconciliation and we know that no less than the Irish President at the time, Mary Mac Aleese, had looked around mouthing “Wow!” when the monarch spoke five words in Irish: “A Uachtaráin agus a chairde … (“President and friends” …).
Such is the sycophancy of the Castle Irish mentality, that five words in the native language of a country being visited by a head of a foreign state should evoke such wonder and gratitude in their hearts. Forgetting that the very colonial regime of that state had for centuries worked to stamp out that language, barring it from all public arenas and educational institutions. One must wonder that a monarch whose armed forces are in occupation of one-sixth of the nation’s territory should be so honoured by the head of this state and other dignitaries from the areas of politics and visual, written and performing arts!5
I could have commented that during the Monarch’s visit, huge areas of the city centre had been barred to traffic by the police force of this “republic” in a huge negation of civil liberties; that police had been taking down posters against the visit and ripping even Irish tricololour flags from the hands of protester to stuff them in rubbish bins and truck; that Dublin City Council workmen had been removing anti-Royal graffiti while workers’ housing estates had been waiting for years for a cleanup service.
Guiding a small Latin American tour through the Castle grounds a few days before the scheduled banquet-reception, we were accosted by secret police who required us to state and prove our identities, state our reasons for being there (!) and the tour group to hand over their cameras for the agents to scroll through their histories. And the agents seemed surprised when I failed to agree with them that their actions had been reasonable.
I could have said that during Elizabeth Windsor’s reception banquet I had been with others in Thomas Street protesting her Castle reception and that at the corner with Patrick Street, we had been prevented by lines of riot Gardai from proceeding any further – not out of concern for her security but so that Her Majesty should not even hear any sound or see anything to disturb the serenity of her visit.
I did not say any of that – I still had a tour to finish and, besides, no doubt this is the Castle Tour Discourse, not to be blamed on one guide.
We were shown too the two banquet halls, the original and the one for state visits nowadays as the original was “too small”.6 And the sights of hunger outside the Castle walls in 1849 had not seemed to intrude on the guests enjoying the five-course meal served at Victoria’s welcoming banquet.
Seeming somewhat out of place, there was also an exhibition of Irish painting of the modernist school.
Portraits of the Presidents of the Irish State lined the corridor through which we passed to St. Patrick’s Hall (also the Irish State banquet room) and I could not help but contemplate that of the nine Presidents to date, one had been a founder of an organisation banned by the British occupation, another two had been soldiers against the British occupation but had since taken part in the suppression of their erstwhile comrades.
Another was the son of an Englishman who became an Irish Republican and was executed by the Irish state and another had resigned after being insulted in the Dáil by a Minister of the Government.
Not surprisingly, perhaps, nothing was said about any of that, either.
NO CASTLE CATHOLICS OR COPS?
Coming into more modern times, the I916 Rising got a reference, unsurprisingly as a detachment of the Irish Citizen Army had besieged the Castle for a couple of days, mostly from the nearby City Hall; the ICA’s leader, ironically, had been brought a wounded prisoner from Moore Street and treated in the Castle too. That was James Connolly and he was mentioned — though the ICA was not, nor were we informed that he was a revolutionary socialist. We were told we could visit the room named after him in which he had been held and treated on a bed there. After the end of the guided tour I went there and although it was an experience to enter the room of course the actual display was disappointingly sparse.
As headquarters of the British occupation of Ireland and necessarily of repression of resistance, the Castle always had soldiers stationed or passing through there. But it also held a police force, the secret service of the Dublin Metropolitan Police. Usually unarmed with more than a truncheon up until 1916, the uniformed DMP maintained order and bourgeois public morality in Dublin but also repressed public resistance to the British occupation. Not only sex workers and drunks were arrested but so were singers of patriotic ballads, protesters and public speakers. During times of Fenian activity, the DMP also worked to counter the influence of Irish patriots in the city and the plain-clothes G Division was created in 1874 to recruit informers and hunt down active Fenians.
A section of the Fenians were however prepared to counter this with assassinations of informers, some DMP and attempts on the lives of senior DMP officials in the city7 during the mid 19th Century. In the early years of the 20th Century it was G Division which also spied on activists in the trade union and labour movement, nationalists, republicans, the Irish language movement and suffragettes and it was they who identified Irish insurgent prisoners captured by the British Army in 1916, ensuring the death sentence for many (though 14 were eventually executed in Dublin).
The DMP, mostly the uniformed officers, could in fact be credited with being the inspiration to form the Irish Citizen Army: the vicious and sometimes murderous attacks of the DMP on workers’ assemblies during the 1913 Dublin Lockout had decided James Connolly and Jim Larkin to call for the creation of the workers’ militia. During the Rising, it seems that three DMP were shot dead, all by members of the ICA, one of them being at the Dublin Castle entrance.
On Bloody Sunday 1920, during the War of Independence, two IRA officers and an Irish language enthusiast prisoners were tortured and killed in Dublin Castle by police, including the specially-recruited terrorists of the Auxiliary Division. In order to cover up their actions, the police staged photos which they claimed depicted the prisoners not properly guarded and then jumping their guards to seize their weapons, which is how they came by their deaths, according to the cover story.
Soon after that, G Division detectives were being killed in various parts of the city by Collins’ Squad and the Dublin IRA. In fact, a number of the officers and of British Army spies took up residence in the Castle itself, for protection.
After the creation of the Irish Free State in 1921, the independence movement split and in the following Civil War (1922-1923) the repression of the continuing resistance was mostly the work of the Irish National Army. However, when the Irish police force was established, the Gardaí Síochána, their Special Branch detectives were again based in Dublin Castle,8 though they are based elsewhere now.
Since there was no mention of any this on our tour, a significant part of Castle history was being omitted.
CASTLE CATHOLIC IDEOLOGY?
