Three members of my family fought in the 1916 Rising and eleven “did their bit” in the War of Independence. So it‘s probably not that surprising that as a child, I grew up with stories, real, imagined, and embellished, of those ancestors and their times.
Of those three “1916 men” the one who most aroused my curiosity was my granny’s cousin, Desmond Ryan. “A bit of a consequence”, according to my great-aunt Polly, or “the son of the fellah who wrote the first Irish play that got him a medal from Yeats and Lady Gregory“ according to my uncle.
Desmond actually was “a bit of a consequence”; however his father, W.P. Ryan, while he did write a number of plays “i nGaeilge” didn’t quite write the first to be performed in Dublin and I’m not too sure about the medal either. W.P. was a journalist, editor, novelist, and socialist. His clash with Cardinal Logue, Archbishop of Armagh, while editor of The Irish Peasant, is chronicled in his “The Pope’s Green Island” and his novel “The Plough and the Cross”, both of which bear fruitful reading today. His 1913 book “The Labour Revolt and Larkinsim” together with his work as assistant editor of the London Daily Herald did much to explain and create sympathy among British socialists for the participants of Dublin’s Lockout in 1913.
W.P.’s inability to toe the line with the bishops saw him return to London, leaving Desmond, “the Consequence”, in the tender care of Patrick Pearse at Saint Enda’s School as a boarder. As most of his Ryan siblings were either in Tipperary or had emigrated, Desmond found himself a temporary orphan save for my great grandparents who promptly “adopted” him and welcomed him into their home.
Willie Moynihan, my great grandfather, was a not very successful publican, and politically, if he had any politics, followed his brother Michael’s line in the Irish Parliamentary Party. Michael was a very successful publican and over a number of decades served as a representative for a number of wards for the IPP on Kingstown (Dún Laoghaire) Borough Council. When the IPP took control of Dún Laoghaire, Michael – being their veteran campaigner in the borough – was given the honour of making the opening speech of that session in which he congratulated the Pope on his recent birthday. It caused a sensation at the time. Now while I realise this was far more politically loaded than it appears today, somehow it strikes me as petty compared with the many other problems Dún Laoghaire faced back then.
Despite his humble roots Michael Moynihan at that stage had a number of pubs, a big house on Haig Terrace, a mansion in Killiney, and was about to be made a Justice of the Peace despite a string of convictions for after-hours drinking and illegal gambling schools in his pubs. His gesture, despite the symbolism, always strikes me as just another example of the “re-branding process” which the IPP really stood for and intended to deliver with Home Rule. They might have cut the cake differently but basically it was to be business as usual – just a new name over the door and on the corporate notepaper.
Nobody ever told me how my great-grandparents reacted to having a socialist with a strong sense of Nationalism in their midst. However Desmond was a boy with a mission and felt it his duty to convert the family or at the very least his young cousins even if their parents were beyond redemption. His stories of St. Enda’s fired the children’s imagination, and I still smile as I remember my great-aunt Polly, throwing back her shoulders, raising herself beyond her full height, and summoning some of the worst traits of amateur dramatics, taking off Desmond, taking off Patrick Pearse, taking off Robert Emmet leading the 1803 Rebellion.
Desmond began leaving his copybooks from school in the house when he visited. These were filled with essays on Fionn MacCumhaill, the Red Branch Knights, Cú Chulainn, and other mythical heroes. The copious marginal notes and comments by Patrick Pearse drew my grandmother and her sister further into this world of Celtic heroics, standing in stark contrast to the stories of the famine during the previous century told by their parents. A generation later both my mother and uncle remember being equally moved by the same essays which were unfortunately lost during a house move in the 1940s.
As Desmond’s involvement with the revolution grew his visits to the house became less so there was some delight when he turned up in July 1915 with an invitation to go to the funeral of a Fenian from Cork called Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa. Pearse, the fellah who wrote all those notes and comments in the margins of Desmond’s copy books was going to give a speech. Willie Moynihan didn’t approve of this fellah called Pearse but his wife relented understanding her children’s curiosity and she was fond of Desmond and didn’t want to let him down.
Desmond, not surprisingly, faded out of family stories after that, as Pearse’s exhortation to revolution was too much for a God-fearing, law abiding woman, like my great grandmother. He would go on to write biographies of Pearse, Connolly, Collins, and De Valera, as well as the first major account of 1916 by a participant. His pioneering journalism during the War of Independence did much to counteract the black propaganda of the State murder gangs who assassinated at will back then. However it was his invitation to a funeral which endured in family lore on a day that changed the family’s political axis forever.
Polly could “do” the speech, and recited it with all the subtlety of a Victorian melodrama well into her eighties. She would recall Pearse as “a bit of a fruitcake” or “sixpence short of a shilling”, but despite his questionable sanity would qualify this with “my God! But that fellah could talk!” Remarkably, with the emergence of the Pathé newsreel footage of the funeral in recent years (footnote to link?), she seemed to have taken all Pearse’s movements and gestures in, and even in old age could deliver it as if she had recently studied the film frame by frame. This delightful entertainment of my childhood had deeply affected her and despite occasionally lamenting how dull Dublin became once the British left, it had been a seminal moment at which she became and remained a republican right down to her bones.
On very rare occasions my granny would “do” the speech. But her version was different. She didn’t have her sister’s dramatic flair, but she too had been affected by Pearse that August day. With her a previously unseen veil of steel and determination seemed to come over her; probably that same steely veil that saw her defy her parents and join Cumann na mBan and which enabled her to carry cases of hand grenades and weapons across the city on numerous occasions. Her rendition suggested she had taken the words in and considered them rather than the exaggerated gestures of which her sister Polly was so fond. Significantly it was through this involvement that she met my grandfather, a member of H Company, 1st Battalion, the Dublin Brigade.
As the decade of commemorations gathered momentum, last August saw the centenary of O’Donovan Rossa’s funeral. In many ways it started the countdown to the revolution of 1916-22. Earlier this year I found myself in Glasnevin Cemetery and wandering around came face to face with Rossa’s grave and all those childhood memories came flooding back. It’s difficult, even with all the photographs and the film footage, to really understand just how significant Pearse’s speech was.
Looking at the photographs I wonder just how many lives were changed that day. In its own small way my own family bears testimony to it. As historians and commentators continue to play “what if” in relation to events of that period I found myself doing the same at Rossa’s grave, making similar speculations with what potentially, for me anyway, might have been serious consequences. What if Desmond Ryan hadn’t fired my granny’s imagination so that she went to the funeral? What if she hadn’t been inspired by Pearse that day? Would she have joined Cumann na mBan? More importantly, without being in that circle would she have met my grandfather? The next question doesn’t bear thinking about, because, despite the occasional rocky road, I’ve rather enjoyed being alive, and without that chain of events unleashed by the combination of Rossa, Pearse and that Speech on that August day I might never have been born.
So on the 1st August 2015 I found myself in town at the O’Donovan Rossa Bridge to pay a personal tribute to Rossa, and Pearse, and that speech. In particular I was paying tribute to Desmond Ryan. Because somehow in that crazy way that small events ripple out to have more serious consequences I find myself thinking I owe them for my very existence.
