On a gloomy wet and windy day today, Republicans and other anti-imperialists held a commemoration in Dublin’s Arbour Hill of the 14 executed martyrs in Dublin and the remaining two: Thomas Kent shot in Cork and Roger Casement hanged in Pentonville Jail, London. A heavy downpour interrupted the speaker but the event resumed after the cloudburst eased off though it was still raining. Sixteen lilies were laid on the grave patch and a song was sung that named seven of the martyrs, the signatories of the Proclamation.
The event was organised by Irish Socialist Republicans and Anti-Imperialist Action Ireland. In addressing the attendance Pádraig Drummond, chairing the event, pointed out that they were commemorating the Sixteen executed Martyrs of the 1916 Rising but that 15 of them had been murdered. Those had been tried by military court and even the British reviewing the actions later had agreed that the executions had been illegal; therefore Drummond said those 15 had been murdered and General Maxwell1 was a war criminal.
In addition, the chairperson continued, Maxwell had refused the relatives access to the bodies and had them buried without coffins in a quicklime pit in order to prevent their graves becoming martyrs’ shrines2.
When it came to the executions, Drummond said, Maxwell gave firing party duties to soldiers of the Sherwood Foresters, who had been decimated by Irish Volunteers at the battle of Mount Street Bridge on 26th April, seemingly to encourage them to avenge themselves for their regiment’s dead on unarmed prisoners condemned to die.
Pádraig Drummond called on one of the attendance to read out the Proclamation and, after he had done so, sixteen single Cala Lillies were laid on the plot above the quicklime pit.
Diarmuid Breatnach was then called forward to address the attendance; speaking first in Irish and then in English, Breatnach said that he had been asked to make some remarks on the history of Irish uprisings in relation to assistance given from abroad but in doing so, he was not laying down any dictates or anything of the sort, only some reflections. “We should learn from our successes,” Breatnach said but also from our failures and perhaps to focus even more closely on the latter.
Breatnach had not been speaking long when the rainfall intensified. He was protected by umbrella but others in attendance were not; he faltered and looked for guidance to the chairperson of the event when the heavens seemed to burst open and with a nod, the whole ensemble headed for the shelter of a nearby horse-chestnut tree.
When the rain had eased off somewhat Breatnach returned to his theme, recounting how (Hugh) Aodh Ó Néill and Aodh Rua Ó Domhnaill (Hugh Roe O’Donnell) had waged a guerrilla campaign in Ulster but relied on help from imperial Spain to free the whole country from England. Later the Irish resistance had sided with English monarchs against the English Parliament in the mid and late 17th Century, when they believed the monarchs would give them religious freedom and perhaps some of their lands back. The Papacy had supported the Irish in opposition to Cromwell and Imperial France gave military assistance against William of Orange later in the same century.
The United Irishmen in the 1790s had looked for help to Republican France, Breatnach recalled but the flotilla under Hoche failed to land in 1796 and after the Rising was provoked prematurely by the British, by the time General Humbert landed in Mayo with not enough troops, the rising was nearly finished. In 1803, Emmet’s rising took place without the expectation of foreign assistance but was quickly over.
The Young Irelanders apparently believed in 1848, the Year of Revolutions all over Europe that an insurrectionary mobilisation could be achieved peacefully in Ireland and did not look for help from abroad — but were quickly suppressed, the speaker said.
On St. Patrick’s Day 1858 the Irish Republican Brotherhood was founded simultaneously in Ireland and in the United States. In 1866 the Fenians invaded Canada and in 1867 carried out a campaign in Britain, then had a brief unsuccessful rising in Ireland. They had not asked for troops from outside but in their Provisional Proclamation called on the English working class to rise against their exploiters.
The IRB was reformed and re-energised at the beginning of the last century and intended to lead a rising when England was in a war, which was expected soon. WW1 began in 1914 and in 1916 the Irish rose expecting help from Imperial Germany (which they received in armaments but nothing else) and from the USA in political support of which they received little.
The speaker remarked that looking back on all these instances in Irish history, those risings which had not had help from abroad, as with Emmet’s and the Young Irelanders, had lasted the least time.
It would be unrealistic, Breatnach continued, to expect to defeat a powerful enemy such as the UK with its army, navy and air force, without help from an external force. Unless of course the rulers of the UK were struggling with insurrectionary struggles from their own working class.
Looking ahead, the closest areas from which help could come to an Irish insurrection are Britain and the European mainland. In looking for allies it would be necessary to evaluate the benefits and costs of particular alliances. Breatnach felt that when a part of the Irish leadership accepted the deal they were offered in 1921, they had an alternative option of linking with the struggles of the working class in Britain. In 1926 there was a general strike throughout Britain and earlier, in 1921 there had been strike struggles including one in Glasgow, where the local military unit was under lock and key by their own officers in fear that they would join the resistance. Large numbers of British soldiers who wanted to be demobbed after the War were being held back because their rulers knew they would need them to suppress liberation struggles throughout the world. These soldiers were rioting in some areas in Britain. Breatnach remarked that it is difficult to be certain but that if the Irish resistance had combined with the British workers in that period our whole history might have turned out very differently.
In conclusion Breatnach went on to talk briefly about internationalist solidarity, which can be a different issue than alliances; solidarity can be a moral issue but it can also be a practical one, as it is workers that would be required to produce material and load ships being sent against us. He had also noted, he remarked, that often internationalist solidarity would be the first thing dropped by those intending to abandon the revolutionary path; Breatnach exhorted the attendance to treat internationalist solidarity as a duty, a pleasure and a practical help.
Pádraig Drummond thanked Breatnach for his remarks and asked him to sing the Larkin Ballad as a conclusion to the event, which Diarmuid did.
“In Dublin City in 1913,
The boss was rich and the poor were slaves ….”
The lyrics were written by Donagh Mac Donagh, orphan son of one of the executed Signatories of the Proclamation. The narrative begins with the union militancy under Larkin’s leadership, followed by the Dublin Lockout of 1913 and ends with the execution of the Signatories. The participation in the Rising of the workers’ defence militia, the Irish Citizen Army, along with James Connolly being one of the Seven Signatories of the Proclamation, provided an organic link between the Lockout and the Rising.
After the event people took photos and socialised briefly before heading for their homes through persistent rain.
1. General John Maxwell, a veteran of colonial wars, was the officer charged with the suppression of the Rising; he set up the martial tribunals that handed down nearly 100 death sentence to participants, of which 15 leading revolutionaries were actually put to death, the others having their death sentences commuted to prison sentences.
Wikipedia: “Maxwell arrived in Ireland on Friday 28 April as “military governor” with “plenary powers” under Martial law, replacing Lovick Friend as the primary British military commander in Ireland. He set about dealing with the rebellion under his understanding of Martial law. During the week of 2–9 May, Maxwell was in sole charge of trials and sentences by “field general court martial”, in which trials were conducted in camera, without defence counsel or jury. He had 3,400 people arrested and 183 civilians tried, 90 of whom were sentenced to death. Fifteen were shot between 3rd and 12th May. H.H Asquith and his government became concerned with the speed and secrecy of events, and intervened in order to stop more executions. In particular, there was concern that DORA (Defence of the Realm Act, wartime legislation –CS) regulations for general courts martial were not being applied. These regulations called for a full court of thirteen members, a professional judge, a legal advocate, and for the proceedings to be held in public, provisions which could have prevented some of the executions. Maxwell admitted in a report to Asquith in June that the impression that the leaders were killed in cold blood and without a trial had resulted in a “revulsion of feeling” that had emerged in favour of the rebels, and was the result of the confusion between applying DORA as opposed to Martial law (which Maxwell had actually pressed for from the beginning). As a result, Maxwell had the remaining death sentences commuted to penal servitude. Although Asquith had promised to publish the court martial proceedings, the transcripts were not made public until 1999.”
However, it is known that Maxwell insisted on executing two more after Asquith’s caution and these were Sean Mac Diarmada (McDermot) and James Connolly, to which Asquith agreed.
2 In that, Maxwell was signally unsuccessful and between 1955 and 1966 the Arbour Hill site was developed as an important Irish historical monument and at this time of year will be visited by organisations and individuals, precisely in commemoration of the 1916 Rising.
(Translated by D.Breatnach; la versión en castellano al fondo)
(Reading time: 8 mins.)
To this day, many people, both from the Spanish state and foreigners, believe that Franco’s repression only occurred in areas where the coup failed and war followed. But this is not the case for in areas such as Galicia (1), the Canary Islands, Castilla y Leon, Ceuta, Melilla, where the coup d’état triumphed in just a few days, the repression was equally brutal.
I am going to expose the events that occurred in my Galician homeland, which is what I know best. There was not a single battle there, so that some historians say that there was no war in Galicia; there are also those who think that the majority of Galicians were Francoists because Franco was born in Galicia. This is another myth, which is refuted by the fact that on June 28, 1936 its Statute of Autonomy was voted and approved by a large majority with almost one million votes in favor of the Statute. One of the main promoters of the Statute was Daniel Castelao, father of the Galician nation, writer, politician, draftsman, painter, etc., who was luckily in Madrid presenting this Statute in the courts, which is how he was able to save his life. The other was Alexandre Bóveda, shot in A Caeira, Pontevedra, on August 15, 1936, which is why every August 15th we Galicians commemorate the day of the GALIZA MARTIR, in memory of all the acts of repression.
The reason why the coup triumphed in Galicia has nothing to do with the Galicians supporting the coup but rather that in Galicia, as in many of the communities where the coup triumphed, it had more to do with the four civil Governors: Francisco Pérez Carballo, Gonzalo Acosta Pan, Ramón Garcia Nuñez and Gonzalo Martín March, who decided not to hand over arms to the people. They thought that the coup was not going to take place, or that in any case it would be easily controlled. They were very mistaken and they paid for it with their lives, because the Francoists, despite this, shot them. I should highlight here also the story of Juana Capdevielle, wife of the civil Governor of A Coruña, who was raped, shot and her breasts torn off. (2)
The repression that I know best about occurred in my city, A Coruña, where in a place near the Tower of Hercules, called Campo De La Rata, about 700 people were shot and thrown into the sea and where veritable mass meetings of fascists were convened to attend the shootings. Here is told the sad story of the brothers known as “La Lejia”, because their father had a bleach factory (3); of these brothers it is told that Bebel de la Lejia was a player of Deportivo de A Coruña (4) and a socialist, like his four brothers — when he went to be shot he lowered his pants and urinated on his murderers. Pepin de la Lejia was the only one of the brothers who managed to escape, he did so on a fishing boat to Asturias where he joined the Republican army and in the subsequent bombardment he lost a leg but managed to escape to France and from there into exile in Argentina. There is a beautiful song that tells his story. (5)
GUERRILLA ORGANISATION IN GALICIA POST-ANTIFASCIST WAR
In Galicia, one of the first guerrilla resistance organisations was also formed, the guerrilla army, part of the Leon-Galicia Guerrilla Federation and formed mostly by refugees who fled to the mountains, people who simply hid in the mountains but that the Communist Party managed to turn into a guerrilla organisation, one of the most numerous in the state, in order to deliver economic blows to the landowners or to carry out sabotage on the Tungsten mines, a mineral that was sold by the Francoists to the Nazis to make cannons for tanks. The guerrilla organisation ended up being abandoned by the Allies who recognized the Franco regime, but even so the last guerrillero was shot in 1968, a Galician they called “O Piloto”. The best known was Benigno Perez Andrade, known as “Foucellas”, an avid fan of the DEPOR, who went every Sunday in disguise to the stadium to see Deportivo A Coruña after which he posted the tickets to the civil Government.
We should also note that of the last five officially shot by the Franco regime (6,) two were Galicians: Xose Humberto Baena and Jose Luis Sanchez Bravo, both members of the FRAP (Frente Revolucionario Antifascista y Patriota) tried in a farce of a trial in which the Defence lawyers were even threatened beforehand by pistols aimed at them and all the evidence presented by the Defence was denied.
PLUNDER BY FRANCO AND FAMILY
And to conclude, I cannot end on the Francoist repression in Galicia, without mentioning something very recent that only occurred a few months ago, when the Department of Justice recognised that the State was the legitimate owner of the Pazo de Meiras (pazo in Galician means “palace”) which was literally usurped, stolen, etc by a series of Francoist characters to give to Franco, supposedly as a gift from the Galician people. The reality was that they created a kind of revolutionary tax (and I know this because my mother is from the same town where the pazo is located), in which whoever did not give money to buy the pazo for the Dictator was called “a Red”, which we all know entailed imprisonment and one could even be shot. After much struggle, there was success in getting the Justice Department to return the pazo to the State, originally without any compensation but the Dictator’s family appealed and once again the Court declared that the State had to pay one million euros, allegedly for a series of repairs they had made. However this has been appealed again by the State and in addition there is another series of processes underway, for other properties confiscated by the Franco family, such as the Casa Cornide, various statues of the Santiago Cathedral, several medieval baptismal fonts of many other churches etc. End.
Galicia is a nation of Celtic origin with a coast on the north-west of the Spanish state but speaking a Romance language very similar to Portuguese. It is bordered by Asturias (another Celtic nation) and Castilla y León to the east, Portugal to the south and otherwise the Atlantic Ocean. It is recognised as a historic nationality by the Spanish State and is governed as one of the “autonomous communities”.
“According to Carlos Fernández Santander, at least 4,200 people were killed either extrajudicially or after summary trials, among them republicans, communists, Galician nationalists, socialists and anarchists. Victims included the civil governors of all four Galician provinces; Juana Capdevielle, the wife of the governor of A Coruña; mayors such as Ánxel Casal of Santiago de Compostela, of the Partido Galeguista; prominent socialists such as Jaime Quintanilla in Ferrol and Emilio Martínez Garrido in Vigo; Popular Front deputies Antonio Bilbatúa, José MiñonesDíaz Villamil, Ignacio Seoane, and former deputy Heraclio Botana); soldiers who had not joined the rebellion, such as Generals Rogelio Caridad Pita and Enrique Salcedo Molinuevoa and Admiral Antonio Azarola; and the founders of the PG,Alexandre Bóveda and Victor Casas as well as other professionals akin to republicans and nationalists, such as the journalist Manuel Lustres Rivas or physician Luis Poza Pastrana (Wikipedia).
“Lejia” is “bleach” in the Castillian (Spanish) language.
Real Club Deportivo de La Coruña (‘Royal Sporting Club of La Coruña’), commonly known as Deportivo La Coruña, Deportivo or simply Dépor, is a professional soccer club based in the city of A Coruña, Galicia, in the Spanish state. They currently play in the third tier of the League in the Spanish state. Founded in 1906 as Club Deportivo Sala Calvet by Juan Parra Rois, the Blue and Whites were a regular in top positions in La Liga for some 20 years, from 1991 to 2010, finishing in the top half of the table in 16 out of 19 seasons, and are 12th in the all time La Liga table. As a result, the club was a regular participant in European competitions, playing in the UEFA Champions League five seasons in a row, reaching the quarterfinals twice and reaching the semi-finals in the 2003-04 season (Wikipedia).
