Dublin Lock-Out

In August of 1913 two workers were killed in Dublin, when the police baton charged a union rally in Sackville St (Now O’Connell St).  At the time Dublin workers were some of the worst treated people in the “civilized” world.  They were plagued with low wages, no rights, no tenure.  They competed for jobs in a system beset by bribery and corruption.  Dockside jobs were awarded from pubs where applicants were expected to buy drinks for the foremen.

James Larkin came to Dublin originally representing the UK based National Union of Dock Labourers.  The NUDL were not prepared to engage in a full scale dispute with the highly organised and powerful Dublin Employers group led by William Martin Murphy.  Larkin established the Irish Transport and General Workers Union.  Murphy had full support of the Catholic Church and the Police and accused the union leaders of fostering Socialism and Atheism.  He also controlled most of the media.

From August 1913 to January 1914 the Dublin employers broke the ITGWU with the Lock-Out.  They sacked any worker suspected of joining a union.  They also blacklisted them, preventing them from finding work elsewhere.

It was a charming episode in the history of Irish Employers.  They broke the union and in the process they broke the people and the economy of the city.  Most of the workers ended up taking the only employment they could get, they joined the British Army and died in the trenches of Flanders.

The ITGWU was rebuilt after the war and rose to become a powerful agent for change in Ireland.  We now live in a world where workers rights are enshrined in law.  Many workers cannot see the need for a union.  Employers continually lobby their position to government and push for changes in law and policy to their advantage.  Workers need a voice to lobby on behalf of workers.  Workers need unions.

If you want to see what the world looks like without unions, take a look inside Amazon.Com Guardian Article on Working in Amazon

The following poem was penned by Yeats at the height of the Dublin Lock-Out violence.  Yeats supported the cause of the workers and despaired a the treatment they received at the hands of employers.  Although the primary trigger for the poem was the Hugh Lane bequest the theme of Catholic Bourgeois Capitalism is evident throughout.

September 1913; by William Butler Yeats

What need you, being come to sense,
But fumble in a greasy till
And add the halfpence to the pence
And prayer to shivering prayer, until
You have dried the marrow from the bone;
For men were born to pray and save;
Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,
It’s with O’Leary in the grave.

Yet they were of a different kind,
The names that stilled your childish play,
They have gone about the world like wind,
But little time had they to pray
For whom the hangman’s rope was spun,
And what, God help us, could they save?
Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,
It’s with O’Leary in the grave.

Was it for this the wild geese spread
The grey wing upon every tide;
For this that all that blood was shed,
For this Edward Fitzgerald died,
And Robert Emmet and Wolfe Tone,
All that delirium of the brave?
Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,
It’s with O’Leary in the grave.

Yet could we turn the years again,
And call those exiles as they were
In all their loneliness and pain,
You’d cry `Some woman’s yellow hair
Has maddened every mother’s son’:
They weighed so lightly what they gave.
But let them be, they’re dead and gone,
They’re with O’Leary in the grave.

Strange bedfellows

Relations between the Irish and the Blacks in America have often been at odds.  When hundreds of thousands of poor Irish fled the great famine and emigrated to America they found themselves at the bottom of society.  Between 1845 and 1852 the starving Irish boarded coffin ships and threw themselves on the mercy of America.

We Irish need to remember this as we observe the flood of refugees and economic migrants who daily put their lives at risk in Libya, boarding unsuitable vessels in their droves and casting their lot on the waters of the Mediterranean.

There are anecdotal tales from America of wealthy landowners hiring Irish workers for dangerous jobs because they didn’t want to risk a valuable slave.

Irish people living in slave states found themselves in competition for work with Negros.  They opposed the freeing of slaves as this would release a workforce in direct competition to them.  Even in the free states of the north the Irish immigrants found themselves in competition with Negros for the lowest and most menial jobs.  These Irish were in ill health, uneducated and many could not even speak English.  The only advantage they held over the Negro was the colour of their skin.

At the same time the Irish could identify with the plight of the American Blacks.  The Irish were no strangers to transportation and slavery.  Many of the original slaves in Caribbean sugar plantations were Irish and Scottish petty criminals or indentured labourers.  The tiny island of Montserrat reflects this influx, most of the inhabitants have Irish names despite their dark skin, and the island holds St Patrick’s day as a holiday.

The Irish who arrived in America emerged from a culture of persecution by Absentee British Landlords and their local Bailiffs.  Unlike farm tenants in England the Irish cottagers were little more than serfs, subsisting in a non-monetary economy with no rights of tenure, rent control or free sale of their property.  They understood much about the life of a slave.

