Cumann na mBan (“Women’s Association”), a female military auxiliary and counterpart to the Irish Volunteers, was founded on this day in 1914, one hundred and seven years ago. Its members took part in the 1916 Rising and perhaps even more importantly in keeping up the momentum of the militant movement for independence during martial law after the defeat of the Rising and for years afterwards. They were part of the War of Independence and the Civil War in military and political activities. Many were jailed. The Easter Lily emblem, which many will wear to commemorate the Rising, is their invention. The role of Cumann na mBan, along with that of other women in Irish history, is to this day still not sufficiently highlighted or valued.
Cumann na mBan was formed as a female counterpart and auxiliary to the Irish Volunteers, which had been formed the previous year (as had, separately, the Irish Citizen Army). The inaugural public meeting was held in Wynn’s Hotel, Thursday, 2 April 1914. It was presided over by Agnes O’Farrelly, who was elected President. The provisional executive unveiled at the meeting included Jennie Wyse Power, Nancy O’Rahilly, Agnes MacNeill, Margaret Dobbs, Mary Colum, Nurse McCoy, Louise Gavan Duffy and Elizabeth Bloxham. A constitution was adopted which stated that Cumann na mBan aimed: 1. To advance the cause of Irish liberty 2. To organise Irishwomen in the furtherance of this object 3. To assist in arming and equipping a body of Irishmen for the defence of Ireland 4. To form a fund for these purposes to be called the ‘Defence of Ireland Fund’.
It was not the first organisation of women to stand for Irish independence that century – Inghinidhe na hÉireann had been formed in 1900 as a cultural organisation and had developed a militant Irish independentist political outlook along with a suffragettist one. Inghinidhe formally dissolved itself and joined Cumann na mBan in 1914 but in effect formed one of its branches and continued to represent a trend for greater activism and female independence within Cumann.
Unlike the Volunteers, membership of the socialist Irish Citizen Army, founded in 1913, was open to both genders and the women who joined that tended to disdain the membership of Cumann na mBan because not only did they not have a social program but were, at that time, under the overall authority of the all-male Irish Volunteers.
Prior to 1916, Cumann na mBan took part in agitation and publicity actions, a number of which they organised themselves. Their marching in the procession to the grave of O’Donavan Rosa’s grave in 1915 was apparently what most impressed other women, in particular young women; they had never witnessed a self-organised women’s organisation on the streets before and the Cumann’s membership swelled thereafter. When Redmond promised Irish men to the rulers of Britain to fight in WW1 the minority part of the movement but the most active split in order to fight for independence from the UK. Cumann na mBan split also but in their case, the majority went for fighting against Britain.
In preparation for the 1916 Rising all members of the main female organisation learned First Aid and prepared field dressings for wounds, which perhaps brought them to face the physical dangers of insurrection more than did the training schedules of the Volunteers. They also engaged in anti-British Army recruitment activities which, after Britain declared War in 1914, increasingly meant being assaulted and arrested by the Dublin Metropolitan Police and the Royal Irish Constabulary. Many also transported secret messages and weapons, often storing the latter. In an informal way, they also provided intelligence they were able to gather. Through their cultural and social activities they provided diversion for male activists as well as a cover for clandestine meetings and other activities. During the Rising, Cumann na mBan members helped deliver arms, ammunition and equipment, construct barricades, set up field hospitals, provided food and water/ tea to combatants, acted as messengers. ICA women did most of that but a number of them were snipers also and one of those, Vol. Margaret Skinnider was gunshot-wounded three times while sniping and in other military activity in the Stephen’s Green/ College of Surgeons garrison area. Most of the Dublin garrisons had Cumann na mBan in them and those in the GPO garrison were asked to leave with some wounded when the building was in danger of collapse. Three women refused to leave with them and were there at the final surrender in Moore Street: Vols. Elizabeth O’Farrell, Winifred Carney and Julia Grenan.
Around 300 women are known to have taken part in the Rising and from the relative numbers of women in CnmB and the ICA, most of those had to be Cumann members; only 157 womens’ names appear on the Roll of Honour for the Rising.
Cumann na mBan was the first organisation of its kind in the world, a point that is often lost sight of: an insurrectionary female military organisation with its own uniform and officers.
The greater role of the women in general and in particular of members of Cumann na mBan however was after the Rising when, even under martial law, they organised fund-raising for relief for families who had lost a breadwinner to death or prison; organised also public commemorations, defying arrest to keep the flame and memories alive, helping to create the sea-change in attitude to the Rising and giving a fertile ground for them to plant the seeds of resistance, along with the male and female prisoners released under amnesty.
In 1918 members of the Cumann worked to help the landslide victory for Sinn Féin in the British General Election in Ireland and then helped in the War of Independence, this time greatly organised into intelligence work but also as before as couriers, carrying and hiding weapons, caring for the wounded, running safe houses and other actions, as well as in public demonstrations and pickets, for example outside prisons. They were assaulted on occasion and jailed, sometimes replying with a hunger strike. They could not easily go “on the run” and were subjected by British Army and colonial Police to invasions of their homes and ill-treatment which included shearing their hair.
In 1921, Cumann na mBan again split over the Treaty but once more with the majority against it and in 1922 took the Republican side in the Civil War, for which they suffered repression, home invasions and imprisonment anew, this time by the forces of the Free State.
In 1926 Cumann na mBan invented the Easter Lily emblem in order to raise funds for the dependents of prisoners and killed in action fighters, in addition to those officially and unofficially executed, abducted an murdered. It is purely as a result of their efforts at this time that the emblem is so widely worn and appreciated in the wide Irish Republican movement, especially around this time of year.
Cumann na mBan ceased to exist soon after the split between the “Officials” and “Provisionals” in 1969 but women continued to be active in the political organisations and also to be recruited into the various military ones.
(note the omission of the Moore Street battlefield at the end, with a Winifred Carney, Elizabeth O’Farrell and Julia Grenan noted as staying on in the GPO but omitting to mention where they went soon afterwards, or Farrell’s important roles thereafter): https://www.richmondbarracks.ie/women-1916/cumann-na-mban/
Last Saturday (November 28th) saw the centenary of the Kilmichael Ambush, when a column of the West Cork IRA commanded by Tom Barry ambushed two lorry-loads of Auxiliaries and fought them to a finish, losing three of their own in the fight. It was a battle of tremendous importance in rural Ireland during the War of Independence, when the forces of British occupation of the nation turned to undisguised terrorism and employed the Auxiliaries as the knife edge of that terror. Despite the Covid19 pandemic restrictions, the 100th centenary was marked by physical commemorations in addition to on-line talks and articles. However, it appears that the “patriots” of the Far Right and fascists1 in Ireland failed to commemorate this important event – why might this be?
The Auxiliary Division were all ex-British Army officers but were recruited in July 1920 as a mobile strike force to bolster the British colonial police, the paramilitary Royal Irish Constabulary. This was in addition to another police support group which became known as the “Black and Tans”. The massive swelling of the ranks of the police was because the British rulers wanted to deny that they were fighting a liberation war and instead to present it as a policing problem (though they were obliged to use 20,000 British Army nevertheless)2. Both the ‘Tans and the Auxies gained a reputation for rough and arrogant treatment of civilians, torture of captives, theft, drunkenness and general indiscipline. However, a fear of the the “Auxies” had also grown, a feeling that they could not be beaten. The Kilmichael Ambush smashed that myth and was as important in the rural areas as the wiping out of much of the British intelligence network in Dublin was for the city.
However although they have been posing as Irish patriots, we saw no sign of the commemorative celebration of the Kilmichael Ambush from the Irish Far-Right and fascists. They have played patriotic ballads and anthems often at events and strutted around under — and sometimes wrapped in — Irish flags. They have tried to appropriate Irish patriot heroes and martyrs including Wolfe Tone, James Connolly and Terence MacSwiney. But they left Tom Barry untouched.
Niall McConnell, head of the fascist organisation (registered as a business) Síol na hÉireann, posted about James Connolly as though Connolly would have supported McConnell’s type of people and claimed Connolly was born in Ireland. Laughable though it may be to think that revolutionary socialist and anti-sectarian, anti-imperialist Connolly would ever have supported a little Ireland religious sectarian and fascist like McConnell, the latter did try to appropriate him. And although Connolly was born to Irish parents in Edinburgh, where he grew up, that was not enough for McConnell, who had to claim he’d been born in Ireland.
Wolfe Tone, a revolutionary patriotic democrat who strove to unite the mass of people in Ireland of different religions and who fought for a secular independent state, would have crossed the street to avoid the likes of McConnell – but that didn’t prevent McConnell from trying to appropriate him.
Recently we passed through the 100th anniversary of the death on hunger strike of Terence MacSwiney – and they tried to appropriate him too. MacSwiney was a devout Catholic but the IRA, of which he was a prominent officer in Cork, was a non-sectarian body. Presumably MacSwiney, like his IRA comrades, fought under the principles of the 1916 Proclamation, part of which read: “The Republic guarantees civil and religious liberty to all ….” Nevertheless, got up somewhat reminiscently of the Ku Klux Klan, McConnell led a small torchlit group allegedly to MacSwiney’s grave and had himself videoed making a speech there.
Dee Wall (real name Dolores Webster), whose Saturday afternoon screeching on behalf of the QAnon negationists and conspiracy theorists assails the ears of people passing the GPO in Dublin and whose social media tries to reach those who avoided that experience, tried to claim MacSwiney too, only she pronounced the surname as rhyming with “tiny” instead of like “sweeney” (as one who had never heard the name before might from the spelling alone).
Jim Dowson, a British fascist and sectarian Loyalist, who has shared a platform with fascists Rowan Croft (aka “Tan” Torino) and Herman Kelly of the Irish Freedom Party (but formerly of UKIP), has cheered the armed fascists of the National Party in attacking unarmed counter-protesters, calling them “my Fenians”. Yes, bizarre to call his fascist comrades anything to do with the revolutionary Irish Republican Brotherhood but even more so when “Fenians” is one of the hate-names of Dowson’s Loyalist brethren for Irish Republicans.
Another centenary we passed by very recently with a number of commemorations held outside the stadium was that of the Bloody Sunday Massacre in Croke Park by Auxiliaries, ‘Tans and RIC. Apparently the fascist National Party sneaked in an early videoed commemoration of their own before anyone else on the day and left a wreath among other floral tributes there.
Yet, despite this focus on recent centenaries in the Irish struggle for independence, the “patriots” of the Far Right and fascists in Ireland seem to have let that great event of the Kilmichael Ambush slip them by without a commemoration of any kind. Not a murmur, not a video, not a post, not a photo, not even a tweet from these publicity-obsessed types.
THEIR PROBLEM WITH KILMICHAEL AND TOM BARRY
What possible reason could there be for this omission by the fascists and Far Right?
