The Free Online Irish History Magazine
Volume 3, Issue 2. April 2013
Articles - Reviews - Opinion - Diary - News
Witchcraft in Ireland: Gender & Socio-political Context
Rioting: Irish Workers in New Jersey construction Scolรกire Staire APRIL 2013
Nationalism: The Early Years of Cumann na mBan
Review: When Muhammad Ali came to Dublin 1
Vacancies at Scolรกire Staire and Irish History Review The following positions have been created due to the changing circumstances of our current editor. Producing Scolรกire Staire is a labour intensive job for one person to carry out alone. It is envisaged that the creation of these positions will allow history graduates to gain experience in areas like editing, desktop publishing, content management and online marketing. None of these positions are extremely demanding, and can be carried out to suit the schedules of the successful applicants. The formation of this editorial team will allow a group of talented young historians to gain experience in the world of digital media, create new contacts and add attractive skills to their CVs. All positions will be carried out remotely.
Editoral Assistants We require a number of editoral assistants to source contributions, edit and proof read submissions, plan upcoming editions in consultation with the editor, and assist with the production of the finished product. Sourcing images and carrying out other relevant tasks may also be required. Applicants should have a postgraduate qualification in history, an interest in digital media and be willing to offer innovative ideas on the future of the publication.
News Editor We are seeking a news editor who will collect relevant news and interesting developments in the world of history such as upcoming events, interesting publications, calls for papers etc. The news editor will prepare a quarterly bulletin of important news stories and contribute to updating our social media outlets. Applicants should have an undergraduate qualifiation in history or a related discipline.
Review Editor We require a review editor who will keep up to date with publications, liase with publishers and identify potential reviewers for books and other media related to Irish history. The review section of Scolรกire Staire has been growing since the publication first appeared and now makes up a major portion of the magazine. The web domain www.irishhistoryreview.com was recently acquired and the successful applicant will be tasked with helping develop a comprehensive website that will offer authoritative and up to date reviews of Irish history related material. Applicants should have a postgraduate qualification in history, an interest in digital media and be willing to offer innovative ideas on the future of the publication. To apply for any of these positions please email a CV and covering letter to email@example.com before midnight on 31 May 2013. 2
Scolรกire Staire APRIL 2013
Contents Volume 3, Issue 2, April 2013
4 Editorial 5 News 27 PhD Diary
30 Review Labour Party at 100, GPO Staff in 1916, Muhammed Ali in Dublin.
IN THIS ISSUE
Witchcraft : Gender, Power & the Devil
Robert Rock examines the cases of two women accused of witchcraft in sevent eenth century Ireland.
14 Labour: New Jersey Riots
Hugh O’Rourke investigates the role of Irish workers in workplace violence and
collective action in the mid 1800s.
22 Women: Cumann na mBan
Deirdre Rodgers looks at the origins and early years of Cumann na mBan and asks if the organisation was viewed as an auxilliary by its own members.
Interview: Ernie O’Malley’s Galway Veterans
interviews he edited along with Ernie’s son, Cormac O’Malley.
Cormac Ó Comhraí answers our questions about the new collection of Galway
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Editorial Moves are afoot to downgrade the teaching of history in schoolsi in the Republic of Ireland. The Minister for Education, Ruairi Quinn, has proposed that history (along with geography and a host of other subjects) will no longer be a core subjects in the Junior Certificate cycle. It will become one of a large bunch of subjects that will be optional in the new system. As Fintan O’Toole pointed out in the Irish Times recently, this is a golden age for history. The digitization of more and more sources and the availability of historical information at the touch of a button means that the subject could and should be revolutionised in Irish schools, not downgraded. The new plan for the school curriculum seems to borrow a lot from the British system, where ‘key skills’ are central to how courses are delivered. The ‘key skills’ system ensures that students gain skills like numeracy and literacy through all subjects. It is, in theory, a good idea, and one that is much needed in Irish schools. However, the subjects themselves should not be relegated in order for students to reach proficiency in these ‘key skills’. The history curriculum does need an overhaul, but dipping in and out of historical events, or concentrating on local history (as Quinn has suggested will be facilitated by the new system) will not result in students gaining a full knowledge of the subject. A properly designed course can link and present events (including local events) in their proper contexts and show how and why the world and our localities have changed over time. A history course fit for purpose is one that can help students gain key skills, but it is also one that is comprehensive and doesn’t rely on rote learning to get students through exams. Minister Quinn should reconsider this move to downgrade history. Now is the time to consult with historians and teachers in 4
order to build a curriculum that will serve our future generations well and ensure that the Irish love of history survives into the future. You can read more about the debate on the History Teachers Association of Ireland’s website www.htai.ie. *** It is almost two years since Scoláire Staire was founded and thanks to our readers and contributors we will continue to produce the magazine for as long as you support us. We hope to keep up the same level of professionalism and attention to detail over the coming years while also keeping things fresh and innovative. To that end, we are seeking help with the production of the magazine and other labour intensive aspects of keeping the show on the road. A number of positions will be created over the coming months in order to not only decrease the intensity of the present workload, but also to give valuable experience in online publishing to history graduates. If you are interested in taking up any of these voluntary positions please see the advert on page 2. In this issue we have articles on Irish witchcraft, industrial disputes and rioting in New Jersey, Muhammad Ali in Croke Park and much more for you to read about. As always, you can share Scoláire Staire with anyone and download or view our back issues on www.scolairestaire.com. Remember to keep up to date with us on Facebook and Twitter. Dr Adrian Grant Editor 11 Oakfield Court Buncrana Donegal firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @ScolaireStaire
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Loach to Film in Ireland Again Ken Loach, the director of the award winning film The Wind That Shakes the Barley has been scouting for filming locations in Leitrim recently with a view to making a new Irish film. Jimmy’s Dancehall will tell the life story of Jim Gralton, an Irish republican and socialist who was deported in 1933.
Gralton was deported because of his political beliefs by the Fianna Fáil government after a campaign by the local clergy. His story is the perfect prism through which to view the red scare of the time, the state of radical Irish politics and the linkages between church and state in relation to the suppression of political alternatives. It will be interesting to see how Loach approaches his subject matter, but perhaps it will be even more interesting to see if we get the same hand-wringng reaction that came from some quarters when The Wind That Shakes the Barley was released in 2006.
IESH Society Annual Conference: Call for Papers The annual confonference of the Irish Economic and Social History Society will take place at NUI Galway over the weekend of 22-23 November 2013. Plenary speaker (Connell Memorial Lecture): Prof. Cormac Ó Gráda. Papers on all aspects of the economic and social history of Ireland are welcome. Please send proposals for papers to: Niall Ó Ciosáin (email@example.com) or Caitriona Clear (firstname.lastname@example.org) Proposals should include an abstract of 100-250 words, a very brief CV and full contact details. Deadline for receipt of proposals: July 31st, 2013.
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History Festival of Ireland: 15-16 June 2013 Th History Festival of Ireland will take place again this year at Duckett’s Grove, Carlow over the weekend of 15-16 June. A great array of speakers have been lined up including Myles Dungan from the RTE History Show, Donal Fallon from the popular Come Here to Me blog, and our very own Shay Kinsella.
More details are available on the festival’s Facebook page, which is available here.
History Ireland Hedge School: “Too Many Histories?” Our friends at History Ireland are this year celebrating twenty years in business. As part of their celebrations they are organising a special hedge school in the the Royal College of Physicians, Kildare Street, Dublin on Thursday 16 May at 7pm. This will probably be a busy one so it’s advised that you reserve a place by emailing email@example.com. The contributors will be Prof. Joe Lee (New York University), Prof. Diarmaid Ferriter (UCD), Dr Eamon Phoenix (QUB) and Dr Mary Cullen (NUIM).
Scoláire Staire APRIL 2013
Call for articles, reviews, and other pieces Scoláire Staire special issue on the 1913 Lockout Scoláire Staire is planning a special issue to mark the 100th anniversary of the 1913 Lockout. We are looking for articles on any aspect of the Lockout, the conditions leading up to it, its aftermath and legacy, and pretty much anything else related to it. We are also seeking reviews of publications, events, exhibitions, tv and radio programmes, websites and other resources dedicated to the centenary. If you have any ideas for articles, reviews or other features don’t hesitate to get in contact with us here by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Forthcoming Labour History Events Mayday events covering labour history in this centenary year of the Lockout: May Day, 1 May, 8.30 pm, Glasshouse Hotel, SLIGO ‘The Great Sligo Dock Strike of 1913’, with two speakers: Brian Scanlon, Siptu activist; John Cunningham, ICHLC & NUIG May Day, 1 May, 8.15 pm, Wynn’s Hotel, DUBLIN ‘1913: Women & the Lockout’, with following speakers: Sarah-Anne Buckley (ICHLC & NUI Galway); Susan Fitzgerald (UNITE); Cllr Ruth Coppinger.
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GENDER, POWER AND THE DEVIL: WITCHCRAFT IN SEVENTEENTH CENTURY IRELAND
B Scenes such as that above, with women being burnt at the stake did not, as far as we know, take place in Ireland. Similar beliefs about witches did exist, however, in certain parts of the country. (Jupiterimages.com).
It would appear that Ireland escaped the witch hunts that were prevalent in early modern Europe. There were, however, a number of cases in which women were accused of bewitching individuals in Ireland. Robert Rock looks at the evidence and considers gender along with the social and political contexts of the time to explain these events. 8
etween 1660 and 1700, there were two major cases of Irish witchcraft; the trial and conviction of Florence Newton in 1661 and the murder of an unnamed witch in Antrim in 1698. The former has gained a small amount of historiographical attention while the latter is rarely touched upon. The case of Newton has been discussed in terms of gender, arguing that her sex was the principle factor that led to her presumed execution. This article aims to demonstrate that, although gender was certainly an issue, it was in fact the political context of post-Restoration Youghall that dictated the outcome of her trial. The supposed witch in Antrim was the victim of almost vigilante mob violence, and again, the Scolรกire Staire APRIL 2013
Witchcraft political and religious context of the last decade of the seventeenth century was a key factor that led to such action being taken. This article will provide a general narrative of the events that led to the death of these women, and aims to place these events in the overall context of what is commonly referred to as the ‘European Witch-Craze’.
Newton responded ‘thou hadst as good as given it me’, and left ‘grumbling’. A week after this event, Longdon was approached yet again by Newton, who ‘violently kist her on the face’ and ‘begged that she bare her no ill will’. About a month later, Longdon was stricken with fits and trances, the vomiting of pins, needles, horse nails, wool and straw.
During the period of intense witch-hunting in early modern Europe, an estimated total of 40, 000 individuals were executed, of which around eighty per cent were female. The Germanic countries accounting for just over half of the overall total, Scotland claiming around 2,500-3,00, England just under 500, and in Ireland – three. Historians have no solid proof that two of these actually occurred, while the third, Florence Newton, was presumably executed as the records state she was sentenced to death. The anonymous woman that was murdered in Antrim, therefore does not fall under the category of judicial execution. The witch-craze did not fully arrive in Ireland for reasons that are too numerous to discuss here, however it must be stressed that the belief in witchcraft was evident in areas of colonial settlement, which is where our narrative takes place.
