14-31 July 1939
Themes: First visit to Dublin and the South of Ireland – Sean Murray and Brian O’Neill – Bicycle tour from Dublin to Athlone, Castlebar, Westport, Clifden, Galway, Limerick, Newcastle West, Killarney, Cork, Dublin – Michael O’Riordan and Jim O’Regan in Cork – Impressions of Ireland on the eve of World War 2 – Back at Robinson Bindley Processes (Epsom Oils)
July 14 Friday (London/Liverpool): Very little took place in the morning, and as soon as I had discharged certain formalities I took leave of Pat Devine, who accompanied me to the station, returned to Raynes Park, changed and cycled to Euston from where I entrained for Liverpool which I reached at 7.3O pm, being met by AEG and CEG [Desmond Greaves’s parents – Ed.] and John Lancaster. We had tea at Reeces, and met Mrs Jump (Jackson’s sister) who informed us that Jackson had secured an appointment at Barts’ Hospital, but that Norah McGrath was teaching in Portsmouth.
We heard the full story of CEG’s accident. They both look well enough in spite of it, for apparently the enforced rest at Ullapool did them good. CEG spent the time walking about the coast, sailing over the fjords in the ancient dilapidated boat of the landlord’s twelve-year-old son whose skill in avoiding porpoises and basking sharks left CEG gasping with admiration – and relief. They are both off again, this time for South Wales and Devonshire in a fortnight’s time, none the worse nor wiser.
July 15 Saturday (Dublin): We boarded the boat last night at the Gladstone dock, to which out of a species of inanimate perversity the thing had been transferred, booked for the bicycles, and got them on board and covered with tarpaulin just before a violent shower of rain blotted out everything. The Mersey docks are not inspiring when you can see them – from an aesthetic point of view – when you can’t they are worse by far. However after they had blown the hooters, hauled flags up and down, and excited everybody by half a dozen bogus starts, the ship backed out of dock, turned before entering the river, passed through the final locks and proceeded to steam away north and then west.
We had cycled through the Irish quarter of Liverpool. The transition to the boat was therefore not sudden. The Irish accent and the Liverpool accent are too closely allied, but among the rather harsh townsmen’s speech which prevailed among the inhabitants of Liverpool who were returning for a few days to their land of origin, could be discerned here and there the country brogue, softer, more graceful, of some inhabitant of County Clare, or Kerry, who had perhaps spent a shorter time on the British side of the channel.
The sea was as calm as a mill-pond. We drank tea in the restaurant, talked with our fellow-passengers, and retired to our berths (we went steerage, and were lucky to get them) in time to get a few hours sleep. The boat was crowded. Most of the steerage passengers were very poor; children were numerous and kept getting lost; but their occasional cries were lost in the singing which was started up as soon as we left port – not such singing as you got on a Welsh boat, but very jovial and convivial all the same. The Irish are not good singers. Despite a certain mist which shrouded the summits of the Leinster mountains and even Howth Head, everybody was up early to see themselves sail into Dublin. This is not such a grand performance as the entrance to Liverpool, which seems laboriously ritualistic for such a short voyage as that across the Irish sea. You simply sail up the Liffey about half a mile, and stop by the gas-holder. You get to where your bicycles are, wait till the main crush of passengers has gone, and manoeuvre the machines through the mass of struggling slow-coaches whose business has made them pressed for time, get your saddle bag perfunctorily chalked by the customs man, and ride up the quay to O’Connell Bridge, the grand centre of Dublin’s life and labour.
Dublin is a great city. It is short of good restaurants. The Woolworth Cafeteria is the only cheap one. Everything is dear elsewhere. The inhabitants of the most western country of Europe have not yet assimilated continental ideas, and looked very strangely at our shorts and bare knees, the more so later as they were reddened and tanned by the air, if not by the sun. But what impressed us from the outset, apart from the layout of parallel embankments, “quays” along the Liffey, and the strange railway advertisements of Sunday “Mystery tours”, was the homology with Liverpool. Here was the other side of Liverpool, the non-English side, which gives Liverpool its peculiar individual quality, making it unlike any other English city. We were to hear a great deal of Liverpool. Few Dubliners had been to London or Manchester; all had been to Liverpool, and could not understand why we had never been to Dublin before. The accent of the people, their dress, the black shawls of the women, of which they are so intensely proud, as they are a mark of feminine maturity – all reminded us at every turn of our own native city. We felt at home in Dublin from the start. Even the Gaelic inscriptions, the green pillar boxes, and “Telefon” boxes, gave us no sense of strangeness, and we rode round seeing the lay-out of the place with sympathetic interest.
We called on the party at 32, Lower Ormond Quay. There is a bookshop which however sells very little, the comrade in charge being a Liverpool man. Here we discovered that Pat Devine [communist activist in Britain, Ireland and the USA – Ed.] was the founder of the Irish party. After a talk with Mrs Farrell, the typist and factotum, a member of an old Protestant Sinn Fein family (an unusual combination) we were informed that Sean Murray [1898-1961, leading Irish communist, born in Co Antrim; in the IRA during the Irish War of Independence – Ed.] was ready to give us an interview after lunch. It was then that we found Woolworth’s cafeteria in Henry Street, a furious place, where you are whisked along for your grub at the double, and are fortunate to get any at all with all those who are after it also coming behind you.
The introduction from Devine was duly made and Murray received us with the utmost courtesy. I had written down a number of questions for him, which we proceeded to ask.
1. How far is Ireland a colonial country?
It is not a colonial country at all.
2. How far is the Irish Bourgeoisie independent of the British bourgeoisie, how far in competition with it; how far does it cooperate?
The Irish bourgeoisie is for the most part independent. It competes with the British bourgeoisie especially with the industrialisation policy of De Valera. But British firms have formed Irish subsidiaries. A certain section of big business, Guiness’s, the railways, the linen people, are in favour of linking up with British Imperialism. But this is not so with the smaller Bourgeoisie led by De Valera. Cosgrave’s party (Fine Gael) also represents the large rentier population with investments in the British Empire, and some of the remaining large landowners, who wish to make Eire an agrarian semi-colony of Britain. For the greater part the workers support the National Bourgeoisie.
3. What classes oppose the Irish Bourgeoisie?
Cosgrave’s party opposes industrialisation. The Labour party fights on wages and conditions, but for the most part the workers support the bourgeoisie.
4. Is there a farmers’ party, which we read of in the Irish Independent?
No. The paper represents the extreme Catholic reaction, and would doubtless wish there was a Catholic fascist farmers’ party. The Irish Times is the Anglo-Irish big business paper. The Irish Press is De Valera’s paper.
5. Is there a peasantry in Ireland, or is it small scale or large capitalist farming?
It is partly small subsistence farming, partly large-scale cattle farming. The midland areas, depopulated by the British policy, holds huge tracts of large-scale farms. The Irish call the big farmers “ranchers” . The land is of course now in the hands of the Irish State since land annuities are no longer paid. There are numerous landless agricultural labourers. In the west it is mainly poor farmers. But “peasant” is a word of contempt in Ireland, equivalent to “country bumpkin” in England, and should not be used in speaking to non-Marxists. There are 144,000 landless labourers.
6. Is there a crisis in pigs?
There is an over-production crisis now. The economic war with Britain resulted in tariffs against Irish produce and was useful to Cosgrave in causing discontent among the farmers against De Valera. The position is improving.
7. How is it that Ireland which during the time of Marx and Engels had such revolutionary possibilities has now become such a reactionary country?
Historical circumstances; the failure of the British workers to understand Ireland; the long sleep of the British workers, and the consequent swinging of the Irish workers behind their national bourgeoisie, have effected it.
8. Has the bad handling of the National Question been one of the main causes – on the part (1) of the Irish (2) of the British workers?
9. What is the basis of DeValera’s Government?
The petty-bourgeoisie with working class and poor peasant support. His programme is politically bourgeois national republicanism, economically the industrialisation of the country to render it independent of Britain. In the main the party gives critical support to that government and aims to drive it to the left.
10. What attitude do the Irish workers adopt to bombings in Britain? [In January 1939 the IRA under Sean Russell declared war on Britain and began to implement the so-called “S-plan”, a campaign of bombings in Britain which continued until summer 1940 – Ed.]
Indifference, and confusion. Many who are against them for the injuries are for them for the sentences.
11. Lenin says that terrorism is connected with Economism. Is it illustrated in Ireland?
Yes. Here we have a purely political republican movement and a purely economic labour movement. And secondly there is the dominant political trend in Ireland and the predominantly economist trend in England.
12. How far is partition an issue of major importance and how far does it figure in a communist policy?
So far we have been unable to get abreast of it and the fight is being conducted along national bourgeois lines. We try to get collaboration between Ulster and Southern workers. But its presence keeps alive bourgeois control of republican sentiment.
13. What is the party’s attitude to military service?
It neither fights for nor opposes service in the national volunteers. Military policy is not yet an issue.
14. Although there is no established church in Ireland the impression is current that the Roman Catholic church exercises considerable influence in Irish politics. How is this influence exerted?
It is considerable, and is a mass influence due to the fact that Britain aimed at imposing an alien religion.
15. What form is the offensive of reaction taking in Ireland?
Economic sabotage by the Bank of Ireland and big financial interests, who do not support Irish industry or social advance. They oversubscribed the £10,000,000 to Britain in settlement of land annuities but will doubtless sabotage the loan to Cork City. O’Duffy is discredited. He sent Irishmen to fight in Spain. His lieutenants collected cash for Franco which mysteriously disappeared although collections were taken in the churches. Cosgrave is the main enemy.
After the discussion was over Mrs Farrell gave us addresses to call on in Roscommon, Newcastle West, Cork, Clonmel and Kilkenny. But another comrade present at the interview, a member of the Central Committee, many years younger than Sean Murray, invited us to have tea with him, which we did. His name was Brian O’Neill [Irish communist intellectual, author of “The War for the Land in Ireland”, 1933 – Ed.], and he is one of the ancient clan of O’Neills, cousin of Lord O’Neill of the Craigavon Government, and something of a bourgeois nationalist. This is readily explained by the fact that he has spent all his days in the republican movement, as the prominent scar down the side of his nose testifies. He has fought in the IRA, written a book on Easter 1916, and since then has spent days and weeks in hiding in the bogs and mountains. His rather brilliant satirical manner rather reminded me of Alan Morton – and quite independently John Lancaster was also reminded of him. In appearance he is similar, and his laugh and intellectual cynicism when for example he ridicules the Craigavon Government as “that Manchukuon Government”, pouring such scorn into the word he has apparently quite unconsciously chosen. “Manchukuon” recalls Alan in the same circumstances.
