Black and White in Irish History

 

Edward Fitzgerald was born on October 15 1763 to Lord James Fitzgerald, a peer in the Irish Aristocracy, educated in Dublin and on the death of his father in 1773, the family relocated to France.  There young Edward learned of the activities of the American colonies in the French press.  Like most young sons of men of property, he joined the British Army and at 16, he received a commission in the 19th Regiment of Foot.  He sailed from Cork to join a force that had just captured Charleston, South Carolina in the American Revolution.

Edward arrived as the British began a march inland from Charleston.  After 60 miles, they were met by American troops.  After a four-hour battle, both sides left the field leaving 600 American and 400 British wounded or dead alongside Eutaw Creek.  It was a pointless battle, for nothing was gained by either side. It was also the last engagement of the Revolution, for General Cornwallis was about to surrender.  However, on September 8, 1781, as darkness fell on Eutaw Creek, figures moved quietly among the dead and dying. There were doctors looking for wounded, sweethearts looking for loved ones, scavengers looking for plunder, and there was Tony Small – an African slave who had been abandoned by his master fleeing the conflict. Tony was searching for food or anything he could swap for food when he heard a groan.  It sounded like a man, but he looked down into the face of a boy in a British officer’s uniform.  Alive, but barely conscious, he had been overlooked by the search parties of both sides. Thinking he could barter him for money, Tony lifted the young soldier on his strong shoulders and carried him away to his shack.  Later, Lord Edward Fitzgerald opened his eyes to see a tall black figure washing and binding his wound.  He was not startled, for his liberal education had taught him that mankind was basically good, and before him, instead of a slave, he saw a black Samaritan.  As he was nursed back to health, Lord Edward offered Tony a new life, and a paid position as his companion.  Tony seized the opportunity, but had no idea he would be bound to this charismatic young man for the rest of his life – not by service, but by devotion.

They sailed for London where Lord Edward entered politics as a representative from Kildare .  His belief in human rights led him to seek many reforms for Ireland.  He soon found that his enthusiasm for reform and religious emancipation was not shared by the Ascendancy who relied on the Crown for their policy and power.  To boost his sagging morale Lord Edward and Tony traveled to America in 1788.  In America, he was reminded of his own Irish tenants when he saw, “a whole tract of country, peopled by Irish who came out not worth a shilling, and now have all new farms worth thousands of Pounds.” This confirmed his belief in equality for without a ruling class, equality brought happiness and prosperity.

In their travels they were introduced to the ways of the Iroquois – no monarch, no political parties, no standing army, and no system of inheritance.  Their travels with Chief Joseph of the Mohawks reinforced Edward’s opposition to royalty when the Chief complained of the British betrayal in handing over Indian land to the new U.S. government.  Chief Joseph brought them to Detroit into the care of Chief David of the Seneca nation. The Seneca made Edward a Chief of their tribe.  Then,  Edward and Tony headed for New Orleans where they learned of the French Revolution.

In 1791, Thomas Paine, the author of Common Sense, published a pamphlet entitled The Rights of Man in which he claimed the American and French Revolutions renewed the natural order of things, and restored the natural dignity of man.  Combined with his experience with Tony, his life among the Indians and the French Revolution, The Rights of Man solidified the political idealism of Lord Edward Fitzgerald, converting him from a radical to a republican.  He became a close friend of Paine, and partly from their conversations, Paine published the second installment of The Rights of Man in 1792.  In it he proposed a radical redistribution of government wealth from fighting war and supporting an aristocracy to assisting the poor and elderly.  The book and its ideas spread rapidly.  In August, Paine fled to France to avoid arrest in England.  Lord Edward and Tony followed him.

At a dinner on 18 November, Lord Edward proposed a toast, “The armies of France: may the example of its citizen soldiers be followed by all enslaved countries, til tyrants and tyranny are extinct.”  Then Edward Fitzgerald, 5th son of Ireland’s premiere peer, nephew of the Duke of Richmond, and great-great-grandson of Charles II, renounced his inherited title of Lord and became Citizen Edward Fitzgerald.  He had become a revolutionary; all he now needed was his own army.  He conferred with fellow Irishman and republican, Henry Sheares, and with Tom Paine about the possibility of repeating the French Revolution in Ireland.  He reasoned that with French support, a force of 4,000 volunteers could take the undermanned garrisons in Ireland in three months.  Paine agreed to talk to the Foreign Minister.  Fitzgerald set off for Ireland with Tony Small, but first he had to stop in London and introduce his family to his new wife, Pamela Seymour.

In Ireland, he took his seat in a different parliament than he had left.  He was drawn into a debate on equality, and was censured for blaming unrest on the government.  His former colleagues now began to fear him.  Claiming pride in being on a level with his fellow citizens, he scorned his horse and strode the Dublin streets with his wife and Tony Small by his side. They were a curious trio for he dressed, not like a Lord, but in ordinary clothes with a green cravat around his neck; his wife was also a misfit for she was not only French, but Catholic as well; and then there was Tony, a black man who puzzled people as to whether he was bodyguard, servant, or friend.

Citizen Fitzgerald found his calling when Hamilton Rowan introduced him to the Society of United Irishmen – an organization founded to “forward a brotherhood of affection and a union of power among Irishmen of all religious persuasions.” He met Napper Tandy, Thomas Addis Emmet, and Wolfe Tone, and began to influence them with his revolutionary ideas.  However, the revolution in France made England strengthen her military in Ireland to frustrate anything that resembled reform; Hamilton Rowan was jailed for sedition.  Between the Crown’s abuse and Edward’s urging, the United Irishmen gradually turned revolutionary.  The story of the United Irishmen and the Rising of 1798 has been told by many, but until Stella Tillyard’s biography of Lord Edward, entitled Citizen Lord, appeared in 1998, the tremendous influence of this sensitive, caring man of principle and his black companion was little known.  In 1795, Fitzgerald and Tony moved to a secluded villa in Kildare to train a rebel army!  In October, under growing government repression, Fitzgerald took his pregnant wife, their son and Tony to Hamburg where his daughter, little Pam was born while he and Tony slipped into Switzerland to meet a French representative.  In June 1796, French General Hoche was given charge of a French invasion force and Fitzgerald and his family returned to Ireland.

They found Ireland in a state of unrest.  The government had increased penalties for disaffection and reduced the rights of the accused.  The United Irishmen tried to unite both communities against the Crown, but the government promoted division and moved against the United Irishmen arresting leaders as soon as they were identified.  As the only leader with military experience, Fitzgerald was planning strategy and drilling units, but he was running out of money.  On November 5, he mortgaged his estate.  At Christmas, a French invasion force came, but a winter storm prevented them from landing and they returned to France.  Hopeful that they would come again, United Irish continued recruiting and British reaction intensified. As a marked man, Fitzgerald could no longer be seen with Tony who was an easy sign of his identity.  In one instance, Tony saw troops approaching and hurried Fitzgerald out a back door.  Knowing he was a clue to recognition, Tony wept as he let Fitzgerald flee alone.

