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Pro-Treaty IRA prisoners in Northern Ireland in the early 1920s April 11, 2021

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From the very interesting Stories from A Border Kitchen, from Dr Patrick Mulroe who wrote the fascinating Bombs, Bullets and the Borders study of policing and security policy on the part of the Republic of Ireland of the Border in the late 1960s and 1970s, comes this on The Free State’s POWs during the Civil War. By this he means the pro-Treaty IRA personnel who were in prisons in Northern Ireland during that period. Some remarkable thoughts there, not least that in 1926 a good 40 remained in prison in jails across the UK.

Stories From a Border Kitchen also has podcasts, with interviews with Brian Hanley and Matt Carthy, and articles and other media. A real wealth of information.

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1. EWI - April 11, 2021

The questionably-legal 1920s efforts of the UK and various Commonwealth countries such as Australia to persecute anti-Treaty activists for ‘disloyalty to HM’s Govt’ (Collins, Cosgrave & co.) are a fascinating topic.

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2. roddy - April 11, 2021

The Civil war divisions were greatly blurred in the North.I know of one man who went pro treaty and became a garda sargent.But those who participated in every campaign North of the border since still speak highly of him.I would have seen relatives of his at easter commemorations over the years.I would say a lot of this is to do with Collins northern offensive.Similarly I know of people who took part in operation harvest and the recent troubles who are the sons of “pro Dev” veterans.Despite the fact that Dev executed comrades of their sons just a few years prior to operation harvest and they supported their sons activities,they would not hear a word said about Dev.

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Dr Nightdub - April 11, 2021

Blurred within the north, yes, but northerners did take part in the Civil War. One of the Drumboe Martyrs executed in Donegal was from Derry.
There’s also more evidence emerging of Belfast men fighting on the anti-Treaty side in the early fighting in Dublin, a column of them operating in Louth, etc.
My favourite example is a Presbyterian who was an apprentice welder in Harland & Wolff when the pogrom started, joined the IRA in Ardoyne and ended up in an anti-Treaty column in Leitrim.

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3. roddy - April 11, 2021

The Drumboe Martyr was Sean Larkin who lived about 7 miles from me.We commemorate him every Easter at Loup which I have attended my lifetime and my parents before that.But as I said relatives of some who went pro treaty would be there too.The pro treatyites that I know of would not have held to the Southern civil war bitterness and would have went pro treaty because they foolishly believed Collins would “free” the North.The one thing that unites descendants of both factions ironically is a detestation of Fine Gael.

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4. Jim Monaghan - April 11, 2021

“By this he means the pro-Treaty IRA personnel who were in prisons in Northern Ireland during that period. Some remarkable thoughts there, not least that in 1926 a good 40 remained in prison in jails across the UK.”. This surprises me. I read a book decades ago by a person called Brady. He was serving time for burnings in, I think, the Liverpool area. Released and returned and joined the Gardai. And this wonderful programme. https://www.irishnews.com/news/northernirelandnews/2019/04/22/news/tv-show-uncovers-ira-safe-house-in-newcastle-upon-tyne-1602735/

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5. Jim Monaghan - April 11, 2021

” By this he means the pro-Treaty IRA personnel who were in prisons in Northern Ireland during that period. Some remarkable thoughts there, not least that in 1926 a good 40 remained in prison in jails across the UK.” surprised by this. One memoir I read, Brady?, released from prison and joined Gardai.

The wonderful house series. https://www.irishnews.com/news/northernirelandnews/2019/04/22/news/tv-show-uncovers-ira-safe-house-in-newcastle-upon-tyne-1602735/

and this https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/tyneside-s-forgotten-fight-for-irish-freedom-1.3975309

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Jim Monaghan - April 11, 2021

Sorry for double post.

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6. pearsemonnet - April 13, 2021

interesting post; very informative blog.

