Miriam Daly on Seamus Costello
Miriam Daly’s reflection and the introduction to it are taken from the IRSP site:
The Costello Commemoration Committee owes much to its first chairperson, Miriam Daly, who was a member of the Ard Chomhairle of the IRSP when Seamus was murdered.
Her politics were very similar to those of Seamus, and it was for her adherence to them she met the same fate and was murdered in her home by agents of imperialism. She was tireless and persistent in her efforts to see Seamus fittingly honoured, especially by the unveiling of the memorial at Little Bray churchyard. For that occasion, which meant so much to her, she wrote the oration, which was delivered by James Daly.
She made the occasion a time of meditation on the meaning of Seamus’ life and death. The themes she emphasised were his essential rationality and morality. She was conscious that the core-meaning of the life of a revolutionary is a universal one, and that it is nothing if not the embodiment of the highest ideals and aspirations of man, a struggle for the triumph of good over evil.
Her tribute to Seamus is in itself a tribute to her own kindred spirit.
OUR TIME OF mourning is over. Death, even the natural, peaceful death of an old person who has completed his life span and been blessed to live to see his children multiply and prosper, is always experienced by the living as a blow, as a threat to the security with which they plan ahead and relate to others. The pain of bereavement is like a sickness for which the only certain cure is time. And in the case of Seamus Costello the sorrow was all the greater and the suffering the more acute since he was struck down by a hired assassin at 38 years of age.
Today a memorial has been unveiled, a monument in stone and bronze conceived and executed by John Burke, an Irish socialist sculptor of genius whose labour as an artist has been dedicated to the same goals that Seamus pursued politically. Nora Connolly O’Brien, dedicated political activist, daughter, student and authority on James Connolly was to be with us to perform the unveiling ceremony, but sickness, which we hope she will speedily overcome, has prevented her. At the memorial meeting last week the poet and intellectual Anthony Cronin, the historian Padraigh O’Snodaigh, Ite Ni Chionnaith the Gaelic scholar with Bernadette McAliskey, Niall Lenoch, the secretary of the IRSP, and Sean Doyle, Ard Chomhairle member from Wicklow, contributed talks on the significance of Seamus’ work and life.
It is fitting that the artists, scholars, political activists of Ireland should honour his memory and that under the organisation of the Costello Memorial Committee a memorial has been erected here which is an inspiration to us and a practical example of the art that Irish socialism inspires. The practice of raising enduring monuments in stone to be testimonials to the lives of heroes, and the gathering of people by the tombs of great men to reflect on their principles and actions, and to draw inspiration from the artists who conceived their stone memorials, is as old as civilisation. In Ireland in recent times the severity of the repression against republicans has meant that annual commemorations at the graves of republican heroes have developed a special dimension, as the only occasions on which political speeches could be delivered and elementary organisation done.
Patrick Pearse, whose centenary we celebrate this year, whilst delivering the oration at Bodenstown at the grave of Wolfe Tone in June 1913 said: “We have come to the holiest place in Ireland, holier to us even than the place where Patrick sleeps in Down. Patrick brought us life but this man died for us. And though many before and some since have died in testimony of the truth of Ireland’s claim to nationhood, Wolfe Tone was the greatest of all that have made that testimony, the greatest of all who have died for Ireland in old time or in new. He was the greatest of Irish nationalists, I believe he was the greatest of Irishmen. And if I am right in this I am right in saying that we stand in the holiest place in Ireland, for it must be that the holiest sod of a nation’s soil is the sod where the greatest of her dead lies buried.”
This place in Little Bray is in the same way a place of inspiration for all Irishmen and for all socialists.
Most of us knew Seamus Costello, some for a longer, others for a shorter time, in greater or lesser depth. All of us have been touched by his greatness. To meet him was to meet a person who valued life and lived it intensely, to recognise his discipline. In all circumstances all his decisions were taken on rational grounds and once taken they were defended. This is not to say he never changed his mind, or that he was always right. But it does mean that the principles he held were held sincerely, as he expected others to hold them also, and that he was prepared to explain them at any length and in any depth to anyone who was genuinely interested in building socialism and liberating Ireland. To discuss politics with him was a serious, challenging business. As his politics evolved and he faced the challenges posed for him by his own analysis, he made difficult decisions, but he explained the reasons for decisions he made, and they were consistent with his political development. To have known him or to have studied his life is to face the challenge of his dynamic, charming, coherent and demanding personality and to risk being changed by it. As I said when I spoke at his graveside on that awful funeral day two years ago, “To be associated with him was to be inspired by his greatness, and to learn new dimensions of human possibilities”. The passage of two years has reinforced that judgement.
