On Sunday 8th May, republicans from Tyrone and its Monaghan and Armagh hinterland gathered at the Drumfurrer Monument to IRA Volunteers Jim Lynagh and Padraig McKearney for a family-led Independent Commemoration. Monaghan ex-POW and member of the James Connolly Society Monaghan John Crawley gave the main oration. The following is the text of his speech.
Twenty-nine years ago today, eight IRA Volunteers were Killed in Action against British Crown Forces at Loughgall, Co. Armagh. The Monument where we are assembled at today was built in honour of two of them, who spent a lot of time in this particular area - Jim Lynagh and Padraig McKearney. We remember with pride their comrades who died beside them: Patrick Kelly, Declan Arthurs, Seamus Donnelly, Tony Gormley, Eugene Kelly and Gerard O’Callaghan.
I never had the privilege of meeting Padraig or the other lads but knew Jim quite well and had many conversations with him. Padraig from the Moy, County Tyrone, was a staunch republican socialist. He came from a family immersed in Irish republican activism. Both his grandfathers were on IRA Active Service during the Tan War. Padraig was one of 38 republican prisoners who escaped from the H-Blocks in September 1983. He immediately returned to IRA Active Service.
His family have paid a high price for their patriotism. His brother Sean was killed on Active Service in May 1974. His brother Tommy was on Hungerstrike for 53 days in Long Kesh in 1980. His brother Kevin and his uncle Jack were murdered by Loyalists. Padraig McKearney had an unrivalled reputation as a daring and courageous Volunteer.
Jim Lynagh from Monaghan Town was an outstanding Volunteer. His family also paid a heavy price for bearing courageous sons. His brother Colm served many years in Portlaoise Prison and his brother Michael, a member of the INLA, died tragically while in prison. Perceptive and astute, one of the many things that stood out about Jim was that he didn’t have the awe most Volunteers seem to have held for the IRA leadership at that time. Jim put nobody on a pedestal. While organisationally loyal and respecting some of them as individuals he clearly didn’t trust others and considered most to be militarily illiterate, lacking even the most basic technical and tactical competence and proficiency.
From his experience, successful IRA areas and operations were due far more to talented, capable and courageous local leaders and Volunteers - and their support base on the ground - rather than the result of any grand plan from on high. The Brits knew that too and their ‘Tasking and Coordination Groups’ studied carefully who their SAS ambush teams and Loyalist deathsquads should attempt to take out of the equation - and who to leave undisturbed to rise through the ranks.
An English historian gave a description of the Irish who fought against Britain during the American revolution in a manner that describes Jim and Padraig to a tee. They were, he said, ‘the foremost, the most irreconcilable, and the most determined to push the quarrel to the last extremity’. The Brits considered Padraig McKearney and Jim Lynagh dangerous adversaries. Brave and intelligent, they couldn’t be frightened and they couldn’t be bought. A bad combination.
Mourners were told by the Provisional leadership at Jim’s funeral that Loughgall would be the tombstone for British rule in Ireland. Twenty-nine years later the Brits are going nowhere and the same leadership now boast that they have buried the IRA. Nor do they miss an opportunity to declare that since the Good Friday Agreement Ireland unfree shall be at peace.
There is a contextual thread running through every British attempt at a settlement since at least the mid-19th century. In the summer of 1921, at the height of the Tan War, British Prime Minister Sir Lloyd George sent a telegram to the then Sinn Fein leadership seeking negotiations. This message was sent:
‘With a view to ascertaining how the association of Ireland with the community of nations known as the British Empire may be reconciled with Irish national aspirations.’
Reconciling Irish nationalism with the British state has dominated British strategic thinking since British Prime Minister William Gladstone first jettisoned the Liberal party’s hostility toward Irish Home Rule and embraced it as a buffer between Irish independence and British sovereignty.
The Fenian Rising in 1867 and their bombing campaign in London in the late 1860s had a profound effect on Gladstone. In his view the three grievances which flamed Fenianism were the established Protestant Church, the land system and direct English rule. When informed by a messenger in December 1868 that he had been charged with forming his first Cabinet he remarked, ‘my mission is to pacify Ireland’.
A major concern was that, largely as a result of the Famine, an Irish nation over a million strong now lived in America, hostile to England yet beyond the reach of British jurisdiction and reprisals. Worse yet, these Irish were experiencing life in a democracy within a republic and were prospering. Many now had money and resources denied to them at home and as a result of service in the American Civil War many thousands had first class military training and combat experience.
The British government came to the conclusion that the Irish people in Ireland itself had to be protected and insulated from what the London Times called, ‘the despicable ideas inspired by American democracy’. In addition, events within the UK, such as the 1867 Reform Act, doubled the electorate and the rising tide of democracy had to be manipulated and managed so as not to threaten the status quo.
