On this day 1918, Constance Markievicz became the first woman elected to the UK Parliament and as an Irish republican, revolutionary, nationalist, suffragette and socialist refused to take her seat

Read more about her life and contribution to the women’s struggle here:

REBEL COUNTESS Constance Markiewicz and the Women’s struggle

C. Desmond Greaves, Labour Monthly, February 1968

ON February 4, 1968, falls the centenary of the birth of the first woman to be elected to the Westminster Parliament. (The Connolly Association will be celebrating the 150th annviersary of her birth in Feb 2018 in London – ed). This was not, as is often erroneously said, the sere prophetess of high Toryism, Nancy Astor, but a more vigorous, colourful and refreshing personality—Constance Gore-Booth, later Countess Markievicz,* socialist, feminist and national revolutionary.

She had an astonishing life. Born in London, at 7 Buckingham Gate, her family and entourage wealthy Irish Ascendancy, she was reared at the hereditary ‘big house’, Lissadell on the coast of Co. Sligo. Here she received the education appropriate to her class, riding, hunting, music, painting, dancing and drama, amid that romantic scenery nostalgically recreated by the poet Yeats—a scenery composed of two elements, nature unspoiled where labour brought the peasant no reward, and parkland rendered exotic by use for pure consumption.

The Gore-Booth estate was nevertheless an exception less infrequent in Co. Sligo than in the districts of the great latifundia. Both father and brother were interested in science and exploration and brought a paternalistic attitude to a labour force they were not anxious to lose. They were on the bourgeois fringe of landlordism. Thanks to this, Constance was brought into contact with the co-operative movement founded by Sir Horace Plunkett, and almost simultaneously, with the women’s suffrage movement which appeared in Sligo, with herself leading the way, in the year 1895.

In Paris, where she studied art, she met Count Markiewicz, a Polish country squire talented in the arts, and was married in London in 1900. The couple settled in Dublin, where they worked with the famous figures of the literary renaissance. Her political history is an apt illustration of Marian Ramelson’s** thesis that in subject nations the women secure emancipation in the victory of the national movement. But it needs emphasising that even then they do not do so without a struggle.

The Home Rule Party did not admit women into membership. As a result Maud Gonne with a number of associates established Inini na hEireann (Daughters of Ireland) into which Constance Markievicz was inevitably recruited. But she was dissatisfied with spending her energies solely in a feminine auxiliary. Drawing closer to the revolutionaries of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, she was, with their aid and somewhat to the moderate Griffith’s distaste, admitted to membership and elected to the national executive committee of Sinn Fein.

Together with Bulmer Hobson she founded the revolutionary boys’ organisation Na Fianna Eireann some of whose leaders were executed in 1916. She secured the support of James Connolly in an endeavour to open this organisation to girls, and indeed won a victory at the 1912 convention. A postal ballot subsequently reversed the decision much to the disgust of Connolly’s two daughters. Her drive for sex equality was taking her steadily to the left, and it is not surprising that she found it eventually only in the ranks of the Labour movement.

The occasion was the great Transport lock-out of 1913-14 in Dublin, when she threw herself into the struggle with unsurpassed energy, organising the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union’s food kitchens and looking after the locked-out workers’ creature comforts in innumerable ways. It was at this time that she joined the Irish Citizen Army, which, while it insisted that all eligible to do so should hold a trade union card, took no account of sex. In her capacity as an officer of that force, and not as a member of the women’s auxiliary of the Volunteers (Cumann na mBan) she took a leading part in the Easter insurrection, being second in command at Stephens Green. She was arrested, tried by court martial, sentenced to death, but reprieved on account of her sex— the reason displeasing her if not the fact.

While in Holloway jail she learned that she had been elected to Parliament as member for Dublin South-west, and chuckled when she received David Lloyd George’s invitation to attend its opening. The twenty-six Sinn Fein Deputies who were not in jail met in Dublin on January 21, 1919, and decided to boycott Westminster and to establish themselves as the constituent assembly of an independent Ireland. Constance Markievicz adhered to these. She was released on March 10, and on April 2 became the first woman Cabinet Minister outside Soviet Russia, Minister for Labour in the Republican Government.

