EASTER MONDAY COMMEMORATION, DUBLIN, 17TH APRIL 2017.
The main RSF Easter Commemoration in Dublin this year was held on Easter Monday (17th April) at the GPO in O'Connell Street - the organisers had to set-up their equipment and hold the event on the traffic isle facing the post office due to the amount of barricades and Luas-related building work that was taking place in the area that weekend but the event, despite the terrain(!), was a noted success. All-in-all, about 300 people stayed with us for the hour-and-a-half that we were in O'Connell street, albeit in three different places : a good crowd stood their ground around the six columns at the GPO, some joined us on the traffic isle and more lined the footpath on the other side of O'Connell Street.
The commemoration was chaired by one of the RSF Treasurers, Anthony Donohue, the main speaker was Líta Ní Chathmhaoil and, between them, Róisín Hayden and Pádraig Ennis read the Easter Statement and the 1916 Proclamation. RSF President Des Dalton gave a rousing speech from the stage in which he referenced the hypocrisy of State representatives seeking to 'honour' the men and women of 1916, as those same Free Staters can trace their political lineage back to those that fought against the 1916 fighters, and he was loudly applauded by the crowds present for making that comparison, and rightly so.
All of the 300 leaflet packs were distributed and, indeed, had we got half-as-much again we would have handed those out as well, such was the demand. We publish a few pics with this post, and a more detailed report will be published in the May 2017 issue of 'Saoirse' , which goes to print on Wednesday, 10th May next :
RSF are to be congratulated for presenting themselves in such a fine manner at this event, and should continue to feel proud of themselves for upholding the political objectives and principles of those they commemorated on the day. Maith thú, a chairde!
ON THIS DATE (19TH APRIL) 77 YEARS AGO : IRA DIRECTOR OF PUBLICITY DIES ON HUNGER-STRIKE.
IRA prisoners in Mountjoy Jail vehemently objected to that policy change and the following story of that particular period in our history, as recorded by Michael Traynor, was given to Republican Sinn Féin by Carmel McNeela, widow of Paddy McNeela and sister-in-law of Jack 'Seán' Mc Neela - but a bit of background, first : Tony Darcy (a Galway IRA man and Officer Commanding of the IRA Western Command at the time, who began his hunger strike on 25th February 1940 and died on 16th April, in St Bricins [Free State] military hospital in Dublin, after 52 days on hunger strike) was sentenced to three months imprisonment for refusing to account for his movements or give his name and address when arrested by Free Staters at an IRA meeting in Dublin. The POW's went on hunger strike after Meath IRA man, Nick Doherty, was imprisoned on the criminal wing in Mountjoy Jail and a request to transfer him to join his political comrades in Arbour Hill Jail was refused by the Staters. One week into the protest, the prison authorities made a move to take the IRA OC of the prisoners, Jack 'Seán' McNeela, for 'trial' before the 'Special Criminal Court' but he refused to go with them. Barricades were built and D-Wing was secured as best as possible by the IRA prisoners and they were soon attacked by armed Special Branch men, backed-up by the Dublin Metropolitan Police. Among the casualties were McNeela and Darcy, both of whom were beaten unconscious and suffered wounds that were never allowed to heal.
This is the account of that period, by Michael Traynor : "When Seán Russell became CS (Chief of Staff) of the IRA in 1938 he immediately appointed Jack McNeela OC (Officer Commanding) Great Britain with the particular task of putting the organisation there on a war footing and amassing explosives and preparing for the forthcoming
bombing campaign. After a few months of tense activity Jack was arrested and sentenced to nine months imprisonment. He returned to Ireland in 1939 and was appointed Director of Publicity. Jack was very disappointed with this appointment. He said he knew nothing about publicity and would have preferred some task, no matter how humble, which would have kept him in contact with the rank and file Volunteers. However Publicity had to be organised and Jack threw himself to the job with zeal and energy.
