Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Republicanism at the turn of the 50's (Saoirse article)

"A Fragile Structure"



IN CHAPTER 8 of his book Northern Ireland: The Orange State, Michael Farrell deals with the period 1945-51 and its concluding paragraphs summarise the situation.

It makes interesting reading: "The (Stormont) government were intent on taking a tough line. In May 1951 they used the Special Powers Act to intern a number of Republicans during a (British) royal visit to the North.

"And at the end of 1950 they had established a Reserve or Commando force of 100-150 men inside the RUC. The Commandos were to be a highly-trained, self-contained mobile force which could be used either against the IRA or as a riot squad. In fact it was this squad who were used in most of the Tricolour riots.

"Despite all the criticism of the Stormont government by Labour backbenchers, the Labour government agreed to the RUC Commandos being trained by the British Army at Ballykinlar barracks in Co Down and supplied with automatic weapons and equipment by the War Office.

"The Anti-Partition League had tried working in the Stormont and Westminster parliaments without success; they had launched an international publicity campaign with the same result; they had turned to street demonstrations in the North only to be batoned off the streets.

"It was inevitable that the thoughts of some sections of the nationalist population should turn again to physical force.

"As early as June 1949 Malachy Conlon (Stormont MP for South Armagh) had hinted at force at a rally in Armagh when he talked of a ‘final move to end partition . . . in which every man or woman, boy or girl, would be called upon, not just to attend meetings and wave flags but to make sacrifices (and) stand the strain which so many generations have stood before,’ and touring America with Conlon, Tom Barry had advocated that the South (sic) should declare war on the North (sic).

"Early in 1950 Capt. Peadar Cowan, an ex-Clann na Poblachta TD in the South (sic), had talked of raising an army to invade the North. Most of this was just talk, certainly the parliamentarians of the APL had no intention of fighting anybody, but it was symptomatic of the frustration of Northern and Southern Nationalists.

"Meanwhile the IRA had been slowly re-organising itself and had decided on another campaign in the North. In May 1951 they established a military council to draw up plans for it and in June they launched a successful attack on Ebrington (British) military barracks in Derry . . .

"Once again Unionist intransigence was driving a section of the Nationalist population towards war."

But for the Irish Republican Army, it was indeed an "Agonising Reconstruction", as Bowyer Bell entitled his Chapter XII. The full heading read "The IRA Endures: The Agonising Reconstruction, 1945-51."

On page 251-252, he graphically recaptures the atmosphere of the time. A re-reading of those pages is recommended today.


Some veterans of the 1920s recalled that the effort to reorganise in the mid-twenties was even more difficult than in 1945-51. It would appear that the higher the revolutionary wave rose – as in 1918-1921 – the lower came the trough which inevitable followed the lack of success.

Certainly the post-Parnell split period of the 1890s and 1900s was more difficult still for the IRB nucleus which was striving to re-invigorate the historic Fenian movement that had survived several generations.

Bell sums up: "To create a revolutionary base, a secret army, a band of brothers, no matter how deep have run the currents of nationalism and no matter how long has been the tradition of service, patience is more a virtue than daring, persistence than sparkle.

"The patient years, the long plodding routine, the scars of past failures add the steel and ruthless dedication to a movement centred on a faith that the future will not deny what the past already has.

"In 1951 the IRA was still a fragile structure, often maintained by inertia rather than action, totally incapable of the grand plan or the big coup, but each month a bit stronger, a bit harder, a bit more like the weapon Magan wanted."

Note: Tony Magan was Chief of Staff of the IRA from 1948 to 1957. Bell describes him as a "hard man, tightly disciplined, and utterly painstaking." Later he says that "the Dublin people in particular felt that the Army needed a steel core and that Magan could supply it." Meanwhile the July issue of An tÉireannach Aontaithe/The United Irishman noted the passing of an historical figure George Gavan Duffy, who was the last of the Irish representatives to sign the Treaty of Surrender in 1921.

Born in 1882, he was son of Charles Gavan Duffy, the Young Ireland leader who was a native of Monaghan town. As a lawyer he arranged for the legal defence of Roger Casement in 1916.

He represented South Dublin in the First (All-Ireland) Dáil and helped considerably to set up the Sinn Féin Courts under its jurisdiction. Earlier he assisted in drafting the Declaration of Independence.

The Republican Organ states that "he, more than any of the five" signatories to the "Articles of Agreement for a Treaty" made it clear that his signature had only been given "under the dire threat of immediate and terrible war." He asserted that but for this threat he would never have signed, it says.

It went on: "It is to be regretted that with all his legal talent, he did not point out that a signature obtained by means of a threat, a consent forced under duress, could not be considered binding.

"Whatever we may think of his subsequent action, we owe him a great debt for his frank admission, for his statement shows clearly that there was no agreement, there was no treaty, there was only a Surrender".

Subsequently, Gavan Duffy became Minister for Foreign Affairs under Arthur Griffith’s Presidency in January 1922, but resigned after the Supreme Court of the Republic was suppressed by Griffith’s administration.

His suggestion on September 27, 1922 that Republican prisoners should be treated as prisoners of war was defeated. He opposed the Free State policy of arrest and detention without trial.

He also criticised the draft Free State constitution in October of that year and attacked their execution of Erskine Childers in November while an appeal was pending in the 26-County High Court.

