Diarmuid Breatnach

One cannot criticise the national liberation movement or Left political party in another country, apparently. Or so some think. Why not? “Because it goes against internationalist solidarity to do so.” “Besides, one doesn’t live in the other country or maybe know their conditions and their culture as well as does the group one is criticising.” So, one should just applaud their resistance and say nothing negative. Apparently.

Like many positions, that seems fine until you break it down a bit. So let’s take a look at this more closely. The Khmer Rouge was a national liberation organisation of socialist or communist orientation in Kampuchea (Cambodia). The Khmer Rouge had both male and female fighters and they led a struggle against US Imperialism and against feudal rule in their country. The US carpet-bombed the country and aided the Cambodian Government in resisting the Khmer Rouge, who were in turn assisted by the North Vietnamese and the Chinese. So, a clear case of which side we’re on, right? With the Khmer Rouge. Against US Imperialism and feudalism.

Khmer Rouge fighters
Khmer Rouge fighters (Photo: Internet)

But when in 1975 the Khmer Rouge leadership declared that all Cambodians needed to return to the land and, in order to implement this policy, exterminated all who disagreed or who they thought might disagree, and in the course of their programme caused hunger and illness which killed more, all of which came to a total of around 21% of the country’s population, what then? Are we still in solidarity with the Khmer Rouge then? What? No? We’re actually condemning them?

The young Khmer Rouge guerrilla soldiers enter17 April 1975 Phnom Penh, the day Cambodia fell under the control of the Communist Khmer Rouge forces.
The young Khmer Rouge guerrilla soldiers enter17 April 1975 Phnom Penh, the day Cambodia fell under the control of the Communist Khmer Rouge forces. Khmer Rouge fighters (Photo: Internet)

Good! And so we should. But what happened to “uncritical support and solidarity” and “we don’t know what’s going on there as well as the locals” etc, etc?

Ok, that was an extreme example and there was a massacre and huge loss of life. But the massacre event had a trail leading up to it and that trail could have been marked. Apparently two of the leaders back in their Paris student days had written theses advocating returning to a peasant economy. No doubt there were other signs in terms of who became leaders and how they maintained their leading positions – this was the time of the high tide of leader-worship, when in China photos of Mao and in Vietnam photos of Ho Chi Minh, predominated not only in official buildings but in public spaces and in the hands of their supporters abroad. Whether Ho Chi Minh or Mao Tse Tung were good or bad revolutionaries, or even a mixture of good and bad, is not the point. What is the point is whether it is healthy to treat living human beings as saints or gods; whether if you trust them unquestioningly today you will be able to question them (or be permitted to) if they take the wrong path or just a wrong turning tomorrow.

Now let’s take another example, much closer to home and much less in magnitude – the French Mayor of Vitry-sur-Seine in 1981 who, it was reported, in an anti-immigration demonstration, personally drove an earth mover to demolish a hostel for migrants from Mali. He was a member of the Communist Party of France and also the Party’s General Secretary, Georges Marchaise, ran a racist campaign when he stood as a candidate in the French Presidential Election that year. Now, the Communist Party of France had organised the Maquis and most of the urban French Resistance to Nazism and had led the liberation of Paris before the Allies arrived.  Surely Georges Marchaise had been elected by his large party and the Mayor of Vitry-sur-Seine not only by his party supporters but also by a majority of the people of his town. So who are we to criticise them, right? No, wrong, you think – and quite rightly so. We are not only entitled to – we should criticise them, expose them and try to get them to change.  And our criticism should also serve as a warning to any others thinking of taking the same path.

Anti-Austerity march of Communist Party of France in Paris 2012.jpeg
Anti-Austerity march of Communist Party of France in Paris 2012 (Photo from Internet)

Back to another big example now. Before WWI all the socialist parties in the world (that included what we would now call communist and social democratic parties) agreed that imperialist war would be a terrible thing and against workers’ interests. Some even vowed that if their governments tried to join a war, they would turn the imperialist war into a war against capitalism. But when it came to the crunch, the main socialist party in nearly every European country made an alliance with their capitalist class and recruited cannon fodder for them. There were very few exceptions and among them were the Irish Labour Party, which had been founded on a resolution by James Connolly in 1912 …. and the Bolsheviks. Although it didn’t openly oppose it, the Irish Labour Party was in general critical of the War and two of the party’s founders, Connolly and Larkin, overwhelmingly so. The Bolsheviks placed ending the War among their main slogans for insurrection and as a result recruited many soldiers and sailors into the actual insurrection.

