75th Anniversary of Crumlin Road Jail Escape

Monday 15th January 2018 will be the 75th anniversary of the escape from Crumlin Road Jail by Pat Donnelly, Hugh McAteer, Ned Maguire and Jimmy Steele.

The escape provided one of the few iconic images of the IRA campaign of the 1940s, with the famous wanted poster. It was initially published in the local press on the day following the escape (see below).

The poster contains a couple of errors. Jimmy Steele was born in 1907, not 1909. Similarly, Hugh McAteer was born in 1916, not 1917. I managed to perpetuate this error last year by incorrectly noting the centenary of his birth (his daughter Máire has since put me right – he was born in Derry on 13th August 1916). McAteer wrote an account of the escape, which I’d previously posted up here.

You can read an account based on the escape report and other memoirs here.

You can find out more about the escape here and listen to the Men With No Property’s recording of ‘Steele and McAteers Daring Escape from the Crumlin Road Jail’ (am not sure who wrote it, but one candidate would be Arthur Corr, who was an orderly in A wing at the time of the escape and wrote the balled ‘Tom Williams’).

Advertisements

Joint IRA and British Army barricades, Belfast, 1969

For a period of time in September 1969, barricades in many Belfast districts were effectively guarded jointly by the British Army and IRA, under the guise of the local Citizen’s Defence Committees (CDC). The Central CDC in Belfast was chaired by Jim Sullivan who was also acting O/C of the IRA’s Belfast Battalion. The Belfast O/C, Billy McMillen, had been  arrested prior to the August 15th attacks and interned without charge even though it had initially reported that he was being held for illegal possession of a firearm.

A CDC had been formed in Derry early in August 1969 and elsewhere later in the same month. The name mirrored the ‘Ulster Constitutional Defence Committee’, formed in 1966, and its precursors, like the ‘Omagh Citizen’s Defence Committee’ and another set up in Fermanagh in 1953-4 to co-ordinate the local unionist campaigns to prevent Catholics obtaining jobs and housing. Creation of CDCs in 1969 provided an umbrella organisation in which the likes of ex-servicemen, Catholic clergy, political representatives, former IRA volunteers and others could co-operate with each other and the IRA without having to be publicly presented as a face of the IRA, even though it was effectively led and directed by the IRA.

The use of shifting organisational identities had been pushed by Cathal Goulding and others for some time. IRA statements using names like ‘Resistance Forces’ and ‘Citizens Army’ had been appearing even before the formal end of the border campaign in 1962. This was to accelerate into the early 1970s (and later) as the Goulding-led Official IRA was to continually shift it’s identity.

When the British Army was deployed in mid-August 1969, it also brought into play a well established counter-insurgency strategy as well as its best known advocate and practitioner in Brigadier Frank Kitson. This included establishing its own intelligence gathering capabilities in the absence of any effective intelligence held or shared by the RUC, Special Branch or the unionist government.

At a high level this meant that the ongoing attempts to negotiate a removal of barricades from districts that  had been attacked in mid-August could provide a pretext to profile the CDC (and effectively IRA) leadership from close-in. On 6th September, Jim Sullivan, chair of the CDC and acting Belfast Battalion O/C, met with the Major General Tony Dyball, the British Army’s deputy director of operations in the north (revealed in that weekends Sunday papers). This happened alongside meetings with Catholic clergy and others over defence of the districts that had come under attack. Sullivan and Dyball agreed that the barricades would now be guarded by British soldiers alongside the CDC.

That weekend, three barricades in Albert Street were taken down and replaced with British Army barriers and soldiers maintained a presence at them, as had been agreed. The press was rife with rumours that the discussion where this was agreed wasn’t between the British Army and local clergy as publicly claimed, but between the British Army and IRA. But the agreement reached in Albert Street wasn’t replicated elsewhere as almost nightly attacks on isolated Catholic families continued.