Fitzgerald was reported in dozens of towns, appearing and departing without a trace; he had become a mythical figure, a master of disguises, and his legend grew. In truth, he never left Dublin where, as the new leader of the Society, he rebuilt the Executive Committee.  On 19 May, he was betrayed and a party of Yeomen burst in his bedroom and demanded his surrender. He sprang from the bed, and in the ensuing scuffle was stabbed, battered and shot twice in the shoulder.  He was taken to Newgate Jail.  His wife and Tony appealed to see him, but the government ordered their extradition and they left for London. The British had to decide what to do with him.  He was a Lord, and brother of Ireland’s leading peer, and was tremendously popular with the common people.  A public trial might start the rising they all feared.  They finally decided on the answer; though his wounds were not serious, they would not treat him.  The bullets were left in his shoulder, and the wound infected. Septicaemia spread through his body, and tortured his mind.  Mad with fever, he shouted, “Dear Ireland, I die for you,” and “My country, you will be free.”  Then on June 4, after 16 days of intense pain, Edward Fitzgerald died of his wounds. The uncoordinated risings of the United Irishmen were put down by the British military throughout the summer of 1798.

The rising which made Lady Pamela a widow, made her and the Fitzgerald children paupers as well.  Tony and his wife Julie cared for Lady Pamela and little Pam until she later married the American Consul in Hamburg.  Tony then broke his life long association with the family of his dearest friend, and he and Julie settled in London where a few years later, it was said he died of a broken heart.  Today his descendants walk through the streets of London brushing shoulders with the descendants of Lord Edward Fitzgerald and his United Irish associates – both unknown to each other and to history.

The Other 9-11

In 1649, a bitter struggle between England’s King Charles and his Puritan Parliament erupted in a civil war ending with victory for the Puritan anti-monarchists led by Oliver Cromwell.  King Charles was beheaded and the newly appointed Council of Officers turned their well-trained, war toughened, fanatically anti-Catholic, army of zealots toward Ireland under the ruthless Cromwell.  This was the foundation of the British Army.  Prior to this time, freelance fighters and soldiers of fortune were recruited for specific campaigns.  British Major-General Frank Kitson wrote in his book, Low Intensity Operations, When the regular army was first raised in the 17th century, `suppression of the Irish’ was coupled with the defense of the Protestant Religion as one of the two main reasons for its existence.

On August 14th, 1649, Cromwell landed at Dublin with 10,000 foot-soldiers, 4,000 cavalry, and sufficient artillery to crush all Irish and those loyalists who had supported the former King.   On September 11, Cromwell began his campaign at Drogheda. For two days, 3,000 men defended the town against the onslaught until a breech in the walls allowed Cromwell’s army to storm in.  What followed was to become the trademark of his conquests across Ireland.  Under his personal orders, the army indiscriminately slaughtered the defenseless civilian population; for five days men, women, and children were hunted and butchered.  On October 2nd, he called for a national day of thanksgiving to celebrate the dreadful slaughter of which he later wrote, The enemy were about 3,000 strong in the town. I believe we have put to the sword the whole number….. In this very place (Saint Peter’s Church) a thousand of them were put to the sword, fleeing thither for safety.

On October 11th, after reducing the northern strongholds in quick succession, Cromwell swept south to Wexford where, as Lingard states in his History of England, Wexford was abandoned to the mercy of the assailants. The tragedy recently enacted at Drogheda was renewed. No distinction was made between the defenseless inhabitants and the armed soldiers, nor could the shrieks and prayers of the 300 females who had gathered round the great cross in the market-place, preserve them from the swords.  Cromwell reduced the garrisons of Arklow, Inniscorthy and Ross on his way to Wexford. After Wexford, he attacked Waterford, laid waste to the cities of County Cork and rested at Youghal awaiting fresh supplies from England.

In January, 1650, Cromwell took the field again and reduced Fethard, Cashel, and Carrick.  At Clonmel, he was met by Hugh O’Neill, nephew of Owen Roe, and a small garrison of 1,500 men.  They put up the last major resistance to the Puritan army.  By May, Cromwell left for England after the bloodiest campaign ever seen by the Irish.  He left his son Henry, and General Ireton in charge.  For the next two years, scattered pockets of resistance were systematically wiped out.

In 1652, after three years of slaughter, the last of the armed Irish Clansmen accepted Cromwell’s terms of surrender.  In August, the Cromwellian Act of Settlement was passed stating that all property holders and land-owners who could not prove that they had supported Cromwell were to forfeit all properties and land and remove themselves west to the poorest and most barren part of Ireland or face execution.  To Hell or To Connaught – a phrase that conjures up bitter feelings to this day – was the choice that the English gave.  This amounted to the seizure of a fortune in personal property and over 11 million acres of the best land in Ireland.  English speculators, who had advanced monies to raise the army for service in Ireland, were rewarded with confiscated land.  Unable to pay its thousands of soldiers, the English government paid its debts in Irish land; thus was Ireland made to pay for her own conquest.

The Irish were given six months to move to Connaught.  Some took to the hills and lived as outlaws, raiding the English settlements.  More than 34,000 Irish went abroad to chance their fortunes and form the Irish Brigades of foreign armies.  The ordinary Irish – that is, those who owned no property or land – were left to form a force of farm workers and laborers for their new English masters with the stipulation that they were not permitted to live in towns.  It is at this time in Irish history that the descendants of the earlier Norman conquerors became as Irish as the Irish (never more Irish) since they were now dispossessed just as their ancestors had dispossessed the native Irish.  They were now in the same social, economic, and political position as the native Irish.  And the native Irish?  They moved a step lower on the socio-economic ladder, and were molded into a caste of itinerant peasant laborers, forced to live in the woods and fields away from the towns in their own land.

Another sad result of Cromwell’s slaughter was the swarms of widows and orphaned  children –  starving, unemployable survivors of both sexes – who wandered everywhere. Some of their descendants wander Ireland still, but in 1652, the problem had to be dealt with. The English solved the problem by rounding them up and selling them to commercial agents to dispose of.  A market was soon found for these poor souls and they were shipped to Bermuda, Barbados, Montserrat, St. Kitts, Virginia and other English colonies where they were sold as slaves.  As far back as 1633, in the narrative of the voyage of  Jesuit Father Andrew White and associates in the ships Dove and Ark from England to Maryland in Lord Baltimore’s expedition, we are told that on the way over they put in at Monserrat where they found a colony of Irishmen who had been banished from Virginia on account of professing the Catholic Faith (see Old Catholic Maryland, p. 14).  London merchants found this traffic in flesh to be such a lucrative business that they were soon kidnaping other Irish men, women, and children to expand their trade.  Records show, during the years 1651 to 1654, 6,400 young men and women were sent to Barbados and  the English colonies in America;  2,000 more boys and girls were shipped the following year, and it has been estimated that in the year 1660 there were 10,000 Irish who had been distributed thus among the different English colonies in America (see American Catholic Quarterly Review, IX, 37).  Of the total number thus shipped out of Ireland across the main, the estimates vary between 60,000 and 100,000 [Lingard, History of England“, X (Dolman ed., 1849), 366].

