Packed Concert Commemorates Return of the Irish Brigadista Volunteers

Diarmuid Breatnach

A mixed audience of anti-fascists were entertained on 23rd November by a range of artists from the Irish trad-folk scene and a Spanish band performing to commemorate on its 80th anniversary the return of the Irish survivors of the International Brigades to Ireland. The event, “The Return of the Connolly Column” was organised by the Friends of the International Brigades in Ireland (FIBI) and the venue, the Workman’s Club on Wellington Quay of the Dublin City Centre, was packed.

The event began with Dougie Dalby introducing Harry Owens, a Spanish Civil War historian and founder member of the FIBI. Owens gave a speech, recalling how the social-democratic PSOE Government in the Spanish State in the 1980s had not wished to support the marking and conservation of graves of International Brigaders who had fallen in battle but had been convinced to do so by Edward Heath, British Prime Minister and by the leader of the Irish Labour Party at the time, Dick Spring. FIBI had become part of that commemoration effort in visiting some of the sites but also in erecting monuments and plaques in various parts of Ireland.

Colm Morgan from Co. Louth followed, with guitar and voice, with some of his own compositions, including one about Frank Ryan – excellent material in my opinion – to be followed by Mick Hanley (guitar and voice again) accompanied by Donal Lunny. Hanley and Lunny have history, of course, not least in that great band of the past, Moving Hearts; both belong to that honourable class of Irish musicians who have not been afraid to support progressive causes including some in their own country – and who have never performed for “any English King or Queen”.

(L-R) Dónal Lunny and Mick Hanley performing at the FIBI event.
(Photo source: FIBI)

Lunny accompanied various artists at different times during the evening, sometimes on keyboard and sometimes with guitar, as well as adding vocals once also. After his pairing with Hanley, he accompanied Tony Sweeney’s excellent lively accordion-playing which drew more than one whoop from the audience. All however quietened down for Justin McCarthy reading “The Tolerance of Crows” by Charlie Donnelly, Irish poet, member of Republican Congress and Field Commander of a unit of the International Brigades and who fell at the Battle of Jarama on 27th February 1937.

Muireann Ní Amhlaoibh on whistle accompanied by Dónal Lunny
(Photo source: FIBI)

After the break excellent singer Muireann Ní Amhlaoibh sang (accompanied by Lunny) and her rendition of Sliabh Geal gCua na Féile, a song composed by an Irish emigrant working in a Welsh coalmine in the late 19th Century, was particularly beautiful. It is a lament for home and language by Pádraig Ó Míléadha, from the Déise (‘Deci’) area of Wateford.

John Faulkner, virtuoso composer and singer-songwriter, raised in London of Irish background and for many years a resident of Kinvara, Co. Galway (but almost Co.Clare) accompanied himself singing a number of songs, including Patrick Galvin’s great composition Where Oh Where Is Our James Connolly? He performed an anti-war song by Eric Bogle also, All the Fine Young Men, which he introduced saying that some wars need to be fought.

Andy Irvine playing and singing at the concert (Photo source: FIBI)

Andy Irvine took the stage second-to-last of the acts for the evening, another London import to Ireland for which Irish folk and traditional music is very grateful, a composer, singer-songwriter and player of a number of instruments, accompanied once again by Lunny, who shares a history with him in Moving Hearts and Planxty. Irvine performed a number of songs, including Woody Guthrie’s All You Fascists Bound to Lose which, though not very creative in lyrics has a chorus with which the audience joined enthusiastically.

Gallo Rojo performing at the event (Photo source: FIBI)

Last on for the evening was Edinburgh-based Gallo Rojo1, anti-fascist musical collective, opening with a reading in the original Castillian of La Pasionara’s farewell speech to the International Brigaders at their demobilisation parade in Barcelona (see Links). It seemed to me that this would have worked better for an Irish audience with a simultaneous or interspersed reading in English but it received strong applause from the audience. This was followed by Ay Carmela!, then Lorca’s Anda Jaleo! I had to leave after that but I could hear the band starting on Bella Ciao, the song of Italian anti-fascist resistance of the 1940s but based on an older song of oppressed women agricultural workers.

It did occur to me at that point that among all the great material of the evening, I had heard no song to represent the International Brigaders of nations other than Ireland which is often the case at such events. More unusually, no reference I could recall was made to growing fascism in Europe and especially in the Spanish State (it never went away there), nor to antifascists facing trial arising out of mobilisation against the attempted Dublin launch of the fascist organisation Pegida in February 2012.

Immediately outside the concert hall, the bar area held a large number of people, perhaps as many as a quarter again of the audience inside. The performances inside were being conveyed by electronic speakers to them too but I am unsure how many were listening. There was a FIBI stall there too selling antifascist material.

Overall, the audience appeared to be mostly Irish with some foreign nationals and from a broad range of political backgrounds: Communist Party of Ireland, Sinn Féin, Anarchists and independent supporters and activists of mainly socialist and/or Republican ideology.

I am informed that FIBI are currently finalising the editing of a video of the concert and this will be available as soon as possible.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND:

1. THE INTERNATIONAL BRIGADES

The International Brigades were raised through Communist parties around the world to assist in the defence of the republican Popular Front Government of the Spanish State against a military coup with Spanish fascist (and Basque Carlist) support, aided by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. The Brigades consisted of volunteers from at least 65 nations2 and included Jews from a number. Early Irish volunteers enlisted chiefly in units of British and USA organisation but were present in groups from Australia and Canada too but later some made their way directly from Ireland; later too some of the Irish came to be known as the Connolly Column. The English-speaking units and some others were formed3 into the 15th International Brigade (originally the Fifth, but when added to the ten indigenous brigades of the Spanish Republic – Spanish, Catalan and Basque – became the Fifteenth). Not all foreign anti-fascist volunteers enlisted through the International Brigades, some joined Anarchist or Trotkyist militias4 and at least one, an Irishman, joined a Basque unit.

The Republican Government of the Spanish state disbanded the International Brigades on 23rd September 1938 in an unsuccessful bid to have the non-fascist European powers5 pressure their German and Italian fascist counterparts to withdraw their logistics, soldiers and airforce support from the Spanish military-fascist forces. By that time many of the “Brigadistas” were dead or captured as they had borne some of the heaviest prolonged fighting at Madrid (1936); Jarama, Brunete and Belchite (all 1937); Fuentes del Ebro and the Ebro itself (1938).

Famous photo by Robert Capa, war reporter from Hungary, showing emotional face of Brigadistas saluting (and perhaps singing the Internationale) at their demobilisation parade in Barcelona.
(Photo source: Internet)

Their formal demobilisation parade with their auxiliary recruits (including women) was held in Barcelona on 28th October, where they received the famous oration from the Basque Dolores Ibárruri, “La Pasionara”, prominent anti-fascist and activist of the Communist Party of Spain (see Links). It is notable that she addressed her oration to “communists, socialists, republicans, anarchists” as not only communists fought and died in the ranks of the Brigadistas.

Section of survivors of the International Brigades at their demobilisation parade in Barcelona.  (Photo source: Internet)

Another close-up from the demobilisation parade in Barcelona
(Photo source: Internet)

 

2. A DIFFERENT IRELAND

The Irish Brigadistas returning to Ireland found a society very different from that of today. Anti-communist hysteria was prevalent, whipped up in particular by the Catholic Church and supported in particular – but not exclusively – by Fine Gael (which formed in part from Blueshirts6). The Fianna Fáil Government was not fascist but was of the Irish capitalist class relying heavily on Catholic Church support and so contributed to anti-communism; all of the main media was anti-communist and finally the IRA, as well as having forbidden any of its Volunteers to fight for any other cause than Ireland’s, had expelled communists from the IRA in 1934. As with the time of repression of Republicans by the Free State, the USA seemed a good option for some of the Irish Brigadistas (some had enlisted there anyway) but there too, many antifascist war veterans found themselves subject to anti-communist hysteria and even later, when the USA was fighting fascist powers, labelled as “premature antifascists”!

Today here in Ireland the general attitude is one of respect or even pride in that part of our history, when Irish Volunteers went abroad to fight in defence of democracy and socialism against fascism7. The best-known song to date about the Irish Brigadistas is undoubtedly Viva La Quinze Brigada8 by Ireland’s best-known folk singer-songwriter, Christy Moore. Published accounts by Irish participants include The Connolly Column by Michael O’Riordan (1979) and Brigadista (2006) by Bob Doyle. Moore’s song is very popular in Ireland (and among the Irish diaspora in Britain) and a plaque listing some of the Irish martyrs is fixed to the wall by the entrance to the Theatre building of the major Irish trade union, SIPTU.

