Sorry, Your Majesty

Queen Elizabeth II Delivers Annual SpeechYour Most Exalted Majesty, Queen of the United Kingdom of Britain and Northern Ireland, Commander-in-Chief of the UK Armed Forces, Head of the Church of England, Queen of the Commonwealth.

We trust this letter finds your Highness well, as we do also with regard to Your Highness’ large family and of course your trusted corgis.


I am tasked with writing to yourselves in order to make some embarrassing admissions and to ask your Royal forgiveness.


No doubt your family carries the memory of an uprising in Dublin in 1916? Yes, of course one’s family does, as your Highness says. Well …. the embarrassing thing is this ……. it’s so difficult to say but no amount of dressing up is going to make it better so I’d best just come out with it: that was us. Yes, it’s true.


Not just us, of course. There were a load of Reds in green uniforms too, Connolly and Markievicz’s lot. And of course our female auxiliaries, and the youth group. But most of that rebellious band was us, the Irish Volunteers. I can’t adequately express to your Highness how ashamed we are of it all now. Your government of the time was quite right to authorise the courts-martial of hundreds of us and to sentence so many to death. Your magnanimity is truly astounding that only fifteen were shot by firing squads and that Casement fellow hanged.


But were we grateful? Not a bit of it! Does your Highness know that some people still go on about that Red and trade union agitator, James Connolly, being shot in a chair? What would they have your Army do? Shoot him standing up? Sure he had a shattered ankle and gangrene in his leg! One can’t please some people – damned if one does something and damned if one doesn’t. If the Army hadn’t kindly lent him a chair, those same people would be saying that the British wouldn’t even give him a chair to sit on while they shot him.

And how did we repay your Highness’ kindness and magnanimity in only executing sixteen? And in releasing about a thousand after only a year on dieting rations? By campaigning for independence almost immediately afterwards and starting a guerrilla war just three years after that Rising! A guerrilla war that went on for no less than three years. Your Majesty, we burn with shame just thinking of it now!

Our boys chased your loyal police force out of the countryside, shot down your intelligence officers in the streets of Dublin, ambushed your soldiers from behind stone walls and bushes ….. but still your Highness did not give up on us. Some people still go on and on about the two groups of RIC Auxiliaries and the things they did, referring to them by the disrespectful nicknames of “Black and Tans” (after a pack of hunting dogs) and “Auxies”. They exaggerate the number of murders, tortures, arson and theft carried out by them. Of course, your Highness, we realise now, though it’s taken a century for us to come to that realisation, that sending us that group of police auxiliaries was a most moderate response by yourself. But we were too blind to see that then and shot at them as well!

And that fellow Barry and his Flying Column of West Cork hooligans, wiped out a whole column of them. Your Highness will no doubt find it hard to believe this, but some troublemaker even went so far as to compose a song in praise of that cowardly ambush! Oh yes, indeed! And some people still sing it today – in fact they sing songs about a lot of regrettable things we did, even going back as far as when we fought against your Royal ancestors Henry and Elizabeth 1st! Truly I don’t know how your Highness keeps her patience.

Then we went on and declared a kind of independence for most of the country but …. some of us weren’t even satisfied with that! It was good of you to have your Army lend Collins a few cannon and armoured cars to deal with those troublemakers.

And then some time later, even after those generous loans, some of us declared a Republic and pulled the country (four fifths of it, at any rate), out of the Commonwealth. Left the great family of nations that your Highness leads! Words fail me ….well almost, but I must carry on, painful though it is to do so. A full confession must be made – nothing less will do. And then, perhaps …. forgiveness.

Of course your government held on to six counties …. You were still caring for us, even after all our ingratitude! It was like hanging on to something left behind by someone who stormed off in an argument – giving them an excuse to come back for it, so there can be a reconciliation. How incredibly generous and far-sighted of your Majesty to leave that door open all that time!

Fifty years after that shameful Rising, it was celebrated here with great pomp and cheering, even going so far as to rename railway stations that had perfectly good British names, giving them the names of rebel leaders instead. Then just a few years later, some of our people up North started making a fuss about civil rights and rose up against your loyal police force, forcing your government to send in your own Army. And was that enough for the trouble-makers? Of course not – didn’t they start a war with your soldiers and police that lasted three decades!


