THE OTHER CHEEK
After the euphoria that followed the blowing up of Nelson's Pillar and with the expected stirring of Republican sentiments at the forthcoming fiftieth anniversary of the Easter Rising, the Dublin Brigade of the I.R.A. decided that they were strong enough to come out into the open. Not since DeValera banned the I.R.A. in the thirties had such a step been taken.
By the end of March, a blue flag had been agreed on. It was to carry the words Oglaigh na h-Eireann Dublin Brigade. The letters were embroidered on by Sandy Murray over a two week period in O'Donoghue's pub on Merrion Row.
On Sunday morning, 29th April, Sinn Fein members met on St Stephen's Green before marching to the Republican plot in Glasnevin cemetery. The banner was fixed to a large staff as a girl's pipe band from Belfast blasted the march on its journey across the city. Nobody on the pavement took any notice of the banner until the parade reached the Russell Hotel. There, a large force of gardai had assembled. A superintendent emerged from the bunch and approached Larry Malone. He read out an act which declared the flag to be an illegal emblem and said that the march could not proceed unless it was handed over. Malone laughed and ordered the marchers to move forward. There were discussions among the gardai as the marchers passed the hotel and then an order was given to seize the flag.
There was a brief but furious battle as the gardai drew batons and the defenders of the flag beat them back, some using flagpoles. The ferocity of the defenders surprised the gardai but they soon got over their initial shock and moved ahead of the marchers to regroup with reinforcements at Trinity College. Another order to charge was given. For a time the group around the flag held firm but the gardai drove a wedge through them and one section was broken up and reduced to useless individual skirmishing.
Malone ordered the besieged flag defenders to charge into the scattered fights that were going on further down the street. They moved forward at a slow run, as Malone cleared all before him with a garda baton. Soon the colour party (now a genuine one, as many had blood streaming down their faces) got back to its original strength and the gardai were forced for a second time to break off their efforts to seize the offending banner. With only a few minor incidents, the marchers reached Glasnevin.
The gardai at Glasnevin decided to block the entrance to the cemetery and seize the flag there. By now the flag party was well organized. They packed tightly together, lowered the flag and ran through the gardai lines in close formation like a bunch of rugby forwards. Hardly a blow was struck, and they entered the cemetery to wild cheering from the rest of the marchers. The gardai remained outside the cemetery: inside, after numerous speeches, the commemoration broke up without further incident.
Before leaving the cemetery the Dublin Brigade announced to waiting reporters that they would be organizing a march that evening from Parnell Square to the GPO to protest about garda brutality and that they would be marching behind the banner.
News of the mysterious flag spread rapidly and that evening a large crowd gathered at Parnell Square. Groups of Special Branchmen mingled with the uniformed gardai.
The marchers lined up and a large cheer rose as the flag appeared on a tall staff. As the marchers reached Findlater's Church, the gardai, aided by some Branchmen, made a determined effort to seize the flag. Again they were beaten back.
Outside Groom's Hotel another baton charge was launched. This turned into the fiercest battle of the day. At Cathal Brugha Street the gardai disengaged from the running battles and decided that enough was enough. The marchers re-grouped and marched down O'Connell Street, many chanting "We want Behal, we want Behal."
There was loud cheering at the GPO as the platform quickly filled with bloody-faced people waving garda batons triumphantly in the air.
Eamon Mc Thomas said that if the gardai wanted to seize flags they should go to Belfast or to the British Embassy. One speaker, introduced as Sean Stephenson of Cork, said that Republicans would not go on turning the other cheek. If the police wanted to go back to the days of the forties it was "OK with us we carried the flag today and we will carry it again, but the next time we will come prepared."
On the following day Special Branchmen raided the house of Larry Malone and he and a number of other men were sentenced to periods of imprisonment ranging from two months to six months.
Tommy Weldon called a National Civil Liberties League meeting to protest at the arrests. D. Hynes, Redican, Murphy and O'Donnell were going down O'Connell Street to the meeting when Leo Scullion came running towards them. Having escaped a raid on his house that morning he was now being pursued by two Branchmen.