Funeral in May 1983 of Michael O’Riordan, survivor Irish Brigadista and General Secretary of the Communist Party of Ireland (among other positions and activities).
(Photo source: Indymedia)

Michael O’Riordan survived the War and was prominent in the Communist Party of Ireland, dying in Dublin in 1983. Bob Doyle was the last surviving known Brigadista from Ireland; on 22nd January 2009 he died in England, where he had been living and had raised a family. On February 14th that year his ashes were carried by relatives and admirers in a march from the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin city centre to Liberty Hall, where a reception was held. An optimistic photographer with the byline of “anarchaeologist” reported the following day in Indymedia: “…. in a display of left unity and solidarity we will doubtless see more of on the streets of Dublin over the coming months ….. Groups attending the celebration included the main unions, Éirigí, the WSM, the IRSP and Dublin Sinn Féin. Banners were also carried by the International Brigades Memorial Trust and the Inistiogue George Brown Memorial Committee. Supporters of the Dublin branch of the Irish Basque Solidarity Campaign demonstrating outside the GPO dipped their flags as a mark of respect as the crowd passed by”. The DIBSC actually wheeled in behind the march as the tail end passed, though the reporter seems not to have noticed that.9

Supporters of the Dublin Basque Solidarity Committee lower Basque flags in honour as ashes of last Irish Brigadista to die are carried down O’Connell Street in procession.
(Photo source: Indymedia)

Relatives and friends leading procession with Bob Doyle’s ashes give clenched fist salute to Basque solidarity demonstrators they are passing (see other photo with Basque flags).
(Photo source: Indymedia)

FRIENDS OF THE INTERNATIONAL BRIGADES IN IRELAND

 

The aim of the concert was to honour the enduring legacy of the 15th International Brigade and its ongoing contribution in the war against fascism”, a spokesperson for FIBI said in a statement. “As such, it was both a commemoration of the 80th anniversary of the disbandment of the Brigade and the subsequent return of the survivors to Ireland but it was also a celebration of their spirit in choosing to sacrifice everything for working-class principles.”

FIBI is an entirely voluntary organisation but does incur costs in erecting memorials, research, promotion etc. “This concert was designed to raise a modest amount to ensure the continuation of this work without having to resort to piecemeal fundraising over the next year or two. We are delighted to say we met our twin objectives of hosting a fitting occasion to coincide with the 80th anniversary of what became known as The Connolly Column and raising funds to help us continue with our efforts to ensure those who went are never forgotten.”

With its work of commemoration ceremonies and erection of plaques and monuments around the country, a work which not only reminds us of the Irish contribution in general but also links it to specific individuals from specific areas, the Friends of the International Brigades in Ireland has been deepening the wider attitude of respect for the International Brigades and pride in the Irish volunteers which has been growing steadily.

Hopefully all of this will combine with and inform any action necessary to halt the rise of fascism throughout the world and of course to prevent it taking hold in Ireland.

End.

REFERENCES AND USEFUL LINKS

Friends of the International Brigades in Ireland:

http://fibi-ireland.com/site/

States from which volunteers went to fight against Spanish fascism:

http://www.international-brigades.org.uk/content/volunteers-63-countries

English translation of La Passionara’s speech read by Maxine Peake: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Xfm3o45iIE

La Passionara’s speech read in the original Castillian in front of an audience by Esperanza Alonso:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H3HtLLelVeo

Brief account of some anti-communist violence in 1930s Ireland: https://comeheretome.com/2012/07/19/anti-communism-animal-gangs-and-april-days-of-violence-in-1936/

IRA expulsion of communists:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Republican_Congress

Video compilation of concert:

FOOTNOTES

1Not to be confused with the Mexico-based rock-ska-Latin band of the same name.

2“63 countries” are listed in one reference and I have added two, Scotland and Wales, on the assumption that they are unlisted but included under “Britain” or “UK”: http://www.international-brigades.org.uk/content/volunteers-63-countries

3 The Balkan Dimitrov Battalion and the Franco-Belgian Sixth February Battallion.

4George Orwell, who wrote Homage to Catalonia, probably the most famous English-language account of the war by a participant, enlisted in the militia of the POUM (Partido Obrero de Unifacción Marxista), a coalition of Trotskyis organisations (but whose alliance with the Right Opposition was renounced by Trotsky himself). The much larger anarcho-syndicalist trade union and movement Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT), closely associated with the Federación Anarquista Ibérica (FAI), also had militias, of which the Durruti Collumn was the largest and is the best known today. Some foreigners also enlisted in those militias.

5These powers, such as France and the UK, were following an allegedly “non-interventionist” policy but effectively forming part of the blockade preventing the Republican Government from receiving aid. Later the governments of those two states in particular tried a policy of appeasement of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy which was unsuccessful (except in encouraging further aggression) and they ended up going to war.

6Former IRA leader Eoin O’Duffy had, with Irish Catholic Church endorsement, recruited many more Irishmen to fight alongside the Spanish military-fascist forces but they acquired a reputation for ill-discipline and in one of their only two brief military engagement mistakenly fired on fascists; they went home in disgrace in late June 1937 (a year before the International Brigades were demobilised and the surviving, non-prisoner Irish were able to return home.

7Republicans and Communists had fought the fascist Blueshirts in Ireland too and the significant contribution of participants from the Irish diaspora to the famous antifascist victory of the Battle of Cable Street (and following guerrilla attacks on fascists at Hyde Park) in London has more recently been recognised (though not yet on the main relevant Wikipedia entry).

8Originally written as Viva La Quinta Brigada (i.e “the Fifth”); however that is the name of a song in Castillian contemporary with the War and later versions of Moore’s song include a line acclaiming “the Fifteenth International Brigade” which would be “la Decimiquinta” which has three syllables too many and so “Quinze”, i.e ‘Fifteen’.

9The DIBSC had already scheduled and advertised a picket to take place on the same day in Dublin’s main street, protesting against Spanish State repression of the Basque independence movement and treatment of prisoners. Upon learning of the planned march to honour Bob Doyle’s memory, I suggested holding our Basque solidarity event earlier, lowering the flags in respect when the march approached and then following it as the tail end passed us. I was unsure of what the reaction of Doyle’s relatives and supporters might be but as soon as those at the front saw what we were doing, a number of them raised clenched fists. It was an emotional moment for me, certainly.

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AGAINST INTERNMENT AND SPECIAL COURTS!

Clive Sulish

 

Tens of protesters against undemocratic state repression through internment and special courts gathered at the Wolfe Tone Monument in Dublin’s Stephen Green on Saturday before proceeding through the park to the Irish state’s Department of Justice building at 94 Stephen’s Green.

 

The sun shone weakly through at times on bare branches of deciduous trees and their autumn leaves, along with the dark green of the evergreen foliage of holly tree and invasive bay cherry.

Wolfe Tone Monument by Edward Delaney (d.2009) at an entrance to Stephen’s Green (image sourced: Internet)

The Wolfe Tone Monument stands in the approximate location of the Irish Citizen Army’s trenches in 1916, fired on by British soldiers with machine guns who had occupied the Shelbourne Hotel opposite, killing one of the Volunteers below. The statue had been blown up by British Loyalists in the 1970s and some of the surviving remnant had been added to in order to rebuild the statue (a fact generally not known or conveniently forgotten).

As is invariably the experience of Irish Republicans, they were under surveillance by some Gardaí in plain clothes and also from a marked police car. Some of the participants were also harassed by them and required to supply their names and addresses.

One of the placards held by protesters across the road from the Department of Justice. (Source image: Abolish the Special Courts campaign FB page)

The event, jointly organised by two fairly recent organisations on the Irish Republican scene, the Abolish the Special Courts campaign and the Irish Socialist Republicans organisation, was supported mostly by Irish Republicans, some independents and some belonging to a number of Irish Republican organisations other than the organisers: activists from the Irish Republican Prisoner and Welfare Association, Saoradh and the Dublin Anti-Internment Committee were also in attendance.

View of a section of the protesters in front of the Department of Justice with Stephen’s Green in the background (Source image: Abolish the Special Courts campaign FB page)

With their banners and placards the protesters stood on the median strip in the road opposite the Department of Justice, passing pedestrians and drivers slowing down to read the texts displayed, some drivers tooting their horns in support. Some, apparently visitors, took photos or video footage.

Later, supporters of the protest crossed the road to the pavement outside the Green to hear speakers. Ger Devereux of the Abolish the Special Courts thanked people for attending and introduced Brian Kenna from Saoradh to speak.

 

“NOT CONVICTED FOR ANY CRIME BUT FOR BEING …. IRISH REPUBLICANS”

Kenna gave a detailed and comprehensive account of how the Offences Against the State Act has facilitated the imprisoning of Irish Republicans not for any crime they have committed but for being just who they are – Irish Republicans. Observing that half those Republicans in jail in the Irish state are serving time on conviction of allegedly “being a member of an illegal organisation”, the speaker emphasised that the only ‘evidence’ necessary for the Department of Public Prosecutions to secure such a conviction under the Offences Against the State Act is the word of a Garda at the rank of Superintendent or above, along with some vague additional ‘evidence’ that could mean lots of different things.

Brian Kenna speaking to protesters on behalf of Saoradh organisation, across the road from the Department of Justice. (Source image: Abolish the Special Courts campaign FB page)

Brian Kenna warned that not only scheduled offences1 can be tried in the Special Criminal Courts as of now but should the DPP wish it, also other minor offences such as allegedly criminal damage or against public order and he believed that except for the existence of a few factors, including the presence of an MP among the accused, the Jobstown water-protesters would have been tried in the Special Courts, where convictions are the almost automatic result. Kenna called on all people to stand up against these undemocratic laws.

