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Irish Left Archive: The Committee for the Rights of Travellers and Mincéir Misli July 12, 2022

Posted by Aonrud ⚘ in Irish Left Online Document Archive, Uncategorized.
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Traveller Pride Week 2022 takes place this week, which seems like a good time to expand the information we have on Travellers rights in the Irish Left Archive. We’ve added this outline of the Committee for the Rights of Travellers, whose magazine, Pavee, is included in the collection. Unfortunately, we have few materials relating to Travellers rights campaigns beyond a single issue of Pavee and some articles in other left publications. We’d welcome any contributions of material from Travellers rights campaigns for the archive that would help to fill this gap.


The Committee for the Rights of Travellers was formed in 1982 in response to anti-Traveller protests in Dublin with the aim of exposing mistreatment of Travellers by the state and anti-Traveller protesters, and making the case for Traveller ethnicity (which was ultimately formally recognised by the state in 2017). It included members of Traveller and settled communities, but later became the Traveller-only group, Mincéir Misli, which appears to have been defunct by 19851.

Background

The 1963 “Report of the Commission on Itineracy”2 (which had been established by the state in 1960) illustrates the state attitude to Irish Travellers at that time and in the following decades: its terms of reference include recommendations to “promote their [Travellers] absorption into the general community” and “to enquire into the problem arising from the presence in the country of itinerants in considerable numbers”3. This shows a prevailing view that Travellers were effectively “failed settled people” (as Patricia McCarthy usefully describes it4) rather than a distinct ethnic and cultural group, and service provision was, as a result, both vastly insufficient and at best paternalistic.

By the 1980s, there had been a large shift from rural to urban living among Travellers (as in the country generally), in part due to a decline in traditional means of making a living5, which led to Traveller communities living increasingly in urban housing, regulated halting sites, or in unauthorised sites due to a lack of alternatives. (This of course wasn’t new: conflicts over land use and evictions of Travellers were a principle type of dispute between Travellers and settled people and the state throughout its development)6.

A review of the state approach to Travellers by the Travelling People Review Body in 1983 shows some shift away from the assimilationist and racist position expressed previously, acknowledging that “the concept of absorption is unacceptable, implying as it does the swallowing up of the minority [T]raveller group by the dominant settled community, and the subsequent loss of [T]raveller identity”7. However, the reality of implementation at local council level meant that this shift in state policy wasn’t reflected in practice. The authorised sites provided by councils were typically poorly suited and overcrowded, and unauthorised sites lacked even water supply or sanitation8.

Tallaght and Anti-Traveller conflict

One such community was in Tallaght, where anti-Traveller sentiment among non-Traveller residents reached the point of an organised effort to drive Travellers out of the area. On the 12th May 1982, a large group of residents marched to the Travellers camp. An article in Magill describes the “Tallaght Action Group” putting notices through letterboxes in the area in the days before, calling for people to assemble to “assist in the Final Movement of Itinerants from Tallaght.” It is notable too that the crowd included “a TD (Deputy Sean Walsh) a County Councillor (Damien Murray) and a Peace Commissioner (John O’Sullivan)”9.

In an interview with the Irish Times, one Traveller, Elizabeth Cash described the experience:

They frightened the heart out of me when they came protesting at us. It nearly killed me and I can’t understand why they don’t like me because I don’t go near them. I can’t understand how they could be so cruel because it was never done in the old days; in my time. The people loved us then. We used to be like neighbours with the settled people10.

There was some support for the Travellers from other residents. As reported in the Irish Times: “A few [Travellers] stood defiantly by their caravans as the protesters passed and were supported by other local people who do not want the families moved on. These people carried placards with slogans like “County Council Must Act Now”, “Permanent Sites For Travellers” and “No Fascist Evictions””11. Those involved included some members of Sinn Féin as well as some activists who later went on to form the Workers Solidarity Movement (WSM).