There existed during the British occupation a social group — or perhaps more than one — that in the commentary of most Irish, perhaps, were referred to as “Castle Catholics”. This was not a reference to Catholics who owned a castle but to those of the native and Norman-Irish stock, i.e nearly all Catholics who, while maintaining their religion, bowed to the English occupation in everything else. And particularly the more elevated echelons among that group, for whom attendance at functions in the Castle were the high point of their social calendars and indeed their lives. Ag sodar i ndiaidh na n-uaisle9, as the Irish have it in their native tongue.
With some exceptions, I thought the tour and commentary, although interesting and of course catering to the expectations of foreign tourists, had more than a little of “Castle Catholic” or, better said, “Castle Irish” to it.
And it therefore lost a lot in the telling.
1Effectively an English anti-Irish racist term: “The Pale” referred at first to the areas enclosed by the Normans by an earthworks surmounted by a wooden palisade, i.e the area of colonist control. “Beyond the Pale” were the areas still under control of the Irish clans, uncivilised in the viewpoint of the colonists and the expression survives in English today to describe something as being a horror.
2A missed opportunity to mention the Battle of Clontarf and the defeat of the Dublin Viking and Irish Leinster forces!
4Apparently Elizabeth I had a fair bit of linguistic ability, being fluent in English, Latin and French. It is believed by some that she knew more than a few phrases of Irish, having been taught by a tutor she recruited.
5Among them were the musicians The Chieftains and the poet laureate Heaney who had, some decades earlier written that “no glass was ever raised in our house to an English King or Queen”!
6There were 172 dinner guests at the banquet to welcome Elizabeth I of the UK.
7For a good atmospheric account of the struggle between the two forces, see The Shadow of the Brotherhood – the Temple Bar shootings by Barry Kennerc, Mercer (2010)
8An Irish Republican ballad of the early 1970s based on an earlier song had it thus:
“Oh the Special Branch in Dublin,
They’re something for to see:
They crawl out from the Castle
To inform on you and me.
But the day is coming soon me boys
And the rifles they will bark –
El 5 de agosto de 1914, el Consejo Supremo de la IRB1, un mes después de que los británicos declararon la guerra a Alemania, decidió en principio instigar un alzamiento por la independencia de Irlanda.
El 5 de agosto de 1914, un mes después de que los británicos declararon la guerra, el Consejo Supremo de la Hermandad Republicana Irlandesa2 decidió en principio liderar un levantamiento. Ellos imaginaron, como muchos observadores hicieron también, que la Guerra no duraría mucho y armarse y prepararse para una insurrección sería difícil dentro de ese marco de tiempo. La Guerra continuó mucho más allá del período esperado de un año, proporcionó al IRB el espacio para organizar, planificar y preparar, y también con un aliado para armarlos: Alemania.
La división en los Voluntarios Irlandeses causada por el discurso de Redmond3 en Woodenbridge, ofreciendo los Voluntarios al imperialismo británico para la guerra contra el imperialismo alemán y Turquía, dejó a la Hermandad Republicana Irlandesa secreta en una posición para tomar el control del resto, aquellos que declinaron luchar por Gran Bretaña y, en cambio, decidieron luchar por la independencia de Irlanda. Durante varios meses, Patrick Pearse se convirtió en Director de la Organización Militar, Bulmer Hobson Intendente General, Joseph Plunkett se convirtió en Director de Operaciones Militares, Éamonn Ceannt, Director de Comunicaciones, mientras que Thomas MacDonagh se convirtió en Director de Capacitación.
El jefe titular de los Voluntarios, el erudito del gaélico Eoin Mac Neil, y figuras fundadoras como El O’Rahilly, mientras ocupaban puestos prominentes y se negaban a seguir a Redmond, no incorporaban la misma coherencia y determinación para la insurrección que encarnaba el IRB.
Esa lista de puestos de oficiales de IRB dentro de los Voluntarios contiene cuatro de los posteriores siete signatarios de la Proclamación de 19164. Que no aparecen los nombres de Seán Mac Diarmada y Thomas Clarke, aunque son figuras centrales en la reorganización del IRB en años anteriores, no es sorprendente: el Fenian mayor, veterano de 15 años en la cárcel británica en condiciones que, se dice, envió un tercio de sus camaradas locos y otro tercio a tumbas tempranas, prefirió trabajar en las sombras. Sin duda había instruido a su estudiante y enérgico organizador, Mac Diarmada, a hacer lo mismo en la medida de lo posible. Sin embargo, ellos también se unieron al ampliado Consejo Militar a fines de 1915.
El quinto de los signatarios de la Proclamación que falta es James Connolly5, quien en agosto de 1914 se estaba recuperando y reconstruyendo el Sindicato de Transporte y Trabajadores Generales de Irlanda, meses después del final de la agotadora lucha de 8 meses contra el patronal de Dublín6. Pero estaba horrorizado por la guerra imperialista y el enfrentamiento de los trabajadores entre sí, dividido por las clases dominantes de sus respectivas ubicaciones, vestidos en uniformes de diferentes colores que ocultaban sus intereses comunes. Connolly quería un levantamiento, no solo por la independencia, sino también contra la próxima carnicería de la guerra. La reorganización del Ejército Ciudadano Irlandés, la milicia de la defensa obrera, comenzó a comprometer las energías de Connolly, pero el solamente tomó el juramento del IRB en enero de 1916, tres meses antes del Alzamiento.
Tantos hilos diferentes de la vida irlandesa – cultural, política, de clase y de nación – se habían unido para tejer un tapiz que se leería de diferentes maneras durante décadas pero que aún tendría poderosos imágenes, colores y palabras para mover a mujeres y hombres un siglo después.
Notas a pie de página
1Irish Republican Brotherhood, organización revolucionaria republicana secreta. Además de en Irlanda, tenía grande representación in Gran Bretaña y en los EEUU.
2La misma organización y a veces llamada La Hermandad Fenian.
