Tag Archives: revolution

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.”

 

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Take It Down from the Mast

There is, to my mind, something very obscene about the State organising a flag-hoisting ceremony at Dublin Castle, supposedly to mark the beginning of the 1916 Centenary year, while the same State routinely thrashes the public services and the public works that so many citizens depend on – often for their lives.

This charade is nothing but a necessary PR exercise mounted on the instructions of two parties, Fine Gael and Labour, which have been forced by the weight of public opinion to appear to be engaged with honouring the seminal moment in modern Irish history – the revolution of 1916.

How could two avowedly counter-revolutionary parties, with another counter-revolutionary party, Fianna Fáil, waiting in the wings, credibly honour those whose vision of a real republic has been deliberately thrashed by those same parties?

It is impossible. More than that, it is a disgusting display of contempt by self-serving hypocrites for the ideals and the idealism of 1916 and the subsequent revolutionary period, and contempt for the people those ideals were supposed to serve – the citizens of Ireland and those who have come to live among us and are part of us.

Those three parties, representative of a political class slaked with lust for power and wealth, have ensured that a third of our people endure dreadful conditions of need and insecurity and unhappiness – from visible poverty including homelessness and literal starvation of children, to unemployment, emigration, chronic illness both mental and physical, early death caused by rampant suicide and undiagnosed or untreated illness, and the list of dreadful conditions goes on and on. But no tangible evidence of concern from the political class.

Today, we see thousands of our people wading through rivers to reach their water-logged homes in an attempt to rescue something of value to themselves. They will continue to wade, through false promises made in the coming election. It has always been thus, since the counter-revolution of 1922.

Meanwhile, those three parties have ensured that the pockets of the wealthy – the political class – are stuffed with our hard-got money. It has always been thus, since the counter-revolution of 1922.

As a 1916 relative I am seemingly entitled, in a way that other citizens are not, to be present at State ceremonies to do with 1916.

I reject that spurious entitlement. I refuse to participate in these charades. I refuse to give cover to those who hate the very idea of the Republic while attempting to secure public approval for their vile project of continuing to administer a grossly unequal and unjust State while pretending to draw on history for their existence.

As a 1916 relative I disown the spurious ‘Republic’ of Ireland. I am a citizen of the Irish Republic – I have been since my first conscious political thought as a child and will be to my last breath.

Today I am filled with disgust.

Tomorrow I will be filled with hope.

Revolution begins in the imagination.

Now we have to imagine.

Imagine the Irish Republic.

Then work now to put it in place.

For the happiness and prosperity of all our people.


Right2Change Trinity – Political, Trade Union, Community – Vital for Victory

It is not fanciful, I think, to offer my grandfather’s contribution to the golden period of the Irish revolution up to 1922 as an exemplar of the need to maintain the structure of the current Right2Change movement with its three pillars – the political pillar, the trade union pillar and the community pillar. Let me explain.

When John Stokes turned up for duty at Ringsend Bridge with ‘D’ company, 3rd Battalion of the Irish Volunteers on Sunday 23rd of April 1916, he was part of the political pillar, albeit giving expression to republican politics through armed intervention against the opposing forces of British imperialism. The Volunteers were stood down that day as a result of MacNeill’s countermanding order, but John was back on the bridge with his comrades the following day to do his duty, and went into action with them in the Boland’s Mills garrison area. That was as much a political action as it was a military one.

When he joined the Volunteers in 1913, that was a political action. When he went to Howth on 26th July 1914 to collect his Mauser rifle from the Asgard, that was a political action. When he and his comrades of the 3rd Battallion drilled on the streets between then and the start of the revolution, that was a political action.

John, a true republican, was part of the political pillar.

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

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

But three years previously, John was part of the trade union pillar. A tram driver (motorman), working for the Dublin United Tramways Company owned by William Martin Murphy, John and his comrades walked off the job on the 26th August 1913, striking for recognition of their right to belong to the Irish Transport and General Workers Union. That trade union action precipitated the 1913 Lockout, but it also provided the spark that would become the flame of revolution, and Liberty Hall would be the key to that, not least in the creation there of the Irish Citizen Army.

John, a committed union man, was part of the trade union pillar.

After 1916, after a spell in Frongoch internment camp, John returned to my grandmother Catherine and their children He was not on active service in the War of Independence or the Civil War, but he and Catherine provided ‘services’ to the republican active service units by way of a safe house for men and weapons, and moving weapons to where they were needed. He said that he had no problem using a weapon on British forces but would not personally use one on his fellow-Irish.

John, together with Catherine, was now part of the community pillar.

Those three interconnected pillars – political, trade union and community – were essential to the success of the revolution between 1916 and its suppression by the Cumann na nGaedheal-Fine Gael counter-revolutionaries in 1923 which continued with the accession to power of de Valera’s Fianna Fáil.

The community pillar was as important in 1913 and in 1916 as the political or trade union pillars. The 1919-21 War of Independence could not have been prosecuted on the republican side without the involvement of a community pillar. And the heroic last stand of enlightenment republicanism between 1922 and 1923 in the Civil War could not have occurred even for that duration without the involvement of a community pillar on its side.

And here we find ourselves again, one hundred years after 1916, ninety-four years after the counter-revolution, attempting to begin the reclamation of that enlightened republic of equality and justice, and relying on those three pillars again as is always the case for any successful revolution – revolution being a fundamental change in political power brought about by the people for their benefit. That, and nothing less, is what we are attempting to bring to pass.

But there are flaws today in each of those pillars, just as there were in 1916. Just as then, those flaws must be overcome.

Today, the political pillar is incomplete. There are those in Leftist parties and groups, and some independents, who have refused to commit fully to the battle to defeat the continuous 94-year-long counter-revolution.

Today, the trade union pillar is incomplete. Some trade unions, bewitched by that odious 1930s corporatist-fascist device of ‘social partnership’ with its origins in Mussolini’s Italy, or led by centre-Right Labour Party ideologues, remain in practical terms supportive of the counter-revolution and in essence opposed to change.

Today, the community pillar includes those who say they eschew politics, or who are overly-protective of their own group’s ethos, or who identify and target spurious bogeymen and bogeywomen within the Right2Change movement for reasons best known to themselves.

Yet in each of those pillars we have enough truly committed groups and individuals to press on towards revolution. There is no other option, other than capitulation, open to us.

James Connolly knew what was required to create a revolution. In his call-to-action in ‘Erin’s Hope’, written in 1897, he pointed out that in order to create a successful revolution it is necessary to gather together all of the voices of discontent, even those with whom you do not find full agreement.

