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Stevie and the ‘Red Menace’ …. Maoists in Limerick in 1970 June 16, 2011

Posted by irishelectionliterature in Uncategorized.
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“There are amongst us left-wing extreme agents of a foreign power who are distributing insidious propaganda and seek to tear down and destroy our Christian way of life”

A quote from former Labour TD Stevie Coughlan about Maoists in Limerick in 1970. Article taken from The Limerick Leader.
Many thanks to the sender.
Click on the image to enlarge.


1. John Cunningham - June 16, 2011

Brian Hanley did a nice piece in the Old Limerick Journal, which provides context for this: ‘The 1970s Springbok tour and local politics in Limerick,’ OLJ, vol. 43, 2009



irishelectionliterature - June 16, 2011

That’s a great read thanks John.


2. Phil - June 16, 2011

Stops just when it’s getting going (“references to the Jews of Limerick” – ???)


Budapestkick - June 16, 2011

Coughlan basically endorsed the Limerick Pogrom of 1904. This pissed off a lot of people.


irishelectionliterature - June 16, 2011

@Phil, thats where the article ends. The Link provided by John Cunningham gives a more detailed version based around the South African Rugby teams tour .


3. Shay Guevara - June 16, 2011

I remember hearing that one of the Maoists used to sleep in their bookshop at the time shots were fired at it. Apparently he had nowhere else to live because he had been sacked due to Coughlan’s red scare.
And wasn’t there a campaign to get a Maoist bookshop closed down in Cork around the same time?


Budapestkick - June 16, 2011

It was successful. The Cork bookshop was on Cattlemarket St. (just off Blarney St.) and lasted just five days before it was closed down by a mob of 700-1000 locals. Banners, posters etc. were all burnt and the shop had to be abandoned. Like the Limerick bookshop, the Maoists were living there (there were three sleeping bags seized by police). There was a huge ‘red scare’ and moral hysteria at the time, especially since it was claimed that the Maoists were targeting children.

Some quotes:

‘The Maoist influence is growing in Cork. . . Maoism, from Cork, could be the dominant challenge of the 1970s. The “workers’ friends” are determined to make their mark’ – Sunday Independent April 5th 1970

‘The Maoists have their plan for destroying our nation. For eliminating the Catholic church…The Communists admit that the church is a very potent power. That is why they are spending huge sums of money on the training of international agitators in the art of attacking the Church in Catholic nations. They have unlimited resources at their disposal for this purpose. Right here in Ireland they probably have some thousands of agitators. The church is under greater attack than you can imagine.’
– Father Luke Delaney, The Kerryman March 14th 1970.

‘The time to stop the distribution of all communist propaganda in Kilkenny is NOW! If something is not done soon by the authorities to put a stop to the extremist activities of red agitators in Kilkenny, then the people of our fair city may find it necessary to administer justice themselves to eliminate the cause of their fears.’
– Munster Express Jan 29th 1971.

Reminds me of a line from the Raggy Boy trilogy: ‘My father had turned against the cinema. He said it had been invented by Lenin to confuse the people of Cork.’


4. Starkadder - June 16, 2011

I did some research on this issue a few years ago, and there were attacks on the two left-wing bookshops in Cork at the time-Jim Lane’s one and the one on Shandon street. The one on Shandon Street had to be shut down because of attacks from locals-I think it was run by people not native to the area, which exacerbated hostility.

I can remember some people worrying that Stevie Coughlan was about
to become the Irish answer to Enoch Powell or Pierre Poujade.


ejh - June 16, 2011

He’s not somebody I know anytning about, but my reading of the piece is that he was clearly making a coded appeal for violence.


EamonnCork - June 16, 2011

One result of Coughlan’s carry on was that Jim Kemmy left the Labour Party because party HQ refused to discipline him. Coughlan had got so bad by 1977 that Michael Lipper ran as Independent Labour and defeated him in the election. Lipper was a former Sligo Rovers player which means that he was perhaps entitled to two, or even three, Dail seats.


5. WorldbyStorm - June 16, 2011

Great find IELB. I’m very interested in your point Starkadder about the attacks on the shops in Cork. How widespread were attacks like this during that period, and is there any record of similar in Dublin or elsewhere in the state at that time?


