APPEAL TO ACT IN SELF-RESPECT – an open letter

Diarmuid Breatnach

Friends and Comrades, self-respecting people of all organisations and none, Irish or migrants, who understand what it is to resist colonialism and imperialism and exploitation of labour: this is an appeal to act in defence of our self-respect.

As you must all be aware by now, the current Government of the Irish State plans to hold an event honouring the Royal Irish Constabulary and the Dublin Metropolitan Police in Dublin on the 17th of this month. Some at least are probably already considering how to react to this shameful event; I hope you are and if so, that you will give my suggestions some consideration. If you have not yet decided to respond to this event then I hope all the more that you will consider what I have to say.

The need to protest this event in a large and unified way is great. It is a matter of our self-respect as a nation, as a colonised people (and colonised peoples) that never ceased resisting, as workers, as trade unionists, as Irish Republicans and all varieties of the Left in Ireland.

The RIC and the DMP were not only the eyes and ears of the English colonist regime but also its first rank arm of repression after the British Army; they were the enforcement bodies of the landlords and bosses.

RIC still on site after assisting an eviction — see the battering ram that was used by the bailiffs to demolish much of the wall. (Photo source: Internet)

ROYAL IRISH CONSTABULARY

          Formed in 1822, the armed nationwide Irish Constabulary got the “Royal” appellation from Victoria, the Famine Queen herself, in recognition of that organisation’s role in the suppression of the Fenian uprising of 1867. During the evictions of poor peasants and agricultural labourers from their lowly cottages and huts, the RIC attended every one, having become the FIRST RANK force of repression in Ireland, the Army being relegated to their backup should it be required. The RIC was the ever-present force of repression during the Tithes War, the Great Hunger and the Land War and was the main force responsible for the suppression of the Young Irelanders in 1848. On 5th May 1882 in Ballina, Co. Mayo, there were children among the slain when the RIC opened fire on a demonstration celebrating the release of the Land League leader prisoners.

RIC constables assisting eviction of Thomas Considine and family, Moyasta, Co. Clare 1767.
(Source photo: Internet)

During the 1916 Rising, the RIC again played its part in repression of the resistance movement, particularly outside Dublin and it was they who attacked the Kent house in Cork, killing one son and arresting two others, including Thomas Kent which the British colonial regime executed, being one of the Sixteen the British killed in reprisal for the Rising. The RIC was the principal organisation supplying the names of non-participants in the Rising to be arrested and interned in jails and concentration camps in Britain.

After the Rising, the RIC continued one of its main roles as the eyes and ears of the British occupation in Ireland, collecting information on anyone who sang patriotic songs, spoke for independence or against the landlords, joined an Irish cultural organisation, agitated for women’s suffrage, organised a trade union branch ….

It was largely due to this role that the armed Republican forces made the RIC its first target in the War of Independence and in fact, the very first shots of that war were fired at the RIC in Soloheadbeg, killing two of them – this very month, 21st January 1919, 101 years ago and only four days after the date upon which this quisling State plans to honour that force.

RIC assisting bailiffs carrying out an eviction. The defenders have blocked the door with thorn brush and are throwing hot water out on their attackers.
(Source photo: Internet)

When the “Black and Tans” and “Auxiliaries”, the RIC Special Reserve and the RIC Auxiliary Division to give them their official titles, were dispatched in March 1920 at Churchill’s initiative to terrorise and murder Irish people, outside Dublin they became part of the of the RIC and from then on, the existing RIC became responsible not only for its prior crimes but for those of the ‘Tans and Auxies too, such as the many murders, including those of the Mayors of Cork and Limerick; the torture of suspects and violation of women; the burning of farmhouses and cooperatives and even of villages and towns: Tuam, Trim, Balbriggan, Knockcroghery, Thurles and Cork – among others.

In 1922, while the RIC ceased to exist in the ‘Free State’, they became the Royal Ulster Constabulary in the Six Counties, with their even-more murderous reserve, the B-Specials. The B-Specials were incorporated into the Ulster Defence Regiment in 1970 and the RUC was renamed the PSNI (Police Force of Northern Ireland) in 2001. Both organisations have been active in carrying out or in collusion with sectarian murders, acting as members or in collusion with Loyalist paramilitaries and under British intelligence operatives.

Bailiffs using battering ram to gain entry to evict a family in Ireland. The RIC are present to protect the bailiffs. (Photo source: Internet)
RIC King Street barracks after attack during War of Independence.
(Photo source: Internet)

DUBLIN METROPOLITAN POLICE

          The DMP was the colonial police force specifically responsible for controlling Dublin, the capital city of the colony. During the 1913 Lockout it showed itself capable of serving Irish capitalists, whether native or of colonist background, without discrimination. Indeed the leader of the Dublin 400 capitalists out to break the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union, was an Irish nationalist, Catholic and owner of The Irish Independent: William Martin Murphy.

Apart from any others this force of tall thugs may have killed or fatally injured with beatings in their cells, the DMP killed a number of workers during the eight months of the struggle, raided houses and sent many to jail. Two workers, James Nolan and John Burke, died of their injuries within days of the DMP’s baton charge on a street meeting in Eden Quay just by Liberty Hall on 30th August 1913. The following day, in what became known as Bloody Sunday Dublin 1913, the DMP was in action again on O’Connell Street and in Princes Street, mercilessly beating people there (including those already knocked down), during which they knocked unconscious Patsy O’Connor, a young Fianna boy of 16 giving first aid to one of the wounded. Patsy died two years later from his injuries at the age of 18.

The DMP in action on O’Connell St on Bloody Sunday 1913, the second day of police riots in Dublin, early during the Lockout.
(Photo source: Internet)

In a rage at the defence by the residents of Corporation Flats of people fleeing the police charge on Eden Quay, the DMP returned there on the 31st, leaving hardly a door or stick of furniture unbroken or person unbeaten, including women and children.

The special political secret police in Dublin were the G Division of the DMP, spying and compiling files on active nationalists, republicans, socialists, suffragettes, Irish speakers, pacifists. After the Surrender of the 1916 Rising, it was they who came among the prisoners to identify them for the British Army, leading to many receiving death and jail sentences. During the 1916 Rising it appears that three DMP officers were killed by the Irish Citizen Army – while many hid in their cells.

Arrest of Jim Larkin by DMP, shortly before the rest of the DMP present attacked supporters and onlookers.
(Photo source: Internet)

During the War of Independence, the DMP G Division spied on and targeted Irish Republicans and other dissident groups. The Irish Republican Army of course targeted this force and killed a number of them. On the day when the IRA mobilised in Dublin to eliminate the special British Army counterinsurgency intelligence network, the DMP and the Auxiliaries seconded to them had already murdered Conor Clune and Volunteers Peadar Clancy and Dick McKee in Dublin Castle.

Later that day, the DMP and RIC went down to attack the GAA and murdered 14 unarmed people, including two players on the field, also injuring 60-70 people.

Aftermath of DMP baton attack on Sinn Féin public meeting in front of ruins of Liberty Hall to arrest Cathal Brugha and George Snr. Plunkett. Inspector John Mills was struck on the head by a hurley and died later in Jervis St. Hospital. His assailant was a member of Na Fianna and he was never apprehended. Mills was the first DMP officer killed after 1916 and the blow was probably not intended to be fatal. A number were shot with intention to kill during the War of Independence.
(Photo source: Internet)

AN ADEQUATE PUBLIC RESPONSE IS NECESSARY

          It is not only appropriate but absolutely necessary, as a matter of self-respect, that we mobilise a public opposition to this disgusting honouring of the spies on our people and the murderers of our martyrs.

There are many ways that this can be done but I would humbly suggest that two in particular are necessary:

  1. A mass public demonstration near the day of the ceremony (or at least near it) and near Dublin Castle (where the event is to be held);

  2. An electronic petition something along the lines of “Self-Respect: Against honouring colonial spies and murderers of our martyrs”.