3John Redmond, jefe del Partido Nacionalista de Irlanda, cual poco antes había obligado a los Voluntarios aceptar sus nominados en el Ejecutivo.
4Patrick Pearse, Joseph Plunkett, Thomas Mac Donagh y Éamonn Ceannt.
5Revolucionario comunista y republicano, criado en la diáspora irlandesa en Edimburgo.
6El Cierre Patronal de Dublín del 1913, que también había comenzado en el agosto.
On the 5th August 1914 the Supreme Council of the IRB, one months after the British had declared war on Germany, decided in principle to instigate a rising for Irish independence.
On 5th August 1914, one month after the British had declared war, the Supreme Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood decided in principle to lead a Rising. They envisaged, as many observers did too, that the War would not last long and arming and preparing for an insurrection would be difficult within that timeframe. The war continuing well beyond the at most expected period of a year, provided the IRB with the space to organise, plan, prepare – and also with an ally to arm them: Germany.
The split in the Irish Volunteers caused by Redmond’s speech at Woodenbridge, offering the Volunteers to British Imperialism for the war against German Imperialism and Turkey, left the secret Irish Republican Brotherhood in a position to take control of the remainder, those who declined to fight for Britain and determined instead to fight for Ireland’s independence.
Over a number of months Patrick Pearse became Director of Military Organisation, Bulmer Hobson Quartermaster General, Joseph Plunkett became Director of Military Operations, Éamonn Ceannt, Director of Communications, while Thomas MacDonagh became Director of Training.
The titular head of the Volunteers, the Gaelic scholar Eoin Mac Neil, and such founding figures as The O’Rahilly, while in prominent positions and refusing to follow Redmond, did not embody the same coherence and determination for insurrection as was embodied in the IRB.
That list above contains four of the later signatories of the 1916 Proclamation. Seán Mac Diarmada and Thomas Clarke are missing but, though central figures in the reorganisation of the IRB over preceding years, that is not surprising: the older Fenian, veteran of 15 years in British jail in conditions which, it is said, sent one third of his comrades insane and another third to early graves, preferred to work in the shadows. No doubt he had instructed his student and energetic organiser, Mac Diarmada, to do likewise in so far as possible. However, they too joined the expanded Military Council in late 1915.
The fifth of the Proclamation Signatories missing is James Connolly, who in August 1914 was recovering and rebuilding the Irish Transport & General Workers union,months after the end of their exhausting 8-month struggle against the Dublin employers. But he was horrified by the imperialist war and the pitting of workers against one another, divided by the ruling classes of their respective locations, uniforms of different colours concealing their common interests. Connolly wanted a rising – not just for independence but also against the coming butchery of War. The reorganisation of the Irish Citizen Army, the worker’s defence militia, began to engage Connolly’s energies but he was only sworn into the IRB in January 1916, three months before the Rising.
So many different threads in Irish life – cultural, political, class and nation – had been coming together, to weave a tapestry that would be read in different ways over decades but would still have powerful images, colours and words to move women and men over a century later.
English Prince Harry Windsor and his bride Meaghan were in Ireland this week and were shown around Dublin.
“Ah yeah, this is where we fought yez in 1171 ….
“Our people were banned from the city for a while after that. Yes, security … quite ….
In 1366 yez got in a strop wit yer own people for starting to talk Irish, wearing Irish clothes, playing Irish games …. Called them ‘the degenerate English’ … said they’d become ‘more Irish than the Irish themselves.’ Yes, a few of them got hung.
There’s where some of our chieftains’ sons escaped your jail in 1592 after you took them hostage — some never escaped of course, ha, ha and their heads remained on spikes. Yes, a bit gruesome.
Then in the 1640s again because yer people wouldn’t change their religion (nor us, as it happens). Yes, old Oliver. I know, your family’s not too fond of him either ….
Yes, Trinity College, founded by yer own Queen Elizabeth. What, no, bless me, not her Majesty now — the first one! Well, to educate yer people here in the Protestant faith because they were being sent off to Catholic countries to be educated.
Just down the hill there’s where yez arrested the Leinster Directorate of the United irishmen in 1798. No, mostly Protestants …
And the bridges there, where yez hung a lot of their followers, putting their bodies in Croppies’ Acre afterwards, just across the river there. No, not a graveyard as such — a mass grave, just a hole in the ground. There are quite a few songs about that period. Yes, still sung today.
And across the road there is where the irish Parliament was — well, Anglicans only — abolished to precede the Act of Union in 1801. Yes, that was when all of Ireland became part of the UK.
….. Back up there, Robert Emmet was hung and beheaded two years later …. Yes, there is a song about that too.
Ah yes, and just down from the Castle, which was yer Headquarters, is where the The United Irishman newspaper was suppressed in 1848 and its editors and writers sent to Australia and Tasmania. No, not for a holiday — as convicts.
Now, across the river … Worker killed there during the 1913 Lockout and many injured by police the day after too. Oh, it lasted about eight months. Yes, it is a long time, your Highness. But they had some help from England. Oh, not from the Government, not at all, bless your Highness. From British trade unionists. Yes, a few songs about that Lockout also. Yes, we are very musical, thank you.
Oh yes, Bachelor’s Walk Massacre over there, 1914 …. No, nothing to do with stag parties — though sometimes …. No, not by the IRA — by the Scottish Borderers, British Army.
1916 Rising fighting post there …. there …. over there to the East …. further back there to the west…. and south …. and there. Yes, fourteen executed in the Kilmainham Gaol Museum …. no, it wasn’t a museum at the time … Oh, many, many songs …
Now, over there was where Kevin Barry was hung … Yes, there is a song about that as well, your Highness.
One of the RIC G-men shot there by our people… and another over there … Ah, the RIC? Well, sort of like yer PSNI up north now …
Civil War, yes, 1922 -’23. Yes, Collins was glad of yer cannons for that.