OK, so would we have had the right to criticise the war collusion policies of the British Labour Party, of the German socialists, French, Italian, Belgian, Australian? Of course we would have had the right – and would have been correct to do so.

And another big example. The Shah of Persia was an ally of western imperialism and had a substantial repressive apparatus, including a huge secret service. In 1978/’79, a wide movement began to rise up against the Shah and his regime fell suprisingly quickly – so quickly that the CIA, who had their HQ for the Middle East in the country, were caught shredding their documents (many of which were pieced together again by Iranians).

There were a number of different interest groups but two important and very different ones were socialist activists, many of them students, on the one hand and Muslim fundamentalists on the other. When the Shah was overthrown, the latter group seized power and thereafter wiped out the socialists. I don’t know whether any mistakes were made by the socialists in their alliances or if anything could have been done to avoid the outcome. But if there were and if there was something, and we thought we knew what it was, would it not have been criminally negligent and uninternationalist of us not to have told them? And if necessary to have argued it with them?  And would our criticism not also help others who might find themselves in similar situations now and in the future?

Now, let’s take a minute to look at the other side of the coin. A leader of the popular movement Podemos in the Spanish state recently made a public intervention in Colombian politics the nature of which need not concern us here. But in the course of that, he denounced the Basque armed group ETA and likened them to Latin American fascist murder squads. Was he entitled to do so?

No, he was not. He was entitled to criticise ETA armed actions but in the course of that he should have taken account of the fact that the state in which he lives had practiced fascist repression on ETA for nearly a decade before it took up arms and has never ceased its repression of the Basque people since 1939. He was not at all entitled to compare ETA to fascist murder squads.

During the recent 30-year war, was the Communist Party of Great Britain entitled to publicly criticise IRA bombings in Britain, a number of which killed and injured innocent civilians? Yes, it was. But it was not correct to join the right-wing chorus denouncing them as vile murderers. And with the right to criticise also came a duty of solidarity, to campaign for British withdrawal from Ireland, against repression of the Irish community in Britain and for decent prison conditions and repatriation for Irish republican prisoners in jails in Britain (and the score of politically-framed uninvolved Irish prisoners).

To its shame, the CPGB took the road of histrionic censure but without taking up its duty of solidarity, an internationalist duty more applicable to itself than to any others around the world, since its party is based in the very colonial state that was waging war in Ireland.

I take one last example. At a certain point during the South African people’s struggle against the white racist regime (a settler ruling class which was totally supported by imperialism) it emerged that some things were not quite right within the resistance movement and, as time went on, that they were a lot worse than “not quite right”. We began to hear rumours that Winnie Madzikela Mandela was a member of a corrupt clique that had brutalised and even murdered people within the movement. But Winnie had become an icon of the struggle – a strong, handsome, militant woman with a husband, a leader, decades in jail. And the struggle seemed to be entering a crucial phase so, not wanting to undermine that struggle, we said nothing. (When her husband, Nelson Mandela was released, he agreed to an investigation into Winnie’s clique and ended up divorcing her. However, she is still a member of the ANC’s national Executive).

Worse, in a way, were the rumours of concentration camps being run by the ANC’s armed wing Umkhonto we Sizwe in neighbouring countries which were jailing ANC dissidents, torturing and even killing them. But the struggle was at a high point …… and we didn’t want to undermine …..

Yes, beginning to sound familiar, isn’t it? Besides, for some of us, the source of these stories were Trotskyists and we didn’t trust their bona fides too much ….. But it turned out that there had been these camps and they had done the things that were rumoured …. and testimonies of some of those cases have now been documented in the Truth and Reconciliation hearings. What’s more, it seems that some of the people in the ANC leadership were not only aware of them but had a hand in setting them up.

Mandela may not have known about them while in jail but learned of them at least when released. He eventually criticised the torture carried out in them but did nothing to root out those responsible.  This is crucial in terms of what happened later.

When the South African deal was done, an accommodation between the ANC and the white settler ruling class, it was also a settlement with imperialism which not only continued its plunder of the South African resources and labour but increased it. The masses got the vote and little else but a top stream of the ANC, SACP and NUM benefited in terms of government jobs and corruption. The recent head of the National Union of Mineworkers and current Deputy President of the ANC, Cyril Ramaphosa, is a millionaire and on the board of Lonmin, a British corporation mining platinum in South Africa.

