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4 December 2003 Edition

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Liam Mellows (1895-1922)

Liam Mellows

Liam Mellows

Liam Mellows was born and educated in County Galway, where he joined Na Fianna, the republican boys movement founded by Constance Markievicz. He spent much of his youth in Castletown, County Wexford, with his grandmother. He asked to be buried there amongst his relatives in a place he called "the old graveyard of his own parish".

In 1915 he was arrested and interned for four months in Mountjoy Jail, Dublin. On his release he went on the run but was arrested in Galway in early 1916, deported to England and interned in Reading Jail, from where he escaped. He returned to Ireland to command the Western Division of the IRA during the 1916 Easter Rising.

Mellows escaped to America, where he was imprisoned without trial in New York.

Returning to Ireland, he became IRA Director of Supplies for the duration of the War of Independence. He strongly opposed the Treaty and on 25 June 1922 he and fellow republicans, Rory O'Connor, Joseph McKelvey and Dick Barrett, among others, took over the Dublin Four Courts. They were bombarded from a gunboat on the Liffey that the Free State had borrowed from the British Army and after two days they surrendered. They were imprisoned in Mountjoy Jail. On 8 December 1922, Mellows, O'Connor, McKelvey and Barrett were executed by a Free State firing squad, allegedly as a reprisal for the shooting of Seán Hales by republicans.

Extracts from Mellows' article from The Book of Cells, entitled 'The People's Republic', outline his socialist vision and have resonance today:

"The Irish Labour party held a large demonstration in Dublin to protest against 'militarism', that is against the Volunteer soldiers who were standing in defence of the Republic against British Imperialism and its dupes in Ireland. The Irish Labour party did not define its attitude to British militarism when the 'Treaty' was forced down the throats of weak-kneed Republican deputies under the threat of 'immediate and terrible war'. The 'Treaty' was accepted by those deputies and their followers 'under duress'. The Irish Labour party, swallowing all its prevention to be a revisionist body out for a 'Workers' Republic', has also accepted the 'Treaty' and is now working cheek-by-jowl with the imperialist and capitalist groups in Ireland through the Free State's so-called parliament in an attempt to crush the Irish Republic in blood.

And the means at their disposal for the new military have been given them by the British Government. The Irish Labour party talked glibly of a Workers' Republic. It still pretends to have as its objective the establishment of such a state. Veiled threats of 'a big stick' it intends to wield some day are thrown out for the credulous. Professing to be against militarism, its leaders try to delude the movement into believing that at some future date they will head a revolution.

Labour played a tremendous part in the establishment and maintenance of the Republic. Its leaders had it in their power to fashion that Republic as they wished - to make it a Workers' and Peasants' Republic. By their acceptance of the 'Treaty' and all that it connotes - recognition of the British monarchy, British Privvy Council and British Imperialism; Partition of the country and subservience to British capitalism - they have betrayed not alone the Irish Republic but the Labour Movement in Ireland and the cause of the workers and peasants throughout the world."

"Ireland does not want a change of master. It would be folly to destroy English tyranny in order to erect a domestic tyranny that would need another revolution to free the people. The Irish Republic stands therefore for the ownership of Ireland by the people of Ireland. It means that the means and process of production must not be used for the profit or aggrandisement of any group or class.

Ireland has not yet become industrialised. It never will if in rejecting and casting off British Imperialism (and its offspring the Free State and Northern Parliaments) the Irish workers insist that a native imperialism does not replace it. If the Irish people do not control Irish industries, transport, money and the soil of the country then foreign or domestic capitalists will. And whoever controls the wealth of a country and the processes by which wealth is attained, controls also its government.

Ireland, if her industries and banks were controlled by foreign capital, would be at the mercy of every breeze that ruffled the surface of the world's money-markets. If social capitalism flourished, a social war such as now threatens practically every country in Europe would ensue. Ireland, therefore, must start with a clean slate. The Irish Republic is the People's Republic."

"In our efforts to win back public support for the Republic we are forced to recognise, whether we like it or not, that the commercial interests and the gombeen man are on the side of the Treaty. We are back to Tone - which is just as well - relying on that great body, "the men of no property". The "stake in the country people" were never with the Republic. They are not with it now and they will always be against it - until it wins! We should recognise that definitely now and base our appeals upon the understanding of those who have always borne Ireland's fight."

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1