Catalan Esteladas flew next to Irish Tricolours at the GPO in Dublin on Saturday afternoon (25 November 2017). The occasion was a picket organised by the Dublin Anti-Internment Committee to protest the internment without trial of Irish Republicans and also of Catalan political activists for independence. Placards raised the issue of internment of Irish Republicans and their treatment once in jail, as well as criticising the lack of action of Amnesty International on this question. Some placards also declared that the “Spanish State jails Catalan political activists”.
Despite the seriousness of the issue and the bitter cold, the mood was upbeat, assisted by a music player broadcasting a range of songs, from Sifre’s “Something Inside So Strong”, through Warshaw’s “The Cry of the Morning” (sung by Christy Moore) to “Els Segadors”. Some protesters sang along to the songs and passers-by could be heard joining in too.
Many leaflets were distributed. A number of Catalan young women passers-by were excited to see the Estelada flags and were ecstatic when “Els Segadors” (“The Reapers”), the Catalan national anthem, was played.
Some people passing occasionally shouted “Viva Espaňa!” in hostility which gave rise to the response of “Viva la democracía! Viva la libertad!” On the other hand, other visitors passing by were very supportive, for example a young woman from Asturias (northern Spanish state) and an older man from Andalusia (southern Spanish state).
A spokesperson for the Committee briefly addressed the attendance at the end of the event, thanking them for attending to support Irish and Catalan political activists being jailed without trial. Referring to the few passers-by who shouted “Viva Espaňa!”, the spokesperson said that there is nothing wrong with pride in one’s country but queried why the sight of a Catalan flag brought that response and why the definition of Spanish nationhood for these people is bound up with the denial of the rights of another nation to determine its own future. The spokesperson declared that every nation has a right to determine its own future and to do so without threats and repression, pointing out that the Spanish State is attempting to jail the whole Catalan Government for carrying out their election promises and has jailed the leaders of two independence organisations without trial.
The spokesperson thanking the attendance once more, the event came to a close, flags were furled, banners rolled and placards put away for another occasion.
The Dublin Anti-Internment Committee was launched in 2013 and is independent of all political parties and organisations, holds regular pickets and people who support the civil and human rights of Irish Republican prisoners are welcome to attend.
On the 22nd of August 1798, almost 1,100 troops under the command of General Humbert landedat Cill Chuimín Strand, Bádh Cill Ala (Killala Bay), Co. Mayo.
The events are covered in six songs that I know of: Na Franncaigh Bhána; An Spailpín Fánach (Mayo version); Mise ‘gus Tusa agus Hielan Aindí; The West’s Awake by Thomas Davis; Men of the West and its Irish translation, Fir an Iarthair.
Some of the songs, especially the traditional ones from this area, are in Irish, which was the commonly-spoken language of the area (unlike parts of Dublin, Wexford and Antrim, where most of the songs from the period were in English).
The French troops on this occasion — unlike the numbers sent by Napoleon in 1796 but which failed to land at Bantry Bay due to stormy conditions — were insufficient to change the overall insurrectionary situation and though they and the Irish fought bravely, the Rising in the West failed. Most of the French who surrendered were treated as prisoners of war but the Irish who rose were butchered or taken prisoner and hanged. Matthew Tone and Bartholomew Teeling, both Irish but holding commissions as officers in the French Army, were taken to Dublin, tried and hung. Their bodies are reputed to lie in Croppies’ Acre.
Nevertheless the Rising is remembered with pride and General Humbert’s memory held in affection. Sixteen years later he fought the English again at the Battle of New Orleans, taking place between December 14, 1814 and January 18, 1815, this time as a private soldier in the American Army — and successfully. He had settled in New Orleans already and remained there after the war, working as a schoolteacher until his final days.
There is a French military former officer character in Mel Gibson’s film The Patriot (2000), Major Jean Villeneuve (played by Tcheky Karyo). A film commentary on line says his character was suggested by the Marquis de Lafayette, of the French military and Baron Von Steubon, a Prussian mercenary (http://www.patriotresource.com/thepatriot/characters/villeneuve.html.).
But might the character not have been suggested by Humbert? Anyone who knew his story would be eager to put him in the film, one would think. In the film, he fights in his French officer’s uniform at the final battle (unnamed but probably based that on at Cowpens); Humbert, though he fought at the rank of private, also fought in his Napoleonic Officer’s Army uniform at the Battle of New Orleans.
Robert Roda of New Hampshire is listed as the writer of the screenplay. New Hampshire is not known as an Irish-American stronghold and Roda does not sound like an Irish name. But then, it is not only Irish and French people who are interested in Irish and French history.
IRA Volunteer Michael Gaughan was killed in Parkhurst Jail on the Isle of Wight this month in 1974. He was killed on the 3rd June that year by force-feeding while on hunger strike. An honour guard of Provisional IRA had presided over his body’s removal by ferry to the mainland and from there to London, where the first of his three funeral processions was to take place.
Also on hunger-strike with Gaughan although in different jails in Britain were other Provisional IRA prisoners: Gerry Kelly, Paul Holmes, Hugh Feeney and fellow Mayoman Frank Stagg. They were acting in support of the struggle of Volunteers Dolours and Marion Price1 to obtain political status and to be transferred to a jail in Ireland. The prisoners’ demands were as follows:
The right to political status
The right to wear their own clothes
A guarantee that they would not be returned to solitary confinement
The right to educational facilities and not engage in penal labour
The setting of a reasonable date for a transfer to an Irish prison2
At the time I was a young and fairly inexperienced activist supporting an English-based Marxist-Leninist group.3
On the 7th a funeral procession was being organised by Provisional Sinn Féın in an area of strong Irish diaspora settlement in North-West London. I took a bus from my South-East London home by a part of the canal near Peckham (now filled in) to the Elephant & Castle and changed on to the London Underground metro system to travel to Kilburn, from where I walked up to the Cricklewood area. There in the forecourt of the Crown pub was where I had been told the funeral procession would gather and where I would also meet my comrades of the organisation.
After a little, preparations were being made for departure. A priest was to lead the procession, which I strongly disliked but obviously had no say in the arrangements. A lone piper would follow, a traditional feature of mourning where Irish resistance is involved. The coffin would be carried for a period on the shoulders of volunteers, before being transferred to the hearse and a senior comrade of my organisation approached me.
“Some representatives of British Left organisations are going to carry the coffin,” he said. “We’ve been asked if we’d like to take part. What do you think?”
He was asking me, I presumed, because I was the only Irish supporter of the organisation present, although it had an excellent record of supporting Irish resistance and prisoners and several of its comrades had gone to jail as a result.
He seemed not keen on the idea and I got the impression that he felt as I did that it was tokenism, distasteful posturing by the British Left. Tariq Ali (now a journalist but then a member of the now-defunct Trotskyist organisation in Britain, the International Marxist Group) was one of those hefting the coffin. I agreed with my comrade and said we should not (a decision I now regret) and so we didn’t. No organisation on the British Left at that time, in terms of commitment and actions in proportion to its size, deserved the honour more than our organisation.
From the forecourt of the Crown a long parade escorted Gaughan’s coffin from Cricklewood in West London along the main road to the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Quex Road church in Kilburn. It was a very Irish area then with nearly every pub being of mainly Irish clientele and it contained a dance hall where Irish bands played. Every shop and pub along the way was closed for the funeral and crowds lined the route. The atmosphere was very solemn with the laments being played by the piper very audible.