Devereaux then introduced Mandy Duffy, national Chairperson of the Irish Republican Prisoners Welfare Association.

One section of the protesters listening to speakers, Mandy Duffy, Chairperson of the IRPWA in the foreground. (Source image: Abolish the Special Courts campaign FB page)

“HUMILIATION, VIOLENCE AND ISOLATION”

Mandy Duffy spoke about the conditions under which Irish Republicans are being held in a number of prisons in Ireland on both sides of the Border. In Maghaberry in particular, which Duffy said was much more modern than Portlaoise (in the Irish state), Republican prisoners are guarded by a prison staff recruited from among Loyalists2, who hate Irish Republicans and are determined not only to keep them in jail but to make them suffer while they are there.

Duffy focused on the practice of continually strip-searching prisoners every time they are taken from the prison or returned as one of humiliation and of violence when the prisoner is non-compliant.3 The speaker also referred to unreasonable and additional punishments such as keeping prisoners in isolation.

A banner and two placards in front of the Department of Justice. (Source image: Abolish the Special Courts campaign FB page)

Mandy Duffy concluded by calling for solidarity with Irish Republican prisoners and in thanking those present for giving her their attention.

Devereux then called on Diarmuid Breatnach to speak on behalf of the Dublin Anti-Internment Committee.

 

“WE STAND TOGETHER OR WE GO TO JAIL SEPARATELY”

Diarmuid Breatnach addressing the protesters across from the Department of Justice, on behalf of the Dublin Anti-Internment Committee. (Image source: Abolish the Special Courts campaign FB page)

Diarmuid Breatnach began in Irish by thanking the organisers for the invitation to speak which he then repeated in English. Breatnach said that their Committee held pickets around Dublin mostly on a monthly basis and did so in order to raise awareness on the ground, among the public, that internment without trial continues in Ireland long after it was allegedly terminated by the British in the mid-1970s. He also reminded the protesters that people had resisted internment and protested it in Ireland and in many places around the world, including in Britain. In the Six Counties the Ballymurphy Massacre had been inflicted on people protesting internment in 1971 and again in 1972, the Bloody Sunday Massacre in Derry.

Stating that internment is essentially jailing people without a trial, Diarmuid Breatnach stated that returning a former Republican prisoner who is at liberty under licence to jail without any trial, as has happened for example to Tony Taylor, is effectively internment, albeit of a different kind. Refusing a Republican bail for no good reason when on a charge awaiting trial, which might take up to two years, is also internment of a different kind, the speaker said, stating that the only justifiable reasons for opposing bail are supposed to be a likelihood of the offence being repeated or the charged person absconding, for both of which credible evidence should be produced. Breatnach also drew attention to the recent decision of the European Court of Human Rights which castigated Turkey for their two years of preventive detention (or refusal of bail) of a Kurdish Member of the Turkish Parliament while awaiting trial, on the principle that the period of detention was unreasonably long and was being done deliberately for political reasons.

A small section of protesters across the road from the Department of Justice. (Source image: Abolish the Special Courts campaign FB page)

The speaker also referred to the unreasonable bail conditions when bail was granted, which included non-attendance at political demonstrations, pickets and meetings which, he said, made it clear what the whole intention of the repression was about.

Breatnach reiterated what an earlier speaker had said about the potential of these forms of repression being used against a wider section of opposition to the State and referred to recent arrests of Republicans who had allegedly mobilised against the launch of the fascist group Pegida in 2012. The speaker urged unity across the board against State repression because they either stood together now or later would “go to jail separately”.

Devereaux thanked the participants and encouraged them to keep in touch with the Abolish the Special Courts campaign and the street meeting broke up into informal groups as people began to collect placards, banners, etc getting ready to disperse.

End.

Another small section of the protesters with the Department of Justice in the background. (Source image: Abolish the Special Courts campaign FB page)

 

 

LINKS:

Dublin Anti-Internment Committee: https://www.facebook.com/End-Internment-581232915354743/

Abolish the Special Courts campaign: https://www.facebook.com/Abolish-The-Special-Courts-208341809705138/?

Socialist Republicans are a part of Anti-Imperialist Action Ireland:  https://www.facebook.com/AIAIreland2/

FOOTNOTES

1In Ireland this normally means ‘crimes’ which are associated by the State with subversive intent (source: http://www.citizensinformation.ie/en/justice/courts_system/special_criminal_court.html)

2The term “Loyalist” in an Irish context and especially in the occupied Six Counties means “British Loyalists” usually understood not only as those who support the Union with England but as those who do militantly and with bigoted hatred of Catholics (in particular Irish Catholics or people from that community who might well be atheists).

3There is a graphic and accurate depiction of this practice employed on non-compliant Irish Republicans on the “Dirty Protest” in the Steve McQueen film “Hunger” (2008). In the film, the prisoners were nearly naked already but in more ‘normal’ prison conditions, the practice also involved removing the prisoner’s clothes – by force if he or she is non-compliant.

“Another martyr for old Ireland …”

Clive Sulish

          Socialists and Socialist Republicans gathered outside the General Post Office in Dublin on Thursday (Nov 1st) to honour the memory of Volunteer Kevin Barry on the 98th anniversary of his execution. Copies of his portrait were on display with candles lit and the ballad honouring his memory was sung.

Display of images of Kevin Barry and lit candles outside the GPO at the event. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

          The event was organised by the Irish Socialist Republicans organisation. Asked about the reason for the commemoration and speaking on behalf of the organisation, Pádraig Drummond said “It is important to honour people in our history who have played an important role, who have displayed characteristics worthy of emulation such as resolution, courage and loyalty. People like Kevin Barry are more worthy of interest for the youth of today than clothing brands or pop idols.”`

Gathering to beign the vigil outside the GPO (Photo: D.Breatnach)

 

Some members of the public stopped in passing to listen to the song or to engage picketers in conversation.

People carrying out the vigil (Photo: D.Breatnach)

 

At the time of Kevin Barry’s execution the whole of Ireland was under a centuries-old British occupation and the defeat of the Easter Rising was three years in the past, most of its leaders executed and prisoners released. The first World War had ended. But the Irish Volunteers had reorganised and the War of Independence had begun in January of 1919. The ICA had seen a partial reorganisation and Cumann na mBan had never disbanded and, though it had suffered a few notable resignations, had experienced no split. The UK General Election of December 1918 had delivered a huge majority in Ireland to the newly-organised nationalist-republican coalition of Sinn Féin and in January of 2019 the successful SF delegates set up the Dáil, the first independent Irish Parliament, in defiance of the rule that all delegates elected in a UK election attended the Westminster Parliament in London.

On the same day in a separate development, the War of Irish Independence had begun. To wage war against the British occupation, the Irish Volunteers needed arms so some of its operations were carried out in order to seize arms from the occupiers. Kevin Barry joined the IRA at 15 in Dublin and not much later the IRB and had been on a number of successful raids to seize weapons.

Kevin Barry portrait graffiti of some years on wall in Dublin city centre.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

On 20th September 1920 his unit was to ambush a British unit collecting bread from a bakery and relieve them of their weapons. Collecting bread rations from Patrick Monk’s Bakery at 79-80, Upper Church Street, near the corner of North King Street, Dublin.

Barry was a medical student and had an examination scheduled for that day which he expected to attend after the operation. Having attended mass that morning, he joined the unit in nearby Bolton Street and when the British Army lorry arrived the volunteers, armed with pistols, ordered the soldiers in the back to drop their rifles, which they did. However a shot rang out, possibly from the front of the lorry and the volunteers opened fire but Barry’s gun jammed twice and he jumped under the truck, being left behind when his comrades retreated. He was discovered and arrested. All five of the British soldiers in the rear of the lorry had been hit and one, 15 years of age, was dead – another two died later.

Kevin Barry attested that he had been beaten up when captured and tortured for information later in Army custody. On 20th October he was tried by military tribunal under the provisions of the Restoration of Order Act of August that year. Brigadier-General Onslow presided on the tribunal and Barry had legal representation who, after Barry announced he would not recognise the court, withdrew. The sentence of the court, given to the Volunteer in his Mountjoy Prison cell that evening, was death by hanging. The sentence became publicly known on the 28th and a fierce campaign began to save his life, not only in Ireland. Terence McSwiney, author, playwright, Lord Mayor of Cork and IRA Volunteer, had died after a hunger strike of 74 days on 25th October and public opinion, especially in Ireland, was highly excited. Nonetheless, Kevin Barry was hanged on November 1st 1920, eighteen years of age. According the priest who accompanied him the gallows, who was not a republican, he went calmly to his death.

On 14 October 2001, the remains of Barry’s body and others were given an Irish state funeral and moved from Mountjoy Prison to be re-interred at Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin. A stained glass window in his honour was unveiled in 1934 at the Earlsford Terrace address of University College Dublin and was later moved to their new address in the Belfield Camput and restored in 2007.

