Tribute by David Rovics in 2015, the anniversary year of the execution of Joel Haglund, alias Josef Hilstrom a.k.a. Joe Hill)
David Rovics is a socialist troubadour from and in the USA of many years’ standing and has composed many songs about many issues. He also regularly tours and this year plans to go on a tour of Joe Hill’s homeland to celebrate this worker organizer, singer, song and other text writer and martyr. You can look him up on
(The punctuation arrangement below is mine — there was none in the text I received).
Joel Haglund came from Sweden
Which was very far from Eden:
By the time he left most of his family died;
His sisters and his mother,
His father and his brothers
So with one remaining sibling at his side,
He got a notion
To sail across the ocean
Where he heard the streets were paved with gold;
Not long after his arrival
As he toiled for survival
He realized the bill of goods that he’d been sold.
(Primero publicado (y editado por el editor, gracias) en el blog nortedeirlanda.blogspot.ie el martes, 20 de enero de 2015).
Actualmente se está haciendo una fuerte campaňa para defender Moore Street (Sráid an Mhúraigh), el mercado callejero bien conocido de Dublín. No es solamente que esa calle es la única que sobrevive de un casco de mercado callejero con existencia desde el Siglo XVI y que hasta la mitad del siglo pasado consistía de tres calles paralelas conectadas por callejuelas. Es más que eso, pues una hilera de casas fue ocupada por entre 200 y 300 insurrectos durante el Alzamiento de Pascua en 1916 y fue desde ahí que se hizo la rendición. La hilera y el mercado callejero están amenazados por un plan del especulador Joe O’Reilly de construir otro centro comercial desde la Calle O’Connell a Moore Street.
Breve resumen de la historia de Dublín
Los vikingos construyeron la ciudad de Dublín alrededor del 841 en el lugar Dubh Linn (el Pozo Negro), al lado sur del río, antes ocupado por una colonia cristiana y ahí construyeron su puerto fortificado, sobre todo como base para su comercio de esclavos. El lugar del Pozo Negro se cree que estaba en una parte del Castillo de Dublin, pero con el río que lo alimentaba ahora bajo la tierra. Los indígenas tenían un pueblo ya cerca donde las grandes vías al oeste y al sureste cruzaban el rio por un vado, su nombre era Baile Átha Cliath.
En el 1014, en una gran batalla por las orillas del rio Tulcha, al norte de la ciudad de entonces y ahora dentro de ella, el rey indígena Brian Boróimhe (Brian Boru en inglés) venció a una fuerza militar mixta de Vikingos de Dublín, de la Isla Man, de las Islas Orca y del rey indígena de Laighean (“Leinster” en el inglés). Dublín permanecería después bajo mando vikingo pero el peligro de la dominación vikinga de Irlanda no surgió nunca mas.
Los Normandos, que ya habían vencido a los Vikingos y a los Sajones en 1066 en los reinos donde actualmente está Inglaterra, invadieron Irlanda en 1169, vencieron la resistencia indígena y se apropiaron de mucha parte del país. Estos vencieron a los vikingos de Dublín en 1170 y les expulsaron a las afueras, a un lugar que hoy en día es un distrito en el norte de la ciudad. En el mismo lugar del Pozo Negro, los Normandos construyeron su fortaleza, rodeada de su terreno con muro y empalizada y desde entonces hasta la creación del Estado Irlandés en 1922, el castillo en ese sitio ha sido el cuartel general de la ocupación británica en Irlanda. El este y sur de Bretaňa, bajo dominación Normanda pero mas tarde con alianzas con jefes sajones, se convirtió en el poder inglés que unos siglos después se puede conocer como el de Gran Bretaña y por eso se cuenta la ocupación británica de Irlanda desde el aňo 1169.
El Alzamiento de Pascua de 1916 y Moore Street
Pues aunque la ciudad de Dublín era una creación extraňa y permanecía bajo mando ocupante, y pese a que a veces se les prohibió entrada a indígenas bajo pena de muerte, y pese también a que en el siglo XIX se pensaba en la ciudad como la segunda del Imperio, a través de los aňos la resistencia a la ocupación contaba con apoyo en muchas partes de Dublín. Y en 1916, durante la Primera Guerra Mundial, 1,200 hombres y mujeres salieron a la calle en alzamiento contra el poder imperialista y colonial mas grande del mundo, con “un imperio donde el sol nunca se pone”.
La mayor parte de la insurrección fue llevada por la organización republicana y nacionalista The Irish Volunteers (Voluntarios de Irlanda), además de su grupo auxiliar femenino Cumann na mBan y el grupo juvenil Na Fianna Éireann. La fuerza era la tercera parte de lo que habían contado los líderes del alzamiento, por razón del sabotaje por una parte del liderazgo de los Voluntarios.
Una parte de la fuerza militar insurrecta con orígenes diferentes era el Irish Citizen Army (el Ejercito Ciudadano), milicia sindical formada para defender a los sindicalistas contra ataques policiales durante el Cierre Patronal de 1913.
Por razón del sabotaje, la insurrección no comenzó el Domingo Santo, pues el jefe de los Voluntarios lo había cancelado, pero comenzó el día siguiente, el Lunes. Duró seis días y fue derrotada a través del bombardeo de la artillería británica que destruyó la mayor parte del centro de Dublín.
Los insurrectos construyeron barricadas en calles y trincheras en Stephens Green pero los mayores lugares de resistencia fueron varios edificios ocupados y fortificados a los dos lados del rio Life (Liffey) y el cuartel general de la insurrección estaba localizado en el GPO (Sala Principal de Correos) en O’Connell Street (la calle principal de la ciudad).
Por razón del bombardeo y quizás del saqueo, ya el jueves, edificios en O’Connell Street estaban en llamas y por viernes el techo del GPO estaba en peligro de caer y con el plomo derritiendose. Los ocupantes lo evacuaron, llevando al herido James Connolly en camilla, con Elizabeth O’Farrell interponiendo su cuerpo entre él y la dirección de las balas que silbaban por la calle.
Los insurrectos en Moore Street
Cruzando Henry Street, entraron en el callejón Henry Lane y entraron en la primera casa de una hilera en Moore Street. De ahí hicieron un túnel de casa a casa, hasta ocupar la hilera entera. Lo hicieron así porque del extremo norte de Moore Street, conjunto con la calle Parnell, ya tenían los británicos una barricada con ametralladoras y habían ya rechazado un asalto irlandés, matando a media docena.
El líder de ese asalto era Michael O’Rahilly. O’Rahilly era uno de los que cancelaron el Alzamiento para el domingo pero sin embargo al ver que procedió, se presentó para luchar. Fue gravemente herido por un balazo y cayó en el callejón que actualmente lleva su nombre, O’Rahilly Parade, y ahí escribió una nota a su mujer: “Escribo después de que me dispararon. Querida Nancy, recibí un disparo mientras encabezaba una carga en Moore Street y tomé refugió en un portal. Mientras estuve allí, oí los hombres señalando dónde estaba e hice un perno para la calleja donde ahora estoy. He recibido más que una bala, pienso. Toneladas y toneladas de amor querida, para ti, los chicos y Nell y Anna. Fue una buena lucha de todos modos”.
“Por favor entregar esto a Nancy O ‘ Rahilly , 40 Herbert Park, Dublín.
Ese viernes, en la hilera en Moore Street, con una fuerza británica a un extremo de la calle y con otras apretando cada hora mas a la linea insurrecta, y con algunos de sus edificios ya aislados, el liderazgo de la guarnición del GPO, que incluía al comandante general Patrick Pearse, debatieron que pasos futuros tomar. Los proyectiles de artillería seguían cayendo y las explosiones de materiales quemandose en tiendas y en fabricas se oían en una sinfonía con disparos de ametralladoras (los insurrectos no tenían ni una), y fusiles. De vez en cuando parte de un edificio colapsaba. Aún los insurrectos en la hilera en Moore Street habían preparado una diversión con posterior asalto (suicida, casi seguro) a la barricada al extremo de la calle, con la mayor parte escapando por el callejón de Sampson Lane (ahora bloqueada, no lo estaba entonces).
Por fin, se dice que debido a la enorme cantidad de víctimas civiles, Patrick Pearse decidió no seguir con ese plan y en vez de ello, procedió a rendirse. Llevando bandera blanca, la enfermera y miembro de Cumann na mBan, Elizabeth O’Farrell, salió a negociar con el comandante de los británicos, lo cual era acto de gran coraje, pues los británicos ya habían matado cerca a una pareja civil con su niňo, pese a estar bajo bandera blanca. El General Lowe se negó a llevar a cabo negociaciones y demandó un rendimiento total, dandoles solamente una hora para decidir. Una hora después de volver con su ultimatum, Elizabeth O’Farrell salió por segunda vez bajo bandera blanca, acompañando esta vez a Patrick Pearse.
En la calle Parnell, cerca de Moore Street, Pearse rindió formalmente sus fuerzas insurrectas y firmó las órdenes para los Voluntarios en otros edificios para rendirse también. James Connolly firmó ordenes iguales al Ejercito Ciudadano. La desafortunada Elizabeth O’Farrell tuvo el amargo y peligroso deber de entregar esas ordenes a los varios edificios todavía ocupados por los insurrectos en una ciudad todavía en guerra.
