…candidature of most interest to women is that of Mr. James Connolly…

Another piece on James Connolly and woman’s suffrage. In this case, a lead article in The Irish Citizen (11/1/1913) urging people to support Connolly during the 1913 municipal elections in Belfast. The Irish Citizen was the Irish Women’s Franchise League’s own newspaper.

Irish Citizen

Connolly stood for elections as a Councillor to Belfast City Council in the Dock Ward, the heavily congested district encompassing Sailortown, Tigers Bay, North Queen Street and the New Lodge Road. His opponent was the Unionist candidate, David Jones, a butcher from York Street. The highly restricted access to electoral rights meant that the odds were heavily stacked against Connolly. The election, which took place on 15th January, recorded the number of electors in Dock Ward as 3,473 (some of whom had more than one vote). The 1911 census shows that the number of men over the age of 21 in Dock Ward was 5,701, so even with the restricted entitlement to vote, the Dock Ward electorate at most was 60.9% of the adult males (in practice, given plural votes, it was even less). Adding in the number of women excluded from the electorate shows that the 1913 electorate was a mere 29.6% of adults over 21 in the Dock Ward (in modern terms where 18 year olds have the vote, it would be only 26.5%).

Connolly, was nominated as a ‘Labour Nationalist’. He summarised his own political beliefs prior to the election: “As a lifelong advocate of national independence for Ireland, I am in favour of Home Rule, and believe that Ireland should be ruled, governed, and owned by the people of Ireland. I believe that men and women having to face the battle of life together, could face it better were all enjoying the same political rights.

He was nominated by James Turley and Francis MacMahon, both from the New Lodge Road, the more affluent area of the ward (highlighting that, as well as gender, there was a direct link between relative wealth and access to the vote). Turley was the National School teacher at Star of the Sea on Halliday’s Road. Francis MacMahon owned a shop on the New Lodge Road at the corner of Trainfield Street (the family continued to run it into the 1960s). The polling stations for the election were Hillman Street National School (also the count centre), York Street National School and Earl Street National School.

Hillman Street

Hillman Street National School, the main polling station and count centre in 1913.

Initially, an additional candidate had been proposed, Charles McShane – a clerk from Gilford Street who was backed by Bernard Magee (a North Queen Street pawnbroker) and Frank McKernan, a Sailortown publican (suggesting McShane was to be a Nationalist candidate). Once the list of proposed candidates was published, there was a limited time for candidates to withdraw before the list was finalised. The day after they were announced, the Belfast Newsletter (7/1/1913) reported that the Belfast High Sherriff and others tried to persuade candidates to stand aside or to they would have their nominations declared void so Corporation both didn’t incur the expense of an election and unionists didn’t risk splitting the vote in some areas. McShane withdrew from the election, likely to give Connolly a free run. This may also have been the purpose of Connolly being designated as the ‘Labour Nationalist’ candidate.

When the election count took placein Hillman Street National School a crowd had gathered outside, carrying torches and headed by a band and Union Jack (Hillman Street was heavily unionist at the time) to await the declaration of the result by the deputy returning officer, Mr John Hanna. The result was that Connolly had received 905 votes to Jones 1,523 on a turnout of 69.9%.

Prior to the election, The Irish Citizen, had been critical of the Socialists in Dublin (in the same issue as above), reporting that “…a Socialist speaker denounced the women’s movement as side-tracking the workers, an issue which should be avoided.” However, the Irish Citizen isolated Connolly from that criticism and fully endorsed his candidacy:

In Belfast, the candidature of most interest to women is that of Mr. James Connolly for Dock Ward. Mr. Connolly is undoubtedly the ablest Labour Leader in Ireland; he is also the strongest supporter of woman suffrage to be found in the ranks of Irish Labour. Both in Dublin and Belfast he has done much to educate his party on the vital importance of the women’s fight for freedom. Last summer, while the organised opposition to suffragist meetings was at its height in Dublin, Mr. Connolly travelled specially to Dublin to speak at one of the Phoenix Park meetings of I.W.F.L. at considerable risk and inconvenience, to testify to his support of the fight for free speech and political emancipation. While, for reasons set out in our leading article, we do not recommend to women suffragists any general support of Labour candidates as such, we strongly hold that in the case of a man like Mr. Connolly, of whose genuine attachment to the women’s cause there can be no doubt, the fullest possible support should be given him by organised bodies of women. We hope Belfast suffragists will do all they can to secure Mr. Connolly’s return. The Belfast City Council, whose Lord Mayor, a bitterly anti-suffragist MP refused even to receive a resolution in favour of the Conciliation Bill, badly needs men like Mr. Connolly to bring into it a breath of freedom. Others all withdrew the next day (Belfast Newsletter reported that the Belfast High Sherriff and others tried to persuade candidates to stand aside or to have their nominations declared void so Corporation didn’t incur the expense of an election).

A previous post on Connolly’s adoption of the hunger strike tactic from the suffragettes later in 1913 can be read here (with links to previous posts on Connolly).

Suffragettes, James Connolly and hunger-striking

The modern tactic of hunger-striking was largely devised by the suffragette movement in 1909. As a tactic it attempted to capture people’s imagination and, it was hoped, awaken an interest in the political issues at hand. By doing so it attempted to mobilise public opinion against the authorities. The suffragettes used hunger strikers in prisons in Britain and Ireland to take contemporary patriarchal chauvinist opinions on the ‘delicacy of women’s health’ and turn them to their advantage (albeit at a significant cost to the health of many of those who took part). In Ireland, the modern use of hunger-striking outside of the women’s suffrage campaign appears to be James Connolly’s hunger strike following his arrest during the tram strike in the summer of 1913.

