Terence MacSwiney – Heroism, Pacificism, Internationalist Solidarity

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Note: It was intended to post this on the anniversary of MacSwiney’s death but technical problems prevented that.)

(Reading time text: 15 mins.)

Terence MacSwiney, Lord Mayor of Cork died in Brixton Prison, London, on October 25th 1920: it was the 74th day of his hunger strike. His struggle brought international attention not only to his sacrifice but also to an Ireland in the second year of its War of Independence, a political and guerrilla war against the occupying power, the British State.

Between 1917 and 1981, twenty-two Irish people died on hunger strike against the injustice of British occupation of Ireland.1

HEROISM AND SELF-SACRIFICE

MacSwiney exhibited heroism and self-sacrifice in a number of steps he took before he embarked on his fatal hunger-strike. He did so first of all in putting his liberty and very life in jeopardy in opposing the colonial occupation and domination of his land. He took a second step towards endangering his liberty and life by joining the Irish Republican Brotherhood, an organisation dedicated at the time to the overthrow of British rule in Ireland.

Thirdly, he took the trend further still by not only joining the Irish Volunteers in 1913 but by being one of the founders of the Cork Brigade. Fourthly, MacSwiney opposed Redmond’s offer of the Volunteers to the British imperialist Army and stood with the dedicated minority in the subsequent split.

Fifthly, he joined the IRA after the 1916 Rising.

His sixth step was to take the Lord Mayor position in which his predecessor, Tomás Mac Curtain, had recently been murdered by Crown forces. Seventh, he embarked on his hunger-strike to the end.

Tomás Mac Curtain and family; he was murdered by British agents two months after his election to Lord Mayor of Cork City. (Photo sourced: Internet)

That trajectory reminds us all that the path of revolution is a dangerous one, requiring courage and sacrifice, though not necessarily always to that same degree.

PACIFICISM

Because he chose in the end to offer up his life in a hunger-strike to the death, Terence MacSwiney is often held up as the ideal example of pacifism and especially so when a particular phrase of his is quoted: It is not those who can inflict the most but those who can endure the most who will conquer.

Of course, the reality is that both are absolutely necessary. No struggle can be won by endurance alone, no more than a struggle can be won merely by inflicting damage upon the enemy.

There are genuine pacifists and fake ones. I don’t agree with either but I have some respect for those who put their liberty and even their lives at risk in a pacifist struggle. For the others, the social democrats and liberals who enjoin us to have all our resistance be peaceful, while they support the violence of the ruling class and their states at home and abroad, we should have nothing but contempt. It would indeed suit our enemies if we set out to endure every attack and made them pay nothing in return!

Those who remind us only of that quotation from MacSwiney, or of the one from that other hunger-striker and poet Bobby Sands, that “Our revenge will be the laughter of our children”, choose to forget – and try to make us forget – a very important fact about Sands and MacSwiney: each was a revolutionary soldier. Each was arrested because he was known to be a member of an armed force of resistance – the IRA.

INTERNATIONALIST SOLIDARITY

For some people, internationalist solidarity is almost all, ensuring that they don’t become any danger to the State in which they live or to its ruling class.

For some others, internationalist solidarity is something kind of extra, to be indulged in now and again.

I think both those tendencies are wrong. We need to confront our own ruling class and State, not only for the benefit of our own working class but also as a contribution to the world. But at the same time we need to pay attention to questions of solidarity with other struggles around the world.

And that can serve as a barometer too – for I have noticed in a number of organisations that when the leadership was heading towards giving up on revolution, inconvenient internationalist solidarity was one of the first things they threw out the window.

MacSwiney’s hunger strike drew the eyes of much of the world to his struggle and to that of his people. In India, the Nehru and Gandhi families made contact with MacSwineys and those connections were maintained for decades afterwards. It is said that Ho Chi Minh was working in a hotel in London when he heard of MacSwiney’s death and remarked that with such people as that, Ireland would surely win her freedom. In Catalonia, people fought daily battles with the Spanish police outside the British Legation in Barcelona. The story reached the Basque Country too and the example of Cumann na mBan was taken a little later to create the female section of the Basque Nationalist Party.

Photo Ho Chi Minh

A young Ho Chi Minh (not his name then) at Marseilles conference in 1919 (Sourced on Internet)
Some of AIA front Hunger Strike Memorial Glasnevin MacSwiney Commemoration Oct 2020
Spanish police fought Catalans sometimes daily outside the British Consulate there during MacSwiney’s hunger strike as they protested in solidarity with the Irish patriot. (Photo sourced: Internet)
Photo shows the Emakume Abertzale Batza, the women’s section of the Basque Nationalist Party, parading in celebration of Aberri Eguna, Basque national day, in 1932. Their formation was inspired by learning of Cumann na mBan. (Photo sourced: Internet)

In Britain too, there was great solidarity, a fact not often spoken about; 30,000 people walked in his funeral procession from the jail to St. George’s Cathedral in Southwark. Who were these people? Certainly many were of the Irish diaspora, the longest-established and largest ethnic minority throughout most of Britain’s history. But there were English socialists too.

At that time, the London Borough of Poplar – not far from the area where the anti-fascist Battle of Cable Street was fought, the anniversary of which we celebrated recently — was in dispute with the Government, who were expecting the rates to be collected there to be on the rental value, which meant the poor East London borough had to pay more than rich boroughs of West London.

The Councillors were planning to refuse to set the expected rates and were threatened with jail, whereupon their leader, George Lansbury said they would be proud to go to the same jail where MacSwiney was being kept. British socialists of that kind marched in the funeral procession (besides, at least two of the Poplar Councillors bore Irish surnames: Kelly and O’Callaghan).