Those who ended up in theses colonies endured a hell on earth.  Elderly men and women were sold first.  Then the children were dragged kicking and screaming to the auction platform.  They were stripped and examined.  Rich planters and their wives required young boys as pages and young girls as servants, but homosexuals and pedophiles frequented the auctions buying children whose fate would be years of debauchery until they became too old for such purposes and they were sold to the brothels in Bridgetown for the pleasure of visiting sailors.  Worst of all were the children who were made part of a cruel plan to develop a ‘master slave’.  Irish children were considered trainable, but too susceptible to sunburn to make good workers in the hot sun; male Mandingo slaves from Africa were considered strongest, but less intelligent.  To breed a perfect slave, Irish girls as young as 12-years old, who had never seen a black man before and some who couldn’t even understand English, were sent to breeding sheds where they were impregnated by Mandingo men until they too, by their early twenties, were considered ‘worn out’ and sold to the brothels.  When a volcano destroyed a portion of Montserrat in 1995, files saved from the library on the island documented lineage records of those matings, kept in the same way as pedigrees are kept for dogs and thoroughbred horses.  My God, those poor children!

Of all the English plantations of Ireland, Cromwell’s was the worst.  But, the greatest of all plantations was the plantation of an unforgiving hatred in the hearts of the Irish, for the Irish never permitted themselves to forget it.  To this day, the curse of Cromwell remains one of the harshest invectives an Irishman can utter.  As we proud Irish-Americans prayerfully remember the tragedy of the twin towers on 9-11-2001, say a prayer for the victims of the tragedy that befell Ireland on 9-11-1649.

Simply The Best

Clara Reilly was born and raised in the St. James district of West Belfast, the eldest daughter of 12 children born into the proud Irish family of James and Bridget Burns.  She is the wife of Joe Reilly, the mother of 6 children, 18 grandchildren, and 1 great-grand child. But to us, her children, she is our teacher, our advisor, our cook, our coach, our babysitter, our role model, our inspiration, our rock; the glue that holds our family together.

When we reminisce about the good old days and not-so-good old days we find ourselves in awe of our mother’s stamina, courage, sacrifice, and dedication as she balanced a house full of demanding kids, two jobs outside the home, and an arduous battle for human rights and justice in the British-occupied North of Ireland.

Our Mother’s crusade began in the early 1970’s, when she grew increasingly alarmed over the injustices perpetrated by the British Army and RUC, who brutalized working-class Catholics daily in the North of Ireland.   She believed strongly that discrimination should be confronted and eradicated, especially discrimination committed by forces disguised as “law and order.” Soon she became actively involved in the Association for Legal Justice (ALJ), where she documented, from her kitchen table, cases of torture and unlawful imprisonment of innocent people.  As word spread in the area about Clara’s volunteer work with the ALJ, our home quickly became the first port of call for distressed families whose loved ones had been savagely beaten and then hauled off to undisclosed locations.  Our mother would offer a cup of tea and comforting words to the families, before taking their statements and commencing her barrage of telephone calls to all the British barracks in an attempt to locate the missing person.  She was relentless in her pursuit – and the Brits quickly learned she would not cease until she had obtained accurate information on the victims.

The RUC soon took note of our mother’s human rights work, as they did with anyone who challenged their tactics, and they certainly did not appreciate her persistence and her knowledge of British law.  Her goal was to obtain information on detainees as well as to send a clear message that the community would not tolerate the violation of their human rights and the perversion of law.  Our Mother phoned the barracks so often the RUC started to recognize her voice before she even introduced herself.   On a few occasions she shamelessly had her daughter make the call anonymously, in her best attempt at a proper English accent…..Hey, desperate times called for desperate measures.

In 1972 we lived in Turf Lodge, West Belfast.  There had been a lot of tension in the area and more so on one particular day when the British Paratroopers, clad in full combat uniform, were patrolling the area with their tanks and guns, harassing and arresting residents.  When our mother heard screams from one of our neighbors as the soldiers set upon their 14-year-old son, punching him and kicking him with their steel-toed boots, she ran to the scene in an attempt to defuse the situation. She quickly realized these Paratroopers were ruthless, dangerous thugs who showed no respect to human beings, least of all to Catholics.  The soldiers spouted vulgarity towards the women.  Witnessing their depravity, the ladies retorted with slogans of resistance.   Suddenly, and without provocation, a soldier aimed his weapon toward the women and fired a rubber bullet.  (The British army murdered 3 Catholics with rubber bullets before they upgraded to their “safer” plastic bullet which has claimed the lives of 17 people, 9 of them children.)   One neighbor quickly assessed the situation and reported that no one was hit.  As soon as the Brits fled the street Mom collapsed to the ground.  She had in fact been struck by the bullet! Thankfully she did not sustain any permanent physical injuries.  When questioned afterward as to why she did not react immediately to being wounded, Clara answered, “I wouldn’t give those British bastards the pleasure of knowing they had shot another Irish person.”

By 1973, four of Clara’s brothers were interned in Long Kesh and served years behind bars without benefit of a court trial, a basic legal right. One brother, Kevin, who had not yet been scooped, fled to the Free State for fear he would be the next victim of British tyranny in the Nationalist community.  It was years before Kevin could return to the North to be with his family.  This was a difficult time for Clara and her family.

In 1974 Clara’s husband Joe intervened when he saw a young lad being brutally assaulted by the British Army.  Joe was subsequently beaten and arrested.  He was sentenced to 9 months imprisonment for this incident.  Six of those months were served in solitary confinement, a harsh punishment for an act of bravery.  Our mother’s journey became more challenging as she struggled to maintain some semblance of normalcy in a war zone.

In 1976, on a quiet residential street in Turf Lodge, our mother witnessed the murder of 13-year-old Brian Stewart.  Brian was killed by a plastic bullet.  To this day, the British soldier who fired the shot has never been prosecuted for ending this innocent boy’s life.  It was after Brian’s death that Clara became a founding member of the United Campaign Against Plastic Bullets.  Then and now, she has always believed, with every fiber of her being, that we must seek truth and justice, and has actively pursued both.

Early one morning in 1977, the Reilly family awoke to thunderous banging on their door.  It was the British army’s “friendly” wake up call.  The six children, whose ages ranged from 8 to 16, staggered sleepily out of bed.  Our mother, who was well-versed in her legal rights, had passed some of her knowledge onto her children, including the fact that legally we were only required to provide the soldiers with three pieces of information: our full name, where we were coming from, and where we were going to.   One son answered: Joseph Reilly, bed, and hopefully back to bed.