          Although our people have achieved a number of successes in struggle over the years, we have often failed too. In particular we failed to give an adequate response to the visit of the British Queen (and Commander-in-Chief of the Paratroopers) to Dublin, or to Wall of Shame in Glasnevin Cemetery. There were some other visits of notable imperialists which also did not receive an adequate response.

Failure is not fatal and we can recover from it – but we cannot build on failure. We can only build on success. This public response needs to be a success and in order to achieve that it cannot be the response of one organisation or of two but needs to be a broad one in which anyone can take part who are not racists or fascists. In order to achieve that, the organising committee should be broad enough to include activists from across the oppositional spectrum who are not part of a party of government (or part of previous government) in either jurisdiction in Ireland. Such an organising committee should be able to include representatives of socialist and republican parties and collectives and also trade unionists.

A broad demonstration of that kind should be free of paramilitary displays which would represent only a section and quite probably alienate another. But all Irish and migrant community and trade union flags and banners should be permitted (with the exception of racist or fascist ones) and the broad banner on the front should spell the general theme of the demonstration.

I am conscious that I am nobody in particular to make this call but given that I think such a response is necessary and that I really want to see this, I make the call anyway and pledge myself to help.

End.

FURTHER INFORMATION LINKS

Report on planned commemoration by the Government: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/ric-and-dmp-policemen-to-be-commemorated-for-first-time-by-state-1.4128214

Collection of letters protesting whitewashing of the RIC and DMP to the Irish Times in 2013 found on Internet: http://www.inc-cne.com/RIC-DMP.pdf

HOW TO WIN THE WAR – GETTING INTO POSITION

(Reading time: Introduction, one minute; Part One: 5 mins; Part Two 2 mins: Part Three: 3 mins; Part Four: 2 mins; Total: 13 mins.)

Diarmuid Breatnach

INTRODUCTION:

Although I often think about the big questions – and am generally guided by my philosophy on them, my mind and energy are usually too occupied with specific struggles to focus on them for long. Recently however I had the opportunity and the need to think about the war, the one we have yet to win.

Storming Bastille Painting Jean-Pierre Houel
The Storming of the Bastille (translation), French Revolution, 1789 by Jean-Pierre Houel. (Image sourced: Internet)

But to which war am I referring? The Irish war of national liberation that has been flaring up for centuries, being lost each time before flaring up again? Or the class war, which has had a few sharp Irish episodes but has been, for the most part in Ireland, in abeyance? The answer is BOTH, though it may seem that my emphasis in the discussion, certainly in the early part, is on the national liberation war.

In order to imagine how we might win, it is helpful to examine past struggles and analyse what went wrong with them. Pessimists love to focus on those things I know – but in order to push us towards reformism or just surrender; my approach instead is from a revolutionary perspective.

Generally, Socialists analysing the class struggle don’t even ask themselves why we have not had a revolution yet. From week to week, month to month, they tend to focus on this or that particular trade union or social struggle but without going into the big picture. It seems as though they can’t even imagine a socialist uprising in Ireland, it’s just too far away to think about, apparently. But if one can’t even imagine such a revolution, how could one consider the necessary steps to get there?

Communards Paris Barricade 1871
Communards at barricade, Paris Commune 1871. (Image source: Internet)

Irish Republicans on the other hand are often thinking in terms of revolution, usually including armed struggle. However it seems to me that Irish Republicans don’t like analysing past failures of the movement but when they do, their verdicts tend to be that the leaders betrayed the struggle or that taking part in public elections corrupted the movement; or that infiltration, spies and informers was the problem. And some other reasons. The thing is, although all those things played a particular part, they are not the fundamental reason.

Defeat Rebels Vinegar Hill Drawing George Cruikshank
“Defeat of the Rebels at Vinegar Hill” by George Cruikshanks, i.e United Irishmen last major position in Wexford overrun, 1798.

PART ONE: THE THIRTY-YEARS’ WAR – DOOMED TO LOSE

(Reading time this section: less than 5 minutes)

Free Derry Corner Gas Mask Images
Derry Monument and Mural of the Civil Rights struggle which preceded the armed struggle in the Six Counties. (Image sourced: Internet)

          The national liberation war that began in 1969 in the Six Counties and ended in 1998 (though some armed incidents continue from time to time) began as a civil rights struggle and changed into a war of communal defence and of national liberation. The military part of the struggle for the most part took place in the occupied Six Counties. The political element of the struggle was waged all over Ireland (and abroad) but in the main consisted of support for the struggle in the Six occupied Counties.

Fought in that way, the struggle was bound to lose. It could never win. How could anyone imagine that they could win a struggle fought against a world power in one-sixth of the country, where even the population there was divided against them? What could they have been thinking?

To my mind, there are only two possible sane replies to that question, which is that they believed: 1) that the British ruling class would get worn down by struggle and leave and/ or 2) that the Irish ruling class would intervene in some way to assist the struggle and make continued British occupation untenable.

1) ‘The British ruling class would get worn down and leave’: This theory must have depended on British repression being condemned abroad and being unpopular at home but had to rest fundamentally on the British having no great stake in continuing its possession of its colony there.

Anyone who thought that (and there were many who did and still many who do, not just Irish Republicans) made a fundamental error. Time and again the British ruling class has shown its determination to hang on to what might be considered its first colony, even as the ruling class’ composition changed from feudal-colonialist to capitalist-imperialist and as the world changed around it.

Collusion State Murder Mural
Mural in nationalist area in the Six Counties (Image sourced: Internet)

Even when the British ruling class, weakened by WW1 and facing an Irish guerrilla war which enjoyed the support of the vast majority of Irish people, with national liberation uprisings breaking out across its Empire and with its repression in Ireland increasingly unpopular at home, entered into negotiations with the Irish resistance, it held on to a foothold, the Six Counties.

Subsequently, it had that colony managed in a permanent state of emergency laws, with institutionalised sectarian discrimination at all official levels and outbreaks of pogroms in the street and workplace.

That became even more exposed during the civil rights struggle and the national liberation war that followed when the British State compromised whatever good international reputation remained to its Armed Forces, its judiciary, its legal establishment, its media and its very legal framework.

Even now, when many believe that the Good Friday Agreement means that a 50% plus-one-vote in favour in the Six Counties will be sufficient to end Partition, they do not realise that such a decision will have to also obtain a majority in the British Parliament and be endorsed by the British Monarch. They are also forgetting the broken promises that surrounded Partition in the first place.

British Soldiers Helmeted Belfast 1969
British Army in Belfast 1969 (bayonets and guns pointed towards nationalist area). (Image sourced: Internet)

When analysing what holding on to the Six Counties has cost the British State in terms of reputation, military and financial contributions, one can only rationally assume that continuing to hold on to that foothold is of great importance to the British State. One may speculate as to the reasons underlying that but the central fact cannot be denied.

2) ‘The Irish ruling class would intervene in some way to assist the struggle and make continued British occupation untenable’:

There was some basis for this belief in that a section of Fianna Fáil, a party that had emerged from a split in Sinn Féin in the 1930s and had become one of the mainstream parties in the Irish state, had retained some traditional commitment to seeking a united Ireland. However it was a thin enough basis on which to depend in a national liberation struggle since that section had no majority within the party itself, to say nothing of the foreign-dependent nature of the Irish native capitalist class, the Gombeens, as a whole.

The question came to a trial of strength in the Arms Crisis of 1970, in which at least two Fianna Fáil Government Ministers were involved in secretly buying arms for the defence of nationalist areas in the Six Counties (since the IRA had insufficient weapons at the time) from rampaging Loyalist mobs and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (including the part-time B-Specials). The Ministers alleged that they had acted in the full knowledge of the rest of the Government. By the time the whole affair was over, two Ministers had been sacked and another two resigned in protest.

If it had not been clear before that the Gombeens, the native Irish capitalist class was no patriotic capitalist class but rather a neo-colonial one, it should have been clear after that. But the armed struggle in the Six Counties intensified, especially after the massacres of unarmed civilians carried out by British Paratroopers the following year, 1971 in Belfast and again in Derry in 1972. And the war lasted until 1998.