Also in November 1922 he protested at the first four executions of Republican prisoners which took place on the 17th.

"It was neither law nor justice to try a man for one thing and execute him for another", he said.

Gavan Duffy later followed a distinguished legal career in the 26-County courts and became President of the Dublin High Court in 1946. The Organ of Irish Republicanism noted that he had "established for himself the position of being probably the keenest legal mind in the Ireland of his day".

The death of George Gavan Duffy left only one of the "Treaty" signatories alive. That was Robert Barton who later repudiated it and returned to his allegiance to the All-Ireland Republic.

He was one of the 12-member Republican Council of State in October 1922 and later suffered imprisonment at the hands of the Free State he had helped to create and later sought to over throw.

Also noted in the July issue of the Republican newspaper was the Ard-Fheis of Clann na Poblachta in Dublin on June 30, at which Seán MacBride was reported to have said that "force was not necessary" for the ending of "Partition".


This contention was hotly contested in the Republican Organ, Sinn Féin Notes in the same issue deal with Wolfe Tone Week organised by Dublin Comhairle Ceantair and a meeting of Comhairle Chúige Laighean held in an Ard-Oifig.

An organising meeting took place in Droichead Nua, Co. Chill Dara. In Ard Mhaca, an Aeríocht was held in Cullyhanna by the local Cumann and a Céilí Mór in Newry Town Hall that night.

In Tyrone a new Cumann was formed in Aghyaran and a public meeting was held at which "needless to remark the RUC were very interested spectators".

In London the Roger Casement Cumann sponsored a demonstration and public meeting. The United Irishmen Cumann had arranged a public meeting for Trafalgar Square at the end of the month with Diarmuid Ó Cróinín from Cork as principal speaker.

The August issue features a report of the second annual Aeríocht at Camlough held by South Armagh Comhairle Ceantair. Buses from Dublin, Dundalk, Armagh, Portadown and Newry brought supporters while Cork, Belfast, Longford, Tipperary and Galway were also represented.

Six to seven thousand people attended and Dan Sheridan, Cathaoirleach of the Comhairle Ceantair presided at the opening. Pádraig Mac Lógáin, Uachtarán, Sinn Féin spoke, as did Gearóid Ó Broin, Baile Átha Cliath.

The Céilí in Newry Town Hall that Sunday evening was most successful, dancing prizes being presented by Tomás Ó Dúill, Dublin, Seán Fox, Portadown and Seán Ó Cearnaigh, Rúnaí, Sinn Féin.

Comhairle Chúige Uladh held after-Mass public meetings each Sunday in Armagh and Down, with local Cumainn supplying the speakers.

The Joe McKelvey Cumann was formed in Belfast during July. Its first public meeting was held three weeks later. It was then necessary to form a Comhairle Ceantair in Belfast which took place before the end of the month.

An interesting development took place in St Mary’s Hall, Belfast during July at a lecture by Tomás Óg Mac Curtáin, Corcaigh on Sinn Féin and the Ireland of Today.

It was sponsored by the Seán McCaughey Cumann and Séamus Steele (Cathaoirleach), presided with Liam Burke (Rúnaí) proposing the vote of thanks. About 200 people attended.

The report states: "Seven CID men were present during the lecture and although challenged for their authority to be present they were unable to produce any authority and refused to leave the hall.

"During the lecture they were segregated from the people and forced to remain sitting by themselves in one part of the hall". It was noted on the front page of the August issue of the Republican newspaper that a new "Republican" party, to embrace the 32 counties was about to be launched, according to rumours then circulating.

It was to be headed by ex-members of Clann na Poblachta Peadar Cowan, Noel Hartnett, Dr Browne, Dr McCartan and Dr Ffrench O’Carroll.

It would be "no more Republican than any of its predecessors", said the paper, adding that they had "repeatedly warned Republicans in the past against ‘Free State Republican Parties’." Of course, the rumoured party never emerged.

Much was made on the front page of the impending unveiling of the Seán Russell Memorial in Fairview Park, Dublin on Sunday, September 9. Contingents would assemble at Parnell Square and move off at 12 noon. It announced: "The Memorial, which is being erected by the Clan na Gael organisation in the United States and the Irish Republican Army, will be unveiled by Mr T McMonagle of Philadelphia. Mr P O’Mahoney, New York, will deliver the oration."

The Ebrington Raid (1951)

The Ebrington Raid



ON June 3, 1951 the IRA was back in action. Members of the Derry city unit led by two GHQ Staff officers (including Tony Magan) raided a local British barracks and captured arms. An tÉireannach Aontaithe/The United Irishman of June 1951 in a front page article described the raid as “a fitting protest against the visit of English royalty to Ireland made by the Irish Republican Army”.

Bren and other machine guns plus Sten sub-machine guns and Le-Enfield rifles and a quantity of miscellaneous ammunition were seized.

The BESA 7.92mm machine gun taken was a new type of weapon still on the secret’s list, according to a News Flash in the July issue of the Republican organ. The 20 Lee-Enfield Mark IV No 1 rifles were like the Bren light machine gun and the 20 Sten guns all of WWII vintage – six years earlier.

In fact the army of the 26-County State was still equipped with WWI Lee-Enfield Mark III rifles while the IRA trained with much newer weapons as a result of the raid.

