“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.
The construction of an Independent and Socialist State that integrates Araba, Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa, Lapurdi, Nafarroa Behera, Nafarroa Garaia and Zuberoa.
(On the 18th I reported on the launch of the Basque organisation Jardun, a coordinating body seeking to unite Basque left-national organisations and collectives in a revolutionary movement. Since then they have published a fuller manifesto of their aims, here translated from the Castillian version.)
The construction of a society based on the power of the Basque working class, on overcoming the class struggle and on the socialization of the means of production.
Overcoming all oppression against working women.
Reunification of Euskal Herria.
Remaking Euskal Herria Basque-speaking.
The new alternative of the Basque Working People is a pro-independence and socialist political project whose ideological principles have six main points:
The national question is framed within the various oppressions suffered by the Basque Working People, oppression that in the opinion of this coordinating organisation can only be overcome through independence. In other words, when we speak of self-determination, we are referring to the undeniable right of the Basque Working People to separate from the states that oppress them and to undertake a process of building an independent and socialist state.
Before talking about socialism, it is convenient to specify what we mean when we speak of the Basque Working People. The Basque Working People is made up of everyone who lives and sells their labour power in Euskal Herria. Every worker within the Basque Working People, from the moment they suffer exploitation and oppression, that is, from the moment they suffer the blow of capital in a crude way in their day to day life, has the potential to organize the revolution. Therefore, when we speak of socialism, we refer to overcoming the class oppression suffered by the Basque Working People, on the way to creating a classless society.
We must understand that the Basque Working People cannot undertake the fight against capital alone. It is necessary to maintain contact with the different oppressed peoples and to acceptmutual aid. Even so, JARDUN will always set down an unpassable red line, that the national framework of the Basque working people can never be doubted. (Translator’s note: I was unsure about what exactly was meant by this sentence but one Jardun’s supporters told me it means that any struggle expecting solidarity from Jardun must accept the Basque people as a nation).
It is necessary to overcome the sex-gender dichotomy and the reproductive role that capital imposes on working women, in order to overcome the oppression suffered by working women and the structural reasons that originate it.
Amnesty is a strategic term that, going beyond confining itself to the freedom of all those fighterswho have worked for the freedom of Euskal Herria, implies political recognition in the eyes of working people of the struggle they have carried out and placing at the disposal of popular justice those who have systematically oppressed them.
Within the current capitalist production model, the environment suffers from overexploitation, responding to the logic of obtaining the highest possible economic performance, generating more waste than can be managed and creating a degradation that in many cases puts living conditions at risk. That is why the environmental struggle can only be approached from a root change in the production processes.
The six points outlined above that define the ideology of JARDUN cannot be understood or addressed in an isolated way, since if their achievement does not go hand in hand with the others, the only thing that we will achieve will be to perpetuate the oppression suffered by the Basque Working People. In the same way, only by addressing these points from a class point of view will the workers of Euskal Herria be able to obtain control of the productive processes and political power, neutralizing the bourgeoisie.
Although the Basque Working People have the potential to carry out the revolution, only by acquiring awareness of their situation and organizing themselves in pursuit of national and social liberation can they begin the revolutionary process, forming the Basque Revolutionary Proletariat. JARDUN needs to be the organizational space of the Basque Revolutionary Proletariat. At the same time, the working people at an organic levelshould be composed of different sectoral organizations working under the same strategic objectives, for the construction of an independent and socialist Euskal Herria.
In the same way that our predecessors faced the oppression that this people has suffered and fought against fascism in Albertia, today, it is up to us to confront the oppression that working people suffer and for that, unity is necessary, it is necessary join forces. It is time to start joining forces. It is time to start adding forces. It is necessary to get together with different groups in Euskal Herria and defend a common project. It is necessary for different groups to join JARDUN, so that each one from their own fighting trenches can contribute what they can, with a firm commitment, and thus respond as a people, as a working people to capital. Since we are very clear about the way forward and what strategy has to be carried out. And let there be no doubt that we will continue working in that direction. For those who have given their lives, for Euskal Herria and for the workers of Euskal Herria.
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.
I write to say how much I admired your attempt to have the Royal Irish Constabulary and the Dublin Metropolitan Police honoured in Ireland. It was never going to be easy to propose such a ceremony in a country that was occupied by les Anglais for nearly eight centuries and a part of which it is still occupying. But you did not flinch! It took real courage and I empathise with you on its failure (temporary, I hope).
Perhaps it was a little too soon. But as you know, I’m sure, once the unthinkable has been proposed, it is no longer unthinkable; then some day ….
It must be particularly galling for you to see the response of the “swinish multitude”, as your own orator Edmund Burke would have had it, result in the pushing into No.1 slot in the ITunes charts of that odious song of Dominic Behan’s, performed by that rabble-rousing folk group, the Wolfe Tones. To see that disgusting song enter the current Irish charts at No.33 –- and from there reach the No.1 played in the British and Irish charts! But go straight to No.1 in Scotland! Not to mention doing well in the USA and in Canada …..
How hurtful also to see the proliferation of mocking cartoons, videos and memes (all over social media, it seems). And coming up to the anniversary of the introduction of that great band of public servants, too: the RIC Special Reserve and the Auxiliaries.
But as I said earlier, it took courage to attempt what you did – something lacking in your silent partners in government, Fianna Fáil, who remained silent until they could see how the public wind would blow. Someone could get hurt in the rush to disassociate! It is the fate of courageous individuals such as yourself, if I may borrow a phrase from a popular science fiction series, “to boldly go where no-one has gone before.” Even if it looks like no-one follows.
Would that we had men of your calibre here in France! The legitimacy of the Vichy Government (1940-1945) was denied by ‘Free France‘ during WWII and by all subsequent French governments after that. They maintained that the Vichy government was an illegal one run by traitors – hard to believe, I know but look it up on Wikipedia! A group of us have been trying to get German soldiers and the Vichy police honoured for some time now but can we find even one politician of any stature who would risk his reputation in the attempt? No, we seem to have no Monsieur Flanagans here in France, c’est dommage!
We have a network of people with similar interests in a number of other countries, including Russia, Poland, Vietnam and Algeria – you may smile when you see the network’s acronym: RIC! Of course the letters stand for other words in our case: Rehabilitation of Invader Collaborators. Whether it was the Russians or Poles who aided the German invaders, or the Algerians who aided our French occupation or the Vietnamese who aided the US invaders, they all have something in common: they did a difficult job, hated by most of their compatriots.
