Dublin Castle, located in the south city centre, has been the centre of the British occupation of Ireland since 1171 until 1921 (and even after that, some would say).The site offers one-hour guided tours to the public for much of the day, at approximately an hour apart, seven days a week and last year claimed a visitor total of nearly half a million. As a Dubliner interested in history and a walking tour guide, I was well overdue to take an official guided tour of the place, which I did recently.
Overall the State Rooms Tour was interesting and I did learn some things but I was also aware of many gaps. Was this unavoidable in a tour of one hour covering more than eleven hundred years (given that Viking Dublin was also covered) of history? Of course – but in the choices of what to leave out, was there an ideology at play, one that sought to diminish the repressive history of the institution and the struggle against it?
The first presentation to us by the tour guide was of Viking Dublin, the settlement of which took place in the 7th Century. The Vikings had a confrontational occupation of England but this had not been the case here, we were told – the Vikings settled amongst us, intermarried, introduced personal and family names, place-names, etc.
Well, somehow the tour spiel had ignored the many battles between the Vikings and the natives in Ireland even after the settlement in Dublin (and other areas), leading up the famous Battle of Clontarf in 1014, fought on what is now the north side of Dublin city. The 12-hour battle was important enough to be recorded elsewhere in Europe and in a Viking saga. Yes, it had also been an inter-Irish battle, in particular between the King of Leinster and the High King of Ireland but Viking Dublin played an important part, as did Viking allies and mercenaries from Manx and the Orkneys – and its result had ended forever any possibility of a Viking takeover of Ireland.
A noticeable gap in Irish-Viking history of Dublin to omit it, one might say.
Nevertheless, the tour guide gave us interesting information about the Viking settlement and a map showed an artist’s impression of how it would have looked.
Down in the base of what had been the Powder Tower, it was interesting to see the stone work, to hear the guide talk about the foundation of the Viking wall below us and how the cement used to bind the stones was a mixture of sand, oxblood, horsehair and eggshells. To me it was also interesting to see the stone course lines of one pointed arch above a curved one but unsure what I was looking at — and we were a big group, the tour guide some distance away to ask.
Down below the walkway, where water lay on the ground a couple of inches deep, some green plant was growing in the lights illuminating the work. This was above the route of the Poddle, I supposed, which once fed the Linn Dubh (black pool) and which now runs underneath Castle and city before emptying into the Liffey.
“BEYOND THE PALE”
The Normans reached Dublin in 1171 after landing in Wexford in 1169, our guide informed us but we were not told that in the process they defeated Irish resistance and the Dublin Vikings and, most curiously, there was no mention of the Pale. That would have been an interesting explanation to visitors of the origin of the expression “beyond the Pale” and what it implied1.
The guide did tell us later in the St. Patrick’s Hall (the State banquet room) that the paintings on the ceiling were to demonstrate to the Irish that all the civilising influences had come from the English to the Irish savages, that if the Irish were now civilised, their ranking was definitely below the English.
That might have been an appropriate time to mention of the Statutes of Killkenny 1366, nearly two centuries after the Norman invasion and how the Irish Normans had, outside Dublin, adopted ‘uncivilised’ Gaelic tongue, custom and even law, so that their cousins in England were now calling them “the degenerate English” who had become “more Irish than the Irish themselves”.
If the English Reformation got a mention I must have missed it but certainly there was nothing said about the imposition of the new religion on Ireland, colonists and natives alike and the many wars that resulted. Anglicanism had become the religion of the English State, with its monarch at the head of the Church but none of the Irish natives and most of the colonists did not wish to adopt that religion. So it led to many uprisings, first notably from the Irish Normans (Gall-Ghael), then by the Irish and a number of major wars, including the Cromwellian and Williamite ones, also to the Penal Laws. That State religion was the reason that Elizabeth I had founded Trinity College, so that the sons of the colonists would be educated in the “true faith”. Religion had been used by the coloniser to try to undermine unity among the inhabitants of Ireland and had been employed to physically divide the island in 1922, which had also led to a much more recent war of nearly three decades.
The Reformation and its effects seemed a quite significant portion to leave out of Irish history in general and of Dublin history in particular.
As the Castle had briefly been acknowledged as being, among other things, a prison, it seemed strange to omit the escape after four years of captivity of Red Hugh O’Donnel and two O’Neill brothers in 1592 — particularly so since the whole experience had left O’Donnell with a seething hatred of the English occupation which only ended years later in a poisoned death in Spain at the hands of an English agent. Aodh Ruadh Ó Domhnaill, as he was known then to most of Ireland (and Scotland), fought the English occupation from 1591 to 1602. Apart from being an important part of the Castle’s history one would have thought it would make an exciting and interesting story for tourists.
However, the story was omitted – but then so were the tortures carried out in the Castle, the severed heads erected on spikes on Castle walls and, although it was said that it took the English 400 years to conquer the rest of Ireland, this was apparently because “there were no roads and there were lots of bogs”!
Commenting on later medieval Dublin city, the guide told us about the many diseases that were endemic, due to lack of sanitation in the city, along with blood-letting being the major medical treatment. It was strange that she did not mention the effects of the Black Death or Bubonic Plaque, which travelled through Ireland in 1634. The plague, carried by fleas on the black rat, affecting almost alone the city populations, almost wiped out the English colony in Ireland.
IRISH WOOD, FAKE STONE COLUMNS
In the Chapel, the guide pointed out the names and coats of arms on each side as being those of Lord Lieutenants of Ireland, i.e the representatives of the English monarch in governing Ireland. There were of course no native Irish names among them and few even of the Gall-Ghael.
One that took my attention, near the doorway, was that of Cornwallis, dated 1798. Lord Cornwallis (“Cornwall’” in the traditional ballad The Croppy Boy) was in charge of the suppression of the United Irishmen uprising in 1798, at which he was successful but less so in the Thirteen Colonies of North America, which he lost to rebellious colonists, some of whom were relatives and friends of the beaten republicans in Ireland.
In response to an enquiry as to whether there were any questions, I asked who were represented by the sculpted heads along the chapel wall on the outside. Some represented Christian saints and some kings, such as Brian Boru2, she replied. Is there a list available of who they all are? No, I was told, only of some of them and I could consult that later.
Amazingly, only the floor and walls in the chapel were stone. The columns, she told us, were Irish oak plastered over to look like stone.
MONARCHS AND PRESIDENTS
In her introduction to the tour, our guide had informed us that Lords, Kings, Queens and Presidents had visited the Castle. The creation of the role of President in the 1937 Constitution, she told us later, had been to replace that of the English Monarch. I had not been aware of that. She told us that he commanded the Army, which was news to me too (or I had forgotten) and it turns out to be true, though more so in form than in substance for, as she informed us, real power is vested in the Taoiseach (Prime Minister).
In the Throne Room we were told that Queen Victoria had visited Ireland 1n 1849 and had to be lifted up to the Throne, as she was so small (bit of a deflater for the lines in the “Monto” song!3).
In her visit to Ireland the guide told us, the Monarch had been shocked by the scenes of hunger during the “Famine” (the Great Hunger) and that aid to the starving improved after her visit. Well, perhaps but the effects of the Great Hunger were covered in newspapers and appeals long before 1849 and the worst of the holocaust was over before then, the statistics of which the guide gave us; in our folk history Victoria is referred to as “the Famine Queen”.