Gladstone advised Queen Victoria that he intended to grant a series of limited concessions to Ireland in order to buy off any serious attempt at separation. He began by disestablishing the Church of Ireland as the official state church in 1869 and bringing in an essentially useless Land Act in 1870. During the 1880s he would, despite stiff opposition from English and Irish Unionists, come to support the idea of Irish Home Rule. All this not to satisfy Ireland but to pacify Ireland.
And so began British peace processing in Ireland, instigated to divert and deflect the Irish people away from the path to independence and onto ground Britain could manipulate and control. By the time of the Home Rule debates, Protestant privilege and influence in Ireland, which was based on land ownership, had diminished in most of Ireland, and a new Catholic middle class had grown in strength and influence. Some had done well out of the Famine.
Britain was intent on forming an alliance with the leadership of this emerging Catholic elite and were preparing to grant them a degree of local autonomy, making them their new partners and accomplices in managing and administering the occupation. Imperial Britain came to the conclusion long before Lenin that, ‘the best way to control the opposition is to lead it ourselves’.
The degree to which Britain succeeded in fostering a loyal nationalist opposition can be seen in John Redmond’s description of the 1916 Rising as treason against the Irish people and the Irish Parliamentary Party’s call for Irishmen to fight and die, not for Ireland, but for the British Empire in the belief that unity between Nationalists and Unionists could be fostered by bayonetting German boys in Flanders.
Incredibly, to this day some Nationalists still believe that alliances with Unionism should be nurtured through attendance at British army war memorial services and sentimentalising joint First World War service in the very army that executed the 1916 Leadership and continues to occupy our country. Apparently Wolfe Tone’s belief that Protestant and Catholic unity should come about through the forging of a common national citizenship free from England plays second fiddle to the idea of unity through celebrating joint debasement as levies and mercenaries for the enemy.
Depending on who was in power and other factors, British government policy in Ireland between 1868 and 1916 oscillated between periods of conciliation and coercion. What never changed was Britain’s determination that UK parliamentary sovereignty would never be trumped by Irish popular sovereignty. Every treaty and agreement up to and including the Good Friday Agreement would uphold the fundamental principal of UK parliamentary sovereignty and the primacy of British law.
The rule of law is central to British strategy. As such the issue of policing has been the cornerstone of their counter-insurgency architecture - a strategy designed to legitimise the British state in Ireland by conferring on Britain Irish assent to its presumption of democratic entitlement and its monopoly on the legitimate use of force. As Roger Casement said at his trial, ‘conquest gives no title’.
The 1916 rising threw a spanner into the Home Rule works and scuttled the loyal nationalist opposition Britain had been counting on to keep Ireland off the political radar. Subsequent events led to a British alliance with Ulster Unionism to retain what control they could in Ireland.
Britain, however, had no natural affinity with the Orange state beyond one of utility. The Brits have never demurred from negotiating over the heads of their allies in Ireland when it suited their interests. Tony Blair was quite happy to help dismantle the Orange state if by doing so the British state in Ireland could at last became politically viable. Of course the Unionists didn’t like it. But to equate Unionist discomfiture with impending victory is base sectarian reductionism.
The Proclamation of 1916, the 1918 election, the Declaration of Independence and the Democratic Programme of the First Dail were answered by the British in 1920 with the Government of Ireland Act. That Act was the British government’s formal legislative declaration that it rejected the concept of majority all-Ireland opinion and would refuse to recognise Ireland as one democratic unit. The Act, authored by an English Tory committee without the input of a single Irishman, partitioned Ireland into a 26-county Southern Ireland and a six-county Northern Ireland.
During the Civil War, former Republicans who accepted a settlement based on this Act were given British guns and artillery to destroy Republicans who didn’t. A small clique of IRA deserters, reinforced by a massive influx of demobilised British soldiers of Irish provenance, manned Free State firing squads as those Patriots who remained true to a republican definition of democracy were tied to landmines and placed against barracks walls.
As a result of the Good Friday Agreement, the British have annulled the 1920 Government of Ireland Act. There has been a deliberate and self-serving attempt at misdirection over the ending of this Act, the implication being that Britain has diluted its claim to sovereignty as part of some transitional progression toward disengagement. This is certainly not the case.
The UK government felt confident in doing so as a quid pro quo for the downgrading of Articles 2 and 3 of the 26-County Constitution from a constitutional imperative to a notional aspiration, because the Dublin Government and all Nationalist parties that support the Agreement have been co-opted to, and have formally endorsed and internalised, the British narrative and its interpretation of Ireland’s democratic limitations.
