So what did the papers say about the outbreak of the Belfast pogroms in 1920? Following Edward Carson’s speech on the Twelfth at Finaghy the annual industrial holiday and taken place and, on the first day back at work, thousands of Catholic workers and socialists were attacked in the shipyards and driven from their jobs. This happened on the 21st July 1920.
In 1920 newspapers did not typically run headlines on their front pages. More often it contained advertising and notices. You had to flick to page 3 or 4 to get your current affairs and news items (some papers ran evening editions that covered events that day) although sport generally appeared on earlier pages as perhaps did an editorial. There was no broadcast media yet in July 1920 as experimental wireless radio broadcasts in Britain had only been started by Marconi’s Wireless Telegraphic Company from Chelmsford in June 1920. Up to July 1920 there had been experimental radio broadcasts and the beginning of commercial radio in the US, Argentina and by Hans Idzerda in the Netherlands. So people got their news from the printed press (morning and evening editions), handbills pasted onto walls and from their friends, colleagues and neighbours.
Here is coverage by four papers (Belfast Newsletter, Belfast Telegraph, Irish Times and Freemans Journal) of events in Belfast as reported on 22 July 1920. You can read the items and see their context (which is often overlooked) alongside what other events are reported and how they were reported.
It will be interesting to see how much airtime is given to one of this year’s most significant centenaries over the next week or two, that of the start of the Belfast pogroms in July 1920.
On July 12th 1920, Edward Carson addressed the assembled Belfast Orangemen at Finaghy telling them that the UVF would ‘take matters into their own hands’. As the Times put it the next day: “Upon Sir Edward Carson lies largely the blame for having sown the dragon’s teeth in Ireland.” Carson’s words were taken as the starting point of the pogrom by Fr John Hassan who documented the subsequent events in Facts and Figures of the Belfast Pogrom 1920-1922 (written under the pseudonym G.B. Kenna). Within days mass workplace expulsions of Belfast Catholics and trade unionists had begun, followed by a succession of pogroms in Belfast and other towns in the north-east. By the end of two years, hundreds had been killed in violence in Belfast, with 20-25% of violent deaths in Ireland up to June 1922 happening in the city. Yet, given the highly contested nature of so much of the history of 1916-1923 in contemporary Ireland, the centenary of the start of the Belfast pogrom will go completely unmarked by official Ireland and be studiously ignored by others.
So what did Carson say in 1920? His speech at the 1920 Twelfth platform in Finaghy was reproduced verbatim in the press for a wider audience, so it wasn’t just those present who heard his message. This is how the Belfast Newsletter reported part of it the next day: “But we tell you (the Government) this – that if, having offered you our help – and I have offered it to them over and over again – if, having you our help, you are yourself unable to protect us from the machinations of Sinn Fein, and you won’t take our help; well, then, we tell you we will take the matter into our own hands. (Cheers.) We will re-organise, at all costs, and notwithstanding the consequences, we will re-organise, as we feel bound to do in our own defence, throughout the province the Ulster Volunteers (loud cheers) – who sent you such splendid help to maintain our Empire during the war. But one thing we will not submit to is that we should be left helpless and hopeless in the face of our enemies, and we tell you that, come what will, in the last resort, we will rely upon ourselves, and, under God we will defend ourselves. (Cheers.)Now, I hope that I have made that pretty clear. (Laughter and cheers.) And those are not mere words. I hate words without action.”.
One point would not have been lost on anyone in July 1920 was that what Carson was proposing for Belfast had literally just happened in Derry over the previous weeks. Since 18th June, when the UVF precipitated violent clashes in Derry, twenty people had been killed in the city and many more wounded. Everyone hearing or reading Carson’s speech would have known this and understood the exact implications of what Carson was calling for. This was no mere rhetorical flourish or unfortunate phrasing. As he himself said “I hate to see words without action.”