In 2012, workers went on strike at Lonmin and other mines, looking for substantial pay rises; many were saying that the NUM was not fighting for them and wanting representation by a new union, AMCU. The mine-owners refused to negotiate, SACP said the strikers should be arrested, Ramaphosa asked the Government to crack down on the strikers, Zuma (President of the ANC and of South Africa and one of those implicated in the concentration camp scandal) covered for his Chief of Police Riah Phiyega while she organised what followed – the massacre of 34 striking miners in one day (in addition to some more over previous days) and many injured.

The Marikana Massacre of striking miners by the South African police of the ANC government. The victim in a green top or blanket is believed to a Mgcineni Noki, a strike leader, who was shot 14 times.
The Marikana Massacre of striking miners by the South African police of the ANC government. The victim in a green top or blanket is believed to be Mgcineni Noki, a strike leader, who was shot 14 times.  (Photo from Internet)

The Marikana massacre brought many of the elements that had been separately visible earlier together into high relief: ANC, NUM and SACP (South African Communist Party) corruption and jobbery; intolerance and brutality against any dissent; collusion with the white settler regime and foreign imperialists – now coupled with exploitation of black workers and murderous repression on a scale not seen in a single incident in South Africa since the Sharpeville Massacre of 1960.

Were we right to have said nothing about the activities of Winnie’s gang? And not to have tried to check out the rumours about the concentration camps? Were we right to say nothing critical about Mandela and the deal he led the people in accepting? I don’t think so. I think we had an internationalist right to speak, comrades – an internationalist duty. And it was a duty we failed to fulfill.

I could have picked so many other examples from history but I chose these as being ones on which most people would take the same side, so as to get the principle across without sectional positions being taken.

There is another very important role of criticism. It helps to clarify things for us in our own struggles. We have to think things through (hopefully) before criticising and then consider and weigh the reply we receive, then think about our reply to that as well. And so on. And many if not all of these issues will be in some way applicable to us too, either now or in the future.

But in criticising, do we abandon solidarity? Most assuredly we should not. Obviously we could have had no solidarity with Pol Pot and his clique or with his party comrades who followed them – our solidarity is fundamentally with the people and it was the Cambodian people who deserved our solidarity, which in that case had to be oppositional to the party. But we should, as well as being in solidarity with the Mali migrants in Vitry-sur-Seine in 1981, also be in support of French workers there in struggles against French capitalism, while simultaneously criticising any racist tendencies in their movement or parties.

We could and should have, were we adults during WWI, have criticised the policies of the socialist parties who colluded in the bloodbath of Europe, the Dardanelles and the Middle East, even if we had never set foot in one of the countries of those parties at the time.

Maybe it would help to bring the issue down to a more personal level. In families, we generally accept that we should express and act in solidarity with one another. Does that mean that if someone in our family does something really wrong, we should remain silent? Clearly not. We can support him in changing, we can support him in other ways but we cannot – or should not – support him in continuing to act wrongly. For the good of society, the family and even of the individual, we are obliged to point out the wrongdoing and that we disagree with it – in other words, to criticise. What kind of family members would we be if we did not do that, if our attitude were “Whatever you do is fine, no matter what it is or who ends up getting hurt, you or someone else”?revolutionary solidarity

And if we are internationalists, of whatever particular socialist trend, we have an internationalist duty to our ‘family’ around the world not only to act in solidarity but also to express criticism when we think our comrades elsewhere embark on the wrong road or take a wrong turning. Proletarian internationalism and uncritical support not only don’t go together – they are actually opposites. There may be considerations of in what manner to present the criticism but continued silence is not an internationalist option.



THE MYSTERY OF THE MISSING RAILINGS – Generosity, Solidarity, Propaganda and Secrecy in WWII

Diarmuid Breatnach

A central character in a Cory Doctorow novel comments that the cast-iron railings donated by householders in Britain for use in making munitions during WWII were instead dumped into the Channel.