The guide made much of the fact that Queen Elizabeth II (who might be known in a republic as: “Ms. Elizabeth Windsor”), had visited the Castle, had spoken in Irish at the reception banquet and how this was the first time an English monarch had spoken English at a State occasion, though Elizabeth I she told us knew a few Irish phrases.4 The guide attached no little importance to Elizabeth I’s gesture and to the whole visit as an act of reconciliation and we know that no less than the Irish President at the time, Mary Mac Aleese, had looked around mouthing “Wow!” when the monarch spoke five words in Irish: “A Uachtaráin agus a chairde … (“President and friends” …).
Such is the sycophancy of the Castle Irish mentality, that five words in the native language of a country being visited by a head of a foreign state should evoke such wonder and gratitude in their hearts. Forgetting that the very colonial regime of that state had for centuries worked to stamp out that language, barring it from all public arenas and educational institutions. One must wonder that a monarch whose armed forces are in occupation of one-sixth of the nation’s territory should be so honoured by the head of this state and other dignitaries from the areas of politics and visual, written and performing arts!5
I could have commented that during the Monarch’s visit, huge areas of the city centre had been barred to traffic by the police force of this “republic” in a huge negation of civil liberties; that police had been taking down posters against the visit and ripping even Irish tricololour flags from the hands of protester to stuff them in rubbish bins and truck; that Dublin City Council workmen had been removing anti-Royal graffiti while workers’ housing estates had been waiting for years for a cleanup service.
Guiding a small Latin American tour through the Castle grounds a few days before the scheduled banquet-reception, we were accosted by secret police who required us to state and prove our identities, state our reasons for being there (!) and the tour group to hand over their cameras for the agents to scroll through their histories. And the agents seemed surprised when I failed to agree with them that their actions had been reasonable.
I could have said that during Elizabeth Windsor’s reception banquet I had been with others in Thomas Street protesting her Castle reception and that at the corner with Patrick Street, we had been prevented by lines of riot Gardai from proceeding any further – not out of concern for her security but so that Her Majesty should not even hear any sound or see anything to disturb the serenity of her visit.
I did not say any of that – I still had a tour to finish and, besides, no doubt this is the Castle Tour Discourse, not to be blamed on one guide.
We were shown too the two banquet halls, the original and the one for state visits nowadays as the original was “too small”.6 And the sights of hunger outside the Castle walls in 1849 had not seemed to intrude on the guests enjoying the five-course meal served at Victoria’s welcoming banquet.
Seeming somewhat out of place, there was also an exhibition of Irish painting of the modernist school.
Portraits of the Presidents of the Irish State lined the corridor through which we passed to St. Patrick’s Hall (also the Irish State banquet room) and I could not help but contemplate that of the nine Presidents to date, one had been a founder of an organisation banned by the British occupation, another two had been soldiers against the British occupation but had since taken part in the suppression of their erstwhile comrades.
Another was the son of an Englishman who became an Irish Republican and was executed by the Irish state and another had resigned after being insulted in the Dáil by a Minister of the Government.
Not surprisingly, perhaps, nothing was said about any of that, either.
NO CASTLE CATHOLICS OR COPS?
Coming into more modern times, the I916 Rising got a reference, unsurprisingly as a detachment of the Irish Citizen Army had besieged the Castle for a couple of days, mostly from the nearby City Hall; the ICA’s leader, ironically, had been brought a wounded prisoner from Moore Street and treated in the Castle too. That was James Connolly and he was mentioned — though the ICA was not, nor were we informed that he was a revolutionary socialist. We were told we could visit the room named after him in which he had been held and treated on a bed there. After the end of the guided tour I went there and although it was an experience to enter the room of course the actual display was disappointingly sparse.
As headquarters of the British occupation of Ireland and necessarily of repression of resistance, the Castle always had soldiers stationed or passing through there. But it also held a police force, the secret service of the Dublin Metropolitan Police. Usually unarmed with more than a truncheon up until 1916, the uniformed DMP maintained order and bourgeois public morality in Dublin but also repressed public resistance to the British occupation. Not only sex workers and drunks were arrested but so were singers of patriotic ballads, protesters and public speakers. During times of Fenian activity, the DMP also worked to counter the influence of Irish patriots in the city and the plain-clothes G Division was created in 1874 to recruit informers and hunt down active Fenians.
A section of the Fenians were however prepared to counter this with assassinations of informers, some DMP and attempts on the lives of senior DMP officials in the city7 during the mid 19th Century. In the early years of the 20th Century it was G Division which also spied on activists in the trade union and labour movement, nationalists, republicans, the Irish language movement and suffragettes and it was they who identified Irish insurgent prisoners captured by the British Army in 1916, ensuring the death sentence for many (though 14 were eventually executed in Dublin).
The DMP, mostly the uniformed officers, could in fact be credited with being the inspiration to form the Irish Citizen Army: the vicious and sometimes murderous attacks of the DMP on workers’ assemblies during the 1913 Dublin Lockout had decided James Connolly and Jim Larkin to call for the creation of the workers’ militia. During the Rising, it seems that three DMP were shot dead, all by members of the ICA, one of them being at the Dublin Castle entrance.
On Bloody Sunday 1920, during the War of Independence, two IRA officers and an Irish language enthusiast prisoners were tortured and killed in Dublin Castle by police, including the specially-recruited terrorists of the Auxiliary Division. In order to cover up their actions, the police staged photos which they claimed depicted the prisoners not properly guarded and then jumping their guards to seize their weapons, which is how they came by their deaths, according to the cover story.
Soon after that, G Division detectives were being killed in various parts of the city by Collins’ Squad and the Dublin IRA. In fact, a number of the officers and of British Army spies took up residence in the Castle itself, for protection.
After the creation of the Irish Free State in 1921, the independence movement split and in the following Civil War (1922-1923) the repression of the continuing resistance was mostly the work of the Irish National Army. However, when the Irish police force was established, the Gardaí Síochána, their Special Branch detectives were again based in Dublin Castle,8 though they are based elsewhere now.
Since there was no mention of any this on our tour, a significant part of Castle history was being omitted.
CASTLE CATHOLIC IDEOLOGY?
There existed during the British occupation a social group — or perhaps more than one — that in the commentary of most Irish, perhaps, were referred to as “Castle Catholics”. This was not a reference to Catholics who owned a castle but to those of the native and Norman-Irish stock, i.e nearly all Catholics who, while maintaining their religion, bowed to the English occupation in everything else. And particularly the more elevated echelons among that group, for whom attendance at functions in the Castle were the high point of their social calendars and indeed their lives. Ag sodar i ndiaidh na n-uaisle9, as the Irish have it in their native tongue.
With some exceptions, I thought the tour and commentary, although interesting and of course catering to the expectations of foreign tourists, had more than a little of “Castle Catholic” or, better said, “Castle Irish” to it.
And it therefore lost a lot in the telling.
1Effectively an English anti-Irish racist term: “The Pale” referred at first to the areas enclosed by the Normans by an earthworks surmounted by a wooden palisade, i.e the area of colonist control. “Beyond the Pale” were the areas still under control of the Irish clans, uncivilised in the viewpoint of the colonists and the expression survives in English today to describe something as being a horror.