Connolly had been arrested along with a number of others in Dublin on 30th August 1913, during the tram strike (Jim Larkin had managed to evade capture). Connolly was charged with inciting people to cause a breach of the peace in a speech he had recently delivered. While Connolly’s co-accused agreed bail and surety terms, he refused to either find bail or sureties and so was committed to Mountjoy Jail for three months. The following Saturday, 6th September, Connolly went on hunger strike in protest at his imprisonment.

Hunger striking had been a tactic employed by the suffragettes since 1909. Typically the authorities responded in one of two ways, either releasing the hunger strikers after a number of days fearful of public opinion or, from September 1909, by force-feeding the hunger strikers. At least one man, Alan Ross MacDougall, who was imprisoned for two months for assaulting Lloyd George (in support of the suffragettes) also went on hunger strike (in 1912). From 1911, Women’s Social and Political Union activists went on hunger strike on numerous occasions. Claims at the success varied wildly, the Home Office stated that in 1913 only 8 out of 66 suffragist prisoners had been released following hunger strikes (eg Irish Examiner, 19/3/1913). Dr. George Robertson, who had performed at least 2,000 force-feedings of hunger striking suffragettes, put the figure for early releases in 1912 as 66 out of 240 prisoners (see Examiner, 25/2/1913). As a proponent of force-feeding, he also noted that the main threat to life was prisoners struggling during force-feeding – which was later to be repeatedly demonstrated with Irish republican prisoners.

The hunger striking suffragettes did not just demand release, in some cases the demanded was for the political status of suffragette prisoners to be recognised. In Mountjoy Jail, a hunger strike demanding political treatment by three English suffragettes in mid-August 1912 – Gladys Evans, Mary Leigh and Lizzie Baker – saw them being force-fed within hours. They were joined on hunger strike by Irish suffragettes Hannah Sheehy-Skeffington, Jane Murphy, Margaret Murphy and Margaret Palmer by 15th August. But by the 19th August the Irish suffragettes had all been released and Lizzie Baker was also released relatively quickly. The force-feeding of Gladys Evans and Mary Leigh then continued into September (both had been sentenced to five years penal servitude). Mary Leigh’s deteriorating health saw her released on 20th September.

During the hunger strike, the following letter appeared in the Irish Independent (30/9/1912):

Sir—In a letter to the ‘Irish Independent’ of Thursday last, Caroline Smithwick says that the object of Mrs. Leigh in refusing her food, whilst in Mountjoy Prison was “…to, obtain political treatment the same as that given to men here and in other civilised countries for crimes that are political.” By all means, give political treatment for political crimes, but is an attempt to burn a public building a political crime? It may have a political motive, but that does not affect the crime in any way.

If an ordinary man attempted such a deed as the burning of a public building, you, may be sure he would get more than five years penal servitude; and what is more, he would have to bear it, too. If a prisoner is released from prison because she refuses to eat, all the criminals in Ireland should immediately start a hunger strike, so; if Mrs. Leigh died from the effect of her self-imposed starvation, would she not be guilty of suicide? And at present is she not guilty of attempted suicide and liable to arrest for it? People are inclined to make a heroine of Mrs. Leigh, but if she is as brave as they say she is, why didn’t she lie on the bed she made?

Charles J. Lanktree, Beechmount, Glanmire, Co. Cork.

Gladys Evans continued to be force-fed and began to physically resist the force-feeding on 30th September. The authorities then released her under license on 3rd October after fifty days on hunger strike. Afterwards the British government began to move towards formally adopting different tactics, releasing hunger strikers when their health deteriorated but reserving the right to return them to prison to complete their sentences once they had recovered. Gladys Evans herself was re-arrested within weeks (she went back on hunger strike).

Irish suffragists also staged a hunger strike in Tullamore Jail in February 1913. The same month, in London, men confined to Lambeth Workhouse went on hunger strike in protest at conditions. Hunger strikes, and the threat of hunger strikes, by women involved in the suffrage campaign continued during 1913 while the authorities devised legislation to allow hunger strikers to be formally released on license due to ill health then re-arrested. This was to be called the cat-and-mouse act.

Not everyone was sympathetic to the suffragettes. A Belfast Newsletter editorial on 22nd February 1913 opined that “The Suffragists have forced the overwhelming majority of the community to the conclusion that effective measures must be taken to put an end to their exploits. If some of the hunger-strikers were now allowed to starve, there would be a general feeling that they had brought their fate on themselves. But since it is undesirable that any real martyrs should be manufactured, it would be well to devise other methods for dealing with these misguided women.

James Connolly’s hunger strike in 1913 was supported by the suffragettes in Ireland. Connolly had publicly supported the suffragettes and contributed to the Irish debates on the likes of ensuring the Home Rule Bill include a provision for women to have the vote. The Irish Women’s Franchise League issued a statement to say that “…we protest against the treatment meted out by the Irish Executive [i.e. Dublin Castle] to Mr James Connolly is on hunger strike since the 6th for political motives and that we demand in the interests of justice and humanity his instant and unconditional release.” (Evening Herald, 13/9/1913). While the practice of fasting in protest at an injustice is reported in various Irish medieval texts, the modern use is clearly rooted in the adoption of hunger striking by the suffragettes in Ireland. Connolly then appears to be the first to use the hunger strike tactic in prison over a non-suffrage political issue in Ireland. A number of others involved in the strikes went on hunger strike in prison that year, some of whom were force-fed. The tactic continued to be used by the suffragettes up to August 1914.