That Sullivan pushed for the removal of barricades and delegating the defence of Albert Street to the British Army cut directly across the later narrative promoted by the Officials that the violence didn’t come from the communities and the general unionist population but, rather, was directed by forces from elsewhere (typified by the likes of the British Army). Sullivan personally pushed for the removal of the Albert Street barricades, certainly this is, at least, how it is represented in the contemporary press. Around 300 barricades had been erected across the city but the example of Albert Street didn’t lead to further exchanges of hastily erected barricades for British Army barriers. Within a couple of days, Sullivan was threatening to re-erect barricades if the British Army removed them without agreement. Sullivan, along with Stormont MPs Paddy Devlin and Paddy Kennedy then travelled to London to try and meet senior British government figures for discussions.

British Army preparing to erect the so-called ‘peace line’ in Cupar Street (Irish Press, 11th Sept 1969)

Meanwhile, a demarcation line was being erected by the British Army along the boundary of the most threatened areas (described as a ‘peace line’). This was continuing over the course of the next week and was mostly completed by 16th September. Pressure was growing to have the other barricades removed and the CDC organised meetings of delegates from the various districts to gauge the mood. Assurances were given by the British GOC that the army would provide adequate security and that the Special Powers Act would not be applied. Again, Jim Sullivan then pushed for the barricades to come down but often agreements had to be made on street by street basis indicating a high level of discomfort over the proposed arrangement. This was not misplaced.

Given how the British Army was aware of the limitations of the quality of the intelligence gathered by the RUC and the unionists. An agreement to jointly guard barricades with the CDC now provided the British with a pretext to create its own profile of the IRA. Kitson himself had requested a meeting with the IRA leadership (which was turned down), but John Kelly has recounted that the depth of contact between the IRA and British Army extended as far as a British officer providing a class on machine guns. Kelly suspected that this was to evaluate the level of the technical capacity of the IRA (and presumably to identify the relevant personnel). On top of the failure to have adequately prepared to defend districts from attack in mid-August, the rapprochement between his Belfast IRA leadership and the British Army was also to be held against Cathal Goulding by many in Belfast.

Peace lines in Dover Street (Irish Press. 13th Sept 1969)

One barricade that was slow to come down, was the one that had been erected at the top of the New Lodge Road, at it’s junction with the Antrim Road. This too was taken down on Tuesday 17th September. As with elsewhere, it was then replaced with a British Army barricade which was one of those jointly guarded by the 2nd Light Infantry and the CDC.

On the Saturday night, Tony McNamee, Brendy Magee, Mark O’Connor and Hugh Adams were playing cards on a windowsill outside the Duncairn Arms at the top of the New Lodge Road. As some men were seen approaching the traffic island from Hallidays Road (leading back to Duncairn Gardens), a soldier, Lance Corporal Peter Reid went to warn the four young men to withdraw behind the barrier for safety. Shots were then fired from the other side of the traffic island, at a range of about twenty metres. All five were wounded. Reid, McNamee and Magee were the most seriously injured, with Reid sustaining facial injuries. Following the shooting a local taxi firm was also attacked.

As crowds gathered at either side of the barricade, hundreds of soldiers were rushed into the area. Hallidays Road was searched and a weapon recovered in a house in Stratheden Street. Four men from the unionist Tigers Bay district, Andrew Salters, Arthur Ingram, John Strain and William Jamieson, were arrested (in the end only Jamieson was found guilty, receiving a two year sentence). The next day they were charged with possession of the shotgun used in the shooting. At their remand hearing, on the Monday morning, RUC Head Constable Thomas McCluney explained to the court that the accused fired the shots as ‘feelings had been running high’.

On the Sunday, the CDC for the New Lodge and Docks had met and agreed further security measures. This included introducing a graduated curfew for children (8 pm) and others not involved in patrols and defence (10 pm). The CDC put in place a rota and schedule of patrols for the defence of the area. Oliver Kelly (vice-chairman of the CDC) said the shooting had been a salutary lesson for all those involved. The Major in charge of the 2nd Light Infantry in the district admitted that the hadn’t believed that they would be fired upon by unionists.