She had thus vindicated the right of women’s access to the highest offices of state, military and political. Undoubtedly, this achievement was facilitated by the existence of the general democratic movement of national liberation. After failing in its military effort to suppress the people’s power in Ireland the British Government engineered a political settlement tolerable to itself, and the era of neo-colonialism in Ireland began. Constance Markievicz took the uncompromisingly Republican side in the struggle that ensued, as did her former followers in Cumann na mBan and Na Fianna Eireann.

It is noticeable that one of the gains of the revolutionary period which was retained was the equality of voting rights for women which was provided for in the many ways retrograde Irish Free State Constitution. Irish women had equal access to the ballot box seven years before their sisters in England, and only two years after the American women won the nineteenth amendment after threequarters of a century of struggle. Today only Switzerland in Western Europe still excludes women from the vote, and according to United Nations figures published in 1966, out of 130 countries women are ineligible for the vote in eight only, a further eight imposing certain restrictions upon them. In the field of access to the highest positions, however, the situation is far less favourable. And in the field of economic equality a revolution has yet to be started.

Countess Markievicz was well aware of the need to bring the women into the trade union movement, and gave help in the early years of the Irish Women Workers’ Union, founded in 1911. Her sister, Eva Gore-Booth, the poet, had founded the Manchester and Salford Women’s Trades Council with a view to combining the proletarian and democratic tasks of working women. Today, despite serious deficiencies in access to employment, and in many countries, discriminatory legal provisions (e.g. in relation to marriage, custody of children, parental control, nationality, property and contract) it is indisputable that the most widespread and glaring inequalities are economic.

Even in Ireland and Britain (not to mention EEC where to use UNO jargon there is ‘a discrepancy between law and fact’) the long advocated equal remuneration for work of equal value is yet to be achieved. Into this and other matters it is announced in 1968 that the Labour Party will make a ‘sweeping probe’. Such a probe would still be necessary everywhere outside the socialist countries. And except in the socialist countries the political gains won by the women during the national liberation struggle have yet to be extended throughout the economic field.

In this connection reference must be made to neo-colonialism, which carries forward the system of exploitation of the old colonialism under reorganised management, and produces the same economic backwardness and imbalance in forms exaggerated as a result of the deeper crisis of imperialism.

Neo-colonialism is probably the most serious influence holding back the progress of women on a world scale, and assuredly those who suffer from it today will win their freedom in the national movement to throw off that yoke, as in the conditions of earlier days their mothers and grandmothers did before them. In doing so they can be assured of the support of the progressive forces in the imperialist countries, and not least of the women’s organisations of those countries, who are increasingly alive to the problem.

To the great democratic movement which will lead to the final emancipation of half the human race, the memory of Constance Markiewicz should serve as a special inspiration.

* The correct spelling is of course Markiewicz, and so the Count always spelled his name. The Countess, at any rate later in life, used the v, doubtless so that her name should not be mis-pronounced by speakers of English.

** The Petticoat Rebellion, Lawrence & Wishart

With many thanks to: Connolly Association

Follow this link for the Connolly Association: https://www.facebook.com/connollyassociation/

61 years ago at midnight the Irish Republican Army (IRA) launched, ‘Operation Harvest’ (also known as the ‘Border Campaign’).

The campaign began with a series of attacks on British military, administrative and communication properties across the northern state – eleven attacks in all.

The republican forces were made up, broadly, of four flying columns – modelled on the columns of the earlier campaign of 1919-23. This strategy was the brainchild of Sean Cronin, a journalist who had returned to Ireland from New York, subsequently rising through the ranks of the IRA.

The three dominant personalities within the movement at this time were the “three Macs”; Paddy McLogan, Tony Magan and Tomás MacCurtain, son of the murdered Lord Mayor of Cork. Cronin’s strategy envisaged the use of columns made up predominantly of southern Volunteers, operating from across the border, launching strikes into the northern state.

Many of those who would later become senior leadership in various republican organisations were involved in this campaign.

These include Seamus Costello who led the attack on Magherafelt court house (later INLA chief-of-staff), Sean Garland (later senior Official IRA member), Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and Daithí Ó Conaill (two of the founders of the Provisional IRA).