This conflict between sympathy and competiton resolved itself in the Civil War of 1861 to 65 when Irish elected to fight on both sides.  Indeed at the battle of Fredricksburg the 69th New York Infantry (The Irish Brigade) was decimated at the Sunken Road below Marye’s Heights.  Their opponents were the 24th Georgia regiment, comprising McMillans Guards, an Irish regiment.

After the civil war the fate of the Irish in American diverged sharply from that of the Negro.  The Irish became educated and worked their way into positions of political power.  Many Irish gravitated to careers in law enforcement and public service.  While the men worked hard the mothers drove their children to education and improvement.  Lace curtains went up on the windows and the Irish integrated.  Eventually, in the 1960’s the scion of an Irish immigrant family became President of the United States.

There was no ‘risk’ of a black president of the USA in the 1960’s.  This was the age of the struggle for civil rights.

In a perverse twist of fate it was the black struggle for civil rights in America that ignited the Catholic struggle for civil rights in Northern Ireland.  The Irish learned from Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X.  Peace protest marches began, and they ended similarly to the marches in Birmingham Alabama, in violence, persecution and death.

Here is a piece of footage and a highly poignant moment from that time.  Muhammad Ali reciting his own poem on an Irish TV show.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yNrNpw7hmcE

Sharpen the saw

Charlemont

Every now and then I need to remember what I am doing on this blog.  Refocus on the original purpose to remind myself what I am doing.  This blog is the journey of my mind.  MY MIND.  It is a selfish journey because it is all about me.  I am the Master of this Ship, I am Captain and Mate, Coxswain and Boatswain, AB, OS, Steward and Galley Boy.

You are here as my guests.  Nothing more than supercargo.  Sit back, relax, enjoy the view, complain if you wish.

This blog is not a quest for followers.  If you enjoy what I do that’s nice but changes nothing.  If you hate my blog I don’t care a whit.  If you thrive by expressing your hate of blogs you will gain no satisfaction here.

I have sailed this ship for almost three years.  I can go back in time and read the log and re-engage with the me of that time.  That is a very productive process on a personal and spiritual level.  I enjoy those meetings with myself.  My only regret is that I did not begin this process earlier.

My blog is an emotional snapshot.  I do my best to capture my emotional state at the time of writing the blog.  This is the primary purpose of the poems, and sometimes of the images.  For me it works.  Returning to past posts I don’t just remember the emotions, I feel them.

This week was my last in the Charlemont Place offices of Hostelworld.  The office is now closed and when I return next week it will be to Leopardstown.  For the coming week I will work remotely from home.

Yesterday Gavin returned to secondary school, kicking off third year in Rockwell.  He got the usual round of teachers speeches.  You know the ones.  “Summer is over – This is when it gets serious – Sorting the men from the boys – Time to grow up and take responsibility – yadda, yadda, yadda“.  We had a good laugh about it in the car on the way home.

Thursday I brought Jerry to UCC to check into his student dorm.  My office move pales in comparison to that journey.  It reminds me of a scene from the movie “The Sundowners”.  Sean is the son of the protagonists played by Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr.  He is becoming a man and decides to leave the family wagon and sleep with the men in the bunkhouse of the sheep station.  Peter Ustinov, who plays the part of mentor and sage, notes that it is the greatest journey the young man will ever make.

Sean:  This is the first time I was ever away from home.

Station Hand:  With your mom and dad not 50 yards outside that window. You call that being away from home?

Venneker (Ustinov):  Being out in the world’s a state of mind, not of geography.  Distance between that tent
and this bunkhouse……is the longest journey you’ll ever make in your life.

Thursday also saw Louise head to Dublin for research training.  It is her first real foray back into the workplace since the birth of Gavin.  The highways of possibilities emerging from this step are broad and exciting.

Finally Esha will return to UCT next week and begin fifth year.  She is now on the final push to the leaving cert having completed a truly excellent transition year.

The final week of August 2015 is a ripened gourd, turgid with possibilities, tumescent and feracious.

There is no frigate like a book; by Emily Dickinson

There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away,
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry –
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll –
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears a Human soul.

Book Frigate

Emmett Till

60 years ago on this day, Aug 28th, 1955 Emmett Till was murdered in Mississippi, for speaking to a white woman.

The two white men primarily responsible for his torture, mutilation and murder were acquitted.  Under the protection of “Double Jeopardy” legislation they subsequently admitted that they killed the 14 year old boy.

