Jimmy Steele was born on 8th August 1907 in Artillery Street in the North Queen Street area of Belfast. When his mother, Catherine, died from tuberculosis on 3rd March 1912, Jimmy was just four years old. His younger brother, Dan, was two weeks short of his first birthday. Jimmy, Dan and their three older brothers were mainly brought up by their aunt Mary Ellen in her small shop on the New Lodge Road, rather than by their father, Arthur, a fitter originally from Randalstown (an older sister, Mary Ellen, had died as a baby).
Jimmy was later to write of hearing politics discussed as a child, of Home Rule, Joe Devlin, John Redmond, the Hibernians, Connolly and Larkin. He also recorded how he remembered hearing someone whistling ‘A Soldiers Song’ and graffiti on a wall in the street after the Easter Rising and of “…the wounded Connolly, idol of the Belfast dockers and mill girls being shot to death as he sat strapped to his chair”.
Arthur remarried in October 1919 to Sarah Scullion, who owned a pub on the New Lodge Road. Even before Catherine had died Arthur already had a reputation of being overly fond of drink (Jimmy was to be a lifelong teetotaller). Arthur’s drinking led his eldest brother, Charlie, to emigrate to New York in April 1920. His brother Arthur emigrated too. Jimmy was attending school in Hardinge Street where he apprenticed as a plasterer. He got involved in gaelic games there and played on the school’s hurling team.
The Steele’s came to the attention of the RIC in July 1920 when a revolver was found during a search of Mary Ellen’s shop. By then Jimmy and his older brother Bill were active in Fianna Eireann’s North Queen Street sluagh and D Company of the IRA’s 2nd Battalion in Belfast. Raids and arrests were to become a constant feature of Jimmy’s life. In 1921 the RIC came looking for Bill as his handcart had no light on it. As he wasn’t at home, they arrested Jimmy instead. North Queen Street saw some of the most intense violence of 1920 to 1922. His father’s brother James received serious head wounds in a grenade attack in August 1921 and other relatives were injured in the violence.
As a Fianna officer, Jimmy had dual rank and was also attached to B Company of the 1st Battalion of the IRA. He remained active after the split in 1922. He and Bill kept a small arms dump stored on waste ground behind Mary Ellen’s shop which was given away by a tip-off to the RUC in September 1923. At that time Charlie was home from New York and he and Jimmy were arrested as the RUC could not find Bill. While Charlie was quickly released, Jimmy was to spend three weeks in Crumlin Road. When Charlie returned to New York, he and Arthur repeatedly offered to pay for Jimmy and Bill to join them. Jimmy was to be arrested and imprisoned for a while again in 1924, with Mary Donnelly of Cumann na mBan.
By now he was part of an independent unit in the Belfast Battalion that covered north Belfast, under Jack McNally. He avoided the round-up of IRA suspects that coincided with the news of the failure of the Boundary Commission in November 1925, but was detained in January 1926 following the discovery in the postal sorting office of a package of 110 copies of An Phoblacht addressed to him (the paper had been banned the same month). The unionist government struggled to find scope in the Special Powers Act to prosecute him and he escaped with a fine for possession of a banned edition of An Phoblacht that was found in Mary Ellen’s shop.
He was involved in the setting up of Joe McKelvey’s GAA club by members of the Belfast IRA in 1925. Throughout the late 1920s and into the 1930s he was to be an active playing member for the club in both hurling and football, mainly in the half forward line. He won South Antrim junior and senior football championship, league, South Antrim Cup and Madigan Cup medals. He also played in a number of junior and senior hurling finals. The pinnacle of his sporting career was probably 1931 when, as South Antrim champions, McKelveys played in the Antrim Senior Football Championship final against the North Antrim Senior Football champions Cuchullains, from Dunloy, eventually losing a replay 1-4 to 0-3. The next week McKelveys lost the South Antrim Senior Hurling Championship final to O’Connells. He played in all three matches.
In 1927 he and Tony Lavery had been tasked by the Belfast Battalion O/C, Davy Matthews, with rebuilding the Fianna organisation in Belfast. This led to a tripling in size of the Belfast IRA by the early 1930s as individuals progressed from one organisation to the other. This was accompanied by more arrests and detentions. In 1928 he was arrested with posters that were to inform people of an Easter commemoration but again the authorities found that their intended charges were not covered by the Special Powers Act. Arrested yet again with posters that were deemed ‘illegal’ in 1929, the unionist government had its prosecution thrown out of court as it transpired that no prohibited organisations were actually mentioned on the posters. Documents reportedly found on him during one 1929 arrest showed he was then learning Irish and writing poetry.
As sectarian tensions began to simmer in Belfast again in the early 1930s, the Belfast Battalion staff began to fight a running battle with IRA GHQ in Dublin over how to confront the issue. The Battalion staff refused to get visibly involved at an organisational level in the Outdoor Relief strike in October 1932 as it would give the authorities a pretext to put it down violently. Many IRA volunteers were actively involved as individuals, though. As the suppression happened anyway, the Battalion got officially involved in the railway workers strike in January 1933, carrying out bomb and gun attacks at the request of the unions. This wasn’t sufficient to placate those in IRA GHQ who were trying to leverage the Belfast Battalion so that the IRA would more fully engage in political activity. By various means over 1933 and 1934, existing Battalion staff like Davy Matthews, George Nash and Dan Turley were forced or pushed out and Tony Lavery and Jimmy then took over as Battalion O/C and Adjutant.
The IRA had increasingly come in to conflict with the RUC during 1933 and RUC constables were killed during confrontations in January and October 1933. The latter led to widespread arrests of IRA suspects, including Jimmy and he spent several months in prison. He was to take over as Battalion Adjutant on his release in 1934. Protests over the arrests and a huge election rally in support of republican candidates in the November 1933 election saw the IRA candidate run Joe Devlin close in Belfast (the unionist government response was to introduce a non-abstention oath for candidates). During the election campaign the Belfast IRA also began to produce its own occasional newspaper, An Síol to which Jimmy began to contribute (particular from 1935 when it began to appear weekly). He also continued to play for McKelveys although the club was struggling due to the repeated arrests of its players.
The formation of Republican Congress in 1934 took some of the IRA GHQ opponents of the previous Belfast Battalion staff out of the IRA. In Belfast sectarian violence was now leading to occasional deaths and the growing threat of a sustained assault on Catholic districts such as had happened in 1920-22. Drawing on its experience of 1920-22, the IRA tried to replenish its stock of rifles and train its members as preparation for defence of threatened districts, leading to further confrontations with the RUC as it intercepted drilling parties and searched for weapons. Jimmy was arrested again in late 1934, with habeas corpus suspended the unionist government denied it was even holding him as a prisoner. His treatment was bad enough to require medical assistance on his release in January 1935.
