Tag Archives: 1916

The Time is Ripe to Create the Republic

“You never know if the time is ripe until you try. If you succeed the time is ripe, if not, then it was not ripe.” James Connolly, 1915.

That observation is as true today as it was in 1915. But while Connolly was prepared, one year later, to put it to the test, there is no evidence that we are prepared to do so despite finding ourselves in the most propitious moment in the past 94 years to re-establish the progressive, enlightened, Irish Republic, for the benefit of all.

Instead, we blather about the Republic but effectively do nothing to put it in place, we stare misty-eyed at the past but are myopic when looking to the future, we squabble with each other about whose method is best or interpretation more pure, we wring our hands at the degradation of our people as if we are helpless, we stand and observe as the no-mandate parties take power once again, we give out about the same-old-politics and then give in.

We have to stop doing that. The republic is there for the making, but only if we have the courage of our convictions, only if we imagine the republic as it must be today – a 21st century republic, only if we believe in it, only if we are prepared to work for it, only if we develop a strategy to win it, only if we forge the alliances with other believers that are necessary to make it a reality, and only if we explain to the people how that republic would enhance their lives in very real ways.

The cards we have been dealt favour such a project. But have we the courage and the commitment to play that winning hand?

Thanks to the centenary of the 1916 Revolution, and despite the best efforts of the political class to play that down, the people are more engaged with the notion of a republic than at any time since the 50th anniversary in 1966. The Proclamation took centre stage. In every part of the state, national school students went home one day and engaged their parents and grandparents with questions and observations about the Proclamation. In other words, the republic was smuggled into homes by children, and families talked around the table about it, and what it could mean.

In stark contrast to the ideals of the Proclamation, and the sacrifices a previous generation were prepared to make to establish the republic, the people have been presented with all of the signs of an utterly failed state in which crisis follows crisis and scandal follows scandal, in which incompetence is rewarded and jobbery and corruption excused, in which obfuscation and the cover-up are the norm, in which private interests trump the public good, in which (Catholic) church and state are still inseparable, in which grotesque inequality is evident at every turn, and in which the norms of a true democracy are routinely thrashed.

But this is a republic, they tell us. Yes, in the same way as a dodgy car salesman turns a clapped-out Nissan Micra into a Mercedes by sticking a Mercedes badge on it. This is not a republic.

All over this country good people, decent people, caring people, work alone or in groups on issues of real public concern. They labour under the illusion that engagement with the regime can bring about meaningful change. They assemble in protest outside parliament, imagining that some notice will be taken – but are viewed from behind the windows of Leinster House as just noisy gnats. Some make it into Leinster House and emerge satisfied that some politician or other has leaned towards them to say “I’ll do what I can for you’ – with all of the sincerity of a snake-oil salesman. The system is not designed to resolve issues of pressing concern to citizens who are not part of the political class. We know this to be true.

In a properly constituted progressive republic things will be very different. The republic is owned by the people and not by any ideological sect. The republic is founded on immutable principles of Liberty, Equality and Solidarity. Think about each of those words in their wider meaning, the private as well as the public – the personal as well as the national, and it becomes obvious that the republic cannot exist if it doesn’t strive at all times, under the direction of the people through genuine democratic engagement, to vindicate those principles.

Women must be well aware that under the current regime – the latest manifestation of a continuous conservative regime stretching back to the foundation of the state – there is no possibility of achieving real equality with men or true personal autonomy in mind, spirit and body. In a republic, drawing on the promise of the Proclamation and based on those three republican foundational principles, women’s equality with men and their personal autonomy, their liberty, will be a given – otherwise the republic cannot exist.

The same is true of those sections of society that suffer economic disadvantage and impoverishment, including deprivation in housing, health, nutrition, education, employment and opportunity. Their status will remain the same under the current regime, driven as it is by corporatism – rampant capitalism – a false ideology that demands that a precious resource is thrown on the scrap-heap as if that makes any economic sense, to say nothing of the ethical/moral dimension of such oppression. The republic will work assiduously to correct that gross imbalance and injustice, otherwise the republic cannot exist.

The same applies across a whole range of social, economic, justice and human rights issues. The current regime working as always in the interest of a powerful minority will not resolve, for instance, the issue of Travellers’ rights, or of the rights of those in Direct Provision, or the rights of those suffering mental ill-health, or of those forced into emigration, or a host of other big and small issues, which in a republic will have to be resolved – otherwise the republic based on those three principles cannot exist.

The same applies in the area of foreign policy, international relations and our place in the world. While the majority of our people express support for neutrality and non-engagement in wars, the state is busy dismantling a too-vague expression of neutrality and moving towards NATO involvement while simultaneously facilitating US wars in the Middle-East. An ethical republic would present itself internationally as peace keepers and facilitators of conflict resolution. It would also present itself as committed to resolving international issues around the environment, sustainability, resources, justice and freedom from oppression.

If we want to correct the failures of this state then the progressive enlightened republic, with a constitution fit for a republic and supported by the people, is the only viable option. The Proclamation and its further development in the Democratic Programme passed by the Dáil in January 1919 provide us with an initial template to follow. A modern constitution worth examining is the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. The preparation of an initial draft constitution of the Irish Republic is well within the scope of civil society groups and individuals to achieve in the coming year.

Can we win democratic support for the creation of the progressive republic? I firmly believe we can, if that is what we want to – and intend to – achieve.

The recent general election showed that politics is in a state of flux, that the people have thrown off the habits of the past in sufficient numbers to fracture the hegemony enjoyed since 1922 by the two conservative-capitalist parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, supported when necessary by the Labour Party. Support for those two parties is now below 50%, while there is now a solid core of left/republican parties, groups and individuals in parliament.

The Right2Change initiative was an important element in provoking that shift among sections of the electorate, and will be in the run-up to the next election. Its one failing – and this is not a criticism – was in not being able, not least because of time-constraints but also because of disunity among its community pillar, to find and support a community R2C candidate in every constituency. That strategy of having a non-party citizen-candidate is important in the context of an antipathy among sections of society to Sinn Féin and other parties of the Left, exacerbated and exploited by a hostile media on behalf of the political class of which senior media operatives are an important part and are beneficiaries in maintaining the status quo.

We will have an election in the near future. It may be in six months, or eighteen months, or at a stretch two years. If we get to work now we can be in a position to fight for a seat in every constituency for a non-party candidate who is committed to the idea of creating that progressive enlightened republic. Ten extra seats for the progressive republic would tip the balance in its favour. To achieve that we will need a body of Citizens for the Republic as soon as possible in every constituency, explaining the basis of the republic and the benefits for the great mass of people of its reinstatement, encouraging people to talk around the table about the republic with family and friends and to engage with others to spread the good message about the republic and the great boon it would bring to our lives.

All elements of civil society – NGOs, organisations, voluntary groups and individuals – have a key part to play in spreading that message. The republic is the only place that we get to realise our ambitions, that we resolve issues, that we create a true democracy – the republic owned by the people. We are capable of realising James Connolly’s ambition for the republic, that it would act as a beacon of hope for oppressed people around the world.

First imagine the republic, understand it, believe in it, then go to work for it. Tap into the goodwill that exists for it thanks to this centenary year. Mine the myriad failures of the state to correct serious problems affecting so many in society across a range of issues and so often involving personal catastrophes. Forge the republic!

I began with Connolly’s quote. Let me end with a quote from a very different individual, W B Yeats – but in essence the same message!

“Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking.”

 


Moore Street reprieved, but let’s revisit the Carlton site

The relatives of 1916 leaders and supporters won a significant battle on March 18th in the High Court to save Moore Street and the 1916 GPO Battlefield Site when Judge Max Barrett ruled that the National Monument covered far more of the Moore Street terrace and the adjoining lanes and buildings than the four buildings designated as such by the Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage.

That was a great victory, but it needs to be consolidated. The path is open for the Minister to appeal that judgement to the Supreme Court. Given that a very rational and fine judgement on the Lissadell right-of-way case by High Court Judge Bryan McMahon was subsequently overturned by the Supreme Court, presided over by Chief Justice Susan Denham who had a previous professional relationship with Lissadell owner Constance Cassidy but failed to recuse herself, it would be a mistake to place too much faith in that court particularly when it comes to property rights versus the public good.

And so, the campaign to save Moore Street and the Battlefield Site will need to continue. But it also needs to be expanded to imagine a very different use for the entire Carlton site on which the developer wants to put yet another shopping mall, as if we didn’t already have a surplus of those, and as if that was the most appropriate use of such an important site.

The Carlton site has stood derelict since 1999, a 17-year blot on the capitol’s premier street which has no doubt led to the degradation of most of the northern end of both sides of that street. It includes the Art Deco fascade of the Carlton Cinema. Fifteen years ago the idea was mooted that the Abbey Theatre should be relocated to the Carlton Cinema but was rejected. That proposal needs to be revisited. What better way to revitalise that part of O’Connell Street than to have the Abbey with a newly built theatre and that existing Art Deco street frontage. There is space enough to accommodate a new Peacock Theatre and all of the facilities that the National Theatre should have.

But there is more space on the entire site to accommodate other imaginative uses, ones that would tie in with a properly preserved and rehabilitated 1916 Revolution Quarter on Moore Street and the GPO Battlefield site which would no doubt draw large numbers of both tourists and those who live here, and that would also fit with the relocated National Theatre.

Why not a national dance centre encompassing not only traditional dance but also contemporary forms and even classical ballet which has never been properly encouraged here? Why not a national music centre, again not limited solely to traditional forms but including explorations into its effect on music in places the Irish emigrated to, and into fusions within world music? Why not  a Gaelic language centre that might also explore the effect of that native language on the English we speak and write today, Hiberno-English, a unique form of English that writers have used to produce so much work of literary merit over the past century? Why not a poets’ corner, a space for poets to meet and commune with one another, and to perform or read for the public?

