Patsy Thomson, Glasgow

Mrs Patsy Thomson chaired the Connolly Association meeting in Glasgow at which Desmond Greaves spoke on the night before his death on 23 August 1988. He stayed at Mrs Thomson’s house overnight after the meeting. On the following day he died suddenly on the train bringing him back to Liverpool from Glasgow.  His body was taken off the train at Preston.  Mrs Thomson made these notes on what he said at the meeting and she included with them the poem below which she wrote on hearing of his death some days after it had happened.

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Here are the details I can remember of Desmond Greaves’s last address at our branch meeting in Glasgow. I am only sorry not to have taken fuller notes of what he said.

  1. He was specific about the British Government needing to give a declaration of intent to withdraw its rule from Ireland and to work towards that end over a period; 
  2. Transitional arrangements would obviously need to be made and massive cash incentives would be needed;
  3. A chair of Reconciliation at Queen’s, Belfast, would be symbolic as well as having intrinsic merit in helping to forge a new united country;
  4. He referred to Ulster’s historical provision of Protestant radicals and republicans and how that heritage – the US Constitution, John Mitchel etc. – had been allowed to be lost;
  5. He referred to “real middle-class golf-club people” he had met on his last visit to the North who were beginning to talk with interest – and some cupidity! – about higher salaries in the South. Pragmatically, he saw that as a hopeful sign;
  6. He endorsed nationalism for Scotland, seeming easier and freer about this than some of his listeners might have expected. I am a Scots Nationalist after many years of Labour membership, and was very heartened to hear his views; 
  7. He was basically optimistic about the future of Scotland and Ireland and urged positive exploitation of the larger European and global setting;
  8. He underwrote the importance of Irish pressure groups and consciousness raising in Britain. He felt that an Irish Centre in Glasgow would be a step forward and encouraged me to start campaigning for that.

I wrote the following poem after I heard a week or so later that he had died the day after our meeting on the train he had taken to go back to his home in Liverpool:

DESMOND GREAVES R.I.P

The night before he died,

Desmond, nearly done,

Spoke to us of Ireland.


He used broad strokes, 

Swept over times long past

With grace and great good humour.

He probed the present, paused to cough,

Then planned a future, positive and plain –

Declaring his Intent.

Disarming us, he spoke as one old man

Who saw clear hopes and 

Pledged that others, if they willed,

Could multiply those hopes and 

So make Ireland whole.

His words were often broken by that cough –

“A summer cold” – a nuisance to those views

He shared with us in Glasgow,

Declaring his Intent. 

The Union room was close and full,

Young men and older women too,

All fired by Connolly and by Greaves, 

For Ireland and her fate.

Desmond disappointed any there

Who wanted no way out.

Indefatigable in old age

He spoke with optimistic heart,

Declaring his Intent.

Let England now confess the sin – 

That long mistake of staying on.

Algiers was quoted – the Congo too.

He swept the globe in one last overview.


Precedents were named for righting wrongs, for crying halt,

For proper passing on to peaceful times.

Let Dáil and Parliament seize the hour,

Agree transitions, name a date, make clear,

Their Declaration of Intent.

He spoke of Emmet and Wolfe Tone,

Reminding Scots that

Nationalism has no church,

That Ireland’s cause is more

Than that of Rome.

John Mitchel, Ulsterman

Socialist and Unitarian,

Should be a model now for

Any Declaration of intent.

Above that nagging cough,

He spoke of reconciliation.

A Chair could be established soon at Queen’s

And academics sieve through Ireland’s past

For times of shared endeavour.

Resources would be needed – sure –

Great golden splints to mend those broken halves.

Money and goodwill could heal, was Desmond’s case,

Declaring his Intent.

He spoke of Scotland too,

Its socialism and its past,

Of Connolly and Maclean,

But always Desmond claimed our forward view.

He made us look to Europe and the modern world,

Showing us all a gainable goal:

Ireland at last united, calm and free.

Firing us to work for this, he left and so he died

Declaring his Intent.

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