GUNS LANDED AT HOWTH!

Clive Sulish

(Reading time main text: 7 mins.)

The above would have been the headline 100 years ago1. Well, not the main one, perhaps, which would have been MASSACRE AT BACHELOR’S WALK – TROOPS OPEN FIRE ON CIVILIANS – 4 DEAD, MANY WOUNDED2.

Then, probably, GUNS LANDED AT HOWTH! POLICE AND SCOTTISH OWN BORDERERS FACED DOWN — REPORTS OF 1,500 GERMAN RIFLES LANDED FROM AMERICAN YACHT.

JOINT OPERATION OF IRISH VOLUNTEERS, IRISH CITIZEN ARMY, CUMANN NA MBAN AND FIANNA ÉIREANN — DUBLIN CASTLE FURIOUS.

MAYOR SHOCKED AT CIVILIAN DEAD AND WOUNDED — DEMANDS INQUIRY.

Speakers at a commemoration on the West Pier, Howth on Saturday 23rd July commented on all those features of the landing of 1,500 German rifles, single-shot Mauser Model 71 (M1871), their collection by the organisations of the broad revolutionary movement — and the army massacre that followed.

The event was organised by Irish Socialist Republicans and Anti-Imperialist Action organisations. A colour party of two men and two women led the march up to the pierhead where the event was held.

The Save Moore Street From Demolition campaign banner was displayed along the way.

Event about to begin, Margaret McKearney in distance, colour party in foreground, mostly bystanders to the right, attendance out of shot behind and to right of camera person. (Photo: Rebel Breeze)

The event was chaired by Margaret McKearney, a veteran Republican from Tyrone once described by Scotland Yard as “the most dangerous woman in Britain” and who lost three brothers in the struggle (one in SAS ambush at Loughgall and another murdered by UVF).

McKearney recalled the need of Irish nationalists for weapons when the Loyalists were arming to prevent Home Rule3 being granted to Ireland and the Loyalists with British elite complicity had received a huge shipment at Larne.

Speakers, songs and a laying of a floral wreath were the main content of the event.

THREE SPEECHES – DETAILED, DIRECT AND DEFIANT

McKearney called Phillip O’Connor to speak, a historian and local resident with a particular interest in the revolutionary period in Howth4.

O’Connor began with a quotation from C.J. O’Connell in his Lordship of the World (1924) that “Every Nation, if it is to survive as a nation, must study its own history and have a foreign policy”.

Phillip O’Connor speaking at the event — the plaque at the pier head behind him. (Photo: Rebel Breeze)

The speaker went on to relate how our rulers demote and distort our nation’s history and how for various reasons even families and communities neglect to pass on that history to following generations.

O’Connor went on to relate the extensive instances of local people’s participation in our nation’s revolutionary history. He brought out names of local people who had been active in Cumann na mBan and the Irish Volunteers and the Sinn Féin party of the time.

The speaker also drew attention to the Irish Citizen Army unit in the locality – the only one outside Dublin – that went on to participate in the 1916 Rising in Dublin and in Fingal. Of course many of that spread of revolutionary organisations had participated in the Howth guns landing.

O’Connor concluded by repeating the quotation: “Every Nation, if it is to survive as a nation, must study its own history and have a foreign policy”.5

McKearney then called on Seán Doyle, a veteran socialist Republican who spoke on behalf of the Revolutionary Housing League, focusing on the housing crisis in Ireland and quoted Roger Casement1 at his trial in London in 1916:

Where all your rights become only an accumulated wrong; where men must beg with bated breath for leave to subsist in their own land, to think their own thoughts, to sing their own songs, to garner the fruits of their own labours…

then surely it is a braver, a saner and a truer thing, to be a rebel in act and deed against such circumstances as these than tamely to accept it as the natural lot of men. Doyle went on to recall James Connolly’s admiration for the struggle of the Land League and for Michael Davitt2.

However, Connolly, the speaker reminded his audience, had excoriated those who were outraged by the eviction of a tenant farmer but with “the working person locked out from his workplace or evicted from his home”, remained “at best silent if not critical.”

“We need to engender the same passion ourselves because the system does not care or share the plight of working people,” Doyle asserted and lashed “anyone who says he loves Ireland and can witness people dying on the street homeless while 180,000 houses are boarded up vacant”.

The speaker declared that the RHL would no longer remain silent, confined or recognise the ruling class’ self-serving laws or allow them to prosper, would no longer accept homelessness, nor “see our children rent an mortgage slaves for the rest of their lives”.

“We in the RHL believe that a roof over your head is not a commodity but an essential of life like water or oxygen. Houses make homes, make communities and a society we aspire to”. Doyle went on to call for a realisation “that pleading and appealing to a non-caring ruling class is futile.”