Once we stop thinking of that site as a commercial site but one which would be used for the public good – for education, inquiry, leisure and pleasure, and exploration of national heritage and culture – then the possibilities are many.

If we were to really open our imaginations, and to think of Ireland’s place in the world today and into the future, then other possible uses for some of that site’s space open up to us.

Given our history of involvement with Enlightenment republicanism since the eighteenth century, why not a global centre for the study and promotion of the democratic republic as the ideal model of governance? That would tie into the GPO and the Battlefield Site. But then we would have to construct such a republic for ourselves first. We could do that if we had the will. We certainly have the template and will this year commemorate those who passed it on to us. It is up to us.

One more idea, and it too stems from a failure on our part, in this case our supposed neutrality. But it also stems from recent history and the negotiations to find some way to end conflict on this island and to find an accommodation between two communities, unionist and nationalist, and two States, Irish and British, whatever the imperfections in that project that some may point to.

We have never properly defined our neutrality, and that has allowed recent governments to facilitate the US through their use of Shannon Airport in waging wars on peoples with whom we Irish have no argument. But we do have a reputation around the world, particularly among non-aligned nations – most of them former colonies as we are, a reputation built not only on our defence force’s record as peace-keepers in many conflict zones and on our usually principled record at the UN but also our perceived position as anti-imperialist and opposed to colonialism.

We need to properly define our neutrality in the place that matters – a new constitution fit for a republic. We need to enhance that by committing to the pursuit of peaceful resolution of conflict, also in the constitution. Having done that, we might then set up a centre for that purpose, and locate it on that important site in O’Connell Street. Apart from the good that we could do in building peace, and we certainly have people with experience in conflict resolution and facilitation available, we would establish our own position as refusing co-option into war but being in active in the pursuit of peace, our best guarantee of sustainable national independence in a conflict-ridden world in which those services are badly needed.

Others may have different ideas of the uses that the Carlton site could be used for, but the important consideration is the turning of a commercial site into a civic site on our main thoroughfare and putting that civic space to work for the public good.

Re-imagining the Carlton site in this way, and presenting the arguments for so doing, and campaigning in favour of that approach, would provide the campaign to save Moore Street and the GPO Battlefield Site with an important defensive mechanism – that it is not just the historic quarter that should be saved for the public good, but the entire site for the same reason. The entire project needs to be revisited not just by planning authorities but by government, and possibly by the EU.

That could buy much-needed time in the event that the High Court decision is overturned or materially altered in a way that would compromise Moore Street and the GPO Battlefield Site.

But given the importance of developing the Carlton site in the best way for the city and for the people, we should consider that approach anyway, and let commercial development take place elsewhere.

 

 


Borrowing From History To Win General Election

In Irish War News, published from the GPO on 25th April 1916 one day after the start of the revolution and the issuing of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, Patrick Pearse wrote:

“We have lived to see an Irish Republic proclaimed. May we live to establish it firmly, and may our children and our children’s children enjoy the happiness and prosperity freedom will bring”.

The Proclamation, which most of our people respect and take ownership of, is the template for the progressive republic that would bring happiness and prosperity to the people.

If the left correctly portrays a progressive policy platform for the upcoming election as the natural development of the fundamental ideas in the Proclamation, particularly paragraph four, those progressive policies will be more easily and widely accepted throughout the country, even in traditionally conservative areas.

The reactionary parties on the other side cannot credibly borrow from 1916 and the Proclamation of the Irish Republic to bolster their case. The record of their resolute opposition to establishing a true republic over the past 93 years of shared power makes that unbelievable, and their failures masked by their empty rhetoric would have to be high-lighted by the left.

The left also has to reach beyond the language of theoretical socialism to garner sufficient democratic support to defeat neoliberalism and its local proponents of cynical austerity, and to create the conditions for true happiness and sustainable prosperity for all.

That lesson can be learned from the Corbyn campaign across the water. Communicate directly and in straight-forward language. Present the ideas in terms of practical beneficial consequence to the greater number of people of all classes other than the greedy class. Play in a sincere way to the essential decency and fairness and generosity of spirit and intelligence of the great majority of people.

And empower the people. The left must commit to the idea that the progressive republic is owned by the people and must spread that message, and that ownership of the republic will be vested in the people through a constitution which they will have final approval of and the capacity to refine over time as they see fit.

At this moment of ever-increasing engagement by the people with the principles behind the 1916 revolution, it would be foolish in the extreme to spurn the opportunity that brings to the left for potential success and real change in the interest of the common good.

Any election is based on a war of words and ideas. And every election involves the use of propaganda – communication that seeks to influence opinions and attitudes – by all sides.

The forces of reaction – Fine Gael and Labour, and Fianna Fáil – will have the propaganda services of mainstream media at their disposal. The left must resort to alternatives, particularly social media and public rallies and meetings, to counteract that. Again, the Corbyn campaign shows us how effective that can be.

The upcoming battle between progressives of all stripes and the forces of reaction will be hard-fought but winnable, and every intellectual and propaganda weapon on the progressive side must be brought to play. In that, the emotional attachment that so many have to the Proclamation and its progressive vision is, as the centenary looms, a very strong card to play, more than a match for the Joker the other side will try to pull from their sleeve.

The prize is worth fighting for. The revolutionaries knew that, and so must we.

The Irish Republic. The people’s progressive republic.


Tone, McManus, O’Donovan Rossa, and the Memory of the Dead

Today, August 1st 2015, is the centenary of the interment of the body of Fenian leader Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa in Glasnevin Cemetery, an event which was designed to act as the inciting incident that fueled the Irish revolution and the Proclamation of the Irish Republic less than a year later. Patrick Pearse’s graveside oration simultaneously invoked the memory of the dead and issued a call to arms in the fight for Irish freedom.

This was not a one-off, but simply the continuation of the use of funerals, memorials and commemorations to raise awareness of previous patriotic endeavour in order to fuel the drive to break the link with the coloniser and to establish an independent Irish state along republican lines.

The two extracts I use are from a thesis I wrote in 1996:

*****

(Extract 1)

‘The funeral of Terence Bellew McManus was one of the more momentous occasions in 19th-century Irish nationalist affairs. Patriotic memorialists have deemed it the effective starting point for the organization of the politics of separatism: the catalyst in the formation and expansion of Fenianism in Ireland and America’ (Bisceglia 1979: 45)

McManus had been exiled to Tasmania in 1849 for his part in the Rising, from where he escaped and made his way to San Francisco in 1851. Given a grand welcome by the local Irish community, McManus seems to have settled into a relatively quiet life until his death ten years later. He had refused, during the mid-to-late 1850s, to allow a petition for his inclusion in a general amnesty, stating –

“If the land that gave me birth – if the land sanctified to me by the graves of my forefathers – if the land of my love and affection, and for whose liberty I would cheerfully shed the last drop of my heart’s blood, cannot welcome me back without the consent of a foreign ruler, then my foot shall never press her soil”

On his death in January 1861, McManus was immediately buried in San Francisco. Within the year his remains had been disinterred by the local branch of the Fenians and placed in an ornate casket, and was the centrepiece of three major funeral processions, in San Francisco, New York, and Dublin. The final one, in Dublin, took an entire Sunday to wend its way through the streets to Glasnevin cemetery, making stops at points of nationalist interest, and accompanied or watched by many thousands of people. It was the largest event of its type since O’Connell’s funeral, and its like would not be seen again for thirty years, and Parnell’s funeral. In San Francisco and New York McManus’s body had been received into the respective cathedrals for full religious rites, but in Dublin –

‘Dr. Paul Cullen, the archbishop of Dublin, refused to bestow the clergy’s blessings upon the proceedings and closed the churches to the McManus funeral. The archbishop had been in Rome when the “Carbonari” under Mazzini had stormed the Vatican and ousted Pius IX during the revolution of 1848-9. He had spent much of his time since then in Ireland trying to swing the populace behind peaceful constitutional reform.’ (Bisceglia 1979: 59)

The McManus funeral demonstrated a number of things: the importance to nationalism of the memory of the dead; the popular support that the Fenians had both in Ireland and America; their organisational and fund-raising ability; and crucially, the degree of implacable opposition there was to physical force republicanism from the institutional Catholic Church.

‘Obviously there were at least two constituencies in Ireland: one embodied in the constitutional attachments to the crown and given expression by Archbishop Cullen; the other dedicated to a violent solution and given encouragement by the McManus funeral. It was to this latter group, this bedrock of anti-British feeling, to which the Fenians happened to appeal…Thus, with an eye on the future, they made a claim on the past.’ (Bisceglia 1979: 63)

*****

Thirty-seven years later on the occasion of the centenary of the 1798 Rising – the first manifestation of armed Irish republican resistance to British rule in Ireland – the use of memorials and commemorations were centre-stage. Worth noting was the presence among the organising centennial committee of socialist republican James Connolly whose uncles were Fenians and who would himself jointly-sign the Proclamation of the Irish Republic 18 years later and command the Dublin forces in the revolution, and pay for that with his life.

*****

(Extract 2)

The great mass of ordinary people played their part in the commemorations, with bonfires lit on important anniversaries, performances of centennial dramas in villages and towns, pageants, collections for the erection of permanent memorials, and so on. ‘A healthy rivalry developed between communities, each trying to outdo its neighbours in patriotic display.’ (O’Keefe 1992: 69) It was, however, their participation in the dedication ceremonies of memorials that was particularly impressive.