Apparently, the soldiers had orders to arrest Kieran Reilly, who had recently turned 16 years old.   (In the 1970’s it was common, albeit illegal, to arrest anyone over the age of 16 for a 4-hour screening process, during which the person would be questioned, interrogated, and in many cases beaten.) The soldiers, who could not pronounce the name Kieran and who thought it was a girl’s name, decided to arrest the only female child in the house, 13-year-old Coleen. (Hmmm…..Coleen, Kieran – close enough!  Arrest her!)  A scuffle ensued when the family envisioned the horrific possibilities of allowing a 13-year-old girl to be released into the hands of brutal thugs.  Even the baker delivering his bread that morning joined in the protest.  He loaded his arms with his best ammunition and proceeded to fire freshly baked Baps (Irish bread) at the soldiers.  In hindsight it was pretty funny……We believe we were fed that same bread for breakfast later that morning — Mother was also very resourceful!  Finally, the soldiers abandoned their mission, without an arrest. They realized they had botched up the assignment and vowed they’d be back.

In 1981 we received another wake-up call, this time to arrest our Mother.  The family braced themselves for another bread-tossing battle.  But, our mother did not resist.  For years she had taken statements from victims describing their brutality at the hands of the British government and now she too would experience the infamous 4-hour screening process.  So, with a rifle pointed at her back, she was taken to Springfield barracks where the Brits attempted their routine interrogation techniques on her……Fools!  Didn’t they know Clara had documented these techniques for years? She could predict their every move.  Needless to say, the exasperated RUC soon released her.   Clara, with the help of attorney Pat Finucane, subsequently took the British government to court for wrongful arrest.  Both Pat and Clara sat side by side in High Court to hear the ruling: “The process of interrogation the RUC called “screening” was ILLEGAL.” Clara and Pat were elated; they both punched the air in delight.  Finally, a small victory for justice.

By this stage our mother had become a thorn in the sides of both the RUC and British Army.  When she wasn’t tending to her family and work, she was campaigning vigorously for justice and basic human rights and equality for all.  We feared for her life back then and even more so after the murders of Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson.

During the early 1980’s, the unemployment rate was very high in Catholic West Belfast, so it was with great delight that Clara’s son Terry informed his family that he had been offered a job with the state-run Northern Ireland electricity service and that he would soon receive a confirmation letter.  One Saturday morning Clara entered Terry’s bedroom with the letter in hand.  Terry excitedly sat up in bed and ripped it open.  His joy quickly turned to dismay when he discovered he had been rejected. He was devastated.  He couldn’t grasp what had happened since he had been verbally notified he had been accepted.  Clara sadly explained to her son the harsh reality of discrimination and injustice.  Clara fought the discrimination through legal channels.  However, she was blocked by the British establishment.  The Secretary of State had signed an order claiming Terry was a threat to national security.  He was 16 years old and had never been in trouble with the law in his life.  He was not alone.  John Hume (MP) had later raised the fair employment issue in the House of Commons that outlined the discrimination toward applicants who were denied employment based on their religion or their family’s views on British oppression.   At this point the best our mother could do to console Terry was to encourage him to never accept second best. She inspired Terry and all her children to look at these discriminations merely as setbacks in life’s many challenges.  Moreover, she taught us to never accept the unacceptable, to never allow injustices to go unchallenged and to never give up hope.

Over the years our home had become an open door for many people from all over the world who were interested in learning the truth.  Regrettably, we did not keep guest books of the hundreds of journalists, organizations, and concerned individuals who were welcomed to our humble pad, who received a warm bed, a traditional Irish breakfast, and an ordinary chat with an extraordinary woman.

There are many more stories we could share about our mother, but not enough ink and paper to do them justice here. Perhaps one day they will all be revealed in a book.  But, for now, we hope the few memories we have imparted will give you some insight into this remarkable Mother’s personal life.  An average working-class woman with a not-so-average resilience, perseverance and courage, who managed to pursue her passion for truth and equality without comprising her family. They don’t make too many woman of this caliber anymore.

In the words of our Mother’s favorite singer, Tina Turner, she is “Simply the Best.”

We are very proud and grateful to be the children of the 2011 AOH McBride award recipient, Clara Reilly, ar mathair.

Go raibh maith agaibh.

The Reilly Clan

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Hibernians to Present MacBride Award to Belfast’s Clara Reilly

MacBride Award Chairman/AOH National Vice President Brendan Moore and MacBride Award Representative/LAOH National Vice President Maureen Shelton announced that Clara Reilly, Northern Ireland human rights crusader, has been selected as the 2011 MacBride Award recipient based on balloting conducted among National Board members and State Presidents of both the AOH and LAOH.

The purpose of the prestigious Sean MacBride Humanitarian Award is specifically stated in the AOH National Constitution: To memorialize the human rights contributions made by Nobel Peace Laureate Dr. Sean MacBride and to recognize the efforts of others who make similar contributions in the cause of peace, justice, and the economic well-being of the Irish people.  Moore stated that “nominees for the MacBride Award are outstanding individuals derived from within and outside of the Ancient Order of Hibernians and the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians. Actual voting takes place only after those eligible to vote have had ample time to study and reflect on the biographies of all those who have been nominated.”

Despite raising six small children when internment in Northern Ireland was introduced, having all male members of her family interned, and subsequently losing two brothers and a cousin in the conflict, Clara Reilly’s name became synonymous with justice in Ireland. The 1970’s saw her documenting arrests of Nationalists, taking prisoner statements, and ensuring legal representation for those detained by the Royal Ulster Constabulary. While frantic relatives sought news of family members, she telephoned across Belfast and across the Six Counties on a daily basis seeking the whereabouts of those removed from their homes and as well as those arrested on the streets.

Reilly gradually emerged as a frontline advocate for her besieged community. She negotiated with senior Royal Ulster Constabulary and British army officers on behalf of those being victimized. She later lobbied the Irish government to initiate action against the British in the European Court on Human Rights, where Britain was eventually found guilty of both torture and inhumane treatment. Working with human rights attorney Pat Finucane, successful litigation forced the British army to end its random arrests for “screening “purposes. Reilly went on to found the Campaign Against Plastic Bullets and became the Founder and Co-Director of Relatives For Justice, a support group for families of those injured or killed in the conflict.

Recently asked if she now has any regrets about committing thirty-five years of her life to the tremendously difficult campaign to promote justice and equality in Northern Ireland, Clara Reilly unhesitatingly responded: “I have never regretted one day of my work for human rights, despite the highs and lows of that struggle.” Moore concluded: “Clara is assuredly a most worthy recipient of our Sean MacBride Humanitarian Award, which will be presented to her in conjunction with the AOH National President’s Testimonial Dinner in Philadelphia on October 8, 2011.”

 

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Ballymurphy Families Seeking Justice

Pictured (L-R) Briege Foyle, Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) Alice Harper, Congressman Tim Murphy (R-PA) and John Teggart

On December 9th, 2010, nearly 30 years after eleven people were slaughtered by the British Army in the Ballymurphy Massacre three relatives of the victims have taken their campaign for justice to Capitol Hill. These families have survived without public recognition or legal redress for all this time – meetings with Members of Congress are their latest effort for justice and the light of truth.