On the 8th of June 1974, the body of IRA Volunteer Michael Gaughan arrived in Dublin, where it was met by mourners and an IRA guard of honour. The body was brought to the Adam and Eve’s Franciscan church on Merchant’s Quay, where thousands filed past as it lay in state (no doubt under the watchful eyes of the Garda Special Branch).
On the following day, the 9thof June1974, Michael Gaughan’s funeral took place in Ballina, County Mayo.The funeral mass was held at St. Muiredach’s Cathedral, Ballina, procession then to Leigue Cemetery, Ballina. He was given a full republican burial and laid to rest in the Republican plot (where Frank Stagg, also killed by force-feeding, would join him after being reburied in November 1976 –see further below). Vol. Gaughan’s coffin was draped in the same Tricolour that had been used for Terence McSwiney’s funeral 54 years earlier (the same flag would later be used in the funeral of James McDade, IRA member killed in a premature explosion in Coventry). Gaughan’s funeral was attended by over 50,000 people, larger than the funeral of former Irish president Éamon de Valera.
It was no doubt to avoid scenes such as this that the Irish state took certain steps when two years later, on 12th February 1976, a comrade of Gaughan’s, Vol. Frank Stagg, also from Mayo, was also killed in Wakefield Prison, Yorkshire, by force-feeding while on hunger-strike. Although much of this this took place during the IRA truce of 1975-January 1976, the British authorities refused to grant any of the demands. The Wikipedia entry says that “Stagg died on 12 February 1976 after 62 days on hunger strike” which, though not untrue is a lie by omission.4
The Irish Government had the flight carrying his coffin diverted from Dublin where a large crowd awaited it, to Shannon airport.
On arrival at Shannon, the Gardaí snatched the coffin and drove it straight to Ballina, Mayo under armed guard, to a cemetery near Stagg’s family home, where it was placed in a prepared grave into which wet concrete was then poured, six feet deep, instead of soil. And the site remained under guard until the concrete had set and for some time after.
Although those proceedings would have been in complete opposition to the wishes of the deceased, the State had obtained agreement for them from Frank Stagg’s widow and one of his brothers, the Labour Party’s Emmet Stagg. It was opposed by another two of Frank Stagg’s brothers and of course by the dead Volunteer’s comrades.
In November of that year, a number of those comrades dug down near the grave, tunneled under the concrete, removed the coffin and re-interred it in the Republican plot, near to Michael Gaughan’s grave, where it rests today.
A simple but plaintive song about Michael Gaughan survivesin not uncommon use: Take Me Home to Mayo. There are a number of versions on Youtube; this one contains relevant images and film footage: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=14-kuxsHjPg
1Although Gerry Kelly is a current Sinn Féin MLA, both the Price Sisters denounced the Good Friday Agreement and Sinn Féin; Marian was effectively interned for a period because of her politics and has not been active politically due to ill-health since her release in May 2013. On January 23rd of that year she was escorted from jail to attend the funeral of her sister, Dolours. Of the surviving hunger strikers of 1975-’76, Paul Holmes was the only other one to attend that funeral.
2The British promised to concede the demands after Gaughan’s death – they had already conceded them to Loyalist prisoners – but reneged on the promise. The Price Sisters did eventually win repatriation to jail in the Six Counties, Ireland. The struggle on the issue of repatriation, which the British authorities conceded to British prisoners in Irish jails but not generally in reverse, carried on for many years. It is UN and generally human rights policy that prisoners should serve their sentences in jails close to their family networks.
3I had previously been an unaffiliated Anarchist activist, then came to support the English Communist Movement (M-L), which later became the Communist Party of England (M-L), which I left some years later. It has since gone through a number of bigger changes and evolved into the current Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (M-L), a much-changed organisation from the days referred to in this article.
4This is an important omission because the death of Vol. Stagg at the State’s hands after Gaughan’s brought about a change in policy of the British Medical Association, which afterwards recommended to its members that people in sound state of mind embarking on a hunger strike should not be forcibly fed even if they were heading for death. In consequence, the British State no longer has a policy of force-feeding prisoners on hunger-strike, since such would have to be supervised by medical personnel.
May 1st, International Workers’ Day was celebrated in warm sunshine in Dublin with a parade and rally organised by the Dublin Council of Trade Unions and a later event organised by the Independent Workers’ Union.
The DCTU-organised event met at the Garden of Remembrance at 2pm and set off at nearly 3pm, with numbers although still small by European standards nevertheless larger than has been seen for some time in Dublin, according to the organisers filling O’Connell Street, the city’s main street throughout its whole length (500 metres or 547 yards).
Seen on the parade were trade union banners, those of some political parties, also of campaigns and community groups.
As it has been doing for years, the parade ended in a rally in Beresford Place, in front of Liberty Hall, the very tall building owned by the SIPTU trade union, where the audience were addressed by speakers from trade unions and campaigns and NGOs.
Curiously, soon after arrival the comparatively strong showing of Sinn Féin flags, the green one with their logo and the blue and white version of the Starry Plough, were nowhere to be seen.
The issues of lack of affordable housing, of public land being sold for private housing and speculation, of precarious employment, of financial speculation and cuts in services were addressed by speakers, with a mention also of solidarity for the Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike. A number of speakers also addressed the treatment of migrants and in particular the conditions suffered by refugees in the Direct Provision hostels of the state’s welfare service.
Somewhat later, the Independent Workers’ Union held their own event, marching with a colour party from their offices to James Connolly monument, also in Beresford Place and across the road from Liberty Hall.
Damien Keogh chaired the event and introduced veteran campaigner Sean Doyle who gave a short and to the point speech about the situation in which working people find themselves today and ending with a quotation from James Connolly, in which the revolutionary socialist castigated those who claimed to love Ireland but could tolerate seeing poverty and deprivation among its people. Doyle also sent solidarity greetings to the Palestinian political prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails.
Paul Bowman was then introduced and in a longer speech covered Connolly’s time in the USA, his membership of and activities of the IWW (“the Wobblies”); the Haymarket Incident in Chicago which led to the choosing of May 1st as International Workers’ Day and the state murder of the Haymarket Martyrs; the principles and attitude of the IWU today.
Damien then introduced Diarmuid Breatnach to sing “We Only Want the Earth” (an alternative title to the original of “Be Moderate”). Breatnach explained that the lyrics had been composed by James Connolly and published in a songbook of his in New York in 1907 without an air. As a consequence the lyrics have been sung to a variety of airs but Breatnach said he sings it to the air of “A Nation Once Again” (composed originally by Thomas Davis some time between 1841 and 1845). This arrangement provides a chorus and Breatnach invited the audience to join in the chorus with him, which they did.
“We only want the Earth,
we only want the Earth,
And our demands most moderate are:
We only want the Earth!”
A wreath was laid at the monument on behalf of the IWU by Leanne Farrell.
The chairperson then thanked those in attendance, speakers and singer and invited all back to the offices of the IWU in the North Strand for refreshments.
On Monday 25th April people gathered in front of the General Post Office building in Dublin city centre. The occasion was the commemoration and celebration of the reading of the Proclamation of Independence by Patrick Pearse outside that same building, shortly after the 1916 Rising had begun under his overall command. Standing nearby during the reading had been James Connolly, Commandant of the GPO Garrison and also commanding officer of the Irish Citizen Army. Both were executed by the British weeks later for their part in the Rising, along with another thirteen (twelve in Dublin, one in Cork) and months later Roger Casement was tried in civilian court in London and hung.
