Martin Galvin, guest-hosting on Radio Free Eireann and broadcasting out of New York City, interviews John Crawley of the James Connolly Society, Monaghan on the 1916 Societies and their ongoing One Ireland-One Vote campaign.
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WBAI 99.5FM Pacifica Radio
New York City
16th August 2014
MG: This is a guest that I’ve been trying to get for a long time. Every time I’ve done the show, and several times when I was not doing the show, I asked John Crawley to be on and he always said no. And this time I called him and I was ready for him to say no and just about to hang up the phone and I think I broke him down. He just got tired of being asked and said he would be here. John, how are you today?
JC: How ya doing Martin? You wore me down (laughs).
MG: You heard that song about the Banna Strand, that of course is about the weapons that Roger Casement was trying to bring into Ireland in 1916 to help make that Rising a success. John, I want to talk about your background – you got involved in something some years later around that same area – but first I just want to briefly tell the audience about your background. You were born where?
JC: Well briefly, I was born in East Patchogue, Long Island, New York to Irish parents. My father was in the US Air Force at the time. When I was about a year old we moved to Chicago. I grew up in Chicago until I was about fourteen.
I’d spent a number of summers in Ireland and when I was fourteen I moved back to Ireland. I went to school in Roscommon and in Dublin. When I was eighteen in 1975 I moved back to Chicago. I immediately joined the US Marines. I went to boot camp in San Diego and after boot camp and infantry and advanced infantry training I was sent to Okinawa, Japan. I spent a year there in Recon. Marine Reconnaisance.
I was then sent back to the States. I became an instructor at the Amphibious Reconnaissance School at Little Creek, Virginia for two and a half years until my discharge as a Sergeant in May 1979.
I then came back to Ireland the day I was released from the Marines. I joined the Irish republican movement very soon after that. And there’s a gap there of over two years when I was a full time republican activist.
And then in September 1984, thirty years ago, I was arrested on the Marita Ann off the coast of Kerry with seven tonnes of arms and ammunitions for the IRA.
MG: Just briefly, I saw a movie ‘Heartbreak Ridge’ last night with Clint Eastwood and it talking about ‘Recon’ – that’s the same unit you were in, is that correct?
JC: I’m afraid that’s not a very realistic portrayal – as any former Marine will know!
MG: The Marita Ann – that was one of the most famous incidents – it was a ship, presumably I am told – it started in Boston and it was almost to the day – 1916 – Roger Casement had been arrested trying to bring weapons in to help the Rising. And you were on a ship many years later, almost on the anniversary of that same day, coming into that same area of Kerry with weapons. What were you intending to do with those weapons?
JC: They were for use. They were to go north to fight the British occupation. It was quite a coincidence, the Irish Navy when they boarded, what we would call the Free State Navy, some of them were quite… handled us quite roughly. One fellow in particular, I thought he was going to break my neck, hit me in the back of my neck with the butt of his rifle.
And the next day these same sailors were the colour party at an unveiling of a statue of Roger Casement – another gun runner – in the exact same spot several years earlier. So it was quite an interesting coincidence.
MG: How much time did you do in Portlaoise for that incident?
JC: I got ten years for that incident and I got three years for attempted escape in 1985. With remission and everything else I did a full ten years. So I went in, September ’84. I came out in September ’94. I was only out about ten months when I was captured in London on Active Service and I was given another thirty-five years. And in the meantime there had been talks going on and the second ceasefire came in – we were repatriated to Portlaoise Prison from England and we were released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement around the end of 1999 I believe.
MG: Okay. What did you do after your release?
JC: Well again, as usual I immediately re-entered the republican movement. For the first time ever I joined Sinn Fein and I got a job in Clones in Monaghan, in a European funded centre to help ex-prisoners transition to the new environment – into the new scenario that was holding. I worked politically in any way I could to continue helping republicanism.
MG: So, you had been in prison for years – you got out – you now join Sinn Fein – the conflict is over – there’s a ceasefire – you get a job working with prisoners. What happened that you lost that job and that employment?
JC: I eventually left because I felt I wasn’t happy with the direction the process was taking. What had started out as an Irish peace process I believe – and many believe – was increasingly becoming a Pax Britannica, a British peace process.
If you looked at early Sinn Fein documents – like major documents like ‘A Scenario for Peace‘, 1987, or ‘Towards a Lasting Peace‘, 1994, it outlined a very Irish, very republican view of the way forward. And we all agreed with the political way forward. And we all agreed that if there was a political, democratic way to achieve Irish freedom and Irish Unity and to build a national democracy then that was the sensible and rational way to go.
However, it became clear as time went on that Britain was in the driver’s seat.
And it got to the stage where Sinn Fein actually had decided to recognise Her Majesty’s Constabulary in the North as lawful authority and recognised the Unionist Veto and recognised Britain’s right to basically stay in Ireland until the conditions they set were met to leave. Many of us felt it was a position we could no longer adhere to.
MG: Alright. Was there a particular event that caused you to leave?
JC: People left at different times and for different reasons. For me the policing debate would have been the final straw.
MG: The 2007 endorsement of the RUC?
JC: Yes, because the RUC are a British police force in Ireland. You know we were being told nonsense like – sectarian nonsense – that if the police was like half Catholic what a difference that would make. You know, totally ignoring the fact that the RIC in the Tan War were eighty percent Catholic and they were the backbone of British rule in Ireland just like the RUC/PSNI continue to be. So it was something a lot of republicans obviously couldn’t…
MG: Alright. What group are you with now?
JC: After some time and some thought I joined the 1916 Societies. The 1916 Societies are an independent Irish separatist movement based upon the ideals and the principles set out in the Proclamation of the Irish Republic.
