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Irish Left History Project: Irish Workers Group, 1966-68 October 15, 2009

Posted by leftopenhistoryteam in Irish Left Open History Project, Irish Workers Group 1966-68.

Of the other elements involved perhaps it is worth mentioning the Irish Workers Group, which is a revolutionary Socialist group which aims to mobilise the Irish section of the international working class to overthrow the existing Irish bourgeois states, destroy all remaining imperialist organs of political and economic control and establish an all-Ireland Socialist Workers Republic. The leader is Gerard Richard Lawless of 22 Duncan Street, London, a former member of the I.R.A who was interned by the Government of the Irish Republic in 1957. Eamon McCann of 10 Gaston Square, Londonderry, a prominent participant in the unlawful procession, is chairman of the Irish Workers Group in Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland membership includes Mr. Rory McShane of 14 Upper Crescent, Belfast, who was prominent in the formation of the so-called Queen’s University Republican Club.” (William Craig, 16 October 1968, Stormont Papers, Vol.70 (1968), p.1022)

Copy of Irish Militant, May 1966, here. (5MB)

Copy of Workers’ Republic, May-June 1967, here (note:38MB)

The Irish Workers Group (IWG) was formed in London in 1966, out of the divisions within the Irish Communist Group. It is argued by D.R. O’Connor Lysaght that the IWG was the first active Trotskyist group to establish itself in Ireland since the Revolutionary Socialist Party of the 1940s. This does not mean that the origins of modern Irish Trotskyism lie within the IWG – the SWM/SWP and Militant/Socialist Party, who arrived in the 1970s, are both outside its borders, while the Socialist Labour League had activists in Ireland contemporaneous to the IWP – merely that it is pivotal to any understanding of the Trotskyist movement on the island. Indeed, in terms of personnel, if not quite ideology, it is possible to trace the IWG in 1967 to the present-day Workers Unemployed Action Group in Clonmel, as well as Socialist Democracy.

The IWG may not have been the only Trotskyist group in Ireland, but what made it a step apart from the others was the fact that it had been set up by Irish émigrés in London and brought back to Ireland by Irish people. Almost all other groups I have come across so far were essentially branches of already-established British movements. Whether this lessens or strengthens the authority of the IWG in Irish Trotskyism, I don’t know. However, it is a fact, and needs to be acknowledged.

In 1967 the IWG published its Manifesto, available here.

As regards the story of the IWG, there are two main written accounts. One is by Seán Matgamna, who was a member of the group for a short time, and D.R. O´Connor Lysaght, who wrote an article sometime in the 1980s on the history of Irish Trotskyism.

Matgamna’s account is available on Workers’ Liberty, here. He takes issue with a lot of what O’Connor Lysaght says, particularly with regard to Gery Lawless, for whom Matgamna seems to carry a personal disregard.

Matgamna makes a few claims about Gery Lawless regarding the time Lawless was interned in the Curragh – claims that are unfounded as this article by John McGuire of the University of Limerick makes clear. Matgamna also makes claims about Lawless’ case against Ireland in the European Court of Human Rights. However, a reading of the actual case shows that Matgamna, on this point, is again somewhat less than accurate.

O’Connor Lysaght’s account is not freely available, and so I’ve taken the liberty of reproducing an extract from his article where he deals with the IWG.

Similarly, ‘The Origins of Trotskyism in Ireland’ by Ciaran Crossey and James Monaghan,although available, is hard to find. The last six paragraphs which deal with the re-emergence of Trotskyism in Ireland after 1958 is reproduced after O’Connor’s article below.

I believe, but I am not certain, that membership of the IWG included the following: Gery Lawless, Eamonn McCann, Liam Daltun, Michael Farrell, Joseph McAnna, Bairbre McCluskey, James Lynch, Anne Murphy, and Paddy Healy.

By the way, both extracts claim that Gery Lawless was instrumental in establishing the Irish Workers Union. From conversations with one person who was in the Irish Workers Union at the time, and with another who knew some of the people involved, this does not appear to be the case. However, Lawless was certainly a member of the Irish Workers Union, and an active one at that.

Here’s what O’Connor Lysaght has to say on the IWG. As always with this series, all comments and clarifications gratefully received.

[From ‘Early History of Irish Trotskyism’ by D.R. O’Connor Lysaght.]

“Although the Republican movement had adopted an economic and social programme [in the 1950s] it was little more political than it had been during the Emergency. Many, particularly in Dublin, chafed at this conservatism. Others, in Co. Tyrone (Saor Uladh) wanted especially to hasten the military struggle. The two dissident groupings broke with mainstream Republicanism and came together around the demand for more action, both political and military. Before the new body could be named, it was destroyed by Government repression. Even then, its members’ search for revolutionary politics had produced a man who has as such claim as anyone to the title of father of modern Irish Trotskyism, embarrassing as it may be to his child.