But on that Sunday night, unionists left a 2lb gelignite bomb in Exchange Street in the Half Bap area (immediately to the south of the New Lodge and North Queen Street). It exploded in the middle of the street, shattering windows in thirty houses although no-one was badly injured. Immediately a barricade was re-erected at the end of Exchange Street. The same pattern was to follow over the next week as local violence prompted the return of barricades.

The same weekend, the Belfast IRA O/C, Billy McMillen, was released from internment. On the Monday, against the backdrop of the New Lodge Road shooting and the bombing of Exchange Street, McMillen called a meeting of the Belfast IRA staff in Cyprus Street. Famously, he was confronted about the rapidly changed political landscape in a meeting regarded as critical to the fragmentation of the republican movement that accelerated over the next few months.

Frances Brady, Belfast Cumann na mBan on hunger strike, 1921

Found this interesting photo online of a Belfast Cumann na mBan member, Frances Brady, on hunger strike in 1921.

Frances Brady

(Credit – see post from @Is_Mise_Fiona added above – given MacEvilly)

Brady was from Earlscourt Street in the Falls. Her father, Hugh, was a builders clerk and he and Frances’ mother, Maggie, had seven daughters and one son. She became an active republican while working in the War Office in London where she had been censoring soldiers letters home. In 1917, Michael Collins made contact with her while she was on her summer holidays in Donegal. From then, she carried out espionage for him. She also collected money for the Irish Republican Prisoners Defendants Fund (IRPDF) and carried dispatches.

Brady worked under Collins in London until July 1919 when she returned to Belfast and continued her republican activism as a member of Cumann na mBan in the city, assisting in operations and carrying dispatches as well as continuing to do work for the IRPDF. The Brady house in Belfast was used as an office by GHQ and dispatches to and from Dublin routinely passed through it. From December 1920, Brady also worked with Ernest Blythe and Joe McDonagh in the Belfast Boycott (of unionists business that expelled Catholic workers). Usually she worked out of her sisters address in Lower Leeson Street in Dublin, which was often used for meetings by Collins, Richard Mulcahy and others.

On the 3rd June, secret instructions* were sent from Captain Hudson in Kilmainham to raid 46 Lower Leeson Street as it was known to be used by a republican courier, Kathleen Brady (Frances’ sister who lived at the address). Hudson directed that a female searcher was to be picked up at Room 2 in City Hall and brought on the raid, while anything found was to be returned directly to Kilmainham.

[*you need a subscription to view this link]

Frances Brady and Joe McDonagh were in the house with its other occupants – Professor, Madame Chauvire and their daughter – when a raiding party of the 2nd Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment appeared on the road outside at 7.30 pm the very same day. Lieutenants Barton and Bone and Sergeant Hurrel went straight to Brady’s top floor flat. When they burst in they found her undressed and she told them to wait a minute. Barton then sent for the female searcher to come up. When she arrived they entered and found Brady had used the time to burn papers in an otherwise empty grate. During a search of the room they found a revolver in an attaché case, binoculars, her Cumann na mBan membership card and badge, copies of An tÓglach, and, Dáil Éireann (and other) papers. McDonagh, who had remained downstairs dressed as a priest, made his excuses to the raiding party, then left the house via the back door and escaped. The military took Brady from Lower Leeson Street to their barracks then the Bridewell, which refused her entry until Barton (much to his annoyance) slowly managed to acquire the appropriate papers from the Chief of the Dublin Metropolitan Police.

On 15th June Brady was tried at a general field court martial in Kilmainham. While refusing to recognise the court, she noted that it included reference to the ‘Irish Volunteers’ in the charges, pointing out that the organisation no longer existed as it had been replaced by the Irish Republican Army. She also noted that the order referred to in the charges against her wasn’t in force at the date on the documents mentioned in the same charges (the press do not record the courts response, eg see Freeman’s Journal 16th June 1921). Her sentence was promulgated and a couple of days later she was given two years hard labour and taken to Mountjoy.