Connolly himself was released on Saturday 13th September, reportedly in a weak condition after a week on hunger strike. None of the contemporary newspaper reports suggest that he was force-fed. On the following Wednesday he returned to Belfast. The Evening Herald carried the following report of his arrival in the city (18/9/1913):

TURBULENCE IN BELFAST Mr. James Connolly’s Arrival

The arrival of James Connolly, the strike leader, in Belfast, last, night, was marked by tumultuous scenes, and a serious riot was narrowly averted. A procession, organised by the Belfast branch of the Transport Workers’ Union and the Textile Workers’ Union marched through the city to the Great Northern railway station, where Connolly was due to arrive on the 9 o’clock train. The vanguard of the procession consisted of a body of textile operatives, all young girls, who were cheering and singing, while accompanying the transport workers were two bands.

The parade through Royal Avenue and Donegall Place attracted large crowds.

Outside the station, Great Victoria street was congested, and the presence of a hostile element was indicated by the singing of “Dolly’s Brae” and “Derry Walls.” It was evident that a political aspect was being imparted to the demonstration, and matters looked serious when a pretty large opposition crowd drew together opposite the main entrance to the station. Just as the procession came along, the largo sliding doors, with glass panes, at the station entrance were closed, and a party of police moved in between the processionists and the crowd. When the train arrived the passengers were allowed out singly, but a rush was made by the crowd, and a volley of stones hurled over the heads of the police, one missile smashing the glass in the station door, and two men in the vicinity were struck and received scalp wounds.

A great cheer and the beating of drums greeted Mr. Connolly’s appearance, and this was answered by revolver shots and cries of execration from the crowd, who were driven further back by the police, but Without the use of batons. Mr. Connolly, looking pale and worn, mounted an outside car with some friends, and the procession then returned through the central streets. At Donegall Square corner stones were thrown at the car, and a small party of police turned from the rear of the procession and scattered a crowd, which was following up.

The procession made its way to the Custom House steps, where a mooting was addressed by Mr. John Flanagan, organiser of the transport workers, and Mrs. Gordon, of the textile workers. Matters were looking very ugly at Castle Junction as the procession moved past, and there were cries of “No Home Rule” and “No Pope,” while from a number of side streets missiles were thrown, but the police prevented the opposition from mustering in any force, and the meeting passed off quietly. Mr. Connolly did not speak, and afterwards drove away to the Union.

Some further posts:

On James Connolly:

https://treasonfelony.wordpress.com/2018/06/05/where-oh-where-is-our-james-connolly-connolly150/

https://treasonfelony.wordpress.com/2017/07/31/james-connollys-time-as-a-british-soldier-some-new-evidence/

https://treasonfelony.wordpress.com/2016/04/04/they-told-me-how-connolly-was-shot-in-the-chair/

https://treasonfelony.wordpress.com/2015/04/01/nora-connolly-obrien-on-her-father-belfast-and-1916/

On hunger striking/force feeding:

https://treasonfelony.wordpress.com/2016/01/19/the-womens-hunger-strike-armagh-1943/

https://treasonfelony.wordpress.com/2017/02/21/the-1972-hunger-strike/

https://treasonfelony.wordpress.com/2018/09/26/force-feeding-hunger-strikers-frank-stagg-documentary-on-tg4/

https://treasonfelony.wordpress.com/2019/04/03/the-1944-ira-hunger-strike/

 

 

 

Belfast Battalion: #WorldBookDay

To mark World Book Day, you can now read Belfast Battalion online for free (just click here or cut and paste the link: https://thelitterpress.wordpress.com/2019/03/07/belfast-battalion-worldbookday/).

It will be available to read for free from 7th March 2019 to the 18th March 2019.

To  buy the book click here.

 

Lightly tap the muffled drum: the stories of Belfast-born Vol. Jack Edwards, killed Kilkenny prison 1922, and his family

These are the epic stories of the Edwards family who lived in the Manor Street area of Belfast at the turn of the twentieth century. Later moving to Waterford, the Edwards had an eldest son in the flying column of the local IRA (and who was shot dead in Kilkenny prison in 1922), a father who had spent years in both the British Army (including the first world war) and prison service, a political activist mother and a brother who fought conservative Catholicism, joined Republican Congress and fought in Spain. This short account of their experiences merely scratches the surfaces of the extraordinary lives that some otherwise ‘ordinary’ people lived in early twentieth century Ireland.
On 19th August 1922 Belfast-born IRA officer Jack Edwards was shot dead by a National Army sentry at Kilkenny prison. A train fireman, he had joined the IRA in Waterford in 1917 and was a member of the city’s D Company and, by 1921 was a full time member of the flying column of the Waterford Brigade’s Active Service Unit. He had returned home shortly after the truce and returned to work only to return to active service in 1922. In the race between the IRA and National Army to take control of key buildings and infrastructure in the middle of 1922, he had led an IRA unit which took control of the GPO in Waterford for several days but was eventually taken prisoner and placed in Kilkenny jail. Having been told someone in the street wanted to speak to him, Edwards went to an upstairs toilet where the small window allowed prisoners to converse with people in the street outside. He was shot through the window by a sentry and died immediately (a handkerchief marked with his blood is in the Kilmainham Gaol Museum).