Los ocupantes revolucionarios de la hilera en Moore Street cumplieron parte de sus instrucciones de rendimiento pero no con otras. En vez de dejar sus armas en las casas, salieron con ellas al hombro, en marcha militar, en conjunto con Henry Street y ahí dieron vuelta a la izquierda hasta llegar a O’Connell Street. Ignoraron los gritos de los oficiales británicos y la furia del General Lowe. De ahí, a la izquierda otra vez, se fueron en marcha por O’Connell Street hasta llegar a la columna de Parnell, unos cien metros de distancia del extremo norte de Moore Street, y ahí depositaron sus armas.
Al otro lado de la misma columna existe un lugar que lleva el nombre en inglés “The Rotunda”. Por ironía, fue ahí donde se fundaron los Voluntarios originalmente en 1913, como respuesta a los “Voluntarios de Ulster”, lealistas Británicos que se movilizaban contra autonomía para Irlanda dentro del Imperio. En el jardín del Rotunda les mantuvieron bajo guardia a la mayoría de la guarnición del GPO/ Moore Street, menos los heridos que fueron llevaron al hospital, así estuvieron el resto del sábado y la mayor parte del domingo sin comida ni agua. A las mujeres que trataron de llevarles agua las arrestaron.
En los juicios militares siguientes, se condenó a pena de muerte a un centenar de hombres (Constance Markievicz, al enterarse de que ella no había recibido pena de muerte, supuestamente por ser mujer, demandó que la tratasen igualmente que a los hombres). Mas tarde, las sentencias de todos fueron conmutadas menos a trece a los cuales les fusilaron y a uno mas al cual le condenaron mas tarde en juicio en Londres a muerte por la horca. A los firmantes de la Proclamación de la Independencia (imprimido en la sala del sindicato ITGWU, “La Sala de la Libertad”, pero firmado en una tienda y café alternativo en Henry Street) les fusilaron. De los siete firmantes, cinco habían sido ocupantes de la hilera en Moore Street – Thomas Clarke, Patrick Pearse, Joseph Plunkett, Seán Mac Diarmada, y James Connolly. El hermano de Patrick, Willie Pearse, estuvo en Moore Street y a el le fusilaron también.
Diferente a los otros, James Connolly era socialista revolucionario, organizador del sindicato ITGWU, comandante del Ejercito Ciudadano y de la guarnición del GPO. Además era teórico, periodista, historiador, escritor de libros, artículos y de canciones. Igual que Thomas Clarke y Éamonn De Valera, Connolly no había nacido en Irlanda, y pese a pertenecer a la diáspora irlandesa en Edimburgo, de hecho su primera visita a Irlanda ocurrió cuando estaba en las filas del Ejercito Británico. Pronto salió del Ejercito y se casó con una irlandesa. Llevaron a Connolly del hospital a la Cárcel de Kilmainham y ahí, el 12 de Mayo, el último de los 12 ejecutados en 1916, fue atado a una silla por no poder ponerse de pie por razón de la gangrena en su tobillo, y le fusilaron.
La memoria histórica y la campaňa para conservar Moore Street
Muchos irlandeses y muchos turistas de otros países opinan que en cualquier otro país en Europa se hubiera hecho un monumento de la hilera y hasta distrito histórico de los alrededores. Sin embargo la mayoría de la población ni sabían hasta hace pocos años que la guarnición del GPO terminó la resistencia en Moore Street (y en la película Michael Collins, se le ve rindiendo desde el GPO, contrario a la historia de la guarnición y de Michael Collins mismo). En 2002 la National Graves Association (Asociación para las Tumbas Nacionales), una organización voluntaria e independiente de partido, empezó a hacer campaňa para guardar parte de la calle y en 2007 se hizo monumento nacional de las casas 14-17 Moore Street.
Poco después, familiares de los que lucharon en el Alzamiento y, especialmente, de los ejecutados empezaron a hacer campaňa para guardar la hilera entera. Mientras tanto en una historia complicada y sucia, el especulador Joe O’Reilly con su empresa CChartered Land, había comprado la mayor parte de las casas en Moore Street. Además, el centro comercial ILAC se había construido para 1981 encima del resto del casco del mercado callejero y perteneciente a Chartered Land y a Irish Life (compañía de seguros). Las cuatro casas del “monumento nacional” también le pertenecían a Chartered Land y por reglas del estado la compañía tenía obligación y responsabilidad de mantener los edificios en buen estado.
A los que entienden las costumbres y trucos de los especuladores no les sorprenderá nada que Chartered Land no mantuviera en buen estado los cuatro edificios ni nada parecido y como evidencia existen fotos que demuestran agujeros en el techo, pinturas en las paredes, etc. Hace unos años, Chartered Land propuso un plan de construcción de un centro comercial enorme, con entrada en O’Connell Street y pasando por Moore Street. El plan preveía un Parking subterráneo, y un jardín en el techo. Por no poder demoler las cuatro casas del “monumento”, se proponía incorporarlas dentro del centro comercial, poniendo café, servicios y un pequeño museo.
El plan del Parking atraería más trafico a la ciudad y no se aceptó pero mucho de lo otro si lo aceptó el Estado, pero bajo cierta condiciones. Aunque el especulador ya le debía €2.8 billones al Estado, le prometieron un subvención de €5 millones para renovar las cuatro casas. Pero aparte de dinero, otro problema al que se enfrentaba a Chartered Land era que no todas las casas en la hilera le pertenecían a él. Dos a la esquina con O’Rahilly Parade le pertenecen al municipio de Dublín.
Aunque el especulador dice que los puestos de mercado no van a estar afectados, y llevó a varios comerciantes de los puestos a los EEUU para enseñarles un centro comercial ahí, poca gente le cree. Los comerciantes no están seguros — la caída del mercado debido a la incertidumbre que pesa sobre la calle les hace parecer a algunos que mejor que se construya el centro. Sin embargo, varios también han firmado la petición (abajo).
En el otoño de 2014, el Chartered Land les ofreció al Municipio tres casas en el sur de Moore Street a cambio de sus dos casas en la hilera. Esa oferta fue recomendada por el Director del Municipio y, sorprendiendo a muchos, por el director de la comisión consultiva sobre Moore Street, el concejal Niall Ring.
La campaňa para guardar Moore Street lo resistió y surgió una nueva iniciativa, Save Moore Street from Demolition (Guardar la Calle Moore de la Demolición), pasando unas horas cada sábado con mesa de información en la calle, pidiendo firmas con petición a los concejales del Municipio y distribuyendo panfletos. La mesa rápidamente ganó mucho interés y apoyo con gente haciendo compras en la calle y con algunos turistas que pasaban por ahí. Actualmente, después de 15 sábados, tienen 3,500 firmas en papel. Es indudable que la campaňa cuenta con muchísimo mas apoyo de que lo tiene el plan de Chartered Land.
El voto fue reprogramado y Chartered Land entonces ofrecía cuatro casas a cambio frente a las dos pero por fin hicieron el voto y el intercambio fue derrotado. Al mismo tiempo se empezó una campaňa de “urgencia”, diciendo que “es muy importante tener esto arreglado para el centenario del Alzamiento”. También hicieron unas concentraciones frente a la sala del municipio. Cuando ya no se podía retrasarlo, se votó. Los concejales del Fianna Fáil votaron en contra, igual que los del Sinn Féin y algunos del Partido Laborista, además de muchos independientes socialistas y republicanos. Los concejales a favor fueron los del partido conservador de derechas Fine Gael (ahora en el gobierno en coalición con el Partido Laborista), algunos del Laborista y algunos independientes – pero estaban en minoría.
Aunque era una victoria temporal para la campaňa, fue muy importante. Si lo hubiera ganado Chartered Land, hubiera inmediatamente demolido las dos casas y la destrucción de la hilera hubiera comenzado. Además del resto de su historia, la última de esas casas, número 18, había tenido la primera clínica de la piel del Reino Unido (en el cual estaba Irlanda en ese aňo).
(This is reprinted with minimal editing from a section of a much longer piece of mine published in English and in Spanish a year ago https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/2014/01/30/how-can-a-people-defeat-a-stronger-invader-or-occupying-power-2/)
The War of Independence 1919-1921 and retreat from stated objectives
Three years later (after the 1916 Rising), the nationalist revolutionaries returned to the armed struggle, this time without a workers’ militia or an effective socialist leadership as allies, and began a political struggle which was combined a little later with a rural guerilla war which soon spread into some urban areas (particularly the cities of Dublin and Cork). The political struggle mobilised thousands and also resulted in the majority of those elected in Ireland during the General Election (in the United Kingdom, of which Ireland was part) being of their party.
The struggle in Ireland and the British response to it was generating much interest and critical comment around the world and even in political and intellectual and artistic circles within Britain itself. In addition, many nationalist and socialist revolutionaries around the world were drawing inspiration from that fierce anti-colonial struggle so near to England, within the United Kingdom itself.
The dismantling by the nationalist forces, by threats and by armed action, of much of the control network of the colonial police force, which consequently dismantled much of their counter-insurgency intelligence service, led the British to set up two new special armed police forces to counter the Irish insurgency. Both these forces gained a very bad reputation not only among the nationalists but also among many British loyalists. The special paramilitary police forces resorted more and more to torture, murder and arson but nevertheless, in some areas of Ireland such as Dublin, Kerry and Cork, they had to be reinforced by British soldiers as they were largely not able to deal effectively with the insurgents, who were growing more resolute, experienced and confident with each passing week.