Hugo McGuinness is a historian specialising in the period of history referred to above.
“GUNFIGHTS IN DUBLIN SUBURB — TWO OFFICERS KILLED – POLICE HUNT GUNMEN”
Those words above might have been the headline of the national media in Ireland on a Monday 95 years ago. On the Tuesday a headline might have declared INTENSE POLICE HUNT — DRUMCONDRA MURDERERS STILL AT LARGE! to be followed on Thursday by SHOOTOUT YESTERDAY IN DUBLIN CITY CENTRE – FOUR DEAD!
The events to which those headlines might have referred occurred on 13th, 14th and 15th October 1920 and they involved two men, Seán Treacy and Dan Breen. They were events of amazing initiative, determination and courage – and also of tragedy. They took place in Dublin city centre and in a location roughly a mile away. And they were shortly to lead to further amazing deeds of determination and courage – and even greater tragedies.
Dan Breen and Sean Treacy were both Tipperary men and members of the newly-created Irish Republican Army unit in their home county. Already they had participated in the event that touched off the War of Independence in January 1919, the Solohodbeg Ambush. Their unit, under Séamus Robinson, had acted without any order from their Dublin Headquarters on the day the First Dáil met in the Mansion House in Dublin and their action was disapproved of by at least some of the TDs, including some in the newly-reorganised Sinn Féin political party. The attack in which Treacy and Breen participated killed two members of the colonial Royal Irish Constabulary, captured arms and an amount of gelignite.
Dan Breen had been sworn into the secret organisation, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, in 1912 at the age of eighteen. In 1914, he joined the Irish Volunteers but due to Mac Neill’s cancellation order and resulting confusion, like most of the Volunteers, took no part in the fighting of 1916. He made up for that omission afterwards.
Sean Treacy, whom Breen admired tremendously had, according to Breen himself a much wider and more defined political ideology. He left school at the age of 14 and joined the IRB at the age of 16, in 1911. He was also a member of Connradh na Gaeilge. Arrested in the roundups after the 1916 Rising, he spent two years interned without trial. As soon as he was released in 1918, Treacy was made vice-commander of the Third Tipperary Brigade of the Volunteers which, in 1919, became the IRA and he was eager to start the war to rid Ireland of British colonialism.
Treacy and Breen had eventful times in Tipperary and nearby counties as they escalated their war against the British colonial occupation, attacking RIC barracks and carrying out ambushes. Among their most dangerous and famous events was the daring IRA rescue at Knockalong of Sean Hogan from the train in which he was being carried as a prisoner under armed escort on 13th May 1919, in which a fierce hand-to-hand struggle took place and both Treacy and Breen were seriously wounded.
Towards the end of that year, on 19th December in Dublin, Breen and Treacy were in action with Sean Hogan in an attempt on the life of General Sir John French, the British King’s representative and chief of HM Armed Forces in Ireland. The operation was led by Paddy Daly (of “Collins’ Squad” notoriety and later infamous for his part in the Civil War) and consisted of ten Volunteers, to which Martin Savage was added the previous night due to his own earnest request. Through misinformation the waiting Volunteers barely missed French as he headed in convoy towards his Residence (now the US Ambassador’s) in Phoenix Park and in the shootout that followed with the other convoy vehicles Breen was wounded in the leg and Volunteer Martin Savage in the neck, dying in Breen’s arms (Martin Savage is remembered in the song Ashtown Road by Dominic Behan).
At least a number of Sinn Féin TDs and activists were incensed by this action, including Charlotte Despard, who also happened to be John French’s sister. There was more than family relations involved – many in Sinn Féin were ambivalent about armed struggle and although both were banned later in 1919, neither the party nor the Dáil declared war on the British until a few months before the Truce in 1921.
After the Knockalong rescue, things had got a bit hot for Treacy and Breen in Tipperary and Collins invited them up to Dublin, where they were expected to merge more easily in the busy city centre.
They returned to Tipperary in the summer of 1920, where they continued to be active in the war, until Collins invited them up to the city again, partly for their own safety and partly to help him out in Dublin in the work of his “Apostles”, the “Squad”, especially in assassinations of British Intelligence agents, troublesome police and informers.
CIS — BRITISH INTELLIGENCE IN IRELAND REORGANISED
However, British Intelligence in Ireland had already been re-organised. The RIC’s intelligence and its personnel were by this time considered unreliable by British Army Intelligence and many in the force had also resigned or become disaffected. “By the spring of 1920 the political police of both the Crimes Special Branch of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and G-Division (Special Branch) of the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) had been effectively neutralised by IRA counter-intelligence operatives working for Michael Collins. The British thoroughly reorganised their administration at Dublin Castle, including the appointment of Army Colonel Ormonde de l’Epee Winter as Chief of a new Combined Intelligence Service (CIS) for Ireland. Working closely with Sir Basil Thomson, Director of Civil Intelligence in the Home Office, with Colonel Hill Dillon, Chief of British Military Intelligence in Ireland, and with the local British Secret Service Head of Station Count Sevigné at Dublin Castle, Ormonde Winter began to import dozens of professional Secret Service agents from all parts of the British Empire into Ireland to track down IRA operatives and Sinn Féin leaders.” (Wikipedia).
Ormonde developed or introduced lots of intelligence-gathering procedures and “black propapaganda” in Ireland. After the war he joined the British fascisti for a while and in 1940 fought for the Finns in the Winter War against the Red Army.
As part of the reorganisation under CIS, a number of Royal Irish Constabulary officers had been posted to Dublin from country areas where the IRA were active and Breen and Treacy were noted coming into Dublin or soon after their arrival and were placed under surveillance.
On the evening of 13th October 1920, Breen and Treacy had been to see a film in Dublin with the Fleming sisters, who told them that they were sure that Breen and Treacy were being followed. Neither of the men believed this to be true and before the start of the nightly curfew, headed out towards their safe house, “Fernside”, a little past the corner of Home Farm Road and Upper Drumcondra Road, which belonged to a Professor Carolan, who lived there and taught in the nearby St. Patrick’s College, Drumcondra.
BRITISH EARLY MORNING RAID
By this time, the Fernside address was known to British Intelligence. Around 1.00 or 2.00am, a party of DMP and British Army knocked on the door and when Professor Carolan answered, they entered, began to question him and a number started up the stairs. Both Treacy and Breen had slept in most of their clothes and with their guns ready. Instead of barricading themselves inside their room or escaping through the window, they charged down the stairs, firing as they went at the intruders, who fled. Breen and Treacy then went back upstairs and jumped from a first floor window. They seem to have been different windows, for Breen went through a glass house or conservatory and received a number of glass cuts, while Treacy suffered only a very slight injury of some sort, whether by glass or some such or by bullet, is not clear. Or possibly Breen jumped first and left little glass remaining to cut Treacy.
