The Irish Workers Group, Peoples Democracy and early Irish Trotskyism


I was reading Henry Patterson’s Ireland since 1939 the other day, which is never a good sign, and was taken aback by his account of the 1960s. Specifically I am thinking of the Peoples Democracy “Long March” of January 1969, which Henry these days ascribes to a Leninist vanguardism on the part of PD. Back in his Workers Party days, Henry would have accused PD of ultraleftism, which I believe Peter Hadden still does. The thing is that, although PD’s historical record deserves a good bit of criticism, this is anachronistic and owes more than a little to the historiography developed by SFWP in the late 1970s, when they had long since fallen out with PD.

It’s a criticism, though, that pops up in the most striking places. I well recall Lord Trimble some years ago, no doubt drawing on the account of his friend Lord Bew, expatiating on how the “Trotskyites” had undermined the reforming unionist government of Captain O’Neill. You can, to be sure, draw a sort of line of descent, in that the nearest PD had to a theoretician was Mike Farrell, and Mike had been in the Irish Workers Group, which was Trotskyist after a fashion, and the Young Socialist Alliance of which he was the leading figure played a considerable role in setting up PD. QED. But again, this is anachronistic. The early PD wasn’t Trotskyist, and didn’t become so until about 1974-5. This anachronism, though, opens up the fascinating world of Trotskyism as it began to emerge in this country. Seán Matgamna, by the way, is writing a series on this, although like much of Seán’s work, while it contains lots of valuable nuggets, it’s prolix and tendentious in the extreme. Anyway, I’ll wait until it’s finished before reviewing it.

As Rayner Lysaght remarks in his “Early History of Irish Trotskyism”, a most enjoyable little essay, the movement only got established here very late, and after a number of false starts. The wartime RSP showed some real potential, but quickly sank without trace. For a brief while in 1944, the Trotskyists were holding bigger meetings in Belfast than the official CPNI, but by 1947 the Irish “section” of the FI was reduced to Johnny Byrne, a sympathiser of the US Shachtmanites, and Tony Cliff, cooling his heels in Dublin while waiting to be allowed back into Britain. And so the RSP was pretty much forgotten. (Paddy Healy eventually acquired a copy of the RSP’s 1944 Theses, but rather than publishing them as he should have done, kept the document stashed away in his sock drawer.)

Nor did the Trotskyist groups in Britain show much interest in Ireland, despite Gerry Healy, their main leader, being a Galway man by origin. Healy’s Socialist Labour League came to establish a branch of itself in Belfast (the young Tom Paulin was a member), but Gerry didn’t bother to try setting up an Irish section until 1970, when he needed an extra vote against Lambert in the International Committee. Militant picked up Irish students in Britain by ones and twos in the late 60s and early 70s before setting up an organisation, and IS did likewise after an abortive attempt to win over PD as a fraternal group. What that bequeathed us was the two most prominent groups on the further left today, although they remained very much moulded by the worldview of their British parent groups.

Post-war Irish Trotskyism as such therefore is the progeny of one man, that man being Gerry Lawless. Gerry, having been a dissident republican of sorts during Operation Harvest, somehow got a hold of some Trotskyist publications via the good offices of the American SWP, and became much taken with Trotsky’s analyses. Fetching up in London in the mid-60s, he founded the Irish Workers Group as a broad revolutionary formation, no less broad because of its small size.

The IWG was not initially a Trotskyist organisation, which is important to note. It began as a holding pen for anyone slightly to the left of the CD Greaves-Connolly Association milieu. Likewise, its membership in London was open to Irish expats, British leftists of Irish extraction, and British leftists with a vague interest in Ireland. It eventually acquired branches in Belfast and Dublin through London members going back home, circulation of the Irish Militant and so on. It also got a bit more politically defined, more by the natural workings of things than by design, notably when Brendan Clifford decamped with the Maoist faction to form the ICO, later the BICO.

Then Gerry did one of those things that must have seemed like a good idea at the time. He correctly realised that one of Irish Marxism’s big historical weaknesses was in the realm of theory – we’re even weaker in that area than the Brits and Yanks – and was also aware of his own limitations as a theoretician. So he recruited a bright young man, an expat from Clare, who seemed to have some ideas, and had already gathered a small following around himself.

