Diarmuid Breatnach




Yip Warburg, author of lyrics of many songs, including those in the Wizard of Oz.
Yip Harburg, author of lyrics of many songs, including those in The Wizard of Oz musical.

Yip Harburg, born in the poor Lower East Side Manhattan to Russian Ashkenazi Jew migrants, was a socialist and the writer of the lyrics of the songs in The Wizard of Oz and worked on the music too.

In fact, a lot of the production team and actors were “pinkos” of some kind, including Judy Garland.  The “Brother Can You ..” melody was based on a Russian lullaby. In this Amy Goodman interview on Democracy Now TV (see link bottom of piece), Yip’s son Ernie Harburg talks about his father and included is quite a bit of footage of Yip himself, talking and singing, as well as footage of the first Wizard of Oz film.

When some people think it appropriate, while supporting the Palestinians, to synonymise the words “Jew” and “Israeli”, confusing the ethnic grouping of Jews with the fascist, racist and colonist ideology of Zionism, they are ignorant of or forget not only those Jews who combat Zionism today like Finkelstein and Chomsky but also the public criticisms of Zionism and the creation or actions of the state of Israel expressed by Albert Einstein, authors Erich Fromm, Howard Zinn, Isaac Asimov, Philip Roth, I.F. Stone; violinist Yehudi Menuhin; journalists Joe Klein (Time magazine), Roger Cohen (NY Times); Richard Falk (UN Special Rapporteur), historian Gabriel Kolko and many, many others. Those Jews are following a tradition: political and religious dissidence was endemic in Western Jewry and Jews have been to the forefront in socialist movements in Europe and in the USA, as well as in the struggles against racism and for civil rights in the latter.

“Music makes you feel; words make you think; songs make you feel the thoughts,”  said Yip Warburg.  At the time of the Depression in the USA (caused by the financiers, surprise, surprise), with massive unemployment and poverty, the authorities and some of the public wanted songs like “Happy Times Are Here Again” and no-one was writing songs about the suffering except for his father, says Yip’s son Ernie Harburg. Not on Broadway, maybe, but in some speakeasies, in some bars and on some radio shows, the blues and folk singers were composing and singing those songs, some writers like Steinbeck were writing their stories and photographers like Dorothea Lange, Jack Delano, Gordon Parks and others were recording their faces.

People were out on the streets and picket lines too, shouting, marching, holding placards, getting their heads busted by cops and sherrifs and goons and breaking some of their heads back too. Sometimes the protesters and campaigners were shot and sometimes even executed. As the financiers swing us around to those times again, we celebrate the victories and learn from the defeats, take pride in the courage of all those who fought and mourn those who fell, whether they fought against the police and municipal authorities, the witch-hunters like McCarthy and the ignorant red-haters, the National Guard, the FBI …

Scene from the Musical Theatre production of Americana, which featured Warburg's song "Brother Can You Lend Me a Dime?"
Scene from the Musical Theatre production of Americana, which featured Warburg’s song “Brother Can You Lend Me a Dime?”

And we singers, singing the lyrics and melodies of others and of our own, written in the past or in the present, give honour to the fighters in whole periods of struggle even as, in the book of history, the first lines in the next chapter are being written.



               Diarmuid Breatnach

Ian Paisley speaking outdoors
Ian Paisley addressing an outdoor meeting in typical style


Ian Paisley died on 12th September, five days ago. Much of the mass media portrayed him a man who participated in building peace in the Six Counties. Some of the media painted a different picture or, at least, permitted a different telling of his story. I have searched for but failed to find a photo I remember from decades ago, in the early days of the campaign for civil rights for Catholics in that sectarian colonial statelet, a photo of Ian Paisley and Ronald Bunting standing side by side. In Bunting’s right hand was a pick-axe handle. It was around the time of the Burntollet Ambush of Civil Rights campaigners (who were marched into it by the good old RUC, nowadays the Police Service of Northern Ireland). At Burntollet, the B-Specials and civilian Loyalists had pickaxe handles too, and rocks as well.

Burntollet Loyalists & RUC
Loyalists waiting to attack Civil Rights marchers at Burntollet Bridge mingle with RUC, January 1969.
Burntollet Loyalists, RUC, marchers
Civil Rights marchers duck from hail of missiles while RUC stand by. Note clubs also wielded by Loyalists, many of them also police reservists.