On the 30th October, four of the women prisoners in Mountjoy (including Eithne Coyle, Linda Kearns, Aileen Keogh and Mae Burke) used a rope ladder to escape while a football match was taking place. The authorities were acutely embarrassed by the escape and placed the remaining women prisoners under the guard of the Auxiliaries from the next day. The response of the women prisoners, including Frances Brady, was outrage. They were also equally annoyed at the escapees for not informing them of the plan (Eileen McGrane, in charge of the Cumann na mBan prisoners, had refused Coyle and the others permission to make an escape attempt).

On the Tuesday (1st November), the women prisoners inside Mountjoy – Brady, Eileen McGrane, Kate Crowley, Madge Cotter and Lily Cotter – went on hunger strike in protest at being guarded by the Auxiliaries (see Freemans Journal, 10th November 1921). The hunger strike lasted until the 9th November, by which date Cumann na mBan had sent in instructions to come off the protest, presumably since the hunger strikers had not asked for permission to mount the protest from the Cumann na mBan leadership.

Whether the Auxiliaries continued guarding them isn’t clear, but within weeks Frances, along with Eileen McGrane, Lily and Madge Cotter and Katie Crowley, were release from Mountjoy (on 9th December 1921). After her release, Eileen McGrane had charges brought against Eithne Coyle and Linda Kearns for escaping without seeking approval from Cumann na mBan but the charge was eventually dropped (clearly, when it comes to giving/taking orders, Cumann na mBan didn’t mess around).

On her release, Frances Brady continued to work as secretary to the IRPDF in Belfast and carried dispatches from Dublin to Belfast, between the likes of Ernie O’Malley and Oscar Trainor and the Belfast IRA and Cumann na mBan leaders like Annie Ward, Pat Thornbury and Hugh Corvin. After the outbreak of the civil war, she continued in this role, along with escorting IRA volunteers and carrying arms between Dundalk and Belfast.

After the 1920s she remained and married in Dublin where she died in 1977.

Was ‘troubles’ related death toll as high as 30,000?

How many people died in the recent conflict in Ireland? You’d think this would be a relatively easy to answer question. But depending on how you decide to define a death as conflict-related, the total, which is usually given as around 3,700, is probably at least 5,733 and may be as high as 30,000.

A quick trawl of existing databases puts a detailed death toll in the region of 3,640-3,760. This is a considerable figure and itself only a fraction of the number who received injuries or were harmed in some other way by their experience over the same period. But a comparison of some of the components of those totals shows that this is an estimation and a very conservative one and doesn’t seem to fully reflect the extent of loss of human life arising from the conflict. Initially, I was looking at this to see the methods employed to determine what might be the best way to estimate the loss of life in the north (and Belfast in particular) in 1919-23. Instead, I noticed that, depending on how you choose to define whether a death is related to the conflict here, you can argue that the actual death toll is at least 5,733. Or you could even put it as high as 30,000.

There are a number of publicly accessible databases recording deaths arising from the post-1966 conflict here. This includes the following: Lost Lives ; Malcolm Sutton’s An Index of Deaths from the Conflict in Ireland 1969-1993 (with a draft list up to the present); and, Michael McKeown’s Database of Deaths Associated with Violence in Northern Ireland, 1969-2001. The latter two databases are hosted, in various formats, along with contextual literature and other resources on the Conflict Archive on the Internet (known as CAIN).

The 2006 edition of Lost Lives records 3,720 deaths from 1966 to that date. The database compiled by Malcolm Sutton covers the period from 1969 to 2001 and records 3,532 deaths (in relative terms, this is 149 less than the total for the same period in Lost Lives). It also includes a provisional total of 88 deaths from 2001 to the end of 2017. The second database available via CAIN, prepared by Michael McKeown, records 3,649 deaths over the period from 1969 to 2005. Compared to the same period covered by Lost Lives, McKeown lists 3,622 deaths, 98 less than Lost Lives. Combining the figures in Lost Lives and those on CAIN for the period up to 2017 gives a total of 3,762 conflict-related deaths from 1966 to 2017.

