Michael Quill forever changed labor relations in the USA. The founder of the powerful union representing New York City’s bus and subway workers, Quill’s numerous achievements helped transform the lives of millions of workers by his setting national standards for equal pay for women and minorities, health benefits and paid medical leave. However, it was his leadership of the 1966 Transit Strike that made “Red Mike Quill” a celebrity, famous for defying the Mayor and a jail sentence, when Quill shut down public transportation in the nation’s largest city.
Born in 1905 into a humble, Gaelic-speaking family in rural Kilgarvan, Co. Kerry, which was restive under British rule, Quill inherited his desire to fight for justice from his father. “My father,” recalled Quill, “knew where every fight against an eviction had taken place in all the parishes around.”
During the War of Independence, the fifteen-year-old Quill fought in the 3rd Battalion, Kerry No. 2 Brigade of the Irish Republican Army. On a solo scouting mission, Quill stumbled on a patrol of Black and Tans asleep in a ditch. Instead of fleeing, he quietly stole all their ammunition, gleefully returning home with his stolen loot.
During the war, Quill fought bravely and met almost all the top military leaders, providing him the rare opportunity of personally knowing many of Ireland’s most famous patriots. The war also started in Quill a lifelong animosity towards the Catholic Church. While on the run, Mike and his brother were gutted when their parish priest refused their request for temporary amnesty to attend their mother’s funeral.
Opposed to the Treaty creating the Free State with a partitioned British colony, Quill fought against Michael Collins’ National Army and in the conflict Kerry Republicans suffered greatly, especially at Ballyseedy, where 23 anti-Treaty fighters were murdered with dynamite by Free State soldiers. That fight’s unbelievable brutality and injustice never left Quill.
Being on the wrong side of the Treaty, Quill, unable to find work, left for America, arriving in New York the day before St. Patrick’s Day in 1926 with just $3.42 in his pocket. Through his uncle who was a subway conductor, Quill got a job on the Interborough Rapid Transit company (which ran the original subway system in New York), first as a night gateman, then as a clerk or “ticket chopper”. The IRT quickly employed many of Quill’s comrades who were also ex- anti-Treaty fighters. Moving from station to station, Quill got to know many IRT employees. He learned they craved dignity and wanted to be treated like human beings, but Quill knew this meant fighting. He said, “You will get only what you are strong enough to take. You will have to fight for your rights—they will never be given to you. And you cannot win if you fight alone.”
While working night shifts, Quill, who had only attended national school, used dead time to read labor history, especially the works of James Connolly. To fight the low pay, terrible working conditions and long hours of I.R.T workers, Quinn used Connolly, the leader of the Transport Workers Union in Dublin, executed by the British for his role in the 1916 Rising, as his inspiration, and Connolly’s ideas guided Quill throughout his life. Like Connolly, Quill believed that economic power precedes political power, and that the only effective means of satisfying the workers’ demands is the creation of an independent labor party, which creates and supports strong unions. He would honor Connolly by also calling his American union the Transportation Workers Union and years later, as president of the TWU, Quill only had two pictures on his office wall, Abraham Lincoln and James Connolly.
In his union-organizing activities, Quill got the cold shoulder from many established Irish-American organizations. “When we first started to organize the union, we asked for help from the Knight of Columbus and the Ancient Order of Hibernians”, he said. “We were booed and booted out. The Irish organizations did nothing for us, and the Church campaigned actively against us.”
Rejected by mainstream Irish Americans, Quill was embraced by the American Communist Party, which helped him obtain the money, the mimeograph machines and the manpower to launch the Transport Workers Union. Quill, though, merely used the Communists, while knowing he wanted no part of them. When they thought he should attend “Workers School” for indoctrination, Quill told them he needed no indoctrination and soon left the party.
Fearing anti-union informers, Quill organized the TWU, using the methods of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, a secret Fenian society dedicated to a violent rising against British rule. Employing cells of five so that no man knew the names of more than four other workers in the organization, messages were also sent in half-Gaelic and half-English to confuse company spies, known as “beakies.” One night, the “beakies” attacked Quill and five other activists in a tunnel as they were returning from picketing the IRT’s offices. Falsely arrested over the incident for incitement to riot, Quill gained huge notoriety amongst his fellow workers and the charges were eventually dismissed. On April 12, 1934, fighting back against 12 hour days, six days a week, at 66 cents an hour, Quill and six other men formed the T.W.U.
Quill soon became union President and succeeded in getting his union into the American Federation of Labor. He then began unionizing the other transportation companies of New York. In January 1937, the Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit Coorporation dismissed two boiler room engineers from their power plant in Brooklyn for their union activity. Quill immediately called a successful sit-down strike and the BMT had to reinstate the men, which further raised Quill’s standing amongst the rank and file.
At a time in American history when bigotry and discrimination were commonplace, Quill became famous for fighting prejudice. An ardent opponent of the pro-Fascist Fr. Coughlin, Quill said, “Anti-Semitism is not the problem of the Jewish people alone. It is an American problem, a number one American problem.” He also fought for African Americans against the prejudice of many in his own union. He explained, “The bosses hired you and the same bosses hired the blacks. You are on one payroll; you come to work and leave through the same gate; you punch the same time clock. Unless there is one union to protect all of you, the employer will train these men and use them to displace you—at half your wages.”
Quill became an early ally of Martin Luther King who referred to Quill as “a fighter for decent things all his life” who “spent his life ripping the chains of bondage off his fellow man.” Quill once asked, “Do you know what I’m most proud of? That in TWU we have eliminated racial discrimination in hiring and in promotions and within the union’s ranks. Blacks, Hispanics, Orientals, American Indians and women are holding appointive and elective office.”
STRIKE AND JAIL
Perhaps Quill’s finest hour was during the Transit Strike of 1966. Newly-elected patrician Mayor john Lindsay wanted to get tough with Quill and the TWU. Journalist Jimmy Breslin summarized the conflict succinctly: “…[Lindsay] was talking down to old Mike Quill, and when Quill looked up at John Lindsay he saw the Church of England. Within an hour, we had one hell of a transit strike.”
Quill attacked the Mayor just as if he were a British soldier, chiding Lindsay for his “abysmal lack of knowledge of the fundamentals of labor relations.” He castigated Lindsay as “a pipsqueak, a juvenile” and jested: “We explored his mind yesterday and found nothing there.” To add insult to injury Quill intentionally repeatedly mispronounced the mayor’s name as “Linsley,” proving that even in the heat of battle Quill never lost his sense of humor.
Then Lindsay made a fatal mistake, jailing Quill, who defiantly said, “The judge can drop dead in his black robes!” While in prison, Quill suffered another heart attack and was sent to the worst of city hospitals. The only person who called Mrs. Quill asking if he could help was Senator Robert F. Kennedy of New York. No other politician inquired about the stricken Quill. While Quill was in the hospital a deal was reached granting the TWU a 15% wage increase along with improvements in the health, welfare and pension systems. In all, it was a great victory. The strike over, he was released from police custody, but just three days later Quill died at age sixty with many claiming that the stress of the strike led to his premature passing.
Mike Quill left an enduring legacy. Today the Transport Workers Union is composed of an estimated 60 percent minorities and Quill is still revered within it. He had an inclusive vision of labor, which minority workers respected, strengthening the movement. Pete Seeger dedicated a ballad to Quill and producers Macdara Vallely and Paul Miller have made a biographical film about Quill entitled Which side are you on?
POSTSCRIPT: Mike Quill and Vice-Admiral Nelson
In the Dublin City Centre, in the middle of its main street, is a curious steel erection which most people call “The Spire”. But from 1809 until 1966, something else stood there: a granite column with the English naval hero Nelson atop it, very much in the style of the one that stands in London’s Trafalgar Square today.
About 50 metres away from what was colloquially called “The Pillar” stands the General Post Office building, which operated as the command HQ of the 1916 Easter Rising and is therefore a traditional gathering place for State and other commemorations of the Rising.
As the 50th Anniversary of the Rising drew near, Mike Quill contacted Dublin City Council and offered to have the statue removed for free and replaced with a more suitable monument. Quill’s first choice was a statue of Jim Larkin, who led his and Connolly’s Irish Transport and General Workers Union in resisting the 8-month Dublin Lockout – the tram crews had walked off their vehicles once they reached the Pillar and Dublin Metropolitan Police had run riot against the people in O’Connell Street shortly afterwards on Bloody Sunday 1913. But Quill offered the Council other options too. A private trust and not Dublin City Council owned Nelson’s Column, he was informed and there the matter rested. Until, on 8th March 1966, the Pillar was blown up by Saor Éire, a socialist split from the Irish Republican Movement, in advance of the 50th Anniversary commemorations.
On June 24th, as the repressive Offences Against the State Act was up for debate in the Dáil, it was voted for renewal by TDs of the Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Green parties, along with Labour, while only a Solidarity/People Before Profit and two Independent TDs voted against. For the first time since Sinn Féin had TDs present in the Dáil in 1997, they abstained in the vote. They failed to vote against an undemocratic Act that was brought into being precisely to repress their own political ancestors.
The Offences Against the State Act was made law by the De Valera Government (Fianna Fáil) in 1939 and 1940 to nullify the writ of habeas corpus served by Seán McBride (Irish Republican, former IRA officer and later one of the founders of Amnesty International) which gained the release of IRA prisoners interned without trial under the previous Emergency Powers Act 1939. The Act established the Special Criminal Court which processed the rearrested internees and sent them back to prison and concentration camp in the Curragh.
BRITISH INTELLIGENCE FATAL BOMBING HELPED TOUGHEN LAW AGAINST REPUBLICANS
In 1972 the Fianna Fáil Government sought to strengthen the Act even further, among other attacks on civil liberties to permit an inference of guilt by the Special Criminal Court from refusal to answer questions by the Gardaí, along with the taking of a senior Garda officer’s word, unsupported by any substantial evidence, as the main “proof” of membership of an illegal organisation. However, the forecast looked bad for the Government since the Labour Party and Fine Gael were predicted to vote the Amendment down. During the debate, two bombs exploded in Dublin killing two Dublin public transport workers and injuring a number of others, some horrifically (two years later a similar bombing team was to kill 33 and injure around 260 in Dublin and Monaghan). The 1972 explosions, most likely the work of Loyalists working with British Intelligence, were blamed on the IRA and the opposition to the Amendment crumbled, ensuring it passed into law — and there it has remained.
The Act empowers the Government to bring internment without trial into force by order (i.e without debate, even if the Government should be a minority one). Among its powers the OAS permits the State to ban organisations and subsequently (with its 1972 Amendment) jail people for membership of said organisation, the unsupported testimony of a Garda not below the rank of Chief Superintendent being considered prima facie evidence of said membership.