However, two-and-a-half years after the beginning of the guerrilla war, a majority of the Irish political leadership of the nationalist revolutionary movement settled for the partition of their country with Irish independence for one part of it within the British Commonwealth.
Much discussion has taken part around the events that led to this development. We are told that British Prime Minister Lloyd George blackmailed the negotiating delegation with threats of “immediate and terrible war” if they did not agree to the terms. The delegation were forced to answer without being allowed to consult their comrades at home. Some say that the President of the nationalist political party, De Valera, sent an allegedly inexperienced politically Michael Collins to the negotiations, knowing that he would end up accepting a bad deal from which De Valera could then distance himself. Michael Collins, in charge of supplying the guerrillas with arms, stated afterwards that he had only a few rounds of ammunition left to supply each fighter and that the IRA, the guerrilla army, could not fight the war Lloyd George threatened. He also said that the deal would be a stepping stone towards the full independence of a united Ireland in the near future. None of those reasons appear convincing to me.
How could the leadership of a movement at the height of their successes cave in like that? Of course, the British were threatening a worse war, but they had made threats before and the Irish had met them without fear. If the IRA were truly in a difficult situation with regard to ammunition (and I’m not sure that there is any evidence for that apart from Collins’ own statement), that would be a valid reason for a reduction in their military operations, not for accepting a deal far short of what they had fought for. The IRA was, after all, a volunteer guerrilla army, much of it of a part-time nature. It could be withdrawn from offensive operations and most of the fighters could melt back into the population or, if necessary, go “on the run”.
If the military supply situation of the Irish nationalists was indeed dire in the face of the superior arms and military experience of Britain, was that the only factor to be taken into account? An army needs more than arms and experience in order to wage war – there are other factors which affect its ability and effectiveness.
The precariousness of the British situation
In 1919, at the end of the War, the British, although on the victorious side, were in a precarious position. During the war itself there had been a serious mutiny in the army (during which NCOs and officers had been killed by privates) and as the soldiers were demobbed into civilian life and into their old social conditions there was widespread dissatisfaction. Industrial strikes had been forbidden during the War (although some had taken place nonetheless) and a virtual strike movement was now under way.
In 1918 and again in 1919, police went on strike in Britain. Also during 1919, the railway workers went on strike and so did others in a wave that had been building up since the previous year. In 1918 strikes had already cost 6 million working days. This increased to nearly 35 million in 1919, with a daily average of 100,000 workers on strike. Glasgow in 1921 saw a strike with a picket of 60,000 and pitched battles with the police. The local unit of the British Army was detained in barracks by its officers and units from further away were sent in with machine guns, a howitzer and tanks.
Workers pass an overturned tram in London during the 1926 British General Strike. In much of the country no transport operated unless authorised by the local trade union council or under police and army escort.
4.2 The Army Mutinies of January/February 1919
4.3 The Val de Lievre Mutiny
4.4 Three Royal Air Force Mutinies January 1919
4.5 Mutiny in the Royal Marines – Russia,
February to June 1919
4.6 Naval Mutinies of 1919
4.7 Demobilization Riots 1918/1919
4.8 The Kinmel Park Camp Riots 1919
4.9 No “Land Fit For Heroes” – the Ex-servicemen’s Riot in Luton
4 4.10 Ongoing Unrest – Mid-1919 to Year’s End
The British Government feared their police force would be insufficient against the British workers and was concerned about the reliability of their army if used in this way. There had already been demonstrations, riots and mutinies in the armed forces about delays in demobilisation (and also in being used against the Russian Bolshevik Revolution).
Elsewhere in the British Empire things were unstable too. The Arabs were outraged at Britain’s reneging on their promise to give them their freedom in exchange for fighting the Turks and rebellions were breaking out which would continue over the next few years. The British were also facing unrest in Palestine as they began to settle Jewish immigrants who were buying up Arab land there. An uprising took place in Mesopotamia (Iraq) against the British in 1918 and again in 1919. The Third Afghan War took place in 1919; Ghandi and his followers began their campaign of civil disobedience in 1920 while in 1921 the Malabar region of India rose up in armed revolt against British rule. Secret communiques (but now accessible) between such as Winston Churchill, Lloyd George and the Chief of Staff of the British armed forces reveal concerns about the reliability of their soldiers in the future against insurrections and industrial action in Britain and even whether, as servicemen demanded demobilisation, they would have enough soldiers left for the tasks facing them throughout the Empire.
The Irish nationalist revolutionaries in 1921were in a very strong position to continue their struggle until they had won independence and quite possibly even to be the catalyst for socialist revolution in Britain and the death of the British Empire. But they backed down and gave the Empire the breathing space it needed to deal with the various hotspots of rebellion elsewhere and to prepare for the showdown with British militant trade unionists that came with the General Strike of 1926. Instead, the Treatyites turned their guns on their erstwhile comrades in the vicious Civil War that broke out in 1922. The new state executed IRA prisoners (often without recourse to a trial) and repression continued even after it had defeated the IRA in the Civil War.
If the revolutionary Irish nationalist leaders were not aware of all the problems confronting the British Empire, they were certainly aware of many of them. The 1920 hunger strike and death of McSwiney, Lord Mayor of Cork, had caught international attention and Indian nationalists had made contact with the McSwiney family. The presence of large Irish working class communities in Britain, from London to GlaSgow, provided ample opportunity for keeping abreast of industrial disputes, even if the Irish nationalists did not care to open links with British militant trade unionists. Sylvia Pankhurst, member of the famous English suffragette family and a revolutionary communist, had letters published in The Irish Worker, newspaper of the IT&GWU. The presence of large numbers of Irish still in the British Army was another source of ready information.
Anti-Treaty cartoon, 1921, depicts Ireland being coerced by Michael Collins, representing the Free State Army, along with the Catholic Church, in the service of British Imperialism
The revolutionary Irish nationalist leaders were mostly of petite bourgeois background and had no programme of the expropriation of the large landowners and industrialists. They did not seek to represent the interests of the Irish workers—indeed at times sections of them demonstrated a hostility to workers, preventing landless Irish rural poor seizing large estates and to divide them among themselves. Historically the petite bourgeoisie has shown itself incapable of sustaining a revolution in its own class interests and in Ireland it was inevitable that the Irish nationalists would come to follow the interests of the Irish national bourgeoisie. The Irish socialists were too few and weak to offer another pole of attraction to the petite bourgeoisie. The Irish national bourgeoisie had not been a revolutionary class since their defeat in 1798 and were not to be so now. Originally, along with the Catholic Church with which they shared many interests in common, they had declined to support the revolutionary nationalists but decided to join with them when they saw an opportunity to improve their position and also what appeared to be an imminent defeat of the British.
In the face of the evident possibilities it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the section of revolutionary Irish nationalists who opted for the deal offered by Lloyd George did so because they preferred it to the alternatives. They preferred to settle for a slice rather than fight for the whole cake. And the Irish bourgeoisie would do well out of the deal, even if the majority of the population did not. The words of James Connolly that the working class were “the incorruptible heirs” of Ireland’s fight had a corollary – that the Irish bourgeoisie would always compromise the struggle. It is also possible that the alternative the nationalists feared was not so much “immediate and terrible war” but rather a possible Irish social revolution in which they would lose their privileges.
Another serious challenge to the Empire from Irish nationalist revolutionaries would not take place until nearly fifty years later, and it would be largely confined to the colony of the Six Counties.
In the third week of the month of December two daring ambushes took place, one in Ireland and one in Spain. Both were carried out by national liberation organisations and both were very daring, aimed at extremely high-level military and state targets who were well-protected in cities controlled by the occupying state. The ambushes were one day on the calendar apart but 64 years separated them; the date of the Dublin one was December 19th 1919 and the the other took place on December 20th 1973 in Madrid.
BACKGROUND TO THE IRISH ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT
The target of the Irish ambush was Field Marshal John French. No-one resident in Ireland could rank higher in the British Empire; the British Queen and state’s representative in Ireland, French had been appointed Lord Lieutenant and Supreme Commander of the British Army in Ireland in 1918. Of course, it was not the first time that the Irish resistance had set its sights so high – in 1882 in Phoenix Park in Dublin, the Republican group The Invincibles had assassinated the Chief Secretary for Ireland, at that time the Queen’s representative, along with Thomas Burke, the Permanent Undersecretary and the Queen’s most senior civil servant in Ireland.
Field Marshal John French had previously held the positions of Commander-in-Chief of the British Home Forces and, at the start of the First World War, Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force in France. Under General Maxwell, he oversaw the suppression of the 1916 Rising and subsequent executions. Had the British government imposed conscription in Ireland in 1918, as threatened, he would have been in charge of seeing it through and had in fact pressed for the measure to be introduced. In the event, the opposition to conscription in Ireland was so widescale, including from the Irish Catholic Church, usually so loyal to the British, that an insurrection was feared if they went ahead with it.
John French was from a Norman-English family settled in Wexford in the fourteenth century with large property in Roscommon and, though his family had gone to live in England in the eighteenth century and he himself was born in Kent, French always regarded himself as “Irish”. John’s father had been a Royal Navy Commander and John himself pursued a military career, first in the Royal Navy and later in the Army. His record in the Navy was below expectations, as was his initial Army career. However, he made his name on a number of military engagements in the Second Boer War and Second Morocco Crisis and with the help of some allies who had political and military clout, was appointed Chief of the Imperial Military Staff in 1912. He resigned his position over the Curragh ‘Mutiny’ incident in 1914 but was given command of the British Expeditionary Force in France and in Belgium during the First World War. He was later forced to resign over his handling of this command, particularly in regard to his difficult relations with high-level French officers, but was given command of the defence of Britain.