Bell described how the Derry unit “reorganised in 1947 and up to a solid twenty men by 1951, requested permission to raid the Ebrington territorial Barracks inside the Joint Royal Navy-Royal Air Force Anti-Submarine School”. The operation was actually a silent seizure without armed confrontation; the intelligence was excellent and the chance of success good. It went off without a hitch.

The UI detailed the foresight and efficiency displayed throughout, every contingency being guarded against and nothing left to chance. In planning out the mode of entry beforehand the various obstacles had been noted and provisions made to overcome them. When an additional obstacle was encountered all the necessary implements were on hand to deal with this.


The whole action was well rehearsed beforehand; each man knew his job and the part he had to play. Two large padlocks had to be smashed and a heavy door sawn through.

The precious cargo was loaded on the waiting truck and “delivered into the eager hands of the men waiting to receive it”. Within a couple of hours the truck was back empty in its garage.

GHQ had to issue a statement to the press before the British army and the RUC were even aware of what had happened!

It was the first successful arms raid on a British military establishment since the Belfast IRA raided Ballykinlar Camp on February 10, 1940 and seized 100 rifles. A report of that action had been broadcast on Raidió Phoblacht na hÉireann, the IRA radio, in Belfast that evening.

The Derry raid of June 1951 was in fact the first armed action by the IRA since 1944. Things were looking up . . .

In the Republican Organ the purpose of the raid in relation to the new policy was implied.

“. . . the only effective protest that can be made to England’s claim to rule in Ireland, viz: the placing of guns in the hands of men who are willing and anxious to use them to drive the British army out of Ireland.”

In Donegal, a middle-aged man remarked that it was “only a protest” and that “the arms must have been thrown into the sea”. Not so, as Bell assesses.

“Most of Ireland may have been little interested in a single snatch-and-grab raid but within the Army it made a difference. Some sort of corner seemed to be turned. Volunteers were now using the Lee-Enfields, better rifles than those of the Irish army (sic). The Military Council was at work.

“The first printed directives on Organisation had been issued in May 1951, the first training notes had been printed in June and in July the first re-issue of An tÓglach, the IRA monthly came out.

“When Magan spoke at Bodenstown on June 24, he might well feel the Army was truly under way,” Bell concluded.

Meanwhile the people were being organised behind the Movement as “the stiffening force”. In addition to the public meetings in Belfast, protest meetings against the English Royal visit and the detention without trial for a week of 13 men in Belfast were held in Letterkenny, Swinford, Lurgan, Cork and Dublin.

The meeting in Dublin took place on Saturday night, June 2. It was preceded by a parade through the centre of the city, headed by a Tricolour, while at the end of the parade a Union Jack was dragged along the ground.

The Republican organ described it as having been “streeled” along the streets. It was afterwards burned at the meeting amidst the cheers of the large crowd present.

Speakers on the platform were Michael Traynor, chair; Séamus Sorahan, Gearóid Ó Broin (Dublin); Margaret Buckley, Tomás Mac Curtáin, Seán Kearney and Tomás Ó Dubhghaill.

The speakers emphasised that if these [English royal] visitors were coming at the invitation of the Irish people to the free Irish nation “they could receive the highest honours and the greatest hospitality”.

But coming as they were, to demonstrate the continued subjection of the Irish nation, to try to strengthen and perpetuate the “divide and conquer” policy on Ireland – their coming could only be calculated to rouse the indignation and even hate of the Irish people.

This calculated insult could only be looked on as a challenge. We should answer it not merely by protest meetings, but also by organising again to make good our claim to all Ireland, North and South, “from the centre to the sea”.

If the English Royal visit had the effect of waking us from out torpor, of rousing us again to action, then it would have been a blessing in disguise. But it was up to ourselves.

In the June 1961 issue of An tÉireannach Aontaithe/The United Irishman a letter from Patrick Darcy, Headford, Co Galway is carried. It is in connection with the unveiling of a memorial cross at Castlegar on Easter Sunday of that year, at which Mr Gerry Boland, 26-County Minister for Justice 1939-48, officiated.

Mr Darcy stated: “It has been reported in the press that a Mr Darcy, a relative of the late Comdt Louis Darcy, was amongst those present at the ceremony. I wish to state that I was the nearest relative of the late Comdt Darcy who was present in Castlegar that day, but I was not present at the unveiling.

“I was there a considerable time before the ceremony commenced and I went there for the express purpose of protesting against the unveiling being performed by an ex-Minister for Justice, during whose term of office the late Tony Darcy, my brother and a first cousin of Comdt Louis, was forced to die on hunger strike.

“I did make such protest to several members of the Memorial Committee and informed them that should the unveiling be performed by the ex-Minister I would not be associated with it.

“As I was not present when the ceremony took place I do not wish my name to be in any way associated with it,” concluded Patrick Darcy in his well and clearly spelled-out letter.

In the April issue News of the Month section, Gerry Boland figures showing that like the Bourbons, Fianna Fáil had learnt nothing and forgotten nothing from their first coercion of Republicans in the 1930 and 1940s.

“Mr Boland and his master Mr de Valera,” it reads, “have been very perturbed in Leinster House recently because an ‘Illegal Organisation’, to kill which they had employed all the forces of the [British] Empire, is still alive and not alone that but is still actively recruiting and collecting money.