‘Only the monster meetings of Daniel O’Connell’s repeal campaign and the public gatherings connected with the Land League had brought so many people together for a single purpose over such a long period.’
(Owens 1994: 106)

As I have already pointed out, the raising of monuments in 1898 was both an act of defiance for the present and a symbolic connection between the past and the future. Coming just a year after large demonstrations held to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Jubilee year, the `98 commemorations were important reminders that, as Owens says, ‘the heart of the country remained nationalist.’ (O’Keefe: 107) There was also an educative function attached to the monuments, and the process surrounding them.

‘Nationalists also believed that memorials to dead heroes could teach the country’s youth priceless lessons in history. As one monument promoter contended: “in [the] absence of the systematic teaching of our country’s history in the schools, these monuments will be to the child the illustrations of a portion of our national story”.’ (O’Keefe: 108)

This emphasis on the need to teach the coming generation the story of the nation is echoed by Brown some seventeen years later, just before the Rising in 1916.

‘…why not see to it that among the works of fiction put into the hands of Irish boys and girls there shall be found some that will imprint in their imaginations what of Irish history is best worth remembering, and that will help to fix their affections upon the country whose children they are.’ (Brown 1916: 95)

As Owens says, it is impossible to know what the young people themselves thought of the monuments, or if they took from them what the adults hoped they would. But in the main it would be the children of 1898 who would, eighteen years later, be members of the generation who were ‘out’ in 1916 and thereafter.

The sites where these monuments would be had relevance too. They needed to be highly visible, so were placed in a busy area. They might be positioned at one of the ‘stations’ on the ‘via Dolorosa’ I mentioned earlier, or even create a new one. They would also serve as a rallying point for meetings and demonstrations. The choice of site could also be used provocatively, as in the siting of the foundation stone for the Wolfe Tone statue right in the heart of unionist Dublin at the top of Grafton Street.

Where it was not possible to site the monument on what Owens describes as the ‘sacred spot’, then a piece of the spot might be brought to the monument site, for instance the use of stone from a battlefield to make the monument or foundation. (Owens 1994: 110) This emphasis on relics is tied into the way in which monuments were treated almost as sacred objects, and in the use of religious discourse about the monument in terms such as ‘shrine’, martyr’, etc. (Ibid: 111)

The Wolfe Tone monument provides a good example of these points. The foundation stone was quarried from Cave Hill near Belfast, where Tone and the Belfast United Irishmen had sworn to their course of action. Its choice of source also allowed the Belfast republicans to have an input into the commemoration. It would not have been possible for them to have their own commemoration in the sectarian Belfast of the late nineteenth century.

When the stone arrived in Dublin by train it was treated much as the body of a hero might have been, with a lying-in-state for two days on the site of the old Newgate prison, prior to its carriage through the ‘via Dolorosa’ – the route which took it past the places associated with Tone, Emmet and so on. The city had shut down for the day, and the huge procession took three hours to cover the three mile route. It was the largest public gathering since the unveiling of the O’Connell monument, with the crowd estimated to number one hundred thousand. (Owens: 111-3)

When the veteran Fenian John O’Leary had finished the ceremonial laying of the stone, he tapped the trowel, which had been donated for the occasion by one of Tone’s grand-daughters, six times on the stone, one for each of the four provinces, and once each for the United States and France.

‘Then, at a signal from the platform, a band struck up the theme song of the centenary, ‘The Memory of the Dead’. As they began to play, members of the crowd removed their hats and stood silently or sang the well-known lyrics that began, ‘Who fears to speak of `98?’ (Owens: 114)

This then was the centrepiece of the `98 commemorations. When a monument to Tone was finally unveiled, the independent state would have already celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the Rising of 1916.

*****

The ‘independent state’? The Irish state doesn’t qualify as such since independence has been surrendered to the European Union and to the Eurozone. The nominal independence we ‘enjoyed’ prior to that was used for the benefit of an ‘elite’ class – the wealthy, professionals, the Catholic Church, and their political fixers and assorted useful facilitators including media owners.

The current Fine Gael-Labour government, driven by a hatred and fear of 1916 which challenges the corporatist nature of this state with an alternative set of higher ideals and promises, struggled to overwhelm the upcoming centenary of the 1916 revolution with a spate of other centennials until forced to change course through the weight of public opinion.

Today’s state commemoration of the O’Donovan Rossa centenary is a deeply cynical enterprise. The political class has been forced to swallow hard, to grin and bear it, conscious of the threat to its existence should the despised ‘non-elite’ mass element of citizens engage in a re-examination of the promise of the Proclamation and of the Republic so deliberately extinguished by the first Free State government and all subsequent governments

If the O’Donovan Rossa funeral was the inciting incident for the 1916 revolution, could it be that the centenary of that funeral, the first in a series of commemorations which will culminate in the Republic Day 1916 commemorations on April 24th 2016, will be an inciting incident leading to the preparation for a democratic revolution by the Demos?

If so, we might imagine a ghostly smile from Wolfe Tone, Terence Bellew McManus, Jermiah O’Donovan Rossa and James Connolly.

And their nods of approval.


Commemoration as manipulation

Imagine the United States suspending Independence Day ceremonies for 36 years, or the French doing likewise with Bastille Day ceremonies. Imagine if the British government announced that, even for one year, there would be no Remembrance Day ceremony at the Cenotaph on November 11th. There would be national uproar in any of these countries. Yet, here in Ireland, just such a suspension occurred. There was no state ceremony to mark the 1916 Rising on what was then seen as the National Day of Commemoration, at the GPO on Easter Sunday, between 1971 and 2006 when it was reinstated.

By that time the idea of national commemoration had had its emphasis shifted away from remembering and commemorating the issuing of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic on April 24th 1916 and the week-long revolution that followed which fueled a partially successful War of Independence. In 1986 a new National Day of Commemoration was inaugurated, but this time it would mark all those Irish who gave their lives in war.

But the questions of ‘what war?’, and ‘in the service of what interests?’, and ‘at what cost to others, including civilians?’ do not, it seems, arise.

Should we simultaneously and equally commemorate the 86 members of the Irish Defence Forces who died on peace-keeping missions along with Irish men who signed up to Uncle Sam and went to visit horrible war on the people of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, with whom we Irish have no argument and no basis for conflict? Should the Irish state put the deceased Irish peace-keepers on a par with Irish men who were part of the British military machine as it exterminated those people that it could not subdue in Africa, in the Middle East, in Asia?

No doubt many Irish men have served honourably in wars that were themselves dishonourable. Of the two World Wars of the 20th century the first falls into that category – a war that was about national-imperialist supremacy and resources including colonies. Lured by the ‘Defence of Small Nations’ propaganda many Irish men signed up to do just that. Many others were compelled to sign up for economic reasons in the aftermath of the 1913 Lockout. Were the first group more honourable than the second group?

While the second of those World Wars was, on the face of it, a war to end German fascism – an honourable reason to fight, it was also about national-imperialist supremacy and resources including colonies. It was also about establishing supremacy in the ideological arena between capitalism and socialism, particularly the Soviet brand. Men who had fought, honourably, on the socialist side against fascism in Spain, and who were vilified for that, went on to fight German and Italian fascism, and were praised for that. But not praised at home.

And fascism, despite their courage and sacrifice, is alive and well and thriving today in Europe, and lauded by the US and EU when it is employed in the Ukraine to destablise Russia, and it seems that we are willing partners in that, even if we, the people, weren’t asked if that suited us.

Neither were we asked if it was OK to send members of the Irish Defence Forces to Afghanistan as part of the ‘Coalition of the Willing’ in the war on the Afghani people, with whom we Irish have no argument or cause for conflict. If a member of that Irish contingent was killed in Afghanistan, would it be right to commemorate that person – part of a war on another people – on a par with any of the 86 deceased members of the Irish peace-keeping forces? Article 29 of the Constitution, flawed though it is, places us in the role of peace-keeper, not belligerent.

Commemorating all the Irish who fell in war, even particularly atrocious war, is a ridiculous concept. It is a fudge designed to get us out of the corner of remembering those who fought willingly or through coersion in the first and second of those two World Wars, and of remembering those who fought on either side in the Civil War, which we don’t want to talk about in any event.

Those within the state apparatus who came up with that bright idea have no problem coalescing with the British establishment, a prime architect of global imperialist slaughter over the past two centuries, to run what purports to be our National Commemoration. But they do have a serious problem with commemorating 1916 and the foundational narrative of independent Ireland.

The pomp and ceremony for the Irish who fell in (any) war far exceeds the show put on for members of the political class at the GPO on Easter Sunday from which the public are excluded, barricaded and black-screened away lest they disturb their ‘betters’.

One of the state institutions, RTÉ, plays its part in the elevation of the National Day of Commemoration over the insipid and essentially private 1916 Commemoration at the GPO. Coverage of the 1916 ceremony is usually relegated to the bottom of the schedule on the RTÉ news programmes on the day, whereas RTÉ provides a stand-alone programme of in excess of one hour covering the commemoration of any Irish man who fell in any war. RTÉ is at its core, demonstrably, a relentless propaganda tool for the Irish political class.

Tight control of meaning and of collective memory is hardly surprising in a state that not only fails to defend the integrity of one of the last physical remnants of the 1916 revolution – the GPO Battlefield Site including the National Monument in Moore Street – but seems intent on its virtual destruction to facilitate a bankrupt ‘developer’. Preserve the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, put it centre stage in National Commemoration while destroying the fabric, the memory, and therefore the meaning of 1916. Both historic buildings and sites should be treasured, each with their own story.

Commemoration is always political. The absence of a state commemoration of 1916 at the GPO between 1971 and 2006 was political. The introduction in 1986 of a new and very differently focussed National Day of Commemoration was political. The decision to reintroduce the GPO ceremonies in 2006 was political, as was the later decision to turn it into an event from which the public were excluded.