Doctorow takes liberties with the present and the future but not so much with the past. Even so I doubted this story. I doubted even more the reason given, that the iron was allegedly unsuitable for making munitions but that the people were not told in order to keep their morale up – the belief that their sacrifice was helping the war. While working in London I had heard stories myself of the railings going to help Soviet Russia, convoys carrying the iron on those awful Artic runs to Murmansk, across a sea infested with Nazi submarines and so cold that your body in the sea had minutes at most to live. And no ship would stop to pick you up either, because it would endanger their whole crew and the rest of the convoy.WW2 Artic Convoy

Did I doubt that the British Government was capable of keeping the truth from the people in the cause of war morale? Not for one minute – they have lied and concealed truth from the people for reasons much worse throughout history …. and continue to do so. No, what I doubted was that the metal was unusable. I’ve worked in a few foundries and although they were non-ferrous, I think I know a little about metal and its preparation. I’ve been a welder too.

Allied warship in Artic waters during WWII giving some idea of the conditions
Allied warship in Artic waters during WWII giving some idea of the conditions

Cast iron is what it sounds like, iron that has been cast – melted in high heat and then poured into molds to the required shape. But it isn’t just iron – among other things it also contains carbon. So does steel, even the lower-carbon steels – but cast iron contains a much higher proportion of carbon, at least 2% and often just over 4%. Not much, you might think but it does make a big difference.

Once, many familiar objects were made out of cast iron – gutters, drainpipes, gas pipes, sewer pipes, manhole covers, gas lamp-poles, baths ….. A very hard metal but also brittle. You’ve seen an old metal broken drainpipe, right? Broken into a point? Cast iron, for sure. Steel doesn’t break like that. Corrodes, dents, bends and under extreme pressure, shears – but doesn’t shatter or break off like cast iron when it gets a hard enough knock. Well, maybe steel will shatter in extreme cold but we’re talking about within a normal range of temperatures here.

Wall Missing Railings showing lead
A wall of a former girl’s boarding school showing where railings were removed during WWII (no doubt to the warm approval of the local lads). The holes show the lead that was poured into the hole in the stone around the railing bar to grip it tightly when it set.

Cast iron is denser and heavier than steel and needs a greater thickness than steel to make something, it being possible to work the latter while very thin.  Think of a food ‘tin can’: it’s not tin, though typically it had a coating of tin inside. It is steel, pressed very thinly – “thin can” would have been a more accurate name. Now, think of those cans you’ve seen, rusting away from the outside (the reason for the protective coating of tin inside).

So why use cast iron at all? Well, corrosion-resistance is one of the reasons to choose it as a material — cast iron doesn’t corrode as badly or as quickly as steel (stainless steel of course is something else). And cast iron melts at a lower temperature than steel, which makes it significantly cheaper to produce.  Cast iron is very good under compression, i.e. at bearing weight and, when used in arches, could and did make effective iron bridges (though not good under tension or “pull”, where steel has it beat). And it can be machined well – so engine blocks and big machine frames could be made from it. And the kitchen range stove.

For years my mother wanted a big cast iron frying pan like those she had been familiar with from the Spanish state, because the heat stayed in the pan longer and food stuck less (this was before Teflon and other non-stick surfaces). The cast iron pan is heavy to manipulate but I prefer cooking in it myself.

Removing Railings WWII
Boy and possibly father or grandfather removing railings, probably during WWII

Now, iron is common to cast iron, steel and wrought iron. All iron can be melted down and re-used. You might have to process some other elements out and add other elements but so what? Is it being suggested that Britain in the mid-20th Century did not have the technology to do so?  Or even that it was cheaper to dump the cast iron, at a time when cheaper imports could not possibly be available?

But then what happened to the missing railings? They were definitely removed and to this day you can see some walls in Britain, with rows of holes filled with lead, where the railings were secured. The newspaper magnate and owner of the Daily Express, Lord Beaverbrook (William Maxwell Aitken), who was variously Minister for for Aircraft Production and later for Supply, had put out the call for the public to donate the cast-iron railings for armament production.

Wall Missing Railings & lead
A stone wall, probably limestone, showing the holes once occupied by railings. Curiously there is no sign of the lead that was also poured into the holes to hold the railings firmly in place. Perhaps it was removed at some time when the scrap price for lead made such extraction worth the trouble.

There are at least hundreds of recorded eye-witness accounts of the removal of railings and gates, as well as quite a few photographs showing people working on their removal. But where they went is a mystery. There are no similar eye-witness accounts of the arrival of those railings in the steelworks of England, Wales and Scotland, even though the histories of those steelworks are well documented.