The massacre took place in the immediate aftermath of Internment by the British Government on August 9, 1971 – yet the horrific events in Ballymurphy between 9th and 11th August 1971 have remained hidden from public knowledge and focus. With the holding of the public inquiry into Bloody Sunday it has become clear that, had the Parachute Regiment been held to account for the murders in Belfast they could not have gone on to murder 14 more civilians with impunity six months later.

Father Sean Mc Manus, President of the Capitol Hill-based Irish National Caucus, said: “I was delighted and honored to meet with John Teggart and his sister, Alice Harper, son and daughter of Daniel Teggart and Briege Foyle, daughter of Joan Connolly”. Daniel Teggart (44) father of 13 and Mrs. Joan Connolly (50), mother of 8 were both murdered on August 9, 1971. The nine other victims were killed over the next two days, August 10 and 11.  Fr. Mc Manus called on all Irish-Americans worth their salt to fully support the campaigners’ just demand of an independent, international investigation into the Ballymurphy Massacre.

The sought after outcome of the families of the 11 murdered include the recognition of the injustice they have all experienced as a result of near 40 years without accountability to this massacre – this through an international investigation examining all of the circumstances. They appeal for the British Government to admit accountability for their horrendous crime and cover-ups, hoping to grant a sense of healing and closure.

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Michael Collins

I’m absolutely delighted to be here today at the 2010 Biennial National Conference of the AOH and the LAOH.  I want to thank your National President and our good friend Seamus Boyle for inviting me here.  Our Consul General in Chicago will also be with you during these days.  I would like also to salute and acknowledge the presence of deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

Despite its long history and early beginnings, the Ancient Order of Hibernians is an integral part of Irish America.  Although the challenges we face are new and ever changing, the Order has an importance today just as it had 174 years ago.  The roots of this organisation can be traced back to some of the darkest hours in Irish history – A time when freedom was more an idea than a reality.  Today our country is at peace and our fortunes greatly improved, but the work of this Order goes on, particular on this side of the Atlantic.

We salute you for your commitment and support of Ireland.  I particularly applaud the solidarity of the AOH with the Bloody Sunday families.  You have long supported the families and survivors of Bloody Sunday and rightfully share in their joy that those who died and were injured were innocent. The Saville Report on 15 June makes clear that the shootings by the British Army that day were “unjustified and unjustifiable”. Thus, for the families and after 38 years, the gaping wound of the injustice wrought by the Widgery Report was healed.

AOH involvement in education programs to ensure a greater appreciation of Ireland’s National heritage is a welcome priority. I was delighted to present at the awards last year at the National History Day.

The Good Friday Agreement is the bedrock of the precious peace that Ireland enjoys today.  Its great strength derives from its endorsement by the people North and South.  The recent election results in Northern Ireland were a ringing endorsement for those wanting to work together in the devolved institutions for the benefit of all the people.  We now have a unique opportunity to build sustained peace and prosperity on the island of Ireland. Today, Northern Ireland enjoys partnership Government and the various institutional structures of the Agreement are all in effect.

There has been a transformation of relations on the island of Ireland and also between Britain and Ireland.  The Taoiseach met with Prime Minister Cameron on 23 June at which the PM confirmed that the British Government was fully committed to the Good Friday Agreement.  Just last Monday there was a meeting in Dublin of the North South Ministerial Council chaired by the Taoiseach and the First and deputy First Minister. The Council is a vital part of the Good Friday Agreement architecture and provides the forum for Ministerial colleagues from North and South to address the key issues of the moment. And on Monday obviously the economic challenges that we all face were centre stage.

The devolution of Policing and Justice earlier this year marks an important milestone in fulfilling the full vision of the Good Friday Agreement. Ten years on from the Patten Report the responsibility and authority for policing and justice are now where they ought to be – at local level, accountable to and operating for the benefit of all the community.

There remain those who refuse to accept the will of the people. We deplore the acts of these dissidents and we are committed North and South to defeating them.  The work of reconciliation is a generational task. I welcome the ongoing support of the U.S. in helping us to underpin peace in Ireland, including through the International Fund for Ireland.

It will come as no surprise to many of you that Ireland has challenges of its own right now. Ireland, like most countries, has gone through a period of economic turbulence. However, the Government has taken the hard decisions necessary to deal with the effects of the global economic and financial crisis by stabilising our public finances, repairing our banking system and cutting costs to boost competitiveness. We are pursuing a detailed and well-planned strategy to ensure our economic recovery into the future.  It is evident that we are living through tough and difficult times, but we are meeting challenges head on and we will emerge stronger than before.  The U.S. is a key economic partner and foreign direct investment from here is vital to our economy.  But our economic relationship is also now a two way one reflecting the increasing investment by Irish companies in the U.S.  The Farmleigh Global Irish Economic Forum last September was an important initiative of the Irish Government to engage with our global family in a new and modern way. It has proven to be very successful.  We have also been engaged in a strategic review of our relationship and last year published the result of that review entitled “Ireland and America – Challenges and Opportunities in a new context”.

We say this is the year to come home to Ireland.  Tourism from the U.S. is very important to us.  I welcome the comments made by President Obama last Thursday in which he called for renewed efforts in establishing comprehensive immigration reform. The President stated it was time to “squarely confront our challenges with honesty and determination”. I would like to acknowledge the work and support of the AOH in this area. It is very important for our undocumented that this issue is resolved.  It is also important for us that we secure future flows through what we call the E3 programme.

I want to thank the Ancient Order of Hibernians for their work and their friendship. In you we have a formidable partner, and with you at our side we know that Ireland, and its people, will continue to flourish both at home and abroad.

Thank you.

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Martin McGuinness

We share the same objectives of Irish Reunification by Peaceful and Democratic means. We know that it is not enough to hold the aspiration; it is about what we do to make our objective real. I am proud that the AOH, LAOH and the bulk of Irish America has worked to make our shared objective of reunification a job under way.

Tom Paulin in his poem, ‘The Wild Birds Act of 1931’, likened the experience of nationalists and republicans in the northern state as being like tapping through granite with a spoon. We have always recognized that our struggle would not be easy. No grand gesture by a few would win freedom. Change comes from the small steps, and the resolute actions of the many.

38 years ago the British Army shot 27 innocent people on the streets of Derry. 14 of them died. These were people who were on a march for civil rights. A march which was banned from entering the centre of their own city!  The British compounded that tragedy by setting up the Widgery Tribunal and claiming that those killed were in some way guilty and complicit in their own deaths. They maintained that lie for 38 years.  But Bloody Sunday cannot be taken in isolation from the many acts that led up to it. The actions of the same troops in Ballymurphy left 11 innocent people dead. The same army enforced the Falls Curfew and internment without trial! It cannot be divorced from the countless acts of collusion, shoot to kill and intimidation that was visited on the nationalist community.