Unfortunately for all concerned, Seán Matgamna (for it was he) had just completed his reading of JP Cannon’s The Struggle for a Proletarian Party, a great book but a dangerous one in the wrong hands. All fizzing over with Cannonite zeal, Seán had no sooner been recruited into the IWG than he declared a faction around the demand for a “homogeneous party”. What this meant in practice was a demand for the expulsion of Gerry Lawless. Seán was eventually defeated at the IWG’s March 1968 conference, but not before the atmosphere had considerably soured and the IWG was a limping shell.

And this leads us directly to October ’68 and the founding of Peoples Democracy. The YSA was the socialist core of PD, to be sure, but their socialism was of a very vague kind, and owed more to Marcuse than Trotsky. They were at the time extremely anti-Leninist in their organisational ideas, mainly because Farrell had been profoundly browned off by Matgamna’s habit of pulling out a quote from Lenin to sanctify whatever Matgamna wanted to do. And this, mixed in with the general 1968 zeitgeist, goes a long way to explaining just what an anarchic setup the early PD was. It was a regime that would even have our modern anarchists tearing out their hair.

Yes indeed, it was another age. Dovetailing a little with the Left Archive project over on Cedar Lounge, this sort of thing is worth coming back to again. Some of the exotica of Irish leftism – I’m thinking outfits like the LWR or the Workers League that have left the scene entirely – has a real antiquarian interest. And some might be embarrassing to those who don’t want their past record open to scrutiny. I really should do more of this historical sectariana.


  1. October 31, 2007 at 1:14 pm

    […] post by splinteredsunrise This was written by . Posted on Wednesday, October 31, 2007, at 7:41 am. Filed under […]

  2. chekov said,

    October 31, 2007 at 1:31 pm

    Curiously, I have a copy of a strange left journal from 1970, edited by my father, in which he bitterly attacks the PD march for being the work of Trotskyists amongst other things. I’m inclined to believe him too as he certainly would have known the people involved and the various strands of leftism that existed. On what do you base your conclusions of the lack of Trotskyists?

    On another note, although I have always heard that PD was a chaotic affair, this does not preclude the possibility that it was under the control of trots. In my experience, trots love broad things that are structureless, since it allows really tiny numbers to take all the important decisions invisibly.

  3. ejh said,

    October 31, 2007 at 1:34 pm

    So when they don’t like tight narrow things, they like broad structureless things. I never knew they were so undogmatic.

  4. chekov said,

    October 31, 2007 at 1:42 pm

    “So when they don’t like tight narrow things, they like broad structureless things. I never knew they were so undogmatic.”
    You’re being pointlessly antagonistic again. You know perfectly well that trotskyist theory distinguishes between the party and the fronts in which the party operates and that they have different approaches to operating in the two. An example would be the SWP’s huge attempts not to develop a proper decision making structure and party machinery in Respect.

  5. Idris of Dungiven said,

    October 31, 2007 at 1:56 pm

    The ‘long march’ of 1969 is the one from Belfast to Derry, right?

    That’s sometimes seen these days as unnecessarily provocative, a ‘trailing of the coat’.

    But I don’t think you’d have to have been a Trot to argue that it was the right response to the cosmetic reforms Terence O’Neill was offering at the time.

    This Henry Patterson book – does it have any redeeming features? Would it be worth reading?

  6. Andy Newman said,

    October 31, 2007 at 2:21 pm

    Chekv is of course right.

    One example from my experience. In the 1990 Gulf war there was a big bust up as usual over whether or not to have local demos or support the national ones. There were in fact very significant local demos in Britsol, of some 3000 to 5000 every weekend. But we wanted people to go to London.
    Also the anti-war movement ws very diverse and the Labour left were n the driving seat to a dgree (themselves with a hardcore of Trots – this was the last hurrah of the Tearse-ite Discussion Group).

    So we proposed and won the idea of a Britsol wide committee, that had 50 people on it, knowing full well that this woulf be road ebough that no decisions would be made if we prevaricated. Then we worked inidependenatly as the SWP to promote the national demo as hard as we could – posters, tickets, student unions, while our people on the big committee held things up, and lo and behold we got our way. The local demos stopped and we got some people up to London.

    Yes – we liked tight narrow things, and broad structureless things.

  7. Phil said,

    October 31, 2007 at 2:38 pm

    It’s ‘John Mahoney’ I’ve always wondered about. Do you know whether John Mahoney adopted the spelling of Sean Matgamna and stuck to it, or Sean Matgamna used to use the spelling of John Mahoney and then dropped it? And does anyone Over There (when it’s necessary to speak of the man) give Matgamna what I assume is its proper pronunciation? Over Here I’ve only ever heard it pronounced Matt-GAM-nuh, which rather takes away the point of the re-spelling.