The other FRAP member was Ramón García Sanz; also executed on the same day 27th September 1975 were two ETA members, Ángel Otaegi and Juan Txiki Paredes Manot.
A dia de hoy, mucha gente, tanto del estado español, como extranjeros, creen que la represión franquista sólo se dio en las zonas en donde el golpe de estado fracasó, esto no es asi, zonas como Galicia, Canarias, Castilla y Leon, Ceuta, Melilla, donde el golpe de estado triunfó en apenas unos pocos dias, la represión fue igualmente brutal, yo voy a exponer, los hechos que ocurrieron, en mi patria gallega, que es lo que más conozco, donde no hubo ni una sola batalla , tanto es asi que algunos historiadores dicen que en Galicia no hubo guerra , también hay quienes piensan que la mayoría de gallegos eran franquistas porque Franco nació en Galicia, es otro mito, que no es real.
Para demostrar esto decir que Galicia , el 28 de junio de 1936 voto y aprobó su estatuto de autonomia ( https://es.m.wikipedia.org/ ) por una amplia mayoria con casi un millón de votos a favor del estatuto, cuyos principales impulsores fueron Daniel Castelao, padre de la Patria gallega , escritor, politico, dibujante, pintor etc . , quien por suerte se encontraba en Madrid presentando este estatuto en las cortes, por eso pudo salvar su vida, y Alexandre Bóveda, fusilado en A Caeira , Pontevedra , el 15 de Agosto de 1936, por eso todos los 15 de Agosto los gallegos conmemoramos el dia de GALIZA MARTIR, en homenaje a todos los represaliados . Coleccion de cuadros pintados por Castelao sobre la represión en Galicia https://youtu.be/ljyuasmr9iY
El motivo por el que el golpe triunfó en Galicia , no tiene nada que ver con que los gallegos apoyaran el golpe, si no que en Galicia, como en muchas de las comunidades donde triunfó el golpe tiene más que ver con que los 4 gobernadores civiles : Francisco Pérez Carballo, Gonzalo Acosta Pan, Ramón Garcia Nuñez y Gonzalo Martín March , decidieron no entregar armas al pueblo , pensaban ellos que el golpe no se iba a producir, o que en todo caso , seria facilmente controlado, estaban muy equivocados e incluso lo pagaron con sus vidas, porque los franquistas, pese a esto, los fusilaron : https:// , destacar aqui tambien la historia de Juana Capdevielle, mujer del Gobernador civil de A Coruña , a quien violaron, fusilaron y arrancaron los pechos.
La represión que mas conozco ocurrió en mi ciudad, A Coruña, donde en un lugar próximo a la Torre de Hercules , llamado el CAMPO DE LA RATA, se fusilaron y arrojaron al mar a cerca de 700 personas y donde se organizaban autenticas multitudinarias reuniones de fascistas para asistir a los fusilamientos. Aqui contar la triste historia de los hermanos conocidos como de LA LEJIA , porque su padre tenia una fábrica de lejia, de estos hermanos contar que BEBEL DE LA LEJIA , era jugador del DEPORTIVO DE A CORUÑA y socialista , como sus 4 hermanos , cuando iba a ser fusilado se bajó los pantalones y orinó a sus asesinos : https://youtu.be/93VlSccyLxE Pepin de la Lejia fue el unico de los hermanos que consiguió escapar, lo hizo en un barco pesquero hasta Asturias donde se enroló en el ejercito republicano y en bombardeo perdió una pierna , pero consiguió escapar a Francia y exiliarse en Argentina , esta es una linda canción que cuenta su historia :https://youtu.be/ywhOfjNEuZY
En Galicia también se constituyó una de las primeras formaciónes guerrillera de resistencia, el exercito guerrilleiro, integrado en la Federación de guerrillas Leon-Galicia y formado en su mayoria por huidos al monte, personas que simplemente se escondieron en el monte , pero que el partido Comunista logró convertir en guerrilla, una de las mas numerosas del estado, con el fin de llevar acabo golpes economicos a los terratenientes o de realizar sabotajes a las minas de Wolframio, mineral que era vendido por los franquistas a los nazis para fabricar cañones para tanques. La guerrilla acabó al verse abandonados por los aliados que reconocieron al regimen de Franco, pero aun asi el ultimo guerrillero fue un gallego al que llamaban O PILOTO, fusilado en 1968. El más conocido fue BENIGNO PEREZ ANDRADE, conocido como FOUCELLAS , reconocido seguidor del DEPOR , que iba todos los Domingos al estadio a ver al DEPORTIVO A CORUÑA , disfrazado y luego enviaba las entradas al gobierno civil por correo
También comentar que de los últimos 5 fusilados por el franquismo, 2 eran gallegos :Xose Humberto Baena y Jose Luis Sanchez Bravo , ambos militantes del FRAP ( Frente Revolucionario Antifascista y Patriota ) juzgados con una farsa de juicio en el que incluso encañonaron en la previa a los abogados defensores con pistolas y fueron denegadas todas las pruebas presentadas por la defensa
Y para acabar, no puedo terminar sobre la represion franquista en Galicia, sin mencionar algo muy reciente que tan sólo hace pocos meses cuando la justicia reconocia que el estado era el legitimo propietario del Pazo de Meiras ( pazo en gallego significa palacio ) que fue literalmente usurpado, robado , etc por una serie de tipos franquistas para regalarselo a Franco, supuestamente como un regalo del pueblo gallego a los Franco , cuando la realidad fue que crearon una especie de impuesto revolucionario, y esto lo sé porque mi madre es del mismo pueblo donde esta el pazo , en el que quien no daba dinero para comprarle el pazo al dictador , se le llamaba rojo, lo que todos sabemos que conllevaba prision y hasta podia ser fusilado. Despues de mucho luchar, se consiguió que la justicia devolviera el pazo al estado, en un principio, sin ninguna indemnizacion, pero la familia del dictador recurrió, y otra vez la justicia declaró que el estado debia de pagar 1 millon de euros , ellos alegan por una serie de reparaciones que hicieron, pero esto ha vuelto a ser recurrido por el estado , al margen de que hay en marcha otra serie de procesos , por otras propiedades confiscadas por los Franco , como la Casa Cornide, diversas estatuas de la catedral de Santiago, varias pilas bautismales medievales de otras tantas iglesias etc: https://www.lavanguardia.
A brief account of the fascist horror between Cantalpino and Villoruela (Salamanca) during the Spanish War, forwarded to me for translation from Castillian (Spanish). I will post the original separately.
Comment: If another reason were ever needed to ensure we crush fascism before it gets strong! Stories like this illustrate how fascism was not defeated, much less rooted out in the Spanish State and remains at its heart to this day. No progress can be made towards democracy in that state without taking that fact into account. DB.
(Translator’s note: Villoruela is a municipality located in the province of Salamanca, Castille and León, in western Spain).
Fear ravaged Cantalpino, where the Falangist hordes killed a woman and 22 men; where they robbed and raped. Mrs. Alejandra tells the story and her eyes seem to look inside herself: “They murdered many here and Eladia Pérez, the Jaboneta, too. They went looking for her son Guillermo, whom they “took for a walk” later, and she did not want to open for them; so the bastards shot and killed her; then they took her to the cemetery and her body did not fit in the hole and the bastards cut off her head with the shovel … the murderers were people from the town and strangers, Falangists, priests, friars and that kind. The priest was the worst, he gave his blessing to the “walks” .. They also cut the hair of about a hundred women to the scalp and, in the rain and everything, they took them in procession, the music playing and the Falangists shouting “Up Spain!” and “Long live Franco!” and … I shit on the mother who gave birth to them! “
Alejandra continues with her story: “… they did a lot to me, they raped others. Five Falangists raped me. They took my husband out of bed, may the poor man rest in peace, and they pushed a pistol against him, in the chest, and there, in front of him, they raped me. Some had me by the arms and others, by the legs, and here, Saint Ines, to what they wanted to do, and the guns on the bed in the presence of my Desiderio. Poor Desiderio! They also stole everything they could. Yes, yes, they were from here, from Cantalpino. Unfortunately, this violation was not an isolated incident. In Poveda de las Cintas, a few kilometers from Cantalpino, the story was repeated, this time with the wife of the secretary of the town hall .. “
On August 24, 1936 the blood did not stop in Cantalpino, the impunity of the murders encouraged the Francoists. That same afternoon they appeared in Villoruela, less than 10 kilometers from Cantalpino, 3 Falangists accompanied by fascist neighbors of the town: They arrested the following people: Eustasio Ramos (51 years old), Elías Rivas (43), the brothers Leonardo (43) , and Leoncio Cortés (41), Daniel Sánchez (35), Esteban Hernández (29) Francisco García (25) and Benigno Hidalgo (18).
The fascists gave criminal replies to the families of the detainees when they went to look for them at home: Leonardo Cortés’ wife was asked where her husband was; she replied that she did not know and they answered: “Do not worry, even though he were underground, we will find him”. Daniel Sanchez had been risking his life to save the lives of other people with his mules and his cart to cross the flood, regardless of what color or what party they were. When they went to look for him at home, the woman said to them: “Wait, he is taking off his clothes, he is all wet”; the answer was: “Do not worry, he will get it all the same”. When they went to Esteban Hernández’s house, his mother told them: “wait, he does not have socks”; the answer was: “Do not worry, he will not need them”. When they went to look for Benigno Hidalgo, his mother told them: “I have to give him an injection”; “Do not worry, we’re going to give it to him,” they replied.
Once captured, they were arrested at the City Hall tied hand and foot with ropes. The members of the City Council called a meeting and decided that the 8 detainees should be shot. So bound, they were put on a truck in Villoruela, after midnight, and they were moved to the end of Salvadiós, a town in the province of Ávila. There, at a crossroads, they were shot and left lying in a ditch. Right there they were buried by neighbors from Salvadiós. The murderers were 7 from the town, the one that drove the truck and the 3 outsider Falangists.
Two of the detainees’ wives, María Engracia Cortés and Angeles del Pozo, went to ask for help from the nuns of the convent. They told the nuns what was happening and the nuns answered that this was a crusade, and that if they had not done anything why had they had been fleeing, to which the neighbors correctly answered: “Jesus Christ was also persecuted and though had done nothing, was crucified. “
Jaime Cortés, the son of one of those shot, said that “after the suffering they caused, the fascists appointed among the townspeople a policeman, allegedly civic, to control our movements from home, the demonstrations of suffering. We spent the whole night crying with my mother and my grandparents in the kitchen .. it takes a lot of patience and resignation to live a lifetime with the criminals who shot your father .. We had to go through calamities and sufferings … I always remembered very well a phrase that my mother told us very often: “Children, I never want to see you with blood on your hands” … the only reasons for which they were shot were their way of thinking differently from the Franco regime, that is, to defend freedom, the rights of workers, social security and education … they were shot for defending the largest right of all person: freedom .. “
From the date August 15, 1936 to June 16, 1939, there is no document or record book of the Villoruela archives. Who were the ones who made that documentation disappear? In the book of death certificates for March 13, 1937 the entry inscribed by the judge Iñigo de la Torre these 8 people shot dead are listed as missing.
Originals by Ángel Montoro in Jiminiegos36 and Foro por la memoria (Intervíu nº 177, 4-10 October 1979). Photo by Xavier Miserachs
On the 22nd of August 1798, almost 1,100 troops under the command of General Humbert landedat Cill Chuimín Strand, Bádh Cill Ala (Killala Bay), Co. Mayo.
The events are covered in six songs that I know of: Na Franncaigh Bhána; An Spailpín Fánach (Mayo version); Mise ‘gus Tusa agus Hielan Aindí; The West’s Awake by Thomas Davis; Men of the West and its Irish translation, Fir an Iarthair.
Some of the songs, especially the traditional ones from this area, are in Irish, which was the commonly-spoken language of the area (unlike parts of Dublin, Wexford and Antrim, where most of the songs from the period were in English).
The French troops on this occasion — unlike the numbers sent by Napoleon in 1796 but which failed to land at Bantry Bay due to stormy conditions — were insufficient to change the overall insurrectionary situation and though they and the Irish fought bravely, the Rising in the West failed. Most of the French who surrendered were treated as prisoners of war but the Irish who rose were butchered or taken prisoner and hanged. Matthew Tone and Bartholomew Teeling, both Irish but holding commissions as officers in the French Army, were taken to Dublin, tried and hung. Their bodies are reputed to lie in Croppies’ Acre.
Nevertheless the Rising is remembered with pride and General Humbert’s memory held in affection. Sixteen years later he fought the English again at the Battle of New Orleans, taking place between December 14, 1814 and January 18, 1815, this time as a private soldier in the American Army — and successfully. He had settled in New Orleans already and remained there after the war, working as a schoolteacher until his final days.
There is a French military former officer character in Mel Gibson’s film The Patriot (2000), Major Jean Villeneuve (played by Tcheky Karyo). A film commentary on line says his character was suggested by the Marquis de Lafayette, of the French military and Baron Von Steubon, a Prussian mercenary (http://www.patriotresource.com/thepatriot/characters/villeneuve.html.).
But might the character not have been suggested by Humbert? Anyone who knew his story would be eager to put him in the film, one would think. In the film, he fights in his French officer’s uniform at the final battle (unnamed but probably based that on at Cowpens); Humbert, though he fought at the rank of private, also fought in his Napoleonic Officer’s Army uniform at the Battle of New Orleans.
Robert Roda of New Hampshire is listed as the writer of the screenplay. New Hampshire is not known as an Irish-American stronghold and Roda does not sound like an Irish name. But then, it is not only Irish and French people who are interested in Irish and French history.
On a sunny but somewhat cool day on the 30th April, despite being on the cusp of the first day of Summer, a plaque was unveiled in North King Street. It was at last a memorial, a kind of formal recognition of a series of murders that took place in the locality 100 years ago. So many murders, in fact, that they have collectively become known as the “North King Street Massacre.”
‘In the closing days of the 1916 Rising the British army exacted brutal revenge on the civilian population of North King Street. Between 28th and 29th April sixteen civilian men and boys were brutally murdered by members of the South Staffordshire regiment of the British army.
‘The bodies of many of the victims were secretly buried in yards and cellars and personal items of the victims were stolen. Not one British soldier or officer was ever held to account for this atrocity.‘
The revenge on the civilian population of that small area of Dublin was for the spirited and well-planned defence of the area by Volunteers under Commandant Edward Daly, whose district HQ was the Four Courts. 60 Volunteers fought off repeated attacks by a force overall in their area of over 800 British soldiers — outnumbered 40 to 3 and, furthermore, without a single machine gun, of which the British had several (and better, faster firing rifles). A video on the battle by Marcus Howard can be found here, with interviews with Darren Kelly and Derek Molyneux, authors of When the Clock Struck in 1916https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kuy5u6BnjQo
‘These 15 unoffending citizens were murdered by the military under circumstances which mark the crime as a cold-blooded and calculated atrocity hardly equalled in the blackest annals of warfare. None of the victims had any connection whatever with the insurrection, and indeed some of them may have been entirely opposed to it. One of the- murdered men, immediately before being shot, pointed to a pictorial representation of the Royal Standard which hung over his bed as a proof of non-complicity with the Insurgents, but no mercy was shown him.
