As part of the Irish Left Archive project, we are gathering personal accounts and recollections from activists on the Left of their involvement in political activity, parties, organisation and campaigns.

We hope that in addition to the document archive, these accounts will provide a social context to political participation. If you are or have been involved in Left political activity of any kind or at any level, we'd be grateful if you would also add your experience to the collection. You can submit your account here

Accounts can be filtered using the topic headings or by keyword using the form below.

Camilla Fitzsimons #6231

Hi, my name is Camilla. I grew up in a middle-class part of Dublin and first became politically aware in my late teens/early twenties when I worked as a nurse. One particular catalyst was when I specialised in HIV/AIDS care and saw class prejudices regularly displayed by many middle-class healthcare professionals. My strong feminist identity was influenced by my mother’s life. She married at 23, had to give up work because of the marriage bar and then raised nine children whilst financially dependent on her husband in a highly patriarchal family.

I started going to protests and marches in my mid-twenties then joined the SWP around 1997. This was a hugely politicising time in my life. I remember long conversations with other new members, picket-lines (nurses strike, housing actions), paper sales, travelling to Belfast for a meeting to mark 5 years since the death of Stephen Lawrence, Marxisms’ in Dublin and London, branch meetings (I was a member in Rathmines then moved to the northside so a member of a tiny phibsboro/cabra branch). One thing that I got from the party and that is underreported including in your podcast is the role and impact of some of the women involved. I was hugely influenced by Mary and Brid Smith, Mary, Roisin and Crea Ryder, Melissa Halpin, Jo Tully, Marnie Holborow and others who were around Dublin at the time. I learned about the case for abortion and unpacked the many problems with liberal feminism. I still have a huge amount of respect for these women and stay in touch with many of them. I left the SWP in 2000, I slipped away coinciding with the birth of my first child.

But I was finding it difficult to be in the party for three reasons:

There was also a disconnect between the culture of the party and what I was experiencing in my paid work. By then I had left nursing and retrained in adult education and was working for a community development project. I set up an education group for women who were ex-drug users thanks to money from a Local Drugs Task Force. This was a deliberately politicising space influenced by the ideas of Paulo Freire meaning groups always sat in circles, everyone could speak and we worked hard to lateralise power-dynamics. This wasn’t my experience in the SWP (or other political spaces since then) where people sit in rows, the speaker is positioned as the ‘expert’ and only after they speak are there questions/comments. There is never small group work and rarely authentic expressions of uncertainty. Even to this day discussions are the bits that get cut short, open forums are dominated by mostly men who stand and give long monologues and there is a sense for ordinary members that policy is something decided elsewhere not by the collective.

The next period of my own activism was as an original member of the organising committee of the The Spectacle of Defiance and Hope’ (2010-2014). We were a broad-based creative resistance movement that used theatre and art to fight savage budgetary cuts to the community and voluntary sector. Here are YouTube links to two of our marches:

As a volunteer with the spectacle I was centrally involved in designing and delivering politicising workshops about the Anglo-Irish bail out and subsequent austerity cuts. This was a collaboration with DDCI and together we ran workshops with trade unionists, community leaders and the general public. I subsequently volunteered on the board of DDCI for 3 years. The spectacle was a democratic space and huge amount of work was put into it. We paired with other groups along the way including working closely with Occupy Dame Street at one stage and then being active in the water charges movement. One of my favourite memories is of singing one of the songs we wrote on stage at the end of the water charges march on Merrion Square. However, I have found in recent years that the story of this movement is often told as the story of some of the charismatic male leaders to the detriment of huge amounts of work put in by ordinary people in communities across Dublin and the women who were also centrally involved in organising the events.

In 2013, I began marching for abortion rights and designed consciousness-raising workshops for the Abortion Rights Campaign (ARC). In 2017, I got involved with my local pro-choice group Dublin-West Pro-choice and canvassed to repeal the eighth amendment. I also started to actively support ROSA around that time.

Probably the biggest think I am known for is my book on repeal (). This is based on a study I began in 2018 when I made direct contact with over 300 canvassers before the referendum to repeal the eighth. Some raw data from this work is now archived with Digital Repository Ireland. I re-joined ARC in 2020 but left in 2022 because of political differences.

I am not part of a political organisation now although I do at times work with both PbP and ROSA/Socialist party. I have written for the IMR (as recently as last month’s publication) and have spoken at meetings and demonstrations. I also canvass for Ruth Coppinger of the Socialist party as she is in my constituency. I spent a good few evenings before Christmas delivering leaflets (on my own) to hundreds of doors in my neighbourhood supporting her work.

I am a full-time academic now and a branch member of my trade union. I recently convened ‘academics for reproductive justice’. I still sometimes think about joining a political party but the way these groups are organised (top-down, anti-dialogic) is too much of a barrier for me so instead I contribute through the research I do which is my way of documenting left-wing activism in real time. My current project is on radical feminist activism. I am interviewing 20-25 other activists as part of this as well as gathering stories from 50 ordinary activists.

Monny #5787

I was a member of SWM in the early 80s.I was in TCD at the time,and met members of the group on a Students Union sit in,think it was about the Medical Card.

I started to attend SWM meetings in the White Horse Pub on the quays. At that time just after the Hunger Strikes, the North was a big political issue.The SWM had been involved in the H Block campaign and supported the demands of the prisoners.