  8. chekov said,

    October 31, 2007 at 2:57 pm

    Phil, Matgamna is not even an Irish word and it’s definitely not the usual translation of O’Mahony (normally it’s something like Mac Mathuina with a fada on the u). Because of the haphazard way in which people translated their names into engish, there is never any 100% clear translation of English surnames to Irish, but I always assumed Matgamna was an African surname!

  9. ejh said,

    October 31, 2007 at 2:58 pm

    You know perfectly well that trotskyist theory distinguishes between the party and the fronts in which the party operates

    Of course, but the distinction is nothing do with Trotskyist theory per se: how would they not distinguish? When you think about it.

    I think it is possible to see too many things as a function of other people’s unspoken design. Not all movements, I would propose, are necessarily manoeuvres.

  10. chekov said,

    October 31, 2007 at 2:58 pm

    sorry, forgetting my spelling rules, that should be Mac Mathuna (with a fada on the u)

  11. ejh said,

    October 31, 2007 at 3:12 pm

    There’s a lot of names here although as per usual with Wikipedia the article is barely readable, in this instance because the theory of permanent revolution appears to have been applied to the colour of the type. Still, the terms “split” and “broke with” appear to be visible in several places.

  12. Idris of Dungiven said,

    October 31, 2007 at 3:16 pm

    Would he be any relation to the crazy far-right religious Mac Mathuna’s my cousins went to school with?

    As for ‘Matgamna’ I always thought it sounded Indian. . .

  13. splinteredsunrise said,

    October 31, 2007 at 3:20 pm

    I think there is a West Clare version that’s something like O Mathghamhna… but we may as well call him Mr X.

    On Trots in the early PD, there were some kinda sorta Trots, but the nearest they had to a thinker was Farrell, and he was very sharply anti-Leninist at the time. As far as manipulation goes, the structure or lack thereof in PD would have made that near enough impossible. You had not only no structures, no leaders, but no formal membership, the total sovereignty of the weekly mass meeting… the QUB rugby club could have turned up and voted through a bunch of resolutions – in fact, I’m not sure they didn’t once.

    The Belfast-Derry march though was an odd case in that it was called by the YSA, by Farrell’s account because it was impossible to get PD to agree any action. And the YSA itself was a bit of a melange with all sorts of people who were vaguely leftish.

    Oddly even though the SFWP-influence history of NICRA that came out around 1978 denounces the march big time, that’s retrospective. The soon-to-be Officials weren’t nearly as hostile at the time.

  14. chekov said,

    October 31, 2007 at 3:20 pm

    “Of course, but the distinction is nothing do with Trotskyist theory per se: how would they not distinguish? When you think about it.”

    Your typically gnomic comment appeared to be mocking my claim that tightly organised Trotskyist groups might favour loose unstructured forms of organisation when dealing with broad alliances. Not only do they distinguish, which I agree is obvious, but they have specific ontological categories for their different approaches (popular front, united front, etc).

    “Not all movements, I would propose, are necessarily manoeuvres.”

    I’m hardly claiming that they are. I’m raising a suggestion about this specific case based on several factors:
    a) my own lengthy experience of similar situations
    b) specific published contemporaneous claims from a participant
    and now we also have:
    c) the testimony of somebody who confirms that this was standard practice, illustrated with a nice little case study.

    So, I’m hardly conspiracising wildly am I?

    FWIW, here’s the passage from Grille magazine (undated, I think it’s 1970 or 1971)

    “P.D. began as a small group of drop-out trotskyists, many of whom had been involved in the now defunct Irish Workers Group of the early and mid 1960’s. This group, in typical opportunist fashion jumped on the bandwagon of student power. At the beginning of the 1968 term they utilised student ‘interest’ in radical politics after the events of Paris 1968 to manipulate meetings for their own ends. They inculcated an anti-establishment, anarchist sentiment at big Q.U.B. meetings in order to ensure that the conservative majority at any meeting would not be allowed dominate. This lack of procedure at an early stage was quite farcical. Anybody could attend, speak and vote. However, the current sentiment among Q.U.B. students was vaguely socialist and anti-Unionist and before long charismatic (sic*) personalities such as Farrell, Toman, Cosgrove and Devlin arose. They were a motley mixture of semi-republican catholics, opportunist trots, English RSSF’s and anarchists.”