John Edwards blood-stained handkerchief

Handkerchief reputedly stained with Jack Edwards blood (in Kilmainham Gaol Museum image published at the link)

At the inquest into his death it was reported that the sentry had given three warnings and exchanged words with Edwards before firing what the sentry said was an un-aimed warning shot from thirty yards away (although other, later, accounts dispute whether he gave any warning at all). The lack of any imminent risk of escape and the precision of the wound would give rise to allegations that Edwards had been killed in retaliation for the death of a National Army officer several days beforehand. None of those suspicions were tempered by the fact that the single shot through the forehead that killed Edwards seemed unlikely for an un-aimed shot but had all the hallmarks of the marksmanship the sentry had gained in his twelve years of service with the British Army (you can read more on this in Eoin Swithin Walsh’s account of Edwards death in Kilkenny: in times of Revolution, 1900-23). Edwards’ remains were taken from Kilkenny to the Cathedral in Waterford and from there to Ballygunner for burial. Other IRA prisoners were given parole from Kilkenny to attend his funeral (given this all happens to coincide with Michael Collins death, the unrestricted reporting and paroles would soon be much less likely).
The inquest was reported at length in the Kilkenny People (26th August 1922). It revealed that after his arrest, Edwards had been used as a hostage by the National Army and made to check for mines during its advance from Waterford. The soldiers guarding the prison had also indiscriminately fired shots into cells (from inside the prison) on a number of occasions, badly wounding at least one IRA prisoner (called O’Neill). The cross-examination of the National Army soldiers guarding the jail included a claim that another prisoner had been seen climbing a wall, apparently intending to escape, earlier that evening. He had merely been shouted at by the guards.The other prisoners also testified that as many as twenty prisoners had been at the same windows in full view of the outpost outside that evening without being warned. Earlier that evening, other prisoners testified, the un-named soldier who fired the fatal shot had boasted that he was a crack shot and that the prisoners would find that out that night (Edwards was shot at 8 pm). The prisoners also disputed evidence from the soldiers on guard duty that more than one shot was fired (the soldiers claimed four or five had been fired). The officer in charge and others were unable to produce records to show that more than one bullet was discharged or that, in reference to Edwards’ catastrophic head injuries, explosive bullets had been issued. Jerry Cronin (O/C of the IRA prisoners in Kilkenny Gaol) went as far as to claim that the soldier who fired the shot had been the one who actually called Edwards to the window. The jury still found the soldier had killed Edwards in the course of his duty. The whole proceedings took place in the prison in a room above the apartment containing Edwards remains. Annie Edwards, Jack’s mother who was dependent on her eldest son, had to sit through the whole proceedings.