If, as had been demonstrated to be the case that the British ruling class were determined to hold on to the Six Counties and the Irish ruling class was not going to seriously challenge that possession, did the Republican movement have any other option than to fight on a war that they could not possibly win?

I am clear that it did.

Clearly, in order to have a chance of success, the war had to be extended to the other five-fifths of the country, which is to say into the territory under the control of the Irish native capitalist class. This class had seized power after the War of Independence (1919-1921) and had beaten and suppressed its opposition during and after the Civil War (1922-1923) and furthermore was supported by a powerful ally, the Irish Catholic Church. Since the founding of the first Irish Republican organisation, the United Irishmen of the late 1790s, the Catholic Church hierarchy had opposed Irish Republicanism; it had condemned four Irish priests who participated in the uprising of 1798, excommunicated the Fenians, had at first condemned the 1916 Rising and the War of Independence only to latch on to it at the end along with the Gombeen class.

The general Irish population likely would not have supported or sustained an armed struggle in the 1970s against the Gombeen class but that class could have been fought politically, through agitation and mobilisation, on many social, political and economic fronts. Without going into the specific details of each, these were:

  1. against the huge wastage of Irish youth through emigration

  2. to remedy the shortage of affordable housing (which in part contributed to the above)

  3. to end unemployment (also contributing hugely to emigration)

  4. to raise the level of wages and lower wage earners’ taxation

  5. for the right to divorce

  6. for equality for women in law

  7. for the right to contraception devices and medication for men and women

  8. against decriminalisation and for equal rights for gay and lesbians

  9. to halt the decline of the Irish language, in particular of the rural Irish-speaking areas

  10. to improve services for the rural areas

  11. to oppose the open-door policy for foreign multinationals to exploit Irish natural and human resources

  12. to secularise the education service

  13. and the health service.

  14. to remove the privileged status of the Catholic Church within the state.

Irish Womens Liberation Connolly Station
Irish women photographed at Connolly Station 1971, about to board train to Belfast to purchase contraceptives to bring back to the Irish state, illegal at the time. There was no right to abortion either or divorce and a husband’s signed permission was necessary to take out a hire purchase agreement. (Image sourced: Internet)

The Republican movement in general, with some exceptions, declined to take on any of those struggles. They did not organise in the trade union movement, left the social struggles to others and most of all, declined to take on the Catholic Church on any issue except its opposition to the national liberation struggle. Even there, it was happy to publicly avail of the services of members of the Church clergy who supported them. Republicanism was, from its very beginning, as well as anti-monarchist, about separation of Church and State but it was difficult to see that in the Irish Republican movement, particularly after the War of Independence.

A full half of those fourteen points above (nos. 5,6, 7, 8, 12, 13 and 14) would have meant taking on the Church head-on and no doubt the hierarchy would have hindered the struggle over most of the others too, due to its strong links with the State and its ruling class.

Because of its tactical and no doubt ideological refusal to take up those struggles, the Republican movement could do little more in the 26-County state than to agitate for solidarity with the beleaguered nationalist population inside the British colony.

Though this could be effective for a time it could not become a mass movement, nor survive a long struggle, without any remedy being sought for the issues facing the population within the state.

The wonder is not that the majority leadership of the Republican Movement threw in the towel on the military struggle in 1998 but that they had waited so long to do it. Of course, they never admitted the true nature of what they were doing: abandoning the armed struggle and revolution in total and instead, using their negotiating position to advance themselves politically – not in the economic, social and political struggle envisioned above but rather in a political struggle to find themselves a place among the Gombeen political class in the Irish state and as accomplices in the governing of the colonial state.

PART 2: COLLECTING THE FORCES FOR REVOLUTION

(Reading time this section: 2 minutes)

          A successful revolution in Ireland, as in most places, would require the involvement of a mass movement. That mass movement would be unlikely to be one that had national self-determination as its only aim – certainly not in the 26 Counties (the Irish state). Mass movements arise at times around different issues and exist as long as the issue does or instead until the movement gets worn down or broken up. Such movements arose around the Household Tax and, later, around the additional Water Charges.

Water Protest Long View 29 Aug 2015
Section of protest against water charges, O’Connell Street, Dublin, 29 Aug. 2015 (Image source: Internet)

Even though the objectives of such movements are often not revolutionary, the participation in them by revolutionaries is necessary if, in the future, there is to be a revolution. Revolutionary activists can make contacts and prove themselves by the way they participate whilst at the same time pointing out that a revolution is necessary in order to resolve all these issues completely and permanently. Such activists can also influence the movement (or sections of it) to act in more revolutionary ways, so that the movement can be guided by – and imbued with — revolutionary spirit.

Working people in struggles come up against concrete problems which need to be resolved in order to move forward. Prior to 1913 in Ireland, workers learned the need for unity in struggle which was emphasised by the employers’ attempts to break the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union in August 1913. The attacks on them by the Dublin Metropolitan Police illustrated the need for organised defence and Larkin and Connolly called for the formation of what became the Irish Citizen Army, which later also fought prominently in the 1916 Rising.

Packed Workers Liberty Hall 1913
Members and supporters of the Irish Transport & General Workers’ Union cheering outside the union’s HQ, Liberty Hall, August 1913. Later the union formed the ICA to defend themselves from the DMP; the ICA took a prominent part in the 1916 Rising. (Image source: Internet)

Trade unions are the only mass organisations of the working class in Ireland and it is necessary for revolutionaries to be active within them. Currently, other than social democrats, it is mainly members of both trotskyist parties and independent activists who engage politically with the trade unions. Those members are mostly in clerical work and their political work tends to concentrate on employment demands around wages and working conditions. When they introduce politics it is generally to get some motion passed by their branch. Also at times, they will campaign to get a perceived left-wing candidate elected to some position within the trade union bureaucracy.

None of the above are without value but they remain disjointed in terms of program and often confined to just one trade union. Not only that, but often the Left party involved will engage in order to recruit some new members and in order also to retain their own members by providing them with activity. When broad front trade union groups are formed, they tend to become an arena where the dominant trotskyist parties compete for dominance.

If we are to have a successful revolution – and in particular a socialist one – participation in the struggles of workers in the trade union movement is absolutely necessary. But participation should be primarily among the rank and file of the trade union and also across trade unions, focused on providing solidarity to members of whichever union is in struggle – in addition to encouraging unorganised workers to organise and become active. The objective is not to help make one trade union or one section more militant but rather to create a militant workers solidarity movement within the whole trade union movement. It is essential to have members in the ‘blue-collar’ work unions or departments as well as in the clerical unions or sections. And the cross-union organisation I advocated should be independent — the preserve of no political party.

Participation in such struggles provides an opportunity for revolutionaries to make contact with people who are activists but not yet revolutionaries and to give those people an opportunity to evaluate the revolutionaries in terms of their actual practice. Revolutionaries can support the people struggling for worthwhile reforms while at the same time pointing to their partial and temporary nature. Revolutionary activists can play an educational role in the mass movements while at the same time becoming educated themselves by the daily reality faced by the masses in this system.

PART 3: THE ABSOLUTE NEED FOR UNITY – BUT WHAT KIND?

(Reading time this section: 3 minutes)

          It is, most people would think, a ‘no-brainer’ (i.e an obvious truth) that unity is necessary in the struggle to overthrow the current system. It might be thought surprising, therefore, that disunity is more the rule among those who aspire to revolution.

Generally, those who claim to be revolutionary socialists will not unite with Irish Republicans. In addition, those socialists of one party will often fail to unite with those of a different party. The same dynamic is to be seen among Irish Republicans also.

