Remembering Seamus Costello (1939-1977)
Below is the oration given by a member of the Irish Republican Socialist Party ard chomhairle at the Seamus Costello commemoration in Wicklow last Sunday (October 9):
Comrades and friends, it is an honour to address you all here today to pay tribute to the father of modern-day Irish republican socialism and the founder of the Irish Republican Socialist Party and Irish National Liberation Army, Seamus Costello, on the 34th anniversary of his assassination.
A committed republican socialist, Seamus Costello’s revolutionary journey began here in County Wicklow. Born into a middle class family in Bray, County Wicklow, he was educated at Christian Brothers College, Monkstown; he left school at 15 and became a mechanic and later car salesman in Dublin.
At the age of 16 he joined Sinn Féin and the Irish Republican Army. Within a year, he was commanding an active service unit of the IRA in south Derry during the Border Campaign, where his leadership skills and his burning down of the courthouse in Magherafelt earned him the nickname of “the Boy General”.
The most publicised actions of his unit included the destruction of bridges and the burning of Magherafelt courthouse. He was arrested in Glencree, County Wicklow, in 1957 and sentenced to six months in Mountjoy Prison. On his release, he was immediately interned in the Curragh prison camp for two years.
He spent his time in prison studying. He was particularly inspired by his studies of the Vietnamese struggle. He became a member of the escape committee which engineered the successful escapes of Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and Dáithí Ó Conaill, among others. Costello would later refer to this time as his “university days”.
In the 1960s Seamus Costello worked to rebuild the republican movement, beginning by building a local base of support in County Wicklow as Sinn Fein’s local organiser. Seamus Costello strongly supported the movement’s left wing orientation of these years – especially its emphasis on grass roots political activism. He helped found a strong tenants association in Bray; he also became involved with the credit union movement and various farmers’ organisations. Costello stood for election to the Bray Urban district council and was elected.
As the Official IRA moved away from armed struggle, Costello’s opposition caused him to be dismissed from the OIRA and suspended from Sinn Fein. He was dismissed from Sinn Fein in 1974 after the leadership blocked his supporters from attending the Party convention. He went on the found the IRSP/INLA in December 1974.
On October 5, 1977 the same former comrades who drove him out of the republican movement took his life and robbed Ireland and republican socialists of the only revolutionary leader “who truly understood what James Connolly meant when he spoke of his vision of the freedom of the Irish people” (as said by James Connolly’s daughter, Nora Connolly O Brien, in this cemetery 34 years ago).
Today in 2011 republican socialism, like Republicanism in the 1960s, is going through a period of revolutionary change where there is careful examination of our politics, strategy and future development. On the political front we are confident that the IRSP have continued to build on the firm political foundations we inherited from Seamus Costello. Strategically, the IRSP are in the process of developing new initiatives to develop republican socialism into a fighting revolutionary force that is both relevant and effective. To do that we need to build a political party that recognises that capitalism and global capitalism is the ultimate corruption of human kind. It is an economic theory based on exploitation, imperialism and greed, in practice capitalism does not work without the above components.
The IRSP will continue to resist all forms of exploitation of the working man and woman here in Ireland and internationally; we believe and recognise the worker as the source of all wealth, not the bankers, not the bosses, not the entrepreneurs. Real freedom will come when the worker, as the core element in generating wealth, is emancipated from wage slavery and rises up with other workers and cries enough is enough. Throw off the shackles of exploitation, demand the full extent of the fruit of your labour and together we can bring an end to hundreds of years of rape and pillage.
Seamus Costello was an active revolutionary not only in the battlefield but also in the community as a whole; he had very little time for the trendy left-wing intellectuals who see themselves as a political elite.
They thrive on political nitpicking over the various isms that represent the left in Ireland, thus causing dissension and division among the working class. They are every bit the enemy of the worker as the capitalist.
Volunteer Seamus Costello, Husband, Father, Worker, Revolutionary and Political Visionary, we salute you. The political tradition you espoused is not only safe in our hands but we mean to build a truly Revolutionary Irish Republican Socialist Party that will be in the vanguard as we strive to rid Ireland of British occupation once and for all.