Her fits were so severe that ‘three of four men could not hold her down’ and she would often see Newton while in her trances. These were all typical symptoms of demonic possession, and it was Florence Newton who became the chief suspect. While imprisoned at Youghall in April 1661, Newton allegedly bewit-ched one of her jailers, David Jones, to death by kissing his hand, for which she was removed to the Cork Assizes and sentenced to death. This case of witchcraft is very similar to trials that were taking place throughout early modern England, and Newton was subject to, what was essentially, the English criminal law.
Demonic possession During Christmas of 1660, Mary Longdon, a servant girl, was approached by Florence Newton in the house of John Pyne - Longdon’s employer. Newton asked for some beef from Longdon, who refused to offer the charity, to which Scoláire Staire APRIL 2013
Gender Many scholarly attempts have been made to better understand the early modern European witch-craze by using gender theory; studying the witch-hunt in a male against female paradigm to argue that the witch-hunt was, in actuality, a woman-hunt. In regards to Ireland, where archival materials are scant, this is extremely difficult to achieve. This being said, Mary McAuliffe has implemented such a theory for the trial of Newton. Her essay in Gender and Power in Irish
History is an attempt at proving the misogynistic tendencies of early modern Ireland, and in doing so, neglects to discuss the broader social and political contexts. McAuliffe’s main argument is the influence of the Malleus Maleficarum on the witch hunts; more recent historiography, however, would suggest that this text did not have as much influence over the witchcraft phenomenon as once believed. McAuliffe does take a step away from the ‘myth of the midwife-witch’, as she maintains that recent research has proved the contrary. McAuliffe’s argument concludes that ‘having women believe in witchcraft and in the susceptibility of themselves and other women to evil and diabolic persuasion, as well as positioning women as both victims and accusers in witch persecutions, points not to the absence of gender as a key category of analysis but rather to the success of the misogynistic rhetoric of witchcraft.’ Placing this trial against the backdrop of the social and political anxieties felt by all levels of Youghall society at this time is a much more revealing venture than simply suggesting that it was her sex that defined the verdict. The English Civil War of the 1640s and the Confederate Wars of the same decade had an adverse effect on the Irish population. In 1651, the Corporation of Youghall wrote to the Commissioners of County Cork, petitioning for relief in their monthly revenue owed. The petitioners describe Youghall as a ‘poor towne’, which has been stricken with the ‘late, great judgement of God [in the 9
form of a] great sickness which [caused] the wasting of many families and impoverishing of the inhabitants’. This petition suggests that in the years leading up to the proceedings of 1661 the town of Youghall, and its small population, were suffering the consequences of the previous decade’s controversial events. That same Corporation were made up of Godly families within the Youghall community, who had allied themselves with the Puritan, Cromwellian regime. During the Restoration, in which their own religious and political ideals were threatened, the appearance of a witch provided, what Andrew Sneddon describes as ‘an outlet and an explanation’ for their own political instability. It is also reported within the records left by the Corporation that, in 1653, a ‘Cage and a Cucking Stool be set up’. The cucking stool, or ducking stool, was an instrument used to punish the crime of scolding (see sidebar). D.E. Underdown argues that scolding was a by-product of the social and economic transformation and the decline in the habits of good neighbourhood and social harmony that accompanied the spread of capitalism. In other words, scolding was an attempt at breaking free of the subservient role that women held in the early modern period, as was, it has been argued, the crime of witchcraft. The erection of a ducking stool in Youghall is a very interesting development in the Council Book, as there was only one other ducking stool in Ireland at this time, in the County Down town of Comber. The 10
Scolding & the ducking (cucking) stool. Scolding was a crime associated with women, what could be considered in modern terms, verbal female bickering in public. It was perceived as offensive, in gendered terms, with women not conforming to the ideal social norm of being, for instance, a house wife. The ducking stool, or cucking stool, was a stool placed on the edge of a river/lake. The accused woman would be ducked in and out several times. We know that there were at least two erected in Ireland but there is little evidence to suggest that they were ever used.
Corporation, which may have noticed an increase of scolding within the town, ordered that the stool be established, which could also suggest that there was an increase, not only of female quarrelling, but of female criminality. The establishment of a ducking stool could add to the gendered interpretation. However, this suggested increase is the product of anxieties and tensions within the Youghall community, and not a direct attack on the female sex. The increase is significant, as it adds weight to the apparent appearance of a witch in the town. To simply attribute gender to an analysis of Florence Newton’s fate is a flawed endeavour. Admittedly, it is tempting to
do so, as Newton fell under the early modern stereotype of a witch, which was noted even by contemporaries. Her gender, age and social status are just a few of the factors that produced this case. That being said, however, the impoverishment of many of the families lower down the social scale due to a great sickness attributed to a judgement from God is an extremely striking feature of this incident, coupled with the palpable political tension among the authoritative figures of the small town brought about by the Restoration. Peter Elmer has shown that in times of political, social and religious upheaval, an accusation of witchcraft carried more plausibility, and would more than likely result in conviction or Scoláire Staire APRIL 2013
execution. These tensions, it has been shown, were clearly evident in the small port of Youghall, and it was these tensions that dictated the outcome of the trial, more so than an attempt by male authority figures to control the female gender. Similar tensions are evident in the town of Antrim at the end of the century, albeit they take part in a quite different narrative. Social context
punishment much more severe than what the law required. No public trial was seemingly held, the old woman in question was subject to a mob attack and subsequently murdered. This leads us to ask why this accusation was not brought towards a criminal court and what specifically prompted the local population to commit such a crime. From 1689-92, Ireland was the battleground for the Williamite Wars. James II, recently removed from the throne in 1688, sought support from
of a further Jacobite invasion. The Penal Laws were not just aimed at the Catholic population; they were passed in the interests of the Church of Ireland elite, alienating dissenting Protestants, including the Presbyterian population of Antrim. The effective pardon granted to those Catholics and further alienation of dissenting Protestants was nothing other than a betrayal in the minds of Presbyterians. Those figures in judicial authority embodied this betrayal. Although at first glance, the year 1698 does not suggest a period of noticeable unrest, it was in fact a time of distrust towards the ruling authorities. This situation can go some way towards explaining why the Antrim case was not reported to the authorities.
In the May of 1698, a nine year old girl ‘for beauty, education and birth inferior to none’, fell ill of a fever of convulsions and trembles and to ‘fall as one dead’. The cause of this illness was the eating of a Sorrel leaf, which was given to her by an old beggar woman after she provided her with bread. Several doctors were called to assist, however to no avail. The local minister was thusThe apprely consulted and a hensive social The above image is a woodcut depicting the execution of a number of women suspected of witchcraft in England. It includes a Justice of the Peace receiving charge of witchcraft context also his pay for finding the witches, a physician checking a pulse, and a person lookwas brought against added to the ing on in horror from a prison window. the old woman, as plausibility of it was noticed that the existence when she was near the young both the Catholic King Louis of a witch within the commugirl her conditioned worsened. XIV of France and the populanity, much like in Youghall Soon after the charge of witchtion of Ireland. The victory of earlier in the century. When craft, the girl began to display William III resulted in the Arthe old woman was eventually the symptoms of demonic ticles of Limerick and Galway, caught, she confessed to causpossession that were noticed in essentially granting a pardon ing the young girl’s possession, the case of Mary Longdon and to those Catholic men who as well as other instances of the vast majority of possession fought for James II in return witchcraft. This suggests that cases found on the British for an oath of allegiance to a this anonymous woman had an mainland. The accused witch Protestant Monarch. The first ill reputation for witchcraft – a was soon apprehended, conof the penal laws was passed key factor in the success of a fessed to ‘both this (and) other in 1695, outlawing gun ownconviction throughout early like Feats’ and finally given a ership for Catholics for fear modern Europe. Also, we are Scoláire Staire APRIL 2013
(Left): Another depiction of ‘ducking’ taking place in England.
Considering the role of a child was one of obedience within the family unit, a possession enabled a sense of dominion over those in authority, and the denunciation of others within the community as a witch was a form of great power that could potentially end in a successful conviction or an execution. Faking a possession was also relatively easy. Instances of possession were widely reported on throughout the early modern period – all a child had to do was simply learn the role. We know the child involved in the Antrim case was literate, ‘for education… inferior to none’; it is quite likely that she came across a pamphlet detailing a possession in Scotland, or even the famous Salem case. Simply learning the role of a possession victim was to gain retaliation against the old woman, who had previously made her ill, and who, importantly, in all likelihood had a reputation for witchcraft.
able to speculate on the social status of those involved. The accused witch was a ‘beggar’, meaning of the lower social orders, while her alleged victim was ‘of beauty, education and birth inferior to none’. A respected member of the community, her ordeal was thought so offensive, and justified the action that was taken. The timing of this occurrence is also important, as by the late seventeenth century, judiciaries and authorities were growing ever more sceptical of the existence of witchcraft – however this did not stop eight women being tried and convicted in Islandmagee for the posses12
sion of Mary Dunbar in 1711, Ireland’s only witch-hunt. This young girl in Antrim, just like Longdon, was possessed by demons. If we can agree that it is quite impossible for a demon or the devil himself to enter the human body, then it leaves us with only one explanation – she faked it. This was a common practice throughout the early modern period. The most famous case of demonic possession was in 1692, in a colonial town named Salem – the girls at the beginning of that episode also faked their illness. There were numerous reasons for faking a possession.
Inter-personal conflict, leading to the faking of a possession in order to secure retaliation, alongside the context of social unrest and suspicion of those in authority, coupled with the ill reputation of the accused and the status of the accuser within the community led to the episode of 1698. This case does not make it to any major histories; more research surrounding the relationship between the context of decline and the increase in demonic possession cases would be of much use in order to fully understand this example of Irish witchcraft. The young girl in question was a typical early modern demoniac, Scoláire Staire APRIL 2013
a case of this kind could be found throughout England and seventeenth century Scotland, therefore, it is interesting that it took place in a country that, according to early historiography, ‘escaped the craze’. Conclusion Gender is a useful category of historical analysis; it enables us to discuss individuals and groups who have hitherto been silent throughout the pages of history. To a certain extent, studying the period of intense witch-hunting in early modern Europe in a gendered perspective is revealing, however in some cases, articles focusing on gender tend to reveal more regarding their authors than of the period they are concerned with. The trial of Florence Newton is no exception. The social and political context of Restoration Youghall cannot be neglected in a discussion of her trial. This article has shown that her sex was not a defining issue, as previously argued. The social and political tensions surrounding her trial were of much more importance when the authorities sent her to the gallows. These were similar tensions to those that surrounded the case of the anonymous witch in Antrim thirty seven years later. The Presbyterian population felt betrayed by the actions of the Church of Ireland elite, thus they were untrustworthy of their judgement. The social status of both accuser and accused were also of importance in the justification of such actions. Both of the accused fitted the stereotype of the early modern witch. Their age, social status Scoláire Staire APRIL 2013
and gender aided the plausibility of the accusation. That being said, the circumstances that led to their executions revolved around various influences, and not just the gender of the individuals involved. Witch-hunting throughout the early modern period was sex related; it was not, as a certain amount of historiography, with a clear agenda, would suggest, sex specific. Further Reading P.C. Almond, Demonic Possession and Exorcism in Early Modern England: Contemporary Texts and their Cultural Contexts (Cambridge, 2004). P. Elmer, ‘Towards a Politics of Witchcraft in Early Modern England’. In S. Clark (ed.), Languages of Witchcraft: Narrative, Ideology and Meaning in Early Modern Culture (London, 2001), pp. 101-118. R. Gillespie, ‘Women and Crime in Seventeenth Century Ireland’ in M. McCurtain & M. O’Dowd, (eds), Women in Early Modern Ireland (Dublin, 1991). J. Glanvil, Saducismus Triumphatus: or Full and Plain Evidence Concerning Witches and Apparitions (Third Edition, London, 1689). B.P. Levack, The Witch-Hunt in Early Modern Europe (3rd Edition, Edinburgh, 2006). E. Mack, ‘The Malleus Maleficarum and King James: Defining Witchcraft’, Voces Novae: Chapman University Historical Review, Volume 1, No. 1 (2009) pp. 181-204.