The Ballad of Kevin Barry, which was sung at the commemoration by Diarmuid Breatnach, was composed around the time of the Volunteer’s execution and has been very popular in Ireland and among the Irish diaspora abroad. The author is unknown despite efforts by his family and others to trace him or her but there were some indications that it had been composed in Glasgow. The song has been recorded by many performers, including non-Irish singers Paul Robeson and Leonard Cohen.

End 

VIVA LA QUINZE BRIGADA

Clive Sulish

 

From Eoin O’Donnel’s filming and editing via Joe Mooney of East Wall History Group, a recording of Diarmuid Breatnach singing Christy Moore’s wonderful song Viva La Quinze Brigada (also known as Viva la Quinta Brigada which, however, is also the title of another song from the same conflict but in Castillian or Spanish language).  The Fifteenth Brigade of the Spanish Republican Army was also the Fifth International Brigade, the mostly English-speaking one.  It contained volunteers from English-speaking USA, Canada, Australia, Scotland, Wales, England and ireland but due to high Irish emigration, all those countries also contained Irish diaspora and they were to be found in the contingents from those countries.

The video also contains photos of the commemoration of Jack Nalty, resident of East Wall’s, the last Irishman to die in action during the Iberian Anti-Fascist War (usually known as the “Spanish Civil War”).  The day-long event on 28th September (anniversary of his death) included songs and poems, a march led by a lone piper, unveiling of a plaque, booklet launch and showing of two films. It was a celebration in particular of Jack Nalty’s life but more generally of the Irish who, against the position of their Government, the Church of the majority, the dominant media and even, for those in the IRA, against their own organisation’s orders, went to fight against a fascist military uprising against the elected Republican Government of the Spanish state.

It was also a celebration of antifascist resistance around the world and of the principle and practice of internationalist solidarity.

A plaque to the fallen of the Irish volunteers of the International Brigade (containing many names but by no means all of the Irish who fell there). The plaque is on the wall of the Theatre side of Liberty Hall, HQ of SIPTU, Dublin.
(Photo D.Breatnach).

 

 

EAST WALL REMEMBERS ANTI-FASCIST BRIGADISTA JACK NALTY

Clive Sulish

On the 80th Anniversary of his death in the Anti-Fascist War in ‘Spain’, the East Wall History Group organised a remembrance of a local man from that dockland Irish area who was the last Irishman to die fighting in the war against Franco and Spanish Fascism. The event was attended by relatives of that Irish antifascist fighter and of another, by a cross-section of Left and Irish Republicans, including historians and by a number of elected representatives from the Dublin City Council and the Dáil (Irish Parliament).

Crowd assembling outside school before event. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

Jack Nalty was the last Irish and one of the last International Brigaders to fight and die in that war. The rest of the Brigaders, those not held as prisoners by Franco’s forces, were withdrawn soon afterwards as the indigenous anti-fascist forces fought on, losing against the Spanish military coupists with their German Nazi and Italian fascist allies.

Those commemorating Jack Nalty met at the St. Joseph’s Co-Educational School on the East Wall Road at 1pm on Sunday (23rd September) and included a cross-section of members of organisations and independent activists, socialists, republicans, communists and anarchists and other members of the local community. At the front entrance of the School a number of relatives of Jack Nalty held a banner along with a son of an Irish International Brigader and the crowd was addressed by Joe Mooney, of the East Wall History Group.

Joe Mooney speaking at start of event, relatives of International Brigaders beside him holding the banner in the colours of the Spanish Republic (Photo: D.Breatnach)

Mooney told the crowd that John Nalty came to the area at the age of six from Galway and on 31st August 1908 entered the East Wall National School on the Wharf Road. Just over thirty years later, 23rd September 1938, he would die on a Spanish battlefield, shot down in a hail of fascist bullets as he engaged in one last heroic act.

A member of the IRA during the War of Independence, Jack was a Republican, Socialist and trade unionist”, Mooney said, “representing 600 oil workers in Dublin Port. But in 1936 when the Spanish Civil War — or Anti-Fascist War as it should more accurately be called1 – began, he volunteered for the International Brigades to join the fight against European fascism. He was badly wounded and came back to Ireland, but would again go into action and was killed at the Battle of the Ebro. Having being among the first Irish volunteers to travel to Spain, he would die on their last day as they were preparing to withdraw from combat.

Nalty’s unit had been called to retreat when it was realisted that two machine-gunners had been left behind and he went back to collect them. On their retreat they were fired at and Jack Nalty was killed.

Section of crowd lined up in front of house where Jack Nalty had lived (Photo: D.Breatnach)

Mooney also asked those present to remember not only Jack Nalty but the ‘comradeship of heroes’ from Dublin’s Docklands and North Inner City – Dinny Coady, Tommy Wood and others.

The crowd then set off in a march led by a piper to East Road to unveil a memorial plaque. Across the road from Jack Nalty’s former house, the crowd paused to hear Diarmuid Breatnach sing a few verses of Christy Moore’s tribute to the Irish “Brigadistas”: “Viva La Quinze Brigada”.2

UNVEILING THE PLAQUE

Joe Mooney unveiling the plaque not far from Jack Nalty’s former house (Photo: D.Breatnach)

The plaque (text difficult to read in photograph)
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

The plaque could not be attached to Jack Nalty’s house and was affixed a little further down the road. Joe Mooney siad a few words there and introduced James Nugent who gave a speech he had prepared and the plaque was unveiled. Nugent concluded by saying that “the history of the past helps us to understand the present and to create the future.”

Kate Nugent read a message from the daughters of Steve Nugent (sadly died 2017) who researched the story of his uncle Jack and Mary Murphy read a short post from Vicky Booth (granddaughter of Syd Booth, who was with Jack when he died).

(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Piper plays lament by plaque
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Harry Owens gave a short tribute speech on behalf of Friends of the International Brigades and Manus O’Riordan, son of Irish communist and International Brigade Volunteer, sang the chorus of Amhrán na bhFiann (“The Soldiers’ Song”, Irish national anthem) and the Internationale.

Section of crowd a location of the plaque (Photo: D.Breatnach)

At the unveiling ceremony (Photo: D.Breatnach)

Also at the unveiling ceremony
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Joe Mooney acknowledged the presence of elected representatives Mary Lou McDonald, Sean Crowe and Cieran Perry and asked people to march to the nearby Sean O’Casey Centre to see the art exhibition and see two short films.

 

Marching from the plaque site, heading for the SO’C Centre
(Photo: D.Breatnach)(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Section of the attendance relaxing at the Sean O’Casey Centre between the plaque event and the films to be shown, also examining the art exhibition [see photos at end of post]

Back at the Sean O’Casey Community Centre, two short films were shown. One was a school project film in which a descendant of Jack Nalty interviews the latter’s nephew about his famous uncle. The second was dramatic film in which a Spanish trumpet player joins the fight against the fascist military uprising by Franco and other generals and features also actors playing two Irish International Brigaders, O’Connor and Charlie Donnelly3. When the former trumpet player is shot he sees into the future ….

Eddie O’Neill talked about the pulling out of the International Brigades in October 1938 in a bid to have the “non-interventionist” Western democracies put pressure on Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy to have them withdraw too, which did not happen. They marched through Barcelona on 17th October and were addressed in an emotional rally by La Pasionara4 and Eddie asked Nerea Fernández Cordero to read an English translation.

Nerea on stage just after reading translation of La Pasionara’s farewell to the Brigaders
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Eddie O’Neill at the SO’C Centre with concluding speech: “We can’t afford to forget.”
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Nerea told the audience that she is from Extremadura (a province of the Spanish state next to the Border with Portugal) and her grandfather, Antonio Fernández had fought against Franco, been captured, escaped to the mountains but was in time recaptured. Upon his release he had married Nerea’s grandmother and lived a peaceful life. Nerea said that she was proud of her grandfather and those who fought Franco and that “ we know La Pasionara’s speech in Spanish by memory.”

Reading of translation of La Pasionara’s speech to English from Youtube:

At the event the newly published pamphlet “In Pursuit of an Ideal – from East Wall to the Ebroabout Jack Nalty was made available for the first time and copies are available from the organisers.

Eddie O’Neill recalled being in the Spanish state with a group from Friends of the International Brigades to commemorate those who fought against Franco during that war and afterwards searching for an appropriate pub in which to socialise. They found a pub with a Guinness sign and went there which however turned out to be one of the most fascist pubs in the area but undeterred, they continued to celebrate the memory of the antifascist fighters there. A lone man in suit and tie asked people as they passed him to use the toilet why they were commemorating people who had died so long ago but when they explained he said he could not understand English.

We can’t afford to forget,” O’Neill told his audience, “least of all when the forces of fascism are gathering again.”

To conclude the event O’Neill called on Diarmuid Breatnach who sang the whole of Christy Moore’s “Viva La Quinze Brigada”, calling on the audience to join him in the chorus, remembering those who fought and gave their lives in the struggle against fascism.

Eddie O’Neill close at right of photo at unveiling ceremony
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

AN ANNUAL EVENT?

The organisers are reputedly considering making this an annual event – it is to be hoped that they do so.