We were always supportive of workers struggles in the workplace. And visited many picket lines. One I can recall was when cleaners in UCD were let go by the College as they had ended their contract,and brought in another company. Most of these women were part time workers on low wages - they were bussed in from Ballymun, Finglas and Coolock to UCD every morning. We joined them early mornings on the picket line and also had a fundraiser for them in a pub.

We were also involved with the Dunnes Stores strikers in Henry St and their campaign to boycott South African goods.

The Anti Amendment Campaign was another one we worked on.

Along with lots of other groups we opposed Ronald Reagans visit and were involved in organising the huge march in Dublin to protest against his visit. A group of us travelled up to Armagh on International Womens Day, mid 80s, to support women Republican prisoners in the jail there. We were involved in the Free Nicky Kelly Campaign,and also The Anti Supergrass Campaign.

I was in my early 20s when I first became involved, in my mid 60s now. When I look at Reeling in The Years, I can safely say I was at most of those left wing protest marches late 70s, 80s. It was an interesting and vibrant time in Irish Politics!

Niall #4912

So, I guess this can fall under first political experiences. I grew up in a semi-rural South Kilkenny village. I had your typical middle-class upbringing, my mom being a teacher and my dad a small business owner. My mom isnt really political at all, but my dad is (something I didn’t fully realise while growing up). My dad is deeply involved in Fine Gael, as is his entire family. So deep into Fine Gael are that side of my extended family that my Grandad was a blue shirt, and a few of his cousins had been jailed for their membership. So that was the atmosphere I grew up in, naturally hating Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein. I remember one time at a st Patrick’s parade when I was between maybe 9 and 13, one of the marching bands taking part were a republican band. As they passed by, I remember my dad whispering to me about how evil these people were, that they were thugs and gangsters.

I had grown up with a deep love for reading and history. In secondary school History and English was where I excelled. But I hated Irish. I became so stressed about how bad I was and how angry I was with it being a mandatory subject that I became politically minded. My parents, tired of hearing me constantly complain, basically said ‘if you are so angry, do something about it’. And so I did; I joined Young Fine Gael. I had increasingly become aware of the social and economic problems present in both Ireland and the world, having lived through the 2008 crash. I was also, as many of my generation are, very concerned about the Palestinian crisis. As you might have guessed I was in for a shock joining YFG with those attitudes. My father would consider himself on the ‘left wing of Fine Gael’, and so I had grown up assuming that my father’s views, being quite socially liberal and even a bit economically to the left, were going to be mirrored in the party I had just joined. I was very wrong. YFG was a sesspit of the most reactionary teenagers the middle classes had to offer. I didn’t last a year.

Despite my experiences in YFG, I was only becoming increasingly political, and left wing. I decided to join Labour youth. To my utter dismay, they didn’t have an active branch in my area. I inquired about joining the branch that seemed to be active in the Tipperary but it turned out that they weren’t doing much either. I was looking at attending the University of Limerick after the leaving cert, and thinking ahead I emailed national asking about whether there was any branch there. I didn’t receive a reply. About 6 months had passed at this point, and I was tired of sitting on my butt reading Noam Chomsky. It was becoming increasingly clear that Labour were not the party for me. I started college, and politics took a side seat for year. And then covid hit. Again, finding myself at home I decided to do some research on the other left-wing parties in country. Most of the parties associated with republicanism were a no-go for a couple of reasons. Firstly, most were very small and inactive around Kilkenny, where I was stuck. Secondly, I didn’t really consider myself a ‘republican’ at the time, and lifetime of anti-sinn fein, anti IRA propaganda from my father was hard to shake off. And thirdly, I would have been disowned by my very large family had I gotten involved with republicanism of any sort! So, I eventually decided on People before Profit. To my surprise there was an active and lively branch in Kilkenny/Carlow, and after my experience with the dead body that was LY I was delighted to see any sort of life and activity I could get involved with. Im still with PBP today. Despite the fact Im not a republican, I have no doubt that my grandad would be spinning in his grave knowing a descendant of his is a socialist

Worldbystorm #3988

[I]n the Workers’ Party I settled fairly easily into meetings of the party locally which were held on a regular (sometimes weekly) basis (I seem to recall a string and nails image in the house where most meetings were held made by Official prisoners in the North). After the initial period where membership was assessed the branch was welcoming, and endless quantities of biscuits and tea seemed to ease one into the life of the party.

There was a lot to do, though I remember as the years went on being surprised at how little it seemed to be about politics as distinct from political activity. Sales of the Irish People around the local area on a Sunday morning were a given. This involved going into pubs and trying to sell them to whoever was there, often the father’s of friends. There was the Annual Collection […] Then there were meetings of one sort or another. I had no interest in any party position so I tended to avoid most of them, other than the odd trip to political and/or community meetings.

Canvassing on collections meant door knocking. In the first year I was sent to the door of a local high-profile H-Block and union activist and a couple of other republican activists who were not amused at the arrival of a WP member at their door and made that clear in no uncertain terms – to the general hilarity of other members who watched on. That was a sort of test because after the first year I don’t recall it happening again.

One meeting I remember vividly and this would have been very early on was a Community Centre in Finglas (if I recall correctly) where a younger Richard Bruton was willing to fight his corner in front of the a very hostile crowd. Bodenstown was another event that rolled around regularly but I suspect I only went a handful of times over the years. There was certainly a sense of two different political cultures combining in the WP commemoration there with colour parties and so on.