The man was Gerry [sic] Lawless. He learnt about Trotskyism in the Curragh prison camp where he read the documents of the Fourth International fifth world Congress. On his release, he had to leave Ireland for Britain. There he served a political apprenticeship with the S.L.L. [Socialist Labour League]. In 1963, sections of the International Committee to which the S.L.L. was affiliated, reunited with their opponents, the International Secretariat to form a United Secretariat of the Fourth International (U.S.F.I.). The S.L.L. did not support this move. Lawless did so, partly out of dissatisfaction with the Leagues´greater British chauvinism.

Though he broke with it, he did not join the U.S.F.I. which was probably his single biggest mistake. Instead, he sought to build an Irish Trotskyist group that could not take sides in the International (and even at that time more confusingly the British) Trotskyist controversies. In this course, he made strange bedfellows among London Irish immigrants. First he formed an Irish Workers Union. Then he combined with the Maoists who would constitute the so called Irish Communist Organisation (now the B.I.C.O.) in an Irish Communist Group. When this last split into Trotskyist and Stalinite [sic] parts in late 1965, the former founded the Irish Workers Group (I.W.G.) which brought Trotskyism back to Ireland at last.

The I.W.G.´s Dublin branch was founded in May 1967. A few months later, it initiated a branch in Belfast which included Michael Farrell. Another branch was started in Dundalk. The group oriented towards the Labour parties on both sides of the border. This was justified by a somewhat Stalinophobic attitude to the Stalinites who had taken over the Republican movement after the border campaign collapsed in 1962. However, it was corect for other reasons. The Labour youth movements were wide open. Furthermore the new social hyper-activity of the Republicans was kept within the perimeters of the Stalinite concept of rigorously controlled revolutionary stages, the current one being that of (anti-landlord) bourgeois revolution. Outside Bray, Co. Wicklow, this did not pay dividends. It would be the six county crisis from 1969 that revived Irish Republicanism, even if, in doing so, it split it. On the other hand, the IWG’s contribution reflected also among its members a variation of the traditional theoretical weakness of the Irish left. Ignorant of the 1944 [theses]

[part missing]

… of the Irish international question. In common with nearly everyone, including most Republicans, they expected a peaceful end to partition.

This weakness affected the way the IWG split in 1968. To strengthen the group’s politics, Lawless had brought in Seán Matgamna and his comrades of Workers Fight, a British group with a history of political analysis of a sort. Matgamna showed himself a prolific theoretician but one as weak as anybody on the National Question, in particular on the EEC. He wrote an article for Irish Militant (the IWG’s agitational paper) in which he posed as a fighting slogan “in or out of the Common Market, the struggle goes on.” Anticipating opposition, he made a pre-emptive strike. He proclaimed a faction around the demand for a homogeneous organisation, which meant in his concrete interpretation, expelling Lawless. In the resulting struggle, the three issues were, in order of importance, the national question, party building, and Lawless, but the volume of the debate as in reverse ration.

Matgamna and his allies, including Patrick (Paddy) Healy, were defeated in the group as a whole. They withdrew on St. Patrick’s Day 1968 and Healy formed the League for a Workers’ Republic. The minority had won a majority of the Dublin branch. The IWG was unable to reform before the civil rights agitation in Northern Ireland reached a critical phase. The Belfast members of the group had tended to be alienated from Leninism by Matgamna’s appeal to its tenet to justify anything he wanted to do. On 7th October 1968 they broke with the IWG to form a much more promising but distinctly non-Leninist mass organisation on the lines of the mass centrist bodies that had appeared in contemporary Europe as a result of the uprisings the previous May. The new body was Peoples Democracy. Its birth was, in fact, the end of the IWG, though it was not liquidated officially until May 1969. It seems also to have been the end of Gerry Lawless’ consistent career as an Irish revolutionary as distinct from a British revolutionary supporting the Irish struggle.”

Here’s what Ciaran Crossey and James Monaghan have to say about the re-emergence of Trotskyism in Ireland.

[‘The Origins of Trotskyism in Ireland’ by C.Crossey & J.Monaghan, Revolutionary History, vol.6, No. 2/3, 1996]

“towards the end of the 1950s, the Socialist Labour League from Britain did recruit a few individuals in Ireland, but nothing substantial came of this. This toehold did develop later into an apparently substantial SLL group here which worked in the Northern Ireland Labour Party. They quickly established control of the Young Socialists, which they ran for the next two years. They also had a base in the Draughsman’s Union in the shipyards. A leading recruit from the Communist Party of Great Britain in the late 1950s was Brian Behan, brother of Brendan. Behan was an industrial organiser for the CPGB in the building industry, and continued in this role for the SLL. He developed anarchist ideas, and split during a dispute with the SLL leadership, taking the Dublin branch with him.