  15. chekov said,

    October 31, 2007 at 3:32 pm

    “As far as manipulation goes, the structure or lack thereof in PD would have made that near enough impossible. You had not only no structures, no leaders, but no formal membership, the total sovereignty of the weekly mass meeting”

    In my experience such situations are the easiest of all for small groups to control. The people who set it up are the only people who know how to get things done so any old thing can get voted through, but nothing will get done that the key individuals (those who have the mailing list, press officers, etc) don’t want done no matter how many people vote for it. If you’re dealing with people who are politically inexperienced, it’s pretty easy for even a single experienced person to dictate the agenda of the meeting “how about we run it like this….”.

    To a large extent the SWP fronts work like that (e.g. GR, ANL, IAWM) when they can. But it’s actually as common in the anarchistic anti-organisational counter-culture and it’s hugely annoying.

  16. ejh said,

    October 31, 2007 at 3:47 pm

    That Grille excerpt is not the most objective in tone that I have read in my life. Doesn’t mean it’s necessarily wrong, but it does take a somewhat antagonistic view of the motive and outlook of those it criticises.

    My basic point is that there’s a large element of having it both ways here. If the organisation is tightly structured, we say that’s the control freaks, look at them. If it’s loose, we say well, that’s the way they like it. It’s not perhaps wholly out of order to raise a gnomic eyebrow at this.

  17. splinteredsunrise said,

    October 31, 2007 at 4:29 pm

    I take your point Chekov, but it was a lot more chaotic even than that. For instance, no mailing list, no press officers etc. To some extent the YSA as the core group could set the agenda, but then they didn’t know very much and were extremely libertarian in their leanings. So it wasn’t really like an SWP front, more like the most aggravating bits of the anarchist culture writ large.

  18. Mark P said,

    October 31, 2007 at 4:42 pm

    Chekov is of course right that a tightly organised subgroup may find loose and unstructured arrangements very easy to control. The London European Social Forum is an obvious example – all “consensus” gibberish on the surface, scratch that surface and the cold, hard, control was revealed. However that doesn’t mean that every loose, unstructured arrangement is a plot by a tightly organised subgroup. My understanding of P.D. is closer to Splintered Sunrise’s account. It was a broad, radical, somewhat confused milieu which contained people sympathetic to Trotskyism amongst other strands but which did not have a tight Trotskyist organisation within it.

    As it happens the thread on Cedar Lounge about the Cork Communist Organisation resulted in me digging out an old United Secretariat of the Fourth International international internal discussion bulletin which I picked up in in the middle of a bunch of random sectariana in Housman’s a few years ago. The bulletin, written by Gerry Foley in 1973, is a polemic against the politics of the IMG and the majority of the USFI on the Irish situation. It’s filled with bizarre (and occasionally hilarious) incidents like the IMG dressing up as IRA volunteers for a march in Glasgow. It also has some quite tragic material on the adventurist idiocy of the USFI in Ireland and the resulting death of Peter Graham.

    The bulletin explains some of the history mentioned by Splintered Sunrise too. Gerry Lawless is portrayed as something of a loose cannon but he is central to the narrative. As indeed the Irish Workers Group (the original one, not the Workers Power one) is to the background of some of the stranger left groups in Britain and Ireland. The Maoist side of it produced the B&ICO, the COBI and that whole wierd and wonderful milieu. The Trotskyist side involved Farrell, Eamon McCann, Matgamna and the people who went on to found the League for a Workers Republic. The LWR split twice in its very early days, producing in addition to the LWR itself the League for a Workers Vanguard who hooked up with Healy when the LWR majority went with the Lambertistes. It also, interestingly enough if you care about this sort of thing, produced the Revolutionary Marxist Group.

    The RMG were the Irish affiliate of the USFI and were strongly influenced by the IMG in Britain and the rest of the USFI majority, which had taken its turn towards guerrillaism in Latin America. According to Foley these same conceptions were applied to Ireland in the involvement of the RMG’s cadre in Saor Eire, an attempt to set up a semi-Trotskyist armed group. This was, unsurprisingly, a disaster and led to the still murky death of Peter Graham, the young leader of the RMG. Graham’s death led to all kinds of sabre rattling from the USFI with international leaders being quoted in the press claiming that they “had ways” of dealing with such murderers.

    After the disaster of Saor Eire, Foley argues that the RMG collapsed into cheerleading for the Provisionals. Interestingly he argues that the PD remnants were doing much the same, so it should hardly come as a surprise that the two, some time after the bulletin was written, were to merge.