The subsequent unfolding of events in Belfast in the two years following July 1920 were to see hundreds killed, amounting to as much as 20-25% of all violent fatalities in Ireland during that period. A figure of around 500 is generally given for the total number of fatalities (eg see here) but a comparison of the annual averages of violent deaths in the Reports of the Medical Superintendent Officer for Health for Belfast County Borough before and after 1920-1922 suggest that total may be an under-estimate of the order of 100-150 violent deaths. The latter figure likely captures fatalities where there is a gap of weeks or months between the original incident and the death.
[An underestimate of a similar order of around 20% applies to the pogrom in 1935, see here. It is also worth noting that violent deaths only tell part of a story of increased mortality arising from conflict and that would not be captured in any of those figures – for some discussion of this with regard to recent decades, click here. By the way – you can read Patrick Concannon’s account of the June-July 1920 Derry violence here.]
The day after Carson’s speech the London Times’ scathing report stated that: “If indeed that organisation [the UVF] was revived as a defensive police force for Ulster the most serious consequences would almost certainly ensue. Upon Sir Edward Carson lies largely the blame for having sown the dragon’s teeth in Ireland.” Press reports on the subsequent violence in 1920 and later repeatedly use the term ‘pogrom’ to describe events in Belfast. It is found in many newspapers in Ireland including the likes of the The Irish Times and in British newspapers such as the Westminster Gazette and Daily Herald.
Yet many of the threads of this story have barely been unpicked. For a start, the mechanics of the subsequent violence are largely unexplored. Many writers simply describe the violence in Belfast as ‘sectarian’ as if that, in itself, acts as an explanation. By now, the term ‘sectarian’ has been repeated with such frequency that the key dynamic of the violence being discussed is usually overlooked – pitting proponents of an Irish republic or Home Rule against proponents of keeping Ireland within the British Empire and Act of Union. The repetition also has the effect of removing any context to the violence other than ‘sectarianism’ as if that, in itself, is an explanation.
The use of ‘sectarian’ as meaningless shorthand is worthy of fuller study in its own right as it may be inherited from official information policy strategy from the 1970s onwards as way of removing the immediate context of violent events as a suitable propaganda tool – eg see War on Words: A Northern Ireland Media Reader by Bill Rolston and David Miller. At the same time, the story behind the censorship of Facts and Figures of the Belfast Pogrom 1920-1922 in August 1922 shows there is a deep history of deliberately obscuring the events in Belfast being described. In recent decades, historians like Robert Lynch and Alan Parkinson have also been at pains to dismiss the use of the term ‘pogrom’. Lynch (in his 2008 paper in the Journal of British Studies, “The People’s Protectors? The Irish Republican Army and the “Belfast Pogrom,” 1920-1922”) claims, for it to be a pogrom, victims should be mostly women and children. While Parkinson (in The Unholy War) asserts that a pogrom should be state organised.
Ironically, both seem to apply their own definition of ‘pogrom’ rather than using modern accepted definitions such as used by the likes of Werner Bergmann (from mid-2000s) or David Engels. This is summarised as “…a unilateral, non-governmental form of collective violence initiated by the majority population against a largely defenseless ethnic group…”. That collective violence generally manifests as riots and is directed at the minority group collectively rather than targeting specific individuals. There is also an the implication that officials have connived at it, but not directly organised it. Engel states that although there are no “essential defining characteristics of a pogrom” but that the majority of the incidents “habitually” described as pogroms “…took place in divided societies in which ethnicity or religion (or both) served as significant definers of both social boundaries and social rank, … involved collective violent applications of force by members of what perpetrators believed to be a higher-ranking ethnic or religious group against members of what they considered a lower-ranking or subaltern group, … appliers of the decisive force tended to interpret the behaviour of victims according to stereotypes commonly applied to the groups to which they belonged, … perpetrators expressed some complaint about the victims’ group, …[and] a fundamental lack of confidence on the part of those who purveyed decisive violence in the adequacy of the impersonal rule of law to deliver true justice in the event of a heinous wrong.” For a fuller discussion of Werner Bergmann’s definition of a pogrom see Heitmeyer and Hagan’s survey paper in International Handbook of Violence Research, Volume 1 (2003). David Engels views are reviewed in Dekel-Chen, Gaunt, Meir and Bartal’s Anti-Jewish Violence. Rethinking the Pogrom in East European History.