Jack

Jack Edwards, from Nioclas de Fuiteoil (1948) Waterford Remembers

Jack Edwards had been born in 1899 in Bandon Street in Belfast, the eldest child of Patrick and Annie Edwards. Annie was originally from Kilkenny (neé Houlahan) and was sitting part of her final exams to become a maternity nurse when she was told Jack had been shot dead. She had become active politically (as early as 1918 she is known to have signed the anti-conscription petition) and subsequently got involved in Cumann na mBan. Described as a ‘die hard’ republican, was constantly watched by the new Free State authorities (eg see Clark, Everyday Violence in the Irish Civil War, p168). While men were more likely to be arrested or interned (and attract the headlines), women like Edwards were providing the continuity and administrative and logistical spine of local IRA organisations. They retained the knowledge of membership, the location of dumps of weapons, documents, contacts and other assets (money, informants etc) during constant changes of the male leadership through arrest and disruption. As Annie Edwards also typified, they simultaneously had to manage grief over losing sons and partners and taking a lead role in organising and attending public protests as well as collecting and distributing supports to dependents of the dead and imprisoned.
Neither was Jack the first child Annie Edwards lost. Her and Patrick had had Jack (1899), Willie (1901), Mary (1906), Frank (1907), Josephine (1909), Teresa (1912) and George (1914). Willie died of tuberculosis in September 1918 ushering in a harrowing year for the family. Four year old George died early in 1919 (and is largely omitted in later accounts of the family). Patrick himself died in April 1919. Five months later, ten year old Josephine died of tuberculosis in August 1919. In the 1930s, Annie also described Teresa as having been ‘delicate’ since birth and still requiring the care of her mother (although Teresa did get married the year after Annie died).
Patrick had been born in Mary Street Limerick in 1865. He was working as clerk and was a member of the Royal Artillery’s militia battalion in 1887 when he went full-time into the British Army. He joined up in Limerick and was sent to Aldershot where he had completed the Medical Staff Corps school in October 1887. He subsequently spent most of his service in Ireland at various postings in Belfast, Cork, Dublin, Enniskillen, Fermoy and Youghal. He had completed his 4th class (1887), 3rd class (1888) and 2nd class education (1892) while in the army (calling to mind James Connolly’s famous quote about using army service to ‘learn all he can and put his training to its best advantage’). Patrick left the service in 1899 and then took up a post in the Belfast prison as a hospital prison warder (he and Annie had married in November 1898 in Belfast).
Patrick worked in Belfast prison until around 1908 when he then was transferred to Clonmel Gaol. In May 1913 the family moved again, this time from Clonmel to live at Long Avenue in Dundalk, where Patrick took up a post in the local prison. After the outbreak of war in 1914, he re-enlisted in June 1915. He was stationed in Cork where he served in the Royal Army Medical Corps. In April 1916 he reported ill and after several months was discharged as permanently unfit for duty in July 1916 (there is no suggestion that, like Tom Barry, he was reacting to the Easter Rising). On leaving the army, Patrick returned to his post in Dundalk prison and, in January 1917, was transferred to Waterford prison. The whole family then moved to Waterford. By mid-1918 Patrick was unable to work and he died of organic brain disease in April 1919. Annie later recorded that he had been an invalid for a year before his death. She began training as a maternity nurse after her death. Despite Patrick’s long military service and subsequent career in the prisons, the successive deaths of Willie, George, Patrick and Josephine all seem to point to a life lived in near, if not actual and crushing, poverty.
The family’s move to Waterford in 1917 coincided with a sudden political awakening in Jack Edwards as he got involved with the Gaelic League, Sinn Féin and the Irish Volunteers. He had got trained and worked as a fireman (an engine driver) with the Great Southern Railways. As he progressed from D Company to the Waterford Brigade’s flying column he is recorded as being involved in a number of incidents. A Waterford IRA officer, Moses Roche, recorded how Edwards halted a train he was driving near Kilmacthomas. It was carrying jurors to Waterford and the local IRA intended drawing out the RIC and military into an ambush (instead they forced Roche to walk in front to draw any fire, which never came). Edwards was one of the original members of the local flying column when it was formed in April 1921. Michael Ryan recalled Edwards being involved in a raid of the County Club in Waterford. He reportedly carried IRA units from Dublin down to Munster at the start of the Civil War in 1922. When the IRA took control of the GPO in Waterford in July 1922, Jack’s younger brother Frank arrived to join him. Frank was a member of Fianna Éireann but was only fifteen at the time. Jack told his younger brother to “Go home to hell” (as told by Frank in Uinseann MacEoin’s 1980 book Survivors, the account below is based on that a more recent article in Journal of the Waterford Archaeological and Historical Society and a lengthy article on Frank here by David Smith).
Frank did but he remained active in the Fianna and joined the IRA in 1924. Jack’s death, his mother’s activism and the loss of so many family members in 1918-19 provided Frank’s political formation and he was to remain committed to the IRA through most of the 1920s although he had become inactive by the end of the decade. He had trained as a National School teacher and by 1931 he was well known for his involvement with rowing and rugby in Waterford. By 1932 he was teaching in Mount Sion and a member of the INTO.
He had also been an early member of Saor Éire, an attempt to push the IRA in a political direction in 1931. In the late 1920s and into the 1930s the IRA struggled to define a political strategy and was more often concerned with calibrating its behaviour to not inflict political damage on Fianna Fáil (believing that, on assuming power, Fianna Fáil would finally realise the republic declared in 1916). Into the 1930s, Edwards was involved in republican and left wing politics in Waterford and wider afield, including unionisation. Having achieved a high profile in protests against the forming of the right wing reactionary Cumann na aGaedheal party put Frank Edwards on a collision course with his employers at Mount Sion in the shape of Archdeacon William Byrne and local Bishop Jeremiah Kinane, both staunch anti-communists who had no qualms about using the church to suppress left wing politics. In 1932 Byrne met with Edwards to try and persuade him to split from the IRA (on the grounds that it was too left wing). Edwards refused to give in to Byrne’s demands.
Just as Catholic anti-communist doctrine was being promoted in Waterford, by 1932 various left wing activists and study groups coalesced around Waterford’s embryonic branch of the Irish Revolutionary Workers Group (many of the former or disaffected IRA members like Frank Edwards). In 1933 the IRWG became the Communist Party of Ireland and, by March 1934, some of the left republicans in the IRA split and formed Republican Congress. Frank Edwards was among the first to join and he also wrote for its newspaper (also called Republican Congress).
By 1934 Congress in Waterford was active in tackling slum landlords. Edwards was so prominently identified with the campaign that his erstwhile employers, Byrne and Kinnane (in effect the Catholic Church in Waterford) gave him an ultimatum that he would be sacked from Mount Sion if he attended Republican Congress’ Convention that September. After he attended and spoke at the Convention, on 2nd October Edwards was advised that his employment was under review. In mid-October he received three months notice of his dismissal. When the local INTO protested and then its national executive got involved, Edwards was advised that the INTO had agreed with Bishop Kinnane’s proposal that the dismissal be rescinded once Edwards sign an undertaking that he would not be involved in any organisation that did not have the approval of the Catholic Church.
The dispute escalated on to the front page of national newspapers and, when the Bishop was to read a pastoral in the Cathedral on 6th January 1935 it was expected to condemn Republican Congress, the IRA and even anyone who hadn’t recanted opposition to the 1922 treaty. He had only mentioned Republican Congress by the time some of his congregation walked out (Gardaí had been positioned inside the church in case of a demonstration). As the day of Edwards’ dismissal drew close there were other public protests including a strike observed by a small number of pupils in Mount Sion itself. However, despite public opinion being hugely in Edwards favour the Catholic church exerted pressure everywhere, with even the local Dockers branch of the ATWGU offering unqualified support to the bishop. At one protest both Frank and Annie Edwards spoke publicly to protest at the treatment of her son. Afterwards, the bishop sent a priest to Annie to advise her that if she didn’t withdraw her statement she would be refused the Catholic sacraments. She then issued a statement saying that despite the injustice the family would remain good Catholics. According to the family she was deeply distressed by her treatment.
As more public bodies issued statements of support for the bishops, the IRA staged a huge protest parade in support of Edwards in Waterford. But the Catholic church sought to close down reporting and public discussion of the case and Frank Edwards ending up moving to Dublin to assist Frank Ryan in editing and producing Republican Congress. In October that year Annie died of acute nephritis at the age of 62. She was buried with Jack in Ballygunner with the IRA, Cumann na mBan, Republican Congress and other republican and left wing organisations represented at her funeral which was described as one of largest seen in Waterford for some years.
Frank Edwards was now blacklisted from Catholic schools (literally so, as a letter was circulated saying he wasn’t to be employed) and couldn’t get any teaching work. Instead he took jobs such as pipe laying in Dublin. In December 1936 he left with the Irish contingent to join the International Brigade fighting against the fascists in Spain. Within a couple of weeks they were in action in Lopera. Ten days there saw the Irish Company of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion reduced from 150 effectives to 66. They were then pulled out and put into the Madrid front at Las Rozas, ten miles north of Madrid. On 12th January 1937, the day after being deployed at Las Rozas they advanced in the fact of artillery fire as part of a blocking action to prevent Franco encircling Madrid. A shell fell between Dinny Coady and Frank Edwards wounding both. Edwards managed to struggle back down the hill to a first aid station despite losing a lot of blood. Stretcher bearers tried to bring Coady down but he quickly died. Frank Edwards was transferred to a hospital in Madrid. It was to be the end of March before he was scheduled to leave hospital. He returned to Ireland in August 1937.