He discussed the foreign policy of Ireland, as suggested by the party. The trouble with some Irish comrades was that they read the Daily Worker. A large country like Britain tended to dominate the culture of a small neighbour like Ireland, speaking the same language. Thus a leading party member had suggested that De Valera be pressed to press Chamberlain to sign an Anglo-Soviet pact – to press Chamberlain, that is, to do what he flatly refused to do himself. But in Ireland, especially while partition remained, Britain was the aggressor. The people felt more than anything the danger of becoming the tools of British Imperialism. For this reason the Irish would not participate in an Anglo-Soviet pact. They felt separated from Europe by the mass of the British Island. They would adopt an attitude which was realistic but friendly to the democracies. Ireland would never be used for an attack on Britain. But only if Fascist planes bombed Dublin would Ireland come in. Most Irishmen would not put it past Britain to paint swastikas under her planes and bomb Ireland herself – if that was the only way of involving her in war. He felt that this was the only logical policy to follow. In addition to this the Catholic reaction was likely to oppose strongly the alliance with Moscow. To invite attack from the fascists by adhering to a pact of this kind before the Fascists had exposed themselves would be a mistake. The people had not forgotten German help in 1916, nor Spanish help a century or so earlier. There was still a great feeling that England’s difficulty was Ireland’s opportunity.
Asked what were the next steps before the Irish movement, he said that the Irish party had come on the scene too late. It had grown out of the republican movement. If the Comintern at its formation had given as much time, money and attention to the movement in Ireland as it had to the more important country of England, the course of history might have been changed for the better. The Irish republican movement might have learnt to win the support of British Labour, carry through the national revolution to completion, and present Britain with a democratic neighbour enriching British democracy with its highly developed political energy. But that was not done. The party was vital in 1916. It was necessary in 1922. It could have been of value in 1927 – but when Cosgrave had given place to De Valera, and the bourgeoisie had come to leadership of the national struggle, the Labour movement having been sidetracked on to purely economic issues and seeming anti-republican thereby, there was little to be done. He himself was convinced that war was inevitable now between Britain and Germany, and when this had brought Ireland to a greater realisation of the danger of Fascism, then something might be done. For example Partition might be ended and the struggle for the social revolution begun in earnest. Unfortunately the Irish Labour and republican movement were equally deficient in Marxist theory, and Connolly himself, although the greatest living exponent of Marxism in English at the time, had himself been partly responsible for this contempt of theory, having resided long enough in America to grow thoroughly disgusted with the cup-of-coffee Marxism which was so rampant there.
We were interested in this, but felt that O’Neill was something of a bourgeois nationalist, and were uneasy about his policy of opposing participation in the democratic peace front. His argument seemed based on assumptions we could not immediately accept, such as the inevitability of war between Britain and Germany, the bad results of alliance with Russia on Ireland, and the impossibility of advance in Ireland unless partition was out of the way. The manner in which he poured scorn on the Protestant regime in Northern Ireland, under the ideological yoke of “that fellow from Geneva” – was more satirical than perhaps would seem natural. He is a strong emotional character doubtless and feels everything acutely – but his heart is nationalist.
He also informed us about mystery tours. In Dublin you can drink from 10 am. to 9.30 pm. on weekdays but for an hour between 1 and 2 pm. On Sundays however you can only drink during the afternoon. But you can drink at any time on a Sunday, and the pubs will open their doors to you between one and two on week-days, indeed in the middle of the night, on one condition: you must be a “bona fide traveller” who has come at least three miles. People who have travelled the statutory three miles are called “bona fides”, the second syllable being silent. Mystery tours take place by charabanc, coach or train. They do not disclose their destination, but their members invariably return to Dublin blind drunk. On one occasion last week a party which had been sampling stout in the vale of Avoca was driven into an O’Connell Street lamppost by the intoxicated driver. These events are not uncommon – the inhabitants merely smile, nod their heads and pass the cynical comment, “Look at the Bona Fides!” Before we left O’Neill provided us with a bottle of Guiness. It is all stout in Ireland, and the national drink is very strong, for when we reached our lodgings, next door to the party rooms, we were glad to tumble into bed.
We had however been warned by Sean Murray that accommodation, meals, etc. would be expensive and a young man from Clonmel and another from Dundalk advised us to “argue the point” and say, “We want to stay here for the night, how much is it?” as far as possible in one breath. And so having absorbed this piece of valuable advice we proceeded to retire well pleased with our day’s exertions.
July 16 Sunday: Dublin, Kinnegad, Mullingar, Moate (Athlone): We set off in the morning on our journey westwards, aiming to reach Roscommon. But the wind was against us, the road was poor, and the countryside, especially after the first few miles and before the last, was uninspiring. It was after passing through Kinnegad however that we began to look forward with interest to the small towns of Meath and Westmeath we were to pass through. In England a village is heralded mainly by petrol pumps, garages, and hoardings. But in Ireland the weather is soft and humid, a bright mist seems to enshroud everything, and when some turn in the road round the foot of some low hill reveals the village ahead one thing dominates the picture – the church. Some of the churches we saw were very beautiful, with spires, domes and byzantine flourishes. There is no soot to soil them, no high buildings to hide them, they add a peculiar distinction to towns which otherwise would be exceptionally dull and barren compared with English towns.
The overcharging began very soon. We could get nothing but bread and butter, bacon and eggs. Jam is a scarce luxury. Bacon and eggs “is” lunch or dinner, and 2/6d. Bread and butter “is” a “plain tea”, and costs 1/6d. However you are judged by the quality of your meal not the quantity. You can eat till you burst – you’ll never eat 1/6d worth – and to have consumed one egg (fried) and a rasher of bacon (frizzled) entitles you thereafter to gorge bread and butter unlimited at your host’s expense.
Between Mullingar and Athlone we missed the road which ought to have taken us through Ballymore, owing to the insufficient signing. All signposts are put up by the British AA [Automobile Association – Ed.], their usual canary-yellow tin things, but they bear (this time under the English title) the subtitle of the town in Gaelic.
At Moate we stopped for a bite to eat. There seemed to have been rain everywhere but on the strip of road we happened to occupy – everywhere we ran on to patches of drenched road. The time we were in Dublin Kinnegad had had “thunder and lightning” – and the girl in the pub declared that they must be very good people in Dublin, though she admitted that it didn’t seem to make sense. And so at Moate there had been torrents ten minutes before our arrival, and it later transpired that Ballymore, which we missed by mistake, had had a violent storm at the time we were intending to pass through it but for the error. So we, damned infidels, almost disciples of the devil, were well treated by Him who looks after his own. Everywhere in the houses were pictures of Christ pointing a finger at a red object dangling on his chest resembling a badly boiled beetroot, representing his heart. Lancaster informed me that the charm was called the “Sacred Heart” and was supposed to have great potency. At Moate we were obliged to wash in rainwater, and a young man who had never been out of Moate in his life was very surprised to hear that we did not catch rainwater in England, but got water out of a tap. That, he thought, was liable to make the water hard.
Finally however we crossed the “cattle county” of Westmeath (making a brief excursion into Offaly in which resides the vast bog of Allen, level and peat-laden for miles and miles) growing more and more tired of the empty depopulated area, and rounding a hill saw the broad Shannon and the cathedral spires of Athlone, the great strategic bridge-city, and centre of Ireland.
We soon found a place to stay. It was recommended to us at Moate. The landlady was an unashamed Cosgrave-ite whose family had dealt in coal from Glasgow “when the British were here”, which was unloaded at Galway and brought by rail for retail distribution. She thought De Valera’s party bad for the farmers, and believed the old days of the Union were the best she had known, especially during the war.
We walked down the main street to the Shannon bridge, saw the imposing church (had children shouting “bikers” after us!) and below the castle discussed the locality with a middle aged man who was looking at some barges. He explained the strategic importance of the city, how for generations foreign powers had garrisoned it against the inhabitants, how it was the centre of Ireland, the principal inland port of the Shannon waterway, and equally well placed for both Galway and Dublin. At one time a deal of fish had been brought from Galway and Westport, but now the trade had gone. Scottish and British trawlers operating outside the three-mile limit had broken all the rules, caught small fish, fished too much, and inspired the poverty-stricken inhabitants of Connemara with a defeatism nothing seemed able to shift – there out to sea the foreign trawlers robbed him of his livelihood, while his modest curragh could catch him not a thing. O’Neill had explained how the extreme west had become one vast rural slum, densely populated – but with a population whose extreme poverty had demoralised it. A German student who had visited it for research purposes told him that never before had he seen a “lumpen-peasantry”. This was confirmation. To some extent we were surprised at the way in which the people felt no community with “the British”. They might just as well have been “the French”, or “the Belgians” or anybody else.
July 17 Monday: Athlone, Roscommon, Claremorris, Castlebar (Westport): The town of Athlone did not impress us, even in the morning. The Shannon itself, despite its romantic associations and the fact that for years John Lancaster had wanted to see it, left us rather cold. But as we cycled up the western coast of Lough Ree, we realised that on entering Connaught we had passed over a great divide. We came across genuine bog. The rich bronze and green colouring of the landscape, the incredible profusion of the ragwort, purple loosestrife, orchids and other brightly coloured flowers, the softness of the air, the blueness of the distant hills, soon had us remarking, “This is Ireland.” The day was not without its disappointments. Leaving the lake we passed a large new hospital in course of construction and entered Roscommon. The usual difficulties over food soon appeared, and we disputed a little over policy. Lancaster was in favour of intense economy. I was opposed to it, preferring a shorter but comfortable holiday to a longer but uncomfortable one. He had brought an insufficiency of cash, no pump, and no cycle cape. However the weather was mysteriously kind again, raining everywhere but where we happened to go.
The road we chose after Roscommon was in the nature of a short cut; it appeared to go over peaty uplands, gradually deteriorating as it got higher, and culminating in some amazing switch-back humps near Claremorris. But it was actually not high at all. The vegetation is that which grows at 1000 feet up in Wales, and it was difficult to dispel from one’s mind the illusion of altitude.
The change of scenery was gradual, the low hills coming into view out of the mists of the west. The peat carts grew more numerous. There was a house, now disused, made of clay and wattles. Derelict cottages were less common than yesterday; but the inhabitants lived in increasing poverty. The farmyard fowls ran in and out of the cottages; and all the children up to twelve (and one middle-aged woman) went barefoot, the rich pink-brown of their legs seeming part of the bronze landscape. The little girls were extraordinarily pretty – not beautiful – but the boys, perhaps they were more ragged and lacked the quaint gay-coloured dresses, were very plain. We saw them lined up outside a school where a very frowsy woman teacher appeared to be teaching Gaelic. It was strange to see bare-feet lined up and marching as if on parade. One of the Colleens did me the honour of running me down. A peat cart, pulled by a horse (it was donkeys further west) was on the right; we were on the left. In order to avoid both, the woman cyclist turned off on our left, changed her mind, nearly charged the horse, and missing that collided with me and bruised my right arm. The man on the cart roared with laughter and tried to soothe both sides, “Sure, ’twas nobody’s fault. It couldn’t be avoided.” It was an amusing incident for their long day. The incident for us marked the beginning of the more friendly treatment we received in the West. In the midlands we felt the people were hostile. But the further west we went the more friendly grew the inhabitants, and what was more, instead of knowing less about England, they knew more. Quite a number have been to Liverpool – Liverpool is the only English town (I say “English” town) anybody in Ireland dreams of. It is in part an Irish town. The women wear their shawls, and the children wore no shoes until an edict of the city council, anxious about the appearance of the city, by insisting that all children must be shod, caused the Irish to buy black pumps.