Anyone familiar with the history of Belfast from 1920 to 1922 can easily map all of those characteristics onto the various episodes of violence (and similarly to later events).
In terms of actually understanding violence, rather than merely describing it, correctly applying the term ‘pogrom’ still only describes the dynamics and mechanisms by which violence is used. It does not explain the political, social or economic purposes of the violence. In an Irish context that is competing visions of from where Ireland should be governed (a point often, perhaps intentionally, obscured by over-use of the term ‘sectarian’). Ironically this modern definition chimes completely with how Fr John Hassan (author of Facts and Figures of the Belfast Pogrom 1920-1922) used the term in 1922, but not critics of the term like Lynch or Parkinson. Notably Kieron Glennon includes it in the title of his From Pogrom to Civil War. However, unpacking the use of the term ‘pogrom’ has implications well beyond 12th July 1920 and, to some extent, explains the widespread reluctance to explore the issue in any depth or to accord any real significance to centenary that will occur on 12th July this year.
* Historically (such as in the 1920’s) the Orange Order and unionist press used the term ‘demonstrations’ to describe the events around the Twelfth.
Last week saw the fiftieth anniversary of the death of former IRA Chief of Staff, prison escapee, hunger striker (he was one of the first republicans to experience long term confinement in the twentieth century), husband, father and writer Hugh McAteer (on 24 June 1970) at the young age of only 53.
Fifty years ago this summer a new run of Republican News began to be published by the Publicity Department of the Belfast IRA’s Brigade staff under the editorship of Jimmy Steele. The importance of publicity and communication had long been recognised across the political spectrum in Ireland. The anti-colonial movements, in particular, recognised the need for a platform to disseminate their message free from the bias and censorship required by the various administrations in Dublin and Belfast.
In the past (before 1970), Republican News had been published in various formats in the past, often as Republican War News or, more typically, War News. In the 1942-1945 the title Republican News became more established and was the main publishing outlet of the IRA. Due to security pressures, various local editions were issued from Belfast, Dublin and (periodically) Galway. Judging by surviving issues there was often little direct correspondence between content, editorial line or ideology in the local editions nor was there complete co-ordination between publication dates and issue numbers.
After the arrest and prosecution of Dan Turley Jr in 1945 included charges relating to possession of Republican News, it was to be thirty-six years until Patricia Haddock was prosecuted for possession of bundles of Republican News in 1971.
The early issues of Republican News in 1970 are typically presented as being some sort of anti-communist platform. In A Secret History of the IRA, Ed Moloney, mentioned Jimmy Steele and Hugh McAteer as influencing early editorial policy writes that “Anticommunism was to be a recurring obsession of the new IRA. The editorial in the first ediion of Republican News, the Provisionals weekly newspaper….Outling the malign influence of Goulding supporters, RN [Republican News] railed against them in language that would not have been out of place in a speech by Senator Joe McCarthy: “Gradually into Executive posts, in the IRA and Sinn Fein, the Red agents infiltrated…and soon these men became the policy makers. Young men and girls were brainwashed with the teachings and propaganda of the new policy makers and well-trained organizers were sent into different areas to spread the teachings of the Red infiltrators.”
Yet, this is largely the only negative reference to left wing politics in the first issues and was not actually the editorial (instead it appeared in an article entitled ‘Republican Policy – Then and Now’. The actual editorial in that same June 1970 issue stated that “The Socialism of James Connolly, the idealism of Patrick Pearse and unrepentant republicanism of Tom Clarke we shall try to inculcate into our people…“. Just to note – the (recurring) discrepancy here is largely down to contemporary perceptions of Soviet policy in the Prague in 1968 or Budapest in the 1950s as distinct from left wing socio-economic platform. The invocation of a left-right split within Irish republicanism (that isn’t supported by actual events in 1969) features in recent revelations about the 1970 arms trials and the role of Fianna Fail and British military intelligence (for more see here).
