When I was about twelve years old I noticed young people in a hall at the back of local shops and was fascinated to see them doing arms and feet drills. Instructions were blaring from a cassette player: “Lámha ar dheis agus lámha ar chlé”. Speaking Irish, getting a uniform and marching — I’ll have a load of that, I remember thinking — and so I joined the club. Years later I discovered the hall was hired by many people, including a local man from Provo Sinn Féin.
I remember vividly the day my mother appeared at the back of the hall and she dragged me by the scruff of my collar out of it during practice. And of course, I was mortified. Later I asked her why she did this and she replied “You are going to get a good education. No muck here!” My mother was a Labour Party voter and for me, and I suppose for many others, parental influence strongly shaped our political pathways initially.
In my teens during the 1970s reading One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and Nineteen Eighty-Four put me off socialist politics. Mao’s Little Red Book was once passed over to me and I flung it down in disgust on reading a reference to war being a virtue.
I joined the Labour Party and at one of the public meetings, Michael O’Leary TD was the main speaker. I spoke against something he argued and was taken aside by a branch leader and told not to repeat this incident. So, that was that for me and Labour.
My politics moved further left after entering university and getting active politically. Fighting for abortion rights and supporting H-Blocks struggles was the thing in my days. The small-c conservatism on social issues of the republican movement as I understood it, shifted me markedly more to the left, as well as reading the Communist Manifesto, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists and The History of the Russian Revolution.
I was the first person in my extended family to enter university. I had to work every weekend and holidays to barely get by. These experiences stung me intensely. They determined that I would find a socialist group to join in the belief, which never left me, that my life would feel far less fulfilled if I did not give this challenge my best shot.