There have been many attempts to overcome this problem. In the 1930s the Republican Congress sought to unite Irish Republicans with revolutionary socialists. In the face of hostility within the mainstream Republican movement and also with divisions among the communist element in Ireland at the time, faced in addition with anti-communist hysteria whipped up by the Catholic Church, the experiment failed. The leadership of the Sinn Féin and the IRA of the later 1960s tried to combine socialism and republicanism within one party and military organisation, an attempt that crashed when it was discovered that the arms necessary to defend ‘nationalist’ community areas in the Six Counties, particularly in Belfast, were unavailable, leading to an acrimonious split in the movement. A subsequent attempt to combine the socialist and republican elements in another organisation survived a little longer but also failed for a number of reasons, some internal and also due to Irish State repression.

Shankhill Rd Republican Congress WT Commemoration 1934
Socialist Republicans, members of Republican Congress from Shankhill Road, marching to annual Wolfe Tone commemoration, Bodenstown 1934. They were attacked by conservative Republicans. (Photo source: Internet)

There have been some attempts to unite the non-republican Left itself also, which usually failed due in part to ideological differences but also to political sectarianism and personality clashes. Currently both trotskyist parties have an uneasy working relationship, the small grouping of Independents for Change exists also, the Communist Party is very small too and the anarchists are scattered and unable for years now, for the most part, to mount united action.

Attempts to unite the various parts of the Irish Republican movement have, in general, focused on creating a new organisation or absorbing activists unhappy with one organisation into another.

A frequent approach has been for some people to sit down and produce what they consider solid policy and a constitution, then to propose this format to others around which to unite. Even when accepting amendments from the elements they seek to recruit, these attempts too have largely failed.

It seems a rational approach: if we want unity, surely first we have to agree on what for, how, etc, etc before we can go into action? I believe, contrary though it may seem, that actually we should unite in action first. Uniting in action tends to break down barriers of mistrust that are built on hearsay or suspicions fostered by sectarian elements. Action also tends to clarify certain questions that until then are theoretical only. Of course, at some point, action will need to be guided by worked out policy but initially the action itself can be sufficient guide, especially since approaching the question the other way around has been so generally unproductive.

Unity Is Strength Image copy

The question then arises: with whom to unite? In general, I would say that the answer is: with all with whom we can, in actual practice, unite: different types of revolutionary socialists (including anarchists), Irish Republicans, Left social democrats, human and civil rights activists.

There are some exceptions I think necessary to mention: fascists, racists, religious sectarians and parties that participate in Government. Fascists seek to impose an undemocratic regime completely hostile to the interests of working people and, far from our uniting with them, need to be defeated; racists and religious sectarians seek to divide the movement along lines of ethnicity or religious affiliation. Revolutionaries need to draw a clear line of distinction between the movements of resistance and those who participate in a native capitalist or colonial government, i.e the management organisations of the enemy.

Many issues lend themselves to united action but perhaps none more so, and none are more essential, than against repression.

PART FOUR: UNITY AGAINST REPRESSION

(Reading time this section: 3 minutes)

          All revolutionary movements – and many that are progressive but not revolutionary – face repression at some point in their existence. Not to recognise that fact and to have some kind of preparation for it, even if very basic, is indicative of a non-revolutionary attitude to the State. Nor have we any reason in Ireland to be complacent on this question.

The Irish State turned to military suppression in the first year of its existence as did also the colonial statelet. Detentions, torture, murders and official executions were carried out by Free State forces over a number of years, followed by censorship and arrests, all facilitated by emergency repressive legislation. In the Six Counties, in addition to similar even more repressive legislation, there were two sectarian militarised police forces and sectarian civilian organisations.

After a change of government, the Irish State introduced internment without trial during the Emergency (1939-1946), the Offences Against the State Act in 1939, Special Criminal (sic) Courts in 1972 and the Amendment to the OAS in that same year.

Bloody Sunday march Derry 2014
Poster for 2014 Commemoration of Bloody Sunday massacre, Derry 1972. The poster calls for unity. (Image source: Internet)

The Six County statelet had the Special Powers Act (1922) and brought in internment without trial in 1971 (the Ballymurphy Massacre that year and the Derry Massacre the following year, both by the Parachute Regiment, were of people protesting the introduction of internment). The statelet also introduced the Emergency Provisions Act and the no-jury Diplock Courts in 1973 and, though technically abolished in 2007, non-jury trials can and do take place up to today.

The British state targeted the Irish diaspora in Britain in 1974 with the Prevention of Terrorism (sic) Act and that same year and the following, framed and convicted nearly a score of innocent people of bombings in five different cases – had the death penalty not been previously abolished for murder, most of them would have been executed. It took the victims over 15 years to win their freedom, by which time one had died in jail. Brought in as a temporary measure, the PTA continued in force until 1989 but a general Terrorism Act was brought into British Law in 2000 and remains in force today.

Birmingham Six Photos Bruises
Photos of the Birmingham Six, Irishmen resident in England, showing bruises from police beatings after their arrest in 1974; they were also beaten by jailers. Also arrested, brutalised, framed and convicted were the Guildford Four, Maguire Seven and Giuseppe Conlon and Judith Ward. (Photo source: Internet)

State repression rarely targets the whole population and, particularly in a capitalist “democracy” focuses on particular groups which it fears or feels it can safely persecute. However, we should also recall Pastor Niemoller’s words about the creeping repression which even the German Nazi state instituted, going after first one group, then another, and another …. Among the list of groups targeted eventually by the Nazis were Jews, Roma, Communists, Socialists, Anarchists, Social Democrats, Jehova’s Witnesses, Free Masons, Gays and Lesbians, Mentally Ill or challenged, physically challenged ….

It is in the interests of the vast majority of the population to oppose repression of different groups, whether those groups be based on ethnicity, gender, sexuality, citizenship status or democratic politics. Not everyone recognises this of course but one might expect that political activists challenging the status quo would do so. Sadly, experience shows that they do not in practice (though they may acknowledge it intellectually).

Lineup Clenched Fists & Banner
Anti-Internment and political prisoner solidarity picket September 2016 at Kilmainham Jail, Dublin (a former place of detention and execution for political prisoners under both the British occupation and the Irish State, now a museum). (Photo source: Rebel Breeze)

With some periodic exceptions, socialist groups in Ireland do not support protests against repression of republicans. Furthermore, some republican groups will not support others when the latter are subjected to repression. Yet at any time, Republicans of any group can be and are regularly harassed in public or raided at home; their employers may be warned about them by the political police; they may be detained on special repressive legislation, denied bail, effectively interned; they can be easily convicted in the non-jury Special Criminal Courts or Diplock Courts; ex-prisoners released on licence in the Six Counties can be returned to jail without any charge or possibility of defence.

The Irish State’s non-jury Special Criminal Court is a tempting facility for putting away people whom the State finds annoying and it is widely thought it was considered for the trials of the Jobstown protesters. The result of the trial, where the jury clearly took a different view to the presiding judge, may well have justified the opinion of those in the State who considered sending the defendants to the SCC.

solidarity woodcut

Unity against repression is a fundamental need of a healthy society and of movements that challenge the status quo. Practical unity in any kind of action also tends to break down barriers and assists general revolutionary broad unity. Unity against repression is so basic a need that agreement with this or that individual is unnecessary, nor with this or that organisation in order to defend them against repression. Basic democratic rights were fought for by generations and have to be defended; in addition they give activists some room to act without being jailed. On this basis, all must unite in practice and political sectarianism has no place in that.

Without some basic unity in practice across the sector challenging the status quo, there can be no revolution. But more than that: we stand together against repression ….. or we go to jail separately.

End.

Diarmuid Breatnach is a veteran independent revolutionary activist, currently particularly active in committees against repression, in some areas of internationalist solidarity and in defence of historical memory.

PART 2: COLLECTING THE FORCES FOR REVOLUTION

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time this section: 2 minutes)

(Part of series “HOW TO WIN THE WAR  — GETTING INTO POSITION”.  See also INTRODUCTION; PART 1: THE THIRTY-YEARS’ WAR – DOOMED TO LOSE;                      PART 3: THE ABSOLUTE NEED FOR UNITY – BUT HOW AND WHAT KIND? WITH WHOM? PART 4: UNITY AGAINST REPRESSION

A successful revolution in Ireland, as in most places, would require the involvement of a mass movement. That mass movement would be unlikely to be one that had national self-determination as its only aim – certainly not in the 26 Counties (the Irish state). Mass movements arise at times around different issues and exist as long as the issue does or instead until the movement gets worn down or broken up. Such movements arose around the Household Tax and, later, around the additional Water Charges.