EamonnCork - June 16, 2011

I remember reading that at the beginning of the seventies Declan Bree and, I think, Connolly Youth picketed a Fianna Fail meeting in Sligo. The enraged FFers came out, kicked lumps out of Bree and attempted to drown him in the Garavogue. Of course Michael McGreil’s survey on discrimination in Ireland showed that Communists were rated on a par with such other undesirable groups as alcoholics, Pakistanis, Africans and homosexuals by the general public. The amount of people who would have been willing to admit them to the family was less than 30%. I have a feeling that this number would have been higher everywhere else in Europe.


6. Gerry Barnes - June 17, 2011

I heard around the same time that a doctor’s son in Dublin became involved with maoists; so the doctor used his professional clout to have the errant youth certified and kept in a psychiatric institution i.e. the looney bin. For such hysterics to prevail in a western democracy was shameful and absurd. However, when nowadays I read anything about Mao’s Great Leap Forward (1958-62) and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966-76) I weep at the murderous idiocy of historical maoism-in-practice.


Shay Guevara - June 17, 2011

His name was Martin Dolphin. (The name stuck with me from the same conversation about persecution of Maoists.) He was arrested for protesting in Trinity College (I think) and was disruptive in court. Next time his case came up the court was informed that he had been committed to Dundrum. Putting awkward dissidents in psychiatric hospitals – where have I heard that before?


7. NollaigO - June 17, 2011

Are you sure that the Cork Workers’ Club shop was ever attacked?
Fintain Lane, Jim’s son, wrote in detail on this matter and never mentioned this.

He wrote:
The ‘Internationalist’ bookshop in Shandon (Ballymacthomas to be precise) was set up by some Maoist students and was shortlived, as it was effectively sacked by locals stirred up by anti-communism. I suppose, unlike the group around the CWC in Nicholas Church Place, they didn’t have links with the local community, to any real degree. The CWC people were all working class and at least one member – Jerry Higgins – came from St Nicholas Ch. Place itself.



8. Starkadder - June 17, 2011

An article in the “Irish Times” of March 17th, 1970,
“Communist Bookshop Damaged”, mentioned people throwing stones through
the window of the CWC shop. That’s what I meant by it being “attacked”, although I suppose “vandalised” would have been a more accurate term
for such behaviour.


9. Gerry Barnes - June 18, 2011

Hysteria brims beneath the surface of society. It can be made to bubble and splutter by small doses of bombastic rhetoric. I’m certainly hoping that in the current atmosphere of anxiety caused by the financial meltdown, cuts, salary reductions and squeezing of welfare dependents there won’t be cases of anti-immigrant and anti-refugee feeling whipped up by mischievous loudmouths.

Social anxiety also manifested itself in a sad-funny way during the very wet summer of 1985 when the country experienced an outbreak of Moving Statues. This phenomenon generated a lot of domestic tourism and benefited the owners of mobile ice cream and burger snack vans. Large crowds standing silently around statues and grottos behaved in a wonderfully orderly manner, however.


John Cunningham - June 18, 2011

Jim Kemmy wrote to the Irish Times, 14 December 1969, in response to a letter from a Thomas J. Leslie of Drogheda, which had criticised Labour for having three members of its youth group expelled in Limerick for identifying with the Irish Revolutionary Youth Movement. If Labour was any good, Leslie had argued, it would embrace young people like the three, and instead expel infiltrators from the Knights of Columbanus and Fianna Fail.. ‘People of the type in Limerick are the only ones who will ever make it [Labour] a socialist party,’ he concluded. This was Kemmy’s response:

Sir, Mr Thomas J. Leslie is incorrect and unfair when he alleges that three members of Irish Revolutionary Youth were refused membership of the Labour Party in Limerick. The fact is that while the three members concerned wished to remain members of the Limerick Labour Youth Group, at no stage were they prepared to become full members of the Labour Party. At present the Limerick Labour Youth Group is not directly affiliated to the Labour Party; its status is that of an associated group and not that of a branch.

It should be said that in ending the membership of the three members, the Labour Youth Group acted in a civilised manner, after having first established that, unlike the other members of the Youth Group, the three members had no intention whatsoever of ever going on to join a Labour branch. The caution of the Labour head office is perhaps best explained by the fact that the UCC branch of the party was considerably weakened last year after the divisive intervention of members of Irish Revolutionary Youth.

