FOUNDING OF FIRST WORKERS’ ARMY IN THE WORLD COMMEMORATED IN DUBLIN

Clive Sulish

(Reading time: 8 mins.)

The founding of the Irish Citizen Army, the first workers’ army in the world1, was commemorated in Dublin at the site of Wolfe Tone monument in Stephens Greeen, in song and speech on 23rd November 2022.

Organised by the Connolly Youth Movement, the other participating organisations represented were the Irish Communist Party, Independent Workers Union, Lasair Dhearg2 and Welsh Socialist Republican Solidarity (Ireland) – the Irish branch of the Welsh Underground Network.

In addition, a number of independent activists were also present.

CYM speaker beside the Wolf Tone Monument (by Edward Delaney) which was blown up by Loyalists in 1969; it was recast and the surviving head incorporated. (Photo: Rebel Breeze)

THE IRISH CITIZEN ARMY

The Irish Citizen Army was founded on 23rd November 1913 on a call from Jim Larkin and James Connolly, both leading the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union in its titanic struggle against the federation of Dublin Employers’ plan to break and disperse the union.

The call for the formation of the ICA arose due to the attacks of the Dublin Metropolitan Police on the workers and their supporters; already in August 1913 the DMP had killed two workers by truncheon blows and injured many, including a youth who would die later as a result.

The ICA’s initial organiser was the writer and dramatist Seán O’Casey, later succeeded by Boer War veteran Jack White.3 In addition to requiring its recruits to be union members, the ICA enrolled women as well as men and some of the former were officers commanding both genders4.

While the ITGWU was defeated in the eight months of the Lockout, it was not smashed and came back stronger in a relatively short period. The ICA faded away then but was reorganised over following years and approximately 120 took part as a unit in the 1916 Rising, alongside other units.5

SPEECHES AND SONG

A small crowd had gathered at the advertised location, the Wolfe Tone Monument in Stephen’s Green and the chairperson of the event called people to order.

Diarmuid Breatnach, an independent activist, was asked to sing one of Connolly’s compositions, ironically titled Be Moderate, often referred to instead by its refrain, “We only Want the Earth”.

An older man with a Dublin accent, Breatnach told his audience that Connolly published the lyrics in New York in 1907, going on to sing the five verses to the air of Thomas Davis’ A Nation Once Again6, using the chorus part to repeat the refrain that “ … we only want the Earth!”7

A representative of the Independent Workers’ Union, a young man with an Ulster accent, spoke about the need for workers to have a trade union and for that union not to align itself with employers or with the State.

In order to truly represent the interests of the workers, the union needs to be independent, he maintained and also democratic in its decision-making.

In conclusion, the speaker said that the IWU is the union that is needed and called on people present to join it and to support it.

“MAKE THE VISION A REALITY”

Amy Margaret, a young woman, also with an Ulster accent, delivered a speech on behalf of the organisers of the event, the Connolly Youth Movement.

“The Citizen Army was a direct response to the brutality carried out by the RIC and Dublin Metropolitan Police during the Dublin Lockout” she said; “the police killed two workers, injured hundreds more with baton charges, and frequently ransacked the tenements where strikers lived.”

“The Citizen Army fought back with some succes” she continued “and as one pointed out, a hurley has a longer reach than a baton. It was in the Citizen Army that the working-class stood up to the RIC and employers,” she continued.

“The same RIC that torched farmer’s homes during the Land war, the same employers who often owned the slums where workers lived; it was here at Stephen’s Green (and elsewhere in the city) that the Citizen Army stood up to the British Empire, alongside comrades in the Irish Volunteers.”

She told her audience that when, during a dockers’ strike in 1915, scabs were imported and police harassed picketers, Connolly sent a squad of the ICA with fixed bayonets to the scene, resulting in the dispute’s resolution with “a considerable increase in wages to the dockers concerned”.