Despite increasing street violence, the Belfast Battalion agreed to attend a training camp at Gyles Quay Louth in July 1935. As violence erupted in North Queen Street on the 12th July, Free State forces swooped on the Belfast Battalion’s training camp, confiscating weapons and imprisoning twelve of those present. On the 13th, Jimmy managed to disentangle enough volunteers to return and take over the defence of the North Queen Street district where violence continued until late summer.
In November, Jimmy acted as Director of Elections to Charlie Leddy (who had been imprisoned over Gyles Quay) in West Belfast during the general election. In December, the Belfast battalion ambitiously tried to clear out the two hundred rifles of the OTC armoury in Campbell College. Instead, it was surprised by the RUC and fought a running gun battle in which one volunteer was captured (Jimmy and Tony Lavery had to go to the scene to call off the operation). The aftermath saw a wave of arrests and the Battalion investigated whether there was an informer among the staff.
Jimmy acted as Battalion O/C when Tony Lavery was ordered to a courtmartial for having some of those arrested defended in court (against GHQ orders). On 30th March, he lined out at centre half forward for McKelveys as they won the Biggar Cup final. He was the only remaining player from the team that had played in the 1931 senior county final. Lavery’s court martial in Crown Entry the next month, which was doubling up as a conference of senior IRA commanders in the north, was given away by the same informer and Jimmy and most of the IRA northern leadership were arrested. They were charged with treason felony and given varying sentences in Crumlin Road (Jimmy got five years penal servitude). He had been preparing to marry his childhood sweetheart, Anna Crawford, prior to his arrest. Prior to the sentencing he wrote a poem called ‘A Prayer From My Prison Cell’ that was to be published in the Wolfe Tone Weekly on September 11th 1937. During that summer he also wrote ‘Belfast Graves’ which was to be a popular song among Belfast republicans. Lines from the song are quoted in Brendan Behan’s novel Borstal Boy (Behan later recalled Jimmy staying with his family when visiting Dublin).
The treason felony prisoners demanded they get recognised as political prisoners (there were twenty-three long and short-term republican prisoners in Crumlin Road by August 1936). After several clashes with the prison authorities a hunger and thirst strike began on 18th August, although they began taking water again by the sixth day. By the 1st September only Jimmy remained on hunger strike. Weakened by the initial thirst strike, he became weak on the 3rd and Bill was called into the prison to see him. A supposed deal was brokered by the 5th and Jimmy ended his hunger strike only to restart it on 17th and continue to the end of the month (by now the authorities had at least agreed to deal with a nominated O/C of the republican prisoners). This protest took a long term physical toll on his health as it damaged his lungs.
Jimmy was forced to observe the unfolding of the IRA’s English campaign from inside Crumlin Road, only to be released in May 1940, immediately reporting back for active service (on 1st August he was also to finally marry Anna). Assigned as Director of Training to the Northern Command, he took over as O/C Belfast around September 1940 having been involved in disciplinary proceedings against members of the Belfast Battalion who were believed to have had ‘fascist’ leanings. He also appears to have edited the Belfast edition of War News (the forerunner of Republican News). At the start of December he was arrested in the backyard of Anna’s father’s house on North Queen Street. A revolver and cash found in his coat were used as a pretext to later give him a ten year prison sentence and was he returned to Crumlin Road. The expanding number of republicans in Crumlin Road had saw the internees and sentenced men divided into two battalion structures, with Jimmy as O/C in A Wing. He continued to write poetry and articles that were smuggled out and published anonymously in War News, An tÓglach and The Critic. Like the other prisoners, he was confined to Crumlin Road during the blitz when bombs fell around the prison (his cousin James O’Boyle and Mary Donnelly, who had been arrested with him in the 1920s, were both killed during the German bombing in April 1941). The authorities also identified him as having a role in procuring equipment for the escape of five prisoners in June 1941 but they made no attempt to punish him. During 1941 and 1942 relations were strained within the prison when the IRA killed a prison warder in February 1942 and Tom Williams was hung there in September the same year.
The latter was followed, on 15th January 1943, by the escape of Jimmy, Hugh McAteer (the recently arrested IRA Chief of Staff), Ned Maguire (brother of the Belfast IRA O/C) and Pat Donnelly from Armagh. They had accessed the roof space over A wing and broke through the roof, climbed down a rope made of sheets and scaled the outer wall. The unionist government was severely embarrassed at its inability to recapture the escapees. This became even more acute when twenty one prisoners tunnelled out of Derry jail in March (Jimmy was involved in the operation on the outside). In between, Jimmy had taken over as the IRA’s Belfast O/C and Adjutant of Northern Command and also edited Republican News. In April, when Liam Burke was arrested, he took over as Adjutant General of the IRA. At the end of the month, he and McAteer further embarrassed the unionist government by staging a public Easter Rising commemoration in Broadway cinema in Belfast. Within a week the northern government’s Prime Minister, J.M. Andrews, resigned.
The intense searches that followed saw Jimmy re-arrested in Amcomri Street in May and he was returned to Crumlin Road (this time with a further twelve years added to his sentence). His seventeen year old nephew, Arthur, received a ten year sentence the same day. On returning to A wing he immediately joined the blanket protest taking place at the increasing harshness of the prison regime which ended in September. After the blanket protest ended he received a beating in his cell at the hands of prison staff. Although the women in Armagh Jail had shown up the difficulties in mounting a hunger strike in late 1943, the men in Crumlin Road didn’t heed the lessons and began their own hunger strike in February 1944. Starved of publicity and looking increasingly likely to lead to fatalities, the strike was ended by orders of the IRA Chief of Staff on 6th April. Jimmy had spent forty days on hunger strike. Beatings and violence from warders continued to be a feature of prison life until the end of the war in May 1945 and the release of internees in August that year. However, despite the demonstrably political nature of sentencing policy, the unionist government was slow to accept that it had also to release the sentenced prisoners and Jimmy was the last to be released, in September 1950. Earlier that year, he had been stood as the Sinn Féin candidate in West Belfast in the general election but had polled poorly.
After his release he was given work doing deliveries for Hughes Bakery and he and Anna tried to settle into some sort of married life. In April 1951 his father, Arthur, died at the age of 81 (his second wife, Sarah, had died in 1948). He and Anna had their own child, a son called Colm, in 1952. On his release Jimmy had also reported back for duty to the IRA and took over again as O/C Belfast. Much of the Belfast Battalion’s energy and resources were taken up with the publication of a newspaper, Resurgent Ulster (from November 1951), but there were still occasional confrontations with the authorities and periods of detention for Jimmy. Much of the early 1950s was taken up with re-establishing the Belfast IRA as the pre-eminent republican organisation in the city. Jimmy began to be publicly involved with the National Graves Association in Belfast and more openly associated with political activity with Sinn Féin. The Battalion didn’t seem to fully engage with IRA GHQ’s emerging plans for a border campaign though. By the time the campaign started Jimmy had stood down as Belfast O/C in favour of Paddy Doyle (an organiser sent up by GHQ). Doyle’s arrest on the eve of the campaign meant that Belfast never fully participated as subsequent swoops by the RUC detained many active republicans. Jimmy avoided arrest until 1957 but was to be held until 1960, spending much of the time as O/C of the internees and famously rallying them following mass beatings after a failed escape attempt.