The anti-Traveller group continued its hostilities, with an Irish Times article later in May noting they “threatened that they would continue to hold protest marches and “maybe even take matters a little further””12. The same article notes that press were refused entry to the group’s meeting on the grounds that the media “showed us to be like a vigilante force or the Ku-Klux Klan”. In the same edition, the views of some of the residents involved are outlined, including some directly racist anti-Traveller tropes, but also an ostensibly softer perspective from the chair of the group, who argues the issue is a failure of local government and that smaller authorised halting sites would be accepted13. In an article for the WSM’s Red & Black Revolution, Patricia McCarthy asserts that “[n]o Travellers were physically attacked on these protests, mainly because of the small but highly visible and determined pickets supporting the Travellers”14.

Attacks and physical intimidation of Travellers had occurred elsewhere previously. An article in Gralton from 1982 describes the events:

Appalled by the fascist nature of this attack, a small group of Tallaght people organised themselves to oppose such actions and to defend the travellers. This _Committee for the Rights of Travelling People_ opposed the thugs with placards and pickets and gradually began to draw in the Travellers themselves to defend the campsites -- a big step in itself as the Travellers had vivid memories of being stoned, their caravans smashed up, their children frightened and their property destroyed. All this happened nine months ago in Loughlinstown, County Dublin.
From ‘Bigotry, tokenism and fighting back’, Gralton, No. 3, 1982.

It was in response to these attacks that the Committee for the Rights of Travellers was formed by Travellers and supporters in 1982, with Nan Joyce and Tony Hackett as joint chairpersons. The committee organised demonstrations, including a march to the Dáil, and worked to draw media attention to harassment, evictions, and to tackle anti-Traveller bigotry.

The Committee had a magazine called Pavee, of which at least three issues were produced. They also met with local authorities in an effort to improve the conditions Travellers were living in. Pavee reports on the frustrations of these negotiations:

No Joy

The Commitee for the Rights of Travellers met with the County Council during the month of May. We found the meeting useless and although we do not wish to let the Council off the hook, we found Councillors all barring a few more worried about their votes than the miserable conditions Travellers are forced to live in. We see no hope of the County Council erver taking their job seriously. And so again we call for a Government Dept. or Minister to oversee the development of Travellers.
“No Joy”. An article from Pavee, July 1983, on a meeting between the Committee for the Rights of Travellers and local councillors.

Election Campaign

The group went on to stand Nan Joyce in the general election in November 1982 in Dublin South-West. She was the first candidate for election from the Traveller community in the history of the state. While unsuccessful, her 581 votes were roughly twice those of Richard O’Reilly, who stood on an explicitly racist anti-Traveller slogan in the same constituency. Notably, Joyce was unable to vote herself as, like many Travellers, she wasn’t on the electoral register.

Her campaign policies included a demand for a Government minister to coordinate the numerous Travellers’ welfare committees in existence, full Irish citizenship for Travellers and the civil and human rights that entails, and full consultation with Travellers for any welfare schemes, with an explicit option to retain their cultural identity, i.e. to freely choose either to settle or be nomadic15. Her election leaflet can be found in the Irish Election Literature collection .

Joyce used canvassing in the election as an opportunity to speak to voters and educate them about the culture of the Travelling Community. Interviewed for an episode of Ireland’s Eye after the election, Joyce and Hackett emphasise the need for communication between both groups, and Nan notes:

We’re getting to know one another. This is the greatest thing that has happened, you know, people coming in that you’ve never seen before and sitting down and understanding you, speaking to you as a woman, as an Irish woman … Even some of the people in the march … it’s not that they were really bad … you know when you go in to something and you don’t really think. And some of those people have come in and apologised. I find it great that they had the guts to come in and say “oh we’re sorry we were in the march”. They didn’t really think. It’s not that people are bad – they need more education [about Travellers]. … Educate the Irish people about their own people. Let them know what way the Travellers live16.

Harassment and Arrest

However, the Committee continued to experience considerable hostility from other communities and from the state. In the July 1983 issue of their magazine, Pavee, the cover story describes harassment Nan Joyce and Tony Hackett have experienced from the Garda Síochána, with regular visits in the early hours of the morning to Nan’s caravan, with floodlights used, loud banging on the doors, and entering uninvited; and with a Department of Education official with whom the Committee was working being told that Tony Hackett was “well known” to the police. The article asks, “We ourselves must wonder is the Committee a threat to the State?”.17

Joyce was wrongly arrested in June 1983 for possession of stolen jewellery, but the charges were later dropped due to lack of evidence. Pavee reports on the circumstances of the arrest:

Pavee, from the Committee for the Rights of Travellers, on the spurious 1983 arrest of Travellers’ rights activist Nan Joyce.