Cathal Goulding and Seán MacStiofáin, respective future chiefs-of-staff of the Official and Provisional IRA, were serving prison sentences in England during the campaign for their part in an arms raid during its build-up.

With many thanks to the: James Connolly Association Australia.

This Celtic Cross stands in a graveyard in Perth, Australia dedicated to the Irish Republican Brotherhood

“He whispered goodbye to his comrades so dear,

His head upon his knapsack gently lay.
If you ever see my home,
tell my mother I’m alone,
and i’m buried in an Irish rebel’s grave.”

The second largest Irish National monument in Australia is found in of all places Gympie, a regional country town north west of Brisbane.

The towering celtic cross, adorned with the harp, wolfhound and round tower was unveiled in 1911 to the Fenian John Flood , who was one of the 62 felons transported onboard the last convict ship, the Hougoumont in 1868.

Not all of the other Fenians returned to Ireland, many like John Boyle O’Reilly escaped or were given free passage to America. At least 19 never managed to leave Australia’s ‘fatal shore’ and their remains lay throughout the country.

Here is a list of those Australian Fenian Graves:

Luke Fullam (died 24/02/1870) & his brother Laurence (died (1871) are both buried somewhere in what was the old Skinner Street Cemetery, Fremantle. A school was later built on top of the graves that hadn’t been moved.

Patrick Keating (died 27/01/1874) was buried beside the Fullam brothers in the old Fremantle Cemetery.

Cornelius O’Mahoney (died 06/03/1879) buried in Melbourne’s Central Cemetery Carlton, under an ornate celtic cross, stating that he was ‘a released political prisoner’.

John Goulding (died 02/09/1883) buried in Gerringong Cemetery on New South Wales’ south coast.

Joseph Nunan (died 18/05/1885) buried in East Perth Cemetery, W.A.

Cornelius Dwyer Kane (died 28/10/1891) buried somewhere in an unmarked grave in Limestown on the old Palmers gold fields of north Queensland.

John Donoghue (died 28/02/1901) buried Jarrahdale Cemetery, south east of Perth.

John Lynch (01/11/1906) buried in Williams Old Cemetery, south east of Perth.

John Flood (died 22/08/1909) buried Gympie Cemetery, Qld.

Thomas Duggan (died 24/12/1913) buried in an unmarked grave in East Perth Cemetery.

James Kiely (died 31/10/1918) buried Karrakatta Cemetery, Perth.

Hugh Brophy (died 11/06/1919) buried alongside Cornelius O’Mahoney in Melbourne’s Central Cemetery, Carlton.

James Kearney (died 23/05/1923) buried Nannup Cemetery, southern W.A.

Patrick Kileen (died 01/09/1925) buried Karrakatta Cemetery, Perth.

Nothing is known of the last resting place of the following, other than that their is no record of them having left Australia:

Daniel Bradley
Bartholomew Moriarty
Patrick Wall
James Flood
Michael Cody

Michael Cody remains the greatest mystery, his date of death and final resting place are unknown but he had lived in Sydney and according John Devoy he was the local head of the Irish Republican Brotherhood.

“fill us once more, we’ll drink a toast to comrades far away,
no nation upon earth can boast of braver hearts than they.
And though they sleep in dungeons deep,
or flee, outlawed and banned;
We love them yet, we can’t forget the Felons of our land.”

With many thanks to: James Connolly Association Australia

The Gibbet Rath Massacre.

Refers to the execution of several hundred rebels by British forces during the United Irish Rebellion of 1798 at the Curragh of Kildare on 29 May 1798.