In May 1918, French was appointed Lord Lieutenant and Supreme Commander of the British Army in Ireland. The political situation in Ireland was unstable as the republican (or “advanced nationalist”) opposition was gaining ground against the old nationalist opposition. The latter had been embarrassed by the British failure to implement Home Rule, which was on the statute books but not enacted, while the former varied from those demanding Home Rule immediately to those who wanted complete national independence. The formerly Irish monarchist party Sinn Féin had been coopted by the Irish Republican Brotherhood after the 1916 Rising and it became a republican/nationalist hegemonising political force while at the same time being a coalition of different political viewpoints. Outside of this, Labour also had some sway, particularly in some areas and was also opposed to the Nationalist party; Sinn Féin and Labour Councillors cooperated with one another on many occasions. In the British General Elections of December 1918, in Ireland, the newly-changed Sinn Féin nearly wiped the Nationalist party off the electoral map and decided to set up their own parliament, or Dáil, in Ireland and not to attend the British Parliament in Westminster.
The Royal Irish Constabulary, the armed colonial police force in Ireland since 1822, was the subject of a boycott campaign and physical attacks on its members.
The Irish Republican Army, reorganised after the Rising, was in training in many areas. Some of its foremost soldiers and leaders, men like Dan Breen, Sean Treacey, Sean Hogan and Séamus Robinson were of the opinion that only through a liberation war could Ireland be freed from British rule; they were therefore eager for that war to start.
There was no indication that this was the dominant opinion among the elected representatives of Sinn Féin, the TDs (Teachtaí Dála) and, indeed, many were of the opinion that the British could be pressured into a negotiated settlement, without the need for any armed struggle. One of the latter was Arthur Griffiths himself, founder of the party.
On the same day as the setting up of the Dáil and its declaration of independence from Britain, 21st January 1919, Breen, Treacey, Hogan, Robinson and five other less famous IRA volunteers ambushed a Royal Irish Constabulary escort for a consignment of gelignite in Tipperary, during which they shot dead both of the police escort and took their weapons as well as the explosives. The shooting dead of the RIC in the Soloheadbeg Ambush was a calculated act and Dan Breen later wrote:
“ …we took the action deliberately, having thought over the matter and talked it over between us. Treacy had stated to me that the only way of starting a war was to kill someone, and we wanted to start a war, so we intended to kill some of the police whom we looked upon as the foremost and most important branch of the enemy forces … The only regret that we had following the ambush was that there were only two policemen in it, instead of the six we had expected.”
Nevertheless, they had begun the War of Independence, which was to last three years.
A number of times during 1919, the armed struggle advocates in the IRA carried out military operations through which they sought to provoke a response from the British that would launch the national liberation war and sweep the Dáil into going on a war footing too. Tens of RIC were killed along with a few British soldiers. The British responded by imposing martial law on particular areas and carrying out raids and arrests. The IRA however were moving towards a full war footing with the British and, in many areas, were already there.
As 1919 moved on the British outlawed Irish political and cultural organisations: the Dáil, Sinn Féin, Conradh na Gaeilge and other nationalist organisations and publications had been banned, along with the Freeman’s Journal and some other weeklies. In addition, cattle fairs and other gatherings had been forbidden and all car licences apart from those for lorries had to be applied for to the police, a requirement which had occasioned a chauffeurs’ strike. However, neither Sinn Féin nor the Dáil considered itself at war yet.
The planned ambush on Ashtown Road on 19th December 1921 was intended to change that irrevocably for the target was none other than Field Marshal John French, Lord Lieutenant and Supreme Commander of the British Army in Ireland.
THE ASHTOWN ROAD AMBUSH
According to some sources, the IRA had set out to kill French on 12 separate occasions but each time something had intervened. One of those occasions was on November 11th 1919. Expecting him to pass in minutes on Grattan Bridge on his way to a banquet at Trinity College, Seán Hogan had pulled and thrown away the pins on two grenades and was holding down the timers with his fingers. French did not show and Hogan had to walk all the way to a safe house with his fingers holding down the timers on the grenades in his pockets. Luckily they had spare pins in the house.
In December, French had gone down to his family country estate at Frenchpark, Co. Roscommon, to host a reception there and was expected back in a couple of days. His movements were being monitored and the day he would set off by train for Dublin was reported to the ambush squad. He was expected to get out at Ashtown train station, the last one before the Broadstone terminus, and go from there with military escort to the Lord Lieutenant’s Residence (nowadays the US Ambassador’s) in Phoenix Park. An IRA party of 11, including Breen, Treacey, Robinson and Hogan set out to ambush the convoy and assassinate Lord Lieutenant French. The ambush party was already in place at Kelly’s pub (now called the Halfway House) on the Ashdown road as ‘chance customers’ when word reached them that French had alighted from the train. A Royal Irish Constabulary officer who had accosted them earlier had been knocked unconscious and dumped to one side. The information received was that French would be in the second car in the convoy.
A hay cart had been placed half-way across the road. As the first car and outrider passed it, the IRA Volunteers pushed the cart the rest of the way and engaged the second car with grenades, Mills bombs, rifles and pistols. However, French was in the first car and got away unhurt and the soldiers in the third car in the convoy arrived and began firing with machine guns and rifles at the Volunteers, along with the soldiers in the second car returning fire.
Martin Savage, a Volunteer who had met Breen and Hogan by chance the previous day and begged to be allowed to participate, was fatally wounded and his body had to be left near the scene. Several RIC and British soldiers were wounded with perhaps a fatality and the convoy withdrew towards Phoenix Park. The Volunteers knew that reinforcements would be sent soon so they dispersed to safe houses. Breen had been shot in the leg but managed to get away by bicycle.
The next morning, the Irish Independent published an article which described the attackers as “assassins” and included other such terms as “criminal folly”, “outrage” and “murder.” Taking these terms as an insult to their dead comrade, on Sunday, at 9pm, between twenty and thirty Volunteers under Peadar Clancy entered the offices of the Independent and began to dismantle and smash the machinery.
REACTION OF THE DÁIL AND SOME OTHER REPUBLICANS
Many of the Dáil TDs were shocked by the assassination attempt and among Irish Republicans who severely criticised the IRA within the movement was Charlotte Despard.
This might have been expected since she was sister to Field Marshal French, except that Charlotte had developed Republican sympathies and had settled in Dublin after the War. She had a background in social welfare and socialist political activity in Britain, including active membership in the Social Democratic Federation, the Independent Labour Party and the sufragette Women’s Social and Political Union and was a fierce critic of her brother. During the Irish War of Independence, Charlotte Despard, together with Maud Gonne, formed the Women’s Prisoners’ Defence League which organised support for republican prisoners. Later, as a member of Cumann na mBan, she was to oppose the Anglo-Irish Treaty and to be imprisoned by the Free State Government during the Civil War.
REACTION OF THE BRITISH
The British military and police, under orders from French, of course replied to the assassination attempt with intensified repression and harassment of the civilian population in an attempt to drive a wedge between them and the IRA. The ambush and attempt on the life of the Lord Lieutenant and Supreme Commander of the British Army in Ireland no doubt helped Churchill, Secretary of War and Minister of the Air, push his idea of special counter-insurgency forces to act as auxillary police in Ireland, i.e. forces of state terrorism, who were to become known as the “Black and Tans” (abbreviated to “Tans”). Recruitment began that very month in London and the first recruits were in the field in January 1920. In July, the Auxillary Division of the RIC was set up, a much more efficient terror force composed almost entirely of British ex-soldiers of former NCO and officer rank.
With the “Tans” and the “Auxies” in the field, along with the crumbling RIC and the British Army, a full guerrilla war raged in many counties and cities of Ireland from 1920 to 1921, with torture and shooting or imprisonment of prisoners by the British, along with the burning of non-combatants’ homes and cooperatives. The IRA were carrying out ambushes and assassinations of RIC and their special auxiliary forces, British soldiers and Irish spies. Ironically 1921 was the year the Dáil finally declared war on the British and also the year of the Truce, negotiations and the controversial signing of the Treaty by the Dáil’s delegation in London, in which they accepted Dominion status for a partitioned Ireland.
Dominic Behan wrote a song about the ambush. It has been sung in different versions and with some verses added and omitted. Dominic Behan’s version is on here on 30.23 mins: Wolfhound did their own version here which, on the whole, I prefer, though a little too drawn out and finishing on a climax (which traditional songs never do, anywhere in the world, apparently) .
BACKGROUND TO THE MADRID AMBUSH
Like John French, Don Luis Carrero Blanco, 1st Duke of Carrero Blanco, Spanish Grandee, was a military career man. He entered the Spanish naval academy in 1918, at the age of 14 and participated in the colonial Rif War of 1924-1926. When General Franco and the other Generals led the military uprising against the Popular Front Government in 1936, Carrero Blanco was behind the Republican line and took refuge in the Mexican and later French embassies before working his way across the front to reach the fascist side in June 1937 and serving in their navy.
After the victory of the fascist forces in April 1939 and the instalation of General Franco as Dictator, Carerro Blanco became one of his closest collaborators; he was made vice-admiral (1963) and admiral (1966); he held the post of Vice-President of the state council from 1967 to 1973 and commanded the Navy. On 8th June 1973 Franco named Carerro Blanco Prime Minister of Spain.
