CASTLE TOUR – CASTLE IDEOLOGY

Diarmuid Breatnach

          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?

An artist’s impression of Viking Dublin in 9th Century

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.

Powder Tower base incorporating some of the original Viking wall.
Two separate arch stone courses, one above the other in the base of the Powder Tower.

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.

One of the ceiling paintings in St. Patrick’s Hall, where the Uachtarán is inaugurated and which is also the State’s banqueting hall

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.

Apparently a Lord Lieutenant of Tudor times riding out of (or returning to) the Castle with his knights and soldiers to deal (or having dealt) with the troublesome Irish natives (a representation on display in the Castle).

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.

Aodh Rua Ó Domhnaill monument
(Photo source: Internet)

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.

Artist’s impression of medieval Dublin City (perhaps 17th Century?). The guide told us it would have been pretty smelly.

IRISH WOOD, FAKE STONE COLUMNS

Chapel main stained glass window, looking east

     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.

Among the other Lord Lieutenants of Ireland, Lord Cornwallis’ coat of arms; he was suppressor of the 1798 Rising in Ireland but lost the war against the 13 Colonies of North America.
The ‘fake stone’ columns and one line of coats of arms of former Lord Lieutenants of 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.

Section of ceiling and columns in the Chapel.

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).

An extremely heavy chandelier in the Throne Room, mostly solid brass, with the emblems of the English Rose, the Scottish Thistle and the Irish Shamrock worked into it.
The ceremonial throne upon which Queen Victoria had to be lifted.

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.

St. Patrick’s Hall, where the Uachtarán is inaugurated and which is also the State banquet room.

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.

Portrait of Erskine Childers, one of the past Presidents of Ireland. His mother was a UStater, his father, also Erskine, was English and ran guns into Howth for the Irish Volunteers and later joined to fight for Ireland in the War of Independence. In the Irish Civil War he fought against the State, which captured and executed him.

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.

View of the Connolly Room with the supposed hospital bed on which he was treated for gangrene and also courtmartialed prior to being taken to Kilmainham Gaol and shot.
(Photo source: Internet)

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.

Plaque commemorating the police murder of three prisoners on Bloody Sunday (erected by the independent National Graves Association).

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.

First in the series of staged photos allegedly showing the three prisoners and their guards on Bloody Sunday
The second of the staged photos to cover up the police murders, even more ridiculous than the first.

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.

End.

FOOTNOTES:

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/

Black Death in Ireland: https://www.historyireland.com/medieval-history-pre-1500/unheard-of-mortality-the-black-death-in-ireland/

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/

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

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CÚPLA MÍLE PROTESTORS RATHER THAN MÍLE FÁILTE FOR TRUMP’S VISIT

Diarmuid Breatnach

          Ireland has broken off its love affair with the USA but the breakup’s been coming for a long time. Of course it was always a kind of mythical USA that was the love object, of film stars, rock n’ roll, friendly presidents, Irish-U.Stater politicians, of U.Stater tourists – never the real USA, good or bad. One could feel the tensions in the relationship during the Viet Nam War, though that was mostly to be seen in the youth and some lefties. But then came the lying scandals in the US Presidency of Nixon and Clinton and the naked warmongering throughout all, including the Bushes, Snr. and Jnr.

Looking southward from around the middle of the crowd in front of the Garden of Remembrance, Parnell Square, Dublin. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

          Ireland, below the level of its Gombeen politicians, has split up with the USA (at the level of ITS politicians and millionaires [often the same thing]) but it has been a relatively civilised breakup and thankfully with no children (well, apart from the Irish illegal immigrants – sorry, undocumented visitors).

While some businesses in an Dún Beag might have turned a profit out the Fear Mór’s visit, having the Chief of the World Superpower drop in on us has cost us – around 10 million euro, according to the Irish Independent. Loads of extra Gardaí on the ground in Co. Clare and Limerick, in the air and on sea, does not come cheap (though I’m sure the overtime was welcome). All would have been bad enough if we had invited him but we hadn’t. Will the Irish Government present the US Presidency with an itemised bill? Probably not.