Unfortunately, the ultra-left policies of the SLL in general were also applied here, so that in 1964 the SLL and the Young Socialists walked out of the NILP and into the political wilderness. Considering that the 1960s saw the development of civil rights agitation, the Loyalist reaction to it, and the growth of worldwide politicalisation, it is shocking to see the SLL was nowhere to be seen. An organisation which allegedly had widespread support in 1964 had collapsed by 1966, had only a few individuals in 1969, and made no impact on events, although branches of the SLL existed in Derry, Belfast and Dublin, at least in paper.

apart from the SLL, attempts to revive Marxism in Ireland were centered around Gery Lawless. Lawless was a Republican prisoner in the 1950s, and whilst inside read a range of socialist material. Upon his release he ended up in England where he initiated the Irish Workers Union and then the Irish Communist Group. This was a mish-mash of different political strands, including some who later ended up establishing the Irish Communist Organisation, which subsequently developed into the British and Irish Communist Organisation.

The ICG split in late 1965 into its Maoist and Trotskyist wings. The Trotskyist wing, the Irish Workers Group, existed for a period in Britain, but without any support in Ireland. In its early period, the IWG held a number of discussions with the Militant group in Britain. When the debate inside the IWG developed over Maoism, Brendan Clifford wrote documents attacking Trotskyism and the application of the theory of permanent revolution to Ireland. The relpy was written for the Trotskyist faction by Ted Grant, who was at the time the political editor of the Militant newspaper. A slightly abridged version is available in Ted Grant’s The Unbroken Thread.

By May 1967 the IWG had set up a branch in Dublin, to be followed a few months by the Belfast branch, and then one in Dundalk. They set up a paper called the Irish Militant (nothing to do with the later group), and a theoretical journal, Workers Republic. The IWG lasted a short period before it collapsed in late 1968. It suffered two splits that year. After a factional discussion on threetopics – the national question, party building, and Gery Lawless and his role in the organisation, the minority faction withdrew on 17 March 1968 to set up the League for a Workers Republic. This faction was led by Seán Matgamna and Paddy Healy, and took the majority of the Dublin branch of the IWG. Disillusioned by the in-fighting the IWG and attracted by the potential mass student movement in the North, the Belfast branch effectively ceased operating when they joined the newly developing Peoples Democracy in ctober 1968. This was a radical youth group in and around the Civil Rights Association. I think it could best be described as radical, but definitely not a Marxist group, with some of its leadership describing themselves as ‘post-Marxist’.

The League for a Workers Republic built up its base through the growing Young Socialist organisations which seem to have been semi-formal sections of the two Labour parties. In the North the left wing of the NILP and the Young Socialists moved in a number of directions. Eamon McCann is now one of the leaders of the Socialist Workers Movement, whilst some of those active in Derry YS joined the Militant.

By the early 1970s there were a number of groups claiming to be Trotskyist: the League for a Workers Republic, the League for a Workers Vanguard, the Movement for a Socialist Republic, Militant and the Socialist Workers Movement, as well as possibly some other grouplets.”


1. Mark P - October 15, 2009

Interesting the only advert in the paper is for “Militant – the Marxist paper for workers and youth”. I suppose that ties in with Ted Grant being enlisted to write the response to Clifford.


2. splinteredsunrise - October 15, 2009

Clifford is quite the card… Actually, I have a typescript of the Lysaght document and have been meaning to scan or transcribe it. That’ll go on the list then.


3. Jim Monaghan - October 15, 2009

You could add Phil Flynn to the membership as well.
The IWG had/cultivated good relations wiith all the Trotslyist groups, sorry the IS /Militant and the proto IMG.You wuill find atricles from people in all 3.
I don’t think they had any with teh SLL. The SLL had Brian Behan, Brendans brother for a while.


4. Jim Monaghan - October 15, 2009

After the collapse of the IWG, Matgamna formed an alliance with Paddy Healys LWR. A sort of mini international of the Isles.He maintained good relations with those who drifted into Saor Eire.


5. Starkadder - October 15, 2009

One odd coincidence is that both McCann and Lawless ended up
working for the “Sunday World”, of all papers. McCann worked
there in the 1970s (he mentions it in his book “Dear God”)
while Lawless was working there in the 1980s : I don’t know
if their paths crossed while there.