Discounting the popular belief that the metal was “unsuitable”, the London Gardens Trust website writer has this to say:

“Another more likely explanation is that far more iron was collected – over one millions tons by September 1944 – than was needed or could be processed. Certainly the huge underground munitions factory Beaverbook set up at Corsham in Wiltshire ran far below capacity for its short life.”

So why not just halt the collection? One reason might be that Government Ministers hate admitting mistakes. But another could be the desire to keep the war effort morale going among the population:

“Faced with an oversupply, rather than halt the collection, which had turned out to be a unifying effort for the country and of great propaganda value, the government allowed it to continue. The ironwork collected was stockpiled away from public view in depots, quarries, railway sidings. After the war, even when raw materials were still in short supply, the widely held view is that the government did not want to reveal that the sacrifice of so much highly valued ironwork had been in vain, and so it was quietly disposed of, or even buried in landfill or at sea.”

John Farr wrote an article in Picture Postcard Monthly, (‘Who Stole our Gates”, PPM No 371, March 2010), in which he claims that only 26% of the iron work collected was used for munitions. He also states that “most of the pertinent records at the Public Records Office had been shredded”.

A recurring tale in London is that the railings were taken out on barges and dumped in the Thames Estuary. The source for this seems to be an 1984 often-quoted letter to the Evening Standard by journalist Christopher Long.  It seems too that this might have been Cory Doctorrow’s source, although his character said “the Channel” (hardly likely in time of war),

Christopher Long claimed to have this information from dockers in Canning Town, East London, who gave accounts of the disposal. So much was dumped, they said, that ships in the estuary needed local pilots to guide them because their compasses were made unreliable by the sheer amount of iron down below.

Aerial view of the Thames Estuary -- was this the final destination of the railings?
Aerial view of the Thames Estuary — was this the final destination of the railings?

Sadly, we are unlikely to verify or disprove this story except through archaeological underwater investigation. Strangely, Christopher Long appears not to have rigorously documented his sources or to have recorded the names of his informants, much less made oral history recordings.  If he did do all that, he did not refer to it in his letter or subsequent publication.

But it does seem extraordinary that, if true, this information could be kept a secret for so long. One possible reason is a political one – but from the Left rather than the Government. Support for the Soviet Union from British workers was a significant element in British Left-wing discourse during the War and afterwards. It may not have suited the Left to undermine the dominant narrative of British railings, torn out by British workers, going to make Soviet tanks. And collectors of oral history among working class communities tend to be of Left-wing ideology, it would appear.

But it would also seem that these stories are not too far away in time to be investigated, as other investigations of oral history of WWI in Britain or the 1916 Rising in Dublin have shown. And how hard would it be to investigate the often-repeated story that some of the railings are to be found in West African ports, as allegedly they had been used as ballast in ships bound for Africa?

It occurs to me that one unexpected effect of the mass removal of railings would have been rendering public many of the parks in bourgeois areas, previously accessible to “residents only”. Perhaps working class people living nearby would have been particularly enthusiastic about removing these to support the war effort?




Some links to information sources:



Diarmuid Breatnach

On 6th September 2015, the Galway GAA team played the Kilkenny team in the Croke Park national stadium.  I wrote this at the time but never posted it for some reason then and came across it to my surprise today.

Parnell s
Fans making their way along Cavendish Row and along Parnell Street on their way to Croke Park. (Photo D.Breatnach)
Fans making their way along Cavendish Row and along Parnell Street on their way to Croke Park. (Photo D.Breatnach)
Fans making their way up  O’Connell Street and along Cavendish Row on their way to Croke Park. (Photo D.Breatnach)




A maroon tide swept through the city,

in numbers alone they would overawe

the wasp-coloured Kilkenny few.

“It’s on the field we’ll win the fight,

although outnumbered in the stands”

was the response of the Cats

to the mass of Galway fans.

And give them their due,

the final score proved them right.

The maroon tide swept out again

to coach and train and car

or hotel and bar.

A Galway fan wiped away a tear

and told me they’d be back next year.


Dear Minister Humphreys

Diarmuid Breatnach

Dear Minister Humphreys,

I write to express my admiration for your work and my sympathies with regard to the criticisms with which you are currently being bombarded. I hope you will forgive my ignorance of much of the work you have been doing in the area of Heritage, which is not really where my strengths lie. But I love the way you talk, the way you shoot down those critics, especially those TDs who ask those nasty questions. And I’m sure you had something to do with removing Westport House from the NAMA sell-off, even if it is in Enda’s constituency. Such a fine example of our colonial architectural heritage!