“Under the guidance of leaders like Eoin O’Duffy, Sean MacEoin, and Michael Collins there was a clandestine and totally ineffective stop-start border offensive”
(quote taken from TheBorderKitchenBlog post on free state pows in the 6 Co’s)

– Collins, the Insurgent –
This is why Collins accepted the Treaty imo. Breathing room, a base for undermining the north, an opportunity to eliminate opponents.

And is why the Brits – thru Emmet Dalton – had him eliminated.
Reading “The Dark Secret Of Beal Na Blath” by An tAthair Pat Twohig (1992) convinced me. Its years since I read the book but I think he took a bunch of measurements in the area. Either way this amateur historian makes a good case in his little book-ín for playing down the capacity of Sonny O’Neill to accurately shoot him from where he said he was.

– Collins was a proto-fascist –
For context: I do not like Mick Collins. The cult of personality he enjoys has always intrigued me. From my reading around the topic of Ireland’s Revolutionary Period I have long concluded that Collins was a proto-fascist. Smt like a still-born Irish Joe Piłsudski. Authoritarian, charismatic, militaristic with a penchant for folksey and re-distributist rhetoric. Time and again he used the political institutions at his disposal to further a particular agenda; he displayed no great loyalty to the idea of democracy per se (which is kinda required in a emerging state).

– Collins the Peace-maker !
If my assertion is correct I find it amusing that Ireland Inc. has cast him retrospectively as a peace-maker / progenitor of the Peace Process. It is no small coincidence that Fine Gael started to celebrate Collins again since the Northern Troubles stopped. It’s safe now to even have an image of a fella in a military uniform for Fine Gaelers (or the Gaolers party, as I heard them called onetime).

There is an irony to Collin’s legacy that too few Fine Gaolers appreciate, or more likely are in denial about.

Having something like the annual Beal-na-Bláth speeches would have been simply too embarrassing in the middle of the 70’s or 80’s.

Michael Collins launched a secret cross-border campaign, having IRA members (of both sides in the emerging Treaty divide) smuggle in guns.

It is unpalatable for FG supporters and the Mick Collins fan club to think about the good IRA and he bad IRA. There is little difference in the offensive being planned between Collins and IRA Chief of Staff Liam Lynch in May–June 1922, and the activities of successive generations of other Irish Republicans ever since.

– Haughey Senior was one of Collins’ border foxes
Btw, one of these soldiers who worked to undermine the gerry-mandered state was the father of Charlie Haughey. As Min for Justice he participated in the crushing of the IRA Border Campaign. But successfully re-invented himself later as a Republican hero. (sigh!) People, please use your brain.

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7. roddy - April 13, 2021

Re Haughey snr,you are reinforcing my point that many Northerners who went pro treaty were’nt really civil war zealots and in later years detested FG.

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pearsemonnet - April 13, 2021

Yes. Correct. C-na-nG was an odd mix of everything. Redmondites, unionists, and Collins men.

Following the logic of your argument maybe the biggest advocates of Collins’ argument in time was FF. Maybe they should claim him. Or perhaps PSF should. He died a member of a party called Sinn Fein. Fine gael wasn’t in existence for another 12 years. Even Cumann na nGaedhal the party didn’t exist.

But what does it matter??!
Fg or ff. They were mirror images of one another. Rhetoric aside, even on the north of Ireland.

To quote Eamon McCann during the seminal SWP conf in 1996 (?) to change the party constitution so as to be able to stand electoral candidates:
“They’re all Free Staters now!”

For generations it didn’t matter to young Republicans whether the Dublin govt has the Blue shirts or the Charvet Shirts, if the cops were raiding your parents’ home.

Haughey sr et al might have moved from fg to ff but Charlie still introduced Internment in the 26 counties, greatly helping the defeat of the new IRA.

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8. roddy - April 13, 2021

My father and uncles who throughout my youth waited on the FF cavalry to come over the hill had come to McCann’s conclusion by the 80s, that indeed “they’re all staters now”.