No doubt your Majesty will have noted that some of those troublemakers have changed their ways completely and are in your Northern Ireland government now. They’ve been helping to pass on the necessary austerity measures in your government’s budgets, campaigning for the acceptance of the police force and for no protests against yourself. Indeed, their Martin McGuinness has shaken your hand and rest assured were it not considered highly inappropriate and lacking in decorum, he would have been glad to kiss your cheek, as he did with Hillary Clinton when she visited. Or both cheeks, in your Majesty’s case! Your Majesty can see, I hope, that we can be reformed.


Our crimes are so many, your Highness; and we have been so, so ungrateful. But we were hoping, after you’d heard our confession, our humble apologies, after your Highness had seen how desperately sorry we are, that you’d forgive us. And if it’s not too much to hope for, that you’d take us back into the United Kingdom. Reunite us with those six counties, and so into the Commonwealth. Is there even a tiniest chance? Please tell us what we have to do and we’ll do it, no matter how demeaning. Please?


Your most humble servant,

P. O’Neill Jnr.



(Grma to Irish Republican and Marxist History Project for the invitation to sing, the recording and the Youtube posting).


The song is Be Moderate (also known as”We Only the Want the Earth”) by James Connolly from the James Connolly Song Book, edited by Connolly and published in New York in 1907. No air or tune was indicated in that publication and it has been sung to a number of airs over the years. It’s a wonderful song in my opinion.

I sing it to the air of a “A Nation Once Again” composed by Thomas Davis in the 1840s, which I think suits it and supplies a chorus for others to join in. I first heard it sung to that air many years ago in London by a group of musicians and singers including Cornelius Cardew, of the CPE (m-l) (who was killed by a hit-and-run driver in an incident without any witnesses).  He is here singing it with a ska back-beat(!):


In my rendition here there is an adaptation and an error. The adaptation is my singing “workers” instead of “Labour” so as to distance the revolutionary content from the social democratic collaboration with capitalism, as illustrated by the unfortunate evolution of the party of that name founded by Connolly. My error is in the verse beginning “The Labour fakir …” in which I say “….. teaches” in two different lines.


I should have sung the lines thus:
The Labour fakir full of guile false doctrine ever teaches
and whilst he bleeds the rank and file,
tame moderation preaches;
Yet in his despite we’ll see the day, when with swords in their girths,
workers shall march in war array to claim their own, the Earth!





Diarmuid Breatnach

On April 20th 1914, Colorado National Guardsmen and mining company guards opened fire on a striking coal miners’ camp, with rifles and machine gun, killing up to 26 people, including women and children. They had set fire to the camp before opening fire and some of the casualties died of smoke inhalation.


The event and the response of the workers were the inspiration for the song The Ludlow Massacre,  composed by Woody Guthrie, the socialist troubadour from Oklahoma, around 30 years later. Here in Ireland it was recorded by Christy Moore in 1971 on the Prosperous album and it has long been a favourite of mine (I’ll be singing it as part of the selection for Songs of Struggle 1913-1923, part of the 1916 Festival at Liberty Hall on Saturday 26th April 2014).


Ludlow Strikers & tents
Colorado Strikers and families in front of tent town

The massacre took place during the great Southern Colorado Coal Strike which began in September 1913, a month after the strike of the IT&G
WU tram workers began the eight month-long Dublin Lockout. But the Southern Colorado Strike lasted until December 1914 – sixteen months. And, in common with many industrial struggles in the USA, it was very violent.

The chief antagonists in this strike were the Colorado Fuel & Iron Co., of which John D. Rockefeller was the main owner; the Rocky Mountain Fuel Co. and the Victor-American Fuel Co.  As events were to show, the mine-owners could also draw on the armed force of the state of Colorado, as well as on their own hired gunmen.

Opposing them was the United Mineworkers of America trade union. The UMA presented seven demands:

  1. Recognition of the union as bargaining agent

  2. An increase in tonnage rates (equivalent to a 10% wage increase)

  3. Enforcement of the eight-hour work day law

  4. Payment for “dead work” (laying track, timbering, handling impurities, etc.)

  5. Weight-checkmen elected by the workers (to keep company weightmen honest)

  6. The right to use any store, and choose their boarding houses and doctors

  7. Strict enforcement of Colorado’s laws (such as mine safety rules, abolition of subs), and an end to the company guard system

The employers rejected the demands and prepared to bring in scab labour.

Living in company houses

As in a number of other countries, many mineworkers rented rooms or houses in company “towns” served by company shops, from which the miners also had to buy their equipment. Apart from that, they were also overcharged, so that often at the end of the week’s work the deductions left little pay to collect. This is the meaning behind the song Sixteen Tons (by either Merle Travis in 1946 or by George S. Davis in the 1930s the origin is disputed):

You shift sixteen tons and what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt.
St. Peter don’t you call me ‘cos I can’t come —
I owe my soul to the company store.”