In a state where trials of all indictable offences under criminal law are by jury with a judge presiding, the Special Criminal Court is a non-jury court. Virtually all Irish Republicans serving time in prisons of the State have been convicted in the SCC, where even the unsupported word of a senior Garda officer is considered important proof and the standard of additional evidence required is very low. As one might expect in such conditions, the conviction rate is unusually high. On the charge of “membership of an illegal organisation” and largely on the word of senior Garda officer, conviction is almost certain and becomes an easy way to remove Irish Republican activists from circulation for the standard two years.
“GREATEST MISCARRIAGE OF JUSTICE IN THE IRISH STATE”
In two trials in 1978, the Special Criminal Court, in what has been called “the greatest miscarriage of justice of the Irish State”, tried and sentenced three Republicans to long terms of imprisonment for a mail train robbery at Sallins in which they had played no part. The judges in the Court chose to believe what 12 jurors would likely not have done: that the defendants had voluntarily confessed to actions they had not committed, that they had not been beaten by Gardaí and that the defendants’ bruising had been self-inflicted. The Garda “Heavy Gang” went on to obtain “voluntary confessions” from others, including Joanna Hayes and her relations in the “Kerry Babies” case, later also cleared and recipients of a Government apology in 2019. Those convicted of the Sallins mail train robbery were eventually cleared and released. The circumstances of those false “voluntary confessions” accepted by the SCC have never been investigated.
In 2001 Colm Murphy was convicted in the Special Criminal Court of conspiracy to cause a bombing on the basis of Garda evidence which Murphy said was untrue — but the judges chose to believe the Gardaí. The Court of Appeal ordered a retrial when it was shown that the Gardaí’s notes had been fabricated and Murphy was cleared in the SCC in 2010.
In 2003 Michael McKevitt was convicted in the Special Court of leadership of the Real IRA on evidence widely believed not to have met the standard necessary for conviction, including that given by a paid informer. McKevitt is still serving his 20-year sentence.
Although the title of the Court includes the word “criminal” it was clearly created for political purposes and until 1998 all but one of its trials have been of Irish Republicans. That did not prevent the TDs of the Greens, a party with a record of previous opposition to the Act, using gang crime along with Labour as an excuse for voting for the Act’s renewal during the recent debate.
“THE SPECIAL BRANCH ACT”
The granting of wide powers to the State to use against their political opponents has resulted in even those powers being regularly exceeded. Without ever even charging anyone with any crime, the Act has been used by generations of the Special Branch, the political police renamed the Special Detective Unit, to harass and intimidate Republican activists and their supporters. People have been approached and their contact details demanded by these secret police when they have attended a protest picket or rally, public meeting, visited a Republican office or were observed talking to a Republican. People have been searched in the street, had their vehicles stopped and searched also.
Sellers and distributors of Republican newspapers have been harassed and threatened. Without any authorisation even by the Act, officers have approached parents of young activists and their school or college, as well as the place of employment of older activists, to express their concern at the activity or associations of the activists concerned. Officers of the special unit, all of which go armed, have displayed their weapons on occasion to intimidate Republicans (on one famous occasion discharging their firearm in a busy shop). They have filmed and photographed Republicans without any legal right to do so, followed them around, sat obtrusively outside their offices and even their homes, often day after day for months or even years. So widely have the secret police of the Irish State come to see the Act as entitling their intimidation and file-building that when, at a recent Dublin picket about political prisoners, a Republican asked what legal authority the officer had for harassing him, the man replied in all seriousness: “Special Branch Act.”
But on the 24th June, only three TDs voted against the Act’s renewal: Mick Barry (Solidarity/ People Before Profit), Michael MacNamara (Independent, formerly Labour) and Thomas Pringle (Independent). Two TD abstentions were recorded: Pa Daly and Martin Kenny (both Sinn Féin).
“UNTENABLE IN A DEMOCRACY”
Traditionally, Sinn Féin, along with other Irish Republicans, have opposed this undemocratic repressive legislation. But not just SF, also the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Amnesty International, Irish and international jurists and UN Rapporteurs and Committees on democratic rights of the United Nations. And not just once but a number of times. The following statement was released by the ICCL in the week before the debate.
23 June 2020
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL), ahead of the mooted renewal of the Offences Against the State Act next week and the Dáil debate tomorrow, renews our call for repeal of the Act and with it the abolition of the non-jury Special Criminal Court.
There is no jury at the Special Criminal Court and it accepts secret evidence from gardaí. This is in violation of our right to a fair trial, our right to trial by jury and our right to equality before the law. ICCL has opposed both the Act and the Court since their introduction to deal with a terrorist threat in 1972. We continue to strongly oppose these emergency measures which have now become the norm in dealing with organised crime.
ICCL’s Executive Director, Liam Herrick, said:
“It’s untenable that in a democracy like ours, which prides itself on its human rights record abroad, a law and court like these can exist.
The State contends that it needs the Special in order to protect juries but it has never considered alternatives to abandoning jury trial.”
The protection of jury members is of deep concern to ICCL. But the State has never demonstrated, as required by human rights law, that alternatives to a non-jury trial are ineffective. There are a number of obvious options for protecting juries such as anonymising juries, the use of video link for juries, or granting special protections for juries.
Last year at the Special Criminal Court, Judge Tara Burns acquitted two men of IRA membership after the head of the Garda Special Detective Unit refused to disclose underlying evidence pertaining to “belief evidence” to the prosecution. This meant gardaí were seeking a conviction without disclosing evidence to the defendant’s legal team, the Court or the DPP. ICCL welcomed the Judge’s decision but the case revealed some concerning attitudes and practices at the Court.
ICCL is not alone in our opposition to the Special Criminal Court. Various UN human rights independent experts and the UN Human Rights Committee have repeatedly declared the State to be in violation of its human rights obligations because of the continued use of the Court beyond the emergency it was designed to address. Eminent Irish legal experts, Mr. Justice Hederman, Professor Dermot Walsh and Professor William Binchy have also called for abolition of the Court.
At its introduction in 1972, the Special Criminal Court was considered a radical and purely temporary departure from the norm. Forty years have passed since then. It’s time for its abolition. Statement ends.
Defenders of Sinn Féin have said that dropping opposition to the OAS from their election program for government and even after their party won the highest number of elected TDs (delegates) in the February 2020 General Election, was purely a temporary tactical one. Presumably this decision was in response to Mícheál Martin’s statement last year that Sinn Féin was not a legitimate choice for government because they were against the Act.
Not a legitimate choice for whom? one might ask. Do the mass of working people in the country want this undemocratic Act in place? Not that they were ever asked by any Irish Government! Now there was an opportunity to put this before the electorate — but it is not the opinion of the mass of working people that Sinn Féin worries about but that of the ruling class and their media hounds.
When however the two main parties of the Irish Gombeen capitalist class went into coalition with the “alternative” Green Party in order to exclude Sinn Féin from government – and one might have thought SF had nothing now to lose by voting against the renewal of the OAS – even then they failed to oppose it. Some say SF’s tacticians expected the negotiations between the other parties to collapse and then to be able to put themselves forward as a credible alternative. But again, credible to whom?
For years now, Sinn Féin has been at pains to demonstrate that it is a safe pair of hands for Irish capitalism (which entails also being safe for foreign capitalism and British colonialism). It is not necessarily a question of supporting armed struggle or not but to enter into the administration of an invader, as SF did in 2007 when it became part of the British colony’s government, would for most patriots and anti-imperialists be considered a clear crossing of the line. After WW2 many liberated countries executed a number of those who had taken part in such administrations and from one example, a new adjective entered the English language: “quisling”.
Sinn Féin has gone even further now to show the Irish ruling classes and both states that their panoply of repression on both sides of the British Border is safe: undemocratic legislation granting special powers to the police, politicised police forces and special non-jury courts with low quality “proof” required for convictions.
It is understandable with so little viable alternative choice that so many voted for SF candidates in February and in fact, would probably have elected even more had the party fielded sufficient candidates. All the other main parties and even the Greens have been in Government previously, all have approved bank bailouts and austerity budgets.
Sinn Féin is the only major party who had not been in Government and those who wanted to see them in practice had a reasonable point. But seeing them in “opposition” is also instructive. A political party that is so afraid of the ruling class and its media that even in opposition it will not vote against undemocratic repressive legislation and instruments, that were brought in precisely against its own earlier members and supporters – is not going to be braver in government, when it will inevitably be in a coalition with a capitalist party or parties.
However, the undemocratic Offences Against the State Act and its non-jury Special Courts remain and must be opposed. The struggle against them will continue to be waged by its victims, currently the “dissident” Republicans and by people and bodies concerned with civil rights. As the State encounters increasing resistance to austerity measures it may well be that it will widen the list of targets of this Act to include social and economic campaigners, as it was rumoured considering against the Jobstown water protest defendants in 2017, all of whom were cleared by the jury who did not believe Garda witness lies (exposed by recordings).
It is essential to oppose this Act and a wider opposition to it needs to be built – one that does not depend on false friends.
(Article originally published 2017 in New York Irish History, journal of the New York Irish History Roundtable, abbreviated slightly and reprinted here with kind permission of the author)
In her article, “Dr. Gertrude B. Kelly: A Forgotten Feminist,” Wendy McElroy summarizes the paradoxes in Dr. Kelly’s worldview that make her a complex, seemingly contradictory figure: A labor radical who was deeply skeptical of unions, a medical doctor who opposed state licensing of medicine, a staunch anti-statist who broke with the most prominent individualist anarchists of her day, an ardent feminist who denied that there were “women’s rights” as distinct from “human rights.” (McElroy, “Gertrude B. Kelly”)
Kelly’s seemingly paradoxical and contradictory juxtapositions come into focus, though, in the light of her Irish birth and anarchist beliefs. Individual anarchists, like Kelly, were a group of anti-authoritarian radicals who regarded total individual autonomy and free labor as the answer to the social and economic problems of the day. Kelly believed that overthrowing power structures and maximizing individual autonomy and responsibility would create a truly free society, which would evolve organically once society had liquidated the oppressive state. Because individualist anarchists regarded labor as the source of value and exchanges of unequal values to be exploitative, they may be regarded as a part of the broader socialist movement. Kelly’s views not only were highly uncommon and radical, but they also placed her in direct conflict with the establishment: the church, the state, and the capitalist order.
Shaping Kelly’s perspectives was that in her eyes, Ireland was victim of both capitalism and the British state.
Although she left Ireland at age eleven, the experiences and opinions of her parents profoundly shaped Kelly’s perspectives. She was born into a family of Irish nationalist educators in 1862 in Carrick-on-Suir, Co. Tipperary (Co. Waterford identifies Kelly as being born in the same year but in Ballyneale, across the border from Tipperary). Her father was a schoolmaster apparently forced out of his job for his Fenian sympathies. He left Ireland in 1868, five years before Gertrude would join him in New Jersey in 1873. He would become a high school principal, but he and the whole family remained passionately devoted to Irish affairs. Her older brother, John, played a huge role in shaping her anarchist worldview.