Carrero Blanco was very much a supporter of the Spanish military-fascist dictatorship of Franco, a monarchist (Franco had himself installed Juan Carlos de Borbón, the present monarch, as King of Spain) and close to the secretive Opus Dei organisation of Catholic technocrats. Opus Dei, although in favour of authoritarian control of society, was opposed to the fascist Falange and favoured liberalisation of some laws and the penetration of foreign capital, particularly from the US and Europe, to which the Falange were opposed.
It is said that Carrero also opposed the state entering into World War II on the Axis side, for which the Falange were pushing. In the event, neither the Spanish state nor Portugal, both under fascist dictatorships, entered the War and as a result were the only two European fascist regimes which were not overthrown by invasion of one or various of the Allied forces or by popular resistance around the end of the War.
In the 1970s the Spanish ruling class was under pressure to relax its fascist grip and bring in the trappings of capitalist democracy: legalised opposition parties, legalised trade unions, a “free” press, etc. But Spain was ruled by a coalition of various interests, including the fascist Falange, the military caste, Spanish aristocracy, arriviste capitalists, Catholic Church hierarchy …. And they faced not only demands for democracy but also for socialism, including from the rank-and-file of the Communist Party of Spain and of the social-democratic party, the PSOE. Other groups specific to regions or nations within the Spanish state also had demands for democracy and socialism. The Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) and ETA had been raising demands for regional autonomy or independence and a similar desire was evident in Catalonia.
But most of the Spanish ruling class feared the breakup of the Spanish state and also feared socialism. Many opposed even social-democracy, from those who feared being held to account for their crimes against humanity during the Civil War to those afraid of a moral ‘loosening’ and loss of social control by the Church. But they were also increasingly aware that the military-fascist lid could not be kept on the pot forever – the pressure was building up and something would have to give. However, as Franco went into his old age and illness the Spanish ruling class also feared what would happen after his death. He had been such a central figure of authority, his face even on coinage and stamps, and a unifying force either through fear or loyalty. Although Carrero Blanco was not favourable towards the Falange they trusted him to keep the state going essentially the way it was and so Franco nominating the Admiral as his successor calmed a lot of fears.
Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, ETA, had been formed in the Basque Country in 1959 from socialist and Basque patriotic youth. A youth section of the Basque Nationalist Party, tired of the timidity and lack of action of the parent organisation, had been part of its forming and had accepted the socialist orientation of others graduating from the group EKIN. The young ETA organisation was subjected to the repression usual in the Spanish state after the Civil War and particularly harsh wherever the breakup of the State was threatened – and this was particularly so in the Basque Country. ETA’s supporters were watched and arrests and torture were a constant danger.
In the late 1960s some ETA members began to carry arms. On 7th June 1968, ETA member Txabi Etxebarrieta faced a routine road check by the Guardia Civil. Txabi was armed and determined not to be arrested and tortured — he shot a Guardia Civil member dead and fled on foot; he was chased and himself shot dead. The next ETA armed action that year was however a planned operation. Chief of secret police Melitón Manzanas had a long record of torture inflicted on detainees and of hunting Jews escaping Occupied Europe over the French border and returning them to the Nazis. ETA killed him and from then on ETA was on a guerilla war footing.
In the summer of 1973, a group of Basques pretending to be sculptors rented a flat in Madrid to carry out Operación Ogro (Operation Ogre). Over five months they dug a tunnel under the street outside and filled it with 80 kgs of explosives which had been stolen from a government depot.
On December 20th, 1973, Carrero Blanco was being driven from attending mass to his home in Madrid and accompanied by his bodyguard. As it travelled down the road, a bomb exploded in a tunnel under it with such force that the vehicle was blown right over the roofs of nearby buildings and landed on a balcony on the other side. Both driver and bodyguard were killed immediately and Carrero Blanco died shortly after. One epitaph of macabre humour was that Carerro Blanco had lived a very complete life: he had been born on earth, had lived at sea and died in the air.
In an interview explaining their rationale for Operación Ogro, the ETA operation group said:
“The execution in itself had an order and some clear objectives. From the beginning of 1951 Carrero Blanco practically occupied the government headquarters in the regime. Carrero Blanco symbolized better than anyone else the figure of “pure Francoism” and without totally linking himself to any of the Francoist tendencies, he covertly attempted to push Opus Dei into power. A man without scruples conscientiously mounted his own State within the State: he created a network of informers within the Ministries, in the Army, in the Falange, and also in Opus Dei. His police managed to put themselves into all the Francoist apparatus. Thus he made himself the key element of the system and a fundamental piece of the oligarchy’s political game. On the other hand, he came to be irreplaceable for his experience and capacity to manoeuvre and because nobody managed as he did to maintain the internal equilibrium of Francoism.”
—Julen Agirre, Operation Ogro: The Execution of Admiral Luis Carrero Blanco (1975)
There was little criticism of the assassination from the Spanish opposition in exile or underground in the Spanish state. The Spanish ruling class of course condemned the action but it was thrown into disarray. In the confusion, the “modernising” and “liberalising” elements were able to take the initiative.
Less than three months after Carrero Blanco’s assassination his successor, the new prime minister Carlos Arias Navarro, in his first speech to the Cortes (Parliament) on 12 February 1974, promised liberalizing reforms including the right to form political associations. He faced opposition from hardliners within the regime but the transition had begun (how much of a “transition” is another issue).
The assassination of Carrero Blanco was an action taken by ETA perhaps primarily for the Basque struggle for independence and socialism but it had a deep effect across the whole Spanish state. It hastened the “Transition” and turned out to be a Christmas present to the Spanish social democratic and reformist opposition. Later years were to witness how badly they were to repay the Basque resistance.
Sixteen years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, cases of Irish Republican political activists appearing before colonial judges are none too rare in what some call “Northern Ireland”. Of course, the Republicans are not from Provisional Sinn Féin, who have made their peace with Queen and Empire – but they are Irish Republicans none the less.
Despite their fairly common occurrence, one recent case seemed to symptomise the state of civil liberties in the colonial statelet so as to deserve some detailed analysis. On January 6th Gary Donnelly (43) and two other Derry Republicans, Terry Porter (56) and William Brogan (51), won their appeals against a sentence of six months imprisonment for painting slogans on the famous Derry Walls but money was paid on their behalves into the court.
The judge, Philip Babbington, ordered the £2,600 (€3,300) compensation to be equally divided between the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, which has responsibility for the upkeep of the Derry Walls, and the charity Foyle Search and Rescue. No explanation seems to have been given as to why the total sum, which was supposed to have been necessary to remove the anti-internment slogans, was not to be paid in its entirety to the Environment Agency; nor am I aware of any detailed examination of the alleged cost of £2,600 (€3,300) to remove a few painted slogans.
“Speaking outside the court Colr. Donnelly said he was ‘relieved’ that the case was finally settled. He said: “I am glad that I am now able to represent the voters of the Moor ward who elected me. There had been a lot of donations made towards this case by people in the city and I am glad that it is going to Foyle Search and Rescue.” He denied that there had been any brinkmanship in the case and said when first arrested they had been held for two days and police had tried to prevent them getting bail.
“Cnclr. Donnelly went on: “Graffiti has long been a tool of the working class for years and there was even graffiti on the walls calling for Home Rule1. More damage was caused to the Walls by the installation of lights and the building of the Millennium Form than by anything we did. “I have no regrets for anything I have done.”2
The appeal hearing was attended by four TDs3: Éamonn O’Cuív (Fianna Fáil), Clare Daly (United Left Alliance), Thomas Pringle and Maureen O’Sullivan (both Independents). Also in attendance were numerous councillors from local authorities on both sides of the Border. This attendance, at the court case of one with whose politics most of them would not be in agreement, indicated perhaps some sense of solidarity among public elected representatives but probably more a rising concern among some (albeit not nearly enough) at the state of civil liberties in the Six Counties.
When Donnelly and the other two republicans had last appeared before another judge to answer a charge of “malicious damage” to the Walls (by painting the slogans), no money had been made available to the court and they had been sentenced to six month’s imprisonment. The judge hearing the appeal, Babbington, replaced that sentence with a conditional discharge for 12 months. This means that they will serve no prison term on this charge but if, within 12 months they are again arrested and convicted, this conviction will be taken into account and could result in prison terms.
The original sentence of six months’ jail for painting slogans, even at such an alleged cost of their removal, was excessive. But the impact of this sentence in the case of Gary Donnelly went far beyond that on him, his family and friends. Gary Donnelly is a Councillor, elected to the Derry & Strabane Super-Council and, according to the rules of that body, a sentence in excess of three months would cause him to lose his seat. That in turn would have disenfranchised those who voted for him.
Donnelly was one of four new Independent councillors elected last year, the other three being Darren O’ Reilly, Dee Quigley and Paul Gallagher (Strabane). Gary Donnelly, standing as an Independent, topped the poll in the Moor ward (home of the Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness), out-polling former Sinn Féin Mayor Kevin Campbell by 50 votes. The three Derry-based Independent councillors have taken two SDLP and one Sinn Féin seat.
These new Independent councillors have a background of years dealing with issues affecting their local communities, often on a daily basis, such as poverty, anti-social behaviour and the growing addiction crisis. Judge McElholm had been made aware that Donnelly would lose his seat if the judge went ahead with his sentence but he was not to be swayed from his course.