  19. October 31, 2007 at 5:47 pm

    […] You can read the full story here […]

  20. Mark P said,

    October 31, 2007 at 5:56 pm

    On the early history of Irish Trotskyism, Revolutionary History carried a very long and detailed article on the subject by Ciaran Crossey and Jim Monaghan. It’s well worth a read if you are interested in the subject.

  21. Mick Hall said,

    October 31, 2007 at 6:45 pm

    I was once told when I was a member of the SLL that Gerry Healy spent WW2 in Dublin, having returned to Ireland when war broke out, does anyone know whether this was true.

  22. Phil said,

    October 31, 2007 at 7:26 pm

    Chekov – the O Mahony Records Society begs to differ:
    “The Irish version of the O Mahony clan name shall be recorded as Muintir Matgamna.”

    You can also find the name in the bilingual titles of a couple of jigs (or possibly reels).

    Thank goodness for that – I was starting to think I’d made it up.

  23. M Cassidy said,

    October 31, 2007 at 8:20 pm

    Never knew that all those UK Trotskyites were Irish and that Healy was from Galway. Was it him who published the glossy newspaper ‘Class Struggle’ in the late 80’s.

    Galway, Clare, now if only we can trace J Posadas back to Co. Cavan we’re really in business.

  24. Mark P said,

    October 31, 2007 at 9:07 pm

    Mick, that’s partially true. The Workers International League was the main Trotskyist organisation in Britain in that period. It expected to be banned at any minute and so sent a group of members to Ireland, to act as a kind of reserve should their leadership in Britain be arrested and their press suppressed. Healy was amongst those sent to Ireland though he may have had one of his regular fallings out with the organisation while he was there.

    When it became clear that the WIL wasn’t going to be banned the group came back from Ireland, having helped to recruit some Irish workers. The WIL was never banned but it was persecuted for leading succesful strikes during the war, including a high profile trial of some of its leaders.

  25. WorldbyStorm said,

    October 31, 2007 at 10:47 pm

    What’s fascinating is how these groups planted in the seemingly stony ideological soil of Ireland. And that they had at least something of a life. Particularly in the context of larger ‘dissident’ groupings in opposition to narratives of state which provided an attractive – if perhaps perilous – counter pole. Although the later history of PD shows how the dynamic there could sometimes be one where people went over to Republicanism…

    Ta for the mention splintered.

  26. Mark P said,

    October 31, 2007 at 11:45 pm


    I think that the existence of a larger ‘dissident’ movement (by which I take it you mean Republicanism) actually contributed to the formation of many of these groups. The timing is key:

    The republicanism of the 1990s, when the Provisionals were completely dominant, was not the republican movement of the early part of the troubles or the period just before. The situation then was much more fluid. The Officials and Provisionals and later and in a more limited way the Irps were contesting for pole position. A series of smaller Republican splinter groups, like the Irish Revolutionary Forces or Saor Eire were thrown up. There was no overwhelmingly dominant organisation to compete against, instead there was a wide and varied milieu where all kinds of different ideological issues were being contested.

    Similar factors pertained in the period just before the Troubles, when the failure of the Border Campaign led a lot of people in the Republican movement to reassess their direction. That remember was the period when the leadership of the IRA moved towards a Stalinist idea of socialism. It’s hardly surprising that at least a few of the people involved were open to other new directions, whether that be revamped militarism, Trotskyism or whatever.

    Another key factor is the timing. Not only was there an ideological ferment within the republican movement, this was also the time of major political turmoil around the world. It would have been a surprise if nobody in Ireland had been influenced by the events in France or in Vietnam.

    I am talking here primarily of the most left republican elements of this new wave of revolutionary groups. Other factors are also relevant, particularly to groups which were less in the orbit of republicanism (like Militant, where the first recruits in Ireland were young people in the civil rights movement or in Derry Labour and were not from a republican activist background), but also to all of the groups.

    The smaller groups which were inside or near the Republican movement were eventually buried under the weight of the Provisionals. They lost their electoral base, were absorbed, their members defected and they lost the ability to recruit as the Provisionals established themselves as THE Republican movement.

    The 1973 pamphlet I was talking about above points out that even at that stage PD had lost significant numbers to the Provisionals. The merged RMG and PD (the group now known as Socialist Democracy) lost a large chunk of their members again a few years later. Saor Eire ended as a fiasco. The LWR slowly fizzled out as did most other small groups. The Irps all but fell apart and descended into gang warfare. These groups couldn’t compete with a near political neighbour which was not only much larger but also could accurately claim to be actually doing the bulk of the fighting. But for a while, they could find a niche, something which was aided by the Provisionals lack of interest in elections – PD and Irp councillors existed well in the 1980s.

