Saturday, 6 August 2011

Oral History Network Ireland Conference Programme

For those who are interested in attending the Oral History Network conference in September (mentioned here previously), I have provided the programme of the conference. E-mail the organisers to get your place if you would like to attend.

  • Venue: Parade Tower, Kilkenny Castle, Kilkenny
  • Showcase of Oral History projects in Duchess Room throughout conference
§         Conference Proceedings:
Friday 16 September
1.00 – 2.00 pm          Registration
2.00 – 3.30 pm          Workshop: Doing Oral History
                                                Tomas MacConmara and Catherine O’Connor
3.30 – 3.40 pm          Coffee
3.40 – 5.00 pm          Workshop: Using Oral History for Research Purposes
                                                Mary Muldowney and Alistair Thomson

Conference participants free from 5 to 6.30 to enjoy Oral History Showcase

6.30 pm                      Wine Reception
7.00 pm                      Keynote Address: Alistair Thomson
8.30 pm                      Conference Dinner

Saturday 17 September
9.00 – 10.00 am        Registration
10.00 – 10.30            Welcome and Opening Address: Why a Network?
                                                Regina Fitzpatrick
10.30 – 12.30            Documenting Orality and Memory
This session will examine the practice, status and financing of oral history in Ireland at the present time. It will include discussion of oral history in academia and in the community.
Chair:                          Cliona O’Carroll
Opening Remarks:    Alistair Thomson
Panellists:                  Mike Cronin, Marie Mannion, Maura Cronin, Mary O’Driscoll

12.30 – 2.00  Lunch and time to enjoy Oral History Showcase and Kilkenny Castle
2.00 – 4.00                The Archives
This session will focus on the essential and urgent issue of the archiving of oral history collected in Ireland
Chair:                          Eunan O’Halpin
Opening Remarks:    Guy Beiner
Panellists:                  Cristóir MacCartaigh, Caitriona Crowe, Claire Hackett

4.00 – 4.15    Coffee

4.14 – 5.30                Chair and Rapporteur: Maura Cronin
                                    Concluding Round Table Discussion

Friday, 5 August 2011

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Wagnerian Economics: Cork Launch of Conor McCabe's 'Sins of the Father' at Solidarity Books

'Sometimes I would finish writing and have to have a shower in digust at what they've done to us'

My day began on a sour note involving a carpet and cat vomit but ended rather well with the Cork launch of Conor McCabe's Sins of the Father. The attendance was good, bigger than any of the previous historical discussions hosted by the wonderful Solidarity Books and the dicussion that followed the main talk was varied and interesting. With Conor's permission I recorded the majority of the meeting. Any problems with sound and so on I take full responsibility for (still getting used to digital recording). As usual, I must plug Solidarity Books and heartily recommend them for anyone living in / passing through Cork.

Having found every wma hosting site I've came across to be run by a bunch of cunts with little or no interest in whether their sites actually work, I have emailed the files to Donagh who will post them on Dublin Opinion.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Swing to the Left - A Night of Big Band Swing with Gary Baus

Anyone who happens to be in Cork oughtta call down

Here is Gary playing sax with the God-Fearing Folk:

and here's a recent interview:

Gary Baus Interview from Maciek Klich on Vimeo.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Seán Swan on Eoghan Harris

While researching his highly interesting phd thesis (later self-published book) Official Irish Republicanism, 1962-1972, political scientist Seán Swan was forced to interview bloated moron and Sindo crank-in-chief Eoghan Harris. While there are flaws in the book, Swan should be congratulated for his committment to history as the U.N now actually consider time spent in Eoghan Harris's company as a violation of basic human rights. Having received a request to make available Swan's description and analysis of Harris (itself valuable as a medical record of male menopause) I present to you Seán Swan's greatest undertaking. Please note that the following passages occur after a lengthy quotation from Harris. I attempted typing Harris's full quotation but my laptop actually got physically sick from inflicting such shite on its hard drive and vomited the quotes back out. They are now on my kitchen floor, being mopped up with old copies of the Sunday Independent while my cat, despite not posessing language, gazes upon them with a primordial feline contempt:

Getting through to the Unionists appears to have become an end in itself. The ultimate and inevitable end station of this process was to become unionist, as Harris did. Harris did not get through to the Unionists, they got through to him. The only conversion he was responsible for was his own conversion to Unionism. If this is gettinng through to the Unionists it is only in the most abject sense. Far from advancing socialism or republicanism's 'common name', it represented simply their rejection in order to gain an audience with unionists on unionist terms. The missionary of republicanism became a convert to unionism.

Harris's position here is special pleading at best; pure can at worse. Opposition to sectarian violence must be aimed at both sides. The Provisionals were the product of northern nationalists and were no more Harris's 'own side' than were the Unionists. Northern Nationalists differ profoundly from the population in the Irish Republic. But this is exactly what is to be expected, given the profoundly different social realities under which both groups lived since 1920 - indeed, since the Seventeenth century. . .

Harris' 'anti-sectarianism' was shown in a different light in the context of his fanatical support for the invasion of Iraq. The invasion and the reduction of the state if Iraq to a state of nature through the deliberate destruction of the Iraqi state, opened the gates of hell for that unfortunate country. It unleashed the forces of sectarianism and terrorism on a country where they were previously absent.

The mythical 'WMDs' never materialised. The claim that the invasion will bring about democracy in Iraq is equally spurious - the creation of a Black Water run puppet state, unofficial partition or a theocracy are far more likely. Whatever the final outcome, it will have no meaning for the 2.5% of the Iraqi population, who died as a result of this 'liberation' up to July 2006. This is what Harris's cheerleading for war helped facilitate and it is in this context that his position on Northern Ireland must be judged. His 2007 advice to the UUP to join the DUP is also difficult to understand in terms of any 'anti-sectarian' (as opposed to anti-nationalist) strategy. Like many of Harris's ideas it is fatally flawed and could help destroy any remaining common feeling between the British public and Ulster Unionists by luring the unionists into making a party viewed in Britain sd religious fundamentalist, bigoted and unmistakeably 'other', their exclusive political face. This is doubtlessly not Eoghan Harris' intention but then so many of his previous good intentions have later paved the way to hell. [Nor is he fully trusted by unionists, being accused of 'confused thinking on the nature of terrorism' by the liberal unionist Cadogan group.]

