Martin Galvin (MG) speaks to 1916 Societies member John Crawley (JC) via telephone from Co. Monaghan who provides the Irish Republican response to the Irish government’s commemoration of British troops and Black and Tans who fought against, killed and executed Irish patriots. (begins time stamp ~17:43)
MG: And with us on the line we have John Crawley who’s a member of the 1916 Societies but also he’s played a central role in a political debate. First we had talk about the Irish government and others honouring British soldiers who helped to kill and capture and to execute those patriots of 1916, the people who gave us or really responsible, played such a crucial role in there being an Irish Republic for twenty-six of Ireland’s thirty-two counties. They want to extend that to people in the Black and Tans who fought in the War of Independence against full Irish independence and lately that argument’s been expanded – they want to welcome, honour those from Ireland who joined the British Army during the First World War and how they should be commemorated and whether those who fought in 1916 were members of the IRA. John, welcome back to Radio Free Éireann.
JC: Hello, Martin. Thanks for calling.
MG: Alright now, John, I know every time I pressure you, I get you to agree to be on – you tell me you don’t want to have anything about your background on but we have to do it. We have to remind people of who you were or what your background is so they can appreciate the perspective that you have. Now you were born in the United States, grew up partially in Ireland, live in Ireland in Clones Co. Monaghan now and you served in an elite unit of the American Marines. What unit was that?
MG: Okay – that’s the one Clint Eastwood made popular in the movie. You then went back to Ireland, you joined the IRA and we always play the song, Banna Strand, because years later one of the most famous incidents of the struggle was when you and others were captured bringing rifles into a place near Banna Strand on the Marita Ann, a ship that had traveled from Boston to Ireland, to Kerry, to try to bring weapons into Ireland from the United States and you served a lengthy prison sentence at that time in The South of Ireland in Portlaoise and also another one for trying to escape from that prison. How much time did you serve at that time?
JC: Well I served a total of ten years including three years extra for attempted escape. And then I got another thirty-five years when I was captured on active service in England two years later and I was released under the Good Friday Agreement.
MG: And that’s fortunately true otherwise we wouldn’t be able to talk to you on the phone for about another twenty years. John, how did this debate start? Why did people, particularly the Irish government and others in Ireland, think that the names of British soldiers who fought against the patriots of 1916 being deserved to be remembered, be commemorated, put on walls – why is there talk now of putting the names of the Black and Tans and others who fought against Irish independence, who fought the patriots of the IRA who were fighting for full and complete Irish independence – why do they want to honour them? What is the real political agenda behind this debate?
JC: Well, there’s definitely a political agenda and we want to bear in mind that when the first English Army was raised, the first standing English Army, it was actually quoted that it was for use for suppression of the Irish and defence of the Protestant religion. Now Ireland has a proud history of resistance against England but it also has a long history of collaboration with it. Hundreds of years of occupation has produced a slave mentality among some Irish people that is impervious to any appeal to patriotism. Many Irish people support the British forces, unfortunately, and have long family histories of doing so. If you look at the situation: Now naturally Unionists in the North and South of Ireland historically supported the British Army because it was the muscle that insured their sectarian supremacy. It remains today the military wing of the Unionist veto and the ultimate guarantor that an Irish national democracy will never eclipse partition. Now in the South of Ireland, Martin, and among some Nationalists in The North you have a motley collection of shoneens, West Brits and half-wits who are mesmerised by British militarism and love nothing better than prancing around British war memorials honouring Irishmen who died for the British Empire.
These people are an embarrassment to anyone with an ounce of respect for the national sovereignty but essentially they are harmless and irrelevant. But there’s a more serious, subversive and sinister agenda at work here and it’s being driven by the London and Dublin governments supported by parties such as the SDLP (Social Democratic and Labour Party) and Sinn Féin who support the Good Friday Agreement. Now a key strategy shared by the London and Dublin governments is to reconcile Northern Nationalists to the British state in Ireland while simultaneously reconciling Unionists to the sheer utility of making Nationalists stakeholders in that state; this is the underlying imperative that drives the Good Friday Agreement and the so-called peace process. Key to reconciling Nationalists to the British state is, of course, reconciling them to the British occupation forces as lawful authority be they army or police. Talk of a united Ireland has now been replaced by talk of an agreed Ireland in which the British border stays and the Irish agree to it. So lately, Martin, we’ve seen Dublin government and Sinn Féin politicians are tripping over themselves laying wreaths at British Army war memorials almost as an antidote, you could say, to calm any Nationalist or Republican sentiments sparked by the recent 1916 commemorations.
