Goulding "On the Inside"
In the early 50's the IRA had sufficiently restored its confidence after the disaster of the 40's to carry out an arms raid in England. This raid was to be part of similar raids ongoing in Ireland to gather arms for the hopeful yet seemingly distant next campaign. The target was the Officer Training Corp in Felstead near Essex. It was a school, which meant low security, yet it had a considerable armory. A republican-inclined Scotsman informed the IRA of the fact, and their own investigation confirmed it. To avoid disaster, the raiding party was small, even for IRA standards, and avoided already established Republicans in England for their own security. Sending men into England, the proverbial "belly of the beast," was a dangerous task but the leadership felt it was worth the risk if pulled off.
Cathal Goulding was one of the IRA's leading men at the time, despite being only 30. He had served time as a POW in the 40's campaign and was a popular figure in prison. When he emerged afterwards he found an army without leadership on a grassroots level, and quickly took the initiative to fill the gap. He reorganized and revitalized the Dublin Brigade and set up -and ran -training camps in the Wicklow mountains. He was also made the Dublin Brigade's intelligence officer, and was on the GHQ Army Council which governed the organization. Thus his organizational skills and experience, made him top billing to lead the team.
A young English born volunteer and mechanic in the RAF, John Stephenson, was also chosen to take part. He afterwards recalled being taught his first words in Irish by Cathal Goulding while preparing for the raid; Stephenson later gaelicised his name and became known as Sean MacStoifain. The third and final man Manus Canning was called from Derry. Chief of Staff Tony Magan personally made arrangements for them in London and wanted to take part in the raid but was - luckily, as it turned out- talked out of it.
The raid (July 25) was a success. There was indeed low security and they gained entry by simply prying open a window at night. They then loaded the arms into an old van parked nearby with the windows pasted over with paper. It was an enormous haul, including 98 rifles, eight sten guns, ten brens, dummy bombs, an anti-tank PIAT and mortars. So much in fact, that the van at first would not move when they tried to leave. They unloaded some material and set off, yet they were still overloaded.
The raid was a success but they encountered problems in the getaway. First they lost their way on the unfamiliar streets and were still driving about come daylight. Also they had not taken into account the effect of the weight, and the erratically driving, heavily loaded vans, slowing rows of traffic and loosing control on down slopes, drew the suspicion of the police. The van tried to avoid the first police car that pulled out but they were unable to make a break for it and a second car forced them to pull over. With police now swarming around them, they were searched and the baggage was duly discovered.
Photo: Left to right, Canning, MacStoifain, and Gouldng are led away.
On October 7th a jury found them guilty and sentenced them to eight years in prison. "Without retiring," MacStoifain recalled, "the jury found us guilty in a record 90 seconds by the simple procedure of turning to each other and nodding." Goulding declared to the court:
"We are soldiers of the Irish Republican Army: we believe the only way to drive the british from our country is by force of arms. For that purpose we think it no crime to capture arms from our enemies. We make no apology for our action."
Cathal Goulding became prisoner 1584. His previous convictions and prominence in the IRA made him a Class A prisoner- always under the watch, continually transferred (an estimated total of 9 times), and while the other prisoners could freely associate, he was often kept isolated. In addition to contending with the medieval conditions of the prison, Sean MacStoifain recalled how they were always monitored wherever they went and no matter what they did. As a result the prisoners had no room to themselves and "nothing to draw on for strength to carry them through their sentences." Goulding fought against this well by withdrawing into himself, keeping his self discipline, and staying busy mentally through reading and planning. Well did a eulogist later state "Cathal knew the surest way to lose one's faith is to succumb to one's immediate environment."
Any volunteer in jail is a loss to the organization, but loosing Goulding was a particularly severe blow. Tony Magan was understandably eager to get him back and went over several escape plans for the purpose. Charlie Murphy was made messenger between the two so they could discuss the plans. It was invaluable help for other republican prisoners as well, most of whom had no way of securely communicating with the IRA back home. For all his talent and charisma, the problem was, in J Bowyer Bell's words, he was "cursed with incredibly bad luck."
In one plan, hatched in Wakefield, Goulding calculated that at one point of the day he had enough time to make it to the wall, where two supporters on the other side would throw a rope over, and he could climb out before the alarm was sounded. Wakefield's wall was over 30 ft high, and on the inside was a 14 foot trench: Cathal made it into the trench, but the two with the rope fumbled throwing it over. Time and again they tried until Cathal finally decided to climb out and jump for the rope, but as he did they pulled it away. The time limit was up and he had to scramble back into the prisoners area.