The United Irishmen’s rebellion in 1798 was strongly supported in the Kildare area, and it was on the Curragh of Kildare that the worst atrocities and suppression of the rising were witnessed.
The rebels took over a number of towns in the Kildare area and having held the government forces at bay for over a week they negotiated favorable surrender terms with Lieutenant General Sir Ralph Dundas, Commander of the Midland District Militia. They were to proceed to the Gibbet Rath on the Curragh on the May 29th, where they would hand up their arms and would be allowed to return to their homes unharmed.
Large numbers of rebels gathered at the Gibbet Rath to meet General Dundas. Unfortunately for them, Dundas was called away before he could accept their surrender. Instead General Sir James Duff, a ruthless English Officer, arrived with his army which included a regiment known as Roden’s Foxhunters led by Viscount Jocelyn, a leading racing man whose father the Earl of Roden was one of the original founders of the Turf Club in Kildare town. General Duff had been informed that a solider from Rommey’s Fencibles was knocked from his horse and killed on the Curragh. He was outraged and vowed to avenge the death. Reports from Kildare town on the eve of the massacre stated that several of Roden’s Foxhunters, in a riotous and drunken state, marched through the streets with fixed bayonets swearing loudly “we are the boys who will slaughter the croppies tomorrow at the Curragh”. This behavior deterred many rebels from proceeding to the Curragh thereby saving many lives.
On the faithful day, May 29, 1798 the rebels assembled at the Gibbet Rath where they handed in their weapons. They were immediately surrounded by General Duff and his forces which, besides Roden’s Light Dragoons, included the Monasterevan cavalry along with other militia. Duff ordered his army to “charge and spare no rebel”. Over 350 men were slaughtered as they fled in panic, many more were badly injured but feigned death until calm prevailed. It was reported that in one street alone in Kildare that night, 85 widows were counted. Within a 10 mile radius of the Curragh there was hardly a house or cottage that didn’t have a father, brother or son killed. Some of the rebels were buried in Kildangan and their names are recorded there. Others were buried in the Grey Abby in Kildare and some in Nurney.

With many thanks to: Clan na Gael.

The I.R.A’s 1933 constitution and government programme for the Republic of Ireland represents the radical ideals of the left section of the republican movement at the time.

It proposed that the nation’s soil, rivers, lakes and waterways were to be the property of the people and the state’s responsibility for adequate housing.

Long neglected – it has until now not been available online – elements remain as relevant today for republican socialists.
“A socialist republic is the application to agriculture and industry; to the farm, the field, the workshop of the democratic principle of the republican ideal” – James Connolly 
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The I.R.A constitutional and Governmental programme for the republic 1933

 

We have within our own nation all the resources which are required to provide every citizen not only with the essentials of life but with comfort. Luxuries may not be yet be available, but the first stage is to provide an adequate standard for all.

 

The resources and wealth of the nation are very largely in the possession and under the control of those sections who are hostile to national freedom , and who have allied themselves with british imperialism. The immediate task is to rescue from them the heritage which they have robbed and plundered from the mass of the people. The powerful interests which dominate Irish life at present were built up on the basis of the conquest.

 

The machinery of the  state was devised and has been developed to serve these interests. The powers of this state machine must be smashed. The machinery of the state of the republic of Ireland will be devised to serve, not any privileged sections, but the needs of the whole people.

 

Members of the Irish Republican Army must accept the responsibility which the organisation has shouldered and which history and tradition has imposed on it; that is the leadership of the struggle for national freedom and for the economic liberation of the people. They must make themselves familiar with all phases of the struggle. Not only must they be the organised and armed vanguard but they must also supply leadership and guidance in directing the thoughts of the people along constructive and revolutionary lines.

 

THE NATION’S RESOURCES

 

The right of the individual citizen shall be admitted to personal and private property, the possession of which is not in conflict with the common good.

 

(1) LAND & AGRICULTURE

The soil of the nation and all its resources are the property of the people, and shall be subject to their jurisdiction.

The soil of the nation shall be used primarily to produce food for the people.

It shall be the policy of the state to settle on the soil as great a proportion of the population as it can bear, and as economic good sense justifies. Large holdings of land not being used productively in accordance with government requirements shall be redistributed.

 

Occupiers of the land who comply with reasonable requirements of the community shall be guaranteed security of tenure with the right of succession to members of their families. These requirements shall be met by producing sufficient food to render the community self-supporting and independent of foreign food supplies.

 

As the state shall demand the utilisation of land to its fullest productive capacity, it shall guarantee to the producer a minimum return for produce. The state shall accept full responsibility for marketing of the surplus at a guaranteed minimum price after provision has been made by the producer for himself and his family.