Blimp rising — taken from northern edge of rally.
(Photo: D. Breatnach)

At the invitation of The Irish Examiner, a number of organisations and individuals had written letters to Trump for publication (see link below); most were critical and these included Amnesty International, Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign, National Union of Journalists, National Women’s Council of Ireland, National Union of Students; Brendan Ogle, Tara Flynn and Clare Daly. For entertainment value I’d pick out the IPSC’s and Tara Flynn’s (well, she is a comedian). The ICCL also had a newspaper advertisement criticising Trump, which was sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union and figured logos of a number of other civil rights organisations.

There were protests in various parts of the country, including one to greet his arrival at Shannon airport (hopefully US munitions and troop carriers were pulled to one side so as not to hinder his landing). The Irish Times said there were about 200 protesters there so, on past reporting, there could have been anything between 300 and 1,000. It is not easy to get to Shannon airport unless one has a car, even from Galway the gaps between bus arrival times are substantial. And no train station.

(Photo: G.Guilfoyle)

DUBLIN RALLY

          Dublin had a showy and packed anti-Trump rally, with a Baby Trump blimp floating above the crowd outside the Garden of Remembrance. An activist brought big letter placards which, with the help of volunteers from the crowd, spelled out anti-trump messages in English and in Irish. Indeed an interesting feature was a number of placards partly or completely in Irish.

(Photo: D.Breatnach)
(Photo: G.Guilfoyle)

The theme of “welcome” or “fáilte” was of course played upon in reverse, in speech and placard, with more than a hinted reference to the old Bord Fáilte slogan inviting tourists to the land of “céad míle fáilte”.

On this placard play is made of the old “Céad míle fáilte” sentence (“a 100,000 welcomes”) but with a different twist.

The event was managed by Unite Against Racism which is, for the most part, People Before Profit, which in turn is really the Socialist Workers’ Party. A number of other left-wing party flags could be seen too. A group of Shinners were at the rally with their trademark flags (never go anywhere without the party’s flag) but no “dissidents” were present as a group, though I certainly noted some as individuals.

The speakers at the rally covered a number of themes, including of course misogyny, migrants, Palestine, war-making and imperialism. Liam Herrick of the ICCL was an unusual sight to see on an outdoors protest platform, speaking at the second part of the rally. Curiously, the rally organisers had sent a major part of the attendance off to march around the city centre for awhile and of course, when they got back, they had shed a great part of their numbers. A torrential downpour no doubt encouraged the desertions.

Glenda, “the woman of letters”, with some of her work.

Coming towards the end of the rally, a performer accompanied himself on guitar while he rendered some songs for the diminished attendance. Woody Guthrie’s “Plane Crash at Los Gatos” (also known as “Deportees”) would have been an apposite choice, a song about Mexican labourers being employed in the south-eastern US fruit harvests and then driven back across the Border. Guthrie was moved to sing about them when in 1948 a plane carrying mostly deported Mexicans crashed, killing all on board and though the names of the crew were given in the news reports, the Mexicans were referred to only as “deportees”.

At the rally, eventually Trump was deflated (the blimp, I mean), tethering weight bags emptied of water, placards were packed, flags furled …. and I went to get some shopping.

End.

(Photo: G.Guilfoyle)
(Photo: G.Guilfoyle)
(Photo: G.Guilfoyle)
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

REFERENCES AND FURTHER INFORMATION:

https://www.independent.ie/world-news/north-america/president-trump/ring-of-steel-to-protect-trump-for-two-days-will-cost-10m-38173483.html

https://www.irishexaminer.com/breakingnews/specialreports/letters-to-the-president-dear-mr-trump–928499.html?fbclid=IwAR0j1hb62cIjBWLxTaXhVwlUCaVaCD76SX-78s_RRJX1aN7ZJTOH2iJDwuU

THE GREAT HUNGER COMMEMORATED IN SLIGO, DUBLIN AND CELTIC PARK

AN GORTA MÓR COMMEMORATED IN SLIGO, DUBLIN AND CELTIC PARK

(Reading time of article text: 5 minutes)

Clive Sulish

Michael and Olivia Blanch and piper halt the procession for a moment’s reflection outside the GPO building, HQ of the Easter Rising in 1916.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A small crowd gathered at the Garden of Remembrance, Dublin on Sunday afternoon to commemorate the Great Hunger, an Gorta Mór on National Famine Day.  Led by a lone piper, they marched through O’Connell St., the city’s main street, some of them in period costume, to the Great Hunger Memorial on the Custom House Quay, North Dock and later on to the iconic sailing ship, the Jeannie Johnson.