By the end of his time in Crumlin Road, his health had begun to suffer and on his release, while he was re-employed by Hughes Bakery, he eventually had to take up work in the Bakery shop rather than carry out deliveries.
In October 1961 tragedy struck when Colm was knocked down and killed in a hit-and-run incident at a pedestrian crossing on the Falls Road. Although the driver was eventually caught, the inquest in December 1961 returned an open verdict on Colm’s death.
On his release from Crumlin Road Jimmy had again reported for duty to the IRA. The Belfast IRA resumed publishing its own newspaper, Tírghrá, in December 1962 and tried to rebuild some sort of capacity under Billy McKee. Over the next couple of years, Jimmy worked closely with National Graves in developing the republican memorials in Milltown which coincided with the Wolfe Tone commemorations of 1963 and then the Easter Rising commemorations in 1966 by which time Jimmy had published Antrim’s Patriot Dead and Belfast and nineteensixteen. In so far as the state organised the 1966 commemorations in Dublin, the IRA largely organised those in Belfast, with Jimmy as President of Directorate of the Commemoration Committees.
As with the Wolfe Tone societies set up earlier in the 1960s, all of these coalesced groups into the organised ‘Republican Clubs’ which the IRA saw as an outlet for political activity. Jimmy continued as President of the Directorate of Republican Clubs. Over the course of the 1960s, the Divis Street riots and UVF attacks in 1966 had become reminiscent of the 1930s with the threat of intensifying violence against Catholic districts. Billy McKee had resigned as Belfast O/C in 1963, to be replaced by Billy McMillen. Throughout the rest of the 1960s the IRA concentrated on political activity with little emphasis on procuring arms or carrying out training. Publication of Tírghrá ceased by 1965 as control centralised in Dublin and considerable disaffection was growing among republicans in Belfast over IRA policy. Jimmy’s continued involvement in the Republicans Clubs into 1967 to some extent validated the policy, but he began to make muted statements criticising the direction the IRA was taking at the Manchester Martyrs centenary events in Manchester in November 1967. He made a nuanced comparison with the ‘New Departure’ initiative of John Devoy in which leading IRB figures pursued a personal initiative to break with abstentionism as policy when it was not official IRB policy. Late the next year, Cathal Goulding, the IRA’s Chief of Staff, pushed through changes to the IRA that expanded membership of the Army Council which would have a majority of Goulding supporters until the next Army Convention when the membership would have to be re-elected.
With unrest growing on the streets of Belfast and the IRA totally unprepared to offer any defence to districts likely to face violent attacks, Jimmy decided to make his criticisms of the IRA leadership public at the reburial of Peter Barnes and James McCormack in July 1969. His words were aimed directly at Goulding: “There comes a time in every generation when men try to re-direct the republican movement along a different road to that upon which our freedom fighters trod… And Connolly’s words on this matter should give us all food for thought when he said, “Unity is a word used by many with ulterior motives, to achieve political ambition, or ultimately, to seek power and control in a united movement.” Therefore in striving for genuine unity we must be careful that such efforts may not lead to that seizure of power and control by the wrong people as defined by Connolly.”
Within days, Goulding had Jimmy immediately dismissed from the IRA without courtmartial. Within weeks, the unionist government had interned McMillen and much of the IRA leadership just before the widespread attacks on Catholic districts on 15th August. The parlous state the Belfast IRA had reached was illustrated by Broadway being defended by Jimmy and Joe Cullen, another 1920-22 IRA veteran.
In the immediate aftermath of the August violence, Jimmy and many others immediately returned to service with the IRA. Jimmy chaired a meeting a week later to try and backfill some structure where the IRA had all but disappeared. Districts were visited and organised, parties were dispatched to recover long forgotten arms dumps and distribute them to areas where they would be needed. When McMillen was freed a month later, Jimmy joined a deputation that went to where he was meeting the Belfast Battalion staff with demands on changes that had to be implemented. McMillen agreed to break communications with IRA GHQ until changes were made, including Goulding’s removal. The next day, McMillen resumed communications and the Belfast IRA divided into individuals and units willing to recognise Goulding’s authority and others, like Jimmy, who wanted a new leadership elected.
As the split in the IRA formalised in 1970, Jimmy was reputedly offered the role of Chief of Staff and Adjutant General but turned down both. He did help restart publication of Republican News by the summer of 1970, alongside the likes of Hugh McAteer. McAteer, whose health had been weakened by long years in prison died in June 1970 at the young age of 53. Jimmy gave the oration at his funeral. Rather than take that as a warning that he needed to slow down, Jimmy continued to edit Republican News and be active for long hours every single day. Then on 9th August 1970, Jimmy’s poor health also gave way and he died of heart failure. It was the day after his sixty-third birthday.
Here is a poem he wrote in 1946.
(A Prison Poem 1946)
The whitewashed cell is cold and bare,
As perished with the chilly air,
I sit and muse on times long past.
To feel the melancholy blast
Of longing, for the day I knew,
When sorrows with me then were few.
The home where all my youth was spent,
Advice and counsel kindly meant
From those dear ones, who felt for me
And sought to guard and keep me free
From every trouble, pain and care,
A wicked world gives as its share.
The pleasant nights of dance and song
Has set me reminiscing long.
To hear the voice of colleen sweet
The rhythm of the dancers feet,
The lilting tune of jig and reel,
That made our aching feet e’er feel.
The urge to dance and be so gay
And all our worries to relay.
The tramp o’er mountain, road and hill,
Or sitting in the quiet still
Of some lone glen; while someone there
Would speak or sing of Ireland fair.
The story of her ancient right.
The struggle ‘gainst usurper’s might;
Her sons who served and fought and died
In her just cause so sanctified,
And thus our hearts with pride, we’d lace
With love for our unconquered race.
The haunting sound of Gaelic tongue,
Enchantingly around us clung;
The hours we spent to win its fame,
And preach our gospel in its name,
The grip of caman in my hand,
Amidst a stalwart hurling band,
To glory in the rugged play,
Enthusiastic in the play.
Whilst in my ears the roars still clung
As eager fans made welkin ring.
The joy and fervour of it all,
E’en yet I feel it in recall.
More poignant thoughts seep through my mind,
And comrades faces there I find,
Who entered through the door of death
With martyred step and patriot breath,
Brave heroes in our country’s fight,
God grant them heaven’s place tonight.