In an interview around that time, side by side with Ronald Bunting, Paisley made much of how law-abiding they and their crowd were. They could afford to be, since the statelet’s laws gave it enormous powers which nullified every civil right the large Catholic minority might try to use. But illegal violence was never far from the weapons of the State and its Loyalist supporters, to which the imperial master usually turned a blind eye (as it had to the landing of weapons in 1914, including 30.000 assorted rifles with ammunition at Larne and Donaghdee for the Ulster Volunteer Force).  Nevertheless, Ian spouted in public about law and order – an old trick of fascists who have their armed thugs already breaking the law … and arms and legs too.

Not long after, Paisley and Bunting went to jail for breaking the law, as the statelet’s rulers strove to control them and also to show the world how “fair” and “even-handed” they were. Unfortunately for them at that time, the world had already seen and was to see more of it – and it was not a pretty picture.

An ex-British Army Major, Bunting had his own paramilitary unit and though he was somewhat sidelined later for a decade, who knows where he might have ended were it not for the 1980 murder of his son, Ronnie, who had joined the Official IRA and later the Irish National Liberation Army. Ronnie was murdered by SAS or Loyalists  and after that, the grieving father dropped completely out of politics.

Paisley broke away from his Unionist Party because he could not rise high enough in it, could not control it and so he created his own party, the Democratic Unionist Party. He broke away from his Presbyterian Church for the same reason and created his own, making himself a vicar and Moderator of it. He never joined the Orange Order, perhaps because he did not wish to be answerable to it. When Bernadette (Devlin) McAlliskey warned people not to fear the DUP but rather the Official Unionist Party (so named to distinguish it from other unionist parties), because the former represented the real colonial power in the Six Counties, she could not have anticipated that Paisley would adapt, outflank the Official Unionists and gather the support of the old colonial class and their imperial masters. (As an aside, it’s a curious fact that in Ireland, calling one’s party the “Official” version, is to invite outflanking and eventual marginalisation).

Paisley was a skilfull demagogue and those who, in Britain or in the 26 Counties, laughed at him and his rabid roaring oratory, underestimated him. For he was not talking to them, even when giving an interview on TV, but to his own die-hard Loyalist audience. And most of them loved “Big Ian” or “Bigyan”, even if some of the paramilitary leaders thought at times that he was trying to manipulate them for his own ends (for example, during the Ulster Workers’ Strike of 1974) .

But when different times called for a different act, a different Ian emerged. A man of many smiles, a man who could go back on most of what he had said to his troops when he felt the time was right, a man who could play his part in the newest game of the British Empire in their colony, that of power-sharing with Provisional Sinn Féin, just as the latter’s leadership too adjusted to play the new game, now “the only game in town” for them.

Paisley was a fundamentalist Protestant from the ranks of the “Dissenter” churches, those who opposed the established Anglican church of the imperial state and many of whom had in 1798 taken arms against that state for Irish independence. But those dissenting churches had by now been purged and were loyal servants of the Empire, though still dissenters in religion. Echoing the old Loyalist slogan from the early years of the last century that “Home Rule is Rome rule”, Paisley fulminated against any involvement in Six County affairs by the 26 County “Free State” and also ranted against the Catholic Pope, “the Scarlet Harlot”.

Those who rightly condemn the Catholic Church’s control of the Irish state often forget that the Six County state was as fundamentalist and restrictive in most things. Divorce was already party of UK law when Ireland was partitioned and was incorporated into the new statelet. Contraception was later permitted under UK legislation and entered the Six Counties largely without problem. But they drew the line at gay rights, even after the Sexual Offences Act of 1967 decriminalised sexual acts between consenting males of 21 years of age or over in England and Wales (lowered to 18 years of age only in 1994 and to 16, equally with heterosexuals in 2000). Scotland, another stronghold of fundamentalist Presbyterianism, took another 13 years to pass the same legislation. It did not become law until 1982 in the Six Counties, with Paisley leading the “Save Ulster from Sodomy” campaign against it. Sadly, another eleven years had to pass before similar legislation was passed in the 26 Counties. Abortion, although legal in Britain is still not legal in either part of Ireland.

