For most of September 1964 in the back room of the Sinn Fein Party headquarters at number thirty Gardiner Place, in Dublin, Seamus McGowan printed what seemed an endless supply of ‘Vote for Frank McGlade’ posters. These were for the impending Westminster elections in Northern Ireland. The printing was carried out by the silk screen printing process. In this, McGowan was helped by two members of the Sean Russell Cumann, Simon O’Donnell and Mick Murphy.
Sinn Fein members contested the elections as Republican candidates since the Sinn Fein party itself had been banned in 1956. In their election headquarters in Belfast’s Divis Street a Tricolour was on display. Although the flag had been banned under the Flags and Emblems Act, nobody bothered about the flouting of the law until the Rev. Ian Paisley announced on September 27th that he planned to lead a march to the Republican headquarters to protest against its display. The Home Secretary promptly announced a ban on the Paisley march, saying that it would lead to public disorder.
On the morning of September 28th a force of forty policemen arrived at the Republican headquarters. Liam McMillan and Liam O’Neill, two of the Republican candidates, and a number of Party workers refused them entry and bolted the door. After about an hour, the police broke down the door and entered the premises. Inside O’Neill was standing in the window waving the flag to a small crowd of supporters who were taunting the police with shouts of ‘Gestapo’ and ‘Orange bastards’. The police tore the flag from his hands and departed.
On the following day, a second flag was placed in the window and that night the crowd re-converged. Molotov cocktails were thrown at the police as the violence spread up the Falls Road and into the surrounding streets. On the Shankill Road, crowds of Paisley supporters were held back by the police. In the course of the fighting, fifteen RUC men were injured and a bus set on fire to act as a barricade: other buses were stoned and about thirty people were arrested.
As the rioting in Belfast continued, O’Donnell and Murphy were among a small number of Sinn Fein members who left Dublin to defend the headquarters. The locals barricaded themselves securely inside and waited for the police. Outside, a large crowd had gathered; some of them waving Tricolours. Eventually, a strong force of RUC men arrived on the scene, many of them carrying dustbin lids as shields to protect them from stones and other missiles. Inside, the men waited anxiously for an attack but all they heard was the crash of breaking glass and some shouting. The RUC had simply broken a side-window and seized the flag by leaning in through the breach. It was all over when the Dublin contingent arrived.
On Sunday, the Sinn Fein President, Thomas McGiolla was in Newry to address an election rally at which the Tricolour was flown. That night he was to speak at an election rally in Dungannon. O’Donnell, Murphy, Noel Redican, Des Keane and Sean Kenny headed there to prepare for the meeting. A number of local Republicans worked with those from Dublin to set up a lorry in the town centre as a speaker’s platform. They had a Tricolour but did not fly it because of the large police presence. They began to distribute leaflets which urged their readers to dismantle the Northern state. These were immediately seized by the RUC who were especially hostile to people with Southern accents. One loyalist who was given a leaflet promptly blew his nose in it.
The small Republican group was soon surrounded by a much bigger loyalist crowd, who, for a while, were content to hurl abuse at the speakers on the lorry. However, their patience soon ran out and they began to attack those defending the lorry. Some of them broke through the protective cordon and jumped onto the platform. A frantic struggle for the megaphone began, much to the amusement of the watching RUC.
Then somebody had the presence of mind to drive the lorry away. It started with a jerk, throwing several of the sparring bodies onto the road. The lorry moved up the town’s main street and those contestants who had managed to regain their balance renewed their struggle for the megaphone. The lorry was followed by the Republicans who in turn were followed by the kicking and punching loyalists.
Amplified roars of “Up the Republic” and “God Save the Queen,” echoed through the town as the megaphone changed hands. Every now and then the megaphone was snatched in mid-sentence and the roars were “Up the….Queen,” and “God save the Republic” and other chaotic combinations. Half strangled curses soared into the night air as the lurching figures on the lorry tried to pulverize each other. Eventually the chasing loyalists were left behind and those still on the lorry, now outnumbered, were given a good battering as the hectic platform disappeared into the country darkness.
The ‘Battle of Dungannon’ was discussed with great mirth the following Saturday night in the sordidness of the Peacock pub which was run by the veteran Republican, Jimmy Clarke.