Living in company houses often meant eviction when workers struck work, as happened in Dublin in 1913 to a number of strikers, including those of the Merchant Co. in Merchant Street, near North Wall.

The evicted miners in Colorado set up a tent town of 1,200 people which was being harassed by company guards and then, when the workers resisted, by Colorado state’s National Guard. Pot-shots were taken at the camp and stragglers were beaten up; eventually strike leaders were assassinated.

On April 20th 1914, about eight months into the strike, the Colorado National Guard and company guards set fire to tents and as people scrambled around, opened fire on the camp. Some workers claimed a loss of life of 26 while others numbered it at 19; the lack of municipal or government recording meant that there were no “official” counts of the dead.

Officers Colorado National Guard
Officers of the Colorado National Guard

After the massacre — the workers’ response

 In the aftermath of the massacre the workers armed themselves (union officials were seen openly handing out weapons) and fought back over a 40-mile front, from the town of Trinidad to Walsenburg (both of which are mentioned in the song). The death toll is recorded as between 69 and 199. The lack of municipal or government recording has already been mentioned; biased newspaper reporting was another problem and these two factors probably accounted for most of the discrepancies in accounting for the workers’ dead. 


The UMA eventually lost the strike but the union survived that defeat and went on to fight and win other victories; in addition Congressional investigations into the events did result in improvement in miners’ conditions, the enforcement of the eight-hour day and legislation limiting employment of child labour. Today the Ludlow tent colony site is a USA National Historic Landmark and the area is owned by the UMA. 


The lessons

The strike showed the ferocity of the US mine-owners in defence of their high profits as well as the readiness of municipal and government authorities in a prosperous democracy to collude with them — in the case of Colorado State, most actively and murderously.  Also apparent was the heroism and solidarity of the workers in that long strike and the readiness of at least many of them to meet the capitalists’ violence with their own and to sacrifice their lives if necessary.

Like the Dublin Lockout, which was also a defeat for the ITG&WU, the Southern Colorado Coal Strike showed the necessity for workers and their organisations on occasion to fight losing battles. Apart from it not being possible at the outset to predict the outcome of all struggles, hard fights teach lessons and steel the class in its battles. If workers were to avoid all battles except those they were certain to win, they would fight very few, become weak and lose the ability to fight, to say nothing of carrying out a successful revolution. 

A hundred years ago, the mineworkers in the Southern Colorado coalfields and their families wrote a great chapter in the history of workers’ struggles, even if a lot of the blood in which it was written was their own.

Ludlow Massacre Monument
The Ludlow Massacre Monument, erected by the union 1916
woody guthrie
Woody Guthrie, socialist troubadour, composed the Ludlow Massacre song about 1944.

The Ludlow Massacre by Woody Guthrie

(The lyrics accuse “they” sometimes and “you” at others; I sing “they” or “their” all through, along with a few other minor changes)

It was early springtime that the strike was on
They moved us miners out of doors
Out from the houses that the company owned
We moved into tents at old Ludlow

I was worried bad about my children
Soldiers guarding the railroad bridge
Every once in a while a bullet would fly
Kick up gravel under my feet

We were so afraid they would kill our children
We dug us a cave that was seven foot deep
Carried our young ones and a pregnant woman
Down inside the cave to sleep

That very night the soldiers waited
Until us miners were asleep
They snuck around our little tent town
Soaked our tents with your kerosene

They struck a match and the blaze it started
They pulled the triggers of their Gatling guns
I made a run for the children but the fire wall stopped me
Thirteen children died from their guns

I carried my blanket to a wire fence corner
Watched the fire till the blaze died down
I helped some people grab their belongings
While their bullets killed us all around

I will never forget the looks on the faces
Of the men and women that awful day
When we stood around to preach their funerals
And lay the corpses of the dead away

We told the Colorado Governor to call the President
Tell him to call off his National Guard
But the National Guard belong to the Governor
So he didn’t try so very hard

Our women from Trinidad they hauled some potatoes
Up to Walsenburg in a little cart
They sold their potatoes and brought some guns back
And put a gun in every hand

The state soldiers jumped us in a wire fence corner
They did not know that we had these guns
And the red neck miners mowed down them troopers
You should have seen those poor boys run

We took some cement and walled that cave up
Where those thirteen children died
I said, “God bless the Mine Workers’ Union”
And then I hung my head and cried.