The wheeze that is the Decade of Commemoration, initiated in 2012, fits perfectly into the same mould. Determined to undermine the power of our story of revolution and liberation struggle – and particularly of the Proclamation and its true meaning, the political class was handed a device designed to submerge the centenary of the 1916 Revolution under a sea of centenaries of secondary importance.

But the wheeze need not work. Commemoration does not fall solely within the remit of the state. There is the not insignificant body known as the nation – the people.

Commemorating 1916 – the Proclamation, the revolution and the revolutionaries – on its centenary, is safer in the hands of the people. It is a political act, best kept out of the hands of the political class.

As for commemorating any Irish man who fell in any war, best go back to the drawing board. There is an ethical question that looms large there. It is one that should define us. War-makers, or Peace-Keepers?


Killing hegemony with a ballot box in both hands

And so, May 23rd 2014 may indeed turn out to have been a red-letter day in the politics of the 26-county spurious-republic of Ireland.

Local and EU elections have seen very significant shifts in voting patterns with serious repercussions for the three parties which have exchanged power over the past 92 years, and this result may indicate the imminent demise of hegemonic counter-revolutionary misrule that has lasted since 1922.

The quaintly-named Irish Labour Party – a misnomer, since that party substantially represents the interests of middle-class voters, has experienced a virtual wipe-out at the polls. Its first preference vote (19.5%) in the General Election of 2011 plummeted to just 5.3% in the EU elections, with a loss of its two European Parliament seats. In the local elections its share of first preferences was a slightly better 7.2%. The immediate outcome of this was the resignation of party leader Eamon Gilmore, Tánaiste (deputy prime-minister) and Minister for Foreign Affairs.

It is quite likely that in the shake-up to elect a new party leader, and its aftermath, that the old guard in Labour will be shown the door in a feverish effort to ‘renew’ Labour, although it is hard to imagine that anything will save the seats of many of the party’s TDs in the General Election, likely to be called well before its Spring 2016 deadline. While Labour might pull back a percentage point or two, it looks like a party that will need to spend some years finding itself – if it can. Its future may be out of its own hands by now.

Its senior partner in coalition, Fine Gael, now stands on the same EU election percentage as Fianna Fáil – 22.3%, down from 36.1% in 2011. Fianna Fáil, the other cheek of that ideological arse formed out of the Civil War, saw its share go up from its disastrous 2011 percentage of 17.5%, but it can draw cold comfort from that 4.7% rise, being now reduced to just one MEP.

On the EU figures, cumulative support for Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour stands at 49.9%. In other words more than 50% of those who voted have turned their backs on the three misruling parties. That, to anyone accustomed to the monolithic control of those parties, constitutes profound change.

But more!

In the EU election, in which it stood just one candidate in each of the three EU constituencies, Sinn Féin saw its support go up from 9.9% in 2011 to almost double that in 2014 – 19.5%. Not only that, each of the Sinn Féin EU candidates either headed the poll or was elected in early counts.

In the local elections Sinn Féin trebled its tally of representatives on the County Councils to 157. This pool of public representatives will provide new candidates in many Dáil constituencies in the General Election. They will, in the meantime, learn their trade, create local networks through highly-organised offices and the strong team-work that Sinn Féin is renowned for. The likely outcome of that is a further rise in the percentage of the poll that Sinn Féin will receive next time out, and a greater number of TDs in the Dáil.

Alongside that, various independents and smaller socialist parties and anti-austerity campaigning offshoots, together with other independents including some conservatives, received massive support in terms of percentages of the EU vote – 30.6%! Working against the big party machines, the independents still managed to win three European Parliament seats. The Socialist Party lost a winnable seat due to the intervention of a Socialist Workers Party candidate in the Dublin constituency, which victory might have been at the expence of Fine Gael’s high profile candidate, Brian Hayes, who barely scraped in.

In the local elections the various independents and the socialist/anti-austerity candidates combined won 237 seats out of 949, another remarkable result.

These results do not guarantee that we will not end up with yet another combination of the three parties of permanent misrule after the next General Election, but they do open up the possibility that we may, for the first time since quasi-independence in 1922, see the possibility of real choice for voters between the right and the left. For that to advance there needs to be an attempt at establishing a rapprochement between Sinn Féin and socialist parties, groups and individuals.

It is possible that the Labour Party, forced by the shock of its decimation at the polls, might sufficiently re-evaluate its stance and policies to reflect, in part at least, the core values for which that party was created. If so, it might be that Labour would also be available to achieve the numbers to form an alternative government, although the current candidates for leadership – one an accountant and the other a senior barrister – do not inspire confidence in any attempt to return to those values, but would appear opportunistic and cynical given those candidates’ track records in the current government.

It might be in Sinn Féin’s interest instead to look to the smaller socialist parties which have done well in these elections and show signs of further growth if properly organised for the next campaign and if election pacts can be put in place to avoid losing winnable seats.

In a post-election article on the Socialist Workers Party website, J O’Toole wrote “Socialists want to relate to Sinn Fein supporters and work alongside them in the South to battle the water charges. We want to emphasise people power as the path to change and that struggle is the stage upon which different approaches to change will be tested.”

At a pre-election ‘Arms around Moore Street’ event, held to protect the historic GPO 1916 Battlefield Site, Socialist Party EU candidate Paul Murphy made a stirring contribution, reminding those present of James Connolly’s last days of freedom in those buildings, and of Connolly’s relevance to the peoples’ cause today.

These are promising signs which should be built on through dialogue between Sinn Féin and socialists. It would be interesting to know if, for example, there was to be contact between the three new Sinn Féin MEPs and Paul Murphy, outgoing MEP and likely to be a candidate in the upcoming General Election, on advice on relevant issues and potential alliances in the EU Parliament. Not only would that contact be valuable in itself, but it would also send a positive signal to socialists and their supporters, and to voters interested in new possibilities. No doubt the new MEPs will also receive advice from Nessa Childers, independent leftist MEP and granddaughter of Erskine Childers who played a decisive part in the lead-up to the 1916 Revolution and the proclaiming of the Irish Republic, and in the defence of that Republic in the Civil War.

It is certain that Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour will attempt to claw back support to prevent the Sinn Féin and socialist surge from gathering further momentum. But there are lessons in historical experience, one such being the Berlin Wall. In just one year, 1989, what seemed like an impregnable fortress, part of the Iron Curtain that separated the Soviet Union and its satellite states from the West, was virtually destroyed. Once the first crack appeared in it, its destruction seemed as if it might become inevitable but happened faster than most might have thought possible. That crack in the Berlin Wall first occurred in the imagination of a few determined dissidents, then spread until the imagining was unstoppable and became reality.

It is possible that a similar phenomenon is at play in this State, where hegemonic power has seemed impregnable during all of the years of this State’s existence. It may be that a sufficient number of voters have been so sickened by abuses of power, by institutional failure and corruption, by a system that ignores the fundamental needs of the many but panders to the excessive wants and desires of the few, and by the signs of a failed State, that they are prepared to take a chance on something different and not yet capable of being fully understood or predicted, overriding fears and prejudices in the process. It may be that this first crack in the fortress of hegemonic power cannot be covered over with political class PR Polyfilla, but that the crack will deepen until the wall falls and profound change comes about.

That might happen sooner than most people think possible. Too early to tell. But we live in interesting times!


Whatever you say, say nothing – Lockout 2013

There are dates in every nation’s calendar that demand remembrance. When those dates fall on the centenary of a significant event then that demand for remembrance is greatly magnified. A remembrance ceremony marking the centenary of a significant event then becomes an event in itself and enters the collective memory. There is one opportunity on the centenary of a significant event to get it right, or to get it wrong, to honour the participants in that original event, or to dishonour their deeds and by implication the participants themselves, either by distorting the narrative, the manner of its representation, or by grievous omission.

It is the last of these, omission, that was particularly startling in what was billed as the National Commemoration of the 1913 Lockout on the 31st of August 2013, the centenary of Bloody Sunday on which date the Dublin Metropolitan Police attacked and battered protesting strikers in the main street of Dublin, injuring between 400 and 600 and killing two men, James Nolan and John Byrne.

The National Commemoration was attended by the President, Michael D. Higgins. The President arrived, listened to and watched various performances, laid a wreath at the Larkin statue, led a minute’s silence in memory of those who died and those who suffered during the Lockout, took refreshments in the GPO with other dignitaries, returned to his seat to enjoy other performances, and then departed. Nothing strange about what the President did, but it is what he didn’t do that is strange. The President didn’t speak to the people on the subject of the Lockout during the course of the National Commemoration.

President Higgins has not shown himself in the past to be afraid to address issues that may be contentious. He is a skilled and adept public speaker, well aware of the limitations that his office places on him in terms of straying into the party political arena or on matters of government policy. He has spoken on the Lockout previously. There is no doubt that he has a deep interest in the historical event itself and its use in evaluating the present and projecting into the future. Sharing his analysis and his ideas with the public is, perhaps, what he does best. He is not known to be reticent about using the public platform to stimulate discussion – the opposite is, thankfully, the case, and the public seem to approve of that aspect of his presidency.

And so, the question is why? Why did the President, whose words are listened to and valued by and who enjoys the trust and respect of a significant majority of the people, do the unexpected and remain silent on the subject of the 1913 Lockout on such an auspicious occasion as the National Commemoration of the centenary of that event when the reasonable expectation was, as usual, that he would speak to those present and, via the media, to the nation?

Perhaps there is a simple answer. The President may have been unable to deliver a speech through being indisposed in some relevant way. He may, as one observer suggested, have not wished to take from the community element of performances, but that seems unlikely since there were also professional actors and musical performers taking part at other times in the programme. Perhaps there are other simple answers to the question, but they don’t come to mind easily.

