ON THIS DATE (8TH MARCH) 75 YEARS AGO : DEATH OF AN UNYIELDING OPPONENT OF THE FREE STATE.
On March 27th, 1872, a baby girl was born in London, was moved to County Cork and reared and educated there, at Queens College : that baby was Mary MacSwiney (pictured, left), who grew up to be an uncompromising republican and one of the most outstanding republican personalities of the 1920’s and 1930’s.
The young Mary MacSwiney trained as a teacher and returned to London for work until a suitable post was available in Dublin. A supporter of the suffragette movement, she joined the ‘Munster Womens Franchise League’ (MWFL) in 1908 and, during the following years, campaigned for the franchise to be extended to women. She left the ‘MWFL’ in 1914 as a result of that organisations support for Britain in the first ‘World War’. After its formation in April 1914, Mary MacSwiney joined Cumann na mBan and was later appointed to its Executive Committee ; at the same time, she was a member of a number of other nationalist organisations, including the Gaelic League.
After the 1916 Rising, she was arrested and imprisoned, and was dismissed from her teaching post ; after her release some months later, she founded a school, ‘St Ita’s’, modelled on Padraig Pearse’s school, St Enda’s. Her sister Eithne and her brother Terence were also involved in the setting-up of the school. In 1917, Mary MacSwiney joined Sinn Féin, following the adoption by the party of a more republican separatist policy. Following the death of her brother Terence, who died on hunger-strike in October 1920 (at the height of the Tan War) Mary MacSwiney visited America and gave evidence before the ‘American Commission on Conditions in Ireland’ regarding the campaign of terror being waged against all sections of the nationalist population by the British forces of occupation.
Elections to the Second Dáil were held in May 1921, and Mary MacSwiney was elected a TD for Cork ; in December that year she spoke in opposition to the Treaty which she described as “the grossest act of betrayal that Ireland ever endured” and stated that if the Treaty was passed she would use her influence as a teacher to spread rebellion against the proposed Free State. In the Civil War that followed, Mary MacSwiney was a formidable and unyielding opponent of the Free State and made no secret of her support for the republican side. She was imprisoned for a brief period in July 1922, following the surrender of the Four Courts garrison in Dublin. Returning to Cork after her release, she virtually ran the republican headquarters in the city, but had to leave Cork in a hurry as the Free Staters were looking for her.
She was arrested in Dublin on November 4th that year (1922) and was imprisoned in Mountjoy Jail – she immediately went on hunger-strike for release and was eventually freed on the 25th day of her fast, due to the huge international publicity her case received. She was elected to the Executive of Cumann na mBan in 1926 and, in October that same year, was also elected as Vice-President of Sinn Féin, at that organisations Ard Fheis, which was held six months after the split with de Valera. Along with other prominent republicans, including Brian O’Higgins, she resigned from the party in 1934 over the decision of Sinn Féin to allow members to receive IRA pensions from the new Fianna Fail administration (there can be no doubt of how she would react to the salaries, offices, perks and holiday-homes that the Adams Family are in receipt of, and not only from the Free State..)
Mary MacSwiney was one of the last surviving loyal members of the Second Dáil who transferred their authority to the Army Council of the IRA in December 1938, an authority which still resides in the Republican Movement. She supported the IRA bombing campaign in England but poor health prevented her from playing her usual active part in the Movement. Mary MacSwiney died on the 8th of March, 1942, at seventy years of age – 75 years ago, on this date – thirty-four years of which she devoted to socialism and republicanism. The MacSwiney name will live on as part of the Irish struggle.
PROSE AND CONS.
By prisoners from E1 Landing, Portlaoise Prison, 1999.
Grateful thanks to the following for their help, support, assistance and encouragement, and all those who helped with the typing and word processing over the past few months. Many thanks to Cian Sharkhin, the editor of the book, Mr Bill Donoghue, Governor, Portlaoise, Mr Seán Wynne, supervising teacher, the education unit in Portlaoise Prison and the education staff, especially Zack, Helena and Jane. Education officers Bill Carroll and Dave McDonald, Rita Kelly, writer, print unit, Arbour Hill.
First Print : November 1999, reprinted March 2000, illustrations by D O’Hare, Zack and Natasha. Photograph selection : Eamonn Kelly and Harry Melia.
CANDLENIGHT. (By M O’Callaghan.)
harmonious and hyponotic
warm and nice
(Next – ‘In Memory Of Daddy’, by D O’H.)
ON THIS DATE (8TH MARCH) 51 YEARS AGO : PILLAR OF SOCIETY LOOSES HIS STANDING…
In 1808, Trinity College in Dublin donated £100 towards the building of Nelsons Pillar, and Arthur Guinness and Sons gave £25. The total cost of the Pillar was £6856, 8 shillings and 3 pence (including the railings around it..) and it (and the railings!) were ‘part-removed’ on Tuesday, 8th March, 1966 – 51 years ago on this date – without ‘permission’ from Trinity College, Guinness, Leinster House or Westminster!
