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27 April 2006 Edition

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Gralton school: Lively debate honours legacy of Leitrim radical

Jimmy Gralton

Jimmy Gralton

1916 Proclamation the theme at Leitrim event

The annual Jimmy Gralton School took place last weekend in Carrick-on-Shannon, County Leitrim. The theme of the school this year was 1916 A Proclamation Unfulfilled. Jimmy Gralton was born near Gowel, County Leitrim in 1886. Like many Irish people he was forced to emigrate to Britain and later to the USA where he took up citizenship. While in America, he became involved in labour struggles and was also active in raising funds for the republicans in the War of Independence back in Ireland.

Gralton returned to Ireland in 1921 and erected the Pearse-Connolly Hall on his parents' land at Gowel. The hall became popular for both social occasions and political study, with Gralton running educational classes and helping to organise small farmers struggling for their rights and attempting to improve their conditions in the early 1920's.

Disturbed by his activities, the Free State authorities cracked down on his work and he went on the run and eventually returned to the USA where he helped found the powerful Transport and General Workers Union.

When De Valera came to power in 1932, Gralton returned to Ireland and again became involved in the struggle for worker's rights and the rights of small farmers. It was a time of economic depression, poverty and high unemployment.

The local clergy denounced Gralton as a 'Communist agent' and an 'anti-Christ' and on Christmas Eve 1932 the Pearse-Connolly Hall was destroyed in an arson attack. The local clergy whipped up a scare campaign to fever pitch and in return for clerical support for the successful Fianna Fáil candidate in the General Election of 1933, a deportation order was issued ordering Gralton as "an undesirable alien" to leave Ireland.

Gralton went on the run but was captured and deported, never to return home again. He spent the rest of his life as an activist in the US Labour movement and died in New York in 1945.

Lively and thought provoking

Each year in Leitrim, republicans and socialists come together in his name to ensure that the sacrifice which he made, in terrible times, is not forgotten and to address the social, economic and political issues of our times.

This year's school was addressed by Dr Ann Matthews who spoke on the origins of the Easter Lily and Flanders Poppy. It was an insightful historical discussion on the many differing political and social pressures of the Ireland in the shadow of the Civil War and the First World War.

In lively and thought provoking sessions trade unionist and economist, Tony Moriarty spoke on the teachings of James Connolly and the lessons for today's labour movement, while Eamon McCann from Derry spoke on the theme of defending the idea of community and protecting the conditions under which it can flourish.

On Sunday afternoon, a small commemorative ceremony was held at the site of Gralton's hall. The main speaker was Vincent McGrath from the Rossport Five, who spoke about the struggle of the small Rossport community in Mayo against a major multinational corporation. Also addressing the commemoration was Sinn Féin Councillor Martin Kenny who focused on the continuity of struggle from Connolly's vision through to what Gralton had worked for and the current difficulties faced by the labour movement in modern Ireland. The event was closed by Labour councillor Declan Bree from Sligo.

An Phoblacht Magazine


  • The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
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