Today sees the release of hundreds of previously secret government files in Belfast and Dublin. From confidential discussions about paramilitary killings and the 1994 ceasefires, to cross-border and transatlantic diplomatic rows, they shed light on key events during the Troubles and emerging peace process. Reports by political historian Dr Éamon Phoenix and the Press Association
THE UVF was involved in secret talks with the IRA which discussed the prospect of a federal Ireland, newly-released state papers have claimed.
According to a document marked “Secret” in 1988, the meetings were facilitated by Fr John Murphy, a chaplain in the Maze prison.
The memo, written to the Taoiseach’s office and among hundreds of government files released in Dublin and Belfast today, said the priest was anxious to keep the meetings confidential and listed the three main enemies of the talks as “the NIO (Northern Ireland Office), the RUC and the DUP”.
“Fr Murphy was frankly surprised at the speed with which events had moved and was particularly surprised at the signs of apparent flexibility being shown by the UVF in this exercise where they demonstrated a willingness to at least talk about a wide range of possible future arrangements for Ireland, not excluding concepts like a federal Ireland,” wrote Brendan Mahon of the Anglo Irish Division.
He said Fr Murphy’s understanding of the concept of a federal Ireland was “based on the four provinces including a nine-county Ulster with a separate province-type arrangement for Dublin similar to the District of Columbia in the US”.
John Hume concerned by release of republican prisoners from Portlaoise after IRA ceasefire
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Federalism is a process by which a central and regional government share power, which indicates Dublin would have a say in a Stormont government.
The papers did not specify whether the UK would have a continued role.
“John Murphy has now informed me on a highly-confidential basis that these talks have now moved outside of the confines of the prison and that the army council of the IRA and the leadership of UVF have now agreed to separate talks with the chaplains outside of the prison,” Mr Mahon wrote.
With many thanks to: The Irish News for the original story
“Welcome to my cell,” says ex-IRA prisoner, Brendan Hughes, as he opens the door of his tiny, threadbare flat on the Falls Road. “Sometimes, I’ve sat here crying for a week. I think of all my comrades’ suffering and I don’t even want to go out. You never really leave prison.”
Hughes killed and saw his friends die too. A former ‘officer commanding’ the Belfast Brigade, he’s a living legend among republicans. Small and swarthy with a mop of black hair, he was known as ‘the Dark’.
His bombs reduced the city to rubble; his gun battles with the British entered republican folklore; he spent 13 years in jail and 53 days on hunger-strike. His best friend was Gerry Adams. Hughes, 57, now lives on disability benefit in Divis Tower – the only part of the flats’ complex not bulldozed.
Over the past 35 years, around 15,000 republicans have been imprisoned on both sides of the Border. On release, those close to the Sinn Féin leadership usually fare best. A minority secure paid community jobs; the rest are employed in IRA owned or supporting bars and taxi-depots.
While some ex-prisoners start businesses independently, the IRA gives others businesses to run. But many former prisoners who – for personal or political reasons – are outside the loop, face greater difficulties.
Last week, an ex-IRA prisoner was one of three men charged in connection with the hijacking of a vodka lorry in Co Meath. Former security force members and prison officers received generous retirement and redundancy payments from the state. “We were decommissioned with nothing,” says Hughes. “IRA men and women, who gave everything to this struggle, got poverty, premature death, and mental problems in return.”
It’s the untold story of the Troubles, he claims: “People stay quiet out of loyalty to the movement.” Money never mattered to him, he says: “I was offered £50,000 to become an informer. I told them £50 million wouldn’t sway me. But it’s hard to see ex-prisoners destitute when the leadership are so wealthy and have holiday homes.”
Hughes mentions Kieran Nugent, the first IRA man on the Blanket protest in Long Kesh. “Kieran died in 2000. They called him a ‘river rat’ because he spent his last days drinking by the river in Poleglass.
“Why didn’t somebody in the movement not see he’d problems and help him? He was the bravest of the brave. The screws ordered him to wear the prison uniform and he replied, ‘You’ll have to nail it to my back.'”
Research suggests a third of prisoners suffer broken relationships. Hughes had a baby daughter and his wife was pregnant with their son when he was arrested. “My wife became involved with another man while I was in prison. The lads inside told me to give her a hard time.
“I called her to the jail and told her there was no problem – she was young and deserved a bit of happiness. She always said the war was my number one priority and she was right. I was selfish. I neglected my family. When I got out of jail, I went to her house and shook her partner’s hand.” Hughes is close to his grown-up daughter but has no relationship with his son.
He was released from prison without skills or qualifications. He began labouring. “A big west Belfast contractor paid us £20 a day. I tried to organise a strike but the other ex-POWs were so desperate, they wouldn’t agree. One of the bosses said ‘Brendan, we’ll give you £25 a day but don’t tell the others’.
“I told him to stick it up his arse, and I never went back. I wrote an article about it for ‘Republican News’ but it was heavily censored. People we’d fought for exploited us, and the movement let them.” Hughes never considered crime – “I’m not a thief” – but doesn’t blame those who do “so long as they target only big business”.
Prison left him with arthritis and weakened his immune system. He’s had pneumonia and heart problems, and suffers depression. “After jail, no-one mentioned counselling. I’d to arrange it myself. They say I’ve post-traumatic stress. The hunger-strikers’ faces are always before me.”
He speaks of dislocation after jail: “Everything was different. I went for a walk, just to be on my own. The old streets were gone and I got lost in the new streets. A man had to bring me home. Everything was noisy. I hate crowds. I only go to the pub in the afternoon when it’s quiet.”