What joy ‘twould give to wander back,
Along that old familiar track;
To greet old friends – old scenes again,
To shelter from the prison rain;
That soaks me with its sombre showers,
And turns the minutes into hours.
"The impression is effectively created by English policy, military and political that the Northern problem is based on sectarianism. Republicans realise that there is a sectarian problem created and fostered by England but that reconciliation and an end to sectarianism depends upon English withdrawal…" This is a quote from an article published in Republican News on 21st June 1975. This followed the publication of claims in The Sunday Times that loyalists were being directed onto targets by the security forces. Of note here, as the article flags, is that this included friends and relatives of suspected members of the IRA, not just suspects.
What is not noted (although it may just be implicit) is the extent to which this reflects the broader methods of security policy and sectarianism in Ireland. Of course, The Sunday Times disclosure did not lead to arrests or convictions arising from the supply of security force intelligence data to loyalists. This was yet another public demonstration of the capacity of the state to refuse to abide by its own laws. The extreme end of that spectrum may be immunity for murder, license to kill with no fear of investigation or threat of prosecution, sham legal processes such as inquests and inquiries and collusion. But the same thread, acting outside the law without fear of prosecution or being forced to observe the same legal limits and standards as everyone else applies to continuing activities such as bonfires and (up to recently) loyal Order parades. Nor are the issues of collusion or security force immunity resolved today (by continually refusing to deal with the issue, a succession of governments have effectively re-endorsed it as policy). These are not actions hidden behind closed doors. Instead these are very public acts to demonstrate an ability by a section of the population to subvert the supposed laws applied by the state, pretty much the definition of sectarianism.
Here is the full text of the article.
ENGLISH 'HAND IN HAND' WITH ASSASSINS
Dossiers and files compiled by English intelligence units operating in Republican areas have been passed to loyalist paramilitary organisations by English soldiers. The disclosure made by The Sunday Times, who were given samples of some of the documents by a loyalist, verifies what Republicans have been saying for a long time, namely that the English Army is patronising loyalist sectarian assassins. The secret documents contain the names and addresses of hundreds of Republican internees, their home addresses, and the names and addresses of their families, relations and friends, as well as information on those who visit men in English concentration camps in the North.
One document is, according to the Times report, part of a dossier of "suspected" members of the IRA, compiled at English Army headquarters in Lisburn. This contains photographs taken by the English Army during the interrogation and screening of Republicans and one such photographs is of Belfast Republican leader, Joe Cahill. Another document contains photographs and particulars about Provisional IRA supporters, mostly in the nationalist Ardoyne area of Belfast, giving such details as the place where the "suspect" works and his car registration number.
Minority Fears – To English Advantage
The disclosure that the loyalist para-military organisations have possession of such information, not only gives added credence to the belief amongst Republicans that English troops in the North are working "hand in hand" with the loyalists, but such claims increase the fears in minority areas of further assassinations by loyalist gunmen. Such fear and anxiety in minority nationalist communities is something the English have always utilised to their advantage.
The most sinister fact of the matter is that the documents include names and addresses of the friends and relatives of hundred of detainees – something is causing considerable anger amongst the people of minority areas. Undoubtedly, however, the situation would be more seriously disturbing for such people were it not for their total confidence in the leadership of the Provisional Republican Movement and its capacity to defend them.
English Rule Rooted In Sectarianism
Loyalist paramilitary groups have claimed in the past that they have dossiers on known republican and their families. Republican have never had any doubt about the veracity of these claims, nor the origin of their information, distributed and handed down through units of the English Army throughout the North. Such claims are forwarded always in conjunction with the usual threats and at a time when the political question of the maintenance or withdrawal of English rule in the limelight. This is understandable since none knows better than does the loyalist himself that English rule is loyalist rule as far as the North is concerned and such rule is rooted in sectarian division.
The impression is effectively created by English policy, military and political that the Northern problem is based on sectarianism. Republicans realise that there is a sectarian problem created and fostered by England but that reconciliation and an end to sectarianism depends upon English withdrawal. Only after an end to English rule will the METHODS of English rule disappear. Sectarianism is the last vestige of England's methods for maintain her power in Ireland.
James Connolly, signatory of the 1916 proclamation, is widely accepted to have served as a British soldier in Ireland. Remarkably little is known about this period of his life and its impact on his political formation and views. It is assumed that he joined the King’s Liverpool Regiment, although direct documentary proof has yet to be found. However, new evidence about his brother’s service and the King’s Liverpool Regiment in Ireland suggests that Connolly could have been on duty as a British soldier during sectarian violence in Belfast, evictions in Meath and prison protests on Spike Island. He also took part in war games that tested the British governments deployment plan for the army in the event of war in Dublin.
Some biographers have Connolly joining the same regiment as his older brother John who had enlisted underage, using a false name, in 1878. John’s regiment is (variously) given as the Royal Scots or the King’s Liverpool Regiment and the suggested false name is usually ‘John Reid’ (much of this is teased out in Donal Nevin’s James Connolly: a full life). However, it is possible to recover a bit more information about John Connolly as he re-enlisted in the 2nd Battalion, Royal Scots (see WO/363, service number 20308), during World War 1. John was discharged due to ill health in February 1916. The reason given was Bright’s Disease, brought on through exposure to bad weather while guarding German prisoners at Stobs Camp in the Scottish Borders in 1915.
This may, in part, explain why James Connolly’s last statement (smuggled out of his cell by his daughter Nora) begins, “I do not wish to make any defence, except against the charge of wanton cruelty to prisoners.” Given that he followed John into the army and then to Dundee, it would seem that he was close to his older brother. Concern at his brother’s reaction may even have influenced how James framed his own last words. John never recovered his health. He died on 22nd June 1916 and is buried in Edinburgh’s North Merchiston Cemetery.
His military records show that John had not served as ‘John Connolly’ but as ‘James Reid’ and his files note that he had previously spent sixteen years in the army, which he states was with the Borders Regiment. There is a ‘James Reid’ listed in the regiment in WO/121, service number 1524, who joined on 9th July 1878 and was discharged in Dublin (due to ill health) on 9th March 1886. The dates match up so this may mark his departure from full-time service. Like his false name, John’s age was consistently recorded as two years younger than it was, due to his enlistment underage as James Reid. He does correctly list his wife’s surname as Connolly in his army documents, though. John had medals for his service in Afghanistan and Egypt (1882). He also re-entered the Royal Reserves in Edinburgh for a year up to April 1901 (service number 1597) before re-enlisting in December 1914.
As the Border Regiment was not awarded either the Afghanistan or Egypt 1882 medals, this seems to be where John completed his service or joined the reserve rather than where he served full-time. Of the other regiments mentioned, the Royal Scots did receive the former award (for the campaign in Afghanistan from 1878 to 1880) while the King’s Liverpool Regiment received both. While it confirms some truth to the various rumours around the Connolly brothers’ military service, it doesn’t really bring us any closer to complete certainty on the regiment in which James served.