Connolly was correct. And the Right2Change movement is attempting to do what he called for. We are trying to gather all of the voices of discontent to our side so as to achieve through force of argument and not force of arms a transformational change in politics, society and the economy for the benefit of the mass of people.

Whatever the outcome of the 2016 General Election, when we go to the Citizens’ Centenary Commemoration of 1916 at the GPO on Republic Day 2016 we need to be able to stand tall, to look the ghosts of 1916 in the eye and say to them and to ourselves that we did our best, and if not good enough to win power for the people this time, we will do better the next.

And let those who try to drag at our heels, who refuse to play their part, who spread calumnies against good people, who try to divide and not unite, hang their heads in shame.

Three pillars – political, trade union, community – working together to create something good and destroy something bad.

As it was in 1916, so let it be in 2016. Revolution!


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.


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?


An anthem forged in the white heat of revolution

‘A national anthem…is a generally patriotic musical composition that evokes and eulogizes the history, traditions and struggles of its people, recognized either by a nation’s government as the official national song, or by convention through use by the people.’ (Wikipedia)Irish supporters

Tens of thousands of Irish citizens regularly sing the Irish national anthem in sports stadia both home and abroad or at other cultural events or meetings, but it is likely that few know the origins of ‘The Soldier’s Song’, or to give it its Irish language title ‘Amhrán na bhFiann’, and probably fewer still understand how or why it became the choice as the national anthem after partial ‘independence’ in 1922. Many people appear to labour under the misapprehension that it was foisted on the nation by the Fianna Fáil party after that party’s establishment in 1926, and some probably have misgivings because of that canard.

‘The Soldier’s Song’ was composed by Peadar Kearney in 1907, with the air by Kearney and Patrick Heaney. Its Irish language translation by Liam O’Rinn was first published in 1923. ‘The Soldier’s Song’ was used as one of many marching songs by the Irish Volunteers, founded in 1913, when on manoeuvres, and while popular for that purpose had no greater significance than some of the more established airs. The clue to what made it stand out, and led to it becoming the national anthem, is provided in Thomas M. Coffey’s great account of the 1916 revolution, centred mainly in and around the GPO during that momentous week, from Monday April 24th to Sunday April 30th.

Coffey’s research for his book involved speaking, fifty years later in 1966, to survivors of the revolutionary forces, mainly of the GPO HQ garrison, and on meticulous research. Writing about the evening of April 26th in the GPO in which the garrison was in holding pattern without the opportunity to engage directly with the enemy, unsure of what was to come, under bombardment and raking fire from a distance, Coffey describes the scene thus:

‘There was a restless stirring, and even in the dim light the haggard, worried expressions showed on the tired faces. Connolly got up from his cot and made the rounds, comforting, exhorting, sometimes scolding, but even by moving among the men at this hour he showed his own concern about their dwindling spirits. Everyone had abandoned by this time the myth of possible victory. There was nothing left for these exhausted and frightened men to think about but the imminent assault against them and, for the survivors of the battle, the dire consequences of defeat.
Connolly looked into their faces, one after another. Then suddenly, without warning, he broke into a bellowing chorus of one of their favorite marching songs, a song that would one day become the Irish national anthem – “The Soldiers Song”.

We’ll sing a song, a soldier’s song,
With cheering, rousing chorus,
As round our blazing fires we throng,
The starry heavens o’er us.
Impatient for the coming fight,
And as we wait the morning’s light,
Here in the silence of the night
We’ll chant a soldier’s song.

The men listened to him dumbfounded at first. Then a few smiles began to appear and a few more voices began to rise until, within a minute or two, the main floor of the building was filled with the song:

Soldiers are we, whose lives are pledged to Ireland;
Some have come from a land beyond the wave;
Sworn to be free, no more our ancient sireland
Shall shelter the despot or the slave.
Tonight we man the bearna baoghail
In Erin’s cause, come woe or weal;
‘Mid Cannon’s roar and rifle’s peal
We’ll chant a soldier’s song.

(Page 153, ‘Agony at Easter’ by Thomas M. Coffey)

So there it is – a national anthem forged in the white heat of revolution, used by Connolly to rouse the troops under his command, and never forgotten by them because of that. Its popularity grew after the revolution had been put down, at least the first phase of it, first in the ‘University of Revolution’ as Frongoch prison camp in Wales became known, having housed prisoners taken by the British after the surrender, and growing again in popularity during the War of Independence.

Unlike most other national anthems which are composed after the fact, ‘The Soldier’s Song’/’Amhrán na bhFiann’ achieved its status and significance because of the symbolic part the song played for the revolutionaries inside the GPO at their moment of need, spurring them on in the struggle and enabling them to achieve an important objective in a task made hopeless in its greater ambition by the treacherous countermanding order of Eoin MacNeill. That lesser objective was to hold out for a week so as to establish the basis that the leaders believed would give them negotiating rights.

There is only one explanation that can readily explain the obscuring of the revolutionary significance of our national anthem from the people ever since it had grudgingly become the de facto anthem in 1926 and that is the desire of the counter-revolutionaries who have ruled Ireland since partial ‘independence’ to distance themselves and the people from the true nature of both the revolution and the Irish Republic that it was intended to create. Why else blank out a compelling story and through that turning our national anthem into being relatively meaningless and disconnected from its source in the modern Ireland that they have created through distorting and manipulating and censoring the foundational narrative of 1916?

So, spread the story to the citizens, allow ‘The Soldier’s Song’-‘Amhrán na bhFiann’ to evoke the image of men and women in a GPO under fire determined to create a revolution. Our national anthem is not a Free State song – it is the song of the Irish Republic. Sing it with pride. Side with the revolutionaries.

GPO revolutionaries


April 24th is Republic Day

Charles Gavan Duffy, editor of The Nation newspaper which he established in 1840 with Thomas Davis and John Blake Dillon, explained why they chose that particular name for the paper, saying “We desired to make Ireland a nation and the name would be a fitting prelude to the attempt.”.

The same thinking guides the campaign to establish April 24th as the new national day in Ireland, and naming it Republic Day is because we desire to remake Ireland as the true republic of the Proclamation, and applying that name to the national day will be an important aid in achieving that bigger objective.

While we may claim to be free citizens of an independent state, it is not the one conceived by both the Revolution of 1916 and the issuing of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. The anniversary of these events on April 24th has always been ignored by the Irish State which has abjectly failed to complete the task of building the progressive, modern republic that was promised in the Proclamation.