 

It shall be the policy of the state to promote, as rapidly as possible, the co-operative organisation of the agricultural industry. Through the co-operative organisation credit shall be made available, by the state banking institution, for the development of all branches of the industry, and for improving the standard of the agricultural community.

 

The agricultural co-operative organisations shall be co-ordinated with the distributing and marketing organisation; these shall be responsible for regulating the production and internal distribution of food supplies, and for marketing the national surplus.

 

Co-operative organising of the industry shall be voluntary. Legislation shall not be applied to those who do not wish to enter the co-operative.

 

Those who elect to remain aloof shall not be entitled as of right, to share in the state credits and facilities afforded to the co-operative communities. They shall be responsible for according to any hired labour they may employ conditions of employment equal to the standard maintained in the co-operative communities.

 

(2) FISHERIES

All rivers, lakes and inland natural waterways, and their resources, are the property of the people and shall be subject to their jurisdiction.

 

The claims of any individual or company, to their exclusive ownership or use, or the fisheries there of shall be abolished. Inland, coast and deep sea fishing shall be controlled and directed by the state.

 

It shall be the policy of the state to promote the development of the fishing industry along co-operative lines. Through the co-operative fisheries organisation, credit will be made avaialbel by the state banking institution, for the fullest development, organisation and modern equipment of the industry, and for improving the standard of life of the fishing community.

 

(3) INDUSTRY

The national wealth and credit shall be made available and shall be applied by the state for the creation of a manufacturing industry capable at least of providing for the normal and essential needs of the community.

 

Industry so created shall be the property of the community. Workers in these industries shall be responsible for the operation, under state direction and management; and they shall be renumerated on a wage basis.

 

The productive organisation shall be co-ordinated with the distributive organisation; these shall be responsible for the regulation of production, internal distribution, and for the marketing abroad of any surplus.

 

(4) DISTRIBUTION

It shall be the policy of the state to bring about, as early as possible, the co-operative distribution of products. To achieve this end, such financial and credit facilities as will be required shall be made available through the state banking institution.

   

Each co-operative shall be responsible for distribution within its own area, and for transferring any surplus to the central marketing and imports board.
The distributing and co-operative organs shall work in conjunction with the producers, both agricultural and industrial, in their areas and with the central marketing and imports board.
(5) BANKING & CREDITS

The state shall establish a monopoly in banking, and in the creation and issuing of credit and currency, so that the wealth and credit of the nation shall be available for the benefit of the community.
(6) PRIVATE ENTERPRISE

Private enterprise both in production and distribution of commodities shall be permitted, subject to the maintenance of conditions of employment in private enterprises being equal to the standard maintained in state financed co-operative enterprises. Private enterprise shall not be entitled to share or participate in the credit and other facilities afforded by the state to co-operatives.
(7) TRADE & COMMERCE

To stabilise and safeguard the national economy, and to control production and distribution, exports and imports shall be controlled by the state through the central marketing and imports board.
Imports which would impede internal trade shall not be admitted. Overseas and coasting trade shall, as far as possible, be carried out by the state mercantile marine.
(8) TRANSPORT

All forms of public and inland transport shall be operated by a body set up by the national economic council.
(9) INSURANCE

All forms of insurance shall be made a state monopoly. After a date to be appointed, insurances shall not be effected with private companies. Insurances which have not at that date matured or expired may be continued.
(10) HOUSING

The state shall be responsible for the provision adequate housing of citizens. Citizens shall be encouraged and assisted by the state to become owners of their own homes. After a date to be fixed by the government, the building of houses for sale or rent shall be declared illegal. Houses declared unfit for human habitation by the public authority shall be destroyed and no compensation shall be paid to the landlord in respect of such houses and sites.
(11) GROUND RENTS

As the soil of the nation is the property of the people and subject to their jurisdiction, this jurisdiction shall be exercised to abolish landlordism in all cities and towns, and in any land required as sites for building purposes. Land required for building purposes and for providing social amenities shall be acquired on the basis of its agricultural value, and no payment shall be made in respect of the additional values in it by the community.
(12) TAXATION

Taxation for natural purposes shall be assessed and levied on:

(a)Personal income of the individual, i.e. after allowance for the maintenance of himself and his family has been allowed for.