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pearsemonnet - April 14, 2021

Militarily an insurgency was really the only option for Irish irredentist aspirations.

An outright invasion of the north by an Irish army (whether led by Collins in a speculative mid-20s, or the Ailtiri Na Aiseiri fantasy “6 counties, 6 divisions, 6 days”, or in 1970 alá “we will not stand idly by”) would have been strategically disastrous.

Invading sovereign territory of a UN Security Council member !
Not without consequences, alas.

In 1969 the Paisleyites responded with a warning to the (then) rumours about the Saor Stat army moving to the border. They said if the Irish army invaded firstly they would have been repulsed. By the present stationed British soldiers (with reinforcements dispatched fairly lively also), and the well-armed PUL population. Secondly, in time to avoid any repeat, surrounding counties to the northern statelet would have been de-militarised.

See Golan Heights for similar. The territory is de jure Syrian but is de facto Israeli.

With the failure of an insurgency (given wider geo-political considerations) it is clear to all that this situation cannot be resolved militarily.

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9. roddy - April 14, 2021

Goulding called for an invasion in 69 and if not that the “tools to do the job”.I have it in an old newspaper interview he did at the time.This is rarely mentioned as it does’nt suit the revisionist narrative.

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pearsemonnet - April 16, 2021

I don’t doubt that Goulding said that.

But do you not think he was on the ropes when he uttered those words.

The narrative was being pushed by opponents that he was militarily unprepared, naive and “too ideological, too far removed (physically and objectively) to really understand the North. There was this canard of “IRA = I Ran Away” (no photos of such graffiti has ever surfaced btw).

Goulding’s leadership was on the line, his movement was clearly splitting (Belfast had broken away in autumn 69, even before the proper split over the new year), lives were being lost, the original revolution envisaged was disintegrating like snow in the sunshine.
I would be wary of taking anything he said at face value from this time.

Would a still-united Irish Republican movement under the leadership of Goulding et al have been able to secure the intervention at UN Security Council level of the USSR?

The Provisionals in their Plan B worked successfully at acquiring the patronage of a superpower.

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10. pearsemonnet - April 15, 2021

Incidentally, similar to the Pro-Treaty IRA pows, there are martyred dead in a sorta Limbo. No Irish Republican faction claims them & attends to their graves. Maybe this has changed in the last 20 years with the group called the Collins 22 Society. I dunno.

Perhaps someone here knows more?

I’m mainly referring to the Henry Wilson assassins; I’m sure there are others.

Reginald Dunne and Joseph O’Sullivan were hanged a few months after shooting the Unionist MP and military adviser to the govt in Belfast. They were seen as Collins-men; I’m going with the conclusions of Ryle Dwyer and Tim Pat Coogan on this.

But they have been overlooked precisely because they were assassins. The other Pro-Treaty leaders in their new positions of responsibility kept clear of any association. They didn’t feature in any Roll-of-Honour in the early years of the Blueshirt movement; understandable given that the ACA came into form in reaction to the assassination of Kevin Higgins.

And there lies the rub. The legacy of political violence sits uneasy with Establishment politicians. In the past, present or the future.

The repatriation of their remains was almost an after-thought after Casement’s reburial. The transfer from their quicklime graves on English prison grounds to Deans Grange in 1967 only happened because of the dedicated efforts of one of the brothers.

Patrick O’Sullivan twisted some elbows in the National Graves Association and got their help (financially enabled by the renewal of interest given to the 50th anniversary of 1916) and got the remains home. The reburial ceremony was a rather muted occasion apparently.

Over the decades their graves never received the Easter Week visits either by groups or singletons. No Cumann bears their name, no annual speech pays them tribute or no portraits of them adorn an office. They are proverbial footnotes in a history book; people might stumble across them learning about Mick Collins, Henry Wilson or Sam Maguire.