Tom Stokes, who has been a chief organiser of this event since 2010, opened the proceedings, addressing the crowd and the flag colour party. He reminded his audience that in 1917 it had been Republican women who had organised the 1916 commemoration, printing many copies of the Proclamation and pasting them around the city, also defying British military law to gather outside the GPO to mark the events.
Among the reasons for this given by Stokes was that many Republican men had but recently been released from British prisons and concentration camps but also that the women had a special stake in the Republic for which the Rising had taken place – they in particular stood to gain from its achievement the status of citizens and many other changes in their status as a result.
So it was appropriate, Stokes said, to have women take prominent roles in the event, starting with Evelyn Campbell, who accompanied herself on guitar while singing her compositions Fenian Women Blues and Patriotic Games.
Following that, Tom Stokes gave the main oration, outlining his vision of a Republic and castigating the Irish state for what it had produced instead, in particular attacking its treatment of women and declaring that abortion was a private matter in which the State had no right to interfere.
This was followed by Fiona Nichols, in period costume, reading the Proclamation and after that came Dave Swift in Irish Volunteer costume, reading a message given by a wounded James Connolly (he had been injured Thursday of Easter Week by a ricochet in Williams Lane while on a reconnaissance mission).
Cormac Bowell, in period Volunteer costume played an air on the bagpipes, Fergus Russel sang The Foggy Dew, Bob Byrne sounded The Last Post on the bugle and Evelyn Campbell came forward again, this time to accompany herself on guitar singing Amhrán na bhFiann.
Tom Stokes thanked the performers and everyone else for their attendance and said he hoped to see them all again on the 24th April 2018, which will be a Tuesday. He said it was his wish that this day be an annual National Holiday and they had started the annual celebration because no-one else was doing it.
Some of those present marched to Moore Street with a Moore Street campaign banner, taking the GPO Garrison’s evacuation route on Friday of Easter Week through Henry Place, past the junction with Moore Lane and on to Moore Street, where Dave Swift, still in Irish Volunteer uniform, competing with the noise of construction machinery coming from the ILAC’s extension work, read the Proclamation before all dispersed, leaving the street to street traders, customers, passers-by and builders.
We are long accustomed to the association of these two symbols with Irish ethnicity and nationalism, the shamrock and the colour green — but historically can they be shown to be authentically Irish?
The shamrock symbol has been used by a number of products and services, including Aer Lingus, formerly the Irish national airline and now a subsidiary of the International Airways Group1. Both as a plant and a living symbol it is now being sold on the streets and in shops in preparation for the celebration of the male patron saint of Ireland, St. Patrick on March 17th.
St. Patrick himself was a foreign import, albeit one seized unwillingly by Irish raiders. The son of a Romanised Celt it seems and probably from Wales, Patricius was kept as slave labour herding sheep until his escape but he returned as a Christian missionary and became one of the founders of the Celtic Christian Church in Ireland.
We may view this as an amazing feat in itself – Ireland was one of the few European countries which went from the old multi-gods religion to the monotheism of Judeo-Christianity in a largely peaceful transition. However the Celtic Church at least tolerated and many would say condoned many of the laws and customs of the old culture, including marriage of priests, the right to divorce by men or women and a higher status for women than was common in an increasingly feudal Europe.
The word “shamrock” is an Anglic corruption of the Irish seamróg, itself a contraction of seamair óg, meaning a sprig of young — or more likely small –clover. The Irish shamrock is usually the species Trifolium dubium (lesser clover; Irish: seamair bhuí), with yellow flowers or the white-flowered Trifolium repens (white clover; Irish: seamair bhán) with the bias towards the yellow-flowered.
Children at schools influenced by the Catholic clergy in Ireland (which was and still is in control of the vast majority of the schools within the Irish state) were taught that St. Patrick used the shamrock to illustrate the existence of the Christian Holy Trinity of the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost, i.e. explaining how there may be three different aspects in one entity, as in the three leaves on the one stem of the shamrock.
A charming story but clearly without any foundation whatsoever – not only is it not mentioned in what is believed by historians to be Patrick’s autobiography but the story only emerged much later. However, the crucial case against the veracity of the story is that neither the Gaels nor the Celts in general2 had any need to be convinced of the existence of trinities of gods: in Ireland we already had the Morrigan, a female trinity of Badhb, Macha and Anand and of course the Celts had the ubiquitous triskele symbol (surviving as the national symbol of Manx) to illustrate a trinity, religious or otherwise.
The first clear association of the shamrock with St. Patrick in Ireland comes in an account by an English traveller to occupied Ireland, Thomas Dineley, who described in 1681 Irish people on St. Patrick’s Day wearing green on their clothes, including the shamrock. But the first account of St. Patrick’s use of the shamrock is not seen until 1726, when it appears in a work by Caleb Threlkeld, a botanist.
But what of the colour green? Surely that at least is authentically Irish? Well, it certainly has a longer pedigree. Dineley’s account in 1681 associates wearing green with the celebration of the feast day of St. Patrick’s, one of the three patron saints of Ireland3 (yet another trinity?). But the Catholic Confederacy of 1642-1652, an alliance of Gaelic chieftains with Norman-Irish aristocracy against the Reformation being imposed upon them, also flew a green flag, with a gold harp upon it.
The symbol of Ulster was the Red Hand from an ancient Irish myth of arrival but what was the background? Both the O’Neills and O’Donnells, dominant clans of Ulster, have designs in red and blue against a white background. Only Leinster province has a design in green and yellow.
The colour of an old design for Meath is blue. There is an old heraldic design for Ireland of three crowns on a blue background and although this was the arms granted by Richard II of England to Robert de Vere as Lord of Ireland in 13864, over two centuries after the Norman invasion, it may have drawn on the colour of an existing Irish flag or design.
The Wikipedia page on the Coat of arms of Ireland, although commenting that heraldry is a feudal practice suggests an older inspiration:
“The colour of the field is sometimes called ‘St. Patrick’s blue’, a name applied to shades of blue associated with Ireland. In current designs, used by the UK and Irish states (sic), the field is invariably a deep blue. The use of blue in the arms has been associated with Gormfhlaith, a Gaelic mythological personification of Ireland. The word Gormfhlaith is a compound of the Irish words gorm (“blue”) and flaith (“sovereign”); it is noted in early Irish texts as the name of several queens closely connected with dynastic politics in the 10th and 11th century Ireland. The National Library of Ireland, in describing the blue background of the arms, notes that in early Irish mythology the sovereignty of Ireland (Irish: Flaitheas Éireann) was represented by a woman often dressed in a blue robe.”
The designers of the Cumann na mBan flag may have been aware of the ancient claim of the colour blue when they made that the background colour of their own flag. Markievicz and Hobson would even more likely have been aware of it as well as the blue with an orange, golden or silver sunburst, alleged flag of the legendary band of warriors na Fianna, when they made that the flag of the Republican youth organisation they founded, Na Fianna Éireann.