Thanks for the info-interesting to see the attack on
poor “Ray Johnston”. 😉

Liked by 1 person

NollaigO - October 16, 2009

Why odd, Starkadder?!
Lawless’s sojourn at the World started in the mid 1970s.
Also an occasion for many wonderful tales.
In fact the Sunday World strip-cartoon character, Wallace of the World, was rumoured to be based on Gery L !

Liked by 1 person

6. John Palmer - October 15, 2009

Just one slight correction to this history. Gery Lawless did not “initiate” the Irish Workers Union. Indeed when the IWU was set up on the initiative of the Irish/Australian syndicalist, Michael Callinann in the run of 1959/1960 I am not sure that Gery Lawless was even in London. Gery L. was on the periphery of the IWU in its closing stages – prior to the establishment of the Irish Workers Group which was founded on a much more explicitly Trotskyist basis.


7. Conor McCabe - October 15, 2009

Thanks for that John. It’s an important clarification.


8. fareler - October 16, 2009

It is very interesting.


9. NollaigO - October 16, 2009

I am pleased to see the IWG getting the long overdue attention on CLR. Thanks, Conor, for your efforts.
Maybe this could be followed up soon with some of the writings produced by the RMG/MSR in the 1970s.
There are many problems with certain account here and regretfully, I would have to describe Raynor’s account of the 1950s/early 1960s as disappointing.

First I should repeat, as I said recently on CLR, that I do not have personal experience of these groups. I moved to London permanently in late 1969 by which time the Irish Workers Group [IWG] had disintegrated, although I did meet many of the participants and had the opportunity to read many of the documents. I never heard about the Irish Workers Union [IWU] of the early 1960s until I read the Matgamna / John Palmer correspondence about the IWU on the AWL website in early 2008.
My concerns are mainly with the Gery Lawless odyssey. The description, a character, is totally inadequate to describe him. This anecdote from an early meeting I had with him should give a flavour of the man:

During the PD Jan1969 march from Belfast to Derry, the Roddy McCorley monument was damaged by explosives. To most of us at the time, this was clearly part of the vicious Loyalist harassment of the march but apparently not! Lawless was on the march (see Bernadette Devlin: Price of my Soul). He explained to me some months later:
“We needed the Republican Towns west of the Bann to turn out in support. I knew, from my time in the Sperrin Mountains during the 50s campaign with Liam Kelly, that if one town turned out then the rest would follow suit. Maghera turned out because Toome had turned out. The reason that Toome had turned out was that the Roddy McCorley monument had been blown up the previous night…”
[Dramatic pause, much body language]!!!

So often the claims , like the Burntollet March anecdote, are either humorous but far fetched or they fit very awkwardly into a timeline.
• The Curragh radicalisation:
This is an old refrain of Gery’s:
There he was in the Curragh, wrestling with the conundrum of the successful launching of Sputnik and the bloody suppression of the Hungarian uprising. How could a social system show such economic achievement on the one hand but engage in such bloody suppression on the other hand? Into his lap falls a pamphlet on the 20th Congress of the CPSU by the American Trotskyist, J P Cannon. In that document was the explanation that cut the Gordian knot, the degenerated workers’ state theory! [I have been unable to locate this “document” in the Internet Archives]. Lysaght also has him studying the documents of the 5th World Congress of the Fourth International (Pablo / Mandel branch) in the Curragh. The Congress met in October 1957 and, according to the Maguire document, Lawless left the Curragh in December 1957 – documents must have arrived by personalised expressed delivery!
• Gery’s early days in Britain:
Again there are problems with the Lysaght account which John Palmer has already noted:
In spite of being inspired by documents of the rival FI in the Curragh, we are told that he ends up in the SLL till 1963 – then he founds the IWU! We have sources in the Matgamna / John Palmer correspondence indicating that the IWU existed prior to that and that Michael Callinan was the probable founder. [Catholic Herald, 5th Feb 1960; Newsletter, early 1960]. There were also old claims from that period about Gery being abroad and involved with the Algerian War of Independence. Also he had the little matter of the international court case! In fact I would be interested to see if any written sources from the time can link him to either the SLL or the IWU.
• Matgamna allegations:
Seán makes two very serious political allegations about Gery Lawless:
(1) He was a supporter of Maria Duce and (2) he “signed out” of the Curragh in the 1950s.

The Maguire document deals with the latter less serious charge:

On 16th August 1957 G.R. Lawless was informed that he would be released provided he gave an undertaking in writing “to respect the Constitution and laws of Ireland” and not to “be a member of or assist any organisation which is an unlawful organisation under the Offences against the State Act, 1939.” G.R. Lawless declined to give this undertaking….
……….a compromise in relation to the government’s constitutional undertaking was reached with the Attorney General, Andriais O’Caoimh. Lawless, who stated that he could not respect the Constitution owing to religious objections, consented to give a revised form of the undertaking, in which he agreed to ‘obey’ as opposed to ‘respect’ the Constitution…..

