D. Breatnach


At a little past 6am on 26th April 1916, the SS Tynwald and SS Patriotic, two British troop-ships, had berthed in Dun Laoghaire harbour. The harbour and town had been renamed Kingstown by Unionist elements when King George IV came to visit the new port under construction in 1821. Although the town returned to its former name in 1920, it was known as “Kingstown” by most people in 1916, whatever their allegiance.

The troopships had been requested by General Maxwell, who had been given the responsibility for suppression of the Easter Rising, which was now in its third day. Several British thousand troops from the 59th Midland division began to disembark on a bright sunny morning. Hundreds of civilians went down to see them despite the early hour. Many in that town, especially around the seafront and some of the big houses, would have been sympathetic to the British – but by no means all and no doubt some eyes were noting the arrivals in order to report to the insurgents.

Around 9am, disembarkation completed, the soldiers were formed up and inspected, equipment checked and the Sherwood Foresters set off marching towards Dublin city centre, seven miles away, to be followed by Nottingham and Derby regiments around 10.30hrs. Their forces appear to have split up, with two Battalions marching to the city along the coast road and another two heading inland.

To reach the city centre from Dun Laoghaire, the most direct route is to proceed northward along the coast to Mount Merrion. Once there, the coast road goes through the railway level crossing to the right and continues along the seafront, into Ringsend and then along what is now Pearse Street to Trinity College. The British officers did not lead their men in that direction, perhaps because they had received intelligence of the Boland’s Mill strongpoint along their route. There would be no going past that without first taking it, which might prove a lengthy and difficult battle.

But one could avoid that by not turning right at Mount Merrion and instead continuing on what has become the main road, through Ballsbridge and Northumberland Road, across the Grand Union Canal at Mount Street Bridge, past the fashionable Merrion Square and into Nasseau Street and the city centre. That seemed the obvious choice, not just because of the Jacob’s garrison but also because at Mount Street Bridge was located Beggars’ Bush Barracks, one of the many such of the British Army in Dublin city.

Northumberland Road looking southwards. The Irish insurgents first saw the British troops coming up this road.

Northumberland Road looking southwards. The Irish insurgents first saw the British troops coming up this road.  The Parochial Hall and Schoolhouse are to the left but out of the photo.  The canal is behind the photographer.  (Photo D.Breatnach)

Before the British troops arrived in the area, a female courier, probably Cumann na mBan, had brought news of the troops landed in Dún Laoghaire and that they were heading towards them to the insurgents waiting in the Mount Street Bridge area.

At around noon a burst of fire hit the forward sections of the British troops marching in from Dun Laoghaire. When fired upon, in order to find effective cover, it is important to know from where the firing is coming but the soldiers were unsure. No. 25 Northumberland Road, a house at the junction with Haddington Road, seemed to some to be the source of the firing but by how many was unknown.

Screams from wounded men filled the air in the quiet suburban upper-middle class and largely Loyalist residential street.

Soldiers began to maneouver to outflank No.25 Northumberland Road and a detachment reached Baggot Street Bridge, further west, which was apparently undefended. From there it is a straight road into Stephens Green and the southside city centre. The rest of the soldiers were not led by their officers in that direction, a decision which was to cost them dearly. Instead, shortly after being fired upon, at least two British platoons attacked 25 Northumberland Road but were driven back in disarray by fire from the building’s upper floors; yet as they turned they were also shot down in droves.

Perhaps under cover of that assault, at around 1pm some of the 2/7th Battalion Sherwood Foresters got past the corner house and made their way on to Percy Place, which runs along the south side of the canal between Mount Street and Baggot Street bridges. Now they came under fire from in front and from their left. They huddled for cover along the Canal.

The fire from the left of the British at this point was coming at long distance from the towers of Jacob’s Factory in Bishop Street, one of the insurgent strongpoints. A defensive line with insufficient mobilised insurgent numbers to hold it for very long stretched from Jacob’s down to the railway connecting Dublin and Dun Laoghaire and to Boland’s Mill beside it, overlooking the south bank of the Liffey. Roughly in the middle of this chain or defensive line were the Irish Volunteers in the Mount Street Bridge area, an outpost of the Boland’s Mill garrison.  The total strength of the insurgent force defending that area had been 17 Volunteers but two had been sent home, being thought too young.   

New Clanwilliam House, Mount Street, north side of the Royal Cana. Looking eastward.

New Clanwilliam House, Mount Street, north side of the Royal Canal, looking eastward. The Bridge and Canal are to the right but out of shot. (Photo D.Breatnach)

The Schoolhouse, Northumberland Road, today (a snack-cafe nowadays). The Bridge is to the right; the British troops were advancing along the road from the right.

The Schoolhouse, Northumberland Road, today (a snack-cafe nowadays). The Bridge is to the right; the British troops were advancing along the road from the right.

Incredible as it seemed to the British when they learned of it later, there were only two Volunteers in No.25 Northumberland Road: 27 year-old Volunteer Lieutenant Michael Malone, a carpenter by trade, and Section Commander James Grace. In the Schoolhouse on the right-hand side just before the Bridge, there were two Volunteers. Next to that building was the Parochial Hall, held by four men: P.J. Doyle in command, Joe Clarke, William Christian and J. McGrath. Clanwilliam House, across the canal on the right-hand corner with the junction with Mount Street Lower, was occupied by seven Volunteers; the frontal fire hitting the British was coming from there.