  27. Garibaldy said,

    November 1, 2007 at 12:18 am

    On the march to Derry. It seems spintered is separating the YS elements from PD proper. But surely Eamon Mc Cann counts as a genuine part of PD, and he was clearly a trotskyist at the time. Having said that, it did contain a broad range of opinion from the left. As for controlling or influencing it, if I recall right, they failed to persuade a meeting at QUBSU which voted against holding the march. They then held another meeting when most of the opponents had left for Christmas, and won the vote.

    On the attitude of the Republican Clubs, I think I read that they were officially opposed to the march but that one Club marched with its banner folded up, and other members took part as individuals. There’s also the issue of who guarded the marchers in certain places at night and offered them sustenance along the way.

    Bob Purdie’s Politics on the Streets is excellent on all this, and I think Niall O Dochtartaigh’s work is well worth reading too.

  28. Mike said,

    November 1, 2007 at 1:02 am

    Two small details.

    1/ I believe the name of the proto-IWG was irish Workers union. it took the name IWG after the maoist faction decamped.

    2/ Healy was not part of the WIL ‘delegatio’ to Dublin. Although he did travel to Ireland on his own initiative. And, yes, he did have a spat with the group while in Dublin saying he was resigning and joining the Irish Labour Party. the mystery is why did Jock Haston keep letting him back in?

  29. November 1, 2007 at 3:47 am

    […] splinteredsunrise added an interesting post on The Irish Workers Group, Peoples Democracy and early Irish Trotskyism.Here’s a small excerpt:You can, to be sure, draw a sort of line of descent, in that the nearest PD had to a theoretician was Mike Farrell, and Mike had been in the Irish Workers Group, which was Trotskyist after a fashion, and the Young Socialist Alliance of … […]

  30. splinteredsunrise said,

    November 1, 2007 at 10:10 am

    Yes, I think I have the document Mark P is referencing. The background there was actually a bit more convoluted than that. Gerry Foley was the US SWP’s point man for Ireland, and his extreme hostility to the Provisionals at the time had a realpolitik element in that he was involved in trying to build up relations with the Officials. The Officials of course hadn’t yet adopted the baroque Stalinism of later years, and it was thought that some of their leaders, McGurran in particular, had Trotskyist leanings.

    As far as PD were concerned, they managed to lose their physical force faction in about 1974. That would be the wonderfully named Red Republican Party, most of whom ended up in the IRSP. The RMG/MSR also moved quite a bit away from the physical force position. I believe Joe Hansen’s polemics on guerrilaism were a major influence. Not to say that the later PD’s relation to republicanism wasn’t problematic, but problems in later years weren’t due to a romantic attachment to armed struggle.

    Derry Labour Party would be worth a post in its own right. In later years Militant kept a small DLP running, but early on in the Troubles its right wing followed Ivan Cooper into the SDLP while its left wing joined the Officials, who were being led in Derry at the time by Johnny White. Those guys joined the IRSP, then fell out with Costello, and some of them still seem to be a kind of informal circle up there. They pop up every so often to grouse about Blaney and Captain Kelly. McCann, being gloriously unique, stayed on good terms with most people – he didn’t join the SWM until much later, and the PD in Belfast believed him a fellow traveller of theirs, which is why they never tried to build a branch in Derry.

    Another thing that’s fascinating is the Gerry Healy group over here, but I’d need to do a bit of digging before venturing to write about that lot. There may be legal issues involved.

  31. Ken MacLeod said,

    November 1, 2007 at 10:51 am

    That’s all well and good, but the burning question from this ignorant Brit is: What is the correct pronunciation of ‘Matgamna’?

  32. November 1, 2007 at 1:13 pm

    Presumably the O Mahony Records people pronounce it ‘Mahony’, roughly speaking. Similar sort of area to Sean O Faolain (pronounced ‘Phelan’, kind of).

  33. Phil said,

    November 1, 2007 at 1:19 pm

    ‘Mahony’, subject to provisos about not turning the vowels into English diphthongs (so not Ma-ho-oo-nuhee). Or so I’ve always assumed.

  34. Phil said,

    November 1, 2007 at 1:24 pm

    Which in turn reminds me of the Cormac cartoon about how it wouldn’t be so bad having the British Army on the streets if only they’d speak a language you could understand (“Oi, Peddy! Wots yer nime? Oi sed, wots yer fackin nime?”) Which brings us back to PSF…

  35. Ken MacLeod said,

    November 1, 2007 at 1:59 pm

    Thanks Phil. And all this time I’ve been pronouncing it Max-Shachtman, and no one corrected me.