2A missed opportunity to mention the Battle of Clontarf and the defeat of the Dublin Viking and Irish Leinster forces!
3“The Queen she came to call on us,
She wanted to see all of us;
I’m glad she didn’t fall on us,
She’s eighteen stone! ….”
4Apparently Elizabeth I had a fair bit of linguistic ability, being fluent in English, Latin and French. It is believed by some that she knew more than a few phrases of Irish, having been taught by a tutor she recruited.
5Among them were the musicians The Chieftains and the poet laureate Heaney who had, some decades earlier written that “no glass was ever raised in our house to an English King or Queen”!
6There were 172 dinner guests at the banquet to welcome Elizabeth I of the UK.
7For a good atmospheric account of the struggle between the two forces, see The Shadow of the Brotherhood – the Temple Bar shootings by Barry Kennerc, Mercer (2010)
8An Irish Republican ballad of the early 1970s based on an earlier song had it thus:
“Oh the Special Branch in Dublin,
They’re something for to see:
They crawl out from the Castle
To inform on you and me.
But the day is coming soon me boys
And the rifles they will bark –
And the only snakes in Dublin
Will be up in Phoenix Park!”
(i.e in Dublin Zoo(
9“Trotting after the nobles.”
REFERENCES AND LINKS:
Dublin Castle OPW: http://www.dublincastle.ie/
Tour times and prices: http://www.dublincastle.ie/tickets-and-times/
What the British Queen said: https://www.thejournal.ie/%E2%80%9Ca-uachtarain-agus-a-chairde%E2%80%9D-%E2%80%93-queen-offers-%E2%80%9Csincere-sympathy%E2%80%9D-to-victims-of-anglo-irish-conflict-139244-May2011/
(Reading time 15 mins. approximately)
The Irish Republican organisation Saoradh staged a large demonstration of its support on Dublin’s O’Connell Street on Saturday afternoon (20th April). Republican marching bands and hundreds of supporters followed the traditional ‘colour party’ flags and lines of men and some women dressed in green-brown military-style clothing, black berets and dark sunglasses.
Beginning at the Garden of Remembrance, the procession, carrying large portraits of the executed martyrs of the 1916 Rising, wound its way down the main street past thousands of viewers, many of those taking photos and filming, down to the wall of Trinity College and the Bank of Ireland building, then back up Westmoreland street and up the west side of O’Connell Street to the GPO building, the site of the HQ of the Rising in 1916, for speeches as the ceremony of the commemoration.
The parade assembled at Dublin’s Garden of Remembrance and remained there for some time without the reason being clear, until the arrival of the participants dressed in green-brown military-style clothing, black berets and dark sunglasses, which many in the waiting crowd applauded. Presumably these were meant to represent the IRA but from the physical appearance of many it was clear that their active duty days, if they had them, were behind them. Presumably too, any organisation that did have an armed section would be reluctant to offer them up to the State for arrest on a parade and their all appearing at the last minute like that was also perhaps to reduce the opportunity for Garda harassment.
However, the uniformed Garda presence was in low numbers and although the Special Branch had officers there, they did not appear to be harassing Republicans for their names and addresses, as is their usual wont.
The route of the parade had been prepared placards bearing the words “The Unfinished Revolution” and “Saoradh” with tricolour flags attached at intervals to traffic sign and street light posts, including also at least one Palestinian flag. As the colour party and people in uniform lined up with banners and a band behind them and set off down towards the city centre, people joined in behind the band, with another band bringing up the rear.
TRAGEDY AND CONDEMNATION
The crowd appeared to contain many different elements, mostly men but quite a few women, some parents with small children and some teenagers, young men and older. Included among the attendance were a number of independent Republicans and socialists and a number expressed their decision to attend as having been influenced by the tragedy of the previous Thursday and the media campaign against ‘dissident’ Republicans, along with the apprehension that the Gardaí might take advantage of that to block or harass the paraders.
A scheduled Easter commemoration by a committee including apparently members of Saoradh to be held in Derry on Easter Monday had been cancelled as a result of a tragic incident. The armed British colonial police force in the Six Counties, the PSNI, had been carrying out house searches in the Galiagh and Creggan areas of Derry, allegedly for arms, to which youth had responded with stones and petrol bombs. During that incident, a gun was fired from the direction of the youth towards the colonial police but struck Lyra McKee, a young female reporter standing near them instead. Tragically the wound was fatal.
Saoradh had issued a statement after the event expressing regret for the death and extending condolences to Lyra McKee’s family and friends but also putting the incident in the context of regular harassing raids by the PSNI on houses in ‘nationalist’ areas and the always likely result of resistance (see Links for full statement).
Possibly in reference to that tragedy, a very tall long-haired man stepped in front of a section of marchers with his hands in the air. Stewards quickly blocked him peacefully and diverted participants around him.
Past the objector and into O’Connell Street, both the east side pavement and the pedestrian middle reservation were thronged with people watching, photographing and filming. The parade passed on to O’Connell Bridge, into D’Olier Street, turned right towards the Bank of Ireland building and back up Westmoreland Street to the General Post Office, location of the HQ of the Rising in 1916, outside of which the 1916 Proclamation had been read on 24th April by Patrick Pearse with James Connolly by his side.
At the GPO, Saoradh party chairman Brian Kenna welcomed the participants.
THE SPEECHES AND CEREMONY
At the GPO, Saoradh party chairman Brian Kenna welcomed the participants. Republican Easter Rising commemorations tend to follow an established pattern, no matter which organisation is involved: the reading of the Proclamation; messages of solidarity from Republican prisoners; a speech by a representative of the organisation; the lowering of the flags to a drum roll and their raising again, in honour of the fallen; the singing of Amhrán na bhFiann, the Irish National Anthem. In the past, a statement from the IRA was also read but in recent years this have not been customary, for a number of reasons.
The usual components of the ceremony were present on Saturday outside the GPO with a few variations: a poem by a supporter read out, “James Connolly, the Irish Rebel” sung by another and “Róisín Dubh” played on the uileann pipes. The James Connolly song, with some powerful imagery and an attractive slow air, gives no indication whatsoever of the man’s revolutionary socialism and seems to incorporate him into the IRA, instead of the Irish Citizen Army which he co-founded or even of the Irish Volunteers, with which he joined forces only weeks before the Rising.
The RFB (Republican Flute Band) marching bands were from Scotland: The Wolfe Tone RFB Craigneuk and the Coatbridge Unitedmen RFB. One of the bands played “Take It Down From the Mast, Irish Traitors”, the lyrics of which deny the Tricolour to the Free Staters who waged the Civil War against the Republicans, the legitimate bearers of the flag. A participant remarked that the song was sung first against Free Staters, later against Fianna Fáil, later still against the “Stickies” and more recently against Sinn Féin.
In his speech on behalf of Saoradh, Dee Fennel from Belfast began by sending solidarity messages to Republican prisoners in Irish jails and to the relatives of all those who had fallen in the struggle against British imperialim. He said that the objectives set out in the 1916 Proclamation had not been achieved and referred to those participants in the struggle who had left it along the way, some to collude in upholding the two failed states of the divided nation.