The British were scattered around gardens and behind the granite steps leading up the to front doors of the elegant houses in the street. Their officers called them out and they launched an attack on the Schoolhouse in Northumberland Road. As they charged up the road they came under fire from across the Canal from Clanwilliam House; about a dozen reached the Schoolhouse but they left many bodies behind. And they were still coming under fire from across the Canal too.

The officers now attempted to outflank Mount Street Bridge and Northumberland Road by advancing along Shelbourne Road to the east but were stopped as they came under fire from Volunteers along the railway line and from positions in and around Horan’s Shop nearby.

The column advancing from Dun Laoghaire had set up a temporary HQ in Ballsbridge Town Hall. Incredibly, the officers there, receiving regular dispatches reporting their troops being slaughtered around Mount Street Bridge and, presumably, knowing that other troops had found Baggot Street Bridge undefended, continued to press for an advance across the killing field.

But at least the officers on the battlefield for the time being seem to have had enough of death-or-glory charges, which were bringing plenty of death and no glory. The soldiers are now crawling along the road but whenever any are visible, which is often, they are being fired at. Clanwilliam House is wreathed in smoke.

Mauser Model 71 small

The Mauser Mark 71

The weapon the Volunteers were using was almost certainly the Mauser Model 71, the weapon of most Volunteers and Irish Citizen Army during the Rising; 1,500 had been been delivered in two landings in July 1914, first at Howth, north Dublin and then at Kilcoole, Wicklow. It had been the first cartridge rifle adopted by the Prussian Army in 1872 which by 1914 had gone on to another more advanced model, presumably the reason that the rifle was being sold cheaply. The Model 71 fired a larger bullet than the British Army standard-issue Lee Enfield .303 but did not have a magazine, each cartridge having to be ejected and anew one inserted before firing again; its rate of fire was only four or five rounds a minute. The Lee Enfield took a ten-bullet magazine and the British Army were trained to fire fifteen rounds a minute. Despite this, the occupants in Clanwillian House and in No.25 in particular were able to lay down a tremendous rate of fire. Their guns grew so hot they burned to the touch and they had to cool them with wet rags. Down below, British officers blew their whistles and soldiers carried out more charges, only to be cut down by the Volunteers’ rifle fire.

During the late afternoon, a nurse ran on to the road and began treating the wounded British soldiers. The Volunteers agreed to a ceasefire as doctors and nurses from Sir Patrick Dunne’s hospital nearby went into Northumberland Road. But after a while the British attempted to use the ceasefire to advance their positions and the Volunteers ended it. Those wounded still to be tended lay where they were. This had been very different situation to what was to be seen in other areas of Dublin during the Rising, when British troops refused to allow wounded to be taken out unless the insurgents surrendered and when they accused Nurse Elizabeth Farrell of being a spy and tore her Red Cross bibfront off her.

The British got a machine gun up to the bell-tower of the church on Haddington Road so that they could fire over the roofs of the houses at Clanwilliam House, the bullets knocking chips off the outer walls and zipping through windows. They were also being backed by rifle snipers.

British soldiers recommenced attacking No.25, now with hand grenades as well as rifle fire. Finally they got close enough to blow the door in with explosives but incredibly were fired upon from inside as they tried to gain entry, injuring a number of them. They hurled grenades in and after they exploded, dashed in again. Coming down the stairs to meet them was Volunteer Lieutenant Michael Malone, his pipe in his mouth and was shot dead.

Section Commander James Grace had been downstairs using a cooker as cover from bullets and shrapnel and such was the bomb damage to the room that the British assumed anyone in there had to be dead. There was still plenty of fighting to do – they had not even crossed the Canal yet.

If they believed that two men alone had held out against repeated assaults for four hours and had inflicted such damage upon them, they must have been very fearful leaving No.25. But perhaps they thought there had been others who must have escaped in the last minutes. James Grace did escape to get out of the area after lying low for some hours; however he was arrested some days later.

With No.25 taken, the Sherwood Foresters are soon able to take the Parochial Hall but they find it empty. The garrison of four Volunteers had run out of rifle ammunition and evacuated into Percy Place, where British troops, who were now all around the area, captured them.

An officer takes Volunteer Joe Clarke‘s loaded pistol off him, puts him with his back to a door and fires at him. Missing Joe, the bullet goes through the door to where a doctor is attending to injured British soldiers. He storms out in rage, berating the officer and Joe Clarke’s life is saved (he continued active in the IRA and in Republican politics nearly until his death in 1976 at the age of 94).

British soldiers are occupying nearby houses for cover and for firing positions and they are also crouched behind the low wall along Percy Place. They are still being hit. Now, they attack the Schoolhouse from its front, running across enfilading fire from Clanwilliam House to their left as they attack and from other positions to their front. When they enter, they find the Schoolhouse unoccupied by any Volunteer, alive or dead. However, their storm of bullets during the attack has riddled the bodies of its caretaker and his wife.

