Friday, March 30, 2007

Getting Lippy Gets You Lifted Into The Liffey

From SPOPEN - the SPGB internet discussion list - comes a reminiscence from Richard Montague, a longstanding socialist activist in Belfast about the ups and downs of putting forward the case for socialism both North and South of the border fifty years ago. The anecdote stems from the news of the recent death of the comrade, Tony Fahy, who died in the past week:

Comrade Richard Montague has sent in the following recollection:

Tony and I were friends and comrades 50 and more years ago. We were both young and very enthusiastic having discovered dignity in the struggle for socialism. In Belfast, we thought it was difficult; we were frequently verbally abused and sometimes physically attacked by loyalists; in Dublin, it was the priests and their mindless followers who resisted the arguments for socialism with the threat and the reality of violence.

Dublin comrades invited Com Jack O'Kane and myself to do two meetings in Dublin one weekend. Saturday evening was the Boilermakers' Hall. We had a good crowd in attendance but not necessarily there for our good. A short time before this there had been a very violent general election for the Northern Ireland Parliament; the loyalists had been wound up by collections outside chapel doors in the south for those opposing the Unionists - indeed, money was so plentiful that they mistakenly offered to sponsor me to fight a Belfast seat!

Anyway, I spoke first in the Boilermakers' Hall and dealt with the behaviour of loyalists during the recent elections. "cowardly... afraid to listen... bitter opponents of democracy" etc. It created a very docile audience for Jack.

The meeting on the following day was to be an outdoor one at Middle Abbey Street/O'Connell Street corner. Our Dublin comrades had a tacit arrangement with the Communist Party, masquarading as the Worker's League; we shared the pitch on alternate weeks and this was not only our weekend but our comrades had let the whole of Dublin know with massive postering around the city. As we approached the pitch we were amazed at the turnout; there were literally thousands there to attend our meeting. Come on the Revolution! Here in the shade of the historic General Post Ofice where the renegade socialist Connolly had betrayed the cause for faith and motherland!

But the huge crowd were milling around a meeting in progress! The Commies had jumped our pitch and were addressing an audience intended for us. At the time we were angry; unaware of what the soviet patriots were shielding us from.

There were priests prominent in the crowd leading members of Catholic Action who had earlier distributed leaflets headed "CLEAN THE RED DIRT FROM YOUR UNIONS!" Prayers and swears were intermixed, fused into a frightening cacophony of righteous anger. The CP member on the platform was lifted bodily, part transported over heads and finally carried to the nearby O'Connoll Bridge and dropped into the Liffey.

Cowards that we were, some of our members quickly carried our platform in the opposite direction from the melee. The rest of us moved quietly now into the sated anger of the victorious crowd. We stood outside the window of The Irish Press offices and as the crowd thinned we protested the cowardly behaviour of those who had organised the riot against freedom of speech. Eventually Tony had a small but attentive audience who learnt the difference between socialism and totalitarian state-capitalism and none of us got wet.

Subsequently Tony and most the other Dublin members went to England and eventually Tony lapsed from the SPGB. Of one thing I am sure: he know too much to be silent and in or out of the Socialist Party he would have his say for socialism.

The news of his death brings bitter sweet memories but I remember him as a comrade who did his stint for a sane world.

For a further flavour of Cde Montague's reminiscences of politiking in times past in difficult circumstances, you can also check out the following article, 'Northern Ireland: Our First Electoral Campaign', that appeared in the June 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard.

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