Frank Edwards

Frank Edwards in Spain with the International Brigade (last man on the right, back row). Peter Daly (from Monageer in Wexford and later killed in action) is third from left in the back row, with Frank Ryan to his left. The man in white shirt at the back (two to the right of Edwards) is Jack Nalty who was also killed in action (for more on the photo see CLR here).

Frank eventually found a teaching job in Mount Zion (the Dublin Jewish school). He remained active in the friends of the Soviet Union and was one of those subsequently thanked by the Soviet ambassador when diplomatic nations between the Republic of Ireland and Soviet Union were finally normalised with the establishment of embassies in 1974. Frank died in 1983 and was cremated. The oration at his funeral was given by veteran Irish communist Peadar O’Donnell.
Frank’s own obituary in the Irish Democrat (July 1983) still noted that he had been born in the north although he had been raised in Waterford. So how strong were Jack Edwards Belfast connections? In Rebel Heart (about George Lennon – Edwards former IRA commander in the flying column), Terence O’Reilly describes Edwards as having come from Belfast in 1918 although this is inaccurate since he had been in Waterford since 1917 and had come there from Dundalk. One story about Edwards time in Belfast recalls how he had been beaten up by an ‘Orange mob’ on the way home from school. As the family left Belfast when he was around 8 or 9, it is plausible. They had lived in a unionist-dominated area off Manor Street, close to the Belfast prison on the Crumlin Road where Patrick Edwards worked. In the 1901 census Catholics made up on only about 1 in 10 of residents of Bandon Street or adjoining streets such as Avoca Street where the nearest school was located (street directories show that living in the area was popular with prison staff). Possibly a sectarian attack on Jack precipitated the family move which coincided with the arrival of Patrick’s nationalist-minded mother into the household to become a formative political experience that led him to wholeheartedly engage in republican activities once he arrived in Waterford in 1917. Whatever his own motivations, it was a seminal moment in his brother Frank’s life. Frank’s own memoir, published by Uinseann MacEoin in Survivors, he quotes the following lines about his brother Jack:

March with stately step and solemn,
Lightly tap the muffled drum,
For the gloom around is now cast
There’s a soldier coming home.
Make this grave upon the hillside,
Where our soldier lad will lie.
Let us wipe out fault and fashion
And when Freedom’s day will come.
We will prove ourselves in action
As Jack Edwards often done.

‘We will prove ourselves in action’ is certainly a phrase that rings true for the Edwards family.

[Thanks to Aaron Ó Maonaigh, John Dorney and Kieron Glennon for drawing my attention to Jack Edwards and his family, and Aaron for the image in de Fuiteoil’s book]

You can read an extract from Belfast Battalion: a history of the Belfast IRA, 1922-1969 by clicking this link.

The story of John Collins, a Belfast IRA volunteer killed in Mayo in May 1921 is here.

Northern Whig and Belfast Newsletter on #Soloheadbeg and the First Dáil: #Dail100

Given that the two centenaries were being commemorated over the past week or so, I’ve reproduced text from two contemporary articles commentating on them from a unionist perspective. One is from the Northern Whig, the other from the Belfast Newsletter. Both are worth a read for the startling use of language about martyrs at Soloheadbeg and for the Newsletter’s belittling of the use of the Irish language and the nature of propaganda in 1919.

The first account was published in the Northern Whig on 23rd January 1919 with the headlines, LAWLESSNESS IN IRELAND, SINN FEIN AND BELFAST GAOL and THE TIPPERARY MURDERS. In light of the recent debate over how to commemorate the various centenaries, the Northern Whig articles opening sentence provides an interesting angle on two points, Firstly, the two fatalities at Soloheadbeg are described as “…martyrs to the British cause in Ireland” (quoting a Morning Post article itself entitled ‘The Irish Martyrs’), using language which more typically gets associated with Irish republicanism. This may point towards one avenue worth exploring during the ongoing centenaries – the extent to which language has shifted (or not) over the intervening period of time.

A second point that jumps out from the same article is the extent to which Soloheadbeg was seen in an ongoing continuum of conflict between Irish republicanism and the British authorities in Ireland. Rather than some form of departure into a War of Independence*, instead the Northern Whig states that “We do not know what the total death-toll since the beginning of the war may be, but it is tragically heavy. [my emphasis]”. The reasoning behind the Northern Whig stating that there had been a ‘beginning of the war’ isn’t further explained in the article, but it offers an interesting counterpoint to invoking Soloheadbeg and the first meeting of the First Dáil as the chronological starting point of the War of Independence. Did unionism have a perception that war had already begun?

*I get irrationally irritated by the use of the term ‘Tan War‘.

Northern Whig, 23rd January 1919

The ‘Morning Post’ in a leader under the heading ‘The Irish Martyrs’ says: The two constables who have been murdered near Tipperary are among the many martyrs to the British cause in Ireland. We do not know what the total death-toll since the beginning of the war may be, but it is tragically heavy. Irish policemen and English soldiers have been shot in the open street or in the dark from behind hedges. And in most cases the murderers have got away without punishment In some cases of which we have heard no action could be taken because there was no hope of justice. The whole countryside was in a conspiracy to defeat the law. Not only so, but the police themselves, and the military also do their duty in the knowledge that they are not only liable to be murdered by the rebels but to be deserted by the authorities. They have the additional bitterness of hearing the mocking laughter of our enemies.

