Tag Archives: Ireland

Taking a stand against the slaughter

The Irish Neutrality League
and the Imperialist War
Published by PANA

Reviewer: Michael Halpenny

In the present commemoration-fest around the First World War you could be forgiven for thinking that no one ever asked the question at the time – “Why should we be involved in this imperialist conflict?”

Yet to their undying credit some, a minority admittedly, including our own union did, and decided to march to a different drumbeat – that of opposition to the war.

This recent publication by the Peace and Neutrality Alliance (PANA) tells their story.

Some in Europe opposed the war because of their strongly-held Christian values: some because they were pacifists. Others, many of them from the left were not pacifists, and viewed the war as a contest between competing imperial powers in which they and workers generally should play no part.

In Dublin, the banner over Liberty Hall in that autumn of 1914 said it all: “We Serve Neither King Nor Kaiser, But Ireland”

In England socialists such as Keir Hardie, George Lansbury (grandfather of actor Angela) and the suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst campaigned against the war, while thousands of “conscientious objectors were later jailed or forced into uniform at the front. (Though not a pacifist, one of those was war resister and Irish trade unionist, John Swift senior).

In Germany one pacifist, Otto Umfrid, described their endeavours as akin to “fixing a truck rolling into a precipice with a thread of silk”. Other Germans, such as socialists Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxembourg, were jailed for treason.

Ireland saw the coming together of a broad but disparate group of socialists, trade unionists, pacifists, feminists, republicans and nationalists under the banner of the short-lived Irish Neutrality League (INL). Its initial meeting, chaired by James Connolly, resolved to respond to John Redmond’s recruitment drive for the British Army and the tsunami of jingoism and war hysteria.

As the editor Roger Cole of Peace and Neutrality Alliance (PANA) notes “… its core ideology was to unite all of those opposed to the imperial war and to promote Irish independence and neutrality”.

Writer, Francis Devine, gives an extensive history of the INL, and notes that in a circular of October 5, 1914, the League warned that efforts were being made by the British government and employers to force young male workers into the army – what they termed “commercial conscription”.

Historian, Margaret Ward deals with the contribution of Countess Markievicz to the INL’s activities. Aidan Lloyd with that of pacifist Francis Sheehy Skeffington’s while Jack O’Connor points to the relevance of the League’s core principles today as Europe’s ruling elites flex their muscles on both the economic and military fronts.

He argues: “We must hold firm to our union’s traditional policy of support for Irish neutrality and non-alignment…”

This publication shines a light on a little discussed and unfashionable aspect of our history, that of neutrality, but one which in the words of Francis Devine “should not be obscured”, not least because it is certain where Connolly would stand on those same issues today.

Available from PANA at http://www.pana.ie : email info@pana.ie

This review is posted courtesy of Liberty Magazine and PANA and with acknowledgement to the reviewer Michael Halpenny.

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An historian comments


Memoirs of an Irish childhood in the years after independence have become a popular genre in Irish writing in the last decade. These memoirs can offer us some extraordinary glimpses into the Irish experience in the twentieth century.

 Against the Wind follows in a similar vein to Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes, reciting a Irish Catholic childhood with bullying schoolteachers and priests, cultural restrictions due to the Catholic church and the intimacy between Church and State, particularly in relation to birth control – a development which ultimately convinces O’Brien to emigrate to Australia in 1968 – ‘I would not have “Mother Church” in our bedroom’. Also similar to Angela’s Ashes and Seamus Deane’s Reading in the Dark, O’Brien’s mother looms large in the narrative. She appears to influence his ideas on socialism and equality, as well as his eventual disillusionment with republicanism.

 This book is also timely, for two reasons. Its discussion on ideas of working-class development and of independence will resonate with many as we commemorate the 1913 Lockout and Irish revolution, questioning, perhaps, what was achieved with independence, particularly as the country goes through another heart-breaking recession which sees many citizens leave its shores, as O’Brien did throughout the 1950s to England and more permanently in 1968, to Australia. The book will also appeal to the Irish Diaspora, as O’Brien’s memories of migration to and from England for work in the lean years of 1950s Ireland will resonate with many. As thousands continue to emigrate every week for places like Australia, O’Brien reminds us in his closing lines, ‘There are Irishmen and there are men from Ireland… I am as Ireland made me. Intentionally or not’.

Dr Sarah Campbell
Modern Irish History
School of History, Classics and Archaeology
Newcastle University

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Extracts from memoir

Extracts from Against the Wind: Memoir of a Dissident Dubliner

                 James O’Brien on his first visit to England (Yorkshire)…

 This was a new experience for me. I had grown up thinking that all English people were la-di-dah types that spoke with BBC accents and said things like, ‘I say, old chap,’ and ‘Jolly good show,’ every time they opened their mouths. And here I was in a household and community that were avowedly the opposite in outlook and conviction.

  On leaving Ireland for England to seek work…

 We emigrants used to joke, ‘I’m not going away. Just across to Birmingham.’ Or we could apply it to Manchester or Coventry, or to any of the English cities with a history of large Irish settlements. Some would say, ‘Going across the pond’ while those of a more ironic bent would declare, ‘I’m off to the mainland.’ And for all of us, even those that hoped for a United Ireland, we knew we were more welcome in Birmingham than in Belfast.

 On emigrating to Australia

 I knew this was not like taking the boat across the ‘pond’ to England. This was a big move with just one week’s pay in my wallet. But I would not be the first or the last man or woman to leave Ireland in such circumstances (even as I write they are leaving in their thousands again). And this time there is no ‘cruel England’ to blame.

My advice to them all is to remember no matter where you finish up, as Da used to say, ‘As long as you are on your feet and stay above the clay, you are winning.’

 On being Irish….

 During one tutorial session, the female tutor asked me was I ‘Irish or ex-Irish?’

‘One can never be ex-Irish,’ I replied. ‘Especially somebody with a brogue like mine.’ A remark that drew a laugh from the class. I have never felt any need to try to be other than Irish. In many ways being Irish or English or anything else is how we think of ourselves.

As Da would often say ‘There are Irishmen and there are men from Ireland.’ Never one to be pusillanimous himself; I hope I have inherited his outlook.

Book is available on link below.





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Books with similar flavour!

While this blog has been created to promote my memoir Against the Wind, it is also a site to allow me to publicise and comment on books and writing with similar themes. News has it that the first book to be banned in Ireland (1929) by the new “independent” Free State government, Liam O’Flaherty’s, The House of Gold has been published for the first time in 80 years. In a new introduction, writer and journalist, Tomas Mac Siomoin, comments that the emerging Free State was run by an ” oppressive native gombeen ascendancy , buttressed by the Catholic church”.

Another book; Deported: The Story of Jimmy Gralton, by Des Guckian, tells of the victimisation and the first and only ‘official’ deportation by the state (1933) of an Irish dissident and activist. In August, renowned film director, Ken Loach, began filming Gralton’s story in County Leitrim. A cousin Paul Gralton said the story is relevant to the Ireland of today and “is a story that needs to be told”.


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