I also recognize and sympathize with that loss endured by the unionists and other communities due to the actions of Irish Republicans. Over the most recent period of the conflict in Ireland we have all suffered grievous loss. No one was exempt.       But over that period we built a movement for peace, a movement for equality and a movement for reunification; we had many partners including the Irish Government and British Government led by Tony Blair. We have moved from conflict, through negotiations and towards an inclusive power-sharing administration in the North.

At times it did indeed feel like tapping through granite with a spoon.  But by working together with the Irish Government other political parties and the involvement of America we have achieved:

–          Ceasefires

–          British Army being taken off the streets and returned to barracks

–          The signing of the Good Friday Agreement

–          The ending of the IRA campaign

–          The establishment of the Executive and Assembly

–          The establishment of the North South Ministerial council. Only last Monday a crucial meeting with Taoiseach Brian Cowan and Cabinet sitting with Ministers from the north including Unionists to share ideas and solutions for economic recovery took place in Dublin.

–          The signing of St. Andrews agreement which led to the establishment of power sharing between Ian Paisleys ‘s party the DUP and ourselves in Sinn Féin

–          Most recently we have successfully negotiated for the return of policing and justice powers from London to our administration in the North. We have now a policing and court service which recognizes human rights and is accountable to the people it serves.

–          And over the last two elections Sinn Féin emerged as the largest party in the North.

At all these junctions we were told that no further progress could be made. But we continued. In all of this progress we have been accompanied by the AOH, LAOH and our friends in Irish America and the American political establishment. Clinton, Bush and Obama and Hilary Clinton

The recent release of the Saville Tribunal into Bloody Sunday demonstrates how far we have travelled together. A British Prime Minister recognized that those killed and injured on Bloody Sunday were innocent. He said that the actions of the British Parachute Regiment were unjustified and unjustifiable. Maybe now after nearly 4 decades the British media will call it what it was in the words of the coroner of the time, ‘Unadulterated Murder’. When David Cameron apologized on behalf of the British Governments and acknowledged the injustice of Widgery his words were beamed directly into the centre of Derry where the families were gathered. The very place to which the original march was barred!

This only came about because of the lobbying and campaigning by the families of those injured and murdered. It came about because of the pressure of those who marched every year in the biting wind of January to mark the anniversary of the original march.  The people of Derry and the north are grateful for the support of the AOH and LAOH who marched loyally with us in Derry and who were part of making the apology possible. For the past 38 years, the AOH and LAOH have marched in support of the families. When others thought that it was pointless you persevered. I was delighted to be invited here, because the families and the people of Derry owe the AOH and LAOH a debt of honor. You stood with the people of Derry and we never forget our friends.

Yes a thousand spoons tapping through granite long and hard enough can reduce a mountain to rubble. Yet we cannot rest on our laurels if we are to achieve our objective of a unified Ireland.  We support reunification because it is the right of the Irish people in the fullest sense to define our own destiny. We support reunification because it makes sense. It makes economic sense, it makes political sense and it is the way to heal the divisions in our society.

We need to continually build support here and at home for peaceful democratic change.  I thank the many legislative and other bodies across this great nation that has supported resolutions in favor of reunification.  We also have much to do to build support at home for reunification.  Partition had an impact not just along the border. It infested a mindset in the 26 counties that turned its back on the north and it entrenched community division and promoted sectarianism in the North.

We need to unpick 90 years of partition and knit our society back together. We are working with Unionists and the Irish government in this regard.  The visit to the Bogside of the leaders of the main Protestant Churches in the aftermath of the Bloody Sunday Report to meet with the relatives of those killed and injured was inspiring. It was an act of leadership born out of compassion and respect for the families and people of Derry. I know you will applaud them for it.   Everyone in the community needs to feel the benefits of peace and change. As we build our coalition to support reunification there are those that seek to take us back to conflict, whose actions seek to have the British Army returned to our streets. They offer no strategy or plan to achieve Irish reunification and have repeatedly been rejected by the community. They should now go away.

I am mindful that we are in the lead up to the 12th July at home. A tense time for many communities! A time when another fraternal organization celebrates its heritage! I am of course referring to the Orange Order. I think that the Orange Order has much to learn from the open, generous and pragmatic approach to marching and working with host communities demonstrated by the AOH at home.

We recognize that the Orange Order is part of our shared heritage. They are part of our diverse nation and history. There is no greater symbol of this than our national flag. A symbol of peace and equality between green and orange!

All communities want to move forward together with equality and respect. I look forward to the day when the leaders of the Orange Order are willing to engage positively with the political and civic representatives of the Nationalist people of the North in the process of creating a better future for all our people.  Recent attacks on Orange Halls, places of worship, GAA, Sinn Féin Offices and other premises are to be unreservedly condemned for the hate crimes they are and I know you will all wholeheartedly agree with me that sectarianism like racism has no place in the New Ireland which is under way.

In republican parlance we refer to the cause of reunification as ‘the struggle’. We use the term because it will only be achieved by hard work, commitment and sacrifice. I am confident that it will be achieved. I am confident it will be achieved when I look back at how far we have come working together. And I am confident because it is the way to secure prosperity, inclusion and peace for all in our diverse community across Ireland.

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Bloody Sunday Deemed Unjustifiable

The day that the Saville report was to be released was a day of overwhelming anxiety for the families of those 27 shot and 14 killed on the streets of Derry some 38 years ago by the British Army.  The families were seeking a resolution – seeking the truth to come from a report that was headed by Lord Saville in a report that many felt would once again cover the facts of what happened on Bloody Sunday in 1972.  The original Widgery Tribunal that investigated the tragic shootings claimed that those killed were in someway guilty and complicit in there own deaths. The British Government maintained that position for 38 years.

On June 15, 2010, 4,520 days after the inquiry had begun, the findings were to be provided by British Prime Minister Cameron to the British House of Commons and broadcast live on television.  A large video screen was set up in Derry in front of the city’s Guildhall to accommodate a large crowd of viewers.  That day the families of the victims that have awaited justice for so many years and their supporters walked together through the streets of Derry to Guildhall to watch the report’s findings on the large screen.  They carried posters containing the pictures of those victims that did not survive those many years ago.  Their faces were distraught with the fear that once again those innocent victims would not meet justice and the facts would again be covered up by the British government.

Several Bloody Sunday family members now walking in Derry awaiting the report’s release had come to Washington, DC a few months earlier to meet Representative Chris Smith at his Capitol Hill office.  The meeting had been organized by Sean Pender our Freedom for all Ireland chairman.  A congressman from New Jersey, Chris is a great friend of the AOH and was the first chairman of a congressional committee to ever hold hearings on Northern Ireland.  These families came from Derry to request support from the Chris Smith and the U.S. Congress to pressure the British Government to be open with the release of the report, not delay it any longer and to not redact [conceal] vital information in the report when it was released.  Chris expressed his solidarity with the families and said that he would keep pressure on based upon the outcome of the report.