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CL - April 15, 2021

” In a statement disallowed during the trial – they asserted: `We took our part in supporting the aspirations of our fellow countrymen in the same way as we took our part in supporting the nations of the world who fought for the rights of small nationalities … The same principle for which we shed our blood on the battlefield of Europe led us to commit the act we are charged with. Sir Henry Wilson was not so much the great British field marshal as the man behind the Orange Terror. As military adviser he raised and organised a body known as the Ulster Special Constables, who are the principal agents in his campaign of terrorism.”….
In Dublin, on July 7th, 1967, the Government secretary, Dr N.S. O Nuallain, “suggested to the Taoiseach [Jack Lynch] that the flag on the GPO should be half masted tomorrow until noon – the funeral Mass will be at 10 a.m. – and he agreed”. In Dean’s Grange cemetery next day, three men with revolvers fired a volley over the fresh graves.”
https://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/an-irishman-s-diary-1.76274

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pearsemonnet - April 17, 2021

Ah referee !

This fella is using the advantage of a better memory than me to recall information pertinent to the point I was making.

But seriously. . .
I didn’t know about the nos at their funeral or the flag at half-mast.

Only fitting. They risked more than anyone in the Mick Collins fanclub ever have. Great that their sacrifice was acknowledged, even if the goal they scored was after the whistle was blown according to the fanclub.

The People Who Matter, the likes of Niall O Nuallain (who suggested to Jack Lynch) only get behind something when there is enough momentum building up already. The thing is, of course, to get their attention. Easier said than done.

Reading your linked article just reinforces the admiration I have for the National Graves Association (and similar). If it wasn’t for sustained efforts of the brother and the NGA, in this case, these fellas would have been left in their coldly-filled, shallow graves.

Stuck in their limbo land of being martyred by the Brits for the Pro-Treaty side they had no political capital. None. Not for the public face of the technocrats who run our li’l state.

Despite the indefatigable campaign by the NGA to do right by Kevin Barry and the rest of the Forgotten Ten, they were only reburied by a Fianna Fail bent on trying to outdo Provisional Sinn Fein.

A cynic could say FF’s PR stunt was the final insult to them. That is, after lying for decades on prison grounds in unmarked graves in unconsecrated ground (a slight surely the Clergy must have noticed).

When by 2001 the occasion of giving them full state honours it was milked good-o. The reburial coincided with the FF agm with the graveside oration given by Dirty Bertie. Never missed a beat!

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roddy - April 17, 2021

Never forget that Ruari Quinn objected to Kevin Barry and the ten getting their honours.

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pearsemonnet - April 17, 2021

Jesus !

Liberals : )

I didn’t know that. Or maybe i did but I forgot. You know the way that happens.

So sad esp considering his daddy was in the IRA in the 30s, I think.

I have little time for him tbh. Despite him never been far from the pages of the IT or RTE current affairs reportage, my abiding memory of him is more intimate. Not only is politics local, its personal.

The memory is of Quinn’s closing remarks in a debate about whether to vote yes or no. He was in a debate against Joe Higs (or maybe Mick O’Reilly) in Wynns Hotel during one of the Lisbon refs.

Playing to the audience – or rather his supporters – Rory Quinn was in thorough Danny-the-Red mode (another EU fanboy, incidentally). Quinn announced in well-practiced tub-thumping style to Vote Yes was to endorse the coming to Ireland of a European style NHS.

The applause and the cheers are still ringing in my ears. The ref was carried. I’m still waiting for his promise to materialise.

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11. pearsemonnet - April 27, 2021

– Guerrillas were always less risky
I just came across notes I made whilst reading “The Committee”, and I thought I would share something here.

“The Committee – Political Assassination in Northern Ireland” (1998) by Sean McPhilemy has problems as a book but it also does have merit. Interestingly, one of the few books still subject to censorship in the Irish state (but the net renders the banning of books kinda meaningless). It is a book that this investigative journalist and socialist republican lost his life over.

Bellicose speeches by politicians and hurried movements of troops to the border were for optics alone.

Few in officialdom in the south ever actually wanted to risk anything.