Water Protest Long View 29 Aug 2015
Section of protest against water charges, O’Connell Street, Dublin, 29 Aug. 2015 (Image source: Internet)

Even though the objectives of such movements are often not revolutionary, the participation in them by revolutionaries is necessary if, in the future, there is to be a revolution. Revolutionary activists can make contacts and prove themselves by the way they participate and also regularly point out that a revolution is necessary in order to resolve all these issues completely and permanently. Such activists can also influence the movement (or sections of it) to act in more revolutionary ways, so that the movement can be guided by – and imbued with — revolutionary spirit.

Working people in struggles come up against concrete problems which need to be resolved in order to move forward. Prior to 1913 in Ireland, workers learned the need for unity in struggle which was emphasised by the employers’ attempts to break the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union in August 1913. The attacks on them by the Dublin Metropolitan Police illustrated the need for organised defence and Larkin and Connolly called for the formation of what became the Irish Citizen Army, which later also fought prominently in the 1916 Rising.

Packed Workers Liberty Hall 1913
Members and supporters of the Irish Transport & General Workers’ Union cheering outside the union’s HQ, Liberty Hall, August 1913. Later the union formed the ICA to defend themselves from the DMP; the ICA took a prominent part in the 1916 Rising. (Image source: Internet)

Trade unions are the only mass organisations of the working class in Ireland and it is necessary for revolutionaries to be active within them. Currently, other than social democrats, it is mainly members of both trotskyist parties and independent activists who engage politically with the trade unions. Those members are mostly in clerical work and their political work tends to concentrate on employment demands around wages and working conditions. When they introduce politics it is generally to get some motion passed by their branch. Also at times, they will campaign to get a perceived left-wing candidate elected to some position within the trade union bureaucracy.

None of the above are without value but they remain disjointed in terms of program and often confined to just one trade union. Not only that, but often the Left party involved will engage in order to recruit some new members and in order also to retain their own members by providing them with activity. When broad front trade union groups are formed, they tend to become an arena where the dominant trotskyist parties compete for dominance.

If we are to have a successful revolution – and in particular a socialist one – participation in the struggles of workers in the trade union movement is absolutely necessary. But participation should be primarily among the rank and file of the trade union and also across trade unions, focused on providing solidarity to members of whichever unions are in struggle – in addition to encouraging unorganised workers to organise and become active. The objective is not to help make one trade union or one section more militant but rather to create a militant workers solidarity movement within the whole trade union movement. It is essential to have members in the ‘blue-collar’ work unions or departments as well as in the clerical unions or sections. And the cross-union organisation I advocated should be independent — the preserve of no political party.

Participation in such struggles provides an opportunity for revolutionaries to make contact with people who are activists but not yet revolutionaries and to give those people an opportunity to evaluate the revolutionaries in terms of their actual practice. Revolutionaries can support the people struggling for worthwhile reforms while at the same time pointing to their partial and temporary nature. Revolutionary activists can play an educational role in the mass movements while at the same time becoming educated themselves by the daily reality faced by the masses in this system.

WAR, SPLIT AND PLANNING INSURRECTION

Diarmuid Breatnach

 

On the 5th August 1914 the Supreme Council of the IRB, one months after the British had declared war on Germany, decided in principle to instigate a rising for Irish independence.

On 5th August 1914, one month after the British had declared war, the Supreme Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood decided in principle to lead a Rising. They envisaged, as many observers did too, that the War would not last long and arming and preparing for an insurrection would be difficult within that timeframe. The war continuing well beyond the at most expected period of a year, provided the IRB with the space to organise, plan, prepare – and also with an ally to arm them: Germany.

The split in the Irish Volunteers caused by Redmond’s speech at Woodenbridge, offering the Volunteers to British Imperialism for the war against German Imperialism and Turkey, left the secret Irish Republican Brotherhood in a position to take control of the remainder, those who declined to fight for Britain and determined instead to fight for Ireland’s independence.

Over a number of months Patrick Pearse became Director of Military Organisation, Bulmer Hobson Quartermaster General, Joseph Plunkett became Director of Military Operations, Éamonn Ceannt, Director of Communications, while Thomas MacDonagh became Director of Training.

The Gaelic scholar Eoin Mac Neill, titular head of the Irish Volunteers prior to and after the 1914 split. He would later be disgraced in the eyes of many for his public cancellation of the 1916 Rising which went ahead without him but much diminished in numbers. (Image sourced: Internet)
Bulmer Hobson in later years. By 1916 be had separated from the IRB he had helped reorganise and was even put under armed detention for a period by the IRB.
(Image sourced: Internet)
Patrick Pearse
(Image sourced: Internet)

The titular head of the Volunteers, the Gaelic scholar Eoin Mac Neil, and such founding figures as The O’Rahilly, while in prominent positions and refusing to follow Redmond, did not embody the same coherence and determination for insurrection as was embodied in the IRB.

That list above contains four of the later signatories of the 1916 Proclamation. Seán Mac Diarmada and Thomas Clarke are missing but, though central figures in the reorganisation of the IRB over preceding years, that is not surprising: the older Fenian, veteran of 15 years in British jail in conditions which, it is said, sent one third of his comrades insane and another third to early graves, preferred to work in the shadows. No doubt he had instructed his student and energetic organiser, Mac Diarmada, to do likewise in so far as possible. However, they too joined the expanded Military Council in late 1915.

Thomas Clarke, ex-Fenian prisoner and the real head of the IRB in Ireland. (Image sourced: Internet)
Seán Mac Diarmada, recruited into the IRB by Hobson but became a close supporter of Clarke’s. (Image sourced: Internet)

The fifth of the Proclamation Signatories missing is James Connolly, who in August 1914 was recovering and rebuilding the Irish Transport & General Workers union, months after the end of their exhausting 8-month struggle against the Dublin employers. But he was horrified by the imperialist war and the pitting of workers against one another, divided by the ruling classes of their respective locations, uniforms of different colours concealing their common interests. Connolly wanted a rising – not just for independence but also against the coming butchery of War. The reorganisation of the Irish Citizen Army, the worker’s defence militia, began to engage Connolly’s energies but he was only sworn into the IRB in January 1916, three months before the Rising.

James Connolly, photographed in 1900. (Image sourced: Internet)

So many different threads in Irish life – cultural, political, class and nation – had been coming together, to weave a tapestry that would be read in different ways over decades but would still have powerful images, colours and words to move women and men over a century later.

 

End.

SPEECH BY SAVE MOORE STREET FROM DEMOLITION REPRESENTATIVE AT RALLY AFTER MARCH 30th JANUARY 2016

Diarmuid Breatnach

Go raibh maith agat a Chathaoirligh agus a Choiste Eagraithe as an gcuireadh chun cainte ar son feachtas Shábhála Ó Leagaint Shráid an Mhúraigh. Go raibh maith agaibh freisin, a lucht tacaíochta, as a bheith i láthair agus as bhur néachtanna go dtí seo.

Thank you Chair and Organising Committee for the invitation to speak on behalf of the Save Moore Street From Demolition Group and to supporters of the campaign here today and for their deeds in the past.

The Save Moore Street From Demolition group began in September 2014, founded by a handful of people who had supported other Moore Street campaigners over the years and at times helped with organising events. Our call to do something different was the emergency looming when Chartered Land offered to hand over the houses of the national monument, No.14-17, to Dublin City Council in exchange for the ones owned by them, No.s 24-25. We knew that once O’Reilly got those two, he would have demolished them …. along with the rest of the 1916 Terrace all the way up and including No.18.

Brendan Viv man
Moore Street, November 2014, Vivienne Lee at the weekly campaign table while people sign the petition. Brendan O’Neill, an early supporter, signing.