“They know of course that the logical outcome of all this activity on the part of the ‘Illegal Organisation’ will be a war against England to whose monarch they and their friends have sworn allegiance [1927, 1932 and 1933 in order to be admitted to Leinster House].

“They know that in pursuance of their adopted policy of co-operation with England they will, in the event of such a war, have to declare openly whether their allegiance is to the Empire or to the Irish people.

“In the meantime they try to have it both ways.” (Unveiling monuments to Republican Dead while they seek further coercion of Republicans, for example.)

However on June 12, 1951 as a result of a 26-County general election precipitated by the “Mother and Child” crisis, Fianna Fáil was returned to power as a minority administration. Gerry Boland became Minister for Justice for the last time.

The Organ of Irish Republicanism’s July issue quotes a Sunday Express reporter of June 17:

“Mr Gerald Boland, back again under Me de Valera as Minister for Justice, is said to have called for a dossier on the activities of the outlawed IRA in the three years he had been out of office.

“Forecast is that the remaining elements of the irregular army is likely to get a shock.

“A claim frequently made by Mr Costello and his ministers was that they ‘took the gun out of Irish politics’ (where did we hear that before and since?). But Mr Boland and members of the new government have never accepted this claim.”


“A colleague of the new Minister for Justice said yesterday: ‘He is a strong man, and will stand for no nonsense from the IRA or any other private or underground army.

A publication which described itself as ‘the Organ of Irish Republicanism’ printed yesterday that a raid on Ebrington Barracks, Londonderry (sic) was ‘carried out by the IRA’, and described the raid as ‘a fitting protest against the visit of English royalty to Ireland.’

“The general political scene since the changeover will be cleared tomorrow when Prime Minister (Sic) de Valera will hold a press conference to tell his plans. And his Defence Minister, Mr Oscar Traynor, is scheduled to explain when he hopes to do about civil defence.”

For the record let it be noted that Seán Mac Bride, ex-Minister for Foreign Affairs, protested long and loudly on June 13 in Leinster House against the reappointment of a man with such a record of coercion against Republicans as Minister for Justice. But Fianna Fáil had minority support only in Leinster House . . .

Note: Sinn Féin issued a statement in May 1951 which was carried in the daily newspapers saying that they had not the finance or other resources to contest the 26-County general election.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Sean Cronin- Soldier of the Revolution

Seán Cronin: A Tribute by Ruairí O Brádaigh

A Mhuintir Sheáin Cronin, a phobail Ghaeltacht Uíbh Ráthaigh, a chomrádaithe agus a chairde Gael,

“The Soldiers of Ireland bore him on high,

On their shoulders with solemn tread”:

Thus did the old ballad describe the funeral of Seán Treacy, a Republican soldier killed in action in 1920. The Soldiers of Ireland are present here today in their various generations. They would consider it an honour and a privilege to participate in the obsequies of their former leader Seán Cronin.

Seán was born here in Ballinskelligs – Baile an Sceilg – about the same time as Seán Treacy fell while fighting British occupation forces. Ceantar Gaeltachta dob ea Baile an Sceilg ag an am agus bhí Gaeilge ón gcliabhán ag Seán. (Baile an Sceilg being a Gaeltacht area, Sean had Irish from childhood)

Is cuimhin len a chomrádaithe an tráthnóna i bpríosún Mhúinseoigh i 1957 nuair a rinne Seán Cronin aithriseoireacht as Ghaeilge. I gceapach an bháis in eite “D”, a bhí mar seomra chaitheamh aimsire ag na príosúnaigh polaitiúla, a bhíomar ag an am. Labhair Seán amach go soiléir agus le mothú:

(Sean’s comrades remember an evening in Mountjoy Jail in 1957 when Sean gave a recitation in Irish. At the time we were in the death row cell, which was in use as a hobbies’ room by political prisoners. Sean spoke clearly and with feeling

‘Mise Eire’ le Pádraig Mac Piarais

Mise Eire; sine mé ná an Chailleach Bhéara;

Mór mo ghlóir; mé do rug Cú Chulainn cróga;

Mór mo náir’; mo chlann féin a dhíol a máthair;

Mise Eire: uaigní mé ná an Chailleach Bheara.

‘I am Ireland’ by P.H. Pearse

I am Ireland; I am older than the old woman of Béara;

Great my glory; I who bore Cú Chulainn the brave;

Great my shame; My own children who sold their mother;

I am Ireland; I am lonelier than the old woman of Béara.

A gifted man of many parts, Seán was above all a soldier. When he was sentenced to three months imprisonment by a Dublin court in January 1957, he told them that he had been a member of the army of the 26-County State from 1941 to 1948. He did not say that he rose to being a lecturer in the Command and Staff School at the Curragh.

Seán emigrated to the United States in 1948 and trained as a journalist. He became associated there with the Clan na Gael and IRA Veterans of America which dated from the Fenian period in 1867. During this time he wrote articles for the Irish Republican organ in Ireland and developed a keen interest in Irish history.

Following the Armagh and Omagh arms raids by the IRA in 1954 and the election in 1955 of two prisoner-candidates in Fermanagh-South Tyrone and in Mid-Ulster Seán Cronin returned to Ireland to take part in the developing struggle. He was promoted rapidly through the ranks of the Irish Republican Army and in 1956 was appointed Director of Operations on General Headquarters Staff. At this time he authored the famous booklet “Notes on Guerrilla Warfare” and was responsible for the “Battle School” which trained selected Volunteers as leaders. They would later in turn train local units.

