ON THIS DATE (18TH DECEMBER) 141 YEARS AGO : “YOU’LL NEVER SEE THE LIKES OF THEM AGAIN..”

The graphic shows alleged members of the ‘Molly Maguires’ being led to their death.


‘On 21st June 1877, in the anthracite-mining county of Schuylkill, Pennsylvania, ten Irish immigrant men alleged to have been members of an oath-bound secret sect of vigilantes called the ‘Molly Maguires’ were hanged in what came to be known as ‘The Day of the Rope’. Twenty members of the group in all would be executed, following a kangaroo court that American historian John Elliot called “one of the most disgraceful episodes in the history of the bench and bar in the United States.” Oppression, exploitation, racial and ethnic bigotry, strikes and union-busting are common enough themes in the American labour movement, but the story of the ‘Molly Maguires’ and the ruling class’s attempts to destroy these Irish workers is so especially contemptible it has achieved legendary status..’ (from here.)

On what became known as ‘Black Thursday’ (21st June, 1877), ten coal miners were hanged until dead in eastern Pennsylvania ; all ten had been born in Ireland but were forced to leave because of the attempted genocide known as ‘An Gorta Mór’. It was claimed that they, and others, were involved in ‘organised retributions’ against corrupt and unfair employers and other members of the establishment, and operated as such under the name ‘Molly Maguires’ (‘Molly Maguire’ had become famous in Ireland [or ‘infamous’, as the ‘landlord’ class described her] for refusing to bow down or bend the knee to the monied ‘gentry’).

The workers had been arrested for their alleged part in several killings and, despite much doubt cast over the ‘evidence’ used against them, they were convicted and sentenced to death. The court case was widely seen as employers drawing ‘a line in the sand’ in regards to what they considered to be ‘uppity’ workers looking for better wages and conditions, and an excuse for the establishment to vent its anti-labour and anti-Irish prejudice – the first trials began in January 1876. They involved 10 men accused of murder and were held in ‘Mauch Chunk’ (an Indian name meaning ‘Bear Mountain’) and Pottsville.


A vast army of media descended on the small towns where they wrote dispatches that were uniformly pro-prosecution. The key witness for the prosecution was yet another Irishman, James McParlan : back in the early 1870’s, when bosses had hired the Pinkerton Detective Agency to spy on workers, McParlan had gone under cover to infiltrate the ‘Mollies’ and gather evidence. And gather he did — or at least he claimed he did during the trials. On the stand he painted a vivid picture of ‘Molly Maguire’ secrecy, conspiracy and murder. With Irish Catholics and miners excluded from the juries, the verdicts were a foregone conclusion.

All 10 were convicted and sentenced to hang. No doubt seeking to send the most powerful message to the region’s mining communities, authorities arranged to stage the executions on the same day — June 21st, 1877 – in two locations. Alexander Campbell, Michael Doyle, Edward Kelly, and John Donahue were hanged in ‘Mauch Chuck’ (where the four men “all swung together”), while James Boyle, Hugh McGehan, James Carroll, James Roarity, Thomas Duffy, and Thomas Munley met a similar fate in Pottsville (where all six “swung two-by-two”). Although the hangings took place behind prison walls, they were nonetheless major spectacles that drew huge crowds and generated international news coverage. It was reported that there was “..screams and sobbing as husbands and fathers were bid goodbye..” and that “..James Boyle carried a blood-red rose and Hugh McGehan wore two roses in his lapel (as) James Carroll and James Roarity declared their innocence from the scaffold..”

Over the following two years, ten more alleged members of the ‘Molly Maguires’ were hanged, including Thomas P. Fisher (on the 28th March 1878) and James McDonnell and Charlie Sharp (on the 14th January 1879). In 1979 – 101 years after the cruel deed – the state of Pennsylvania pardoned one of the men, John ‘Black Jack’ Kehoe, after an investigation by its ‘Board of Pardons’ at the behest of one of his descendants. John Kehoe was led to the gallows on the 18th December, 1878 – 141 years ago on this date (incidentally, Seán Connery played the part of John Kehoe in the film ‘The Molly Maguires’) ; on the 5th December 2005, the Pennsylvania State House of Representatives passed a resolution recognising the lack of due process for several of the men :


‘The basic facts of the case are clear. As the ‘Death Warrant’ indicates, Governor John F. Hartranft ordered the execution of John Kehoe. In l877, he had been tried by the ‘Court of Oyer and Terminer’, a ‘court of criminal jurisdiction’, and was found guilty of the murder of Frank W.S. Langdon, a mine foreman, fifteen years earlier. He was sentenced to death by hanging. Kehoe’s attorney appealed the decision to the State Supreme Court, which supported the lower court. Governor Hartranft signed Kehoe’s death warrant in February 1878. As a last resort Kehoe’s attorney issued three pleas for clemency to the Pardon Board, which also denied his appeals. The Governor eventually signed a second death warrant on November 18, 1878. Kehoe was executed before a large crowd in Pottsville on December l8, l878..’ (from here.)


Make way for the Molly Maguires,

They’re drinkers, they’re liars but they’re men.

Make way for the Molly Maguires,

You’ll never see the likes of them again.





Down the mines no sunlight shines,

Those pits they’re black as hell,

In modest style they do their time,

It’s Paddy’s prison cell.