“Those impiddent bowsies of Orangemen can kick like mules.”
“They’re not like us, they’re fucking extremists.”
“They get all that violence in the Bible,” observed Murphy, “that book is the most violent book ever written, it’s full of smote, smite and smitten.”
Ructions was standing at the counter with a number of older men who had been involved in the 1950’s IRA border campaign. He had dismissed the Battle of Dungannon as childish impetuousness and was deep in conspiratorial conversation about springing an IRA prisoner from jail in England as they had J.A. Murphy from Wakefield Prison some years earlier.
“God dammit,” he shouted to nobody in particular, “are we men or nancy boys.”
“You’re on a thin line now,” Clarke reminded him. It was only three weeks earlier he had been suspended for a week for shooting a customer in the neck over a row about the existence of the hereafter.
Redican was calling a drink at the counter and was overwhelmed to find himself in such exalted revolutionary company. He almost felt emotional when the tall bearded figure fastened his penetrating blue eyes upon him.
“Have you any money?” inquired Ructions with an alarming absence of subtlety.
“I have ten shillings,” said Redican with a certain amount of pride. It was one of the first ten shilling notes he had ever possessed as he had only recently begun his working life.
“Give it to me,” ordered Ructions.
Redican gladly handed over the note. After all, this was becoming one of the happiest days of his life and why would he not contribute generously to freeing an Irish patriot held in an English jail.
Ructions snatched the note. “Give me a pint,” he shouted out to Clarke. Redican watched in horror as Ructions, licking the froth from his beard, trust the note into Clarke’s hand and then pocketed the change.
“There’s a session tonight in Bru na Gael, anyone interested?” asked Sean Farrell.
The club, 'Bru na Gael’, was a G.A.A. social club in Georgian North Great George’s Street. It was largely frequented by late night drinkers after the pubs closed and many of its clientele were off duty Gardai.
There was a good sized crowd in the club’s main function room when the group of Republicans entered. Bonox Byrne, the Sean-nos singer, was in the middle of a clapped out version of ‘The Rocks of Bawn.”
“Would someone call drinks before we shrink like flowers in a desert,” ordered Keane.
A tin whistler at the other end of the room started up The Aul’ Triangle and a couple of IRA men from the Liberties did their best not to mangle the words of the final verse, which was all they knew of the song.
“In the Female Prison there are seventy-five women, it is among them I would like to dwell. Then the Auld Triangle could go jingle bloody jangle all along the banks of the Royal Canal.”
Dominic Behan, at one time the most tuneful member of the IRA’s Army Council, was so prone to breaking into song at the hint of an operation that other members accused him of acting like a street busker or tramp. He wrote that song, which his brother Brendan immortalised in The Quare Fellow. Though Dominic was much the more substantial of the two, his brother was far and away the more famous. Brendan had died just a few months earlier, in March.
“Did the IRA do something at Behan’s funeral?” asked Redican. “Of course they did,” said Keane, “sure wasn’t Sean Farrell there at the head of the colour party!”
After a number of other singers had performed Murphy was called upon. He was a good singer and had been known to sing ‘The Wild Rover’ in O’Donoghue’s pub until Paddy O’Donoghue banned his version of the song which altered the line ‘and the landlady’s eyes’ to ‘and the landlady’s legs’. He obliged with a reasonable rendering of ‘The Bould Orange Heroes of Comber.'
Soon after, Murphy was approached by ‘Whacker’ MacCarthy, a Garda. He was livid with rage and he towered over the group seated around the flimsy wooden table.
“You’ve a fucking nerve to come in here and insult our Pope.”
The group was taken aback and thought for a moment that MacCarthy was messing. It was traditional for Republicans, in Dublin at any rate, to sing some Orange songs at music sessions. In fact, some Republicans knew more Loyalist songs than many Orangemen. The part of the song that O’Donnell liked best was the line which, with a complete disregard for ecumenism, threatened ‘we’ll get a hempen rope an’ we’ll hang the Fenian Pope, we’re the bould Orange Heroes of Comber’.
Murphy looked into MacCarthy’s smouldering eyes.
“Would you ever fuck off and grow up,” he told the tall Garda, “it’s only a song.”
“I’m a fucking Irishman and I stand by the Pope,” declared MacCarthy as he swayed slightly.
