The National Question and the Class Struggle

Tonight The Pensive Quill features guest writer Sean Doyle who gave an address at the Newtown-mt-Kennedy 1798 memorial situated in Co Wicklow in commemoration of the INLA volunteer Michael Devine who died on the 1981 hunger strike

On behalf of The Regional Socialist Republican Unity Committee I welcome you all here today to The East Coast 1981 H-Block Hunger Strike Commemoration. Today we have come to this beautifully maintained 1798 memorial garden in Newtown-Mt-Kennedy, County Wicklow.

Wicklow was the last of the 32 counties founded in 1606 and Cromwellian soldiers settled there in 1650. Newtown-Mt-Kennedy was founded in 1668 after Newcastle was burnt down by Murtagh O’Toole from Kilcoole and granted to survivors by Alderman Kennedy a parliamentarian during the Cromwellian period. Old Norman names still survive in and around Newtown to this day Devereux, Ellis, Walsh, Nevin etc.

There were 14,000 paid up and sworn in United Irishmen in County Wicklow, 4,800 United Irishmen in Newcastle alone. It cost 3p for a pike head made by a local blacksmith and 3p for funding for movement a total of 6p.

The rebellion began on the 23rd Of May 1798. The signal for the rising was to hold up the Cork to Dublin road coach in County Kildare. County Wexford rebels failed to break out of Wexford due to losses at New Ross and previously Arklow. Newtown was chosen to spread rebellion towards Dublin. Rebel forces should have been greater other than skirmishes the evening before. Joseph Holt’s Roundwood men and the late arrival of Maguire’s men from Kilcoole due to militia blocking Kilcoole road. Rebel forces of 1000 men under Manram of The Downs and Michael Neill of Newcastle, British forces under Captain Burgany, Lieutenant Ferguson and Newtown Yeoman Calvary under Captain Archer and Newtown Infantry under Captain Gore.

The Battle Of Newtown commenced on the 30th of May 1798. Manram attacked from the northern end at 2am. Michael Neill attacked from the south and burnt stables at Barracks and freed United Irish prisoners. The British forces counter-attacked and set fire to the northern side of street to expel attack from the expected  Holt’s men. 30 rebels were killed in action but as they were pursued to Dunran Woods and Devil’s Glen up to 170 rebels were massacred and their bodies were dumped in to a sandpit between Warble Bank and Springfield which was the area used to billet officers.

Captain Burgany and 9 soldiers were killed, Captain Gore and Archer were wounded. Burgany was buried in Church Of Ireland graveyard in Newcastle. Michael Neill was arrested at home days after in Newcastle and dragged behind horses to Newtown Markethouse for torture and execution. Maguire and Manram received the same faith. I think it is only right and fitting that we remember these rebels today and plan to have their bodies exhumed and buried with the dignity they deserve.

Today we are paying tribute to the 10th of our courageous young freedom fighters Mickey Devine who died aged 27 on the 20th of August 1981 after 60 days on hunger strike. Because these young Irishmen would not concede that they and their comrades past, present and future would not relinquish Ireland’s right to fight for freedom deemed as a criminal act decreed by the Thatcher regime and by the silence of the 26 county government.

Today while honouring these 10 young hunger strikers we want to honour the 12 hunger strikers who sacrificed their lives for political status from 1917 to 1976 in England and the 32 counties, Volunteer Thomas Ashe died the 25th September 1917 in Mounjoy. He started hunger strike on the 20th September three days later attempting to force feed the tube punctured his lung. He died 2 days later in the Mater Hospital. Volunteer Michael Fitzgerald died Cork jail after 60 days on the 17th of October 1920.Volunteer Terence Mc Swiney died the 25th of October 1920. He was Lord Mayor of Cork and he died in England after 74 days. Volunteer Joseph Whitty died on  2nd  of August  1923 in the Curragh Concentration Camp, Volunteer Joseph Murphy died 25th of October 1923, the longest after 76 days. Volunteer Dennis Barry died 20th of November 1923 after 34 days in Newbridge Camp. Volunteer Andrew Sullivan died the 22nd of November 1923 after 40 days. Volunteer Tony Darcy died 16th of April 1940 in Dublin’s Saint Bricken’s Military Hospital after 55 days. Volunteer Sean Mc Neela died 19th April 1940 after 58 days Saint Bricken’s. Volunteer Sean Mc Caughey died 11th May 1946 after 23 days, Belfast, Volunteer. Michael Gaughan died 3rd of June 1974 died after a tube pierced a lung while force feed in England, Volunteer Frank Stagg died 12th February 1976 (Frank had been on 4 hunger strikes) Wakefield, England. The 26 county government had the Special Branch hijack his coffin at Shannon Airport and buried his coffin and poured concrete over it but his friends granted his last wish and removed his coffin and buried him beside his comrade Michael Gaughan.

(Reading Of The Roll Of Honour Of All 22).     

A beautiful monument commemorating all 22 hunger strikers was unveiled on the 15th of June 2008 in a memorial garden on Station Road, in Duleek, County Meath which is on one of the main routes to The Battle Of The Boyne.   

W.B. Yeats wrote “The King’s Threshold”:  King - 'He has chosen death refusing to eat or drink, that he may bring disgrace upon me. For there is a custom that if a man be wronged or think that he is wronged and starved upon another’s threshold till he die the common people for all time to come will raise a heavy cry against that threshold even though it be the King’s.'       

We have been raising a heavy cry against the threshold of the British government and since 1922 the 26 county government when the British government and Irish Nationalists entered in to partnership accepting their class interests were more important than their national differences. With British military hardware and support they initiated a vicious campaign against Socialist Republicans executions, internment and a criminalisation policy just as the British pursued in England and the 6 counties.  