Naturally, it is not being suggested that elected Councillors (or any others, including appointed judges) should be permitted to act as they please without consequences, merely because of their office. However, a judge behaving in accord with the principles of a democratic system would take care that the sentence leanedaway from disenfranchisement of voters if possible. And of course, it was possible, since a non-custodial sentence or one of anything up to three months’ jail would not have had Donnelly lose his seat or disenfranchised his voters.
For those who are aware of the history and current reality of the Six Counties, that colonial statelet often called “Northern Ireland”, associating it “with the principles of a democratic system” is bound to raise at least one eyebrow. The formation of the statelet was in itself a denial of democracy and self-determination to the Irish people in 1921 and its laws and practice were so undemocratic, so discriminatory against the large Catholic minority, as to give rise to the popular movement for civil rights that began in 1968. The infamous repression exercised by the statelet’s police and courts and its sectarian civilian allies on that movement led in turn to a war of 30 years. Not a single democratic reform was granted by the statelet until that war was well underway. Nevertheless, since its administrators claim it is democratic, it may be useful to subject it to the test of compliance with recognised democratic principles.
THE JUDGES AND THE SYSTEM
During all that history of lack of democracy, institutional discrimination and repression in the Six Counties, judges played their part, faithful to the system. Today, despite some hard-won reforms especially in housing allocation and in voting qualification, the statelet continues to be a colonial one, undemocratic still in many ways, with a sectarian and repressive police force. And the judges continue to play their part.
The original judge dealing with Donnelly’s case, McElholm, revealed his own political bias on a number of occasions during the conduct of the case, even without taking into account the six-month jail sentence. According to media reports, when the three appeared before him again for non-payment of the fines, he said that the painting of the walls was a “wholly uncalled-for exercise”. He stated that “internment ended ‘a long time ago’, and that it was insulting to the entire legal system to say it continues.”4
Well, was the judge sentencing the three Republicans for “criminal damage”, the words appearing on their charge-sheet, or for carrying out what he considered politically or morally to be a “totally uncalled-for exercise” and for “insulting … the entire legal system”? I would have thought that his words are evidence of a clear political bias.
Nor was it the only occasion when the same judge expressed political bias in respect of Gary Donnelly. When the Irish Republican made his application for the abolition of his curfew (which he had accepted as a condition of being granted bail when first charged), he did so on the basis that having to be indoors by 8pm was a serious restriction on his campaigning work for election, an infringement on his democratic rights and on those who might vote for him. Again, Judge McElholm saw fit to express his political bias in heavy sarcasm. According to media reports, although he granted an exemption of two hours (i.e. until 10pm) on the curfew, Judge McElholm then asked: “Is he going to put up posters or paint his name on walls saying vote Donzo?” He went on to say: “It is clear the democratic process is very dear to Mr Donnelly’s heart”5 and “The great working class people I’m sure will now come flooding to his door.”6
BAIL CONDITIONS AND CURFEW AS A POLITICAL WEAPON
The issue of Donnelly’s bail conditions and curfew have been alluded to earlier. People in the West outside of the Six Counties (with the exception of people in other European areas of repressive colonial occupation, such as the southern Basque Country) may be surprised to learn that the imposition of a curfew has become customary as a condition of granting bail to Republicans in the colony. This might have made some sense in the case of slogan-painting, with which Donnelly was accused, and which one would imagine would take place at night. But even so, did a curfew have to be imposed? Would it not be enough that if he were caught doing it again before trial, that his bail would be revoked?
In a democratic system, since the accused are to be “presumed innocent until proven guilty”, they should be at liberty until such time as are tried and receive a verdict. That is the purpose of releasing those charged “on bail” while awaiting trial. They may be found “not guilty” at the end of their trial and even if found “guilty”, the sentence may be a non-custodial one. So, if the accused is thought not to require a custodial sentence, why should he already have spent time in jail? However it is a fact that many Irish Republicans have spent time in jail while awaiting trial. In Donnelly’s case, after two days in custody and against police advice, he was given bail but on a number of conditions.
The purpose of conditions being set for bail is supposed to be related to the specific case and to be reasonable. A financial surety is set in order to deter the accused from absconding before trial. Other than that, what conditions are reasonable? Well, a man accused of assault on another may have a bail condition not to approach his alleged victim and to stay away from that person’s home or place of work. Or to stay away from people who are to be called as witnesses. But how is it to be considered reasonable to set a curfew as a bail condition? And of wearing an electronic tag to ensure compliance? Or of not going to political meetings or meeting with political activists? Or to not reside in a particular town?
These conditions and variations of them have been imposed on a number of Irish Republican activists in the Six Counties. In fact, that same Judge McElhome also imposed a nightly curfew on Gary Donnelly on a previous charge, in August 2010, when he released him on bail to face charges under “anti-terror” legislation, relating to pipe bombs incidents in September 2009. In December 2010, the charges were dropped.
Martin Corey, a Republican prisoner released under licence under the Good Friday Agreement, had his licence revoked and after four years in prison (without even a police interview or charge, never mind a court appearance) was released on a kind of bail or licence under conditions which he is not permitted to divulge but are rumoured to include wearing a tag and not associating with “known dissidents”.
Perhaps one of the most illustrative examples was that of Stephen Murney, an activist with the Éirigí group, who was arrested on spurious charges in November 2012 and refused bail. When his appeal against that refusal was heard after six months in jail, the judge granted bail but on conditions: Murney was to wear a tag, observe curfew, stay away from certain political activists and stay away from Newry — the town in which he lived and where his partner and child also lived. To his credit and taking an important stand for civil rights, Murney refused to accept the conditions and spent 14 months in custody awaiting trial. Eventually, some of the charges were dropped and he was found not guilty of all remaining charges.
CRIMINAL OR POLITICAL CONVICTIONS?
A member of the 32-County Sovereignty Movement, Gary Donnelly has been politically active for many years. Something has been made in reporting of the case that Gary Donnelly has previous criminal convictions – he has a police record and he has also had a number of charges eventually dropped. In March 2010, he was sentenced to seven months jail on a charge of assaulting a police officer. At one of his recent court appearances, a police officer said he he had criminal convictions also for public order offences and one for arson.
In many societies outside the Six Counties this might seem extraordinary for an elected representative but I would submit that it is the system in the Six Counties that is extraordinary, at least with regard to what might be expected of a European democracy.
Donnelly’s “criminal convictions” would have been no secret and his voters put him in office despite those convictions and quite possibly even in part because of them. I do not have the details of the incidents that gave rise to them but any half-awake observer of life in the Six Counties knows that with a sectarian and repressive police force hostile to Republicans, acquiring convictions for “assault on police officers” may be the result of police concoction, self-defence by the charged or even actual assault but in all those cases, the likelihood is that the incidents are overtly political in nature.
Convictions for “public order offences” are probably the most easily-acquired by political activists and often mean merely that the person convicted refused to cease his or her protest when ordered to do so by a police officer. It is rarely possible, with any hope of success, to challenge the justification of the police officer in ordering the protest to finish.
“Arson” can also be a political offence and I once heard a Garda senior officer declare that burning a purchased US flag in a public protest was “arson”! And, as has been clearly demonstrated, the “criminal damage” which has now been added to Donnelly’s police record, both in its content and in its treatment, was political.
INTERNMENT – WHEN IS IT NOT?
Although no-one denies that the British implemented internment between August 1971 and December 1975, when 342 people were subjected to it7, there is far from universal agreement that the British are practicing internment in their colony today. One supposes that the socialists and social-democrats there at present don’t agree that it is being practiced — or surely they would be protesting against it! And, as we saw earlier, Judge McElhone declared that internment had ended back in the 1970s and that to state that it was still being practiced was “insulting …. to the entire legal system”. Sinn Féin don’t call it internment on the rare occasions upon which they refer to the victims but that may be more an issue of convenience than of terminology. Even a member of a Republican organisation which is opposed to the Good Friday Agreement recently argued with me that what is happening is repression but is not internment.
Well, I’m quite interested in correct use of terminology myself, so I thought I’d better look up the definition in a number of on-line dictionaries. It turns out that dictionary definitions of “internment” vary somewhat. Wikipediahas it as “the imprisonment or confinement of people, commonly in large groups, without trial, while for Dictionary.comit is “the act of interning or state of being interned, esp of enemy citizens in wartime or of terrorism suspects”.Dictionary.com goes on to elaborate that “Internment means putting a person in prison or other kind of detention, generally in wartime. ………….. Internment usually doesn’t involve a trial, so you’re being held because someone thinks you might be dangerous, but there’s no proof.”
Grammaristhas it as “the act of detaining a person or a group of people, especially a group perceived to be a threat during wartime,” while forCambridge Dictionaries on lineit is“the act of putting someone in prison for political or military reasons, especially during a war.”Macmillan Dictionarydefines it as “the act of putting someone in a prison without officially accusing them of a crime, especially when this is done for political reasons”.
Sifting through these definitions then, the most common aspect is that internment involves imprisonment without trial. It may be applied to many or a few (and let us remember that Oswald Mosley, of the British Union of Fascists, was interned by the British on his own during WW2 albeit in a house with grounds). Two definitions mention wartime, while some allude to “terrorism” and a few mention “political reasons”. On the basis of those definitions, internment is undoubtedly being practiced in the Six Counties.