This variability hints at the complications that underlie what deaths are deemed to be conflict-related and how that is defined. It is also still possible to identify some deaths that have been overlooked in all them, such as Erwin Beelitz in Berlin in 1972. Lost Lives does provide discussions of individual cases that illustrates the scope of what is considered as a conflict-related death. It generally just includes violent deaths and so would not typically include, for instance, someone whose health suffered from conflict-related stresses leading to a premature death. The latter may be much more difficult to determine and be quite subjective (although more on this point below).

What got me interested in the divergence from the general quoted figures of around 3,700 was in the officially declared military death toll. I’d thought that a relatively obvious way of checking how robust the available figures were, was to compare figures for individual groups against published records. In December 2012, the UK Ministry of Defence provided a breakdown of British military personnel who died during Operation Banner (the British army deployment to the north). For deaths as a “…result of operations in Northern Ireland or Irish Terrorism in other countries…” it gives a total of 1,441. Lost Lives gives an overall figures for the British Armed Services of 503 along with 206 UDR and RIR. The breakdown for Operation Banner, provided by the Ministry of Defence, though, is 814 regular army, 548 UDR and RIR, and a further 79 for other branches (making up that total of 1,441). This is 732 in excess of the figures provided for in any of the relevant databases. This underestimate, by some 103%, is considerable. As the term used in the letter detailing the figures very specifically says that the deaths were as a “…result of operations in Northern Ireland or Irish Terrorism in other countries…” this would be appear to be the official total.

Critically, to understand the methodology, the existing databases all list every individual who was is included. The official figures for Operation Banner do not provide individual details.

It is also possible to look at the figures given republican fatalities. A ‘Roll of Honour’ was published in An Phoblacht in 2010, identifying the deaths of those named as having being conflicted-related. This gives a total of 336 conflict-related IRA deaths (it also lists 25 Sinn Féin members). Using the tables provided by Sutton, his equivalent figure appears to be 292 (excluding Sinn Féin members) suggesting there were a further 44 deaths on top of those conventionally associated with the conflict. A further 83 republican combatant casualties are recorded by Sutton (including INLA, Official IRA etc). McKeown reports some 271 IRA deaths, of a total 350 republican dead, while Lost Lives provides a combined total of 396. If the An Phoblacht figure reflects deaths deemed to be conflict-related but not conventionally captured by the methodologies employed by Lost Lives, Sutton and McKeown, the existing method may underestimate republican conflict related deaths by around 15%. So, if extrapolated for republican casualties as a whole, a figure of around 455 may more accurately reflect the scale of loss. If it might be argued that similar factors would be at play, the Lost Lives figure for unionist paramilitaries, 167, should probably be revised upwards on the same basis to 192. Neither of these figures would necessarily capture conflict-related deaths that are due to factors connected to their experience as combatants, incarceration or self-harm.

The issue of self-harm, more particularly suicide, is one that arises in a variety of contexts. The number of recorded RUC fatalities is given as 301 by Sutton, 303 by Lost Lives and 304 in McKeown. But on a number of occasions, official statements and figures have been given for suicides among serving RUC members, with 55 recorded by 1996 and 75 recorded by 2007. Without trivialising such a complex and emotive issue as suicide, it may never be known how many of these could be directly attributed to conflict-related factors. However, as noted with the difficulty of assessing the factors in any individual death, a review of overall figures might show any increased mortality that, in the context of the north during the conflict, is likely to have arisen from factors related, at least in part, to the conflict.

Occasionally, individuals who took their own lives are included amongst the conflict-related deaths. Patrick Sheehy, an IRA volunteer who appears to have shot himself in Nenagh in County Tipperary on 1st January 1991 is listed in Lost Lives (3170), although not in either Sutton or McKeown. It seems difficult to argue that it wasn’t related to the conflict and so it’s inclusion seems reasonable. On the same basis, it would seem that RUC fatalities should also be included. Taking Samaritans figures, it is possible to make wider comparisons with suicide rates across Ireland and Britain to see if the broader impact of the conflict on mental health is reflected in elevated suicide rates. There doesn’t appear to be any evidence for this until 2007, after which time an apparent rise by about 6 deaths per 100,000 since around 2007 is considered by some to be attributable to earlier conflict-related stresses. This would amount to around 1,080 deaths and continues to this day.