It cannot be denied that the Labour Party has much to learn from the idealism and enthusiasm of the members of Irish Revolutionary Youth. Their industry in producing and selling their newspaper could be copied with advantage by the members of the Labour Party. While Labour has much to be ashamed of in its 57 years’ history, the cause of Socialism is unlikely to be helped by Mr Leslie’s cynical and splenetic outburst. He shows little appreciation of the many Socialists working as best they know how to further Socialism as members of the Labour Party.

Mr Leslie further alleges that numerous Knights of Columbanus agents and Fianna Fail card-holders are members of the Labour Party and are obstructing its progress. Could we have chapter and verse in support of this charge? Mr Leslie’s disclosures could make interesting and informative reading.
Yours etc., James Kemmy, 3 Greenhill road, Garryowen, Limerick.


More generally, a quick scan of those local and national papers of the time that have recently been digitised indicates that Communists of the Marxist-Leninist school were active in the 1969 to 1972 period in Dublin, Limerick, Cork, Kilkenny, and Galway, as members of the Irish Revolutionary Youth Movement and the Irish Student Movement, and that they turned up in other towns to sell the ‘Red Patriot.’

The impression is that they emerged in a student milieu (and this has been widely discussed elsewhere) but that a number of recruits made serious efforts to ‘join’ as it were, the working-class. Members in Limerick and Dublin were reported to have given up their studies, to have found work in factories, and to be doing their best to play leading roles in the trade unions they found in these factories. The brouhaha discussed in several of the postings above resulted in the revolutionary Marxist-Leninists losing their jobs in a Shannon factory, despite being ‘good workers’ according to the factory management. Evidently a member of an unconnected group of Young Socialists also lost his job in the Limerick area, and almost lost his accommodation, because his group became confused with the IRYM.

The unfortunate Martin Dolphin, referred to in a posting above, was one of those who left University to take a job in a factory where he became an assistant shop steward. Accused along with a female comrade of assaulting a garda at a UCD protest, they were both imprisoned, where they went on hunger strike. At a subsequent hearing, Dolphin was declared incapable of pleading by reason of insanity, and committed to an institution for the criminally insane (on foot of a sealed order from the Minister for Justice, Mr O’Malley). Student and factory friends who did not at all share Dolphin’s politics (with some support, it seems, from USI) tried to have him freed but found his parents (the father was a very senior psychiatrist) to be unsupportive. Noel Browne, incidentally, raised the case in the Dail and elsewhere. Whatever about the detail of the case, the Marxist-Leninists (and indeed many others on the left) regarded the Dolphin case as an example of political oppression.

There were several arrests on pickets of one sort or another, with the impression of – how should one put this? – Garda impatience whenever they encountered the precocious Communists. Indeed, as the Limerick and Cork episodes indicate, there was marked public intolerance of the advocates of Chinese-style Communism. The high profile in Ireland of the Maynooth/Columban Mission to China probably contributed to this, as did the wide circulation of books like Fr Harold Rigney’s ‘Four Years in a Red Hell.’

In Galway, a student was arrested for obstructing access to the public toilets in Eyre Square while simultaneously addressing a public meeting and selling the Red Patriot. Following a schemozzle, he was accused of assaulting a garda. During the subsequent court case, large numbers of UCG students packed into the courthouse. A young woman (the one who had been arrested earlier previously in Dublin with Dolphin), who allegedly called a garda a fascist while knocking his cap off on the way into the courthouse, also faced charges.
The word ‘fascist’ was very freely applied, indeed – journalists from several papers who sought comments from IRYM picketers were advised that no comment would be given to representatives of ‘the fascist press.’

Of course, as Brian Hanley’s article, linked above, shows, there were actual fascists active in Limerick and in a few other places in the late 1960s and early 1970s, members of the National Movement, who succeeded in gaining a hearing in more mainstream circles (including Stephen Coughlan’s Labour Party). There was evidently a fascist movement in Kilkenny also at the time, which published a local periodical in the city. A supporter of this outfit was a columnist in the Munster Express, under the pseudonym, ‘Voice of Kilkenny,’ where he favourably cited Nationalist Movement publication alongside exculpatory pieces on 1930s fascism, and urged that direct action be taken against any sign of communism. ‘The time to stop the distribution of all communist propaganda in Kilkenny is NOW,’ he urged in January 1971, because it was ‘as corrupt as the vilest hard-core propaganda.’ Communists were targeting children, ‘Voice’ went on, with ten and twelve year-old boys found with little red books in their schoolbags:

‘Some Kilkenny parents have recently complained that their children have recently been given copies of Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book and other communist publications such as the “Red Patriot.” The parents concerned believe that local left-wing organisers are responsible. They also suspect that an “underground” Maoist cell is developing in Kilkenny city. One mother complained that her young daughter was given a red book by a “bearded” young man and was told that “Communism was a better religion than Catholicism.” The young girl concerned is only eleven years old.’

