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.

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