50 Years Ago

AILTIRÍ NA h-AISÉIRÍ

On September 9, 1922 — 75 years ago — the Free State 26-County parliament met for the first time and took over Leinster House, Dublin as its base.

While it usurped the title Dáil Éireann it was convened officially as “the parliament to which the Provisional Government is responsible”, and not as Dáil Éireann.

That Provisional Government had been appointed in January 1922 by the “House of Commons of Southern Ireland” established by the British Government of Ireland Act 1920.

Accordingly, it was not the Third Dáil Éireann which has yet to be convened, but the First Free State Parliament. All Leinster House administrations since then are its successors but they do not descend from the First and Second (All-Ireland) Dáileanna.

The establishment media in the 26 Counties have lauded the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Free State Army and of the Gardaí who supplanted the Republican Police of the All-Ireland Dáil.

But the outbreak of what is termed the Civil War — at England’s behest — and the suppression of the Supreme Court of the Republic when it ruled against the Free State junta have not been commemorated. Selective historical recollection to suit present political requirements at Leinster House is the order of the day.

Instead we had television programmes celebrating India and Pakistan’s independence from British rule on August 15, fifty years ago. Again this was selective.

No mention was made of the active struggle component of the Indian resistance — only of Gandhi’s civil disobedience and non-co-operation campaigns. The gallant Subhas Chandra Bose who headed the physical force element of the Indian people was not mentioned.

Seán Cronin writing in “An Irishman’s Diary” in the Irish Times of October 16, 1995 quotes a Polish historian, Dr Wawrzyniec Konarski in regard to Ireland but he also mentioned India.

“Other colonial enemies of British imperialism, such as the left-wing Indian Congress leader, Subhas Chandra Bose, followed a different path (from de Valera).

“Bose formed an Indian National Army with Japanese help to invade India, where he was the third most popular Congress leader after Gandhi and Nehru. He might have stirred rebellion in India had he survived but died in an air crash.”

‘IRRECONCILABLES’

One of Dr Konarski’s two books on Ireland is entitled Irreconcilables: The story of the Irish Republican Army and was published in 1991. Of course some elements of the IRA down the years became reconciled to British rule in Ireland.

Within the past 30 years such elements — following the example of the first Free Staters — even usurped Republican titles. The Officials and the Provisionals insist on calling themselves Óglaigh na h-Éireann — Irish Republican Army, a title to which they have forfeited all right.

In India of course the British stirred up division to weaken the independence movement and partition into Pakistan and India was the result. Much bloodshed and loss of life ensued as the minority Moslems fought with the majority Hindus.

The pattern was similar in other colonies Britain was forced to relinquish. The BBC television series End of Empire chronicles the development not only in India but also in Cyprus and Palestine.

In such cases a minority was favoured in order to block the majority struggle for national freedom. In Cyprus the Turkish population was used and in Palestine at differing times both the Arabs and the Jews.

In those cases also the success of the anti-colonial struggle left in its wake partition and bloodshed which continues to this day.

Of course, Ireland had pioneered the anti-imperialist struggle world-wide and Ireland was the first to suffer partition, neo-colonialism and the arming of a minority as allies of British rule.

An interesting link between Ireland and the Indian struggle is recorded by George Gilmore in his extended work The Irish Republican Congress published in 1978.

NO FREE STATE SUPPORT FOR INDIA

He tells how Mr VJ Patel, ex-President of the Indian Legislative Assembly came to Ireland as a representative of the Indian National Congress movement in 1932. His mission was to the Fianna Fáil government to enlist their support for the anti-imperialist struggle in India.

“When Mr de Valera turned down his proposals he came, a very much disappointed man, to the IRA,” George Gilmore relates.

“He told us that he had discovered to his amazement that Mr de Valera had evolved ‘a kind of nationalism that is not anti-imperialist’ “.

Gilmore reckoned that Fianna Fáil’s programme was based on de Valera’s famous Document No 2 at the time of the Treaty debate in 1921-22.

He goes on: “The symbols of subjection were to be removed. In the acceptance of matters of Defence, Peace and War and Political Treaty as the common concern of Ireland and the Empire, it marked the abandonment of the old ideological line-up with other subject peoples struggling to be free.

“It contained in its implications the preservation of capitalist society in Ireland and association with the defence of it on a world-wide scale. In relation to the development of imperialist policy it was prophetic — but premature.” Interesting, very interesting.

In Ireland 50 years ago, a radical nationalist organisation which been founded in the early 1940s was still very active although it would shortly be overtaken as a political party by Clann na Poblachta. Its name was Ailtirí na h-Aiséirí (Architects of Resurgence), popularly known simply as Aiséirí. At a time when hundreds of the most forward-thinking activists in Ireland were interned without trial at the Curragh and in Belfast, with others imprisoned in England and on both sides of the Border, Aiséirí attracted many idealists Irish people to its banner.

It claimed to be based on radical national and social principles as well as on Christian thinking and it was led by a Belfast man living in Dublin named Gearóid Ó Cuinneagáin.