Was it because Tom Barry, who led that ambush was anti-sectarian and proved it by publicly punishing two men who had robbed from a Protestant chapel in West Cork? Doubtful, because that did not stop the fascists trying to appropriate Wolfe Tone, whose main effort was precisely to end sectarianism.
Or was it because following the Kilmichael Ambush, the IRA were condemned by the Bishop of Cork, Daniel Colohan? We might be on to something there. “Demented” Dee Wall, Niall McConnell and National Party representatives all attended the anti-Muslim protest earlier this year, organised by Gemma O’Doherty, who unfurled a banner bearing the slogan “Make Ireland Catholic Again”, where they prayed the rosary through amplification. The new fascist parties, far-right organisations and the anti-mask people are building on the remaining fundamentalist hard-right reactionary core of the Catholic Church in Ireland who have seen its grip on the social and political life of society slipping over the years, due to its scandals and people’s democratic desire for equality.
By the way, Barry commented in his memoir that, although practicing Catholics, the threat of excommunication deterred the patriots of West Cork not in the least, as they were able to separate their religious from their patriotic views.
It may be that the false patriots have another problem with Barry: he fought against the Free State at least twice. Tom Barry, like the overwhelming majority of the military part of the resistance movement, rejected the terms of the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1921 and refused allegiance to the 26-County Free State. The latter, in 1922 under Michael Collins, opened artillery fire upon the Republicans, launching a civil war which persisted until 1923 and during which the State, apart from those killed in battle, killed at least another 120, either through shooting prisoners, martial court executions or covert assassinations. Barry was part of the IRA’s leadership in the Civil War.
Although because he felt the war could no longer be won and was narrowly outvoted on ending it, Barry had resigned his leadership position shortly before the end of the Civil War, he rejoined the IRA leadership in 1927 and was jailed by the DeValera Government in 1934 for seven months on a charge of illegal possession of firearms.
In March 1936 Barry was suspected — but never charged — of involvement in the assassination of retired Vice-Admiral Henry Somerville at his home in Cork, because he was attempting to recruit people into the British Naval forces3. In 1937 Tom Barry was elected Chief of Staff of the IRA after the resignation of Seán McBride but resigned the position himself in 1938 over a tactical dispute.
Yet another problem for the Far Right and the fascists is that from the 1970s onward, though he publicly disagreed with some of their actions, Tom Barry stated he supported the Provisionalsand later, Republican prisoners in the H-Blocks. At a commemoration at Crossbarry in 1980, the scene of another of Barry’s famous battles, shortly before his death, he was quoted as saying:
‘I don’t want you to fall out4 until the same prayers are said for men who are being crucified in H-block, Long Kesh. I want you to say prayers for them to show our unity with these men, many of whom are completely innocent and are railroaded by the same British that killed these men whom we are commemorating.’
The Far Right and fascist “patriots” have a big problem with the Provisionals5 and others who were, during the recent war of three decades, at the time fighting against British occupation for a united, independent Ireland.
Of course, given their flexibility with history, logic and integrity6, there is no guarantee that at some time in the future the Far Right and fascists will not try to appropriate the Kilmichael Ambush. However, their present difficulty with commemorating the event and celebrating the memory of a true patriot, Tom Barry, exposed the false patriotism of the Far Right and fascists in Ireland. But it did more: it gave a clear indication of what they do support.
The Far Right and fascists in Ireland support:
the 26-County neo-colonial State
the continuation of British colonial occupation and division of Ireland
a Catholic Church dictating in political and social affairs to the population within the Irish state
The Far Right and fascists, for all their slogans about “freedom”, “free speech” and posturing as “patriots”, are in oppositionto freedom, both national, social and individual. There is nothing patriotic about them.
1 Though the dividing line in Ireland between most of of the Far Right and committed fascists is a thin one, it nevertheless exists but it is important to note their past cooperation in staging public events and the continued presence of fascists within the Far Right.
2 Wikipedia gives the following figures: British Army 20,000; Royal Irish Constabulary 9,700; Black and Tans 7,000; Auxiliary Division 1,400; Ulster Special Constabulary 4,000 (i.e a total of 42,000 combatants). These were opposed in fighting by little more than 15,000 IRA and about 250 ICA (although those were supported by a large network of formal and informal non-combatants).
3 With the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1921, the British had retained the three deepwater “Treaty Ports” of Lough Swilly in Donegal, Berehaven and “Queenstown” (Cóbh) in Cork. The Irish State took these ports over with British agreement in 1938. De Valera’s refusal to allow the UK to use these ports during WW2 led to a threat of invasion by Churchill and the resultant declaration of an “Emergency” by the Irish Government and recruitment into its armed forces; the threat was unfulfilled and the Irish State remained neutral through the war though generally friendly to the Allies.
4 A military parade command: “Fall out” indicates that the parade is formally over and soldiers may disperse for recreation or take up other duties.
5 However the history-illiterate Dee Wall of the QAnon group, protesting outside Maghaberry Jail in solidarity with an anti-masker jailed for a few days in Maghaberry for refusing to give his name, stated that Bobby Sands had died there. Bobby Sands, the first of ten hunger strikers of the Provisional IRA and of the INLA, died on hunger strike in the H-Blocks of the Maze prison, which was closed 20 years ago.
6 Along with their willingness to libel with the most vile and outlandish personal accusations individuals who oppose them
In Irish history, which arquably is full of such wars, what is generally termed “The War of Independence” began with the Soloheadbeg Ambush on 21st January 1919 and ended with the Anglo-Irish Treaty on 11th July 1921 (which however, because of its limited measure of Irish independence led shortly afterwards to the Civil War 1922-1923). That ambush was one of many during the war by Irish guerrillas on the Royal Irish Constabulary, the British colonial police force and these attacks continued with a three-fold aim: to capture arms for the guerrillas, to eliminate much of the intelligence source for the Crown from rural districts and to open up areas of relative safety in the Irish countryside for the forces of independence.
In 1920 two different constabulary forces were recruited in Britain to bolster the Royal Irish Constabulary: the “normal” recruits in January and the Auxiliary Division RIC in July1. There were insufficient police uniforms for the “normal” constable recruits at first, leading to their being issued a mix of dark green RIC and khaki Army uniforms (usually Army trousers and RIC tunics) and Christopher O’Sullivan wrote in the Limerick Echo that they reminded him of the “Black and Tans”, from a well-known pack of Kerry beagles in the Scarteen Hunt. The nickname spread quickly and soon they were almost universally known (and thereafter in Irish history and folklore) by that name or shortened to “the ‘Tans”. The Irish translation is “na Dubhchrónaí” but it is likely that even in the Gaeltachtaí, the Irish-speaking areas, they were also known as “na ‘Tans”.
WW1 had ended in November 1918 and many of the ‘Tans were ex-British Army soldiers. Some were perhaps even demobbed (discharged) specifically in order to enlist in the new force. At the time there was ongoing agitation for discharge from the armed forces and even riots among thousands of British soldiers, many of whom had been conscripted but whom the British High Command was reluctant to allow to leave, knowing that many would be needed to suppress resistance to British colonial rule across the Empire, on the Indian sub-continent, in the Middle East, Africa and China.
The Tans quickly gained a reputation for brutality towards prisoners and the general civilian populace when conducting personal and home searches. They were also considered generally indisciplined, liable to intoxication on duty and to carrying out theft and harassment of women. Their behaviour towards civilians was so bad that even some British Army officers and loyalists in Ireland complained of it. The fighters of the Irish Republican Army, the new name for the reorganised Irish Volunteers, though they might fear being captured by the Tans, quickly enough gained their measure and were soon engaging them with arms.
The Auxiliaries, or “Auxies” as they became known, were a different matter. Their role was a rapid response motorised strike force and every single member was a War veteran and ex-officer, some indeed having been awarded battle decorations. Just as inclined to brutality and indiscipline in some respects, they gained a fearful reputation for their counter-guerrilla aptitude; though their commanding officer, Frank Crozier, sacked 21 of them in January 1921 because of their brutal raids in Trim, Co. Meath and murder of two Republicans in Drumcondra, Dublin, Chief of Police Henry Hugh Tudor reinstated them, so that Crozier resigned. One IRA officer commented that if the Tans were ambushed they would hide behind cover to return fire, whereas the Auxies would quickly be seeking to outflank their opposition and counter-attack.
The Auxies could carry out operations against the IRA and the civilian population with impunity, it seemed. The Kilmichael Ambush was planned specifically to take on the Auxiliaries and smash the myth of their invincibility.
THE LEADER AND THE COLUMN
The operation was led by a 23 year-old ex-British soldier: Tom Barry, Commandant of the West Cork Flying Brigade was at the time only 23 years of age and only a little over three months active in the IRA. When news of the 1916 Easter Rising reached him and other British troops fighting the Ottoman Empire in Mesopotamia (now Iraq), he “had not a nationalist thought in my head”, he confessed in his book Guerrilla Days in Ireland (1949). Barry was discharged at the end of the War but did not join the IRA until the capture and torture of Republicans Tom Hales and Pat Harte by Arthur Percival of the Essex Rifles in July 19202 so appalled him that he joined the IRA’s 3rd Cork Brigade, operating in the West Cork area. Barry’s highest rank in the British Army had been Corporal, in which role the limit of his command would usually have been of seven to 14 men. By the end of 1920, Barry had quickly risen to command 310 men in the IRA, operating over large areas of West Cork and occasionally further afield.
One of the many innovations of the IRA at that time was the flying column, designed to maximise the effective striking force of a guerrilla army in rural Ireland. This had been advocated by Seán McLoughlin while organising in South Tipperary. McLoughlin had been a member of the Irish Volunteers during the 1916 Rising, employed on reconnaisance and communication work by Commandant James Connolly in Dublin. He was only 20 years of age when, impressed by his conduct up to that point and during the evacuation from the GPO to Moore Street, James Connolly3 promoted him to Dublin Commander. Later, McLoughlin had proposed the flying column tactic in discussion with guerrilla leaders from Tipperary, Limerick and North Cork4 and recommended it to IRA HQ in Dublin, where the idea found favour and was soon disseminated. In West Cork the flying column organisation reached perhaps its apogee.
Younger and mature men in a rural community are likely to be engaged in agriculture or servicing that economy. In the first they are needed intensively at particular times of the year and families may depend on their work. Servicing work is usually more evened out throughout the year but is also less likely to have long periods when those employed in it are not needed. This is one reason why maintaining a medium-sized permanent guerrilla force in the field was difficult.
Another restricting factor was the shortage of armament – the guerrilla movement was dependent on firearms and ammunition captured from the opposing armed forces, confiscated from loyalists or purchased in small amounts at home or abroad. Some explosive material could be home-made but was sometimes of unreliable effectiveness, especially so in the case of hand-grenades.