The structure was erected in the then Sackville Street (named after the then British ‘Lord’ Lieutenant of Ireland, Lionel Cranfield Sackville aka the ‘Duke of Dorset’) in 1808, in honour of British Admiral ‘Lord’ Nelson’s “victories at sea”. The column was about 120 feet high and Nelson’s statue (designed by Cork sculptor Thomas Kirk) stood 13 feet tall on top of it. At about 1.30am on the morning of Tuesday, 8th March 1966, an explosion blew the top part of the column asunder and what was left of Nelson landed on the ground, as did hundreds of tons of (other!) rubble. The IRA was suspected of involvement, but quickly distanced itself from the job, declaring that they were more interested in removing actual British imperialism from Ireland rather than just the symbols of it – the ‘Saor Éire’ group let it be known that its activists were responsible, that the codename for the operation was ‘Operation Humpty Dumpty’ and that, a day or two beforehand, they had left a device on site which failed to detonate and was retrieved, repaired and left back on Monday night, the 7th March 1966.
The front page of the Irish Times on the 8th March 1966 read : ‘The top of Nelson Pillar, in O’Connell street, Dublin, was blown off by a tremendous explosion at 1.32 o’clock this morning and the Nelson statue and tons of rubble poured down into the roadway. By a miracle, nobody was injured, though there were a number of people in the area at the time…’, which could be said to be probably the first time that Nelson’s arrival in an area didn’t hurt anyone. The two-headed, one-armed and one-eyed Nelson ‘..understood the need to annihilate the enemy..he led the fleet into harm’s way, picking out the enemy flagship as his target, leaving it a crippled hulk and the enemy fleet a leaderless mob..after that his followers could complete the task..no one ever argued that he was a paragon of matchless virtue (but) for 200 years his reputation has been besmirched with accusations of infidelity..yes, Nelson had his faults (his vanity, love of applause and vulnerability to flattery)..’ (from here) was given a headache by Irish republican Seán Ó Brádaigh, and others, in the 1950’s, when an attempt was made to melt the head of the statue and de Valera is said to have asked the ‘Irish Press’ newspaper to run with a front-page headline declaring ‘British Admiral Leaves Dublin By Air’ !
‘Grey brick upon brick
On somber pedestals
O’Connell, Grattan, Moore
And the brewery tugs and the swans
On the balustraded stream
And the bare bones of a fanlight
Over a hungry door
And the air soft on the cheek
And porter running from the taps
With a head of yellow cream
And Nelson on his pillar
Watching his world collapse’ (from here.)
RICOCHETS OF HISTORY…
At the end of a year in which *IRA decommissioning has been met with widespread euphoria, Phil Mac Giolla Bháin takes a stubborn look at the facts and concludes that the celebration party may be a little premature. From the ‘Magill Annual 2002’ (*PIRA).
The Dublin boat had been taken off. Our usual route was not available, so the two of us travelled through Larne to Belfast. We approached Belfast mid-morning. I had never seen a grown man terrified before. The coach driver was shaking. I was only 13, a boy. We did make it to Dublin, where we took the train to Westport.
A man came to the house to reassure my grandmother. Her question was simple – “John Joe, do they have the guns?” “Aah they do, Julia. They have plenty…” he soothed her. Guns were important in this seriously respectable middle-class Mayo household. There is a basic question in relation to stability and social justice that can be asked of any society – do ordinary decent people want to band together and arm themselves against the forces of the State? In Sweden or France they do not, but in Chechnya and Colombia they do.
A reasonably encapsulating social history of the Irish people could be written covering the last 200 years focusing solely on the native population’s desire to arm itself. Where ordinary people feel the need to acquire the sinews of war, then whatever else the society is , it isn’t normal and it won’t be stable. It is forty years since the IRA’s last campaign was ended in a ‘Dump Arms’ order. (MORE LATER).
ON THIS DATE (8TH MARCH) 44 YEARS AGO : IRA ATTACK OLD BAILEY, LONDON.
On Thursday, 8th March 1973 – 44 years ago on this date – at about 3pm, a 300lb IRA car bomb exploded outside the ‘Central Criminal Court of England and Wales’ (the ‘Old Bailey’, situated on a site once occupied by the old Newgate Prison). One man, Fred Milton, 60, who worked as a caretaker in a near-by office block, Hillgate House, had suffered a heart attack before the explosion, and the poor man died about two hours after same – and at least 215 people were injured.
Two other car bombs, which were apparently timed to explode at the same time, were defused, and it later emerged that New Scotland Yard, a British Army recruiting office in Westminster and a British government building in Whitehall were all targeted by that IRA ASU, for the same reason as the Old Bailey was – the common link was that all were representative of the British state, reminiscent of earlier such actions in England by Irish republicans – for instance, in the late 1930’s, installations such as electricity, water and transport infrastructure were targeted in London, Manchester and Birmingham, not to mention the Fenian dynamite campaign in Victorian Britain.