“What did old Red Sox ever do for Ireland?” asked O’Donnell.
“What did you ever do for Ireland?”
“He avoided drinking with people like you,” said Colbert Greenslade who had just joined the revellers.
“At least we’re Republicans,” said Redican hesitantly, for he was still distracted with how Ructions had, in his view, made his ten shilling note disappear under false pretences.
“I’m a fucking Republican too, I’ll have you know,” MacCarthy insisted.
“The only thing you know about republicanism is the Offences Against the State Act.”
“I never arrested a Republican in my life.”
“Yah never had the brains”
“The only thing you ever did for Ireland is drink,” ventured Murphy
“At least I’m not a traitor to me faith,” said MacCarthy as he creaked back over the room’s bare wooden floor to rejoin his group. They stood in a huddle near the varnished brown entrance door.
The Sinn Fein Republicans discussed the interruption.
“His faith, bejaysus. I bet he thinks that the transubstantiation is about doctoring statements of suspects.”
“The only thing he knows about religion is the bit about changing water into red Biddy.”
After a number of other songs Murphy was imposed upon again.
“Givvus a good rebel song, yeh boy yeh.” This time Murphy stood to attention and on a militaristic note he rattled out: “Protestant boys are loyal and true, Lillibulero bullenala…”
Some of those in the fumey room joined in the chorus and no further remarks were passed.
Some time later Farrell rushed into the room. He had been to the toilet on the second floor landing.
“Quick, there’s a crowd of cunts around Murphy.”
The Republicans pushed out into the shabby Georgian hall. Murphy, it seemed, had locked himself into the toilet. MacCarthy and a number of others, two of whom were gardai from Fitzgibbon Street, fully tanked up with patriotism, were hammering on the door.
“Come out yuh fucking Orangeman, an’ be jaysus we’ll bolero yuh.”
The Republicans sallied up the stairs and attacked the besiegers. Murphy pushed out the door and the two parties, who equally desired a United Ireland, thumped, punched, kicked and dragged each other down the single flight of stairs, through the hall, past a number of tipsy onlookers and out into a peaceful and deserted North Great George’s Street as music failed to sooth the savage breast.
Jesuits in repose in nearby Belvedere College and dreaming nuns in the Loreto Convent opposite were startled out of their slumber with shouts of : “I’ll break every fucking bone in your Orange body,” and “Take that you fat fascist pig,” as yelling figures chased each other around parked cars while the more athletic ones made loud didgeridoo noises as they sprang onto car bonnets to gain combat advantage. One Donegal garda squared up in John L. Sullivan fashion.
“Put up yer dukes an’ I’ll make a mon of yuh. Put ‘em up yuh cunt.”
“Here, make a mon of this,” mimicked Murphy, who jumped from the bonnet of a green Morris Minor and delivered a kick into the stomach which doubled the garda in two.
The brawl ended suddenly when MacCarthy made a drunken lunge at Greenslade. He tripped over the footpath and crashed head-first into the railings of Magnificat House, a property of the Legion of Mary. For a second he appeared to stand back and smile grotesquely at the sky, then he slowly crumpled into an unconscious heap. As the Republicans hurried away from the scene somebody was hysterically shouting: “Call a fucking ambulance, for Jeeesus sake.”
“That was some thump Whacker got, who hit him?” Farrell asked as they ran along Gardiner Place.
“Musta been the Holy Spirit.”
In the Peacock the following night, and much to the chagrin of Ructions, the hullabaloo of North Great George’s Street was added to the ruaille buaille of Dungannon.
In January 1965, the argy bargy continued when Princess Margaret of England visited Birr and Abbyleix. In protest, trees were felled across roads leading into Birr and as a result, some Republicans, led by Richard Behal, were arrested.
Fintan Smith, Des Keane and O’Donnell travelled from Dublin to join the local protesters. In both Portlaoise and Mountmellick they distributed leaflets calling for the release of the prisoners. In Mountmellick a crowd attacked the courthouse and was only repelled by Garda baton charges. A number of people were injured in the scuffles and a Garda car was overturned as jostling went on for most of the day. Later in the Peacock pub Smith told a frustrated Ructions: “Our leaflets counselled people to respect the police and uphold law and order. Some of the lads must have been fucking illiterate.”