It’s hard not to conclude that the arrest and false charge was the result of her campaigning, and seems to have been taken up with some glee by the media. A parallel can also be drawn with the case of Grattan Puxon in 1964, who had been central in an earlier effort to organise for Travellers rights and whose arrest seriously set back the campaign.18 Pavee reproduces an article from the time on his arrest alongside their article on Nan Joyce’s arrest, which highlights the similarity.

Mincéir Misli

The Committee transformed into Mincéir Misli in 1984 – a Traveller-only campaigning group which was active over the following year or two. An RTÉ report of a Mincéir Misli march on 6th July 1985 quotes the organisers’ statement that the purpose of the march was to “highlight government inaction which they claim has led to desperate third world conditions among their people. They say they are committed to ensuring their children will have a better life, free from harassment and apartheid, which at present treats them as sub-human”19.

Mincéir Misli ceased activity around 1985, and while other groups such as the Dublin Travellers’ Education and Development Group formed in the remaining years of the 1980s, the Committee for the Rights of Travellers, and subsequently Mincéir Misli, was notable for its agitation and activist approach and strength of demands.


1 Úna Crowley, ‘Outside in Dublin: Travellers, Society and the State, 1963-1985’, The Canadian Journal of Irish Studies, 35.1 (2009), 17–24.

2 “Travellers” is used throughout this article, except where directly referring to historical sources that use terms other than those preferred by Travellers.

3 Commission on Itinerancy, Report of the Commission on Itinerancy, 1963 https://opac.oireachtas.ie/AWData/Library3/Library2/DL013441.pdf [emphasis added]. The Commission included no Traveller representatives. For a useful review of the report, see Irish Traveller Movement, Review of the Commission on Itinerancy Report, 2013 https://itmtrav.ie/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/ITM-Review-of-the-1963-Commission-on-Itinerancy.pdf [accessed 28 June 2022].

4 Patricia McCarthy, ‘Racism in Ireland: Travellers Fighting Back’, Red & Black Revolution, 2001, pp. 22–25.

5 Travelling People Review Body, Report of the Travelling People Review Body (Travelling People Review Body, 1983) http://hdl.handle.net/10147/46682 [accessed 12 June 2022].

6 Amanda Haynes, Sindy Joyce, and Jennifer Schweppe, ‘The Significance of the Declaration of Ethnic Minority Status for Irish Travellers’, Nationalities Papers, 49.2 (2021), 270–88 https://doi.org/10.1017/nps.2020.28.

7 Travelling People Review Body.

8 Haynes, Joyce, and Schweppe.

9 Maggie O’Kane, ‘No Camping’, Magill, 31 December 1983 https://magill.ie/archive/no-camping [accessed 28 June 2022].

10 Caroline Walsh, ‘Travellers, Tired of Road, Wish for Peace’, Irish Times, 19 May 1982, p. 7.

11 Peter Murtagh, ‘300 in Itinerant Protest’, Irish Times, 13 May 1982, p. 9.

12‘ Protests Are Threatened’, Irish Times, 20 May 1982, p. 9.

13 Caroline Walsh, ‘“Tallaght Has Had Enough of Itinerants”’, Irish Times, 20 May 1982, p. 9.

14 McCarthy.

15 Elgy Gillespie, ‘Travellers’ Champion Sets out Basic Aims’, Irish Times, 18 November 1982, p. 6.

16 ‘Ireland’s Eye’, 1982, RTÉ Archives https://www.rte.ie/archives/2017/1121/921778-traveller-activist-nan-joyce/ [accessed 29 June 2022].

17 ‘Harassment’, Pavee, July 1983, p. 1.

18 See for example McCarthy, who notes the similarity with the previous efforts of Grattan Puxon in the early 1960s to organise around Travellers’ rights, which were also disrupted by his arrest.

19 ‘RTÉ News’, 1985, RTÉ Archives https://www.rte.ie/archives/2015/0706/712905-travellers-protest-against-discrimination/ [accessed 29 June 2022].