Heather Humhpreys, Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht
Heather Humhpreys, Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht

But as we know, Minister, that wouldn’t be the kind of thing that would be appreciated by your critics. They’d rather you devoted your talents to a shabby row of Dublin houses of dubious architectural importance in a grubby street market. A street which they say is “pre-Famine” — as if that were something to boast about! Laid down earlier than Sackville Street (now O’Connell Street) they say …. Sure why would we want to keep a street that old …. or remember that embarrassing episode in our history either, when we lost a third of our population to over-reliance on one crop! We learned from that, though, didn’t we? Sure we grow hardly any crops at all now and get them all in from abroad. And we live in cities now — who wants to be getting up at 6 a.m. in all kinds of weather and plodding through muck? If people like growing things that much, get a house with a garden, I say. And a gardener to do the donkey work.

Supporters at the symbolic Arms Around Moore Street event organised by the Save Moore Street From Demolition campaign in June this year.
Supporters at the symbolic Arms Around Moore Street event organised by the Save Moore Street From Demolition campaign in June this year. This is the corner of Moore Lane and Henry Place, across which Volunteers had to run under machine-gun and rifle fire from Parnell Street (at the end of Moore Lane, to the right of the photo) and at least one Volunteer died here.

But I’m digressing, Minister, my apologies. Apparently the reason they want to save that shabby terrace, that “pre-Famine street” — and the backyards and surrounding lane-ways, if you please! — is for HISTORICAL reasons. Historical! Sure have we not had enough of history – Brehon Laws, Golden Age, Clontarf, Normans, 800 years of British occupation, blah, blah, blah! Weren’t we sick of it at school?

I’ve never liked Labour too much (somehow even the word sounds sweaty) but I have to admire their Education Ministry’s efforts to remove history as a subject from the compulsory school curriculum. I’m sure they’re doing it for their own reasons – after all, wasn’t their party founded by that communist James Connolly? Sorry, revealing my own knowledge of history there, ha, ha! But whatever their reasons, they are on the right track. Who wants to know where we are coming from? It’s where we ARE and where we are GOING TO, that matters!

But some people just can’t let it go, can they? They trail history around like something unpleasant stuck to a shoe. So what if 300 of the GPO garrison occupied that terrace in 1916? The Rising, if you ask me, was a big mistake and I know plenty of people agree with me, even if most don’t have the courage to say so. Wouldn’t we be much better off if we’d stayed in the UK? And kept the Sterling currency? And as for the War of Independence …. don’t get me started!

Aerial View Moore St. 60s
Aerial view Moore Street, looking northwards, 1960s, before the building of the ILAC and the running down of the street market.

And then there’s all that communist-sounding stuff about treating “all the children of the nation equally” — what kind of rubbish is that? Some are born to big houses with swimming pools and some are born to flats, or even rooms. That’s just the way of life. And some will claw their way up to get to own big houses and if they are a bit uncouth, well that can’t be helped, they still deserve where they get to. And their children at least will be taught how to fit into their new station. That’s democracy! But everyone equal? Please!

Sorry, back to the Moore Street controversy. OK, after the mob pressured the Government, four houses in the street were made a national monument. But was that enough for the mob? Oh, no, not at all — eight years later the State had to buy the four houses to satisfy them. Thankfully the specul ….. sorry, the developer, got back a good return on his investment – four million, wasn’t it? That’s the kind of thing that makes one proud to be Irish – buying run-down buildings and letting them run down more, then selling them for a million each. That’s your entrepreneur! If only we had more like that, to lift this country up!

I must say I really liked that developer’s plan to build a big shopping centre from O’Connell Street into the ILAC, knocking those old houses in Moore Street down (although I know he had to leave those “national monument” four houses still standing in the plans). I do hope whoever has bought the debt off NAMA and now owns those houses will carry on with that plan. Actually, I’d like the whole of O’Connell Street under glass if it were possible. Wouldn’t it be great to do your shopping from the north end of the street to the south and from left to right, without ever having to come out into the weather? Of course, not much shopping there now, with Clery’s closed …. still ….

And then they’re going on about the market ….. traditional street market …. blah, blah. What’s wrong with getting your veg and fruit from the supermarket? Or getting them to deliver it your house, come to that? “Traditional street market” my ar….. excuse me, I got carried away there. Those street markets are all very well for your Continentals, your Africans, Asians, Latin Americans and so on. Or for us to go wandering around in when we’re abroad on holiday, maybe.  But back home?  It’s the nice clean supermarkets for me any day.