Supposing sufficient armament could be found, a force of around 50 fit men could be maintained in a flying column, trained in the field, flexible, able to travel fairly long distances, carry out an attack and then travel far enough out of the area to avoid enemy encirclement. They had to carry their equipment and their own food or be fed by civilians in the localities through which they passed.
But this arrangement left a larger potential force of men mostly untrained and inactive. Barry solved that problem by the rotation of men to the flying column in his brigade area. For a period of a number of weeks, a force of perhaps up to 100, fully armed, would be engaged in a training program in the field, in the course of which at least one attack operation would be planned and carried out. A small core of permanent officers and guards would be maintained to ensure continuity of command, intelligence, armament supply and security. After their training period, the majority of the column would be demobilised, leaving the command core and at some point a new batch taken on. The arms carried by the previous trainees would be distributed to the next batch. Smaller groups could be rotated in and out of the column too.
The highest number fielded by Barry at any one time was a little over 100 when, on the 19th March 1921, four motorised columns totaling 1,200 British Army and Auxiliaries, supported by spotter planes, set out to encircle the column at Crossbarry5, Co.Cork. In a fighting retreat, the column killed at least ten of the enemy but lost only two men (a third, senior officer Charlie Hurley, had been surprised by the encircling British just prior to the engagement at a local house some distance from the main body and shot dead).
This development of the flying column proved effective and made the West Cork area a particular problem to the British occupation forces and it was not long before Cork was declared a “martial law area”, along with Limerick, Kerry and Tipperary (December 6th 1920). The military in these areas were empowered to execute anyone found carrying arms or ammunition and intern people without trial, also to carry hostages on their trucks to discourage attacks.
In November 1920 local IRA intelligence had noted the regular travelling on Sundays of two British Army lorries, Crossley Tenders, from the Auxies’ base at Macroom Castle to Dunmanway and it was decided to attack them. The Crossleys normally carried up to three men in front and eight in the rear so the maximum force with which the IRA would need to contend would be 22, well-trained and armed. The flying column had only recently been given permanent status and three days’ training with only three rounds for firing practice (due to shortage of ammunition). Barry mobilised a force of 37 for the operation, barely sufficient to take on two lorries, no more.
On the 28th Day of November,the Auxies came out of Macroom;
They were seated in two Crossley Tendersthat were taking them straight to their doom.They were on the road to Kilmichael and never intending to stop .....
The spot chosen for the ambush was at Dus a’Bharraigh, on a stretch of the road between the village of Kilmichael and Gleann but it was remarkable in IRA ambush sites in having no obvious escape route for the attackers to use in case the operation were unsuccessful or only partially so.
The start of the ambush is fairly well represented in a scene from the Ken Loach-directed film The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006). Barry, dressed in Irish Volunteer uniform on the assumption that most British soldiers had never seen one and would take it as being of an officer in some branch of their own armed services, flagged down the leading lorry, threw one of two Mills grenades at the driver, fired a pistol and the attack began (Loach has the ambush organiser in British officer uniform, standing by an apparently malfunctioning motorbike and shooting the driver when he slowed down).
The earliest full account of the ambush is Tom Barry’s (in Guerrilla Days etc) and that should be read but Conor Kostik put together an even fuller account, drawing on material that would not have been available to Barry in 1949.6
Those Auxies not killed outright quickly took cover and fought back. They were pinned down and surrounded and their position was hopeless without reinforcements, of which there was no reason to expect any soon. The Auxies called out they wanted to surrender and two IRA men stood up, whereupon the Auxies immediately shot them dead. Barry had signalled to cease firing but had also issued orders that none of the ambushing party were to reveal themselves until he gave the order to do so but the two Volunteers, flushed with the battle and success, had forgotten the order and left their cover.
Raging at the treachery of the Auxies and at the unnecessary loss of two of his men, Barry ordered the battle to continue, ignoring all further cries of “we surrender” until every single Auxie appeared dead or seriously injured. The ambush party then, with the exception of the lookouts, came down into the road, collected the enemy’s arms and, removing the bodies from the vicinity of the Crossley tenders, set fire to the vehicles. Two men of the Flying Column were dead and a third was seriously wounded: Vice-Commandant Michael McCarthy in the fighting and Volunteer James O’Sullivan and 15-years-old Signals Lieutenant Pat Deasy7 by the false surrender, the former dead and the teenager dying.
Then Barry did a truly remarkable thing. Amidst the bodies of the Auxies, near the burning lorries, he took his men suffering from reaction through parade drill, then in front of the rock where the bodies of Michael McCarthy and Jim O’Sullivan lay, they presented arms as a tribute to the dead Volunteers. It was half an hour after the opening of the ambush when Barry called down the lookouts and the column moved away southwards, intending to cross the Bandon River upstream from the British-held Manch Bridge. Eighteen men carried the captured enemy rifles8 slung across their backs. It started to rain again and the men were soon drenched. The rain continued as the IRA marched through Shanacashel, Coolnagow, Balteenbrack and arrived in the vicinity of dangerous Manch Bridge. The Bandon River was crossed without incident and Granure, eight miles south of Kilmichael, was reached by 11pm.
One severely wounded Auxie had survived and was rescued when the British arrived at the scene. The driver of the second lorry somehow got away and made it to a house when two local IRA sympathisers took him prisoner — he was executed the next day and his corpse hidden.
The lorries were ours before twilightAnd high over Dunmanway town
Our banner in triumph was waving
For the Auxies were beaten right down.So we gathered our rifles and bayonets
And soon left the glen so secure
And we never drew rein till we halted
At the faraway camp at Granure
In the first planned attack on the Auxiliaries, the IRA had defeated a platoon of 18 (the lorries were not travelling full to capacity), of which they had killed 16. The guerrillas’ casualties were two dead, one of whom had been victim of the false surrender and the second victim severely wounded; these were removed to safe houses by horse and cart. The column had all the weapons and remaining ammunition of the Auxies and had burned the two lorries. It was a hard slog after the battle and carrying all that equipment to their billet in an empty house at Granure, eight miles away, which they reached at eleven. There the wounded were treated, they were fed by local people and the Column’s support structure, with men and Cumann na mBan standing guard over them while they slept.
Pat Deasy died during the night and temporary graves had to be found for his and the other two bodies until the area had calmed down.and high over Dunmanway town
Pat Deasy died during the night and temporary graves had to be found for his and the other two bodies until the area had calmed down.
The topography along the Auxies’ route had made the choice of a good ambush site far enough away from quick enemy reinforcements impossible, which was what dictated the eventual choice of the site by Barry and Vice-Commandant McCarthy. Available cover for the ambush was in short supply and even more so along any possible route of evacuation; which would mean heavy casualties for the guerrillas in any retreat from an undefeated enemy at that site. This in turn meant that the battle had to be fought to a successful conclusion – the complete defeat of the Auxie column. In this respect the planning of the engagement violated the general practice of the IRA at that time as well as the general rules of guerrilla warfare, which are of heavily outnumbering the enemy at the point of attack9 and at least being able to withdraw quickly and safely from enemy reaction. Barry and McCarthy no doubt knew this and were opting for daring rather than caution, taking a calculated risk (which is not the same as being reckless).
For a maximum enemy number of 22, Barry had mobilised a force of 37 but three of those and perhaps more would have to be scouts, to alert of the approaching Auxie lorries and to guard against being surprised by British reinforcements. Eventually, 34 including Barry were appointed to the actual fighting, his command post with three riflemen, another two sections of ten and a third section of twelve — but six of those would have to be prepared to hold off a third lorry if one appeared. The ratio of attackers to the target force was therefore just under two to one, which is far from ideal for an attacking force and less so when taking the topography into account. It would indeed have been wonderful for the Column had they the 100 in the ambush party group later claimed by the British!
The enemy could be expected to have the latest in Lee Enfield rifles, firing two clips of five bullets before needing to reload and also quickly re-loadable. In addition, they carried holstered revolvers. They would probably have some grenades and might well have at least one Lewis machine gun. Against that impressive potential and even certain firepower, the IRA column had a mix of rifles, shotguns, a few revolvers and two grenades10.
These considerations dictated the order of battle for the guerrilla force and plan of action: the battle could not be a long one and many of the enemy had to be eliminated at short range and in the first few minutes of the battle. This meant that after throwing one of their two British Army-issue Mills grenades, to disable the first lorry and front occupants, the attack on those in the rear of the lorry would have to be savage and almost hand-to-hand after discharge of shotguns at close range, followed by bayonet and rifle-butt.
Apart from Barry who had experience of combat in the British Army, few of the guerrillas had any military experience other than guerrilla training periods during earlier months and most had no combat experience whatsoever. The force they were intending to attack however were all ex-military, probably every single one with combat experience at least in WW1, which had ended only two years previously.
In terms of leadership, all of the Auxies had held officer rank and, if in the field, had commanded a minimum of 30 soldiers if at the rank of lieutenant and 120 if a captain. Barry would hardly have commanded more than 14 at a stretch and no more than seven normally. All the British officers other than those who had been appointed in the field during wartime perhaps, would have received training in officer school whereas Barry had had to train himself while also training their fighting force.
One hundred years ago this force of guerrillas in West Cork carried out a courageous and successful attack on a merciless enemy, in conditions both physically and emotionally difficult. The result was a huge boost in morale for the forces of Irish resistance at a time when it was needed, in particular in rural Ireland, while other responses were being developed to meet the changing tactics of the enemy in the cities, for example seven days earlier in Dublin with the wiping out of the “Cairo Gang” of British Intelligence. Both events shook the British occupation authorities but did not deter them and the war thereafter intensified further.
As was becoming standard behaviour of the British armed forces after an attack on them, they retaliated against the civilian population. All the houses near the ambush site were burned but they also went on to burn houses, shops and barns in Kilmichael, Johnstown and Inchigeelagh. And four days later, on 3rd December, three IRA Volunteers were arrested in Bandon, Cork County by soldiers of the Essex Rifles; after beating them, their dead bodies were dumped on the roadside.11
Barry wrote that some of the British media printed lies about the Kilmichael ambush, claiming that the dead Auxies had been mutilated but of course that could have been on the basis of information supplied by the British occupation forces; certainly there had been close quarter fighting which included bayonets and rifle-butts. He also recorded that after that War, the British State had written to him asking him to confirm details of the Auxies’ deaths for the sake of pensions to relatives and that he had declined to reply. However the body of Gutteridge, the driver of the second lorry, who had been killed after escaping the ambush site, was disinterred in 1926 by the IRA at the request of relations and buried in the Church of Ireland graveyard in Macroom.
The false surrender of the Auxies was an important issue to explain the wiping out of the column which otherwise might have been seen as execution of prisoners after the battle. The incident was described in a number of recorded accounts, of which the earliest was in 1937 by participant Stephen O’Neill. Tom Barry’s, although years later (1949), remains the fullest published account of the battle by a participant. The false surrender was mentioned in a number of British sources, including by the Auxies’ former commander, Crozier, who quoted an unnamed source in the area in his Ireland Forever (1932).