-Official Irish Republicanism 1962-72, pp.396-397.

Seán Swan: Neither of us are, to my knowledge, homosexuals. Nevertheless, I wish to marry you and bear your children.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Oral History Network Ireland


A major step forward for oral history in Ireland was heralded recently with the formation of a national organisation dedicated to co-ordinating and strengthening the work of oral history practitioners and groups across the country. The Oral History Network of Ireland is supported by some of the leading oral historians and organisations in the country. It will be formally launched at a major international conference to be held in the Parade Tower of Kilkenny Castle on 16/17 September 2011.One of the main purposes of the September conference is to establish the position of oral history in Ireland and to ascertain how best to advance its cause. Librarians would be particularly welcome to participate in this discussion. The group aim to establish contact with a view to supporting and encouraging anyone interested in the preservation of Ireland’s oral heritage and invite interested parties to email

Oral history in Ireland has been practiced by many committed individuals and groups for centuries.  Embracing practitioners both at community level and within the Academy, and extending to Ireland, North and South, the Oral History Network of Ireland represents an exciting new departure.  For the first time in Ireland, a unified network of practitioners is emerging: this will provide a long overdue opportunity for oral historians to pool resources, share information about best international practice and, more importantly, to identify  issues relating to the preservation and promotion of Ireland’s oral heritage.

There has been a major growth over the last number of years in the area of oral history and tradition with community groups and individuals across Ireland making significant efforts to record the oral heritage of their area.  Many librarians and heritage officers throughout the country have contributed significantly to this development.  The evidence suggests that there is a need for support at all organisational levels for individuals and groups practicing oral history in Ireland.  The conference in September aims to seriously and comprehensively discuss these issues and to begin to address them in an inclusive and hopefully decisive way by providing a forum where people can seek and share advice on best practice.  The founding of the Oral History Network of Ireland is a very significant initiative which will facilitate the voluntary interchange of ideas, experience and expertise between people using living memory as a key historical source.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Johnny Cash Concert Interrupted by IRA Bomb Threat.

From 'Strawberry Cake', a live album recorded by Cash in the London Palladium in 1976. The venue had to be evacuated due to an IRA bomb threat.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Ephemeral Left goes international

Was interested to find that a comment I left over on this thread on Cedar Lounge has been translated into French over on this here site. I have to say I'm flattered. I've never been translated into anything before (except from Cork to Yorkshire). Any interested Frenchmen and women may also want to check out this related post from earlier this year.

Moving Statues in Ballinspittle - Newsnight Report from 1985

Highlight: 'Did it move while you were making it?' 'Just out the door maybe.'

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Book Review: 'Chasing Progress in the Irish Republic: Ideology, Democracy and Dependent Development' by John Kurt Jacobsen

This week saw the release of Conor McCabe's long-awaited (by me anyway) Sins of the Father: Tracing the Decisions that Shaped the Irish Economy. Unfortunately, I won't be able to get my hands on a copy for about another fortnight. Luckily enough, I have been reading another similar book which addresses many of the same issues. Chasing Progress in the Irish Republic by John Kurt Jacobsen, released in 1994, examines the economic policy choices made by successive Irish governments since independence. Like Conor's book, it does so from a left-wing perspective. References to mainstream academic texts and IDA reports sit happily alongside interviews with Noel Browne, left-wing journals like the Ripening of Time (also an influence on McCabe's analysis) and Mandelite economics.

The picture on the front of the book is Seán Keating's 'Night's Candle's are Burnt Out'. The painting, finished in 1928:
represents the transition of Ireland from an underdeveloped country, suffering through war, to emerge into independence and prosperity. With the huge Ardnacrusha Power Station in the background, the foreground figures are symbolic rather than realistic; the businessman triumphs over the gunman, the engineers put out the candle as electricity, symbol of the new State, comes on stream. The child of the new State looks forward in anticipation. (Source: ESB Archives)
The choice is apt. Jacobsen's book examines how Ireland sought to industrialise and achieve economic modernity after independence, charting this from the failed autarky of the early state, through the Whittaker/Lemass revolution, up until the early 1990s. To do this Jacobsen uses a mix of Dependency theory, political science and aspects of Marxism. In particular he compares Ireland's economies to those of the third world, arguing that Ireland 'shares the characteristics of a large (if shrinking) agricultural sector, high birth rates, underutilised resources (especially human resources) and a colonial heritage.' (P.2)

What makes the book particularly interesting is the fact that Jacobsen examines a mix of external and domestic actors in determining economic policy. Policy is not simply dictated by the ruling-class or the state. Rather, the state is 'viewed as an organizational matrix profoundly interlinked with civil society, especially key producer groups, shaping private preferences and in turn is influenced in a wide variety of sites within and outside the formal structure, according to the material and wits deployed by actors.' (P.165.) Basically, Jacobsen observes how the particular political situation, the discourse in society and the relative power of different groups influences what policy options are open and which are taken. In particular, Jacobsen looks at how elites 'invoke the conventional wisdoms of economic policy so as to augment their project's desirability in the eyes of other social actors whose consent is need to win political struggles over policy choices.' (P.2)

Because of this, Chasing Progress is as much political theory as it is economic history. Jacobsen examines how the political discourse in society influenced what policies were pursued at different periods. He links the power of the Catholic church, the constant factor of mass emigration of young workers (those most likely to be critical of economic conservatism) and so on to creating an atmosphere in which ambitous state-led development was off the cards due to the equation of any such moves with communism. It has to be said that this explanation (of the early part of the state's history) is a little unconvincing. However, when the same method is applied to the 70s and 80s, it becomes much more interesting. Jacobsen here relates the overwhelming support for the various governments' disastrous deflationary policies to the ideological hegemony of economic liberalism which was, with few exceptions, propounded by all the main parties and the vast majority of the mainstream media. This 'high deference derived from a united front among all right-wing parties, and a media which reflected conservative diagnoses. In Ireland, even more than in Britain, there seemed no alternative.' (P.167) As such throughout this period, wealth was redistributed upwards and economic growth continued alonside rising unemployment.