But the Red Patriot have the capacity to influence people? A commentator in the ‘Connacht Sentinel,’ who seemed to be generally well-disposed to the idea of youth rebellion, thought not. He wrote as follows: ‘I procured a copy of the ‘Red Patriot,’ a paper sold by the ‘Revolution Youth,’ and the main articles were headlined as follows: ‘Soviet imperialism denounced,’ ‘Fight against the concrete manifestations of revisionism,’ and ‘The Canadian communist movement.’ When one reads their slogan-filled publications it is very easy to understand why workers and students distrust them. They give the impression of being extreme religious fascist fanatics.’

As well as much criticism of the above sort, there was occasional physical conflict with others on the political left. It is not always easy, from reports in the mainstream press, to discern the actual causes of such incidents, but frequently they seem to have been sparked by what was regarded by others as unreasonable behaviour on the part of the Marxist-Leninists at meetings. At a James Connolly commemorative meeting in May 1970 in Dublin, addressed by Conor Cruise O’Brien, by Bernadette Devlin, and by Eamon McCann, there were physical altercations when one member of the audience began to read aloud from the ‘Thoughts of Chairman Mao.’

The impression then is of a very vibrant, but naive and secluded political sub-culture. One thing that is surprising is the number of the protests that were occasioned by the showing of unpalatable films. The Marxist-Leninists joined, with other groups, in protests against screenings of John Wayne’s pro-Vietnam war film ‘The Green Berets,’ but placed their own pickets on another anti-communist Hollywood film the ‘Shoes of the Fisherman,’ on a film set in China, ‘The most dangerous man in the world’, and on a documentary on Gandhi. ‘Mahatma Gandhi was a representative of the Indian big bourgeoisie, which opposed British colonialism in India for the sake of extending their own exploitation of the Indian people,’ one picketer told a journalist.


NollaigO - June 20, 2011

As someone who had direct experience of this group in the late 1960s can I say that this is an excellent comment. I’ll return to this topic after I’ve caught up with the day job.


10. Les maoïstes d’Irlande des années 1970 face à la réaction | Liberation Irlande - June 18, 2011
11. liam Ó Comáin - July 10, 2011

I remember attending a republican lecture given by Roy Johnston in Leitrim many years ago and at the end of it during discussion I defined communism as ‘the utopian conception of the socialist objective’…Since then I have no reason to differ with my definition.
May I also add that I believe that to be a ‘good socialist’ one has to be a good Christian.In fact the greatest revolutionary of all time is Jesus.


12. liam ó comáin - July 18, 2011

‘Republicanism’ has been defined as “government of the people by the people for the people”.A definition permeated through and through by the spirit of democracy.An objective that humanity must pursue for its universal welfare.An objective excluding liberalism, socialism, conservatism,communism,etc.; for the latter approaches disunites humanity,creates division,poverty,war,etc.,.Yes, it is mad to talk about a ‘class war’ or to prepare for it for the inevetable outcome is a suffering humanity.


13. Anonymous - September 21, 2011

[…] Great stuff. A few things on Stevie Stevie and The Red Menace – Maoists in Limerick 1970 *.pdf about the controversy regarding the 1970 Springboks tour and Limerick To view links […]


14. irishelectionliterature - September 21, 2011


LeftAtTheCross - September 21, 2011

I’d swear yer man placing a bet on the dogs at 1:16 in part-1 is Enda Kenny.


sonofstan - September 21, 2011

Uncanny – and given that Inda was 19 at the time, the fact that he looks exactly the same proves, beyond all reasonable doubt, that he’s a vampire.


15. anarchaeologist - September 21, 2011

That’s amazing footage, from the times when tv was actually good.


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