The inquiry took 12 years to produce – the longest public inquiry in British history at an estimated cost of £190.3 million (as of February 2010).  Investigators interviewed and received statements from around 2,500 people and 922 of these were called to give oral evidence including 505 civilians, nine experts and forensic scientists, 49 members of the media including photographers, 245 military, 35 paramilitary or former paramilitaries, 39 politicians and civil servants including intelligence officers, 33 Royal Ulster Constabulary officers and 7 priests.  The evidence included 160 volumes of data with an estimated 30 million words. This included 13 volumes of photographs, 121 audiotapes and 10 videotapes. The finished report is 5000 pages long and weighs 45 pounds.

The large crowd in Derry watched the live video as the findings were made public.  Anticipating the worst, they watched with growing anxiety.  Then the words of Prime Minister Cameron, the Conservative Party Leader wrung out on the large televised screen in the public gathering like victorious church bells signalling the enemies defeat.  “There is no doubt. There’s nothing equivocal, there are no ambiguities. What happened on Bloody Sunday was both unjustified and unjustifiable. It was wrong,” Cameron told the House of Commons.  “It was an act of murder that cried out for justice and truth,” he continued, “The government is ultimately responsible for the conduct of the armed forces. And for that, on behalf of the [British] government, indeed on behalf of our country, I am deeply sorry.”

The families and the crowd gathered in Derry reacted with cheers and fists pumped into the air.  They were jubilant; their smiles, tears and happy faces showed that justice had finally come.  Their long struggle for the truth had now become their victory with the words emanating from the screen.

The report concluded that the first shot in the vicinity of the march was fired by British soldiers and no warning was given to civilians. None of the casualties was carrying a firearm and while there was some shooting by republican paramilitaries, none of this firing provided any justification for the shooting of civilian casualties.  It also determined that the British soldiers had lost their self-control and that that some of those who were killed or injured were clearly fleeing from paratroopers, or going to the assistance of others who were dying.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams expressed that, “The facts of what happened on Bloody Sunday are clear. The British Paras came to Derry and murdered 14 civil rights marchers and injured 13 others. They were unarmed, they posed no threat and they were completely innocent.”  Adams added “Today, Saville has put the lies of Widgery into the dustbin of history and with it the cover-up which was authorized of the highest levels within the British establishment and lasted for almost four decades.”

In a letter to AOH President Boyle one family member stated, “I never understood what an impact this could have had – probably because I thought it would never happen, it did and I wish everyone who is reading this could have felt the atmosphere in the City that day and since. It was amazing – a large dark cloud was lifted and people were taken back in time, Derry City will never be the same. The injustice that was done not only on the day but by the Widgery report ripped the life out of a once proud people. My mother’s family was deeply affected and regularly harassed by the British army – raids on houses etc. all is in the past. My Uncle Mickey was wearing his Sunday best; he was walking towards a civilian who was shot to help get him to safety. He was subsequently shot in the head by a high velocity bullet… he did not die yet and I will not go into further details at this point but his body went missing for several hours before any doctor was allowed to examine him.”  He added, “The 15th of June 2010 banished the ghost of the British Army from our streets; today our dignity and pride remain intact. We will continue to work peacefully until we are free from foreign interference. One Island, One Ireland. I felt compelled to write this to thank the AOH in the USA. Not a year went past from 1972 that AOH members from all over the U.S. did not congregate on our streets to demand TRUTH. Now we have it my friends, this is a victory for you as much as for us. You are always welcome on the Streets of Derry.”

Back in Washington, Representative Chris Smith joined his New York colleagues and Co-Chairs of the Ad Hoc Committee on Irish Affairs, Eliot Engel .Peter King and Joseph Crowley to say, “With the release of the Saville report on the ‘Bloody Sunday’ tragedy of January 30, 1972, and its principal findings that British paratroopers initiated gunfire without warning and that the fourteen men they killed were unarmed, the British government has finally given the families and friends of those killed a measure of justice. Nothing can return to them their husbands, fathers, and sons. Yet the report and the British Prime Minister’s apology and statement that the British army’s actions “were ‘unjustified and unjustifiable’ is an official recognition of truth and a prerequisite for a lasting peace and justice throughout Northern Ireland. We thank the survivors—the families of those killed—for their faithfulness in the quest for truth, and recognize the service they have performed for Northern Ireland.”

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Thomas Davis

There are few events in Irish history as tragic as the death of Thomas Osborne Davis. He was a rare man whose impact on the history of Ireland has never been truly appreciated. Born in Mallow, Co Cork on Oct 14, 1814, the son of a British Army Surgeon, he was educated at Trinity College and called to the Bar in 1838, but Davis heard another call: the call of Ireland. He heard it in the voice of Dan O’Connell when the Great Emancipator visited his home town in 1842, and asked a crowd of 400,000, “Where is the coward who would not die for Ireland?” This was a fiery young O’Connell, not the parliamentarian of later years, and he raised the consciousness of the Irish to a new spirit of nationalism. Men like Davis, filled with the fire of that patriotism, joined his cause. You see, after the brutal suppression of Ireland following the rising of 1798, the country remained depressed until O’Connell began to raise the issue of Catholic emancipation. It was then that the Irish people began to raise their heads again, but when they did it was not the voice of O’Connell they heard, but the voice of Thomas Davis and the ‘Young Irelanders’.

O’Connell fell short of the goals he inspired in other men when he chose to negotiate in the Parliamentary arena. Davis, on the other hand, fired by O’Connell’s early speeches against the tyranny of England, never changed direction as his mentor had. The young Protestant barrister with two colleagues, Charles Gavan Duffy and John Blake Dillon, founded The Nation, a newspaper that would propagate patriotism and a love for Irish national literature like no other tabloid of its time. It was then that the doctrines and principles of Wolfe Tone and the United Irishmen were resurrected, and Tone was finally recognized as the Father of Modern Irish Republicanism. As the spirit of nationalism once more began to beat in Irish breasts, a poem appeared in the April 1843 edition of The Nation. It was called the ‘Memory of the Dead’, and it read:

“Who fears to speak of ‘98? Who blushes at the name?
When cowards mock the patriot’s fate, who hangs his head for shame?
He’s all a knave, or half a slave who slights his country thus;
But true men, like you men, will fill your glass with us.”

The Nation became a great power whose place in history is that it rekindled the dying flame of Wolfe Tone’s nationalist doctrine of Irishmen – Catholic, Protestant, and Dissenter, together for Irish freedom. The gallant attempt at independence by the United Irishmen of 1798, and by Robert Emmet in 1803 were all but forgotten. England’s brutal and abusive suppression after those attempted risings had all but stamped out the memory of the great Tone and his ideals. The Nation revived that memory, and the sentiment that had inspired it, and in so doing, created a nationalist tradition that has lasted to this very day, due in no small part to the writings of Davis himself.

It is truly written that the bullet of the patriot is soon forgotten while the words of the poet are immortal. Davis was brilliant with words and verse; his poetry captured the nation’s imagination. He lionized Ireland’s hero’s, and gave her some of her most inspiring ballads. His lament for the great Chieftain Owen Roe O’Neill who was poisoned by a pawn of the English in 1649, seethes with fury:

Did they Dare, Did they dare to slay Owen Roe O’Neill
Yes they slew with poison him they feared to face with steel.
May God wither up their hearts, may their blood cease to flow,
May they walk in living death, who poisoned Owen Roe.

