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