It was said by many that as a parliamentary representative, Paisley was effective and represented his Catholic constituents on an individual basis equally with his Protestant ones. He also represented a Protestant constituent against the British Army and RUC. The man in question had confronted men with long hair, dressed in combat jackets and jeans and stealing a neighbour’s car. Later in the police station, he saw the same men, some without their long-haired wigs and heard them speaking in English accents, apparently on good terms with the police. The witness made an issue to the RUC of what he assumed to be a British Army undercover squad stealing a car in order to carry out some nefarious act. Some time after that a door in the man’s street was shot at, the door number of which was the reverse of his own. Whether it was a warning or a confused murder attempt is not clear but Paisley came out with a public statement, presumably to make sure the man stayed alive.

Paisley was a sectarian, authoritarian, homophobic bigot, a bully, a fundamentalist Christian, a servant of the colonial statelet masters and in turn of their British imperialist masters. The fact that he proved more adroit than most of his opponents had given him credit for changes none of that. It is entirely appropriate that he should have received an emotional tribute from Martin McGuinness, senior figure in Sinn Féin and Deputy First Minister of the colonial administration he had shared with Paisley, when the latter was First Minister. Martin McGuinness is also a man who has been different things to different men at different times, a man who has lied and also contradicted himself in public without shame or apology. Both got on so well together, at least in public, that they soon came to be described in terms of a British comedy act, as “the Chuckle Brothers”.




Video footage of interview with Paisley and Bunting about their opposition to a Civil Rights march in the early days of the campaign http://www.rte.ie/archives/exhibitions/1031-civil-rights-movement-1968-9/1039-peoples-democracy-march-belfast-to-derr/319661-paisley-and-bunting-talk-about-march-day-3/

Paisley and Bunting released from jail: http://victorpatterson.photoshelter.com/image/I00009HZSb.Th6_I

Ronal Bunting: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ronald_Bunting

“Never a man of peace” — article in The Scotsman: http://www.scotsman.com/news/dani-garavelli-ian-paisley-never-a-man-of-peace-1-3541033 (NB: I do not agree with all that is in this article but certainly do with the main thrust of it and the headline — DB)


Diarmuid Breatnach


Palestinian supporters and other critics of Israel’s bombardment of Gaza have long complained about the western mass media’s reporting of the conflict in Palestine. The complaints have outlined reporting slanted in the Israeli state’s favour and/or specifically against the Palestinians and their representatives.

Palestinian flag flies over the rubble of a Gaza neighbourhood after Israeli bombardment 2014 (photo Antonio Olmos)
Palestinian flag flies over the rubble of a Gaza neighbourhood after Israeli bombardment 2014 (photo Antonio Olmos)

Umberto Ecco once defined language as a system of communication through which one could tell lies. There is no doubt but that our mass media uses language. Their editors and reporters herd us as sheep are herded by trained dogs, sometimes with barks and snaps of teeth but more usually through nudges and subtle changes of posture. They direct us to the pen where we are wanted or, at the very least, away from freedom.

In order to demonstrate the techniques used I have taken an example of reporting on the conflict and analysed it. The piece chosen is far from being one of the worst pro-Israeli or anti-Palestinian pieces of journalism – it is actually quite mild and even points out the statistical imbalance in the killing of civilians by Israel’s armed forces on the one hand and by Palestinian guerrillas on the other hand. The report is by the Irish on-line newspaper The Journal and was put up by them in the middle of August 2014.

 The piece opens by saying that “Palestinian negotiators have been considering an Egyptian proposal to end the month-long Israel-Hamas war as the latest 72-hour ceasefire in the Gaza Strip is due to expire.”  

This first of all says that the conflict is a war which also implies some kind of equal balance in fighting forces and also a share in blame. But it is not a war between any two sides; if it can be called a war at all, it is a war by Israel only. Israel is the fourth-largest military power in the world, with an army, navy and air force equipped with some of the latest armament and surveillance equipment. The Palestinians have a number of guerrilla groups, operating as infantry and no air or naval force at all. Their “artillery” are low-level rockets and mortars which cause very little damage to Israeli civilians and even less to the Israeli armed forces (except at close quarters, if Israeli soldiers invade territory held by the guerrillas). Israel’s armament causes huge damage to Palestinian infrastructure, huge loss of civilian life and does cause some damage to the guerilla groups.

The phrasing also suggests that Hamas is the only opponent of Israel on the Palestinian side. However, Israel has been in conflict with the Palestinians since the very day it came into existence and long before Hamas appeared on the scene. Even today, there are a number of Palestinian political and military organisations that are opposed to Israel and its actions and all together they represent the whole of Palestinian society inside the occupied territories, inside the 1948 borders of the state of Israel and in the refugee camps and settlements. In the sense that one could say that there is a war going on, it is Israel waging war against the Palestinian people.