Hugh McAteer and Jimmy Steele also both died fifty years ago this summer in July and August 1970.
If people are interested, I’ll try and post up further early issues of Republican News (I currently have copies of 1970: Vol 1, No 1 June, No 2 July, No 3 August; No 6 November/December; 1971 no number July – anyone with copies of Vol 1, Nos 4, 5 etc might let me know to email@example.com).
Here’s some cartoons from the Sunday Independent in early 1922. Given the papers recent ethos, their political emphasis is maybe surprising. The cartoons were all apparently drawn by Gordon Brewster. The first three date from the period in February and March 1922, in the immediate aftermath of the Weaver Street bombing. The second three are from the end of May and June 1922. The cartoons mainly feature Winston Churchill and James Craig, both considered at the time to be the architects behind the violent reprisal policies in Ireland. The Bogie Man in the cartoon isn’t actually Gerry Adams but is supposed to represent the prospect of an IRA invasion over the border as a jack-in-the-box pulled out by unionists to scare people.
The metal object in the photo below is a lead mould for an incendiary bomb from the early 1920s. It was recently shown to me in County Wexford where it was found stuck into the wall of a derelict building on a farm that formerly belonged to two brothers, Jack and Peter Redmond. They had been members of J Company in the 3rd Battalion of the North Wexford Brigade of the 3rd Eastern Division of the IRA in 1921 and 1922. I did a quick attempt to get an impression from the mould which gives some idea of what an incendiary bomb produced by the mould would look like (see photo above).
The use of fragmentation grenades, both home made and imported Mills bombs, as well as mines and other explosive devices are one feature of the War for Independence period and later. Unlike the fragmentation grenades, which were designed to shatter and scatter pieces of metal following the explosion of the detonator, the incendiary bombs were shaped charges designed to trigger a fire. One of the early co-ordinated actions of the IRA was to attack government offices housing tax and other records and set them on fire. This occurred during the phase in which brigade and divisional structures were being put in place. In March 1920, the IRA’s Director of Chemicals, James O’Donovan, had issued advice on the manufacture of home made bombs, both fragmentation and incendiary, in the IRA’s in-house journal An tÓglac. O’Donovan himself recorded something of the background to the IRA’s manufacture of munitions for the Bureau of Military History in 1957.
In Wexford the IRA had its own munitions manufacturing unit in Enniscorthy. Ultimately the training that included the bomb mould in the picture probably came from there. A number of incidents in 1920 might have involved the use of bombs manufactured in the mould, including the burning of the RIC Barracks at Kilmuckridge and the Morriscastle Coastguard Station actions in the district adjoining that of J Company which included the Redmonds (you can follow links to various incidents in Wexford here in the Brigade Activity series).