In the back garden of the house, Breen later recounted firing at the heads of either police or British soldiers he observe over the fence and saw some fall; in return fire he was seriously injured but managed to get out of the garden and work his way across the road down to the wall of the nearby St. Patrick’s College, Drumcondra (still there today). Although short of stature and badly injured, he scaled the wall and making his way across the College grounds, came out on the other side, by the Tolka and then went up the road to Phibsboro, where he knocked on doors. A man who opened the door to him got him a doctor, who then had him smuggled into the private patients’ part of the Mater Miserecordiae Hospital (known to Dubliners as “the Mater”), at the corner of Eccles Street and Dorset Street, under an assumed name in the care of the nuns. Another version has him going to Finglas before being smuggled to the Mater.
We know little of Treacy’s escape except that he too got away, only slightly hurt, to a house in Inchicore. Professon Carolan was shot during the event (probably by the enraged British who might have thought he had somehow signaled Breen and Treacy or in panic — they seem to have shot some of their own men) and died days later.
The Occupation forces admitted to only two of their dead, both officers in the British Army, although a contemporary Irish Times report mentioned three. But Joe Connolly, a member and later Chief of the Dublin Fire Brigade, which then as today operates ambulance services in Dublin, spoke of twelve bodies having been collected for delivery to the British Military Hospital in Arbour Hill.
The forces of the colonial Occupation were in a frenzy searching for both Treacy and Breen around the city and the Dublin IRA organised protection for them both.
Word reached Michael Collins that the Occupation forces were going to organise a formal funereal procession to take the dead British officers’ bodies to the quays for their journey home to Britain and that top officers of the Occupation’s army and police would be in attendance. Collins planned to shoot a number of them and assembled a group for the operation and notified the meeting place.
However, Collins cancelled the operation (and meeting) when he learned that the high-ranking British officers would not be attending the dead officers’ send-off to England. Treacy arrived late at the meeting place, a draper’s shop called “Republican Outfitters” (!) owned by the Boland family, at 94 Talbot Street, as did another man and both learned of the cancellation (according to one account; according to another he delayed leaving after the others had left). However, the British were closing in on Talbot Street with the intention of capturing Treacy, it seems. As Treacy came out into the street, an agent approached him with gun drawn and Treacy saw the British vehicles coming down the street from O’Connell (then Sackville) Street. He drew his Parabellum firearm and shot two agents but the machine-gunner caught Treacy in a burst as he was trying to mount his bicycle as people dived for cover and several were injured.
Sean Treacy died from the machine-gun bullets in that street, along with two civilians, a John Currigan, a tobacconist from Eden Quay and “a messenger boy named Carroll”, according to a press report at the time. A policeman on point duty was shot in the arm, which had to be amputated. Another boy, 15-year old apprentice photographer John J. Hogan, claiming to be out practicing with his employer’s camera, followed the action and took the famous photo of Treacy lying dead in the street.
It seems the Chief of the CIS himself, Ormand Winter, had attended the operation or had followed it up and was shocked at the outcome – an agent dead and another wounded and Treacy dead, along with two innocent bystanders, one only a boy. He told a press reporter it had been “a tragedy”.
It had long been believed that Treacy shot two agents dead but although Liuetenant Gilbert Price was definitely dead, another, Colour-Sergeant Frank Christian, later received compensation of £1,250 (a substantial amount in those days) for injury received during the event, according to press reports. Christian claimed to have been off duty and just passing at the time but this was more than likely said to preserve his cover and also to increase the amount of compensation. http://www.cairogang.com/incidents/treacy-talbot/treacy-talbot.html
Some of the IRA and their supporters were still in the area when the British Army arrived in Talbot Street and one, Dick McKee, barely made it away on a bicycle. He would not be so lucky another time which was fast approaching.
I once or twice heard some speculation that Treacy had been betrayed from within the IRA and even that Collins wanted him killed but these kinds of rumours often arise and no evidence has ever been provided to substantiate the speculation. It is indeed curious that Treacy had miraculously escaped on the 13th and had been recruited for a dangerous operation to take place two days later, then to be shot at the scene of a cancelled meeting but such things happen. It would take remarkable prescience on Collins’ part to have anticipated the course of the War of Independence in 1920 so as to have removed one of the most effective fighters that would help bring the struggle to truce, negotiation and a Treaty. The simplest explanation and the one that fits the best is that Treacy had been marked and followed and that after their debacle at Fernside, the colonial military authorities in Dublin had decided to take him prisoner there in Talbot Street if they could and, if not, kill him.
Treacy was buried in his native county at Kilfeakle, a funeral attended by thousands of mourners and a heavy concentration of RIC, holding rifles with fixed bayonets. Breen remarked that though not intended in that way, it was an appropriate mark of respect for the fallen guerrilla fighter.
MORE SHOOTINGS …. AND A MASSACRE
The police and army raids in Drumcondra and in Talbot Street, the first from which two tough and experienced IRA men had been lucky to escape and the second which had resulted in the death of one of them and nearly netted a few others, must have rung very loud alarm bells for IRA leaders and ordinary Volunteers. Apparently it convinced Collins that some very thorough offensive action was needed to remove or reduce the threat.
Just over a month later, in the early morning of Sunday 21 November 1920, Collins’ ‘Squad’ and teams mobilised by the Dublin IRA Brigade, went out to assassinate 35 men believed to be members of the British Intelligence network in the City. Collins had originally drawn up a list of 50 but Cathal Brugha, acting as Minister of Defence, had reduced the list on the basis that there was insufficient evidence against fifteen of them.
Most of the shootings by the IRA that morning took place in the southern suburbs of the city – Baggot, Upper Pembroke and Lower Mount streets, Fitzwilliam Square, Morehampton Road and Earlsfort Terrace. There were also shootings in the Gresham Hotel and on O’Connell Street. Some agents were, luckily for them, not in when the IRA came calling and some operations were bungled. A passing Auxilliary patrol (they were brought into Ireland in July 1920) got involved in one location and, in the subsequent fight, two of them were killed and one IRA man wounded and captured. But by midday, the British Army and colonial administration were counting their fatal losses, a total of:
10 Intelligence officers (one RIC and 9 Military)
1 military prosecutor
1 civilian informer
1 Army Veterinary officer (apparently a case of mistaken identity)
In addition, some more officers had been wounded, albeit not fatally.
Just as the operations organised by British Intelligence in the previous month had raised the alarm for the IRA, the response of the latter did the same in turn for the British military and political administration in Ireland. Henceforth, intelligence personnel would be accommodated in Dublin Castle or in barracks. But if the Intelligence establishment was rattled, the Auxilliaries and loyal RIC and DMP (Dublin Metropolitan Police) were incensed.
That afternoon, a Gaelic football game was scheduled to take place in Croke Park, the national stadium of the Gaelic Athletic Association, between Tipperary and Dublin teams. The IRA had considered advising the GAA to cancel the match but there were fears that — apart from alerting British Intelligence that something was planned — it might implicate the GAA in the planned operation that morning. In any case, the match went ahead with an estimated attendance of 5,000, unaware that a convoy of British Army troops was driving along Clonliffe Road from the Drumcondra Road end, while a convoy of DMP and Auxiliaries approached the Park from the south or Canal end.