In The IRA And Its Enemies Professor Peter Hart (1963–22 July 2010) took issue with the false surrender account, focussing on Tom Barry’s recall in his book. Mistakenly believing Crozier’s to have been the first published account (and a concoction), Hart asserted that the false surrender claim was invented to conceal the killing of surviving Auxiliary officers after surrendering.
Most of Hart’s claimed sources in interviews in 1988 have been disproved in research by a number of historians, including Meda Ryan, Brian Murphy and Niall Meehan, among others (including by some of his supporters): one participant was already dead when supposedly interviewed by Hart, another was considered by his son incapable due to ravages of age and a stroke (he would have been 97 years of age) and some utterances quoted were matched to recorded interviews, including Fr. John Chisholm’s in 1970, taken long before Hart’s alleged interviews (and to which only Hart had been given access for over a decade).
It would seem that the issue has been long settled but the controversy continues albeit without any real substance. Hart was one of those people active around Irish history who have been called “revisionists” which, in the Irish context, means historians who wish to present an alternative discourse to the popular one of anti-colonialist Irish forces fighting a courageous war of resistance against a powerful and ruthless military occupying power.12 History is not just about the past but also about the present and the future, in which we all have a stake, which no doubt influences what some historians would like to believe (and to make others believe). Understandable though all that may be, to plagiarise and to falsify in order to achieve the desired result is inexcusable.
After the 28th of November 1920 the myth of Auxiliary invincibility had been well and truly shattered and there would be many further engagements between the IRA and the Auxies, with varying results. A figure of 12,500 British Army troops stationed in County Cork during the conflict has been quoted but it is not clear whether this includes the ‘Tans, Auxies and the regular RIC. The war would continue with assassinations by both sides, ambushes and attacks on barracks by the guerrillas, burning of homesteads and towns by Crown forces along with raids including murders, detentions, torture and executions. Barry stated that the West Cork Flying Column had suffered 34 fatalities but that his 310 men had killed over 100 enemy combatants and wounded another 93 during that conflict.
The Truce of 11th July 1921 was followed by the Anglo-Irish Agreement, signed in London by Michael Collins and the Irish negotiating party against the advice of their English adviser Erskine Childers13 and ratifed by a slim enough majority in the First Dáil, the separatist Irish Parliament. Its limited provisions would lead to a vicious Civil War in which the majority of the guerrilla fighters and their close support structures were opposed to the new Free State Government; the latter however had the support of British armament and transport and a hastily-recruited regular army of native personnel.
During the Truce, Tom Barry married Lesley Mary Price, a 1916 Rising veteran (and later Director of Cumann na mBan, the Republican women’s auxiliary military organisation) and survived the War of Independence. He took the Anti-Treaty side and was appointed to the IRA Executive (although he later wrote that the considered the struggle unwinnable once Dublin was lost to the Free State forces – he believed a decisive blow should have been struck at the outset against the Free State and to challenge the British). Barry was taken prisoner with most of the Republican garrison of the Four Courts in the Battle for Dublin in July 1922 and imprisoned in Mountjoy Jail, later transferred to the internment concentration camp at Gormanstown in Co. Meath.
In September Barry escaped from the concentration camp and headed south, where he was appointed to command the Southern Division of the Republican forces, which eventually defeated, ended their resistance in May 1923. However, Republicans continued to be liable to arrest (and murder) by Free State forces and had to remain on the run (or emigrate) at least until the Amnesty of November 1924.
Narrowly outnumbered in a leadership vote on whether to end the Civil War, Barry had resigned from the IRA leadership as the Republican resistance limped on for a short period before the order to cease hostilities. However he returned to the leadership in 1927 and during the 1930s, like Republicans elsewhere in the territory of the State and the Republican Congress in Dublin, he was engaged in fighting the “Blueshirts”, the Irish fascist movement led by former IRA officer and comrade Eoin O’Duffy.14 And in May 1934, under the De Valera government, Barry was convicted of arms possession and jailed until December of that year. In March 1936 Vice-Admiral Henry Somerville was shot dead in his home in Castletownshend, Cork for attempting to recruit men to join the Royal Navy and Barry, though not tried for the act was believed to have been involved. When Sean McBride resigned as IRA Chief of Staff, Barry was elected to the position but resigned in 1938 over a tactical dispute.
Otherwise Barry settled down to a civilian post as Superintendent of Cork Harbour Commission from 1927-1965, during which he published his book but was much in demand for interviews and led Cork Republicans in commemorations of the War of Independence and of the Civil War. In the 1970s he publicly declared his support for the Provisional IRA (while disagreeing with some of their actions).
Tom Barry died on 2nd July 1980 — despite a number of questions regarding his political trajectory,15 perhaps Ireland’s foremost guerrilla leader, certainly in modern times. He had led many engagements against the British enemy and had lost not one; although in those engagements his force suffered some casualties they were always relatively very low. There are monuments to two of those battles at the site of the initial engagements, the Kilmichael Ambush and the Crossbarry Retreat, and to him personally at Fitzgerald Park in Cork City, near the bank of the river Lee (which also holds a monument to fellow Corkman and Barry’s opponent during the Civil War, Michael Collins).
In admittedly light research, I have been unable to find the date of the composition or publication of the Boys of Kilmichael ballad (which I presume to have been around the mid-1960s) and only a little about the author? (listed on a couple of sites), Declan Hunt himself, who played with groups Battering Ram and Marks Men. The musicians received enthusiastic reviews for the quality of their singing and playing, as well as for commitment impact of their lyrics.
From a historical point of view the Kilmichael song contained a surprisingly inaccurate theme in its depiction of the ‘Tans as being the targets of the ambush and perhaps this is a reflection of the also inaccurate description of that conflict as “the Tan War”. I amended the lyrics to figure the Auxies instead of the Tans and, in order to maintain the rhythm, had to change one line completely (see footnotes to lyrics).
The song has a number of slightly different versions both published and in the vernacular16 and has been recorded by a number of artists. The structure and even some of the lyrics are strongly based on an earlier song, Men of the West, by Michael Rooney (1873-1901)) and the air to which it is sung is the same as the other’s. Men of the West is about the 1798 United Irishmen rising in Mayo with some French military assistance and Conchúr Mag Uidhir won a prize for the translation of the lyrics into Irish as Fir and Iarthair at the 1903 Feis Ceoil (a traditional music convention held in different areas annually) in Mayo.
The video below (reproduced with kind permission of Anti-Imperialist Action) includes near the beginning a clip of the ballad being sung in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin at the end of last month. There are of course better renditions musically but this is the only one publicly available to date in which the lyrics record that it was the Auxiliaries who were defeated there.
LYRICS OF THE BALLAD (amended by me for historical accuracy)
BOYS OF KILMICHAEL
By Declan Hunt?
While we honor in song and story The memory of Pearse and McBride17 Whose names are illumined in glory With martyrs who long have since died; Forget not the boys of Kilmichael Who feared not the might of the foe: The day that they marched into battle They laid the Auxilliaries low.
So here’s to the boys of Kilmichael Those brave lads so gallant and true — They fought ‘neath the green flag of Erin And conquered the red white and blue.18
On the 28th day of November The Auxies came out of Macroom; They were seated in two Crossley Tenders That were bringing them straight to their doom. They were all on the road to Kilmichael And never expecting to stop, They there met the boys from the Column Who made a clean sweep of the lot.
So here’s to the boys of Kilmichael …
The sun in the west it was sinking ‘Twas the eve of a cold winter’s day When the Auxies we were eagerly waiting Sailed into the spot where we lay And over the hill came the echo The peal of the rifle and gun And the flames from the lorries brought tidings That the boys of Kilmichael had won.
So here’s to the boys of Kilmichael …
The lorries were ours before twilight And high over Dunmanway town Our banners in triumph were waving For the Auxies were beaten right down19. So we gathered our rifles and bayonets And soon left the glen so secure And we never drew rein till we halted At the faraway camp at Granure.20
So here’s to the boys of Kilmichael …
1At its height the Auxiliary Division RIC numbered 1,900.
2For whose capture Percival was awarded the Order of the British Empire.
3James Connolly, born to Irish migrants and reared in Edinburgh, developed into a revolutionary socialist and was Dublin Commandant of the Easter Rising but could not have known that McLoughlin would later himself become a communist.
4McLoughlin proposed the formation of bands of around 40 in which those for whom there were not enough firearms would be employed in roles such as first aid and demolition (scouting would have been another obvious role). Of course, as arms were seized those men could be armed. Interestingly, Liam Lynch had proposed the inclusion of Cumann na mBan and McLoughin had agreed; given the attitudes of the time one assumes their role would have been in an auxiliary one to that of the fighters.
5The location’s name is not directly related to Tom Barry but rather to the Norman family De Barry or, in Irish, De Barra; or possibly in West Cork of Ó Báire, an ancient Irish family name.
6I came across that account while searching for images for this article which by then was nearly completely written; had I come across it much earlier I doubt I would have written on the event at all but I hope I have added an additional something to the account, even if no more than about the ballad and about Barry himself.
7He had not been enlisted for the ambush party but followed them at a distance, his presence being discovered when nearing the site. He had begged to be allowed to stay and, unfortunately for him, had convinced them to do so.
8The Auxie who ran away had left his rifle behind so the Column had gained 18 modern rifles.
9Obviously this does not include the sniper or bomb attack.
10A number of accounts state that each of the attacking party had a rifle with 35 rounds which, if accurate, since accounts agree that shotguns were used, must mean some men carried a rifle in addition to a shotgun, which hardly makes sense. It is more likely that there were insufficient rifles for all and that some had shotguns, those in particular being assigned close-quarter fighting.
11Barry wrote that apart from the Auxies and Tans, who soon gained no mercy from the IRA, generally those who surrendered to the IRA were deprived of their weapons, told not to take up arms against the Irish people again and set free. Because of their treatment of civilians on raids and prisoners, an exception was made of soldiers of the Essex Regiment – but not until a note from Barry to their Commanding Officer warning him to have his men – and in particular his Intelligence Officer Arthur Percival — desist from torture and murder, was ignored. During WW2, to the disgust of many British, Dominion and Empire troops under his command, and civilians on the island, Lieut-General Percival surrendered Singapore to the Japanese Imperial Army along with 80,000 of his command, most of whom had not fired a shot. More than half of those POWs never returned home.
12Peter Hart rejected the term “revisionist historian”, saying it was pejorative, which in terms of Irish history it generally has been. In some other historical contexts however, for example the USA, revisionist historians have gone against the historical canon and have been concerned to tell the stories of the working class, women, indigenous people, slaves and ethnic minorities. Something similar has occurred in Britain. In Europe some revisionist historians have questioned the dominance of the post-Nazi discourse of a generally resisting population and researched the degree of collaboration among the occupied populations.