In my opinion, it is a great pity that the leaders of the Irish struggle for independence did not work on building links with the British working class. In 1920 the British ruling class was in serious trouble – it had thousands of military conscripts wanting demobilisation after WWI but the British didn’t want to let them go as they felt they would need them to suppress risings in many parts of the British Empire. The working class in industry was building a strike movement and in 1919 the Government had sent soldiers to shoot strikers in Liverpool and to threaten strikers in Glasgow. The great coal strike of 1925 was not far off, nor was the General Strike of 1926.

If the leaders of the Irish independence struggle had made those connections, not only might the history of Ireland have turned out differently but that of the very world.

The preceding is a very close approximation to the speech I gave on the 25th October 2020 by the Hunger Strike Memorial in Glasnevin Cemetery at the Terence MacSwiney commemoration organised by Anti-Imperialism Action Ireland.

Hunger Strike Martyrs’ Memorial, Republican Plot, Glasnevin Cemetery. (Photo D.Breatnach)
Some of Anti-Imperialist Action in front of the Hunger Strike Memorial, Glasnevin Cemetery, after their MacSwiney Commemoration Oct 2020 (Photo: D.Breatnach).

FUNERALS AND FUNERAL PROCESSIONS IN DIFFERENT COUNTRIES

The working class Irish, who had had some scuffles with the police during vigils at the jail, were there in their thousands at the funeral procession in London in their Sunday best, with the middle class represented too. Some of the Irish women could be identified at a distance, wearing their traditional shawls of Irish city and countryside. The Mayor of Poplar was not the only town mayor to walk in the procession. British socialists took part as did visitors from abroad and the world media was well represented. Aside from the procession, huge crowds lined the South London streets as the cortege passed.

World media interest was intense. The funeral procession, the vast majority walking, travelled the 3.5 miles (nearly 6 kilometres) from Brixton jail northwards to the cathedral where McSwiney’s body was to be received for requiem service the following day.

London Funeral Terence MacSwiney St.George’s Cathedral, Painting by John Lavery

The church where Terence Mc Swiney’s body was laid out under IRA guard of honour, with 30,000 filing past was St. George’s, on the south side of the river, near Southwark Bridge. It had been formally opened in 1848, known as “the year of revolution” in Europe and Ireland had its own contribution with the Young Irelanders’ brief rising. St. George’s was the first Catholic Cathedral of London until the Catholic Westminster Cathedral opened up in 1903. The English Catholics, who were a very small minority in their country had not dared challenge the anti-Catholic restrictions for generations but under the influence of large Irish Catholic congregations became more assertive; however that did not mean that the mostly aristocratic English Catholics were eager to rub shoulders with their largely plebeian Irish brethren and also, north of the river were the main desirable areas. So in 1903 they built the Catholic Cathedral in Westminster and left St. George’s to the Irish plebs on the south side of the Thames.

The Bishop of Westminster in 1920, Cardinal Francis Bourne, head of the Catholic Church of England and Wales, did not comment publicly on the hunger-strike but let it be known in private that he considered it suicide. The London inquest however, at the insistence of his widow Muriel and the evidence of the Governor of Brixton Jail, had recorded the cause of death as heart failure. A week after MacSwiney’s funeral mass in Southwark, Bourne conducted a mass in Westminster for Catholic British Army officers killed in Ireland.

Front view Westminster Catholic Cathedral (Photo sourced: Internet)
Muriel McSwiney before here widowhood (Photo sourced: Internet)

The next day after the removal of the body from Brixton Jail, Bishop William Cotter of Portsmouth gave the Solemn Requiem with Bishop Amigo, Archbishop Daniel Mannix of Melbourne, and Archbishop Anselm Kennealy of Simla, India, in attendanc. It was a ticket-only even; six of those who had tickets were a close group of men, all wearing long coats – once inside they stripped these off and revealed their IRA uniforms. After the previous Republican guardians departed, McSwiney’s body was guarded by six men in the uniform of the army to which he had belonged and of which he had co-founded its Cork element. The Bishop of Southwark might or might not have been pleased but it would not be for long.2 Certainly Peter Emmanuel Amigo, originally from Gibraltar, Bishop of Southwark from 1904 to 1949, had pleaded publicly for MacSwiney’s release before he should die, writing to politicians at Westminster petitioning his release. In a telegram to prime minister David Lloyd George on September 5th, Bishop Amigo warned: “Resentment will be very bitter if he is allowed to die.”

After the service a large entourage accompanied the body in its coffin to Euston Station for the train journey to Hollyhead. From there it was to go on to Dublin, to be received by the people of the Irish capital and then onwards to his home city and final resting place. But it was not to be.

The train left Euston station early with many police on board. At Hollyhead the grieving relatives and friends were informed that the boat they had engaged would take them and the body instead to Cork. The funeral party protested, produced their contract of shipment — to no avail. Porters were called to remove the coffin but were resisted and left. The police were summoned and, manhandling the protesting mourners, seized the coffin (sadly it was not the only kidnapping of an Irish rebel’s body in history, one of the other occasions being by the Irish State with Vol. Michael Gaughan’s body in 1974).

The British authorities feared fueling the fire of patriotic fervour already burning in Dublin at the news of MacSwiney’s death and the impending execution by hanging of Volunteer Kevin Barry. The funeral party were determined to travel to Dublin as arranged and had to engage another ship, which they finally succeeded in doing. While McSwiney’s body travelled on to Cork, the reception was held in Dublin, a city in official mourning declared by the First Dáil and in the midst of an urban guerrilla war against a foreign military occupation.

Mourners in Boston, Chicago, Melbourne, Newcastle upon Tyne, and Manchester held symbolic funerals with empty caskets.