Participants proceed after a moment’s reflection at the GPO building, HQ of the Easter Rising 1916 and pass by Jim Larkin’s monument, “who also agitated for the poor of Dublin”.

With some adults and children dressed in period clothes, some of them tattered to represent the destitution of the starving poor, they marched down O’Connell Street led by the lone piper and turned left at the Bridge, proceeding along to Custom Quay’s North Dock and the Great Hunger memorial. There they were addressed by Michael Blanch of the organising committee and by Niall Ring, Lord Mayor (coming to the end of his year in that role), who had accompanied them from the Garden of Remembrance.

Lord Mayor Niall Ring speaking at the Famine Memorial.

Some sentences in Irish were spoken by the MC of the event and by the Lord Mayor, while Michael Blanch referenced the deadly impact the Great Hunger had on the Irish language (i.e with the depopulation of the main Irish-speaking areas of the western seaboard). The Irish Tricolour came in for a mention in the Dublin commemoration also; it had been presented to William Smith O’Brien by women in Paris during the revolution there of 1848 and the Young Irelanders had staged their own uprising that year also, small and certainly too late, easily crushed by the British colonial forces. The huge Irish diaspora was also mostly a result of the Great Hunger and had contributed significantly to the formation and membership of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, also known as the Fenians, founded simultaneously in 1858 on St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin and in New York. The IRB, in turn, had been the main driving force behind the 1916 Rising.

Section of crowd at Famine Memorial (and unintentional illustration of clashing architectural styles and building heights on the south quays opposite).
Piper playing lament and Michael Blanch at the Famine Memorial.
Michael Balanch and MC of proceedings at the Famine Memorial and banner of the Committee.

Tourists and other passers-by stopped to watch as wreaths were laid on on the statues of the monument and an Irish-language version of Amazing Grace was sung by a young girl in period costume. A currach (small traditional Irish sea-craft), containing a woman and two young girls in period costume and rowed by a man, pulled into place on the Liffey across from the group; one of the girls placed a wreath in a cardboard box into the river, to commemorate the Irish diaspora and those who had perished during their journeys. Participants then threw single red roses bouquets into the river also and floral wreaths were deposited around the statues of the 1977 memorial by sculptor Rowan Gillespie. And the piper played a lament, Hector the Hero.

Girl singing “Amazing Grace” in Irish.

The gathering moved on then to the sailing ship the Jeannie Johnson, to hear Evelyn Campbell sing her Famine Song and Diarmuid Breatnach sing Skibereen and Fields of Athenry. After that, some repaired to the Teachers’ Club, where tea, sandwiches, gur cake and biscuits were on offer. By coincidence, a Musical Society were relaxing there too and it was not long before songs from different parts of the world were being exchanged from different parts of the room.

Somewhat incongruous, the top floors of the International Finance Services Centre, which looms over the Famine Memorial, commissioned by Nora Smurfit of the Irish capitalist family.

Evelyn Campbell on board the Jeannie Johnson, accompanying herself on guitar while she sings her Famine Song.

THE CAMPAIGN FOR A NATIONAL IRISH FAMINE DAY

The currach on the Liffey near the Famine Memorial on the quay.

The commemorative wreath is lowered into the Liffey from the currach.
Participants prepare to throw stem roses into the Liffey to commemorate those who died during emigration and the diaspora that survived.
Some of the stem roses floating in the Liffey.

 

 

The Great Hunger is the preferred term in English by many for the terrible disaster that struck Ireland in the mid-19th Century, for people starved alongside what was for a while at least, an abundance of food.

Mast and some of the rope work of the Jeannie Johnson sailing ship.

For three successive years, a fungus-like oomycete infested the potato crop, staple diet of most of the population. Although Phytophthora infestans had attacked the potato crops on the European mainland and in Britain also, nowhere was the disaster of the dimensions it grew to in Ireland: nowhere else were the the majority of the population obliged to sustain themselves on the potato while yielding up every other edible product (except perhaps milk) to pay the landlord’s rent on land conquered from the ancestors of the starving, thousands of soldiers and police being on hand to ensure the hungry paid up. “The Almighty indeed sent the potato blight”, wrote Young Irelander journalist John Mitchell, “but the English created the Famine.”