‘The doomed men were torn from the bosom of their family, and despite all exposulation and explanation regarding their views, or identity, and despite the tears and entreaties of their terror-stricken relatives and women-folk, were led away to be slaughtered. In some instances requests were made that the military should at least make enquiries at the neighbouring police stations or obtain information from some of the prominent citizens to whom they were known. But all appeals were fruitless, they all shared a common fate at the hands of their cruel captors.
‘The young son of poor Hickey — a lad of scarcely 15 years — was at the last moment heard pleading pathetically for his father’s life. Both father and son were butchered together.
‘The wife of one of the murdered men carried a baby a few weeks old in her arms; the wife of another gave birth to a child but a few weeks after her husband’s murder. Both saw their husbands led away to death without even a moment’s respite to snatch a last farewell to those they loved. The houses in which they were taken were never at any time occupied by the Volunteers and no traces of arms or ammunition were found on the premises.
‘None of the murders was done during a sudden attack of assault, or in the heat of passion. In some cases several hours elapsed, allowing ample time for consultation with the officers in command before the doomed men were slaughtered. The officers seem in all cases to have overseen or directed the “ military operations.’ It would be difficult to find a parallel to these atrocious crimes.
‘At the inquest on Patrick Bealan and James Healy, Lieut.-Col. Taylor did not appear but sent a statement to’ the Coroner in the course of which he said :
“ No persons were attacked by the troops other than those who were assisting the rebels, and found with arms in their possession.”
General Maxwell afterwards made the sufficiently candid and luminous statement in the “ Daily Mail ” respecting the conduct of the troops under his command:
“. . . . Possibly some unfortunate incidents, which we should regret now, mav have occurred . . . . it is even possible that under the horrors of this attack some of them ‘ saw red ’, that is the inevitable consequences of a rebellion of this kind. It was allowed to come into being among these people and could not be suppressed by velvet glove methods, where troops were so desperately opposed and attacked. Some, at any rate, of the allegations are certainly false, and are probably made in order to establish a claim for compensation from the Government.”
‘Repeated attempts were made to have a public enquiry into the facts of these military murders, but were opposed by the British Government.’
Sixteen civilians had been murdered in cold blood in one of the principal cities of the British Empire by soldiers of that very Empire. No official investigation ever took place, no soldier or officer was ever charged.
NO MEMORIAL FOR NINETY-NINE YEARS
It is perhaps understandable that no memorial was put up to mark the massacre while the British remained in occupation of the city – it would have been taken down by the authorities. But after the 26-County State was set up in 1921, it is less easy to understand. These victims were innocent civilians and not partisan to either side during the Civil War or the years of anti-Republican repression that followed. Not even the allegedly ‘Republican’ governments of Fianna Fáil provided a permanent marker to commemorate the massacre.
But for some years, Terry Crosbie, a local history enthusiast, has been campaigning to get a memorial erected to remember the massacre and its victims. Slowly, over the years, his campaign attracted support and finally came to fruition this year, the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising and of the massacre too. Terry had in mind a boulder with a plaque on it but found that difficult to advance and, faced with a plaque being at last permitted and the wish to see the massacre being marked in its centenary, was pleased to see the erection of the plaque 100 years after those hours of terror for the area.
A PLAQUE AT LAST
The parade for the march to the site assembled at 2.00pm outside Kavanagh’s Pub on Aughrim Street in Stoneybatter and not long afterwards departed in a short parade, led by a piper, to North King Street where the plaque was unveiled.
Dr. Mary Muldowneyof the Smithfield and Stoneybatter People’s History Project presided at the short ceremony. However, the amplification seemed poor and most people failed to hear what was being said. A number of “We can’t hear!” calls resulted in slightly better volume but still not enough for most to hear. A song that had been specifically written about the massacre was played but the same difficulty prevailed.
The plaque was unveiled to loud applause and wreaths and single lillies were placed before it by people related to the massacre victims.
The attendance was a healthy one in numbers as may be seen from the photos but also attracted a great cross-section of the political spectrum: older Stickies and Provos, some Left Labour, independent socialists and Republicans, housing activists, Save Moore Street activists, anti-Water Tax campaigners mixed with historians and local people who had no political organisational or campaign affiliation to speak of.
It was good to see a permanent memorial at last to the murder in cold blood of 16 civilians by an Army that has been responsible for countless atrocities around the world, including a number during the 30 Years War in the Six Counties; at least one of their units is accused in bronze here for what they did over a period of less than 24 hours one hundred years ago.
The 28th of June was not a normal Sunday in Moore Street. On a normal Sunday, Moore Street is not a busy street, although it is not quiet either. The stallholders are on a day off to come back on Monday but a number of small shops are open as are the supermarkets and the ILAC shopping centre, one of which doors opens up on to Moore Street. But on this Sunday, crowds packed a part of the street for the event organised by the Save Moore Street from Demolition group.
As a crowd had gathered already by 1.30pm, a half an hour early, singer-musician Paul O’Toole responded to his performing instincts and started playing a set of compositions of his own and of others. A song against the Water Charges opened his set, to be followed by another of his own, We Shall Not Lie Down.
Meanwhile the Save Moore Street from Demolition (non-political party) group, had set up their stall as they had done the previous day there and on another 41 Saturday afternoons in Moore Street. The folding table, covered in a Cumann na mBan flag donated by a diaspora supporter, was staffed by Bróna Uí Loing, a relation of 1916 veterans and of Fenians involved in the famous Manchester prison van escape, and Vivienne Lee, another early activist in the campaign. On the table was a petition to save the street and leaflets were being handed out by helpers. Nearby, some Irish tricolours, the Starry Plough and the Irish Republic flag fluttered and a number of placards indicated the concerns of the campaign: “NÍL SAOIRSE GAN STAIR (“There is no freedom without history”) stated one, while another said “NO TO SPECULATORS”.
MOORE STREET IN HISTORY
Moore Street is the sole remaining street of a market quarter going back hundreds of years comprising three parallel streets with many lane-ways in between, all the rest of which are now buried underneath the ILAC shopping centre and a Dunne’s Stores; people lived in those streets and laneways and clothes and shoes, meat and fish, fruit and vegetables and furniture were sold there.
But in 1916, Moore Street, its back yards and its surrounding streets were host to history of a different kind: in the last days of the 1916 Rising, the GPO roof burning and the ceiling unsafe, around 300 Irish Citizen Army and Irish Volunteers evacuated the building and made their way through a side door, across a Henry Street made hazardous by flying bullets, and into Henry Place. It was probably here that the English revolutionary socialist, Weekes (also variously Weeks, Wicks) who had joined the Rising, fell dead.
The insurgents’ evacuation group included three women: Elizabeth O’Farrell, her life-long friend Julia Grennan and Winifred Carney, James Connolly’s secretary who, on leaving Liberty Hall on Easter Monday, had packed a Webley pistol along with her typewriter. All three had refused to leave as the other Cumann na mBan women made their own earlier hazardous way helping the wounded fighters to Jervis Street hospital.
As the evacuees made their way hurriedly through the Henry Place laneway, they encountered a storm of machine-gun and rifle fire at the intersection of the lane and another, now named Moore Lane. The fire was coming from a British Army barricade at the top, in what is now Parnell Street. Here Michael Mulvihill fell, mortally wounded; he was also fresh over from England but originally from Kerry. Volunteers broke into a yard and dragged a car out, placing it across the gap and taking a breath, they ran across, mostly one by one. Connolly was being carried on a makeshift stretcher, his ankle shattered earlier by a ricocheting bullet in Williams Lane, ironically just next to Independent House, owned by leader of Dublin “nationalist” capitalists, William Martin Murphy and also ironically, across the road from the former office of the Irish Socialist Republican Party, founded by Connolly in 1896, sixteen years earlier.
Shortly before the evacuating group were making their way across that murderous gap, Michael The O’Rahilly had led a dozen fighters who had volunteered for the task in a charge at another British barricade and machine-gun a the top of Moore Street, also in what is now Parnell Street. Since the GPO was being evacuated, there was no covering fire from the top of that building and the fire coming down the street must have been terrific. None made it as far as the barricade. The O’Rahilly was apparently unharmed and got quite close; he sheltered in a doorway on the west side of the street and then ran across to a lane on the other side. A burst of machine-gun fire caught him and in the laneway, now named O’Rahilly Parade, he died, after having penned a note to his wife. The note is reproduced now on a bronze plaque in that street.
The other group, having made it through Henry Lane and prevented from further progress by the firing of that same machine-gun, broke into the first house of a Moore St. Terrace on the north side of the terrace and began to tunnel northwards from house to house, occupying in time the whole terrace by the time their leaders gave up their plan of breakout and, in an attempt to save further loss of civilian life, surrendered themselves and all the garrisons of the Rising on both sides of the Liffey on Saturday of Easter Week.
The surrender party of Pearse and O’Flaherty met General Lowe in what is now Parnell Street (exactly where is disputed but from the photo of the event it would appear to be outside of where In Cahoots café is now). The GPO/ Moore Street garrison marched up O’Connell Street and surrendered their arms outside the Gresham Hotel and were kept prisoner in the garden of the Rotunda, the building where the first public meeting to found the Irish Volunteers had been held in 1913. A British soldier posed later for a photo with the Irish Republic flag held upside down in front of the Parnell Monument and at some point a whole group of British officers posed for another photo, also holding the flag upside-down to signify the defeat of the rebels.
From that tunneled-through terrace in Moore Street, six were among the 14 shot by firing squad, including five of the signatories of the Proclamation: Tom Clarke (whose tobacconist shop was where the Centra shop is now, across from the Parnell Monument), Patrick Pearse, James Connolly, Seán Mac Diarmada and Joseph Plunkett. Another, William Pearse, was also executed.
MOORE STREET ON THE 28th JUNE 2015
Jumping forward to June 28th 2015, while Paul O’Toole was playing and singing to keep the audience interested, shouted slogans from the Henry Street end of Moore Street announced the arrival of the Dublin Says No weekly march, come to support the campaign.
Paul O’Toole’s place was taken later by Kev and Dwayne, who played and sang a set of Dublin and 1916 ballads, to be followed by a performance of two of his pieces by John Cummins, Poetician, champion of the Slam Poetry competition. His piece on Moore Street was particularly well received.
Diarmuid Breatnach of the Save Moore Street from Demolition group, who had been MCing the entertainment part of the event, then called on the crowd to line up on the street and stretch arms in a symbolic act of: “Love for Moore Street and our heritage and resistance to the plans of property speculators to destroy it”. Paul O’Toole came back on and played as the crowd eventually stretched around all four sides of the “1916 terrace”, areas where in 1916 bullets flew and people died as a relatively small group of women and men took on the British Empire. Cries could be heard of “Save Moore Street, save it all, Save the Terrace and the stalls!”
When the ‘Arms Around’ exercise had been completed, photographed and filmed, Breatnach called the participants to gather back around to the Moor Street terrace and introduced Mel Mac Giobúin, to speak on behalf of the SMSFD group and to MC the final part of the event.
Mel thanked the crowd for encircling the 1916 terrace in defence of “ ‘me jewel and darlin’ Dublin’ as Éamon Mac Thomáis would say”. Mel explained that the small group of which he was part had run an information and petition stall “every Saturday for over 40 weeks in Moore Street, in rain, cold and now sunshine” and paid tribute to all those who had campaigned over the years. He spoke of the support of ordinary people who shop in the street, who come up to the stall not only to sign the petition but to tell us their memories of shopping or working in Moore Street, of relatives who were involved in the 1916 Rising and/ or in the War of Independence.
Enumerating some of the advances that had been made over the years, Mel denounced the Chartered Land giant “shopping mall” proposal and the NAMA process through which property speculator Joe O’Reilly was now going and Moore Street along with him. (Joe O’Reilly was, at €12.8 billion, top of the list of NAMA debtors not long ago but is now at No.6 of the Top Ten. He is still in business and being paid €120,000 annually by the State to manage his debts; also was recently involved in bidding for another big property site — DB). Dublin City Council had received a large number of submissions, Mel said, and was now beginning to think that another shopping mall might not be the best idea for Moore Street.
“We should continue to recognise the important significance of the 1916 Rising and the long tradition of the street market” Mel said and, in concluding, he thanked the crowd but asked them to be ready to be called out again in defence of the Moore Street historic quarter.
Next to speak was Donna Cooney, representing the 1916 Relatives Association, who spoke of the Cumann na mBan women in Moore Street in 1916, one of them being her great grand-aunt, Elizabeth O’Farrell. Donna recounted how O’Farrell had tripped in Moore Lane during the evacuation but had been caught and saved by Sean McGarry. On entering No.10, the first thing O’Farrell remembered seeing was Connolly on a stretcher and went to tend to him (she was a nurse by profession).
Donna spoke of the perilous journey O’Farrell had to take twice in the negotiations with General Lowe and then later, more danger in the unhappy task of taking the surrender instructions from Pearse and Connolly to insurgent strongholds in various parts of Dublin. “The Government needs to do much more”, said Donna, referring to Government plans to commemorate the centenary of the Rising in 2016 and was warmly applauded by the crowd.
Proinnsias Ó Rathaille, called up next by Mel, is also a 1916 hero’s relative – his grandfather was The O’Rahilly, who died in the lane that now bears his name. Proinnsias spoke briefly of the international importance of the 1916 Rising, which had given such inspiration and encouragement for their own revolutions to nations around the world, particularly those under the British Empire. Turning to the importance of the Irish diaspora to the struggles, Proinnsias singled out Maeve O’Leary who continues to promote the cause from Australia where her home is now and who had recently returned to her native Dublin for a short while (and worked with the Save Moore Street from Demolition group — DB).
Proinnsias concluded by reading the moving poem written by Yeats to the memory of The O’Rahilly to great applause.
The final speaker introduced by Mel was Jim Connolly Heron, great-grandson of James Connolly, a long-time campaigner for the appropriate preservation of Moore Street. Jim spoke about how the Chartered Land plan to destroy Moore Street had been agreed by a Minister in the current government and how a land-swap deal, which would have facilitated the destruction of much of the 1916 terrace, had been voted down by elected councillors of a number of political parties and independents.
Jim went on to speak of the NAMA sell-off of assets due for the following day, when among other properties, Chartered Land’s stake in the ILAC and Moore Street was to be sold off to the highest bidder. “Moore Street is not for sale”, he said, to cheers. Jim went on to speak of “the golden generation” who had risen in 1916 and the need to honour their memory and to commemorate the event properly and how conserving the historic Moore Street quarter, the only surviving 1916 battle-site, is very important part of that. Jim concluded to loud cheering and applause by saying that “Moore Street will not be sold on our watch!”