Well now, if the mob insists on saving the street market, here’s an idea: why not provide a showcase stall or barrow, stacked with clean vegetables and polished fruit, right in the middle of the new shopping centre. After all, that’s heritage, isn’t it? And aren’t yourself the Minister for Heritage?

Most sincerely,

Phillis Tine-Fumblytil


Diarmuid Breatnach

On a very stormy Wednesday night (17 Nov. 2015) in Dublin around 150 people attended the launch of the video “Laneways of History” at Wynne’s Hotel, Lwr. Abbey Street.

Poster Launch Video


The video maker is Marcus Howard who has videoed a number of interviews with relatives of 1916 heroes as part of a campaign to preserve the historic Moore Street 1916 Terrace and the laneways surrounding it. Marcus also videoed the second Arms Around Moore Street event, which was organised by the Save Moore Street Demolition campaign.

The video itself uses footage shot in a Dublin of today, tracing the footsteps in Easter Week 1916 of James Connolly from Williams Lane to the GPO, then of the garrison’s retreat from the burning building to Moore Street. It also stops at 21 Henry St. where the 1916 Proclamation was signed and follows the ill-fated heroic charge led by The O’Rahilly up Moore Street against the British barricade at the end, on Parnell Street.Musicians

The narrative is provided by Jim Connolly Heron (great grandson of James Connolly) and Proinsias O Rathaille, grandson of The O’Rahilly, and also by excerpts from witness statements of participants read by Marcus Howardand a woman whose name I did not catch (but will record when I find out).Citizen Army on guard

Sound effects on images of the past are firing from artillery, rifles and machine guns and clips from the Cabra Historical Society are used to good effect.  The video also includes recent footage from the campaign, including Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny being shown around the Moore Street Battlefield and the 2nd Arms Around Moore Street event, which was organised by the Save Moore Street from Demolition campaign.

Volunteers in various outfits

Around the function room there were men and women in Ctiizen Army and Volunteer uniforms and typical IRA War of Independence dress to protect us from a raid by the British Army, Dublin Metropolitan Police or the Auxillaries (or perhaps to keep an eye out for unruly elements).

Music and some songs were provided before the speakers by two members of the Dublin band The Invincibles, one of which Paul Stone, sang Where Is Our James Connolly to a hushed room.

The main speakers were James Connolly Heron, Críona Ní Dhálaigh (SF Mayor of Dublin), Proinsias O Rathaille and Marcus Howard. Also called up to speak a few words were long-time supporters of the campaign TD Maureen O’Sullivan and Frank Allen.

Frank Allen speaking from the podium
Frank Allen speaking from the podium

Frank unveilled the 1916 Commemoration Bond and invited everyone to buy one at €100 each. Frank announced that the aim is to make sufficient on sales at home and abroad, to buy the threatened 1916 Terrace.

Presentations of the first three bonds were made to long-time supporters of the campaign Brendan O NeillColette Palsgraaf and Pat Waters (who had written the song for the “16 Signatories” production).

Crowding outside the bar
Crowding outside the bar

Frank also thanked Diarmuid and Mel (also thanked by Marcus Howard) for their long presence in Moore Street (the Save Moore Street from Demolition Campaign, which also includes Bróna Uí Loing).

Pat Waters in conversation in the bar
Pat Waters in conversation in the bar

There were some questions and interventions from the floor before people repaired to buy a DVD and/or a bond and thence to the bar, to chat and no doubt plot further steps in the campaign.  Among the contributors from the floor were TV presenter Duncan Stewart, Donna Cooney (PRO 1916 Relatives’ Committee and grand-niece of Elizabeth O’Farrell), Manus O’Riordan (includ. Friends of the International Brigades in Ireland), Diarmuid Breatnach (includ. Save Moore Street from Demolition campaign), Bernie Hughes (Finglas community campaigner against the Water Charge).  A Dutch woman living here 15 years made the point that migrants should be included in the vision — a point echoed by at least another two from the floor, one of whom drew attention to the fact that James Connolly had been a migrant.

Some more from inside the bar (an ID parade?)
Some more from inside the bar (an ID parade?)