And as you said there earlier the names of British soldiers killed during the 1916 Rising have been engraved among the names of the patriots they killed at a monument recently unveiled at Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin with official government approval. Now, can you imagine telling Americans that the names of the Redcoats killed at Bunker Hill should be engraved on the monument there? So the agenda of the agreed Ireland is to propagate the belief that unity and reconciliation should be fostered, in part, by contriving a narrative that emphasises the unity imagined between Nationalists and Unionists serving in the British Army in the First World War and their shared experience and joint enterprise in bayoneting German boys in Flanders. After all the reasoning goes: If they could kill the huns together surely they can run Stormont together. Are you there, Martin?
MG: John, I have a slightly different perspective: For example, my grandfather emigrated to the United States just a couple of years before 1916 and he was one of many of Irish-born people who joined the American Army, who fought in the First World War and we never considered them – I don’t expect his name or the Fighting 69th or any of the great Irish regiments – we’re proud of them in terms of the United States, being American soldiers, but we never thought of them as being commemorated in Ireland as – why would anyone want to commemorate British soldiers – people who – and I’ll tell you – the people who joined the American Army, like my grandfather, said they were told that the League of Nations was going to uphold what had happened in 1916, the One Ireland One Vote of 1918, the wishes of the Irish people for self-determination and that’s one of the things that they thought that by joining the American Army, by fighting for their adopted country, that one of the principles that they believed in. Why is it that people who joined the British Army think that the Irish government and Ireland should commemorate them the same way they do as Irish soldiers who fought for the freedom of Ireland?
JC: Well there’s an attempt to conflate British and Irish that they’re one in the same, basically. And one of the really subversive elements in all of this is the attempt to undermine the Republican concept of unity and national reconciliation which was first enunciated by Wolfe Tone and the United Irishmen in the late eighteenth century and which was further refined and developed by the outstanding 1916 leadership in The Proclamation. Now the Irish Republican concept of unity is a threat to this agenda, Martin, because it outlines the proposition that Irish constitutional authority resides exclusively within the Irish people, that Britain can be dispensed with and Irish men and women of whatever persuasion and none can forge a common national citizenship based upon democracy, equality and fraternity. Irish Republicanism seeks to cast aside historical differences in the name of national unity while the Good Friday Agreement actually ring fences and corrals those differences within Stormont in order to maintain the partition and the status quo. Nobody is denying that tens of thousands of Irishmen died in a British Army uniform in the First World War; my grand-uncle was one of them. But what we’re saying is they were not Irish soldiers. They were British soldiers. They were Irishmen, yes – but they were British soldiers. And we deny that England ever possessed the democratic title required to lawfully recruit an Irish Army. You know, England and the British Army makes sure that we do not have a national government and only an Irish national government can recruit an Irish Army and we maintain that the only Irish soldiers killed in the 1914-1918 period were the Irish Volunteers who were killed in the Easter Rising. The soldiers that all these memorials refer to are Irishmen who were British soldiers.
MG: Alright, John, we want to thank you, we’re going to go to our next guest in a few minutes. This is -I know that Americans – for example today I got off the train, I saw a plaque for Nathan Hale who was killed by the British, who was executed who said his regret was that he only had one life to give for his country and the idea that you’d put up a plaque to the British soldiers who hung him or to British soldiers who fought in that conflict against our freedom or even to Tories who supported and spied for and fought along side British troops it’s just – we can’t believe it – I would not be able to believe it – nobody would accept it or think they should be part of July Fourth celebrations…
JC: …Of course.
MG: …and when you look at this agenda and how far it’s gone in Ireland in an effort to reconcile people to British rule you see it’s something that has to be fought and I see you taking a lead role in the Irish News and other papers in fighting it…
JC: …Well there’s a price to be paid, Martin, for eight hundred years of occupation and part of that price is that slave mentality and we have to educate people and give them pride in their nation and their national sovereignty and in their armed forces who fought for freedom in this country and never collaborated with the enemy.
MG: Alright, John. Welcome back. Thank you. (ends time stamp ~28:33)