However ; back to the 1973 attack – the following is taken from ‘Iris Magazine’, August 1984 : ‘In March 1973, seven men and three women, including Marion and Dolours Price, had been charged in London with the Old Bailey and Whitehall bombings. After being sentenced to life imprisonment, the Price sisters embarked on a hunger-strike for repatriation. Their hunger-strike was to last 206 days, during which they were force-fed in horrific conditions. In support of the Price sisters the women in Armagh Jail started having a token 24-hour hunger-strike every Friday. Those prisoners on remand would also use the opportunity of court appearances to make speeches from the dock about their comrades on hunger-strike.
The Price sisters were finally transferred to Armagh Jail on March 18th 1975 – their transfer had been announced much sooner and the Armagh women prisoners didn’t expect them on that day. As Teresa Holland put it – “We had been practising for weeks, with flags, uniforms, the lot, and they hadn’t come. And then suddenly there they were! So we got out the flags and the uniforms and had another parade just for them. They were lost, they couldn’t believe their eyes. Everybody felt brilliant and, for a full week, every time they went into someone’s cell, the girl in that cell would make them a big feed. It actually took them a long time to settle in, with all the fuss!”
And, unfortunately, that whole scenario could yet be repeated due to the fact that Westminster continues to claim political and military jurisdictional control over six Irish counties, and enforces that ‘claim’ regardless of the consequences involved.
GROWING UP IN LONG KESH…
SIN SCÉAL EILE.
By Jim McCann (Jean’s son). For Alex Crowe, RIP – “No Probablum”. Glandore Publishing, 1999.
Biographical Note : Jim McCann is a community worker from the Upper Springfield area in West Belfast. Although born in the Short Strand, he was reared in the Loney area of the Falls Road. He comes from a large family (average weight about 22 stone!). He works with Tús Nua (a support group for republican ex-prisoners in the Upper Springfield), part of the Upper Springfield Development Trust. He is also a committee member of the ‘Frank Cahill Resource Centre’, one of the founders of ‘Bunscoil an tSléibhe Dhuibh’, the local Irish language primary school and Naiscoil Bharr A’Chluanaí, one of the local Irish language nursery schools.
His first publication last year by Glandore was ‘And the Gates Flew Open : the Burning of Long Kesh’. He hopes to retire on the profits of his books. Fat chance!
PSYCHOLOGICAL WARFARE (does my head in…)
We were constantly clambering over the top of the huts, running laps of the Cage and jumping over obstacles and landing on foam-rubber mattresses that you were sleeping on at night. It was a laugh. At the end of the day the Staff just decided to utilise the inherent hatred we had for British soldiers and screws alike.
At about 9.30pm we could hear a noise coming from the Internee end of the Camp. It got louder and louder still. It wasn’t long before we recognised the sound of thousands of pairs of jack-boots marching up the road towards Cage 22, to oppress us. “First Section, fall in,” shouted the Training Officer of our section. “Our job is to protect the gate.”
A voice from the back that sounded like mine shouted “Give them the gate and maybe they’ll go away”. The Training Officer had a ‘I-wish-I-could’ -look on his face and said “Fall in. No messing about in the ranks.” The first maybe 50 British soldiers who came up the road were all medics. These were closely followed by about 1,500 to 2,000 regular soldiers, and they thronged around the gate of Cage 22 and Cage 7. They could hardly move because of the confined space they were in.
The fifteen men of the First Section stood at the gate, ready for anything but prepared for nothing. We were about a foot away from the British soldiers, separated only by a culture and a bit of wire-mesh. A comrade from North Belfast, let’s call him ‘Norman Stanley Bowler’, walked up to the front of the First Section and said- “Right lads, when this gate opens us fifteen will all concentrate on getting this bastard here…”, pointing out a soldier right in front of us. We all filed past this soldier, staring at him.“This one here, Norman?” , asked Honky. “That’s the one,” answered Norman, and said, loudly, “No matter what comes or goes, we will all attack this one here…” (MORE LATER).
AND YOU CAN QUOTE ME ON THIS…
..because, next Wednesday, 15th March 2017, we won’t have ‘a comment’ to post here : we’re still as opinionated as ever (!) but just not gonna have the time to express it on the blog!
On Sunday, 12th March next, we’ll be in our usual spot in a fine hotel on the Dublin/Kildare border, doing our usual thing – putting the finishing touches to a 650-ticket raffle, organised by the the Dublin Executive of RSF, and then holding the actual raffle itself, preparations for which began on Tuesday last, 7th March, and will conclude on Monday evening, 13th, with an ‘autopsy’ into how the event went. But we’ll be back here on the following Wednesday, 22nd. As opinionated as ever!
Thanks for reading, Sharon.