The evidence of this failure lies all around us – one of the most unequal societies in Europe, a shambles of a health system, a social-class based three-tier education system largely handed over to the control of religious organisations, State oppression of women over many decades, the systematic cover up by Church and State of rampant abuse of children, business and political corruption and collusion resulting in massive costs to ordinary citizens, the handing over of national assets to private multi-national corporations, divisions deliberately fostered between public and private workers, urban and rural people and between social classes. More troubling is the recent abject surrender of Ireland’s sovereignty to the European Union/European Central Bank/International Monetary Fund Troika. Even worse is the attempt by Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fáil to dragoon Irish citizens into acquiescing in another disastrous Act of Union to replace the one substantially dismantled by patriotic Irish men and women between 1916 and 1921, this time with an Act of Union with a European Union that has  recently taken on the appearance of being the Fourth Reich.

The newly elected President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, has placed creating a ‘real’ republic at the top of his agenda, while acknowledging that what we have now is not a proper republic. There was never any impediment from the beginning to the creation of that ‘real’ republic, other than the selfish interests of those who never believed in it anyway, were determined that their political class would govern even at the point of a British gun, and who created a counter-revolution in 1922 to crush the ideals contained in the Proclamation. Their political descendants have been, and are, every bit as self-serving, and have never shown the slightest interest in creating a progressive, enlightened republic.

While the Irish State studiously ignored the anniversary of the 1916 Revolution it promoted as our national day what was once St Patrick’s Day, a Christian religious feast-day, but has by now evolved into ‘Paddy’s Day’, a ‘fun’ day which is also a binge-drinking day. The image we send into the world, and to ourselves, fits with the negative stereotyping of the Irish as feckless drinkers who just like to party, hardly an image to sustain a proper national day, or a healthy nation for that matter.

The reasoning behind designating the anniversary of the 1916 Revolution and the Proclamation of the Irish Republic as Republic Day is that it would serve as a day of remembrance, understanding and celebration of that momentous event, and of the selfless heroism and integrity of the women and men involved in that strike for freedom. It is also so as to have at least one day in the year when the citizens might reflect on the sort of republic they live in, and how it might be improved, and on their role as autonomous citizens in shaping that republic. It is strange how, in a country with our particular history, these topics are rarely discussed by citizens in the way that they are in other countries with advanced democracies. While we have ‘Paddy’s Day’, the French have Bastille Day, the British have Armistice Day, the US has Independence Day, and India, inspired in its quest for independence by our 1916 Revolution and War of Independence, celebrates its Republic Day as the most important date in its calendar.

We cannot rely on the State to acknowledge the significance of that date, April 24th, and to make it our national day. On the contrary, the evidence is that the State, and the parties of permanent power, Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fáil, will resist any calls to support this proposal. Therefore it must fall to the citizens, acting outside the institutional framework of the State, to apply pressure by acting in common cause and by pressing home the legitimate arguments in favour of establishing Republic Day as Ireland’s national day. In the meantime, acting in the spirit of the founders of The Nation we can make Republic Day a reality by making it our reality. If we say it is, then it is. We just need to spread that belief to the citizens in general.

This campaign, organised as a Citizens’ Initiative for Republic Day, is independent of all political parties, whose members are welcome to take part in or lend their support to the campaign as citizens. It is an inclusive campaign, and its banners will be the the Tricolour, the flag of the Irish Republic, and the Starry Plough – the three flags flown during the Revolution.

To mark this year’s Republic Day in Dublin, citizens are invited to join in the campaign by attending a ceremony at the graves of the executed 1916 leaders at Arbour Hill Cemetery (at the rear of Collin’s Barracks Museum) at 10.30am, from where participants will proceed to the GPO for 12 Noon where a commemorative ceremony will be held. Please attend if possible, and please spread the word on behalf of the campaign.

Interested citizens in other parts of the country are invited to create their own commemorations locally using monuments or other sites associated with the Revolution.

By working together to establish Republic Day as our national day we will help to bring the progressive, enlightened Irish Republic to life again.

See also – https://www.facebook.com/pages/Republic-Day-Ireland/117038468321983

“The Irish Republic is entitled to, and hereby claims, the allegiance of every Irishman and Irishwoman. The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally, and oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past.”

(Paragraph four of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, April 24th 1916)

April 24th is Republic Day


A Most Seditious Lot: The Feminist Press 1896-1916

The concluding article in this three-part series looks at the feminist movement and the feminist press and their role in the lead-up to the 1916 revolution.

The Irish Feminist Movement 1896-1916

It is easy to imagine that the subordinate status of women in post-independence Ireland was just an extension of the past, the result of a slower development of feminist thought and activism in Ireland than in, for example, Europe or the USA, but nothing could be further from the truth. That mistaken belief arises from a defective and twisted official historical narrative influenced in no small part by the ‘special position’ accorded to the ultra-conservative Catholic Church, post-independence. In fact, the feminist movement in Ireland between the late 19th century and the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in December 1921 was among the most advanced in the world at that time. While some Irish feminists were simply looking for the extension to women of the franchise – the right to vote, many feminists were looking for more profound change than that, including the right to equal status with men, better access to education, better health provision for women and children, an end to discriminatory laws and practices as they affected women, alleviation of poverty and disease, etc.

During that period, many women sought out causes and campaigns to become active in. Right from the start, women had become involved in organisations that were open to them, for example in the Gaelic League and the Literary Societies, and many engaged in writing for, and producing too, a wide range of newspapers and other publications. Often it was women who provided the energy to put ideas into action and put organisations into place, organisations which would later be of pivotal importance for the separatist and labour causes. They campaigned against recruitment during the Boer War and the First World War, and against visits by members of the British royal family.

It was arising out of just such a visit that a number of women gathered on Easter Sunday 1900 in the rooms of the Celtic Literary Society, and formed an ad hoc committee, later to be known as the ‘Patriotic Children’s Treat Committee, with Maud Gonne as the unanimous choice for president. The committee was formed to provide a treat for children who had stayed away from an official function during the visit of Queen Victoria some weeks earlier. By the 30th of June, 25,000 children had registered for inclusion, and the event was held in Clonturk Park on the Sunday following the Wolfe Tone commemoration at Bodenstown. In The Workers’ Republic, James Connolly had this to say – “Last week we witnessed in Dublin the first political parade of the coming generation. Between twenty-five and thirty thousand children turned out and walked in processional order through the streets of the city, to show the world that British Imperialism had cast no glamour over their young minds. And that in the person of Her Britannic Majesty they recognised only a woman – no better than the mothers who bore them, if as good. It was a great sight to see the little rebels taking possession of the city – a sight more promising for the future of the country than any we can remember”.