Another section of the crowd at the plaque unveiling.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Also at the plaque unveiling ceremony
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

POSTCRIPT: JACK NALTY – ATHLETE COMPETING FOR IRELAND

In publicity prior to the event, the East Wall History group posted the following:
“In addition to his political and trade union activity, Jack Nalty was also a busy athlete, a regular competitor and medal winner with the Dublin Harriers. In 1931 he represented his country at the International Cross Country Championship, held at Baldoyle. Fellow competitor Tim Smyth became the first Irishman to win this competition.

(The full Irish Group for the event held on 22nd March 1931 is listed as: Frank Mills, J. Behan, John Nalty, J.C. McIntyre, John Timmins, T. King, T. O’Reilly, Thomas Kinsella, Tim Smythe).

This British Pathe footage shows the runners in action. Somewhere in the group is John (Jack) Nalty, East Wall resident, Republican and hero of the International Brigades. (The Pathe footage is viewable on post on the East Wall History Group event — CS)

Ironically, the same year as the competition the future leader of Irish Fascism, General Eoin O’Duffy had become the President of the National Athletic and Cycling Association (NACA) , and apparently was an admirer of Jack Nalty as an athlete!”

(Photo: D.Breatnach)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FOOTNOTES

 

1Basques in the provinces of Bizkaia, Guipuzkoa and Alava say it was not a civil war there, i.e between different sections of Basque society — the fascist forces came from outside.  In the fourth southern Basque province of Nafarroa, where the Carlists took control, they wiped out around 2,000 antifascists but it was hardly a war. The Catalans also say that the fascist forces invaded them and that it was not a civil war but an antifascist one. In some other places in the Spanish state many also say that the presence of Nazi German and Fascist Italian military in such numbers invalidated the term “civil war”.

2Also known as “Viva La Quinta Brigada”, which is however also the title of a different song from the Anti-Fascist War. Both titles are correct for this song since the Irish were in the Fifth of the International Brigades but when added to the ten indigenous Brigades (Spanish, Basque, Catalan etc), that became the Fifteenth. Wikipedia quotes authors to report an estimate that “during the entire war, between 32,000 and 35,000 members served in the International Brigades, including 15,000 who died in combat; however, there were never more than 20,000 brigade members present on the front line at one time.”

3Charlie Donnelly was a poet and member of the Republican Congress. He went to Spain to fight against Franco, where he died in February of 1937 at the Battle of Jarama. He is also one of those 19 names mentioned in Christy Moore’s song (“Viva La Quinta Brigada” or “Viva La Quinze Brigada”).

4Isidora Dolores Ibárruri Gómez (9 December 1895 – 12 November 1989), born and brought up in the Basque Country to a Basque mother and Spanish father, founder-member of the Spanish Communist Party and known for her political writing and speeches. She wrote an article when quite young under the pen-name “La Pasionara” (the Passion Flower) and was known by that nickname throughout her life.

JUSTICE DELAYED

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Left to right) Antoinette Keegan, Kate Nash, Stephen Travers and Eamonn McCann at the Garden of Remembrance before the public event. (Photo: Cate McCurry/PA Wire).

Speakers from the massacres at Ballymurphy, Derry, of the Miami Showband and the victims of the Stardust Fire addressed a Dublin Audience on Wednesday evening last (19th September) in the hall of Club na Múinteoiri.

They are victims and also campaigners and their stories held the audience spellbound. The campaigns arising from the Stardust Fire, the massacres of the Miami Showband, Ballymurphy and Derry all put speakers up to address the audience on their need for Truth and Justice under the banner of Justice Delayed Is Justice Denied. It was the personal sides to their stories that were particularly powerful, without losing at all the political thrust; McCann did his usual storming speech which he does very well but somehow, for all the eloquence and good points made, did not have the same impact – at least on this reporter.

Annette Keegan speaking at the event
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

STARDUST FIRE

     Ann (Antoinette) Keegan, chairing the event and welcoming the attendance, said that she spoke both as a victim and a survivor of the Stardust Fire where 48 young people were killed and 241 injured at a Valentine’s disco on 14th February 1981. Annette survived but lost her two sisters in that fire: Mary and Martina.

She listed the steps in the slow and unjust procedures of alleged investigation that followed the fire at the disco. The first inquest had listed arson as the “probable” cause of the fire which had caused the deaths but the relatives challenged this verdict as incorrect procedurally as well as in fact and eventually had it overturned in 2009. Another inquiry years later under Judge McCartan, appointed by the Government, heard that there had been two emergency calls, one about a small fire of 18” high which could easily be extinguished and another about “smoke pouring from the loft” which had not been discussed in any previous hearing (this is the area that campaigners believe to have been the real origin of the fatal fire – DB).

Ann Keegan recollected that Judge McCartan had said that the families should have located that caller, even after all those years and got her testimony but Anne stated that it was wrong to apportion the responsibility for that to the families.

Historical note: It is a matter of record that the building’s owners, the Butterly brothers, had flagrantly violated many fire safety regulations in the building and that Dublin City Council had failed in its duty of ensuring entertainment venues it licensed were compliant with fire regulations. The Butterlys never even apologised and were compensated under the original verdict of “probable arson” to the sum of Ir£580,000 (€634,869).

Anne Keegan went on to say that the campaign had now decided that any further inquiry would be a waste of time and was calling for the reopening of the inquests as a matter of public interest. They had launched their campaign objective on June 14th at the Dáil and were pressing ahead with it now.

Anne then called a member of the campaign up from the floor to talk about the experiences of her family.

     Selina McDermott took the stage and said that she had lost two brothers and a sister in the fire: William (22), George (18) and Marcella (16). Her father, she told the audience, who was known by the nickname of “Minnow” was a Dublin Fireman, though not on duty that evening. Alhough he had saved many people in the course of his career it ate away at him that he could not save his two daughters.

Both he and Selina’s mothers campaigned for the truth but her father’s workmates, who were very supportive of him, calling often at the house when he was off duty, knew he was going against vested interests and the Government and advised him to give it up because he would never win. On the other hand their mother wanted to continue the fight, which led to arguments at home. Selina’s father died six years after the fire.

I thought how sad that so many, particularly in the working class, have become conditioned to the propaganda of the ruling class that the latter cannot be beaten, a way of thinking that is perhaps much weakened now but still influential for all that. It is one of the ways in which the very small minority which is the ruling class can keep down the vast majority from rising up against them.

BLOODY SUNDAY DERRY

Kate Nash speaking on the Derry Bloody Sunday Massacre at the event (Photo: D.Breatnach)

Selina sat down to applause and Anne Keegan called on Kate Nash, of the Bloody Sunday March for Justice campaign to speak.

     Kate, like Ann and especially Selina before her, spoke in an informal way, telling the story of her family’s ordeal in Derry in 1972 when 14 unarmed civilians received fatal wounds from British Army bullets and another fourteen survived their injuries.

Kate’s teenage brother William was shot in the chest and three others were shot trying to go to his aid, including his father, Alexander Nash. Kate spoke about going to visit her father in hospital and he telling her that her brother was in the morgue. Her mother was in hospital too and it was considered unsafe to inform her of her son’s killing – until William was to be buried, when it was felt necessary to tell her so that she could attend the funeral. Kate said her mother never spoke until she returned to their home after the burial of her son but no sooner had she set foot inside the house than she let out a scream and broke down.

Kate also spoke about the devastation to the family and how her mother once said to her husband “It should have been you”, to which he replied “I know”, knowing what she meant.

The hurt did not stop there for the British Army alleged that all those shot had been armed and the Widgery Tribunal, convened with unusual speed, agreed with them. The majority of the media supported that verdict and also said nasty things about their family, in addition to alleging that they were IRA supporters (they were not, their allegiance had been to the SDLP1), accusing them also of living in filthy conditions.

Soldiers had also said nasty things to them at the hospital and at the morgue and on the streets afterwards.

Section of Dublin crowd before they burned the British Embassy in Merrion Square in 1972
(Image Source: Stair na hÉireann)

The fire takes hold at British Embassy (then in Merrion Square) Dublin 1972
(Photo source: Internet)

Finally the Saville Inquiry was convened in the year 2000 which turned out to be the longest legal inquiry in British history, taking six years and costing a reputed 400 million pounds Sterling (approx. €450,800,000 today), with the families having to wait another six years for the publication of the report. Kate Nash made the point that the cost of the Inquiry was not the responsibility of the families and that “they (i.e the Government) spent that money clearing themselves”. David Cameron’s apology following the publication of the report in June 2010 was “a political thing”, she said.

The campaign wants prosecutions now of the British soldiers who had been identified as participating in the murders of unarmed civilians in 1972 but everything is being delayed and delayed, with the British Army providing legal advice and representation to those same murderers.

This recalled to me the words of Anne Cadwaller, speaking for the Pat Finucane Centre less than a week earlier, in the same building, as part of the Anarchist Bookfair. Cadwaller said that the British Government have what they call “three Ds” to deal with their scandals: Deny, Delay and Death (meaning hoping the accusers die meanwhile). Cadwaller could have added another “D” to her list: Deflect, i.e turn the blame in some other direction.