Jacobsen's central thesis is that Ireland followed a course of reflex modernisation: export-led industrialisation which saw a dominant foreign sector of multinationals emerge while native industry remained weak and the state became utterly deferential to the interests of foreign capital. Of particular interest in this regard are the brief references to the selling off of mineral resources and the Ferenka incident. Jacobsen describes a plethora of discoveries in both mining and natural gas. According to him: 'This geological wealth could provide the basis for heavy industrialisation by generating downstream industries in die-casting, galvanizing and so on.' but 'because of the vertical integration of multinational mining companies in conjunction with the generous terms of Irish authorities, nothing of the kind occurred.' (P.118) The Ferenka incident saw a Dutch company in Limerick employing over a 1,000 people move their operations elsewhere in 1977, hitting the city with a sudden loss of employment. Spokesmen for the company claimed that it was due to Bolshie trade unions and the media picked up on this, blaming the workers for the company's departure. However, Jacobsen shows that the labour disputes in the factory had actually been settled prior to the company's departure and that the company's authoritarian regime was bound to create industrial trouble anyway. The real reason the company had left was because it was already in the process of moving to cheaper economies. Its bases in Holland and Britain however had managed to prevent this through trade union action. What the incident showed above all was 'the strain of maintaining an "attractive business climate" was beginning to show. In an image-making age public relations mattered more than the actual state of industrial relations. The Irish state was confined by reliance upon the good fraces of foreign enterprises. But the Ferenka affair certainly had exposed a distressing faultline economic policy.' (P.123.)

Arguably, the best part of the book deals with the 1980s recession. After the somewhat stilted academic tone that characterised the early part of the book, Jacobsen's anger and indignation enlivens the book. What makes this particularly interesting is just how familiar the situation he describes feels:
The "propensity to defer" remained high over three elections fought during 1981-82 as parties competed for the right to impose deflationary programs that differed from one another only marginally. Austerity packages were portrayed in the media as a secular pilgrimage, a repentance for sins that barefoot treaders of, as a Fine Gael minister colorfully put it, the "rough stony path" may not recall having committed. They are induced anyway to feel guilty because the international market, like God, moves in mysterious ways that demand unquestioning obedience. (P.156)
First as tragedy, then as farce.

Here, Jacobsen is utterly scathing is his tearing down of the FF/FG/Labour policies during the period and particularly of the mainstream media. He blows apart the notion that high wages were the source of the problem, showing how after the years of wage restraint unemployment continued to climb ever higher. In particular, his demonstration of the bemused confusion of broadsheet papers and economists at the seeming paradox of increased growth alongside increased unemployment (a result of massive deflation) is both tragic and hilarious. It's a pity that there's unlikely to be a second edition. One wonders how Jacobsen would describe the current situation.

In conclusion, the book is slow to get going and its origin as a PHD thesis frequently reveals itself through the somewhat schematic structure and often dull prose. However, this book is invaluable as a left-wing critique of Irish economic policy and, when Jacobsen lets loose and allows a little sarcasm and anger to creep in, it's a fantastic read. It's available for less than a fiver on Amazon so as soon as you finish Sins of the Father, be sure to give this one a whirl.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Historical Cork on Film - 1900s and 1970s

Two slices of historical Cork for you:


Interesting RTE  documentary about Edwardian Cork. The footage used was filmed between 1900 and 1903 and recovered by chance in a basement in 1995 and is incredible. High quality and varied shots in and around the city cover everything from workmen leaving their factory to genteel boating near Sunday's Well. Perhaps the most striking things about the footage are the preponderance of union jacks and the fact that the city seems to have changed so little. In particular the hustle and bustle of Patrick's Street doesn't seem a million miles away from the atmosphere you still get in town on a busy Saturday afternoon. The commentary is a bit disappointing however. More historians and historical context would have benefitted the whole thing immensely. Some of the commentators, while evocative, really don't add a lot. Otherwise, it really is fascinating and the fades from recent to newsreel coverage of the same street in particular are really quite stirring.


Equally interesting is this short programme made in 1977 about the echo boys. The howls of 'EVENING ECHO' are such a fundamental part of the fabric of the city that it's hard to imagine what the place would be like without them. However, the phenomenon of children and teenagers selling the paper is one that has died out. If anything, the typical echo seller now tends to be quite a bit closer to the grave than the womb. Particularly interesting is the interview in the early part of the second half when the biggest markets for the paper are identified as Fords, Dunlop and Sunbeam-Woolsey, large manufacturing centres which have all since shut down. An interesting piece of social history. Thanks to Tossie123 for all of these clips, whoever he may be.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Sex in a Cold Climate - Ireland's Magdalene Laundries

A Channel 4 documentary from 1997 that features interviews with 4 former Magdalene inmates. This documentary is significant because the truth about the Magdalene Laundries only emerged in 1993 after part of a convent in Dublin was being converted and the unmarked graves of 155 inmates were uncovered. It was the first major documentary to be made about the issue and also the first to draw attention to the Magdalene System in Ireland from an international audience.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Ewan MacColl: A tale of two plaques

Most people are probably familiar with the song 'Dirty Old Town', originally written by Ewan MacColl about his native Salford, and most famously covered by the Dubliners. MacColl was also a committed Marxist and his songs (of which there are over 300) frequently reflected this. Like Woody Guthrie he saw folk music and the writing of songs that reflected working-class struggles as something both politically engaged and potentially revolutionary. If you're a fan and happen to be passing through either Salford near Manchester or Russell Square in London then you should keep an eye out for the following two plaques:

This is the one in Russell Square and reads: Ewan MacColl 25.1.1915 to 22.10.1989 Folk Laureate, Singer, Dramatist, Marxist. This oak tree was planted in recognition of the strength and singleness of purpose of this fighter for peace and socialism. Below, in smaller writing: Presented by his communist friends with the kind assistance of the London Borough of Camden on the 75th anniversary of his birth 25.1.1990.