THE GREEN FLAG
But what about the United Irishmen’s flag of green, with a golden harp? When talking about the United Irishmen we need to remember from where they received their ideological influences. These were mostly from radical and republican thinkers and agitators in Britain, the USA and France. The United Irishmen organisation was founded by Anglicans and Presbyterians, mostly colonists and settlers or their descendants and most of their leadership in the uprisings of 1798 and 18035 came from from among that section of Irish society. That goes a long way to explaining why most of the revolutionary texts of the time are in the English language, in a country where the majority even then still spoke Irish and with a rich literary and oral tradition in the Irish language.
There is a historical trend among colonists to feel disadvantaged with regard to their compatriots back in “the mother country”, to resent levels of taxation, to complain of inadequate representation and of corrupt or inefficient government. This occurred in English-speaking America and led to the American Revolution and the creation of the United States. It also occurred in the other America, where the Spanish-speaking colones developed conflicts with the Spanish Kingdom and eventually rose in rebellion against it across South and Central America, eventually gaining independence for a number of states.
A similar process was taking place in Ireland, where the disaffected who belonged to the established church, the Anglican or Church of Ireland, understood that to create a strong autonomous nation, even as part of the English-ruled unity of nations, they would need to bring into government the greater majority, the Presbyterians 6 and even the overwhelming majority, the Catholics (i.e the native Irish).
Henry Grattan attempted this by trying to get the excluded denominations admitted to the Irish Parliament but Crown bribery, sectarianism or fear of having to return lands grabbed by their grandparents or others, combined to have a majority vote the proposals down. That ensured that the organisers of the United Irishmen would realise that no progress to their objectives was possible without revolution.
Irish nationalists among the descendants of colonists often adopted Irish symbols and some other Irish identifiers as a sign of difference from the English. There was some interest in the Irish language but it does not appear to have been widely studied by most Irish Republicans of the time as witnessed by the incorrect appellation of “Erin” for Ireland – any Irish-speaker would know that Éire is the nominative form for the country and ‘Éireann’ is employed in the genitive and dative cases. United Irishmen were involved in organising the Belfast Harp Festival of 1792, while folk-song collectors and antiquarians dug among the people and archives for survivals of an older Irish culture.
The Harp, an ancient Irish musical instrument employed also to accompany poetry recitation was employed as a symbol by the Unitedmen — often with the motto “ ‘Tis new-strung and shall be heard”. In addition, the English had long recognised the instrument as a symbol for Ireland, albeit under the Crown.
THE COLOUR GREEN
But where did the colour green come from to be associated with Irish nationalism? This question could do with more research than I have the time or other facilities to devote to it but one may comment what green is not: it is neither the Red of Royal England nor the Blue of Royal France. Nor is it the red with a white saltire of the Order of St. Patrick, another colonial creation and clearly of Royal and colonial origin and patronage, created at the time of a bubbling of the nationalist pot in Ireland and only sixteen years before the 1798 Uprising.
Interestingly, the Irish Brigade (1688–1791) of the French Army did include the colour green in its flag design, four quarters alternately green and red, with a crown in each. And the standard of Napoleon’s La Légion Irlandaise in 1841 is described as of “emerald green”.
William Drennan (1754–5 February 1820), United Irishman, is credited with first use of the description “Emerald Isle” in his poem When Erin First Rose and it was much later re-used in the ballad Bold Robert Emmet. John Sheils, a Drogheda Presbyterian and United Irishman, employed the harp, the colour green, St. Patrick, Erin (sic) and the shamrock all in his song The Rights of Man, which he composed some years prior to the 1798 Rising. The “three-leaved plant” which is “three in one” is used in Sheils’ song:
“to prove its unity in that community
that holds with impunity to the Rights of Man”
The trinity there is clearly the political one desired by the Unitedmen of Protestant (Anglican), Catholic and Dissenter (Presbyterian and other sects).
Green was widely worn by people with United Irish sympathies and particularly during repression by Orange militia, people wearing green were targeted. However, if one wanted to wear a suspect nationalist colour, how safer than to do so than on the feast day of the alleged founder of Christianity in Ireland and acknowledged by Protestant, Sects and Catholics alike?
From the United Irishmen onwards, green has been unarguably associated with Irish nationalism and Irish Republicanism, in the flags of the Fenians, the Irish Volunteers and even of the Irish Citizen Army, also part of the tricolour flag awarded by Parisian revolutionary women to the Young Irelanders which is now the national flag of the Irish state. Green was also the colour of the flag of the St. Patrick’s Battalion that fought for Mexico against the invasion by the USA (1846-’48) and of ceremonial uniforms of some Irish formations during the American Civil War along with the main colour of some of their regimental flags, also of the flags of the Fenian veterans of that war invading Canada in 1866.
Does it matter whether green is authentically an ancient Irish colour or not? Would Irish Republicanism or nationalism be de-legitimised if it could be proven the colour they are using was of dubious origin or of comparatively recent political significance for Ireland? I don’t think so. But it is good to be aware of the different origins of symbols and to question and even challenge what is handed to us as unquestionably authentic.
However, enough people have now fought under the green in eight uprisings in Ireland and struggles abroad; enough people have laid down their lives under the colour and indeed, once it became a symbol of Irishness, enough Irish have been persecuted, prosecuted and even executed for wearing it, to ensure that “wherever green is worn” can be Irish. And in that representation, the shamrock too, which of course happens to be green, and could be passed off as a devotional symbol to suspicious authorities and murderously insecure and sectarian minorities of colonial origin, has its place.
The Wearing o’ the Green
(by John Keegan “Leo” Casey (1846 – March 17, 1870). Keegan, known as the Poet of the Fenians, was an Irish poet, orator and republican who was famous for authorship of this song, apparently written when he was 15 and also as the writer of the song “The Rising of the Moon” (to the same air), also as one of the central figures in the Fenian Rising of 1867. He was imprisoned by the English and by a huge irony died on St. Patrick’s Day in 1870 at the age of 24).
O Paddy dear, and did ye hear the news that’s goin’ round?
The shamrock is by law forbid to grow on Irish ground!
No more Saint Patrick’s Day we’ll keep, his colour can’t be seen
For there’s a cruel law ag’in the Wearin’ o’ the Green.”
I met with Napper Tandy7, and he took me by the hand
And he said, “How’s poor old Ireland, and how does she stand?”
“She’s the most distressful country that ever yet was seen
For they’re hanging men and women there for the Wearin’ o’ the Green.”
So if the colour we must wear be England’s cruel red
Let it remind us of the blood that Irishmen have shed
And pull the shamrock from your hat, and throw it on the sod
But never fear, ’twill take root there, though underfoot ’tis trod.
When laws can stop the blades of grass from growin’ as they grow
And when the leaves in summer-time their colour dare not show
Then I will change the colour too I wear in my caubeen
But till that day, please God, I’ll stick to the Wearin’ o’ the Green.
But if, at last, her colours should be torn from Ireland’s heart
Her sons, with shame and sorrow, from the dear old soil will part;
I’ve heard whispers of a Country that lies far beyond the sea,
Where rich and poor stand equal, in the light of Freedom’s day!
O Erin! must we leave you driven by the tyrant’s hand!
Must we ask a Mother’s blessing, in a strange but happy land,
Where the cruel Cross of England’s thralldom’s never to be seen:
But where, thank God! we’ll live and die, still Wearing of the Green!
While eastbound drivers in Thomas Street on Friday 3rd March gawped, traffic slowed in the westbound lane to allow az small procession pushing a gallows, trundling along on wheels. There were surprisingly few witty comments, even the notoriously quick Dubliners too surprised to come up with a witty bon mot (or even a focal maith).