They have joined Britain as partners in declining to acknowledge Ireland as one democratic unit and have conceded that fact in an international agreement. They have legitimised the Unionist Veto to the point that some former comrades have now discovered that Irish Unionists are British. They have conferred the mantle of lawful authority upon Her Majesty’s Constabulary, the PSNI, who, like the RUC at 90 percent Protestant and the RIC at 80 percent Catholic, continue to stand in British armed opposition to the republican and democratic principles of the 1916 Proclamation.
Britain’s claim to sovereignty in Ireland resides in the 1801 Act of Union, which remains firmly on her statute books. The Union flag inspired by that Act, incorporating the Cross of St. Patrick, still flies on Irish soil. The Harp, as a national symbol of Ireland, still adorns the British Royal Standard and the United Kingdom’s Coat of Arms.
The Cross of St Patrick and the Harp are Irish national symbols and not six-county symbols. When Prince William married Kate Middleton he wore the uniform of the Irish Guards, not the Northern Irish Guards. It’s ironic that Irish republicans and the British establishment are more likely to take the long national view of Irish politics than Northern Unionists or Southern Partitionists.
Britain continues to hijack Irish national symbols in its political and military iconography and continues to work to deny Ireland a National Parliament. The Brits never take their eye off the ball and have formally and informally protested to the Dublin Government any proposal to provide elected Northern representatives speaking rights in Leinster House as outside the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
The UK government, with the enthusiastic support of many Free State TDs, will not countenance the Dail regaining any semblance of the genuinely national assembly it was between 1919 and 1922. One hundred years after the 1916 Proclamation Ireland still has no ‘National Government, representative of the whole people of Ireland and elected by the suffrages of all her men and women’.
With Unionists a clear majority in only two of Ireland’s thirty-two counties, Britain is looking at the demographics and planning for the future. A ‘new republicanism’ is being encouraged and nurtured in which the vision of a United Ireland, a 32-County national democracy, is replaced by an ‘Agreed Ireland’, where the British stay and the Irish agree to it. Under this ‘new republicanism’ we must no longer speak of breaking the British connection but of respecting the British connection as a gesture toward Unionism. It’s the ‘republican’ thing to do.
Republicans must dine with the British Queen and shake hands with the Colonel-in-Chief of the Parachute Regiment and honour British war dead in the name of reconciliation because reconciliation no longer means reconciling Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter to the idea of a united national citizenship but reconciling nationalists to the idea of the permanence of the British connection in some guise or other.
We must find a place for Britishness in an agreed Ireland. Perhaps an all-Ireland return to the British Commonwealth in return for some new all-Ireland institutions buttressed by some ad hoc all-Ireland police force? Of course, all-Ireland institutions are not always what they are cracked up to be. The famine workhouses were an all-Ireland institution and the Black and Tans were an all-Ireland police force. There is a crucial distinction between the concepts of United Ireland and All-Ireland. One is Irish Freedom, the other isn’t.
Under this scenario Irish Unionists are British because they choose to be so. Let us ignore the fact that Irish Unionists don’t live in Britain and rarely referred to themselves as British until after the first Home Rule crisis and especially after partition. They took pride in the Royal Irish Constabulary, the Royal Irish Regiments. In an Irishness that was subservient to British interests - the Royal Irish, the Loyal Irish.
Yet, clearly, their sense of Britishness was always conditional upon Britain maintaining Unionist supremacy. They were quite prepared to rebel against the British government if Britain enacted the Home Rule Act. It was the Unionist importation of German rifles and ammunition in the Larne gun running incident in 1914 that introduced the gun into 20th Century Irish politics. As late at the 1970s, Ian Paisley was advocating a Rhodesian-style ‘Unilateral Declaration of Independence’ if Irish Unity appeared a possibility.
What this political culture would not countenance was the 1916 Proclamation’s ideas of equality within the national democracy of a United Ireland. Although they had lived quite happily in a United Ireland under the British Crown for hundreds of years, they would never willingly do so under a democratic Irish Republic and Britain would ensure they wouldn’t have to.
Examine their symbolism. You won’t see a depiction of the British parliament at Westminster on an Orange banner, only the crown of the British monarchy - which is the feudal sponsor of the Protestant Ascendancy and sectarian supremacy. Why would we respect that crown? Now you can either buy into this nonsense and bluff the world that you are doing so from some higher humanitarian, intellectual and moral plane or you can wise up and have the courage to face the fact that decolonising mind sets is going to be one of the most difficult phases in building a national democracy.
There was no painless way to conquer Ireland and no painless way to reconquer it. When the Union is over the plantation is over. The fact is Unionists will be deeply hurt and demoralised by this. They won’t like it and they may not like it for generations to come, as was the case for Unionists in the Free State after the Treaty. That will be a major challenge for our republic to work through. But don’t blame Republicans for that. Britain engineered this mess. The process of genuine national reconciliation can only begin when Britain leaves Ireland and can no longer meddle in our internal affairs.
