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China and the IRA in the 1960s January 4, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in The Left.

This report in today’s Irish Times is intriguing. There’s been mention before of how the IRA in the 1960s made approaches made to the PRC. But this notes:

The fascinating tale came in a blog posting by China scholar Chris Connolly, who uncovered the information six years ago while researching in the archives of the Chinese foreign ministry (see iti.ms/19FfGAW).


On September 16th, 1964, Seamus Costello of the Irish Republican Army stood outside the door of the newly opened Chinese embassy in Paris, bearing a letter from the paramilitary organisation’s chief of staff, Cathal Goulding.

This letter was a remarkable document. It requested Chinese assistance in the “Irish struggle against British imperialist rule and to establish a democratic people’s republic”.

And the nature of that assistance? “Military aid, help with training for guerilla warfare, coaching for IRA members in the use of printing presses for distribution of propaganda”.

Connolly’s research and analysis can be found here.

Perhaps what this underlines is the ideological heterodoxity of the IRA at that point in time – albeit that it was clearly shifting leftwards at a rapid rate of knots, and its willingness to gain assistance from a wide range of formations and nations without over due regard to their political orientation as long as it was perceived as anti-imperialist. It also perhaps suggests that future identification with Moscow was perhaps not as pre-ordained and as inevitable as later seemed to be the case. Connolly has some interesting and persuasive conclusions as to why the Chinese might have been resistant to the appeals of Costello and Goulding. Well worth reading.


1. Brian Hanley - January 4, 2014

As you say it’s an interesting and significant find in terms of the IRA’s history. And it tallies with what I think was happening- the IRA was moving to the left, but on its own terms and in an eclectic and pragmatic fashion. However Chris Connolly slightly misquotes myself and Scott Millar when he writes that one of our interviewees stated ‘Moscow was Rome’ to the IRA. That was actually Roy Johnston talking about what he saw was the Irish communists adherence to the USSR.


Mick Hall - January 4, 2014

It would be interesting to know whether it was the Chinese who pointed the officials in the direction of Albania, or did that come much later.


Brian Hanley - January 4, 2014

Mick, I think that came later, independently, as a new young cadre in the Dublin Officials self-consciously embraced Stalinism (not using the term as an insult). This group were attracted to aspects of Maoism, plus Albania. They were a bit apart from the Official mainstream which was moving towards Moscow line communism. You have to remember that in 1970 Cathal Goulding was denying the Officials were ‘reds’ (his term) and Mac Giolla was describing the Eastern Bloc as ‘state capitalist.’ That’s one of the reasons I don’t accept this idea that Goulding comes back from prison having been brainwashed by a spy and turns the IRA into a communist party in the space of a few years.


WorldbyStorm - January 4, 2014

Who were the main personalities who were in that group attracted to Abania and Maoism. A curious development one would have thought.

It does seem to show that the RM was a lot more an agent in itself than at the mercy of others (for example there would be good reasons and pragmatic one’s for Sinn Féin and the IRA to ‘capture’ parts of the CP’s support bases both North and South – links to unions, into the working class, both Catholic and Protestant, and so on – so small wonder they were willing to cosy up to them).

And it’s also fair to point out that it was always a target for other groups trying to jump aboard (and in this I think Treacy’s analysis in that regard isn’t incorrect – though I don’t think there’s enough emphasis in it of how conscious the IRA et al were of that fact and how they were willing to play up to it) – in all its manifestations, whether Official or Provisional, or Republican Socialist – or run in parallel attempting to influence it. I’m always saying it but I do think the arrival of much of PD in the 1980s was a signficant event in the history of PSF and while not deflecting its trajectory seem to me to have accelerated it.


2. hochemoan - January 4, 2014

Well as soon as Chris Connolly reads Matt Tracey’s book the scales will fall from his eyes and he’ll see that the documents he has come across are obviously forgeries planted there by black ops to throw the scent off the REAL CONSPIRACY.


3. Political Tourist - January 4, 2014

There’s something comical about Irish Republicanism and it’s various flirts with socialism.
A few quid here or there and the odd shipment of arms.
Yet none of it has made the slightest bit of difference.
The idea of an 32 county Irish Socialist Republic in 2014 seems almost laughable.


Jake - January 4, 2014

these were sticks, political tourist, an obscure sub-species of republicans, the fell-fed remnants of which can be found today heading the department of foreign affairs. what i found amusing in the story was costello’s claim that they wanted a printing press for the production of propaganda material. my arse! propaganda material with ulysses s. grant’s picture on one side more likely. anyway the good people in n.korea, led by the family that feeds its dissidents to hungry dogs, eventually obliged in that direction! such nice folk the sticks mixed with…….


WorldbyStorm - January 4, 2014

That’s a bizarre analysis, even given that it’s you Jake. To link Costello and the motivations of him and those in the leadership in 1964 with events that took place twenty years later isn’t a political critique of the WP (or indeed SF in the 1960s), it’s just mouthing off in a particularly childish fashion.


joe - January 4, 2014

nothing bizarre about it at all, world by storm or whoever you really are. you just don’t like being reminded of your history and the various stalinist thugs you knocked around with…..that’s your problem.


WorldbyStorm - January 4, 2014

You’re not our Joe, so you’re presumably still “Jake”. That crack about ‘whoever you really are’ is a classic. That old whining tone as if a troll is owed anything.

Still, just to be clear, I’ve never made any secret of my criticism of the WP as it was then or as it is now. I’ve been entirely open about various issues not least links with the DPRK, ‘Stalinism’, lack of engagement in anti-drugs, unwillingness to acknowledge developments in PSF in the late 1980s, etc, etc… the list is endless. The sheer stupidity in suggesting that ‘I don’t like being reminded’ when this site has taken an active interest in the WP and all parts of the left whether Republican or otherwise is quite something.