“The Citizen Army was not simply workers armed with guns,” the speaker said, “but also armed with culture” and referred to weekly concerts in Liberty Hall (the ITGWU’s HQ) and to the dramatic acting history of Seán Connolly and whistle-playing of Michael Malin, both 1916 martyrs

“What the ICA stood and fought for in their own words, “… is but one ideal – an Ireland ruled and owned by Irish men and women, sovereign and independent, from the centre to the sea.”

“Connolly was clear however that such a Republic would have no place for the “rack-renting, slum-owning landlord” or the “profit-grinding capitalist”, but should rather be a “beacon-light to the oppressed of every land”.

“The most fitting tribute for the ICA then is to make that Republic a reality. To do so we must learn from the past and their examples. We can learn from them to never be cowed by the odds against us, we can learn from their comradeship to each other.

We can learn from how they combined political, economic and cultural methods to advance the cause of a worker’s republic. But more importantly we must be able to learn from their shortcomings.

After the Rising and the loss of its leadership the ICA began to devolve into a social club and whilst some members played an important role during the Tan War, the ICA was not the revolutionary workers’ army it once was.

Therefore we must build a truly mass movement – not just a committed core of activists, and we must build a movement not reliant upon key personalities so that it can function no matter what.

We all know that things must change in Ireland, and so we reaffirm the principle that the Citizen Army stood by; only the Irish working class is capable of waging the revolutionary struggle necessary to change things; not capitalists and landlords.

Helena Molony of the ICA, said, “We saw a vision of Ireland, free, pure and happy. We did not realise that vision. But we saw it.”

As the socialist-republican youth of today, we commit ourselves to make that vision a reality and to build a Republic that the men and women of the Citizen Army would gladly call their own.”

Some of the gathering at the Wolfe Tone Monument (out of shot to the right) to commemorate the creation of Irish Citizen Army (Photo: Rebel Breeze)


MARKIEVICZ: “RESOLUTION, COURAGE AND COMMITMENT

Breatnach was called back to the microphone and talked about the lessons to be learned from Constance Markievicz, co-founder of Na Fianna Éireann, the Irish Citizen Army and of Cumann na mBan, born in Britain “as were a number of our national and class heroes”, he said.

“Constance was born into a settler landlord family, the Gore-Booths”, he told the audience and her experience of witnessing deprivation, along with her sister Eva, during the Great Hunger, had a strong effect on both, inclining them to social reform and they became also suffragettes.

The speaker said that in that latter aspect and as a poet Eva became well-known particularly in England but Constance was better known as a revolutionary and for her allegiance to the working class and to the Irish nation.

He reminded his listeners that Markievicz was artistic and apt to strike poses; O’Casey, founder of the ICA had been hostile to her and co-founder of Cumann na mBan and wife of Tom Clarke of the IRB, Kathleen Clarke, had found her irritating.

Breatnach said that Markievicz was 3rd in 1916 garrison command at Stephen Green and had been accused not only shooting dead there a member of the DMP but of exulting in it; however according to witness accounts she had not even been present when the officer was killed.8

Bust of Volunteer Markievicz in Stephen’s Green (Photo: Rebel Breeze).

A British officer at her court-martial after the surrender of the 1916 Rising had claimed that she begged for her life at the court-martial but the official British records published later gave the lie to that and her own account that she demanded equal treatment with the executed leaders rings true.

“Her life as an example,” Breatnach continued, “teaches us not to judge people only by their background or indeed by their idiosyncrasies but primarily by their resolution, courage and commitment, all of which Constance Markievicz had by the bucket-load.”

The speaker also reminded those present that the very Wolfe Tone monument beside which he stood had been blown up in a number of British Loyalist bombings of the city during the 1970s, a number of which would soon be commemorated on the December anniversary of one of them.

The Irish State had prosecuted not a single one of the perpetrators, not even for the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, with the highest death toll9 of any one day during the recent 30 Years War. Instead, they had used the 1972 bombing to pass emergency legislation to attack Irish Republicans!10

Speaking briefly as a historical memory conservation activist, primarily active in the campaign to save the Moore Street market and 1916 battleground from speculators, Breatnach remarked that it was fortunate that the area behind him was a public park.