Pictures of Che Guevara – laughing, smoking, drinking coffee – dot the living-room. “My brother is taking me to Cuba. The revolution improved ordinary people’s lives there. It was a waste of time here.”
Beneath a picture of the Sacred Heart, is a photo of two tanned, smiling young men in Long Kesh, arms around each other – Hughes and Adams. “I loved Gerry. I don’t anymore, but I keep the photos to remind me of the good times.”
Willie Gallagher from Strabane joined the Fianna at 13. Two years later he joined the IRA – “I lied about my age”. At 15, he was arrested with a gun. He spent 18 of his next 20 years in jail.
“I don’t feel I lost out because I’d no life to lose. I was the youngest in jail and my comrades spoilt me rotten. I remember digging a tunnel for an escape and thinking it a great adventure.” By now, Gallagher was with the INLA.
“At 20, he embarked on a 50-day hunger-strike after beatings by prison officers: “I lost my eyesight. It took me 18 months to recover. Then, I watched the 10 hunger-strikers die. Such brutality damaged me emotionally. I left jail at 25 and wasn’t interested in a normal life. I was full of bitterness. There was no point in killing Brits in ones and twos – I wanted to kill lots of them.
“I planted a no-warning bomb in a pub the security forces frequented. Then I went home, got washed and headed into town. Twenty people could have been killed and it wouldn’t have fizzed on me.” No-one died but 30 people were injured.
Gallagher went back to jail. His first marriage broke up when he was inside but he remarried within a year of his 1993 release. “My heart never hardened in my personal life, but my reputation means my wife’s friends think I’m aggressive. ‘Would Willie hit you?’ they ask.”
Compared to other prisoners, Gallagher, 48, is lucky. His wife owned her own home – they now have two children – and he secured a paid community job. It’s also harder for those whose don’t come from a republican family, “but my brothers were involved – two did 10 years – so I’d a lot of support.”
He runs a prisoners’ group, Teach na Failte. Funding has been suspended pending an official investigation amidst allegations of criminality which the group denies.
Gallagher has been arrested and questioned following a bank robbery in Strabane. The getaway car was bought under the name Robin Banks. “I wasn’t involved but if ex-prisoners were, good luck to them. I’ve no problem with cigarette or alcohol heists either. People who made enormous sacrifices in jail were left with nothing.
“I know one guy who was very fit and always training before he went into jail but he turned to drink and drugs on release and was found dead at 40. If former political prisoners’ records were expunged, they’d have far better employment opportunities and life wouldn’t be so hard for many.” Gallagher has no doubts about his own past: “It’s better to fight and lose than not to fight at all.”
Tommy McKearney from the Moy, Co Tyrone, served 16 years for a UDR man’s murder. One of his brothers was shot dead by the SAS, and another brother and an uncle were killed by loyalists while he was in jail.
“When I got out my father took me to see my brothers’ graves. But what struck me was the graves of the post-mistress and the baker. I couldn’t believe all the changes in our small community. The world had moved on without me. Many prisoners feel lost for so long.”
McKearney now runs Expac, a Monaghan-based group for ex-prisoners in Border areas. “There’s no ideal time to go to jail, but it’s probably best in your mid-20s. Jail stunts teenagers’ emotional development and prison is very hard in your 40s or 50s because you realise how little time is left.
“Serving more than four years affects people. They start to lose contact with the outside world and all but close relatives. After 10, they’re institutionalised. It’s like marathon runners ‘hitting the wall’. After a certain distance, the battle gets too much physically and psychologically.”
Ex-prisoners often feel their relatives are strangers and they left their real ‘family’ in jail. Those who were single when they went to jail, then “play catch-up” with children and mortgages in their 40s and 50s, McKearney says. “At retirement time, when life should be easing, they’re up to their necks in mortgages and debt.”
The situation has improved since the ceasefire, but ex-prisoners still face employment discrimination, he says. They’re officially barred from civil-service jobs and unofficially from many others. “How many become teachers or journalists?” McKearney asks. “I mightn’t reasonably expect to be able to join the gardai but I think I should be eligible for a job as local librarian.”
Even if ex-prisoners slip through the door, “it’s just like with women – there’s a glass ceiling”. Neither the Equality Authority nor the North’s Equality Commission recognise ex-prisoners as a vulnerable group, he says. “An employer can bin an ex-prisoner’s application form, admit it, and the law provides no protection.”
Low-paid jobs are no better: “A supermarket can draw up a list of 20 candidates for shelf-stackers and cashiers. Its head of security, an ex-Special Branch man, says ‘get rid of numbers one and seven’.”
The Special Branch also visit employers, demanding ex-prisoners are sacked, he says. “I was labouring and they ordered my boss to get rid of me. He told them to get lost, but 99% of employers wouldn’t be so principled.”
Still, it’s easier in Border areas than in parts of country where there’s hostility to republicanism and a smaller black/illegal economy. Ex-prisoners are usually barred from the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, where many would like to begin new lives.
Anthony McIntyre, who served 18 years imprisonment, says: “I laugh when I hear about an ‘IRA pension plan’. The IRA offered me a Christmas loan and nothing else when I was released. I’d two kids and, I’m not ashamed to say, I had to shop-lift to feed and clothe them.”