The very next paragraph in the Journal’s piece says that “Since the truce, which will expire at midnight, went into effect on Sunday, Israel has halted military operations in the coastal territory and Gaza militants have stopped firing rockets.”

We see presented here that on the one side we have “Israel” and on the other, “Gaza militants”. As in bourgeois media reporting “militants” usually has a negative connotation, this is already tending to turn the reader against the Palestinians in Gaza. On the other hand, we have “Israel” which we can interpret either as “a legitimate state” or as the Biblical “promised land of the Jews”. And that is being opposed by “militants” in Gaza. The phrasing legitimises the status of one side while de-legitimising the other.

We are also told that Israel has halted “military operations”, two words that hardly convey the sustained bombardment of Gaza’s civilian houses, schools, mosques, civil administration facilities, power plant, water treatment plant, factories, hospitals and emergency vehicles in recent weeks. It does not bring to mind the slaughter of over 2,000 Palestinians, the vast majority of them civilians and including 430 children. Not to mention the 9,567 wounded, including 2,878 children and hundreds of injured jamming the remaining ill-equipped hospital treatment centres.

Israeli "military operations" -- Shuja'iyya neighborhood of east Gaza City during a 12-hour ceasefire on July 26 2014.
Shuja’iyya neighborhood of east Gaza City during a 12-hour ceasefire on July 26 2014.

The paragraphs states that in return for the cessation of “military operations” by the Israelis, the Palestinians have “stopped firing rockets”. Actually, if this report had just gone into a little detail, how pitiful by comparison with Israeli deadly ordnance would be the Palestinian rockets! Nevertheless, it is the rockets that are recently used as propaganda excuses by Israelis (before them it was something else) to justify the unjustifiable, the terrorising and collective punishment of a largely civilian population. So it is very rare indeed that western media reports omit any mention of the rockets.

The ceasefire was meant to give the two sides time to negotiate a more sustainable truce and a roadmap for the coastal territory.”

Again, “two sides” gives the impression of some kind of equal antagonists in balance. The “roadmap” may be a vague reference to some future deal but may also be a reference to something that was much bandied about in Clinton’s time as President of the USA. This “roadmap” was supposed to lead to a two-state solution and, apart from the fact that it completely supported the supposed right of the European settlers who created the state of Israel to steal Palestinian land, has now been rendered completely inoperable.  This is due to the continuing Israeli Zionist greed for land and building of illegal settlements throughout much of what was imagined as being part of the Palestinian state. And besides, the “roadmap” did not apply to the Palestinian refugees, who were given no right to return to their land. But it is useful for zionist-friendly propaganda purposes to pretend that this “roadmpap” ‘solution’ still exists and is viable.

A member of the Palestinian delegation to Egyptian-brokered talks in Cairo said today that his team was considering an Egyptian proposal, which was tabled yesterday. Egyptian mediators have been ferrying between the Palestinians and their Israeli counterparts in an attempt overcome the differences between the sides.”

While it is true that Egypt has been “brokering talks”, that state is hardly an innocent bystander. Egypt has kept the Rafah Crossing, the only official exit point from Gaza not entirely controlled by Israel, closed or constricted. Egypt has also worked to destroy the tunnels which the people of Gaza used to smuggle in those items of daily life and, no doubt the arms they need, which Egypt is preventing from getting through the Rafah Crossing. The Egyptian state could nullify much of the Israeli blockade of Gaza, merely by opening their crossing into Gaza for normal traffic 24 hours a day.

The Egyptian armed forces, the real power in that country, are clients of the USA – another power which is hardly innocent but which on occasion tries to present itself as impartial in the conflict, despite its massive funding of the state of Israel. But those are not facts that the western media wish to disclose about the USA, Egypt or the conflict in Palestine.  

Another thing, notice that while Egypt is “brokering”, it is “ferrying” between the Palestinian and Israeli negotiators.  Clearly the antagonists are not face-to-face.  If we think about that at all, as readers we are left with a feeling that maybe each side hates the other so much that they can’t bear to be in the same room.  Or we might even think that Hamas, since it doesn’t recognise the right of Israel to exist, might not deign to speak to them directly.  But actually, the reverse is true — as throughout most of its history, Israel is refusing to speak to the Palestinians directly. But no point telling the readers about that, is there? Who knows what they might come to think of such an attitude and behaviour of the Israeli state?