“In connection with attacks on barracks, etc., which were beginning to develop at this time, our activities were purely directed to the making of incendiary mixtures which gradually evolved to the making of incendiary grenades. I adapted a combination of the Mills type of bomb which we were about to bring out with incendiary materials and primers to produce an incendiary grenade, although the requirements for a fully explosive or a fully incendiary effect are quite different. In the explosive grenade, the object was to have a thick cast-iron wall serrated in such a way in the mould as to reduce by fragmentation to a theoretical 48 fragments upon explosion, each of which would be similar in effect in action to shrapnel; whereas in the case of incendiary work, a soft and easily consumed wall was what was required, preferably itself made of inflammable material, which would be destroyed in the process, and the contents such as to produce intensely high temperatures in the least time. There would, of course, in an incendiary grenade, be no detonator tubes or detonating explosive, but the fuse, which would be ignited exactly in the same manner as the explosive grenade, would touch off an easily inflammable primary mixture which perhaps, even though a second primary or secondary mixture, would work up with rapidly increasing temperature the main body of inflammable material. The first type of such grenade, but in a more imperfect form, had actually been tried out by me in company with Nick Lynch before he had been replaced by Dick McKee. This had a lead wall and contained thermite. as the main mixture; but the first efforts in that direction had not got over the difficulties of graduating the stages from the fuse to the main body of incendiary, with the result that there was a mildly explosive action which had the effect of scattering the main body instead of rapidly igniting it. By constant research on such practical problems, a stage was reached when these difficulties were resolved, and I remember the first official try-out of this product which took place in the basement of 44 Parnell Square in the presence of McKee, Clancy, Sean Russell, Mick Lynch, probably Sean Mooney (then brigade adjutant), and others. This was a memorable occasion, as units were drilling upstairs while we occupied the dark basement. In view of the job being undertaken, the drilling was an important adjunct as it tended to conceal the activity in the basement. A manually ignited fuse was used on this occasion, not11one operated by a hammer and cap mechanism, as the purpose was simply to try out the actual incendiary materials in association with primers and the container. It was, as far as I remember, cigar-lighter fuse, and its progress was, visible in the dark, so that the excitement and tension grew as the flame visibly progressed. During the silence of waiting, the marching and drilling upstairs filled the expectant basement. It was a complete success in every way and McKee was highly excited and congratulated me, shaking both my hands. When we had finished, the upstairs building began to fill with smoke, but by then we, the experimenters, were gone.”
As a footnote – as much as people will focus on the violence of the early 1920s during the various centenaries, it should be noted that violence was very much the exception to the rule of the long history of Irish independence movements. Similarly, parties advocating a constitutional route to Irish independence of various forms had won a majority of seats in Ireland in the British House of Commons since 1874. Even then the eligible electorate in previous elections was hardly representative of the opinion of the population of Ireland. For a start women couldn’t vote until 1918. But on top of that it was so incredibly restricted and narrow and drawn from a extremely limited spectrum of Irish society that there were under 93,000 votes cast in the 1859 election when the population of Ireland was around 5,700,000. Even in 1874 that number had only increased to 225,000 votes cast. Even taking the fiction of the unrepresentative nature of electoral politics in the late nineteenth century, constitutional politics had had the opportunity to deliver Home Rule, in various guises, for almost fifty years before the violence of the early 1920s.
This post continues the short series on James Connolly’s early life and influences with some previously unrecognised writings from the early 1890s.
Conventionally, Connolly biographies have him deserting the British Army in 1889, returning to Scotland and living first in Dundee before then returning to Edinburgh and marrying Lily Reynolds by around 1891. The reason why he was living in Dundee is not clear (no offence to Dundee). Despite the imprecise factual basis for the details of his life before 1893, we can at least date his arrival in Dundee through some private correspondence mentioning current events to Lily in April 1889. We also know, from their marriage records on 30 April 1890, that he was living at 22 West Port, Edinburgh. Typically Connolly’s brother John is said to have already been active in socialist politics when he (James) deserted and that James followed his elder brother’s path into political activism, taking over from him as secretary of the Socialist Democratic Federation in 1893 (this is the general outline often given by biographers).
At this point that narrative appears to be at odds with what can be identified in contemporary newspaper reports. The first clear sight of John Connolly in politics is in 1893 when he was dismissed from his post as a ‘scavenger’ by Edinburgh Council. This followed his involvement in industrial action over working hours. In the subsequent references to it in the press (over May-June 1893), Edinburgh Council report that he had been sacked previously by the head of the Council’s Cleaning Department for some unstated infraction and was re-employed without the head of Department’s knowledge. Seemingly his visibility during the strike brought his re-employment to the head’s attention and he was sacked again. His infraction could, of course, be his socialist activism but John Connolly does not appear to be named as involved in socialist activities in contemporary press reports. A John Connolly was arrested and charged with rioting in Greenock during a railway strike in 1890 but it is unclear if it is the same John Connolly.