When the committee had completed this work, they realised that they had skills and talents which should be further utilised. A National Women’s Committee was formed which led, at the beginning of October, to the inaugural meeting of Inghinidhe na hEireann (Daughters of Ireland). The Inghinidhe had as their aims: to re-establish the independence of Ireland; to actively promote the study of Irish language, literature, music, history and art; to discourage interest in English popular culture; to support Irish industry. Besides pursuing their aims, and in the process influencing the way Irish people thought of themselves, the Inghinidhe also gave many women the opportunity to find and use their talents in public speaking, and as organisers, leaders, teachers and journalists. They provided free classes in Irish, history and music to children over the age of nine. Historian Margaret Ward quotes a friend of Maud Gonne’s, who taught history in such a class, describing a typical scene – “In a room perched at the head of a rickety staircase and overlooking a narrow street, I have about eighty denizens of untamed Dublin: newsboys, children who have played in street alleys all their lives, young patriot girls and boys who can scarcely write their own names. Outside there is a continuous din of street cries and rumbling carts. It is almost impossible to shout against it if the windows are open, and more impossible to speak in the smother of dust if the windows are shut. Everyone is standing, closely packed – no room for chairs!”.

In 1902, the Inghinidhe voted to join Cumann na nGhaedheal. In 1907 the Dungannon Clubs unified with Cumann na nGhaedheal as the Sinn Fein League; a year later, after merging with the National Council, the group became Sinn Fein. From its beginning, women were voted onto the executive of Sinn Féin and although Sinn Féin was promoting a conservative social policy, members of the Inghinidhe pursued their own. Helena Molony, for instance, adopted an increasingly socialist stance, and as time passed she moved over into the Connolly camp and later into the Irish Citizen Army. She devoted much of her energy to the women’s labour movement and to the Irish Women Worker’s Union (IWWU), which was affiliated to the ITGWU having been started by Jim Larkin’s sister, Delia. Helena Molony took over as leader of the IWWU in 1915.

Cat and Mouse Act poster IWFLThere was also in Ireland a strong women’s franchise movement, with the Irish Women’s Franchise League (IWFL) the most militant of a large number of groups throughout the country. It was founded by Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington and Margaret Cousins in 1908 and was pledged to: non-party independent action; vigorous agitation; organisation of women; education of public opinion. Although most of the members were nationalists, women of all political persuasions were welcomed. Within a short time 800 members were on the register. The League organised militant action on a regular basis, both in Ireland and in England, and members of the League were regularly imprisoned. They adopted the tactic of the hunger strike, which the authorities countered first through forcible feeding, and also through early release and re-arrest, or the ‘cat and mouse’ tactic.

The other main women’s organisation which requires mention is Cumann na mBan, formed in April 1914, and affiliated to the Irish Volunteers. Each branch of the Cumann was under the military orders of a corresponding Volunteer branch, and this led to acrimony between the IWFL and the Cumann. The IWFL maintained that the women’s franchise issue should not be subjugated to the separatist cause, whereas the Cumann believed that the franchise would be won through independence which must be the priority.  Unlike the Irish Citizen Army, the members of Cumann na mBan were not trained as soldiers, but were there to support the men of the Irish Volunteer army. The members, many of whom were or had been members of the IWFL accepted that, but the split must have damaged both organisations. It was a pity that in the last years before the revolution of Easter 1916, women, who had done so much to bring together various strands within the separatist and labour movements should have found themselves in conflict with one another. But in its own way, it illustrates other difficulties which would lie ahead.

Stephen Browne SJ, who provided an index of Irish print media in 1937 wrote – ‘It is interesting and may be profitable to trace through the course of Irish history those various currents of tradition and thought whose confluence (without commingling) makes the Ireland of to-day. One can distinguish many such currents – religious, political, social, cultural. Some of them may, at certain periods of our history, be hard to trace: they seem to lose themselves in the sands, yet may still be flowing beneath the surface, to well up at future time. Sometimes two or more currents seem to merge and blend, but again it is only in appearance. Sooner or later they reappear as separate streams…Some have their sources far back in Irish history; others take their rise from some movement, some upheaval, perhaps, at some definite and not far distant period of the past. Some again have their perennial well-springs in human nature itself.’

The Feminist Press

Shan Van Vocht 1897The Shan Van Vocht

The Shan Van Vocht was founded in Belfast in January 1896 by two poets, Alice Milligan, who also wrote under the name Iris Olkyrn, and Anna Johnson  who wrote using the pen name Ethna Carberry. Alice Milligan was the daughter of a Protestant clergyman, while Anna Johnson was a Catholic. The paper pulled together in its articles many aspects of life in Ireland – cultural, social, political and historical – and its approach was from within the cultural/nationalist/separatist camp, drawing inspiration from the same political well that James Connolly drew on, including Wolfe Tone, James Fintan Lalor and John Mitchel. It provided a platform for writers such as Connolly, although in his case the editors disassociated themselves from his socialism, and for Douglas Hyde and Arthur Griffith. It also provided a valuable outlet for women writers, and it publicised women’s groups and their campaigns and views.

It championed the work of the literary societies, the Gaelic League, and the Amnesty Association for prisoners in British jails. One of its primary functions was to re-awaken interest in Irish patriots – especially, in readiness for the centenary, the patriots of 1798. It promoted the tending of the graves of patriots, regularly publishing articles such as, in its first issue on page 14,  ‘The Neglected Shrines and Sepulchres of Ireland’s Illustrious Dead’.

The Shan Van Vocht was a good read at 20 pages per issue, containing plenty of well-written material, and costing two pence. A typical issue contained the following: ‘The Captain’s Daughter’ (serial); ‘The Lonely One’ (poem); ‘The Rise and Fall of the Fenian Movement of ‘67’ part iv’; ‘Manus O’Mallaghan and the Fairies‘; ‘On Inisheer’ (poem); ‘Willie Kane of the “Northern Star”: How He Escaped the Scaffold’; ‘Irishmen in the Transvaal’; ‘The Burial-Place of the Sheares’; ‘Our National Language’; ‘James Clarence Mangan’; ‘Reviews – The life of Owen Roe O’Neill, The Life and Writings of Fintan Lalor’; ‘Our Notebook’ (Diary and Announcements); ‘The Moonlighters Hound’ (poem); ‘For the Old Land’ (review of the work being done to advance the nationalist cause).