I was in third level at this stage but there was a notable emphasis on working in the community and very little concern over my being active in the institution I attended – that would come later. However there was also a vague pressure to get involved in WP Youth which seemed to exist somewhere but have little or no connection to events at constituency level where I was, bar one weekend where a bunch of members from the North, or more accurately offspring of members from the North, arrived in Kilbarrack. There was a meeting one afternoon, which consisted of perhaps eight of us, most of them two or three years younger than myself, sitting in a sitting room in a house drinking tea, but given that this functioned as no more than a meet and greet, there was no way to determine what particular purpose this served.

Party headquarters I doubt I was in more than a few times over the first few years, though I wound up a number of times drinking in the party ‘club’ which was both interesting and educational because one learned more of general attitudes than you would at a meeting – so for instance I first heard there of the SPI and met people who had been involved in that organisation before joining OSF. Also there I remember hearing huge criticism of Tony Gregory – and perhaps a sense that he was one who got away.

Having read accounts of other formations and parties my sense is that there was much less serious pressure to get involved in a way that would monopolise one’s time fully. I’m not sure if that was true of all members or part of that was the fact I was in third level and beginning to be a bit more active there in student politics (and so playing one off the other to some extent) or whether that was typical of the party at the time. One could certainly centre one’s life around the party, and many people I knew did, but there was also a fair smattering of people who seemed to have variable involvement in activities. But all that said within a very short time membership of the party became a thread running through life – in terms of meetings and so on that occupied a fair bit of time. Without question the first number of years were much more clearly focused on the constituency actitivities. But that would change later.

FergusD #3986

Well at the branch meeting where my name was proposed as a member of the International Socialists (the U.K. group that became the SWP) in 1974-5 I was ‘expelled’, along with others. So I still don’t know if I had been actually a member. I later joined the BLP (somewhere to go) but I can’t remember that, it wasn’t very memorable. The discussion was probably about a jumble sale.

John #3985

When I joined (1980) a normal week was; First Monday of the Month Constituency Meeting. Every Wednesday Finglas Branch Meeting Every Friday Papers IP (Pubs), Every Sunday Papers door to door.

More people left the WP over burnout than ideological differences at that time. Later there was an attempt to organize IDYM meetings that later became WPY meetings (Tuesday night) The DNW constituency was lucky enough to have an office to meet in and we certainly tried to get value for the rent we paid.

Joe #3984

I knocked on the door of the leading WP activist in Kilbarrack on a weekday night some time in possibly late 1985. I was welcomed in to the kitchen table where a meeting of the Kilbarrack East branch was about to start. I was welcomed to the meeting briefly and then the leading activist proceeded to tell me, in front of the other four or five members present, that this branch did not support Pat McCartan being the Dáil candidate for the constituency. And further that the majority of the members and of the branches in the constituency did not support him being the candidate either. That piece of fundamental business being done, the meeting went on with reading of minutes of last meeting, discussion, talk about arrangements for paper sales.

In the following years I lived and learned how this issue, McCartan’s candidacy or not, took up at least as much time and energy as any other matter in the political life and activity of the Dublin Nth East constituency WP as anything else.

Alan Myler #3924

Joining a party was a process of almost 3 decades of frustration on my part, arguing endlessly with anyone who would engage about politics, especially after a few drinks. But it was the GFC in 2008 that pushed me into activity, the fear that my kids were going to live in a worse future than I had experienced myself, the realisation that nobody was going to do anything about it unless we all do something about it. So in my naivety I applied to join the Labour party in the run up to the 2009 local elections. I was allocated to the Navan branch and spent a very enjoyable few weeks out canvassing with one of the local candidates, talking to people on the doorsteps. Then after the election I went over to the Trim count centre, which was very exciting, the tally, the hubbub. Our candidate didn’t get a seat on the council but Labour had a few wins in the county so the feeling was quite upbeat.

So that in the aftermath of the election, nothing. No activity. No meetings. And eventually a branch meeting which I found very unsettling where I realised that the ambition of the party was limited to a tiny horizon and that the big issues and questions that had motivated me to get actively involved in politics just weren’t on the radar. The final straw was an invitation to visit the party conference in a big hotel in Mullingar where myself and a handful of other newbies were invited into the back bar where the party bigwigs were gathered, a meet and greet with the notables as it were. Not my scene at all. So I resigned shortly afterwards and started looking more seriously at alternatives.

I went over to Dundalk to hear Kieran Allen promote his book about the crisis, but nothing about him or the SWP attracted me. I went up to Dublin to attend a CPI public meeting which was very good I thought, but the CPI seemed too small. Incidentally I realised later on, having met him via the CLR, that I had been sitting beside SoS at that CPI meeting. I had been reading the CLR for a good while by then and found the discussions very engaging. I found myself agreeing with Garibaldy a lot. I liked WBS’s positive but critical assessment of the party. I read The Lost revolution book. So I applied to join the WP via email. No response. I applied again. And then one saturday I was visited at home by the national organiser, we had a chat, and a couple of weeks later I was invited to a meeting in a hotel in Navan where I was sat down across the table from Sean Garland. I almost shat myself. But I came away from the meeting very impressed about the seriousness of the party. So with the odd up and down in the meantime I’m still a member 10 years later. Not actively so these days, but still paying my party dues. By standing order these days, the era of the stamps on the back of the party membership card has passed.

Colm B #3922

I had completely forgotten about this until this thread went up, but the first political organisation I joined was not the WP but the Celtic League. As a teenager with leftish tendencies but coming from an Irish speaking family with strong cultural/political nationalist roots, I was attracted to the Celtic solidarity message of that alliance of small, largely leftist, nationalist groups from the Celtic countries. They had very strong anti-nuclear position cos of Carnsore, Sellafield and similar issue in Brittany.