Also present at the commemorations were Fine Gael Minister Jimmy Deenihan, Labour Party leader and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore and his party colleagues Pat Rabbitte and Ruairi Quinn, the latter under increasing fire for his extraordinary and arbitrary decision to remove history as a compulsory subject in secondary schools, without any public discussion. Could a less simple answer be related to their presence? Could it be that their involvement in the neo-liberal austerity agenda which must have formed part of any serious speech on the subject of the 1913 Lockout and the conditions today of workers, the unemployed, the emigrated, the sick, the homeless and the dispossessed, the under-educated and under-resourced children, and the poor in general, might have consequently led to public embarrassment, and perhaps spontaneous protest against their unrelenting support for failed, deeply damaging government policies?

It is unusual to find four government ministers at an event such as this and to note the absence of even one attempt to take the microphone and to speak on the historical event and the main personalities involved, even if that, as sometimes happens, is no more than empty rhetoric and oily words. Extraordinary, really.

There too were the principal organisers of the event, leading members of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and affiliated trade unions. A proper analysis of the Lockout and its relevance to today’s issues, the importance and role of trade unions, and their performance over the intervening century particularly since the inception of Social Partnership in 1987 – the sort of issues that the President could normally be expected to touch on – might have proven uncomfortable too.

Any honest critique of the effects of the social partnership model could hardly avoid addressing in some way issues such as the fall-off in density of union membership in the workforce from 54% in 1987 – the start of social partnership – to 20% in 2007 – the end of the ‘boom’, and the fall-off in membership among young workers, part-timers and the lower skills with a higher concentration today of members in the professional and technical grades – mirroring the change in demographics among Labour Party voters. Trade unions, like the Labour Party, have lost much of their traditional base, to the detriment of vulnerable workers in the case of the unions, and the disenfranchisement of the working class in the case of Labour.

There are those who would also criticise the social partnership model for the political dangers that it can impose. One notorious and similar previous model is that contrived by Benito Mussolini around 1930, which brought trade unions and corporate interests together to work with government – as one of the pillars of Italian Fascism.

It may seem extreme to mention fascism in the context of the Irish trade unions, and that linkage is not the intention, rather the dangers of social partnership in which the driving force may be a government of questionable ethics. While Bertie Ahern enjoyed much popularity particularly during the property bubble, the spectacle of him being applauded to the stage at the ICTU Biennial Conference in Bundoran in 2007 (when there were many indicators that the economy was tanking), where he delivered his infamous remark that he did not know how people who moaned about the economy did not ‘commit suicide’. He was then applauded back down from the stage and out of the conference centre. Some could think that that was a ‘Berlusconi moment’. It was certainly unfortunate.

James Connolly would have ‘got’ that moment, just as he would have ‘got’ social partnership. What did he write in the Irish Worker, two months into the Lockout? “It is war, war to the end, against all the unholy crew who, with the cant of democracy on their lying lips, are forever crucifying the Christ of labour between the two thieves of Land and Capital”.

It is no longer ‘war, war’ between the two rightfully antagonistic forces of labour and capital, but ‘jaw,jaw’, or at least since the disintegration of social partnership, no sign of a return to ‘war, war’ – the strategy that many living in straitened conditions might prefer the trade unions to opt for, and who have often vocally expressed their wish for that change. Where, for instance, is the ‘war, war’ on Zero Hours Contracts, criticised by Minister of State Alex White of the Labour Party thus – “We have a new “precariat” in some sectors of the labour force, with people working on zero-hours contracts, short-term contracts, or for free on unpaid internships. These trends can undermine rights earned by past workers, and the relevant statutory protections may require strengthening, or at least review. Zero-hours contracts shape a life of uncertainty for people where their ability to budget for the future or manage a stable family life is particularly difficult.”?

Again, we might have expected that a dynamic trade union leadership might have nominated their best and most inspiring speaker to seize on the opportunities that the centenary of the Lockout offered to advance the cause of labour. But no, an opportunity rejected, it seems. Why?

‘Tis passing strange’ too, as the man himself might put it, how James Connolly got ne’er a proper mention at the National Commemoration other than in the rendition of the Ballad of James Larkin sung by Jimmy Kelly. Hardly likely that the President would have made that omission, had he spoken, which omission is of itself an insult to Connolly whose role in the Lockout was immense. It is, of course, correct to highlight James Larkin’s enormous role in the Lockout, but extremely churlish to downplay Connolly’s powers and sacrifices in that endeavour. It was not a one-man show. That churlishness brings to mind the Irish Labour Party’s inability or unwillingness to properly celebrate the role that Connolly played in founding that party on its centenary in 2012, or to champion his eloquent and visionary social philosophy which is the envy of others around the world other than in brief references that had a distinctly weasely feel to them.

Like that other National Commemoration forced on a recalcitrant State, the annual 1916 commemoration, this one too seemed smothered by the dead hand of State, or of other agencies or a combination of both, and  starved of the oxygen of honest appraisal and discussion. Perhaps that was the plan, perhaps not.

One lesson learned by those who understand the importance of these centenaries to the nation and to the future is that the state has shown itself to be unable or unwilling to trust the public to own its own great history. By its inept and insulting control of the National Commemoration of the 1913 Lockout, including the barricading of the citizens, the employment of a private security company of bad repute – G4S – to interfere with public access at the event, the searching even of women’s handbags and men’s eye-glass cases, the state has shown itself to be unfit for the job of commemorating the 1916 revolution. In 1966, a far larger event than this one was, not a barricade was to be seen, the police presence was discreet, citizens were free to approach the President of Ireland, Eamon de Valera, if they wished, or any other attendee among the ‘elite’. What has changed, other than obsessive control-freakery?

And so the Fine Gael minister and three Labour ministers remained stoically silent on the day. The trade union leadership offered a bland statement via Sallyann Kinihan. So be it. Perhaps it was the safer option.

But can we have an answer, simple or complex, to this question? Why did the President not speak at the National Commemoration of the 1913 Lockout?


A Most Seditious Lot: The Labour Press 1898-1916

Living today in an Ireland in which we do not have any significant alternative to a hegemonic right-wing press and broadcast media, it is difficult to imagine a time when there was a vibrant antidote to counteract the conservative propaganda of the national newspapers. But over a period from 1898 to 1916 and spanning a range of movements including advanced-nationalist, feminist, cooperative and socialist, their newspapers, journals, pamphlets and newsletters planted progressive ideas in the minds of their readers and often explicitly primed and prepared them for revolutionary action. It is worth understanding how this was achieved by looking at the content of these publications. In this article the Labour press will be examined, with the other movements to be examined in later articles.

Writing in 1937, Stephen Browne SJ said ‘…the history of the Irish Labour Press may be said to begin with the first appearance in 1898 of Connolly’s Workers Republic. Indeed, though the workers’ cause had been advocated in the past by such leaders as Fintan Lalor and Michael Davitt, the labour movement proper begins with James Connolly, who may fairly be described as the first Irish labour leader pure and simple.’ Browne was correct in that final point, but also in linking Connolly back through Michael Davitt to James Fintan Lalor, as Connolly himself frequently acknowledged. Browne might have completed the list of influences – from Lalor and his contemporaries, Thomas Davis and the Young Irelanders, back again to the anti-sectarian United Irishmen of the 1790s. That list of influences explains the three main strands to Connolly’s ideology – nationalism, republicanism and socialism, to which he consciously added advanced-feminism. And it was his core socialist republicanism that defined his nationalist outlook, lifting it away from the inward-looking Catholic nationalism of many of his contemporaries and allowing him to develop and express his progressive internationalism. All of this he brought to the pages of his newspapers, his pamphlets and his public speaking, in the process educating and informing his audience.

But throughout his career it was always primarily the interests of his class – the working-class – that occupied his thoughts. Those who criticised his move (as they mistakenly saw it) towards militant separatism and the company of nationalists between 1914 and 1916 as a profound and regrettable change ignore his long-standing linkage of the unhappy plight of the working class in Ireland with British colonialism, and of workers internationally with the rapacious greed of capitalist imperialism. His appreciation of James Fintan Lalor’s position on the subject – that social questions and the national issue should be regarded as complimentary – is revealed in his writings from 1896 on, and shows that his later actions in forming a revolutionary coalition were inevitable. Prior to establishing his newspaper The Workers Republic in 1898, Connolly’s political stance was published in the pages of advanced-nationalist papers. From the earliest days he had established contact with militant nationalists, especially through his work on the preparations for the centenary of the United Irishmen’s 1798 revolution.

The first issue of The Workers Republic appeared on the 13th of August 1898, just two days before the massive gathering for the dedication of the foundation stone of the proposed Wolfe Tone monument. On page two, writing under one of his pen-names, Spailpín, Connolly tells his readers – ‘We are Republican because we are Socialists, and therefore enemies to all privileges; and because we would have the Irish people complete masters of their own destinies, nationally and internationally, fully competent to work out their own salvation.’

Page one included a trenchant criticism of Irishmen for fighting in the four corners of the world ‘under any flag, in anybody’s quarrel, in any cause except their own’. Page three carried an article on the long hours and low pay of the men who worked for the Dublin Tram Company – it would be 18 years before the owner of that company, William Martin Murphy, would get in his final retaliation in by leading the charge for Connolly’s execution. On page five, there is an attack on ‘Home Rule Journalists and Patriots’. In an article on page 6, signed Saoirse, Connolly advises Dublin Castle of the socialists’ intention to get rid of the capitalist system. There are several articles and references to Wolfe Tone throughout the paper, including on landlordism and revolution. The last of the eight pages is made up of a statement of the objects and aims of the Irish Socialist Republican Party (ISRP), and a series of advertisements for the party’s open air meetings ‘Every Sunday Evening, 7.30. Foster Place.’, for an appeal for funds for the ISRP, for Connolly’s seminal pamphlet ‘Erin’s Hope: the End and the Means’, and only one commercial advertisement – for ‘A Good Reliable Bicycle for the Cheapest Possible Price’ at M. J. Lord.

