Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Young Seamus Costello
Seamus Costello is widely considered one of the great intellectuals of latter day Irish Republicanism. But, like everyone, he began somewhere; in this lecture Louise Minihan (Eirigi) she tells of his early years, experiences during the border campaign, and what he learned from it.
Costello became interested in republicanism at the early age of 14, when he read about the IRA arms raid on the officer Training Corps in Essex, England.
At the age of 15, while in Croke Park, Costello bought a copy of the United Irishman, the paper of the republican movement, and in it he read an advertisement for that year’s Easter Commemoration concert in the Gaiety Theatre. Former IRA Chief of Staff Éamonn Mac Thomáis has written about what happened next.
“It was in the early fifties that Séamus came along to me at the Easter Commemoration concert in the Gaiety Theatre and he asked to join the IRA. I asked him how old he was, he said he was fifteen. So I said, ‘Look son, you are too young. Join the Fianna.’
“‘No’, he says, ‘I want to join the IRA.’ ‘Well’, I said, ‘Come back in a year’s time and we’ll see what we can do for you.’ So I thought that was the end of him, but lo and behold a year passed by and the next Easter Commemoration concert in the Gaiety he walked up and looked at me straight in the eye and says, ‘Do you remember me?’ I said I did all right. ’Well,’ he says, ‘I’m sixteen now and I want to join the IRA.’”
That was the determination of Costello. Even at the tender age of 16, he was going to let nothing stand in his way from playing a full a part in the struggle for national liberation.
Costello was not a blind militarist, however, and he understood the importance of building a revolutionary political party. At the same time that he joined the IRA he became active in Sinn Féin and he was the driving force in the establishment of a Sinn Féin cumann in Bray, the first since the Tan War. In the beginning, the cumann confined itself to the sale of the United Irishman newspaper in Bray. But as Costello found his feet as a political organiser, it wasn’t long before the paper was sold in every area in Wicklow.
Costello played a full role in the IRA’s Border Campaign. Aged just 17 Costello took command of the IRA active service unit in South Derry, where his skill as a leader earned him the nickname, ‘The Boy General’. The unit was engaged in several successful operations including the burning of Magherafelt Courthouse.
Arrested in Glencree, County Wicklow in 1957, Costello was sentenced to six months in Mountjoy. As soon as he was released, Costello was interned in the Curragh concentration camp.
It was while in prison that Costello sharpened his political and military skills. Referring later to his time in the Curragh as his university days, Costello used this time to discuss and debate the future of the struggle, its strengths and weaknesses and how the republican struggle could be successful.
He also studied international struggles for national liberation, and attempted to apply their lessons to the Irish context. He was particularly impressed by the struggle lead by the communists in Vietnam, which saw badly armed peasants, deeply driven by a politically Ideology, defeat a larger professionally armed and trained enemy.
His time in prison did not prevent him from taking part in revolutionary activity. Costello was appointed to the camp’s escape committee, and he was one of the driving forces in the successful escape of Ruairí Ó Bradaigh and Daithí Ó Conaill.
It was while in gaol that Costello came to the conclusion that the border campaign had failed not due to lack of popular support but because it had failed to win the popular involvement of the Irish people. On the ending of internment in 1959, Costello threw himself into the re-organising of the republican movement.
It was Costello’s firm belief that for the republican struggle to be successful, republicans must become involved in the everyday battles of the people, and provide leadership in their communities. Purely militarist movements were not going to win the popular involvement of the masses because they were elitist and removed from the struggles of the people.
As part of this republican re-organisation, Costello began to build a strong republican base in Wicklow. It was his belief that by building revolutionary strongholds in the areas where republicans had a presence that these strongholds could become the foundation blocs of a successful revolution.
In the early Sixties, Costello became a full time republican organiser for Wicklow and set about building strong links with the county’s urban and rural communities, as well as local working class organisations.
(Admin: The rest, as they say, is history)