Bandying around words like “concentration camps”, “torture”, “massacres”, “rape” and “executions” does not conceal the truth that ultimately these men (and women, it must be said) were obeying orders. Some of those words I hear have been bandied around about the RIC and DMP too, including those of “spies”, “informers”, “shoneens” and “Castle Catholics”. One must admit that the Irish have a capacity for les bon mots, however one might disdain what they mean – while not mincing words they certainly know how to weave them, if you’ll pardon the mixed metaphors.
Perhaps some day when you can be spared from your Ministerial duties (or when you have retired, far away be the day!), you could come and address the annual general meeting of our RIC – it would be a great honour for us.
When, some day in the future, the Irish public recognises how deserving the RIC and DMP are of State honouring, the logical consequence will be of course to honour the Black and Tans and the Auxilliaries, who were sent specifically by Churchill to work in support of – and closely with – those two bodies of fine men. And once that has been accepted it should not be difficult to have the successors of the RIC in Northern Ireland honoured too: the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the B-Specials. Of course, there will be some die-hards who will mutter “sectarianism”, “brutality” and “Loyalist murder gang collusion” but one can never quite get rid of those bitter people, can one? God knows, the English tried!
Speaking of bitter words, I hear some Irish people are saying that as Minister for Justice, rather than honouring “traitors” and “murderers” (sic) you should be pursuing the English to disclose their secret papers regarding the murder of 33 people in the Dublin and Monaghan Bombing by alleged British agents in 1974. How unkind! Some people just can’t forget and move on, can they? Do they not realise that those bombers, whoever they were, were just obeying orders too?
And even bitterer! Some have been heard to say that if Michael Collins were alive he’d have had you shot, given that he had enough RIC, ‘Tans and Auxiliaries shot himself. One can understand some bitterness but that is really nasty, given that Collins can be said to be one of the founders of your own party. And who can truthfully say what Collins would or would not have done? He certainly surprised a lot of Republicans in 1922 when he borrowed British cannon to open fire on Republican positions in Dublin!
When the day comes in the future for Irish rehabilitation for those noble collaborators of foreign occupation, the Royal Ulster Constabulary and Dublin Metropolitan Police, then hopefully the Blueshirts, that fine body of men, co-founders of your own party Fine Gael, can be rehabilitated too. And who knows, some day even reconstituted and formally brought into government? It is not beyond the bounds of possibility, even though the sympathisers of those kinds of politics are very few at the moment ….
And then there’s the man they called “Lord Haw Haw”, William Joyce, of similar ideology — was he not an Irishman also? Did he not carry out his orders too? Of course, that might not go down too well with les Anglais due to his broadcasts in English from Nazi Germany — even though he was an informer against the IRA for the British during the War of Independence. Or perhaps precisely because of it: the English can never quite forgive one they consider theirs, once he turns against them, can they? One must be careful sometimes – after all, les Anglais still have quite some influence in the world, especially in your own country, n’est ce pas?
(Reading time: 1 minute; watching time: 3 minutes per video)
A choreographed protest against violence against women is sweeping the world. It was first seen on International Day Against Violence Against Women, 27th November in the centre of Santiago, the capital city of Chile. Organised by feminist group La Tesis, it formed part of the popular resistance to the the Sebastián Piñera regime and its repression, since accusations of rape and other sexual violence against the repressive forces have, according to a number of human rights agencies, amounted to 15% of the total (at least 70 separate cases in the first month of protests).
The lyrics chanted were, in translation: Patriarchy is a judge who judges us for being born
and our punishment is the violence that you don’t see.
It’s femicide, impunity for my murderer,
it’s disappearance, it’s rape.
And it wasn’t my fault, where I was or how I was dressed.
The rapist is you. The rapist is you.
It’s the police, the judges, the State, the President.
The oppressive State is a macho rapist.
This was an extremely powerful and effective protest and caught the imagination of others, with videos spread by social media and also appeals across borders by feminist networks.
No doubt the continuation of the protest will take place in other contexts but it remain a powerful and innovative call.
As with other protests in Chile, those congregating in the area were attacked by forces of the State soon afterwards — the same forces against which the protest had been organised.
Dublin Castle, located in the south city centre, has been the centre of the British occupation of Ireland since 1171 until 1921 (and even after that, some would say).The site offers one-hour guided tours to the public for much of the day, at approximately an hour apart, seven days a week and last year claimed a visitor total of nearly half a million. As a Dubliner interested in history and a walking tour guide, I was well overdue to take an official guided tour of the place, which I did recently.
Overall the State Rooms Tour was interesting and I did learn some things but I was also aware of many gaps. Was this unavoidable in a tour of one hour covering more than eleven hundred years (given that Viking Dublin was also covered) of history? Of course – but in the choices of what to leave out, was there an ideology at play, one that sought to diminish the repressive history of the institution and the struggle against it?
The first presentation to us by the tour guide was of Viking Dublin, the settlement of which took place in the 7th Century. The Vikings had a confrontational occupation of England but this had not been the case here, we were told – the Vikings settled amongst us, intermarried, introduced personal and family names, place-names, etc.
Well, somehow the tour spiel had ignored the many battles between the Vikings and the natives in Ireland even after the settlement in Dublin (and other areas), leading up the famous Battle of Clontarf in 1014, fought on what is now the north side of Dublin city. The 12-hour battle was important enough to be recorded elsewhere in Europe and in a Viking saga. Yes, it had also been an inter-Irish battle, in particular between the King of Leinster and the High King of Ireland but Viking Dublin played an important part, as did Viking allies and mercenaries from Manx and the Orkneys – and its result had ended forever any possibility of a Viking takeover of Ireland.
A noticeable gap in Irish-Viking history of Dublin to omit it, one might say.
Nevertheless, the tour guide gave us interesting information about the Viking settlement and a map showed an artist’s impression of how it would have looked.
Down in the base of what had been the Powder Tower, it was interesting to see the stone work, to hear the guide talk about the foundation of the Viking wall below us and how the cement used to bind the stones was a mixture of sand, oxblood, horsehair and eggshells. To me it was also interesting to see the stone course lines of one pointed arch above a curved one but unsure what I was looking at — and we were a big group, the tour guide some distance away to ask.