The Council’s Chief Executive, Owen Keegan, was completely in favour but he had a problem: since this involved disposal of Council assets, the deal could not be agreed by officials but would have to be voted for by a majority of Councillors. So it was put to them and he recommended acceptance. And the SMSFD group was born to fight that.

We put up a table with a petition every Saturday in Moore Street. We lobbied Councillors on line and at Council meetings. We gave out leaflets in Moore St. We set up FB pages and kept them lively every week, slowly building up our support. Down in Moore Street, we interacted with the street traders, small shops and of course with passers-by.

Number of people signing the petition at the Moore Street stall in its early days
Number of people signing the petition at the Moore Street stall in its early days, Robbie Lawlor at the table.


I’d be lying if I said there were not times when we were tempted to stop. Maybe times when only three of us were there and when one of that three was off sick or away, or even two. But others did come by to help us from time to time.

And when we gave the emergency call about the planned demolition of the buildings, when we called the emergency demonstrations for two consecutive days in the street, the response was immediate. And it was active. The people who occupied those buildings saved them from being demolished.

And the campaign that we have now built together will hopefully ensure that the 1916 Terrace will be saved for the benefit of generations to come, both in Ireland and around the world.

TERRACE AND SITE

The experts employed by the State and the speculators tell us that one building or another in the terrace is not a 1916 building.  But the fact is that there has never been an independent survey of the site.  Can we trust experts employed by speculators who care nothing for history or heritage, whose only concern is making lots of money?  Can we trust experts employed by a State that has cared little throughout its history for heritage, culture or history but has been focused instead throughout on serving the Gombeens in our country and vultures from abroad?

I think we cannot. But regardless of what any expert may say, whether independent or not, no-one can deny that terrace is the site of the GPO garrison. The whole terrace. Sixteen houses. Not four.

Moore Stret December 2014, the weekly campaign stall in its early days -- Brónagh Ní Loing, Diarmuid Breatnach at table with Mel Mac Giobúin talking to an interested passer-by
Moore Stret December 2014, the weekly campaign stall in fourth month — Bróna Ní Loing, Diarmuid Breatnach at table with Mel Mac Giobúin talking to an interested passer-by

Sixteen – something of an important and recurring number in connection with the Rising. The year was 1916. The number of executions was sixteen. And there are sixteen houses.

That whole site is a historic site and by any rational, historically-minded appraisal, not only deserves preservation, but cries out for it. Cries out for preservation, Brothers and Sisters, in the midst of this historic quarter, this small area in the heart of Dublin, with its last remaining street of a whole market area, centuries old, now buried under the ILAC. A small historic quarter with artifacts, points of importance, buildings and sites of importance going back to the Land War, the 1913 Lockout, the 1916 Rising, the War of Independence, the Civil War ….

BRICKS AND MORTAR

It is just bricks and mortar,” some of our critics have said. “History is about people, not buildings.” Of course, history is about people. And not just leaders, but the mass of people who, in the midst of their daily struggles to live, to work, to raise families, dare to dream. And where do dreams happen? In the imagination.

And has psychology not taught us the importance of symbols? This building behind me has a symbolism of great potency. The faces of the our martyrs, our flags, the pictures of the starving people of the Great Hunger, the words of speeches and proclamations which we read in little symbols of written words, plaques and monuments …. the very letters on paper, also symbols to convey meaning …. even our spoken words ….

All these symbols give shape and expression to our dreams. Not only the dreams which we experience in our sleep but the great dreams of humanity, the waking and sleeping dream, of freedom, peace, in which to pursue our interests, in which to seek happiness.

SPECULATORS

These our dreams, our human dreams of progress for mankind, are not shared by all.  They are not shared by Joe O’Brien of Chartered Land.

They are not shared by the board of directors of Irish Life, who buried the rest of the centuries-old market under their architecturally-hideous ILAC shopping centre. And who seek to build further out into Moore Street and upwards and have been granted permission by Dublin City Council Planning Department to do so.

And so we must conclude, must we not, that our dreams are not shared by such senior officials in Dublin City Council as Owen Keegan and others running the Planning Department.

No. They do not share our dreams for the future, nor our respect for what was valuable in our past.

December 2014, crowd signing the petition in Moore Street, Brónagh at the table
December 2014, crowd signing the petition in Moore Street, Bróna at the table

An Bord Pleanála has approved the massive shopping centre plan to construct an architectural horror from O’Connell Street across to Moore Street, and from O’Rahilly Parade down to Henry Street, in the course of which they will destroy the 1916 Terrace and enclose a shoebox museum … next to a MacDonalds, perhaps, or a Starbucks …. Constructing a cathedral to Mammon, to the gods of chain stores and eatery franchises ….. So we must conclude that An Bord Pleanála does not share our dreams either.

Lobby of Dublin City Councillors against the 'Land Swap" in Moore Street, 4th October 2014
Lobby of Dublin City Councillors at City Hall 4th October 2014against the ‘Land Swap” in Moore Street, — picket organised by Save Moore Street From Demolition campaign. Signed petition sheets sellotaped together stretched — 2nd and 3rd participants from left are Paddy Cooney and Proinsias Ó Rathaile, of the Save Moore Street campaign.

But does an Bord Pleanála act independently? No it does not, as we well know and as been shown in many planning controversies in the past. It follows the dictates, nods and winks of its political masters, the political class and its nominees in the Dáil. And these do not belong to one political party only, but to several.

And Minister Heather Humphreys, their representative with special responsibility in this case, patently does not share our dreams nor our respect for heritage.

The board of directors of the giant property company Hammerson do not share our dreams either. They dream of big ugly buildings and giant car parks where chain stores and restaurants and franchise eateries can market their goods, depriving shops and goods of any individual regional or national character, making one city’s commercial centre look like any other, from Dublin to Dupont, from Cork to Caracas.

But behind all this array of servile public departments and officials and political representatives, aiding and abetting the clutch of home-grown speculators and foreign vultures, there are the final villains, the whole Irish class of neo-colonial, money-grabbing, huckstering, fumbling-in-a-greasy-til, greedy, incompetent, philistine shower that climbed up upon our backs in 1921 – the Irish gombeen class.

CAPITALIST CLASS

When we have viewed with dismay how little our native ruling class cares for our land, our history, our natural resources, or very PEOPLE ….. some among us have said: “But how can they treat with such disrespect the history and artifacts of the men and women who gave them independence?  Their own ancestors?”  But such commentators are mistaken, brothers and sisters.

The heroes of 1916 are not the political ancestors of the gombeen class – they are ours! A few who fought in 1916 and later became part of the gombeen class from the 1920s onwards, true …. but when they did so, they disowned their forebears.

WE have not disowned the heroes of 1913, nor of 1916, nor of struggles afterwards.

There has not been an independently-minded capitalist class in Ireland since the late 17th Century – and they were nearly all Protestants, of one sect or another. They sought national unity and independence and when they were denied it, rose in rebellion for political, economic and cultural independence in 1798 …. and again in 1803 … But they were defeated and their survivors changed their ideas or left the country.

This class of native capitalists that we have now in the 26 Co.s, mostly of Catholic religious background, grew up under foreign domination. They learned early on to doff the cap to the foreign master, ape him in clothes and manners, speak his language and carry out little deals behind his back.

They learned to be ‘cute hoors’ but they never learned to fight and risk life and limb for a principle. They scramble to get to the top of the dung-heap and crow from there. Or they push and jostle one another to get their snouts in the trough.

They never stood up on their two legs, with back straight and head up, and flew the flag of freedom. They could never stand straight on a gallows and cry “God Save Ireland!” before they were hung, or stand defiantly in front of a prison wall to receive the bullets of their executioners. They never faced the batons of the Dublin Metropolitan Police or the rifles and bayonets of the Royal Irish Constabulary.