At 3.25pm, ten minutes after the start of the match, the police burst into the ground, firing. Despite their claims later there is no evidence they received any return fire but nevertheless their own commander admitted they kept shooting for about a minute-and-a-half. They fired at spectators and players, some firing from the pitch while others fired from the Canal Bridge at those who tried to escape by climbing over the wall at the Canal end. The soldiers on Clonliffe Road fired machine gun bullets over the heads of the fleeing crowd in an unsuccessful effort to turn them back.
According to the commander of the operation, Major Mills, the police had fired 114 rifle rounds (revolver rounds were not counted) and the Army had fired 50 rounds in the street. The casualties were 9 people shot dead, five dying of wounds and two trampled to death in the panic. Two of the dead were boys aged 10 and 11. Michael Hogan, a player was dead and another player, Egan, wounded but survived. Dozens more were wounded by bullets or injured in the panic. Unlike the “Croke Park” scene in Neil Jordan’s Michael Collins film (1996), it appears that the British Army shot no-one that day – that was all the work of the police.
The Castle issued a cover story in a statement that IRA men from outside Dublin had used the football game as a cover for getting into the city and, after the assassinations they had carried out, had gone to the game. When the police arrived to search fans for weapons, according to the statement, these men had fired on the police, who had been obliged to return fire. The most credulous would have found that story difficult to believe since not a single policeman had even been injured and even the loyalist Irish Times poured scorn on their story.
MURDER IN THE CASTLE
One of the planners of the earlier IRA operation was already in custody before the events of that day. Dick McKee, commander of the Dublin Brigade and another IRA man, Peadar Clancy, had been arrested by Crown Forces in the early hours of that Sunday morning. They were being interrogated in Dublin Castle.
Also being interrogated was Conor Clune, who had been arrested by the Auxilliaries in a raid on Saturday evening of Vaughan’s Hotel in Parnell Square, on the corner of Granby Lane. Clune was no IRA man but an language enthusiast who had come up to Dublin that day with his employer, Edward McLysaght, on business for the Raheen cooperative. Clune had gone on to meet Piaras Béaslaí, a member of the First Dáil (Irish Parliament set up in defiance of Westminster by the majority of Members of the British Parliament elected in Ireland). Béaslaí and some IRA men using Vaughan’s that evening were alerted by a hotel porter to the suspicious behaviour of a visitor, apparently a spy, and departed before the arrival of the “Auxies”, who arrested Clune on suspicion. Leading the interrogation team was Ormond Winters.
Later that awful day, McKee, Clancy and Clune were reported “shot while trying to escape”. Their captors said that, because there was no room in the cells, they had been placed in a guardroom and were killed while grabbing arms to shoot their captors and to make a getaway. To bolster the Castle’s story, they produced a number of photographs: one shows three civilians sitting apparently in conversation in a room, where a number of Auxiliaries and British Army are also shown relaxed, some eating a meal and another reading. Untended weapons are in view; another photograph shows a blur of men “trying to escape”. In none of the photos are the faces of any of the three prisoners clearly shown.
Family of the dead Irishmen said they had been tortured and then shot and few believed the Castle’s story (although apparently some historians today give it credence). It is said Collins wanted their bodies displayed to show bayonet wounds but was persuaded not to, however one of Collins’s Castle informers, Nelligan, was later adamant that they had not been bayoneted. All sides agree that the bodies did show extensive bruising. In any case, McKee and Clancy died without giving their captors any of the long list of names they carried in their heads, while Clune of course had none to give.
Conor Clune’s body was recovered by Mac Lysaght, who had it medically examined, revealing that he had been shot 13 times in the chest. The Army doctor who examined the bodies prior to their release said that Clancy had been hit with up to five bullets, which caused eight wounds, while Dick McKee had three wounds caused by two bullets.
Unfortunately for the Castle, Conor Clune was a nephew of Patrick Clune, Archbishop of Perth, Australia which caused the authorities some embarrassment.
A plaque commemorating the men (albeit listing Clune as a “Volunteer”) was placed by the National Graves Association on the wall of Dublin Castle near the eastern side of City Hall and every year a small commemoration ceremony takes place there.
There was a sequel to the deaths of the three, although it did not take place until the following year. An ex-British Army soldier, James “Shankers” Ryan, had betrayed McKee. On February 5, 1921, as Ryan was enjoying a pint in Hyne’s pub in Gloucester Place and studying the horse racing page of the newspaper, an IRA squad led by Bill Stapleton walked into Hynes’ pub in Gloucester Place and shot him dead.
REMEMBRANCE IN SONG AND STORY
A plaque was erected in Talbot Street, Dublin, by the voluntary non-party organisation, the National Graves Association, on the front facade of No. 94, the building outside of which Treacy was killed. The anniversary of his death is marked each year at a commemoration ceremony in Kilfeacle. Also at noon on the morning of All-Ireland Senior Hurling Finals in which the Tipperary GAA team participates, a ceremony of remembrance is held at the spot in Talbot Street where he died, organised “by people from West Tipperary and Dublin people of Tipperary extraction. The most recent such ceremony was held at midday on Sunday, 7 September 2014 and attracted a large attendance, most of whom were en route to Croke Park.” (Wikipedia).
It is worthy of note that every single one of those commemorations and memorial plaques is organised by voluntary bodies rather than by the State.
A number of songs about Sean Treacy are in existence: Sean Treacy by Dominic Behan and Tipperary So Far Away (author disputed: by Patsy O’Halloran OR Paddy Walsh/ Pádraig Breatnach/ Paddy Dwyer, with — if about Treacy — some obviously inaccurate versions by the Clancy Brothers and Wolfe Tones). Strangely neither Treacy nor Breen is mentioned in The Station of Knockalong, about the May 13th 1920 rescue of Sean Hogan from his captors on a train, after a fierce hand-to-hand struggle in which both Treacy and Breen were seriously wounded. The Galtee Mountain Boy is said to be also about Treacy but some of the lyrics make this unlikely and a contributor to Mudcat (a folk song website) claimed that song is about Paddy Davern, who was sentenced to die by both the British and the Irish Free State but escaped them both.
Strangely too, no song comes to light about the Drumcondra shoot-out. I have heard a few lines quoted, “He shot them in pairs coming down the stairs”, allegedly from a song about Sean Treacy by Dominic Behan. However, my searches have failed to turn up the source of those wonderful lines. If the song existed and was about Treacy, it could have referred to his death in Talbot Street but even more likely to the battle at Fernside.
Dan Breen is mentioned in a number of songs but none of which I am aware directly about him. Breen was very saddened at the death of his close comrade-in-arms and recovered slowly from his wounds, having been shot four times, twice in the lungs. He was smuggled out of Dublin while still recovering from his injuries and very weak, returning to active service later. In June 1921, Breen married Brigid Malone of the Dublin Cumann na mBan, who had helped nurse him while recovering from his wounds. The long Truce of 1921 followed in July which, according to his autobiography My Fight for Irish Freedom (1921 and many reprints since), Breen frowned upon, commenting that IRA discipline grew slack and information on identities of fighters and their locations would have come much more easily to Crown forces.
