From the IRA to Saor Eire: Remembering socialist-republican Liam Walsh
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Liam Pearse Walsh, who was born in Dublin in 1933, was totally committed to whatever he did: to his trade as a fitter-welder or the Socialist Republican struggle. He was fiercely loyal to those around him: his comrades, family and especially his four young daughters.
Recruited into the Irish Republican Army by Liam Sutcliffe in 1954, Liam Walsh was active in Operation Harvest, the IRA border campaign of 1956-1962, eventually becoming the Commanding Officer of the South Dublin Unit of the IRA.
In 1957, he was interned without trial in 1957 in the Curragh Internment Camp in Co. Kildare. His girlfriend, Jacqueline Barry, and his father, Joseph,visited him and brought food parcels and cigarettes.
Shortly after they were married in 1960, Liam and Jacqueline, like many of their generation, migrated to England in search of employment, but they always wanted to return home. When they returned to Dublin in 1962 they were quickly reintroduced to state harassment, with the Free State Special Branch knocking on their door at 50 Tyrone Place, Inchicore at all hours of the day and night. On one occasion they nearly knocked the door in.
Working with such people as Travellers’ rights campaigner Gratton Puxton, Peadar O’Donnell, Denis Dennehy and the Itinerant Action Group, Liam and others helped establish a makeshift school for Travellers in an encampment at Ballyfermot. In the winter of 1964, Dublin Corporation brutally evicted the Traveller families. Tommy Weldon remembers how “Liam spent six months guarding Travellers against eviction, the poorest people in the land”.
Though this is often overlooked, Liam was a member of the radical National Civil Liberties League which agitated around industrial disputes and both Tenant and Traveller rights. Leading Fianna Fail politician Brian Lenihan referred in Leinster House to the NCLL as a front for anti-state, communist and physical-force Republicans.
In 1968 Liam became involved with Charlie O’Neil, Simon O’Donnell, Frank Keane and subsequently several supporters of the Fourth International, such as Peter Graham and Máirín Keegan, in a new socialist-republican group called Saor Eire. The group commenced expropriations from Irish banks, to gather funds that would be used to help both the oppressed people in the Six Counties and finance the revolutionary struggle in the Free State.
On August 14, 1969 a four person unit of Saor Éire raided the National Bank in Baltinglass, Co. Wicklow where shots were fired. The activists escaped the scene in their getaway car. However, in November 1969, Liam along with Martin Casey appeared in the Dublin District Court charged with taking part in the armed raid at the National Bank and possession of firearms with intent to endanger life.
On another occasion when he was arrested, Jacqueline went to the Bridewell Garda station where she was brought to his cell. He looked dreadful, there was blood all over his head and his face was badly bruised. He told her that two Branchmen had assaulted him and one of them had a gun. The next morning in court he was charged with assaulting the two Special Branch, bound over to the peace for two years and fined five pounds.
When the North of Ireland erupted in 1969 Liam was involved in the arming and training of the Nationalist Defence Committees, after a call by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association for people in the South to come to the aid of the besieged people of Derry and Belfast.
On October 13th 1970, a premature bomb explosion killed Liam Walsh and also injured Martin Casey, leaving him deaf in one ear. Liam, Martin and Máirín were examining the device, on a railway embankment at the rear of McKee army base, off Blackhorse Avenue in Dublin. This operation was carried out by Saor Éire as a publicity stunt to draw attention to the plight of the nationalists in the North of Ireland.
Comrades of Saor Éire provided a guard of honour for the removal of Liam’s body from the city morgue to St. Michael’s church, Inchicore. The coffin, draped with the Tricolour and the Plough and the Stars, was carried to the church by young people from the Technical Schools in Inchicore.
The funeral, organised by Liam Sutcliffe, was attended by 3,000 people, including large numbers from the Peoples Democracy and the Nationalist Defence Committees in the North, Young Socialists, and both Official and Provisional Sinn Fein, the split in SF/IRA having taken place less than a year earlier. The cortege was led by a Saor Éire colour party in green jackets and black berets who halted outside Dr Steevens’ Hospital, where Martin Casey lay injured and under armed police guard.
The funeral procession diverted down O’Connell Street, to the GPO where two men in black berets fired a volley of four shots over the coffin.
Showing the threat that the Free state regarded Liam to have been, 300 Garda and armed Special Branch detectives surrounded the mourners at Mount Jerome cemetery. Rev. Michael Sweetman, who officiated at the graveside, said that the name Liam Walsh was a young man who was unselfish, peace-loving and generous and that he should act as an inspiration to his friends, companions and all who knew him.
The oration was given by Gery Lawless of the International Marxist Group, himself a former Curragh internee. He noted, “Socialist Republican Liam Walsh was an IRA Volunteer in Operation Harvest in the 1950s, was interned in the Curragh, was a political agitator with Saor Éire and involved in the Battle of the Bogside in Derry.”
At the 2016 Liam Walsh Commem oration, Eddie Collins, delivering the oration, said, “Hopefully others will remember Liam Walsh and Mairin Keegan who is lying only a few yards away and carry on the struggle in their honour.”
Mick writes from time to time for this blog, but is also the main person behind the excellent Irish Republican and Marxist History Project.
Posted on October 2, 2017, in 21st century republicanism and socialism, Border Campaign/Operation Harvest, British state repression (general), Civil rights movement, Free State in 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, General revolutionary history, Historiography and historical texts, Prisoners - past, Repression in 26-county state, Republicanism 1960s, Revolutionary figures, Saor Eire, Social conditions, Trade unions, Workers rights. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.