Combined with other additional deaths noted above for Operation Banner, the IRA, RUC etc, this would suggest the total number of deaths is closer to 5,733.

To follow this through, a similar comparison of general mortality for the north in the 1970s through to about 1998, makes for equally grim reading. Typically the male mortality rate was at a level significantly below that of the UK and the south of Ireland, by around 200 deaths per 100,000 per year. By the early 1980s, this had closed to around 100 per year and the mortality rates were then roughly comparable throughout the 1990s. The female mortality rate was significantly higher in the north than the UK and south of Ireland average in the early 1970s, by around 210 (per 100,000 per year), staying just under 200 higher in the early 1980s, rising to around 220 higher in the 1990s and the dropping back to just under 200 deaths higher (per 100,000 per year) by the end of the 1990s. Taking the overall differential in the mortality rates over the period from the early 1970s to 1998 suggests that maybe 24,000 more people died than would be expected, based on the rates prevalent in the UK and the south. Are there a series of complex factors underlying the increased mortality rate? Undoubtedly, but it is hard to see how it is likely that any complex factors are not, in themselves, somehow connected to systemic and structural issues related to the conflict. In that sense, it could be argued that these 24,000 should also really be regarded as conflict-related.

So is it plausible that we should consider the death toll from the recent conflict to be 30,000 or roughly 5,733 rather than around 3,700? The currently used conservative estimates of the quantum of deaths arising from the conflict has at least two origins. A concern of many of those who complied the databases was in painstakingly researching and detailing each individual death. Where the deaths are anonymised into collective data (such as the casualties from Operation Banner), it seems that there is no mechanism for either Lost Lives or the likes of Sutton or McKeown to include them.

Another factor, though, is that acceptance of the reduced figures is also an artefact of the same security policy that sought to minimise the nature and intensity of violence and brought us terms like ‘ulsterisation’ and ‘criminalisation’. This isn’t to imply that Lost Lives, Sutton or McKeown are somehow complicit in furthering the same policy. They are simply following convention and documenting instances of violence in which lives were lost. This differs significantly from British (and Irish) government strategy that sought to present violence in the conflict in the language of decontextualized, criminal acts. A logical outworking of this would be to continue to adopt a minimalist approach in assessing the human cost of the conflict even where, for instance, the official death toll of Operation Banner is way in excess of the figure normally cited for military losses. Unfortunately this attempt to promote a conservative estimate minimises the actual impact and adds to the dissonance between the official narrative and the impact experienced by individuals, families and communities. For them, perhaps we need to recognise that the scale of related fatalities is much greater. In that regard, a fresh consideration of how we define the death toll from the recent conflict may be worth further exploration and debate.

Hundreds of pets killed in sectarian attack – Belfast, 1969

From The Irish Press, Tuesday 16th September, 1969: “The threat to the owner of a pet shop that his premises would be burned out if he did not sack his Catholic manager was carried out yesterday morning.

More than 100 birds, 170 mice, 20 parrots, 20 hamsters and scores of tropical fish died in the blaze at the Castle Aquatics, on the Castlereagh Road, Belfast.

Owner, Mr Robert Matthews (32) received the threat by telephone five days ago. “Of course, I did not sack my manager,” he said. Police and forensic experts yesterday searched among the burned out portion of the shop for clues as to the origin of the outbreak.

The pets died of suffocation, but Mr Matthews, who lives nearby, rescued three puppies and a rabbit.”

Other news reports provide some further details. Robert Matthews owned two adjoining shops on the Castlereagh Road where his manager was Jim Killen a Catholic from the Rathcoole estate in Newtownabbey. Thousands of tropical fish were killed in the fire including a piranha fish worth £60 (that’s just under half a teachers monthly salary in 1969). There were actually 25 parrots killed and several valuable peach-faced love birds. The fire appeared to have been started with petrol bombs.