When the Rathmore dropped anchor in Cobh harbour, the coffin containing MacSwiney’s body was transferred to the Mary Tave tug to travel on to Cork to deliver the body to a waiting funeral party. The deck was packed with Auxies, murderers of his predecessor, the final indignity.

Arrival MacSwiney’s Coffin tug surrounded by Auxies Custom House Quay Cork. (Photo sourced: Internet)

A special meeting of Cork Corporation was convened where councillors (those not “on the run”) expressed their condolences and raw emotion at losing the City’s Lord Mayor.

The Deputy Lord Mayor Councillor Donal Óg O’Callaghan, revealing that he had received death threats, issue a defiant statement, decrying that despite Terence’s death, the merit of Republicanism would still linger and pass on:

The only message that I on behalf of the Republicans of Cork give today over the corpse of the late Lord Mayor is that Cork has definitely yielded its allegiance to the Republic, that the people of Cork will continue that allegiance unswervingly and that those of us who man the Municipal Council will attempt as far as in us lies to follow the noble and glorious lead of the two martyred Republican Magistrates.

The Republican hold on the Municipal Chair of Cork ceases only when the last Republican in Cork has followed Tomás MacCurtain and Terence MacSwiney into the Grave. Death will not terrorise us”.

After a funeral service in Cork Cathedral a massive crowd accompanied his coffin to the cemetery, with Republican organisations and ordinary citizens in the procession. The occupation authorities had banned marching in uniform or even in military fashion, or display of flags.

Nationalists under colonial occupation of European powers (including nations within Europe) would be taking inspiration from the Irish struggle for decades. The war of resistance in Ireland would continue, with Cork County and City seeing more than its share. The special terrorist units of the British and their regular army would burn the City on the night of 11th-12th December of that same year. Irish Republicans in Britain would concentrate on supplying intelligence and arms to the struggle at home, in addition to organising some prison escapes. Some British socialists would continue solidarity activities on a publicity level and liberals and social democrats would protest the British reprisals on the Irish civilian population.

But the body of Terence McSwiney had come home.

End.

MacSwiney’s Free, composed and performed by Pat Waters, with video footage:

Footage London & Cork funeral processions Terence MacSwiney:

Terence MacSwiney Cork funeral only footage:

FOOTNOTES

1Some, like MacSwiney and the ten in 1981, died of the depletion of the body through the hunger-strike while some were killed by force-feeding, like Thomas Ashe in 1917, Michael Gaughan in 1974 and Frank Stagg in 1976. Others survived hunger strike and force-feeding but their bodies (and sometime their minds) suffered for the rest of their lives, such as the Price sisters (1973-1974).

2Part of that journey was marked in reverse by the Terence MacSwiney Commemoration Committee with a march in 1989. The idea as far as I can recall had been Brendan O’Rourke’s, an Irish solidarity activist and at that time Manager of the Lewisham Irish Community Centre, the Management Committee of which I was Chairperson and with a few others, Brendan and I led that Commemoration Committee.

The march, supported by Irish Republicans and some English socialists, rallied at Kennington Park, on the lookout for National Front or police attack but knowing that in Brixton itself, an area of high Afro-Caribbean settlement, both those misfortunes were unlikely. We were led by a Republican Flute Band from Scotland and applauded by people as we marched past the police station (the State garrison of the area) and through the centre of Brixton. The march proceeded without incident up Brixton Hill to the entrance of the road leading in to the Jail, held a moment’s silence there and marched down to the centre of Brixton Town, ending there for people to proceed to a reception at Fr. Matthew Hall.

It was the last such march as we could not get another band from Scotland to lead us. We were independent of Provisional Sinn Féin and Scottish RFB members told us that the bands had been told, unofficially of course, that participating in our events would adversely affect their chances of being invited to play at annual events in the Six Counties, which for those bands was the high point of their annual calendar.

SOURCES:

https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/heritage/the-three-funerals-of-terence-macswiney-1.4387267

https://www.stgeorgescathedral.org.uk/about/history/

https://www.irishexaminer.com/news/spotlight/arid-40070420.html

FASCIST ATTACK ON REPUBLICAN FROM “PEACEFUL” RIGHT-WING RALLY

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: mins)

After repeated claims from from a woman speaking through a loudhailer that their right-wing rally at the GPO was “peaceful” and would “not respond to your violence” (this addressed to their peaceful opponents on the other side of the road!), right-wingers crossed the road a number of times to insult and threaten their opponents, eventually assaulting one well-known Republican who defended himself vigorously. Gardaí separated assailant and victim but declined to take any action against the fascist.

BACKGROUND, BUILD-UP AND ATTACK

          The above took place on Saturday 4th July. Earlier, at 1pm, the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign had hosted at the Spire a very well-attended rally in solidarity with Palestine and against the recently-announced plans of Israel to annex the Palestinian West Bank.

Section of Palestine solidarity rally (Photo: D.Breatnach)

View of crowd supporting Palestine southward (Photo: D.Breatnach)

View of the Palestine supporters northwards towards the Spire (Photo: D.Breatnach)

Many of the Palestine supporters were still on the pedestrian reservation when the far-Rightists arrived to set up their weekly protest against social distancing, with claims that Covid19 is not real (or, a variation, that it is exaggerated) and that the restrictions are being used to bring in a “New World Order”.

As the Far-Right were setting up, two members of the Special Detective Unit (in the past called the “Special Branch” as they remain known by many, along with less kind names) were seen chatting to them. These political Gardaí in plainclothes were easily identified since some who had attended the earlier demonstration at the Lithuanian Embassy against the threatened extradition of Liam Campbell (see separate report by Clive Sulish on Rebel Breeze) had seen them there, standing near the uniformed Gardaí, watching the protesters. The nature of the conversation of these undercover political police with the Far-Rightists is not known but appeared cordial and certainly they were not asking them for their names and addresses as they had done recently to people protesting in solidarity with political prisoners.