And they curse the day they’ve travelled far,

Then drown their tears with a jar.




Backs will break and muscles ache,

Down there there’s no time to dream

of fields and farms, of woman’s arms,

“Just dig that bloody seam”.

Though they drain their bodies underground,

Who’ll dare to push them around.



So make way for the Molly Maguires,

They’re drinkers, they’re liars but they’re men ;

Make way for the Molly Maguires –


You’ll never see the likes of them again.


The ‘Molly Maguires’ were an organised labour group that had allegedly been responsible for some incidences of vigilante justice in the coalfields of eastern Pennsylvania, defending their actions as attempts to protect exploited Irish-American workers. We badly need the ‘likes of them’ again.





‘WHO HONOURS PEARSE..?’


From ‘The United Irishman’ newspaper, December 1954.



Padraig Pearse persistently advocated force as “the only means I know by which Irish freedom can be obtained and, when obtained, maintained.”


No wonder some nationalists suffer conscience-juggling to equate this contradiction. What more natural than that the majority of conscience-jugglers should accept the contradiction as palatably as possible – accept Pearse’s greatness and patriotism, reject (but oh so discreetly) his uncompromising adherence to the doctrine of right versus might. Discreetly reject and hide it all in the word ‘impractical’.


Now it occurs to me that not only are such conscience-jugglers unfair to the truth about Padraig Pearse – their logic is also very nearly bad faith. You do not believe me? Then let me recall favourite phrases of those more enthusiastic conscience-jugglers who wield pens… (MORE LATER.)





‘MANUS IN A PICKLE(S)’…

‘Manus Nunan is a small, genial, cultivated Irish gentleman whose mother was an actress. He speaks fluent French. He was born in Dublin in 1926 and was educated there, graduating from Trinity College with third-class honours in law ; he is no high-flyer, intellectually, as he admits, but circuit judges and recorders do not need to be. His Irish catholic family was one of the few to continue to serve the crown after the partition of Ireland in 1922. His family has a history of service to the crown..’ – this is how the English judge, James Pickles, introduces a central character in his new book, ‘Straight From The Bench’. From ‘Magill’ magazine, May 1987.


Manus Nunan was permitted to bring one other person of his choice to the meeting with ‘Lord’ Hailsham. Judge James Pickles declined the invitation because “it might not help his case if Hailsham and I went for each other’s throats! Any animosity of Hailsham against me would spill on to Nunan.” Alan Rusbridger, a ‘Guardian’ newspaper journalist, went along as a friend and not as a journalist ; he did, however, use his professional’s shorthand to take detailed notes of the encounter and, reproduced in Pickle’s book, they record a dramatic confrontation, as Hailsham told Nunan that some doubts had been raised about his performance on the bench.


Nunan tried to get elaboration, Hailsham refused and then insisted that Nunan explained his previous remarks about his (Hailsham’s) anti-Irish sentiment. There had been earlier warning signs for Nunan, the ‘Lord’ Chancellor insisted but, the notes record, “he didn’t blame him for missing the signs. He (Hailsham) had been in the Army.” On such self-assured English upper-class tracks the conversation proceeds, going nowhere. “Nunan must get it into his mind…”, Rusbridger noted Hailsham as saying, “..that with the great responsibility of the office, he (Hailsham) had to be sure that recorders and judges were up to stuff.”


Nunan, evidently, was not ‘up to stuff..’

(MORE LATER.)





‘BRITISH BARRACKS ATTACKED IN OMAGH’.

From ‘The United Irishman’ newspaper, November 1954.


The fable about “the consent of the people” disappeared immediately and the real nature of the occupation, sheer weight of arms and threat of “immediate and terrible war” appeared once more in full sight. But the very numbers of the occupation forces engaged shows their own realisation of the shaky position here ; they know they are not wanted here, they know they only hold on here by force of arms, they know they are invaders, aggressors, robbers, in Ireland, and that their presence is bitterly resented. They know that it is only natural and to be expected that the young men* of Ireland will resist, will strike back as hard as they can at the invading forces.


As sure as night follows day, aggression will bring resistance and that resistance will continue until the aggressors have cleared out.


The Omagh Raid, although no weapons were seized, has driven home that point to the English invaders, to their collaborators in Ireland, and to the free nations of the world. It has sent a cry echoing round the world – ‘Ireland Demands Unity And Freedom!’ Omagh, even more than Armagh, has been a resounding success… (*..and women!) (MORE LATER.)





ON THIS DAY NEXT WEEK (25TH DECEMBER 2019)…

…we won’t be here ; we’ll be swimmin’ with the fishes!


Well…not really!


We’ll actually be here, with a group of our colleagues, comrades and friends, observing as a good deed and brilliant fund-raiser takes place in the great outdoors, regardless of the weather. And, if the after-party doesn’t go on for too long (..it might finish on the same day it starts..!) then we should be able to post a few pics of the event in this space before the end of Christmas Week. We hope our readers have a quiet Christmas and enjoy the break – and a BIG ‘GRMA!’ to you all for checking-in with us in 2019. Much appreciated!


Thanks for reading, Sharon.





About 11sixtynine

A mother of three and a political activist , living in Dublin , Ireland.
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