And this is why James Connolly, who spent his last days in the building behind me and later in Moore Street, before he was taken away and they made sure to shoot him dead even when they realised that they were going too politically far with the executions …. And by the way the newspaper of Irish Catholic nationalist gombeen man William Martin Murphy, the Irish Independent, called for his execution …..
this is why James Connolly said:
“Only the working class remain as the incorruptible inheritors of the fight for Irish freedom.”

Connolly saw the foreign-dependent and internally corrupt nature of the native capitalist class even before they seized power over his body and the bodies of others who had fought for independence and a just society. And by the way, nor did they stop there – they added hundreds more bodies to ensure they kept the power they had grabbed. And out of our every generation, sent thousands of our youth into exile, rather than build a country that would keep them at home, give them work, housing.

THE CENTENARY & IDEALS

As I come to the end of what I have to say here, early in the centenary year of the 1916 Rising, and I thank you for your patience, I reflect that it appears to be a law of life that for everything we gain, there is a price to be paid.  We have learned that many, oh so many times throughout our history, have we not?

What we are asking for — no demanding — from our rulers, in the case of the campaign for the Moore Street historical quarter, is not much in the grand scheme of their plunder and exploitation.

It is in their power to give it and to pay the political price do so, without bringing down their house of cards.

But if they will not grant it, what then? Well, then we must fight for it. And we too must be ready to pay the price. And I think it is clear that there are many here, and not only here, prepared to pay that price.

And I can do no better than to quote the words of another one who spent his last few days in this building behind me and in the Moore Street 1916 Terrace, who also had some valuable words to say to us. Pádraig Mac Piarais, in his poem The Rebel:


And I say to my people’s masters:

Beware,

Beware of the thing that is coming,

beware of the risen people, 


Who shall take what ye would not give. 


Did ye think to conquer the people, 


Or that Law is stronger than Lfe and than men’s desire to be free?

We will try it out with you,

Ye that have harried and held, 


Ye that have bullied and bribed,

tyrants,

hypocrites,

liars!

End.

Diarmuid Breatnach, who gave the speech, earlier at the march, as it came down through Moore Street into Henry Street, heading for the GPO and the rally. Behind Diarmuid is the entrance to Henry Place, evacuation route of the GPO Garrison in 1916.
Diarmuid Breatnach, who gave the speech, earlier at the march, as it came down through Moore Street into Henry Street, heading for the GPO and the rally. Behind Diarmuid is the entrance to Henry Place, evacuation route of the GPO Garrison in 1916. (Photo: Save Moore Street 2016)

WORKING CLASS HERO IS COMMEMORATED IN THE EAST WALL AREA WHERE HE LIVED

Diarmuid Breatnach

On Sunday 8th May a working-class hero was commemorated in the East Wall area in which he lived. Walter Carpenter was a native of Kent, in SE England and came to Ireland to help found the Socialist Party of Ireland 1 with James Connolly in 1909 in Dublin. Among other activities a campaigner around housing issues for the Dublin working class, he reared his sons in socialist belief so that it was no surprise that both Wally (Walter jnr) and Peter joined the Irish Citizen Army and fought in the 1916 Rising. As a result of the repression of the Rising, one son ended up in Frongoch concentration camp in Wales, while the other was in hiding. Later, both brothers also fought against the Free State in the Irish Civil War; Wally was interned and went on hunger strike.

Lining Up Outside SOCC
Assembling to march outside the Sean O’Casey Community Centre

Jailed for opposing British Royal visit to Dublin

Rising to be Secretary of the Dublin Branch of the SPI in 1911, Walter Carpenter was jailed for a month for the production while speaking on a public platform of Connolly’s leaflet attacking the Royal visit that same year. Soon afterwards he was an organiser for the newly-formed Irish & Transport Workers’ Union. During the Lockout, he was sent by Connolly to Britain to rally the support of trade unionists for the struggle of the Dublin workers and was apparently an effective speaker there. That same year Walter Carpenter was elected General Secretary of the Tailors, Machinists and Pressers’ trade union, generally known as “the Jewish Union” due to the preponderance of its members being from that background.

Two sections march
United in purpose but fragmented in marching

Walter also became active in municipal politics, striving to make Dublin City Council meet its housing regulation responsibilities in the terrible housing conditions of the city of that time. There were many other sides to this campaigner too, which a read of Ellen Galvin’s pamphlet will reveal.

The East Wall History Group had earlier had a plaque erected on the wall of the house where he had lived, No.8 Caledon Road and organised an event around its unveiling on Sunday. The event began with a gathering at the Sean O’Casey Community Centre in East Wall, where an introduction to the event and to Walter Carpenter’s importance in the revolutionary and radical social history of Ireland was given by Joe Mooney, one of the organisers of the event. As well as local historians, socialists and Republicans, the event was attended by his surviving grandson, great-grandchildren and partners and their children. Also present was Ellen Galvin, who wrote a booklet on his life which was launched after the unveiling, back in the Sean O’Casey Centre.

Joe Mooney with a few preliminary words about Walter Carpenter and the history of the area
Joe Mooney with a few preliminary words about Walter Carpenter and the history of the area

Misfortune struck the event before it had even begun, with the news that Christy O’Brien, the piper who was to lead a march to the unveiling, had his pipes stolen from his car that very morning. Christy gives his service as a piper to many commemorative events, funerals etc. and, with the announcement of the misfortune, Joe Mooney also called for the spreading of the news in order to aid the recovery of the instrument. A set of bagpipes will cost thousands to buy or have made but it would be a rare musician or pawnshop that would negotiate for a stolen set (one which furthermore might be recognised at a musical event in the future).
(see also https://www.facebook.com/eastwallhistory/photos/a.593335330735681.1073741828.580261572043057/1042532349149308/?type=3&theater)

March to plaque past previous addresses of Irish resistance fighters

The march set off from the Sean O’Casey Centre without the piper, led by supporters carrying the banner of the East Wall History Group, a Tricolour and a Starry Plough (original green and gold version). Walking alongside were two Gárdaí and one wit commented that not only were descendants of the Irish Citizen Army present but also of the Dublin Metropolitan Police! 2

Caitríona Ní Casaidthe presiding over the plaque unveiling
Caitríona Ní Casaidthe presiding over the plaque unveiling
Deputy Dublin Mayor Cieran Perry in the march -- he also spoke at the unveiling.
Deputy Dublin Mayor Cieran Perry in the march — he also spoke at the unveiling.

Joe Mooney had told the crowd before the march began that they would pass a number of locations where fighters for Irish and working-class freedom had lived. These were: St Marys Road, Tim O’Neill at No.8 and father and daughter Patrick Kavanagh and May Kavanagh at No.24. Christy Byrne lived at No.45 and his brother Joseph Byrne was from Boland’s Cottages off Church Road, where also Christopher Carberry lived on Myrtle Terrace on Church Rd. All these were Irish Volunteers, while May was in Cumann na mBan. In Northcourt Avenue (now demolished, roughly where the Catholic Church stands), Patrick & William Chaney were in the Irish Citizen Army and in Hawthorn Terrace lived James Fox (Irish Volunteer) and Willie Halpin (ICA).

Joe added that at the junction of St. Mary’s Road and Church Street, the local Irish Volunteers had mustered to participate in the Rising, 100 years ago and also reminded the gathering that that very day, the 8th of May, was the centenary of the executions by British firing squad of Michael Mallin of the Irish Citizen Army and of Irish Volunteers Eamonn Ceannt, Sean Heuston and Con Colbert.

Eamon Carpenter, 94, grandson of Walter Carpenter (Photo D.Breatnach)
Eamon Carpenter, 94, grandson of Walter Carpenter (Photo D.Breatnach)

Upon reaching No. 8 Caledon Road, the former home of Walter Carpenter, Caitríona Ní Chasaide of the East Wall History Group introduced Eamon Carpenter, 94 years of age and a grandson of Walter Carpenter, who addressed the crowd in thanks and also about the life of his grandfather.