Another plan sanctioned by Magan involved Sean Garland and Sean Cronin flying a C-47 full of volunteers disguised as a drama group (complete with Cumann na mBan "actresses") to an airfield outside Wakefield. Goulding would then see the volunteers inside the prison over the wall where they would be escorted to the C-47 and fly home. Everything went according to plan until the prisoners once again could not get over the wall in time and Cronin, Garland, and their men had to flee the scene to avoid being put in the gaol as well. Magan lamented how buying the C-47 for an unsuccessful mission had nearly bankrupt the IRA but then as another volunteers told him, they always were bankrupt. For his escape attempts, patches were added to Cathal's uniform by the prison authorities as a brand of sorts, to mark him as an escaper to be watched.
Out of all the prisons he saw the inside of, Wakefeld was the most important in the long term as Goulding was exposed to a melting pot of peoples and causes of the time.
Foremost among them were about a half dozen Cyrpiot EOKA men. The IRA and EOKA men recognized the similarities in their struggles and turned to each other to help survive their stay. Goulding quickly formed a joint escape committee of the two groups. While his transfer came before he could see any plans come to fruition (in late 1956), the committee was the source of close dialogue between the two organizations. Military cooperation was on the cards for some time and a joint escape was in fact hatched in 1959. After his death in 1998 the surviving members of the Wakefield EOKA men presented a plaque posthumously to his son, Cathal Og, in gratitude.
In the same prison he also met Welsh socialist and saboteur Pedr Lewis, in for trying to destroy the Fron Aqueduct in the bitter contest between England and Wales for Welsh water resources. Lewis' connection with Goulding was the first of many for the latter with Welsh Nationalists, culminating with his sending arms to the Free Wales Army and sheltering OTR Welshmen in later years.
The most significant personality may have been Klaus Fuchs, a scientist turned spy who leaked England's atomic secrets to the Soviets. He aided the volunteers in a variety of ways and is said to have converted some to marxism. Around this time Goulding began professing a brand of marxism quite similar to that of Fuchs and became well read on the Russian revolution. He read about current left wing leaders as well- such as Tito- and even suggested to Sean MacStoifain they contact the Soviet Union for assistance. Now how much of this can be credited to Fuchs is up for debate. Many (especially future Provisionals such as Joe Cahill and Ruairi O'Bradaigh) claim it was Fuchs. Others say it was Goulding's own development. Seamus Murphy says "Fuchs never tried to turn anyone- it was hard to get a word out of him!" As Murphy was in Wakefield and shared Cathal's growing political interest, his version is the most likely one. In any event, it would have far reaching implications that went unseen at the time.
Aside from these few events and contacts, they were still trying years for Cathal. He missed out on any role in Operation Harvest, and the latter was no doubt all the worse for it. After Wakefield he served another 3 years in several prisons, mostly in solitary confinement for trivial reasons and, as Sean Garland put it, "the odd serious reason such as attempting to escape on numerous occasions." "He always maintained his humanity and never allowed the screws to get the better of him," Garland continues - which was no small feat.
One episode illustrates well how he refused to let the screws get to him. In the late 50's his old friend and fellow volunteer Brendan Behan appeared on BBC live, completely drunk. Since he was in the country, Behan had scheduled a visit but instead the warden canceled it. He called Goulding into his office to explain that he would never allow a drunk like that to enter his prison. Cathal replied "But drunk or sober, you'll never be on BBC!"
After serving six of their eight years he, Macstoifain, and Canning were released in 1959. Cathal was welcomed home to Dublin with enthusiastic celebrations and a parade. He did not waste time though, and just as soon as he returned he was leading the Easter Commemoration and was back at work with the Dublin Brigade as Quartermaster, where his first project was arranging a shipment of bazookas from America. In a few short years he had risen to Chief of staff.
This time however, he used his position to reorganize the movement's politics rather than its military. He was always left-leaning, but he had now developed his own specific analysis in line with his working class background, reinforced by what he had read in jail. "I could see that he was different" Ruairi O'Bradaigh says. He teamed up with like-minded individuals (such as Thomas Mac Goilla, Roy Johnston, Sean Garland- the future leaders of the Officials) and tried to shift the movement slowly but surely towards class politics while promising another campaign, which, he declared in a memo to the volunteers, "I intend to be the last."
"Armed Stuggle"- Richard English
"The IRA"- J Bowyer Bell
"Cathal Goulding: Thinker, Socialist, Republican, Revolutionary" Pamphlet
"Official Irish Republicanism"- Sean Swan
Various United Irishman clippings
"Memoirs of a Revolutionary"- Sean MacStoifain
"The Lost Revolution- Hanley and Millar
(Thanks to the above for the quote from MacStoifain. Kenneth, who runs it, is writing a bio of Goulding so if anyone reading this is interested or has information do check it out
Thanks also to G. B for the images.