Otherwise it would all have been a prime target for property speculators. People sometimes express surprise that Irish governments do so little to protect areas of insurrectionary history. He stated however that this was natural since it was not their history but that of the struggling people.

“The history of the Irish ruling class is of a foreign-dependent one”, Breatnach stated, “rather than that of a national bourgeoisie willing to fight for independence. The last time Ireland had such a bourgeoisie was in 1798, mostly led by descendants of settlers and planters.”

“This is why Connolly pointed out that the Irish working class are the true inheritors of the Irish struggle for freedom. National independence and socialism are two different objectives but interdependent in Ireland and for the struggles to succeed they must be led by the working class.”

CONCLUDING

Wreaths were laid on behalf of a number of organisations, including Lasair Dhearg and the chairperson thanked all for their attendance, leaving people to their various ways into the mild autumn-like afternoon.

End.

(Cropped photo: Rebel Breeze)

(Photo: Rebel Breeze)

FOOTNOTES

SOURCES

1Clearly not the first army composed of workers, since these are the members of most armies; nor the first to fight for the workers, as did some for the Paris Commune in 18th March-28th May1871. However, the ICA was founded specifically for the defence of workers, the first in the world to be so, though its constitution was largely Irish nationalist.

2Socialist and anti-fascist Irish Republican organisation mostly represented in Belfast. The name means “Red Flame”.

3A number of Irish were veterans of the Boer War, the British against Dutch colonists in South Africa, most like White were on the British side but some fought for the Boers, to the extent of forming an Irish Brigade for the purpose. Later, a number from both groups ended up fighting alongside one another in the 1916 Rising (and no doubt against others who remained in the British Army).

4This too was a ‘first’ to the credit of the ICA.

5The Irish Volunteers, Cumann na mBan, Na Fianna Éireann, the Hibernian Rifles and of course the Irish Republican Brotherhood, the chief architects of the Rising, its members fighting as members of other units, chiefly the Volunteers and the Fianna (the membership of both those organisations was exclusively male though its couriers were often female but Tom Clarke’s wife, Kathleen Clarke, was the IRB’s liaison from Dublin with the sister organisation in the USA.

6James Connolly (1868-1916) did not prescribe any air for the lyrics and they have been sung to several. A Nation Once Again was composed by leading member of the Young Irelanders, Thomas Davis (1814–1845) and published in 1844, for many years considered a candidate for Irish national anthem.

7“For our demands most moderate are: we only want the Earth!”

8Breatnach also said that least two and probably three members of the DMP were killed during the Rising, each one in an area under the control of the ICA, who no doubt remembered well the force’s actions during the 1913 Lockout.

91974: 33 male and female civilians and a full-term unborn baby.

10The Amendment to the Offences Against the State Act, including the introduction of the no-jury Special Courts, essentially for trying Irish Republicans with a much lower quality of evidence required to convict, including the unsupported word of a senior Garda officer.

“WOLFE TONE IS COMING BACK!” — BODENSTOWN 2022

Clive Sulish

(Reading time: mins.)

The “father of Irish Republicanism”, Theobald Wolfe Tone was honoured on Sunday afternoon at the Irish patriot’s final resting place, in Bodenstown churchyard in Co. Kildare, a place of annual pilgrimage for Irish Republicans. Irish Socialist Republicans and Anti-Imperialist Action Ireland convened the event including speakers, musicians, singers and colour party, in which the speeches drew on the past to comment on the present and on the future.

Colour Party flags against those permanently maintained there at the monument by the NGA. (Photo: Rebel Breeze)

WOLFE TONE AND THE RISINGS OF 1798

Theobald Wolfe Tone and others sought the extension of political participation from the Anglicans in Ireland to the Dissenters, i.e non-Anglican Protestants in addition to the Catholics. When efforts in this direction failed1 towards the end of the 18th Century he and others formed the United Irishmen. This was a secret revolutionary organisation, with a democratic, non-sectarian ideology, seeking assistance from republican France to rise against English control of Ireland.