The procession stopped at the Robert Emmet plaque, in the railing wall of the former Protestant St. Catherine’s Church, approximate place of execution of Robert Emmet on 20th December 1803.
Despite continuous rain a small crowd had gathered on the pavement in front of the monument and the gallows, with a small platform less than a foot high, was placed facing them. Dublin artist Elayne Harrington, also known as the well-established street poet/ rapper artist from Finglas, Temperamental MiscElayneous, stood on the platform to announce that the event was to honour Robert Emmet and was a project as part of the Liberties Street Project, a continuation of the IPIP (In Public In Particular) program at the National College of Art and Design, Thomas Street, Dublin 8.
Harrington thanked people for attending despite the weather and, after outlining the program for the event, announced Diarmuid Breatnach, who took up position with the gallows and hanging noose just behind him.
Breatnach is best known as a co-founder of the Save Moore Street From Demolition campaign, maintaining a campaign table with a petition and leaflets on the market street for a few hours every Saturday but is also known as an acapella singer, particularly in Dublin traditional-folk circles.
After thanking MiscElayneous for the invitation and the crowd for attendance, Breatnach proceeded to reiterate that the event was taking place very near the spot where, at the age of 25, Robert Emmet had been hung and then decapitated by the British colonial administration in 1803.
Harrington reminded him to stand on the low platform which Breatnach did, drawing a laugh from the crowd when he indicated the hanging noose and commented: “Me Ma always said I’d end up like this.”
Breatnach asked the audience to imagine the scene of the execution in 1803 and referred them to a painting of the scene available on the Internet, showing a huge crowd, with people looking out of windows in nearby buildings and mounted redcoats keeping the crowd back from the gallows. Many of in the crowd would have been supporters but the better-known would not have been there – they were in jail or in hiding.
The execution was carried out there, Breatnach said, because the whole Thomas Street and Liberties was known as a revolutionary area, which Breatnach went on to describe (see video below).
Executions, said Breatnach, have been carried out down through the ages on Irish people resisting invasion, colonialism and imperialism and fighting for social justice. The gallows have become an enduring image in Irish history and a number of songs (Breatnach mentioned ten from the 19th century up to the present) refer to it.
The state we have now, said Breatnach, set up in 1922, preferred shooting, which was the method by which it eliminated its opponents at the time, 81 of them in official executions. Hanging remained however in this state but the last execution was in 1954.
Breatnach stated that we are often taught history as a dead subject, something in the past to which we are largely unrelated but he believed history to be a living thing, in the stones of walls and streets, in the air and in the words people have left us. And in our songs.
Breatnach selected three songs that mentioned Robert Emmet: The Three Flowers, written early last Century by Norman G. Reddin (two verses); Bold Robert Emmet perhaps by Tom Maguire around 1916 but certainly published in 1934; and Anne Devlin in recent decades by Pete St. John. Breatnach sang the three songs one after the other with MiscElayneous accompanying on her bodhrán.
During the applause which greeted the end of Breatnach’s performance, Elayne Harrington replaced him on the stage, thanked him and introduced herself as Temperamental Miscellaneous and spoke about her contribution, which was to be an extract of Emmet’s famous speech from the dock in the Green Street Courthouse, but re-worked into more modern Dublin idiom. Harrington then launched into a spirited rendition of her piece (see video below for the full performance).
No matter what words I utter, it’ll fail to change your mind and I wouldn’t have it any other way. You’ve made me a bed and I’ll lie in it. ………….
There’s plenty I could tell why my reputation should be kept clean from the utter lies and slander which’ve been lashed upon it. ……………
I wouldn’t dream that I could impress upon a court as trapped in its own self and corrupted, a fair impression of my character. …………………….
If merely dying was the case, after being deemed in the wrong and you in the right I’d take it on the chin and I wouldn’t breathe a word but that same law that not only wants to get rid of me also aims at filthying my name and sullying the memory of me. ……………..
In the hope that my memory won’t fade and that it might retain its honour among my brothers and sisters, I’ll stand up for myself and my integrity and weaken those charges against me. ……………
…. our cloths are entwined, mine and the martyred heroes of the gallows and battlefield, consecrated by sacrifice … for protection and guardianship of their homestead and their righteousness. ………..
This is what I hope: for my memory and name to serve those who live on by it being a source of empowerment …. witness the malignant malicious government that gains its false riches through sin alone, that treats a people as wolves to be domesticated and blooded to the taste of their fellows, to dance to their tune and to the death knell ……………..
Concluding the event, Harrington thanked the attendance and invited them to place small pots of growing flowers she had provided in front of the monument, which they did.
WHY THE EVENT?
What had led Elayne Harrington to choose this act as part of her course?
“I was interested in Robert Emmet and his uprising ever since I heard a Dublin tour guide dismiss Robert Emmet while briefly mentioning his uprising”, explained the rapper from Finglas.
“I came to think that although Emmet failed in his objective, he had attempted a brave and good thing and his speech was really impressive. His uprising attempt took place in the area where my college is and he was executed just down the road, so that’s how I came to think of this event.
“I’m thankful to my course tutor and fellow students for supporting me in this act and to another tutor who helped me with the construction of the gallows. I am grateful to Diarmuid Breatnach also, who has been very supportive and contributed to the performance and I was really glad that my Da was able to be here and help today too.”
Why did Harrington call this “the first of the verbal execution series”?
“I see this as an event that can be brought to other places – like the gallows I built, it is transportable” she says with a grin but then turns serious. “The performances can be adapted also to other occasions of which Irish history is full.”
A most interesting and stimulating lecture was held on Wednesday night at Pearse House in Dublin. Hosted by Misneach, an Irish language campaigning organisation, the lecture was titled “Miotas agus Aineolas faoin nGaeilge” (“Myth and Ignorance about the Irish Language”).
What Colm Ó Broin, who described himself as an Irish language activist, has done is to take a number of frequently-expressed ideas hostile to or dismissive of the Irish language and to deconstruct them, analyse them and compare them with other languages and social situations. For the purpose of the lecture, he took around ten of those ideas, encapsulated in stock phrases well known to Irish speakers and campaigners – and probably to many others not within those categories.
Over the years, we have heard and read these stock phrases and ideas expressed with tedious regularity, for example that the language is archaic or dead, is full of English words, that it is an expensive commodity, that Irish language schools are elitist, that the language is or was badly taught or that it was “beat into” people. Over the years, many speakers and activists have of course countered these ideas, sometimes by reasoned argument and sometimes by a trenchant phrase, such as: “What, was it only Irish that was bet into you then?” or “Was it only Irish that was taught with an overwhelming concentration on grammar to the exclusion of conversation?”
But Ó Broin has gone about this work scientifically, methodically. For the purpose of his lecture he took around ten of these propositions, deconstructed and exploded them, revealing their underlying lack of logic and scientific fact. For example, dealing with the proposition that the language is dead, Ó Broin produced a long list of living languages around the world – the vast majority, actually – that have less speakers than does Irish. On the allegation that Irish is full of English words, he produced pages of English-language words that are of French origin (leaving aside the easier and also huge list of words or Greek or Roman origin).