We found the change of scenery slow. The road was bad and monotonous. I had always wanted to see old Castlebar of the songs I heard as a very small child, and hoped it had some distinction about it. But meanwhile we talked about Liverpool. IH [not known to whom these initials refer – Ed.] is now on the Yorkshire Post. Lancaster says that Bloor was so shaken up by the unhappy issue of his affair with HBi that he seems to have no more truck with women. Lancaster is cynical over this; but his own affair with Joan Rainford tends to fade. Distance has not added the proverbial enchantment. As for Iver Mercer, he is utterly demoralised, but yet they leave him on the Liverpool Organising Committee [of the New Labour Club at Liverpool University, established by Greaves and others in 1935 – Ed.] – with what reason heaven alone can tell.
But old Castlebar did not disappoint us. It was in a hollow surrounded by hills. The evening light marked it off from the desolate country behind, and threw into relief the cloud-crowned hulk of Croagh Patrick of which we were soon to see more. Castlebar is a busy little town – a little dirty maybe, with narrow streets, but with friendly inhabitants and a fine green. Also we did not notice the usual cathedral in evidence of the piety of the local flock.
We had had tea, bread and butter and sacred heart at Claremorris, and therefore pushed on to Westport. All the labour of the day was rewarded when we surmounted the final hill and saw the bold rugged outlines of Croagh Patrick, Achill, Curraun, and the Nephin range, marking out the confines of Clew Bay, as if to draw the limits of the water – while immediately below us was a calm clear sea studded with pale green conical islands, each exactly like his neighbour, four or five deep in rows from the shore. Out to sea was the peak of Clare Island. At the foot of Croagh Patrick was Westport, into which we rapidly descended, stopped by the bridge, enquired for lodgings and found indeed cosy cheap ones, which made us bacon, eggs and stewed tea made with sour milk [presumably unpasteurized milk – Ed.] . I called the tea “monangi” and was informed (as at Athlone) that they spoke no Gaelic. They didn’t believe in it. The landlady had not allowed her children to be taught it. “What addition could it be for them, for sure?”
We had been told by O’Neill that previous to the revolution it was a matter of snobbery to pretend to have no Gaelic; but now the position is reversed, those without it pretend to it. Perhaps here in the far west the old custom prevails. But here, the port is closely linked with Liverpool, and Glasgow to a less degree. Most of the younger people seem to have been to Liverpool. Most wish they were there now, to listen to them. A walk to the harbour displayed the decay into which Westport has sunk. Warehouses, all empty, line the deserted quay. There used to be fishing, and the curing of fish. A disused corn-elevator adorns one side of the harbour. A little cement still comes in, but the mark of the parasite is apparent in a resplendent hotel perched on the one island boasted by the harbour.
Back at the hotel, this time cheap, we noticed the usual rumpus and hocus-pocus – and the superstitious leanings of our hostess who when I dropped a knife insisted on picking it up “for good luck”. However, we liked Westport, in County Mayo.
July 18 Tuesday: Louisburgh, Leenane, Letterfrack, Streamstown (Clifden): In the morning after more bacon and eggs and stewed tea made with sour milk, we set off on our travels again, down past the harbour, and part way up the hill at the foot of Croagh Patrick. And then Lancaster had trouble with his machine, and a dark sunburned hay-maker left his work to watch us mend it. He knew Liverpool well, had worked there for years, and wished he could go back. The sort of question he asked was, “Will there be war?”, “Have they got the hay in, in England yet?” and “What do you think of the IRA?” Like everybody else he utterly disclaimed the bomb-throwers [The IRA had recently set off bombs in England – Ed.]. He said that in Connemara we should find the friendliest people in the world – but Killarney was the most beautiful place. This was in contrast to an old woman of Claremorris who on hearing we were making South from Westport and not going to Achill exclaimed, “Ah. And ye’re leaving the finest country behind ye!” When we moved on again we were able to see Achill, Curraun, and the huge gap at Mulranny. Again we escaped the rain which had wet the road ahead of us before the big heavy clouds moved off Croagh Patrick. This is a sacred “reek”, and we read in the paper an appeal from a local bishop to his flock to join in the “spiritual experience” of climbing to the top in the probable rain two weeks hence. He had done it for thirty-five consecutive years. As we went along the coast we had an opportunity to admire this very noble-looking mountain, but also to look across the bay and backward into Westport. The innumerable islands presented a wonderful aspect from Old Head, where we climbed over the rocks to the sea-shore. The surface of the bay was rough – until you reached the islands, which stilled the Atlantic rollers and appeared to be swimming in limpid, perfectly calm water, more like emeralds set in glass than grassy islands in a sea. How any ship ever steered its way between them into Westport, goodness knows. We saw one or two small ships however, but nothing of size. Another fine sight was Clare Island with its precipitous cliff falling into the rough sea.
At Louisburgh we turned inland, buying up a copy of an “Advice to Irish girls” on going to Liverpool and London. Everybody seemed to know Liverpool, and most people seemed to have, or have had, relatives there. We saw the beginning of fuschia hedges here – there were hedges of fuschia [properly fuchsia, but spelled here as pronounced in Ireland – Ed.] in Westport, obviously cultivated, but as we passed further west we discovered the bright-red fuschia flowering in any way-side or piece of rocky ground, its only neighbours the creeping tormentil and ragwort. The climate is very mild in winter.
Following the rainstorm which seemed to keep ahead of us we entered the hills and passed through the most astonishing country I have ever seen. Tall granite hills stood on all sides; we rose about two hundred feet, passed a tumble-down school where barefoot children danced about the green playground, saw a couple of turf-cutters, and others stacking it up in little stooks to dry, and then plunged rapidly to a beautiful lake at the bottom of a deep valley. After that we wound our way out to Killary harbour, passed up one side of the fjord and down the other to Leenane, where we broke our journey. This scenery had to be seen to be believed. The juxtaposition of normally quite incompatible topographic features is the main attraction. The flora is consistently that of a high moorland – but for the fuschia. The lakes however are almost at sea level, and you pass from fresh lake to fjord-like arm of the sea in a bewildering succession, the absolutely bare rocky masses of the mountains overlooking you all the time.
At the pub in Leenane we met a young priest, a very esthetic young man who had just returned from Italy. Apparently a quarter of the Irish clergy attend the Irish school in Rome, set up during the days when the British penalised Catholicism in Ireland. He was very much opposed to the Orange-men of Belfast, whom he described as “low types”. The main obstacle to union was the Northern Ireland Government, he said, which had bamboozled the people into voting for it. However he seemed to possess definite Labour sympathies, and gave us an address at Galway where we could stay. Like most of the priests here he had a motor-car – perhaps I should speak of his car. Like most of the motor-cars here, it had a priest. Several people hinted to us of the luxurious living of the clergy, and certainly this one had not done badly out of it.
However we proceeded, and saw our first red petticoat. It was worn by an old woman driving a couple of donkeys carrying side-bags filled with turf. Apparently a cart was too expensive. The place abounds in donkeys. We saw very few horses. And the patient things stand at the roadside making their preposterous noise – until a car scares them away. There are no more cars than horses, but everybody who has a car in Ireland wants to let everybody else know about it, and therefore drives on the horn, with intermittent blasts of silence. Of course pedestrians are less used to traffic and need warning of its approach. Again motorists were amazed to see us signal them on, when they hooted at us before passing. They expected us to behave like the woman who ran me down.
After Leenane we were in Connemara. Fuschia soon became practically the dominant element in the flora. The deep blue lakes followed each other one after another. If ever post-card scenery came to life it was here. And the Partry mountains, Letterbracken and the twelve Pins (bens) of Connemara stood out in clean and rough-hewn relief against the soft misty sky. It cleared at Kylemore, as we passed fjord upon fjord, and a cold wind blew off the Atlantic, but finally we reached Clifden, found a place to stop (where I bargained 6d off the price) and had tea made with sour milk. Apparently sour milk was once the staple beverage of Ireland, and even now the inhabitants do not seem to know it is sour.
The house was full of statues and hocus-pocus. We learned that a “Belgium” was there, buying lobsters at 12/- a dozen from the fishermen who potted them, storing them in tanks, and sending them to Brussels. The girl explained to us that “He’s just after coming in and having some tea, and then he’s after going out again.” And then, “But there must be money in those lobsters. For look what he’s paying for packing them and sending them away. He lost the first lot, for they were dead when they got there. It’s no use sending them at all if they get there and them dead. Even if they’re dead only two minutes they’re no good at all. But he says there’s no profit, but what’s he sending them all that way and him getting nothing for it?” Beside a crucifix on the wall a piece of paper was pinned, surely not by the “Belgium” (who was however a young fellow of 25, who looked no more than 20) on which was written “Vive la lobsters, non pas morte” – proving her point.
We went for a walk, and from a hill to the north-west of the town saw Slyne Head and the Atlantic. No more peaceful and secluded place could be imagined. The Twelve Pins and the hills round around Streamstown form a protecting circle on the landward side, and the sea protrudes into the land its long tongue-shaped loughs, keeping the weather mild all the year round. Here we saw giant fuschia hedges twelve feet high. Even the Atlantic breeze which denudes the exposed place of trees, was somewhat tempered here. And the harbour, into which long ago numerous fishing smacks had brought herrings and mackerel, now largely disused, was the abode of giant fucus, ten foot high, in the entanglements of which pink and white skinned jelly-fish expanded and contracted their obscene bodies and floated helplessly about. The water was as clear as crystal; not much could go on at the bottom and be unobserved.
We examined a few ruined ware-houses, relics of Clifden’s days as a port, many years ago, and walked past a concrete erection consisting of a wall with side-walls mounting up to it, with a concrete floor, a children’s ball-game being played in it. We noticed these in many parts. It seems to be the standard playground. Of course it remains light here till eleven, even at this part of the year, since we are so far west (10′) of Greenwich, and also North into the bargain. This is, I suppose, the most Westerly town of Europe.
But a commercial traveller from Galway did not share our emotions regarding Clifden. We mentioned Slyne Head and his reply was, “I wouldn’t like to be going to Slyne Head. It’s too many boats for me. I’ve been in one today.” After driving fifty miles and bring tossed about in a curragh, I suppose commercial travelling took on a grim aspect!
July 19 Wednesday: Clifden, Ballynahinch, Glendalough, Oughterard (Galway): The houses in the neighbourhood of Westport and Clifden were roofed with slate – which came by sea from Donegal. But though the sea still came to Clifden, the slate came no longer. The harbour was choked with weeds and it was lobsters not fish that the fishermen brought ashore. We met the “Belgium”. He had been out with a different girl every night since his arrival. Last night he was with an American. “God’s gift to the girls of Clifden”, they called him. This activity of his doubtless explained why he had picked up English, starting from scratch, in something less than six weeks. In another six weeks he would be off, to become God’s gift to the girls of Sligo, the vicinity being by then doubtless completely denuded of lobsters. It was to be hoped that the girls would not outlast the lobsters, as then he would certainly lose money.