Dublin Bombings …. yes, in 1974. The IRA? No, bless me, not at all! Yer own intelligence service and loyal allies. Yes, it was …. biggest number of deaths in one day during the whole recent 30 years war. No, strangely, not one arrest ……
No, the British Embassy’s not in the City Centre anymore, Your Royal Highness Meaghan …. not since 1972. Well it got burned. No, not accidentally — a big crowd burned it after Bloody Sunday up in Derry, you know, when 14 were killed by your father-in-law’s regiment ….
History can and should be researched, interpreted, discussed, argued and used for lessons on current questions and projections into the future. It can also be used in fiction: as the backdrop for a novel; as a way of bringing historical events to life; as a what-if speculative story.
James Plunkett (21 May 1920 – 28 May 2003) used the Dublin Lockout as a backdrop for his Strumpet City and did it wonderfully well; Walter Macken (3 May 1915 – 22 April 1967) wrote a fictionalised account of brothers in the War of Independence and the Civil War in The Scorching Wind and also did it well1. Roddy Doyle did NOT do it well at all in his historical novel (A Star Called Henry) and sadly nor did Darran McCann in “After the Lockout”. Interestingly, the central characters in both latter books were what one might call “Left critics” of the leaders of the struggle and one is tempted to conclude that the attitudes of the central characters mirror those of their creators.
It seems fair enough that we can play with history in fiction but, when using it as a backdrop for a story, it should be accurately represented – otherwise, surely one should invent something else entirely?
Doyle did some reading on the GPO garrison’s struggle for the background of his “A Star Called Henry” but seemed to have done none for the War of Independence, in which he had his hero and heroine like a kind of Republican Bonny and Clyde living in ditches and shooting up the Free State forces. McCann seems to have done hardly any reading on the Lockout (and not that much on the GPO garrison’s fight either). Having Jim Larkin give a speech from the restaurant in Murphy’s Imperial Hotel restaurant window is bad enough – when we know he only got to say a few sentences before the Dublin Metropolitan Police ran in to arrest him – but having him then shin down a rope and get away is absolutely ridiculous.
McCann set the story of his central character, Victor Lennon, in between the 1916 Rising and the War of Independence and it has many of the elements of the story of James Gralton (17 April 1886 – 29 December 1945), the only Irish person to have been officially exiled from Ireland by an Irish government (in 1933).
McCann’s Victor Lennon, a communist and member of the Irish Citizen Army, gets people in his home town to build a dance hall in opposition to the local Bishop, which a mob then burns down. Gralton, a communist also, did that too, in Leitrim; however, he ran dances there and also gave talks – it was a success, to a considerable degree. The Irish Catholic Church vehemently opposed Gralton and in McCann’s novel the Bishop and local supporters also mobilise against Victor: the hall is burned down before any dance is held in it. Like Gralton’s story, there is a shooting incident around the dance hall too – a fatal one, in which Victor’s father and two IRA men are killed. But instead of being deported from Ireland, as Gralton was (illegally) by an Irish Government, which in McCann’s story had not yet come into existence, Victor heads off for Dublin to join the Volunteers in what will become the IRA and the War of Independence.
Roddy Doyle wrote very disrespectfully about Volunteers, Pearse and a number of other leaders and even salaciously about anonymous wives of martyred men. He did so by placing those words and thoughts in the mouth and mind of his central character, Henry Smart. McCann does somewhat the same but to nowhere near the same extent as did Doyle.
I admit to finding that lack of respect extremely distasteful but also from a historical point of view I see it as anachronistic. I find it hard to believe that those who took part in the Rising despised those who fought alongside them, no matter the difference in ideology – or that they spoke so contemptuously of their leaders, martyred or not. Disagreed, certainly – disagreed strongly, probably. But disrespect and contempt? No, that is attaching a post-Free State intellectual revisionist attitude on to participants in the Rising and in the War of Independence. Later, there would be fear and hatred, during the Civil War, but even then, none of that contemptuous and dismissive attitude.
I am not the only critic from a historical perspective, as I see from a quick Googling. Reviewing the book for the Irish Independent in 2012, Pat Hunt had this to say:
“The opening section set in Dublin reads more like a 1917 Thom’s Street Directory and a survey of political events and personalities of the time. The seediness of the red-light Monto district in the inner city does not ring true. The period feel of the city of Armagh is much better realised.
“The author’s editor has done him no favours. It was never possible to hop on a train at Amiens Street and hop off at Harcourt Street station (not unless one took a scenic route via Bray).
“The Big Wind of 1839 occurred on the Feast of the Epiphany, not Pentecost. Forecasts of wine lakes and butter mountains (concepts that emerged with the EEC and its common agricultural policy) could not have been envisioned by even the most ardent socialist in 1917.”
Hilary Mantel, who writes historical fiction, praised McCann’s book and I can only assume that she knows very little of Irish history, nor indeed should we expect that she should – her background is not Irish. Glen Patterson, novelist from the Six Counties, praised it highly too and I assume did so on the composition of the writing, turn of phrase, story-telling etc – but I sincerely hope he did not do so on a historical basis.
After the Lockout, Darran McCann, Harper Collins 2012.
1 Though not perhaps as well as the other two books in the trilogy, those dealing with the Cromwellian war and Great Hunger periods: Seek the Fair Land and The Silent People)
After the Spanish police attack on voters in a referendum on independence in Catalunya1 on October 1st, People Before Profit2 Councillor Tina McVeigh put forward a motion condemning the attack and calling for the Catalan Flag to be flown over Dublin City Hall as a mark of solidarity with the Catalan people and their right to determine their future.
This was not such a wild step for the Council to take as it may seem: the Palestinian flag had been flown from City Hall in May, to the delight of most Dubliners but to the disgust of the Israeli Ambassador and to Zionist sympathiser and former Government Minister Alan Shatter. And Dublin city has been ‘twinned’ with Barcelona since 1998.