M. McAuliffe, ‘Gender, History and Witchcraft in Early Modern Ireland: a Re-Reading of the Florence Newton Trial’ in M.G. Valiulis (ed.), Gender and Power in Irish History (Dublin, 2009), pp. 39-58. J. Sharpe, ‘Disruption in the Well-Ordered Household: Age, Authority and Possessed Young People’, in P. Griffiths, A. Fox and S. Hindle (eds), The Experience of Authority in Early Modern England (London, 1996), pp. 187-216. A. Sneddon, ‘Witchcraft Belief and Trials in Early Modern Ireland’, Irish Economic and Social History, Vol. 39 (2012), pp. 1-25. Robert Rock is currently researching or a PhD at the University of Hertfordshire, with the provisional title ‘Criminal Skill: Coining and Coiners during the Long Eighteenth Century’, a study of the act of counterfeiting the coin, with an emphasis on the reaction of the authorities and the perceptions held by the public. He hopes to return to a study of the impact of the witch-craze on early modern Ireland in due course.The article above is based on research carried out for the Masters of Research at the University of Ulster, under the supervision of Dr. Andrew Sneddon. The final thesis, titled ‘Wicked Practice and Sorcerye’: Witchcraft, Magic and Politics in Early Modern Ireland: 15631699’ was a study of the witchcraft beliefs in areas of colonial settlement on the island, mostly at times of political or social unrest. 13
Irish Rural Culture and the Bergen Hill Riots: Immigrant Workers and Industrial Protest in the Mid-1800s An Erie-Lackawanna map indicating the Bergen Hill area, a stereoview of an Erie steam locomotive from the 1850s, and a rock sample from the Bergen Tunnel excavation.
Irish immigrants played a major role in the development of American industry throughout the nineteenth century. Hugh Oâ€™Rourke examines the role Irish workers played in labour disputes and industrial riots in New Jersey in the middle of the century. 14
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n the middle of the nineteenth century, Irish immigrants to New York and beyond provided much of the labour for the large American construction projects of the era. The infrastructure building projects, which provided the country with its railroads, canals, roads, and aqueducts, were completed to a large extent by Irish workers. The history of these projects is filled with accounts of collective violence. Immigrant Irish workers were quick to resort to violence in a host of situations. An illustrative local case was the long series of riots that occurred during the building of the railroad and tunnel in Hudson County, New Jersey. The area under construction, now a part of Jersey City, was referred to as Bergen Hill. Many of the issues and problems present at other construction disorders were involved at Bergen Hill. Early Irish labour experience Irish immigrants in the 1800s arrived with few industrial skills. However, they were strong and willing workers. Without education or skills, most were absorbed into the construction industry, where over half the employees were foreign born and half of this number were from Ireland. Irish immigrant labourers were exploited by the construction industry that required their services. While Irish immigrant labourers recruited in gangs completed many of the large canal and railroad systems, the work sites were in rural locations, and frequent movement was often required ScolĂĄire Staire APRIL 2013
as sections of the work were completed. Most labourers lived in temporary housing without wives, families, friends, or the spiritual consolation of the clergy. Alcohol abuse, inadequate wages, and violence were constant features in the lives of the labourers. Other employment opportunities in major cities also tended to offer backbreaking labour at very low wages.
by agricultural violence and by faction fighting, which can in part be explained as recreational fighting. By the early nineteenth century, rural protests became a deep seated tradition in Ireland. Protestors created secret societies that included semi-military organisation, special dress, rituals, secret passwords, codes of behavior, and rituals of intimidation and punishment.
Although some labour historians view workers in the first half of the nineteenth century as belonging to a distinctive working class that was in conflict with capitalism, this position does not seem true in the case of the unskilled Famine immigrants. The early Famine immigrants had no history of industrial activity. English immigrants who were influenced by the Chartist movement that had started in Britain during the 1830s formed many of the earliest unions in New York. The unskilled and poverty-stricken Irish of the 1840s and 1850s were usually not prepared to organise unions until they began to gain a foothold in industry. The rioting, drinking, and interpersonal violence of the Irish canal and railroad labourers were not evidence of a class struggle. Rather than developing a distinctive working-class culture, as did other more skilled American labourers, the Irish working-class culture initially tended to reflect the agrarian Irish rural culture. This robust rural culture was highlighted by alcohol, vigorous play, and faction fights, which continued in their new surroundings.
In the United States in the mid-1800s, Irish immigrants were noted for their clannishness, which was a result of the disadvantages they had faced in Ireland. Antagonisms turned Irish loyalties inward and created an intense local patriotism that centered on regionalism, religion, and family ties. The English traveler Frederick Marryat, in notes taken during his trip to the United States in 1837 to 1838, commented on the Irish immigrants: â€˜It would be supposed that, having emigrated to America and obtained the rights of citizens, they would have amalgamated and fraternised to a certain degree with the people; but such is not the case; they hold themselves completely apart and distinct, living with their families in the same quarter of the city and adhering to their own manners and customs. They are just as little pleased with the institutions of the United States as they are with the government at home.â€™
Irish rural culture was marked
The Irish in the United States found that they faced injustices similar to those in Ireland. During the 1860s and 1870s, Irish labourers were in the process of organising a work15
John ‘Blackjack’ Kehoe, the Schuylkill County, PA delegate of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, also known as ‘The King of the Mollies’. Kehoe was executed in 1877.
ing-class subculture and were on the verge of establishing unions to represent their cause. However, many of their tactics had roots in Irish rural culture. Thus, the organisation of coal miners in the anthracite region of Pennsylvania used the faction-fighting and secret-society format that was familiar to the downtrodden Irish workers. When the coal miners were unable to achieve satisfactory representation by the fledgling Workingman’s Benevolent Association (WBA), founded in 1868, they reverted to the secret-society and faction-fight model. The Irish workers had the Ancient Order of Hibernians in their communities. The AOH provided an organisation for a primitive union that would be used to formulate attacks against the mine operators. The workers adopted the name “Molly Maguires” to safeguard the WBA and the AOH. (The Molly Maguires were a secret faction in Ireland that attacked its enemies during agrarian strife.) The Molly Maguires used a style of agrarian violence that originated in north central 16
Ireland between 1760 and 1850. Employing ‘retributive justice’, the Irish struck back at their oppressors in rural Ireland and in industrial America. In Ireland, landlords, their agents, policemen, magistrates, and other farmers were subject to assault, arson attacks, cattle maiming, and murder. Many of the same tactics were used in Pennsylvania against mine owners, policemen, municipal officials, and mine superintendents. The Molly Maguires also found that their enemies appeared to be the same English and Protestant antagonists who caused them so many problems in Ireland. Charles Tilly classified collective violence as primitive, reactionary, or modern. Primitive violence is most often associated with local people dissociated from a central power. The violence is usually directed against members of rival groups and includes feuds, brawls, and religious rivalries. However, the notion of traditional enemies can be only a pretext for the collective violence. Much of this violence is for ‘the fun of it’, or recreational, and is often present at fairs, funerals, feasts, and other events that bring together local antagonists. It also serves to reinforce group solidarity. Primitive violence is usually nonpolitical and intensely local in objectives and motives. Recreational battling can be considered as a form of team sports in an era before organised athletics. Membership in the group could achieve the goals of physical activity, danger, and excitement.
While looking for deeper meaning for human activities, more obvious explanations may be the most persuasive. Conley explained faction fighting as a response to the monotony of rural Irish life. As the legal system tended to turn a blind eye to the activities of the Irish peasantry, faction fighting and recreational brawling flourished. Conley would generally be in agreement with Jack Katz, who examined the relationship between fun, pleasure, and criminal activity. Katz uses the term seductions of crime to describe the situational inducements that lead to violence. Fighting is exciting and fulfills personal needs. Rural Irish peasants, without exciting recreational outlets such as sports, used collective violence as a socially sanctioned recreational source. In contrast to primitive violence, reactionary collective violence involves small groups in conflict with representatives of the powerful. Anti-conscription, anti-tax, anti-land enclosure movements, and Luddite actions are a few of the reactionary and backward-looking forms of violence associated with people attempting to hold onto rights that they fear are in jeopardy. Reactionary collective violence is often directed against the central power or the elites in society. It is political in the broad sense in that it attempts to influence powerful elements in society to allow the less powerful to continue in their traditional manner without interference. Nineteenth-century Ireland experienced a great deal of agrarian violence that was based on Scoláire Staire APRIL 2013
Right: The New York Times for 16 February 1857 reported an ‘Irish riot’ beween factions at the Bergen Tunnel worksite where, according to the newspaper, ‘Whiskey flowed freely…and a “ruction” was soon raised’.