This is the one in Salford. Apologies for the poor quality but it reads: Ewan MacColl: 1915-1989. Marxist, Singer, Songmaker and Dramatist lived in this neighbourhood. I managed to come across the following report from the Communist History Network Newsletter in 2001 describing the ceremonies marking the plaque's unveiling:

Ewan MacColl plaque unveiling ceremony, Salford

On September 22 and 23 2001, a weekend celebration of the life and work of Ewan MacColl was held at the Working Class Movement Library (WCML) in Salford. A city council plaque commemorating MacColl’s connections with Salford, now on permanent display at the WCML, was unveiled. Ruth Frow reports on the weekend and reflects on MacColl’s life.

The weekend started on Saturday with a reception at which Peggy Seeger met a number of her old friends and a few Salfordians who remembered Jimmy Miller (Ewan MacColl) from his young days.

Sunday was the important occasion in the Library. The Mayor and Mayoress attended to invite Peggy Segger to unveil the red plaque which is now permanently sited in the large hall. After the ceremony at which over a hundred people managed to squash into the hall to witness, the audience divided and a performance of Ewan MacColl’s songs and a sample of his agit-prop plays was given in both the Annexe and the Reading Room.

Terry Wheelan, a folk-singer and old friend, gathered performers who had been members of the Critics Group and who had known and worked with Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger. They were lively and interesting, and anxious to pay their respects in the way that Ewan would have appreciated. Some of them continued discussing controversial topics unresolved many years ago.

Aidan Jolly and his friends gave a rendering of the agit-prop sketch Meerut. In the early thirties, when it was first performed in the streets of north-west towns, the story of the prisoners at Meerut would have been hot news. Street-theatre was Jimmy Miller’s first experience of the use of drama to interpret political events.

Jimmy Miller was born in Salford in 1915. His father was an iron moulder and his mother a Scotswoman. Both were active left wing socialists and, from an early age, young Jimmy was involved in the cut and thrust of political discussion.

After leaving school in 1930, he entered the growing army of unemployed. He managed to get occasional work in a variety of temporary jobs but he soon found the Workers’ Theatre and realised that his interests lay in the cultural rather than the industrial field. But he understood that hiw working class experience needed to be used in conjunction with his newly-found interest. He helped produce and sell news-sheets for workers and developed a talent for writing songs and political squibs. On long rambles over the Derbyshire hills with other like-minded revolutionaries, he would improvise and entertain with songs like The Manchester Rambler.

By 1934 he had taken part in hunger marches and been present at some of the unemployed struggles which punctuated his life in the industrial north-west in the early thirties. He met Joan Littlewood and together they set up a workers’ experimental Theatre of Action. After moving to London, they started a drama school for working people.

But London did not supply them with the workers whom they wanted to educate, so they moved back to the north and formed Theatre Union. Their work became more ambitious and had such potential influence that in 1939 their play Last Edition was stoped by police, and they were both arrested and charged with ‘disturbing the peace.’ They were fined and ‘bound over’ not to take part in any dramatic performance for two years.

It was during the War, which he spent in Scotland, that Jimmy Miller became Ewan MacColl as a gesture of solidarity with the national school of Scottish poets. Immediately after the War, a number of the participants in the revolutionary theatre movement pooled their gratuities and formed Theatre Workshop. Ewan MacColl was designated the writer, trainer and innovator of the group. Joan Littlewood was the producer.

When Theatre Workship moved to the West End, MacColl and Littlewood parted and he began to turn his attention to traditional music. It was in that field that he was able to link his social conscience and experience of being raised in a working class industrial atmosphere with his ability to express his ideas in song and music. He became an expert at adapting and interpreting ballads so that they reached the hearts and minds of ordinary people.

In 1956 he and Peggy Seeger met and started a partnership which proved fruitful, rewarding and which lasted until his death in 1989. They made their name conducting workshops and touring in Britain and abroad as singers of traditional and contemporary songs. They had a notable success in the Radio Ballads in which they collaborated with Charles Parker.

It was that talent for translating his early Salford working class experience into accessible songs and drama that made it so appropriate for Salford City, his enduring influence, to honour him with one of their rare plaques.

Ruth Frow

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Cian Prendiville argues the Case for Socialism

Cian Prendiville, the Socialist Party candidate for Limerick in the general election, undertook a speaking tour of the USA in 2010, organised by our American sister party 'Socialist Alternative'. Here is a video of him arguing the case for socialism at a public meeting in Seattle University last September.

The Case for Socialism from Cian Prendiville on Vimeo.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

George Brown Commemoration Weekend

 From the George Brown Memorial Committee:

George Brown Memorial Committee, Inistioge

Inistioge is a small, rural village in the Republic of Ireland. The picturesque village sits in a valley on the River Nore, County Kilkenny. It was here, in 2007, that the George BrownMemorial Committee was founded in order to honour a local man who gave his life as a member of the International Brigades, in the defence of democratic principles and workers' rights.

George Brown, was born in Inistioge in 1906. Having emigrated to the UK as a child, he spent much of his life in Manchester. Like most working-class children George had an ordinary elementary school education and from the age of fourteen had a variety of jobs with spells of work in factories, with Manchester Corporation and as a labourer on a number of building sites, along with intermittent bouts of unemployment characteristic of the period. It was the General Strike of 1926 that consolidated his interest in politics and led to his joining the British Communist Party. He became a very active trade union organizer and a prominent member of the labour movement in Manchester.

In January 1937, George Brown was one of more than five hundred Volunteers from Britain who went to Spain. He was posted to the front line as a soldier in the Fifteenth International Brigade.
On 7th July 1937, aged just 30, he died in the Battle of Brunette during the defence of Madrid.

Since it was established in 2007, The George Brown Memorial Committee has held an annual commemoration to acknowledge the sacrifice made by George Brown, and in recognition of the bravery and integrity of all the men and women who were members of the International Brigades. This commemoration is held in Inistioge over two days in June each year and features lectures, speakers, memorial events and music, in what has proved to be an informative and enjoyable event.