Paul O’Toole then played and sang again his “We Will Not Lie Down”, with the crowd joining in on the chorus, after which he accompanied Diarmuid Breatnach singing “Amhrán na bhFiann”, the first verse solo and everyone joining in on the chorus.
And so the third Arms Around Moore Street event in six years (along with other types of campaign events) came to a close. Next Saturday, the Save Moore Street from Demolition information and petition table will be there again, for people to sign, to read, to share their memories, their anger, their hope that the market, the terrace, the quarter are saved. In the meantime, people will sign the petition on line and post supportive comments on the SMSFD Facebook pages and others. It is not just their past – it is their future too.
Politics is about the present and the future, obviously … but it is also about the past.
Different political interests interpret and/or represent the past in different ways, emphasising or understating different events or aspects or even ignoring or suppressing them entirely. There is choice exercised in whom (and even what particular pronouncement) to quote and upon what other material to rely. And by “political interests” I mean not only groups, formal (such as political parties) or informal, but also individuals. Each individual is political in some way, having opinions about some aspects of questions that are political or at least partly-political. For example, one often hears individuals say today that they have no interest in politics, yet express strong opinions of one kind or another about the right to gay and lesbian marriage, the influence of the Catholic Church, and how the country is being run by Governments.
So when an individual writes a history book, there are going to be political interpretations, although not all writers admit to their political position, their prejudices or leanings, in advance or even in the course of their writing. One historian who does so is Padraig Yeates, author of a number of historical books: Lockout –Dublin 1913 (a work unlikely to be ever equalled on the subject of the title), A City In Wartime — 1914-1919, A City in Turmoil – 1919-1921and his latest, A City in Civil War – Dublin 1921-’24. The latter was launched on Tuesday of this week, 12th May and therefore much too early for people for who did not receive an earlier copy to review it. So it is not on the book that I am commenting here but rather on the speeches during the launch, which were laden with overtly political references to the past and to the present. If a review is what you wanted, this would be an appropriate moment to stop reading and exit – and no hard feelings.
The launch had originally been intended to take place at the new address at 17 D’Olier Street, D2, of Books Upstairs. However the interest indicated in attending was so great that Padraig Yeates, realising that the venue was going to be too small, went searching for a larger one. Having regard to how short a time he then had to find one and with his SIPTU connections, Liberty Hall would have been an obvious choice. Whether he had earlier been asked to speak at the launch I do not know but, having approached Jack O’Connor personally to obtain the use of Liberty Hall, in the latter’s role of President of SIPTU, the owners of that much-underused theatre building, it was inevitable too that O’Connor would be asked to speak and act as the MC for the event.
O’Connor’s introduction was perhaps of medium length as these things go. He talked about the author’s work in trade unions, as a journalist and as an author of books about history. O’Connor’s speech however contained much political comment. Speaking of the period of the Civil War (1919-1923), he said it had “formed what we have become as a people”. That is a statement which is of dubious accuracy or, at very least, is open to a number of conflicting interpretations. The Civil War, in which the colonialism-compromising Irish capitalist class defeated the anti-colonial elements of the nationalist or republican movement, formed what the State has become – not the people. The distinction between State and People is an essential one in our history and no less so in Ireland today.
Talking about the State that had been created in 1921 (and not mentioning once the creation of the other statelet, the Six Counties) and referring to the fact that alone among European nations, our population had not risen during most of the 20th Century and remained lower than it had been up to nearly the mid-Nineteenth, a state of affairs due to constant emigration, O’Connor laid the blame on the 26-County State and in passing, on the capitalist class which it served. He was undoubtedly correct in blaming the State for its failure to create an economic and social environment which would stop or slow down the rate of emigration – but he did not explain why it was in the interests of the capitalists ruling the state to do so. Nor did he refer to the cause of the original drastic reduction in Ireland’s population and the start of a tradition of emigration – the Great Hunger 1845-’49.
Even allowing for the fact that O’Connor wished to focus on the responsibility of the 26-County State, the Great Hunger was surely worthy of some mention in the context of Irish population decline. Just a little eastward along the docks from Liberty Hall is the memorial to that start of mass Irish emigration. It was the colonial oppression of the Irish people which had created the conditions in which the organism Phytophthora infestans could create such devastation, such that in much less than a decade, Ireland lost between 20% and 25% of its population, due to death by starvation and attendant disease and due also to emigration (not forgetting that many people emigrating died prematurely too, on the journey, upon reaching their destination and subsequently). Phytophthora devastated potato crops in the USA in 1843 and spread throughout Europe thereafter, without however causing such a human disaster as it did in Ireland. In Mitchell’s famous words: “The Almighty, indeed, sent the potato blight, but the English created the famine.” And that is what makes that period of population decline uncomfortable for some historical commentators.
Indeed, O’Connor did not mention British colonialism once, nor Partition, nor imperialism. And nor did either of the other two speakers, nor the author. I remarked on this to an Irish Republican present, to which he responded with a rhetorical question: “Did you expect them to?” Well, yes, perhaps naively, I did. While not expecting an Irish Republican analysis from Padraig Yeates and perhaps not either from anyone he would consider appropriate to speak at the launch of one of his books, dammit, we are talking about history. The presence of Norman/English/British Colonialism for 800 years prior to the creation of the Irish Free State, and its influence on that state’s creation and on subsequent events in Ireland, is worthy of at least a mention in launching a book about the Civil War. Not to mention its continuing occupation of one-fifth of the nation’s territory.
Colonialism and Imperialism and, in particular, the Irish experience of the British variant, were not so much ‘the elephant in the room‘ at the launch as a veritable herd of pachyderms. They overshadowed us at the launch and crowded around us, we could hear them breathing and smell their urine and excreta – but no-one mentioned them. The date of the launch was the anniversary of the execution of James Connolly 99 years ago, a man whom the Labour Party claims as its founder (correctly historically, if not politically), a former General Secretary of the ITGWU, forerunner of SIPTU and the HQ building of which, Liberty Hall, was a forerunner too of the very building in which the launch was taking place. His name and the anniversary was referred to once, though not by O’Connor, without a mention of Sean Mac Diarmada, executed in the same place on the same day. And most significantly of all, no mention of who had Connolly shot and under which authority.
That circumspection, that avoidance, meant that a leader of Dublin capitalists, William Martin Murphy, could not be mentioned with regard to Connolly’s death either — i.e. his post-Rising editorial in the Irish Independent calling for the execution of the insurgents’ leaders. But of course he did get a mention, or at least the class alliance he led in 1913 did, in a bid to smash the ITGWU, then under the leadership of Larkin and Connolly. This struggle, according to O’Connor and, it must be said also to Padraig Yeates, was the real defining struggle of the early years of the 20th Century, not the 1916 Rising, the War of Independence nor yet the Irish Civil War. It was in 1913 that “the wrong side won”.
One-eyed as that historical vision must be, we have to question whether it is even partially correct. The Lockout was a great defeat for the ITGWU and for the leading elements in the Irish workers’ movement. But the Lockout did not break the trade union and, in fact, it later began to grow in membership and in branches. Other trade unions also survived and some expanded. So in what manner was 1913 decisive in ensuring that “the wrong side won” in later years? The Irish trade union movement was still able to organise a general strike against conscription in April 1918 and the class to organise a wave of occupations of workplaces in April 1919.
True, the Irish working class had lost one of its foremost theoreticians and propagandists by then, in the person of James Connolly. And who was it who had him shot? Not Murphy (though he’d have had no hesitation in doing so) nor the rest of the Irish capitalist class. In fact, worried about the longer-term outcome, the political representatives of the Irish ‘nationalist‘ capitalist class for so long, the Irish Parliamentary Party, right at the outset and throughout, desperately called for the executions to halt. General Maxwell, with the support of British Prime Minister Asquith, ordered and confirmed the executions of Connolly and Mallin of the Irish Citizen Army and British Army personnel pulled the triggers; in essence it was British colonialism that executed them, along with the other fourteen.
For the leaders of the Labour Party and of some of the trade unions, and for some authors, Padraig Yeates among them, the participation of Connolly and the Irish Citizen Army in the Rising was an aberration. For these social democrats, the struggle should have been against the Irish capitalist class only (and preferably by an unarmed working class). It is an inconvenient fact that Ireland was under colonial occupation of a state that had strangled much of the nation’s economic potential (and therefore of the growth of the working class) in support of the interests of the British capitalist class. It is an inconvenient fact that the Irish capitalist class had been divided into Unionist and Nationalist sections, the former being descendants of planter landowners and entrepreneurs whose interests were completely bound up in Union with Britain. It is an inconvenient fact that the British and the Unionists had suppressed the last truly independent expression of the Irish bourgeoisie, the United Irishmen and, in order to do so effectively, had created and enhanced sectarian divisions among the urban and rural working and middle classes. It is also an inconvenient fact that the British cultivated a client “nationalist” capitalist class in Ireland and that the police and military forces used to back up Murphy’s coalition in 1913 were under British colonial control.
To my mind, a good comprehensive analysis of the decline inprominence of the Irish working class on the political stage from its high point in early 1913 and even in 1916, has yet to be written. One can see a number of factors that must have played a part and the killing of Connolly was one. But something else happened between 1913 and 1916 which had a negative impact on the working class, not just in Ireland but throughout the World. In July 1914, WW1 started and in rising against British colonialism in Ireland, Connolly also intended to strike a blow against this slaughter. As the Lockout struggle drew to its close at the end of 1913 and early 1914, many union members had been replaced in their jobs and many would find it hard to regain employment, due to their support for the workers and their resistance to the campaign to break the ITGWU. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that many joined the British Army or went to work in war industries in Britain. Although the Irish capitalist class supported the British in that War (up to most of 1917 at any rate) it was imperialism which had begun the war and British Imperialism which recruited Irish workers into its armed forces and industries.
Reaching back in history but to different parts of Europe, Padraig Yeates, in his short and often amusing launch speech, cracked that “for years many people thought Karl Kautsky’s first name was ‘Renegade’ ” — a reference to the title of one of Lenin’s pamphlets: The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky. Yeates apparently admires Kautsky and quoted him on Ireland. But Kautsky advocated no uprisings against imperialism or colonialism in the belief that “super-imperialism” (also called “Hyper Imperialism”) would regulate itself peacefully, letting socialists get on with the task of evolving socialism. Two World Wars since then and current developments have negated Kautsky’s theory but more to the point, to advocate his theory as a guiding principle at the time he did was a major ideological threat to proletarian revolution and to the evolving anti-colonial struggles of the world and therefore he was a renegade to any variant of genuine socialism and socialist struggle.
This is relevant in analysing the position of the trade union leaders and the Irish Labour Party today. They are social democrats and their central thesis is that it is possible to reform capitalism, by pressure on and by involvement in the State. They deny what Lenin and others across the revolutionary socialist spectrum declare, that the state serves the ruling class and cannot be coopted or taken over but for socialism to succeed, must be overthrown.
It is the social-democratic analysis that underpinned decades of the trade union leaders’ social partnership with the employers and the State, decades that left them totally unprepared, even if they had been willing, to declare even one day’s general strike against the successive attacks on their members, the rest of the Irish working class and indeed the lower middle class too since 2011. Indeed Padraig Yeates, speaking at a discussion on trade unions at the Anarchist Bookfair a year or two ago, conceded that social partnership had “gone too far”. Can Jack or any other collaborationist trade union leader blame that on the transitory defeat of the 1913 Lockout? They may try to but it is clear to most people that the blame does not lie there.
Two other speakers addressed the audience at the launch, Katherine O’Donnell and Caitriona Crowe. Catriona Crowe is Head of Special Projects at the National Archives of Ireland and, among other responsibilities, is Manager of the Irish Census Online Project, an Editor of Documents on Irish Foreign Policy, Vice-President of the Irish Labour History Society. She is also Chairperson of the SAOL Project, a rehabilitation initiative for women with addiction problems, based in the North Inner City. It was her, I think, who made the only mention of “Blueshirts” and her also that mentioned the anniversary of James Connolly. Although her speech was overlong in my opinion for a book launch in which she had already been preceded by two longish speeches, strangely I can remember very little of what she had to say.
Katherine O’Donnell’s contribution however made a considerable impression upon me. She declared herself early in the speech to be lesbian and a campaigner for gay and lesbian rights and is Director of the Women’s Studies Centre at the School of Social Justice at UCD. O’Donnell began by praising Padraig Yeates’ work, of which she declared herself “a fan”. In a speech which at times had me (and sometimes others too) laughing out loud, she discussed the contrast in the fields of historical representation between some historians and those who construct historical stories through the use of imagination as well as data; she denounced the social conservatism of the state, including the parameters of the upcoming referendum on same-sex marriage, the legal status of marriage in general and the climate of fear of prosecution engendered by the shameful capitulation of RTE to the Iona Institute on the accusation of “homophobia” (she did not mention them specifically but everyone knew to what she was referring).
Jack O’Connor, between speeches, made a reference to a giant banner hanging off Liberty Hall which had the word “NO” displayed prominently, saying that they had received congratulatory calls from people who thought it was against same-sex marriage. The banner was however against privatisation of bus services. The current banner on Liberty Hall says “YES” to the proposal in the forthcoming referendum and he said that now busmen were calling them up complaining …. to laughter, O’Connor commented that “it’s hard to the right thing, sometimes”. Presumablywhat he meant was that it is hard to know what the right thing to do is, or perhaps to please everybody.
It is indeed hard to please everybody but I’d have to say that it is not hard to know that the purpose of and‘the right thing to do’ for a trade union, is to fight effectively and with commitment for its members and for the working class in general. And that is precisely the responsibility which has been abrogated by Jack
O’Connor personally, along with other leaders of most of the trade unions, including the biggest ones for many years, SIPTU and IMPACT. And also by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. That is why Jack O’Connor gets booed now if he ever dares stand on a public platform related to trade union struggle, a treatment received also by David Beggs before he retired from the Presidency of ICTU.
Back in 2011, another giant banner hung from Liberty Hall – that time it urged us to VOTE LABOUR, as did leaders of other trade unions. Stretching magnanimity, we might give the trade union leaders the benefit of the doubt and say they had forgotten that the Labour Party had only ever been in Government in coalition, most often with the right-wing Blueshirt Fine Gael party and that its most recent spell sharing power had given us one of the most repressive governments in the history of the State. Let us imagine for a moment that these social-democratic union leaders had forgotten all that. But, after February 2011, as Labour and Fine Gael went into coalition and both reneged on their election promises, as the Coalition government began to attack the working class and the lower middle class, what is their excuse then? When did they denounce the Labour Party to their members, publicly disaffiliating from the party? No, never, and the fact that those disgusting connections continue was underlined by the presence at the book launch of a Labour Party junior Government Minister and the late arrival of noneother than Joan Burton, Minister for Social Constriction …. er, sorry, Protection.