The Egyptian proposal calls for easing parts of the Israeli blockade of Gaza, bringing some relief to the territory, according to Palestinian officials in the talks. But it leaves the key areas of disagreement, including Hamas’ demand for a full lifting of the blockade and Israeli calls for Hamas to disarm, to later negotiations.”

This is a bald enough statement which seems neutral but notice the unchallenged call for Hamas to disarm. From a state that is granted legitimacy to an insurgent force often painted as illegitimate, such a call seems reasonable. It has been and continues to be the basis for “peace (i.e. pacification) processes” throughout the world. But is there a call for Israel to disarm? Of course not. Yet it is the most heavily-armed power in the Middle East, the only one in possession of a nuclear arsenal and the one which has most often attacked its neighbours (not to mention the Palestinians).  And the piece above leaves us to draw the conclusion that the lifting of the Israeli blockade may require Hamas disarming — a fair exchange. And a reasonable reason, if Hamas does not comply, for Israel to continue its blockade on the whole population of Gaza.

The Palestinian negotiator said he had some reservations about the proposal and would try to improve it. “We would like to see more cross-border freedom, and also to have the question of a Gaza seaport and airport discussed,” he said.

Note no reason is given for the Palestinian wishes – they seem trivial almost and no reason not to agree to a truce. “Cross-border freedom” might seem like being free to go on shopping trips or holidays abroad. “Gaza seaport and airport” likewise may facilitate daytrips and holidays, or tourist traffic or imports of luxuries. Maybe even exports of craftwork, or olives from remaining trees not destroyed by Israel. Such phrases and word do not give us a picture of over 1,816,300 people locked into a piece of land of 5,046 square kilometres (13,069 square miles), under permanent hostile control and sporadic bombardment and invasion, short of clean water and with other water polluted, destroyed infrastructure, destroyed hospitals, schools, mosques and churches, ruined industries and agriculture, infrequent power supply for lighting and heating, hardly any transport, a polluted coast and Israeli attacks on fishermen.

During the existence of the USSR and its satellite states, the western media regularly attacked them for their restrictions on most of their citizens’ travel beyond their borders. They never did then — nor do they now – inform their readers of the much stricter Israeli control on travel by Palestinians, not only beyond Israel’s 1948 borders but also beyond the borders of Palestine occupied by Israel in the years since. In fact, even travel within the occupied territories is extremely difficult for Palestinians.

The next four sentences of the Journal’s piece are unproblematic enough as far as reporting goes although it could have commented on why lifting the blockade on Gaza might have been of such concern to Hamas and to the people of Gaza:

An Israeli government spokesman had no comment on the negotiations.

In recorded remarks broadcast on Hamas radio, Ismail Haniyeh, the top Hamas leader in the region, said that “achieving a permanent truce can come only through lifting the blockade on Gaza”.

Amid the ceasefire, an Associated Press video journalist and a freelance Palestinian translator working with him were killed today when ordnance left over from the war exploded as they covered a story about the conflict’s aftermath.

Italian national Simone Camilli, 35, and Ali Shehda Abu Afash, 36, died when an unexploded missile believed to have been dropped in an Israeli airstrike blew up as Gazan police engineers worked to neutralise it in the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya.

However, the report could have gone on to tell us that the explosion also killed the four Gaza police engineers trying to neutralise the explosives and that another four people, including AP photographer Hatem Moussa, were badly injured.  Unimportant details?  News that might make us think worse of the Israeli armed forces?  Or sympathise with courageous Palestinian police and at-risk civilians? 

But it is not long before the more suspect reporting reemerges:

The war began on July 8 with Israel’s air campaign against Gaza’s Hamas rulers, whom Israel blamed for the kidnapping and murder in June of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank. Nine days later, Israel sent in ground troops to destroy Hamas’ underground cross-border tunnels constructed for attacks inside Israel.

Here Hamas are presented as “rulers”, as distinct and opposed to – once again – the state of Israel, conferring legitimacy on one party to the conflict, the aggressor, while subtly suggesting that the other antagonist is anything but legitimate and perhaps even despotic.

But the paragraph goes beyond that and suggests that Israel has a legitimate claim that Hamas kidnapped and murdered three Israeli teenagers. The three were in fact kidnapped and murdered and, although Israel wrongly accused Hamas of responsibility, its intelligence organisation Shin Bet later admitted that it no longer believed that. It may have been some other smaller Palestinian group or even individual members that carried it out but it was not the Hamas organisation nor its leadership. But this paragraph leaves us with the impression that Hamas’ culpability was a reasonable supposition by Israel and a reasonable cause of it going to war against Gaza.