Today, Brendan Hughes won’t attend any 1916 parade but he’ll privately pay tribute at the IRA Belfast Brigade monument. “I keep wondering ‘what it was all about?'” he says. “The doctors tell me not to drink but I do. It eases the pain, it doesn’t kill it.” A picture of the hunger-strikers hangs in Hughes’ hallway. ‘Soldiers of our past, heroes of our future’, it says. Somehow, it doesn’t seem that way.
The ambassador of the United Kingdom (UK) to Libya, Frank Baker has confirmed that only few MPs at the British House of Commons, mainly representing Northern Ireland, are the ones who spoke of using Libya’s frozen assets to compensate victims of the Irish Republican Army (IRA.)
This statement came as Baker met with the Head of the High Council of State (HCS) Khalid Al-Mishri in Tripoli where both officials reviewed the issue of the frozen funds among other talks, HCS media office reported.
“Those MPs are few and it is difficult for such a decision to pass at the House of Commons. The Gaddafi-backed IRA attacks’ victims were compensated before his death through the United States.” Baker said.
He added that the UK did not decide upon this matter and the rumors surrounding the UK’s stance of it are false, pointing out that such an issue could be resolved with the Presidential Council Head and Foreign Minister, away from the “media’s provocation.”
“We do reject using Libya’s frozen assets in that way and we do confirm that the case has been solved at the time of Gaddafi’s regime. The funds are for all Libyans and are frozen by a UN Security Council resolution.” Al-Mishri said.
He also reviewed the free economic zone in Sirte and was backed by Baker that such a project is very vital for both countries.
UK House of Commons was set to vote for allowing the government to use Libya’s frozen assets in Britain to compensate IRA victims.
With many thanks to: The Libya Observer and Abdulkader Assad for the origional posting.
The government drew up a secret plan to release a man wrongly convicted over IRA bombs in Guildford, papers seen by the BBC reveal.
Belfast man Patrick “Guiseppe” Conlon was jailed with his son and nine others after two explosions in Guildford in 1974, and died of tuberculosis in 1980.
But had he recovered, he would have been released from jail, papers show.
His family said the attempt to hide the details was “horrific”. The government declined to comment to the BBC.
Mr Conlon was one of the Maguire Seven, convicted on explosives charges, and his son Gerry was one of the Guildford Four, jailed for murder after the pub bombings killed five and injured 65.
All eventually had their convictions quashed after what became known as one of Britain’s biggest miscarriages of justice, and the story told in the film In The Name of the Father, starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Pete Postlethwaite.
it was reported by the BBC Mr Conlon’s health became so poor in December 1979 he was taken to hospital, but just over a week later was returned to jail.
He was again moved from prison to hospital as his health worsened and died on 23 January 1980, the same day Home Secretary William Whitelaw – later Lord Whitelaw – decided to grant him parole.
Guildford Four man’s ‘living hell’ revealed
Pub bombing files ‘show fresh evidence’
‘End secrecy’ over IRA pub bombings
The BBC has seen the private papers of his predecessor Merlyn Rees – later Lord Rees – including some files that remain closed to the general public.
One file contained a letter from Lord Whitelaw to Cardinal Basil Hume, who had campaigned on behalf of the 11.
Writing the day after Mr Conlon died aged 56, four years into his 12-year prison term, he said: “Although it will be of no comfort to his family I thought you should know in confidence that I had in fact already come to the conclusion that should Mr Conlon recover sufficiently to be discharged from hospital, it would not be right to return him to prison.”
Further letters revealed how the decision was leaked to the press after the government tried to keep it private.
Mr Conlon’s granddaughter Sarah McIlhone said her mother, Ann McKernan, was too ill to comment, but would demand the truth needed to be told.
“This is horrific. My granddad and my uncle Gerry were innocent men,” Ms McIlhone said.
“The whole family suffered awful pain and heartache because of what the British government have done. We don’t know what to say.”
Patrick Conlon was arrested after his son Gerry’s false confessions, which he alleged were made as a result of police brutality.
In 2016, after the BBC accessed files on the case, Ann McKernan described how her brother was left feeling lasting guilt over what had happened to their father.
“Nobody’s seen his tears, but I’ve seen his tears,” she said.
“He blamed himself for my father’s death, and he cried to me, and I couldn’t take that heartache away.”
Christopher Stanley, from KRW Law which represents the Conlon family, said: “This sad revelation confirms again the demand for truth and justice regarding both the Guildford pub bombings and the wrongful conviction of the Guildford Four.”
He has successfully applied to the Surrey Coroner for a fresh hearing – a pre-inquest review – into the bombings.
Richard O’Rawe, a former Irish republican prisoner who grew up with Gerry Conlon in Belfast, said: “We thought we were beyond shock, we are not.
“The British government should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves in the way they have treated the Conlon family.”
Human rights lawyer Alastair Logan, who previously represented the Conlons, believes the secrecy suggests the government was “covering themselves”, and said the important matter was what it knew about Mr Conlon’s condition.
“Their decision to retain him in prison must have been made with the knowledge that it was highly likely he would die in prison – and he did,” he said.
Mr Logan said when Mr Conlon was in Wakefield Prison, he believed his condition was chronic and would inevitably lead to his death, and by the time he reached Wormwood Scrubs it was much worse.
He said arrangements were not even made to give Mr Conlon meals when he could not make it down the stairs from the third floor of Wakefield Prison to the ground floor to eat.
Fellow prisoners saved up their meagre wages to buy him the food supplement Complan, he added.
The government had said in 1976 that Mr Conlon’s health was “satisfactory” and in April 1979 said medical reports deemed him fit to remain in jail.
