Liam Daltun (1936-72): a man of great charm and knowledge

LiamDaltunby Mick Healy

Writing about the great events in Ireland (1913 Lockout-1916 Rising) Lenin described the Citizens Army as ‘the first Red Army in the World’ and remarked that the Irish workers had set an example for workers everywhere.  Within a little more than a year of the events of the 1916 Rising a ‘similar body of armed men’ in Russia shook the world. Russian workers carrying rifles and wearing scarlet armbands appeared on the streets of St Petersburg and Moscow. Under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky the insurrectionary seizure of power was organised which led to the founding of the first Workers State.  – Liam Daltun, The Irish Militant, May 1966.

Liam Daltun was born in February 1936 in Westmeath and moved with his family to Ballymun, Dublin in the 1950s. His first employment, for about two years, was in Gael Linn, an organisation founded to foster the Irish language. He spoke Irish with a perfection rarely found outside of the Gaaeltacht. Dalton was a particularly gifted linguist, as he also spoke French, Spanish, Italian and Russian.

His association with radicalism went back to his youth when, at 18 years of age, he joined the IRA in 1954. He later left the IRA and operated with the breakaway Joe Christle group (Saor Uladh) during the 1950s republican Border Campaign. The Christle group, including Dalton, blew up nine customs posts along the border in 1956. Around this time he was arrested in Dublin; his trial was held the next day.  At a time when Irish republicans refused to recognise the authority of the courts, he defended himself, recognised the court and was acquitted,

With the failure of the Border Campaign in 1962, Dalton went to London and converted to Marxism, initially joining the Irish Workers Union. He later became involved with the Irish Communist Group. However in 1966 he joined theTrotskyist Irish Workers Group (IWG), which included Gery Lawless and Paddy Healy and began writing for the IWG paper ‘The Irish Militant’. Subsequently Dalton joined the International Marxist Group (IMG), the British section of the Fourth International, whose members included Tariq Ali and Peter Graham.

As the Republican Movement became increasingly left wing during the 1960s Daltun was offered the post of Sinn Fein Education Officer by IRA chief-of-staff Cathal Goulding.  However, he rejected the offer out of hand, instead becoming involved in the organisation of Saor Eire (SE) alongside the IWG activists Frank Keane, Maìrin Keegan and Sean Morrissey. Together with Graham, Dalton was instrumental in publishing the Saor Eire manifesto in May 1971.  Healso was instrumental in the Frank Keane Defence Committee, attending the trial in Dublin. Keane was subsequently acquitted of involvement in the Arran Quay bank raid in Dublin in which a member of the Gardai was shot dead.

On October 25, 1971 Graham, who established the Irish section of the Fourth International, was shot dead in Dublin at the age of 26; his murder remains unsolved.  Less than three months later Marxist and Saor Eire activist Maìrin Keegan passed away from cancer. These are some of the events believed to have contributed to Daltun’s own untimely death.

In a tragic turn of events the 36-year-old Daltun took his own life on Bloody Sunday, January 30, 1972. His body was found below the bridge in Newington Green Road, London.  Liam Sutcliffe and Joe Keegan visited his home in London to discuss arrangements for a Saor Eire-style funeral in Ireland. His partner, Nan Daltun, politely refused the request as she wanted him buried close to his family in London.

The funeral took place on a cold winter’s day, with hundreds of socialists following the hearse carrying the Tricolour- and Starry Plough-draped coffin to New Southgate Cemetery, London. The funeral was one of the largest Trotskyist funerals in the city for some time and was attended by many leading figures of the left, including Frank Keane.

 “We must make the Workers Republic our slogan, the Starry Plough our banner and the Citizen Army our model.” – Liam Daltun, The Irish Militant, May 1966.

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Posted on March 21, 2014, in Border Campaign/Operation Harvest, General revolutionary history, Historiography and historical texts, Irish Citizen Army, Partition, Political education and theory, Repression and resistance in 1970s and 1980s, Republicanism 1960s, Republicanism post-1900, Revolutionary figures, Trade unions. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Article with a photograph of Liam Daltun who was a friend of Frank Keane, from Laochra Uladh site

    http://laochrauladh.blogspot.ie/2014/03/vol-liam-dalton.html

  2. Philip the photograph of Liam Daltun that you published with the above article was sent to me by Frank Keane (SE) Daltun’s close friend from the days in the Irish Workers Group in London.

    • I also received this from Ted Crawford, of the journal Revolutionary History:

      “I knew Liam Daltun slightly when I was in the Irish Workers Group. I never met his partner, certainly never remembered meeting her. I was already dropping out of the IWG in 1967 or so and joined the IS in 1968. I had taken the side of Lawless & Daltun in the faction fights with first the Maoists (Brendan Clifford) then with Sean Matgamna. Liam was a lovely bloke though quiet, I thought very reserved and I did not know him at all well though I think I remember he spoke French. Otherwise I was not aware of his linguistic gifts.

      “Much later I know that Al Richardson, the founder of Revolutionary History, a man who was very hard to please, had the highest opinion of him and thought his death a very great loss to the movement. I was so out of touch with that section that I had no idea that later he was in the IMG and Saor Eire which I did not hear about until 1971 or 72 . I remember hearing about his death some considerable time after it had occurred. John Palmer, who was the key man in the IS Irish work, told me last year that information about that area was kept well away from Tony Cliff and the rest of the IS leadership, let alone its rank and file, and he knew Daltun much better than me.

      “But why did he kill himself? The other story that I heard, largely from Richardson, is that he was deeply depressed both at the antics of Gery Lawless and, as a possible consequence, the murder of Peadar Graham together with what Liam could see as the failure of Irish Trotskyism to make any real impact.”

      Phil

  3. He was a linguist of some ability. Irish, French at least as well as reading German and Russian. A friend who worked with him as a “painter” in London, told me of him stopping to get newspapers in these languages. In an atmosphere which could be quite personally sectarian, I never heard anyone say something nasty about him.

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