The Branchmen grabbed Leo.
"Get yer fucking maulers off him," shouted O'Donnell.
The men pushed in front of Leo and shoved the Branchmen back.
"You're not arresting anyone tonight," said Redican emphatically.
"We have a fucking warrant," a Branchman replied with equal determination.
"Youse can shove it up yer arses," advised Murphy.
As the five man knot crossed Cathal Brugha Street two car-loads of Branchmen screeched to a halt in front of them. The Branchmen leapt out of the cars and surrounded the five men. As the pushing and shoving got rougher, a sizeable crowd gathered. They couldn't figure out what was going on. Here was a group of welldressed men wearing trendy suits and ties, looking for all the world like business men, fighting like a gang of tinkers three hours before the pubs were due to close.
The Branchmen had now grabbed Leo who was appealing to his defenders to let his arrest take place. They were leading him up Cathal Brugha Street when O'Donnell picked up a half housebrick and flung it at one of the Branchmen who had hit him several times with a baton. The Branchman ducked and the flying brick struck the now amenable Leo on the back of the head. He was stunned. He put his hand to the back of his head: it was covered in blood. He cursed and threw a right cross at the Branchman on his left. There was an explosion as the Branchman disappeared through the large glass window of Maurice Twomey's grocery shop. Ironically, Leo got off with a fine while two days later three of the defenders received two months imprisonment; one, Redican in Mountjoy Prison, and Hynes and Murphy in St Patricks Borstal.
O'Donnell escaped the early morning raid by running across some rooftops. The Special Branch raiding party pushed their way into the top flat at number seven Gardiner Place.
"Where is he?" they demanded of the outraged flat dweller.
"He doesn't live here."
"You're a fucking liar, we watched him traipsing in last night."
Before Mister Flynn could explain that O'Donnell lived in the flat underneath, one Branchman pulled open a wardrobe door. There was an army uniform hanging inside. The Branchman whistled and grabbed the uniform. The flat dweller tried to snatch it back. He was a senior officer in the F.C.A., and the pristine uniform was his pride and joy.
While the men in the top flat fought over the uniform O'Donnell made his way to the itinerant encampment at Ballyfermot.
This camp, with about seventy families, was established by the Itinerant Action Group. The group was formed by Gratton Puxton, Peadar O'Donnell, Seán Hutton and others in January 1964. This was to counter attempts by Dublin Corporation to evict itinerant families from Le Fanu Road. Sinn Fein, students from Trinity College and U.C.D., and the National Civil Liberties League took part in resisting the eviction attempts. It was in the course of these skirmishes that O'Donnell met Liam Walsh, Martin Casey, Denis Dennehy, Tommy Weldon, Tommy Marsh and others.
About a month after his camp sojourn O'Donnell was arrested in Drumcondra. He was sentenced to two months in St Patrick's Borstal. Because he refused to don prison uniform he was put in solitary confinement. When news of this leaked out some members of Sinn Fein placed a picket at the General Post Office.
Senator James Dunne of the Irish Association of Civil Liberties was asked by Sinn Fein to investigate O'Donnell's prison conditions. O'Donnell told the teetotaler and devout Catholic Senator that everything was fine. He asked Dunne how Tommy Weldon was and he thought he noticed Dunne wince.
O'Donnell was unaware that Dunne was not a member of the National Civil Liberties League. Nor did he know that he was a conservative trade union leader. At this time O'Donnell and many of his republican companions considered the NCLL to be more radical than the I.R.A. and to be more in tune with everyday society as they understood it. In the Irish telephonist dispute in 1965 when two men were imprisoned over attempts to form a separate trade union from the official Post Office Workers' Union, the NCLL took to the streets in protest marches to Mountjoy Prison. Public telephones were vandalized in Dublin and a co-axial cable damaged in an explosion. In the Dail, Brian Lenihan referred to the organization as a front for anti-state, communist and physical force elements.
Senator Dunne held a similar view of the NCLL and his opinion was copper-fastened when he learned that one of the League's eminent figures had, some years previously, been accused of tarring and feathering a fellow in the Dublin Mountains.