Well over one million Irish starved or died of attendant diseases in less than five years during the reign of Queen Victoria, while ships left Irish ports laden with food and grain was fermented to make lucrative whiskey and beer. Another million emigrated and it is estimated that about one third of those also died – of drowning, of disease aboard ship or of the various dangers migrants faced. Five years after the potato crop failed, estimates put the population of Ireland at around six million, from the over 8 million of before. Over the next decade, another million would leave, paid to go, lied to go, forced to go, or gone out of desperation and loss of faith in any future in the country of their birth under foreign domination.

The floral wreath deposited from the currach earlier floats past the Jeannie Johnson.

In 2008 it was agreed by the Irish Government that there would be a national Famine Day in the Irish calendar of national events and it would take place on the third Sunday in May. The State commemoration this year was held in Sligo, attended by Leo Varadkar (who was met by a protest of the Sligo Women’s Cervical Smear Action Group). The ceremony was covered in the RTÉ news which was shown on TV in the Teacher’s Club. Michael Blanch told those present that the campaign he and his wife had started in 2004 through the Committee for the Commemoration of Irish Famine Victims, had resulted in this national event and that it was also being commemorated by the Glasgow Celtic team in the special jerseys they wore that day (in their Scottish Premiership win 2-1 against Hearts). The symbol is black and white which are the colours of the Commemoration and he had also wanted GAA teams playing on this day to wear it on their jerseys (the Munster Hurling Championship match between Limerick and Cork was also being shown that afternoon on the TV screen in the Teachers’ Club).

End.

People commemorating stand among the ghosts of the victims who, as a result of the Great Hunger, died in Ireland or in emigration.

 

REFERENCES AND LINKS FOR FURTHER INFORMATION

Celtic game on Sunday: https://www.bbc.com/sport/football/48242024

Celtic FC wearing Famine Commemoration logo on their jerseys on 19th May 2019: http://www.celticfc.net/news/16184

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

Presentation by Michael Blanch at the Oireachtas in support of a National Annual Famine Commemoration Day: https://data.oireachtas.ie/ie/oireachtas/committee/dail/32/joint_committee_on_culture_heritage_and_the_gaeltacht/submissions/2018/2018-11-28_opening-statement-michael-blanch-chairman-committee-for-commemoration-of-irish-famine-victims_en.pdf

Sligo National Irish Famine Day commemoration event: https://www.rte.ie/news/ireland/2019/0518/1050300-national-famine-commemoration/

INTERNATIONAL WORKERS’ DAY DUBLIN 2019

Clive Sulish

Two quite different celebrations of International Workers’ Day took place in Dublin on the afternoon of the appropriate date, 1st of May. One was small and of a decidely revolutionary flavour while the other, much larger, was of a more mixed nature and tending towards the reformist. In addition, a workers’ solidarity picket was mounted on a Dublin city centre eatery.

NOTHING TO LOSE BUT OUR CHAINS

          The first of the celebrations was organised by theAnti-Imperialist Action Ireland organisation and took place at the James Connolly Monument in Dublin’s Beresford Place. There a statue of James Connolly stands upon a plinth, behind the the design of the Irish Citizen Army flag, based upon the constellation that in Ireland is called the Starry Plough but in the USA is known as the Big Dipper. James Connolly was a revolutionary socialist and trade union organiser, historian, journalist and songwriter who was Commander of the Dublin insurrectionary forces in the 1916 Rising. The Irish Citizen Army, possibly the first formaly-organised army for and of the workers, had been formed during the Dublin Lockout as a defence force against the attacks of the Dublin Metropolitan Police.

The ICA took part in the 1916 Rising in Dublin and after the surrender of the insurrectionary forces, 16 participants, including two of the ICA, were executed by British firing squad: Michael Mallin on 8th May and James Connoly on 12th May.

In the here and now, on their way to the Connolly Monument, a number of participants were stopped by a man in plain clothes identifying himself as a police officer, i.e a member of the Garda Special Branch.  He wished to know their names, which they declined to give them.

At the Monument, both speakers for the Anti-Imperialist Action Ireland organisation were youths.

The first to speak gave his oration in Irish on behalf of Macra – Irish Socialist Republican Youth and said that they were there to celebrate socialism, trade unionism and workers oppressed throughout the world and, that although James Connolly had been murdered in Kilmainham Jail, his work was ongoing.