The cost to the British has been enormous but they have at last taken the southern side of the Canal around Mount Street Bridge. Across it, waiting for them, is Clanwilliam House. And to the east, their right-hand side, snipers at Boland’s Mill and nearby positions are also firing at them.

Now the officers order forward their reserves who had been sheltering in St Mary’s Road. The soldiers charge for the Bridge, answering to their discipline and their officers as they and many like them will do across the WWI battlefields of Europe, Greece, Turkey and Russia for another three years. It is partly against this slaughter that James Connolly led the men and women of the Irish Citizen Army out this week. One of the ICA’s detachments is not far away, under the command of Michael Malin and Constance Markievicz, in the College of Surgeons on the side of Stephens Green and they have already taken casualties.

Despite the covering fire from the Vickers Machine Gun firing incendiary bullets from St Mary’s Church, this charge too is driven back, their casualties adding to the pile of khaki-clad bodies and wounded on Northumberland Road, the Canal banks and the Bridge.

Around 8pm, the British are finally across Mount Street Bridge. An officer was in the charge, one of their few unwounded, and is at Clanwilliam House’s outer walls. Firing continues from the windows of this last insurgent bastion and from the east, a hail of Mauser death is still hitting the Bridge and the northern side of the Canal.

The British are now close enough to throw grenades but one, thrown by a British NCO, bounced back from a second floor window and exploded next to his head, killing him. The British begin to make their way into the now-burning Clanwilliam House but are forced to retreat by the flames, leaving the fire to consume the bodies of the presumed dead Volunteers inside. They will not know now how many there were. In fact, there were only seven Volunteers, three are dead and the remaining four have escaped out the back.

Clanwilliam House after the Rising

Clanwilliam House after the Rising

The four survivors of the Clanwilliam House garrison.

The four survivors of the Clanwilliam House garrison.

Ninety-nine years ago in the Battle of Mount Street Bridge, despite having only single-shot rifles and some pistols, the  Volunteers held off two British Battalions, numbering approximately1,600 between them, for five hours. Approximately 234 men (including 18 officers) of the British Army had become casualties at the hands of fifteen insurgents.

Mount Street Battle Monument on the south side of the Bridge. (Photo D.Breatnach)

Mount Street Battle Monument on the Bridge

Mount St Bridge Gaeilge pla

Part of the memorial on the south side of the canal. (Photo D.Breatnach)



Article in drawing on When The Clock Struck in 1916 – Close-Quarter Combat in the Easter Rising by Derek Molyneux and Darren Kelly, Collins Press, at €17.99.

Remembering the Past – the battle of Mount Street Bridge, by Aengus O Snodaigh, article in

Article on the “Howth rifle” in



Diarmuid Breatnach

From time to time people are asked to join a political bloc of some type. Should one join or not?

A political bloc is an arrangement of temporary unity, of as little as some hours of duration, for example on a demonstration, or of weeks, perhaps in a campaign to get an agreed list (i.e. “a slate”) of candidates elected or to vote a particular amendment to a resolution being proposed.

Blocs may be of longer duration, as for example with the Bolshevik bloc in the lead-up to the Russian socialist revolution. This last example is illustrative of the nature of blocs, which are generally not only for something but also against, or at least different to something else. There was a whole mass of political factions against Kerensky’s government in 1917 but the Bolshevik leadership sought to create a bloc not only against Kerensky and his followers’ maneuverings but also different to that of the Mensheviks and the Socialist Revolutionaries. What the Bolsheviks were for, apart from the slogan “All power to the Soviets” (the workers’, soldiers’ and sailors’ councils and assemblies), was a revolution as soon as possible, the overthrow of the capitalist-monarchist State and the creation of a socialist one (as well as pulling the Russian Army out of World War One).

Although the facts of the successful overthrow of the state and withdrawal from the War are not usually questioned by historians or political theorists, the fate of that state is. And the bloc itself had a very mixed history after the Revolution.

But what essentially is the purpose of blocs? Are they composed of like-minded people who don’t want to belong to a political party-type organisation, or perhaps of people of a variety of party political allegiances, but who want to join for the moment to promote a general idea? Or are they attempts by one group to create hegemony, to bring people of different perceptions together in temporary action, with the intention of building a more permanent organisation? Or perhaps crudely an attempt by one (or two) organisations to recruit members to their own organisations? I have over the years participated in blocs and it seems to me that different blocs have at different times been each one of those things. So I ask myself, is that ok? As political activists, should we consider blocs a legitimate type of temporary political organisation? Is each of those purposes outlined above of equal value?

A Black Bloc against repression in Germany -- location and year uncertain

A Black Bloc against repression in Germany — location and year uncertain

Around this time of year in 2010, early on in the protests against austerity, although then called “Right to Work”, back in the last year of the Fianna Fáil/ Green Party coalition government, there was a bloc formed for participating in demonstrations against the bank bailouts and consequent cuts in social spending and wages being imposed or proposed by that Coalition Government. Called the “Anti-Capitalist Bloc”, it seemed composed in the main of the anarchist WSM and what would often be described as “dissident Republicans”, chief among which at the time was the Éirigí organisation. There was a fair sprinkling of non-aligned activists (i.e. not belonging to any party or particular organisation) whose politics could be described variously as socialist republican, anarchist or communist.