Referring to his own activism, Fennel recollected how four years previously he had spoken at an Easter commemoration as an independent Republican, i.e not a member of any political party. He had spoken of the need for Republican activists to engage more with one another and also in the struggles of communities, women and trade unions. Fennel said that as a result of a discussion among Republicans, some had formed Saoradh, building on “maturity and commitment” while others “retreated to their flags” and went on to list the wide areas of struggle in which he said Saoradh activists could be found.
Fennel also referred to the activity of the IRA and said that while British imperialism remains in possession of a part of Ireland and prevents the exercise of sovereignty of the nation, there will be some form of armed resistance and that this is borne out by history.
Referring to the harassment and persecution to which Fennel said Saoradh activists were being subjected, including “tens of thousands of stop-and-searches, hundreds of house raids”, he linked that to the PSNI raids in the Creggan area of Derry earlier that week and the tragic accidental killing of Lyra McKee when “a Volunteer fired shots at PSNI forces”. Going on to say that the IRA do make mistakes from time to time, and referring to two women killed by the Provisional IRA in error years before, Fennel said that the IRA should admit and apologise for their mistakes (NB: The New IRA did later issue an apology and express condolences), though he also said that no words could compensate for the feeling of loss.
In reference to Brexit, Fennel said that the discussion is being focused on what kind of Border is to be imposed, while Republicans object to any kind of Border whatsoever. He stated that as socialists they also object to “the increasingly neo-liberal EU” and concluded with a call for solidarity with Irish Republican prisoners “in Maghaberry, Portlaoise and Mountjoy” who “are in captivity for no other reason thantheir commitment to Republicanism and a 32-county, secular socialist Republic.”
TRADITION OF THE PAST AND CLAIM ON TOMORROW
Republican organisations tend to commemorate the Easter Rising not only as a historic event but also to highlight that for which the Rising was fought has yet to be achieved. But they also do so to show that they are here, present, working for those objectives and often, to promote their organisation, to attract support.
The display involved in this Easter commemoration was impressive (despite a media claim that the numbers were only “around two hundred”), particularly in view of the inevitable bad press following the death in Derry and the system politicians’ statements on what a social media poster dubbed “The Opportunist Condemnatory Bandwagon”. It also seemed to show an organisation not much harmed overall in Ireland by a recent split over an alleged lack of internal democracy.
Saoradh statement on the killing of Lyra McKee: http://saoradh.ie/the-death-of-lyra-mckee-in-derry-saoradh-statement/?fbclid=IwAR2nH20ILtiGjgCyih2eo0HEpkK27_F89MRptEb_OIMfA0SbRz4YB8Fneiw
Media and politician reaction to “dissident” Easter Rising commemorations in Dublin (many other similar examples): https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/politics/video-an-insult-to-irish-people-republican-groups-march-48-hours-after-lyra-mckee-murder-dishonored-the-irish-flag-varadkar-38035393.html
Irish Times inaccurate reporting:
(Comment: Approximate reading time 5 minutes)
A woman dies; she was young, a tragedy. Where did this happen and when? In Derry on Thursday evening. How did she die? Apparently (and I say that advisedly, for I do not know the examining doctor‘s verdict nor has an inquest yet been held) by a gunshot to the head. And according to a number of witness statements, she did not have a gun herself and therefore the bullet came from someone else.
All this and more has been reported in unanimity. What was the context? Ah, there we have to do some digging.
There was a riot going on at the time – there were petrol bombs and stones thrown at the police. Oh, why? Well, some of the early reports didn’t even try to answer that. But later, we were told: the police were searching houses for IRA arms. The police had “a tip-off”, some papers reported.
OK, now we’re getting somewhere. Reading between the lines, if we know enough about the general situation, we can reconstruct a probable narrative: British armed colonial police were searching the homes of Irish Republicans in ‘nationalist’ areas, just before their Easter commemoration, a commemoration during which they attacked another Republican group in Newry last year and one which was for decades banned under the Special Powers Act in the Six Counties – a ban enforced violently by the forerunners of the very police force carrying out those house searches on Thursday.
And it turns out, as admitted by senior PSNI command and reported in only some media outlets, including the Irish Examiner, that the purpose of the police raid was harassment: “PSNI officers were carrying out a search operation in the Creggan area of Derry aimed at disrupting dissident republicans ahead of this weekend’s commemoration of Irish independence.”
And we might know, though not from the general media, that the colonial police have been carrying out these raids on numerous occasions of late, as well as stopping cars of Republican activists and searching them, stopping people out walking and searching them too, as well as questioning them about where they are going and where they have been. Most people of course won’t know that – how could they?
So now that we have context, we might see the rioting as a justified response, even natural perhaps, of a colonised people to provocation and harassment by a militarised police force of a colonial occupation. And a colonial administration with a long history of atrocities by the occupying power. Or we might not – but context gives us the opportunity to interpret, while its absence leaves us bewildered or manipulated.
If we take the view that the people are justified in resistance, does that excuse the killing of the woman in question? No, not at all. But it does take us some way to understanding the situation and perhaps we wouldn’t want to see Irish Republicans as monsters then.
Lyra McKee’s death is a tragedy, as is the premature death of any innocent person and particularly a young person. The Six Counties too, that repressive backward statelet, can ill afford the loss of an LGBT campaigner.
Firing a gun in that situation was highly irresponsible and unnecessary. The shooter (or shooters) could not be sure of hitting a police officer and did, in fact, hit a totally innocent bystander. And if the police had fired back, the shooter(s) would have put everyone around them in mortal danger too.
CONDOLENCES AND CONDEMNATIONS
Saoradh, an Irish Republican organisation active in the area who were involved in preparing for the Easter Rising commemoration in Derry felt they had to cancel the event after the death. They issued a statement providing context for the riot and also extended condolences to the bereaved family and friends. Most media didn’t quote the relevant parts of the statement and some never even mentioned it.
On Saturday, their representative at their Easter Commemoration outside the GPO building in Dublin repeated the statement and amplified it, saying also that the IRA was not always right and, when they erred, they should apologise for it. The media didn’t report that either.
The media rushed, not to report the shooting and its context, but to condemn Irish Republicans who don’t agree with the Good Friday Agreement, i.e the ‘dissidents’. The BBC, in its first report on line, along with some others, called it a “murder”. Were they justified in saying that?
In law, not all homicides can be called murders. According to Wikipedia, Murder “…. is considered the most serious form of homicide, in which one person kills another with the intention to cause either death or serious injury unlawfully.” So there has to be intention to cause either death or serious injury to the victim. Are the BBC and other commentators really suggesting that the person or persons intended to kill a journalist? Apart from seriously inaccurate reporting, one might see those kind of claims as prejudicial to a fair trial for anyone arrested for the homicide.
THE CONDEMNATION BANDWAGON
And then, of course, jumping on to the condemnation bandwagon, we have the usual collection of hypocrites and opportunists. What would we expect from Unionist politicians? They have been running that colony with regular pogroms and armed repression for nearly a century – Irish Republicans are their enemies to the marrow. Arlene Foster couldn’t resist using the opportunity to praise their colonial police and to take a swipe at SF: “Those who brought guns onto our streets in the 70s, 80s & 90s were wrong. It is equally wrong in 2019.” Actually, at first it was usually the RUC with the guns on the street, wasn’t it? And then the British Army. But then after the Ballymurphy Massacre, Bloody Sunday …. well, you shoot at people long enough, they shoot back.