In December 2007, our locally-based committee was instrumental in the establishment of an olive grove at Woodstock Gardens and provided a plaque commemorating four Kilkenny men who served in the International Brigade and then in June a plaque was unveiled in St. Colmcille graveyard, Inistioge, to the memory of George Brown. The initial event was attended by attended by Spanish Civil War veterans Bob Doyle and Jack Jones (RIP). Speakers have included Harry Owens, Spanish Civil War historian, Dr Emmet O'Connor, Senator David Norris, along with the Cuban and Palestinian Ambassadors.

The George Brown Memorial Committee is local committee, representing a small village community in Ireland and we are proud of what we have achieved in commemorating the sacrifice of those who fought and died in the International Brigades and in encouraging ongoing political discussion. In 2011, and with Ireland facing an economic crisis, we are intending to hold the George Brown Memorial Event once again, with the theme “Successes in Socialism”.

The event will be held over the evening of Friday 24th and Saturday 25th June. For further information please visit the website or contact us at


Welcome and Wreath Laying by Pádraig Ó Murchú (Chairperson
Meet at George Brown Memorial Plaque in St Colmcille’s Cemetery

St Mary’s Church, Inistioge
Proceedings chaired by Jimmy Kelly, Irish Secretary UNITE
Topic – Socialism in the Modern World

Michael D. Higgins will speak on the subject of
The Left in a Changing World
Jose Antonio Gutierrez will speak on the subject of
Socialism in Latin America

Lehehan’s pub
Light Refreshment and Music

11.00am – St Mary’s Church, Inistioge
Proceedings chaired by Jack O’Connor, President SIPTU

Harry Owens, Spanish Civil War Historian, will speak on the subject of The Catholic Church and the Spanish Civil War.
Ciarán Crossey will speak on the subject of The Republican Congress.

1.00pm The Olive Grove – Woodstock Gardens
Tree Planting Ceremony
Music performed by The Hatchery Folk
Address by Manus O’Riordan, Irish Secretary ~ International
Brigade Memorial Trust: In Defence of Two Republics – Kilkenny’s International Brigaders

4.00pm Return to Inistioge
Refreshments at Lenehan’s Pub
Recital by Graiguenamanagh Brass Band

Evening Close
Traditional Music and Song, O’Donnell’s Lounge

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

John Borgonovo - Cork Labour and the Irish Revolution, 1916 - 1922

I was lucky enough to attend Dr. John Borgonovo's talk on Cork Labour and the Irish Revolution, held in Solidarity Books on the 17th of May. John is the author of Spies, Informers and the 'Anti-Sinn Fein Society': The Intelligence War in Cork City, 1919-1921, the forthcoming The Battle for Cork: July - August 1922 and is a respected authority on revolutionary Cork. The talk attracted 20-30 people and was very informative. John talked solidly for an hour before there was a lively question and answer session. This report is based on my own hastily scribbled notes but I have tried to be as accurate as possible. Any comments of my own are in italics.

The Irish Revolution

The effects of the first world war can be compared to both the fall of the Berlin wall and the contemporary 'Arab Spring.' There is a similar dynamic at work in all three. The impact of WW1 on Ireland was similar to the impact it had on the rest of the continent. The Irish revolution has rarely been examined within this european context but rather as an insular phenomenon. Similarly, the Labour radicalism that coincided with the revolution has not been included in the dominant narrative.

Cork Before the War

The organised Labour movement in Cork at the start of the twentieth century was dominated by craft and artisan unions. Very few unskilled workers were organised and the limited franchise meant that there was, as of yet, little in terms of an electoral working-class. Nationalist politics were also divisive and contributed to maintaining a diffuse labour movement. Half of the city lived in extreme poverty, living in tenements and barely staying above starvation levels. 25% of the population were unskilled labourers with no job security. These conditions created a culture of fear, shame and poverty which was difficult for unions to organise in. In addition, the existing craft unions were highly insular and unsympathetic towards unskilled workers. The Cork trades council had been founded in 1890 but was weak. Cork politics, industry and civil society were dominated by unionists.

The two main political forces in the city were the All for Ireland League (linked with the land and labour association) and the Irish Party or Redmondites. The rivalry between the two groups was bitter but by 1914 the Irish Party had emerged as the dominant force in the city. The Redmondites had close links with the clergy, the mercantile Catholic middle-class and were characterised by corruption and intricate patronage networks. IPP hegemony in Cork was almost comparable to a one-party state. They controlled both papers in the city, while the paramilitary Irish volunteers and semi-military Ancient Order of Hibernians were almost wings of the Redmondite party. Redmond is traditionally regarded as a peaceful moderate statesman. I'm dubious however. The Redmondites did not tolerate dissent and there was often widespread electoral violence in Cork.

Republicanism was a marginal force. However, there was a strong republican tradition in the city. Cork had been a Fenian stronghold and there was, at one point, 4,000 fenians in the city, most of them working-class. Republicanism was weakened after the turn of the century but was still capable of mobilisation, organising demonstrations against the Boer war, the royal visit and well attended Manchester martyr commemorations. The Labour Party didn't exist at this point as a political party, It was more of a loose interest group that also ran candidates. In the 1908 local elections the Labour Party only won 6 of 50 seats on the corporation. The 1908 dock strike was a critical event for Cork labour, albeit one that has been overlooked in Irish labour historiography. The strike was very divisive and there were violent scuffles between strikers and scabs. Apparently, Connolly was influenced in his formation of the Irish Citizen Army by the anti-scab tactics of the Cork dockers. After the strike, the ITGWU was temporarily crushed in Cork. The dock strike split the trade union movement in the city and two new trades councils were formed. The Cork district trade council was composed of the old craft unions, was conservative and supported the IPP. The United Labour council was more progressive and supported the All for Ireland League. The Land and Labour association also experienced a split. The trades council wasn't reunited until 1916. There was no unified idea of Labour in Cork and no political vision until Larkin in 1913 / 1914.

There was a cadre of radicals in existence in the city consisting of labour radicals, suffragettes and republicans, who all formed part of a radical mileu. There was a lot of cross-polination of ideas and cadres were developed, despite a lack of widespread support. As such, by the outbreak of WW1, republicans were well placed to take advantage of the situation.