In an editorial ‘Why Must We Strive For Freedom’ on the 7th August 1896, the paper set out what was required of the Irish – ‘…the freedom of Ireland can never be granted as a boon; it must be worked for, prayed for, longed for, night and day unceasingly, and in the end be nobly won by the courage and self reliance and strong arms of her sons from north and south, and east and west, aye, and from the far world’s end, banded together to achieve that aim in steadfast trust and brotherly unity’.

And in February 1897, we get a preview of the policy of Sinn Fein – ‘If we do not set and keep the ball of patriotism rolling ourselves, it is impossible for our nearest and dearest exiles to achieve anything for us. The work is ours and ours alone. To ourselves belong the initiation, control, and direction of whatever movement we consider best adopted to attain our ends’.

While the paper was successful, the editor, in a number of articles, complained of the lack of support that it was getting from the nationalist papers in Dublin. Dr. Mark Ryan of the Irish Republican Brotherhood in London convinced Alice Milligan and Anna Johnson that it was an opportune time to hand on the project to others. He arranged for Arthur Griffith to return from South Africa to take over as editor. From then on the paper was known as the United Irishman.

The Shan Van Vocht had helped to foster interest again in the separatist cause. It had provided Connolly with one of his first opportunities, since coming to Ireland, to present his case to other than a labour audience. It had also linked up with Maud Gonne in Paris and her paper L’Irlande Libre and exchanged material for publication. It had helped to establish an understanding of the work of various cultural and political groups and to encourage participation in them. The two women had done their work well, in the process inspiring other women who would take the work forward.

Bean na hEireann frontpage

Bean na hEireann (The Woman of Ireland)

The idea of producing a monthly journal as the organ of Inghinidhe na hEireann came from Helena Molony, the organisation’s secretary. At a meeting attended by Constance Markievicz and Sydney Gifford, the decision was taken to produce what they advertised as the first Irish women’s paper. Published between 1908 and 1911, Bean na hEireann (The Woman of Ireland) stood for the ‘freedom for Our Nation and the complete removal of all disabilities to our sex’.  It would describe itself in a later issue as ‘the first and only Nationalist Woman’s paper’. Maud Gonne was the publisher, and Helena Molony was editor. She, having drawn closer to the labour position, had difficulties with Cumann na nGhaedheal with which the Inghinidhe was linked, and this had given her the impetus to propose the launching of Bean na hEireann. She is quoted by historian Margaret Ward on this issue – ‘The United Irishman, starting as a physical force, separatist journal, had gradually changed its policy to one of reactionary social and dual-kingdom ideas…We wanted a paper to counter-act this. We wanted it to be a women’s paper, advocating militancy, separatism and feminism‘.

The Bean included short stories and poems, usually with a nationalist flavour, articles on aspects of patriotism or history, a cookery column, a children’s page, fashion notes, Irish language features, and a gardening feature ‘Woman with a Garden’ by Constance Markievicz (writing as ‘Maca’) which included tips on the extermination of slugs, but with a comparison drawn to British soldiers. The paper also carried ‘Labour Notes’ by ‘A Worker’ (Helena Molony) and increasingly carried contributions on women, their working conditions and their need to be equally organised and represented by the Labour movement. Some members of the Inghinidhe, including Helena Molony and Constance Markievicz, drew ever closer to involvement with James Connolly and the Labour movement and ultimately with active service in the 1916 revolution with the Irish Citizen Army.

There was no doubting the militant tone of the Bean. In response to an article on ‘The Police and the Nation’, a correspondent replied – ‘The article on street-fighting in Bean na hEireann a couple of months ago struck the right note…I would go further and say that in every town and parish in Ireland in which there is some national spirit left, the art of fighting the police should be assiduously cultivated and perfected’.

The Bean took the line that women’s emancipation would come with national independence, a nationalist-feminist line very similar to what that of Cumann na mBan members would be. This led to difficulties with suffragettes such as Mary McSwiney and Hanna Sheehy Skeffington, difficulties which got an airing in a lively debate over a period of time in the pages of the Bean. The paper was able to sustain its own argument, but its life was drawing to a close in any event. Maud Gonne’s prolonged absence in France threw too much onto Helena Molony’s shoulders and she had other work to do elsewhere, particularly in the women’s labour movement. The paper issued its last edition in February 1911. By then, the I.R.B. had launched their new militant separatist paper Irish Freedom thus ensuring that their message would continue to counter the moderate line taken by Arthur Griffith’s publications.

The Irish Citizen mastheadThe Irish Citizen

Following the demise of Bean na hEireann in 1911, leaving a gap in the market for a feminist newspaper, Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington and Margaret Cousins launched the feminist newspaper The Irish Citizen which carried the motto – ‘For Men and Women Equally The Rights of Citizenship; For Men and Women Equally The Duties of Citizenship’.

Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington was among the first Irish female university graduates, achieving a BA in Languages in 1899 and later an MA in Modern Languages in 1902. A year earlier she had founded the Women Graduates’ Association, and in 1903 married Frances Skeffington, a university registrar and a journalist with socialist and pacifist views. They each adopted the other’s surname as a mark of equality. She was a contributor of articles on education and feminism to both Bean na hEireann and The Nation, and was also a founding member of the Irish Women Workers’ Union and a close associate of James Connolly. During the 1913 Lockout she worked in the soup-kitchens in Liberty Hall.

The labour movement provided a meeting place for radical women before, during and after the Lockout in which Hanna, Constance Markevicz, Helena Molony, Madeleine ffrench-Mullen and Dr Kathleen Lynn played prominent roles and all became close to Connolly who was himself a committed feminist. The Irish Citizen described him as “the soundest and most thoroughgoing feminist among all the Irish labour men”, a comment that is hardly surprising given his work for women workers and his writings on the subject of women’s rights, for instance; “None so fitted to break the chains as they who wear them, none so well equipped to decide what is a fetter. In its march towards freedom, the working class of Ireland must cheer on the efforts of those women who, feeling on their souls and bodies the fetters of the ages, have arisen to strike them off.” The close relationship between the Irish Women’s Franchise League which Hanna co-founded, and the labour movement, is summed up in the League’s Annual Report for 1913 in which is said ‘The working classes particularly have shown themselves friendly, and have rallied to our support whenever called upon’. It was mainly the labour movement that provided protection for the feminists at public meetings when they came under attack from mobs.