The aftermath of that railway strike does give us our first glimpse of James Connolly the political activist, though. At a public meeting of the ward Labour committee in South Bridge in Edinburgh, in February 1891, James Connolly put a resolution to the floor and spoke against his local MP. This seems to be his the earliest public address and writing by him, albeit relatively brief.
This is from The Scotsman, 17 Feb 1891:
Public meeting under auspices of Ward Labour Committee in Labour Hall, South Bridge, Edinburgh to comsidr parliamentary representation. John McKenzie of the Edinburgh Trades Council, was in the chair and noted the poor attendance. James Connolly, carter, moved this resolution:
Resolved that the meeting record its most emphatic conviction that Mr William McEwan, the present member of Parliament for the Central Division of the City of Edinburgh, is no longer, if he ever was, a fit and proper person to represent the working classes of the Division in Parliament ; that it recognise in his letter to the Chairman of the Central Liberal Association a conspicuous absence of any comprehension whatever of what was really involved in the late struggle between the railway companies and their employees ; that the recent railway strike has been productive of at least one unmixed good – viz., the shattering of the superstition that in our present industrial society, based upon monopoly on the one hand, and wage servitude on the other, there is, or ever can be, any true identity of interest between capital and labour ; that recognising this fact, this meeting pledges itself to secure, if possible, the return to Parliament for the Central Division of Edinburgh of a labour candidate at next general election : and that for the candidate it be made an indispensable condition of his candidature that he fully and freely recognises the antagonism of interests between the monopolizers of the means of production and distribution and the wage workers, or, in other words, that he expresses his belief in the existence of the class war.
The report goes on to say that Connolly stated that the resolution expressed the conviction of every honest man in the locality on the matter. Mr John Smith, a mason, seconded the motion. John Leslie, a labourer, also supported the motion and drew attention to how McEwan was also an apologists, if not supporter, for the Plan of Campaign in Ireland which ‘in policy and practice, was illegal.’ The latter point was to highlight McEwan’s inconsistency in opposing industrial action in Scotland on the grounds it was illegal, while supporting ‘illegal’ land agitation in Ireland. This is perhaps a nod towards McEwan trying to build electoral support among Edinburgh’s Irish community. Did Connolly sense the Irish in Edinburgh were being played for their votes? When Connolly himself began to get involved in electoral politics in Edinburgh in 1893-1894 he identifies himself as Irish during hustings, no doubt trying to do the same and elicit support from the Irish community.
It is possible that Connolly’s primary motivation in moving the resolution was that the John Connolly arrested over the railway strike was indeed his brother. This could be the origin of the stories about his brother John getting him into politics. Certainly John Leslie, who also spoke on his resolution, was to be a long time collaborator of Connolly’s and was instrumental in getting him into politics. Leslie was Connolly’s predecessor as secretary of the Social Democratic Federation. Notably the SDF openly derided the Liberal’s (McEwan’s party’s) claim to speak for labour interests.
Leslie may be related to the George Leslie who was involved in the 1872 Lamplighters strike. Like John Connolly, he is hazily sketched out in various biographies and is hinted to have been a Ribbon man. It may be that the ‘John’ that biographers feature in some episodes in Connolly’s life in the mid-1890s is occasionally mixes John Leslie and John Connolly up or blends them together. Certainly he was an active socialist by at least 1889 when he first begins to feature in the press as secretary of the Social Democratic Federation. During protests and clashes with the authorities in Dundee over ‘free speech’ Leslie was asked to come from Edinburgh and being some ‘sinews’ to support the protests. Intriguingly this was at the end of March 1889, just as James Connolly arrived. Was Connolly one of Leslie’s ‘sinews’? Leslie’s action in Dundee appeared to be to calm matters down rather than have an outright confrontation with the authorities.
Connolly’s next identifiable writing appeared as a published letter on 8 August 1891 in the Dundee Weekly News. It was followed by further letters in October. The ideological position he gives aligns fairly neatly on that of the SDF.