attempts to regain or control land as a matter of rights or tradition. Modern collective violence is usually the most well organised and has the most obvious political or economic purposes. Modern collective violence involves strikes and political demonstrations, which attempt to achieve new rights or powers. Labour issues, temperance, and suffrage movements are typical causes that have resulted in modern collective violence. Many of these demonstrations are mainly shows of force, but they can result in violence, especially when governmental authorities overreact to them. Criticisms of immigrant violence The Irish Emigrant’s Guide for the United States, first published in 1849, was an early guide for Irish immigrants. Rev. John O’Hanlon, a pre-Famine immigrant, wrote it as a handbook for the tens of thousands who were fleeing Ireland. Rev. O’Hanlon instructed the immigrant on practical issues such as travel arrangements and employment opportunities. He advised readers to avoid public-works projects and warned them not to involve themselves in factional fighting with men from other parts of Ireland. Apparently, Rev. O’Hanlon had become familiar with a great deal of this behavior in his years in the United States. He cautioned immigrants to avoid associating with provincial factions and to avoid strong alcohol, which led to violence. He was Scoláire Staire APRIL 2013
aware of the rivalry that was associated with immigrants from the various provinces and counties, and of the resultant mindless violence. The editor of the Irish American, P. Lynch, was ever the supporter of the Famine immigrants’ cause. In 1850, Joseph Brennan, a correspondent for the Nation in Dublin, wrote an article criticizing the behavior of the newly arrived immigrants and their quick resort to violence as a problem-solving technique. Brennan stated that he assumed that the Irish immigrants would have left behind their age old antagonisms and would have improved their behavior as they no longer faced the same stresses. However, he found that ‘religious bigotry and party feuds have crossed the Atlantic with our people. Our nature has not changed with the clime. We are the same under the “star-spangled banner” as under the “union jack”.’ In answering Brennan, Lynch attempted to explain the behavior of the new immigrants: ‘We do not possess that “adaptability” which Thierry attributes to the Danes. We everywhere retain our characteristic manners, virtues, and I regret to add, vices’. The New York press was filled with accounts of strange fights involving the immigrants. Fights could occur over trivial disputes. The New York Times on 27 September 1853 reported a Brooklyn fight between a gang of Irish labourers over who was the best street paver. Andrew Leary O’Brien left one of the few immigrant journals
from the pre-Famine immigration era. O’Brien was the son of a wealthy farmer in Moileragh, Kanturk, County Cork. He was well educated, and his ambition was to be ordained a Catholic priest. He emigrated in 1837 and enrolled in Chambly College, a seminary near Montreal. However, he did not complete his studies, and he began traveling around the United States. He proved to be a competent mason and found work on the many construction projects then under way. 17
In his journal, O’Brien discussed working on a canal project near Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in May 1838. He worked for a masonry contractor in a crew of fellow immigrants from Cork. O’Brien described the deadly rivalry between the Irish workers, who were divided into factions based on geographical regions. Ireland was, of course, divided into four provinces - Ulster, Munster, Leinster, and Connaught - and was further divided into thirty two counties. Workers tended to associate with individuals from their native county or province. Recurring battles occurred between immigrant factions from these various regions. This fact was well known to the contractors, who usually hired entire crews from one of the factions to avoid violence. In his journal, O’Brien described the hatred between ‘Fardowns’ and ‘Corkonians’ on his construction project. Corkonians were immigrants from Cork. O’Brien incorrectly identified Fardowns as immigrants from County Kerry and other counties in the southern part of Ireland. In fact, the term Fardown, from the Irish fear donn (“dark man”), was used to refer to persons from the northern counties of Ulster. It is apparent that the animosities between the two groups were so great that O’Brien had little contact with Fardowns. O’Brien was candid in admitting that ‘the cause of this [hatred] I could not satisfactorily discover. I never knew or heard of it till I got on the canal. One of the opposite party dare not 18
seek employment on a contract where the other party were in employ’. O’Brien described instances where one faction would attack a worker from another faction and kill him without any cause, other than that he was a member of an opposing faction. These attacks were daily occurrences, and the huts and tents of the workers required an armed watch at night to prevent attack. The large number of single men on the site and the availability of alcohol, which was dispensed by the contractor, exacerbated the problems. Violence against labourers from other regions was common in rural Ireland. Spalpeens, which is what wandering labourers were called, often faced violence when they arrived in an area at harvest time. The local labouring population greatly resented the competition, and these seasonal labourers were often attacked. O’Brien left the canal job after five months. He believed that the violence was the result of the Irish labourers themselves. He intended to ‘never more live where I would be obligated to deal so largely with the lower class of the Irish in this country on public works, where liquor could be had by them at command for I take it, this is their ruin, this is the cause of all their misfortunate proceedings’. Bergen Hill violence in the faction fighting tradtion A series of riots occurred be-
tween factions of Irish workers at the Bergen Hill railroad project. The project was undertaken by the Long Dock Company in 1856 and was completed in 1861. The work was the most extensive tunnel undertaking of the time. The tunnel was 4,300 feet long and passed through solid rock. A riot between two factions
The Bergen Tunnel, N.J. East, c1890. Courtesy of the Library of Congress
of labourers on Saturday, 14 February 1857, resulted in one death and several serious injuries. At the time, the workers were constructing track about two miles from Hoboken, New Jersey. The violence started in the afternoon of the monthly payday. The twelve hundred Irish workers were reportedly drinking and celebrating payday. Corkonian and Connaught factions began fighting, and the disorders spread to shanties surrounding the work site. The factions were armed with pistols, rifles, and a variety of crude weapons. Faction fighters entered the shanties of Scoláire Staire APRIL 2013
the opposing faction and beat men, women, and children. Several shanties were burned or pulled to the ground. The sheriff of Hudson County, Henry B. Beatty, responded but he was unable to restore order. Militia units from Hoboken, Jersey City, and Bergen were called to assist the sheriff. Forty-five arrests were made.
drive off the Corkonians. The battle raged from about 1 P.M. to midnight. The New York Times suggested that the riot would have been worse if half of the workers had not been at work in the tunnel. The contractor prevented those at work from entering the affray by drawing up ladders and keeping them in the tunnel. Sporadic violence continued among the tunnel workers. Some months after the Bergen Hill riot, on Sunday, 16 August 1857, a large party of intoxicated Irish workers began fighting in Jersey City. The police attempted to stop the battle, but were attacked when the Irish united and turned on them. The police made two arrests. Bergen Hill violence and industrial struggle
Eventually, the riot died out, and the sheriff and militia took control. The next day, Sunday, found several thousand visitors to the area who expected to witness another battle. They were not disappointed. An issue in the conflict was the location of shanties. The Corkonians and the Connaught factions had their temporary dwellings in separate locations. The Corkonians encroached on the Connaught area, and after a period of postpayday drinking early on Sunday, the Connaught men attacked and attempted to Scoláire Staire APRIL 2013
The panic of 1857 caused financial difficulties for the contractor supervising the tunnel project. Monday, 14 September, was payday for the twelve hundred tunnel workers. Unfortunately, due to the financial disorders in the money markets, the contractor was able to raise only $35,000. In addition, the disputes between the Corkonians and Connaught factions continued, and threats of renewed violence were real. The mayor of Hudson City (later part of Jersey City) met with the contractor and a Catholic priest in an attempt to prevent violence. The president of the New York and Erie Railroad Companies also addressed the workers and explained the problems in the money markets. Drinking by the unemployed workers exacerbated the problem. The New
York Times suggested that ‘if liquor could be kept away from them, there is little fear of any outbreak occurring’. The financial problems in the United States increased and prevented the adequate financing of the Bergen Hill tunnel. Work was suspended on the project in late September when the contractor could not pay his employees. After having missed a month’s wages, more than four hundred of the workers gathered to tear up the railroad tracks of the main line. The treasurer of Hudson City, Jacob Miller, addressed the crowd and promised to help them get their back pay, which amounted to about $15,000. With that pledge, the workers left the area. Some of the workers left the project and found work elsewhere. The Brooklyn Water Works was at the time constructing the Ridgewood Reservoir. The workers were Irish, and a riot broke out when the company hired some of the labourers from the troubled Bergen Hill Tunnel. The New York Times reported that the project manager hired Fardowns from the tunnel project. The Times may have been inaccurate, however, as the Fardown faction had not been mentioned in the previous Bergen Hill Tunnel riots. The labourers then working on the project objected to the new faction and drove them off the site. Although the panic of 1857 caused widespread unemployment and economic hardships, the financing of the Bergen Hill tunnel was at least tem19
On 19 September 1859, the New York Times reported the use of militia and the police against rioters at Bergen Hill, with no mention of factions. Following a large number of arrests, barricaded tracks were cleared and, the paper stated, order was restored.
porarily secure. However, the project again ran out of funds in September 1859. When the workers were not paid their wages on 15 September, they struck for one month’s back wages and refused to work until they were paid. The new contractor, A. B. Seymour, promised that they would be paid at the beginning of the next month. An arrangement with Robert H. Berdell, vice president of the Long Dock Company, provided the contractor with $5,400, which was to be used only for the payment of wages. However, the contractor did not use it to pay the workers. 20
With that, the workers broke out into a riot and blocked the tracks. Some of the workers were satisfied with a vague promise of a month’s wage to be paid on 1 October and wanted to resume working. Others were not satisfied and prevented them from returning to the project. A large party of workers blocked the tracks of the Northern and Erie Railroads for three days and prevented trains from passing their barricade. Again, the militia units of Hudson County were called up to deal with the workers. However, Sheriff Beatty of Hudson County could not be found, and without a direct request from him, Colonel Gregory would not leave the armory. Many of the militia members appear to have been less than enthusiastic to act against the strikers. Although the call for the militia was made shortly after the noontime strike, the militia was still not assembled as late as 10 P.M. Eventually only 150 members of the six militia units responded.
The public and the local governmental officials appeared to have sympathy for the workers. The disappearance of Sheriff Beatty may have been an attempt to avoid acting against the strikers. The project at this time employed a thousand men. The work was characterised as ‘of the labourious and exhausting character …performed underground and when the workers emerge from the different shafts, appear like the labourers in collieries in England coming out of the mines’. The workers were paid one dollar a day. If the workers missed any time at work or if the contractor could not pay them, the workers had little reserve to fall back on for relief. This inadequate wage was common for unskilled Irish immigrant labour. The great numbers of immigrants pouring into New York City depressed the wages of both skilled and unskilled labour. The New York Times reported that it would require an annual wage of $600 for a family of four to live moderately in New York City. However, few workers could earn the $11.54 weekly wage that would provide this moderate level of comfort. Most labourers and factory workers in New York City earned less than $5 a week, and few worked without periods of unemployment during the year. Newspaper accounts reported other injustices that the workers endured. The contractor established a company store where the workers bought their food and paid for it through a Scoláire Staire APRIL 2013
stoppage of wages. The workers complained of poor quality and exorbitant prices. Another problem was the payment of liquor bills out of wages. The boardinghouse keepers provided alcohol to their tenants, payment for which was deducted from the tenants’ monthly wages. This practice was stopped by the contractor, who blamed the poverty of the workers on their abuse of alcohol. The workers, liquor dealers, and boardinghouse operators opposed this action. The problem of the company store and the sale of alcohol to the labourers by contractors was widespread. Unscrupulous contractors provided food and supplies at isolated camps at exorbitant prices. Wages were then paid in goods and in alcohol, which were quickly consumed. A committee of prominent citizens assembled in Hoboken and adopted a resolution that was supportive of the Bergen Hill strikers. None of the names of committee members appeared to be Irish. The plight of the workers had struck a chord among some of the prominent, non-Irish community leaders. Mayor Collard of Hudson City, which with Bergen Hill was incorporated into Jersey City in 1870; various government and railroad officials; a Catholic priest, Rev. Vanetta; and local police officers went to the barricades and unsuccessfully attempted to get the workers to desist. The mayor read the riot act, but the workers shouted him down. Eventually, the militia moved against the striking rioters, and after a brief battle, they arrested 45 strikers. Scoláire Staire APRIL 2013
Further arrests increased the total to 72. Most were arrested on little evidence, and 39 were quickly dismissed in court. No mention is made of factionalism among the workers. Corkonian, Fardown, and Connaught rivalries were now less relevant, as the industrializing Irish immigrants were confronting a new reality, that of exploited labourers. Casting aside regional differences, the traditional violent response formerly used against agricultural opponents was now the choice of behavior against industrial employers. The Irish immigrant of the period initially acted according to a cultural tradition that accepted collective violence as both a problem solving technique and a recreational activity. Collective violence in New York City and the surrounding counties was a continuation of traditional behaviors that were common in pre-Famine Ireland. As the Irish immigrants and their American-born offspring adjusted to life in the city and to the requirements necessary for success in an industrial setting, their traditional behaviors changed. They dropped or modified those behaviors, including recreational rioting, that were incompatible with life in an industrial society. However, some traces of the tradition would continue when confronting modern opponents in the industrial world of the United States. Further reading R. Ernst, Immigrant Life in New York City, 1825–1863 (Syracuse, 1994).
