Was a Belfast IRA commander expelled over a pension application?

Was a Belfast IRA commander expelled from the IRA for making a pension application? One of the files included in the latest release of files from the Military Archives is a pension applications made by Davy Mathews starting in 1933 when he was O/C of the Belfast IRA. In January 1934 he was expelled from the IRA. Nominally the reason for his expulsion was that he had allowed prisoners to sign out of Crumlin Road jail for Christmas in 1933 (against IRA standing orders). But now Mathews pension application documents have been published, it looks like the IRA may have had other reasons to expel him too.

Mathews

Davy Mathews (from Jim McDermot’s ‘Northern Divisions’ book)

Mathews formally made his application for a pension on 1st January 1933. In his application letter he recorded that he had joined the Willie Nelson Sluagh of Fianna Éireann in 1914, progressing to join the Irish Volunteers after 1916. He was then a member of the James Connolly Sluagh whose O/C was Joe McKelvey while Mathews himself was First Lieutenant (Fianna officers held dual membership of Fianna Éireann and the IRA). He was arrested and questioned for a day in 1917 after being observed taking charge of Fianna party drilling in the open. Matthews continued active in IRA throughout the War of Independence and was eventually arrested in September 1922 with Belfast Brigade commander, Paddy Nash, and was imprisoned for possession of a revolver. After his release he was pressed to accept a commission in the newly formed (pro-treaty) National Army but instead he agreed to take charge of an (anti-treaty) IRA flying column in Longford. Before he got there, he was arrested at Easter 1923 and spent time on the Argenta prison ship and Larne Camp from where he was sent to Derry Gaol to spend six weeks in isolation before embarking on a hunger strike. A son born while he was imprisoned was a year old before Mathews saw him when he was released in August 1924.

Interned again in 1925 during the collapse of the Boundary Commission, his mother died on Christmas Day but he was refused leave to attend the funeral. The 1925 internees were only released when the Labour government in London put pressure on the Unionists at the end of January 1926.

Mathews remained active in the IRA as well as a prominent member of the Joe McKelvey GAA club. He recorded in 1933 that he had been O/C of an IRA Battalion three times and arrested each time. In September 1933 he submitted a pension application, giving his own rank as O/C Belfast Battalion since 1928 and recording that he had been made O/C Ulster in 1931 on the IRA’s Army Executive. He named some of those who could vouch for his service in his 1933 application including Maurice Twomey (as IRA Chief of Staff) and Joe McGurk, George Nash and Jimmy Steele (as members of the Belfast Battalion staff). Imprisoned in November 1933, he was then dismissed from the IRA in January 1934 for encouraging prisoners to sign guarantees to get early release for Christmas.

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Page from Davy Mathews pension application on 4/9/1933 naming Moss Twomey as IRA Chief of Staff and Joe McGurk, George Nash and Jimmy Steele as members of Belfast Battalion staff (for original see militaryarchives.ie file 1RB1254 David Mathews)

Since the IRA refused to recognise the authority of either administration in Belfast or Dublin in the 1930s, Mathews application for a pension would have been in violation of IRA standing orders at the time. While this may seem a little odd now, even in later decades the IRA, and Cumann na mBan, refused to let member hold service posts in the north (as they had to take an oath of allegiance to the crown) just as members did not recognise the courts, legal systems or electoral assemblies. Not only that, but Mathews names members of his Belfast Battalion staff and the Chief of Staff (Moss Twomey) on his application. While the IRA enjoyed a quasi-legal status in the south at the time, it seems unlikely that either Twomey or others in IRA GHQ would have been happy with Mathews. Mathews was on the IRA’s Army Executive as O/C Ulster from 1931 and so held a very senior post within the organisation. While the pretext given for his expulsion in January 1934 did not mention the pension application it seems unlikely that it would have been approved or gone unnoticed as part of the process was writing out to those named by applicants to get statement corroborating information on the application.

There is much more on Mathews time as Belfast O/C in the Belfast Battalion bookBelfast Battalion book.

The time line of Belfast IRA commanders has also been updated to reflect the dates given by Mathews (I’ll post more on this another day).