He drafted the strategic document “Operation Harvest” which was a pilot scheme for a military campaign against British Occupation forces in the Six North-Eastern Counties. This blueprint was accepted by the Army Council and later amended in keeping with local circumstances.

His finest hour was yet to come. That was in July and August 1957 when he and his comrade on GHQ Staff, Charlie Murphy, escaped the internment net and incarceration in the Curragh Concentration Camp. While “on the run”, they re-organised the Resistance Campaign in the Six Occupied Counties. Cronin edited An t-Eireannach Aontaithe/The United Irishman and engaged in a war of words with deValera who was attempting to justify his concentration camp policies.

In the Autumn of 1957 he was appointed IRA Chief of Staff. In the months that followed he led from the front by taking part in operations in the Six Counties and also in an arms raid in England itself. In November 1957 a successful General Army Convention was held to consolidate the structure of the organisation. The Campaign was maintained throughout all of this and Seán Cronin evaded the 26-County Special Branch as it hunted for him night and day. Finally at the end of September 1958 he was arrested in Dublin and sent to the Curragh.

He was to spend the last five months of that concentration camp’s existence interned there without trial. On his release his advice on the dispute which arose in the camp was wise indeed. He posed the question: “is the Republican Movement a self-perpetuating religious sect, or is it the instrument of the freedom of Ireland?” If the latter it was a time for discipline at all costs, he said. At the ensuing General Army Convention, Seán Cronin was again returned as Chief of Staff. He also resumed as Editor of the United Irishman.

During 1959-60 Seán was again on operational active service north of the Border. In June 1960 he was arrested a third time and given a six month sentence for “not accounting for his movements”. On his release he found that charges had been made against him from America. A Court of Inquiry found these charges to be groundless and he was co-opted back on to the Army Council. Cronin refused to accept membership because he felt support from America would be cut off if he emerged as a leading figure again. The other six members disagreed but Seán insisted in his refusal.

In the outcome there was no further support from America so both Cronin and the American support were lost to the leadership. However Seán did work for GHQ right up to the end of the Resistance Campaign in 1962. Commenting on the “termination of the campaign that began on December 12, 1956”, Cronin said that there “should always be military resistance to the British occupation of the Six Counties”.

A few years later Seán Cronin returned to the United States. For than 20 years he was the Washington Correspondent of the “Irish Times”. In its obituary that newspaper described his work as “meticulously precise as a reporter” and his Washington Letter as a “must read”. He was a writer, public speaker, lecturer, political analyst and military person who could turn his hand to most things. Above all he was a leader of men who led from the front.

Those who served with him in the Republican Movement in the years 1955-65 can attest to his fair-mindedness and sense of justice. Mná Tí in the houses where he was billeted spoke highly of him as “a gentleman” who did his utmost not to put the household under pressure. A socialist who supported women’s liberation he could always see the broad sweep of affairs and the consequences of actions.

I leave the last word to another Republican soldier who served under Sean Cronin in 1956: Daithí Ó Conaill of Cork. Following his escape from the Curragh Concentration Camp in 1958 he said: ‘I’m looking forward to working with that man’ i.e. Sean Cronin.

Sean Cronin had above all the ability to inspire people, by word and by example. Today his life of service to the cause of Irish national independence inspires us. For those who came of age in succeeding years, he has left the valuable legacy of his writings.

Seán was the author of many books and pamphlets including The McGarrity Papers; The Search for the Republic (a biography of Frank Ryan); Irish Nationalism, a history of its roots and ideology; Young Connolly (an account of James Connolly’s youth); Our Own Red Blood (about the 1916 Rising); Washington’s Irish Policy 1916-1986 Independence, Partition, Neutrality; Kevin Barry; Resistance (The story of the struggle in British-occupied Ireland); Ireland since the Treaty and An appeal to Unionists, The latter three were written under various nom-de-plumes.

They will inspire us for the unfinished work which remains to be done.

His family are justly proud of him. Kerry should be proud of him and all Ireland should cherish his memory. We here today salute him.

Leaba i measc na bhFíníní go raibh ag a spiorad uasal calma i bPárrthas na ngrás! May his brave and noble spirit rest with the Fenians in God’s paradise!

Workers Party Tribute to Sean Cronin who died on 9th March 2011

Sean Cronin (1920 – 2011)

Sean Cronin who died in the US on 9th March was a highly respected republican, in the tradition of Tone and Connolly, who made a significant contribution to the study of Irish nationalism. From the late sixties into the seventies and eighties he produced a number of major works on Irish revolutionaries; “Young Connolly” and “For Whom the Hangman’s noose was spun” a short booklet on Wolfe Tone’s journey to America and to France where he spent some years seeking French aid for the United Irishmen, A biography of Frank Ryan Socialist Republican leader of the Republican Congress and leader of the Irish contingent in the Spanish Civil War who were defending the Democratic Spanish Republic against Franco’s Fascists, he also wrote The Revolutionaries, Jemmy Hope, Marx and the Irish Question all published by Repsol Publishing the publishing arm of the Workers Party of Ireland.