Anti-Capitalist Bloc in Dawson Street, Dublin, marching to join anti-austerity demonstration at Dáíl in 2010

Anti-Capitalist Bloc in Dawson Street, Dublin, marching to join anti-austerity demonstration at Dáíl in 2010

This bloc gathered at a different rallying point to the rest of the Right to Work march but marched to meet it at the Dáil. In that role, it survived I think three demonstrations. The first one was attacked by police after the demonstrators refused to be prevented from marching to join the other demonstration.

What was the purpose of this bloc, at least in the eyes of its organisers? I have no documentation to hand but as I recall, it was to say something like: “the problem is not this or that economic measure or this or that party or government; the problem is capitalism itself.” It seemed to be implying that therefore we needed a revolution. I would and did agree with such a statement and with its implication. Not only did I agree with it

Black Bloc against the EU, possibly a section of the

Black Bloc against the EU, possibly a section of the “March for an Alternative” in London in March 2011.

but it seems to me a crucial point to make, if we are to end our vulnerability to the vagaries of the capitalist system’s fortunes and to its particular rapacity at various times.

This was a message clearly different from that of some sections of opposition to the Government: SIPTU and the ICTU were saying that there was a fairer way of sharing the burden, which was about what Sinn Féin was saying with “Tá bealach níos fearr/There is a better way”.

Reformist trade union slogan on anti-austerity march in 2010

Reformist trade union slogan on anti-austerity march in 2010

But could those participants in the bloc not have presented that point of view while still joining the other demonstration at its rallying point and marching with it? Perhaps – by each person being given specific placards, for example, agreeing a joint leaflet or by having speakers to represent their point of view. But all of those present difficulties – the production of an agreed placard slogan to say nothing of the difficulties of agreeing a leaflet. And a speaker might not be permitted by the organisers of the rest of the demonstration or their message would get lost among the others being put forward, even if the speech itself could be agreed by the bloc in advance. All the bloc participants could dress in a similar colour (like the “Black Bloc” on some demonstrations overseas in the past). But a separate bloc, marching behind a banner with a slogan with which each bloc participant could agree, was surely the least complicated way to deliver that message – and very visible. The police who attacked it certainly must have thought so.

Sinn Féin demonstration at the Dail in 2010 -- all totally reformist slogans apart from possibly the "Don't Pay the Bankers" slogan

Sinn Féin demonstration at the Dail in 2010 — all totally reformist slogans apart from possibly the “Don’t Pay the Bankers” slogan

There is another factor in such a way of organising a bloc – it permits a visible assessment of its size, of the identities of its participants (unless they go masked, as many of the Black Blocs abroad did). Of course this has a down side also in that the state’s political police can take notes on the participants for the purpose of their files. But it has a positive effect too in terms of future progressive and revolutionary action. A mailing list can be compiled for calling to future events, individuals can be introduced to other like-minded individuals, organisations can get to cooperate – all factors militating against the fragmentation of the radical and revolutionary sector.

Some people on the other part of the march accused the Anti-Capitalist Bloc of being politically sectarian. Perhaps some even thought them elitist. These are of course dangers. But was it or was it not an important statement to make, that the problem was not the governing party but the system, and that a revolution was necessary? And if it was an important point to make, was such an eye-catching way of making it not justified?

Let’s consider what happened in the months and years afterwards and where we are now. In the face of a wide-scale howl of protest at the bank deals of the Government, their economic measures, and recent individual politician scandals, Fianna Fáil were deserted by their Green Party coalition partners. FF dumped their leader and elected a new one for their party and for the Government. It was all too little, too late and they were obliged to agree to a general election, the result of which was that FF’s number of TDs (elected representatives) was cut by nearly 80%, the greatest electoral defeat suffered by either of the main political parties in the history of the state. And the Green Party was wiped out as an electoral force, almost disappearing entirely off the political map.

The electoral verdict otherwise was mixed. The main rival of FF, Fine Gael, got the most votes with the social democratic Labour getting the next largest amount. Sinn Féin jumped from four to fourteen, a Trotskyist party and a different Trotskyist led-alliance got four between them for the first time, twenty Independents were elected, most of them left-wing. But whether socialist, republican, conservative or social-democratic, all candidates had been elected on platforms of opposition to the deals the previous government had made with the banks and with the EEC’s banking regulators.

Despite that, Fine Gael and Labour formed a coalition government and proceeded — in fact — to endorse what their predecessors had done and furthermore, to intensify a regime of austerity on working people, introducing three new taxes and supporting legislation to squeeze the people still further. The message of the Anti-Capitalist Bloc was vindicated.

Would the whole demonstration marching under a banner of “Overthrow Capitalism” have significantly changed that electoral result? Extremely unlikely. But it would have posed the question to the participants and to observers. It would have effected subsequent campaigns of resistance to austerity measures and additional taxes. And it would have built a much wider consensus eight or nine years later that the overthrow of capitalism was the only solution with perhaps a growing consensus that such an outcome was possible.