Considering that the book being launched was about the Civil War, it is really extraordinary that no speaker mentioned the repression by the Free State during and after that war. I am certain that Padraig Yeates has not glossed over that, he is much too honest and too good a historian to do so. But that only one speaker at the launch (Catriona Crowe) should mention the sinister Oriel House and none the at least 25 murders its occupants organised, nor the 125 other murders by Irish Free State soldiers and police, nor the 81 state executions between November 1922 and January 1923, sets one wondering at just how much self-hypnosis sections of our political and academic classes are capable.
The month of January is the start of the year, according to the calendar most of us use but, for the Celts and some other peoples, it was the last month of winter, which had begun in November, after the feast of Samhain.
I am notified of many birthdays in January from among my Facebook friends. That would seem to indicate a higher rate of conception at the end of March/ early April and onwards but a quick search on the internet did not supply me comparative figures. However, in our climate, new food begins to be available inland in January as salmon arrive to spawn and with sheep lactating from February. Onwards from there, plants begin to grow again and birds lay eggs, animals give birth and so on. The pregnant mother needs a ready supply of food to sustain a viable pregnancy.
Though January may be a month of births, from what I see of history it is also a month of deaths … early, unnatural deaths …. of executions, in fact. These particular executions to which I refer took place in Ireland and in the United States of America and they were carried out by the respective states of those countries.
Executions by the Irish Free State
This week saw the anniversary of five such executions, on the 15th January 1923 — executions by the Free State of IRA Volunteers. Four of these were in Roscrea and the fifth was in Carlow:Vol.F. Burke; Vol.Patrick Russell; Vol.Martin Shea; Vol.Patrick MacNamara; Vol.James Lillis.
They were not the first executions by the Free State: eight had been executed the previous November and thirteen in December. The killing for the new year of 1923 had begun with five in Dublin on the 8th January and another three in Dundalk.
Nor were those executed on the 15th January to be the last for that month: on the 20th another eleven stood against a wall to be shot by soldiers of the Irish state; on the 22nd, another three; on the 25th, two more; and another four on the 26th before the month’s toll of 34 had been reached. As we progress through the year, each month will contain the anniversary of an executed volunteer and in all but one, multiple executions.
Apart from those who died while fighting, seventy-seven Volunteers and two other supporters of the struggle were officially executed by the Irish Free State between November 1922 and 29th December 1923. In addition there were many (106-155) murdered without being acknowledged by Free State forces — shot (sometimes after torture) and their bodies dumped in streets, on mountains, in quarries .…1
These deeds and others led to the composition of a number of songs, among the best of which are in my opinionMartyrs of ’22 (sung to the air of The Foggy Dew) and Take It Down from the Mast. The latter was written in 1923 by James Ryan, containing two verses about the Six Counties which one doesn’t normally hear sung. Dominic Behan in the 1950s added a verse of his own about the four executions by the State in reprisal for the assassination of TD Sean Hales, when the State deliberately shot one Volunteer from each province, each of whom had been in custody when the assassination took place: Rory O’Connor, Liam Mellows, Richard Barrett, Joseph McKelvey, Dominic Behan recorded the latter in the 1950s: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-b2EL8Jytao
This was the bloody baptism of the new state, a neo-colony state of twenty-six counties on a partitioned island, with six counties remaining a British colony.
MARTYRS OF ’22
When they heard the call of a cause laid low, They sprang to their guns again; And the pride of all was the first to fall — The glory of our fighting men. In the days to come when with pipe and drum, You’ll follow in the ways they knew, When their praise you’ll sing, let the echoes ring To the memory of Cathal Brugha.
Brave Liam Lynch on the mountainside Felll a victim to the foe And Danny Lacey for Ireland died in the Glen of Aherlow Neil Boyle and Quinn from the North came down To stand with the faithful and true And we’ll sing their praise in the freedom days ‘Mong the heroes of ’22.
Some fell in the proud red rush of war And some by the treacherous blow, Like the martyrs four in Dublin Town, And their comrades at Dromboe: And a hundred more in barrack squares and by lonely roadsides too: Without fear they died and we speak with pride of the martyrs of ’22.
Executions of “Molly Maguires”
Wednesday, 14th January, was the anniversary of the executions of James McDonnell and Charles Sharp at Mauch Chunk jail, Pennsylvania. Both had been accused of being “Molly Maguires”, a resistance group of workers, mostly miners, in the Pennsylvania region. Today, the 16th, is the anniversary of the execution of another “Molly”, Martin Bergin; 20 were executed over two years. And many more had been murdered in their homes or ambushed — many others had been beaten; these activities were carried out by “vigilantes” hired by the coal-mine owners and by Iron & Coal Guards, also employed by them.
The exact origin of the name Molly Maguires is uncertain but they were among a number of agrarian resistance organizations of previous years in Ireland; according to accounts, they gathered at night wearing women’s smocks over their clothes to attack landlords and their agents. Since these smocks tended to be white in colour, Whiteboys or Buachaillí Bána was another name for them.
Somewhat Ironically, the state of Pennsylvania was itself named after a man with connections to Ireland: William Penn’s father, the original William, had commanded a ship in the Royal Navy during the suppression of the Irish uprising in 1641, for which he had been given estates in Ireland by Cromwell.
His son, William went to live on the Irish estates for a while and was suppressing Irish resistance there in 1666. Not lot long afterwards he became a Quaker in Cork.
In 1681 the younger Penn’s efforts to combine a number of Quaker settlements in what is now the eastern United States were successful when he was granted a charter by King Charles II to develop the colony. The governance principles he outlined there are credited with influencing the later Constitution of the United States. Charles II added the name “Penn” to William’s chosen name of “Sylvania” for the colony, in honour of the senior Penn’s naval service (he had by then become an Admiral).
Less than two hundred years later, Pennsylvania was one of the United States of America and the anthracite coal discovered there was being mined by US capitalists. The mine owners squeezed their workers as hard as they could and regularly replaced them with workers who were emigrating in mass to the United States in the mid-19th Century.
According to James D. Horan and Howard Swiggett, who wrote The Pinkerton Story sympathetically about the detective agency, about 22,000 coal miners worked in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, at this time and 5,500 of these (a quarter) were children between the ages of seven and sixteen years. According to Richard M. Boyer and Herbert M. Morais in Labor’s Untold Story, the children earned between one and three dollars a week separating slate from the coal. Miners who were to injured or too old to work at the coal face were put to picking out slate at the “breakers”, crushing machines for breaking the coal into manageable sizes. In that way, many of the elderly miners finished their mining days as they had begun in their youth. The life of the miners was a “bitter, terrible struggle” (Horan and Swiggett).
Workers who were illiterate and immigrants without English were unable to read safety notices, such as they were. In addition immigrants faced discrimination and Irish Catholics, who began to arrive in large numbers in the United States after the Great Hunger of 1845-1849 faced particular discrimination although (or because) most spoke English (as a second language to Irish, in many cases). The mine-owners often employed Englishmen and Welsh as supervisors and police which also led to divisions along ethnic lines.
As well as wages being low and working conditions terrible, with deaths and serious injuries at work in their hundreds every year, the mine-owners cut corners by failing to ensure good pit props and refused to install safety features such as ventilating or pumping systems or emergency exits. Boyer and Morais quote statistics of 566 miners killed and 1,655 seriously injured over a seven-year period (Labor, the Untold Story).
In 1869 a fire at the Avondale Mine in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, cost the lives of 110 miners. There had been no emergency exit for the men’s escape. It is a measure of the influence of the mine and iron capitalists that the jury at the inquest into the deaths did not apportion blame to the mine-owner, although it did add a rider recommending the instalation of emergency exits in all mines.
Earlier at the scene, as the bodies were being recovered from the mine, a man had mounted a wagon to address the thousands of miners who had arrived from surrounding communities: “Men, if you must die with your boots on, die for your families, your homes, your country, but do not longer consent to die, like rats in a trap, for those who have no more interest in you than in the pick you dig with.”
The speaker was John Siney, a leader of the Workingmen’s Benevolent Association, a trade union that had been organizing among the miners for some time; his words were a call to unionize and thousands did so there and then and over the following days.
Trade union organisers in the USA throughout the 19th Century (and later) were routinely subject to harassment, threats and often much worse and the workers at times responded in kind. Shooting and stabbing incidents were far from unknown, with fifty unexplained murders in Schuykill County between 1863 and 1867. The mine-owners had the Coal and Iron Police force and were known to hire additional “vigilantes” to intimidate and punish trade union organisers. They also hired the Pinkerton Detective Agency to gather intelligence on union organisers and on the Molly Maguires.
The employers watched concerned as the WBA trade union grew to 30,000 strong with around 85% membership among the coal miners of the area, including nearly all the Irish. The “Great Panic” of 1873 changed the situation. A stock crash due to over-expansion was followed by a decrease in the money supply and staggering levels of unemployment followed. As is often the case, the capitalists maintained their life-styles while claiming inability to pay living wages to their workers. As is often the case too, they used the opportunity of high unemployment to force worse wages and conditions upon the workers.
One of those capitalists owned two-thirds of the mines in the southeastern Pennsylvania area; he was Franklin B. Gowen, owner of the Reading & Philadelphia Railroad and of the Reading & Philadelphia Coal & Iron Company. Gowen was determined to break the WBA and formed his own union of employers, the Anthracite Board of Trade; in December 1874 they announced a 20% cut in wages for their workers. On 1st January 1875 the WBA brought their members out on strike.
The history of the coal mines of Pennsylvania and their terrible conditions and mortality in the 19th Century, the extreme exploitation of the mine-owners’ systems and their use of prejudiced and corrupt courts, media and vigilantes to have their way, is a long one. The history of the workers’ resistance is also a long one and the “Molly Maguires” were a part of it. Their own history is also dogged by controversy, with some even doubting the existence of the Mollies, claiming that the secret society was an invention of the employers to create panic and to associate the unionized workers with violence in the minds of the public. The brief notes following are part of a narrative accepted by some historians but not by others.
In order to defend themselves, the miners developed two types of organisation which, in many areas where the workers were Irish, existed side by side. One was the Workingmen’s Benevolent Association, a trade union the methods of which were those of industrial action, demonstrations and attempts to use the legal system in order to improve working conditions and gain better remuneration for the workers.The leaders of the WBA condemned violence used by workers as well, of course, as denouncing the employers’ violence.
The other was the Molly Maguires, a secret oath-bound society which organized under the cover of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. The AOH in turn was a self-help or fraternal organization for Catholics of Irish origin, mostly in the Irish diaspora, particularly in the USA, where early Catholic Irish migrants had encountered much hostility and discrimination from the WASP establishment and from “nativist” groups. In keeping with the history of their namesakes, the Molly Maguires of the USA were prepared to use violence in response to the violence of their employers.
In March1875, Edward Coyle, a leading member of the union and of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, was murdered, as was another member of the AOH; a miners’ meeting was attacked and a mine-owner fired into a group of miners (Boyer and Morais).
Reprisals by the Mollies followed as attacks on their members and the miners in general escalated. These attacks were carried out by State police, the Coal and Iron Police of the mine-owners and in particular by the “Vigilantes”, also hired by the mine-owners.
The information supplied by the Pinkerton Agents in their daily reports, although often only initial speculations from surveillance, were used to target individuals who were then often murdered2. One of the Pinkerton agents, James McParlan3from Co. Armagh, who hadpenetrated the Mollies under cover of the alias “James McKenna”, was reportedly furious that his reports were being used to target people for the “Vigilantes”, including people he considered innocent. His job as he saw it was to gather information which would stand up in court to convict the leading Mollies, sentence them to death and break the organisation. Although his employer tried to pacify him in fact Alan Pinkerton himself had urged the mine-owners to employ “vigilantes”.
The mine-owners pursued a dual strategy of violence against Mollies and other leaders and members of the WBA, while also preparing legal charges against trade union officials and collecting evidence to have the Mollies tried for murder. The courts collaborated, as did the mass media. Much of the clergy were not found wanting either and denounced the union leaders to their congregations.
The state militia and the Coal and Iron Police patrolled the district, maintaining an intimidatory presence during the strike. On May 12th John Siney, a leader of the WBA was arrested at a demonstration against the importation of strike-breakers. Siney had opposed the strike and advocated seeking arbitration. Another 27 union officials were arrested on conspiracy charges. Judge Owes’ words while sentencing two of them are indicative of the side on which the legal system was, at least in Pennsylvania in 1875:
“I find you, Joyce, to be President of the Union and you, Maloney, to be Secretary and therefore I sentence you to one year’s imprisonment.”
Stories appeared in the media of strikes as far away as Jersey City in Illinois and in the Ohio mine-fields, all allegedly inspired by the Mollies. Much of the anti-union propaganda in the media was directly provided by Gowen who planted stories therein of murder and arson by the secret society.
With the workers starving and deaths among children and the infirm, surrounded by armed representatives of the employers and the state militia (also friendly to the employers), their leaders arrested, the union nearly collapsed and the strike was broken, miners going back to work on a 20% cut in their wages. The strike had lasted six months but the Mollies fought on and McPartland noted increased support for them, including among union members who had earlier declined to support their methods.
When the Mollies were brought to trial in a number of different court cases of irregular conduct, Gowen had himself appointed as Chief Prosecutor by the State. One of the accused, Kerrigan, turned state’s evidence and his and McPartland’s evidence helped send 10 Molly Maguires to their deaths:Michael Doyle, Edward Kelly, Alex Campbell, McGeehan, Carroll, Duffy, James Boyle, James Roarity, Tom Munley, McAllister.
In that area and in many other major industrial areas across the United States throughout the rest of that century and well into the next, employers continued to use spies and “vigilantes”, company police, local law enforcement agencies, state militia, labour-hostile press, fixed juries and biased judges to break workers’ defence organisations, often martyring their leaders and supporters.
A number of books have been published about the Molly Maguires and their story of has been dramatised in the film of the name (1970), starring Sean Connery as Jack Kehoe and Richard Harris as McPartland. The Mollies have also been celebrated in a number of songs, among which the lyrics of the Dubliner’s version is probably the worst and those of The Sons of Molly Maguire are the best I have heard (see Youtube recording link below end of article).
In June 2013 the East Wall History Group organized a talk on the Mollies by US Irish author John Kearns at the Sean O’Casey Centre in Dublin’s North Wall area (video of the talk and audio of a radio interview with the author are accessible from this link:http://eastwallforall.ie/?p=1505).
In 1979, on a petition by one of John “Black Jack” Kehoe’s descendants and after an official investigation, Governor of Pennsylvania Milton Shapp posthumously pardoned Kehoe, who had proclaimed his innocence until his death (as had Alex Campbell). Shapp praised Kehoe and the others executed as “martyrs to labor” and heroes in a struggle for fair treatment for workers and the building of their trade union.