So Gery did not “sign-out” in the usual meaning of the term.

The evidence for the former charge, according to Seán, are statements allegedly made by Lawless at the trial. Seán’s gives a source without giving the quote. I found it impossible to locate the “source” on the internet. However it is not an allegation confined to Seán. A very similar accusation was made to me in early 1970 by a prominent member of the Irish Workers Party [forerunner of CPI].

Some points about other participants :
1) The IWU:
I knew Michael Callinan, the syndicalist, in the 1970s in London. IIRC, Mike was a product of the Belfast left in the post war period, like Vincent McDowell who was mentioned in the CLR recently. ( I don’t know if John can confirm this). In the 1970s he was a vociferous PSF supporter. Dick Walsh was the man mentioned as a WP supporter in TLR. Phil Flynn is the same Phil Flynn as the prominent Trade Unionist in Dublin / PSF supporter / … Seán Geraghty is one of the Geraghty family. Since then Seán G has lived in London where he was an active trade unionist over many years. He was very ill in recent years – don’t know if he has made a full recovery. Pat O’Donovan was also in the IWG became a self taught labour historian during the 1970s and had some interesting research published in the London based Irish Post. I don’t know if he is still alive.
2) The IWG:
I am not sure that there was a Joseph McAnna. Was that not an non de plume? Seán Morrissey, who later featured in the Saor Éire Action Group, was very active in the IWG. I mentioned various other active IWG participants in a recent CLR post.
Clearly the IWG contained a large number of talented committed socialists. Many of them continued or continue to play important roles in Irish politics. This provokes the question: Should a single organization with a calmer, more enlightened leadership have been able to contain and guide such people. Clearly there would need to be some consensus about the national question and Irish Republicanism [ The unhealthy, red-baiting tone of the IWG towards the Republican movement has been correctly noted by Hanley and other posts on this site, IMO.] Other “key” issues like state capitalism and “Pabloism” could have been left to the inside pages of the theoretical journal.

After all that, a humorous anecdote:
Fadó, fadó, commenting on a very self laudatory article by Gery in a different journal, Seán wrote:
Yes and his silver spurs went jingle-jangle as he rode off into the Celtic Twilight.
Shortly after, they were both at the same meeting. Seán sent an acolyte over to Gery, bringing the article to his attention. A beaming smile appears on Gery’s face and he comes over and pats Seán on the back.
Seán could not believe it: He’s flattered!

Collapse of stout comrade.


10. Neues aus den Archiven der radikalen (und nicht so radikalen) Linken « Entdinglichung - October 16, 2009

[…] Irish Workers Group, 1966-68 * Sinn Féin: The Split […]


11. Brian Hanley - October 16, 2009

‘During the PD Jan1969 march from Belfast to Derry, the Roddy McCorley monument was damaged by explosives. To most of us at the time, this was clearly part of the vicious Loyalist harassment of the march but apparently not! Lawless was on the march (see Bernadette Devlin: Price of my Soul). He explained to me some months later:
“We needed the Republican Towns west of the Bann to turn out in support. I knew, from my time in the Sperrin Mountains during the 50s campaign with Liam Kelly, that if one town turned out then the rest would follow suit. Maghera turned out because Toome had turned out. The reason that Toome had turned out was that the Roddy McCorley monument had been blown up the previous night…”
[Dramatic pause, much body language]!!!’

Nollaig, is this what it seems to be? A suggestion that someone on the left destroyed the monument? Or am I completly lost here?
On the tone of the IWG’s arguments about the republican movement, I wonder how much of that was down to the treatment of Lawless and others by the IRA in the Curragh? The Saor Uladh prisoners were ostracised etc.
I think the IWG line was very counter-productive, 1) because I don’t think there was a Stalinist takeover of the rep mvt and 2) because many of the IRA members moving towards the left could have been sympathetic to Trotskysim had it been presented in a different way (and had Gerry McCarthy etc not been lauded as anti-Stalinists). Mind you the anarchist paper Freedom said much the same thing in the late 60s and illustrated it’s point with a map of Ireland with a hammer and sickle printed on it.


12. NollaigO - October 16, 2009

I do not for a moment believe that the attack on the Roddy McCorley monument was a Machiavellian plot by left wingers or Republicans. I am very sorry if my account gave that impression. I was trying to convey both with the Roddy McCorley and Sputnik anecdotes a flavour of someone who had a liking for fanciful tales.