Because here we are now nine years after those three appearances of the Anti-Capitalist Bloc and once again it seems a general election is looming. Once again, we see other political parties pushing forward to be elected on programs without any perspective of overthrowing capitalism. Political alliances based on continuing the system are being mooted. On social media one sees calls for for kicking out Fine Gael or Labour or both, rather than capitalism. On demonstrations against the Water Tax we hear slogans against Enda Kenny, leader of Fine Gael, or against the Labour Party – but few against the capitalist system. Sinn Fein seek to cut down Labour as they court the social democratic vote which, in the past, they have largely ignored (for example, they have little history in the trade union movement). The Trotskyist groups will also attack Labour, also going for the social-democratic vote as they have traditionally done.

Most people feel that the Government will fall soon but when they pose alternatives they are doing so within the framework of capitalism. That means that same class that commanded the deal with the banks and with the EU will remain in power. Their representatives in government will change but the class will remain. And if they remain, their exploitation remains. Not only that but in the present economic climate, their austerity program will remain too – perhaps with some tweaks here and there but austerity still.

A determined campaign of political leadership over the past nine years giving a clear direction of the need to overthrow capitalism could have us in a very different political position now.

So, the next time we get a call to join a bloc for a demonstration, should we rush to it? Well, not necessarily. Let us question what the bloc is for and what it aims to do. Is the bloc in question a tactic, for example like the Black Bloc, where we identify a revolutionary opposition by colour and also, by masking, make it harder for the State to identify us? There may well be a time and place for such. Or is it to declare a revolutionary principle such as “capitalism is the problem; revolution is necessary’? Or “Non-Payment of the Water Charge is what is required”? Then it seems to me that the answer is that yes, we should.

But if it is to draw some particular lines of political affiliation, for example to say that although the participants may belong to separate organisations or none, “we are all communists” or “we are all republicans” or “we are all anarchists”, then I fail to see how that helps the popular resistance movement proceed forward at all, to say nothing of revolution. If that is the purpose of a bloc, it is fine for the followers of that particular ideology but they would be best fulfilling it by holding public meetings and conferences.

On the street, we need to be motivating observers for participation in resistance, and motivating participants for unity in effective actions, for revolution. Motivation has an emotional component but also an ideological one and in that regard the message has to be to overthrow capitalism. At the moment it is that idea that needs to gain hegemony rather than any particular political party or organisation.




Diarmuid Breatnach

Most Basques and especially supporters of their most popular football team, Athletic Bilbao1, were very happy in the early evening of 5th April 2012 . 

Inigo Cabacas Gaztelugatxe

Inigo Cabacas, photographed with the Basque hermitage Gaztalugatxe, on the Biscay coast, in the background.

Their team had beaten a football giant in the UEFA cup twice and another premier European team once. The fans were expecting Athletic to win or at least draw again that evening, in which case Athletic Bilbao were through to the second leg of the quarter-finals. They had no idea that the evening would end with a police riot squad firing rubber bullets into a festive crowd, causing the death of a young fan.

The high expectations of that evening in Bilbao were the result of a run of wins for the Athletic team. On March 8th 2012, Athletic Bilbao beat Manchester United 3-2 on their own ground, at Old Trafford.

One needs to know a few population statistics to understand what an achievement that was. Manchester United is a football team on the world stage, based in a city with a population of 2.55 million – that is not far from the population figure for the entire Basque Country. In addition, Manchester United’s players are drawn from around the world; Athletic recruits only Basque players from a total population of the Basque Country of less than 3 million.

A week after their win in the northern England city, on March 13th, Athletic faced Manchester United again, this time on the Basque team’s home ground, San Mames, in Bilbao. Manchester Utd. were beaten 2-1 and it seemed that the Basque lions2 were unstoppable.

These wins created a huge interest in the next game, which was with FC Schalke 04 on March 29th at the German team’s home ground. Schalke plays in the top tier of the German football league and have won many championships including one UEFA League. With around 130,000 members, Schalke 04 is the third-largest sports club in the world in terms of membership, behind their compatriot rival FC Bayern Munich and Portuguese club SL Benfica.

Athletic Bilbao is not a sports conglomerate – it is a football club which is owned by its 40,000 members (remember, this is a small country – that’s nearly 1.5% of the whole population! It’s also around 11% of the population of their home base, Bilbao). The management board is elected by the membership.

At Schalke 04’s home ground on March 29th, the Bilbaino team beat them 2-4. The interest was therefore at fever-pitch for Athletic’s return match with the German team at Athletic’s home ground, San Mames on 5th April. The result was a 2-2 draw but Athletic were ahead 6-4 on aggregate and the fans were delighted. Bilbao was, as they say, buzzing.

After matches, young fans especially go to different pubs around town. Inigo Cabacas and many others went to an Herriko Taberna (a “Peoples’ Tavern”, i.e. one managed by the Abertzale [Basque pro-Independence] Left) which is located in an small “square” with planters, connected by alley with Licenciado Poza street. This small “square” is off the María Díaz de Haro street near the stadium; it runs parallell with the San Mames street itself, an area of bars well-known as a destination for fans after a game at the stadium.