The commercial traveller told us about Galway, or “Galway City” as he called it, a fine old town, rather Spanish in character, the port of call for American liners and in direct contact with Liverpool. There was a Gaelic theatre and a remarkable salmon-weir. But a carpenter remarked that at Clifden nobody complained if you started work half an hour or even an hour late, whereas the same could not be said of Galway, where they would complain of ten minutes. These grievances in themselves were eloquent. The traveller retorted that the local cinema was only held twice a week, and at that in a barn. But the “Belgium” interrupted by singing a very obscene song, which Lancaster by some means knew, and stopped the discussion. Here again there were hints about the priests getting drunk at Lourdes. But the house was full of hocus-pocus, sacred objects filling every cranny, and doubtless if it had not been certain, as they thought, that we were Protestant we should not have heard even this much. The commercial traveller was very amusing however; no matter what place we mentioned gave him the shudders. We mentioned Slyne Head – “A long way! I wouldn’t like to be going to Slyne Head” – and the same for every other place we could mention. However on announcing we were off to Galway we earned his permanent blessing.
And so we set off. Our devil’s luck cleared off a slight shower of rain, and we had a strong wind behind us, pushing us along a most interesting road. There was a boy cutting fuschia at the side of the road. We asked him the reason for it, and found that the weather is so liable to ruin the hay by means of sudden torrential showers that it is customary to build a small stack of cut fuschia, and to lay the cut hay upon it, thus protecting it from the rills that run on the sloping ground, and helping to drain it. This boy wore shoes and stockings, a reflection of the improvement in conditions which are introduced even by the proximity of the fish and lobster pots of Clifden. But further along the old poverty reappeared. A very “hefty fellow”, as John Lancaster described him, disengaged himself from the hedge, barefoot. He was 16 at least, and the men of normal working age (of which there seemed few on reflection) were indescribably ragged, the women being if anything the worst of the lot, and the girls were dressed best, and incidentally had the best physical appearance, with their long black hair and tanned brown faces.
The road was between the bog and the mountains – and along a continuous line of lakes. For thirty miles at least I doubt if we were even without one lake, and frequently the road ran along a tongue of land, on a causeway between two of them. The Twelve Pins of Connemara occasionally shaking their heads free of cloud as it seems, were a fine sight to the left; and shortly after we had passed the last one, we stopped, leaving the bicycles at a farm, in order to climb an isolated hill which commanded a fine view of the Pins, the Maamturk Mountains and the sea, and to the Aran Islands.
On the way up we investigated a marble quarry where a peculiar green stone was to be found. There were a number of farms, trying as it seemed to do the impossible, wring a living out of the inhospitable soil. The meadows were full of loosestrife and marsh thistles; the pastures rotten with lousewort, and the potato patches were on the slopes of the hills, with furrows of the same width, but beds of a greater width by several times than ours. There was some rotation of crops however, as the marks of potato furrows could be seen in a meadow or rat-patch. As for the oats, I suspect it would have to be reaped by hand, stalk by stalk, so thick were the weeds. But everywhere the hedges were of fuschia and the ragwort and loosetrife gave a riotous colour to the landscape.
Ascent of Lissoughter (1314 ft): Misfortune overtook us on the hill. It rained a little, but that affected only Lancaster. But as for me I twisted my foot in a bog-hole and had to come down carefully. John of course had rushed off with his congenital inability to follow a path. Even so I got down before him as he had to make detours he had not bargained for. As I was ahead of him and he was unaware of the accident, he went back towards the top – while I nipped across the edge of a meadow and joined an old peasant who was standing on a hummock watching us. When Lancaster turned back we were barely fifty yards apart, but I was on a path and he on a convex and exposed grassy slope. We shouted but he didn’t hear, and therefore sat down to await his reappearance. The old farmer was dressed worse than the most indigent beggar I have ever seen. His clothes were composed of patches patched with patches; but he possessed nevertheless a quite sturdy independence of manner as he discussed his hay and the weather. It would be a great good, he said, if the wet weather would cease and him get his hay in. I asked about the fuschia.
“Ah! It’s the finest thing for fencing. You see it there. It’s able to grow anyway.” You can cut off a stick of it and throw it anyway.” (He broke a twig and threw it in the stream) “See, that will grow, very likely. Sure it would make a fine fence if it were properly looked after.” But we were interrupted by the appearance of Lancaster.
“By dad! There he is – He’s after coming round that bush where you were yourself.” In a few minutes John was down, had avoided the three lean but ferocious looking cows which our friend possessed and was with us. Again we noticed that while the peasant spoke highly of the fine fence he would make with a mixture of fuschia and hawthorne, if it was properly looked after, his own hedges were tall and straggling and anything but properly looked after – a fact he was aware of. Perhaps he had insufficient cattle to make it worth his while. Now he was a nationalist.
But we were waylaid on the downward path by a member of the “lumpen-peasantry”. He began by saying what a fine climb we must have had, omitting the point which had interested us most, the immense expanse of bog to the south, pitted by innumerable small lakes. He then said the weather was going to change for the better. He commented on our shorts. It was “a fine way of going about”. He then presented us with a piece of Connemara marble, which he licked in order to show its beautiful shine. There were three quarries in the vicinity, some of them working, and the marble was used for clocks, ashtrays, and suchlike. Then he went patriotic – or I should say pro-British – and told of how King Ewards Vll had landed at Clifden, and how they strewed the streets with fuschia for him, and how they all thought there’d be no more poverty in Connemara. That failing he told us how he had worked at Jarrow, thirty years ago, with that “bloody, bloody white lead” and how it had poisoned him the way he’d not been nearly so active since. Of course he liked England more than he could say. At last in desperation he explained that he had stopped us in hopes of getting a few coppers from us to “buy the wife a spot of tobacco” which was a great comfort to her. The women smoke clay pipes after they reach a certain age, thus going through two stages after marriage, shawl and the pipe. So we gave him some money and went our way.
Scarcely after going a mile, Lancaster had a puncture, which we stopped outside a farm-house to mend. The ducks and poultry were running in and out of the house, a one-floor cottage, but the small puppy frequently busied himself shooing them out again with a few monitory barks. Lancaster readily secured some water, while I sat down to rest my injured ankle which showed signs of swelling. A Belfast car driver came past and asked the peasant the names of the Maamturk mountains. He was spun a suitable yarn, in particular the words “shtorrm and hurric’n” standing out by frequent repetition, and secured 1/- to buy tobacco for his pains. The tourist is still here the luxurious, unnatural, generous beast. We did however see a party of Galway students tearing along aboard an antique car. But students do not here mark themselves off from the population, except in so far as they are young priests – young doctors are trained at Dublin or Liverpool, young farmers (ranchers) in Dublin. The liberal or administrative professions seem unknown – science is utterly unrepresented. Education is at a very low level, and always frustrated by its intensely sacerdotal direction.
Stopping a few miles further on we were privileged to dine off pike, caught in one of the Great Lakes, the upper one I think. The hostess explained to us that she could guarantee the purity of the food on which this fish had thriven, for hadn’t she found in its belly a whole trout, as fine as you could wish to see. The pike was interesting, but the milk was sour, and the butter had that faintly fungoid taste which, reminiscent of mushrooms, indicates that poor pasture has driven the cow below its usual fastidiousness. I wish I knew which plant was responsible for the taste of the butter. I would go round rooting it up, or like Professor Thompson [Greaves’s former professor in the Liverpool University Botany Department, with whom he did not get on – Ed.], write a paper proving it was going to die out.
There is no cheese however, except the cooked wrapped and sealed “Galtee” cheese of Tipperary. This is sold all over Ireland in sections, six in a box, but there is no slab cheese to correspond with our Cheshire or Cheddar – except in large towns. For example in Roscommon we had slab “Galtee” cheese which was rather similar to slab English “Velveeta” – cooked and none too attractive. Again jam, and particularly marmalade, is rare. There is little native fruit grown, and the usual home-made jam is gooseberry or rhubarb, the raw-material being readily available. The sugar is of the coarse large-granulated, crystalline kind and is sold in sacks from which the shop-keeper weighs out small quantities. The packet of Tate and Lyle’s, weighing 1 lb or 2 lb, is unknown. We didn’t see their salt, except that it is always in cellars, never in shaking-cruets, as they cannot keep it dry enough.
Leaving the rather pleasant wooded country where we stopped for lunch we struck Lough Corrib at Oughterard, and it was then not long before we reached Galway. Here we went to the place recommended at Leenane, and were interested to observe one priest in the flesh, an oldish man, and another, in photograph hung on the wall – the very young one we had seen in the pub at Leenane. The accommodation here was good, and I sat and wrote cards to various people, the state of my foot not permitting me to accompany John Lancaster to the harbour. The Atlantic liners of course do not come close in shore, but a large number of Americans land here, and this, combined with the University College and Gaelic Theatre, give quite a metropolitan air to the city.
July 20 Thursday: Galway, Ennis, Limerick (Newcastle-West): The priest who was staying with us at Galway explained to John that we were shortly to cross very interesting country, bog overlying limestone. The wind blew us along merrily, but the bog was so perpetual and ubiquitous that we began to lose patience even with its rich colouring and soft scented air. We stopped for a meal at Ennis, the capital of County Clare. The usual sour milk came on the scene, but at any rate they appreciated the need for tea with every meal. I wish London would learn from Ireland in this respect. They must skim the milk and send all they can to the towns of the East – or possibly (as seems likely) the shortage of fresh milk in the West may simply reflect the shortage of cattle, of which we saw little enough. The goat and the sheep, not the cow – the donkey not the horse for traction – are the rule here. And so it was mutton for lunch. As a great concession the potatoes were peeled and roasted, but additional portions were available in a large dish, this time baked in their skins. If the cutlery had been clean we might have enjoyed this meal, although the inauspicious beginning was fit to put anybody off – a bowl of incredibly greasy soup. The dessert is a grand mixture of pudding, fruit (apples) and anything else that can be boiled with sugar. However it did us good, and we read the Irish Press, sarcastic about Britain’s latest betrayals of China, for which the people have great sympathy, and then wound our way through the narrow dirty streets and so on past the Fergus, to the Shannon at Limerick.
We were frankly surprised at Limerick. We had expected it to be inferior to Galway, although in Galway we had heard complaints about the sleepy council which had permitted Limerick to capture the transatlantic trade. But Limerick of course has the advantage of a large waterway of which it is the lowest bridge, stretching a hundred miles up country, whereas Galway, scarcely nearer to Dublin, depends on road and rail, the great lakes having no commercial significance whatever. Here again the name of our own city of Liverpool was in evidence everywhere. The importance of an Irish city can very well be judged by the number of times the word Liverpool appears on its walls and hoardings. Limerick however has concrete streets, there are four storey buildings, Presbyterian and even Methodist churches, and a whole host of steamship offices. There was even a branch of “Skinner’s College”. We could buy Aero chocolate – instead of the smaller Irish-manufactured “Honey-comb” of Cadbury’s. Aero is also manufactured in Ireland, but in smaller quantities. As for the great variety of Cadbury’s filled blocks, they are unknown here.