Down below the walkway, where water lay on the ground a couple of inches deep, some green plant was growing in the lights illuminating the work. This was above the route of the Poddle, I supposed, which once fed the Linn Dubh (black pool) and which now runs underneath Castle and city before emptying into the Liffey.
“BEYOND THE PALE”
The Normans reached Dublin in 1171 after landing in Wexford in 1169, our guide informed us but we were not told that in the process they defeated Irish resistance and the Dublin Vikings and, most curiously, there was no mention of the Pale. That would have been an interesting explanation to visitors of the origin of the expression “beyond the Pale” and what it implied1.
The guide did tell us later in the St. Patrick’s Hall (the State banquet room) that the paintings on the ceiling were to demonstrate to the Irish that all the civilising influences had come from the English to the Irish savages, that if the Irish were now civilised, their ranking was definitely below the English.
That might have been an appropriate time to mention of the Statutes of Killkenny 1366, nearly two centuries after the Norman invasion and how the Irish Normans had, outside Dublin, adopted ‘uncivilised’ Gaelic tongue, custom and even law, so that their cousins in England were now calling them “the degenerate English” who had become “more Irish than the Irish themselves”.
If the English Reformation got a mention I must have missed it but certainly there was nothing said about the imposition of the new religion on Ireland, colonists and natives alike and the many wars that resulted. Anglicanism had become the religion of the English State, with its monarch at the head of the Church but none of the Irish natives and most of the colonists did not wish to adopt that religion. So it led to many uprisings, first notably from the Irish Normans (Gall-Ghael), then by the Irish and a number of major wars, including the Cromwellian and Williamite ones, also to the Penal Laws. That State religion was the reason that Elizabeth I had founded Trinity College, so that the sons of the colonists would be educated in the “true faith”. Religion had been used by the coloniser to try to undermine unity among the inhabitants of Ireland and had been employed to physically divide the island in 1922, which had also led to a much more recent war of nearly three decades.
The Reformation and its effects seemed a quite significant portion to leave out of Irish history in general and of Dublin history in particular.
As the Castle had briefly been acknowledged as being, among other things, a prison, it seemed strange to omit the escape after four years of captivity of Red Hugh O’Donnel and two O’Neill brothers in 1592 — particularly so since the whole experience had left O’Donnell with a seething hatred of the English occupation which only ended years later in a poisoned death in Spain at the hands of an English agent. Aodh Ruadh Ó Domhnaill, as he was known then to most of Ireland (and Scotland), fought the English occupation from 1591 to 1602. Apart from being an important part of the Castle’s history one would have thought it would make an exciting and interesting story for tourists.
However, the story was omitted – but then so were the tortures carried out in the Castle, the severed heads erected on spikes on Castle walls and, although it was said that it took the English 400 years to conquer the rest of Ireland, this was apparently because “there were no roads and there were lots of bogs”!
Commenting on later medieval Dublin city, the guide told us about the many diseases that were endemic, due to lack of sanitation in the city, along with blood-letting being the major medical treatment. It was strange that she did not mention the effects of the Black Death or Bubonic Plaque, which travelled through Ireland in 1634. The plague, carried by fleas on the black rat, affecting almost alone the city populations, almost wiped out the English colony in Ireland.
IRISH WOOD, FAKE STONE COLUMNS
In the Chapel, the guide pointed out the names and coats of arms on each side as being those of Lord Lieutenants of Ireland, i.e the representatives of the English monarch in governing Ireland. There were of course no native Irish names among them and few even of the Gall-Ghael.
One that took my attention, near the doorway, was that of Cornwallis, dated 1798. Lord Cornwallis (“Cornwall’” in the traditional ballad The Croppy Boy) was in charge of the suppression of the United Irishmen uprising in 1798, at which he was successful but less so in the Thirteen Colonies of North America, which he lost to rebellious colonists, some of whom were relatives and friends of the beaten republicans in Ireland.
In response to an enquiry as to whether there were any questions, I asked who were represented by the sculpted heads along the chapel wall on the outside. Some represented Christian saints and some kings, such as Brian Boru2, she replied. Is there a list available of who they all are? No, I was told, only of some of them and I could consult that later.
Amazingly, only the floor and walls in the chapel were stone. The columns, she told us, were Irish oak plastered over to look like stone.
MONARCHS AND PRESIDENTS
In her introduction to the tour, our guide had informed us that Lords, Kings, Queens and Presidents had visited the Castle. The creation of the role of President in the 1937 Constitution, she told us later, had been to replace that of the English Monarch. I had not been aware of that. She told us that he commanded the Army, which was news to me too (or I had forgotten) and it turns out to be true, though more so in form than in substance for, as she informed us, real power is vested in the Taoiseach (Prime Minister).
In the Throne Room we were told that Queen Victoria had visited Ireland 1n 1849 and had to be lifted up to the Throne, as she was so small (bit of a deflater for the lines in the “Monto” song!3).
In her visit to Ireland the guide told us, the Monarch had been shocked by the scenes of hunger during the “Famine” (the Great Hunger) and that aid to the starving improved after her visit. Well, perhaps but the effects of the Great Hunger were covered in newspapers and appeals long before 1849 and the worst of the holocaust was over before then, the statistics of which the guide gave us; in our folk history Victoria is referred to as “the Famine Queen”.
The guide made much of the fact that Queen Elizabeth II (who might be known in a republic as: “Ms. Elizabeth Windsor”), had visited the Castle, had spoken in Irish at the reception banquet and how this was the first time an English monarch had spoken English at a State occasion, though Elizabeth I she told us knew a few Irish phrases.4 The guide attached no little importance to Elizabeth I’s gesture and to the whole visit as an act of reconciliation and we know that no less than the Irish President at the time, Mary Mac Aleese, had looked around mouthing “Wow!” when the monarch spoke five words in Irish: “A Uachtaráin agus a chairde … (“President and friends” …).