The paragraph goes on to accept Israel’s public rationale for the bombardment and invasion, viz. “to destroy Hamas cross-border tunnels for attacks inside Israel”. Israel first quoted the deaths of the three teenagers as their reason for attack and now it is the “Hamas tunnels”. So if the stated reasons change, doesn’t that suggest that they are suspect, not to be relied on, with maybe the real reason unspoken? No comment from the media.  Where are the tunnels?  Which “border” are they crossing (putting aside for the moment the fact that Israel has never defined its borders)?  Where are they attacking “inside Israel”?  When was the most recent Hamas attack “inside Israel”?  If this is a reference to the paltry rockets Hamas has fired, Israel has never claimed that these were fired at it from “inside Israel”.  If it is not a reference to the rockets, then to what?  We are not told but instead left with a feeling that Israel’s concerns could somehow be legitimate.

The fighting has so far killed more than 1,900 Palestinians, the majority of them civilians, Palestinian and UN officials say. On the Israeli side, 67 people have died, all but three of them soldiers.

This is an unadorned statement of the shocking facts and we could not fault this paragraph.

But how about the very next sentence?

The latest outbreak of fighting is the third between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza since Hamas took over control of the densely-populated territory in 2007.”

Here we have a repeat of that formulation which we saw earlier: the conflict, we are being asked to see, is between the ‘legitimate’ state of Israel on the one hand and “Palestinian militants” on the other.  And it is “fighting” between the two sides, rather than the truth: the attack of Israel’s military force upon the population of Gaza and the Palestinian guerrilla forces’ attempts to reply with their meagre resources.

Also, we are told that “Hamas took over control” of Gaza in 2007. In an invasion, perhaps? A coup d’etat? The fact, uncomfortable for the western media, is that it was in a democratic general election while Israel and western agents poured out anti-Hamas propaganda. And Hamas won not just in Gaza, incidentally – but in the West Bank too, although others are currently in power there. Are we told that Israeli political parties in government “took over control” of Israel? Of course not.

Continuing, the report states thatHamas has been consistently pushing for an end of an Israeli Gaza blockade, which Israel says is necessary to prevent the group from gaining access to weapons and munitions it deploys against Israelis.”

In this sentence, we learn that Hamas wants an end to Israel’s blockade but not why. We are not told that it is so that they can have sufficient fuel for heating and transport, food, medicine, clean water, industrial and building materials, teaching and learning materials, spare parts, etc, etc. Nor are we told that Gaza could then actually export products and gain some self-sufficiency. Nor are we told that Israel is illegally holding monies, such as tax revenues, that belong to Gaza. But we ARE told why Israel wants the blockade — “to prevent the group from gaining access to weapons and munitions it deploys against Israelis.” Well, there you are – that’s only reasonable, surely? !!




Diarmuid Breatnach

Glasnevin Cemetery (Reilig Ghlas Naíon) is a famous Irish graveyard on Dublin’s northside, on the south bank of the Tolca river and not far from the Royal Canal and Mountjoy Jail. As well as those of other people of great fame and none, it contains the remains of the fallen in a number of battles. However, the cemetery itself has become something of a battleground of late.

Glasnevin Cemetery Tower Rainbow
Rainbow over the tower in Glasnevin Cemetery (photo by Lorcán Collins as mourners left the funeral of his colleague, Shane Mac Thomáis, resident historian of the Cemetery, who died 20th March 2014)

There was the Alan Ryan funeral around this time last year, early September 2013. Ryan had been a prominent member of the 32-County Sovereignty Movement and allegedly head of the Dublin Real IRA (also now known as “the New IRA”) and was shot dead, reportedly as a result of a conflict with drug dealers.

Ryan’s funeral was a massive affair attended by hundreds of mourners; the Irish state police, the Gardaí, policed it heavily. The hearse and cortege were temporarily stopped at the cemetery’s entrance by uniformed and plainclothed police while the grieving mother and family members were taken out of their car, which was searched. Scuffles with police broke out a number of times as the latter even penetrated to Ryan’s graveside.