Nevertheless, in November the Protocol Committee agreed to recommend flying it by majority only, seven votes for and five against. It still had to be voted on by the whole Council and so went forward on to the agenda for the monthly meeting in December. Councillors began receiving emails from Spanish unionists asking them to vote against, which at first substantially outnumbered those in favour. As the first Monday in December drew nearer, the correspondence equalised between those in favour and those against. But the meeting ran over time before the motion was reached on the agenda and another date was set to discuss it. When the councillors reconvened, the motion was proposed, discussed and voted on. Unlike the decision on the Palestinian flag earlier this year, the vote was very close but the motion passed by three votes.
In January this year the Catalan flag was hoisted – the regional ensaya and not either of the independence esteladas3 – on top of City Hall, where it will fly for a month. City Hall is itself a historic site, having been part of a battleground during the 1916 Rising. On January 6th, Catalans and some supporters gathered outside City Hall to celebrate the show of solidarity in the flying of the Catalan flag.
Joan Pau of Casal Catala of Ireland4 welcomed the attendance and thanked the Councillors for flying the flag and introduced the Lord Mayor, Mícheál Mac Donncha, telling those present how he had approached the Catalans to help them. Mac Donncha (SF)5 thanked the Catalans for the invitation to attend and said that he was proud of the Council for the decision they had taken. He remarked also that in the past Ireland had political prisoners just like those now in Spanish jails for supporting the Catalan referendum and deplored elected officials of Catalunya being jailed for following the mandate of the people. He spoke also about Ireland’s fight for freedom and how in the 1916 Rising, Volunteers had taken over City Hall itself.
Joan Pau then expressed his regret that Cnclr. Tina McVeigh could not be present due to a family bereavement, since she had been very active in solidarity with the Catalan people. He introduced Cnclr. John Lyons (also PBP) who also expressed his pride on the result of the vote, as well as his condemnation of the Spanish Government, as distinct from the Spanish people, for their undemocratic and violent behaviour in the October 1st attacks and subsequently in the jailing of Catalan public representatives. He also condemned the Irish Government for not supporting the right of the Catalan people to self-determination.
Although a Spanish unionist had contacted the Council to threaten a counter-demonstration, there was no sign of any such presence throughout the ceremony. A number of passing tourists took photos (some even having themselves photographed with the group) and a number of passing motorists tooted their horns in solidarity.
After the formal part of the meeting was over, Dublin walking history tour guide Diarmuid Breatnach invited Catalans to gather around DCC’s plaque to the garrison of City Hall and surrounding buildings in 1916. The guide explained the origin of the Irish Citizen Army in the Dublin Lockout of 1913 as a workers’ defence militia against brutal attacks by the Dublin Metropolitan Police Force. It has been called “the first workers’ army” Breatnach told them and drew attention also to it being the only one of the various organisations taking part in the Rising that formally gave equal status to men and women. There were women officers in the ICA and after the killing of the commandant of this garrison Seán Connolly, it was a woman who took over as commandant. The fighting here had been fierce as Dublin Castle is just next door and that had been the HQ of the British Occupation of Ireland since 1169.
After receiving answers to a few questions, many of those present retired to a local pub to warm up and to carry on conversation on a number of topics, in the best Irish – and Catalan – manner. Up above, the Catalan flag on the east side of City Hall’s roof waved in the breeze, with the Irish tricolour next to it, in the centre, waving too.
1Catalunya is considered part of wider nation called Paisos Catalans (Catalan Countries) which includes Valencia, the Balearic Islands and parts of Aragon and Murcia; most of it lies within the current territory of the Spanish state, with a small part within the French state. Catalunya (capital Barcelona) is one of the regions within the Spanish state with limited autonomy and it is there that the referendum was held, the result mandating its Parlament to create and independent republic. The Spanish Government and Constitutional Court ruled the referendum illegal, confiscated ballot boxes, assaulted hundreds of voters, declared the referendum result non-valid, jailed a number of elected members and activists, threatened others with jail, ruled Catalunya directly Spain and called for new elections, which confirmed the situation more or less as before. The struggle is ongoing.
2People Before Profit was launched as a broad front by the Trotskyist organisation the Socialist Workers’ Party Ireland, formerly the Socialist Workers’ Movement, founded in 1971 and close to the SWP of Britain.
3There are two Catalan independence flags or estelladas: the Republican one with red stripes on a yellow background, with a small blue triangle to the left, containing a white star; the Socialist (or Communist) one, also with red stripes on a yellow background but with a red star to the left and no triangle. The regional ensaya, without any star, was proposed as the one least likely to cause division.
4Casal Catala are Catalan cultural associations that have been founded in a number of countries outside Catalunya.
5SF or Sinn Féin – the party is represented on Dublin City Council and tradition has it that the Lord Mayor is elected yearly in rotation from among the elected representatives; this Council year it was SF’s turn again.
The Report contains some very welcome elements which campaigners will appreciate, as well as being proud in bringing them about. But those elements are combined with some very dangerous ones, specifically in some of the recommendations at the end of the Report — and recommendations are the strongest part of any report. That combination of welcome and dangerous elements may or may not be specifically designed to split the forces campaigning for the conservation and appropriate development of the Moore Street Historic Quarter but it will almost certainly have that effect. This, taken together with the offending recommendations means that the Report in total is a dangerous and divisive document containing a number of significant recommendations which it seems to me we are duty bound to oppose.
The positive elements in the Report are bound to engender a touch of euphoria about the Report among many close and distant supporters of the broad campaign to save the Moore Street historical quarter. Those who do not read on to the Recommendations or who do not think them through.
Consequently there is bound to be an element of criticism of those who do not support it as a whole – epithets such as “begrudgers” or “Utopians” are bound to come to minds and even be hurled.
