In 1934, Republican Congress held a public rally in Dublin that was a “demonstration of protest against the exploitation of their dead comrades and, against the mockery of the living in these Imperialistic displays”. Two Belfast representatives, whose names were not given, also addressed the meeting. Relations between many of those in Republican Congress and the Belfast IRA had been quite fraught for several years dating back to before the split that led to Republican Congress being formed. So it seems unlikely that those who spoke were officers of the Belfast IRA and were more likely drawn from a small group of Belfast republicans like Peter and Paul Carleton, Robert McVicker and Willie McMullen.
Tensions over the wearing of poppies and displays of the Union Jack were very contentious in the 1920s and 1930s in Dublin. ‘Poppy-snatching’ – where people had their poppy grabbed from their coat – was common place in Dublin. Indeed, from 1926, the Easter Lily gained prominence as a republican symbol that was in response to both the poppy, and, the Free State (since Easter Lily sellers refused to acknowledge the authority of the Free State and apply for a peddlers license, they were often prosecuted). In Belfast, republicans were often prosecuted simply for wearing an Easter Lily symbol, which judges derided as a ‘Sinn Féin poppy’.
The Irish Times account of the meeting (published on 12th November 1934) is below:
About noon yesterday a small number of people assembled at the corner of Middle Abbey street. in response to a notification issued from the offices of the Republican Congress, 112 Marlborough Street, Dublin. The notice was that ex-Service men and Republicans would hold a meeting. About 12.30 a procession was formed and some 200 persons. mostly young men, but including a body of men wearing War medals and ribbons, marched from Abbey Street up O’Connell Street to the Parnell Monument, then to College street and back to Abbey Street. The procession was headed by a cart, which later served as the platform for the meeting. There was frame-work formed round the cart, which bore many inscriptions, such as “Republican Masses March Again,” “Neither King nor Kaiser, but Ireland.”
Behind the cart was carried a painted banner, The chief feature of this was a man in a blueshirt and the inscription “Workers’ United Front Against Fascism.”
At the meeting a crowd of persons, many wearing poppies, listened to a series of speeches, which, as time progressed were delivered to am ever diminishing audience. There was a disturbance of the proceedings about half an hour after the speeches began. A man made a dash towards the platform. He was closely followed by a number of Civic Guards, who held him.
Mr. Peadar O’Donnell, seeing the arrest, cried out from the platform, “I demand the release of that man.” Several men jumped from the platform and ran Into the confused crowd of protesting people, who closed about the Guards. In the crowd voices cried that the Guards were trying to break up the meeting. Superintendent Hurley spoke to the people on the platform, apparently explaining the situation, and meanwhile the man was bundled into a police lorry and taken away. There was no further disturbance at the meeting.
Mr. B. Smith (ex-Tank Corps) presided at the meeting. and said that it was demonstration of protest against the exploitation of their dead comrades and, against the mockery of the living in these Imperialistic displays that had taken place for the past ten years in the City of Dublin. It proved a definite break of the Irish ex-Service men with the Imperialist forces which had ruthlessly exploited them since 1919.
Mr. R. Connolly said that if ex-Service men had been given medals for a cause which the workers despised it must. he remembered that those medals were rewards of valour and they should salute them. He wanted the youth of Ireland kept out of the next war. It was only the peace policy of Soviet Russia which was keeping back the dogs of war.
Mr. T. Ellis (ex-Royal Garrison Artillery) said that since the overthrow of the last. Government the position of the workers had been made ho better. Mr. Frank Ryan said that he was proud to he on that platform for they saw united men of the British Army, of the Irish Republican Army and of the Irish Citizen Army, and they had there also representatives of the Belfast working-classes. The Jacobs and the Guinnesses had come out that day with their moth-eaten Union Jacks and sang “God Save the King,” but at the meeting they had the plain men who had borne the brunt of the war.
Mr. Sean Murray said that those who fought under Mulcahy, Blythe and O’Duffy were not better than those who fought under the King.
Mr. Peadar O’Donnell said that such a band of ex-Service men could walk through the streets without fear from the mass of the people because they were standing with the mass of the people.
Two representatives of Belfast, whose names were not announced, also addressed the meeting.