(b) Private trading and property

(c) Co-operative trading

(d) Unearned income – a supertax to be imposed

(e) Land not being used productively

(f) Luxuries
(13) ECONOMIC CONTROL & DIRECTION

A body shall be created by the government and styled the ‘national economic council’, the members of which shall be chosen by the co-operatives. Its functions shall be to co-ordinate and advise on the control and development of:

(a) Agriculture (b) Fisheries (c) Manufacturing Industries (d) Banking, Credits and Taxation (e) Internal Marketing, Imports and Exports (f) Transport (g) Transport (h) Insurance (i) Housing
(14) JUSTICE

The present elaborate and bewildering system of law shall be swept away and a codification of lawson non-technical language shall be carried out. The principle of arbitration shall be adopted and extended as far as possible in civil cases.
The judiciary shall be appointed by, but shall be independent of, the government and shall be irremovable except on proven maladministration. he legal profession shall be a branch of the civil service, and the services of lawyers shall be available to all citizens. In certain cases the state may charge a fee for legal services.
The regular police forces shall be small as possible and shall be supplemented by forces recruited and controlled by the local authorities.
The penal code shall aim at the reforming of the offenders rather than at their punishment.

With many thanks to: James Connolly.

Remembering IRA Volunteer Raymond McCreesh who died in Long Kesh after 61 days on Hunger Strike on 21st May 1981.

The third of the resolutely determined IRA Volunteers to join the H-Block hunger strike for political status was twenty-four-year-old Raymond McCreesh, from Camlough in South Armagh: a quiet, shy and good-humoured republican, who although captured at the early age of nineteen, along with two other Volunteers in a British army ambush, had already almost three years active republican involvement behind him.
During those years he had established himself as one of the most dedicated and invaluable republican activists in that part of the six counties to which the Brits themselves have – half-fearfully, half-respectfully – given the name ‘bandit country’ and which has become a living legend in republican circles, during the present war, for the courage and resourcefulness of its Volunteers: the border land of South Armagh.

Raymond’s resolve to hunger strike to the death, to secure the prisoners’ five demands was indicated in a smuggled-out letter written by Paddy Quinn, an H-Block blanket man – who was later to embark on hunger strike himself – who was captured along with Raymond and who received the same fourteen year sentence: “I wrote Raymie a couple of letters before he went to the prison hospital. He wrote back and according to the letter he was in great spirits and very determined. A sign of that determination was the way he finished off by saying: Ta seans ann go mbeidh me abhaile rombat a chara’ which means: There is a chance that I’ll be home before you, my friend!”

Captured in June 1976, and sentenced in March 1977, when he refused to recognise the court, Raymond would have been due for release in about two years’ time had he not embarked on his principled protest for political status, which led him, ultimately, to hunger strike.

Raymond Peter McCreesh, the seventh in a family of eight children, was born in a small semi-detached house at St. Malachy’s Park, Camlough – where the family still live – on February 25th, 1957.

The McCreeshes, a nationalist family in a staunchly nationalist area, have been rooted in South Armagh for seven generations, and both Raymond’s parents – James aged 65, a retired local council worker, and Susan (whose maiden name is Quigley), aged 60 – come from the nearby townland of Dorsey.

Raymond was a quiet but very lively person, very good-natured and – like other members of his family – extremely witty. Not the sort of person who would push himself forward if he was in a crowd, and indeed often rather a shy person in his personal relationships until he got to know a person well. Nevertheless, in his republican capacity he was known as a capable, dedicated and totally committed Volunteer who could show leadership and aggression where necessary.

Among both his family and his republican associates, Raymond was renowned for his laughter and for “always having a wee smile on him”. His sense of humour remained even during his four-year incarceration in the H-Blocks, as well as during his hunger strike where he continued to insist that he was “just fine.”

Raymond went first to Camlough primary school, and then to St. Coleman’s college in Newry. It was at St. Coleman’s that Raymond met Danny McGuinness, also from Camlough, and the two became steadfast friends. They later became republican comrades, and Danny too then a nineteen-year-old student who had just completed his ‘A’ levels was captured along with Raymond and Paddy Quinn, and is now in the H-Blocks.

