COMMEMORATING THE RISING AND WWl

Diarmuid Breatnach

I WAS INVITED TO SING A COUPLE OF SONGS AT THE LAUNCH OF “OUR RISING – CABRA AND PHIBSBOROUGH IN 1916″. Of course I was honoured to accept; the songs I chose to sing were “Sergeant William Bailey” and “Where Is Our James Connolly?” I chose them as important to the events around the Irish Volunteers and hoped they would be considered appropriate to the book launch event also.

 

These years are the centenaries of many things in our history and it is right that we should remember them. Among those things we are told that we should remember the First World War. I think the people who say that are right – we should, but not in the way most of those people mean. We should remember that in a dispute about what markets of the world should be dominated by which World powers and which resources they should have a monopoly on stealing, they sent millions to their deaths and millions more to injury and tragedy. And of course, the capitalists, the class that controlled those Powers were not among those dead and injured millions.

When those people tell us that we should commemorate the First World War and collect songs and memorabilia they don’t mean that we should sing songs against the War, collect anti-War leaflets and honour those brave few who dared speak out publicly against the war stampede of their countries. And who paid the price for doing so. And yet those things too are the history of the War and to my mind the parts of that history that, among all the wars of the past and the present, hold out a hope for the future.

Peadar Kearney, author of "The Soldiers' Song", "Sgt. William Bailey" and many other songs

Peadar Kearney, author of “The Soldiers’ Song”, “Sgt. William Bailey” and many other songs

Peadar Kearney was an Irish Republican of a Dublin skilled working class background born not far from Phibsborough – in Dorset Street, around the corner from Inisfallen Parade, where Sean O’Casey was reared. When Kearney taught night classes in Irish, O’Casey would be one of his pupils.

Kearney wrote many songs that are still sung today, the most famous of which is the Soldiers’ Song, on which he cooperated with Patrick Heeney, from Railway Street, off Gardiner Street. When the Irish Volunteers was formed in 1913, Kearney was a co-founder and his song was one of a number sung by other Volunteers during the 1916 Rising, in which Kearney also fought.

Peadar Kearney also wrote a three-verse song mocking a recruiting sergeant for the British Army, who apparently had a pitch at Dunphy’s Corner. According to a local historian, that was outside what is now Doyle’s pub, at the Phibsboro crossroads. I added two verses to that song, in order to give Sergeant William Bailey a bit of a background story.

Of course, the 1916 Rising is a part of the history of the First World War too – and not only because it took place during that War. For some, undoubtedly, it was a case of “England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity”. But for some others, including Connolly, as he made clear a number of times in writing, the Rising was necessary to interrupt the War, to stop the bloodshed of class brother killing class brother across Europe.

James Connolly, a revolutionary socialist, wanted revolution against world war

James Connolly, a revolutionary socialist, wanted revolution against world war

Connolly was a revolutionary socialist. At the end of the 19th and very early 20th Centuries, the standard position of the international socialist movement had been against imperialist or colonialist war. In 1912, on November 24–25, the congress of world socialist parties at Basel in Switzerland, including revolutionaries and reformists, had come out clearly against imperialist war. Their manifesto was unanimously adopted at the congress. In the context of the situation created by the war in the Balkans that had begun in October 1912 and the increasing threat of world war, the Basel Manifesto called called for an unrelenting struggle against war and those responsible for it, the ruling classes of the capitalist countries. It stated that that war, if it began, “would create an economic and political crisis,” which should be utilized to “hasten the downfall of the rule of capital.”

British Army recruitment poster aimed at Irish men

British Army recruitment poster aimed at Irish men

As we know, the leadership of those parties that we now call the social democrats abandoned this position completely and championed their own ruling classes two years later as WWI broke out, cheering the workers of their countries on into uniform, to kill and be killed. There were some uprisings against the capitalists and against war but the first of any significance — and indeed of great significance — was the 1916 Rising in Ireland. The next revolutionary blow to war would not be until be a year later, with revolution in the Russian Empire.

Of the two better-knowns songs about James Connolly, the song “Where Is Our James Connolly?” is I think the best and truer to Connolly’s ideology. It was written by Patrick Galvin who was, among other things a writer, playwright, screen writer and singer. Galvin died only four years ago. Christy Moore remembers learning the song around 1970 which is probably not long after it was written – or at least published.

Patrick Galvin, author of "Where Is Our James Connolly?"

Patrick Galvin, author of “Where Is Our James Connolly?”

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