On page one of the following week’s issue, Connolly reports on a speech made by Lord Mayor Tallon at the ‘98 Commemoration banquet – ‘Poor Wolfe Tone. Lived, fought, and suffered for Ireland in order that a purse-proud, inflated wind-bag should exploit your memory to his own aggrandisement’. The story continues on page six – ‘I am told it passed over as well as such things usually do. A number of speeches were delivered by gentlemen who did not mean what they said. As far as I can learn they all got safely home. There is nothing more to relate concerning the dinner unless to remark that there were no working men there. It was a middle-class dinner, in a middle-class restaurant, for middle-class people’. Connolly was not inclined to take prisoners when reporting on the words or actions of the rich and powerful, and it is not hard to imagine the delight with which reports like this must have been received among the working-class readers. This was part of the style of the newspaper, the mixing of serious content with caustic and highly humorous and very subversive comment.

On September 3rd the paper carried a translated reprint from L’Irlande Libre titled Socialism and Irish Nationalism which ends with a clear enunciation of Connolly’s position on both the failings of the concept of bourgeois revolution, and the necessity of forging alliances with willing partners to create a sustainable revolution. The ending is also prophetic. “Having learned from history that all bourgeois movements end in compromise, that the bourgeois revolutionists of today become the conservatives of tomorrow, the Irish Socialists refuse to deny or to lose their identity with those who only half understand the problem of liberty. They seek only the alliance and the friendship of those hearts who, loving liberty for its own sake, are not afraid to follow its banner when it is uplifted by the hands of the working class who have most need of it. Their friends are those who would not hesitate to follow that standard of liberty, to consecrate their lives in its service even should it lead to the terrible arbitration of the sword.”

Two weeks later The Workers Republic carried the first installment of Labour in Irish History under another Connolly pen-name ‘Setanta’. The finished book would eventually to be published 12 years later, in 1910, on Connolly’s return from the USA. The paper was starting to receive more advertising now. On page eight a firm called Daly & Co. of Blackburn advertised two products, Daly’s Chimney Cleaner, and Daly’s Pile Salve – hopefully not with interchangeable lids! The following issue carried the first article in the paper by Maud Gonne which was on ‘Irishmen and the British Army’.

In October, the paper ceased production until its reappearance the following May. Finance was always a problem, and the paper several times went into hibernation if there was an election to be fought. In August 1899, the paper issued a four page ‘Wolfe Tone Supplement: the Social-Revolutionary’, which included ‘Industrial Progress and Revolution’ by Arthur O’Connor, ‘The Self-Catechism of a Rebel’ by John Mitchel and an article on ‘Fenianism and Continental Revolution’. In September, the paper announced a move to new larger premises at 138 Upper Abbey Street, ‘To include a shop, a clubroom, a large lecture hall, and two separate rooms for the printing outfit which now includes two printing presses’. Two weeks later the paper advertised the fact that lectures were now being held in the Workers Hall every Sunday, admission free.

From January 1901 the style of the paper changed. It was now more dense and carried reprints of previously published articles, as well as current reports. It was not as easy or as enjoyable a read. It reverted back to the original size and form in July 1902. A month later it carried the announcement of ‘Our American Mission’, that being Connolly’s planned trip to America to raise funds by way of a lecture tour. The funds he raised and sent back were dissipated by the time of his return. Connolly, with a family to feed, and no funds to keep the party or the presses going, went back to America where he remained until 1910.

When he eventually returned it was to more fertile territory than he had left due to James Larkin’s efforts over the preceding four years to organise workers into a trade union. With the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (ITGWU) in place, there was now a relatively solid base from which to work. In June 1911 The Irish Worker newspaper appeared, edited by Larkin with Connolly’s active participation, and it enjoyed very substantial sales from the start. In June 1911 its circulation was 26,000. By September it had reached a staggering 95,000 copies. Its circulation fluctuated but remained healthy. It was an important weapon in the hands of the labour movement before and during the lock-out of 1913, and crucial in the formation and instruction of the Irish Citizen Army. When Larkin left Ireland to raise funds in the USA in 1914 he left Connolly effectively in control of the ITGWU, and commanding the Irish Citizen Army

In 1915, the Irish Worker was suppressed by the government, and to fill the vacuum, Connolly re-launched The Workers Republic. His newspaper would play an important role in providing coverage of the Army’s activities, training articles etc., and also as a link with the activities of the Irish Volunteers. The first issue, on the 29 May 1915, carries the message, ‘The Army and Reserves will parade on Sunday at Liberty Hall to take part in the May Day procession to the Park. All ranks are called out for the muster. By Order.’. On page 8 the paper carried accounts of military happenings so as ‘to enlighten and instruct our members in the work they are banded together to perform’. In ‘Notes on the Front’, page one, July 3rd 1915, there is a review of “From a Hermitage”, a pamphlet by P. H. Pearse, including this comment ‘We find ourselves in agreement with most of the things he says…and are surprised to find him so wisely sympathetic on the struggles of the workers with which we are most closely identified.’

A week later, under the heading ‘Ourselves and Our “Allies”’, the paper offered ‘heartiest congratulations to the Larkfield Team of the Irish Volunteers who won the tournament at St. Enda’s Fete last Sunday’. The paper was by now providing extensive coverage of the Citizen Army, with training notes on a wide variety of military topics from issue to issue. A series of articles during 1915 drew on revolutionary tactics used in, for instance; Revolution in Belgium (12th June), Revolution in Paris 1830 (July 3rd), while an article on June 19th dealt with the story of the Alamo, which the revolutionary HQ – the GPO and surrounding streets – would emulate less than a year later.

The issue of 15 April 1916, nine days before the revolution would start, carried a poem by C. de. Markievicz :

‘The Call’
‘Do you hear the call in the whispering wind?
The call to our race today,
The call for self-sacrifice, courage and faith
The call that brooks no delay.’

On the same page is an announcement of  a ‘Solemn Hoisting of the Irish Flag at Liberty Hall on Sunday April 16′.

The last issue of the Workers Republic of the 22 April, two days before the Revolution, carried an image of a harp above and below the poem “Eire” by Maeve Cavanagh. The authorities in Dublin Castle would have been reassured, however, by the first lines of the cover article ‘Notes on the Front’‘As this is our Easter edition, and we do not feel like disturbing the harmony of this season of festivity…’. But this last issue of The Workers Republic also carried an editorial titled ‘Labour and Ireland’ in which Connolly described the hoisting of the new flag of the republic over Liberty Hall – “So closely had the crowds been packed that many thousands had been unable to see the ceremony on the square, but the eyes of all were now riveted upon the flag pole awaiting the re-appearance of the Colour Bearer. All Beresford Square was packed, Butt Bridge and Tara Street were as a sea of upturned faces. All the North Side of the Quays up to O’Connell Street was thronged, and O’Connell Bridge itself was impassable owing to the vast multitude of eager, sympathetic onlookers… At last the young Colour Bearer, radiant with excitement and glowing with colour in face and form, mounted beside the parapet of the roof, and with a quick graceful movement of her hand unloosed the lanyard, and

THE FLAG OF IRELAND

fluttered out upon the breeze.

Those who witnessed that scene will never forget it. Over the Square, across Butt Bridge, in all the adjoining streets, along the quays, amid the dense mass upon O’Connell Bridge, Westmoreland Street and D’Olier Street corners, everywhere the people burst out in one joyous delirious shout of welcome and triumph, hats and handkerchiefs fiercely waved, tears of emotion coursed freely down the cheeks of strong rough men, and women became hysterical with excitement… As the first burst of cheering subsided Commandant Connolly gave the command, “Battalion, Present Arms”, the bugles sounded the General Salute, and the concourse was caught up in a delirium of joy and passion.

In a few short words at the close Commandant Connolly pledged his hearers to give their lives if necessary to keep the Irish Flag Flying, and the ever memorable scene was ended.”

Two days later, Connolly would oversee the unfurling of that flag of the Irish Republic over the GPO as the revolution began.  Nineteen days later he was dead, a battle-wounded prisoner, already dying from gangrene, murdered by firing squad in Kilmainham Gaol, and with his death the authentic voice of labour in Ireland was silenced.

We do not need armed revolution in Ireland today, but we certainly need a revolution in thought and spirit, a revolution that, as always, begins in the imagination. But where can we find that organ of the mass media that will present to the people of Ireland alternative ideas to consider, propose better solutions to problems and issues of national importance, show us the lessons of the past that can guide us towards more informed judgements and help us make better decisions? The answer is bleak. In the Ireland of the 21st century that organ of the mass media does not exist. But it cannot be beyond the means of today’s free citizens to create a modern version of The Workers’ Republic, Irish Freedom or The Irish Citizen, online. Here is a start – the masthead of the penultimate edition of James Connolly’s The Workers’ Republic.

The banner of The Workers' Republic of 15th April 1916


Interfering, Meddling People: Labour agitators and 1916

In 1891, in “The Soul of Man under Socialism”, Oscar Wilde had this to say – ‘What is said by great employers of labour against agitators is unquestionably true. Agitators are a set of interfering, meddling people, who come down to some perfectly contented class of the community, and sow the seeds of discontent amongst them. That is the reason why agitators are so absolutely necessary.’ 