Such is the sycophancy of the Castle Irish mentality, that five words in the native language of a country being visited by a head of a foreign state should evoke such wonder and gratitude in their hearts. Forgetting that the very colonial regime of that state had for centuries worked to stamp out that language, barring it from all public arenas and educational institutions. One must wonder that a monarch whose armed forces are in occupation of one-sixth of the nation’s territory should be so honoured by the head of this state and other dignitaries from the areas of politics and visual, written and performing arts!5
I could have commented that during the Monarch’s visit, huge areas of the city centre had been barred to traffic by the police force of this “republic” in a huge negation of civil liberties; that police had been taking down posters against the visit and ripping even Irish tricololour flags from the hands of protester to stuff them in rubbish bins and truck; that Dublin City Council workmen had been removing anti-Royal graffiti while workers’ housing estates had been waiting for years for a cleanup service.
Guiding a small Latin American tour through the Castle grounds a few days before the scheduled banquet-reception, we were accosted by secret police who required us to state and prove our identities, state our reasons for being there (!) and the tour group to hand over their cameras for the agents to scroll through their histories. And the agents seemed surprised when I failed to agree with them that their actions had been reasonable.
I could have said that during Elizabeth Windsor’s reception banquet I had been with others in Thomas Street protesting her Castle reception and that at the corner with Patrick Street, we had been prevented by lines of riot Gardai from proceeding any further – not out of concern for her security but so that Her Majesty should not even hear any sound or see anything to disturb the serenity of her visit.
I did not say any of that – I still had a tour to finish and, besides, no doubt this is the Castle Tour Discourse, not to be blamed on one guide.
We were shown too the two banquet halls, the original and the one for state visits nowadays as the original was “too small”.6 And the sights of hunger outside the Castle walls in 1849 had not seemed to intrude on the guests enjoying the five-course meal served at Victoria’s welcoming banquet.
Seeming somewhat out of place, there was also an exhibition of Irish painting of the modernist school.
Portraits of the Presidents of the Irish State lined the corridor through which we passed to St. Patrick’s Hall (also the Irish State banquet room) and I could not help but contemplate that of the nine Presidents to date, one had been a founder of an organisation banned by the British occupation, another two had been soldiers against the British occupation but had since taken part in the suppression of their erstwhile comrades.
Another was the son of an Englishman who became an Irish Republican and was executed by the Irish state and another had resigned after being insulted in the Dáil by a Minister of the Government.
Not surprisingly, perhaps, nothing was said about any of that, either.
NO CASTLE CATHOLICS OR COPS?
Coming into more modern times, the I916 Rising got a reference, unsurprisingly as a detachment of the Irish Citizen Army had besieged the Castle for a couple of days, mostly from the nearby City Hall; the ICA’s leader, ironically, had been brought a wounded prisoner from Moore Street and treated in the Castle too. That was James Connolly and he was mentioned — though the ICA was not, nor were we informed that he was a revolutionary socialist. We were told we could visit the room named after him in which he had been held and treated on a bed there. After the end of the guided tour I went there and although it was an experience to enter the room of course the actual display was disappointingly sparse.
As headquarters of the British occupation of Ireland and necessarily of repression of resistance, the Castle always had soldiers stationed or passing through there. But it also held a police force, the secret service of the Dublin Metropolitan Police. Usually unarmed with more than a truncheon up until 1916, the uniformed DMP maintained order and bourgeois public morality in Dublin but also repressed public resistance to the British occupation. Not only sex workers and drunks were arrested but so were singers of patriotic ballads, protesters and public speakers. During times of Fenian activity, the DMP also worked to counter the influence of Irish patriots in the city and the plain-clothes G Division was created in 1874 to recruit informers and hunt down active Fenians.
A section of the Fenians were however prepared to counter this with assassinations of informers, some DMP and attempts on the lives of senior DMP officials in the city7 during the mid 19th Century. In the early years of the 20th Century it was G Division which also spied on activists in the trade union and labour movement, nationalists, republicans, the Irish language movement and suffragettes and it was they who identified Irish insurgent prisoners captured by the British Army in 1916, ensuring the death sentence for many (though 14 were eventually executed in Dublin).
The DMP, mostly the uniformed officers, could in fact be credited with being the inspiration to form the Irish Citizen Army: the vicious and sometimes murderous attacks of the DMP on workers’ assemblies during the 1913 Dublin Lockout had decided James Connolly and Jim Larkin to call for the creation of the workers’ militia. During the Rising, it seems that three DMP were shot dead, all by members of the ICA, one of them being at the Dublin Castle entrance.
On Bloody Sunday 1920, during the War of Independence, two IRA officers and an Irish language enthusiast prisoners were tortured and killed in Dublin Castle by police, including the specially-recruited terrorists of the Auxiliary Division. In order to cover up their actions, the police staged photos which they claimed depicted the prisoners not properly guarded and then jumping their guards to seize their weapons, which is how they came by their deaths, according to the cover story.
Soon after that, G Division detectives were being killed in various parts of the city by Collins’ Squad and the Dublin IRA. In fact, a number of the officers and of British Army spies took up residence in the Castle itself, for protection.
After the creation of the Irish Free State in 1921, the independence movement split and in the following Civil War (1922-1923) the repression of the continuing resistance was mostly the work of the Irish National Army. However, when the Irish police force was established, the Gardaí Síochána, their Special Branch detectives were again based in Dublin Castle,8 though they are based elsewhere now.
Since there was no mention of any this on our tour, a significant part of Castle history was being omitted.
CASTLE CATHOLIC IDEOLOGY?
There existed during the British occupation a social group — or perhaps more than one — that in the commentary of most Irish, perhaps, were referred to as “Castle Catholics”. This was not a reference to Catholics who owned a castle but to those of the native and Norman-Irish stock, i.e nearly all Catholics who, while maintaining their religion, bowed to the English occupation in everything else. And particularly the more elevated echelons among that group, for whom attendance at functions in the Castle were the high point of their social calendars and indeed their lives. Ag sodar i ndiaidh na n-uaisle9, as the Irish have it in their native tongue.
With some exceptions, I thought the tour and commentary, although interesting and of course catering to the expectations of foreign tourists, had more than a little of “Castle Catholic” or, better said, “Castle Irish” to it.
And it therefore lost a lot in the telling.
1Effectively an English anti-Irish racist term: “The Pale” referred at first to the areas enclosed by the Normans by an earthworks surmounted by a wooden palisade, i.e the area of colonist control. “Beyond the Pale” were the areas still under control of the Irish clans, uncivilised in the viewpoint of the colonists and the expression survives in English today to describe something as being a horror.