The temptation is to “win something” after many years of campaigning. Another temptation is to see the positive and imagine it contains more than it actually does, while ignoring the looming negatives. Junctures like this test campaigners, sometimes even more than decisions about whether to risk fines and jail by breaking the law when that seems the only viable action left to halt an injustice or to remedy one. There have been many difficult junctures like this in Irish history.
Indeed a number of occasions of this sort have occurred before in this very campaign.
A HISTORY OF APPARENT CONCESSIONS TO SPLIT OR DISCREDIT CAMPAIGNERS WHILE FACILITATING SPECULATORS
1) When there were murmurs in Government circles that No.16 might be saved some people were very happy and, indeed, one campaign FB page had been named “Save 16 Moore Street”. Others objected and stated that this was insufficient historical recognition of what had gone on there.
2) Again, when the State accorded protective and preservation status to Nos.14-17 in 2007, there was a similar reaction of euphoria and congratulation from many people. This was resisted by some campaigners who pointed out that almost at the same time, the giant shopping mall plan had been agreed by the local authority (and later by the State), which would see the rest of the block and the laneways demolished and that the historic buildings were being allowed to deteriorate. The ‘nay-sayers’ were proved correct on this occasion.
3) It is worth recalling that around this time, the property speculator involved (at that time only Joe O’Reilly of Chartered Land), proposed to turn the four houses into a museum upstairs with a cafe and toilets downstairs and to incorporate the whole into the giant shopping mall. He had the shoebox museum plan promoted in a flashy video and he succeeded in splitting the campaigning 1916 relatives group, bringing four of them (including one of James Connolly grandsons) out in favour of his proposal (a fact that the State and the media have regularly used to counter the objectives of the broader campaign).
4) In the summer of 2014, the speculator O’Reilly of Chartered Land, by this time being paid by NAMA to manage his debts, proposed to Dublin City Council to swap them two of the four protected houses for their two at the north end of the terrace, which was where the Council had their cleaning depot. The head of the Planning Department (also Deputy Chief Executive of the Council) Jim Keoghan and the Chief Executive Jim Keegan, unsurprisingly in view of their record, recommended the deal.
At this time, even some supporters of the broad campaign stated that campaigners should take the deal because it put four houses of preservation status into public ownership. Thankfully they were outvoted, since with those end-of-terrace buildings in his possession, the speculator would have been free to begin to demolish houses all the way at least up to No.18 – at total of seven houses and approximately half the terrace.
But a new campaign was launched specifically to defeat this deal, bringing a sustained weekly presence on Moore Street into being, along with a petition of thousands of signatures. As opposition to the deal gathered force, the speculator offered first a third house in the deal and finally a fourth. However with the assistance of lobbying of elected Councillors, the ‘land swap’ proposal was defeated in a vote by a large majority, much to the publicly-expressed disgust of Heather Humphreys, Minister with State responsibility for Heritage.
5) Towards the end of 2015, the State purchased the four dilapidated buildings from the speculator, reportedly paying him four million euro and promoted the deal as a great historic one, announcing that they would have a 1916 museum on the site.
Again, there was euphoria, with campaigners being congratulated on their victory. However, at this time a substantial number of campaigners from different concerned groups pointed out that this did nothing to save the rest of the block, yards and laneways, that the street market was being steadily degraded and that the plan for the museum seemed to be exactly the same as that proposed by the speculator.
It was actually worse than was thought by many of those campaigners, for in January it emerged that the State planned the demolition of three buildings in the 1916 terrace under the guise of making the “museum buildings” safe. The SMSFD campaign group raised the alarm and brought two demonstrations on to the street, after one of which many people occupied the buildings until a High Court Judge ruled that there be no demolition until a case taken against the State (to which the property speculators joined themselves) be decided, a decision that was enforced by a five-week activist blockade of the site.
6) Once again, there had been concerned people who argued that campaigners should accept the deal, “work with the museum”, that now the houses were in public ownership but many of those were silenced when the State plans were revealed. However, the occupiers were targeted by a number of media, a couple of prominent historians and columnists attacked them, Heather Humphreys labelled them hooligans and wreckers. The activists were accused of preventing the State from opening the museum in time for the Easter Rising commemorations that year (despite the many months of work needed for a commemoration only months away). They were accused of denying 1916 relatives an appropriate monument.
But it was clear on whose side the majority of the public was and it wasn’t with the State or the speculator. This was underlined not only by tens of thousands of petition signatures but by the reaction of many to activists loudly denouncing Minister Humphreys when, as part of the State’s 1916 commemorations, she came to lay a wreath outside a boarded-up No.16 Moore Street. The public’s reaction for the most part varied from “what did she expect?” to “serves her right!” and, perhaps sensing this, even the media’s response was muted and restricted to factual reporting.
On March 18th High Court Judge Barrett delivered his judgement that not only the whole terrace was a “national 1916 historical monument” but the whole block, and the street and three laneways surrounding it. Again there were wild celebrations, shared in by all campaigners but some urged caution as the Minister could appeal the judgement. They were right – she did, the case to open at the end of the year (unless she takes it to the Supreme Court, which she declared she was considering.
7) When the Minister set up the Minister’s Consultative Group on Moore Street, despite the fact that she put into it the 1916 relatives supporting the speculators’ plan, despite the fact that she excluded the most active groups of campaigners in recent years, despite the fact that the main political parties were to be represented, concerned people and excluded campaigners were told to have faith in it and even told that it was “the only game in town”.
Having reviewed the history of proposed deals of the past, it is now time to examine the one being offered now.
Conclusion 1, commenting on the struggle to save the Moore Street quarter, states that “the background …. has been one of dispute, mistrust and litigation. It has been characterised by deeply held and divergent views, frustration and ultimately stalemate. This has seen Moore St and environs further decline and a failure to progress the National Monument or the wider development of the area.”