A few weeks ago the prisoners took possession of one of the wings of Belfast Prison and wholly wrecked it. The Government treated with them, and put them in the other wing with all the honours of war. They have now wrecked the other wing. Such as been the state of Ireland under Mr. Shortt. We hope it will be better under Mr. Ian Macpherson, and we are glad to see that he has had the courage to impose martial-law on Tipperary, and to put the Belfast prisoners in irons. These two actions suggest manhood. But Mr. Macpherson will fail unless he is supported by the Imperial Government, and it will fail unless it gives up the policy of conciliating our enemies at the expense of our friends. There is only one way that is successful in Ireland. It is the way of strength and justice and no concessions to the law-breaker.

The second (longer) article was published in the Belfast Newsletter on 22nd January 1919 under the title “OURSELVES ALONE” IN FACT, Inaugural Proceedings, DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE. While obviously downplaying the significance of the inaugural meeting of the First Dáil and entirely condescending in tone, there is at least a refreshingly professional concern with details of terminology (indeed the article was a lead into a much longer piece detailing what was discussed etc). At times the language is almost wistful, noting that the one thousand tickets to attend the inaugural meeting were “...orange-coloured, but printed in Gaelic characters…” (see image at the bottom of this screen). There is particular derision for the aspirational use of the Irish language in phrases that could have easily featured in the same papers news coverage of the last few years claiming that “…not more than fifteen or so of the members of the “Constituent Assembly” at present at liberty could keep pace with a discussion in Gaelic” and equating the use of the Irish language to a step back in time of nineteen centuries akin to the abolition of ‘modern civilisation’.

There is a certain longevity to its criticism’s of Sinn Féin, both in its stereotypes and the way that it is delivered. Citing a letter written by a Catholic cleric and published in a ‘nationalist’ paper, it identifies the categories ‘Sinn Féiners’ fall in to: (1) Spies and agents of Dublin Castle; (2) Those who have got money from America, some of which have become, suddenly rich; (3) Vain wind-bags; most impudent liars and slanderers. Who go starring it and gasconading through the country; (4) Young fools, who imagine that if they are able to make the goose-step they are able to fight an army corps; (5) Popularity hunters; (6) Those who have some spleen towards, or some hatchet to grind with the Irish Party, or some of its members; (7) The milk-and-water, who are afraid, and follow the crowd; plus an un-numbered eighth group described as “a section of the labourers who are told, and believe, that if they vote for Sinn Feiners they shall get a slice of their neighbours’ property.”

Given that this is referring to those members of Sinn Féin at the time of the inaugural meeting of the First Dáil the persistence of the same broad caricatures in contemporary coverage of Sinn Féin and other non-establishment political movements is surely notable. Similarly, the delivery method here is a good example of an information policy (i.e. propaganda) device, whereby a story is second-handed (in this case, re-published from a ‘nationalist’ paper) and authored by someone that it is believed the target audience will be more receptive to, in this instance a Catholic priest. What sits behind all of this, though, is an understanding of how such propaganda needs to be delivered. This involves managing relationships and developing spokespeople to act as the source of the appropriately phrased language and information dismissing and placing a negative interpretation on the motivations of all those involved in the First Dáil. It also means ensuring that this is sufficiently masked that it stands up to some level of scrutiny. Thus, rather than the Belfast Newsletter, a Dublin Castle source, a figure in the colonial administration or a unionist offering this categorisation of those involved in the First Dáil, instead it sources it to a Catholic priest in a nationalist paper.

Here is that Belfast Newsletter article. As it runs into almost a full page on the inaugural meeting of the First Dáil, I have only reproduced the introductory sections to give the flavour.

Belfast Newsletter, 22nd January 1919

Dublin did not take itself too seriously yesterday, despite the fact that the centre of Sinn Fein gravity, if one may be permitted to use the expression, had shifted from a wing of Belfast Prison to the Round Room of the Mansion House in the Southern city. The Sinn Fein members of Parliament and other leaders who have been placed out of harm’s way by a thoughtful Government have had their little fling, and are, apparently, none the worse for it. Yesterday was dedicated to the holding of a remarkable demonstration by that members of the party who are yet at liberty, and who, having been elected members of the House of Commons in the Imperial Parliament, prefer to establish a little House of Commons of their own. Sinn Fein has done Dublin but little good in the pat, as witness the Sackville Street of today; but Dublin, nevertheless, has taken Sinn Fein to its bosom, and has returned members of the Republican party for all but one of its borough constituencies. Having succeeded in turning the tables on the official Nationalist party, and completely reversing their respective positions numerically. Sinn Fein, with a total representation of 73 members, of whom 37 were not available for active operations at the moment – being either in jail or exiled in America —proceeded to take stock of the situation, and without any undue delay the thirty-odd members who were free to do so set about paving the way for the holding of “Dail Eireann” or “Irish Parliament,” or “Irish Republican Congress,” or “Constituent Assembly.” The Mansion House wan placed at their disposal by the Lord Mayor of Dublin—who it will be remembered assisted in bringing about an armistice recently between the prison authorities and the refractory Sinn Feiners in Belfast Jail – and they decided to hold the first meeting of the Dail yesterday afternoon in the Round Room at half-past three o’clock.

THE REAL AND THE BOGUS GOVERNMENTS.