13Erskine Childers was an English sailor and author of the best-seller The Riddle of the Sands. He had brought his yacht The Aud, crewed by his wife and others, to Howth in 1914 to deliver Mauser rifles for the Irish Volunteers; these were in particular use during the 1916 Rising. He enlisted in the British Army for the duration of WW1 but, returning to Ireland, joined the reorganised Volunteers/ IRA, where he directed the insurrectionary war’s publicity department. Siding with the majority of the resistance military against the Anglo-Irish Treaty, he was captured during the Civil War, condemned to death by Free State military tribunal and executed. His son became fourth President of the Irish State.
14These were later incorporated into the Fine Gael political party, for generations one of the two main political parties in Governmentwhich, at the time of writing, is in coalition government with the Fianna Fáil and Green parties.
15He had advocated joining forces with Fianna Fáil during the 1930s and had also opened relations with Nazi Germany which he maintained up to 1939 while during WW2 he worked for the Irish State’s Army intelligence for the Southern Command with the rank of Commander and even wrote for its publication An Cosantóir.
16As for example in the lines
"For the boys of the Column were waiting
With hand grenades primed on the spot
And the Irish Republican Army
Made shit of the whole bloody lot."
17Two of the 14 executed by the British in Dublin after the 1916 Rising; Patrick Pearse was Commander-in-Chief and stationed at HQ (GPO and Moore Street) while Major John McBride joined the garrison at Jacobs at the last minute (he had his rank from the Irish Transvaal Brigade, in which he had fought the British in the 2nd Boer War).
18The Tricolour, not the green flag was the generally-accepted national flag at this time. The “red, white and blue” are the colours of the “Union Jack” the flag of the United Kingdom. The name of Ireland is “Éire” and “Erin”, although often used, does not exist (probably originally taken in error from the Genitive “na h-Éireann” or the dative, “in Éirinn”).
19My substituted line for “to show that the Tans had gone down”.
20The song lyrics I saw list “Glenure”; there are two places listed as “Glenure” in Cork County, both a long distance from Kilmichael, even without having fought a battle and being loaded down with captured equipment. However, in the military pension statement of Stephen O’Neill, one of the participants, I found the place listed as Granure which, at just over 8 miles away from the ambush site, was more reasonable, though still a heavy slog. They reached it about an hour before midnight.
(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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
An antifascist and anti-racist march in Dublin on Saturday 12th September ended without any major incident. However a handful of counter-protesters who attended a negationist protest outside Leinster House were assaulted by a mob of fascists, a woman being struck on the head with a blunt object causing an injury requiring hospital treatment. Photographs and some video footage shocked many as the Gardaí were seen to take no action against the assailants and instead, to usher the counter-protesters further away from the fascists, with a woman bleeding copiously from her head.
The Irish Yellow Vests, led by notorious islamophobe Glen Miller and the fascist Catholic fundamentalist and racist organisation Síol na hÉireann, led by Niall McConnell, cooperated in staging a rally and march from Custom House Quay to Government Buildings in Merrion Street. Custom House Quay was the scene of another IYV-organised event on 22nd August when a counter-protest of men and women was attacked by mob of masked and often gloved men (supporting an anti-mask rally!), many armed with clubs and metal bars. On that occasion too the Gardaí had arrested none of the attackers but pushed and shoved the counter-protesters away, threatening them with uplifted batons. On that occasion too a counter-protester had required hospital treatment, having been knocked unconscious.
The anti-fascist demonstration on O’Connell Street was called by the United Against Racism organisation and the People Before Profit/ Anti-Austerity Alliance and, since it had received threats of attack from fascists, it was supported too by independent antifascist activists from Anarchist, Republican and Socialist backgrounds.
A number of speakers addressed the rally though the sound did not carry very well towards the rear of the rally but also many were distracted by keeping an eye out for fascists. One IYV activist approached the rally to photograph participants and soon got into an altercation with them, whereupon Gardaí arrived and removed him to the side of the road. Another brandished a placard, which was promptly seized by antifascists and torn. Some fascists were seen passing by, presumably on their way to Custom House Quay or Leinster House – one was observed carrying a thick length of wood with the Irish Tricolour attached to it — but did not engage with the antifascists.
Across on the other side of the road, at the corner with Princes Street, two or three older people had set up a couple of banners protesting about ill-treatment of the elderly in nursing homes — an entirely justified cause for protest however it is known to have been adopted by the Far-Right in Ireland. A very high proportion of Covid19 deaths in Ireland were in nursing homes and linked to Covid19 infection through lack of effective controls, which is a strange issue for the Far-Right to embrace since they variously claim that Covid19 is a hoax or that it is not at all a serious virus.
LED BY FAKE PATRIOTS BUT REAL FASCISTS
The rally on Merchants Quay, organised by the Irish Yellow Vest seemed somewhat larger than the one in O’Connell Street but a number were brought in from other parts of the country. Their promotional video showed the crowd being addressed in an energetic style by a man with a North American accent. His message was to refuse to wear masks, using exceptions permitted in the legislation, not to be afraid and to remain united. At one point he seemed to be arguing for anti-racism, which was somewhat bizarre while standing next to him was the mc of the event, Glen Miller, notorious racist and islamophobe.
After a little, the crowd formed up behind the colour party of Síol na hÉireann, a tiny fascist, racist and fundamentalist Catholic party from Donegal led by Niall McConnell. Apparently without any sense of irony, the party flew the Irish Tricolour, the “Irish Republic” flag and the golden Harp on a green field flag, with “Erin go bragh” (sic) of the Fenians.
The Tricolour signifies cooperation between Irish of different religions which, as we will see, is something McConnell will have no truck with; in addition the original pattern was sewn by French revolutionary women and presented to Thomas Meagher in 1848. Meagher was a member of the “Young Irelanders”, composed of Irish nationalists of both Protestant and Catholic religious backgrounds and he himself led a Union Army brigade in the American Civil War.
The Harp on a green field was modelled on the flag of the United Irishmen who rose against the British in 1798 and 1803 – nearly every one of their leaders was Protestant. The Fenians were a mixture of religious backgrounds (and perhaps none) and were excommunicated by the Irish Catholic hierarchy. The Fenians in England were accepted into the First Socialist International, led by Marx and Engels.
The “Irish Republic” flag was prepared in the home of Constance Markievicz for display in the 1916 Rising; she was a Socialist Republican and fought in the Rising as an officer in the Irish Citizen Army, the first working class army in the world.
COLOUR PARTY LEADER REVEALS HIS TRUE COLOURS
Approaching the four Gardaí standing by a couple of unsecured crowd barriers at the end of the Quay, a little farce was played out in which the Gardaí seemed unwilling to move and then were “forced” to do so by the crowd. Those who have participated in protests over the years and seen the Gardaí in action and their barriers, when they truly wished to stop a march, would laugh to see the video recorded by the Far-Right of the event.
At a junction the procession stopped for people to catch up (some participants even complaining at Miller’s exhortation to give consideration to the elderly and children) and were addressed by a number of speakers. The man with the North American accent was in action again in revivalist style and Ben Gilroy, Miller’s lieutenant, also spoke. In a video during the week, Gilroy had minimised the Covid19 deaths by stating that all but 100 of them had been of people with underlying health issues. Given that according to the HSE over 30% of Irish people suffer from underlying conditions of ill-health, it was a shockingly uncaring statement to make in support of the negationist cause.
Here Niall McConnell spoke too, announcing himself as the leader of “Síol na hÉireann, a hard-line Catholic Irish nationalist party”, having the effrontery to quote, completely out of context James Connolly, revolutionary socialist and Republican. McConnell insisted that Ireland is for the Irish and, attacking the EU, hinted at the “Replacement” conspiracy theory, in which the EU is allegedly trying to replace Irish people with migrants. He also accused it of spreading “LGBT ideology”. “Ireland is a Catholic country”, he insisted and, in total contradiction to at least 220 years of recent history, ascribed the Catholic faith to the motivation of our ancestors in fighting for freedom. Then he got down on his knees and recited The Lord’s Prayer in Irish!
It was noticeable that only a small number followed him on to their knees and also that a number of his statements drew uncertain responses. Following his speech, Lorraine Eglinton of the Irish Yellow Vests spoke, stressing the need for unity, which might be taken as an implied criticism of McConnell for introducing religion and race into the equation or perhaps just for stating his beliefs so baldly at a shared event.
FASCIST ATTACK ON WOMAN COUNTER-PROTESTER
While the major part of the Irish Yellow Vests march went to rally outside Government Buildings in Merrion Street, a smaller group of maybe 40 or 50 people went to protest a block away outside Leinster House, seat of the Irish state’s Parliament. This was apparently a split in the Far Right.
If this split was trying to attract less fascist and racist people what followed was truly bizarre. A couple of people who attended in a counter-protest but at some remove were approached by Far-Right supporters who appeared to argue with them, which is recorded on video. This soon attracted a mob, some masked (!) and one of which can be seen grasping a length of wood attached to an Irish Tricolour. They begin to push the couple of counter-protesters roughly and then one of them strikes the woman on the head, opening a wound with much blood running down her face and knocking her to the ground. She regains her feet and continues to stand as Gardaí move in and gently usher the fascists back, making no attempt to arrest any of them and soon pushing the counter-protesters down the road.
The woman received hospital treatment later, being released the following morning. In a press release following the event the Gardaí reported that no arrests or serious incidents had occurred! When they were contacted by journalists and shown video taken at the scene they changed their story to say that “some demonstrators had to be separated” and ultimately changing it again to say that “they are investigating the incident” and “had not received a complaint”. Are the Gardaí saying that although they witness an assault, or at least the immediate aftermath of one, they can take no action unless they receive a complaint?
Ms Izzy Kamikaze, an LGBT campaigner and writer, who had received the head injury, said that she intended to make a complaint, not just about the assault but also about the behaviour of the Gardaí. Some photos have appeared on social media allegedly identifying two of the attackers by name and as members of the fascist National Party. According to media journalists, the Gardaí have video camera footage tracing one of the assailants also which would be no surprise as the area around Leinster House is one of the most highly covered by CCTV video cameras in Dublin.
A PATTERN OF GARDA COLLUSION
This is not the first occasion in recent times that the Gardaí have been accused of collusion with fascist violence. On July 11th a small counter-protest to the large homophobic rally outside Leinster House was physically attacked and their banners ripped without Garda interference for a period and, when they did intervene, arrested none of the assailants. On two different occasions fascists within the QAnon negationists outside the GPO attacked a peaceful counter-protester without being arrested by the Gardaí. However when, following these attacks, antifascists surged into the Qanon crowd, the Gardaí quickly intervened and arrested at least one of the antifascists. On August 22nd at Custom House Quay a mob of over 50 men, many of them masked and gloved (supporting an anti-masking rally!) and carrying wooden clubs and metal bars, attacked a peaceful smaller counter-protest and knocked one antifascist unconscious. A few Gardaí then gently shooed the fascists back while more, including the Public Order Unit, began to scream at the antifascists to get back, threatening them with raised batons and pushing them violently, knocking some over and preventing them from even assisting their unconscious comrade. Those scenes too were recorded on video and shared on social media, both by fascists glorying in their actions and by antifascists exposing the fascist violence and Garda collusion.