By the time I was around 18 though, I was heading rapidly for stickidom and shedding the nationalism at speed. For some reason, I thought my new comrades might find out my shameful secret so, rather than just not renewing my subscription, I sent a formal letter of resignation to the poor Celtic League declaring my allegiance to socialism and my renunciation of nationalism. And I soon bought into Smullen’s “nuclear power station in every county” line as well! Maybe I should have stayed in the Celtic League :)

At one of the new members classes I attended in Gardiner Place when I joined the WP in 1982, a fella said something along the lines of “Hitler wasn’t all bad … jobs, autobahns etc.” Perhaps surprisingly, the full-timer who was giving the class, dealt with it in a calm, reasoned way – briefly explaining the nature of fascism, the Holocaust etc.

In a strange way, it illustrated a good point about the WP at the time: it wasn’t just attracting pre-cooked lefties but also your average Josephine/Joe with all the contradictory opinions that people tend to have.

In the late 80s the new members classes were devolved to the constituencies. In Dun Laoghaire that really was the end of them – new recruits got one visit from a party activist to give them the basic info, but even that soon stopped. This change facilitated (but did not cause) an influx of, mainly middle class, opportunists who would later play a key role in DL. Their politics was basically slightly leftish liberalism, their main attraction to the WP was its public reps reputation as competent, it’s anti-provo stance and it’s solid record on the “social issues” such as divorce etc. In hindsight, I can see that a primary attraction for them was also the growing prospect of Gilmore winning a Dail seat bringing power and influence at least locally.

Joe #3917

Where and when to start. Grew up in a middle class household in the sixties and seventies. In a little middle-class housing development in Kilbarrack. When I was a young kid we were surrounded by farmland.

I was a good boy and I thought the world was perfect. I remember seeing pictures on the telly of rioting and destruction in the north and thinking “Why are people being so bold?” The da was very interested in current affairs. He was a CJH FF supporter. But never a member afaik. My folks met in Ailtirí na hAiséirighe. They actually intended to bring the kids up through Irish but gave up on that because I think of the impracticality of it. But the cúpla focal was part of our upbringing for sure. Both sincere and devout Catholics too. Go ndéana Dia trócaire orthu beirt. I líontaibh Dé go gcastar sinn.

A big Dublin Corporation housing development was built on much of the farmland around us. Kilbarrack became a mainly working class area. It was tough for us poshies. I remember a new kid asking me where I’d lived before. He couldn’t understand it when I said I’d always lived here. Him and all his neighbours came from inner city Dublin mostly. Snippets of conversation I remember: “Who’s better do you think, footballers from the flats or from the houses?”. And young lads asking each other where they used to live and answers like “North Strand” “Ballybough” “Henrietta St” and the extra respect that would be shown when a boy answered “Sherriff St”.

I was always interested in politics and the north and all that. I remember the da coming home with a few jars in him (a very rare occurrence) as the results of the ’77 general election came in. He was ecstatic with the FF landslide. He absolutely hated the coalition government and Cruise O’Brien in particular (fuelled by the fact, as he said himself, that he’d actually voted of CCO’B in a general election in ’69 I think). When CCO’B would be on the news or even quoted my da would almost spit “Bullshit. Bastard” at the screen. So I started getting interested in the two nations idea; in revisionist takes on Irish establishment narratives of Irish history. Why? I still wonder! I honestly think it was related to looking for attention from my da. But this is about memories not psychotherapy so I’ll leave that there. More to follow.

I’ll keep going while I’m on a roll. Class. Some time in my teens I started wondering about the difference between me in my little middle class environment and the kids in the Corporation houses. And I figured out that where you end up in life is pretty much an accident of birth. So I think that was class consciousness. I was a socialist because, like, duh. To me it was obvious, I don’t know why but it was.

At O’Connell’s CBS in my teens there were three lads in my class who were members of the Provisional Na Fianna. And one in another class who I think (you could never be sure with this lad!) was a member of the Official Na Fianna. So mid seventies there was lots of politics at school – more national question than class though. Then I went to UCD and hung out with a bunch of blokes and we’d talk politics over the sandwiches at lunchtime. One of them reminded me once that I often took a strong nationalist line in those discussions. But I didn’t join anything then in my late teens, early twenties. I was quite shy and passive. Too passive to join anything. Got a job then in Dublin City Libraries. Joined the union, got onto a committee. By then, somehow I was an SFWP supporter. On the committee there was an LWR woman and an SWP chap and a Mili and memorably one time a bloke from Strabane who, in a chat after a meeting, told me he was an official unionist.

Pat McCartan, a solicitor, was the SFWP candidate in our area. I read about him and liked that he was allegedly a bit of a maverick in SFWP – representing some of the IRSP people in the Sallins trials for example. There was a general election I’m guessing ’82 or ’83 and I voted for McCartan twice. Voted for my brother who was over in London, just to annoy him, him being basically a Provo fellow traveller imho at the time.

The Dunnes Stores anti-apartheid strike was on and I was working in town and two days a week we had split shifts. So we were off from 1pm to 5pm and me and a few others would go down and join the picket line. More good conversations and discussions. I remember I met Joe Higgins on the picket and we had a chat and when he heard I wasn’t a member of anything he told me he’d get the local Mili to give me a bell. He never did. But by that time anyway I’m pretty sure I’d decided I was a stick. I also went on a summer holiday to Bulgaria with the CYM around then. One of the CYMers was a first cousin of a very non-political friend of mine.