Stating that James Connolly and the Irish Citizen Army had gone out in 1916 to break with imperialism and found a socialist society, the youth went on to say that “Macra is a revolutionary organisation with socialism as one of our objectives and we also believe in the words of Pearse: ‘Ireland not only free but Gaelic, not only Gaelic but free.’ Free from the bankers, free from landlords, free from poverty.”

The speaker concluded in Irish and in English with the renowned sentence from the Communist Manifesto.: Bíodh critheagla ar aicmí cheannais roimh réabhlóid Chumannach. Níl tada le cailiúint ag na Prólatáirigh ach a slabhraí. Tá saol mór le gnóthú acu. Oibrithe an tSaoil Mhóir, cuirigí le chéile!”

Let the ruling classes tremble before a communist revolution. The Proletariat have nothing to lose but their chains, they have the whole world to gain. Workers of the world unite!”

The second speaker delivered his speech in English and linked the liberation of Ireland with the liberation of the working class and went on to praise Séamus Costello (1939-1977), which he said had embodied that aspiration. The youth praised the creation of the Irish Republican Socialist Party by Costello as well as the creation of the Irish National Liberation Army and Costello’s participation and membership in a number of democratic organisations — including his election to Bray District Council.

Condemning “the bankers and politicians” who bring deprivation to the workers, the speaker said that they try to point the finger instead at Muslims and migrants but it is not migrants who cause job losses, create homelessness etc but “the elite”. The speaker ended by saying he wished to remember all those who had given their lives for Irish freedom.

Assembled at the Connolly Monument, Beresford Place, Dublin (Photo: Anti-Imperialist Action Ireland)

WE WANT THE EARTH

          Diarmuid Breatnach was then introduced to sing Be Moderate, a song with an ironic title by James Connolly. “The Irish working class does not have a huge history in Ireland, apart from a short period in the early decades of the last century,” Breatnach said, giving as reasons the forced underdevelopment of Irish industry, the British-fostered sectarianism in the most industrialised north-east and the focus on the national struggle as a competing pole of attraction.

The Irish abroad, however, have made a huge contribution to the workers’ movement,” Breatnach said. “And in 1889, Jim Connell from near Cill Scíre in Co. Meath, composed lyrics of The Red Flag to the air of the White Cockade, starting it on the train to his home in South London from a demonstration in central London and apparently completing it in the home of another Irish man.

The song was later adopted by the International Workers of the World, a syndicalist organisation mostly active in the USA, Breatnach said and reminded them that James Connolly joined the IWW when he migrated to the USA. “In 1907, James Connolly published a songbook, Songs of Freedom, in which he included the lyrics of Be Moderate,” Breatnach stated and went on to say that no air had been published to which the words should be sung. As a result Be Moderate has been sung to a number of airs but in London Breatnach heard it sung by an avant-garde musical composer and Marxist-Leninist, Cornelius Cardew, to the air of A Nation Once Again. In Breatnach’s opinion the lyrics fit well to this air and it also provides a chorus, which he encouraged the participants to sing.

James Connolly’s lyrics were sung by Breatnach then, competing with sounds of passing traffic on the ground and the occasional trains rumbling by on the bridge overhead, participants joining in on the chorus:

We only want the Earth,

We only want the Earth

And our demands most moderate are:

We only want the Earth!

and the last line of the last verse “We want the Earth!” echoing across Beresford Place.

TRADE UNION AND POLITICAL ORGANISATION BANNERS

Section of the 1st May parade about to move off from outside the Garden of Remembrance, Parnell Square.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

          Across the road, a stage and crowd barriers were being set up outside Liberty Hall, the multi-storeyed headquarters of SIPTU, the largest union in Ireland and which, by amalgamations, had grown from the Irish Transport & General Workers’ Union, originally formed early in the 20th Century by Jim Larkin, James Connolly and others (and the destruction of which had been the object of the 1913 Lockout). The stage was being prepared for speakers to address a rally which would follow a Mayday parade from Dublin’s Garden of Remembrance (a small park dedicated “to those who gave their lives for Irish freedom”).

Even the larger Mayday demonstrations in Dublin, although organised through the Dublin Council of Trade Unions, i.e with affiliation from most trade unions in the city, do not tend to be very big by comparison with other cities in many other parts of the world.