New Left Archive Collection: The British Left on Ireland June 7, 2021

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A photograph of a Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) rally in Trafalgar Square calling for the withdrawal of British troops from Ireland, 5th September, 1971.

We’ve added a new collection on the Irish Left Archive site to bring together the documents from the British Left on Ireland. Over the years the archive has added documents from a wide range of British Left organisations and this collection groups them within broad Left trends: British Labour Party (and related groups), Trotskyist groups, Communist Party of Great Britain (and related groups), other communist organisations, Maoists and Socialist Party of Great Britain.

You can view the collection on the Irish Left Archive website: The British Left on Ireland.

ILA Podcast #20: David Costelloe: Irish Military and Revolutionary History March 15, 2021

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In this episode we talk to David Costelloe. David writes on history and politics on his website Never Felt Better , and in particular has written an extensive series of articles on Irish military history entitled “Ireland’s Wars”, which spans from the earliest recorded conflicts on the island right up to the revolutionary period.

We discuss with David his background and interest in history and in writing, and what led him to create the site and write about military history, before delving in to that history itself and David’s perspective on Irish revolutionary history in particular.

The Ireland’s Wars series of articles is indexed here.


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ILA Podcast #19: Brian Hanley: Socialist Workers’ Movement, 1980s and 90s March 1, 2021

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In this episode we talk to Brian Hanley about his experience of Left activism as a member of the Socialist Workers Movement (SWM) in the late 1980s and early 90s. We discuss the cultural and political influences that led him to join the SWM as a teenager in Limerick; the nature and political position of the organisation at that time; the experience of being an active member; and how the SWM changed and grew during that period.

Brian is a historian in Trinity College Dublin. We’ve spoken to him previously in that capacity on the podcast in episode 13, where we discussed The Lost Revolution: The Story of the Official IRA and the Workers’ Party, which Brian co-authored.

Below are some links that might interest listeners in the context of this episode:

Brian provided a few additional clarifications to the discussion below:

Thanks again to Aonghus and Ciarán for the opportunity to do this. A couple of things struck me afterwards which maybe I wasn’t very clear on. The first one is that while the SWM in general was quite poor on Irish working class history, one big exception was a concentration on James Connolly. Bookmarks republished an edition of Labour in Irish History in 1987, with an introduction by Kieran Allen and in 1990 Kieran Allen’s own The Politics of James Connolly was published. In between public meetings on the politics of Connolly were routine. Amazing that I’d forgotten that really. One other home produced pamphlet that I recall was Goretti Horgan’s Why Irish Women must have the right to choose [see here for the 2002 reprint of this in the archive] which we sold loads of during the X Case period.

A couple of technical points, that might be lost on a ‘younger’ audience was that postering involved going out with buckets of paste and plastering up posters on anything that didn’t move. You postered until the paste or posters ran out, or you were stopped by the Guards. Generally they took the posters and your name, though I was never fined. Uniformed Guards usually couldn’t care less what the posters were about (as long as it wasn’t about them), but the Special Branch could give you more hassle.

The various trips to Marxism in London were by bus and boat, which if there was a few of you could mean a good drink on the ferry and trying to sleep until you got to Victoria. The Irish Marxism weekend was held in November at the Institute of Education in Mountjoy Square. Again it was a chance for people from across the country to get together. One year there was a football match between Dublin and a ‘rest of Ireland’ selection on one of the all-weather pitches across the road from the event. That was never repeated either because it was considered too frivolous or because we were all (with a couple of exceptions, including a current TD) fairly crap. It probably comes across anyway, but there was a high turnover of members with lots of people joining and leaving fairly consistently. On a less nostalgic note, if you were considered a dissident or critic your every failure would be pounced on, while people considered useful or loyal could get away with a lot more. I think that’s the nature of these type of parties to be honest.


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ILA Podcast #18: Danny Morrison: Sinn Féin, An Phoblacht / Republican News, and Political and Fiction Writing February 15, 2021

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In this episode we talk to Danny Morrison. Danny is a writer and Republican political activist from West Belfast. He was national director of publicity for Sinn Féin in the 1980s, and editor, first, of the Sinn Féin paper Republican News in Belfast, and then of An Phoblacht when the two papers were merged. He is the author of several fiction and non-fiction works. He is also secretary of the Bobby Sands Trust, and was chair of the West Belfast festival, Féile an Phobail, until 2014.