P. Way, ‘Evil Humors and Ardent Spirits: The Rough Culture of Canal Construction Laborers.’ Journal of American History, Vol. 79, No. 4 (1993). S. Clark and J.S. Donnelly, Jr., Irish Peasant Violence and Political Unrest: 1780–1914. (Madison, 1986). F. Marryat, A Diary in America with Remarks on its Institutions (New York, 1962). Charles Tilly, ‘Collective Violence in European Perspective’, in H. D. Graham & T. R. Gurr (eds), Violence in America: Historical and Comparative Perspectives (New York, 1969). M. Feldberg, The Turbulent Era: Riot and Disorder in Jacksonian America (New York, 1980). C. Conley, ‘The Agreeable Recreation of Fighting’, Journal of Social History, Vol. 33, No. 1 (1999). Edward J. Maguire, Reverend John O’Hanlon’s The Irish Emigrant’s Guide for the United States: A Critical Edition with Introduction and Commentary. (New York, 1976). Dr. Hugh O’Rourke is Chair of the Criminal Justice Program at Westchester Community College. A retired New York City Police Captain, he is a Roundtable member and frequently invited speaker on the history of the Irish in the New York area. A version of this article was originally published in New York Irish History, Vol. 14 (2000). 21
Cumann na mBan: From Subordination to Independence Cumann na mBan played a major role in the Irish fight for independence. However, its relationship with the male only Irish Volunteers would appear to place nationalist women in a subordinate position. Deirdre Rodgers examines the position of Cumann na mBan and the tinking of its leading members in the early years of the group’s existence. ‘We women are not politicians’
hese words spoken by Agnes O Farrelly in 1914 in her inaugural address to Cumann na mBan form just part of a speech which would both bring to life an active role for women in the fight for Irish independence while simultaneously limiting this role to an auxiliary status. Cementing the gender roles already in place at the time, it was a perception which would be challenged and ultimately overcome by the women who formed part of Cumann na mBan during the years 1914-18. Although the 22
rhetoric of the organisation would be much changed by the time of the Cumann na mBan convention in 1918, such a view of the organisation is an invaluable indicator of the early self perceptions of Cumann na mBan. Born in 1874, O Farrelly was 40 years of age when she addressed the crowd of nationalist men and women who had come to witness the establishment of Cumann na mBan at Wynn’s Hotel, Dublin on 5 April 1914. Given the conservative nature of her speech, and the limited role it
envisaged for women in Irish society, it is surprising to note that O Farrelly herself held a masters degree and would later be appointed professor of modern Irish in UCD in 1932. She would also hold the position as president of the Irish Federation of University Women from 1937-1939. Indeed her speech refers to ‘the liberty of the women of Ireland’, yet when subjected to greater study it seems to hint at nothing more than the protection of the domestic sphere and the freedom of the men of Ireland. O Farrelly’s organisaScoláire Staire APRIL 2013
Women tion was one which would ‘take no part in sectional politics’ and which had no claim to ‘undertake physically and directly the defence of the nation except in the last extremity’. Instead she explicitly limits the role of the organisation to an auxiliary status which would commit itself solely ‘to arm and equip our national volunteers’. The liberty of women is linked to the ‘liberty of the home’ and it is this liberty that Cumann na mBan would strive to protect through supporting the Irish Volunteers. Farrelly encourages the women by saying ‘each rifle we put in their hands will represent to us a bolt fastened behind the door of some Irish home…Each cartridge will be a watchdog to fight for the sanctity of the hearth’. Her paradoxical language seems almost to speak of a liberty to remain un-free, a liberty to protect women’s inferior status within the domestic sphere. Adhering scrupulously to the gender rules of early 20th century Ireland, it is hard to imagine O Farrelly’s speech capable of causing any degree of controversy. However this was most probably the case. Strongly defending the role her organisation was about to undertake, O Farrelly speaks of those who may think it is ‘not the business of women to interfere’. Farrelly speaks not of the equal claim of women to an independent Ireland but rather of an affinity with the men of Ireland who have been subjected to ‘enslavement’. Their discontent stems from the discontent of their men. Farrelly goes on to ask ‘is the independence of the men of Ireland of no consequence to Scoláire Staire APRIL 2013
those who share their hearths and homes?’ Despite any mild assertion of female rights, Farrelly’s speech still explicitly renders Cumann na mBan subordinate to the male Volunteers in 1914. The use of words like ‘homage’, in relation to these men, suggests nothing less than a blind devotion and implies the inferiority of the female contribution to nationalist struggle. The women of Limerick, whose armed struggle is justifiable only in the ‘last extremity and in the direct stress of war’, are mentioned briefly, yet the focus remains throughout on the ‘men who have given up the best years of their life to the fight initiated by Moore and Butt and Parnell’. The rationality of this enduring male sacrifice is juxtaposed with the transient ‘spirit which animated the women of Limerick’. Not content with merely limiting the female role from the outset, Farrelly sees it as a role which, by its very nature, will not deserve to be remembered in the same light as the role of the volunteers. The notion of women ‘clamouring to be allowed to take a share in the long drawn out struggle for liberty’ underpins this view and negates any challenge the speech may represent in terms of feminism.
mBan it is necessary to contextualise in terms of what was happening in Ireland at the time of their inception and more particularly what was happening within the ranks of the Irish Volunteers. The Irish Volunteers had been set up in 1913 in reaction to the establishment of a Unionist force in Belfast known as the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF). The UVF was formed to protect Ulster from the ever looming threat of Home Rule and the Volunteers were the nationalists’ answer to this mobilisation. Just as Eoin Mac Neill had encouraged the organisation of this reactionary force, he too encouraged their female counterparts to rally themselves just ‘as the Ulster Women’s Council was organised to help the Ulster Volunteers’.
Nancy O Rahilly
When speaking of the establishment of Cumann na 23
Centre: Mary MacSwiney. Left: Agnes O Farrelly (ucd.ie)
His suggestion echoes strongly of Farrelly’s speech in which she refers to the women being ‘allowed’ to take part in the struggle for independence or to the women’s ‘fear to hamper’ whilst being ‘anxious to help’. It would seem therefore that not only was the organisation established in reaction to the founding of the Volunteers but was in fact set up in response to the suggestion of Volunteer leader Eoin Mac Neill, with the Volunteer’s manifesto speaking of there being ‘work for women to do’. Despite this manifesto and despite the opinion of those such as Mac Neill and Cork Volunteer leader Patrick Higgins who stated that ‘women were a big factor in influencing the slow swing over of national opinion to the volunteers’, there yet remained those who disagreed with the fundamental notion of an active female role in the nationalist question. However as much as there were those, both male and female, who disagreed even with the rather limited and domestic role set out by Farrelly in her inaugural speech, there were also those women who sought a much more active role in the struggle for independence and whose voices would ultimately be heard. Women who saw the role of 24
Cumann na mBan as set out by O Farrelly as extremely limited and almost insulting, faced a difficult predicament in 1914. Would they join the organisation and compromise their beliefs, in the hope that independence would bring them equality, or would they remain outside the organisation despite their nationalist sympathies? One woman, Aine O Rahilly, attending the meeting recalls how she was ‘disgusted’ at the suggestion by Agnes O Farrelly that they should ‘start making puttees for the Volunteers’. Farrelly was just one amongst many who envisaged a traditional role for female nationalists. A piece appearing in the Irish Volunteer on 4 April 1914, the day before the inaugural meeting, seems almost to anticipate her speech: ‘Almost every town has its technical classes and girls have good opportunities of learning designing, drawing etc. They will have a good chance at putting their knowledge to practical use now in the making of flags for the Volunteers. To a patriotic Irishwoman could there be any work of more intense delight than that?’ Despite this, women like O Rahilly were to join the organisation and would form just some of the competing views which struggled against each other to project their idea of female nationalism in the years to come. Among the more ‘feminist-minded membership’ were women like Mary MacSwiney, Mary Hayden and Mary Colum. Despite being a feminist, Colum was an ardent defender of the organisation
from the beginning. Writing in the September 1914 edition of the IRB newspaper, Irish Freedom, in reaction to feminist criticism, Colum interestingly described Cumann na mBan as ‘not the auxiliaries or the handmaidens or the camp followers of the Volunteers’.
She boldly goes on to state ‘we are their allies’. Nancy-Wyse Power, another well known member of Cumann na mBan, was in line with this view of the organisation when she later wrote ‘the promoters may have had in mind an auxiliary association of women acting under the general instructions of the Volunteer executive but the organisation immediately declared itself to be an independent organisation of women determined to make its own deciScoláire Staire APRIL 2013
sions’. The views of Colum and Wyse Power, whether rue or not in terms of the actions of the organisation at this point, are nonetheless invaluable in terms of what they tell us about the general self-perceptions of the organisation in its early months. Indeed as assertive as
their statements are, they seem to represent some degree of denial when we consider other primary sources which blatantly contradict them. The view of Min Ryan, as Fearghal McGarry points out, is ‘more accurate’ when she says ‘people… used to maintain that we were not an auxiliary to the Volunteers, but an independent body; but the fact of the matter was that our activities consisted of service to the Volunteers…we were not Scoláire Staire APRIL 2013
formed as an auxiliary, but we looked on ourselves as much’. The above inconsistency is a perfect embodiment of the problematic nature of identifying the way in which the organisation saw itself and the way in which it wanted to be viewed. Colum and Wyse Power saw the organisation as having developed in its early months from one which had been given an auxiliary status to a more independent organisation, whereas Ryan maintains that the organisation, in terms of its establishment, had not been intended to take a subordinate role, yet this was how it ultimately played out. Insofar as these contrasting views betray the early self-perceptions of the organisation they are crucial. If perceptions of Cumann na mBan were conflicting and inconsistent at this early stage, the structure of the organisation was contrastingly solid and definite. For a body which had been set up as an auxiliary, its structure was surprising independent and separate from the organisation it aimed to support. Cumann na mBan, in theory, was not structured as an auxiliary; it had a separate chain of command to the Volunteers and again in theory aimed to operate under this separate structure. In her article mentioned above, Mary Colum correctly states that Cumann na mBan had both its own executive and its own constitution. At the time of its establishment a provisional executive was selected which comprised Agnes Mac
Neill, Nancy O Rahilly, Louise Gavan Duffy, Mrs Tuohy, Mary Colum, Nurse McCoy, Elizabeth Bloxham and Margaret Dobbs. Defending the organisation throughout its early months from feminist attack, in December 1914, just 9 months after its initial establishment, these women declared the organisation to be ‘an independent body of nationalist Irishwomen’. In addition to this ‘it was now also explicitly laid down that the direction of the branches would be carried out by the executive committee’. Although the organisation could not deny the fact that it was set up as a support structure for the volunteers, it would not admit it was a subordinate and it would use its separate structure to substantiate these claims. Eithne Coyle, who would later become president of the organisation, attempted to explain the delicate dynamic between what she saw as two separate and equal organisations: ‘We were more or less auxiliaries to the men, to the fighting of the country. It wasn’t a case of taking orders because we had our own executive and we made our own decisions, but if there were any jobs or anything to be done, the menthey didn’t order us- but they asked us to help them, which we did.’ When asked if this independent executive meant that the Volunteers equally accepted political and military suggestions from Cumann na mBan, Eithne Coyle replied by saying ‘we were always at them, even 25
up to the very last we were always making plans for certain things that we thought should be done and they always co-operated…’ Despite the structural independence of Cumann na mBan, there is much evidence to suggest that this structure soon became obsolete, with Volunteers bypassing or ignoring the organisation’s chain of command and choosing to approach women they knew and trusted to carry messages and perform other tasks. Maire Comerford, speaking about the relationship between the two organisations, talks of women who ‘were taken over… it was arranged that they would not come to our meetings because they were doing something that was held to be important’. Indeed the very leadership of the organisation seems to be linked very closely to those who would have been trusted by the Volunteer movement, with many women being closely related to members of the Volunteers. We need look no further than the executive committee to see this link. Agnes Mac Neill for example was the wife of Eoin Mac Neill, Nancy O Rahilly was the wife of Alfred O Rahilly and Louise Gavan Duffy came from a very prominent nationalist family. However whether this fact undermined further the independence of Cumann na mBan is a matter for speculation. Comprising, from its inception, of ‘divergent views’, Cumann na mBan’s structure and rhetoric would be subject to a process of radicalisation starting just months after its establishment. However, would the actions of the organisation be always 26
Eithne Coyle (centre) with Linda Kearns (right) and Mae Burke, standing on a Union Jack in 1921.
in line with this process of change?
olutionaries: Women and Irish Nationalism (London, 1989).