Anti-Pesco banner on 1st May parade (Photo: D.Breatnach)

Banners of some unions mixed with those of political organisations and campaign groups, including the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign and another against Irish state participation in PESCO, which is seen by many as an embryonic EU Army and undermining the Irish state’s neutrality.

Section of the 1st May on the move down Parnell Square.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Led by a lone piper, the parade made its way past crowds of onlookers down Dublin city’s main thoroughfare, O’Connell Street, then left along Eden Quay to Liberty Hall where they were to be addressed by speakers on the temporary stage in Beresford Place, across from the Connolly Monument.

Anti-Pesco banner on 1st May parade (Photo: D.Breatnach)

 

Meanwhile, a small group had left, to form a picket line outside the Ivy Dawson Street restaurant, in solidarity with staff and in opposition to the management appropriating a portion of the tips left for staff, with more to join them there later from the Mayday parade.
(see
https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/2019/05/02/tipping-the-bosses/).

A NOTE ON THE HISTORICAL ORIGIN OF INTERNATIONAL WORKERS’ DAY

          The First of May has been celebrated as the international day for workers since 1892, to call for the 8-hour maximum working day, socialism and universal peace. Its inspiration was a train of events that began with a workers’ strike and demonstrations on May 1st 1886 in many parts of the USA but in Chicago ended in the State execution of four anarchists, with police and state militia massacres of workers along the way as well as with acts of workers’ resistance. The celebration and commemoration throughout the world was formally agreed at the Second Congress of the Second International Workers’ Association in Brussels in 1892 and at its Sixth Congress (Amsterdam, 1904) declared it mandatory for the proletarian organisations of all countries to stop work on that day, wherever that could be done without injury to the workers (bearing in mind violently repressive regimes).

Artwork depicting police attacking striking workers at McCormick’s factory who were agitating for the 8-hour working day.
(Image source: Internet)

In many states around the world now, the 1st of May is a public and bank holiday and has been so in Ireland since 1994. Its public celebration was banned under the fascist regimes in Spain and Portugal but is legal in both those states now; however it is still banned in some other states while in some areas, though not banned, may be subject to attack by police, army, state agents or by fascist elements.

End.

LARGE EASTER RISING COMMEMORATION BY ‘DISSIDENTS’ ON DUBLIN’S MAIN STREET

(Reading time 15 mins. approximately)

Clive Sulish

          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.

view section of parade proceeding south along east side of O’Connell St.

   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.

Parade forming up at Garden of Remembrance
The Wolfe Tone RFB from Craigneuk, Glasgow, at the Parnell St/ O’Connell St. junction
Long view of section of the parade proceeding south along the east side of Parnell Square.

 

     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.

Another colur party but in War of Independence (1919-1921) period costume at the Garden of Remembrance, waiting to begin.

   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.

Section of banners coming back across O’Connell Bridge towards the GPO

   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.

Portraits of the executed 1916 martyrs being carried back across O’Connell Bridge

 

 

Section of the Coatbridge Unitedmen RFB, Glasgow, marching southward in O’Connell Street.

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.

In the distance at the GPO, Chairperson of Saoradh Brian Kenna, MC of the event

   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.

(at right of photo) Dee Fennel of Saoradh delivering the main oration at the GPO

   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.”

Salute to the fallen as drums roll and flags are lowered slowly and then raised slowly.

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.

end.

Floral wreath carriers re-crossing O’Connell Bridge in the parade on their way to the GPO

Floral wreath from the Information Group of Sweden
Floral wreaths deposited outside the GPO (at the window where the Cúchulainn sculpture symbolises the 1916 Rising.

LINKS

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:

https://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/revolutionary-party-saoradh-in-paramilitary-parade-through-dublin-1.3867379?fbclid=IwAR24E5sZ9iMfINxDcor0T9uRmF5-0yV9_bfWylcCfzC0rctjMaCfmFDfv6w

IRISH REPUBLIC DAY CELEBRATION – FIRST YEAR WITHOUT TOM STOKES

Diarmuid Breatnach

 

April 24th is Republic Day, the date on which the 1916 Rising began and when Patrick Pearse read out the 1916 Proclamation. Back in 2014, Tom Stokes began a campaign to have this date acknowledged as the Irish national day.  This year, it was celebrated in his absence.