The Sons of Molly Maguire:
1 I gratefully acknowledge the listing of that wonderful voluntary and non-party organisation, the Irish National Graves Association, which has done such important work to document and honour those who have fallen in the struggle for freedom of the people of our land http://www.nga.ie/Civil%20War-77_Executions.php
In the lands under the direct dominion of England, i.e. the “United Kingdom”, and in some others that are part of the British Commonwealth, the dominant class has called the people to join in a cultural festival in November which they call “Remembrance”. In this year of 2014, the centenary of the beginning of World War I, there is a particular focus in the Festival on that war.
The organisation fronting this festival in the ‘UK’ is the Royal British Legion and their symbol for it (and registered trademark) is the Red Poppy, paper or fabric representations of which people are encouraged to buy and wear – and in some places, such as the BBC for personnel in front of the camera,forced to wear. In many schools and churches throughout the ‘UK’, Poppies are sold and wreaths are laid at monuments to the dead soldiers in many different places. Prominent individuals, politicians and the media take part in a campaign to encourage the wearing of the Poppy and the festival of remembrance generally and of late, to extend the Festival for a longer period.
High points in the ‘The Festival of Remembrance’ are the Royal Albert Hall concerts on the Saturday and the military and veteran’s parades to the Cenotaph memorial in Whitehall, London, on “Remembrance Sunday”. According to the British Legion’s website, “The concert culminates with Servicemen and Women, with representatives from youth uniformed organizations and uniformed public security services of the City of London, parading down the aisles and on to the floor of the hall. There is a release of poppy petals from the roof of the hall.
“The evening event on the Saturday is the more prestigious; tickets are only available to members of the Legion and their families, and senior members of the British Royal Family (the Queen, Prince Phillip, the Prince of Wales, the Duke of York and the Earl of Wessex) and starts and ends with the British national anthem, God Save the Queen. The event is televised.
“Musical accompaniment for the event is provided by a military band from the Household Division together with The Countess of Wessex’s String Orchestra.”
The money raised from the sale of the “Poppies” and associated merchandise is to be used to support former military service people in need and the families of those killed in conflict. On the face of it, military and royal pomp apart, the Festival may seem a worthy charitable endeavour and also one which commemorates very significant historical events — therefore a festival which at the very least should not be opposed by right-thinking and charitable people.
Yet the main purpose of this festival and the symbol is neither remembrance nor charity but rather the exact opposite: to gloss over the realities of organised violence on a massive scale, to make us forget the experience of the world’s people of war and to prepare the ground for recruitment of more people for the next war or armed imperialist venture – and of course more premature deaths and injuries, including those of soldiers taking part.
Video and song On Remembrance Day from Veterans for Peace lists British conflicts (including Ireland) and condemns the Church of England for supporting the wars, calling also on people to wear the White Poppy
Partial Remembrance – obscuring the perpetrators and the realities of war
The Royal British Legion is the overall organiser of the Festival of Remembrance and has the sole legal ‘UK’ rights to use the Poppy trademark and to distribute the fabric or paper poppies in the ‘UK’. According to the organisation’s website, “As Custodian of Remembrance” one of the Legion’s two main purposes is to “ensure the memories of those who have fought and sacrificed in the British Armed Forces live on through the generations.”
By their own admission, the Legion’s “remembrance”is only to perpetuate the memories of those who fought and sacrificed in the British Armed Forces – it is therefore only a very partial (in both senses of the word) remembrance. It is left to others to commemorate the dead in the armies of the British Empire and colonies which Britain called to its support; in WWI, over 230,500 non-‘UK’ dead soldiers from the Empire and, of course, the ‘UK’ figure of 888,246 includes the 27,400 Irish dead.
The Festival of Remembrance excludes not only the dead soldiers of the British Empire and of its colonies (not to mention thousands of Chinese, African, Arab and Indian labourers employed by the army) but also those of Britain’s allies: France, Belgium, Imperial Russia, Japan, USA and their colonies.
No question seems to arise of the Festival of Remembrance commemorating the fallen of the “enemy” but if the festival were really about full “remembrance”, it would commemorate the dead on each side of conflicts. That would particularly be appropriate in WWI, an imperialist war in every aspect. But of course they don’t do that; if we feel equally sorry for the people of other nations, it will be difficult to get us to kill them in some future conflict.
A real festival of remembrance would commemorate too those civilians killed in war (seven million in WWI), the percentage of which in overall war casualty statistics has been steadily rising through the century with increasingly long-range means of warfare.
Civilians in the First World War died prematurely in epidemics and munitions factory explosions as well as in artillery and air bombardments, also in sunk shipping and killed in auxiliary logistical labour complements in battle areas and through hunger as feeding the military became the priority and farmhands became soldiers.
In WWII 85,000,000 civilians died in extermination camps or forced labour units, targeting of ethnic and social groups, air bombardments, as well as in hunger and disease arising from the destruction of harvests and infrastructure. Air bombardments, landmines, ethnic targeting and destruction of infrastructures continue to exact a high casualty rate among civilians in war areas: one admittedly low estimate up to 2009 gave figures of 3,500 dead in Iraq during the war and aftermath and another 100,000 dead from western trade sanctions, along with 32,000 dead civilians in Afghanistan. Another review up to 2011 gave a figure of 133,000 civilians killed directly as a result of violence in Iraq and “probably double that figure due to sanctions”. (1)
The number of civilians injured, many of them permanently disabled, is of course higher than the numbers killed. Most of those will bring an additional cost to health and social services where these are provided by the state and of course to families, whether state provision exists or not.
Real and impartial “remembrance” would include civilians but not even British civilians killed and injured are included in the Festival of Remembrance, revealing that the real purpose of the Festival is to support the existence of the armed forces and their activities (“shoulder to shoulder with our armed forces”) (2) contributing at the same time to a certain militarisation of society and of the dominant culture.
If the Festival were really about “remembrance”, they would commemorate the numbers of injuries and detail the various types of weapons that caused them. But that might reflect unfavourably on the armaments manufacturers, who run a multi-billion industry in whatever currency one cares to name, so of course they don’t.
And if really concerned about death and injury in war, they would campaign to end such conflict – for an end to imperial war. But then how else would the various imperial states sort out among themselves which one could extract which resources from which countries in the world and upon the markets of which country each imperial state could dump its produce? So of course the Royal British Legion doesn’t campaign against war.
Partial remembrance is indeed embodied in the song chosen by the British Legion to promote its Festival. No Man’s Land, sung by Joss Stone, is actually a truncated version of the song of the same title (better known in Ireland as the Furey’s The Green Fields of France), composed by Scottish-raised and Australian-based singer-songwriter Eric Bogle. The Joss Stone version contains the lyrics of the chorus as well as of one verse and one-half of another, omitting two and-a-half verses of Bogle’s song.
Some of the British media created a kind of controversy, at the behest of who knows whom, to have the British Legion’s song included top of BBC’s Radio One playlist. The song is reproduced in entirety below, with the lines sung by Joss Stone in italics and those she omitted in normal type.
Well, how do you do, young Willie McBride?
Do you mind if I sit here down by your graveside?
And rest for a while in the warm summer sun,
I’ve been walking all day, and I’m nearly done.
I see by your gravestone you were only 19
When you joined the great fallen in 1916,
I hope you died well and I hope you died clean
Or, Willie McBride, was it slow and obscene?
Did they beat the drum slowly, did they play the fife lowly?
Did they sound the death march as they lowered you down?
Did the band play The Last Post in chorus?
And did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest?
Did you leave a wife or a sweetheart behind
In some faithful heart is your memory enshrined?
Although, you died back in 1916,
In that faithful heart are you forever 19?
Or are you a stranger without even a name,
Enclosed forever behind the glass frame,
In an old photograph, torn, battered and stained,
And faded to yellow in a brown leather frame?
The sun now it shines on the green fields of France;
There’s a warm summer breeze that makes the red poppies dance.
And look how the sun shines from under the clouds
There’s no gas, no barbed wire, there’s no guns firing now.
But here in this graveyard it’s still No Man’s Land
The countless white crosses stand mute in the sand
To man’s blind indifference to his fellow man.
To a whole generation that were butchered and damned.
Ah young Willie McBride, I can’t help wonder why,
Do those that lie here know why did they die?
And did they believe when they answered the cause,
Did they really believe that this war would end wars?
Well the sorrow, the suffering, the glory, the pain,
The killing and dying, were all done in vain.
For Willie McBride, it all happened again,
And again, and again, and again, and again.
It’s easy to see why the Royal British Legion might shy away from the omitted lyrics, which would hardly encourage recruitment or support for war. Interviewed on video, Joss Stone herself said how important it was to be “true to the lyrics” and that “the last thing one would want to do would be to disrespect the lyric”; incredibly, she and John Cohen, the record producer, both separately claimed that they had captured the essence of the song lyrics in the British Legion’s version.(3)
Although Bogle stated that he did not think the Joss Stone version glorifies war, he also said that it did not condemn it and was ultimately a sentimentalised version.
“Believe it or not I wrote the song intending for the four verses of the original song to gradually build up to what I hoped would be a climactic and strong anti-war statement,” Bogle said. “Missing out two and a half verses from the original four verses very much negates that intention.” (apparently in a reply from Bogle to a blogger’s email and quoted in a number of newspaper reports).
The truncation of the song and the removal in particular of the anti-war lyrics epitomises partial “remembrance” and stands as a metaphor for it, the production of a lie by omission and obscuration.
If the main objective were really to care for soldiers and veterans and their families ….…
If the festival were really about caring for veterans and their families, would it not seek to allocate that responsibility completely to the State? It is the capitalist state (and prior to that, the feudal state) which sent people to fight for it, so it should be that state which cares for the military personnel and for their families. According to histories of the British Legion, one reason for its formation was the callous disregard of the British state and low level of provision for its military injured in the First World War and for the dependents of the dead. Taking that principle further, the State could impose a War Tax or Veterans’ Dependent’ Tax, say, on the big capitalists, on whose behalf the State has sent its armed forces off to fight. After all, it is those capitalists who will benefit from the plunder of resources and opening of markets for their produce, the very reasons the wars are being fought.
Not only that, the capitalists directly profit from war itself; war is not merely a means of settling territorial disputes among capitalist nations – war itself is very big business. Every bullet, shell, bomb, rocket, mine was produced at a profit and when exploded, will be replaced by another, again at profit and so on, in huge production batches. Every gun, tank, armoured car, lorry, jeep, ship, plane, helicopter built … huge production, huge profits. Then uniforms, equipment, food production and packaging, deliveries …. it will be indeed a rare capitalist who does not profit from war while it is being fought.
The Royal British Legion does in fact do some campaigning around State support for armed forces personnel and their dependents. On the Legion’s website, under the section on “Campaigning”, the following appears:
“In no particular order, our top five recommendations for the next Government are to:
Enable all Armed Forces widows to retain their pension should they decide to later cohabit or remarry
Ensure that all veterans with Service-induced hearing problems can have their MOD-issued hearing aids serviced and replaced at no cost, and that working-age veterans can access higher grade hearing aids, including ‘in-the-ear’ aids
Protect the lifetime income of injured veterans by uprating their military compensation by the higher of earnings, inflation or 2.5% (the ‘triple lock’)
Offer veterans evidence-based treatment for mental health problems within a maximum of 18 weeks from referral, provided by practitioners with an understanding of veterans’ needs, in line with the Government’s commitment to parity of esteem between physical and mental health
Include spouses and Early Service Leavers in the resettlement support provided by the Career Transition Partnership”
As one can see, these are pretty minimal demands of the State and in no way impede its engagement in war and may actually assist in recruitment.
Shhhh! Suicide and PTSD among military personnell
While campaigning for mental health provision for referrals of veterans and serving personnel may help reduce suicides among this group, nowhere in the official Festival of Remembrance is the existence of this component of mortality even alluded to. It is known in the USA that statistics of suicides in their armed forces since 2003 actually exceed their numbers killed in combat.
Evidence is now emerging of suicide statistics among veterans of recent British armed conflicts too — and the statistics are rising. According to aBBC Panorama documentary last year, more British soldiers committed suicide in 2012 than were killed in action in Afghanistan (the British Army does not publish records of suicide death but Panorama’s researchers dug up the statistics from various sources).
The Ministry of Defence does keep some records of diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among its serving personnell and says the incidence is lower than in the general population but many suspect that the figures do not reflect the full reality. Also, the same statistics show that male military under 20 years of age “had a 46% statistically significant increased risk of suicide than the rest of the general population”.(4)
PTSD was not recognised by the beligerents in World War One and many of those who were shot by firing squad for “cowardice”, “desertion” or “refusing an order” “in the face of the enemy”, were sufferers of that syndrome. Their dependents were left without a war pension too.
Talking about PTSD and suicide among soldiers is hardly likely to encourage recruitment to the armed forces and so, despite its pledge to “support all members of the British Armed Forces past and present, and their families”(5), the British Legion draws a veil of silence over those aspects, particularly during the Festival.
Getting the public behind the armed services and war
Far from campaigning against war or even assigning financial and moral responsibility to the capitalists who cause war and also profit from it, the British Legion, through the promotion of the Poppy and “Remembrance”, strives to keep the public in support of militarism (6) and in readiness to support future wars.
It does this in a number of ways: it maintains a separation from the reality of war for the public, as well as a separation between the victims of the State-sponsored wars and the cause of their victimhood. It avoids mention of the causes of war and of those who profit by it. And it promotes the armed services and the conflicts in which they have participated uncritically, a promotion embodied in the Legion’s slogan in use until this year, “Shoulder to shoulder with all who Serve” (which it intends to replace with “Live On – To the memory of the fallen and the future of the living”).
War is presented in the mass media during the Festival and at other times as unfortunate but also as giving rise to uplifting heroic action and to comradeship. Feeling of comradeship is a real phenomenon among people suffering equal or similar conditions and, in the military, is most commonly seen among the lower ranks. When the British Legion was an organisation limited to veteran membership, presenting it as providing comradeship was understandable. However, the British Legion has now extended its membership not only to families but to all kinds of supporters, whether active as volunteers (for example, selling “Poppies”) or completely passive (just paying an annual membership subscription). It now promotes a different kind of “comradeship” and, under that very heading, invites members of the public to “Become part of a network of people who care about the Armed Forces family”.(7)
The British Legion is actively seeking a different kind of ‘comradeship’ or solidarity to that existing among the military or veterans. But this is not an alternative such as the comradeship of humanity nor of the working class, which would lead the workers of the opposing armies to rise up against their masters, but of “the nation”.
This of course would be a misnomer anyway since there are a number of nations in the ‘UK’, for example. But even if the comradeship were for “England”, or “Australia”, these territorial-political units are by no means homogenous. All of them are divided into classes and in each, one class rules – the monopoly capitalist class. It is that class that decides on war and it is that class that profits from it, along with smaller profits for smaller capitalists. But it is not they who will be blowing up, shooting and stabbing one another in the wars they instigate – it is the working and lower middle classes.