Seán Doyle speaking on behalf of the Revolutionary Housing League (Photo: Rebel Breeze)

Concluding, Doyle called on people to join the Socialist Republicans in action and quoted James Connolly6:We believe in constitutional action in normal times; we believe in revolutionary action in exceptional times. These are exceptional times, and called on people to “Build the Revolution!”

Cáit Trainor, an independent Republican activist from Armagh was called and stepped forward to give a rousing speech.

Reviewing as others had done the impelling of the arming of the Irish Volunteers by the arming of the Unionists against the prospective Irish “Home Rule”, Trainor went on to recall some of the other participants in the revolutionary movement of the time.

“Cumann na mBan with upwards of 1500 members was formed to assist the Volunteers, though some of the most radical women republicans, such as Helena Moloney and Constance Markievicz, elected to join the socialist Citizen Army instead, where they were given equal standing with the men.

“The Volunteers also had a ready-made youth wing, the Fianna Éireann, founded by Constance Markievicz7 in 1903 as an alternative to the ‘imperialist’ Boy Scouts. The Fianna were in fact to provide many of the most militant Volunteer activists.

“All of these groups would work together in the lead up to and including the 1916 rising, working together while maintaining their own autonomy with a unity of purpose.” “The Irish Volunteers had the men, the women and the youth, the next move was to secure the arms.”

Trainor referred to the arduous journey of guns-carrying yacht which included a stop in Holyhead to repair damaged sales after the Boat was hit with one of the worst storms to hit the area for decades.

The speaker attributed the success of the Howth landing to “the working together of various sections of Irish society.” “They came from varying religious backgrounds, not all were even Irish born and — even more surprising for the time — women took a leading role.”

Cáit Trainor speaking at the event on the Howth pier (Photo: Rebel Breeze)

Taking the 1916 Proclamation as an example, with its address to “Irishmen and Irish Women”, Trainor maintained that “Irish Republicanism has always been and remains to be a modern forward-thinking ideology in comparison with the outdated imperialist mindset of unionism.”

Cáit Trainor compared that address with the opening line of the unionist Ulster proclamation of 1913 that opens with “Whereas Ulstermen” and continued without any reference to women anywhere in the document.

Trainor stated that today Irish Republicanism needed to “get every section of society more involved in the struggle” and that “anyone who makes their home in Ireland must be encouraged to make their contribution and to be as passionate about Ireland and its success as an independent nation as anyone else.”

The speaker recalled Thomas Davis’ words: “It is not blood that makes you Irish but a willingness to be part of the Irish Nation.8

“Irish Republicanism”, stated Trainor “stands in stark contrast to the archaic outlook of British imperialists and Irish reactionaries by boasting of a diverse membership” bringing “fresh and original insights, talent and ingenuity” unlike the paradigm of “Christian, male and white”.

Trainor remarked that “Revolutions are a dirty business and revolutionaries must be armed to meet the might of their opponent” and that “the revolutionaries of today … come from the same tradition”, that “the cause and goal has not changed for any true Irish Republican.”

“Republicans in the early part of the last century did not set out to simply smash an orange state, or replace one flag for another; they were out for the Republic, an independent state for all the people, Republicans and the political prisoners who currently reside in prisons both north and South are out for the same thing9.

“It is an absolute travesty that the Republican prisoners are widely ignored by greater society, indeed most people would not even know they exist, believing falsely that with the signing of the GFA all prisoners were released and that political prisoners in Ireland were consigned to history.

“The media and constitutional nationalists along with pseudo socialist groupings like to skirt over the truth of the matter, they are more concerned with political prisoners in far-flung places around the world than political prisoners on their own doorstep.

“…. we understand that while Ireland remains occupied there will always be men and women willing to resist it, that this inevitably will ensure that political prisoners remain a reality in Ireland, and these prisoners will always have the decided and unfaltering support of Irish Republicans.

“Surrendering for seats in the enemies parliament isn’t a victory of any kind,” said Trainor, “it’s an utter defeat, the idea is to pacify with false power and notions of equality with your overlords, imperialists have used this strategy for centuries to quell rebellion and unbelievably it still works.”

Trainor dismissed the “alternatives to the Irish Republic” and condemned “reformism or British and Free State parliaments.”

(Photo: Rebel Breeze)

Pointing out that it was not an easy road for revolutionaries in the past no more than in the present, Trainor declared that “Revolutions are not won in the halls of parliaments but on the streets with the ordinary people”.

Coming back to the Howth landing of guns 100 years earlier, she said that “there is again an increase in militarism internationally and also nationally with unionist paramilitaries evidently armed and threatening violence.”

While constitutional nationalists sit on their laurels begging for British concessions unionist paramilitaries supported by unionist parties are organising again to secure their dominance and Irelands submission.