If John served as ‘James Reid’, is that the confused source of the false name ‘John Reid’? Or does it even open the possibility that, when enlisting James followed John in using the name ‘Reid’ and swapped first names with his brother? No records appear to be available for a John Reid in the 1st Battalion, King’s Liverpool Regiment. But this may simply be down to the surviving records or extent of digitisation since only the records of some soldiers named in the battalion in newspaper reports in the 1880s can be found, most cannot be identified. Whether John Reid was the name or not, it may be possible a soldier can be found to match up with his putative army service in the records of the 1st Battalion, King’s Liverpool Regiment (possibly with a service number between, roughly, 200 and 260).
The earliest reference to Connolly’s military service appears in the anti-Larkin newspaper The Toiler in 1913 which claimed he had served in the Monaghan militia, deserted and went to Scotland. Since Connolly had lived in Edinburgh, not Monaghan, he wouldn’t have served in the Monaghan militia (he is listed in the census in Scotland in 1881). The strongest argument for him serving in the Liverpool Regiment appears to be Nora Connolly’s assertion that he was going to be demobbed in Aldershot in February 1889 when he left the army while her mother was to take up a post in London (in her account in Uinseann MacEoin’s Survivors). This is consistent with the dates that 1st Battalion Liverpool Regiment moved from Dublin to Aldershot between 15th and 18th of February 1889 (see Aldershot Military Gazette 23rd February 1889). Connolly’s father, John, had a serious accident in February 1889, which may have precipitated his return to Scotland rather than to serve out his remaining time and complete his discharge in Aldershot. However going to assist his father seems less plausible when, by April he was living in the main area of Irish immigration in Dundee, Lochee where he was to begin his involvement in socialist politics.
Connolly arrived in Dundee in 1889 not long before he wrote what seems to be the first of his surviving letters to his future wife, Lillie Reynolds, from Mrs Boyle’s, St Mary Street in Dundee and dated April 7th (see MS 13,911/1, where it is dated as 1888). In the letter he mentions how “It was only across the street from here a man murdered his wife and they are all discussing whether he is mad or not, pleasant, isn’t it?”. Bridget Redmond was murdered by her husband, Joseph, in their grocers shop on St Marys Road on the 30th March. According to the Dundee Advertiser, both were Irish immigrants and Joseph was a retired soldier from the King’s Liverpool Regiment. Press reports in the likes of the Dundee Courier state that he had been taken to an asylum on 6th April, the day before Connolly wrote the letter. Redmond’s trial later was told that he had delusions about being threatened by Irishmen in Dundee into joining the Land League and that he had suffered from sunstroke while in the army in India.
The circumstantial evidence for Connolly having served in the 1st Battalion, King’s Liverpool Regiment seems solid enough. Desmond Greaves quotes a story told to him in which Connolly reminisced about being on guard duty in Haulbowline, in Cork, on the night when Myles Joyce was executed in Galway for the Maamtrasna murders on 16th December 1882 (Connolly reputedly was able to show his knowledge of the local geography during political activity there in 1911). The 1st Battalion had moved to Ireland in 1882 to replace the 2nd Battalion of the Grenadier Guards (who were bound for Egypt). When it’s 480 men assembled in Liverpool to cross to Ireland onboard the Batavia, contingents came from Plymouth, Bradford, Fleetwood, the Isle of Man and Tynemouth. By the end of August, though, an additional 45 men had been sent from the regimental depot in Warrington. It is possible that Connolly joined at any of these locations and came either in July or August (meaning he was just four or five months short of his seven years’ service in February 1889). Connolly had just turned fourteen on 5th June 1882.
The battalion’s arrival in Cork, with companies based in Youghal, Haulbowline and Carlisle Fort coincides with a number of news reports of soldier beaten up by locals in Cork and Youghal. Shortly after Myles Joyce’s execution, in January and February 1883, 400 convicts from Spike Island prison, adjoining Haulbowline, were used as labour on works and staged a protest that ended up requiring the Royal Marines and military to be called out. Even if the 1st Liverpool Regiment wasn’t called out, it was surely a topic of conversation. This was James Connolly’s introduction to the British garrison in Ireland. The battalion relocated to the Curragh in September 1884 (some companies being rotated to Castlebar). It then moved to Dublin in September 1885, first Linen Hall Street and Ship Street, then Beggars Bush. While in Dublin it took part in manoeuvres and war games around the city. This included a war game where flying columns left Beggars Bush to intercept invading flying columns at locations outside the city. In 1916, it was probably assumed that this was the defensive plan the British army would expect to have to deploy, rather than an attempt to seize the centre of the city itself. So Connolly may well have taken part himself in practise deployments of the British army’s defensive plan for Dublin.
The most regular feature of the Liverpool Regiment’s posting in Ireland was the performances of its regimental band. It began performing publicly in August 1882 and continued through to 1889, playing at events such as regattas, sports days (including one under GAA rules in Ballsbridge on 30th July 1886), army parades, the Cork Industrial Exhibition (in 1883), banquets, the Rotunda, RDS, the Grand Promenade, Phoenix Park and many more. Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire) was a recurring venue from 1887, and it may have been on a trip out to see the regimental band play that Connolly famously met Lillie Reynolds, both of them having missed the same tram. The regimental band also played at the visit of various dignitaries, such as the Viceroy, the Earl of Carnarvon in January 1886. In June 1887, the whole regiment provided a guard of honour (presumably including James Connolly) for Queen Victoria’s on her arrival and during her visit.
Not that the regiment’s period in Ireland was all band performances and guards of honour. Indiscipline and violence were never far away, with soldiers regularly appearing before the courts for attacking locals at the various postings, or as the victims of attacks (one drunken sergeant was reportedly seen shouting “Three cheers for Parnell!” and making ‘insulting comments about the Queen’ in February 1886). A Sergeant Carrigan shot himself in the head in Youghal Barracks in August 1884. There are also hints at the conditions inside the battalion in December 1888, when a Major Whitely had his house attack over conditions in the battalion. There was an inquiry into the condition of the barracks hospital and loss of stores around the same time.
For the individual soldiers, there was the recurring possibility of being posted overseas. Throughout 1882 to 1889, drafts of recruits and reserves were regularly processed through the 1st Battalion en route to the regiment’s 2nd Battalion on service in India. There are recurring claims that Connolly also saw service in India and it is conceivable that he somehow was added to one of the drafts that went out (if his brother John was on active duty in India that might have been sufficient incentive for him to go).