2A missed opportunity to mention the Battle of Clontarf and the defeat of the Dublin Viking and Irish Leinster forces!
4Apparently Elizabeth I had a fair bit of linguistic ability, being fluent in English, Latin and French. It is believed by some that she knew more than a few phrases of Irish, having been taught by a tutor she recruited.
5Among them were the musicians The Chieftains and the poet laureate Heaney who had, some decades earlier written that “no glass was ever raised in our house to an English King or Queen”!
6There were 172 dinner guests at the banquet to welcome Elizabeth I of the UK.
7For a good atmospheric account of the struggle between the two forces, see The Shadow of the Brotherhood – the Temple Bar shootings by Barry Kennerc, Mercer (2010)
8An Irish Republican ballad of the early 1970s based on an earlier song had it thus:
“Oh the Special Branch in Dublin,
They’re something for to see:
They crawl out from the Castle
To inform on you and me.
But the day is coming soon me boys
And the rifles they will bark –
Ireland has broken off its love affair with the USA but the breakup’s been coming for a long time. Of course it was always a kind of mythical USA that was the love object, of film stars, rock n’ roll, friendly presidents, Irish-U.Stater politicians, of U.Stater tourists – never the real USA, good or bad. One could feel the tensions in the relationship during the Viet Nam War, though that was mostly to be seen in the youth and some lefties. But then came the lying scandals in the US Presidency of Nixon and Clinton and the naked warmongering throughout all, including the Bushes, Snr. and Jnr.
Ireland, below the level of its Gombeen politicians, has split up with the USA (at the level of ITS politicians and millionaires [often the same thing]) but it has been a relatively civilised breakup and thankfully with no children (well, apart from the Irish illegal immigrants – sorry, undocumented visitors).
While some businesses in an Dún Beag might have turned a profit out the Fear Mór’s visit, having the Chief of the World Superpower drop in on us has cost us – around 10 million euro, according to the Irish Independent. Loads of extra Gardaí on the ground in Co. Clare and Limerick, in the air and on sea, does not come cheap (though I’m sure the overtime was welcome). All would have been bad enough if we had invited him but we hadn’t. Will the Irish Government present the US Presidency with an itemised bill? Probably not.
At the invitation of The Irish Examiner, a number of organisations and individuals had written letters to Trump for publication (see link below); most were critical and these included Amnesty International, Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign, National Union of Journalists, National Women’s Council of Ireland, National Union of Students; Brendan Ogle, Tara Flynn and Clare Daly. For entertainment value I’d pick out the IPSC’s and Tara Flynn’s (well, she is a comedian). The ICCL also had a newspaper advertisement criticising Trump, which was sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union and figured logos of a number of other civil rights organisations.
There were protests in various parts of the country, including one to greet his arrival at Shannon airport (hopefully US munitions and troop carriers were pulled to one side so as not to hinder his landing). The Irish Times said there were about 200 protesters there so, on past reporting, there could have been anything between 300 and 1,000. It is not easy to get to Shannon airport unless one has a car, even from Galway the gaps between bus arrival times are substantial. And no train station.
Dublin had a showy and packed anti-Trump rally, with a Baby Trump blimp floating above the crowd outside the Garden of Remembrance. An activist brought big letter placards which, with the help of volunteers from the crowd, spelled out anti-trump messages in English and in Irish. Indeed an interesting feature was a number of placards partly or completely in Irish.
The theme of “welcome” or “fáilte” was of course played upon in reverse, in speech and placard, with more than a hinted reference to the old Bord Fáilte slogan inviting tourists to the land of “céad míle fáilte”.
The event was managed by Unite Against Racism which is, for the most part, People Before Profit, which in turn is really the Socialist Workers’ Party. A number of other left-wing party flags could be seen too. A group of Shinners were at the rally with their trademark flags (never go anywhere without the party’s flag) but no “dissidents” were present as a group, though I certainly noted some as individuals.
The speakers at the rally covered a number of themes, including of course misogyny, migrants, Palestine, war-making and imperialism. Liam Herrick of the ICCL was an unusual sight to see on an outdoors protest platform, speaking at the second part of the rally. Curiously, the rally organisers had sent a major part of the attendance off to march around the city centre for awhile and of course, when they got back, they had shed a great part of their numbers. A torrential downpour no doubt encouraged the desertions.
Coming towards the end of the rally, a performer accompanied himself on guitar while he rendered some songs for the diminished attendance. Woody Guthrie’s “Plane Crash at Los Gatos” (also known as “Deportees”) would have been an apposite choice, a song about Mexican labourers being employed in the south-eastern US fruit harvests and then driven back across the Border. Guthrie was moved to sing about them when in 1948 a plane carrying mostly deported Mexicans crashed, killing all on board and though the names of the crew were given in the news reports, the Mexicans were referred to only as “deportees”.
At the rally, eventually Trump was deflated (the blimp, I mean), tethering weight bags emptied of water, placards were packed, flags furled …. and I went to get some shopping.
AN GORTA MÓR COMMEMORATED IN SLIGO, DUBLIN AND CELTIC PARK
(Reading time of article text: 5 minutes)
A small crowd gathered at the Garden of Remembrance, Dublin on Sunday afternoon to commemorate the Great Hunger, an Gorta Mór on National Famine Day. Led by a lone piper, they marched through O’Connell St., the city’s main street, some of them in period costume, to the Great Hunger Memorial on the Custom House Quay, North Dock and later on to the iconic sailing ship, the Jeannie Johnson.
With some adults and children dressed in period clothes, some of them tattered to represent the destitution of the starving poor, they marched down O’Connell Street led by the lone piper and turned left at the Bridge, proceeding along to Custom Quay’s North Dock and the Great Hunger memorial. There they were addressed by Michael Blanch of the organising committee and by Niall Ring, Lord Mayor (coming to the end of his year in that role), who had accompanied them from the Garden of Remembrance.
Some sentences in Irish were spoken by the MC of the event and by the Lord Mayor, while Michael Blanch referenced the deadly impact the Great Hunger had on the Irish language (i.e with the depopulation of the main Irish-speaking areas of the western seaboard). The Irish Tricolour came in for a mention in the Dublin commemoration also; it had been presented to William Smith O’Brien by women in Paris during the revolution there of 1848 and the Young Irelanders had staged their own uprising that year also, small and certainly too late, easily crushed by the British colonial forces. The huge Irish diaspora was also mostly a result of the Great Hunger and had contributed significantly to the formation and membership of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, also known as the Fenians, founded simultaneously in 1858 on St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin and in New York. The IRB, in turn, had been the main driving force behind the 1916 Rising.
