Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Comedian or Nutter? Maoists and Mass Hysteria

I've been doing a bit of digging on the public reaction to the Maoist grouping that eventually became the Communist Party of Ireland (Marxist-Leninist) in the early 70s. What I've found so far has been really quite amazing. For a grouping of a 100 or so overly exuberant student radicals, they attracted an unbelievably hysterical public reaction that I can't help but compare to the mood that led to the attacks on Connolly House in the 1930s or to the initial public support for Franco in the Free State. Indeed both their bookshops in Munster (one in Cork, one in Limerick) were attacked by mobs of up to a thousand people, with the tacit support of the reactionary Limerick Labour T.D Stephen Coughlan. To get a taste of just how overblown the reactions to this little Maoist grouping were, look at these examples:

'The Maoists have their plan for destroying our nation. For eliminating the Catholic church...The Communists admit that the church is a very potent power. That is why they are spending huge sums of money on the training of international agitators in the art of attacking the Church in Catholic nations. They have unlimited resources at their disposal for this purpose. Right here in Ireland they probably have some thousands of agitators. The church is under greater attack than you can imagine.'
- Father Luke Delaney, The Kerryman March 14th 1970.

'Children are very impressionable and single-minded. It is all too easy to play on their little sympathies and idealisms, precisely the methods used by our "friends" the Maoists...The leaders of 1916 gave their lives for Irish Freedom. With our lives we must preserve that freedom from all invaders, and under whatever guise they may come.'
- Letter to the Irish Independent March 26th 1970

'Some Kilkenny parents have recently complained that their children have been given copies of Mao Tse Tung's Little Red Book and other communist publications such as the 'Red Patriot'. The parents concerned believe that local left-wing organisers are responsible. They also suspect that an "underground" Maoist cell is developing in Kilkenny City. One mother complained that her young daughter was given a red book by a "bearded" young man and was told that "Communism was a better religion than Catholicism". The young girl concerned was only eleven years old.
Another anxious Kilkenny mother remarked "My two young lads, aged ten and twelve, both had the Red Books. I put them in the dustbin and have forbidden to children ever to bring communist literature into the house again."
The time to stop the distribution of all communist propaganda in Kilkenny is NOW! If something is not done soon by the authorities to put a stop to the extremist activities of red agitators in Kilkenny, then the people of our fair city may find it necessary to administer justice themselves to eliminate the cause of their fears.'
- Munster Express Jan 29th 1971.

I should emphasise that those examples above present a very one-sided story. The attacks on the Limerick and Cork bookshops provoked a reaction from moderate christian groups, journalists and left-wingers in the Labour Party that was just as apalled by those attacks as Luke Delaney et al were by the existence of the Maoists. However, they do serve to show the main concerns of the populist outrage against the Maoists: the perception of the Maoists as anti-clerical, representatives of an 'alien' philosophy and the fear (due to the youth of the IRY, most of whom were students) of the young being targeted. It's in this context that I came across a very interesting letter....

From the Irish Times of January 26th 1970:

'Sir - How blind can a newspaper be? Your page one photograph of January 22nd shows the extent to which Communist infiltration of our country has progressed. Young Red Guards, their leader's name proudly emblazoned on their arms, openly parading the streets of Carlow!'

See below for the offending photograph:

And the article accompanying it:

I came across that letter yesterday and only looked up the photograph an hour ago. The only explanation is that is either another example of the incredible paranoia surrounding the Internationalists / Irish Revolutionary Youth, or the work of a comic genius. Thoughts?

P.S: It seems that the attacks on the Limerick bookshop were to some extent orchestrated by a very sinister group called the 'National Movement'. It would be helpful if anyone had any more info on them.


  1. The National Movement and their activities are mentioned a few times in this Nusight article on Fascism in Limerick.