Between 1896 and 1916 two very effective agitators combined to ‘sow the seeds of discontent’ among the working class, not just in Dublin, but in urban areas throughout the country, and abroad. The first, James Connolly, arrived in Dublin in 1896 and, very shortly after, founded the Irish Socialist Republican Party. The other, Jim Larkin, arrived from Liverpool in 1907 as organiser for the National Union of Dock Labour, and the following year founded the Irish Transport and General Workers Union. Both were the sons of Irish emigrants from the immediate post-famine period. Each of them had his own view as to how the working class could raise themselves up, both were strong willed, yet they were able to combine at critical moments when the opportunity presented itself to improve the position of the working-class. They were by no means the first agitators in the land. But they were undoubtedly among the most effective, and carried out their work during a critically important period in terms of potential for change.

On Connolly’s arrival in 1896, he immediately threw himself into the task of establishing his tiny party, relying on public open-air meetings, usually in Beresford Place, by pamphleteering, and later through the pages of his own newspaper The Workers Republic, and in various advanced-nationalist organs of the press. He involved himself in the preparations for the centenary commemorations of the 1798 Rising shortly after his arrival with the establishment of the ‘Rank and File ‘98 Club. He also involved himself in opposition to the Boer War, using the campaign to illustrate the nature of colonialism allied to capitalism. These activities brought him into contact with many of the leading political personalities of the day, but more importantly established his credentials with the social class whose cause he championed. While this did not bring electoral success for his party, it was to pay off later.

In 1903, disillusioned with the ineffectiveness of the ISRP and what he saw as the poor prospects of establishing a viable socialist base in Ireland, Connolly left for America where he continued his agitation on behalf of workers and eventually found employment organising on behalf of the International Workers of the World. He further established himself as a socialist intellectual of international stature during this seven-year exile. While Connolly was away, he still contributed to the debates of the day in Ireland through the medium of the press, and during this time continued to develop his political, social and economic arguments, culminating in the publication, following his return to Ireland, of his most important work – Labour in Irish History – in 1910.

By the time Connolly returned to Ireland, Jim Larkin had also established his position as a labour leader of considerable stature. The formation of the ITGWU had created a union which was free from cross-channel control. It developed a set of tools by which workers could pressurise the employers into negotiating better terms; lightening strikes, sympathetic strikes, ‘flying pickets’ and so on. In all this it helped to radicalise the working class and to create a sense of solidarity among them, which is not to deny that, given the economic conditions of the day, there was not a ready supply of ‘blacklegs’ or ‘scabs’ available to the employers in the attempt to break the effectiveness of the union. But this was a militant union, and its members were not afraid to stand their ground. With the union growing in strength, Connolly and Larkin also took a prominent role in the foundation of the Irish Labour Party in 1912.

Workers flocked to join the ITGWU. Between 1910, when Connolly and Larkin joined forces, and 1912, union membership grew from 4,000 to 10,000. Irish employers who had up to then dictated terms of employment with impunity recognised the threat to their power and profits and began to organise against trade unionism. In this, they had the backing of the Catholic church, all of the leading newspapers, and the British administration in Ireland, in other words, the political class. The conflict between the union and the employers increased, with conditions imposed on workers that they not join or that they renounce existing membership of the ITGWU. When tram workers employed by William Martin Murphy’s Dublin United Tramway Company walked off the job on the 26th of August 1913, during the highly popular Dublin Horse Show, 400 Dublin employers retaliated by locking out over 20,000 men and women workers, and so the Dublin lock-out began.

The lock-out, which was led on the employer’s side by William Martin Murphy, who besides being a wealthy industrialist was owner of the influential Irish Independent newspaper, saw acts of extreme brutality inflicted by the police on civilians. This resulted in the formation of the Irish Citizen Army by Larkin, Connolly and others, an idea brought back by Connolly from his time as an organiser with the IWW in the US where a Citizens’ Army was a necessary protection for striking workers who were regularly targeted for extreme violence, including murder, by gangs of thugs hired by employers. First conceived to provide protection to strikers, the Irish Citizens Army developed quickly into an armed and well drilled force, albeit small in numbers.

Liberty Hall, the headquarters of the ITGWU, became the centre of activity for the striking workers and their families. As the Employers Federation tightened its grip on the city, blocking food supplies and other essentials of life from entering the city, soup kitchens were set up in Liberty Hall with Countess Markievicz, Helena Moloney and other radical women organising the distribution of limited amounts of food to the destitute workers’ families. Dr Kathleen Lynn set up first aid facilities in Liberty Hall to treat workers injured in action on the picket-line and also to alleviate sicknesses brought on through starvation, especially affecting children. Over the course of the lock-out a union official died in police custody following torture, two workers were killed on the streets by police, and another, a woman, was shot dead by a strike-breaker. Hundreds of strikers were injured, mainly in police baton charges. Lives were lost too in tenements in the poorest parts of Dublin as women and children in particular succumbed to starvation, disease and cold during that winter.

The lock-out petered to an inconclusive ending after seven months, with workers drifting back to work out of necessity and many Dublin businesses fatally wounded by the actions of their owners and forced to close. The ITGWU had though established the right of workers to organise in trade unions and the principle of workers’ solidarity as paramount in the struggle against oppression and exploitation. Liberty Hall had been established as an important centre of resistance and as an excellent training ground for another battle that would soon be fought. The workers involved in the lock-out had garnered support from a wide variety of sources – feminists, advanced nationalists, artists and intellectuals, and republicans. The Irish Citizen Army had been established as a military force with James Connolly in a pivotal position, and a group of men and women in leadership roles who would be of crucial importance later.

Connolly assumed command of the Citizen Army in 1914 following Larkin’s departure for America to raise funds, where he would remain until 1923 having spent a number of years in prison for criminal anarchy. Connolly was a multi-tasker. Apart from the Irish Citizen Army he was acting General Secretary of the ITGWU. He was a newspaper publisher and journalist, first under the banner of The Irish Worker and when that paper was suppressed reviving his own paper, The Workers Republic, in which he wrote most of the copy. He was a leader of the anti-conscription campaign in the lead-up and during the First World War. He was forging alliances with various elements working to create a revolution. He was developing a strategy and tactics for urban guerilla warfare that drew on research into other revolutionary events, and that would substantially form the basis for the military campaign during Easter Week 1916 and would serve as a model to be used during the War of Independence and in other revolutions in other parts of the world.

In January 1916, after a period in which Connolly had baited the Volunteer leadership on their timidity in not seizing the opportunity of British involvement in a major war to strike for Irish freedom, he disappeared for three days. His own people in Liberty Hall believed he had either been kidnapped by the Volunteers or lifted by the police and was being held in Dublin Castle. He was in fact mainly in Eamon Ceannt’s house with the leaders of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). While some speculate that this period was spent in attempting to dissuade Connolly from taking premature action with the Citizen Army, as he had indicated he would, it is more likely that the discussions focussed on what sort of republic would be the endgame of any revolutionary action. What we can safely assume, knowing Connolly’s character and his strong convictions, is that he emerged from this series of discussions fully committed to the alliance of the IRB, Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army, with a date for action determined, and with the template for the new Irish Republic nailed down.

What republic did Connolly want? The Workers’ Republic. What did the Proclamation lay out as the model of republic? A socialist republic – with the potential for the citizens of a free Ireland to take that to the next level, the Workers’ Republic. Would Connolly have settled for less? No! Did the other leaders with whom he had spent three days walk away from the discussions? No! All seven signed their names to it, knowing that they would likely die for that action.

If a revolution can have a head office, then Liberty Hall was that – for socialists and republicans alike. When the flag of the Irish Republic was raised in Dublin for the first time it was over Liberty Hall, a week before it was raised over the GPO on the 24th of April 1916. It was in Liberty Hall that the Proclamation was printed, and it was from Liberty Hall that all orders went out immediately prior to the revolution, and from Liberty Hall that the GPO garrison marched to light the fire of revolution. The central importance of Liberty Hall to the Irish revolution – from the experience of the 1913 lock-out, to the pressure applied by Connolly and the Citizen Army for revolution, to the planning and the execution of the revolution, must be recognised. The fruit of all of that was to be the socialist Irish Republic, but it was the rotten fruit of counter-revolution that would ultimately be served up to the Irish people in 1922, a fruit that they are still forced to eat today.

An oft-repeated criticism of Connolly, principally by those who claim to be ‘pure’ socialists, is that he in some way let the socialist side down in 1916 by aligning himself and his army with nationalists. The lie is given to that in the text of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic for which the leadership and rank-and-file of the revolutionary force in 1916 were prepared to lay down their lives to achieve – a socialist republic. Paragraph four of the Proclamation could have been written by no-one other than James Connolly, and that is the key paragraph. And if he did align himself with nationalists, they were nationalists who were republican in their ideology. And what is a republican? According to Connolly himself, to be a republican is to be a socialist and to be a socialist is to be a republican. But perhaps not a ‘pure’ enough socialist for some, the measure of whose opinion should be their own achievements, or lack thereof.

Perhaps these egotistical ‘pure’ socialists would point to a single instance of a ‘pure’ revolution in history. They cannot, for none exist. Connolly himself had written in ‘Erin’s Hope’ as far back as 1897 – “we will, as the true revolutionist should ever do, have called into action on our side the entire sum of all the forces and factors of social and political discontent. By the use of the revolutionary ballot we will have made the very air of Ireland as laden with ‘treason’, as fully charged with the spirit of revolt, as it is to-day with the cant of compromise and the mortal sin of flunkeyism; and thus we will have laid a substantial groundwork for more effective action in the future…”.