Gearóid was an exemplary Irishman. He left an important civil service job in Dublin in 1932 to go and perfect his Irish in the Donegal Gealtacht. Indeed he was a familiar figure at the annual Oireachtas na Gaeilge up to his death in the 1980s.

With others he founded Craobh na hAiséirí of Conradh na Gaeilge in 1940. It must be pointed out that in the early 1940s Republicans were more likely to be found in Craobh na bhFiann (the Soldiers’ Branch) of the Conradh.

From the Irish language movement it was that Aiséirí sprung. Leading the new upsurge and intellectual shake-up there were two outstanding people — Gearóid Ó Cuinnegán and Proinsias Mac an Bheatha.

COMPREHENSIVE ACCOUNT

Seosamh Ó Duibhginn’s book Ag Scaoileadh Sceoil (1962) contains a most comprehensive account of Aiséirí and its origins.

He says that the two leaders mentioned had energy and enthusiasm out of the ordinary, but that they were not revolutionaries. They had not the stuff of leaders in them, nor the training or the qualifications.

They used to send Irish language journals and pamphlets in to the Curragh Concentration Camp, as well as books in Irish. Ó Duibhginn felt they were “imitating” the leaders of the military-type dictatorships which came to the forefront on the continent in the 1930s except that they had God and Christianity as a “sing-song” at the beginning and end of their speeches.

People in the Curragh felt that the language question was at a low point and even if Aiséirí did no good it would do no harm. They tolerated it and the walls of the dining hall were covered with Aiséirí posters.

But when Aithrí na hAiséirí was formed out of Craobh na hAiséirí of Conradh in 1942, Proinsias Mac an Bheatha split from Ó Cuinneagaín and formed Glún na Buaidhe (Generation of Victory), a purely Irish language body.

Aiséirí had a flair for publicity which included spectacular posters. These included: “Behead Baron Banker” and “Ireland needs a Salazar” (!). The latter reference to the Portuguese Dictator would not find favour with Republicans.

Ó Duibhginn says that in all fairness it must be said that no other group in Ireland put forward a collection of ideas as important at that time of renewal and intellectual discussion throughout the world.

OBJECTIVES AND PROGRAMME

He lists the Objectives and Programme of Aiséirí as published from their Head Office in Harcourt St, Dublin:

“The freedom of all Ireland as a truly Christian State in social and economic matters . . . the encouragement and strengthening of national morale through the restoration of the Irish language . . . One national government, an end to the “foreign liberal” parliamentary system . . . the organisation of social and economic life in a just Christian manner through a “corporate” system . . . a new code of law for this corporate State based on the 1916 Proclamation . . . Finance and credit under State control . . . a new unit of currency based on the metric system . . . the link with sterling to be broken . . . Public works to end unemployment through: (1) Building 100,000 houses; (2) Electrifying and nationalising railways; (3) construction of motorways; (4) Drainage of land; (5) 500,000 tons of merchant and naval shipping; (6) Bog development; and, (7) Development of mineral wealth. Also listed were agricultural co-operation, State control of industrial development with a guaranteed fair wage and profit sharing, military and community service, re-afforestation, an end to emigration, marriage and family allowances, free education up to 16 years in a system suited to Irish needs, nationalisation and re-establishment of fishing as an important national industry, the ending of the power of foreigners, freemasons and groundrent landlords, the re-organisation of the civil service.

Apart from Aiséirí proposals, Ó Duibhginn says, Irish cultural and political life was impotent and sterile. If Ó Cuinneagáin were more level-headed, perhaps Aiséirí could have succeeded. He was leader and there would be no election of officers, for instance.

Eternally harping on Christianity in a country where almost everyone claimed to be Christian was excessive in political life. Electoral participation in 1943 and 1944 was not successful. Of course how to implement such a programme through Leinster House raises a fundamental question.

AWAKENED SPIRIT

However, it must be admitted that Aiséirí energised national life, Ó Duibhginn says. It awakened the spirit of the intelligent youth and showed that Gaeilgeoirí were alive and active.

It was the greatest national upsurge of the early and mid ’40s and he mentions An Seabhac, Annraoi Ó Liathaín, Oireachtas na Gaeilge and An Glór — published by Coiste Átha Claith of Conradh — as the most active in the cultural and political shake-up.

Gearóid Ó Broin of Dublin and Seán Sabhat of Limerick were among the idealistic youth who cut their political teeth with Aiséirí and went on to join the Republican Movement.

As late as 1949 Dublin was festooned with an anonymous poster: “Arm Now to Take the North”. It was found out to be Aiséirí’s answer to the British “Ireland Act” of that year which strengthened Partition.

Policy documents issued included Aiséirí for the Worker (1944) and Partition: a Positive Policy which advocated national military mobilisation if all else failed to end British rule. But no military organisation was founded . . .

(More next month. Ref. Irish Times, October 16, 1995; The Irish Republican Congress by George Gilmore, Cork Workers’ Club, 1978 and Ag Scaoileadh Sceoil le Seosamh Ó Duibhginn — An Clócomhar Teo, BÁC, 1962.)



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