What Kate Nash did not tell the audience (and could not, considering the association of Sinn Féin with other campaigns represented on the platform), was that relatives and other activists had been dropping out of the Bloody Sunday campaign over the years and that when Cameron voiced his apology, Sinn Féin had called for the ending of the annual Bloody Sunday March, supported by some of the relatives. She and some other relatives and activists disagreed and have kept the march going every year since and it will take place again in Derry in the last weekend in January 2019.

She did not say either that she and some others had collected over 1,000 Derry signatures to a protest petition and conducted a sit-in protest at the “Museum of Free Derry” because of the inclusion of the names of British soldiers killed in the conflict alongside the names of Derry people killed by the Army, including the 14 Bloody Sunday victims. The protest was a success, at least for the time being.

Kate Nash sat down to applause and Ann Keegan called up the next speaker.

THE MIAMI SHOWBAND MASSACRE

Stephen Travers, Miami Showband Massacre survivor and author, photographed on another occasion (Photo source: Internet)

     Stephen Travers described himself as the last remaining survivor of the attack on their showband in 1975. For many years he had refused to acknowledge that he was a victim and said that when he did so at last “the wall fell in on me.” Acknowledging yourself as a victim, he told the audience, makes one “lose the sense of self”.

Miami Band Massacre Monument on north side of Parnell Square, across from the Garden of Remembrance.
(Photo source: Internet)

Historical note: Showbands were an Irish music phenomenon popular from the mid-1950s to the mid-1980s; a five or six-player dance band playing standard dance numbers, covers of popular music hits and waltzes. The bands’ versatility extended to traditional and folk numbers and even blues and a number of famous Irish musicians and singers got their start in showbands. The typical venue was the dance-hall, cheaply-constructed buildings without an alcohol licence located in towns and villages across the country and to these the bands travelled, usually in their minibus, returning home after the conclusion of their gig.

Stephen told the audience that as a bass guitar player he had been headhunted by major bands of the time but chose the Miami because unlike the others, they did not wear band suits (one needs to remember that even the Beatles and the Animals wore suits at first). He had not been interested in politics, nor had his family and the band included two of Protestant background although apparently religion was not a subject of discussion (or possibly of interest) among them either. However, people should take an interest in current affairs and the political background, he told the audience now.

The band (minus one who lived in Antrim) was returning from a gig in Banbridge Co. Down (one of the Six Counties) and heading to cross the Border (into the Irish state) when they were stopped at what appeared to be a British military checkpoint and asked to get out, which they did. Stephen made a point of saying that he would always refer to those men as “British soldiers” rather than Loyalists or paramilitaries although their membership of the Ulster Defence Regiment is often glossed over or even concealed.2

The soldiers exchanged jocular banter with the band members while they pretended to search the back of the van but were in fact placing a bomb in it. Stephen remarked on the mindset that could permit people to joke like that with those they intended to be their victims. Another man arrived of noticeable military bearing and the demeanour of the other soldiers changed immediately, smartening up and becoming more professional. This man was also in uniform but his beret was of a lighter shade and he had an upper-class English accent (Stephen said he had a good ear and had also worked in England for a period); other band members took him to be a British officer and expected that the whole thing would be expedited now and they would soon be on their way.3

Stephen believes that the plan was for the bomb placed in their van to explode as the band traveled on and that the incident would be used to justify checkpoints and searches of traffic crossing the border in the area, accusing the IRA of using the roads to transport arms and implicating the dead members of the Miami Showband as IRA “carriers” into the bargain.4

Softly spoken but his voice sometimes thickening with emotion, Stephen described how the bomb went off prematurely, dismembering the two UDR/UVF men and blowing the band members over a ditch and into a field. The soldiers then opened fire at the band members. Stephen was shot with a dum-dum bullet which made it impossible for him to walk, although he felt no pain; he could see no blood but his stomach was bloated as the bleeding was internal. He lay down and pretended to be dead. Two band members tried to drag him out of a pile of bodies but were shot down and Stephen described how the handsome Fran O’Toole, keyboard player, was shot many times in the face and a number of times in the groin. A number of band members pleaded not to be killed but were savagely shot amidst a stream of obscenities from their killers.

When the murderers left, there were only two band survivors in the field and the other flagged down a car and was taken to the nearest RUC5 barracks, from where officers hurried to the scene and, for awhile, were afraid to approach Stephen in case the bodies were booby-trapped. Three band members had been killed and two injured non-fatally (although one has died since, leaving Stephen the only survivor).

Stephen referred also to the fact that he had been around the Dublin City centre in 1981 when he learned of a big fire at the Stardust and headed out there in his van. He said he was able to drive right up to it since no attempt had been made by the Gardaí to preserve forensics at the scene of crime.

There was one unexpected postscript in this deeply personal and yet highly political story: Stephen Travers, who loved playing music and gigging, who had been head-hunted as a talented bass guitar player, told us that he never got to play in any showband again. Whenever a band was up on stage helping people to enjoy themselves, they could not afford to have the mood darkened by the survivor of the Miami Showband Massacre sharing the stage with them.

Stephen Travers concluded by saying that all those of whatever political background who had lost people in events of that kind or in the conflict wanted the same thing: truth and justice.

EAMONN McCANN

Eamonn McCann is a journalist and broadcaster from Derry and member of the People Before Profit Alliance (formerly Socialist Workers’ Party) and former elected Member of the Six County statelet’s legislature. He is a veteran campaigner and was prominent in the Civil Rights movement in the Six Counties; he was to be one of the speakers at the rally on what turned out to be Bloody Sunday and supports the ongoing Bloody Sunday March for Justice.

Journalist and activists Eamonn McCann speaking at the event
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

McCann generally speaks forcefully without need of notes and in an enclosed space would not need a microphone (but unfortunately was handed one which thankfully failed some time later).

McCann referred to the Ballymurphy and Derry massacres by the Parachute Regiment and other killings by them of unarmed civilians in Ireland, including a drunk Shankill6 character who was heard to shout mockingly at them seconds before they gunned him down.

The Parachute Regiment’s last posting on active service had been Aden, which is in what is now Yemen, he told the audience, where they had been fighting a national liberation insurgency led by FLOSY7.. There the Paras had been engaging in atrocities against the Arabs and they had of course got away with it, so when they were sent to Ireland they did it again. And essentially got away with it there too.

The Saville Enquiry, which McCann said the Irish Government had insisted on as part of the Good Friday Agreement process, had essentially blamed seven low-ranking British Army soldiers. Then Captain Michael Jackson and General Robert Ford, who were in charge overall and in Derry that day, were not harmed by the incident and Jackson’s career in particular had “taken off like a rocket”, McCann said, as by the time of the Saville Inquiry he was Chief of Staff of the British Army.

David Cameron’s apology for Bloody Sunday in the Westminster House of Commons was “a political thing” (Kate Nash) and “a cover” (Eamonn McCann).
(Photo source: Internet)

Jackson had written a false account of the shootings of 14 victims as “terrorists” which could not correspond to any of the actual accounts of what had happened; “in some cases the bullets would have had to go through buildings” stated McCann and recalled that these had been presented to the world press after the murders and became the official British version around the world. However, when confronted with this evidence during the Saville Inquiry, at first Jackson “could not remember” and later “had a vague memory” of doing it.8

“They would not have been able to hold that Inquiry nor to make that apology in the House of Commons if Jackson and Ford were being held up to blame,” McCann told the audience. “They’ll sacrifice a few lower-rank soldiers – they are cannon-fodder and killers, that’s all they are to them – but they won’t blame their own.”

McCann alluded also to the Grenfell Tower disaster in London and was sure that the Inquiry would not end up placing the blame on the local authority and politicians’ connections to property companies. He then went on to draw connections between the Butterlys who owned the Stardust and the ruling class of Ireland on the one hand and the ruling class of Britain on the other, how their crimes are always being covered up and how it is necessary to change the system that protects that class.

After the applause that met McCann’s conclusion, Anne Keegan thanked everyone for their attendance and encouraged them to follow the campaigns and to continue to support them and people dispersed.

Audience and speakers gathering to exchange some words after the meeting.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

 

COMMENT: THE UNDERLYING REAL STORY?

The Stardust fire was an accident, possibly due to dangerous procedures and/ or lack of safeguards. It was not an accident that emergency exits were locked; they were locked deliberately, against all legal fire safety requirements, no doubt to prevent anyone entering without paying at the front entrance. But when the smoke and fire took hold, many people could not escape nor those outside break in to rescue them and 48 young people died and 241 were injured, families and whole communities devastated.

Therefore the owners, the Butterleys, should have faced trial for manslaughter; instead they were compensated to the tune of nearly €635,000. That the Butterlys were not charged, that the matter was badly investigated and that they were exonerated in the first inquest, was due to connections of the owners of the business with the Irish ruling class, and with the leaders of its main political party, Fianna Fáil. The appropriate term for that kind of collusion is criminal conspiracy.