Ironically, if Connolly didn’t serve in India, the battalion’s duties over 1886 and 1887 may have contributed just as significantly to the formation of his political views. In the summer of 1886, the Liverpool Regiment was deployed on the streets of Belfast during serious rioting that saw over thirty deaths. It was reported in the Dublin Daily Express on August 12th that 379 men from the regiment were in Belfast (making it quite likely that Connolly was present). In October 1887, a company from the battalion was deployed to carry out evictions at Lord Masserene’s estate in Collon. While bailiffs and RIC constables removed the tenants, the soldiers were face-to-face with those opposing it as they formed a cordon to prevent the hostile crowds from intervening to prevent the evictions taking place. The soldiers had boiling water, gruel and mud thrown at them as well as much verbal abuse (eg see the account in the Dundalk Democrat, 29th October 1887). This may not have been the only occasion on which the regiment took part in an eviction. If the Bridget Redmond murder is anything to go by, the Land League was still a topical issue among Irish immigrants in Dundee in 1889.
If these events, or Indian service (or both), were contributing to Connolly’s political awakening, it was to be accompanied by increasing reports that the Battalion was to move from Dublin. This began in May 1887, with first Newry then Tipperary proposed (any move was formally suspended in August). Then in January 1888 it was suggested that the Battalion would now return to England (as a preliminary to a move overseas). By March the destination had been announced as Preston then the move was suspended again, only to be re-confirmed, without a destination, in April. This speculation would seem to overlap with James and Lillie meeting and may provide some sort of context to a decision to make an early break with the regiment rather than complete his service.
Just to expand slightly on the earlier point – Connolly would have acquired a service number between (roughly) 200 and 260 in the 1st Battalion of the King’s Liverpool Regiment and a soldier of that number should be listed in Regimental Defaulter Book in February or March 1889.
Unfortunately, Connolly did not leave any (known) account of his own army service or motivations for joining. Donal NevinClearly, from his own literacy and vocabulary, and even his letters from as early as 1889, he did acquire some education while in the army. Instead, the closest we may have to his own judgement on the value of his army service may be hidden in a story told by his daughter Ina in her own witness statement to the Bureau of Military History. Ina has Connolly giving his view of the value of serving in the army to a woman they knew whose son had ran off to enlist:
“Well”, said my father, “didn’t you ask for it, pumping the child’s head with the glories of the British Empire. What more can you expect?”.
“But he is so young” implored the mother. “What can I do? Won’t you help me? I thought of you, the first person I must go to; you never encouraged anyone to join up in the Boer war; surely the same applies now?”
“Not exactly”, replied my father: “there is no war on now and by the time he serves his three years he will be out of their reach by the next war. At least, I hope so, and if I can be of any service to you, I will do my damnedest to keep him at home then. You just remember these words and keep me to this promise for the next war and see how I’ll help you then”.
No, she could not see that long ahead.
“I will buy him out; the money will be well-spent. I can’t bear to think of him in the British army”.
At this father went over to her and put his hand on her shoulder saying: “Many a good man was in the British army; there is nothing wrong in being well-trained and it is in the British army the soldier gets a good training. It’s getting out of the army in time of peace and putting your knowledge to the advantage of your country is what I call a good soldier. You try, and no doubt you will succeed in buying him out, but the average youth that is Inclined to run away from home and join the British army will do so again if he is brought home against his wishes. The training and mixing with other youths, older than himself, will develop him and let him see the other side of the picture. Take my advice and leave him where he is at present”.
The story concludes with Connolly responding to this question from Ina:
“Well, why leave him in the army if you think it is wrong?”
– by saying:
“But I did not say being in the army was wrong. It was his mother who tried to insinuate that. My remarks were to let him make the best of it and learn all he can and put his training to the best advantage he can when he comes out. A well-trained soldier will always find his allotted place in the community”.
The story may actually be a deliberate set-piece dialogue created by Ina to allow him to summarise his views rather than an accurate retelling of an actual conversation. That last phrase, ‘A well-trained soldier will always find his allotted place in the community’ maybe should be taken as Connolly’s own opinion on his time in the British army for now.
In July 1867 Belfast IRB leader William Harbinson was brought up on charges of treason felony. He died in Belfast prison in September 1867 before he was brought to trial. While his name was given to the original republican plot in Milltown and his funeral was attended by over 40,000 people (in defiance of opposition from the Catholic clergy), I suspect relatively few people have heard of him.The Irish Republican Brotherhood was founded in 1858 to establish Ireland as an independent democratic republic. In the United States, there was a parallel American organisation, known as the Fenian Brotherhood which tended to give its name (Fenians) to the wider movement. The outbreak of the American Civil War stalled the development of the Fenians. The support given by the Anglo-Irish aristocracy, Orange Order and the wealthy to the confederacy and slave owners energised the IRB in Ireland, inspiring the likes of Frank Roney, from Carrickhill, to be sworn into the IRB by 1862. Roney was to be the first Belfast and Ulster Head Centre. Like Robert Johnston, who was to replace Roney on the Supreme Council of the IRB by the start of the 1870s, Roney met and knew some United Irishmen who had been active in 1798 (Johnston was 99 when he died in 1937).
At local level, the IRB was formed into units of ten volunteers, whose leader was called a ‘centre’. At county or district level (referred to as a ‘Circle’), a ‘Head Centre’ was elected by a convention of the centres. The organisation was governed by an eleven member Supreme Council, seven electoral divisions (four provinces of Ireland, Scotland, North and South England) each returned a member at a convention at which a divisional committee of five was also elected. While the IRB was a clandestine organisation, its Supreme Council met in Dublin and some records of its meetings survive (see here).
Some modern historians dispute the scale and nature of the IRB in Belfast, but contemporaries like Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa and John Devoy were complimentary of the work done in Belfast. The authorities also seemed similarly impressed as, when arrests began, the proportion of suspects detained in Belfast was on a par with other centres of IRB activity like Dublin, Cork and Tipperary.
[You can read more about the IRB in Belfast in an article on Frank Roney published by Kerby Miller and Breandán MacSuibhne in the journal Eire-Ireland last year, or in Catherine Hirsts’ 2002 book ‘Religion, Politics, and Violence in Nineteenth-Century Belfast: The Pound and Sandy Row’.]
In Belfast, the IRB had revealed itself in response to Orange Order violence in August 1864. It recruited many soldiers, including William Harbinson, a staff sergeant in the Antrim Rifles who had access to the arsenal of weapons held in the barracks in Belfast. Soldiers also drilled and trained other IRB volunteers in Belfast. This allowed the IRB to prepare for an insurrection. After the American Civil War ended in 1865, it actively recruited veterans and collected weapons, intending they also be available for any uprising in Ireland.