Kelly was one of twelve children, but little is known about any of her other siblings except for John who had a profound influence on her attitudes towards Ireland and anarchism. John graduated from Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken and went on to earn a Ph.D at age twenty-two in electrical engineering. An assistant for a time to Thomas Edison, Kelly became one of the world’s foremost experts in using dynamos to transmit telephone signals. During Kelly’s lifetime he held over seventy electrical related patents and pioneered high voltage electricity generating and transmission systems.
However, he was not just a man of science; he was also devoted to Ireland and used his considerable wealth generously to advance the cause of Irish freedom. In the 1880s, he wrote articles for individualist anarchist publications including Liberty, Alarm, and Lucifer, which must have greatly influenced his sister. John Kelly spent the last years of his life supporting Irish causes, working closely with his sister. From 1916–18, he served as the president of the Massachusetts State Council for Friends of Irish Freedom. From 1920–21, he wrote a third of the Irish World’s anonymous political commentaries, and in 1921, from July to December, he and his young sister agitated for a nationwide boycott of British goods.
Despite being in America, Kelly still remained keenly interested in events within Ireland. Although she was busy with her medical studies she followed Ireland from articles in the Irish World, published in New York, and the Boston Pilot. Both newspapers featured several stories on the failure of the Irish Land Act of 1870 to improve the lot of tenant farmers, the formation of the Irish Land League in 1879, the subsequent Land Wars, the No-Rent movement, and the indiscriminate evictions of Irish tenant farmers from their land by agents of absentee English landlords. These stories cemented Kelly’s rejection of British imperialism and private ownership of land.
In 1879, John Devoy of Clan na Gael in the United States forged a broad-based coalition called the “New Departure,” with Michael Davitt of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and Charles Stewart Parnell of the Home Rule League to create a joint front that united believers in physical force, agrarian agitation, and constitutional nationalism to aid the suffering Irish tenant farmer and demand Irish Home Rule from England. Parnell and Davitt were also members of the Irish National Land League. In support of that initiative Fanny and Anna Parnell founded the Ladies Land League in America in 1880 with branches in Hoboken, Jersey City, Newark, and Patterson.
Young Gertrude Kelly became an active member of the League and a vocal supporter of a No-Rent Manifesto published by the National Land League in 1881. Kelly’s understanding of individualistic anarchist philosophy was strengthened by the columns of “Honorius” in the Irish World, an organ of the Irish No-Rent movement. Honorius was, in fact, a pseudonym for the American natural rights advocate Henry Appleton, who contributed frequently to the early issues of Liberty, both under his own name and under the pen name of “X.”(McElroy, “Gertude B. Kelly”)
PROLIFIC WRITER AND FEMINIST
Anger at how British imperialist government had subverted its proper role in Ireland shaped Kelly’s anti-authoritarian worldview. Kelly was not only a dedicated Irish-Nationalist, but she was also a prolific writer and insightful social and political commentator. In articles published in the individualist periodical Liberty and the Irish World she expressed her indignation and abhorrence at the lack of fairness empathy or sense of humanity inherent in the attitude of the ruling elite towards the poor of Ireland. She contributed a number of other well-received articles for Liberty whose founder and editor, Benjamin Tucker, said of her “Gertrude B. Kelly…by her articles in Liberty, has placed herself at a single bound among the finest writers of this or any other country.” (McElroy, “Gertrude B. Kelly”).
Kelly, however, would later break with Tucker and cease writing for Liberty, a sign of her fiery independence. Kelly was more than a mere analyst of Irish anti-imperialism. She was also an avant garde feminist who understood the struggles that women faced, especially poor women, with whom the doctor had a lifelong affinity and her articles for Liberty reflect a keen understanding of the special problems females faced. In one of her articles for Liberty she developed a highly controversial argument about prostitution. Instead of seeing prostitutes as “fallen women,” Kelly saw them as economic victims. Her first article in Liberty, “The Root of Prostitution,” claimed that women’s inability to earn enough money through respectable forms of labor was the root cause of sex work. She wrote: “We find all sorts of schemes for making men moral and women religious, but no scheme which proposes to give woman the fruits of her labor. In her writing, she railed against men forcing women to conform to paternalistic codes of behavior. Men…have always denied to women the opportunity to think; and, if some women have had courage enough to dare public opinion, and insist upon thinking for themselves, they have been so beaten by that most powerful weapon in society’s arsenal, ridicule, that it has effectively prevented the great majority from making any attempt to come out of slavery.” (McElroy,“Gertrude B. Kelly”)
Despite Kelly’s sincere feminism, she could make the following statement that must have alienated her from many of the leading feminists of her day: “There is, properly speaking, no woman question, as apart from the question of human right and human liberty.” She added: “The woman’s cause is man’s— they rise or sink/Together—dwarfed or godlike-bond or free.” She saw women’s struggles in the wider context of humanity’s struggle against all forms of coercion. Women would gain their deserved social status only when all of society had also liberated itself. Kelly also became a militant suffragette, believing that women with the power to vote could solve many of the issues they faced. (McElroy, “Gertrude B. Kelly”).
In Kelly’s eyes both women and men were in fact the victims of a coercive capitalist society. Radical individualists of nineteenth-century America, like Kelly, saw capitalism as the root cause of poverty and social injustice. Kelly subscribed to the labor theory of value espoused by the anarchist individualist theoretician Josiah Warren who posited that capitalists stole the fruits of labor by underpaying the worker for his or her efforts. She also accepted the popular radical belief that capitalism was an alliance between business and government, in which the state guaranteed the rich their privileged position. Kelly considered all forms of capitalism to be what individualist anarchists called “state capitalism.”
In Irish-America, where so many fellow immigrants had climbed the ladder by joining the civil service, her anti-government stance was especially incendiary.
KELLY’S WORK AS A DOCTOR
Kelly’s becoming a physician is an extraordinary story in itself. She became one of the very few women to study medicine and become a doctor thanks to two English sisters, Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell who set up the first school to grant women licenses to practice medicine, the Women’s Medical College of New York. Kelly graduated from Blackwell’s school in 1884 with an M.D. degree and became an accomplished surgeon.
If Kelly is recalled today in New York City, it is not for her important role in agitating for Ireland, but in helping the city’s poor through her work as a doctor. Although she campaigned for many deserving causes during her lifetime, her primary focus was on treating the downtrodden and poor working women and their families in the clinics she worked in. She set up such a clinic in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood where she became legendary for surreptitiously leaving cash under her dinner plate when she made house calls at the homes of impoverished patients. Kelly was also a renowned surgeon who, in addition to her work at the clinic, was a member of the surgical staff at the New York Infirmary for Women and Children, the institution where she had received training. During her medical career she authored and co-authored papers on abdominal surgical procedures and other medical and health care-related issues.
KELLY AND THE RISING
Kelly would play an oversized role in the events before and after the 1916 Easter Rising. In 1901, John Redmond, who assumed leadership of the reunited Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP), established the United Irish League of America to raise funds for the IPP and promote its Home Rule agenda in the United States. Dr. Kelly supported the United Irish League, even though its acceptance of continued British sovereignty over Ireland disturbed her. In accepting home rule, she reasoned that it could serve as an intermediary step before launching a nonviolent, anti-British, grassroots campaign that would lead to an independent Irish Republic.
In October of 1914, Kelly issued a call to “women of Irish blood” to join the first chapter of Cumann na mBan formed in the United States. Hundreds of women met at the Hotel McAlpin, where Kelly, Mary Colum, and Sidney Gifford, a recently arrived émigré from Dublin outlined the aims of the organization. Their chapter would follow the lead of Cumann na mBan in Ireland by raising funds and garnering support for the Irish Volunteers formed in 1913 in response to the formation of the anti-independence Ulster Volunteer Force the previous year. The declared aim of the Irish Volunteers was “to secure and maintain the rights and liberties common to the whole people of Ireland.” (“Dr. Gertrude B. Kelly” in Feniangraves.net). Chosen as president of the organization, Kelly helped set-up other branches and arranged for speakers from Ireland to address its members, conduct lecture tours and help in fundraising efforts.
When Redmond in a speech called on young Irishmen to enlist and fight in the British Army, it was too much for the anti-imperialist Kelly, who issued the following statement: “May I, as a woman, an Irishwoman and physician, spokeswoman of hundred, thousands of my sisters at home and abroad ask our leaders what it is they propose to Ireland to do—commit suicide? Admitting for the moment that this is “a most righteous war” not—”a war of iron and coal”—a war between titans for commercial supremacy— why should little Ireland have to do what the United States, Switzerland, etc., do not. Is Home Rule to be secured for the cattle and sheep when the young men of Ireland are slaughtered, the old men and old women left sonless, the young women obliged to emigrate to bring up sons for men of other climes.” (“Dr. Gertrude B. Kelly” in Feniangraves.net)
After the Easter Rising, Cumann na mBan’s fundraising efforts were redirected to the support of the thousands of families of imprisoned Volunteers. Kelly and other Irish women activists including Margaret Moore, a Land League veteran and labor leader Lenora O’Reilly led the highly successful fundraising campaign.
In 1917, America entered World War I on the side of the British. President Wilson threatened members of any organizations that protested against the British Empire with jail sentences. Nevertheless, in the same year Dr. Kelly was part of a group that formed the Irish Progressive Party, whose aim was to lobby the government in Washington to protest British imperialism and recognize the Irish Republic.
In 1920, Dr. Kelly would perform her greatest services to Irish freedom. She understood that women could take bold actions, such as in public protests, that would capture popular attention and focus the American public on the continued presence of Britain in Ireland, which violated one of the Fourteen Points identified by Wilson in 1918 as necessary for world peace—self-determination for small nations. The first official meeting of the activist group, American Women Pickets for the Enforcement of America’s War Aims, was held in New York on April 20, 1920, organized by Gertrude Kelly.
With Irish men in America mired in fighting one another, this women’s movement grabbed headlines through a succession of highly effective public acts, some of which created chain reactions across the eastern seaboard of the United States. In September, 1920, Kelly was one of the organizers of a female blockade of the British Embassy in Washington as response to their actions in Ireland. Kelly was arrested for her part in the agitation.