Dan Breen dissented from the Treaty of 1921 and took up arms on the Republican side, was captured and interned, went on hunger strike and was released. Breen was an anti-Treaty TD for Tipperary from 1923 for Sinn Féin, the TDs of which refused to take their seats in the “Partitionist” Fourth Dáil. When the Fianna Fáil party was created in a split away from Sinn Féin in 1926 with the intention of their representatives entering the Dáil if elected, Breen joined and was the first anti-Treaty TD to take his seat in the Dáil in 1927.
When he later failed to be reelected he went to the USA, which was under alcohol Prohibition at the time and there he ran a speakeasy. (He would probably have known Joe Kennedy, grandfather of President John F. Kennedy, who was a prominent gangster in that epoch). Returning to Ireland in 1932, Breen regained his Fianna Fáil seat. He died in 1969 and the attendance at his funeral was estimated at 10,000.
The month of January is the start of the year, according to the calendar most of us use but, for the Celts and some other peoples, it was the last month of winter, which had begun in November, after the feast of Samhain.
I am notified of many birthdays in January from among my Facebook friends. That would seem to indicate a higher rate of conception at the end of March/ early April and onwards but a quick search on the internet did not supply me comparative figures. However, in our climate, new food begins to be available inland in January as salmon arrive to spawn and with sheep lactating from February. Onwards from there, plants begin to grow again and birds lay eggs, animals give birth and so on. The pregnant mother needs a ready supply of food to sustain a viable pregnancy.
Though January may be a month of births, from what I see of history it is also a month of deaths … early, unnatural deaths …. of executions, in fact. These particular executions to which I refer took place in Ireland and in the United States of America and they were carried out by the respective states of those countries.
Executions by the Irish Free State
This week saw the anniversary of five such executions, on the 15th January 1923 — executions by the Free State of IRA Volunteers. Four of these were in Roscrea and the fifth was in Carlow:Vol.F. Burke; Vol.Patrick Russell; Vol.Martin Shea; Vol.Patrick MacNamara; Vol.James Lillis.
They were not the first executions by the Free State: eight had been executed the previous November and thirteen in December. The killing for the new year of 1923 had begun with five in Dublin on the 8th January and another three in Dundalk.
Nor were those executed on the 15th January to be the last for that month: on the 20th another eleven stood against a wall to be shot by soldiers of the Irish state; on the 22nd, another three; on the 25th, two more; and another four on the 26th before the month’s toll of 34 had been reached. As we progress through the year, each month will contain the anniversary of an executed volunteer and in all but one, multiple executions.
Apart from those who died while fighting, seventy-seven Volunteers and two other supporters of the struggle were officially executed by the Irish Free State between November 1922 and 29th December 1923. In addition there were many (106-155) murdered without being acknowledged by Free State forces — shot (sometimes after torture) and their bodies dumped in streets, on mountains, in quarries .…1
These deeds and others led to the composition of a number of songs, among the best of which are in my opinionMartyrs of ’22 (sung to the air of The Foggy Dew) and Take It Down from the Mast. The latter was written in 1923 by James Ryan, containing two verses about the Six Counties which one doesn’t normally hear sung. Dominic Behan in the 1950s added a verse of his own about the four executions by the State in reprisal for the assassination of TD Sean Hales, when the State deliberately shot one Volunteer from each province, each of whom had been in custody when the assassination took place: Rory O’Connor, Liam Mellows, Richard Barrett, Joseph McKelvey, Dominic Behan recorded the latter in the 1950s: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-b2EL8Jytao
This was the bloody baptism of the new state, a neo-colony state of twenty-six counties on a partitioned island, with six counties remaining a British colony.
MARTYRS OF ’22
When they heard the call of a cause laid low, They sprang to their guns again; And the pride of all was the first to fall — The glory of our fighting men. In the days to come when with pipe and drum, You’ll follow in the ways they knew, When their praise you’ll sing, let the echoes ring To the memory of Cathal Brugha.
Brave Liam Lynch on the mountainside Felll a victim to the foe And Danny Lacey for Ireland died in the Glen of Aherlow Neil Boyle and Quinn from the North came down To stand with the faithful and true And we’ll sing their praise in the freedom days ‘Mong the heroes of ’22.
Some fell in the proud red rush of war And some by the treacherous blow, Like the martyrs four in Dublin Town, And their comrades at Dromboe: And a hundred more in barrack squares and by lonely roadsides too: Without fear they died and we speak with pride of the martyrs of ’22.
Executions of “Molly Maguires”
Wednesday, 14th January, was the anniversary of the executions of James McDonnell and Charles Sharp at Mauch Chunk jail, Pennsylvania. Both had been accused of being “Molly Maguires”, a resistance group of workers, mostly miners, in the Pennsylvania region. Today, the 16th, is the anniversary of the execution of another “Molly”, Martin Bergin; 20 were executed over two years. And many more had been murdered in their homes or ambushed — many others had been beaten; these activities were carried out by “vigilantes” hired by the coal-mine owners and by Iron & Coal Guards, also employed by them.
The exact origin of the name Molly Maguires is uncertain but they were among a number of agrarian resistance organizations of previous years in Ireland; according to accounts, they gathered at night wearing women’s smocks over their clothes to attack landlords and their agents. Since these smocks tended to be white in colour, Whiteboys or Buachaillí Bána was another name for them.
Somewhat Ironically, the state of Pennsylvania was itself named after a man with connections to Ireland: William Penn’s father, the original William, had commanded a ship in the Royal Navy during the suppression of the Irish uprising in 1641, for which he had been given estates in Ireland by Cromwell.
His son, William went to live on the Irish estates for a while and was suppressing Irish resistance there in 1666. Not lot long afterwards he became a Quaker in Cork.
In 1681 the younger Penn’s efforts to combine a number of Quaker settlements in what is now the eastern United States were successful when he was granted a charter by King Charles II to develop the colony. The governance principles he outlined there are credited with influencing the later Constitution of the United States. Charles II added the name “Penn” to William’s chosen name of “Sylvania” for the colony, in honour of the senior Penn’s naval service (he had by then become an Admiral).
Less than two hundred years later, Pennsylvania was one of the United States of America and the anthracite coal discovered there was being mined by US capitalists. The mine owners squeezed their workers as hard as they could and regularly replaced them with workers who were emigrating in mass to the United States in the mid-19th Century.
According to James D. Horan and Howard Swiggett, who wrote The Pinkerton Story sympathetically about the detective agency, about 22,000 coal miners worked in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, at this time and 5,500 of these (a quarter) were children between the ages of seven and sixteen years. According to Richard M. Boyer and Herbert M. Morais in Labor’s Untold Story, the children earned between one and three dollars a week separating slate from the coal. Miners who were to injured or too old to work at the coal face were put to picking out slate at the “breakers”, crushing machines for breaking the coal into manageable sizes. In that way, many of the elderly miners finished their mining days as they had begun in their youth. The life of the miners was a “bitter, terrible struggle” (Horan and Swiggett).
Workers who were illiterate and immigrants without English were unable to read safety notices, such as they were. In addition immigrants faced discrimination and Irish Catholics, who began to arrive in large numbers in the United States after the Great Hunger of 1845-1849 faced particular discrimination although (or because) most spoke English (as a second language to Irish, in many cases). The mine-owners often employed Englishmen and Welsh as supervisors and police which also led to divisions along ethnic lines.