 

     Many people, most perhaps in Europe and the English-speaking world, would think that the sending of the Paratroop Regiment to Ireland and the British encouragement of Loyalist death-squads and active collusion with them was an aberration. Others might think them deliberate plans but the responsibility only of individual officers and politicians. Some would see the massacres carried out by the Paras and the Loyalist murder gangs as unconnected, as different initiatives.

However, any objective evaluation should take the following sequence of events and their nature into account:

  • The Six Counties was a portion of Ireland which the British colonialists insisted upon holding on to 800 years after their invasion of Ireland (1169), after a guerrilla war encouraged them to withdraw from the rest of the country (1921). It was ruled by a manifestly sectarian regime discriminating against its substantial but minority Catholic population in every area of life but most brutally in law, policing, employment and housing.

  • Popular resistance begins or is renewed in 1964 after a dormant period reaching a high point in 1968.

  • Repression is deployed (police baton charges, gas, bullets) in 1968-’69 but fails – resistance increases

  • British perception is that it is faced with insurgency and begins to deploy its various arms and methods

  • British Army is sent in 1969

  • At some point the SAS is also sent in (difficult to pin down the year)
  • Control of mass media increases over following years (many journalists attend Army briefings in hotel and file their reports without checking with local communities)

  • Brigadier Frank Kitson installed as Area Commander (1970) with a free hand

  • Gangs (UDA) and Pseudo-Gangs (MRF) are created under Kitson’s guidance (1970)

  • More British troops sent in. Raids on Catholic areas and 3-day curfew on Falls Road (1970)

  • Community resists and first armed retaliation against the British takes place (1970)

  • British Army arms the gangs through recruiting them into the Army itself (Disbandment of B-Specials and creation the UDR British Regiment January 1970)

  • Paratroopers sent in (1971)

  • Gangs (UVF) semi-pseudo gangs (UDA/ UFF) operating fully integrated with British undercover squads and Pseudo-gangs (MRF and UDR) Summer 1971

  • Internment without trial introduced August 1971

  • Immediate civilian protests against internment August 1971

  • Ballymurphy Massacre of protesters by Paratroopers August 1971

  • Derry giant demonstration against Internment and Ballymurphy Massacre January 1972

  • Massacre of protesters by Paratroopers January 1972

  • Formation of highly-secretive and untypical Red Hand Commando Loyalist paramilitary organisation (1972)

  • British Army-RUC-Loyalist murder gangs (UVF) joint operations

  • Trial by jury abolished for those charged with resistance “offences” and Diplock Courts founded Aug. 1973

  • The “conveyor belt” is created – standard torture in Castlereagh Barrack, conviction in courts using tortured “confessions”, prison sentences (1970s-1990s)

  • Prevention of Terrorism Act is introduced to terrorise and silence the large Irish community in Britain 1974
  • Nearly a score of innocent people from the Irish community in Britain are framed on bombing charges and sentenced to long terms in prison (if the death penalty were still in force they would have been hanged) 1974
  • SAS soldiers are detained on undercover operation within the Irish state but are soon released 1976
  • Rules for Coroner’s Courts in the Six Counties changed to restrict the scope of verdicts from pointing towards the perpetrators (e.g Crown forces) or the legal status of the homicide (e.g “murder”) 1976.

  • Campaign to break Republican prisoners’ resistance 1976-1981

  • Change in British electoral legislation to prevent prisoners standing for election (1981see link)
  • Recruitment of informers and double-agents by Army and RUC intelligence

  • Elimination of prominent figures in the Resistance unlikely to agree to the deal 1976-19879

  • Testing the remainder to find supporters for the deal

  • The deal is offered and some concessions made (but no fundamental ones), resulting in the Good Friday Agreement 1998.

One does not have to be a conspiracy theorist to see here a pretty standard response of a colonial power to insurgency in one of its colonies, escalating to deal with an escalating resistance and aiming, if military defeat seems impossible, for wearing down the resistance and the communities supporting it, then to subvert, suborn and to bring the leadership to negotiate a deal which will end the resistance but not the existence of the colony.

Of course the process was bound to have some tweaks, as this anti-colonial resistance was taking place within Europe and breaking out just 50 years after a national liberation war within that country. Still, overall, a pretty standard colonial war.

And there are many other aspects not dealt with in that timeline, including subversion of the early 20th Century Irish national liberation movement and the subsequent State, bombings and killing of civilians there in the 1970s, recruitment of agents among news reporters, blackmail operations, promotion of pseudo internal communal opposition to the resistance, such as the SDLP and “Peace (sic) Women”, the use of gas and plastic bullets in particular ways and others.

Indeed, it is those who insist on seeing all these factors as unrelated or not part of colonial policy, agreed at the highest level, who are taking the unrealistic view. One has to be determined not to see the facts and their connection to colonial policy in order to maintain the illusion they insist upon, that the problem was/is one of “some bad apples” and “some bad decisions”.

End.

References and Further Reading (it is not suggested that everything stated in these sources is correct):

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stardust_fire

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bloody_Sunday_(1972)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bloody_Sunday_Inquiry

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miami_Showband_killings

Travers, Stephen; Fetherstonhaugh, Neil (2007). The Miami Showband Massacre: A Survivor’s Search for the Truth. Hodder Headline Ireland, Ltd. ISBN 978-0-340-93792-1

Brigadier Frank Kitson: https://www.historyireland.com/volume-22/frank-kitson-northern-ireland-british-way-counterinsurgency/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aden_Emergency

https://www.findmypast.ie/articles/world-records/full-list-of-united-kingdom-records/armed-forces-and-conflict/british-armed-forces-first-world-war-soldiers-medical-records

https://www.thenational.ae/world/mena/secret-colonial-era-files-reveal-british-cover-up-of-torture-in-aden-1.667507

https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2004/may/17/military.iraq1

https://www.irishtimes.com/news/crime-and-law/bloody-sunday-secrets-taken-to-the-grave-1.1523812

http://www.nihrc.org/documents/advice-to-government/2002/proposed-coroners-practice-and-procedure-rules-january-2002.pdf (p.4)

https://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0019/173017/UKPGE-Part-1-Can-you-stand-for-election.pdf

FOOTNOTES

Social and Democratic Labour Party, a reformist party in the Six Counties which displaced the Irish Nationalist Party in nationalist area voter support and later got displaced by Sinn Féin.

The Wikipedia entry on the “Miami Showband Killings” (sic) and a Wikipedia entry on showbands (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irish_showband) which also mentions the incident as contributing to the decline of the showbands both refer to the unit involved entirely as UVF, the Ulster Volunteer Force (a Loyalist paramilitary organisation responsible for more than 500 deaths, mostly Catholic civilians and a great number chosen at random). Only later in the text does it reveal that “at least four of the gunmen were serving soldiers from the British Army’s Ulster Defence Regiment”.

3 In his book, which I have yet to read but referred to in the Wikipedia entry on the massacre, Stephen said that the RUC interviewing him were not willing to accept this description of that individual. The man is believed by some to have been Captain Robert Nairac of the Grenadier Guards regiment but seconded to one of the special undercover units of the British Army. The IRA announced that it had executed Nariac in May 1977, having been captured by them while undercover; his body is still missing.

The UVF did in fact issue a lying statement to that effect in a eulogy to two of their dead members.

The Royal Ulster Constabulary, notoriously sectarian and armed British colonial police force taking over from the also-armed Royal Irish Constabulary in 1922, soon after the partitioning of Ireland. In 2001 it was rebranded as the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).

Strongly British Loyalist district of Belfast.

7 The Aden conflict or “emergency” as usually referred to in posts about this British colonial conflict (and totally absent from a number of Wikipedia and other pages about Aden) was an insurgency against British forces in Aden, a British colony since 1839. Although an “emergency” was declared on 10 December 1963, the conflict had been going on for longer. At peak the British Army had 30,000 service personnel there and 15,000 South Arabian troops and of their combined forces suffered 382 killed (227 British Army) 1,714 wounded (510 B.A.). No statistics on the number of Arabs killed by British forces and their allies are easily available. “Britain dropped more than 3,000 heavy bombs and more than 2,500 rockets in a bid to pacify the guerrilla insurgency who used the Radfan Mountains for cover” (Daily Mail article 2017 glorifying the British in general and the Paras in particular).

A joint effort was created between the British forces and the Federation Regular Army (FRA – of the Federation of Southern Emirates, a British protectorate) to combat the National Liberation Front and the Front for the Liberation of Occupied South Yemen (FLOSY). The paramilitary groups initiated a guerrilla campaign of grenade attacks against the British forces. By 1967 the situation in Aden escalated and the evacuation of British families and citizens was enforced. The city erupted in riots, tensions were heightened further by the Six Day War and a mutiny broke out within the Federation Regular Army.

The conflict ended on 30 November 1967. British forces withdrew from Aden and the National Liberation Front seized control of the government. The People’s Republic of South Yemen was declared.

8 In a short piece in the Irish Times in September 2013 (see link in References and Further Reading section) Eamonn McCann cast doubt upon the same testimonies which he denounced in the meeting reported here. McCann attended nearly every day of the Saville Inquiry in London, staying with family there and traveling there and back at his own expense and wrote a weekly report on the Inquiry for the Irish Times.