    But knowing the pronunciation does add an extra tinge of humour to one of the comrade’s in-print hissy fits, about someone who referred to Sean Matgamna (of that nice democratic broad Labour left paper Socialist Organiser) as John O’Mahony, who as all the world knew was a member of that desperate revolutionary Leninist organization, the International-Communist League!

  36. Idris of Dungiven said,

    November 1, 2007 at 7:53 pm

    Going back to the PD. . .I presume Patterson’s claim of Trot skullduggery being behind that wing of the Civil Rights movement is connected to a wider view that if only the minority had asked nicely like good boys and girls they would have been granted their every wish?

  37. Garibaldy said,

    November 1, 2007 at 11:39 pm

    I suspect Idris it’s more a belief that after October 5th being flashed round the world London was finally acting on NI. Had there not been Burntollet, the situation may have developed very differently, with NICRA agitations continuing – rather than people sitting still and asking nicely – but within bounds less likely to enflame sectarian tension. Not an interpretation I agree with, but not quite as passive as the version you suggest.

  38. November 2, 2007 at 8:06 pm

    Sean Matgamna, of course, has a very different account of the IWG, Gerry Lawless, Leninism vs. Populism, etc, etc. I believe he’s presently writing it up. Should be a good read, although most of you lot will hate it.

  39. Idris of Dungiven said,

    November 2, 2007 at 9:19 pm

    OK, maybe I was too harsh there. But having a relative who says things like ‘it would have been better if the landlords could have stayed in Ireland after independence, because they could have been leaders in the new society’ makes me rather cynical about such things.

    I also don’t think that violent sectarian conflict of some kind was avoidable. If it had been Burntollet that took the province further down the spiral, something else would.

  40. charliethechulo said,

    November 2, 2007 at 9:36 pm

    Earlier this evening I sent you a comment about Sean Matgamna; it has not (yet) appeared. It was not abusive , libelous, or contentious (unless you think *anything* defending Sean is contentious), in any way.
    Is there a problem, either politically, or technically?

  41. Garibaldy said,

    November 3, 2007 at 1:38 am

    I think there was a segment of unionism that was so reactionary that an aggressive response to NICRA was inevitable. But that a sectarian conflagration of the type we saw was inevitable is I think going too far.

  42. Jim Denham said,

    November 3, 2007 at 2:00 am

    So:whatever I write here will be censored out of existance? Please let me know if I’m wrong. otherwise i will begin to denounce you as an anti-democrat and enemy of free speech, just like Mr “Lenin” Seymour…
    I do hope I’m wrong, and that you are, in fact a democrat, and that this is all a misunderstanding.

  43. splinteredsunrise said,

    November 3, 2007 at 10:35 am

    I’ve just been through the spam filter and approval queue. If there’s anything that hasn’t made it through it’s for technical reasons.

    I have no problem being denounced by Jim, as long as it’s for political reasons.

  44. Phil said,

    November 3, 2007 at 10:41 am

    Relax, Jim – one of my contentious comments on Irish orthography disappeared without trace, too. Just a comment posting/approval/spamblock problem.

  45. splinteredsunrise said,

    November 3, 2007 at 10:45 am

    I sometimes also go for several hours without checking comments. But I will agree that Lenny’s comments policy on Respec’ has raised an eyebrow.

  46. ejh said,

    November 3, 2007 at 11:22 am

    I had one that never appeared yesterday. So I went and posted it on another computer instead. Just in case it was that one small comment that changed the course of history.

  47. Idris of Dungiven said,

    November 3, 2007 at 12:33 pm

    In response to Garibaldy @ post 41: You may be right, but I’m afraid I have to disagree. The issues here seem to be a) was the march that led to Burntollet unnecessary and unnecessarily provocative, b) was it’s provocative nature predictable in advance, and c) was the reactionary element in unionism given enhanced strength amongst the protestant community largely as a result of that march. To which I’d respond:

    1. Provocative the march may have been, unnecessary it arguably was not. The reforms proposed by O’Neill were largely cosmetic (no action on the B Specials was envisaged, for example), and pressure of some kind would have to have been kept up by the civil rights movement.