Soon jeers and cat-calls were crossing the street in each direction. The Right-wingers had a loudspeaker advantage for awhile but then one appeared among their opponents too. Even before that, the speaker for the Far-Rightists was accusing their opponents, not one of whom had crossed the road towards them, of being “violent” and claiming that the Rightists were peaceful and were “not going to respond to the violence” of the other side.

It was not long however before some of the Far-Right militants were crossing the road to throw insults and threats at their opponents at closer quarters who of course responded verbally. Gardaí then arrived and gently asked the Far-Rightists to return to the GPO side and one of the Rightists, pointing at the their opponents, who were still on the pedestrian reservation, actually demanded of the cops “Why don’t youse tell them to go back?”

GPO distance: Early arrivals of the Far-Right group portraying themselves as “patriots” (Photo: D.Breatnach)

This went on a number of times with the Gardaí intervening less and less. At one point I had one unmasked ginger-haired thug a few inches from my face photographing me, repeatedly calling me a “scumbag” and a “terrorist” (interesting) but when he told me I was destroying his country (!) I couldn’t resist asking “How am I destroying the country?” He declined to reply to my repeated question, moving on to express his aggression to someone else.

At this point I had become distracted by one of their supporters who was trying to have a conversation with me. I obliged and it was quite revealing on the disparate nature of many of the elements in these right-wing rallies. She told me that she was not racist and was bisexual and not right-wing and her friend (also present) was half-German, so why were we calling them racists and fascists? I was engaging her on some of the things that have been said by some of the group she was with and pointing out some individuals I had seen in support of Gemma Doherty, explaining to her that if she attends rallies of those people, she is going to be subjected to calls against fascists and racists.

Shortly I became aware of a disturbance behind me which, on turning I could see was a fight that was moving towards the east side of O’Connell St. (southbound traffic) where both ended up fighting fiercely on the ground. Before I could see who they were, five or six Gardaí then intervened and separated them, at which point I could identify both combatants: one was a Republican whom I had seen a little earlier sitting on the base of the flagpole in the middle of the pedestrian reservation (apparently where he was when attacked) and his assailant was the very one who had earlier been venting aggression at me and trying to provoke me into physical retaliation.

Once they had separated them the Gardaí were treating this matter as one of equal blame on both sides and saying things like “Don’t be silly now” whereas it was clearly the case that a fascist had crossed the road with aggressive intent and had then taken that further into physical aggression.

Later, when I remonstrated with some of the Gardaí that if we had crossed the road and behaved in that way, they would have at least pulled us out, “Go over there if you want,” said one of them, “I can’t stop you.” I pointed out to him that an antifascist who had approached Gemma Doherty supporters at the Dept. of Justice some months earlier had been threatened by a Garda Sergeant with arrest under the Public Order Act. (On that occasion too, the Gardaí had allowed the Far-Rightists to walk among the counter-protesters).

It seems from recent cases that the line the Gardaí are following is that if it looks like being a serious all-out fight they will police it hard and keep the two sides apart but, if smaller scattered fights break out they will break them up without arrests, especially if Republicans are being attacked and possibly, in future, use these occasions to arrest antifascists who defend themselves or respond to provocation.

It is historically true that police forces in capitalist states favour fascist movements, a fact seen throughout Europe.  In London, in the Battle of Cable Street in 1936, fought to prevent a march of the fascist “Blackshirts” through a largely Jewish East End, the main confrontation was between the antifascists on the barricades and the escort for the 2,000-3,000 fascists: 7,000 Metropolitan Police, along with the whole of the London mounted police force.

“WE ARE NOT RACISTS AND WE ARE FOR THE PALESTINIANS”

          The above was one of the claims of the speaker of the Far-Rightists, made repeatedly. This is a new development in their rhetoric and they claimed to have some Polish and also a Palestinian among their number. This last at least appeared to be true and a big man of Middle-Eastern appearance was among them and was seen later chatting to some Gardaí. A man I know informed me that this man is a Palestinian but a member of the Muslim Brotherhood (right-wing Islamic fundamentalist group).

Gemma Doherty has posted much racist material (and outright lies), as has Justin Barrett of the National Party, both of them objecting to the election of Councillor Hazel Chu as Lord Mayor, Barrett going so far as to say that he would remove Ms.Chu’s nationality if he were in power, even though she was born in the Mater  Hospital and raised and educated in Dublin.

The Far-Right, which is a mixed bag in any case, were happy to use O’Doherty’s notoriety to push their movement further but perhaps they are finding her a bit of a liability now and are remodeling themselves as some kind of inclusive alternative movement for civil freedoms etc. They are still promoting their opposition to the idea of legislation against “hate speech” discussed by the previous Government and demanding their right to “free speech”. This actually does hearken back to O’Doherty’s campaign against Google, who closed down her Youtube channels because of alleged racist abuse.

If they are going to drop the racist rhetoric and claim multi-culturalism, presumably they will have to abandon the “Replacement” conspiracy theory, whereby the EU allegedly has a plan to replace all the Irish with migrants!  However the challenge with which their militants first approached their opponents on Sunday of “Are you Irish?”, just as they did at the O’Doherty rallies, hardly exudes multi-culturalism.

The other elements of Far-Right rhetoric and propaganda remain, however: that they are “Patriots” (sic – hence the strutting around with the Tricolour and “Irish Republic” flags); they are Christians (“walking in the steps of God” according to their speaker that day); that their opponents are all in an organisation called “Antifa” and funded by the millionaire Soros (also according to their speaker); and that governments are assisting in a coming to power of a “New World Order”.