The military casualties in war are presented as heroic sacrifices for “the nation”, a mythical concept often represented by neighbourhood and family. Family and neighbourhoods in all the countries in the conflict will suffer but it is neither the families nor the neighbourhoods which instigated the war, nor will they profit from it. In fact, their representatives will be sent to kill one another on the battlefields, leaving desolation and loss among their families and neighbourhoods.
However, as was pointed out by speakers at the recent launch of a book against militarism in a London bookshop recently(8) the fact that the British monopoly capitalist class is having, through the British Legion and its Festival, to exert itself to seek identification with its armed forces and support for war, is a sign that public opinion is not all going the way it would like.
Left and liberal support for the Red Poppy
People enlist in imperial and colonial armed forces for a variety of reasons. Excitement and adventure of course appeal to many but there is also the push of unemployment, the pull of education and training (however doubtful the usefulness of that training may be in later life although in the USA, serving and ex-armed forces people qualify for educational funding http://www.collegescholarships.org/grants/military.htm).
Then of course there is the propaganda about the atrocities committed by enemy forces (whether real or not) and the alleged threat they pose to the population of the state doing the recruiting. The alleged threat is the propaganda reason most aggressive imperialist powers name their war ministries the Department or Ministry of Defence and that some even incorporate the concept into the title of their armed forces, viz. the “Israel Defence Force”).
And, quite often, people are conscripted by force, as they were in Britain during both World Wars as well as for “National Service” up to 1960, as well as in other European countries (and in the USA in the draft for WWII, Korea, Vietnam). The standard punishment for refusing to join up when conscripted was a jail sentence but some conscientious objectors in WWI were shipped by the British Army to France, so that they could be shot for “desertion in the face of the enemy”. The penalty for certain acts in a war area, such as desertion, refusal to obey orders or striking an officer, could be death – during WWI, 306 British and Commonwealth soldiers were shot by firing squad, while others were executed in the armies of Britain’s allies, as well as in those of Germany, Austria and Turkey.
As an aside from the purpose of this article, it is noteworthy that the only area of the ‘UK’ where conscription was not introduced was Ireland, where opposition to it ran right across a spectrum from the IT&GWU and some other trade unions, through the Irish nationalist and republican movements to the Catholic Church hierarchy. The only area of the European-settler Commonwealth where it was not introduced, being defeated in two consecutive referenda, was Australia – where 40% of the population is said to be of Irish descent and where the Irish diaspora, with some justification, was blamed by supporters of conscription for the failure to introduce it. However, thousands of Irish and Australians did volunteer, especially in the earlier days of the war.
The issue of why and how people join the imperialist armed forces is often raised by Left and liberal advocates of wearing the Poppy or of similar commemoration festivals (e.g. Armed Forces Week in the USA, second Saturday to third Sunday of May). Another group contend that the real or original purpose of these commemorations and festivals is to commemorate the great human loss of their country or to support veterans and their families.
These commemorative events, these Left or liberal advocates often contend, have been hijacked by militarists and, in the case of the ‘UK’, by the Royals and they should not be allowed to get away with it. Accordingly, one may find socialists and anti-war people and even activists wearing the Poppy, as is the case for example with a few of the activists of the British-based group Veterans for Peace, although most of them do not wear the Red Poppy and many promote the White Poppy.
Personally, I do not believe that Left and liberal advocates of wearing the Red Poppy have correctly analysed the original purpose of those who created it. But even if they should be correct, clearly serious cognizance should be taken of how the Red Poppy symbol is being used today and what its main thrust is. It is pretty clear that this symbol and the commemorations in imperialist countries in general are being used to recruit personnel for the armed forces of those states and, above all, to swing public opinion behind not only those armed forces but also in support of their state’s armed actions against other states and in wars of conquest in other lands.
The White Poppy – in Britain, Australia, Canada and in Ireland
To counter the propaganda offensive surrounding the Red Poppy, some in the ‘UK’ and in some Commonwealth countries advocate the wearing of a white poppy symbol. The idea of an alternative and anti-war symbol was apparently first proposed in 1926 and the White Poppy was first sold by the Women’s Cooperative Movement in Britain in 1933. The following year, the major anti-war organisation in Britain, the Peace Pledge Union, began its annual sale of the White Poppy symbol. Although tolerance of the White Poppy has been pronounced by the Royal British Legion, the wearing of it has been attacked by a number of public figures in Australia and in Britain, including Margaret Thatcher during Question Time in the House of Commons.
In 2006 the Royal Canadian Legion initiated legal action against the main Canadian distributor of the White Poppy symbol and against the Peace Pledge Union. This action gained considerable publicity in the Canadian media and, according to the PPU, “resulted in widespread support and a substantial increased sale of white poppies in Canada”(9). The PPU site also carries accounts of orchestrated hostility by the media, in church groups and schools, although some schools also provide the White alongside the Red Poppy symbol.
Reviewing the principle behind it and the history of its existence as a symbol, also not ignoring its pacifist associations (which are unwelcome to me), it does seem a progressive act for people in Britain and Australia, New Zealand and Canada to wear the White Poppy. The act of wearing that symbol is statement that the wearer dissents from the wearing of the Red Poppy and is opposed to imperialist and colonialist war.
I have no strong feeling about whether people should wear it in Ireland or not but nor do I see any reason to promote it (with the exception of within the “Unionist community”, where discussion around it could be useful, although the practice would almost certainly be dangerous). Although our whole nation was a part of the ‘UK’ during World War I, twenty-six of its 32 counties have since ceased to be so. The thrust that led to that current status was embodied in the 1916 Rising (itself an action against WWI)and the War of Independence 1919-1921, events of much greater historic national significance for us, despite their much smaller loss of Irish lives, than is the First World War. The symbol covering that period and in particular the 1916 Rising is the “Easter Lilly” (the Arum Lilly or Calla. Z. aethiopica), paper and metal badge representations of which are worn around that time, both in Ireland and in some cases abroad.
There has been a growing attempt in Ireland in recent years to have a national honouring of the Irish who died serving in the British Army and at the moment this is concentrating on the First World War period. This is far from unproblematic: they were soldiers in the armed forces of a state that was occupying our country, then a colony, and actively engaged in repression of our people – a repression which at that time had been going on for 700 years. The 1916 Rising had taken place right in the middle of WWI and had been suppressed by British troops – including units recruited in Ireland. Almost immediately after the end of World War One, the IRA had begun the War of Independence, during which its principal opponents in armed action were the British Army, the Royal Irish Constabulary and the special auxilliary forces of the latter (“’Tans” and “Auxies”).
As if that were not problematic enough, that same colonial power remains to this day in occupation of a part of our national territory. And that colonial occupation and its colonial police force is backed up by that same British Army, an army which only recently fought a 30-year war against Irish guerrilla forces in the colony. During that war, the British Army daily harassed civilians in ‘nationalist’ areas and at times gassed, arrested and beat them up or shot them dead. That same Army also colluded with sectarian assassination squads and carried out unofficial executions, i.e. murders, of guerrilla fighters and of political activists.
Given this history and current situation, it is curious that some determined efforts to commemorate Irish dead in the British Army during WWI continue. Some of its advocates may be motivated by nothing more than a genuine historical commemorative interest and some by some kind of sense of justice. But undoubtedly there exists in Ireland, as well as the unionist mentality in parts of the Six Counties, a nostalgia for the British among some in the Irish state. This is the “West Britain” mentality that never ceased to wish Ireland to be a part of the British Empire, reinforced by the desire of some other elements to see Ireland part of the British Commonwealth. For these elements, celebration of the Irish who fought in the British Army is a way of stating their claim to the past they like and the future to which they aspire. These tiny sections of the Irish population have some representation in Irish academic and public life and, one suspects, among the Irish capitalist class, a class with no sense of history but a strong sense of the quick Sterling, Punt, or Euro – whichever seems best at the time.
Uncritical commemoration of Irish soldiers who died in the British Army and particularly in WWI is not only problematic but plays into the agenda of “West British” and Commonwealth enthusiasts and for those reasons the broad Irish Republican movement is right to oppose such commemorations. But the issue goes far beyond that of “Brits Out!” — for socialists, these commemorations screen the real purpose of imperialist wars and the ways in which working people are pulled into them, to fight their corresponding working people in other countries, for the profits and strategic interests of a tiny, parasitic minority.
Certainly the Irish who fell in WWI in British military units should be remembered, as should all those working class and lower-middle class people of all countries who were sent to butcher their class brothers and be butchered in turn, along with the civilian casualties, in a dispute over territories, resources and markets between a small number of capitalists who would never fight one another in person and indeed who often wined and dined together and, not infrequently, intermarried. Those dead should be remembered as casualties of capitalism, imperialism and colonialism and their remembrance serve as part of a drive to overthrow those evils and to eliminate imperialist war forever.
End main article
Video Veterans for Peace at the Cenotaph, Remembrance Sunday 2014
1) See “Civilian war dead” links at end of article
2) Quotation from the Royal British Legion’s website (see link at end of article)
3) She may be seen and heard saying those things and a number of other inane (or dishonest) things in a number of videos entitled Behind the Scenes of the Official Poppy single with Joss Stone and John Cohen can be seen and heard saying his piece on one of those too (see video links at end of article).
4) From the British Legion’s website (see link at end of article)
5) From The Female Front Line blog (see link at end of article)
6) Members of the armed forces are recruited and maintained by successive Armed Forces Acts every five years as a specific, albeit continuing, derogation from the Bill of Rights 1689, which otherwise prohibits the Crown from maintaining a standing army. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_of_Rights_1689
7) Quotation from the Royal British Legion’s website (see link at end of article)
8) Confronting a Culture of Militarism by David Gee, in Housmans Radical Bookshop
9) Referred to, without detail, on Peace Pledge Union site, about The White Poppy (see link at end of article)
Appendices: Historical Background, Natural History, Cultural Usage, Uses.
Historical background of the Poppy symbol
(Most of this section is taken from The Story Behind the Remembrance Poppy
The symbol of the Poppy was chosen, it is widely believed, because of the prevalence of this flower on battlefields in WWI. Although it grows reasonably well in meadows, the plant grows best of all on recently disturbed ground, so that rural battlefields, where bombs and shells have cratered the land and heavy vehicles and the tramp of human feet have flattened other vegetation and churned up the earth, suit it well. It has been seen as symbolic of some kind of rebirth and of course, the colour is that of blood.
In 1855, British historian Lord Macaulay, writing about the site of the Battle of Landen (in modern Belgium, not far from Ypres) in 1693, wrote “The next summer the soil, fertilised by twenty thousand corpses (apparently more like 28,000 human and many horse corpses – DB), broke forth into millions of poppies. The traveller who, on the road from Saint Tron to Tirlemont, saw that vast sheet of rich scarlet spreading from Landen to Neerwinden, could hardly help fancying that the figurative prediction of the Hebrew prophet (Isaiah – DB) was literally accomplished, that the earth was disclosing her blood and refusing to cover the slain.”
Moina Michael: “The Poppy Lady”
The origin of the red Flanders poppy as a modern-day symbol of Remembrance was the inspiration of an United States woman, Miss Moina Michael. According to her memoirs, while working in Overseas War HQ of the religious charitable organisation the YMCA, she was inspired by the poem “We Shall Not Sleep” (also known as In Flanders Fields) by Canadian Liutenant-Colonel John McCrae, which she read in The Ladies Home Journal, where it was illustrated by a vivid field of red poppies. Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae had died of pneumonia several months earlier on 28th January 1918. Part of his poem reads:
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
In her autobiography, entitled “The Miracle Flower”, Moina describes this experience as deeply spiritual. She felt as though she was actually being called in person by the voices which had been silenced by death and vowed always to wear a red poppy of Flanders Fields as a sign of remembrance. She jotted down a poem in response, which she entitled “We Shall Keep the Faith”, of which the first verse read:
Oh! you who sleep in Flanders Fields,
Sleep sweet — to rise anew! We caught the torch you threw
And holding high, we keep the Faith
With All who died.
The First Poppies Worn in Remembrance
Later that day Moina found one large and 24 small artificial red silk poppies in Wanamaker’s department store. When she returned to duty at the YMCA HQ later that evening, the delegates from the conference being held there enthused about the symbols and she handed out all but one of them, which she kept for herself. The inspirations for the Poppy as a symbol then, by its creator, can be said to be religious but also nationalistic and warlike: “Take up our struggle with the foe.”
Campaign for the Poppy as a National Memorial Symbol
Thereafter Moina Michael campaigned to get the Poppy emblem adopted in the United States as a national memorial symbol, in which she was encouraged by the press.
Originally she intended to use the simple red, four petalled field poppy of Flanders as the Memorial Poppy emblem. Mr. Lee Keedick was contracted to design a national emblem and in December 1918 he produced a final design, which was accepted. This emblem consisted of a border of blue on a white background with the Torch of Liberty and a Poppy entwined in the centre, containing the colours of the Allied flags: red, white, blue, black, green and yellow.
The Torch and the Poppy Emblem
The “Torch and Poppy” emblem was first used officially on 14th February, 1919 in Carnegie Hall, New York City. The event was a lecture given by the Canadian ace pilot, Colonel William Avery “Billy” Bishop, VC, CB, DSO & Bar, MC DFC, ED. His lecture was titled “Air Fighting in Flanders Fields”. As the lecture ended a large flag with the new torch and poppy emblem on it was unfurled at the back of the stage.
However, in spite of the interest raised by the appearance of the new emblem at the time, and Moina’s continued efforts to publicize the campaign, this emblem was not taken up by any group or individual to help establish it as a national symbol.
There was so little public interest in the enterprise that eventually the emblem’s designer, Mr Keedick, abandoned his interest in pursuing Moina’s campaign.
The Poppy and Help for Wounded Ex-Servicemen
During the winter of 1918/1919 Moina Michael continued working for the Staff of the Overseas YMCA Secretaries, including doing charitable work such as visiting wounded and sick men from her home state of Georgia in nine of the debarkation hospitals in and around New York City.
During the summer months of 1919 Moina taught a class of disabled servicemen. There were several hundred ex-servicemen in rehabilitation at the University of Georgia. Learning about their needs at first hand gave her the impetus to widen the scope of the Memorial Poppy idea so that it could be used to help all servicemen and their dependants.
Official Recognition of the Memorial Poppy
In the early 1920s a number of organizations did adopt the red poppy as a result of Moina’s dedicated campaign.
1920: The American Legion Adopts the Memorial Poppy
In 1919 the American Legion was founded as an organization by veterans of the United States armed forces to support those who had served in wartime in Europe during the First World War.
In August 1920 the Navy representative promised to present her case for the Memorial Poppy to the convention. The Georgia Convention subsequently adopted the Memorial Poppy but omitted the Torch symbol. The Convention also agreed to endorse the movement to have the Poppy adopted by the National American Legion and resolved to urge each member of the American Legion in Georgia to wear a red poppy annually on 11th November.