World War One

When war broke out the city was largely pro-war. 7,000 enlisted in the army, the vast majority of them working-class. Working-class areas were strongly pro-war and the wives of soldiers, known as seperation women, were vocal in their support of the war effort and were active politically. While the majority were pro-war, Labour radicals and republicans opposed it. Trade union leaders also tended to be pro-war.

WW1 destabilised the country politically and economically. In 1917 revolution broke out in Russia, followed in 1918 by a number of other countries. Cork people looked to these events with interest. Pro-Russian Revolution meetings were held in Cork and republicans, as well as labour radicals, were inspired by these events.

The war led to massive inflation in Ireland. Prices in Cork doubled in 2 years and hit workers and the poor particularly hard. On the other hand, the 7,000 mobilised Corkmen meant that there was less of a labour surplus. Certain industries benefitted and the Cóbh naval base benefitted the city economy. Some things got better and some got worse, but the inflation was hugely destabilising. It wasn't a depression but a climate of economic insecurity combined with the impression that Britain was losing the war. The population began to turn against the war in droves. Republicans had the capacity to take advantage of this thanks to a strong layer of leaders, a simple yet powerful explanation and programme for change as well as mass organisations in the form of the volunteers and cumman na mban.

The trade union movement was also set to benefit from the new situation. Wages couldn't keep up with inflation and the introduction of mandatory arbitration in labour disputes (which generally benefitted the labourers) encouraged the growth of union organisation. Farm workers became organisaed and were often the most radical elements in the labour movement. This took labour beyond the cities and into the countryside. The ITGWU became the vanguard of the labour movement. In 1917 and 1918 strikes became endemic, most of which were ITGWU led. Women workers also became organised. Discontent with the war grew and labour militancy had a spiralling effect with strikes in one industry sparking off strikes in other workplaces. By 1918 strikes in the city had increased by 500%. The Cork working-class were getting organised en masse.

The new political situation saw increased collaboration between the trade unions and republicans. This came to the fore through the people's food committtee. The committee was a response to food and milk shortages and sought to stop or limit food being exported from the city to England. The campaign benefitted from the fact that famine was still in living memory and there was widespread fear that history was about to repeat itself. Pickets were launched, the IRA was involved and for one month there were no live food exports from the city.

At the same time, across the country, rural labourers and republicans were seizing pasture-land to be used for tillage. These were big public events. 100s of people would march behind a band and boisterously seize the land in a carnival atmosphere. This was curtailed when Sinn Féin prohibited its members and IRA volunteers from getting involved. The republican leadership were scared by the militancy of 1918 and the fact that they couldn't control it.

The food scare was brief. Imports resumed as the Allies efforts to curtail U-boat attacks became more successful and there was a good harvest. Prices went down and the panic subsided. Then the city lurched from the food crisis to the conscription crisis. This was more important than the Easter Rising in terms of the revolution. There had been concerns about conscription from the start of the war. Even when pro-war sentiment was high there was still opposition to conscription. In March / April 1918 conscription was introduced and led to mass opposition across all sectors of Cork society. Republicans and the trades council led the opposition. A one day strike was called, the first of 5 such general strikes to occur in the city between 1918 and 1922. There was an anti-conscription rally on Grand Parade which drew 30,000 people. This was probably the biggest demonstration in the history of the city. The Irish Citizen Army was re-organised in the city and 50 - 75 ICA members join the volunteers. The anti-conscription movement threatened to stop food exports, to collapse the banking system by mass withdrawals and that Irish soldiers would refuse to follow orders. Lawyers volunteered to defend the soldiers if their cases went to military tribunals.

There was an explosion in support for the volunteers / IRA. Local leaders of the volunteers had been mainly middle-class (teachers, clerks etc.) before the war, but in 1918 the leadership of the volunteers in Cork became dominated by working-class leaders, many of them trade unionists.

1918 Election

Labour in Cork had by now been integrated into the republican resistance. In the 1918 election Sinn Féin even offered Labour one of the two seats in Cork, on condition that they would commit to abstentionism. Cathal O'Shannon would have been the candidate had the agreement been made. However, the Labour Party had concerns about the deal. The increased franchise meant the possibility of electoral victory for the Labour Party in Westminster. If the election results meant that a Labour Party victory was contingent upon the support of Irish MPs then the Irish Labour Party leadership was inclined towards ensuring a Labour victory should it occur. However, among the grassroots of Labour there was widespread support for unity of republicans and labour. The Labour leadership's decision not to contest the election was a response to the mood of the rank an file. However, the decision not to run labour candidates as part of a united front for independence was a mistake. Had Labour agreed to this then they could have been more influential later on. From 1919 onwards, Sinn Féin assumed leadership of the movement while Labour lost out. The economic collapse of 1921 and 1922 put Labour on the defensive and the workers movement would never again reach the heights it had achieved in 1918.

Questions and Answers

Q. After Connolly's execution, did the Irish Citizen Army lack a strong left leadership?

A. The ICA still existed during the revolution, mostly among dockers. They were active in gunrunning in particular. The ICA was present in Cork, where it included a women's organisation and boy and girl scouts. The Cork ICA was led by the Wallis', two strongly leftist sisters who ran a shop in Cork.

Q. Were there tensions between SF/IRA and the labour movement in Cork?

A. Local IRA commanders generally saw the revolution in purely military terms and thought little in socio-economic terms. However, the IRA leadership did have a natural antipathy towards the ascendancy. There was also a hostility towards the gombeen men and a loathing of the Redmondites, who were seen as opportunists and whose patronage networks were disliked. The IRA leadership was predominately lower middle-class and many S.F leaders subsequently became virulently anti-communist. Interestingly, some of these figures, like Alfred O'Rahilly and Liam De Róiste, were somewhat left-leaning at the time with progressive attitudes towards the workers movement and even sympathies with the russian revolution. Later on they became extremely reactionary. For more information see here. Generally, cultural nationalists tended towards conservatism later on in life.