British Ministers and politicians had their condemnation to get in as well – well, the colony is theirs, isn’t it? The Republicans are their enemies too (and Theresa May must’ve been glad to be talking about something other than Brexit, for a change).
But then we had the Irish politicians also, including our own Taoiseach (Prime Minister), who presides over a State that is made secure for native and foreign capitalists by, among other things, persecution of Irish Republicans and sending them to jail through non-jury Special Courts. Mr. Varadkar is so supportive of the people of Derry, so sensitive to their needs, that whilst he condemns the Republicans, he praises the people of Derry for being “as strong as your walls.” Is he expressing Loyalist views or is he so ignorant of the people of Derry and their history?
Is Varadkar unaware that the Derry Walls belonged to the foreign occupation force? That the song that celebrates them is a triumphalist anti-Catholic sectarian and colonist song? That during the recent war in the Six Counties those walls were frequently a point of surveillance for the occupying military and that during the Bloody Sunday massacre, some British soldiers were up there with special rifles?
Oh yes and let’s not forget Nancy Pelosi, she too found a place on the bandwagon (well, to be fair, the others made room for her). This is long-standing career US Congresswoman who, although an outspoken opponent of the Iraq War and supporter of civil rights, blocked her party colleagues from going for impeachment of war criminal President Bush because “you never know what might come out”. She also voted for the Patriot Act, a huge attack on civil liberties in the USA and labeled Edward Snowdon “a criminal” for his whistle-blowing. And yes, after a briefing relating to a CIA agent destroying hundreds of hours of videotaping of torture in their US base in Guantanamo, she issued a statement saying that she eventually did protest the techniques (e.g “waterboarding”, euphemism for simulated drowning of prisoners under interrogation – DB) and that she concurred with objections raised by a Democratic colleague in a letter to the C.I.A. in early 2003. Yes you did, Nancy – but you waited four years to do so.
And what are we to say of Sinn Féin, they of association with the late Provisional IRA, putting their name to a joint statement of colony politicians? One would think that considering their past, they would hesitate to join the mob or to climb upon this particular bandwagon. One might think they would remember the innocent people the PIRA killed on occasion by accident, such as for example the Birmingham pub bombings where 21 people were killed and 182 injured or even, on some occasions, with intention.
Perhaps Michelle O’Neill did remember, perhaps she did hesitate, perhaps she wished to issue SF’s own statement. But climb aboard they did – and isn’t it all about climbing with them now?
The political parties that support the occupation said in joint statement: “Lyra’s murder (see that “murder” word again – DB) was also an attack on all the people of this community, an attack on the peace and democratic processes.”
“It was a pointless and futile act to destroy the progress made over the last 20 years, which has the overwhelming support of people everywhere.” (Oh, that was its purpose, was it? And this progress has been what, exactly? And towards what?– DB).
O’Neill was herself quoted as saying that the “murder” (that word again !) was “an attack on our peace process and an attack on the Good Friday Agreement.”
And “We will remain resolute in our opposition to the pointless actions of these people who care nothing for the people of Derry.”
I can’t say whether those people putting up a resistance to the colonial police care for the people of Derry or not but presumably they care for the people of their own neighbourhoods who are being harassed by the PSNI. And I remember in another city, Belfast, how the Loyalists had been threatening the Ardoyne area for many months and that in 2015, the PSNI blocked the Anti-Internment League from marching down to the city centre. Although the march eventually dispersed without incident, the heavy police presence in the area provoked some residents to remonstrate with them and, when the police began to arrest a woman, the area erupted in a riot. Who did SF blame? The local youth and the anti-internment marchers! And when a meeting was convened soon afterwards in a local venue for the march organisers and SF to explain their views, it was the latter that failed to attend.
* * *
Well, it must have been getting tight up there on the bandwagon but there’s always room hanging off the sides and if that doesn’t work …. why, one can run behind. And if not, not to worry, there’ll be another one along soon.
BBC initial news on line: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-northern-ireland-47985469
Irish Examiner (including intention of PSNI to disrupt Republicans): https://www.irishexaminer.com/breakingnews/ireland/a-senseless-loss-of-life-journalist-lyra-mckee-29-shot-dead-during-riots-in-derry-918754.html
A debate on the above theme was organised in Trinity College for the 29th January and advertised at less than a week’s notice, which however gave rise to such interest that the venue had to be changed from the 160-seat Robert Emmett Theatre to the Edmund Burke and people were turned away after the 406 seats had been filled.
Trinity College is a prestige university in Dublin and in the world generally, though its history in Dublin was for centuries of a religious sectarian and colonialist nature, founded as it was by Elizabeth I to ensure the education of the male children of English colonists in what she considered the ‘true faith’ of Anglicanism (which was and is still the State religion of England and of which the English monarch is Head). Its location too is very central to the city, being just across the Liffey on the south side and in 1916 served as a Headquarters for the British suppression of the Rising.
Puigdemont had been invited to take part in a debate on Independence, Nationalism and Democracy by TRISS, the Trinity Research in Social Sciences department, whose MC for the evening was clearly taken aback by the numbers who had pre-booked tickets and most of whom queued for half an hour outside the lecture theatre – and some for even longer waiting to get in.
Members and supporters of the campaign group With Catalonia/ Leis an Chatalóin, Comite de Defensa de la República and the cultural organisation Casal Catalá de Irlanda were there of course but so were a great many others; mostly Catalans with some Irish and people from other countries sprinkled among them and including some from elsewhere in the Spanish state. The overall feeling was clear when, as soon as Puigdemont was spotted entering the auditorium from a side entrance, along with other participants, he was applauded in what turned out to be a mostly standing ovation.
The MC or chairperson, Gail McElroy, Professor in Political Science and Head of the School of Social Sciences and Philosophy, made a special plea for good behaviour from the audience and also revealed that she had experienced some trepidation in preparation for the event. These expressions led to speculation among sections of the audience that the organisers of the debate had been subjected to a bombardment of hostile electronic communication. People in the Spanish state and sometimes abroad are familiar with this behaviour from right-wing Spanish nationalists, including outright fascists and even state-orchestrated trolls but for someone encountering it for the first time, no doubt it can be intimidating.
PUIGDEMONT: IT IS NOT ACCEPTABLE IN EUROPE
Puigdemont began by saying that some of those present might want to know why Catalans do not want to be part of Spain. He could answer that question by recalling the history of Catalonia as a nation, its struggles, its language and its culture. That would be the discourse of 19th-20th Century nationalism, he said. However he preferred to outline it as modern process in the 21st Century, rooted in Europe and in democracy.
The President-in-exile surprised some of his listeners, no doubt, by pointing out that as recently as four years ago, the majority of the Catalan independentist parties had been asking only for greater autonomy from the Spanish State. The history of recent growth towards a majority demand for independence has been as a result of the refusal of the Spanish State to concede any greater autonomy and of the Spanish Court revoking laws passed by the Catalan Government.