Deirdre Rodgers was born in and grew up in Cork. Having studied history in both UCC and the University of Rennes, France, she graduated with a bachelors degree in 2010. After a year spent teaching English in France she returned to UCC in 2011 to complete a Master’s in Irish Historical Research. She graduated in 2013 after having completed a thesis which focused on Nationalism and the legacy of Protestant identity formation in nineteenth-century Ireland. She is currently preparing an application for a Phd which aims to explore the influence of the European Romantic Movement in Ireland.
Marie Comerford, unpublished interview, (1975), property of Elizabeth Steiner-Scott. Eithne Coyle, unpublished interview, (Dublin 1975/76), property of Elizabeth Steiner-Scott. M. Ward (ed.), In their Own Voice: Women and Irish Nationalism (Cork, 1995). F. Mc Garry, The Rising: Easter 1916 (Oxford University Press, 2010). M. Ward, Unmanageable Rev-
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SOMETHING’S GOT TO GIVE Shay Kinsella The last couple of months in my life as a PhD student have seen a number of invigorating developments. I have taken part in a rewarding in-house graduate history student seminar and delivered a talk to my peers and the supervisory team, benefitting from their feedback, advice and queries. With new confidence after pruning the extent and focussing the scope of the thesis, I have set about planning my timetable for the next year or so which has made me all the more determined to see the project through – which inevitably led me to consider my status as a part-time student. I am currently working full-time as a mainstream primary teacher in a school with disadvantaged (DEIS) status, about two kilometres outside Dublin city centre. While the work is extremely rewarding and the marvellous community spirit in the area has never failed to surprise and delight me, I have lately started to think about taking a career break to allow me to concentrate on my PhD full-time. Hand in hand with the obvious rewards and attractions in facilitating young children to reach their potential, teaching is a demanding, pressurised and often combative profession –made even more so by the patent begrudgery and criticisms of many renowned journalists in the national press. The details of my teaching life have changed vastly in the decade since I first took up the baton. When wage cuts are coupled with the terms of Croke Park 1 – not to mention the proposed extra provisos of Croke Park 2 – teaching is an occupation that demands all of one’s time, brainpower and attention. I have pursued my postgraduate studies for two years now on a part-time basis and while I am quite pleased with the progress made to date, I am quite certain the pace of progress would have been infinitely greater had I the privilege of devoting all my working hours (and my off-hour musings) to my thesis. It has been a struggle to attend to all of my responsibilities in the working week. Vacation periods were the only real time I had to devote exclusively to research and writing and this left me mentally and physically unrested when the school bell rang again. Two years in, I genuinely feel that an extra two years (which is the minimum time I feel would be necessary to finish the project on a partScoláire Staire APRIL 2013
time basis) of living in this way would be to do a disservice to the children in my care, to my family life and my historical subject, all of which need greater attention. Something has to give, and I am keenly aware of how privileged I am to be in a position to change the status quo of my own volition. I applied for a career break from my Board of Management for one year with a view to devoting myself entirely to my research from July onwards; luckily, and thankfully, my request has been approved. I can honestly say that this is the most exhilarated and excited I have been about the venture since first registering on the programme. I have lived with these ideas for so long but have always had to park them at some point, box them away when others demands came calling. The prospect of an uninterrupted interrogation of the meat of the subject has really whetted my appetite, in a way which some full-time PhD students might struggle to understand. Shifting ticks from the part-time to the full-time box has also been financially-inspired to some degree. It will do my bank balance some favour to reduce fee demands to just one more academic year. Certainly I will be without an income for that period, but the prospect of applying for student funding in the form of grants, scholarships and bursaries has at least been opened to me in the move. Budgets will be tight, extremely tight, and it will certainly be a year of sacrifice, but I will gladly endure fiscal hardship for the twelve months in order to achieve the focus and drive which is critical to the formation of my exposition at this point. The trick now is not to leave myself with too much to do when the transition occurs. There are well over two months of working time until that happens and I must push myself to chip away at the subject in that time. That said, I’m happy to announce that if my part-time days constitute an engagement, then my wedding to the topic takes place this Summer. All gifts will be gratefully accepted. Shay Kinsella is currently engaged in PhD research at St. Patrick’s College, Drumcondra. See more from Shay here. 27
Following the publication of the Galway volume of Ernie O’Malley’s interviews with Irish revolutionary veterans, we chatted with one of the book’s editors, Cormac Ó Comhraí, about the scope and extent of the interviews. members of the public also visited the Archive the notebooks haven’t had the kind of impact that they might have had. Some historians utilised them in their writing but even then the handwriting issue has led to arguments about what exactly was said and meant. Does their publication have any link to the opening up of the Bureau of Military History records?
Hi Cormac, thanks for speaking to us. So, tell us, why are these interviews being published now? In the 1940s and 1950s members of the Irish Army were sent around the country collecting and transcribing information regarding the Revolutionary Period up until the Truce of July 1921, although some collected information about events postTruce. These Bureau of Military History statements are an incredible source but Ernie O’Malley correctly identified a number of weaknesses in the work of the BMH. Firstly the BMH largely ignored the Civil War. Secondly veterans were often reluctant to criticise former comrades to a stranger who was going to make an official, permanet record of the comments. Thirdly there was the role of the Army in the collection. There was a residual antipathy in some areas towards the forces of the State because of the Civil War and the manner in which internal security had been handled by De Valera’s government during the Emergency. O’Malley and his young son Cormac travelled the country seeking out over four hundred veterans to interview. Confident of his ability to coax their stories out of them, O’Malley told a doubter ‘The men will talk to me’. Have they been available before this? They were available in UCD Archives but the difficulty of reading O’Malley’s handwriting discouraged all but the most determined and while some 28
It has more to do with the passion Cormac has for fulfilling his father’s legacy. He has been involved in a large number of projects publishing his father’s notes and letters, all being done while living in the States and fulfilling work and family commitments. Without him, significantly less would be known about the Civil War, particularly. How do they differ from the Bureau of Military History interviews? The interviews tend to be more brutal, more frank. They are less structured and less formal which can be frustrating and difficult to follow but can also be more revealing. As mentioned the Civil War is discussed in them but also failings and events that might not necessarily reflect well on the republican movement. Did you have much difficulty in editing the interview transcripts for publication? Any issues that cropped up around inconsistencies, wrong dates, difficulties with colloquialisms, for instance? The whole process took about two and a half years from start to finish fitting it in around other commitments and projects. O’Malley’s handwriting has to be cracked like a code of symbols rather than reading individual letters. Myself and Cormac O’Malley would then argue about who was being talked about or what an abbreviation meant. Bear in mind that there are only a handful of Galway interviews and that Tim Horgan and Dominic Price also contributed immensely tranScoláire Staire APRIL 2013
Interview scribing a lot of the original notes. There might be five or ten times as many interviews in other counties. O’Malley wrote as the conversation progressed and then rewrote his interview notes. He guessed at spellings in both Irish and English, sometimes overconfidently. Occassionally he made mistakes himself based on misunderstandings. His interviewees also made mistakes with dates, events and the sequence that they happened in. They jumped around between events that could be years apart. Conneely could become Connolly could become Connelly and change back again, for example. We attempted to standardise spellings and in a given interview to put all the material from a given period together. As well as that an understanding of rural life was essential in order to interpret the text. A good grasp of the Irish language was also essential for a few mysterious words. Some Galway interviewees, although not native Irish speakers, relied on Irish language words to describe a hunchbank, roofing material and mud, for example. Do the interviews give us any new insights about Galway in the revolutionary years? Yes certainly and not just Galway. Until the last couple of years very little was written on Galway and next to nothing on Galway in the Civil War. For that reason I wrote an extended introduction to the book in order to familiarise readers with the main events, tensions and personalities of the county. As well as new material it is important to point out that the interviews also confirm some of what has been written, for example the poor relationship that the original IRA Brigade leadership in Galway city had with its subordinates. There is also a lot of information in it about life in internment camps during and after the Civil War which will be of interest to those with a general interest in the period as well as insights into the attitudes and behaviour of people like Michael Collins, Eoin O’Duffy, Dick Mulcahy with regard to the Treaty, the split and the North. Is there a noticeable political affiliation in the interviewees? Yes it has to be remembered that those who were interviewed had been (a) active in the military side of the republican movement and (b) opposed the Treaty. It is noticeable that they tend to be more critical of those who supported the Treaty. These men are also taking the opportunity to explain Scoláire Staire APRIL 2013
themselves and their actions. It's often said that these veterans were silent about these events, even to their own spouses and families. How did O'Malley manage to get them to be so open? Seán Lemass had a great if poignant line, ‘Firing Squads don’t hold reunions’. People don’t talk to their children about killing someone and that was as true for republicans as it was for their opponents or for First World War veterans. Some gleaned information from eavesdropping and in some cases were told or shown something once and once only. I spent a couple of hours once in the company of a man whose uncle was executed in the Civil War. As a child he remembered a man coming to the house and speaking at length to his father at the gate but not being invited in and his father being unusually cold. His father returned to his chair, picked up his paper and continued to read before commenting that the stranger had been in the firing squad that executed the child’s uncle. One of the reasons that interviewees were so forthcoming was that O’Malley himself had written openly and frankly about his own experiences. As well as that it helped that he was seen as having shared the same experiences as they had and being a sympathetic ear. An interviewer from a different background might have led to the men being more reticent or even defensive. Some were probably happy to spend time in the company of a republican legend. In the case of the Galway interviews it is noticeable that bragging doesn’t enter the equation the interviews are quite matter of fact. How many more counties did Ernie O'Malley cover? There are interviews from all over the country but they are focused on areas where O’Malley had been involved in the IRA or where he had contacts such as Mayo and Cork. Will these be published along with Galway and Kerry? It’s a mammoth task but efforts are being made to publish more of the material, either as a county, or regionally in the event of there not being enough or too many interviews from a given county. Mayo and Clare are in the pipeline and a couple of other volumes are at very early stages. The Men Will Talk to Me is published by Mercier Press 29
Paul Daly, Rónán O’Brien & Paul Rouse Making the Difference: The Irish Labour Party, 1912-2012 (Collins Press, 2012, 256 pps, €15.99 PB)