The Herriko is too small to accommodate all those who gathered there but that was no problem for the area outside took the overspill. Early in the evening a few people were seen scuffling there and the rest of the crowd around them told them to knock it off, this was a time for celebration, etc. The scuffle ended and the festivities continued.

Some time later, a van load of police arrived. These were the Ertzaintza, a Basque Police force of 7,500 created in 1982 which has had numerous clashes with Basque strike pickets and with the Abertzale (pro-Independence) Left. Supporters of the Abertzale Left and many others refer to the Ertzaintza as “zipayos” (i.e. “sepoys”, local soldiers recruited by colonial occupiers). The Ertzaintza are responsible to the Basque Autonomous Region Government (CAV), a semi-autonomous entity covering three of the four southern Basque provinces.

Basque Police, the Ertzainta, face youth Solidarity Wall with a Basque comrade the police have come to arrest in Donosti/San Sebastian some years ago.

Basque Police, the Ertzaintza, face a youth Solidarity Wall built to defend Basque comrades the police have come to arrest in Donosti/San Sebastian some years ago.

Some of the youth perceive the arrival of the masked and helmeted police as a provocation and begin to throw bottles at the van.

The police officer in charge of those in the van asks for reinforcements and these are sent. The police emerge from their vans and begin to fire rubber bullets3 at the crowd at quite close range (the “square” is less than 45 metres at its furthest from the street) and everyone scatters except for a small group who are throwing bottles at the police but even they eventually dive for cover. People are sheltering in doorways, huddled up against the walls on each side of the “square”. Some are inside the pub wondering what is going on. A local shop-manager has raised the shutter over his doorway and people crowd in there. Some people are sheltering behind the wooden planters that are in a line down the centre of the narrow square.

After some time three young men walk towards the police with their hands in the air, asking them to stop firing rubber bullets; the police strike them with batons. Meanwhile it comes to the attention of some in the crowd nearby that a person is lying on the ground, apparently unconscious with blood coming from his ear and the rear of his head. People go to his aid and one of his friends recognises Inigo Cabacas. He gets his mobile phone and rushes towards the police telling them that someone has been seriously injured and to call an ambulance. A police officer tells him to drop the mobile. Inigo’s friend repeats his urgent request and the police officer tells him again to drop the mobile and hits him with a truncheon. The man drops his mobile and retreats from the police.  

The police advance into the area and reach the injured man who has some people around him; a women is rendering first aid.  A policeman tells her to move away.  She tells him the man needs and ambulance and that she is applying pressure to stop the bleeding.  He says he wants to see for himself and pulls at her arm but after awhile desists and goes away.

Eventually an ambulance arrives and takes Inigo Cabacas, still unconscious, to hospital, where he lies in a coma.

(video of the scene of the incident and interviews with friends and witnesses with English subtitles)

The news runs through a city, a shock in the midst of its celebrations and soon afterwards throughout the Basque Country. The first official reaction is given by the Interior Minister of the Basque Autonomous Regional Government, who declares to the press that the Ertzaintza acted properly and in line with their procedures, although he regrets the unfortunate death of they young man. He also repeats the first line of defence given by the Ertzaintza, that they were called to help someone injured in a fight and that the crowd was preventing the ambulance in attendance from rendering assistance to the injured.

When eye-witnesses give their version and the reporters of some newpapers begin to gather information, it becomes clear that the Minister could not possibly have investigated the incident in the time available. Furthermore, it emerges that no ambulance attended until after the incident with the police and that it appears that no call for one had been made earlier. Furthermore, according to the woman who attended to Inigo at the scene, the ambulance paramedic told her, when she complained at their delay in arriving, that the police had delayed their entrance. Under a storm of criticism from civil society and from the Abertzale Left party, EH Bildu, the Minister promises a full investigation.

Inigo Cabacas dies after three days without having recovered consciousness.

Some time later, a recording of the police communications on the night is made available by GARA, a pro-Independence Basque daily newspaper. The following becomes clear from the recording:

  • The Controller at Ertzaintza HQ calls a police van leader and directs him to attend the Herriko, saying that a fight has occurred there and that someone is injured.

  • The van leader reports that they have arrived and that some are throwing bottles at them, that they require reinforcements.  No mention of ambulance.

  • The Controller confirms reinforcements are being sent.

  • Reinforcements arrive. One of the van leaders now reports that nothing is happening, everything is ok.

  • The Controller replies that he wants the police to go in and take possession of the area and make any arrests necessary. He emphasises that he wants to be understood clearly, that they are to “go into the Herriko with everything we have”, to take control of the area “and then everything will be ok.”

  • The van leader replies that the order is understood and soon shots are heard (the firing of rubber bullets).

The family employs a solicitor. A judge is appointed to carry out the investigation but is required to do so along with her other duties. Immediately, the police investigation ceases (according to the family’s lawyer, ithe file contains just three pages), using the excuse of the judicial investigation.