One month later, on 29th September 1920, the National American Legion convened in Cleveland. The Convention agreed on the use of the Flanders Fields Memorial Poppy as the United States’ national emblem of Remembrance.
Anna Guérin: “The French Poppy Lady”
Fund Raising for France with Poppies
A French woman by the name of Madame Anna E Guérin was present at the same American Legion convention as a representative of the French YMCA Secretariat. She considered that artificial poppies could be made and sold as a way of raising money for the benefit of the French people, especially the orphaned children, who were suffering as a result of the war.
Anna Guérin returned to France after the convention. She was the founder of the “American and French Children’s League” through which she organized French women, children and war veterans to make artificial poppies out of cloth. Her intention was that these poppies would be sold and the proceeds could be used to help fund the restoration of the war-torn regions of France.
Anna was determined to introduce the idea of the memorial poppy to the nations which had been Allied with France during the First World War. During 1921 she made visits or sent representatives to America, Australia, Britain, Canada and New Zealand.
Spreading the Message of the Memorial Poppy
1921: French Poppies Sold in America
In 1921 Madame Guérin made arrangements for the first nationwide distribution across America of poppies made in France by the American and French Childrens’ League. The funds raised from this venture went directly to the League to help with rehabilitation and resettlement of the areas of France devastated by the First World War. Millions of these French-made artificial poppies were sold in America between 1920 and 1924.
5th July 1921: Canada adopts the Flower of Remembrance
Madame Anna Guérin travelled to Canada, where she met with representatives of the Great War Veterans Association of Canada. This organization later became the Royal Canadian Legion. The Great War Veterans Association adopted the poppy as its national flower of Remembrance on 5th July 1921.
11th November 1921: The First British Legion Poppy Day Appeal
In 1921 Anna Guérin sent some French women to London to sell their artificial red poppies. This was the first introduction to the British people of Moina Michael’s idea of the Memorial Poppy. Madame Guérin went in person to visit Field Marshal Earl Douglas Haig, founder and President of The British Legion. She persuaded him to adopt the Flanders Poppy as an emblem for The Legion. This was formalized in the autumn of 1921.
The first British Poppy Day Appeal was launched that year, in the run up to 11th November 1921. It was the third anniversary of the Armistice to end the Great War. Proceeds from the sale of artificial French-made poppies were given to ex-servicemen in need of welfare and financial support.
Since that time the red poppy has been sold each year by The British Legion.
11th November 1921: Armistice Day Remembrance in Australia
A resolution was passed in Australia that from 11th November 1921 the red Memorial Poppy was to be worn on Armistice Day in Australia.
The American and French Childrens’ League sent a million artificial poppies to Australia for the 1921 Armistice Day commemoration. The Returned Soldiers and Sailors Imperial League sold poppies before 11th November. A poppy was sold for one shilling each. Of this, five pennies were donated to a French childrens’ charity, six pennies were donated to the Returned Soldiers and Sailors Imperial League and one penny was received by the government.
Since that time red poppies have been worn on the anniversary of Armistice in Australia, officially named Remembrance Day since 1977. Poppy wreaths are also laid in Australia on the day of national commemoration called ANZAC DAY on 25th April. This is the day when the ANZAC Force landed on the beaches of the Gallipoli penninsular at the start of that campaign on 25th April 1915.
24th April 1922: The First Poppy Day in New Zealand
In September 1921 a representative from Madame Guérin visited the New Zealand veterans’ association, called the New Zealand Returned Soldiers’ Association (NZRSA) at that time. This organization had been established in 1916 by returning wounded veterans.
With the aim of distributing poppies in advance of the anniversary of Armistice Day on 11th November that year, the NZRSA placed an order for 350,000 small and 16,000 large French-made poppies from the French and American Childrens’ League. Unfortunately the delivery of the poppies did not arrive in time to organize and publicize the first nationwide poppy campaign, the Association decided to hold the first Poppy Day on 24th April, the day before ANZAC Day, in the following year.
The first Poppy Day in New Zealand in 1922 raised funds of over £13,000. A proportion of this was sent to the French and American Childrens’ League and the remainder was used by the Association for support and welfare of returned soldiers in New Zealand.
May 1922: French-made Poppies Sold in the United States
In 1922 the organization of the American and French Childrens’ League was disbanded. Madam Guérin was still keen to raise funds for the French people who had suffered the destruction of their communities. She asked the American organization called Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) to help her with the distribution of her French-made poppies throughout the United States.
That year the VFW assisted with the sale of the poppies in America to help keep up the much needed funds for the battle-scarred areas of France. The poppies were sold before Memorial Day which was observed at that time on 30th May. This was the first time that a United States war veterans’ organization took on the task of selling the red poppy as a symbol of Remembrance and as a means of fund raising. The VFW decided to adopt the poppy as its own official memorial flower.
1923: The American Legion Sells Poppies in the United States
In 1923 the American Legion sold poppies in the United States which were made by a French company.
Remembrance Poppies Made by War Veterans
American Legion Auxiliary Pays for Poppies
The Auxiliary to the American Legion was an organization founded in 1919 to support The American Legion. It was for women who wanted to devote their voluntary services to veterans and young people. The first convention of the Auxiliary took place in September 1921 and delegates agreed to adopt the red poppy as the memorial flower for the organization.
The delegates at the convention also agreed that disabled American war veterans could make their own poppies to be sold within the United States. The Auxiliary believed that US veterans making their own poppies could generate much needed income for disabled and unemployed veterans who had no other means of earning money. The Auxiliary provided all the material for the artificial poppies and had it pre-cut to form easily into individual flowers. The Auxiliary paid a penny for each poppy that was made.
The American Legion Auxiliary continues its work to support veterans and promotes the wearing of a red poppy on the annual Memorial Day observed in May in the United States. Paper poppies are handmade by veterans who are paid for them.
The Buddy Poppy Factory, U.S.A.
Following the distribution of the red French-made poppies for Madame Guérin in 1922, the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) organization formally agreed in 1923 that American veterans of the Great War could also benefit from making and selling the red Memorial Poppy.
From 1924 disabled ex-servicemen started making poppies at the “Buddy Poppy” factory in Pittsburgh. The name “Buddy Poppy” was registered as a U.S. Patent in February 1924. In the following May a certificate was issued to grant trademark rights to the VWF for the manufacture of genuine “Buddy Poppies”.
Since the 1920s there are now 11 locations where the “Buddy Poppies” are made by disabled and needy veterans. Some 14 million “Buddy Poppies” are distributed each year in the United States.
Natural history and biologyof the Red Poppy
(Taken in entirety from Wikipedia)
Papaver rhoeas (common names include common poppy, corn poppy, corn rose, field poppy, Flanders poppy, red poppy, red weed, coquelicot, and, due to its odour, which is said to cause them, as headache and headwark) is a herbaceous species of flowering plant in the poppy family, Papaveraceae. This poppy is notable as an agricultural weed (hence the “corn” and “field”).
Before the advent of herbicides, P. rhoeas sometimes was so abundant in agricultural fields that it could be mistaken for a crop. However the only species of Papaveraceae grown as a field crop on a large scale is Papaver somniferum, the opium poppy.
The origin of the Red Poppy plant is not known for certain. As with many such plants, the area of origin is often ascribed by Americans to Europe, and by northern Europeans to southern Europe. Its native range includes West Asia, North Africa and Europe. It is known to have been associated with agriculture in the Old World since early times and has had an old symbolism and association with agricultural fertility. It has most of the characteristics of a successful weed of agriculture. These include an annual lifecycle that fits into that of most cereals, a tolerance of simple weed control methods, the ability to flower and seed itself before the crop is harvested, and the ability to form a long-lived seed bank. The leaves and latex have an acrid taste and are mildly poisonous to grazing animals.
A sterile hybrid with Papaver dubium is known, P. x hungaricum, that is intermediate in all characters with P. rhoeas.
Cultural usage of the Red Poppy
(Taken in entirety from Wikipedia with addition of two asterisked sentences)
United States commemorative stamp depicting Moina Michael and corn poppies
Due to the extent of ground disturbance in warfare during World War I, corn poppies bloomed in between the trench lines and in no man’s lands on the Western Front. Poppies are a prominent feature of “In Flanders Fields” by Canadian Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, one of the most frequently quoted English-language poems composed during the First World War. It is also mentioned in one of Eric Bogle’s excellent anti-war songs, In No-Man’s Land (also known as The Green Fields of France), which has become a standard in the Irish folk-singing repertoire and part of which is being employed to opposite effect by the Royal Legion through the singing of Joss Stone.* 1
During the 20th century, the wearing of a poppy at and before Remembrance Day each year became an established custom in most western countries. It is also used at some other dates in some countries, such as at appeals for Anzac Day in Australia and New Zealand.
This poppy appears on a number of postage stamps, coins, banknotes, and national flags, including:
The common or corn poppy was voted the county flower of Essex and Norfolk in 2002 following a poll by the wild plant conservation charity Plantlife.
By what seems a strange coincidence, the red poppy has been a symbol of martyrdom and/or love in a number of older cultures.*
In Persian literature, red poppies, especially red corn poppy flowers, are considered the flower of love. They are often called the eternal lover flower. In classic and modern Persian poems, the poppy is a symbol of people who died for love (Persian: راه عشق).
Many poems interchange ‘poppy’ and ‘tulip’ (Persian: لاله).
[I] was asking the wind in the field of tulips during the sunrise: whose martyrs are these bloody shrouded?
[The wind] replied: Hafez, you and I are not capable of this secret, sing about red wine and sweet lips.
In Urdu literature, red poppies, or “Gul-e-Lalah”, are often a symbol of martyrdom, and sometimes of love.
Red Poppy: The commonly-grown decorative Shirley Poppy is a cultivar of this plant.
P. rhoeas contains the alkaloid rhoeadine which is a mild sedative.
Your Most Exalted Majesty, Queen of the United Kingdom of Britain and Northern Ireland, Commander-in-Chief of the UK Armed Forces, Head of the Church of England, Queen of the Commonwealth.
We trust this letter finds your Highness well, as we do also with regard to Your Highness’ large family and of course your trusted corgis.
I am tasked with writing to yourselves in order to make some embarrassing admissions and to ask your Royal forgiveness.
No doubt your family carries the memory of an uprising in Dublin in 1916? Yes, of course one’s family does, as your Highness says. Well …. the embarrassing thing is this ……. it’s so difficult to say but no amount of dressing up is going to make it better so I’d best just come out with it: that was us. Yes, it’s true.
Not just us, of course. There were a load of Reds in green uniforms too, Connolly and Markievicz’s lot. And of course our female auxiliaries, and the youth group. But most of that rebellious band was us, the Irish Volunteers. I can’t adequately express to your Highness how ashamed we are of it all now. Your government of the time was quite right to authorise the courts-martial of hundreds of us and to sentence so many to death. Your magnanimity is truly astounding that only fifteen were shot by firing squads and that Casement fellow hanged.
But were we grateful? Not a bit of it! Does your Highness know that some people still go on about that Red and trade union agitator, James Connolly, being shot in a chair? What would they have your Army do? Shoot him standing up? Sure he had a shattered ankle and gangrene in his leg! One can’t please some people – damned if one does something and damned if one doesn’t. If the Army hadn’t kindly lent him a chair, those same people would be saying that the British wouldn’t even give him a chair to sit on while they shot him.
And how did we repay your Highness’ kindness and magnanimity in only executing sixteen? And in releasing about a thousand after only a year on dieting rations? By campaigning for independence almost immediately afterwards and starting a guerrilla war just three years after that Rising! A guerrilla war that went on for no less than three years. Your Majesty, we burn with shame just thinking of it now!
Our boys chased your loyal police force out of the countryside, shot down your intelligence officers in the streets of Dublin, ambushed your soldiers from behind stone walls and bushes ….. but still your Highness did not give up on us. Some people still go on and on about the two groups of RIC Auxiliaries and the things they did, referring to them by the disrespectful nicknames of “Black and Tans” (after a pack of hunting dogs) and “Auxies”. They exaggerate the number of murders, tortures, arson and theft carried out by them. Of course, your Highness, we realise now, though it’s taken a century for us to come to that realisation, that sending us that group of police auxiliaries was a most moderate response by yourself. But we were too blind to see that then and shot at them as well!
And that fellow Barry and his Flying Column of West Cork hooligans, wiped out a whole column of them. Your Highness will no doubt find it hard to believe this, but some troublemaker even went so far as to compose a song in praise of that cowardly ambush! Oh yes, indeed! And some people still sing it today – in fact they sing songs about a lot of regrettable things we did, even going back as far as when we fought against your Royal ancestors Henry and Elizabeth 1st! Truly I don’t know how your Highness keeps her patience.
Then we went on and declared a kind of independence for most of the country but …. some of us weren’t even satisfied with that! It was good of you to have your Army lend Collins a few cannon and armoured cars to deal with those troublemakers.
And then some time later, even after those generous loans, some of us declared a Republic and pulled the country (four fifths of it, at any rate), out of the Commonwealth. Left the great family of nations that your Highness leads! Words fail me ….well almost, but I must carry on, painful though it is to do so. A full confession must be made – nothing less will do. And then, perhaps …. forgiveness.
Of course your government held on to six counties …. You were still caring for us, even after all our ingratitude! It was like hanging on to something left behind by someone who stormed off in an argument – giving them an excuse to come back for it, so there can be a reconciliation. How incredibly generous and far-sighted of your Majesty to leave that door open all that time!
Fifty years after that shameful Rising, it was celebrated here with great pomp and cheering, even going so far as to rename railway stations that had perfectly good British names, giving them the names of rebel leaders instead. Then just a few years later, some of our people up North started making a fuss about civil rights and rose up against your loyal police force, forcing your government to send in your own Army. And was that enough for the trouble-makers? Of course not – didn’t they start a war with your soldiers and police that lasted three decades!
No doubt your Majesty will have noted that some of those troublemakers have changed their ways completely and are in your Northern Ireland government now. They’ve been helping to pass on the necessary austerity measures in your government’s budgets, campaigning for the acceptance of the police force and for no protests against yourself. Indeed, their Martin McGuinness has shaken your hand and rest assured were it not considered highly inappropriate and lacking in decorum, he would have been glad to kiss your cheek, as he did with Hillary Clinton when she visited. Or both cheeks, in your Majesty’s case! Your Majesty can see, I hope, that we can be reformed.
Our crimes are so many, your Highness; and we have been so, so ungrateful. But we were hoping, after you’d heard our confession, our humble apologies, after your Highness had seen how desperately sorry we are, that you’d forgive us. And if it’s not too much to hope for, that you’d take us back into the United Kingdom. Reunite us with those six counties, and so into the Commonwealth. Is there even a tiniest chance? Please tell us what we have to do and we’ll do it, no matter how demeaning. Please?