Revolution in Ireland
Popular Militancy 1917 to 1923
Imprint: Cork University Press
272 Pages, 171 x 247 mm
- Published: December 2009
This revised edition consists of a comprehensive rewrite that updates the work in the light of recent publications and the release of new archive materials. In particular, this new edition includes new eyewitness accounts from the archives of the Bureau of Military History including the testimony of notable trade union activists, an extension of the account of the mutiny of the Connaught Rangers (28 June 1920), and extra information on Michael Collins' intelligence system.
Conor Kostick makes a valuable contribution to any analysis of the struggles for freedom in Ireland and redresses the usual omission of the part played by Irish workers in these struggles ~Tintean The Australian Irish Heritage Network
The two books under review are in some ways closely related. Kostick in his book on popular working class militancy presents a detailed analysis of the political left in Ireland during the years 1917 to 1923 whereas Charlie McGuire s biography of Roddy Connolly examines the life primarily the political life of one of the major revolutionary socialists during these and later years. Both books are well written and both add substantially to our knowledge and understanding of the Irish Left. Both writers are active politically and Kostick in particular makes a point of drawing the reader s attention to the fact that his book is written with the intensity and enthusiasm that an active socialist brings to a subject of this nature . Arguably this is more information than a writer owes to his readers and is perhaps a somewhat surprising announcement from a professional academic. This is not to deny the value of Kostick s book which has much to commend it. Revolution in Ireland: Popular Militancy 1917 1923 is the second edition of a book first published in 1996. The author notes in the Preface to this new edition that most of the changes for this edition are therefore of a minor nature such as improvements to sentence structure and other grammatical alterations . The new edition does contain some new material particularly Bureau of Military History interviews with veterans of the struggle for independence 1913 1921 first released to the public in 2003 additional material on the mutiny of the Connaught Rangers in 1920 and a small elaboration of his description of Michael Collins intelligence system in this material I noted that Ned Broy is described as a typist he was in fact a detective sergeant with the Dublin Metropolitan Police and later held high office including Commissioner of Gardai and President of the Olympic Council of Ireland . Whether those readers who purchased the first volume which received a great deal of critical acclaim will consider this new material a sufficient attraction to purchase this new edition will I suppose depend on individual readers financial resources. There is no doubt that Kostick s book contains a great deal of interesting information some of this information is available in other published sources but Kostick deserves credit for the industry and research skills that he has invested in unearthing much information that was previously lost to the history of the period. I enjoyed reading this book and found much of the information that he presents fascinating and instructive. I was I must admit less impressed by his polemics and editorialising although I recognise that given my own partisan writings on the Irish Left that I can be accused of the pot calling the kettle black I was somewhat puzzled by his comment on the changes that he has made to this edition when he writes that now 2009 the trained historian in me is less inclined to offer judgements with regard to the strategy and tactics of the left but as I find myself still in agreement with my original analysis I ve let the discussion more or less stand as it did in 1996. This seems somewhat circuitous. Kostick s analysis is best summed up in his own words. In his penultimate chapter Syndicalism and civil war he presents his basic analysis with clarity and precision Irish workers did fight hard in these years. That they were ultimately defeated is less the result of any objective considerations arising from the social structure of Ireland at the time than the simple fact that their leaders betrayed them and that the weakness of revolutionary organisation prevented them finding new ones. A radical and swinging critique if ever I read one. By objective considerations I would assume he means such things as the fact that Ireland was essentially a rather conservative staunchly Roman Catholic country Kostick himself notes that Whereas there had been one priest per 3 000 people in 1840 there was one for every 211 in 1911 a country moreover which had never except in parts of the North East particularly Belfast undergone an industrial revolution and hence had a small but militant industrial working class. Socialist revolution was never going to be likely in Ireland and it is rather unfair to castigate the men and women who committed and sometimes lost their lives to the struggle to establish a Socialist Worker s Republic in Ireland. While he is rather cavalier in his criticisms of the Irish Left 1917 23 Kostick does praise and justifiably so Charlie McGuire s book on Roddy Connolly noting that it makes a very important contribution to our understanding of the thinking of the revolutionary socialists of the era . This is certainly true. MacGuire s book is indeed an important and very fine contribution to Irish historiography. McGuire who has a background as an active trade unionist in Ireland and is currently a history researcher at the University of Teeside does not intend his work to be a traditional biography his focus is on Roddy s political contribution and development and there is only passing note of his private life and personal characteristics. Having said this by reading between the lines as it were one can with a little effort build up a picture of the man that Roddy Connolly was and this added to rather than detracted from the book. It was as a stripling of fifteen Roddy armed with a .22 rifle presented to him by his father and recently promoted to the rank of lieutenant in the Republican youth organisation the Fianna made a dramatic start to his own struggle for Irish freedom. Roddy marched with the main contingent to the GPO on Easter Monday and acted as an aide de camp to both his father and to Padraig Pearse. He was thus at the centre of the action until he was asked to leave the GPO and deliver a suitcase of important documents to William O Brien from the Irish Transport and General Workers Union. It is probably no coincidence that Connolly decided to send his son out of the GPO on the day that the building started to come under a fierce shelling. McGuire describes how throughout all the years that followed Roddy attempted to follow in his father s political footsteps. He joined the Socialist Party of Ireland founded and led by his father in 1917 made a number of dangerous and secretive visits to the Soviet Union where he frequently met and was hugely influenced by Lenin played the leading role in forming the Communist Party of Ireland in 1921 fought in the Irish Civil War on the Republican side helped found and lead the Workers Party of Ireland in 1926 joined the Labour Party in 1928 again founded and led by his father helped organise and lead Republican Congress in 1934 was imprisoned twice in 1935 and thereafter rose through the ranks of the Labour Party being elected as both a TD representing Louth a Senator and Chairman of the party. MacGuire is critical of Roddy s move away from socialist revolution to democratic socialism but Roddy surely can t be faulted for trying indeed the influence he had on the Irish Left and the left wing of the IRA when he was still a very young man speaks volumes for his ability and cannot be explained away as being based purely on being his father s son. MacGuire writes well and presents a painstakingly detailed account of Roddy s political life it is a fascinating story well worth the reading. Although the author does not devote much attention to Roddy the man as opposed to Roddy the politician he does in conclusion pose and attempt to answer the question How will Roddy Connolly be remembered thus: He is remembered by his many friends and associates as a lifelong socialist who did not abandon his political principles. As a political activist Connolly is certainly deserving of respect. He slogged his way through sixty years of socialist communist and Labour initiatives in a quite self sacrificing manner. He did not give up the struggle like many of his fellow activists and neither did he use politics as a route towards personal or financial advancement The Roddy Connolly that emerges from this fine book was a courageous highly intelligent politically committed and thoroughly decent man his father would have been proud of him. ~Bill Anderson Australian Journal of Irish Studies