For those Establishment figures who wanted “Brits Out” supporting a guerrilla group was the furthest they were going to go.

And the Brits in question knew this.

At one point McPhilemy talks about John Anderson (1908 – 1988). This Anglo-Irish fella was a career soldier, military strategist and was the 1st Colonel Commandant of Ulster Defence Regiment (largely responsible for presiding over the transformation of the B Specials into the UDR).

Anderson’s argument that the Provisional IRA was merely a proxy of the Irish state was seized upon by many in Unionism, despite the often vociferous rhetoric by this new subversive grouping towards the southern Partitionist state. It was Ronald Bunting of the DUP that made the comparison between talk of an incursion by the RoI army in 1969 with Syria’s repelled invasion of Israel in ‘67 resulting in the de-militarisation of the Golan mountain region.

The Ronald Buntings of the DUP were hardline unionist, arguing that the UUP were too close to the British Establishment to be able to repel moves to appeasing Dublin. The Buntings of the DUP differed from the “Burning Bush” wing of their party (i.e. the Millenarian Christians). The virulent sectarianism associated with the party can be found in both sides. But when you want to understand the mindset of the people who make decisions in the party its best to bypass those who foam at the mouth because swings in a playground weren’t properly chained up by Council workers on Sunday.

In the 1970’s Anderson and Bunting argued that the PIRA was in actuality a unit of the RoI Department of Defence in disguise. They pointed to the events of the Arms Crisis as the genesis of this partisan grouping, created in this way to be used by the Dublin government in a conflict where deniability was called for.

– Collins died with his secrets
An all-out military invasion by the Irish state army of the north of Ireland could never have succeeded. Too many guns on the other side. This President of the IRB was aware of the organisation’s motto (England’s Difficulty is Ireland’s Opportunity), and maybe was gonna take advantage of the next international conflict. Would a Collins-led Irish state be allied to Nazi Germany? Not a comfortable thought for many in liberal Ireland who will be asked to mark the centenary of his death in little over a year’s time.

Pending this next war that Britain would find herself entangled in would Collins have worked extensively to develop a system for patronising organised armed Catholics in the 6 counties?

If my assertion is correct that the PIRA were a return to something that Michael Collins had in mind in the months before he was killed, the hatred he receives in Republican circles is clearly misplaced. He was probably the leading southerner to be most concerned with getting back the 4th Green Field in the last 100 years. He used the same argument that PSF did, stepping stones. At opposite ends of the 20th century both work thru institutions to develop an all-Ireland form of the bourgeois state whose sovereignty was granted by the likes of Churchill in the Treaty.

Is there a Mick Collins cumann of Provisional Sinn Fein?

– The Spirit of Harry Wilson hasn’t gone away, ya know!
There are more bumps on the road than stepping stones, it seems. It’s the military men (who play a starring role in McPhilemy’s thesis) who always need to be reckoned with.

Something I don’t see being acknowledged in any conversations about (what is referred to as) Irish unity.

The role of trigger-happy Unionists wanting to maintain the status quo become apparent when you apply the slightest scrutiny to the periodic phases of violence in modern Irish history. Most here in this chatroom would agree that the origins of 20th century militarism in Ireland lie in the 1912-14 period of the Conservative Party-led armed conspiracy.

Other bumps on the road include the 1912-14 Home Rule Crisis (including the Curragh Mutiny of British officers), the Ulster Workers’ Council “strike” in the mid-1970’s, the activities of the Ulster Resistance Movement (in response to the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement). These all point to a capacity for remote controlled unionist violence that will still be with us for some time to come.

I don’t think a mere design of a flag is gonna cut it.

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EWI - April 27, 2021

the hatred he receives in Republican circles is clearly misplaced.

…wait, what? There was unease within the veteran IRB ranks at the ascent of Collins after the Easter Rising, but there’s no ‘hatred’ of Collins that I’ve ever seen (schadenfreude in using him against FG, maybe).