Indeed, this was so, both to the USA and to Ireland, as was the case with Jim Larkin too; Tom Clarke had been born in England also and a number of those who fought for the Republic in the Rising (especially the Kimmage group) had been born and brought up in British cities and a few had no Irish connections at all.

Two women drew attention to the exclusion of the Irish language from the video and presentation.  This last was a particularly relevant point, given that one of the seven signatories of the Proclamation was a writer in Irish and in English, as well as an educator and that five of them had been members of the Gaelic League (as were others of the executed or who died in the fight).  One asked what the strategic purpose of the bonds was and how this fit into the campaign.

Overall, any criticisms or doubts aside, everyone who spoke was positive about the video and wholeheartedly in favour of the retention of the historic buildings and laneways.  It was notable that no-one, from panel, podium or the floor, expressed faith in the Government or in most politicians — quite the contrary.

Among the historians present were Lorcán Ó Coilleáin and Mícheál Ó Doibhlín.  Also seen were Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD, Robert Ballagh (Reclaim the Spirit of 1916) and Barry Lyons (Save 16 Moore Street).


(Photos, mostly long-range dodgy mobile ones: D.Breatnach)

A chríoch.



Personnell in costume were provided by Dave Swift of Claoímh ( and Irish Volunteers commemorative association (

Copies of video DVDs €10 each NOT including post and package from email are available through

Save Moore Street from Demolition: and

Save 16 Moore Street:



Diarmuid Breatnach

Derek Molyneux and Darren Kelly are a great 1916 Rising history double act. Taking turns at the narrative, bouncing one off the other at times, sometimes one correcting the other, interrupting one another and on occasion comically resenting the

Darren Kelly and Derek Molyneux presenting their talk at the Cobblestone
Darren Kelly and Derek Molyneux presenting their talk at the Cobblestone

interruption. They are great entertainment. But they are also very knowledgeable on the history of the 1916 Rising and on comparative military history, as well as being passionate about the subject.

They are joint authors of “When the Clock Struck in 1916” by Collins Press (2015) and were the guest speakers presenting a talk on “Close Quarter Combat in the Easter Rising” in the back room of the Cobblestone on Saturday (07/11/2015). The talk was one of a series organised by the Sean Heuston 1916 Society.
Poster for the event
Poster for the event

Their lively and engaging narrative focused more on the insurgent participants and their feelings and on some of the main locations of the fighting than on the leaders. They also speculated on some of the thoughts of the British soldiers engaged in the fighting and quoted from a few of their officers. Contrary to some historical narratives, the duo emphasised the good military sense of the planning and the locations chosen for fortification, as well as the effective fields of fire created. Criticisms of some failures, for example to occupy Trinity College, they ascribed to the confusion occasioned by Mac Neill’s countermanding order canceling “parades, marches or other movements” scheduled for Sunday, which resulted in a serious depletion of numbers turning out to challenge the Empire on Easter Monday.

Front cover of their book launched this year
Front cover of their book launched earlier this year
Their points were well made and although in my opinion did not completely refute some of the criticisms, in terms of fields of fire as illustrated their points were interesting and convincing.
The talk was a little overlong in my opinion and the subsequent discussion in question-and-answer time cut short accordingly, as the room had to be cleared for a music group event. However, some of the audience and the speakers carried on an interesting discussion in the bar, a discussion that broke up into smaller groups and ranged far and wide for hours afterwards.
An interesting and enjoyable talk I would recommend highly – even without the bar follow-up.

Aine Ceannt says MacNeill knew about Easter Rising plans

An interesting look at the Mac Neill cancellation and on Mac Neill in general as well as, in passing, the politics of the reorganised Sinn Féin party in 1919. The comment about Irish Murdoch’s novel is also interesting.

the irish revolution

The common view has it that Eoin MacNeill, the head of the Irish Volunteers at the time of the Easter Rising, was not let in on the plans for a rebellion.  He only found out on its eve and put an advertisement in the Irish Independent on Easter Sunday, cancelling the manoeuvres under which rubric the rebel leaders had planned to launch the rebellion.  As the Irish Times website section on the Rising puts it, “The militants had to deceive their own official leader, Eoin MacNeill. MacNeill’s position was that the Volunteers should resist, by force if necessary, any attempt to disarm them, but that aggressive action could not be contemplated unless it had a real chance of success.”

For historians, political figures and commentators opposed to republicans, this all shows the lack of morality of the rebel leaders and becomes part of the indictment of the Rising and its…

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