Irish history

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Northern Ireland - Crisis and Breakdown, 1968-1985: What Happened, and Why

Author: 

Sean Matgamna

Introduction

From the mid-1960s a sizeable minority of the people of the USA turned against the war their government was waging in Vietnam. They marched, demonstrated and lobbied to force their government to stop the war.

This active opposition of a section of their own people was a major factor in making the Indochina war unwinnable for the mighty US government.

Northern Ireland - 1968-198: from the Civil Rights movement to the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

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Ninety years since the Easter Rising

April 23 marks the 90th anniversary of the Easter Rising, in many ways the defining event in modern Irish history. The Rising, its consequences and aftermath shaped the situation Ireland faces today. It offers important lessons for the Irish workers today against both imperialism and indigenous exploitation and reaction. Mike Rowley tells the story.

Despite its importance, the events of Easter 1916 have been downplayed in much recent historiography and in Irish politics. To the song’s defiant question:

“Who fears to speak of Easter Week?

The Rising, its consequences and aftermath shaped the situation Ireland faces today.

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Women in the Irish nationalist movement 1900-1916

Author: 

Janine Booth

From Workers' Liberty 56, June/July 1999

Constance Markievicz and the other women who fought in the Easter Rising struggled to be accepted on equal terms by the Irish labour movement and among nationalists. Their experience holds many lessons for today's socialists and feminists.

Constance Markievicz and the other women who fought in the Easter Rising struggled to be accepted on equal terms by the Irish labour movement and among nationalists.

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Socialists and the Good Friday Agreement part 1

The peace agreement drawn up after hours of exhausting talks in Belfast on 10 April holds out the pospect of an end to the 30 years war in Northern Ireland. That should recommend it to socialists even though little else about it does. It certainly isn’t a solution to the conflict. At worst, what it does is institutionalise the sectarian conflict at the heart of Northern Ireland society. At best it provides a new framework within which the leading communal politicians on each side can manage that conflict.

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The trouble with Northern Ireland: part 1

In the election to the Westminster Parliament, the “moderate” Ulster Unionist Party led by David Trimble — who lost his seat plus four others — was almost wiped out by the Paisleyite Democratic Unionist Party. The DUP now has nine seats to one for the UUP. The “moderate” Catholic party, the SDLP, lost ground too but did reasonably well, winning three seats (one of them only because the Protestant vote was split between two Unionist candidates) to Sinn Fein’s five.

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The left and the revival of Irish Republican militarism: Why Eamonn McCann is wrong

Author: 

Sean Matgamna

Parables for Socialists 17

P was a member of the Army Council of the IRA, its supreme authority, and would soon be a founder member of the breakaway “Provisional” IRA. He had been regaling us with an account of the ridiculous stories which the then leaders of the IRA, Republican Stalinists, had given to the Army Council as explanations for their inability to organise the defence of Northern Ireland’s Catholics during recent (August 1969) pogroms, which it had taken the deployment of British troops on the streets of Belfast and Derry to stop.

The revival of Irish Republicanism brings the issues discussed in this article, originally called "Eamonn McCann, Trotskyism and Irish Republican militarism". From militarists to Marxists? Can Trotskyist politics help Irish Republican militarists achieve their goal of a united Ireland?

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From Emmet to O’Connell

Thomas Carolan continues his series on the history of Irish republicanism

As we have seen, the American and French revolutions in the last quarter of the 18th century, both of which had drawn on the experience of Britain’s “Glorious Revolution” of 1688, had combined to shape the first Irish left —the aristocracy-dominated “volunteers” after 1779 and then the plebeian, non-sectarian, radical and revolutionary United Irishmen organisation of the 1790s.

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Savage Violence in 20th Century Irish Schools: Why Did People Stand For It?

Author: 

John O'Mahony

In his understated attack on the Catholic Church in Ireland for the sexual abuse of children, Taoiseach Enda Kenny spoke also of the torture of children. In this the attitude of the 26 County Irish state itself was all-defining. This article by Sean Matgamna tells what happened when Socialist Senator Owen Sheehy Skeffington, acting together with a small group of concerned Dublin parents, who had set up "The School Children’s Protection Organisation”, tried to do something about the physical ill-treatment of children in the Church-run Irish schools.
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The violence inflicted on children in Irish schools in the first three-quarters of the Twentieth Century is today scarcely believable. John O'Mahony examines some documentary evidence, and remembers the Ennis National School...

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The first Irish left

Identifiable left-wing politics first emerged in Ireland at the end of the 18th century.
It was the result of three revolutions.

By Thomas Carolan

The American revolution, which broke out in 1776. The French revolution, which started in 1789. And the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 in which the English Parliament kicked out the would-be absolutist Catholic King James and put William of Orange and James’s Protestant daughter, Mary, jointly on the throne, under the control of Parliament.

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Irish Republicans part 6: Republicanism and the left

By Thomas Carolan

In our survey of the history of Irish Republicanism we have reached the point beyond which the story is that of the emergence of the Provisional IRA/Sinn Fein in the last month of the 1960s and the first month of the 1970s — of the Catholic revolt in Northern Ireland which preceded that emergence and gave the Provisional IRA a mass base of support and sustenance for a war that would last 23 years (1971-94) and end with something like a deferred victory for the Provisional IRA.

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The History of Irish Republicanism: Prelude to the Provos

Thomas Carolan continues his series about the history of Irish Republicanism

We have seen that there was more than a little in the IRA attacks on Northern Ireland in the 1950s of Catholic zealots putting themselves against a corrupt Protestant civilisation — or against the British-spawned Irish part of what Yeats, in the grip of his own romantic obsessions, had stigmatised as “the filthy modern tide”.

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Will the IRA dissolve?