CANNOT BE TOLERATED

          It is not acceptable that Republicans or any kind of antifascist can be attacked on our streets and it must not be tolerated. Apart from anything else fascists will use incidents like that to promote themselves as some kind of “warriors” to build up their fascist thug forces while at the same time part of their movement will be playing the victim and proclaiming their “peacefulness”, as was amply demonstrated today. This is exactly the dual road of the advance of fascism historically.

The drop-down poster displays their paranoid vista. The woman to the right was their speaker, proclaiming their “peaceful demonstration” a little before participants in their rally crossed the road to insult, provoke, threaten and ultimately assault a Republican. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

There is something wrong with our organisation in the broad sense too, it seems to me, if our opponents, at least some of whom wish us harm, can walk among our ranks with impunity. In some places today they were blocked and one youth was even pursued until he returned to his group but in many places they just walked in and it was one of those who assaulted the Republican today.

On another issue, as I have pointed out in the past, these confrontations may tend to have the Far-Right appear as patriotic to onlookers, since it is they who are waving the Tricolour and “Irish Republic” flags and some wearing green tops too. For the sake of educating the public, the antifascists need to fly their flags too, whether these be tricolours as well and/or Starry Ploughs, Red, Red-and-Black or Black flags, including those with the Antifascist symbol, or that of the LGBT movement or indeed others. Placards countering the fascist and racist propaganda and exposing fake patriotism should also be visible.

The most crucial thing is that the Far-Right movement with its fascist core be not permitted to appear a viable option for the Irish ruling class to choose. We have had some successes, for example in preventing Pegida launching in Dublin in 2016 and some confrontations with the Far-Right – but it is clear that there remains a deal of work to be done.

End.

TWO DEATHS, FOUR FUNERALS AND THREE BURIALS

Diarmuid Breatnach

 

IRA Volunteer Michael Gaughan was killed in Parkhurst Jail on the Isle of Wight this month in 1974. He was killed on the 3rd June that year by force-feeding while on hunger strike. An honour guard of Provisional IRA had presided over his body’s removal by ferry to the mainland and from there to London, where the first of his three funeral processions was to take place.

Volunteer Michael Gaughan, the image most often associated with him.
(Photo source: Internet)

Also on hunger-strike with Gaughan although in different jails in Britain were other Provisional IRA prisoners: Gerry Kelly, Paul Holmes, Hugh Feeney and fellow Mayoman Frank Stagg. They were acting in support of the struggle of Volunteers Dolours and Marion Price1 to obtain political status and to be transferred to a jail in Ireland. The prisoners’ demands were as follows:

  • The right to political status
  • The right to wear their own clothes
  • A guarantee that they would not be returned to solitary confinement
  • The right to educational facilities and not engage in penal labour
  • The setting of a reasonable date for a transfer to an Irish prison2

At the time I was a young and fairly inexperienced activist supporting an English-based Marxist-Leninist group.3

 

LONDON

Vol. Gaughan’s funeral procession in Kilburn, London.
(Photo source: Internet)

On the 7th a funeral procession was being organised by Provisional Sinn Féın in an area of strong Irish diaspora settlement in North-West London. I took a bus from my South-East London home by a part of the canal near Peckham (now filled in) to the Elephant & Castle and changed on to the London Underground metro system to travel to Kilburn, from where I walked up to the Cricklewood area. There in the forecourt of the Crown pub was where I had been told the funeral procession would gather and where I would also meet my comrades of the organisation.

After a little, preparations were being made for departure. A priest was to lead the procession, which I strongly disliked but obviously had no say in the arrangements. A lone piper would follow, a traditional feature of mourning where Irish resistance is involved. The coffin would be carried for a period on the shoulders of volunteers, before being transferred to the hearse and a senior comrade of my organisation approached me.

Another view of the funeral procession of Vol. Gaughan through Kilburn, London.
(Photo source: Internet)

Some representatives of British Left organisations are going to carry the coffin,” he said. “We’ve been asked if we’d like to take part. What do you think?”

He was asking me, I presumed, because I was the only Irish supporter of the organisation present, although it had an excellent record of supporting Irish resistance and prisoners and several of its comrades had gone to jail as a result.

He seemed not keen on the idea and I got the impression that he felt as I did that it was tokenism, distasteful posturing by the British Left. Tariq Ali (now a journalist but then a member of the now-defunct Trotskyist organisation in Britain, the International Marxist Group) was one of those hefting the coffin. I agreed with my comrade and said we should not (a decision I now regret) and so we didn’t. No organisation on the British Left at that time, in terms of commitment and actions in proportion to its size, deserved the honour more than our organisation.

From the forecourt of the Crown a long parade escorted Gaughan’s coffin from Cricklewood in West London along the main road to the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Quex Road church in Kilburn. It was a very Irish area then with nearly every pub being of mainly Irish clientele and it contained a dance hall where Irish bands played. Every shop and pub along the way was closed for the funeral and crowds lined the route. The atmosphere was very solemn with the laments being played by the piper very audible.

 

DUBLIN

Michael Gaughan’s funeral procession approaching O’Connell Bridge, Dublin city centre.
(Photo source: Internet)

Another view of the Michael Gaughan funeral, Dublin

On the 8th of June 1974, the body of IRA Volunteer Michael Gaughan arrived in Dublin, where it was met by mourners and an IRA guard of honour. The body was brought to the Adam and Eve’s Franciscan church on Merchant’s Quay, where thousands filed past as it lay in state (no doubt under the watchful eyes of the Garda Special Branch).