Refusing Republicans bail (e.g. Stephen Murney, Colin Duffy and man others) and revoking licences (e.g. Marian Price, Martin Corey) have all resulted in imprisonment without trial – for periods varying from a year to four years. The individuals may be – and often are – eventually found “not guilty”, or their convictions overturned (as with Colin Duffy, Brian Shivers and, one hopes, the “Craigavon Two”) or released on “humanitarian grounds” but they will already have spent time in jail. This was the reasoning which no doubt lies behind a number of political activities against the current internment and certainly was expressed at the founding meeting of the Anti-Internment Group of Ireland (of which I am proud to be a member) which has organized public meetings, demonstrations and information pickets in various communities in Dublin and in other parts of Ireland. The non-party Group was set up by some of the campaigners in the also non-party Dublin Free Marian Price Campaign after the partially-successful conclusion of that struggle (Marian Price was released on “humanitarian grounds” but already in broken health). The AIGI can be found on https://www.facebook.com/pages/End-Internment/581232915354743?fref=ts
Imprisonment puts a strain on the individual prisoner and also on friends and relations – and, indeed, on relationships. It disrupts the political work of the person jailed and of their organizations. And it serves as a threat to others considering becoming active in opposition to the State. Its purpose in these cases is primarily political. The deprivation of liberty without due cause is a violation of human rights and to do so for political reasons, which is clearly the case here, is a violation too of civil rights.
That the legal system in the Six Counties is being used in this way should come as no surprise to those familiar with the operation of colonial law or indeed to any readers of Brigadier Frank Kitson’s Low Intensity Operations (1971)8. Kitsoncompletedthe book while on military service in the Six Counties but mainly drawing on his experiences in repression of resistance in Kenya and in Malaya in the 1950s. In the Six Counties Kitson was commander of 39 Airportable Brigade from September 1970 to April 1972, with responsibility for one of the British Army’s three main regional sub-commands in the Six Counties, the greater Belfast and Eastern area.
One of the units under Kitson’s command, 1st Para, was the main actor in killing and wounding a large number of civilians in Ballymurphy in July 1971 and in Derry’s Bloody Sunday in January 1972.
The Military Reaction Force, a special covert operations unit, was based at Kitson’s headquarters in Palace Barracks outside Belfast. Last November (2013), a BBC ‘Panorama’ investigative program on British counterinsurgency in the Six Counties in the early 1970s featured members of the MRF admitting to the murder of suspects and unarmed Catholic civilians.
Back in April 1972, within a few weeks of Bloody Sunday and his receipt of a CBE for his service in the Six Counties, Brigadier Kitson was flown to England to head the Infantry School at Warminster and Low Intensity Operations would become a British Army manual on counterinsurgency and counter-subversion.
In that book, Kitson approvingly quoted another repression “expert”9:
“…the Law should be used as just another weapon in the government’s arsenal, and in this case it becomes little more than a propaganda cover for the disposal of unwanted members of the public. For this to happen efficiently, the activities of the legal services have to be tied into the war effort in as discreet a way as possible..”
And so it has been in the Six Counties (and long before Kitson described its operation): the legal system being “just another weapon in the government’s arsenal.” At the moment, the “unwanted members of the public” being “disposed” of are Irish Republicans who do not agree with the Good Friday agreement and who organise to oppose British colonialism, some with arms but most through political agitationn — “unwanted” by British imperialism and Six County capitalism, that is. Their treatment should be enough to bring democratic people out in oppositon to these state practices but should it not do so, those people may wish to consider that tomorrow those designated as “unwanted members of the public” may be people protesting cuts in services, fracking operations, privatisation, or militant trade unionists ….
1 A movement for Irish autonomy within the UK (or, later, Commonwealth) between 1870 and 1914. Teachtaí Dála: Members of the Irish Parliament
7 Even now a case is being taken by the Irish state against the British state to the European Court of Human Rights, over the torture of 14 victims of that internment. The Irish Government took the case of the 14 “hooded men” to the ECHR in the 1970s and won a judgement that the men had been tortured; however the British state appealed the verdict and it was changed to “cruel and inhuman treatment” (!). The Irish Government left the case there but recently RTÉ, the Irish TV broadcasting service, screened their programme The Torture Files based on documentation uncovered by the Pat Finucane Centre, showing the British Government had lied to the ECHR. Amnesty International publicly called on the Irish Government to reopen the case with the ECHR.
The month of January is the start of the year, according to the calendar most of us use but, for the Celts and some other peoples, it was the last month of winter, which had begun in November, after the feast of Samhain.
I am notified of many birthdays in January from among my Facebook friends. That would seem to indicate a higher rate of conception at the end of March/ early April and onwards but a quick search on the internet did not supply me comparative figures. However, in our climate, new food begins to be available inland in January as salmon arrive to spawn and with sheep lactating from February. Onwards from there, plants begin to grow again and birds lay eggs, animals give birth and so on. The pregnant mother needs a ready supply of food to sustain a viable pregnancy.
Though January may be a month of births, from what I see of history it is also a month of deaths … early, unnatural deaths …. of executions, in fact. These particular executions to which I refer took place in Ireland and in the United States of America and they were carried out by the respective states of those countries.
Executions by the Irish Free State
This week saw the anniversary of five such executions, on the 15th January 1923 — executions by the Free State of IRA Volunteers. Four of these were in Roscrea and the fifth was in Carlow:Vol.F. Burke; Vol.Patrick Russell; Vol.Martin Shea; Vol.Patrick MacNamara; Vol.James Lillis.
They were not the first executions by the Free State: eight had been executed the previous November and thirteen in December. The killing for the new year of 1923 had begun with five in Dublin on the 8th January and another three in Dundalk.
Nor were those executed on the 15th January to be the last for that month: on the 20th another eleven stood against a wall to be shot by soldiers of the Irish state; on the 22nd, another three; on the 25th, two more; and another four on the 26th before the month’s toll of 34 had been reached. As we progress through the year, each month will contain the anniversary of an executed volunteer and in all but one, multiple executions.
Apart from those who died while fighting, seventy-seven Volunteers and two other supporters of the struggle were officially executed by the Irish Free State between November 1922 and 29th December 1923. In addition there were many (106-155) murdered without being acknowledged by Free State forces — shot (sometimes after torture) and their bodies dumped in streets, on mountains, in quarries .…1
These deeds and others led to the composition of a number of songs, among the best of which are in my opinionMartyrs of ’22 (sung to the air of The Foggy Dew) and Take It Down from the Mast. The latter was written in 1923 by James Ryan, containing two verses about the Six Counties which one doesn’t normally hear sung. Dominic Behan in the 1950s added a verse of his own about the four executions by the State in reprisal for the assassination of TD Sean Hales, when the State deliberately shot one Volunteer from each province, each of whom had been in custody when the assassination took place: Rory O’Connor, Liam Mellows, Richard Barrett, Joseph McKelvey, Dominic Behan recorded the latter in the 1950s: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-b2EL8Jytao
This was the bloody baptism of the new state, a neo-colony state of twenty-six counties on a partitioned island, with six counties remaining a British colony.
MARTYRS OF ’22
When they heard the call of a cause laid low, They sprang to their guns again; And the pride of all was the first to fall — The glory of our fighting men. In the days to come when with pipe and drum, You’ll follow in the ways they knew, When their praise you’ll sing, let the echoes ring To the memory of Cathal Brugha.
Brave Liam Lynch on the mountainside Felll a victim to the foe And Danny Lacey for Ireland died in the Glen of Aherlow Neil Boyle and Quinn from the North came down To stand with the faithful and true And we’ll sing their praise in the freedom days ‘Mong the heroes of ’22.
Some fell in the proud red rush of war And some by the treacherous blow, Like the martyrs four in Dublin Town, And their comrades at Dromboe: And a hundred more in barrack squares and by lonely roadsides too: Without fear they died and we speak with pride of the martyrs of ’22.
Executions of “Molly Maguires”
Wednesday, 14th January, was the anniversary of the executions of James McDonnell and Charles Sharp at Mauch Chunk jail, Pennsylvania. Both had been accused of being “Molly Maguires”, a resistance group of workers, mostly miners, in the Pennsylvania region. Today, the 16th, is the anniversary of the execution of another “Molly”, Martin Bergin; 20 were executed over two years. And many more had been murdered in their homes or ambushed — many others had been beaten; these activities were carried out by “vigilantes” hired by the coal-mine owners and by Iron & Coal Guards, also employed by them.
The exact origin of the name Molly Maguires is uncertain but they were among a number of agrarian resistance organizations of previous years in Ireland; according to accounts, they gathered at night wearing women’s smocks over their clothes to attack landlords and their agents. Since these smocks tended to be white in colour, Whiteboys or Buachaillí Bána was another name for them.
Somewhat Ironically, the state of Pennsylvania was itself named after a man with connections to Ireland: William Penn’s father, the original William, had commanded a ship in the Royal Navy during the suppression of the Irish uprising in 1641, for which he had been given estates in Ireland by Cromwell.
His son, William went to live on the Irish estates for a while and was suppressing Irish resistance there in 1666. Not lot long afterwards he became a Quaker in Cork.
In 1681 the younger Penn’s efforts to combine a number of Quaker settlements in what is now the eastern United States were successful when he was granted a charter by King Charles II to develop the colony. The governance principles he outlined there are credited with influencing the later Constitution of the United States. Charles II added the name “Penn” to William’s chosen name of “Sylvania” for the colony, in honour of the senior Penn’s naval service (he had by then become an Admiral).