I agree completely with your point about the IWG attitude to the republican movement being counterproductive and that the majority of the left wing people did not have a rigid ideological outlook.
However I don’t accept that there was not a determined attempt by Greaves et al to exert influence or to build a group of cothinkers within the movement – Harris in the late 60s was very much on a CP
On Garóid Mac Cartaigh:
You wrote elsewhere about the demise of the saying of the Rosary at Easter Commumerations and seemed to think that it didn’t happen till well after the split. IIRC, at the 1969 Easter Comm in Cork, where Goulding was the main speaker, the Rosary was not said and this earned a strong rebuke from Garóid in “de Echo”.


13. Brian Hanley - October 16, 2009

Thanks Nollaig; I took you up wrongly.
I agree there was an attempt to build influence but that it was less successful and certainly less universally accepted by those who would become the Officials after 1969.
The Rosary was said at Official commemorations in Down, Armagh, Belfast and elsewhere well into the 70s. Cork may have been well ahead of the rest. The press noted that it wasn’t said in Dublin at Easter 1971. One person I interviewed in Belfast suggested to me that ‘if you went down to south Derry they might still be saying it’ but he was of course joking! (I’m not hung up on the issue but it often is written about as defining feature of the split).


14. NollaigO - October 16, 2009

Cork may have been well ahead of the rest.

Our historic destiny!


15. Conor McCabe - October 16, 2009

That’s great, nollaigO, thanks for the information. This is all about building up a factual account of these groups/movements, and your comments and insights are much appreciated.


16. John Palmer - October 16, 2009

NollaigO: I can confirm that my friend Dick Walsh was a member of the Irish Workers Union in the very early 1960s. In fact he and I edited a (very modest) cyclostyled occasional bulletin “Irish Workers News” – aimed at the large community of Irish (mainly building) workers in London at that time. I recall Phil Flynn from the late 50s when he and I were (briefly) around the Irish National Union which had been set up by sympathisers with Liam Kelly’s Saor Uluadh. He attended some IWU meetings before returning to Ireland. Pat O’Donovan (who like Brian Behan) was briefly a member of Gerry Healy’s “Newsletter group (later the SLL) was also in the IWU for a while. The IWU was a attracted a small but very eclectic formation of people ranging from Michael Callinan’s obsessive Stalinophobian syndicalism, to former activists in Clan na Poblachta, some refugees from the Connolly Association and sympathisers with various British Trotskyist groups. Among them were Mick Quilty and Tom Geraghty (a member of the Firemen’s union and another of the distinguished Geraghty brothers) who were drawn to the Socialist Review group of Tony Cliff (later the International Socialists). It did contain some remarkable working class auto-didacts of a type that no longer really exists. When the IWU expired some joined the IWG – such as Liam Dalton – others eventually joined IS.

Liked by 1 person

17. nickoneill - October 16, 2009

John, are you the same Palmer who writes for the Guardian? Are you doing a review of the TLR, wee Henry seems reluctant. You’d expect Britain’s leading left wing broadsheet to have something on it. of course maybe the senator will pen one for all publications


18. Manc Gridiron - October 16, 2009

Wee Hendry can’t write one until the Senator tells him the line…

Liked by 1 person

19. John Palmer - October 16, 2009

nicko’neill – Yes, I before I retired. Someone should certainly review TLR for The Guardian and maybe for the London Review of Books which has contained a lot of material of interest to the Irish left over the years.


20. Jim Monaghan - October 18, 2009

On Liam Daltun. I was told that Goulding had asked Daltun to be education officer od Sinn Fein before he asked Johnston.
The rosary was also said at at least one branch of the ATGWU until Mick O’Reilly managed to get it stopped.
Amongst the members of the IWG was Liam Walsh who became a Saor Eire member later and was killed in an accidental explosion.
On the early PD I think it was post Trotskyist rather than postmarxist. I remember Cyril Toman using this term to describe his and Michael farrells attitude. Probably arising form disgust at the over the top polemics that ruined the IWG and many another group.The left is too prone to take up Trotskys quote “from a scratch to a danger of gangrene”.
Lawless claimed to have seen the FLN taking out members of the rival MNA in Paris.He had a simplistic idea that in Ireland the Provos were the FLN and the Officials the MNA and there would be the same outcome.
on the auto didacts. I agree this was a feature of both the Republican movement (the old quote about the Provos doing OU degree in the Kesh while the Loyoalist did body building) and the Left.I find the current movement neglects education in it broad sense of uplifting the class. While I never had much time politically for John Swift I thought that his idea of a trade union having a library of classics was a great idea. “Not just bread but roses too.”
One regret I have is that I never interviewed Eoin McNamee who was a prominent 30’s and 40’s republican who was close to Trotskyism. He was a major figure along with Harrison in supplying the Provos according to one book


21. splinteredsunrise - October 18, 2009

On the post-Trotskyism of PD, Farrell said at one point that the Marxists in the early PD were deeply anti-Leninist, mainly because of their IWG experience and in particular the way Sean Matgamna would appeal to Leninism as a justification for whatever Sean wanted to do. I don’t think they can really be blamed for that.