After two months, out of nothing, Jack had his Publicity Department functioning perfectly. Writers were instructed and put to work, office staff organised, radio technicians got into harness. Another big disappointment at this time for Jack was the instructions he received about the raid on the Magazine Fort. He nearly blew up when he was told that he could not take part in the operation, that HQ staff could not afford to lose more (Volunteers) if the operation failed. He was a man of action and wanted to be with his comrades in time of danger. He repeatedly requested permission to take part in the operation but without success. But Jack was there, orders or no orders, and he did about ten men's work in the taking of the fort and the loading of the ammunition. He was a very pleased man that night, for he, like all the rest of the members of GHQ, knew that this ammunition was necessary to the success of the Army's attack on the Border, which was planned to take place in the following spring.
He was arrested about three weeks later with members of the Radio Broadcast Staff and lodged in Mountjoy jail. He was OC of the prisoners when I arrived in the middle of February 1940. Tomás Mac Curtáin was there, and Tony Darcy, who was a very great personal friend of Jack's, so was Jack Plunkett and Tommy Grogan. I was about a
week in jail, life was comparatively quiet, great speculation was going on as to what would happen to the men arrested in connection with the raid on the Magazine Fort. The crisis developed when Nicky Doherty, of Julianstown, Co Meath, was sentenced to five years penal servitude. Instead of being transferred to Arbour Hill (where other
republican prisoners had political status), Nicky was lodged in the criminal section of Mountjoy Jail. Jack, being OC of the republican prisoners, interviewed the governor of the jail and requested that Nicky be transferred to Arbour Hill on the grounds that he was a political prisoner and that it was unjust and unchristian to attempt to degrade and classify as criminal a republican soldier. The request was ignored. Jack and his prison council met to consider the situation : it was decided that a demand was necessary and with the demand for justice went the ultimatum that if he refused a number of prisoners (who were still untried) would go on hunger strike until the demand was accepted. A short time limit was set, but the demand was also ignored.
Jack, I remember well, was very insistent that the issue should be kept clear and simple. The hunger strike was a protest against the attempted degradation of republican soldiers. There was no other question or issue involved. A simple demand for justice and decency. Seven men volunteered to go on hunger strike and when the time limit [February 25, 1940] of the ultimatum expired they refused to eat any food, although tempting parcels of food kept arriving every day from their relatives and friends. It was felt by the men on hunger strike that the struggle would be either a speedy victory or a long, long battle, with victory or death at the end. It was victory and death for Jack McNeela and Tony Darcy."
the DMP arrived together with the Special Branch at full strength. The DMP men charged the barricades with batons ; the Special Branch men kept to the rear and looked on while the DMP men were forced to retire by prisoners with legs of chairs. Several charges were made but without success. Some warders and a few policemen suffered minor injuries. The governor of the jail came down to the barricade and asked the prisoners to surrender. They greeted him with jeers and booing.
After some time the DMP men returned, armed with shovel shafts about six feet long, hoping with their superior weapons to subdue the prisoners. After several charges and some tough hand-to-hand fighting the policemen again retired. The most effective weapon possessed by the prisoners was a quantity of lime, liquefied by some Mayo
men, and flung in the faces of the charging DMP men. It was reminiscent off the Land League days and the evictions. Finally the fire hydrants were brought into use and the force of the water from these hoses broke down everything before them. The barricade was toppled over and the prisoners, drenched to the skin, could not resist the
powers of water at pressure ; they were forced to take cover in the cells. I got into a cell with Tony Darcy and Jack McNeela. We closed the door. After a few minutes the door was burst open and in rushed about five huge DMP men swinging their batons in all directions. Tony, standing under the window facing the door, put up his hand but he was silenced by a blow of a baton across the face that felled him senseless. Jack was pummelled across the cell by blow after blow. Blood teemed from his face and head.
These wounds on Jack and Tony never healed until they died."