At school, Raymond’s strongest interest was in Irish language and Irish history, and he read widely in those subjects. His understanding of Irish history led him to a fervently nationalist outlook, and he was regarded as a ‘hothead’ in his history classes, and as being generally “very conscious of his Irishness”.

He was also a sportsman, and played under-sixteen and Minor football for Carrickcruppin Gaelic football club as well as taking a keen interest in the local youth club where he played basketball and pool, and was regarded a good snooker player.

When he was fourteen years old, Raymond got a weekend job working on a milk round through the South Armagh border area, around Mullaghbawn and Dromintee. Later on, after leaving his job in Lisburn, he worked full-time on the milk round, where he would always stop and chat to customers. He became a great favourite amongst them and many enquired about him long after he left the round.

During the early ‘seventies, the South Armagh border area was the stamping ground of the British army’s Parachute regiment, operating out of Bessbrook camp less than two miles from Raymond’s home. Stories of their widespread brutality and harassment of local people abound, and built-up then a degree of resentment and resistance amongst most of the nationalist population that is seen to this day.

The SAS terror regiment began operating in this area in large numbers too, in a vain attempt to counter republican successes, and the high level of assassinations of local people on both sides of the South Armagh border, notably three members of the Reavey family in 1975, was believed locally to have been the work both of the SAS, and of UDR and RUC members holding dual membership with ‘illegal’ loyalist paramilitary organisations.

Given this scenario and Raymond’s understanding of Irish history, it is small wonder that he became involved in the republican struggle.

He first of all joined na Fianna Eireann early in 1973 and towards the end of that year joined the Irish Republican Army’s 1st Battalion, South Armagh.

Even before joining the IRA, and despite his very young age, Raymond – with remarkable awareness and maturity – became one of the first Volunteers in the South Armagh area to adopt a very low, security conscious, republican profile.

He rarely drank, but if occasionally in a pub he would not discuss either politics or his own activities, and he rarely attended demonstrations or indeed anything which would have brought him to the attention of the enemy.

It was because of this remarkable self-discipline and discretion that during his years of intense republican involvement Raymond was never once arrested or even held for screening in the North, and only twice held briefly in the South.

Consequently, Raymond was never obliged to go ‘on the run’, continuing to live at home until the evening of his capture, and always careful not to cause his family any concern or alarm.

Fitted in with his republican activities Raymond would relax by going to dances or by going to watch football matches at weekends.

After leaving school he spent a year at Newry technical college studying fabrication engineering, and afterwards got a job at Gambler Simms (Steel) Ltd. in Lisburn. He had a conscientious approach to his craft but was obliged to leave after a year because of a fear of assassination.

Each day he travelled to work from Newry, in a bus along with four or five mates who had got jobs there too from the technical college, but the prevailing high level of sectarian assassinations, and the suspicion justifiably felt of the predominantly loyalist work-force at Gambler Simms, made Raymond, and many other nationalist workers, decide that travelling such a regular route through loyalist country side was simply too risky.

So, after leaving the Lisburn factory, Raymond began to work full-time as a milk roundsman, an occupation which would greatly have increased his knowledge of the surrounding countryside, as well as enabling him to observe the movements of British army patrols and any other untoward activity in the area.

Republican activity in that area during those years consisted largely of landmine attacks and ambushes on enemy patrols.

Raymond had the reputation of a republican who was very keen to suggest and take part in operations, almost invariably working in his own, extremely tight, active service unit, though occasionally, when requested – as he frequently was – assisting other units in neighbouring areas with specific operations. He would always carefully consider the pros and cons of any operation, and would never panic or lose his nerve.

In undertaking the hunger strike, Raymond gave the matter the same careful consideration he would have expended on a military operation, he undertook nothing either a rush, or for bluff.

The operation which led to the capture of Raymond, his boyhood friend, Danny McGuiness, and Patrick Quinn, took place on June 25th, 1976.

An active service unit comprising these three and a fourth Volunteer arrived in a commandeered car at a farmyard in the town land of Sturgan a mile from Camlough – at about 9.25 p.m.

