Category Archives: Revolutionary figures

The political evolution of the Provisionals

The article below appeared in the July issue of Socialist Voice, paper of the CPI, as an opinion piece under the headline “Provisional Sinn Féin, republicanism, and socialism: Some comments”.

by Eddie O’Neill and Mark Hayes

By any relevant psephological indices, it is absolutely clear that Sinn Féin did exceedingly poorly—perhaps disastrously—in the recent local and European elections; and the results have clearly precipitated some reflective introspection by various party members.

For example, a defeated Sinn Féin candidate in Dublin, Lynn Boylan, has called for dialogue and co-operation with other “left-wing parties” in future, arguing that competition for votes had handed seats to Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. She claimed: “I am a republican, I am a united Irelander, but I am a left wing activist.” Indeed she went on to claim: “That’s how we were able to stop water charges—it’s because the left came together and worked together.”

Let’s just leave aside Sinn Féin’s specific role in the campaign against water charges, which is contentious, and concentrate on the more significant ideological proposition about Sinn Féin and its relationship with “the left.”

Over the years the Provisional movement has undoubtedly flirted with socialism as an ideology. For example, the original Éire Nua programme articulated by the Provisionals had a reasonably well-defined social component, with the emphasis on a more equitable and decentralised distribution of resources. By the late 1970s, under a new “Northern” leadership, this trend was accentuated. This was perhaps most vividly expressed in Jimmy Drumm’s speech of 1977 (apparently written by Adams et al.) which stressed the need for social liberation and the importance of standing in solidarity with workers against British colonial rule and the “fascist” Free State. (The speech also, incidentally, rejected a reformed Stormont and power-sharing.)

In this period Adams not only criticised capitalism, he was fond of quoting Connolly, while Sinn Féin explicitly identified itself with the ANC, PLO, and Sandinistas. Some commentators even detected the influence of Marxism; and though this was hugely exaggerated, there was a sense in which Sinn Féin identified itself as an integral part of a global “left” movement. It undoubtedly established its radical credentials through community work and activism in working-class areas.

However, there was always another, more pragmatic and opportunistic dimension to Sinn Féin strategy. This could be detected during and after the Hunger Strike, when the process of politicisation sought to reconfigure Sinn Féin as an electoral force. It was confirmed in a very personal way to one of the writers of this article when a letter was smuggled out of Albany prison in 1983 (written by Eddie O’Neill and Ray McLaughlin, and signed by other Republican prisoners). This missive explicitly addressed “the left” and urged all comrades to show solidarity with the Irish revolution while calling for a “broad front” of left progressive forces to form a common platform against imperialism.

The correspondence was completely disregarded by the Republican leadership at the time. The writing was on the wall: Sinn Féin was moving towards conventional constitutional politics. It eventually came to see itself as the natural repository for middle-class Catholic votes and positioned itself as the successor to the SDLP as the primary representative of the “Nationalist” community.

In relation to the north, Sinn Féin eventually adopted the diplomatic strategy of. . .  continue reading here. . .

When CS gas came to the floor of the House of Commons

by Mick Healy

The RUC used CS gas for the first time on August 12, 1969, in the Bogside of Derry. It invisibly covered the streets and seeped into every room of the houses, causing choking, vomiting and irritation of the eyes and skin. The British Army first used the gas in April 1970 when they indiscriminately fired off 104 gas canisters in Ballymurphy in West Belfast during a night of rioting.

Máirín Keegan of Saor Eire suggested to Butch Roche, an original member of Peoples Democracy, that they mount a publicity campaign to highlight the use of CS gas, because they were convinced it had done considerable harm. She also acquired two CS gas canisters that were photographed with the intention of using them in the publicity campaign. Roche decided on a symbolic action that wouldn’t injure anyone but bring home to the British public and establishment the impact of its use against the civilian population in Belfast and Derry.

On July 22, 1970, Butch arrived in London with the two CS gas canisters. The next day he entered the Public Gallery of the House of Commons, with a newspaper to cover the bulkiness in his pockets. He threw the gas grenades Read the rest of this entry

In Review: Michael Ryan’s Border Campaign

Michael Ryan, My Life in the IRA: The Border Campaign, Cork, Mercier Press, 2018; reviewed by Philip Ferguson

Opinions differ in republican circles about Operation Harvest (the ‘border campaign’).  Often it has been suggested that the entire campaign was misconceived and then poorly executed, turning into a disaster for the Movement.

Some more recent interpretations have suggested that it had more going for it.  I certainly find it a bit difficult to see that someone of Sean Cronin’s intelligence and military experience would have put together a plan of campaign that could only ever have been a disaster.  Moreover, things started out well – Sinn Fein had captured two six-county seats on an abstentionist basis in the 1955 British general election, winning over 150,000 votes there and then got four further (abstentionist) candidates elected to Leinster House in 1957, taking over 65,000 first-preference votes.   And, after almost being destroyed in the 1940s, the IRA had been able to substantially re-arm, with a series of arms raids in both the six counties and England.