One of the banners carried on the march and at the rally (Photo: Rebel Breeze)

The English authorities occupying Ireland harried the Republican communities (including hanging some individuals), pushing them into uprising in 1798 when they were in some disarray, particularly after the arrest of most of the Leinster Directorate of the United Irishmen in Bridge Street, Dublin. The French ship in which Tone was being brought back to Ireland was captured by an English naval vessel and though Tone was in French Army uniform he was recognised, tried and sentenced to public hanging but apparently cheated the hangman by cutting his own throat, though he died slowly and painfully.

The initial engagements in Wexford and Antrim were successful for the insurgents but Wexford was soon left as the only area in which they had control of most of the county. A small French invasion force arrived too late in Mayo and though again initially successful, the combined French-Irish force was soon surrounded and defeated.

Tone’s body was brought to the small churchyard in Bodenstown and buried there; Young Irelanders leader Thomas Davis later wrote about his own pilgrimage there and composed the “In Bodenstown Churyard” song; since then the annual pilgrimage there has become an important point on the Irish Republican calendar and, at the high point of support for the Republican movement in the latter half of the last century, attended by thousands.

THE BODENSTOWN EVENT

Colour party leads off on the march to the Churchyard (Photo: Rebel Breeze)
One of the banners at the event (Photo: Rebel Breeze)

SPEAKERS

The rally was preceded by a small march led by a colour party to approach the cemetery, where it was joined by others to march into the cemetery. Opening the event, the MC welcomed everyone in Irish before continuing to speak in English, putting the event in its context of history since the late 18th Century onwards up to the present, referencing recent activity of supporters of the ISR, AIAI and the Revolutionary Housing League before going on to introduce the next speaker.

(Photo: Rebel Breeze)
Peter Rogers speaking seen from a distance (Photo: Rebel Breeze)

Irish historian Peter Rogers recounted briskly a list of prominent Republican speakers who had taken part in Wolfe Tone commemorations down through the decades (some later martyred). Rogers spoke about the importance of the tradition and its relevance today as in the past and also spoke of his own participation as a young man at such commemorations in the past. Among those who had spoken at the monument, Rogers mentioned James Connolly, Patrick Pearse and Liam Mellows.

Seán Doyle, member of the Irish Socialist Republicans/ AIAI and a housing activist spoke about what the capitalist system is doing to the people in Ireland, particularly in the housing crisis, with deaths on the streets while houses lie empty, along with long-time harm being suffered by the victims in physical and mental health, including suicides.

Sean Doyle speaking at the event (Photo: Rebel Breeze)

Doyle stated that any system of law or property that justifies that kind of situation must be done away with, that the health of society over-trumps the property rights of the few and encouraged those who agreed with that to join the Revolutionary Housing League.

The MC noted the importance of internationalism in Irish Republican history including that of the United Irishmen2 and noted the presence of Basque and Palestinian flags before calling forward a recent supporter of the ISR/ AIAI activities from Turkey.

The man was not easy to understand but the gist seemed to be the different ways in which resistance expressed itself apart from armed resistance. The Turkish speaker listed among those the celebration of historical memory, the retention of language, the combatting of fear.

The final speaker was a housing activist and urban geographer who has been doing some research into past housing struggles in Ireland, particularly alluding to past actions in Dublin which CATU (Community Action Tenants’ Union) is researching currently. Republicans had taken part in these and initiated many of them but he felt they did not get the credit they deserved. The speaker mentioned also the 1970s tenant rent strike movement in against Dublin City Council, which is hardly ever mentioned, in effect a mass movement. The speaker maintained that we need to understand the different categories of empty houses so that we can understand the causes and address them but ultimately the cause is the capitalist system. The speaker called for resistance and support for CATU and for such initiatives as James Connolly House.3

Urban geographer speaking on housing within the Irish capitalist system (Photo: Rebel Breeze)

CULTURAL PART OF THE PROGRAM

Music and lyrics are an important part of the Irish Republican tradition, the MC commented, before calling up singers to perform at intervals between speakers. Seán Óg accompanied himself on guitar singing the Irish Republican ballads Tone Is Coming Back Again and Soldiers of ‘22. The latter song was one of a number of references by speakers to the counterrevolution of 1922-1924, more usually referred to as the Civil War. The MC commented that the Tone Is Coming Back4 song is rarely heard these days and Soldiers of ‘225 not often enough.