In December, 1920, the women pickets and the Irish Progressive League organized a strike at a Chelsea pier in Manhattan to protest the arrests of Irish-born Australian Archbishop Daniel Mannix, an outspoken foe of British rule in Ireland, and Terence MacSwiney, the Lord Mayor of Cork, who was on hunger strike and near death. Kelly, Leonora O’Reilly, Hannah SheehySkeffington, and Eileen Curran of the Celtic Players assembled a group of women who dressed in white with green capes and carried signs that read: “There Can Be No Peace While British Militarism Rules the World.”(“Dr. Gertrude B. Kelly” in Feniangraves.net)
The strike which, lasted three and a half weeks, was directed at British ships docked in New York. Striking workers included not only Irish longshoremen but also, Italian coal passers, AfricanAmerican longshoremen, and workers on a docked British passenger liner. According to a New York Sun report it was “…the first purely political strike of workingmen in the history of the United States. The strike became famous and spread to Brooklyn, New Jersey, and Boston. When reporters asked who exactly was behind these protests, Dr. Kelly responded “American women.” (“Gertrude B. Kelly” in Irish Echo).
By the end of 1920, many thought the only prospect for an independent Ireland was an acceptance of partition. Dr. Kelly was a fiery opponent of division and expressed her views on Ireland being divided: “The thing itself is absolutely unthinkable. We have always been slaves, but unwilling slaves. Now we are subscribing to our slavery. I cannot believe that the Irish people will do this. The whole thing is a fake from start to finish. Summed up I would say that after 750 years we have given England moral standing in the world when she has none: it’s a tremendous defeat.” (“Gertrude B. Kelly” in Feniangraves.net)
Nevertheless, partition did take place, much to Kelly’s dismay. Bitterly disappointed, she continued her work treating the poor of the city. In the first quarter of the twentieth century she was on the “must meet” list of every Irish political and literary figure who came to the United States.
Kelly passed away on February 16, 1934. The poor of Chelsea mourned her and remembered her acts of kindness. In 1936, Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia named the Dr. Gertrude B. Kelly Playground located in Chelsea west of Ninth Avenue between Sixteenth and Seventeeth Streets in her honor. It was one of five model playgrounds developed in New York City during the mid-1930s. (“Gertrude B. Kelly Playground” in NYCgovparks.org)
The playground is perhaps the only public tribute to a woman who made an outsized contribution to Irish independence and to the City of New York. Perhaps in the future Dr. Kelly will garner more.
The original article in full may be found here, including also a list of sources: nyih32.CobbG_pdf2%20(3)%20(1).pdf
“A man the ages will remember.” -Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
By Kevin Rooney (reprinted by kind permission of author).
Michael Joseph Quill was born in Gortloughera, near Kilgarvan Co. Kerry on 18 September, 1905. His parents were John Daniel Quill and Margaret (née Lynch). Fighting injustice seemed to be in his blood. He remembered: “My father knew where every fight against an eviction had taken place in all the parishes around”. His Irish-speaking family’s home served as headquarters for the No. 2 Kerry Brigade Of The Irish Republican Army during the War Of Independence Of 1919-1921. His uncle’s house was so well known for rebel activity, it is said that the Black and Tans in the area referred to the house as “Liberty Hall”; a reference to James Connolly’s ITGWU Union Headquarters in Dublin which was to prove prophetic.
IRISH REPUBLICAN ACTIVITY
While still a boy of 14, Michael was a dispatch rider for the IRA during the War of Independence. He served in 3rd Battalion of the No. 2 Kerry Brigade. Once on a scouting mission, he stumbled on a patrol of Black and tans asleep in a ditch. He stole all their ammunition without rousing them. He eventually graduated to carrying a rifle and organized a group of about thirty boys in the village into an IRA scout group, and drilled several times a week.
When the Civil War began in 1921, Quill joined the Republican side which opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty that ended the War Of Independence. He took part in the re-capture of the town of Kenmare from The Free State Army in August of 1922, one of few Republican victories. He was said to have been involved in robbing a bank for the IRA during the war. He was much affected by the brutality and violence dished out by the Government Forces (Free Staters) to his Republican comrades in Kerry who were captured.
The worst atrocity was the Ballyseedy massacre where eight Republican prisoners were killed by being tied to a landmine, which was then detonated. In March of 1923, at total of 23 Republican prisoners in Kerry were killed in similar manner, or summarily executed by shooting on different occasions. Another five were officially executed by firing squad. The most of any county.
His mother died in September 1923. The local priest refused to request a temporary amnesty so that Michael and his brother John could attend her funeral without risking arrest by National troops. It left a lasting bitterness in him toward the Catholic Church.
During the Wars, he met many prominent Republican leaders of the time who passed through his area; including Eamon de Valera, Liam Lynch, Tom Barry, Liam Deasy, Dan Breen, Erskine Childers among them. While still young, he conversed with these great minds.
EMIGRATION TO THE USA
After the war, Quill found opportunities limited for him as he had supported the losing side. He was also blacklisted after a sit-in strike with his brother John at a saw mill in Kenmare. He emigrated to the US, arriving on 16 March, 1926 in New York, where he stayed with an aunt on 104th Street in East Harlem (New York).
He hustled to make a living working a series of menial jobs which included what was called “bootlegging”: smuggling alcohol during Prohibition, during which time the sale of alcohol was illegal in the US. He worked passing coal and peddling roach powder and religious articles in Pennsylvania coal country. While there he wrote his father his observation that “the cows and pigs in Kerry were better housed and fed than were the miners’ children in America.”
Quill returned to New York and met a young Kerry woman named Maria Theresa O’Neill, known as Mollie who came from Cahersiveen. With the onset of the Great Depression she became unemployed and decided to return to Ireland. She and Quill maintained a patient long-distance courtship, keeping in touch with weekly letters.
Quill found employment with the IRT (Interborough Rapid Transit) railroad in 1929. He worked several jobs before becoming a ticket agent. The IRT, the largest transit company in New York attracted employment from many Irishmen; particularly Republican veterans of the Irish Civil War like Quill. There was a joke that IRT stood for “Irish Republican Transit”. Their advantage over other immigrant groups was that they already spoke English. Coming from mostly farm land, they were also able for the twelve to fourteen-hour days demanded of them seven days a week. About half of the employees were Irish.
Moving from station to station, he got to know many of the employees. Along with deplorable working conditions, Quill also observed discrimination based on racism and bigotry, which he hated. He said: “During those twelve hour nights we’d chat about the motormen, conductors, guards etc. whose conditions were even worse. They had to work a ‘spread’ of 16 hours each day in order to get 10 hours pay. Negro workers could get jobs only as porters. They were subjected to treatment that makes Little Rock (Arkansas) and Birmingham (Alabama) seem liberal and respectable by comparison. I also saw Catholic ticket agents fired by Catholic bosses for going to Mass early in the morning while the porter ‘covered’ the booth for half an hour. Protestant bosses fired Protestant workers for similar crimes, going to Church. The Jewish workers had no trouble with the subway bosses. Jews were denied employment in the transit lines”.
INFLUENCED BY CONNOLLY’S WRITINGS
While working a 12-hour overnight shift, Quill passed the time with reading to supplement his education, which had ended with National school. The main influence on his political thinking was James Connolly. Connolly had also organised unions in New York, where he lived for a few years before returning to Dublin where he was executed in 1916 for his part in the Easter Rising.
Quill’s second wife Shirley later wrote: “Connolly’s two basic theories were to guide Mike Quill’s thinking for the next three decades: that economic power precedes and conditions political power, and that the only satisfactory expression of the workers’ demands is to be found politically in a separate and independent labour party, and economically in the industrial union.” He then set about organizing a union. He stood on his soap box during lunch hour in power-houses and shops all over the city.
Quill recalled: “We were no experts in the field of labor organization, but we had something in common with our fellow workers; we were all poor, we were all overworked, we were all victims of the 84 hour week. In fact, we were all so low down on the economic and social ladder that we had nowhere to go but up.”
Quill and some of his fellow Irish immigrants became involved in Irish Worker’s Clubs that were established by James Gralton, and were affiliated with the American Communist Party. Gralton’s political views got him deported from Ireland in 1933 as an “undesirable alien”; even though he was born in Co. Leitrim because of pressure from the Catholic Church. This made him the only Irishman ever to be deported by the Irish government.
Quill didn’t find much difference in the attitude of Irish-American Organisations that were Catholic church-based. Quill recalled: “We went to the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, but they would have nothing to do with the idea of organizing Irishmen into a legitimate union. We went to the Ancient Order of Hibernians, and they threw us out of their meeting hall. They wanted no part of Irish rebels or Irish rabble. That was the reception we got from those conservative descendants of Ireland’s revolutionists of a hundred years ago.”
Making no bones or apologies, he said “I worked with the Communists. In 1933 I would have made a pact with the Devil himself if he could have given us the money, the mimeograph machines and the manpower to launch the Transport Workers Union. The Communist Party needed me, and I needed them. I knew what the transit workers needed. The men craved dignity, longed to be treated like human beings. The time had come to get off our knees and fight back.”
FOUNDING A TRADE UNION
On 12 April 1934, Quill, along with six other Irishmen including Thomas H. O’Shea and Austin Hogan from Co. Cork, and Gerald O’Reilly from Co. Meath formed the Transport Workers Union of America (TWU). All seven including Quill were members of Clan na Gael, an Irish Republican organisation that succeeded the Fenian Brotherhood as the American branch of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). They were said to have initially applied the rules and practices of secrecy from that tradition. Quill was to remain a silent financial supporter of the Republican cause in Ireland his whole life.
Like Quill, they were all influenced by Connolly’s ideas and writings; in particular, Connolly’s 1910 pamphlet “The Axe To The Root” where he wrote specifically about a recent 1910 transit workers strike in New York that had failed, known as the New York Express Strike.
Connolly wrote: “It was not the scabs (strikebreakers, replacements) however, who turned the scale against the strikers in favour of the masters. That service to capital was performed by good union men with union cards in their pockets. These men were the engineers in their power-houses which supplied the electric power to run their cars, and without whom all the scabs combined could not have run a single trip.”
The very name of the union was a tip of the hat to James Larkin and James Connolly’s Irish Transport & General Workers Union (ITGWU). In fact the word “Transit” is more normally used than “Transport” regarding that industry in the US. Thomas H. O’Shea was the Union’s first president, followed by Quill, who would remain president for the remainder of his life.
The Union began with a membership of 400, then eventually represented all 14,000 IRT workers. An African-American porter named Clarence King was elected to the first TWU executive board. In 1937 there was a sit-down strike on the Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit (BMT); the second-largest Transit company in New York. Two BMT employees at the Kent Avenue Brooklyn station were fired for union activity. The 500 members of TWU in the company secured their re-instatement. It eventually represented all BMT employees as well.
Quill began to involve himself in city politics and was elected to the New York City Council in 1937 representing the American Labor Party. His whole career people loved or hated him, with no middle ground. He returned to Ireland to marry Mollie on 26 December 1937. They would return to New York to live, where she bore a son; John Daniel Quill, named after Michael’s father. Theirs proved to be an unhappy marriage of convenience. Quill filled this void first with drink, later with extramarital romance.
While in Ireland, he met with Michael O’Riordan from Co. Cork, who was headed to Spain to fight for the Spanish Republic in that country’s Civil War; which side Quill supported. Michael Lehane, the child of a neighbor from Kilgarvan, also went to Spain to fight fascism.
