The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Choosing the Green

Book Review

Choosing The Green?
Second Generation Irish and the Cause of Ireland

Brian Dooley
(Belfast: Beyond The Pale Publications, 2004) 192pp.
ISBN 1-900960-26-5 Price £8.99

Liam O Ruairc Fortnight, October 2004

There are millions of people of Irish descent all over the world, and quite a number of them became involved in Republican politics. Though they left a major imprint on history, second generation Irish Republicans have largely been neglected by historians. Brian Dooley’s book is “a modest attempt to help fill some of the gaps in knowledge about the contribution of second/third generation Irish people to the fight for Irish independence, and how some people responded to growing up second generation Irish in Britain during the Troubles.” The reader can feel the author’s genuine enthusiasm for his subject. More anecdotal than analytical, the book almost exclusively concentrates on Irish Republicans born and raised in Britain from 1916 onwards, and their political activities during the last thirty years in particular. The author does not cover the 18th or 19th centuries –English born Fenians for example- or the contributions of people of Irish descent from countries other than Britain to the cause of Republicanism.

There is a long tradition of Republicans born outside Ireland. For example, Tom Clarke was born in the Isle of Wight and spent his childhood in South Africa where his father was a British soldier. James Connolly spent the first part of his life in Edinburgh, as did Jim Larkin in Liverpool. Eamon de Valera was born in Manhattan from a Spanish father (bizarrely Dooley mentions an FBI document written Edgar Hoover describing him as a ‘Portuguese Jew’), and Liam Mellows in Lancashire. Mary MacSwiney was born and educated in London and Cambridge. Erskine Childers and Countess Markiewicz were born in England were they had an upper class upbringing. Sean MacBride, the IRA chief of staff and future founder of Amnesty International, was born in France where he was brought up speaking French. It is thus hardly surprising that during the treaty debates, Collins could insult de Valera and Markievicz, calling them “Foreigners-Americans-English” while Griffith said to Erskine Childers “I will not reply to any damned Englishman in this assembly.” The book explores the background of many of these second generation Irish Republicans.

There are two chapters on Sean MacStiofain, one of the founders of the Provisional IRA and the organisation’s first Chief of Staff. Born John Stephenson in London, his father was an English Tory, and spoke with a Cockney accent all his life. Interestingly, MacStiofain had been in the IRA for well over a year until he visited Ireland for the first time in his life! Surprisingly, he was no exception. As Dooley shows, volunteers from London, Liverpool and Glasgow fought during the 1916 Rising, and this was the first time many of them had actually been to Ireland. There were also reports of individuals from Poland, Finland and Sweden fighting alongside the insurgents during the Easter Rising. During the Black and Tan War, IRA units in England carried out many operations. Over one thousand men were enrolled in the IRA units in Britain, and at its height, there were two incidents a day, mainly in London, Newcastle and Manchester.

One of the most interesting chapter in the book is about second generation Irish people from Britain who became active in the IRA. A typical example is Diarmuid O Neill, who lived his whole life in England until he was killed in controversial circumstances in London in 1996. His background and his accent were very much London and didn’t identify him as Irish. When he talked with Irish born people about the conflict in the North, they would make disparaging comments like ‘how would you know anything about it? You’re from England’.

For Dooley, “There is no one simple explanation of why second generation Irish people chose to join the IRA. For some it was a predominantly socialist motivation, for others it may have been an effort to establish a ‘Super Irish’ identity, and for others still because of a highly developed sense of ideological Republicanism. Unsurprisingly, the motivation seems to have been rooted in a series of factors rather than one specific belief or incident.”

For instance, one of the key operators during the bombing campaign in England in the mid-1970s was Liam Quinn. Born in San Francisco from a Mexican mother and an third generation Irish American father, he once said: “I guess that nice American boy wasn’t happy with the television culture and the Disneyland world. I guess he was looking for a new identity and better sense of values and just happened to find a worthy cause to be devoted to.”

Some people not of Irish descent also became involved in Republican politics though socialism. At least three members of the English group Red Action were convicted of IRA and INLA activity during the 1990s. And as far as 1920, Scottish communists John McLean and Willie Gallagher were involved in gunrunning for the IRA. Dooley could also have mentioned Rudolf Raab and Hans Joachim Stemler, two Germans who were actively involved in the INLA.

If some people of Irish descent joined the IRA, others joined the British Army.
A soldier quoted in the book declares: “My grandfather came from Letterkenny, and many of the people I stopped and questioned in Derry had the same surname as me…I began to wonder if I was interrogating distant cousins.” Dooley’s book shows that as informers, police officers, prison warders and British soldiers, second generation Irish people in Britain played significant roles in the war against the IRA.

The author also describes how second generation Irish people were sometimes among the victims of IRA operations in England. For example, among those killed in the 1974 Birmingham, three were of Irish descent, as were 35 of the 200 injured. IRA bombs left Irish people open to suspicion and hostility. Thousands of second generation Irish people were detained under the 1974 Prevention of Terrorism Act. A study released in 1996 showed that until then about 6500 people in England, Scotland and Wales had been arrested under the PTA, with many thousands more questioned and detained. Of those arrested under the PTA, 97 percent were Irish. Despite the arrests, less than three percent were finally charged. And some of those charged, like the Maguire seven, the Birmingham six or the Guildford dour were wrongfully convicted. “The possibility of being questioned, detained, arrested and convicted for something you had not done was a constant threat to thousands of second generation Irish people in Britain during the Troubles.”

What remains unexplored in the book are the tensions between the Republicanism adopted only by a minority of second and third generation Irish people, and the ‘moderate nationalism’ or indifference expressed by a majority. After all, only a minority ever ended “choosing the green”.






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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
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Index: Current Articles

15 October 2004

Other Articles From This Issue:

Intimidation Continues in Rathenraw
Anthony McIntyre

Mick Hall

Choosing the Green
Liam O Ruairc

Anti-Racism Network Rally
ARN Steering Committee

A Coversation with Gerry Adams
Paul de Rooij

12 October 2004

George Harrison: An Appreciation
Sandy Boyer

Derrida, doctrinaires, debate
Seaghán Ó Murchú

That Hammering Sound
Michael Youlton

Truth Hurts
Mick Hall

Left Nationalism In Euskal Herria
Anthony McIntyre


The Letters page has been updated.



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