After Jack was arrested all the books he had bought (mostly Gaelic) were sent into the Joy. He intended to make good use of his spell of imprisonment. He kept requesting the Governor of the Hill to have them sent to him. After about three weeks a few tattered and water-sodden books were brought to him, all that remained of his little library, the others had been trampled and destroyed by the police in Mountjoy. Jack was vexed. He hadn't smoked, nor taken drink, and every penny he had went to the purchase of these books that he loved. We were, during all this time, as happy as men could be. In spite of imprisonment and all that it means we were not all despondent nor feeling like martyrs. Everyday, we reviewed our position; what we had done, our present state of health, the prospect of success. The conclusion we came to was that de Valera, Boland and Co had decided to gamble with us – to wear us out in the hope that we would break and therefore demoralise all our comrades and if we didn't break, to give political treatment to all IRA prisoners when we were in the jaws of death. The issue, as we saw it, was of vital importance to us, but of practically no consequence to the Fianna Fáil regime. We knew of course that de Valera and the Fianna Fáil party hated the IRA, because we were a reminder of their broken pledged to the people.
On the eve of St Patrick's Day we were removed to St Bricin's military hospital. A few days later Tomás Mac Curtáin and Tommy Grogan joined us. We were terribly disappointed with their report from the 'Joy'. The men who had been sentenced were accepting criminal status instead of refusing to work as they had been instructed to do ; that is another story, although it led directly to the death of Seán McCaughey six years later in Portlaoise jail.
We were in a small hospital ward. Three beds on each side, occupied by six hungry men and every day was a hungry day. Every evening each of us would give the description of the meal he would like most, or the meal he had
enjoyed most. Salmon and boxty loomed large in Jack's menu. About this time we began to count the days that we could possibly live. The doctors who examined us, sometimes three times a day, told us that we had used up all our reserves and were living on our nerves ; they tried to frighten us, assuring us that if we didn't come off the hunger strike our health would be ruined. We all agreed among ourselves that the doctors were actuated by purely humane motives, although their advice if acted on by us would have been very satisfactory to their employers. After 50 days on hunger strike we were unable to get out of bed, or rather the strain of getting up was too great an expenditure of energy, which we were determined to husband carefully.
We did not see any change on each other. The change came so imperceptibly day after day. Jack, lying in the next bed to me, seemed to be the same big robust man that I had known before we were arrested, yet, we each were failing away. The doctors and nurses were very kind. We were rubbed with spirit and olive oil to prevent bedsores ;
all our joints and bony places were padded with cotton wool, for by now the rubbing of one finger against another was painful. None of us could read anymore, our sight had lost focus and concentration on material objects had become difficult. We were face to face with death, but no one flinched or if he did he prayed to God for strength
and courage. On the 54th night of the strike, about midnight, Tony cried out (we were all awake): 'Jack, I'm dying.' We all knew that it was so. Jack replied, 'I’m coming, Tony’. I felt, and I'm sure Jack and the others felt also that getting out of bed and walking across the room to Tony would mean death to Jack also. As well as I remember Mac Curtáin, Plunkett, Grogan and myself appealed to Jack not to get out of bed. But Tony's cry pierced Jack's heart deeper than ours so he got up and staggered across the room to his friend and comrade. Later that night Tony was taken out to a private ward. We never saw him again. He died the following night. A great and staunch and unflinching soldier and comrade ; oh that Ireland had twenty thousand as honourable and fearless as he.
The day following Tony's removal from the ward, Jack's uncle, Mick Kilroy, late Fianna Fáil TD, came to see Jack. Alas, he didn't come to give a kinsman's help, but attacked Jack for "daring to embarrass de Valera" the "heaven-sent leader" by such action and demanded that Jack give up his hunger strike at once. Jack's temper rose and had he been capable of rising would have thrown him out. He ordered him out of the room, so did we all. It was the first time in 56 days that we felt enraged at anything. The brutal treatment of the police after seven days’ hunger strike was trivial in comparison to this outrage. The next day Jack was taken out of the ward. We never saw him again. A
few hours after his removal we received a communication from the Chief of Staff IRA. The following is an extract :
'April 19, 1940. To the men on hunger strike in St Bricin's Hospital : The Army Council and the Nation impressed with the magnitude of your self-sacrifice wish to convey to you the desire that if at all consistent with your honour as soldiers of the Republic you would be spared to resume your great work in another form. We are given to
understand that the cause you went on strike has been won and that your jailers are now willing to concede treatment becoming soldiers of the Republic. In these circumstances if you are satisfied with the assurances given you – you will earn still more fully the gratitude of the people – relinquishing the weapon which has already
caused so much suffering and has resulted in the death of a gallant comrade.'