The Irish Citizen promoted more than the vote for women in campaigning for equal citizenship – a concept that was later firmly embedded in the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. Hanna, and the Irish Women’s Franchise League that she co-founded, supported militant feminist activity, although she was opposed to militarism. An advocate of window smashing as a form of protest, she pointed out that men who disapproved of this tactic “only applaud the stone-thrower as long as the missile is flung for them and not at them”. Hanna was herself imprisoned for five days in 1912 for breaking windows at the War Office after women were excluded from the franchise in the Home Rule Bill. She was later jailed  after attempting to push a leaflet on the British conservative leader Bonar Law but was released after five days, having gone on hunger strike.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

What is clear from an examination of the feminist movement and the various publications associated with it is that Irish women were from the late 19th century increasingly involved in the move towards revolution as authors, publishers, educators, activists, agitators, thinkers, prisoners, hunger-strikers, allies and, ultimately, as revolutionary soldiers.  What is also clear from this series of articles is that the three strands that came together in that revolution – advanced-nationalist, advanced-feminist and organised labour – had one prominent common denominator, James Connolly. It is difficult to imagine the revolution taking place without his capacity to straddle those three movements and draw them to a common cause, the creation of an independent republic of equal citizens with guarantees of religious and civil liberties, equal opportunities, and sovereign ownership by the citizens of the national territory and its resources.

Connolly had laid out that project of drawing the various radical strands together in 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”. The evidence of history is that the support of radical feminist women was absolutely crucial to the success of his project, and he certainly repaid their trust by making explicit the feminist content of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. The feminist women, in turn, repaid the trust he displayed in them in being the most ardent defenders of that Irish Republic long after many of the men had fallen away and joined the brutal counter-revolution which began with the signing of the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty. It was, of course, the triumph of that counter-revolution over progressive forces that determined the fate of Irish women, that effectively silenced or exiled them, and that cast them into the role of second-class citizens in what purported to be a republic, for most of the 90 years since independence. But they rose again, and the work continues! It is worth re-reading that quote from Stephen Browne SJ again –

‘It is interesting and may be profitable to trace through the course of Irish history those various currents of tradition and thought whose confluence (without commingling) makes the Ireland of to-day. One can distinguish many such currents – religious, political, social, cultural. Some of them may, at certain periods of our history, be hard to trace: they seem to lose themselves in the sands, yet may still be flowing beneath the surface, to well up at future time. Sometimes two or more currents seem to merge and blend, but again it is only in appearance. Sooner or later they reappear as separate streams…Some have their sources far back in Irish history; others take their rise from some movement, some upheaval, perhaps, at some definite and not far distant period of the past. Some again have their perennial well-springs in human nature itself.’


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!


Revolution and counter-revolution in Ireland

We are pretty poor in Ireland at properly describing the state we are in, both physically and psychologically.  We live in a political state that we describe as a ‘republic’ even though it patently fails to meet the test for a republic and is, instead, something else, but we won’t name it for what it really is. And we live in a state of being, a psychological condition strangely common across disparate groups that each claim to draw inspiration from widely differing sources, whether christian or non-christian religious faiths, various right-wing or left-wing political faiths, those of no religious or political affiliation and so on. Despite those different influences, so deeply important to many individuals, we act – or fail to act – as if we are all of the same mind.

First to the political state we are in, the so-called ‘republic’.  A reasonable person might imagine that our definition of ‘the republic’ should derive from the foundational document of the independent Irish State, the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. Paragraph four of the Proclamation lays out very clearly the relationship between the republic and its citizens and the rights and freedoms that the citizens would enjoy.

‘The Irish Republic is entitled to, and hereby claims, the allegiance of every Irishman and Irishwoman. The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation, and of all its parts, cherishing all of the children equally, and oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past.’

The document is revolutionary in its proposal to bring about profound change to the existing order under British rule. It fueled the War of Independence, and its terms were ratified by the people through the elections of 1918, and in the Declaration of Independence issued by the first Dáil in 1919. It is the template for our Irish Republic. But something went wrong. Instead of being our guiding light, the Proclamation was hung, face to the wall, in the darkest corner the state could find.

The Civil War which followed ratification of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1922 which was forced through by the British under threat of ‘immediate and terrible war’ has had a hugely distortive effect on Irish political life ever since. The victors in that Civil War, the pro-Treaty Free State government, was made up of businessmen, professionals and middle-class conservatives. The anti-Treaty side contained the bulk of those radicals and socialists who had survived the Revolution in 1916, and who had prosecuted the War of Independence against the British to establish the Irish Republic. Most of the women who had taken an active part in the 1916 revolution and the War of Independence were on the anti-Treaty side.

Seventy-seven captured anti-Treaty ‘Irregulars’ were executed by the Free State government in 1922-23, some on the flimsiest of charges, and some by summary execution without trial. Republican heroes including Erskine Childers, Liam Lynch, Rory O’Connor and Liam Mellows (acknowledged as a socialist intellectual of the same calibre as James Connolly) were executed by Free State firing squads both as a reprisal for acts done by others over whom they had no control, being in prison, and as a way of permanently removing an oppositional cadre of high-quality and deeply committed leaders. The mindset of those government ministers who set this brutal and unlawful campaign of terror in place would later reveal itself as proto-fascist with the amalgamation of their party Cumann na nGaedhael with the fascist Army Comrades Association, better known as the Blueshirts, to form the Fine Gael party that leads the current government.

A principal icon of that party, William T Cosgrave, who was the first prime minister of the Free State, encapsulated that mindset in this quote from a letter he wrote to Austin Stack in 1921 – “People reared in workhouses, as you are aware, are no great acquisition to the community and they have no ideas whatsoever of civic responsibilities. As a rule their highest aim is to live at the expense of the ratepayers. Consequently, it would be a decided gain if they all took it into their heads to emigrate.” That contempt for the poor and marginalised, victims of class politics and consequent economic and cultural deprivation, is still evident in Fine Gael attitudes to this day. It represents the polar opposite of the Republic laid out in the Proclamation of the Irish Republic.

Many of those on the anti-Treaty side who survived the Civil War were driven into exile, or forced underground, such was the atmosphere generated by the Civil War. As Carol Coulter, writing in 1990, put it: ‘The many other elements which were undoubtedly present in Irish nationalism – not just at the level of ideology, but expressed in living people – ranging from socialism and feminism to religious scepticism and various forms of mysticism, were defeated and their adherents marginalised or forced to keep their dissident views to themselves.’

