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

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