Vol Gaughan lying in state with IRA honour guard in Dublin.
(Photo source: Internet)

 

MAYO

On the following day, the 9th of June 1974, Michael Gaughan’s funeral took place in Ballina, County Mayo. The funeral mass was held at St. Muiredach’s Cathedral, Ballina, procession then to Leigue Cemetery, Ballina. He was given a full republican burial and laid to rest in the Republican plot (where Frank Stagg, also killed by force-feeding, would join him after being reburied in November 1976 – see further below). Vol. Gaughan’s coffin was draped in the same Tricolour that had been used for Terence McSwiney’s funeral 54 years earlier (the same flag would later be used in the funeral of James McDade, IRA member killed in a premature explosion in Coventry). Gaughan’s funeral was attended by over 50,000 people, larger than the funeral of former Irish president Éamon de Valera.

 

FRANK STAGG

Frank Stagg, the image most frequently used.
(Image source: Internet)

It was no doubt to avoid scenes such as this that the Irish state took certain steps when two years later, on 12th February 1976, a comrade of Gaughan’s, Vol. Frank Stagg, also from Mayo, was also killed in Wakefield Prison, Yorkshire, by force-feeding while on hunger-strike. Although much of this this took place during the IRA truce of 1975-January 1976, the British authorities refused to grant any of the demands. The Wikipedia entry says that “Stagg died on 12 February 1976 after 62 days on hunger strike” which, though not untrue is a lie by omission.4

The repatriation of the body of Frank Stagg at Shannon Airport from Wakefield Prison in Britain where he died on hunger strike on 12 February 1976.

The Irish Government had the flight carrying his coffin diverted from Dublin where a large crowd awaited it, to Shannon airport.

On arrival at Shannon, the Gardaí snatched the coffin and drove it straight to Ballina, Mayo under armed guard, to a cemetery near Stagg’s family home, where it was placed in a prepared grave into which wet concrete was then poured, six feet deep, instead of soil. And the site remained under guard until the concrete had set and for some time after.

Sean, one of Frank Stagg’s brothers, being assaulted at Shannon Airport by Gardai (Photo source: Internet)

Although those proceedings would have been in complete opposition to the wishes of the deceased, the State had obtained agreement for them from Frank Stagg’s widow and one of his brothers, the Labour Party’s Emmet Stagg. It was opposed by another two of Frank Stagg’s brothers and of course by the dead Volunteer’s comrades.

The first burial of Vol. Frank Stagg, managed by the State, contrary to his wishes of the deceased. One of his brothers, Emmet, who colluded in that operation, is on the back left, lowering the coffin. (Photo source: Internet)

In November of that year, a number of those comrades dug down near the grave, tunneled under the concrete, removed the coffin and re-interred it in the Republican plot, near to Michael Gaughan’s grave, where it rests today.

A simple but plaintive song about Michael Gaughan survives in not uncommon use: Take Me Home to Mayo. There are a number of versions on Youtube; this one contains relevant images and film footage: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=14-kuxsHjPg

National Graves Association memorial in the Republican Plot, Leigue cemetery, Ballina, to which the names of Vol.s Stagg and Gaughan were added. The NGA is a nationwide non-State-funded organisation caring for the graves and erecting memorials to Ireland’s patriot dead. (Photo source: Internet)

 

end

FOOTNOTES

1Although Gerry Kelly is a current Sinn Féin MLA, both the Price Sisters denounced the Good Friday Agreement and Sinn Féin; Marian was effectively interned for a period because of her politics and has not been active politically due to ill-health since her release in May 2013.  On January 23rd of that year she was escorted from jail to attend the funeral of her sister, Dolours.  Of the surviving hunger strikers of 1975-’76, Paul Holmes was the only other one to attend that funeral.

2The British promised to concede the demands after Gaughan’s death – they had already conceded them to Loyalist prisoners – but reneged on the promise. The Price Sisters did eventually win repatriation to jail in the Six Counties, Ireland. The struggle on the issue of repatriation, which the British authorities conceded to British prisoners in Irish jails but not generally in reverse, carried on for many years. It is UN and generally human rights policy that prisoners should serve their sentences in jails close to their family networks.

3I had previously been an unaffiliated Anarchist activist, then came to support the English Communist Movement (M-L), which later became the Communist Party of England (M-L), which I left some years later. It has since gone through a number of bigger changes and evolved into the current Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (M-L), a much-changed organisation from the days referred to in this article.

4This is an important omission because the death of Vol. Stagg at the State’s hands after Gaughan’s brought about a change in policy of the British Medical Association, which afterwards recommended to its members that people in sound state of mind embarking on a hunger strike should not be forcibly fed even if they were heading for death. In consequence, the British State no longer has a policy of force-feeding prisoners on hunger-strike, since such would have to be supervised by medical personnel.

Joe Kelly — and a generation passing

A generation is passing. Actually they have been passing for some time, the generation of the fighting years of the late 1960s, the 1970s, the 1980s and even the 1990s.

They campaigned variously for social housing; civil rights north and south; for human rights; against Church domination; against Unionist sectarianism; for free access to contraception; for right to divorce; for an end to censorship; for national self-determination; for Gaeltacht civil rights; for Irish language rights and Irish on TV; in support of political prisoners; the rights of women; for Irish Traveller rights; protection of heritage and environment; solidarity with many struggles around the world, including Cuba, Vietnam, Rhodesia, South Africa, Chile, the Black Panthers; against drug dealers; for freedom to choose lifestyle; decriminalisation of gay and lesbian life; for community projects in deprived areas including youthwork and, let’s not forget, organised, fought in and supported strikes.

 

That generation fought many battles, some of which they won and some which built bases for later battles and their story is told only in bits and pieces here and there. They organised, marched, sat in, occupied, wrote, made placards, painted slogans, put up posters and some fired guns; they were watched, raided, beaten, fined, jailed, calumnied, sacked, expelled, kept unemployed, derided from pulpit, press and judge’s bench, some were shot, and not just they but their families made to suffer too.