Well, what else could we do? He was hopeless. I’m no bully; I never hurt a nigger in my life. I like niggers—in their place—I know how to work ’em. But I just decided it was time a few people got put on notice. As long as I live and can do anything about it, niggers are gonna stay in their place. Niggers ain’t gonna vote where I live. If they did, they’d control the government. They ain’t gonna go to school with my kids. And when a nigger gets close to mentioning sex with a white woman, he’s tired o’ livin’. I’m likely to kill him. Me and my folks fought for this country, and we got some rights. I stood there in that shed and listened to that nigger throw that poison at me, and I just made up my mind. ‘Chicago boy,’ I said, ‘I’m tired of ’em sending your kind down here to stir up trouble. Goddam you, I’m going to make an example of you—just so everybody can know how me and my folks stand.’     J. W. Milam, Look magazine, 1956

The murder and mutilation of Till sparked a campaign to redress human rights violations in the USA and led to the Civil Rights Movement.  Given the spate of shootings of black people by white policemen captured on video in recent years there is a way to go to normalise relationships between whites and blacks in the USA.

60 years have passed and Mississippi remains the only US state to incorporate the Confederate Battle Flag into the State Flag.  If the people of Mississippi no longer agree with the sentiments expressed above then I think it is time to change the flag.

Maybe go back to the Magnolia flag which was used by the state from 1861 to 1894?

Magnolia flag

The Death of Emmett Till; by Bob Dylan

’Twas down in Mississippi not so long ago
When a young boy from Chicago town stepped through a Southern door
This boy’s dreadful tragedy I can still remember well
The color of his skin was black and his name was Emmett Till

Some men they dragged him to a barn and there they beat him up
They said they had a reason, but I can’t remember what
They tortured him and did some things too evil to repeat
There were screaming sounds inside the barn, there was laughing sounds out on the street

Then they rolled his body down a gulf amidst a bloody red rain
And they threw him in the waters wide to cease his screaming pain
The reason that they killed him there, and I’m sure it ain’t no lie
Was just for the fun of killin’ him and to watch him slowly die

And then to stop the United States of yelling for a trial
Two brothers they confessed that they had killed poor Emmett Till
But on the jury there were men who helped the brothers commit this awful crime
And so this trial was a mockery, but nobody seemed to mind

I saw the morning papers but I could not bear to see
The smiling brothers walkin’ down the courthouse stairs
For the jury found them innocent and the brothers they went free
While Emmett’s body floats the foam of a Jim Crow southern sea

If you can’t speak out against this kind of thing, a crime that’s so unjust
Your eyes are filled with dead men’s dirt, your mind is filled with dust
Your arms and legs they must be in shackles and chains, and your blood it must refuse to flow
For you let this human race fall down so God-awful low!

This song is just a reminder to remind your fellow man
That this kind of thing still lives today in that ghost-robed Ku Klux Klan
But if all of us folks that thinks alike, if we gave all we could give
We could make this great land of ours a greater place to live

Republic of Connacht

Flag of Connacht

Flag of Connacht

Little known fact, but the province of Connacht in Ireland, was established as an independent republic on 27th Aug 1798.  It existed, very briefly, 12 days in fact, as a client republic of Revolutionary France.

On this day lets remember the men of the West, and Wolfe Tone, a great revolutionary who came close so many times, but never quite managed to bring it off!

Wolfe Tone

Requiem for the Croppies: by Seamus Heaney

The pockets of our greatcoats full of barley…
No kitchens on the run, no striking camp…
We moved quick and sudden in our own country.
The priest lay behind ditches with the tramp.
A people hardly marching… on the hike…
We found new tactics happening each day:
We’d cut through reins and rider with the pike
And stampede cattle into infantry,
Then retreat through hedges where cavalry must be thrown.
Until… on Vinegar Hill… the final conclave.
Terraced thousands died, shaking scythes at cannon.
The hillside blushed, soaked in our broken wave.
They buried us without shroud or coffin
And in August… the barley grew up out of our grave.

Battle of Crécy

Crecy

For many historians the Battle of Crécy heralds the dominance of the English Longbow on the continental battlefield, a superiority subsequently proven at Poitiers and Agincourt.  Crécy was fought on August 26th, 1346.  It was one of the greatest English victories of the 100 years war.

In truth the big winner at Crécy was the weather.  The English had time to choose their ground, deploying in three divisions on a steep hillside with well protected flanks.

The French arrived after the English and there was a great deal of confusion in their deployment.  The French brought thousands (the exact number is disputed) of Genoese mercenary crossbowmen.  There were three major issues with the Crossbowmen.