Danny was spokesperson for Bobby Sands during the 1981 hunger strikes and subsequently called for a dual strategy of armed struggle and electoral politics in Sinn Féin. He was elected on an abstentionist ticket to the 1982 Northern Ireland Assembly. In 1990, he was charged and imprisoned in connection with the abduction of an IRA informer, and released in 1995. The charges were later overturned in 2008.

Danny’s books include Then the Walls Came Down, based on his prison letters, and the novels West Belfast, On The Back of the Swallow, The Wrong Man, which he later adapted as a play, and Rudi. He is also a regular reviewer and political commentator in newspapers.

We discuss Danny’s background and analysis of the political landscape during the Troubles; his work with Sinn Féin and as editor of Republican News and An Phoblacht; and his work as a writer, and how his creative work is informed by his experience and politics.

You’ll find more information on Danny’s writing and regular articles on his website at dannymorrison.com .


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ILA Podcast #16: Laura Broxson: National Animal Rights Association (NARA) January 18, 2021

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In this episode we talk to Laura Broxson. Laura is an activist focused on animal rights and founder of the National Animal Rights Association (NARA). NARA is a non-hierarchical organisation, taking a radical animal rights and vegan perspective. We’ll discuss how Laura came to activism and founding NARA; the anti-fur and hare-coursing campaigns in which she’s been involved; different methods of campaigning, from street protest to legislative change; cooperation and interaction with Left parties and organisations; and how Laura integrates animal rights campaigning in a wider anti-fascist, anti-capitalist and Left perspective.

For more information on the National Animal Rights Association, you can visit their website at naracampaigns.org .


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The French Revolution and the Irish Struggle, lecture by Seán Ó Brádaigh, Longford Branch, National Graves Association and RSF, 1989 November 9, 2020

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Please click here to go the Left Archive.

Many thanks to the person who forwarded this to the Archive.

This short document printed by the Longford Branch of the National Graves Association reprints a lecture given by Seán Ó Brádaigh in Dublin on 21st January, 1989, to mark the 70th Anniversary of the first Dáil and explores links between ‘Irish and French Republicans – ‘Partners in Revolution’ 200 Years Ago’.

The last two pages of the document contains a short piece entitled ‘Start Talking About Irish Republicanism’ (STAIR) which argues that: ‘The present death, bloodshed and suffering being endured by the people of the six occupied counties can be trrced to the partition of our country by Britain’ and exhorts people to join STAIR which it describes as a ‘sub-committee of the Dublin Comhairle Ceantair, Sinn Féin Poblachtach’.

The conclusion is particularly notable:

As Irish Republicans we are all in the tradition of Tone and the United Irishmen. That tradition was born of an Irish separatism which was given a new direction and new lease of life by the inspiration of the events of 1789 in France. The generous ideas of the First French Republic born in blood 200 years ago, are part of an inheritance which has inspired very generation of Irish people since then and inspires us today.

And:

We are children of Ireland, but we are also, as Irish Republicans ‘infants de la patria’ because the school of Irish Republicanism is a Franco-Irish school and we have all been there. Liberty, Equality, Fraternity are noble ideal which still inspire us and for which we still struggle, both North and South of the British-created border.

Please note: We accept scanned files in good faith. However if files have been posted for or to other online archives previously we would appreciate if we could be informed of that. We are keen to credit same where applicable or simply provide links.

ILA Podcast #14: John Goodwillie: Young Socialists, Socialist Labour Alliance, SWM, Socialist Labour Party, Gralton magazine and the Green Party November 2, 2020

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In this episode we talk to John Goodwillie. John is a long-time political activist, who has been involved in a number of progressive parties and organisations. He was a member of Labour in the 1960s and belonged to the Young Socialists, Socialist Labour Action Group and subsequent Socialist Labour Alliance. He was involved with the Socialist Workers’ Movement (SWM) in the 1970s, and joined the Socialist Labour Party (SLP) when the SWM merged with that party as a tendency, and remained on the National Executive until the SLP’s dissolution.