As well as wages being low and working conditions terrible, with deaths and serious injuries at work in their hundreds every year, the mine-owners cut corners by failing to ensure good pit props and refused to install safety features such as ventilating or pumping systems or emergency exits. Boyer and Morais quote statistics of 566 miners killed and 1,655 seriously injured over a seven-year period (Labor, the Untold Story).
In 1869 a fire at the Avondale Mine in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, cost the lives of 110 miners. There had been no emergency exit for the men’s escape. It is a measure of the influence of the mine and iron capitalists that the jury at the inquest into the deaths did not apportion blame to the mine-owner, although it did add a rider recommending the instalation of emergency exits in all mines.
Earlier at the scene, as the bodies were being recovered from the mine, a man had mounted a wagon to address the thousands of miners who had arrived from surrounding communities: “Men, if you must die with your boots on, die for your families, your homes, your country, but do not longer consent to die, like rats in a trap, for those who have no more interest in you than in the pick you dig with.”
The speaker was John Siney, a leader of the Workingmen’s Benevolent Association, a trade union that had been organizing among the miners for some time; his words were a call to unionize and thousands did so there and then and over the following days.
Trade union organisers in the USA throughout the 19th Century (and later) were routinely subject to harassment, threats and often much worse and the workers at times responded in kind. Shooting and stabbing incidents were far from unknown, with fifty unexplained murders in Schuykill County between 1863 and 1867. The mine-owners had the Coal and Iron Police force and were known to hire additional “vigilantes” to intimidate and punish trade union organisers. They also hired the Pinkerton Detective Agency to gather intelligence on union organisers and on the Molly Maguires.
The employers watched concerned as the WBA trade union grew to 30,000 strong with around 85% membership among the coal miners of the area, including nearly all the Irish. The “Great Panic” of 1873 changed the situation. A stock crash due to over-expansion was followed by a decrease in the money supply and staggering levels of unemployment followed. As is often the case, the capitalists maintained their life-styles while claiming inability to pay living wages to their workers. As is often the case too, they used the opportunity of high unemployment to force worse wages and conditions upon the workers.
One of those capitalists owned two-thirds of the mines in the southeastern Pennsylvania area; he was Franklin B. Gowen, owner of the Reading & Philadelphia Railroad and of the Reading & Philadelphia Coal & Iron Company. Gowen was determined to break the WBA and formed his own union of employers, the Anthracite Board of Trade; in December 1874 they announced a 20% cut in wages for their workers. On 1st January 1875 the WBA brought their members out on strike.
The history of the coal mines of Pennsylvania and their terrible conditions and mortality in the 19th Century, the extreme exploitation of the mine-owners’ systems and their use of prejudiced and corrupt courts, media and vigilantes to have their way, is a long one. The history of the workers’ resistance is also a long one and the “Molly Maguires” were a part of it. Their own history is also dogged by controversy, with some even doubting the existence of the Mollies, claiming that the secret society was an invention of the employers to create panic and to associate the unionized workers with violence in the minds of the public. The brief notes following are part of a narrative accepted by some historians but not by others.
In order to defend themselves, the miners developed two types of organisation which, in many areas where the workers were Irish, existed side by side. One was the Workingmen’s Benevolent Association, a trade union the methods of which were those of industrial action, demonstrations and attempts to use the legal system in order to improve working conditions and gain better remuneration for the workers.The leaders of the WBA condemned violence used by workers as well, of course, as denouncing the employers’ violence.
The other was the Molly Maguires, a secret oath-bound society which organized under the cover of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. The AOH in turn was a self-help or fraternal organization for Catholics of Irish origin, mostly in the Irish diaspora, particularly in the USA, where early Catholic Irish migrants had encountered much hostility and discrimination from the WASP establishment and from “nativist” groups. In keeping with the history of their namesakes, the Molly Maguires of the USA were prepared to use violence in response to the violence of their employers.
In March1875, Edward Coyle, a leading member of the union and of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, was murdered, as was another member of the AOH; a miners’ meeting was attacked and a mine-owner fired into a group of miners (Boyer and Morais).
Reprisals by the Mollies followed as attacks on their members and the miners in general escalated. These attacks were carried out by State police, the Coal and Iron Police of the mine-owners and in particular by the “Vigilantes”, also hired by the mine-owners.
The information supplied by the Pinkerton Agents in their daily reports, although often only initial speculations from surveillance, were used to target individuals who were then often murdered2. One of the Pinkerton agents, James McParlan3from Co. Armagh, who hadpenetrated the Mollies under cover of the alias “James McKenna”, was reportedly furious that his reports were being used to target people for the “Vigilantes”, including people he considered innocent. His job as he saw it was to gather information which would stand up in court to convict the leading Mollies, sentence them to death and break the organisation. Although his employer tried to pacify him in fact Alan Pinkerton himself had urged the mine-owners to employ “vigilantes”.
The mine-owners pursued a dual strategy of violence against Mollies and other leaders and members of the WBA, while also preparing legal charges against trade union officials and collecting evidence to have the Mollies tried for murder. The courts collaborated, as did the mass media. Much of the clergy were not found wanting either and denounced the union leaders to their congregations.
The state militia and the Coal and Iron Police patrolled the district, maintaining an intimidatory presence during the strike. On May 12th John Siney, a leader of the WBA was arrested at a demonstration against the importation of strike-breakers. Siney had opposed the strike and advocated seeking arbitration. Another 27 union officials were arrested on conspiracy charges. Judge Owes’ words while sentencing two of them are indicative of the side on which the legal system was, at least in Pennsylvania in 1875:
“I find you, Joyce, to be President of the Union and you, Maloney, to be Secretary and therefore I sentence you to one year’s imprisonment.”
Stories appeared in the media of strikes as far away as Jersey City in Illinois and in the Ohio mine-fields, all allegedly inspired by the Mollies. Much of the anti-union propaganda in the media was directly provided by Gowen who planted stories therein of murder and arson by the secret society.
With the workers starving and deaths among children and the infirm, surrounded by armed representatives of the employers and the state militia (also friendly to the employers), their leaders arrested, the union nearly collapsed and the strike was broken, miners going back to work on a 20% cut in their wages. The strike had lasted six months but the Mollies fought on and McPartland noted increased support for them, including among union members who had earlier declined to support their methods.
When the Mollies were brought to trial in a number of different court cases of irregular conduct, Gowen had himself appointed as Chief Prosecutor by the State. One of the accused, Kerrigan, turned state’s evidence and his and McPartland’s evidence helped send 10 Molly Maguires to their deaths:Michael Doyle, Edward Kelly, Alex Campbell, McGeehan, Carroll, Duffy, James Boyle, James Roarity, Tom Munley, McAllister.
In that area and in many other major industrial areas across the United States throughout the rest of that century and well into the next, employers continued to use spies and “vigilantes”, company police, local law enforcement agencies, state militia, labour-hostile press, fixed juries and biased judges to break workers’ defence organisations, often martyring their leaders and supporters.