Europe supported the First World War as a means of elevating themselves into a position whereby they could gain power, and thus realise their programme of social remediation (pp. 64, 66). Irish politics, it has been said, comprised a ‘two and a half party system’ for much of its history since independence in 1921. This collection of essays, published to commemorate the Labour Party’s centenary as a formal political party, traces the history of this ‘half party’. Labour as a political force, of course, predates the formal foundation of the Irish Trades Union Congress and Labour Party (ITUCLP), as it was initially – and clumsily – titled. The eclectic nature of these essays, from a varied set of contributors, is in some ways a testament to the eclectic nature of the labour movement in Ireland over the last century. Although a survey of the events and trends in 1912 by William Murphy opens the collection, this to my mind hardly suffices as a suitable introduction. The pervasiveness of labour as a sectional force in Irish nationalist (and unionist) history prior to 1912 surely deserved an exploratory survey. While such excellent surveys exist, including John W Boyle’s The Irish Labour Movement in the Nineteenth Century, an essay bringing together the most recent research on labour pre 1912 would surely have added to this collection. By starting in 1912, however, this allows the contributors to examine the sometimes wayward relationship between Labour and nationalist Ireland (as the remaining essays deal very much with the 26-county state post-1920) during the crucible fifteen years following the ITUCLP’s foundation. In their contributions Michael Laffan, Ciara Meehan and William Mulligan demonstrate in their own way the unity among the labour cadre not just in Ireland, but throughout Europe. Mulligan pithily sums this up by declaring that many socialists in 30
Many previous historians have seen Labour’s decision not to contest the December 1918 general election as a watershed, allowing the broader-based Sinn Féin movement to gather working class support. This is rejected to some degree, and Meehan argues that it was crucial decisions made in the aftermath of the foundation of Fianna Fáil in 1926 that allowed support garnered by Labour in 1922 to leak to De Valera’s new party. Kieran Allen, in a study published in 1997, has argued that Fianna Fáil can be seen as the de facto Labour Party among the working classes. There is little in this collection to challenge this view explicitly. Neither is there much to challenge Labour’s perception as the party of ‘smoked salmon socialists’, though Niamh Puirséil chronicles (very entertainingly) the various and varied attacks on Labour by the splintered ‘hard left’ of Irish politics. In many ways, Labour has treated left-wing radical groups in a similar way to how the Irish Parliamentary Party feasted on social movements in the nineteenth century: vampirism. The most recent example being Democratic Left, whose leadership now controls the Labour Party. William Norton’s famous aphorism rings clearly true here: ‘The political party which can’t manoeuvre is dead’. (p. 71) Subsuming radical parties, and attuning them in the Labour ‘way’, has allowed the party to remain fresh – perhaps making up for the organisational paucity outside major urban centres. Fluctuations within the Irish Party system have also contributed to the ebbing and flowing of Labour’s support throughout the last century. Scoláire Staire APRIL 2013
Review Paul Daly’s essay, drawing heavily on the work of the late Peter Mair and John Horgan, traces these shifts in possibly the best essay in the collection. He concludes by questioning if Labour will continue to be the fulcrum of future coalition governments; this is an open-ended question, given the changing nature of Irish politics even within the last few years. The theme of Labour’s unhappy time in coalition governments is also explored by RTE Political Correspondent David McCullagh in an essay drawing on his previous work on the First Inter-Party Government and John A Costello. Labour in his view has reacted to being burnt on all previous occasions by championing their view of government through a “Gilmore for Taoiseach” campaign in February 2011. The failure of this campaign, and Labour’s subsequent move into government as a junior partner in a Fine Gael-led coalition, leads McCullagh to question if Labour has learnt any lesson from its previous years in government (p. 124). The view of Labour as an agent of the doctrines of socialism and communism in the first fifty years of independence are the focus of two dif-
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ferent essays by Diarmaid Ferriter and Kevin Rafter. Ferriter surveys the relationship between Labour and the Catholic Church (or more specifically its hierarchy) in the first thirty years of independence with an eye for the contradictory relationship between socialism and Catholicism in nationalist Ireland. From the time of James Connolly, he argues, labour politicians combined deference for the Church with their own vision of social democracy. Even the breakaway National Labour Party in the 1940s carried a significant Catholic bias in their political programme. However, both parties found themselves outmanoeuvred by the Catholic hierarchy when in government from 1948 to 1951. Rafter in his essay focuses on the coverage allotted to Labour by the Irish Times during the pivotal 1969 general election campaign. This essay seems to be a response to the charge that the paper has always toed the Labour line, perhaps confronting some critics of the paper’s soft stance on Labour policy compared with similar policies from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. It also highlights the increasing use of “negative campaigning” in order to heighten opposition to the socialist doctrines of
Labour. At a time when in a worldwide context the fear of communist expansion was increased after the social upheavals in continental Europe in 1968, negative campaigning worked effectively to neutralise the Labour threat, thus killing off their hopes of making the seventies socialist. Four of the final five essays concentrate on how Labour embraced the challenges and opportunities of Ireland’s membership of the EEC. Labour had a history of contacts with other like-minded political parties (across the broad left-wing spectrum) since its foundation. But with the coming to power of a coalition in 1973 a new, younger generation of Labour intellectuals, including Conor Cruise O’Brien (then in his radical youth phase), David Thornley and Justin Keating came to prominence. All three had, as Eunan O’Halpin notes, been fiercely critical of US foreign policy (particularly in Southeast Asia), but there were others (unnamed) who were ‘starry-eyed admirers of Fidel Castro and his revolutionary Cuba’ (p. 139). O’Halpin examines Labour’s evolving policy on Northern Ireland and shows how there was little unanimity on how to respond to the worsening scenes of violence on the streets of Belfast and Derry from 1969 on. Membership of the EEC was also a divisive issue; though not, as O’Halpin stresses, because of a simple left-right divide in the Party (p. 144). There was a contradiction at play: some Labour leftists ‘could not resist the temptation to make common cause with militant republicanism on issues such as the EEC while averting their eyes from what republicans were doing in Northern Ireland’. (p. 153) This is further investigated by Stephen Collins in his contribution. There are certainly echoes of some of the militant anti-EEC stance of the Irish Left in the current economic and political climate; Collins concludes that Labour, with its leader Gilmore in Foreign Affairs, will play ‘an important role in determining Ireland’s future relationship with our European partners’. (p. 164). European influence on Irish politics included a growing liberalism, which the Labour Party has felt more keenly than most. Jane Suiter and Senator Ivana Bacik trace Labour’s growth away from a trades union base (albeit small) to a stance “that was far more business friendly while attempting to maintain a dialogue around civil society and equality.” (p. 165) While some have argued that Labour in Ireland have adopted the tactics and policy positions of Tony Blair’s New 32
Labour in Britain, Suiter argues otherwise, pointing out key differences in both parties’ policies towards business. She concludes that Labour has performed a tightrope act between “the diktats of the market economy ... [and] trying to maintain and promote its values. It is not the easiest of fits.” (p. 176) Bacik is more positive, attacking the ‘disparaging’ use of the term ‘liberal agenda’ to describe Labour’s position on many social issues. Both women point out that Labour has been far from a liberal party for much of its century. Mirroring Irish society, both argue that the party only truly broadened its policy stances since the 1980s. During the first decade of the twenty-first century, Bacik argues, social issues were relegated behind economic performance. However, she also characteristically laments the lack of a policy towards legislating for abortion as per the X-Case judgement of 1992 (though recent events may change that particular stance). The current Parliamentary Labour Party has, she concludes, the most radical social policy stance of any Labour party grouping in Ireland in history. Concluding the book is an essay by current Labour Party leader and Tánaiste, Eamon Gilmore. It reads more like a speech to an Annual Conference, full of rhetoric and not fully aware of the transient nature of the support levels of the Labour Party. It is a difficult read for anyone who has borne the brunt of many of the policies of the government that Mr Gilmore has a senior position in. In a sense, it is a fitting conclusion to a book which examines the wildly fluctuating fortunes of the Labour Party throughout its first century of existence. Overall the book is illuminating, entertaining and very easy to read. However it is far from ideal. The absence of any illustrations makes it hard to read for any length of time. It is not a book to be read in a single sitting. Rather, it functions better as a compendium of research and synthesis that would serve well as an introductory text for students and anyone wanting to learn more about the absorbing history of left-wing politics in twentieth-century Ireland. John O’Donovan is a postgraduate student at University College Cork. His research concerns William O’Brien and the United Irish League in Cork, 19001910. Scoláire Staire APRIL 2013
Television: When Ali Came To Ireland True Films RTE One, 1 January 2013 Director: Ross Whitaker
When Ali Came To Ireland tells the story of how Michael ‘Butty’ Sugrue, a Kerry-born London publican and former circus strongman, succeeded in bringing Muhammad Ali to Dublin’s Croke Park Stadium in July 1972 for a fight with Alvin ‘Blue’ Lewis. The self-proclaimed ‘World’s Strongest Publican’, Sugrue was the quintessential Irish conman and a rather extraordinary character. The archive British Pathé clips of him balancing his wife on a chair between his teeth, lifting two men above his head with one arm, and arranging a publicity stunt in which an Irish barfly from one of his two London pubs named Mick Meaney was buried alive for sixty-one days (in a failed attempt to break a preposterous world record) are as surreal as they are hilarious. The documentary is writer and director Ross Whitaker’s third production to focus on the subject of boxing, coming on the back of Saviours (2007) and Big Time (2008). This fact isn’t altogether surprising since Whitaker has long been a fan of Ali and was largely inspired to get into the business of film-making by the Academy Award winning When We Were Kings (1996), which told the story of his unforgettable ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ victory over George Foreman in Zaire, 1974. So then, what did ‘The Greatest’ think of Ireland? The documentary only tells half the story by focusing on how moved Ali was by the warm welcome he received during his nine day visit to the land of his maternal great-grandfather, Abe Grady, who originally hailed from Ennis, Co. Clare. Although he was indeed very taken by the friendliness and sincerity of the people whom he met in Ireland, Ali nevertheless hated the isolation of his hotel on the outskirts of Dublin and the almost total whiteness of the Irish populace. Scoláire Staire APRIL 2013
Within twenty-four hours of arriving in Dublin he rang his publicist Harold Conrad, who was co-promoting the fight with Sugrue. ‘Hey Hal’, he asked, ‘where are all the niggers in this town?’ ‘Ali, there aren’t any’ came the reply. A week later Ali told a New York Times reporter that although he was touched by how nice the Irish people treated him, he ‘would go crazy’ were he forced to stay another week in the country. Yet despite his boredom and unease at the lack of ‘coloured folk’ to mix with, the ‘Louisville Lip’ essentially enjoyed himself in Ireland and stayed true to his reputation by talking up a storm to promote the Lewis fight, beginning with a trademark showing at a press conference in Dublin Airport on 11 July, the morning of his arrival. ‘It was a remarkable performance’, wrote a journalist for the Irish Press the next day, ‘His timing is as cold-bloodedly impeccable as vintage Bob Hope or Sammy Davis. The only discernible difference is that Ali is much the prettier.’ Included in the documentary is a glimpse of Mitchel V. Cogley, a leading Irish sports writer from the time, sitting unimpressed in the front row with his arms folded and head down while the rest of the assembled reporters at Dublin Airport stare at Ali, ‘the greatest attraction this planet has ever known’ to quote Sugrue. Following his famously controversial victory over Henry Cooper at Wembley Stadium some nine years earlier, when he was then fighting under his birth name of Cassius Clay, Ali had been dismissed by Cogley in the Irish Independent as a ‘second rater’ and ‘the most over-rated fighter in the world’. Even when he went on to win three world titles and defeat the likes of Sonny Liston, Floyd Patterson, George Foreman and Joe Frazier, the old-school Cogley remained underwhelmed and could never find it in himself to describe Ali as a ‘great’ fighter. It’s a pity the documentary makers did not interview Cogley’s broadcaster son Fred, who 33
Ali with Jack Lynch (Irish Times).