Eamon de Valera, who was the political leader of the anti-Treaty forces, and who created the Fianna Fail party in 1926 ostensibly as ‘The Republican Party’, would consistently show himself from then on, as he had in 1916, to be nothing more than a catholic nationalist and certainly not a republican. He had been the only 1916 commandant to escape execution, and the only one to have refused to have women as part of  the garrison he led (at Boland’s Mills). That decision he later regretted solely on the grounds that some of his men had to cook! In his political life over many years as Taoiseach and later president, de Valera demonstrated no desire whatever to elevate the Proclamation from obscurity by creating the very Irish Republic that he had sworn in 1916 to put into place.

Having ‘won’ the Civil War, the Free State government set about dismantling the revolution and creating what can only be described as the counter-revolution – the very danger that James Connolly had warned against on many occasions leading up to the 1916 revolution.

The perpetuation of the highly-centralised state administrative system closed off access to power from the broad mass of ordinary people. The professional classes, property owners, capitalist industrialists and bankers still had that access, and the influence that went with it. So too had the Roman Catholic Hierarchy.

As a result of partition, and the consequent separation from the largely-Protestant North East, the Catholic Church held a powerful position in the Free State and began to assert its moral authority more explicitly. Within eight years, what can be described as Catholic legislation had found its way onto the statute books, with discriminatory laws on illegitimacy, divorce, contraception and censorship.

The Film Censorship Act (1923) was passed very shortly after the transfer of power to the Free State government. At this stage the Irish economy was in tatters. The nation had just endured a deeply divisive civil war. Child mortality rates were frighteningly high by European standards. Large numbers of people existed in the most squalid conditions both in the cities and rural areas. And yet the censorship of film was deemed important enough to be placed high on the list of legislation.

‘The highly authoritarian, anti-intellectual strain of Irish Catholic morality was incorporated in the Censorship of Films Act (1923) and the Censorship of Publications Act (1929). These acts were rigorously enforced up to the 1960s by a Censorship Board which was vigilantly supervised by Catholic lay organisations such as the Knights of Columbanus’.   (Tom Inglis: ‘Moral Monopoly’)

The censorship of books and magazines was undertaken on the grounds of ‘public decency’ or ‘obscenity’, but played a major role in suppressing the availability of information to women on matters that apply particularly to them, such as contraception and abortion. Frank O’Connor summed up the situation in 1962 in a debate in Trinity College Dublin: ‘What really counts is the attitude of mind, the determination to get at sex by hook or by crook. Sex is bad, books encourage sex, babies deter it, so keep the books out and give them lots of babies, and we shall have the nearest thing the puritan can hope for to a world without beauty and romance’.

While radicals, dissidents, the poor and the consumers of literature and the arts lost heavily because of the dominant counter-revolutionary ideology of the Free State, there can be no doubt that it was women who bore the brunt of a patriarchal assault on their civil liberties and their sense of self-worth. As soon as the Treaty had been ratified the war on women began. The Catholic Church had created a process of social control and social engineering in the nineteenth century based around the mother as the link to the individual, and one of the principal ways in which the Church exercised control over the mother was by exercising control over their sex.

‘In Ireland, it was the knowledge and control that priests and nuns had over sex which helped maintain their power and control over women. Women especially were made to feel ashamed of their bodies. They were interrogated about their sexual feelings, desires and activities in the confessional. Outside the confessional there was a deafening silence. Sex became the most abhorrent sin.’ ( Tom Inglis ‘Moral Monopoly’)

But the State was now playing its part through the legislative process. Women were increasingly excluded from the public sphere, and were by law precluded from exercising artificial means of control over their own reproductive organs. Single women who made the ‘mistake’ of becoming pregnant were vilified or exiled. Many ended up in the now infamous Magdalene Laundries run by the religious orders, along with many other girls and young women who were considered by the clergy, police or their families to be ‘at risk’. Very many of these unfortunates spent their entire adult lives in these awful places.

In the same way that ‘at risk’ girls, or ‘fallen’ women, could  likely end up in the Magdalene Laundries or similar institutions, children who were ‘deviant’ through an involvement in petty crime, poor school attendance, or lack of parents – in other words, orphans – were certain to find themselves in the euphemistically titled ‘Industrial Schools’ run by the Christian Brothers, or an equivalent institution for girls. The State washed its hands of responsibility for these, the most vulnerable in society.

The consequences of that policy are now  coming to light in proven cases of physical, psychological and sexual abuse on a horrifying scale. These children were not cherished equally to the children of the middle class and the bourgeoisie, but those who abused them, and those who facilitated the abusers in the Catholic Church, the Irish civil service and police, the medical and legal professions and politicians have, by and large, remained untouched by the law.

The 1937 Constitution was another retrograde step foisted on women. Women were now mentioned only as ‘mothers’ and their assigned space was to be the home. The constitution envisaged that women would not, through economic necessity, neglect their primary duties to their husband and their children by working outside the home. Of course many families could not rely on the father’s capacity to provide a living wage, so that for many in Ireland this was just another pious platitude.

‘The position of women in the Irish constitution is value laden. I think it really comes from the central position that the Catholic Church occupies in the Irish Free State and the perception of women in catholic cultural and political life, and this very often happens in a country that has undergone a revolution followed by a civil war, that the strong currents regulating the life of the country go towards a desire for conservative behaviour and conservative images of women’. (Historian Margaret McCurtain).

Women had played a major part in the republican and trade union movements. They had been actively involved in the Land League, Gaelic League, Celtic Revival, the Howth Gun-Running, the 1916 Rising, the War of Independence, and the Civil War. They had been amongst the most committed to the cause of Irish freedom, and had been formally included in the Proclamation. But in the new Ireland, they were to be mothers, menial workers or minders.

In the significant areas of health and education the degree of control which the Church had achieved in the nineteenth century under British rule was  augmented under the Free State regime. Control of health through hospitals and clinics with a strictly catholic ethos, is another way, outside the confessional, of exercising control over the body.

When the then Minister for Health, Dr. Noel Browne, attempted to bring in the Mother and Child scheme in 1951, which was to do with nothing more than the provision of health care for pregnant women and post-natal care for mothers and children, the response from the Hierarchy took the form of a letter to the Taoiseach – ‘To claim such powers for the public authority, without qualification, is entirely and directly contrary to Catholic teaching on the rights of the family, the rights of the church in education, the rights of the medical profession and of voluntary institutions’

The Minister was forced to resign, and the Mother and Child scheme fell.

In the area of education, the State likewise abrogated its responsibilities to the Church. The Church was, just as it had been under British rule, delighted to – indeed insistent that it should – fill that vacuum. Under Catholic Church control, equality of educational opportunities was not to apply to all of the children of the Nation, just all of the children of the bourgeoisie.