William Harbinson was born in Ballinderry in 1832 (in 1867 his age is mistakenly given in newspaper accounts as 41 or 44). His father, John Harbinson, may be the same one who is recorded living in Portmore in Griffiths Valuation in the 1850s. He was underage when he joined the 39th Foot Regiment in Liverpool, undoubtedly fleeing the famine, in February 1847. Ballinderry lost a sixth of its population during the famine. The Northern Whig had referred to the famine, in the previous month, as ‘the present favourable crisis … for conveying the light of the Gospels to the darkened minds of the Roman Catholic peasantry’. After a slump in the linen industry, as well as potato blight impacting on Antrim in late 1846, January 1847 had saw overt attempts to Catholics to convert to Protestantism in return for famine relief. The rate of fatalities during the famine rapidly increased in 1847 year. Exposure to the famine may have left its mark on Harbinson, as he was discharged from the army as unfit for service, due to ill health, in May 1852, from when he was pensioned until July 1853.
At the time of his marriage to Catherine McClenaghan in St Patrick’s, Donegall Street, in April 1857, he was working as a labourer and living in Wesley Place, while Catherine was living in Inkerman Terrace, both close to what is now Shaftesbury Square. William and Catherine appear to have had one child, a son, William John, who was born in October 1859 but died young (he was baptised in St Malachys, suggesting they were still living close to the Markets). His brother Philip, who also to be prominent in the IRB, moved to North Queen Street.
William returned to the army serving in a local militia regiment, the Antrim Rifles, where he rose to the rank of colour sergeant. In 1864, the Belfast Morning News reported that he was presented by a valuable gold watch and chain by the non-commissioned officers and privates of K Company of the Antrim Rifles, in John Edgars bar in John Street on Thursday 11th August. Oddly, that episode occurred during the bloody riots that began on the evening of the previous Monday, with the Pound, and John Street, at the epi-centre of the violence. That was the same year Harbinson was recruited into the IRB.
By late 1865, the British government closed down The Irish People, the IRB newspaper founded in Dublin in 1863, and arrested staff including Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa. A few months later, it suspended Habeas Corpus to legalise the arrest and detention without trial of suspected IRB members and sympathisers (a process that would later be more familiar to people as ‘internment’). In early 1866, it began to utilise those powers to stage a number of arrests in Belfast, beginning with Michael McGonigal on the 19th February, the next day Frank Roney (apparently using the surname O’Neill) was arrested at a pub at the junction of Peter’s Hill and the Old Lodge Road owned by Gordon O’Neill. Others arrested that day included John O’Rorke, a pensioner with a wooden leg who had a barbers shop in Millfield, Patrick Hassan (of the 83th New York Irish Volunteers) and Harbinson.
Roney and Harbinson were imprisoned in Crumlin Road and Mountjoy, although both were eventually regain their freedom due to public pressure for the general release of republican prisoners and letters of support from their family and prominent individuals. Harbinson was released in September and Roney in November.
Harbinson appears to have taken over as Head Centre in Belfast. Roney remained on the Supreme Council, travelling to Paris and London on IRB business. Early in 1867, Harbinson also travelled to London. It was later alleged by an informer, John Massey, that Harbinson represented Ulster at a meeting of the Supreme Council in February 1867 (see The Nation, 7th December 1867).
On Thursday 7th March, Harbinson was arrested at his house in Pinkertons Row, just off North Queen Street. The police had been watching the house the previous night and raided the house immediately once Harbinson’s wife, Catherine, had opened the window shutters at 7 am on the Thursday morning. Harbinson was still in bed and another IRB volunteer, John Murray, was found in the kitchen of the house. Harbinson was held by the police while Murray was taken to Banbridge.
It was alleged in the press (from Monday 11th March – see likes of The Examiner) that Harbinson had taken over as Belfast Head Centre from Roney. The newspapers claimed there were six Centres in Belfast who had all observed the security protocols meaning that it had been difficult to penetrate the IRB with informers. This bit of information was possibly a cover for John Murray, who had been arrested on 14th February, remanded, then released. Murray was to give evidence against Harbinson and others at a remand hearing in court in mid-July.
After his arrest Harbinson was held under the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act in Crumlin Road then sent to Mountjoy. He was returned to Crumlin Road on 24th May, presumably with the intention of bringing charges against him and other IRB leaders that had been arrested in Belfast including the likes of his brother Philip and Francis Rea.
William Harbinson was brought to court for an ‘investigation’ along with Edward Gilmore, Patrick Keith and Richard Lavery on 13th July. By the end of the month, a treason felony charge was brought against Harbinson in front of a Grand Jury which found that he would have to stand trial. The trial was to take place at the Spring Assizes in March 1868. In prison, Harbinson and the other interned IRB suspects were able to have their food brought in to them rather than eat the prison diet. They also were not forced to do prison work and were permitted frequent exercise, association, books and tobacco (this is what would later be classed as political status).
On the night of Monday 9th September, William Harbinson was found dead in his cell in Crumlin Road during the 9 o’clock check by staff. An attempt to hold an inquest the next day was delayed until his brother Philip (who was also imprisoned) and father-in-law, Edward McClenaghan, could attend.
At the inquest, the prison governor’s evidence stated that he always thought Harbinson was of ‘delicate’ appearance, although neither he, Catherine Harbinson nor his lawyer had made any complaint about his health. The inquest heard from prison staff that he had been outside exercising for around four hours that day and returned to his cell at either two o’clock or four o’clock and was last reported at quarter to six as sitting reading on his bed. When found, he was lying undressed on the floor as if he had fallen out of bed, although staff reported that there were no marks on his body. The inquest found he had died of disease of the heart and it was officially recorded as the bursting of aneurism aorta and he had been delicate a considerable time. This may have been the same condition which had led to his discharge from the army in 1852 and may have had its roots in damage done to his health by the famine.
While the Catholic hierarchy had been trying to counteract the rise of the IRB, it found it impossible to limit Harbinson’s funeral. On Sunday 15th September, round 40,000 people are believed to have either watched or taken part in the procession, which began in North Queen Street and carried the remains to Laloo, in Ballinderry. It travelled via Donegall Street, Bridge Street, High Street, Castle Place and the Pound to the Falls Road. The original republican memorial erected in Milltown in 1912 was named the Harbinson Plot in his honour.
Harbinson’s funeral was to be the largest republican event held in Belfast until Bobby Sands funeral in 1981.
You can read more accounts of the funeral and Harbinson on Joe Graham’s Rushlight webpages.
On Tuesday 17th July, Henry Joy McCracken was tried for treason and rebellion and hung in Belfast. Reporting the execution, the Belfast Newsletter states that:
“…at five o’clock the prisoner was brought from the Artillery Barracks to the place of execution. Having been attended in private by a Clergyman, he was only a few minutes from the time he came out, till he was launched into eternity.”
McCracken was tried at the Assembly Rooms (later remodeled as the Belfast Bank in Waring Street). According to Henry Joy’s final letter he had “… been ignominiously condemned to die at five o’clock this afternoon on the testimony of two witnesses who knew me not and have no knowledge of me in any way.” He finished the letter by saying “…In my fight for reform and redress of evils which constitute a crying shame to any nation and its rulers I have pleaded the cause of the Catholics who are more oppressed than we Dissenters, and I am a true Dissenter and shall die in that simple faith in less than an hour from now. What I have considered as my great mission is drawing to a close, but may the sons of freedom continue the struggle for rights above might.”