If I can reflect for a moment Roger Casement was captured at McKenna’s Fort Ardfert, County Kerry on Good Friday, 21st of April 191,6 3 days before the 1916 Rising. He was transported to London to face the charge of treason in the High Court in London. Part of his speech from the Dock on the 29th of June, 1916 he argues that the British want thousands of Irishmen to fight in Flanders or Gallipoli and by doing so they are winning self government for Ireland. Casement continues but history is not so recorded in other lands.

In Ireland alone in this 20th century is loyalty held to be a crime? If loyalty be something less than love and more than law, then we have had enough of such loyalty for Ireland or Irishmen. If we are to be indicted as criminals, to be shot as murderers, to be imprisoned as convicts because our offence is that we love Ireland more than we value our lives, then I know not what virtue resides in any offer of self government held out to brave men on such terms. Self government is our right, a thing born in to us at birth, a thing no more to be doled out to us or withheld from us by another people then the right to life itself then the right to feel the sun or smell the flowers or to love our kind. It is only from the convict these things are withheld for crime committed and proven and Ireland that has wronged no man that has injured no land, that has sought no domination, over others-Ireland is treated today among the nations of the world as if she were a convicted criminal. 

If it be treason to fight against an unnatural fate as this, then I am proud to be a rebel, and shall cling to my “rebellion” with the last drop of my blood. If there be no right of rebellion against the state of things that no savage tribe would endure without resistance, then I am sure that it is better for man to fight and die without right than to live in such a state of right as this. Where all your rights become only an accumulated wrong, where men must beg with bated breath for leave to subsist in their own land, to think their own thoughts, to sing their own songs, to garner the fruits of their own labour-and even while they beg to see things withdrawn from them- then surely it is braver, a saner and truer thing, to be a rebel in act and deed, against such circumstances as these than tamely to accept it as a natural lot of men.

So the protracted campaign to criminalise our freedom struggle is relentless throughout our history. In 1976 the Thatcher government went on a crusade of torture and brutality to break the will of our freedom fighters which 10 young men laid down their lives resisting. But the British came up with another partnership in the guise of devolution and in turn switched their criminalisation from the H-Blocks to Maghaberry Gaol under this new partnership of devolution while in the 26 county 1922 partnership of British government and 26 county nationalists combining to stem the rightful rewards of Socialist Republicans realising a Socialist Republican state.

Today as in the aforementioned parties are been drawn in to the running of the British State’s devolution administration and of course the unionists still have a veto.    

James Connolly foresaw such sell-outs:

The governmental power of England over us must be destroyed, the bonds that bind us to her must be broken. Having learnt for history that all bourgeois revolution movements end in compromise that bourgeois of today become the conservatives of tomorrow.  Although a body aiming primarily at economic change at social revolution yet whenever a blow is to be struck for freedom national or social political or economic there you will find the socialist republicans ready and willing to fight. Our warfare against the domestic exploitation does not diminish our hatred of the foreign tyrant.  Ireland as distinct from her people is nothing to me and the man who is bubbling over with love and enthusiasm for Ireland, and can yet pass unmoved through our streets and witness all the wrong and the suffering, the shame and degradation brought upon the people of Ireland-aye, brought by Irishmen upon Irishmen and women, without burning to end it, is in my opinion, a fraud and a liar in his heart, no matter how he loves that combination of chemical elements he is pleased to call Ireland.   
It is time to raise our heads with focused determination in a unity of purpose to meet the challenges that confront us on a daily basis. To build an alliance and expose the myth of social justice in this country and the savage cuts portrayed by politicians and media as necessary steps to recovery. To where? So they can gamble and speculate and bleed us dry again. They must be stopped because the ECB/IMF will rob our semi state companies and our natural resources. They have already indebted our unborn 50,000 euro each. Water tax and household tax is imminent. It is time for revolutionary working class leadership on the streets. We must engender pride, purposeful meaning in pursuance of a society where people can freely and easily participate in social justice campaigns i.e. hospital closures, elderly neglect stripped of their dignity, special needs children denied a proper education, home help cuts, respite almost non-existent, backlog in operations due to time loss: some have and will die others will suffer irreversible damage due to delay. But they are still closing hospitals.   

Knowing some of these hunger strike martyrs personally I know they did not martyr themselves to change an orange state to a sectarian state or just to change masters. We must build an alliance of mutual respect, a higher order without egos or banners, a sanctum of thoughts and rejuvenation of re-appraisal and nurturing of spirit, clarity of thought and bonding of aspirations and break the back of native and foreign collaborators who are the real criminals.             

Maghaberry  Gaol  is still their criminal crusade and Brendan Lillis was their hostage until Thursday night when he was finally released. Thanks to his partner Roisin’s campaign Friends Of Brendan Lillis. She proved what one person with determination can build. How fortunate Brendan is to have her by his side. We wish them peace and serenity together at last. Roisin is continuing to campaign against injustice, internment and brutality. Such is the calibre of Roisin. Minister for Injustice David Ford considered Brendan a threat to security.    The real threat is in your exposure as directors and paymasters of criminal procedures of inhuman treatment and torture in breach of every convention. Because of your occupation and your habitual crimes committed in an attempt of containment you will never criminalise our right to resistance. We must seek only the alliance and friendship of those who hunger for justice and freedom and are resolute in their vision that nationalists and the British of whatever partnership will not succeed in their criminalisation and deny the socialist republican a second time their just rewards for almost  a century of betrayal a 32 county socialist republic.