Now the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, as I’m sure a lot of your listeners will know, is Ireland’s Declaration of Independence. It’s a call for the establishment of a government of national unity based upon the republican principles of popular sovereignty and democracy. And it remains today a primary frame of reference for many Irish republicans.
And so our main campaigning point at the minute is that we’re seeking a national referendum on Irish Unity. See, under the Good Friday Agreement that Sinn Fein signed up to, well both governments and most have already signed up to this in truth, there is what’s known as a six-county Border Poll. Now under the six-county Border Poll the British Secretary of State, who at the moment is an English politician without a single vote in Ireland, can determine: if and when the poll may be called, the wording of the poll and who qualifies to vote. And – even if passed – the British Parliament retains the final say on whether or not the result will be endorsed by the UK government.
So we’re looking for as republicans – and Irish republicans must take a national view – a thirty-two county national view. We believe that if a referendum was held on an all-Ireland basis asking the Irish people whether they believe Irish constitutional authority should reside with the Irish people or reside all or in part with the English Crown. There would be an overwhelming majority in respect for the former proposition. All we’re asking for is democracy – Irish democracy – and not democracy with a British spin on it.
MG: So you live in Clones and that’s in Co. Monaghan, it’s one of the nine counties of Ulster but one of three counties of Ulster that was not kept by the British – was made part of the Irish state. Would you be allowed to have a say in terms of whether the six-counties would be independent, if they had that Unionist Veto-type of referendum that you talked about?
JC: No. The Border Poll is strictly based on the sectarian headcount of the six-counties.
MG: So twenty-six counties of Ireland get no say whatsoever – unless the six-counties votes to allow them to have a say. Would that be fair enough?
JC: Well I don’t think that’s up to the six-counties – that’d probably be the decision of the British and Dublin governments. And they’ve already made the decision that it’ll be strictly a six-county decision which is from a republican point of view not on.
MG: Okay. Now, you have that initiative ‘One Ireland One Vote’. That seems to be something that all republicans should be behind to have one vote for all Irish men and women to vote on whether the country can be re-united. What’s the position of Sinn Fein in terms of that initiative that you have with the 1916 Societies?
JC: Sinn Fein’s position is that they support the Border Poll. I don’t think they take much of a position on ours – I think they tend to ignore us. But their position is clearly stated to be the Border Poll. So what they’re saying is, basically, they’re saying that Britain can determine the parameters of Irish democracy and determine the boundaries within which Irish opposition to British rule must operate.
MG: There’s a great many people in the United States, some of the best republican supporters are originally from Tyrone or have family from Tyrone. How strong is the 1916 Societies in Tyrone?
JC: Well, you know, going back to Hugh O’Neill Tyrone was the cockpit of resistance in Ireland. I mean, when the rest of Ireland was on its knees during Elizabethan times the resistance was coming out of Tyrone and out of Mid-Ulster there. And that’s why England planted it. That’s why they ethnically cleansed it. And Tyrone’s always been strong. You know, Tyrone, East Tyrone – even in 1916 – there’s always been a strong republican element in Tyrone. In Ireland, some people are what we call Nationalists; they want an autonomous Irish government but as long as it’s Irishmen in the government sometimes they don’t care where the ultimate sovereignty lies. But for republicans sovereignty can only lie within the Irish people. And Tyrone is a very republican county.
MG: And how strong is the 1916 Societies there?
JC: Oh, I’m sorry. Very strong. It’s the strongest county in Ireland so far. It’s where the Societies were founded. And it’s where the Societies are run from – mostly at the moment where the national leadership is. However, it’s spreading across the country now – in Dublin, Clare, Kerry, Monaghan of course, Donegal – and we’re getting more people all the time and more interest all the time. It’s hard to get back on our feet after the battering we’ve taken over the years and the demoralisation and everything that’s come from this process. But we’re coming back and republicans are re-energising and coming together again and debating the way forward and the One Ireland One Vote campaign is one strategy.
MG: John, just before we leave – we’re almost out of time – a very good friend of yours, a very good friend of mine, somebody who lived in the United States, who lived in the Bronx for many years, became an American citizen before he went back home – was killed in the Battery Bar – assassinated by Loyalists in conjunction – and no doubt in collusion – directed by members of the British forces: that’s Liam Ryan. His twenty-fifth anniversary is going to be in November – November 29th. I know the 1916 Societies have had a number of commemorations for Irish patriots. Are they going to do anything for Liam Ryan and is that something that Americans could attend and support and do honour to his memory?
JC: Oh absolutely! 1916 Societies members in Ardboe and Liam’s area are working on that now. And generally when we have a commemoration there’ll be photos and memorabilia and remembrances of the Volunteer. It’s being worked on now and when I have more definite information I’ll make sure you get it Martin, and you can tell your listeners. I was very friendly with Liam and he was a great fella.
MG: He was a great republican and he did give me some bad information about you: I met you once and he said I’d probably wouldn’t see you for a long time and then about month or two later he called me and told me to turn on the TV set and there you were – coming off the Marita Ann!
JC: Well, he was quite mischievous! One of the first letters I got in Portlaoise Prison was from him which he wrote on an empty McDonald’s hamburger wrapper (both laugh)! So he was a good fella.
MG: So we’ll be interested in the 1916 Societies on what Americans could do – I know particularly people in Tyrone, from Tyrone and other areas that are very republican minded or interested in the growth of those Societies. Thank you for coming on talking about the growth of that group and we want to hear more about you in the days and weeks to come.
JC: Absolutely Martin. Thanks for calling.
MG: Okay, John. Thanks for breaking down and finally saying yes!