While this has elements of truth it also has large elements of obfuscation, of muddying the waters, appearing to apportion blame equally or to imply that no-one is to blame or even perhaps blaming the campaigners for the decline of the buildings. This is quite important because in what follows some of the major villains in this drama are not only being ‘cleaned up’ but it is proposed to give them continuing roles of control in decision-making on the conservation and appropriate development of the Moore Street quarter.
Let us recall once again that the Planning Department of Dublin City Council, backed up by the State, supported the planning applications of property speculators which would have entailed the destruction of the historic quarter and the running down of the street market. The Dept of Heritage took no action until 2007 when it gave protected status to four buildings and took no steps to ensure the speculator maintained the buildings.
Towards the end of 2015 the Department of Heritage planned the demolition of a number of buildings in the historical quarter, a disaster averted by citizens occupying buildings there for five days in January 2016. Subsequently a nearly six-weeks’ blockade was imposed by citizens to prevent damage and demolition, because the Minister prevented and forbade the entry of any independent conservation experts or public representatives, including the Lord Mayor and a number of TDs.
The actions of the campaigners were to preserve historic heritage and to seek transparency. The actions of DCC’s Planning Department and of the State were to facilitate the property speculators, to defeat the aims of the campaigners and to conceal what they intended doing — and were in fact doing — in a number of buildings.
These differences between the opposing forces are important to recognise not only in setting the record straight but in deciding which bodies should and should not be given responsibilities with regard to the Moore Street Quarter.
Conclusion 2 goes on to claim for the Consultative Group set up by the Minister, the centre stage for a resolution of the conflict, as though it were some impartial mediating body. Excluded from Consultative Group were the National Graves Association, the first campaign group to raise the issue of the historical conservation in Moore Street, along with the most active campaigning groups of recent years (the Save Moore Street From Demolition and the Save Moore Street 2016 groups), also excluding a number of individual campaigners and concerned historians and conservation experts. It is true that a number of those groups and individuals were permitted to make submissions to the Consultative Group but they were not permitted any say in its final recommendations.
Conclusion 4 states that “the place of Moore St in the narrative of 1916 … is now better understood across a much wider range of interests than previously. The appreciation of the historic importance of the area and of the value attached to the dramatic events fought out there in the closing events of the week of 1916 is now more widely shared. The potential of the area to be developed as a place of cultural and historic importance therefore, alongside appropriate commercial development, offers, the Group believes, positive and substantive opportunity to move forward.”
But the Report has nothing to say about how this came about, which was by hard slogging and sacrifice by campaigners supported by ordinary people. And this happened in the teeth of opposition by the Department of Heritage and Dublin City Council officials and calumny and defamation by the Minister of Heritage of campaigners. Not only should this record be set straight but their history in this affair means that they should not be relied upon in controlling the development of the Quarter.
Conclusion 5 goes on to say that “In the event of consensus being secured on an agreed way forward for the development through dialogue by the Advisory/Oversight Group (see 17 below) with the developer, and agreed to by the Applicant and the State, the Group is strongly of the view that payment of legal costs, incurred by the Applicant’s legal team, by the State is warranted and appropriate. The Group has reached this conclusion after considerable reflection and having regard to the widely acknowledged public interest which informed the taking of the case and the savings which would accrue to the State by settlement through such a process.”
This is, in nuanced language, apart from seeking negotiation with a property speculator, a request to the person who took the case to not to defend it, with the inducement that the lawyers will get their fees and the litigant will not be out of pocket.
The State should of course bear the costs, both because of “the widely acknowledged public interest which informed the taking of the case” and because of the intransigence and obstructionism of the Minister of Heritage which led to the case being taken in the first place. And this should not be done as payment in some kind of sordid deal.
On the other hand, there is no mention whatsoever of the Minister dropping her appeal against the Moore Street Battlefield Quarter judgement that the whole quarter is a National 1916 Historical Monument. In fact the “settlement” envisaged is to give the Minister a clear run without the litigant who won that historic judgement defending it.
Recommendation 9 “supports the retention of Moore Street and adjacent lanes so as to broadly capture the sense of how it would have appeared in 1916 – this covers the street and lanes, key buildings, street paving and lighting. It recognises that this needs to be approached on a practical and authentic basis given that a number of structures in place actually postdate Independence. The preservation of the existing lines of the street and the lanes and the restoration of streetscapes are essential. “
All this seems good until we note words like “key buildings” and “structures in place …. postdate Independence”. Thus far the Minister has only conceded the historical importance of four buildings, Nos.14-17. And, although a number of buildings in the Quarter have been rebuilt since 1916, every single one contains the historical footprint of the 1916 occupation and resistance and every single one contains at least some structural feature of the original buildings.
And No.10, of which the Minister denies importance, was the first HQ of the Rising in Moore Street and field hospital of the evacuated GPO Garrison – and substantial parts of that building also remain intact.
Recommendation 10 actually concedes some of what I say above, albeit in timid language when it states that “… opportunities arise for the State to provide the centre point of historical focus and cultural celebration within 10 – 25 Moore St.”
Indeed, not only “opportunities exist” but the whole terrace should be maintained and developed as a “point of historical focus and cultural celebration”.But where is the recommendation that this actually be done?
Recommendation 15 states that “Critical to the renewal of the area is the regeneration of the Moore St market to its full potential. Particular recommendations in this regard are set out at Chapter 6.”
We should I think support nearly all of the recommendations in that section, i.e. all those that bring greater comfort, freedom from Market Inspector harassment and flexibility in regulations to the street traders. All the campaigners have stated that the market traders should have better conditions and that the market should be upgraded and one campaign group in particular, the Save Moore Street From Demolition campaign, perhaps because it is on that street at least every Saturday, has been very specific about including this in its demands since it was first formed.
Regrettably, the Report has nothing to say about the other independent businesses in the street. Moore Street has always contained shops and other business as well as stalls and it is regrettable that despite SMSFD’s submission commenting on this aspect, the Consultative Group had no representation from the independent shops and business and the Report has nothing at all to say about them, although small independent businesses are the key to regenerating an area by day and by night.