The next appeared on 24 October 1891 (Dundee Weekly News).
Sir – the meaning of Socialism is not in the least obscure, and it is only the misrepresentations of our enemies which make it so. Common property is the means of production and distribution – i.e. the land and instrument of labour – is Socialism as accepted by all schools of Socialistic thought. The industries of the country to be held and managed by the workers, and production and distribution of all goods to be arranged to supply the wants of all, instead of, as at present, to make a profit for a few – all classes of labour to be equally rewarded. The labour of the architect requires greater skill, but it is also less protracted and disagreeable, and performed amid pleasanter surroundings than the labour of the hod-carrier, and without the labour of the hod-carrier the most sublime conceptions of the architect would remain mere valueless drawings on paper. A colliery manager is absolutely useless without the labour of the colliers, and the labour of the collier is of little use to dwellers in cities without the coal-heavers, who bring the coal to our doors. All are equally necessary; therefore all should be equally rewarded. – I am, etc, JAMES CONNOLLY
With a further letter on 31 October 1891 (Dundee Weekly News).
Sir – Labour is the source of all wealth. Capital itself is produced by labour, and is useless without labour, and capital in private hands is simply the stored up unpaid labour of the workers kept back by a capitalist fraud. Wages are only a part of the fruits of labour, the remainder is retained by the capitalist in the name of profits, and is utilised by him to create fresh capital and enable him to live in clover off the labour of others. The two cases I have quoted are instances of this general rule, which remain unaltered whether the dividend is 20 or 4 per cent. The fact that capitalists often fail does not alter the amount wrongfully taken from the workers. What one loses another gains. If capitalist A fails it is simply because B, C, D, E and F, his rivals in business, have taken his trade from him, and will therefore receive greater profits, because of the ruin of their rival. The matter is of as little interest to the workers, as a class, as the similar question of how thieves divide their plunder can be supposed to be to the unfortunate victims from whom it was stolen – I am, etc, JAMES CONNOLLY
Collectively, the letters show Connolly’s articulate grasp of socialism and confident voice. As far as we know, Connolly left school very young, but the fluent writer visible in his 1889-1890 letters to Lily Reynolds and these early letters suggests an education and reading well beyond ten years of age. Without his actual military records, we must assume some of that education was while serving in the British Army. His socialistic convictions also seem well developed by 1891, suggesting he was no mere arriviste, calling to mind his capacity to advise Kier Hardie on the Irish socialist scene in 1893. As with Peter McBride and John Connolly, John Leslie is a significant figure to help understand Connolly’s political formation. About which we still know so little!
One well known image from the 1970s is one of a woman, in leather jacket and knee length skirt with an automatic rifle taking aim around the corner of a building. The photo, by Colman Doyle, has had something of a bizarre afterlife. And Doyle himself is oddly reticent and guarded about the details of the circumstances. The photo is claimed to be (variously) taken in Ardoyne, or West Belfast.
Recently a social media account posted a fanciful claim that the woman was an IRA Volunteer gaining revenge for the death of her IRA partner. In 2006, when Doyle’s photographic archive was donated to the National Library, the Evening Herald (18/7/06) claimed that the woman in the photo was wanted for questioning about the disappearance of Jean McConville. However the basis of the Herald’s claim isn’t stated and isn’t helped by it also stating the photograph was taken in Ardoyne when Doyle himself captions it as in West Belfast.
So what is the truth? Well, I’m hoping someone can finally enlighten us. An image from the set was used in a 1974 republican calendar and one was reproduced without caption or credit on the back page of Republican News in February 1974 (23/2/74). Other images from the same calendar appear back in November 1973 suggesting they were taken from before that date. The set of photos of women carrying guns and searching a man have the clear look of being staged. The photographer (Doyle) appears to have taken pictures while standing in the open, exposed to returned fire. This seems unlikely and while Doyle could well have stumbled on PR photos being staged, the scene has the obvious look of a photo opportunity.