22. Starkadder - October 18, 2009

Interesting that the Workers’ Republic review of Connolly
noted his pro-German sympathies and that he recieved the
last Rites before dying. Weren’t both the IWG and the
B&ICO very critical of Desmond Greaves’ depiction of Connolly?


23. Irish Workers Group, 1966-68 | Irish Labour and Working Class History - October 26, 2009

[…] [This is a repost from Cedarlounge, 15 October 2009] […]


24. Drithleog - October 26, 2009

Getting back to the Rosary, in Mallow it apparently survived not only the 1969 split but the 1992 one as a report in the local papers stated that Joe Sherlock had recited it at a commemoration around 1994 ! People like Liam Mulcahy would have seen to it being dropped in Cork city in the 1960s.


WorldbyStorm - October 26, 2009

Are you sure? If so that’s amazing. Is there a link or reference to that?


25. Drithleog - October 26, 2009

I’m definite. I remember it. It may have been in the Irish Examiner at the time but I don’t have a link.


26. Irish Left History Project: Irish Workers Group (1976) / Class Struggle « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - October 29, 2009

[…] [Not to be confused with the 1960s Irish Workers Group.] […]


27. Irish Left History Project: Irish Workers Group (1976) / Class Struggle | Irish Labour and Working Class History - October 29, 2009

[…] [Not to be confused with the 1960s Irish Workers Group.] […]


28. Irish Left Review · Irish Workers Group (1976) / Class Struggle - October 29, 2009

[…] [Not to be confused with the 1960s Irish Workers Group.] […]


29. Irish Left Open History Project: League for a Workers’ Republic, 1968 – « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - November 12, 2009

[…] Sean Matgamna, Peter Graham, Paddy Healy, and Liam Daltun. It arose out of a split within the Irish Workers’ Group. The LWR soon became a strong force within the Dublin Young Socialists. Early members of the LWR […]


30. Irish Left Review · League for a Workers’ Republic, 1968 - - November 12, 2009

[…] Sean Matgamna, Peter Graham, Paddy Healy, and Liam Daltun. It arose out of a split within the Irish Workers’ Group. The LWR soon became a strong force within the Dublin Young Socialists. Early members of the LWR […]


31. Cathal Lynch - March 14, 2010

I met Mike Callinan in 1969, when I newly arrived in London. At that time he was associated with the Syndicalist Worker Federation and introduced me to Spanish activists who were still involved with Franco’s political prisoners. I’ve never come across the Stalinophobian Syndicalism referred to by John Palmer. It’s a tendency I must have missed, something perhaps from John’s refined portmanteau. Certainly Mike Callinan was a thoughtful politico who had to make his way and his arguments among the predominant Trotskyist groups of the period. He had spent several years in Australia, where his politics were forged and where he was introduced to libertarianism socialism.

I remember Gerry Lawless and John Palmer from the various civil rights gatherings in the back rooms of pubs. An abiding memory is the sectarian gravitas of well-intentioned but rather ineffectual meetings when set against events in Northern Ireland. It was a bit like corporate shareholders trying to make activities on the periphery fit into their generalised world view.

Mike Callinan later went into the (from memory) Irish National Liberation Solidarity Front, which included a scattering of Maoists among its members. The most prominent of these was Eddie Davern, who had been imprisoned in South Africa for anti-apartheid activities. At the inaugural meeting, a police spy “Dick Jackson” was elected onto the Committee. He spent a year promoting physical force before being unmasked. This group had a newspaper with high production standards. Its designer later moved to Belfast and worked on Republican News.

There was a lot of Special Branch activity in those days and a corresponding amount of paranoia. In 1972 Mike Callinan was charged with treason and sedition, although after a year on remand he and two others were cleared. Coming from Belfast, he had an emotional as well as a political response to the volatile situation in Northern Ireland. Having left Belfast after graduating from Queens, he still carried vivid and visceral memories of the oppressive pre war period for NI Republicans. For him, the attenuated process of reaching a position was so much self-indulgent blather. For a while he was a member of Provisional Sinn Fein

I remember Liam Daltun. He was a builder and I was his labourer. Liam had a facility for languages and could speak French and Irish fluently; he spoke Russian well. He would arrive at work with a bundle of newspapers, including Le Monde, and there would be no activity until he had gone through them all. Being permanently cash-strapped, some days were spent acquiring building materials on credit. I was warned that I would never get paid, but always did. He had a passion for the Irish language and its literature, particularly the modernism of Mairtin O’Cadhain, whom he counted as a friend. His politics had a hinterland.