Tourists and other passers-by stopped to watch as wreaths were laid on on the statues of the monument and an Irish-language version of Amazing Grace was sung by a young girl in period costume. A currach (small traditional Irish sea-craft), containing a woman and two young girls in period costume and rowed by a man, pulled into place on the Liffey across from the group; one of the girls placed a wreath in a cardboard box into the river, to commemorate the Irish diaspora and those who had perished during their journeys. Participants then threw single red roses bouquets into the river also and floral wreaths were deposited around the statues of the 1977 memorial by sculptor Rowan Gillespie. And the piper played a lament, Hector the Hero.
The gathering moved on then to the sailing ship the Jeannie Johnson, to hear Evelyn Campbell sing her Famine Song and Diarmuid Breatnach sing Skibereen and Fields of Athenry. After that, some repaired to the Teachers’ Club, where tea, sandwiches, gur cake and biscuits were on offer. By coincidence, a Musical Society were relaxing there too and it was not long before songs from different parts of the world were being exchanged from different parts of the room.
THE CAMPAIGN FOR A NATIONAL IRISH FAMINE DAY
The Great Hunger is the preferred term in English by many for the terrible disaster that struck Ireland in the mid-19th Century, for people starved alongside what was for a while at least, an abundance of food.
For three successive years, a fungus-like oomycete infested the potato crop, staple diet of most of the population. AlthoughPhytophthora infestanshad attacked the potato crops on the European mainland and in Britain also, nowhere was the disaster of the dimensions it grew to in Ireland: nowhere else were the the majority of the population obliged to sustain themselves on the potato while yielding up every other edible product (except perhaps milk) to pay the landlord’s rent on land conquered from the ancestors of the starving, thousands of soldiers and police being on hand to ensure the hungry paid up. “The Almighty indeed sent the potato blight”, wrote Young Irelander journalist John Mitchell, “but the English created the Famine.”
Well over one million Irish starved or died of attendant diseases in less than five years during the reign of Queen Victoria, while ships left Irish ports laden with food and grain was fermented to make lucrative whiskey and beer. Another million emigrated and it is estimated that about one third of those also died – of drowning, of disease aboard ship or of the various dangers migrants faced. Five years after the potato crop failed, estimates put the population of Ireland at around six million, from the over 8 million of before. Over the next decade, another million would leave, paid to go, lied to go, forced to go, or gone out of desperation and loss of faith in any future in the country of their birth under foreign domination.
In 2008 it was agreed by the Irish Government that there would be a national Famine Day in the Irish calendar of national events and it would take place on the third Sunday in May. The State commemoration this year was held in Sligo, attended by Leo Varadkar (who was met by a protest of the Sligo Women’s Cervical Smear Action Group). The ceremony was covered in the RTÉ news which was shown on TV in the Teacher’s Club. Michael Blanch told those present that the campaign he and his wife had started in 2004 through the Committee for the Commemoration of Irish Famine Victims, had resulted in this national event and that it was also being commemorated by the Glasgow Celtic team in the special jerseys they wore that day (in their Scottish Premiership win 2-1 against Hearts). The symbol is black and white which are the colours of the Commemoration and he had also wanted GAA teams playing on this day to wear it on their jerseys (the Munster Hurling Championship match between Limerick and Cork was also being shown that afternoon on the TV screen in the Teachers’ Club).
Two quite different celebrations of International Workers’ Day took place in Dublin on the afternoon of the appropriate date, 1st of May. One was small and of a decidely revolutionary flavour while the other, much larger, was of a more mixed nature and tending towards the reformist. In addition, a workers’ solidarity picket was mounted on a Dublin city centre eatery.
NOTHING TO LOSE BUT OUR CHAINS
The first of the celebrations was organised by theAnti-Imperialist Action Ireland organisation and took place at the James Connolly Monument in Dublin’s Beresford Place. There a statue of James Connolly stands upon a plinth, behind the the design of the Irish Citizen Army flag, based upon the constellation that in Ireland is called the Starry Plough but in the USA is known as the Big Dipper. James Connolly was a revolutionary socialist and trade union organiser, historian, journalist and songwriter who was Commander of the Dublin insurrectionary forces in the 1916 Rising. The Irish Citizen Army, possibly the first formaly-organised army for and of the workers, had been formed during the Dublin Lockout as a defence force against the attacks of the Dublin Metropolitan Police.
The ICA took part in the 1916 Rising in Dublin and after the surrender of the insurrectionary forces, 16 participants, including two of the ICA, were executed by British firing squad: Michael Mallin on 8th May and James Connoly on 12th May.
In the here and now, on their way to the Connolly Monument, a number of participants were stopped by a man in plain clothes identifying himself as a police officer, i.e a member of the Garda Special Branch. He wished to know their names, which they declined to give them.
At the Monument, both speakers for the Anti-Imperialist Action Ireland organisation were youths.
The first to speak gave his oration in Irish on behalf of Macra – Irish Socialist Republican Youth and said that they were there to celebrate socialism, trade unionism and workers oppressed throughout the world and, that although James Connolly had been murdered in Kilmainham Jail, his work was ongoing.
Stating that James Connolly and the Irish Citizen Army had gone out in 1916 to break with imperialism and found a socialist society, the youth went on to say that “Macra is a revolutionary organisation with socialism as one of our objectives and we also believe in the words of Pearse: ‘Ireland not only free but Gaelic, not only Gaelic but free.’ Free from the bankers, free from landlords, free from poverty.”
The speaker concluded in Irish and in English with the renowned sentence from the Communist Manifesto.: “Bíodh critheagla ar aicmí cheannais roimh réabhlóid Chumannach. Níl tada le cailiúint ag na Prólatáirigh ach a slabhraí. Tá saol mór le gnóthú acu. Oibrithe an tSaoil Mhóir, cuirigí le chéile!”
“Let the ruling classes tremble before a communist revolution. The Proletariat have nothing to lose but their chains, they have the whole world to gain. Workers of the world unite!”