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pearsemonnet - April 27, 2021

Nah. Unfortunately we live in a world populated by simplistic people.

Mick Collins is chief in the parade of traitors, of sell-outs, and of turn-coats for generations of people who self identify as Irish Republicans. In the line-up after him are DeV, Sean McBride, Tom Gill (the Stickies arouse particular bileful contempt), and more recently the Adams McGuinness duo.

That there is a centrifugal momentum towards the political centre when you operate within the parliamentary democracy system is lost on these political troglodytes.

The pattern is there in Irish history. Generation after generation of Fenianism. When the fighting appears to be running into the sand, you take your accumulated social capital and build a political movement that applies pressure in a different manner. It takes longer to manifest your end vision. But managing this transition is better than having to answer for your activity from the dock in The Hague (a fate many in unionism would have liked to befallen Adams).

It’s easy to lie on another man’s wounds.
It’s easy to roar “Collins was a c*nt!” at the Ardfheis of yet another little rad splinter of the Provies (I can’t keep up with the numbers in recent years).

The logic is that because Collins signed the Treaty he is laughing at everything that has ever gone wrong for Catholics north of the border.

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WorldbyStorm - April 27, 2021

I’m surprised by that, my sense from talking to a range of Provisional adjacent republicans over the years was that their view was that at least Collins had made the effort re the North and the fact that he died took him out of the ranks of those who survived. That may well be an overly romantic view of him and how matters might have proceeded later had he lived, but I’m’ interested that you’d have heard otherwise. I’m sure there are those who took a different view but that would be what I’d have heard.

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banjoagbeanjoe - April 27, 2021

The republicans who hate Collins are the Dev FF republicans. Not sure if there’s any or many of them left.

I was talking to one of them once about the Michael Collins film. He wasn’t particularly impressed with it as a film but he said the ending was brilliant. What about the ending was brilliant, I asked. He got shot, he said.

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pearsemonnet - April 27, 2021

I can’t seem to be able to reply to Banjo ag Bean Joe, I could be doing smt wrong. Anyway, it’s the same point I wanna make – either I’ll answer your question WbS or refute the other’s assertion.

– narrative is still there
No. The people who hate Collins are not only supporters of FF. There is a narrative among a lot of young Republicans that Collins was a sellout. It’s a purist, idealistic, head-in-the-clouds notion. And as i said already according to this simplistic view Collins is the first in this gallery of villains. Juxtaposed to this gallery of villains are people who died young in Ireland’s national liberation. Pearse, Mellows, Sean South, Stagg, Sands. Interestingly you never see Joe McCann or Seamus Costello celebrated leading me to see these groups perpetuating a rump Provoism. The Brady cadre never had the pnash needed to appeal to Irish millennials.

– welcome to check
Not simply my opinion. The existence of this narrative can be verified. Please have a look at the social media eco system of what the mainstream media calls “dissident republicanism”. A problematic term I know, who does this include and who isn’t. Arguably all republicans are dissidents. Look at the creation of any new faction: the Provos, FF (once referred to by an earlier term, that of irregulars), and ultimately the military council of the IRB that launched the 1916 rising. All dissos. But I digress.

I won’t list all the various Irish Republican groups that have emerged since, say, 2006. These li’l groupings have to be compromised if not utterly controlled, incidentally. But teasing that out is another day’s work.

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12. roddy - April 27, 2021

You’ll certainly see Costello celebrated up here ,on murals that I would see on a daily basis.

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pearsemonnet - April 28, 2021

I’m delighted to read that.

In some ways the Adams cadre robbed the TUAS idea from Costello’s vision of the Irps. That of a populist movement affecting civil disobedience with a slate of elected reps and with an ever-present threat of an armed militia in the shadows.

An even nicer tribute to this giant of a man than gable murals would be concrete steps to the eventual manifestation of a socialist Ireland. Something this new outfit in Irish politics, the Provisional party with all their politicians, should work to pursue.

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