By John O’Mahony

Tony Blair’s high-powered negotiations at Leeds Castle, Kent, on the future of Northern Ireland, have broken up in failure.
The Paisley Unionists and Sinn Fein (SF), the polar opposites in Northern Ireland politics, now have the support of most Protestants and most Catholics respectively, and agreement on a new Catholic-Protestant power-sharing Belfast government depends on them.

Yet the failure to reach agreement on that should not be allowed to obscure the most important event in Irish politics since the IRA declared a ceasefire in August 1994.

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The IRA's all-time low

Thomas Carolan continues his series about the history of Irish republicanism


In 1937/8 the De Valera government - the government of those who had fought and lost the Civil War - gave separatist Ireland a constitution that made it a republic in all but name, and negotiated withdrawal by the British navy from the three Irish bases which Britain held under the Treaty.

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Irish republicans part 2: The gunmen in power

Thomas Carolan continues his series about the history of Irish republicanism

"Ireland occupies a position among the nations of the earth unique… in the possession of what is known as a physical force party - a party, that is to say, whose members are united upon no one point, and agreed upon no single principle, except the use of physical force as the sole means of settling the dispute between the people of this country and the governing power of Great Britain…

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The past, present and future of Irish republicanism

By Thomas Carolan

"Ireland occupies a position among the nations of the earth unique... in the possession of what is known as a physical force party - a party, that is to say, whose members are united upon no one point, and agreed upon no single principle, except the use of physical force as the sole means of settling the dispute between the people of this country and the governing power of Great Britain...
"The latter-day high-falutin hillside man exalts into a principle that which the revolutionists of other countries have looked upon as a weapon, and in his gatherings prohibits all discussion of those principles which formed the main strength of his prototypes elsewhere and made the successful use of that weapon possible.
"…Every revolutionary movement in Ireland has drawn the bulk of its adherents from the ranks of disappointed followers of defeated constitutional movements…
"Their conception of what constitutes freedom was in no sense changed or revolutionised: they still believed in the political form of freedom which had been their ideal in their constitutional days…"

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The Emmet Conspiracy

By Jack Cleary

The romantic 19th century song lamenting "old Robert Emmet, the darling of Erin", is still widely known and sung today - two hundred years after the public executioner hanged the 25-year old Emmet, cut him down alive, disembowelled him, and then chopped him up before a gawping crowd in Thomas Street, Dublin.

It was the last terrible act in the drama of the first Irish republicans, the United Irishmen.

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Lessons from history: Larkin's labour war 1913-14

When the TUC betrayed Dublin workers

In last week's issue of Solidarity, we printed articles by the Irish socialist James Connolly about the struggle of workers in Dublin to unionise and fight for better pay in the years before the First World War. Led by Jim Larkin, they built the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union, using the solidarity strike as their weapon.

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The power of solidarity 1913-14: how Dublin's workers built their union

During the 1980s and 90s Margaret Thatcher's government introduced legislation to shackle the trade unions. New Labour has kept most of these anti-union laws. One of the central aims of these attacks was to end "secondary", or sympathetic strikes. The sympathetic strike has always been a tremendously powerful weapon in the arsenal of the working class. The Tories were trying to reverse working class gains of the 1960s and 70s, when solidarity strikes were used time and again.

When they come out in this kind of solidarity with other workers it is class action far more advanced than mere sectional trade union action. Implicitly, and sometimes openly, it challenges capitalist rule in society.

Although "secondary" action does not happen today because it is illegal that does not mean that there is no solidarity in the labour movement. More and more we are seing co-ordinated strike action: different unions striking on the same day, on the basis of legal ballots.

We will see real "secondary" action again - when groups of workers come out directly in aid of other workers' struggles. All over the world, wherever workers feel they have little to lose, but a lot of self-respect to gain, they will fight the bosses in this kind of way. Socialists have to keep alive the idea of sympathetic strikes.

Knowledge of working class history is one means of doing this.

The following articles by James Connolly explains the background to and general effects of the Dublin Labour War of 1913-14, in which Connolly was a central leader.

  • plus Frontline poetry: Workers of Ireland

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The "Good Friday Agreement": Who will win the peace in Northern Ireland?

Author: 

Sean Matgamna

"The people have voted Sinn Fein, we must teach them what Sinn Fein is.” Father Michael O’Flanagan, a Republican priest after Sinn Fein’s victory in the 1918 election.

A detailed analysis of the 1898 Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland

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Socialists and the Good Friday Agreement part 2

After the referendum how can socialists judge the prospects for peace and the development of working-class politics? I share Sean’s view that the agreement, endorsed by over 71% of the people of Ulster, is not a solution to the baseline conflict in Ireland.

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Ireland: Nationalist "Socialism" or Marxism. Debate between Sean Matgamna (AWL) and John McAnulty (Fourth International) (1997)

Author: 

Sean Matgamna [AWL] and John McAnulty [Fourth International]

What is the socialist programme for resolving the conflict in Northern Ireland? Sean Matgamna, editor of Workers’ Liberty, debated at the Workers’ Liberty 1997 summer school with John McAnulty of Socialist Democracy, formerly People’s Democracy, the Irish group of one of the main international strands of Marxist politics, the Fourth International (United Secretariat) associated with the late Ernest Mandel.

Sean Matgamna

Debate on Ireland: The Socialist Road to Peace. [1997]

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Ireland: Two policies, two perspectives

Fight against semi-colonialism
By the Fourth International (United Secretariat)

Ireland suffers not only from semi-colonialism but also from an unresolved national question... The northern state will not and cannot be a normal bourgeois democracy, even within the very elastic definition of this concept, with any sort of general and broad legitimacy. This is why socialists characterise the northern state as irreformable.

A nationalist, or a socialist way forward?

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