Jack had requested confirmation from HQ of the assurances given to us by Fr O'Hare, a Carmelite Father from Whitefriars Street, Dublin. Fr O'Hare had interviewed Mr Boland, the Minister for Justice in the Free State government, and received his assurances that all republican prisoners would get political treatment. Naturally we did not want to die, but we could not accept any verbal assurance so we felt that written confirmation by our Chief of Staff was necessary. When the confirmation arrived Jack was out in the private ward. I was acting OC. We were reluctant, the four of us who remained, to come off the hunger strike, with Tony dead and Jack at death's door. Yet we had the instruction from HQ that our demands were satisfied. The doctors assured us that if the strike ended Jack had a 50-50 chance of living so I gave the order that ended the strike. I believe the doctors worked feverishly to save Jack's life, but in vain. Jack McNeela, our OC and comrade, died that night and joined the host of the elected who died that Ireland and all her sons and daughters would be free from the chains of British Imperialism and happy in the working out of their own destiny."
On the 19th April 1940 - 77 years ago on this date - Jack 'Seán' McNeela, a 28 year old IRA Volunteer from Ballycroy in County Mayo, died in Arbour Hill Military Detention Barracks in Dublin, after 55 days on hunger strike, fighting against the Free Staters for political status. Incidentally, a radio programme produced by 'Midwest Radio' highlighting the abuse meted out by those same Staters at McNeela's funeral was the subject of a complaint to the 'Broadcasting Complaints Commission' in that, according to the complainant, the programme lacked '...balance (and) impartiality (and) distorted the facts and (the) historical perspective..'. The complaint was rejected. The complainant was a retired garda. More here...
PROSE AND CONS.
Grateful thanks to the following for their help, support, assistance and encouragement, and all those who helped with the typing and word processing over the past few months. Many thanks to Cian Sharkhin, the editor of the book, Mr Bill Donoghue, Governor, Portlaoise, Mr Seán Wynne, supervising teacher, the education unit in Portlaoise Prison and the education staff, especially Zack, Helena and Jane. Education officers Bill Carroll and Dave McDonald, Rita Kelly, writer, print unit, Arbour Hill.
First Print : November 1999, reprinted March 2000, illustrations by D O'Hare, Zack and Natasha. Photograph selection : Eamonn Kelly and Harry Melia.
DUMBO THE ELEPHANT. (By Cian Sharkhin.)
Standing beside the baby elephant was amazing. I'd never been that close to an elephant before. I could've reached out and touched him, and I did - his skin was like bark, it made him seem older, he wasn't like Dumbo was in the film. Dumbo was happy, but not when the naughty boys were pulling his ears. Dumbo's face was cheeky, shiny and he bounced around, but the real elephant had thick leathery skin, sad piggy little eyes and he shambled around.
I wasn't the only kid who was petting the baby elephant - there were other kids and parents surrounding him, too. The zoo keeper held the end of a rope which went around the elephant's neck, and in his other hand he carried a long bamboo cane. He indulged us, waiting patiently whilst the crowd petted the elephant and took photos. I was hemmed in on the elephant's left flank by some other kids behind me, who tried to squeeze closer to the elephant, forcing me closer to the bark-skinned beast.
The kids behind me had wriggled into the space that had been vacated by my parents and two little sisters, Sally and Denise, who were all holding hands preparing to cross the road, which was about twenty yards from where I was standing. I could just see them through the wriggling, writhing mass that jostled me from behind. I was trapped... (MORE LATER.)
RICOCHETS OF HISTORY...
Phil Mac Giolla Bháin takes a stubborn look at the facts and concludes that the celebration party may be a little premature. From the 'Magill Annual 2002' (*PIRA).