The degree of optimism was such that Mick Ryan writes how he and other Volunteers felt they’d free the north in three months! (p91)

However, very early into the border campaign, problems arose.  Ryan’s book suggests that these problems were Read the rest of this entry

Christy Moore unveils Frank Conroy plaque

 

by Mick Healy

On Saturday 22nd June, Christy Moore unveiled a plaque to socialist republican Frank Conroy, a Kildare man killed in 1936 while fighting with the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War. The plaque, presented to the Kilcullen Heritage Centre by the Friends International Brigades Ireland, is a twin of a plaque presented to the town council of Lopera in Spain in April 2016.

Over a hundred people packed into the Kilcullen Centre to hear historian James Durney speak on the life of Conroy who was born on 25 February 1914, in Kilcullen.  Christy sang his song “Viva La Quinte Brigada” and was joined on stage by the local Kilcullen Choir to give a most incredible performance of “Ride On” and “Nancy Spain”.

On 16 December 2012, the Frank Conroy Committee held their first commemoration to this young Irish revolutionary who had conveniently been airbrushed from history by the establishment.  Nevertheless, Frank is now as well known in the county as Kildare-born Fenian John Devoy.

Liam Sutcliffe photo

Thanks to my friend Mick Healy for this fine picture of Vol Liam Sutcliffe (1933-2017), a veteran of the Irish Republican Army and later of the Dublin-based Saor Eire.

Liam Sutcliffe.

IRA Volunteer.

Saor Eire Volunteer.

Socialist-Republican.

And the person who blew up Nelson’s Pillar.

Markievicz letters: a new, expanded edition

The first edition of Constance Markievicz’s prison letters was put together by Esther Roper, the partner of Markievicz’s sister Eva Gore-Booth, to whom many of the letters were addressed.  The editon was published by Longman Paul in 1934.  Roper, with help from Hannah Sheehy-Skeffington, one of the executors of Markievicz’s will and  longtime friend and fellow activist, wrote a substantial biographical essay for the book.

Over 50 years later Amanda Sebestyen worked on a new edition and wrote her own introduction.  This edition was brought out by the feminist publisher, Virago, in 1987.

Thirty-one years later (last year, 2018) Lindie Naughton, the author of a new recent biography – Markievicz: a most outrageous rebel (Dublin, Merrion Press, 2016) – has put together a new edition.  This edition returns the letters to their original form.  (Lindie notes, “Consulting the originals in the National Library of Ireland makes it obvious that the published versions of the prison letters skirted around some sensitive issues and blanked out the names of people who quite possibly were still alive at the time of the original publication.”)

The prison letters come from her various stints in jail: May 1916-July 1917 in Mountjoy (Dublin) and Aylesbury (Buckinghamshire); June 1918-March 1919 in Holloway; June-October 1919 in Cork; September 1920-July 1921 in Mountjoy; and November-December 1923 in the North Dublin Union.

Moreover, this edition adds a bunch of letters that haven’t appeared in print before.  These include letters to Read the rest of this entry

The IRA Constitutional and Governmental Programme for the Republic 1933

In the later 1920s and early 1930s, with Moss Twomey as chief-of-staff and figures such as Peader O’Donnell, Frank Ryan, Michael Price, David Fitzgerald and George Gilmore in the leadership, and in the context of the Great Depression and the ruthless right-wing economics of the ruling Free State party Cumann na nGaedheal, the IRA developed clearly leftwards.  It initiated a left-wing party, Saor Eire in 1931.  It was viciously denounced as “communist” by the Catholic hierarchy and banned by the repressive Free State regime.  There were also differences in the IRA, as the rightist elements were uncomfortable at SE’s radical social programme and did not like the idea of standing up to the Catholic hierarchy on social issues.  SE lasted only a matter of months. 

The IRA then abandoned trying to build a political formation and simply continued as a military-political organisation.  In 1933 it adopted the programme below.

Moss Twomey: acting chief-of-staff, 1926; chief-of-staff, 1927-1936

We have within our own nation all the resources which are required to provide every citizen not only with the essentials of life but with comfort. Luxuries may not be yet be available, but the first stage is to provide an adequate standard for all.

The resources and wealth of the nation are very largely in the possession and under the control of those sections who are hostile to national freedom , and who have allied themselves with british imperialism. The immediate task is to rescue from them the heritage which they have robbed and plundered from the mass of the people. The powerful interests which dominate Irish life at present were built up on the basis of the conquest.

The machinery of the state was devised and has been developed to serve these interests. The powers of this state machine must be smashed. The machinery of the state of the republic of Ireland will be devised to serve, not any privileged sections, but the needs of the whole people.