Having revealed the lack of scientific truth or logic as a basis for hostility or contempt towards the Irish language, Ó Broin turned to psychology as an explanation, finding fear and/or shame as the motivating factor. Turning back to history, he reminded his audience of the Statutes of Kilkenny of 1366, when the England-based descendants of the Norman Conquest of England dating from 1066, attacked the ‘gone native’ customs of the Irish-based descendants of the Norman Conquest of Ireland beginning in 1169 (though Ó Broin did not say so, the English Normans had gone quite ‘native’ themselves by then, integrating with the Saxon nobility and the Statutes were written in English, not French).
The Statutes forbade the Irish Normans (“the degenerate English” who had become “more Irish than the Irish themselves”) from playing Irish games and music, speaking Irish, submitting themselves to Irish law, adopting Irish cultural and social customs including marriage. It was the coloniser’s fear, fear of the Irish-Normans losing their allegiance to the English Crown, that was at the heart of that hostility.
Since the Irish who oppose the Irish language cannot be said to be “the coloniser”, something else must be at work there. Ó Broin twice in his lecture called on the state-funded or supported Irish-language organisations Foras na Gaeilge and Connradh na Gaeilge to undertake social research into what is behind this attitude among large sections of the public (according to opinion polls).
This would of course be useful work, especially if it led to the production of measures to counter such myths and ignorance. It is likely however that the answer has already been supplied, by for example the work Patrick Pearse (1879-1916) and Franz Fanon (1925-1961), though it would be useful to have more up-to-date validation. Fanon’s work focused on the coloniser’s view being culturally and psychologically internalised by the colonised individual and society and Pearse focused more on the mechanisms by which that was done through the educational system run by the coloniser. The idea is expressed succinctly, though in a different context, in the words of a popular nationalist song, Memory of the Dead by John Kells Ingram (1823 – 1907):
“He’s all a knave or half a slave
who slights his country thus …”.
The lecture was delivered by Ó Broin in Irish to an audience that contained Irish speakers and presumably all present could at least understand the language. My feeling was that this research and deconstruction needs to go out to the non-Irish-speaking public in this country. In response to a question, Ó Broin replied that he had in fact written some of it in English some years ago and that material had been posted on a website that no longer exists. Currently, his work exists only in Irish. It is to be hoped that he returns to putting this work out there among the people who perhaps most need it.
As Mayo began to prepare for a replay of the 2016 championship Gaelic Football final against Dublin, I stood with others on a very wet day in Dublin’s Croppies’ Acre to commemorate and honour Robert Emmet and the United Irishmen – an event replete with Mayo connections.
The event, organised by the Asgard Howth 1916 Society, was graced by the presence of the Enniscorthy Historical Reenactment Society, men and women in 1798 costume bearing pikes, including officer uniforms – they had travelled up from Wexford that morning to attend the event. Donal Fallon, historian, blogger, tour guide and broadcaster was to give the oration. Padraig Drummond, the organising persona, had asked me to sing two songs at the event, one near the start and the other near the end.
For the first song, I had chosen the Bold Robert Emmet ballad1 (originally known as The Last Moments of Robert Emmet2), a song that commonly sung more often a few decades ago but still reasonably well remembered. For the second, I was spoiled for choice of relevant songs: Anne Devlin, Boolavogue, The Croppy Boy, Henry Joy, The Irish Soldier Laddie. Kelly the Boy from Killane, The Rising of the Moon, Rodaí Mac Corlaí, Sliabh na mBan, the Three Flowers, The West’s Awake, The Wind That Shakes the Barley …… or I could finish learning some of which I knew bits, like the Sean Bhean Bhocht, General Munroe, Memory of the Dead (Who Fears to Speak of ’98?) or the Mayo version of An Spailpín Fánach.
Though a beautiful song in lyrics and air, I felt Sliabh na mBan was too long for the event and cutting it would also feel wrong. Anne Devlin remembers an extremely brave comrade of the United Irishmen and gives rare acknowledgement to the role of women in the struggle for Irish freedom, which had me veering towards that choice. However, I eventually settled on Men of the West, celebrating the 1798 uprising in Mayo when a small French force under General Humbert landed to support them.
MEN OF THE WEST
The Mayo connection in the forthcoming GAA final was one reason for the choice, another was that this time of year is that which witnessed the repression in Mayo after the defeat of the last rising of that year (and the last forever, the British and their Orange supporters may have thought, until Emmet came out five years later). And other reasons were that I could sing it as a macaronic song (with some of the verses in Irish and some in English), the song was not too long and it has a chorus in which participants could join.
There were yet other reasons for the choice too – not in our culture of song and game, nor in the calendar, but in the ground under our feet, for somewhere under there in what was first called “The Croppies’ Hole” and later “Croppies’ Acre”, the mass grave of many United Irish, lie the bodies of the executed Matthew Tone — younger brother of Theobald Wolfe Tone (who was soon after to give his own life to the Rising) – and Bartholomew Teeling. The younger Tone and Teeling had landed with the French in Mayo, been taken prisoner after the surrender of the French at Baile na Muc, in Co.Longford, brought to Dublin and, despite their French Republican Army officer rank, tried as rebels and hung there.
And in researching background for this article, I came across even further Mayo connections.
The lyrics of Men of the West were written by William Rooney and put to the air of an Irish song called Eoghan Chóir written in turn — and also air apparently composed — by a Mayo United Irishman and songwriter, Riocard Bairéad (Richard Barrett3), who composed the even better-known Preab San Ól4.
The lyrics of Men of the West were later translated into Irish by Conchúr Mag Uidhir, who won a prize for that work at a Feis Ceoil in 1903 – again in Mayo. It was the lyrics of both these versions that I combined to make the macaronic version I chose to sing at the commemoration at Croppies’ Acre5.
THE DUBLIN SONGWRITER — BACKGROUND
While I need to do some research to find out more about this Mag Uidhir, quite a lot is known about William Rooney (Liam Ó Maolruanaigh). Born in the Dublin former red-light district known as “The Monto”6 in 1873, Rooney grew up in a what had been considered the second city of the British Empire but had declined in status with the abolition of the Irish (colonial) Parliament in 1800. The city contained the residence of the Crown’s representative in Ireland, a number of British army barracks and the administration apparatus of the colony, the latter in Dublin Castle. Dublin also contained a substantial loyalist population of the Ascendancy, in addition to “Castle Catholics”7. However, Dublin was also a focal point in Irish nationalist and separatist politics. Relatives and descendants of members and sympathisers of the United Irishmen of 1798 and 1803 lived in the city and the events were in the living memories of some.
Irish Republicanism had seen a resurgence with the Young Irelanders of 1848 and some of their supporters were easily alive when William Rooney was born in 1873 and during his childhood. The founding of the Irish Republican Brotherhood in 1858 preceded Rooney’s birth by only 15 years and although the raid on the The Irish People newspaper took place in 1865, followed by the trial and conviction to penal servitude of Ó Donnobháin Rosa, Thomas Clarke Luby and John O’Leary, they would have been still talked about during Rooney’s childhood.
The following year, 1866 saw the failed rising of the Fenians in Ireland and also their shock invasion of Canada and, in 1867, the stirring freeing of the American Fenian prisoners in Manchester and the subsequent hanging of the three martyrs, Allen, Larkin and O’Brien. The spectacular rescue of escaping Fenian prisoners from Australia by the Catalpa and their celebrated delivery to the freedom in the United States took place in 1876.