By 1966 many of these individuals were calling themselves socialist republicans and were beginning to view themselves as a kind of a Citizens' Army which would become a cutting edge in industrial disputes. They were also associating with and discussing left wing ideas and theories with members of the Connolly Youth Movement: communists Manus O'Riordan and Pat Murphy in O'Neill's pub opposite O'Donoghues: some Trotskyites and a flabbergasted Maoist. But, they wanted more than political agitation: they wanted action.
When they were all released Marsh called a meeting in the Peacock pub.
"What did the Cork Cockney say outside the GPO at Easter?"
"Cockney!" said Ructions. "Padraig Pearse?"
"Johnnie Stephenson," explained Marsh. "He said that the time for turning the other gooser was caput."
Some weeks later, near midnight, a car pulled up on the corner of East Essex Street and Parliament Street almost opposite to Garnett and Keegan's gunshop. The shop was only a hundred yards from Dublin Castle. Two men got out of the car and walked across the road to the gunshop. A drunk was leaning against the window. It looked as if he had been there for some time and, worse, that he had no intention of leaving. The men attempted to strike up a simple conversation with the man but all they got in reply were incomprehensible mutters. The two men sitting in the car were getting desperate.
"Why don't they give him a good root up the hole, that would send him on his way," suggested Marsh.
"Better still, why not use him to smash the window," said the blond man,
There was a lull in the traffic in Parliament Street. The men jumped out of the car. Marsh opened the boot and the blond man lifted a cavity block from the car boot. The men at the window watched him stagger across the road. They turned to the drunk and gave him a shove.
"On yer bike," advised one. "Go on, fuck off," said another.
"Hop it pal," ordered Marsh who appeared in front of him.
The drunk tried to straighten himself up as he stared at Marsh. How dare these people treat him as if he was a piece of shit, and they, as far as he could tell, interlopers to his part of the city. He had lived in the vicinity all his drinking life and for years had leaned up against this window every night, trying to sober up a little before arriving home. He knew that at least three generations of his family had had their throats blessed by the Franciscans in nearby Merchants Quay. He was about, despite a bout of hiccupping, to point out this particularity to Marsh when he was struck dumb by the sight of a blond man heaving the fifty six pound block through the plate glass window. The drunk threw himself to one side. The window seemed to explode and glass landed in the middle of the street. The robbers removed all the hunting rifles they could lay their hands on and dumped them in the boot of the car.
The drunk was left to speculate on the incident in the now quiet street. On top of his drunkenness he now seemed stupefied. Should he remain where he was and get blamed for smashing up the premises or should he try to run and still get blamed? As the car turned into Dame Street, the drunk appeared to be puking all over the broken glass on the footpath. Hopefully, he was wrapped up in bed when, soon after, the same crew carried out a similar raid on Healy's fishing tackle and gun shop on Dame Street.
The third target was Watts gunshop, then situated in Jervis Street. One man was given a bunt' up on to the flat roof of the single storey shop. He had a bolt cutters tied around his waist. However, much to his surprise, a large Alsatian dog bounded out of the darkness and tried to savage his face. In the course of his useless attempts to persuade the bloody great animal to cease and desist he fell off the roof and landed heavily on the footpath below.
On January 7th 1967 they raided a gun collector's house in Portmarnock and took six rifles and twenty six automatics and revolvers.
Later in the year, after the imprisonment of Joe Dillon for complicity in a raid on a Coolock Rent Office, and the Greensmiths who were sent to serve a sentence in Limerick Prison for possession of firearms, a meeting was called in the Peacock pub.
"They're not taking us seriously," said Marsh grimly.
After some discussion Joe Edwards suggested that they should burn down a Government Department for every republican prisoner held by the state. Edwards hailed from the Coombe area of Dublin, and had made the Molotov cocktails which had been used in earlier attacks on the home of the British Military Attache and a British Legion Club in Dublin. He was an expert getaway driver and a specialist on the eleven species of giant proboscidean which inhabited the continents around one million years ago.