A number of legal applications are made, e.g. for all the police at the incident to be obliged to make a statement, for all police who fired a rubber bullet gun to be identified, for the Controller to be obliged to make a statement, but all are refused by a judge, giving a number of reasons4. Little is established over the following three years, except that three police voluntarily admit to having fired rubber bullets and the identity of the Controller on the evening becomes widely known. There is widespread outrage when the senior officer on duty the day of Inigo’s death is appointed Chief of the Ertzaintza. At a recent press conference, the Cabacas family’s lawyer, Jone Goirizelaia, announced that they had possibly identified the officer who had fired the fatal shot.

It emerged during the campaign by supporters of the Cabacas family that no recognised procedure was followed by the police with regard to the incident: debriefing statements were not taken from each of the police participants, guns were not examined to identify which had been fired, no inventory was taken of the number of rubber bullets fired. No attempt was made to contact witnesses after the event to gain a picture of what had occurred. Indeed, some witnesses who approached the police station to give statements were told to go away (see video link posted earlier in this article). It further appears that the Ertzaintza have been issued with no specific operational instructions with regard to the firing of rubber bullets.

According to some sources, the rubber bullets should only be fired at knee-height and at no less than 50 metres from the target. The “square” is, according to locals, less than 45 metres at its furthest from the street and therefore the police from the moment they began firing, were in serious breach of the minimum distance requirements. In addition, the Ertzaintza have frequently been seen aiming their rubber bullet guns at protesters’ faces from as little as a metre or two and also firing from the shoulder with the muzzle parallel to the ground, i.e. directed at head or chest-height of the target. Also, the rubber-coated steel balls bounce uncontrollably.

Rubber bullets against Palestinians

Rubber bullets are regularly fired by the Israeli army at Palestinians. A Palestinian source reports: “Israeli professor Michael Krausz and colleagues at the Rambam Medical Centre in Haifa analysed the medical records of 595 casualties admitted to hospital during the October 2000 protests by Palestinians living inside Israel (typically described as “Israeli Arabs” by the media). Of those, 152 were found to have been injured by rubber-coated metal bullets. Injuries were distributed randomly across their bodies but were most common on the patients’ arms and legs, and on their head, neck and face.

“The doctors said their findings dismissed the theory that “rubber bullets” were safe. Rubber-coated metal bullets with some of their rubber coating removed, revealing their hard steel core. Fired at speeds of what must be several hundred feet a second, these are munitions that cause enough damage that their manufacturers feel compelled to describe them as only ‘less lethal’.

“Writing in the Lancet, they said firing the bullets at civilians made it ‘impossible to avoid severe injuries to vulnerable body regions such as the head, neck and upper torso, leading to substantial mortality, morbidity and disability.’ They added: ‘We reported a substantial number of severe injuries and fatalities inflicted by use of rubber bullets ….. This type of ammunition should therefore not be considered a safe method of crowd control. “The study, ‘Blunt and penetrating injuries caused by rubber bullets during the Israeli-Arab conflict in October, 2000: a retrospective study’ (The Lancet, Volume 359, Issue 9320, Page 1795), also highlighted previous research which suggested that even plastic bullets may not be safe and may cause more severe head injuries.” (Sourced at

Rubber bullets against the Irish

Seventeen people were killed in the Six Counties (“Northern Ireland”) by rubber and plastic bullets fired by British soldiers (11) and colonial police (6) during the 30 Years War. A number of people were also blinded.

It emerged in 2013 during a compensation case taken by a Derry man blinded in 1972 that the authorities knew that the missiles were potentially lethal even before they issued them. ( It is clear also from a wealth of evidence that the missiles were regularly fired by soldiers and police not only at close range but also aimed at chest or head. In addition, a deadly ‘game’ was played by some British soldiers. Knowing that rubber and plastic bullets were collected by children as mementoes and objects to sell to tourists, soldiers would fire some into an open area and wait for children to run forward to collect them, then see if they could hit the children with subsequent rounds.

Rubber bullets in the Spanish state

The Spanish state continues to allow its police forces to carry and to fire rubber-coated metal bullets, in particular at protesting Basques and Catalans (see video link at bottom below article). Recently, the EU expressed concern at Spanish police firing at migrants attempting to swim into the Spanish state from Morocco, an occasion when 11 of the migrants drowned. But no international protest criticises them for firing potentially lethal missiles at their own citizens. Police in the Spanish state enjoy impunity and none more so than in the Basque and Catalan countries as well as with regard to African migrants. This week, a motion was put to the Basque Parliament to ban the use of rubber bullets in the area under its control (CAV). Instead a proposal was accepted to “restrict” the use of the missiles to “situations of grave danger” to the police, and to “definitely seek a replacement” for them. The Spanish right-wing PP, the liberal Spanish unionist UPyD, along with the PNV (Basque Nationalists), currently in power, voted for it, along with the Basque version of the Spanish social-democrats, the PSE. The only party to vote against the amendment was EH Bildu, party of the Abertzale (pro-Independence) Left; they had proposed the original motion, seeking a total ban and the removal of the missiles.