Their objective was to ambush a covert Brit observation post which they had located opposite the Mountain House Inn, on the main Newry – Newtonhamilton Road, half-a-mile away. They were not aware, however, that another covert British observation post, on a steep hillside half-a-mile away, had already spotted the four masked, uniformed and armed Volunteers, clearly visible below them, and that radioed helicopter reinforcements were already closing in.

As the fourth Volunteer drove the commandeered car down the road to the agreed ambush point, to act as a lure for the Brits, the other three moved down the hedgeline of the fields, into position. The fourth Volunteer, however, as he returned, as arranged, to rejoin his comrades, spotted the British Paratroopers on the hillside closing in on his unsuspecting friends and, although armed only with a short range Stengun, opened fire to warn the others.

Immediately, the Brits opened fire with SLRs and light machine-guns, churning up the ground around the Volunteers with hundreds of rounds, firing indiscriminately into the nearby farmhouse and two vehicles parked outside, and killing a grazing cow!

The fourth Volunteer was struck by three bullets, in the leg, arm and chest, but managed to crawl away and to elude the massive follow up search, escaping safely – though seriously injured – the following day.

Raymond and Paddy Quinn ran zig-zag across open fields to a nearby house, under fire all this time, intending to commandeer a car. Unfortunately, the car belonging to the occupants of the house was parked at a neighbour’s house several hundred yards away. Even then the pair might have escaped but that they delayed several minutes waiting for their comrade, Danny McGuinness, who however had got separated from them and had taken cover in a disused quarry outhouse (where he was captured in a follow-up operation the next day).

The house in which Raymond and Paddy took cover was immediately besieged by berserk Paratroopers who riddled the house with bullets. Even when the two Volunteers surrendered, after the arrival of a local priest, and came out through the front door with their hands up, the Paras opened fire again and the Pair were forced to retreat back into the house.

On the arrival of the RUC, the two Volunteers again surrendered and were taken to Bessbrook barracks where they were questioned and beaten for three days before being charged.

One remarkable aspect of the British ambush concerns the role of Lance-Corporal David Jones, a member of the 3rd Battalion, the Parachute regiment. According to Brit statements at the trial it was he who first opened up on the IRA active service unit from the hillside.

Nine months later, on March 16th, 1977 two IRA Volunteers encountered two Paratroopers (at the time seconded to the SAS) in a field outside Maghera in South Derry. In the ensuing gun battle, one SAS man was shot dead, and one IRA Volunteer was captured. The Volunteer’s name was Francis Hughes, the dead Brit was Lance-Corporal David Jones of the Parachute regiment.

In the eighteen months before going on hunger strike together neither Raymond McCreesh or Francis Hughes were aware of what would seem to have been an ironic but supremely fitting example of republican solidarity!

After nine months remand in Crumlin Road jail, Raymond was tried and convicted in March 1977, of attempting to kill Brits, possession of a Garand rifle and ammunition, and IRA membership. He received a fourteen-year sentence, and lesser concurrent sentences, after refusing to recognise the court.

In the H-Blocks he immediately joined the blanket protest, and so determined was his resistance to criminalisation that he refused to take his monthly visits for four years, right up until he informed his family of his decision to go on hunger strike on February 15th, this year. He also refused to send out monthly letters, writing only smuggled ‘communications’ to his family and friends.

The only member of his family to see him at all during those four years in Long Kesh two or three times – was his brother, Fr. Brian McCreesh, who occasionally says Mass in the H-Blocks.

Like Francis Hughes, Raymond volunteered for the earlier hunger strike, and, when he was not chosen among the first seven, took part in the four-day hunger strike by thirty republicans until the hunger strike ended on December 18th, last year.

Speaking to his brother, Malachy, shortly after Bobby Sands death, Raymond said what a great loss had been felt by the other hunger strikers, but it had made them more determined than ever.

And still managing to keep his spirits up, when told of his brother, Fr. Brian, campaigning for him on rally platforms, Raymond joked: “He’ll probably get excommunicated for it.”

To Britain’s eternal shame, the sombre half-prediction made by Raymond to his friend Paddy Quinn – Ta seans ann go mbeid me abhaile rombat – became a grim reality. Bhi se. Raymond died at 2.11 a.m. on Thursday May 21st, 1981, after 61 days on hunger strike.

With many thanks to: Clan na Gael