My first cousin was the WP candidate in our area in the local elections. I remember she called to the house just for a family chat and as she was leaving I said “You have my no.1 by the way”. To which she responded “Good to hear”. I had a habit of buying the CPI’s Irish Socialist and the WP’s Irish People and reading them on the train into town. So I filled out the little form in the Irish People and applied to join. And attended the classes in Gardiner Place and turned up at the house of the leading local WP activist not long after for my first branch meeting. Where I met WBS amongst others :).

Tosach maith leath na hoibre.

So, just for the crack.

I remember I was having a few pints in Club Uí Chadhain (the WP club) a couple of years later. Some oul lads were asking me about my experience of joining the party. So I told them I remember walking up Gardiner St on my way to new members’ classes one evening. On a corner of Gardiner St and Mountjoy Square there is a big house belonging to the Vincent De Paul Society. In the window above the Georgian(?) door was a big plaster statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. As I passed by, I asked the BVM to give me a sign if I was straying from the correct path. As I looked at the statue I saw it stir. Her left hand rose and she gave me a clenched fist salute and a rather saucy wink. And I knew then I was doing the right thing.

That got a laugh … and a couple of pints.

Ben Madigan #3915

I first became aware of sectarianism in NI when Ardoyne was burnt out by the Loyalists in August 1969. Dad took me, still at school, to a retreat house where the people were gathering in safety and told me to do whatever I was told to do to help out with them.

I was hardly in the hall when an elderly lady wth 2 small children and a baby came over to me and gave me the infant. “You take her” she said “I can’t cope. Not with these 2”

The family had been burned out while she had been looking after the kids because their mother (her daughter in law) had been taken into hospital. The father was out with the men, pcking up the burnt out people and driving them somewhere safe.

I gave Granny a scrap of paper with our name and phone number and – I took the baby home. Mum’s friends donated baby things they no longer needed – pram, bath, cot etc and a wardrobe fit for a princess! She stayed with us until nearly Christmas, by which time the family had found a new house and were able to take her home.

Everything was well organised in the retreat house. The monks and nuns took charge of the cleaning and meals. A local GP and lawyer were on call for advice. I stayed there until mid September when the emergency ended. I spent my time handing out donated towels and toiletries and insisting everyone had a shower, every day (otherwise we’ll have disease running rife, as the doctor said), telephoning round other centres (no mobiles in those days) to see where relatives were “I’m here with the kids but where’s mum and dad? And my sister and her kids?”, sorting out donated clothes and shoes (mens/womens/ size/underwear / nightwear/ tops/bottoms/coats and jackets and then kitting the people out in them.

Waves of people were constantly coming in and then leaving as they found somewhere to go. They were all very quiet, even the children. Too shocked and exhausted to speak I suppose. Some of the elderly people, who had probably been burnt out before, just sat and stared into space.

Worldbystorm #3911

For myself I noted that I met a former school friend in a pub in Howth one evening. I hadn’t seen him in a year or two and we started talking about politics. I expressed my attachment to various anarchist figures and while he wasn’t dismissive he made the point that if I was genuinely interested in doing something political I should think about joining the Workers’ Party.

I’m not sure what happened next though thinking about it I think we must have exchanged home phone numbers and he likely rang me up to go to a meeting of the local cumann of the party. I’m not sure there was any great consideration on my part about what was a fairly big step – I was happy enough with the outline of the politics of the party, even as someone with a Republican tilt to my politics, and the emphasis was, from him, on work on the ground, in the local area and linking that into broader concerns. It was very very pragmatic, almost, and this was presented as a virtue, mundane. I think that for me the significance of the step was the sense of actually doing something as distinct from talking about it as I had previous to that (I should add that my family was broadly supportive having an experience of members of the British Labour Party and my father being involved in Sinn Féin in the 1950s according to himself and having a slight involvement at CPGB Summer Camps through working in London a little later, though he was somewhat dismissive of the latter experience). I recall being welcomed in and a friendly reception but the point being made that this was a probationary basis.

However from that point on I attended meetings there regularly and to all intents and purposes was treated as a full-blown member.

There was another aspect, since there were a series of educational classes in Gardiner Place for prospective members. I have a feeling that I went to just a handful of them. I’ve no clear memory what they entailed and no notes from then. Reading accounts of earlier members and the emphasis placed on the educational process that seems to have been largely absent. In fact I seem to recall that I didn’t managed to make a couple of them and that the local cumann was happy enough to discretely wave me in anyhow.

That said the one and only time I saw Seán Garland close at hand in that period was while in the room at one of those classes, when he poked his head around the door, took one look at the assembled multitude, and promptly retreated.

And that was the probation period after which I received my party card, which I still have somewhere and which I remember meant a lot. Little ‘stamps’ that went into it on payment of weekly subs.

So there I was a fully signed up card carrying member of the Workers’ Party and all of this before I was twenty.

Dr Nightdub #3894

Definitely a pre-political memory, but the phone would ring in our house in Belfast and I’d go running to answer it like my folks had taught me to: “64567, who’s speaking please?” “It’s Paddy Devlin, is your father there?” There was a jotter beside the phone and I’d just wonder how my da had the phone numbers of all these famous people from the news, like Devlin, Gerry Fitt and co.

