by Donal Kennedy
We all say silly things at times, but Mary Kenny (March 24) manages to pack so many silly things into a single column that it is hard to take her seriously. Her assertion that the Irish Republican tradition has been more associated with pro-slavery than its abolition is as offensive as it is false.
“A man the ages will remember” said Martin Luther King of Mike Quill, “a fighter for decent things all hs life, Irish Independence, Labor organisation and Racial Equality.”
A founder member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, James Yates, in his memoir “From Mississippi to Madrid” recalled serving with the Abraham Lincoln Battalion of the International Brigade in Spain, where he encountered the IRA veteran Frank Ryan, an officer of that Brigade for whom he developed great admiration.
Quill and Ryan were representative of Irish Republican traditions stretching back to the United Irishmen in the 1790s who picketed a ship in the West Indies trade in Belfast in protest at the slave trade, and to Theobald Wolfe Tone who declared that following the fall of the Bastille he defined himself, as did those who were to join him, as a democrat.
Thomas Francis Meagher and John Boyle O'Reilly were nearly twenty years apart sentenced to death by the British for Irish Repubican activities. Both had their sentences commuted and were transported to Tasmania and Australia for life. Both made dramatic and heroic escapes to the United States.Meagher organised an Irish Brigade which fought, on the Union side in the greatest battles of the Civil War. At Fredericksburg it was nearly wiped out. The sentiments of those soldiers, and their utility to the Union cause, may be gauged from the life of Brigadier General Michael Corcoran, an ex-Ribbonman from Ballymote, Co.Sligo. Apppointed Colonel of the 69th New York Militia Regiment in 1859 he refused to parade them in 1860 to welcome he Prince of Wales. For this he was about to be court-martialled when Civil War broke out. His huge prestige amongst the Irish in New York necessitated his rehabilitation and promotion and he died in the war after many battles.
John Boyle O'Reilly became one of the most honored men in New England, Editor of The Pilot of Boston and an outspoken defender of the rights of all, Negroes, Native Americans and Jews included.His obituary of Benjamin Disraeli, whom neither he nor other Irish campaigners for freedom had much cause to love, paid tribute to Disraeli's achievement of high office in the face of anti-Jewish bigotry.( Daniel O'Connell had once suggested that Disraeli was descended from the Unrepentant Thief.
When President Kennedy visited Ireland he frequently quoted John Boyle O'Reilly, and in Dail Eireann he presented the bullet-riddled flag that Meagher's Irish Brigade carried up to the guns of the opposing Confederates at Fredericksburg in December 1862.
Ms Kenny is dismissive of the Irish Republican tradition.
Does she really prefer that of Brigadier General Michael Sylvester O'Rorke, whose Obituary appeared in THE TIMES in May 1981 on the very day of Bobby Sands' funeral? O'Rorke was educated at Blackrock College and after service in the First World War enlisted in the RIC in 1919. In the 1950s he was Chief of Police in Kenya, during the “Emergency” there.
President Obama's paternal Grandfather was one of many thousands of Kenyans tortured by the “Security” Frces at that time.