In 1939, he organized a rally against anti-semitism in a heavily Irish neighborhood in The South Bronx attended by four thousand. This was in response to Father Charles Coughlin’s anti-semitic campaign preaching to New York’s Irish. Fr. Coughlin was born in Canada of Irish parents, but moved to the US. He began radio broadcasting in 1926 in response to a Ku Klux Klan anti-catholic attack on his church in Michigan, but moved into political commentary and also moved far to the political right. Fr. Coughlin’s sympathies to the fascism of Hitler and Mussolini got him removed from the air later in 1939.
Having little use for the church, this is how Quill summed up his personal philosophy: “I believe in the Corporal Works Of Mercy, the Ten Commandments, the American Declaration Of Independence and James Connolly’s outline of a socialist society. Most of my life I’ve been called a lunatic because I believe that I am my brother’s keeper. I organise poor and exploited workers, I fight for the civil rights of minorities, and I believe in peace. It appears to have become old-fashioned to make social commitments; to want a world free of war, poverty and disease. This is my religion.”
TESTIFYING AT MC CARTHY HEARINGS
In April of 1940, former TWU President and founder Thomas O’Shea; who had been earlier been ousted from the union testified against his former fellow union leaders including Quill. He alleged that the union was in complete control of the communist party and their goal was to promote revolution through strikes. Quill testified in the US House Of Representatives before the House Committee on Un-American Activities and denied these allegations, calling O’Shea a “stool pigeon.” He told Chairman Martin Dies: “You are afraid to hear the truth about our union. You can’t take it, but the American labour movement will live.”
Also in 1940, the city purchased the BMT and IRT. This put Quill in the path of every New York mayor from then on, beginning with Italian-American Republican Fiorello LaGuardia. Years ahead of his time, in 1944, Quill introduced a bill in the City Council to establish free childcare centers for working mothers. Also in 1944, he ended a TWU wildcat (unauthorised) strike in Philadelphia initiated by a racist reaction to a contract that secured promotions to conductor for eight black porters.
After World War II and the Holocaust, Quill said “We licked the race haters in Europe, but the millions of Jewish dead cannot be restored to life”. He was re-elected to the City Council also in 1945. His election campaign manager was Shirley Ukin, a fiery former communist born in Brooklyn Of Russian-Jewish parents with whom he began a longtime affair. She had worked with him in TWU from the beginning. In the late 40’s the union expanded to include airline workers, utility workers and railroad workers.
Also after the war, under pressure from the government on communists in the labor movement but mostly his own dissatisfaction and mistrust caused him to purge the communists out of the Union. In 1948 he secured a large increase for subway workers from Democratic Mayor William O’Dwyer, a native of Bohola, Co. Mayo.
In the 50’s he supported the candidacy of Democrat Robert F. Wagner for mayor. Wagner’s German-born father, a US Senator for New York (Democrat 1927-1949) had authored the Wagner Act Of 1935 that created the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which protected workers’ rights to organise and strike.
Quill’s past relationship with the communist party continued to be criticised. He was nicknamed “Red Mike”. Wagner was elected to three terms and his administration was able to come to collective bargaining agreements with the TWU.
IN THE US TRADE UNION MOVEMENT AGAINST RACISM
Mollie died August 16, 1959. In 1961 he married Shirley; his longtime girlfriend who had previously been married and divorced twice. She would later carry on his union work and write his biography. Also in 1961, Quill received a letter from twenty-five TWU members in Tennessee protesting the Union’s support for Civil Rights and de-segregation. He responded by inviting a prominent black Civil Rights leader to address the Union Convention, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whom he admired.
He introduced Dr. King as “The man who is entrusted with the banner of American liberty that was taken from Lincoln when he was shot 95 years ago.” This was indeed high praise as the only two pictures in Quill’s office were of President Abraham Lincoln and James Connolly. The two became friends. As far back as 1938, Quill made a statement much like Dr. King’s famous speeches: “If we, black and white, Catholic and non-Catholic, Jew and gentile, are good enough to slave and sweat together, then we are good enough to unite and fight together”.
In November 1965, John Lindsay was elected Mayor. The aristocratic Protestant Republican whose name he intentionally mispronounced as “Linsley” immediately rubbed Quill the wrong way. Quill quipped: “we explored his mind (Lindsay) yesterday and found nothing there.” This was amid the union negotiating a raise for its members due to inflation caused by the War in Vietnam, of which Quill was typically an early critic.
The TWU had always threatened a strike that could cripple the city of New York, the largest in the US; a city of 8 million where many people’s commutes involve travel across rivers. Manhattan, the center of commerce is an island. Quill knew and stated that this was from where came the union’s power. Quill had seen many Mayors come and go and such a situation had always been averted.
Before he took office, Lindsay felt empowered and entitled to “call their bluff”. He felt such a strike was illegal as it would endanger public safety as transportation is a public utility. He also seemed to feel the union was incapable of pulling it off as history had shown. Irish-American newspaper journalist Jimmy Breslin observed: “[Lindsay] was talking down to old Mike Quill, and when Mike Quill looked up at John Lindsay he saw the Church of England. Within an hour, we had one hell of a transit strike.”
Lindsay was sworn in on 1 January 1966. The same day, 33,000 members of the TWU announced a strike and 2,000 members of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) also joined them. This demonstrated James Connolly’s lesson from “Axe To The Root” put into action.
A legal injunction was issued to stop the strike along with an order for the arrest of Quill and eight others: Matthew Guinan, Frank Sheehan, Daniel Gilmartin, Ellis Van Riper, and Mark Kavanagh of the TWU and John Rowland, William Mangus, and Frank Kleess of the ATU) effective at 1am January 4th.
Quill tore up the injunction and famously said in his thick Kerry accent: “The judge can drop dead in his black robes. I don’t care if I rot in jail. I will not call off the strike.” Only two hours after being imprisoned; Quill who was sixty years old and had health issues with his heart, suffered a heart attack and was sent to Bellevue Hospital. He had ignored all medical advice from his doctors and the strain of the battle was taking its toll. Ironically, he had to wait two hours for an ambulance because the strike had indeed brought the city to a grinding halt.
15,000 workers picketed City Hall on 10 January. The strike ended on 13 January with a huge victory. The TWU had secured the workers a package worth $60 million. Hourly wages rose from $3.18 to $4.14 per hour. Quill seemed to be on the mend and was released from the hospital on 25 January. Quill died in his sleep of congestive heart failure on 28 January. Like ancient Irish High King Brian Boru, he had won his greatest victory at the cost of his own life. His coffin was draped in the Irish
Upon his death, the TWU Express newspaper reported: “Mike Quill did not hesitate or equivocate. He died as he lived fighting the good fight for the TWU and its members.” His friend Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said of him: “Mike Quill was a fighter for decent things all his life: Irish independence, labor organization, and racial equality. He spent his life ripping the chains of bondage off his fellow man. When the totality of a man’s life is consumed with enriching the lives of others, this is a man the ages will remember. This is a man who has passed on but who has not died.”
In 1987, The Michael J. Quill Cultural & Sports Centre was opened in the predominantly Irish-American hamlet of East Durham, NY featuring an authentic Irish cottage and the largest scale map of Ireland in the world. There is also a Michael J. Quill centre in Kilgarvan, Co. Kerry. In 1999, the MTA named the West Side bus garage the Michael J. Quill Depot. The TWU today has a diverse membership of over 100,000.
*Originally posted by K. Rooney September 23, 2018
by Diarmuid Breatnach
In 1964 the TWU offered the Irish Government to carefully remove Nelson’s Column in O’Connell Street. Quill wrote that the scale of the statue and its location would give the impression to visitors that the Irish looked up to Nelson and that it meant to them what the Statue of Liberty meant to US citizens. The TWU volunteered to pay for its removal and its replacement with a more appropriate one among which they included Pearse, Connolly or Larkin.
The Irish Government passed the letter to Dublin Corporation (now DCC) who claimed that since the column was managed by a Trust, the Corporation had no power to remove it.
Two years later, the 50th anniversary year of the Easter Rising, a ‘dissident’ group of the IRA, Saor Éire, took matters into their own hands and demolished the structure, commonly known as Nelson’t Pillar.
As fascism begins again to raise its ugly head in Ireland, it is necessary for all its opponents, whether social-democrats, revolutionary socialists of various types or democrats, to consider effective means to restrain its growth and to nullify its influence upon the ordinary masses of Irish society. These masses are at this point generally hostile to fascism and to racism (a seed-bed of fascism) but that can change and in history, has changed before, not just in other lands but in Ireland too during the 1930s.
Traditionally, the views on effective means of defeating fascism in western european society have varied between defeating their arguments, legislating against them or denying them any public space within which to grow. It might be useful to briefly examine the premise and experience of these different approaches in order to evaluate their efficacy.
DENYING FASCISM ANY PUBLIC SPACE
Taking the last case above first, most active antifascists, whether Anarchist, Irish Republican, Communist or Socialist, proclaim the need to physically prevent fascists gathering in public spaces or on platforms. This approach puts these elements into direct confrontation with the forces of the State which see the methods of the Antifa as illegal, as subverting their own roles and, often enough at different times, as a threat to their own plans for repression of resistance to regimes of austerity. 1
In 1970s Britain, those who advocated such an approach, despite the fairly recent history of the War Against Fascism and the 1930s struggles in Britain, were in a small minority and seen, not just by social-democrats and liberals but also by most of the socialist and communist Left, as “ultra-leftists”, “adventurists” or just plain “hooligans and thugs”.
A small English marxist-leninist party2, with its African, Asian and Latin American student connections, promoted the “no free speech for fascists” policy and managed, for awhile, to have the similar “no platform for fascists” policy adopted by the National Union of Students. Some revolutionary Communists, Socialists and Anarchists combined with some militant groups of the ethnic minorities targeted by the fascists to pursue this policy on the streets. The National Front and the British Movement found their marches, meetings, concerts3 and rallies attacked and they were eventually driven off the streets, with many sacrifices in the antifascist movement from the deaths of at least two antifascists4 to jail sentences, heavy fines and physical injuries.
In 2016, the islamophobic party Pegida was prevented by popular direct action from launching itself in Dublin. This approach does seem to have been successful in Britain, at least for decades, and in some other European areas, with ethnic and other minorities gaining a space in which to promote their culture and develop their politics. At the same time, it has to be acknowledge that many of the concerns of the ruling British elite had been successfully addressed or contained during the 1980s: restriction on the trade unions through industrial relations legislation, defeat of the National Union of Miners (1984-’85), of the printing unions at Wapping (1986-87), of the dockers through buy-outs and redundancies; repression of the Irish community through the operation of the Prevention of Terrorism (sic) Act 1974 and the jailing of nearly two score Irish people framed on bombing charges in five separate trials; increasing workers’ insecurity and dependence through large-scale change from being renter-occupiers to mortgage holders.