First actual political conversation I remember having is when the results for the 1973 general election in the south were on the radio, I was 10ish and we were still in Belfast, I asked my mum “Is this good or bad for us?” “Fianna Fail might have remembered us up here, but this new crowd definitely won’t.”

What set me on the road to perdition? We’d moved to Dublin at this stage, I was in either 5th or 6th year in school. My da comes in from work, “What did you do in school today?” “Pearse and Connolly and the 1916 Rising.” “Stay there a minute.” He goes upstairs, comes back down, gives me three small hardback books, printed “at the sign of the Three Candles, Dublin”, collections of Connolly’s newspaper columns for the Workers’ Republic. “Have a read of those, they might interest you.” Still have them upstairs.

First political activity? First year in college, going down to the GPO with a black armband the morning Bobby Sands died and wondering why there weren’t more people there.

Counter-intuitively, years later, my da told me that in the early 60s in London, he used to go along to public meetings of Desmond Greaves and co to heckle them, “Because they were communists and I didn’t like communists.”

A watching detective approached him and invited him to call into Scotland Yard for a chat on the QT. “But I didn’t go. I didn’t like the communists but I was no tout.”

gypsybhoy69 #3887

I think the Daily Mirror was the catalyst for how I ended up with a political interest. Sounds like a mad statement to make but hear me out.

I think I must have always had some interest in politics as I remember the 1977 elections, when I was 8. We lived facing my primary school which was a polling station so we’d get a day, so we’d hang around at a time when electioneering was a big thing on polling day outside polling stations. I didn’t come from what seemed like a political household but there must have been some influence from my Dad. He didn’t explicitly support anybody but I must have gathered who he didn’t like.

The only politics I can remember looking back was my Dad’s grandmother who was staunchly Republican and must have been Anti-Treaty. Fianna Fail I’m guessing was supported by my Dad’s family but not obviously enough for me to see looking back. In the 77 election I can’t remember who my parents would have supported but I remember only helping the Labour workers give out election day leaflets so I’m guessing that’s who they supported. I can’t say that I developed a great interest in politics from that. Where I did become politically interested was through the Daily Mirror it must have been before Maxwell and after Thatcher came to power. It wasn’t the Mirror that there is now. Even though my Dad would later say that he bought the Mirror for the crossword and the racing section I think he probably bought it for the politics. He loved reading Paul Foot. Back I’m guessing in the early 80’s the Mirror did sporadic specials where the paper was practically given over to focusing on one particular political issue. The one that drove my political awakening was a special on nuclear arms. with a strong CND bias. For any younger CLRers the bomb, well for me as a pre teen was a big scary thing. Did others of certain age here ever feel that? So for a long time my main political interest was following CND. At an early age I was listening to Bob Dylan, Carole King, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young and Janis Ian so I was obviously into a bit of hippy thinking.

After that obviously the hunger strike was a big thing but as a 12 year old I remember totally supporting a United Ireland, thinking the hunger strikers were right to protest against Thatcher and that they were political prisoners but somehow at the same time remember not supporting the methods of the IRA and Sinn Fein at that time. I knew nothing of SFWP or the OIRA at that time. I would have been totally oblivious to their existence.

Another memory I have of the early 80s is being quite frightened over one Christmas as to what was happening to miners in Poland. I can’t remember having any aversion to Communism or the Soviet bloc as a kid. But there was something in me that must have thought miners don’t go on strike for nothing which led to an interest in Solidarity. Looking back Eastern Bloc leaders just looked like scary teachers in old looking suits. They certainly didn’t go out of their way to appeal to the youth.

The next big thing of course would have been the Miners strike and I may have this wrong but I seem to remember the Mirror starting off being strongly supportive of the strike but then changing. By the end of that strike I was aware of the then WP and was very impressed by the politics of one PDR. I got involved in the WP when I was 17 enveloping election literature for the 87 election but only joined in 89. When I joined I knew nothing of the feuds with the Provo’s, nothing of Harris, Bew or Paterson or their cancerous influence, nothing of why it was wrong to support lunatic regimes like North Korea. All I had was this was a party for this young lad from Finglas South to support. A party that believed that it didn’t matter where you came from, that you had a right to question and take on those that thought it was their god given right to decide how a nation progresses.

Speaking of early influences also got me to think. My Dad who died just over a year ago wasn’t overly political but one thing I found out before he died was that he protested outside the US embassy on the overthrow of Allende in Chile. I didn’t know this at all the protests that I was on outside that embassy. I wish I had.

Eoghan #3886

Probably still in the “first political experiences” stage at the moment but thought I’d post mine as more recent perspective nonetheless.

My mother would’ve come from a rural traditionally Fine Gael background, with even a former-TD cousin, but there was never really any talk of politics growing up. Anyone who did or who attempted to talk about anything deemed too “serious” around the dinner table she’d threaten to throw water at them. As a result I don’t really have much of an idea how most of my family votes, only knowing that my Mam somehow accidentally voted for the Republican Sinn Féin candidate in the locals last year and was disgusted with herself afterwards. Growing up on the outskirts of Galway I was also pretty isolated/sheltered from any political activity, but was always a bit of a history buff. I had a vague affinity with the Green Party due to environmental concerns, and remember being impressed by John Gormley after he visited our school. My first serious intentional engagement with politics was after encountering some Anarchist ideas via as a teen, eventually secretly dubbing myself an anarcho-syndicalist without fully understanding what that meant.