Members of the Irish Republican Army must accept the responsibility which the organisation has shouldered and which history and tradition has imposed on it; that is the leadership of the struggle for national freedom and for the economic liberation of the people. They must make themselves  Read the rest of this entry

“What did it feel like to be shot?” Interview with Bernadette by Blindboy Boatclub

To mark the 50th anniversary of the civil rights movement in the six counties last year, Blindboy Boatclub of the Rubber Bandits hosted a podcast at Ulster Hall in Belfast on October 6th 2018. He interviewed veteran Irish revolutionary Bernadette (Devlin) McAliskey in front of a packed room.  The podcast is over two hours long. In this part he poke to her about the loyalist attempt to assassinate her and her husband Michael on January 16, 1981.  At the time, Bernadette was a key figure organising support for republicans being held in British prisons, including the blanket protest, the dirty protest, and the 1980 hunger strike. At the time of the attempt on her life, a new hunger strike was in the air – this was the famous hunger strike of that era, with ten prisoners’ deaths.  The entire interview will be published on The Transcripts.

Blindboy: When we were backstage I was asking you about, we were discussing the nature of trauma and I was asking would it be okay if I asked you about the time you had an assassination attempt. And you said: Yes, that would be okay.

Bernadette: Uh-huh. Yep. That’s okay. That’s okay. Yeah.

Blindboy: Can we talk about that?

Bernadette: Yes, we can talk about that.

Blindboy: So – what was it like being shot nine times?

Bernadette: It was interesting. It was interesting. And it’s funny that I can talk about that much more easily than I can talk about that memory, you know, that memory of Bloody Sunday is more traumatic for me than the time that I was shot. And I think it was because, you know, as we were saying, it’s because I didn’t see Bloody Sunday coming. I didn’t see the 5th of October coming.

But by the time people came to our house and kicked the door in and held my two daughters, one at that time four and the other nine, at gunpoint while their parents were shot I knew they were Read the rest of this entry

“My object is to repeal the conquest – not any part or portion, but the whole and entire conquest of seven hundred years”: Fintan Lalor, 1847

A letter from Lalor to John Mitchel on the landlords, repealing the Union and repealing the Conquest.  Lalor subsequently shifted from the views here, becoming totally opposed to the landlords as a class.  (See “They or we must quit this island: Fintan Lalor on the landlord class, June 24, 1848”; I will have this up on the blog by the end of this month.)  The piece below originally appeared as a single, long paragraph; I have broken it up into shorter paragraphs.

From Sir C. G. Duffy’s Four Years of Irish History: 1845-1849, London, Paris & New York, Cassell, Petter, Galpin, 1883.

I know the Confederation and you by speeches and writing only.  But men may speak and write forcibly and yet act very feebly, and be very competent to criticize, yet utterly incompetent to construct.  Ireland’s greatest and last opportunity was in your hands – a revolution that would have put your own names in the blaze of the sun for ever was in your hands; you have flung it away as the cock flung the diamond, useless to him as the crisis was to you. Vain to him the flash of the gem which he could not polish; vain to you were the lightnings of heaven and the meteors of earth, which you could or would not kindle and guide.

You appear to be under mistakes as to my objects which I cannot permit you to retain.  I have nothing to do with the landlord and tenant question, as understood.  The question of the tenure by which the actual cultivator of the soil should hold his land is one for an Irish Parliament.  My object is to repeal the conquest – not any part or portion, but the whole and entire conquest of seven hundred years – a thing much more easily done than to repeal the Union.

That the absolute (allodial) ownership of the lands of Ireland is vested of right in the Read the rest of this entry

“The country was completely ruined by the English wars of conquest. . .” Engels on Ireland, May 1856

Depiction of Famine Ireland

In May 1856, less than a decade after the official end of the 1840s Famine, Frederick Engels and his partner Mary Burns visited Ireland, Burns’ homeland.  On May 23, Engels wrote the following letter to Karl Marx, his political co-worker, in London.  I’ve taken the text from Marx/Engels, Selected Correspondence, Moscow, Progress Publishers, third edition (1975), pp86-88.  I have slightly edited the translation to improve punctuation.  Also, I have replaced Traice with Tralee – I assume Traice is a mistake as there is no such town in Kerry, whereas Tralee is on the route between Tarbert and Killarney.  Lastly, I’ve broken up the paragraphs.

Dear Marx,

During our trip to Ireland we traveled from Dublin to Galway on the West Coast, then 20 miles north and inland, on to Limerick, down the Shannon to Tarbert, Tralee and Killarney, and back to Dublin – a total of about 450-500 English miles within the country itself, so we have seen about two-thirds of the whole country. With the exception of Dublin, which bear the same relation to London as Düsseldorf does to Berlin, and has quite the character of a small one-time capital.  It is, moreover, built entirely in the English style.  The look of the entire country, and especially of the towns, is as if one were in France or Northern Italy. Gendarmes, priests, lawyers, bureaucrats, country squires in pleasing profusion and a total absence of any industry at all, so that it would be difficult to understand what all these parasitic plants live on if the distress of the peasants did not supply the other half of the picture.

“Disciplinary measures” are evident in every corner of the country, the government meddles with everything, of so-called self-government there is not a trace.  Ireland may be regarded as the first English colony and as one which, because of its proximity, is still entirely governed in the old way, and one can already notice here that the so-called liberty of English citizens is based on the Read the rest of this entry