John was on the editorial board of Gralton magazine. He has also participated in a number of campaign groups, including the Dublin Clean Seas Group, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) – on the executive of which John served in various roles – and the National Lesbian and Gay Federation. Since 1990 he has been a member of the Green Party, and was the party’s candidate in Dublin South Central for Dáil and local elections through the 1990s. He has been involved in policy formation and served as Secretary of the Party’s Policy Council.

We discuss the history of Irish Left organisations since the 1960s and John’s own political trajectory: from Labour in the 1960s, through organisations seeking to form a party of the Left. We also discuss Gralton magazine and John’s political activity in the 1980s and in the Greens since 1990.

John created a ‘family tree of the left’ diagram, which provided an overview of the splits, merges and relationships between organisations on the Irish Left, printed in Gralton in 1983. It was an online copy of this which inspired the creation of the Timeline of the Irish Left on our own website – John’s diagram gave us a starting basis for it, and we are indebted to John both for that and for subsequent suggestions and corrections to the initial version.

The Gralton Family Tree of the Left, by John Goodwillie. From Gralton magazine, 1983. (Image from DublinOpinion.com)
The Gralton Family Tree of the Left, by John Goodwillie. From Gralton magazine, 1983. (Image from DublinOpinion.com)

Some materials in the archive may be of interest to listeners in the context of the discussion.

From the fourth issue of The Worker, the aims of the Socialist Workers’ Movement (SWM):

SWM - What we stand for

The Fintan Lalor branch of the Labour party mentioned in the podcast was expelled in 1971. Listeners may be interested in this article from Labour News Bulletin announcing the expulsion:

Labour News Bulletin, July 1971, on the dissolution of the Fintan Lalor branch and expulsion of Paddy Healy for membership of the Socialist Labour Alliance.
Labour News Bulletin, July 1971, on the dissolution of the Fintan Lalor branch and expulsion of Paddy Healy for membership of the Socialist Labour Alliance.

Gralton magazine was published in 1982-83. This is the first issue of the magazine: Gralton, No. 1 .


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Left Archive: Red & Black Revolution, Issue 14 – 2008, Workers Solidarity Movement November 2, 2020

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To download the above please click on the following link. redblack-rev-no-14-2008.pdf

Please click here to go the Left Archive.

This document is here on the WSM website, but we like to have at least one sample of a publication from an organisation, party or formation in the Archive, even if hosted elsewhere, in order to build a representative sample of their output. We scanned this in (and many thanks to SM for donating a copy for same and the WSM for letting us repost it).

This twenty two page document dating from 2008 is one of a series of this particular publication. It is, as is usual with WSM related materials, designed and printed to a good quality. There is a range of articles contained within including an interview with Larry Wheelock, an assessment of Financial Weapons of Mass Destruction, a piece entitled ‘How free can you be if you can’t even control your own body?’ and a book review.

The publication notes that:

Like most publications of the Left, Red and Black Revolution is not a profit making venture. It exists in order to spread ideas and contribute to the process of changing the world.

And it suggests that readers, if they would like to help, could subscribe, or take copies of the issue to see, and that they are ‘always looking for bookshops or stalls that will see this magazine on a commercial basis’. Notably it gives permission to revolutionary publications to reprint articles.

There’s also a piece on the history of the Workers Solidarity Movement.

Please note: If files have been posted for or to other online archives previously we would appreciate if we could be informed of that. We always wish to credit same where applicable or simply provide links.

ILA Podcast #13: Brian Hanley: The Lost Revolution – The Story of the Official IRA and the Workers’ Party October 26, 2020

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In this episode we talk to historian Brian Hanley about The Lost Revolution: The Story of the Official IRA and the Workers’ Party, the book which he co-authored with Scott Millar, published in 2009. We discuss the history of Official Republicanism from the move to the Left in the 1960s up to the contemporary, and how Brian and Scott went about researching and writing the history of that movement.

Brian Hanley is Assistant Professor in Twentieth Century Irish History in the Department of History, Trinity College Dublin. His other books include The IRA, 1926-1936 (2002), A Documentary History of the IRA, 1916-2005 (2010) and The impact of the Troubles on the Republic of Ireland, 1968-79: boiling volcano? (2018).

The Lost Revolution: The Story of the Official IRA and the Workers’ Party is published by Penguin .


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