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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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The Limerick Soviet

The Limerick Soviet exists for a two-week period from April 15 to April 27, 1919, and is one of a number of self-declared Irish soviets that are formed around Ireland between 1919 and 1923. At the beginning of the Irish War of Independence, a general strike is organised by the Limerick Trades and Labour Council, as a protest against the British Army‘s declaration of a “Special Military Area” under the Defence of the Realm Act 1914, which covers most of Limerick city and a part of the county. The soviet runs the city for the period, prints its own money and organises the supply of food.

From January 1919 the Irish War of Independence develops as a guerrilla conflict between the Irish Republican Army (IRA) (backed by Sinn Féin‘s Dáil Éireann), and the British government. On April 6, 1919 the IRA tries to liberate Robert Byrne, who is under arrest by the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) in a hospital, being treated for the effects of a hunger strike. In the rescue attempt Constable Martin O’Brien is fatally wounded and another policeman is seriously injured. Byrne is also wounded and dies later the same day.

In response, on April 9 British Army Brigadier Griffin declares the city to be a Special Military Area, with RIC permits required for all wanting to enter and leave the city as of Monday, April 14. British Army troops and armoured vehicles are deployed in the city.

On Friday, April 11 a meeting of the United Trades and Labour Council, to which Byrne had been a delegate, takes place. At that meeting Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union (ITGWU) representative Sean Dowling proposes that the trade unions take over Town Hall and have meetings there, but the proposal is not voted on. On Saturday, April 12 the ITGWU workers in the Cleeve’s factory in Lansdowne vote to go on strike. On Sunday, April 13, after a twelve-hour discussion and lobbying of the delegates by workers, a general strike is called by the city’s United Trades and Labour Council. Responsibility for the direction of the strike is devolved to a committee that describes itself as a soviet as of April 14. The committee has the example of the Dublin general strike of 1913 and “soviet” (meaning a self-governing committee) has become a popular term after 1917 from the soviets that had led to the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic.

A transatlantic air race is being organised from Bawnmore in County Limerick at the same time, but is cancelled. The assembled journalists from England and the United States take up the story of an Irish soviet and interview the organisers. The Trades Council chairman John Cronin is described as the “father of the baby Soviet.” Ruth Russell of the Chicago Tribune remarks on the religiosity of the strike committee, observes “the bells of the nearby St. Munchin’s Church tolled the Angelus and all the red-badged guards rose and blessed themselves.” The Sinn Féin Mayor of Limerick, Phons O’Mara, tells Russell there is no prospect of socialism, as “There can’t be, the people here are Catholics.”

The general strike is extended to a boycott of the troops. A special strike committee organises food and fuel supplies, prints its own money based on the British shilling, and publishes its own newspaper called The Worker’s Bulletin. The businesses of the city accept the strike currency. Cinemas open with the sign “Working under authority of the strike committee” posted. Local newspapers are allowed to publish once a week as long as they have the caption “Published by Permission of the Strike Committee.” Outside Limerick there is some sympathy in Dublin, but not in the main Irish industrial area around Belfast. The National Union of Railwaymen does not help.

On April 21 The Worker’s Bulletin remarks that “A new and perfect system of organisation has been worked out by a clever and gifted mind, and ere long we shall show the world what Irish workers are capable of doing when left to their own resources.” On Easter Monday 1919, the newspaper states “The strike is a worker’s strike and is no more Sinn Féin than any other strike.”

Liam Cahill argues, “The soviet attitude to private property was essentially pragmatic. So long as shopkeepers were willing to act under the soviet’s dictates, there was no practical reason to commandeer their premises.” While the strike is described by some as a revolution, Cahill adds, “In the end the soviet was basically an emotional and spontaneous protest on essentially nationalist and humanitarian grounds, rather than anything based on socialist or even trade union aims.”

After two weeks the Sinn Féin Lord Mayor of Limerick, Phons O’Mara, and the Catholic bishop Denis Hallinan call for the strike to end, and the Strike Committee issues a proclamation on April 27, 1919 stating that the strike is over.

(Pictured: Photograph of Members of the 1919 Limerick Soviet, April 1919, Limerick City)


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Death of Eoin O’Duffy, Activist, Soldier & Police Commissioner

Eoin O’Duffy, Irish nationalist political activist, soldier and police commissioner, dies in Dublin on November 30, 1944.

O’Duffy is born near Castleblayney, County Monaghan on January 28, 1890. Trained initially as an engineer, he later becomes an auctioneer. He becomes interested in Irish politics and joins Sinn Féin, later becoming a member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA).

During the Irish War of Independence, O’Duffy commands the Monaghan Brigade and in February 1920 he successfully captures the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) barracks at Ballytrain taking from it weapons and explosives. Also present at this victory is Ernie O’ Malley, who goes on to organize flying columns, and the socialist guerrilla fighter Peadar O’Donnell.

In the 1921 Irish general election, O’Duffy becomes TD for Monaghan. By 1922, he has been promoted to Chief of Staff of the IRA and is one of Michael Collins foremost supporters when he accepts the Anglo-Irish Treaty and fights in the Irish Civil War as a general of the Free State Army.