As a move calculated to embarrass the British authorities just now, when the Peace Conference is holding its opening sitting, the Dail Eireann was assured of wholehearted sympathy and support from Sinn Fein Dublin right from the start. The city may have had its fill of the Republican party at the time of the Easter Rebellion of 1916 but the public memory is proverbially short, and the sufferings of that period have drifted into the background, and indeed, have been thrust out of light by this present excitement. The spirit of adventure was abroad in the city yesterday, and the populace was quite ready to drink a drop of the Sinn Fein potion once again. It was felt there was a chance that the authorities might deem it incumbent upon themselves to intervene, and from, the moment it was learned that a conference of the Irish Executive had been held in Dublin Castle on Saturday afternoon curiosity was rife as to the attitude of the real Irish Government towards the bogus “Irish Parliament” all sorts of rumours were in circulation but it was generally believed that no drastic step would be taken at the present juncture, so long as the proceedings are not of a turbulent character. This impression was strengthened by the announcement yesterday morning that the Order in Council prohibiting the holding of meetings, assemblies, or processions unless duly authorised in writing, which had been suspended during the elections, was finally revoked, and, as events proved, it was quite correct.

On Monday the finishing touches were put to the arrangements for the Dail. It was announced that the members would style themselves not “M.P.’s,” but “F.D.E.’s —that being the official contraction for “Feisiri Dail Eireann.” It was also notified that the inaugural meeting would be open to the public and one thousand tickets, orange-coloured, but printed in Gaelic characters, were issued in the course of Monday morning to the crowd of callers at the Harcourt Street Headquarters. Each of the ‘F.D.E.’s’ was supplied with a generous quantity of blue tickets for distribution among his personal relatives and friends, who were expected to occupy a large part of the available accommodation.

SOME CANDID CRITICISMS

It may be of interest to note what the constituents of this “Constituent Assembly ” are, and what they represent — that is, in the light of their friends the Nationalists, as set forth by a “well-known P.P.” (of Killenaule) in a letter to a Nationalist organ recently. ” Who are the Sinn Feiners” he asks. And answers his question by stating: “They consist of different bodies.” He goes on to expose the nature of these bodies, section by section, in the following order:—

(1) Spies and agents of Dublin Castle.

(2) Those who have got money from America, some of which have become, suddenly rich.

(3) Vain wind-bags; most impudent liars and slanderers. Who go starring it and gasconading through the country,

(4) Young fools, who imagine that if they are able to make the goose-step they are able to fight an army corps,

(5) Popularity hunters.

(6) Those who have some spleen towards, or some hatchet to grind with the Irish Party, or some of its members.

(7) The milk-and-water, who are afraid, and follow the crowd.

As an afterthought he adds “a section of the labourers who are told, and believe, that if they vote for Sinn Feiners they shall get a slice of their neighbours’ property.” And he remarks in a sudden outburst of candour—” Sinn Fein is damnable tomfoolery.” Betide this the statement by a Roman Catholic Canon of Bessbrook, also written in the thick of the election campaign, that Sinn Fein is “unholy ” sounds quite mild.

THE OFFICIAL LANGUAGE.

About thirty ” F.D.E.’s” expected to be present at the opening meeting of the Dail Eireann, and in order that the waiting world might be kept fully apprised of their doings special co-respondents from French, American, Dutch, Belgian, Spanish, South African, Australian, and Canadian newspapers, as well as a host of journalists and Press photographers from all parts of the United Kingdom assembled in the city in the course of the week end , and, having taken up strategic positions, awaited developments. One little matter troubled them—the decision of the Sinn Fein representatives, unanimously arrived at in the course of one of the preliminary meetings, “that no version of the business dealt with by the Parliament should be supplied to the newspapers except in the Irish language.” The visitors’ own experience led them to think that “the Irish language” is very much the same as that which is ordinarily in use across the Channel, and the study of the mentality of the poetic authors of this resolution leaves them limp. They point out that the Sinn Fein members, or rather the “F.D.E.’s” in their avowed policy of separation from the British Empire, are endeavouring to negotiate the longest of long jumps forward, whilst at the same moment in their official mode of expression they are back-stepping nineteen centuries. The Gaelic language may be all very well in its proper place, say the correspondents—they are mostly unable to express a considered opinion in the matter but life is too short for any daily newspaper to print it in any considerable; quantity and live. If the Sinn Fein leaders must needs ape the Gaul, why not go the whole hog, and abolish modern civilisation altogether? Rumour has it, however, that people other than the newspaper co-respondents are exercised in their; minds over the matter— that not more than fifteen or so of the members of the “Constituent Assembly” at present at liberty could keep pace with a discussion in Gaelic. This notwithstanding, it was decided that the proceedings at yesterday’s meeting should be conducted in the Gaelic language entirely, only translations of important documents which had already been read in Gaelic being given in the English tongue—and byway of being altogether impartial, the French tongue too. Those members who were not proficient in the ancient language were restricted to formally seconding or supporting the propositions laid before the meeting.

ed144_count_plunkett_ticket_to_dail_sdl

One of the ‘one thousand tickets, orange-coloured, but printed in Gaelic characters’ to attend the inaugural meeting of the first Dáil.

 

Seumas Robinson, a Belfast link to Solohead Beg

The Irish Times has an interesting article about the IRA O/C at the Solohead Beg ambush, Seumas Robinson, who was regarded as a Belfast man, even though he spent a lot of his life in Scotland. He recounts that James Connolly called him ‘towney’ which Robinson says was Connolly recognising both of their connections to Belfast (Robinson was from Benares Street in Clonard).

Robinson’s own, lengthy, account of his activities in the IRB, during the Easter Rising, a detailed account of Solohead Beg and much more can be read here: http://www.bureauofmilitaryhistory.ie/reels/bmh/BMH.WS1721.pdf#page=140

The later controversies involving Robinson, Dan Breen and others, mainly over the 1919 Solohead Beg raid, can be read about here: http://www.theirishstory.com/2014/12/08/a-bitter-brotherhood-the-war-of-words-of-seumas-robinson/#.XEGnMbrp2Ec