“The struggles of the past are not merely for commemoration”

Next Caitríona introduced the Deputy Mayor of Dublin, Cieran Perry, who pointed out the parallels between the dire housing situation in the early part of the last century, which Walter Carpenter had campaigned against, and the housing crisis in Dublin today. He castigated the officials of Dublin City Council who, despite the votes of elected Left Councillors, refused to use all the land available to them on a number of sites to build social housing and were instead preparing it for private development with a only fraction for social housing. For as little as 5% of the €4 billion of Minister Kelly’s oft-repeated proposed finance for social housing. i.e. €200 million, Dublin City Council could build over 1,300 homes. The struggles of the past are not merely for commemoration, Cieran went on to say, but are for celebration and for continuation, as he concluded to applause.

Caitríona then called on James Carpenter to unveil the plaque, which he did, to loud applause.Walter Carpenter plaque

After relatives and others had taken photos and been photographed in turn by the plaque and/or beside James Carpenter, Joe Mooney called on Diarmuid Breatnach to sing The Felons Of Our Land. Joe explained that Walter Carpenter had been fond of singing that son, that in the course of their participation in the struggle he and his son had also been felons, as had Larkin and many others. Joe also informed the gathering that Sean O’Casey related that during his childhood, there had been a tram conductor who had been fond of singing patriotic songs, including the Felons Of Our Land, of which Casey’s mother had disapproved. It had been an revelation for O’Casey that one could be a Protestant and an Irish patriot too.

Diarmuid, dressed in approximation of period clothing, stepped forward and sang the four verses, of which the final lines are:

Diarmuid Breatnach singing "Felons of Our Land" outside former home of Walter Carpenter. (Photo East Wall History Group)
Diarmuid Breatnach singing “Felons of Our Land” outside former home of Walter Carpenter.
(Photo East Wall History Group)

Let cowards sneer and tyrants frown
O! little do we care–
A felon’s cap’s the noblest crown
An Irish head can wear.
And every Gael in Innisfail
(Who scorns the serf’s vile brand)
From Lee to Boyne would gladly join
The felons of our land.

The crowd then marched back to the Sean O’Casey Centre to attend the launch of the booklet on Carpenter’s life.

Launch of book on Walter Carpenter by his granddaughter and grandson of his comrade

On the stage in the Centre’s theatre, were seated the author of the booklet, Ellen Galvin, alongside Michael O’Brien of O’Brien Press.

Ellen Galvin on stage at the Sean O'Casey Community Centre theatre and Michael O'Brien launching the book about Walter Carpenter. (Photo D.Breatnach)
Ellen Galvin on stage at the Sean O’Casey Community Centre theatre and Michael O’Brien launching the book about Walter Carpenter. (Photo D.Breatnach)

Michael O’Brien, addressing the audience, said he had wondered what qualification he might have to launch the book but on investigation discovered that he had not a few connections. His own grandfather, who was Jewish, had been a founder member of the Tailors, Machinists and Pressers’ Union, of which Carpenter had been the General Secretary until his retirement and so they must have known one another at least fairly well.

Also, Bill O’Brien’s father, Thomas, had been a communist and was active with Walter Carpenter in the Republican Congress in the 1930s. Walter Carpenter and Thomas O’Brien had both also been active in the Bacon Shops’ Strike of the early 1930s. Thomas O’Brien had been jailed during that strike along with Jack Nalty and Dinny Coady, both of whom had East Wall connections; subsequently Thomas went to fight Franco and fascism in Spain, where Nalty and Coady were both killed.

Joe Mooney called on Tommy Seery to sing The Bold Labour Men, a song about the 1913 Lockout written by a local man, which he did to strong applause. (Tommy is a member of the East Wall PEG Drama and Variety Group, in which he acts and also often sings – a recent performance, from which Tommy was unfortunately absent due to illness, may be seen here https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/2016/05/02/from-lockout-to-revolution-performance-of-east-wall-peg-drama-variety-group/).

Tommy Seery singing "The Bold Labour Men" about the 1913 Lockout (Photo D.Breatnach)
Tommy Seery singing “The Bold Labour Men” about the 1913 Lockout (Photo D.Breatnach)

Ellen Galvin spoke about Walter Carpenter’s life and his dedication to the advance of the working class and the struggle for justice.  Walter had been a supporter of equality for all, including gender, a man who read much and widely, who apparently learned Irish and campaigned for allotments for rent on Council-owned land while it was unused for housing.  He was against the consumption of alcohol but sympathised with people driven to its use by terrible housing conditions.

Joe then called on Diarmuid Breatnach to sing Be Moderate, written by James Connolly, to illustrate what it was that people like Connolly and those of the Irish Citizen Army fought for and for which some had given their lives. Diarmuid took the stage and explained that the song had been published in New York in 1910, the same year that he had returned to Ireland from the USA. There had been no indication of an air to accompany the lyrics, as a result of which it has been sung to a number of airs. Diarmuid heard it sung in London by an English communist to the air of a Nation Once Again 3 and at least one good thing about this is that it provides a chorus, with which he encouraged the audience to join in. He then sang the song, of which the final lines are:

For workers long, with sighs and tears,
To their oppressors knelt.
But never yet, to aught save fears,
Did heart of tyrant melt.
We need not kneel, our cause is high
Of true hearts 4 there’s no dearth
And our victorious rallying cry
Shall be “We want the Earth!”

Many in the audience joined in on the chorus:
We only want the Earth, 
We only want the Earth,
And our demands most moderate are:
We only want the Earth!

Eamon Carpenter delivered an impromptu tribute to Ellen Galvin, who he told the audience had lost her mother at the age of 13 years of age, from which time she had taken over the mother’s role for her younger siblings, ensuring the were fed, dressed and cared for. This tribute was warmly applauded while Ellen seemed embarrassed but also pleased.

This was another successful commemoration of the revolutionary history and, in particular, of the working class history of their area by the East Wall History Group. It is of great importance that the working class be appraised of their own history as distinct from the dominant historical narratives and that their revolutionary traditions be remembered, not as something dead and in the past but as part of a continuum of struggle for the emancipation of the class.

If there is a weakness in a number of such commemorations it is the lack of participation by local adolescent youth in these events – which may also imply a lack of engagement by this age-group. Nevertheless, should they go searching at some future date for the information and their connection to the history of place and class, they will find a treasure trove waiting for them in the work of this History Group.

Children & Parents left plaque

CONTACTS
The East Wall History Group may be contacted or viewed on FB at https://www.facebook.com/eastwallhistory/?fref=ts

Mother & 2 Daughters

Local Photographer Exhibition SOCC

FOOTNOTES

 There exists today an organisation called the Socialist Party of Ireland (which often organises under the banner of the Anti-Austerity Alliance) but it is not directly descended from the party founded in Ireland in 1909; rather it is closer to being an offshoot of the Socialist Party of England and Wales, with which it has close fraternal relations.

The Dublin Metropolitan Police gained particular notoriety for the violence against organised workers on behalf of Dublin employers, especially during the 1913 Lockout, during which they killed a number of workers with their truncheons. In later years, the force became a Dublin police force under the Free State, which was later subsumed into the Garda Síochána, a fact not generally known.

3  Written by Thomas Davis, first published in The Nation, Dublin, 1844.

4  “of true men there’s no dearth” in the original

FROM LOCKOUT TO REVOLUTION — PERFORMANCE OF EAST WALL PEG DRAMA & VARIETY GROUP

“From the Lockout to Revolution”, performance of the East Wall PEG Drama & Variety Group at City Hall on April 9th 2016. This was part of a program of events organised in conjunction with the Cabra 1916 Rising Committee and Dublin City Council.

 

At the outset of the Easter Rising, City Hall was occupied by a detachment of the Irish Citizen Army and was the location of fierce fighting until the insurgents were forced to surrender.  Their commanding officer and another three fighters were killed there.

( Video produced and edited by Eoin McDonnell )

East Wall PEG Drama & Variety Group performers: Rebecca Dillon, Mary Colmey, Monica Horan, Paul Horan, Colm Meehan, Séamus Murphy, Tréasa Woods, with Diarmuid Breatnach.