Inquest reports in 1980 said the Prison Service tried to treat Mr Conlon several times for a chest illness, but he died of natural causes from heart failure caused by his condition.
The family always claimed Mr Conlon was only given non-prescription cough medicine.
Descriptions over Mr Conlon’s condition have varied over the years to include TB, lung cancer and emphysema. Documents in the files attributed his death to TB.
Treatment given now for TB involves taking antibiotics for several months.
The NHS website states: “With treatment, TB can almost always be cured.”
The BBC has asked to see any of Mr Conlon’s medical reports from 1979 that may still exist.
With many thanks to: BBCNI for the origional story.
FIRST PUBLISHED in An Phoblacht over three issues in April 1933 (8th, 15th and 22nd) the following are extracts from a lecture given by the President of Cumann na mBan, Eithne Ní Chumhaill, to the Dublin members.
We have reproduced them as they appeared in An Phoblacht at the time, including the original spellings.
Eithne Ní Chumhaill (Coyle O’Donnell), from Killult, Donegal, became a member of Cumann na mBan in 1918. Eithne with other Cumann na mBan members escaped from Mountjoy Jail in October 1921 and are famously pictured in Duckett’s Grove, Carlow, at a training camp while on the run. She was elected as President of Cumann na mBan in 1926, a post she held until her resignation in 1941.
Eithne collected many documents and memorabilia about Cumann na mBan which can be found in the Eithne Coyle O’Donnell Papers in University College Dublin. She died in January 1985.
Cumann na mBan Duckett’s Grove 1
THE UNPERISHABLE SPIRIT of freedom which lay dormant owing to centuries of oppression, and the despondency caused by the Fenian failure of 1867 was once more revived. This national revival was largely due to the publication of a stirring and fearless little organ known by the appropriate name of ‘An Sean Bhean Bhocht’, which was edited by two illustrious Irishwomen from the North of Ireland – Eithne Cranberry McManus and Alice Milligan. This little paper voiced the gospel of nationality, fearlessly and unmistakably, in the latter part of the 19th century.
The centenary of the ’98 struggle for freedom, together with the efforts of the South Africans to secure the independence of their country in 1899, caused the people of Ireland to turn their eyes once more towards the dawn. Centenary Clubs were formed all oven the City of Dublin. These clubs were known as the Fireside, the Oilver Bond, the Michael O’Dwyer, the Brothers Sheares, the Confederates, and the Craohhin Aoibhinn Clubs; the latter club later developed into the Craohhin Aoibhinn Branch or the Gaelic League.
The Irish language, which was thrown in the rubbish heap for years owing to England’s tactics and the anglicised system of education in this country, was taken up. Gaelic classes were formed and our people took pride once more in our native tongue. Irish games and ancient, pastimes of Cuchluain and the Red Branch Knights, were revived. Home manufactures, native Irish dancing were encouraged, and trusanna to places of historic interest, which were almost forgotten by the people was one of the many activities of these clubs.
Later the Leinster Literary Society was formed, and William Rooney, an ardent advocate of Ireland’s rights, eventually succeeded in capturing the elements of national thought in that group, and he at once formed the Celtic Literary Society. This society consisted of people of advanced ideas and high intellectual minds who used all their efforts in educating the masses of the people and in getting them ready for their national emancipation. The will to be free made itself daily manifest and in order to meet the growing demand for freedom the Irish representative in the British House of Commons introduced a wobbly Home Rule Bill which was favourably received by the more liberal elements in that Assembly.
The unionists in the north-east corner of Ireland, ably assisted by British money and influence, prepared to oppose by force of arms the passing by this little measure of freedom. Sir Edward Carson (later rewarded by the title of Lord Carson for perpetuating the Union and helping England in her old policy of dividing and conquering the people of Ireland) succeeded in landing thousands upon thousands of arms and ammunition in secret at Larne. These guns were to be freely used against their Catholic countrymen if and when Home Rule be passed for Ireland.
The Southern Gaels, inspired by the spirit of the men of 1798, 1803, ’48 and ’67, realised the danger of allowing an armed and undisciplined mob to be let loose on unarmed and helpless citizens, determined to meet force with force. Consequently, a private meeting was arranged for Wynn’s Hotel, in Abbey St, on November 13th 1913. This meeting was addressed by P. H. Pearse, Bulmer Hobson, Eoin MacNeill, L. Kettle and the late Dr Michael Davitt. A discussion arose regarding the menace in the North and it was there and then decided to organise a body of men who were to become the Irish Volunteers.
In 1913, a few ladies decided to hold a meeting in Wynn’s Hotel for the purpose of discussing the possibility of forming an organisation for Women who would work in conjunction with the recently formed Irish Volunteers and who would be pledged to help that body in any action which they would decide on for breaking the connection with England.
In the following May, at a representatives meeting which was held in the Pillar Room in the Mansion House, Cumann na mBan was launched. The first branch of the organisation which was formed was the Ard-Chraobh. These women held their first meetings in Brunswick Street, in fact they met there continually till after the Rising in 1916.
Inghinnidhe na hÉireann Club was in existence for over 20 years previous to the formation of Cumann na mBan, and its members, really the pioneers of our organisation, did magnificent work at an unpopular period when to hold an Irish outlook or to profess nationalism was not only “unladylike” but “disreputable”. These women were mainly responsible for the loyal reception which was given to our noble king and queen – George and Mary of England – when they honoured this distressed country of ours by their royal presence on July 8th 1911.