A Parliamentary Question about Garda behaviour to the Minister for Justice from Independents for Change TD Catherine Connolly was refused, she being told that this is an area within the competence of the Garda Commissioner.
“Mo Ghile Mear”, lyrics composed later in the the 18th Century lamenting the failing of an earlier Rising, a traditional Irish air at least generations old, combined in the 1970s, sung today in great style.
I have not researched the origins of this myself but the theme is well-known, so from relying on Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: “Mo Ghile Mear” (translated “My Gallant Darling”, “My Spirited Lad” and variants) is an Irish song. The modern form of the song was composed in the early 1970s by Dónal Ó Liatháin (1934–2008), using a traditional air collected in Cúil Aodha, County Cork, and lyrics selected from Irish-language poems by Seán “Clárach” Mac Domhnaill (1691–1754).
The lyrics are partially based on Bímse Buan ar Buairt Gach Ló (“My Heart is Sore with Sorrow Deep” (but “Gach Ló” means “every day” and there is no mention of “My Heart” in the title – D. Breatnach), c. 1746), a lament of the failure of the Jacobite rising of 1745. The original poem is in the voice of the personification of Ireland, Éire, lamenting the exile of Bonnie Prince Charlie.Mo ghile mear is a term applied to the Pretender in numerous Jacobite songs of the period. O’Daly (1866) reports that many of the Irish Jacobite songs were set to the tune The White Cockade. This is in origin a love song of the 17th century, the “White Cockade” (cnotadh bán) being an ornament of ribbons worn by young women, but the term was re-interpreted to mean a military cockade in the Jacobite context.
Another part of the lyrics is based in an earlier Jacobite poem by Mac Domhnaill. This was published in Edward Walsh‘s Irish Popular Songs (Dublin, 1847) under the title of “Air Bharr na gCnoc ‘san Ime gCéin — Over the Hills and Far Away”. Walsh notes that this poem was “said to be the first Jacobite effort” by Mac Domhnaill, written during the Jacobite rising of 1715, so that here the exiled hero is the “Old Pretender”, James Francis Edward Stuart.
The composition of the modern song is associated with composer Seán Ó Riada, who established an Irish-language choir inCúil Aodha, County Cork, in the 1960s. The tune to which it is now set was collected by Ó Riada from an elderly resident of Cúil Aodha called Domhnall Ó Buachalla. Ó Riada died prematurely in 1971, and the song was composed about a year after his death, in c. 1972, with Ó Riada himself now becoming the departed hero lamented in the text. The point of departure for the song was the tape recording of Domhnall Ó Buachalla singing the tune. Ó Riada’s son Peadar suggested to Dónal Ó Liatháin that he should make a song from this melody.
Ó Liatháin decided to select verses from Mac Domhnaill’s poem and set them to the tune. He chose those that were the most “universal”, so that the modern song is no longer an explicit reference to the Jacobite rising but in its origin a lament for the death of Seán Ó Riada.
THIS RENDITION is to my mind and ear an excellent one in traditional-type arrangement and voices (not to mention looks of certain of the singers) and all involved are to be commended. I have not always liked the group’s rendition but this is just wonderful.
In history, we fought in Ireland for two foreign royals at two different times and on each occasion they left us in the lurch.
This series of short pieces sets out to demonstrate not only that the “patriotism” claimed by the Far-Right in Ireland is profoundly fake but that so also are their chief symbols. It is not that the flags and songs are false in themselves – far from it — but that they are being employed falsely, i.e in disregard of their origins and in total contradiction to their historical context and meaning. The “patriots” displaying them are fake, not only in their use of the flags and songs but in the contexts in which they employ them, their discourse and the direction in which they wish to take the Irish nation.
OTHERS TO FOLLOW SEPARATELY:
Flag: The “Irish Republic” flag
Flag: The “Starry Plough”
Flag: The Harp on a green field flag
Patriotic song: Amhrán na bhFiann
Patriotic song: A Nation Once Again
The Far-Right creed of fake patriotism
1. THE IRISH TRICOLOUR
This is the flag design most commonly associated with Ireland and the official one of the Irish State, though it was not officially adopted by the State until the Constitution of 1937. The flag gained prominence during the 1916 Rising, when it was flown on the Henry Street corner of the GPO roof and was the flag of the Republic during the War of Independence (1919-1921). The Free State which came into being in 1922 controlling five-sixths of Ireland was not the Irish Republic most people had fought for and, in fact, it went to war against those who upheld that Republic. However, the neo-colonial State feared to leave all the symbols of Irish nationalism in the exclusive hands of its enemies and therefore eventually appropriated the flag, adopted the Irish language as its symbolic first language and the Soldiers’ Song to represent it.
On the other hand its display in public in the Six Counties colony was held to be illegal under the Flags and Emblems Act of 1954 until its repeal in 1987 and a number of street battles took place there when colonial police moved in on people to confiscate it.
Although the first use of the colours of green, white and orange as a tricolour arrangement (on cockades and rosettes) was in 1830, when Irish Republicans celebrated the French revolution of that year restoring the French Tricolour as the flag of France, their first recorded use on a flag was not until 1848.
On 28th July 1846 a group of progressive Irish nationalists had broken from Daniel O’Connell’s movement to Repeal the Union, i.e to give Ireland an Irish parliament again but under ultimate British rule. Meagher was one who led the breakaway, opposing the Repeal Association resolution to refuse the option of armed resistance in any and all circumstance, in a famous speech about the right to use weapons in the struggle for freedom, which earned him the nickname Meagher “of the Sword”.
The group became known disparagingly as The Young Irelanders but, like many mocking names, became fixed with respect in Irish history. One of its leaders was Thomas Davis, co-founder of The Irish Nation newspaper and composer of such iconic works as A Nation Once Again, The West’s Awake (songs) and Fontenoy (poem).
During what became known as “the Year of Revolutions:, 1848, Meagher went to Paris, which was in the hands of revolutionaries as an envoy to the Provisional Government and was there presented by revolutionary women with the Irish Tricolour, which they had sown in fine silk. They explained that its design was intended to reflect the revolutionary ideal of peace, represented by the colour white, between the Catholic Irish (indigenous and Norman descendants), represented by the colour green and the Protestants, descendants of planters and other colonists, represented by the colour orange. But an active peace, a collaboration in national liberation from English rule and the establishment of a secular Republic.
It would not be surprising had those women been aware of Les Irlandais Unis (the United Irishmen), who had risen less than fifty years earlier for a secular and independent republic and had sought military assistance from the French Republic.
Returning to Ireland with the flag, Meagher unfurled it in public for the first time on 7th March 1848 while speaking from an upper-floor window of the Wolfe Tone Club in Wexford to people celebrating the revolution in Paris. In Dublin it was unfurled in the Music Hall in Lwr. Abbey Street on 15th April 1848 but there was another Irish flag which at the time was more popular and the question of which flag was to represent an independent Ireland (or the movement to achieve such) was left undecided.
Meagher was sentenced to transportation to Van Demien’s Land (now Tasmania), later freed on condition of not returning to Ireland and emigrated to the USA. He supported the Union in the American Civil War for the abolition of slavery and he and his wife actively recruited for the Union Army; he served as a Brigadier General in the Irish Brigade, of which one regiment, the 88th New York, became known as “Mrs. Meagher’s Own”. The Irish Brigade fought many important engagements against the Confederacy and suffered 4,000 dead in the course of the war; two of its commanding officers including Meagher were wounded and three killed. Meagher was believed drowned from a Missouri riverboat on a trip on 1st July 1867, leading some to suspect that he had been murdered, possibly by the nativist anti-migrant organisation known as the “Know Nothings”.1
The Far-Right in Ireland, composed as it is of racists, fascists, Catholic conservatives and religious sectarians, seeks an Ireland far removed from the republican ethos of the flag, presented by French republican revolutionaries to their Irish republican counterparts. It is a flag symbolising inclusion rather than exclusion and explicitly, in its colours, rejecting religious sectarianism. It flies in declared opposition to those who seek an Ireland “made Catholic again”2, oppose immigration and seek an Ireland based on “Irish ethnicity” (meaning blood), a prescription that would have had no place for Thomas Davis’ Welsh father, nor for Meagher, who led thousands of Irish migrants who fought against slavery of Africans in the USA. Their Ireland would have had no place for the Young Irelanders who, like Thomas Davis, were mostly Protestant Republicans.
1A nickname they earned through their habit of saying that they knew nothing in answer to questions by the police or in court.
2Slogan put forward by notorious racist and conspiracty theorist Gemma Doherty in preparation for an islamophobic rally outside Croke Park on 31st July, supported by fascist organisations Síol na hÉireann and the National Party, both parties opposed to immigration and promoting a racist concept of “Irishness” based on blood.
REPUBLICANS AND SOCIALISTS PICKET AUCTION OF IRISH HISTORICAL ARTIFACTS
(Reading time: 5 mins.)
On Saturday 25th July tourists and other passers-by were treated to the sight of people picketing the Freemason Hall in Molesworth Street, Dublin, where the Whyte’s company was holding an auction of Irish historical artifacts. The picketers flew the historical flags of the Sunrise of na Fianna Éireann and the Starry Plough of the Irish Citizen Army and a banner proclaimed OUR HISTORY IS NOT FOR SALE – is linne uilig í. Placards displayed by the picketers denounced, in Irish and English, the sale of artifacts of Irish history. Among their periodic chants were “Irish history is not for sale!” and “Shame on Whyte’s!”
Very shortly before the event some people had learned of the forthcoming auction by the Whyte’s company, which has an office and shopfront in Molesworth Street (also the street in which the Freemason’s Hall is located), a couple of minutes’ walk from Leinster House, the location of the Oireachtas (the Irish Parliament). The glossy brochure for the event listed a huge amount of items, including an original copy of the 1916 Proclamation of which the Irish State has only one original copy and others have been sold in 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019.
Also up for auction were writings of Thomas Ashe, who died from force-feeding while on hunger-strike in 1917 and a copy of Wolfe Tone’s speech – in his own handwriting — at the trial that condemned him to hang in 1798.
One of the Auctioneer company representatives tried to convince the picketers that he was carrying out a useful national historical service (though he admitted also at a tidy profit) by bringing some of those items for auction to Ireland. Wolfe Tone’s speech notes were a case in point, he claimed, since they had been in the family of a former English Army general. The picketers however were adamant that the item was “stolen property” and that the Irish Government should demand the return of that item and others like it, to which the auctioneer replied “That’s nonsense!”