"Sure that's why he's always half elephants," explained Keane.
A week later Ructions and two other men pulled up in a car in a cul de sac off Schoolhouse Lane East near Molesworth Street. A couple who were fondling each other's private parts in a doorway further up the lane listened as the men began unloading items from the boot of the car. They were soon hacking at the tall wooden door with a jemmy. There was grunting and cursing as the door refused to give way under their onslaught.
"There must be a big farmer sleeping against it on the inside," snarled Ructions, in the belief that the building also contained the Department of Agriculture. There was a burst of laughter.
"We can't stay here all night, fuck the stuff in over the door."
They hammered in the heavy glass above the door with the crowbar. One of the men was given a leg-up onto Ruction's shoulders and a third man passed up the canisters of tar and petrol. The man on top poured in the liquid as Ructions swayed giddily with the weight. The liquid poured out of the can in great gulps like someone suffering a severe fit of vomiting.
"The great phantom gobbler must be in there" muttered one of the gang. There was more laughter and the man on top fell off the shoulders supporting him. The couple, huddled in the doorway, peeped at the performance, their sexual ardour having been completely quelled by fear.
The remaining cans were tossed in, and the man was again helped onto the shoulders of Ructions. He took a few wobbly steps to the door. The lovers watched in astonishment as another man lit an oily rag on the end of a stick and handed it up to the acrobat'.
Suddenly, a massive tongue of flame seemed to shoot right across the lane. Because of the darkness, the men were unaware that some of the mixture had seeped out underneath the door and into the lane. For a moment they disappeared altogether in the fireball, then emerged shouting and running to the car. One man's overcoat was on fire and it was thrown in the lane from the speeding car. Leaflets which had been scattered at the scene were engulfed in the flames, leaving the Special Branch at a loss to explain the attack. Little damage was done to the building.
The income Tax Office in O'Connell Street was picked for the next attack; Marsh explaining that if the P.A.Y.E. files were destroyed the Government might have to get the rich to pay taxes. An evening parishioner, leaving the back entrance of the pro-Cathedral, was surprised to see, in Thomas Lane, a number of men jumping up and down on the roof of a parked car heaving small drums through a smashed back window.
A spokesman for Dublin Fire Brigade said later that the building would probably have been totally destroyed if the fire brigade had arrived fifteen minutes later. This time leaflets were found at the scene.
On Saturday October 21st. at about nine o'clock in the evening a hijacked taxi drove into Upper Mount Street and stopped near the Fianna Fail party headquarters. Three men got out and began to remove gallon cans from the car boot. The driver remained in the taxi. On the opposite side of the street in a green Morris Minor a man was sitting with a prostitute.
The man in the Morris Minor was startled by the sound of breaking glass. For a second he thought that he might be caught up in a war between pimps. In the car mirror he could see some men casually tossing cans of some kind in through the front windows of the well-kept building. Then he saw a wall of flame shoot skywards, enveloping the whole of the front of the building.
Whatever these men were up to, he thought, was bound to flood the place with policemen and here he was, a respectable married businessman, wearing no trousers, sitting in his car with a prostitute with an English accent. The Morris Minor roared into life. At the same time the hijacked taxi moved off. The pyromaniacs in the taxi saw the Morris Minor and thought it was a Branchman who frequently sat in his green Morris Minor while watching the Sinn Fein headquarters at Gardiner Place. They fired two shots at the car, which raced off in the direction of the canal.
"Take that yeh cunt."
A statement to the newspapers said that the attack on the Government Party headquarters ."should be taken as an indication that militant Republicans will meet Fianna Fail and its secret police with force."
Some media commentators described this as a serious change in tactics and said that a section of the Republican Movement had abandoned the IRA General Army Order no 8.
Later Frank Keane, former OC of the Dublin Brigade of the IRA, and Simon O'Donnell were sentenced to six months imprisonment for their involvement in the attack. The men told the Whitehall Branchman, John Walker, that it was part of a campaign to complete the de-zombification of Ireland.