Amongst the other Punch and Judy side shows which were organised by the Castle hacks and time-servers in this country was a large illuminated photograph of his Majesty which was displayed at the foot of Grafton Street for the edification of the mere Irish. It is evident that his Majesty’s beauty did not appeal to the members of Inghinnidhe na hÉireann for it is recorded that monstrous outrage was committed by one bold disloyal lassie who seized a fat, comfortable brick and smashed poor George’s photograph. This disloyal subject was, of course, lodged in Mountjoy Jail for the safety of the realm.
It is worth quoting William Rooney’s remarks on the women of Ireland during this period. “The women,” he says, “who succeeded in gathering together 30,000 children to signify their contempt for the Queen of England and her satellites will, I am sure, do much more.
“You know,” he continued, “how much the women with Irish hearts who will recognise the duty of sacrifice and glory in the cause they love, who have men’s courage and men’s determination to do the right thing when the time comes, I think that Inghinnidhe na h-Éireann will go far in creating such a generation of Irish women.”
Shortly after the formation of Ard-Chraobh, Inghinnidhe Branch became affiliated with Cumann na mBan. Subsequently, Craobh Cholm Chille was formed in Blackhall Street and then the Fairview Branch was formed. The formation of four branches provided an organised group of women for each Volunteer battalion. The country soon followed and branches sprung up in Killarney, Cork, Limerick, Tralee, Dingle, Enniscorthy and Wexford town.
In 1914, the Redmondite Party became alarmed at the rapid growth of the militant organisation over which they had no control. They, therefore, decided to seek representation on the Volunteer Council in order to curb the growing militant spirit and to induce the Irish Volunteers to abandon their efforts in seeking to overthrow the might of England by force of arms and to seek concessions from the robber instead.
The members of the Executive Council, who were always anxious to prevent a split and ill-feeling amongst Irishmen, granted representation to the Redmondite Party. They very soon had occasion to regret their decision. John Redmond, the leader of that party in the British House of Commons, in a speech delivered in the territory of the famous outlaw, Michael O’Dwyer, declared that the Irish Volunteers would fight and die for England in the fields of Flanders and Gallipoli. Well, indeed, might the men and women of our race blush with shame when hearing from this man, who was in a responsible position at the time, that our Volunteers were willing to help England in her campaign of bloodlust and greed.
This outrageous statement, which was made without the sanction of the Volunteers, aroused the fiercest indignation in their ranks and the controlling council of that body broke into two different camps. The faithful members immediately issued a manifesto reiterating their objective to fight for Ireland and against her hypocritical oppressor who whined for poor little Belgium and canted about the liberty of small nations while she, herself, held Ireland, one of the most ancient nations of the earth, in bondage.
Cumann na mBan during this crisis stood firm and watchful, holding to the Constitution and agreeing with the men who issued the manifesto repudiating Redmond and his nominees on the Executive Council. Owing to the steadfast attitude of our organisation, we lost some members, but adherence to principle always brings its rewards, and hundreds of recruits flocked to our ranks. A scheme of activities was drawn up about this time which embraced:-
(1) First aid lectures;
(2) Home nursing;
(4) Arms: The use, care, cleaning, loading and unloading of rifles and revolvers was taught;
(5) A miniature rifle practice in the Father Mathew Hall in Fairview, and in the Inghinnidhe Hall, in Camden St was keenly taken up by some of our members;
(6) Physical drill was practiced at each branch meeting because Cumann na mBan realised that discipline was one of the most essential things in the organisation;
(7) Irish classes were held and our members were requested to acquire knowledge of their own language.
Punctuality was insisted upon, and misfortune overtook anyone who dared to turn up one minute after the hour fixed for parade.
Work with Volunteers
In 1915, the Volunteers were an efficient body, route marches, army manoeuvres, sham battles were fought and members of Cumann na mBan were specially selected to accompany the Volunteers on these activities.
An Aeridheacht Mhor at St Enda’s, Rathfarnham, was the first proud occasion on which our members wore their distinctive uniform. They were congratulated on their smart appearance by some of the men who later led the fight for freedom and whose names will be forever immortalised in the history of our country. Some of the British soldiers’ wives pelted mud and stones at the girls when they saw them appearing in their green uniforms and called them by the undignified name of “grasshoppers”.
On Easter Sunday 1916, Cumann na mBan, like the Volunteers, were mobilised, but owing to John MacNeill’s peculiar action in cancelling the mobilisation orders, some of our members could not be got in time for the general order which the Executive issued to all members of the organisation in Dublin but many of them found their way back to the firing line when the fighting started. Some of the girls who were mobilised for the central areas (O’Connell St, the Four Courts and Church Street) met in Dominick Street on Easter Sunday, but owing to some misunderstanding, Comdt Ned Daly, afterwards executed, advised the girls to disband.
Later in the day, two of the members got in touch with Pearse, Connolly and Clarke in the GPO and a hurried mobilisation was sent out. Most of the girls turned up and took up positions in the fighting areas, and they fully responded to the faith which the men of Easter Week placed in them, and well may we, in Cumann na mBan today, be proud of our old members who participated in this glorious epoch and who risked their lives in order to help· the soldiers of Easter Week to break the chains of slavery.
Their work was hard and heavy, sleep and rest impossible, food irregular and. insufficient. They nursed and tended the wounded, carried dispatches, arms and ammunition, night and day, through showers of shrapnel, picking their way through broken walls and burning houses, caring less for their own safety than for the war equipment and dispatches they carried for the Volunteers.