The second speaker delivered his speech in English and linked the liberation of Ireland with the liberation of the working class and went on to praise Séamus Costello (1939-1977), which he said had embodied that aspiration. The youth praised the creation of the Irish Republican Socialist Party by Costello as well as the creation of the Irish National Liberation Army and Costello’s participation and membership in a number of democratic organisations — including his election to Bray District Council.
Condemning “the bankers and politicians” who bring deprivation to the workers, the speaker said that they try to point the finger instead at Muslims and migrants but it is not migrants who cause job losses, create homelessness etc but “the elite”. The speaker ended by saying he wished to remember all those who had given their lives for Irish freedom.
WE WANT THE EARTH
Diarmuid Breatnach was then introduced to sing Be Moderate, a song with an ironic title by James Connolly. “The Irish working class does not have a huge history in Ireland, apart from a short period in the early decades of the last century,” Breatnach said, giving as reasons the forced underdevelopment of Irish industry, the British-fostered sectarianism in the most industrialised north-east and the focus on the national struggle as a competing pole of attraction.
“The Irish abroad, however, have made a huge contribution to the workers’ movement,” Breatnach said. “And in 1889, Jim Connell from near Cill Scíre in Co. Meath, composed lyrics of The Red Flag to the air of the White Cockade, starting it on the train to his home in South London from a demonstration in central London and apparently completing it in the home of another Irish man.
The song was later adopted by the International Workers of the World, a syndicalist organisation mostly active in the USA, Breatnach said and reminded them that James Connolly joined the IWW when he migrated to the USA. “In 1907, James Connolly published a songbook, Songs of Freedom, in which he included the lyrics of Be Moderate,” Breatnach stated and went on to say that no air had been published to which the words should be sung. As a result Be Moderate has been sung to a number of airs but in London Breatnach heard it sung by an avant-garde musical composer and Marxist-Leninist, Cornelius Cardew, to the air of A Nation Once Again. In Breatnach’s opinion the lyrics fit well to this air and it also provides a chorus, which he encouraged the participants to sing.
James Connolly’s lyrics were sung by Breatnach then, competing with sounds of passing traffic on the ground and the occasional trains rumbling by on the bridge overhead, participants joining in on the chorus:
We only want the Earth,
We only want the Earth
And our demands most moderate are:
We only want the Earth!
and the last line of the last verse “We want the Earth!” echoing across Beresford Place.
TRADE UNION AND POLITICAL ORGANISATION BANNERS
Across the road, a stage and crowd barriers were being set up outside Liberty Hall, the multi-storeyed headquarters of SIPTU, the largest union in Ireland and which, by amalgamations, had grown from the Irish Transport & General Workers’ Union, originally formed early in the 20th Century by Jim Larkin, James Connolly and others (and the destruction of which had been the object of the 1913 Lockout). The stage was being prepared for speakers to address a rally which would follow a Mayday parade from Dublin’s Garden of Remembrance (a small park dedicated “to those who gave their lives for Irish freedom”).
Even the larger Mayday demonstrations in Dublin, although organised through the Dublin Council of Trade Unions, i.e with affiliation from most trade unions in the city, do not tend to be very big by comparison with other cities in many other parts of the world.
Banners of some unions mixed with those of political organisations and campaign groups, including the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign and another against Irish state participation in PESCO, which is seen by many as an embryonic EU Army and undermining the Irish state’s neutrality.
Led by a lone piper, the parade made its way past crowds of onlookers down Dublin city’s main thoroughfare, O’Connell Street, then left along Eden Quay to Liberty Hall where they were to be addressed by speakers on the temporary stage in Beresford Place, across from the Connolly Monument.
Meanwhile, a small group had left, to form a picket line outside the Ivy Dawson Street restaurant, in solidarity with staff and in opposition to the management appropriating a portion of the tips left for staff, with more to join them there later from the Mayday parade.
A NOTE ON THE HISTORICAL ORIGIN OF INTERNATIONAL WORKERS’ DAY
The First of May has been celebrated as the international day for workers since 1892, to call for the 8-hour maximum working day, socialism and universal peace. Its inspiration was a train of events that began with a workers’ strike and demonstrations on May 1st 1886 in many parts of the USA but in Chicago ended in the State execution of four anarchists, with police and state militia massacres of workers along the way as well as with acts of workers’ resistance. The celebration and commemoration throughout the world was formally agreed at the Second Congress of the Second International Workers’ Association in Brussels in 1892 and at its Sixth Congress (Amsterdam, 1904) declared it mandatory for the proletarian organisations of all countries to stop work on that day, wherever that could be done without injury to the workers(bearing in mind violently repressive regimes).
In many states around the world now, the 1st of May is a public and bank holiday and has been so in Ireland since 1994. Its public celebration was banned under the fascist regimes in Spain and Portugal but is legal in both those states now; however it is still banned in some other states while in some areas, though not banned, may be subject to attack by police, army, state agents or by fascist elements.
The Irish Republican organisation Saoradh staged a large demonstration of its support on Dublin’s O’Connell Street on Saturday afternoon (20th April). Republican marching bands and hundreds of supporters followed the traditional ‘colour party’ flags and lines of men and some women dressed in green-brown military-style clothing, black berets and dark sunglasses.
Beginning at the Garden of Remembrance, the procession, carrying large portraits of the executed martyrs of the 1916 Rising, wound its way down the main street past thousands of viewers, many of those taking photos and filming, down to the wall of Trinity College and the Bank of Ireland building, then back up Westmoreland street and up the west side of O’Connell Street to the GPO building, the site of the HQ of the Rising in 1916, for speeches as the ceremony of the commemoration.
The parade assembled at Dublin’s Garden of Remembrance and remained there for some time without the reason being clear, until the arrival of the participants dressed in green-brown military-style clothing, black berets and dark sunglasses, which many in the waiting crowd applauded. Presumably these were meant to represent the IRA but from the physical appearance of many it was clear that their active duty days, if they had them, were behind them. Presumably too, any organisation that did have an armed section would be reluctant to offer them up to the State for arrest on a parade and their all appearing at the last minute like that was also perhaps to reduce the opportunity for Garda harassment.
However, the uniformed Garda presence was in low numbers and although the Special Branch had officers there, they did not appear to be harassing Republicans for their names and addresses, as is their usual wont.