The Auctioneer soon shifted tack and asked the picketers whether they had permission to hold their protest. They responded that they did not need one and were in a public place; the auctioneer went inside the building calling out that the picketers were mistaken.
Shortly thereafter, a Garda patrol car drove into the street and stopped near the protesters, disgorging two serving Garda and a trainee. The picketers explained their presence and that it was a peaceful protest, also assuring the officer in charge that they had obstructed no-one from entering and that indeed a half-dozen or so had entered the building already, passing them on the way; the officer then collected her team, got back in the patrol car and drove away.
The protesters, who had arrived at around 12.30, a half-hour before the advertised start time for the auction, remained until 1.30pm and left. At intervals their chants echoed around the street, no doubt clearly audible to people staying at or using Buswell’s hotel about 50 yards away.
Diarmuid Breatnach, an independent revolutionary socialist, spoke at the event, as did Sean Doyle, of Anti-Imperialist Action and Ger Devereux of the Saoradh organisation.
NOT THE HISTORY OF THE GOMBEENS
Breatnach denounced the sale of historical artifacts in general but focused in particular on the speech notes of Wolfe Tone, going on to relate how Tone and other Republicans and liberals had tried to build a nation of equality between the various religions in Ireland. They supported the liberal Grattan’s bid to extend the franchise and representation in the Irish Parliament (in which only the tiny minority of Anglicans were permitted to enter) to Catholics and non-Anglican Protestants such as the Presbyterians). When the majority in Parliament rejected the bid by Grattan, Tone and Edward Fitzgerald and McCracken and others knew there was no way forward except revolution, explained the speaker.
In 1798 they had risen in three great uprisings in Wexford, Antrim and Mayo and many smaller ones and along with many others, Wolfe Tone had paid with his life. What kind of ghouls could take and sell the last words of such a man as Tone, Breatnach asked rhetorically? And what kind people could buy them?
Some people wonder how the Irish capitalist class were capable of selling their own history, commented the speaker and went on to say they could do so because it wasn’t their history. It was not the “Gombeen” class that risen to fight for freedom and equality in 1798 nor since but it was they who had “climbed up on our backs in 1921”. That was why the Gombeens could not only sell Irish history but also destroy our sugar beet industry, so that we had to buy sugar from the USA which subsides its industry, hand part of our country over to a foreign power, sell our public services to foreign companies and try to sell our water to one of their own.
Just as there was no way forward to build an Ireland of equality but revolution in 1798, Breatnach concluded, there was no way forward now without getting rid of the Gombeen rulers and the only way that could be done is by revolution.
Speaking in a quiet voice, Sean Doyle introduced the piece he was going to read, which was an extract from the speech from the dock of another Irish Republican martyr, Roger Casement, hanged by the British in 1916 in Pentonville Prison, London.
Doyle alluded to the irony of Britain going to war allegedly to save Belgium, when Casement had reported on the the exploitation and mutilation of indigenous people in the Congo by forces operating under King Leopold of Belgium.
Casement’s speech also pointed out the fake independence that Ireland was being offered under Home Rule (which some might compare to the “independence” of the Irish state today in partitioned Ireland) and described the nature of true patriotism.
WHOSE HISTORY AND HERITAGE?
Ger Devereux of the Saoradh organisation gave a short speech in which he pointed out that the items were of historical importance and belonged to the Irish nation alone, that they should not be sold to private collectors, nor should anyone be making a profit out of them.
The protesters concluded their protest with some more chants including “Whose history? OUR history! Whose heritage? OUR heritage! Irish history is not for sale!”
The Irish State has only three original copies of the Proclamation: one is in Leinster House and only two on regular view to the public, one in the GPO and another in the National Museum. Another copy is on display in the Long Room of Trinity College. Others have been sold by auction in 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019.
Republicans and other local antifascists countered a Far-Right rally and “prayer circle” who were protesting a Croke Park letting on Friday to some Muslims to celebrate their religious festival of Eid. When confronted by a handful of antifascists, the early fascists folded up their banner and cowered behind police protection, unfolding it later when many more reinforcements arrived. Later still there were some scuffles and a number of arrests.
The first shot fired on social media against the Croke Park letting was by Niall McConnell, leader of the tiny “Síol na hÉireann” group calling for a protest at the venue, followed by Gemma O’Doherty of “Anti-Corruption Ireland”, with other Far-Right posters quickly getting on the bandwagon. The main claim was that they were going there to prevent “creeping Sharia law” but alsotacked on being against ritual animal slaughter, child brides, pedophilia etc. What they were really about however was Christian or even Catholic fundamentalism, racism and fascism and this became crystal clear during the morning.
WHO THEY WERE AND WHAT THEY SAID
In contrast to many of the counter-protesters, none of the Far-Right seemed to be local and indeed many had travelled some distance to be there, some known to have come from Donegal and Mayo.
When calling out the responses of the Catholic prayer cycle of the Rosary1, Niall McConnell was roaring them out through a megaphone. McConnell, a founder of the tiny “Síol na hÉireann” group based in Donegal, believes in an Ireland built solely on Irish ethnicity (by which he means of Irish blood) and that its ethos should be Christian. How Irish blood “ethnicity” is to be judged is not explained, given that the Irish people are a mix of the Celtic population with many others, including Viking, Norman, Scottish, English, Welsh, possibly Basque, Italian, Polish etc. This is being “patriotic” according to McConnell, who is never seen campaigning for an end to the partition of Ireland nor of foreign occupation of one-sixth of the country.
Patrick Pearse’s father being an English migrant did not prevent his two sons from being true patriots, promoting the Irish language, progressive education, national drama and literature and fighting for independence. Thomas Davis’ father being Welsh did not prevent his son from founding The Nation newspaper or from composing such songs as “A Nation Once Again” (a recording of which the Far-Right played!) and “The West’s Awake!” Erskine Childers being English did not prevent him sailing a yacht into Howth to deliver Mausers to the Irish Volunteers in 1914 nor in joining the IRA during the War of Independence and the Civil War and being executed by the Free State junta. And a missionary called Patricius being Welsh did not prevent him ending up as St. Patrick, a patron saint of Ireland!
Although billing himself as an “Irish Patriot”, McConnell calls for an alliance of “nationalists across Europe” and has posed for a photograph in a line-up of Far-Right European figures that included Nick Griffin, former leader of the fascist British National Party2. McConnell’s party’s website calls on people to join to “resist and turn back the new plantation”, a reference to a paranoid conspiracy in which the Far-Right claim to believe that the EU plans to replace Irish people with migrants.
Apart from promising any new members of “Siol nah Eireann” (sic, no such words in Irish) the fantasy of joining “local cumans” (they have none and there is no such word in Irish either), they intend to provide them with “education” (i.e propaganda), “ideology” (fascism), “physical fitness and self-defence” (training in being bootboys) in Ireland and abroad …..!
Another who believes in an “ethnic Ireland” is Gemma O’Doherty who started off as an investigative journalist but turned into a proposer of illogical conspiracy theories and propagandist of racism. Protesting in a tweet against the recent election of Hazel Chu as Lord Mayor of Dublin, she ranted that Ms. Chu, born and raised in Ireland, is part of the Communist Party of China (!) takeover of Ireland. Parts of the Far-Right claim to believe that CPC is taking over the world through the UN (where China has ONE seat on the permanent Security Council out of FIVE!3) and on the other hand, President Trump is wonderful.4
Gemma O’Doherty has at times been caught out posting lying statistics to whip up racial fears and had two of her Youtube sites shut down by Google due to her continuous attempts to whip up race-hate. Since then she has been campaigning for “free speech” but for whom? Outside Croke Park she said that the country needs to become “a Catholic Ireland once again”. In this “Catholic Ireland” of her dreams, would there be “freedom of speech” for dissenting Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, atheists or agnostics? The “Catholic Ireland” State of the recent past censored films, banned books and newspapers and forbade not only abortion in all circumstances but also contraception and divorce, not to mention LGBT rights.
O’Doherty is another fake “patriot” who told her listeners that “our patriots died for a Catholic Ireland”, despite the fact that nearly every single leader of the United Irishmen was a Protestant, as were many of the Young Irelanders and not a few prominent members of the Irish Volunteers — and she totally ignored the words of the 1916 Proclamation.
Near the end of the event, some members of the National Party appeared, wearing green golf shirts with “NP” marked on them. Although their “Vision” for Ireland on their website claims to include “an Ireland united, Irish and free”, they have never been seen engaged in struggles against British colonialism and the partition of the country. The NP is against “replacement-level immigration”, i.e that racist conspiracy theory again and wants capital punishment for serious crimes, in which they include carrying out a pregnancy termination. Like most of the Far-Right, they oppose the “Black lives matter” campaign and the party’s founder, Justin Barrett (not there on Friday), tweeted that if he gets into government he will remove the Irish nationality of Hazel Chu, a woman who was born in the Mater Hospital in Dublin, was educated in Ireland and spent most of her life here.
Also missing were racist and islamophobe leaders of the “Irish Yellow Vests” Glen Miller and Ben Gilroy, also Herman Kelly, founder of the tiny Irish Freedom Party, another “patriot” who believes in a “Christian and ethnic Irish Ireland”. Kelly has shared a platform with British fascist and Loyalist Jim Dowson and Irish fascist Rowan Croft (aka “Gran Torino”).
Aside from all that, on Friday one woman ‘innoculated’ the ground around the Far-Right protesters with sprinkled salt, apparently proof against “witches” (anti-fascist women). A few of them shook their rosary beads at the protesters while another woman seemed to go into ecstasy, praying with arms alternately raised high or spread. “I don’t know anything about politics,” she said to one of the counter-protesters, “I just come here to pray.” Of course, the handball alley entrance to Croke Park is a well-know prayer venue! (Perhaps for fans of other county teams hoping Dublin won’t win the All-Ireland yet again ….)
One of their leaders, Dee Wall frequently seen at their rallies at the GPO, claimed she supported religious liberty for all but failed to explain how that squared with protesting at Muslims celebrating Eid at Croke Park. Unless that is she was in agreement with those whose reply to the slogan of “religious and civil liberty for all” was “for the Irish” and meant not only that, for some Muslims ARE Irish, but rather “for Christian, Catholic, several generations Irish only”. Another woman called an antifascist a paedophile(the Far-Right regularly call antifascists “paedophiles”) and told him that the Coronavirus was only in his head, i.e in his imagination – many of them believe that the coronavirus is just a scare to bring about “a one-world government”, one woman commenting that mask-wearers are part of the plot.
One of the Far-Rightists shouted that he never saw the antifascists protesting against the Government, which brought a chorus of incredulous protests from his opponents, the most telling being: “You’ve never seen us because you weren’t there!”
After the Muslims had left by another exit and as the antifascists were leaving, one woman called out antifascists that they were being funded by the millionaire Soros – another fantasy they pretend to believe. One of the antifascists shouted ironically back at her: “I haven’t received my cheque yet – can you have a word with him for me?”