Liam visited Ireland after Peter Graeme was murdered. He was never the same when he came back. I don’t know what happened to him there. Shortly afterwards he committed suicide. He was a lovely man whose politics were in transition and with a growing irritation with vicarious activities in Britain in the face of dissolution back home.

The mention of Burntollet, reminds me of the enquiry carried out into the ambush and published by Bowes Egan from his flat in Kensington. There was also an Irish ‘Civil Rights’ newspaper (whose name escapes me) from the same source, much of it written by John Gray, later of Linen Hall Library in Belfast. It was short-lived, but I recall selling several issues around Kilburn pubs. Jeff Dudgeon, champion of gay rights in Northern Ireland, was part of this.

When internment was introduced, thousands congregated at Speakers Corner. There were a lot of speeches, but no consensus on the radical steps we should take to register our outrage. Liam O’Callaghan, a right wing Irish nationalist, who ran a shady political organisation, took the platform. He announced that we will march to the Ulster Office and wreck it. Which is precisely what happened. The political groupings were more diverse and less comfortable than we care to remember.

I honour the memories of Mike and Liam; both were gentle mentors who gave their friendship, their honesty and their experience without the cynicism that their lives might have warranted.


32. Left Archive: The Socialist Workers Movement: A Trotskyist Analysis – Irish Workers Group, 1992 « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - October 10, 2011

[…] from the Irish Workers Group (which later became Workers Power – for more on the IWG see here), and many thanks to Budapestkick who donated it and who has written the following overview of […]


33. Conor McCabe - January 21, 2012

Just got word that Gery Lawless passed away this morning. RIP.


34. Conor McCabe - January 21, 2012
35. Starkadder - January 21, 2012

RIP Gery Lawless.

IIRC, Lawless once wrote an angry letter to the “Irish Times”
taking issue with Cruise O’Brien’s position on South Africa.


WorldbyStorm - January 21, 2012

Thanks Conor.Very sad. He seemed like a real character.


36. Gery Lawless « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - January 23, 2012

[…] Dublin Opinion and here’s a thread here where some of his life is discussed, as well as this here on the Irish Workers Group. There are [rightly] calls for a thorough appreciation of his life and […]


37. John Goodwillie - January 23, 2012

Sorry to hear of Gery Lawless’s death. He was certainly a character as well as a political activist.

leftopenhistoryteam and NollaigO above have mentioned Joseph Mac Anna. The Irish Militant once carried a photograph of Eamonn McCann labelled Joseph Mac Anna, so I have always assumed they were the same person.


38. Gerry Ruddy - January 23, 2012

I am also sad to hear of the death of Gery Lawless. I first met him in the late sixties and he was indeed a ‘character” I remember him well on the Burntollet march- he did indeed have a vivid imagination and I recall him telling us in the City Hotel about the ambush by the “b’ specials and how masked men in military uniforms and obeying orders were beating up the students and he had to jump in a river to escape. But he also had politics and he certainly influenced me towards Trotskyism. Heard he joined the Labour Party and was a councillor for a while in London-Islington I think.
I personally never heard the term post marxism used around PD.There were differing tendencies within it, including republicans, liberals, anarchists, and varying shades of marxists. There were also followers of Lenin who eventually took over the PD.


39. entdinglichung - January 24, 2012

very sad … Gery presente!


40. KNOCKNASHEE SHOP RIVER - October 1, 2014

British Intelligence officers have to study communist partys and organisations as standard during training I vividly remember classes on the Spanish Civil war and anarchist movemnet IWA just thoiught Id give the IWA class war and DAM a mention here all had IRISH members and of course freedom books who suffered a Frankly dispicable firebombing last year.


41. pat connell - October 1, 2014

The International Workers Association came out of Spanish War.The Spanish Civil war had former IRA members fight in the Spanish Civil War anyone got any names?


Charlie - October 1, 2014

Check out
and look around, it has references to some of the political backgrounds of the international volunteers.


42. SOOTY HOOFS - October 1, 2014

People like you save lives!!!!…..Id say the london anarchists and London Irish are more up on left wing politics than the Mexican pig snorers in Sinn Fein can comprehend…..shshshshsh……you might wake them up


43. roddy - October 1, 2014

Mexican pig snorers?


44. Paddy Healy on The Irish Workers Group London 1965 | Paddy Healy's Blog - April 13, 2020

[…] Irish Left History Project: Irish Workers Group, 1966-68In “Irish Left Open History Project” […]


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