On the Friday of Easter Week, the different positions occupied by the Volunteers and by our members were becoming hourly unsafe and untenable; the buildings around were one mass of red flame which lit up the countryside for miles outside the city. It was eventually decided by the men that some of the women should leave the buildings. This decision brought tears to the eyes of many of the girls who were willing to share the fate of the men.
The Commander-in-Chief, P. H. Pearse, seeing their sorrow and grief, spoke to them in that high-souled and idealistic tone which characterised this soldier of Ireland and raised him above his fellow men during his life service to the cause of Cait Ni Dhuibhir. He briefly thanked them for their great help during the week and said that when the history of that fight would be written the foremost page in the annals should be given to the women of Dublin who had taken their place in the fight for the establishment of an Irish Republic. He told them that by their presence there they had inspired the men of the Irish Volunteers with hope and courage and without that inspiration they could not hold out so long against such overwhelming odds.
He reminded them of the heroism of the women of Limerick in Sarsfield’s days, of Ann Devlin in Emmet’s time, of the great devotion of the wife of Tone, but said that such heroism, wonderful though it was, paled before the devotion to duty of the women of Cumann na mBan.
Pearse, concluding his address, begged of the God of Justice to bless, guard and protect the women of Cumann na mBan to carry on the fight until Ireland would be free. He then shook hands with each girl in turn and it was with heavy hearts they turned away from that sad, pale, aesthetic face, always gazing on that faraway vision of a free Ireland. They knew that they would never again see this man except in a better land to ours.
Their part in Easter Week
Two of the members of Inghinnidhe Branch, who were appointed members of the staff of Comdt James Connolly in Liberty Hall the night before the Rising, remained with the men until the final evacuation. One girl who served in the Citizen Army during the fight was badly wounded and had to be removed to hospital while the other members of the organisation who occupied other buildings with the Volunteers surrendered with the men. Many of them were arrested and taken to Kilmainham Jail for ten days, where they listened to the merciless daily volley which sent their comrades in the Irish Volunteers before a higher and a more just tribunal than that of General Maxwell.
Our late President, Madame de Markievicz, was sentenced to death for her part in the Rising. She fought with Comdt Mallin in the College of Surgeons and was given the military title of staff captain and Mallin’s second in command. Many a British sniper had occasion to regret her steady aim, which never missed its mark.
Her surrender with the men in the grounds of the Rotunda was one of the most pathetic stories in connection with the Rising: this tall, aristocratic-looking woman, dressed in man’s attire, kissing her rifle and with tears in her eyes she laid it down at the foot of the English officer in charge of the surrender. No wonder she, who had spent her life in the service of Ireland, found it difficult to surrender and to realise that any hope for a military success for that period, at least, was doomed to despair.
Her sentence was later commuted to penal servitude for life owing to her sex and to the outcry which was raised against the execution of our leaders. She spent a long time in Aylesbury Jail, scrubbing the floors, browbeaten and tortured in every inconceivable way by her jailers. These women delighted in throwing dirt and dust of every description on the floors, which Constance de Markievicz scrubbed until the flesh was falling off her hands and the nails torn from her fingers. She was compelled to do the same work, over and over again, by her jailers who amused themselves at her expense.
Care of dependants
Many a time she related to me, when a prisoner in Mountjoy Jail, how the fierce unceasing pangs of hunger compelled her to steal filthy bone, orange skins and potato peels from the rubbish heap, wash and eat them in order to curb the gnawing hunger which was caused by insufficient food.
After the surrender and evacuation of Easter Week, thousands of our men were arrested and deported to English prisons, leaving their dependants in most cases unprovided for.
Cumann na mBan set to work and collected money for the National Aid so that the dependants of these men should be saved the horrors of starvation, and in order to keep their homes together until they were released from the enemy prisons.
The short space of time between the surrender of Easter Week and the renewal of the war for freedom was utilised by Cumann na mBan to perfect and spread their organisation. In the autumn of 1916, a general meeting was called and it was decided to establish the organisation in every area.
The people of Ireland gradually rose to indignation at the execution of their fellow countrymen and the imprisonment of thousands of non-combatants. Sinn, Féin, the civil wing of the revolutionary movement, spread rapidly. The return of Count Plunkett, for South Roscommon in 1917 at a by-election, on the clear and unmistakable abstentionist policy, was the first great victory for Sinn Féin, followed by the return almost immediately of the late Joe McGuinness in South Longford.
The general election saw the almost complete annihilation of the Redmondite Party. The people of Ireland declared themselves on the side of those who followed the teachings of Tone. Dail Éireann was set up and the Republic of Ireland, proclaimed and baptised by the blood of the martyrs of 1916, was ratified.
Cumann na mBan Duckett’s Grove 2
The old courts, the pride of the Englishman the world over, were neglected and left to the judges and their solemn-looking attendants.
Truly the people of Ireland struck at the very foundation of the glorious Empire. The army of occupation was powerless and, eventually, like a thunderbolt, the floodgates of England’s hatred and wrath were let loose.
An undisciplined mob, mostly ex-army officers and ex-jailbirds, were sent to Ireland with full licence to put the soldiers of Oliver Cromwell to shame by murdering the citizens, looting, robbing and devastating everywhere.
The sacking of the towns of Cork and Balbriggan is only a small part indeed of their achievements. It is a true saying that to produce terror is the delight of degraded souls. These men burned schools, creameries, co-operative society buildings, Gaelic colleges, the homes of republicans and their sympathisers.