More recently, on 31st March this year, a commemoration in Glasnevin of soldiers of the British Commonwealth who had been killed in the First World War attracted a smallish protest from Irish Republicans and socialists across the road from the cemetery’s gates. These commemorations are viewed by Irish Republicans and many socialists as events glorifying Britain’s part in WWI and also an attempt to build unity between Irish people and the British Armed Forces. The Commonwealth event, the unveiling of a “Cross of Sacrifice”, was attended by a member of the British Royal Family, which added metaphorical fuel to the fire. However, there were real flames as a British Union flag, brought by the protesters, was set alight and Gardaí Special Branch rushed to apprehend the burners. In the melee, a number of protesters were handled roughly by the police, some were pepper-sprayed and one was handcuffed and taken away by Gardaí, reportedly beaten on the way.  Another who objected to being jostled by Gardaí was also promptly arrested.

Most recent of all was the Hunger Strikers’ Commemoration in the Republican Plot inside the cemetery on 23 August.  The event was organised by the Sean Heuston 1916 Society to honour the 22 Irish Republicans who have died on hunger strike between 1917 and 1981. The 1916 Societies is a broad collection of  organisations of Irish Republicans in different localities who do not agree with the Good Friday Agreement and wish to see Ireland united and independent; one of their main objectives in the interim is to campaign for a referendum on the question of Irish unity. The commemoration was the second of its kind organised by the Sean Heuston 1916 Society and, as the previous year’s had passed without any untoward incident other than the usual Special Branch photographing and taking notes, they had no reason to believe that this year’s would be any different.

The event proceeded as planned with orations, song and laying of wreaths but the trouble came as people tried to leave the cemetery. They were waylaid inside the cemetery’s gates by plainclothes police of the Special Branch, i.e. the political police, and told to identify themselves and to give their addresses. Two who refused to do so unless they were shown reasonable cause were handcuffed and bundled into separate police vehicles. Others who had attended the event then blocked the police vehicles from leaving and many uniformed Gardaí arrived to assist the Special Branch. In the struggle, police were again quite rough and one punched a child in the face. Eventually the Gardaí were successful but both detained  men were released later that day without charge.

Many visitors and unconnected mourners attending the famous cemetery were visibly shocked by the incidents. The organisers made it clear to the staff of the cemetery who it was who had initiated the disturbance and had chosen to do so inside the cemetery grounds.

Apart from general harassment and attempted intimidation of Irish Republicans, it is difficult to see what the Gardaí hoped to gain from this provocation and why they had escalated their behaviour at a peaceful commemoration. `One possibility is that the intention was to discourage the management of the Cemetery from permitting such commemorations in future. The organisers moved quickly to call a meeting with the Cemetery management, which has already taken place and reportedly concluded positively. And so it should.

The Republican Plot, managed by the National Graves Association, a voluntary body which does great work, is within the Cemetery. The graves of many Irish Republican and Socialist martyrs and prominent activists are within this plot and also in other places within the grounds. Some, like the great hero Anne Devlin, go back as far as the United Irish of 1798 and of 1803. James Connolly gave the oration here in 1913 at the graveside of the ITGWU martyr Jame Byrne, a victim of the State during the Lockout that year.

Cathal Brugha funeral Glasnevin
Funeral at Glasnevin of Republican Cathal Brugha, shot dead by Free State Army in O’Connell Street, 1922.

In 1915, Patrick Pearse gave his famous oration to a huge crowd at the Glasnevin graveside of the Fenian Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, whose body had been returned to Ireland by the IRB in the USA. O’Donovan Rossa had been jailed for planning an insurrection against the British in 1865 and, though released in 1870 as part of a general amnesty, had to agree to emigrate. In 1922, Cathal Brugha, having survived 14 bullet wounds during the 1916 Rising, was killed in O’Connell Street by Free State Army soldiers and his funeral cortege too, also to Glasnevin Cemetery, was a huge affair. In 1966, the remains of Roger Casement, hanged by the British for his role in the 1916 uprising (the last of the death sentences of the 1916 insurgents to be carried out), were brought home from England and reinterred in Glasnevin with an Irish state ceremony.

These historic moments and connections between Glasnevin Cemetery and the national and class struggles may be uncomfortable for some and the police harassment may be intended to deepen that discomfort. However, it is difficult to see how anyone, whether of State or of Cemetery management, could successfully impose a ban on commemorations within this famous graveyard where so many of the Republicans and Socialists of previous years lie and which has been the scene of commemorations for over a century.