Although these events were all over (or just occurring, in the case of the Catalpa) by the date of Rooney’s birth, their echoes remained – in living memory, in the cause of prisoners serving sentences in English jails or penal colonies and in agitation for a political prisoners’ amnesty. And God Save Ireland8, written to commemorate the Manchester Martyrs in 1866 by Timothy Daniel Sullivan would have been an extremely popular song among a wide section of the Dublin population during Rooney’s childhood, along with patriotic verses and songs by Thomas Moore (1779-1852), Thomas Davis (1814-1845) and James Clarence Mangan (1803-1849). Verse and songs by these poets were learned by ear and recited or sung but were also available in printed form, in songbooks, song sheets and nationalist publications.
Sullivan was a journalist, owning and editing the publications The Nation, Dublin Weekly News and Young Ireland. As a journalist, Sullivan published reports of meetings of the banned National League in December 1887, for which he was convicted and imprisoned for two months by the British administration. William Rooney was in his late teens at that time and Sullivan lived until 1914.
At the age of around thirteen William Rooney became acquainted with a leading Irish nationalist of his times, Arthur Griffith, through Rooney’s membership of The Irish Fireside Club, a literary discussion group. Both of them joined the Leinster Debating Society (which later became the Leinster Literary Society) which they soon led, Griffith as presidents and Rooney as Secretary. The early 1890s controversy surrounding Parnell’s relationship with Catherine O’Shea caused a serious disruption in the nationalist movement of the time and caused a serious split in the Irish Parliamentary Party of which the Leinster Literary Society became a casualty.
Rooney then formed the Celtic Literary Society in 1893, of which he became president; he also edited An Seanachuidhe (old spelling of “Seanchaí”, a story-teller, a relater of things past), the Society’s journal. The Society’s aims were the study of the Irish language, history, literature and music; it had branches in different parts of the country and its members included John O’Leary, Frank Hugh O’Donnell and Arthur Griffith.
William Rooney was fluent enough in the Irish language to write and to give orations in it and journalists of his times, after summarising a speech in English from the same platform, generally wrote only that he had spoken in Irish9. When he learned his Irish is not clear but he was teaching it in the offices of the Celtic Society. Then Eoin MacNeill got him to join the Gaelic League/ Connradh na Gaeilge after it was formed in 1893.
The Connradh was mainly concerned with promoting the Irish language and literature but also became a social focus in later years, hosting céilidhe (dances and occasion for songs, recitations). Patrick Pearse advocated a more political approach to promoting Irish culture and this accorded with Rooney’s opinion. On the other hand Rooney regarded Irish independence without the revival of the language and culture as meaningless and he castigated the Irish Parliamentary Party for its inaction on the Irish language.
Rooney gave an alternative example, traveling the country speaking publicly in Irish and in English on the need for Irish independence and for the revival of the Irish language.
JOURNALISM AND POLITICAL ORGANISATION
Building on his earlier writing in An Seanachuidhe, Rooney founded with Griffith The United Irishman newspaper in 1899 and his articles and other writings were published in a number of publications of his times:United Ireland, The Shamrock, Weekly Freeman, The Evening Herald, Shan Van Vocht and Northern Patriot (the latter two in Belfast).
Near the end of 1900, again in conjunction with Griffith, William Rooney helped found Cumann na nGaedheal. The former Fenian John O’Leary was president and the Cumann was intended as an umbrella organisation to co-ordinate the activities of a number of nationalist groups (it was merged with others in 1907 to form the original Sinn Féin).
As the centenary of the 1798 Uprising approached, there was something of a fever of preparation with many indicating an interest in participation. Rooney would see his 25th birthday during centenary year and becameof the most prominent organisers for the National Commemoration committee, if not, indeed, the main one.
The year 1898, somewhat similarly to the current centenary of the the 1916 Rising, saw commemorative plaques and monuments being erected, along with talks, meetings, lectures, articles and songs being written. According to historian Ruan O’Donnell, a feeling that the 1889 events had not reached an appropriate level led in 1903 to substantial commemorative events of Emmet’s rising in 1803. Many political working relationships were made during those years which were to survive into much more active days less than two decades since. Many of the songs we have today about the 1798 Rising were written during this period too and Rooney’s Men of the West was presumably also.
In the year of the 1798 centenary commemoration, one of the main centenary commemorations was held in Croppies’ Acre, attended by a reported 100,00010.Rooney was one of the main organisers and a stone was laid on the site which is there to this day.
WILLIAM ROONEY IN MAYO
(The following text is taken from an article by Brian Hoban in the on-line edition of the Castlebar News for 22, Apr 2011)
William Rooney had visited Castlebar with Maud Gonne in 1898 for the centenary celebrations of ‘The Year of the French’. He gave a passionate speech in Irish in which he exhorted people to think for themselves, to educate themselves, and not to take their teachings from others.
He founded Castlebar’s first Public Library at the Town Hall, to which he dedicated his books. Three years later, at the early age of twenty-eight, William Rooney was dead, but the esteem in which he was held in Castlebar continued to grow. In 1911, a new Hurling Club in the town was named the ‘William Rooney’ in his honour. The following year “The Rooney Hall” was opened in Tucker Street. It became a local landmark for several generations, much used by various civic and voluntary organisations, including the PTAA.
The one surviving connection is in ‘Poems and Ballads’, a collection of Rooney’s poetry edited by Arthur Griffith and published in 1902, a year after his death. An original of this title is held by Mayo County Library where it can be consulted.
1798 Centennial Celebrations
William Rooney was one of the main protagonists in establishing the National Commemoration to celebrate the centennial of the 1798 rebellion. Only one month after its inception nationalists in Mayo formed the “Castlebar Central and Barony of Carra ’98 Centenary Association with James Daly appointed as president of the Connaught ’98 Centenary Council. On the 9th January 1898 a commemoration, which was presided over by James Daly, was held at Frenchill, near Castlebar. This was attended by Maud Gonne Mac Bride and addressed by James Rooney. ……………….
James Daly pointed out that the event was both about remembering dead patriots and undertaking “to abide by the principles of the men of ’98 until their country was free again and took its place among the nations of the earth.”
EARLY DEATH AND MEMORY
William Rooney died of TB in 1901 at the age of 27, shortly before he was due to marry. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery.
In 1902 the United Irishman published a collection of his writings and in 1908 a collection of his work edited by Griffith, Poems and Ballads of William Rooney, was published. The publication was reviewed disparagingly in the Daily Express that year by James Joyce but Yeats dedicated the 1908 edition of Cathleen Ni Houlihan “To the Memory of William Rooney”.A collection of his lectures and articles, from the United Irishman was published by M.H. Gill the following year.
Griffith described William Rooney as “the Thomas Davis of the new movement”. Brian Ó hUigín (“Brian na Banban” 1882–1963), editor for many years of The Wolfe Tonne Annual and himself no slouch as a writer of songs and verse, said of Rooney that “he blazed the trail to 1916 and gave his life for Ireland”.
And many of William Rooney’s songs are still being sung.