I remember coming to college in Dublin, witnessing two English friends debating politics, and coming to the realisation that I really had no idea what I was talking about calling myself an anarchist. I effectively abandoned my short-lived stint with capital P Politics again, but began reading feminist texts, inspired by the Repeal movement and some fantastic women who introduced feminism to me. I was struck by the “imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy” description bell hooks used to describe US politics and knew that there were at least two words in there that I didn’t understand. Around the same time I had started getting into podcasts in a big way and discovered a US podcast called “Revolutionary Left Radio” which had started recently (and has since grown to be quite popular), and from there I basically dove head-first into Marxist history, theory, and philosophy, reading pretty much nothing else. Eventually I reached the “the point, however, is to change it” part of my study and copped that being an armchair/twitter Marxist is little more than useless. The IPCC climate report had just come out also which really made it feel like the “socialism or barbarism” adage would become a reality within my lifetime. And so I started researching left-wing orgs in Ireland.

(Curiously enough considering regulars on this site, the Workers Party was one that I was drawn to initially, but I got the impression that it was a party past it’s heyday so I never reached out to them)

I ended up settling with PBP, and the recently-renamed SWN, even though I was aware that they wouldn’t be an exact ideological fit for me as I didn’t/don’t consider myself a Trotskyist. There were a couple of reasons for this but the main ones were because they seemed to be the organisation with the most momentum behind them, I had met a few members canvassing for Repeal, and I wasn’t interested in joining any smaller sects for the sake of ideological purity. I’m still here now 2 years later so no regrets so far at least.

Rockroots #3885

I grew up on a small farm in the midlands. My family were part of a very sparse community of different Protestant denominations. They were broadly nationalist but with a deep wariness of Irish republicanism. I remember an elderly aunt chasing Albert Reynolds away from our house (which she was only visiting) and telling him he’d get no votes here. Political preferences were never, ever discussed in the family, just occasional digs against a party or a politician, but they regarded the IRA as something akin to the Klan who would sooner or later be coming to get us. I know they felt very nervous during the Troubles, especially around the time of the H-Blocks, and the unspoken rule was just to keep the head down and not draw attention. They were dismayed at some of the referendum decisions on the ’80s too. My dad thought the local FG man was a fool but, by deduction, I presume he probably voted for him anyway. On my mam’s side there was the vague suggestion we might be related to Keir Hardie (we’re not, it turns out, but it was a lovely notion while it lasted).

A minibus would collect me to take me to primary school every morning, and opposite our gate was a telegraph pole which for years (I guess in the early ‘80s) had posters of Charlie and Garret sandwiched back-to-back. I spent a lot of time gazing up at this Janus-like creation and thinking that one face looked sinister and the other looked kindly – I’ll let you guess which was which – but they were the only options there and then (and largely still are). I went to a Protestant secondary school some distance away, and in the absence of any school-friends within the county I just spent all my teenage years reading about history and politics. By the age of 13 or 14 I could’ve told you the president, prime minister and ruling party of every country in the world. Whenever the opportunity arose to get a lift into a town I’d spend a few hours in the reference section of the public library taking notes and sketching out spider-diagrams of the political parties of Jamaica or Algeria. I was really drawn to the left-independence movements, to people like Lumumba, Ho and Che, and it was clear to me at a very young age that socialism was the only option for an egalitarian and ethical world. It did and still does boil down to the choice between selfishness or empathy. I was quite religious at the time due to my upbringing, and it was obvious to me that Jesus was a socialist too! I think my worldview was very black-and-white at the time: I hated Thatcher, Reagan, Paisley, the IRA, loyalists, Apartheid, Pinochet and aristocracy; I quite liked Gorbachev, Nicaragua, Cuba, Militant, the PLO and assorted People’s Republics in Africa and Asia. I had a fondness for Dick Spring, who seemed youthful and charismatic compared to the other two leaders, and for the WP, but especially for the likes of Jim Kemmy and Declan Bree who could be maverick socialists despite being from ‘the country’ like me. I remember getting plaudits from my history teacher for writing an essay on Peadar O’Donnell too, even though he hadn’t actually been the topic requested. None of my family or friends shared any of my beliefs, so it was probably my only outlet and it was nice to get that encouragement. My history teacher spoke approvingly of his visits to the USSR, so I suspect he had similar leanings.

I spent 1989 glued to Ceefax, following daily updates on Eastern Europe. I wasn’t sorry to see aging autocrats get their comeuppance, but naively hoped it was part of a renewal process that would see socialism endorsed by popular choice rather than imposed by military force. That probably carried on into 1990 when Irish Labour was welcoming back some of its dissident voices and linking with the WP in the presidential election. We had a mock ballot in school in which, pathetically, the boys and girls voted along gender lines, except for me and one other guy who broke ranks and secured victory for Mary Robinson! But after that it was profoundly disillusioning to watch former socialists abandon their principles and drift to the centre, whether it was in Eastern Europe, Africa, Asia, Britain or here. I didn’t go to college, where I probably would’ve found kindred political spirits. Instead I went to work in Dublin, where I found a nerdy knowledge of rock music or sci-fi was much more impressive to my new friends than being able to list prime ministers. And so it went for many, many years.

Aussie Irishman #3882

It was around 1973. I think I was in fifth year at school. I read about a protest against Portuguese colonialism outside the Portuguese Embassy (in Ailesbury Road in those days) organised by the Anti-Apartheid Movement. I went along, parked my bike and joined in. I didn’t have a banner and I don’t think I spoke to anyone. Next day at school one of the priests aimed a lecture about the dangers of “associating with Communists” at me. By a bizarre coincidence he must have driven by while the protest was taking place. By the time I got to Belfield, I was ready for left-wing politics. In fact, there was some sort of boycott or protest on the week before the term began.