 

 

Pets

The Manchester Martyrs centenary and echoes of the 1969 split in the IRA

Up to the Easter Rising, one of the key annual events in the republican calendar was the commemoration of the ‘Manchester Martyrs’, William Philip Allen, Michael Larkin, and Michael O’Brien, the IRB members who were publicly hanged in front of a crowd of 8-10,000 outside Salford Gaol on 23rd November 1867. They were hung for the death of a police sergeant during an attempt to free two IRB prisoners from a police van. Neither Allen, Larkin or O’Brien fired the shots that killed the policemen and two others that had also been sentenced to death had their sentences commuted due, in one case, due to American citizenship (a lesson not lost on a future generation), and in another, due to the clearly perjured evidence against him (bizarrely, the others were all convicted on the same evidence but not reprieved).

Smashing of the Van

‘The Smashing of the Van’ – the attempt to free two IRB leaders that led to Sergeant Brett being shot and the execution of the ‘Manchester Martyrs’ in 1867.

The execution was only the second public hanging in Manchester and The Pall Mall Gazette in London noted (on 25th November) the well behaved nature of the crowd (as opposed to the rioting that frequently accompanied hangings in London) and put it down to the fact that “…a taste for execution is perhaps, rather acquired than natural.” The hangman, William Calcraft, was notoriously inept and only Allen is believed to have been killed by the initial drop. Calcraft himself pulled on Larkin’s legs to break his neck but a priest in attendance, Fr Gadd, stopped him from doing the same to O’Brien. Instead the priest held O’Brien’s hands for three quarters of an hour until he finally died. The three were buried in the New Bailey prison in Manchester, although public funerals were held across Ireland and in some cities in Britain. Allen, Larkin and O’Brien are publicly commemorated in the song ‘God Save Ireland’, first published by Tim Dan Sullivan in December 1867. Another song, ‘The Smashing of the Van’ commemorates the events that led to their execution. Their remains were moved from the New Bailey prison to Strangeways in 1868 and then cremated and reinterred in Blackley cemetery in 1991.

Even after 1916, a huge commemorative ceili continued to be held annually in the Mansion House in Dublin for several decades. There are a lot of parallels with 1916, in terms of how the event became a focal point within the broader political methodology of Irish republicanism. For long periods, Irish republicanism had focused on building towards an event that might become the spark that would lead to the establishment of the Irish republic, rather than what would later become known as a ‘long war’ strategy (or low intensity conflict). In 1916, the ‘blood sacrifice’ concept understood by Pearse and Connolly was rooted in a realisation that failure to secure a republic by force of arms, in April 1916, would likely see their deaths either in battle or by execution. However, both knew Irish republicans could then catalyse the reaction to executions (rather than the whole Rising) into an ideological parable to try and give impetus to the Irish public to go out and establish that republic (as had happened with the Manchester Martyrs). Arguably, the structure of republican strategy, post-1981 hunger strike can be read within a similar framework. In the late 19th century, the Manchester Martyrs had provided a similar focus rather than the broader ‘Fenian movement’.  In many ways, the historical narrative around Irish republican ideology is often best understood within the context of such events involving a small number of individuals, rather than by looking at time periods defined in other ways (eg the ‘War of Independence’ was often reduced to a summary that focused on the likes of the execution of Kevin Barry).

The centenary of the Manchester Martyrs saw various events organised. Known, by 1967, as the Manchester Martyrs and Easter Week Commemoration Committee, the main organisers announced a few weeks in advance that a ‘Manchester Martyrs Commemoration Week’ was to be held in Manchester from November 20th to 26th. This was to include a folk night in St Bernadette’s Hall, Princess Road, a play presented by the St. Brendan’s Irish Players in St. Brendan’s Irish Centre. City Road, Old Trafford, a High Mass in St. Patrick’s Church, Livesey Street on the actual anniversary (celebrated by the Bishop of Salford),  a dinner dance in St. Brendan’s Irish Centre, City Road with the Assarce Ceili Band and then a parade on the 26th from Bexlev Square past the place of execution to St. Patrick’s Church for 11.30 am Mass. The parade was then to reassemble at Ben Brierley, Moston at 3 p.m. and continue to Saint Joseph’s Cemetery, Moston, where an oration was to be given by Jimmy Steele, Belfast, and a decade of the Rosary in Irish. All Irish organisations in Manchester were requested to keep that week free of engagements to support the committee’s functions.