Some IRA leaders thought in left / right terms. Some didn't. Both Labour and the republican movement hated the corruption and patronage networks of the Redmondites though. For example, when MacCurtain became Lord Mayor of Cork he actively reformed the local government system in order to root out the corruption and patronage built up by Irish Party hegemony over the city, lowering the mayor's salary and moving public board meetings to night-time so that labourers could attend.

Q. Why didn't the Union leadership back the strikes occuring in 1922?

There were Harbour and Railroad soviets in Cork in 1922. At the time, there were divisions between 'new' and 'old' labour within Irish trade unionism. Pun was intentional. In 1920 there was a munitions strike. Docks, railways etc. were closed down to prevent the movement of British war material. This was a wildcat strike, initiated at the grassroots level, that took its inspiration from the 'Hands off Russia' movement in England, where dockers had refused to ship munitions that were to be used against the Bolsheviks. There was a tension between these sort of action and the conservativism of the national executive. The same was true across the pond. For example, at the time of the MacSwiney hunger strike there was a lot of public support in the UK labour movement for taking industrial action in support of MacSwiney. However, his wife Mary, herself a labour activist, was denied permission to speak at the UK LP conference of that year despite (or because of) the sympathy of the rank and file.

Q. Effect of Civil War.

The civil war broke the labour movement. It occured at a time of high unemployment. In Cork, 20-25% of the city was unemployed at the start of the conflict. This meant there was little appetite for war driven mainly by nationalist ideology. There was even a threat of a general strike against the war. Mass unemployment cut across the development of radical politics and militated against labour militancy.

Q. What was the significance of the Ancient Order of Hibernians and other such societies?

The AOH were a scary organisation. They had 2,000 members in Cork City and 4,000 in the county. They were a very shadowy group with secret committees within secret committees. A significant number of the Irish Party leadership were Hibernians. The AOH was consciously organised as an alternative to the Orange Order. They were dangerous, repellant Catholic supremacists who were more sectarian than any other nationalist grouping. They dissipated outside Ulster after the fall of the Redmondites but many of them later re-emerged into politics after the revolution. I feel that this was part of a counter-revolution and am inclined to agree with that thesis.

Q. What was the role of farm labourers?

Land agitation was almost a continuation of the land war. Many of the most militant strikes in East and North Cork were those of farm labourers, who the ITGWU worked hard to organise. Cork's first May Day celebration saw 20,000 people march behind red flags. Thousands did the same after the election of Robert Day.

Q. Was there a connection between the success of the All for Ireland league in Cork and the turn away from the Redmondites to Sinn Féin?

Many republican leaders came from AFI families. There was a strong antipathy towards Redmond in Cork and huge struggles between the IPP and the AFI were common. Riots occurred at every election; During the 1910 election for example, there were riots for 2-3 weeks. The AFI contributed to Cork's seperatist identity and there was a connection between Anti-Redmondite sentiment in the city and the republican variety of anti-Redmondism that came to the fore in 1918.

Q. Church's attitude towards Labour militancy in 1918/1919?

A. The church turned against the war as it went on and supported the anti-conscription movement. The anti-communism of the Irish Catholic church did not come to the fore until the 1920s. There was clerical involvement in the soviets. Soviet organisers were often very religous and the sight of a rosary being said in a soviet was neither surprising or uncommon.

During this discussion, which was relatively informal, Dr.Donal O'Drisceoil, himself a noted commentator on the war of independence in Cork, occasionally weighed in. As such, some of the notes above may be getting his and John's contributions mixed up. The following I can attribute directly to Donal and it seems a good place to finish the report

D O'D: 1918 represented an important lost opportunity. Republican conservatism has been highly exaggerated. Labour hedged its bets and refused to take a leadership role. It was the fault of the labour leadership, not Sinn Féin and the IRA, that labour had to wait. 


So that's that. John also provided a handout with statistics and so on relevant to the talk, which I'll post in the next week or two. I should probably take this opportunity to plug Solidarity Books itself. Though this was the first of these talks I attended, the consensus is that they have been a resounding success, not least for taking history outside of the Universities and into the public sphere. Incidentally, every speaker has spoken free of charge, many of them travelling down just for the talk. In addition to providing a venue for talks and film showings, the book selection is excellent. There is a wide selection of radical, socialist, anarchist, feminist and republican material Although, unlike its predecessor on Barrack St., there is little in the way of Marxist classics and so on. However, it's the WSM who put the hours in running the place so I can't really complain. In particular, it's worth noting that the selection of Irish history books is, by far and away, the best in the city, eclipsing even Vibes and Scribes on Bridge Street. If you live in Cork be sure to support it. If you're coming from up the country just for a day or a weekend, it's definetely worth making the effort to pay a visit.

The Queen in Cork

Friday, 6 May 2011

Tom Barry: Guerilla Days in Ireland (Includes last known interview with Peter Hart)

Now available on youtube, an interesting documentary about Tom Barry on TG4, that also contains the last known interview with Peter Hart before his death.

Monday, 25 April 2011

The Gaeilge in the Walls

Sorry about the long gap between posts. Blame it on a combination of holidays, coursework and general fannying about. Expect some more substantial posts in the coming months. But anyway, H.P Lovecraft...

 I recently read the excellent Call of Ctulhu and Other Stories, published by Penguin, which contains a fair swathe of Lovecraft's best known stories, including two of my personal favourites: The Colour Out of Space and The Whisperer in Darkness. It also includes The Rats in the Walls, which according to the editor of Weird Tales, who published it in 1924, was the best story the magazine had ever received up to that point. I don't want to give away too much about the story. If you want to read it, it is, like most of Lovecraft's work, now in the public domain, and can be read here. Anyway, go ahead and do that because I can't promise there won't be spoilers. Without giving too much away, the story ends, typically for Lovecraft, with the protagonist reduced to a gibbering wreck. In his madness, and awareness of his horrifying heritage, he says the following:
'Sblood, thou stinkard, I'll learn ye how to gust . . . wolde ye swynke me thilke wys? . . . Magna Mater! Magna Mater! Atys . . . Dia ad aghaidh ad aodann . . . agus bas dunach ort! Dhonas's dholas ort, agus leat-sa! . . . Ungl . . . ungl . . . rrrlh . . . chchch . . . '
Yep, that's Irish in the italics, though with slightly strange variations. The translation is, according to the endnotes:
God against thee and in thy face . . . and may a death of woe be yours . . . Evil and sorrow to thee and thine.
Which sounds about right to me, though níl mo gaeilge sabhair chun a bheith macánta leat. In the context of the story, the falling back through middle english, latin and finally gaelic, represents his character's mind degenerating through the past generations of his family to their earliest ancestors. Interestingly though, Lovecraft did have, and was aware of, some Irish ancestry, through his father's family and, given his interest, even obsession, with genealogy, it is likely that he was interested in this aspect of his heritage.