He was hung in Cornmarket, Belfast at 5 o’clock on 17th July 1798. An hour later his body was taken down and buried, his remains are believed to lie in Clifton Street Cemetery.
You can read the (brief) report below.
An Address from the Army Council of the Irish Republican Army to the Men and Women of the Orange Order
[This is the text as quoted by The Kerryman on 16th July 1932. It was published in An Phoblacht the same day and had been largely written by Peader O’Donnell. Prior to publication, it had been circulated with a covering letter from the IRA’s Adjutant General, Donal O’Donoghue, on 8th July to newspaper editors. Most, even including the Belfast Newsletter, published abridged versions as early as 11th July 1932. I have kept the formatting here from The Kerryman version. The address was distributed as leaflets in unionist districts of Belfast by IRA volunteers.]
Fellow Countrymen and Women,
It is a long call from the ranks of the Irish Republican Army to the marching throngs that hold the 12th July Celebrations in North East Ulster. Across the space we have sometimes exchanged shots, or missiles or hard words, but never forgetting that on occasions our ancestors have stood shoulder to shoulder. Some day we will again exchange ideas and then the distance which now separates us will shorten. For we of the Irish Republican Army believe that inevitably the small farmers and wage-earners in the Six County area will make common cause with those of the rest of Ireland, for the common good of the mass of the people in a Free United Irish Republic. Such a conviction is forming itself in an ever increasing number of minds in North East Ulster.
The Irish Republican Army – within North East Ulster as well as in the rest of Ireland – believe that the mass of the Working-Farmers and Wage-earners must organise behind revolutionary leadership if they are to rescue themselves from a system within they the few prosper and the many are impoverished.
It is our opinion, a conviction driven in on our mind by the facts of life around us, that capitalism and imperialism constitute a system of exploitation and injustice within which the mass of the people can know no freedom.
The burdens of to-day’s bad times are falling with increasing weight on Working Farmers, who must surrender an increasing part of their produce to meet rents, taxes, bank interest, etc, while their incomes diminish The unemployed workers are being torn at with economies in social services – adding daily to the destitute. The wage earners are finding their conditions _s of employment and standard of living steadily worsening.
We can see no permanent solution of these evils except by the transfer of power over production, distribution and exchange to the mass of the people.
The power to produce what the many require exists; the Organisation and its distribution presents no insoluble difficulty. But the vested interests of a privileged minority are across the road and progress is impossible, unless we are prepared to clear away these obstacles.
These interests that deny their rights to the many are those on which the Empire rests. Touch or threaten these privileged interests and the whole force of the Empire is invoked for their protection. Thus it is that we see and say that the freedom of the mass – of the Irish People is impossible without breaking the connection with Imperial Britain and with all the Imperial system connotes.
Do you see any other road to freedom for yourselves and your families?
You must realise that the chief industries on which the former alleged prosperity of North East Ulster rested are gone beyond hope of being revived; that the same thing has occurred in Great Britain; that everywhere the pinch grows tighter on those who are unemployed as a result of this breakdown in the whole structure of capitalism. Can the British people help you while their own workers and industries are struggling desperately to exist and are not succeeding in these days? Where do you see any hope?
Working-farmers and Wage-earners of North East Ulster. You surely must see that your future is bound up with the mass of the people in the remainder of Ireland. To preserve yourselves from extinction, you and they must combine and go forward to the attainment of A Free Irish Nation within which life and living will be organised and controlled by you to serve your needs and thus end the present economic and social injustices for ever.
The industrial capacity, and training of you industrial workers, of North East Ulster ensure you a leading influence and place in the economy and life of a Free Irish Nation.
EXPLOITATION OF RELIGIOUS PREJUDICES
To prejudice you it is emphasized that we of the Irish republican Army and the mass of Republicans are mainly Catholic, and that your religious beliefs would not be respected in a free Ireland! It is quite true we are mianly Catholics, but in Southern Ireland the same political and economical interests and voices that tell you we are Catholics, tell the Catholic population of the South that we are Anti-God fanatics, and yearning for an opportunity to make war on the religion to which the majority of us belong!
The fact is we are quite unaware of religious distinctions within our Movement.
We guarantee you, you will guarantee us, and we will both guarantee all full freedom of conscience and religious worship in the Ireland we are to set free.
This is the simple truth, and just now when Imperial interests are attempting to conceal themselves behind the mad fury of religious strife you and we should combine to make certain that no such escape should be provided them.
In the process of exploitation of the wage-earners and small producers, do you not realise how little religion matters to the exploiters? Orangemen and Catholic, Catholic women and yours toil side by side in the factory and mill, all equally victims Those who thus exploit mercilessly your labour and energies, would outside set you at one anothers throats, because it is to their advantage to divide you and lead you into conflict by arousing religious issues and inflaming passions.
Do yon not find yourselves queued shoulder to shoulder outside the Unemployed Exchanges waiting for the ‘Dole’, that crumb which the exploiters throw to the exploited of different religions? In these vital matters jour religion or your membership of the Orange Older counts for little, nor does Catholicism to the unemployed and starving Catholics in Southern Ireland.
The fact is that the religious feelings of the masses of both Orangemen and Catholics are played on and exploited by the Imperialists and Capitalists the more surely to enslave them.
THE VICTORY OF THE BOYNE!
You celebrate the victory of the Boyne. This battle was a victory for the alliance of the then Pope; and William of Orange; strange alliance for you to celebrate; strange victory for Catholics to resist! History has been muddled to hide the occasions when your forefathers and ours made common cause, and passions are stirred to manufacture antagonisms. If William of Orange and His Holiness could achieve an alliance, there is hope that “NO SURRENDER” may come up from a throng which also roars “UP THE REPUBLIC”.
Your stock were the founders and inspiration, the North East Ulster the cradle, of the modern Revolutionary Movement for National Independence and Economic Freedom. Your illustrious ancestors and co-religionists, the United Irishmen, by their gallant struggle in 1798 set aflame the ideals of Republicanism which never since have been extinguished. We ask that you should join us to achieve their ideals — National Freedom and religious toleration.
It was John Mitchel, a Newry man of your stock, who addressed these words to your forefathers: “In fact religious hatred has been kept alive in Ireland longer than anywhere else in Christendom. Just for the simple reason that Irish landlords and British statesmen found their own account in it, and so soon as Irish landlordism and British domination are finally rooted out of the country it will be heard of no longer in Ireland any more than it is in France or Belgium, now.”
Fraternally, Your Fellowcountrymen,
The Army Council,
On Behalf of the Irish Republican Army