  1.  It rained just before the battle.  While the English longbow men could unstring their bows and keep the strings dry it was not possible for the Genoese to do the same.  Bowstrings were made of catgut, which slackens when soaked and loses all power to launch arrows or bolts.  This is exactly what happened the Genoese.
  2. The Genoese Pavises were stuck in the baggage train.  These large metal shields were usually placed in the ground in front of crossbowmen and allowed them to reload without having to take fire.  Without their shields the Genoese were naked on the battlefield, taking 10 to 12 longbow shafts for every bolt they could fire.
  3. The French nobility had low regard for the Genoese mercenaries.  They would tolerate no excuses and attributed the complaints about bowstrings and pavises to cowardice.  They insisted the Genoese go on the assault.

The result was a decimation of the Genoese by the English Longbows.  The Genoese then turned and ran, and were cut down by the French cavalry on their own side.  As a result the French cavalry was in total disarray when the charge was sounded.

The pride of french nobility then pounded up a steep wet slope on horseback straight into a hail of cloth yard shafts.  Downed horses presented obstacles to cavalry in the second and third lines.

When they did manage to ascend the slope they were met by well formed and disciplined lines of English infantry.  Time and again the French charged.  Time and again they were repulsed.

The end result was a highly asymmetrical outcome.  The English losses may have numbered as few as 100.  French and Genoese losses may number as high as 4,000.  The practice of the day was to count only noble losses, of which the French lost in the region of 2,000 men.

One of the direct outcomes of the battle was the fall of Calais to the English, an enclave held for over 200 years until its fall during the reign of “Bloody” Mary Tudor, Queen of England, and a small bit of France, for a while.

And now a poem about the longbow.  One small detail Doyle omits though….the best Yew wood came from Italy.  Reading his wording I think he may have known this and opted to omit it as being unpatriotic.  He says the bow was “made” in England, but specifies that the shaft was “cut” in England.

The Song of the Bow; by Arthur Conan Doyle
What of the bow?
The bow was made in England:
Of true wood, of yew-wood,
The wood of English bows;
So men who are free
Love the old yew-tree
And the land where the yew-tree grows.

What of the cord?
The cord was made in England:
A rough cord, a tough cord,
A cord that bowmen love;
And so we will sing
Of the hempen string
And the land where the cord was wove.

What of the shaft?
The shaft was cut in England:
A long shaft, a strong shaft,
Barbed and trim and true;
So we’ll drink all together
To the grey goose-feather
And the land where the grey goose flew.

What of the mark?
Ah, seek it not in England,
A bold mark, our old mark
Is waiting over-sea.
When the strings harp in chorus,
And the lion flag is o’er us,
It is there that our mark will be.

What of the men?
The men were bred in England:
The bowmen—the yeomen,
The lads of dale and fell.
Here’s to you—and to you!
To the hearts that are true
And the land where the true hearts dwell.

Firearms in Ireland

Medieval Irish Soldiers

Medieval Irish Soldiers

The Battle of Knockdoe in 1504 is one of the earliest recorded uses of firearms in Ireland.  We can’t say that firearms made a difference to the outcome or that they were central to military strategy.  Indeed we must question if anyone knew exactly how to use them.  According to the Book of Howth, one soldier of the Clanrickarde Burkes was beaten to death with a handgun!

The Battle was fought between the Hiberno-Norman “De Burgh” (Burkes) and their allies from the Dalcassian Sept (Kennedy’s, O’Briens, McNamaras) on one side against the Anglo-Norman Fitzgeralds on the other.  Although calling the Fitzgeralds “Anglo” is  a bit of a misnomer.  The Geraldines were Marcher Lords from Wales, not English.

Gerald, Earl of Kildare, was the deputy of the King of England, who also styled himself “Lord of Ireland” since the Norman invasion of the late 12th century.  As such Kildare carried a semblance of authority and the battle was considered to be a “policing” action to keep the King’s peace.

The Burkes where throwing their weight around and the Fitzgeralds had to sort them out to keep them in line.

The Fitzgeralds claimed the field after what was said to be a particularly bloody encounter.  The battle was dominated by Gallowglass, the heavy infantry of Medieval Ireland.  Many were Scottish mercenaries, heavily armoured.  Their primary weapon was the Claidh Mór, now called the Claymore, meaning “big sword”. As seen in the above illustration it is a two-handed broadsword of considerable length.

The poem below is held in folklore to have come from the pocket of a dead soldier.

Battle of Knockdoe (Anonymous)

Loud blares the trumpet, the field is set.
Loud blares the trumpet, the foe men are met.

Steep slopes the hill, at Knockdoe in the West.
There stood in Battle, the South at its best.

Hi Manny O’Kelly, with the Burkes is at War,
and Clanrickard has gathered his friends from afar.

Kildare he advances like the fox that doth stalk,
O’Kelly sweeps down with the speed of a hawk.

Loud sounds the trumpet, the sunset is fair.
Hi Manny triumphant. The Earl of Kildare.