A number of books have been published about the Molly Maguires and their story of has been dramatised in the film of the name (1970), starring Sean Connery as Jack Kehoe and Richard Harris as McPartland. The Mollies have also been celebrated in a number of songs, among which the lyrics of the Dubliner’s version is probably the worst and those of The Sons of Molly Maguire are the best I have heard (see Youtube recording link below end of article).
In June 2013 the East Wall History Group organized a talk on the Mollies by US Irish author John Kearns at the Sean O’Casey Centre in Dublin’s North Wall area (video of the talk and audio of a radio interview with the author are accessible from this link:http://eastwallforall.ie/?p=1505).
In 1979, on a petition by one of John “Black Jack” Kehoe’s descendants and after an official investigation, Governor of Pennsylvania Milton Shapp posthumously pardoned Kehoe, who had proclaimed his innocence until his death (as had Alex Campbell). Shapp praised Kehoe and the others executed as “martyrs to labor” and heroes in a struggle for fair treatment for workers and the building of their trade union.
The Sons of Molly Maguire:
1 I gratefully acknowledge the listing of that wonderful voluntary and non-party organisation, the Irish National Graves Association, which has done such important work to document and honour those who have fallen in the struggle for freedom of the people of our land http://www.nga.ie/Civil%20War-77_Executions.php
Today is the anniversary of the death of Pat O’Donnel, an Irish patriot or a murderer, depending on one’s point of view. There are memorials to him both in his native village and in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin, the latter paid for by US-Irish contributions.
Pat O’Donnel was a travelled man with an interesting life story (the little of it that is known). He was born in Gaoth Dobhair (which remains an Irish-speaking area today in Co. Donegal)in 1835 and emigrated to the USA where, among other things, he worked as a miner. He stayed with his cousins for a while, who were with the ‘Molly Maguires’ (a workers’ underground resistance organization), in the coal-mining area of the state of Pennsylvania.
His greatest claim to fame however is that he killed James Carey, a man who informed on his “National Invincibles” comrades who in 1882 had assassinated Lord Cavendish, newly-appointed Chief Secretary of Ireland and Thomas Henry Burke, Permanent Under-Secretary – i.e. both chief representatives of British colonialism in Ireland — as they walked through Phoenix Park.
The British made arrangements for Carey which bear most of the features of the “witness protection program” of the FBI as presented in a number of fictional Hollywood films. Carey was given money in payment for his treachery, a new identity and passage for him and his family to begin a new life in South Africa.
There is no dispute that O’Donnell shot Carey a number of times and killed him in the latter’s cabin on board ship. The rest has been the subject of discussion and even argument but it does seem likely that although O’Donnell did intend to kill Carey, he provoked him and gave him a chance to go for his gun. Carey’s son probably concealed the weapon when O’Donnell was arrested in Carey’s quarters. Had Carey’s gun been produced in the cabin, instead of being found later on the son, it would have given O’Donnell some chance of being convicted of manslaughter instead of murder.
The biggest debate is about whether O’Donnell was sent to kill Carey or whether, after befriending him and his family, he learned of his identity and decided then to kill him. Evidence points in both directions although O’Donnell’s behaviour in the Carey family’s company tends towards the second interpretation, which is what most historians hold to. Most non-historians seem to prefer the story that O’Donnell was sent as an instrument of justice against informers and there is a Dublin folklore tradition to that effect. Curiously, the jury too preferred that theory — or that O’Donnell had shot an unarmed man — and found him guilty of “willful murder”.
Even most of those in Ireland who were horrified at the assassinations of the British colonial representatives despised Carey, who had been the one to actually give the signal for the fatal assaults and later seemed to delight in condemning six of his former colleagues to death — and others to prison sentences — by his evidence at their trials.
My great-grandfather J. J. Walsh was one of the legal team defending the Invincibles but my feelings about Carey would have been the same even had I not known that. It is recorded that eight great bonfires were lit in Ireland in celebration at the news of Carey’s death and that musicians led thousands in joyful processions.
The Judge refused to allow O’Donnell to speak after passing sentence upon him but the convicted man shouted “Three cheers for Ireland! Goodbye, United States! To hell with the British and the British Crown!“
The President of the USA intervened to try to save his life, since he had become a US citizen, but Pat O’Donnell was hung this day in Newgate prison, one hundred and thirty-one years ago and is numbered among the hundreds of thousands of men and women who fell in the fight for Irish Freedom.
(* “Skin the Goat” was the nickname of the assassination group’s getaway cart driver, whose real name was John Fitzharris; he served a long sentence for refusing to give information on anyone).
Further information and songs:
Pat O’Donnell, the Invincibles and Carey also get a mention in one verse of “Take Me up to Monto” by Irish Times journalist George Hodnett (a colleague of my father’s):
“When Carey told on ‘Skin the Goat’*,
O’Donnell caught him on the boat —
He wished he’d never been afloat,
The dirty skite!
It wasn’t very sensible
To tell on the Invincibles —
They stood up for their principles
Day and night.
And they all went up to Monto, Monto, Monto …” etc
There’s a good article here by historian Shane McKenna in which he calls the event in Phoenix Park “killings”, unlike their usual description as “murders” even in articles from Irish writers — evidence that the hand of colonialism still rests on our brains. Elsewhere one reads in history about the “assassination” of Arch-Duke Ferdinand, of Lincoln etc. They are not usually described as “murders”.
A version of the Pat O’Donnell Ballad sung by Diarmuid Breatnach (at19.40 minutes on the video), 23rd February 2013 as part of the Songs from the Docks event, preceded by Paul O’Brien, Seán O’Casey Centre, East Wall; video Rashers O’Reilly)
Another version of the Pat O’Donnell ballad, sung by Martin Collins, a Traveller who got it from his father Johnny Collins, sung here at the Celebration of Irish Traveller Music event at the Cobblestone pub, Smithfield, Dublin on 11th December 2014:
DID YOU KNOW IT WAS A ‘RED’ WHO WROTE “BROTHER CAN YOU SPARE ME A DIME?” WELL, NOT SO SUPRISING, MAYBE. BUT HOW ABOUT THE SONGS FOR “THE WIZARD OF OZ” and “FINIAN’S RAINBOW”?
Yip Harburg, born in the poor Lower East Side Manhattan to Russian Ashkenazi Jew migrants, was a socialist and the writer of the lyrics of the songs in The Wizard of Oz and worked on the music too.
In fact, a lot of the production team and actors were “pinkos” of some kind, including Judy Garland. The “Brother Can You ..” melody was based on a Russian lullaby. In this Amy Goodman interview on Democracy Now TV (see link bottom of piece), Yip’s son Ernie Harburg talks about his father and included is quite a bit of footage of Yip himself, talking and singing, as well as footage of the first Wizard of Oz film.
When some people think it appropriate, while supporting the Palestinians, to synonymise the words “Jew” and “Israeli”, confusing the ethnic grouping of Jews with the fascist, racist and colonist ideology of Zionism, they are ignorant of or forget not only those Jews who combat Zionism today like Finkelstein and Chomsky but also the public criticisms of Zionism and the creation or actions of the state of Israel expressed by Albert Einstein, authors Erich Fromm, Howard Zinn, Isaac Asimov, Philip Roth, I.F. Stone; violinist Yehudi Menuhin; journalists Joe Klein (Time magazine), Roger Cohen (NY Times); Richard Falk (UN Special Rapporteur), historian Gabriel Kolko and many, many others. Those Jews are following a tradition: political and religious dissidence was endemic in Western Jewry and Jews have been to the forefront in socialist movements in Europe and in the USA, as well as in the struggles against racism and for civil rights in the latter.