In Manchester itself the centenary was preceded by a dispute over the erection of a memorial plaque at the site of the execution. The memorial was proposed and sponsored by the Manchester branch of the Connolly Association rather than the official Manchester Martyrs Memorial committee. It was given planning permission but opposed by the Manchester police and the issue was not resolved prior to the centenary itself. The Connolly Association had offered to include the policeman’s name on the plaque (arguing that he too was equally a victim of British imperialism). But the left wing politics of the Connolly Association also brought it into conflict with the conservation Catholicism of the official Memorial committee.

At the end of the main commemoration on the 26th November, the Memorial committee chairman, Austin Fitzmaurice, was prompted by one of his committee to add some final comments. The first was that the commemoration was nothing to do with any other commemoration committee (clearly meaning the Connolly Association), the second was that ‘those present’ did not want Ireland freed with the help of Soviet Union and the last was “We are Catholics first and Irishmen afterwards.” (Irish Democrat, January 1968).

The Connolly Association plaque was put on display during the commemorations, though. The main gathering on the Sunday was attended by 3,000 people including 77 year old, Elizabeth Maher, a cousin of Michael Larkin, who had travelled from Dublin. Also in attendance were Tomas MacGiolla, President of Sinn Féin and Jimmy Steele, Chair of the Republican Clubs in the north, members of Fianna Éireann (whose Dublin branch organised Ms Maher’s travel and provided a colour party), Cumann na mBan, the Brian Boru Pipe Band and the Pre-Truce IRA Association.

At the main gathering in the cemetery in Moston, Jimmy Steele gave what the Connolly Association’s newspaper, The Irish Democrat, described as a ‘spirited oration’ in its December issue. In it he criticised the ‘New Departure’ of John Devoy and Michael Davitt, stating that “…it was always an error to become involved in political parties.” (Irish Democrat, December 1967). Devoy, who had later supported the Treaty and Cumann na nGaedhal, had pushed the IRB leader, Michael Davitt, into supporting Parnell and the constitutional nationalists sitting at Westminster in 1878. This was perceived as having weakened the IRB and directed energies towards four decades of an ineffectual ‘Home Rule’ campaign in Westminster (the culmination of its failures being the IRB’s response with the 1916 Rising).

The month previously, Dan Breen, the former IRA leader who had been a Fianna Fáil TD, led a commemoration and wreath laying at the John Devoy memorial in Kildare, alongside leading Fine Gael politicians. Notably, neither party appears to have been represented at the official Manchester commemoration. There is an interesting echo here of last year’s 1916 centenary and Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael’s embarrassingly strained emphasis on constitutionalists like John Redmond.

Steele might have intended his comments to be a commentary on the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael détente at Devoy’s memorial, or at least be read as such. But within the IRA and Sinn Féin, Cathal Goulding had been pushing for an end to abstentionism at Leinster House, Stormont and Westminster. This had been repeatedly defeated when put to a vote. While his strategy was being questioned, Goulding had increasingly been centralising control of both the IRA and Sinn Féin in himself and in its public voice, like The United Irishman newspaper. The Belfast IRA newspaper Tírghrá, edited by Steele, was starved of resources and effectively closed down by Goulding in 1965. In September 1968, Goulding was to dilute the ability of the IRA to oppose his attempts to end abstentionism by dramatically expanding the Army Council so that he could then install a majority of his supporters and force through changes (and, apparently, stall any Army Convention that might reverse the changes). This precipitated the crisis within the IRA that surfaced in the early summer of 1969, led by Steele. In that light, Steele’s comments in Manchester should be seen as commentary on Goulding’s aspirations to transform the IRA. The Manchester Martyr’s commemoration in 1967 should perhaps be regarded as an opening salvo in the dispute that was to split the IRA two years later.

For more on the Manchester Martyrs, see Joe O’Neill’s The Manchester Martyrs.