The murders of Father Griffin, Canon Magner and hundreds of others too numerous to mention was part of the murdering campaign of these terrorists and, in spite of all, the people of Ireland were not submissive.
Cumann na mBan during this time set up depots all over the city, where supplies of food and clothing were distributed to the Volunteers throughout the country. They were active all over Ireland, nursing the wounded, procuring arms and ammunition for the fighting men.
They spent sleepless nights travelling across the mountains, bringing dispatches and warning the men of the approach of the enemy.
It was about this time that the people of Ireland were compelled to enforce a rigid boycott against all goods manufactured in England. Cumann na mBan worked magnificently during this campaign. They first approached the merchants in a friendly way and explained to them privately and also by a public statement to the people of Ireland that England’s reign of terror in this country must cease and that the most practical means of bringing this tyrant to a realisation of the futility of the persecution was to prevent the exploitation of our country by England’s centuries-old practice of dumping her foreign shoddy in our home markets year after year.
Cumann na mBan Cathal Bruagh funeral 1
Many of the merchants were favourably disposed towards our native products, while others were inclined to smuggle in these articles secretly. Our Intelligence Department got after the latter in a very short time and, after due warning had been given to these people, all their illicit goods were dragged from their shops and burned in the public streets. Cumann na mBan canvassed all the shops for Irish manufacture, examined all materials, foodstuffs, etc, displayed in the shops for sale.
Some of our girls raided the boats and dumped all undesirable goods into the water.
English and Belfast travellers who persisted in selling their wares were firmly advised to stay at home until their callous countrymen learned to treat Ireland with humanity.
Black and Tans
In 1921, England’s murdering Black and Tan policy in Ireland became a byword in many lands, and her commercial enterprises were met with determined hostility by the lovers of liberty in America and elsewhere. She was eventually compelled to call a truce and signified her willingness to negotiate with the leaders of the Irish Movement but, unfortunately, our plenipotentiaries were mere children at the game of politics compared with the wily English politicians, and when Lloyd George threatened that on their individual heads would rest the responsibility of renewing immediate and terrible war upon the Irish nation, Arthur Griffith was like wax in the hands of their bully.
He and his associates, in a weak moment, signed this infamous treaty of surrender with partition and all the other evils in its trail, and, for the first time in 750 years, Irishmen and women were to give willing allegiance to the English monarch.
Truly, this land of ours fell on evil days when our people had to bend a submissive knee to that symbol of oppression which was responsible for the Flight of the Earls in the 17th century, for the murder and torture of our people in’98, 1803, 1807, 1916 and again in 1921, which was responsible for the Famine of 1847, when the emigrant ships were crowded from bow to stern with famine-stricken and plague victims who were carried away from their native shore, away from the heart-rending scenes of mothers dead in dozens on the wayside, their mouths green from eating grass and watercress, their dead babies clasped to their breasts, and their glazed, pitiful eyes turned upwards beseeching the Rule of all Things to take them to Himself and to release them from their sufferings.
• Picket in Dublin
Before the Dáil met to discuss either the acceptance or the rejection of the Articles of Agreement, Cumann na mBan, at a memorable convention convened for the purpose of discussing the situation, decided by an overwhelming majority to reject the Treaty and all that it stood for.
In June 1922, shortly after the elections which were fought under England’s unashamed threats to exterminate the whole people of Ireland, the domestic enemies of the Irish Republic – acting on orders from Downing Street and supplied from that quarter with cannon, armoured cars and thousands of brand new rifles wherewith to shoot down their brother Irishmen – launched an attack on the Irish Republican Army.
Well, indeed did these weak-minded men play into the hands of the British politicians who declared gleefully and shamelessly in the British House of Commons that it was better and cheaper for the already-shattered prestige of the Empire to allow Irish rule this country in the interests of England.
The troublesome Irish question was at last disposed of: Free State soldiers were now carrying out the work of the army of occupation, and so the Wizard [British Prime Minister Lloyd George, nicknamed ‘The Welsh Wizard’] could afford to smile at us from his luxurious armchair. But let Lloyd George and his associates remember that we in Ireland will rise again.
Thrown into prison
Cumann na mBan once more stood in the breach and helped the IRA to prevent the auctioning of our national honour. Hundreds of our members were thrown into prison. Their work was faithfully carried out outside by those who escaped arrest.
Petty tyranny was frequently employed by their jailers, firing at the prisoners, want of proper food, long and numerous hunger strikes for political status was the lot of those women who were arrested for their fidelity to the Republic, while the elements of the ordinary rudiments of decency and humanity were sadly lacking.
Some of our members got into bad health and, unfortunately, many of them have since died as a result of their prison hardships.
In 1926, some of the businessmen and farming community clamoured for a stronger position in the usurping junta in Merrion Street as a means of checking the enormous extravagance of the people who were ruling their country in the enemy’s interest. Many republicans who once served Ireland listened for a while to the selfish whine of those who were themselves responsible for placing this usurping parliament in power, and who had not the moral courage to overthrow it and to empower the lawful and faithful custodians of the nation’s honour to carry on the democratic programme of the Irish Republic.
After a time, those ‘republicans’ began to waver in their allegiance to Ireland and eventually they persuaded themselves that in order to save the country they must accept the Treaty position as it stood and take the Oath of Allegiance to the King of England.