Diarmuid Breatnach preceded his singing of The Plane Crash at Los Gatos (sometimes known as Deportees) by saying that the victims of imperialism are often civilian refugees fleeing repression, or migrants fleeing famine or simple poverty (as we Irish had done), these most vulnerable sections of society then being targeted by racists and fascists. Mexican seasonal labourers hired to bring in the fruit harvests are often hunted if they remain in the USA. In 1948 a USA plane delivering deported labourers to Mexico crashed with everyone on board killed. However the radio news only gave the names of the USA citizen crew and Woody Guthrie composed the song about the incident. Breatnach also mentioned the deaths of trafficked Latin American migrants more recently in the USA and those killed in Morocco while trying to get into the nearby Spanish colony, numbers similar to some recent deaths in the war in Ukraine which become front page news while the migrant deaths may not reach anywhere near there.

Coiste na mBan of the AIAI banner at the event (Photo: Rebel Breeze)

The MC, drawing the event to a close, commented that more people had attended the event this year than last but more were still needed to mobilise. He gave his thanks to the colour party, also larger this year and including people who were new to the role, commenting that five counties were represented there. Some of them are women and the MC mentioned as a progressive development the formation of Coiste na mBan (Women’s Committee) within the Anti-Imperialist Action Ireland organisation.

The event concluded with thanks to all present from the MC, also to the National Graves Association6 and the singing of Amhrán bhFiann.

Section of the rally in Bodenstown Churchyard seen from behind (Photo: Rebel Breeze)

End.

FOOTNOTES

1The English Crown was opposed and rallied opposition to the move among the MPs but self-interest also played a part, in that some landowners feared that power given to the pre-settler indigenous might result in their lands being repossessed.

2The United Irishman had strong links with Republicans in France and in the USA but also with the United Englishmen and United Scotsmen in which the Irish diaspora was active. Irish Republicans had also had links with the movement for liberation from Spanish rule in Latin America in the mid-19th Century and with the Basques and Catalans in the early 20th.

3James Connolly House was the revolutionary re-naming title of a building leased by the Salvation Army on Eden Quay, Dublin, left empty for nearly two years in the midst of a homelessness crisis. Earlier this year it was occupied by activists of the ISR-related Revolutionary Workers’ Union for some weeks before a court-authorised eviction of over 80 gardaí to remove two activists a couple of weeks earlier.

4A song which was part of the ’98 Cantata written in celebration of the hundredth anniversary of the Rising. The cycle contained ten songs and was revived again in 1948 on the 150th anniversary. Thomas Francis Mullan was born near Ardmore, Co. Derry in 1860. He taught in Derry and later became headmaster of Faughanvale PES. He collaborated with a Derry music teacher, Edward Conaghan, in the writing of a ’98 Cantata devised to commemorate the centenary of the Rising. He died in 1937.

5Some online sources claim the author is unknown while others give Brian Ó hUigínn as the author, which seems likely.

6The NGA is a voluntary organisation independent of any political party and of the State, from which it seeks no funding; it is the major organisation caring for graves and memorials of the struggle for Irish freedom and has the responsibility of caring for the Tone memorial, which it has renovated in the past to facilitate commemoration events.

USEFUL LINKS

Revolutionary Housing League: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1062927280980792

Rent strike Dublin Council tenants: https://dublininquirer.com/2022/06/22/fifty-years-on-a-tenants-union-is-putting-together-a-history-of-the-1972-rent-strike