Finally we left and pushed on to Newcastle West where we had hoped to find a party member, but we were unable to do it. We therefore stayed at a “bar”. The English “Public House” with its sole commodity – liquid refreshment – perhaps also acting as a restaurant, is not to be found in Ireland. Instead there are bars of two types, “bars” and “select bars”. We went in both to drink the one available beverage, stout, and saw no difference. Then there are the AA, and ITA hotels, expensive places where you stay the night and pay 2/6d a meal. The bars however act as grocers’ shops, greengrocers, and everything else including Post-offices. There is less division of labour in this respect in an Irish town than in a Welsh village, for clothes are usually sold in a separate draper’s shop in Wales, but not here. The shop-windows present a monotonous appearance. They all have fruit and chocolate, and a few moth-eaten cakes, and cigarettes, on view. The great cigarettes are “Sweet Afton”, made in Dublin, and superior as we found to English “Players”. The shops are allowed to open from 10 am. until 10 pm., but are usually open practically till midnight. The numbers of the constabulary seem very small, and those there are, sons of the people.
The country we came through was poor. Except around Limerick and Galway where there were storey dwellings, the people live in wretched hovels, and the streets were filled with their barefoot children, indescribably ragged, as if their parents had never learned the use of a needle. These gave loud cheers and “look at the hikers” as we went through their village, until we learned the recipe – to be eating chocolate, when envy stilled their tongues. The shortage of clothing shops is possibly connected with the practical domesticity of textile trade – or its relative absence.
We sat up late discussing things with the publican and his wife. At half-past ten a friend called in for an illicit pint of stout. Previous to this the chemist opposite stood at the door and gave vent to his political opinions in a magnificent brogue. Hitler was presented with the danger of a war on both the Eastern and Western fronts. His home front was unstable, the people were against him – but perhaps he might take a chance and say, “I’ll pull the whole house down about our heads and see who comes off best.”
A young lady parked her bicycle outside his shop. “Ah! Well. I must go over and sell up some face-powder now,” he remarked. We were informed that it was his most lucrative item of business. The chemist here is more than a mere dispenser, however. He carries out many of the functions of a panel doctor to whom those who suffer minor injuries, or have small ailments, apply for advice, whereupon he serves them with the appropriate medicine. A pharmacist is therefore a highly respected man. We nearly went to one over our latest misfortune. Scrambling about on the mountain yesterday, we had got ourselves stung in exactly the same way as was my misfortune in Wales last year, and our legs were dotted with irritating red spots. My experience last year however suggested that philosophic waiting was the only cure likely to be efficacious. Again at Galway I was advised to see a Chemist about my foot.
The landlord’s wife was most interested in my maps and spent an hour tracing out the places she knew upon them. Everybody was loud in praise of Killarney, Glengarriff and the one watering place of Ballybunion. But the illegal compotator was a man of some ability, a local handyman, a great one for grates, and a breeder of pigs – he listened to a report on pigs on the radio, which most townspeople have. One of the women suggested that we should get him a job in England where, there being more grates, more would be liable to go wrong, and then he’d come back to Newcastle with his fortune made!
They discussed prices. Food is much dearer than in England. Irish butter is subsidised for export to England – we saw one or two of the “creameries” (cooperative factories owned by the local dairy farmers – the standard butter in Liverpool is Irish Creamery, but not in London where New Zealand seems to have replaced it) – and the English price is about 1/2d. But the shopkeeper informed us that 1/6d is the price here, and only 1d a pound profit is allowed to the retailer. Bananas are 2d each, oranges 2d, apples a little cheaper. The country people do not therefore buy them, but live on their own potatoes, milk, oats – but unlike thirty years ago eat bread to some degree. In Clare we saw some wheat, but very little. The division into farmer and labourer was however much clearer south of Limerick. The farmers’ cottages had well-tended gardens and slated roofs. The labourers’ cottages were filthy hovels, huddled together with leaky thatch and hens and chickens in and out all day. Each labourer however had his potato-patch. Our hosts enquired after national health insurance, which is also in force in Ireland; and about holidays with pay which has been in force in Ireland for some time. But how many people get any advantage from it in a country with such a small proletariat, it is difficult to say.
July 21 Friday: Newcastle-West, Castleisland (Killarney): We set off again in the morning. The house, for all that it was a pub, was full of hocus-pocus. But if in Galway it had been statues, here it was more scientific. In Dublin we had noticed in the shops, electric lamps with flames shaped like crucifixes. The oil lamp in front of the statue at Galway was replaced by one of these in red, in front of the clock, at Newcastle-West. The landlord explained to me however that two “hikers” had only last week entered a Catholic church and destroyed a deal of (not valuable but sacred) material. An old woman had seen them emerge, identified them – and sure they were now in gaol in Cork where they’d stay some time. The outrage was compared by our host to the bombings in Britain, which were by no means universally approved by Irishmen, but yet gave them a bad name. I think our hosts were afraid we might imitate the bad behaviour of these Englishmen, but I think we reassured them, and they gave us an address in Killarney.
There was more rather dreary country to go through before we entered Kerry proper. On one stretch of limestone bog a very primitive kiln was in operation. It was shaped like an old-fashioned bee-hive, with a hole in the top into which two men shovelled layers of turf and limestone which they cut locally, and a hole at the bottom out of which ash and lime was raked. It might require more than two men to start up, but no more for operation. The place whence the limestone came, and the little stacks of peat drying for its fuel, were not ten yards from the kiln. I suppose no more than a few bags of lime a day would come out; but there was little doubt that it was produced for use, as it couldn’t be sold surely at that low rate of manufacture. Of course, far from the sea-coast, foreign lime might be dear. We did, by the way, see a cart of coal yesterday, near Ennis. We were told it was foreign coal, come by sea to Limerick. Irish coal was a dull anthracite, not much use for domestic grates, and could not compete with peat as a fuel.
But just before reaching Castleisland we passed the brow of a hill and suddenly came upon the full height of the McGillicuddy Reeks standing out of a large plain with a most majestic outline – as black as a silhouette. So fine did they appear that John Lancaster became convinced that to dine at their foot would be a great expense, and thereby let us in for a 2/6d lunch which we could have got for 1/6d in Killarney. However we soon went on, and reaching Killarney in the late afternoon, called at Mrs Morrisey’s address, and were recommended to the Erin Hotel. Parking our luggage there we went for a walk to Ross Castle. The place was full of touts, trying to tempt us on to the lake, and all beginning with singing the praises of England, and saying how much they preferred the British to the Yankees. But the lake was a very beautiful sight, overhung as it was by the purple mountains, and surrounded by woods and trees. We also rode up past Muckross to the upper lake. The vegetation impressed us by its tropical luxuriousness. There is no fuschia south of Galway.
In the evening we cycled past Muckross up to the Upper Lake, which is one of the most beautiful places we have ever seen, with a most luxurious vegetation, of rhododendrons and arbutus. Returning to Killarney we actually found a cafe, called, as it should be, “The Café”, and drank coffee there. The great joy with which the English were greeted was belied by numerous chalkings and white-washings on the walls and roads, (I believe Tralee is even more be-chalked) in such terms as “Join the IRA”, “To hell with concessions”, “Give Britain more bombs”, “Down with Britain”, “To hell with British rule”, “Up the IRA”. Nobody either rubbed off nor disowned them, as the Kerry area suffered heavily during the Anglo-Irish war. Elsewhere we noted such slogans as “Vote Fianna Fail” and , most frequently of all, “Up Dev!” – but only in one isolated place near Castlebar did we see anything in support of Cosgrave.
In the Irish Press we read an interesting statement of bourgeois policy. The high price of industrial goods and the low of agricultural was to be remedied by more and cheaper industrial production. In order to achieve this the workers were to work harder and work better, and so allow their employers to cheapen their products!
July 22 Saturday: Ascent of Carrantuohill (3414 ft) (Killarney): In the morning we set off on bicycles, and went some miles in the direction of Tralee, with the object of climbing Carrantuohill, the highest mountain in Ireland (3414 ft). As we approached the place we were repeatedly pestered by persons styling themselves “guides”, for whose services we would pay 10/-, in return for which they would show us the way to the top of the mountain. However we managed to elude them, and left our machines at the Slea Barn, where the old peasant in charge told us harrowing tales of the numbers who, disdaining the services of expert guides, had been lost or killed, or mightily inconvenienced, on the mountain. He offered to take us up for 5/-but we told him that we were not going to the top, as the weather was far too cloudy. We had not yet seen the summit clear of racing fracto-cumulus, and it was very cold.
So we set off, up a most wild and beautiful glen, leading to a very awesome cairn, with a steep rough ascent (called the devil’s ladder) to an arrete-like saddle. This was in the mist, but we were determined to make our way, and finally reached the summit, and sheltered from the wind behind the cairn on the top-most pinnacle on which some wag had hoisted a stick carrying an empty Guinness bottle. We were rewarded for, during a space of ten minutes, the wind, increasing in velocity, tore huge rents in the clouds which were advancing from Brandon mountain, and at times gave us a clear view in all directions. We were able to see the sweep of the coast north of the hills, in Tralee bay, Dingle bay, and the sea of peaks and hills between Killarney and Glengarriff, and again the more gentle hills southwards, towards Mangerton. The view was agreed to be one of the finest we had ever seen.
We came down the same way, noting the strange profusion of sea-pinks on the hill, and reached the Slea Barn where the old boy in charge insisted on us drinking milk with him. We guessed he was after cash. He began by denouncing the IRA.
“Ah. But there’s dirty work going on in England. They ought to be ashamed of themselves, killing innocent people and all that. They’re dirty scoundrels, and it’s making it hard for other Irishmen to get jobs, and no wonder, seeing that they can’t conduct themselves. It’s nothing but dirty scoundrels they are!” We were not very impressed so he praised the English at the expense of the Americans. Again, we showed no enthusiasm so he asked where we came from, and on our replying Liverpool, he said, “Ah. Then ye don’t come from England at all.” We said we did, and he added again, “Liverpool? Is it Liverpool, England?” And a few minutes later we realised that in his ignorance of Geography he actually thought that Liverpool was in Northern Ireland. He got his 1/6d for tobacco.
Then we returned to Killarney. There was a town dance on which kept us awake late, as periodically there would be terrific rhythmic stampings and cries of “Ooh!” as the old folk jigs and polkas were danced. And the sound of the fiddles scraping away gave a great air of festivity to the evening. After that everybody paraded the streets one way and another, and it was readily discernible that nine-tenths of the population were almost blind drunk.
July 23 Sunday: Killarney, Kenmare, Glengarriff, Macroom (Cork): On what turned out to be the first fine and hot day, with a bright sun which put the finishing touches to our already tanned skin and stimulated the irritation of the insect bites, we cycled to Cork, through Windy Gap, along the fjord coast of West Cork, and through the hills to the east. This ride was the star-turn of our holiday, including wonderful mountain scenery in Kerry, and coast scenery at Glengarriff which was further rendered interesting by the profusion of semitropical vegetation. Our old friend the fuschia reappeared in the region immediately surrounding Glengarriff. Of course the roads are frightful, loose slate and only half made up.
As we were riding all day there were no incidents. It was interesting to see the people going to Mass in their best clothes. We saw cart-loads of them on wagons bearing prominently the title “No passengers”, and children wearing the white satin frocks and white stockings of fifty years ago – side by side with the usual abject indigence in the appearance of those who were not going to church. But this part of the country is clearly more prosperous. There is much greater variation in size of the farms, and in the main a tendency towards middle peasant holdings.