His memorable poems about Fontenoy, the Clare Dragoons, and Wolfe Tone were on the lips of every Irishman of the age. He drew to his philosophy such talented future leaders as John Mitchel, Speranza, William Smith O’Brien, Michael Doheny, Clarence Mangan, D’Arcy McGee, and Thomas Francis Meagher. His followers became the Young Irelanders, and their impact on history was considerable for they carried Davis’s philosophy into the origin of Ireland’s greatest nationalist movement – the Fenian Brotherhood. Unfortunately they did so without the master, for Thomas Davis succumbed to a fever brought on by an exhausted condition, and he died at his mother’s home in Dublin on September 16, 1845 – 164 years ago. It was only a month before his 32nd birthday and just at the start of An Gorta Mor – the great hunger that would devastate his beloved Ireland. How he would have faced that tragedy can only be imagined, but there is no doubt that it would have been memorable.

The death of Davis, the brave young hope of his country, was a greater disaster for Ireland than she has ever recognized for he was the bridge between Wolfe Tone’s United Irishmen and the Irish Republican Brotherhood. It was he who insured that the nationalism of Tone was not interred with him in that green grave at Bodenstown which Irishmen cherish as their most prized possession. The only consolation we have is that his songs are with us still. Who has not marveled at the bold courage displayed in The West’s Awake; and who is not moved – to this very day – by the nationalist sentiment in the song he wrote to express his fondest desire – A Nation Once Again.

Ireland’s Joan of Arc

Maud Gonne

One of the least known today, yet the most influential Irish Revolutionaries of her time, was a lady named Maud Gonne. She was born on Dec. 20, 1865, in Aldershot, England, to a British army colonel of Irish descent and a partly Irish mother. Her mother died when Maud was only six and she and her sister were sent to France to be educated. In 1882, her father was posted to Dublin Castle and he brought his two daughters with him and Maud assumed the role of hostess of the household. She grew into a stunningly beautiful woman – six feet tall, pretty face, hour-glass figure and long, wavy, red hair; she was widely praised as one of the beauties of the age.

Maud’s father died in 1886 leaving her financially independent. She moved back to France for health reasons after a tubercular hemorrhage, and she met and fell in love with French journalist Lucien Millevoye, editor of a radical newspaper, ‘La Patrie.’ The pair worked together for both Irish and French nationalist causes. Maud ended her relationship with Millevoye in the late 1890s, but not before she had two children by him: a daughter, Iseult and one that died in infancy.

Maud had been introduced to Fenianism by John O’Leary, a veteran of the 1848 Young Irelander uprising and, in a short time, nationalist leader Tim Harrington recognized that this beautiful, intelligent young woman could be an asset to the nationalist cause. He sent her to Donegal, where mass evictions were taking place. A local newspaper documented her coming as “a Celtic Goddess arriving on a white charger to free the oppressed people of Donegal.” A powerful and emotional speaker, She was successful in organizing the locals in protest against the evictions. The fact that she fled to France to avoid arrest is a good measure her success there.

In 1889, John O’Leary introduced Maud to a man whose infatuation with her would last most of his life: poet William Butler Yeats. Yeats proposed to Maud in 1891, and was refused, but largely through her influence, he became involved with Irish nationalism, later joining the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). At that time, the IRB was a secret organization but Maud brought it into public prominence with her many protests against slum landlords and the cruel eviction laws of her day. She also managed to attract police and political attention when she vehemently protested the celebration of Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee.

Maud helped Yeats found the National Literary Society of London in 1891, the same year she refused his first marriage proposal; undaunted, Yeats proposed again and even proposed to Maud’s daughter by Millevoye – also unsuccessfully. Returning to Paris, and to Millevoye, Maud published a nationalist newsletter called ‘L’Irelande Libre (Free Ireland).’ She worked tirelessly raising funds for the movement, traveling to the US, Scotland, and England. By now the name of Maud Gonne was well known among Irish nationalists and she was called Ireland’s Joan of Arc.

Returning to Ireland, she co-founded the Transvaal Committee, which supported the Afrikaners in the Boer War, and on Easter Sunday 1900 she co-founded Inghinidhe na hÉireann (Daughters of Erin), a revolutionary women’s society for whose monthly journal she wrote many political and feminist articles. Somehow, while doing all this, she found time to star on stage in Yeats play, ‘Cathleen ní Houlihan,’ which Yeats had written specifically for her.

In 1900, in Paris, Irish politician Arthur Griffith introduced Maud to Major John MacBride, who had been second in command of the Irish Brigade that fought on the Afrikaner side in the Boer War. In 1903 Maud married MacBride. Although the marriage produced a son, Seán, it was short-lived and the couple separated. Maud continued to write political articles and in 1910 she joined Constance Markievicz, James Connolly and Jim Larkin in a campaign to feed the poor children of Dublin. When it was arranged that King Edward visit Dublin, Maude helped form a Citizen’s Watch Committee and spoke before a rally of the Irish Parliamentary Party damning their support of the visit. After her speech, an hour-long fight broke out which led to the ruin of the Irish Parliamentary Party. Sinn Fein rose from its ashes.

During World War One, she worked with the Red Cross in France and returned to Ireland in 1917. She found Ireland in turmoil after the Easter Rising of 1916 and the execution of the rising leaders, including her estranged husband, John MacBride. Within a year she was jailed by the British for her part in the anti-conscription movement. This was part of the trumped up “German Plot” that the British used to discredit anti-conscription activity. Maud was interned at Holloway Jail for six months along with Hanna Sheehy Skeffington, Kathleen Clarke, Countess Markievicz and others. After she was released, she worked for the White Cross for relief of Irish victims during the War of Independence.

When Ireland’s Civil War came, Maud supported the anti-treaty side. She helped to found the Women’s Prisoners Defense League to help Republican prisoners and their families. In 1923, she once again found herself imprisoned, this time by the Irish Free State government, without charge. Along with 91 other women, Maud went on hunger strike. The Free State government released her after 20 days. In 1927, after government leader Kevin O’Higgins was assassinated and several IRA men were indiscriminately arrested, she organized a public demonstration which filled Dublin’s streets and the men were later released. For the rest of her life Maud would continue to support the Republican cause and work for the Women’s Prisoners Defense League, which mobilized again in defense of Republican prisoners in 1935.

Maud Gonne MacBride died on April 27, 1953, but her influence on Ireland and the world continued after her death through her son, Seán MacBride. As a young man, Seán fought on the Republican side in the Civil War and later carried on his mother’s crusade for the fair treatment of political prisoners, not just in Ireland, but all over the world. Seán was one of the founders of Amnesty International and, in 1974, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Maud Gonne MacBride is buried in the Republican plot in Glasnevin Cemetery, a fitting final tribute to the woman who was referred to as Ireland’s Joan of Arc.