Which simply points up that that remains a bizarre, childish and very stupid analysis offered in the second comment above, to try to compare the events of 1964 with those of eight, fifteen thirty years later as if everyone was precisely the same, some sort of ‘stick’ original sin. Costello himself had split away from OSF. Gilmore wasn’t even in the party, he was a child in 1964. I’ve no love for the latter, though quite some time for the former but to base an argument against the WP of the mid to late 1970s and 1980s on this sort of stuff is to be completely detached not just from reality but from the way that most people understand logic.


ejh - January 4, 2014

led by the family that feeds its dissidents


to hungry dogs



4. Johnny Forty Coats - January 4, 2014

Do the IRA’s contacts with Berlin in the late 1930s suggest that fascist ideas were in the ascendant in the movement at the time?

Does the importation of arms from Libya in the 1980s suggest that the bearded one was deeply influenced by Gadhafy’s ‘Green Book’?

Is this overture to the Chinese not just another instance of traditional ‘our enemy’s enemy might give us some gear’ thinking?


Jack Jameson - January 4, 2014

That last one fairly sums it up, I think, JFC.


5. Jim Monaghan - January 4, 2014

When you look at the evolution towards the Worker’s Party which aligns so closely with Moscow then surely there must have been an influence. On a footnote a Provo founder who was a family friend was Republican Congress in the early 30s, and when I met him in the early 60s had some quite rightwing ideas.


WorldbyStorm - January 4, 2014

Well there was definitely an influence, but… your own experience in those years surely suggests it was a strand amongst strands- an increasingly important one without question – rather than the only one, no? Can’t help but feel that the exigencies of the context narrowed down the options, after all, they were increasingly left wing, they were obviously moving far beyond social democracy, I guess it’s possible they might have carved out a space like PSF did relatively shortly later amongst liberation movements of one sort or another but it doesn’t surprise me that they went towards Moscow eventually because that was the big pole of opposition globally at the time and they regarded themselves as being significant players (whether accurate or not is a different matter entirely). Still, for all that they were never entirely undifferentiated from Moscow like most strict Moscow line parties, so that legacy or heritage still operated to some extent (as did the simple fact of a preexisting CP on the ground).


6. Political Tourist - January 4, 2014

So the Republican Movement goes from Sean South (claims he slapped courting couples in Limerick cinemas) to the Chinese Embassy in the space of eight years.
Truly a broad church right enough.


7. Jim Monaghan - January 4, 2014

The Maoist regime was quite puritanical.


8. Political Tourist - January 4, 2014

Didn’t the Officials retain a support in North American well into the 1970s.
Come to think of it, I remember being at Milltown Cemetery in 1976 when the Officials had the bigger crowd the PSF at the Easter Commemorations.
The Left/Moscow/Chinese/Albanian link didn’t seem to effect them support wise up until the H-Blocks issue took off.
It was downhill in North after that.


9. Chris Connolly - January 4, 2014

Thanks for the interest in the post, and thanks for replying Brian, however if you read the post what I actually say is:

“from around 1963 onwards the IRA leadership had begun redefining the movement in the direction of communism. “Moscow was Rome to them”, as Hanley and Millar quote one of their interviewees.”


Chris Connolly - January 4, 2014

Sorry, that was sent prematurely while on a trian


Brian Hanley - January 4, 2014

Hi Chris- is there anyway I can contact you by e-mail? I was trying UCC for a while before being told you had moved on.


10. Political Tourist - January 4, 2014

So at the height of the cold war the 1963 IRA leadership thought Moscow was the new Rome.
The leadership spent the next 30 years sticking to that line until the USSR and any support disappeared into the history books.
It was almost as the stages theory was used to destroy the organization.
What about those strange name changes every few years.
Sinn Fein, Official Sinn Fein, Sinn Fein The Workers Party, Workers Party……


Brian Hanley - January 5, 2014

Nope, the IRA didn’t think Moscow was the new Rome in 1963. Roy Johnston told us he that thought the Irish communists had that view of the USSR.


11. Johnny Forty Coats - January 4, 2014

The JFC Institute for Research in the Humanities has now traced the pro-Chinese current in Republicanism as far back as the early 1950s. The “Brendan” referred to in the following quotation had been imprisoned for his part in a bombing campaign in England and was a close associate of Cathal Goulding’s:

“It was Christmas, and we came out of McDaid’s about nine o’clock to find that it was raining. The Christmas lights were on in Grafton Street, there were more people than usual about, and a bunch of carol singers was standing at the corner with coat collars turned up, still sweetening the night air.
They carried placards advertising their charitable intent – something to do with the St. Vincent de Paul Society, or the Legion of Mary or the Morning Star hostel for down-and-outs. As we stood in the rain deliberating the next move, Brendan began to mutter. As I have said, he had in those days a ferocious hatred of the Catholic Church in all its manifestations. We decided to go to Keogh’s, which is in Anne Street, and moved towards the corner. The carol singers were still hard at it, tenor and alto, bass and treble, but as we passed them Brendan suddenly seized one of the placards and proceeded to tear up the cardboard and smash the lath while roaring ‘Chairman Mao Tse-Tung will soon put a stop to your f@cking gallop, ye creepin’ Jesus’s ye.'”

Anthony Cronin, “Dead as Doornails” (Dublin, 1980), pp 71-72.


12. Political Tourist - January 4, 2014

Was that same “Brendan” who it’s claimed said to a nun…….. May your first son be an archbishop, sister.


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