We found a suitable place in Cork, where there was a garrulous old Scotchman staying. We were followed there by a few small children attracted by our unusual appearance. And our hosts asked if we felt cold – and were silenced by the talking Scotchman who said we were travelling the only sensible way. We had left Killarney in company with a young cyclist from Liverpool who spent a few weeks in between spells of casual or semicasual employment in travelling about the land of his ancestors. Again in Cork we met Liverpool over and over again. Everybody we met in Cork this evening had been there at one time or another. And the garrulous Scotchman proceeded to tell us all about his own country, and his quest for “romantic scenery” which only today he had found in such plenty in the neighbourhood of Glengarriff. He thought Glengarriff superior to Killarney – but that, while true as regards the towns themselves, does not hold if the more distant surroundings are included.
July 24 Monday: (Cork) In the morning we went to look up a party member, Michael O’Riordan [1917-2006, at this time aged 22; had been in the International Brigade in Spain; later a leading Irish communist – Ed.] at 37 Pope’s Quay. Cork, like Dublin, has its quays. When we went for a walk around it in the afternoon we noticed however first that instead of one river Cork has many, that the whole town is divided and intersected by small canals, and second that the water is a filthy green and smells abominably. Apart from that Cork is the finest city in Ireland, without a doubt. We saw O’Riordan’s mother. He wasn’t in.
“Might you be connected with this International Brigade?”
“We are.” She became hostile.
“Well, I’m sorry. I don’t believe in it. I think no good will come of it. I don’t believe in politics, and I’m sorry Michael ever had anything to do with it.”
“I’m sorry we don’t agree.”
“Don’t agree! But wasn’t it be a terrible thing, all the young boys dying in Spain.” – She was quite a nice old body after all. – “And Michael going off like that, and we wondering what had become of him!”
“There are two sides to it, of course,” we agreed.
“Ah. It’s nearly killed his father, him an old man with his hair white. It’s too much worry we had over it.”
“But he came back.”
“He did. But what is after bringing him back? Prayers, it is. It’s only that. However he’ll be in at three o’clock and I’ll tell him you’ve called and hold him back for you. What is your name?”
“Desmond Greaves.” The name Desmond worked wonders. She smiled her approval – and her nationalist feelings getting the better of her she chatted merrily for a good ten minutes, wanting to hear all the details of the exile’s return, as she thought it must be.
However we decided to go to Cobh, but to get back by three. We were stopped halfway however by violent rainstorms. Our devil’s luck had deserted us, and we had to shelter under a yew tree until we were invited into a cottage. The young man who chatted with us was against the IRA men who “didn’t know how to conduct themselves”, but was loud in his praises of the IRA who had “fought for the independence of their country.” Everybody again asked if it would be war. “I hope it won’t be a war,” they said, “for the sake of the boys.” They wanted to be assured that there really was conscription in England, and on hearing that John was a militia-man, brought in the neighbours to have a chat with him.
However we got back to Cork in time to see O’Riordan, a very fine comrade who was several times mentioned in dispatches in the Spanish war. His first question after the usual formalities of how we liked Ireland, and saying there were a lot of Irish in Liverpool, was about the attitude of the CPGB to the IRA. bombings. I told him what we had said, and he agreed with it. I was not then aware of what had since my departure been published in the Daily Worker, and neither was he. Dublin were slack in sending him material and he got all his literature, Communist International, Inprecors [the Comintern Journal, International Press Correspondence – Ed.], and so on, from the United States. He had contacts in New York and Frisco, in which two centres the American party is mainly concentrated. He had to go back to work but he arranged to meet us on Patrick’s Bridge in the evening.
It was then we explored Cork, going to see the Cathedral, and following the various canals and quays. There is a very remarkable carillon above the place where we stayed [presumably the bells of Shandon Church – Ed.], and of course we were advised to go and see it. But the children were able to prevent us. Not content with sniggering and calling “hikers” at us they must crowd round us shouting the way to the church with the bells, adding in the same breath “– and now give us a copper.” At other times they would come pattering up to us asking for money without even the pretence of giving information. At last I decided to use a stratagem, and said, “Be off, or I’ll bring a policeman.” This worked like a charm – they went scampering off in all directions, and goodness knows how it got round, we were never again pestered in Cork, despite looks of surprise on the faces of some of the locals. Now by English standards our appearance was highly respectable!
After tea tragedy overtook us. My eye suddenly began to irritate furiously and to water strangely. I dabbed it with a handkerchief, decided the cold wind was the cause, and thinking it wise to go indoors, went to a film. It did indeed behave itself in the cinema. Instead my legs itched. The film was about the conflict between business success and the wife who wants the honeymoon to last forever. What was most striking was the assumption throughout that woman’s but a plaything, incapable of thought and merely one other problem to be solved in a day’s work or pleasure. But later we met Regan [Jim O’ Regan, former International Brigader, later involved in the IRA bombing campaign in England and imprisoned during World War 2; a left republican figure in Cork for decades; Greaves used to stay with him and his mother at their house in Sunday’s Well during his visits to Cork up to the 1970s – Ed.], a friend of O’Riordan, also of the International Brigade and a party member, who told us that O’Riordan would not be about for a while. We went into a pub, and I had a whiskey, and was then prevailed upon to take my eye to a chemist. He extracted a speck of dust in about ten seconds, and refused to accept payment. O’Regan does not drink. He explained that everybody he had known to begin had ended by taking too much, and that he therefore neither drank nor smoked.
This was startlingly borne out later on, as at tap-stop the pubs disgorged dozens upon dozens of drunken men, who whatever their age, sang and jostled their way along the broad pavements of Patrick Street, three sheets in the wind. I remarked on the fine buildings. “Well to be sure we’ve got the British Government to thank for them.”
“Well in 1922 they landed their marines here and sacked the town, set fire to the whole Southside of Patrick Street, besides shelling part of the other side. So when the trouble was over they had to pay compensation, and build it all up again. Many people say it’s a pity they didn’t burn down both sides, and then we’d have the finest street in Ireland.”
Apparently in O’Connell Street, Dublin, the British did their work of maintaining law and order more thoroughly, thus depriving Cork of her opportunity of being the finest city in the island.
But I liked Cork. It has a true metropolitan atmosphere; and again, as Lancaster and I remarked, there is the strange similarity to Liverpool. Only now that we have seen Dublin, Limerick and Cork (I saw Belfast years ago) is it possible to trace the origin of those characteristic elements of the vastly more complex port of Liverpool. Cardiff + Cork + Belfast = Liverpool. Liverpool is one of the Western circuit – not an English city.
We also discussed the Irish attitude to Fascism. A few years ago the mayor of Cork had refused to attend a civic reception to a German naval unit. But this was on the grounds of the disrespect shown by the Nazis to the death of the Pope, and not to political reasons. There is some sympathy with Hitler, as O’Riordan whom we met, now explained. There is additional ambivalence in the Irish attitude, made up of sympathy with German grievances with rough treatment at the hands of Britain, a certain sympathy with German propaganda regarding British misrule in Palestine, and a certain persistence of the idea that England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity. For example Hitler’s entry into the Rhineland was compared to a possible Irish occupation of Ulster. But two factors tended to change the Irish attitude; first the annexation of Czecho-slovakia which is felt to be a country similar in history to Ireland, and second the intensified persecution of Catholics. In addition the close collaboration between Germany and Japan whose robber war in China is so strongly resented in Ireland has tended since Munich to alienate sympathy from Germany, which no longer can pose as champion of small nations. Also Hitler is regarded as the man who is liable to cause world war.
The Mayor of Cork is the first Labour mayor of the city. There are five Labour councillors, out of fifteen, the rest being either Fianna Fail or Fine Gael. Proportional representation results in a much fairer disposition of seats among the parties. The workers of Ireland are 75% organised and the Trade Union movement is relatively stronger than in Britain. Wages are better. There is no official connection between Labour and the Trade Unions except that the same persons run both. The Labour Party does not depend on affiliated membership and its members pay 6d a week. There is no political levy. We have thus a social-democratic Labour party, without Trade Union or Co-op finance. There is in general apathy among the workers. Eire is separated by Britain from European struggles, and even the natural political alertness of the people tends to be lulled if they stand in the shadow of such a great power. Also nobody feels that Ireland is capable of playing a part in world affairs, and nobody in the country wants her to try, as the penalties would certainly outweigh the advantages.
O’Riordan proposed we should go and have a drink. We pointed out that it was 11 o’clock, an hour after closing time, and that though we were bona fide travellers, they were certainly not. But he took us to the side-door of a pub, knocked three times, and waited until the door was cautiously opened and we were let in. There, in the darkened bar, in the dim reflected light from a distant street-lamp, relieved only by an occasional reddening of a pipe or a cigarette, we discovered about twenty customers, drinking in dead silence, steadily and continuously, or stopping to talk in whispers and undertones.
It was a strange sight, and it was there, and under the influence of the stout, that O’Riordan explained to me that he and O’Regan were still members of the IRA and that as such they were liable to arrest. They would have to keep silence and refuse to plead, under the rules of the IRA. But of course they would adopt the communist method of defending themselves and making a platform. But O’Riordan felt most bitterly, he said, the tragedy of his young comrades of the IRA, many of whom would have fought with him in Spain, under their bad leadership, with all sincerity, going over to England to cause unnecessary friction with a potentially friendly people, and losing ten, fifteen, or twenty of their best years, in the service of a mistaken cause [as happened with Jim O’Regan shortly afterwards – Ed.].
It was true of course that Partition must be remedied before the Irish movement could ever turn towards the questions of social revolution. Republican traditions would remain in their primitive anarchistic condition until Ulster was returned to Eire. But when De Valera was already making such good progress, these attempts would only harden things. He remarked that the Catholic Church had come out against the bombings, but that just as he, as a Catholic from birth, who felt it was hard even now not to be a Catholic, had gone to Spain despite O’Duffy’s reactionary alliance with the church, so these young men braved excommunication as well as jail. They were splendid types.
There was in Ireland a deal of anticlericalism which would be expressed round the peat fires by the farm labourers, but which everybody would keep silent on in the street. It would not do for example, even in “the rebel Cork”, for them to profess anything but complete agreement with Catholicism. Their fellow-workers would otherwise have no faith in them.
He finally explained how the apathy of the people was contributed to by De Valera. First Cosgrave had disappointed them. He came into power at the end of the troubles because he was against pursuing the national struggle any further than would give bare political autonomy. They wanted peace. He gave it them. Then they realised that it was peace at the terms of the Anglo-Irish big bourgeoisie. They voted in then the petty-bourgeois De Valera who carried the revolution a little further. But he was failing them; the labour movement was sunk in economism, communism unknown, and but for the short time when De Valera appealed to the masses over the Trade War with Britain, there had been a gradually increasing disillusionment with all politicians. This also is the basis for IRA activities – the helplessness and defeatism of republicanism under De Valera’s government. Finally, after promising to send O’Riordan Daily Workers and listening to the Scotchman, we went to bed.