Sean had the view that even in the darkest periods of Irish history it was essential to keep the flame alive. He made this point very strongly in his pamphlet “They Kept Faith” on Sean Sabhat and Fergal O’Hanlon who were killed at Brookeborough Fermanagh in January 1957. It is clear from all the works that Sean Cronin produced that he had a great affinity for all the subjects of his work. He identified with the struggles and the sacrifices of subject people all over the world and never hesitated to express or render support to those under attack or suffering repression from reaction. Living in the United States for many decades he never lost his interest or optimism that Ireland would one day succeed in achieving Tone’s and Connolly’s objective of a united people free and independent.

Through reading the obituary, by an anonymous writer, in the Irish Times of Saturday 12th March one would never know the extent and the valuable contribution Sean Cronin made to Irish history and politics. They mention in passing a major project he completed on Irish Nationalism: The History of its Roots and Ideology. Living in the United States for many decades he never lost his interest or optimism that Ireland would one day succeed in achieving Ton and Connolly’s objective of a united people free and independent.

I first met with Sean Cronin in 1955, after he arrived in Ireland from America with his wife Terry, when he joined the IRA. Having spent the war years in the Defence Forces he was, compared to the IRA standards, an able soldier. He became a member of GHQ staff and within some months he was working on a plan of campaign “Operation Harvest”. A very generous, sociable, unassuming man of integrity he never imposed himself on any person. His first wife Terry, who died in 1977, was in her own right a very capable and progressive person a shining light in bringing a very different viewpoint and analyses of politics in Ireland and the world to many naïve Irish republicans in the 1950s. During the time preparing for the commencement of “Operation Harvest” Sean Cronin took part in a number of IRA operations a major one being the attempt to rescue IRA prisoners from Wakefield Prison England (The aircraft episode).

Obviously resented and indeed hated by some elements in the IRA and the broader Republican Movement he was a victim of one of the most sordid and despicable campaigns of Irish McCarthyism’s witchhunts in the late fifties. A number of allegations, coming from the United States, claiming that Sean and Terry were Communists and therefore not fit or suitable, according to their standards, to be involved in what they stood for a Catholic Nationalist organisation. Spurred on by the lies and distortions of this element in the US Clann na Gael the campaign was led and fomented by Paddy McLogan a longtime reactionary leader of Irish nationalism and who had been a major figure in the IRA for many decades.

The IRA Army Council decided to establish a court of inquiry into the allegations. Some of the IRA Council did not agree with this decision but went along with it saying it would clear the air. Sean rejected this decision and parted company with the IRA. The IRA went ahead with its inquiry but by then the damage had been done. Instead of standing with an honourable man, who had been tried and tested many times, they surrendered to a faction of reactionaries and in the process lost the services and goodwill of an honest and true follower of Tone and Connolly.

Sean Cronin was a great friend and admirer of George Gilmore one of the foremost leaders and thinkers of revolutionary thought and practice in Ireland over the decades from the thirties. Sean had a great rapport with Cathal Goulding and Tomás MacGiolla and they worked together on many projects with Sean who was living in the United States. A great admirer of Frank Ryan his biography of Frank Ryan is acknowledged to be a first class accomplishment. On a number of occasions discussions were held with film producers on the possibility of producing a film based on Sean’s biography of Frank Ryan. Like many such ideas in the world of filmmaking unfortunately it never came to pass.

Sean was a founder member of the Wolfe Tone Society which played a huge role in the formation of NICRA which has an honoured place in Irish history in its task of building an equal, tolerant and democratic society. Again, as so often in the past, sectarian and anti-progressive forces played their trump card of sectarianism and for decades our country was trapped in the mire of sectarian conflict resulting in thousands of dead and tens of thousands seriously injured. Sean Cronin hated splits and factions and always opposed those who sought to divide people. He had long recognised that to achieve the objectives of Tone, Lalor, Connolly sectarianism had to be confronted and defeated and he always strove to create the conditions in which a united people could achieve the aim of those men.

To return to the Irish Times (the paper of record) for whom Sean worked as its US correspondent, they got a few facts wrong in their obituary of Sean. He was not sentenced to three months in the Curragh in January 1957 it was to Mountjoy Gaol he was sentenced. The Curragh was not opened until July 1957 as an internment camp in which Sean found himself in late 1958. The one pamphlet which they mention Resistance, in my recollection, was not a Sinn Féin publication but was issued by Republican Publicity Bureau. The crap Irish Times comes away with concerning his training as an officer in the Defence Forces in the 1940’s and sharpening pencils at both ends to demonstrate his discipline leading on to how this marked him over from other members of the IRA concerning timekeeping shows the depth and sincerity of their article. Such a man as Sean Cronin deserves respect and honour not the crap that the Irish Times passes off as an obituary.

In his last years he suffered serious health problems. Most saddening of all was the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. For an intellectual and a very active person this was a dreadful blow after living a life which gave so much to so many, many people. He still had so much to give in our common struggle.

We understand that his ashes will be scattered in Kerry in September when his wife Reva Rubenstein Cronin and family will be travelling to Ireland. On behalf of the Ard Comhairle and members and supporters of the Workers Party and all Sean’s friends in Ireland, we extend our sincere sympathy to Reva, Sean’s stepson, Philip Rubenstein and his two step-grandsons Douglas and Kenny.