His great qualities were rationality, imagination, generosity and courage. His rationality led him to examine the world as he found it and to study the relationships between classes and between nations. He willed the good as do all good men, and studied the history, not only of Ireland but of the whole world. He saw that economic relations were organised on the exploitative capitalist system, which rewards the strong and the powerful and the immoral, and exploits and grinds into intolerable oppression, the weak, the unarmed, the defenseless. He saw that this is not only the case between classes, but also between communities and nations.
He saw that the state into which he was born, and which called itself Ireland, was not the historic Ireland for which Pearse and Connolly died. He saw the six counties occupied by the British army and ruled in a sectarian way that oppressed intolerably the nationalist people who lived there. He saw in the twenty-six counties a neo-colony. But he believed that problems had solutions, that oppression is not a necessary part of the human condition, that socialism is the most rational form of political organisation, and that it was armed might and ideological deception that prevented men from living rationally, not only in Ireland but wherever the capitalist system and its imperialist violence deformed mankind and prevented the true rational nature of man from being realised.
His powerful imagination led him to see what life could be like if itwere ordered rationally and justly; how Ireland and Irish people would be if the British armed forces were removed from Ireland, if the resources of the country were used to provide work and wealth for the people instead of profit; how, when the reasons for acting in a pro-imperialist way were removed, the conditions would be laid for Irish Protestants to recognise their class interest as members of the irish working class. He understood the nature of the development of working class national exploitation through international finance and the multi-national capitalist corporations.
He saw that the new powerful empire of the EEC would exploit the weaker states, especially those on the periphery, and intensify the injustice and violence done to the working class. In Ireland he daily saw the people who own property get richer and the ‘propertyless’ being ground down to the very margin of existence.
His vision of a sovereign Irish socialist republic, with its liberation of the potential for full human living of the Irish working class and small farmers, was so clear and so good that it sustained him through unspeakable disappointments sufferings and betrayals, and through persecution by the British and neo-colonial 26-county state. As he himself said: “We are nothing and we shall be everything”. It showed him clearly the dangers that lay in any approach to a so-called federal solution to the Irish problem, and the real threat that was presented to the Irish people’s welfare by any form of encouragement to the idea of an independent Ulster.
As the magazine Fortnight said of his brilliant exposition of republican socialism at Amherst, he gave no hope to those promoting the six-county Ulster. During the 1977 anti-imperialist unity talks, he led the resistance to that pro-imperialist compromise.
His generosity led him to dedicate his life to improving the lot of mankind. He was not satisfied merely to study and understand human life in classes and under imperialism. Equally, he scorned the elitist preservation of the fruits of his thinking amongst a jargon-ridden few, who would find occupations for themselves in theorising while the historic present passed by. His socialism was more demanding.
It was his duty to show the Irish working class their class, national interest and how to act in their own liberation. This was the labour of a revolutionary, and in Ireland with its long tradition of struggle for freedom, he saw his revolutionary duty clearly as resistance to the armed might which kept Ireland and the Irish working class divided and weakened by partition. He became a soldier, a freedom fighter and a great leader of armed resistance to British imperialism.
In this capacity his personal bravery and military skill were to the fore. But he never divorced military from political struggle, or the national question from the question of class oppression and deprivation in Ireland. He kept a calm and critical eye to the whole reality of any situation, even while he burned with anger and hatred of oppression, and sympathised and fought alongside its victims. The rare combination of all these qualities is something few, perhaps, among us can emulate. But like James Connolly, he is an ideal and a model for us, to judge ourselves by, as well as to be inspired by. This total dedication of a rare and precious personality led to the ultimate sacrifice, in which he laid down his life for his friends.
The very perseverance and endurance he manifested shows us how we must go forward. Before his death he was full of good humour and optimism and confident of a great leap forward. The movement of which he was the chief founder has had to try to make good his hopes while bereft of his leadership. The task still remains, and it is only its achievement which will justify his memory, and those of his comrades who have also given their lives.
Today as we commemorate one who has fallen on the field of battle for Irish freedom and socialism, we remember and pledge our solidarity with those in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh, who are now vindicating his struggle by protesting that their cause is a just war of national liberation, and that the imperialists and their Irish capitalist collaborators have no right to call them criminals. In their stand, they too, are retrospectively justifying Seamus and all those who have fought and died in the Irish socialist cause. Our duty to them, to him and to ourselves is to press on to victory for that cause.
Posted on October 28, 2011, in IRSP, Miriam Daly, Political education and theory, Republicanism 1960s, Seamus Costello, Women in republican history. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Miriam Daly on Seamus Costello.