The Arms Trial should have been about the inability of Free State arms to protect Irish citizens on the island of Ireland but, instead, it focused on a tangible symptom of a cause no one wanted to address. The conspiracy by elements within the Dublin government to equip northern nationalists with the means with which to defend themselves was not the problem, the fact that a movement that emerged from the burning ghettos of 1969 now has the means to arm an infantry battalion is not the problem - the problem is the situation that led shopkeepers to become quartermasters and grammar school girls to become active service unit commanders. It was this issue that brought me to meet with all of the main players in 'The Split', as research for part of a politics degree back in 1982.
I interviewed Seán MacStíofáin, Dáithí Ó Conaill, Seán Garland and Cathal Goulding, and concluded at the end of my thesis that the realities of a loyalist pogrom on Catholics meant that Official Sinn Féin's vision of an Ireland polarised along socio-economic lines - through a Marxist rather than a tribal viewfinder- was dangerous nonsense for the people of, for instance, the Short Strand.
With the exception of Gerry Adams, all the current republican leadership are children of 1969 - the 'B-Specials' made the Provos as surely as the Cold War and the Gulf War made bin Laden. The split in 1969 was essentially about guns - Cathal Goulding moved them out of Belfast to stop a shooting war, the Provos split to get guns into Belfast so that they could take part in exactly that... (MORE LATER).
ON THIS DATE (19TH APRIL) 75 YEARS AGO : 'COOPERATING WITH THE OCCUPIERS'.
'19th April 1942 - France Vichy Government : the New Vichy Government, headed by Pierre Laval at the bidding of his German masters, in an attempt to bring the insurgent French people back into line with Nazi ruling...promised to protect the people from the Nazi Regime by gaining concessions...'
'The Vichy Government was born of defeat at the hands of the Germans in June of 1940. Military weakness and political divisiveness had combined to ensure a French defeat in only six weeks of fighting...France turned to the aged hero of Verdun, Henri Petain, to save France in this dark hour. Petain took over and negotiated with the Germans to leave part of France unoccupied. The unoccupied part of France was ruled from the city of Vichy (famous for its 'Vichy water'). The new government had a much stronger president and brought more stability to the French political system. Petain was viewed as a veritable national savior. He promised to get peace with honor - or as much honor as could be gained in such circumstances...the Vichy Government was much more authoritarian than the Third Republic. A secret police force, more restricted civil rights and less power for the legislative branch were characteristic. Vichy also cooperated ('collaborated') with the Nazis partly out of sympathy, but mostly out of intimidation (as) Vichy ruled, after all, purely at the pleasure of the masters in Berlin (and) as Nazi pressure increased, Vichy began to cooperate even more...'
'Pétain's Vichy Government was not a fascist regime and Pétain was not a puppet of the Nazis, at least he liked to think so – but the anti-Semitic laws were his own. Right from the start the Vichy Government set out its stall, actively doing the Nazi's dirty work with little interference: conducting a vicious civil war against the French resistance, implementing numerous anti-Jewish laws, and sending tens of thousands of Jews to the death camps. Within six months, 60,000 non-French citizens had been interned in thirty concentration camps that had sprung up in France with alarming speed and efficiency...'
On the 2nd June 1944, General de Gaulle proclaimed a provisional French government - it was on that date that the Vichy regime came to an end. In August 1944, Pétain, Laval (later to be convicted of 'treason') and several others were taken away by the Germans in their general retreat from France back to Germany. In France, during the summer of 1945, collaborators were hunted down and some were executed without trial. Pétain, who had returned to France, was condemned to death but this sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. Laval, along with other collaborators, was executed : 'Pierre Laval was shot today at 12.32pm after a vain attempt to poison himself had delayed his execution...when his advocates told him last night that General de Gaulle would not commute the sentence or the Minister of Justice order a retrial, Laval had been composed and cheerful. When this morning at 8.45am, Mornet, the Procurator General, came to him to inform him that he was to be executed at 9.30am, Laval was lying in bed. Without replying, he put his head under the blankets. His advocates thought that he had had a moment of weakness and one of them raised the blanket to ask him to master himself, but saw at once from Laval's appearance that he must have taken poison. He was already losing consciousness. He had in fact drunk from a bottle of cyanide of potassium which he still held, but in his hurry he had not drained the bottle and had not shaken it before drinking. Immediate medical attention prevented his attempted suicide, and half an hour later Laval was again conscious...'