We would intend to organise a memorial evening for Sean Cronin on the occasion of the scattering of Sean’s ashes.

Sean Garland on Behalf of Ard Comhairle

and members of the Workers Party of Ireland

17th March 2011

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

"Internment, the IRA, and the Lawless Case"

An important part of Irish prison history, this is the story of how Gerry Lawless and some comrades from the Christle group, defended by Sean MacBride, took the Free State to task over internment. While they lost, Lawless' case as a lndmark in the legal history of internment.    http://irishlabour.com/Irish_MIlitant/Lawless_Case.PDF (Thanks to John McGuire of Univ of Limerick for writing this, and to Irishlabour for putting this up)

Monday, May 13, 2013

Reports from the First Two Weeks

Reports of the first two weeks of the Border campaign, from the "United Irish Bulletin". (Thanks to G B. For sharing)

Liam Sutcliffe- Soldier and Revolutionary

The saying goes "There are showhorses, and there are workhorses." There are the men who grab headlines, make statements, and are household names. Then there are the men who work behind the scenes, give a lifetime of service, and go nearly unknown. Liam Sutcliffe is one such volunteer. He was a spy in Gough Barracks, joined the Christle Group, blew up Nelson's Pillar, and continued working on his own well into the 70's. For the first time, this is his story told by the man himself. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XqqRgIdBDAM&sns=em GRMA to Phil, Mick, and Bas for putting this together. They are currently finishing an interview with Dublin O/c Frank Keane http://theirishrevolution.wordpress.com/2013/05/02/interview-with-liam-sutcliffe-socialist-republican-veteran/

Friday, May 10, 2013

Edentubber Oration -1965

A speech by Cathal Goulding at a commemoration for the Edentubber martyrs in 65- from the United Irishman. Goulding shows singular insight into the complications of the struggle at the time. Republicans today should heed well the opening paragraphs, as well as his conclusion: "There is a tragic dignity in the status of a slave. . .are we to exchange (it) for the contemptible one of bums and bag carriers?" (Thanks to Gerard B. For sharing this)

Thursday, May 9, 2013

"United Irishman"- May, 1957

A copy of the "United Irishman" from 1957. Many thanks to RSF's paper Saoirse for putting this up. A valuable look into the second year of the campaign, with a good deal of articles and orations about the Endentubber martyrs. Note also the many sections on American organizations and supporters, including New York labor giant Red Mike Quill (himself a Civil War volunteer) http://saoirse.info/1957/dec57.pdf

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Liam Kelly, Sedition, and the Pomeroy Riots

     (This needs a short introduction- Its part of a larger work in process, and It picks up right after he had given his famous speech declaring he would never give allegiance "to the bastard queen of a bastard nation...do I believe in armed force? Yes and the more of it the better")      

Liam Kelly, Sedition, and the Pomeroy Riots
  By Miceal

"They (the prisoners) do not ask for votes of sympathy or ink-deep resolutions. What they do require is your support; real, live support which alone can help to realize the objectives for which they are now spending their young lives in England's prisons. Join the Republican Movement."
                 -from the "United Irishman"