A Couple of Essay by Niall Meehan

Here’s a post from Niall Meehan with links to a couple of essays, The Embers of Revisions (by Niall) and The Wind That Shakes The Barley (by Brian Murphy):

For those interested in politics and history in Ireland from a left-wing perspective, please find attached a recently published pamphlet on Irish history and politics with two essays (see here).

The first is a critique of Irish revisionist historiography that begins by reviewing the turn to the right of Irish politician/thinker Conor Cruise O’Brien in the early 1970s. He had been an anti-Vietnam War and anti-racist academic and political activist in the US in the mid to late 1960s (based in NYU).

The turn began in concert with an emerging negative reaction to the increasingly violent civil rights revolt in northern Ireland.

This first essay critiques the tendency, inherited from O’Brien, to portray Irish republicanism as an irrational ‘Catholic-nationalist’ formation.

It then looks at countervailing aspects of southern Irish society (the Republic of Ireland) that were not quite as ‘Catholic’ as is often complacently portrayed, and the application of O’Brien’s ‘revisionist’ methodology to the 1919-21 Irish War of Independence.

O’Brien used insights gleaned from those impressions to justify censorship of Irish broadcasting, over which he had ministerial responsibility from 1973-77. The essay details the effect of censorship on the careers of two individuals who, starting from a left or republican position, eventually became champions of O’Brien’s methods and ideas.

The essay surveys revisionist attempts to generate liberal sympathy for anti-(Irish) republican views by, for example, insinuating anti-semitism on the part of republican leaders (such as Michael Collins). The essay points out a reliance by the same authors, for instance former left (now right) leaning political scientist Paul (‘Lord’) Bew, on pro-British anti-semites during the 1919-23 period.

It then explains the consequential celebration of a history of the War of Independence in Cork by the late Professor Peter Hart, as a logical outcome of the history originally foretold by Conor Cruise O’Brien.

The second essay critiques attempts by historians such as Roy Foster to undermine Ken Loach’s 2006 film The Wind that Shakes the Barley. It demonstrates that Loach’s film contained a more accurate history of the period than Foster’s essay based historical scenario.

(This is a second edition, produced for a Conor Cruise O’Brien symposium in Trinity College. First edition cover and back page – the only difference – at http://www.academia.edu/34075119/.)

Also attached, a subsequently published one page article on the O’Brien symposium.

You can also read about press coverage of O’Brien’s sacking of the (London) Observer’s Mary Holland in 1979, while he was Ed in Chief, at http://www.academia.edu/35030894/.

 

Belfast Battalion now available…

As of today, you can buy your copy of Belfast Battalion at the following locations:

 

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Dublin

Connolly Books,

Essex Street East, Temple Bar

 
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Belfast

Sinn Féin Book Shop,

55 Falls Road, Belfast

 

 

 

 Glasgowcalton

Calton Books,

159 London Road, Glasgow*

 

 

 

 

*It should be available by Monday or Tuesday next week.

 

You can order the book direct to your front door online here.

There are also a couple of copies in the library of the Museum in Conway Mill if you just want to browse a copy.

And you can download it for Kindle/ebook here (and preview it below).

 

Pre-order ‘Belfast Battalion’

You can now pre-order Belfast Battalion for delivery in the week or so following 1st November 2018.

To do so just click the following link: https://thelitterpress.wordpress.com/shop-siopa/

You can also access the eBook/Kindle edition at the same link.

There will be a launch in Belfast on 8th December 2018, details to follow.

Belfast Battalion available as ebook from today…

You can now read the newly published book on the Belfast IRA (1922-1969).

Ahead of schedule, I know, but the ebook/Kindle edition of Belfast Battalion has already gone live on Amazon at the link below (where you can also get a preview).

Anyone who doesn’t use Kindle or ebooks can read a sample chapter below. The plan is to have the printed book available by 1st November (you can still add your email to get updates here). By the way – if you’re kind enough to get the ebook version – don’t forget to give it some stars or a review.

book teaser…

Coming very soon, Belfast Battalion: a history of the Belfast I.R.A. 1922-69. Likely see ebook launched in October, print copies will be available for delivery/distribution in November.

Watch this space…

You can add your email below for updates on when the book is available.