‘It suited this class down to the ground to entrust the education of the youth, and the formulation of social policy, to the Catholic Church. The outlook which it put forward in the 1930s with its corporate view of society, sought to deny class divisions, to preach satisfaction with the economic status quo, and to keep women and youth subordinated to husbands and fathers.’ (Carol Coulter)

Irish education is based on the notion of conformity, and conformity is a vital element in a hegemonic system. According to UCD historian David Fitzpatrick, Catholic nationalism was promoted by the Christian Brothers through ‘the most systematic exploitation of history’ and that their Irish History Reader of 1905 claimed that ‘a nation’s school books wield a great power’, and further: ‘Teachers should reinforce the text-book’s message by dwelling “with pride, and in glowing words on Ireland’s glorious past, her great men and their great deeds”, until pupils were persuaded “that Ireland looks to them, when grown to a man’s estate, to act the part of true men in furthering the sacred cause of nationhood’.

Fitzpatrick further points out that while the writings of Protestants such as John Mitchel and Thomas Davis were popular at the time, the Christian Brothers publication ‘Our Boys” entreated that pupils who were establishing libraries in Christian Brothers’ schools should ‘..be sure, though, that everything you get is recommended by a good Catholic Irishman’.

One important agent of influence in the state was outside direct and overt control by the Catholic church. But since the church directly influenced almost all of those who owned or worked in the media it could rest assured that its views would fall on friendly ears and be delivered through TV, radio and the printed press to the mass of Irish people. Since the vast majority of Irish politicians and state employees such as civil servants and the army and police were loyal, and sometimes fanatical, members of that church, it was in the interest of the state and its employees that those Catholic Church views on almost all important social issues were reported, and reported favourably. After all, maintaining the status quo was in all of their interests – although not in the interest of the mass of people.

Writer and cultural philosopher Desmond Fennell summed it up well in 1993: ‘When an ideological sect has a monopoly of the national media, it tends inevitably, without need of conscious decision, to prevent or minimise public discussion of those ideas it does not want discussed.’ Thus, in the interest of maintaining the status quo, discussion of republican, socialist, feminist, secular and other dissenting views – in other words, progressive ideas – was to be curtailed, or better still prevented, lest those ideas lead to a change in the social order.

The media audience was thus culturally conditioned into belonging to a community, the values of which did not evolve organically over time and through informed and free consent, but were a consequence of inputs under the control of the political class, i.e. the bourgeoisie which combined willingly with the Catholic hierarchy, to create, to use Fennell’s term, an ideological sect.

It is only in the past 20 years or so that the ruling ideological sect has begun to be challenged, and mainly through the work of a small number of ethical journalists, the persistence of a few leftist political groups and individuals, and the work of a few members of the legal profession. Their targets have been, in the main, the political and civil institutions of the state, and the Catholic church.

As far back as 1994, Fintan O’Toole wrote that: ‘In Ireland, virtually every branch of the political system has had its inadequacies exposed. Neither the systems of thought nor the systems of government can simply be patched and mended. They need to be reimagined, redrawn and reconstructed.’

In recent years there has been a steady trickle of information emerging about the relationship between the political and the commercial worlds, triggering a series of interesting but essentially ineffective public inquiries. Ineffective, since prison does not seem to be an option for patently corrupt politicians or businessmen or professional facilitators of corrupt practices.

Neither do the jail gates swing open to receive ecclesiastical prisoners – the bishops and other high-ranking priests and members of the institutional Catholic church – those who destroyed or hid evidence of the most egregious abuse of children, who deliberately lied about crimes they knew to have been perpetrated. In this non-republic there is one set of laws, rigorously applied, for the poor and marginalised and vulnerable, and there is a very different set of rules for the professional class, the Catholic hierarchy and its collaborators, politicians, and the business community.

And so to the Irish State, and what it really is. It is patently obvious that it cannot be described, from its foundation to the present day, as a republic. A republic is the property of its citizens, according to Cicero, and post-Enlightenment republics generally aspire to that idea.

The Irish State has been owned from 1922 to the present day by Desmond Fennell’s ‘ideological sect’, or to put it another way, the priests and the political class of which they form part.

The best description of the Irish State is that it was first a counter-revolutionary theocratic state controlled in its essence by an ultra-conservative religious sect, and that it has, with the diminution in power of the Irish Catholic Church over the past 30 years, become a counter-revolutionary plutarchy – a combination of plutocracy (government by a wealthy class) and oligarchy (government by a dominant class or clique) – a plutarchy determined at all costs to stifle the beautiful vision of the Proclamation.

And what of the people of Ireland, or at least of the 26-county Irish State, and their seeming inability, in general, to act politically and socially in different ways depending on their particular ‘faiths’ whether religious or political, to rationally debate different ideas, to come to different conclusions, make different choices, act with some evidence of individual autonomy and reason?

How is it that a majority of people in this state consistently act against their own economic or social interests in electing a set of political parties to govern, knowing from experience that the inevitable outcome will be the pampering of the wealthy at the expense of the lower middle and working classes and the poor, and the formulation of social policy so as to achieve as little progressive movement as necessary, thus securing the existing social order?

How is  it that in the face of outrageous and generally un-prosecuted crimes committed against women and children, and the corruption of political institutions by politicians, professionals and business interests, the people give out and then, inevitably, give in?

How is it that the mass of ordinary people, workers and their families, with all of the evidence around them of a contempt for the contribution they make to the companies they work for, and to the State itself, give in to a campaign of vilification of the trade union movement – the very institution that gave them the 40 hour working week, annual leave, legal and regulatory protections, a seat at the negotiating table, a minimum wage, extra pay for unsocial hours and redundancy compensation?

The answer to these questions lies in understanding that classic ‘civil war to counter-revolution’ scenario described earlier by Margaret McCurtain, and adding to it the deliberate creation off a hegemonic state by creating a ‘spiral of silence’ in which all dissident views are regarded as deviant and dangerous and contrary to ‘public good’ and even the ‘natural order’.

The evidence is all there in full view. It is time for us to understand it and to react rationally in our own interest and in the interest of the common good. It is time for us to start naming things for what they really were and are.  It is time for us to stop using ambiguity in language as it applies to public life and to the nation, to stop talking from behind our hands, to stand up and speak out, to stop giving out and then giving in. It is time for us to tear back the Proclamation from the dead hands of that ugly ‘ideological sect’ and to put it into action for the benefit of all citizens – to re-create the Republic.

It is time for us to grow up.


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