July 25 Tuesday: Cork, Fermoy, Mitchelstown, Clonmel, Callan, (Kilkenny): In the morning we set off. Our devil’s luck as regards the weather reasserted itself. It rained to right, to left of us, before and behind us, but with the exception of a shower at Mitchelstown, not on us. The journey was through interesting country, mainly in the valleys between mountain ranges. The country seemed fairly prosperous, with a deal of dairying going on. The bogs were absent. There were numerous co-operative creameries. The only event of any importance took place near Callan where John was suddenly stung by a bee. His face swelled up to an astonishing degree before he could reach a chemist, in a town with the largest concentration of cowshit in the street which I have ever seen, and have the thing dressed.
Incidentally whenever a car passed we were almost smothered in said cow-shit, as the farmers either have so many, or such shitty cows, or drive them so repeatedly along the highways, that the roads are deep in it. I suggested a spot of whiskey as he was feeling queer, and we dropped into a bar. There an old countryman explained how a friend of his was bitten by a “p’isoned fly” and to such good (or ill) effect that although he was as well as anybody in that bar at the time it hit him, he was dead twelve hours later, for all the three doctors he summoned could do for him. John Lancaster did not want to talk about “p’isoned flies”, so we went on to Kilkenny. A Dublin man working on a new hospital in course of erection there (you knew he was from Dublin as he said “youse” for “you”) handed us over to two other workers who took us to Cody’s Central Hotel, where there was good accommodation, fresh milk, and even a piano. There are coal mines in County Kilkenny, but we saw nothing of them. The town of Kilkenny is not an imposing affair. It is apparently a market town for the surrounding dairy districts. Food seemed cheaper here than in the West, and some of the children wore shoes. The khaki drill knickers which English boys wear in summer had penetrated here – in the case of those who shopped in Dublin, I expect. These are of Lancashire or Japanese make. And in addition to cattle we did notice a certain amount of corn, oats and barley, but even some wheat.
July 26 Wednesday: Kilkenny, Carlow, Castledermot, Kilcullen, Naas, (Dublin): We set off early in the day – after encountering an Englishman, a cockney, dressed in brilliant emerald green plus-fours, cycling back to Rosslare on the way to Southampton. He was very put out at not having been able to find the CTC hotel shown in his handbook, and since he regarded the inhabitants as utterly barbarous and capable of anything, he had not ventured to ask anybody for a recommendation, but had put up at the most expensive hotel in the place.
The journey was not too pleasant today, although we were favoured by the only completely rainless day. We were in a hurry to reach Dublin as we had arranged for cash to be left for us. Carlow is not attractive, and the small towns lying between the Leinster chain and the bog of Allen are of no great interest. Prosperity seemed on the upgrade however as we drew nearer to Dublin. We had lunch at Naas where a huge sign above the “Cyclist’s Rest” bore the inspiriting legend “Bona Fides Catered For” in clear white letters a foot across.
Finally it was Dublin, which we approached by a most bumpy and tortuous cobblestone road, which at long last brought us where we descried Jury’s Hotel, and issued into College Green. It was a blow to us to find we could book no berths on the Liverpool boat on Saturday; but we philosophically decided to travel without, and went to a cheap hotel, Molloys in Charles Street, famous from the yard by yard fighting that took place there in 1916. In the dining room were pictures of the provisional government, with Pearse, Connolly and others – the same photograph to be seen in the party rooms at 32, Lower Ormond Quay! And of course there was the usual hocus-pocus, straw bed, but not, fortunately, sour milk!
We decided to go to the Abbey Theatre, to see Rutherford Mayne’s “Bridgehead”, a play of the land reform period now lately closed, when the big landlord estates were broken up and distributed among the poor peasants. The struggle was a protracted one. The law was passed, the Government sanction given, but the class struggle was not decided until the land was actually in peasant hands. The way the landlord class fanned the jealousy of the local inhabitants who wanted more than their fair share in order to keep out the enterprising trustee, and make the job of the Land Commission more difficult, was well brought out. And the acting deserves the word superb. Every character, bar one, was alive, and one of the audience informed us that he was a suddenly taken-on understudy, the youth who usually takes the part being on our left in the audience.
The Abbey Theatre is State-aided. As well as being founded and continued under the leadership of men of genius, it has a system of training by which the best actors in all the innumerable amateur groups throughout the country are taught under one roof. There are three companies; there are no stars; and the companies act turn and turn about. Leading characters one week may be “noises off” the next, and so all get equal chances of development. A deal of this was explained to us by a friend of the author, who had himself been a land commissioner a few years ago.
July 27 Thursday (Dublin): In the morning we decided to cycle to Dun Laoghaire, but met the same fate as in our attempt on Cobh, rain – with one addition, that John Lancaster had a puncture, and we had to stop at a garage. The works was owned by a Liverpool firm, and all the mechanics were interested to meet somebody from “the other side”, as they usually spent their holidays in Liverpool, visiting Southport, Chester, or the Wirral coast.
We returned to Dublin – having merely seen the outskirts of Dun Laoghaire – and saw Mrs Farrell. I happened to ask about “Jonty” Hanaghan, who kept me up all night in Prenton three years ago. She said he lived in great style in Dublin, was quite sympathetic to the party and had given lectures to them. He had helped them to get rooms after those disgusting anti-communist pogroms of 1936, of which he told us at the Mercers’, when the Dublin mob invaded Liberty Hall, in which their present condition of freedom saw the light, and wrecked it and destroyed the property of its continuators. And it was also true, what we scarcely believed, that he is occupied with psychiatry, is the leading specialist in Dublin, and makes huge sums of money out of it. So times have changed since he parked himself on Olaf Stapleton for a buck-shee six months.
We saw something of Dublin today. The slums are famous enough, huge Georgian mansions in a state of almost indescribable delapidation, some without doors, without windows (brown paper filling the space of panes) and filthy in the extreme. And in the neighbourhood of College Green we went into the National Museum, saw the historical collections, the ancient instruments, but above all the 1916 collection. There are to be found the original letters between people whose names have become legendary in their romanticism, Connolly, Ceannt, Casement, Markievicz, Pearse – and so on, the only survivor appearing to be De Valera.
Nobody who visited it could come away with anything but the profoundest respect and admiration for the IRA, whose tradition of struggle against an enemy ten times stronger and better armed than itself is inferior only to that of the Bolshevik party of Russia. The stern discipline, untiring energy and enthusiasm, crowned by acts of desperate heroism, left us at the same time astonished and elated, and it is small wonder that the meaning of 1916 lives forever in the hearts and emulations of Irishmen today. Mrs Farrell declared that there is no ground for saying, as the Daily Worker has done, that the present bombings are financed from Germany. She knows the young men who are doing it, and they are not Fascists. They are among the finest young people of Ireland. Unfortunately the IRA has suffered so much in the course of the last two years from its congenital inability to think in a scientific political way, from splits and fractions, that the present leadership are reduced to courageous, but sterile, terrorism.
In the evening we went to a film, and after that decided to travel tomorrow night, as we had seen the bulk of our intentions while over here, and could call the visit a success.
July 28 Friday (Dublin): I bought a paper on Irish historical geography by Fitzgerald with a preface by Roxby, in the morning, also a book on Irish economic history, and four volumes of Lenin’s Selected Works which the party bookshop is selling for 1/6d apiece. The young man from Liverpool who runs the shop told us how this came about. The bulk of the literature now came from Moscow, or the USA, but at one time it was supplied from London. The wretched bookshop sent 200 copies of each volume of Stalin’s Leninism, but refused to issue credit notes to cover its return when it was found impossible to sell it. The party membership in Dublin is about 100, in Belfast about 50. The policy at present adopted is to concentrate on Dublin and build up a strong base here before extending widely into the country. But only 12/6d per week of literature was sold, so our purchases of about 10/- worth meant quite a fillip to them.
While we were talking another comrade came in. He had been talking with the leaders of the IRA, and had secured the information that a split occurred upon the question of the bombings. He mentioned those who had been for it and those who had opposed it. “But why didn’t the majority prevent it?” we asked on hearing that the majority were against it. “And why are they doing it with the rest?” asked our friend. The newcomer said nothing but put his hand in his pocket, resting on his hip, and went through the motions of firing an automatic. The psychology of the IRA man is essentially terrorist; his training is such as to render it inevitable. He can join at the age of twelve; and at fifteen he is taught to handle a gun. His thoughts do not run towards argument – his instinct is to reach for his gun. Now it is also true that Nazi agents are active in Dublin, but the majority of the IRA are absolutely ignorant of this.
We had another interview with Sean Murray. I discussed with him the problem of capitalisation, whether the capital for utilising the vast untapped peat and limestone and other resources of the country could be raised in Ireland, or whether too hasty a programme of industrialisation would lead back into the bosom of cross-channel finance. Murray agreed that it would.
Later in the day Brian O’Neill suggested a repetition of De Valera’s once used already expedient of selling foreign or British Empire securities – for Ireland was also a rentier country. Murray gave a different account of foreign policy from that of O’Neill. It was stated to us that as the party had grown out of the republican movement not the working class movement, even leading comrades were more nationalist than communist – such was the criticism of the Liverpool man who had come from the Labour movement. But Sean Murray explained that the slogan for an Eire-Soviet pact would be no more than a propagandist slogan, and even if it were a success, which it couldn’t at present possibly be, the new strength brought to the democratic front by adding Eire, without an army or navy, would be of no great value. But it was correct to urge that Eire should come out as sympathetic to the democracies; that is to say as a country which is a democracy and is anti-Fascist. The Irish people are anti-Fascist.
The tactics of the Communist Party of Ireland are to support the present republican government, composed as it is of the urban and rural petty-bourgeoisie under the leadership of De Valera, aiming always to strengthen those parts of its policy which are weak, to turn it towards the left. The party aims at securing from De Valera a more consistent fight against the big Anglo-Irish bourgeoisie, which he tends sometimes to compromise with unduly. To say as the Daily Worker did some months back that he is becoming the agent of British Imperialism in Ireland is sheer nonsense. His fight against partition proves that well enough. Again it is necessary to foil the attempts of Fine Gael to win the farmers. This can be done best if the policy of Labour, which is out to discredit De Valera, can be changed. De Valera has shown himself capable of appealing to the masses. If a strong Labour movement freed from its sectarian economism could champion the economic and republican rights of the people, De Valera would undoubtedly swing leftwards and a united front of the small men, petty-bourgeois and workers, rural and urban, would destroy for ever the hold of Cosgrave. With Cosgrave out of the way, and with partition removed, Eire would embark upon a period of social reform leading to social revolution. The party pursues its policy by agitation and propaganda, and partly by working within the Labour and Trade Union movement aiming at securing resolutions, and gaining support ready for the next congress. The best help that the English movement could give to the Irish would be in dissemination of an understanding of the National question in the Labour movement itself, particularly in respect to partition.
Later we met Brian O’Neill again. He is decidedly more nationalist than Sean Murray. The first demonstration with posters in the street held by a group of pacifists took place last night. We naturally identified it with the existence of the Nazi centre, and so did others. But O’Neill ridiculed the idea that it has any significance, and declared that the persons concerned were a group of very sincere Dublin Quakers, Protestants without any mass backing, whose paper, the Peace News might be bought by the people because they were politically alert and curious to know the latest news, but who would be automatically damned by the fact that they were selling an English paper.