As commander of the 2nd Northern Division of the IRA, O’Duffy sees action in Belfast when defending Catholic ghettoes from attacks by Protestant pogromists. He also leads the Free State forces into Limerick city.

In September 1922, following the mutiny in Kildare by Civic Guard recruits, O’Duffy replaces Michael Staines as commissioner. Under him the police force is renamed the Garda Síochána, disarmed and is later merged with the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP). His fervent Catholicism is greatly reflected in the ethos of the Garda Síochána.

In 1933, O’Duffy becomes associated with Cumann na nGaedheal by taking on the leadership of their security organization the Army Comrades Association, later to be known colloquially as the Blueshirts. This organization is to become a participant in many street brawls with anti-treaty sympathizers who try to break up pro-treaty political meetings. When the pro-treaty parties merge in 1933 to become Fine Gael, he is the party President for a short period of time.

It is believed that O’Duffy unsuccessfully encourages W. T. Cosgrave to consider a coup-de’etat in the event of Fianna Fáil winning the 1932 Irish general election. Cosgrave, in the event, puts his trust in a democracy when Fianna Fáil does, in fact, form a government, led by Éamon de Valera, with the help of the Labour Party.

After the 1933 Irish general election, which again sees de Valera in power, O’Duffy is dismissed from his post as Garda Commissioner on the grounds that due to his past political affiliations, he will be unable to carry out his duties without bias.

In Europe, the new phenomenon of fascism is gaining ground and O’Duffy, like many of his pro-treaty colleagues, is drawn to it. His Army Comrades Association is renamed the National Guard and they begin to take on many of the symbols of fascism such as the outstretched arm salute and the blue uniforms.

When O’Duffy plans a massed march for August 1933 in Dublin to commemorate the deaths of Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins, de Valera, fearing a coup, has it banned. Possibly de Valera is also testing the loyalty of the army and the Garda Síochána. In September the National Guard itself is banned although it reforms under the title The League of Youth.

In 1934 O’Duffy suddenly and inexplicably resigns as president of Fine Gael although it is known that many of its members are growing worried by his actions and statements. The Blueshirt movement begins to unravel at the seams. That same year he forms his own fascist movement, the National Corporate Party.

In 1936, supported by the Catholic Church in Ireland, O’Duffy leads 700 of his followers to Spain to help General Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War against the republican government. They form part of the XV Bandera Irlandesa del Terico, a part of the Spanish Legion. The Bandera sees little or no action and are returned to Ireland in 1937.

Although O’Duffy has some low-level dalliance with the Nazis he never does regain any of his political influence. His health is on the decline and he dies on November 30, 1944. De Valera grants him a state funeral and he is interred in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.


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Birth of Author & Journalist Mary Kenny

mary-kennyMary Kenny, Irish author, broadcaster, playwright and journalist, is born in Dublin on April 4, 1944. She is a frequent columnist for the Irish Independent and is a founding member of the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement (IWLM). She has modified the radical ideas of her past, but not rejected feminist principles.

Kenny grows up in Sandymount and is expelled from convent school at age 16. She begins working at the London Evening Standard in 1966 on the Londoner’s Diary, later as a general feature writer, and is woman’s editor of The Irish Press in the early 1970s.

Kenny is one of the founding members of the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement. Although the group has no formal structure of officials, she is often seen as the “ring leader” of the group. In March 1971, as part of an action by the IWLM, she walks out of Haddington Road church after the Archbishop of Dublin‘s pastoral is read out from the pulpit, confirming that “any contraceptive act is always wrong,” saying “this is Church dictatorship.” In a follow-up letter to The Irish Times she explains her actions by saying Ian Paisley was right, “Home Rule is Rome Rule.”

In 1971, Kenny travels with Nell McCafferty, June Levine and other Irish feminists on the so-called “Contraceptive Train” from Dublin to Belfast to buy condoms, then illegal within the Republic of Ireland. Later that year she returns to London as Features Editor of the Evening Standard.

In 1973, Kenny is allegedly “disturbed in the arms of a former cabinet minister of President Obote of Uganda during a party,” which leads poet James Fenton to coin the euphemism “Ugandan discussions” to mean sexual intercourse. The phrase is first used by the magazine Private Eye on March 9, 1973, but has been widely used since then and is included by the BBC in a list of “The 10 most scandalous euphemisms” in 2013.

Kenny has written for many British and Irish broadsheet newspapers, including the Irish Independent, The Times, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph and The Spectator and has authored books on William Joyce and Catholicism in Ireland. She also writes for the weekly The Irish Catholic. She is known in the UK as a Roman Catholic journalist. Crown and Shamrock: Love and Hate between Ireland and the British Monarchy (2009), is described by R.F. Foster as “characteristically breezy, racy and insightful.” She is author of the play Allegiance, in which Mel Smith plays Winston Churchill and Michael Fassbender plays Michael Collins, at the Edinburgh Festival in 2006.

Kenny marries journalist and writer Richard West in 1974 and the couple raises two children, Patrick West and Ed West, both journalists.