Cáit Trainor concluded with another quotation from Pádraig Pearse10: “The Orangeman11 with a gun is not as laughable as the nationalist12 without one”.

Living flowers in a pot are laid in remembrance of those who have given their lives in the struggle. (Photo: Rebel Breeze)

SONGS

Diarmuid Breatnach sang the ballad Me Old Howth Gun, written by James Doherty under the name of ‘Séamas McGallowgly’ and collected in 1921, with words that seemed extremely prescient for its time, with the civil war to come the following year:

…… There was glorious hope that we
Would set old Ireland free
But now you’re parted far from me, oh me old Howth gun.

Oh, the day will surely come,
Oh me old Howth gun,
When I’ll join the fighting men,
Oh me old Howth gun;
In some brave determined band
I will surely take my stand
For the freedom of my land,
Oh me old Howth gun.

Diarmuid Breatnach singing at the Howth event (Photo: Rebel Breeze)

Afterwards many people commented that they had not heard the song before and Breatnach replied that Pádraig Drummond had sent him the lyrics to learn for the event (which he had half-managed to do, he commented ruefully).

The event ended with the lowering of the colour party’s flags in honour of those who died for Irish freedom and, introducing it as “a fighting song, sung during the Rising”, Breatnach sang the first verse and chorus of Amhrán na bhFiann (The Soldiers’ Song).

End.

View of colour party with the harbour behind them (Photo: Rebel Breeze)

FOOTNOTES

1The guns were landed in Howth Harbour on 26th July 2014 by Erskine Childers and crew in his yacht The Asgard (which has its own room with the original yacht in the National Museum at Collins Barracks, Dublin).

2On their return from Howth, the revolutionary forces were confronted by a force of Dublin Metropolitan police but they were unsuccessful in having the rifles surrendered, as were also a unit of the British Army, the King’s Own Scottish Borderers. The latter were jeered by a Dublin crowd on their empty-handed return and at Bachelor’s Walk on the quays they opened fire on the crowd and bayoneted at least one victim. A woman and three men were killed and many wounded.

3A kind of partial autonomy that was on offer but within the British Commonwealth.

4See ROAD TO INDEPENDENCE – Howth, Sutton and Baldoyle play their part (2016) by Phillip O’Connor.

5The point about studying our history is often made at Irish Republican events but the one about having a foreign policy, though so important, is rarely if ever mentioned. Having a sound revolutionary foreign policy would have militated against the Provisional organisation’s seeking an accommodation with the leaders of US Imperialism 1970-1999 or expecting better of the World imperialist leaders at the “Paris Peace Conference” in 1919. Today the broad Republican movement has no coherent foreign policy except currently for Irish State neutrality.

6Roger Casement (1864-1916), of Anglo-Irish background, British diplomat (CMG) then Irish nationalist, member of the Gaelic League, poet, important role in organising the purchase of rifles that were transported to Howth and Wicklow. He was hanged in Pentonville Jail 3rd August, the last of the 1916 executions by the British.

7Thomas Davis (1814-1845), foremost among the Young Irelanders, publisher and contributor to The Nation, composer of A Nation Once Again, The West’s Awake and other notable songs and poems; his father was Welsh.

8James Connolly (1868-1916), revolutionary socialist, trade union organiser, journalist, historian, songwriter), Commandant of the insurrectionary forces in the 1916 Rising, executed by British firing squad.

9Constance Markievicz (nee Gore-Booth), (1868-1927), socialist Republican revolutionary, suffragist, founder member of the Irish Citizen Army and Cumann na mBan, fought as officer of the Irish Citizen Army in the 1916 Rising, sentenced to death (commuted), joined Sinn Féin, took the Republican side in the Civil War, founder member of Fianna Fáil. She was the first woman elected to Westminster Parliament (on abstentionist ticket), first Cabinet Minister in Europe (in the First Dáil) and first Minister of Labour in the world.

10There are currently around 60 Irish Republican prisoners in prisons on both sides of the British border.

11Pádraig Mac Piarais/ Patrick Pearse (1879-1916), writer, poet and journalist in English and Irish, educationalist, revolutionary Republican, Commander-in-chief of the 1916 insurrectionary forces, executed by British firing squad.

12British loyalists, followers of the anti-Catholic sectarian ideology of the Orange Order (founded 1796).

13At the time most Irish Republicans, despite the long existence of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, were seen as part of the broad nationalist spectrum but at its most militant end and were described as ‘advanced nationalists’.

Different view of colour party, against the lighthouse at the East Pierhead (Photo: Rebel Breeze)

USEFUL LINKS:

Revolutionary Housing League: https://www.facebook.com/JamesConnollyHouse

Anti-Imperialist Action: https://www.facebook.com/AIAI-For-National-Liberation-and-Socialist-Revolution-101829345633677