    2. Which in turn leads us to the question, was the kind of pressure the march in question exerted the right kind of pressure? Or was that march likely to be seen as a ‘trailing of the coat’ which would produce an angry response by those who perceived a threat to the Protestant community and to the Northern Irish state itself? In hindsight, perhaps yes. But the thing about hindsight is that no one, anywhere, has ever had any benefit from hindsight.

    3. The ultimate tendency in unionist politics was towards the reactionary angle. O’Neill wasn’t a Gorbachev, he wasn’t even a De Klerk; he was one of those who rose to the level of their own mediocrity. Northern Ireland is a highly abnormal and dysfunctional society; but it’s easier to see that now than it was for anyone to see it at the time.

    It’s possible to see now how the conflict might have been avoided. But I find it hard to see how those in the game at the time could seen those routes away from conflict.

  48. Idris of Dungiven said,

    November 3, 2007 at 12:34 pm

    And again I have to appeal for some sort of preview feature on this blog. The point about O’Neill’s mediocrity is that it is highly unlikely that he could have steered unionism towards moderation and compromise.

  49. splinteredsunrise said,

    November 3, 2007 at 2:57 pm

    I’ve been searching the forums for a preview feature, but apparently there is none. Not yet anyway, but I’ll keep an eye out.

  50. Garibaldy said,

    November 3, 2007 at 3:11 pm


    We aren’t disagreeing over too much, if at all. I think Burntollet was necessary myself to keep the pressure up so that NI didn’t slip off the London radar. NICRA tactics were aimed at London rather than Stormont right from the beginning, as had been the case with the CSJ etc. I also agree that the marchers could not have foreseen the consequences, although there were people within NICRA who opposed the marches because they feared the effects of the march. On top of which it wasn’t Burntollet that kicked things off but the Apprentice Boys march.

    I agree reform was not going to come from within NI. It had to come from London. Had London got off its arse before it did, things may well have been very different. October 5th was a chance, Burntollet was another, and there were opportunities in between. But such is life.

    By the way I see Martin Meehan has died which may be of interest to readers.

  51. Idris of Dungiven said,

    November 3, 2007 at 3:36 pm

    Possibly the greatest missed opportunity was not shutting down Stormont at the same time the troops were sent in in the summer of 1969. According to Jackson’s book on Home Rule, Jim Callaghan considered doing just that, but also admitted that neither he nor anyone else in government circles really knew anything at all about Ireland. . .

  52. Garibaldy said,

    November 3, 2007 at 3:54 pm

    Quite possibly. Undoubtedly Britain’s neglect of the north was criminal, and made a bad situation much worse.

  53. Jim Denham said,

    November 3, 2007 at 7:39 pm

    Thank you for letting me know that it was a purely technical matter that prevented my comments from appearing here. I’ve contacted Sean, who may give you the benefits of his thoughts.

  54. Ciarán said,

    November 4, 2007 at 8:46 pm

    Matgamna is Mathghamhna with the lenition ignored. The standardised form of Mathghamhna is Mathúna, thus Seán Ó Mathúna would be the standardised Irish spelling of the name, the anglicised form of which is (O’)Mahon(e)y. In case anyone was wondering.

  55. Phil said,

    November 4, 2007 at 8:58 pm

    Thanks, Ciarán – that makes perfect sense. I’d been struggling with how that ‘tg’ could possibly end up as an ‘h’.

  56. Paddy Hackett said,

    July 3, 2008 at 7:17 pm

    Perhaps it bears no relationship to the discussion underway. Nobody discusses the Citizens’ Committee. As I remember it thiss was a committee set up in Dublin. It organised a Peace Rally in the Phoenix Park. Luke Kelly and others sang at it. People such as Tommy Weldon, brother of Liam Weldon, were leading members of it. Jim Fitzgerald was another prominent member as was Maureen Keegan. The latter was a member of the League for a Workers’ Republic (I think this is what it was called) and a friend of Eamonn McCanns. She had been in Paris during ’68. It also had connections with Butch Roche. I recall going up to Belfast with Frank and Maureen in the early seventies. We stayed in a house in Gt. Britain’s Parade (if my memory serves me right). The house belonged to a man called Jack Gallagher–in his fifities. He must be dead now. He was very anti-Provo and pro-Official.
    As far as I am aware there is no mention of this Committee in any of the history books or analyses concernign the recent history of Ireland. I believe there is a reason for this which I shan’t go into now.

  57. August 23, 2009 at 8:10 pm

    […] Sunrise has a post on the origins of Irish Trotskyism here. Workers’ Republic, has a comprehensive list of articles and material relating to Irish […]

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