    A month after his speech, Liam Kelly was arrested, as it was later discovered, on the orders of the Cabinet. The trial was held on December 4th. He gave a short speech declaring his position that "It is not sedition for an Irishman to say that Ireland belongs to the Irish people and that no foreign monarch or country has a right to claim or exercise jurisdiction in any part of Ireland.”
    After that, as per republican tradition, he refused to recognize the court and remained silent throughout the rest of the proceedings. It is highly unlikely the outcome would have been any better for him had he spoken; the court deemed him "mute by malice" and sentenced him to a year in prison, to be served in Belfast's Crumlin Road Jail. Christmas would be spent inside.
   "The Crum" was notorious for its brutal guards and medieval conditions, but for Kelly it was a return to his "republican university" from the 40's. He refused to wear the prison uniform, and was not allowed to wear his own clothes, so he served his time wearing only the towel that was issued each prisoner.
     That summer Kelly was elected as an MP in the Northern Ireland Assembly (Storemont) on an absenteeist ticket, thanks to his supporters and in no small part the very fact he was a political prisoner. He was marched a few yards from the cell, sworn in with little ceremony (still clad only in the towel) and duly marched back. While the image of an imprisoned volunteer being elected to parliament from his cell usually brings to mind the 81 Hungerstrike, the scene was in fact first enacted over 25 years before.
     In August 1954, after serving 9 months of his sentence, he was released on parole with time subtracted for good behavior. The British ordered the press to not report his release in hopes a show of support would be avoided. But the republican gossip machine was at work and within hours it was common knowledge across Nationalist Ireland.
    Pomeroy's population at the time stood at 367. Within hours, they were inundated by a swarm of 10,000 people from around the country. Everyone was there, from the Kelly family, including his aging father, to comrades from the IRA, Christle's men and Sean MacBride, the campaign workers, and just ordinary Irishmen who had been waiting for a hero of their own. They camped out on the outskirts of the city to await the arrival of Kelly's train from Belfast. The RUC turned out as well - over 300 of them (!) who stood on the sidelines eying the crowd.
     As evening fell, bonfires were lit on the peaks of the surrounding mountains (the "Mountains of Pomeroy") to announce his train was approaching. MacBride stepped up to say a few words of introduction before Kelly gave a brief speech, declaring that "My imprisonment has only strengthened my resolve to end partition." This was followed by a procession, led by a color party of 100 followed by several hundred people carrying torches which made its way through the streets of Pomeroy to the Kelly household.
     It was, incidentally, almost 74 years to the day that his grandfather Willie Kelly and Tom Clarke had faced down the police in Dungannon. Now at one point the police approached and told them to strike the tricolor as they went down Main Street en route to the house- a sign of submission. This was refused and as the procession made its way down Main Street the green white and orange was still flying high. This gave the RUC the excuse they were waiting for; batons were drawn and dozens of police appeared forming a cordon across the road (a report placed their number at 80). The Nationalists, still feeling triumphant, refused to budge and continued marching at the cordon.
    Finally the police charged. There was a scuffle, batons flew, and the parade scattered. The nationalists were forced to fall back to the relative safety of the churchyard, dragging several dozen wounded with them.
     The usual weapons that make themselves available for a riot- bottles, rocks, chunks of pavement- were quickly collected. The nationalists waited a moment before an anonymous voice shouted "now let them have it" and they charged into the police line. The police tried to seize the tricolor but were beaten back. Battle lines were formed again. The police led another attack before, according to the papers, fighting petered out without either side conceding- it being dark, the parade scattered, and the tricolor uncaptured.
     The whole battle lasted 10 minutes. Wounded were said to be around 52. When Pomeroy's little hospital was swamped, the hotel was commandeered and rooms used to house the wounded for the night. Nationalists seem to have done some damage in their counterattack, as 24 police were reported wounded. And "Pomeroy went back to sleep."*
     In the weeks following 4 people were lifted and charged with rioting, but even the prosecution saw that it was absurd to scapegoat 4 for what, in the judge's own words, was the work of "around 200 (sic) maliciously inclined persons."
      Instead of a quiet homecoming, Liam Kelly returned with a bang that made news around the world and even behind the Iron Curtain. He was the last person to be convicted of sedition in the 6 counties. It is interesting to note that the Government's imprisonment of Kelly and subsequent attacks through the police did more than anything else to propel him into the limelight. The British employ more subtle means today; accusations of murder and criminality have replaced forthright charges like sedition. The process is known as "criminalization" and the media is often employed to help blacken the name of the accused, portraying them as something no decent citizen would be willing to support. Although the movement suffers in the resulting ambiguity, the cause remains unchanged today as it was then.
   *Details of the riot, numbers and quotes from newspaper accounts.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Meanwhile in Cork ...

"Miscellaneous Notes on Republicanism and Socialism in Cork" by Jim Lane is a rare insiders account of the inner workings of the IRA in the south. Deep in the relative safety of the Republic, Co Cork acted as a training ground and many familiar faces- Sean South, Sean MacStoifain, etc feature in the narrative. He also recounts the internal splits, personality conflicts, etc, revealing an organization not entirely at peace with itself. Lane and his comrades, frustrated at the Cork Brigade's refusal to actively fight in the North and sidelined on account of their left wing politics, eventually broke away and formed their own republican group, whose activities he accounts for as well. http://www.irishlabour.com/JimLane/Jim-Lane-Misc-Notes.pdf

British Censorship- 1957

A bit of British censorship; a page from the Belfast Gazette announcing, among other things, the banning of several republican papers and a book, "The Omagh Prisoner" by an ex-pow. http://www.belfast-gazette.co.uk/issues/1854/pages/2/page.pdf The United Irishman's status as a paper is well known. Gair Uladh was the paper of Fianna Uladh, banned around the same period, in which the attack on Rosslea was claimed. Resurgent Ulster was part of the Republican Publicity Bureau; unfortunately little or nothing is in public domain of these latter two. Would be interested to know if there are still copies of these or the book left around.

Tyrone Ex-POWs interviewed

"Irish Republican Ex POWs Donal Donnelly, Arthur McCarroll, Jim Devlin and Jim Darcy recall their time imprisoned in Crumlin Road Jail in the 1950s and 1960s. They were imprisoned as a result of their involvement in 'Operation Harvest' also known as the Border Campaign launched by the IRA in 1956. All four men from Tyrone served various lengths of Imprisonment. Donal Donnelly was to escape on St Stephens Day 1960, never to be recaptured" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=miUz6WwH_1A&sns=em (Donnelly's amazing escape is recounted in his book "Prisoner 1082"- LU )


"These are our people. One may be moved by the struggle of the Cypriots, the Algerians or the Hungarians. But these are OUR PEOPLE in Occupied Ireland who are fighting tyranny. Let us stand by them. It is a little thing to ask"- Sean Cronin
The above comes from the opening of "Resistance" - a book by Sean Cronin (under the pen name J McGarritty.) http://www.cym.ie/documents/Resistance.pdf This wonderful manifesto was written in 1957 and details the beginning of "Operation Harvest," Republican history and ideals, and a plea to the population for support. As its closing line says,"It says all that need be said at this time about the struggle for freedom in Ireland to-day. The remaining chapters will be written in the years to come." Cronin's insightful explanation of Republican ideals and history would be expounded on later in his book "Irish Nationalism: a History of its Roots and Ideology." In all, a valuable document- many thanks to the CYM for putting it online.