The route of the parade had been prepared placards bearing the words “The Unfinished Revolution” and “Saoradh” with tricolour flags attached at intervals to traffic sign and street light posts, including also at least one Palestinian flag. As the colour party and people in uniform lined up with banners and a band behind them and set off down towards the city centre, people joined in behind the band, with another band bringing up the rear.
TRAGEDY AND CONDEMNATION
The crowd appeared to contain many different elements, mostly men but quite a few women, some parents with small children and some teenagers, young men and older. Included among the attendance were a number of independent Republicans and socialists and a number expressed their decision to attend as having been influenced by the tragedy of the previous Thursday and the media campaign against ‘dissident’ Republicans, along with the apprehension that the Gardaí might take advantage of that to block or harass the paraders.
A scheduled Easter commemoration by a committee including apparently members of Saoradh to be held in Derry on Easter Monday had been cancelled as a result of a tragic incident. The armed British colonial police force in the Six Counties, the PSNI, had been carrying out house searches in the Galiagh and Creggan areas of Derry, allegedly for arms, to which youth had responded with stones and petrol bombs. During that incident, a gun was fired from the direction of the youth towards the colonial police but struck Lyra McKee, a young female reporter standing near them instead. Tragically the wound was fatal.
Saoradh had issued a statement after the event expressing regret for the death and extending condolences to Lyra McKee’s family and friends but also putting the incident in the context of regular harassing raids by the PSNI on houses in ‘nationalist’ areas and the always likely result of resistance (see Links for full statement).
Possibly in reference to that tragedy, a very tall long-haired man stepped in front of a section of marchers with his hands in the air. Stewards quickly blocked him peacefully and diverted participants around him.
Past the objector and into O’Connell Street, both the east side pavement and the pedestrian middle reservation were thronged with people watching, photographing and filming. The parade passed on to O’Connell Bridge, into D’Olier Street, turned right towards the Bank of Ireland building and back up Westmoreland Street to the General Post Office, location of the HQ of the Rising in 1916, outside of which the 1916 Proclamation had been read on 24th April by Patrick Pearse with James Connolly by his side.
At the GPO, Saoradh party chairman Brian Kenna welcomed the participants.
THE SPEECHES AND CEREMONY
At the GPO, Saoradh party chairman Brian Kenna welcomed the participants. Republican Easter Rising commemorations tend to follow an established pattern, no matter which organisation is involved: the reading of the Proclamation; messages of solidarity from Republican prisoners; a speech by a representative of the organisation; the lowering of the flags to a drum roll and their raising again, in honour of the fallen; the singing of Amhrán na bhFiann, the Irish National Anthem. In the past, a statement from the IRA was also read but in recent years this have not been customary, for a number of reasons.
The usual components of the ceremony were present on Saturday outside the GPO with a few variations: a poem by a supporter read out, “James Connolly, the Irish Rebel” sung by another and “Róisín Dubh” played on the uileann pipes. The James Connolly song, with some powerful imagery and an attractive slow air, gives no indication whatsoever of the man’s revolutionary socialism and seems to incorporate him into the IRA, instead of the Irish Citizen Army which he co-founded or even of the Irish Volunteers, with which he joined forces only weeks before the Rising.
The RFB (Republican Flute Band) marching bands were from Scotland: The Wolfe Tone RFB Craigneuk and theCoatbridge Unitedmen RFB. One of the bands played “Take It Down From the Mast, Irish Traitors”, the lyrics of which deny the Tricolour to the Free Staters who waged the Civil War against the Republicans, the legitimate bearers of the flag. A participant remarked that the song was sung first against Free Staters, later against Fianna Fáil, later still against the “Stickies” and more recently against Sinn Féin.
In his speech on behalf of Saoradh, Dee Fennel from Belfastbegan by sending solidarity messages to Republican prisoners in Irish jails and to the relatives of all those who had fallen in the struggle against British imperialim. He said that the objectives set out in the 1916 Proclamation had not been achieved and referred to those participants in the struggle who had left it along the way, some to collude in upholding the two failed states of the divided nation.
Referring to his own activism, Fennel recollected how four years previously he had spoken at an Easter commemoration as an independent Republican, i.e not a member of any political party. He had spoken of the need for Republican activists to engage more with one another and also in the struggles of communities, women and trade unions. Fennel said that as a result of a discussion among Republicans, some had formed Saoradh, building on “maturity and commitment” while others “retreated to their flags” and went on to list the wide areas of struggle in which he said Saoradh activists could be found.
Fennel also referred to the activity of the IRA and said that while British imperialism remains in possession of a part of Ireland and prevents the exercise of sovereignty of the nation, there will be some form of armed resistance and that this is borne out by history.
Referring to the harassment and persecution to which Fennel said Saoradh activists were being subjected, including “tens of thousands of stop-and-searches, hundreds of house raids”, he linked that to the PSNI raids in the Creggan area of Derry earlier that week and the tragic accidental killing of Lyra McKee when “a Volunteer fired shots at PSNI forces”. Going on to say that the IRA do make mistakes from time to time, and referring to two women killed by the Provisional IRA in error years before, Fennel said that the IRA should admit and apologise for their mistakes (NB: The New IRA did later issue an apology and express condolences), though he also said that no words could compensate for the feeling of loss.
In reference to Brexit, Fennel said that the discussion is being focused on what kind of Border is to be imposed, while Republicans object to any kind of Border whatsoever. He stated that as socialists they also object to “the increasingly neo-liberal EU” and concluded with a call for solidarity with Irish Republican prisoners “in Maghaberry, Portlaoise and Mountjoy” who “are in captivity for no other reason thantheir commitment to Republicanism and a 32-county, secular socialist Republic.”
TRADITION OF THE PAST AND CLAIM ON TOMORROW
Republican organisations tend to commemorate the Easter Rising not only as a historic event but also to highlight that for which the Rising was fought has yet to be achieved. But they also do so to show that they are here, present, working for those objectives and often, to promote their organisation, to attract support.
The display involved in this Easter commemoration was impressive (despite a media claim that the numbers were only “around two hundred”), particularly in view of the inevitable bad press following the death in Derry and the system politicians’ statements on what a social media poster dubbed “The Opportunist Condemnatory Bandwagon”. It also seemed to show an organisation not much harmed overall in Ireland by a recent split over an alleged lack of internal democracy.