I am not referring to people of any specific age but of all those who were any age from young to old and active during those years. The causes of death have been many, from simple old age and life lived out to the death penalty.

But the death penalty was not in force in Ireland in the 1960s, you may think? Actually it was, it wasn’t abolished until 1990 in this state. But you’d be kind of correct as in practice no formal execution has been carried out by this state since 1954.

So, then what am I talking about? Maybe referring to the ‘United Kingdom’, since six counties of Ireland are included in that state? Yes, and no. The death sentence still exists in the UK only for “Arson in Her Majesty’s shipyards” but it was abolished in Britain for the crime of murder in 1965 and, in fact, no-one had been formally executed there from the year before. If the judicial death penalty had still been in force, the people in charge of that state might’ve been been spared the embarrassment of seeing nearly a score of Irish people they had wrongly convicted in 1974 walk free decades later as judges eventually had to find them ‘Not Guilty’.

A bit late for Giuseppe Conlon, against whom there had not even been a shred of doubtful evidence, but never mind. But had they all died in prison or been executed, people might not have worked so hard to see their convictions in court overturned – people among whom Joe Kelly, who died this week and who was cremated on Saturday, stands tall.

But the death penalty was not removed from the judges’ arsenal in that bastion of reaction, Six Counties state, until 1973, when the 30 Years’ War had entered its early years (somebody from the British state clearly had to sit down with the Unionist bigots and explain, although of course they sympathised with their loyal brethren, how bad it would be for Britain and the Queen if they started sentencing and executing IRA and INLA fighters).

There are more ways to skin a cat …. yes, and to kill too. The orange and SAS and MRF death squads killed more against whom there was not even a court conviction. And some of the Republicans killed one another too. And twelve died on hunger strike, one each in 1974 and in ’76 and ten in 1981. Actually, considering the brutality of force-feeding, it’s surprising there weren’t more deaths – Marian and Dolours Price were force-fed 167 times over 203 days in 1973 and it was the publicity around their case and the deaths of Gaughan and Stagg that ended the practice of force-feeding, ensuring that the Hunger Strikers of 1980 and ’81 at least did not have to endure that experience.

But there are more ways to kill …. Many of that generation of fighters died from ‘natural’ causes but died early – cancers, heart attacks, liver damage, despair ….. ah, yes, that brings to mind suicide, of which some also died. But despair also can drive you to drink, even more easily if it has been part of your experience of socialising and alcohol is one of the top killers in the world. And some died of drugs …. or drugs and alcohol …. or infections from unsafe drug injection …. But most who died early did so in summary from the wear and tear of struggle, of prison, of separation, of relationship breakdowns, of betrayal, despair.

Not all died, even those who are not among the fighters today. Some walked away from the struggle and though I can’t imagine being in their shoes, I do not begrudge them. So long as they didn’t betray any on their way out or make a living out of spitting on their former comrades and causes afterwards. But some, a very few, did exactly that and you can read what they have to say quite often in their articles or hear them quoted in the newspapers or on TV or radio.

Some found other ways to betray and did it in secret, feeding information to their handlers and some even diverting attention from themselves by accusing others, some innocent and some of a lesser grade of betrayal than that of the accusers. We know of some of them but may never learn about them all.

Joe Kelly

Poster displayed at memorial in Teacher's Club (photo accessed from a Facebook posting)
Poster displayed at memorial in Teacher’s Club (photo accessed from a Facebook posting)

A few have survived and are still around, fighting the struggle, whether in organisations or as independents. Joe Kelly was one in both categories, in a sense. I knew him but did not know him well and met him only in the last decade, after I had returned from decades living and working in London. I am given to understand that he had passed through a number of political organisations, including Fianna Fáil and the Labour Party. A strange CV, one might think, for a radical left-wing social and political activist. The last political group with which I had associated Joe was People Before Profit, on a local level, around Phibsboro. Joe invited me to attend a quiz they were running and I did so mainly to return a favour – he had attended, to contribute to the singing at my invitation, an evening of the Clé Club where I had been “Fear a’Tí” for that night. I was amazed to win a Blackberry at the quiz (sorry, Joe, I still haven’t gotten around to learning and using it!). Last I heard, he wasn’t with the PBP.

Somebody told me years back that he had been a central organiser of a solidarity event in Dublin for the Birmingham Six in which lights had been floated down the Liffey. Of course I was impressed – on a political/ human rights level but also for the poetic vision involved. I have found little about that event since and Joe, who I found a modest man, didn’t give me much in response to my pressing. A couple of searches on the Internet yielded me only a passing reference to the River Parade, of 1990, a year before the Birmingham Six were finally cleared in court and released. Likely I have not been asking the right people or looking in the right corners.

I met Joe by arrangement for a coffee a couple of times, while I tried to get him into something I was doing and he tried to get me into something he was working at – neither of us succeeding in our efforts to recruit the other. Since Joe was working for awhile in the community sector I also approached him to explore possibilities for me when, despite a long track record in the fields of working in homeless shelters and addiction as well as other community activism I was out of work, but he wasn’t able to help me.

And of course I bumped into him on demonstrations, as in those in solidarity with Palestine or against the Water Tax or against the Lisbon Treaty. For awhile we were active together in the Dublin branch of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Committee and I believe he left like me after witnessing some nasty in-fighting years ago, though we both often turned up to protest pickets and demonstrations and public meetings called by the organisation. We would also meet at events in solidarity with the Cuban people.

I heard him described at his funeral service, by someone who should know, as a Republican. Certainly Joe was very proud of his father and uncle who had both fought in the 1916 Rising, the first in the GPO and the second in Bolands’ Mill and proudly displayed his father’s medal at a public event in the Teachers’ Club in Dublin.