LEGISLATING AGAINST FASCISM
Legislating against fascism in western european democracies has largely been imposed opportunistically, as with France, Spain and the UK, as the ruling elites faced up to war with states where fascism was already dominant. In the Spanish state it proved ineffective and heroic popular resistance was ferociously overcome by a military-fascist uprising backed by the resources of two fascist states, while the ‘democracies’ stood by or imposed a blockade on relief for the beleaguered Republic. In France, any measures were nullified by the German Nazi invasion. In the UK, the measures proved effective due to the wartime posture of the ruling elites, facing a possible invasion and needing a mobilisation of the entire population to resist that possibility5. In the Irish state, where a new quasi-Republican government was facing the real possibility of a fascist coup aided by elements in the military, some banning measures were effective but these were preceded and assisted by popular mobilisation and direct action against the Blueshirts.
After the defeat of fascism by war and popular resistance, antifascist legislation was imposed on the defeated fascist states by victorious insurgents or by conquering forces. But today, fascism is on the rise in all those states that have been the subject of antifascist legislation. In the Spanish state, where fascism was victorious and remained so for three decades, fascists and their crimes were actually protected and, despite the democratic veneer of the “Transition”, no action was taken against fascists openly parading, displaying fascist paraphernalia and honouring fascist leaders such as General Franco and Primo Rivera (founder of the fascist Falange).
Liberal, social-democratic and even some socialist elements call for the State to bring in and to enforce legislation against “hate speech”. However, apart from being an insufficient answer, the label of “hate speech” has been used in the Spanish state to penalise denunciation of the Spanish State and its police forces.
DEFEATING THE ARGUMENTS OF FASCISM
Defeating the arguments of fascism, such as racist propaganda against ethnic minorities and for special rights for one section of the population, conservative and homophobic ideology, arguments in favour of male superiority, are argued to be necessary to defeat fascism since legal repression and active suppression can only drive those forces temporarily underground, from where sooner or later, they will emerge again.
Not quite the same but a similar non-State and pacific line is that the fascists need to be over-awed by the mobilisation of their opponents and their pariah status demonstrated to a passive public by the mass of anti-fascist numbers.
In the 1970s and 1980s in Britain, this was the dominant line among anti-fascists, among social-democrats such as the Labour Party, liberals, the Communist Party of Great Britain and the Trotskyists of the Workers’ Revolutionary Party and of the Socialist Workers’ Party6. Their first tactic upon hearing of a plan for a fascist mobilisation was to build an antifascist mobilisation near the same point, to show large numbers opposing and hopefully outnumbering the fascists.
However, the fascists were already attacking ethnic minorities and other groups and hanging around oppositional mobilisations to pick off individuals or small groups. They had also attacked a number of antifascist public meetings with clubs and bottles and even a gas spray into eyes. Left-wing paper sellers were targeted on the street. Irish solidarity and other solidarity marches and meetings were also attacked and though certainly the Irish proved able to defend themselves, during the scuffles, the police were able to find an excuse to arrest the Irish marchers.
The leaders of the peaceful opposition to fascism policy refused to change their line and, as the likelihood of violent confrontations between fascists and their opponents increased, would call for a rally near the fascist mobilisation and then lead the antifascist march away from the fascists. The SWP promoted youth concerts under the banner of Rock Against Racism, but the fascists continued to mobilise.
In retrospect, it did seem as though the small and large-scale pitched battles with with fascists and with the police escorting and protecting them were what was demoralising the fascists and leading to splits within their organisation, ultimately defeating the fascist offensive of those decades.
Even so, the leaders of AFA (Anti-Fascist Action) which mobilised most of the successful actions against the British fascist organisations and their mobilisations, certainly in London, argued that it was necessary also to defeat fascism politically7 and that failure to do so would ensure a resurgence of fascism at some time in the future. This prediction has surely come true in Britain with EDL and UKIP, for example.
In my opinion, each of these approaches is necessary but overall reliance on any individual approach is likely to bring the democratic forces to tragic defeat.
The model of active denial of a public space has a position of central importance; the action to prevent the launch of Pegida proved successful and no doubt such actions will be necessary again in the future (though perhaps learning from that action to prevent or at least minimise arrests of antifascists).
I do not believe it is the role of antifascists to call for capitalist state action against fascists and any prohibitive legislation should be specifically anti-racist, anti-homophobic etc. A wide catch-all “anti-hate speech” legislation will find revolutionaries its targets more often than it does fascists (as is happening in the Spanish state at the moment).
Defeating the arguments of fascism must have a role in denying the fascists many of their recruits. As in European countries in the 1930s including Ireland and Germany in particular, some of the foot soldiers of the fascists are the oppressed poor, the educationally disadvantaged, the misguided as to who their real enemies are and where they are to be found.
In the 1930s the enemy was portrayed as being the Jews, Communists and homosexuals inside the country, whilst today those bogeymen are replaced by migrants, moslems, gays and supporters the right to choose abortion. In the 1930s the external enemy was the then-dominant European powers, France and the UK, as well as the Soviet Union; today, it is the EU.
It is not the role of anti-fascists to defend the EU (which to my mind is indefensible and which in any case will gain us nothing) but rather to point towards the real enemy, Irish capitalism and foreign imperialism. We need to show that through constant demonstration of examples and by leading struggles against those institutions.
In particular in Ireland it is of the utmost necessity to expose the nationalist posture of the fascists and racists. In two showings of Gemma Doherty supporters in Dublin recently, they flew many Irish tricolours, played ‘rebel songs’ and sang the Irish National Anthem (The Soldiers’ Song, by Republican Peadar Kearney). In a confrontation between them and the anti-fascists, it can seem that the fascists and the racists are upholding the honour of the nation. However the Blueshirts actually upheld the partition of the nation and the granting of a portion to a foreign power and fascists will end up supporting our foreign-dependent capitalist class. In addition, Irish fascists have been seen making overtures to Loyalists in the Six Counties, forces loyal to an occupying power.
Apart from the fact that we are all descended from migrants, many of those historic heroes celebrated in ‘rebel songs’ were born abroad, were descended from recent migrants or had at least one foreign parent; that list would include Wolfe Tone, Henry Joy and Mary McCracken, Thomas Davis, Tom Clarke, Patrick Pearse, James Connolly, Jim Larkin, Constance Markievicz, Eamon De Valera, Erkine and Molly Childers …..
We need to deny the fascists any place in popular anti-capitalist struggles, as successfully done with the brief flare of Yellow Vests organisation in Dublin and will no doubt need to be done again, for example in housing demonstrations.
Migrants need to organise themselves against attacks and increased exploitation and we need to be active in their support. This is the case too for other targeted groups; liberal cries for justice or for the application of “anti-hate speech” legislation will avail them not at all in the long run.
Having said that active denial of a public space for fascists is necessary, I would add that secret mobilisations should be for work that needs to be secret; however it is ludicrous to gather secretly and then to march out to stand in front of the fascists shouting at them. That work of visible opposition does need to be done but publicly, with mass mobilisations – antifascist forces should be able to outnumber the fascist and racist mobilisations in Ireland by a factor of ten to one. We should have effective amplification systems, play antifascist songs, and fly relevant flags (in particular, in my opinion, the Starry Plough, flag of the Irish working class in struggle in 1913 and in 1916).
It is crucial for us to realise that without revolutionary answers to crisis, fascism will present false solutions and diversions, calculated to have an appeal to sections of the population. And the revolutionary answers need to be not only theoretical but seen in practice also, actions that seem as though the revolutionaries and their allies are seriously fighting the system to advance the cause of the working people.
Fascism is one of the faces of Capitalism in specific circumstances. Ultimately, as long as capitalism exists, the danger of Fascism will never be far away.
1Recently the media reported judgement against a number of people who had allegedly attacked Irish fascists while the latter were on their way to the 2016 attempt to launch the Islamophobic party Pegida in Dublin. Others are currently awaiting trial for allegedly attacking apparently Polish fascists who were trying support the same launch. Of all the European countries where the launch of Pegida had been planned, Ireland may be the only one where this was signally unsuccessful.
2English Communist Movement (Marxist-Leninist), which became the EC Party (m-l). It was mostly active in London and Birmingham. The NUS currently has a a “No Platform” policy but which applies to specific organisations and individuals, including some British fascist and racist organisations.
3For example of the fascist skinhead band Skrewdriver.
4Both were killed by London Metropolitan Police truncheons: Kevin Gately, Leeds student of Irish parents, 1974; Blair Peach, New Zealand teacher, 1979.
5In the USA, fascism was only repressed to any great extent when the USA decided to enter the Second World War, which was after the bombing by the Imperial Japanese of Pearl Harbour.
6There were elements within all these sections that did not agree with official line and some acted in opposition to it. The SWP expelled those who practiced direct action against fascists and many of those elements went on to form Red Action and Anti-Fascist Action.
7For this premise and a partial history of the physical struggle against fascist organisations in 1980s and 1990s Britain, see for example, Beating the Fascists – the untold story of Anti-Fascist Action, by Sean Birchall, Freedom Press, 2010.
Like fascists in many other parts of the world, those on the Oregon demonstration marched under the slogan of “free speech”. NO FREE SPEECH FOR FASCISTS!
Police in Oakland, Oregon, went into riot police mode at a fascist march on Saturday (4th August 2018) which was opposed by anti-fascists. After maintaing a presence between the two forces for some time they eventually moved to break them up and employed ‘flash-bangs’ and other methods. The march without a permit by fascists was organised by the Patriot Prayer organisation led by Joey Gibson who is running for election to the US Senate and who declares that they are demonstrating for free speech.
Feelings in the town are already running high after a Patriot Prayer supporter was charged with stabbing a man who allegedly intervened to defend from harassment two women on a light-rail train last year, one of whom was wearing a hijab.
According to reports, Gibson declared to supporters that they were there “to teach a lesson to the country” minutes before they began to march. On June 30th, a previous Patriot Prayer event led to clashes with anti-fascist demonstrators, during which the Oakland police revoked the permit for the demonstration and declared a riot. Earlier on Saturday, in a response to Oakland Police reminding people of a city code banning carrying weapons in the public park, Gibson posted: “We’ve always had guns at the rally. I cannot think of one rally when we didn’t have guns with us. Everywhere we go, we have guns.”
Earlier, Portland Mayor Wheeler had expressed concern about the planned Patriot Prayer march, as had the Police Chief. Portland Police Bureau Chief Outlaw (yes, honestly) was appointed to post last year; an African-American woman, she started her career as a patrol officer and was appointed Deputy Chief to Oakland’s police department in 2013.