Calling antifascists “paedophiles” might be useful in demonising their opponents but if believed by some could cause people real problems in their community. It is also ironic, given that these ultra-Catholics defended the Church hierarchy and its paedophiles right to the last, some even still maintaining that the scandal institutions were innocent and the targets of malicious accusations. Herman Kelly of the INP was for a time Assistant Editor of the Catholic Herald and maintained that the allegations were ‘fake news’. Also many of the Far-Right in Ireland and in Britain have been convicted in court of …. guess what? Yes, pedophilia.
WHAT WAS THE FAR-RIGHT FUSS ABOUT?
There was never going to be ritual slaughter of any animals in Croke Park, of course, nor any of the other scares being thrown by racists and fascists.
Just as the venue has been let for other large gatherings, in particular pop concerts, a Muslim religious organisation obtained permission from the GAA to hold a celebration of their festival of Eid there in the stadium.
The feast Day of Eid is an important one in the Muslim religious calendar and its main features are obligatory acts of charity towards the poor, communal prayer followed by social feasting and visiting of relatives and friends. Areas of large capacity are usually required (and more so if observing social distancing), such as large mosques, community centres or hired halls. A sermon is preached by a religious leader, after which a prayer is recited asking for Allah’s forgiveness, mercy, peace and blessings for all living beings across the world.
As to “creeping Sharia law”, since Muslims account for less than 2% of the population of the Irish state, the fascists and other islamophobes have to talk them up into something bigger as a threat, hence the “creeping”. Nor is it the case that all Muslims would support fundamentalist Muslim law any more than all Christians support fundamentalist Christian law or all Jews support Jewish Orthodoxy.
With regard to “child brides”, an unfortunate feature of many civilisations, including past European ones and parts of the United States, there is an age of consent in Ireland maintained by law and, furthermore, a law supported by the vast majority of the population of all religions and of none.
The Catholic Arch-Bishop of Ireland and leading clerics of the Anglican and Jewish community attended the event, as did Government Minister O’Gorman whose car was surrounded by Far-Right protesters screaming at him and banging on the car despite a walking Garda escort. Among the speeches at the Croke Park event – in a mix of English, Arabic and Irish – was a talk by 21-year-old Abood Aljumaili, encouraging the attendees to try out the native Irish sport played at the stadium, like hurling.
SCUFFLES AND ARRESTS
In a headline on a video posted on line by one of her supporters, Gemma O’Doherty exclaimed: “Antifa tried to attack me” but the video shows nothing of the sort. It does show a minor confrontation far from her between an antifascist and a fascist, the one doing the filming. In reply to a question, the fascist can be heard saying that Protestants will be admitted to their movement if they convert to Catholicism. It appears that the fascist pushes the antifascist, who pushes back and then the police are separating the two. The rest of the video records O’Doherty talking, talking ….
A month ago a Far-Right poster claimed that the homophobic rally outside Leinster House had been attacked by “Antifa”. However video footage showed a large crowd of rally participants, some of them threatening a tiny group of antifascist counter-protesters. A fortnight ago the leader of theFar-Right organisation the Irish Yellow Vests told a crowd on Custom House Quay that “the Antifa” had attacked the Far-Right with petrol bombs – another fantasy. But it was some of his supporters’ crowd of 500 that attacked the 40 or so counter-protestors. And McConnell of the tiny “Síol” group claimed at a Far-Right gathering in Europe recently that the Israeli secret services were threatening him due to his lip-service support for the Palestinians (in his case, based on anti-semitism rather than Palestinian solidarity).
While regularly practicing violence, fascists like to portray themselves as victims, especially on their way to taking power. A few weeks ago a fascist crossed the road from their rally at the GPO to attack a Republican while their speaker was shouting in her microphone that they would not be provoked by the violence of the antifascists! They also like to pretend that the police are on the side of the antifascists, while historically and in recent times, the reality is otherwise. After all, the police have been facing Republicans and Socialists in protests for decades, on issues as diverse as Republican prisoners, political repression in both administrations, gender and sexuality rights, the BP oil pipeline in Mayo, lack of housing, cuts in welfare …..
This was underlined when one of the Far-Rightists outside Croke Park shouted that he never saw the antifascists protesting against the Government, which brought a chorus of incredulous protests from his opponents, the most telling being: “You’ve never seen us because you weren’t there!”
There were a number of incidents, one when a Far-Rightist threw water at a video photographer and, after the latter complained to the Gardaí, was taken aside and eventually could be seen walking away from the scene.
Altogether there were three arrests: an antifascist woman who was attacked by a woman on the Far-Right fought back. The police dived in but the Far-Right woman did not want to let go of her opponent’s hair even when the police were trying to separate them. It took three police about five minutes to get her away and into a police van. The antifascist woman walked calmly with a police officer to a patrol car. Some time later a young lad who seemed to be a local person but had not been with the counter-protest, pulled the cord on the Far-Right’s amplifier, silencing it temporarily. The police pounced on him and took him away. According to information received, all were released without charges and a Garda report is being prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions.
WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN AND WHAT NEXT?
All over Europe and the USA, the Far-Right is on the rise, as they sense an opportunity in ruling class austerity measures and popular dissatisfaction and disaffection. The latter is demonstrated in street mobilisations but also electorally, as votes for traditional political parties fall and the main parties in Government or otherwise are forced to abandon their false opposition and resort to ruling in coalitions of various forms.
Fascists attempt to mobilise the popular discontent against the established political class but to misdirect the popular anger and throw it against ethnic or social minorities, creating a false unity based on a notion of purity of blood and, in some cases, religion. If they can be seen to build a strong enough movement that seems capable of both mobilising people and attacking the resistance movements of the people to austerity and repression, the ruling class turn to them as they did in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s.
Aside from the difficult circumstances, it is generally accepted by historians that a number of errors were made by the antifascist forces in the past. The leaders of targeted communities often counseled not responding to the threat as that would draw further attention and hostility towards them, some even denouncingthose in their communities who were organising resistance to the police. Some sections of targeted groups did not mobilise until it was too late, others argued that the fascists were a diversion from the anti-capitalist struggle. The antifascists did not all unite across ideological barriers. The fascists were permitted to get a grip at street level and intimidate some areas of their opposition, eventually receiving the full support of the ruling class and their State.
Those errors must not be repeated.
A HISTORY OF RELIGIOUS OPPRESSION
Ireland has suffered different religions imposed upon it but none of those have been Muslim.
Presumably Christianity was imposed on a pagan Ireland of many centuries, although that seems to have been a largely painless process (unlike in many other parts of Europe). Subsequently the Celtic Church was suppressed across Europe by Rome and in 1155 Pope Adrian IV authorised King Henry II to invade Ireland, allegedly to bring the Irish Christian Church into conformity with Rome.
When Henry VIII of England broke with Rome in 1532 he tried to impose his religion not only on England but also on Ireland, a project continued by his daughter Elizabeth I and most other English monarchs. The administration of the Plantations of Ireland by colonists tried to ensure English-speaking Protestants were given the land taken from the Irish and that no indigenous Irish were allowed to live or work there. For a time priests and bishops were outlawed and hunted.
The Penal Laws (1607 in some degree right up to the 1840s) robbed Catholics of most civil and religious freedom and penalised also non-Anglican Protestant sects. The colonist Irish Parliament excluded Catholics and Presbyterians even after some were permitted to vote. From the moment the Irish Catholic Church stopped being persecuted, it collaborated with the foreign occupation of Ireland and its leaders condemned the Republican uprisings of 1798 and 1803 and every Irish resistance organisation since.
After the Irish national capitalist class joined with the Catholic Church leadership to agree to the partition of the country and Irish membership of the British Commonwealth Dominions and slaughtered those who had fought against foreign occupation 1922-1923, a puritanical conservative Catholic Church dominated the 26-County State while a sectarian, puritanical Presbyterian ethos dominated the 6-County statelet. Elements of anti-semitism were observed in the Church during the 1930s and the hierarchy supported Franco’s military-fascist uprising in Spain and blessed the fascist Blueshirts as they went to support Franco but condemned the Irish Republicans and Socialists who went to support the elected Popular Front Government. The Civil Rights movement in the Six Counties began a fight-back against sectarian oppression there at the end of the 1960s, about the same time as a slower struggle was breaking out in the rest of Ireland against the social and political domination of the Catholic Church.
The Irish people overall have shown that they wish to be free to make their own choices and decisions in matters of faith and social practice without being dominated by any religious authorities. The 1916 Proclamation of Independence declared that “The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberties to all” and, though that has yet to be realised, it seems to be what most people agree with. But clearly not the “patriots” of the Far-Right.
1The prayers that compose the Rosary cycle are arranged in sets of ten Hail Marys, called decades. Each decade is preceded by one Lord’s Prayer (“Our Father”) and traditionally followed by only one “Glory Be” and five decades are recited per rosary. Rosary beads are an aid towards saying these prayers in the proper sequence. There have been several Catholic devotional movements in Ireland that have emphasised praying the Rosary and, in modern times, most associated with Fr. Peyton’s “Rosary Crusade” beginning in the 1940s. In the 50’s and 60’s it was influential in Ireland and the phrase “The family that prays together, stays together” became well-known, which might be considered ironic at least in the physical sense, given the very high rate of emigration from Ireland, which included Fr.Peyton himself and his siblings. According to historian Hugh Wilford, “Peyton himself was deeply conscious of the political dimension of his mission, proudly proclaiming in a 1946 radio broadcast, ‘The rosary is the offensive weapon that will destroy Communism—the great evil that seeks to destroy the faith'” (Living memory and Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patrick_Peyton).
2 In addition to being a racist organisation against immigration, the BNP cultivated links with Ulster Loyalists in the Six Counties, Scotland and elsewhere, also with Nazi groups in Europe. It supported white colonist regimes in Africa and organised attacks on Irish community organisations in Britain and on Irish solidarity demonstrations.
3 The Security Council is the only body of the EU that can decide policy and any one of the five Permanent Members can veto a decision. The Five are France, UK, USA, Russia and China; the UK and France tend to vote in line with the USA.
4 The other permanent seats are held by the UK and France, which normally vote with the USA and Russia.
Mick Healy of the Irish Marxist History Project was kind enough to interview me about some of the issues about which I have been active. Parts I and II were published together a couple of months ago and here’s Part III now.
Mostly its snippets about the founding of the Irish in Britain Representation Group, my involvement in the foundation of the Lewisham branch of IBRG in SE London and from there, the Lewisham Irish Centre. Also my participation in Kurdish solidarity and a trade union delegation to Turkish-occupied Kurdistan (the YPG placard photo is of me in Trafalgar Square, London a couple of years ago when I was over visiting kids & grandkids) and the anti-water charge campaign in Ireland.