Parent and friends of Inigo Cabacas confront spokesperson of the Basque Nationalist Party after attempt to ban rubber bullets fails

Parent and friends of Inigo Cabacas confront spokesperson of the Basque Nationalist Party after attempt to ban rubber bullets fails

Among those in the public gallery at the discussion were the parents of Inigo Cabacas. Afterwards, in the corridor outside, they confronted the spokesperson of the PNV, Joseba Egibar. During the exchange, another PNV parliamentarian, Luke Uribe-Etxebarria, tried to prevent its filming by the Basque TV station ETB. That attempt will be the subject of a complaint to the President of the Parliament by EH Bildu; they view it as particularly serious since Uribe-Etxebarria is also on the management board of the TV station and the filming was taking place in areas open to the public.

“I’m never coming to this Parliament again …. I feel cheated,” said Manue Cabacas, father of the deceased, speaking about the majority decision. “My son is dead …. I only wanted to ensure that it would never happen to anyone else ….”

On the third anniversary of the killing of Inigo “Pitu” Cabacas, among many commemorative vents in the Basque Country, 10 minutes’ silence was observed in the San Mames stadium. Alongside Inigo Cabacas; many are also remembering Aitor Zabaleta, fan of the Real Sociedad team, murdered in Madrid in 1998 by fascist ultras of Club Atletico Madrid.  Many Basques around the world will be conscious of the three years that have passed since Inigo’s killing without anyone being even charged in connection with his death or any noticeable change, whether in Basque police behaviour, procedure or their use of rubber-coated steel projectiles.  A change of political control of the Basque Regional Government from the social-democratice party of Patxi Lopez to the Basque Nationalist Party . (PNV) of Urkullu has had no effect.

It is true that for ordinary people, in capitalist society, the wheels of justice move very slowly; in this case it is hard to see that they are moving at all.


NB: DUBLIN: A group of Basques plan to hold a commemorative event on Tuesday 28th April, on the day of a Basque derby, Bilbao Athletic v. Real Sociedad. They plan to hold a protest picket at the O’Connell Monument in Dublin’s O’Connell Street at 7pm for a short while and afterwards to go to watch the Basque derby (kick-off at 9pm) at the Living Room bar, Cathal Brugha St. Some Dublin-based Irish people have undertaken to support the Basques by participation in both events.  Poster for event:

Short but shocking Guardian video of Catalan police using rubber bullets and the testimonies of victims who have lost an eye to the missiles:


1 Based in Bilbao, it is the most popular and most successful (two things that often go together) but not the only football team; there are also Real Sociedad, based in Donosti/San Sebastian and Osasuna, based in Iruña/ Pamplona.

2  A roaring lion is the emblem of the team, arising from the legend of St. Mames, to whom the local church is dedicated and which gives its name to the area, street and stadium. English-language football commentators persisted in calling the team “the Spanish lions” or “the Spanish cavaliers” (??!), in total ignorance, one hopes, of quite how insulting that would be perceived by the players and their fans. The Basque Country is not even politico-geographically Spain, it is divided between the Spanish and French states. And Bilbao Athletic is most certainly not, nor has it ever been, a Spanish team. When the Spanish King attends finals or semi-finals between Barcelona and Athletic in, yes, a Spanish football league, and the Spanish national anthem is played, the stadium fills with howls of derision, hoots and whistles from the supporters of both teams.

3  These are about the size of a tennis ball, perhaps a little smaller, of steel and coated in rubber.

4  E.g., the Controller could not be held responsible for the shooting by the police; individual police would have to be accused of firing the fatal shot if they were to be obliged to make a statement …

WHEN EAGLES SING — Kurdish singer and fighter Viyan Peyman falls in battle/ Cantante y Luchadora Kurda falla en batalla

Viyan Peyman, famous fighter-singer of the YPJ, fell in battle against Islamic State in Serekaniye (Yazira canton) on Monday 6th April 2015, according to news agency Hawar News.

Viyan Peyman, famosa luchadora y cantante del YPJ cayó én lucha contra el Estado Islamico el lunes 6 de Abril 2015, según la agencia de noticias Hawar News (miren enlace al fondo de este corto trozo para las noticias en castellano).

When Eagles Sing

(I ndil chuimhne Viyan Peyman/Gulistan Tali Cingalo)

A bird fell from the sky —

the birdsong now has died. 

A songbird but also a fighter — 

When eagles sing 

our struggle is made lighter.

She flies now in different skies,

skies of our memory,

of our heart, spirt and mind

where her song cannot be silenced

for Kurds or for humankind.

Diarmuid Breatnach April 2013

Viyan’s real name was Gulistan Tali Cingalo (Gulistan means “garden”) and she was from Mako city in the part of Kurdistan located within the Iranian state’s territory.

The song she sings in the video was composed by her; the lyrics say:

“Oh, mother, woe to me!

My heart cries today — what disaster has fallen upon us!

I will sing today of the resistance of Kobane,

that it may be a poem recited for the world and humanity, oh mother!

Today again our Kurdish boys and girls have made their chests into shields

against the tanks and bombs …
Oh, mother, woe to me!

Today I imagine the mothers of Kobane crying in the streets;

I imagine the boys, the girls, the elderly screaming in pain and rage.

I see the tears of the children of Kobane as if they were the Euphrates river, 

flooding the streets of Kobane!

Oh, mother, woe is me!”

Information and song lyrics translated from Castillian text sourced here:…/cae-en-combate-la-c…/