FASCISM AND FREE SPEECH ACROSS THE WORLD
In 2016 Tommy Robinson led a couple of hundred supporters in Birmingham, Britain to launch the anti-Muslim group Pegida UK, which he founded as part of a Europe-wide fascist initiative intending to launch Pegida in a city in every European state (they failed spectacularly in Dublin, see Rebel Breeze report in Links). Two years earlier, he had led the Islamophobic English Defence League which soon split and melted away.
Like Robinson, who was recently given a 13-month sentence for contempt of court in Britain and even more recently released on bail for retrial, the call of fascists when not in power or in position of strong dominance is always for “free speech”. Once dominance is achieved, the fascist call for “free speech” changes to slogans such as ending freedom of speech if it is considered “unpatriotic”, advocating “race-mixing” or “moral degeneracy” and, of course “communist propaganda”. When in power they enforce the elimination of what they consider undesirable free speech, including criticism of policies or leadership even from within their own ranks. When in a dominant position in a country, region or area, fascists enforce their control of “free speech” through terror attacks on their opposition or target communities, with or without collusion with the State, military or local police force. When fascists have state control, they limit free speech through laws, court and prison, in addition to extra-legal fascist attacks and assassination squads.1
Fascists seek to establish a safe “beach head” upon which to build and from which to extend. If successful, they attract more and more followers, while they intimidate their opposition and their targets. But in failure, as when driven off the street, their opposition and targets grow in confidence and the fascist organisations usually disintegrate in internal struggles between cliques and denunciations of their unsuccessful leaders.
That is the well-documented history of fascism which the fascists try to conceal while weak but in which they glorify when in power. Unfortunately, liberals, whose bodies exist in the real world but whose ideology lives in a world of make-believe, unknowingly collude with this trajectory. Again and again they insist that the fascists and racists which they abhor must be given freedom of speech and even accuse the anti-fascists of a kind of fascist authoritarianism.
When liberals do turn to wanting to control the freedom of fascists to organise, as some do at some stages, they always appeal to the State to carry out that task for them. Sometimes, according to its interests at the time, the State will oblige, with measures sometimes including a wholesale banning2 but will often simultaneously ban progressive resistance movements. More often it will oblige liberals by fines or short prison sentences on fascists or by anti-racist or anti-”hate” legislation. And often, fascists attempt to turn these too to their advantage, projecting themselves as martyrs of “free speech”.
The only effective remedy is that anywhere and everywhere, fascists are denied free speech – not by the State (whose capitalist interests are anti-socialist and will often recognise the usefulness of fascists) but by the alliance of anti-fascist interests: ethnic minorities, LBGT groups, communists, women, trade unions. This thesis has emerged out of an ideological battle that has been largely won decades ago among the Left and Republican movement in Ireland but which the general Left at times fails to put into practice – had it been left to them, Pegida’s attempted Dublin launch would not have been quite the ignominious defeat it was.
In this context the stand of the “Resist Patriot Prayer” march must be applauded. Their Facebook event description included the following sentence: “We make no apologies for the use of force in keeping our communities safe from the scourge of right-wing violence.”
1 Fascist movements and states are often plagued by splits, attempted coups and conspiracies. In June 1934, the Nazi SS and Gestapo attacked their former allies, the Nazi SA (Brownshirts), wiping out the leadership and dispersing the organisation in the event often called “The Night of the Long Knives”. They also wiped out a number of conservative anti-nazis. The death-toll has been widely debated, some estimates placing it between 700 and 1,000.
2 As by the British state of the British Union of Fascists during WWII, while their leader Oswald Mosely was placed under house arrest in a comfortable country house and land (or by De Valera of the Blueshirt movement in 1930s Irish state). However, less than a decade earlier in 1936, at the Battle of Cable Street when anti-fascists defeated the Blackshirts’ attempted invasion of London’s East End, the primary force fighting the anti-fascist resistance was 7,000 foot police and all the mounted police in London.
A crowd gathered at the Dublin and Monaghan Bombing Monument in Talbot Street this evening for a short ceremony and the start of a march to rally at the General Post Office building in Dublin city’s main street. The event was organised by Anti-Imperialist Action Ireland “to highlight imperialist war-crimes around the world, from Ireland to Yemen and Syria.”
View of section of crowd before start of event with the Memorial in the background (Photo: D.Breatnach)
As people assembled, a crowd of European youngsters was noted passing by, no doubt part of some scheme to learn English and something of the culture outside their own country. Sadly their teacher passed by the Monument without calling their attention to it.
The bombings on 17 May 1974, killing 33 civilians and a full-term unborn child and injuring almost 300, claimed the highest toll of any event during the 30 Years War and was the deadliest attack in the history of the Irish State. The bombings were organised by British Intelligence agents with Loyalist participation and not one person was ever charged.
It was not a good day for the march and participants came prepared for the worst but the rain stopped just before the event and held off, apart from an occasional drizzle, until after the event, when it fairly lashed down.
Pádraig Ó Fearghaill spoke first in Irish welcoming all who had attended, outlined the order of events and then called on George Galloway, famous British anti-imperialist politician, writer and broadcaster, to lay a floral wreath at the monument, which he did. Ó Fearghaill then called on Diarmuid Breatnach to sing the Woody Guthrie song about the massacre of mineworkers in Colorado, USA, by capitalists including the imperialist John D.Rockefeller. Breatnach sang “The Ludlow Massacre”.
The march then formed up and, led by a floral wreath-holder and black flags, proceeded up Talbot Street, into North Earl Street and up to the GPO. Along the way they chanted“From Ireland to Palestine- Occupation is a Crime” and “Donald Trump/Theresa May- How many kids did you kill today?” The demonstration received a lot of support from passers by along the way and drivers of cars and buses who beeped to show support. The marchers, some of who were carrying candles or light up boards made there way to the GPO where a further crowd had already gathered.
From well-known activists participating and banners carried it was clear that the march had attracted wide support across sections of the Republican movement in parties and campaigns, with participation of independent activists of republican, anarchist and socialist background.
Outside the GPO building, Ó Fearghaill called on Máire Uí Mhaoileoin to lay a wreath in memory of those who have lost their lives as a result of imperialist war-crimes and then introduced George Galloway, who remarked that he was proud to speak outside the building that had played such a part in the first blow against the British Empire of the last century. Galloway went on to refer to continuing British occupation of the Six Counties of Ireland and imperialist interference in the Middle East and the occupation of some countries. In the latter category he praised the Palestinian Ehed Tamimi, whose 17th birthday was just that day and called her “a leader of the resistance for the whole Middle East”.
Reminding the attendance of the ongoing crime of internment, Ó Fearghaill announced a representative of a campaign around Tony Taylor, who announced he was reading a statement from Lorraine Taylor, Tony’s wife. Taylor, a Derry Republican, was detained in March 2016 and has been in jail since, without trial or even charge.
Presenting Diarmuid Breatnach again to sing the famous Eric Bogle anti-war song “The Band Played Waltzing Matilda”referencing the bush-ballad of “Waltzing Matilda”, the Australian unofficial national anthem. However, following
a suggestion from a participant, Breatnach led the crowd in singing “Happy Birthday” in English and in Irish to Palestinian child-prisoner Ehed Tamimi. After Breatnach’s rendition of Bogle’s song, Ó Fearghaill thanked all the the participants and promised that Anti-Imperialist Ireland would continue to build up resistance against imperialism in Ireland and in the world beyond.
The lyrics were written by James Connolly and published in his songbook Songs of Freedom in New York in 1907. Diarmuid replaced the words “labour” with “workers” and “true men” with “true hearts”. There was no indication of to what air the song should be sung (quite common, the expectation being that being would use a popular air at the time) and it has been put to at least three airs.
Diarmuid Breatnach here sings it to the air of A Nation Once Again (by Thomas Davis, ‘Young Irelander’) which is the air he heard it sung by Cornelius Cardew, an English communist composer. This air suits it and the arrangement provides a chorus in which people can join.
The recording was done at the weekly Save Moore Street From Demolition campaign table (Saturdays 11.30am-1.30pm) with Bart Hoppenbrouwers videoing.
James Connolly was one of around 350 men and women who occupied the Moore Street area during the 1916 Rising after the evacuation of the burning GPO, which had been the HQ of the Rising. Connolly was one of five signatories of the Proclamation who spent their last hours of freedom in those houses and one of six of the fourteen executed after they surrendered in Moore Street.
The Irish Government, property speculators and the Planning Dept. of Dublin City Council are all pushing that only four buildings in that battleground be saved and a huge supermarket be built over the whole area but the SMSFD campaign wants the whole quarter saved and sensitively developed.
The play about the Irish miners in Pennsylvania and their exploitation and the secret society they formed to resist, written by US-Irishman John Kearns and directed by Dara Carolan, received its Irish premiere tonight/ last night (Wednesday) in Liberty Hall.
In the Pennsylvania coalmines of the 1870s, Irish miners resisted their exploitation as workers and the racism they experienced as Irish Catholics to form a trade union. But when their efforts seem to avail them little, drawing on their Irish experience of peasant resistance societies fighting landlords and their agents, some went on to form a secret society: the Sons of Molly Maguire, also known as the “Mollies”.
They suffered unsafe conditions (one fall in a mine with only one exit trapped and killed 110 miners), high prices in the company store and felt they were being cheated even on the agreed wages. Eventually miners began to carry out retribution on informers and on mine-owners’ agents and their property.It seems the “Mollies” used the Ancient Order of Hibernians as a cover but that may also have been political and racial propaganda against them.
The mine-owners engaged the Pinkerton Detective Agency who inserted one of their agents, a CatholicUlsterman called McPartland, among the miners and he gave information on the men leading to their arrest and then gave evidence against them in court.
As the Irish Echo review in the US stated: The play employs an “… effective blending of pageant, mime, kitchen sink realism, and even flights of poetry”. It also has some moments of high drama. An interesting feature from a US playwright is the use of appropriate Irish language phrases at times, reminding us that an Ghaeilge would have been the mother language of many of those migrant Irish while nearly all would have had at least a nodding acquaintance with it.
One phrase used a number of times was “Ní thuigeann an sách an seang” of which I had no previous recollection. Looking it up, I noted a number of meanings, of which the prevalent was along the lines ofthe equivalent in English of “No one knows where the shoe pinches, but he who wears it.” But a deeper examination which I found on another site (see link) gives a darker interpretation, which seems more in line with the play: “It is about more than a misunderstanding by the corpulent of the cadaverous. One variant is, “Ní thuigeann an sách an seang, nuair a bhíonn a bholg féin teann.” This literally means, the well-fed one does not understand the slender one, when his stomach is usually taut. In other words, the well-fed do not understand hunger.
“Another variant is, “Ní mhothaíonn an sách an seang.” The verb ‘mothaigh’ can be translated as either ‘feel’ or ‘hear.’ Use either English transitive verb and it suggests that the satiated simply do not care about the starved.”