The American Loyalists who supported the British during the American revolution didn’t want an American republic. The Boers didn’t want a democratic South Africa. Israeli settlers don’t want a Palestinian state. The French Pied Noir settlers didn’t want an independent Algeria. The Confederacy didn’t want to let go of slavery. Ideologies and political cultures based on imperial conquest and colonial expropriation are, in the words of James Connolly, ‘crimes against human progress’. Sometimes for humanity to progress certain belief systems must be jettisoned and leave the historical stage. There is no gainsaying it.
Making Ireland British is an English project - keeping Ireland British can never be a republican one. The republican project is to end the British connection, not to respect it. Our concept of reconciliation lies in reconciling all Irishmen to the democratic ideal of equality and the republican concept of majority rule, tempered by a protection of minority rights. Rights as Irish citizens, not as wards of a foreign power. Republicans take a national view of the national question. Why do our enemies seem consistently surprised about that? What part of ‘national’ do they not understand?
Partition and the Good Friday Agreement are basically tribal settlements rooted in difference. Irish republicanism is inspired by a proposition. That proposition was enunciated by Wolfe Tone and further refined and articulated in the Proclamation of 1916 - the proposition that Britain can be dispensed with and Irishmen and women, of whatever persuasion and none, could forge a common national citizenship based upon democracy, equality and fraternity. That’s the vision. That is Irish republicanism.
Don’t allow the people who told you the path to Irish Freedom lay through conceding the Unionist Veto, reviving Stormont, endorsing Her Majesty’s constabulary as lawful authority and internalising British constitutional constraints such as the triple-locked border poll lure you into believing a so-called Agreed Ireland can attain some degree of moral ascendancy over the democratic and republican principles inherent in a United Ireland. Britain has no place in Ireland. Republicans must ensure that the fantasy of a permanent British redoubt imprinted with Irish democratic assent to its political or cultural legitimacy becomes British imperialism’s last dream before death.
When you cut to the chase a lot of this is coming from the Provisional ‘think-tank’, who are trying to redefine Irish republicanism and modify the concept of Irish Unity to conform to the limitations of its leadership and their inability to devise a strategy that would bring the republican project to a timely and successful conclusion. The think-tank should think again.
Leadership is not about demonstrating how many Jesuitical contortions a movement can be forced to make before it becomes permanently twisted. Leadership is based on trust. Trust that the ideology is correct and the vision based on that ideology is the right one and is believed by the leadership and not just spouted as a mobilising aspiration around which to build a political base that may one day service a political career. Trust that the vision will never be tempered or tailored or turned by fear of the consequences in pursing it or modified by personal ambition. Trust that the strategy driven by that vision will be pursued professionally and responsibly with due diligence and care to the people tasked with carrying it out. Trust that the commitment to Irish Freedom is not a perishable commodity.
Keep your passion for freedom alive. Don’t be demoralised by beaten dockets or the self-serving sophistry of careerists and carpetbaggers. Stay on a republican trajectory and do not be lured into a British orbit. Don’t worry if you don’t have the strategy worked out or all the answers just yet. Republicans have been through years of false trails and false prophets and are only lately picking up the pieces. It takes time to gain traction and to build an unstoppable momentum.
James Connolly wasn’t captured with a fully-costed programme for government in his back pocket. Sometimes you just have to do the right thing, regardless of whether you have accounted for the minutiae of every conceivable event and scenario. Keep it republican, keep it democratic and keep it socially just. Republicans are still working this through. In the meantime be certain that Britain’s busy bees are infiltrating every republican group in order steer them in the wrong direction - as they did so successfully with others.
Like James Connolly, Jim, Padraig, Patrick, Declan, Seamus, Tony, Eugene and Gerard went out to break the connection between this country and Britain and to establish an Irish Republic. They died at their posts. No-one is using this platform to ask you to kill or or be killed for Irish Freedom. Remain at your posts though. Don’t be seduced into servicing the lie. Don’t abandon the truth. The truth that, as James Connolly put it at his court martial one hundred years ago when he said:
‘The British Government has no right in Ireland, never had any right in Ireland, and never can have any right in Ireland.’
Do not join in the crime against human progress. Do not reconcile yourself to the British presence. Do not concede the political and moral legitimacy of the ‘differences carefully fostered by an alien government’. That is not the republican thing to do.
At this exact moment twenty nine years ago today Jim Lynagh, Padraig McKearney, Patrick Kelly, Declan Arthurs, Seamus Donnelly, Tony Gormley, Eugene Kelly, and Gerard O’Callaghan had only hours left to live. Lads, if you can hear us, thank you for your sacrifice. You never abandoned your post - and neither will we.