“Music makes you feel; words make you think; songs make you feel the thoughts,” said Yip Warburg. At the time of the Depression in the USA (caused by the financiers, surprise, surprise), with massive unemployment and poverty, the authorities and some of the public wanted songs like “Happy Times Are Here Again” and no-one was writing songs about the suffering except for his father, says Yip’s son Ernie Harburg. Not on Broadway, maybe, but in some speakeasies, in some bars and on some radio shows, the blues and folk singers were composing and singing those songs, some writers like Steinbeck were writing their stories and photographers like Dorothea Lange, Jack Delano, Gordon Parks and others were recording their faces.
People were out on the streets and picket lines too, shouting, marching, holding placards, getting their heads busted by cops and sherrifs and goons and breaking some of their heads back too. Sometimes the protesters and campaigners were shot and sometimes even executed. As the financiers swing us around to those times again, we celebrate the victories and learn from the defeats, take pride in the courage of all those who fought and mourn those who fell, whether they fought against the police and municipal authorities, the witch-hunters like McCarthy and the ignorant red-haters, the National Guard, the FBI …
And we singers, singing the lyrics and melodies of others and of our own, written in the past or in the present, give honour to the fighters in whole periods of struggle even as, in the book of history, the first lines in the next chapter are being written.
A well-prepared Paul O’Brien and a much-less prepared Diarmuid Breatnach singing at the Seán O’Casey Centre as part of the Songs From the Docks events.
Paul sings mostly his own compositions.
Diarmuid singing the Ballad of Pat O’Donnell and (most of) the Jim Larkin Ballad. I believe this is the first posting of “Pat O’Donnell” on Youtube.
Thanks to Bas Ó Curraoin for the videoing.
Pat O’Donnell was a man with an interesting life — the little we know of it — which was sadly cut short. Born in Gaoth Dobhair (Gweedore) in Donegal, even still an Irish-speaking area, he had spent time mining in the USA and had also spent time with cousins who were in the Molly Maguires in the coal-mining area of Pensylvania there. A further article on him and on the killing of Carey, along with other links and a clip of another version of the song is here: https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/2014/12/17/pat-odonnell-patriot-or-murderer/
(Grma to Irish Republican and Marxist History Project for the invitation to sing, the recording and the Youtube posting).
The song is Be Moderate (also known as”We Only the Want the Earth”) by James Connolly from the James Connolly Song Book, edited by Connolly and published in New York in 1907. No air or tune was indicated in that publication and it has been sung to a number of airs over the years. It’s a wonderful song in my opinion.
I sing it to the air of a “A Nation Once Again” composed by Thomas Davis in the 1840s, which I think suits it and supplies a chorus for others to join in. I first heard it sung to that air many years ago in London by a group of musicians and singers including Cornelius Cardew, of the CPE (m-l) (who was killed by a hit-and-run driver in an incident without any witnesses). He is here singing it with a ska back-beat(!): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pTxVBsg4u30
In my rendition here there is an adaptation and an error. The adaptation is my singing “workers” instead of “Labour” so as to distance the revolutionary content from the social democratic collaboration with capitalism, as illustrated by the unfortunate evolution of the party of that name founded by Connolly. My error is in the verse beginning “The Labour fakir …” in which I say “….. teaches” in two different lines.
I should have sung the lines thus: The Labour fakir full of guile false doctrine ever teaches
and whilst he bleeds the rank and file, tame moderation preaches;
Yet in his despite we’ll see the day, when with swords in their girths,
workers shall march in war array to claim their own, the Earth!
To: Patrick Brian Boru Murphy From: Cornelius McSclawvey,
NY St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee Teernagoogh.
New York. Republic of Ireland.
20th March 2014.
Re. invitation to PSNI to march in NY Parade
Dear Patrick Brian Boru Murphy,
I’m so sorry to hear of all the abuse you had to endure over your Committee’s decision to invite the Police Service of Northern Ireland to participate in the NY City’s Parade this year. To be honest, it was an overdue decision – even Sinn Fein accepted the PSNI years ago! And of course urged your Committee to stand by the invitation — fair play to them although I’ve never liked them, I have to say.
But just who do these yobbos think they are? Those Irish-Americans who objected are living behind the times. And the gall of them to remind you of Peter King, selected Grand Marshall for the 1985 NY Parade, visiting IRA man Joe Doherty when he was in NY jail fighting extradition back to the UK! And the Philadelphia Parade committee making the same Joe Doherty Grand Marshall of their Parade back in 1989. Sure are we not all permitted a mistake or two in our lives?
Of course it was from the Irish Consulate that the suggestion first came to invite the PSNI. Some people, like that Larry Kirwan (of “Black ’47” musical notoriety), accused the Consulate of catering only for the rich Irish-Americans, the lace-curtain crowd. Yes, he did – he even put it in one of his books! Or so I’ve been told – I wouldn’t waste my time reading any of his rubbish. What’s wrong with lace curtains anyway? They let in light and keep your nosy neighbours’ eyes out – not that any neighbours live on our couple of acres of garden anyway, but still …
The cheek of that Wexford blow-in! And even if it were true, aren’t the successful Irish-Americans the ones who really matter? The likes of the Kennedys, O’Neill and even Republicans like Reagan (I mean the US political party), the ones who made — and keep on making – the USA great! Sure you couldn’t expect a country’s consulate to be looking out for the likes of building workers, bar and hotel staff, nurses and nannies! And even computer programming is pretty run of the mill these days.
Anyway, the Consulate lobbies for more green cards for Irish migrants, allowing them to emigrate to the USA legally, helping to sustain the economy back home through relieving us of paying them social welfare benefits and allowing them to earn money to send back home instead. Of course we know there are not enough green cards and a lot will still be illegal migrants but what can one do? And no doubt that helps keep the wages down … and stops them going on demonstrations and the like ….
Sorry, I’ve been drifting off topic. Your critics have been saying that the PSNI are just the RUC under a different name – that they are the same repressive and sectarian force as always. Well, maybe, but some things we have to just grin and bear, don’t we? And as for repression, sure they’re only persecuting dissidents, people who don’t agree with the Good Friday Agreement. The dissidents say that they’re being persecuted because of their legal political activities and not for breaking any laws. But if you stand against the tide, you must expect a good soaking, I always say.
Anyway, I just wanted to say “well done!” to you and to the rest of the Parade Committee. Hopefully next year you can not only invite the PSNI again but the Ulster Defence Regiment as well! As you know, they were formed from the B-Specials, much as the PSNI were from the RUC. It’s healthy to change the name of organisations every once in a while …. And maybe the year after that, you can invite the British Parachute Regiment! They will probably never change their name but they are so colourful, with their red berets and wing badges … Fág an Balaugh!