There is certainly a wealth of meaning to be found in many of the pithy phrases in the Irish language.
Twenty “Mollies” were hanged (including at least some innocent men) between 1877 and 1879 and this is sometimes said to be the largest known mass hanging of any specific group in the USA – it was not. Nor was the hanging of ten “Mollies” on the 21st June 1877 the largest hanging of one group in one day. The dubious honour for most men hanged of any group and on one day goes to the 38 Dakota Native Indians who were hanged on December 26, 1862. However, the Dakota were hanged by the US military and the “Mollies” were tried in civil courts, so the Mollies can claim the most judicially executed in the USA of one group as well as on one day.
The play employs an “… effective blending of pageant, mime, kitchen sink realism, and even flights of poetry” (the Irish Echo review in the US) and has some moments of high drama. It also employs appropriate Irish language phrases, reminding us that an Ghaeilge would have been the mother tongue of many of those migrant Irish while others would have had a nodding acquaintance with it.
One phrase used a number of times was “Ní thuigeann an sách an seang” of which I had no previous recollection. Looking it up, I noted a number of meanings, of which the prevalent was along the lines ofthe equivalent in English of “No one knows where the shoe pinches, but he who wears it.” But a deeper examination which I found on another site (see link) gives a darker interpretation, which seems more in line with the play: “It is about more than a misunderstanding by the corpulent of the cadaverous. One variant is, “Ní thuigeann an sách an seang, nuair a bhíonn a bholg féin teann.” This literally means, the well-fed one does not understand the slender one, when his stomach is usually taut. In other words, the well-fed do not understand hunger.
“Another variant is, “Ní mhothaíonn an sách an seang.” The verb ‘mothaigh’ can be translated as either ‘feel’ or ‘hear.’ Use either English transitive verb and it suggests that the satiated simply do not care about the starved.” There is certainly a wealth of meaning to be found summed up in pithy phrases in the Irish language.
Its showing in Liberty Hall was its first on an Irish stage for John Kearns‘ play “Sons of Molly Maguire” but it has previously been performed at the Midtown International Theatre Festival in New York. John Kearns is the Treasurer and Salon Producer for Irish American Writers and Artists. He is the author of the short-story collection, Dreams and Dull Realities and the novel, The World, along with plays including “In the Wilderness”and “In a Bucket of Blood”.
The play received an enthusiastic reception from the audience. Raging you missed it? Don’t worry – you can still catch it tomorrow/ today, that is Thursday 11th May as part of Mayfest at the Liberty Hall Theatre.
The 1916 Rising, to which Moore Street is so closely linked, represented some very important events for the people of the world and it impacted on people in all populated continents of the globe.
FOR DEMOCRACY, EQUALITY
The 1916 Proclamation, printed in Liberty Hall and signed in No.21 Henry Street, just around the corner from Moore Street, is a document not only of clear patriotic and anti-colonial expression but also a democratic and inclusive one. At a time when hardly a state anywhere in the world permitted women to vote in elections, the document specifically addressed “Irishmen and Irish women”. It also clearly expressed the wish of the insurgents to overcome the religious sectarianism which had played such an important part in securing continued colonial rule: “ … religious and civil liberty … oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien Government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past.”
The Rising had expressed the gender equality intentions of the insurgents in more than the words of its address: women fought in the Rising and, in two garrison areas, commanded for awhile. The British colonial authorities recognised the role of some of those women by sentencing one to death, albeit a sentence later commuted, and keeping a number of them in prison even after many men had been released.
FOR GENDER EQUALITY
Irish women organised for and acted in the Rising in two separate organisations: Cumann na mBan and the Irish Citizen Army.
The women founded as an auxiliary force to the Irish Volunteers, Cumann na mBan, later to assert considerable organisational independence, wore their own uniforms and had their own female officers. Women had participated in many insurrections and resistance movements across the world but no insurrectionary force in history ever before had such a consciously women-organised force.
The women in the Irish Citizen Army had formally equal status with men and a number carried arms in the Rising and fired them at the enemy. Men acted on orders from women officers in at least two garrison areas and, in medical matters, also in at least a third.
Such a situation was of great significance in the struggle for women’s rights and gender equality, not only in Ireland but in the world.
FOR WORKERS AND SOCIALISM
The Irish Citizen Army was founded in 1913 as a workers’ defence force by trade unionists and socialists and later as a workers’ army and, despite its strongly anti-colonial stance, until the 1916 Rising, maintained a strict separation from the nationalist republican organisations of the Irish Volunteers and Cumann na mBan. As detailed earlier, it formally recognised women within the organisation as of equal status with men.
Workers’ organisations had existed before, including armed ones but nowhere had such an armed organisation existed outside of armed conflict for so long (1913-1916), led by socialists and with equal status for men and women. In the history of socialist organisation and particularly of a revolutionary and insurgent kind, this was a development of enormous importance.
The 1916 Rising took place in the middle of the first of two huge international conflicts that were later called World Wars. WW1 was a struggle for markets, resources and strategic positions and bases between a number of states ruled by capitalists and those states recruited heavily from among the nations they had colonised; in Britain’s case, that included Ireland.
To many nationalist Republicans, the War represented an opportunity, expressed in the maxim that “England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity”. But to many socialists around the world, the War represented a disastrous pitting of the working people under one Power against the working people of another, as well as an excuse for the suppression of demands to fulfill the needs of their workers while the capitalists gathered huge profits. James Connolly was one of those socialists.
Connolly, Edinburgh-born Irish revolutionary socialist, formerly Acting General Secretary of the Irish Transport & General Worker’s Union, had joined the International Workers of the Word, the hugely influential in the USA syndicalist organisation. As well as being an energetic organiser, Connolly was a historian and revolutionary theoretician. Connolly took to heart the resolution formally adopted by representatives of the vast majority of European socialists to oppose war and, should it come, to turn it into class war against their rulers. In the event, Connolly was one of the few European socialist leaders to live up to that resolution: as Commandant of the Irish Citizen Army, GPO Garrison commander in a rising against Ireland’s British colonial masters, James Connolly was also striking a blow against imperial and colonial war.
That aspect of the Rising, of being consciously or unconsciously against War, predated the February Russian Revolution of 1917, also in part an anti-war uprising, by ten months. And of course, predated the October Socialist Revolution in Russia by seventeen months and the nearest uprising geographically to Ireland, also in part an anti-war one, the German socialist uprising in November 1918, by two-and-a-half years. For all these reasons, the 1916 Rising, the Headquarters of which were in the GPO and later removed to Moore Street, was and remains of enormous significance in the world-wide history of people’s movements against war.
AGAINST COLONIALISM IN THE WORLD
The 1916 Rising reverberated around the world. It took place in what had a century earlier been widely regarded as the second city of the British Empire and, when it erupted, did so against the largest empire, in terms of directly-controlled areas and population numbers ruled, that the world has ever known. How can such an event be of other than huge interest, not only to other peoples under British colonial rule but also to those under the colonial rule of France, Belgium, Germany, Holland, Portugal, Spain, Russia and the United States? How could it not have been of considerable interest to socialist revolutionaries everywhere?
Socialists around the world discussed the Rising, at first often criticising it, while Lenin, of huge importance in the socialist movement at that time and some others commented favourably upon it. Consequently, the Rising and the War of Independence was to play an important part in the development of a revolutionary theory around the world that advocated the linking of the struggles of worker, peasant and small farmer, of anti-imperialism and anti-colonialism with struggle for a socialist republic.
The Rising was a topic of great discussion in the United States and in Australia, and in the USA of financial and other support, as is well known. Connolly had been active there and had published his songbook in New York in 1910; Larkin was actually there in 1916. For a number of reasons, including the sentencing to death of Eamon Bulfin for his role in the GPO and in Moore Street, a sentence later commuted and Bulfin deported to Buenos Aires, the Rising was discussed in Argentina and in other Latin American countries (where, at that time, the British were the main imperialist power).
It was certainly discussed in the huge country of India (which at that time included what is now the states of Pakistan and Bangladesh), whose revolutionary nationalists had contact with Fenian revolutionaries from decades earlier. The Connaught Ranger mutiny in the British Army was a direct result of the Rising and the War of Independence and, before the mutiny was crushed, the soldiers and oppressed Indians had begun to make movement towards reciprocal solidarity. And we know, from history and the writings of Indian nationalists and socialists, that the Rising and the War of Independence which organically followed the Rising influenced the struggles against colonialism and imperialism in India right up to the Second World War. We are also aware of correspondence between the Nehru and Ghandi families and the McSwineys.
We know also that the War of Independence influenced African uprisings and Ho Chi Minh, later leader of successful wars against Japanese invasion and French colonialism. In South Africa, the Rising must have been a subject of discussion too, at least among the whites. John McBride, sentenced to death ostensibly for his role in Rising was probably in reality being shot for having organised and led an Irish Brigade to fight the British in the Second Boer War, which had ended but fourteen years earlier.
In Britain itself, the Rising influenced the huge Irish diaspora in England, Scotland and Wales and a significant proportion of the insurgent forces in Dublin had actually come from there. The Rising and especially the War of Independence caused a crises of a kind in British socialist thinking, threatening an irrevocable rupture between revolutionary socialists and even sections of radical social democrats on the one hand and pro-imperial social democracy on the other.
This is not the place to discuss this further but that situation, allied to anti-colonial struggles around the world, huge dissatisfaction and mutinies in the British armed forces and a growing strike movement in Britain, provided great opportunities for an Irish revolutionary movement to influence the history of the world in a direction other than that which it has taken.
For all the reasons outlined above, the Moore Street quarter should be of recognised World Heritage Status.
UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE AND OTHER CONSERVATION STATUS
The Irish State ratified the World Heritage Convention in 1991, which qualifies Ireland to apply for that status for the Moore Street quarter. Up to US$1 million is available from the World Heritage fund for the saving and development of a World Heritage site and funds are also available for urgent works to save it. World Heritage status attracts considerable tourist interest and substantial revenue is of course also available to the State and businesses surrounding the area from such tourist interest.
Currently Ireland has only two sites which have been accorded full World Heritage status (one of archaelogical and the other or natural, mainly geological, importance). However, another seven sites are under “Tentative” categorisation since 2010 and Dublin City is one of those. The Moore Street battleground could be afforded that full World Heritage status in its own right, which I believe its history deserves but it can also be used to strengthen the case for full such status for Dublin City.
The ten grounds on which UNESCO currently relies in order to examine the “the unique importance” of a site is admittedly rather restricted in the category of historical importance, particularly in the development of social movements. However, even under the existing list, I would submit that the Moore Street battleground meets four of the criteria: 2, 4, 6 and 8. The USA has the Statue of Liberty and Independence Hall building as World Heritage sites.
Registering under EU programs may also be possible, in particular Horizon 2020.