Joe Kelly displaying his father's 1916 service medal at a 1916 commemoration event (photo: D.Breatnach)
Joe Kelly displaying and talking about his father’s 1916 service medal at a 1916 commemoration event (photo: D.Breatnach)

However, he was among the number that I invited but failed to get to events over the last decade to highlight the plight of Irish Republicans being hounded by the State and imprisoned without trial. That did puzzle me, for I knew Joe to have a track record of fighting for human rights. And this was shown not only in his campaigning for the Birmingham Six.

Joe fought for the rights of divorce and choice of abortion, as well for the right to freedom from partner abuse, in particular through the movement for women’s refuges, what many people still refer to as “battered wives hostels”. He was active in the campaign for the right to gay marriage, so amazingly successful in Ireland. And Joe was also active in campaigns against racism towards migrants.

“Conas atú tú?” or “Dia dhuit”, Joe would invariably greet me whenever we met. I would not call him exactly fluent but he could understand and speak Irish. I suppose I assumed he had some affection for the language and was also paying me, a known native speaker, the courtesy of addressing me in Irish and speaking awhile in the language. At his funeral service, I learned it went further than that. I heard his grandchildren say that he frequently spoke to them in Irish and when they did not understand him, would translate what the words meant. Some people in the audience chuckled to hear this. I felt sad and somewhat angry too, that a question so important to our cultural identity, an aspect so threatened today, should be treated so apparently lightly by some and that the only words to be spoken at his funeral service in Irish were those in the final sentence spoken by his brother, Jim, in his eulogy: “Slán leat, Joe”. In the booklet produced for the occasion and freely available at Club na Múinteoirí, there was however one dedication in Irish (and I have since learned that one of the speeches at the Teacher’s Club was in Irish) and I note that both grandchildren who spoke bear Irish-language names.

Paying respects and memorial service

On Saturday, laid out in the lovely Room 2 in the Teacher’s Club (sin Club na Múinteoirí, Joe) in Dublin’s Parnell Square, a venue often used for social, cultural and political events, in a closed wicker basket coffin, Joe received his visitors. And they were MANY. Feminists, Palestine solidarity activists, Cuba solidarity activists, community activists, independent political activists and a sprinkling of activists in various parties all attended and many contributed their memories or words dedicated to him while he was laid out there.  (I took many photos here and some at Mount Jerome but somehow seem to have lost them all).joe-kelly-speaking-at-event

Attending first another funeral (of another singer) that morning in Howth, then travelling into Dublin to take part in the Moore Street Awareness weekly table, I had to miss some of that. I spelled a comrade while he attended to pay his respects, then attended later while he took over back at the table.

Room No. 2 was still packed but so was the whole bar lounge area. I had missed all the eulogies and reminiscences and even singing – “The Foggy Dew” I was told. Had anyone sung “The Parting Glass”, I asked. No, apparently not. So then to ask his sister if it would be alright to do it, then the MC, his long-time collaborator, comrade and friend, Brendan Young. It would be welcome, I was told. And Fergus Russell (also his second funeral that day) and I did three verses together, using a mic so it might carry through to the lounge and, though we took turns at fluffing a line, not too badly. It is a great song for such occasions and each verse was particularly appropriate to Joe.1

A little later, the Internationale was sung by all (copies of the words of a verse and the chorus distributed beforehand), the wicker coffin (I must have one of those when my time comes!) was lifted on to shoulders by family and friends and brought through the respectful lines while Joe’s daughter sang The Night They Brought Old Dixie Down.2

Then the hearse came out and led the cortege to Mount Jerome cemetery. I didn’t know the protocol regarding cycling in a funeral cortege but followed anyway, managing to get temporarily lost on the way and arriving just as the hearse arrived at the cemetery. Again, the chapel was packed.

The ceremony was non-religious and officiated by Therese Caherty, ex-partner and friend. In turn Therese herself, his brother, his bereaved current partner, relatives and his comrade and friend Brendan Young all gave their moving eulogies and often funny anecdotes. Brendan emphasised that for Joe, the process of the conduct of a struggle was as important as the end to be reached, which I knew to be true from our time together in the Dublin IPSC and I’d be in agreement with Joe on that.

There were, despite the many I did see during those events, some faces I did not see in the congregation or at the Club na Múinteoirí before the service or later, when many returned to the Club to free sandwiches and soup laid on by the management there. It was their loss.

I never saw him dance but am told he loved it and taught his grandchildren not only to sing but to dance too. I did know he’d learned to tango. He’s left this dance floor now and gone on to another and whateverone steps and two steps and the divil knows what new steps”they are dancing there, I’m sure Joe is learning them and probably teaching a few of his own.

Slán leat, Joe – árdaigh iad!

A chríoch.

FOOTNOTES

1  “Of all the money that e’er I had, I spent it in good company


And all the harm that e’er I’ve done, alas, it was to none but me


And all I’ve done for want of wit to memory now I can’t recall


So fill to me the parting glass, good night and joy be with you all

“If I had money enough to spend and leisure time to sit awhile


There is a fair maid in this town, that sorely has my heart beguiled


Her rosy cheeks and ruby lips I own, she has my heart enthralled


So fill to me the parting glass, good night and joy be with you all

“Of all the comrades that e’er I’ve had, they are sorry for my going away


And all the sweethearts that e’er I’ve had,

they would wish me one more day to stay


But since it falls unto my lot that I should rise and you should not


I’ll gently rise and I’ll softly call good night and joy be with you all”

2  This song of nostalgia for the American Confederacy has a haunting melody but its ideology is often ignored by those who sing it.

3  Line from The Charladies’ Ball