Too many to list all here but covered in a number of publications; the first was probably Máire Drumm of Sinn Féin by the mysterious Red Hand Commando Loyalist paramilitary organisation (also claimed by the UFF) and those convicted afterwards included one “ex British soldier”. The eliminations encompassed the attempted murders of veteran Civil Rights campaigner, ex-MP and active anti-imperialist socialist Bernadette McAlliskey (shot 14 times) and her husband in 1981; the ambush and execution of members of the IRA unit of the East Tyrone Brigade, including IRA Vols. Jim Lynagh and Pádraig McKearney, by the Special Air Service in 1987; and the last perhaps, Dominic McGlinchey 1994 by persons unknown.

APPROPRIATE MEMORIAL FOR MAGDALENE LAUNDRIES VICTIMS: CAMPAIGN WINS IMPORTANT BATTLE IN DUBLIN CITY COUNCIL

Diarmuid Breatnach

Dublin City Councillors at their meeting on Thursday (13th September) voted by huge majority not to sell the former Magdalene Laundry building in Seán McDermott Street in the city centre. Deputy City Manager Brendan Kenny had earlier announced the possibility of the Council selling the building at an expected price of €14.5 million to a Japanese company that planned and hotel and supermarket on the site.

A campaign group called Separate Church & State had lobbied for the building to become a memorial to the suffering of the inmates of the Magdalene Laundries. The group called people to support an event outside City Hall to coincide with a motion being put forward to prevent the sale of the building.  A range of people attended, seeming mostly Left social and political activists independent of any party and a sprinkling of People Before Profit activists.

The motion was propose by Gary Gannon, a Councilor of a very small political party (with only one member on the Council), the Social Democrats. However the motion was supported by the overwhelming majority of a Independent councillors (i.e of no party) and those belonging to a number of other parties and was passed with 37 voting in favour, eight against and two abstentions.

Campaigners and supporters in front of Dublin City Hall from across the street
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

The successful motion called on the Council not to sell the building and land and that instead those who suffered abuse there should be commemorated with a memorial. Other than preventing the sale, exactly how the memorialising might be put into effect remains to be outlined and agreed. There is talk of the State taking it over but whether by donation of the Council or sale has not been clarified. There are very few memorials to the Magdalene Laundry victims and all but one of them are small

The Sean McDermott building appears to have been the last of the Magdalene Laundries in Ireland and was closed in 1996. It is also the last of those buildings in the possession of Dublin City Council.

(Photo: D.Breatnach)

The significance of the victory is greater than that of elected representatives versus unelected City Managers, the former being more responsive to public pressure than to the demands of high-ranking officials who seem happy to hand over much of the city centre to property speculators, shopping centres, hotels and large student accommodation complexes.

The terms in which the issue was raised are an attack on the legacy of the Catholic Church’s grip on secular society and its relationship with the State.  The campaigners clearly see the Council vote as a victory, though a moral one, against that legacy.  And they are planning to press ahead with the offensive in the terms indicated by the title of their campaign, indicating further targets such as the national health and education services, along with legislation to follow on the national referendum’s rejection of Amendment 8 of the Constitution outlawing abortion.

The Magdalene Laundries – some brief background

       The Magdalene Laundries were a major institution of the Irish Catholic Church from the 18th to the late 20th Century. There were some Protestant parallels too in the Six Counties (“Northern Ireland”) run by the Anglican and Presbyterian churches but the vast majority of the Irish population were of the Catholic faith. The Laundries took in and accommodated women who were considered “fallen women” which at first meant sex workers but later included unmarried women who had a child or children or even women whose behaviour was considered immoral or flirtatious (or even whose beauty attracted male attention) and they were put to work in the laundries for no pay. Ostensibly at first a charitable initiative, their title drew on the New Testament story of Mary Magdalene who, from being a “morally loose” woman, after meeting him became one of the most ardent supporters of Testament’s Jesus.

But if the name was associated with the alleged mercy and lack of judgementalism of the Christ, it also implied moral sin and judgement. In the extremely conservative Catholic Church that it became after the Great Hunger, the main element was likely to be punishment and, when allied to an also socially reactionary political class, the Laundries became an institution of social control of the Catholic Church in Ireland and of the new Irish State.

The Magdalene laundries soon became known to their inmates as places of hard work and ill-treatment, mostly of a psychological nature but also physical. If women left them without permission, they were pursued by the police and brought back. Continuous escapes could lead to jail sentences.

(Photo: D.Breatnach)

During their time in operation an estimated 30,000 Irish women were kept in these institutions in Ireland, approximately 11,000 after the State was created in 1922.

The horrors of these “charitable institutions” began to be revealed to the public during the last decade of the 20th Century, notably in 1993 after a mass grave of 155 corpses was uncovered in the north Dublin convent grounds which housed one of the laundries and the last Laundry was finally closed down in 1996. The Church never accepted any financial responsibility for reparations.

The Irish State set aside a sum of up to €58 million (about half of which has been paid out – see Links) but the religious institutes concerned, the Sisters of Mercy, Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd and Sisters of Charity refused demands from the Irish Government, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and the UN Committee against Torture, along with other groups in Irish society, to contribute to the compensation fund for the the surviving victims, an estimated 600 of whom were still alive in March 2014 (see Wikipedia in Links).

(Photo: D.Breatnach)

The Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of the Irish State apologised publicly and emotionally in the Dáil (Parliament) in February 2013 but the State never accepted any legal responsibility, its representatives saying that they did not control the Church. When they were reminded that the victims had washed not only clothes and vestments of priests and nuns but had also done laundry service for such state institutions as Aer Lingus, the Irish Army, the Gárdai, the State’s representatives declared that the Laundries were like any other contractor in that regard and that the State could could not accept responsibility for how contractors treated their “employees”. But it is known that State courts sent a number of women to the Magdalene Laundries. And it was the State that allowed the Catholic Church to dominate social care, health care and education, areas which are usually considered the responsibility of the State.

The general story of the Laundries is fairly well-known in Ireland now through media coverage and the testimonies of victims and even abroad in some countries through the 1992 Peter Mullan film Magdalene Sisters (see Links) and a number of documentaries for TV. Mary Coughlan sang a fierce attack on them too the same year as the film, composed by J.Mulhern (see Links for a Youtube video).

View of the protesters outside the meeting (some were inside) looking eastward.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

There are very few monuments to the suffering of the victims of the Magdalene Laundries and they are all of a small size except the statue in Ennis which aroused some local controversy.

The monument at Forster Street, Ennis, Co. Clare, dedicated to the Magdalen women and a subject of some controversy.
(Photo: Mike Shaughnessy)

Despite the duration of their existence and numbers involved and the international coverage, the Pope claimed when tackled by some survivors on his recent visit to Dublin that he had no knowledge of the existence of the institutions.

 

Sale of Council buildings and land – the legal position and some background

Due to a legislative change some years ago, Dublin Council Executives such as the City Manager and Senior Planning Officer can make major decisions without consulting elected Councillors and even against their expressed wishes. In this way, for example, the planning permission for the Shopping Centre Plan over the Moore Street Battleground and Market quarter was firstly agreed and secondly, even after the High Court judgement that it is a national monument, was renewed in 2016 by the Chief Planning officer of the time, Jim Keogan.

Many feel and have felt since such decisions that this is an unhealthy state of affairs, with no democratic controls and leaving key officials open to suspicion of bribery from developers influencing their decisions.

Fortunately however when it comes to the disposal of Council assets, the Councillors must agree by majority. This prevented the “land swap” proposed in 2014 by Joe O’Reilly of buildings in Moore Street, which if successful would have enabled his company to demolish half the 1916 Terrace: responding to campaigners and interested elected Councillors, the Council voted the proposal down against senior officials’ recommendations in November of that year.

Links:

Separate Church & State campaign group: https://www.facebook.com/separatechurchandstate/

Short article on the Dublin Council lobby and vote in Look Left: https://www.lookleftonline.org/2018/09/dcc-votes-not-to-sell-off-ex-magdalene-laundry-site/

Closing of the Magdalene Laundry on Sean McDermott Street: https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/last-days-of-a-laundry-1.89388

Proposed sale of the Sean McDermott Street building: http://www.thejournal.ie/sean-mcdermott-magdalene-laundry-3941031-Apr2018/

State compensation package: https://www.rte.ie/news/2013/0626/458868-magdalene-report/ and https://www.irishexaminer.com/ireland/flanagan-257m-paid-out-to-682-magdalene-laundry-survivors-462711.html

The Magdalene Laundries on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magdalene_Laundries_in_Ireland

The Pope “had no knowledge”: https://www.buzz.ie/latest/pope-magdalene-laundries-297205

Film The Magdalene Sisters, Peter Mullan (1992): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Magdalene_Sisters

Song Magdalene Laundry by Mulhern and sung by Mary Coughlan (Sentimental Killer album (1992)): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GHWsLYtxzz0

 

(Photo: G.Guilfoyle)

Irish TV (RTÉ) cameraman filming the protest (Photo: D.Breatnach)

 

Section of protest (Photo: D.Breatnach)