Indeed, other than the street traders, the only business interests mentioned in the report are those of the property speculators, who propose a giant shopping mall to be occupied by chain outlets.
The Report’s view of “essential” “well-grounded institutional arrangements for taking the process forward” recommends:
“Policy ownership in relation to the National Monument at No’s 14/17 remaining with the Minister for Arts & Heritage;
“Overall planning framework and designation of other buildings in the quarter should remain with Dublin City Council;
“The development and eventual management of State’s property in Moore St, transferring to the Office of Public Works;
“The next phase of development of the National Monument at No’s 14/17 taking place under OPW control and, where private contractors are involved, such contracting follows a transparent public tendering process that fully accords with good international practice as laid down by EU procurement requirements. In addition, engagement and briefing with the Advisory/Oversight Group (see below) as appropriate should be undertaken in respect of this process.
We emphatically should not agree with the first two sub-recommendations.
If the Department of Heritage and Dublin City Council Planning Department is to have a role it should be in supporting a People’s Consortium, composed of representatives of all the campaigning groups (not cherry-picked by the Minister) and other representatives.
While sub-recommendation 3 and most of 4 seem fair, one cannot agree with the role of the Advisory/Oversight Group as recommended by the Report (more on that later).
The Report states that “A critical part of the next phase of the process will involve securing consensus by the relevant players to a way forward” and that “this will require engagement with public bodies, developer interests, traders and voluntary groups.”
Why should the protection of our heritage be subject to protection of “developer interests”, i.e the interests of property speculators who are still at this moment in time trying to destroy that heritage and replace it with a shopping centre? The inclusion of those “interests” in deciding the future of our heritage and our national monuments should be rejected.
The Report recommends “that an Advisory/Oversight Group should be established” to steer the project and “will require engagement …. with the public bodies and the developer to seek to find agreement on the way forward.”
As stated earlier, there should be no role in seeking agreement with enemies of our heritage and facilitators of property speculators on the way forward for safeguarding our heritage and our national monument.
But further, the Advisory/ Oversight Group envisaged by the Report (“representatives from among the current membership of the Consultative Group, including appropriate Oireachtas and DCC representation”) is an unrepresentative group, continuing the exclusion of the most active campaigning groups of recent years and of the National Graves Association, the first campaign group to raise the issue of the historical conservation in Moore Street, along with the exclusion of a number of individual campaigners and concerned historians and conservation experts.
Recommendation 22 — The Role of the State
When the Report declares that the State is “the ultimate custodian of our history, culture and heritage”, it is perhaps stating an aspiration but it is demonstrably not stating a fact. The State, as represented by a number of governments during its existence, has done nothing to commemorate nor protect the significance of this historic quarter, save the purchase of four buildings after years of campaigning, and that around the same time it planned the demolition of a number of buildings in the Quarter; the State’s representatives publicly denied the historical importance of 12 buildings and even denied the area had been a battleground.
When Chartered Land’s (Joe O’Reilly) properties were taken over by NAMA, the State should have prevented the speculator from selling or otherwise passing on his stake to British-based property speculators Hammerson. They did not and so became complicit.
Looking beyond Moore Street around the country, it is the voluntary National Graves Association that has been responsible for most of the plaques commemorating the struggle for national independence (and a fair number of monuments) and the upkeep of graves of participants of that struggle, with a number of local authorities coming second and the State possibly a poor third.
Turning to our culture, the body that has done most to promote Gaelic Sports is the GAA, not the State. Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, smaller associations of musicians and individuals, not the State, have been the promoters and developers of traditional music. With regard to the Irish language, the State has overseen a drastic decline in the Gaeltacht areas, continuously fails to ensure the supply of even State services through Irish for Irish speakers and recently, has appointed a Minister for Heritage and two Ministers of State that were not competent in the use of the Irish language. Irish traditional dancing, whether exhibition and competition step-dancing, céilí, set-dancing and sean-nós have all been conserved and promoted by different organisations, none of them a State one (in fact, for a period, the State banned set-dancing in people’s homes).
The State has failed to protect and preserve a great many other areas of our heritage, including our natural resources.
So who then are “the ultimate custodians of our history, culture and heritage”? It is the PEOPLE!
However, one has to recognise the reality of the governance framework under which we live and the State should, for a change, represent the interests of the people in this case and ensure the Moore Street Historic Quarter is developed appropriately in consultation with campaigners, local independent traders and shopkeepers, workers and residents. And in doing so, the State can make some amends for its compliance and complicity of the past.
WHO SHOULD GUIDE POLICY AND PRACTICE ON THE FUTURE DEVELOPMENT OF THE QUARTER?
The body that discusses and guides policy on the future development of this historic quarter should be composed solely of a wide representation of those who have demonstrated a commitment to the defence of the historic status of the quarter, along with those who work there, in addition to any expert technical advisors they may think right to coopt.
IN CONCLUSION AND SUMMARY, although the Report contains much that is good and I believe campaigners should support those elements, due to a number of unhealthy recommendations which undermine what has been fought for so hard for so long and would leave important decision-making in the hands of the very proven enemies of the preservation, conservation and appropriate development of the Moore Street Quarter, those dangerous Conclusions and Recommendations of the Report should be rejected and I call on all genuine campaigners and supporters to reject them also.
In doing so, I would encourage all campaigners to remain firm in their determination, looking back on the long road traveled to reach this point and not to falter at this juncture, the fate of so many popular movements of the past.
We have been called ‘dreamers’ many times in the past but who could have foretold back in 2001, the gains steadily won over the years? ‘Dreamers’ is usually employed as a term of abuse, of ridicule and no doubt those critics consider themselves wise. To those we may reply in the words of one who spent his last two days of freedom in Moore Street in Easter Week 1916:
“Oh wise men, riddle me this – what if the dream come true?”
In this at least let us make that dream come true.