Anyway, I'm not a Lovecraft expert or anything, but coming across the cúpla focal in The Rats in the Walls reminded me of a conversation in an Irish class way back in secondary school, where our teacher mentioned a Tarzan movie where the native tribes spoke a strange language which he immediately recognised as Irish. I'm curious to know if anyone else has came across Irish being used in any interesting contexts in film, literature or music. If so, I'd be interested in hearing about it.

Thursday, 24 March 2011


Dominic Haugh, a member of the Socialist Party in Limerick has written an excellent critique of Fine Gael's 'FairCare' plans through analysis of the Dutch model on which it is based. Dominic demonstrates that:

1. The Netherlands has gone from a two-tier health system to a three-tier health
system. Almost half a million people are now uninsured or defaulting on the
health insurance payments.
2. Private health insurance companies are findings ways to circumvent the ban on
‘risk selection’.
3. The current cost of the Universal Health Insurance basic package in the
Netherlands is €1194 per person for this year. On top of that Employers deduct
a further 6.9% of a workers income up to a ceiling (€2233 in 2009).
4. With annual income running at €53,000 per household, the annual cost of
health insurance is somewhere between €4,525 and €5,625, or 8.6 to 10.7 per
cent of household income.
5. Since the introduction of Universal Health Insurance in 2006, premium costs
have risen by 41% and could double from the current rates by 2014.
6. More than 50% of the hospitals in the Netherlands are facing bankruptcy as a
result of the introduction of Universal Health Insurance in 2006.
7. There has been a significant and continuing increase in healthcare costs since
the introduction of Universal Health Insurance in 2006.
8. The necessity to negotiate and implement 30,000 Diagnosis Treatment
Combinations (DBCs) between private health insurance companies and
individual hospitals has led to a massive bureaucratisation of the system.
9. It is not known how many hospital beds there actually are in the Netherlands.
10. The Dutch healthcare system has growing waiting lists and short-notice
postponement of operations.
11. The Dutch healthcare system is no better than average in comparison with
other wealthy countries.
12. 41% of people say that the quality of the health system has worsened since the introduction of Universal Health Insurance in 2006, while 8% indicated that it had improved.

Read the full article here.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Congratulations to Paul Murphy

Congratulations to Paul Murphy MEP, who has taken Joe Higgins' vacated seat in the European parliament. Paul is a seasoned campaigner who has been involved in the fight against the war in Iraq, the re-introduction of fees and various community and industrial campaigns. We wish him all the best. His website.

Monday, 21 March 2011

A Stroll Around Highgate

Heading down to London this weekend I finally got round to checking out Highgate Cemetery, something I've been intending to do for a long time but that I always ended up putting to one side. Needless to say, even though I only managed to get a look at the east cemetery, it proved very rewarding. I don't think anybody will be surprised that my main interest lay in the 'political' graves that, for various reasons, had been placed close to the enormous Marx tombstone. Though I did manage to find the graves of two very influential and talented writers.

Douglas Adams, author of Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy.

George Eliot, the name adopted by Mary Ann Evans, one of the most celebrated novelists of the Victorian period.

Having snapped these I stumbled upon these I made my way to the collosal grave of Marx himself.

The grave itself is quite interesting. Until 1954 the site was marked by a fairly humble gravestone which was then replaced by the current monument (at least 9 foot from base to the top of the bust) by the Communist Party of Great Britain. There was an attempt to destroy it by right-wing anti-communists in 1970. A stroll around the base also revealed the visit of some interesting mourners.

An Italian edition of the communist manifesto next to a handwritten note. Unfortunately, I can't speak Italian so it's contents remain a mystery.

Flowers at the graveside.

Left by our old friends the Maoists.

It was the graves that were given the honour of proximity to Marx that proved most interesting though. I honestly don't know how one ensures that their grave is located in this particular part of an already overcrowded cemetery. Personally, I reckon it would require a fairly substantial donation to the Friends of Highgate Cemetery and a certain degree of reputation. Anyway, that's just speculation. If anyone knows the process it's be interesting to know. Not that I'm intending to be buried in Highgate, just curious :). Anyway on to Marx's neighbours.

Chris Harman. Leading theorist and central committee member of the British SWP. Editor of numerous publications and responsible for a slew of theoretical material.

Buried nearby is his comrade Paul Foot, writer and journalist. Perhaps best known for his campaigning work on behalf of the Birmingham 6.

Mansoor Hekmat. Founder of the Worker-Communist Movement whose main strength has been in Iran and Iraq. An interesting figure, revered within the Iranian party. His ideas are interesting in representing one of the few significant variants of anti-Stalinist Marxism besides Trotskyism.

Yusuf and Winifred Dadoo, South African communist leaders.

Koque Martinez

Nazhad Agha. Deputy leader of the parliament of Kurdistan. Originally established after the first gulf war.

Buland Al Haidari. Kurdish poet and activist.

Saad Saadi Ali. Iraqi Communist Leader.

Another Iraqi Communist. The proliferation of Iraqi and Kurdish graves is interesting. Perhaps due largely to the fact that many of them lived in exile in London during Hussein's rule.

Well that's pretty much it. I might do similar articles on other 'political' graveyards closer to home (like Bodenstown) the next time I have a chance. There's clearly a lot of work to be done on these kind of cemeteries in relation to popular memory and so on.