“But the Spanish response to Catalan demands has always been “no”, to everything”, said Puigdemont. “No” to dialogue. “No” to negotiation. “No” to reaching a democratic solution. Given the refusal, and obeying the mandate given to us by the majority of Catalan citizens, the Government of Catalonia, which it was my honour to preside, called a referendum on self–determination on 1 October 2017, with the legal backing of the Parliament of Catalonia. We did so while observing the basic principles of universal rights.”
And the world had seen the violence of the Spanish police inflicted upon people wishing peacefully to vote.
“The aim was not just to confiscate ballot boxes and ballot slips”, Puigdemont maintained but instead “to make people give up their right to vote. But this ignominious act backfired on the politicians responsible for it. Over 2.4 million citizens overcame their fear and went out to vote. We do not know how many tried to do so unsuccessfully, but we do know the polling stations that were violently closed represented a further 770,000 voters.”
Puigdemont continued: “Today, democracy in Spain is at risk because basic rights have been “de facto” suspended, and this represents a major threat to all Catalan and Spanish citizens, as well as to the European Union. Today, an EU member state cannot guarantee the judicial rights of its citizens, given that in recent months Spain has contravened international treaties ratified by the Spanish state itself, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.”
Referring to the Spanish State taking direct control of the Catalan government administration and preparing criminal charges against grass-roots organisation leaders and elected representatives, taking some as prisoners while others went into exile, Puigdemont said that this was not an internal Spanish problem but instead a Europan one. Seven hundred others, mostly town mayors, are under investigation too. Those independence activists, who have done nothing wrong and even according to Spanish law are innocent until proven guilty, have been kept in prison for over a year.
Concluding, Puigdemont said: “We will not falter. I have often said that what threatens democracy is not disagreement; indeed, democracy needs disagreements. What really threatens it is a lack of tools to solve disagreements democratically. We Catalans hope and trust that the political conflict over our self–determination can be resolved peacefully, without war, without violence, without winners and losers, without victims and thugs. We reject all the violence used in the last century in any part of the planet to resolve political conflict.
“As Pau Casals, a well-known Catalan, reminded us in a memorable speech to the United Nations Assembly in 1971, Catalans in the eleventh century met ‘to talk about peace, because at that time, the Catalans were already against war’. Ten centuries later, we maintain these same values of peace and harmony.”
THE OTHER SPEAKERS IN THE DEBATE
Located as the debate was in the capital city of Ireland and in the centenary of the founding of the first democratically-elected Irish Parliament, an Chéad Dáil, it was most noticeable that neither Puigdemont nor the other speakers referred to the experience of Ireland’s struggle for independence.
Dr Marvin Suesse – Assistant Professor in Economics, Trinity College Dublin spoke on “The Economic Costs of Sovereignty”, from his research on the political economy of separatism and nationalism. He said that while the benefits of independence in terms of feelings of pride, promotion of culture etc. were difficult to measure, the economic benefits were not. Suesse went on to give examples which indicated that the costs of independence were greater than the benefits.
Dr Michelle D’Arcy – Assistant Professor in Political Science, Trinity College Dublin. spoke on “Secession and the Fiscal Contract: Reflections from the Post-Colonial World.”
D’Arcy teaches African politics and the political economy of development to undergraduate and postgraduate students and her research broadly focuses on understanding how politics and institutions enable and constrain human development and more specifically on democratization in Africa and state-building in Europe historically. Though she made some interesting points and believes that independence movements engage in a “fiscal contract”, it was difficult to see where she stood on the question under discussion.
Dr Emanuel Coman – Assistant Professor in Political Science, Trinity College Dublin spoke on “When does the Right to Self-Determination Actually Apply?”
Emanuel Coman is Assistant Professor in Political Science at Trinity College Dublin, teaching courses in comparative institutions and American Politics. His research is primarily in the fields of party politics and elections, with empirics driven primarily from Eastern Europe.
Coman, from Rumania as he told his audience, analysed the European nations that were successful in gaining independence after WWI. Most had been under the rule of the defeated belligerents. His thesis seemed to be that a nation’s bid for independence required the support of the big powers exerting influence in the area.
“ONE MUST ALSO WEIGH THE COST OF NOT DECLARING INDEPENDENCE!”
Commenting on the presentations of the other speakers and responding to questions after his presentation, Puigdemont was more lively than when reading his speech and at times showed some fire, particularly when he responded that as well as weighing the costs of independence, one must consider the costs of not becoming independent, which brought some applause from sections of the audience. Aside from anything else, he said, it is a question of dignity: the Catalans had the right to make their own decisions, whether they be correct ones or mistaken.
A much greater applause and cheers broke out when Puigdemont denied that the Spanish State could be described as “a democracy” and stated that this was not opinion but fact, given that the Monarch and Head of State (father of the current monarch) had been personally appointed as his successor by the fascist coupist General Franco, whose mausoleum is a national monument of the State.
Responding to a suggestion that the Catalan pro-independence movement might benefit from employing the tactics of the “Yellow Vests” of Paris, Puigdemont was most emphatic that his movement was peaceful and would never under any circumstances resort to violence.
One member of the audience criticised the panel (other than Puigdemont) for not addressing the actual issues in Catalan independence and the Spanish State’s opposition.
Asked by a member of the audience to describe his feelings of exile, Puigdemont replied that he could not indulge those feelings since he would be unable to continue the struggle if he did so. He revealed that his own grandfather, in a concentration camp in France after the fall of Barcelona to Franco’s military-fascist forces, had written to his family so that they were aware of the feelings of exile even though they never saw him again. His voice seemed to gain a heightened emotion when he remarked that when he compared his situation to that of refugees, like those from Syria, launching themselves on the hazardous journey to European shores, survivors arriving often to be badly treated, he felt he had little of which to complain.
The audience gave Puigdemont and, one supposes, the other speakers and TRISS for having organised the debate, sustained applause and cheers, during which one could hear some pro-independence slogans in Catalan. Afterwards, many remained in the auditorium to speak to Puigdemont or to chat amongst themselves in a general buzz of excitement.
Views expressed by a number of listeners afterwards on the content of the debate were in general positive though these varied through a continuum from “excellent” to “all right but somewhat disappointing”. All feedback received agreed that on two points Puigdemont had been excellent: on the question of calculating the cost of NOT seceding from the Spanish state and also on the characterisation of the Spanish State as not being a democracy, as one that had failed to break properly with its Franco-fascist past. Few gave positive feedback on the other debaters.
Crowds delayed leaving for around half an hour, gathering talking among themselves or queuing up to shake Puigdemont’s hand, talk to him etc. and Casals Catala presented him with some books on Irish history.
Puigdemont comes across as quite genuine in his convictions and as an able debater, even in a language which cannot be his first or second. His vision of Europe does not perhaps coincide with the views of some others and one may doubt the practicality of his commitment to non-violence. One may also question whether anyone has the right to commit the movement to peaceful resistance alone, even if it were to be attacked violently.