“But he showed himself to be a nationalist”, the internationalists cry. The fools! Connolly, an internationalist to the core, pointed out that you cannot be one, the inter-nationalist, without being the other, the nationalist. Nationalism is neither an automatically good or bad thing. If the Nation – the collective of citizens – operates to a set of benign, progressive and non-insular ideas and values then it is obviously a good thing, and the values in the Proclamation of the Irish Republic have these good attributes. Connolly wished the Irish Republic would act as a ‘beacon of hope‘ to the oppressed people of the world, in other words that it would provide an example for them to emulate as they wished. What did Connolly have to say in Erin’s Hope 19 years before the revolution? “The interests of Labour all the world over are identical, it is true, but it is also true that each country had better work out its own salvation on the lines most congenial to its own people.” The ‘pure’ socialists on the other hand, adopt the position of the imperialist in seeking to impose a universal solution regardless of local cultural norms and nuances – another form of tyranny.

It is a pity that sectarian elements on the left would not study Connolly’s words and try to understand what the true revolutionist needs to do. And given that the parliamentary Irish Labour Party has aligned itself with the forces of the right it is even more of a pity that the rank-and-file members of the Irish Labour Party, in the centenary year of the party founded by Connolly and Larkin, would not familiarise themselves with those same words and understand where their rightful place should be – firmly on the left, not in the middle, and certainly not on the right.

What was it that Oscar Wilde wrote?

What is said by great employers of labour against agitators is unquestionably true. Agitators are a set of interfering, meddling people, who come down to some perfectly contented class of the community, and sow the seeds of discontent amongst them. That is the reason why agitators are so absolutely necessary.’

True one hundred years ago, just as true today. Agitators are absolutely necessary!


Know the revolutionaries to understand the revolution

I never had personal contact with my paternal grandfather, since by the time I was born he was eight years dead, but in my earliest memories as a young boy he was already becoming to me  a man of mythic stature, a heroic figure in our family, a presence. What I knew of him as I grew was gleaned from snippets of information, often just overheard, sometimes the result of answers to my expressed curiosity about this absent man. It was obvious to me even from my earliest days that he was loved and missed by my father and his siblings, and that they were always proud of him and what he had done in his life. I had no image of him either until much later when I was shown a yellowing newspaper clipping that reported on the circumstances of his death with an accompanying postage-stamp sized photo, too small and too faded to give any real sense of the man.

John Stokes - D Company 3rd Battalion - Boland's Mills Garrison

John Stokes – D Company 3rd Battalion – Boland’s Mills Garrison

That newspaper clipping confirmed what I by then knew, that my grandfather, John Stokes, had died in attempting to rescue a young woman from drowning at the Shelley Banks near Poolbeg on the southern side of Dublin Bay. Other clippings, discovered later, gave greater detail to the story – that the young woman had been cut off on a sand island when the tide started to rise, that John had gone to her assistance and that when she couldn’t swim to shore he went back for assistance but disappeared underwater having suffered cramp. The young woman, Nellie Macken of Parliament Street, was rescued by a boatman. At the inquest into his death John was commended for his bravery. He was 63 years-of-age when he died. That one act of selfless bravery, particularly at a relatively advanced age, would have been enough to establish his heroism, but there was more to him than that one act.

Born in County Wexford, in Bunclody, his people were farmers. But they were, according to family lore, also perpetually rebellious, with an involvement stretching back to the United Irish rebellion of 1798, and the short-lived Wexford Republic of that year. As a young man, John had to flee Wexford to avoid a trial at the Wexford Assizes on a charge of holding off at gunpoint a bailiff who had caught him poaching game on a squire’s land. He made his way to Dublin where he eventually met and married my grandmother, Catherine Finnegan of Slane, County Meath.

By 1913 John was employed as a ‘motorman’ – a driver – with the Dublin United Tramways Company. When he and his co-workers walked off the job because of the company’s refusal to allow them membership of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union, led by James Larkin and James Connolly, that strike allowed the Employers’ Federation, led by Ireland’s leading industrialist William Martin Murphy, to declare a general lockout of unionised workers, leading to a sustained and highly organised attempt by the employers to starve the workers and their families into submission, a cynical programme that lasted over four months bringing death and sickness to the poorest of Dublin’s poor.

Although records of who was involved in and around Liberty Hall, the headquarters of the ITGWU, are virtually non-existent, it is highly likely that John and Catherine were active there. In our family, James Connolly – a central figure in the Lockout and in Liberty Hall – was revered above other leaders, as was Liam Mellows, a disciple of Connolly’s. And, right up to the time of her death in 1956, Dr. Kathleen Lynn, who had worked for the welfare of the locked-out workers and their families in Liberty Hall and had been appointed by Connolly as  Chief Medical Officer to the Irish Citizen Army that Connolly led, and later as second-in-command of the City Hall garrison during the 1916 revolution, was a frequent visitor to Catherine at her home in Rathmines, as a friend.

John made the journey from striking tram-worker in 1913 to revolution in 1916 in which he fought in the Boland’s Mills garrison as a member of  D Company 3rd Battalion of the Volunteers, under the command of Eamon de Valera. On April 24th, Easter Monday, he turned up for duty with his Howth rifle and was put in charge of four Volunteers to take over the Gas Works and went from there to the Old Distillery (where the flag of the Republic was flown to divert British Army attention) until Wednesday when they were withdrawn back to Boland’s Mills. On Thursday he was ordered home by de Valera due to a back injury he had carried into the fight. Two days after the surrender he was arrested and taken to Richmond Barracks with the other revolutionaries, and then to Frongoch Prison Camp in North Wales via Wakefield Prison in England. He was released in August 1916. While in Frongoch his commanding officer was Terence MacSwiney. During the War of Independence John provided ‘assistance’ to D Company and to the Active Service Unit, and during the Civil War provided a safe house for guns and men to Anti-Treaty republicans with the active participation of my grandmother Catherine.

The Lockout exacted a high price on both John and Catherine. As a black-listed worker due to his union activity, and as a man of principle who would not work for certain employers on his own blacklist, he often found himself struggling to provide for his wife and young family. This evidently led to occasional difficulties between these two strong-willed characters, she who had children to feed and he who had principles to live up to.  On Fianna Fail’s accession to power in government in 1932 Catherine wrote to Taoiseach Eamon de Valera asking if there was any work available for John to which de Valera replied that if John came to the Dáil on a certain date there would be a job as a porter. John’s response was that he hadn’t fought in 1916 to get a job for himself and refused the offer. He continued to find what work he could, mainly around the motor trade and occasionally as a hackney driver.

There is no doubt that John and Catherine made a solid contribution to achieving independence for Ireland from British domination, but they made another lasting contribution. In being active citizens in their everyday lives they passed on a set of worthwhile values and beliefs that they held dear to their children, who passed them on to their own children, and the ripple effect goes on.

They were not unique in this, and that is the impetus behind telling their story for the first time.

On the 24th of April 1916, ‘ordinary’ men and women, estimated to number between 900 and 1200, assembled at Liberty Hall and at various outposts to create a revolution against the mightiest empire in the world at that time. But very little is known about these heroic, generous people who would take extraordinary risks to benefit future generations with little prospect of gain for themselves and a high possibility of death, injury or long-term imprisonment as a result of their actions.

These people, these revolutionaries, do not figure in history books, other than as statistics. In writing them out of the story as individual people, each with a personal story to tell of before, during and after the revolution, we consistently fail the test of understanding what the revolution was really about and how important it was for them to achieve the Irish Republic that was the objective of the revolution.

There is no doubt that it suited what was, and continues to be, the political class in this non-republic, to narrow the focus of understanding the revolution by concentrating on its leaders and on its opponents, including the failed constitutional politicians and those who faltered and fell away from the revolutionary movement at the last minute.

Far easier to present the revolution as a ‘Rising’, or an ‘Insurrection’, or a ‘Rebellion’ if the motivations and the objectives of the rank-and-file men and women do not form part of the evidence of genuine revolution. Far easier to underplay the fundamental importance to the revolution of the 1913 Lockout and trade unionism, of the centrality of socialism to the Proclamation, of the most advanced form of feminism in the world which was revealed at the barricades and in the Proclamation, if the revolution could be sold as a ‘poets’ rebellion’ or some-such nonsense. Far easier to allow the Catholic church to successfully sell the spurious notion that it was behind the ‘rebellion’ and therefore a party to the gaining of independence when the direct opposite was the case. And so, far easier to create a permanent counter-revolution the aim of which was to destroy the Irish Republic so as to preserve a privileged class, to avoid redistribution of wealth, to introduce rigid controls on society and social behaviour, to embed capitalism and its local offshoot, gombeenism, as the hegemonic ideology.

Even at this late stage, when those generations with a direct connection with the rank-and-file revolutionaries are dying off, it is still possible to salvage these stories involving the ‘ordinary’ revolutionaries and their families, but further delay in doing so cannot be entertained. A concerted effort needs to be made to reach out to the remaining families of 1916 rank-and-file revolutionaries to gather the stories and where possible photographs, so that we can better know who they were and what were their personal circumstances, why they did what was extraordinary, and how it impacted their lives thereafter.

There is work to be done, first in finding the descendants, then in gathering the stories, collating the information and analysing it, and publishing the stories and the analysis. Once again that work involves, in a very fundamental way, ordinary people. But, given its potential scale, it will also need to involve local and national organisations and societies, sociocultural historians and researchers, archivists and museums.

After almost 100 years of obscurity we need to think of ways to acknowledge and honour these ‘ordinary’ revolutionaries. Apart from publishing their stories, one other way would be to ensure that included in the commemorations on April 24th 2016, Republic Day, will be a contingent of citizens, each individual – preferably a family-member – representing an identified revolutionary of Easter Week 1916, and assembled according to the garrison that the revolutionary was part of, to take part in the march-past at the GPO in Dublin.

It is time to give these ‘ordinary’ revolutionaries mythic stature, to understand the extent of their heroism, and to make their presence felt once again as we continue the task of completing their revolution by constructing the Irish Republic that they gave so much to bring to life. We owe it to them, we owe it to ourselves, and we owe it to the future generations.


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