succinctly described Betty’s personal ensemble the day after the fight. Nevertheless, the interviews with O’Shannon, the late George Kimball, Rock Brynner, Patrick Myler, Jimmy Magee and Dave Hannigan (who wrote a book about the Ali – Lewis fight in 2002 entitled The Big Fight) among others, allied with the fascinating wealth of rare archival footage all make for a well-told and terrifically entertaining documentary.
accompanied Ali in a taxi ride to the RTE Studios in Donnybrook later that week for one of his two Irish television interviews. Clips of the second of these, a landmark interview with Cathal O’Shannon, and the touching reminiscences of the now-deceased O’Shannon, are a real highlight of the documentary. ‘Before I did it I was just another interviewer. After I did it, I was the man who had interviewed Muhammad Ali. It meant a lot to me. It means a lot to me still’ remarks O’Shannon with a smile, in what would prove to the final television interview which the much-respected Irish broadcaster gave before his passing. When Ali Came To Ireland would also have benefitted had interviews been carried out with the likes of Peter Hamill, Bernadette McAliskey (née Devlin), Ulick O’Connor and the late Con Houlahan – all of whom could have provided entertaining personal anecdotes about Ali. It would have been nice too had Betty McDermott, the Dublin hotel worker and part-time model who acted as the ring girl for the fight, been interviewed. The still-glamorous McDermott attended the premiere screening of When Ali Came To Ireland at the Irish Film Institute in Dublin on 16 December 2012. Speaking from the audience during the ‘Q & A’ session which followed the screening, she recalled her refusal to wear the ‘awful outfit’ she was handed by organisers and insistence on wearing her ‘own clothes’ which she felt would better show off her figure and recently acquired holiday-tan. A ‘short skirt and white knickers’ was how journalist Nell McCafferty of the Irish Times 34
The fight itself, which occurred on 19 July 1972, was a fairly lack-lustre and one-sided affair in which Ali dominated his game opponent without ever really getting out of second gear, most likely due to a head-cold he had caught a couple of days earlier. A tough and powerful yet ultimately limited fighter from Detroit, Michigan, ex-convict Lewis was a former sparring partner of Ali’s who was carefully chosen for the fight due to the likelihood of him putting up a good show without ever seriously troubling his illustrious opponent. Ali dropped Lewis with an expertly thrown chopping right hand near the end of the fourth round, but a slow count of fifteen seconds allowed the Detroit fighter to get off the canvas and continue. The documentary suggests that the fight was later comically and prematurely stopped in the eleventh round once Harold Conrad had been told at ringside by RTE that the fight needed to end quickly in order to suit satellite television schedules back in the United States. This claim fails to take into account the fact that Lewis suffered considerable punishment in the ninth and tenth rounds, during which time he repeatedly stumbled and relied on the ropes to keep himself upright, and had been warned by the referee prior to the eleventh round that the fight would be stopped unless he showed proof of turning the one-sided contest around. After seventy-five further seconds of action, which saw Lewis throw only two half-hearted jabs and get peppered with shots by the dancing Ali, the fight was thus called to a halt. If the documentary had shown the few seconds leading up to the stoppage, viewers would have seen Lewis’s legs momentarily buckle after taking a methodical succession of jabs to the head and consequently understood why he did not protest the referee’s Scoláire Staire APRIL 2013
decision, instead opting to subsequently embrace Ali and briefly lift him in the air to pay tribute to ‘The Greatest’ and publicly display his gratitude for what was a rare big payday. Lewis and Ali may have done well out of the fight, earning $35,000 and $200,000 each, but the event proved to be a financial disaster for Sugrue, who lost approximately £20,000 of his own money due to a poor crowd of around 18,000 spectators turning up on the night. Despite the fact that the world’s most recognisable and colourful boxer fought a fairly credible opponent while still near the prime of his career, on a beautiful summer’s evening in which most tickets were reasonably priced, the historic Irish refusal to pay into sporting events resulted in a box office flop in spite of Ali’s best efforts to hype the fight. As Whitaker remarked in a recent newspaper interview promoting the documentary, ‘Irish people are funny – there was definitely an attitude of “Well, sure we’ve seen him on the TV talking to Cathal O’Shannon, we’ve seen him out at his hotel where anybody more or less could walk up to the door and say hello – why would we need to go and pay money to see him fight?”’ On the night of the fight, shortly before the main event began, hundreds if not thousands of fans streamed over the ‘Hill 16’ wall in true local tradition, overturning a barrier and bypassing the rather apathetic
security in place. Included in the documentary is great footage of some young fans also rushing down from their cheap terrace seats to jump onto the Croke Park pitch and take their place nearer to ringside alongside the likes of Taoiseach Jack Lynch, author James Plunkett, actor Peter O’Toole, Oscar-winning director John Huston and future American President Ronald Reagan, the latter of whom was visiting Dublin as part of a European goodwill tour in his capacity as Governor of California. It took over five years to receive the green light to make, but the struggle for the Dublin-based ‘True Films’ was certainly worth it in the end. This is a documentary that regularly brings a smile to the face of the viewer and hopefully When Ali Came To Ireland will be released on DVD later this year, especially if the ‘Muhammad Ali V. Cathal O’Shannon’ RTE interview and Croke Park fight itself can be included in full as extras. Unlike the tickets back in the summer of 1972, one suspects that such an offering would sell very well today indeed. James Curry is a Digital Humanities Doctoral Scholar at NUI Galway. He presented a paper entitled ‘Muhammad Ali and the Irish press, 196265’ at last September’s Sixth Annual Conference of Sports History Ireland.
Ali stands over Lewis in the fourth round. Hill 16 is visible in the background (Irish Times).
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Stephen Ferguson GPO Staff in 1916: Business as Usual (Mercier Press, 2012, 128 pps, €12.99 PB)
The Easter Rising of 1916, and all things associated with it, tends to attract the history book buying public in Ireland like no other event in our history. Walk into any high street book shop or browse the most popular Irish history books online and the Rising will be a constant feature. With the decade that is in it, we are beginning to see the publication of many more histories of the Rising and, inevitably, some will be good and some will be, lets say, not so good. In this slim volume (128 small pages), Stephen Ferguson concentrates on the experiences of those who worked in the General Post Office in Dublin’s Sackville (now O’Connell) Street, while also tracing their interactions with other post office staff across the city. The book, which was first published as an even slimmer volume by An Post in 2005, promises much due to its use of such authoritative primary sources as witness statements and the official reports of post office staff in the GPO and throughout the city. Ferguson claims that these reports not only provide exciting accounts of post office workers’ experiences during the Rising, but also offer ‘nuggets of new information that should be of interest both to academic historians of the Rising and to the many people for whom the drama of 1916 holds a special fascination’. The book opens with a concise chapter detailing 36
the history of the GPO itself and attempts by the rebels to gain control of communications. The latter subject is one of the most interesting parts of the book that Ferguson returns to later. The second chapter introduces the reader to A.H. Norway, the head of the postal service in Ireland. Norway is a character that we follow throughout the book and is someone the author obviously admires for his fairness and commitment to his duty in a time of great strife. Norway seems to have allowed his staff to engage with political groups, which technically they should not have been allowed to do, given their status as civil servants. He took no action against those who signed the Ulster Covenant and remained consistent in this stance when staff became involved with the Irish Volunteers. Ferguson argues that Norway was not a man who viewed membership of Sinn Féin as grounds for dismissal, but could take action when it was required. When he suspected someone of disloyalty he acted quickly, as was evidenced by his having P.S. O’Hegarty transferred to Wales. O’Hegarty, who was in the IRB at the time, would later become Minister of Posts and Telegraphs in the first Free State government. The chapters are punchy and to the point, which makes for a very light and entertaining read. It doesn’t take Ferguson too long to get into the action of Easter Week. The human stories of those in the GPO on Easter Monday are very interesting. The staff and rebels treated each other with the greatest respect, while outside a Dublin woman cried ‘glory be to God. The divils are smashing all the lovely windows’ (p.43). One can’t help but laugh at the story of the assistant superintendent, William Pemberton, who after being held inside the GPO for a number of hours, was released by one of the rebels. He ran straight to Brunswick (now Pearse) Street police station to report that the GPO had been occupied. The police in Brunswick Street, however, showed little interest in his story, sent him to Store Street police station and Scoláire Staire APRIL 2013
told him to make his report there. This book is about the experiences of postal workers during Easter Week and Ferguson is quite good when it comes to detailing exactly what they did, how they did it, and how their dedication resulted in the establishment of an effective communications system for the British authorities. Ferguson also comments on the effectiveness of the rebels’ plans to cut communications and use the GPO as the nerve centre of the uprising. It is unfortunate, however, that he does not follow up on this information by hypothesising on the rebels plans. For example, does this information lend credence to the theory that the rebel leaders were, in fact, planning on making a revolutionary gesture that could spread across the country, rather than simply taking the GPO as part of a ‘blood sacrifice’ or glorious failure. The information presented is not discussed in relation to current scholarship on the Rising either, which might appear to be forgivable in such a slim volume, but those readers whose interest is stoked by this information will surely seek further historical writing on it. There are some nuggets of great information that are allowed to pass without analysis, but perhaps the most frustrating is that the political opin-
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ions of the very people the book is about, are not commented upon in any significant detail. Those who were involved, like Richard Mulcahy and other members of the engineering department, obviously held separatist views. But, what about the staff who so diligently carried out their duties, thereby working against the interests of the rebels? Were they loyalists, nationalists, or were they apolitical civil servants who simply wished to continue carrying out their duties? A little bit of deeper digging in the sources used may have resulted in an answer to these questions being presented. It seems there was plenty of room to go down this avenue, given that a full chapter is dedicated to the printing of the Proclamation, an event that has no relation whatsoever to the staff of the GPO. Despite the lack of serious analysis or engagement with the historiography of the Rising, GPO Staff in 1916 is a worthwhile publication. The accounts of staff activity, the actions of the rebels and the work of A.H. Norway, make for a pleasurable and relaxing read. For anyone booking their summer holiday, this little book won’t take up too much space in your baggage. Adrian Grant is the editor of Scoláire Staire.
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