Roddy #3881

First real book I read – Dan Breen.First demonstration – The long march to Derry .I joined in as a 10 year old to walk a mile with them.First “strike” – a school walkout to protest bloody Sunday.First vote – Bernadette 1979 Euros.

Worldbystorm #3880

For myself I can point to a number of events that together began to coalesce into a political consciousness. One was the 1977 General Election. I was about eleven and I remember being in a clothes shop in Coolock which my mother used to often bring me to (in school the teacher asked how our parents were voting and a forest of hands went up for FF, for some reason myself and a friend put ours up for FG, but that wasn’t the case at all as will be seen below and I’ve wondered why I did that). The results were on the radio in the background and I remember being absolutely fascinated by what was being said and the sense of excitement about it. A year later there was the La Mon bombing by PIRA and my sixth class teacher in the National School in Kilbarrack put up photographs of those who died there on the class room noticeboard. Counter-intuitively two years later I found a copy of Freedom Struggle by PIRA in my fathers collection of books which had a strong influence on me for a while. In my home my mother and father would have been broadly traditional social democrat while my father in particular was a republican in his inclination, a fluent Irish speaker, was himself active in the Wood Quay campaign and matters relating to Irish culture and heritage (and was involved according to his own account in SF in the late 1950s) so that was a more generalised influence that at times extended to support for the ILP but more often was directed towards FF). So I think it was more a case of that broader positive attitude towards the left (even towards the USSR at times and most certainly towards national liberation struggles – as with Cuba and so on, and tellingly to both Israel and Palestine and those against apartheid in South Africa, and a scepticism towards the United States and in particular its cultural and political hegemony) that would have provided a foundation on which my own attitude towards the left was then able to develop. I also remember in my early to mid teens reading about Allende and being very impressed by what he sought to achieve. Thatcher was not popular in the house, particularly due to massive unemployment, but also in terms of attitudes to the North. And by 1981 and the hunger strikes one of the teachers in school who I respected most wore a black armband – though while hazily sympathetic to them I don’t know that it pushed me to anything approaching actual activism.

In terms of bringing this altogether into an even partly cohesive whole, that wasn’t to happen until later, in my late teens, and certainly nothing that would make me describe myself as a Marxist until then. In fact prior to that I had begun to read and feel an affinity with anarchism.

But I considered myself on the left from fifteen or so onwards (in the Gaeltacht around that time we were asked what parties we’d vote for and just two of us put up our hands for the… Labour Party – though during one of the elections in the very early 1980s I remember watching the election returns with my Dad and his being very impressed by how SFWP was doing), and when I had the curious experience of repeating my leaving in a fee-charging school I was very aware of class differentiation there compared to the Community School I had been in previously. I also was extremely sceptical of some of the rhetoric there of classmates in relation to the invasion of Grenada in 1983 when some of them were making out the Soviets had installed missiles there.

Which led on to a fateful meeting in a pub in Howth a little later with a former schoolmate from Kilbarrack who was a member of a party which was in the process of jettisoning the name Sinn Féin and who was clear that while anarchism was well intentioned if I really wanted to change the world there was a much more immediate way to do so and a party just right to join…

Sonofstan #3877

The household I grew up in was quite political, though I didn’t realise how much until, as NFB says, the obliviousness of others became apparent. For context: I was born in 1960 and my adoptive parents were quite old by the time I arrived, so my dad was slightly older than the state he served as a soldier, and my mother was born during the civil war, though at a safe remove in London, to an Irish family. This is important because the family memory bank went back quite far: their parents were all born in the latter years of the 19th century. My dad was fond of telling how he learned to drive just past his 17th birthday in order to ferry Tom McEllistrim around Kerry North during the 1937 election campaign in the Model -T his uncle owned but couldn’t drive. He was dyed in the wool FFer, I think, though when I accused him of that, he said he’d used his postal vote (his right as a soldier) for Dan Spring throughout because he had been a neighbour of the aforementioned uncle: when i said that sort of begged the question, he got annoyed…

Politics as a practical matter of voting, and influence was bread and butter over the dinner table, though actual ideology and the like was a dangerous topic as dad wa good a declaiming, less at listening, only partly a consequence of the firing range acquired deafness. My mum wa entirely different: active in all sorts of community organisations, and eventually achieving national office in the ICA, and later on the Council for the Status of Women. Later again she sat on some EU committee and went to Brussels every month or so, which hugely impressed me. She, and her friends, were no one’s cliched image of feminists but that’s what they were, and dad, to his credit, was totally comfortable with her activism.

First concrete memory is of Michael D. standing on a box (write your own joke) outside Salthill Church in Galway where we then lived during the 1973 election campaign. Mum stopped to listen, and was hugely impressed and I suspect, though she never said, that from then on the LP got a preference from her.

What I got was a sense that politics was a trade, a thing relatively ordinary people did, and that TDs and ministers, while useful to know, were not that special – something I think a lot of Irish people feel, and good, I think.

I became aware that I was a socialist in school, at OCS: one thing moving to Dublin (aged 14) did was force me to articulate the sort of thing that you hid in a country school for fear of being bullied as ‘brainy’. I was awestruck at meeting people who admitted to reading books, quite long ones, and could spend break time arguing about politics. It was there I first heard the word ‘stickie’ but a while before I knew what it meant….