Less than two hundred years later, Pennsylvania was one of the United States of America and the anthracite coal discovered there was being mined by US capitalists. The mine owners squeezed their workers as hard as they could and regularly replaced them with workers who were emigrating in mass to the United States in the mid-19th Century.
According to James D. Horan and Howard Swiggett, who wrote The Pinkerton Story sympathetically about the detective agency, about 22,000 coal miners worked in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, at this time and 5,500 of these (a quarter) were children between the ages of seven and sixteen years. According to Richard M. Boyer and Herbert M. Morais in Labor’s Untold Story, the children earned between one and three dollars a week separating slate from the coal. Miners who were to injured or too old to work at the coal face were put to picking out slate at the “breakers”, crushing machines for breaking the coal into manageable sizes. In that way, many of the elderly miners finished their mining days as they had begun in their youth. The life of the miners was a “bitter, terrible struggle” (Horan and Swiggett).
Workers who were illiterate and immigrants without English were unable to read safety notices, such as they were. In addition immigrants faced discrimination and Irish Catholics, who began to arrive in large numbers in the United States after the Great Hunger of 1845-1849 faced particular discrimination although (or because) most spoke English (as a second language to Irish, in many cases). The mine-owners often employed Englishmen and Welsh as supervisors and police which also led to divisions along ethnic lines.
As well as wages being low and working conditions terrible, with deaths and serious injuries at work in their hundreds every year, the mine-owners cut corners by failing to ensure good pit props and refused to install safety features such as ventilating or pumping systems or emergency exits. Boyer and Morais quote statistics of 566 miners killed and 1,655 seriously injured over a seven-year period (Labor, the Untold Story).
In 1869 a fire at the Avondale Mine in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, cost the lives of 110 miners. There had been no emergency exit for the men’s escape. It is a measure of the influence of the mine and iron capitalists that the jury at the inquest into the deaths did not apportion blame to the mine-owner, although it did add a rider recommending the instalation of emergency exits in all mines.
Earlier at the scene, as the bodies were being recovered from the mine, a man had mounted a wagon to address the thousands of miners who had arrived from surrounding communities: “Men, if you must die with your boots on, die for your families, your homes, your country, but do not longer consent to die, like rats in a trap, for those who have no more interest in you than in the pick you dig with.”
The speaker was John Siney, a leader of the Workingmen’s Benevolent Association, a trade union that had been organizing among the miners for some time; his words were a call to unionize and thousands did so there and then and over the following days.
Trade union organisers in the USA throughout the 19th Century (and later) were routinely subject to harassment, threats and often much worse and the workers at times responded in kind. Shooting and stabbing incidents were far from unknown, with fifty unexplained murders in Schuykill County between 1863 and 1867. The mine-owners had the Coal and Iron Police force and were known to hire additional “vigilantes” to intimidate and punish trade union organisers. They also hired the Pinkerton Detective Agency to gather intelligence on union organisers and on the Molly Maguires.
The employers watched concerned as the WBA trade union grew to 30,000 strong with around 85% membership among the coal miners of the area, including nearly all the Irish. The “Great Panic” of 1873 changed the situation. A stock crash due to over-expansion was followed by a decrease in the money supply and staggering levels of unemployment followed. As is often the case, the capitalists maintained their life-styles while claiming inability to pay living wages to their workers. As is often the case too, they used the opportunity of high unemployment to force worse wages and conditions upon the workers.
One of those capitalists owned two-thirds of the mines in the southeastern Pennsylvania area; he was Franklin B. Gowen, owner of the Reading & Philadelphia Railroad and of the Reading & Philadelphia Coal & Iron Company. Gowen was determined to break the WBA and formed his own union of employers, the Anthracite Board of Trade; in December 1874 they announced a 20% cut in wages for their workers. On 1st January 1875 the WBA brought their members out on strike.
The history of the coal mines of Pennsylvania and their terrible conditions and mortality in the 19th Century, the extreme exploitation of the mine-owners’ systems and their use of prejudiced and corrupt courts, media and vigilantes to have their way, is a long one. The history of the workers’ resistance is also a long one and the “Molly Maguires” were a part of it. Their own history is also dogged by controversy, with some even doubting the existence of the Mollies, claiming that the secret society was an invention of the employers to create panic and to associate the unionized workers with violence in the minds of the public. The brief notes following are part of a narrative accepted by some historians but not by others.
In order to defend themselves, the miners developed two types of organisation which, in many areas where the workers were Irish, existed side by side. One was the Workingmen’s Benevolent Association, a trade union the methods of which were those of industrial action, demonstrations and attempts to use the legal system in order to improve working conditions and gain better remuneration for the workers.The leaders of the WBA condemned violence used by workers as well, of course, as denouncing the employers’ violence.
The other was the Molly Maguires, a secret oath-bound society which organized under the cover of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. The AOH in turn was a self-help or fraternal organization for Catholics of Irish origin, mostly in the Irish diaspora, particularly in the USA, where early Catholic Irish migrants had encountered much hostility and discrimination from the WASP establishment and from “nativist” groups. In keeping with the history of their namesakes, the Molly Maguires of the USA were prepared to use violence in response to the violence of their employers.
In March1875, Edward Coyle, a leading member of the union and of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, was murdered, as was another member of the AOH; a miners’ meeting was attacked and a mine-owner fired into a group of miners (Boyer and Morais).
Reprisals by the Mollies followed as attacks on their members and the miners in general escalated. These attacks were carried out by State police, the Coal and Iron Police of the mine-owners and in particular by the “Vigilantes”, also hired by the mine-owners.
The information supplied by the Pinkerton Agents in their daily reports, although often only initial speculations from surveillance, were used to target individuals who were then often murdered2. One of the Pinkerton agents, James McParlan3from Co. Armagh, who hadpenetrated the Mollies under cover of the alias “James McKenna”, was reportedly furious that his reports were being used to target people for the “Vigilantes”, including people he considered innocent. His job as he saw it was to gather information which would stand up in court to convict the leading Mollies, sentence them to death and break the organisation. Although his employer tried to pacify him in fact Alan Pinkerton himself had urged the mine-owners to employ “vigilantes”.
The mine-owners pursued a dual strategy of violence against Mollies and other leaders and members of the WBA, while also preparing legal charges against trade union officials and collecting evidence to have the Mollies tried for murder. The courts collaborated, as did the mass media. Much of the clergy were not found wanting either and denounced the union leaders to their congregations.
The state militia and the Coal and Iron Police patrolled the district, maintaining an intimidatory presence during the strike. On May 12th John Siney, a leader of the WBA was arrested at a demonstration against the importation of strike-breakers. Siney had opposed the strike and advocated seeking arbitration. Another 27 union officials were arrested on conspiracy charges. Judge Owes’ words while sentencing two of them are indicative of the side on which the legal system was, at least in Pennsylvania in 1875:
“I find you, Joyce, to be President of the Union and you, Maloney, to be Secretary and therefore I sentence you to one year’s imprisonment.”
Stories appeared in the media of strikes as far away as Jersey City in Illinois and in the Ohio mine-fields, all allegedly inspired by the Mollies. Much of the anti-union propaganda in the media was directly provided by Gowen who planted stories therein of murder and arson by the secret society.
With the workers starving and deaths among children and the infirm, surrounded by armed representatives of the employers and the state militia (also friendly to the employers), their leaders arrested, the union nearly collapsed and the strike was broken, miners going back to work on a 20% cut in their wages. The strike had lasted six months but the Mollies fought on and McPartland noted increased support for them, including among union members who had earlier declined to support their methods.
When the Mollies were brought to trial in a number of different court cases of irregular conduct, Gowen had himself appointed as Chief Prosecutor by the State. One of the accused, Kerrigan, turned state’s evidence and his and McPartland’s evidence helped send 10 Molly Maguires to their deaths:Michael Doyle, Edward Kelly, Alex Campbell, McGeehan, Carroll, Duffy, James Boyle, James Roarity, Tom Munley, McAllister.
In that area and in many other major industrial areas across the United States throughout the rest of that century and well into the next, employers continued to use spies and “vigilantes”, company police, local law enforcement agencies, state militia, labour-hostile press, fixed juries and biased judges to break workers’ defence organisations, often martyring their leaders and supporters.
A number of books have been published about the Molly Maguires and their story of has been dramatised in the film of the name (1970), starring Sean Connery as Jack Kehoe and Richard Harris as McPartland. The Mollies have also been celebrated in a number of songs, among which the lyrics of the Dubliner’s version is probably the worst and those of The Sons of Molly Maguire are the best I have heard (see Youtube recording link below end of article).
In June 2013 the East Wall History Group organized a talk on the Mollies by US Irish author John Kearns at the Sean O’Casey Centre in Dublin’s North Wall area (video of the talk and audio of a radio interview with the author are accessible from this link:http://eastwallforall.ie/?p=1505).
In 1979, on a petition by one of John “Black Jack” Kehoe’s descendants and after an official investigation, Governor of Pennsylvania Milton Shapp posthumously pardoned Kehoe, who had proclaimed his innocence until his death (as had Alex Campbell). Shapp praised Kehoe and the others executed as “martyrs to labor” and heroes in a struggle for fair treatment for workers and the building of their trade union.
The Sons of Molly Maguire:
1 I gratefully acknowledge the listing of that wonderful voluntary and non-party organisation, the Irish National Graves Association, which has done such important work to document and honour those who have fallen in the struggle for freedom of the people of our land http://www.nga.ie/Civil%20War-77_Executions.php