The last may well be true, but it is quite possible that there may be work for pacifism to do in Ireland also, in the way of disrupting and dividing a republican movement which had gone politically to insane extremes. For example, pacifism might act as a vehicle of fascist influence, advocating the giving of colonies to Germany, and mingling this advice to Britain with talk of the emancipation of semi-colonial or colonial countries – helping Hitler to gain influence in Ireland by “refusal to be dragged in the wake of British Imperialism”. This may not cut much ice yet, but in the event of Britain doing a deal over Partition, and getting Irish support in return, it might be of some importance – but of course not while it sells an English paper.
The interpretation given by O’Neill to the bombings differed from that of most others. The IRA, he said, is in the hands of people without a grain of political sense. These people are republicans who have been mildly outlawed by De Valera, through trying to drive him left by terrorist methods (O’Neill denied that De Valera had made a mistake in making the IRA illegal). Their one fear is that De Valera’s slow negotiations with Chamberlain might bear fruit in a war situation, that a sudden wave of pro-British feeling might carry away the country. And thus Ireland would settle down as a free and contented Dominion. The idea of an end to republicanism is most repugnant to those who cannot understand the meaning of social revolution, people with a petty-bourgeois or peasant outlook. And hence partition must be maintained if only to keep the republican movement alive. And it must be maintained and in such circumstances as will bring British Government action down upon Irishmen, thus intensifying antagonism between the two countries. And so young men are sent to jail by those cynical fanatics and a frightfully reactionary Act is artfully imposed on the British people by a Government whose title to be called democratic rests upon veiled hints of Nazi gold behind the IRA – at a time when the most blatant Nazi spies and agents go unpunished.
We were amused by an account of the Rev. Longbottom’s one excursion into Irish politics. Lord Craigavon persuaded his Belfast big-boys to purchase at a fabulous price a painting of William III by an old Dutch master. This was duly examined by experts, pronounced genuine, and after £20,000 was paid for it, it was hung in the “Parliament” house, and unveiled with the utmost solemnity. Not many visitors came to the unveiling, and they were for the most part people unfamiliar with either politics or history, but united but in one thing, to maintain the integrity of Protestant Ulster, and to resist Papism to the last drop of blood. Somebody however noticed a small figure in the right hand corner who seemed to be placing a crown on William’s head. Experts were hastily summoned, and after consulting the text-books, they pronounced that this figure was none other than the Pope, who had given his infallible blessing to both sides at the time of the battle of the Boyne. The Ulster myth was blown sky-high. But after paying £20,000, Lord Craigavon could scarcely take the thing down, and so it was moved after the lapse of a decent time to a more inauspicious position and public interest was permitted to die down. But on hearing of this permanent insult to the cause of Protestantism, the Rev. Longbottom could contain himself no longer than sufficed to pack his bags and take the first boat from Liverpool to Belfast, providing himself with tar and feathers, which he attached to the slanderous picture. He was apprehended and got a month. All causes have their martyrs.
Brian O’Neill incidentally is cousin of Lord O’Neill, of this very Craigavon administration, and is therefore very bitter against them. He himself bears a long scar on his nose, secured during the Troubles, when he spent several weeks hunted from farm-house to farm-house among the hills of Donegal. Perhaps his republicanism is understandable. However we left him at 7 o’ clock, and after tea went down to the quay and caught the evening boat to Liverpool.
The day had been very windy. Half a gale was blowing when we were in Phoenix Park in the morning, and as we slowly steamed down the Liffey there were menacing catspaws every few moments, and in the west the most furious black and purple sky that could be imagined. The Wicklow mountains were cloaked in grey clouds. We met a soldier from Caterick, a young Irishman on the way to London, and of all people the old farm-worker we had talked to just above Westport when Lancaster had his breakdown. He had been offered a job as a chauffeur and had come over to take it up. The soldier had come across a few days ago, and was one of twelve on the boat who were not sick. He told us that you should not eat for some hours before starting, and that it was better to stay on top in the fresh air. Also you should drink beer if it suited you.
I had already formed my own plan of campaign. I was going to pass the night in the restaurant. So in we went and I took up a position with my back to the doors, and as near the centre as possible. I lay back quietly after drinking a cup of tea without milk and eating a few biscuits. Sea-sickness is due to the disorganisation of the reflexes as a result of the confusion of the stimuli from the balance centres of the inner ear. The boat began to rock. John Lancaster sat up next to me. I noticed that when I sat up, my head was a little bewildered by the action. But despite my advice Lancaster insisted on sitting up, as he was still persuaded that the first symptoms would appear in the stomach. The soldier had meanwhile come down and was drinking beer, and plenty of it. After a while John announced he was feeling queer. “Lie back,” said I.
“I’m going on deck,” said he,
“That’s a silly thing to do. Lie still. You’ll soon be alright.”
“No. It’s too hot here. That soldier’s gone on deck. It’s better in the fresh air. But anyway I’m bound to be sick anyway.”
So despite my arguments up he went, and that was all I saw of him until about three o’clock he came back after being sick as a dog, and looking very queer indeed. The soldier saw him go. “Yes they’ll all be like hose-pipes before the night is out.” And a few minutes later the soldier went out and did likewise. Then a baby was sick, followed by most of the other occupants of the restaurant – those who were sitting up and trying to keep the vertical. I was alarmed, but determined to survive. I therefore covered my eyes and concentrated all my attention on trying to fight down the instinct to go against the motion of the boat. I found I could do this after a while; I then tried to make myself do it quite automatically. I succeeded. I uncovered my eyes, saw a few people who had had the sense to lie still, and the rest gasping, most of them in intervals between going on deck. Then I sat up – accustomed myself to going with the boat – and with a feeling of jubilant triumph I realised that I could now do what I liked on the boat, I was immune.
Lancaster and the soldier came down and found me drinking tea and eating chocolate, gossiping or reading, and were amazed at the success of my policy. And then after the whole of the third class passengers except the few sensible ones who had kept still and not got excited, had been thoroughly ill, the sea calmed down and we sailed into Liverpool bay on a beautiful grey morning, passing the place where the Thetis sank and watching the Welsh hills uncover themselves from mist.
A strange looking craft went past. The Irish youth was a little alarmed. “I hope the war isn’t after starting,” he said. I travelled to London with him, leaving John Lancaster in Liverpool, and from Euston I cycled out to Raynes Park, carefully owing to the books I was carrying, and had scarcely got in the house and made myself a cup of tea when Geoffrey Bloor came in.
He told me of what had happened in my absence. Devine had proposed that the Jones case should be reconsidered in the light of his latest statements. WØ had following my letter to Devine proposed retention in membership. Then Bloor had proposed rescinding that decision and another committee meeting had referred the matter back to the District Party Committee – an amazing piece of procedure. Also Kr [the full name for this and the other initials below are unknown – Ed.] had developed laziness in not attending meetings and misleading the committee as to when he was going away, and finally handing no material over. As a result of this Bloor had been appointed propaganda secretary pro-tem. WØ had done very well as secretary and there had been no hitches of any importance.
Other people I saw during the afternoon and evening were Wt and Psz. I heard from Wt the story of his visit to South Wales. He met Gwen Ray Evans, but all the other people I had suggested his visiting seemed to be no longer there. The picture he drew of the position of the party there despite the reappearance of such people as Will Paynter and suchlike, was a dismal one. Riddled with rotten economism and syndicalism, sabotaged in a hundred different ways which might seem pure accident but for their repeated occurrence, rent by internal personal quarrels, our South Wales district is far from fulfilling its natural function as the leading district of Britain’s working class. Wt felt over and over again moreover that things were being concealed from him. However after a few days in Ponth, the weather tired him out and he crossed to Weston-super-Mere.
July 30 Sunday (London): Today I did little. Geoffrey Bloor stayed with me last night and told me of the Lancaster-Joan Rainford affair. The reason why it was possible for Lancaster to hitch-hike from Bristol and tell his rival to be off was that that person had first come to know Joan Rainford through her brother, with whom he was in love. The engagement with Joan Rainford had the object in part of ensuring his free access to her brother, still at school, and also the obtaining of a job in India for which he had to be married or in a fair way to being married. So Lancaster’s arrival from Bristol solved several problems at once. However before they could get him packed off to India Rainford had to exhibit herself to his prospective employers, showing her engagement ring, and thus guaranteeing his future, jilt him on the spot.
I spent most of the day reading – the historical Geography of Ireland, and the economic history of Ireland. Although it was insensibly acquired, I find I have collected quite a serviceable amount of information about that country during the past fortnight, and trust to be able to put it to good use.
July 31 Monday (London): I went to Epsom in the morning. Events there have not sufficed to unblock the stalemate. Myddleton is afraid to denounce Walker to the board; Walker is afraid of Myddleton. I approached Walker for instructions. He informed me that he wanted me to do certain unspecified things, but was afraid of provoking Myddleton. As for the patents, Myddleton had written a long screed claiming credit for a part of the work, and Walker suggested my taking no further steps to transfer them to my name as firstly it would endanger them, and secondly it would make it appear that Myddleton had claimed somebody else’s invention as his own. “Which is the fact,” I interpolated. So the matter rested there. But of all things to happen, Walker is at home and in bed with a severe illness. Myddleton has therefore lost his chief supporter. A new entente has been reached between myself and Baker. Walker has instructed Myddleton to leave me out of any programme he may prepare; and he has furthermore made sarcastic references in talks with Baker, saying “Yes. Whalley is going to make Greaves chief chemist.”
GREAVES JOURNAL, VOLUME 5, INDEX 1939
– Communism/socialism: 7.15,
– and Fascism/Nazism: 7.15, 7.24, 7.28
– Family relations: 7.14
– Holidays/cycling trips and tours: Vol.5 passim
– Industrial experience: 7.31
– Ireland and Irish affairs: Vol.5 passim, 7.15, 7.24, 7.27-28, 7.30
– National question: 7.15, 7.24, 7.28
– Peace movement/war danger: 7.15, 7.24,
– Political development: 7.30
– Profession, professional work: 7.31
– Religion: 7.16, 7.18-19, 7.21, 7.24,
– Sex, love, women: 7.17, 7.30
– Wales and Welsh affairs: 7.29
Organisation Names Index
Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB): 7.29
Communist Party (Ireland): 7.15, 7.28
Irish Republican Army (IRA): 7.18, 7.21, 7.24, 7.27-28
Labour Party (Irish): 7.24
Personal Names Index
Baker, AJ: 7.31
Bloor, Geoffrey: 7.17, 7.28
Cosgrave, WT: 7.15-16
De Valera, Eamon: 7.15, 7.24, 7.28
Devine, Pat: 7.14-15, 7.28
Hanaghan, Jonty: 7.27
Lancaster, John: 7.14-15,
Longbottom, Rev.: 7.28
Mercer, Iver: 7.17
Mercer, Mrs: 7.27,
Morton, Alan Geoffrey: 7.15,
Murray, Sean: 7.15, 7.28
Myddleton, Dr William: 7.31
O’Neill, Brian: 7.15, 7.28
O’Regan, Jim: 7.24
O’Riordan, Michael: 7.24,
Paynter, Will: 7.29
Rainford, Joan: 7.17, 7.30
Thompson, Professor McLean: 7.19
Walker, J.: 7.31