I did not hear him speak any words in Irish but the written text of Puigdemont’s speech did contain some. Although it was good to see some Irish there, for the few words he was going to speak in the language, Puigdemont (or his advisors) might have taken the trouble to formulate them correctly. Addressing “mná agus uasal” although addressing women first, suggests that the audience was an almost all-female one and who were not “uasal” (noble, important), but was surely unintended. And “dea-trathnóna leat (‘to you’, singular) go léir” (to all of you) is a conflation of singular and plural in the same address; likewise with the “go raibh maith agat” which thanks one person rather than the audience which was the intention and “go mór” which if not incorrect is clumsy and straight from Google Translate for “thanks a lot”.
Standing outside the auditorium with a placard announcing the Catalan solidarity demonstration on Saturday 9th April, at one point I noticed Puigdemont standing some metres away with some others. As he caught my eye, he stepped towards me, hand outstretched.
I gripped his hand and smiling, said: “Fáilte go Baile Átha Cliath!”
“Thank you,” he replied, smiling also and stepped back.
Whatever else he may be, I suspect he is what we in Dublin would call (with a meaning remote from any kind of subservience) “A gentleman.”
BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES ON PUIGDEMONT:
Born in Amer, a village in the province of Girona and fifty-seven years of age last December, Carles Puigedemont is a journalist by trade and ex-Mayor of Girona, a major Catalonian city of over 100,000, just under 100 kilometres (62 miles) north-east of Barcelona. In 2006, after a track record of activism in Catalan culture and nationalist activism, he was adopted as a political candidate by the CIU (Convergence and Union) political party and later to represent the reformation of that party in the Junts per Si (Together for Yes) coalition, composed of mostly nationalist capitalist elements. He has been successful in every election and currently heads the uneasy Junts per Cat (Together for Catalonia) coalition. The current Govern is made up of a coalition between JuntsXCat and ERC (Republican Left of Catalonia), with the other pro-independence party, CUP (Popular Unity Candidacy) in opposition, though not voting with the Spanish-unionist opposition.
In what seems an action contradictory to his political position, in January 2019 Puigdemont filed a constitutional application for amparo (remedy, to put right) directed against the President of the Catalan Parliament, Roger Torrent and the Board of the Chamber, to the Spanish Constitutional Court. The application argues Puigdemont had been denied the use of his political rights as Torrent did not allow him to delegate his vote from Belgium after Puigdemont’s criminal indictment and suspension of his parliamentary position by Supreme Court judge Pablo Llarena.
Despite constant Spanish-unionist claims from both Right and Left, the Catalan pro-independence movement has shown itself more tolerant of migrants and diversity than can be said in general of much of the rest of the Spanish State; one of the laws of the Govern sought to give migrants equal access to Catalan national health care but was twice squashed by the Spanish Supreme Court. Puigdemont is himself married to Romanian journalist (Marcela Topor in 2000) and they have two daughters, Magali and Maria, the family home in Girona. His children are multi-lingual and Puigdemont himself speaks Catalan and Castillian (Spanish), as do most Catalans but also English, French and Romanian.
LINKS AND FURTHER INFORMATION
Text of Puigdemont’s address in the debate in full attached at the end of the brief report in El Nacional: https://www.elnacional.cat/en/news/puigdemont-dublin-bertie-ahern-trinity-college-ireland_349173_102.html
Pre-event publicity from Trinity College: https://www.tcd.ie/ssp/events/lectures/2019-01-independence/
With Catalonia/ Leis an Chatalóin: https://www.facebook.com/WithCataloniaIreland/
CDR Dublin: https://www.facebook.com/CDRDublin/
Casal Catalá de Irlanda: https://www.facebook.com/casalcatalairlanda/
The violation of the civil rights of Osgur Breatnach (then a leading member of the IRSP) exposed in the program in the Finné series on TG4 (Irish language TV channel) shown recently and repeated a week later was set in the 1970s but the injustice did not end there.
Even after a High Court admission that he and McNally had been subjected to “oppression” and his conviction thereby overturned 17 months after his jailing, the court still maintained he had beaten himself up – a fiction it maintains to this day.
Of course to say otherwise would have been to admit the Gardaí special unit that came to be known as “The Heavy Gang” were vicious thugs who fabricated “confessions”. And that the judiciary of the Special Criminal Court had, despite the medical evidence and signs of beating on all, including the three who had “confessed” and the repudiation of those statements in court, colluded with the beatings, accepted the statements as true confessions and convicted three of the men for up to 12 years’ jail. And to admit that the Court of Appeal and High Court had been complicit in accepting as a “finding of fact” which could not be overturned that they had beaten one another up (and done it to himself, in the case of Breatnach).
All of which meant that the Heavy Gang got more encouragement for their ‘work’ so that some of them were able to turn up on the scene of other scandals, including that of the false confessions of Joanna Hayes and her family (about which Gardaí nothing has been done either).
Even today, not one of those Gardaí has been even charged and the complicit judiciary and State Prosecution carried on in their jobs and in some cases rose higher.
The injustice did not stop there, for when Nicky Kelly, who had been on the run, gave himself up, even though exactly the same evidence had been used to convict him, he was told he had run over the timeframe in which he could appeal and it took four years of campaigning to get him out too. And then only for “humanitarian reasons,” so the “guilty of armed robbery” verdict still stood for his reputation, potential relationships, job prospects etc.
Another eight years later he received a Presidential “Pardon” from Uachtarán Mary Robinson.
Then the State fought the financial compensation case, taking it to the extreme of bringing Gay Byrne to court over an interview he had given Osgur Breatnach. At this point some wiser heads decided to limit the damage, pay up but with the condition that the three did not go after the police or proceed with any case about the beatings.
A facet of British and Irish civil law of which many are probably unaware is this: If the respondent (i.e the one against which you are taking the case) offers you a sum and you refuse it, and you later win the case but are awarded less than what you were offered earlier, you have to pay all the costs of the defence! You can actually end up owing money!
But back to ongoing injustice. Since not a single one of the Heavy Gang was ever even charged or disciplined over this and other similar behaviour and some were even promoted; since not a single member of the legal profession or judiciary was even reprimanded for their part in it; no warning about where the boundaries are has been given to the Gardaí much less to the judiciary. Which means that it can all easily happen again.
The defendants in the Jobstown case were not beaten up to force them to ‘confess’ but when we hear Garda after Garda, including a senior one, affirm under oath in court that one of the defendants said something which all the video evidence proves he did not, at what conclusion can we arrive other than that they were all lying? But not one of them has been charged or even disciplined either.
Conversely, the State has no problem with dragging anti-fascists to court recently and this to answer charges such as “violent disorder” arising out alleged actions preventing the European fascist organisation Pegida from launching a branch in Dublin.
ARE THINGS TODAY IMPROVED?
The Heavy Gang is not operating as such today (or at least not yet) but in some respects things are actually worse than they were back in the 1970s ad ’80s. There was one Special Criminal Court then – now there are two! The Public Order Act was brought into force in 1994 to give Gardaí great powers to repress public protests and the scheduled offence of Violent Disorder was included in that Act: three unconnected individuals at the scene of a “disorder” can be convicted under the latter provision and sentenced up to ten years in jail or fined an unlimited amount (or both)!
Courts are imposing bail conditions preventing activists from continuing to be politically active, i.e from attending public meetings, rallies, demonstrations, pickets etc – for up to the two years it can take the case to come to trial.