This last point and the strength of the imagery then has much more significance as clearly the intention was to provide a depiction putting female activists in the foreground and background. Now, it may be up to the viewer to decide if this is an idealized image of a female activist conceived and created by men/for men or by or for women. It may also intentionally resonate with international images of radical female activists and chime with a visual language familiar to second wave feminism (personally, I suspect it is inspired by media reporting of German radicals like Gudrun Ensslin and Ulrike Meinhof in 1971-1972). It also is a reminder that there is much to explore behind much of the imagery used by everyone throughout the conflict here.
Other images from the same scene are included below. Can anyone shed any real light on where they were taken and what were the circumstances (check out the end of this post for an update)?
For what it’s worth the style of the masonry – ashlar drawn onto cement render – seems unusual for either Ardoyne or West Belfast, particularly given the style of windows (I think this is how someone might recognise it). And the single bit of graffiti “Brits Out” is barely noted by journalists before the middle of 1974, although that doesn’t mean it wasn’t current (was it popularised by the photo?).
A family member has been in touch to say that the woman holding the rifle was very much active in the IRA and had even attended the unveiling of a mural that reproduced the image some years ago (see photo below). She had been prominent in insisting to then IRA Chief of Staff Sean MacStíofáin that women be allowed to join the IRA rather than Cumann na mBan. She chose the clothes and imagery herself for the images intending it to signal the role female activists could play, although she remember little about the actual photos being taken (the location may have been in Andersonstown).
The image also featured in what is reputed to be a hand-made republican children’s book, A Republican ABC, during the 1970s apparently not widely circulated but now in the Northern Ireland Political Collection (NIPC) held at the Linen Hall Library in Belfast. The author and illustrator is unknown – the book begins “A is for Armalite that sends them all running”, with the same image of a short-skirted girl taking aim with a gun, her hair falling over her face.
Lastly, the image has been recoloured by @robcross247.
Some great viewing here (whether you are locked down or not)! There’s a new collection of films released on the IFI Player, (and they are free to view – internationally)!
The Loopline Collection Volume 2 includes footage of Republican Women in a series called Mná an IRA, a documentary series on Irish craft and folklife named Hidden Treasures, and interview excerpts with renowned international documentary filmmakers, Documentary Where Art Thou?.
The Mná an IRA Collection will be of particular interest to because of its historical and social reflection on the motivations and consequences surrounding the actions of women in the IRA, as they tell their stories years later.
The Loopline Collection Volume 2 features the highly acclaimed four-part documentary series Hidden Treasures which captured the Irish imagination when first broadcast on RTÉ in the late 1990s. The series, directed by Anne O’Leary, offers a fascinating and intimate view of traditional Irish life and culture. Rare glimpses of declining or long-forgotten traditions are vitally captured through an amalgamation of restored 16mm field recordings, made by the National Museum of Ireland from the 1950s – ‘70s and contemporary material and interviews shot by Loopline and narrated by poet and writer Theo Dorgan.
The second six-part TV series included in this collection, Mná an IRA, by Martina Durac and screened on TG4, profiles six women engaged in active service in the IRA. The women (Martina Anderson, Pamela Kane, Rose Dugdale, Roseleen McCorley, Rosaleen Walsh and Josephine Hayden) offer personal reflections on the impact of their actions on the conflict in Northern Ireland and politics in the Republic.
Lastly, Documentary Where Art Thou? is a collection of interviews with seminal Irish and international documentary filmmakers – all contributors to a course on documentary practice designed by Sé Merry Doyle and Martina Durac and conducted under the auspices of Screen Training Ireland and Film Base. A documentary which Sé planned to build from these interviews was never completed. The IFI now offers an exclusive glimpse into these interviews with invaluable reflections on documentary form by a range of leading practitioners including D.A. Pennebaker, Jon Bang Carlsen, Molly Dineen and Kim Longinotto and others.