THE MACARONIC VERSION OF MEN OF THE WEST/ FIR AN IARTHAIR
Unknown author but sometimes credited to Tom Maguire (1892– 1993, famed leader of the Mayo Flying Column [yet another Mayo connection!] in the War of Independence, who later took the Republican side in the Civil War). On the other hand Zimmermann (1967) gives the song its earliest appearance as c.1900, when Maguire would have been around only eight years of age. For Tom Maguire credit see http://thewildgeese.irish/profiles/blogs/robert-emmet and a number of other references, some of which state inaccurately that Emmet was “hung, drawn and quartered”; that was indeed his sentence but the British practice of cutting the body of “traitors and rebels”open while still alive to access the entrails had been discontinued for decades although the decapitation part was still practiced and was carried out on Emmet.
3In the very brief research I carried out on the Mayo songwriter, I came across another songwriter by the name of Richard “Richie” Barrett (1933– 2006), an Afro-American who was also a singer, musician and band promoter, involved with such famous rythm ‘n blues groups as the Chantels and Three Degrees. One might hope for a family connection ….
4Translated later into English, recorded by the Dubliners folk and ballad group under the title Another Round.
5For lyrics, see the Appendix after article body and Sources.
7A pejorative term to describe Catholics who cooperated with the colonial Ascedancy regime in Ireland and sought admission to their social circles (for example, to balls and receptions held at the Castle in the 19th Century). An even more contemptuous description for the behaviour of this stratum was the Irish “ag sodar i ndiaidh na h-uaisle” (‘trotting after the nobles’, i.e. like dogs or perhaps servants)
8He also wrote the All for Ireland! anthem, Song from the Backwoods and the Michael Dwyer ballad.
One of my appointments on a recent trip to Euskal Herria, the Basque Country, was with a “free radio station”, with a dual purpose: to learn about their operation and to give them an interview about my thinking on the political phenomena known to most people as “peace processes”. The radio station in question is Zintilik and located in the Orereta area of Errenteria town, not far north from Donosti/ San Sebastian, in the souther Basque province of Gipuzkoa and my hosts were Hektor Gartzia and Julen Etxegarai.
Not long after I arrived, one of my hosts related his memory of events in the area after a local ETA fighter had been killed. The Guardia Civil had swamped the area to prevent an “homenaje” (an event honouring the dead) taking place, guns pointing at men and women; the children, of which he had been one, gathered into their grandparents’ house ….. He showed me where the police vehicle had parked at the end of the street, his sweeping hand indicating the places where the armed police had stood.
THE “FREE RADIO”
The “free radio station”, also known as “pirate radio” has been broadcasting for 32 years, which I find amazing. It began broadcasting from an “okupa”, an occupation of a private empty building, turning it into an alternative social and political centre. Under popular pressure, the local authority, under the control at the time of the PSE, i.e. (Spanish unionist social democratic party), granted them the building they currently use.
Originally built to house a smithy, for some reason the building never saw service in that capacity. It is in my estimation an attractive building in a traditional-enough local style, of thick stone, compact without being squat. It has an attractive back yard, no doubt intended at one time to receive the horses with hooves in need of iron shoes, fitted and nailed. The roof is tiled in what seems the usual way for the Basque Country.
Zintilik broadcasts 24 hours a day, which it is able to do using repeats. The Zintilik collective owns its equipment and funds itself through fund-raising concerts, txosnak (stalls/ marquees) at festivals and occasional donations. They run advertisements for
local community groups and announce events but accept no commercial sponsorship – nor does their wish for independence stop there. “We don’t receive any funding from the local authority or from the Basque Autonomous Government,” declares Julen, “nor do we wish to.”
“Funding from such sources comes with strings attached”, adds Hektor.
“Or one becomes dependent on it and unable to function without it”, further explains Julen.
As a further illustration of self-reliance, they tell me how they climbed on to the roof of their building to repair a leak, rather than ask the municipal authorities to do it. And it was the same when branches of a nearby plane tree needed cutting to prevent them knocking against the radio aerial on windy days.
“We know it’s work that the local authority owes us and that we and the rest of the community pay their salaries but we prefer not to depend on them,” they explain.
As an example of how dependency – although of a different sort – can undermine a community resource, they relate the story of building which was occupied in order to be used as a community resource. As time passed, many were using it as a social resource but less people were volunteering for the work involved in maintenance at any level. Appeals of the four or so committed people who ended up doing everything fell on the deaf ears of the clientele until one day the four locked the centre doors after the last user had left for the evening and, the next day, handed the keys over to the local authority.
“As you imagine, this was a great shock to the clientele,” they tell me, “but it was the result of their own lack of commitment to the project.”
I reflect that many activists will identify in one way or another with that sad experience.
RECORDING THE INTERVIEW
Julen and Hektor discuss the format and general content of the interview with me and map it out, do sound checks and then we go to it. Hektor, who knows quite a bit about the more recent Irish history and about the current situation in the Six Counties, is my interviewer, while Julen monitors from the control room and occasionally joins in with comment or question.
For music in between sections of interview, Irish Ways and Irish Laws (John Gibbs) and Where Is Our James Connolly? (Patrick Galvin) have been chosen, both sung by Christy Moore and Joe McDonnell (Brian Warfield), by the Wolfe Tones.
They also invited me to sing Back Home in Derry, Christy Moore’s lyrics arrangement of Bobby Sands’ poem – but to the air I composed for it. I am happy to oblige – I enjoy singing but it is more than that: I want the air I composed to get a hearing. Christy Moore used Gordon Lightfoot’s air to The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald for Sands’ poem and, excellent though that fit is, especially with Moore’s chorus, I think that the poem (and its author) deserves an air of its own.
Although the main focus of the interview was the phenomenon of “peace (sic) processes”, we discussed aspects of Irish, Spanish, Palestinian and South African recent history, including the 1916 Rising in Ireland, along with the backgrounds to the songs chosen. For the most part, I left it to my interviewers to draw conclusions relating to their experience of political processes in their own country.
FESTIVALS AND STORMS
Upstairs in the broadcasting/ recording and interview rooms, all is in good order: equipment and facilities. After the interview, I note that downstairs, in the main space, things are a in a bit of a mess, for which Julen apologises (he has never seen the state of my flat).
“Some of the community groups we support store their placards and banners here,” he says. “Besides, we’ve just finished our local festival and everyone relaxes, dumps their equipment and goes on holiday.” Throughout the Summer and early Autumn, each village, town, city and even area will have its own week-long festival for which the community groups and campaigns will organise and participate.
Down in Donostia (San Sebastian), to where Hektor and Julen accompanied me after we ate the food they had prepared, the city was in the midst of its own festival and was heaving with people – tourists from everywhere, it seemed, as well as Basques.
With that picturesque bay and its island in our background, they got a passing young woman to take our photo, the three of us – the conversation with her was in Euskara only. I held up the placards I had prepared for the photo in turn, one in Irish and another in English, supporting the Moore Street quarter in Dublin.
Dark clouds were gathering overhead and on the horizon the sky was a baleful orange. A storm or at least a downpour was being promised and, as we turned back towards the bus station, the first drops began to fall. In the humid heat, the light rain was welcome for awhile but for part of my solitary journey back to Bilbo, it formed a silvery curtain in the coach’s headlights and streamed down the windows.
I remembered being told that one can frequently witness a violent storm in the Donosti bay while not so far away in Bilbao, as a result of local conditions, all is calm. As for winter storms in Donosti, the waves hitting and surging over the seafront and piers have to be seen to be believed; occasionally the sea reaches inland, floods cellars and converts parked cars into boats or semi-submarines.
The rain eased off and stopped about half-way through my journey and when I got into San Mames station in Bilbo, the streets were not even wet.