And just as in the ‘bad old days’, the unsupported opinion of a Garda of Superintendent rank or over is sufficient to convict Republicans of “belonging to an illegal organisation” and visitors to the public gallery of the SCC have to give their names and addresses to the Gardaí before being admitted.
Special Branch officers still routinely and openly watch Republicans carrying out their peaceful political work and demand their names and addresses on pickets. But now not only is surveillance carried out on people’s electronic communication equipment, communication is also being blocked at times by special equipment of the Gardaí.
Sadly, as the struggle over social and political issues becomes more acute in this state, we will see more repression, as the State tries to force the whole of civil society into compliance, especially by concentrating that repression on society’s more politicised and active sectors. Already in Dublin we have seen masked bailiffs and masked police carrying out an eviction of a small token occupation group in an empty house and, a week later, armed police turning up to a dispute between a couple and their landlord.
Only by admission of wrongdoing followed by actions overturning the current impunity of the Gardaí and the judiciary can a worsening of the situation perhaps be averted. But there is no sign of that happening.
LINKS FOR REFERENCE/ FURTHER INFORMATION
Report by Diarmuid Breatnach
Two very interesting talks were given last night as part of a series of history talks at the Sean O’Casey Community Centre in East Wall, Dublin. The theme was black civil rights in the USA and Catholic civil rights in the Six Counties of Ireland (‘Northern Ireland’ according to some).
Joe Mooney of the East Wall History Society introduced the speakers and chaired the question-and-answer session afterwards.
The session opened at 8pm and Cecilia Hartsell had a lot of ground to cover. She spoke on the history of the Civil Rights movement of blacks in the USA, going through the history of seminal events, illustrated with Powerpoint slides and recordings of two White House phone calls between President JF Kennedy and Ross Barnett, Governor of Mississippi and key figure trying to prevent the historic enrollment of James Meredith, a black man, into the University of Mississippi.
Recalling that in the first two years of his term, JF Kennedy had little to say about black civil rights but was focusing on other issues,Cecilia Hartsell somewhat undermined the (incorrect) image we tend to have in Ireland of Kennedy as an ardent civil rights fighter. In fact he was enforcing Federal legislation on equality and trying to go slowly, while the black campaigners were pushing the agenda along and white racist reaction was holding the USA up to international ridicule and opprobrium during the Cold War with the Soviet Union.
When Brian Hanley took the floor for his talk he fairly zipped along, which he does very well. Hanley undermined some myths or wrong impressions too. Early organisers of the civil rights marches and other events such as the Dungannon house occupation were Irish Republicans; Loyalists had killed four people before the first Civil Rights march. The rhetoric of SDLP and Labour Party notables was much more militant in the early years and Fine Gael was agitating more about issues of discrimination in the Six Counties than was Fianna Fáil, the party in government. And FF had been pushing a referendum to do away with the proportional representation electoral system at the same time that the PR system was among the demands of civil rights campaigners in the Six Counties.
In the session for questions, answers and contributions later, Hanley pointed out that the Southern Democratic Party was the pro-slavery party historically and, after the Civil War, anti-integration and civil rights, whereas the Republican Party was anti-slavery (debunking another false image we tend to have in Ireland).
Both historians made the point that a hundred years is not as long as some might think (this is especially true in ‘historical memory’). The 1940s, when some historians would say, as Hartsell told us, is the date from which to date the renewed fight for black equality in the USA, as surviving black soldiers returned from WWII, was only 80 years from when Federal troops were withdrawn from the former Confederate states. The partitioning of Ireland had been carried out less than 50 years before the Civil Rights protests broke out in the Six Counties, Hanley reminded his audience and many Catholics still lived who remembered vividly the fierce repression that had accompanied it.
It also emerged that albeit there were many similarities, there were also profound differences between the two movements. The black campaigners in the USA were saying that they were citizens of the USA State and demanding the same rights as other citizens, they often marched with the Stars and Stripes flag and even called for the intervention of US troops to defend their rights. The Catholics marching for civil rights in the Six Counties mostly saw themselves as Irish citizens and would never march with the Union Jack. Some did call for the intervention of British troops but many did not; it was mostly Irish troops they hoped would intervene.
The importance of the presence of news photographers at events and their covering in newspaper reports and on television broadcasts was an important factor in both struggles.
Cecilia Hartsell did not feel that the Black Power movement could have survived Southern racist repression in the 1940s, ’50s and early ’60s and most of the big gains on desegregation of education, public transport, eateries and voter registration and effective right to vote in the Southern States were won during those years with peaceful marches and pickets and legislation (which however were met by much racist violence, including a number of murders). By the time the Black Power movement was coming on to the political stage, so was the Vietnam War and huge changes were taking place in the US, including many mass violent struggles on race and other issues.
TERMINOLOGY AND DEEPER MEANING
Wikipedia: “Though often used in history books to refer to the seven states that originally formed the Confederacy, the term “Deep South” did not come into general usage until long after the Civil War ended. Up until that time, “Lower South” was the primary designation for those states. When “Deep South” first began to gain mainstream currency in print in the middle of the 20th century, it applied to the states and areas of Georgia, southern Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, north Louisiana, and East Texas, all historic areas of cotton plantations and slavery. This was the part of the South many considered the “most Southern”.”
“Later, the general definition expanded to include all of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, and often taking in bordering areas of East Texas and North Florida. In its broadest application today, the Deep South is considered to be “an area roughly coextensive with the old cotton belt from eastern North Carolina through South Carolina west into East Texas, with extensions north and south along the Mississippi”.
“Lower South” probably originally referred to its location on the typical north-orientated map of the USA. But I speculate that “Deep” has another meaning – a deeper psychological one, in fact. It suggests that this is a place difficult to understand for people not from there, which means most people. Different rules apply there, we might believe.
I speculate further that after the initial first years of the Civil Rights movement in the Six Counties, that area and the people living in it came to be seen as “different” too. Of course, it was different in that it was a colony (as had the whole country been only 50 years earlier) and that it was run along blatantly sectarian lines, the Catholics a minority there, unlike in the rest of Ireland. And of course, people in a different environment respond differently. But they were still people and the substantial Catholic minority were so clearly oppressed in a statelet into which the Irish ruling class had delivered them. For many people in the 26 Counties it became easier to think of them as somehow foreign in a foreign kind of land, hence my description as “Deep North”.
THE SPEAKERS (as posted by EWHG)
Cecelia Hartsell is a researcher of American history. She has been a contributor to the RTE History Show and Radio Kerry on topics in U.S. history and frequently gives U.S. history talks for the Dublin Festival of History and in the Dublin Public Libraries. Cecelia has a Masters degree in U.S. history from Fordham University and a Masters degree in History from UCD.
Brian Hanley is an historian and author. He is currently a Research Fellow at the School of Classics, History and Archaeology, University of Edinburgh . He has lectured at a number of major Irish universities and was Historian in Residence at Dublin City Library and Archives . His books include “A Documentary History of the IRA, 1916-2005” (Dublin, Gill and MacMillan, 2010) with his most recent being “The impact of the Troubles on the Republic of Ireland, 1968-79: boiling volcano?” (Manchester University Press, 2018).
NEXT HISTORY TALK
There will be another talk in the series next week when Dr. Mary Muldowney will present a talk on “The 1918 Election – the Woman Who Stood for a Worker’s Republic.”