On October 15th 1945, Laval was shot in the courtyard of Fresnes Prison and Henri Philippe Benoni Omer Joseph Pétain, generally known as 'Philippe Pétain' or 'Marshal Pétain', died on the 23rd July 1951, aged 95, in Île d'Yeu, in France - he had been exhibiting signs of mental illness and would occasionally lose control over his bodily functions, and suffered from hallucinations. He
succumbed to senility two years before he died, and had heart problems and was unable to move without assistance - indeed, the second 'broken entity' he was to be associated with. Had he practised his 'political art' in this State, he would have been labelled as 'a hero' and the 23rd July would by now be an 'official holiday', such is the level of 'vichism' we suffer from here.
GROWING UP IN LONG KESH...
By Jim McCann (Jean's son). For Alex Crowe, RIP - "No Probablum". Glandore Publishing, 1999.
Biographical Note : Jim McCann is a community worker from the Upper Springfield area in West Belfast. Although born in the Short Strand, he was reared in the Loney area of the Falls Road. He comes from a large family (average weight about 22 stone!). He works with Tús Nua (a support group for republican ex-prisoners in the Upper Springfield), part of the Upper Springfield Development Trust. He is also a committee member of the 'Frank Cahill Resource Centre', one of the founders of 'Bunscoil an tSléibhe Dhuibh', the local Irish language primary school and Naiscoil Bharr A'Chluanaí, one of the local Irish language nursery schools.
His first publication last year by Glandore was 'And the Gates Flew Open : the Burning of Long Kesh'. He hopes to retire on the profits of his books. Fat chance!
BÁS DON BÉARLA.
Word reached us from the Sentenced end of the Camp to manufacture a large banner of protest ; the instructions came with some 'Blue Peter'-type diagrams - we were somehow to sew three prison-issue white bed sheets together and paint revolutionary-like slogans on them and, when this done, we were to stretch the banner between three huts. We pondered the wording for our banner in Cage 10. Some of the ideas were along the lines of 'DEATH TO THE BRITISH IMPERIALISTS', 'PATRIA EL MUERTA' (I think), 'GO BACK TO ENGLAND, YE BASTARDS', 'ALL BRITS ARE BASTARDS, ESPECIALLY HER SOLDIERS AND POLITICIANS', 'SMUGGLE US IN SOME FAGS, MA' and 'DOWN WITH THE IMPERIALIST WAR DOGS'.
It was all starting to get a bit predictable. We needed something innovative : "I have it!" said Caoimhin, a comrade from the Markets area in Belfast - "Cyril from Limerick knows Irish - he can do one in the Irish language for us." "Perfect", said Boco from the Short Strand, so we approached Cyril en masse. He looked a bit uncomfortable - "Caide atá uaibh?", he asked. "Never mind that crap, we need a banner," said Boco. Cyril thought long and hard for about four seconds. "I've got it, the very thing. We could put..." Hinge-Jaw Boco cut in - "Cyril, never mind the Irish class, just write the friggin' thing down on this piece of paper."
The three sheets were stitched together, then we got all the paint and magic markers we could find and waited for Cyril and his slogan. He produced his slogan and we started painting it on the sheets. We had to finish it off with shoe polish. It was nailed onto two brush-poles and we made our way to the roofs of the middle hut and the canteen of Cage 10. The legend on our banner read - 'BÁS DON BÉARLA' - we looked up open-mouthed and with an ignorant pride, and some of the younger comrades were 'welling up' with emotion, and I must admit that I bit my own lip to stop myself from crying... (MORE LATER).
Thanks for reading, Sharon.