Saturday, January 23, 2010

Liam Mellows -

Below is a piece from Eoin O'Broin in this week's An Phoblacht. In examining what we are and where we wish to go it is always important to look to the past for guidance. That is not to say we should stick republicanism in a museum and refuse to accept change, rather we learn from it and move forward.


Liam Mellows’ Republic

Liam Mellows led an extraordinary life. He was born in 1895 and executed by the Free State Army in 1922. During his short 27 years he was an IRB member, na Fianna organiser and a republican volunteer. He was a veteran of 1916, the Tan War and the Civil War, and was imprisoned in Britain, the United States and Ireland.

But Mellows was not just a military organiser and activist. He had an acute sense of the political and social dimensions of republicanism. He was one of the 57 TDs who rejected the Treaty during the Dáil debates on 6 January 1922 and he led the anti-Treaty forces into the Four Courts.

After his arrest, and reflecting on the war of independence and the subsequent victory of the pro-Treaty forces, Mellows wrote what remains his most important contribution to Irish republicanism, the ‘Jail Notes’.

His conclusion was that “Ireland does not want a change of master. It would be folly to destroy English tyranny in order to erect a domestic tyranny that would need another revolution to free the people. The Irish Republic stands, therefore, for the ownership of Ireland by the people of Ireland. It means that the means and process of production must not be used for the profit or aggrandisement of any group or class.

“Ireland, if her industries and banks were controlled by foreign capital, would be at the mercy of every breeze that ruffled the surface of the world’s money-markets. If social capitalism flourished, a social war such as now threatens practically every country in Europe would ensue. Ireland, therefore, must start with a clean slate. The Irish Republic is the People’s Republic.

“In our efforts to win back public support for the Republic we are forced to recognise, whether we like it or not, that the commercial interests and the gombeen man are on the side of the Treaty. We are back to Tone – which is just as well – relying on that great body, ‘the men of no property’. The ‘stake in the country people’ were never with the Republic. They are not with it now and they will always be against it – until it wins! We should recognise that definitely now and base our appeals upon the understanding of those who have always borne Ireland’s fight.”
For Mellows, the political, social and economic dimensions of the republican struggle must be intertwined.

The failure of the war of independence to create a real republic was, in Mellows’ view, a consequence of a failure on the part of republicans to adequately integrate the socio-economic and political dimensions of struggle into a coherent programme that spoke to the needs and aspirations of the Irish people.

Sinn Féin today must continue to learn from Mellows. We must at all times combine the political demand for an Irish republic with a coherent social and economic programme that seeks to end inequality and poverty; produce and redistribute wealth; and provide every citizen and every resident with the means to live a full and prosperous life.

How can a people be politically independent if they are denied the social and economic means to fully and equally participate in society?
For Mellows, the only republic worth struggling for was one that establishes the ownership of Ireland for all of the people of Ireland. Mellows called this a people’s republic. Today we call it a democratic socialist republic.


  1. I am glad to see this article.

    mellows's short jail notes demonstraet he was a man who fully saw and understood what the idea of the republic was and is - not just colour on a map but a vision for irish society.

    he did not in my mind pick an alliance with the men of no proprty as a tactic but did so from conviction. the suggestion that he did as a tactic or expedincy are to my mind not right and something i disagreed with in Eoin's book.

    His jail notes might give that impression but Mellows was writin concisely and strateging for a side that was loosing a war.

    cquick search on the web and came across this

    "As we commemorate one of the great heroes of Irish Republicanism, it is sadly ironic that the Emergency Powers bill under which Liam Mellows and his comrades were executed was seconded by the present Minister for Justice's Grandfather, Eoin McNeill.

    "The Minister's grand-uncle, Hugo McNeill, was the officer in charge of the firing squad that executed Liam Mellows. A 20-strong firing party carried out these executions, ten standing, ten kneeling. When the firing subsided murmuring was heard from one of the men lying on the ground. It was Joe McKelvey, badly injured. Hugo McNeill fired two shots into McKelvey, one to the chest, and one to the head.

    "Eoin McNeill, the Minister's grandfather, had signed a countermanding order forbidding military action by Volunteers in 1916, causing great confusion and weakening the Rising. At the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis in 1917 Countess Markiewicz, referring to McNeill was to declare, "The Proclamation had to be reprinted at Liberty Hall on Sunday to take his name off it."

    that sums it up as well doens't it. The same shower running the place for the last 80 years and its only getting worse.

    mellows had a strong social vision and allied that wuth the firm realisation that the republic imagined on paper was n't much good unless matched by realirty and maintained.

    a credible, radical programme thats implementable and gets impleemented.

    mellows woudl want no less and neither shouls we

  2. Totally agree with the last 7 lines Anonymous and the lesson they contain for us today.
    Mellows was a great loss to left wing Republicanism when he was executed in 1922. Sinn Fein after 1916 was a coalition of right,centre and left wing Nationalism with the leadership almost totally ranged from the centre to the right.As Peadar O Donnell said, the seeds of the Free State were sown long before the term was heard for the first time. Griffith, De Valera,Collins Mulcahy etc wanted a mere change of Government and had no interest in a Social Revolution. They were bolstored by the likes of Kevin O Higgins, Cosgrave and McNeill who were basically Home Rule Nationalists at heart. Mellows Statement shows that he had come to a realisation that --“In our efforts to win back public support for the Republic we are forced to recognise, whether we like it or not, that the commercial interests and the gombeen man are on the side of the Treaty. We are back to Tone – which is just as well – relying on that great body, ‘the men of no property’. The ‘stake in the country people’ were never with the Republic. They are not with it now and they will always be against it – until it wins!" -- This statement leaves the Catholic Hierarchy off the hook as they were decidedly anti Republican (with a few exceptions) during the Tan War and came out immediately as strong supporters of the Treaty after it was signed. Did Mellows not see this during the Tan War or was he absolving them of blame due to religious conviction? There is little or no evidence of a Left Republican leadership emerging,despite the 1916 Proclamation and the Democratic Programme of the 1st Dáil, as Connolly's prediction of a 'carnival of reaction' began in the 6 Counties first and in the Free State later. The IRA were used to break strikes and Sinn Féin arbitration courts were used to stifle industrial and agriculural agitation with Nationalist consensus taking precedence over workers rights. Mellows speech during the Treaty debate of Jan 1922 pales into insignificance with the Countess Markiewicz's fiery defence of workers and Connolly's legacy.It is debatable whether Mellows proposed alliance with the working class was thrust upon him by the realisation that the 'stake in the coutry' bourgoisie had achieved all that they wished for with the signing of the Treaty or that his imprisonment during the civil war gave him the opportunity to begin putting long held convictions on paper for the first time.