Cumann na mBan Cathal Bruagh funeral 2
Vainly did they try to convince themselves and their followers that this oath was not an oath. Ah, late in the day was this discovery made when so many of our people had been murdered in cold blood, when the most constructive and creative minds of Liam Mellows, Cathal Brugha, Erskine Childers and many other soldiers of freedom were lying rotting in the earth into which they were flung by their brother Irishmen at England’s instigation.
Even the bleached bones of Noel Lemass on the Dublin Mountains, the massacre of Ballyseedy and Countess Bridge, all the wayside crosses which I painfully witnessed recently in County Kerry, were all forgotten, and well may we, members of Cumann na mBan, feel ashamed when our comrades of yesterday tried to convince us that all these brave and unselfish men had given up their promising young lives for the sake of an empty formula.
This insane reasoning was aided by the Irish newspapers, which clamoured for the blood of Comdt Connolly and his comrades in 1916, and which again advised Cosgrave and his associates to use a firm hand when dealing with Erskine Childers and his companions before their ruthless murders of 1922.
The duty of Cumann na mBan was again perfectly clear. They made up their minds that they could not recognise the Constitution of the Free State or its laws.
For them the Republic proclaimed in 1916, ratified by the overwhelming masses of the people in 1919 and sanctified by the blood of all the dead generations, was a living reality. They could not then, and they cannot now, recognise the Free State Constitution, with or without the Oath of Allegiance to the English King. Consequently, members of Cumann na mBan could not and cannot give any moral or practical support to the Fianna Fáil policy or help their departure from the high road of principle in any way whatsoever.
Be always true to that glorious tradition, be true to your country, to your old comrades, who were responsible for bringing Cumann na mBan safely through the stormy seas which the organisation had to encounter since its inception 19 years ago.
Be true to the language of your country, take pride in its beauty and unequalled culture and civilisation. Do not waver for one instant in your allegiance to the Republic. Above all, do not support any policy which may be detrimental to the republican position.
Remember that selfish and practical politics did not hold this world for Christ for the past two thousand years. Christianity prevails because men and women were unselfish enough to die for it.
The Roman Empire fell before the Barbarians of the North, the Macedonian Empire broke up, the Czar of Russia fell, we have nothing now left of the glorious Kingdom of Spain. Why did Napoleon fall?
Why did the great French Empire crumble to dust? Because they were, like the Free State, founded not on ideals but upon usurpation and sustained by brute force.
But remember that no earthly force can forever hold the free-souled, unselfish, liberty-loving patriots of Ireland
With many thanks to: Eithne Ní Chumhaill –Irish Republican News – An Phoblacht.
THERE have been calls for the venue of a potential match between Celtic and Linfield to be switched due to concerns about security.
The two clubs could face each other in a Champions League qualifier at Windsor Park next month – to be played on 11th night.
The Scottish giants enjoy a huge following in Ireland and all over the world. And are supported mainly by Catholics while Linfield has mainly unionist and Protestant support base. It would be the first ever meeting between the sides. Both July 11th & 12th are significant dates in the Loyalist calendar and an influx of nationalist/Republicans into the mainly loyalist Windsor Park area could prove a security nightmare for the RUC/PSNI.
Each year thousands of Orange Order supporters gather to watch the annual Twelfth parade through Belfast, and the unionists/Loyalists on Saint Patrick’s Day object and sometimes become violent at anyone wearing Green on St Paddy’s day. So with the Celtic supporters wearing Green & White and Green, White and Orange, theres potential for trouble. Which passes close to the stadium along the Lisburn Road.
And Loyalist paramilitaries including the UDA and UVF and also SEA-UDA also it could end up in a bloodbath. As they would be urging there supporters to attend to show support & start potential trouble. An Eleventh Night fixture could prove equally volatile as loyalist attend bonfires accorss the city.
Critic’s manger is Brendan Rodger, (pictured above), who comes from Carnlough, Co Antrim. While Linfield’s boss is former Rangers player David Healy.
There was controversy in 2008 when Healy mined playing a flute (pictured above), in front of Celtic supporters during a friendly game with Fulham, his club at the time. He later apologised. With the majority of Celtic supporters expected to make the journey by boat, there is also a potential for a clash with Scottish loyalists making their way to the North to take part in the Twelfth demonstrations.
Linfield has provisionally suggested a 5pm or 5.30pm kick-off on Tuesday July 11th, subject to consultation with the RUC/PSNI.
But Seamus Darragh from the Dicey Reilly’s Celtic Supporters Club in Belfast last night said the venue for the first match between the clubs should be switched, meaning it would take place in Glasgow. “My point of view is the best situation is to reverse the fixture.”
He said to hold the first leg in Belfast at the biggest time of the year for loyalists would be insane”. “I think the police will intervene. Already they are going to be stretched,” he said. “Even when it’s normal police are under stress.”
Mr Darragh, a former Linfield youth player, added that some Celtic Supporters will be rooting for Linfield when they face SP La Fiorita. “We want Linfield, it’s a beauty of a tie,” he said.
Trouble has flared in the past when teams supported by nationalist/Republican have played at Windsor Park. There were violent scenes in 1990 when Donegal Celtic played Linfield.
A year later loyalists threw a hand-granade at visiting Cliftonville supporters. In 1948 Belfast Celtic’s Jimmy Jones suffered a broken leg when he was attacked by Linfield supporters during a Boxing Day game at Windsor Park, precipiting the departure of the club from Irish League Football.
Operations Superintendent for Belfast Norman Haslett said on Monday night: “We are aware of the possibility of a Belfast fixture next month between Linfield and Celtic. “We are currently in discussions with UEFA and Linfield FC about the details of the event.