The late Tom Stokes speaking at a Republic Day commemoration (Photo: D.Breatnach)

“Easter Monday is a moving date, different each year,” Tom Stokes had said. “St. Patrick’s Day is based on a religious feast day. The nation needs a fixed day and one to celebrate the Irish Republic.” Tom Stokes would have agree with those who might say that “the Irish Republic” was yet to be achieved, or that it was more aspirational than reality. As he spoke at each annual commemoration of the date, he railed against many of the faults of the Irish state and in particular on its treatment of women. He was a champion of Republican women of the past, for example Margaret Skinnider, Dr. Kathleen Lynne, Winnie Carney, Elizabeth O’Farrell and celebrated that some of the women had been lesbians, supported the right to choose abortion (though some Irish Republicans would have disagreed on the latter).

Banner leaning against the Arbour Hill monument wall.
(Photo B. Hoppenbrouwers)

Tom Stokes died December last year but some people were determined that the celebration of Republic Day should carry on. On the 24th April 2019, some of them gathered in Arbour Hill, by the monument to the executed in the 1916 Rising, the words of the Proclamation etched in large letters, in Irish and in English, on to the stone wall overlooking the site.

The event was chaired by Pearse Brugha (incidentally a descendant of Cathal Brugha, the 1916 Rising veteran and subsequently part-organiser of the IRA, killed by a Free State soldier in the early days of the Irish Civil Wa)r.

Pearse Brugha chairing the event. (Photo B. Hoppenbrouwers)

Brugha welcomed the attendance and in particular members of the Stokes family, then went through the background to Tom Stokes’ campaign for the commemoration of Republic Day, saying that Tom had wished it to be a national holiday. Brugha then asked on the attendance for a minute’s silence in memoriam and called on Tom’s widow Anne Stokes and their son to lay floral wreaths on behalf of the family at the 1916 Rising Monument.

Next, Brugha presented Cormac Bowel and his young son Fionn, who approached playing Fáinne Geal an Lae (“The Dawning of the Day”) on their bagpipes, Cormac in Volunteer officer uniform and Fionn in traditional piping kilt. It was only Fionn’s second public playing, the attendance were told.

Cormac Bowel reciting the 1916 Proclamation. (Photo B. Hoppenbrouwers)
Cormac Bowel and son Fionn approaching the monument while playing Fáinne Geal an Lae. (Photo B. Hoppenbrouwers)

A number of other parts of the ceremony followed.

Fergus Russell sang “The Foggy Dew” and Frank Allen, who had been involved with Frank Stokes in organising Republic Day commemorations, gave an oration praising Tom Stokes as a “true Republican” who believed passionately in equality and also as “a true internationalist, who would be just as likely to be found on a Palestine solidarity demonstration”. Allen also criticised heavily the Irish regime, as Stokes had done in his speeches.

Pat Waters played his own composition, “Where Is Our Republic?”, which he had composed at the request of Tom Stokes.

Cormac Bowell recited from memory the 1916 Proclamation and Fionn played a solo lament on the pipes.

Shane Stokes, speaking, also paid tribute to his father Tom Stokes and to the campaign to have a Republic Day on 24th April.

Fergus Russel singing The Foggy Dew.
(Photo B. Hoppenbrouwers)
Frank Allen speaking at the event. (Photo B. Hoppenbrouwers)
Pat Waters performing his own compostition “Where Is Our Republic?”
(Photo B. Hoppenbrouwers)
Shane Stokes, a son of Tom Stokes, speaking at the event.
(Photo B. Hoppenbrouwers)
Very young piper Fionn Bowel playing a solo lament.
(Photo B. Hoppenbrouwers)
(Photo B. Hoppenbrouwers)

Pearse Brugha, who had been chairing the event throughout, also recited all three verses of the Soldiers’ Song and then sang the chorus, then thanked all for their attendance.

Among those in attendance were members of the 1916 Performing Arts club, activists of the Save Moore Street From Demolition campaign group and Niall Ring, Lord Mayor of Dublin. Also present were Dave Swift, historian and enacter; Las and Dónal Fallon, historians and authors; Brian O’Neill; Deirdre O’Shea; Jim Connolly Heron.

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.